Monday, October 15, 2018

Democratic Republic of Congo, Nyali Music, OCORA

Traditional African music that you can experience on recordings from the Congo has special qualities, often a particular musical focus you might never hear exactly like this anywhere else on the continent. A key element is the infusion of "Pygmy" vocal elements and their productive infusion into "Bantu" musics and conversely the influence as it then feeds back into its source to blend into a regional pan-stylistic complex. I assert this merely on the basis of long listening to available recordings.

There is a new disc out from the region, specifically the Democratic Republic of Congo and it is entitled Nyali Music (OCORA C 560285). In the fine tradition of OCORA African recordings it offers fairly long examples of authentic musical practice on the ground level of villages and tribespeople.

Anyone who loves traditional African music is likely to find this program stimulating and enjoyable, especially if you know and love Congo traditions.

The strength of this program is especially in the choral call and response examples it has in abundance. The Nyali is a tribe located in two areas of the northeast, adjacent to the Ituri Forest. They have had close interactions with the Efe Pygmies. And musically you can hear their cultural interactions in some beautifully musical ways. The polyphony of the area is nicely present with choral blocks that many times call for a separate male counterpoint to the female vocal line or lines, and sometimes, even often the result is not a separate rhythmic line growing out of the polyphony but rather a sort of multi-stranded homophony, only each line is not tied in some direct chordal way to the others, but instead thrives in its independent horizontal trajectory--so then a sort of homophony-polyphony happens. And then too there are full-blown Pygmy-like cycles of rhythmically distinct independent, multiple lines sounding simultaneously at times, and that is something to hear. All this takes place with lively and complex undercurrents of hand drumming and other percussion that you can focus on too with profit. There can also be kalimba or guitar-harp-like string elements involved.

The choral examples are outstanding and highly interesting (to me anyway), but perhaps you might find them most intriguing if you have other examples in your mind of the region's legacy? But  I do think this is music of interest for anyone who might want more exposure to regional traditions even if you are not highly conversant with such things. The lead vocal parts are highly interesting too, with variational things happening and sometimes more than one solo voice creating another counterpoint! There is one especially intricate set of vocal counterpoints using kazoo-like sounding devices and it is ornate and very Pygmy-like, which is a very happy thing to hear. There are hocket ensembles of flutes with vocal and drums too, and that is quite a beautiful panorama of sound as well.

There are also to be heard solo vocals with string, percussion, and/or etc. accompaniment.  These too are very worthwhile to experience and get to know.

I do very much recommend this one to all who already know they would be interested. And if you are plunging into African traditions for the first time, it is as good a place to start as any. Bravo OCORA and their excellent coverage of village Africa! I am happy to have this one, truly.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Catarina dos Santos, Radio Kriola, Reflections on Portuguese Identity

The Portuguese roots and Afro-diaspora flowerings over time have been beautifully significant from a musical point of view. The Portuguese musical transplantations (in many directions) sowed fruitful seeds with everything from Portuguese Fado to the diaspora developments in Brazil, Cape Verde, and Angola. We hear reflections on Portuguese identity and its transformation on a lively new album Radio Kriola (Arc EUCD2802) featuring singer Catarina dos Santos and a worthy assemblage of acoustic instrumentalists in a program of songs that touch on essential grooves and melodic beauty.

In a program of some 14 memorable songs we feel the gentle but insistent plunge of acoustic guitar, percussion, bass and accompanying instruments in a world where pan-African rhythms gently pulse with samba and folk strains in a poetic mixture, and Catarina's swinging sweetness ultimately carries the day.

So in "Ondja" a Brazilian afaxe turns into an Angolan semba while the lyrics pay tribute to the Angolan writer Ondjaki. The liner notes map out what we are hearing and when, and we can learn while we appreciate the music in itself, deeply soulful, filled with lyric melody, music of the highest caliber.

Both those who might know something of where this music comes from and those who do not can get much pleasure from this set. It does not matter if we come prepared or just open to musical adventure. 

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Sarah Bernstein Unearthish, Crazy Lights Shining

Violinist-vocalist-recitationer Sarah Bernstein never ceases to engage me with her special dark and expansive music. The Sarah Bernstein Unearthish album Crazy Lights Shining (Phase Frame PFR004) is now upon us. This latest is a duo featuring Sarah as the violin-voice-text-composition person and Satoshi Takeishi on drums and percussion.

I have followed Sarah's musical unfolding and blossoming for around a decade I believe at this point. This new one continues logically what has come before. There are free-ish episodes, full-blown and memorable downtownish songs, soundscapey broods, and text-sound work. The 35 minutes of the program is very well-paced and poetic. Satoshi can lock into a folksy pulsation or weave sound color webs that correspond to Sarah's moodish forays.

Perhaps this is the souundtrack of our lives if you are NY Metropopologistically oriented. It is not especially a happy sound but it is exacted and brilliant, contemporary modern in its unfailing insightful soundings.

She to me is a treasure, albeit a local treasure but everything in the end has some locality attached to it, no? I recommend this unfailingly.  She is an original, a true original. Get this one.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Bob Gluck, Tani Tabbal, At This Time: Duets

The thing about Bob Gluck? He is a glorious pianist and electronician. And he writes wonderful books on important jazz-historical topics. We get another chance to appreciate the former expression sets on the recent album he made with world-class drummer Tani Tabbal, namely At This Time: Duets (Ictus 181).

It is thoughtful kind of freedom to be heard in this set. Bob wields the acoustic piano and live synth with articulate vision, pacing through logically meandering improvs and focal renditions of some classics like "Sanctuary," the Chilean anthem "The People United", and "I Fall in Love Too Easily" (associated with  Miles Davis and Gluck's latest book The Miles Davis "Lost" Quintet and Other Revolutionary Ensembles).

Tani Tabbal can always be relied upon to grace a session with very musical drumming. He does so here, providing parallel percussion lines and timbres that come up alongside Bob's intricate piano and electronics freedom with a drum set freedom that remains independent of the Gluckian arc of improv yet is not at all divorced from it. It is not a line imitation but instead a formidable second line.

The electronics part of Bob's improvisations are special. He to my mind is one of a handful of improvisers today who has mastered the electronics idiom as one of special timbres and wide spatial outpourings. Jean-Marc Foussat, Denny Zeitlin, Rob Mazurek and George Lewis come to mind as other very significant practitioners. I am sure I inadvertently leave out others.

The piano-drums segments show too that Gluck is very much his own free yet rooted 88.

At This Time: Duets is surely one of the primo key outings of the past year. Needless to say I recommend you listen carefully. It is very much worth your time.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Grego Applegate Edwards Talks About His CD Pastoral Dream I

So hey it seems time once again to explain myself. What in tarnation am I doing and why? The answer is simple. I have no idea what I am doing! No, I am kidding. In the world today much of what we know is on a need-to-know basis. So why know what you do not NEED to know? Why anything? When I come on here and plug my new, 12th CD Pastoral Dream I, it is not out of a lusty desire for mountains of shiny lucre. Face it, making my music at this point is not going to make me rich.

What matters right now is the music on Pastoral Dream I. What is the narrative behind it? What is there musically and how do I see it? And why would you find it something you might consider as an addition to your music piles and your listening life?

So What of It?
Really, so what? The music you hear on Pastoral Dream I (Ruby Flower CD) was put together over a number of years. It captures a fleeting dream mood that depicts the musical search for, love-making to and loss of a phantom ballerina that  took shape in my head when first listening to the old rock song "Pretty Ballerina."

Like Piaget's idea of the perception of infants, that an object  is only thought present when physically in front of him or her, the ballerina is here-gone in the dream, but the dreamer gradually believes she exists still, and searches for her continually over various pastoral landscapes.

The music is all virtual multiple me's occupying many tracks, instruments and subjected to studio  enchantments to make of it an orchestral whole. Volume Two will continue the journey and cover new ground.

A Bit More on the Music
Just because the music exists alongside a programmatic concept does not mean that the music was put together solely to exemplify that. Some of it was fashioned before I had the idea, but in any event it makes present in sound the dreamy search. All of the music has a mood consistent with the story-idea of the search and the pastoral landscape. Yet it was conceived in purely musical terms, though in the back of my head I was thinking about the here-gone dream I have had for so many years.

The album begins with some evocative electro-acoustics and a couple of simple early studio history quartet jams that reflect the utter joy I felt playing the guitar again after a long pause. They are not technically astute in any way, but they are that joy as was the pastoral dream traversal and singular life search.

The last three numbers form the core of Volume One. As previously the Psyche Mobius Machina Garage Orchestra is an orchestra-sized collective gathering of an electric guitar section, a synth strings section, multiple keyboards appearing as themselves, bass guitars, a percussion section of drum set and other percussion, and a small "choir" at times, all put together layer-by-layer in my studio as I played all the instruments and sang the parts one-by-one.

"Holiday Flubber" begins the sequence with a somewhat mysterious orchestral new music improv. The entire unfolding is based on a first-take, thematically diverse keyboard improvisation, which then becomes the multi-dimensional root to the many part construction that makes up the whole that we hear. The acute absence of the ballerina is felt especially around the holidays and the by-product flubber that holiday celebrating makes present is a poor substitute indeed.

From there the central theme of "Pretty Ballerina" comes to the forefront in a slow and sultry orchestral blanket that has a rather orgasmic core. It is in the very expressive lyrical cosmic zone that seemed just right for the transformation made possible by the Garage Orchestra.

From there the definitive mix of "Paiute Gathering Pinenuts" gives a final climactic send-off for Volume One. Paiute Indian women gather pinenuts in the woodlands while the menfolk are off hunting game. Why are we here? They sing of that wonder as the ballerina is off someplace unseen. It is a sort of prog-minimalist psychedelic paean to life in nature, to a pastoral dreamtime that has its actual dimensions in a communion with the natural world. A cosmic drone rock anthem builds slowly and in the end the movements of the earth around the sun take over the aural plane of sound with a cosmic spinning of infectious (I hope) intensity. Oh, and so that spinning is the dance of the earth with the cosmos. It is also the spinning ballerina in her timeless dance in the realm of the spheres!

That Pretty Much Covers What I Want to Say
And that is what you can hear if you get the CD. Volume 2 will follow shortly and take up where the first volume leaves off, including a Four Seasons for King Oak and the Ballerina as a Young Girl. Meanwhile you can grab the first volume at Amazon now by following the link:

Thank you deeply if you take the effort to get this and listen!!  I hope you find your  psychic ballerina and that you too will dance. Am I surprised?  Always. I mean about anything that happens next.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Wadada Leo Smith, Najwa

Before the year ends I need to cover an album that deserves to rank among the year's best. I refer to Wadada Leo Smith's CD Najwa (TUM CD 049).  It's an electric freedom here. Trust Wadada to do that right. He heads up a really fine all-star lineup: Michael Gregory Jackson, Henry Kaiser, Brandon Ross and Lamar Smith on guitars, Bill Laswell on the electric bass, Pheeroan AkLaff on drums, Adam Rudolph on percussion, and of course Wadada on trumpet.

It's post-Milesian psychedelic avant music done to a turn. This is the Yo Miles idea allowed to blossom out and find its very personal, conclusive-for-now expression. Any of you who might have been skeptical about electric music, the classic Miles sides, and all the other things wonderful that have come out then and since (and I think you were wrong about that) listen to this and think again. For this in a way is a conceptual, compositional and improvisational culmination of all that. But there is still more Miles and Miles to go in this genre. It is by no means a dead creative avenue. Just listen to this one and use your imagination.

It is supremely balanced, elevated freedom music. And again, if you think we do not need freedom, look around. Some people may think they did it and do it "my way." No way to some of those folks. Your way? No, this way, please. Step forward or step aside.

There is a wonderful balance between AkLaff's churning drums, Laswell's smartly solid bass anchoring, the beautiful coloring and punch or the guitars and Wadada's supremely soulful smarts on the trumpet.

You wonder where it is going yet it is already there and moving ahead always. THIS is part of that.

Whoever you are, and I no doubt know many of you personally, I enjoin you to give this music some close and repeated attention. It is forward moving and a joy to hear.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Kasper Tom, Alexander Von Schlippenbach, Rudi Mahall, Abstract Window

I've come across some threads in social media lately, asking why it is that no major innovators have emerged on the new jazz scene today. A good answer by I-forget-who was that the scene has changed so that there is important work being done, but that none of it has been centrally confined to a few major figures. It is true. Part of that is a product of so much new jazz having become available these days via a combination of numerous smaller boutique labels, self-releases and the major jazz conduits. There are local hotbeds of progressive jazz and improvisation all over the world right now, with a sizable number of artists advancing the music in slow increments perhaps, but at the same time codifying and synthesizing the implications of major and some rather obscure artists who have helped make things the way they are now.

It is true in general also of modern classical composers and avant rock artists. The promotion of the next big thing is no longer a priority with the moneyed music business interests as a rule, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Absolute hegemony in modern music scenes would kill off much of what is excellent out there that did not fit the bill of the would-be big avant stars of the present.

And perhaps it is so that the mainstream audiences for such things is no longer very large, though one might argue all-the-more dedicated. Much of new jazz is an underground affair. The available work in clubs and concerts has shrunk a good deal in the last 30 years, making it necessary for hyper-local scenes to remain relatively isolated and insular. Like the old territory bands, there are sub-genres in new jazz, quite a few if you take the time to locate them. All this is probably a good thing for the quantity of good-to-excellent new jazz emerging out there. It is decidedly not a very good trend for the economic health of the artists.

With all this in mind I turn to a recent release that exemplifies the importance of new jazz along with its sometimes obscurity. Here we have Abstract Window (WhyPlayJazz RS032), featuring drummer Kasper Tom Christianson, pianist Alexander Von Schippenbach and clarinet-bass clarinet master Rudi Mahall. It is a European free date that allows a very creative and spontaneous frisson of eloquent free invention from three important figures very much active today.

Kasper Tom may be less known but he shows us he is fully worthy to be in the company of these two stellar artists. The program consists of 11 relatively short improvisations that cohere in the best senses of what the jazz-past-drenched realm of freedom in Europe means today.

All three are in mutually coherent dialog throughout, each responding on a three-way channel of independence-through-togetherness synchronicity.

It is an exciting example of one subrealm of free improv jazz that continues to grow and evolve today.

More you will understand if you give this album some deep listening. It is in its own way landmark.