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Music Reviews

( r ) – “Under the Cables, Into The… ” – [Important Records]

Max Level   1/29/2006   A Library, CD

Unpredictible solo project by Italy’s Fabrizio Modonese Palumbo, who makes all of the sounds himself. A journey full of side trips, with drones and oscillations, solo piano, harsh ringing noisescapes, low lethargic vocals, layers of overdubbed guitars, humming industrial, etc… Not leaning toward any one style, more of an overview of the various audio interests of Palumbo, aka ( r ). Recommended to just go with it and see where it takes you. Prediction: this will be the only record ever to have both a cover of an Avril Lavigne song and a track recorded by Grawer at KFJC.

Segel, Jonathan – “Amnesia/Glass Box ” – [Magnetic Motorworks]

Max Level   1/29/2006   A Library, CD

2 pieces in 3 parts each, commissioned by a NY dance company. Outstanding compositions, heavy on electronics, with Segel adding percussion, guitar, bass, and his signature violin (still doing it with laid back world-folk-rock band Camper Van Beethoven). Each track here is an intricate gem, succcessfully combining many elements into a cohesive whole. My favorites: Track 5, a purely electronic piece with a level of sophistication that would do Wendy Carlos proud, and Track 6 which starts with a lazy, almost hiphop beat, devolves into a many-layered ambient section, goes gently techno-ish for a short time, and fades off into quiet electronics. Segel continues to impress as a solo artist.

Lasha, Prince & Odean Pope Trio – “Mystery of Prince Lasha, the ” – [Creative Improvised Music]

Max Level   1/29/2006   CD, Jazz

Tenor sax man Odean Pope is in fine form here, backed by his longtime trio-mates on bass and drums. Prince Lasha adds his soprano/alto saxes, clarinet, flute, and piccolo. For a cat who was playing with new-jazz heavyweights like Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, and Elvin Jones during the ’50s-60s, Lasha is not very well known. He’s a welcome discovery for me, because he’s brilliant on the soprano sax, and I also like his unusual piccolo work. His playing is a good match for Pope’s solid tenor. Once or twice it sounds like the two horns may not be 100% in tune with one another, then again maybe it’s advanced jazz harmony or something. More often, the players blend well and rip crazy lines together. Track 2 is sweet and low, has nice bass/drums, and reminds me of an old Wayne Shorter date. A worthy addition to CIMP’s incredible catalog.

Niacin Sun [coll] – [Bananafish]

Max Level   1/29/2006   A Library, CD

The provocative Bananafish magazine never fails to amaze me with the wide-ranging compilation CDs they release to accompany each of their issues. On this one, Joe Colley becomes sort of a master of ceremonies, interspersing his 8 pieces of found sound (thrift store cassettes) among the tracks by the other artists. The Colley pieces range from amusing to heartbreaking, giving us peeks into the lives of people we’ll never know. The Track 13 piece is a continuation of Track 3. Burning Star Core whips up a whooshing mass of processed voices and instruments. Monotract gives us a fast-moving slice-and-dice-fest, Nelson Gastaldi offers a warped musical collage, and Mecca Normal does a nice job of improvising with voice, piano, and guitar. Jim Leftwich and his 6 minutes of incomprehensible mumbling doesn’t do a whole lot for me, but it’s there for those who appreciate his work. As usual, a challenging yet rewarding listening experience from the Bananafish folks.

Urinals, the – “Negative Capability… ” – [Warning Label Records]

Max Level   1/29/2006   A Library, CD

31 tracks by arty LA punkers, circa 1978-81. When they weren’t playing typical SoCal surfcore thrash, they were experimenting with Wire-type minimalism, banging-on-junk drumming, and even carefully worked out vocal harmonies. Their avant-garage leanings led them to cover some interesting material (13th Floor Elevators, Soft Machine), and, well, some dumb material too (the Jetsons Theme), but what the heck. If you missed them back in the day, Byron Coley’s excellent liner notes will fill you in on the story. Looks like the story’s not over yet, though; it appears that this worthy band has now re-assembled in some form or another.

Mezmer, Nate – “Kill the Precedent ” – [Mad Seven Records]

Max Level   1/29/2006   CD, Hip Hop

Passionate, literate MC out of Davis, CA, challenges the big picture. We all know Bush and Cheney have got to go; Nate’s all over that, seemingly gearing up to take them out himself. After that he’ll go after Clear Channel, and after that the FCC, both of whom get called out several times, as well they should. On a smaller scale, he disses local hiphop wasteland KMEL, and gives props to (I think) Kev at KZSU. We also get some better-than-average MC bragging on a couple of the tracks. Strong production and beats by TOMC3 (Dopestyle 1231), using some crazy B-library material (Jesus Christ Superstar, Iron Butterfly?) to spice up the music. Track 9 slips a bit; I don’t need quite so much information about his ex-girlfriend, and the Moody Blues sample kinda sinks it. But when Nate is all up in your face on the larger social issues, and bragging a bit about his verse abilities, he’s pretty hard to beat.

Pan American/To Rococo [coll] – [Unhip]

Max Level   1/29/2006   7-inch, A Library

Two pleasant technoscapes, on the minimal side, all instrumental. The third installment in Unhip’s commendable new series of split seven-inchers. Pan American’s offering is dark and murky, while the To Rococo Rot track crackles with a more upfront beat. Both pieces are uncluttered and nicely done. The playing speed isn’t specified so it’s up to you. I prefer the way 33rpm brings out a deep space feel on Side A, and a laid-back reggae-style groove on Side B. Both tracks do benefit from a 45rpm spin if higher-caffiene beats are called for.

Orchid – “Dance Tonight! Revolution… ” – [Ebullition]

Max Level   1/29/2006   10-inch, A Library

More over the top hardcore from Orchid, in my book possibly the most astonishing band ever. Short blasts of furious guitar/bass/drums power, and unbelievable screamed vocals. Read the lyrics, they’re somewhat vague but thoughtful as hell. Revolution, philosophy, love, it’s all here. The final two tracks are longer than the others and slow things down once in a while for contrast. This material was recorded in 1999; Orchid is, sadly, now defunct. I’m sure gonna miss ’em.

Murray, David – “Interboogieology ” – [Black Saint]

Max Level   1/29/2006   12-inch, Jazz

Saxophonist Murray had already released something like a dozen records as a leader by the time this LP was first released in 1978. Cornetist/composer/conductor Butch Morris, featured here, was a requent collaborator. The rhythm section is Johnny Dyani on bass and Oliver Johnson on drums. Track A1 is a deep simmering stew with inspired horn work, strange wordless vocals by Marta Contreras, and a one-minute drum solo toward the end. Murray’s tenor plays a duet with Dyani’s bass on A2, a simple theme made interesting by the unusual interplay between the two. Drummer Johnson is a powerhouse on B1, a blazing bebopper that’s refreshing after the slow proceedings on Side A. B2, a bossa nova type thing with some really weak singing and lyrics, is my least favorite; as a saving grace, though, the band manages to kick this tune into stronger jazz territory at a couple of points. My picks are the two compositions by Morris, A1 and B1.

Nico – “Desertshore ” – [4 Men with Beards]

Max Level   1/29/2006   12-inch, B Library

2002 reissue of a compelling 1970 classic. Nico (1938-88) mapped out a large part of today’s goth landscape. She paints the bleakest of lyrical pictures, her icy vocals accompanied on half these songs with her well-known harmonium drone. Hugely important here is the uncanny work of producer/arranger John Cale, who plays nearly all the other instruments, and adds exactly what each song calls for: scraping avant-garde experiments, sweet sunlit piano, a heart-tugging child vocal, queasy drones, Arabic nightmares. An outstanding collaboration by two remarkable artists. At just 28 minutes, this LP is over far too quickly.

Yxayotl, Xavier Quijas – “Singing Earth ” – [Canyon Records]

Max Level   1/29/2006   CD, International

Guadalajara’s Yxayotl demonstrates that the native music of Mexico did not begin with the trumpets and violins of mariachi. Ancient musical styles of Mexico’s Aztec people, as well as the Mayans of Central America, come to life here on authentic handmade drums, clay flutes, rattles, and rainsticks. Surprising similarities sometimes to African drumming, voodoo ritual trance music, and, if you squint your ears, there’s even a hint of Residents-like bad dream soundtrack. Exotic, spiritual, and weird. I love the subtle offbeat scraping on Track 2, and the muttered vocal offering to Mother Earth on Track 9.

Eneidi, Marco/Spearman, Glenn – “Creative Music Orchestra ” – [Music and Arts Programs]

Thurston Hunger   1/27/2006   CD, Jazz

Big band, big bang, free radicals, free jazz! Physics gets
physical, brownian motion leaves no bodies at rest. Marco
Eneidi charged up as a particle player with large ensembles
galvanized by the likes of Bill Dixon, William Parker and
Cecil Taylor, Eneidi returned to orbit the Bay Area and
in sonic covalence with Glenn Spearman amassed the momentum
of these 21 musicians. Sax sparks much of the suite, with
Marco on a pretty beefy alto! Not sure which violinist
takes flight early in the suite, but that was a grabbing
individual moment as were the variousl lonely sputter solos
on the concluding piece, it’s name indicates that Spearman
was looking to ignite/inspire some of the college kids rolled
into the Orchestra. By all accounts, Spearman was that sort
of leader, with or without a band. “Interlude” has vocal
bookends and this cool waffle-stomping theme that ends up
tiptoeing towards the end… As much as individuals shine,
(and a tip of the tom-tom to Don Robinson taking on 19 with
a little Spirit-ed percussion help, Robinson is an anchor)
still it’s moments when the whole troupe is on maneuvers that
moved me most. In “Ghost Dance” after a flickering 30 seconds
the crew unites to form a rocket ready to launch: strings
sliding in on the edge of the horns. Excellent! “Naked Mirror”
shifts some of the players a note out of phase from the sort
of minimal cyle produces a nice industrial-strength jazz. After
a nice Goodheart-led trio take in that, back to the skyscraper-
shifting cycles. -Thurston Hunger

Reverberations From Springs Pt – “Reverberations From Springs Pt ” – [Pax Recordings (Sf)]

Thurston Hunger   1/27/2006   A Library, CD

What is this, the new crime jazz? Improv alley assasin work?
Nope, just four KFJC-friendly folks finding their collective
voice. What’s interesting about this collaboration is that a
lot of the “soloing” is done in the subtler regions, Rent
Romus stars as the one fanned flame, while the other three
are working more atmospherically if not aquatically. Ernesto
Diaz-Infante’s guitar preparations have always been of the
babbling brook, here they deftly flow with the electronic
dialings and dealings of Robert Montoya. Montoya seems to
be pulling up large envelopes of sound that press up against
your ear rather than pierce it off. Similarly, check out how
Marcos Fernandes’ percussion patter rides in and out of the
waves of Ernesto’s guitar on say “Who Created the Canon?”
On that track the smokey trails of Romus’ sax are what you
chase, but deeper listening opens up high-freq precipitation
from Montoya (I think that’s where the canon is invoked?)
Check out Montoya’s opening salvo on “Elation Within…”
glitch-pong sets up a reeling as much as rhythm. Overall
Rent remains a force for me, his restraint as powerful
as his melodic attacks. He doesn’t overuse the twin-reed
run (but it does show up nicely in part 1 of the “Offering”).
He also knows when *not* to blow, and let the sounds of his
bandmates pool up. A solid sender of a release, with nice
strata throughout.

Tortoise & Bonnie Prince Billy – “Brave and the Bold, the ” – [Overcoat Recordings]

Thurston Hunger   1/27/2006   A Library, CD

Gotta ‘fess up, I’m an old Oldham fan. Even when he’s perched
in front of thousands of Bjork fans naked with nothing save a
harpsichord, I’m on his side. His voice like a buckshot bird
plummeting through the sky is always welcome. Add to my docket
the fact that I dig covers (when they are suitably screwed
with). So no wonder, I’m predisposed to dig this set of 10
reworklings. Springsteen is probably seven years too soon for
the cognoscenti to even consider being covered, but the hell
with them. “Thunder Road” here is pretty damn fine, only the
Miami Steve harmonies are reconstituted. There’s a chunky,
clunky distorto-riff that straps itself to the song’s engines.
“Love is Love” starts out like a Suicide blitz, indeed a lot
of the Tortoise work here is bugged & fuzzed with factory
drums machining away in grime and 4/4 time. That evaporates
when “Pancho” gallops in on a xylophone with a breathy backup
vocal from Sally Timms. But Devo’s “That’s Pep” revives that
thickened bass…and Jeff Parker is bouncing around from
channel to channel, his key to the successes here. At 1:45
into “That’s Pep” it comes to a silent stop (the Minutemen
cover also hits this sort of false death). From then on the
sweltering sound of the earlier tracks is gone, “I Got Devil”
is a slow dance with ‘I See a Darkness’, “The Calvary Cross”
has a nice sun-on-the-hillside intro into a gangly, jangle
ballad. “On My Own” eulogizes this release, blesses it
with banjo for the Billy devotees. I really dug the more
heretical numbers from the first half. “Cravo e Canela” is
favela funky, and the sloppy seconds on “It’s Expected I’m
Gone” taste like meaty Minutemen hours. Built with all the
love of a mixtape. -Thurston Matewan

Billy Bao – “R’n’r Granulator ” – [W.M.O.]

Thurston Hunger   1/27/2006   A Library, CD

Perhaps another form of “rock concrete” (see also Starfuckers
aka Sinestri out of Italy). “Evapogoration” is the standout
here, featuring a driving rock und roll slinger that gets
strained through a choke filter, it basically dies but is
revived like a cracklin’ Lazarus. Love the geiger heart
monitor and the three seconds of silence before tick-tick
and it’s back. The lead off track never dies on us, but does
sputter and lurch towards its finale. It is rock, but only
just. “El Grado Zero del Pulso” could be a slow motion
performance art drum solo. Every five or so seconds you get
one drum beat, think taiko for dummies, but as slow as
a stoned snail, other sounds crawl in after 6 or so minutes.
Or you may hallucinate your own additions before that. Call
it an ode to instant gratification? Call it a test? Heck I
found myself wondering if the drum was being hit by a mic
at times, since we’d get little feed squeals on the much
anticipated drum strike. About 14 minutes in, we move into
a nanodub space of sorts. You want isolationism, you got it!
If you’re looking for a theme song to your radio show, look
no further then this 18+ minute national anthem? Lastly
“Para Ahuyentar ratas, humanos y otros insectos” tips off
the nihilistas, with squelched rock for 1.5 minutes then
someone sets off the galactic tinkle alarm. Don’t pretend
you saw it coming, from then on out your on limited guitar
life-support with a monolith of a drone at the edge of
this sonic universe. Not for everybody, but not for nobody
either…must locate an earlier 7″ from these folks that
I heard once in an internet dream. Info on band members
withheld until they show up to do a live set and prove that
they’re not really the kids from Fame or soemthing. -Hunger

Thee More Shallows – “More Deep Cuts ” – [Turn Records]

Thurston Hunger   1/27/2006   A Library, CD

Something about this 2004 album feels like I’ve been hit by
a tranquilizing gun, I’m laying on the floor physically
immobilized, but my mind is racing. The pop music that drops
here hits right in the middle of the ripple, it’s got that
watery, whispery confidentiality, like early Lambchop. With
saw, mellotron(?), piano in an empty prison, lacrimal strings,
drum heads made out of the freshest paper roses, much sound
here feels like it is built to fly gossamer, but then in
comes a rumbling rickenbacker or that adenoidal android
robodrum to start the album? Can’t pin this butterfly down,
despite its prettiness, and the hushed vox, seems like
something lyrical is lurking in deeper, eerier waters. Like
that sound rushing in the ears at the end of 2AM, what is
that EVP, ESP? This has all the weighty grandeur of a concept
album, without the sticky over-cooked symbolism and boring
self-reference (self-reverence?). Plus the rococo glow here
is clearly home-built, an elegance sans arrogance, how
else can you explain the recurring toy piano? This is just
a dream of a pop album, and the reason your CD player has a
repeat button. Just push it gently, like you’re carefully
inserting the tranq dart deeper into your shallow jugular.
Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. -Thurston Pillowhead

Radar – “Easy Listening ” – [Tzadik]

Max Level   1/26/2006   CD, Jazz

A refreshing, minimal approach to jazz from this Japanese sax/piano/bass trio. Mizutani Yasuhisa’s soprano sax work is uncluttered, never trying to do too much. He also adds a textural type of tapping, squeaking, rattling percussion. Pianist Katori Koichiro lays out notes and chords with lots of space between them. He moves over to accordion for some of the more atmospheric pieces. Inada Makoto is a fine bassist with a nice big tone. He composed all the material and seems to be the main man here. Many different moods on this CD, from pensive to conversational to even a bit goofy. Regardless of a track’s mood, all three musicians tend to play less instead of more. They all contribute vocals in various ways, creating on some of the tracks a theatrical, almost comical effect. One of the things that caught my ear is the deliberately stiff way Yasuhisa’s soprano sax enunciates the notes on Track 2, a creative tactic I don’t think I’ve heard before.

Hubsch,Van Bebber & Blonk – “S/T ” – [Kontrans]

Max Level   1/26/2006   A Library, CD

An odd trio lineup I’d have never come up with on my own: tuba, turntables, and voice. All improvised material, all three players using their instruments in unconventional ways. Some of the sounds here could have come, really, from any one of them, and, in trying to identify who’s doing what, ‘I’m probably not getting it right sometimes. That sound may be a tuba blurt, or it may be a slowed-down turntable manipulation, or a low vocal grunt. No way to know who’s making that tapping noise. Or that moaning sound. At other times, though, it’s more obvious what’s going on; that was Hubsch’s tuba for sure, those soundscapes (and the kitten and the rainstorm) are certainly from Van Bebber’s turntables, and those bizarre vocals couldn’t be anyone other than poet/ performance artist/ troublemaker Jaap Blonk. I really like the final track, by far the longest piece, but all tracks are creative and interesting. Many moods here, from laid-back and kinda wandering around to humorous to quite intense.

Locus Solus – “Locus Solus ” – [Tzadik]

Max Level   1/26/2006   CD, Jazz

A total Trane-wreck of a band. John Zorn/Arto Lindsay/Anton Fier, core members of the early Golden Palominos, among a ton of other downtown NY projects, reconvene here, live at Tonic, during Zorn’s 50th birthday celebration marathon in 2003. Typical of a Zorn-led band, the material is jagged stop-start-stop jazz/noise. Zorn’s alto sax spends most of its time in full-on shriek mode. Lindsay is on guitar and vocals, and if you’ve heard his most outside work then you’ll know the kind of scraping, noisy, metallic playing he is capable of. He also talks/yells a little bit, often not in English, adding another type of spice to an already quite spicy mix. Fier on drums doesn’t do anything that jumps way out on its own, but he’s always right there supporting the other guys, making solid additions to what they’re doing. Every once in a while there is a recognizable jazz interlude, with Zorn’s alto sax playing a good bebop-style run, but it’s never more than a few seconds before they’re back to torturing the baby pigs again. I like it.

Reanimator – “Music to Slit Wrists By ” – [Litterthugz]

Max Level   1/26/2006   CD, Hip Hop

The Litterthugz crew out of the midwest (Doug Surreal, Bitch Ass Darius, DJ Device, Reanimator, and Kenny Kingston, to name just a few) scrounge and blenderize old soul/funk sounds, dub, straight-up hip hop, cool jazz, rock riffs, and the contents of your kitchen sink into some of the slyest, dirtiest grooves I’ve heard lately. Reanimator is a perfect name for this guy here, who totes a deeper crate than your average DJ and gives strange new life, over a beat, to music you’ve either never heard or you’ve forgotten about (Wendy Carlos? Jack Bruce? and that’s just for starters…). If you have a thing for well-assembled downtempo grooves, I suspect you’ll dig this CD, as I did. Mostly instrumental, but you may want to scout out the many dialog snippets ahead of time. All clean, too, unless I missed something.