Thursday, October 5, 2017

Seth Kibel presents Songs of Snark and Despair (AZALEA CITY RECORDINGS 2017)

Seth Kibel never meant to make a record like this. The multi-instrumentalist woodwind player and genre renaissance man wrote songs with lyrics only once in a blue moon. But then came November 8, 2016.

“I was shellshocked,” he explains. “I had a hard time processing what had happened.” Kibel had performed jazz from almost every era. He led his own klezmer ensemble. But not long after Election Night, he found himself in a parking lot, scribbling thoughts and fragments into a sketch pad, the seeds of his first-ever songs.

They grew into Songs of Snark and Despair, an album of anthems and odes to the trials of our peculiar political era. As the songs developed, Kibel pounded out rough demo versions of them in his basement. “Despite my singing and playing, I got some positive feedback from friends,” Kibel recounts, from talented DC/Baltimore-area musicians who transform Kibel’s lyrics into everything from down-and-dirty old-school R&B (Black Betty’s smouldering rendition of “240 Years”) to reggae (Damon Foreman’s fantastic riffing on “Misplaced Priorities”).

“This whole thing caught me off guard,” Kibel muses. “Most of my writing is instrumental, not song-based. This was an unexpected project, but it was my own musical therapy, my attempt to do something constructive in the wake of an election that was very upsetting. And musically, it’s a summary of everything I’ve ever done professionally, all the styles and genres I love,” and then some.

Kibel does what he’s done best on upbeat jazz-centric romps like “Snark and Despair” and klezmer numbers (“Stalin’s Revenge”). Expanding his styles, “White Guilt” winks at Martin Denny-esque exotica, while “Unfriend” has a quirky dubstep-style remix version, perfect for those epic rounds of eradicating the bigots from your feed.

For Kibel, as for many Americans, the election and the months that followed brought a lot of things home: their relative privilege, their political convictions and personal values, their exposure to chaos. A professional musician with multiple instruments (sax, flute, and clarinet) and multiple projects (Alexandria Kleztet, swing group the Natty Beaux, a jazz combo with many iterations), Kibel had gone through a lot, as his family had endured some health and other personal crises.

All that was over--but the world seemed poised to go to hell. Kibel was horrified and dealt with it the only way he knew how. “I make jokes at funerals,” Kibel explains. “I try to keep that tendency in check and balance the snark with the very real despair, which is dead serious for many Americans right now.”

These jokes and snarky snippets, scribbled down in between lessons and gigs, morphed into songs. Kibel didn’t quite know what to do with them, so he committed them to audio recording quickly and asked his friends for their thoughts. “I’m primarily a horn player. I have destroyed my demos,” he laughs. “I’m a lousy piano player and an even worse vocalist. The nice thing was I got a lot of great feedback,” from musicians from all over the DC scene. Kibel had worked with them in all sorts of capacities over the years.

To Kibel’s delight, they shared his perspective on unfolding events and jumped into the studio. “Everyone involved was already a friend, there was already mutual respect. I could be very free in the studio about what I was hoping to hear from them. Together, we could finagle the arrangements.”

With his collaborators, he explored novel territory, including rock (“Diversity,” powered by singer-songwriter Billy Coulter) and pop balladry (“Corner” with rising star Chris Urquiaga). “I was a bit nervous,” Kibel says. “I didn’t want musicians who don’t usually stray into political territory in their art to endanger their standing with some of their fans.” Political pasts and potential misunderstandings aside, Kibel and his DC friends dived in and created an album with enough technical oomph and musical pleasures to take it out of bumper-sticker or novelty territory, and into a sincere expression of political anguish and emotional intensity.

01 Snark & Despair
02 240 Years
03 Diversity
04 White Guilt
05 Stalin's Revenge
06 Misplaced Priorities
07 Unfriend
08 Corner
09 Vlad's Bit (Hidden Track)
10 Unfriend (Audix Remix)

Akshara - In Time (2017)

Brilliant Beat: Akshara Creates Space For Evocative Melodic Exploration Among Mathematically Elegant South Indian Rhythms

New York-based ensemble releases debut album, In Time

“At its root, Carnatic music is very complex and mathematical,” explains classically trained, New York-based mridangam (South Indian double-headed drum) player Bala Skandan. “That makes it interesting rhythmically, even for seasoned Indian players.”

And for other musicians from a wide variety of backgrounds, as Skandan shows on In Time, his debut recording with Akshara. The octet merges jazz, Western classical, and Indian sensibilities and instrumentation,featuring members from Brooklyn Raga Massive and House of Waters.

Skandan puts South India’s characteristic rhythms at the heart of his pieces, building technically stunning, musically engaging work around them. “Mohana Blues” highlights both konnakol (spoken rhythmic patterns) and tabla, as well as lush washes of arcing strings (including two cellos - actually one cello and two violins). “Mind the Gap” alternates beats and pauses with lithe, sparkling bursts of melody. “Urban Kriti” develops from the modal flutter of hammered dulcimer (Max ZT), picking up steam as it builds in waves, guided by the drums (Skandan plays beautifully off of Nitin Mitta’s tabla) and Jay Gandhi's gorgeous bansuri flute.

As a boy, Bala Skandan heard the tavil drums playing at a local temple. He loved the sound. “It’s very loud and hardly every amplified. It’s played in open spaces, in temples and during weddings. If you’re in that part of the world, you’ll come across it just walking down the street.

So when his parents sent him to music school, he chose the mridangam, the tavil’s more stayed and nuanced cousin. “Mridangam players have taken material from tavil players, and vice versa,” he notes. “The only difference the mridangam is a concert instrument and tavil is a celebration instrument.”

Along with the barrel-shaped drum, Skandan studied violin. He dabbled in both until he got to college, when he set music aside for a while. After graduating, however, he felt something was missing from his life and he dived back into the challenges and delights of the drum. He found himself composing pieces that highlighted his chosen instrument.

“It sometimes gets lost in a traditional concert setting, in a sense that there is so much going on, it’s difficult to extract that special rhythmic aspect and admire it. That’s what I’ve worked to highlight. How do you express this complexity, to put it out there on its own? Then I bring the melody in. The melody can make it hard to hear the complexity and subtlety of the rhythms, but it can also enhance them powerfully.”

Time in London led him to brainstorm new formats for the millenia-old music. He put together a band, an unusual set up in Indian Classical music, where musicians come together to play for one-off concerts, rather than remaining in steady ensembles.The group hooked audiences with shorter-form pieces, to help them ease into the extended experience Carnatic music performances offer. Skandan broke some of the basics into more accessible arrangements and ideas, to initiate those new to the style into its principles and pleasures. “Indian classical music has a lot of depth. It takes time to appreciate its different levels or layers,” he reflects. “You need to peel the layers back and make it easier to engage with.”

Skandan is now based in New York, which has given him a whole range of insights and musical flavors to fold into his own musical vision. “New York gave me was a lot more exposure to other genres and forms of music. There’s a lot more cross-cultural work. Through that process, I came across a lot of musicians from all different backgrounds interested in Indian music. They were inspired by Carnatic music, and I was inspired by them.”

Though most of the ensemble are highly trained Indian Classical musicians, several were new to its forms, though alight with curiosity. Skandan harnessed this interest, adding novel timbres and ranges to his work. “I love cello, and I have two cello players,” laughs Skandan. “Cello is not an instrument usually associated with Carnatic music. I always felt that cello and viola really could add a lot of depth even to very classical.”

Carnatic music has a huge canon of compositions, though by nature, South Indian compositions relate to performance in ways that are more flexible than Western classical works. Skandan extends these principles in his compositions, in ways harmonious with Western practices: “It’s important to not cram your music with your own thought processes. I love it when the band adds harmony, because that’s not part of my training.You want create space for other people to explore.”

Reimagining Ella Fitzgerald 🎶 (VERVE LABEL GROUP 2017)

Ella Fitzgerald Reimagined Like Never Before

2017 is Ella Fitzgerald’s Centennial year. This new album features Ella’s vocals paired with new symphonic arrangements and accompaniment by the peerless London Symphony Orchestra. Classic tracks include "I Get A Kick Out Of You," "Makin' Whoopee!," and "People Will Say We're In Love," featuring the inimitable jazz singer Gregory Porter.

Seth MacFarlane’s Talent Continues to Amaze

Actor, TV and film creator, and singer, Seth MacFarlane recently released his new studio album, In Full Swing . His debut album in 2011 hit the top of the Jazz charts and received four Grammy nominations. Blessed with an arranger’s ear, MacFarlane revamped the originals with a deliberate approach, sometimes altering the tempo and structure during sessions with producer/arranger Joel McNeely. MacFarlane gives traditionally quiet ballad “But Beautiful” an uplifting bounce; he adds a sultry heft to the fluffy “A Kiss Or Two,” and he turns “Almost Like Being In Love” into a bubbly ode.

Brian Newman’s Got a Friend in Gaga

Brian Newman recently signed to Verve Records and released his first single “Sunday in New York.” The singer and trumpeter is a long-time friend and bandleader of Lady Gaga since their start up days in the NYC downtown bar scene. He surprised the crowd at his Boston House of Blues shows last month when Mother Monster showed up both nights - after performing her own strenuous shows at Fenway Park - to share the stage with her old friend. Over both nights the two sang duets of “Little Coquette,” “Call Me Irresponsible,” “What A Difference A Day Makes,” “Just A Gigolo," and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.”

Blue Note All-Stars - Our Point of View (BLUE NOTE 2017)

The creative young voices of Jazz have been the lifeblood of Blue Note Records throughout its storied history, from Thelonious Monk and Herbie Hancock to Freddie Hubbard and Joe Henderson, all of whom made their debut albums for the legendary label. The Blue Note All-Stars continue that legacy with the September 29 release of Our Point of View, the debut recording from a supergroup of young visionaries that formed in 2014 for a series of live performances in honor of Blue Note’s 75th anniversary. Featuring trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, keyboardist Robert Glasper, bassist Derrick Hodge, guitarist Lionel Loueke, drummer Kendrick Scott, and tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland, the album also boasts a special guest appearance by Blue Note legends Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock, and is dedicated to the memory of beloved longtime Blue Note President Bruce Lundvall, who passed away in 2015.

The song list includes originals by each of the band members, including two elegies for Lundvall which open and close the album, as well as two renderings of Shorter compositions: an expansive version of “Witch Hunt,” from Shorter’s 1965 Blue Note classic Speak No Evil, and a stunning performance of “Masquelero” on which the sextet is augmented by Shorter and Hancock. The album’s lead track “Second Light,” composed by Hodge, is available today to stream, download, or receive immediately with album pre-order.

“This is a band of open-minded, versatile musicians who are getting together for the love of the music. That can only equal great things,” says Glasper who co-produced the album with current Blue Note President Don Was. “The music itself should reflect the time period you’re in. We all love the history of the music. We’re infatuated with the history of jazz, but none of us are held back by the history of jazz. I feel like we’re all making our own history now.”

“It’s pushing the threshold in trying to do the next thing and not looking back,” Was adds. “That to me epitomizes what Blue Note is all about.”

Francesco Buzzurro and Richard Smith - Heart Of The Emigrants (2017)

"Heart of the Emigrants" takes its audience on a musical journey outside each respective player’s genres to explore new dimensions in the sound of two guitars.

1. Mambo Italiano 04:24
2. Amor 04:28
3. Film Suite 07:07
4. Pacifico Serenade 04:21
5. Heart of the Emigrants 04:43
6. Amazing Grace 04:24
7. Intimato 02:11
8. Taranta Funk 03:55
9. Tango, Fire and Sea 05:43
10. Day Tripper 02:56

Francesco Buzzurro - Giovanni Ingallinera Classical Guitar
Richard Smith - PRS guitars
Adam Del Monte - Track 4 featured - "Pacifico Serenade"

139 High St
Lewes, UK

Francesco Buzzurro and Richard Smith - One World, Two Guitars (2017)

Richard Smith's Thirteen solo recordings have established him as a veteran of the contemporary music world - with critical success on every one of his releases. His albums have garnished praise such as “Best Contemporary Jazz Guitar Album” (Tune Up Magazine), a nomination for “Record of the Year” (Ad Lib Magazine), and “Best New Artist” (Radio & Records Magazine). His album 'SOuLIDIFIED' spent 17 weeks in the top 10 for radio airplay of American contemporary jazz radio (Radio and Records Magazine) and 3 weeks at number 1 in the World for satellite and cable airplay (Music Choice). 

His most recent recording, “One World, Two Guitars” is an exciting duo project with Italian virtuoso Francesco Buzzurro – the duo tours regularly in America and Europe. ‘L.A. CHILLHARMONIC’ features Alex Acuna, Brian Bromberg, Vinnie Colaiuta, Jeff Lorber, Eric Marienthal, Michael Paulo, Greg Adams, and the Tower of Power horn section. The touring ensemble won a nomination for Best International Group of the year from the Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards. In 2012 his touring and teaching took him to England, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Holland, Italy, Australia and Tahiti. 

Francesco Buzzurro's lifelong privileged connection with guitar started at the tender age of six when his father gave him his first guitar, which will then lead him to study classical guitar. After earning his Diploma at "Conservatorio Bellini" in Palermo, he continues education with courses held by Aldo Minella and Oscar Ghiglia.

He perfected himself at the "Arts Academy" in Rome under the guidance of Stefano Palamidessi and some big concert performers like David Russell, Alberto Ponce, Hopkinson Smith and John Duarte. After taking his Degree in Foreign Languages and Literatures, he started an intense concert activity that brought him to travel all over the world: from America, to Greece, to Germany, to Spain and Turkey. As a classical guitarist he won three national concerts: the "Città di Alassio", the "Benedetto Albanese" in Caccamo, Sicily, and the "Savona in Musica".

On top of his studies of classical music and of his passion for folk music, he soon develops an interest in jazz music, which bring him to graduate in Jazz Music with Honorable Mention.

1. Pasaje 07:08
2. Spain 04:39
3. Isn't She Lovely 03:59
4. Beyond The Mountains 05:55
5. Phase Dance 04:17
6. Cantalope Island 04:49
7. The Great North 06:04
8. L'Ottavo Nano 03:20
9. Mercy, Mercy, Mercy 04:17
10. Pinball Wizard 03:22

Francesco Buzzurro - Giovanni Ingallinera Classical Guitar
Richard Smith - Paul Reed Smith Guitar

Dieter Ilg - B-A-C-H (ACT MUSIC 2017)

Bugge Wesseltoft - Everybody Loves Angels (ACT MUSIC 2017)