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Music Reviews

Gauguin Years, The: Songs and Dances [coll] – [Nonesuch]

stingray   1/13/2005   CD, International

What it is: Field recordings of indigenous Tahitian music.
What it sounds like: The most interesting tracks (to me) are some combination of chant, prayer and song (6, 8, 10, 17, 18, 22, 24). Most of them involve a kind of call and response with a ‘preacher? or storyteller and a chorus. It must be a similar experience to hearing a catholic mass in a language you can’t understand.
Some tracks are beautifully harmonized a cappella prayers and laments that can sound quite alien to western ears (2, 4, 11, 12, 13, 16, 21, 25).
Some tracks are ukulele/guitar accompanied by one voice (3, 15, 20, 23, 26), a chorus of voices (1, 14), or no voices at all (9). These sound like ‘traditional? Polynesian music (as opposed to the slicked up stuff presented to tourists, but you can hear the roots of that here).
Rounding out the collection are some tracks of drumming (5, 19) and a brief wind instrument (nose flute perhaps?) solo (7). I’ve indicated my favorites on the back, but everything is good and the recording quality is quite excellent.
About the recording: Originally released in 1968 as part of a series of South Pacific field recordings. All tracks recorded in Tahiti by Francis Mazi’re.

TULEAR NEVER SLEEPS

Ann Arbor   1/13/2005   CD, International

This is the first compilation of music of the Tsapiky (Tsa-peek) guitars from south west Madagascar. They are handmade box shaped lutes. The gentle rhythmic lute-like musical style is similar to many of its African neighbors but it’s distinct. The tsapiky is at the center of the group which includes vocals, bass, drums and dancers. The vocal styles vary and the lyrics tell stories about people, relationships and aspects of life. A beauty! AArbor

CAPTAIN YABA – YabaFUNKRoots

Ann Arbor   1/13/2005   CD, International

This music is ‘griot funk? from Sierra Leone. Originally released in the 1990’s this album apparently had little impact at that time. Yaba’s sound slowly grew in popularity by word of mouth. Yaba himself died of TB (in his early 30s) in April of 2001. For about 4 years from 1999 until 2003 the album was out of circulation. RetroAfric re-issued it re-packaged with added tracks from the original session. Funky African style beats underpin Yaba’s gentle 2-string gourd guitar (koliko) grooves, a muted trumpet & vocals. A beauty! AArbor

added: 03/31/04

Butcher, John/Robair, Gino “New Oakland Burr” [Rastascan]

Thurston Hunger   1/9/2005   CD, Format, Jazz

Recently issued capture of two 2001 sessions between local
percussion-plus purveyor (and chief man at Rastascan) Gino
Robair, and UK sax whacker John Butcher. The album starts
with high-pitched twitting over a (bowed?) rumble droner;
it’s hard to tell if that whistling is amplified Butcher or
Robair sawing on some styrofoam or both. The key is that
both guys are willing to stretch their sonic repetoire to
the point of illusion. Thus at times on this you’ll get the
“drummer” squonking away, while the “horn” player is tapping
out a spit-rhythm or other percussion. On other tracks, both
guys approach an alien sound together, like on “Slug Tag”
where they are speaking metal slowscrape. Robair’s ebowed
snare appears on the “Pudsey Surprise” like a fly trapped
buzzing in window screen, Butcher bugzaps some electrosax.
A lot of turf covered here from the drone-tundra of “Fid”
and “Peal” to more squigglery on “Blagovest.” Humor not
to be discounted, hear the sax whinny on “Vug” and Robair
gets in on the joke, but I’m not sure on what instrument.
Would have been great to see this in person live, these
tracks are as short as they are strange…so they are very
easy to squeeze in and play musical ears.

Fontaine, Brigitte “Brigitte Fontaine” [Saravah]

Thurston Hunger   1/9/2005   A Library, CD, Format

1972 a completely fascinating audio enchantment. Fontaine
sounds strong but soft, subtle yet striking. She’s always the
focal vocal point accompanied by sparse backing and sometimes
just naked by herself (or herselves as several tracks feature
great moments of Brigitte multitracked like the beginning of
#2, #6 & #8 which features gaspy sobs as well!) At other
times she’s pitched up against a more gravelly male voice
(Areski I believe who she would record more with). It starts
with a breezy folk-pop smile of a song but boom #2 kicks off
with a piercing shriek. On track #3 we have a few seconds of
audie realite babysitting, then #4 a ponderous chamber ditty
that recalls Nico. Before this scant 30 minutes is up you
will have heard incorporated a cuckoo clock approach, a
harmonium harmonizing with Brigitte and then protest shouts,
sad pining with an Arabic lilt (Areski’s influence?), other
moments that feel like hymns and it ends up with a kind of
proggy number. Lady Fontaine is a champion chameleon, an
artful performer and in my estimation an absolute and
essential genius. French and twisted! Worship her.

Peter Brotzmann’s Chicago Tentet Plus Two “Broken English” [Okka Disc]

Thurston Hunger   1/9/2005   CD, Format, Jazz

Despite a leading gentle mantra guided by Hamid Drake’s vocal
prayer, frame drum and soul…do not be deceived, this is
**horsepower** jazz. Peter Brotzmann knows how to whip up a
stampede. He rides into the fray with a gypsy’s tarogato,
calming cycles to go with Drake’s dream chant… But just
shy of six minutes, skyscrapers of sound shoot up through
the idyll. Cue the lurching Longberg-Holm cello…unleash
the dual drumheart of Zerang and Drake pumping at more than
capacity, and the race has begun. Brotzmann has amassed
some mighty thoroughbreds…plenty of NRG and BBQ to keep
the fire music flaming…but “Stonewater” does have some
stillness running deep in pockets. Ultimately it is the
sputtering saxes that stand-out, I’m telling you I hear
horses…lip-flipping, braying, raging stags. So even when
we get a little clarinet soft-shoe around 18 minutes in,
and then a very faint cello/bass duo, I’m waiting for
the hoofs…which leap in almost like a bad edit. For all
the fine playing, track one is acoustically imbalanced.
The second tracks stays strong throughout, a nice brass
oven at the end of its first third. The piece pauses
for a trumpet soliloquy at 13:36 (McPhee?) then it’s
over to Gustaffson for his pyrotechnique. Late in the
piece a drum duet locks in, invites in a swinging set
from the whole twelve and boom, a cliffhanger ending.
Years of music barely fit into 67 minutes, escape words.
Listen, follow one player for awhile, repeat..

Bradford, Bobby/Wong, Francis/Roper, William “Purple Gums” [Asian Improv]

Thurston Hunger   1/9/2005   CD, Format, Jazz

Roper’s tuba is smudgy and thick, he also plays the
conch shell…and this reminded me of one gigantic
conch shell at the bottom. Wong’s sax is smoky but
not so much so that you cannot see Bobby Bradford
darting in and out on cornet. All of these are
improvisations that work just fine on their own…but
on several of the pieces, Roper puts down the tuba
and delivers some monologues…that even when tackling
touchy issues like segregation (#4) do so with a noble
sort of whim. He’s not singing, but his voice is so
rich and sonorous that you want him to keep on talking
despite it somewhat distracting from the music. Well,
I sure…did he seems like quite a character, check
“You A Square.” If you want the straight music, they
have got you covered as well.

Birdbrain “I Fly” [Persian Cardinal]

Thurston Hunger   1/9/2005   A Library, CD

Beak-tweaking pop from this Brooklyn Quartet. Yvette Perez’s
queerly cheering vocals and kewpie paroxysms ride on top of
a great trio of horns. Betty Boop over bop? Actually the horns
(two saxes and a trombone) sound like marching band refugees
trying to capture Albert Ayler in minimalism? The songs are
quick to flight, the album breezes by in a feather over 20
minutes. Perez’s vocals are stacked in teasing layers, they
definitely add to the braininess. The birdiness comes from
some of the horn’s tooty tweeting, and staccato woodpecker
sections. There are a few avian persuasion lyrics and a fowl
sample or two, but this stays fair and delivers a homerun
for fans of herky-quirky.
O Superband!

The BellRays — “The Red, White, & Black” — [Alternative Tentacles]

Hunter Gatherer   1/9/2005   A Library, CD

This is the 4th full length release by the BellRays, originally released in 2003 by Poptones. It’s being re-released on Alternative Tentacles and won’t be available until later this month (1/2005)

The music on this CD is “Rock & Soul,” fuled by the power of singer Lisa Kekaula’s soulful and expressive voice and Tony Fate’s driving and equally expressive guitar work. The band is from Riverside, but their sound is from Detroit.

The quality of the tracks is pretty uneven, both in the songwriting and the playing. And there is a self-seriousness in the music and liner notes that is off-putting. But on the tracks where everything clicks (especially 5,7,8,12 in my humble opinion) all is forgiven.

After listening to this CD you’ll no longer wonder what Aretha’s albums would have sounded like if Steve Cropper was replaced with Tony Iommi.

Language: Fuck on 3

Use the track listings on the inside of the liner notes. The back cover doesn’t contain the full track listing.

–Hunter Gatherer

Nightime Recordins From Bali [coll] – [Sublime Frequencies]

Thurston Hunger   1/9/2005   A Library, CD, Format, International

Alan Bishop (nee Lomax?) of the Sun City Girls
undertakes an underground and afterhours look
at international music with his strongly
self-run Sublime label. Ears in armchairs
get a whiff of the enchantment, as well as
smoldering flesh at funeral pyres. Some of
these recordings are truly in the *field*,
with Balinese flora and fauna. A good number
are “fast food gamelan,” quick glimpses into
lengthy performances. These sections have
more agressive flourishes, like a dog tearing
at something: violent shakes of sound. Then
diamond dogs do drop in on #14, I wound up
wondering about the stories behind that and
other tracks, (at the end of #17 we overhear
“I thought he was the police”). Hopefully we
can get Alan on for an interview. “Rubber
Television” mixes raindrops and teardrops
for a radio soap opera.

Henriksen, Arve “Chiaroscuro” [Rune Grammafon]

Thurston Hunger   1/9/2005   A Library, CD, Format

Supersmeared trumpet from Supersilent’s Henriksen. With a
no-hassle, yes-Hassel vibe the palate here is warmer than
the first six slices of Supersilent. And pieces are shorter
sketches of sound. Here Henriksen’s tiny voice, which often
stands in striking contrast to the monumental Deathprod’d
musical monoliths, instead helps bring us down through a
microscope into a smaller world. Nano-whales spout muted
streams; percussion from Audun Kleive is like subcellular
flagellae, gently whipping at beats. The straining of
Hernriksen’s trumpet (it pines like a shakuachi on #7)
can give this a mistakenly elegiac aire, but I think it
is really an album that is at peace with its smaller
and more subtle nature.

Russell, Arthur “Calling Out of Context” [Audika Records]

Thurston Hunger   1/9/2005   A Library, CD, Format

RIP Charles Arthur Russell II – April 4th, 1992. Arthur
might still be championed as a lost visionary even if
his life were not lost to AIDS. He helped stage shows
at the avant-kookery known as the Kitchen in NYC but
he also had a predilection for disco (releasing a
dance discs under names like Loose Joints, Dinosaur L
and Indian Ocean). This posthumous pop release reissues
an album “Corn” along with other kernels. I have to
confess, “The Platform on the Ocean” is nearly perfect
for me. His loose-lipped, note-cloud singing I enjoy,
especially when dipped in quick reverb as he does. His
cello flies in askance and belies his brief tenure at
Ali Akbar Khan’s Marin college. Gotta find that lp of
his solo cello work. Certainly his boogie nights see
the light of day on this, drum machines skip and prance
to prod tracks. His vocalizations may steer some clear,
but I’ll take them time and again over Jennifer Warnes
(on #6). His vox are the ghost in the dance machine!
It’s a tragedy that his life will be defined by the
success others he shared time and rehearsal space w/
went on to, instead of his own.

Architecture in Helsinki “Fingers Crossed” [Bar/None]

Thurston Hunger   1/9/2005   A Library, CD, Format

Pillow talk rock sung by perpetual prepubescents in their
Human League t-shirts. You get the feeling Burt Bacharach
would even smile when he gets that Helsinki feeling. Bass
lines bubble up with mirth, banks of toy pianos teletype
a rosy colored glass more than twice half-full. Yep this
is an album that is positively brimming, positively beaming.
If Mitch LeMay does not like this, then run for cover as
the end of the world is nigh. If you don’t like it, the
vocals are probably just too damn fluffy for you. Or
maybe it was the kazoo? Maybe you have a problem with
merry-go-rounds…that’s possibly the ideal setting for
sitting with these sounds spinning. The collective draws
from many global points, yet none of them in Finland. The
band however was born in Melbourne. Casio tones for the
plainfully together?

Ape Has Killed Ape “Another Fraudulent Hoax” [self]

Thurston Hunger   1/9/2005   A Library, CD, Format

Matt Stein is top banana in Ape Has Killed Ape. He also
is the erstwhile drummer for Leather Hyman. His talky
vocals with telephony squelch cannot help but recall
“Flash and the Pan” for me. First track has rock 101
appeal, second track is lazy three-chord, three-beer
acoustic ditty, third track is an instro interluude key
crawler, the fourth lays out tribal drums and tangled
effect-strafed guitar, the fifth’s an instro at a
bottling company with anthem lite guitar, the sixth
fills theremin trills in the space between a collapsed
relationship. Lastly Stein is joined by a rowdy Roddy
McDowell sample for “The Fall of Man.” This CD has
about as much evolution in it as a Georgia textbook.
Stein will keep working with his little four-track
until they pry it from his cold, dead fingers and
opposable thumbs.

Antarcticans, the “The New Black”

Thurston Hunger   1/9/2005   A Library, CD, Format

Mystical epics carved with glacial grace by this 5-piece from
Pasadena. Lengthy instro excursions climb through God Speed
clouds up and over the Holy Mountain. Excellent use of the
rise and fall of dynamics, as if the listener finds resting
caves along the way, only to catch a second and a third wind,
along with a second and third guitarist to boot. Track one
hits a pagan celebration about 10 minutes in, Io Pan indeed.
Track two begins bending an angular riff over a broken half
step at the temple to some two-headed god. Janus? The god
gets angry, then blissfully calm, then angry again. The band
seems to have a firm grasp on how long to ride a passage
before moving on to other territory. The last track finds
all five adrift on an iceberg with the mummified remains of
Florian Fricke. Nice harmonics tick up to a squall around
6:50 in…large auditorim reverb billowing on quick picked
guitar that mounts in fury till 11 minutes or so…then its
a very slow fade to white, which is the new black. Somewhere
between the 12- and 32-minute marks that song vanishes into
thin air.

O’Hara, Alexis “In Abulia” [Grenadine]

Thurston Hunger   1/9/2005   A Library, CD, Format

Wordy-gurdy, spinning songs in costume and in
character. Split personalities outnumber the
languages (French and English) featured here.
Breathy-bop and bleat-box on #7. A special
episode of COPS on #10, with nice imitation
helicopters overhead. #12 lays down a John
Carpenter bass for tension, then pushes
voices in your head and in the mouth of a
radio host…charming as an alien autopsy.
Robopoetry on #3. Operating room antics
with Dr. Kevorkian in drag on #4?’ Hostage
and relationship crisis on #6. Skits more
than songs, will draw parallels to Miranda
July. This actually has more in the musical
vein, but arteries are clogged with quirky
ideas and sound textures. This is one that
will grow fans over time like Miss July. An
odd audio pin-up, play-up girl.

Note #14 ends with 1:38, then silence then
at 1:09 has a weird bonus track that suggests
maybe Alexis’ ouvre started out as a series of
“Truth or Dare” challenges as a kid.

Shimada, Aiko “Like Hannah” [Bera Records]

Thurston Hunger   1/9/2005   A Library, CD, Format

Dark raindrops on deep lakes. The gentleness on this record is
like the embrace of an aunt to a beloved niece, or perhaps the
promise to an expectant daughter,(a child is due in May). Her
open guitar chords ripple and are blurred even further by
watercolor flugel horn from Dave Carter. Thus song structure
is not consistent, not thick but more like strands that slowly
wrap around themselves. Beautiful in a Joni Mitchell manner.
Similarly, Aiko’s voice runs deeper than most but uniquely is
never smokey. When her voice does tiptoe up the scale it grows
even more fragile. I kept thinking of jellyfish as emblematic.
As much as anyone, I think Evan Schiller is crucial here, as
these songs could just fall apart, but listen to “Loneliness”
or the title track and you can feel the subtle strength he
creates. Doubling or overlapping vocals often gird these
gossamer waterwings. If you can gather a rainy afternoon
together, the whole album has a nice flow.

Adbusters “Live Without Dead Time” #47 [coll] – [Adbusters]

Thurston Hunger   1/9/2005   A Library, CD, Format

Companion to the magazine…send listeners to
adbusters.org…they’ll head there mad & grow more
irate. This may be the first they have ever issued
a CD in cahoots, and DJ Spooky aka Paul Miller
resurrects some saints in his Jihad against McWorld.
Martin Luther King, Marshall McLuhan, Malcom X…
Several selections features Spooky collaborating with
Saul Williams to deliver their payload with the
precision of the smartest bomb in the class. Sun Ra
reappears with his formula Nuclear War=MotherF*,
Chuck D.’s voice is a good a rallying cry as you’ll
ever find. J-Live’s lyrics are laced with an extra
portion of truth. Nice introduction to Honey Barbara.
Overall, truth against advertising is the order of
the day. It’s all riveted together tightly, but worth
breaking off a piece to get the conversation flowing.
Pledge Illegiance.

Abdelli “Among Brothers” [Real World]

Thurston Hunger   1/9/2005   CD, Format, International

Abderrahmane Abdelli is an Algerian musician (from the
“Kabyl” – an ancient Berber collective of musicians).
The “Kabyl” have historically been unflinching in their
assessment via song of the political powers that be, and
this does not sit well with the fundamentalist Islamic
leaders of Algeria. Thus Abdelli has worked in exile in
Belgium since the early 1990’s. This album was created
over three years, taking the basic songs of Abdelli’s
raspy yet sweet voice and his mandola (an instrument
like an oud). Then in the Real World manner, folding in
other spices, musicians, flavors and countries. Often
his mandola traces the vocals, as does flute at times
and some spiky fiddling as well. Spry slithering sounds
are slathered on the tracks, giving this the power of
gypsy music and the dramatic highlighting of Peter
Gabriel’s “Passion” soundtrack to “The Last Temptation
of Christ.” Pristine recording machinations do not
molest the stirring soul of these songs.

Archie Shepp – ?Attica Blues? – [Impulse!]

Hunter Gatherer   1/5/2005   CD, Jazz

This is a 3/2003 reissue of an album originally released in 1972.

Saxophonist Archie Shepp is one of the pioneers of free jazz. He has a degree in comparative literature, is a composer, and is a published playwright and poet. He’s also a radical who makes no secret of his anger about social injustice.

So given the topic of the Attica prison riots (in which a four day revolt was squashed by 1,000 state troopers who killed 29 inmates and 10 hostages) I was looking forward to popping in this CD and hearing about what a shit whitey is.

But Mr. Shepp is smarter than that. Plenty of rage is here, and you can hear it in his alto and soprano saxophone lines throughout the whole CD. You can especially hear it in the cacophonous funk-based free jazz (free funk?) of the title track.

The rage almost gives way to despair later in the CD with lyrics like ‘I would rather be a plant than a man in this land.’ Even on the prettiest song Ballad for a Child, discordant strings belie the lyrics ‘What the world needs is a baby’s smile.’

2, 4, and 7 are spoken word ‘invocations? of which 4 is the most interesting. ‘Blues for George Jackson? refers to the Black Panther leader shot to death under suspicious circumstances while in prison.

There are elements of R&B, soul, funk, and even big band underneath the jazz elements, making each track seem familiar but not quite comfortable.

Most of the songs track through, so watch the endings. Also, the last track features some spontaneous (to put it nicely) singing by a 7-year-old.

–Hunter Gatherer

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