Long Tall Deb and Colin John
    The “Lungs” of the late Texas troubadour Townes Van Zandt is the only cover on the exquisite Dragonfly (VizzTone) by Long Tall Deb and Colin John. The follow-up to their 2015 Streets Of Mumbai, these two Americans blend like Jack and Coke. Between her sublime vocals and his guitar, sitar, lap steel, bass and piano (augmented by organ and drums), a state of musical zen is reached that transcends mere genres. Within its stark mix, lipstick traces of surf, world, rock ’n’ roll, spaghetti western soundtracks (like what Ennio Morricone did for Clint Eastwood in the ‘70s), jazz, Americana, blues and pop are lightly kissed as produced by Coldplay’s Michael Landolt. These two have traversed the globe looking for that elusive note, be it India, Nepal or Europe. Suffice it to say, they found it. 



What’s His Name?
    His name is Frank Viele and his self-released follow-up to 2015’s Fall Your Way will have even the most demanding of listeners sitting up a little straighter in their seats when they hear What’s His Name. Opening with “Drop Your Gun” and closing with “Cigarettes, Throwing Stones & Lies,” one of New England’s favorite singer/songwriter sons (they love him in Boston) gets down and dirty here with the kind of numbing emotion that will hog-tie your senses (highlight: “When The Bourbon’s All Gone”). Influenced as much by Otis Redding as Bob Seger, he duets with Christine Ohlman on “It,” yet his guitar work, coupled with his unerring voice on his meticulously thought-out profound originals, makes him worthy of major attention.



Electro Folkloric Techno Minimalism
    Take a good hard look at these three Germans. Letila Zozulya (Bimba Records) by Contrast Trio, is like nothing you’ve ever heard before. Piano/Synthesizer whiz Yurly Sych, bassist/sampler Tim Roth and drummer Martin Standke, on their third CD — with the help of a four-voice choir, percussion, violin, voices, accordion and guitar — have hand-crafted Eastern European folk music (the title-track is known to every school child in Ukraine) to meld like a super-natural shape-shifter into minimalist classical, electronica, Scandinavian nu-jazz, dance music, house, world, avant-garde, folk and Euro pop. How did they do it? After spending two weeks in Kiev, the trio (together for 12 years) gigged, jammed and ultimately recorded with Ukraine locals to produce this extravagant sound of the future. It’s a mosaic, and an example of living, working, playing and creating together. Oh wouldst that American society be such!   



The Prog-Rock CD of the Year So Far
    Vortex (RareNoise) by Sonar with David Torn is, indeed, the instrumental progressive rock CD of 2018 so far. Leave it to RareNoise, a British company headed by two prog-rock Italians since 2008 with an ear for the weird, to come out with an album so startling in conception, so surprising in execution and so utterly righteous in its rule-breaking anti-genre stance.

    It’s the Swiss Sonar’s fourth but first with guitarist/composer/producer David Torn. Usually, Sonar takes flight via its three guitars plus drums. Here, make that four guitars plus “live-looping and manipulation.” They used to call this kind of stuff art-rock. Others call it jazz-rock fusion. Sonar’s minimalist aesthetic, though, complete with its use of tri-tone tunings, makes it arguably the world’s boldest band when it comes to sparseness. Producer Torn took them into a more rock direction, rougher, more dramatic, with weird rhythmic looping atop twin leads sparring with each other. Oftentimes it escalates into a war of attrition with a lot of space between the sound like when Torn’s guitar rips through the mix on “Monolith” like a wounded rhinoceros trying to gasp its last breath as it bleeds out.



Jack Kerouac Would’ve Loved This
    Back in the day, ‘50s beat poets like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Gregory Corso would recite their poems to live jazz. The relationship between jazz and poetry has been diluted in the intervening years but, hell, poetry is meant to be spoken aloud (and trending as more and more jazz albums these days include spoken-word passages). On the brilliant new The Poetry Of Jazz (Origin Records) by saxophonist/composer Benjamin Boone and the late jazz-loving poet Philip Levine (both were professors at California State University), Levin recites his poems which includes tributes to Sonny Rollins, Clifford Brown, John Coltrane and Charlie Parker while A-List jazz men like Tom Harrell, Branford Marsalis, Greg Osby and Chris Potter strut their considerable stuff on compositions by Boone. The result is an eminently listenable 14-poem program that works on so many levels.



    Noah Preminger, 31, is a Connecticut sax man whose 2016 Dark Was The Night Cold Was The Ground took primitive rural blues into another dimension. His tenth CD, Genuinity (Criss Cross Jazz), is no less dramatic, although this time, he blows his brains out on nine stark originals alongside his chord-less quartet of trumpeter Jason Palmer, bassist Kim Cass and drummer Dan Weiss.

    When I saw him perform at last year’s Saratoga Springs Freihofers Jazz Festival, he was so lost in concentration, he seemed not to notice the audience. As the set progressed, and his curli-cue spirals of escalating sax lines got more and more complex, he started to sweat, smile and finally acknowledge the love of the crowd.

    “Halfway To Hartford” is distinguished by his solo rumble, then some sax/trumpet unison before each horn gets into a stimulating percussion discussion with drummer Weiss.  He wrote “The Genuine One” in tribute to Yusef Lateef’s 1961 Eastern Sounds album. He wrote “Mad Town” for those heady days back when he entertained notions of completing his Ph.D at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Wistful, melancholic, and absolutely gorgeous, his sax snakes upwards and outwards like a boa constrictor dancing to his master’s charm. “A.H.” is for the fallen prog-rock guitarist Allan Holdsworth (whose posthumous boxed set is a real keeper).

    Noah Preminger is the real deal. As far as his title? It ain’t a word but it could be for the state of being truly genuine…which he is.



A Vivid New Voice
    This is one Officer I wouldn’t mind being stopped by. Canadian singer/songwriter/guitarist/co-producer Jordan Officer is a natural at soaking up the vibe wherever he may roam. On his fourth CD, the self-released Three Rivers, his fellow producer is Charley Drayton who you hear playing drums every time “Love Shack” by The B-52s comes on the radio. (Drayton also drums for Divinyls as well as Keith Richards.)
    Officer was on Highway 61 in Mississippi when he felt the gravitational pull of the delta blues clawing at his soul. It aroused his passion to the point of writing the exquisite opener, “Your Body’s My Home.” Then, in “Dream of You and Me,” he adds lap steel to his stringed mastery and even tips his hat to the gospel standard “Just A Closer Walk With Thee.” In “100 Push Ups,” he even plays violin so sweet. In “Young Love” he solos twice, achieving a jazzy synthesis of folk, Americana, roots-rock and singer-songwriter sincerity. Love this guy!