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Chris M. Slawecki By

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PalindromeAtlas Maior
Palindrome
Self Produced
2014

Open the package for Atlas Maior's debut CD and here's the first line you read: "Palindrome was completely improvised and recorded live with no overdubs." How you respond to these words will greatly shape how you respond to this music.

A mainstay on the vibrant Austin (Texas) music scene since 2010, Atlas Maior boasts a truly unique sound, not only from the instruments they play but the way they play them. The core trio features Ted Carnat on percussion, Joshua Thomson on alto saxophone and flute, and Charlie Lockwood on oud, one of the world's oldest instruments (a fretless eleven-string lute from what is now Iraq). They're joined for this excursion by Bob Shoffner on pedal steel guitar and Gary Calhoun James (who recorded, mixed and mastered Palindrome) on upright bass and harmonium. These instruments combine to create a very different sound, and this sound is made even more different by the ensemble's purely improvisational approach.

Though disc one captures excellent musicianship (such as the bass/saxophone dialogue in "Sea Beast" and Lockwood finger-picking a banjo sound from "The Street Slitherer") the improvisations on disc two seem to fit together more soundly.

"Burcu's Blues" really IS genuine blues. Lockwood's oud lays down what would normally be the acoustic guitar foundation of a twelve-bar classic like "Love in Vain" while Thomson's sharp alto peels the lid off the top and James steps out on upright bass—all rendering the familiar blues structure through an unfamiliar sound. "The Birds of Bhutan" awaken in an ornamental nest of rustling percussion and meditative oud (which sounds like a Japanese kyoto) and then sing their song through Thomson's alto and flute.

"Parlay" reaches out to fans of Ornette Coleman, especially its pointed and argumentative dialogue between alto and drums, which Carnat whips into a funky and spastic second line froth.

The late 2014 release of this 2013 recording served to crown a most amazing year for Atlas Maior: They toured Turkey and Spain in 2014, placed a track in 2014's 5th Biennial Art Festival of Marrakesh (Morocco), and the Austin City Council declared March 27, 2014, as "Atlas Maior Day."

 Trans-Atlantic Psych Classics Vol 1 The Electric Peanut Butter Company
Trans-Atlantic Psych Classics Vol 1
Ubiquity Records
2014

Helping to establish the progressive Latin-salsa Grupo Fantastico and Latin funk legends Brownout is apparently not enough for Adrian Quesada, a multi-instrumentalist who specializes in guitars and production. So he teamed up and began working with one of Ubiquity Records' most unique compositional and instrumental wizards, Shawn Aileen Clark, who leads the Ping-Pong Orchestra and specializes in keyboards and production. As The Electric Peanut Butter Company, Quesada and Lee spread thick and crunchy collaborative jams all over Trans-Atlantic Psych Classics Vol 1.

There's nothing complicated about any individual song or even this music (and, for whatever reason, Quesada and Lee released Trans-Atlantic Psych Classics Vol. 2 [2013, Ubiquity] about two years before Vol. 1 came out). But more importantly, Quesada and Lee give Vol. 1 a great sound and an even better feel, like a batch of psychedelic soul, funk and rock pot brownies left over from the 1960s and just discovered in a basement jar.

Rocking power guitar twirls with harpsichord for the melody of the opening "Flexi Funk," while the drum stomp crunches and spreads its simple but sticky beat with a deliciously nasty piledriver sound. Subsequent two-minute nuggets "Beer Good" and guitar rave-up "Go Go Go" are not even songs so much as they're hooks bouncing on a fat backbeat, but they're still a fun ride (and you'd think that "Beer Good" is most likely Homer Simpson's favorite song title).

"Mister Pink" sends a chirping, warm postcard from a Caribbean island while "Mary's Chair" seems to look backward (forward?) to Prince's sinister hip-hop funk, simultaneously creepy and funky down to its thumping drums, multitracked high-end harmony vocals, and shimmering guitar solo.

But none of this really gets to the issue. The glorious simplicity of Trans-Atlantic Psych Classics Vol 1 does not come down to what Lee and Quesada play or when—it's in the feeling with which they play each part and the exacting yet loose way that they fit each part together.

Field Notes Fresh Cut Orchestra
From the Vine
Ropeadope Records
2015

In late 2012, the Painted Bride Art Center of Philadelphia commissioned local musicians Jason Fraticelli (bass), Anwar Marshall (drums) and Josh Lawrence (trumpet) to collaboratively compose new music for a ten-piece ensemble. "The Painted Bride contacted us about putting together this music, and we all agreed pretty much from the get-go about who we wanted to bring in to complete the band," Marshall explains. "Then once we got everyone together, the cohesion just happened super easily. From the first time we sat down with the guys, I said, 'Oh, yeah, this is going to be a blast.'"

That ensemble became known as the Fresh Cut Orchestra; From the Vine, recorded through a grant from the Pew Center's Philadelphia Music Project, is their debut. As you can imagine, the Spirit of Philadelphia flies high and strong throughout this release. "We have sort of a musical gumbo here that a lot of other places don't have," Marshall continues. "In other cities, you can sort of stay in a certain niche and work with only a handful of people but in Philly, in order to survive as a musician, you've got to be able to play some groovier music."

Lawrence chips in the Ellingtonian ballroom dance "Uptown Romance," and the set closes upon Marshall's "Sanguine," streamlined fusion jazz that glides along on electric keyboards like a Donald Fagen solo track. But Fraticelli's powerful six-movement "The Mothers' Suite" is this Vine's primary fruit. "Suite II: Mother's Love" paints her portrait in Latin percussion and piano that matures into a vibrant and full Latin orchestra—magnificent music, triumphantly played, which paints a portrait of a most passionate and beautiful woman.

"Suite III: Elegy for a Mom" rips open darker emotions, an acoustic bass soliloquy that throbs and aches first with loneliness, then pain, and then with rage that subsides into the beautifully sad, ruminative acoustic piano of "Suite IV: The Funeral."

"Suite V: Migration of the Spirit" drives like Charles Mingus on a hard and fast, imposing bass line that the horn ensemble quickly picks up to throw down, a roaring furnace of fiery music that culminates in "Suite VI: The Reawakening," a celebratory New Orleans toe-tapper with trombone, saxophone and trumpet all ripping up their respective corners of the joint at once. Brian Marsella's acoustic piano solo thickly scrambles New Orleans, traditional jazz and modern jazz styles; one can only hope that the afterlife really DOES swing like this!

From the Vine grows more impressive with each hearing. "We have so much music, and it's so easy for us to write different compositions for small versions of the band, or for different concepts," Fraticelli suggests. "We're just getting started."

Field Notes Rodrigo Lima
Saga
Jazz Station Records
2014

"I fell in love with the jazz guitar—all kinds of jazz guitarists, from Jim Hall to Pat Metheny to Luis Bonfá, by listening to their records," explains Brazilian composer, arranger, bandleader and guitarist Rodrigo Lima. Saga luxuriously extends this jazz guitar love affair across the American and Brazilian continents—it was recorded in New York, Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro and Curitiba—and across the two CDs of Lima's utterly magnificent recorded debut.

Producer Arnaldo DeSouteiro elegantly (but not overly) produced Saga into the warm and lush yet concise jazz sound of the best CTI Records, Verve Records and other Creed Taylor productions, and teamed with Lima to assemble an all-star ensemble for these sessions: It features guest appearances by clarinetist and saxophonist Anat Cohen flutist Hubert Laws, vocalist Ithamara Koorax, vibes player Mike Mainieri and arranger and conductor Don Sebesky, plus two songs specifically composed for Saga by Brazilian musical legend Hermeto Pascoal. Except for Pascoal's songs, Lima either wrote or co-wrote every tune.

"Brahms," a twenty minute Brazilian jazz interpretation of Brahms' Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Movement 3, is the centerpiece of this set, a genuine triumph of musicianship and taste that Lima describes it as "a gift for our friend Raul DeSouza," who is given two choruses to improvise on trombone. Lima's acoustic guitar rings as clear as a harp, overflowing with Metheny's gentle soul and Hall's direct warmth but with a passionate almost wild element in his playing too. Everything about "Brahms"—the drummer's pliant but insistent beat, the vibes' and keyboards' cool and rippling sounds—fits together perfectly.

"Both Rodrigo and I are big fans of the late guitarist Jim Hall—especially his Concierto album for CTI, which includes a 20-minute jazz version of Joaquin Rodrigo's 'Concerto de Aranjuez," DeSouterio explains. "That track was the basic inspiration for our adaptation of Brahms' Symphony No. 3 in terms of having great improvisers doing loose solos over a sumptuous composition."

Even better, there are also sixteen other compositions to enjoy. In "Flying Waltz," Laws' flute solo and Lima's acoustic guitar solo each seem to breathlessly hover above Sebesky's pliant, heavenly string arrangement, which he conducts himself; eight minutes opens up just enough time for "Flying Waltz" to lugubriously meander in and out of your ears, like a country stream with no particular place to go.

Uruguayan keyboardist Hugo Fattoruso, who has played so long with so many Brazilian musicians that most people assume he's also from Brazil, further illuminates several tunes: His harpsichord dazzles "Brasileirão" with a melody as nimble as "The Flight of the Bumblebee" and lends a new sound to the lively fusion jazz "Samba da Mistura," while his synthesizer explores the colorful outer limits and inner corners of the quicksilver "OPA!," quicksilver jazz-rock fusion named by Lima to honor the jazz-rock fusion band that Fattoruso led in the 1970s and 80s.

There is so much more to write about if there were only space and time. "It was a very special joy to work with Rodrigo Lima," DeSouteiro concludes. "He's one of the most talented composers and instrumentalists I've ever met. His creativity is astonishing. For sure, Saga is one of the best albums I've ever produced." After even just one listen, you will be sure to agree.

Maverick MOA
Maverick
Wild Child Music
2014

Max Wild wears many musical hats: A jazz musician who plays alto saxophone, an instructor at one of New York City's hottest music production schools (Dubspot), and producer of his own original dance and other electronic music. Wild began to play the saxophone in his native Zimbabwe and earned his Master in Jazz degree from the Manhattan School of Music, where he also began to discover that his unique instrumental jazz, African and electronic perspectives might make him a difficult musical fish to catch. "Learning to embrace this feeling also gave me the freedom and courage to do things my way," he reflects. "I realized that my music didn't conform to a specific style or genre because I was coming to music from my own place."

"Transferring the powerful rhythmic drive from African music to an electronic dance context seemed like a logical move, and incorporating some of the melodic and harmonic movement from jazz also made a lot of sense to me," Wild suggests. "To me, that is Maverick."

Wild energetically swings his alto sax but (more than) sometimes buries it in Maverick's chattering electronic production, as happens in "My Name is MOA" and "Prelude," two duets with guitarist Jesse Lewis that seem overstuffed with electronics and beats. To much better effect, his solo piece "Take Me Higher" explores Wild's "love for dubstep and finding ways to incorporate my sax with it": Its beautiful melody sounds like someone's ache for their homeland but it lurches and stomps through several passages of sputtering, sizzling electronic funk, too. "Higher" culminates "In My Funk" where, joined by Jahaan Sweet on keyboards, Wild combines beat and hook to ignite a flickering, fluttering melody that's both itchy and scratchy, and sings out on alto with profound depth and soul. Lewis' guitar solo does, too.

The closing "Barbarian" is the only track that credits a complete band, an up-tempo melody upswept by African rhythms and percussion that make it sound full and bright. Wild's alto is produced to sound like a keyboard (because the keyboards are produced to kind of sound like horns), but you can tell when he's playing also from his soaring lines—he loves to cut his horn loose and fly!

Even though the musical "global village" seems to keep expanding while growing smaller, one suspects that Maverick remains one of the few releases if not the ONLY release to split its recording locations between Union City (New Jersey) and Zimbabwe.

Furry Slippers Tony Monaco
Furry Slippers
Chicken Coup Records
2014

Through nine releases, primarily from his home studio in Columbus, Ohio, Tony Monaco has proved that he's a solid link in the hip Hammond B-3 organ chain that reaches from contemporaries such as Wil Blades and Joey DeFrancesco all the way back to Jimmy Smith and other founders of the Hammond groove. At a recent Java Jazz Festival (in Indonesia), Monaco met drummer Greg Fundis and guitarist Fareed Haque, and the three hit it off so well that they were soon touring the midwest US as an organ trio, and recorded Furry Slippers during breaks on this tour.

It is very easy to wrap yourself up in these thoroughly comfortable Furry Slippers. Faque's guitar in the opening, title track heats up a groove as potent as any track recorded by Melvin Sparks, Grant Greenor any other guitarist from the soul-jazz heydays of Prestige or Blue Note Records. Monaco's original "Boogie Blue" kicks out even hotter and tastier jam: Haque's rhythm hook stirs the funk up from the bottom and spreads it 'round the top while Monaco's turn brings to mind a picture of Sun Ra reclining in a mellow mood behind his master keyboard console. "We're trying to keep moving the tradition forward but yet keeping up with the times," Monaco explains. "So it has more of a modern-day funk rather than just swing." "Chillin'" further extends this mellow, languid mood.

"Unresolved" emphatically lands in the jazz corner: Here Haque sounds quite like Pat Martino, who cut a considerable number of hefty soul-jazz sides with Jimmy Smith and Jack McDuff, exploring from multiple angles the melody that Monaco spreads like a blanket before him. So does the trio's update of "I'll Drink to That," a classic from the Jimmy Smith catalog that sounds like three friends sitting around a neighborhood bar, enjoying each others' company and the refreshments they share—an invigorating update of a sparkling, fun groove.

Monaco arranges the jazz classic "'Round Midnight" as a showcase for Haque, whose switch to acoustic guitar sounds like soothing balm and introduces flamenco ruffles and other Spanish/Latin sounding flourishes. Haque returns the favor by remaining on acoustic to usher in Monaco's earnest vocal take on "But Beautiful," which mines every ounce of starlight and wonder from this classic to close this set.

The ProcessThe Process
The Process
M.O.D. Technologies
2014

The Process is like a radioactive atom that centers and orbits around the futuristic power trio of bassist Bill Laswell, Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith and Jon Batiste, the latest in his family's longstanding line of New Orleans keyboard visionaries.

"The original idea was to film unfamiliar musicians playing together in a room with no preconceived direction. Over time it began to transform into making a record," Laswell explains. "Beginning by exploring each other's musicianship, laying out fundamental structures and patterns, morphing them into new and alternate shapes fused together to form constructs—then adding new sounds, words and first-rate musicians to the growing core. I kept saying, 'It's a Process, it takes time."

Several tracks seem to echo some of the most progressive music in jazz and rock history, while Smith drives this entire Process with passionate drumming that sounds and feels genuinely tribal.

"Spiral" is the perfect description of this tune's rhythmic flow, moved by Smith's drums in a circular tribal beat that doesn't stop so much as it simply runs out of time. Smith and Laswell churn the instrumental "Timeline" into a space-age New Orleans organ trio: Laswell's bass doubles as the trio's guitar, Smith thickly spreads second line snare drumming throughout the jam while Batiste's organ rockets through the stratosphere (you might even say, in deference to Sun Ra, that Batiste travels the spaceways).

"Haunted" is another simply perfect title: Toshinori Kondo turns in an amazingly Miles Davis-like performance, with his trumpet thickly processed through electronics into sharp jabs and soaring shrieks of turbulent electric blue, red and purple sound; in the spacey middle passage, Kondo's trumpet seems to stop, then stretch, and then expand both sound and time, with extended breathy blues.

"The Drift" opens with synthesizer recycling and occasionally refracting a small melodic figure while Smith's drums slowly but surely bring a larger sound to rhythmic life, a kind of jazz-rock-African-electronic fusion in which Laswell has been trading long enough to trademark. Soprano saxophone from Peter Apfelbaum, tethered only to those drums, suggests saxophonist Mel Collins' playing on formative sides by early King Crimson or Roxy Music, an "everything old/new is new/old again" sound to complete The Process.

"I wanted to take a risk and be inspired by other musicians who feel the same. There was no music written before we got to the studio. Whatever comes into your head—grab a rhythm and run with it," Smith concludes. "I tried not to play grooves I've done before. I know Jon was stretching as well. This project was an exercise in growth and trust."

Tracks and Personnel:

Palindrome

Tracks: Disc One: Mists of Our Past; Vengo Quote; iddaa!; The Street Slitherer; ouduo; Sea Beast; Booted and Looted. Disc Two: High Heat; Micronesian Sm*t Jazz; Parlay; Burcu's Blues; Half-pipe Blowhole; The Birds of Bhutan; oodaqq.

Personnel: Charlie Lockwood: oud; Ted Carnat: percussion; Joshua Thomson: alto saxophone, flute; Gary Calhoun James: upright bass, harmonium; Sari Adoni: oud; Bob Hoffner: pedal steel guitar.

Trans-Atlantic Psych Classics Vol 1

Tracks: Flexi Funk; Beer Good; Spread the Jam; Stealio; Mary's Chair; Go Go Go; Tennis Elbow; Mister Pink; Damn Skippy; Austin City Limiter; Jenn Wu; Fat Budda.

Personnel: Adrian Quesada: guitars, production; Shawn Lee: keyboards, production.

From the Vine

Tracks: The Mothers' Suite I: Birth of a Child, Birth of a Mom; The Mothers' Suite II: Mother's Love' The Mothers' Suite III: Ritual of Take / Elegy for a Mom; The Mothers' Suite IV: The Funeral; The Mothers' Suite V: Migration of the Spirit; The Mothers' Suite VI: The Reawakening; Uptown Romance; Sanguine.

Personnel: Josh Lawrence: trumpet; Jason Fraticelli: upright bass; Anwar Marshall: drums; Mark Allen: baritone saxophone, soprano saxophone, bass clarinet, flute; Mike Cemprola: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, flute; Brent White: trombone; Brian Marsella: piano, Rhodes, keyboards; Matt Davis: guitar; Tim Conley: electric guitar, laptop; Francois Zayas: bongos, percussion.

Saga

Tracks: Disc 1: Canção Praieira; Novos Cariocas (Anat's Song); A La Vuelta; Brasileirão; Flying Waltz; Altinho; Vida Nova; Pilotos; Opa!; Ânima 2; Palinha do Vinho. Disc 2: Brahms; Porta Aflora; A Velha Sozinha; Tango; Samba da Mistura; Nosso Borogodó Coió.

Personnel: Alice Hamlet: cello; Gene Back: violin; Luis Barcelos: bandolim, cavaquinho; Sergio Barroso: acoustic bass; Sofia Ceccato: flute; Anat Cohen: clarinet, tenor sax; Laudir DeOliveira: congas, cuica, percussion; Arnaldo DeSouteiro: arranger, bells, percussion, voices; Hugo Fattoruso: accordion, harpsichord, acoustic piano, electric piano, synthesizer; Sammy Figueroa: percussion; Frank Herzberg: arco bass, acoustic bass; Jamil Joanes: electric bass; Ithamara Koorax: vocals; Hubert Laws: alto flute, flute; Rodrigo Lima: charango, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, keyboards, piano, triangle, viola caipira, vocals, whistle; Carol Ma: violin; Cesar Machado: drums; Mike Mainieri: vibraphone; Lulu Martin: electric piano; Aline Morena: vocals; Débora Nascimento: bassoon; Zé Eduardo Nazario: caxixi, drums, percussion, tabla, vocals; João Palma: drums, voices; Carol Panesi: flugelhorn, keyboards, trumpet, violin; Hermeto Pascoal: melodica, piano, voices; Janaina Botelho Perotto: oboe; Kerrick Sasaki: viola; Don Sebesky: arranger, conductor, string arrangements; Raul de Souza: trombone; Trio Capitu; Ajurinã Zwarg: drums, soprano sax; Itibere Zwarg: electric bass, cello; Mariana Zwarg: flute, piccolo, tenor sax.

Maverick

Tracks: My Name is MOA; Prelude; Dance Tonight (featuring Chiwoniso); Take Me Higher; In My Funk; Uncountably Infinite (featuring Jesse Lewis); Hands in the Air (featuring Jahaan Sweet); Debo; Barbarian.

Personnel: Max Wild: production, alto saxophone, vocals; Jesse Lewis: guitar; Chiwoniso: vocals, mbria; Jahaan Sweet: keyboards, vocals; Romain Collin: keyboards; Obed Calvaire: drums; Michael Olatuja: electric bass; Harold St. Louis: keyboards; Pedrito Martinez: congas.

Furry Slippers

Tracks: Furry Slippers; Boogie Blue; Chillin'; Unresolved; Magenta Moon; Speak Low; 'Round Midnight; I'll Drink to That; But Beautiful.

Personnel: Tony Monaco: organ, vocals; Fareed Haque: electric guitar, classical guitar; Greg Fundis: drums; Asako Itoh: piano.

The Process

Tracks: B1; Drop Away; Timeline; Haunted; B2; Turn on the Light/Ascent; Black Arc; Spiral; B3; Time Falls; The Drift.

Personnel: Jon Batiste: piano, electric piano, Hammond organ, electronic keyboards, harmonaboard, percussion; Chad Smith: drums, percussion; Bill Laswell: basses, guitars, electronics; Tunda Adebimpe: vocals; Killah Priest: vocals; Garrison Hawk: vocals; Toshinori Kondo: trumpet; Peter Apfelbaum: flute, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Dominic James: guitar.

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Cynthia's Tears

Cynthia's Tears

Atlas Maior
Keyif

CD/LP/Track Review
From the Inside Out
Read more articles
Palindrome

Palindrome

Self Produced
2015

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Keyif

Keyif

Unknown label
2015

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Four Shades

Four Shades

Unknown label
2012

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Atlas Maior EP

Atlas Maior EP

Unknown label
2011

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