Sunday, May 04, 2014

Listening Notes 1

Medeski, Martin and Wood with Nels Cline - The Woodstock Sessions Vol. 2 (Woodstock Sessions, 2014) What seems on the surface to be an unlikely combination, the jam band/groove jazz trio of John Medeski on keyboards, Billy Martin on drums and Chris Wood on bass meshes quite nicely with unclassifiable outre guitarist Nels Cline. When MMW last tangled with a guitarist it was John Scofield, who was well versed in groove. Cline is another matter entirely, ready and willing to play anything from free jazz to arena rock. This LP was recorded live before a very small audience and taken in one long uninterrupted track, it shows the music ebbing and flowing, with periods of spaciness led by Medeski's organ and range of keyboards. Noise and power will raise it's head like a snarling beast at several points during the performance, making for the most memorable portions of the album. When Cline cuts loose, he's a wonder to behold, swooping and wailing and charging into the breach. Although this might not be in MMW's wheelhouse, they are more than up to the challenge. This is an album that grows on you as you learn the dynamic shifts in improvisation and the texture and sound collages that are at play. amazon

Yes - The Yes Album (Panegyric, 2014) Originally released on Atlantic Records in 1972 this was Yes's first truly classicalbum , matching their cosmic ambitions and pretensions with excellent songwriting and playing. Musician and producer Steven Wilson has been remixing and remastering classic progressive rock LP's by King Crimson, Yes and others and now he brings his magic touch to this album. It's not a radical re-fit, Wilson's idea is subtle re-touching, brightening the vocals and harmonies, bringing the musical instruments into strong relief. The stereo mix is spot on and sounds excellent bringing a new luster to well known songs like "Yours Is No Disgrace" and "Starship Ttooper." You can pick your poison between two-CD sets which include either a DVD audio or 5.1 surround sound version in edition to the stereo remaster. Both sets expand the original album even further and add OCD touches like alternate stereo mixes, surround sound, singles, live tracks and even a "needledrop" of a first pressing of the LP. The package is a bit overwhelming, but the wonderful stereo mix makes any bonbast well worth it. amazon

JD Allen - Bloom (Savant, 2014) Tenor saxophonist JD Allen has built a formidable catalog of records, lean and thoughtful, either as the leader of a trio or quartet or on sideman appearances. On this album, he is accompanied by Orrin Evans on piano, Alexander Claffy on bass and Jonathan Barber on drums. Allen has a deep woody tone that has developed into an original sound and is best felt on the title track “Bloom” which is an up-tepmo tune that simmers nicely and allows for excellent expression. One of the most effective ideas of Allen’s is brevity - his songs rarely exceed five minutes, and his albums are usually LP length. This perspective allows for a tight, coiled tension and the sense that Allen’s band is taking care of business honing the music to its core essence. The patience pays off well on ballads too, such as on “The Secret Lives of Guest Workers” which is a quartet performance of compassion and dignity allowing the music to flow naturally, while never falling into repetition. This album was enigmatic, and hard to pin down and that is a good thing. Allen leaves weaves in a sense of the mysterious, and makes the listener think long and hard about the meaning of his music. amazon

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