Guitarists who don’t waste notes are a rare breed. They’re even rarer in the world of jambands and summer tours, which is where Charlie Hunter made his mark. As you would expect from a guy who tacked on a couple of extra strings to bolster the low end of his six-string model, groove is his thing. In doing so, he invented his own style of music, equal parts jazz, reggae, funk and vintage soul. And he can be hilarious. His latest excellent, characteristically eclectic album Everybody Has a Plan Until They Get Punched is streaming at Spotify. Hunter and his fantastic quartet have a two-night stand coming up on March 8 and 9 at 8:30 PM at the third stage at the Rockwood; cover is $15. The last time this blog was in the house there, they weren’t enforcing that annoying drink minimum, a good thing since Hunter’s crowd is more likely to smoke than get wasted on the Rockwood’s expensive drinks.
The album opens with the title track, a slow, comfortable swing blues with a characteristically wry, bubbling Curtis Fowlkes trombone solo; then cornetist Kirk Knuffke signals that all may not be so cool after all. Drummer Bobby Previte’s emphatic, tersely swinging slow triplet groove anchors the second track, Looks Like Someone Got Ahead of Schedule on Their Medication, which opens with an amusingly woozy voicings from Fowlkes and Knuffke, then takes a detour to New Orleans before the meds kick in again.
Staccato horns add spice to Leave Him Lay, a mid-80s Grateful Dead style blues fueled by Previte’s swinging, almost disco drive and Hunter’s spiky, Bob Weir-ish chords. We Don’t Want Nobody Nobody Sent is an uneasily swaying midtempo noir theme, like Big Lazy with horns and a long, purposefully crescendoing blues solo from the bandleader. Then Hunter gets even more retro with Big Bill’s Blues, ostensibly a Big Bill Broonzy homage. beginning starkly and then shifting into jubilant Crescent City territory with some artful counterpoint from the horns.
The darkly simmering soul theme Latin for Travelers is a vehicle for a contrastingly bright solo from Knuffke and then Fowlkes, dipping down to just the horns and then back for extra dynamic punch. No Money No Honey is as hard as the funk gets here, although it’s more of a swing tune: everybody in the band, especially Previte, is having a ball with this one.
Who Put You Behind the Wheel opens as a spaciously tiptoeing, Asian-tinged excursion, then morphs into reggae, with a trick ending. The looseness and freeness of Wish I Was Already Paid and On My Way Home mask its relentlessly dark, distantly klezmer-tinged undercurrent . The album winds up with the jaunty, dixieland-ish second-line march The Guys Get Shirts. This works on every level, as first-rate jazz, blues and psychedelia.
In most cases, music that’s billed as relaxing is better described as soporific. Which isn’t always a bad thing: sometimes it’s hard to fall asleep! The true test of sleepy music is how well it holds up during waking hours. Winter Garden, a collaboration between poet/pianist Harold Budd, Cocteau Twins guitarist Robin Guthrie and producer Eraldo Bernocchi is a rare example of an album that successfully works both sides of the line between dreams and reality. Although there are a couple of tracks that Guthrie propels with a steady bassline, there isn’t much rhythm here: as with Budd’s previous work with Brian Eno, textures fade in and fade out of the mix, with gentle tectonic shifts, cloudy banks of atmospherics and a minimalist melodic sensibility that orchestrates gently echoing piano and guitar motifs with a watery iciness. It’s tempting to say that this is simply music to get lost in, to escape into after a hard day without trying to make sense of what the musicians are doing. And while it’s often hard to tell who’s playing what, or whether it might be the guitar or the piano that just hit a particular, endlessly echoing note, it’s also a lot of fun to listen to closely (although if you are fatigued, it might send you straight to dreamland).
Guthrie’s signature moody, sostenuto guitar is instantly identifiable, although it’s not obvious what else he does here. Nor is Bernocchi’s role clear – but maybe that’s the point of all this. Budd’s simple, elegant piano lines occasionally offer a nod to Erik Satie or even Bernard Albrecht. The opening track, Don’t Go Where I Can’t Find You is hypnotic to the extreme, simple piano processed to add the effect of a succession of cloudy waves. Losing My Breath features Guthrie’s trademark major sixth chords and simple, thoughtful motifs processed with chilly, cloudy ambience alongside minimal processed piano. As many of these tracks do, it segues into the title cut, which alludes to an anthemic theme.
With its steady bass pulse, Entangled offers pensive echoes of The Eternal by Joy Division, which come to the forefront on the next track, Harmony and the Play of Light, so much that you may find yourself expecting Ian Curtis’ doomed voice to appear over the starkly echoing, trebly-toned midrange electric piano licks. Heavy Heart Some More completes the trilogy, intermingling spacious, minimalist bass chords and piano with Guthrie’s atmospheric guitar for what sounds like a halfspeed (or quarterspeed or even slower) variation on the theme. They follow that with White Ceramic, a miniature juxtaposing echoey piano waves with drony textures underneath.
The rest of the album manages to be eclectic without breaking the spell. Stay with Me builds from low drones to a Lynchian (and unexpectedly funky) suspense theme, while the most epic track here, South of Heaven contrasts rapt, shimmery ambience with gently incisive piano and more of Guthrie’s trademark pensive swooshes. The final cut, Dream On is not an Aerosmith cover but a minimalist piano lullaby. Youarefallingasleepyouarefallingasleepyouarefallingasleep…just kidding. Turn on, tune in, you know the rest. It’s out now on Rare Noise Records.
Bio Ritmo’s new album La Verdad uses oldschool, classic Fania era salsa as its stepping-off point and blends in trippy, hypnotic, sometimes fiery elements of Ethiopian jazz, Afrobeat and dub for a sound that’s absolutely unique, and absolutely psychedelic. Keyboardist Marlysse Simmons-Argandona is their secret weapon. Sometimes she anchors the music with darkly reverberating Fender Rhodes lines; other times she goes way up for a glimmering, pointillistic, starlit vibe; then she’ll swoop in with the organ or shift to swinging Afro-Cuban salsa piano riffs. The horns move from bright, incisive bursts, to big, lushly jazzy swells, with frequent breaks for individual solos, as the timbales rattle, the congas hold the tunes close to the ground and the bass rises with a body-tugging groove. Singer Rei Alvarez is a mercurial, slyly surreal presence: when there are lyrics here, they work on several different levels.
As you would expect from a great oldschool album, there’s a distinct Side One and Side Two side here. The opening cut features unexpected touches like wah-wah keys and a blippy bass solo along with some tasty brass parts. A couple of the jazzier tracks, like the title number and Caravana del Vejicante (Clown Parade) often resemble the excellent, shapeshifting latin-influenced jazz group Either/Orchestra, with their cleverly shifting brass segments and smirking keyboard interludes. The third track, Dina’s Mambo, contrasts psychedelic slinky, conspiratorially swinging, psychedelic keys with hi-beam horns; the fourth, Carnaval, builds nonchalantly to a punked-out Afrobeat feel. There’s also the deliciously noir Verguenza (Shame); the bouncy, surprisingly carefree, sarcastic Majadero (The Noodge); the even creepier, Thelonious Monk-ish Lola’s Dilemma with its subtle dub echoes spicing up a tiptoeing son montuno melody; and the hidden track, an absolutely killer dub version of the second cut. If you wish you’d lived through the classic salsa era of the 70s – or if you did – this one’s for you. Bio Ritmo play the album release show for this one tonight at 10 at Southpaw; those who prefer the superior sonics at SOB’s should check out their Manhattan release show there at 8 PM on Nov 18. Also recommended: Bio Ritmo’s sister band Miramar, who recreate classic Puerto Rican boleros from the 1950s (and create some of their own) with a similarly dark psychedelic edge.
As we do pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album was #469:
Tommy McCook & the Supersonics – Pleasure Dub
After Skatalites trombonist Don Drummond murdered his girlfriend, tenor sax player McCook broke up the band and went to work playing his soulful, spacious style on innumerable late 60s rocksteady hits for Jamaican producer Duke Reid. This 2009 compilation collects mostly instrumental versions of a whole bunch of them, sans the sometimes cloying lyrics or vocals. As dub, it’s pretty primitive: as grooves, most of this is unsurpassed. The chirpy organ behind John Holt comes front and center on Tracking Dub; another John Holt cut, Love Dub is much the same. There’s the surprisingly lush Dub with Strings; Prince Francis’ Side Walk Doctor; the punchy Ride De Dub; the big hit Bond Street Rock; the cinematic 7-11; and the scurrying Twilight Rock and Many Questions among the 18 slinky one-drop vamps here. Here’s a random torrent via Sixties Fever.
As we do pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album was #474:
The New Trolls – Concerto Grosso
The New Trolls are sort of the Italian Genesis. This 1971 suite is something of a Mediterranean counterpart to Peter Gabriel’s playful, dramatic early Genesis, juxtaposing classical themes with catchy, surreal, Beatlesque art-rock that foreshadowed what ELO would be doing by the end of the decade. They kick it off with a lively, baroque tinged theme, rip off their fellow countryman Albinoni on the stately, stoic Adagio, go into potently chilling Vivaldi territory with the Cadenza – Andante and then the real classic, the darkly pensive Shadows. Side two is ostensibly a jam, although its endlessly shifting permutations, from Grateful Dead-style garage-rock vamps, to Blues Magoos stomps, to spacy drum-circle ambience, leads you to believe that it was all planned in advance. The band has been through a million different incarnations but are still around and still playing fascinatingly elaborate music. Here’s a random torrent via Prog Possession.
As we do pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album was #475:
The Peanut Butter Conspiracy Is Spreading
The 1967 debut by this vastly underrated, eclectic psychedelic pop band combines the surreal folk-pop of early Jefferson Airplane with snarling garage rock and ornate chamber pop. Frontwoman Sandi Robinson’s vox are sort of a cross between Judy Collins and Grace Slick; the song arrangements are complex and sometimes haunting. The big innuendo-driven stoner-pop hits are Why Did I Get So High and You Took Too Much, both ostensibly love songs – back then, you couldn’t get on the radio if you sang about getting high on anything other than booze. There’s also the gorgeous chamber-rock of Then Came Love; the acid folk hit It’s a Happening Thing; the fuzztone-driven Twice Is Life; the punchy You Can’t Be Found, with its Leslie speaker guitar; and the intense, scampering Dark on You Now among the eleven tracks here. Here’s a random torrent via Hippy DJ Kit. The album was reissued in the early zeros as a twofer with the band’s second, more erratic one The Great Conspiracy, which you can get via Acid at Home.
The idea of a low-key guitar-and-violin duo putting on a charismatic, totally psychedelic show might seem improbable, but that’s exactly what Grey McMurray and Caleb Burhans did last night at le Poisson Rouge. It was hypnotic in the purest sense of the word. As the musicians launched into a lingering, gently sustained two-guitar phrase that slowly took on one permutation after another as it made its way through a maze of effects pedals, the crowd slowly assembled around the stage, as if a trance. By now, the lights had completely gone out: the only illumination in the club came from the sconces at the bar and the speakers overhead. The blend of ringing, bell-like tones and dreamily atmospheric washes grew more complex, and then pulled back a bit, Burhans working feverishly over a mixing board. When he introduced a sudden, swooping phrase that slyly panned the speakers, heads turned, virtually in unison. A little later, he broke the spell as he reached for the mic and let out a restrained, tense howl. At that point, a handful of people quickly moved to the bar for a drink. Had the intensity been too much to take?
Burhans’ and McMurray’s new double cd Everybody’s Pain Is Magnificent – released on the New Amsterdam label under the name itsnotyouitsme – is an unselfconsciously beautiful chillout record. This show assembled several of its ethereally ringing, lingering segments as two roughly 25-minute suites. After the first had ended, Burhans encouraged the crowd to sit on the floor and take in the rest of the show, and pretty much everyone complied. If Burhans had suggested that everybody take the L train to Morgan Avenue and then lie down on the subway tracks, would the crowd have done that too? In the age of color-coded terrorist alerts and satellite tracking via foursquare and innumerable other marketing schemes, is this what audiences have become? Or, was this simply the power of the music revealing itself in all its glistening, trippy splendor? Was the experience something akin to what it must have been like to watch Pink Floyd or the Grateful Dead circa 1967?
Maybe. As Burhans lay down one judicious wash after another from his violin, McMurray adding one stately sequence of notes after another, there were tinges of Philip Glass and Gerard Grisey as well: both musicians come from a classical background. In order to maintain the quietly mesmerizing ambience, the two practically danced on their pedals as they added and then subtracted one texture after another from the flow of sound as it looped around. In order to avoid the kind of mechanical monotony that often characterizes this kind of music, they built several polyrhythms into the mix. With split-second timing, they made the effect seamlessly ethereal rather than chaotic. And not everything they played was quiet and soothing, either. For what seemed minutes at a time, McMurray would wail up and down on his strings, add the passage to the mix, then add and subtract minutely measured amounts of distortion, or reverb, or sustain, or a combination of several effects at once. By the time the second suite was over, they’d almost imperceptibly taken the sonic trajectory to wary, somewhat icy terrain much like the best stuff on Radiohead’s Kid A.
Is this meant to be stoner music? From the look of the crowd, quite possibly. Or maybe it was just the heat. Burhans and McMurray were working hard onstage and deserved some air conditioning, and like the crowd, they didn’t seem to be getting any. It’s one thing for the bartender at some dingy Williamsburg bar to show up late and forget to put on the AC, but it’s hard to understand how not a single person out of the Poisson Rouge’s entire nattily uniformed staff couldn’t have flipped a switch and given their customers a respite from a grimly unpleasant global warming-era evening.
Pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album was #905:
Los Destellos – Constelacion
In putting this list together, we went searching for the best available albums from a number of artists. Initially, a greatest-hits compilation for Los Destellos – the Peruvian psychedelic surf rock pioneers who basically invented the chicha genre – was the best we could find. But today Secret Stash Records is reissuing the band’s classic 1971 Constelacion album, available for the first time outside the band’s native country – on limited edition purple vinyl! Bandleader Enrique Delgado’s guitar shoots off trails of sparks over the bouncy cumbia beat on classics like A Patricia (which first reached a mainstream Anglophone audience on Barbes Records’ first Roots of Chicha compilation); Senorita, like the Ventures’ Walk Don’t Run done Peruvian style; the slinky title track; the wah-wah/fuzztone stoner suite Honsta La Yerbita; and the moodily scurrying Pasion Oriental. There’s also a rare vocal number, Otro Ano; La Cancion de Lily, which sounds like Buck Owens stoned on Peruvian weed; the trippy flamenco-flavored Pachanga Espanola; the gorgeously pensive, bossa-flavored Azuquita; the dueling guitars of La Aranita; and the hilarious El Corneta, a mockery of a silly trumpet tune. A must-hear for surf music fans (Los Destellos are in Peru what the Ventures are in the US) and for anyone who likes psychedelic guitar music with an unexpected sense of humor.