current listening 05/31

the black keysThe Black Angels: Directions to See a Ghost – From deep in the heart of Austin, Texas comes a slab of psychedelia so thick and dark you would swear it was fashioned by the most daring of drone-infatuated bands that spun out of mid ‘60s New York. But once the Angels move beyond the almost incantatory rhythms, you find lush guitar swirls, echo saturated singing and a touch of pop frenzy that, in the 16 minute album-closing opus Snake in the Grass, sound like The Doors had they hailed from the Bowery instead sunny L.A.

 Johnny Winter: Live Bootleg Series, Vols. I and II – Two more slices of Texas toasted music. But these single-disc sets reach back to the glory guitar blues and boogie days of Johnny Winter. While neither is particularly well annotated, the band lineup (bassist Jon Paris, drummer Bobby T.) suggests the music hails from the early-to-mid ‘70s. Pulled from Winter’s own collection of live recordings, the blues/rock sensibility here is cranky and unrelenting, despite a few odd dips in recording quality. But when Winter cools down, as on Vol. 1’s Stranger, the house party heats up all the more.

Pat Metheny with Christian McBride and Antonio Sanchez: Tokyo Day Trip Live EP – More varied than the Metheny Trio’s recent Day Trip studio album, this five track concert disc shifts the focus more to Metheny’s guitarwork, from a soft focus lullaby for guitar synthesizer (Tromso) to even quieter acoustic fare (Inori). But as the nasty rhythmic turns and rockish, percussive strut of Back Arm & Blackcharge kick in, you’re reminded of what an unexpectedly potent charge is brought to the stage by McBride and Sanchez. Too bad Metheny didn’t make this a full length live album.

Krzysztof Komeda: Astigmatic – The great Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko recently played a New York concert devoted the music of his saxophonist mentor, Krzysztof Komeda. In a review for the New York Times, critic Ben Ratliff referred to the 1966 Komeda album Astigmatic as “one of the great jazz records of its time.” Having finally tracked down a copy, it’s easy to hear why. The record has a keen compositional base, but flirts with combo cool (duly aided by a young Stanko) and free-style improvisation. A major jazz discovery. 

Renaissance: Novella – Somewhere between the psychedelic fancy of the Moody Blues, the folk excavation of early Fairport Convention and the prog-rock extremes of Yes was Renaissance. 1977’s Novella was supposed to be the album that shot the band to stardom. It didn’t. But hearing this 2001 CD edition of the album is a fine, if not eccentric listen. Singer Annie Halsam, as always, is the show stealer. For all the epic song structure and sweeping orchestration of the 13 minute Can You Hear Me?, Halsam’s crisp, honestly regal vocals serve as Renaissance’s most transportive tool..



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