Sound Recordings

hamiltonHarry Allen & Scott Hamilton
‘Round Midnight
Challenge (dist. Allegro)
CR73348

The jazz scene is always looking for something new–arguably, that’s programmed into the DNA of jazz players. And when something new comes along it can be both exciting and rewarding, and in a few very special cases the new thing can result in a whole new avenue of musical exploration and discovery that stretches out for years, at which point it becomes easy to get caught up in it and forget where you came from. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that. But sometimes, if you’re lucky and maybe a little bit thoughtful, you retrace your steps and remind yourself what it was that started you out on that path of discovery to begin with–and maybe, just maybe, you find that your appreciation of those origins has been enhanced by the road you’ve traveled down and that now you can approach the old stuff with new and more mature ears. Think about that while you listen to this marvelous album of standards (plus one Allen original), all played in a rock-solid straight-ahead style by a quintet co-led by tenor saxophonists Harry Allen and Scott Hamilton. The two have been musical friends since the late 1980s, when Hamilton took the younger Allen under his wing and gave him opportunities to break into the New York scene; Allen hasn’t needed such help for a very long time, but the two still have palpable chemistry, and their playing is brilliant. Notice in particular the joyful way they trade fours on the hard-swinging “Great Scott” (Allan’s tribute to Hamilton) and their soulful take on the album’s evergeeen title track, which ends up sounding as if it had written for paired tenors. Grade: A

picnicsImploded View
Picnic with Pylons
Psychonavigation (dist. Darla)
PSY056

Imploded View is the nom de guerre of Irish musician Jerome McCormick, about whom I’ve been able to find out very little except that he favors the use of old and outdated technology in the creation of his sometimes-ambient, sometimes beat-driven compositions. Everything on his debut album has a more or less dreamy feel to it, but there’s a definite funkiness to the proceedings as well and even some humor. Half the fun of listening to this album is playing spot-the-sound-source: are those really distorted human voices floundering in the sonic murk of “That’s Thrift”? And is “Boring Robot” powered by an ancient Casiotone keyboard, or by some digital approximation of one? Some of these tracks feel slightly underrealized, but all of them are interesting and well worth hearing, and at its best (for example, the subtly jungly “Through Those Oceans”) the album surprises and delights in equal measure. Grade: B

eivindEivind Aarset
Dream Logic
ECM
B0017679-2

I have to admit it: I’m a sucker for any album that lists a dictaphone among the instruments used during the recording process. So here’s the thing about guitarist Eivind Aarset: he’s one of those guitarists who seems interested in doing everything except make guitar-y noises. That orientation can be a recipe for disastrous, noisy self-indulgence, or it can be the springboard to a completely different (and thoroughly rewarding) kind of music. For Aarset, it’s the latter. On this album he is accompanied by sample-manipulator and computer programmer Jan Bang (the one credited with playing the dictaphone), and the two of them create what can only be called dreamscapes: at any given moment it’s impossible to tell for certain how any particular sound is being made–though I’m willing to bet a small amount of money that what sounds like a marimba at the beginning of “Jukal (Sea of Trees)” is really Aarset’s guitar–and there is very rarely anything going on that can reasonably be described as a melody. And yet the layers of sound, both pitched and unpitched, and the slow eruptions of subdued noise are never less than capivating. I don’t know how these guys do it; I only know that it’s going to stay on heavy rotation on my stereo. Grade: A+

balkanRobert Soko
Balkan Beats Soundlab
Piranha
CD-PIR-2649

I know that all the hip kids are really into the whole Balkan brass band thing, and honestly, I’ve tried. I do get it, at least in theory: the massed horns, the vinegary harmonies, the high-energy modal melodies, right right right. Indeed, it’s all very exciting. But for whatever reason, it’s never spoken to me. So I approached this fusion of Balkan sounds and dancehall electro with real trepidation, but open-minded and hopeful that the breakbeats would be funky enough, the turntablism virtuosic enough, and the production effects sufficiently dubwise to catch and hold my attention. And if, by the end of it, I wasn’t exactly entranced, I wasn’t exactly disappointed either. By staying focused like a laser on the dancefloor and sticking strictly to what has demonstrably worked in the clubs he DJs for, Boko has created a powerful distillation of disparate elements: the house-derived “Balkan Bettie” by Tommy Dollar is like a brightly-colored dance music cartoon, the Boban Markovic Orchestra’s “Go Marko Go” comes across as a kind of rubbery, klezmery ska, and Los Colorados’ rendition of the old Reel 2 Reel song “I Like to Move It” (made famous among the under-12 set when it was centrally featured in the movie Madagascar) is hilarious. Overall, the album really is a winner, and will probably appeal greatly to those who have the head start of an already-established love for Balkan brass. Grade: B+

– Rick Anderson

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