Another Great Dead Guy e.s.t. live in London (Act) by The Esbjorn Svensson Trio is a great two-disc retrospective of Sweden’s biggest piano trio, active for 17 years. In 2006 alone, they played 100+ concerts — including this one in England — in 24 countries for 200,000+ people. Svensson was a masterful pianist, touching on the fringes of the avant-garde yet totally accessible. Influenced by Keith Jarrett but eschewing the Art Tatum or Oscar Peterson style of jazz piano wherein one is dazzled by a cornucopia of cascading notes, he creatively used silence, dramatic intensity and a never-ending supply of fresh ideas as he interacted with his mates on an almost telepathic level. Bassist Dan Berglund wasn’t above using a wah-wah pedal or controlled feedback while drummer Magnus Ostram did things like use his fingers on his snare to create an intriguing, individualistic sound of his own. The band wrote, arranged, performed and produced all 10 long tracks (from 6:56 to 17:32) that jam on entertainingly, mysteriously and oftentimes ferociously. Svensson, 44, died in 2008 off the coast of Sweden from a scuba diving accident.
World Music From New Jersey
After thrilling to the various blues compilations from Bongo Boy Records, this Jersey label has now ventured forth with World Music Volume One by various artists and it’s a stone winner: Middle East snake charmer music, techno-reggae, synthesized Asian antics, Dutch street organs, Spanish guitar, the tracks unfold beautifully and half the fun is not knowing what the heck is coming next. India, with its syncopated, percussive glory, is well represented. Yet, it’s the dark evil-sounding laughter of Steel’s “Aw” that I keep returning to.
It’s a safe assumption that Giulia Millanta is one of those rare species of artists who transcend their influences and, in the process, create new genres. Regular readers of this column might remember her from a previous Rant’n’Roll rave that found her “deeply evocative with a dash of Piaf, a sprinkle of Lady Day, a pinch of Norah Jones and a teaspoon of Madeleine Peyroux.” Now she’s even better. This singer/songwriter/guitarist/producer/arranger came from Florence Italy to settle in Austin Texas in 2012 where she quickly became a major player, a magnet for the elite musicians of that town (a town that’s among the Top 5 music cities in America). Conversation With A Ghost (Ugly Cat Records), her sixth CD, is her masterpiece. Every track is a highlight. All 12 are original. She sings so hauntingly in two of her four languages. Although she left her ukulele home, her electric guitar stings alongside an all-star band rounded up just for the occasion: co-producer Gabriel Rhodes plays piano while funky guitarist Marc Ribot adds hot licks. With members of the bands of Dixie Chicks, Robert Palmer, Tom Waits, Paul Simon, Aretha, Willie, David Byrne and Patty Griffin on hand to add steel, clarinet, sax, accordion, saw and the 12-stringed Mexican instrument known as a bajo sexto, Millanta weaves her magical tapestry through a séance of lost loss, lost sanity and lost innocence. It’s absolutely gorgeous. All aspiring musicians, vocalists and composers should listen to this gem.
A Man Named Oytun
The state-of-the-art of Jazz-Rock Fusion is in good hands with Turkish Cypriot bassist/composer/bandleader/educator Oytun Ersan whose sound can only be described as Fusiolicious (self-released). He wrote all seven jams, mixing ’n’ matching 14 musicians: four guitarists, two keyboardists, two vocalists, sax, trumpet, trombone, violin and drums. It all amounts to a roller coaster ride of action-packed prog and funk. Get Down!
In 2016, the Further Explorations debut of the Alchemy Sound Project blew minds. The Adventures in Time and Space follow-up (Artists Recording Collective) is bound to do the same. Here’s where classical, jazz and world music intersect. The symphonic textures and chamber acoustics of these five distinct composer/musicians separated by continents and solo careers demand to be heard. South African bassist David Arend, for instance, might be filled to the brim with responsibility as he’s deep into composing commissioned concertos for 2019 debuts. Here, though, his 8:39 “Ankh” resurrects ancient Egyptian magicians searching for the means to achieve eternal life. All boundaries are blurred. The juxtaposition of trumpet, flugelhorn, tenor sax, flute, bass clarinet, trombone, bass and drums is mesmerizing and, thus, wholly recommended.
A New Bowie
I love this guy! When Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth put together their Tom Tom Club, they got a Jamaican, Mystic Bowie, to sing lead, which he did for almost 20 years. Talking Dreads (MTMB/BFD) is his debut, filled with rollicking reggae versions of 11 Talking Heads songs, one of which, “Heaven,” is a duet with Cindy Wilson of The B-52s. “Slippery People” features Taurus Riley. “Life During Wartime” features Freddie McGregor. Highlights? “Psycho Killer,” “Burning Down The House” and — surprise! — a deliciously oddball version of the Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street” that had this reporter reeling with the feeling of the riddims and the funky ska. Light up that spliff!
The CD of the Year?
Charles Lloyd was a superstar sax man in the ‘60s, went recluse, came back, and disappeared again. Charles Lloyd & The Marvels, whose I Long To See Her debut broke all the rules by incorporating Americana (using the voices of Willie Nelson and Norah Jones) with jazz to create a new genre. Well, he’s done it again with Vanished Gardens (Blue Note), as Lucinda Williams pops up on five tracks.
The band itself is a wonderment. Guitarist Bill Frisell, pedal steel man Greg Leisz, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland are all masters and leaders of their own bands. Put them and sweet Lu next to the ever-changing genius of Mr. Lloyd and you have a band that is pushing, prodding and poking alternative music forward.
Seeing Lloyd live recently was like listening to musicians playing underwater. Their rhythms were alien. Their solos were captivating. Their ensemble playing was excruciatingly precise like nothing I had ever heard before. Like Monk, Lloyd is quite the character, swiveling his hips, larger-than-life, blowing spirals of evaporating curli-cue trails of color into the air like no one else alive today. He may be 80, but he makes the music of a 20-year-old, filled with wonder and curiosity. Lucinda, for her part, is a poet, an “authentic American voice,” as Lloyd likes to say. The pairing of these two is magic.