"Curiouser & Curiouser": Global Beat April 2007

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"Curiouser and curiouser! cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English). "Now I'm opening out like the largest telescope that ever was! -"Alice in Wonderland

Mike Dillon's Go-Go Jungle
Battery Milk
HYENA
2007

Vibes player and bandleader Dillon explains the concept behind his genre-mashing Go-Go Jungle ensemble this way: "I wanted to write some blues heads like Milt Jackson might have written had he grown up listening to Led Zeppelin, and play them over a go-go groove.

Right from the opening "Go-Go's Theme you can tell that Dillon is hell bent on merging the improvisational, jazz vibraphone tradition with the aggressive attack of his personal skull-crushing, hard rock favorites such as the Bad Brains and the Henry Rollins Band.

("Go-go is a percussion- and call-and-response-heavy style of funk popularized in East Coast clubs by bands such as E.U. and TroubleFunk, of which "Da Butt from the Spike Lee joint School Daze was probably the commercial pinnacle.)

Dillon lured most of his longest-standing musical co-conspirators into this Go-Go Jungle debut, including tenor saxophonist Mark Southerland, bassists Ron Johnson and J.J. "Jungle Richards, and the expertly-named Go-Go Ray Pollard on drums. The result is genuinely democratic jazz-rock fusion that roars with the power of jazz and rock in equal parts. Tenor sax and vibes lead the somewhat twisted bop melody of "Go-Go's Theme even as the bass and drum stomp this nimble rhythm down into funk that almost instantaneously erupts into a timbales / percussion beatdown rendered in genuine Go-Go style. It's also expertly produced: Dillon's vibes roll out the melody in one speaker, Southerland honks out King Curtis gutbucket tenor in the other, while bass and drum, placed dead center, roll through and bust up the joint.

The rhythm section churns even more frantic and brutal through "Lunatic Express, hauling its weighty ass like a runaway freight train while Dillon's vibes radiate a harsh, buzzing psychedelic edge. An oddly-shaped, quicksilver melody that settles into a simmering Latin and rock and funk and jazz groove behind soloists who play with pronounced senses of adventure and humor (especially Dillon), "Lopsided Melon Ball sounds like Frank Zappa in more than just its title. Placed in between, this cover of Aaron Neville's New Orleans lament "Hercules sparkles like a compact crystal that sounds completely out of place in the midst of such madness. So, conceptually, it fits.

To close, Dillon honors a kindred jazz bad-ass spirit, saxophonist and composer Eddie Harris, with the angled blue phrasing and tone of his solo, and the finger-popping jaunty melody, for the electrifying "Harris Country.

Viktor Krauss
II
Backporch / EMI
2007

Thanks to his dexterity and vision on multiple stringed instruments, Krauss is kind of a musical every man who has recorded and performed with Bill Frisell and Lyle Lovett (both of whom appear on II) plus Chet Atkins, Emmylou Harris, Elvis Costello and The Chieftains. His 2003 solo debut Far From Enough made it up to #6 on the Contemporary Jazz charts and featured contributions from guitarist Frisell and Allison Kraus (Viktor's sister) on viola and vocals.

Armed with various electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards and basses, Krauss bunkered down in his home studio in Nashville with session aces Dean Parks (electric and acoustic guitars) and Matt Chamberlain (drums, percussion, programming) to record II, and finished this project at studios in Los Angeles. These two geographic points of reference place this sophomore effort nicely in context. It is extremely well-played, with subtle hints of country, jazz and blues, especially when Frisell and Lovett share the spotlight. Frisell's guitar and especially Lovett's lead vocal inhabit like ghosts the floating blues "(I Could Have Been Your) Best Friend. Lovett's vocal burns slow yet deep, intense from being so quietly rendered, relishing his emotional pain and feeding it back into his heart to fuel its anger. "Lyle can do the nasty delivery really well, deadpans Krauss.

The instrumental "Pinky Ring launches in a different direction. Krauss polishes blues guitar licks into an edgy space-age sheen then floats them skyward until they seem to scrape against the atmosphere; this combined blues / psychedelic guitar sound seems to honor the trademark sound of David Gilmour, Pink Floyd guitarist. Krauss' instrumental rearrangement of Floyd's "Shine on You Crazy Diamond, especially transposing its celestial coda into its introduction, works much more effectively than does Shawn Colvin's attendant, thin vocal.


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