These are videos that I like: Sylvain Rifflet & Jon Irabagon “A Celebration of Moondog”

October 31, 2014


Sylvain Rifflet & Jon Irabagon - "Perpetual Motion"Today’s featured video is a promo EPK for the live performance and CD of Perpetual Motion, the tribute and re-imagining of the music of Moondog, by Sylvain Rifflet and Jon Irabagon.

The album will be getting a write-up in tomorrow’s post, but for the meantime, watch the video to get a sense of what’s to come.

What I especially like about this EPK (which I rarely feature) is that the interview segments are infrequent, the flow of the music is kept intact around them, the different camera angles show the full breadth of the performance stage, as well as the film footage played on the screen during the performance and some of the stranger instruments utilized by the artists.  I also like how they intersperse other film footage within the EPK that is relevant to the music and project, both.  Just really well done, and a great album, to boot.


Have a great start to your weekend!


Now I am going to talk about the new Bill Frisell album, “Guitar in the Space Age!”

October 30, 2014


Bill Frisell - "Guitar in the Space Age"Seeing Bill Frisell perform live is an illuminating experience, one in which the true measure of his talent really shines through… this in the face of having been a part of some of the most inventive, massively creative studio recordings of the last handful of decades.

I remember seeing him live at the Boulder Theater in support of his 1996 album Quartet.  I loved that album, still do.  Perhaps one of my top ten favorite albums ever.  I think his quartet performed every track on the album.  However, aside from a tear-jerking rendition of “Caffaro’s Theme,” the song I remember most from that night was a rendition of “Spoonful of Sugar” from Mary Poppins.  Frisell took his time revealing the identity of the song.  Between his guitar & effects, the trombone of Curtis Fowlkes, the trumpet of Ron Miles, and the tuba & violin of Eyvind Kang, their strangely beautiful sonic concoction only allowed fragments of the melody to drift out, meanwhile creating their blurry version of the original.  It wasn’t until several minutes into the performance that Frisell made a definitive statement of the melody.  There was an audible reaction from the crowd… gasps, laughter, the ephemera of sound signifying recognition and understanding… and Frisell smiled in response as he continued to play, clearly enjoying the result of his little game of cat-and-mouse with the audience.

He transformed that song even as he respectfully held that melody in his hand.  It was a recurring highlight to every Frisell concert I’ve attended since then (which have been many).  With each show, there will be at least one instance, sometimes more, of a pop song rendition that Frisell’s group will play coy with, revealing the fullness of the melody only after he’s suitably advanced his impressionistic vision of the original composition.  For a while there, I recall he was shaping new versions of “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.”  Undoubtedly there have been many others.

His personal style, a mix of jazz and Americana with occasional infusions of looping and effects, makes for intriguing takes on familiar songs.  He peppers a song with whimsical and enlightened moments as he reveals facets of the songs that the originals hadn’t touched upon, and he does it with a sense of fun that keeps it from becoming some tedious dissertation on music.

Bill Frisell - "All We Are Saying"It wasn’t that long ago he released an album of renditions of the music of John Lennon. 2011’s All We Are Saying was a bit uneven of a recording.  As a concept, it seemed like a logical decision.  The John Lennon songbook was a nice match for Frisell’s style.  No matter how far out Frisell takes his renditions, he tethers himself to the melody, and Lennon, well, he knew how to construct a melody.

The question going in on this recording was how close to the originals would Frisell tie himself.  The answer is about half and half, with perhaps a little less stretching out than I, personally, would’ve liked.

Frisell had been performing “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” in live performances and his lead-in was an extended improvisation that obscured the song until he suddenly parted the curtains and revealed the melody.

The studio version of this song gets right to the point, which removes some of the fun of hearing a Frisell rendition, but the gradual build-up of this song and its poetic outro basically flips the formula on its head, and the song becomes pleasantly more obscure towards its tail end instead of in the intro.  “Nowhere Man” also benefits from Frisell’s strong imagery and his ability to hint at the original without fully revealing its source.  He has a talent for wringing the most delicate sounds out of a melody, and he does it here big time.

“Revolution,” on the other hand, represents one of the more unfortunate tunes on the album.  It’s a bit too close to the original and adds nothing to replace the absence of vocals, and that leaves Frisell’s version feeling a bit cold.  “Beautiful Boy” and “In My Life” fall flat for similar reasons.  The studio version of “Across the Universe” also fails to stretch out in the ways Frisell’s live performances take the song to new heights.

The album’s unevenness was understandable.  Taking on a single artist’s songbook is going to create the immediate obstacle of vision vs. vision.  Two artists, regardless of how open-minded they are, there are going to be unavoidable clashes too great to overcome.  No matter how carefully Frisell handpicked songs from the John Lennon songbook, there was simply going to be a couple that refused to submit to his craftsmanship… John Lennon diamonds that would always be a flawed gemstone in the hands of others.

Bill Frisell’s newest album, Guitar in the Space Age! spreads the influences and source material out over a wider spectrum.

Bill Frisell banner

The album opens promisingly enough, with a cover of The Shantay’s surf-rock tune “Pipeline.”  Surf rock is an area that Frisell could conceivably mine all kinds of little gems in that way his guitar and effects can make a melody shimmer and a rhythm dance with a playful abandon.

But that gets followed with a rendition of “Turn Turn Turn,” an overplayed song that could use a long period of silence before anybody revisits it again.  It would be one thing if Frisell offered up some brilliant re-imagining of the song, but that’s not what this album is about… Frisell is celebrating the music that affected and shaped him during his early years.  So, naturally, he’s going to play it a bit straighter than he might otherwise.  That’s too bad.  He takes a similar straight-forward approach to Junior Wells’ “Messin’ With the Kid,” and it, too, suffers for it.  There’s nothing wrong with it, per se, but the word ‘memorable’ will never come into play when describing it.

A cover of the Beach Boys “Surfer Girl” gets Frisell back to territory where he can play a song (relatively) close to the original while adding some creative embellishments that fall into his wheelhouse.

A Link Wray tune (“Rumble”) is an interesting choice considering both artists’ deft use of distortion throughout their respective careers.  It’s a nice vehicle for Frisell to tee off on guitar, and it provides a nice bit of contrast with the dreamier surf rock tunes.

The contrast really comes into focus on subsequent track “The Shortest Day,” one of only two Frisell originals on this recording.  It weaves a simple serenity out of a winding twisting pattern of melodic fragments.  It’s the kind of pragmatic inventiveness that Frisell harnesses to construct brilliant washes of resonant beauty.  It’s a feat he accomplishes again, later, on the other original tune, “Liftoff.”

“Rebel Rouser,” “Bryant’s Boogie” and “Cannonball Rag” don’t offer up any real surprises.  It’s not difficult to imagine that Frisell is having a ball as he records these songs in the studio, and if you’re someone who feels a nostalgic tug when these songs pour out of the speakers, then you’ll probably have a ball hearing them, too.  But nothing about them are memorable.  They are the kind of songs used as the penultimate tune to a concert encore… right before the final song that blows the roof off.

The take on Speedy West’s “Reflections From the Moon” gives some insight into the album’s potential.  Frisell takes the original’s upbeat lullaby and flips it into a dreamy, almost contemplative reverie.  It’s the original song and it’s not.  You hear the melody and then you hear its reflection, fading slowly as Frisell bends time to suit his own idea of what the tempo should be.  It’s a sonic sleight-of-hand that Frisell has developed a real knack for.  It’s a shame he didn’t utilize it more on the recording.  His interpretation of the early-period Kinks tune, “Tired of Waiting For Her” also shows what might have been.  Frisell embeds the melody into his framework, then begins to warp it and construct competing melodic lines, all bundled up in a shimmery haze and a strong pop music catchiness.

The album ends with a rendition of the Tornado’s hit “Telstar,” and, well, whatever.  It’s a pleasant tune.

There will be people out there who will enjoy this track, hell, enjoy the entire album.  But when you build a career reputation as an imaginative artist, straight-forward and boring are pretty big sins.

Inventiveness and improvisation are the qualities that allow jazz musicians to take popular songs for such a fun spin.  It’s what makes those performances something special, something to remember.  It’s also the difference between a rendition and a cover song.  Guitar in the Space Age! is an album of cover songs.

I can’t help but wonder if this album would sound better live, freed of the constraints of the studio recording environment.  And I also can’t help but think that a musician who always seems to be looking forward, searching for new sounds and following new visions, that his wayward glance back to recapture bits of his past has muted those qualities that made so much of his music so spectacular, and which cemented his deserved reputation as one of the greatest guitarists of our generation.

You can read more about this album on Frisell’s site.

Your album personnel:  Bill Frisell (electric guitar), Greg Leisz (pedal steel, electric guitar), Tony Scherr (bass, acoustic guitar), and Kenny Wollesen (drums, percussion, vibes).

Released on Okeh Records.

Music from the Seattle scene.

Available at: Amazon CD | Amazon MP3


My new eMusic Jazz Picks are up at Wondering Sound

October 29, 2014


As most of you are aware, I have been writing a weekly column for that gives a rundown of the best of the new Jazz releases each week (my Jazz Picks).  Well, eMusic has spun off their editorial function to a completely separate site, called Wondering Sound.  It’s still an eMusic thing, but my Jazz Picks will now be posted over on the Wondering Sound site.

So don’t freak out when the link takes you to an unfamiliar site.  I’ll be reprinting this introduction for the next handful of weeks, just so that everyone becomes familiar with the changes.

Now, that said, my new recommendations have just been posted up on the Wondering Music site HERE.

Notable albums from this week’s article are:

Eva Kruse - "In Water"Underpool 3 Phil Markowitz, Zach Brock - "Perpetuity"Marianne Trudel - "La Vie Commence Ici"





… and a bunch more where those came from.  Strong week.  A couple late contenders for Best of 2014 lists.


Recommended: Torben Westergaard – “Tangofied II”

October 28, 2014


Torben Westergaard - "Tangofied II"On Tangofied II, bassist Torben Westergaard blends two seemingly contradictory influences of Nordic jazz and Argentinean tango.  But by deftly finding the commonalities in the folk music inherent to both forms, Westergaard unites the two as one, and what begins as an odd curiosity is transformed into something that comes off as a natural, an almost pragmatic form of expression.

“Waltz Me” leads right out with the ensemble’s blending formula of the two, disparate influences.  The fluid grace of tango meshes nicely with a Nordic sensibility, as spurts of motion twist around the calm heart of the song, each leaving the other undisturbed while sounding perpetually in synch.  “Don’t Leave Any Thoughts Behind” doesn’t shake the developing trend, shifting between sharp bursts of propulsion and long effortless glides with the same fluid grace as the opening track.

It’s interesting to hear how the Nordic and Argentinean influences adapt to those times when their opposite takes on a stronger role for a particular song.  The moody, drifting piece “Minor Me” speaks from the streets of Copenhagen, but guitarist Ernesto Snajer’s guitar works in some sounds of the Rio de la Plata, providing a valuable, intermittent shift in perspective.  “Dinamargentina” dishes out the tango cadences, and while the song is dominated by an unqualified exuberance, Westergard slips in passages of a deeper serenity informed by the Nordic influence.

“Chacarera” and “Huayno” illustrate the diversity of Argentinean folk and tango musics.  Westergaard’s ensemble embraces the regional traits corresponding to both chacerera and huayno while sticking to the album’s winning formula.  The guest vocal on “Året Rundt” allows Westergaard to mute the predominant influences on this album and simply craft a pretty song for the ensemble members, comprised of both Danish and Argentinean musicians, to just let their musicianship flow.

A curious album with a curious sound that reveals the facets to its beauty slowly, patiently, and fully over time.

Your album personnel:  Torben Westergaard (bass), Ida Nørholm (cello), Anders Banke (bass clarinet), Alejandro Sancho (guitar), Ernesto Snajer (guitar), and guests:  Mariano “Tiki” Cantero (percussion, voice), Victor Carrion (quena, sikus), Jacob Andersen (percussion), Adi Zukanovic (sonics), and Andrea Pellegrini (vocal).

The album is Self-Produced.

Jazz from the Copenhagen scene.

It appears that the only traditional retail outlet is iTunes, but the download is available at 7Digital for those of you who shop there.  The CD is available at Gateway Music and directly from the artist’s site.  Westergaard offers to sign the CD if you buy direct.



Some other stuff you should probably know:

Line Kruse - "Dancing On Air"If you like the whole Nordic Jazz – tango fusion thing, you should probably also check out Line Kruse’s Dancing On Air.  Released in 2013, it has a similar approach but a different sound than Westergaard’s.  Go check out the recommendation Here, on Bird is the Worm.


Recommended: Mitch Shiner and the BloomingTones Big Band – “Fly!”

October 27, 2014


Mitch Shiner - "Fly!"A solid big band session from Mitch Shiner and the BloomingTones Big Band.  The album’s strongest quality is that the ensemble insinuates a Big Sound more often than they show it.  It’s that show of restraint that creates tension while allowing room for strong melodies and delicate solos to hover at the forefront of the compositions.  The arrangements on Fly! provide an essential quality of differentiation between tracks, which gives the album an expansive range of expressions totaling to something much much more than here’s-another-big-band-album.

Exhibit A is the way vibes lead out on the classic “When You Wish Upon a Star.”  It gives the impression that this will be a track that tamps down on the enthusiasm and sticks to a moodier expression.  But the ensemble builds off the vibraphones’ rhythmic chatter rather than its melancholy tone, and it’s why the quick ascents and drops of intensity are secondary in enjoyability to the ensemble’s nifty playfulness with cadence.  This is the kind of sleight-of-hand that Shiner utilizes to great success on the recording.

Perhaps even better evidence of this is his Afro-Latin treatment of a Miley Cyrus tune.  “Wrecking Ball – Oggun” switches between a relaxed Latin groove and wild eruptions of the pop song’s splashy chorus.  The sudden changes makes sense as they happen, but their effect is no less surprising with each occurrence, and that’s why the song ends up being more than just charmingly kitschy.

Speaking of surprises and kitschy, Shiner’s down-the-center approach to Burt Bacharach’s “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” is far more successful than it has any right to expect.  A syrupy melody in the grasp of a big band can easily go saccharine on the turn of a dime, but the ensemble’s slow exhalation of the melody actually highlights some of its sweeter aspects.

“6:20 Shuffle” has a solid traditional sound, with a thick blues streak that swings wide, swings hard.  Taking a different angle on the title-track, “Fly” works the melody more like a pop song and uses it to shift from a conventional big band sound to something far more modern and far more intricate than a song for the masses… and all the while, maintaining a supreme tunefulness.

A very promising debut.  Also, a nice glimpse of the University of Indiana music scene.

Your album personnel:  Mitch Shiner (vibes, drums, congas, maracas, shekere, shakers, triangle), Amanda Gardier (alto & soprano saxes, flute, alto flute), Adam Carrillo (alto & soprano saxes, clarinet), Matt Roehrich (tenor sax, alto flute, clarinet), Alex Young (tenor sax, clarinet), Steven Banks (baritone sax, bass clarinet), Dan Coffman, John Sorsen, Stewart Rhodes (trombones), Brennan Johns (bass trombone), Wayne Wallace (trombone), Matt Johnson (tuba), Eric Dumouchelle, Torrey D’Angelo (French horns), Jordan Ghaim, Josiah Lamb, Joe Anderson, Lexie Signor, Pat Harbison (trumpets, flugelhorns), John Weisiger (piano), Matt MacDougall (guitar), Richard Baskin (vocal), Anna Butterss, Rob Walker, Jeremy Allen (electric, upright and baby basses), Joe Galvin (batá, guiro), Kristin Olson (vibes, batá, congas, timbales, shakers), Michael Spiro (vocal, batá), and Ben Lumsdaine, Josh Roberts (drums).

Released on Patois Records.

Jazz from the Bloomington, Indiana scene.

Available at:  eMusic | CDBaby | Amazon CD/MP3



Some of the opening paragraph was used originally in the weekly new jazz releases column I write for eMusic’s Wondering Sound, so here’s some language protecting their rights to the reprinted material as the one to hire me to write about new jazz arrivals to their site…

New Arrivals Jazz Picks” reprints courtesy of, Inc.
© 2014, Inc.

As always, my sincere thanks to eMusic for the gig.