Wet Robots

Wet Robots by Fay Victor’s SoundNoiseFunk.
Bandcamp Link: Wet Robots

Fay Victor, voice; Joe Morris, guitar; Sam Newsome, Soprano Sax; Reggie Nicholson, drums.

I am most familiar with soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome and guitarist Joe Morris. Fay Victor has been on my radar for a while, but this is the first time I have really made the time to listen to an album of hers. Reggie Nicholson’s name I knew, having seen it and heard him on records from Henry Threadgill and Myra Melford, but this album is the most space I’ve heard him given to shine.

On paper, I suppose this ensemble is similar to Geometry of Caves, even sharing a guitarist in Morris, but in practice, the albums aren’t much alike, aside from being quartets with female vocalists and guitar.

Wet Robots is a much more swinging affair, primarily due to the stellar drumming of Mr Nicholson leading the charge, and partly due to Ms Victor’s very rhythmically led vocalizations.

There is a lot of material here, over 50 minutes of music.

When she uses words, Ms Victor tends to speak sing poetically. Of those tracks, “I Sing” is a favorite. On most of the other tracks, she vocalizes without words, growling here, laughing there, tearing it up and down the bebop scales elsewhere.

Mr Newsome is one of the greatest artists of the Soprano Saxophone. He coaxes bluesy licks with ease and with equal ease animal sounds or floating cloudlike non-pitches. It is always a joy to listen to him.

Mr Morris is less strict and strategic with his playing on Wet Robots than he was on Geometry of Caves. He lets his playing follow the blues-ey and sometimes funky leads of Newsome and Nicholson, while being as eclectic as ever in his choices of texture and rhythm.

Mr Nicholson is the heart of this group, the deft interplay between snare and bass drum are the heart of his drumming. Always on time and always swinging.

Certainly the most “Jazz” album I’ve covered on the blog in a while, Wet Robots is still an eclectic and enjoyable mix of moods and feelings.

Can I stop babbling about this album and go back to listening to it?

#FayVictor #JoeMorris #SamNewsome #ReggieNicholson #TodaysCommuteSoundtrack

Low Cost Space Flights

Low Cost Space Flights by Chris Corsano / Paul Flaherty.
Bandcamp Link: Low Cost Space Flights

It has been a week of energy jazz. On Monday I saw two groups with local saxophone flamethrowers Tom Weeks and Josh Allen, listened to this album from Corsano and Flaherty this morning, tonight going to see Peter Brötzmann / Keiji Haino Duo.

The name of this album is completely descriptive of both Corsano and Flaherty’s take no prisoners approach to playing. From the first note to the last, this is playing as if your life depended on it.

Flaherty spends so much time in the upper register of his sax, smearing squeals across the milky way, that you might follow him into the stars. Corsano’s playing is so fast and furious, if you vibrate along, you might just reach launch velocity.

This is a great album. Energetic, abrasive, harsh, and beautiful, all at the same time. A new moment of insight with every breath.

#LowCostSpaceFlights #ChrisCorsano #PaulFlaherty #TodaysCommuteSoundtrack #FeedingTubeRecords

Practitioner

Practitioner by Ben Goldberg and Michael Coleman.

The story goes, Ben Goldberg asked and asked musician Steve Lacy to give him a lesson. Finally one day Lacy relented, and when the lesson was done, he gave Goldberg a copy of his album Hocus-Pocus.

Hocus-Pocus was an album of pieces that Lacy wrote to challenge himself, as a sort of book of Lacy-isms and solo etudes, but also which were tributes to artists who had influenced his work. People like pianist James P. Johnson, escape artist Harry Houdini, jazz musician Sonny Stitt, and high wire artist Karl Wallenda.

Goldberg, and his friend Michael Coleman, a clarinetist and keyboard/synth/electronics player, became somewhat obsessed with the album and have planned and schemed to put out their version of the pieces from Hocus-Pocus.

This album is the result of that obsession, and it is not at all what I expected.

Goldberg and Coleman have another band with drummer Hamir Atwal called Invisible Guy. On their last album, proper, Knuckle Sandwich, they even included a song called “Hocus-Pocus”.

But, Invisible Guy’s relatively straight forward approach to playing improvised music is completely different to what they choose to do on Practitioner.

Instead of concentrating on playing keyboards, Coleman collaborates with Goldberg and their recording engineer to process, multi-track, and otherwise mangle the sound of Goldberg’s clarinets playing Lacy’s work, (and he does play some of the king of all clarinets, the contra-alto clarinet, on this one,) and create a collage piece, not unlike what Miles Davis did with Bitches Brew. They use the recording studio as another instrument in their repetoire.

Lacy is here, Houdini is here, Wallenda is here, James P. Johnson is here. Goldberg and Coleman find them, and invoke them, often between the notes.

This is a fascinating, thought provoking, and very modern, piece of work from Goldberg and Coleman.

#BenGoldberg #MichaelColeman #Practitioner #SteveLacy #TodaysCommuteSoundtrack

As a bonus, they made up a set of baseball cards with painted portraits of the artists in question and poems inspired by their work and personalities. A cool package, and a cool album, all around.

Hundreds of Days

Hundreds of Days by Mary Lattimore.
Bandcamp Link: Hundreds Of Days

I chose this album, as Mary Lattimore will be playing with Dylan Carlson Thursday, August 9, at The Hemlock.

I guess there is some sort of risk to listening mostly to “unusual” or “extreme” music.

That is, when you get to an altogether pleasant album where not much happens, it can be, well, disappointing.

Not really because of the album itself, or its merits, but just because of where you are living, musically.

Lattimore plays harp, piano, some guitar and sings.

Like another Mary, Halvorson, she plays her harp with a rather dry tone, (she is no Zeena Parkins,) and she deploys a looping reverb unit. Though, more like the artist Colleen, she is mostly creating her songs by building and manipulating loops with the digital delay and then playing along with them.

Also like Halvorson, she does seem to deploy an expression pedal from time to time on her digitally reverb’d harp, which is a cool effect to hear.

So, if you come into this expecting something more like Colleen, or Satie, you may not be disappointed. Quiet, pleasant pieces, that are a little quirky, but not in a disturbing way.

It’s more end of the day wind down music or music for a relaxing lost weekend at a spa in the Redwoods than commute music.

#MaryLattimore #HundredsOfDays #TodaysCommuteSoundtrack

Ikoyi Blindness

Ikoyi Blindness by Fela Anikulapo Kuti & Africa 70.
Bandcamp Link: Ikoyi Blindness

The mid-70s were Fela’s most prolific time. In 1975, when Ikoyi Blindness came out, he released around 8 albums. After you get the couple obvious ones, (Zombi, Yellow Fever, Beast of No Nation, and Teacher Don’t Teach Me No Nonsense…) it’s hard to know where to go next.

I have a bunch of Fela’s albums tagged in my streaming service, and whenever one of the two tunes from Ikoyi Blindness comes up, it always grabs my attention.

First, the tempos are a bit faster than usual. Second the horn section is on fire, with some pretty elaborate arrangements, and such an outstanding Baritone Sax solo at the end of Ikoyi Blindness that it just seems like it could go on forever. At the end, it sounds like they had to walk the microphone out of the room to get the Bari player, and the band, to stop.

Also, the rhythms section is just a little odd. In sections of, “Gba Mi Leti Ki N’Dolowo” listening to the rhythms, you’d swear it could be James Chance or some other No Wave band.

I don’t know what Fela and the band had in their coffee when they recorded these tracks, but I think I need some.

I’ve listened to a lot of Fela’s albums, and this one always stands out for me, even among the acknowledged classics.

Oh, and about the title, the bandcamp site explains:

“Fela’s definition of mental blindness is a person who, with his eyes wide-open, misses his direction and keeps turning round in circles without ever getting to his destination. Ikoyi Blindness refers to the Nigerian elite class who choose wrong professions because it provides them status in society rather than job satisfaction. Not only are they in the wrong professions, they are also blind to the sufferings of their fellow countrymen who live in ghettos like: Mushin, Ajegunle, Somolu, Maroko and even Kalakuta. Pointing to the example of a lawyer; who instead of buying law books, chooses hammer as his trade tool, or a musician who chooses spanner as his trade tool. Fela says there is still some hope for such men, if they could channel their way of thinking towards their environment. ‘…them miss road! Them find road again oh!’. Those social-climbers who see the status quo and stepping into the shoes of former colonial administrators as a sign of moving up in society.”

We could use someone like Fela in America, and Africa, today*.

*Well, minus the misogyny and mistreatment of women. We still have plenty of that to go around, thank you very much.

#FelaAnikulapoKuti #Fela #Africa70 #IkoyiBlindness

Blacks’ Myths

Blacks’ Myths by Blacks’ Myths.

Blacks’ Myths is Bassist Luke Stewart and Warren G. “Trae” Crudup III on drums.

Two great, young musicians making the music they want to make.

As a bassist Luke Stewart is impressive, handling lines on bass which many guitarists would be jealous of. Mr Crudup, similarly, is a polyrhtym machine.

They do use multitracking, particularly for the bass tracks, so he can hold down melody and rhythm parts.

But, overall, this has a live, jam, feel.

I particularly enjoyed the atmospheric, long track, “Black Flight”, which wouldn’t be out of place on an album from the German band Can.

But, despite that, I don’t quite feel this album quite comes together for me.

Steward and Crudup build excellent, moody, atmospheres and jumping tracks, but, for me, they never quite feel like they go anywhere beyond that initial idea. If you’re a bassist or a drummer, I could see you really digging it, from a technical perspective, but, for me, it doesn’t quite do it.

Maybe I’m just not wrapping my head around what they’re trying to do.

I’m gonna keep listening to it, and may change my mind.

#LukeStewart #WarrenGTraeCrudupIII #BlacksMyths #TodaysCommuteSoundtrack

The White Spot

The White Spot by Way Out Northwest.
Label Website: The White Spot

Way Out Northwest is John Butcher on tenor and soprano saxophone, Torsten Müller on contrabass, and Dylan van der Schyff on drums.

If you’ve been reading these posts for a while, you will know that John Butcher specializes particularly in coaxing sounds from his saxophones which are unconventional. “Extended Technique” is often a term bandied about in “classical music” circles for producing non-conventional sounds from an instrument.

In the case of The White Spot, you are about 10 minutes in before you hear something like a saxophone sound you might normally hear on a “Jazz” album. And it doesn’t last long. “Extended Technique” seems like an understatement when applied to someone, like Butcher, who has so pointedly made creating a whole language of expression around finding new sounds from his horns.

Torsten Müller’s often bowed technique is a great match for Butcher, forcing him to react with pitch, rather than just texture. They both bounce unusual sounds back and forth between the two of them, while van der Schyff kicks around what sounds like a toolbox with a hammer and couple bells in it.

So, The White Spot isn’t “easy listening” or “smooth jazz”. But, it makes so much sense when listened to on its own terms, you forget, “Oh right, Saxophonists don’t normally play like that,” until you get caught listening to it by a friend or family member who doesn’t have the context. And, like my Dad said when he found me listening to Captain Beefheart’s “Ice Cream for Crow” in my bedroom during high school, they say, quizzically, “You enjoy listening to this?”

And, like I said to my Dad, way back when, I say to you now, “Why, yes I do, quite a lot.”

#WayOutNorthwest #TheWhiteRoom #JohnButcher #TorstenMüller #DylanvanderSchyff #TodaysCommuteSoundtrack

Geometry of Caves

Geometry of Caves by Tomeka Reid / Kyoko Kitamura / Taylor Ho Bynum / Joe Morris.
Label Website: Geometry of Caves

I’m always a bit wary about Jazz and Improvised groups that include a vocalist.

In most cases, having a “Jazz Vocalist” immediately means that the rest of the band becomes accompaniment.

Rarely does a vocalist pull their own weight in an ensemble in the same way a bassist, drummer, or pianist does.

The members of the rhythm section have to know the guts of the song, inside out, starting with the chords.

The vocalist, or the saxophonist, often knows the melody, and, well, that’s about it.

Their solos are often no more than variation on the themes of the melody. I’ve known players, and sometimes done this myself, who solo just by picking notes from the melody to jump between.

However, it’s no small thing to be able to sing, or play, a melody expressively, with feeling, and honesty. And the weight that the front person carries for the band is different than the weight that the drummer or bassist carries.

Anyway, on Geometry of Caves the vocalist, Kyoko Kitamura, chooses a more interesting path.

She wields her voice, wordlessly, more as an instrument in the ensemble, than as the featured element of the band.

Not just Kitamura, but all the players, (Tomeka Reid on cello, Morris on acoustic guitar, and Ho Bynum on sundry brass instruments,) on Geometry of Caves seem to view it as a cooperative enterprise.

More often than not, the album is a sort of twirling combination and recombination of duets and trios, rather than the “everyone blows at once” style of freedom.

I once took a workshop with Ben Goldberg where he talked almost more about NOT playing, or consciously “playing” your silence with intent, rather than playing. Leaving space in the music.

I feel like this album is a particularly good representation of that sort of ethos.

And it feels completely free, yet not as overwhelming as a lot of the more “energy forward” style of freely improvised music. In that way, it is almost as much “freeing” for the listener, as it is free for the players.

#KyokoKitamura #TomekaReid #TaylorHoBynum #JoeMorris #TodaysCommuteSoundtrack #GeometryOfCaves

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