This is volume 2 in Billy Martin’s beats series. Amazing drumming minimalism with some assistance by Eddie Bobe on congas. The idea is possibly for mixing but it stands on its own as stripped down beats, heavy on the bass. The rhythms aren’t always easy; very much the jazz touch is noticeable. I was impressed with the volume of sound and intensity of the rhythms. It’s actually a great example of “Less is More”.
Master musicians Hossein Alizadeh on setar and Pejman Hadadi tombak perform 15 tracks of improvisational Persian classical music on their album “Monad”. Stunning in all aspects. Both are renowned, Alizadeh award winning and nominated for his tar and setar playing, Hadadi highly sought after for his tombak skills. The “Monad” project takes the modes of Persian classical music and explores the infinite possibilities within these with their improvising. Alizadeh’s finger work on the setar is stunning: quick changes, floating up and down the neck of the instrument while strings are strummed and plucked. The changes of speed, the mood tones, the smoothness of the playing add such a quality of beauty. Add to this Hadadi’s intense beats on the tombak… it is a conversation between the two instruments and musicians that becomes a meditation. Total beauty.
“Wild Heart”, Samantha Fish’s 2015 album, is a bit of a departure from her usual blues rock style. This album explores more of a roots rock feel, utilizing her blistering guitar and sometimes throaty vocals (think a bit of Janis Joplin) to deliver the tales of lost women, lost love, difficult times, the difficulty of being a woman, messed up families…. it’s all good and there’s even a little love thrown in. Her style is so dynamic without being overly stagey or theatrical. She tells the tough stories. Her band is tight, accompanying her on the tales she is weaving. Blues rock, roots rock, country rock _ whatever you want to call, it kicks. Toss one back and listen.
Ustad Bimsillah Khan is a renowned shehnai player, the wind instrument related to the oboe. Bismillah was famous for taking the shehnai, a traditional folk instrument, and elevating its status to the concert stage. On this recording, Bismillah performs nine pieces for the shehnai, accompanied with drone and drum, which would be performed at weddings. The tunes would help to preserve the sacredness of the wedding ceremony and help the couple to support and sustain Dharma. The tunes are haunting but surprisingly smooth and somewhat light in their emotional dimension. Yes, you can have haunting and light together. The notes sometimes swirl, as if following a path or leading the wedding participants on the beginning of their journey. The playing is elegant, with some subtle juxtapositions. An elegant surprise for my ears.
Razavi Sarvestani was a master singer and interpreter of Iranian music. Darioush Talaei (more commonly spelled Dariush Talai) is an Iranian tar player of international status. This recording of vocal radifs of Iranian music is volume one of an extensive survey of radifs. From my research I have found 18 volumes on this label. A radif “is a collection of many old melodic figures preserved through many generations by oral tradition. It organizes the melodies in a number of different tonal spaces called Dastgah. The traditional music of Iran is based on the radif, which is a collection of old melodies that have been handed down by the masters to the students through the generations. Over time, each master’s own interpretation has shaped and added new melodies to this collection, which may bear the master’s name. The preservation of these melodies greatly depended on each successive generation’s memory and mastery, since the interpretive origin of this music was expressed only through the oral tradition. To truly learn and absorb the essence of the radif, many years of repetition and practice are required. A master of the Radif must internalize the Radif so completely to be able to perform any part of it at any given time.” And that’s just the beginning of the explanation. The radifs are so culturally important that UNESCO has declared them part of the UNESCO Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. This recording of 22 radifs, possibly in a specific order, start off with a spoken word, possibly the title of the radif, and then the interpretation. It is just Sarvestani singing and Talai playing the tar. I have limited knowledge with this type of music but what I hear is thrilling, mesmerizing and wonderful. The interplay between the two is flawless, each complimenting and guiding the other. I am taken by this so much, especially with my beginners knowledge of it’s significance. We can always learn.
RP Boo (Kavain Space) is one of the founders of Chicago footwork, an amazing musical style that is as interesting to watch as it is to listen to. “I’ll Tell You What” is RP Boo’s third official album. It is an intense, ear shatteringly jarring exploration of sound and vocal samples broken up and down into their most basic parts, repeated continuously to proceed with the footwork exploration of rhythm anti-rhythm. If you could take sound, beats and vocals and throw them against glass then watch them all shatter, then listen to what was left…this might begin to give an idea of what is happening. Limited vocal samples tell the stories of cultural war, antagonism, belonging, love, success. It seems simple but could be missed if not listened to. The beats start and stop, propel, crunch, echo, bounce… all within seconds at times. Then there is space, emptiness while one minimal beat or vocal phrase is repeated. And repeated. And repeated. This is such a unique, challenging sound, and it’s been around for over 20 years. Experimental hip hop? Avant garde electronic dance music? It’s much more than all of that. Thank the spirits there are RP Boo’s in this world.
Judy Henske is a singer of blues, folk, country and jazz. Her career was full of connections with big names: she opened for Lenny Bruce, was a regular on tv’s Hootenanny, performed on the Judy Garland show but turned down a chance to be a regular, shared the stage with Woody Allen and is the original influence for Annie Hall, oh and so much more. These two albums from 1963 and 1964 capture a highlight of her career when she tore up the nightclub and coffee house scene coast to coast. She has a brash, boisterous, powerful voice which really work the lyrics and create a tone for the selections of blues and murder ballads. She never holds back with her emotion. Powerful stuff. What is really exciting, though, is her chat before the songs. These are recorded live and the audience loves her audacious, snarky, suggestive intros to the songs. Henske is like a Lenny Bruce crooner, irreverent and stunning, not afraid to go there. A brilliant collection of an amazing singer songwriter. All Hail the other Judy.
There are times when we luckily come upon something new. It may have been there for awhile but it is new to us. Such is the case of Nick Demopoulos’ project “Smomid”. Standing for String Modeling Midi Device, Nick, initially a guitarist, created smomid as a way for a guitar to interface with a computer. The smomid, along with his pyramidi, a midi device, are homemade instruments that transform sounds in a new way. And they look great. Lights, lights, lights. The smomid looks sort of like a combination of a guitar and one of those synthesizers from the 1980’s that also looks like a guitar. It is a guitar midi controller with all the knobs and buttons necessary to create a multitude of sounds, allowing for samples of tuvan singers and gamelan to blips and bleeps ala the best IDM to what may sound like sitar or stretched out guitar. Add the pyramidi midi devices that go along with it and wow. Talk about psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop. Don’t forget to add the lights, synchronized to send out coded messages to viewers, flashing to the beat of the smomid. Be ready.
D.J. Sparr is an American contemporary composer from Lubbock, Texas. “Electric Bands” is selection of four of his works that showcases his unique style full of rich sound that must be influenced by Charles Ives. “I Can Hear Her…” is a five part song cycle wtih Sparr on his electric guitar and the stunning soprano, Kristina Bachrach, singing the poetry of Patrick Phillips. “Meta444” uses Sparr’s guitar work along with percussive instruments, acoustic violin and piano to create a rich mood piece and study of the interplay of these instruments. “String Quarter: Avaloch” is Sparr’s string quartet ,the Momenta Quartet, performing a piece created at the Avaloch Farm Music Institute. It includes the performers triggering pre-recorded music on their own personal phones. The five parts of “Earthcaster Suite” include guitars, Hammond organ, viola, double bass, mandolin and banjo. This is all a new vision of contemporary classical music, pushing into new territory while holding on to familiar styles. Intriguing, stunning and so beautiful. Such a hopeful work.
Marvin Pontiac was a blues singer of posthumous legendary status. Institutionalized at Esmerelda State Mental Institution, Marvin’s history is rich: only 3 photos were taken of him because of his belief that his soul would be taken by the camera, his abduction and probing by aliens, born in Mali, said to be a gifted musical genius, killed when hit by a bus, and he made some pretty great songs. The 14 songs on this recording deal with strange topics: Pontiac being a doggy, him obsessing on pancakes and rocks, him watching a fly drown in his soup. Many seem to be metaphors or puzzles into his past. They are humorous if not for the possible fact of their sickness. But wait: is this for real? Not so. Marvin Pontiac is actually John Lurie’s (Lounge Lizards) made up outsider artist. The project was” a wry and purposeful sendup of the ways in which critics canonize and worship the disenfranchised and the bedevilled” as stated in The New Yorker. Interesting considering Lurie’s own strange story written in the New Yorker about being stalked, disappearing, art and confusion. Look it up and ponder the relationship. A good, deep joke of high quality.
Ann Rabson was a blues singer, guitarist and piano player of renown in the blues world. She was recognized for her smoky voice and easy style that ran through the songs. “Struttin’ My Stuff”, Ann’s second recording, showcases both her instrumental skills and vocal excellence. Whether finger picking the songs or elegantly playing the piano, Rabson’s style is one of ease and assuredness. Her vocals are so smooth and easily carry through each song. Though she sings about many typical blues issues, her power and lightheartedness bring a unique quality to the sounds. Ann was probably a person who could hold her own: she sings about her love of whiskey and how she’s a big woman not to be messed with. Each song, whether honky tonk or Chicago blues style is a pleasure to listen to. I kept finding myself coming back to this CD over and over, for so many reasons, but mainly for it’s shear quality. A true gem.
One of the wonderful things about this station growing older is that it can hear sounds it passed up in the past and now value them for the creative push that they were and still are. Such is the case of Sylvester, one of the true divas of disco and dance music of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Born in Watts, California, he was heavily influenced by his Pentecostal church and the gospel singing that happened there. Moving to San Francisco he joined the Cockettes and did acts based on African American blues singers. His career grew with several chart busting dance club hits. His outrageous and flamboyant appearance brought the crowds of worshipers to their feet. He was able to whip a crowd in a frenzy with his looks, but more so with his dynamic stage presence and falsetto voice which could hit the notes for sure. His activism educated people about what was happening in his community. This posthumous collection, (Sylvester died of complications due to AIDS) was put out on Megatone, his friend Patrick Cowley’s label. This collection contains never before released remixes of Sylvester songs as well as unreleased picks. The disco beat is driving but the production is really interesting, what with the likes of Harvey Fuqua, Patrick Cowley and others taking the reigns. Sylvester’s vocal skill is overwhelming when you hear it blasted on a real stereo with real speakers. He could convey the message, suggestive though it may be, with just a few phrases and wow is the message clear. Basically, have fun. Two surprises, “How Great Thou Art” and “He’ll Understand” are gospel church songs. The vocal power on these two brought chills and made me double check that this was still Sylvester. How great thou art indeed.
David Krakauer is a master of the clarinet and is influential in bringing klezmer music to modern audiences. His approach is to recreate the sound with new musical styles so as to make klezmer something organic and ever changing, not just stuck in a historic past. Associated with the Klezmatics and John Zorn, Krakauer got his experience in many right places. This live recording in Krakow features a paired down version of his group Klezmer Madness! including accordion, bass, drums and guitar (check out the wah wah!) plus the Canadian DJ Socalled who adds his turntable stylings with an excellent array of samples. Socalled really mixes the sound, giving it a new level of excitement and surprise. “Turntable Pounding” is this excellent track of male chorus and female singing samples mixed with the exceptional drum pounding out the beats. Krakauer’s clarinet skills float in, over and around the mix of sounds, leaving the listener breathless. His skill is heard on each track. This is one of those rare fusion type albums which actually sounds better than the individual parts. This is definitely a new sound. Trying to figure out how to categorize it – international, jazz, country, folk – better demonstrates its uniqueness. Just enjoy.
First off: Rita Mitsouko ARE great, so back off. Second, Rita Mitsouko is not the name of the artist, it’s the name of the duo who are Catherine Ringer (singer) and Fred Chichin (guitarist), so those KFJC reviews from the past who list it as Mitsouko, Rita….sorry, not so. This confusion was international which led Catherine and Fred to switch their group name to Les Rita Mitsouko to hopefully stave off confusion. This album, “Rita Mitsouko” was Rita Mitsouko’s first full recordings. Hailing from the underground factory club scene of Paris, Rita hit it with their perfect blend of punk, altenative pop (when that was a good thing), French chanson and dance power, mixed with their sense of fashion and fashionista references. Their style is this infectious alter pop. None of my normal friends could ever get it but the cool folk, the clubsters, the punks…they would loose it when this stuff hit the sound system. “Marcia Baila” was the dance hit, an homage to Argentine choreographer Marcia Moreto, who Ringer studied with. There is also a song about Oum Khalsoum, the amazing internationally renowned Egyptian singer. The style is like Stereo Total and Sparks (whom they played with). Ringer’s vocals are this crazy warble from low to high registers, affected in a good way that growls and coos along to the beat. She sometimes sings around the beat, making for interesting interpretations. Chichin keeps his guitar steady with this great New Wave punk sound that has a bit of sarcasm in it, making it that much more enjoyable. The synth beats add to the frenzy. It’s pure pop snobbery and charm that still holds up. Club kids will party.
MINA!!!! We can never have enough Mina. Finally, we have some Mina. Mina, also known as Mina Mazzini, was and is a European superstar who came onto the scene in the late 1950’s with her rock and roll stylings and then moved into pop stardom with pop songs and ballads. Known as an emancipated woman, her hip shaking and body twisting, her 3 octave range, her singing about religion, smoking and sex, her appearing pregnant by a married actor, all this and more got her much attention. The pregnancy got her banned for quite a while on TV and radio but the fans wanted her and she continued. This collection, “Bugiardo…” catches her in her pop ballad stage, and what a stage it is. Equal to some of the great singers of the time, her vocal range and emotion is stunning, connecting to passionate lyrics about love, lost love, independence, the one that got away. She never holds back, for sure. There is a bit of kitsch to these recordings which make them all the more worthwhile for me. I would be in the audience cheering her on while smirking a bit in complete glee. Pour me another cocktail.
Martin Carthy is a British folk singer whose influence is far and wide in the world of folk and blues. Having started in the early 1960’s with the group The Three City Four, he went on to perform with Steeleye Span, members of Fairport Convention for the group Albion Country Band and also with Brass Monkey. He is known for his arrangement of the traditional tune “Scarborough Fair” which was then used by Simon And Garfunkel without acknowledgement. This collection of 17 songs, many traditional, is Carthy playing solo with his acoustic guitar. He likes to use alternative tunings and has a distinctive picking style which emphasizes the melody” of the song. Each song is a rich story, filled with passion due to the guitar work but also because of Carthy’s unique vocals. The vocals follow, add to and play with the guitar work, creating drama in the rendering of each songs tale. There are tearjerkers a plenty plus songs of humor. He is a hero of modern day bard, Richard Dawson. Just a wow of a voice and guitar playing.
Modular String Trio is not what it’s name says. It’s a quartet with a string trio inside of it. Violin, cello and double bass make up the trio. while a modular synthesizer makes this group the quartet. Hailing from Poland and the Ukraine, the quartet’s musical interplay extend the meaning and understanding of jazz, pushing those boundaries with superb exploratory sounds that are unique yet make sense. The trio is a combination classical sound (strings) but with very obvious improvisational jazz roots. The violin and cello bounce around each other’s notes like butterflies, bees and ants moving through their space. The bass does less than keep it together but rather adds to the complex journey of sound. Add to this the modular synthesizer playing its own brand of improv, bleeping and squonking throughout the string’s interplay. And then, the contrabass player, Jacek Mazurkiewicz electronically processes his instrument in real time!!! What does this mean?…. a truly unique, enjoyable, but not easy listen of music in a new take.
Colin Self is quite the accomplished composer, academic and activist. Schooled at Evergreen State College, School of Art Institute of Chicago and Bard College’s Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts, he’s got the credentials. Having worked in NYC with a number of radical alternative queer groups as well as being a part of Holly Herndon’s trio, his experience in experimentation and community is full on. “Siblings” is the final part of a six part opera series named “Elation”. Dealing with themes of alienation and empathy through his overall look at multi-species flourishing of non biological family systems, gender, understanding, social control and social transformation. A lot of ideas coming out at the listener.
The 11 songs contain lush, operatic choral pieces dealing with stories of identity and ideas of family. The heady lyrics are rich and ready for listeners to sink their teeth into. The instrumental pieces are new IDM: shattered explosions of bits of pieces of samples and sounds brought back together in a new jittery way. Exquisite.
References pop into my head: Chicago Footwork artists, Holly Herndon, Genesis P. Orridge, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Antony.
Are Pentagruel playing something that could be coined Doom Classical? If it exists, this is a great example. We are talking about the effects of the St.Barthomew Day’s Massacre of 1572 where tens of thousands were slaughtered. We are talking faeryes and queens, magyck and melancholy. Wait, this could be a new KFJC t-shirt slogan: Faeries and Queens, Magyck and Melancholy. Pantagruel us citterns, gitterns, lutes, flutes and voice to tell the tales of the time, some dark, some darker, always a bit mystical and questionable. There will be dragons. And as the pictures show, there will be tights and velvet. Teasing aside, gorgeous insturmentation and vocalization take the listener back to a time that feels familiar. Superb and one of my favorite suprprises from this year.
Activist, poet, revolutionary blues singer, musicologist, friend of Fidel Castro, reporter of North Vietnam and so much more. Coming out of the coffee house folk scene of the late 1950’s, Lester’s trajectory followed that of the civil rights movements of many places during this time. Here is a selection of songs from the two albums he recorde. Just him and his guitar. A stunner of a vocalist with lyrics that do not hold back… these are in your face commentaries about the injustices of social conditions directed primarily toward African Americans. Songs of police attacks and profiling, economic disparity, work inequality… it could be today as much as the 1960’s and 70’s. Things don’t always change. Powerful and strong. “Stagolee” is a 13 minute epic equal in quality to Dylan'” and Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant”. Brilliant, sad, depressing stuff.
If the “N” word is considered an FCC then FCC on tracks 7,11,13 and 14.
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