Music Reviews

Humeniuk, Pawlo – “King of The Ukrainian Fiddlers” – [Arhoolie Productions]

aarbor   4/6/2022   CD, International

Pawlo Humeniuk was born in Western Ukraine but emigrated to the U.S. around 1902 when he was about 18. He was a terrific fiddler and in demand to play at Ukrainian social events especially weddings. He made at least 250 recordings. These recordings were made in New York from 1925-1927 and feature quite a bit of wedding-related music. Arhoolie have done a great job of documenting what each piece is called and how it fits into the context of the event. Track 13 is one of Humeniuk’s most celebrated recordings. Track 21 is a very well-loved melody in the Ukraine. Different groupings of instruments both traditional Ukrainian and orchestral, can be heard on each track. AArbor

Shner, Idit and Mhondoro – “Heat Wave” – [OA2 Records]

aarbor   4/6/2022   CD, Jazz

Idit Shner is sax player from Israel, John Mambira is a traditional musician from Zimbabwe, the rest of the crew are all from Oregon (where they live today). From backyard jams and living room recording sessions during the pandemic came the song Fingerprints [7] and then the other 6 tracks of this release. Mhondoro means “the lion spirit’ in Shona (a Zimbabwe language). A band and release born of the pandemic Shner and Mambira were in a “parent pod” (their children attended online school together). It’s global and hyper-local jazz – how American. AArbor

Guinea Pig – “The New Neighbors” – [Edgetone Records]

Max Level   4/4/2022   CD, Jazz

Guinea Pig is a jazz quartet that formed in 1995 and has finally released their second album. Recorded live in 2019 at the SF Musicians Union Hall. The lineup is Timothy Orr–drums/percussion, Rent Romus–saxophones, Robert Kuhlmann–electric bass, and Tony Passarell–saxophone and cornet. Six pieces of solid outside jazz, ranging from around 4 to 7 minutes in length. Check out the cool blowing-two-saxes-at-once action. Orr on drums really propels this group. Nothing I don’t dig about this.

Thollem – “Obstacle Illusion” – [Astral Spirits]

Max Level   4/4/2022   A Library, CD

Thollem’s imagination continues to astound. Four lengthy pieces here: Tracks 1 and 4 are solo piano inventions that cover a lot of unpredictable ground; Tracks 2 and 3 are tumultuous electronic pieces performed on his trusty Korg Wavestate keyboard. As a master of every musical style on this planet and beyond, his technique is brilliant and seemingly effortless. Much respect for that. But the way he jumps from one idea to another, one musical voice to another, and somehow makes all the passages flow together like they belong together—that’s what puts him in a class of his own. He NEVER seems to be out of ideas. And I mean good ones. All material recorded live in Italy, late 2021. No overdubs.

Measures of Decay [coll] – [Rural Isolation Project]

whngr   3/30/2022   A Library, CD

Double-feature Horror Vignette

En Nihil begins the diptych: A marauding beast lurches through an electronic forest illuminated by an inverted crescent moon laced with briars, brambles, and dead leaves before tumbling into a clearing where a chaste maiden far too removed from her bedchamber, though dressed accordingly, turns her virtuous face toward us just as our view is ominously obscured by the hulking , terrible monstrosity. Her eyes alight, and in recognition of her grisly fate begin to shudder as her scream cleaves the night. An intimation of violence before the scene is swallowed by malevolent shadows.

No Visitors continues the morbid tale upon an isolated mountain peak. A wayward traveler claws his way over the frozen landscape amid howling winds. His fractured mind has continued to play tricks on him as the imminent storm approaches… but the voices urge him on. No longer aware of the blood caked to his frozen hands, he is utterly depleted. Exhausted, he pauses for breath and looks up to see the moon’s scowl as his legs tremble, the knees buckle, and he slides and then tumbles into the abyss. He lands hard upon the ice. He will not live, but he will have time to reflect on his miserable life between blessed lapses in consciousness… His ears are ringing. Body broken. But the journey has not ended… for he was a wicked man and the devil awaits their reunion.

A genuinely alarming release from a mysterious noise label from Austin, TX. Little can be gleaned from online sleuthing as bandcamp seems to hold the keys to Rural Isolation Project… and they’re not sharing. Nor are No Visitors. However, En Nihil is one Adam Fritz, a prolific creator of harsh sounds with releases stretching back to 1996.


Alternate African Reality [coll] – [Syrphe Records]

SlartiBartfast   3/29/2022   A Library, CD

Alternative African Reality – [Coll]

African rhythms meet an otherworldly electronic universe on this compilation curated by Cedrik Fermont of Syrphe Records. This double CD collection transcends musical expectations by defining it’s own African experimental and electronic soundscape. Alternative African Reality drifts between afro-techno tracks with beats to keep you awake at night and electronic glitches that haunt your nightly dreams. There is a healthy sprinkling of field recordings, spoken word, and tracks that seem recorded by cell phone on the local corner to add flavor to this musical stew. Highly recommended as an interesting and intriguing double CD that will shock your auditory cortex while providing delicious musical treats for all curious taste buds. 

Tri Atma/Tri Atma

carsonstreet   3/27/2022   CD, International

Tri Atma was founded in 1977 by German guitarist Jens Fischer and Indian tabla player Asim Saha, Tri Atma fuses Eastern musical elements with Western electronic pop and psychedelia. Jens Fischer: “Tri Atma was founded around 1976, initially we were 3 people, the tabla player Asim (pronounced Oshim), a saxophone player Herbert Koschmieder and a sitar player, Manfred Flathe”. In 1982, the duo met Klaus Netzle, a veteran German record and television producer who brought the space-age sounds of the Fairlight and Synclavier computer synthesizers to their music. This is their first album and was recorded in 1979. Jens Fischer: ” We were inspired by everything from everywhere. I was very much into jazz, Miles Davis especially, Indian music, blues, reggae. Actually when you listen to the first album you will notice that all the bass lines were just reggae riffs. And we weren’t using a regular bass guitar but an acoustic one

Wilson, Cassandra – “Thunderbird” – [Blue Note]

aarbor   3/23/2022   CD, Jazz

Cassandra Wilson was born in Mississippi. After college she lived in New Orleans briefly and then moved to New York. There she was a part of the M-Base collective with Steve Coleman, Greg Osby and Geri Allen in the 1980s and then pursued a solo career. This release, one of many on Blue Note, is from 2006. One reviewer called it “a contemporary-sounding bluesy roots album that people under the age of 40 might want to hear”. Some songs are traditional [tracks 3, 5], track 7 is a Willie Dixon song, and Wilson herself contributed to writing tracks 1,4,6,10. AArbor

Disorientalists, The – “Who Was Essad Bey?” – [Oriente Musik]

aarbor   3/23/2022   CD, International

The only release by “The Disorientalists” who are Daniel Kahn, Yuriy Gurzhy and Marina Frenk. Kahn is from Detroit (and a U of Michigan alum) musician, actor and theatre director who lives in Germany these days. Kahn is also the founder of The Painted Bird an outfit whose music is described as “a mixture of Klezmer, radical Yiddish song, political cabaret, and folk punk”. It has been compared to the music of Tom Waits and Woody Guthrie. This release is in the same musical vein. It focuses on the story of Essad Bey, the pseudonym of Lev Nussimbaum a colorful Russian Jew who claimed to have converted to Islam and to have written quite a few books, then died at the age of 36. I suspect that this is the recording of a theatre piece which was produced at Maxim Gorski Theater’s STUDIO R. Klezmer meets folk and punk. AArbor

Wheeler, Mike – “Self Made Man” – [Delmark]

aarbor   3/23/2022   Blues, CD

Smokin’ blues from Chicago’s Mike Wheeler. This was his 1st release on his own from 2012 when he was about 50. Today the band is called The Mike Wheeler Band and Mike has written songs for a number of Chicago blues artists. Before this release, the band put out a self-released disk in 2003 – while Wheeler was playing with Big James Montgomery and his Chicago Playboys. His voice has been compared to Sam Cooke’s, he’s played with many well-known bluesmen and his years of experience are audible in the playing. Rootsy 12-bar Chicago-style blues. Enjoy! AArbor

Sete, Bola – “Samba In Seattle: Live At The Penthouse (1966-1968)” – [Tompkins Square]

aarbor   3/16/2022   CD, Jazz

Bola Sete (born Djalma de Andrade) was from Brazil. He left in 1959, at age 36 and never returned. He played at various hotels around the U.S. ultimately settling in the SF Bay Area These 3 CDs are from 6 live concerts, 2 each in 1966, 1967 and 1968, at Seattle’s venue the Penthouse. The music is mostly by Brazilian composers (including a couple of his own compositions), although J.S. Bach, Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn and Johnny Mandel are also represented. Sete is a virtuoso guitar player. It’s always a pleasure to listen to such mastery. The liner notes by various heavy hitters, pay tribute to him including an article written by John Fahey for Guitar Player Magazine. AArbor

Perkins, David Ensemble – “Israeli Klezmer King” – [Melech Music]

aarbor   3/16/2022   CD, International

David Perkins went to Israel to explore his spiritual heritage. He discovered the land and its history, and also the cross ethnic whirlpool of musical styles, rhythms and melodies. David is a clarinet player and instrument builder who designs and creates flutes, chimes and brass instruments. There is both traditional Klezmer music [2, 3, 4] and new interpretations of traditional folk style [6]. Some tracks were composed by Perkins [1, 6, 7, 8, 9] others by other musicians [10, 11, 12, 13]. Track 5 is the national anthem of the USSR. There’s plenty of variety here. AArbor

Diaz-Infante, Ernesto – “Saca Los Cuernos Al Sol” – [Headlights Recordings]

Ms. Conduct   3/15/2022   A Library, CD

In this album by San Francisco experimentalist composer Ernesto Diaz-Infante, atonal canticles of the sun’s calendrical signatures brood out through electric guitar post-production and subdued improvised noise. The radiation waves ride through each track arcing at solar speed as the album progresses. At noon’s crest the heat energy and silver strummed guitar glints towards infinity blue. Two notable departures from the atonalist appear on tracks VI and IX. This album is slow cinema for atmospheres witness to human endeavors. A dreamlike ambulation advances the momentum. The ending is pure romance of heaven. A horizonal transference between earthbound bodies and the transcendent celestial order lights up the twilight with evening color gods.  Let us remain here forever. —Ms. Conduct

J.R.C.G. – “Ajo Sunshine” – [Castle Face Records]

Thurston Hunger   3/15/2022   A Library, CD

Justin R. Cruz Gallego (seen elsewhere in KFJC’s library in Dreamdecay where he is one of two drummers and a howler of a lead vocalist) works under his own initials here and mostly by himself. A few guests including the face of the Castle Face, John Dwyer, help out but while Dreamdecay provides storm clouds of septet sound, those thick jammy clouds part on “Ajo Sunshine.” (Prounced Ahh-Ho, maybe “garlic” en Espanol, or maybe just a feeling?) This album has a little bit of a Bowie-in-Berlin soundtracky feel for me especially the opening/closing and other tracks like “Holy Hope” which feature Gallego’s Dad’s field recordings from cemetery announcements I think). But there’s also plenty of percussion, not always from Gallego’s drums, sometimes the synths provide it, sometimes the samples are chopped up for a form of beat-speak on “De La Frontera” and “Brother Was a Bull Rider”. Something about the keyboard chords can give a hint of the walls closing in, augmented notes keep stacking on top of notes. Hard to pin down a simple genre for this, at times the album feels like cold wave and prog rock had an affair. Nah, that’s not right, and it ain’t Tortoise meets The Faint either…those solar flares of guitar on the title track obliterate that. The title track starts the most Castle-Facey (with imitation mellotron?), but it explodes with a drum and siren breakdown/jam-out to finish. That song and the album are a nice, but warped, ride!

-Thurston Hunger

Insect Factory and Rambutan – “Radio Frequencies” – [Tape Drift Records]

Max Level   3/15/2022   A Library, CD

Long, involved constructions of drone and sound and noise and sometimes melody. Not quite like anything I have heard before—they seem to be speaking a musical language all their own. The first track is a mind-bending 33-minute journey that is difficult to describe, both pleasing and challenging to the ear as things evolve into other things and then into other things. The other two tracks aren’t nearly as long but their gestures are similar. All three are trips well worth taking.

Made to Measure – Volume 1 [coll] – [Crammed Discs]

Max Level   3/15/2022   A Library, CD

A remastered 2021 collection of mid-1980s recordings by four artists/bands (Minimal Compact, Benjamin Lew, Aksak Maboul, and Tuxedomoon) that were used as soundtracks to various films, plays, dance performances, and fashion exhibitions back in the day. A few of the tracks have a decidedly 1980s flavor and there’s nothing wrong with that. The material is pleasantly moody throughout and a lovely listen. Vocals on Tracks 2 and 3—–all other tracks are instrumental. Tracks 8 through 11 are short solo piano vignettes and they sound very nice played together as a suite.

Scowl – “How Flowers Grow” – [Flatspot Records]

beastofbourbon   3/14/2022   A Library, CD

Scowl emerged in 2019 from the Santa Cruz/San Jose punk scene, aka “40831”. Scowl, along with Drain, Gulch, Sunami and other bands are putting the South Bay/Santa Cruz back on the musical map. 

    “How the Flowers Grow” LP is the third release (October 2021) (1 EP, 1 demo cassette both in 2019), from this female-fronted hardcore band. Don’t let the pretty flower fool you, the music on this album is aggressive and the lyrics and vocals are brutal. It is reminiscent of 80’s and 90’s NYHC, but with a modern Bay Area spin. Amongst the 15 minutes of intense music is a song that shows that vocalist Kat Moss can sing in a more traditional manner, backed by a sweet mid tempo song featuring a saxophone (track 5 “Seeds to Sow’). The “40831” scene is promising.

Beast of Bourbon

Aluviana – “Kee Thara” – [Syrphe]

SlartiBartfast   3/13/2022   A Library, CD

Aluviana – “Kee Thara”

A meditative, string led, experimental journey, “Kee Thara” is the most resent release from Aluviana. Based out of Slovakia, Aluviana brings an eclectic mix of electroacoustic, experimental, and ambient-drone sounds to this ninth release put out on Syrphe Records. Combining stringed acoustic sounds that seem to consist of piano stings plucked from their place and restrung in an otherworldly environments, Aluviana perfectly mixes down an organic stringed guitar and the best of rhythmic electronic atmospheres that produce an amazing soundscape. Truly something found on the radio transmissions reaching the edge of the universe. – Slarti

Veseli Muzyky – “From Kiev to The Black Sea: Folk Music From Ukraine” – [Arc Music]

aarbor   3/9/2022   CD, International

Uptempo Ukrainian folk music played on traditional instruments like the tsymbaly (dulcimer) [track 6], bayan (button accordion), Sopilka (piccolo/flute), dvodencivka (double flute) and zozula (Ceramic flute) [tracks 5,8,14], and rozshok (trumpet). Lots of spirited polkas here. This is music from various regions of the Ukraine on that regions’ instruments. Veseli Muzyky formed in 1983 and recorded until 1998. AArbor

Alex Zethson Ensemble – “Some of Them Were Never Unprepared” – [Relative Pitch Records]

Max Level   3/7/2022   A Library, CD

I read somewhere that Alex Zethson considers this music to be influenced by both gamelan and krautrock, and I definitely hear that. It’s easy to get lost in this music while it’s playing. The two tracks are long, rhythmic, and hypnotic—-minimal pieces using the complex instrumentation of a 13-piece ensemble. Part One (17:00) is a constant banging on what seems to be mostly prepared pianos and metal percussion instruments, with a double-time section toward the end. Part Two (16:22) takes a couple of minutes to get going, and from then on it’s a sublime build-up from a low throb to a raging crescendo of violins, cellos, basses, pianos, drums, and guitars. Really really cool stuff.

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