There’s no telling where the music of Toronto drummer/composer/producer Robert Diack will go. Underwater would be a start. His self-released Lost Villages was named after the nine Ontario towns forced underwater in 1958 — its inhabitants forced to flee — in the name of progress and capitalism to make room for the St. Laurence Seaway (which now connects Southern Ontario to the Atlantic Ocean). Where once were thriving communities, now there are lakes and water-ways with submerged houses on the bottom where nothing but the remnants of former lives float.
A sense of displacement…of loss…of submersion distills the eight tracks into sound bites of what the drummer calls “post-rock.” Repetition and layering may undermine a live scenario but only adds drama here. The music is fluid…flexible. With guitarist Patrick O’Reilly’s pedals and effects as augmented by piano/bass/drums and, in some instances, the studio itself, a progressive painting of sound is achieved. The studio, indeed, becomes the fifth band member as editing in the post-production phase winds up creating sound impossible to create otherwise. Like a profound collage, the final effect is mesmerizing.
A Man Named Slam
If ever you have the opportunity to see Slam Allen sing the blues, do so. This highly-skilled vocalist/guitarist is, first and foremost, an entertainer. He’ll go from Otis Redding to BB King in a heartbeat. Having been lead singer/lead guitarist for eight years in the band of the legendary James Cotton [1935-2017], he’s now on his own. With a personality as wide as the Grand Canyon, a sense of humor to match, and a way of making his audiences leave feeling they’ve met their new favorite new blues man, Slam can ram home his soulful side with humor and totally infectious joy. His recent set at the Blast Furnace Blues Festival in Bethlehem, Pa. had this columnist cheering him on and begging for more. More will come May 27 when he returns to Bethlehem to appear at the free Levitt Pavilion Concert Series and then at The Cutting Room, New York City on June 1, where you’ll have to pay to see him…but it’s so worth it.
Twins, Rich and Rob Kwait, are Cabin Dogs and their Mountain Sun (Crippled Hound Records) takes off where The Band ended. Maybe that’s because this self-released self-produced follow-up to 2011’s Midnight Trail (produced by The Band’s Professor Louie) is filled with the kind of Band-like chops that fans of the rockin’ side of Americana music love. Rich plays guitar, mandolin and percussion. Rob plays bass, banjo, mandolin, guitar, percussion and harmonica. And their voices fit together like only twins can. They’ve got fiddle, drums, piano, organ, synthesizer and pedal steel in their septet. They’ve got no less than 16 originals under the Mountain Sun and one is better than the next. They’re based in Philadelphia now after a lifetime in upstate New York, and they’re always gigging. Catch ‘em if you can.
“Man Of La Mancha” Redux
The No. 1 CD on Billboard’s Traditional Jazz Chart is Music From “Man Of La Mancha” (Concord) by pianist Eliane Elias (her 26th album and third No. 1). This revered musical debuted on Broadway in 1964. This CD features nine songs from the original production arranged and re-imagined by Elias as Brazilian/Latin jazz with two distinct trios.
In 1997, Mitch Leigh, who won a Tony Award for originally writing this music for the stage, personally asked Elias if she would consider revamping it. She felt honored. The recording took place shortly thereafter but was never released due to contractual legalese. It sat on a shelf collecting dust. Leigh died at 86 in 2014 but not before absolutely loving what she did with his music. Now that it’s finally out, his children have praised it. The musical’s most famous song, “The Impossible Dream,” has been done to death but here sounds fresh and new again.
Native New Yorker pianist/composer Sam Javitch shows his appreciation for the People and Places that got him to the point of self-releasing two CDs so far. The first, 2014’s Train To Nowhere, was solo. This one swings and bops with a quartet of Rich Perry on tenor sax, Adrian Moring on bass and Matt Neidbaski on drums. The cover shot was taken up, up, up in the Arctic by a National Geographic photographer whom Javitch befriended on one of his long hikes.
Perry’s tenor tone is exemplary on opener “The Pitch To Rich.” After the 9:28 “Parallel Modalities For Parallel Realities,” “Honin Myo” (a Buddhist phrase meaning, “from this moment on”) gets 7:55 to show off and show off it does! These incredible musicians seem to have a flair for telepathic call-and-response. Plus, when one solos, another one provides sneaky, sinewy muscle, propping up the solo and making each track dramatic. “Lifted: A Song For ‘Grew And Those Who Knew” is for his late mentor, pianist Mulgrew Miller.
Javitch, at three years of age, was pounding the family piano. Now he knows what he’s doing and these seven originals are testament to his growth as a leader, composer and soloist. Wholeheartedly recommended.
Son Of Ry
Drummer/Composer/Producer/Arranger Joachim Cooder’s music is obviously influenced by his icon father Ry Cooder, he of the stringed wizardry in numerous genres including a few he invented. Children of brilliant parents have a tough road to hoe. Joachim must have a motorized super-hoe as he plows through the detritus of swirling options with elan and purpose. He’s provided the music for choreographer Daniel Ezralow on a career dance retrospective. He’s performed admirably with his dad and with Cuba’s Buena Vista Social Club. Continuing the world music ethic, he’s assembled a strong cast for his strangely beautiful and effective Fuscia Machu Picchu debut. It’s like pop music from Mars, dreamy and strange. It’s almost like what one would expect from the esoteric father. Yet the son — much like Julian Lennon — is hell-bent to find his own avant-garde path.
Like the legendary Gil Evans [1912-1988] who more than anybody helped Miles Davis become a super-duper star by outfitting the trumpeter with his celestial arrangements, the music of Scott Reeves goes through the kind of changes wherein it starts off as one animal buts ends up another. Without A Trace (Origin Records) by The Scott Reeves Jazz Orchestra, a 17-piece post-swing post-bop monster band, is filled with the syncopated alacrity of avant-swing, or what he calls “swinging dissonance.”
His trombone is but the tip is a gigantic iceberg. His compositions and how he uses each instrument for specific purposes a la Ellington take the music “away from the typical harmonic palette,” as he also says. Steely Dan’s road vocalist Carolyn Leonhart shines on the original title track but it’s the covers of Kurt Weill’s “Speak Low” and the Frank Sinatra hit “All Or Nothing At All” (both from 1943) plus Wayne Shorter’s 1965 “Juju” that prove to be the highlights.