Publish or perish. It’s an old maxim that applies equally well to academic and musical circles. Trumpeter Joe Magnarelli is well-versed in both realms of endeavor, starting his professional career three decades ago and eventually accepting adjunct teaching posts at both Julliard and Rutgers. He also routinely teaches master classes and clinics on the side. That kind of diversification is requisite when it comes to making ends meet as a jazz musician. Performance alone just doesn’t cut it anymore. Productivity these days involves getting one’s name and work out however possible.
Magnarelli’s been keeping decent pace with the pressure to record. Lookin’ Up! is his ninth date as a leader and follows a framework similar to his past works. Artful postbop is the order of the day with trombonist Steve Davis (another Positone regular) balancing the frontline on six cuts. Pianist Anthony Wonsey fronts the rhythm section with bassist Mike Karn and drummer Jason Brown also on board. The program is an even split between originals and standards with five of each. The first in the former category, “44” gets the date of to a less than auspicious start with a smooth unison horn statement over a fairly generic, Latin-lite rhythm. The later “Blue Key” suffers under a similar rhythmic yoke, but Magnarelli’s muted leads bring it up a notch.
Don Caballero, the Pittsburgh-based instrumental band, one of the groups for which the dorky term “math rock” had to be coined (and one of the first groups I encountered as an early-‘90s high schooler in that town, and whose music became a focus for me as a fan and a critic), was a singular entity in the face of the musical climate that bore them out. No bands sounded quite like they did. Fewer even tried, and hardly any were capable of maintaining the rate at which Don Caballero grew and changed on each release, moving further away from previously-trodden vectors with compositional chops and an intrigue missing from any of their contemporaries. If you reject the traditional expectations of a band in punk, indie rock, the avant-garde, etc., where else is there to go?
In years to come, a certain breed of record collector might look back on 2014 and remember is as the year of Duane Pitre’s duo phase. This LP follows Pitreleh, his joint effort with the mononymical electronic musician Eleh; albums with Jon Mueller, Agathe Max, and Gareth Davis are in the pipeline. But if the first two albums in the series are anything to go by, they might also be remembered as the year that the New Orleans-based composer and multi-instrumentalist spent pointing the spotlight of others. He virtually melted into Eleh’s mathematically determined drones, and while he’s not quite so hard to detect on this record, he’s still put a lot of power over the music’s final shape into the hands of Texan sound artist Cory Allen.
Those who think that the world is going to shit may either take heart or give up hope altogether if they ponder the verses from which Skogen sourced the title of their third CD. Magnus Granberg, the pianist who leads this mainly Scandinavian ensemble, took these words from a 500-year-old assertion of dissatisfaction with the state of things written by English composer and lutenist John Dowland. But if Dowland’s original song, in total, expressed a bleak Elizabethan blues, Granberg has isolated from its dark sentiments a thread of hope; taken literally, the despairs are over.
Peter Streiff’s music moves in historical webs, encompassing the connected worlds of allusion and individuality in a language that is at once direct and cryptic. This new disc of his piano music, performed by fellow composer Urs Peter Schneider, is a microcosm of Streiff’s creative trajectory. For ease of comprehension, I will use English versions of composition titles in this review.
“Of Magic” (1970), the earliest material represented here, has a fair amount in common with the stark and accented pointilisms, not to mention the rapid-fire juxtapositions of dynamic and note length, in Webern’s middle period works; but a simplicity of texture ensures that the structure is readily audible. We hear the fifth and sixth pieces in the cycle, and then they are played simultaneously, signaling a departure from the piece as “work” to a larger sphere of influence governed by Cage and those in sympathy with him.
One of the last lines on Erika M. Anderson’s debut as EMA was “if you won’t love me, someone will." One of the last lines on The Future’s Void is “who can judge us, who can love us?" The distance from one to the other, both bigger and smaller than it appears at first, is as good a way as any to sum up what Anderson has accomplished here. But there’s a reason written-down song lyrics tend to make lousy poetry; performance is what gives them their heft. The line from Past Life Martyred Saints’ “Red Star” is sung with the bruised doggedness of someone who isn’t so much convinced she’s telling the truth as she is willing to make it the truth by sheer force of will (that the sentiment expressed is-or-ought-to-be such a basic truth just makes it a little more heartbreaking). “Dead Celebrity,” on the other hand, ends The Future’s Void calmly, maybe even a bit distantly.
The track “How to Stop a Bulldozer” isn’t as heavy as the title suggests. It starts with house basics — a chest-rumbling floor beat and a door-spring synth on Latin upstrokes. The bass is in the sub-basement, almost too low to hear, slithering if you listen for it but mostly filling in negative space as it braids through the irregular upstrokes and loops of high percussion. There are plenty of dance tracks that sound like construction equipment, but this isn’t one of them. The cut stops a bulldozer with strategy not force. Dense across the spectrum, it remains lithe.
Dereconstructed is, apparently, the progressive Christian Southern garage-punk album we didn’t know we were waiting for. Took me by surprise, I’ll say that. “Before long, strangers crossed oceans, and double-crossed every damn body,” Bains sings wearily in “What’s Good and Gone,” and that serves as a snapshot of the politics on display here: delivered casually, almost offhand, but with a concentrated Howard Zinn-esque outrage. The album opens with a rueful reference to “the invisible hand,” and Bains connects religious fanaticism of all denominations in “Flags.” Here, Jesus and civil rights activists are the heroes here, and most everyone else we encounter is flawed, if not fatally so.
Greg Cartwright was, is and ever shall be the eminence grise of garage rock, having guided seemingly innumerable seminal acts, not the least of which include The Oblivians, Parting Gifts, Compulsive Gamblers, 68 Comeback, Deadly Snakes, Detroit Cobras and The Reigning Sound. Shattered, the latest Reigning Sound record and first for Merge, was written in North Carolina, where Cartwright’s lived for a decade, and recorded at Daptone in Brooklyn, where drummer Mikey Post works, but its sound is rooted in the loamy musical soil of Cartwright’s old sod, Memphis. Shattered swings through gritty garage rock, greasy R&B, grainy soul and galloping country — just like the selections in his Listed guest column.
The great thing about doom metal is also arguably its most problematic feature: it plows a very particular furrow. When you’re in the mood for it, little else will suffice; but in order to merit a spot in your collection, much less in the regular rotation, there needs to be something distinctive about it. The relatively obscure English quintet, The Wounded Kings, have that idiosyncrasy in abundance.
For their Candlelight debut, Consolamentum, they’ve written a series of memorably heavyweight tunes (mostly long-form, though the album is studded with some textural palate-cleaners) led by Sharie Neyland’s incredible vocals. (Sadly, Neyland has just left the band for “personal reasons”; here’s hoping she returns eventually.) Throughout, there’s certainly a nod back to Sabbath in terms of the sonics and the basic language; and in this The Wounded Kings have a clear kinship with newer bands like Windhand and with the much-loved Electric Wizard. The more time you spend with Consolamentum, though, the more distinctive this band seems.
Tim Presley’s music has always had a dream-like quality. Its sprawling guitar psyche seems to spring directly from the subconscious, bringing elliptical shards of 1960s melody, turbulent feedback and whimsical imagery up from some bubbling stew of memory. Here on his fifth full-length, the bedroom auteur enters a more structured setting, working for the first time in a real studio (albeit one in Ty Segall’s garage) with an actual drummer (Nick Murray, who also plays live with Thee Oh Sees). Yet he seems, if anything, more free associatively oblique than ever, dropping Brothers Grimm-ish archetypes into everyday narratives — ravens, wolves, arrow men – and framing them in sunny jangles always about to turn dangerous.