CirdecSongs Rapid-Fire Record Reviews (2023, vol. 2)

MASON RAZAVI, Six-String Standards (OA2 Records). In the spirit of Joe Pass, Stanley Jordan and the personal appreciation of Jimmy Van Heusen, guitarist Mason Razavi takes the spotlight alone and plays lovely renditions of jazz standards. His tone is rich and his touch is both delicate and percussive. He also moves that skillset between three different guitar styles, giving his voice a variety of flavors. Razavi gives the tunes the respect they have earned over the decades, but does so without resorting to clichés. Aspiring guitarist should take note of this player. They’re bound to learn something.

GRIFF PETERS, Canyons and Waves (Impropriety Records). Singer/songwriter Griff Peters relies on his rampant eclecticism to bring his album to life. At any given moment, one experiences rock, blues, roots, and even a little reggae springing forth from the speakers. The one constant is Peters’s voice, which is laid back and evenly paced, regardless of style. His guitar work is subtle but solid, and sounds best when he becomes part of a power trio with bassist Bryan Beller and drummer Joe Travers. There’s a deep sense of connection between Peters, the earth around him, and his music. He takes us on a journey well worth taking.

ANCHOR AND BURDEN, Kosmonautik Pilgrimage (MoonJune Records). Put on your helmets. The music within sounds a lot like the cover art. That may be a touch glib, but Anchor and Burden have created a soundtrack that puts the listener in the eye of an improvisational hurricane. The music is haunting. Sound seems to come from everywhere because … well, it IS coming from everywhere! Whether it’s the Touch Guitar S8s of Alexander Paul Dowerk and Markus Reuter, the keyboards of Bernhard Wostheinrich, or the drums of Asaf Sirkis, each member establishes his voice and has the others react to that voice where it’s needed. The improvs turn into musical suites that turn on a dime and require the deepest of focus in order to keep up. No one is playing anything that could be deemed as “traditional,” and that is in no way cause for alarm. What’s required here is the removal of expectation, an open mind, and the willingness to allow the band to go where they will. For the capable, the music will take care of itself.

CHRISTOPHER HALE, Ritual Diamonds (Earshift Music). An appropriately named album, as there are more than a few gems to be found. A unique mix of jazz and Asian cultures, Australian Christopher Hale uses his string skills (playing both several kinds of guitars and bass, among other things) to create tasty melodies while being augmented with a top-flight quintet using traditional jazz instrumentation and a duet using traditional Asian percussion. The sound is interesting from the get-go, making the blend sound as though it had been a musical Thing for decades. Perhaps it has. Regardless, this is an interesting way to explore the possibilities of music in general and jazz in particular. A great voyage for anyone seeking a change of pace. There’s definitely something in the water down under, because the most fascinating music is being created there.

ECHOTEST, Mount Si (Self-Released). Far be it from the dual bass and drums trio Echotest to let a little inconvenience like a pandemic prevent them from digging into the creation of their latest album, Mount Si. Now that they’re on their fourth release, bassists Julie Slick and Marco Machera have officially established a musical voice, and it’s a very good one, indeed. They’ve also nailed down a talented drummer in Alessandro Inolti. The album was assembled remotely in seven locations, but fits together like everyone was in the same room. Machero has found his singing voice, which blends nicely with dueling six-string (Slick) and five-string (Machera) basses. Inolti, meanwhile, plays a reverb-drenched drum kit, featuring highly musical but unobtrusive grooves and fills. The songs are highly accessible while everyone shows off their formidable chops. Each note fits without being showy or (as the haters like to say about progressive rock) pretentious. Albums like Mount Si make music’s future look quite bright.

RIVERSIDE, ID.Entity (InsideOut Music). Here’s living proof that “heavy” isn’t synonymous with “loud.” On this album, Riverside create some of the heaviest sounds while barely making it to the traditional “metal” volume level. In fact, the album starts out with an 80’s vibe to it before the band gradually makes its way back to the sounds they are most known for. There are more than a couple of great examples of tension and release during the proceedings, which keeps the listener shifting and on the edge of their seat. Riverside knows how to grab and hold their followers, which is exactly what they do on this album.

MANZANITA QUINTET, Osmosis (Origin Records) A real beauty! A nice bit of modern jazz that manages to adhere to the form without ever really trying to reach it in conventional fashion. It flirts with the avant-garde while still maintaining a solid sense of groove and melody. Trumpeter Josh D. Reed had a gorgeous tone with the flow of Freddie Hubbard. Peter Epstein’s sax is the ideal foil as it weaves in and out of the melody. Adam Benjamin’s keyboards are steady rhythmically and highly melodic. And the rhythm section of Hans Halt (bass) and Andrew Heglund (drums) are on top of the groove regardless of what’s happening around them. The tunes are tastefully played and quite pleasant to the ears. The Mazanita Quintet is well worth your listening time.

U2, Songs of Surrender (Island Records). With bassist Adam Clayton off making a movie and drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. dealing with injuries leaving him unable to perform, U2 vocalist Bono and guitarist The Edge used their Covid lockdown time to revisit and strip down 40 (to match the anniversary of their first album) of the band’s songs for re-recording. So the band finally decided to make an Unplugged album? Not exactly. The old saying tells us that the quality of a song can be determined by our ability to hear it played solely on an acoustic guitar. Is that true here? Well, there’s nothing “bad” about what’s happening on Songs of Surrender, but it’s easy to see why these songs worked even better when the band was plugged in and going full throttle. Bono’s voice is at the very front of the mix, as usual. But the new arrangements (which sometimes include a string section) make that positioning more noticeable than ever. Edge’s mostly effects-free guitar work is solid and does a nice job of guiding the music where it needs to go. U2 detractors probably won’t find themselves suddenly on board with the band and its output, but longtime fans will no doubt appreciate hearing the songs they know and love approached from a different angle. Funny thing … it’s hard to stop playing this set once you get started. That seems like a good sign.

STS9, WAKAAN Mixtape (Live), (WAKAAN). If post-electronica ever becomes a Thing, Sound Tribe Sector 9 will be at its forefront. This band is all about the groove. Melody is present, but it doesn’t always feel necessary. There’s nothing complicated going on here, which works just fine for those who want to simply sway and take in the pretty stage lights. While the tracks were recorded live during the WAKAAN Music Festival the audience has been mixed out. More than a couple of tracks have a feel that would’ve been right at home on a Parliament-Funkadelic record. Most of the grooves have bassist Alana Rocklin as the point of origin, while the rest of the band swirls around what’s being laid down in front of them. While there’s nothing revolutionary happening, more often than not the groove is more than sufficient to keep things moving.

LONDON BREW, London Brew (Downtown Music UK, Ltd). A shade more than half a century removed from the landmark Miles Davis release Bitches Brew, 12 London-based jazz-oriented musicians have banded together to create London Brew. The self-titled release recaptures the spirit of an album that tore the music (not just jazz) world asunder when it was released in 1970. The band contains contemporary stalwarts like saxophonists Nubya Garcia and Shabaka Hutchings, Theon Cross (tuba), Dan See (drums) and keyboardist Nick Ramm. What starts out chaotic becomes lyrical, much like the album’s inspiration. And like Bitches Brew, the reward from this album comes from repeated listens and focusing on elements from each song to follow and explore. Sometimes the best music puts us back on our heels and makes us battle to re-establish our balance. London Brew is just that kind of record. A seatbelt might be necessary!


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