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Prem's Faves for 2005
{no particular order}
KUSF San Francisco, 90.3 FM
Band/Artist Release Record Label Prem's Spew
Navid Afghah Genesis Hermes Records an impressive new application of an ancient percussion instrument of Iran and the Middle East--the tombak; Afghah employs many tombaks at once to create dense, dark atmospheres of thunderous rolls and rain-like patter as well as more percussive riffs and motifs with accentuating shrieks and creaks, making this album extremely dark and quite don't expect to experience herein some kind of friendly folksiness, or you'll find yourself shivering with anxiety [2003 release]
Scott Amendola Band Believe Cryptogramophone Amendola adopts a heavier approach on this release than on his last, integrating a second electric guitarist (Jeff Parker of Chicago Underground/Tortoise) on the right channel to complement (guitarist) Nels Cline on the left, and interweaving the creativity of violinist Jenny Scheinman into the flow to act as a counterbalance as Amendola and acoustic bassist John Shifflett provide an ever-shifting yet reflective rhythm section that's integral to each piece's development; the material featured here veers into and out of phases of jazziness, loominess, experimentation (involving Amendola's forays into electronic loop accentuation/effects), noise, funkiness, and quirkiness--yet always maintains an air of tastefulness
The BellRays The Red, White & Black Alternative Tentacles the power assault vocals of Lisa Kekaula once again rip to shreds preconceived notions of inherent divisions between soul and punk rock, while the cranking electric bass and guitar of Bob Vennum and Tony Fate and the rockin' drums of new percussionist Eric Allgood provide the stomp'n'grind; a few tracks seem to deviate from the norm for some improvised eruptions, but don't let them fool you--it's all rock'n'roll [2004 release]
Debashish Bhattacharya Calcutta Slide-Guitar 3 Riverboat Records Bhattacharya (who began his musical education at the age of three and became a student of Indian-style guitar pioneer Brij Bhushan Kabra) adapts the slide steel guitar to gamaka--or the pronounced bends of pitch characteristic of Indian music--and has constructed two guitars with sympathetic strings to create harmonic resonance similar to that of the Indian lutes such as the sitar and veena and drone strings to approximate the tamboura; the first raga featured on this release (which Bhattacharya performs on the slide ukulele) reflects a sense of innocence, while the other ragas featuring the 22- and 14-string slide steel guitars alternate between reserved and frenetic, featuring tabla accompaniment during the rhythmic phases
CKW Trio The Is Black Hat Records explorations of sonic textures and non-Western music styles in the context of jazz and chamber music, the compositions on this release incorporate elements of blues, Indian music, circus music, and a variety of other forms into sprightly concoctions of sound featuring Michael Cooke on woodwinds (saxes, flute, clarinets, bassoon) and percussion, Alex Kelly on cello and bouzouki (a lute heard in Greek music, directly related to Middle Eastern lutes), and Andrew Wilshusen on drums, tablas, and other percussion; often quirky, sometimes meek, sometimes foreboding, and always engaging, each track synthesizes numerous ideas and directions into a cohesive precipitate [2004 release]
Clarinet Thing Agony Pipes and Misery Sticks BC Records few recording ensembles today focus specifically upon the clarinet family of instruments, and fewer still manage to pull off performances as sophisticatedly whimsical or as goofily cerebral as those of Clarinet Thing--a quintet led by Beth Custer featuring Ralph Carney, Ben Goldberg, Sheldon Brown, and Peter Josheff for this recording playing the E flat, B flat, alto, bass, contralto, and contrabass clarinets in a variety of combinations; Ralph Carney's contrabass clarinet offerings add a decidedly mischievous feel to many of the tracks included here, with well-timed squawks and blats on the more jovial pieces or sinister drones on those of a less-friendly disposition, while the other players contribute a myriad of toots, trills, honks, blorts, crescendi, and decrescendi to fill in all the conceivable gaps in a varied selection of compositions and arrangements by Custer, Brown, Goldberg, Duke Ellington, Kurt Weill, and others
Thomas Dimuzio Slew Gench Music/Recommended Records (ReR) a collection of tracks Dimuzio previously released on compilation albums from the period of 1990-2004--most of which are now impossible to find (with two previously unreleased tracks)--Slew dishes out material on which Dimuzio deconstructs the sounds generated by a variety of sources (Tom Cora's cello, a grand piano, white noise, a clarinet, electric guitar, sine waves, feedback, an Elvis impersonator, shortwave, voices, a junkyard, and more) and reorients them into nearly unrecognizable new forms, many of which reflect a lurking sense of dread buried beneath a panoply of technology; ominous drones collide with convulsive splatters of sound in a fashion which leaves you curious as to just what's coming next, but uncertain as to whether you'll be able to handle it [2004 release]
Gogol Bordello Gypsy Punks Underdog World Strike Side One Dummy a stompingly raucous good time that's just what it says it is and more--punk rock with a heavy Gypsy influence (accordion, fiddle, more), but also featuring elements of dub reggae and flamenco--and sung not only in English and Ukrainian but Spanish and Italian as well (surprise!!!); all of the tracks featured here keep the listener's wheels turning by diverging into genres and soundscapes that one might never expect to find in an offering of this kind, arranged so powerfully that everything fits together magically without ever sounding contrived or artificial...yet it still manages to spit on your shoes
The Jack Saints Rock and Roll Saved Our Lives...But Now It's Trying to Kill Us! Scarey Records the first new full-length release from The Jack Saints in five years features new drummer Bill Randt (formerly of the New Bomb Turks) taking over the drum throne from Regal Pirate, as well as veterans Nick Nava and Mike Desert--the three together kickin' up some dust with heavy barrages of garage punk rock brimming with edgy guitar, blitzkrieg bass, pounding drums, and screaming vocals; there's no glam to be had here, no pretensiousness, and no pop posturing (if that's what you seek, then cue up some Green Day and sip some Kool-Aid)...though you'll find hidden covers of Salba's "Kings of Trash" and Warren Z's "Even a Dog Can Shake Hands"
Jeff Kaiser Ockodektet|Kaiser/Diaz-Infante Sextet The Alchemical Mass|Suite Solutio pfMENTUM the first of these two suites (which clocks in at over 34 minutes long and was recorded in a church) brings together agitated brass, woodwind, and percussion sections with piano, acoustic bass, prepared acoustic guitar, and a classical chorus (The Ojai Camerata) of male and female vocalists--and all elements vie for dominance in the resulting melee of sound with a delightfully fascinating outcome--sounding balanced at times and completely off-kilter at others, while the second suite (over 19 minutes long) has a more improvised feel with phases of harshness, darkness, introspection, chaos, jazziness, and percussiveness and features brass, prepared acoustic guitar, acoustic bass, and percussion; musicians other than Kaiser and Ernesto Diaz-Infante featured on these recordings include Vinny Golia, Brad Dutz, and many others [2004 release]
Kronos Quartet/Franghiz Ali-Zadeh Mugam Sayagi: Music of Franghiz Ali-Zadeh Nonesuch the mood of Ali-Zadeh's compositions fluctuates considerably in each piece, from a bold sense of urgency (as reflected in the forceful, sonorous string quartet passages and lower-register piano flurries, among other things) to the lurking dread of trepidation (audible in the nervous whispering of voices, the ominous dripping of water, and the shy pizzicato plucking of the strings in the higher range of the violins/viola/cello and sometimes the piano strings as well); these pieces incorporate the scalar structures of Azerbaijani music, specifically of the mugam form, structures which lend themselves here to fascinating contrapuntal applications written for either the accompaniment of Kronos Quartet to Ali-Zadeh, her solo piano performance, or for Kronos Quartet alone, although these were not originally intended for harmonically elaborate composition
Alireza Mortazavi Now & Then Hermes Records Alireza Mortazavi's mastery of the santur shines on this recording as the hammers dance gracefully and passionately across the strings of this hammered-dulcimer instrument of Iran and the surrounding areas, creating elegant cascades of pitches in a hybrid of Persian and Western European music forms; one of the two tracks (each quite long) featured on this release features the santur solo in a melancholy soliloquy, while the other track features a more aggressively rhythmic performance integrating the talents of Mohammad Reza Mortazavi (Alireza's brother) on the tombak, a regional hand drum, as he creates sophisticated rhythms and a myriad of textures utilizing finger rolls and pitch-altering inflections of the drum head [2004 release]
The New York Rel-X No Way Out (7") TKO Records just two tracks of heavily rockin' punkish rock from these ladies, the first of which ("No Way Out") can also be found on the band's CD "Sold Out of Love" and the second of which ("Summer of '81") is a non-album B-side; No Way Out features energetic backing choruses to temper the punk energy, while Summer of '81 starts out with a very eerie feel with just vocal tones and kick drum before roaring to life and pounding you senseless
pexbaA pexbaA Amplitude Records "kooky" best describes the curious offering from this Brazilian band, a band whose members have made up a language of their own, a mysterious tongue in which to sing the lyrics of the tunes on this release; tracks feature elements of jazz, rock, flamenco, and more and engage you with their dramatic--one might even say epic--weirdness, as you listen to the bizarro vocalist's quiverry to whispery to blustery delivery, the trumpeter's whispy to blorty accentuation, the bassist's quirky lines, or any number of the myriad of grippingly goofy contributions from the rest of the band
Reel Change Open in Total Darkness|Reel Change Plays Soundtracks for Films by David Michalak Evander Music improvisational impressions of paintings, photographs, and films, these pieces fluctuate between concrete and ethereal, enlightening and haunting...each featuring collaborations of David Michalak (lap steel guitar, slit drum on one track), Andrew Voigt (flutes, saxophones, suling), Tom Nunn (home-made contraptions), Adam Hurst (cello), George Cremachschi (contrabass), Phillip Greenlief (saxophones, clarinet), and/or Joe Sabella (electronics) in intricately interlaced textures of sound; the bass flute plays a central role in several of the tracks featured here, sometimes complemented by the contrabass (violin)--a very spooky presence which directly influences all of the other instruments involved [2004 release]
Scavenger Quartet We Who Live on Land Acidsoxx Musicks a curious hybrid of old-timey flavors and avant-garde goofiness, this project of Frank Pahl involves everything from banjos, zithers, flutes, toy pianos, ukuleles, acoustic bass, drums, recorder, guitars, euphoniums, clarinet, farfisa organ, and saxophones to toys, whistles, sequenced doorbells, clocks, and a Fisher-Price popcorn popper; each of the fourteen tunes here features its own particular feel: loping, quirky, lethargic, chaotic, nutty...sometimes with a very peculiar time signature and some oddball vocals to boot--not in any way an unpleasant listening experience, but definitely one that's quite mind-warpingly fun
Patrick Cress' Telepathy Meditation, Realization Odd Shaped Case the quirky compositions of Patrick Cress (saxophones) and Aaron Novik (clarinets) dominate this recording, with David Arend (acoustic bass) and Tim Bulkley (percussion) providing the lively rhythms to fill out this quartet--which also features contributions from Dan Cantrell (accordion) and others; while there's a mixture of influences to be found here, from jazz to chamber ensemble to rock (one track, for instance, is a cover of Erik Satie's leisurely "Gymnopedie #1" while another is a cover of Blonde Redhead's "In Particular"), this ensemble seems to function more in accordance with the paradigms of jazz than with any others, with pieces that offer a great deal of variation in the form of complex rhythmic structures, syncopated melodies, and mutations in character--not just from one track to the next, but within the tracks themselves--to provide a challenging yet inspiring listening experience
Tenores de Bitti Caminos de Pache Felmay/Dunya this musical adventure brings us to the isle of Sardinia to partake of the vocal traditions of the a cappella Canto a Tenore, in this case pairing two tenor vocalists and two bass vocalists for a set of songs that brings to mind not only the operatic traditions of Italy, but also (surprisingly) the throat-singing traditions of Tuva (not a joke--listen to some of these tracks back to back with those of Huun-Huur-Tu and you'll be startled at how these two completely different cultures have simultaneously adopted such a peculiar vocal technique, often confering upon the tunes an almost gnome-like essence); while the majority of these heavily rhythmic songs adhere strictly to the a cappella format, a few also feature either the melodeon or the launeddas (an instrument sounding similar in some ways to an Arab horn or the Indian shehnai) as a counterbalance [2004 release]
Transmission Hollow Sea EP Odd Shaped Case Balkan-influenced jazz which varies in feel from bouncy to melancholy to ominous, incorporating some of the complex rhythm structures of Balkan music and transmogrifying them to fit the jazz context (the piece "Ten Years Later," for example, employs a 23-beat rhythm structure); this recording features Dan Cantrell on accordion, Colin Stetson on saxophones, Eric Perney on acoustic bass, Aaron Novik on clarinets, Tim Strand on drums, Ara Anderson on trumpet, and Roger Riedlbauer on electric guitar--a fairly large ensemble, but one whose members work remarkably well together without stepping on each others' toes, musically speaking, to create pieces which hold your attention consistently as they shift into and out of a variety of very different phases
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