When Gangrene get going, they go in strong. A few months after the release of an album, they have released a 4-song EP called Odditorium (Decon) that just adds to the power that is the Vodka & Ayahuasca album. The samples are not as freaky as they want their personas to be known, the drama and freakiness is in the imagery but the best thing about these songs is how the imagery can be manipulated into whatever the mind wants, and wherever the mind takes itself. Tempos and themes change, samples move in and out and mixes with natural sound, becoming utterly trippy mind movies with references to feces, smells, and who knows what else. This is that grown-up hip-hop stuff with the kind of tricks only capable magicians can do, and I hope the magic continues. Everyone needs to step up to Gangrene’s level.
Vertacyn Arc Materializer make music that could be finished, but maybe not. Or maybe it sounds unfinished, but it is. Are they “a spanner in the works”, or are they the wrench? If you were to take a few songs from this album in the hopes of figuring out what they’re like in a concise manner, you may not get it. You have to go for the full package and when you do, you will be rewarded.
That’s A Negative On The Leapfrog, Captain America (10gev) is an album that sounds like a collection of different things to create completely different sounds from one another. Some of it sounds experimental and avant-garde, while other parts sound as calculated (i.e. deliberate) as Ween and Primus, but in a good way. I don’t want calculated to come off as “pre-planned” in a sinister fashion, some of this sounds off-the-cuff even though I’m sure a good portion of this (if not all) was organized and arranged beforehand. When they do songs that are under two minutes, you’re wondering if they are meant to be that short, or if they are segmented and you have to find the other half (or third) but I like to take them in face value and not dwell too deeply into what it may or may not be. One can only wonder what “The Asbestos Song” really means, but there is someone coughing in the middle of it, as if the microphone booth had a lot of asbestos in the air. There’s a fun spirit in these songs, but they’re not a laughing matter, even though a few songs may make listeners go “what are they trying to say with this?” Some vocals are incomprehensible, but hearing the distorted guitar and jumpy keyboards and you just want to dance to whatever you think they’re singing about. Within the noise and garbled vibe is a pop craftiness that I like, and you never know where they’re going to go with it. “She Gotta Strange Kinda Auto Reaction” could easily be a song done by contestants on The Voice, as it’s catchy and it’ll make you want to rock while holding up the Satanic hand gestures. It could be geeky and nerdy, it could be weird, it could be bedroom/basement jams, or it could be just… this. This is nuts.
(That’s A Negative On The Leapfrog, Captain America can be ordered directly from 10gev Records.)
While Chaise Lounge‘s Insomnia (Modern Songbook) sounds like a group who know how to jump, jive, and wail in a swinging fashion, I found half of it to be a bit lackluster, and I’m not sure why. I thought maybe it was listening fatigue, but when do I not stop listening to music? Well, I have sleep, which leads us back to Insomnia. I found their style of jazz and swing to be a bold one, and it works well. One could easily lean to the jazz side and get excited, but the playing rocks, which leads us to the swing. I hate to say this, but what drags this album a bit is the singing of Marilyn Olde, which sounds great but just not in this setting. I’d like to hear her voice do other things, but her approach here sounds like made-for-TV/talent show singing, and she’d probably would read this and go “yeah right, now let’s see you step up to a microphone and sing.” The band sounds very good, but I would prefer to hear a different singer who would help take these songs to a higher level. Either that, or Olde needs to rock it out a bit more, and I think she would sound great. Insomnia goes up to its predicted limits but doesn’t push to pour over the rim.
When Joe Good and Miles Bonny came up into the scene as SoundsGood, I felt the chemistry the two had in their music was incredible, and they should have been able to climb up in status and become one of the monarchs of modern day hip-hop. These days though, hip-hop is arguably a different animal than what it was five to ten years ago, and due to that and perhaps different interests, SoundsGoods faded into uncertainty. Joe Good had come out with a solo mix tape that seemed to have been a taste of what was to come, and then… nothing. Miles Bonny branched out as he had before, but went deeper into making music and pushing his singing abilities in much of what he does. The future of SoundsGoods was not looking good, and perhaps that’s me being greedy and wanting one more, or at least one last hurrah.
Goodbye is the official hurrah, and again, I’m greedy because I hear each of these songs and I want four times as much. As for what is on this album, one is able to hear what made Joe Good great in my eyes, someone whose attention to detail in his lyrics and flow was something he always made sure was done properly. If it wasn’t good, he wasn’t going to allow it to be released, and while he might disagree, it seemed almost every song he did would outshine most people who dared step up to him. As for Miles Bonny, he worked like the perfect flipside to Joe Good’s coin, combining real instrumentation with programming and sampling in a blend that was far from sounding elementary. While everyone else in the mainstream would end up making school yard rhymes and beats, Joe Good and Miles Bonny always sounded like they were ready to slap any and all who dared to step up. It wasn’t about hip-hop supremacy, it was always about making damn good tracks, thus their moniker.
As an epitaph, it is an appropriate ending to a collaboration that always worked, representing the midwest but always having an outlook to bless and rock the world. I would have loved to have seen them expand into much more, and at least with Miles Bonny he continues to work diligently, expanding his horizons while keeping to a work ethic that allows him to do what he wants to do, on his own pace. To both sides of the coin, thank you for the music that will forever sound good to me.
Vocalist Sarah Elizabeth Charles may arguably not be the core behind the band that is Manner Effect, in fact their website seem to utilize her as accompaniment to what they (Josh Davis on drums, PJ Roberts on bass and guitar, Logan Evan Thomas on piano and Caleb Curtis on sax) do as musicians, but upon listening to Abundance, while they work beautifully together as compoments of a well-tuned machine, Charles has more than what it takes to stand out on her own merits.
Not only does Charles work as the vocalist, but her singing is also very much used as an instrument in a jazz context, whether she’s emulating a flute, bass, or guitar. While some might hear this as limiting, I think a lot of times it’s the best jazz singers that show how they are fully capable of singing anything and everything passed their way, whether it’s the cool, calm, and collected “Theodore” (with a brilliant solo from Thomas) or the full blooded “Flying”.
The songs are evenly balanced between full vocal numbers and songs that do use her as accomaniment. When she steps to the side and the band gets to play, they jam beautifully together and I would have loved to have heard the album go down this route too. I do think the balance is quite nice, giving listeners an evenness to what they’re consuming. In Charles, I hear what Amel Larrieux, Jill Scott, Ledisi, and Angie Stone have become and evolved to, and in time, Charles will join them.
Celebrando (Zoho) is not only a celebration of the music of both Hendrik Meurkens and Gabriel Espinosa, but also celebrates the 100th release on the Zoho label, and what a way to be festive. The music presented here is a mixture of jazz, sambas, bossa novas, and chorinhos, displaying not only the caliber of Meurkens and Espinosa, but what has made much of the music on Zoho so great: a goal to test their own limits but maintaining their integrity along the way. The music on here is mighty fine, and having the addition of vocalist Alison Wedding isn’t a sore note, but rather one that ups everyone else, as she is complimentary and stands out for what she does here. Meurkens’ harmonica work is as powerful as anything he has recorded over the years, and Espinosa’s bass work should be a worldwide phenomenon (which is perhaps why you love his work so much).
The model and her setting on the cover is perfect too, a glimpse into different worlds blending together to become one, as it should be.
This album may become known for its choice of cover versions than for its musicianship, but I hope those who will want to year Louis Durra‘s renditions of Radiohead, Bob Marley, and Feist songs will pay attention to the world of Durra (piano), Jerry Kalaf (drums), and Larry Steen, because their work together is reserved-yet-remarkable in each of these songs.
Let’s get to their covers. They get into Tears For Fears‘ “Mad World”, Bob Dylan‘s “Tangled Up In Blue”, and also go for Feist’s “1234″ and pulling it off very well. Marley fans are sure to smile after hearing what Durra does with “No Woman No Cry”, but if there are surprises, it would have to be hearing not one, but two Radiohead covers here. “The Bends” and “No Surprises” are brought out of their original context for a bit and you get a chance to hear the song in a way that may bring you deeper into the Radiohead tracks (as the best covers do). However, the biggest surprise may be hearing Rob Swift do some DJ’ing in, of all things, a cover of Alanis Morissette‘s “All I Really Want”. When the song begins you may not be sure where it begins or where the band truly begin, but the blend between hip-hop turntablism and traditional jazz (i.e. “not funky jazz”) works well. It may piss off Wynton Marsalis but he’s not listening to this album, you are, and I like it.
The title The Best Of All Possible Worlds is a chance for the listener to hear what it can be like when you are able to travel, realistically and musically, and have a better view of the world around you. Uniting in sound can be a good thing, and in Durra’s world, it’s the most perfect place to be in, united as one.
The Harris Group are a quintet fronted by guitarist Ric Harris, who unite with Tom Haugen (drums), Miach Rutschman (vibraphone), Chris Green (soprano saxophone), and Mike Daly (acoustic bass) to create Choices, and while everyone stands out with their playing, if I hear the xylophone or vibraphone within the mix, I will sometimes focus on it a bit mroe because I hear it as the “odd man out”. I don’t mean odd as in “the instrument is weird”, but that I simply single it out for its unique feel and coolness. In the process, I’m also focusing on everything else. Harris allows everyone to play so they can show off their musicianship, but also comes in and out of it with respect for everyone else. The title track is a brilliant way to start of the album, as you get a chance to hear/feel everyone out, and then they all go in for the kill throughout the album. “Around The Block” sounds like a jazzy funk song stored somewhere in Louisiana while waiting for transport to Jamaica, when you hear it, you’ll get the references. Don’t think reggae, think of the New Orleans style of drumming becoming an influence to other things while retaining its love of jazz.
This was an album I found myself going back to just to play a few songs over, but also liking how well they sound and play together, especially the album closer, “Footprints”, as if they’re saying “we have left some footprints behind, we hope you will follow us.” Strong album from start to finish, I hope this lineup will continue for awhile and if not, I hope to be able to explore their music individually or in whatever setting.
Lenny Marcus is equally known for his piano work and as a flautist, and he continues on with both talents on his brand new album, Distant Dream (self-released). While this could easily be placed under jazz, some of it could easily be “easy listening”, and that’s not a bad thing either. It’s the type of music you might expect to hear during the credits of some of your favorite TV shows, if not some of the late 70′s/early 80′s albums of Bob James, where the jazz stylings slowly disappears for something more pop oriented/accessible, as he shows in “Ode To The Night”. Maybe this is why he closest the album with this song, as a lullaby to close the show, but the 15 songs before display his love of jazz in all of its forms. There’s a lot of music to grasp with this one, but my favorite song has to be his version of “Suicide Is Painless”, known by many as the theme to M*A*S*H. Even at a nice 4:33, he manages to capture the song’s beauty in its uncertainty, and it is still relevant today as it was in 1969. Distant Dream is perhaps a dream a bit closer than most people may realize, and at least in a musical setting, it’s right in front of you.
Cortez is a brilliant guitarist, and also produced, engineered, and did the graphics for the CD version of the album. If you’re an artist and have not only a full grip of what you want to do, but also execute it, you’re impressive in my book. His guitar style utilizes the bass in jazz, blues, rock/rock’n'roll, and whatever he feels like playing at any given time, and a lot of times that’s what it’s about: feel. His versions of The Beatles‘ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, which goes into a jazzy/laid back vibe, would have been perfect if it was released on ECM, and some listeners might be taken back to the glory days of ECM after hearing Andrew Lienhard‘s keyboard world. There are Latin influences in it too, and it just sounds perfect, I found myself wanting to hear it over and over. “The Man With No Arms” is a damn good performance too, and in fact most of the songs are. There are 12 tracks on this, with four of them being brief songs, most of them just under a minute. A few of these, such as “When You Wish Upon A Star” and “”It’s A Small World”, would have been nice if he explored the mood another minute or so, it left me hungry for more. I could have done without the reggae vibe of his cover of Jimi Hendrix Experience‘s “Fire”, although his guitar work just shines throughout.
Which leads to perhaps the inevitable question: is this album really nasty? To paraphrase the 2 Live Crew, it’s as nasty as he wants to be. He doesn’t go overboard or embellish beyond his boundaries, but there’s a sense of reserve where I wish he would have fallen over the edge to get deeper into his soul. Aunt Nasty works as is, and I’d like to think the auntie would get much nastier in a live setting.