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Medusa of Troy

Dokuro – “Avalon” – [Monotype]

Medusa of Troy   12/18/2019   A Library, CD

Dukuro is a duo of Agnes Szelag (cello, electronics, voice) and The Norman Conquest (formerly based on Oakland (synthesizer, electronics). The tracks on their 4th album tend towards ambient, droney mixes of ethereal vocalizations and grinding electronics, moored by groaning, mournful cello. Some of the songs are peaceful; all are somewhat unsettling. Track 2 (“Land of Silence and Darkness”) is a little louder than the rest. Overall, the album feels like a soundtrack to a sci-fi film – not a Marvel blockbuster, but something weirder, sadder and more dangerous, like The Arrival or High Life.

Battles – “Juice B Crypts” – [Warp Records Ltd]

Medusa of Troy   12/18/2019   A Library, CD

The experiment rock band is now down from 4 members to 2 on this 2019 album. The tracks are energetic, danceable rock with lots of 8-bit weirdness. Beneath the video-game-sounding instrumentation are solid, ambitious songs. Different guest artists add their own subtleties to their endeavors so nothing sounds too repetitive. Five of the 10 tracks have some sort of vocals, no FCCs. Several stand-out tracks: “They Played It Twice,” with Xenia Rubinos; “Sugar Foot,” featuring Jon Anderson of Yes; and, IZM, with the Seattle hip hop duo Shabazz Palaces. Happy Happy Joy Joy music (hello, Ren & Stimpy fans) with complexity.

Cinematic Orchestra, The – “To Believe” – [Ninja Tune]

Medusa of Troy   11/20/2019   A Library, CD

“To Believe” is Cinematic Orchestra’s 5th album and was released 12 years after its 4th one, “Ma Fleur”. The British electro-acoustic jazz ensemble sounds a bit different on this release than their early albums. It sounds less like traditional jazz rhythms, softer and mellower in a higher register of strings. Of the 7 tracks on the album, two are instrumentals, the rest sung by a range of guest performers. Layers of strings and piano and drum start light but build into sweet, cathartic crescendos. The concept for the album is ‘belief in the age of Brexit’ but the specifics of what or who to believe in are not enumerated – “To Believe” seems more about the act versus the object of believing. “Little” is a stand-out instrumental from the album, with an incessant, infectious drum beat from beginning to end. A return to form by masters of nu-jazz.

Heilung – “Futha” – [Season of Mist]

Medusa of Troy   11/20/2019   A Library, CD

Heilung (the German word for ‘healing’) is a 3-member Danish band. Its sound is metal and folk and electronic and noise; instruments include those made with bones, animal skins and swords, as well as relics and temple bells, nature sounds and other items. The lyrics of Futha, Heilung’s second album, are based on Icelandic poetry. Vocalist/lyricist Kae Uwe Faust growls, snarls and throat-singing are impressive, but more impressive are the high clear tones of Maria Franz’s vocals. Instrumentalist/producer Christopher Juul ties it all together sonically. Some tracks include pieces that sound like war chants – “Vapnatak” sounds like a battle re-enactment with a narration at the end. “Futha’s” overall sounds are pagan, tribal and occult, with an emphasis on percussive rhythms – the lyrics are Old Norse, German (modern and Old High) and maybe a bit in Icelandic. Heilung call their genre “Amplified History,” while others tie it to neo-folk. “Futha” was conceived as a feminine contrast to their first album, “Ofnir.” According to the label’s webpage for the album, there’s speculation that a variant of ‘futha’ means a four-letter word for female genitalia. Much of that ‘big yonic energy’ is carried through is mostly on the strength of Franz’s vocals, particularly on tracks 2-4. But the whole album avoids sounding like either just another folk album or just another metal album. There’s something to scare and/or beguile all sorts of listeners on “Futha”.

Crossing, The – “Voyages” – [Innova Recordings]

Medusa of Troy   10/16/2019   A Library, CD

The Crossing is the artist, in this case, a professional choir that specializes in performing new classical music. Donald Nally is the conductor. Voyages is the title of the album, the two works that make up this album, and the underlying 6-cycle poem, composed in 1921–1926, as a paean by the poet Hart Crane to his lover, a Danish sailor. Robert Convery is the composer of the album’s first half, the choir singing his 1994 arrangement of Crane’s words a cappella, poems intact. Benjamin C.S. Boyle composed the second half of the album as a cantata, where stanzas are plucked from the underlying poem and the choir is accompanied by its in-house string ensemble, with soloists emphasizing particular passages. The first six songs, Convery’s a cappella arrangement, are sweet and melancholy and faint enough that you may want to pay close attention and have the poem in front of you to make out the words. In Boyle’s half, the strings tend to be dramatic, undergirding the emotion in the words and forcing the soloists to be more emphatic.

But which, if any, should you play? Convery’s “Voyages” is good for quiet but deep listening. Boyle’s “Voyages: Cantana No. 2, Opus 41” provides more obvious peaks and valleys for the listener. Neither quite reach the delirious, dizzying sweep of words and feeling as an out and proud statement of queer desire from a time where such a thing was punished by law and society. However, both compositions, and the album as a whole, are lovely.

Zorn, John – “Music Romance Volume Two: Taboo and Exile” – [Tzadik]

Medusa of Troy   10/2/2019   A Library, CD

Taboo And Exile is part 2 of Zorn’s 3-part Music Romance series, released by his Tzadik label in 1999. For those new to Zorn’s wide swath of compositions, the album functions as an introduction and a sampler of Zorn’s many musical styles: jazz (Track 10), punk (2, 5), surf (9), Jewish music (3, 6, 8), experimental (7), exotica (1, 4, 11, 12). Track 10 (“The Possessed”), a free jazz tune full of skronky, screeching, screaming sax, is the only song where Zorn plays. Musicians on various tracks include: Marc Ribot, Fred Frith & Robert Quine [guitar], Bill Laswell & Greg Cohen [bass], Joey Baron, Dave Lombardo and Cyro Baptista [percussion], the Masada String Trio [strings] and vocalists Mike Patton and Miho Hatori. No apparent FCCs on the 2 vocal tracks. From grinding, fuzzy guitars to tribal rhythmic drums to lush, sweet strings, I love almost everything about this album – except the cover. I find the cover abhorrent. YMMV. But play this album.

Beans/Parker, Williams/Drake, Hamid – “Only” – [Thirsty Ear Recordings]

Medusa of Troy   10/2/2019   CD, Hip Hop

Beans, AKA Robert Stewart, is a New York rapper and producer who’s a founding member of Antipop Consortium. As part of Thirsty Ear’s Blue Series of jazz collaborations, Beans worked with jazz bassist William Parker and percussionist Hamid Drake on this 2006 album. Beans contributes vocals on half of the 10 tracks, and electronic samples and mixes on all of them. It is an interesting but not mind-blowing, mix of electronic, hip-hop and jazz, The electronic music is by turns spacey, glitchy & droney. Parker’s and Drake’s contributions are solid. Many of the vocal tracks (“4” & “198” FCCs) tend to stand alone as hip-hop (“20” being an exception). Even where styles merge, there isn’t a lot of mingling and it becomes all too easy to tune out after the first two tracks (“5” and “1”). Perfectly fine, but not arresting.

Brown, James – “JamesBrownJazz” – [Verve/MGM]

Medusa of Troy   9/18/2019   CD, Soul

Over six decades of recording, Brown touched on jazz in a variety of projects – first, as an organist with his own hard swinging group; then a couple of vocal albums, one with a cocktail trio, another with Louis Bellson’s big band. There’s also JB’s tribute to fellow King Records artist Little Willie John that fired up his jazz influences. Despite being an influential funk band ever, JB’s band also introduced trumpeter Waymon Reed, trombonist Fred Wesley and saxophonists Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis and Maceo Parker, all of whom had enviable jazz credentials. (Parker’s rousing performance on “There” is thought to be his first recorded solo.) There are some highlights — a number of tracks are rare versions or previously unreleased — including “That’s My Desire (alt. mix)”, “After You’re Through (extended version)”, “Tengo Tango”, “Home At Last (alt. mix)”, “There (unreleased version)”, “What Do You Like (stereo single edit)”, “Go On Now (alt. mix.)”, “For Once In My Life (alt. mix)” and “Cottage for Sale (alt. mix)”. The material is from the 1960s and ’70s, and features a number of alternate mixes and singles edits, some of which have never been released.

This album really doesn’t belong in the Soul Library, even is JB is the “Godfather of Soul”. There’s more Jazz than Soul here. – Reviewed by Ann Arbor, April 8, 2009.

Brown, James – “Love Over-Due” – [Scottie Brothers Records]

Medusa of Troy   9/18/2019   CD, Soul

No one (except maybe Kevin O’Dante or the Reverend Dah) is a bigger JB fan than me, but just the same, I was prepared to hate this. Guess what? It’s not half bad. Not every tune is brilliant (they range from some smokin’ funk to some too-slick ballads) but there’s way more than enough to justify its existence, as well as some damn fine moments. Well done, JB! – Reviewed by Johnny P, September 21, 1994.

Bootsy’s New Rubber Band – “Blasters of The Universe” – [Rykodisc]

Medusa of Troy   9/4/2019   CD, Soul

This double Bootsy-blast dates from way back in 1994, but it hasn’t aged a bit. The Boots takes all the lessons he learned from he sojourn with James Brown and Funkadelic and distills them down to two hours of solid boogie! The tracks on Disc 2 are extra-funkified version of Disc 1 tracks, without the banter. Any of the tracks will boil water but go for CD2 if you really want to blow your speakers. Reviewed by Goodwrench, January 14, 2015.

Booker T. & The M.G.’s – “Soul Dressing” – [Atlantic]

Medusa of Troy   9/4/2019   CD, Soul

A collection of cuts recorded at various times during ’62, ’63 and ’64, some with Lewis Steinberg on bass and the rest with his replacement, the legendary Duck Dunn. The music itself is the Stax sound stripped to its essentials and sinew. Glorious, glorious stuff. Reviewed by Johnny P., January 8, 1992.

Booker T. & the M.G.’s – “Green Onions” – [Atlantic]

Medusa of Troy   9/4/2019   CD, Soul

The first Booker T. & the MG’s album (1962) and this provided the blueprint for it all. Not just this band but the entire Stax/Volt sound and aesthetic. Stripped down, no-bullshit ensemble playing. Pre-Duck Dunn with Lewis Steinberg on bass. – Reviewed by Johnny P., February 12, 1992.

Blowfly – “Twisted World of Blowfly, The” – [Pandisc Records]

Medusa of Troy   9/4/2019   CD, Soul

While many Johnny-come-latelys having been using the foul word as a career (2 Live Crew, etc.), the man called Blowfly has been doing it for more than thirty years. He’s like a R’n’B Redd Foxx. This is all old material, but new versions helped out by members of Fishbone and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Some are lame, but most aren’t. Reviewed by Lucifer, July 3, 1991.

Blind Boys of Alabama, The – “Higher Ground” – [Real World Records Ltd.]

Medusa of Troy   9/4/2019   CD, Soul

This group has been around for 7 decades! Since forming their group at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in 1939, they have kept alive the spirit and energy of pure soul gospel music. The Blind Boys’ music has not only endured, but thrived, helping both to define the sound of the American south and to push it forward through the 20th century and well on into the 21st. This is one of their best known albums (a Grammy winner) from 2002. The sound is fresh and often more gutsy than traditional gospel music. The best known tracks on this album are: “People Get Ready”[1] and “I Shall Not Walk Alone”[11]. I especially like [9] and [10]. Reviewed by Ann Arbor, May 23, 2018.

Black Children Sledge Funk Co.- Band – “Vol. 3 – Aviation Grand Father” – [PMG Audio.CD]

Medusa of Troy   8/21/2019   CD, Soul

Nigerian psych rock. Re-issue of 1979 album. This was the band’s third album, Vol. 3: Aviation Grand Father, is soul, funk, jazz and a little bit of early synth. In the mid-sevens Nigeria, everybody loved the Black Children Sledge Funk Co. Band. Blasting out of the bustling river port of Onitsha, their infectious, feel-good grooves were the perfect antidote to the dark economic clouds gathering over the country. Everyone in the band changed their last name to Black. Last track is an instrumental. – Reviewed by Carson Street, January 31, 2018.

Birmingham Sunlights – “For Old Time’s Sake” – [Flying Fish]

Medusa of Troy   8/21/2019   CD, Soul

The Sunlights are a dynamic young a cappella gospel group. They hail from Jefferson County, Alabama, where gospel music has flourished since the turn of the century. The Sunlights have received priceless instruction from groups like the Four Eagles and the Sterling Jubilees, and have taken that technical know-how and combined it with unusual syncopation for a fresh sound. This is lively, fervent, joyous stuff. Please enjoy.

P.S. Note there are 5 singers in this quartet — a fifth voice was added so the lead singer can “step out front” for long solo passages without sacrificing the groups 4-part harmony. – Reviewed by Peggy O, August 26, 1992

Biggs, Travis – “Challenge” – [Universal Sound]

Medusa of Troy   8/21/2019   CD, Soul

Multi-instrumentalist, martial artist, and magician Travis Biggs recorded and self-released this debut album in the mid-70s, then went on to work with higher-profile artists including The Supremes and Isaac Hayes. The current reissue comes to us in conjunction with Soul Jazz’s NEW THING! compilation, which featured the very best track here, “Tibetan Serenity.” While Travis plays several instruments on the album, his most obvious (and unique) contributions are the acoustic and electric violins, which make him sound like a funkier version of Jean-Luc Ponty. Check his Stevie Wonder cover, “I Wish,” or the instrumental track “Solar Funk for more highlights. – Reviewed by Rococo, January 11, 2006.

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