Friday, September 26, 2014

Holly Hofmann. Low Life

Holly Hofmann.  Low Life.
Capri Records, 2014.  Holly Hofmann:

Holly Hofmann and I have at least one thing in common.  We both started on the flutophone as kids.  She, however, went on to become a renowned jazz flautist, while I, well never mind.  Hofmann was born in Painesville to a musical family (her father was a jazz guitarist), and went on to study classical music at CIM and later, Northern Colorado.  Among her teachers was Maurice Sharp of the Cleveland Orchestra.  She came to jazz in the mid-1980s, and put out her first album, Take Note, in 1989.  This is her twelfth release (I think), and her first exclusively with the alto flute.  She began playing it in concert as a change up to the usual C flute, and got positive responses.  With the urging of Jeff Hamilton, she put this collection of tracks together.  

The alto flute has some limitations.  It is lower in register, with a limited range.  That makes it hard to do some things, but opens up a whole new world in terms of subtlety of playing and richness of tone. Hofmann has the ability to express herself remarkably well with her instrument and does so with considerable flair here.  Her choice of songs is excellent, her compatriots on the album play impeccably, and the result is a fascinating excursion in straight ahead jazz ensemble work.  

The tunes are a mix of upbeat numbers and ballads drawn from all over, including songs by Pat Metheny, John Williams, and Ray Noble, as well as two by John Clayton, one by Anthony Wilson, and one by Hofmann herself.  While everything is beautifully and tastefully played, I have to say that for me, the most effective piece is “The Very Thought of You,” the old Noble standard.  Taken at a leisurely pace, the alto flute does wonders with the melody, while Mike Wofford accompanies her, taking a solo in the middle that is simply delightful.  “Touch the Fog” is also a lusciously expansive exploration by John Clayton, very soulful and sweet.  Clayton, of course, gets a bass solo in there, nicely done.  

I also enjoyed the more upbeat tracks.  On “Jack of Hearts,” an irresistible swing/bop, Hofmann trades solos with Anthony Wilson, the guitar nicely complementing the sound of the alto.  Wilson also gets in a great solo in “Grow (for Dick Oatts),” a more gently swinging tune.  “Cedar Would” is another Clayton tune, and it does the job similarly to “Jack of Hearts.”  Wilson solos again, but with more fire, and Clayton and Hamilton trade off in the middle.  “Soul-Leo” has a sort-of Brazilian feel, but with a bouncy, soulful quality that makes my head bob.  Wofford gets lots of time here to good effect (I did not realize that Wofford and Hofmann are married--not important, but an interesting tidbit).

The group finishes up with the ravishing “Farmer’s Trust,” a Pat Metheny tune that works as a fitting end to a very fine album.  I recommend this music highly to fans of jazz flute, but also anyone who likes the gentle side of jazz.  This is rich material.

Personnel:  Holly Hofmann (alto flute), Mike Wofford (piano), John Clayton (bass), Jeff Hamilton (drums), Anthony Wilson (guitar).
Tracks:  Jack of Heart, Touch of the Fog, Grow (for Dick Oatts), Lumière de la Vie, Cedar Would, The Very Thought of You, Make Me Rainbows, Soul-Leo, Farmer’s Trust.

Jeff Wanser

Monday, September 15, 2014

Ringworm. Hammer of the Witch.

Ringworm. Hammer of the Witch. (with a review of earlier albums)
Relapse Records, 2014. Ringworm:

For twenty years Ringworm has been going down to the the dark cellar of its own Underworld and bringing back with them creatures ripped from the caves they found there, each trek into the depths of inspiration always returning with the iron­clad screaming, shredding, and perilous percussion that the band is known for producing. With the next installment in the lifeline of this hardcore line­up comes Hammer of the Witch, a rancorous torrent of macabre lyrics and vicious guitar work to crack the whip behind the words. Along with past releases Scars, The Venomous Grand Design, and Justice Replaced by Revenge, the hexes of these albums taken separately or together hit forcefully and don't care if you're ready for them, making for a package that is not for the faint of heart. Ringworm's approach to hardcore has always been a thick swamp of dark energy, filled with constant, rough ­throated rage from lead singer Human Furnace, his tearing voice owned with authority and equipped with coarse, spiked bellows the raging bard wields like a swinging cudgel. The man has certainly earned his moniker with the way he can persevere in maintaining the growling fire stoked in his throat.

Part of the pleasure that encrusts the offerings of Ringworm's lead singer is that there is a distinguished bite to his bellowing, a type of grizzled harshness that is forever serrated. He'll hock up a grunt or a bark after screaming out verses and, so barbed with harsh nails, it's jaggedly beautiful to hear. The dirty vocals are without a doubt one of the major factors of the sound that binds the imagery together and emulsifies the other shadowy elements found in Hammer of the Witch, and the achievements on this album raise the band to new heights.

The subject matter flowing through the lyrics, flyblown and gauntly relinquished to a world where the people in it are lost and doomed, possesses at the same time a poetic underside--albeit with lots of doom, so much that it could power another series of iD Software games.  Counting the respective gloom of songs like "I Recommend Amputation," "Hammer of the Witch," and "Die Like a Pig," it's rather easy to get a vivid understanding of the frothing rot these fellows are fond of courting:

"Paralyzing; shut down; minimize. Amputation. Vivisection; cut off; cauterize. Amputation.  Vivisection; cut off; cauterize. Amputation. Terrifying; blood red; a violent amputation. It's never­ending, no hope. I recommend amputation."  "Into the flame you descend, denying the truth 'til the end. Your body will soon be of ash; feeding the devil your flesh. Into the grave in the ditch; burning alive devil bitch. All of the pain that you feel. The Hammer of the Witch." "You survive believing you're alive: feeding the rest of the hive. Now betrayed, believing you are saved, living your from the grave. You, drone, it's not your own, cutting yourself to the bone. Swine, pig, you're all alone."  And so forth.

In the meat of the lyrics' fury and aggravation the defiance is retched out, backed by thundering drums and howling guitars, the tone pledging never to become complacent to unthinking norms. Some might be overwhelmed by the sinister words and rotting imagery, so ensconced in the notion that we're all going to be destroyed and decay, but if you can see the connection to something similar in tone like T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland there's allure here.

Even when slogging through the scourge and wraith-­filled skies of ether there is a form and persistent dread that is appealing to travel amongst if you have the palate for it, like a Clive Barker picnic with all kinds of covered dishes. And, lest the elegant appreciation be overstated, there's plenty of screaming to be had on Hammer of the Witch mixed in with all the possible interpretation. Growing up it would have been truly remarkable to go to school everyday and have the Human Furnace commanding the mouthpiece of the morning announcements.

The unspoiled hardcore element and bare ­knuckle vocals have evolved from the sound
developed on Ringworm's first demo back in 1991, with the factors from that point on
keeping to relatively the same order, the tendency of the band to adhere to the philosophy that they are about the cacophony of the noise and, indeed, it is great that they are, played so dynamically by newcomers and veterans alike. Matt Sorg on guitar brings the expected expertise and deft fingers to the strings, as does John Comprix, the two of them each putting out absolutely fantastic solos on the track "Hammer of the Witch" that deserve listening to over and over again. The praying, horned and very well-­drawn demoness on the album cover (and included excellent fold­out poster) would certainly approve. Danny Zink does a well ­rounded job on drums and Ed Stephens, the latest bassist, will hopefully be kept around for future releases.

To switch horses midstream and go back in time to the days of yore when the album
Scars came out you get a healthy dose of the expected gruffness Ringworm has to offer, in much the same way you encountered their enjoyably bedeviled tendencies in
preceding albums. And, with some understanding that there have been regular line­up changes in the band over the years, Scars sounds quite similar to Justice Replaced By Revenge and The Venomous Grand Design. And it's for that reason that these albums, while respectable on their own merits, occasionally feel like they could have all been put into one oversized release. They're outstripped by the expertise on Hammer of the Witch, particularly when it comes to the overall guitar work and production.

But there shouldn't be any misunderstanding on the craftsmanship of the three­--they're
quality albums. It's just that they are in some very noticeable ways extremely alike. The
speed demons in Dragonforce spring to mind as incredibly talented musicians that, much like Ringworm, put out a great deal of music that keeps in line with its usual ways, albeit in a decidedly different genre and velocity. Being compared to Dragonforce in any
capacity is, for the record, an honor not to be taken lightly by gods or humans alike.
Ringworm swears by its authenticity of staying true to its hardcore roots, and certainly
none can argue otherwise when flitting from one album to the next if faith to the raging
ways of screaming and shredding are the main factors in focus.

Picking out the distinctive tracks of the flock from the albums gives due credit to the flecks of steel in their outlines. "Hellbound" and "Angelfuck" (try whispering that term of endearment into your loved one's ear) rise to the pedestal from Scars, while "Alchemist"
and "Ninth Circle" bring the goodness on The Venomous Grand Design. The solos on those four tracks harvest the sweet, satisfying spell of wonder that only a gifted guitarist can deliver, and the appreciation only grows with repeated listens. At first Justice Replaced by Revenge didn't have as much of a sucker punch in store as the other grindhouses, but the tracks "House of Hell" and "Day of Truth," possessing some gritty shouting and fiery incantations, deserve serious respect with the way they ignite themselves. Additionally, "Whiskey Drunk" is a calm and mellow instrumental that shows the band can take five and chill out for a bit when it feels so inclined, much like some of the other earthy instrumentals on their other releases. Simply put there's something here for every fan of the hardcore ilk.

Ringworm is very aware of their achieved success in the industry as a musical act and not shy about trumpeting this status, with the albums leading up to and including Hammer of the Witch making it easy to understand why. Previous experiences with ringworm have left me feeling disenchanted and itchy, but capitalize that "r" and you'll end up going to a physician for a different reason. "I don't know what's wrong with me," you'll say to the doctor, "I just can't stop headbanging. And I love it." The prescription no doubt will be hardcore.

Hammer of the Witch:
Personnel: Danny Zink (drums), James "Human Furnace" Bulloch (vocals), Matt Sorg
(guitar), Ed Stephens (bass), John Comprix (guitar)
Tracks: Dawn of Decay, Bleed, Leave Your Skin at the Door, Exit LIfe, Psychic Vampire, King of Blood, I Recommend Amputation, Hammer of the Witch, We'll Always Have the End, One of Us is Going to Have to Die..., Vicious Circle of Life, Die Like a Pig, Height of Revelation.

Personnel: Matt Sorg (guitar), James "Human Furnace" Bulloch (vocals), John Comprix (vocals), Danny Zink (drums), Mike Lare (bass)
Tracks: Voluntary Human Extinction, To the Grave, Used Up Spit Out, Scars, Unravel,
Cleansing of the Fall, Burning Bridges, Angelfuck, Empty, Hellbound

The Venomous Grand Design:
Personnel: James "Human Furnace" Bulloch (vocals), Chris Dora (drums), Mike Lare
(bass), Matt Sorg (guitar)
Tracks: Things Are Not As They Seem, The Cage, The Ninth Circle, Suicidal Visions,
Alchemist, Razor's Line, Dichotomy, Never Was, I Preach to No One, Hangman, Life's
Blood, The Key, Hell on Earth.

Justice Replaced by Revenge:
Personnel: James "Human Furnace" Bulloch (vocals), Frankie "3Gun" Novinec (guitar), Matt Sorg (guitar), Danny Zink (drums), Steve Rauchorst (bass)
Tracks: Justice Replaced by Revenge, No One Dies Alone, Seeing Through These Eyes, House of Hell, Day of Truth, Whiskey Drunk, God Eat God, Ghosts of the Past, Thrive, Devil's Kiss, Death Is Not an Option, No More Heroes, Life After the End of the World.

Robert Gojo

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Almeda Trio. Piano Trios by Ferguson, Piazzolla & Schoenfield

Almeda Trio.  Piano Trios by Ferguson, Piazzolla & Schoenfield.
Albany, 2012.   Almed Trio:

This one is a little late, having gotten lost in the shuffle.  It has already gotten press from Donald Rosenberg and John Soeder, but it’s a good and fitting end to 2012, the year this blog began.  The Almeda Trio is the Ensemble-in-residence at the Music Settlement in Cleveland, a fine and historically important organization.  Founded in 2008, the group plays both standard repertoire and recently composed works, including a few commissioned pieces.  For this album, they have chosen three new works that incorporate the intertwined styles of jazz and tango in their conception.

Paul Ferguson’s Solstice Suite is the one commissioned work here, and it’s a fine one.  Ferguson is a trombonist/arranger for the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra and Director of Jazz Studies at Case Western Reserve University (and takes care of Hiram College’s music ensembles, by the way).  Here he works in a trio format, using both tango (first movement) and jazz (second and third movements) that is mindful of both Piazzolla and contemporary chamber jazz (I hear some Copland in there too).  It’s an adventurous piece, well-suited to the group, and I especially enjoyed Cassidy’s driving rhythms.

The Piazzolla piece is a gorgeous Argentinian take on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, that of course involves tango, as well as references to Vivaldi’s work.  Originally written as separate pieces, and scored for other instruments, it works very well in this arrangement for piano trio.  Tweed’s violin is highly expressive, and the group emphasizes the propulsive nature of the music and its origins in dance.

Cafe Music is by Michigander Paul Schoenfield, has a reputation for combining different styles of music, and here he bounces off of ragtime, early jazz (in a Jerome Kern sort of way), and klezmer music in this 1986 composition.  It’s intended to be a fun piece, and the group has a great time with it.  They show their virtuosity and eclecticism throughout.

This is a fine album of thematically-linked contemporary music that contains both the familiar and the new, with excellent performances from the trio.  Highly recommended.

Performers:  Robert Cassidy (piano), Cara Tweed (violin), Ida Mercer (cello).
Tracks:  Solstice Suite (Paul Ferguson), Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (Astor Piazzolla), Cafe Music (Paul Schoenfield).

Jeff Wanser

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Recent Additions to the Library's NEO Music Collection

Recent Additions to the Library’s NEO Music Collection

As usual, we keep adding more great stuff to the library’s collection.  Here is the latest batch of older Northeast Ohio music we’ve been able to include.  We think we can find more.

Cletus Black.  The Big Cover Up. (Nice covers of his favorites)
Lazyie Bone/Bizzie Bone.  Bone Brothers. (Some duo rap from 2005)
Jim Brickman.  My Romance.  (Giving you some more piano love)
15-60-75 (The Numbers Band).  The Inward City.  (Some great rock here)
Intra.  The Glory of the Imperfect.  (Neo-psychedelia from 2009)
Joe Walsh.  Rocky Mountain Way.  (A compilation of early tracks)

Alexander Fedoriouk/Kalman Magyar.  Crossing Paths: Ethno-Jazz from Eastern and Central Europe.  (Fedoriouk is the cimbalom player for the local group Harmonia)
Sammy DeLeon y su Orquesta.  ¡Con Salsa y Sabor!  (Great Latin jazz!)
Barbara Knight.  Night and Day.  (Singer is backed by the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra)


Monday, September 1, 2014

Joseph Arthur. Lou

Joseph Arthur.  Lou.
Vanguard, 2014.  Joseph Arthur:

Joseph Arthur has become quite a successful singer-songwriter, having put out ten (now eleven) studio albums and innumerable EPs since the late 1990s.  Born and raised in Akron, he left to find his musical fortune and got “discovered” by Peter Gabriel, who helped him get out his first album.  Lou Reed and Arthur somehow became friends early on, and clearly Reed was both a source of encouragement and inspiration in his career. In late 2013, after Reed’s death, a guy at Vanguard Records suggested that he put together this tribute.  He did.  Here it is.

How do you create a tribute to an artist who has been such a major force in music?  Replicate his songs?  What’s the point?  Get a big group of stars together?  Overblown.  Arthur chose neither of these routes, opting for a stripped-down acoustic solo effort, where he would interpret some of his favorite Reed songs in his own style but not stray too far from the source.  This was both a tasteful and smart choice.  He chose some songs from every phase of Reed’s career, from the early Velvet Underground days to later material.  Arthur has a feel for these songs, although he may not have lived them quite the way Reed himself did (wouldn’t wish that on anybody).  He’s not a great singer, but he is better than Reed, who sometimes buried beautiful melodies in a less than adequate voice (check “Satellite of Love” as one example).  Simple accompaniment, with either guitar or piano, works to great effect.  

How does anyone do “Walk on the Wild Side” or “Dirty Blvd.” or, dear lord, “Heroin” without doing a pale imitation?  Reed may not have been the best singer but he was a master of stark effect, and these were his songs, his life.  The results for Arthur vary a bit, although in all cases his interpretations work well.  He does a creditable job with “Walk on the Wild Side,” as good as anyone is likely to do.  “Heroin” is taken a little faster than I’d like (there’s that stark effect thing), but Arthur brings out the melody in a way that I didn’t hear in the Velvets version (but was present on Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal).  Arthur does a riveting job on the talking blues of “Dirty Blvd.,” one of Reed’s most cynical and damning of songs.  Other tunes that I found particularly well-presented include “Magic and Loss,” with a steely-strength power, and “Wild Child,” where he brings out the beautiful melody in the midst of heartbreaking lyrics.  All the songs are worth hearing in Arthur’s interpretations.

So, Joseph Arthur has created another winning album, this one out of the loss and mourning of his friend, and one that does them both credit.  Reed’s powerful songs interpreted by Arthur’s talents result in a fine tribute that is both imaginative and tasteful.

Personnel:  Joseph Arthur (vocals, guitar, piano).
Tracks:  Walk on the Wild Side, Sword of Damocles, Stephanie Says, Heroin, NYC Man, Satellite of Love, Dirty Blvd., Pale Blue Eyes, Magic and Loss, Men of Good Fortune, Wild Child, Coney Island Baby.

Jeff Wanser