Sunday, September 27, 2015

John Zorn - Inferno (Tzadik, 2015)

The work of philosopher August Strindberg, a prolific writer during the turn of the twentieth century, inspires this album of John Zorn’s compositions. Performing these compositions is a trio consisting of John Medeski on organ, Kenny Grohowski on drums and Matt Hollenberg on guitar. The music incorporates jazz, fusion and heavy rock into a fascinating crucible. “The Dance of Death” opens the album with strong drums and heavy guitar, reminiscent of Tony Williams great Emergency band from the early 1970’s, but blasted into the here and now. The music becomes hot and very fast with the drums thrashing, the guitar grinding and the organ shimmering above it all. The music is epic, heavy and intricate. The heavy metal feel of the guitar continues on “Pariah” where Grohowski develops a fine backbeat allowing Medeski and Hollenberg to go completely over the top in their improvisations. “Ghost Sonata” uses big slabs of sound to develop an oppressive feel to the music that still allows the musicians to duck and weave around; using the sheer weight of the music they are creating to sculpt their improvisations. They are able to add elements of heavy metal to jazz with confident assurance. The centerpiece of the album is “Inferno” an epic piece of music running over twenty minutes in length. The music is patient and dynamic, beginning with a quiet opening, as if it was the beginning of a ritual that was being performed. This adventurous piece of music unfolds like a suite, with sections of lightning fast interplay and ferocious sound but also softer jazzier sections. They use silence as an instrument at one point, dropping out entirely before the full trio comes roaring back in with one of their densest improvisations. The performance is very impressive and quite a feat for the trio to perform. The remaining performances are much shorter, “Blasphemy” is barely two minutes, but lifts off immediately with super fast organ and an absolutely torrid guitar solo and drum interlude that packs a hard hitting wallop. “The Powers” has a brief solo drum opening then a fast and furious guitar solo that leads the trio through a section of high speed improvisation that is scarily good. Finally, “Dreamplay” offers a slower and more mysterious atmosphere, where Hollenberg’s guitar strings long tones of liquid sound before latching onto a riff that brings the band crashing down with it’s full monstrous weight thundering to the conclusion. With Zorn's endless curiosity and the power of these excellent musicians, the music here transcends most categorization, combining the power of extreme rock and roll with improvised jazz and unique compositions to create a very powerful statement. Inferno -

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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Book: Henry Rollins - Get in the Van (2.13.61, 1994)

Henry Rollins was the contentious vocalist for the pioneering hardcore punk band Black Flack from 1981-1986. This book is made up of diary written during their long tours around the United States and occasionally Europe. Rollins' writing is as controversial and your face as his lyrics and on stage personae. Like much of the hardcore scene the band lived hand to mouth and on the margins of society, playing in the most rundown clubs where violence was away of live and the threat of police brutality was omnipresent. Rollins misanthropy and self-imposed isolation is a major theme of the book, when he is off the road, he lives in a shed in guitarist Greg Ginn's backyard, and on the road he will avoid fans and fellow bandmates to the point of belligerence. There are some fascinating aspects of the book that diverge slightly from the nihilistic narrative. The brilliant and disturbing flyers drawn by by Raymond Pattibon, make the case for him as the R. Crum as the hardcore scene. There are also a number of fine pictures of the band at action and at rest. But the hate simply streams from the book, advocating the killings of pigs (police)and their entire families and the (justifiable) loathing of skinheads. At it's best, the book describes the sheer rush and freedom that hardcore offered the musicians and the fans. Wasting away in your house isn't the answer; even if leaves you alienated from much of society. He fights loneliness and self-hurt (psychological and physical) and uses that to create energy for is ferocious stage performances. The revelation that the idea of not fitting in is not failing and that no one is at fault resonated with the audience and gave them hope when the "real" world is full of backstabbing, lies and unreasonable expectations. Rollins and Black Flag were true outsiders with an us vs. the world attitude that drove them relentlessly forward to record and tour at an insane pace, and create amazing music inside a crucible of pressure and pain. Get in the Van -

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Tisziji Munoz - Alpha Nebula Expanded: The Monster Peace (Tisziji Munoz, 2015)

Originally recorded in 1997, this album by guitarist Tisziji Munoz has been remixed and expanded with the edition of newly recorded piano by keyboardist John Medeski. The remainder of the band consists of Ra Kalam Bob Moses and Franklin Kiermyer on drums and percussion and Don (Yaka) Pate and John (Chait) Lockwood on bass. The instruments are brought forward and have a great sense of immediacy and the music has a very hot sense of burning free fusion. “Burnsign of the Arisen” begins the album in an uptempo fashion with extended electric guitar playing in an imaginary world where Sonny Sharrock was melded with Jimi Hendrix. Drums keep pace, but Munoz overwhelms all else before a final section of rippling piano. The scorching spiritual jazz on “Goodbye Sweet Mother” makes the music particularly emotional with shimmering cymbals pushing the strapping guitar further and further out. Munoz will introduce short riffs and then with spin them out relentlessly until there seems to be a light addition of piano at the end. “Creating Gentle Fierceness” builds quickly with electric guitar and drumming and splashes of keyboard garnishing the top. Grinding sections of guitar trio are played off of lighter sections of piano trio, with everybody exploring the lower ends of their instruments and the dark sides of their music. Unaccompanied electric guitar sparks fireballs across the sky to begin “Stillness Before Ascent” before bass and drums come crashing into give it the modern version of the sixties new thing spiritual kick. The whole band is just killing it, creating fires by sparking off of one another to the point of becoming too fast, too strong and too much. Since it is not possible to get any more intense than the prior piece, “Angelic Origination” begins as a ballad that has sad sounding, longer tones of guitar along with light bass and drums. They ratchet the temperature up slowly until it is approaching a boil before breaking into a heavy sound and improvising freely around it. The short but incredibly powerful “Fearlessness” opens with some subtle piano before there is a quick count off and the sound of the massive guitar trio hitting the ground running and taking the music into ecstatic territory nearly immediately. The zero to orbit speed is jarring even to the musicians since someone is screaming in the background. Well worth it though, since this track is short and staggering. “Mastering the Seed of Creation” has the bass and drums unit setting the scene for laser like bursts of guitar. Short spikes repeating with some piano notes bubbling up but nearly overwhelmed by the volume of the trio and the blazing fast speed of the band which is clearly feeling the spirit. This was an excellent if a little exhausting double album, and fans of electric guitar in either a jazz or rock setting will be thrilled. Medeski’s contribution is somewhat limited, but he does make his presence known, and this effort of modern spiritual jazz is highly recommended. Alpha Nebula Expanded: The Monster Peace -

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Sunday, September 20, 2015

Jon Irabagon - Inaction is an Action (Irrabagast Records, 2015)

Jon Irabagon is one of the most interesting musicians on the modern jazz scene. He plays in one of the most consistently arousing bands of the day, Mostly other People Do the Killing, while keeping up a very active career as a solo musician and as high profile sideman with the likes of Dave Douglas and Barry Altchul. This is one of his most ambitious projects, an album of unaccompanied sopranino saxophone. The song “Acrobat” has a raw sound that is a call to attention for listeners, like a siren of high pitched noise. The music moves into a section of raw grittiness, creating grating swirls like a craftsman sanding down woodwork. He uses abrasive and exciting popping sounds and then plays them off against sections of silence for good effect. Quick sounds of clicking and nearly conversational sounds open “What Have We Here” before moving into very low moaning low tones like something you might hear from a movie monster from the deep. Even though this might be considered a very “avant-garde” album, Irabagon’s wonderful wit shines through here, with a wide array of sounds from those akin to a deep throated frog to that of a straw sucking the last drops of soda from the cup. “The Best Kind of Sad” is a ballad with long tones of saxophone recalling a late night longing for something or someone lost and filled with emotional pain. Juxtaposing sharp, high pitched sounds with short phrases, give the music a deep emotional poignancy. A very fast high pitched skittering ticking drone is felt on “Liquid Fire” which quickly builds to a nearly inhuman pace building to an auditory kaleidoscope of color. This is wonderfully thrilling music taken at a breakneck speed with incredible control. This album worked quite well, it is certainly not for everybody, but as an example of the wide range of music that Jon Irabagon is capable of, it is invaluable. It shows a strong desire for him to explore jazz and improvised music in all of its forms. Inaction Is an Action -

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Friday, September 18, 2015

Forro Zinho - Forro in the Dark plays Zorn (Tzadik, 2015)

Electric guitarist Guilherme Monteiro is one of a large cast that makes up Forro in the Dark, a band that combines Brazilian music with just about anything else to get a very interesting percussion-heavy, rhythmic dance music. “Uluwati” opens the album with fun sounding guitar and percussion. There is a sound reminiscent John Zorn’s exotica band The Dreamers, with their floating sound and slinky percussion. Sparks and smears of cool guitar play off against flute and percussion to create a very interesting and alluring sound. There is a fast and exciting beat that drives  “Life is Real only Then When I Am” developing into a very nice rhythm for flute, bass and shiny guitar to get everybody moving on a very danceable tune. “Sunset Surfer” filters the likes of The Ventures and Dick Dale though a Brazilian lens opening with a brief electronic dance snippet before moving into a sultry and humid section of guitar and percussion. The percussionists are light, fast and nimble, moving the music forward with a subtle grace that is perfect to accompany guitar and flute. Thumping bass, percussion and pulverizing guitar imbue the cinematic “Zavebe” with the cool feel of a 1970’s grindhouse film score. Baritone saxophone pulsates underneath it all with snarling guitar for some wonderfully sleazy fun. “Tempo de Festa” employs a more pinched sounding guitar as the music moves back into the street for a spontaneous party feel. There are shades of accordion pumping the music forward in the company of powerful bass. “Annabel” is a short blast of rocking guitar and melodic saxophone, with handclaps adding to the percussive furor and strong guitar riffing. This is fun party music, not a serious beard-scratching affair. It would be a blast to see this band playing an outdoor festival, because their all-inclusive blend of music would be sure to get the audience up and moving. Forro in the Dark Plays Zorn -

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