Defying distinct categorization, The Softest Touch, the newest release by the Denver-based Sons of Armageddon, combines a dense layering of electronic, electro-acoustic, electronically altered, and "live acoustic sounds in an artistically compelling musical patchwork. Upon an initial listen you may dismiss it as just another "paint by numbers electronica recording. Subsequent spins will raise it above any common categorization, and what you will discover is that the various samples, loops, and other electronically generated sounds serve a real artistic purpose other than merely providing a complex, repetitive, and mind-numbing rhythmic matrix.
The group draws upon numerous exotic musical resources that grab and hold your attention and create a textural weave. The trumpet playing (in particular) of Kirk Knuffke and sax playing of Dav Poli Hoof wind their improvised threads of musical thought as both soloists and parts of the overall texture.
In many ways what you hear on The Softest Touch is a compendium of jazz influenced by electronics going back to the work of Miles Davis and Weather Report of the 1970s, through the acid jazz and jazz-house styles of the 1990s, and into the 21st Century. Reggae, dub, and hip-hop beats and bass lines are also thrown into the mix. All eight of the compositions on the CD are interesting, but two selections stand out: the opening cut, "Ripe Watermelon, and "The Diddler. "Ripe Watermelon is an excellent opening number with strong drumming by Cameron "Slammy Thompson and wonderfully "weird vocal and spoken sounds, all creating a background behind Knuffke's trumpet. The "Diddler also features a fine Knuffke trumpet solo; Tim Hochman also pulls off an excellent Jaco Pastorious-influenced bass feature backed by relatively thin-textured percussion and electric piano accompaniment.
Jazz aficionados who enjoy opening themselves to new and different sonic experiencesespecially those that incorporate steady heavy beats and bass lines with creative uses of electronic sounds and improvisationwill find The Softest Touch a welcome listening experience.
Track Listing: Ripe Watermelon, Hoels, E.S. Smothered, Shambles Factory, Wall Street Colonel, Dubya, The Diddler, A Thousand Kisses Deep
Personnel: Mark Prather, samples, percussion, machines, G4 and production; Lewis DJ Lewps Keller, turn table, laptop, theremin, synths, melodica, production; Tim Hochman, bass; Cameron "Slammy" Thompson, drums; Kirk Knuffke, trumpet; Dav Poli Hoof, alto saxophone, vocals, electronics; David Devine, guitar, prepared guitar, electronics
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.