Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Goodnight Tonight. Watch the Rain.

Goodnight Tonight. Watch the Rain.
2013, Goodnight Tonight.  Goodnight Tonight:

Okay, time for an old guy to take on a young rock band.  This group has been tearing the place up for a couple of years.  From Kent, and previously known as Noize in the Basement, they’ve won a bunch of awards, including the TRI-C Rock Off in 2013, and most recently the 2014 Indie Music Channel Awards for Best Alternative Teen Artist, and Best Teen Band of the Year.  Not a bad start.  They’ve been around since 2008 under their previous incarnation, and have put out several other releases.  This latest is an EP, an enjoyable mix of high octane pop/punk, with good guitar work and driving beats, exactly the sort of band I like to hear.  I especially enjoy female vocals and Emily Gambone provides that with flare and aplomb (should I use that word?).  And, they seem to still be in high school.  I could barely eat with a spoon at their age.

Six tracks is not much to judge them on, but it certainly gives a pleasant enough taste.  Most of the songs are uptempo, except for the somewhat slower last two tracks, “Lieutenant James,” and “Back on My Feet,” midtempo tunes that have an anthemic quality.  I particularly like the hooks on the faster tunes, with “The Only Thing I Know” and “Thunderstorm” taking the lead in that department.  My only complaint is that the lyrics mostly deal with romantic problems, and they should consider songs about other topics as well.

Overall, this is a band with a fresh sound and good songs, well played and well produced.  According to their Facebook site, they have added Drew Spreitzer on lead guitar, and somehow lost their drummer, Logan McNeal.  We’ll see how that changes the sound of the band.  

Personnel:  Emily Gambone (vocals, guitar), Holly Camp (bass guitar), Logan McNeal (drums).
Tracks:  The Only Thing I Know, Poison, Thunderstorm, Because of You, Lieutenant James, Back on My Feet.

The Grand Wazoo

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Mike G. Dream Land.

Mike G. Dream Land.
Self-Produced, 2013.

"Anything is possible when you believe in you. Dream Land is mine and I'm about to make it true."

An artist's first official foray into the medium of music can be fraught with challenges from all sides, whether issues arise due to lack of experience or simply maintaining confidence on where they want to go creatively. There's plenty of those out there with aspirations that burn out in the midst of the recording process and get fried before even finishing, not able to turn their hopes and ambitions into the realities they want. And then there are those that succeed. With much tact and due effort Mike G's debut album Dream Land delivers an impressive center stage show and exhibits how well self-produced content can come to form. Without batting an eye this artist has carved out a gem that, while not without flaws, distinguishes itself as a strongly composed album.

To guard against overpraising this album's production I'm going to briefly note here at the outset that it's startling how well done every track is laid down with its beats and rhythms, with any and every song only resembling one another in excellence and little else. This is the kind of variety you want in the circular musical garden that is a compact disc. It's rewarding and crisp material of all kinds, by far the strongest and most robust pillar of Dream Land, with producers Raymond Wellington, Torean George, and of course Mike G doling out some righteousness here.

Early on a number of phenomena jump out in "Bright Lights," with an emerald flow of beats and guest appearance by Duece that together serve as reason enough to go out and get this album. However you try to frame the splendor in the song what certainly garners praise is the very professional finish and shine to it, from the easy-listening lyrics, to the catchy refrain, to the halcyon flight of its pulse the track awes and stuns, something anyone should share with friends and those wanting a taste of fresh sound. Mike G and Duece definitely picked a star from the ether with this one.

There is contrast to the brilliance of "Bright Lights," though, with other content on the album not twinkling as stunningly when it comes to the vocals. On matters of Mr. G's voice there are on occasions a lingering flatness when he's rounding off some lines of his work. It's not like he's mired in a monotone so much as that he doesn't sound at all in the moment of certain scenes, like the verses just weren't hitting him in the right place inspirationally. This is odd to consider since he made the album, but the lack of force behind certain verses is noticeable, slowing to a bit of a plod in terms of energy. It's not reasonable to expect the guy to go full-throttle and warp speed all the time the way someone like, say, the legendary Twista can, but the lulls somewhat tarnish the pace of his otherwise good cascades of rhyme. It's entirely possible that Mike G may just be an extremely chill guy that doesn't feel the need to to surge out his verses the way other hip-hop artists prefer to. Either way, it's his choice for how aggressively he uses his voice and no one else's, but a bit of feeling would have made certain moments in the album far more engaging to hear.

As far as the subject matter goes for Dream Land some of what's here is what you might expect a man in his mid-twenties to sing about: money ("Money Is tha Motive"), partying ("How We Party"), and sex ("Wett Dreamz"). For whatever reason farting, a significant staple of activity in the time period between 20 and 30, is not covered, a void that is stylistically understandable since Mike G may not have wanted to go there just yet. As far as complexity there are certain entries that feel fairly straightforward for what they're all about. For instance, "Wett Dreamz" is pretty much Mike G talking about how great he is at making women horny, complete with repeated invocations about what he wants to do physically with said persons of the female gender. Behold:  "I'm a nice guy. Let you pick the weapon of choice. 'Cause I guarantee the thought of either one that'll leave you quite moist. Tongue game right. Lay deep pipe. You know what? Change my name to Mr. Amazing Mike."

As you can probably see little is left to the imagination when the bulge in Mike G's pants takes over his singing for him. The song does not approach the same level of natiform-centric genius that Sir Mix-A-Lot can bring (in all sincerity that man is a visionary) but, really, the words are only being what they intend to be--raunchy and raw as a steak served at a roadside strip club. Those seeking Victorian elegance and Shakespearean romance as opposed to schlock erotica would do best to look elsewhere. The artists making guest appearances on the single-focus songs are at the top of their game, fortunately, with forces like Double Cup Boyz and the devilishly stoked R-Sin showing their prowess at the mic.

Suggesting that the focus of Mike G's words are all so simple in caliber wouldn't be accurate, for the record. The production level of the album is absolutely to be commended and studied by anyone desiring a precedent of how to get your sound right on a self-produced album, but the imagery as told by the lyrics can have its more developed moments. The first and last songs of the album, "The Awakening" and "Dream Land," are more layered than the rest, along with another track "F.A.M.E." that hones in on the idea of fulfillment, with the acronym F.A.M.E. standing for "Found All My Everything" as opposed to just mere fame with a lower-case "f." So there are developed points of interest among the more basic tunes.

There is one peculiar aspect of Mike G and Dream Land that really comes off as surprising: the relative obscurity of information on the Internet surrounding this man and his only album. Aside from a little niche on Amazon and a tiny custom site playing bites of the music Mike G is nowhere to be found. This East Clevelander's got talent so at the very least he deserves to give himself a free Wordpress or Blogspot site to spread news about it.  (Editor’s Note: Mike G has a Facebook site (see above link), and is currently serving in the military.  He has another album in the works, and is sharing songs on his FB page.)

What remains at the end of an experience with Dream Land is the realization that Mike G is a highly capable and competent musician. There are definitely minuses to go with the merits here but the bottom line is that it is immensely impressive that someone could bring together something of this skill on their first release. There might be heavy criticisms for what could have been done better but the production craftsmanship is very laudable, and with a bit of luck (as well as substantially better self-promotion) Mike G could easily see himself at the helm of a very successful record label- provided he keeps at it. Without a doubt this is a guy that's got not only potential but something he wants to say to the world. Here's to hoping that he follows his dreams.

Personnel: Mike "Michael George" G
Tracks: The Awakening, Bright Lights (feat. Duece), Game Change, Step In Show Out, How We Party (feat. Double Cup Boyz), 3G'z (feat. Sema'j Strugglez, Gez), Money is tha Motive (feat. R-Sin), Sweet Heart, C.A.G. (feat. Duece), Heat Roc, Watch Me, All Eyes on Me, Wett Dreamz (feat. Duece), What Do You See, F.A.M.E. (Found All My Everything), Dream Land.

Robert Gojo
A thoughtful Mike G.  Stay well, and come home safe.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Sean Jones. Never Before Seen

Sean Jones. Never Before Seen.
Mack Avenue Records, 2014.  Jones:

Sean Jones has been remarkably busy, although this is nothing new for him.  He is the Artistic Director of the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra and the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra, has taught at both Duquesne University and Oberlin College, and is now at the Berklee School of Music in Boston.  He has managed to put out seven albums now as leader (aside from the CJO stuff), and worked as a sideman on lots more.  In his spare time he composes,  advocates for jazz, and helps to start jazz orchestras, as well as reading philosophy on the side.  Having graduated from YSU only in 2000, one might be tempted to label him an overachiever, but when you listen to him play, you realize that he’s both driven and remarkably skilled with his trumpet, his leadership, and his vision.  

This latest album, celebrating his tenth anniversary with Mack Avenue, finds him with some of the same excellent musicians who appeared on his last release, No Need for Words, although this album strips out several instruments and gets down to the basics of a quartet.  Jones says in the album notes (and his blog) that he wants to reintroduce himself, relaunch himself, recreate himself.  Thus, he keeps this one simple with no overdubs and everybody-in-the-studio intimacy.  He succeeds in every way.  

Jones’ trumpet style has many influences, including Miles Davis, Woody Shaw, and Freddie Hubbard, and he gets the hard work part both from his own personality and background as well as some time spent with Wynton Marsalis.  He brings in everything to this album, including seven of his own compositions (Evans contributed “Don’t Fall off the L.E.J.”), a couple of standards and a Jackie McLean tune, “Dr. Jekyll.”  The title of the first track, “60th and Broadway,” comes from the location of the Rose Theater of the Lincoln Center in New York City, where Jones has spent much time, and is a good place to start.  It begins with Jones and Obed Calvaire, then builds to include the other musicians, but showcases Jones’ virtuosity while giving ample time to Orrin Evans.  Calvaire is never out of the picture, and the interaction among the musicians is obvious and delightful.  This continues throughout the album.  The ballad “Dark Times” seems to borrow a riff from “It Ain’t Necessarily So” as a starting point, and moves into an exploratory, contemplative mood for all.  This continues with “Interior Motive,” although here the rhythm section is more noticeable (now I hear bits of “I Want to Be Happy”), and “The Morning After.”  Later in the album, “We’ll Meet Under the Stars” takes a similar approach.  All hold the attention and please the ear with gentle yet sophisticated playing by all members.  The presence of Orrin Evans cannot be overlooked, as he plays a key role in every tune.

The quartet changes its mood with “I Don’t Give a Damn Blues,” which shows how well they can play in a traditional style, a good test for a band.  It’s all Jones on the McLean tune, fast and furious.  A second test comes with a standard--what can you do with a song from 1940?  As it turns out, quite a bit.  With a solo by Luques Curtis and some fine work by everyone, they play “How High the Moon” like nobody else I’ve heard.  The beauty of the melody is never far from the improvisations, but they reach into new places and find new things to say. “New Journey” gives us a more uptempo tune, but with the same amazing ensemble work demonstrated in the ballads.  Two shorter tracks fill out the album, but they’re hardly filler.  Evans’ “Don’t Fall off the L.E.J.” (I wish I knew what that meant) is jaunty and spirited, while “Not While I’m Around” is another sweet and gentle ballad.

I listened to this album several times and not a moment was wasted.  The quartet does a masterful job of putting across a variety of moods, demonstrates the benefits of spontaneous interaction, and gives great listening pleasure.  Highly recommended.

Personnel: Sean Jones (trumpet), Orrin Evans (piano), Luques Curtis (bass), Obed Calvaire (drums).
Tracks:  60th & Broadway, Dark Times, Interior Motive, The Morning After, I Don’t Give a Damn Blues, Dr. Jekyll, How High the Moon, We’ll Meet Under the Stars, New Journey, Don’t Fall off the L.E.J., Not While I’m Around.

Jeff Wanser

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Maura Rogers and the Bellows. A Good Heart Will Break

Maura Rogers and the Bellows.  A Good Heart Will Break.
Self-released, 2012.  Maura Rogers and the Bellows:

Somehow this was missed this back in late 2012 when it was released, and so I was asked to review it.  Perhaps it is time to do so before their new release arrives.  This is Rogers’ second release, the first a solo album in 2010 (Get Up Girl), and her band is, or was, relatively new when this was recorded.  A singer-songwriter from Wickliffe, she has tried her hand at acting as well (Great Lakes Theatre Festival), and worked at open-mic nights in the area as she was getting started.  She also performs as half of the Bean Sisters, with Meredith Pangrace, the accordionist for the Bellows.

Rogers wrote all the songs and is the lead singer on the album.  She has a good voice, pleasantly strong and expressive, but delicate when necessary.  Her style falls roughly into the category of Americana, with touches of country, folk, and rock in varying proportions, depending on the song.  Sometimes a Southern tinge appears in her singing (“Mama Taught Me How,” “Cowboy Song”), other times a sound that sounds more like 1960’s rock (“Gone”).  Lyrically, she deals with a broad range of themes, from love to family to life changes to sometimes more cynical topics, as in “Good Harm,” which rocks despite (or perhaps because of) the rather dark subject of the downside of fast times.  “Dirty Blonde” and “Something More” both sketch out a complex relationships. “What the Doctor Said,” the closer, deals with medical issues, an unusual topic for music these days.

The ten songs here show us ten different views of Rogers the writer and perhaps the person, and all of them are fascinating, if at times enigmatic.  Meanwhile, the band makes a successful effort to set the mood, with the focus on Meredith Pangrace, whose accordion helps to create the band’s unique sound.  The band really gets to show off on “Norma Jean” (not about Marilyn Monroe), “Good Harm,” and the other fast tunes.  If I had to pick a favorite, it has to be “Gone,” where Rogers lets loose and shows her blues side.

The band will be playing at the Beachland Tavern on November 11.  Please check them out for an evening of fine music.

Personnel:  Maura Rogers (vocals, acoustic guitar), Dan Jankowski (drums, percussion), Andy Liaskos (guitars, harmonica), Meredith Pangrace (vocals, accordion), Brent Stowe (bass), Kevin Montgomery (Hammond organ on Track 10).
Tracks:  Dirty Blonde, Something More, Cowboy Song, Mama Taught Me How, All that You Give, Norma Jean, Gone, Good Harm, This Woman, What the Doctor Said.

Gottfried Klaas

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Bobby Selvaggio. Short Stories

Bobby Selvaggio.  Short Stories.
Origin Records, 2014.  Bobby Selvaggio:

I’ve enjoyed Bobby Selvaggio’s music for several years, and reviewed his Modern Times for another blog back in 2009.  For some reason, his music hits me in the right spot--forward-thinking post-bop but not too avant-garde, with plenty to hold onto.  Currently the Director of Jazz Studies at Kent State University, he is also a local boy, from Twinsburg.  I seem to recall that he also had (or still has) a private music school down the road from Hiram, in Aurora.  This latest release is his sixth, seventh, or eighth, depending on what you read.  His last album, Grass Roots Movements, didn’t get reviewed here for some reason, but we’ll catch up now.  

He opens the set with “Eye of Jupiter,” a fast-paced romp that shows off Selvaggio’s dexterity and enthusiasm, with some fine work by Aaron Goldberg on piano.  Later, “Rubber Monkeys” does a bit of the same thing, with a lots of start-stop action, reminiscent of “Salt Peanuts,” and shows off the other musicians, especially Chris Baker on drums.  Selvaggio is more bop-like here.  Third in the faster-tempo category is “Blues for J,” where everybody gets some time to show off, including Ashley Summers on bass.  The interaction here between Selvaggio and Goldberg is music to get lost in, and Goldberg really takes off here.

The remaining tracks tend to be either mid-tempo or ballads, and they are a lovely assortment of tunes.  “Song for Rebecca” was written for Selvaggio’s grandmother, and offers a tasteful sweetness mixed with lots of strong phrasing.  He and Goldberg share the spotlight, and it’s easy to tell that Goldberg is not just a sideman, but has plenty to offer in the foreground as well.  “Boulevard at Capucines in Paris” doesn’t remind me of the city, but is a fine ballad that allows for thoughtful interchanges among all the musicians, together and in solo.  The following track, “Ceprano Man,” starts off with Summers’ bass, and adds Goldberg, Selvaggio, and Baker in turn in a midtempo piece that heads for the stratosphere in the middle section.  The group finishes with “Summers End,” a fitting ballad with a beautiful noir-like melody, simultaneously pretty and sad.  It’s a  great song for a November day.  “Price of Being” is a curious, two part piece, featuring Selvaggio on solo sax in the Intro, followed by the rest of the group in the main part along a similar theme.  Delicate and exquisite work.  

The album as a whole is highly expressive, gorgeously played, and near the top of my list for finest albums of the year.  Too bad I don’t get to make those lists.

Personnel:  Bobby Selvaggio (alto saxophone), Aaron Goldberg (piano), Ashley Summers (bass), Chris Baker (drums).
Tracks: Eye of Jupiter, Song for Rebecca, Price of Being (Intro), Price of Being, Rubber Monkeys, Boulevard at Capucines in Paris, Ceprano Man, Blues for J, Summers End.

Jeff Wanser