Andrew St. James’ The Shakes (self-titled) is music for those who like latter-day/the current phase of Flaming Lips, if Wayne Coyne was strictly acoustic. Some of it sounds like a wholesome country or Americana album where St. James’ stories are content enough to not only listen to, but remember and sing along to yourself. The inclusion of the Hammond B-3 gives some songs a stronger feel, I don’t want to say sacred but I love the B-3 and when I hear it in a lot of jazz, I’m brought “home” in the sense that I want to hear my abdomen bathe in it so I can feel rich and tangy. St. James makes good rich and tangy songs, where he speaks about traveling in his lifetime but sometimes feeling lost, or at least unsure if his current location will be to his liking. The use of saxophone by Ralph Carney in “5 Years” has a slight “Baker Street” feel to it, or maybe it’s a Clarence Clemons vibe, but it returns to feeling what is rich and tangy and wanting to sit in a tavern and having two servings of whatever they’re serving. What I also liked was the fanzine assembly approach of the album cover artwork, where it looks as if St. James obtained some photos, cut it himself done not in a professional manner but look, who cares, it’s the music that matters most. There is a homemade feel to the artwork but the music could easily become something that takes on a following if he allows himself more into the world. I think he’s already there.
Alison Blunt (violin), Anna Kaluza (alto sax), Manuel Miethe (soprano sax), Nikolai Meinhold (piano) and Horst Nonnenmache (double bass) are the five that make up the Hanam Quintet, who recorded the album in two different locations, the Lumen Church in London and the Collegium Hungaricum in Berlin. The pieces are untitled as they speak to one another in a very comforting manner, as if they were people having a casual conversation at the park or at the mall. You can hear them as being oddly freaky or sensually beautiful, a bit like watching the origins of something being creative at high speed. The last part of the album is a three-part, 17 minute composition that features cellist Tristan Honsinger, who helps to bring the quintet into his world and he into theirs for a bit more conversation, although sometimes the silence shared between themselves is what makes this work nicely too. I also found the artwork by Sandrao Crisafi to be quite engaging too, allowing myself to interpret it along with the music if and when I wanted to.
Cups Glasses And Tanks (Aut) is a new collaboration between Nicola Guazzaloca, Pablo Montagne, and Giacomo Mongelli, with Guazzaloca playing jazz while Montagne and Mongelli performing in a number of different classical configurations. The album is very much on the avant-garde side and while there are jazz central points, at the moments one would think they’re about to stay locked in something nice, they all go off into another world. I think what makes this work is that even when I was secure in being comfortable with what I’m hearing, they didn’t stay there that long, leading into something more mysterious. There were moments in Montagne when he plucked a certain string to scratch it, and it reminded me of Okkyung Lee. Then again, it may have been Guazzaloca scratching the piano strings. The music here is evenly beautiful and clustered, it’s easy to get in the middle and watch it from the outside while inside.
There was a comment saxophonist Anthony Braxton said in an interview that I felt was very interesting. I’m paraphrasing here, but he said something to the effect that just because he plays the saxophone doesn’t mean he plays or has to play jazz all the time. The instrument is held solid with jazz, even though it can be used in a wide range of settings, like a guitar, but the saxophone is just jazz. I thought of this as I was listening to this album by a trio who call themselves Bug Jargal. Nello Da Pont, Giorgio Pacorig, and Luciano Caruso begin in a very open fashion, not free jazz or anything but slowly building themselves up and I hear Caruso’s saxophone world. Here I was, expecting something textural and then Da Pont’s drums kick in and… it has a groove. Not funky, but it grooves well, just bars repeated without a bass line, and I say this because it’s what I generally crave in other music. Then Pacorig plays his Fender Rhodes and it sounds very much like jazz to me, or at least avant-garde jazz. It could be something freaky on ECM, it could be something on another distant record label, it could be one of Sun Ra’s musicians doodling in an earthbound manner. It’s not a garbled mess, there is some sense of precision going on, but it’s nice to hear just three guys playing for the sake of playing, very improvisational (at least to my ears) and without a care of where they’re going to go next, or with each other. Pacorig sometimes plays with the spirit of Herbie Hancock or Keith Jarrett so at times it may feel like you’ll think Miles Davis will come out, play his trumpet for two minutes, then stair at the wall for the next 22 minutes. As the liner notes state, “there is respect, mutual trust and complicity” and that can be felt. Again, unsure of where they’re going, but they’re going, and I’m glad they did. Further journeys, gentlemen.
If you were to purchase Patchworks Voices’ Puzzling (Aut) and were hoping for an incredible musical jam, it could lead to you digging your brain matter out through your ears. The “Voices” in question are Claudia Cervenca and Annette Giesriegl, who use nothing but their voices and electronics to create very interesting sound pieces and collages, which consists of them collaborating verbally and not verbally. In a track like “_ne”, it sounds like infants speaking with the mind capacity of adults, with nothing but gibberish that’s loud and delicate, as if they’ve found each other in the dirt and want to discover more things underground. One could also interpret this as the origins of human communication in the world, or someone may very well say “what the hell is going on here?”
The entire album is like that too, and part of the puzzle involved is trying to figure out what the missing letter is in the song titles: “_en”, “_wo”, “_ur”, and “_ree” as examples. They could be numerical, they could be meaningless, but the interesting thing about listening to this is that it sounds like sitting into a conversation at the park and not being involved, just listening and trying to get a joy out of what is being said, or made. As for the spontaneity, you can say they would be along the lines of Pauline Oliveros, Yoko Ono, Meredith Monk, and Joëlle Léandre, so if you are fans of their work, you are sure to find Puzzling to be a world, you’ll want to revisit many times in the near future.
Coalmine Records are celebrating its 10th anniversary this year and because of it, they’ve put together a nice double CD called Unearthed (Coalmine). Even if you’re not a huge fan of what feels like record label samplers, this is just some damn good hip-hop, period, so check this out for that reason alone, at least at first. Disc 1 is the emphasis, a nice mix by DJ Revolution who mixes in various tracks from the label in its history, so you’ll hear Pharoahe Monch’s “Get Down”, Guilty Simpson & Small Professor’s “On The Run”, Sean Price’s “Land Of The Crooks”, and Royce Da 5’9″, Skillz & Diamond D’s “One For The Money”, all of which hit hard now as they did when they were first heard. The second disc is simply the “Untagged Deluxe Edition”, which means all of the songs without DJ Revolution’s scratching, perhaps you just want to hear the songs without any linked mixing or wiki-wiki-wiki action, and you can have it that way.
If you have never heard 7evenThirty yet and you consider yourself a hip-hop fan, what’s slowing you down? The man has the kind of laid back flow that shows a sense of confidence that makes you feel good about listening, but also isn’t afraid to show occasional flashes of humor to reveal his human side, that he’s not an automaton. The Problem (Mello Music Group/Fatbeats) is a primarily serious album that covers on the state of not so much the world, but the community, the city, and the personal mind. Some of us feel that it may be good to think globally but in order to do that, we have to think locally and the local spot to spruce up is ourselves, and how we’re able to interact with everyone else. Gensu Dean’s production is very synth and keyboard savvy, so it has the feel of what the south has specialized on in the last 20+ years, and the beats are clean and crisp, you don’t want to interrupt any of the songs. When there are times 7evenThirty comes off like a strong man of spirit, you can hear hints of Snoop Dogg in every way he twists his words, sentences, and verses, he understands what to do and more importantly, he understands himself, his capabilities, and how to build on it. Hearing Sean Price in “Hook Heavy” is indeed heavy and I would not mind hearing a full EP or album from these guys. In the end, there is no absolute solution to the problem in question but The Problem will help you to see yourself a little better and aim towards a better locality and world around you.
2014 started the year with a new album by BVDUB called I’ll Only Break Your Heart (my review of which can be read here). As we enter the fourth quarter of the year, he has released another release called A History Of Distance (n5MD). The tranquility of his mindframe has returned, where a short statement can be stretched out into a lengthy moment, a single note stretched out beyond belief but not made boring or mundane. It’s what he does in between that keeps the listener wanting to listen to the moment, movement, or statement, whatever it may be. His use of voices can either be placed within the song as is, or sometimes slowed down, as it sounds to my ears in the opening song, the 20-minute “Everything Between You And Me”. The title can be a partial guide as to what the song is about, and even if the lyrics can’t be deciphered, it’s almost impossible to make an accurate guess on if it’s about romance, the failure or departure of a relationship, or if it’s about relationship or companionship at all. We’re wondering what the distance is in reference to in the album title, but the fund is trying to build up the synths, the keyboards, the pianos, and the drums and try to piece the puzzle together in order to understand the moment, movement, or statement.
We could get carried away in Brock Van Wey’s new creations, or we could carry the music with us wherever we go, or what we choose to think about. A History Of Distance could become a new soundtrack for a new mental file in our databanks, or it may be something that inspires new memories. It could become something meant to twist a quiet dancefloor, or maybe a dance meant in a more intimate setting. I think it’s because BVDUB has done so many songs referring to the goodness and heartbreak of love, it is always mentioned. That has to be a good thing, for at least people have something to refer to and if romance (or the lost of it) comes up as the first thing one mentions in reference to him, he has done his job. I could easily hear “Everything Between You And Me” become part of a backdrop for a soul song, but one might consider that misguided reinterpretation, as it may be better to leave good things alone. Yet being alone is not a good thing, so A History Of Distance would have to be about the temporary space between friends until we meet again.
It has been a few years since I last heard some new music from Eastern Sunz, but they have never been out of mind. They have returned in 2014 with Placebos For The People and fortuantely they retain the power and intensity, along with lyrical and musical depth that have made them one of the best underground/indie hip-hop artists out there. A lot has happened in the U.S. and the world, politically and socially, so they touch on protesting bad police officers, drug deals, and fighting for the future of children. I definitely related to “Paradise Price Tag”, especially as someone who is from Honolulu and understands why it’s difficult to go back home while others have to work three to four times as many jobs to make ends meet. With a title like “Suicide City”, it may be difficult to find airplay for it on mainstream stations and yet it’s arguably the most accessible song of the bunch. The spirit of the songs remains me of people like Dilated Peoples. Latryx, Atmosphere, and Jurassic 5, where the elements that go into it are meant to sound the way they programmed it, because they know what they’re doing. It’s not just being random just to make something sound funky, it is funky and it’s orderly, even though the world may feel a bit disorderly as of late. Placebos For The People is meant to be understood, so find out what Eastern Sunz have to say and see if it’s worth changing or being dormant.
It’s sad that hip-hop fans seem to cater to the era where they were first exposed by the music, so its history is not multi-generational. If my old-school is considered “way back” by some, then the current generation must feel the music I first got into is ancient or prehistoric. It’s sad because to me, Stay Up by Chokeules is the type of hip-hop that was popular in the mid to late 90’s, where you may shades of Dilated Peoples, Fat Joe, E-40, King Tee, and The Beatnuts. In other words, even as labels were trying to push an agenda by supporting what solely made a huge income, the music we liked was the stuff that was appreciated by a wide range of fans. Even if you didn’t like it because it wasn’t part of your coast or region, you could still find a reason to appreciate it. Chokeules is someone who sounds like he makes music so that everyone can appreciate it, with powerful lyrics, effective choruses and hooks that are meant to be remembered and become slogans… it’s essentially timeless music for all times. On the outside, some may hear this as dated because no one is doing these styles, but good music is good music, and it holds up very well, especially in tracks like “Anonymous Tip”, “Electric Jesus”, and “Leftorium”, the latter featuring Wordburglar, More Or Les, and Mighty Rhino. It goes back to a time when even the self-proclaimed superstars were still amongst everyone else, when every rapper was on the same level, before the egos were believed by the artist getting the shine. Stay Up is a way to insure that this type of hip-hop isn’t sleeping and that it lives on, even if it doesn’t have the shiniest jewelry or brightest cars.