Cameron Mizell is the great pastoral jazz guitarist not named Bill Frisell. Like Frisell, he has a laser sense for a catchy hook, a spacious approach to melody, a fondness for the unconventional and a flair for the lurid that occasionally bares its fangs from deep in the shadows. Mizell’s latest album Negative Space – streaming at Destiny Records – is a trio effort with multi-keyboardist Brad Whiteley and drummer Kenneth Salters. Mizell is playing the small room at the Rockwood on March 13 at 7 PM.
The album’s opening miniature sets the stage, a brief, resonant Frisell-style tone poem of sorts, just a couple of tersely exploratory guitar tracks and a little cymbal work from Salters. Big Tree takes those hints of unbridled gorgeousness and, to paraphrase Richard Thompson, really brushes those treetops, a series of soul-infused echo phrases. The slowly swaying Yesterday’s Troubles, Mizell’s distorted riffage paired with Whiteley’s echoey Rhodes piano, sounds like Beninghove’s Hangmen covering a set piece from Quincy Jones’ In the Heat of the Night soundtrack.
Likewise, Whiskey for Flowers hints that Mizell’s going to plunge into Marc Ribot noir, but instead hits a warmly vamping pastorale shuffle that builds to an unexpectedly sweet Jerry Garcia-ish peak (it’s inspired by couple-bonding: Mizell’s wife has come to share his appreciation for the hard stuff). By contrast, Take the Humble is a crescendoing funk shuffle that owes more to Booker T than to, say, Scofield, especially when it comes to Whiteley’s organ solo.
Mizell builds a slow burn over Whiteley’s ominously circular Philip Glassine piano phrases on the album’s cinematic centerpiece, Clearing Skies, rising to David Gilmour epic grandeur, Whiteley channeling blues through the prism of REM balladry. Don’t laugh: it works. Likewise, Get It While You Can, a punchier take on the Grateful Dead version of the old folk song Going Down the Road Feeling Bad.
Barter reaches from spare and then expansive Booker T-ish verses toward Pink Floyd grandeur. A Song About a Tree would be a standout track on any Frisell album, a luscious song without words assembled from catchy electrified bluegrass hooks, drifting matter-of-factly further into space. Unfolding has such an odd rhythm – at heart, it’s a reggae anthem – that it almost seems like the drum was a last-minute overdub. The album’s title cut has an ECM feel, Whiteley’s waves of piano building and then receding way too soon: it could have gone on for twice as long and nobody would complain. The final track is part Dark Side of the Moon majesty, part cinematic Ribot menace. Beyond the tunesmithing here, the absence of bass makes this a great practice record.
Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #892:
Albert King – Live Wire/Blues Power
A characteristically intense yet nuanced concert recording by the great blues guitarist, clearly amped to be playing in front of a captive audience at the Fillmore West in 1968, probably making twice as much as he did playing the chitlin circuit where he honed his chops. Like a lot of lefthanded guitarists (Hendrix, Otis Rush, Randi Russo), Albert King had an instantly recognizable, signature style, in his case a finely honed, bent-note attack where he could say more with a note’s subtle inflection than most players could say in an entire album. This album captures both sides of King, his subtlety and ferocity, in a mix of extended excursions – Elmore James’ Blues at Sunrise and a sprawling, ten-minute version of King’s own Blues Power – as well as a spirited blast through the instrumental Night Stomp and a bit later, B.B. King’s Please Love Me. Booker T. & the MGs drummer Al Jackson Jr. is his magnificently understated, groovemeister self and the rest of the band hangs back and lets King do his thing without getting in the way. Ask any fan of electric blues if they have this and the answer is that most of them do. As good as King is on this date, he’d get even better as the years wore on: pretty much any bootleg from the 80s has at least a few transcendent moments. Here’s a random torrent.
This isn’t a guy in a black trenchcoat stalking his way down a grey Cairo back alley in 4 AM drizzle – but it is definitely an urban album. When Cairo was flooded by Nubians from the countryside in the 1960s and 70s, it was something akin to the northward journey of American blacks to cities like New York and Chicago – they brought their music with them. The resulting collision between their rural music, the levantine sounds popular in the big city, and late 60s American R&B produced just as auspicious a hybrid as American blues. The brand-new Egypt Noir compilation arrives just in time for summer – it’s party music, perfect for dancing your way across the rooftop, or the lawn if you’re somewhere where there are lawns. Most of these songs rattle along with a hypnotically swaying, clickety-clack beat, part snake dance, part Bo Diddley.
Ali Hassan Kuban, popularly known as the godfather of urban Nubian music, is represented by a duet with Salwa Abou Greisha (who also graces the album with a viscerally wrenching vocal improvisation on another track), and by a long, slightly Fela-esque jam whose blaring string synthesizer threatens to push the rest of the band off the rails. Kuban’s Alnubia Band mine this same vein with a wah guitar-and-horns-driven Afrobeat jam. With its oompah-style horns, Hager by Fathi Abou Greisha (father of Salwa) takes on an almost gypsy feel; Yanas Baridouh, by Salma sounds like Booker T & the MGs teleported back in time to a Zanzibar taraab bar circa 1930. The single best song on the compilation is by Sayed Khalifa, whose Samra Oya stretches out a hazy world reggae groove remarkably evocative of Corner Soul by the Clash, bubbly Hammond organ and American soul vocal inflections. And Hassan Abdel Aziz’ Elleya Misafir could be a Bill Withers or Isaac Hayes jam with that clattering beat and vocals in Arabic. Definitely music to free your bootay – your mind will be close behind. It’s just out on Piranha Musik.