Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Recap of the African Rhythms Alumni Quintet + Memories of Randy Weston

Anyone who had the good fortune to hear Randy Weston play live, like the time he came to Pittsburgh in 2013, understood the musical lineage to which the pianist was connected. From the voicings he chose at the piano to the way he struck the keys, shaped the chords and phrased a melody - all the way up to the compositions themselves, the command of his playing felt like the direct link to the legends of his instrument that preceded him.

Saturday, April 20, Kente Arts Alliance, who brought Weston to town almost 11 years ago, presented the African Rhythms Alumni Quintet, a group of skilled musicians who all either played with the pianist or studied under him. In fact, three of them appeared at the 2013 show.

The evening's two-set performance paid tribute through a number of Weston compositions. Among the selections, "Hi Fly" is the one that has become something of a classic, having been recorded by numerous musicians, including Cannonball Adderley and Eric Dolphy. Many of the other tunes are not as well known, but the band played them with a passion that nearly forces you to dig out and rediscover more Weston music.

The whole quintet was top notch but I could have listened to pianist Sharp Radway play solo all night. He provided plenty of support for the other players but his solos made it clear that he sees his role as keeper of the Weston flame going. "Berkshire Blues" presented a great example of this, with the unique chord voicings that Radway chose. The song isn't a traditional blues, which only made it better. "The Shrine" began with a tritone vamp on the piano before going into a slow dirge that evoked Charles Mingus' "Meditations on Integration."

Alto saxophonist/flutist TK Blue served as the announcer for the band, engaging the audience with tales of Weston and adding bright and fiery solos to "Hi-Fly" and some vocal flute playing in "The Shrine." But if Blue was the m.c., bassist Alex Blake might have been the fire driving the whole group. As he did the last time he came to town, Blake sat down with his upright bass leaning towards him. Throughout the night, he walked, plucked and slapped it as was needed. He even did a variation on the Slam Stewart method of soloing, since he sang along with his lines, although there were times that it seemed like he might have been testifying. 

Trombonist Frank Lacy was the one musician, besides Radway, who didn't come to town in '13. His gritty 'bone playing has been a crucial part of the Mingus Tribute bands in New York (he also recorded his own album of Mingus tunes) and he also tears it up in the free wheeling trio 1032K. From the beginning of the night, he was flying high, bringing a heavy swing to "African Village Bedford-Stuyvesant" and making his horn yell. 

Finally, Chief Baba Neil Clarke kept the music driving, with three congas, a series of cymbals and nothing resembling a traditional trap kit. Considering Weston's vast knowledge of different musics from Africa and around the world, Clarke's set-up made perfect sense. His performance in "Little Niles" felt manic in the best possible way, highlighting a tune that has a long, flowing form, the likes of which are rarely heard in this kind of music. 

Speaking of this music, after seeing this show and unpacking it for a few days, I went back to my interview with Weston that preceded his visit. (He passed away in 2018.) One thing I recalled before looking at it was that he didn't use the word "jazz." "I never heard a musician say to another musician, 'We’re going to go play some jazz,'" he said. "Interesting, huh? Instead, [they’ll say], “We’re going to play Duke’s music or Billie Holiday’s music or Benny Goodman’s music.” We never use the word."

What I had forgotten was that Weston saw himself less as a musician and more like a storyteller. "Music is spiritual. It’s taken me from Bed-Stuy growing up, to the black church, the blues, big band and all over Asia and Africa," he said. "So I tell stories about my experiences, about African-American culture, African culture and the spirituality in music itself." 

It's good to know those stories are continuing to be told.

Friday, April 26, 2024

An Appreciation of Michael Cuscuna

I've told this story numerous times, but it seems like it's never appeared on this blog, and the timing is right. It was a chilly almost wintery morning in either November or December 1984. Like every weekday morning, I was up early to deliver the Post-Gazette before heading to school, where I was a senior. My morning routine usually involved bringing the papers into our living room, counting them, putting them in my delivery sack, grabbing rubber bands ("gum bands" to us Pittsburghers) and heading out on my route. 

On this morning, before I could get to the papers, I found a thick square box between our two front doors. The box had my name on it. IT had arrived - The Complete Blue Note Recordings of Thelonious Monk, a four-record set that was only available by mail order from the label that put it together: Mosaic. This was a major expense for a teenager, even one with a lucrative paper route. I think it might have cost about $8 per record. (Insert rimshot here.) 

There was barely any time to skim the set's detailed booklet over breakfast, let alone listen to any of the records. But when I got home that afternoon, I starting poring over both the music and detailed notes about each session, stopping to even follow along in a book of transcribed Monk piano solos. I had just gotten into Monk over the last few months. Hal Willner's tribute album was my gateway; I wanted to hear it because John Zorn was on it. 

After playing That's the Way I Feel Now and scratching my head several times, I purchased a few of Monk's OJC reissues. The compilation's inner sleeve mentioned Mosaic's Monk set and my dad had probably received a catalog from them with details. This almost secret/extra effort way of hearing the music seemed like an important step I needed to take.

I don't think my sentimentality is getting in the way when I say that purchasing that album was a defining moment for me, as both a musician (I still believed I was going to be a saxophonist) and as a writer (that would come later). And this is all due to the efforts of Michael Cuscuna, who started Mosaic with the late Charlie Lourie. Michael passed away last weekend and the world has lost a champion for music preservation and elevation.

Reading through those Mosaic catalogs from the '80s and '90s, it felt like Cuscuna and Lourie were as excited about these releases as listeners would be. If there was a little bit of back-patting going on, they were also quick to expound about the lengths that they would go to find the best sounding master of a session for one of their sets. That devotion made each set feel like a Big Deal. Back in the late '80s, the boxset boom had yet to really catch fire. These guys were ahead of the game and they showed how to do it right.

When CD reissues kicked into full gear in the following decade, Cuscuna became synonymous with jazz rereleases. He had already been instrumental in getting Blue Note back in business around the same time he launched Mosaic. Now he was the one rummaging through old warehouses and storage facilities (perhaps not literally, but they were similar), unearthing those gems again, discovering alternate takes or lost songs and, most importantly, figuring out what they were and from where they came. Most people might have overlooked the fact that Blue Note listed a Tina Brooks album on their inner sleeves that was never released. Cuscuna noticed it, and found the tenor saxophonist's missing session. If you unearthed something like that, you'd be clucking about it in a slick catalog too.

Cuscuna wasn't devoted to just one period of jazz music either. In one of Mosaic's most tremendous releases, he and Lourie curated the entire output of the early jazz label Commodore. Records in three volumes; each box has between 20 and 23 records. He also released Cecil Taylor's complete output for Candid Records. (If the word "complete" sounds repetitive, that's because these guys wanted each set to be comprehensive. When doing a set for the prolific organist Jimmy Smith, they had to limit it to one month.)

I didn't realize it at the time but Cuscuna also shaped my musical scope in another way. When I told my brother that my first encounter with Albert Ayler annoyed me more than moved me, he recommended buying an Ayler album, listening closely and reading what the liner notes said about this wild saxophonist. When I took his advice, the album I found was Vibrations, which had extremely insightful notes about Ayler's background and music - penned by Cuscuna. This cat had a handle on everything.

And he was not jaded or arrogant about it. He was enthusiastic. The University of Pittsburgh brought Cuscuna to town in 2011 for a lecture at the Pitt Jazz Seminar and Concert. In a phone interview prior to his arrival, he was gregarious and very open when speaking to this fanboy about his work. It was quite a confidence boost to hear that a quote from my article wound up in the Washington Post's obituary for Cuscuna. (For the record, here's the quote: "If I put out music that is really unworthy or would embarrass the artist or make an artist unhappy, then I think that’s the worst sin I could commit.")

Another quote from him appeared on the Mosaic website earlier this week, which really hit home too: "It’s the stuff that gets to you between about [ages] 12 and 25 that stays with you for life. You never absorb music in quite the same way after that.” It explains why both Monk piano solos and, heaven forbid, the lyrics to some REO Speedwagon songs are still easily accessible in my head. 

Personally, Mosaic always represented the highest level of jazz collecting. Along with the alternate takes, the label made sure you knew all you wanted to know about the artists and the sessions they made. When I became a staff writer at InPgh, I felt like I had really arrived when I was able to snag some promos and write about them for the paper. It took a few years but I even got to review a couple for JazzTimes. (Several other jazz scribes were clamoring for those reviews.)

As the above picture shows, I've been able to amass many of the sets over the years. Having enough Christmas money to afford the Larry Young set made it feel extra special. Getting the Clifford Brown set from my parents for my birthday takes me back to that time. Two years ago, I found the one set I never thought I could afford - the Complete Capitol Recordings of the Nat King Cole Trio, a mind-numbing 18-disc set (the vinyl counterpoint was 27 records!). It was being sold at a chain store for less than half of what it's worth. 

In my interview with Cuscuna, he mentioned that the Cole set (which was originally offered to buyers on an installment plan!) was one of the few projects where he never burned out on the artist. Listening to it, it's easy to see why. Nat was that good. Sure it's all about the music, but the presentation certainly adds to the listening pleasure.

If this piece has been more about me than the late, great Michael Cuscuna, that can be attributed to the fact that Michael really shaped the way I approach music, largely as a listener but probably to some degree as a writer. Not just jazz, he opened my ears with everything. Collecting is fun, but it's more rewarding when you can share these discoveries with people, opening them up to new sounds and new ideas that they can explore on their own.

Michael was all about that. And I'm doing my damnedest to pay it forward. 

Thank you, Michael.


Friday, April 19, 2024

Jazz For Record Store Day, Part 2

I had really hoped to post maybe a review a day this week of these Record Store Day releases, but that just wasn't in the cards. For one thing, I was too busy listening to them. (I received advance CDs, not vinyl, just so you know. CD editions of all of these will also be released on April 26.)

Anyhow, here are the other three that will be available this weekend. 

Art Tatum
Jewels In the Treasure Box: The 1953 Chicago Blue Note Jazz Club Recordings

Pianist Art Tatum is one of those jazz musicians who is talked about reverently, praised for his technique, but isn't the type of player that gets the same kind of adulation as a Charlie Parker, John Coltrane or Miles Davis. Maybe some people know his version of "Willow Weep for Me," which jumps back and forth between languid and breakneck in a matter of bars, yet still remains lyrical. The technique he displays can make you swoon. (If you've heard Rahsaan Roland Kirk's The Case of the Three-Sided Dream in Audio Color, you've heard a sample of this Tatum classic.)

There is already a lot of Tatum out there, thanks in a big part to Norman Granz, who took the pianist into the studio and recorded 124 tracks, released over 14 albums. Impressive as that is, this newly released batch of sets from Chicago's Blue Note jazz club is equally as staggering. Frank Holzfeind, owner of the Blue Note, recorded Tatum during an August 1953 stay at the club, and the tapes have sat in storage since then. 

Rather than playing alone, Tatum was working with a trio by then, a setting that lifts up his unique style, proving that it's not something that he could only do on his own. Hearing him speak between songs too brings the legend of Tatum to life, making him more than simply a portrait on an album cover. Everett Barksdale (guitar) and Slam Stewart (bass) fill out the group. Their material is made up well known standards like "Night and Day," "Don't Blame Me" and "Tea For Two." Tatum also takes a solo break to play his unique version of Dvoȓák's "Humoresque." 

The songs seem to follow a similar arrangement: Tatum introduces the theme and takes a solo, followed by Barksdale, and them Stewart, who in his signature approach, vocalizes along with his bowed bass. It might be a formula, but it's a formula that slays every time, because the way this trio works is magic Sometimes they move in tandem, like the original King Cole Trio, sometimes Tatum sprawls all over his keyboard without losing direction. This elastic approach to time sounds like the foundation on everything that followed him in jazz. 

Sun Ra
At The Showcase: Live In Chicago 1976-1977
(Jazz Detective/Elemental) www.elemental-music.com

At the same time, the question could come up about whether the world needs yet another live Sun Ra set. Once his homebase, Chicago been cursed by Ra during a 1973 concert when the bandleader thought an object thrown at a security guard was meant for him. But three years later, the bad mojo was gone and they took the Windy City by storm, returning a year and half later to slay them even further.

The 1977 set appears first and it is the superior (and longer) one. "View From Another Dimension" crossfades hand drums and mellow tenor into free electric keyboards that cue some equally free horn wails. But Ra's version of the New Thing is tempered by the hard swing of tunes like "Synthesis Approach" and "Ankhnaton." This was a stellar night for the band.

In February 1976, the Arkestra drew more on their interstellar journeys, with "Theme of the Stargazers," "Space is the Place" and the prophetic "Greetings from the 21st Century." Half the set is taken up by "The Shadow World" which, following chants of "Calling Planet Earth," features Ra duking it out with electronic keys before the group joins for a tight blend of free blowing and ensemble passages.  Marshall Allen gets a chance to blow it out viciously, followed by Ahmed Abdullah on trumpet. During "Theme of the Stargazers," guitarist Dale Williams finds the missing link between Jimi Hendrix and James Blood Ulmer. If only there was another set recorded that night.

Ultimately it seems like the answer is yes - the world can use another live Sun Ra album, due in large part to superior sound quality and the creative sparks that flew from the stage of the Jazz Showcase, a venue that didn't normally host groups as outre at this. 

Yusef Lateef
Atlantis Lullaby - The Concert from Avignon

Yusef Lateef didn't like having the word "jazz" affixed to the music he played, which might be understandable when you consider the breadth of what he might play in one set. This live recording from July 1972 includes a long workout on old sawhorse "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" which leads into the 25-minute epic "The Untitled" where mood and dynamics shift so dramatically, it could have come from the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Earlier in the set, drummer Albert "Tootie" Heath sets down his sticks to play the Indian flute in a duet with bassist Bob Cunningham. The quarter also cuts loose with some soul in "Eboness." 

Kenny Barron completes the quartet on piano, and he was also responsible for "The Untitled." Although the different passages offer suspense things get a bit repetitious, staying in one mood without using it to create stronger ideas. "A Flower," Lateef's flute duet (this time with Barron) is heavy on vibrato but also a little light on movement. On the other hand, the bluesy "Yusef's Mood" and the Trane-like title track deliver solid action.

Jazz for Record Store Day Part 1

As I type, Record Store Day is less than 24 hours away. I've always been conflicted about that day. As I say each year, every day could be Record Store Day for me. So many RSD reissues are readily available used in their original vinyl format for much less. Some new releases under utilize the available 18 to 22 minutes per side on a record, thereby blowing the package into two pricey discs.

One year for RSD, I nearly dropped $15 on a 10" 78 of the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations." I love 78s. I kind of like the Beach Boys. I don't exactly dig that song. What the hell was I thinking, I wondered, in the present tense at that time, as I put it back. Ironically, $15 for a RSD purchase seems like a steal these days, even for a single or EP.

This year, things are a little different.  Zev Feldman, the man who has a knack for uncovering unreleased sessions or finding clean copies of things hitherto available only as bootlegs, has helped to release no fewer than six albums of unearthed music for Record Store Day on his own Jazz Detective label, as well as the Resonance and Elemental imprints. Like previous Feldman projects, these come with a plethora of historical liner notes and interviews with musicians involved in the projects or others who can speak with authority on these players. All are being released on vinyl tomorrow and they'll also be available in compact disc form (my source for listening here). Leave to Feldman to come up with RSD projects that might make it worth standing in line outside of a shop early in the morning, in hopes of snagging a copy. All of them will be released on CD on April 26 too, so if you can't get vinyl, you can still hear them.

Here is my flash on three of them, with more to come. 

Chet Baker & Jack Sheldon
In Perfect Harmony: The Lost Album
(Jazz Detective) www.thejazzdetective.com

The first thing that might come to mind when thinking about Chet Baker and Jack Sheldon together is a scene in Let's Get Lost, Bruce Weber's noirish 1988 documentary about the former trumpet player. In an interview, Sheldon relates a rather salacious story about Baker interruptus, which actually worked to his advantage. If the story itself wasn't racy enough, Sheldon's matter-of-fact delivery gives an extra sense of zheesh.

But in the opening bars of In Perfect Harmony: The Lost Album, a different, more positive memory will come flooding back to anyone who grew up listening to the Schoolhouse Rock cartoons on Saturday mornings. The voice singing "This Can't Be Love" out of tempo with Dave Frishberg's piano is the same one that brought life to Conjunction Junction and the Bill that was sitting on the steps of Capitol Hill. That's Jack Sheldon, who sings while Chetty blows. (As an aside, he also voiced a great spoof of the Bill on The Simpsons too.) 

This lost session took place in 1972 at the behest of Sheldon and guitarist Jack Marshall. Baker had been out of the business for several years, following a brawl that resulted in broken teeth and damage to his embouchure. He would launch a serious comeback a year later, but Sheldon lured him into the studio with the promise that a double trumpet/vocalist frontline meant the recovering player would only have to play half the time. Marshall, who oversaw the session at his United Audio studio and played guitar, started shopping it to labels but it was shelved when he died suddenly in 1973.

For a player who was still in recovery mode, Baker does an admirable job on his horn and his soft voice is rich with phrasing ideas. Sheldon of course is more brash in voice and horn but the way he interacts with Baker captures the camaraderie between these two. One of the 11 tracks passes five minutes, and most are way shorter, with just a few choice choruses. Marshall appears minimally, with the rhythm section of Frishberg, former Tijuana Brass drummer Nick Ceroli and especially bassist Joe Mondragon (whose feet probably got sore from all that walking) providing a steady backdrop. It might not be a revelation (though Sheldon's performance on "Historia De Un Amor" is) but it's fun.

Mal Waldron & Steve Lacy
The Mighty Warriors

Speaking of close associates, pianist Mal Waldron and soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy had a bond that began in 1958 when they played together at the Five Spot in New York. It's virtually impossible to talk about Steve Lacy without mentioning the impact that Thelonious Monk's music had on him, and Waldron likewise took the ideas of rhythmic simplicity from Monk and carved out his own sound. Both men spent most of their later years living in Europe but while Lacy's work was documented on many albums on this shore, the modest, self-deprecating Waldron (the first artist to release an album on ECM) is more of a jazz musician's musician. A set like this can inspire some rediscovery listening.

The Mighty Warriors comes from a 1995 performance at the De Singel Theater in Antwerp, Belgium at a celebration of Waldron's 70th birthday. The duo is joined by bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Andrew Cyrille. Not surprisingly, they perform two Monk compositions, "Epistrophy" and "Monk's Dream," but as good as they are, the real fire can be felt in the original compositions. Disc One (Record One to vinyl buyers) features Lacy's "Longing," where the saxophonist sticks close to the theme for three minutes, keeping the excitement at high level. Waldron's "What It Is" finds him borrowing similar ideas in a Monk-like fashion, while the rhythm section drives it along.

The two extended tracks on the second record provide the pivotal performances that make this album a must-have. Workman's "Variations III" has an almost free bop feel to it, never quite going out but definitely pushing on the walls. During a soprano/percussion duet, Lacy unleashes a extended musical soliloquy that flows with expansions on ideas. After an arco solo from Workman, Waldron plays in a blend of clusters as well as single note likes. 

This is followed by a 25-minute version of Waldron's "Snake Out" that includes a solo by the pianist, subtitled "Variations On a Theme by Cecil Taylor," before returning to the theme. The track starts off with a steady flow but eventually the rhythm section gets a little jagged, although Lacy manages to interact with them gracefully. The Taylor theme doesn't quite sound like Cyrille's former bandleader, but it has a soulful direction to it.  

This is the album to grab first on Record Store Day.

Sonny Rollins
Freedom Weaver: The 1959 European Tour Recordings

Any live Sonny Rollins set is usually reason for rejoicing but Pittsburghers should really be stoked for the four-record Freedom Weaver: The 1959 European Tour Recordings set. It features Steel City native Joe Harris, who spent time in the Dizzy Gillespie band and lived in Europe, playing with Quincy Jones, before returning to his native town where he taught at the University of Pittsburgh before passing away in 2016. Harris appears on just four tracks of this massive set, but another Pittsburgh ex-pat drums on three extended pieces - Kenny Clarke.

Rollins was a few months away from the two-year musical seclusion when he took to practicing his horn on the Williamsburg Bridge. In March 1959, he headed to Europe with Henry Grimes (bass) and Pete LaRoca (drums). The pianoless trio was Rollins' preferred instrumentation, having used it on his Way Out West and A Night at the Village Vanguard albums. Grimes had yet to be aligned with the New Thing in New York (playing with Cecil Taylor and Albert Ayler) but his reputation had been sealed through stints with Thelonious Monk and Benny Goodman. LaRoca had appeared on one Village Vanguard track with the tenor saxophonist.

The openng tracks on the first disc capture a band in good fidelity and in deep communication. Although the album's notes make passive reference to "Rollins's demanding standards led to disagreements and occasional physical confrontations with both members of the band," the music reveals no such evidence. (That serves as motivation to check out Aiden Levy's Rollins bio.)

In fact the communication in tracks like "St. Thomas" sounds like a tight band, rather than merely three great players working together. In "I've Told Every Little Star," which appears four times throughout the set, Rollins uses a clever motif, playing the end of the phrase slightly off mike, to add a touch of echo the melody. If there's anything disappointing on the set, it might be the overuse of trading fours during the solos. The trades between Grimes and LaRoca go on a little too long during "How High the Moon."
Harris sits in on a radio/television set that includes a rapid-fire spin of Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing." 

Most of the tracks keep things clean and tight, with only a few longer than five minutes. However, the three tracks with Clarke in the drum chair come off more like casual club sessions where everyone is free to stretch "Woody 'n' You," "But Not For Me" and "Lady Bird" past the 15-minute mark. Each has more four trading happening, but Clarke makes it count.

As far as sound quality goes, only the tracks from Germany sound a little muddy. But hearing Rollins play "Cocktails for Two" - not like Spike Jones but in the manner closer to how it was originally written - makes up for it. A few quick interview segments confirm this writers belief that jazz musicians aren't necessarily by nature hard to interview. They simply got tired of asinine questions that either fawned over them (kind of the case here) or sounded like variations on "What is jazz?" Thankfully, these segments take up little time in this exciting document. On the other hand, Feldman's conversation with Sir Sonny in the album's booklet adds some extra insight to the music. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

LP Review: Church Chords - elvis, he was a Schlager + Anthony Pirog

Church Chords
elvis, he was a Schlager

Perhaps Church Chords are akin to a 21st-century version of Golden Palominos, i.e. a band with a rotating lineup of disparate players coming together to create some warped pop music. Or maybe Stephen Buono is more like a modern day band leader/catalyst like Kip Hanrahan, the New York musician who released several albums under his own name on which he often took a backseat to rich lineup of musicians with ties to Latin music, jazz and no wave. 

In regards to the first prospect, the personnel on elvis, he was a Schlager changes on every song, with guitarists like Jeff Parker, Brandon Seabrook and Nels Cline coloring the moody surroundings while vocals come from Kristin Slipp (of the Dirty Projectors), Genevieve Artadi (of Knower) and Ricardo Dias Gomes (who also lays down some thick bass grooves on several tracks). 

As far as the second prospect goes, Buono (who has played in the band Split/Red and seems to have a finger on several different musical pulsebeats at a time) receives credits for composing the music on all ten tracks but no instrumental credit. Some songs have as many as six names listed for music composition, not all of them playing in the song. Though the Hanrahan connection might be apt, a better one (which Buono in fact has used) might be Teo Macero, the producer who used the studio as an instrument for so many of Miles Davis electric albums. To be clear, Church Chords don't try to fusion jazz, no wave or Latin music - at least not outwardly.

From the opening moments, elvis has a deep, dreamy quality that offers enough space to accommodate ethereal vocals in several languages, ripping guitar solos and rhythm sections that work like piledrivers that create a steady base around which everything rallies. Sometimes it evokes the stark pop of Stereolab where vocal countermelodies and chugging guitars move over a steady groove ("Recent Mineral"). 

In "Warriors of Playtime," we could be crashing a recording session by the floating Exploding Star Orchestra, since Parker's guitar goes from crisp to tremolo-heavy, and vocalist Thalma de Freitas (Kamasi Washington, Madlib) steps in between the fret work. It doesn't seem like a stretch because Tortoise/occasional ESO drummer John Herndon appears on this track.

The monochord attack of "She Lays On a Leaf" recalls Suicide, but it takes on more bizarre features when the vocal duo of Macie Stewart and Sima Cunningham (Finom) and Cline's guitar almost get derailed by an attack from Nate Walcott's trumpet. The guitarist returns with some manic above-the-fretboard yowling in "Owned by Lust," in which Gomes sings in tandem the vocalist zzzahara. The former also sings offers English counterpoint lyrics to Takako Minekawa's breathy vocals on the smoother "Then Awake."

elvis, he was a Schlager sounds a little jumbled during the first spin, but by the end, things have settled into place. A further examination reveals a multi-layered album that actually proves how disparate genres can mingle with the results creating something that retains the edge of those individual styles that cross-fertilized here. It's not merely heady dance music nor is it improvisation that can make it in prime time. It's a lot deeper than that. 

Incidentally, the album title comes from a a documentary about Krautrock in which Moebius (known for his work with Cluster) dismissed the king of Rock and Roll as a "schlager," referring to a type of music popular in Germany which seems to have been bland and unexciting. Buono, let the record show, has nothing against Elvis. But the term suddenly makes the joke clear in the Beatles' "You Know My Name (Look Up My Number" when John Lennon introduces the loungey section of the song as if he were in a club called Schlagers. It also explains why the Warner Bros' Loss Leaders compilation in the '70s full of easy listening music was called Schlagers

It's worth mentioning that Otherly Love has also released guitarist Anthony Pirog's The Nepenthe Series Vol. 1. This set of eight duets and one solo track finds him in the company of guitarists Nels Cline, Andy Summers (yes, that Andy Summers), John Frusciante (credited as playing "monomachine"), Brandon Ross, Wendy Eisenberg and Ryan Ferriera. Luke Stewart joins him on bass for one track. Pirog's wife and musical collaborator Janel Leppin plays pedal steel guitar on another. 

These meetings of the minds are heavily ambient, where the sounds of strings being struck are rarely heard, only the tones that resonate afterward. Some tracks could be mistaken from releases on the kranky label, while others have a prog feel or evoke the Bowie/Eno collaborations.