Steeped

Steeped by Forebrace.
Label Website: Steeped

If, like me, you’re a little sad that Massacre, Last Exit, and Material (the early years), are no longer making albums, Forebrace may be the answer to your prayers.

The Quartet of Alex Ward, clarinet; Roberto Sassi, guitar; Santiago Horro, bass; and Jem Doulton, drums, are fierce and fiery in ways that eminently remind me of the above mentioned bands, without being overly slavish in their imitation.

Ward has clearly spent some time figuring out how to transpose Zorn-like horn idioms to the clarinet. Sassi has some modern digital tricks up his sleeve, but his fire would not shame Sharrock. Horro has the free floating low end funk influenced bass sound of Lasswell down pat. And Doulton splits the difference between Shannon Jackson & Maher.

I always wonder why more young bands don’t play music influenced by those tremendous albums, and I always end up deciding that doing it well, as Forebrace do, must just be too hard. To get the hard core nonchalance of those albums down, and make them sound both easy and like your life depends on it, without getting caught up in pointless displays of musicianship… Well, I guess it is an unlikely combination. Or, as people probably said when Miles Davis came out with Bitches Brew, “Why on earth would such talented musicians make such a godawful racket?” (Though, the answer to that question is probably, “Miles had seen the money rock musicians were making with a “godawful racket” and wanted a piece of it”. But, that is beside the point.) In any case, I’m glad Forebrace are doing it, especially glad they are doing it for the joy of making a “godawful racket”.

#Forebrace #Steeped #TodaysCommuteSoundtrack #AlexWard #RobertoSassi #SantiagoHorro #JemDoulton

Uncompahgre

Uncompahgre by Ben Goldberg and Kirk Knuffke.
Label Website: Uncompahgre

To get the curious title out of the way, the album (and songs) are all named after places in Colorado: Uncompahgre, Leadville, Granby, Carbondale, etc.

I was curious about this album of Cornet and Clarinet duets from Goldberg and Knuffke as I’d recently listened to two duo albums from Nate Wooley and Ken Vandermark, primarily Trumpet and Clarinet.

How would the Goldberg/Knuffke dynamic differ from the Wooley Vandermark dynamic?

And you would think two albums of, as we say, similar linear instruments playing duets, would be sort of similar. But the feel of the two (three, really) albums are completely different.

I guess part of it is both of the Vandermark/Wooley albums are live, while Uncompahgre is closely recorded in the studio where we can hear much more of the detail in the playing.

But most of it is Goldberg and Vandermark and Knuffke and Wooley are very different players, even though their instruments are similar.

Goldberg and Knuffke feel like they are still figuring out their relationship, while Vandermark and Wooley know what to expect from each other.

There is serious, tentative, energy in Uncompahgre, and on the whole a more serious tone, appropriate for an album theme based on a mountainous state. Goldberg leans a bit more towards classical and traditional jazz idioms than Vandermark. Knuffke, also, is a more traditional jazz player than Wooley.

There’s a little bit of New Orleans here and a fair bit of Thelonious Monk in the feel, but overall, while not that “out there”, Uncompahgre is a pretty deep record. I’ve listened a couple times and find hearing more of the little things in their individual playing and interactions is very interesting. Keeps me coming back for more.

#Uncompahgre #BenGoldeberg #KirkKnuffke #TodaysCommuteSoundtrack #RelativePitchRecords

Last Dream of the Morning

Last Dream of the Morning by John Butcher / John Edwards / Mark Sanders.
Label Website: Last Dream of the Morning

John Butcher has come to be one of my favorite saxophonists recently. His ability to utilize musically the full range of sounds from the instrument is truly impressive. From breaths to clicks to squeaks, he does it all and he does it musically. As I’ve mentioned before, I especially enjoy that he seems to employ a bit of humor and whimsey in his playing. I’ve compared his sax playing in the past to The Clangers and I stand by that comparison.

His compatriots on this album, John Edwards on double bass and Mark Sanders on drums, are no slouches either in creative use of their instruments. Often I found myself leaning in and listening closely to identify which instrument was making which sound.

Lovely drone-ey bits punctuated by moments of excitement, and vice versa.

Just an all around enjoyable album for anyone who values creative artists expressing themselves through music.

#LastDreamOfTheMorning #JohnButcher #JohnEdwards #MarkSanders #TodaysCommuteSoundtrack. #RelativePitchRecords

Battle Pieces

Battle Pieces by Nate Wooley.
Artist Website: Battle Pieces

Nate Wooley, Trumpet; Ingrid Laubrock, woodwinds; Sylvie Courvoisier, piano; Matt Moran, Vibrophone.

I really enjoyed “battle pieces 2”, but I figured there must be a “battle pieces 1”. Recently was browsing the Relative Pitch Records website, and, well, there it was!

An unusual band in that it doesn’t have Bass or Drums, but does have piano & vibraphone. Well, I guess some people call the piano, “88 tuned drums”. Two chordal instruments and two linear instruments.

On Wooley’s website, the construction of the pieces is described as follows, “Each piece is constructed for a single soloist, who improvises with no score. The remaining members of the group perform an ever changing kaleidoscope of short and long pieces without verbal recourse with each other or the soloist…Different than freely improvising, this structure–now each player freely chooses from over 75 distinct compositions to combine with each other under the soloist–forces these great improvisers to confront new ways of making music away and expands their personal musical language.” Wooley is a fascinating player, a lot of what he does is tied up with exploring the harmonics of his horn, particularly by vocalizing while playing. It gives him a wide variety of “effects” to use on the pitches which his horn produces. I am not as familiar with the other players here. I know Ms Laubrock is closely associated with Anthony Braxton.

Of the pieces, I thought Mr Moran’s vibraphone contributions to Battle Pieces III were particularly fine, haunting, even, and especially unusual in combination with Ms Courvoisier’s piano.

#BattlePieces #NateWooley #IngridLaubrock #SylvieCourvoisier #MattMoran

Horizontal

Horizontal by Kevin Drumm.
Bandcamp Link: Horizontal

Horizontal is a longer release from Mr Drumm, about 90 minutes. Getting through it took a couple days.

Also, unfortunately, it is Drumm in a quieter, more delicate mode, so not a particularly good commute soundtrack. The road sounds pretty much destroy it.

So, instead of being a commute soundtrack, it ended up being a System Administration Soundtrack. A waiting for things to happen soundtrack.

Things are happening continually in the music, yet it is fairly static.

I was thinking about it, and it reminded me most of spending time examining a Calder mobile. Speculating what might be influencing its motion. Is it the wind? Gravity? The Earth’s rotation?

Likewise, I wonder what Drumm is doing to create this music. Does he just set up the different samples and let them go, a sort of Rube Goldberg mechanism, and the events he launches interact on their own? Or is he involved with the processing?

You probably have to be in the right frame of mind to just put this on and dig it, but I find it is good music to think to. Think about concepts like leaving space in your music, not just for your ideas, but for your listeners’ ideas as well.

#KevinDrumm #TodaysCommuteSoundtrack #Horizontal

Perfume by Wand

Perfume by Wand.
Bandcamp Link: Perfume

This album starts off with a couple songs that put me off kilter. Classic Psychedelic vocals, a la Incense and Peppermints, languidly floating over a rhythm section that could be from a Green Day song. It’s an odd combination, like the rhythm section is playing to a beat twice as fast as the vocalist.

There are a couple more normally organized songs, and a couple more that revisit the agitating contrast between the rhythm section and vocals, but my favorite is the last, “I will Keep You Up”. It’s a sort of sweet, yet powerful, Brit-pop-ish anthem, in the Primal Scream vein, that gets me choked up a bit. I’m getting soft, I guess.

A great album that keeps you guessing and rewards multiple listens.

#Wand #Perfume #TodaysCommuteSoundtrack

V. by Wooden Shjips

V. by Wooden Shjips.
Bandcamp Link: V.
A little bit like Meat Puppets and a little bit like Kelley Stoltz, Wooden Shjips are a home town, San Francisco band.

Fuzzed out bass and rhythm guitar. Echo-ing lead guitar. Repetitive drumming. Chanting, sing-song lyrics. Definitely, Meat Puppets influence happening.

Somehow just the right thing for my jet lagged mind. Appropriately psychedelic. Plus, they’re playing some shows, Huichica and The Chapel, in the relatively near future.

#TodaysCommuteSoundtrack #WoodenShjips #V #TheChapelSF #Huichica

Failed Celestial Creatures

Failed Celestial Creatures by David Grubbs & Taku Unami.
Label Website: Failed Celestial Creatures

Guitar Duets which take their inspiration from short stories by the Japanese author Atsushi Nakajima.

One extended song, one medium song with vocals, one medium song without vocals, and a few short songs. 
The extended song which opens the album is the eponymous “Failed Celestial Creatures”. It starts very quietly, (almost too quiet for a commute soundtrack,) and as the dialogue between the two guitarists builds, likewise it gains in volume, culminating in a burst of feedback interplay at around the 15 minute mark that wouldn’t be inappropriate on an Earth album.

The second song, “The Forest Dictation”, includes a poetic recitation about forest creatures that takes a bit of a turn towards the macabre and the philisophical.

The four pieces which close out the album, “Threadbare 1-4” are little gems of shimmering guitar interplay.

The following included quote also seems to be of import to the music in question. “Before becoming disciple to the Buddhist pilgrim Xuanzang in the novel Journey to the West, Shā Wùjìng was cast out of heaven, exiled to earth, and transformed into the river monster Wujing, one of the thirteen thousand monsters in the River of Flowing Sand, plagued by philosophical questions and doubts: ‘I am a fool.’ ‘Why am I like this?’ ‘I am a failed celestial being.’” 

#FailedCelestialCreature #DavidGrubbs #TakuUnami #TodaysCommuteSoundtrack

Solo Contra

Solo Contra by John McCowen.
Bandcamp Link: Solo Contra

I happen to think the Contra Bass Clarinet is the king of all instruments. An octave below the Bass Clarinet, it is one of the lowest instruments in the semi-normal range of orchestral instruments. Though, not a particularly common instrument.

Also, there is a style of metal Contra Bass Clarinets where the tube is bent into an oval. It looks totally steam punk and its mechanisms are ridiculously complicated.

In any case, this is an album of pieces for solo contra bass clarinet.

In these pieces, Mr McCowen treats the instrument more like a didgeridoo than using the typical methods. Which is to say, he is manipulating long tones using breath, embouchure, and the shape of his vocal cavity. He creates overtones, plays up harmonics, and in general messes with the pre-conceptions of what a serious orchestral instrument should sound like.

It’s pretty great! Well, if, like me, your idea of a good time is harmonically complex drones, it’s pretty great. I suppose, for some people, it might sound like the SF Bay Foghorns. But, who doesn’t love to listen to the foghorns around the bay?

I have long lusted after the calla lilies which grow profusely in our neighborhood. But, it seemed silly to spend money on something that grows everywhere. Finally, last summer, I broke down, picked up some Calla tubers which had come loose in a neighbor’s front yard and brought them home. I planted them in dirt and, amazingly, they have flowered in their first year. Just, FYI, it can be a little hard to tell Calla tubers from small dog or cat poop, which also seem to reproduce profusely in our neighborhood yards and on our sidewalks.

#JohnMcCowen #SoloContra #TodaysCommuteSoundtrack #Zantedeschiaaethiopica #CallaLily

Universalists

Universalists by Yonatan Gat.
Bandcamp Link: Universalists

When this album started, I wasn’t sure if I had put on the right thing!

It first reminded me of something Socalled might put together with samples and live music.

It seems like what they’ve done on this album is to take elements and samples from different sorts of folk music, from Klezmer to the indigenous people of North America, and used it to inform the tracks.

Listening more, it really reminded me of what the band Can was doing with their Ethnological Forgery Series. Well, if Can was a 21st Century eclectic surf guitar band. In any case, many of the collage elements do remind me of the sort of high jinks Holger Czukay got up to on his 1990s albums like Der Often ist Rot and Rome Remains Rome.

In fact, they find some of the very specific guitar sounds and techniques that Michael Karoli used on those albums for a couple of the shorter, more collage-ey tracks.

I don’t know if this is an intentional tribute to Czukay and Can or if it is a sort of convergent evolution.

In any case, a great new album from a great band.

#YonatanGat #Universalists #TodaysCommuteSoundtrack