Saturday, February 07, 2009

Playing This Weekend in the Kevmobile

I've been so caught up in ranting about various actions of the government lately that I've sort of forgotten to blog about music very often. But since I've had a chance to catch up on Down Beat Magazine recently, I've been able to discover a couple of new artists recently and thanks to my eMusic subscription, I've been able to own a lot of them fairly quickly. Here are some of the highlights of my recent acquisitions:
  • The Claudia Quintet, For and Semi-Formal (both on Cuneiform). This group is the brainchild of the highly creative percussionist/composer John Hollenbeck, and he's joined by longtime cohorts Drew Gress (bass), Matt Moran (vibes), Ted Reichman (accordion) and Chris Speed (clarinet and tenor sax). The palette of unusual sounds keeps a high level of interest going throughout each of these sets, the former from last year and the latter from 2005 (I especially enjoy the tunes where the front line consists of clarinet and vibes). Musically, Hollenbeck's compositions are all over the map--everything from funk to minimalism, as well as a few unusual touches (a mash-up of "Rainy Days and Mondays" with "The Peanut Vendor" on For, and something called "Kord," which consists of a single chord repeatedly struck with one note added or subtracted each time, on Semi-Formal). The musicianship is outstanding throughout both albums (underpinned by Hollenbeck's tasty drumming, and though it's not necessarily easy to get the recordings (only For was on eMusic, while Semi-Formal can be bought from Amazon Downloads), I'm sure I'll be buying up their back catalog--for a good price, mind you--from Hollenbeck's website. I can totally see this becoming one of my favorite groups, and Hollenbeck one of my favorite composers (the Down Beat critics agreed, giving Hollenbeck "Rising Star" awards in the Composer and Arranger categories; the Claudia Quintet garnered a similar award in the Jazz Group area.

  • Exploding Star Orchestra: We Are All From Somewhere Else (Thrill Jockey). Chicago composer and cornetist Rob Mazurek leads a 14-piece ensemble through a set that ranges from fairly traditional modern big band writing (with cool textures such as flute, vibes and strings) to spacey computer and keyboard effects and free-jazz sections. This album consists of two suites, "Sting Ray and the Beginning of Time" and "Cosmic Tunes for Sleep Walking Lovers," separated by an interlude, "Black Sun," and followed by a finale, "Dark Water." The subtitle of Part 3 of "Sting Ray" references electric eels, which evidently were used in the recording, and Part 3 of "Cosmic Tunes" features a nod to "All Blues." Much of the music is through-composed, though solos are heard from flutist Nicole MItchell and guitarist Jeff Parker (from the experimental Chicago band Tortoise), among others.

  • Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: Winterwood (self-produced?). I got to see the JFJO for the first time a few weeks ago (and blogged about it here), and since then, I've managed to get four of their CDs, including this one, which is available at the moment as a free download at their website. It's more acoustic than some of the group's recent fare, and it also marks the final work of Reed Mathis before he departed the group last year. The presence of instruments such as banjo, dobro and thumb piano even emit a country vibe sometimes, but it's all over the map stylewise, and I mean that in the best possible way (indeed, the album is dubbed "genreless" in iTunes' genre column). Besides originals from Mathis and keyboardist/de facto leader Brian Haas, writing credits go to the likes of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Jerry Garcia. The opener, "Dove's Army of Love," is remarkably catchy; I found myself hitting the back button in the car to hear it again and again.
I'll try to continue to do posts like this as I discover new (or at least new to me) groups, because I've run across some very cool stuff lately.

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