Missives from Distant Fronts
Electric Cowbell Records
In September 2011, Bio Ritmo, the ten-piece salsa band from Richmond (Virginia), celebrated twenty years together, no small accomplishment for a band originally formed (says its official company bio) "as a percussion ensemble brought together by two misplaced Puerto Ricans who met at art school, combined with a local punk rock drummer."
Communally led by Tobias Whitaker (trombone and composer), Marlysse Simmons (pianist and composer), multi-instrumentalist and arranger Guistino Riccio (who's been onboard for eighteen of those twenty years) and lead singer and original founding member Rei Alvarez, Bio Ritmo celebrates this anniversary with the lively and colorful selection of salsa, mambo, and cha-cha on La Verdad, all played (again from the bio) "with the mindset of a rock 'n' roll band who happens to play 'in clave'" and whose roots and inspirations not only include salsa masters but The Who, The Buzzcocks, and Stereolab.
A remarkable accomplishment, La Verdad simultaneously honors and updates the tradition of salsa. "We've always considered us students of salsa music and aimed at having a 'classic salsa' sound through our compositions," Alvarez explains, "but always incorporating an experimental approach to our method." This title track explains it even better: Chanted vocals buoyed by bouncing percussion sound quite classic, but the clavinet and other electronic sounds polish the music into a sleek modern shine while the bassist's solid metronome deeply grounds its rhythm. It's nothing less than perfectly blended salsa.
Horns blow strong and mighty in "Verguenza" but the rest of its musical magichot and liquid flowing rhythms, swirling pools of piano, the horn/percussion conversation that erupts into every horn soloing at once, and then a crackling timbales fireworks displaydefies analysis and description. It would be no surprise to learn that "Verguenza" is an honored salsa traditional, but it wouldn't be a surprise to learn that it is a new Bio Ritmo original, either. It sounds that authentic, and contemporary.
Bassist Edward Prendergast in "Majadero" and Riccio on drums in "Lola's Dilemma" (an update of one of the group's first recordings, a cha-cha from 1997) even lay down reggae, introducing one more strain to the Bio Ritmo's south of the border salsa. "Caravana Del Vejigante" dances through a more elaborate, Latin orchestral setting as genuine and incendiary as any classic Machito big band workout, polished in an arrangement that shines as bright as any Nat Adderley, Benny Golson or Oliver Nelson chart.
La Verdad is also the first full-length album released by the boutique vinyl label Electric Cowbell Records, owned by James Thomson, the aforementioned punk rock drummer and a founding Bio Ritmo member.
Deep Blue Organ Trio
Wonderful! presents the Deep Blue Organ Trio's jazz take on nine Stevie Wonder hit songs that span Talking Book (Motown, 1972) to Songs in the Key of Life (Motown, '76), plus Wonder's 1969 hit single "My Cherie Amour" and "Tell Me Something Good," Chaka Khan's breakout from Rags to Rufus (MCA, '74) by Rufus (and which Wonder never recorded).
Guitarist Bobby Broom, drummer Greg Rockingham, and Hammond B-3 organist Chris Foreman have played together for two decades and formed the Deep Blue Organ Trio, a mainstay on the Chicago jazz-blues circuit, in 2000. The delightfully named Rockingham knows about drumming with B-3 funkmeisters from playing on albums like Charles Earland's Blowing the Blues Away (High Note, 1997) and Jazz Organ Summit (Cannonball, 1998) with Earland, Jimmy McGriff, Dr. Lonnie Smith and Johnny "Hammond" Smith.)
Wonder's music provides tasty sustenance for this Trio's prodigious chops. Rockingham's second-line drum rhythm makes "Tell Me Something Good" dance and hop, while Foreman and Broom swap improvisations in blue tones sharp yet warm. Foreman slows down the verses to "gospel-ize" "If You Really Love Me" while its chorus relaxes into a limber blues strut, then extinguishes the blue embers of "My Cheri Amour" by quoting the melody to Wonder's "Ribbon in the Sky." Foreman chases "You Haven't Done Nothin'" down a different path: It opens with his testifying, solo and soulful, then strolls through a solidly funky shuffle that sounds like John Medeski auditioning for the Motown house band!
Broom's Wonderful! sound is a seamless blend of jazz and blues, playing soul that consistently and insistently wants comparison with master Wes Montgomery. He plays "Golden Lady" (arranged as a waltz!) in octaves, his round full notes in "It Ain't No Use" glow with a rich, mellow tone, and his warm lines light the fireplace that smolders beneath the quiet-storm ballad "You've Got It Bad Girl." It's also remarkable how, through all these tunes, Broom and Foreman uncannily echo the phrasings and textures of Wonder's original vocals.
"Stevie Wonder provided the highlights for the soundtrack of our teen years," Broom reflects. "Without a doubt, Stevie was most influential to our core musical value system. I can speak for the group in saying that we are grateful to finally be able to render his music with some accuracy, honesty, feeling, reverence, and the special touch of the Deep Blue Organ Trio."
Rhett Frazier, Inc.
Every Day is Saturday
Double Inc. Recordings
Rhett Frazier, Inc. might be based in East Los Angeles, but its music was first baked in the working class breadbasket of the American Midwest: Songwriter and vocalist Rhett Frazier grew up in Oklahoma, less than half an hour's distance from the home or birthplace of legendary soulmen Roy Milton ("the father of modern R&B") and Lowell Fulson ("Reconsider Baby").
Drummer, synthesizer player and producer Donny Gruendler (a/k/a "Inc.") was born and raised in Detroit. "For me, the styles I absorbed in Detroit became second nature after awhile. They are part of my DNA. Since this music comes naturally to both Rhett and I, when we set out to make this album, we really wanted to let those raw and grooving impulses loose. To get out of our own way, so to speak," Gruendler says. "I like to create tension with modern sounds and traditional ones. I like mixing analog and digital textures. What does the song cry out for? That's my question. I do what it says. Sometimes it says 'distorted synth' and sometimes it says 'old organ from a yard sale.'"
This tension makes the band's sophomore release Every Day is Saturday both electric and eclecticin its liner notes, Frazier and Gruendler's collective thanks include Burt Bacharach, Frank Sinatra, Wardell Gray, Bridge on the River Kwai, Plato, Sir Thomas More, and Johnny Walkerand sound like a glorious soul-rock hybrid made up from equal portions of The Dramatics and Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels.
When he slides into his slippery falsetto, Frazier often sounds like Prince, another artist who earned his keep by blurring the line between soul, funk, and rock. "Workin'" retells "Crumbs Off the Table" more famously addressed by The Supremes and by Dusty Springfield. It's sassy and sensuous and dead in the pocket, and while it's not the same song, Frazier's floating falsetto sure seems to echo brother Ronnie's star turn in The Isley Brothers' classic "Work to Do."
But there's a surprising amount of blues on Saturday, too, most of which come screaming from electric guitarists Jesse Stern, The Kirk Fletcher Band and Rick Holmstrom. "Burying Ground" beats its loping beat down into dirt as the jagged edge on its guitar sound and distortion on Frazier's vocal build into a raw and harsh, modern yet dusty blues feel and sound. (Before this cuts off, someone in the studio enthuses, "That was fun!")
"Hard Man" is more weirdly compelling. Frazier's vocal recalls different episodes in his life when he had his ass kicked (in different ways) for the purpose of toughening him up; but it's sung in a vocal so deeply hurt, almost tortured, as if strangled from his throat through clenched jaws, so it sounds more like the pain stripped him of his spirit and his soul and left no feeling behind. Sadly beautiful (synthetic) horns and strings that Bacharach would have been pleased to arranged provide "Hard Man"'s crowning glory.
Dennis Rollins Velocity Trio
The 11th Gate
For more than two decades, British trombonist Dennis Rollins has played alongside Maceo Parker, Courtney Pine, The Brand New Heavies and others in and around his home base in the United Kingdom. Rollins' first international release, The 11th Gate came about from a simple conversation Rollins had with Pine, who wondered if it was possible for Rollins to record his Velocity Trio in a way that truly reflected the trombonist's personal influences and style.
It's no wonder that Pine wondered: You don't hear too many organ trios like Rollins' Velocity Trio, which features drummer/percussionist Pedro Segundo and Ross Stanley on the Hammond B-3, led by Rollins' trombone and electronics. You also don't hear too many bands that devote their international debut to a numerical motif. "My familiar area of funk and groove was not the focus, but not to be ignored," the leader explains. "I chose the overall theme (and composition titles) to reflect global awareness, focusing on the evolution of human collective consciousness AND the need to recognize each individual's unique spiritual being. I honed in on a specific date on our calendarNovember 11, 2011 (11.11.11)THE ELEVENTH GATE, signaling a universal paradigm shift, an emergence into our authentic selves." (November 11, 2011 was also Rollins' 47th [4 + 7 = 11] birthday.)
So The 11th Gate is sprawling and ambitious. Thanks to Rollins' inventive instrumentation and compositions, stitched into whole cloth by solo trombone, percussion and Hammond interludes, it is also a triumph. The leadoff "Samba Galactica" serves a great introductory course: While Segundo and Stanley drift in and out of airy samba and jazz rhythms, Rollins's trombone alternates between notes that sharply sting like crisply articulated trumpet, and soft tones that paint in butterfly flurries of languid color; when Rollins' trombone steps aside, Segundo and Stanley dialogue generates engaging Brazilian magic.
On "The Other Side," Stanley runs through organ chords that somehow bob and crest in waves, from which Rollins' trombone seems to rise like a larger than life musical leviathan. Rollins kicks off "Big Chill" with meaty riffing, introducing New Orleans drumming that quickly shuffles much further out, then leads the trio back and forth between this progressive jazz stratosphere and a more earthy, wanton Crescent City funk stomp.
The Velocity Trio's take on "Freedom Jazz Dance" sounds naturally its own, as if it was its tune and not written by Eddie Harris. Harris would like this version: Segundo and Stanley shake and stir the rhythm as Rollins' trombone makes pleasantly light work of this funky, muscular jazz classic to transform his inspiration into original and inventive musicperhaps the ultimate tribute to the iconoclastic, quixotic Harris.
TriBeCaStan is a mythical kingdom or mystical state (or both) founded by John Kruth and Jeff Greene, built upon music brought within its walls from Western China, Cuba, Morocco, Uzbekistan and just about any and every where else. For New Deli, their second official "state communication," TriBeCaStan's population expands to include Claire Daly, baritone sax ace for Taj Mahal (and previously, James Brown); ska trumpeter Johnny Turner; and Bruce Huebner, master of the pentatonic bamboo Japanese flute.
"As we say in TriBeCaStan, 'If your toes all face one way, you will walk crooked,'" Greene suggests. "This means we must be in solidarity with all of the world to find the right direction. If you dig around in the '60s and '70s in music from India, Thailand and Ethiopia, you hear how the musicians borrowed from and reworked American music. We're just doing the same thing, but in reverse."
"We've not only been inspired by world-class global musicians like Bachir Attar of the Master Musicians of Jajouka, Carnatic mandolin master U. Rajesh, and the Austrian hurdy-gurdy virtuoso Mathias Loibner," Kruth explains, "we invited them to play as guests on New Deli!"
You can pick out of this unique pan-cultural tapestry jazz threads from rewoven tunes by Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, but there's almost no way for mere words to justly address the breadth and depth of this journey through TriBeCaStan.
Recorded at Bill Laswell's studio, Kirk's "Freaks for the Festival" holds high the banner for this ensemble to march behind. Horns shuffle in a New Orleans rhythm while the drummer and percussionists rock a more Latin groove, further enhanced by Kirk alumni Steve Turre's steamy trombone solo. "Two for Ornette," a medley of Coleman's "Dee Dee" and "Theme from a Symphony," dances toward the Caribbean on percussion, strings and Turre's bleats on shells, while a solitary horn counterpoints back toward New Orleans. This electronic treatment of Cherry's "Guinea" sounds like another world trapped someplace between ancient and modern times. "The Mystery of Licorice McKechnie," a disconnected string of percussion, synthesizer and alto sax, sounds as close as you can come to a crazy Sun Ra tune performed by someone other than Ra.
"Daddy Barracuda" and "(One Day) His Axe Fell Into Honey" slice up even more tasty Deli. A loping sing-along that rolls on wobbly vibes, "Daddy Barracuda" is a lot of fun and proves that while TriBeCaStan is quite serious about pan-ethnic musicality, it's not overly serious or too impressed with itself. "(One Day) His Axe..." collectively claps out its rhythm on percussion, bells and drums, while the flutist plays more rhythm than melody, sounding for all the world like a bird defiantly warbling right into the teeth of the rhythm. Their percussion/flute breakdown before the richly grooving organ solo, then the recessional vocal chant, combine to make this clever, engaging and funky.
Putamayo Presents: Brazilian Beat
Putamayo World Music
"One of the exciting things we at Putamayo do is introduce artists to people who don't know them," says Putamayo Records head Dan Storper. Brazilian Beat surveys the roots and fruits of Brazil's contemporary music, selected from Putamayo's archive of tens of thousands of global/world music pieces. "You can really hear the intersection between past and present in the music of Brazilian artists," Storper continues. "We didn't make an effort to seek it out; this is what musicians are doing. They respect their traditional music but are adding new flavors with real passion."
In the opening "Samba na Mao, Eu Tenho," Tamy's Portuguese vocal whispers so romantic and breathless that it sounds French, and finds comfort in the trumpet's coolly-blown breeze while its rhythm clicks past in modern electronics and softly strummed acoustic guitar. A magical, creamy combination of guitar, percussion and an unaffected vocal, "Ai Entao," written and performed by Michigan-born Brazilian singer-songwriter Monica de Silva, provides its counterpart; de Silva's voice proves simply perfect for the earnest beauty of her melody, and vice versa. "Minha Loucura" by BungaLove (from Rome, Italy) maintains this perfect spell with cooing female vocals, soft yet sharp guitars, and percussion that chirps like songbirds greeting the dawnif sunrise made a noise, it would sound like this.
"Samba Ti, Samba Eu" by Brazuka Fina suggests the shadows and wonder of twilight; its vocals and Spanish guitars shine no less bright or pure, but spirits more dark and mysterious lurk in the bass line rumbling beneath.
Joao Donato's "Bananeira," rendered by the Brazilian Groove Band, thumps out the best Brazilian Beat from the jazz perspective. In this newly-discovered supergroup jam led by NYC-based Brazilian saxophonist Leo Gandelman, the drummer sets up a rock beat while Gandleman's sax leads the horn ensemble through some torrid Latin blowing, like David Sanborn jamming with Earth Wind & Fire and Pucho & His Latin Soul Brotherssimultaneously. "Bananeira" would be a highlight of any Brazilian, funk or jazz album.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: La Verdad; Dina's Mambo; La Muralla; Carnaval; Verguenza; Majadero; Caravana Del Vejigante; Lola's Dilemma.
Personnel: Rei Alvarez: voice, percussion; Marlysse Simmons: piano, Rhodes, Farfisa; Giustino Riccio: timbales, drum set, cuica, drumfire, coro, guitar; Hector Barez: congas; Mike Montañez: bongos; Bob Miller: trumpet, moog, coro; Mark Ingraham: trumpet; Tobias Whitaker: trombone; JC Kuhl: tenor sax; Edward Prendergast: bass; Molly Berg: guitar; David Hood: baritone sax; Arnaldo Marrero: bongos.
Tracks: Tell Me Something Good; If You Really Love Me; Jesus Children of America; My Cheri Amour; Golden Lady; You Haven't Done Nothin'; It Ain't No Use; As; You've Got It Bad Girl.
Personnel: Chris Foreman: Hammond B-3 organ; Bobby Broom: guitar; Greg Rockingham: drums.
Every Day is Saturday
Tracks: Every Day is Saturday; Secret Pieces; The Pig; Private Hell; La Petite Mort; Elephant Walk; Burying Ground; Workin'; Hard Man; WTH?
Personnel: Rhett Frazier: vocals, synthesizers, moog, piano, keyboards, samples; Donny Gruendler: drums, synthesizers, moog, piano, keyboards, samples, synth bass; Jesse Stern: guitar, bass; Bobby Tsukamoto: bass; Kirk Fletcher: guitar; Rick Holmstrom: guitar;
The 11th Gate
Tracks: Samba Galactica; Emergence; Everything Is Mind; Ujamma; Contemplation; The Other Side; Big Chill; Lightworker; Freedom Jazz Dance; Illuminous; The 11th Gate.
Personnel: Dennis Rollins: trombone, electronics; Pedro Segundo: drums, percussion; Ross Stanley: Hammond organ.
Tracks: Song for Kroncha; Louie's Luau; Freaks for the Festival; Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood; Dive Bomber; A Crack in the Clouds; Bed Bugs; Jovanka; Daddy Barracuda; Two for Ornette (Dee Dee / Theme from a Symphony); Guinea; (One Day) His Axe Fell Into Honey; El Bumpa; The Brain Surgeon's Wife Serves Lunch; The Mystery of Licorice McKechnie.
Personnel: John Kruth: mandolin, banjo, mandocello, flutes, whistles, harmonica, zither, royal benju, hufusi, lead vocals; Jim Clouse: soprano sax; Bob Musso: vocals; Dave Dreiwicz: electric bass, acoustic bass, vocals; Scott Metzger: guitar, vocals; Steve Turre: trombone, shells; Boris Kinberg: conga, timbales, bongos, cowbell, rub board, maracas, shaman rattles, triangle, finger cymbals, vocals; Todd Isler: drums, hadgini, frame drums, lap drum, uduboo, vocals; John Turner: trumpet, vocals; Claire Daly: baritone saxophone; Kenny Margolis: organ, accordion, clavinet, harpsichord, electric piano, vocals; Bachir Attar: ghaica; Matt Darriau: kaval; Jerome Desigaud: mobeke; Bruce Huebner: shakuhachi; Tine Kindermann: saw; Mattias Loibner: hurdy gurdy; Tami Lynn: vocals; Chris Morrow: trombone; U. Rajesh: electric mandolin; Badal Roy: tabla.
Putamayo Presents: Brazilian Beat
Tracks: Samba na Mao, Eu Tenho; Feriado Pessoal; Partido Alto; Bananeira; Ai Entao; Minha Loucura; A Coisa mais Linda do Mundo; Samba Ti, Samba Eu; A Nega E O Malandro; A Conta do Samba; Anel de Saturno.
Personnel: Tamy; Bruna Caram; Marcos Valle; Brazilian Groove Band; Monica de Silva; BungaLove; Fino Coletivo; Brazuka Fina; Rogé; Tita Lima; Marcello.