Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Pardon My Ears! Interplanetary Music Scene Report
Here are a few items that have come my way that I have been digging so far this year. Almost all of these were promos sent or handed to me, either on vinyl, CD or digitally. A few were selectively procured on my independent whimsy. Keep on sending your music. Vinyl sent to me will get a review. No guarantees on the rest, but I will do my best. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: If you don't see the record you sent me here, don't fret. I will take care of it for the next column, of which will run soon and be smaller in size. I realize I take too damn long with these articles about shiny black wax. So more, but smaller. Coming soon.
And no, I am not giving out free music downloads here. Go and support, please.
-- I've been really digging this French project Afro Latin Vintage Orchestra for a few years now. Having found a home on top notch US indie Ubiquity Records, bandleader Masta Conga is free to whip up his personal vision of funk-jazz. The new album, Pulsion, was well worth the wait. Very soundtracky and legitimately psychedelic-sounding jazz, ALVO make the kinds of records that are a pleasure to listen to. More on the stoned vibe but with a lot of funk and rhythm to keep the limbs loose. This is gorgeous mind-massage nuttiness. It could likely pummel every "strictly library breaks" digger and leave them a lesson to remember. It's like they take all your favorite little elements out of all your favorite musical genres and sculpt them together into a solid hazy groove for head or body. A river of pleasureful sound!
--Bill Nace's Open Mouth has been releasing some documents of high art noise with cool graphics and presentation to match. Jake Meginsky studied percussion with Milford Graves and Joe Platz, is part of Slaughterhouse Percussion duo and DJs hiphop & other sounds. So of course here we get something completely left field. This new work, l'Appel Du Vide, opens with the most minimal of electronic sounds before we get to a hint of a melody transmitting from mars, a lightly percussive section around 8min and later there seems to be an old drum machine in the back. Side B begins with a warbling electro-something, almost like an arabic string instrument. 2nd section would fit with a Maya Deren flick, then minimal techno, sounds of crackly vinyl mastered into it. It'll remind you of that experience you had early morning on a pondside meditation and the next thing you knew you woke up in a hospital room and the sonic atmosphere around you became intoxicating enough you didn't even bother to ponder why you were there in the firstplace. Alien signals transmitting here. I am not exactly sure what is going on here but the whole outcome is quite good. I am amazed at the different sounds on that thing, even tape hiss sounds like it is under a microscope. Pretty exquisite stuff, I'll say. For my money I prefer the second side due to it displaying a bit more movement. This is the kind of ambient sound I can hang with. Highly creative and mysterious, this noise is music, executed with deep control of vision.
--From Santiago, Chile comes this wild group called Anarkia Tropikal! The strictly-digi album La Venganza de los Brujos is a left-field joy. The lyrics are way too fast for my brain to understand but I am really digging this group all the way around. Psychedelic cumbias, shaman-punk vibes, and general red-eyed evil with an ode to "Ayahuasca", and of course yet again some great sleeve art. This is your ticket. South America leads in a lot contemporary art and music that I like.
--Boomarm Nation (along with Sahel Sounds) presents Mamelon's "Koumba Fri Fri" 7", wicked youth-roots from Mali. Storming percussion and some fierce rapping. Kinda reminds me of a rougher cousin of fuji. The remix adds synth blurts acting as your guide, with some echo fuckery. And the El Mahdy Jr Räi Dubs 10" will alter your senses enough to be able to hear in a few corners of the world at once. Mahdy (an Algerian exile) collaborates with three other producers here on a war-weary platter with räi as a launch point and a trip through desert dub gone mad. Cut from similar edgy sonic territory as Muslimgauze, Mutamassik, etc. A couple more blasts of fresh ear from the Boomarm Nation.
--Jef Gilson et Malagasy box set (Jazzman)...French pianist Gilson has long been a legendary name to jazzheads like myself but I never heard the man's music until a few years ago. Possibly because he is European and I grew up in the States (where jazz artists used to grow on trees), but more likely because his albums run several hundred dollars a pop. A few reissues later and voila! I can now attest to the supreme music he made. This set by Jazzman offers his trio of albums (+live stuff) from the period that he was in Madagascar (late 60s/early 70s). I am really into jazz that has distinct african flavor and this has that. If ya dig Randy Weston/Don Cherry/Lloyd Miller ethno-jazz vibes then you are strongly encouraged to seek this material out. And there are plenty of soul-jazz & bop grooves as well. Some of this stuff came out originally on Gilson's Palm label and here's hoping some reissues of Saheb Sarbib and Khan Jamal would be in the cards. That would be greatly appreciated, universe.
--The (Riverhawk) Party Band are a punky, funky brass band from Lowell, MA that is inspired by Claude Debussy. Not sure how his theories relate to the musical styles on the Transcendenta LP (Nice Bass Productions), but maybe some day I will be clued in. But they give a little rap about him on one tune, and not only that but give him some prime real estate on the front cover of the record. The Party Band is a name that suits these guys, because this really is party music. "Home Grown" is my fave cut, someone should release it on a 45. "Slipstep" is another great one. What a fun LP! Get one direct from the group. Every town should have a band like this.
--I've been quietly enjoying the music of Mo Kolours the past couple of years. And now there's a debut album (One Handed Music) from the Mauritian-Brit. This music is truly eclectic softie-ish bedroom-producer stuff but with some real creativity at work. Overall it is collage-like in a way that sounds like it could've come out on DJ Olive's the Agriculture label. Stoned and funky but quite laid back on the whole. Some hand percussion, keyboards, samples (hello Curtis), steel drum, Cymande nod. And hints of dubby hiphop for added love. Interesting listening.
--Big Mean Sound Machine are a 13-piece gang from Ithaca NY. It's a funk/afrobeat thang and wordless like so many others. The music is crackin' though and I hear they are too heavy for most stages. I dug their 2012 LP (Marauders) and this brand new one Contraband is even better. Awesome grooves and some horns to learn you something proper. The band resembles a small village and yet they fit the team into a studio for a mostly live affair. Good stuff again from this upstate posse. The LP is on white vinyl. Website here.
--My ears have been liking The Shaolin Afronauts from Australia via their catalog on Freestyle, including the brand new one Follow The Path (as well as the related "Ojo Abameta" 12"). An appealing blend of afrobeat and 70's-influenced soul jazz, with a touch of highlife, Ethio and other. The guitars can be forceful when needed or sinewy. This is a top notch ensemble, crisp and tight. Even during the loosest sections the focus is there. "Baie de Sangareya" is a particularly delightful tune. I love the cover art (see above). The 12" has a few album cuts plus two more killer afro jams, worth its own admission. Three albums in and they are sounding better than ever. 'Nauts' bassist Ross McHenry released Distant Oceans, an album under his leadership (First Word Records). Really it is from late last year but I didn't really sink my brainbuds into it til this season so it'll pass, also very 70s's with a lot of keyboard action and some tasty reeds work. Some of the sections run a little too much on the smooth side for my ears but this is largely a good one. Not sure about the personnel crossover (if any) but I like a lot of the groovy music I hear coming out of Australia.
--Ikebe Shakedown have always brought its listeners a slamming groove to dance to. The formula on the new full length Stone By Stone (Ubiquity) largely remains the same: horns & percussion driven instrumental funk with a lot of afrobeat influence. As such, "Rio Grande" stands out with a spaghetti western intro and some nice vibes. And "Dram" is a dark funk number with some guitar at the end that oddly gives me a Spacemen 3 flashback. I do wish they'd add vocals to some tracks though. That would put them over the top. A 12" and 45 add some remixes, as well as an unreleased B side. I've seen them a couple times too and they are very groovy, with a lot of cover tunes from all over the globe.
--This Jazzman anthology of a little known Chi-town group called Master Plan, Inc. is a cool soul item that spans the street-fi funk of "Heartbreaker" to the smooth harmonies of "Something to be Done" to the obligatory social-conscious cut "Younger Generation". The groove on "Bag Up" reminds me of Syl Johnson ca '70, except with a female vocalist. This does well in capturing a lot of different moods & shades of 70s soul. Swanky horns, male & female vocals. Some of it sounds pretty raw. LP has 10 cuts, digi-forms have more. The bonus cuts offer some lesser later grooves and rough demos. This is Chicago soul of a lesser known name. But if you like this bag, jump in.
--Salsa is getting exciting again. There may never be a time quite like the golden era of the 60s/70s in latin music when the scene was as diverse as it got. You had rock/hippie influence, deep exploration of afro-cuban rumba traditions, social criticism, prison albums, funk, heavy metal-inspired sleeve art, LSD-soaked jams and a deep dip into disco culture. By the time the 80s rolled around the music had gotten stale. The freaks in Colombia kept things interesting for much longer, but the kings of New York discovered that kingdoms fall hard and fast. And while Miami and Santo Domingo have continued to make bank, their brands of tropical salsa and merengue were too polished on the records for a weirdo like me to really give a shit. Ya really can't blame barrio kids in the 80s for choosing rap and punk over salsa romántica. The last 15 years or so has seen a renewed dedication to the salsa dura and there has been a slow and steady climb in delivering the kind of nutty salsa that could actually rope in that kid in the corner. This conservative of genres is finally letting its hair down again and there are a few standout groups among those making their mark for the nueva generación of salseros. Here's a short profile of the champion sound: Richmond, VA's "salsa machine" Bio Ritmo have been at it since their first 7" on Merge Records appeared in the mid 90s. Ten albums later they stand at the forefront of the scene, having garnered a cult audience all over the world. This is a tight and professional band with one of the most expressive vocalists in the music (Rei Alvarez, who doubles as the band's art director) and the crazy keyboard runs of the gifted Marlysse Simmons. The band sprinkles in a wide range of flavors in their salsa: Cuban, Puerto Rican, Middle Eastern, cumbia, danzón, funk and everything else. The Puerta del Sur album has a lot of those elements. There's something for every dancer or head-nodder on this platter. Incredible hornsmanship, otherworldy keyboards and impeccable rhythms propel an album that sounds like it is destined to come out on top of all the rest come awards time. The second side is generally a little "weirder" (to my delight), but the whole record has plenty of great music to offer. And there is a song for every desired taste here. "Se Les Olvidó" meshes Cuban and Puerto Rican elements. "La Via" is a funky salsa jam. "Codeina" is a bolero in Middle Eastern flavor, with an added string quartet. I like to call this type of band "prog-salsa", given the new directions the band creates. The first side will have mom & dad dancing to their evening's content. The second side has the party (post-joint) getting freaky into the night. Bio Ritmo have never been afraid of bringing something new into their salsa every time out, something the likes of Alex Wilson, Jose Conde and another growing few oblige us with.
----La Mecánica Popular are a NYC band that plays salsa with gorgeous guitar, a lot of effects and synths. Self-proclaimed "psychedelic salsa" is an appropriate description. Hip enough to be appreciated by gringos looking for an entry into new music, while also showing massive love to the Fania generation of yesteryear when salsa had more soul and creativity. And of course you can dance to it. Descarga, bolero, guaguanco, guajira. It's all here. A band to watch out for. Names You Can Trust has the goods. Pass the joint.
--And we're pleased to announce our involvement in the co-op 7" release of Orquesta El Macabeo's latest ("Macacoa"/"No Sé Cuando Llegué"). A salsa unit from PR with a bunch of metalheads in membership that has captured the attention of the island and beyond, but this is no gimmick. A sick band (although no metal present). Contact us if you'd like to get yer mitts on it. Peace & Rhythm label catalog # 001, super limited pink vinyl copies available as well, collector scum.
--Oh Pancho! Oh Cisco! The latest in the Let's Boogaloo! series (Record Kicks, this is vol. 6) offers up a mix of party grooves of the late 60s/early 70s, from the "spookaloo" by Los Africanos (the silly-psychedelic "Monster Party") to well-loved tropical groove nuggets by the likes of St Vincent's Revolution ("The Little You Say", which while being a great tune still feels a bit out of place here.) That one would make a great 45 with St Maarten's Rolling Tones "It's A Feeling", another classic from 70s Caribbean disco on the flip. Bobby Marín's "Mr. Skyjacker" is about as fucked a piece of music that boogaloo has ever produced. Acoustic guitar, Bernard Purdie on drums, and some fucking great lyrics. Bobby Marín used to roll with the genious Louie Ramirez back in the daze. This set has many soulful flavors to offer, from bugalú to disco to descarga to funky soul. Lots of cover songs too! "Skyjacker" is also available on a snazzy new Rocafort 45.
--Trio Valore "Crazy" single (Record Kicks)...Some Paul Weller associates play an instrumental Hammond jazz-funk version of one of my favorite pop tunes. I'll take it. (Yeah, I'm guilty).
--Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath (Ubiquity) is the highly publicized Black Sabbath tribute from members of Brownout and Grupo Fantasma. I have seen both of those bands several times and have been continually amazed by their tight live shows with swingin' horns and rippin' grooves. This record is fucking great, a sonic dream come true. If you are a child of heavy music like I am then you may find excitement in Sabbath tunes played with batá and funk horns. "Iron Man" in particular is given epic treatment here. "Hand of Doom" thrills like a good horror flick, pushing you into madness. "Planet Caravan" is a smoky trip. The best part about this awesome concept is that it remains very Sabbathy, not some gimmicky funk bullshit trying to make someone else's music what it is not. The guitars are still heavy (Beto said he started playing guitar because he wanted to be in a metal band: this is the closest he's come.) This is very clearly a work of appreciation, not novelty. And perhaps making it lifestyle might be the ticket to better understanding the black (or brown) arts. The LP, the 10" ("Hand of Doom"/"The Wizard") and the live show are all evil. (This review is shortened from my bigger piece here).
--While I was not as high on the Darondo album as many others were, I always found it's most loved tune, "Didn't I", to be my favorite in its sweet simplicity. Part of the Ubiquity Records re-edit series, this 12" pays tribute to the recently-passed Bay Area soulman. The new versions are totally respectful to the vibe of the OG, generally the editors pitch the tempo to the times, loop some sections and add some effects. All versions solid, with Dave Allison's being my fave. The Let My People Go LP got a limited re-press too, on green vinyl.
--Let's enjoy another groovy set from NYC's Ray Lugo & The Boogaloo Destroyers. Ray's been through punk, latin, hard funk, afrobeat, solo records, remix work and more. Here he delivers yet another LP (Que Chevere!--Freestyle Records) from his band The Boogaloo Destroyers and the party rages throughout this one. My ears hint to me that this could include members of Ray's other band (Kokolo). Some suave trombone and steppin' timbales action. The lyrics are direct and the boogaloo is joyously jumping. This is very much a retro 60s sounding thing paying tribute to a time & place and style. Latin soul! Descarga! Jala jala! Shingaling! One of the leaders of the bugalú revival, right here in your ear. Excellent party band in a live setting too. There's also a 45 with two joints from the album.
--Tumi Mogorozi's Project ELO (Jazzman) is a pretty cool jazz album from a young South African drummer who sounds like he's been listening to his Strata East and Impulse records. It's got some Trane influence, especially in the sax paintstrokes on tunes like "Gift of Three". The guitar-playing is nice n fluid. The operatic choir is a very cool idea and reminds me of not-dissimilar ideas by Mary Lou Williams and Max Roach (check here and here) in decades long before Tumi's birth. The solo vocal on "Thokozile Queen Mother" is nice. But the real star for me is the trombonist, who really slays here. This album is impressive, especially given that it is a live-in-the-studio affair (no overdubs). At times I was wishing that the music would get a bit more "out", but it is well worth a listen if you dig this kind of jazz.
--Here's a shout-out to Alliance Upholstery for the minimalist beauty of the Jacques Renault rmx of Greeen Linez "Hibiscus Pacific" that provides the most mysterious thrill for me on this 12" (Alliance Upholstery) of baleric/disco stuff, styles of which I know little about. For Upholstery service contact here.
--The highlights for me on Jazz & Milk's Footprints comp are Todd Simon & friends (Mulatu-influenced latin jazz), Bad Jazz Troupe (nu-afrobeat), Sam Irl (minimal soul loop), Dusty (jazzy electro), Karl Hector & the Malcouns (dark afro funk), Mr Chop (roughneck breaks-very cool!) and Ray Lugo & Kira (lovely soul!) The corny uptempo version of Andy Bey's "Celestial Blues" by Deep Jazz was disappointing, however. But there are many flavors available here. Another wide-appealing release from Dusty's Jazz & Milk imprint. There's a 12" version of the 15-track full length that contains six cuts.
--A DJ/video crew from the Caribbean coast of Colombia, Systema Solar seem to have a big following in South America. This wicked 45 (Galletas Bailables) includes a couple of bangers for your electro-champeta party. "El Botón del Pantalón" was recorded back in 2012. And the Eddy Grant nod of "El Pikó Electrikó" is an absolute stomper! Hot and authentic pico sound. (Image above from a diff. release).
--I heard a previous reissue of Haitian keyboard virtuoso Henri Pierre Noël and it was memorable enough but I find One More Step to be funkier with a little more grit to his finger-dancing jazz with some tropical flavor. The song titles do not lie in describing the styles within. You'll find latin jazz, JB-inspired funk, blues and even some classical influence. I bend my ear to this marvelous record. Wah Wah 45s' label full length reissue of the early 80s OG on Reveal.
--The Impellers hit the deep funk notes with their new album My Certainty (Légéré). Nothing terribly innovative here but a solid set of soul grooves, and it is hard to go wrong with stuff like this. Hard driving with some cool bari sax. The title track has a nice acoustic approach to vary things. "Put The Man In Egomaniac" and "The Last Dance of The Moai" are gritty hard funk gems. And lucky you, the LP comes with a CD. Also from that same German label comes the new one from The New Mastersounds, Leeds, UK funkateers. The new full length Therapy is not always as hard as some of my favorite early tunes from them, but the band does kick up a quality racket. Lots of melody present on the album. Among the flavors we hear some jazzy riffing on "Morning Fly", the "Monday Meters" jam (which of course sounds like a Meters tribute), the fonky "Soul Sista" (which could be a lost JB divas track). "Stop This Game" shimmers with a fine male vocal lead and some Rhodes. "WW III" is not at all doomy like its title. And I could have done without the smooth jazz cover of Bruno Mars that closes the album. These guys have been cleaning up on the US festival circuit the past few years. I wonder what Keb Darge thinks of them now? Légéré Records have been holding their own in the funk game the last few years.
--While there seems to be an army of purists out there telling us that Fela's influence should've never left Africa, a citizen like myself actually appreciates the reach it has made. How much further from The Shrine can you get than to Warsaw, Poland? How Ubiquity finds folks like the Warsaw Afrobeat Orchestra is beyond me but the 12" for "Only Now" has a nice funky original with some Bosq magic in the alternate versions. The tune features a trio of female vocals that remind me of the Lijadu Sisters in delivery. Bosq's remix ups the ante, albeit with the vocals a little lower in the mix. The emphasis on his version is to bring it into afro-disco territory. He actually added a lot of extra elements, like organ and more sax. The Whiskey Baron of Massachusetts has had some hot hands lately, with his additional re-touch for The Spandettes (modern sweet soul with a female vocal), his Stevie edits 10" as well as working on a new album.
--Another bright young artist from Massachusetts, Kristen Ford is the definition of a true road warrior. Still in her 20s, she has already toured the US about a dozen times as well as a solo tour of Europe. (Not too mention an appearence at Fenway Park already on her resumé!). Her Kickstarter-aided self-released full length Dinosaur brings us some of the finest folk-infused indie rock tunage out there. The album includes, in spots, some lovely strings, a couple of Neil Young-ish leads (check "Bulletproof") and a driving delivery. "Internet" may very well be the best tune ever written about the subject. The vibe is fun and honest, yet focused. In a live setting (I have seen her many times) she can unleash some power that leaves the listener feeling like a best friend. Performers with this kind of confidence often find a path to stardom. Catch KFo on her never-ending tour. Here's her Bandcamp page.
--My favorite book in awhile has to be Eilon Paz's Dust & Grooves: An Adventure In Record Collecting. Or in Eilon's case An Adventure In Photographing Record Collectors because that was the goal. He set out to capture his subjects "in the most intimate of environments--their record rooms." This is the kind of thing that brings out the record nerd in all of us. No matter some subjects have specific interests (old 78s, girl groups, holy grail funk 45s) or others collect it all, there are a number of settings we see the collectors thriving in. It could be some diggers in dusty old corners of forgotten buildings, highly paid DJs on their knees in their own living rooms or smiling faces at the turntable from Africa to England. The photos are gorgeous and capture the joy of the game in all its revelry. There is one dude who displays an evidently complete collection of Sesame Street items. There are also people who get a kick out of records being vandalized by messages written on the sleeves by past owners. Another pic is one of Afrika Bambaataa's record collection getting ready to go into a museum. Other snaps show families enjoying the records together. The objects proudly displayed in subject hands range from the rarest of the rare to the most bizarre oddities to cherished favorites. Its no wonder people get that Fever. There is so much out there to love.