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Music Reviews

Ellman, Liberty – “Ophiuchus Butterfly” – [Pi Recordings]

Cousin Mary   2/28/2009   CD, Jazz

Album is named for the Butterfly nebula in the Ophiuchus (Oh-fee-YOU-cuss) constellation.

Former Bay Area resident Liberty Ellman is a fine guitarist who now lives in New York City. This is not a guitar album, however; guitar interplays with alto and tenor saxes, tuba(!), bass, drums. Some electronics on ???Snow Lips??? and Borealis.

Mixes many genres in a challenging, but approachable set.

Halvorson, Mary and Walter, Weasel – “Opulence” – [Ug Explode]

Cousin Mary   2/28/2009   A Library, CD

Virtuoso playing from Brooklyn based composer and improviser Mary Halvorson on guitar and Oakland based Weasel Walter on drums (and clarinet mouthpiece!) makes for eight tracks of energetic, madly improvised insanity.

Humorous, mostly fast-paced, genre defying ??? is it rock, jazz, experimental? Simultaneously strange and a good listen.

Bitter Tears, The – “”Jam Tarts In The Jakehouse”” – [Carrot Top Records]

humana   2/28/2009   A Library, CD

Their myspace page says the Bitter Tears sound like ???Sour Vaudevillians on a joy ride with Webb Pierce and the Vienna Boys Choir.??? I say these 10 songs are jaunty, quirky, and fun, and I???d love to see the band live, which I hear is essential (the front man has been known to wear a wedding gown). Playing ???dead genres??? of western swing, showtunes, and polka, these guys deliver a nice selection highlighted by off-beat lyrics, accordion, horns, strings, guitars, and vocals. I???ve rated them on the back.
3WR: Fun Folky Humor
PGM: Look for songs to end as early as :07.

Plumerai – “Untitled” – [Bmi]

humana   2/27/2009   A Library, CD

Post-punk gypsy: Boston band Plumerai put out these two songs at the end of 2008 to whet our appetites for more in 2009. As always, Elizabeth Ezell???s sultry vocals offer their signature charm and are complemented by Martin Newman on guitar, James Newman on bass, and Todd Richards on drums. Clara Kebabian joins Plumerai on this outing with her outstanding violins that add a folk flare to the edgy, upbeat first track. Track 2 is indeed ???A Slow One??? with its calm guitars and violin, although the drums pick up the pace at the climax.
PGM: 1 ends at :12, 2 at :03.

Emeralds – “What Happened” – [No Fun Productions]

humana   2/27/2009   A Library, CD

Ambient drone: John Elliott (synth), Steve Hauschildt (synth), and Mark McGuire (guitar) form Emeralds, a Cleveland-based improv group who have been compared to Tangerine Dream. Shimmering synths leave you awash and ???Alive in the Sea of Information??? (1); 2 starts and ends damaged sounding but there???s an oasis of guitar pulsing in the midst of sounds like bird chirps and helicopter whirs; 3 is a dreamy interlude that makes you wish being ???Up in the Air??? felt this trancey and good; 4 and 5 are more somber and contain sounds like buzz saws and locusts fading in and out, but 4 features a gentle guitar as well. Layers of ambience fit for a drone-starved palate.
PGM: All songs end at :04.

Drunjus – “Enceladus” – [Peasant Magik]

cinder   2/25/2009   A Library, CD

Track 1 – Dark and eerie field recordings of a green glowing swamp at midnight. Hovering electronics from the alien spaceships, and curious chirps of the crickets. Questionable sliding rubber sounds. This is a camping trip gone wrong. Watch out for the probes. Call X-Files!
Track 2 is more of a floating trippy drone. I think I hear a melodica even. Triangles. Electronics. More bugs, not as noticeable though.
Drunjus is Woodless, Endless & Crystal Dragon. Samples taken from the Cherokee Marsh. Spooky, droney and full of smores.
And yes, there’s even ducks in the mix.

Ambarchi, Oren – “In The Pendulum’s Embrace” – [Southern Lord Recordings]

cinder   2/25/2009   12-inch, A Library

His fourth release on the Touch label, for this Australian native. Double LP. Low and dark sustained tones reminescent of an ambient Eno release. Thoughtful and gloomy. Super low hummmmmms. Guitars at times, but always low hums and buzzes. Minimal sounds…glass harmonica, strings, bells, piano, percussion and voice all hidden in the murky waters. Tracks range from 10-18 minutes.

Victrola Favorites [coll] – [Dust-To-Digital]

ArtCrimes   2/25/2009   CD, International

Dust-to-Digital and Climax Golden Twins are responsible for this book / CD party pack, a celebration of the legacy of 78 RPM recordings released all over the world over a period of time from the 1900s to the 1950s, when 78s began to lose traction in the marketplace. Climax Golden Twins have a history of projects like this, having released a series of 10 cassettes made from their gigantic collection of 78s, played on an actual Victrola that was recorded with a high quality microphone. Those cassettes were packaged without any annotation whatsoever, but this collection adds artists, titles, and years of release as well as some background info in the book, as well as many pages of graphics from packaging, needle tins, advertising, and the labels of the records themselves… this helps us imagine how exciting the idea of recorded sound once was to early purchasers of recorded discs, and the machines to play them on. Rob Miillis of the Twins has selected a few favorites here, which I’ve highlighted in yellow in the track list; that’s a good place to start, but it’s all fascinating stuff, and even the tracks by American artists are quite exotic at times. (crimes)

Martyn, John – “Solid Air” – [Island Records Ltd.]

ArtCrimes   2/25/2009   B Library, CD

Starting out as an acoustic folkie troubador in Glasgow, John Martyn had recorded a few albums (with and without his wife of the time, Beverly) before he began using the distinctive characteristics that defined the rest of his career: slurred, almost growled vocalizing, and echoing guitar work. “Solid Air,” a 1973 release for island in the UK, is where these techniques first flowered, especially with his thundering remake of Skip James’ “Rather be the Devil” and the jazz-inflected title track, a tribute to his good friend Nick Drake. Van Morrison and Tim Buckley are probably the closest comparisons with Martyn during this period, with their semi-jazz scatting and use of vibes, horns, and acoustic instruments rather than more rock-ish support. Pentangle’s Danny Thompson is featured on double bass for most tracks, and the tidy production by John Wood lets you hear every note. Martyn wrote a number of songs that were successful for other artists in more commercial arrangements, and Martyn himself had some ill-advised flirtations with the middle-of-the-road later in a relatively long career, but this is the one everyone turned to after his recent passing at age 60, on January 29, 2009. (crimes)

Chen, Yuanlin – “Away From Xuan” – [Innova/American Composers]

Cousin Mary   2/24/2009   A Library, CD

Chen studied music in his native China where he pioneered a computer and electronic music studio. He has a PhD from SUNY Stony Brook.

These three pieces show a lot of variety in his music. ???Away from Xuan??? is a big symphonic piece. ???Wondering along the Journey??? uses instruments such as sheng, dizi, erhu, and pipa for a more Chinese sound. ???Chasing the Sun??? is startlingly original ??? this guitar quartet pushes the instruments into all kinds of sounds and percussive effects.

Gorgeous, dramatic, and accessible.

Ton Trio – “Way, The” – [Singlespeed Music]

Cousin Mary   2/24/2009   CD, Jazz

3 musicians with strong ties to the Bay Area recorded this album in Oakland in 2008. Aram Shelton did the engineering in addition to playing the reed and also runs private label Singlespeed. Kurt Kotheimer (CIMP) is on bass and fine drums are from Sam Ospovat. Track 1 reminds me of Sonny Rollins antics, 2 is driven by the rhythm section, 3&4 rearrange phrases and are very spare.

Cousin Mary

PGM: Track 6 ends about 18 seconds early.

Autistic Daughters – “Uneasy Flowers” – [Staubgold]

lombard   2/24/2009   12-inch, A Library

On their 2nd release, “Uneasy Flowers” from 2008, Autistic Daughters create a moody atmosphere with their slow, quiet musical creations accompanied by emotional male vocals. Autistic Daughters is mainly a trio made up of New Zealander Dean Roberts (vocals, acoustic/electric guitars), Vienna’s Martin Brandlmayr (drums, vibraphone, computer based processing), and Werner Dafeldecker (double bass, electric guitars). There’s also some guest piano from Chris Abrahams and mandoguitar by Martin Siewert.It’s pleasant, yet raw with lyrical gems like “feral roses.” For example, the opening track (“Rehana’s Theme”) sounds sweet, but the lyrics belie that (“You’re a bunch of cunts the lot of you”), and create an interesting tension when punctuated by hand claps.

Programming Note: Language on Track 1/Side 1- “Rehana’s Theme”

Paine: Youngs – “English Channel” – [Sonic Oyster Records]

lombard   2/24/2009   A Library, CD

This is a collaboration between UK experimental musicians Andrew Paine and Richard Youngs on a 37-minute piece. This 2008 release on Andrew’s label, Sonic Oyster Records, is a wild journey that was apparently recorded in the dark, with vocals added later. It begins as a very quiet, spiritual style, with chanting, humming punctuated by the rattling of bells. It continues in a slow and languid manner, with the addition of some understated buzzing, like a very tiny motorcycle revving. Male voices come in, almost in “om”-like chants and the piece gets buzzier, dronier, as the listener’s meditation reaches a new level. There’s rattling and subtle wails of perhaps an accordion or electronics. Chatter turns into spookier, electronic sounds and creepy throaty noises and it all gets a bit more psychedelic. Then, back to minimal bells, more Oms, whistling noises like breath on an instrument, then more hectic, and quiet again. The whole thing has the effect of like hanging out in a haunted house with a crazed yoga practitioner. Definitely a far-out trip and well worth the ride.

Horde of Two – “Guitar & Bass Actions” – [Smarten Up! Records]

lombard   2/24/2009   A Library, CD

Indeed. This is some awesome guitar and bass “action” from Vancouver, B.C. duo Horde of Two. On their new, debut (2009) album, bassist Wendy Atkinson (performing on electric, double and acoustic bass) and Mecca Normal guitar player David Lester construct beautiful instrumental pieces covering a range of moods. Much of the release was composed while viewing a video of a murder scene in the Alfred Hitchcock film Blackmail. There’s also a live track (“the Knife”) that features an electric guitar played with a knife (you definitely hear the tension). “Stockholm” is a gorgeous, uplifting piece and “Conversation in a Berlin Train Station” introduces piano (along with double bass) and has an otherworldly, nostalgic quality with the twinkling keys.

Programming Note: Tracks 5 and 6 track (“Blackmail” and “The Knife”)

Ethnic Heritage Ensemble – “Mama’s House Live 35th Anniversary Project” – [Katalyst Entertainment]

humana   2/21/2009   CD, Jazz

Jazz: This is a recording of a live February 2006 performance by the Chicago-based Ethnic Heritage Ensemble (EHE). To say that this band, who through 35 years has had many incarnations, is tied to anything earthly is a misstatement, however. Ever since Kahil El???Zabar returned to Chicago from Ghana and formed the band whose intention was to combine African American music with traditional African music, the EHE has sought to transcend walls that would box music in. Joining the multi-percussionist, vocalist, and composer El???Zabar here are young and talented Corey Wilkes on trumpet and Chicago sax legend Ernest Khabeer Dawkins. Picks: 3, 5, 4.
PGM: All songs end as early as :18 with clapping; 6 includes a retired history professor???s spoken description of griot starting at 1:29.

Odd Nosdam – “T.I.M.E. Soundtrack” – [Anticon.]

humana   2/20/2009   A Library, CD

David P. Madson of Berkeley (by way of Ohio) wrote and produced these tunes for the soundtrack of the 2007 Element Skateboards film This Is My Element. Although the first half of this instrumental CD seems mainly geared to warm you up for the better second half, all of it has the trademark beats and ambience we???ve come to expect of Odd Nosdam, the ???maestro of beat-driven collage??? who once again shows he???s in his own element. Jel appears on 1, 7, and 9.
PGM: 2 tracks into 3, and 3 into 4. 10 ends at :07, and 12 ends suddenly at :06. 13 ends at :05.
Picks: 8, 6, 9, 4, 10.

Last Winter We Didn’t Sing [coll] – [Thor’s Rubber Hammer Productions]

lombard   2/18/2009   A Library, CD

Winter finally descended onto California this week and it’s fitting that this compilation “Last Winter We Didn’t Sing” (a 2008 holiday sampler from Thor’s Rubber Hammer) bubbled to the surface of the review pile. All of the pieces on here are “winter-inspired” and include pretty guitar by Scott Tuma, a somber song with strings and female vocals from The Instruments, experimental solo improv on pedal steel from Susan Alcorn, and a few Christmas-related tracks. There’s some electronic fuzz and sampling of news broadcasts on the Greg Davis track “24 Hour News/Silent Night,” a piece which combines the beauty of “Silent Night” with the incessant chatter of the news in a battle for the listener’s attention. There’s also some lovely drifty sounds from Fabio Orsi. Bundle up….

Davani, Dave Four – “Fused!” – [Wah-Wah Records Sound]

Cousin Mary   2/16/2009   12-inch, Jazz

Reissue of this 1965 ???mod jazz??? recording from Dave Davani, pioneer British jazz organist. Funky, bouncy, lounge-y, and lots of fun. Vocals on Night Train from Davani???s wife, Beryl Wayne. Nice guitar work from John Milner.

Fine combination of jazz and R&B that just manages not to sound dated or cheesy. These grooves are recommended!

Johnston, Darren – “Edge of The Forest, The” – [Clean Feed]

Cousin Mary   2/16/2009   CD, Jazz

Trumpet player Darren Johnston is joined by some fine San Francisco Bay Area improvisers for this very energetic and refreshing release. Goldberg???s clarinet has some klezmer overtones; Reich???s accordion is on track 2.

Overall well played and upbeat. Can lighten up any jazz set.