Thursday, June 27, 2013

Eleanor Friedberger was here!

Eleanor Friedberger is asleep somewhere in Pittsburgh right now. Wish I was too. Last night, her show at the Brillobox was a mess of fun. This is the first time she's been to Pittsburgh on a solo tour, in this case in support of her new Personal Record album, her second solo release. Opener Cassandra Jenkins and her band accompanied here (seen above; that's Cassandra on bass).

We got there after Cassandra had started. Her songs were kind of subdued, slow tempos with room taken up by ringing keyboards and e-bow guitars. Things were paced really well so that by the end, the energy had built to a good crescendo.

All-female band Teen was up next, and they were almost a tough act for Eleanor to follow. One part new wave dance, one part psychedelic drone, one part 21st-century version of the Raincoats, they were awesome. Great songs that alternated between simple and extremely catchy.

One thing that was a little different from Fiery Furnaces shows was that Eleanor seemed more visible in the small Brillobox space. When I got there, she was working the merch table, chatting with people. She's extremely personable, but at FF shows, it seemed like she was a little more distant, perhaps staying in the zone to remember all of those lyrics. Her setlist was predominantly stacked with songs from the new album. She alternated between playing rhythm guitar and just standing there with mike in hand, occasionally getting into the music and dancing around the stage. For the final song, she leaped off the stage and joined the audience. Good times. My notes are pretty illegible so it's hard to offer any further descriptions of the set. So let me put it this way: You should've been there.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

CD Review: Ceramic Dog - Your Move

Ceramic Dog
Your Turn
(Northern Spy)

Marc Ribot is not the type of person who will hold back, whether he has a guitar in his hand or the phone to his ear, giving an interview. (We spoke about a decade ago, and Mr. R struck me as a loveable wiseguy. Which is different than a grouch, or a tough interview.) But truth be told, I wasn't feeling it when I heard Ceramic Dog's 2008 debut, Party Intellectuals. One of the great things about Ribot is how he can jump from jazz to rock to free improv like some people jump to conclusions. And he has no inhibitions or second thoughts as he does his thing. But Party Intellectuals sounded like abrasive playing without any of the vitality that has fueled nearly all of his work. It's pretty likely Ribot would have told you he didn't give two hoots about what people would think of the album as he made it, and would relish the thought of pissing people off, but it felt noodly.

All that's turned around with Your Turn. The trio (Ribot, bassist Shahzad Ismaily and drummer Ches Smith)  have turned into a fierce, focused rock machine. In much the same way that the original Tony Williams Lifetime sounded like jazz guys playing psychedelic rock, Ceramic Dog sounds like jazz guys playing post-rock or indie rock, and whipping the pants off all those bands obsessed with playing riffs in odd time signatures. In many cases, they do it with simple structures. The title track is built on a two-chord groove with Smith hammering a solid 4/4 while Ismaily plays it 5/4, and Ribot starts with a feedback howl and lifts the bandstand. "Ritual Slaughter" does almost the same thing, sonically, with some added breaks thrown in.

Ribot's vocals appear on several tracks, starting with "Lies My Body Told Me" another two-chord grabber that builds in suspense and volume as he spins his unique tale of lust gone wrong, sounding like some indie folk player who knows how to use his instrument to release the feelings he's vocalizing. "Masters of the Internet" almost sounds a little overdone in its sarcastic condemnation of people who don't pay for music (complete with a Middle Eastern melody added in the chorus), but the visceral sound of the whole production makes up for it. Same goes for "We Are the Professionals," which sounds like a Beastie Boys tribute, with trade-off rabid vocals over some delightfully sloppy funk, with horns and dinky keyboards.

In other spots, they play "Avanti Popolo," a marching band vignette that sounds like it's going to turn into "You Are My Sunshine," before it gets overcome by guitar noise and fades into "Ain't Going to Let Them Turn Us Around," a fairly straight-laced tune with a reggae lilt to it. Then there's the song that probably will get mentioned in every review -  their noisy version of "Take Five." Ismaily sounds like he's sticking to the main riff without making the changes, but again, the spirit of the performance (with more overdubbed horns adding punctuation, courtesy of Ribot) takes this to a higher level. Violinist/vocalist Eszter Balint (who needs to make another album of her own soon) and skronk forefather Arto Lindsay guest on a few tracks, but Ceramic Dog are the ones in the spotlight here. Hopefully these cats are playing punk rock gigs and blowing the kids' minds. Guys - come to town soon. Everyone else - drop everything if they're headed your way.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Random Thoughts.

I would prefer to be writing a review of an album for this space right now, but I know that there's not enough time to devote to it before I have to leave for work. Maybe tonight. Till then, here are some random thoughts:

I had a dream last night that Mission of Burma was in playing at Club Cafe and it was sold out, with no chance of getting a ticket. Ack. I woke up and tossed and turned a little bit before I finally found a comfortable position and fell back asleep.

Ernest Dawkins isn't coming to Pittsburgh next Monday after all. Eleanor Friedberger is still coming and here's an article I wrote about her, for which I've gotten a few compliments. 

Yesterday was a looooooooooong day, not only because I worked 12-8 (with a meeting prior to that) but because I had to be up at 6 a.m. to interview Chris Geddes from Belle & Sebastian. He was home in Glasgow (where it was 11 a.m.), and that time was actually sort of convenient for me, since I'm typically up that early. The thing is, I don't really know B&S's albums that have come out in the last 10 years, so I was panicked, leading up to the interview. It's the suspense - or is it the anticipation - that kills me. Luckily for me, he was a nice bloke.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

CD Review: Uri Gurvich - BabEl

Uri Gurvich

BabEl has an interesting concept: assemble a group of musicians who all hail from different countries, with the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel framing the compositions. In the story, the people all spoke the same language until God intervened and then everyone spoke a different language and they were dispersed around the world. The album, in theory, brings things back around, where players of different languages can speak one musically. If it all sounds like another attempt at watered down world music, remember this is a Tzadik records release, known for its "Radical Jewish Culture" series.

In some ways, BabEl sounds a bit straightforward. Israel native Gurvich (now living in New York) plays alto saxophone with a clean, crisp tone. This is no chaotic blowing session, but a series of melodies that seem to take on more depth as the album proceeds. The opening notes of the album actually come from Brahim Fribgane's oud, which only appears on a few songs. "Pyramids" evokes Egyptian music, as well as a bit of spaghetti western loneliness. Gurvich plays in a fleet-fingered manner during his solo, which Fribgane also does during a rubato section, accented by drummer Francisco Mela's commentary, before the oud plays a lyrical solo in tempo.

"Nedudim," which translates to "journey," has an electric keyboard riff from Leo Genovese that sounds like a Farfisa organ. That provides the contrast to the arrangement, which sounds like an extended composition more than an piece with an open spot for solos. Ironically, the alto solo in "Scalerica de Oro" has the strongest jazz feeling up to that point, with electric piano and oud rising behind Gurvich, with at least one of them utilizing a wah-wah effect. Ironic because this is the only non-original track, a Traditional Sephardic song in Ladino (the language of Jews of Spanish origin) which is sung at weddings to wish the bride good luck. The 21st-century arrangement, which includes vocals and "mazel tov" in the climax courtesy of all five musicians, puts an interesting spin on the piece without sacrificing the power of its origins.

From there, the album continues with something of a blend of Israeli melodies and Coltane-styled execution. The three-part "Higiga Suite" has some strong rubato and heavy comping from Genovese before Gurvich plays a solo that highlights the vocal quality of his alto. "Camelao" begins with a solid foundation from bassist Peter Slavov and, after some urgent trade-offs between alto and piano, Mela combines his trap kit and well-placed percussion in a strong solo.

Sometimes the interplay between the members of the group flows so well, the music almost seems a little laidback. But Gurvich has a lot going on in his writing and his band that requires - or perhaps demands - a deep examination, which yields some great satisfaction.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Pittsburgh Jazz - yes, it's here

The Pittsburgh JazzLive International Festival happened this past weekend. (I wrote about here if you're interested.) It looked really good, with three stages set up in or around Penn Avenue downtown, and a Jazz Crawl on Friday night. Next year, I need to take the whole weekend off of work. That, and family obligations, doomed my time there and I was only able to see one set. Maybe I'm overthinking my presence with something like this, but considering I write for a national jazz magazine, I feel like I should be there when my hometown - one that normally gets passed by the majority of touring jazz acts - finally gets the likes of Gregory Porter, Allison Miller, Pat Martino and Eddie Palmieri here on the same weekend.

I did get to see Rudresh Mahanthappa on Saturday afternoon, though. That was pretty spectacular, with him blowing the hell out of those twisted numbers. His group is amazingly tight. Dave Fiuczynski on guitar, Dan Weiss on drums and Rich Brown (filling in for Francois Moutin) on bass. It sounded pretty rock from where I was standing, to the side of the stage. If I had been front-and-center, it might have had a better balance. It was pretty low-end, but nevertheless it was still enjoyable. Dave might drive me crazy in a different context, but in addition to showing off his chops, he seemed like he was eager to thrown in some noisy riffs too which made sure there was a lot of life it in, not just technical stuff.

Speaking of Pittsburgh missing out on stuff, I ended up talking to a guy who seemed to be all down on our town, and brushed off any positive things I had to say about it:

Pittsburgh never gets good acts.
But Ernest Dawkins, a great Chicago sax player, in coming to the Thunderbird this month.
Yeah, but the Thunderbird's a shithole.
Um - what?!
Anthony Braxton played at the Craftmen's Guild but tickets were really expensive.
But it's Anthony Braxton! How often does he come here? (Further, I checked the archives, and tickets were $20 for a septet that included Mary Halvorson and Jessica Pavone. Ever check the typical ticket prices at MCG?)
Upon mentioning pianist Misha Mengelberg, I told him that he too came to Pittsburgh FOR A FREE SHOW with the ICP Orchestra less than 10 years ago. And ICP was just here again, without Mengelberg. But by that point, he seemed to be tuning out what I was saying.

I'll end this post on a positive note: Last night at the Space Exchange series at the Thunderbird Cafe (you know, that alleged shithole), bassist Paul Thompson led a group through two amazing sets of music from James Bond films. Ben Opie (saxophones), Ian Gordon (trumpet), Chris Parker (guitar) and Tom Wendt (drums) joined Thompson in arrangements that largely came from Paul's ear, which he used to transcribe them.

Paul - you need to bring this band back again!

Friday, June 07, 2013

A Good Day for Records

Playing right now: Wayne Horvitz/Butch Morris/Robert Previte - Nine Below Zero

Yesterday I finally made it over to Galaxie Electronics, which is in the same building as Jerry's Records. The needle on our turntable gave up the ghost about 10 days ago, but I wasn't able to get to Galaxie until then. Donovan was not happy about being there, not in the least. On the way out, we crossed paths with the gal from Jerry's who handles his auctions. Two days earlier, a jazz auction had ended and I bid on a bunch of things. She suggested I come into the store to get them now, and Donovan agreed once he heard there were Dum Dum Suckers involved.

I had bid on a few albums on the Sound Aspects label, which put out a lot of interesting stuff in the '80s, like Bobby Previte's Bump the Renaissance (which was in the auction). The album I'm listening to right now, along with another one where the same group does Robin Holcomb pieces, were in my win pile, along with an album by the Paul Smoker Trio. I only know of that one from the inner sleeve of Bump but figured I'd take a chance.

But the mother lode of the afternoon was an original Rip, Rig and Panic by Roland Kirk! I couldn't believe it. An original Limelight with the booklet inside and the sort of 3D/die cut graphic, which the booklet explains was designed for "the visual enjoyment of the discriminating record buyer." That's me, alright.

If that wasn't exciting enough, I came home to find a reissue of Giuseppi Logan's second ESP album, More, waiting in the mailbox.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

CD Review: Byron Allen Trio

The Byron Allen Trio

Upon discovering the ESP catalog during high school via the Base label reissues, and the occasional original pressing that popped up in a used bin, one thing that added to the intrigue was the list of other releases that appeared on the back covers, complete with a little description. Someday I might break down and bid on a copy of The Coach with Six Insides, a musical adaptation of James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake. And despite one former ESP artist telling me that I should avoid it, I would still like to hear the label's first release, Ni Kantu en Esperanto.

The Byron Allen Trio's self-titled album was one such album listed on the back of The Fugs First Album, and it stated that the alto-playing leader had been described as "the spiritual descendant of Charlie Parker." It's an odd descriptor considering that everyone who picked up an alto from Cannonball Adderley on down could be considered a descendant of Bird. But...

UPDATE, JULY 5, 2013: I hate to do this if you're reading this review for the first time, but JazzTimes assigned me to review this album after I originally posted this entry. So I'm taking down the proper review because I can't have it running in both places. Look for it reviewed in tandem with Giuseppi Logan in an issue of JazzTimes perhaps at the end of the summer. Support print media, especially jazz print media. I'll leave you with the final paragraph, which has some of Allen's background.

So the story goes, Allen only released one more album after this one, a good 15 years after his debut. Like pianist Lowell Davidson, who was also brought to ESP by Ornette Coleman, Allen disappeared after that. Google searches of his name lead back to ESP (which offers no current whereabouts) or to the comedian of the same name. But while Davidson pursued a career in chemistry and died after an accident, maybe there is a chance that Allen might still be out there. That would be a good thing, because this album is strong addition to the ESP catalog, and puts Allen up there with Marion Brown and Sonny Simmons on the list of powerful alto saxophonists.

Monday, June 03, 2013

CD Review: Mara Rosenbloom Quartet - Songs from the Ground

While in Ohio over the weekend, I didn't have internet access and I wasn't the writing fiend I had hoped to be. But I did bang out one review and have motivation to continue tomorrow morning (my prime writing time). In the meantime...

Mara Rosenbloom Quartet
Songs from the Ground
(Fresh Sound New Talent)

With alto saxophonist Darius Jones as the sole horn in her quartet, pianist Mara Rosenbloom made a clever choice. Although he usually swings a bit more to the left in his own free music, Jones plays in a more straightforward manner here, yet his crisp, tart tone is a good contrast to Rosenbloom’s more tranquil, meditative playing. Born in Madison, WI, her music does bear a sense of reflection for that serenity of her Middle American environment, and Jones adds to that — serving as a reminder that she’s now based in New York City.

After a brief solo exposition, Rosenbloom leads the quartet (with bassist Sean Conly and drummer Nick Anderson) into the mid-tempo 7/4 groove of “Whistle Stop.” It reveals both the strengths and weaknesses of the band. On the positive side, the sweet, upper-register piano melody gains a bit of edge when Jones takes it from Rosenbloom. His two solos feature some pungent, low register jumps and growls that kick up the energy a notch. On the minus side, the theme is based on a riff gets repetitive quickly and takes too long to resolve into another section for contrast.

“Unison” maintains the subdued mood, but adds a few harmonic twists. Beginning with a piano riff that sounds like a slowed-down hard bop groove, it moves into a different setting for solos, in which Rosenbloom rises from spare, thoughtful notes into a full bloom. Jones starts simple with some grooves, but gets a little push from the rhythm section to take it up a notch. Even when he limits himself to long tones or buzzing notes in the closing, he pulls out the ones that contrast appropriately with the changes. Conly gets a brief solo of double-stops too.

Rosenbloom lets the quartet stretch out on her pieces, and four of the seven tracks on Songs From the Ground last around 10 minutes, with the title track going beyond the 15-minute mark. But in a number of cases they seem to casually roll along rather than use the time to get somewhere. “Common Language” moves slowly on gospel-tinged piano riff without much drive underneath. Likewise the title track, the longest one of the bunch, devotes too much time to its extended theme. While Anderson does try to kick up a little dust during this tune, he and Conly are predominantly relegated to supporting Rosenbloom and Jones, instead of interacting with them. Considering Conly’s affiliation with Jones in the wild Grass Roots quartet (who released an album on AUM Fidelity last year) it’s surprising that they don’t have more of a push-and-pull rapport going on here. Rosenbloom is a thoughtful pianist whose melodies can be evocative, but her work seems to missing some elements on the follow-through.