CirdecSongs Rapid-Fire Record Reviews

THE COMET IS COMING, Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam (Impulse! Records). A healthy dose of sci-fi electronic fusion is The Comet is Coming’s forte, and they do not disappoint. The stutter-step lead runs of saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings fit perfectly with the electronic wizardry of keyboardist Dan Leavers and drummer Max Hallett, who works to maintain the groove under what is occasionally organized chaos. The band has found its sweet spot and they are taking up residence there. Calling the band’s music “future jazz” wouldn’t be that far off the mark. But its undefinable nature is part of what makes this album enjoyable.

LINCOLN GOINES, The Art of the Bass Choir (Origin Records). When it comes to more experimental records, there’s a fine line between innovative and self-indulgent. Bassist Lincoln Grimes has successfully remained on the right side of the tracks. Along with a stable of legendary bassist guests — among them Victor Wooten and John Pattitucci — Goines looks to push the bass in fascinating directions without giving the listener more information than is necessary. Goines also has the good taste to step back and let his guests have their moment to shine. Bassists will definitely appreciate this effort, while casual listeners can just sit back and groove along.

THE LEVIN BROTHERS, Fade to Blue (self released). Smooth as silk. What can one say about bassist Tony Levin that hasn’t been said a million times over? We know how great he is, so just enjoy his performance. His keyboardist brother Pete is also highly experienced and more than capable of holding his own. In fact, he makes the music sound carefree and effortless. Drummer Jeff “Seige” Seigal brings the rhythmic fire nicely, locking in with Tony to create a stellar set of grooves. Meanwhile, flautist Ali Ryerson provided a strong melodic presence, giving a mellow-sounding instrument gravitas and counterbalance to Pete’s playing. The band plays like they have nothing to prove, which is a big reason why Fade to Blue is so on-point.

SHAWN PURCELL, 180 (Origin Records). Guitarist Shawn Purcell found himself captivated by the six-string sound of the legendary Pat Martino. He’s also loves the Hammond organ and the sound it makes within the context of the jazz trio. And so, we arrive at 180, a record that’s solid and smooth enough to be mistaken for a granite countertop. Purcell’s guitar tone is slightly muted and occasionally just a bit overdriven, which helps it cut through the groovy but gentle din created by Pat Bianchi (organ) and Jason Tiemann (drums). It’s easy to hear how much the band are enjoying themselves. Lest things get too predictable, the band also occasionally adds Darden Purcell (vocals) and Ben Patterson (trombone). The music is steeped in the fashion of 12-bar blues, but there’s nothing sad going on here. Grab yourself a glass of wine and let the music soak in.

RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS, Return of the Dream Canteen (Warner Records, Inc.). The more things change, the more they stay the same. Generation X will be horrified when they realize the Red Hot Chili Peppers have been part of their musical world for nearly 40(!) years. Return of the Dream Canteen reflects this — yes — maturity that comes with being middle-age. This album is piggy-backing the successful albums that closed out the 20th century. Anyone looking for the return of BloodSugarSexMagic (an album now in its early 30’s) is better off looking elsewhere. This album is a collection of tunes less about punk and rebellion and more about harmony and an attempt at relative adulthood. For the most part, it works. Sure, there are a couple of naughty lyrics, but they feel more tongue in cheek than an actual declaration of what’s gonna happen after the gig. Still, the Chili Peppers have expanded their sonic palate, with more overdubbing of guitars and vocals. Bassist Flea and drummer Chad Smith hold down the groove without making much of a fuss about it. They are themselves, giving the music just what it needs. It might sound negative to declare this music “age appropriate,” but it is. And that’s okay. They’ve found their lane and they’re staying in it.

STEPHAN THELEN, Fractal Guitar 3 (MoonJune Records). If you’ve been listening to guitarist Stephan Thelen over the past few years, there’s no questioning whether or not he has a sound. He most certainly does. But the integration of said sound into his musical projects is anything but formulaic. With Fractal Guitar 3, Thelen and his cohorts take his baseline sound from the first of this album’s series and continue to stretch it into the stratosphere. The music is dark without being dense. And even within the confines of that darkness are rays of ethereal light that guide the way through each piece. With help from (among others) Markus Reuter (touch guitar U8), Tim Harries (bass), and Jon Durant (guitar), Fractal Guitar 3 makes the difficult sound groovy and the grooves bouncier than ever. Even before finishing the album, you’ll find yourself itching to hear it again.

RUSSIAN CIRCLES, Gnosis (Sargent House). De-tune those guitars, turn your amps up to 11, put on your helmets, and away we go! Chicago post-metal maestros Russian Circles are offering a fresh batch of raw aggression for our consumption. Their formula ain’t broke, so there’s no need to fix anything. The band’s formula pushes us forward even as we wear a musical rubber band that’s already pulling us toward the other side. Guitarist Mike Sullivan and bassist Brian Cook share a rhythmic and melodic mind, bouncing off one another with relative ease, while the beats of Dave Turncrantz keep things tight and centered. The title track offers up a sense of atmosphere more often equated with post-rock before things get heavy again. But even with all the music’s heft, there is still room to breathe because of the consistency within the band’s overall sound. It’s a groove waiting for the listener to find a slot. Once that happens, it’s smooth sailing through deep waters.

MARE CRISIUM, Mare Crisium (Independent). When Buzz Aldrin stepped out of Apollo 11’s lunar module to join Neil Armstrong on the surface of the Moon in 1969, he looked at the Moon’s surface and declared it “magnificent desolation.” Chicago duo Mare Crisium have created the soundtrack for Aldrin’s vision. Guitarist Erik Oldman and double-bassist Stephen Reichelt stretch the outer limits of their instruments to produce a jagged and spacious soundscape that no doubt captures the fear and exhilaration that must have come from standing on the lunar surface and having it show you how isolated you really are. Reichelt pulls our heads from side to side with his bow, allowing us to take in the breadth of the lunar vision. Meanwhile, Oldman’s highly-effected guitar output allows us to see the fine details under our feet as we move from one point of the surface to the next at one-sixth gravity. The guitar’s ambient expression is appropriate, for every view of something new is different, and up to the individual to articulate. Thus, our internal monologue provides the necessary amount of melodic detail. Guitar and bass are symbiotic. The listener need only take that small step off the platform that leads to the giant leap toward a fascinating musical vision.

WIL SWINDLER’S ELEVENTET, Space Bugs (OA2 Records). A study in classy large-ensemble jazz performance. Wil Swindler and his alto saxophone have been guiding the vision of this band for a decade, and the two live sets that make up this album show in the ease and chemistry displayed by the band. Regardless of who is handling the solo at the time, the band feels more like an orchestra providing the perfect amount of support to help the lead instrument stand out. They are also able to handle the compositors of others (like the Beatles via “Julia” and “Blackbird”) with care and respect as they produce their own sound. The harmonies produced here would make Gil Evans proud even as it plays intricate, detailed lines. This is grace and passion executed in the smoothest form without coming off as cliche.

HAL GALPER, Ivory Forest Redux (Origin Records). A glorious re-issue from 1980, pianist Hal Galper reminds us why this release is worthy of hearing again and again. His guitarist is a young fellow named John Scofield, whose ability is well on its way to what would ultimately make him a jazz legend. Galper’s piano runs are full of fire and fury, and he and Scofield are perfect musical foils for one another. Scofield has turned his guitar’s “tone” knob back a bit, unselfishly leaving room on the top end for the keyboard while the guitar runs roughshod through the middle. The two are unafraid to push the musical envelope because they know the rhythm section of Wayne Dockery (bass) and Adam Nussbaum (drums) will be right there to receive them when the lead instruments reel themselves back in. “Rapunzel’s Luncheonette” is worth the price of admission. No doubt it burned the studio down when it was recorded 40 years ago, because the smoldering embers remain to this day. A most rewarding listen.

ERIC JACOBSEN, Discover (Origin Records). Come on in! The club is open for business! Have a seat one of the tables. The cocktail waitress will be with your shortly. Heads are bobbing and feet are tapping thanks to the swinging jazz of the Eric Jacobsen Quintet. The trumpeter is leading his top-shelf band through delightful post-bop changes that sound both fresh and like they are of another era. The band moves gracefully through its set as though they’re playing on the Village Vanguard’s bandstand. Geof Bradfield’s tenor saxophone and Bruce Barth’s piano offer up complimentary leads while bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer George Flaudas hold down the groove. This album is a modern throwback to the golden age of post-bop. Tip a glass and enjoy.

MATA ATLANTICA, Retiro e Ritmo (7D Media). Fusion redefined to near perfection. Mata Antlantica has wonderfully fused elements of soundscapes, World music, exotic bass lines, and haunting vocals to produce a sound that sets itself apart from anything else out there. The cavalcade of talent most frequently associated with progressive rock — among them Markus Reuter, Gary Husband, Tobias Reber, and Pat Mastelotto — do what they do best: they share their talents with the overall mix while not dominating it, giving us a nice smooth balance. Bassist Raphael Preuschl performs bass parts that twist the fingers of mere mortals, while the sweeping voices of Charlotte Pelgen, Zoey Grey, and others give the music a most exotic flavor. This music is not aimed for any single genre, which helps toward making it a fine listen for anyone willing to give it a go. A fine work of art.


Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (cirdecsongs) My book, I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This: A Lifetime of Music Through Eclectic Ears, is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine book dealers. I’m currently working on my next book, The Wizard of WOO: The Life and Music of Bernie Worrell.

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