Something Different: Cliff Hines – “Wanderlust”

February 16, 2013


Cliff Hines - "Wanderlust"This music is kaleidoscopic.  This music has a myriad of influences, each showing brief flashes before disappearing back into a perpetually shifting cycle of pattern and form.  Wanderlust, the new recording by Cliff Hines is to hear glimpses of source material without it ever truly coalescing for long enough to grab hold.  In many ways, it’s this music’s formlessness that is its most appealing characteristic.

Often when an artist attempts to fuse together disparate sounds or influences (assuming they do it well, which is no guarantee), the resulting hybrid is a singular sound all to its own.  It’s one of the most exciting traits of following artists who defy conventions and genres.  It’s a big reason why I run the Something Different review series.

The thing I find so damn compelling about this album is that it doesn’t really create a singular sound, even though Hines’s ensemble does an astoundingly adept job of blending the various music influences.  Just as a thick fog has a definitive presence yet remains forever elusive, the music of Wanderlust shimmers and floats and just can’t get nailed down.

Your album personnel:  Cliff Hines (guitar, vocals, synthesizers, guitar effects), Sasha Masakowski (vocals), Paul Thibodeaux (drums, percussion), Jasen Weaver (acoustic & electric bass), and Andrew McGowan (piano, Rhodes), and guests:  Khris Royal (alto sax), Sam Craft (violin), Jack Craft (cello), Sebastian Figueroa (Line 6 DL4), Rex Gregory (bass clarinet), Ashlin Parker (trumpet), Michael Watson (trombone), Simon Lott II (drum effects), Chris Carter (drum programming), Helen Gillet (cello), Bill Summers (percussion), Kent Jordan (flute), James Singleton (bass), Rex Gregory (bass clarinet, soprano sax), Lloyd Dillon (spoken word), Dave Easley (slide guitar), and Andrew McLean (tabla).

While there are some moments that can legitimately be called Jazz, this album more often echoes the genre-shirking music of an artist like alt-rocker Howe Gelb, who also embraces different influences and creates a drifting, ethereal singular sound.

Wanderlust opens with “Brothers.”  Electronic effects and McGowan’s Rhodes and Masakowski’s vocal harmonies coalesce into a stuttering groove that isn’t that far removed from the post-rock jittery ambiance of Radiohead.  Enchanting as hell, then Weaver and Royal enter on bass and sax with playful combinations while still interacting with the original theme… as if jazz and post-rock are shadowboxing.

“Dresden” begins with a sublime intro of cello and piano juxtaposed against radio frequencies and white noise.  Not quite avant-garde, not quite modern classical, and not quite ambient electronica, it’s a mist of cross-currents.  It leads right into the old-school jazz-rock fusion of a Mahavishnu Orchestra, with its sharp guitar edge, dramatic vocal harmonies, Thibodeaux’s frenetic bursts of percussion, and surging tempos and volume.

And this, also, transitions right into the next song without a moment of silence (a use of interludes that serves this album very well).  “Tehran” has a whiff of Middle-East music, though the imagery of deserts it conjures is more akin to the red rocks and big blue skies of the American southwest.

Several tracks, like “Interzone” and “Wanderlust,” have spoken word, accompanied by acoustic guitar and percussion hinting at folk and Latin and alt-rock.

And other tracks recall a seaside lounge vibe.  Tracks like “Aetherea” and “Lonely Moon” match warm vocals with sunny keys, the quick fills of saxes and trumpets and strings… uplifting music that grooves its way to higher elevations.  Guitar either pecks out the melody or scoops it up and takes off in flight.  Contrails of electronics and effects leave their mark in the wake of song finales.

This album has an elusive construction to it.  It builds up from track to track, not revealing a sense of album cohesion until near the very end.  It was tenth track “Clouds” when I really fell completely for this album.  For much of the recording, I felt like I was constantly playing catch-up as the music slowly wore down my preconceptions and (supposed) preferences, until I was finally enjoying this album on its own terms… even if I still wasn’t sure what those terms were.  But the interplay of Masakowski’s vocal harmonies with strings and piano, the gentle crash of drums, it was a virtual swell of sound that completely immerses the senses.  When soprano sax bursts into the mix, I was hooked.  Such an odd, compelling beauty here, enhanced further by electric guitar and effects joining in for the big finale.

The album ends with “Arjuna,” which begins with nifty intro that features slide guitarist Dave Easley (of Brian Blade’s Fellowship) and Andrew McLean’s tabla performing a clever raga.  It’s a strange interlude to lead into the pop-music that follows, but it both works and is definitely consistent with this ensemble’s approach to the music.  Vocals and keys trade bright lines.  Electric guitar leads into some nice trumpet and sax accompaniment, and there’s some hypnotic interplay between Weaver’s bass and a combination of electronic effects and Hines’s acoustic guitar.  Most attractive about the album closer is that it repeatedly builds into seemingly grand finales, just to let the floor drop off, then begin building back up to yet another one, each time different instruments joining the pop-music core of guitar and vocals.

Just thrilled with this album.  Its elusive nature is delightfully compelling, but the challenges the music presents do nothing to interfere with the simple act of sitting back and enjoying it.

This album is Self-Produced.

Music from the New Orleans scene.

Download a free 4-track demo set The Traveler EP from Hines’s Soundcloud page, courtesy of the artist.  All four tracks eventually made it onto Wanderlust, though, likely, with a slightly different production.

Available at eMusic.  Available at Amazon: CD | MP3

Menagerie – “They Shall Inherit”

January 22, 2013


Menagerie - "They Shall Inherit"The is music to roll the car windows down on the first day of Spring and play it loud.  This is music with a big heart.  This is music of the present echoing the music of the past.  And this music is yet another sign that the Spiritual Jazz sound is still alive and kicking.

The Menagerie ensemble was put together by producer/songwriter Lance Ferguson, who has made his mark in Soul, R&B, and Funk genres.  With Menagerie, he’s doing the same, but with a Spiritual Jazz release that is ridiculously catchy.  Heavy music, but fun as hell.

Your album personnel:  Lance Ferguson (guitar, vocals), Christin Deralas (vocals), Fallon Williams (vocals), Phillip Noy (tenor & soprano saxes), Eamon McNellis (trumpet), Cario Barbaro (flute), Mark Fitzgibbon (piano, Fender Rhodes), Michael Meagher (bass), Phil Binotto (percussion), Rory McDougall (drums), and guest:  Roy Ayers (vibes).

A fiery trumpet solo atop vocal harmonies and R&B groove start things out on the opening tune (and title-track).  Interludes of piano and percussion that speak of Pharaoh Sanders’ Thembi.  The grooves are very much in the modern day, whereas the harmonies speak to jazz of the past.  The solos could exist comfortably in any decade.

That’s followed by “The Chosen,” where keys refract notes like blurred glass does sunlight.  While congos maintain a steady cant, vocals harmonize about “what you already knew” as soprano sax gift wraps them up with twirled bows.  The entire song is wrapped tight, which, conversely, gives the performance its sense of freedom.

Third track “Jamahlia” brings reflective piano notes in low and ethereal flute in high, with drums and bass staking out a Hard Bop middle ground that ties it all together.  When tenor sax strides into the picture, it lights up the room.  Piano steps up next with swift lines, speaking big words in a soft voice.

Fourth track “Leroy and the Lion” gets its party on with a thrilling vibraphone solo (from guest Roy Ayers) and percussion accompaniment that fits snug as a bug with the vibraphone dance steps.  Electric guitar then steps up to the plate with its own rhythmic ideas, and adds some fire to the vibes ice.

Fifth track “The Quietening” is a funk tune with spoken word portending of a doomsday apocalypse and the fight to tear it down.  A thick weave of percussion drives the tune, with bursts of horns to coax the rhythms and words on further into the headwind.

The album ends with the strongest track.  “There Will Come Soft Rains” reverberates with the Impulse Records New Thing sounds of Pharoah Sanders and John Coltrane.  A piano-led rhythm section etches out an indelible pattern of contemplative ferocity.  Sax drifts languidly atop, occasionally crashing through and splashing notes everywhere.  Vocal harmonies bring some brightness to an otherwise shadowy tune.

In many ways, this is the kind of album that I’d preemptively claim not like.  I’m not a fan of vocals on Jazz recordings.  When it comes to Funk and R&B influences, I prefer them subtle, especially with woodwinds and brass.  And when it comes to Spiritual Jazz, I’m wanting something deep, something heavy… and nothing that floats like a feather.  But even though They Shall Inherit possesses all of these traits I typically avoid, I am absolutely taken with this recording.  The thing of it is, preferences are a generalized form of decision-making… the type of thing that can be overcome one specific example at a time.  In this instance, Menagerie does exactly that.  They’ve got me enjoying an album that crosses several of my lines of preference.  This thrills me to no end.

Released on the Tru Thoughts Recordings label.

Jazz from the Melbourne, Australia scene.

Download a free album track courtesy of the artist and label, either by hitting the download button on the embedded player above or from the label bandcamp page.

Available at eMusic.  Available at (UK) Amazon: MP3   | Available at (USA) Amazon: CD | Vinyl

Tiny Reviews: Samuel Blaser, Jimi Tenor, & Trish Clowes

November 27, 2012

Tiny Reviews, featuring:  Samuel Blaser Quartet As the Sea, Jim Tenor Mystery of Aether, Trish Clowes And In the Night-Time She Is There.



Samuel Blaser Quartet – As the Sea

A nice high-octane recording by trombonist Samuel Blaser.  One of those albums that gives the impression of velocity even when the music is just a simmering cauldron of tension.  When the temperature does rise, this music echoes the 1960s West Coast New Thing of John Handy’s innovative ensemble… a blend of early-incubation Free Jazz and trip-jam 60′s Rock.  Some of the great qualities of that music was its fiery disposition and the wide open expanses for instruments to take turns as lead acrobat.  Blaser delivers much of the same here, though his brand of avant-garde rests in the modern context, which is more of a multi-layered discombobulation than the mysteriously stacked architecture of 1960s New Thing.

If there was any doubt before this, As the Sea proves definitively that everyone on this recording is a total bad-ass on their instruments.

Your album personnel:  Samuel Blaser (trombone), Marc Ducret (guitar), Bänz Oester (double bass), and Gerald Cleaver (drums).

Released on the Hat Hut Records label.

Jazz from the Berlin, Germany scene.

You can stream the album, and purchase it, on Blaser’s bandcamp page.

Cool cover art photo by Aline Paley.

Unavailable at eMusic and Amazon.


Jim Tenor – Mystery of Aether

Jimi Tenor has cut his teeth with some solid afro-beat, but on Mystery of Aether, his ensemble drifts into afro-jazz territory.  But he didn’t turn his back on past work, not by any stretch.  This music is a dance hall version of Pharoah Sanders 1970s astral jazz a la Thembi, but with some jazz-funk interludes and afro-beat vocals.  Tenor’s ensemble offers up a bounty of infectious rhythms.  Vocals often morph into a chant that settles effortlessly into the thick groove.  The seaside ease of tunes like “Suite Meet” are the kind of song you want as your best friend, such is its endearing warmth and chill demeanor.  Album features an array of home-made instruments that really tie a bow on this richly textured music.

Just a very cool album, and one that I don’t want to see slip under the radar.

Your album personnel: Jimi Tenor (sax, flute, vocals), Julla Eskola (wooden trumpet), Tero Lindberg (trumpet), Daniel Allen Oberto (trumpet, congas), Mongo Aaltonen (congas), Akinola Famson (talking drum), Jay Kortehisto (trombone), Heikki Tuhkanen (trombone), Kalle Kalima (guitar), Kumar (spoken word) and Akinola Famson, Ekow Alabi Savage (backing vocals).

Released on the Kindred Spirits label.

Available at eMusic.  Available at Amazon: CD | MP3 | Vinyl


Trish Clowes – And In the Night-Time She Is There

A lovely album by tenor saxophonist Trish Clowes.  Her previous album explored some of the soft point between jazz and classical, and while she does bring in a string quartet for this session, the inclusion does more to enhance the jazz elements of the album.  Clowes has a way of being expressive without cuffing the listener in the ears.  This leads to some dramatic moments with a subdued tone… a contrast that is quite enchanting.

Opening track “Atlas” has a genial patter, and a track like “Green Circle” darts from side to side, then breaks into long lovely glides, whereas “On, Off” features a galloping section by guitarist Montague, but it’s a song like “Animator” that will garner this album with some Best of 2012 mentions.  Frenetic strings juxtaposed over sublime sax cries, a dual cadence that closes in and meets at the point where drums chatter contentedly in the corner of the room.  By the time sax and strings begin improvising off one another, the sense of motion and passing of time brings about the conclusion there here is one of those wonderful songs that one can lose oneself in.

Strings play on about half of the album’s ten tracks, featured most prominently in the three part “Iris Nonet,” which allows for some freer expressions, and yet more fascinating moments.  It’s an album filled with them.

Your album personnel:  Trish Clowes (tenor sax), Chris Montague (guitar), Calum Gourlay (bass), James Maddren (drums), with guests: Gwilym Simcock (piano), Kathleen Willison (vocals), Heidi Parsons (cello), Thomas Gould (violin), Thea Spiers (violin), Adam Robinson (viola), and Louise McMonagle (cello).

Released on the Basho Records label.

Jazz from the UK scene.

Available at eMusic.  Available at Amazon: CD | MP3

Nicky Schrire – “Freedom Flight”

November 3, 2012


It’s not that far-fetched that a Beatles tune might coax a tear out of me.  Those melodies, those perfectly constructed songs, they know how to get their hooks into a listener’s heart.  What is unusual is when it’s someone other than the Fab Four to draw it out of me.  Vocalist Nicky Schrire opens her album by creating a little medley out of her own “Freedom Flight” as an intro into the Beatles’ “Blackbird.”  The rendition isn’t overdone, actually quite subtle, yet is evocative like crazy.  It sets the tone for the album, and it establishes the approach of Schrire on the rest of the album.

Your album personnel: Nicky Schrire (vocals), Nick Paul (piano), Sam Anning (bass), John Goldbas (drums, percussion), and guests: Paul Jones (tenor sax), Jay Rattman (clarinet), Brian Adler (percussion), and Peter Eldridge (piano, vocals).

Something I like about Schrire… the way she uses non-word vocalizations, it’s right up my alley.  She doesn’t treat them so much like notes as rhythmic tools, much like how some poets excel not as much by the meaning of their words but in the pleasant effect of the words bouncing off the reader’s head.  Schrire has that artful talent of voice as percussion, and thankfully, we’re talking the tasteful drumming of a Jon Christensen and the well-trained fire of a Billy Hart.

On “Me, the Mango Picker,” Rattman’s clarinet and Schrire’s vocalizations are butterflies on a summery day, fluttering about lightly, and offering little indications of where they’ll flutter next.

Another Schrire original that works well is “Ode to a Folk Song,” which has her singing demure and keeping notes at a steady simmer until that moment when she lets the group explode with sound, especially a fiery contribution on tenor by Paul Jones.

A couple tracks don’t live up to the standard set overall by the album.  The rendition of James Taylor’s “Shower the People” falls flat for the most part, except that the percussion-vocalization collaboration sends the song off very strong.  Admission of Material Subjective Bias:  I despise James Taylor’s music with an intensity I’m unable to describe without repeated profanities, so unless you possess the taste and wisdom to agree with me on this subject, you might not want to put to weight my opinion of that track too heavily.

But overall, just a real nice album, one that grew on me slowly, but once it got its hooks in me, I warmed up to it real quick.

Released on the Circavision Productions label.

Download a free album track at AllAboutJazz, courtesy of the artist.

Available at Amazon: CD | MP3

Two For the End of the Night: Gabriela – “El Viaje” and “Detras del Sol”

September 29, 2012


I first discovered the music of Gabriela (who forgoes her last name of Marrone) via guitarist Bill Frisell.  Looking through his site, I checked out music for albums he collaborated on but didn’t have his name in the big typeface.  It was one of those internet wandering sessions, just following trails of breadcrumbs from one musician site to the next, listening to music, writing down names of albums and artists on lists, with ESPN on mute and the cats dozing nearby.  I’ve discovered a wonderful amount of wonderful music on nights like that.  The best finds, I’ve discovered, are the albums that not only pique my interest, but also fit the mood of the exact moment I’m in.

The atmospheric, lullaby sound of Gabriela’s music was the perfect fit for late at night.  Let’s talk about two of her albums…


Gabriela – El Viaje

Born in Argentina, and now living there again, Gabriela has been exposed to the music of many geographies.  The daughter of a diplomat, she lived in several countries throughout Europe.  And later, as an adult and traveling musician, she moved around some more, spending time in the U.S. and Europe again.  The exposure to such a diverse array of music sounds to have freed her from any one influence, even that of her native Argentina, for though her music does possess a South American flavor, Gabriela’s personal sound isn’t beholden to it.  It’s that shrouding of music lineage that imbues her music with a sense of mystery and individuality.

Collaborating with Bill Frisell, Tucker Martine, and Lee Townsend couldn’t have hurt either.

Your album personnel:  Gabriela (vocals, guitar), Bill Frisell (electric & acoustic guitars, loops), Viktor Krauss (bass), Eyvind Kang (viola, violin), Steve Moore (keyboards), and Tucker Martine (percussion).

The melting pot of electric and acoustic guitars and loops, with additional strings via viola, violin, and bass, afford this music, atmospheric at heart, a thickness, like fog over the harbor, and that corporeality makes this music as much of the earth as the air.  It means that this will get felt in the gut, even as its beauty lifts hearts up to the sky.

Gabriela has a vocal approach that isn’t afraid to accentuate words with a theatrical flair without it ever getting hammy.  Opening track “La Furia” has a waltz sway to it, and it’s not an uncommon sensation throughout the album.  Some tracks, like “Quedate,” float on a sea of guitar loops, words only buoys rocking back and forth against the ebb and flow.  The stronger tunes, however, have an insistent tempo on guitar and a quivering tension, like “Alguien Grita, Nadie Escucha” with its ominous undercurrent that inspires wariness and “Romance,” which is far slower in tempo, but even the thick blanket of violin can’t usher away the chillier guitar tone.

But in the ways that matter most, the tension is an attractive feature, and the prevailing trait is one of ethereal beauty.  And it’s perfect for sitting up late at night, when it’s just the music and the listener, with no distractions to get between the two.

As far as I can tell, this is Gabriela’s latest recording.

Released in 2006 on the Songline / Tonefield label.  Released in Europe on the Intuition Music label.

You can stream three album tracks HERE, on the Songline site.

Available at eMusic.  Available at Amazon: CD | MP3


Gabriela – Detras del Sol

Recorded approximately ten years before El Viaje, there is still a remarkable amount of consistency between that album and Detras del Sol.  This is in no small way due to the presence of Bill Frisell on both recordings, not to mention Lee Townsend‘s touch in the role as producer.  But if anything has proven true over the course of ten years and three albums (the recording Viente Rojo falls in between the two covered in this article) is that Gabriela has spent a career developing her unique sound and creative voice, and once found, that’s something that sticks.  And it should.  All of us, as creative people, should search for our unique voice, and once we find it, trust in it.

While possessing many of the ethereal qualities that made El Viaje so delectable, Detras del Sol has an earthier sound to it.  More akin to Gabriela’s take on folk music and channeled through her unique sound.  Frisell’s guitar doesn’t take flight nearly as much as on El Viaje, instead keeping close to the soil a la his own recording This Land (which was released just a couple years earlier), an album that had him delving heavily into an Americana dialect of Jazz music.  Another difference in sound should be attributed to Rob Burger‘s inclusion of accordion and harmonium, which both have a from-the-dirt demeanor to their sound.  Also, Bill Douglass is on bass for this recording.  Viktor Krauss, the bassist on El Viaje, has a sound far more suited to taking to the air.  Now, from a big picture perspective, both Krauss and Douglass have cut their teeth in the World/Folk-Jazz subgenre, with Krauss’s sound a bit more modern and Douglass’s a bit more old-school (think: ECM).  But on this recording, Douglass’s bass lines sound like they’re rolling over hills, and the addition of his ocarina, this was the right choice to have him on this recording.

Actually, speaking of personnel, here you go…

Your album personnel:  Gabriela (vocals, acoustic guitar), Bill Frisell (guitars), Rob Burger (accordion, harmonium), Bill Douglass (bass, ocarina), Alex Acuna (drums, percussion), and Eyvind Kang (violin).

“Detras del Sol” alternate cover

On Detras del Sol, Gabriela’s vocals are more song-like, and constructed as straight-ahead tunes (as opposed to El Viaje, where she was more inclined to expressions of words).  It works better for the music on this album, and the use of a bit of restraint with the inflections doesn’t make her voice any less compelling.  The match between her deeper voice and accordion is a delight.  Alex Acuna‘s percussion fits the album’s sound to a tee, with no better example of this than the chipper “Hermana Maria.”  Eyvind Kang‘s violin isn’t as prominent here as it is on El Viaje, but tracks like “Duerme” will give the listener their necessary fix.

Speaking of “Duerme,” it closes out the album, and, perhaps not coincidentally, it has much of the hazy atmosphere of El Viaje.  A hint of things that were to come.

Released in 1997 on the Songline / Tonefield label.  Released in Europe on the Intuition Music label.

You can stream two album tracks HERE, on the Songline site.

Available at eMusic.  Available at Amazon: CD | MP3