Six Stops Around the Whirled

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10 Years of the Fort Knox Five Fort Knox Five
10 Years of The Fort Knox Five
Fort Knox Recordings
2013

"All good things come in five, baby...You can't get around no prime number, you dig?"

Some music just makes you feel good. You can't explain it but some music makes you feel like life's a party and you're invited. (It's that "can't explain it" part which drives writers crazy.) 10 Years of The Fort Knox Five spills like a tray full of overfull cocktails with music that makes you feel good.

They're really a quartet—Jon Horvath, Steve Raskin, Sid Barcelona and Rob Myers, all of whom have collaborated in various editions of Thunderball and trip-hop visionaries Thievery Corporation—but they call themselves the Fort Knox Five to allow a "fifth space" for their collaborators. 10 Years of The Fort Knox Five compiles fifteen of their favorite original songs (per their website) "to commemorate their tenth year of sowing the seeds of funk." Guests appearing on this genre-spanning, globe-trotting collection include hip-hop visionary Afrika Bambaataa, Akil Dasan (Us3
Us3
Us3

band/orchestra
) and various Thievery Corporation members.

Asheru flips the switch for the opening "Insight" with a guest-star rap that's both articulate and greasy as bacon fat in the pocket of the tune's big beat groove. It's probably not too different from dozens of similar tunes; it's "merely" an invitation to jump in the party, but it's loud and proud and with just enough bounce to the ounce. This slips into "The Brazilian Hipster," a deliciously appropriate title for its stylish Brazilian groove, warm and cool, nuzzled and bumped by hip-hop drums.

"Another universal Zulu nation jam session" that features Bambaataa and King Kamonzi, "Radio Free DC" delivers the social commentary hard and funky, in a crackling, energetic sound. "Funk 4 Peace" and "Bhangra Paanch" bow toward India: Rapper Mustafa Akbar leads the sitar and electric rock guitar of "Peace" into a fist-pumping funk anthem; in "Bhangra Paanch," Beta-G chants over a pulsing rock raga that pulsates under the colorful umbrella of electronic strings and other effects. "Blowing Up the Spot" features Akil Dasan and dives back into the retro sound of '70s soul mashed up with a drum sample from the Led Zeppelin classic "D'Yer Mak'er."

"Papa Was Stoned" cleverly builds upon The Temptations' classic "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" as its foundation (especially that wobbly, introductory guitar chord), buttressed by percolating bass and percussion lines, a whirling mixmaster of modern electronic funk. "Papa Was Stoned" originally appeared on the soundtrack to Stand Up Guys (2012, Lakeshore), and makes you wonder if any other titles across these 10 Years are less obviously based on another, more famous tune.

10 Years of The Fort Knox Five is a great-sounding, well-produced party record. Every instrument is miked loud and in your face but the mix is spacious and deep and drives every tune full-throttle into funk-rock paradise—where Sly Stone might have gone had he not first gone crazy.

Neethane En ponvasantham Ilaiyaraja
Soundtrack: Neethane En Ponvasantham ("You are my golden spring")
Sony Music India
2012

In India, the 2012 film Neethane En Ponvasantham and its companion soundtrack proved to be quite the cultural event. Movie scenes were shot in three Indian languages (Tamil, Telugu and Hindi). The soundtrack was collaboratively written by the film's director, Gautham Menon, with lyricist Na. Muthakumar and Ilaiyaraaja, the composer globally known as "The Maestro" because he has written more than 4500 songs and scored more than 950 films in India.

While the film was released in December 2012, its widely anticipated soundtrack was premiered the preceding September at a stadium concert; each song was performed live by the singers and Hungarian session musicians who recorded the original score, Maestro Ilaiyaraaja, and the Anglo-Indian Music Productions orchestra. These musicians include guitarist Attila Laszlo, an Ilaiyaraaja soundtrack veteran, and drummer Ferenc Nemeth
Ferenc Nemeth
Ferenc Nemeth
b.1976
drums
, who's also played with Joshua Redman
Joshua Redman
Joshua Redman
b.1969
saxophone
, Chris Potter
Chris Potter
Chris Potter
b.1971
reeds
, Russell Ferrante
Russell Ferrante
Russell Ferrante
b.1952
keyboard
and the Lionel Loueke
Lionel Loueke
Lionel Loueke
b.1973
guitar
Trio.

Considering this past as prologue, Neethane En Ponvasantham presents surprisingly mainstream music. Every tune has vocals, and while several tunes present light and floating orchestration that's curiously jazz-like, these vocals often bring them back to earth. Acoustic and electric guitars and a string ensemble create an airy and beautiful melody for the opening "Saayndhu Saayndhu" that glows with the warm beauty of Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny
b.1954
guitar
's work with pianist Lyle Mays
Lyle Mays
Lyle Mays
b.1953
keyboard
, behind the vocal by Yuvan Shankar Raja, Ilaiyaraaja's son. Similarly, the melody of "Kaatrai Konjam" seems to organically grow from blended strings, percussion, piano and oboe; strings, brass and reeds flow into a melodic pool beneath "Yennodu Vaa Vaa" that ripples with classic Gil Evans
Gil Evans
Gil Evans
1912 - 1988
composer/conductor
, Oliver Nelson
Oliver Nelson
Oliver Nelson
1932 - 1975
arranger
instrumentation. These show Ilaiyaraaja to be both warm and brilliant.

"Vaanam Mella" features not only The Maestro's music but his actual voice! It opens with bagpipes, tympani, strings and an orchestra, full and lush, and settles into a bobbing, fluid rhythm; Ilaiyaraaja's pleasant, inviting vocal seems to instinctively contour to every melodic turn and bounce.

In two more demonstrative tunes, The Maestro Ilaiyaraaja flat-out rocks. Led by thick acoustic and electric guitars (even a grungy little blues break), "Pudikale Maamu" chops out rhythms, chords and hot licks that suggest an up-tempo Tom Petty tune. Near the end, "Pengal Yendral" vents the male lead's frustration in angry swarms of electric guitar, a heavy and hard downbeat, and Yuvan Shankar Raja's strident vocal, all produced in a shiny, metallic hard rock sound.

This River JJ Grey
This River
Alligator Records
2013

Swamp-rock doesn't come much more swampy or rocky than This River. JJ Grey's sixth studio album with Mofro is named for the St. John's River near Grey's childhood home (Jacksonville, Florida) and stewed in a pressure cooker stocked by Tony Joe White, Stax Records, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Chess Records and other classic country blues and funk.

Grey is a multifaceted musician —a singer and songwriter who also plays (electric and acoustic) guitar, bass and harmonica—and so This River flows in several different streams. "Tame a Wild One" tears a page straight out of the John Mellencamp book of earnest, retrospective roots-rock songwriting. Grey lifts Mellencamp's entire book for a simple acoustic ballad about an even simpler country man, with his pedal steel moaning "The Ballad of Larry Webb." And it seems worth considering how Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen
b.1949
composer/conductor
might take on this title track, especially these closing lines: "Where did my soul go? Where did my spirit hide? Why won't they rescue me from the pain in my mind?"

"Write a Letter" and "Somebody Else" are soulfully languid and painfully blue, their guitars aiming right for your gut (and below) as their rhythms roll as slow and powerful as the mighty Mississippi. In a perfect musical universe, Otis Redding
Otis Redding
Otis Redding
1941 - 1967
vocalist
would have lived long enough to sing them both.

But make no mistake: Grey and his Mofros know how to party. To begin this set, the drummer counts off four, the guitarist claws in like an alley cat, the bassist sneaks in like a bad man in the night, and the opening "Your Lady, She's Shady" takes off! "Florabama" rocks with all the steamy heat of the US southern gulf, and a scalding hot pot of instrumental sweet blues jam bubbles up from "Harp & Drums." Grey's voice also suggests the hearty country blues funk of Otis Redding in "99 Shades of Crazy" (which would sound like something off The Faces' A Nod is as Good as a Wink...to a Blind Horse [Warner Bros., 1971] if the drums were mixed a little louder).

This River is also a great representation of JJ Grey & Mofro's live performance sound. "We set up much like we do for our shows, and cut the tracks as close to live as possible," Grey explains. "There's something about everybody getting into one room and playing together. It brings some spark that can sometimes get lost in the shuffle of too much overdubbing."

Black Aces Kaleidoscope Jukebox
Infinite Reflection
Rhythm & Culture
2013

Infinite Reflection by Kaleidoscope Jukebox doesn't really go on forever. But at 75 minutes, it is an overflowing, thick mix of trip-hop, hip-hop and globetrotting sounds, masterminded by multi-instrumentalist, DJ and producer Clint Carty (who has remixed music for Thievery Corporation, Loopez, Second Sky and others). "I wanted this to be unique in name, vibe and emotional receptivity. Music which is just as much felt as it is heard," Carty explains. "It's soul music in the biggest sense. I write music to both challenge the spirit and keep it in check, to wipe away misconceptions you and I may gather along our paths and for a short time possibly get a glimpse of truth."

Its first three songs melt together into a thick carpet of trippy groove. Carty's production of "The Unpossible" is sparkling and impeccable: Vocal and musical themes bounce and echo off the fat beat, and wobble and moan in chorus against Teddy Jones' multi-tracked lead saxophone. Jones' sax burns more urgently through "Vibration Science," which the drums pick up in intensity to meet. In between, the title track swirls wooden percussion, acoustic piano and guitar, and synthesized strings into a deft, intricate melodic groove splattered with voices from obscure conversations and angles. It's as trance-like and repetitive as Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd
b.1964
band/orchestra
, yet with a wonderful rhythm from guitar and percussion that toy with the beat.

Featuring Bill Ferry on lead piano, "Melting Pot" is a perfect description of Carty's style and sound: Percussive Arabic and African rhythms dance with Arabic (and perhaps even Israeli) melodies and vocals, electronically layered and thickly produced into contemporary, modern head music. In production and instrumentation, the clattering percussion thicket "Shakti" echoes Karsh Kale.

But the longer this music plays, the less impact it seems to have. By the time you work through to the closing "By the Light of Dawn," the last several tunes pretty much seem indistinguishable from the rest.

A good thing's a good thing. But too much of a good thing isn't always so good.

Quarter to Six The Idan Raichel Project
Quarter to Six
Cumbancha
2013

Since emerging at the helm of his Project roughly a decade ago, Israeli composer, keyboardist and bandleader Idan Raichel has spirited through rarified air: He co-wrote a song for racial harmony with Israeli President Shimon Perez, and performed at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial inaugural ceremony in Washington, DC. He performed "Gift of Acceptance" with collaborator India Arie at the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Awards ceremony in Oslo (Norway). In 2011, Raichel was voted musician of the decade in polls conducted by the Israeli news media. In 2012, he teamed with Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Toure for the acclaimed collaboration Tel Aviv Session (Cumbancha, 2012).

"After ten years with the Project, I feel we have reached a time of change and reflection, a transition period, both musically and personally," Raichel explains. Although Quarter to Six features collaborations with artists from multiple nationalities and generations, these myriad tribes and tongues fail to obscure the profound beauty of Raichel's music.

Quarter to Six (which Raichel divides into Parts A and B) cuts 16 small scenes in and out of each other to create a long, tall and broad musical tapestry. Like most major Jewish holidays, it begins at sundown, with "Yored Ha' Enev (Evening Falls)," as strings lift up and bear Raichel's vocal and acoustic guitar heavenward. "Achshav Karov (Closer Now)" extends this simple but beautiful instrumentation with bass, drum and flute; "Ba'Layla (At Night)" opens with a brilliantly dark string ensemble that parts like a curtain to reveal Raichel's solitary contemplation on piano.

The guest turns on Quarter to Six sound no less brilliant. In "Sabe Deus (God Knows)," Ana Moura sings first in Hebrew, and then in Portuguese; her vocal is gorgeous in either language. An Arabic song that showcases Israeli-Palestinian singer Mira Awad, "Ana Ana wa Enta Enta (I Am What I Am)"unleashes a whirling dance that arises like a dervish from clattering percussion and twirling strings.

Vieux Farka Touré returns to Raichel's side as they jointly embrace "Mon Amor (My Love)" with acoustic guitar and percussion cascading into the melody that softly dances with their half-spoken, half-sung, fully earnest vocals.

German counter-tenor Andreas Scholl's vocal, starkly cast against piano, is absolutely stunning in the timeless "In Stiller Nacht (In a Quiet Night)," which swells like a storm and then disappears like mist. "Or Ka'ze (A Light Such As This)," featuring Orthodox Israeli singer Ishai Ribo (who needed permission from his Rabbi to participate because it is generally forbidden for a male singer to be included on an album that also includes female singers) brings Quarter of Six to its powerful and beautiful conclusion.

Black Aces Slobber Pup
Black Aces
Rare Noise
2013

Keyboardist Jamie Saft
Jamie Saft
Jamie Saft

piano
, guitarist Joe Morris
Joe Morris
Joe Morris
b.1955
guitar
, bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Balazs Pandi bring merciless new meaning to the phrase "heavy rock quartet." Saft and Morris first met at the New England Conservatory twenty years ago; Saft and Pani are bandmates in Metallic Taste of Blood; and Saft has worked with Dunn on several projects led by John Zorn
John Zorn
John Zorn
b.1953
sax, alto
. Other bands with whom individual Pups have collaborated include Bad Brains, Beastie Boys, Mr. Bungle and The Melvins.

Black Aces was entirely improvised in the studio. "No element was predetermined," Saft explains. "I was a dedicated student of Joe Maneri
Joe Maneri
Joe Maneri
1927 - 2009
saxophone
's in Boston back in the day and learned from him about the concept of 'snake time.' Joe calls it 'glacial time feel.' Essentially, it's a space in which time is felt and understood by all the players but does not need to be stated overtly. Everyone is experiencing pulse but the obvious modes of marking it are subverted and the focus goes to the larger arc of the music. It's a non-detail oriented approach to improvising where form reveals itself."

"Basalt" serves this mercurial form in a neat three-minute chunk, through which Morris' guitar burns as white-hot as John McLaughlin
John McLaughlin
John McLaughlin
b.1942
guitar
stoking The Inner Mounting Flame (Columbia, 1971). "I've always thought Joe's guitar playing was wholly original and I wanted to try to feature that in some different, more aggressive contexts," Saft says. "I thought metal, hardcore and grindcore styles as a rhythmic underpinning to micro-tonal avant blues-rock would feature Joe's guitar beautifully."

After opening with a grinding metallic sound as genuinely nasty as its title suggests, "Taint of Satan" settles down into clearly measured 4/4 heavy metal (emphasis on HEAVY) time that bassist Dunn and drummer Pandi stomp out with a violence matched by Saft's keyboard and Morris' guitar. It culminates in a sprint where each individual instrumental voice truly submerges into a swirling, howling whole that first disintegrates, and then falls to silence.

"Balazs is an avid grindcore and metal aficionado but he also improvises, and that is a rare breed—someone who can play hard and fast, play blast beats, but also have the sensitivity to react and be unpredictable; direct and/or accompany improvisations," Saft explains. "Most guys who play metal can't get out of the square auto-pilot zone, which makes Balazs the exception."

Black Aces opens with the 27-minute "Accuser," which seems to break up into three nine-minute storms. Pandi's drum tumult together with Morris' scalding guitar runs repeatedly suggest the breakdown of a Led Zeppelin electric blues, while Saft on organ serves up both counterpoint and accompaniment to Morris' screaming guitar, all climaxing and ending in a literal musical riot. As its opening track, "Accuser" will either pull you into, or chase you away from, Black Aces.

Tracks and Personnel:

10 Years of The Fort Knox Five

Tracks: The Power of Five; Insight featuring Asheru; The Brazilian Hipster (digitally remastered); How to Start a Band featuring Ian Svenonius and Mustafa Akbar; What Make Ya Dance featuring Rootz; Stand Up (2013 Mix); Radio Free DC featuring Afrika Bambaataa and King Kamonzi (digitally remastered); Funk 4 Peace featuring Mustafa Akbar; Bhangra Paanch featuring Beta-G; Papa Was Stoned; Shift featuring Afrika Bambaata and Mustafa Akbar; Killa Soundboy featuring Sleepy Wonder and Zeebo; Once Again featuring King Kamonzi; Blowing Up the Spot featuring Akil Dasan (digitally remastered); Not Gonna Take It featuring Rootz.

Personnel: Jon Horvath, Steve Raskin, Sid Barcelona and Rob Myers: instruments and samples; Asheru: guest artist; Ian Svenonius: guest artist; Mustafa Akbar: guest artist; Rootz: guest artist; Afrika Bambaataa: guest artist; King Kamonzi: guest artist; Beta-G: guest artist; Sleepy Wonder: guest artist; Zeebo: guest artist; Akil Dasan: guest artist.

Soundtrack: "Neethane En Ponvasantham" ("You are my golden spring")

Tracks: Saayndhu Saayndhu (Singers: Yuvan Shankar Raja, NSK Ramya); Kaatrai Konjam (Singer: Karthik); Mudhal Murai (Singer: Sunidhi Chauhan); Vaanam Mella (Singers: Ilaiyaraaja, Bela Shende); Pudikale Maamu (Singers: Suraj Jagan, Karthik); Yenodu Vaa Vaa (Singer: Karthik); Pengal Yendral (Singer: Yuvan Shankar Raja); Sattru Munbu (Singer: NSK Ramya).

Personnel: Ilaiyaraaja: composer, arranger, conductor, vocals; Attila Laszlo (guitar); Ferenc Nemeth (drums); Anglo-Indian Music Productions: orchestra; Yuvan Shankar Raja: vocals; NSK Ramya: vocals; Karthik: vocals; Sunidhi Chauhan: vocals; Bela Shende: vocals; Suraj Jagan: vocals.

This River

Tracks: Your Lady, She's Shady; Somebody Else; Tame a Wild One; 99 Shades of Crazy; The Ballad of Larry Webb; Florabama; Standing on the Edge; Write a Letter; Harp & Drums; This River.

Personnel: JJ Grey: lead vocals, backing vocals, electric guitar, harmonica, tambourine, bass, acoustic 6- and 12-string guitar; Andrew Trube: electric guitar, lap steel guitar, acoustic guitar; Anthony Farrell: organ, piano, clavinet, electric guitar; Todd Smallie: bass; Anthony Cole: drums, organ; Art Edmaiston: tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone; Dennis Marion: trumpet; Stan Lynch: shaker.

Infinite Reflection

Tracks: The Unpossible; Infinite Reflection; Vibration Science; Double Edge Sword (with 3rd Eye Visionaries); Broken; Melting Pot; Eternal Embrace; Shakti; Rite of Passage; Symmetric String Theory; The Eye; Of Light; Flame Thrower; By the Light of Dawn.

Personnel: All songs written, performed, produced and mixed by Kaleidoscope Jukebox (Clint Carty) with Teddy Jones: saxophone; and Bill Ferry: piano, additional composition.

Quarter to Six

Tracks: Part A: Yored Ha'Enev (Evening Falls); Achshav Karov (Closer Now); Rak Oto (Only Him); Ba'Layla (At Night); Sabe Deus (God Knows); Ana Ana wa Enta Enta (I Am What I Am); Ad She'Ein Yoter Le'An (Until There's Nowhere Left); Ha'Ru'ach Ha'Zo (This Wind); Part B: Mon Amor (My Love); Chaim Pshutim (Simple Life); Olam Shalem (A Whole World); Detrás De Mi Alma (Behind My Soul); Be'Karov (Soon); Im Ha'ita Ro'eh (If You Would Have Seen); In Stiller Nacht (In a Quiet Night); Or Ka'ze (A Light Such As This).

Personnel: Mira Awad: vocals; Todor Penchev Bakoev: kamanche; Yael Barolsky: violin; Maya Belsitzman; cello; Tomer Biran: keyboards; Elai Botner: electric guitar; Nitzan Canetty: violin; Yohai Cohen: percussion; Amir Dadon: guitars, vocals; Itamar Doari: percussion; Mark Eliyahu: kamanche; Hilla Epstein: cello; Guy Figer: violin; Yonatan Fridge: acoustic guitar, electric guitar, vocals; Lea Gadaev: violin; Marta Gomez: vocals; Galia Hai: viola; Tamar Halperin: piano; Anat Ben Hamo: vocals; Yechiel Hasson: classical guitar; Idan Haviv: piano, vocals; Amos Hoffman: oud; Rony Iwryn: percussion; Marc Kakon: guitar, percussion, vocals; Yoram Lachish: English horn, oboe; Filipe Larsen: bass; George Matsikas: bouzouki; Ana Moura: vocals; Tamir Nachshon: vocals; Alon Nadel: bass; Yoed Nir: cello Joca Perpignan: percussion, vocals; Idan Raichel: composer, arranger, lyrics, instrumentation, programmning, vocals; Lia Raikhlin: violin; Tegede Sharon Rata: spoken word; Ishai Ribo: vocals; Andreas Scholl: lyrics, vocals; Eyal Sela: flute; Leah Shabat: vocals; Yael Shapira: cello; Chen Shenhar: violin; Gilad Shmueli: drums, instrumentation, programming, vocals; Avi Singolda: guitar; Pedro Soares: acoutic guitar; Yousef Sweid: vocals; Niv Toar: French horn, trumpet; Vieux Farka Touré: vocals; Shai Tsabari: vocals; Ariel Tuchman: electric guitar, guitar; Vasil Milchev Vasilev: flute; Vladimir Kanchev Vladimirov: mandolin; Shuli Waterman: viola; Noam Haimovitz Weinschel: viola; Segal Yaacov: bass, oud, percussion, tar; Liat Zion: vocals.

Black Aces

Tracks: Accuser; Basalt; Black Aces; Suffrage; Taint of Satan.

Personnel: Jamie Saft: organ, keyboards; Joe Morris: guitars; Trevor Dunn: bass; Balazs Pandi: drums.

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