JOHN SCOFIELD, John Scofield (ECM). It’s rather surprising to learn John Scofield had not yet released a solo guitar album. There’s no questioning his ability to do so. His debut on ECM Records offers proof. Scofield performs as his own accompanist, cruising through these tunes with his usual taste and dexterity. Tunes like “It Could Happen to You” are fine examples of his skills, as Scofield is able to create rhythm and looped parts without getting in his own way. He understands the proper use of space, which is one of the keys to good jazz, whether playing originals or standards. A good listen for the mellowest occasions.
TICKLED PINK ELECTRIC TRIO, Trips to Win (Self Released). The Cincinnati-based Tickled Pink Electric Trio remind us what’s great about intelligent power-pop. The songs are cleverly written and performed with skill and a wink of the eye as the band moves casually from one style to the next with that sheen in place. The band shares vocals while Scott Corvett provides earnest and tangy guitar work; bassist Bob Nyswonger (known for his work with The Bears and Psychodots) rumbles steadily underneath with the occasional bit of flourish, consistently giving us something to hang onto; and drummer Bam Powell steadily owns the middle of the mix without excessively showing off his chops. The group roams through rock, blues shuffles, and a little Country twang with the skill of the veteran musicians they are. Play it loud and enjoy!
JACK WHITE, Fear of the Dawn (Third Man Records). We are a long way from The White Stripes. Jack White continues to add more interesting colors to his sonic palate. He’s also embraced a sense of groove that induces involuntary head-bobbing. It’s hard not to love this! “Taking Me Back,” the album’s opener, sets the tone with a quick dose of sonic shred. The title track has the grungy low-fi guitar sound White has made a trademark. This is rock and roll for the modern age. A must for fans and non-fans alike.
MILES DAVIS, What it Is Montreal 7/7/83 (Legacy). When Miles Davis came out of his five-year hibernation in 1981, his first album, The Man With The Horn, became more about the young musicians playing with him because Miles had yet to find his trumpet sound again. Bassist Marcus Miller and Guitarist Mike Stern played more than enough to make up for Davis’s weak and sparse single note runs. An ‘82 live release called We Want Miles showed the Man steadily returning to form. By his ‘83 release Star People, Miles running full-throttle, back where he belonged. This collection — released on Record Store Day — is a concert from the Star People tour, and it is SPECTACULAR! Miles puts a young band featuring John Scofield (guitar) and Darryl Jones (bass) through its paces while doubling up on trumpet and keyboards. The music is funky like Miles’s 70’s era, but with an added layer of blues-rock that takes the band to another level. Unlike the 70’s, this band is less free-form and much more groove-oriented, making the music more coherent and repeatable where needed. This was the last chance to hear Miles Davis as a hard-charging musician. From ‘85 until his passing, he became more of a crowd-pleasing pop star. This set is part of a forthcoming box set due for release in September. It’s also a terrific head start.
PRINCE, The Gold Experience re-issue (NPG). When this album was released in 1995, Prince was at war with his record label, to the point where he put the word “Slave” on his face and changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol. That, combined with many of his fans’ incapability to see him outside of his 80’s context, caused many to overlook what is arguably one of his best albums. It is certainly his subjective best post-1990. This Record Store Day re-issue is packaged in a plain brown sleeve the way it was when the label handed out promo copies in ‘95. This is the new release’s only drawback (the stage photo in the CD packaging is incredible), because the music is as spectacular as it ever was. One could even argue the vinyl sounds a bit better. The highs sound rolled back a touch, and a little extra thump has been given to the bottom end. But the mix isn’t muddy. It’s still beautifully balanced. “Endorphinemachine” is Prince at his hard-rocking best, while “Shhh” is the slow jam of slow jams. What sets them apart is Prince’s use of a band in the studio, which he did more than once. The material he does alone on the album is great, but turning things over to a band while singing and playing guitar is where Prince was almost always at his best. You slept on this album once. Don’t do it again.
JEFF BECK AND JOHNNY DEPP, Caroline, No (Deuce Music, Ltd.). There’s a running joke that actors want to be rock stars and rock stars want to go to Hollywood. Legendary guitarist Jeff Beck and his friend, actor Johnny Depp put at least half of that saying to the test on this project, an EP toward a full release due later this summer. The title track is a Beach Boys cover from the group’s Pet Sounds album. It is also the only instrumental, and it’ll make the guitar geeks more than happy. While Depp is somewhat radioactive socially these days, his singing voice is not bad on a tune like “Isolation.” The problem is, that singing voice is one-dimensional and lacks expression on the other material. Time will tell how this plays out over the course of a full album. As is, if you’ve heard one Johnny Depp vocal, you’ve heard them all. Beck’s highly expressive guitar shines throughout. Now in his 70’s, the guitarist’s career is in its “I can do what I want” phase. He’s earned it. Fans may see this album as a vanity project. They are, of course, free to explore the classic Beck material. Caveat Emptor.
NIMBUS SEXTET, Forward Thinker (Acid Jazz Records). Smooth jazz without the schmaltz. Fusion without the overindulgence. Perhaps the best way to describe Forward Thinker, the second release from Nimbus Sextet, is crowd-pleasing. The music is more than enough to get people moving while also allowing them to appreciate the instrumental and vocal skills the band possesses. It is also a solid testament to the nature of modern jazz. It pays homage to the past while being influenced by the present non-jazz elements taking place around them. Even if it is relatively smooth, there are just enough musical bumps in the road to keep us interested in the journey.
GOGO PENGUIN, Between Two Waves (XXIM Records). British nu-jazzers GoGo Penguin have slowly but surely been expanding their trio sound thanks to the subtle use of more electronic effects to augment their already powerful straight-ahead sound. Their new EP also allows pianist Chris Illingsworth and bassist Nick Blacka to break in a new drummer, Jon Scott, who has fit in quite seamlessly while helping propel an already steady groove. The band’s playing has a deft touch even as they establish more aggressive grooves and melodies. The band is navigating change well as they continue to stretch jazz into new territory.
GORDON GRDINA’S NOMAD TRIO, Boiling Point (Astral Spirits Records). As appropriate an album title as ever, as guitarist (with a dash of oud) Gordon Grdina pushes his band’s music through the avant-garde repeatedly until the sound reaches its apex and produces groove and melody like continents colliding. Pianist Matt Mitchell plays brutal stabbing chords and assertive single-note runs while drummer provides a conventional-feeling groove, even when he gets there via the side door. As a band, the Nomad trio sounds like three individual streams meeting nicely in the same river. Theirs is music for the highly adventurous.
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