Welcome to The Run-Off Groove #231. I am John Book, and now we’re around the middle of February. Plus, a column on a Tuesday? Freaky, huh?
This column is about music reviews, along with music-related books, DVD’s, etc. Each review will usually be followed by a graphic, when upon clicking you can make a purchase:
(for compact disc)
The point of this is to make readers aware of some of the good music out there, music I hope to be able to pass along to you. With that said, all MP3’s here are “legal”, which means they are being passed on to you with permission from the artist and/or publicity firm. All of you that are tech savvy should know where to get all the free music anyway, but please make a purchase whenever possible, whether it’s from your favorite store or in many instances from the artist themselves. If your tax return is coming in, get to those bills first and foremost, but with a bit of extra change buy a few albums.
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Now, the column.
As revealed in The Run-Off Groove #222, Dumhi is maybe less of a group and more of a state of mind, where artists come and go as its mastermind, Haji Rana Pinya, manifests its core. The interesting thing for me is that for their last few releases, Dumhi as a group have made each album better than the one that came before. Yet just as things are getting tighter with everyone at their peak, it seems the direction is not on a singular path. If the music is a football huddle, then we’re at the moment where everyone involved is about to break. Now, my review begins.
Flowers (Dumhi Productions) is an EP with a running theme, although in order to figure it out you have to listen to it from start to finish. While not a concept EP in the strictest sense, there is something running through the songs, something a bit melancholy and it’s hard to say if it’s the actual music or the thought that the Dumhi concept will be headed to a new place. Whereas Dumhi were about partying, getting high, and having fun for the hell of it, the vibe of Flowers is one of maturity and growth, both lyrically and definitely musically. Haj has an open door policy, so while Mash Comp isn’t represented on this one, you do have contributions from Flud and Shameless Plug. Some tracks move things to an unfamiliar place under the Dumhi name, as if some storm clouds entered the picture and what Haj does is create that concept through sound. “I Want To Follow Rainbows”, an instrumental piece full of backward trombone loops and blues vocals in the distance, helps link one part of the EP to the other. As far as that maturity and growth is concerned, JohnBlake and Jermiside help emphasize that a bit clearer in “Ain’t Goin’ Back”:
I think back on the way we used to kiss
The way you moved your hips, the way we used to dip
At the party, and get into something naughty
By nature, I had to date ya, time waits for no man
And my plan was not to be a player
I wanted us to be the owners, control the game before us
But before us, there was you and him
And you said he was just a friend
I get biz, ain’t no marquee, son
No second fiddle, yet I felt like the monkey in the middle
But the monkey, a two-ton gorilla
Fo rilla, hanging right on our back
Claws gripped on, it itched, she scratched
Compared to it, I’m a nicotine patch
And damn, it always had a secret stash
Tried to drop her like a bad… (chhh)
Habits are hard to break up
Make up, make love
Same cycle had to wake up
Before I knew it, wait up
She was gone like Scarlett
Dearly departed, yo, ain’t gonna happen
Get those bags packin’, I’m done yackin’
Tryin’ to be proactive, so I’m just passin’
It could be about love and relationships, it could be the continuation of what Common did with “I Used To Love H.E.R.”, using love as a metaphor for hip-hop, or it could be about marijuana pancakes with hemp syrup for all I know, but one gets a sense that new moves and risks have to be made, and it’s now or never.
Donwill of Tanya Morgan continues to amaze me with the progression of his style as he becomes more confident in his writing and flows, and he’s now at a point where he is able to put down anything and everything, as he does in the incredible “Sunny Day”, featuring new vocalist Sabrine Cuie whose singing is reminiscent of what some of Wu-Tang Clan‘s songs sounded like when they introduced Blue Raspberry to the picture. My favorite part of the song is at the end when she sings the chorus:
“I’m feeling oh so lonely on a sunny day
I got nobody, nobody, nobody…
and in the background she sings “no one to play” and “stay in and hide”. Had it been me, I would have enhanced the ending to explore the loneliness, maybe an extended remix is necessary. As for the instrumental, you hear a familiar backbeat decorated with a nice keyboard melody and the sound of steel drums, which fits perfectly about the positive outlook the song looks for. The sorrow and uncertainty of the next day comes through in the acoustic folk song “Coming To Terms”, before a bit of confident attitude comes through with Shameless Plug, whose Tre Hardson-meets-Lyrics Born vibe in “My Part Of Town” will definitely help boost his career if he plans on strengthening his solo ventures.
Flowers begins with the outro of “She Is Leaving” and begins with “He Is Leaving”, so one is almost uncertain as to who really left. Who are the flowers for, where have all the flowers gone? Are the flowers meant as a peace offering, as a way to say goodbye, something to place on a tombstone, or something to provide scent in something that can be somewhat of a sausage fest? Maybe it’s one of them, all of them, none of them. Flowers, the EP, marks some kind of change, and while we’re uncertain as to what kind of change that is, we know that whatever is to come will be just as compelling.
Is Bru Lei named after the drink? I have no idea, but what I do know is that Shroom Crumbs (PS) is an EP (six songs) done on an incredible amount of substances. Hell, the EP is named after mushrooms, so lude up and take it in.
Buy why? I’ll explain. Some will know Bru Lei from Spitball and Danger|Zone and has been getting more crafty and elaborate in his own right. For this solo effort he brings on his Spitball mate, DJ PRZM, and together they create the kind of music that can only come when you have a room full of weed, microwave sausage biscuits in the freezer, not enough gas to go to 7-Eleven. Bru Lei has the cocky attitude of a true MC, one who knows he has the gift of not only rhymes, but a writing style that is very much his own. The songs go back and forth from well constructed tracks to what comes off as lo-fi instantaneous off-the-head freestyles, where one is feeling the aftereffects of those brownies and the drool of your drool only helps extend your mental capacity by a hundred. “Bad Reviews” is a blast at writers who can’t review quality music when heard, layered over some of that Jerry Butler soul. He looks to rapper Jean Grae for inspiration and perhaps a little more in a song dedicated to her, and… let’s just say this EP has the feel of a rough demo, but a demo good enough to be heard by anyone and everyone. There’s a sharpness in this that a lot of indie releases mix on their attempt towards sounding like everyone else. Bru Lei doesn’t sound like anyone else, and Shroom Crumbs is just some of the crumbs he’s willing to pass out to wanna-be biters. In the words of the man in the Hey Love commercial, Bru Lei would probably tell you “no, my brother, you got to bite your own”.
One look at the cover and you have to assume Greg Skaff is a decent guitarist, right? Well, you can’t judge a CD by its cover, however this guy is definitely the bee’s knees (which I could never figure out).
Anyway, dumb introductory paragraph aside, Skaff has been playing jazz for years and his second album, East Harlem Skyline (a href=”http://www.zohomusic.com”>Zoho) has him playing with the best, including the incredible drummer E.J. Strickland, along with Darryl Jones (bass), George Cooligan (Hammond B-3), George Laks (Hammond B-3), and Charley Trayton (drums). The first track, featuring the lineup of Skaff/Laks/Jones/Drayton has him going at it in a rock, almost metal-fashion, with the kind of guitar playing and tones one wouldn’t expect to hear on a jazz album. If anything, it allows fans to hear what he’s more than capable of doing. The rest of the album features the trio of Skaff/Strickland/Colligan, and it’s a smoothed out B-3/guitar affair that you wish was twice as long. Skaff plays with the kind of flow that comes natural to him, as he could probably close his eyes and just play, as he does in “Lotus Blossom” (the Billy Strayhorn song) and a unique take on Fiona Apple‘s “Fast As You Can”. Wayne Shorter‘s “Angola” has all of them taking it to the edge and beyond, while the original “Tropicalia” could be a seance if you allowed it to be. I first heard of Strickland when he and his brother appeared on a sampler CD for a magazine highlighting musicians going to college. I was blown away then, and his drumming here will definitely put him up with the greats, of any genre. Colligan knows how to grace the music and eventually dig in with a style that never goes beyond his capabilities, as shown in “Lodestar” and “Twenty-Three”.
The focus of East Harlem Skyline is Skarr, but Strickland and Colligan are musicians who are worthy enough of analysis too, much more than just backing musicians, but as a whole they’re able to create jazz that has the feel of countless 60’s and early 70’s masterpieces.
Lotte Anker is a name you may not be familiar with yet, but if you are a fan of improvisational jazz and intense saxophone playing, Anker is a musicians you’ll want to follow in the years to come.
Live At The Loft (Ilk) is a live CD uniting Anker with pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Gerald Cleaver, and together they make the kind of music that you don’t want to lose track, for every note, movement, and section is as intense as the next. “Real Solid” is a 20 minute piece that starts out slow before it gets into a bow-legged gallop, and Taborn shines in this one playing piano as if he was Creed Taylor or Sun Ra. At first it’s difficult to tell what the time signature may be, or at least it doesn’t sound like a simple 4/4 composition. Anker is a saxophonist who knows how to reach all of the right notes, but she wants to play inside out, underneath, in reverse, and around everything else, which she gets to display in “Real Solid” and the 26 minute “Magic Carpet”. The two lengthy pieces aren’t too long by any means, but it takes a bit of time to fully get to where they want to go, and it’s not the destination that’s nice but the journey along the way. There are times in “Real Solid” where they’re playing as if they’re in three different cities, but each one pushes each other to the limit, only for everyone to jump around as if they were burning their own feet. It’s the sound of traffic at 5:02pm on any busy freeway, but it’s also dimensionless jazz that immediately makes an impact with each revealed layer.
The album ends with “Berber”, an 8 minute song that also happens to be a proper composition in that you can hear a distinct beginning, middle, and end. It’s time for the trio to settle down, and yet one almost wants to rush them into traffic again, firecrackers on the ankles, and have them play until they reveal their welts. Well, it’s not that ugly, but it’s the kind of jazz that will appeal to fans of David S. Ware, John Zorn, Cyro Baptiste where there’s no escaping the sonic insanity once you’re in. After hearing Live At The Loft. why bother leaving?
This is what you get on Henry Grimes‘ new CD, Solo (Ilk), and most people would probably say “this is uneasy listening at its very best”. But if they say that, they’re obviously not listening. It is indeed Grimes playing each instrument on long, drawn-out tracks but the joy in hearing this is to hear what he does and what he comes up with next. It’s a bit like putting someone in a closet, throwing in a pencil and demand them to draw a masterpiece. If you keep them in long enough, you may get more than what you expected, and Solo is a lot like that. The listener gets a chance to hear the creative process, and just when you’ll think he is stuck and is heading towards mere doodling, it leads to something else, and that something else is what keeps the listener wanting to play this in full.
It may not be an album you’ll want to frequent all the time, but one that does deserves to be heard when you do take time to take a listen. But if unique jazz is what you’re after, this has got to be one of the more original albums I’ve heard in some time.
Steven Bernstein/Mercus Rojas/Kresten Osgood are united in music and jazz, and they bring their talents to the table with Tattoos And Mushrooms (Ilk), an album that combines trumpet, tuba, and drums. Sounds fairly basic until you press play. The first track sounds like a meditative didgeridoo until you realize you’re listening to a tuba (as played by Rojas) going through some kind of effect. The drone goes for about two minutes before Bernstein (on trumpet) and Osgood (drums) make themselves known into the soundscape.
What I really like about this album is that you’re hearing three completely different musicians creating music that will make you smile, grimace, and groove for those hidden breakbeats that will become tomorrow’s fodder for DJ’s and producers. One tends to hear things that aren’t really there, whether it’s the elephants in “Hope For Denmark”, or the fury of pain in “Abington” and “Eastcoasting”, the latter being the Charles Mingus composition. Three musicians playing meaningful jazz and occasionally creating sounds their instruments were not meant to do, this is as trippy as the title of the album. Don’t worry, it’s not the sound of an ambulance approaching you or your home, it’s the sound of Steven Bernstein letting people know he’s there to play.
Matt Criscuolo may have set the mood perfectly when he gave his new album the title of Melancholia (M) but this saxophonist seems to merely honor the bluesy side of jazz, thus the title reference (i.e. melancholy = feeling the blues). In terms of jazz albums, in terms of musicianship and arrangements, and choice of material (a mixture of well known songs by Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Billy Eckstine and a number of originals), this is easily one of the finest jazz albums I’ve heard in recent weeks.
The liner notes from Criscuolo say that the point behind making this album was for the listener to feel something, to react, and you can’t help but react in some way, whether it’s is to dwell in sadness or look towards better times. The album reminds me of such albums as Kind Of Blue, My Favorite Things, and Crescent where everything just feels so right. Mix that in with a string section and it is truly an album that you want to play eternally, buy and give as gifts, and perhaps have it be the last song you listen to as you drift into an eternal sleep, it’s that kind of album that one tends to search for. This is it. The album is beautifully recorded by Brendan Muldowney and produced by John Montagnese, and you feel like you’re in the middle of the studio hearing everything in your face. Songs such as “Tell Me Bedtime Story” and “Chan’s Song” (both Hancock compositions) will scoop you into that soulful part of your being and make you want to explore its inner regions.
Without a question, one of the best jazz albums of the 00’s.
If you missed the smooth stylings of The Modern Jazz Quartet, it’s time to dust off or dry clean your tuxedo because here’s someone who makes the vibraphone sound like the most grand of jazz instruments.
Tom Beckham‘s Rebound (Apria) is joined by Ferenc Nemeth (drums), Matt Clohesy (bass), Henry Hey (piano), and Chris Cheek (saxophone) compliment each other in the best ways, and on this album they take on the songs/stories Beckham wants to tell and share, and do so with the kind of refinement that sometimes feels out of place. Or maybe it’s a style I enjoy and tend to not hear dominating the landscape these days. In “Tethered” you hear everyone one by one, build up to where it becomes a clusterfuck of sound before things break apart only to find each other building again. Cheek’s solo about three minutes in and the butt shaking groove of the rhythm section of Nemeth and Clohesy makes everything crystal clear, moved out of the way by Hey’s delicate piano touches and then Beckham uses what everyone has given him and fills in the holes before starting work on his painting.
With eight songs on the album, the shortest one being 5 minutes and 19 seconds, Rebound will be enjoyed by those who like to hear bands take on the sonic expedition and purposely not want to come back for long periods of time. Beckham paints a very bold picture and pretty much defines what cool jazz is about.
Megan Birdsall is a vocalist who has made jazz music her own for the last few years, but in This Is The Time (self-released) she makes the kind of music that may break her open into the pop and rock worlds without sacrificing her love of jazz. “Please Send My Love” is an emotional love song that deserves to get a lot of airplay on pop, MOR, and AOR stations, and then the political tone of this 7-song EP comes into play.
Birdsall has said she was never someone who cared too much about politics, nor ever thought about including it in her music until she met with then-senator Barack Obama. That moment changed her life completely, and the change in her is presented in the six remaining songs, with titles such as “Not Alone”, “Stand Up”, “Revolution”, “New World”, “Freedom”, and the title track. It’s very inspiring to listen, and these songs put her up there alongside Joan Osbourne, Melissa Etheridge, and so many other vocalists, with songs about lost hope but a rediscovery of dreams and positivity, it’s nice to hear a real singer sing real songs that is very much of our times.
Only two downers. Most of the songs feature soundbites from various political speeches, from Hilary Clinton and of course Obama, but they’re done in a way that cover up what she’s singing. While not a major distraction, the songs are heartfelt enough to pass on it but I feel it would have been more effective if the songs were arranged/edited in a fashion where the speeches would have been heard during instrumental passages. Another option would have been to use them as interludes, which would have allowed listeners to concentrate on the songs themselves. The only downer is that these songs are more pop/rock oriented, and since they are so good I would hate to see her abandon her jazz side. I do feel she is capable of singing anything and everything due to her jazz roots, and she could do anything and prove that she is more rounded than just the stereotypical “jazz singer”. This Is The Time speaks of things today, and maybe subliminally also suggests that it’s time for Birdsall’s career to shine.
The album sounds like a mixture of The Byrds and The Kinks with a pinch of R.E.M., where the construction of each song is heard beautiful as you explore their world through music, lyrics, verses, and choruses that make you want to salute the planet you live on. It’s clever pop with all smirks included, a few nudges here and there, and just an incredible sense of confidence that comes through in what and how they play. I know the term “alternative music” is as dated as MTV playing music videos, but if there as a chance when left-of-center music became a part of the mainstream again, if only for people to embrace the good that’s still in existence in music today, I hope The Lovetones will be part of the pack that gets that acceptance.
Dish is kind of a vanilla plain name, but at least it’s not Douche. Brotherly love is the name of the game here, as Nathaniel & Roberto Aguilera use music as their toy box to create the kind of mind blowing rock, folk, and pop that would sound good with munchies and ludes. They have been compared to everyone from Beck, The Flaming Lips, and Neil Young in terms of making music that feels spontaneous but is as unpredictable as… now let me talk about this for a moment. You buy albums and I don’t know about you, but I like to hear what an artist is capable of doing, and the more variety there is, the more I want to embrace the authenticity of that. Perhaps this is why they call themselves Dish, because if you were go enter a restaurant with no name, and everyone had leather bondage masks on and gloves, you would have no idea who or what they were. But you are given a dish in the dark and are told to eat. You begin to eat. You taste, and you don’t know what the hell it is but it’s bitter as fuck. You taste something else, and it’s a bit bland. You come across something where the texture feels like fondling your own poop, but the taste is exquisite. This is Dish.
Ma Raison De Vivre Ton Amour (Roa) translates to “your love is my reason to live”, and the songs could be considered the many variations of love. “This Ain’t Livin'” sounds a bit like the impractical heavy pop Nirvana could have done with their eyes closed, while “Death And Romance” might as well be a Mark Lanegan B-side if he decided to bring in Jack Johnson, Thom Yorke and Robert Smith (The Cure) to jam. “I Saw A Bird” has a bossa nova feel that could have been recorded in a stinky alley Brazil as freshly shaved ladies dance and enhance. They are comfortable in bare bone acoustic ballads as they are in delivering an intense distorted crunch with noodles, so you just take it all in and try to figure it out at the end, or not. I know I’ve said this many times in other reviews, but this is the kind of band you wish you had heard a long time ago, as they sound like the kind of pride that once existed, or at least the pride you felt went into hiding. The secret is out and the answer has been revealed: grab a Dish, and do it with all senses open.
(Ma Raison De Vivre Ton Amour will be released on March 3rd.)
Jar-E is a multi-instrumentalist who looks to Prince, Stevie Wonder, and Beck as influences, and that’s just not because those names are listed in his bio. He has been playing a wide range of music since he was a kid, and that infatuation with music kept him exploring until he decided to record on his own. The Beck-side of his influence comes through in the occasional hints of irony, humor, and simply being clever, which definitely comes through when he wants to share his Prince and Wonder influences, but he could easily be a fan of Barry Manilow, Paul McCartney (think “Oh Woman, Oh Why”) and George Michael, if this album is indication. He is credited with playing the Fender Rhodes, Hammond B-3, and trombone on the album but he has a band backing him on this and yet his arrangements sound as if all of this was made on his own. “3 Leaf” is the kind of song one can imagine Van Morrison and Al Green covering on tour, while “Çasa Believe” would be what Chris Cornell‘s new album would sound like if he hung out with Da Lata and Tom Ze, and not Timbaland. The combination of sound, textures, and styles is ridiculous and you can sense that it’s all about delivering the full presentation in the music, the show is in the sound and I’d like to think if you go to a Jar-E show, it would be incredible. As be begins to explore deep his worldly travels, he may become this generation’s Prince, Stevie Wonder, and Beck. The world needs an artist like Jar-E right now.
Can a Frenchman teach us to reappreciate movie music from the 1980’s? We record collectors and vinyl junkies love to dwell on the obscure, yet deep down we have a thing for those songs that can never escape our minds, the audio worms if you will. Soundtrack fans love to soak in the music’s goodness, whether it’s incidental mood music or the grand theme. But Marc Collin, known for his work as Nouvelle Vague, feels he can do the job to make the diverse selection of 80’s soundtrack songs sound better, and he has a go at it with Hollywood, Mon Amour (The Perfect Kiss/[PIAS]).
If one is to look at the cover alone, it may seem like a sly reference to French films of the past, and you would be correct. The music on the album is anything but French, at least in those who originally recorded the songs. The material here is given a more intimate and introspective feel, almost like entering the halls of Kraftwerk and saying “I think an acoustic guitar would suit these songs”. In other words, by cutting the songs to their essence: the lyrics and composition, and reconstructing them from the ground up, one may be able to hear things not once heard (or accepted before). As Collin says in the bio for the album, “I tried to imagine what these songs would sound like if they had been recorded 20 years before. I had to excavave and imagine what chords or harmonies might have been taken out in the production. I’m not really sure if I am trying to find the treasure underneath — I’m not sure some of these songs have treasure — but I have striven to create something new and interesting.” HA! I laugh because I made my assumption about this project before I read and typed out his quote, so we’re on to something. Shall we begin? Let’s.
Most songs will be familiar to listeners while others may be more for the obscure soundtrack junkie. Hearing Katrine Ottosen sing “Eye Of The Tiger”, stripped of its “Glenn Glenn Glenn” application in recent years, makes you wish the song would have been presented in this way instead of the Survivor way. Yael Naim handles “Flashdance…What A Feeling” in a way Irene Cara, who is more than capable, never attempted. Even Kenny Loggins‘s 80’s chestnut “Footloose” is put into the machine with the help of Cibelle. While most people may not associate Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence for its music (even though its soundtrack is very good), Nadeah takes “Forbidden Colours” into a few new shades. Former Morcheeba vocalist Skye Edwards embraces Debbie Harry and Blondie for her own rendition of “Call Me”, and like her work with Morcheeba, she takes it to places unknown.
There are a number of songs here that I was blown away with. Nadeah takes Prince‘s “When Doves Cry” into Joni Mitchell territory, something the original author of the song will surely love. Those of you who admire the work of actress Juliette Lewis also know that she’s a singer, and her version of David Bowie‘s “This Is Not America” will be floored by Lewis’ rendition. Nadeah handles Christopher Cross‘s “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” and it is sure to make people re-appreciate the original while getting into this new rendition. Nadeah also handles “Together In Electric Dreams” from the movie Electric Dreams. Originally performed by Philip Oakley of The Human League and composer Giorgio Moroder, the song is heavily reduced into a modern day love ballad, which is what it was in 1982 but by taking away its electronic and synthesized layers, one can hear the lyrics without trying to show the progress and/or change in technology that is referred to in the film.
In fact, these songs work quite well without any context to any film, and all of them hold up very well, some of them moreso than their original released versions. Collin has done an incredible job by taking the music of the 80’s into the 60’s and coming out in the 00’s with something more original and creative than what may have been intended. The entire album was beautifully recorded and mastered, which Collin and the record label must have realized since they went out of their way to release it on vinyl (YES!) Is it vinyl worthy? Yes. Is it worth buying? By all means, yes. Will it be remembered in 2029? Whoever thought “Together In Electric Dreams” would be brought back to life 17 years after the fact? In other words, yes. Hollywood, Mon Amour is a DFK to the 80’s, and the reciprocation will make you moist.