Monday, April 30, 2007


Monday Morning 20:
New Kingdom, "Terror Mad Visionary"
Beastie Boys, "Paul Revere"
Cream, "Badge"
Pentagram, "Broken Vows"
Ted Nugent, "Where Have You Been All My Life"
David S. Ware, "The Chase"
The Obsessed, "Lunar Womb"
Andrew Hill, "Symmetry (Alt. Take)"
Ghostface Killah, "Josephine (Feat. Trife Da God & the Wire Cottrell Band)
Napalm Death, "Worlds Apart"
Antaeus, "Gates To The Outside"
Hawkwind, "Lord Of Light"
Jimi Hendrix, "Purple Haze"
Maaya Sakamoto, "音楽"
Jimi Hendrix, "Little Miss Strange"*
Meshuggah, "Concatenation"
Black Flag, "Six Pack"
Saint Vitus, "Look Behind You"
Razor X Productions, "Kill Version"
Judas Priest, "Parental Guidance"

*my absolute least favorite Jimi Hendrix or Hendrix-related song, period. Why was it necessary to fuck up Electric Ladyland with this three-minute splat of audio dysentery?


Southern Lord
The second release from the rejuvenated, country-fried incarnation of original sludge rockers Earth is similar in spirit to its predecessor, 2006's Hex, Or Printing In The Infernal Method. Earth here are centered around Dylan Carlson's guitar and Adrienne Davies's drums, augmented by piano, organ, trombone and occasional bass from Sunn O))) co-leader and Southern Lord label head Greg Anderson. "A Plague Of Angels," previously available on a tour-only 12", spans nearly half of the EP's 35 minutes, and the first three tracks are reworkings of old album cuts.
Carlson's simple riffs work just as well in a twanging Ry Cooder style as they do under waves of amp-frying sludge, a shift in direction which has retained the support of the doom-loving masses. The next Earth CD is rumored to feature Bill Frisell, which could either be startling or the patience-tester of all time.
The DVD that makes up the second half of this package is certainly something of an endurance test, however. A document of the band's post-Hex European tour, it offers interview footage - Carlson speaks faster than he plays, but not by much - some performance clips and lots of highways seen through rain-streaked windshields. The documentary reflects the music it depicts - a long journey to a melancholy destination - but intertia gives the journey a magnetic pull and eventually something between resignation and fascination sets in.

Guitarist, composer and producer David Torn is a master of both technology and his instrument. This album finds him fronting a pre-existing group: Tim Berne's Hard Cell (with Berne on alto sax, keyboardist Craig Taborn, and drummer Tom Rainey). There's a longstanding friendship and musical relationship at work here - Torn has produced, mixed or mastered several albums for Berne's various ensembles.
All four players are working in extremely tight mental sync, at least in the parts where you can hear what was actually being played. The rest of the time, Torn performs radical reconstructive surgery on the music, which emerges like a man with a third leg and extra arms in the middle of his back who still manages to dance like Fred Astaire.
The opening cut, "Ak," is a laptop-era blues, with Torn chunking out wiry, Steve Cropper-esque lines before erupting in a manner similar to Gary Smith's "stereo guitar" pieces, or Rene Akhan's work with Burnt Sugar. For most of the album, though, he plays in a subdued, Bill Frisell-like style, while the music is relentlessly shredded, chittering and clicking away in a mass of glitches and whooshes. Passages Torn likes are looped, stuttered and layered; aside from a few brilliant, unaltered solos from Berne, the group performance is simply fodder for the later electronic shredding. But bravo to Torn for getting his hands dirty.

Saturday, April 28, 2007


I haven't posted a new Learning Latin entry in awhile, but...well, I've been busy with jazz (got an obit for Andrew Hill running in the Village Voice I think next week) and metal (interviewed French doom metal band Monarch for Metal Maniacs magazine) and other, non-Fania Latin discs, too. I got three amazing compilations in the mail recently: New York Latin Hustle!, a typically great 2CD set on Soul Jazz; ¡Gozalo!: Bugalu Tropical Vol. 1, a terrific pile-up of rare Peruvian tracks mixing bugalu, jazz, psychedelic rock and more, all from the late ’60s, on Vampisoul; and Colombia!, a compilation of tracks from that country’s Discos Fuentes label, on Soundways. (The relentless deployment of exclamation marks in all these album titles might seem silly, unless you’ve actually heard the records.) Plus putting together one more issue of Global Rhythm...But anyway, I finally had some time to return to this project this morning, on a leisurely walk around town, and based on advice from someone who knows way more about salsa than me, I picked this album off the pile.

Ismael Rivera's got a great voice. He kind of makes me think he could be Tego Calderón's uncle or something; they've got similar vocal timbre and share a thick Puerto Rican accent, though Rivera's about 1000x more comprehensible than Tego - I can pick out whole lines of lyrics on this album, whereas El Subestimado is pretty much a brick wall of macho mumbling. The band on this record is tight, without seeming tense or jumpy. The relatively small horn section (one trumpet, one trombone, one saxophone) doesn't have the gleaming blare of some of the other records I've been listening to, offering more of a jazzy, blurry warmth, without sacrificing the punch that salsa depends on. The guy playing the tres is really good, too; not as jagged as the guy I called out earlier on the Celia Cruz et al. disc, but still cutting right through the group sound with that weird barbed-wire jangle that only that instrument seems to produce. (Avant-jazz guitarist Joe Morris should get himself one of those; he could do amazing things with that sound, I bet.) Anyway, this album is the sound of a guy completely at peace with himself and his style. He doesn't seem like a performer - you never hear him sweating, or striving to convince you, the listener, of something he's not convinced of himself. He's got a kind of...proletarian mixture of gruffness and placid joy to his voice that's really captivating. He's not going over the top, but he's not talk-singing either. I guess I'd compare him to a saxophonist like Hank Mobley, a guy who was regarded in his time as kind of middle-of-the-road and even decried as bland by folks who wanted more fire 'n' fury from jazz, but whose work stands up incredibly well 40 or even 50 years later. I could listen to Hank Mobley all day, and this album makes me feel the same way about Ismael Rivera.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Monday, April 23, 2007


Lou Reed, Hudson River Wind Meditations (Sounds True). The sticker on the cover says "Soundscapes For Meditation, Bodywork, and T'ai Chi." The quote on the back of the CD says "I first composed this music for myself as an adjunct to meditation, Tai Chi, bodywork, and as music to play in the background of life - to replace the everyday cacophony with new and ordered sounds of an unpredictable nature. New sounds freed from preconception...I hope you find as much use for this music as I have in both writing and listening to it and exploring inner spaces. - Lou Reed, NYC, October 2006"

So, basically, Metal Machine Music II.


from Afrikan Majik (Antenna Farm)
This song has a lot going for it. It’s got cool synth squiggles that sound ripped from a late ’70s Yes album (maybe Going For The One); background vocals on the first half reminiscent of the Steve Miller Band; and falsetto leads that are only slightly douchebaggy. Plus, they clearly own some Neu! records, though whether those would be on original vinyl or recently reissued CD is both unclear and unimportant. What’s important is that they’re damn close to being more than the sum of their parts, which these days is quite an achievement. (Read the rest here, including an interview with two of the bandmembers! Huzzah!)

Sunday, April 22, 2007


Interesting interview with Calle 13 (mostly Residente, as always) here. The new album comes out on Tuesday, and though the Bataille quote in the interview doesn't worry me as much as it did the guy who pointed this article out to me, I have to admit it now: I admire Residente o Visitante more than I enjoy it. There are some really great songs ("La Fuckin Moda," "Cumbia de Los Aburridos," "Malasuerta Con El 13," "Me Voy Pa'l Norte," "La Crema") but there are some that are annoying as hell, and the first single, "Tango del Pecado," just doesn't work for me. And the video seems labored and over-thought-out, a first for them. I wasn't expecting them to feel the pressure to Say Something Important, but it seems like they do. Oh, well. Like I said, it comes out on Tuesday - buy it and make up your own mind.

Saturday, April 21, 2007


Some reporter from the Boston Globe called me a few weeks ago, at my office, wanting to know my thoughts on Charles Gayle and the economics of small indie jazz labels, presumably because I wrote a book about free jazz a long time ago. So we talked, and then I kinda forgot all about it - until I swung by Mwanji's blog and spotted a link to the finished piece. I didn't love the Gayle album that gives the piece its hook as much as the writer did; I was kinda dismissive of it in The Wire, in fact. But the piece provides a platform for Gayle and Jan Ström, and that's an unalloyed positive. So go read it.

Friday, April 20, 2007


"Die In 1977"
from Cut Off! (Tag Team)
Context is everything sometimes. These three have their postpunk moves down. The guitars clang and ring out like Keith Levene circa 1979; the bass and drums thud along, occasionally erupting into martial rattle, like Gang Of Four’s “Anthrax”; the vocalist howls, throat raw with angst, as his bandmates mutter noncommittally beside him. If Rebuilding The Rights Of Statues were from Brooklyn, I’d probably think they were total douchebags, and stand tapping my foot impatiently waiting for them to get hyped to the skies. But they’re from mainland China, so... [Read the rest here.]

Thursday, April 19, 2007


If Hollywood soundtrack composer John Williams formed a black-metal band, it would sound like Dimmu Borgir. For years, these Norwegians have inspired worship and scorn in more or less equal measure by combining black metal's raw guitar fury with pomptastic orchestral backing -- sometimes, as on 2001's Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia and 2003's Death Cult Armageddon, by real orchestras.

But on the band's latest disc, In Sorte Diaboli, the symphonic parts are played on keyboards by Øyvind "Mustis" Mustaparta. "The Prague Orchestra [heard on DCA] wasn't expensive at all compared to what you'd think. So it wasn't for budget reasons," says guitarist and primary songwriter Sven "Silenoz" Kopperud. "We thought that we'd been able to recreate most of the orchestral feeling live with just keyboards. And in the studio, if you have the right technology, there's no problem to create symphonic feeling." [Read the rest here.]

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


From The River To The Ocean
Thrill Jockey
There's a reason saxophonist Fred Anderson and drummer Hamid Drake have been working together since the 1970s: they're kindred spirits where the music is concerned. Despite the co-billing, this isn't a sequel to their 2001 duo disc Back Together Again. Instead, it's a full group effort, featuring guitarist Jeff Parker and bassists Harrison Bankhead and Josh Abrams, the former also contributing cello and piano and the latter playing guimbri on two tracks.
The album takes Anderson into territory he hasn't mined much in the past; his recordings as a leader have tended toward expansive but fundamentally blues-based free jazz, but From The River To The Ocean is defined as much by Drake's spirituality and global approach to rhythm as it is the saxophonist's Chicago traditionalism.
The final track, "Sakti/Shiva," is the most surprising piece on the disc, a duo for saxophone and guimbri reminiscent of Pharoah Sanders's 1994 collaboration with Maleem Mahmoud Ghania, Trance Of The Seven Colors. The marathon opening cut, "Planet E," also recalls Sanders's early-70s work, with its modal groove underpinned by two basses, over which Anderson and Parker trade lengthy, discursive solos. Drake emerges as a vocalist on "For Brother Thompson," chanting a Muslim prayer in tribute to the late bassist Malachi Thompson. Bankhead plays piano on the cut, adding to the elegiac Coltrane-like feel.
The title track, on which Drake chants again, has an almost tribal touch; Parker's guitar is flanked by Bankhead's bass and Abrams's guimbri, while Drake plays frame drum instead of sitting behind a kit. Anderson barely plays for the first seven minutes of the piece; instead, Parker takes the lead, his tone metallic and jagged, more like a mbira than a guitar. The ensemble create a spiritual drone reminiscent of Carlos Santana's collaboration with Alice Coltrane, Illuminations.
From The River To The Ocean is unique in Anderson's discography, taking him far from the bluesy, sometimes meandering territory he's made his own. This kind of adventurousness is admirable, especially when the results are this inspired.

With Love
Mosaic/Blue Note
Charles Tolliver's approach to big band music doesn't have much to do with Ellington-esque swing. Nor is he amassing musicians for a collective blarefest in the mode of John Coltrane's Ascension or the Jazz Composers Orchestra. It's a neither-fish-nor-fowl thing he's doing on With Love, composing for a core group with ornamentation by the larger ensemble. With the seven tracks running between six and just under 11 minutes, solo space is at a premium.
The trumpeter himself blows on all but one, and there's always time for a spotlight turn by pianists Robert Glasper and Stanley Cowell (who co-founded the Strata-East label with Tolliver in the late 1960s). Various saxophonists (Todd Bashore and Craig Handy on altos, Bill Saxton and Billy Harper on tenor, and Howard Johnson on baritone) step to the microphone, as does trombonist Stafford Hunter. And on "Suspicion," bassist Cecil McBee and Tolliver's guitarist son Ched get time to shine. Tolliver's tone is sharp and gritty at once - he heads for the horn's upper register like a rocket on the opening "Rejoicin'", as the rhythm section sprints in waltz time behind him.
The title track grooves hard; drummer Victor Lewis is masterful throughout the disc. In addition, unexpected touches, like the jabbing trumpet shrieks that open "Round Midnight," justify the group's size, but this is ultimately a marvelous hard bop album, with reinforcements at the ready.

Monday, April 16, 2007


Ornette wins a Pulitzer.


I'm way behind on Learning Latin posts, what with all the Tackhead I'm listening to, and don't have time to go into a whole lot of detail, so I'm gonna bang out the three albums I listened to last week in quickie capsule-review style. Here we go!

Adalberto Santiago's got a big voice that almost reminds me of a mariachi singer. Adalberto is a good, mostly upbeat album (except for "Luces de Nueva York") with some great, bright trumpet work by I don't know who. The only song I actively hate is "Las Puertas de Mi Casa." Checking Amazon, I see he's got an album called Adalberto Santiago Featuring Popeye El Marino, which cracks me up. I might have to try and get a copy of that one.

Cheo Feliciano's Cheo is even better. His voice kinda reminds me of Ruben Blades', but with more gravitas to it, and the slower songs, some of which bust out some almost-flamenco guitar, are the real keepers. Great timbales here, especially on the jazzy opening cut, "Ancaona," where they're paired against the vibes. Highlights: "Pa' Que Afinquen," "Mi Triste Problema," "Poema de Otoño." Very cool.

Finally, I'm back to obsessing over La Lupe again. Reina de la Canción Latina might be even heavier/more berserk/more world-crushingly awesome than La Lupe Es La Reina. She's in damn-near-unhinged territory from almost the first notes of "Amor Gitano," and the strings and horns back her up in full blare. She sounds like some dude might get stabbed to death in his sleep. What's weird is that in some ways this album is more tasteful and subdued than the other one - there's only two psychobilly-speed salsa numbers on it (four or five upbeat tracks in toto, but only two where the rhythm section sounds like their friggin' arms are gonna fly off, they're playing so fast), and a lot of big brass-'n'-orchestra ballads, and there's no Santeria track this time out. But then it all goes out the window with the berserk bilingual version of "Fever," which is, like, indescribable. Again, her accent makes Charo sound like Jane Seymour, but somehow this time it works better. It's official - I could listen to La Lupe all day long, and I'm definitely gonna seek out more of her stuff.


This weekend, I wanted to listen to Sensational's Loaded With Power, one of the most fucked hip-hop albums in the history of the genre. But I only own it on cassette, and when I went looking, it wasn't in the box I thought it was in. I did spot something else, though: Keith Leblanc's Major Malfunction. Also on cassette. I've owned it since about 1988, a year or so after it came out, but it still plays perfectly. I immediately threw it in the stereo, and high school came rushing back.

I was a big Tackhead fan in high school (roughly 1987-1990), from Tackhead Tape Time and Major Malfunction (and the 1989 follow-up, Stranger Than Fiction) through the "Ticking Time Bomb" single. I had Gary Clail's Emotional Hooligan album, too, and Metatron, by Mark Stewart, though I never did track down any of his earlier releases, with the Pop Group or as a solo artist. (As I type this, I'm downloading his 1985 album As The Veneer Of Democracy Starts To Fade, though...bless you, Internet.) When they hired vocalist Bernard Fowler and put out Friendly As A Hand Grenade, I lost interest, and the follow-up, Strange Things, was even worse. But before that, they were fantastic. I've spent much of this morning listening to Keith Leblanc's solo single "Malcolm X - No Sell Out" and a bunch of the early Tackhead and Fats Comet singles - "What's My Mission Now?," "Mind At The End Of The Tether," "Reality," "Hard Left," "O.K. Bye!" The combination of huge, hip-hop/pile-driver beats, noise guitar, jagged funk bass, and all those sampled vocals and sound's all one of the best things "industrial" music ever coughed up. Easily my favorite Adrian Sherwood-related project/direction (though I do love some Creation Rebel stuff). Go searching - there's a fair amount of Tackhead/Gary Clail/Mark Stewart/Keith Leblanc material floating around various MP3 blogs. If you already know, you'll spend the day blasting your skull apart like I'm doing. If you're a newcomer, oh man are you in for a kick in the ears.


"Ex Vivo"
from Snails R Sexy (Accretions)

When you pull the CD out of the digipak, there’s a photo underneath of Los Angeles electronic composer Hans Fjellestad looking like a young Ozzy Osbourne, circa Speak Of The Devil or maybe Diary Of A Madman. His hair’s all weighed down with grease, hanging thick and lank, and he’s unshaven, with dark-rimmed eyes and a tongue like a cow’s, purple and nasty. And this song doesn’t sound anything like it should. [Read the rest here.]

Sunday, April 15, 2007


There's an interesting article in today's New York Times Magazine on "cumulative advantage" as it relates to pop music and who has hits and who doesn't, and of what relative size.

Ultimately, we’re all social beings, and without one another to rely on, life would be not only intolerable but meaningless. Yet our mutual dependence has unexpected consequences, one of which is that if people do not make decisions independently — if even in part they like things because other people like them — then predicting hits is not only difficult but actually impossible, no matter how much you know about individual tastes.

The reason is that when people tend to like what other people like, differences in popularity are subject to what is called “cumulative advantage,” or the “rich get richer” effect. This means that if one object happens to be slightly more popular than another at just the right point, it will tend to become more popular still. As a result, even tiny, random fluctuations can blow up, generating potentially enormous long-run differences among even indistinguishable competitors — a phenomenon that is similar in some ways to the famous “butterfly effect” from chaos theory. Thus, if history were to be somehow rerun many times, seemingly identical universes with the same set of competitors and the same overall market tastes would quickly generate different winners: Madonna would have been popular in this world, but in some other version of history, she would be a nobody, and someone we have never heard of would be in her place.


Even if you think most people are tasteless or ignorant, it’s natural to believe that successful songs, movies, books and artists are somehow “better,” at least in the democratic sense of a competitive market, than their unsuccessful counterparts, that Norah Jones and Madonna deserve to be as successful as they are if only because “that’s what the market wanted.” What our results suggest, however, is that because what people like depends on what they think other people like, what the market “wants” at any point in time can depend very sensitively on its own history: there is no sense in which it simply “reveals” what people wanted all along. In such a world, in fact, the question “Why did X succeed?” may not have any better answer than the one given by the publisher of Lynne Truss’s surprise best seller, “Eats, Shoots & Leaves,” who, when asked to explain its success, replied that “it sold well because lots of people bought it.”

Go read the whole thing (it's not that long).

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Willie Colón's El Malo kinda reminds me of the Joe Bataan disc I reviewed last week, except with fewer sappy love ballads - none, to be exact. It's a short (30:11), eight-song album with a couple of instrumentals and a couple of songs in English. (Actually, "Willie Baby" is half in English, half in Spanish.) The vocals are by Hector Lavoe, and he's as good as he's reputed to have been. Though he doesn't sound a damn thing like Marc Anthony, so it's no wonder that friggin' biopic, El Cantante, got disappeared. Does anybody know what happened to it? Is it out on DVD? Is it supposed to hit theaters, like, ever? Anyway, this is not a "pure" salsa record; it's got some bugalu tracks and other stuff like that, one of which, "Willie Whopper," would be my favorite track on the album if the (English) lyrics weren't so dumb. It's got some great organ, and handclaps. I like handclaps. My absolute favorite track on El Malo is the title cut, which has tons of energy from Lavoe and terrific, almost distorted trombone blowing from Colón. I also really dig the piano on "Skinny Papa." Every track on this album has something to recommend it; I love the florid backing/chorus vocals on "Chonqui," plus it's got an almost free-jazz piano breakdown (as in, it sounds like the keys are gonna break off the instrument if it goes on much longer). Then there's a pause, and the whole band comes back in, with Colón blasting air into and out of his trombone like he's got a small rodent trapped in the bell or something. "Chonqui" is probably the dramatic high point of the album. The closing track, "Quimbombo," is (just) another high-speed, high-energy workout to finish things off, with the whole band playing at the top of their abilities. There's no reason in the world not to own this album. I'm very glad I do.

Monday, April 09, 2007


Got the latest Fishbone album, Still Stuck In Your Throat, in today's mail. (Original member roll-call's down to two - ultimate frontman Angelo Moore and bass deity Norwood Fisher.) Man, I used to worship these guys in the late '80s/early '90s. They were the stage-dynamiting, brain-melting live act of all times - their show at the (long-gone) Palladium in NYC, with an unannounced 2 Live Crew opening up, is a memory that'll keep a grin on my face till my last moments on earth. But they lost it on record with Give A Monkey A Brain..., and this album is not the recovery I kinda dimly hoped it would be (and knew it wouldn't be) when I popped it in the player. A double bummer, since their new lead guitarist is Rocky George, formerly of Suicidal Tendencies and a hidden black-rock hero his ownself for decades. I mean, it's certainly got its moments - "Party With Saddam" isn't bad, if a little deflated by recent history, and "Frey'd Fuckin' Nerve Endingz" and "Premadawnutt" feature some seriously metallic guitar-bass action from Norwood and Rocky that's worth the purchase price all by itself - but it's just not Truth & Soul or In Your Face. And they really shouldn't need to grovel to frat-stoner morons by covering Sublime's "Date Rape." I've got my memories, though - three shows by the more-or-less original lineup (shortly before and shortly after The Reality Of My Surroundings) and one Trulio Disgracias gig in L.A. That's enough for one lifetime.

Got the new Tomahawk disc today, too, and they're finally living up to their name, at least if the press release is to be believed - it's called Anonymous, and all the songs are supposedly versions of uncredited Native American songs. They've all got titles like "War Song," "Antelope Ceremony," "Mescal Rite 1" and "2," "Crow Dance," etc. Could be for real, could be an excuse for Patton to do his vocals-but-no-lyrics thing while Duane Denison and John Stanier throb along ripping off Caspar Brötzmann's Mute Massaker (itself a series of six variations on Jimi Hendrix's "Peace In Mississippi"). I've never spent much time or attention on Tomahawk, so maybe this is as good as their previous two records (two, right?), maybe it's not.

The most rewarding item in today's mail: the Soul Jazz comp New York Latin Hustle!: The Sound Of New York, which gathers two CDs worth of Latin funk, salsa, bugalu, etc., etc. from the late '60s through the mid-'70s. Worth it for Al Escobar's version of "Tighten Up" alone. Might make this one part of the whole "Learning Latin" project.


Well, we've hit our first stumbling block. Charlie Palmieri's El Gigante del Teclado is the first in this series of albums to leave no impression on me whatsoever. I'm not saying it's a bad record (he can certainly play, as "Sedante de Rhumba" makes very clear), but there's nothing unique or particularly interesting about it, to my ear. The seven songs all sort of blend together - except for "Que Se Vaya," which busts out the heavy reverb and finds Palmieri switching from piano to organ - in a way that makes me think of cruise-ship music. The album cover has that same effect - there's Charlie's big grinnin' head, and okay, but is there any larger significance to this record beyond innocuous, temporary listener pleasure? Sure, there are plenty of circumstances under which that's enough and more, but not for me, not right now. Most of the records I heard last week had, if not "hidden depths" per se, at least the impact of revelation. Maybe it's because the novelty of listening to salsa and related musics has worn off and only now am I starting to consider these discs on their own merits, but I don't think so. There was a lot of good stuff last week. This one is pretty good, but it's nowhere near as world-shaking (my world, anyway) as La Lupe Es La Reina was, or Siembra, or even Recordando El Ayer for that matter. Tomorrow, I'm gonna hedge my bets and go with something I feel confident will slap my head around - Willie Colón's El Malo. (BTW, I dug through the Colón section of my local CD store this weekend, and just about every album I saw was working that silly musician-as-gangster/trombone-as-Tommy-gun thing. I can see that being cool for one record, but there were at least a half dozen, it seemed to me, and they were probably all recorded within a three-year span. I'm just sayin' - get a new gimmick.)

Friday, April 06, 2007


I've decided to host all the "Learning Latin" posts at their own blog, so if that's all you want to read, from now on, you can go here:

I'll cross-post each entry here, of course, but they'll be intermingled with all the other crap I write about here (metal, jazz, etc.). So it's your call.


Well, I'm all caught up, so from here on in it's one album per day. (Yes, that includes weekends, but I haven't actually decided whether I'm gonna post on Saturday and Sunday or post three write-ups on Monday.) Today's selection is La Lupe's La Lupe Es La Reina. And damn right she is. Lupe's voice is ferocious; she's like a Spanish-language Shirley Bassey - in fact, the first two songs on this album, "Puro Teatro" and "Sueño," begin with string-and-horn fanfares that sound straight copped from "Goldfinger" and/or the James Bond theme. Total mid-'60s spy-jazz orchestration, and that roar over the top. "La Lupe" is the wrong name for her; she should be called "La Leona" (the Lioness). She looks kinda like Eartha Kitt in the cover photo, and she totally tears into every song on this album. The only ones I don't like are the final two. "That's The Way It's Gonna Be" finds her singing in English, a huge mistake because her accent is cartoonishly thick, and there's no way she can sell the meaning of the lyrics when you can't stop snickering at her pronunciation. And "Guaguanco Bembe" abandons the orchestral, smooth-but-furious production of the rest of the album for some straight Afro-Cuban drumming 'n' chanting. This was a very personal thing for her, I guess, because she was apparently a big believer in Santería (at least, until converting to evangelical Christianity late in life) and wanted that to be reflected in the album, but it's a bad way to end the disc. Anyway, I really like this kind of super-strong female vocal, or any female singer who presents a tough front, whether that's matched by vocal histrionics or not. Joan Jett, Angela Gossow from Arch Enemy, Bebe, Shirley Bassey, India, Amy Winehouse, female flamenco singers, whatever...don't gimme no wispy singer-songwriters, gimme an ass-kicking chick who'll shout you through the wall. I got one other album by La Lupe in this box of Fania discs (La Reina de Canción Latina), and if it's as good as this one, I'm gonna buy a bunch more when this project winds down. She rules.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


Celia, Johnny, Justo & Papo: Recordando El Ayer. Now this is what I was talking about w/r/t salsa vocals in the first post in this series. Celia Cruz had one of the biggest voices in all of music, and on this album she absolutely blows the walls down, accompanied by male vocalist Justo Betancourt (one of whose albums I'll get to sometime soon, I guess; it's in the pile). It's an insanely bright and upbeat album from the first blaring horn notes of "Besito de Coco" on. Betancourt sings with almost as much force as Cruz sometimes, but other times his voice is kinda nasal and subdued, which I don't really dig. But the percussion and horns are absolutely relentless, and even more interestingly, there's some great guitar on this album. On "Se Que Tu," the guy sounds like he's playing a plywood box strung with piano wire; my fingertips started to hurt in sympathy pangs the way he was whacking away at the thing about the 2 1/2 minute mark. If you don't like salsa, this is exactly the kind of album you would absolutely not want your downstairs or upstairs neighbor to own, because it's big, brash, and pretty much demands to be played at top volume. A couple of years ago, this kind of thing could have inspired me to fits of homicidal rage (because I almost certainly would have encountered it booming through the walls and/or floor, rather than through my own iPod headphones), but now that I've decided to dive in head-first, I'm really digging it. And wow, that album cover!


When you hear and see the UK metal band DragonForce, you're instantly converted or instantly convulsing with laughter - or sometimes, it's a combination of both. The band's video for "Through the Fire and Flames," the first single off its third album, Inhuman Rampage, is one of the most preposterous things you'll ever see - and at the same time, it will cause you to thoroughly re-evaluate the very definition of "awesome." It's been a YouTube smash pretty much since it first hit Headbangers' Ball in early 2006 - mostly because of the guitar solo bit, where not only do you see the flying fingers of Herman Li and Sam Totman in picture-in-picture close-up, but the long shot reveals this absurdity: While Herman solos like a maniac, striking painful, neo-G.E. Smith facial expressions, Totman stands there placidly drinking a beer, waiting his turn. [Read the rest here.]


So yesterday I listened to Joe Bataan's Riot. Like "Pedro Navaja," from Siembra, it opens with tape of sirens and other city sounds, but that's where the similarities end. This album's from the late '60s, but it actually sounds a few years older than that to me. It's more like a soul record with somebody playing timbales; there are only three songs in Spanish, out of nine, and they're doing versions of songs like "For Your Love," "What Good Is A Castle" and "Daddy's Coming Home" that are straight off some Fifties street corner. In fact, that's the impression that sticks with me most strongly about this album - not how Latin it is, but how New York it is (not like those two are exactly mutually exclusive, but you see what I mean).

At first, I thought the sort-of title track "It's A Good Feeling (Riot)" was gonna be more politically engaged; Bataan starts off talking about how "everybody's doin' it, they're doin' it in Vietnam too" and like that, but then it becomes a straight positive-thinking track, talking about how there's always somebody there to make you feel good no matter how bad things get, and blah de blah de blah. I was looking forward to some kind of ironic pro-rioting anthem, talking about how good it feels to break shit, but no such luck. Anyway, this album reminds me of a bunch of songs I've heard before (and I'm not talking about the original recordings of some of the tunes covered), but I can't remember exactly which ones. What it really reminds me of most, though, is some soul singer from the Lee Marvin movie Point Blank. There's this amazing scene where Marvin goes into a club while this guy is performing, goes backstage, gets jumped by some other thug, and just whips the living shit out of the guy. It's an absolutely savage beating, one of my favorite movie fight scenes of all time, and the director, John Boorman, keeps cutting back to the singer, who's just screaming and howling like he's possessed or something. And I feel like some of the songs on Riot, especially the Spanish-language ones like "Muñeca" or "Mambo de Bataan," could have worked just as well in that context. At the same time, there's a lot of energy even in the sappy romantic songs like "My Cloud" and "Daddy's Coming Home," and the raw feel of it is pure New York. Another winner - three for three so far. Me likey the musica Latina.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Yesterday I listened to Bamboleate, a collaboration between pianist Eddie Palmieri and vibes player Cal Tjader. It's almost entirely instrumental, except for a couple of tracks with vocals on the choruses (the title track, which also opens the disc, and "Mi Montuno"). It's pretty short; eight songs in just over 33 minutes, and frankly I could easily have listened to another half hour of this stuff. Good thing there's a companion volume, El Sonido Nuevo, released on Verve with Tjader's name first (as opposed to this one, which gives Palmieri top billing). I haven't heard that, but I'm definitely gonna check it out based on what I've got here. I think my favorite track is "Resemblance," which is a modal jazz tune somewhere between Dave Brubeck and Coltrane's original studio recording of "My Favorite Things." Most of the album is horn-free, or limits them to accents, keeping the piano and vibes the dominant voices, which I like, though there's some excellent trombone work on a couple of tracks, particularly "Samba do Suenho" and the album closer, "Come An' Get It," which is a hard-swinging, funky tune almost like something off a mid-60s Lee Morgan album. Nice. I'm definitely gonna be keeping this album in my iPod after this little period of self-education is over.


This entry inaugurates a new direction for this blog, at least temporarily. I've decided to spend the entire month of April digging into that huge pile of salsa, bugalu and Latin jazz CDs I got from Fania Records - one disc per day. I'm sure you're even more excited to know that I'll be posting my rambling, uninformed impressions right here, for your reading displeasure! Let's begin with the first album I listened to, while waiting in line at the post office on Monday morning: Siembra, by Willie Colón and Rubén Blades.

Siembra doesn't start out like a salsa album, or at least not like what I was expecting one to sound like. It begins with a thick funk bassline, with big swooping strings, some percussion, "woo-woo" background's a straight funk song until about the 30- or 45-second mark. Then it gets full-on salsa, the rhythm changing as Colón's trombone starts shadowing Blades' vocals. My Spanish (which I'm working on at present) isn't nearly good enough to follow what he's on about, but the song's called "Plástico," and he's talking about a woman, so I'm assuming she's some sort of woman with plastic values who enjoys materialism more than spirituality, or whatever. I'm not a huge fan of Blades' vocals; at least based on this evidence, his range is kinda narrow, and he sounds like he's just telling a story rather than really singing out. I mean, he's a better singer than I am, in English or Spanish or any language, but he doesn't have the wall-toppling vocal power I was kind of expecting from a salsa record. He's more of a wry commentator than a belter.

Anyway, the second song, "Buscando Guayaba," is mellower, with some great piano. One of the things that kept me from listening to salsa for years was the piano sound - I just couldn't tolerate it. I was too into out-jazz piano (Cecil Taylor, Matt Shipp, Dave Burrell, and Bobby Few in particular) and the way those guys pounded the keys made the more lilting Latin sound annoying to me. On the other hand, I really love the bright horn sound in Latin music. When I briefly attempted the trumpet, that was what I really wanted to achieve - that blaring, brassy sound mariachi and salsa trumpeters all seemed to have. Back to "Buscando Guayaba" - it doesn't stay mellow, it gets going pretty strong, especially around the four-minute mark, when Colón and the other trombone player start roaring, one in each speaker.

The third track, "Pedro Navaja," is another story-song, this time with a very New York feel. It's got police sirens and street dialogue and sound effects in the background, like Stevie Wonder's "Living For The City," but the first verse is all Blades singing over soft hand percussion. The piece builds gradually, until by the end the whole band has come in and they're really ripping it up like a Latinsploitation movie soundtrack. Track four, though, is really weird and experimental. Remember what I was just saying about the piano? Well, forget it. "Maria Lionza" starts with these huge clanging piano chords like Cecil himself slamming the lid on his own fingers. This track's got a stomping rhythm, with guys in the back going "Huh!" really loud like angry dwarves in a coal mine, and the whole track is soaked in reverb - it's really weird and ominous-sounding, which is all the more baffling considering that as far as I can tell the lyrics are straight love stuff. But, of course, I could be totally wrong. The next two tracks, "Ojos" and "Dime," are probably the straightest ones on the whole record. They're enjoyable enough, rhythmically propulsive and all that, with nice work by the whole band, but they don't stand out like the weird-ass shit that's come before. They're just a lead-in to the title track, which ends the disc. It's another big soundtracky song full of strings and drama, with Blades claiming he's the conscience of Latinos or something as it gets started, and an all-male background chorus that takes a lot of the vocal weight. Still, this is probably Blades' best vocal on the whole record. At the end, he and Colón start talking a little bit, thanking the other for being on the record, and then it all ends abruptly, with one last blast of the trombone.

This is a pretty killin' record, much weirder and less orthodox than I'd expected a sort of big-names summit conference album to be. I don't know how it's gonna wind up coloring my impressions of all the other stuff.

Monday, April 02, 2007


The blues in 2007: young white guys, old (& dead) black guys

Many African-Americans of a certain age use the term "grown folks' music" to refer to anything predating the hip-hop era, be it the Philly soul of the Delfonics and the Chi-Lites, jazz, or the blues - the latter possibly most of all. Starting at the tail end of the Civil Rights era, the blues fell out of favor with hip, young black audiences. Funk and soul soundtracked the image they had of themselves. Meanwhile, young white fans latched onto the style and began making it their own. Thus, to this day, new blues records are most often the work of young white artists, while black musicians are represented either by reissues or new albums by aging performers. Herewith are a half-dozen examples from two labels, Sunnyside and Blind Pig.

The Sunnyside label is doing yeoman's work this year, reissuing lost but excellent discs from the late '60s and early '70s. T-Bone Walker's Good Feelin', which won him a Grammy in 1970, finds him backed by a band of sympathetic Frenchmen and really letting his guitar soloing come to the fore. This is as much a Memphis soul album (despite its Paris recording) as a blues disc, with tracks like "Everyday I Have The Blues" and "Shake It Baby." This should never have been out of print.

John Németh's Magic Touch (his Blind Pig debut, following two self-released efforts) is a stomping Chicago-style disc from an Idaho boy with a voice somewhere between Harry Connick Jr. and the Blasters' Phil Alvin, and a powerful harmonica technique. He used to gig with Junior Watson and Anson Funderburgh, and both former bosses help him out here. Watson plays raucous lead guitar, while Funderburgh produces and bends the strings some on "Let Me Hold You." Encompassing raw blues, soul, R&B, and even some jazzy organ swing, Magic Touch is frequently lyrically witty and more than competently played by all.

Tommy Castro's Painkiller, also on Blind Pig, offers a similarly gutsy mix of blues and soul from a Bay Area guitar powerhouse. If Los Lonely Boys ever become men, they might record a track as scorching as this album's opener, "Love Don't Care." The disc repeatedly shifts moods - from blues to soul and back - with lots of energy expended on Castro's part and some excellent horn arrangements, not to mention killer piano work from Teresa James on "Goin' Down South." Still, there's nothing really unique here, despite the Latino Catholic-devotional cover art, a nice touch reminiscent of Jane's Addiction.

Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown's Gate's On The Heat bridges the old-black-guys/young-white-guys divide. It's a Sunnyside reissue of a 1974 album featuring four tracks recorded with Canned Heat - pioneers of ultra-orthodox white blues revivalism - in 1973, and eight cuts from the year before, with a Parisian band and overdubs by the Memphis Horns. Occasionally, the songs date themselves with titles like "Man And His Environment" and "Please Mr. Nixon," but it's a hard-grooving disc for the most part, and the seven-minutes-plus, improvised "The Drifter" is a showcase for Brown's electric violin work.

Southside Reunion, credited to Memphis Slim and Buddy Guy, is the loosest of the Sunnyside discs. It sounds like all involved were playing for their own pleasure, first and foremost. It's Guy's road band backing up Slim's piano and vocals (though Buddy sings a bit, too), and everyone present - Junior Wells, Roosevelt Sykes, A.C. Reed, Phil Guy - is in top form, cranking out hard-charging tunes with plenty of space for stinging solos. As much fun as it likely was to record, it's twice as enjoyable to listen to.

The most innovative of the Blind Pig discs is Wish I Had You by the Rounders. A tight Oklahoma City crew who write all their own material, they've mastered the North Mississippi groove popularized by Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside, among others, but amped it up to suit rock audiences. Some of the songs feel like jams that fade because they couldn't write endings, but the rhythm section keeps an addictive enough pulse that it hardly matters. This disc, more than any other described above, proves that in whoever's hands the form may currently be, the blues is alive and well.


There's a really great, fascinating piece in the Boston Globe on Deval Patrick and his father, Pat, who played sax in the Sun Ra Arkestra for decades. There are music excerpts linked at the bottom of the page. Quite a story.


"It's Clobberin' Time/What's Going On"
From Our Impact Will Be Felt (Abacus)
Unearth must have gotten first pick when tracks were being proffered for this Sick Of It All tribute album. How else could so generic a metalcore band get to tackle one of the all-time great pit-destroyers? With luck, this track, and the album from which it springs, will send the kidz off to the record store (or the blogs, or some bittorrent site) to hear the originals. But folks of a certain age (let’s say 35) will remember the rush of seeing Sick Of It All at, let’s say, City Gardens in Trenton, New Jersey, with Gorilla Biscuits and Judge, right before and/or shortly after Blood, Sweat And No Tears was released in ’89.[Read the rest here.]