New This Week: Bear in Heaven, Dr. John, Phronesis & More

J. Edward Keyes

By J. Edward Keyes

on 04.03.12 in Spotlights

Locked Down

Dr. John

Well, here we are. Another Tuesday, another batch of records. Let’s not waste any more time, shall we?

Lotus Plaza, Spooky Action at a Distance: More eerie, filmy, jangly pop music from Deerhunter’s Lockett Pundt. I never fully connected with his main gig, but this sounds great – spooky and lo-fi, the kind of thing that might have come out on Captured Tracks if it wasn’t for the high-wattage indie personality behind it. RECOMMENDED

Dr. John, Locked Down: I am pretty excited to spend more time with this, I can’t lie. Dr. John is a straight-up legend, and this batch of evil New Orleans brew benefited from some extra seasoning by the Black Keys Dan Auerbach (like how I did that?) Greasy good times, blasts of R&B horns and plenty of voodoo buried in the grooves. RECOMMENDED

Nicki Minaj, Roman Reloaded: Nicki Minaj’s mixtapes and early guest appearances were so batshit great, that her debut full-length seemed nearly guaranteed to disappoint. And guess what! I totally did. But now comes Pink Friday…Roman Reloaded which is weirder and more obstinate and just lets Nicki be Nicki, loosing her id and letting her wild personalities go bananas all over each of these songs. eMusic’s Christina Lee says:

On Roman Reloaded, Minaj turns her id loose again, squealing with childlike glee and chattering through a string of manic snap raps. In “Pound the Alarm,” her steely, commanding verse sets off an avalanche of what sounds like every LMFAO breakdown, ever. And for just a few seconds of “Come on a Cone,” she pauses from rattling on a dizzying list of career highs to warble, “Put my dick in your face.” Minaj leaps from devil-may-care smack talk (the careening “HOV Lane,” the yelping “Stupid Hoe”) to Europop hooks she could have pawned to Rihanna, if she wasn’t using them herself (“Automatic,” “Beautiful Sinner”).

High on Fire, De Vermis Mysteriis: YES! The return of everyone’s favorite stoner apocalyptic doom band. This is a concept record, and the concept is so good I don’t want to ruin it by prattling on, so I’m gonna let Jon Wiederhorn take it from here:

The story is as warped as [frontman Matt] Pike’s main inspirations — HP Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Robert E. Howard — revolving around Jesus’ twin brother who is put to death so his sibling can live as the purported son of God. But instead of going to heaven or hell or rotting underground, the second son becomes a time traveler who can only go forward until he discovers the “Serums of Liao” in the simultaneously unremitting and infectious title track, which allow him to zip back and examine the havoc his brother and his followers caused the world in the name of love and organized religion.

Johnny Cash, Bootleg IV: The Soul of Truth: This guy! The Man in Black strikes back. This is an expertly-curated collection of rare Cash gospel performances, some solo, some with friends and family. It’s a lot more uptempo and rousing than you might expect if you’re only familiar with the American series, but it’s just as much a part of Cash’s DNA. Maybe moreso. RECOMMENDED

Pussy Galore, Dial M for Motherfucker and Right Now!: Before he was in the Blues Explosion, Jon Spencer was burning down New York with this straight-up undeniable filth-core — greasy, prurient noise and scuzz that more or less invented the currently-overused “pigfuck” tag. If you like your music abrasive and confrontational, like shards of hot scrap metal plunged into your ear, this is for you. It is also HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Black Mountain, Year Zero: Black Mountain score the soundtrack to the indie film Year Zero, which is just a regular year, but with no calories. I love Black Mountain a whole lot, and thought their last record, Wilderness Heart, was underrated by nearly everyone. Much of this is just previously-released Black Mountain songs, woven into soundtrack form. Do with that what you will.

Bola, Vol. 7: Awesome Tapes From Africa just keeps right on being awesome, this time with a reissue of an album by Kolongo player Bola Anafo. I like that this is just coming out without any of the previous volumes. That’s some Leonard Part 6 style stuff. Musically, this is bright, light, skipping and lovely. RECOMMENDED eMusic’s Richard Gehr says:

Bola, who was born in the early ’80s and grew up herding livestock in Ghana’s hinterlands, has followed the lead of older kologo stars like King Ayisoba and Atongo Zimba in adding a drum machine and digital keyboard to its uptempo circular rhythmic patterns, singing over them in a shouting, chanting, force-of-nature voice guaranteed to wake your neighbors and/or gather your flock.

Various Artists, The Rough Guide to the Music of New Orleans: I don’t even need to tell you this is excellent — you already know. Fat, funky New Orleans R&B classics (including “Look-Ka Py Py,” of course!) ready to score your next boozefest. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Quantic & Alice Russell, Look Around the Corner: Collabo between crate-digger extraordinaire Quantic and British soul singer Alice Russell is great. It could just be that I’ve been getting way into Latin music lately, and so am predisposed to love this, but the slow-simmering grooves and humid horn blasts on this at times remind me of vintage Fania. This one gets a RECOMMENDED

Great Lake Swimmers, New Wild Everywhere: Pretty little chamber-folk group return with more sweet, stirring and heavily orchestrated ballads to warm your heart and moisten your eyes. eMusic’s Karen Schoemer says:

Great Lake Swimmers’ transformation into the new Canadian Eagles shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. Their 2009 album Lost Channels introduced jangly guitars and conventional pop structures into the rustic mix and wound up shortlisted for Canada’s Polaris Music Prize. New Wild Everywhere includes a song recorded in a Toronto subway station (“The Great Exhale”), but the rest were finessed in a studio; if the performances and arrangements feel tempered and genteel, they also produce some transcendent moments. “Fields of Progeny” pays tribute to generations of anonymous folk musicians with a melody steeped in Celtic lilt; “On the Water” is a death song accentuating dignity instead of desperation.

UV Pop, No Songs Tomorrow: The great Sacred Bones reissues this platter of moody proto-Goth that was overlooked in its time. Bits of Bowie and tiny traces of Bauhaus are detectable. eMusic’s Brandon Soderberg says:

o Songs Tomorrow is split straight down the middle between lost troubadour music and synthesizer rage-outs. It’s the latter that will pique the interests of most listeners — songs like “Sleep Don’t Talk” and “Hafunkiddies” now scan as “minimal wave” and still pack a primitive, industrial punch. But it’s ultimately all about those first-act, burnt-world ballads. The title track and “Some Win This” are end-of-the-world improv-folk, each song marching into the void with a relentless guitar strum, a hollow drum-machine knock, and dead-eyed lyrical honesty.

Midtown Dickens, Home: Gentle folk music with spare instrumentation. Laura Leebove says:

On Home, North Carolina’s Midtown Dickens maintain their brand of quirky folksongs, through stories of childhood, living life to the fullest, searching for peace and, ultimately, finding home. It’s a bit more melodic and controlled than their earlier efforts, but they still have their scrappy charm, thanks to a ragtag mix of banjo, harmonica, tambourine, strings and group-sung vocals.

Zammuto, Zammuto: Crazy, glitched-out new record from dude who was once in The Books. Notes appear for split-seconds and vanish, rhythms skitter, everything blips and stutters. eMusic’s Ian Cohen says:

Under his own name, Zammuto ever so slightly starts to interact with the visceral pleasures of pop and rock. The Bonnaroo-esque cover art isn’t misleading: whether it’s the percussive giddiness and Benihana vocal chopping of “Yay,” the puns of “Idiom Wind” or “FU C-3PO” jamming out hard on acoustic riffs and prog-rock laser effects, Zammuto is a happy medium where computer geeks and hippies are essentially the same people.

Soul-Junk, 1966: Oh, Soul-Junk. Avant-weird-core from these spiritual maniacs pair bible verses with decidedly nasty, snarling music. This has more in common with free jazz than rock, really, and fans of stuff on the fringes are sure to love. The Galaxy brothers have been at this forever. I’m glad to see they haven’t abandoned their meme of naming every record after a year!

Various Artists, The Rough Guide to African Roots Revival: Another great one from Rough Guides, this one gathering up contemporary African bands who favor traditional styles. It could be argued that the cover art for this series isn’t always the greatest, but you shouldn’t let that fool you. This is as credible a comp as they come, and is RECOMMENDED

Elvis Costello & the Imposters, The Return of the Spectacular Singing Songbook: Leave it to smartass Elvis Costello to start a live set comprised predominantly of hits with “I Hope You’re Happy Now.” Most of you know the deal here, but in case you don’t: last year, Costello revived a concept he first came up with in the ’80s, constructing a big wheel that had either song titles or song topics on it, putting that wheel onstage, spinning it, and playing whatever came up. So, based on luck or fate, you either got the best Elvis Costello show ever, or the weirdest. Or some combination thereof. For maximum verisimilitude, you should probably play this on shuffle.

fIREHOSE, Lowflows: The Columbia Anthology: fIREHOSE! Two-disc comp of the band’s Columbia years, combines songs from their pair of clean-and-pretty Columbia records with other odds & sods from that era.

Breton, Other People’s Problems: Synthy, doomy and mechanical, this one lays stern, “Safety Dance”y (yeah, I said it) vocals on top of electronic backdrops that are occasionally sleek, occasionally glitchy. Here’s eMusic’s Ian Cohen with more:

“Why are they trying to salvage what we’ll be leaving by the side of the road?” Breton vocalist Roman Rappak sings on “Electrician,” somewhat ironically. Formerly an art collective producing live soundtracks to their own films, the London group fittingly turn Other People’s Problems into a joyful rummage through the past 20 years of British electronic music: hip-hop, grime, U.K. bass and, of course, dubstep are integrated into this mongrel of a record, which maintains a melodic center akin to extroverts like Friendly Fires.

David Sylvian, A Victim of the Stars: 1982 – 2012: Career-spanning comp from the ever-quirky Sylvian. I compared him to Bryan Ferry when Andrew asked me about him earlier, but that’s not quiiiite right. The history is simple: ex-Japan frontman launched solo career based on excellent foppery, but there’s so much more lushness and nuance here. I don’t know. Help me out?

Bear in Heaven, I Love You, It’s Cool: Synthpop is all the rage this second (either that, or I’m projecting), and the latest from Bear in Heaven fits nicely in this retro revival. Tender vocals, spiraling synthesizers and the vague but unmistakable smell of hair gel. eMusic’s Ryan Reed is several times more eloquent:

Where Beast Rest pulsed and crawled, its Coke-fizz synth texture and pounding tom-toms swirling into hallucinogenic expanses, I Love You uses the same instrumental template to point listeners toward a rave-ish dancefloor. Bear in Heaven haven’t morphed into a pop band, per se, but the arrangements are noticeably de-cluttered and polished, with Philpot’s high-arching tenor freed from the garish reverb that previously kept his melodies at arm’s length.

White Fence, Family Perfume Vol. 1: Super scuzzy psych from Tim Presley is about as lo-fi and snarling as they come, which is just fine by us.

Ceu, Caravana Sereia Bloom: I’ve been sort of quietly into Ceu for a few years now, but some of her previous outings skewed a little too cappucino-core for my tastes. Not so this one, which sounds like a warm, earnest and note-perfect tribute to the classic Brazilian music I’m going to, perhaps wrongly, assume Ceu heard while growing up in Sao Paulo.

Jazz Picks, by Dave Sumner

Wow, what a drop over the last week. There were several I had to leave off that could’ve easily made the list on other weeks. I’ll likely add several additional recs to 17 Dots over the next handful of days. For today’s batch, I’d say the majority of them bring in classical influences or at least utilize instruments more associated with classical than jazz. What it all boils down to is that there is all types of music just aching to break hearts. Let’s begin…

Phronesis, Walking Dark: Piano trio with feet firmly planted in the modern jazz soil. Staggered rhythms, frenetic melodies, and unafraid if their jazz rocks out from time to time. For people who like that New Piano Trio tension a la Esbjorn Svensson, check out a tune like Zieding which drips with all kind of pretty. Released on the Edition Records label, which appears to be carving out a niche of young UK musicians dedicated to modern jazz. Probably worth taking a stroll through their roster. I rec’d an a album by Josh Arcoleo about a month ago, who also is on Edition, and whose album shares Phronesis’s pianist, Imo Neame.

Threads Orchestra, Threads: Very excited to see this album hit eMusic. Released in 2011, this ensemble consists primarily of strings (viola, violin, guitar, bass) and accompanied by piano and drums. That does come anywhere close to crystalizing just how unconventional they are. Mix together jazz, classical, folk, tango, avant-garde, and some sprinklings of whatever inspires them, Threads Orchestra finds a way to be experimental, threatrical, and cohesive. Fans of chamber jazz, Bill Frisell’s Americana, Guillermo Klein’s modern Latin jazz, and any number of Indie rock/pop subdivisions should find something here to like. An outstanding album that I’m no less enthusiastic about with the passing of time. Pick of the Week

Linus Lindblom, Objets Trouves: Fascinating quartet date from tenor man Lindblom. His symbiosis with trumpet player Nils Janson really carries the date. An album of two stories: There are the hoppin’ tunes that swing and sway, and then there are the introspective tunes that epitomize the Swedish jazz sound of Lindblom’s territory. Plenty here to like. Note: Lindblom played sax on an earlier rec of a few months ago… Martin Hoper’s The Bride, which is an early candidate for top ten of 2012 recognition. Recommended.

Luis Gonzalez Sextet, New York City Sextet: Pretty nifty recording that mixes some straight-ahead, some free jazz, some swing, and some classical and chamber jazz. Accompanied on piano with a clarinet, drums, and a variety of string instruments. There’s a disjointed flow from track to track, but considering Gonzalez’s inspiration for the album was his time spent in New York City, there’s a logic to it all. Song “Broadway” just too pretty to ignore. Highly Recommended.

Butch Warren, Butch’s Blues: A new album from the bass player who appeared on some of the seminal albums in the Blue Note catalog (personal favorites, when he was teamed with drummer Billy Higgins on Dexter Gordon’s group). This a straight up bop album that swings with both heart and soul. Warren brings a full ensemble with him for this date, including tenor man Buck Hill. Highly Recommended.

Edouard Bineau, Sex Toy: Lyrical quintet date from this French pianist. Sound is very much in the modern Euro-jazz scene, with melodies that tell a story and rhythms sharp enough to turn the pages themselves. Joined by Daniel Erdmann and Sebastien Texier on saxophones, it’s an intriguing album that shows another facet of the new jazz of today. Good stuff.

John Yao Quintet, In the Now: Wow. Trombonist Yao’s debut album, and it is damn strong. Featuring Joe Irabagon on soprano, Yao weaves a deliciously textured album that seems of greater fullness than five instruments could create on their own. Songs like “Shorter Days” are just so joyful. Yao also leads the Yaozeki Big Band, which must inform his approach to the quintet based on the depth of In the Now. Recommended.

Various Artists, The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved: A mixed set of spoken word and music. Based on the Hunter S. Thompson piece on the Kentucky Derby, various actors (and artist Ralph Steadman) read sections of the story with the accompaniment of Bill Frisell and frequent collaborators Curtis Fowlkes (trombone), Ron Miles (trumpet), Eyvind Kang (viola), Doug Weiselman (woodwinds), Jenny Scheinman (violin), Hank Roberts (cello) and Kenny Wolleson (drums, percussion). Hal Willner is involved in this project, which should give many of you an idea of how strange and alluring this project is.

FineFones Saxophone Quartet, Funk-A-Lot: A sax quartet led by soprano man and composer Peter Lehel, who also collaborates with the wonderful Barbara Dennerlein. Despite the album title, there is way more concentration on the melody than the groove on this recording. More likely to make the heart soar than the head bop.

Wrestle Jazz, Legends of the Ring: Okay, see, this is why it’s never a good idea to make assumptions based on album title/ensemble name. Wrestle Jazz is a piano trio of George Dulin (piano), Akihiro Yamamoto (bass), and Austin Walker (drums), in which theme songs originally used for Japanese wrestlers have been re-arranged for songs to modern jazz. It’s simply wonderful. Infectious tunes of pure jazz, catchy as hell and fun to hear. I’m quite thrilled to have happened upon this album. Find of the Week

Solid!, Visitor: Organ Trio which is imbued with the introspective Norwegian jazz sound of their homeland. Very little of the groove one might assume, and more of a focus on melodies. Addition of first-class tenor man Seamus Blake adds nice texture. Organ, guitar, drums, and Blake’s tenor sax. Interesting stuff.

Shamie Royston, Portraits: Very enjoyable debut album for pianist Royston. Leading a trio with Ivan Taylor on bass and Rudy Royston on drums, it’s a nice set of straight-ahead jazz. Not a weak link in the trio, and they all have some outstanding moments on the album. Royston’s solo sections are especially beautiful. There’s nothing quite like a solid piano trio album when Spring is in the air. Recommended.

The Log Ladies, Let’s Build a Myth Together: Okay, this one’s a bit different. The descriptor Frisell-ian is becoming more commonplace as guitarists display Bill Frisell’s influence upon them. This album would fall under that category. A guitar trio (w/ guest sax) that has the crunch and swerve of earlier Frisell albums, and that reverb & loop ambiance that is equal parts spooky and comforting.

Carsten Dahl, Arild Andersen, Jon Christensen, Space is the Place: Live date for three strong musicians from the Norwegian scene. Pianist Dahl has played with everyone, has strong chops; Arild Andersen (bass) and Jon Christensen (drums) have their stamp all over the ECM label, including as members of Jan Garaberek’s and Marcin Wasilewski’s crews, respectively (Andersen also has solid albums under his own name). The sound mostly stays in the realm of free- and classical-jazz. Even when the tempo gets the heart rate up, it never gets to where the listener should fear a coronary. Note: If Keith Jarret’s vocalizations get under your skin, then you might just want to move on to the next rec.

Raf Ferrari 4tet, Venere e Marte: Stunningly beautiful chamber jazz recording. A quartet of piano, cello, bass, and drums, with a guest clarinet. While more chamber than jazz, there are moments that flirt with a swing. Mostly though, it’s just a sublime series of compositions that ask nothing less than to fall head over heels in love with them.

Jazz Lunch, Housewarming: Nice large ensemble recording. Tunes have plenty of swing, but there’s an undercurrent of rainy day music to it all. Song “Jarmul” is terribly pretty and melancholy. Nice little find, these guys are.

And for our weekly “Probably shouldn’t be filed under Jazz” rec…

Richard Lewis, You Are Here: So, if you purchased the entire Tindersticks catalog, but still can’t get enough of that sound, just hit the download button on Lewis’s album. It’ll give you your fix of moody vocals, heart-full-of-sorrow strings, and edge of heartbreak ambiance. Good stuff, and catchy as hell, too.