Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Bill Evans' "Another Time: The Hilversum Concert"

This surprising release comes with an interesting backstory.

Last year, Resonance Records released Some Other Time: The Lost Session from the Black Forest, a studio session by the short-lived (six months in 1968) and under-recorded (a single, live-at-Montreux album) Bill Evans trio with the estimable rhythm section of bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Jack Dejohnette. Not long after that, they were contacted by a fan who had a copy of a live broadcast that same Evans trio had recorded for Dutch radio, a couple of days after the Black Forest session and a week after their Montreux stand.

The Dutch radio tape proved to be a lost gem, documenting a looser and more assured performance than either of the previous releases, in comparable-to-studio quality. (All music fans should take a knee in thanks to the European national radio and TV stations that documented so much great music, jazz and rock as well as classical.) Then began a race against the clock, as Resonance sought sign-offs from the rights-holders (Universal Music Group, the Evans estate, Gomez and Dejohnette) so they could release the music legitimately before another, less scrupulous outfit who also had the material beat them to it.

None of which would matter if the music wasn't stellar. It is.

In 1968, Gomez had been playing with Evans for two years -- a gig he kept for over a decade -- and by his account in an accompanying interview, he was still working out his sound. You'd never guess that from his nimble solos on several of the tunes here, and the melodic dialogues he conducts with Evans, proving himself a worthy successor to the virtuoso Scott LaFaro. Dejohnette, having started his career as a pianist, was in between career-making stints with Charles Lloyd and Miles Davis, and still processing the influence of Tony Williams, but he performs with admirable restraint (and brushes) here, and solos to good effect on Miles' composition "Nardis."

A classically-trained pianist who explored modal jazz with George Russell before joining Miles' sextet, Evans is known for a brooding, introspective style that he perfected after leaving Miles (whose Kind of Blue has his fingerprints all over it) and forming his trio with the aforementioned LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian. On Another Time, the Gomez-Dejohnette tandem propels him into an energetic and animated performance, from the opening "You're Gonna Hear From Me" (a '66 Andy Williams hit) to Evans' customary closer "Five." Evans explores melodies with his characteristic elegant simplicity, whether playing show tunes -- Anthony Newley's "Who Can I Turn To?" gets a lively treatment, while Bacharach-David's "Alfie" is taken at a leisurely clip -- or his own compositions, including the sprightly waltz "Early On" (everybody might dig Bill Evans, but Bill dug waltzes, and not just for Debby) and the gorgeous ballad "Turn Out the Stars."

For lovers of jazz piano splendor, Resonance's Evans discoveries are as welcome additions to the canon as Monk and Trane at Carnegie Hall, or Jaki Byard's Keystone Korner series. And that's very welcome indeed.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Brokegrove Lads' "Buluga Chic Push"

"A bunch of geezers go into the studio and come out sounding like Genesis produced by Giorgio Moroder. Go fig." Mixed and mastered by Matt Hickey. Recorded by Britt Robisheaux at Cloudland Recording studio. The Lads (on this occasion, Robert Kramer, Terry Valderas, and Your Humble Chronicler o' Events) with special guest vocalist, dramaturge Rob Bosquez. Originally titled "Buluga Push Transit" after a dream of composer Terry's wherein he was being pulled in a rickshaw by a whale, retitled in honor of Kramer's Bernard Edwards-esque low end theory. I was trying to mimic Frank Cervantez's economy, but wound up overplaying as always. The solo at the end marks the return of the "Buddy Guy if he just woke up" sound I employed on the Top Secret...Shh record.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

5.13.2017, Oak Cliff

It takes a lot to get me out of mi casa these days, let alone my zip code, and not just because my fellow Americans frighten me. But when I get wind of a bill with two of my favorite acts, and one I'm anxious to check out, at a new spot in Oak Cliff (still my favorite part of Dallas), I'm willing to venture out. Matt Hickey, taking a breather from goat-wrangling and mixing the new Brokegrove Lads shit, was along to navigate. (True to type, we still got lost, but only just, and I learned that there's a Buddhist temple in South Oak Cliff.)

Chateau Virago is a new performance space in the South Oak Cliff home of Andy and Alicia EV Borman. (Like their Facebook page to see show notices.) When they started at the beginning of this year, EV says, their intent was to present one show a month, but things have become a little busier than they planned. The performance space is well-appointed, with more attention to lighting than one often sees at house shows, and sound tech Justin Longorio  (also EV's bandmate in a unit that bears his name) was attentive to the performers' needs.

Sarah Ruth Alexander opened the evening with a set of spoken word and vocal alchemy. Accompanying herself on hammered dulcimer and electronic effects, she played a recording of the choir at her family's church, did some readings (from her "little girl diary" and the poetry of William Carlos Williams), got the audience to sing a simple, wordless repeated theme while she extemporized on top, responded (with voice and Kaos pad) to sounds of a squeaky door and the household dogs and cats (confined in an adjacent room for the evening), and performed a new piece that she recorded at the Echo Lab earlier this year. First she played the theme on dulcimer, then repeated it with effects, then played two unmixed, unmastered recordings of the piece, one a piano rendering by Paul Slavens (accompanied by percussionist Beth Dodds), then a thunderous, powerful version on which she's accompanied by Pinkish Black and Frank Cervantez (Sub Oslo, Wire Nest). Sarah Ruth's been on a roll since her Words on the Wind cassette release in 2015. Here's hoping she can find an interested label to release her new work.

Spent some time catching up with old friend Dennis Gonzalez before his new band, Ataraxia, celebrated the release of their new double LP Ts'iibil Chaaltun. Dennis clued me in on recent events with La Rondalla, the free music school -- to be clear, that's music instruction for kids, offered at no charge, not instruction in free music -- that he's operated in Oak Cliff since 2010. Recently, La Rondalla students performed with Edie Brickell during a series of reunion shows she played with the New Bohemians (whose guitarist, Kenny Withrow, teaches at La Rondalla), and Edie agreed to help the school out with a much-needed infusion of cash. Drew Chapa, another La Rondalla instructor, performed a through-composed solo piano piece in between Sarah Ruth and Lily Taylor's sets. Taylor's a performer I've meant to check out for awhile, and she offered a very different approach to solo vocal performance. She has a rich, powerful, gospel-soul inflected voice, and surrounds it with lush, gorgeously-textured settings.

I've already written about Ataraxia's record. Their live performance was also a stunner, revealing a mature band dynamic that was still developing when I saw them last year. Drew Phelps' tendency to dance around the One on bass, combined with Jagath Priya's to flow around it like water over rocks, means that the pulse in their music is often unstated, which requires the listener to engage with it differently than if the groove were more in-your-face. This leaves Dennis a wider field in which to frolic, and truly, I don't know when I've seen him having more pure enjoyment on stage. Beyond that, Drew Phelps played his ass off. And after a year, these guys are just getting to know each other musically. I'll be looking forward to hearing where this collaboration ventures next.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Father Figures' "Heavy Lifting" and The Feederz' "WWHD - What Would Hitler Do?" EP

Coincidentally, the package from Slope Records arrived the same day I read an article about George Lakoff, a retired UC Berkeley professor of cognitive science and linguistics who argues that voters make decisions based on subconscious worldviews, centered around beliefs about the family, rather than facts. According to Lakoff, conservatives believe in the "strict father family," where father holds the reins and has the right to punish his spouse or children when they disobey him, while liberals believe in the "nurturant family," where both parents collaborate to nurture children and encourage them to nurture others, including the weak and marginalized.

I'm sure Lakoff's theories have nothing to do with how the Father Figures chose their band name, but the songs on their new LP, Heavy Lifting -- their fourth release -- fulminate with anger at the state of TrumpAmerica. The album comes in a sleeve that includes complete lyrics -- frustratingly printed in a font that, while aesthetically pleasing, is as challenging to the eye as the ones on CD slicks. No matter; repeated spins of the rec will give you time to peruse 'em at leisure.

Besides, bassist-scribe Tom Reardon declaims his words forcefully, and his vocals are mixed high enough to be clearly audible. His lyrics reveal a sensibility as intentionally clear-eyed ("The trick I think is to never blink / And you have to know," he sings in "Ego vs Ego") as it is enraged, whether decrying the various narcotics we use to give ourselves the illusion of control ("Medicine Ball"), reporting on America's devastation from within ("USS Destroyer"), or roaring an Everyman's frustration with a deck that's stacked against him ("Rigged").

Instrumentally, Reardon locks his four-string thunder in with drummer Bobby Lerma's agile stickwork to create a pummeling, elastic groove, over which guitarist Michael Cornelius floats tense chords and jagged shards of melody. The Father Figures' most clearly audible influence is the Minutemen, and they wear it proudly, tipping their hat with lyrics like "It's everything / It's all my dreams / In '85 / I felt alive" ("Borrowed Records") and the shout-out to the corndog trio's hometown in "Hotel San Pedro."

Closer to home, the musos in the Father Figures had formative Phoenix influences like the Meat Puppets, the Consumers, the Exterminators, and the Feederz, who have a new Slope seven-inch, produced by Meat Puppet Cris Kirkwood, with a full-length due this summer. On WWHD - What Would Hitler Do?, the Feederz -- who started out purveying their brand of surrealist agit-punk in biker bars -- fire a couple of improbably catchy salvos in the form of self-explanatory paeans to "Stealing" and "Sabotage." Frontman Frank Discussion sounds for all the world like a gremlin Marc Bolan, while Dead Kennedys drummer D.H. Peligro keeps things jumping. Bracing stuff.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Ataraxia Trio's "Ts'iibil Chaaltun"

Yow. Can it really have been a year since I heard Ataraxia Trio play their second show at a house/gallery up the street from me? Yep. Time sure flies these days. This Saturday, May 13, at 9pm, I'll be attending their record release party for their debut double LP, Ts'iibil Chaaltun (named after a ruined Mayan city in Yucatan), at Chateau Virago (2525 Bridal Wreath Lane, Dallas 75233). Cover is $5 and copies of the record will be available for $17, cash/check/money order/PayPal. (There's a download available, but this music really needs to be heard on vinyl if you have the means.) Strong support from Lily Taylor, Drew Chapa, and Sarah Ruth Alexander, too. So there!

Ataraxia's the trio that estimable trumpeter-composer-visual artist-educator Dennis Gonzalez formed last year when he had a gig that his sons Aaron and Stefan, who enticed him out of musical retirement back in '01 to form Yells At Eels, couldn't make. Instead, he called on veteran Denton bassist Drew Phelps and Sri Lankan percussionist Jagath Lakpriya to form a unit that would explore quieter, more ruminative musical space than YAE. Since their first couple of gigs (in a library and a gallery), they've had time to get more accustomed to playing with each other, and develop more material. In advance of the show, Dennis kindly sent me a test pressing to hear.

The three musicians stake out their territory on the traditional Sri Lankan theme "Ukusa." Over a drone provided by Phelps' tamboura app, the bassist delineates a modal field, which Gonzalez fills with well-chosen notes, leaving plenty of space for Lakpriya's percussion interjections. There's pulse here, but the music floats freely over it. On his composition "Tsantsa," Gonzalez establishes the foundation with a (looped?) repeating figure on charango (a small Andean lute), over which he plays fragmented chords on guitar. (On this recording, Gonzalez returns to the extreme multi-instrumentalism of some of his earliest recordings.) Phelps responds with the deep, mournful song of his arco bass. Gonzalez's "Yarn" opens with a dialogue between Lakpriya's tabla and Phelps' darting pizzicato, to which the composer adds a brooding melody of Monkian abstraction. The recording captures every nuance of the group's intimate sound.

Turning the first record over, the Phelps/Gonzalez collaboration "Poem" opens with a burst of atmospheric percussive mystery from all three men, and the primeval sound of the shofar. (Ataraxia's music revels in multiculturalism.) On "Issy," a dedication to Gonzalez's beloved granddaughter and the album's first extended improvisation, Lakpriya establishes a loping groove over which Gonzalez is free to wander at leisure, shadowed by Phelps like a watchful parent. All three solo expressively, without ever departing far from the tune's path.

Side three opens with "Namesake," a standard from the Gonzalez canon (most famously recorded for Silkheart back in '87). Ataraxia's version has grown in confidence and assertiveness since I heard them play it last year. Lakpriya and Phelps keep their accompaniment relatively sparse and subdued while Gonzalez weaves one of his most intricate solos here. Then Phelps uses phrasing and space to swing propulsively, followed by another brief statement from Gonzalez, this time using a harmonizer, giving way to Lakpriya before they return to the theme. Phelps lifts the curtain on the trio composition "Parable" in a Charlie Haden-ish mood, then Lakpriya takes a solo turn, his hand drums evoking the spirit of lost ages. Gonzalez is particularly plangent here as the three men intertwine their sounds.

Phelps' "Thoink" was a high point of Ataraxia's performance last year, and it's even better here, at the top of side four. Lakpriya percolates underneath the composer's throbbing pulse, while Gonzalez dances on top. The Phelps/Gonzalez composition "Unguent" closes the proceedings with the bassist playing horn-like arco lines over clattering percussion. His harmonics reverberate against the sound of bells and gongs, bringing healing catharsis.

Ts'iibil Chaaltun is a fine document of a group whose music is rich in subtle detail, reminiscent of the AACM in Europe, Don Cherry's "world music," and sounds one can imagine from the beginning of time. If you're in or near the Metromess, you're strongly encouraged to take advantage of this weekend's opportunity to hear Ataraxia play this music in a small space that's conducive to deep listening.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Ray Davies' "Americana"

They called us the Invaders, like creatures from the black lagoon
Said that we was dangerous, like space invaders from the moon.
- Ray Davies, "The Invaders"

Fifty years down the road, it seems as though the Kinks -- early despoilers who exploded out of transistor radios with "stronger than dirt" rifferama on hits like "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night" before evolving into the vehicle for auteur Raymond Douglas Davies, who ranked just below the Beatles, Stones, and Who's tunesmiths in the songwriting stakes -- might be the most unjustly underrated of Brit invaders. Unlike his peers McCartney, Townshend, and Roy Wood, Davies took no cues from Brian Wilson, and while he borrowed as freely as the Stones did from African-American musical forms, he did so without trying to emulate the originators' mannerisms -- good call for an effete Londoner. Sure, the Kinks never inspahrd the adoration of millions like the Fabs, encapsulated the Zeitgeist like the Stones, or worked a gimmick as well as the 'orrible 'oo. But their string of LPs from Face To Face to Lola versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One (Part Two never materialized) ranks, in its modest way, with the best of those other bands' output, and Sir Ray (for he was knighted this year) has kept at it ever since, even after the Kinks disintegrated in the mid-'90s.

While his legend styles him the most British of Brit rockers -- largely a consequence of the Kinks being banned from touring the U.S. from '65 to '69, crucial years when their contemporaries were making bank and reputations over here -- he unassed his homeland to take up residency Stateside during the Blair years, and his new album, Americana, reveals him to be as obsessed with the land of the Wild West, Hollywood, and Chuck Berry as the Exile on Main St. Stones or London Calling Clash were. (For what it's worth, the first time I heard Being There, I thought Jeff Tweedy sounded like Ray fronting the Exile Stones.) Some records have so much visceral impact you can react to them immediately. Davies' work in subtler ways, and their pleasures require time to contemplate and acquire familiarity. Like a good pair of shoes, you want to slip them on and walk around in them awhile.

As one who had his entree into Kinkdom via Pye/Reprise era compilations -- the 20-minute Reprise Greatest Hits, the John Mendelsohn-curated Kronikles and Great Lost Kinks Album (the latter of which, in particular, Ray repudiated) -- and their '67 live-in-Scotland release, wherein their thin, weedy live sound was obliterated by a studio-overdubbed layer of '64-style audience screams, I didn't absorb Ray's greatest accomplishments until the age of CD bonus track maximalism, so I might be less qualified to opine than more dyed-in-the-wool devotees. My enthusiasm waned during the RCA and Arista years, although I saw 'em twice -- once on the Preservation tour, when some shitheel hit Ray in the head with a beer bottle while he was singing "Alcohol" (I figure the only reason he didn't call the show was that they were carrying so many people in their "opera company" that blowing the date would have sunk the tour), and once in their crowd-pleasing arena-rock daze -- and liked the occasional song ("20th Century Man," "Come Dancing"). Nevertheless, I swear that the record Americana reminds me of more than any other is Ray's '69 magnum opus, The Village Green Preservation Society.

The themes of the songs are familiar: life on the road, a postwar Brit's fascination with American archetypes, an old-fashioned man's resistance to a changing world. The title track shows that Davies' first experience of America, on tour with the Kinks in '65, left a lasting impression. "The Deal" reprises the Hollywood obsession best elucidated in '72's "Celluloid Heroes," and shows Ray's a little jaded ("Today I'm a bullshit millionaire / As good as anyone / Better than I was / In dreary Angleterre"), but the melody soars on the "Isn't it wonderful?" chorus, revealing the dream's still alive. Even as a young man, Davies seemed perplexed by modernity, and he's kept that sense, too, as he searches for meaning in the soulless material world he depicts in "Poetry."

The gentle, piano-driven "Message from the Road" and the uptempo "A Place In Your Heart" (with backing vocals that recall both the Carter Family and show tunes) form a nice diptych, conveying the traveler's sense of disconnection, with nice contrasting vocal contributions from keyboardist Karen Grotberg. "The Mystery Room" uses the blues the same way "Last of the Steam Engine Trains" did, in this case to provide a setting for Davies' age-appropriate ruminations on mortality: "Come and join us, we're here in the mystery room." In similar fashion, "Change for Change" is a fatalistic whiteguy's version of a field holler: "I don't live life, life lives me / Always has and always will be / Like a ship lost at sea."

The Tin Pan Alley-esque "I've Heard That Beat Before" is an urban domestic vignette in the grand old Davies style, while "A Long Drive Home To Tarzana" is an elegiac road song, suffused with warmth. "The Great Highway" rocks out like something off one of the Kinks' '80s LPs (those of A Certain Age will recall when record reviewers used to kvetch about whether or not a Kinks record contained one of these). In "The Invaders," Ray's empathy for the Meercuns who baited him in '65 ("'Cos the world as he knew it turned upside down and things would never be the same") shows that he might be capable of feeling the same compassion for a Trumpian or Brexiter in the now -- which is actually alright; there's never enough of that stuff to go 'round. "Rock 'n' Roll Cowboys" begins with an anecdote about a conversation Davies had with his NOLA neighbor, Alex Chilton, about how songs can take you out of time and make you feel safe in a changing world. "Do you live in a dream," the song's refrain asks, "or in reality?" In the closing "Wings of Fantasy," Davies chooses denial: "But I still feel an optimist / And hope will see me through / Imaginary distances / To be with you." While it's hardly an admirable choice, it's an understandable one.

The essentials of Ray Davies' craft have changed less over time than any of his contemporaries, which makes each new release less of an Event, but also makes him the only one of his cohort who could produce a record in 2017 that feels of a piece with his work from the heyday. For those with the time to listen deeply, Americana's rewards are ample.