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BLUE NOTE ALL-STARS – Our Point of View

Album: Our Point of View

Artist: Blue Note All-Stars

Label: Blue Note

Release Date: September 29, 2017

http://bluenote.com

The Upshot: A master class on how great musicians, sensitive to each other’s talents, bring strong compositions to thrilling, exuberant life.  

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

The storied history of the Blue Note label speaks for itself. Throughout the company’s near 80-year history, it’s been home to jazz luminaries from Thelonious Monk, Herbie Hancock and John Coltrane to Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson and James Blood Ulmer, not to mention a host of musicians not normally associated with jazz, like Van Morrison, Norah Jones and even Jeff Bridges. Under the leadership of founder Alfred Lion, the label’s impact on jazz was profound, and that influence continued under the stewardship of Bruce Lundvall, who revived the company in the 80s, and Don Was, who guides it now.

Our Point of View gathers together a collection of the label’s current stars, all of whom are jazz’s present and future. Keyboardist Robert Glasper, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, guitarist Lionel Loueke, saxophonist Marcus Strickland, bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Kendrick Scott pay tribute to Lundvall, who signed many of them, and offer a good representation of the current state of jazz. Every one of them is respectful of tradition but not hidebound by it, as influenced by the R&B and hip-hop they heard growing up as the work of the jazz masters. This is no awkward one-time summit – these guys play with the intimacy and telepathy of like minds.

Take Strickland’s “Meanings,” on which the saxist leads with full-throated melodic lines before yielding the stage to an electrifying Glasper solo on the Rhodes. Or Scott’s subtly funky “Cycling Through Reality,” which features infectious rhythms over which Strickland and Akinmusire range freely and Loueke contributes a surprisingly non-irritating synth guitar solo. The Cameroon guitarist leads the way on his own “Freedom Dance,” which features complimentary horn lines, a rubbery bass break from Hodge and knotty fills and solos from its writer. Glasper’s “Bayyinah” lets the composer’s busy piano set the scene before the rest of the group eases in with tight ensemble work and lush textures.

The group also pays direct tribute to Blue Note’s lineage with a pair of Wayne Shorter tunes. At nearly eighteen minutes, “Witch Hunt”  – from Shorter’s classic album Speak No Evil – allows the players to truly stretch out. The tune’s easy swing and loping melody give Akinmusire and Strickland plenty of room to move, as Glasper fills out the sound with sparkling runs, Scott rumbles all over his kit and Loueke adds delicate wah-wah guitar. Originally found on Miles Davis’ landmark Sorcerer, “Masqualero,” on which the band is joined by elders Herbie Hancock on piano and Shorter himself on soprano, brings out a playful vibe, with much looser rhythms and playing that borders on free without ever quite crossing over.

This is the work of a band, not a group of session players who found themselves in the studio together and thought, “What the hell…might as well…” At no point does anyone overblow, trample over anyone else’s work or veer into irrelevant ideas. Our Point of View is a master class on how great musicians, sensitive to each other’s talents, bring strong compositions to thrilling, exuberant life.

DOWNLOAD: “Witch Hunt,” “Freedom Dance,” “Cycling Through Reality”

 

MIRAH—Sundial

Album: Sundial

Artist: Mirah

Label: Absolute Magnitude

Release Date: October 06, 2017

https://mirah.bandcamp.com/album/sundial

The Upshot: If the brief, seven-song release signals a new direction it looks to be a fertile, productive one for both musicians.

BY JENNIFER KELLY

One of the first things you notice about Mirah’s songs is that they’re full of space, whether they are quiet and pristine or bang-on-a-big-drum raucous or even, circa 2014’s Changing Light, in full-on dance diva mode.  Elliptical dots stand between lyrical phrases. Instruments are widely spaced and floodlit. The drums have to be kept on a short-leash, so as not to overwhelm her precise architectural structures. So when with Sundial, the artist collaborates with string arranger/composer Jherek Bischoff to fill in some of the spaces, there seems a risk of over-embellishment, the musical equivalent of TBC colorization that turns classic B&W lurid with too bright tints and hues. And yet, these concerns are unwarranted, because Bischoff here is as sharply edited as Mirah’s melodies, his swoops and sweeps and twitches of violin and viola and cello fluid but contained. Far from rounding off the edges or blurring the finer points, the addition of chamber strings italicizes these songs’ strengths. Short version it works.

Sundial reimagines six older songs and adds a seventh (the title cut) within this altered frame of reference. The songs span Mirah’s career with two recent ones from Changing Light (where Bischoff also added strings), “Little Cup” from the Thao and Mirah album, “The Light” from Cmon Miracle, “The World Is Failing” from (a)spera and “Cold Cold Water” from all the way back to Advisory Committee. This latter song is so iconically Mirah’s that it seems the unwise to fuss with, but surprisingly, it becomes the disc’s clear highlight. It begins with Mirah’s soft voice, hemmed in by pizzicato plucks, and swells in the chorus to headlong, careening drama. The cascades of string sounds, the vibrating sustained tones, the urgent rhythmic bowing all support the song’s fundamental tension, rather than relieving it, adding to the impact without overweighting it. The added arrangements have the unexpected effect of making the song wilder, rather than better behaved, and as truly itself as the original, though obviously, another version of itself.

“Oxen Hope” is another stunner, with its deep, almost subliminal throbs of cello under Mirah’s untrammeled, improvisatory vocal flights. The string arrangements ground her without tying her to earth. She seems somehow freer in flight now that there’s solid earth under her.

The disc is a short one, just a taste really. If it’s a one-off, it’s an interesting tangent, but if it signals a new direction, as seems more likely, it looks to be a fertile, productive one for both Mirah and Bischoff.

DOWNLOAD: “Cold Cold Water” “Oxen Hope”

 

 

 

 

FLAT DUO JETS – Wild Wild Love

Album: Wild Wild Love

Artist: Flat Duo Jets

Label: Daniel 13

Release Date: October 20, 2017

www.daniel13.com

The Upshot: Dexter, Crow, and even Tone raving things up for your edification via an exhaustive exploration of the Jets’ earliest recordings.

BY FRED MILLS

For North Carolina indie music devotees—particularly the Chapel Hill contingent—it was an electrifying affirmation: the MTV Cutting Edge broadcast of a segment the video channel had filmed in February of 1985, featuring one Dexter Romweber, attired in cop hat and rebel-with-a-definite-cause leather jacket and slurping noisily (booze? tea? Diet Pepsi?) from a tin cup tethered to his jacket with a chain, giving the film crew a tour of his digs, at most a 10’ by 10’ storage shed located in the back yard of his mother’s Carrboro abode, but crammed with enough reclaimed furniture and record albums to qualify as a “pad.” That Romweber called it The Mausoleum wasn’t ironic. If, say, a homeless person stumbled in there after too much antifreeze, crawled under the makeshift bed, and expired, it wasn’t altogether inconceivable that the corpse wouldn’t be discovered until Dex or one of the pot-smoking pals who gathered there to spin obscure ‘50s and ‘60s rockabilly late into the night happened to be casting about for an errant platter or pillow.

Feel free to revisit the MTV segment at the YouTube link above; there are also plenty of live clips of Romweber’s Flat Duo Jets combo (both as a duo and as a three-piece) to seek out. Meanwhile, sonic origins arrive via Wild Wild Love, a two-CD version of that outrageously cool Wild Wild Love limited edition Flat Duo Jets vinyl box set (two LPs and a 10”) released for Record Store Day 2017. Included is the entire Mark Bingham-produced Flat Duo Jets LP that the Athens-based Dog Gone label originally released in 1989—Dog Gone was overseen by one Jefferson Holt, who now helms Daniel 13, a much-respected North Carolina books/music/film outfit—along with that album’s cassette EP precursor, Flat Duo Jets In Stereo (1985, Dolphin Records, recorded by Josh Grier and Steve Gronback), plus no less than a bakers-dozen outtakes from the ’89 LP.

Whattaya get? Well, of course there is “Wild, Wild Lover,” which they would also perform during a potentially career-making 1990 performance on Late Night With David Letterman, with FDJ fan Paul Shaffer happily sitting in. Moody tiki-surf twanger instrumental, “Madagasgar,” one of only two Dex originals on the Dog Gone album, is another obvious highlight, as is a revved-up instro take of Louis Prima’s “Sing Sing Sing,” wherein drummer Crow lays down a jungle beat as throbbin’ as any Saturday afternoon Tarzan flick soundtrack you’d care to mention. Plus, all six tracks from that In Stereo cassette are represented, from the riotous Lieber & Stoller classic “Riot In Cell Block #9” to a sunny (and, for Romweber, remarkably restrained) cover of Buddy Holly’s “Think It Over” to an early Romweber original, “Theme For Dick Fontaine,” a twangy instro thumper not unlike the above-mentioned Prima track (and a tune often used to warm up the crowd at gigs back in the day). Listening to these now, over three decades later, the visceral-to-the-point-of-unhinged FDJ energy remains palpable; if you close your eyes, it’s not hard to imagine being at one of the band’s still-legendary early shows.

All those, plus the Mark Bingham-selected outtakes—among them, surf raveup “Penetration 1,” so electrifying here it’s hard to understand why it didn’t make the final cut for the original LP; “Harlem Nocturne,” which Dex and Crow would revive for the second Jets album, 1991’s Go Go Harlem Baby; and another version of “Wild, Wild Lover”—make for more than just an early DexRom musical snapshot. Wild Wild Love is also a history lesson, one boasting key performances that influenced everyone from the White Stripes to the Black Keys, and many, many more.

Now, before all you wannabe speculators make a mad dash to eBay or Discogs to unload your RSD 2017 FDJ WWL, be alerted that the box set is, in the parlance, a package too cool to dump. Note that as an added bonus, the Wild Wild Love CD includes a link to download a 78-page digital PDF color booklet filled with vintage show flyers and photographs, plus liner-note essays by Mark Bingham, Josh Grier, and music critic David Menconi (whose exhaustive history of the band would be, if eventually expanded to include Dexter’s entire colorful/ongoing history, as book-worthy as Menconi’s earlier biography of lapsed Tar Heel Ryan Adams). But said booklet was also originally a gorgeous 12” x 12” centerpiece of the vinyl box that really deserves to be held and admired. Yours truly was actually present at several of the shows visually represented in the booklet, Dex ‘n’ Crow caught in full flight at Charlotte’s Milestone Club by ace photographer Kent Thompson. (BLURT contributor Marty Perez also has shots in the booklet.) So I can attest to the, um, for lack of a better term, candid nature of these FDJ gigs, which might include, on any given occasion, Romweber bull-dozing into the crowd, stripping down to his skivvies, or simply stretching his shirt around the top of his head to stanch the flow of sweat.

Think of both iterations of Wild Wild Love as loving testimonials and crucial documents; the 2CD also boasts impressionistic art by Phil Plank, exclusive to that version, further indication of the Daniel 13 team’s intention to present the Flat Duo Jets as one of North Carolina’s more unique musical origin stories. Something tells me that more than a couple of heads are already nodding at the notion of adding a special Romweber wing to the Tar Heel State’s official music archives…

DOWNLOAD: “Penetration 1” and “Bring It On Home” (outtakes); “Theme for Dick Fontaine” (In Stereo); “Sing Sing Sing,” “Wild, Wild Lover,” “Madagascar” (Flat Duo Jets)

TRAVIS MEADOWS – First Cigarette

Album: First Cigarette

Artist: Travis Meadows

Label: Blaster

Release Date: October 13, 2017

www.travismeadows.com

The Upshot: With his fresh-but-familiar Americana sound and nakedly personal-yet-emotionally-universal lyrics, the Nashville songwriter won’t be a best-kept-secret much longer.

BY FRED MILLS

Hearing this album for the first time—this morning, in fact, approximately three hours and nearly four complete spins ago—was a revelation, the proverbial musical ton of bricks, like the first time I heard Jason Isbell as a solo performer, or when I got my initial astonishing dose of Chris Whitley on the Thelma & Louise soundtrack, or, yeah, that afternoon as a teenager I brought Greetings From Asbury Park home from the local five-and-dime, cracked the plastic, and cued up the LP on my battered Magnavox drop-down record player. I’d settled down with the morning coffee, NPR’s “Weekend Edition” on the radio, and suddenly this haunting, country-sounding voice with a spare, folkish backing came over the airwaves; soon enough I learned it was a Nashville songwriter named Travis Meadows, and radio host Scott Simon was talking to him about his just-released fourth record, First Cigarette, and about the highs (writing songs for stars like Eric Church, Dierks Bentley, and Jake Owen—the latter landed the Meadows-penned “What We Ain’t Got” at #14 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart a couple of years ago) and lows (among them, the cancer that took his right leg when he was 14; and the adult drinking, which at one point got so bad that would have to wake up to a couple of shots of vodka each morning just to cure the shakes) of his life to date.

Fascinated by this narrative—the seven-years-sober aspect in particular resonated with me, as Jason Isbell’s post-addiction albums remain among my favorite of this decade so far—and mesmerized by the snatches of songs that Simon played for the listeners, I immediately flicked on Spotify and found First Cigarette. And as soon as I finish this review I plan to drive directly over to the record store and buy the CD (they are already holding a copy for me; if it winds up getting released on vinyl, I will buy that as well and gift the CD to some friend who needs his or her own musical revelation).

Those three namechecks in the first sentence above weren’t stray comparisons. The song “Travelin’ Bone” sounds uncannily like Isbell in spots, from Meadows’ yearning croon that descends to an edge-of-rasp at key moments; to the low-key anthemism of the arrangement wrought by sparsely twanging guitar, staccato banjo, and spectral organ; to the narrative lyric structure itself, in which Meadows questions the motivations powering his life thus far and if he’s even worthy of being alive. Later on, “Better Boat” conjures images of the late Whitley thanks to an atmospheric, almost ambient arrangement and echoey slide guitar flourishes all giving the tune a distinctive wide-open-spaces (read: big sky country) vibe. And “Hungry” is pure latterday Springsteen, incorporating subtle blues and gospel motifs (wait for the falsetto, take-me-to-heaven, ooh-ooh-oohs near the end) and steadily building to a climax that’s not bombastic, but still feels like you’re being lifted up high. “I used to say this hunger’s killing me/ But baby, it’s what’s keeping me alive/ I’m still hungry all the time” is the kind of line that can bring you to your knees—one day Meadows will be bringing entire theaters and arenas to their collective knees with that line. (I would be remiss if I didn’t note, within this Springsteen context, that there’s a song here called “Pray for Jungleland” that directly invokes the icon’s name, and to great effect. But I won’t go any further than that with my spoiler—you’ll have to check out the tune yourself.)

Ultimately, though, Meadows isn’t so much like these other artists—Isbell is probably the one he’ll be compared to most often—as he is among them, because his sound is as fresh, in a familiar-like-a-friend’s-handshake way, and his words as unique, thanks to how nakedly personal yet emotionally universal they feel, as all the greats.

I’m finding myself obsessed after just a few hours and playing a quick round of catch-up by checking out selected tracks from 2007 debut My Life 101, 2011’s Killin’ Uncle Buzzy, and 2013 mini-album Old Ghosts & Unfinished Business, (There’s also a limited-edition live CD from 2015, Live at Natchez Hills Vinyard, and what appears to be an early gospel recording called Here I Am that Meadows apparently cut in 2001, presumably during the period when he was a preacher and a missionary.)

I’m also finding myself amazed that, to date, Meadows has essentially operated as a musical best-kept-secret, tapped here and there by more popular artists who recognized the man’s songwriting talent, but flying well below the radar of most everyone else.

This album’s gonna change all that. He’s the real goddam deal, and I will stake my reputation as an aging music critic on it. That’s a five-out-of-five-stars rating at the top of this review, too.  Watch the year-end accolades come in, and keep your eye on the awards ceremonies that follow.

DOWNLOAD: “Hungry,” “First Cigarette,” “Travelin’ Bone”

 

ANTIETAM – Intimations of Immortality

Album: Intimations of Immortality

Artist: Antietam

Label: Motorific Sounds

Release Date: September 08, 2017

http://antietamtheband.com

The Upshot: Still taking care of business on its own, the NYC guitar slingers fuse indie rock heaviosity to jazzy, folkish, and even poppy elements for an exploratory – and exhilarating – set.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

In an era where mashups and genre-fucking reign supreme, it’s always nice to hear some good old-fashioned guitar rock. Over thirty years into its career, NYC’s Antietam have more than mastered the art of six-string hooks, straightforward rhythms and no apologies – the trio practically embodies it.

Intimations of Immortality, the band’s tenth album, manages a neat trick – the songs highlight the crunchy guitar rock institution that Antietam has become over the years, while still mixing in new elements that keep the music from sounding nostalgic or hidebound. Horns punch up “Sunshine” and “Automatic,” enhancing the guitar’s attack without getting in its way, while a solo sax insinuates itself into “Sooner or Later.” Free jazz piano rollicks through “Jefferson,” never sounding out of place even as it follows its own freewheeling path. Mandolin shares complimentary space with feedback guitar on “The Fresno Drop,” a tune that starts out folk rock, moves into psychedelic jamming and ends with backporch banjo and fiddle. The horns return on instrumentals “Birdwatching” and the credits roll “And Then,” while a lone harmonica bleats during the rocking “I’m So Tired.” The band divests itself of assistance on the poppy “Right Between the Eyes” (listen to it HERE) as a reminder that Antietam can still take care of business on its own.

Three decades plus in, Antietam knows how to balance staying the course with exploratory side trips.

DOWNLOAD: “I’m So Tired,” “The Fresno Drop,” “Right Between the Eyes

 

Go way back to 2011 if you want to check out a BLURT interview with Antietam.

 

WOOLLY BUSHMEN – Arduino (LP – orange vinyl)

Album: Arduino

Artist: Woolly Bushmen

Label: Pig Baby

Release Date: October 06, 2017

www.pigbabyrecords.com

The Upshot: Guaranteed to make you put down your battered copy of Nuggets and get the house party started anew.

BY FRED MILLS

Thump. Thump again. Twang. Thump some more. Twang again. Yeah baby.

The Woolly Bushmen kick things off by kicking out the jams, “Something New” being a primordial rawk stew of troglodyte drums, surf guitars, and snarled/sneered/shouted vox; think an unholy offspring of “Wipe Out,” “All Right Now,” and “You’re Gonna Miss Me.” And we’re off: “Hangin’ Blue,” which sounds like Roky fronting Southern Culture On The Skids (hold that thought—six of the 11 songs here were produced by SCOTS’ Rick Miller at his Kudzu Ranch studio); “Don’t Let Him In,” with its fuzzed out axes and psych organ, is a contemporary out-nuggetsization of the Nuggets aesthetic much like the Cynics were updating same three decades ago; and “If It’s All Right With You” brings a kind of Fifties vibe to a Velvets-like choogle arrangement, along with some subtle R&B inflections.

Clearly this trio—comprising Cleveland’s Simon and Julian Palombi and West Virginia’s Jacob Miller—has been soaking in more than just a hot tub down at the RV park. (What’s that title Arduino all about? You’ll have to ask them, as our web search only unearths a company by that name: “Open-source electronic prototyping platform enabling users to create interactive electronic objects.” That said, Miller and the Palombis have a rep as quite the in-your-face live outfit—I’d call that “interactive.”) Arduino comes on the heels of 2012’s self-titled LP and 2015’s Sky Bosses and it is indeed the best batch yet, Pressed up on shockingly orange translucent wax (180-gm at that) and including a digital download card, it is an instant house party starter. Plan on purchasing supplemental homeowners or renters insurance should these guys turn up on your doorstep.

DOWNLOAD: “Something New,” “Don’t Let Him In,” “If It’s All Right With You”

KA BAIRD — Sapropelic Pycnic

Album: Sapropelic Pycnic

Artist: Ka Baird

Label: Drag City

Release Date: September 22, 2017

http://www.dragcity.com

The Upshot: Freak folk refugee devises eerie sonic landscapes and piercing art songs that split the distance between lieder and Sun Ra.

BY JENNIFER KELLY

Ka Baird co-founded one of the aughts’ wilder denizens of freak folk, the all-female collective Spires that in the Sunset Rise, whose rash, raging, multi-ethnic experiments were more in line with Sun City Girls than any well-behaved 1960s distaff folk rocker. That foursome was never without its creative tensions, so it’s interesting to see her unencumbered and solo here, using flute, voice, percussion and electronics to devise eerie sonic landscapes and piercing art songs that split the distance between lieder and Sun Ra.

This solo album takes its name from a kind of protozoa that lives in mud and ooze, and indeed, Baird’s composition arise from a bed of murky improvisatory interplay that sometimes crystallizes in high lovely purity. In “Tok Tru” her flute takes pre-eminence, fuzzy overblown skitters of sound careening in and around a steady clicking beat. Sinuous and lithe, the melody takes on a Middle Eastern lilt, as the flute tones multiply, collide, contradict and join in chalky, gradiated harmonies. Baird sings a little on this one, or rather vocalizes, coming in about half way through for a ritual chant of “We are beyond the smoke and mirrors,” except the word “mirrors” is refracted into a series of shouts to seem more like an incantation than a song lyric.

The long centerpiece “Transmigration” finds a sunnier, less conflicted vibe, its massed flute tones rising in clouds like mists off the surface of a hot tropical river. Later, again, Baird sings, this time in full classical mode, high and clear and eerie. “Ka,” is one of the disc’s best, a shuffling, shape-shifting procession of flutes and whispers and hand drums, an Amazonian tapestry where flutes darting here and there like tropical birds, some shadowy and low, others brightly colored and flitting against the sky.

No question that Baird is an unconventional artist — and Sapropelic Pycnic will not be to everyone’s taste — but if you appreciate people who go all the way out there, make room for this one.

DOWNLOAD: “Transmigration,” “Ka”

 

 

 

LEON RUSSELL – On A Distant Shore

Album: On A Distant Shore

Artist: Leon Russell

Label: Palmetto Records

Release Date: September 22, 2017

www.palmetto-records.com

The Upshot: Regrettable overproduced/kitschy finale for the wildly creative musician and producer—but who will always remain an icon of American music.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Over the course of six decades, Leon Russell created a wildly creative and deeply influential catalogue of music. As a session musician, producer and touring organist, he helped inject a swampy funk to artists as varied as The Stones, The Byrds, Dylan, Joe Cocker, Willie Nelson and countless others. When he finally started releasing his own music, in the late ‘60s, he created his own genre – a mix of rock, pop, country, soul and funk – that many have spent the past 50 years trying in vain to recreate.

It’s a little regrettable then that his last officially studio album, coming out less than a year after he died, is so overproduced and kitschy. The record, On A Distant Shore, is layered in schlocky orchestral arrangements that essentially drown out the essence of Russell’s music. If you listen to his best stuff, it’s grounded in a gritty, soulful swampiness, with Russell’s gravely vocals competing over a dirty mix of guitars, organ, loud drums and the occasional funked up horn section. On this latest effort, his voice is still just as strong here, but that’s the only constant. With coat after coat of schmaltzy synthetic string arrangements layered over the songs, you can’t help but think of cocktail parties, not honky tonks.

There are a couple of redeeming moments here, especially on Russell’s update of his classic “A Song For You,” but it’s simply not enough to save this otherwise uninspired album. Mine advice, pick up 2014’s Life Journey and consider that one his swan song.

 DOWNLOAD: “Here Without You,” and “A Song For You”

 

STEFAN – End Of The Drought

Album: End Of The Drought

Artist: Stefan

Label: Innovative Strings

Release Date: September 01, 2017

https://www.stefan.us

The Upshot: The album that fans of the erstwhile La Vienta member have been waiting for, and it brings the goods track after delightful track.

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

Stefan Schyga finally lets things rip on his latest album. Shaking off the shadow of his former band La Vienta, Stefan has created an album that brings to the fore his assorted musical influences into a clear and cohesive package that is a thrill to listen to. And while we can’t forget his other band for the beauty they gave to the world, we can feel safe in the knowledge that Stefan has reached a new high water mark in his musical career. The album, with its 12 tracks, takes Stefan’s music into uncharted territory. Collaborating with a group of select local musicians on this outing, Stefan adds flute, pedal steel, and keyboards to the mix. The result is a summery chilled-out record recalling, in this reviewer’s mind, trips to Old Mesilla in Southern New Mexico as a child and driving past the pistachio orchards that provided a respite from the oppressive heat that could crack a dashboard.

The track “End of The Drought” is a stone cold classic that is late afternoon driving on I-10 with a thunderstorm wreaking havoc off in the distance: Head past the steel foundry and wet and wild water world—this is the aural equivalent of that glow off the Franklins at sunset. The track is tight and lets the slide guitar and deft percussion shine.

Another stunner is “Seductive Gypsy,” with some amazing flute playing and Stefan’s jazzy side coming to the fore. Then there’s “Over There,” which is Stefan’s Pat Metheny/Steely Dan moment. Jazzy and organic, the song has the feel of a star-studded jam session that someone happened to record and then release. This is definitely a direction I can see Stefan and crew pushing towards and finding much success with as they plan their next record.

No more just the German guy with a love of the Southwest and Flamenco guitar, Stefan shows, on this album that he has very much become part of the desert landscape he loves so much. It also shows that while Stefan is very much the centerpiece of this record, he lets his players shine, both with the upfront production (which actually lets us hear them), and with the focus he shines on their respective parts. The chemistry created on this album is a joy to behold. I could get on board with Stefan touring this record; these songs are just too good to be relegated to being listened to solely on one’s iPhone.

End of The Drought is the album fans of Stefan have been waiting for and it brings the goods track after delightful track. So show the guy some love and buy the damn thing!

DOWNLOAD: “Seductive Gypsy” “Zocalo” “End of the Drought” “Over There”

 

JOE HENDERSON FEATURING ALICE COLTRANE – The Elements LP (reissue)

Album: The Elements LP

Artist: Joe Henderson Featuring Alice Coltrane

Label: Jazz Dispensary/Concord/Milestone

Release Date: July 28, 2017

www.jazzdispensary.com

The Upshot: Fire, air, water and earth are the four elements, and saxophonist Joe Henderson serves up jazz ruminations upon each on this 1974 album featuring Alice Coltrane, Charlie Haden, Michael White, Leon Chancler and Kenneth Nash. (Go HERE to see additional entries at the BLURT Jazz Desk.)

 BY BILL KOPP

Released in 1974, The Elements is the 16th album from tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson. This four-track album features four extended tracks; each is an improvisational exploration/meditation on one the elements. Though much of Henderson’s work had been well within the relatively conservative parameters of hard- and post-bop, The Elements is a conscious and largely successful attempt to venture beyond convention.

“Fire” begins with several minutes of hypnotic rhythm section work; the track eventually flowers into something more exploratory, first with a violin solo from Michael White and then Alice Coltrane playing a harp in a manner that makes it sound more like a kalimba. It’s only when she does a glissando that the instrument is recognizable for what it is. They rhythm section (bassist Charlie Haden and Leon “Ndugu” Chancler) remains steady throughout, though via modern recording techniques they’re brought forward and faded deeper into the mix at various points. In a slight bow to convention, “Fire” restates its head near the end of its eleven-plus minutes.

“Air” has a completely different character. Lacking the insistent groove of “Fire,” it begins with sax and bass both seemingly vamping, with what sound like random bits of percussion splashed about. Henderson wails on his saxophone, and Coltrane enters, playing dramatic figures on piano. After five minutes or so, the entire performance is faded out, replaced in the sonic space by what sounds like a wholly new piece, and a different song. But this second “song” has a similarly unfocused character, one that has the feel of musicians preparing to play a piece together but never actually quite getting around to doing so. Alice Coltrane’s piano improvisations form the centerpiece of the second half of “Air,” joined now and then by Henderson’s sax and Haden’s upright bass work. White shows up on violin near the end of the piece.

The Eastern flavors of tambura and harmonium (played by Coltrane) open “Water.” While Haden lays down a static bass line, Henderson overdubs multiple sax parts, some of which employ heavy amounts of reverb. Unlike the previous tracks, “Water” is a Henderson solo spotlight, with none of the other players stepping forward. Near the track’s end he plays a few relatively conventional melodies, but for most of the track’s run time, he seems more intent on improvising.

At over 13 minutes, “Earth” is the longest track on The Elements. The track combines African percussion and a smoky, slightly sinister and funky beat. That backdrop provides a musical canvas upon which Henderson paints with his tenor saxophone. He plays smoky, soulful lines, again making extensive use of overdubbing; various sax lines intertwine throughout the piece. Sometimes the result is jarringly atonal, but more often it comes together seamlessly. Just over four and a half minutes in, all of the players save Haden are faded out of the mix. After a full minute of soloing, the bassist is joined by subtle bits of Indian instrumentation. Coltrane adds harp, and while the rhythm section continues to lay out, the players set up a mysterious sonic landscape. Percussionist Kenneth Nash recites lyrics that ruminate on the concept of time. The narration may remind some listeners of Rick Holmes’ work on Nat Adderley’s Soul Zodiac. The track’s final moments are built upon a slow, hypnotic rhythmic pattern, with layers of saxophone, harmonium and violin all competing for the sonic space.

After The Elements, Henderson would go on to make more than a dozen albums, switching from Milestone to Red and eventually Verve. His exploratory nature would continue after The Elements, but he never again would work with that album’s particular set of musicians.

Jazz Dispensary’s 2017 reissue of The Elements recreates the original, upgrading to 180-gram vinyl and a sturdier color sleeve.

DOWNLOAD: “Fire”