2014 has been a year when I’ve been relatively quiet on reviews, but I have been listening to many things, and I was very fortunate to attend some fabulous concerts that I’ve documented here with brief write-ups and photos (no photos of King Crimson!). I’ve also been focused on other things, including making noise with some guitars. As in the past, my listening is concentrated on what’s available to me, which is relatively narrow in scope, but I do listen to a pretty wide array of music.
This is my list of 14 favorites for 2014 (in no particular order) and then a few special categories. Each title on the list links to the artist or record label website. Happy Listening and I hope you all have a nice Holiday season, no matter what you celebrate. Thank you for reading in 2014!
Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
Nick Magnus – n’monix
Tony Patterson & Brendan Eyre – Northwinds
Should – The Great Pretend
Gareth Dickson – Invisible String (a compilation of recent live recordings)
Hiss Golden Messenger – Lateness of Dancers
Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited: Live at the Royal Albert Hall 2CD/DVD (a fabulous live album & DVD with excellent sound quality!)
Stephen Vitiello + Taylor Deupree – Captiva (double 10” LP)
Medeski Scofield Martin Wood – Juice
Ben Watt – Hendra
Beck – Morning Phase
Levin Brothers – Levin Brothers (It’s only taken decades, but the Levin brothers got together and made a really marvelous jazz album)
Rosanne Cash – The River & The Thread
Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd – White Bird in a Blizzard
Anthony Phillips – Harvest of the Heart (Anthology Boxed Set): Unlike the recent R-kive Genesis box set, Cherry Red knows how to put together a proper anthology, complete with many tracks of never-before heard music from AP’s archives.
Jason Molina – Songs: Ohia – Journey On (7” 45 RPM Compilation Box Set, a really beautiful set, probably rarer than hen’s teeth by now.)
King Crimson – The Elements (Tour Box, archive, live and some new material as a companion to the 2014 US Tour)
East River Pipe – The Gasoline Age (vinyl reissue, my introduction to the brilliant songs of F. M. Cornog when it was first released on CD in the early 1990s)
Lambchop – Live at XX Merge (I’m so happy that Merge Records decided to release this in honor of their 25th Anniversary. Looks like the LP is out of print for the moment.)
William Tyler – Lost Colony
Olan Mill – Half Seas Over (Live performances 2012-2014)…too short for an album, too long for an EP, but what the heck!
An Accidental Concert Photo
RareNoise Records CD RNR031 Time: 49:41 (vinyl soon and hi-res digital)
Tracks: 1) Macabre Dance, 2) Fetal Claustrophobia, 3) Blow, 4) Not Dead, 5) Clairvoyance, 6) First, 7) Dream Made Of Wind, 8) Wait Until Dark, 9) Latent Prints, 10) Dream Made Of Water
Band: Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari (Voice, Electronics, Organ, Guitar) and Lorenzo Feliciati (Electric and Upright Bass) with: Gianluca Petrella: Trombone & Effects (tracks 1,2,4,5,7,10), Fabrizio Puglisi: Piano & ARP Odyssey (6,8,9), Jamie Saft: Keyboards (1,2,9), Eivind Aarset: Guitars (3,4,7,9,10), Sandro Satta: Alto Sax (3,9), Cristiano Calcagnile: Drums & Effects (4,5), Pat Mastelotto: Drums & Effects (6,8,9), Simone Cavina: Drums (1,2)
Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari aka LEF and Lorenzo Feliciati form the core of Berserk!, along with some other familiar names in the RareNoiseRecords stable, including Feliciati’s fellow Naked Truth bandmate Pat Mastelotto.
We all need a venting catharsis now and then—some folks resort to primal scream therapy, but generally I’ll pick music to assist with exorcising my darkened bilious tendencies. The new self-titled album from Berserk! seems like an effective cure for those intractable days when the pile gets too deep and the unrelenting Myth of Sisyphus comes to mind. Despite the band and album moniker, there is a broad mix of dynamics in the album and it’s marked by many (nearly neck-snapping) contrasts in sound and rhythm.
Berserk! isn’t a broad spectrum motoric assault on the senses, but it deftly selects its points of release, building like a suspense thriller with the rage boiling over every so often. The album also teases and mocks (from the gently maniacal whistling in the opener Macabre Dance to the background telephone ringing in Fetal Claustrophobia…yes, I turned my head to see if my phone was ringing!). There’s also a brief moment of saxy playfulness (albeit dark) in the reflective interlude Blow before entering the backstreets and dark alleys of Not Dead (shades of the growling Tom Waits and Sparklehorse duet Dog Door from the 2001 album It’s A Wonderful Life) with raspy voices and clusters of percussion pushing against an unyielding darkness.
Feliciati’s bass work throughout the album is reminiscent of Percy Jones’s work with Brand X, particularly the earlier freer-form improvised and less commercial version of “The X”. The aggressive horns, meandering piano, fast-changing rhythms and moods (as in Fetal Claustrophobia) also remind me a great deal of one of my favorite King Crimson albums, Lizard (under-appreciated until Steven Wilson remastered it with Robert Fripp). The treatment of Gianluca Petrella’s horns throughout much of the album often sounds like the thundering Mellotron horns used in Lizard. The sharp inventive contrasts in instrumentation also remind me of Frank Zappa and early albums by Godley and Creme (as in the albums L and Freeze Frame). Yet, there’s little humor in Berserk!—the focus is strictly business.
The middle portion of the album is furtive and contemplative in spirit (like the tracks Clairvoyance and First) and eventually LEF’s vocals (sung here, not spoken) break through, channeling John Wetton. Note: Don’t forget to listen for R2D2. There’s a brief pause (the calm before the storm?) with ethereal atmospherics and horn work in Dream Made Of Wind before the closing section of the album begins with a tender solo piano largo and transition to a massed rhythmic vocal and ultimately a full band assault in Wait Until Dark leading into an alto sax ensemble of Latent Prints (the feeling of KC’s Lizard returns) and moves into a roaring full-clustered rip. The album closes with the ominously thunderous and raging vocal domination of Dream Made Of Water—there’s the Berserk!
Had a tough day in the trenches? Hold the rage at-bay (warn the neighbors, shut the doors and turn up the amp) and have a listen. I think you’ll feel better.
This is a solicited review.
Stick Men: https://www.facebook.com/stickmenofficial
Tony Levin: http://www.papabear.com/
Pat Mastelotto: http://patmastelotto.com/
Markus Reuter: http://www.markusreuter.com/
Stick Men dot Net will take you to: http://iapetus-store.com/album/deep
I’m not often prone to numerical connections, but it occurred to me last night on the long quiet drive home from the woods of northwestern Connecticut that here I was in year 13 of this century and it has been (almost to the day) 31 years since I had last seen Tony Levin on stage in Syracuse, New York with the 1982 incarnation of King Crimson (Fripp, Bruford, Belew and Levin) in support of their incredible return album Discipline. Although Tony Levin might disagree, to my eyes his energy and spirit hasn’t aged a day in those 31 years. Last night’s concert in Norfolk, Connecticut was an incredible display of musicianship, sound and an intimate connection between the musicians and the audience (especially in a small hall like Infinity with great acoustics, sound system and a beautifully restored historic building).
In one way or another this trio of Tony Levin, Pat Mastelotto and Markus Reuter all have a connection to King Crimson (and Robert Fripp) in various incarnations and ongoing KC ProjeKcts, but Stick Men while embracing KC’s influential work, have continued to develop their own voices in progressive rock including vital relationships with other bands, artists in addition each members respective solo work.
The Bows Come Out!
The set list last night was largely from their new album DEEP (all but two tracks) in addition to some real treats. Tony Levin made a special point to express appreciation to the audience for being so receptive to the new material, rather than insisting on hearing only the old (including many King Crimson favorites)–in effect progressive rock music…PROGRESSES. One thing that I wanted to see after listening intensively to DEEP is just how much of the melodies each instrument would take, and I was surprised to see that many sections that I thought were coming from Reuter’s Touch Guitar turned out to be melody exchanges between Reuter and Levin (the Chapman Stick being an extremely versatile instrument—not just for the bass line). Here are the tracks (along with some brief notes…not on every track, and nothing that I can write will do justice to the intensity and clarity of the sound last night–something to be experienced first-hand!):
1) Nude Ascending Staircase: As is the beginning of the album DEEP, this performance set the tone for the entire night, a seriously raucous (and fun) sound with deep visceral notes from Levin’s stick.
3) Crack In The Sky
4) Breathless (from Robert Fripp’s 1979 solo album Exposure): This Fripp album is incredible, and it’s still as vital as when I first placed the LP on my turntable in 1979. This was an absolutely shredding performance of this piece. Markus Reuter’s faithful interpretation of Fripp’s work (searing guitar) was just chilling. The trio seriously cooked on this.
6) Infinity Improv (free improvisation): Tony Levin noted that they record each of their performances (and I had noticed some stage and ambient microphones on stage before the show) in the hopes that some of the improvisations and recordings could lead to future releases.
7) Horatio: Thunderous!
8) Whale Watch: Tony Levin noted that despite his many years of having played the Chapman Stick, he was still learning more about what the instrument could do (and its often unpredictable results). He noted that some nights Whale Watch could turn out differently, depending on whether the instrument needed to be wrestled to the ground (I’m paraphrasing). It’s the story of being on a whale watch, from the start of an ocean journey to spotting, pursuit and arrival to see a whale up-close.
9) Industry (from the 1984 King Crimson album Three of a Perfect Pair): The growl and electronic percussion.
Pat is A-blur
10) Hide The Trees: The growing tension, exchange and release in this piece is deliciously enticing.
11) Open, Pt. 3 (from Stick Men’s 2012 improvisation-based album Open)
12) Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part 2 (from the 1973 King Crimson album Larks’ Tongue in Aspic): It was exciting to hear this piece live again, as it was in the concert in 1982 (and previous KC concerts that I had attended)—also, on the heals of the recent 40th anniversary release of the re-mastered album.
Tony Levin playfully taking a stage photo for the ongoing Crimson Chronicles
13) Encore: A Stick Men arrangement of Stravinsky’s Firebird: Let’s hope that this ends up on a future live album—a forceful and experimental rendition of Stravinsky’s 1910 work.
After the Encore
It was a real treat to observe the persona of each musician on-stage: Tony Levin’s classic broad stance and kinetically expressive movements (resulting in many blurry photos!), Markus Reuter’s calm scanning of the crowd as he switched from touch-fingering his guitar to using it in a more conventional guitar-stance, and Pat Mastelotto’s highly expressive performance on percussion and electronic devices—and just when I thought that he had no more tricks in the bag, out he’d pull even more paraphernalia, including a bow!
At one point during the night Tony Levin noted that King Crimson was still alive, not broken-up, yet (somewhat comically) Levin noted that Robert Fripp had recently attended a Stick Men show (and paid for his ticket, despite a guest pass) and in response to a question about when a King Crimson tour might occur again, Fripp responded “Pain.” I think Mr. Fripp has moved on, and is enjoying his semi-retirement and over-seeing of the re-mastering and re-releasing of their massive archive of concerts and other recordings.
If you’re within striking distance of a Stick Men show—please go see them! They’re appearing at the Iridium Jazz Club this Friday (March 29) and Saturday (March 30) nights in New York City. I’m sure they’ll be on the road again soon. Bravo and thank you to the Stick Men! Oh, and buy their new album DEEP–see also this great review of the album by my friend over at Horse Bits: http://horsebits-jrc.blogspot.com/2012/11/deep-by-stick-men.html
Note: Click on any photo to see an enlarged version. Please contact me if there are any factual errors in what I have written above. I have many other high resolution photos of the show, and if you chose to copy or repost any of the photos, please credit me “wajobu.com”. You can’t see them, but the photos ARE watermarked.