REVIEW: John Zorn & Thurston Moore’s “@”

 photo ZornMoore_cover_zps403c03e8.jpg The downtown New York music scene has shown brilliance for years, and two of its geniuses have now created a unique album together. @ (Tzadik) is John Zorn and Thurston Moore entering a room, coming together, opening the microphones to see what happens. Everything is improvisational (or most of it) so there is a “take it as it comes” approach to it. Zorn will play the sax, bite the reed, then suck, smoke, beat, choke, startle, squeeze and tickle his instrument, and that may be during the first two minutes of a track. Moore will do his Moore doodle thing and play what comes to him. Anyone who has followed Moore’s more adventurous works knows that this isn’t the first time he has made music like this where the structure of the piece lacks structure, but has some sense of construction, even if there isn’t a blueprint. There are times when it sounds as if they are complimenting each other, reacting to what the other does, and I guess for the most part that’s what they’re both doing, just to see what one draws from the other. What I like is how it sounds as if this was recorded in two different rooms during two different times and someone said “okay, let’s piece this together and release it as a an album. It has our names on it, it will sell a handful of copies on that basis alone.” What also works is when there’s deliberate magic to create a song, which comes through in “Her Sheets”. Then in a track like “Strange Neighbor” we hear the metaphorical strangeness of two people in two different worlds, the only thing holding them back is the wall or yard between them, as Moore’s guitar turns into percussion and sheets of metal. One could also say that “Her Sheets”, placed directly in the middle of the album (as song 4 of 7), could be the wall, or the space between friends and what Zorn and Moore are exploring the dimensions and color of that wall before the wall falls, if at all. There are times when what Zorn plays sounds, to me at least, Indian, or considering his roots, perhaps Jewish or Middle Eastern. I just imagined the sound of Kadri Gopalnath within, but as interpreted by Zorn for a moment. @ is not meant to be loved by everyone but then again, if you’re aware of who Zorn and Moore are, then you’re already halfway there.

I will say this: if you are a producer who is looking to sample unusual sounds and tones, or a weird drone or two, there are a few moments here that would be perfect for it. Of course, if you’re going to sample from them, ask for permission first or do some serious filtering.

REVIEW: John Zorn’s “Templars: In Sacred Blood”

Photobucket A new John Zorn album brings a lot of excitement, anxiety, anticipation, and curiosity, because he has done so much, writes so often, and can cover everything from country and folk to holiday music and twisted jazz. For diehard fans, it’s not a surprise that an album with Zorn’s name may have little to no actual Zorn musical contributions, other than the songs being performed, and that’s the case here. For Templars: In Sacred Blood (Tzadik), Zorn has brought together Joey Baron (drums), Trevor Dunn (bass), John Medeski (organ), and Mike Patton (vocals) for an adventure that is described on Tzadik’s website as being a “testament-tribute to the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, the legendary crusading Warrior-Monks whose 200-year rise to power ended abruptly in 1307 under accusations of heresy.” It’s religious, it’s spiritual, it’s a folk tale, it’s history, but it becomes a twisted adventure when you put this material in the hands of Zorn, Patton, Medeski, Dunn, and Baron. All of this would make for a fairly wicked gothic film about the history of their crusades, as the music has all of the drama and power of the words being described, although in a way where you imagine Patton becoming each person/character, in his own unique way. The sacred is something Zorn has always used in his music, and what Medeski does by creating sounds perfect for churches and castles will give a few chills up the spine. Some of it, like the groove in “Murder Of The Magicians”, could be adapted for a police crime TV show or film, but knowing how these musicians work individually and with one another, you don’t know when the sacred will mix with hatred will mix with metal will mix with jazz will mix with classical.

While one doesn’t have to follow the script of the album in a processing fashion, it should be listened to the way it was created/intended for full impact. This album proves to me once again why Patton is one of the greatest vocalists of the last 25 years, and why Medeski can do no wrong with any of the projects he has done in the last two decades. Dunn and Baron work great together and to add this to their already exhaustive discography will make their fans quite happy. It may seem like Zorn works without limits, but within the limitations he may create for each project comes the knowledge that he has created a piece of work that will be examined and explored for years to come.

REVIEW: Ben Perowsky presents: Moodswing Orchestra

Image and video hosting by TinyPic The first time I heard of drummer Ben Perowsky was when he was with the Michael Brecker Quartet, who played at an era high school about 12 years ago. Perowsky was not the drummer who played on Brecker’s albums, so here I am in the high school auditorium getting into the jazz, and here’s a drummer who played with the same fervor as a John Bonham, but in a jazz context. It was so in-your-face, I am almost certain I was drooling on the floor. Okay, maybe not, but at a time when finding musicians on the internet was not so easy as it is now, I could find nothing on Perowsky. His name has always been on the mind, and by the time he was mentioned on various sites, he had played on numerous albums and had done a wide range of session work.

For me, as a drummer this guy was incredible but it seemed he could play any style of music and make it work, so perhaps I’ve been wanting Perowsky to do the kind of album that he has done under the guise of the Moodswing Orchestra (El Destructo). As the name of the project indicates, the music does move around back and forth like mood swings. The core of all of it is jazz, or at least jazz in the sense that Perowsky plays a lot of jazz. But you’ll also hear an accumulation of all of the styles of music Perowsky has done over the years, from haunting pop elegance, to low-brow funk, to Brazilian spoken word with a slight nod to hip-hop. As I listened to this, I didn’t bother looking at the credits until one of singers on here reminded me of the vibe I was getting while listening. The voice sounded like a singer I had heard on the Lovage project from Dan “Automator” Nakamura, a voice I had also heard on a few albums released by John Zorn‘s Tzadik label. The lady has a kind of voice that is eerie and sensual at the same time, but it’s more comforting in that you’ll want to duck and hide as she sings about misery that is equal to your own. I speak of Jennifer Charles, and the vibe that she offers to Perowsky made me feel that the Moodswing Orchestra is somewhat similar in feel to the Handsome Boy Modeling School or even DJ Shadow‘s time with UNKLE. With contributors that include Miho Hatori, Bebel Gilberto, Glenn Patscha, Oren Bloedow, Steven Bernstein, and Marcus Rojas among others, the cast of characters come in and out of these songs and add to a unique fabric with a lot of different tones, tints, and textures. One song may souns like a Portishead outtake while another could be a song Norah Jones wishes she had the courage to record. All of this is anchored by Perowsky’s drumming, showing his versatility as a musician while allowing fans to hear songs, his own songs, take life.

If you like the jazz side of Perowsky’s music, you should like the Moodswing Orchestra. If you’re familiar with him from Joan As Police Woman, you’ll be happy to know that Joan Wasser makes her presence known here too in the beautiful “Sweet Adelaide”, which opens the album in fine style. If you like the unpredictability of his choices as a session musician, you’ll love how unpredictable this album is. Or perhaps as a Perowsky fan, you’ve come to just take in whatever he brings in, knowing that as a fan of his drumming, you’ll be comforted. Good. The Moodswing Orchestra is here to see you through, and hopefully it will not be too long before he comes up with a new release. Or perhaps he has something else ready to be unveiled. That’s good too.

VIDEO: Ikue Mori’s “Master Of Deception”

Ikue Mori‘s new CD is described as being Ikue’s idiosyncratic take on contemporary dance rhythms and electronica. Fascinating ambient textures, detailed improvisations and pulsing hypnotic rhythms clash and combine in this complex and charismatic electronic masterpiece. .

You can take a look at a small sliver of her new album, in video form.

Ikue Mori – Master of Deception,t=1,mt=video

The Run-Off Groove #234

Welcome to The Run-Off Groove #234. I am John Book, welcome.

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)
(for MP3’s)

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.

Also please consider clicking some of the links under the “Music and more” category to the right, which will help keep this website afloat.

Now, the column.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic To say that you’ve heard every piece of music John Zorn has ever released or composed would mean that you are an impossibility, unless you have spent your entire life following Zorn and his musical legacy everywhere. The only person who may have heard everything Zorn has made is Zorn himself, and even he may have forgotten a piece or two. If you’ve come across Zorn and his music anytime in the last 30 years, you know how intense it can be, to the point where you feel like you either want to get involved or run out of fear. These are the emotions that writer John Brackett tries to define and demolish in his book John Zorn: Tradition and Transgression (Indiana University Press).

Brackett’s book is very in-depth in terms of analyzing every twist and turn to Zorn’s creativity, to the point where you may put down the book after a chapter or two, if not after a paragraph. Brackett is an assistant professor of Music at the University of Utah, and therefore what you’re reading is very much a collegiate view of one’s music, which isn’t a bad thing. If you want a casual read, this is definitely not for you. This is very much like enrolling in Zorn 101, and the pace of the book is always at its peak for that is what the music demands and maybe represents. You can either listen to it as a barrage of choreographed noise, or examine it the way rock and jazz critics examine their favorite artists. Yes, Zorn is known for his work in jazz, but he has been accepted in the experimental and avant-garde worlds, even if Brackett challenges the notion. If there is one method to describe what he’s trying to establish, it’s this: Zorn is. Zorn isn’t. He’s both. He’s neither.

It gets into things more seriously of course, but it is intense as it is difficult to read, and it has nothing to do with Brackett’s writing style. This isn’t something where you will read things such “Zorn is Jewish. Zorn likes to incorporate his upbringing and experiences into his music. This is the music. It is on this album. Zorn likes to bring in other elements, some traditional, some not.” Every little element in Zorn’s pieces is carefully examined and deciphered to where you feel you’ve entered the point of no return, and one becomes more appreciative of Zorn’s work, even if it might not be completely understood. One can say the same thing about Brackett and his book, for while you’re not going to fully embrace the research put into it, it will eventually sink in and become overwhelming. In many ways, just like Zorn’s music.

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Image and video hosting by TinyPic Keri Hilson has portrayed herself in many ways, or I should say her image has been put out to show Miss Hilson as a number of different things. Some may see her as the cool and confident “around the way girl” who is down for whatever. For others, she may be that sexy, hot fucktoy with the confidence men demand but will never completely get because she is the one in control. She may be promoted in that fashion, and some of it may be true, some of it pure hype. But beyond the hype is the music and for someone who has received a lot of hype, how does In A Perfect World (Interscope) measure up? Quite good, actually.

Her music, which she had a major hand in writing, flirts with the idea of what she is, tantalizing the listener with what she makes herself out to be so that fans will become devoted believers. In “Turnin’ Me On” (the first single featuring Lil’ Wayne), a song that at times sounds close to Aaliyah‘s “Read Between The Lines”, she tells her man that she’s more than a good shop at the mall and a lady who wants to see the bottles poppin’, she is someone who “gotta be feeling your energy” first and foremost before one dares to know anything more. In other words, she’s a lady, treat her that way. “Set Your Money Up” has her teaming up with Keyshia Cole and Trina and for this one it’s a girl’s night out at the club. The Timbaland-produced “Return The Favor” sounds like both of them entered a game room and never escaped, while NE-YO helps out in “Knock You Down”, only for Kanye West to pick it up and steal it for himself.

It takes five songs for In A Perfect World to reach its first ballad, the Prince-flavored”Slow Dance”, followed by the seductive “Make Love”. She’s very comfortable in her musical pillow talk, but immediately wants to move and groove in a mid-tempo fashion with “How Does It Feel” and “Alienated”, each of which show her as someone who uses the familiar hooks in today’s R&B to lure people into hearing what she’s really all about. In other words, her sexy lyrics and voice are what brought you to listen, now you have to listen, and what a listen it is.

As a songwriter, she knows how to write effective hooks and decent verses that at times show a gifted storyteller, or at least someone who is willing to tear out pages from her mental diary and pass it on to you. I hope she continues to establish herself as a songwriter as I have a funny feeling there’s a lot more she wants to share but is waiting for the right time to do so. Her voice is much more polished and developed than Ciara, and along the lines of Keyshia Cole and Mel B. If I have to compare her sultriness and occasional hints of hip-hop attitude to anyone, I would compare her to Monica Payne of The Gyrlz/Terri & Monica fame, as both share those high tones that are able to excite and surprise due to ones own expectations of their vocal capabilities. Hilson goes beyond that, and after hearing and enjoying this album, I can see her going beyond what this album represents and getting into more challenging projects.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Because of the circumstances that MF DOOM has shown in the last two years, people have wondered if the fake DOOM’s that have been showing up at his concerts are part of an elaborate scam, or part of what DOOM wants to represent as an artist. Regardless of what the situation is, DOOM said in a recent interview that when it comes to music, he wants you to listen, not to see, so what you see may be not what you want or expect. If you keep it on that premise alone, Born Like This (Lex) is the return of DOOM in the flesh, still with his shiny mask.

People have been quick to say that DOOM has weakened, that the new album is trash, and I will say this: if you liked DOOM back when he was dropping 12″ singles on Fondle ‘Em, you will like DOOM now as he gets abstract in his tales of thievery, bravado, pride, and even some “Microwave Mayo”. The man is nuts, but anyone who craves a lot of lyrical gems on their nuts will eat this up like crazy, this is pure, insane wit just like mama used to holla at. DOOM finds no need to drive a hook home, not when he has stories to tell. In “Angelz”, his track with Ghostface Killah he talks about getting involved in a major drug deal, only to be confronted by none other than Mr. T, who wants to take part in hanging out with seductive bitches. One almost feels that DOOM became DOOM became who he is when Black Bastards was rejected by Elektra, and what what we’ve been hearing for the last 15 years os resentment and rejection from someone who wants to go out of his way to prove that he has what it takes to do damage. If he can’t do it as himself, he’ll take on a persona in order to execute his performances like, in the words of his old friend MC Serch, like sex endurance.

What does this have to do with DOOM’s new album? A lot. DOOM raps about things that are so off the wall at first, but take a step back and one begins to see a better developed picture. This is as close as you will ever get to his mic, and either you’re hopping on for the ride or not. Born Like This, at least for now, is the real man behind the mask and his return only means other MC’s better plan on stepping down before being demolished by this supervillain.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic The He’s Just Not That Into You soundtrack (New Line) puts together 17 songs that were featured in the movie, and that alone could be used for any other review representing a soundtrack. What you want to know is if the songs are good. Truth: they are.

First off, there are two different soundtrack albums for this: one being the soundtrack of various songs (black cover), the other being the film’s score (white cover). You’ll want the black cover to hear songs by Corinne Bailey Rae (the addictive “I’d Like To”), Tristan Prettyman (“Madly”), and The Ting Tings (“Fruit Machine”). Even Scarlett Johansson (who appears in the film) offers up “Last Goodbye”, and the song will definitely appeal to those who felt her debut album last year was an epic fail, for she is much more spirited here than she was on her tribute to Tom Waits (I felt the album was great, but as I said in my review at Okayplayer, I think too many people expected something different because of how she looks and presents herself to the public.) The original mix of Maroon 5‘s “If I Never See Your Face Again”, sans Rihanna, appears here too.

The soundtrack is balanced by a number of older tracks, such as Talking Heads‘ “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” (one of my favorite TH songs), The Replacements‘ “can’t Hardly Wait”, The Cure‘s “Friday I’m In Love”, and The Black Crowes‘ “By Your Side”, each one meant to represent the different characters in the film. I think fans of the older tracks will definitely welcome the new material, while fans of the current artists will find something of value in listening to the songs of yesteryear. Fans of the film are sure to enjoy hearing these songs as a whole, but even if you never plan on seeing the film, it makes for a soundtrack worth keeping in your collection.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic If the cover to Melodia (Ivy League/World’s Fair) looks familiar, and you’re wondering “wow John, you’re reviewing an album that came out last year?”, then you’re probably wondering why I am indeed reviewing it.

The album by The Vines was recorded a year ago, released in Australia but was not released in North America. Melodia finally gets released domestically and they are hoping to get the same success they’ve received around the world. The band are in top form and show all of the qualities they presented before: catchy melodies, good hooks, and an energy that feels powerful and believable. Some feel they should be as abrasive as their older material, while others want them to be more hook-savvy, but do The Vines satisfy? If you love the band, you’ll like them regardless, but if you truly love the band, you probably bought this last year and have been waiting for them to come to your town. I don’t blame you. There are a lot of great songs here, including the tentative/sensitive ballad hit “True As The Night”, the fierce and funky “Braindead”, and the reckless “Jamola” (which I wish went on for another minute or two instead of limiting itself to a mere 59 seconds), and in between you get potential hits, soon-to-be-concert staples, and that gritty pop crunch fans have come to enjoy and appreciate.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Pray IV Reign (Diplomat/Sony) is Jim Jones‘ fourth album, and this is definitely his best album to date.

On the surface, he has a number of special guests on the album, including Juelz Santana, Rawanna, Ron Browz, Oshy, Ryan Leslie, NOE, Ludacris, and Busta Rhymes, but Jones’ style and grace doesn’t allow him to let them overshadow him, not when you’re in top form and going in for the lyrical kill. He plays the mack and pimp roles very well, not afraid to talk about bitches, money, and the price of fame. but he also knows that when you execute yourself as a man of the street, you have to be willing to die for the street, or at least that’s how the story goes. If it’s not the life he lives, it’s definitely the life he has witnessed through others, and no one quite does it the way Jim Jones does, with effort, power, and an incredible sense of humor that at times comes off like dry wit. In other words, he knows he can crack a few jokes and it may take a few listens before you realize you’re supposed to laugh.

My top picks: “My My My”, “Blow The Bank”, “This Is The Life”, “This Is For My Bitches”, “Girlfriend”, and “Let It Out”.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Ali Baba Abnormal has been around for a few years, and with House Of Baba (the first of two “mix tapes”) he sets himself off as the leader of a hip-hop clientele that is hard to break through. Or at least that’s the semi-theme here, creating a concept that makes him out to be the it man, and he does it by delivering some really good songs and beats that are a healthy exchange between MC and producer.

Worthy stuff for the most part, but the concept (and I use the word loosely) gets a bit thin about half way through but this is a mix tape so maybe it’s not meant to be executed properly. What he does execute are fine songs with lyrics that are worthy, nothing wasteful, and I would like to hear an official album with a bit of diversity in topics.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Bipolar are purists of jazz of the highest order, or are they? They could be purists of Western classical music, but these are jazz renditions of classical pieces, so why mention anyone being purists? Beats me, but what you will hear is pure musicianship from the people behind Bipolar, and perhaps this is the disorder in question: riding the thin line between jazz and classical and rather than hold to a preference, they handle both on Euphrates, Me Jane (self-released).

Jed Feuer (trumpet, flugelhorn), James Windsor-Wells (drums), David Ostrem (double bass), Stephanie Long (saxophones, flute), Craig Swanson (piano), and Robert C. Kelly (drums) work in unison to create a style of music that sometimes goes back to the glory days of Dave Brubeck, or at least that’s how I hear it. The music is played clear and distinctly without friction, and in a song like “Killer Beau (Soir)” you may not realize that it is a classical piece without reading the liner notes (or this review). Their version of Grover Washington Jr.‘s “Just The Two Of Us” has a nice jump that the original lacked, and probably would have done well in this setting if Bill Withers was a jazz vocalist circa 1956 or ’57, and the piano work from Swanson would have made people move and bow down for its majestic touches. Feuer’s arrangement of The Beatles‘ “And I Love You” is as beautiful as any other version released since 1964, and hearing it makes it difficult to believe the song is 45 years old. I like this a lot.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Blue Sky 5 + 2 are a group who get into a style of swing jazz perhaps long gone, but it goes back to an era when jazz was king. Five Minutes More (Groove Juice) is their second album, and the band (fronted by Craig Gildner shows that while the music may be considered old and nostalgic, if you have what it takes, you can put yourself in those days of yesterday or more realistically find yourself wanting more of that music played today.

The album features many standards: “Me, Myself and I, “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”, and “You’re A Sweetheart”, and what these songs reveal at times are a sense of innocence that we tend to ignore or neglect these days, when companionship meant a stroll through the park and maybe ice cream at the parlor, nothing more. In fact, “Every Young Girl Should Know” establishes the rules between woman and man, and one wonders how much better we as a people would be if we still held on to the values of our grandparents. If you want quality swing with vocals that don’t go beyond its boundaries or capabilities, get this album.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Pianist Bob Albanese would be considered a wiz kid in his prime, but he’s no longer a kid or young man, but very much playing in his prime, if One Way/Detour (Zoho) is any indication.

Albanese is described on the back cover as being “a rhymer, a poetic soul whether he is thinking and talking or composing and playing”. To put it simply, he is good at what he does, and what he does is highly respected by his peers. On this album he performs with a group of musicians who have always played with power and they do so with no remorse: drummer Willard Dyson, bassist Tom Kennedy and legendary saxophonist Ira Sullivan. People love the term “instant classic”, and that definitely applies to an album like this, featuring a number of Albanese originals (including the textural title track, “Friendly Fire” and the appropriately titled “More Friendly Fire”). If there is a fire, it’s the heat between these four gentleman playing in a way that puts everyone on their A-game. It’s serious music where you’re constantly trying to create mental pictures of the music before you realize your strokes are wrong. But wrongs can be turned into rights, and by saying that I mean these guys can do no wrongs even if they tried. Each of them show their individual personalities through their playing, especially the Dyson/Kennedy rhythm section, you hear the ta-da-dat-dat-DAT of Dyson’s drums and then he’ll tighten up with some wicked funk before Kennedy pulls him back into the program. “Morning Nocturne” could easily be interpreted by Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock, or Shinichi Osawa. There’s not one bad song on here, you want to listen and see if Albanese or any of these musicians are playing live. With luck, they’ll be playing near you soon and you may find yourself wanting to hear extended jaunts of each of the ten tracks featured here.

(One Way/Detour will be released on April 14th, and can be pre-ordered through CD Universe.)

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Southern rock has a rich legacy, with a number of older bands still playing across the country and the world, and many new artists getting into it in order to keep the vibe alive. Brothers Of The Southland is a collective of musicians and singers who went on tour to share their love of Southern rock and the South, and this 13-track album (Zoho Roots) will be something fans of classic rock will eat up. “Can’t You See” and “Dreams” (the latter the classic Allman Brothers Band song are both taken to new levels with the help of American Idol runner-up Bo Bice, while Jimmy Hall and Henry Paul trade vocal duties from song to song, handling “Dixie Highway”, “Blue Sunrise”, and “a number of D. Scott Miller originals (Miller produced the album) that gets to the roots of it all to show where it all came from and where it could be leading.

The South rises once again.

(Brothers Of The Southland will be released on June 9th, and can be pre-ordered through CD Universe.)

Image and video hosting by TinyPic The laid back jazz of a trio known as Framework (Jay Epstein on drums, Chris Olson on guitars, and Chris Bates on bass) is the perfect music to listen to on a rainy day like the one I’m experiencing as I’m listening to the music and writing a review of said music. Olson’s guitar is on the George Benson/Pat Martino tip throughout their self-titled CD (GoneJazz), and you don’t need complex arrangements or heavy twists and turns when you are more than capable of playing smoothly, melodically, and thematically without sounding too soft. “Yesterday’s Past” fits the mood of the title extremely well, , and Bates’ bass work almost has the same kind of roundness Roger Waters‘ is known for, where it’s deep but not plodding.

It is indeed a Framework with these guys, but it’s not robotic or predictable, everything just sounds… proper. Music that is for rainy days like these, or for hot silky nights with a significant other. Bust out the warm jellies, Framework are about to tickle your fancy and then some.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Cool jazz, true jazz: many words can be said about a certain sound that moves people in to the music and not allowing them to escape, but jazz covers a lot of ground. The Frank Wess Nonet go back to that time for a bit on their new album, with a title that is more than self-explanatory. One can say that that time in jazz was once in a lifetime, but for Wess and friends, Once Is Not Enough (Labeth Music).

Most of the songs on this album are Wess originals, and it’s hard to tell considering how well written and arranged they are. When you hear Wess’ arrangement of Billy Strayhorn‘s “Lush Life”, it becomes perfectly clear how genius this guy is. His sax work makes you feel welcome, and when his nonet offer up a big band vibe or allow him to glide with a bit of Duke Ellington or John Coltrane flair, it hits you immediately. Steve Turre‘s trombone work throughout the album stand out, easily ranking alongside his own albums over the years, listen to his solo in “Sara’s Song” for proof. Together, the musicians here (Wess and Turre along with Winard Harper, Frank Greene, Peter Washington, Gerald Clayton, Scott Robinson, Ted Nash, and Terell Stafford) have a little swagger to their step and playing, which shows the confidence in their playing and the fun they have together as creators of this music called jazz. With the exception of the brief “Fly Me To The Moon (In Other Words)” (which is a mere 2 minutes and 48 seconds), all of these songs are well over five minutes in length, with “Lush Life” and “Sara’s Song” being the most demanding, clocking in at 9:39 and 8:22 respectively), and one wishes they could’ve went on another two to three minutes. When he swings, he really gets caught up in it and you don’t want him to stop.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic It’s hard to believe that any major label would want to drop people with incredible talent, but it seems after one album, Warner Bros. Records gave Leela James a pink slip. She received a lot of attention for her voice, music, and of course her big hair, but the hair was a partial lure to get people to listen. Again, why anyone would drop someone like her is anyone’s guess, but she’s now an indie artist and with her second album she has had to resort to doing cover versions at this early stage in her career.

She gives each of these songs a nice soulful treatment, especially the jazzified take of The Rolling Stones‘ “Miss You”. Foreigner‘s “I Want To Know What Loves Is” is taken back to church, while Betty Wright “Clean Up Woman” honors the original with respect. The rest of it is respectfully done but I would have preferred more original arrangements as some of them just lack that extra something. I hope the downfall of today’s soul music doesn’t limit her to just a cover artist, for the world needs people like James to carry on the legacy and traditions.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Modulok could be described as a dark themed MC, or perhaps that’s the way he presents himself in his words and lyrics, and along with producer Leon Murphy they help make Cities And Years (Takaba) an EP of importance.

Why important? I think this guy is on to something, and he awaits a mass audience who will appreciate him, and that time should be now. What I hear on this album is someone who has a gift of songwriting, he knows how to transfer stories from head to pen to paper (or computer screen) in a way that feels like a movie, and he does it by allowing Murphy to twist up his stories through different musical sculptures. “Ink Spots” sounds like crunk dressed up in PVC, while “A Certain Time Of The Day” sounds like something he might do with DJ Krush, while “A Certain Time Of The Day” has him sounding like a mixture of Mos Def, Common (think his first two albums), Justin Warfield, and Jesse Dangerously, as he talks about where he’s from, where he’s been, touching on his Guyanese roots and how “people don’t realize how deep that shit is/but it’s real, deeper than the fucking Grand Canyon”. There is an incredible sense of energy in his words, methods of speaking, and the music that tells me he’s hungry for interaction and feedback, and while he not call himself a teacher, I would say he is an educator of sorts, someone who wants to be able to pass on his experiences in an honest way that doesn’t take away any of his integrity or credibility. An EP of importance? I’ll take four a year, please.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Radam Schwartz is a madman on the Hammond B-3, and what he’s able to do with the instrument on his album Blues Citizens (Savant) is nothing short of brilliant. Those who have read my reviews of a number of jazz albums will know that I’m a huge fan of the B-3, just love the song and it would be great to learn how to play. When I hear someone tear it up as if there’s no tomorrow, it brings a metaphorical tear to my eye, and it’s heard in tracks like “Dem Philadelphia Organ Blues”, “Hangin’ With Smooth”, and “Pay Up”, the latter a vocal track featuring singer Kice. Schwartz knows how to play rugger blues, jazz, and ballads beautifully, and the little things he adds in songs like “Driftin'” helps give the song a bit more flavor when needed, like sprinkles of bacon salt. What’s also amazing is that not only does Schwartz play the melodies and solos, but he also handles the basslines too, and along with drummer Cecil Brooks III they make one hell of a rhythm section.

I also love the distinctive sound he produces with the B-3, it’s as if you’re feeling the organ breathe, pant, and moan. He doesn’t use it throughout but when it’s there, you feel it in the gut. I also like Eric Johnson‘s guitar work here, played with class and style the way Wes Montgomery would have liked it. Tight as punani.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic 3/4’s of these guys look like they’ve been smoking a lot in the last 30 years, so when you got that kind of tar buildup you know it has to result in something wicked. This is the sound of Rufus Huff, which is not the name of any one individual but a band consisting of Chris Hardesty (drums), Jarrod England (vocals, and the young man of the group), Greg Martin (guitarist, known for his work with The Kentucky Headhunters), and Dean Smith who play some of the best hard rock I’ve heard in quite some time. Their self-titled debut album Zoho Roots) shows their brand of rock to be of the Bad Company, Blackfoot, and Electric-era Cult, the kind of hard rock Rick Rubin would be excited to record. Now this isn’t just rock drenched in heavy blues, this is by all means Southern rock with an extra crunch and some type of beef jerky soaked in whiskey. Imagine Soundgarden from the Louder Than Love period playing and singing with an incredible amount of intensity, and you’ll know what “13 Daze” is. “High On Heaven Hill” sounds like what Alice In Chains would be making today if Layne Staley didn’t pass away, and in fact if you want to know how the distinctive Seattle sound got that heavy influence, you can hear the Southern influences in a band like Rufus Huff with that sweaty bottle neck blues that will make you want to shag your ol’ lady for weeks.

A lot of younger hard rock bands, or bands who claim they play hard rock, are nothing but bullshit artists hoping for a big break and the stupid eggets of the industry deliver crap. Rufus Huff, as they say, is “the truth”, these are guys who truly love the music and make it sound heavier than anything you’ve heard in your life. I hope the folks at Zoho Roots (their label) will think about releasing this on vinyl, as this is “vinyl worthy”, which means it gets my stamp of approval.

(Rufus Huff’s self-titled debut will be released on April 14th, and is available for pre-order through CD Universe.)

Image and video hosting by TinyPic The liner notes on the album begin this way:
We are well aware of the benefits of performing the great jazz standards of the past. Now is the time for new compositions, making them new standards by the mere fact that once they are heard, everyone would want to play them.

With a mission like that, you can’t lose, and that’s what bassist Steve Haines and his quintet (Thomas Taylor, Rob Smith, David Lown, and Chip Crawford) attempt and succeed with on Stickaboom (Zoho), one of those albums that makes you feel proud to be a jazz fan and enthusiast.

For this one, Haines lets drummer Taylor play on only two tracks, since Jimmy Cobb wanted to jam with the guys. Together, they create songs that not only sound good, but feel good, especially “Sutak 9-1-1”, “Prospect Park”, and Cobb’s own “Composition 101”. The sax work of Smith and Lown suit the mood of the songs very well, they both seem to describe the landscapes that the songs depict, and when Crawford feels like driving his way into the grooves with his piano work (as he slyly does in the title track), you know they’re all about creating a common musical picture with beautiful colors and tones. If you’re a bassist, you’ll love what the leader of these sessions does, especially with Cobb and the two tracks with Taylor. It’s the type of music you’ll want to hear over and over.

Stickaboom sounds incredible thanks to engineer Rob Hunter, who mixed and mastered this one. He probably wanted to be able to capture that same sense of space found on many jazz albums of the last 55 years, but still letting the listener know that this is 2009, not 1954. Whether it’s an intense dancer or a rainy day with a loved one, there’s something for everyone here, and enough music to keep you going until they record a new album.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Yoshi Wada is an artist not easy to pin down, but for those who know his name and the pieces he has created, he is someone who is of intense value. The reissue of his Earth Horns With Electronic Drone through the Japanese Em label has already been the topic of discussion for fans of drone, and you get that on this album, which is nothing but a drone.

A drone? That’s it. If you are into experimental, avant-garde, or minimalistic pieces,you will really like what he does here, and sadly this single disc is a 77 minute excerpt of a 2h42m performance. What you get are a number of “Earth horns” created by Wada and played by a number of people, mixed in with electronics. The piece is just one continuous drone, but the joys is hearing how one horn weaves into the other, sometimes playing all at once, other times interacting, all while a drone carries it through. They are playing along with the drone, but not in a jazz way where one is creating a melody around it, but at the same key. The only thing that interrupts the performance are the coughs from the audience (there is also a photo of the crowd for proof.) I can’t tell you if it works or not, but it did work for me. A simple drone can be very meditative and for some quite spiritual, and at 77 minutes it does seem too short.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Youth Group released The Night Is Ours (Ivy League/World’s Fair) last year in their native Australia, and after gaining a buzz for their brand of addictive power pop, it is getting a stateside release. Their style of music mixes up the best of U2, Depeche Mode, Coldplay, and some critics have said that Toby Martin‘s voice reminds them of Matthew Sweet.

It sounds like the band really wants to make music that speaks to and unites their audience, for potential anthems that will carry people to the next decade. Songs like “Two Sides” and “All This Will Pass” can sound like either early 80’s pop or early 90’s British power pop, which if anything helps explains the band’s influences. Their lyrics are not too complex or lazy either, it’s again about making songs that not only move people, but are able to tap into the consciousness of a generation who are looking for something to believe in. I’m not saying Youth Group are this generation’s Ramones, but they are special. Don’t ignore these gents.

  • That’s it for this week’s Run-Off Groove. If you have any new music, DVD’s, books, or hot sauce, please contact me through my MySpace page and I’ll pass along my contact address. In the past I have generally frowned over receiving digital files, but I will accept them on a case by case basis. I still prefer hard copy as I want to hear the quality of the recording (which is important to me), but digital files are fine.
  • I’m also slowly catching up with the barrage of music that came out in the last month, so if you sent something, have patience, they will be reviewed.
  • Thank you, and come back soon for #235.