Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Genre-Smashing New Guitar Albums from Chris Burton Jacome and Lawson Rollins

Chris Burton Jacome and Lawson Rollins are both gifted acoustic guitarists with individual voices, each with an innovative, flamenco-inspired approach and a new album out. Jacome imaginatively blends both rock and Middle Eastern melodies within a traditional gypsy flamenco framework, while Rollins brings a biting flamenco edge to his groove-oriented world jazz instrumentals. If flamenco or gypsy guitar is your thing, both of these guys should be on your radar, particularly since each has his best days ahead of him.

Jacome is a feel-good story: as a teenager, he wanted to be Eddie Van Halen, but was happily disabused of that fantasy when he discovered flamenco. He immersed himself in it the old-fashioned way, learning from the source from Roma in Spain. His new album Levanto is a fullscale ballet, a theme and variations complete with dancing – as a purist, he’s continuing a centuries-old tradition that blends music with dance, legend and storytelling. Dynamics are his strong suit: he’s the rare guitarist you actually want to hear more of (lots more of, actually – as with Rollins, he’s sometimes conspicuously absent on his own album). Backed by the vivid, incisive violin of Jennifer Mayer, Adrian Goldenthal on bass, Kristofer Hill on percussion and a trio of brassy vocalists (Chayito Champion, Olivia Rojas and Vanessa Lopez), the group alternate between fiery dance instrumentals, dramatic ballads, poignantly fingerpicked passages and a lot of tap-dancing. Jacome makes artful use of the Arabic hijaz scale as well as interpolating catchy rock passages within the compositions’ stately architecture. The problem is that as an album, the segues are jarring – just when a song seems about to sail joyously over the edge, here come those dancers again. It’s easily solved once you upload the tracks and sequence them yourself (it should be emphasized that fans of oldschool flamenco will have no problem with this; however, a lot of momentum gets lost if you just leave the tracks in their original order). What this really should have been is a DVD – it leaves the impression that there’s a whole side to the spectacle that doesn’t translate if the audio is all you have.

Rollins comes at flamenco as a jazz player with blazing speed and a wealth of original ideas: by the time the fifth track begins, he’s delved into rhumba, samba, Cuban son and back again. Like Jacome, he has an inspired cast of characters behind him including Charlie Bisharat on violin, Dave Bryant on percussion, the great Iranian composer Kayhan Kalhor guesting on kamancheh on one track and Airto Moreira, Flora Purim and their daughter Diana Booker contributing backing vocals. Rollins tosses off one lightning phrase after another, sometimes handing them off to Bisharat, other times to the wryly muted trumpet of Jeff Elliott. He imaginatively works the traditional descending scale of flamenco music in all kinds of new ways, even adding some tersely textural electric guitar beauty to the title track. The highlight of the cd is the triptych at the end, the Migration Suite, upping the ante with biting, Middle Eastern flavored arrangements and motifs. The problem here is the production: when there are horns here, they’re so compressed that they sound like a synthesizer, an effect that compromises all the playing here, even Rollins’. Where the Brazilian vocalists might have been able to contribute something memorable, they’re as buried in the mix as the Jordanaires on an old Elvis record. Even Kalhor gets flattened out. There may be a reason behind this: one of the cuts here was a “most added” track on easy-listening radio earlier in the year. Which on one level is fine, Rollins deserves to be heard – but in a context that does justice to the fire and imagination of his playing, his compositions and the peers he plays with. More than anything, this reminds of the work of another quality guitarist, Peter White, whose series of world music-inspired acoustic instrumental albums about 20 years ago typecast him as an easy-listening, smooth jazz guy rather than the world class player he is.

Lucky Arizonans can see Chris Burton Jacome play the cd release show for this one at the Chandler Center for the Arts, 250 N Arizona Ave. in Chandler on May 2.

April 27, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Kasey Anderson – Nowhere Nights

By turns bitter, brutal and gorgeously anthemic, Kasey Anderson’s latest cd is a defiantly restless, kick-ass heartland rock record. It rips the heart out of the myth of idyllic smalltown life. Over and over again, the characters here make it clear that ultimately they want one thing and one thing alone: to get out. The onetime big fish in a little pond in the title track explains it with a casual grace: there was no epiphany, no paradigm shift, he just got sick of spinning his wheels. The other players in these Russell Banks-style narratives don’t get off nearly so easily.

Kasey Anderson comes across as something of the missing link between Steve Earle and Joe Pug: he’s got Earle’s breathy drawl and knack for a catchy hook and Pug’s uncanny sense of metaphor. Eric “Roscoe” Ambel’s production sets layers and layers of guitar tersely jangling, twanging and roaring beneath Anderson’s intense, impassioned vocals, occasionally fleshed out with keyboards or accordion. Drummer Julian MacDonough propels it along with some of the most hauntingly terse playing on a rock record in recent years. The opening track, Bellingham Blues sets the tone: “I kept walking down these streets, searching for someone I would never meet,” Anderson half-snarls, half-whispers, perfectly encapsulizing the frustration and also the fear that comes with knowing that you’ve been somewhere you never wanted to be for far too long.

The second cut sounds like a blend of Mellencamp and Everclear (Mellencamp on Everclear, maybe?), followed by the wry, cynical Sooner or Later, a road song that could be Springsteen but with better production values. Holed up in some seedy motel, “She lights roman candles while he bleeds out,” yet there’s a sad determinism at work here: no matter how much resolve she may pull together, sooner or later she’s going to be going back to him.

With simple guitar, cello and a slow, hypnotic rimshot beat, Home is a chilling if ultimately encouraging reminder to a once-promising friend to get out and stay out: “Where you hang your hat, that’s where you get caught,” Anderson reminds. The big blazing backbeat rocker Torn Apart offers the same advice to an ex-girlfriend in less than friendly terms:

You’ve been spitting out nails and knocking back whiskey
You’ve got a new tattoo that says you don’t miss me
That highwire act makes me so bored I choke
Everybody’s laughing at the joke…
Everybody wants to see you smile
Maybe you should shut your mouth for a little while
Get out before you get torn apart

Possibly the most vivid track here is the searing I Was a Photograph, which follows the wartime and post-discharge struggles of Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller, the “Marlboro Man” Iraq war veteran immortalized in the famous Luis Sinco photo.

The closest Anderson gets to optimism is on the final track, and the two halfhearted seduction ballads here. The narrator in The Leavin’ Kind ends up undone by his own decency, and he knows it:

The devil’s in the details
I ain’t so hard to find
Go on, disappear, Ill be standing right here
I’m not the leavin’ kind

“Some things you can bury, that don’t mean they’re dead,” he reminds in From Now On: “You always said you were a hopeless romantic, well here’s that hopeless romance you’ve been waiting for.”

The album closes with the death-obsessed, metaphor- and reverb-drenched, practically eight-minute epic Real Gone, Ambel’s offhandedly savage guitar pyrotechnics like high-beams throughout a long, unfulfilling, uneasy road trip that ends just as unresolved as it began. Hopefully there’ll be more coming soon. You’ll see this one high up on our 50 best albums of the year list in December. Kasey Anderson plays Lakeside on May 1 at around 10:30 on a killer bill with the Roscoe Trio and Chip Robinson.

April 27, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 4/27/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Tuesday’s song is #93:

John Lennon – Nobody Loves You When You’re Down and Out

“Everybody loves you when you’re six feet under the ground.” From Walls and Bridges, 1973.

April 27, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment