Sunday, August 24, 2014

Jay Clayton. Harry Who?: A Tribute to Harry Warren.

Jay Clayton.  Harry Who?: A Tribute to Harry Warren.
Sunnyside, 2013.  Jay Clayton:

Jay Clayton is an important figure in the free jazz and avant-garde music worlds.  As a vocalist, she was a pioneer in the late 1960s, incorporating electronics into her music, working with such luminaries as Muhal Richard Abrams and Steve Reich, and even recorded music by John Cage.  She also started out life as Judith Colantone in Youngstown, Ohio.  Here, Clayton reigns in the avant-garde for the most part, singing relatively straight bop (with a few interesting touches) on the classic songs of Harry Warren.  Warren was a major composer and lyricist (also Italian American), who wrote more than 800 songs, including the music for Busby Berkeley’s 42nd Street and dozens of classic tunes such as “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby,” “That’s Amore,” and “Chattanooga Choo Choo.”  Clayton had a world to pick from, and she found ten she especially liked.

John Di Martino and Houston Person help her out here, and the absence of drums and bass lends itself to an intimate setting.  Di Martino is most prominent behind Clayton’s voice and undergirds the whole album, with Person coming in to punctuate Clayton, or for solos.  Person’s work on “I Wish I Knew” and “September in the Rain” is exquisite, and Di Martino also solos beautifully in several tunes.  However, the focus is largely on Clayton’s vocals, as they should be, and her voice is a remarkable instrument.  Her rich alto ranges low and high as the occasion demands, sometimes whispering, other times scatting.  

While every song on here is a winner, I have favorites.  If I had to pick three, they would be the last three on the album, tunes that are special to me from other contexts.  The way they’re performed here makes them even grander.  Others may choose as they like.  I hope Clayton does a followup on Warren’s tunes; she could fill a ten-disc set with great songs.  This album is a wonderful find, and I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys jazz vocals.

Personnel:  Jay Clayton (vocals), John Di Martino (piano), Houston Person (tenor saxophone).
Tracks:  I Wish I Knew, This Heart of Mine, At Last, September in the Rain, Shadow Waltz, This is Always, You’re My Everything, You’ll Never Know, I Only Have Eyes for You, There Will Never Be Another You.

Jeff Wanser

Friday, August 22, 2014

Broccoli Samurai. You Had to Be There...

Broccoli Samurai. You Had To Be There…
Abydos Records, 2013.   Broccoli Samurai:

Broccoli Samurai is an electronica band from Cleveland, Ohio and formed in 2010. Their first and only album, entitled “You Had To Be There…” is a refreshing mix of electronic and jam that leaves the listener absorbed in each track. The song titles are fun and original as well as their music. There are great rhythmic beats that carry through each of the songs that one could easily get caught up in.

The music is very chill and easygoing with smooth beats. Being part of the electronica genre, there are no lyrics to the songs (except for the Backwards Logic [Remix]), but there is enough power in each track to set particular tones they’re aiming to reach. Overall the album is fun and catchy in its own unique way. There’s plenty of energy in the music that kept me interested and certainly not eager to turn it off. I listened to the album more than once and I liked it more every time I heard it.

On a personal note, my favorite tracks are Loch Ness Lobster, Tetrahedron, Backwards Logic, and Boogie Monster.  Honestly, I’d love to see these guys live. It would be an amazing experience. If this genre is something you enjoy, definitely look Broccoli Samurai up. They’re a great group that’s playful with their music, and I love it.

Personnel: Ryan Hodson (keyboards), Chris Walker (drums), John McCarron (guitar), Josh Sebo (bass).
Tracks: Loch Ness Lobster; Hello, Goodbye; Tetrahedron; Be Creative for Yourself; No Harm, No Fowl; Stairing up a Brick Wall; Backwards Logic; Head and Shoulders; Transmitter; Boogie Monster; Backwards Logic [Remix] (feat. Smoke Screen).

Bryn Wolanski

Monday, August 4, 2014

Adam Rich. Streetlight Smile.

Adam Rich.  Streetlight Smile.
Love Muffin Records, 2014.  Adam Rich:

Adam Rich has been immersed in the Cleveland music scene for some time, having kicked around in several bands including Oliver Buck & the New Madrids, the Flavor, and even his own, The Adam Rich Band.  Love Muffin is his very own record label, and that qualifies him as both an entrepreneurial and musical spirit in the region, or as he might say, “a freaking awesome sexy ball of love.”  We’ll just take his word for it and move on to his latest release.

For this album Rich has assembled a collection of original tunes recorded from between 2011-2014, as well as a remarkable group of assisting musicians including six vocalists.  Rich doesn’t sing himself here, so he remains the Mystery Man, mostly on guitar, expressing his inner Joe Satriani.  The songs themselves are an eclectic mix of strong rockers, instrumentals, and tunes featuring some humorous or topically local lyrics in the manner of Alex Bevan.  He opens with a quirky instrumental (to be honest, many of the songs are quirky) that begins with a simple melody, blossoming into a really nice rocking tune about halfway through.  The title track is one of his best tunes, with great hooks, impressive vocals from Jerry Principe, and a sweet guitar solo at the break.  The lyrics refer to many local bands, ranging from Carlos Jones to the Jack Fords--very Cleveland.  I’ve listened to this at least ten times, and never get tired of it.  “Labor Day” has a more laid-back, 70s feel to it, with some funny/sad lyrics about being alone.  “Wait till Next Year” is a sports anthem that nobody will ever play in the stadiums (but could get some time in the bars), since the lyrics are about the misfortunes of local teams.  “Government Bailout” is Rich’s punk/political song, now a bit outdated (but only a little), concerning the recession, and features another fine guitar solo.  

Things get weird towards the end of the album.  “Diet Nipples” is a fusion/acid-jazz experiment, with added sax and some curious effects.  It works nicely.  The last track, “Adam’s Head,” is simply bizarre.  Also leaning in a jazz direction, the lyrics, sung or spoken by Oliver Buck, are literally about Mr. Rich’s head, a series of put-downs that could have come from a Zappa album if they weren’t so personal.  It’s funny, but in a very strange way.  I neglected to mention the best instrumental here, “Muffin Shuffle,” a great guitar blowout that could have gone on for ten minutes, but runs only 3:27.  More of this, please, Adam.

In all, this is a fine album with a bunch of good tunes with a curious mix of humor and high octane.  By far my favorites are the title track and “Muffin Shuffle,” which ought to get considerable airplay if there’s any justice.   You can get the music through the Love Muffin Records website or CDBaby.

Personnel:  Adam Rich (guitars, bass, drums on “Diet Nipples”), Ernie Richmann (drums), Frank Ian (vocals on “Labor Day”), Dave Mann Wolf (backing vocals on “Labor Day”), Jerry Principe (vocals on “Streetlight Smile”), Drew Clair (vocals on “Wait till Next Year”), Mike Taff (vocals and guitar solo on “Government Bailout”), Smitty (drums on “Government Bailout”), Norm Tischler (sax on “Diet Nipples”), Oliver Buck (vocals on “Adam’s Head”), Joe Landes (guitar on “Adam’s Head”).
Tracks:  Magical Feet Pear Groove, Streetlight Smile, Labor Day, Muffin Shuffle, Wait till Next Year, Government Bailout, Diet Nipples, Adam’s Head.

The Grand Wazoo