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.
Reut Regev is one of the ringleaders in minor-key jam band Hazmat Modine’s wild brass section, and a unique, original voice on the trombone. She’s got an eclectically fun new album, Exploring the Vibe, out with her stoner funk band, R*Time, which blends elements of jazz, no wave, Ethiopian and Balkan music, among other styles. Regev got the inspiration for the project at a festival in Germany where she had the chance to play with guitarist Jean-Paul Bourelly and realized that the chemistry for a good album was there. The rhythm section here is Regev’s husband Igal Foni on drums and Mark Peterson on bass, with cameos from Kevin Johnson on drums and Jon Sass on tuba. As you would expect, there’s a hypnotic, psychedelic aspect to this; at the same time, Bourelly and Regev utilize a lot of space, judiciously choosing their moments over an undulating groove. Much as a lot of the music has a restlessness and unease, a wry sense of humor pokes out from time to time. It’s a fun ride.
Bourelly plays mostly with a tinge of dirty, natural distortion when he’s not adding subtle ornamentation with his effects. Regev is a very incisive, rhythmic player, although she also likes ambient, shadowy colors. Peterson’s work here is hook-oriented – there are several passages where the drums drop out, or there’s skeletal percussion rattling around and that’s where the bass carries both melody and rhythm. Foni likes the rumbling lows, but like the rest of this crew, he doesn’t waste beats.
The opening track, Drama Maybe Drama, is a tongue-in-cheek diptych, Bourelly going off on a completely unexpected, early Jimmy Page-tinged open-tuned tangent midway through. They follow that with a buzzing, loopy, unresolved interlude and then Montenegro, which hints at reggae, funk and disco before finally hitting some Balkan riffage and then a Middle Eastern-flavored bass solo. Bluegrass and Ethiopian tinges sit side by side in Ilha Bela, a minimalisti but catchy tune with doppler trombone from Regev. Madeleine Forever, a tribute to Foni’s mom, illustrates someone who could be severe but was also very funny, winding up with biting Big Lazy-style skronky funk.
Blue Llamas makes a good segue, again evoking Big Lazy with its allusive chromatics, stomping, spacious blues, hard-hitting guitar and hypnotic rimshot rhythm. OK OJ coalesces toward a camelwalking East African groove with some neat handoffs between the guitar and trombone and a tongue-in-cheek “let’s go” outro. Raw Way, ostensibly a Junior Kimhrough homage, sounds nothing like him: way down beneath all the rumbling and shrieking and free interplay, it’s a terse blues. New Beginning is a weirdly successful, catchy attempt to merge New Orleans funk and Hendrix. There’s also a wryly bluesy guitar miniature and a bizarre stoner soul song sung by Bourelly. Who is the audience for this? Obviously, jazz fans, although people who gravitate toward the more psychedelic side of funk have an awful lot to sink their ears into.
Kick-ass instrumental funk from Brooklyn. The vibe is raw and live. CSC Funk Band play killer tunes with all kinds of unexpected twists and turns, in other words, everything you could possibly want from a good jam band. On their new album Things Are Getting Too Casual they keep things simple and proper instead of getting all self-indulgent: after all, it’s obvious what they really want you to do, after you’re done bugging out, is dance to this. Most of the jams seem longer than they are: four minutes in their universe seems like twice that, considering how much the band manages to pack into them.
The opening track, Caneca, sets James Brown to a lickety-split Afrobeat groove, reverberating Wurly piano, clanky guitar and an eerie noir trombone solo that the guitars slither around. We Don’t Care is a launching pad for the whole band – the drumming on the album is good, but on this track it’s absolutely amazing, punching and slashing wherever it’s not expected. Usually having drums this loud in the mix is a dead giveaway that the rest of the band sucks, but not with these guys: funkmetal guitar squeaks distortedly, brass blasts over a fat, sustained, minimalist bass groove lit up by a trebly trippy organ solo, an apprehensive alto sax solo and a ripping reverb-toned psychedelic guitar solo that adds a paint-peeling noiserock edge. That’s just the second track, by the way.
Opening with a big, anthemic, Mission Impossible style hook, Little Business motors along on an insistent Afrobeat-fueled 2-chord vamp with swirling keys and guitar, the trombonist lighting into another ominous chromatic solo. The most psychedelic song here is Thrift Store Find, which kicks off as a suspensefully ragged roots reggae vamp that explodes into a big fireball and then hangs in the air with the whole band blasting and then goes back down. The horns get trippy and a little later the guitar goes all the way down the rabbit hole with a slow-baked bluesmetal solo that keeps blasting all the way through the chorus. After that, Fiesta sets an insistent Afrobeat groove over swirling atmospherics, noise versus murk. The murk drops out and the noise wins as the groove continues and finally straightens out, before slowly pulling apart – how that happens is what keeps you hooked. And the microtones created by the blippy, reverberating clavinova versus a screechy Moroccan ney flute will clean out your brain along with your ears.
Bad Banana Bread sounds like a vintage 70s cop show theme done as roots reggae: with its eerie roto organ and echoing soprano sax, it could be straight out of the early Quincy Jones catalog. Funk Shoppe – a 2 Live Crew reference? – is a summery midtempo groove and the most hypnotic tune here, casually bluesy guitar over organ swirling in the distance and finally another one of the band’s trademark, mammoth choruses. There’s a deliciously unexpected interlude where they take it down to the keys bubbling animatedly over the bass. A Troll’s Soiree adds subtle dub echoes to what could be an early 70s Mulatu Astatke tune. The album winds up with Old Motel, a completely unexpected turn into briskly stomping, straight-up anthemic Irish rock that goes on for almost eleven minutes. And you can dance to it, too. CSC Funk Band plays the cd release show tomorrow night, 9/22 at 9:30 PM at Zebulon – if you can’t make it, check them out at the Free Music Archive – where more bands should be.
One of the best albums of 2011 comes from the Washington, DC-based Funk Ark. Their new one, From the Rooftops is one of those rare records that’s just as good a listen as it is a dance mix. The 11-piece instrumental band blend elements of Afrobeat, oldschool funk, dark Ethiopique vamps and psychedelia, with the occasional clever dub tinge, into an irresistibly tuneful, original sound.
The first track, A Blade Won’t Cut Another Blade plays off one of those clubby, downtempo, trip-hop-ish beats, except that this is live, with a bit of a vintage Hugh Masekela-style tune, a baritone sax solo that kicks off with a snarl, and an unexpectedly intense, brooding, minor-key outro. Like many of the songs here, it’s got a trick ending.
Track two, Diaspora, is a hypnotic Ethiopian-style tune built around a riff from the band’s four-piece horn section that reminds of Get Up, Stand Up, with subtle, dubwise organ touches and a good-natured tenor sax solo. Funky DC is sort of a vintage 70s War-style lo-rider groove gone to Ethiopia, with a couple of hip-hop cameos to get the crowd going. The most potent track here might be El Beasto, with its hard-hitting, galloping, minor-key attack, sounding like a Mulatu Astatke classic from 1972 or so; once again, there’s a cool baritone sax solo and some edgy trading off between the organ and the horns.
Carretera Libre kicks off with a fluttery, suspenseful horn riff, hits a hypnotic two-chord vamp and then a subtly devious trumpet solo in a completely different scale than the one the band is playing in. Horchata pulls in a little Afro-Cuban rhythm, while Katifo (The Spider) goes back to the Afrobeat, with tinkly, psychedelic electric piano playing off the horns. Once this gets exposure in the hip-hop world, every producer on the planet will be sampling the title track, with its big, anthemic verse, smoothly majestic chorus and swirling, psychedelic organ. The album ends with the early 70s style psychedelic funk of Pavement and the irrepressibly sunny, blippy Power Struggle. Not one bad song here: this is top-ten-albums-of-the-year material. If you like Antibalas, you’ll love the Funk Ark.
Secret Stash Records, who got their start documenting Afro-Peruvian sounds, have recently issued one of the trippiest albums of the year – on vinyl, no less. “This sounds like Starsky and Hutch, what we were listening to in the 70s,” a senior member of the crew here explained enthusiastically, before the vocals kicked in. The songs and instrumentals on the new Persian Funk compilation date from the early to mid-70s, before the Khomeini counterrevolution in Iran, when musicians there were exploring all kinds of global sounds including American rock and funk. This album actually covers a lot more ground than the title implies: there’s rock, and latin-tinged sounds, and Middle Eastern dance-pop mixed in and sometimes overshadowing the funky grooves. Whichever the case, it’s a fascinating glimpse into a brief period where musical expression was exploding there. This is not to imply that life under the Shah was idyllic – however, there’s no question that the Khomeini-era crackdown on free speech, art and music drove most of it either far underground, or out of the country: as in Afghanistan, anyone who could afford to leave the country did. Some of this has made it to youtube; other tracks here are so obscure that this compilation gets credit for debuting them for a western audience, a major achievement.
The opening track is typical, a period-perfect, moody minor-key vamp with strings and wah guitar that gives way to a Middle Eastern pop song (with lyrics in Farsi) and then returns with the hook. The production is tinny, probably deliberately designed for an audience with transistor radios. Shamaizadeh’s brief instrumental, amusingly titled Hard Groove is a brisk shuffle straight out of the Herbie Hancock soundtrack playbook. Shohreh, a chanteuse, is represented by a Middle Eastern-tinged salsa cut; Morteza, by an excellent, suspenseful, Isaac Hayes-influenced theme with all kinds of deliciously unexpected twists and turns.
Kourosh Yaghmei’s Del Dare Pire Misha is galloping, Black Sabbath-ish funky rock; these days, he makes elevator jazz. Sitarist Mehrpouya, who died in 1993, is represented by a raga so out-of-tune with its rock accompaniment that it’s hilarious, and on the opposite end of the quality spectrum by the lushly orchestrated instrumental Ghabileye Layla. Popular singer Ebi Soli Martik’s song here is completely uncharacteristic for him, a rock number in English which nicks a bad idea from the Moody Blues. Soul siren Googoosh and her band also have two tracks here, the first a creepy instrumental that sounds like it was mastered from a slightly warped 45, the second an absolutely killer cover of Aretha Franklin’s Respect. The best of the rock tunes here, Shahram Shabpareh’s Prison Song (sung in English) sets a wary, McCartneyesque tune to a reggae beat, eerily foreshadowing the persecution that would take place even more brutally in just a few years.
Not only is this a tremendously entertaining window into how Iranian musicians took an American style and invented something completely new, it’s also a clever cross-cultural move by the record label. It’s a powerful reminder of how much the people of Iran resemble us: they detest and fear Ahmedinejad and his mullahs just as much as Americans detested and feared Cheney and his apologists just a few years ago. To quote Linton Kwesi Johnson, freedom is a human necessity. This album is just one crazy, fun example of what people can do with it when they have it.
Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #624:
Roy Ayers – Coffy: The Original Soundtrack
Conventional wisdom is that the classic blaxploitation soundtrack is Curtis Mayfield’s score for Superfly. Great album, no doubt, but have you ever heard this one? Ayers had already made a name for himself in jazz before the movie came out in 1973, but here he really gets to be eclectic and also funny as hell. Mid-70s stoner funk jams with electric piano, wah guitar, vibes and strings don’t get any more fun than these. As you can expect from the movie, some of these are a little over the top: Coffy Is the Color (Pam Grier’s theme), as well as the themes for the evil Pricilla and King George. Then there’s Aragon to the rescue; the irresistible Coffy Sauna scene; the elegaic King’s Last Ride; self-explanatory Brawling Broads; the brooding Bernard Herrmann-esque Escape; the hard yet sultry funk of Exotic Dance; the LOL boudoir scene Making Love and the pensive electric harpsichord piece Vittroni’s Theme. The movie is a hoot too. Here’s a random torrent.
Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #632:
Gil Scott-Heron – From South Africa to South Carolina
OK, for those of you who’ve been paying real close attention, this held down the #1000 spot on this list for a few months. But it’s time for us to give the great revolutionary jazz poet and his Fender Rhodes colleague Brian Jackson their due. Choosing one of their politically-fueled psychedelic funk/jazz albums over another is a judgment call; for better or worse, we’re going with this 1975 release, the second with their legendary Midnight Band. It’s got Johannesburg, the first rock song to call attention to the horrors of apartheid, and the chilling cautionary tale South Carolina, about nuclear waste being dumped on unsuspecting rural communities. A Toast to the People is an optimistic shout-out to freedom fighters around the world; it’s also got the warm, captivating Summer of ’42, Essex and Fell Together, the hypnotic Beginnings and the unexpectedly summery Lovely Day. It doesn’t have the casually terrifying We Almost Lost Detroit, which at this point in history may be the most important song ever recorded, a cautionary tale which cruelly came true when Fukushima blew. Here’s a random torrent courtesy of Flabbergasted Vibes.
Brooklyn band Mamarazzi’s latest album Bewilderness has a completely original sound: a mix of funk, Afrobeat, hip-hop and a little salsa. A lot of this is totally psychedelic in an early 70s Isaac Hayes or Roy Ayers kind of way, and everything here, even the occasional slow jam, is danceable. The tunes are catchy; the hip-hop interludes are mostly party jams or guy-meets-girl scenes with the boudoir just a few feet away.
The opening track, Sobobo sets cheery sax floating over Andrew Aprile’s circular Afrobeat guitar. Boo Lynn Waltz is a deliciously suspenseful mini-suite, shifting unexpectedly from tense new wave funk to a chill organ interlude with mysterioso sax that morphs again into a vintage soul groove with sweet, jangly guitar and horns. The third track, a straight-up funk tune with a hip-hop bridge, features biting tenor sax harmonies from Tacuma Bradley and Sam Franklin. They follow that with a boudoir theme that leaps into an Afro-funk vamp – it sounds like it was written as a launching pad for audience participation. Gypsy Delight is actually a salsa song, with some joyous Cuban swing piano from Rob Cohen, with another oldschool soul interlude before the dance beat kicks in again.
The next couple of tracks are slinky psychedelic funk. Nu Dutch starts out with ominous wah guitar and timbales and builds to a lush, anthemic vibe, sax anchoring the fat, reverb-toned guitar. Seeds sets the bass against the hypnotic percussion of Tavi Fields and Sam Bathrick, with some tasty, breezy sax as it picks up. Packed with tricky, unexpected tempo and dynamic shifts, Grapefruit kicks off with a blaze of horns, slows down to a woozy sway with electric piano and guitar before it explodes. The way the trombone and sax converge over galloping Rhodes piano as it reaches boiling point is one of the high points of the album. Sunday Night Chicks could be the best song here, beginning as a pretty, summery theme with Eric Herman’s sliding bass carrying the melody in a Little Wing-style Hendrix kind of way. It gets apprehensive and then funky, hits an interlude where the sax pairs off against Jeremy Noller’s drums, followed by a blippy, trippy organ solo and then goes out the way it came in. The album winds up on a surprisingly quiet note with Gangster, a cautionary tale for a bad guy, with a trick ending and an outro that might or might not be part of the mystery. Mamarazzi are at Drom on 4/30 at 10ish on a great bill opening for ferocious gypsy bands Karikatura and Bad Buka.
“Annabouboula” translates roughly from the Greek as “cacaphony,” or in common usage, “brouhaha.” Immortal water is a powerful liquor. So does Annabouboula’s new album sound like a drunken brouhaha? Not really. But it’s definitely a party. The trio of multi-instrumentalists George Sempepos, Chris Lawrence, and chanteuse Anna Paidoussi date back to 1986 when they were signed to Virgin Records and quickly established themselves as one of the era’s most interesting, esoteric bands. They went dormant in the early 90s just as the world-funk sound they’d pioneered began to gain traction. Fast forward to 2010 and a new album: this one sounds sort of like the Middle Eastern version of Chicha Libre, surfy, wryly clever and psychedelic, with Greek lyrics sung powerfully and often hauntingly by Paidoussi.
The opening track, Hello Sailor, is a tour de force: a slinky, haunting levantine vamp contrasting with gently sensual vocals, layers and layers of lead guitar, eerily pointillistic qanun and swooshy string synthesizer. Lilly (The Scandalous Girl) sets the riff from the Smiths’ How Soon Is Now to a Bo Diddley beat, resulting in what sounds like Nancy Sinatra gone to the Mediterranean. There are two versions of the title track: the Brooklyn mix, matching bristling guitar to clubby synthesizer and synth bass textures, and the funkier Smyrna mix. Come Sit on My Sofa, with its Middle Eastern snakecharmer chromatics and acoustic guitar slashing through some oud voicings, evokes Sempepos’ brilliant/obscure Mediterranean surf band the Byzan-Tones.
The most straightforward rock song here is May Day: underneath the 80s textures, there’s a wickedly catchy surf tune threatening to rise up and drench everything in its path. What Do You Care Where I’m From takes a hypnotic turn into dub reggae; The Boat from Turkey slyly blends 80s guitar and synthesized organ textures into a deliciously weird psychedelic web. There’s also the Cretan Hop, which with its bagpipe guitar riffage sounds like Big Country in Greek, the stately, understatedly ominous If You See the Mountains Burning, and a playful, silly introduction to Greek rhythms for western audiences. Oh yeah, did we mention that this is an eclectic band? In lieu of a new album from Chicha Libre, this one will do just fine: look for it on our Best Albums of 2010 list in about a week.