Sunday, August 20, 2017

Rediscoveries of Lost Gems- Eddie Harris- Free Speech



















Eddie Harris- Free Speech
[Atlantic Records, 1970]

Many moons ago, I wrote an in-depth feature on Eddie Harris and his pioneering use of the varitone saxophone on the now defunct blog Ear Fuzz. Today's edition of Rediscoveries of Lost Gems will focus on Eddie's oft-overlooked LP called Free Speech. In the canon of jazz, and specifically in Eddie's discography, this album was never fully appreciated when it was first pressed in 1970.   In a sense, Eddie Harris was an anomaly in the world of jazz, always looking for what's next while the rest of the jazz scene was struggling to keep up with him. He could have very easily stuck with the tried and true soul jazz sound that got him noticed, but instead he chose the road less traveled filled with potholes, bumps and dead-ends.

The opening cut "Wait Please," starts out unassumingly enough with a slow drum and bass groove accompanying the intoxicating sound of Harris's Varitone sax. In fact, the title is apropo, as he is imploring the listener to be patient for the song to really get going. At around the five minute mark, the pace of the song speeds up considerably while the sound of the saxophone gets increasingly distorted until it's run through an echoplex that sounds like a flurry of saxes are being played simultaneously while eventually being swept up in a windstorm. He takes a well-deserved smoke break during the next track, leaving it up to the band to play a pretty straight forward tribute to Bossa Nova on the cheekily titled "Boogie Woogie Bossa Nova".  With the aggressive, upbeat "Penthology," Harris pretty much dominates the first half of the track with a manic Varitone solo laid over a  hard bop jazz rhythm section.

On the second half of the record, more surprises are lurking around the corner. With "Bold and Black" patiently waiting in the wings, you would think that it would come out of the gates with a certain intensity. Instead, it features more of a mid-tempo traditional jazz sound until the Varitone takes over at the two-minute mark. As the solo really starts cooking, the rhythm section matches Harris note for note, not pulling any punches whatsoever. The next track, "The Things You Do" is so mellow and slow it makes some of the songs on Mile Davis's In A Silent Way seem like frenetic workouts in comparison. Continuing the recurring theme, the title track of this record starts out relatively slow, and then builds into a frenzied ball of energy with the saxophone almost sounding like a Korg synthesizer. After the first burst of sound, the song quiets down to a slight whisper at around the three and a half minute mark. Then, it slowly builds back up into a sound that most accurately represents The new Thing free jazz sound from the late 60's. There is plenty of great music on this record, so please don't hesitate to dig in accordingly.

Link is in comments!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Very Belated Favorite Albums of 2016 Part 2

As I promised last week, here is the conclusion to my list of favorite albums from 2016. I hope you find something on this list that grabs your attention.

6) Thee Oh Sees- A Weird Exits














When I listened to A Weird Exits for the first time, I made a snap judgement that this was finally going to be a Thee Oh Sees record that wouldn't make my year-end list. It didn't have the same melodic magic as much of the band's discography to that point, and a lot of the songs had a similar vibe to them. After giving the record some time to sink in, I realized that my initial thoughts were clouded by expectations of what they should sound like. Once I relaxed, and just let the sounds wash over me, I couldn't get enough of the blistering guitars and pummeling drums that filled my earhole. The sound that is presented on this record is pure ecstatic euphoria!

Gelatinous Cube and Unwrap the Fiend Pt.2

7) Aesop Rock- The Impossible Kid

 












It's been four years since the critically acclaimed, self-produced Skelethon was released by Aesop Rock, and the entire world can take a collective breath knowing that he hasn't missed a beat on his latest record The Impossible Kid. I was so eager to listen to new music by Aesop, but I held off a few days before even allowing myself to watch the video for "Rings," the first single from the album.   As usual, Aesop's verbal dexterity is on point, and the production techniques he uses on the record are to my ears even better than Skelethon. The rhymes are more coherent, but there are still plenty of puzzling non sequitirs and double entendres to keep the listener on their toes, as well as boom-bap beats for the classic hip-hop heads.  Once you get into this record, you'll find that it's really difficult to stop listening to it.

Mystery Fish and Lazy Eye

8) Heron Oblivion- S-T














Heron Oblivion are a supergroup of sorts, as each member has been in other high-profile bands from the psychedelic and experimental folk scenes of the early 2000's. Meg Baird, the lead singer and drummer, was a member of the experimental folk group Espers. Ethan Miller, the bass player for Heron Oblivion, was the guitar player and vocalist for bands such as Feral Ohms and Comets on Fire. Noel V. Harmonson and Charlie Saufley, guitar players in Heron Oblivion, were both members of Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound. With a resume like this, there is no way that this wasn't going to be anything other than amazing. Lazy journalists would probably describe the band's sound as the equivalent of Neil Young and Crazy Horse jamming with Fairport Convention while listening to a steady diet of Sonic Youth and rare folk records. While this wouldn't be far off the mark, it simply lists off a bunch of bands that influenced Heron Oblivion, rather than exploring what makes this album so special.  Personally, I feel that there is nothing more beautiful to listen to than the soft, soothing textures of Meg Baird's voice. When you add the soft to loud dynamics of the band's sound featuring caterwauling guitar solos and frenzied bass playing, there simply isn't a more exciting band out there doing this style of music. "Rama" will transport you to another dimension.

Rama and Your Hollows

9) A Tribe Called Quest- We Got it From Here














Upon first hearing that a new A Tribe Called Quest album was coming out, I was skeptical that it wouldn't even come close to measuring up to their classic records without Phife Dawg's contributions to the songs. This was before I found out that Phife had made up with Q-Tip, and that they had recorded most of the tracks prior to his passing. Now, I was at least intrigued. Would they be able to  balance the expectations of fans who worship at the altar of their classic records like The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders with the millenials who want to be force-fed auto-tune and trap-beats?  Did they have anything new to say about the conditions of the world, and would they be able to present these ideas in a catchy, innovative way? Could they still rap well enough to carry an entire record without a bunch of skits and throwaway songs? The answer to all of these questions was a resounding "yes". They managed to pull all of this off while creating one of the best swan-songs in hip-hop history. This record effectively employed offbeat samples, quirky production techniques, live instruments and killer rhymes, all while making a satisfying Tribe record for people wanting to break the chains that bind us and prevent us from evolving into better human beings.

The Space Program and Dis Generation

10) Sunwatchers- S-T

 











The fact that this record was released on John Dwyer's label Castleface should at least peak your interest a little bit. While most of my list has featured pretty straight-ahead music, this album is the outlier. It sounds like a free jazz band caught in a never-ending loop of psychedelic madness, while a cacophonous barrage of saxophones, drums and guitars assault your ears. If you like adventurous music that never lets up, this is your ticket to a four-walled room filled with funhouse mirrors. Some might say that it's too psychedelic to be called free jazz, and vice versa, but fans of both styles of music will find plenty to sink their teeth into here.

Herd of Creeps and Ape Phases

Here is the rest of my list with short descriptions of the music rather than a full review.  I will gladly provide you with links to songs from these albums if you leave a comment with your request.

11) Allah Las- Calico Review- reverb-soaked jangle pop with melodies for days.
12) Rangda- The Heretic's Bargain- a mesmerizing mixture of epic jams, slow burning dirges and fast-paced rock with hints of flamenco and middle eastern flavors.
13) Causa Sui- Return to Sky- intense, raucous flights of fancy that take you to another world.
14) Homeboy Sandman- Kindness for Weakness- thinking man's hip hop with inventive samples and bars that are instantly quotable.
15) Charles Bradley- Changes- heartfelt soul music from one of the best contemporary vocalists in the business.
16) Deerhoof- The Magic- infectious danceable pop melodies mixed with razor-edged guitars.
17) Nick Millevoi- Desertion- If Calexico continued to perfect their desert soaked instrumentals, it would sound something like this.
18) Lorelle Meets the Obsolete- Balance- a well balanced mix of squalling guitars with ominous synthesizers adding another dimension to their sound.
19) Tim Presley- The Wink-irresistible art-pop with quirky melodies from the lead singer of White Fence who is finally letting his vocals be heard over the din.
20) Wireheads- Arrive Alive- absorbing, eclectic effort from this punk band that features a great mix of spastic punk, mellow dirges and groove-heavy art rock.    

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Very Belated Favorite Albums of 2016 Part 1

Considering that my girlfriend and I were forced to evacuate our apartment last fall due to the sloping of the landscape, I'm sure it hadn't come as a surprise to anyone that the Favorite Albums of 2016 list didn't come to fruition before the end of the year. However, after receiving a recent request from someone in the comments section, I decided to post a posthumous list of my favorites from last year. While this isn't the usual exhaustive list that I have posted in the past, I still hope that you find something on here that perks up your ears.

1) Steve Gunn- Eyes on the Line














On Steve Gunn's latest LP, he manages to mostly keep the song lengths under five minutes, while still packing them with plenty of extended guitar breaks. It's a more punchy, upbeat affair than Way Out Weather, further establishing Gunn as a singer-songwriter who is just as likely to launch into a blistering guitar solo as he is to gently lull you into a trance with his mesmerizing melodies. This is the next logical step for a songwriter of Gunn's caliber, allowing himself to reach a larger audience without sacrificing the integrity of the music.

Ancient Jules and Night Wander

2) Cate Le Bon- Crab Day













I've been closely following Cate Le Bon ever since stumbling upon her fantastic debut Me Oh My in 2009. She has always moved forward with her sound, at times adding unorthodox instrumentation to change up the sound of the final product each time she makes a new record. Crab Day is LeBon's homage to 80's Post-punk and art rock without getting too steeped in nostalgia. Each song is an intoxicating ear-worm patiently waiting to burrow itself into your brain and stick there forever. They range from beautiful ballads to caustic noise, all anchored by Le Bon's captivating voice. If you aren't transported to a special place when listening to the climax of "What's Not Mine," then you might just be beyond help.

Wonderful and What's Not Mine

3) Ka- Honor Killed the Samurai














Those of you who've been regular visitors to Eclectic Grooves will have noticed Ka's name on previous lists. His last two records are must-haves for fans of hip-hop with lyrical substance. Continuing his trend of avoiding the trendy boom-bap beats and party-friendly choruses, the entire focus on Honor Killed the Samurai is on Ka's gritty lyrics filled with so many quotable lines you'll run out of room in your notepad trying to jot them all down. He raps in a gravelly tone, with each bar measured precisely to blend with the ominous score and sparsely placed drum beats in the background.  This record is the equivalent of eating a four-course meal, while most contemporary hip-hop is like eating a happy meal that makes you feel sad.

That Cold and Lonely and $

4) Kikagaku Moyo- House in the Tall Grass


















One can only listen to so many Black Angels knock-offs before losing the desire to listen to any more current bands describing their sound as psychedelic rock. When I was just about to jump off the psychedelic bandwagon, I discovered the Japanese band Kikagaku Moyo's sublime album House in the Tall Grass. To simply call the band's music psychedelic would be doing an injustice to them, as so many bands have recently been called psychedelic that the term no longer carries any significant weight. What the band does well is to seamlessly combine the soft with the heavy. Something that most bands aren't able to grasp is how important dynamics can be to the unfolding of a song, but Kikagaku Moyo has mastered this concept. Songs that seem to effortlessly be going along in one lane suddenly switch gears and move into a completely different place without jarring the listener. If you are looking for some new music that does the term "psychedelic" proud, you can't go wrong with Kikagaku Moyo.

Green Sugar and Silver Owl

5) Marisa Anderson- Into the Light














For those living in Portland, Oregon, the name Marisa Anderson has continued to resonate long after the dissolution of the fantastic Evolutionary Jass Band. Anderson, who was the guitar player in the Evolutionary Jass Band for several years, has undoubtedly ventured into new territory with her solo career. Aside from a split LP with Tashi Dorjii, Marisa has released four records prior to Into the Light since 2005. Her style on this record can best be described as desert-soaked American Primitive guitar with a decidedly more mellow vibe than previous records. This is perfect music for riding off into the sunset in the middle of the desert while contemplating the meaning of life.

The Old Guard and The Golden West

I plan to post the second half of this list next week, so be on the lookout for this.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

A Melange of Musical Pipedreams and Pandemonium


















While the title of this post sounds like one of my own mix-tape creations, it's actually the title of the latest encyclopedic, music-reference tome from the prolific author Vernon Joynson. Over the past several years, I've been intrigued with the plethora of music reference books available which highlight the most obscure artists in the pantheon of music.  The first books I heard about that were written by Vernon Joynson were Fuzz, Acid and Flowers and The Tapestry of Delights, but the price of these has always been so exorbitant that I could only hold the vision that there would be a new pressing that was more affordable. Recently, I discovered that he had released a revision of one of his earlier books Dreams, Fantasies and Nightmares from Far Away Lands Revisited that would showcase music coming out of Turkey, Nigeria, Ghana, Zambia and the Middle East. After doing some research about the cost of landing a copy of the aforementioned A Melange of Musical Pipedreams and Pandemonium, I determined that it would be a necessary investment in my creative well-being. It arrived yesterday, so while I haven't had a chance to delve into it extensively, I can already tell that it contains a wealth of information about undiscovered gems.


















Mansion- The Love Song and Devil Woman
From: Devil Woman [Clover, 1976]

For today's post, I'm featuring a couple rare track from the Nigerian band Mansion, first discovered in A Melange of Musical Pipedreams and Pandemonium. Devil Woman was released on Clover records in 1976, a label featuring records by other head-spinning afro-rock artists like The Doves, Aktion and The Apostles. From the cover of the album, you would probably peg this as another African high-life record akin to the classic sounds of King Sunny Ade. While the record does feature sunny melodies that ride the intoxicating rhythm of high life, it also features a strong funk and psychedelic vibe that elevates these songs to a higher level.

The first track I'm featuring today is appropriately titled "The Love Song", and it's almost exactly what you would expect to hear.  From the chiming organ and upbeat rhythms throughout this track, you are in for a serious hit of aural sunshine. Every single instrument is perfectly in synch, especially the way the catchy vocals blend with the organ and shuffling rhythm. If you can sit still while listening to this track, then you probably need to make sure your heart's still beating. I simply can't stop bobbing my head and tapping my feet while listening to this song, and I can almost say with a certainty that you will find yourself in a positive head-space after listening to it.

The second track that I'm featuring from this record is called "Devil Woman". I'm definitely getting a groovy Fela Kuti Afro-beat vibe from the beginning of the track, but it quickly switches gears into an acidic guitar solo that slowly develops into the first verse of the track. It's another tasty tune with catchy vocals laid over a bed of funky rhythms, stinging guitar and complex percussion. I especially love the slightly fuzzed out solo towards the middle of the track, and the overall insistent groove of the song. It gives the listener the feeling of a groove that never stops until the break of day.

I hope you enjoyed this post, and I look forward to sharing more music with all of you on a more regular basis.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Influences of DJ Shadow

As I sit here this morning, bleary-eyed and staring at this blank screen, I realize that it's been another four months since my last post. When things were going well, it seemed like the words flowed effortlessly out of my fingers like a running stream. Now, I can barely muster up a small puddle of words, tangled up in regret and uncertainty of what the future holds for me.

Recently, an old friend and frequent visitor of Eclectic Grooves sent me a message on Facebook saying that he was sorry to hear of all of my troubles, and that he figured that the blog was defunkt. Upon hearing this from a person who had visited the blog many times, and regularly posted comments, it was the shot in the arm that I needed to reignite my passion for writing about music again.  I want to thank this person for shaking me out of my creative funk and essentially waking me from my slumber.

Now, on to the music..

One of my main sources for discovering new music when I first started the blog was the retro-leaning, vinyl enthusiast magazine called Wax Poetics. It was a revelation to me, as its contents overflowed with recommendations of old records, new interviews with funk, soul and rock artists from the 60's and 70's who are still prevalent and a smattering of interviews and reviews of new artists that were presently making waves. About three years ago they drastically changed the format of the magazine: making the pages have a more newspaper feel to them instead of the glossy format from the beginning, featuring more mainstream artists like Michael Jackson and Prince on the cover and doing away with one of my favorite sections of the magazine called Re: Discovery that mined the underground archives for music that was practically unheard of and definitely not celebrated when it was originally released. These reviews were insightful and entertaining, and they made you want to find these albums in any way, shape or form.

Although they haven't brought back the Re: Discovery feature, I am happy to report that the last couple issues of Wax Poetics have gone back to featuring classic artists like James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone and David Axelrod, and the glossy print has also returned.

Today, I want to focus on a few artists and tracks that were influential to DJ Shadow (the cover artist for the latest issue of Wax Poetics) when producing his instrumental hip-hop masterpiece Endtroducing.

DJ Shadow- Endtroducing
[1996, Mo' Wax]

















Giorgio- London Traffic
From: Son of My Father [Dunhill Records, 1972]


















Before Giorgio Moroder became a household name in disco, he was busy crafting quirky pop gems like this. I love the way the drums kick in from the beginning, and that it uses synthesizers sparingly enough that they don't drown out the rest of the instrumentation.  As much as I don't like synthesizers, sometimes they serve a purpose to set the tone of the song. In this case, there is a synthesizer solo featured prominently in the middle of the song that sets the light and airy tone of the song. This is actually perfect summer music, so sit back and relax with a cold one while enjoying the wistful sound of pre-disco Giorgio Moroder.


Dennis Linde- On the Run
From: Linde Manor [Intrepid, 1970]















Based on the cover of the record, you would think that this is another sleepy singer-songwriter record from the 70's.  But, from the first couple seconds of the funky bass on this track, you realize that you couldn't have been more mistaken. There is a somewhat sappy bridge that takes the track in a different direction midway through the song, but it quickly finds its legs again with a short instrumental break replete with punchy horns and fuzz guitar.  At the end of the song, there is a great effect that makes his voice sound like it's going down a deep well while the horns and guitar fade in the distance. Overall, another deep cut taken from the seemingly endless archives of DJ Shadow.

Osanna- Variazione 1 (To Plinius)
From: Preludio Tema Variazioni Canzona [Fonit, 1972]

 
















This is one of the best album covers of all time, but I have no idea what it's supposed to be depicting. It was clearly influenced by the swirling, trippy album covers from the 60's psychedelic era without coming across as kitschy.  The infectious bass and drums intro to this song is a hip-hop sample waiting to happen, so it makes sense that DJ Shadow was influenced by it. I love the way the perfect little guitar solo sets the tone for the guitar and horn sections that maniacally play off each other. This is a very fast-paced cut that doesn't let up until it slowly fades out with chanting vocals over an orchestral tone that is reminiscent of the sounds you hear when something bad is about to happen in a horror flick. This track has a lot going on, and will reward repeated listens.

That's it for now, but I look forward to sharing more music with you soon.


Sunday, March 05, 2017

Finding My Way Home

So much time has passed, I almost feel like an imposter while writing this post on my own blog.  Eclectic Grooves used to mean so much to me, and I felt like with it I was able to gain a loyal, albeit, small community of readers who waited patiently for my next treatise on the current state of music. I spent a copious amount of time combing the internet for the latest inspiration, and was mostly successful in operating a semi-popular blog for the first three years. Then, my girlfriend started struggling with her health in the Spring of 2010, beginning with digestive issues and slowly developing into a much more serious diagnosis of Lyme disease. Since she was diagnosed with Lyme disease in the fall of 2013, our lives haven't been the same. I started feeling hopeless about every facet of life. How would we possibly get the money to pay for the care that she needed? How would I be able to stay mentally and emotionally strong despite her considerable decline in health? How would I keep my mind off the fact that her health might not ever stabilize?

The questions were many, and the mind grew wearier every day. I started doubting who I was in the world, what I had accomplished and I started second guessing my personal friendships. If my friends weren't calling me back when I reached out, this must be a sign that they don't want to be friends. One by one, my friendships started slipping through my fingers as I lost the will to go out of my comfort zone and reach out to them. I felt like everyone was judging the decisions we made around raising money to get her well, and that I could no longer post anything on social media about going to the movies or buying records. Being able to raise money from friends and family was both a blessing and a curse. We were blessed to receive such a gracious display of generosity, but couldn't help feeling indebted to each and every person who helped or donated money to our cause. I can't really be sure, but I think that a couple of my friendships ended due to the awkwardness caused by these money matters.  I never had the courage to ask these friends if they were upset with me about this, so I have been carrying the burden of guilt this entire time.

While I have spent so much time feeling sorry for myself, and blaming my friends for abandoning me when I needed them most, I neglected to realize that I had a part to play in this too.  I pretty much lost myself over the course of the last three 1/2 years, trying to block out what was really happening to my life. My friends were fading memories that grew more and more distant every day. I rarely reached out to my family outside of my parents, and I lived in a constant state of flux. Nothing made me happy except for music, and sometimes even the salve of music couldn't raise my spirits. Each day became a routine of working, eating, watching television and going to bed. Rinse and repeat.

Since last November, my girlfriend and I had been facing so much adversity that at times it felt like we were literally going to fall apart. We discovered about a week before Thanksgiving that the apartment complex we had been living in for the past decade had a leak in the main water line under the complex. It turned out that even though our landlord was able to get the water line fixed, the damage had already been done. Within a couple days, we began noticing cracks in the foundation, our bedroom and front door would no longer close and there were huge cracks above most of our doorways. We had a mostly mellow Thanksgiving, warming up pre-cooked dishes from New Seasons in the oven, and capping off the evening by watching "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy".

She went out for a few hours to visit a friend, and I had already gone to bed by the time she got home. As she walked through the hallway, a loud popping and cracking sound came from the floorboards and immediately woke me up. I wasn't sure what to do as I had barely slept, so I had a 1/2 of a Benadryl to see if I could get back to sleep. Shortly after this, she walked across the floor in the living room, and another loud pop resounded through the apartment. At this point, we both went out to the parking lot, and noticed the huge gaps in the concrete that almost looked like fault lines. From here, it was pretty apparent that we were going to have to pack our essential belongings, evacuate our apartment and completely start over. Since we had no idea how long it would take for the entire complex to slide down the hillside, we began to frantically pack our stuff with the thought that this might be our last chance to retrieve anything. It would seem that a greater higher power was on our side, as we were able to get all of our belongings packed up and moved into a storage unit while we took our next step into the unknown.

Over the next two months, we stayed in a hotel as we tried to put the pieces of our life back together, and find a new place to call home. It wasn't easy as my girlfriend's Lyme disease symptoms were heightened due to the stress caused by the evacuation, and I had to burn through my vacation days to cover missed time at work due to unexpected snowstorms and a relentless cold. In addition to all of this, we were trying to find a new apartment during the holidays when almost no one was available to show places. I still don't know how we did it considering all of the obstacles we faced, but we managed to find a new place against all odds, at the end of an arduous journey that wound up taking approximately two months. We still haven't settled into our new place as most of our belongings were thrown into random, wardrobe boxes that the moving company had to pack, and we've still been trying to get our bearings. 

I imagine this post comes off like a diary entry in a teenager's journal, but these things needed to be said. If any of my friends are reading this, I hope you understand that I didn't intentionally abandon you.  I just didn't know how to find my way home. Maybe writing this post will cure the writer's block I've been experiencing over the past year, and get me back on track with writing about music that I love. 

Edit: This track off the rapper Jonwayne's latest record Rap Album Two encapsulates the feelings and emotions that I'm going through right now. Until next time...

Jonwayne- Out of Sight