I particularly enjoyed the DeVore Fidelity Nines, Oracle 1500 CD Player and Fatman amp I reviewed this year but what really got to me was the music I used to evaluate the gear. Following are reviews of a few of my favorite recordings of 2007, respective publications noted.
Live and Outrageous
|Here is a DVD to watch over and over again. Filmed at the 1982 Montreal Jazz Festival in-between two of his premier recordings [Word of Mouth, Invitation (Live)] and at the zenith of his bass-tastic powers, Jaco Pastorius is the be all and end all here: outrageous performer, charismatic personality, tough soul singer and stupendous musician. Having only recently departed Weather Report, Jaco hits Montreal like a comet and the band (Peter Erskine, Bobby Mintzer, Randy Brecker, Don Alias, Othello Molineaux) is equally inspired, sparking off the leader with concise, blistering solos and immaculate ensemble playing. The energy that pours off the stage is like that of a rock band and Jaco is the star. Framed by excellent camera work, the band kicks off with "Chicken", followed by a supercharged "Donna Lee" which culminates in Jaco's sputtering, ripping, popping, roaring, resonant solo. A low slung loop effect grounds "Jaco's Bass Solo" which again catalogs his trademark tools and effects, Jaco adding a few vocal refrains of "Funky Broadway" for good measure. Closer "Fannie Mae" is a blistering shuffle with solos from Erskine, Mintzer and Brecker as Jaco lays down a mean, point-popping groove. His solo here is the best of the DVD, making his battered fretless bass|
|talk, babble and weep. This band could show up at any club in the world today, rock the house and win jazz converts who would then learn the history and spread the word. Jazz needs more Jacos. - Downbeat
|Drummer Antonio Sanchez's work with Pat Metheny is only the tip of the iceberg for this monstrously talented musician. A fixture in New York City even before recording Metheny's Speaking Of Now, Sanchez has brought a conservatory trained, multi-tiered technique and tremendous sensitivity to recordings by Miguel Zenon, Danilo Perez, Michael Brecker and David Sanchez, to name a few. Sanchez's drumming is all about texture: whirling rolls on his drum rims, cross rhythms that flow like cross currents, incredible displays of speed with a feather-light touch. To this, of course, Sanchez brings the ability to mix it up, whether it's Afro Cuban with straight ahead or free soloing over a pedal-executed clave pattern. Whew! It's no surprise, therefore, that Sanchez's debut as a leader is nothing less than stunning and the supporting cast, which includes Chick Corea and Pat Metheny (who both contribute material) burn hot and heavy. Sanchez's compositions are strong, especially "Challenge Within" which|
|features a boiling rhythm topped off with jagged accents that recall Don Grolnick's classic "Nothing Personal". Sanchez's "Did You Get It?" is another rapid fire missile, its popping melody sounding like a 22nd Century "Salt Peanuts". Big guns Chris Potter and David Sanchez stir a swirling cauldron over Sanchez's frenetic rhythms before settling (if you can call it that) into Joe Henderson's "Inner Urge". Corea offers the cat and mouse maze "One For Antonio" and Metheny and Sanchez fire on all fours for a blazing duet version of Miles' "Solar". - Yahoo.com
We Are the Night
Unlike the smacking big beats of 2005's Push The Button, the Chem's latest is surreal and insular, all blood coursing, primitive grooves, sweaty analog synths and pulsating sex tones. Like a long night in a cave full of drugged-out aliens, the music leaves you nervous, lost and hungry for more. - Philadelphia Weekly
(World Culture Music)
|Surrounding herself with stellar New York musicians on her sophomore release The Wish, Julie Hardy interacts as a skilled, challenging improviser and vocalist, leading the way melodically and rhythmically. Whether through wordless, neo scatting or fully singing her clear-eyed lyrics, Hardy emits bell like clarity, cool precision and glowing warmth. The Wish allows more instrumental soloing space than the typical vocalist album and the other musicians repay the courtesy with fully committed, elastic support that brings everyone to the top of their game. Recalling the crisp tonality of folk singer Judy Collins coupled to the rhythmic dazzle of former Pat Metheny Group vocalist Pedro Aznar, Hardy remakes The Beatles' "I'm Looking Through You" into a high speed chase in a bubbling, rhythmic maze. It's hard to pin her down emotionally, though; Hardy never throws off a frivolous phrase or relies on a hackneyed standards approach. Hers is a serious art, based in songs of longing|
|and reflection with arrangements that challenge anyone's notions of what constitutes forward-thinking music. Hardy's twisting, turning compositions are as thrilling as her vocals, allowing the musicians (drummer Kendrick Scott, especially) room to probe and explore. Hardy's dual melodic lines with saxophonists Jaleel Shaw and Sam Sadigursky often form the basis for her original tracks but it's when she's recasting a song like "All or Nothing At All" that she really shines, with her angular rhythms and direct, freethinking style a treat. - Downbeat
|Philadelphia native Natalie Walker should be forgiven for sounding like Sarah McLachlan's kid sister - her debut, Urban Angel, turns McLachlan's spiritual come-ons into decidedly darker terrain. Urban Angel takes its production cues from Tricky's classic Karmacoma, Portishead's Dummy and a dose of Liz Frasier with Massive Attack. Originally released last year, Urban Angel created such a slow-burn buzz that it eventually came to the attention of the last ambient label standing, Quango, which re-released it with minimal fanfare but solid distribution. Urban Angel's first single, "No One Else", was featured on HBO's Entourage, and a Thievery Corporation remix of "Quicksand" made it into the trailer of Sophia Coppola's film Marie Antoinette. And Walker does more than revisit trip hop's disturbed past. The lovely title track is simply enchanting, a dipping Moog synth and Gainsbourg-like harpsichord dancing two-step with Walker's tale of cozy, cloud-circling comfort. Perhaps singing of a dead mother|
|figure (or maybe she's a Catholic devoted to the Mary cult), Walker's performance is uplifting and inspired. "Rest Easy" extends the spell with funky aplomb, "Quicksand" calls up ghostly memories from Walker's past, "Waking Dream" details (again) safety and comfort against twinkling glockenspiel. Soothing but not too sweet, Walker is this week's confection. - Boston Phoenix
One sign of a great artist is the ability to make music that is free of contemporary trappings. Soft Machine/Matching Mole founder Robert Wyatt has recorded a handful of such efforts, including Rock Bottom and Shleep, albums laced with peculiar melodies, lightly stroked drumming and undeniably individual vocals. Recorded in Wyatt's house with Brian Eno, Paul Weller and Phil Manzanera, among others, Comicopera is classic Wyatt. Speak-singing lyrics in a three-act work, Wyatt is a slightly less than jolly jester leading us through songs layered with jazz, chamber and folk elements which consistently enchant. Wyatt remains an arresting creative presence, 37 years after his debut The End of an Ear. - Modern Drummer
|JEAN LUC PONTY & HIS BAND
The Atacama Experience
|For those '70s kids who morphed from rock fan to jazz devotee, Jean Luc Ponty recorded a series of albums that are cornerstones of their jazz rock lexicon. On the LPs Aurora ('76), Imaginary Voyage ('77) and Enigmatic Ocean ('77), Ponty brought an organic sense of compositional flow to music that was and is often lambasted as being purely mechanical. Ponty's subtle yet brilliant violin playing drove his brand of jazz rock in silken ways that a standard guitar killer just couldn't muster. Some 30 years later, Ponty sounds no less inspired and his music still contains that epic flooooow. On The Atacama Experience, Ponty's excellent Parisian band matches his supple melodies with a glove-like rhythmic fit. It's a streamlined journey through bubbling ensemble sections, rapt solos and travelogue-worthy group improvisations. That the nearly 60-minute album passes in no time is credit to Ponty's years of experience as a band leader. And this is a band playing with a sure command that|
|only comes from road-won familiarity. Drummer Thierry Arpino, bassist Guy Nsangue and keyboardist William Lecomte perform with an accomplished grace, their concentrated power snapping like a snake when necessary. Ponty's melodies are the juice that pushes this juggernaut along, from the time-warping "On My Way To Bombay" and "Point of No Return" (featuring Allan Holdsworth in an amazing Ponty-esque solo) to "Celtic Steps" and the suite-like, tremendously grooving title track. Are you experienced? - Downbeat
The Condensed 21st Century Guide to King Crimson 1969-2003
(Discipline Global Mobile)
|Thirty-eight years(!) after its original release, King Crimson's In The Court of the Crimson King continues to exert a weird, otherworldly presence. Far from dated, the song sounds prescient and futuristic, full of dread, wonder and bizarre nostalgia. But nostalgic for what - a friendly happy future? The song's queasy Mellotron tonalities, curious lyrics ("the black queen chants the funeral march"), dead-eyed choir and synapse-fried, insect-cadence drumming (by the underrated Michael Giles) washes over you like a polluted tsunami - as beautiful as it is epic and disturbing. Robert Fripp and King Crimson produced other great songs: the metal forecasting "Larks Tongue in Aspic, Pt. 1", lthe ovely tracks of "Book of Saturday" and "Fallen Angel" and 80's system music zingers "Discipline", "Matte Kudasai" and "Frame By Frame". But "In The Court" reigns spectral, spooky and supreme. And they can all be heard on the The Condensed 21st Century Guide to King Crimson 1969-2003|
|[Discipline Global Mobile DGM0604]. For every Tool, Mars Volta and Porcupine Tree that boasts them as influence, King Crimson is still lightyears away, those groups having inherited the progressive rock mantel but not the lyricism, vision or instrumental innovation. While this two-CD, 32-track studio collection forgoes favorites like "Easy Money" and "One More Red Nightmare" for later tracks like "Vroooom", it is still an excellent introduction to Robert Fripp's wild imagination. If you are in this deep, then the companion release is similarly essential.
The Collectable King Crimson Volume One [Discipline Global Mobile DGM5001] brings together two concert performances recorded in 1974 from Mainz, Germany and Asbury Park, New Jersey, respectively. Previously released in King Crimson's Beat the Bootlegger CD series by mail order only, these commercial reissues (the first in a series) benefit from a fresh digital scrubbing. Featuring the pared-down KC lineup (Fripp, Wetton, Cross, Bruford), the double CD set presents material that would later appear on Starless and Bible Black as well as the entire concert that would become the live album USA, with a new, non-vinyl restrictive mix. These concert CDs do include "Easy Money" (with its full length finally restored) as well as "Asbury Park", a briskly paced jam with psychedelic overtones; and the rarely performed "Dr. Diamond". " Live in Asbury Park, 1974" a classic among fans, reveals KC's mighty improv facilities only days before their breakup and return to the UK. Performing "21st Century Schizoid Man" and other tracks, KC is impressively nimble and risk-taking while remaining loyal to the studio arrangements. Live In Mainz, 1974 is more experimental, with four improvised tracks of ecstatic drums, frenetic rhythms, distorted bass and snake-like guitar and violin. There is a pungent quality to Crimson's improvs, their use of gentle space against caustic solo and group sections as nerve-rattling as flying out of a car, face first, at top speed. Even "Easy Money" is more exhilarating and noise filled. Perhaps King Crimson was playing it safe for the Asbury Park crowd - the secret is finally out. - Downbeat
Remixed & Reimagined
|The jazz/electronic remix sweepstakes as pursued in recent years has too often relied on what sounded like DJ types totally unfamiliar with their subject matter, often dropping four-to-the-floor bomb beats under everything in earshot. Sometimes cutting up classic performances with disregard for content or form, these major label-sanctioned scoundrels were like modern-day assassins whose Pro Tools plug-ins mirrored medieval henchmen sharpening the guillotine blade. Well, have faith. Following Nina Simone Remixed & Reimagined, Sony Legacy gathers an eclectic cast of remixers to give Billie Holiday a similar treatment. And though electronic music haters will still shrink in horror, the results are respectful, creative and at times, inspired. Though the remixers affect and sample Holiday's tracks with freedom, her vocals are never rearranged or removed from their original lyrical content. When she sings "Every time it rains, it rains pennies from heaven", it's the|
|same vocal sequence she performed originally. This goes a long way in giving the tracks an organic, connected feeling. So even if it sounds like the "Theme from Love Boat" chugging beneath "Pennies from Heaven", Holiday's eternal optimism and soul are what fire the track, not the beat. Similar winning results surface in a gorgeously far-away sounding "Long Gone Blues", a string-swept version of "Glad To Be Unhappy" and a swinging, jump oriented "Spreadin' Rhythm 'Round." All is not perfect such as a monotonous "But Beautiful" but the remixed Holiday hits outweigh the misses. - Remix
|For most of us, psychedelic rock means Jimi Hendrix and Arthur's Lee's Love or (for real '70s scenesters) Iron Butterfly's A Gadda Da Vida or Frigid Pink's House of the Rising Sun. Additionally, Cream's Disraeli Gears, Pink Floyd's Ummagumma and 1966's The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators are other bellwethers in psychedelia's sky-scraping school of sonic dementia. Whatever your psychedelic flavor, one thing's for sure: it's an English or American pursuit. Right? Well, beyond myopic Anglo-American-isms, psychedelia also birthed a Euro component in the current home of blitzkrieg pop trends, Sweden.
|"There was a great [psychedelic] underground in Sweden in the '70s," says Gustav Ejstes whose band, Dungen, draws from a wealth of seemingly ancient Swede-psy sources. Pugh Rogefeldt, Älgarnas Trädgård, Samla Mammas Manna, Kebnekaise, Bo Hansson and International Harvester were underground psychedelic bands in 60s' and 70s' Sweden; their sound lives on in Dungen. "One of the best Swedish bands was called Baby Grandmothers," Ejstes exults. "They were an amazing trio that existed for a year or two. And I like '60s heavy metal bands from all over the world that no one knows about. A band from Argentina called Aguaturbia, like Black Sabbath in Argentina. Amazing records. But now I just have my head full of hip-hop."
Hip-hop? Dungen's 2005 album Ta det Lugnt was anything but and its hotly tipped follow-up Tio Bitar (Ten Pieces) extends Gustav Ejstes' space-shattering sounds even further. Again handling drums, flute, keyboards, guitar, bass and violin, Ejstes is joined only by guitarist,Reine Fiske. Mining a rich vein somewhere between Hendrix's Electric Ladyland and Santana's Caravanserai with hints at the Small Faces and curious Swede-folk, Tio Bitar recalls past masters but it's more than retro navel gazing. In the same way that jazz drummer Jeff 'Tain' Watts recalls Elvin Jones or Derek Trucks summons Duane Allman, Dungen distills psychedelia to its essence, time-traveling from the past to the future and back again.
"When it comes to music and music listening," Ejstes says while popping popcorn at his girlfriend's house in Stockholm, "I pick the good parts that I like, then I learn the codes and the language and don't concentrate so much on the culture and the scene and the lifestyle. I play music."
Codes? Has Ejstes tapped some secret cosmic connection, the guide to the psychedelic galaxy? "Psychedelic music has a way of playing," he explains. "My guitarist Reine Fiske is incredible, he has this tone language that is totally different from a lot of players that you hear today. And my way of playing drums is just listening; I try to figure out how to play it. Reine is a record collector and I got these records when I was 8, I listened to Mitch Mitchell, then more obscure Swedish psychedelic stuff."
If there's any difference between Ta det Lugnt and Tio Bitar (Dungen's fourth album in Sweden), it's only a greater sense of freedom and flamboyance. And that by way of hip-hop? "Actually I have been listening only to hip-hop," Esjtes confirms, deflecting thoughts of jazz or prog influences. "I like Madvillian, MF Doom, Marly Marl, Pete Rock. I get into different kinds of music. I isolate and listen and I don't follow trends. I get into something like Turkish folk music. It is a whole scene, a way of living and everything. I just love the music and I want to learn it and play it. The same with hip-hop. I have my picture of hip-hop and I choose some of the parts and leave other parts in the culture."
Along with excursions into Turkish folk, Ejstes is a budding DJ, mashing scratching and mixing. "Dungen for me is a music project as much as Swedish folk music," he explains. "I practice a lot of violin, Swedish folk music and a lot of turntable too. That is just as important as Dungen music. "Everything influences everything," he sighs, tiring of questions. "When I play fiddle tunes I am thinking of rock music and when I play turntables, I think of Swedish folk music or psychedelic rock. Everything is melting together. It's all music. - Boston Phoenix