Saturday, March 12, 2016

Maura Rogers and the Bellows. In Light.

Maura Rogers and the Bellows.  In Light.
Self-released, 2015.  Maura Rogers and the Bellows:

We have been remiss in reviewing this in a timely fashion, and so we are getting to it just before the band’s new EP is released next week. I guess that’s timely in its own way. This is the band’s third release (we reviewed their previous album, A Good Heart Will Break, back in 2014), and so they seem to be on schedule, even if we’re not.  

Americana, alt.folk, and other terms are thrown around to describe Maura Rogers’ music. They are all accurate as far as they go, but fuzzy words are inadequate to tell you how her songs sound and feel (she wrote them all). Musically, the band is dominated by Rogers’ strong and expressive vocals and Meredith Pangrace’s accordion--they are the most out front to this ear. But in listening behind them, one can easily find some fine guitar work by Istvan Medgyesi and others. This is particularly evident on the opening bars of most tracks (such as “Georgia” and “Blooming”), where a guitar leads in. The opening track, “Battle Cry,” is a deeply emotional song that Rogers simply slays with her anthemic vocals. The mood changes quickly with “The Chance,” a country waltz, framed as a real cry-in-your-beer weeper. As I listened to this song and the next, “Georgia,” I noticed that the lyrics are not specific with regard to gender, or even place. Georgia could refer to the state, but it could also be a person. This sort of ambiguity  continues throughout the album. Fascinating choices, and good songwriting.

“Blooming” is a heartbreaker, and one of my favorites, a song that contrasts roses in bloom with rejected love and/or fear of relationships. The atmospheric music created by the accordion and guitar in combination creates a sense of desolation. “Thank You” is a catchy, if spare, tune, and is certainly one of the more upbeat songs on the album. The most controversial song is “Damn Angels,” about a lover who leaves in the wake of religious fervor, from the perspective of the one left. Powerful stuff.

Seriously good songwriting.  The music and the lyrics work as one to transport the listener through various stages of heartache, hope, anger, and moroseness. After nine songs, I feel like I’ve been through an emotional washing machine. This is a richly rewarding album, and I urge you to check out the band’s music. They will be having an EP release party on March 19th at the Beachland Ballroom, which I suspect will be quite an evening.

Personnel:  Maura Rogers (vocals, acoustic guitar), Meredith Pangrace (accordion, vocals), Istvan Medgyesi (electric, slide, and acoustic guitar), Brent Stow (bass), Shelby Sangdahl (cello), Jeff Babinski (drums, track 5), Nick Perry (drums), Ariel Karaƛ (violin, tracks 6 & 7), Al Moses (acoustic guitar, tracks 3 & 7).
Tracks:  Battle Cry, The Chance, Georgia, Lion, Blooming, Good Lover, Thank You, Damn Angels, Hold On.

Jeff Wanser


Sunday, March 6, 2016

John Fedchock Quartet Live. Fluidity.

John Fedchock Quartet Live.  Fluidity.
Summit Records, 2015.  John Fedchock:

John Fedchock describes himself as a New York musician, but his roots are in Northeast Ohio. Born in Cleveland in 1957, he attended Ohio State University and the Eastman School of Music, joined the Woody Herman Band in 1980, and has been a prominent trombonist in several big bands. He leads John Fedchock’s New York Big Band (seems reasonable), which has four CDs to their credit, and also works in smaller group contexts, including a sextet, and here, a quartet. He’s won lots of accolades and awards for his playing and arranging. Let’s see what he’s done this time.

On this release, Fedchock plays mostly standards, with two originals and a Joe Henderson cover. Among the composers are Victor Young, Henry Mancini, Frank Loesser, and Jule Styne, so it’s clear that he delves extensively into the Great American Songbook. He takes the tunes in a bop direction and moves them along in a gentle, dreamy fashion. This is a live album, so there is a bit of audience applause, but it doesn’t distract from listening, and in fact, provides a nice backdrop to the band’s motivated performance. Fedchock’s playing is really quite impressive; I’ve seldom heard a trombone played with such, well, fluidity. His slide technique and articulation are superb, as is evident in such slow tunes as “Havana,” and “Make Someone Happy,” where he is out front and on display. Most of the songs feature one or more of the other players in solos, and they are very effective as well. I am particularly fond of John Toomey’s piano work, both in solos (especially “I Hear a Rhapsody”) and in his support behind Fedchock. Two mid-tempo tunes, “I Hear a Rhapsody,” and “Homestretch,” are my personal favorites here, with great solos and delightful interplay among the musicians.

If you love jazz ballads, small combos, or trombone, this is an album to listen to over and over.

Personnel:  John Fedchock (trombone), John Toomey (piano), Jimmy Masters (bass), Dave Ratajczak (drums).
Tracks: East of the Sun, Havana, I Hear a Rhapsody, Make Someone Happy, Under the Radar, Weaver of Dreams, The Days of Wine and Roses, I’ve Never Been in Love Before, Homestretch.

Jeff Wanser