sábado, 24 de junho de 2017

Heliocentrics & Melvin Van Peebles - The Last Transmission 2014

“High reaching” is arguably the best way to describe über-talented collective The Heliocentrics, an incredibly demanding act to characterize. On their Facebook page, they proclaim their style as being “psychedelicallybrokenjazzsoulfunk”—fair enough.  Labels aside, collaborating with multi-talented filmmaker, recording artist, and certified Baadasssss Melvin Van Peebles, The Heliocentrics deliver something of their own gesamtkunstwerk. Sure, there’s no visual component—as the Wagnerian concept would entail—but ambitious cosmic narrative The Last Transmission is like few other albums of modern times.

“Chapter 1: Prologue” establishes the tone of the album, offering the first taste of Van Peebles’ poetic vocals. On the opener, the Heliocentrics provide a soundtrack of sorts for Van Peebles’ speech. The Heliocentrics themselves take more of an accompaniment, complement-driven role, ceding the spotlight to Van Peebles’ spacey tale.

“Chapter 2: Big Bang Transmission” features the instrumentalists more than the prologue, as the sounds grow more cacophonous in nature. The jazz tendencies are still in place, anchored by the groove, but there is transcendence beyond the basics. Van Peebles doesn’t appear until the tail end, providing a lyrical cue for “Chapter 2” to segue into the brief “Chapter 3: Searching For Signs”. Boisterous and unsettling, “Chapter 3” exemplifies The Heliocentrics’ unique sound.
Again, Van Peebles drives the narrative into “Chapter 4: Blue Mist”, another brief but distinct sounding number. The rhythmic structure, coupled with the intensity of the sound and overall color, make this particular cut stand out. Uniquely, Van Peebles expands upon the subject (“blue mist”) and attempts to provide some clarity. That said, The Last Transmission is so driven by its astronomical subject matter, even clarity from Van Peebles’ eloquent storytelling isn’t synonymous with accessibility. “Chapter 5: The Cavern” does a superb job of truly focusing on being a tone poem, arguably more than previous cuts. The sounds assembled definitely make the listener picture “the cavern”, even if it’s as nebulous as the enigmas of the universe itself. “Chapter 6: Transformation (Pt. 1)” and “Chapter 7: Transformation (Pt. 2)” continue, firmly invested in shaping the extraterrestrial listening experience.
“I passed out again”, Van Peebles states at the beginning of “Chapter 8: Telepathic Routine”. “When I came back around, everything had changed…I changed into a cloud too, just like everybody else.” Still quite lofty for total understanding, with the aid of telepathy being defined as being psychic, and a few key words by Van Peebles, the pieces are there. Musically, piano plays a key role, with a prominent, rhythmically assertive approach.
“Chapter 9: The Dance” does have a danceable groove, though the instruments that reside atop are contradictory, having little place on the dance floor. The second portion of “The Dance” becomes enigmatic, not far-fetched given the obsession with cosmology. Titular lyric “trust the cosmos”, opens the high-flying “Chapter 10: Trust The Cosmos (Believe in the Universe)”, which is filled with space funk. The drums groove hard, with the bass providing a robust foundation. “Chapter 11: Infinite List (TossThe Dice)” seems to speak to the unpredictability of the universe, or some similar message, depending how one interprets Van Peebles’ poetry as well as the collective’s harsh, raucous music. “Chapter 12: Epilogue” concludes The Last Transmission, still leaving the listener questioning exactly what their ears have partaken of. Like some of the kindler, gentler tracks, “Epilogue” benefits from a soulful groove indigenous to ‘70s soul and fusion. What more fitting way to close the 36 minute effort than a spacey synth?

Ultimately, The Last Transmission is an album that will leave some completely comprehending its flow and narrative, while others will leave overwhelmed, confused, or completely confounded by it. Regardless of what interpretation the listener makes ultimately, what is undeniable is the high level of creativity and musicianship dedicated to this album. It’s not without flaws, but The Last Transmission is definitely special.

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Golden Dawn Arkestra - Stargazer 2016

Formed in 2013, this Texas collective bends toward the Great Father, Sun Ra, along with touches of funk, soul and rock ‘n’ roll. Texas is a mysterious place, where large collectives can come together under one or two roofs, add dancers and visual artists where and when they need, amalgamate one subgenre and another and emerge with something that is exhilarating in its newness and invigorating in its ability to make us forget that we ever knew life before it. And, yeah, although the name and obvious Ra influence via the name might have you believing that this is a throwback unit, y’all are in for a pleasant surprise. Golden Dawn Arkestra, like some contemporary soulmeisters such as Adrian Younge et al., looks to the past for inspiration but decidedly wants us to believe that this is the music of the future. One listen to this, the band’s debut long-player, proves that.

The funky thide of things, as Billy Cobham would have called it, comes to light in the full tilt groove that is “Sama Chaka”. The band eschews anything close to traditional lyrics, preferring to repeat the title when the mood strikes and to let the groove do the talking. It’s hypnotic and meditative, reminding one of services at some sort of space church where Father Ra is worshipped and where we respect his apostles. It’s hypnotic enough, one must concede, that one might just sod it all and join this lot’s cult. There’s also room for a sense of humor via “Shabuki”, a spooky nod to Asian music and culture that’ll still have you shaking your groove thing. In a spiritual sense, of course. The same might be said for its companion, “Osaka”, which is as addictive as it is hypnotic. If the story that band founder Zapot Mgwana was told as a child, that Ra was his father, isn’t true, it might as well be. There’s something deeply embedded in the DNA of this band that could have only come from one man and could only be part of some greater, interplanetary plan. Though Ra is not the only father here. “Disko” asks us to consider what might have happened if Frank Zappa would have been far less cynical about the music of the 1970s and gotten himself a case of Saturday night fever.

Then again, Zappa was a major fan of blues and R&B and even dabbled in jazz and there’s some lead playing in the closing tune, “All Is Light”, which sounds like it could come from him or at least from the same source material. Of course we’re not playing spot the influence or look at the chip off the ol’ mythological block. Instead, we’re focusing (or should be) on this perfect culmination of everything this band does well. Except, of course, for the dancing and visual arts stuff that is rumored to go down when the group takes the stage. In all, this is an excellent way to bring to a close a record that’s destined to become one of the great underground favorites of 2016.

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Famoudou Don Moye, John Tchicai, Hartmut Geerken - The African Tapes 2001

This two-CD live sequel to Cassava Balls (Golden Years of New Jazz 4) captures the flavor of the trio's tour of Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia in the spring of 1985. The exquisite percussion of Famoudou Don Moye (of the Art Ensemble of Chicago) and Hartmut Geerken colors every tune with a Dionysian joy. John Tchicai blows hard and convincingly, as he belts out simple riffs and improvises melodically and passionately. Locals, including children and accomplished percussionists, occasionally join the trio, and the native influences are always apparent. The eight-page booklet is a plus, describing the music and the circumstances of the performances. For many in the audience, this was a first exposure to this kind of music. Imagine introducing Albert Ayler's "Ghosts" to a receptive, musically virginal crowd. On one piece, the sounds reminded some of a secret religious ceremony and they fled in terror from the auditorium. There is much excitement everywhere, as Tchicai builds tension through repetition and Moye and Geerken fan the flames, generating intense heat. Some may find the emphasis on percussion and little instruments tiresome, but there is a unique enlightening quality to the bells and whistles that engulfs the saxophone in a meditative cloud of vaporous cacophony. AMG.

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Boz Scaggs - Dig 2001

Boz Scaggs returns to the arena in the thoroughly modern Dig, four years after his much-acclaimed return to traditional R&B on Come on Home. This takes no small bit of courage for an artist like Scaggs, who has reveled in obscurity for most of the '80s and '90s. Come on Home won the man all sorts of critical platitudes for making unfashionable roots music in a highly unlikely time. It showed, of course, in that the record sold barely respectably. Dig is, if anything, a hyper-modern take on R&B. Scaggs and co-producers David Paich (who co-wrote virtually all the material here) and guitarist Danny Kortchmar have embraced modern production, recording, and mixing techniques in the same way Scaggs did on Silk Degrees (whose part two this is definitely not). The result is simply a very fine adult contemporary take on rhythm & blues that showcases Scaggs in the finest voice he's given us in decades, a solid batch of tunes, and very few irritating elements. Scaggs' use of hip-hop methodologies in tracks like "Desire," with Michael Rodriguez's programming, is subtle enough to add atmosphere to an already beautiful song. The tune is a ballad so smooth and streetwise, so late-night in feel and sentiment, the Timberland rhythm just underlines the spooky guitars and Scaggs' sweet crooning; in fact, his voice here sounds better than it ever has. There are other modernisms that Scaggs employs here that would have been better left on the cutting room floor, such as his insistence on rapping on "Get On the Natch," where he sounds like a Wal-Mart cross between Frank Zappa on "Dina Moe Hum" and Tom Waits from Bone Machine. But there are only a couple of moments like that; his blues roots manifest themselves well on "King of El Paso" and his embrace of Latin-tinged pop suits him well on "Call That Love." While it's a slick record in typical Scaggs fashion, it's a slim cast of characters who pull it all off -- mainly ScaggsPaich, and Kortchmar (who is as fine a guitarist as ever), with guests like Ray Parker, Jr., pedal steel god Steve Lukather, and jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove Jr. lending their hands in various spots. For a guy everybody said was in the hallmark of memory, Boz Scaggs is making remarkably refreshing and compelling music. Dig is mature enough to resonate well with his aging audience, and it's slick and polished enough to catch the ear of pop radio programmers. With precious few rough spots, Dig is a pop triumph by a sleight-of-sound master. AMG.

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Annette Peacock - I Belong to a World That's Destroying Itself. (aka Revenge) 2014

Annette Peacock gets it right again. In the lyric booklet here she writes "This is my first record. It was the right album, in the wrong century." Startling but true. An earlier version of I Belong to a World That's Destroying Itself was released as Revenge by Polydor in 1971 -- the same year as her classic I'm the One on RCA, which is usually regarded as her debut. The former album was credited to the Bley-Peacock Synthesizer Show. Her then-husband Paul Bley got top billing, despite the fact he played on only half the record. Peacock's Ironic label corrects this historical inaccuracy in deluxe fashion. Recorded live in various studios in 1968 and 1969 (written and arranged completely by Peacock), this is one of, if not the, very first record to feature a Moog Synthesizer modulating lead vocals. The rough recording aspect -- understandable given technological limitations at the time -- is actually a boon to this version; it is remarkably fresh, raw, energizing, and prophetic even now. This set marks the first showcase for Peacock's iconic free-form songwriting style -- which has inspired three successive generations of musicians across several genres -- and her trademark phrasing and delivery. As evidenced here, she pioneered a radical technique of commanding the synthesizer to serve her singing in perfect complement -- she made the instrument actually sound passionate. Check the way she makes it strain to meet her high-pitched soaring on "A Loss of Consciousness." The electric bass, trap kit, and a fingerpopping acoustic piano vamp behind her foster the groove. Tom Cosgrove's guitar adds funky leads and the band matches them, while her rhythmic pulse -- processed through the synth -- takes it over the margin somewhere else entirely. The testifying title track is an environmental anthem that demands a return to natural sources; its poetry is just as bracing in the 21st century, and absolutely free of idle sentiment. The gospel stomp of the B-3, electric bass, and breaking drums frame her distorted vocal, adding primal urgency and steely poignancy. This set also contains the first version of "I'm the One." With its rickety upright piano and slightly reverbed vocals, it is at once earthy and otherworldly. On "Joy," with its bumping bassline and grooving Rhodes-and-organ groove, Peacock marshals the Moog to add emotive adornments in the instrumental mix as well as to her voice. She lyrically embraces life and love because of their impermanence. This edition includes two bonus cuts: "Flashbacks," a hard-driving funk jam with a lyric comprised of a diary entry (complete with rough-cut studio moments) that leads directly into "Anytime with You," a deeply moving, souled-out number with clean vocals and Cosgrove's guitar as a second voice. Not that it was required, but I Belong to a World That's Destroying Itself further cements Peacock's role as a singular artist whose searing and provocative musical vision has always been decades ahead of itself.  AMG.

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Doug Carn - My Spirit 2015

Keyboards, oboe, reeds, vocals, composer. Though a versatile musician and expressive pianist, Carn attained more notoriety in 70s for writing lyrics to classic jazz anthems. Carn began keyboard lessons as a child and was soon playing piano and organ, plus alto sax. He studied oboe and composition at Jacksonville University from 1965 to 1967, then finished his education at Georgia State College in 1969. He worked briefly with Lou DonaldsonStanley Turrentine and Irene Reid, then became popular in mid-'70s with albums for Black Jazz label. He penned lyrics for such songs as "Infant Eyes," "Adams Apple" and "Revelation." His wife at the time, Jean Carn later became R&B star as single act; she changed name spelling to CarneCarn eventually did two albums with Earth, Wind And Fire but was not as successful working with them as Ramsey Lewis. AMG.

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Benjamin Booker - Witness 2017

On his eponymous 2014 debut, Benjamin Booker roared and wailed, reveling in his debt to the garage-blues popularized by Jack White, but he's come a long way in the three years separating Benjamin Booker and its follow-up, WitnessBooker made a pilgrimage to Mexico in 2016, deciding that he needed a jolt of inspiration for his second album and, while he was there, he began to process the protests fueled by the rise of Black Lives Matters. Separated from his home country, he viewed himself as a spectator to what was happening in the U.S. and, combined with how his own ethnicity was accepted in Mexico, it inspired him to write the incendiary Witness. His personal embrace of the political galvanizes the album, which has a sense of purpose lacking on his debut, but what's truly startling upon first listen is how Booker's broadened his palette considerably. Blues remains his foundation and he can still indulge in squalls of noise, but there's a heavy soul vibe here and, crucially, Booker is embracing modern production. That much is clear from the way "Right on You" opens with burbling electronics before descending into a rocking riff that grooves harder than anything on his debut. Witness is filled with these kinds of left turns, ranging from the folk-soul of "Motivation" and the old-fashioned Southern soul of "Believe" to the psychedelic thrum of "Truth Is Heavy." This aural variety alone would make Witness an exciting record, but when these sounds are paired with probing political and personal songs, the album becomes something fresh and vital. AMG.

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Chuck Leavell - Southscape 2005

Pianist and writer Chuck Leavell has had a long and versatile career, including a stint with the Allman Brothers Band, his own jazz fusion band, Sea Level, and has toured and done session work with the likes of Eric ClaptonGeorge Harrison, and Aretha Franklin, not to mention his long-standing arrangement with the Rolling Stones. He has also written a couple of books, including an influential book on forestry and stewardship, and recorded his own solo albums, of which Southscape is the third (if you count his Christmas album). A light sort of jazz- rock affair, Southscape is intended to be a musical portrait of the American South, and while it isn't exactly a tour de force that makes you smell the kudzu or make you want to eat a peach, it has a pleasant flow and feels comfortably familiar, even on first listen. Working with a rhythm section of Chad Cromwell on drums and Michael Rhodes on bass, and getting added support from sax players Tim Ries and Randall Bramblett (as well as guitarist Larry Carlton on two tracks), Leavell plays strong, anthemic piano that brims with joyful certainty. Highlights include the elegant "Savannah" and the magnificent, soaring "Jessica," which Leavell originally co-wrote with guitarist Dickey Betts for the Allman Brothers in the early 1970s. It's a little odd at first to hear "Jessica"'s familiar lead lines done on piano rather than on electric guitars, but it remains a beautiful composition in any fashion, and it conjures the South, and Georgia, in particular, as well as any melody in recent memory. AMG.

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Barrington Spence - Star In The Ghetto 1982

Spence’s vocal style was frequently compared with that of the Studio One veteran Ken Boothe. In 1975 he recorded ‘Come Back My Darling’, which was an agreeable example of Boothe’s influence on the young singer. His follow-up, ‘Darling Dry Your Eyes’, benefited from the production skills of Prince Tony Robinson, the engineering expertise of a young Errol Thompson and masterful musical backing supplied by Skin Flesh And Bones. While with Robinson, Spence adapted Junior Byles’ masterpiece ‘Curly Locks’ as ‘Let Locks Grow’. The single was slammed by the critics for lacking originality; nevertheless, the song proved extremely popular, gaining international notoriety for the performer. Spence’s versions of Boothe’s ‘The Train Is Coming’ as ‘Train To Rhodesia’, and Byles’ ‘Curly Locks’ as ‘House Of Dreadlocks’, were featured on Big Youth’s Dread Locks Dread. Spence’s sessions with Robinson resulted in Speak Softly, which included the hits along with ‘Jah For All’, ‘Living Just A Little’ and his own composition, ‘Let’s Get It On’. Other singles included ‘For The Rest Of My Life’, ‘Living A Little Laughing A Little’ and ‘Natty Dread Have Wisdom’. The unfair dismissal of Spence as a mere imitator blighted his career and he was unable to fulfil his potential. In 1982 he found success with ‘Falling In Love’ for Larry Lawrence, and while with Derrick Spence, he had a hit with ‘I See A Blackman Cry’. A year later, Spence recorded alongside DJ Joe Sealy for the single ‘You Don’t Have To Dance’, with the New York-based producer Lloyd Barnes. AMG.

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Chris Stapleton - Traveller 2015

Like many country troubadours, Chris Stapleton cut his teeth as a songwriter in Nashville, churning out tunes that wound up hits in the hands of others. Kenny Chesney brought "Never Wanted Anything More" to number one and Darius Rucker had a hit with "Come Back Song," but those associations suggest Stapleton would toe a mainstream line when he recorded his 2015 debut, Traveller. This new release, however, suggests something rougher and rowdier -- an Eric Church without a metallic fixation or a Sturgill Simpson stripped of arty psychedelic affectations. Something closer to a Jamey Johnson, in other words, but where Johnson often seems weighed down by the mantle of a latter-day outlaw, Stapleton is rather lithe as he slides between all manners of southern styles. Some of this smoothness derives from Stapleton's supple singing. As the rare songwriter-for-hire who also has considerable performance chops, Stapleton is sensitive to the needs of an individual song, something that is evident when he's covering "Tennessee Whiskey" -- a Dean Dillon & Linda Hargrove tune popularized by George Jones and David Allan Coe in the early '80s -- lending the composition a welcome smolder, but the strength of Traveller lies in how he can similarly modulate the execution of his originals. He has a variety of songs here, too, casually switching gears between bluegrass waltz, Southern rockers, crunching blues, soulful slow-burners, and swaggering outlaw anthems -- every one of them belonging to a tradition, but none sounding musty due to Stapleton's casualness. Never once does he belabor his range, nor does he emphasize the sharply sculpted songs. Everything flows naturally, and that ease is so alluring upon the first spin of Traveller that it's not until repeated visits that the depth of the album becomes apparent. AMG.

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sábado, 13 de maio de 2017

Nick Mason - The Fictitous Sports 1981

Columbia, apparently attempting to cash in on Pink Floyd's explosion in popularity, released this album in 1981 under Nick Mason's name when in reality he's simply the drummer in this incarnation of Carla Bley's ensemble; Ms. Bley composed all the music and lyrics for this project. It's possibly her most overtly pop-oriented album, with all eight songs featuring vocals by Soft Machine alumnus Robert Wyatt. The music, by Bley's standards, is fairly pedestrian if occasionally catchy, though the lyrics are often wryly amusing. So we have songs about failed car motors and a skeptic's encounter with a flying saucer, and one dedicated to unappreciative audiences titled "Boo to You Too." Though the band is staffed with several fine jazz musicians, the music has more of a rock or jazz-rock feel, largely due to the spotlight on guitarist Chris Spedding, who evidences slick, if relatively uninteresting, chops. To the extent the songs succeed, Wyatt can take much of the credit. His engagingly hoarse voice is capable of both wrenching sincerity and mordant humor; pieces like "Do Ya?," where he is asked to tortuously squawk the line "God knows I try!," would collapse entirely with a less convincing vocalist. The closing cut, "I'm a Mineralist," is the one that leaves a lasting impression. Conflating geology and minimalism, it includes lines like "Erik Satie gets my rocks off/Cage is a dream/Philip Glass is mineralist to the extreme," before launching into a note-perfect rendition of some pointedly bland Glassian measures. For Pink Floyd completists, this album might provide a glimpse into an alternate universe of which they were otherwise unaware, but fans of Bley's earlier masterpieces like Escalator Over the Hill are likely to emerge somewhat disappointed. AMG.

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Terence Trent D'Arby - Wildcard! 2001

Where have you gone, Terence Trent d'Arby? It's a question that must have entered the minds of even casual Terence Trent d'Arby fans during his six-plus-year absence from the spotlight following TTD's Vibrator. In fact, it was an extraordinarily eventful period for the artist, during which, among other things, he fought for and finally won his freedom from Sony, set up shop in Italy, experienced a profound personal and spiritual rebirth, altered his name accordingly, signed a deal with producer Glen Ballard's small Java imprint, spent much of 1998 recording three albums' worth of songs, had a creative falling out and parted ways with Ballard, started his own record label, spent several years putting the finishing touches on and whittling down a set of songs for a comeback tentatively titled The Solar Return of TTD, then finally re-emerged with the 19-track Terence Trent d'Arby's Wildcard! Those with the patience to stick by d'Arby were rewarded with this incomparably rich masterpiece, arguably his finest recording yet, and inarguably as bold, ambitious, and uncategorizable a return as anyone could have hoped for or imagined.  Let's call it Introducing the Hardline According to Sananda Maitreya. A record this adventurous rarely makes it through the red tape, so it is fitting that Wildcard! found its own way to the public. Fitting also that it introduces itself by way of the ebullient brass blowout "O Divina," quaint clawhammer banjo giving way to swooping, Chicago-esque horn charts and a gutsy, gymnastic tenor as sweet as Sam Cooke's was smooth. The song may be something of a throwback, but the rest of the album is decidedly forward-looking, whether reinventing R&B for the 21st century (the gauzy "Girl," mellow "Some Birds Blue," and the roboto-funk of "SRR-636*" and "My Dark Places," the latter like a futuristic Earth, Wind & Fire fronted by Al Green), staying a few loops ahead of the electronica curve (the Dallas Austin-produced "Drivin' Me Crazy" and "Ev'rythang," which can only be labeled -- if it must -- trip-hop), or extending the sensual jazz fusion of Vibrator's "Undeniably" on "Shalom." That still leaves copious room for honeyed pop like "Sweetness" (with a guest spot by Wendy Melvoin) and "Sayin' About You" and the creamy rock of "And They Will Never Know" and "Goodbye Diane." All that and the newly metamorphosed Maitreya gives a remarkably sublime vocal performance throughout. Wildcard! is soul music with a capital S and in the broadest, most stirring, and visionary sense. AMG.

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Ravi Shankar and Philip Glass - Passages 1990

A collaboration between an avant-garde modern classical composer and a traditional Indian/Hindi composer/performer seems as unlikely as ice hockey on the River Styx. However, Passages is a collaboration between Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar and it works quite well. Shankar's smooth style fits nicely with Glass' dissonant orchestrations. There is a great deal of technical data involved here. Both of these artists have long taken intellectual approaches to music. Thus, the liner notes are a bit heavy-handed. The music is brilliant. The symphony dominates the soundscapes, but Shankar's atmospheres are integral to the success of this project. This CD will appeal to fans of John CageTerry Riley, and Steve Reich. AMG.

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