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Freaks in Mayberry & the Boney Oscar Stomp

Freaks in Mayberry & the Boney Oscar Stomp

Courtesy Club d'Elf

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Giuseppe Paradiso
Parallel Dimensions
Ubuntu Music
2022

Parallel Dimensions steers the listener's imagination through a luxurious multicultural tapestry woven in music by drummer, vocalist, composer, arranger and producer Giuseppe Paradiso and his sextet. It explores broad musical horizons that can sound radiantly bright or dark, often features several instrumental or melodic voices at the same time, and is strongly colored and shaped by African rhythms. Parallel Dimensions sort of sounds the way that the cover of Miles Davis' landmark Bitches Brew looks.

Two drum pieces propel the leader front and center. He builds up the power and volume of a basic rhythm across his tom-tom and bass drums until "Joriki" growls and grumbles like tribal thunder, with James Hazlewood-Dale rolling through bass notes so low they're more felt than heard and percussionist MALICK NGOM cutting through the thunder with lightning-quick cross-rhythms. Paradiso dedicates the set-ending "Tony" to the late Tony Allen, the Nigerian drummer and composer who served as drummer and musical director of Fela Kuti's band Africa '70 and helped found the groove-heavy Afrobeat style. Paradiso's stuttering yet solid shuffle rhythm opens up a reliable and smooth Idris Muhammad groove and later leads the percussion ensemble dancing into the closing fade. In between, after saxophone and guitar spotlights, the marimba solo lends flattering (funky) rhythmic, (cool) harmonic, and (soft) melodic touches. Throughout this entire set, but especially in these two tunes, you can hear Paradiso's experience playing drums for more than a decade in a Nigerian church. "It's very fun and enlightening to play in such a context, especially for a drummer, because you have to have a groove," he explains. "You have to combine your drumming with the dancing of the people in the congregation."

Utar Artun dramatically opens the scenic "Memories of the Future" with stark and dark solo piano that eventually warms into contemplative melancholy and pulls cello and then the other instruments into the melody. Mark Zaleski's howling saxophone eventually rises to the top like a spirit conjured by Artun's relentless, swirling and deep rhythms. The lovely melody of "It's Only the Beginning" sounds like a vocal song, especially with the doubling saxophone and guitar shining so brightly together, and seems to be the flipside to "Memories of the Future" (with the junket to "Joriki" in between).

The title track wanders yet moves purposefully through Zaleski's evocative saxophone song, and he blows through his alto with a ferocious attack and percussive sound. Likewise, Phil Sargent's electric guitar solo rages hard and hot before pinwheeling to rest back inside the melody.

In reflecting on the genesis of this music, Paradiso reveals a much larger truth: "I began composing the Parallel Dimensions album during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020," he recalls. "This album is an attempt to describe the different and parallel realities that each one of us experience even living the same event, at the same time and in the same place."

Sean Nelson's New London Big Band
Social Hour
Mama Records
2022

"For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to have my own big band—an epic jazz orchestra of 17+ musicians," writes trombonist Sean Nelson in the liner notes to this set named for the 17-piece New London Big Band's home base, The Social Bar + Kitchen in New London, Connecticut.

Nelson, also a member of the United States Coast Guard Band, contributes half of these dozen tunes (and arranges "When You Wish Upon A Star"). His compositions reach across and into the broad sound that 17 voices afford, and particularly flatter guitarist Doug Maher, whose forty years of performing experience began as guitarist with the Jazz Ensemble of the U.S. Army Band, The Army Blues, and trumpeter Haneef Nelson (no relation), who studied trumpet under Donald Byrd and music theory and ensemble classes under Max Roach at the legendary Jazzmobile in Harlem.

The leadoff title track jumps right out of the box with the band swinging high, hard and hot. Nathan Lassell's cymbals and snare drum power "Social Hour" from behind, the powerfully yet sweetly voiced horn ensemble drives it from out front, and Haneef Nelson drops a dizzying cameo in his solo. Haneef Nelson also wrote the long and lean big-band blues stroll, "Blues from the News," which his opening trumpet calls to order like morning reveille. Nelson's trumpet cuts through the mellow, hazy-blue accompaniment like Freddie Hubbard wielding a scalpel but with juke joint swagger roughing up its edges, too. Guitarist Maher drops a few sugary licks that stick like cotton candy in between the call and response horns and Lou Bocciarelli's bass solo.

Maher's blues guitar stirs some thick sweetness and spice to cook the leader's "Brisket and Beans," and the alto sax duel between Erik Elligers and Tyler Wilkins and Lassell's solid backbeat keeps it smoking and hot. "Let There Be Light" somehow broadens the sound of this 17-piece band with a hypnotic tabla rhythm (Rob McEwan) plus harp (Megan Sesma), tárogató (an Eastern European wind instrument, played by Cedric Mayfield), and wordless vocals (Megan Weikleenget) that rise and writhe like a dancing spirit in the night. Maher's two solos bridge jazz and rock with careful but sure steps and both genuinely shine.

Leader Nelson helps himself to some spotlight, too. He takes on the mythical "Chupacabra" in an Afro-Cuban groove kicked in the rhythm by Chris Smith's steel pans and additional percussion. Mid-song, all the instruments peel off except for harp, percussion, and the leader's trombone, and the three voices swirl together to create a new sound darker and more sinister than the sum of their individual voices.

But "Freaks in Mayberry," featuring Nelson's electric trombone, throws the knockout punch in what could be described as heavy prog-metal big band rock. "Freaks" hit the street with Nelson's electric trombone snarling and sneering as steely blue and hard as tungsten; then drummer Lassell counts off and drops the band into a 4/4 stomp. Cedric Mayfield's tenor sax solo on top of Lassell's drums echo the epic Wayne Shorter / Steve Gadd workout on the title track to Steely Dan's Aja. But Nelson's electric trombone freakout is the primary vehicle driving this wild ride.

Clint Bahr
Puzzlebox
MoonJune Records
2022

Puzzlebox is precisely that: A hard-cover box of musical curios arranged around an 11-minute improvisation ("As Tympani Melt in the Greek Heat") performed not by a band but by a rotating caravan of progressive jazz and rock musicians organized by multi-instrumentalist and composer Clint Bahr. Bahr's collaborators in this curious collection include pianist Marilyn Crispell, violinist David Cross, the late Yes guitarist Peter Banks and other musicians who have performed with artists as far-ranging as Sun Ra and Rahsaan Roland Kirk (trombonist Dick Griffin) and The Roots (woodwind player Jeff Schiller).

Because it presents so many different contributors in so many different formats, Puzzlebox comes off like an anthology boxed set even though it's only one CD. Bookend versions of "Tabula Rasa 1" and "Tabula Rasa 2" open and close with a heady psychedelic mixture of sitar, tambura and flute, a captivating effect that loops its ending back into its beginning.

But after that tranquil opening, Puzzlebox grows more dense, heavy and hard. Bahr plays three different basses (4-, 8-and 12-string) to drive "New Design" into a prog-rock stomp that quickly turns violent and fierce—especially its sputtering bridge, which sounds so angry that it can barely spit out the right notes. Horns singing in eastern/oriental tones simultaneously complement and contrast with its brittle, angry rock stomp. Together, the rhythm and horn charts pull this "New Design" together into a sound that suggests Deep Purple and Jade Warrior, stalwarts at very different ends of the British prog-rock spectrum, jamming together.

Bahr's bass seems barely able to restrain the extended improvisation for piano, violin, trombone and percussion "Plate" as it keeps growing for nearly eight minutes. The trombone seems to play off the relatively straight bass-and-drum shuffle but pianist Crispell seems to have recorded a different tune played in a different time, and then superimposed it (like an upside-down plate) on top. If you've ever wondered what improvisational pianist Cecil Taylor might sound like accompanied by improvisational jazz-rockers like Soft Machine, dig into this "Plate."

The centerpiece improvisation "As Tympani Melt in the Greek Heat" is psychedelic and evocative, more of a painting in sound than a song. Drummer Mike Hough sets up rhythms in which none of the other instruments sound interested; the trombone, woodwind and piano all seem to go their own way. Then in the last minute, the chaotic sound clears and surreally reveals what sounds like the digital dawning of a new day.

Puzzlebox arranges smaller curio pieces ("Belt & Braces," "Oslo" and the improvisation "Triangles, Circles & Squares") like side orders and relishes around these main pieces.

Puzzlebox also celebrates two decades of Clint Bahr's relationship with MoonJune Records founder Leonardo Pavkovic: The self-titled debut of Bahr's protean NYC-based power trio TriPod was the fourth release in MoonJune's fledgling catalog in 2003.

Club d'Elf
You Never Know
Face Pelt Records
2022

You Never Know is the Club d'Elf studio album that captures the whirling, overlapping orbits of acoustic, electric and exotic sounds of the floating improvisational collective, which has recorded and performed together for more than two decades, with crisp studio clarity.

But more importantly, You Never Know celebrates light born from darkness. Bassist and bandleader Mike Rivard, the sole constant in the collective's 24-year run, suffered a near-death experience from a pulmonary embolism which struck him while he was exploring remote jungles near the Peruvian Amazon. Seeking peace and comfort, and to assist his physical, emotional and spiritual recovery, Rivard returned to the composers and musical styles of his roots: North African trance music known as gnawa, which Rivard began exploring on sintir (a three-stinged bass lute) decades ago, plus the music of Miles Davis, the Moroccan band Nass el-Ghiwane, Frank Zappa and Joe Zawinul.

It's surprising that these sonic shape-shifters didn't record their own interpretation of the Prince of Darkness' protean "In A Silent Way / It's About That Time" until this, the band's twelfth release. Its opening hovers in space like a sweet, luscious cloud of cotton candy, then electric guitar slices through with the haunting blue melody, and their two sounds together resonantly float and dance. By "That Time," the music twirls like a gyroscope on pinwheeling circles of snare drum and cymbal, and then this famous electric meditation ends with guitar roaring into what sounds like madness.

Frank Zappa's episodic "King Kong" starts out like Richard "Groove" Holmes warming up on some sticky Hammond B-3 chords, brings in drums and bass, and builds into a never-ending stream that helps the guitar solo flow. Everything drops out to allow a thunderstorm of tribal percussion to rumble through, then that Hammond B-3 returns, this time like a booster rocket that electrifies this multi-part monster into movement. "King Kong" was the tour de force of Zappa's 1969 release Uncle Meat and it's a fitting climax to this set, too.

You Never Know revisits "Zeed Al Maal," traditional gnawa trance which Rivard has been exploring onstage (at least) since 2015's Live at Club Helsinki. Brahim Fribgane's throaty vocal burns through the repeating trance music as guitars and keyboards, oud and samples weave a thick, hypnotic sound, and rises like a smoking incantation into a deep spiritual intensity.

"Boney Oscar Stomp" is like listening to The Staples Singers warm up a funk groove on their instruments while they're waiting for their acid to kick in...and then their acid kicks in. Like just about everything else on You Never Know, you might call this opening tune Buzz Lightyear music: It takes the listener to infinity, and beyond.

Shiri Zorn
Into Another Land
Self-Produced
2022

Into Another Land braids together the voices of percussionist Mauricio Zottarelli, guitarist George Muscatello and vocalist Shiri Zorn into music that has a much heavier impact than its light and bright, floating and breezy sound.

Zorn studied music in her native Israel, steeping herself in the magic of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae, and then in London before moving to Albany, New York in 2010, where she met and has since been working with Muscatello. When Zorn's vocal producer Tierney Sutton introduced the pair to Brazilian percussionist Zottarelli, they expanded into a trio for this adventure Into Another Land. With Zottarelli weaving soft, tender percussion accents and colors around their intimate vocal and guitar dance, the results are often exquisite and beautiful.

On the opening "Witch Touch," one of two originals and this set's leadoff track, Zorn's voice rings out on pitch point, light but in no way thin or weak. There's so much space between these three voices that the arrangement sounds open and clean. It starts as a call and response, with each instrument answering her vocal, but twists into a more inventive passage where her wordless vocal pings around as a kind of melodic percussion, singing with the percussionist's rhythm but in notes from the melody. The other original, "I Wasn't Ready," unleashes the guitarist and percussionist in a long instrumental passage and tells its story with its title; Muscatello wrote this melody in 2014 but Zorn's lyrics didn't come along to complete it until 2021.

Two Antonio Carlos Jobim tunes add great beauty and depth. Zorn's soft, caressing sound draws all the breathless wonder out from "Vivo Sonhando (Dreamer)," especially in the closing verse sung in the lush, romantic tones of Portuguese. Zottarelli's percussion lights the rhythm with just enough of a hip-hop fuse to keep its dreamy sound moving along. Zorn's notes mention that "Zingaro (Retrato Em Branco E Preto)" was one of Chet Baker's favorite Jobim compositions, and her interpretation demonstrates why. She sings this one entirely in Portuguese and although Muscatello's guitar briefly appears in the middle, her pristine voice peals through its unaccompanied opening and closing verses as if echoing in worship throughout a cathedral of song.

This reinterpretation of the warhorse "How Deep Is the Ocean" is genuinely inventive jazz: Muscatello and Zottarelli create an open, expansive framework for the singer to explore, and Zorn's wordless introduction resounds with the sound of classic Brazilian vocalese as it bounces like rattling pots and pans off of the percussion, which keeps changing accents and colors to keep her vocal from singing lines the same way twice. "I fell in love with this song in my twenties, listening to Peggy Lee with the Benny Goodman Orchestra," the singer further notes. That love affair more than endures, and greatly benefits this freely flowing journey Into Another Land.

Tracks and Personnel

Parallel Dimensions

Tracks: Kaizen; Memories of the Future; Joriki; It's Only the Beginning; Parallel Dimensions; Tony.

Personnel: Giuseppe Paradiso: drums, percussion, electronics, vocals; Mark Zaleski: alto sax, soprano sax, clarinet; Utar Artun: piano, keyboards; Phil Sargent: electric guitar; James Hazlewood-Dale: upright bass, electric bass, fretless bass; Malick Ngom: West African sabar drums, percussion, vocals.

Social Hour

Tracks: Social Hour; Brisket and Beans; El Chupacabra; Countin' Freckles; The Clearing; Blues From the News; Freaks in Mayberry; Devil's Punchbowl; Small Town, Big Band; Let There Be Light; When You Wish Upon a Star; Every Possible History of the Universe.

Personnel: Erik Elligers: alto sax, flute; Tyler Wilkins: alto sax, flute, clarinet, bassoon; Cedric Mayfield: tenor sax, flute, clarinet, tárogató; Josh Thomas: tenor sax, flute, clarinet; Jeff Emerich: baritone sax, contralto clarinet; Bryce Call: trumpet, flugelhorn; Seth Bailey: trumpet, flugelhorn; Haneef Nelson: trumpet, flugelhorn; Tom Brown: trumpet, flugelhorn; Sean Nelson: trombone, electric trombone, alto trombone; Leroy Loomer: trombone; Vince Yanovich: trombone; Brian Sturm: bass trombone; Jen Allen: piano, Hammond B3 organ, Wurlitzer organ; Doug Maher: guitar; Lou Bocciarelli: upright bass, electric bass; Nathan Lassell: drums, percussion; Megan Weikleenget: vocals; Ryan Foley: flute; Laura Pirruccello: flute; Megan Nelson: alto flute; Robert Durie: clarinet, contrabass clarinet; Chris Smith: steel pans, percussion; Rob McEwan: tabla; Megan Sesma: harp.

Puzzlebox

Tracks: Tabula Rasa; New Design; Plate; Shelter; As Tympani Melt In The Greek Heat; Fall From Grace; Belt & Braces; Triangles Circles And Squares; Oslo; Kicking The Wasps Nests; Lifeguard In The Rain; Tabula Rasa 2.

Personnel: Clint Bahr: tambura, vocals, basses, acoustic guitar, mellotron, Moog taurus pedals, baglama raz, wood flute, percussion, Chapman stick, harmonium, megaphone, slide whistle, theremin; David Jackson: flutes, woodwinds, effects; Dan Parkington: sitar, violin; Mike Hough: drums, cymbals; Jeff Schiller: baritone sax, tenor sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, oboe; Marilyn Crispell: piano; Dick Griffin: trombone; Billy Ficca: drums and cymbals; Colin Carter: vocals; David Cross: violins, viola; Stephanie Feyne: dialogue; Peter Banks: guitar.

You Never Know

Tracks: Boney Oscar Stomp; Zeed Al Maal; Now Open Your Eyes; Golden Hour; In A Silent Way / It's About That Time; Dark Fish; Dervish Dance; Lalla Aisha In Jhaptal; Allah Ya Moulana; King Kong.

Personnel: Mike Rivard: acoustic bass, sintir, electric bass, tambura, chorus vocal; Brahim Fribgane: oud, bendir, karakab, vocal, cajon, frame drum, dumbek, percussion; Dean Johnston: drums, chorus vocal; Duke Levine: guitar, electric manodcello, six-string bass; Kevin Barry: guitar, lap steel; Paul Schultheis: keyboards; John Medeski: organ, Hammond B-3, keyboards; David Fiuczynski: guitars; Mister Rourke: turntables; Amit Kavthekar: tabla; Andrew Rogliani: tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone; Phil Grenadier: trumpet; Thorlleifur Gaukur Davidsson: harmonica.

Into Another Land

Tracks: Witch Touch; How Deep Is the Ocean; Zingaro (Retrato Em Branco E Preto); Beautiful Love; I Wasn't Ready; Vivo Sonhando (Dreamer); Willow Weep for Me; Detour Ahead.

Personnel: Shiri Zorn: vocals; George Muscatello: guitar; Mauricio Zottarelli: percussion.

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