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.