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Max Level

Mae Shi, The – “Terrorbird” – [5RC]

Max Level   9/13/2016   A Library, CD

Good luck with this one. The Mae Shi is/was a So Cal quartet with two brothers and (I think) various others over the years. This 2004 effort is spaZz rock with a capital Z. They said they didn’t want to make a boring rock album and yeah they absolutely didn’t. They whipped out more than 30 tracks, ranging in length from 6 seconds to just under 3 minutes and said OK here it is, deal with it. Expect mass quantities of high energy thrash and deranged vocals, broken up by various electronic bits and pieces and weirdness–it’s like they used every idea they ever had and smooshed them all together, one after another. This record has, according to the band, eleven songs about the Old and New Testament, ten songs about a prehistoric bird, three songs about vampires, two songs about werewolves, two songs about poisoning in the middle ages, one song about sharks, one song about California, and one song about dolphins in the military. You’re going to want to put this CD on continuous play and bite off a big chunk.

El’zabar, Kahil Ritual Trio and Bang, Billy – “Big M: Tribute to Malachi Favors” – [Delmark]

Max Level   9/6/2016   CD, Jazz

Earthy jazz sounds honoring the late, esteemed bassist Malachi Favors (aka Big M) who was the original bassist in this Ritual Trio, headed by Chicago percussionist Kahil El’Zabar. As a member of The Art Ensemble of Chicago and the AACM, Favors was a huge influence musically, and also as somewhat of a father figure, on El’Zabar from an early age. After Favors passed away in 2004, El’Zabar decided to reform the Ritual Trio with Ari Brown on saxophone and Yosef Ben Israel on bass. This 2004 date is a tribute to Big M, with guest Billy Bang on violin. On various tracks, you’ll hear El’Zabar on either trap drums, “earth drums” (African hand drums) or kalimba. He also adds some flute and, on the final track, vocals. Tenor saxophonist Ari Brown plays with a great raw tone and also checks in with some first rate piano on a couple of tracks. If you’re a fan of big, booming, acoustic double bass propulsion, then you’ll enjoy what Ben Israel is up to here. Track 7 is a bluesy vocal piece with piano, bass, violin, and flute, but no percussion–not my favorite track here. Everything else, though, is a fragrant stew of low down African-influenced jazz grooves. Tracks are medium length, in the 6 to 11 minute range.

Schmidt, M.C. – “Batu Malablab” – [Megaphone Records]

Max Level   8/30/2016   A Library, CD

Here is M.C. Schmidt (of Matmos) with something he’s calling a suite for prepared piano, flutes, and electronics. And that’s pretty much what it is–along with percussion, homemade instruments, voices, bird calls, a steel bowl, and more. Two long pieces of electroacoustic adventure. For the most part this is spacious music and all the instruments and sounds are given room to breathe. The piano tones sometimes remind me of gamelan sounds, but on a small scale, not one of those big gamelan orchestras. When the Asian flute comes in, it makes for an exotic listening experience. Track 2 has a passage where someone is speaking in Chinese, and there are also vocoder vocals, and at another point backward vocals. Local sound wizards Thomas Dimuzio and Wobbly are collaborators on this, adding electronic textures and (one would think) treatments with their Buchlas and Super Manetrons and whatnot. At one point I heard what sounded like classic analog Moog sounds and that was nice.

Badaboum – “Badaboum” – [Bruit Direct Disques]

Max Level   7/26/2016   12-inch, A Library

Here is a French F trio keeping the darkwave sound alive. Reminiscent of bands such as Lost Sounds and even approaching a no-wave thing in places. Bass, drums, keyboards, vocals. No guitars that I could detect. The vaguely evil-sounding keyboards are the best part. I heard some horn-like sounds in a couple of places so maybe they invited a sax or a trumpet to the party. Some of the singing is in French but I’m pretty sure there are some other languages in there too–German maybe, and English too I think. Bleak and dreary and good.

Logan, Giuseppi – “…and They Were Cool” – [Improvising Beings]

Max Level   7/18/2016   CD, Jazz

Saxophonist Logan was a respected, though erratic, figure in the early days of free jazz. He only made a couple of records and played with a small number of notable musicians, and then pretty much disappeared for decades. With a great deal of support from admirers, he seems to be making somewhat of a comeback and that’s a good thing.

This CD is an airy, spacious affair featuring Logan on sax and solo piano (track 3), Jessica Lurie on sax and flute, and Larry Roland on bass. No drums. Guitarist Ed Pettersen (who also produced the CD) plays mostly subtle textural /looping things underneath, which gives the music an interesting flavor. My favorite parts are when Logan is on sax and Lurie is on flute–we hear some truly inspired conversation.

The liner notes tell us the story of how Logan was tracked down and brought into the studio to record this CD.

Susurrus Station – “Antinomie” – [AIO Soundings]

Max Level   5/24/2016   12-inch, A Library

A fantastically odd record. Hard to describe. Amazingly creative. Sara and Jason, a duo from Oregon or maybe Washington, certainly have some strange ideas about how to put music together. Things that really shouldn’t work together somehow do.

They both sing, so we get male and female vocals along with guitar, violin, mandolin, percussion, keyboards. Drum machine. Unidentifiable sounds. A handful of guests add various instruments–woodwinds, viola, synths and samples, percussion. It takes a few listens to hear everything that’s going on and even then you won’t. Every track is deep and interesting.

The first track is low and slow and swampy. In fact the whole record sounds like it emerged from a swamp somewhere and wants to crawl into your brain. Which it does. If I were wearing a mood ring it would be green-blue. Or maybe blue-violet. I forget which of those means tripped out and happy but that’s the color it would be. Maybe a bit of orange for confusion and wariness.

This review sucks, I know. Why did I mention swamps and mood rings? The record is really strange and great; I should have just left it at that.

RLLRBLL – “Winnebagins” – [Self-released]

Max Level   5/16/2016   A Library, CD

Sometimes all it takes is a little dose of RLLRBLL to make everything OK. Here’s a nice new four track EP to hold us over until… well, who knows what– one can never tell what this band will do next, musically speaking. But RLLRBLL is always a trip worth taking. They continue to cover a lot of stylistic ground for a three piece. To wit:
Trk 1 is dreamy and hypnotic, with bass and drums holding things down while spacey vocals and odd keyboard sounds float in and out.
Trk 2 is a power ballad with a soft intro, and then when the band crashes in it’s a whole other thing. Lyrics about seas and tides and monsters and then I don’t know what.
Trk 3 is distorted and great, built on a chugging, almost heavy metal type of riff.
Trk 4 is an abstract industrial piece with one of those warped muddmakr-style mixes. No vocals.

Neon Twin – “Neon Twin” – [Zesde Kolonne]

Max Level   3/29/2016   12-inch, A Library

Appealing noisy pop quartet from the Netherlands. Nothing fancy here; pretty much your basic two guitars/bass/drums/vocals lineup. Occasional extra coloration in the form of keyboards, vibes, and violin. The first track is reminiscent of classic shoegaze–mid-tempo and dense throughout, with floaty vocals semi-buried in the mix. It’s probably my favorite track. The other tracks feature dynamic arrangements with some twists and turns to keep things interesting. And overall the songs are pleasantly melodic. You really can’t go wrong with any of the tracks.

Blackshaw, James – “Fantomas: Le Faux Magistrat” – [Tompkins Square]

Max Level   1/6/2016   12-inch, A Library

Blackshaw leads a chamber-type quartet through a musical suite that accompanies Louis Feuillade’s 1914 silent film “Fantomas: Le Faux Magistrat.” This performance was recorded live at a Parisian theater October 2013. Blackshaw, best known as a guitarist, also plays grand piano here. The other three musicians play a wide variety of instruments among them: guitars, piano, saxophone, flute, vibraphone, violin, bass guitar, synthesizer, percussion, and electronics. The music throughout is quite beautiful in a melancholy way, and the recorded sound is excellent. Tracks A3 and D1 start as soundscapey things (tone poems?) and develop into something more musical. There is a recurring motif that shows up at various times throughout the album–an insistent pedal tone sort of thing on the low notes of Blackshaw’s piano. Nothing here really stands out musically on its own, but as accompaniment to a silent film, I’m sure it serves its purpose well.

White Suns – “Totem” – [Flenser]

Max Level   3/31/2015   A Library, CD

Ferocious, disjointed noisemusic. Crashing, thudding drums, squealing distorted guitar, wall of feedback, buzzes and hums, tormented vocals. Amplifiers as weapons. Howling chaos and cacophony. “Let flowers burst from my chest. Let roots coil in my skull.” Most tracks are between 3 and 7 minutes in length. No vocals on # 3, 5, and 8.

Pop [coll] – [North Pole Records]

Max Level   7/23/2014   A Library, CD

Releases on Portland OR’s North Pole Records always bring a smile to my face. Here is a compilation of tracks by artists from Portland and elsewhere, grouped loosely under the banner of pop music. The leadoff track is a noisy slowburner by Paint and Copter, then comes Dramady with a perky pop song, followed by a stately acoustic guitar instrumental by Mattia Coletti. Quite a variety as you can see, and that variety continues throughout the CD. Among the other artists on this compilation are KFJC favorites Rollerball, Remora, Miss Massive Snowflake, Moodring, and OVO. In addition to those artists, I like the tracks by Coronation (upbeat and synth-y), Squarcicatrici (a wild jazz instrumental), Ronin (a galloping spaghetti western thing with some weird stuff in the middle) and the Sadnesses (a found sound noise piece.) It’s a cliche, I know, but there is something for just about everybody on here. Damn, though, I wish that wistful Remora track was longer than 1:26. The rockin’ Miss Massive Snowflake track is too short as well.

Hasler/Paeffgen/Berger – “Hasler/Paeffgen/Berger” – [No Business]

Max Level   6/17/2014   CD, Jazz

Airy, moody electroacoustic trio action with trumpet, drums, and vibraphone. Werner Hasler alternates between playing jazz trumpet and making odd textural sounds with his electronic processing. Gilbert Paeffgen’s drumming is super subtle and creative, perfectly supporting what the others are doing but rarely calling attention to itself. Karl Berger has played in just about every type of musical situation there is, and has developed his own distinctive style on vibes; sometimes he is content to set the scene for a piece with repeating patterns that interlock with Paeffgen’s drums, and other times his playing is more out front, taking the lead melodically or busting out a solo. Great musical interplay here. First rate playing by all.

Music of The Ottoman-american Diaspora Vol. III [coll] – [Mississippi Records]

Max Level   5/26/2014   12-inch, International

Vocal and instrumental recordings from 1905-1928. (For some reason the album cover says 1916-1930, but I’m going with the liner notes because they date the individual tracks.)
The Ottoman Empire, in existence for six centuries, enveloped a large portion of Mediterranean and Balkan Europe, and drew cultural influences from many different regions (Turkish, Egyptian, Greek, Armenian, Macedonian, etc.)
The performers here reflect a variety of nationalities. Some of these musicians were respected classical players and others were popular performers of the day. A couple of tracks feature unknown performers. The only artist I was familiar with is the great Turkish violinist/cellist Cemil Bey, whom the liner notes liken to Charlie Parker in terms of having enormous musical ability while notoriously suffering from drug addiction and poor health.
Audio quality is decent, bearing in mind that some of the recordings are more than 100 years old. The tracks are in the 3 to 4 minute range and were recorded mostly in each artist’s home country; a few of them were recorded in America.
Fascinating stuff. Fezcore. Dudes with excellent mustaches. I am partial to track B5, an instrumental that the liner notes claim was a typical accompaniment to Turkish wrestlers covered in olive oil and wearing leather trunks.

Long, Jesse Kyle – “Eclipse-A-Fact” – [Self Released]

Max Level   4/15/2014   A Library, CD

A 23 minute EP of weird bedroom recordings. Everything performed by Mr. Long as I understand it. The foundation seems to be guitar, as there are lots of them coming in and out of the mix, balanced nicely with programmed beats, kitchen-utensil-style percussion, talking/mumbling, squiggling/squawking, and unexpected pockets of electronic strangeness. The music gets a bit guitar-riffy from time to time and that’s fun. It sounds as though he doesn’t know quite where he wants to go with this project but he doesn’t let that stop him from laying the stuff down. And he is creative, I’ll give him that. Worth an open-minded listen or two or three.

East-West Collective – “Humeurs” – [Rogueart]

Max Level   3/11/2014   A Library, CD

International group, as the name implies. Miya Masaoka and Larry Ochs represent the Bay Area improv scene as they join forces with Didier Petit and Sylvain Kassap of France and Xu Fengxia of China. Seven pieces of music, composed I believe but with ample room for inspired improvisations by the group. Ochs (saxes) and Kassap (clarinets) provide the reeds part of the conversation, Masaoka (koto) and Fengxia (guzheng) make lovely, interesting sounds with their traditional Asian string instruments, and Petit sort of ties it all together with his unusual cello style. Petit and Fengxia also do some vocals. Each player shows tasteful restraint; there is a lot of open space here and nobody tries to take over. It’s cool that five players with such different backgrounds and styles can find common ground and make coherent musical statements like these.

This Morn’ Omina – “Momentum of Singular Clarity” – [Ant-Zen]

Max Level   3/10/2014   A Library, CD

They describe themselves as a Belgian industrial ritual techno band, and I’d say that’s about right. These tracks are rhythm-heavy with synthetic beats, keyboards, and other loud sounds. Every track has voices of some type on it, either minimal, spoken-word lyrics or miscellaneous voice snippets from who knows where buried in the mix, but for the most part the tracks are instrumental. The sounds are not outrageously harsh in a power electronics way, but they are decently abrasive pretty much throughout. Pounding distorted beats, bleak and forbidding sounds–if that’s your thing, I don’t doubt that you will enjoy this. Tracks are in the 4 to 8 minute range.

Holley, Lonnie – “Keeping a Record of It” – [Dust-To-Digital]

Max Level   2/11/2014   12-inch, A Library

This record is a wonderful combination of down-home-comfort-music and what-the-fuck-is-this? Holley is a soulful singer from Alabama (and a sculptor as well) who writes songs and accompanies himself with spacy keyboards and percussion. There are some guests on this record, doing vocals and drums and maybe some other stuff. So far, so good. But wow are Holley’s songs bizarre. Take the first one: we have barely started the record and we’re already hearing about taking six space shuttles and 144,000 elephants, and launching one into space every 60 hours, from here and there and over yonder, to celebrate the Queen’s birthday. All I can think is: what the fuck? If it seems like I’m making fun of his songs, I don’t mean to do that–I’ve just never heard anything like them before and they blow my mind. My favorite song is “From the Other Side of the Pulpit”, a catchy, repetitive, bluesy 13 minute meditation about preachers and poverty and faith. For good measure this track includes seemingly random metallic crashes. The record is full of strangeness like that–it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me but I’m totally hooked on it. Holley is a real piece of work, and I mean that with the highest respect.

Smith, E. Doctor – “Quantum” – [Edgetone Records]

Max Level   1/20/2014   CD, Jazz

All instrumental. Sort of a jazz fusion project but not really. Bandleader Smith plays the Zendrum electronic drum system in basically a trio format with a guitarist and bassist, and there are a couple of guests doing cameos on trumpet and guitar synth. Releases on the fine Edgetone Records label tend to be filed in KFJC’s jazz library, and this one will as well because it does strike me as something from the heavier rock/fusion end of the jazz spectrum. It’s an interesting lineup: Smith’s Zendrum electronic drum-trigger device is pretty rad, and bassist Tom Shiben is all about playing Rickenbackers, to my ears an excellent sound but very un-jazz-like. And then there’s guitarist Jack Wright who can shred like crazy and shines throughout the record. This often has a mid-80s King Crimson vibe or maybe one of those Bruford/Levin/Torn projects. And that’s good stuff. Shiben and Wright composed most of the material. I really got into this.

Osborn, Ed – “Stone North” – [Estuary Ltd.]

Max Level   1/7/2014   A Library, CD

Three pieces (5, 11 and 26 minutes) by mysterious sound artist Osborn, who seems to be affiliated with Mills College and various other institutions of creative music. He uses extended techniques and electronic processing on electric guitars and, on the first piece, amplified skis as a sound source. The ski piece is full of deep roaring sounds, which is evidently what you get if you take skis, amplify them, and coax sounds out of them. The second piece is the most percussive as Osborn bangs on his guitar and its pickups–it’s probably the noisiest track. The third piece is the most electronic sounding with its fractured layers of droning feedback emanating from Osborn’s tabletop guitar. Attractively active ambient works here. The compositions are from 1989, 1992, and 2009.

Moe – “Oslo Janus” – [Conrad Sound]

Max Level   12/10/2013   A Library, CD

Tortured sounds from this Norwegian trio. Noisy sludge-doom-drone with hard-hitting guitar and drums. The bass player, who loves her distortion pedal, also does the vocals, which consist mostly of exclamations, growls, and accusations. Occasionally she’ll use a close-up, confiding tone of voice. I can’t tell what she’s going on about, even though she seems to be doing it in English, but it doesn’t really matter much–I’m willing to bet that the two other members of the band don’t know what the words are either. Track 1 shifts gears a few times with three or four short pieces packed into its 4:20. On Track 4 it sounds like the vocalist is saying “shut the fuck up” several times so be careful with that one. The music is great on that track, though–a satisfying, pummeling sludgefest, and the drummer’s cymbal work is outstanding.Track 6 is a 12:30 instrumental with a lot of strange textural stuff and a repeating bass line of doom. Noise from fucking Norway, man.

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