This 2-CD set of Ethiopian folk music was released in July 2020 by the Sub Rosa label, but the songs were originally recorded in 1971. Even though the album title makes reference to urban and tribal music, all of the songs are very stripped down – some with just a single instrument, others with one instrument and one voice. There are a couple of group chants, but nearly all of the songs are on the quieter side. The liner notes are unclear, but it has the feel and sound of field recordings – no amps, no studio effects, just traditional instruments and voices on traditional songs – some explicitly religious, some based on poetry. Mary Armeede’s “Fanno,” on CD2, is the longest track and has a bluesy feel that brings to mind early Mississippi Delta blues. “Wub Allem” (translated as “Beautiful World”) is the most energetic track but is not particularly loud or raucous. However, no dirges, either – just spare, lovely music on the slower side.
Bylur is Icelandic composer & pianist Eydis Evensen’s debut album and it doesn’t slay – it quietly slips into your interior space and slowly adjusts your mood. Tranquil and lush are the easy and trite ways to describe it, but it doesn’t make it untrue. If you’re a fan of solo piano, there’s a lot to like, but some pieces also have violin, viola, cello, double bass, trumpet, and trombone. The penultimate track, “Midnight Moon,” also features the voice of GDRN singing in English (No FCCs). Somewhat reminiscent of Olafur Arnulds, but lighter and sweeter. Music to reset your brain during and after fractious, tense periods.
: the boundary of the heliosphere.
: a new album by Berlin-based cellist and composer Anne Müller with 6 tracks that she wrote, recorded, arranged and produced. Müller takes her cello beyond the boundaries of classical music to something trance, chill, ambient. Transcendentally experimental, especially Track 1, “Being Anne,” which is played on a broken piano, combined with cello and drum loops. All of them are good, a personal favorite is Nummer 2 (track 3)- in this time of social isolation and uncertainty, it has the power to slow thoughts, deepen breathing and unknit tense muscles if you give yourself over to it. Don’t fight it, surrender to the strings and beats – you may end up in an entirely new headspace.
Chicago Sinfonietta & Mei-Ann Chen – “Project W – Works By Diverse Women Composers” – [Cedille Records]
This 2019 album of classical works is based on the highlights of Chicago Sinfonietta’s 30th season (2017-2018) [Mei-Ann Chen, conductor and musical director], which featured the works of American women composers. Most of the compositions on Project W were newly commissioned by the orchestra, from Jennifer Higdon, Clarice Assad, Jessie Montgomery, and Reena Esmail. The album starts with a performance of Dance in the Canebreaks, written by pioneering African-American composer Florence B. Price. Dances, consisting of 3 jaunty pieces, is sweet and fun, reminiscent of Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” and Gershwin’s “Porgy & Bess”, but with its own flair. “Sin fronteras” by Clarice Assad & “Coincident Dances” by Jessie Montgomery (part of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silkroad Ensemble) sound like traditional classical music. Reena Esmail’s “Charukeshi bandish” has traditional classical Indian arrangements along with vocals, while her “#metoo” is skittish and tense. The album ends with Jennifer Higdon’s 5-movement piece, Dance Card, which alternates between high-energy pieces (no. 1, 3 & 5) and slower, sweeter pieces (no. 2 & 4). This album won’t fit on all shows, but certain pieces can work around the edges of international, blues, drone and ambient sets. Check it out.
Beetlebox is the Seattle-based pianist/composer, EP is the name given to his EP of 4 songs, all utilizing spare, experimental piano pieces augmented by electronic sounds, some ambient, others glitchy. The first track, “Ellipses,” starts off with a classical flourish that then gets repetitive and unsettling, low hums and staccato beats surrounding the piano. You’ll find more discordant piano on “Drum Machine,” with the synthetic drums anchoring the melody. “40 Hours” is avant garde classical with lots of sharp notes, while “Empty Space” is full of alien, droning buzz. Overall, EP has an arthouse sci-fi sound (my favorite); never very loud but occasionally disquieting if you listen closely. Personally, I find it soothing, though not at all smooth.
For those well-versed in Indian classical styles, Western improvisation and geometric progressions in music, the album “Metaraga” is a fascinating melding of math and music, eastern and western music. For those who don’t recognize all of the influences within this album, it is an interesting blend of sounds and tempos, with two violins (mathematician-violinist Purnaprajna Bangere and David Balakrishnan from Turtle Island String Quartet), bass (Jeff Harshbarger) and tabla drum (Amit Kavthekar).
The livelier tracks are the first two, especially “Syzygy”. Track 6, “Alabama,” is a cover of John Coltrane’s “Alabama,” featuring clarinet (Robert Walzel). The last two songs of the album are traditional ragas. These are slower, contemplative pieces that fit in cooler, acoustic portions of sets.
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.
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.
“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 (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”.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
The condensed version of ‘Star Time’ – not a loser herein. Excellent remastering job (good God!). Think PE’ll sound this good 30 years hence? – Reviewed by Teddy Bloat, November 6, 1991.
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.
Just the usual here. Which is to say fabulous, sophisticated, funky, stripped-down, skeletal, sublime R&B. By this time (1968), the MGs were puttin’ it down like single malt scotch. Nice. Very nice. Reviewed by Johnny P., September 2, 1992.
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.
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.
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