"Curiouser & Curiouser": Global Beat April 2007

Chris M. Slawecki By

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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

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
Backporch / EMI

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.

Most of II, although pleasant enough to hear, sort of just floats by without effect or impact, like it's waiting for something else to happen ("Last Book and "Eyes in the Heat, featuring classical Indian vocalist Shweta Jhaveri, were in fact originally composed as film scores, and sound like it). It sounds great, but doesn't always deliver a rewarding listen.

Robert Randolph & The Family Band
Warner Bros.

In a relatively short time, Randolph has become generally renown as "the Hendrix of pedal steel guitar, expanding the instrument's vocabulary and approach beyond its familiar country / pop settings. He's in what must be a rather exclusive club of musicians who have guest-starred, upon request, with the Five Blind Boys of Alabama and with Ozzy Osbourne. "I'm trying to create a new field and a new style that'll influence some kids to go, 'Wow, I can be Black and be from the inner city and I don't have to be a rapper!' Randolph allows. "I look at Sly Stone, how he came in and just ripped the music industry apart - I think music fans are ready for that again.

The stylistic mixture of Colorblind puts Randolph's music where his mouth is. "Deliver Me twitches off of rhythm guitar riffs and a staccato vocal that roar with all the punk-funk power of a Red Hot Chili Peppers hit. "Thrill of It moves toward the "black rock advocated by guitarists James Blood Ulmer and Vernon Reid in Living Colour. Put together, "Diane and "Thrill of It prove that the Family Band's rhythm section, bassist Danyel Morgan and drummer Marcus Randolph, play with the funkiest bottom this side of Christina Aguilera.

Co-written with Steve McEwan, songwriter of hits for country stars Faith Hill and Kenny Chesney, "Stronger features McWean on acoustic guitar, Leela James on vocals, and this set's most familiar country/western use of Randolph's slide guitar.

This cover of the Doobie Brothers' running blues "Jesus is Just Alright in tandem with blues-rock guitar king Eric Clapton boils the lid completely off. Clapton's vocal in the "Jesus, He's my brother... bridge burns hoarse yet hot, and it's a tribute to Randolph's own playing that you cannot identify whose electric guitar is shooting off which sparks. If there was more music like this on Clapton's recent records, I'd have tried harder to stay awake and get all the way through more of them.

Jef Stott
Six Degrees Emerging Artists Series: SoukSonik (Digital only)
Six Degrees

Among the first entries in Six Degrees' digital-only Emerging Artists series, SoukSonik is a bustling interethnic marketplace of musicology. Literally: "Souk is Arabic for the commercial, or market, area of one's hometown, and Stott is not only a trained anthropologist but has also studied traditional stringed and percussion instruments with master musicians from Morocco, Egypt, Iran and Turkey. Stott currently resides in San Francisco, where he serves as a remix and world music expert, work which led to his signing with Six Degrees, the global beat / electronica label also located there.

SoukSonik sounds like DJ music folded, spindled and mutilated by an expert in Middle Eastern percussion and other instruments, which is precisely what it is. Stott's mixture of ancient and modern, as well as western and eastern, cultures leads to deeply hypnotic beats and trances that prowl the same deep jungle as the outer-space ethno-electro-jazz pioneered by trumpeter Jon Hassel and others.

"Lamaset (DJ Oud remix) features Reda Darwish on bongos and dumbek knitting together cool modern threads from scraps of very old music, with vocals moaned and chanted and thick percussion rhythms slamming headlong against strings. "Sono One Drop crosses another cultural divide, as what first sounds like a saxophone grows more pierced as it writhes the serpentine rhythm, until the melody and the tone of its lament pierces like an ancient Hebrew clarinet or other reed instrument.

Percussion leads the ending, seven-minute "Blissmi'lah, rising up from a distance through its thick, swirling instrumental soundstorm, ending as if all the percussion and electronics are sort of just picked up and blown off by the desert wind, leaving one solitary string to close.

Zaman8 & Hafez Modir
Six Degrees Emerging Artists Series: Suryaghati EP 1 (Digital only)
Six Degrees

Another Six Degrees Emerging Artist based in San Francisco, the Zaman8 duo of Sanaz Ebriana and Dan Newman (each contributing programming and production skills, plus Ebriana on vocals and Newman on guitars) also seem to examine Middle Eastern and electronic music in mutual contexts.

Newman's father was a part-time musician and part-time film producer who produced the extraordinary, extraterrestrial Sun Ra biopic Space is the Place. "We do have strong influences coming from jazz, in particular the exploratory power of improvisation, which we're all deeply invested in, Dan says. "We want our music to have that intensity of a great solo.

Adding saxophone and flute by Iranian-American instrumentalist Hafez Modir makes the melodies on Suryaghati sound somehow more personally communicative, Modir's wailing sax passages somehow more like jazz - the tense past future sound of Pharoah and 'Trane contemplating deep outer-space except with no type of accompaniment that Sanders or Coltrane could ever hear or see.

"Ketu opens with a strong flute melody line (on Sufi ney flute) that stretches and doubles back upon itself as the remaining music, including the quaint yet exotic sound of African thumb piano, swims underneath in liquid watercolor. Modir's soprano in "Sukra and the cavernous dub-style "Sani moans and dances in sweet pained tones that would suggest Grover Washington Jr. or other soulful R&B saxophonists if presented in such a setting.

Various Artists
Backspin: A Six Degrees Ten Year Anniversary Project
Six Degrees

Upon this year's tenth anniversary celebration of Six Degrees Records, label co-founder and president Bob Duskis explains, "We like poking holes in the notion of what 'world music' is, or is not. And to commemorate the anniversary, we wanted to do something surprising and different.

The label's tenth anniversary celebratory release, Backspin presents Six Degrees artists performing their favored rock and pop songs. It does justice to the label's history and future by simultaneously looking backwards and forwards: Back to the original sources, music by Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the Beatles, the Beach Boys and others, from which Karsh Kale, Bombay Dub Orchestra, MIDIval PunditZ and other Six Degrees artists drew their first musical inspirations; but casting these originals in new instrumentation, arrangements, cultures, even languages, all advancing the label's one-world musical vision and embodying the label's slogan, "Everything is closer than you think.

Whether it occurs naturally or through post-production magic, Kale's voice floats with eerie similarity to Sting's vocal in "Spirits in the Material World, though Kale manipulates thick, chattering electronics (such as ascending keyboard bass) and percussion to draw with thick bold dark lines the skeletal melody ghostly sketched in the Police original. Los Mocosos rough and tumble up another Police cover, "The Bed's Too Big Without You, in cumbia rhythm and Spanish lyrics.

The expansive, globe-trotting electronics of Bombay Dub Orchestra quite nicely suits soundtrack and cinema music, demonstrated by their stylish update of the theme to the '70s British spy-pic Get Carter.

Other tracks deliver bulletins from more exotic locations. dZihan & Kamien update Herbie Hancock's already futuristic jazz fusion landmark "Rockit with trip-hop beats and lead flute that blows the melody and improvisations thereupon with funk and freedom. Rava Avis downshifts Jimi Hendrix' "If 6 Was 9 but without sacrificing any of its psychedelic energy; its new rhythm flows thick and deep and melts like dark chocolate into minimalist Portishead pop that scrapes and claws on electronic keyboards in lieu of Hendrix' barbed guitar hooks.

Led Zeppelin's "Four Sticks by MIDIval PunditZ (Guarav Raina and Tapan Raj) from New Dehli brings the Backspin concept full circle, arranged with swirling strings in place of Jimmy Page's familiar, craggy electric blues guitar moans and with lead vocalist Pankaj Awasthi approximating Robert Plant's lemon-squeezing howl. "It's easy to see that Led Zeppelin themselves were inspired by the music of the Middle East and India. We also read that the song was originally written in India while the band was traveling, note the PunditZ in Backspin's notes. "So maybe it's time someone from India gave homage to the greatest band of all time.


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