May 30 2016
I don’t know if they use the term “slush pile” anymore, but back when I was actively sending out queries of my own to publishers and agents to get them to take a look at one of my fiction novels, the backlog of unsolicited manuscripts would get thrown onto a (literal) stack of other such manuscripts… termed, industry-wide, the “slush pile.” Every now and then, a junior editor or agent would randomly pull a manuscript off the pile and give it a read just to see if a little gem had walked through the door unbeknownst to everyone. It was pretty much a Hail Mary for both author and editor/agent/publisher alike.
I pretty much get overwhelmed with review requests here at Bird is the Worm. The amount of physical and digital CD/MP3 promos that hit my various inboxes is more than I can keep up with. A backlog ensues. Every now and then, on a lazy afternoon like today, I’ll spend a day going through those older submissions I was never able to get to, and just listen through as many as I can while sitting on the sofa, reading a book, and, perhaps, nursing a hangover. Today is one of those days.
Below you’re gonna find some recommendations that go back as far as a 18 months ago from today. They are albums that I liked enough to give a follow-up flag to after the briefest of listens, but never was able to get to in the course of a normal, hectic listening schedule. I’m glad I had them hanging around. I think you’ll find something here to enjoy.
Sun Speak – Sacred Rubble (Ears & Eyes Records)
Rather captivating session from guitarist Matt Gold and drummer Nate Friedman (plus guest Ben Schmidt-Swartz sitting in on one track on tenor sax). More post-rock than post-bop, their approach to song structure is to merely hint at a catchy melody then watch variations of it quickly spread like hot gossip. And this leads to the album’s winning characteristic, which is the duo’s ability to maintain cohesion-in-the-moment as they navigate a meandering path. That kind of focus on the immediacy of things is why it’s so very easy to get lost in these songs and not really care where you or it is going. Nice addition of acoustic guitar for some sonic balance. Also, it’s refreshing when a musician/band enters the room, says only exactly what they’ve got on their mind, then immediately turns off the lights. This album gets that accomplished in under thirty minutes, and is stronger for its succinctness.
Michael Malis Trio – Lifted from the No of All Nothing (Self-Produced)
Gotta say, I always appreciate when musicians use their debut to relate all the Big Ideas that have been bouncing around in their heads in the lead-up to their inaugural session in the drivers seat. If they’re even remotely up to the task, it typically renders an album that has all kinds of little surprises and bursts of inspiration. It also tends to lack cohesiveness and its share of potholes along the road from first note to last. That, however, is a big part of the fun. And besides, when a musician steps up the plate on their debut, you’re more concerned with their stance and that they’re taking decent cuts… not the box score. On his debut, pianist Michael Malis definitely gets in his share of quality swings, and this fun recording has more than its share of inspired moments and surprises. There’s some straight-ahead (both old- and new-school), some avant-garde and free moments and some passages that dive into classical areas… and he pretty frequently switches things up between those forms of expression within the duration of one track. Definitely worth checking out, and a promising sign for future projects. Joining the pianist are bassist Ben Rolston and drummer Stephen Boeghold.
Guillaume Vierset Harvest Group – Songwriter (AZ Productions)
A pleasant set of songs that anchor themselves to the heart of a melody and never wander too far from that central place. Guitarist Vierset was aiming for the singer-songwriter action on this recording, and some covers of Nick Drake, plus some originals inspired by some favorite musicians are what comes of it. The originals are far better than the covers, though that’s gonna have most to do with the extreme difficulty of providing a new view of the Drake originals. But overall, it’s a nice, laid-back set of tunes that’s easy to ease into. Joining the guitarist are soprano saxophonist Mathieu Robert, cellist Marine Horbaczewski, bassist Yannick Peeters and drummer Yves Peeters.
Pericopes+1 – These Human Beings (AlfaMusic)
Plenty of expressiveness from this duo + 1 set from saxophonist Emiliano Vernizzi, pianist Alessandro Sgobbio and drummer Nick Wight. Each tune seems to begin as a tightly wound ball, and sometimes the trio lets it come apart in wild, dramatic directions and other times they keep things pulled in tight and wrapped around a fiery intensity. When they go with the former approach, the song is typically straight-ahead modern with indie-rock influences, and when they go with the latter approach, it’s a chamber jazz sound. It’s the latter category that marks the strongest tracks, but the shifting between the two states of volatility and solemnity go along way to binding the album up into something exciting and satisfying.
Craig Pedersen – Ghosts (Self-Produced)
The counterbalance of warm tones and a mournful delivery are what gives this five song recording its appeal. Trumpeter Pedersen, alto saxophonist Linsey Wellman, double bassist Joel Kerr and drummer Eric Thibodeau maintain a nice and easy pace that doesn’t hold back on generating some serious feel. Thick, tangled harmonies are the album’s strong point, but unraveling them with the occasional blast of dissonance adds a delightful bit of contrast at some well-placed moments. Also, bonus points for constructing an EP that remains focused while still providing the space for the artists to flesh ideas out as they happen.