Monday, March 30, 2009


Compass (Nonesuch)
Joshua Redman has finally and fully come into his own as an artist. His last album, 2007's Back East, featured him in trio settings with three different rhythm sections and a few guests (including his father, the late Dewey Redman). This time, he's building on the trio-plus concept, bringing in two of the bassists and one of the drummers from Back East - Reuben Rogers, Larry Grenadier and Brian Blade, respectively - and adding drummer Greg Hutchinson.

On some tracks, Redman plays with one bassist and one drummer, on others with two bassists, and on still others with all four musicians backing him. This is an audacious move, one that risks devolving into chaos or at least confusion. But Redman is too canny a player to launch himself into full-on free jazz, a style he knows wouldn't suit him. He's a cerebral post-bopper with an ear for melody and he remains restrained even at the height of a solo. Consequently, on the track "Just Like You," the double rhythm section provides thunderous crescendos, rather than swirling combat. And even when there's only one bassist and one drummer, impeccable production keeps the swing pointillistic rather than convulsive.

To a degree, Redman keeps listeners at arm's length. On ballads, this gives his playing a stoicism reminiscent of a noir hero, standing in the rain under a streetlamp. On more upbeat tracks, it's like watching a performance from the doorway of a jazz club, rather than a table near the stage. Still, Compass' high points are instantly thrilling.


[Oog, that title. Oh, well; whatever they decided to call it, this is a feature I wrote on McCoy Tyner for the new - March/April 09 - issue of Jazziz.]

Though he's friendly and witty in conversation, McCoy Tyner's never been known as a garrulous, discursive interview subject. Rather, his reputation is that of a man who speaks with his hands, and it's one he welcomes. "Some people say, when they hear me talk, 'Sit down and play, will you?'" he says with a laugh. "I have an affinity for the piano because I've been playing it so long. It's my other voice. I just love playing; I love using that as a means of expression and communication. I've heard people say, 'This reminds me of something, that song you played' or 'It sounded like you were talking on that ballad,' if I played a ballad solo."

Tyner has drifted along for decades, the admiration he earned during his time in John Coltrane's quartet keeping his record sales high (by jazz standards) and his bookings as steady as he wants them to be. Unfortunately his disinterest in hyping himself has allowed his image to stagnate; he's seen as an entertainer who'll take fans into the past, playing standards all night if that's what they want. The less brightly lit corners of his catalog - the side trips and sonic adventures he's permitted himself - go too frequently unnoticed. But despite his quiet demeanor, Tyner would like to be recognized for his legacy as a serious composer. "I like to compose, I like to play, I like to interject one or two standards, but I prefer writing my own music," he says. "I consider what I've written standards, like 'Passion Dance' and 'Blues on the Corner.' These songs have been around forever, and young guys like to play 'em. But I understand what they mean when they mention standards - George Gershwin or whatever, guys like that."

For listeners seeking a fuller picture of Tyner, his new album is simultaneously high profile and slightly weird. Guitars (Half Note) lives up to its title, featuring Tyner and the rhythm section of Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette (by themselves a trio most jazz fans would happily pay to hear) joined in the studio by four guitarists - Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot, John Scofield and Derek Trucks - and banjo player Béla Fleck. Tyner has worked with guitarists in the past, of course. Ted Dunbar appeared as part of a sextet on the pianist's final Blue Note album, 1972's Asante, and Tyner's trio backed George Benson on the 1989 live album Round Midnight. Nevertheless, Guitars represents an artistic left turn for the 70-year-old Tyner.

The tracks were chosen by the guests rather than the leader, and they're mostly Tyner originals scattered among a few standards, a pair of improvisations and two Frisell pieces. Among the highlights are a Ribot-led version of "Passion Dance" - which opened the pianist's first post-Coltrane album, 1967's The Real McCoy - and a trancelike take on "Greensleeves," featuring Trucks.

The relative strangeness of hearing Tyner with guitarists is only emphasized when one of those guitarists, Trucks, is a member of the Allman Brothers Band and another, Ribot, is known in rock circles for his work with Tom Waits and Elvis Costello. Ribot admits, "I was surprised but honored to get the call. I went down to a gig and we met, hung out and talked a bit, and I came up with a couple of arrangements...I had come up with some things to try, because that was the concept, that I was supposed to bring in some ideas. But other than that, there was no rehearsal." In addition to "Passion Dance," the quartet with Ribot recorded the standard "500 Miles," as well as two fully improvised duets, one tonal and one atonal.

"That was the surprise of the session, I think, for both me and McCoy," Ribot recalls. "I mean, we did the stuff we planned to do, and that went well enough. But then I thought, you know, my own background is, I play jazz to some extent, I was to some extent trained in it, but what I've been doing for the last 25 years has been different kinds of free improv. I certainly haven't been playing anything like mainstream jazz. So I said, 'Hey, man, let's improvise. Just duo, you know?' And McCoy's a very warm and open-minded guy, and he said, 'Yeah, let's do it.' And we did, and I was very happy with the way it came out. And apparently so was McCoy, because it made the record."

With its melodic head, "Passion Dance" seems like a logical choice to open the album. But the atonal improvisation between Tyner and Ribot is the first thing a listener hears. When asked why he led with that track, Tyner says, "At the time we felt it was a pretty accessible thing, and we had enough material that I felt it would be interesting for whatever people liked. Some people like this, some people like that. I wasn't trying to please any particular segment of the record-buying, jazz-buying audience.

"I wasn't too familiar with Marc," Tyner continues. "I think they gave me one of his CDs, and I said, 'Well, at least we have a variety of concepts on this project.' I think that's the reason why his name was mentioned as a choice, because they thought he would contrast with the rest of the guys that were on the recording."

Each of "the rest of the guys" brings his own personality to the session. John Scofield's tracks are funky and swinging, while Derek Trucks, the player with the least jazz cred of anyone present, does quite well on his waltz-time version of "Greensleeves." Béla Fleck's* contributions tread the line between wackiness and technical brilliance, while Bill Frisell's drift exotically.

Frisell performs on a version of the Tyner original "Contemplation," which swings gently in a manner reminiscent of Grant Greens early 1960s duos with pianist Sonny Clark. Frisell also offers one original composition, "Boubacar," a tribute to deceased Malian guitarist Boubacar Traore, and a version of a Traore piece, "Baba Drame," itself an elegy for one of Traore's former percussionists. Frisell describes Tyner as being "incredibly welcoming" to his ideas, despite the fact that there was zero advance preparation. "It was just like, 'Hello, Mr. Tyner,' and then, bam!" says the guitarist by phone from Philadelphia. In a soft voice, Frisell recalls his nervousness upon entering the studio. "Just walking in and seeing McCoy and Jack [DeJohnette] and Ron [Carter], it was so heavy. It was almost dreamlike."

In some ways, Guitars recalls Tyner's final Blue Note sessions during the late '60s and early '70s. Those albums featured African rhythms, vocalists, harps, string quartets and other unexpected sounds, and the pianist looks back on them fondly. But as the existence of Guitars proves, he also doesn't consider his adventurous days behind him. "I think [people] should expect anything from me," he says merrily. "Whatever I give 'em, take it, 'cause I try things. I still do that."

*Note: in printed piece, this says "Pat Metheny's" for some reason. Whoops!

Sunday, March 29, 2009


Some of my reviews have started to actually pop up on the All Music Guide site, so...links!

Dub Trio, Another Sound Is Dying

Heaven and Hell, The Devil You Know

Hellhammer, Demon Entrails

I Killed The Prom Queen, Sleepless Nights & City Lights


Spotted this at k-punk's blog:

Fear of Music
David Stubbs
Price: $19.99 / £9.99
Date of publication: 24 April 2009

Modern art is a mass phenomenon. Conceptual artists like Damien Hirst enjoy celebrity status. Works by 20th century abstract artists like Mark Rothko are selling for record breaking sums, while the millions commanded by works by Andy Warhol and Francis Bacon make headline news.

However, while the general public has no trouble embracing avant garde and experimental art, there is, by contrast, mass resistance to avant garde and experimental music, although both were born at the same time under similar circumstances - and despite the fact that from Schoenberg and Kandinsky onwards, musicians and artists have made repeated efforts to establish a "synaesthesia" between their two media.

This book examines the parallel histories of modern art and modern music and examines why one is embraced and understood and the other ignored, derided or regarded with bewilderment, as noisy, random nonsense perpetrated by, and listened to by the inexplicably crazed. It draws on interviews and often highly amusing anecdotal evidence in order to find answers to the question: Why do people get Rothko and not Stockhausen?


I've read David Stubbs for years in The Wire, and this looks like it'll get deeper into some stuff that was only kinda glossed over in Alex Ross's The Rest Is Noise. I'm excited.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


[From the SF Weekly.]

Behold the Failure (Relapse)
Say the name Knut, and most folks will think of that polar bear cub from the Berlin Zoo. A select few, though, will recall an extremely underrated post-hardcore noise-metal band from Switzerland that released three albums, an EP, and a remix collection for art-metal label Hydra Head. Knut's Bastardiser, Challenger, and Terraformer mixed the repetitive, set-on-stun riffing of Helmet with the rhythmic complexity of Meshuggah and the deep, hypnotic grooves of Isis. It also tended to go long at times — Bastardiser and Challenger each featured a 10-minutes-plus closing track.

Guitarist Jéjé and bassist Jeremy Tavernier, formerly of Knut, have re-emerged with Mumakil, a much faster and more pissed-off grind-metal act that sounds nothing like its predecessor. The new band is named after a giant war-elephant from the Lord of the Rings trilogy; the cover of Behold the Failure depicts a giant pachyderm rampaging over a battlefield. The band's first release, 2006's Customized Warfare, featured 32 untitled tracks; this follow-up offers titles like "Pigs on Fire," "Mass Murder Institution," "Doomed," and "Face Reality" — so you know the band is, like, political 'n' stuff. No single song makes it to the two-minute mark; the shortest, "Barbecue in Bhopal," is a mere 40 seconds of grinding rage. There are no guitar solos or choruses, just one burst of machine-gun punk-metal after another. Behold the Failure is a perfect soundtrack to our descent into Road Warrior–style societal shutdown.

Friday, March 27, 2009


The Infection (Ferret)
Chimaira made only one album as industrial-tinged nü-metallers before adopting their present metalcore/death-metal style, but like nude photos on the internet, a weak debut remains an inescapable albatross. Still, these cranky Clevelanders have gotten sincerely heavy and brutal on their three successive releases, and The Infection is a very solid effort. The keyboard bits and whispered vocals mostly add to the songs rather than drag them down, the riffs crunch emphatically and the drumming is simple, but effective. "Impending Doom" is a little too Slipknot-gone-mopey, but the guitars save it in the stretch. "On Broken Glass" is everything Chimaira do best - a pit-roiling riff, raw-throated howls from Mark Turner and a shout-along chorus. Although it's no artistic breakthrough, The Infection is definitely respectable.

Demonic Art (Nuclear Blast)
Demonic Art marks the debut of new vocalist Jens Broman, but Darkane haven't changed their style much since bringing him on board. The band's combination of melody and crunch, plus synth-strings and epically wheedly-deedly guitar solos is as awesome as ever, and the high-speed Swedish death-metal sprints keep the listener's heart racing. The lyrics, though clearly enunciated, are basically ignorable, putting the onus on the aforementioned guitar solos. Points off for calling one of the songs "Impetious Constant Chaos," because "impetious" isn't a real word. (And we don't mean like how "conversate" isn't a real word, but people use it anyway; "impetious" isn't a word the way "cromulent" isn't a word.) Still, Demonic Art has enough epic power to forgive lyrical lapses.

The Serpent Servant (Facedown)
Sure, the stigma attached to "Christian rock" has been gone for a while, but Impending Doom take the "Christian music can be anything at all" idea and run with it. If you didn't know they were Bible-thumpers, they would sound like just another brutal death metal band. In fact, even once you know it, they still sound like just another brutal death metal band. Song titles like "Storming The Gates Of Hell" and the title track could just as easily appear on the back of a Morbid Angel album. The music is decent; there's some downtuned riffage that feels inspired by nü-metal as much as death metal, but generally speaking, they keep it fast and furious. Impending Doom aren't kings of their genre or anything, but they're better than Mortification.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


I've started reviewing for All Music Guide; nothing I've written has been posted on the site as of this moment, but I have already turned in write-ups on Dub Trio's Another Sound Is Dying, Hellhammer's Demon Entrails, I Killed The Prom Queen's Sleepless Nights And City Lights, and the new Heaven and Hell disc, The Devil You Know. I'm also working on reviews of a new two-CD Atomic Rooster anthology and two new single-disc compilations each by the Mexican groups Banda Machos and Banda Pequeños Musical.

Oh, and a magazine I unsuccessfully tried on several occasions to write for, Blender, has gone under.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


In the March 09 issue of The Wire (cover at left; on US newsstands now), I've got an "Invisible Jukebox" interview with guitarist Joe Morris. It was conducted (and the accompanying photos were taken) at the Zenbu Media offices, a few weeks before I was told Metal Edge was folding and I'd be cast out into the howling wilderness of freelancing, no health insurance, and all that other fun stuff. It was a very enjoyable interview; I hadn't talked to Joe face to face for a long time, though we'd recently done a phoner to discuss his playing on the new David S. Ware and Matthew Shipp albums (the resultant piece, for Jazziz, was featured in an earlier post). He's a good guy, highly intelligent and totally unpretentious. I just got a CD in the mail featuring him, John Voigt and Tom Plsek performing scores by Lowell Davidson (one of the artists we discussed for the Jukebox) that looks pretty great - I'm gonna check it out at first opportunity.

Anyway, here's a little chunk of the Jukebox piece; I'm not typing out the whole damn thing for you people. Go buy the magazine.

Grateful Dead
"Dark Star"
from Live/Dead (Warner Bros., 1969)
Is this the Grateful Dead? Yeah, I think I saw them in Watkins Glen right after this.
Is there any influence there, or are you strictly a jazz player in that respect?
No, no, I'm not strictly a jazz guitar player. I started playing the guitar in 1969, and first I played Beatles songs and Rolling Stones, and then I got into playing the blues and got into Hendrix and everything else. I saw Led Zeppelin on their first tour, you know? I saw the Dead play a couple of times, once in a horrible crowd with 650,000 other degenerate people on Seconals or something, it was horrible. But I never bought into the whole idea of it. I never did very well trying to be a hippy. I'm the kind of guy who would have been happy living in New York in 1940 and going to jazz clubs and drinking and wearing a fedora. This sort of collective jam thing of hippy stuff never did it for me. I had a lot of friends that were into the Dead and into Zappa, and I never really bought it. I was much more into blues, rhythm 'n' blues, funk and Hendrix, and then gradually I got into jazz and pretty quickly got into free jazz and free improvisation. When I was in high school, I was listening to Schoenberg and Xenakis and Varese, and I learned some of that stuff from listening to Frank Zappa records, but once I heard it, I didn't want to listen to the Zappa records that often anymore.

I've also got three CD reviews in that issue; here they are:

Clean Hands Go Foul
Hydra Head
Clean Hands Go Foul is both Khanate's final statement and their grandest achievement. For most of their existence, Khanate were overshadowed by one of guitarist Stephen O'Malley's other projects, Sunn O))). The group toured infrequently and were less prolific than that unit, but their cumulative artistic achievement was much greater. While Sunn create droning, oppressive moods which can be enjoyable to experience live - a Sunn performance is like installation art, a world you pay to stand around in for a while - their CDs simply don't reward home listening. Khanate present a much more active listening experience, and are destined to be far more influential on adventurous metal groups to come.
O'Malley, bassist James Plotkin and drummer Tim Wyskida have a bone-deep understanding of the tension and power inherent in the rock trio format, but it's their mastery of dynamics that launches them far outside the self-imposed limitations of doom metal, within which they're too frequently filed. They're much closer in spirit to Fushitusha than Black Sabbath. The four tracks on Clean Hands Go Foul include one of their shortest pieces (the seven-minute "Wings From Spine") and their longest ever, the nearly 33-minute closer "Every God Damn Thing." The instrumental tracks were improvised in the studio in 2005, with vocals seamlessly added later by Alan Dubin, Plotkin's former partner in OLD. The music contrasts overwhelming sonic force with passages of near silence, Dubin's anguished shrieks sometimes complemented and at other times swallowed by the instrumentalists' expressionistic, abstract interactions. Despite the absence of choruses, crescendos, solos or steady tempo, the songs are cohesive and hypnotic. It's impossible to stop the album in the middle - listening to it is like being caught in the gaze of a cobra.

Crucial Blast
There are many types of noise. There's the all-encompassing, mind-destroying roar of Merzbow (I remember a performance at Tonic where he tapped the space bar on his laptop and it instantly sounded like a jet was taking off in the room); the biting-on-tinfoil shriek of Prurient's tortured amplifiers; the anything-can-happen assaults of early Boredoms. Each has power, but none has the ability to drive the listener absolutely mad that Japanese duo Noism have displayed on this 21-minute, 12-track CD. Guitarist Yoshiro Hamazaki and drum machine programmer Tomoyuki Akiyama have found a way to combine grindcore, drill 'n' bass, breakcore and the manic arpeggios of Mick Barr (Orthrelm/Octis/Ocrilim) into an instrumental assault that is, while not without precedent, utterly discombobulating. Hamazaki's guitar is multitracked, heavily processed (probably both through pedals and after the fact), and his riffs are as fast as anything ever spewed out by Napalm Death or Pig Destroyer. Akiyama's beats are rooted in grindcore - the machine-gun barrages of Agoraphobic Nosebleed are an audible precedent - but slip sideways quite frequently toward territory previously explored on Dutch breakcore producer Bong-Ra's Full Metal Racket album. The end result is not unlike Francisco López's Untitled 104, on which he sampled and collaged death metal riffs and beats into a 40-minute sea of sonic punishment. Unlike López, though, Noism don't ease the listener in or provide respite afterward. No track here is longer than 2'12", and all blast from beginning to end. This is blood sport; you're either in or you're out.

The list of significant Italian rock/metal groups is pretty short: Goblin, Ephel Duath, UFOMammut and...? Tack Zu on at the end there. This power trio mix skronky jazz, No Wave, and Stooges-style pummeling into a swirling roar that's lured in numerous boldface guests, from Mats Gustafsson, Ken Vandermark, Han Bennink and Hamid Drake to Thurston Moore, Steve Mackay and, on this outing, Mike Patton (vocals on "Soulympics") and the Melvins' Buzz Osborne.
It's when they're ripping it up on their own, though, that Zu are strongest. Tracks like "Erineys" and album opener "Ostia" roar and thunder like a cross between Last Exit and early Painkiller, Luca Mai's saxophone sputtering and hog-calling over floor-shaking bass from Massimp Pupillo and Jacopo Battaglia's brutarian drumming. There are times when the riffs and rhythms resemble recent work by the Melvins - a group with two bassists and two drummers, remember. On "Axion," Pupillo hits his strings so hard and so fast, it's easy to imagine them swinging loose around his ankles as the piece ends.
It would be nice if Mai took more extensive, discursive solos, rather than spending so much time farting along like the late Mark Sandman from Morphine, but perhaps insecurity explains why he's brought in ringers like Gustafsson and Vandermark on other albums. Still, like the best albums by Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Carboniferous will make you think there aren't speakers in the world big enough to do it justice.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


[From this week's Cleveland Scene.]

George Thorogood is punk rock. "Yeah, right," you're thinking. How punk rock can you be if your biggest hit, "Bad to the Bone," was used in the movie Problem Child? Seriously, though, go back and listen to the music, especially the early records on Rounder. Thorogood and his Destroyers whipped up a mix of blues, rock 'n' roll and a dash of country that carried the same convulsive energy that L.A. bands like X and Social Distortion would harness a few years later.

Topping that red-hot groove were the frontman's sneering vocals and a slide-guitar sound that was like being whipped across the face with a car antenna. His version of Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love" carried an undercurrent of menace that the original only implied. When Thorogood sang in that gravelly voice about having a chimney made from a human skull, he was almost believable.

Of course, he's best known for "Bad to the Bone," but that song's muscular, bar-band swagger was matched, on the album of the same name, by a hardcore-speed take on the Isley Brothers' "Nobody But Me" and an equally aggressive sprint through Chuck Berry's "No Particular Place to Go." Had FM radio not picked up on him early, Thorogood might have spent the '80s playing clubs alongside the Blasters.

It's worth noting, of course, that contrary to criticism he's received over the years, not every Thorogood song sounds the same. Virtually every one of his albums features at least one curveball cover, be it Bob Dylan's "Wanted Man" on 1982's Bad to the Bone or Frank Zappa's "Trouble Every Day" on 1997's Rockin' My Life Away. But, in a recent interview, he accepts his reputation with a grin, saying, "You can't win. If you step outside your formula, they say, 'What the hell is he doing? He knows he can't sing.' If you don't change, they say, 'He never changes!' Not everybody is the Beatles, who could cut 'I'm Down' one day and the next day cut 'Eleanor Rigby.' Our band is a bar band. That's what we do."

As the years have rolled on, the tempos may have slowed down very slightly - from a sprint to a strut. But the raw muscle of his sound remains unchanged and possibly even harder than in the early years. This consistency and power has allowed Thorogood to stay out on the road, chunking out three-chord rave-ups without embarrassing himself. "I'm not really blues, but we're close enough that we have more longevity than, say, the Sex Pistols had," he says. "We're closer to the roots of it." Still, he's not planning to stay on the road forever. "Ain't gonna happen with me," he laughs. "By the time I'm 70, I'm gonna be over in Hawaii, under a palm tree."

In the meantime, he's happy working with his core group of backing musicians. The newest member of the Destroyers, saxophonist Buddy Leach, joined in 2003; Thorogood's bassist and drummer, Billy Blough and Jeff Simon, have been with him since 1977 and 1974, respectively. There's a simple reason for that: The boss' loyalty is quantifiable. "I question their sanity; they question my generosity," laughs Thorogood. "I had a band that worked with us, and the leader asked me, 'How do you keep the same people?' I told him, 'I respect them,' and I rubbed my thumb and forefinger together. I pay well."

He's hardly alone in this, of course, as he's quick to point out. "Tom Petty and the Stones have kept most of their original people. ZZ Top [have kept the same lineup], J. Geils had the same people right up to the end. And there's blues acts out there - right up to his death, Muddy Waters had the same piano player. B.B. King had the same guy - Sonny Freeman played drums with him for years. Fats Domino had the same band for centuries." This "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach to band membership applies equally to performance.

"If we find something that works, we stick with it until people start throwing things at us," says Thorogood. "When the ticket prices are so high, and plus there's a recession - most of the people that come to see us are working-class people that might only get to one show a year. I can't be messin' around up there. The first time I saw the J. Geils Band, I thought, 'Wow, these guys have got it.' It was just a rapid-fire, straight-from-the-shoulder Little Richard/James Brown type of thing. When I go see a show, I don't want a lot of nonsense. I don't wanna hear your life story. And I don't like to give people time to think. They don't come the show to think. Once you've got the hammer down, keep it down."

Come to think of it, you know who else was big on keeping the hammer down from the first note of a set to the last? The Ramones.


[This link will take you to a story on Chick Corea and John McLaughlin's Five Peace Band, in the Denver alt-weekly Westword. But what I turned in at first was nearly twice as long. So click the link if you want to read that, or check out the "director's cut" below.]

When Chick Corea says, “I’ve got an incredible number of things in the fire incubating,” it’s not braggadocio, it’s a pure statement of fact. He’s going to be doing his first-ever solo piano tour of Europe this summer; he’s preparing for concerts featuring bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Lenny White; and he’s planning some shows with vibraphonist Gary Burton, a frequent duet partner over the years – the pair have won four Grammys for their collaborations. But his current project is possibly the most exciting thing he’s done since…well, since last year’s Return to Forever reunion tour (now preserved on a double live CD, Returns). Corea is on the road with the Five Peace Band, a group featuring guitarist John McLaughlin, saxophonist Kenny Garrett, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade, who’s taken over for original skinsman Vinnie Colaiuta.

This is not only a reunion of two former Miles Davis sidemen and superstars of the early ’70s fusion scene (Corea with RTF and McLaughlin with the Mahavishnu Orchestra), but a multigenerational all-star band. Garrett – who also played with Davis, albeit in the 1980s – has a lengthy and respected discography as a leader; his 2006 album Beyond the Wall won deserved praise from critics. Bassist Christian McBride has been one of the most in-demand players in jazz since making his debut at the dawn of the ’90s, and drummers Colaiuta and Blade are highly respected veterans in their own right.

The band was Corea’s idea, and he made all the overtures that brought it together. “I called the other guys and said, ‘Listen, I want to present an idea to John, would you be into it?’ That was a quick conversation,” he says with a laugh. “I actually presented the whole idea as a package to John, because I thought that particular lineup would make great spiritual chemistry. And he liked it right away. He knew everyone’s work, especially Vinnie, who he had recorded and performed with. He had never worked with Kenny and Christian, but he knew their playing and liked the idea right away.”

Corea has also taken a strong hand in preparing repertoire for the band’s shows. He wrote two new pieces for the group, “Hymn to Andromeda” and “The Disguise,” and what he describes as “a cute new arrangement” of Jackie McLean’s “Dr. Jackle.” The group has also been performing versions of McLaughlin’s “Raju,” “New Blues Old Bruise” and “Señor CS” – all tracks from his last two albums, Industrial Zen and Floating Point – and a reworking of Miles Davis’s “In A Silent Way.”

In some ways, the Five Peace Band is a throwback to fusion’s heyday, a reminder of a time when giants bestrode the earth under the imprimatur of jazz. It’s also a sign that the genre itself – that solotastic, prog-rockin’ hybrid of Miles Davis and Yes – is back, not only as an influence on younger players but as a vibrant, continuing form. “Fusion music, or whatever you wanna call it – that direction of music which started around Miles’s time – has never really stopped,” says Corea. “It’s been changing a lot, and musicians dip in and out of it, but it’s always there. My perspective recently, having put Return to Forever back together and now working with John, is that it’s very much alive, because I’m right in the middle of it.”

Corea’s goal with the Five Peace Band is to preserve that vitality; for that reason, the only souvenir of the group’s existence is to be a live album, recorded during the group’s initial run of European shows late last year. “None of us are interested in going into a studio,” he asserts. “The music works live. It would seem clinical to bring it into a studio, to play without an audience.

“John was particularly not interested in making a CD,” he continues. “But what we did do is – because Bernie Kirsch, our engineer, is recording every night – John went ahead and chose two renditions of each song in the set, and sent those to me. I chose the ones that I liked the best, and we mixed it up and a live record now does exist. I think it’s probably gonna be released worldwide. I think it’s a really good-sounding package and a good representation of that band with Vinnie in it.”

Similarly, last year’s Return to Forever reunion appears destined to remain live performance-only. “More and more over the past five years, 10 years, going into a studio to quote-unquote make a record has been less and less a part of my musical life,” he says. “There’s less and less remuneration in it, and I find that the live recordings are actually reflect what kind of a spirit of music I like to give to an audience even more. So I haven’t been moved to go into the studio to record for a good while.”

This doesn’t mean he’s slowed down as a composer, of course. Corea continues to write new music, but he prefers to arrange it and then take it on the road. During our conversation, he expresses great enthusiasm for the approach Metallica, of all groups, has taken. The metal titans have their own website,, at which fans can download recordings of complete concerts, sometimes less than 24 hours after the show has taken place. Corea sees this as a terrific strategy for jazz musicians, whose songs change in the moment, night after night. “The idea of making music available through the public through the artist’s website is the way to do it, from now and into the future,” he says. “Especially music like we play, which is not studio music.”

Ultimately, Chick Corea seems focused on direct communication with his fans, whether it be through the tour blog on his website (the Five Peace Band’s site includes complete set lists from every performance) or his preference for live performance over studio recording. In a time when the traditional music industry avenues are less and less rewarding to the performer, he’s making what’s probably the most logical moves of any jazz player of his generation – taking it to the people, and listening to them in return. “My best monitor of what’s going on in the culture concerning music and art is when I perform in front of an audience and I see how they respond to various things that I present to them,” he agrees. “Cause I present them with a lot of different kinds of things. The other group of opinions is the press – media, magazines and awards shows and that kind of thing. And although I’m a member of that community too, I pay less attention to it.”

[Photo by Kris Campbell.]

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


I got a self-titled CD in today's mail by a Canadian stoner rock/heavy psychedelic band called...Quest For Fire. (It's not bad; slow, and not as fuzzed out or aggressive as I might have liked, with lots of late '60s style guitar noodling rather than the early '70s stomp-box fury I'm usually after, though there's a bit of that, too. I also usually prefer a hoarse bark/yawp to the moody crooning heard here. But again, not bad by any means. It comes out in June on Tee Pee.)

Some promotional genius should put these guys out on tour with fellow canadians Bison B.C.. Maybe they could bring Early Man around on select dates.


From this week's Village Voice:

Khanate Springs Eternal
In praise of some dearly departed, egocentic, avant-metal assholes

It's rare that a band truly leads by example, particularly in metal, where stylistic and genre parameters are strictly patrolled. The New York City avant-doom quartet Khanate, though, followed its own path from 2001 to 2006, combining a crushing musical and spiritual heaviness with a mastery of silence that created and sustained suspense without any of metal's usual horror-movie theatricality. You can hear the roots of their sound in the slow first half of the title track to Black Sabbath's namesake 1970 debut, except here, drummer Tim Wyskida's cymbals play the part of the rain and Stephen O'Malley's guitar echoes the church bells (and not Tony Iommi's gloomy riffing). Khanate's excoriating marathons of pain never permitted the cathartic release inherent in even the heaviest rock. Unfortunately, no group can operate at this level of intensity for long, and after two full-length CDs, several limited-run live CDs and DVDs, and 2006's Capture & Release EP, they split.

Now, some final recordings have emerged: the four-song, hour-long Clean Hands Go Foul, which features the band's shortest song (the six-minute "Wings From Spine") and its longest, the 33-minute "Every God Damn Thing." It's possibly the band's best release, the manner of its creation indicating a potential path Khanate might have pursued. "The music on CHGF was improvised during the Capture & Release sessions," says vocalist Alan Dubin. "James [Plotkin, bassist] cut the fat via computer butcher, so to speak, and assembled the pieces into four cohesive works. . . . I was given rough demos of these tracks and wrote the lyrics." Unfortunately, Khanate's interpersonal volatility seems to guarantee there won't be anything else forthcoming: In Plotkin's words, "Try to imagine a band consisting of a flake with multiple personalities, an egomaniacal control freak, an out-of-control attention whore, and a complete bastard with a volatile temper. It's amazing that we lasted as long as we did."

Wyskida, who continues to work with Plotkin, believes Khanate continued to evolve right up to the end. "Everybody in the group listened to a wide variety of music and had continual interest in music they hadn't heard before. The more you take in, the more interesting and unpredictable the things you shit out." Indeed, unpredictability of a truly ominous sort was one of Khanate's signal attributes. The live recordings, especially the DVDs, are masterpieces of sustained tension, as the achingly slow tempos, the feedback, and, above all, the volume allow Plotkin and O'Malley to bring the sound up, down, and around like dueling conductors while Dubin shrieks in hyper-realistic, unrelenting anguish. The audiences are held rapt, and when a chord does descend, it's like the ceiling falling in.

"There was always a pathway to continued evolution—or, rather, change—but only the four of us could be Khanate," Dubin says. "We were and are four creative, egocentric assholes, who at the same time have very unique imaginations and eclectic ideas about music. Had it continued, someone would have died."

So the band did instead. "My reason for ultimately letting it die was basically Plotkin leaving," he continues. "James made it clear that he wanted to do a lot more touring with the band. I have a very lucrative career that I'm passionate about, as a creative video/film editor, and was more than satisfied doing a few two- to three-week tours per year."

"I think Khanate was neglected to a point by other members' 'side' outlets, and that added piss to the dwindling fire," he adds, an assessment with which his bandmates concur. "The band did have a consistent issue with evenhandedness—people's attention or so-called dedication/commitment to what the other elements were hoping to accomplish or work together toward," admits O'Malley, who's currently recording and touring with Sunn O))), KTL, and other projects. "If we could have been a bit more patient and in agreement about how to work together, we could have taken it further. Regardless, what we did accomplish is some of the most interesting music I had the pleasure of being part of creating."

Khanate's music is hard to point out as being a glaringly obvious influence—the way you can tell a band's been listening to a lot of Iron Maiden or Slayer—and gigs were infrequent enough that you can easily believe that, yeah, the scene, in New York and elsewhere, will go on without them. But within the sub-basement of metal that is doom, Khanate showed that a way forward was possible—that merely playing slow, downtuned riffs and pounding the drums like you were guiding oarsmen wasn't enough. For all its apparent adherence to sonic orthodoxy, metal has long been secretly avant-garde, experimenting with sound in ways more mainstream rock bands can't or won't. Khanate's dissonant, oppressive, yet spacious music—along with its total lack of solos or traditional performance strategies—was so deliberately alienating that it raised questions about the very purpose of being at a metal show, and that's a challenge more bands should be willing to take.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Last night, instead of watching what I'm told were awesome episodes of The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother, I dragged my ass into NYC to see Mötley Crüe at Madison Square Garden.

Something I didn't have space to mention in that review: opening band Hinder, who are just awful. They want to be a sleazy stripper-rock band like the Crüe, but they've been poisoned by post-grunge mope-rock, so their rhythms are slack and their choruses aren't nearly punchy enough to bring off the euphoria that a true pole-dancer's anthem requires. They suck, and music as a whole would be better off without them.

[Photo by David Atlas.]

Monday, March 16, 2009


From my inbox this morning:

Progressive metal veterans Dream Theater have announced Black Clouds & Silver Linings as the title of their tenth studio album. Roadrunner will release the record on June 23. In addition to the standard CD, the album will also be available on vinyl, as well as a three-disc Special Edition CD that will include the full album, a CD of instrumental mixes of the album and a CD of six cover songs, which will be revealed at a later date. Six weeks prior to the June 23 street date, Roadrunner will release one cover song per week through digital retailers. The artwork was once again designed by Hugh Syme (Rush, Iron Maiden) and will be unveiled today via and The band will embark on a world tour in support of the album beginning in Europe throughout June, which will be followed by the second edition of the band’s Progressive Nation tour featuring Zappa Plays Zappa, Pain Of Salvation and Beardfish throughout North America in July/August.

I've tried to like Dream Theater. I know people who do. I crammed their three-CD live album Score and their two-CD best-of into my iPod (hell, they might still be in there) and attempted to listen to each in its entirety; I might have made it all the way through Score once, but I can't say for sure. I know I never made it through the best-of. But at least they had good taste in opening acts on last year's Progressive Nation tour - they came around with Opeth and Between the Buried and Me. This time, they appear to be going for the prog/jam band crossover dollar. I mean, Beardfish? Zappa Plays Zappa? Gurgh.

I think the problem is Dream Theater seem weirdly outdated now; their classicist, power-metalish take on progressive rawk is kinda lunkheaded and over-the-top...unsubtle in a bad way. They've never come to grips, it seems to me, with the way newer, younger progressive bands use dissonance and even noise as compositional tools - think about how skronky even the Mars Volta gets live, never mind acts like Hella, Orthrelm, the Flying Luttenbachers, etc., all of whom I'd definitely put on the "prog" continuum.

Here, on the other hand, is some much better news, straight from the MySpace blog of Pennsylvania instro-prog-metal underground heroes Dysrhythmia (pictured with members of Behold...the Arctopus and Spastic Ink/Watchtower guitarist Ron Jarzombek):

Colin Marston and Kevin Hufnagel join Gorguts!
Colin and I (Kevin), along with John Longstreth (drummer - Origin) have officially joined the reactivated, much-hailed avant death metal band Gorguts. It is extremely exciting for us to be a part of this as past albums such as "Obscura" and "From Wisdom to Hate" have been large influences on our playing styles and the way we approach music in Dysrhythmia. For those already familiar with the band, you can rest assured the new material will crush and we will respect the band's past while forging ahead with some new ideas.. Gorguts mainman Luc Lemay has been writting some incredible material for us to work on.

All I can really say about that is...Duuuuuuude. Gorguts is now 50% Dysrhythmia and 25% Origin? I think I just had a rather embarrassing involuntary reaction, and need to go put on different pants.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Suicide bombing in Sri Lanka caught on camera, animated into a GIF by heartless Western blogger.

[From I Heart Chaos.]


MARCH 12, 2009 – UPDATE: healthy kidney donor found and surgery scheduled!

Dear friends, fans and extended family of the AUM Community:

It is with much happiness to report some great news on David’s journey. The first of the beautiful people who came forward in response to the call for help – this particular beautiful person being Laura Mehr – has passed the screening process with flying colors, and a date – May 5th – has been scheduled for the kidney transplant operation.

In the 8 weeks leading up to this date, David will of course continue his intensive daily dialysis regimen, and following the operation he will have at least a 3 month recuperation period.

In response to our initial email, a number of folks inquired about sending donations to David to help cover expenses during this period of time in which he has not been and will not be able to work. Any such donations would be greatly appreciated. If you would like to do so:

You can PayPal to this address/account:
in which case, please include a simple note, "for David S. Ware support"
You can also send check or money orders made out to David S. Ware to:

........AUM Fidelity
........PO Box 170147
........Brooklyn, NY 11217

To all who forwarded and posted our original email with the critical news of his search, please do the same with this notice and this URL:, in order that the good news be spread as well!

A note from donor Laura Mehr:

“Over 30 years ago, my husband and David shared time and spiritual understanding. During Maurice's lifetime as a spiritual aspirant and transcendent artist, Maurice talked affectionately about David and the mutual artistic understandings and spiritual connections they shared.

When Maurice passed on almost two years ago, I contacted David to let him know that Maurice had passed. About a year after that, a friend of mine was in need of a kidney transplant, and I volunteered to be tested. Before I could be tested, my friend received a kidney from the UNOS transplant list. This was a great happy surprise to both of us, and he is now home and his new kidney is functioning well. Less than 48 hours after I got the news that my friend had received his transplant, Steven sent out the appeal about David's situation. My stunned reaction that this could be happening so quickly, gave way to the even greater surprise that as with my friend, David and I were the same blood type. I did not hesitate to volunteer, as I knew that this was not simply happenstance, but divine intervention. As David later said "Life is truly stranger than fiction".

Things have moved quickly from that point, and all tests have come back as a match, and we are ready, on May 5th, to cross that bright line where giving and receiving are actually one and the same.”
–Laura Mehr

And a link to Laura’s website:

Thank you Laura(!) and to all once again for your emails and energy of support; here’s to full-on success on May 5th and forward!

Steven Joerg
AUM Fidelity

[Photo of David S. Ware by Jimmy Katz.]

Thursday, March 12, 2009


SuidAkrA has combined Irish folk music and melodic death metal for nearly fifteen years now. The act's ninth album, Crógacht, delivers the same trademark sound heard on its predecessors: a swirling blend of keening bagpipes and thunderous double-bass drumming — plus roaring guitar riffs and screaming solos, of course. Vocalist Arkadius Antonik avoids death metal's usual guttural grunting, instead employing a hoarse bark that could get the mosh pit roiling as easily as it could drive troops into battle against the hated English oppressors, Braveheart style. Here's the weird thing, though (and the vocalist's name might have tipped the band's hand already): These guys are not Irish. SuidAkrA hails from Düsseldorf, Germany, and has about as much to do with Celtic folk culture as the Country Bear Jamboree at Disneyland does with traditional jug-band music. Oh, well. An obsession with authenticity's one thing metal shouldn't bother stealing from folkie traditionalists.


Returns (Eagle Rock)
If '70s fusion were a triangle - with the hard-rocking Mahavishnu Orchestra, Herbie Hancock's ultra-funky Mwandishi and Headhunters, and the jazzy, intricate Weather Report forming its points - Return to Forever would be right in the middle. This double disc, recorded on RTF's 2008 reunion tour, is a swirling hurricane of awesome. Keyboardist Chick Corea, guitarist Al Di Meola, bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Lenny White rip through marathon versions of tunes like "Vulcan Worlds," "Song to the Pharoah Kings," "Duel of the Jester and the Tyrant" and "Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy," soloing like they're trying to launch themselves into space using nothing but the power of their flying fingers. It's not all amped-up prog-jazz, though. There are sections of delicate acoustic introspection, like a Di Meola/Corea duet that treads the line between flamenco and chamber music. Critically maligned at the time, fusion deserves reinvestigation, and this double disc showcases masters at work.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


I got the new issue of Jazziz in the mail today; it's marked "January/February 2009." Having just left the magazine-editing business myself, I know why a delay like that happens - it's because checks aren't coming in the door fast enough to get one out the door to the printer, so your issues sit crated on the floor instead of heading to the distributors and wholesalers. It's the magazine's 25th Anniversary issue, and the covers (front and back) bear a large number 25, with a front coverline that reads "The First Quarter Century" and one on the back that reads, "What's next? Stay tuned..."

I will be paying attention, because I'm a longtime contributor to the magazine and enjoy reading it as much as writing for it. Jazziz bridges the gaps, covering smooth saxmen and free blowers, retro-swinging vocalists and keyboard-pounding avant-gardists in the same issue. It's a magazine without pretensions, and I like that. I also like that its editors challenge the writers to turn features into stories (there's a difference, you know). I've done some work I'm really proud of for Jazziz.

I was recently informed, though, that the magazine is going quarterly. It shifted from a monthly to 10-issues-per-year some time back (hence the Jan/Feb double issue), and that's a sign of tightening ad sales as much as anything else, but quarterly is "iceberg dead ahead" in publishing. I hope that's not the case; I hope Jazziz endures. In the meantime, I've got a story (and accompanying CD review) in the anniversary issue, reproduced below, and in a somewhat bitter irony, it's about an artist whose own health is in question right now. I hope David S. Ware endures, too.

Free to be free
David S. Ware and Matthew Shipp go their separate and intriguing ways

The dissolution of the David S. Ware Quartet in 2007, while a long time coming, was a big deal on the New York free jazz scene. Its members, an all-star team of astonishingly talented musicians, existed quite well independent of one another. Together, they built a sonic temple.

From the ashes of the quartet, new configurations arose. Saxophonist Ware and bassist William Parker form half of Ware's new band. Pianist Matthew Shipp, who always enjoyed a solo career parallel to the quartet's, is recording and performing in a trio with former Ware drummer Whit Dickey. Both groups share Joe Morris, who plays bass with Shipp but guitar with Ware.

"The way I put together musicians, it's more of a personal thing," Ware explains, regarding his decision to use a guitarist rather than a pianist in his new group. "Joe expressed the desire to play with me, so that was it, really."

The veteran musician, on the cusp of 60, is similarly matter-of-fact about composing for the group's debut CD, Shakti (AUM Fidelity). Instrumentation was not his major concern while writing, although he allows that he's still trying to adjust his music to guitar after so many years of working with piano.

"I sit down and whatever comes through that pencil is what comes, man. I'm not really thinking in terms of 'I've got this instrument and that instrument,'" he relates. "It's more of how [the individual musician] vibrates with me than about the instrument. It's more of who he is in relationship to who I am, in relationship to who the other players are. When I'm listening and experiencing [Morris] playing, I'm listening to the way he's moving and where he's trying to go. He doesn't play the guitar with a sustaining timbre; he puts it in a different space, and I'm trying to get familiar with that space."

Morris, the common element between Shipp's group - which just released the recording Harmonic Disorder on the Thirsty Ear imprint - and Ware's, sees similarities in his two bosses. "Both of them kind of create a situation for you to deal with the thematic material and the improvisational material coming off of them," he notes. "You're free to create it however you want....To me, the role is to sort of understand how the music of the leader is constructed and to support what that person does, and support the group. There are a lot of very subtle things about that."

Shipp, who's been working with Morris and Dickey in various contexts since the dawn of the '90s, appreciates the support of his longtime collaborators.

"We've been on the road a lot with this configuration and we know we have a thing," he says. "The thrill of discovery is still there, because it's still a fresh sound for all of us...but at the same time we have the security of knowing we're not going to fall into the abyss. I would say that we're finding a new way to be free, but using traditional jazz elements to anchor it."

Shipp, 47, has never been shy about preaching the virtues of his own work, and he speaks of his new trio in almost revolutionary terms. "We are jazz now," he states. "Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock, they aren't. They're relics. We are why the music lasts right now. What this album represents is state-of-the-art piano trio music, and somebody like Keith Jarrett or Herbie Hancock cannot get on the level that something like this is on."

And here's the review...

Shakti (AUM Fidelity)

Harmonic Disorder (Thirsty Ear)
Saxophonist David S. Ware combines technical rigor with wall-cracking power, but his music is all about discipline: While his songs may nudge the half-hour mark live, he never seems to play an unnecessary note.

His first release since disbanding his revered quartet, Shakti feels slightly tentative at times, as Ware figures out exactly how to fit guitarist Joe Morris into his soundworld. Still, these six compositions reveal that Ware's flair for melody, command of harmonics and strong yet flexible leadership haven't lost anything since the quartet's late '90s heyday.

Ware's former pianist, Matthew Shipp, is releasing his second album with a trio featuring Morris, who plays bass here, and Whit Dickey on drums. It's more assertive than 2007's Piano Vortex, which sounded meditative, even melancholy at times. By contrast, Harmonic Disorder offers a welcome edge of chaos, recalling rough-and-tumble 1990s discs like Prism and The Multiplication Table.

Morris almost never takes the lead, preferring to lock in with Dickey. Shipp (specifically, his forceful left hand) is the lead voice almost all the time. Two vivisected standards, "There Will Never Be Another You" and "Someday My Prince Will Come," offer handholds for the uninitiated, but the final track's title, "When the Curtain Falls on the Jazz Theatre," tells the real story. This is jazz for a world that doesn't seem to need jazz anymore. Ware and Shipp insist otherwise, and the recorded evidence supports their assertion.

[Photo of David S. Ware by Eddy Westveer; photo of Matthew Shipp by Fstop45.]

Friday, March 06, 2009


The fine Deathwish Inc. label has put together a 2009 sampler, imaginatively titled MMIX (cover art at left), which is available for free download. It includes tracks from Coliseum, Converge frontman Jacob Bannon, and lots and lots of other folks. Click here to load yourself up with a megadose of hardcore, metal, art-noise, and other pleasing sounds. [Warning: File is over 200MB.]


One of those tours you can't quite imagine really happening until you see it in cold black and white has been assembled. DragonForce is coming back around in April and May, and they are bringing with them...


Yes, Cynic, the jazz-fusion-meets-arty-prog-metal philosopher kings, fresh off a phenomenal jaunt with Meshuggah and the Faceless, are now touring with (and let's not kid ourselves, opening for) the wanktastic masters of empty-calories power metal. A mind-shattering confluence of "This is so beautiful I think I just transsubstantiated in my pants" and "Are they kidding? They're kidding, right?", this tour (which also features sorta-underrated/sorta-overrated death metal band Dååth) will be hitting a "secondary market" somewhere relatively near to you...go ahead and check it out, if you dare.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


Today's mailbag brought a most welcome package: two CDs (one reissue and one new title) by Borbetomagus, one of the most awesome musical forces in all the world. Celebrating their 30th anniversary this year, this upstate New York trio (and sometimes quartet) has been a touchstone for me for over 20 years at this point; I first heard their Live in Allentown (cassette-only, back then, but reissued on CD with liner notes by me (which you can read here, if you're not of a mind to do what you really should do, and order a copy of the disc from Forced Exposure.)

Anyway, the Borbetos have been on somewhat of a reissue jag the past few years, digitizing some of their best early work (Barbed Wire Maggots, the aforementioned Live in Allentown), and they've added to that list with a digipak version of 1988's Snuff Jazz. Formerly two side-long slabs of ferocious blare, about 35 minutes of music in toto, it's been pumped up with the addition of two shorter, previously unreleased tracks (one just under eight minutes long, the other just under ten) from the same performance that yielded the first half of the original album. It's a fierce, howling storm of an album, featuring the core trio totally in command of their sound and their instruments, and highly recommended.

The other title is A Go-Go, recorded in 1998 but just released now. I haven't listened to that one yet, but like other Borbeto discs released in the post-vinyl era (Experience the Magic, Songs Our Mother Taught Us) it features a single half-hour-plus track bracketed by shorter pieces. So that should be fun for me and my neighbors.

If I had to rank the 10 Borbeto discs I own, here's how I'd do it:

1. Live in Allentown
2. Barbed Wire Maggots
3. Buncha Hair That Long
4. Snuff Jazz
5. Seven Reasons for Tears
6. Borbetomagus (1980)
7. Sauter, Dietrich, Miller ("the black album")
8. Songs Our Mother Taught Us
9. Experience the Magic
10. A Go-Go (because I haven't heard it yet)


Polish death metal gods Vader (whose 2008 release XXV, a double disc of re-recorded old songs, was better than most death metal bands' new material last year) are recording a new album, Necropolis, with a new lineup. They've released one demo track, "Rise of the Undead," and you can hear/download it by clicking here. I'm into it; it keeps the classic Vader sound, but also showcases new guitar player Vogg, formerly of the now-on-hiatus Decapitated (and brother to that band's deceased drummer Vitek).

Tuesday, March 03, 2009


I haven't written anything but CD reviews for Alternative Press in quite a while, but that's starting to change, by dribs and drabs, here and there: I contributed the following blurb to their annual "100 Bands You Need to Know" roundup:

HQ: Tempe, AZ
CHECK OUT: Reach (Breaksilence/Koch)
FOR THOSE WHO ROCK: Thursday, Kittie, Walls of Jericho
"We have grown up and developed a better grasp on the sound we want to achieve," says vocalist/guitarist Alexia Rodriguez of Eyes Set To Kill, the melodic screamo-metal band she co-leads with her bassist sister Anissa. "Our last album was all about personal conflicts, so for this album we want to make sure we bring something new to the table." She promises the band's next album (still untitled at press time) will be "a lot darker and heavier but still upbeat and melodic." Rodriguez and her bandmates are primarily concerned with transcending the, um, visceral appeal of a group featuring two hot Latina sisters, and being appreciated as artists. "I think that when anyone looks into AP and views a band picture with a couple of girls in the band, they think to themselves, 'I wonder if they are any good?' There are bands like Eisley, Meg & Dia and Tegan and Sara who are amazing bands and still haven't gotten over the whole sister-gimmick thing."

I also wrote up the following three excellent CDs:

The Harvest Floor
Metal Blade
Cattle Decapitation have been on a mission to promote vegetarianism through death metal and grindcore since 1997. Subtlety hasn't really been the band's thing - the original cover of 2004's Humanure, which depicted a cow defecating out a man, was banned. But their sound has evolved quite a bit from the 18 songs in 16 minutes of 1999's Human Jerky EP to this disc, which features guest appearances from Jackie Perez Gratz (of Grayceon and Amber Asylum) and Jarboe (Swans). Lyrically and musically, The Harvest Floor is an impressive work of art. The downtuned guitar riffs, barked/growled/shrieked vocals and frantic drumming are as brutal as ever, but there's a sophistication to every aspect of this album that wasn't present on earlier efforts. The Harvest Floor doesn't have the hooks of, say, Carcass' Heartwork, but it's a mature effort.

Century Media
New Jersey's God Forbid have evolved from a metalcore band with a visual hook (four of the five members are mixed-race or African-American) to a melodic, mainstream metal band in the vein of Nevermore. Earthsblood is the group's second concept album in a row, shifting from the political allegories of 2005's IV: The Constitution Of Treason to environmental issues. Musically, the members have broadened their palette - guitar solos are more melodic and intricate, choruses catchier and more anthemic, rhythms more punishing, and the lead and background vocals alike are multidimensional and captivating. It's been four years since God Forbid released new music, and it's nice to see development in that time, especially on this level. With luck, Earthsblood will allow them to achieve the success they've long deserved.

Carving Desert Canyons
Carving Desert Canyons' CD booklet unfolds into a poster that captures the dichotomy of the group: On one side, it offers photos of the band members making dorky faces, while the flip depicts some breathtakingly glorious rock formations. That same mix of dorkiness and mind-crushing awesomeness defines this instrumental album. Guitarists Chris Letchford and Travis LeVrier play screaming, arpeggiated leads a la Coheed And Cambria, while bassist Jordan Eberhard holds it down and drummer Pat Skeffington goes wild on the cymbals and toms. All the tracks blur into one another, but let's use words like "song cycle" instead of "samey," shall we? This is instrumental hard rock that spares the listener Pelican-esque tedium, instead offering all the technical brilliance of Rush or Coheed, without the annoying helium vocals.