Age Of NemesisTerra IncognitaMagna Carta
This Hungarian progressive-metal band excels in the composition department. There's a plot which involves a girl who connects with an angel to visit the afterlife, and the album's overall theme mines the phantasmagorical seam so often favoured by prog-metal outfits. That aside, the quintet conveys a flair for dynamics. Herculean crunch chords convey a feeling of triumph, before segueing into melodically-tinged chorusesit's a massive wall of sound, full of sinuous time signatures and memorable hooks. Lead vocalist Zoltan Kiss emerges as a top-flight rock vocalist. He sings in English with impeccable diction and projects a commanding presence (but one that is never overwrought). Strong writing and excellence in execution elevate this album to the top of the heap. Perhaps one of the top two or three rock-based albums of 2006.
This guitars-cello-violin quartet is comprised of musicians hailing from Austria, Turkey and the Czech Republic. They sport a truly singular style that defies rigid categorizations. I was totally captivated by the band's inaugural 2002 Leo Records release, Dip Contaminated Chamber Music. And with this outing, the musicians cross the fuzzy line between progressive-rock, chamber and intelligent pop. Their whispery and rather understated vocals generate an air of innocence atop weaving strings and ostinatos that tend to stick to basic rock patterns. The producers' press blurb suggests that the album could provide the backdrop "for any David Lynch movie. But the group isn't really performing within an avant-garde musical terrain. On the contrary, the musicians deliver a highly palpable, if unconventional, performance. It's not often that you find an ensemble fusing such disparate influences into a cohesiveand somewhat enigmatic (perhaps that's the Lynch connection?)totality, but this all works out very nicely. I wish this band would record more often.
Celebrating thirty-years as a trio project, this unit of estimable modern jazz artists has recorded for the Italian Soul Note record label and others since its inception in 1977. It's a veritable jazz super-group. Ray Anderson's pumping trombone lines steer the way for a cavalcade of movements, consisting of tricky maneuvers and some hyper-mode frazzle and dazzle. And it's easy to discern why the group's lasted as long as it has: factor in the musicians' strikingly intuitive sensibilities, where strategies are re-engineered and refreshed in dynamic fashion. They successfully mingle very diverse elements into their overall game-plan. Bassist Mark Helias and drummer Gerry Hemingway engage in brisk rhythmic structures, and the unit enjoys ample soloing spots to counterbalance a foray of interloping exchanges. Think of a precision-machine with loose groove formats and a horde of improvisation-based retooling processes.
Fay Victor Ensemble
Cartwheels Through The Cosmos
Fay Victor website
I first became aware of jazz vocalist Fay Victor during her stay in the Netherlands, where she recorded jazz standards for Timeless Records. These days, the New York City based artist along with her ensemble explores the avant side of jazz matters with dabs of free-jazz and jazz-fusion. Victor is the traffic director of a group methodology that surges into the interstellar regions of sound. With electric guitarist Anders Nilsson and the bass-drums rhythm section, her vocals also serve as an additional improvising instrument as she weaves in and out of Nilsson's sinewy guitar lines and the band's asymmetrical, multi-flow type patterns. No doubt, this newly released effort looms as an adventurous steppingstone and a 360 degree shift in strategy from her familiar and affecting treatment of jazz standards. Not traditional jazz type vocalizing but lots to discover.
This newly issued Rudy Van Gelder remaster of the 1956 session highlights tenor saxophone icon Sonny Rollins performing with the Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quartet. It's one of trumpet great Clifford Brown's last recordings, and the magic of this date (originally released on Prestige) loses not one iota of steam several decades after the fact. Rollins' husky and fluent lines coupled with Brown's velvety bop phrasings make for the kind of stuff that sends tingles down the spine. Breathtaking, to say the least. Unlike many of his peers, Rollins is difficult to mimic: his colossal improvisational skills are steeped in a penchant for meticulously deconstructing standards with melodic trills and muscular phrasings. Putting power and fluency aside, the soloists make the difficult processes seem as easy as taking candy away from an infant. Strength, intuitive responses and grace are but a mere few of the notable components here. And of course, George Morrow's steady walking bass lines, along with drummer Max Roach's lyrically charged fills and pianist Richie Powell's animated phrasings, offer a near-flawless foundation for the soloists. Essential.
J.A. Granelli And Mr. Lucky
Homing (A Feeling In Nine Parts)
This quintet does indeed project a homey groove, with roots-based pieces that fluctuate somewhere in between jazz improvisation, blues and Americana. Guitarist Brad Shepik turns up the heat in spots, and his primary foil, steel guitarist Gerald Menke, lays out attractive and crystalline lines, a vitally important component of the sound. Bassist J.A. Granelli and drummer Mike Sarin deliver thumping pulses, while organist/Fender Rhodes artist Nate Shaw combines a jazz-fusion/blues vibe. The ensemble's heterogeneous line of attack works like a charm throughout this wondrously envisioned album. One of 2006's standout releases.