Rant’n’roll: Moroccan Dub, Americana-Prog, Socialist Night School, Negro Spirituals, Canadian Folk, Jazz Vocalese & A Guy Named Tohpati

Rant’n’roll: Moroccan Dub, Americana-Prog, Socialist Night School, Negro Spirituals, Canadian Folk, Jazz Vocalese & A Guy Named Tohpati

—by , February 8, 2017

02-08 Rant 'N' Roll Tohpati Ethnomission

Club d’Elf is Live At Club Helsinki (Face Pelt Records) on a new 2-CD set featuring keyboardist/composer John Medeski from Medeski Martin & Wood. He has plenty of help. This is a true collective—based in Boston—so not only didn’t fans in Finland know what material to expect, they didn’t even know what musicians would show up. On this particular night, a sextet rocked their side of the world bigtime. How to describe them? If Tangerine Dream were street musicians in Marrakesh jamming with Sly Stone on tunes written by John Cage, the sound they’d make would not only be psychedelic but recall the latter-day inscrutability of Miles Davis (combined with the LSD-drenched meanderings of a live Grateful Dead show in, say, 1971). But even that too would be too amorphous to understand. Better yet: if you calmed down their use of EDM (electronic dance music) to fit into a North African religious ceremony that features ancient Islamic spirituals (gnawa music) and add to that some improvisational jazz, you’d at least get close to describing the undescribable. Their base of drum’n’bass is only a foundation. “Mogador” rambles on for 13:56. “The Booloolu” is a special cha’abi groove, indigenous to North Africa. In this context, it’s hypnotic, laced with dub-step, and performed in that enticing 12/8 time (don’t try this at home). It’s all very heady, entertaining, moving and physical, in other words, a keeper.

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In welcoming Roger Street Friedman into the singer/songwriter pantheon, one must realize that at 54 and only on the follow-up to his 2014 The Waiting Sky debut, he comes fully formed. Hell, as his press materials so helpfully inform, novelist Frank McCourt, for instance, didn’t write his Angela’s Ashes masterpiece until he was 66. (There’s hope for me yet.) If Shoot The Moon doesn’t quite deserve masterpiece status, it’s at least close. His words are autobiographical, cinematic, blunt and honest. His music is folk-rock, raucous horn-rock, dreamy pop-rock, Progressive Americana and sweet soulful R&B. Think Jackson Browne without all the earnestness.

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The Twilight Fall (Browntasauras Records) by Chelsea McBride’s Socialist Night School is an all-original Toronto big-band debut manifesto from the 24-year-old saxophonist/composer who conducts woodwinds, trumpets, flugelhorn, trombones, piano, guitar, electric and acoustic bass, drums and vocals into a cohesive whole (19 pieces in all). It’s a dizzying presentation filled with great moments, ensemble playing that’s unerringly right on time and strenuous soloing. Yet it’s the mood of each piece that captures a chunk of your brain and won’t let go. She even gives you instructions in her liner notes on who you should be when you listen. “You are 27 and life has not made itself apparent to you yet. What is apparent is the crushing existential dread that now follows you on your long, cold and lonely walk home.” Now listen to “Spirits.” Or “picture your six-year-old self. In onesie pajamas, falling through a purple sky with orange clouds until you land in a carnival, broken, tilted Ferris wheel on one side, dusty abandoned carousel, chipped paint, fading, on the other.” Now you can listen to the title track. There are 10 such pre-ambles, one for each track. Bravo!

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Singer/songwriter/pianist/actress/educator Amina Claudine Myers self-released and self-produced Sama Rou: Songs From My Soul where she takes her natural affinity for old cherished Negro Spirituals and transcends it into her own very personal artistic statement of faith and hope. She takes a song like “Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen,” that slaves sung before it was actually published in 1867, or “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child,” which also dates back to slavery, or “Go Down Moses” (1872), and imbues them with her gospel-soul piano and husky trenchant vocals. Her own “Ain’t Nobody Ever Gonna hear Us?” is a tear-stained reflection but by the closing “Thank You,” this is no weep-fest. It’s a spirit-elevating lesson in high-minded stick-to-it-tive-ness.

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I swear I could sit and listen to Audrey Silver sing all night long. On her self-released Very Early, doesn’t matter if she’s singing Sting’s “Until” or “Surrey with the Fringe on Top” from the 1943 musical Oklahoma, she seems to bring out each song’s inherent meaning to make the old new again. Take “Getting To Know You,” from the 1951 musical The King And I. I once thought if I never heard that song again, it’d be too soon. In Silver’s capable hands, I’ve rediscovered its ebullient root and why it has made generation after generation smile. Bobby Troup’s “Lemon Twist,” Mose Allison’s “What’s With You” and “Lucky To Be Me” (from the 1945 musical On The Town) may come from different worlds but reach a pure synthesis of emotion drained out of a human wringer of pure passion.

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May I introduce you to Canadian folk singer/guitarist John Richard who while Lost in Dublin wrote his second CD, came home and recorded these seven songs with his drums/bass/pedal steel/keyboards/banjo quintet. It’s a smooth-sailing introspective travelogue of Ireland that starts with Irish Guitar Hero Rory Gallagher’s “I Fall Apart” and even includes a nod to metal in “Black Church.” The wit and wisdom of such songs as “Some Things Never Get Paid” and “Volumes of Beautiful Words” are put across with the kind of sincerity that’s totally believable.

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Mata Hati (MoonJune Records) by guitarist/composer/band leader Tohpati Ethnomission is wonderfully different from just about anything else you might hear this week. Tohpati is an absolutely exquisite guitarist who has surrounded himself with like-minded and creative musicians like Indro (bass), Diki (flute/clarinet), Endeng (percussion), Demas (drums) and the Czech Symphony Orchestra for opener “Janger.” Indonesia born-and-bred, Tohpati has obviously mastered harmonic, melodic and rhythmic ideals from the west. This jazz/classical/folk/avant-garde/fusion all-instrumental pastiche is fertile breeding ground for improvisation within Tohpati’s demanding charts. It makes for an adventurous—and ultimately satisfying—listen. Highly recommended.   *


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