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.
Yowsa. Eric Shoutin’ Sheridan & The Uptown Rhythm Kings are recreating a type of blues band called Honkers or Shouters that came out of the 1940’s. Horn driven, big vocals, hep cat jive stylin’ but done without kitsch. This is serious fun, recorde live at Fleetwood. Sheridan’s vocals take hold and lead the audience into rhythm frenzy with songs about dumping the wife and opening up the back door, if you know what I mean. The band is tight, with horns taking charge. A blast of fun that I could hear on any number of shows. Have fun.
Swedish and sometimes Finnish folk group, Hedningarna ( The Heathens), came onto the music scene in the mid 1980’s, playing with the songs and sounds of the early Norse, utilizing instruments of that time and building their own variations. Adding electronics for a contemporary twist, Hedningarna have always been able to sound otherwordly and unique but never quaint. There sound rocks, in an electronic old Scandinavian sort of way. “Hippjokk” has just the Swedish trio of musicians without the two female Finnish singers, in an attempt to “draw the connection between medieval Scandinavian dance music and the techno rave scene”. It is so not that to me, just a bajillion times better. It is one of the most unique sounds I’ve heard and I’ve been following them for quite awhile. There is this Arabic style influence and then cranky sounds that remind me of hurdy gurdies but not. Beyond toe tapping – full on body bumping. Skal.
Francoise Kucheida is a French blues singer, whose strong vocal style reminds one of the past greats of French chanson but who adds her own richness to interpretation to classic French standards and newer songs. These are not just about love, but about struggle, the people struggling day to day, which can also be about love. Accompanied by accordion and guitar on many tracks, these songs are rich with emotion and beauty. Light that cigarette, pour yourself an aperitif, sit back and listen to the sounds of the Seine in the distance.
Serge Gainsbourg, French sex icon and sultry singer of suggestive French pop tunes decided to put together a reggae album back in the late 1970’s. Pulling in the magic of Sly and Robbie, The I Threes for background vocals, many studio reggae greats and recording and mixing at Dynamic Sounds Studio, Gainsbourg nails it track after track. The propulsive bass lines and smooth backing vocals are a perfect match for Serge’s cigarette filled, raspy low tone almost monotone singing. These songs are most probably not about Jah. Most assuredly the pinnacle of a period yet so timeless. Get sexy.
Paul Bley’s “Improvisie”, finishes off his trilogy of experimental electronic free jazz explorations with Annette Peacock. Recorded live in 1971 in Rotterdam, Netherlands, the two selections have Bley on electric piano and synthesizer ( as in MOOG), Peacock on electric and acoustic piano, synthesizer, electric bass and vocals, and Han Bennick on percussion. Peacock supposedly was the one who pushed the MOOG on Bley and with much success for the both of them. This is at the beginning of the MOOG so folks are trying to figure it out. Bley was happy that a keyboard was added but now he and Peacock were figuring out all the nuances of the thing. The improvisational interplay between Bley and Peacock is stunning, displaying a real understanding of the others musicianship. Peacock adds agonizing vocals (in a good way, a really good way) to the second piece. It almost shocks the listener. The pleasurable surprise, though, is Bennick’s percussion performance. He does so many amazing things with the drums, cymbals and whatever else he had present, adding to, accentuating, and filling out the sounds of Bley and Peacock. It almost gets lost but is so necessary. Definitely take a hard listen. A wonderful piece of music by some masters who were really going for the extreme.
Isaac Holt and Edee Young are solid members in the soul and rhythm and blues world and their “Soulful Strut” is a classic insturmental that everyone has heard. This collection of the “definitive” Young-Holt Unlimited paints a broader picture of this duo. The 20 tracks present a mix of insturmental and vocals treats that cover a wide blues and soul spectrum. Some of the instrumentals are so smooth, as if you were sitting in a bar in Las Vegas at 3 am listening to their show. It’s so perfect, cocktail lounge sounding and feeling with a smooth rhythm section that goes down easy. The vocals tell great stories of how they can get the girl, how great the girl looks, how the girl should hook up with them. Then there is the “Horoscope” song, a crazy, man, medium hard soul strut with horns a plenty testifying to the ladies about what they should do. Example: “To the Libra with yo’ scales in your hand. Come on baby, open up your eyes and kneel.” Whoa, and then whoa. Soulfulness aplenty.
From 2003, this is Ellen Allien’s second release on her own BPitch Control label. Berlin techno parties must have been a blast with sounds like this playing into the early morning. Here we have Allien’s charismatic voice singing over an eclectic mix of techno beats mixed in with glitch, tweak and odd computer modulated vocals and sounds. Each track is pretty unique, standing on it’s own as well as fitting together in the whole work. I’m finding this early work almost more experimental, more quirky than her later work. These pieces are not afraid of challenging the listener and of taking a chance. With beats. Always. One of my favorite finds over the last year.
This 2002 release marked a return, of sorts. of the wonderful Scroggins family and their infectious stripped down funk sound. This time around, daughters have joined in and the beat is still pumping. Remember, ESG is all about the bass, and man is there bass. Simple bass lines repeated over and over almost take on the power of a vocalist. Without the bass, there is no ESG. Minimalism is the word for this funk post punk project. Some songs just have Renee Scroggins simmering vocals accompanied by bass. Others have that oh so familiar drum beat, a little guitar, some tambourine or other percussion thrown in. That’s it, but what an “IT”. A real joy to continue to hear them. Some of these tracks are even more stripped down then songs of the past, and a bit slower, but the sound, the beat, the thump thump thump is so infectious. Your head will bop and booty will shake.
12345 S. El Monte Road Los Altos Hills, California 94022
Public Inspection File