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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Microscopic Septet - Been Up So Long It Looks Like Down to Me: The Micros Play the Blues


It has been a good while and a few years or so since I’ve done a Jazz album review for my blogsite, Music from the Other Side of the Room. My re-introduction to the world of the genre came when I was back in Houston Community College as a musician/student 12 years ago when I moved away from filmmaking into Jazz studies and discovered the true geniuses of Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and John Coltrane. And the rest is history. I still admire real good Jazz. And I'll stand by to that term until the day I die. It wasn’t until after I had graduated I stood upon the music of The Microscopic Septet.

Since their formation 37 years ago they have been one of the most iconoclastic and innovative Jazz groups I’ve listened to. I remember the summer of that year in 2014 and going to Wayside Music and buying one of their albums online which was Manhattan Moonrise. And I was hooked. This was going back into the mid-to-late 1950s of the cats from New York and performing in the style of what it was back during that time period.

They released the first four albums from 1983 to 1988 whilst touring and recording before calling it a day in 1992. It wasn’t until 11 years ago they reformed again when their previous work on a 2-CD volume set entitled, Seven Men in Neckties and Surrealistic Swing which were reissued by Cuneiform Records which included an early recording of alto saxophonist and founder of Tzadik Records, John Zorn. I knew right away I had to jump on the train of the Septet’s music and not to mention they are widely known for their theme song to NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

This year, they have released their new album entitled, Been Up So Long It Looks Like Down to Me: The Micros Play the Blues. The name is a pun of the Richard Farina 1966 novel as co-leader Philip Johnston and Joel Forrester mentions that it speaks to the essential optimism of the music of the Micros’ sound. The optimism is showing the concepts of blues, joy, rebellion, whole-hearted, and as Philip describes it as boisterous eroticism.

I have to admit with that last quote, they have some good humor in them and I admire that idea. And believe me, putting the sound of the blues underneath the microscope, it is a surreal, mind-blowing, strange, and revolutionary release that I have listened to. And I enjoyed every moment of it.  Few of the centerpieces on here, just made me smile and knowing that they have brought it back to give the genre of Jazz music, a real kick in the gut.

Dark Blue begins with string bassist David Hofstra and Richard Dworkin’s drums followed by Joel’s piano work, slowed down walking rhythm as the horn section comes through. It reminded me of the 1958 jazz standard, Centerpiece. And thanks to the saxophones, they take turns through throughout the bars before call and response section.

Don’t Mind If I Do and Quizzical has the people heading down the dance floor and doing both tap dancing and the jitterbug with both the Monk-sque and 1930s swing vibe while the opener, Cat Toys inspired by the Hammond B-3 driven soul jazz and originally written for a short film about a dwelling space alien looking for a taste for (you guessed it) felines. Johnston brings you toward as a listener to the midnight showings either on a Friday and Saturday night for this strange creature from creature and his bizarre obsession of the cats.

The 14-bar Blues Cubistico sees all four of the sax’s alto, baritone, soprano, and tenor including Dave Sewelson bring the herculean works on his solo through his baritone improvisations. He just brings the house down through that section as the band watch him to see what will happen next. It shows that the Septet are a band of brothers, and they work as a team and just let Dave go and lets him know when they are coming back into the head.

They launched a campaign on Kickstarter last year in which they did on their previous album, Manhattan Moonrise where 91 backers pledged $9,515 for the band to record the follow up and it was a success. For me, I had a real good time listening to The Microscopic Septet’s new album. And I need to continue their journey to see what I was missing from their previous work in the early 1980s and with their Cuneiform releases also.

If you love the styles of the Blues, Jazz, and Swing, I recommend Been Up So Long It Looks Like Down to Me: The Micros Play the Blues. You will not be disappointed to see and understand real good jazz music like nothing you’ve ever heard. And in the words of the late great Harvey Pekar, “Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Orange Clocks - Tope's Sphere 2


In 1973, Tomska R. Huntley created this concept that was destined for German TV which was Tope’s Sphere. The original idea was to be a groundbreaking animated series with a live soundtrack by UK/German super group, Klementine Uhren. It was supposed to feature Tope, the knitted-monkey protagonist and Chode, his sidekick to go on an outer space adventure with a psychedelic rock score.

It feels very much like when I was a kid waking up to some of my favorite Saturday Morning cartoons back in the old days of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s whether it was the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Sonic the Hedgehog, Spider-Man, X-Men, or Batman: The Animated Series. But back to the story, it seemed like a very interesting concept, but then it didn’t happen.

What happened was both Tomska and the group weren’t too happy with the final mixes and it disappeared promptly. Tomska’s dream was shattered and he was bankrupt. He dumped what was left of Tope’s Sphere and vanished into the Himalayan Mountains. It seemed like it would never see the light of day……until 44 years later, the Bad Elephant Music label decided to bring the concept to life set in an audio-space rock narrative adventure.

Russ Russell enlisted the band called Orange Clocks to re-imagine the soundtrack, parts of the script and what was left of the stage props, video tape, and the abandoned series to a new life for the 21st century while bringing Tomska’s vision back to life. Martin Winsley does an incredible job as the narrator as he resembles the wackiness between Stan “The Man” Lee, Gong’s Daevid Allen, and Peter Jones who did the narration for the BBC TV adaptation and the radio series of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

It is a Space-Rock, Psychedelic swirling adventure of Tope and Chode’s story and close your eyes and imagine as a young man waking up early in the morning as I’ve mentioned for one of your favorite Saturday morning series to record it on your VCR. Ambush is done in the styles of Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come’s Galactic Zoo Dossier-era featuring some screaming effects done in the style of an early Roger Waters Pow R, Toc H.

Fun in the Stars has these space-out riffs, leading freak-out work as Tode is cackling and heading for some excitement with Chode into the solar system while he bravely takes on the challenge to save his friend with a ‘60s psych beatle-sque intro before riding into a powerful roar with the Trouble with Chode. Then, everything becomes a dangerous idea for Tode with the Magical Fields with its Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy Elton John session meets the music of a pre-Dark Side-era of Pink Floyd.

With lead guitars and it swirls into a great climax before Tope is ready for the challenge for the Big Track. I love the swirling space-rock dazzle on here and then its rising climax when he crashes down gets the drums, lead guitar, and vocalizations up for action and knowing he’s on his way to save Chode as Stromp’s Stomp brings to mind the glory days of the ‘70s Glam Rock-era.

I had an amazing blast over and over again listening Tope’s Sphere 2 by Orange Clocks. It brought back memories as a kid listening to those Disney audio adventures of Dick Tracy and The Rocketeer with the 3D Comic Books that go with the story. Bad Elephant Music has never done me wrong when it comes to amazing releases and I hope they will continue to do more this year.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Lethe - The First Corpse on the Moon


It’s been a good while since I’ve done a review on the My Kingdom Music label. So it’s a good idea to see what I’ve been missing. One of them is an avant-duo called, Lethe. They have formed five years ago and they have unleashed their second album, The First Corpse on the Moon. According to Tor-Helge Skei, it is a snapshot in time. It’s this cross between electronic, avant-garde, metal, experimental, and pop featuring six session musicians to be backed up. There isn’t any rules, expectations, or compromises, but here, it is a very interesting album I’ve listened to.

I’ve mentioned the genres in there, but also there’s a touch of a metallic-electronica yet trip-hop adventure that Tor-Helge and Anna Murphy delve into the waters between each other. I have to admit, I’m not crazy about the music, but the duo themselves are intriguing and create the darkness and eerie scenarios they have shown that space has no place to go and nowhere to go home.

Around the five highlights on here, it’s quite obvious that Lethe are taking the listeners beyond the stratosphere of loneliness, insanity, somber, and far-out journeys that you’ve never heard before. Inexorbitant Future starts with these eerie whispers along with ambient sounds, minor piano chords, and Tor’s vocals gives you a chance that his character in the song is scared and knowing that his time has come.

With its trip-hop electronic drum kit sample, Anna comes through the support level to help through Tor’s lyrics. My Doom is where New Wave, Thrash Metal, and Post-Rock are combined into one. With ‘80s keyboards, distorted guitars/heavy riffs, it is a Thrash-Electronic/Goth Rock style that I’ve never expected! It’s almost as if the Crack the Skye-era of Mastodon were cooking BBQ with the Sorcerer-era of Tangerine Dream, Devo, and the early sounds of The Cure.

Teaching Birds How to Fly has this interesting introduction with Morse Code signals from the machine like ARS synths that the bass, guitar, chords, and rapid rhythmic beats with pummeling drums ascends the trip to the trees of hope. The alternative/gothic beauty of Wind To Five feels like an orchestral ride into the night with a trippy midsection groove.

It almost reminded me of the final fourth movement of Fire! Orchestra’s Enter. It is innovative at times combining these ingredients of Metal, Electronic, and Jazz vocalizations by Anna and Tor. And then we go into the closer of Exorcism. We are almost inside of a mental patient’s mind as Anna’s chilling vocals sends a chill down to the spine of goosebumps that is waiting to happen.

There’s some eerie atmospheres on the sax and horn sections as the ending goes through this electronic haywire effect as the piano sets the dooming finale. This is an album that may not be your cup of coffee, but the duo musicians have shown a lot of ideas and lot of conceptual moments of being lost in space and never coming back.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Horisont - About Time


Horisont are one of the most amazing bands I’ve listened to. Since forming 11 years ago in their hometown in Sweden and with four albums in the can, the quintet bring the essence of Hard Rock and Progressive influences right into the bone. When it was announced last year that they were signed to a new label with Century Media Records, I knew right away I couldn’t wait what they would do next since I was blown away by their previous album, Odyssey. This year, they’ve released their fifth album entitled, About Time.

It is a sci-fi adventure into time with Space, Metal, and Prog textures with the ‘70s rocking voyage to hurtle through the outer limits. And while the cover resembles between EC Comics of Weird Fantasy, Weird Science, and Tales from the Crypt along with magazine sci-fi covers from the 1950s, it quite obvious they know their inspirations when it comes to be launched inside the ship and getting ready for take-off.

I’ve always wanted to check out Horisont’s music for a good, good while since they were on Lee Dorrian’s label Rise Above Records during that time frame and I forgotten about them until three years ago I bought Odyssey and then I was completely hooked. About Time can do no wrong in my book and it takes on a whole other level with a brilliant and light-speed alchemy space-metal-prog voyage and it is fucking amazing!

Horisont’s music is never retro, nor nostalgic, they have their own sound and they want to honor and stay true to their roots and they are a band I’ve waited for many years to delve into my entire life. And the six highlights on the album prove that they are waiting for the listener (meaning you) to embark on a travelling journey through time, space, and parallel universes.

Point of Return features powerful riffs, galloping mid-tempo waltzes in the rhythm and not to mention an eruptive sound at times in the introduction and in the song that gives them a brilliant take of Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies-era as it segues into Boston Gold. With its AOR and Prog-Rock vibes, the vocals and sound bring the vibe of the mid-1970s.

Epic roaring guitars and the story featuring the synths going around the piece deals with the story of the enemy coming for your life and trying to survive. On Hungry Love, the vocals bring to mind of a young Rob Halford hitting those high notes as Moogy mid-sections and lead improvisations hurl through the cosmic insanity while Letare which is sung in Swedish, stands on its own.

Electrical which I hope is going to be a live favorite, stands out as one of the highpoints. You have the lyrics set in a cyber-futuristic world as the sound becomes a revving, mid-tempo, and militant driving force followed by some kick-ass drum work. I have to say, they got it down on a piece of paper and know exactly where they will go.

The closing title track, has these bluesy, soothing, and haunting track as we head back into the time machine to be ready to head back home. You have the Bass, Electric Piano, Drums, and major and minor chords it is a space-rock surrounding voyage to set course for home as we hear the radio serial of Escape recorded on October 22, 1950 of their take of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine which starred John Dehner and Lawrence Dobkin. The music near the end syncs well to add the tension in the sequence as the machine is ready to head into 100,000,80 A.D.

I had an amazing blast listening to Horisont’s new album. The new album is an adventure worth checking out and you will not be disappointed. They are bringing real good music back to the core on how it’s supposed to sound and it has my stamp of approval. Prepare for the journey with Horisont’s About Time.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Richard Barbieri - Planets + Persona


When I think of an artist like Richard Barbieri, I always remind myself of his work between Japan, his collaboration with Marillion’s Steve Hogarth with the 2012 release of Not the Weapon But the Hand, and Porcupine Tree. He has released two solo albums from 2005 to 2008. What Barbieri is doing is not being flashy, but create these electronic voyages and bringing the future to us through his keyboard playing and deciding what will happen next.

This year, he has released his third solo album on the Kscope label entitled, Planets + Persona. He’s recorded the album in London, Sweden, and Italy. The title comes from central themes between contrasts and shape shifting sounds. Everything on here resembles; World Music, Far-Out Space, Jazz, Classical Guitar, German Electronic Music of the 1970s, Post-Punk/New Wave, Radiohead, and David Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy.

Richard creates this gigantic long road that he built from scratch. It goes from a grassy meadow into a mansion-like steampunk house that looks very much inside of a Rubik’s cube with puzzling technology that is far beyond what the future will have in store for us in the 21st and the 22nd century. And then taking us into far, far away planets and dreamlike atmospheres.

He brought along some guests to help out including; Percy Jones and Axel Crone on Bass Guitars, Kjell Severinsson on Drums, Luca Calabrese on Trumpet, Lisen Rylander Love on Vocals, Sound Design, Ominchord, and Sax, Klas Assarsson on Vibraphone, Grice Peters on Kora, and Christian Saggese on Acoustic Guitar. The sonic experimental vibrations give an affectional blessing that Barbieri has given to us.

What Richard is doing, is not just giving Planets + Persona an amazing album, but a spell binding release. As I’ve mentioned earlier with the genres, he brings it all to the listener to embark on a strange, surreal, and a cosmic journey beyond space and time. For example with Solar Sea, the last 2-minutes of the opening track after the first six minutes of setting for lift-off, mid-blaring Trumpets, electronica grooves, and surreal vocalizations, it changes into a reminiscent of Klaus Schulze’s Irrlicht-era in which he takes us deep, deeper into the ocean for ominous piano chords and eerie orchestral scratches to fill the time that sends a chilling atmosphere.

The 10-minute piece, Night of the Hunter which takes its name and inspired by Charles Laughton’s 1955 film classic. The only film he’s ever directed. With this three-part movement of the composition, he creates these textures as if he was writing an alternate score for the film. You have the first section of Summer which starts for the morning to rise featuring classical guitars, piano’s going through a Leslie speaker, effects, and strings waiting for the sun to come up to begin a new day, but it’s too late.

Everything turns into a dystopian nightmare with Shake Hands with Danger. You can feel the eruption through the dooming bass, vocalizing moments, and electronic trip-hop drum beats including the line spoken and knowing that this is not the dream you’ve expected from Big Brother and knowing that he’s watching every sense and step you make.

The last section, Innocence Lost, is a chilling scenario. With alarming jazz sections between the Sax, Trumpet, and Drums, it closes the piece with reverb effects done in the style between Miles Davis and King Crimson’s Bitches Brew and Lizard period that made the rest of my arm hairs going up.

The album gets better and better each time I would delve into Barbieri’s conceptual ideas. One of them is Shafts of Light. It is Richard combining both electronic, minimal, and classical music into a gigantic circle. There are elements between Philip Glass’ Music in 12 Parts and Terry Riley’s A Rainbow in Curved Air. I love how he would sandwich the sounds between Saggese’s acoustic guitar, musique-concrete moments, and vocals which he had put together by making this puzzle and making sure they match well to the piece.

And it does. Mind you this is not an easy album to listen to, but what Richard has done is to creating a mysterious doorway to the sounds and shifting moments that will chill you to the bone. This has everything on here as I’ve mentioned earlier of the genres it brings to mind. So if you are ready for the sounds of electronica, jazz, classical, and experimental music, then prepare to climb aboard the shuttle to the sounds of Planets + Persona.