The cliché that jazz composers play their bands like an instrument has been around for at least as long as people have been trying to describe the dynamic of Duke Ellington’s big bands. But there’s a moment on “Jazz It,” the second of this album’s six tracks, where the trio really does sound like one instrument. The roil of Matthew Shipp’s piano keys, Michael Bisio’s high contrabass notes and Whit Dickey’s hissing high-hat and snare accents combine into perfectly balanced action — you don’t hear the instrumental elements, you hear a unified sonic entity made from their collective interaction.
This is really a pretty rare event with a piano trio.
photo by Ryan Collerd
Harpist Mary Lattimore has recorded and performed with Kurt Vile, Meg Baird, Jarvis Cocker, Wrekmeister Harmonies, Steve Gunn and Thurston Moore to name a but few. Multi-instrumentalist Jeff Zeigler has counted among the members of his neo-psych group Arc in Round players from Chris Forsyth’s Solar Motel Band, The War on Drugs and A Sunny Day in Glasgow. On their first record as a duo, the Thrill Jockey-issued Slant of Light, Lattimore and Zeigler offer up stunning improvisations that are as advanced melodically as they are texturally. The four pieces on Slant of Light are seductive and picturesque, with Lattimore’s elaborate melodies blossoming out of Zeigler’s tonal beds of synthesizer and guitar. Below, they shed some light on how what informed those ideas.
Drummer Christian Coleman is an astute fit for Steeplechase’s LookOut imprint, a series that seeks to the raise the profiles of deserving musicians by providing vehicles for their debut recording efforts. Exactly how he hooked up with Australian pianist Gavin Ahearn is a bit of a mystery given the dearth of accompanying liner notes outside basic biographical sketches, but their creative kinship is audible from the first notes of the opening “Fly Away Butterfly.”
California three-piece Terry Malts makes punk rock at an astounding rate. While not quite up to the pace of, say, Columbus’ Connections, its albums Killing Time and Nobody Realizes This Is Nowhere, released in 2012 and 2013, sustained a remarkably high level of quality. The trio’s pop sensibility is both massive and quirkily nuanced: think The Ramones’ three-chord stomp with a penchant for arrangements that recall the occasional Magnetic Fields song. In other words, Terry Malts makes songs that can be played loud for appropriately anthemic listening or can be picked over repeatedly, finding sonic rewards in unexpected places.
This is going to sound much more disparaging than intended, but the music of Gary Mundy’s Kleistwahr can literally shift a hangover. But I swear on it as a cure for next day alco-flu. A few years back, Mundy (as Kleistwahr) was the first act on the third day of a Festival celebrating the legacy of his influential and much-missed Broken Flag label. The previous night’s back-to-back onslaught of Matt Bower’s Black Sunroof! and Consumer Electronics had been visceral, not just because of the harsh music they threw at the audience, but also because I’d rather unwisely downed what felt like six gallons of beer along the way. It was therefore with painful skull and some trepidation that I approached the stage for Mundy’s solo set, knowing the man’s predilection for high volume.
But instead of making my head pound more, the sonic waterfall he unleashed swept my brain clear, leaving me light-headed, alert and gasping for more. Mundy is capable of similar feats of intensity as one half (or occasionally a third or fifth) of his most famous act, Ramleh, and maybe it was the after-effects of the previous night’s over-indulgence, but on that afternoon, noise had never felt so beautiful to me.
Last year’s Time Off was Steve Gunn’s great leap forward. Until then, Gunn had been solely a guitar player in the decade and half prior, and a uniformly great one, able to swing from solo guitar improvisations to the oceanic duo drones he created with drummer John Truscinski to the psych-blasted free-folk of GHQ to his loud-fast-rules playing as a sideman in longtime friend Kurt Vile’s Violators. And he’s since continued his great guitar work, getting rustic with alkali Americana supergroup Black Dirt Oak and digging for fire with the barn-burning semi-improv outfit Desert Heat.
But Time Off was a statement record, one that established Gunn not only as a virtuoso picker but a first-rate songwriter, too. Its title implies a celebration of unregimented rustic time, and its metaphysical lyrics — see: “Find a spot / Kill time / Look around,” from “The Lurker” — allude to a relaxed sabbatical. But the title is rather an internal reference, a hint to the time Gunn spent working toward developing his songwriting voice. It was the culmination of 15 years of woodshedding, of smoothing the edges of the fringy edges of his avant-garde playing into a more traditionally informed — albeit deconstructed — folk-rock framework. It was, in all regards, a triumph.
Ashrae Fax (singer Renee Mendoza and guitarist Alex Chesney) make dream pop in Greensboro, N.C. And while the Gate City’s far from the Thames, we shouldn’t forget that the first wave of their genre was the product of peripheral regions, not cosmopolitan metropoles. 4AD and Creation were in London, but their best bands didn’t come from there. The Cocteau Twins were from Scotland, My Bloody Valentine from Ireland, Dead Can Dance from Australia, and His Name is Alive, from Detroit. Furthermore, while long standing city/genre associations still exist, the vinyl and digital deeps prove that “unlikely” music can be found almost anywhere. And in the case of Ashrae Fax, who’s to say that passing Pilot Mountain’s witchy heights from US-52 is not as “hypnagogic” an experience as any?
Ashrae Fax are not a novelty— they are just continuing a tradition begun and maintained by outsiders. The band’s Static Crash was originally self-released in Greensboro in 2003, reissued on tape by Nazot in 2008, put out on LP by the Carborro, N.C. microindie Hot Releases in 2011, and finally saw wider release on Mexican Summer in 2013. Its late flowering success allowed Never Really Been Into It to be made. Which is a good thing, because NRBII is mostly stunning, an extension and reworking of ‘90s demos which predate the recording of Static Crash.
The foremost thing here is the voice. It’s fluent, yanking melodies out of lines overstuffed with words. In the songs of St. Lenox, one would assume the prose came first, before the meter, but the voice finds a rhythm and it doesn’t always fall where it’s expected. It’s both clear and buzzy, not quite androngynous like the croon of Jimmy Scott, but residing in the same uncanny cabaret.
Like Joanna Newsom, the voice is likely to be a deal breaker for some. How did Andy Choi develop this helium-dosed soar, somewhere between honest tabernacle rafter-shaking and a jumbo mumble? Even after listening to all of 10 Songs About Memory and Hope, I can’t imagine him singing another songwriter’s material, and not just because these songs seem autobiographical. I’d hazard that the confessions include Mountain Goatsesque fictions, given that he mingles detailed memories with slightly sci-fi skews of the present. But he belts them with an utter lack of guile, and the lack of emotional blinders, along with their minimal but sophisticated backing, overcomes the eccentricities. You want to hang out with the guy. You want to hear him talk.
Part of what makes a drummer good is his or her awareness of what goes on beyond the drum kit. Obviously, it helps to listen to what the other players are playing, and to adjust accordingly. But beyond that, there’s listening to the space you’re in, and how it transforms whatever sounds pass through it. The trap kit stopped being Jason Kahn’s primary instrument a long time ago, but he plays the ones he’s taken up — electronics and collected sounds — with an awareness of the influences of acoustic space.
Looking for a common thread through Kevin Drumm’s discography is a fool’s errand. Amidst the 17 year trail of motionless synth-scapes, massive drones, abstracted metal blasts, savagely discontinuous emissions of guitar-generated electrical current and flickering collections of nearly imperceptible clicks, neither means nor ends are constant. The only consistent factor is Drumm’s presence.
Iceage cleans up its sound, slows down the tempos and adds instruments like strings and piano on this third full length, but none of this takes the rawness out. Plowing Into the Field of Love uses clearer production to showcase emotional ravagement. It doesn’t sound like a punk album, not the way that New Brigade did, but rather more like an unhinged and wounded cabaret.
Jon Mueller’s Death Blues project seeks to turn the awareness of mortality to generative ends; if you know you’re gonna go, why not make something out of the time that you have? This has motivated the Milwaukee-based drummer/singer/composer to release four quite different recordings, post writings on a website and in the hardcover book that encloses this LP, stage multidisciplinary events and tour with a somewhat unconventional power trio that features him on drums and vocals, and two other men on hammered guitars.
Ex Hex Rips, indeed it does. This first album by Mary Timony’s new trio — that’s her, bassist Betsy Wright (also in Chain and the Gang) and drummer Laura Harris — is named after the guitarist’s 2005 solo album, the first move back towards guitar-centric abrasion after a dalliance with folk. It makes good on the association, stripping back Timony’s off-kilter timings and melodies and sharp political observations to pure hedonistic rock. “I don’t want to let you down / I just want to dance / want to dance now,” Timony declares in “Waste Your Time,” and that — not letting us down, dancing— is pretty much what she does.
It’s taken nearly half a century, but Vashti Bunyan has finally kicked the man out of her work. You might have heard that the folkie godmother got her first crack at music from Andrew Loog Oldham in 1968, in the form of a Jagger/Richards penned single that ought to have set her on the road to Marianne Faithfull/Nico-style ubiquity. Or that she tossed all that over and left London for the Outer Hebrides, recording one extraordinary album, Just Another Diamond Day, in the hinterlands, then watching it drop with hardly a ripple. Or that after a lifetime of baking bread and raising children, that same record became a talisman for freak folkers like Devendra Banhart and Animal Collective, one that propelled her to unlikely revival and a second album, Lookaftering, 35 years after the first.
Resonance Records is on what can easily be described as a roll. Earlier this year, producer Zev Feldman fielded the release of the Jimmy Giuffre New York Concerts on sister label Elemental. That double-disc set garnered instant ink and accolades for bringing to light “lost” music by one of the unsung masters of jazz. John Coltrane’s Offering: Live at Temple University arrived on the iconic saxophonist’s birthday to an even greater groundswell of glowing press. Released a week prior, Manhattan Stories is hardly an afterthought as it collects two previously unreleased concerts at long-defunct NYC venues by an acolyte of Coltrane whose career is still going strong.