JamBands.com Online Music Magazine

contribute
| about us | what is a jam band?

CD Reviews
Edited by Jesse Jarnow

INDEX TO REVIEWS

"Evening Moods" - Bob Weir and Ratdog
"Ladies and Gentlemen... the Grateful Dead!" - the Grateful Dead
"Continent" - Schleigho
"Might As Well... the Persuasions Sing Grateful Dead" - the Persuasions
"Three Sets: Voume Two" - various artists
"live: GUELPH ON CAN 4.5.00" - the New Deal
"jazzpunk" - David Fiuczynski
"Dancing" - Mike Keneally and Beer For Dolphins
"New Pieces Of Clay" - Government Grown
"Heavy Flute" - various artists
"Morning Dove Songs" - Jennie Stearns
"Simplicity" - Bob Nieske 3 featuring the Lydian String Quartet
"A Night At The Flopera" - Sativ-a Brand
"plan b" - Chupacabra
self-titled - Lunar Detour
self-titled - Organica
self-titled - Psychedelic Breakfast
"Three Feet Off The Ground" - the Bruce Katz Band


"Evening Moods" - Bob Weir and Ratdog
Grateful Dead Records 4072
review by Rob S. Turner

While Bob Weir has had a very successful career outside of The Grateful Dead as a live performer, I think its safe to say that his studio work as a front man has been at best spotty. While the brilliant "Ace" was an impressive debut, it was essentially a Grateful Dead album consisting of Weir songs. The full band performed each of these songs; Weir merely sang them and composed much of the music for them. The self-titled debut album from Kingfish was also an impressive collection of music (this is where Lazy Lightning and Supplication first saw vinyl), but his later released projects with the band often flirted with the watered down Grateful Dead category. Weir's "Heaven Help The Fool" album featured some great songs, but it suffered from heavy-handed production. This album, and the two releases from Bobby and The Midnites in the eighties gave the impression that Weir was longing for a commercial hit. The Midnites were a powerful group of incredible musicians who delivered invigorating performances. However their first CD only gave a tiny window into the prowess of this band, and the second CD ("Where The Beat Meets The Street") was downright dreadful. Weir has released one very strong disc with Rob Wasserman, but it was culled from live performances.

So, as someone who has followed Weir's career closely for over twenty years, I am delighted to report that "Evening Moods" is his strongest solo studio release ever. With the exception of some moments of weird-sounding backing vocals, the mix is absolutely flawless. Literally all of the instruments are clearly discernable, and Weir's guitar and Wasserman's bass each leap out to the ear on literally every track. There is a breadth and strength to the songwriting that we have not been treated to on a Weir release since "Ace". Although this may partly be due to the fact that The Grateful Dead are no longer around to cherry pick Weir's strongest songs away, credit should also be given to the compositional input of recent and current Ratdog members (particularly Jeff Chimenti and Dave Ellis), and an army of lyricists. Weir's singing has also never sounded better in the studio. Even his toughest critics should take note that not only does he resist the urge to over-sing, but he also centers more on expressive subtlety than the sometimes-too-familiar desperate wailing.

This is possibly most evident during the fiery Odessa. When Weir sings "If the river flood, woman say I brung the rain. If the quake shake, who gonna take the blame," we hear a man that has become very familiar with the strengths of his own singing. Weir charges through this white boy version of, Baby's Got Back with undeniable earnest. The tempestuous woman that is celebrated in the song is big-legged, headstrong, and equipped with a mouth that would put a junkyard dog to shame. The chorus urges Odessa to ease up, but a close examination of the lyrics and the lusty feel of the powerful horn arrangement might make one wonder if the voice of the song has reveled in some of Odessas overbearing qualities. I'm guessing Odessa is only being asked to ease up for a few minutes, not for good. There is a sense of humor evident also, as during one rockin' sax solo (judging by the liner notes, I assume this is Ellis) we hear a phone ringing in the background. After the third ring, it sounds like it gets picked up, and longtime Weir collaborator Matthew Kelly kicks in with his harmonica solo, commencing it with a trill that almost quotes the phone ring.

Odessa is an example of Weir continuing his penchant for singing about the many joys of the women of this world, but in a more reverential fashion. October Queen, offers another window into the modern day Weir. The introduction reminds me of some of the many late nights Ive spent in jazz clubs. Jay Lane eases into the piece with a gentle shuffle sprinkled with some fancy cymbal work and Wasserman's walking bass line slides into the mix to set the table appropriately for this l'il Dixiefied Weir number. Andre Pessis has lent a hand in the lyrics here, and he has created a song that whimsically tells of an annual liaison between a working stiff, and this October Queen. Pessis offers some lyrics that are not only packed with wisdom, but also clearly written with a Weir sensibility. This song is a pleasant melding of bawd and insight. The lyrics capture the cross-sectionalized mayhem that is New Orleans, particularly in this stanza:

Bars and alley are runnin wild with Frat Rats.
And your three piece Bible-belt conventioneers.
And your Drag Queens and your strip bars and your hazy purple streetlights.
All steamin up the atmosphere

My personal favorite line is the description of the Queen's lusty come hither look; "She's got that far off, smokey, leaves-are-falling look in her eyes. A true last chance October Queen." The Dixieland horn arrangement and robust hook in the song take the mind right down to The Big Easy. The beauty of the song is that its voice comes off as the dirty element, and the clearly promiscuous woman is the essential character driving the lyrics. She is the one who slips out in the middle of the night, leaving the voice of the song to, wake up in a haze of sweat and cheap perfume. We get the idea that he is the one saddled with feelings of regret and betrayal as he reflects about going back to his life of country clubs and nine-to-five work. Clearly, the Queen is playing the King. This song slides effortlessly into the instrumental The Deep End which lends a feel that should be familiar to anybody that has enjoyed some live Ratdog jams. Even though it's a studio album, you get the idea that it could take off in any direction. There are subtle references to The Other One here (time for Rosenberg to change a bunch of those Other One Jam listings in his set lists to The Deep End on ratdog.org) and some sweet interplay between Weir and guest saxophonist Eric Crystal. This is one of two segues on the disc, serving well as a representation of Ratdog's live capabilities.

Surprisingly, this does not segue into the final track, Even So, even though it sounds like it would make musical sense. Weir collaborated with Gerrit Graham on this one, and like another of their collaborations, Victim Or The Crime, it chronicles a painfully depraved individual submitting to his demons. This character is so far gone that even the wolf man is spooked away by him. Weir's vocal is extremely expressive on this one, and he gives the song emotional strength when he gently wails as the song nears its close, and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti takes it home with some delicate piano.

Perhaps Weir has become more appreciative of the wisdom of the female side of the world. Welcome To The World, and Lucky Enough are two songs that suggest that Weir has been touched by fatherhood (Weir has recently become a parent). I would never expect a Weir of the past to sing, And, when I look through your eyes. And see again each day as new. I can see my soul reborn. And what I know, I never knew. This stanza, from Welcome To The World, finds Weir refreshingly vulnerable. His mind is (at least temporarily) out of the bedroom, which allows his heart to soak in the children's room. The gentle, elegant arrangement, is anchored by Wasserman's sturdy, dont-waste-a-note bass, and decorated by the sweetly elegant Chimenti piano work. There is sincerity in the delivery of this piece that makes tolerable an arrangement that might otherwise have seemed flowery. Let's face it, Weir's come a long way from, Gloria Monday, or Me Without You (two lyrical lightweights from The Midnites days). This could also be said for the hopeful Lucky Enough. This song starts with a gentle little riff that sounds like it could have come off of a CSN album in the seventies. Are we seeking Adult Alternative radio airplay here Bobby? Here, we find Weir offering a character seeking grace, rather than an exciting bedmate. Again I am impressed by lines like, "Oh to see the beauty, joy, and the tenderness. The reasons why a man's alive." Amen, Bobby. where have ya been? Weir surprises everyone with one stanza that demonstrates sensitivity for the long-term side of a relationship.

The deepest journeys pass through the wilderness
The desert where the burning question resides
To taste the magic you must first suck the emptiness
From a cup that is always dry.

The two most ambitious songs on the disc are Ashes and Glass, and Two Djinn. Although they do not get the full instrumental workout that they receive in the live setting, these are clearly the lyrical masterpieces of this collection. The former follows up on the later-day Dead classic, Throwing Stones, by speculating on a world after a nuclear disaster. There is an interesting contrast in the lyrics. The verses are filled with ominous thoughts, If all the earth were baked to hard red clay, not so far from where we are today. However, the two bridges (delivered in the style of the pop staple, Mockingbird) have a playful, but guarded optimism, "And if that better way don't float, Daddy gonna find us a tighter boat. And if that tighter boat don't sail, grab a bucket, babe, start to bail. And if that bucket spring a leak, Little Miss were up the creek."

On Two Djinn Weir chronicles the wild self-examination that his character embarks on after encountering a couple of Djinn on the way to West Marin. Djinn are supernatural beings that take human form and influence us with their advanced intelligence. We get the sense that the Djinn are leading the song's character astray, "my strange heroes lead me on, but when I get there they'll be gone". The twisted, allegorical song is bolstered by some outstanding sax and guitar lines which weave in and out of the verse section. Throughout the disc we are treated to savory Weir ornamental guitar, and particularly on this track. At one point he sends out a little guitar quirk that echoes one of the, by the dark of the moon lines in the infectious chorus. Bobby even revisits the Aboriginal concept of dreams being the real side of life on the last lyric of the number. Weir has alluded to having a fascination for this idea before, sometimes in interviews, and even once from the stage during a particularly memorable Sunshine Daydream (Merriweather Post 06/20/83 I believe) performance by The Dead.

Two Djinn segues into the only song on the release that was performed by The Grateful Dead, Corrina. This song has been heavily criticized over the years, but I believe this criticism in unfounded. One problem is that it was introduced into The Dead's repertoire when the band was particularly lazy about learning new material. As a result, there were many lackluster versions of this challenging song, and more than a few Dead Heads gave up on it. Not to say that the band never nailed this one (check out the 12/3/92 Denver version) and those who enjoyed a dancing challenge generally savored this number. Others claim that it is a sexist song. These people probably only listen to the chorus, where Corrina is commanded first to shake it up, and later to shake it up, now! I think the character of the song is pining in this chorus, not commanding. When one breaks down the rest of the lyrics, one may find that the voice of the song is painfully obsessed with an elusive Corrina, perhaps even from a distance. There are lines; ("I'm down by law, but true to you,") and couplets ("I would love you even if you flew away from me. I'll just stand here waiting, on the far side of the sea. There is no fear that lovers born will ever fail to meet") in the song that are a far cry from sexist. This version benefits from a powerful Weir lead vocal, the strongest backing vocals on the disc, and a funky, almost Stevie Wonder-ish attack from Chimenti. My only criticisms would be that the guitar break could have a little more bite, and the one new Ratdog tune omitted from this collection (She Says) could have fit perfectly after Corrina. And finally we get to the lead track. Weir is his typically unusual self by kicking the disc off with the menacing, Bury Me Standing. His restrained lead vocal belies the spooky feel of this classically Weir-ified piece. Even if there weren't direct lyrical references to Robert Johnson in the song, I believe his presence would be palpable. The idea of being buried standing suggests a character that expects to keep moving after his demise. In Johnson's Me and The Devil Blues he wrote, "you may bury my body, down by the highway side, so my old evil spirit can catch a Greyhound bus and ride". Weir is clearly familiar with this song (hell, he performed it with Widespread Panic once), and he seems to reference two Johnson songs when he sings, "Bury me standing, I been a lifetime on my knees, bury me at the crossroads, lay me down and let me be". This song oozes along with a Halloween-like darkness, and Weir plays some the best lead guitar ever heard from him (you didn't sell that soul now did ya Bobby?). Guitarist Mark Karan seems most at home in this blues setting, and he even steers the band into a l'il bit of a South American feel during some sections. The last jam affords Weir and Wasserman an opportunity to let their instrumental personalities shine brightly.

This is a fine release that should win over even the most anti-Weir Grateful Dead fans. And for those of us who have hung with him for all these years, this release is sweet, so very, very sweet!


"Ladies and Gentlemen... the Grateful Dead!" - the Grateful Dead
Grateful Dead Records 4075
review by Bill Stites

It is probably impossible for a Deadhead to see this album's title inscribed, in a playfully psychedelic script, over an intricate hand-dyed tapestry and not hear Bill Graham, in his reassuring Krakow-transplanted-to-New-York accent, introducing, as he did so many times, the Great American Band, his gravel voice a promise that the performance to follow will be held to an exacting standard of quality by the promoter who almost single-handedly made legendary the music scene San Francisco enjoyed in the 1960's and beyond.

This new set captures four disks worth of fine performances from the Dead's five-night last stand at Graham's Fillmore East in April of 1971, two months before he closed its doors for good. Graham's voice is heard for only seconds at the beginning of the first disk, but his spirit smiles in every tune. This is the sound of the Dead at their home away from home, relaxed, their music safe in the hands of the classiest sonafabitch ever to stage a rock and roll show.

'71 was a transition year for the band. They lost drummer Mickey Hart in February, and in October added Keith Godchaux, their first keyboardist really to improvise interactively with the rest of the group, whose arrival heralded the dazzling jams of the following three years. The band heard here is well beyond the whimsical musical hallucinations they made famous in the 60's, but has not yet discovered the elegant, abstract jazz style in which they and Godchaux would later make their best music. The improvisation here is impressive, at times even exceptional, but only rarely breaks free of musical boundaries, and then not for long. The set's longest jams are not the bittersweet ecstasy of Morning Dew, or Dark Star's lucid dreams , but Good Lovin' and Turn On Your Lovelight, the Dead as Pigpen's backup band, sustaining 20-plus-minute eruptions of soul as he raps about women and the perils of pocket pool.

Indeed, I have rarely heard the Dead as funky as they are to be found on this set. Bill Kreutzmann, two months into his (second) tenure as the Dead's only drummer, reveals himself to be as supple and sly rhythmically as Hart is primal and aggressive, which would become the defining character of the Dead's sound for the next few years. Pigpen's organ is a big player on these disks, too, and for once it's a good thing, his percolations and asides adding depth and character to songs you don't normally expect to hear him on.

Each of the four disks has only one extended jam or song sequence on it, which leaves plenty of room for straightahead blues, country and rock, as well as shorter takes on some classic Dead jam tunes. Ordinarily this would be a liability for a Dead set; I greatly doubt that they'd even consider putting out a "Dick's Picks" with this little jamming on it. But in this case it's a delight to discover the Dead playing *songs* perhaps as well as they ever did, as a tight, confident, and versatile musical unit, tearing through tunes we've all heard a million times and making them sound fresh again.

There's a few obscure gems to be found: covers of tunes both older - Lightnin' Hopkins' Ain't It Crazy, and a beautiful version of Merle Haggard's Sing Me Back Home - and contemporary - Bobby doing Me and Bobby McGee and Jerry doing Second that Emotion, which may be my favorite thing on the set - as well as electric versions of Dark Hollow and Ripple. A few then-new tunes receive surprisingly mature treatments, too, most notably an outstanding Wharf Rat and a haunting, inspired Bird Song that prefigures the excellent versions of '73 and '74. There's even the last Alligator they ever performed and the only guest appearance by ex-keyboardist Tom Constanten after he and the band parted ways in January, 1970.

Read Blair Jackson's program notes and let them seep into your head. Take in the excellent photos by Amalie R. Rothschild and Fred Ordower. Then put on headphones, sit back in your chair, close your eyes and press play. The sound on these disks is so crystal clear, the energy so irresistible that it's hard to believe you're not there, in of the East's plush seats, listening to these exuberant young musicians having the time of their lives. This is the sound of the Grateful Dead as a rock and roll band, uptempo and swinging, taking a breather between periods of wild experimentation to throw a dance party for the kids in a great venue in the greatest city in the world. Judging by these disks, I don't think there could be anything more noble.


"Continent" - Schleigho
Flying Frog Records 01-002
review by AJ Abrams

The listener's travels across this sonic "Continent" begin with the sound of a needle touching down on a turntable and scratchily moving through the grooves of a vinyl record. It's an appropriate beginning to the CD because the band has become that needle. A needle falls into the grooves of a record and stays there non-stop until the end of the record. Similarly, Schleigho locks into a mesmerizing groove immediately from the opening notes and doesn't let that groove stop until the CD is finished.

When electric jazz funk and fusion was at its peak in the mid '70s, the CD player was not even invented yet. Most of that classic music was originally available only on vinyl records. It may be the millennium but on "Continent" Schleigho transports you back to that time. They have created a fantastic instrumental CD of thick funk, heavy rock, and progressive fusion.

Keyboardist Jesse Gibbon uses a Clavinet, Rhodes and Hammond Organ to paint the luscious landscape of Continent. Suke Cerulo adds flute and guitar to provide the fresh air and blue sky above and drummer Erik Egol and bassist Matt Rubano keep the ground firm with their fat funk rhythms.

All you need to explore this massive musical "Continent" is a set of open ears. Just close your eyes and let your ears navigate the aural environment. And it is indeed a diverse "Continent" that needs to be fully explored. The CD has its dark evil moments, its happy ecstatic moments, and its pure funk moments. When Suke Cerulo adds his beautiful flute melodies the music is ethereal, light and airy. His flute floats above the rest of the instruments and reaches for the sky. Jesse Gibbon's keyboards can take the music in several different directions.

While on the Rhodes he floats up to the sky along with Cerulo's flute but on the Hammond Organ he supplies the fat funk that will keep any bar dancing. And versatile bassist Matt Rubano can play delicate melodic bass or join in on the funk. Drummer Erik Egol anchors it all with his pounding funk drums or delicate jazz colorings.

There are three different songwriters in Schleigho and their sophisticated arrangements and strong melodies make much of this CD something special. This is not to say that this is a perfect record. Some listeners may find Schleigho's drastic, turn-on-a-dime changes leave them too off-kilter, while others may lament the fact that the band pursues such an angular approach on most every song, so there is some similarity from track to track. The most original sounding parts of this record seem to be when the band is playing lovely, breezy, delicate songs. They are songs that remind you of a driving a convertible on a Sunday afternoon or make you feel like you are flying. Schleigho have discovered their own unique jazz "Continent". And it is certainly a place worth exploring over again and again.


"Might As Well... the Persuasions Sing Grateful Dead" - the Persuasions
Grateful Dead Records 4070
review by Jesse Jarnow

"Reckoning" - the live, all-acoustic double-LP recorded by the Grateful Dead in the autumn of 1980 - is an utterly comfortable album that perfectly exemplifies the warmest, most familiar corner of the weird Grateful Dead universe -- the part that felt most like a traditional church (as opposed to the unutterably strange blood-letting voodoo rituals of "Infrared Roses" or the "Live/Dead" Dark Star). "Reckoning" gets the bulk of its play in my house in the early hours of the morning, literal and figurative -- either as I'm lying in bed trying to have my eyes closed before the sun comes creeping through window or when I've just rolled over the next afternoon and would prefer to laze about.

"Might As Well... the Persuasions Sing Grateful Dead" fills the same niche. Almost. It's relaxed in a very similar way, but without the lush darkness that underlies some of the playing on "Reckoning". Either way, it's a kind of Grateful Dead that you can play for your mother. As with the other David Gans-produced album of this year ("Stolen Roses"), the focus here is the songs -- once again almost Garcia/Hunter songs at that. Indeed, so many of their songs seem to come from an unplaceable time in American popular music -- somewhere after the introduction of electric instruments but before the advent of rock and roll. As such, their songs lend themselves to a kind of interpretation well-suited to the harmonies of an a cappella group. If ever given the chance, I'd definitely like to hear the Persuasions tackle some of the dense chord progressions written by Weir. I think it'd bring the elegant strangeness of Bobby's songs.

The band does their best when tackling the Jerry ballads: Brokedown Palace, Sugaree, It Must've Been The Roses, Black Muddy River - and, quite specifically - Lazy River Road and Ship Of Fools -- undoubtedly the two highlights of the disc. The Lazy River Road is a revelation, a sublime rendition of a song that was never fully realized by its author, a song that should've been included on "Europe '72" if it wasn't written 20 years too late.

Persuasions' leader and arranger, Jerry Lawson, delivers his verses with an unerring intelligence. The only downside of the version is the verse sung by "human sub-woofer" Jimmy Hayes. Hayes's voice is incredibly low and gorgeously resonant, but - in this case - it seems that that was the deciding factor in giving him a verse. His voice bottoms out into an unfortunate kitschiness. It's forgivable, though, if only because of Hayes's solo performance later on the disc, a rendition of Ship Of Fools.

The song is a duet between Hayes and the piano of the Dead's last keyboardist, Vince Welnick. As a member of the Dead, Welnick was plagued by downright icky keyboard sounds. This performance does a lot to convince me that if the Dead had simply dropped him behind a grand piano, he wouldn't have come off so damn badly. His playing here is sensitive, restrained, and brilliant -- much more than any performance I've heard of Bruce Hornsby. This rendition of the tune does a lot to place the Grateful Dead in the linear stream of American popular music: something so heart-achingly sweet that would feel equally as right with a mournful saxophone or barroom lap steel.

Yes, there are instruments on the disc besides the Persuasions' voices. They come off with varying degrees of success. The liner notes quote Lawson as saying "let's put everything into the stew and see how it tastes". Most of the non-vocal ingredients fare best when they are used sparingly, such as Welnick's work on Ship Of Fools or David Gans's beautifully translucent guitar on Sugaree. Both One More Saturday Night and Bertha suffer from over-production, sounding too much like some damn good vocalists laid on top of a halfway decent band. Joe Craven of the David Grisman Quintet provides some vocal percussion on these tunes. Sure, it's neat that he can make these noises with his mouth... but they still sound like a drum machine.

Another problem with the album is a kind of jerking tempo-related inconsistency. This problem could be a Deadhead-predisposition towards original arrangements. He's Gone feels too damn fast, as does Brokedown Palace. Both should be savored. Ripple does, too, though not as much. I definitely yearned for the funeral dirge tempo of Sex Mob's fine version. The arrangement provides for an interesting twist, though. Just as the original version on "American Beauty" builds towards an unplaceable choir singing the refrain, the Persuasions' version works up to the introduction of instruments (Eric Thompson's mandolin and Pete Grant's dobro) for a sweet ending to the tune.

This is an album that a certain breed of non-Deadheads will enjoy. Of them, though, I really wonder how well the album will sell. Tribute albums tend to do well among the fanbase of the band who are being paid tribute to. As the genuine Grateful Dead recede further and further into the past, the proliferation of their songs continues on, well on their way to entering the common consciousness. In a sense, what artists like the Persuasions (as well as people like David Murray, Steven Bernstein, and Joe Gallant) are doing with the material is more interesting than most of the post-Dead configurations. I can't wait to see what comes next.


"Three Sets: Volume Two" - various artists
Lauan Records 0112
review by David Rioux

Lauan Records is a valiant effort at a creating a community of unified JamBands under one label. Their aim is to help in the promotion , distribution, and ultimately aiding the JamBands in gaining recognition on a wider scale than would be available to them on their own otherwise limited resources. One of the ways they help to accomplish this is the release of compilation CD's of some of there more promising bands. You can rest assured that you are almost always going to get a great mix as a result. Not only is it in the record company's best interest to release some of their best artists, but to price them to sell quickly as well. This, in fact, can be obtained for a mere $8.00 direct from the web site.

Of course, another thing that bears mention is that, being fans of JamBands, the least compelling thing about this particular genre of music is that so much of the experience is in the live performance, that studio recordings sometimes... most times.... don't do any justice. The bands contained in this sampler are in fact culled from live performances, just adding a little more fuel to the fire.

The bands themselves are Larry from Austin, Texas; Ancient Harmony from Albany, Georgia; and Wise Monkey Orchestra from San Diego, California, respectively. Larry opens the CD with three cuts, all of which highlight the deep groove these guys are capable of. Most worthy of mention is the opening track Just Ask Yourself (what jammin' can do for you), a tune that reaches out in to deep funky grooves that show me just what real JamBands can sound like when it all gels just right! Seven is also meant to go on for longer than it's 10:41 time allowance, just to allow the percussionists to properly stretch their legs.

Ancient Harmony is up next, but with only one cut... all 25:55 of it! It reminds me of an interview with Dick Latvala regarding one of the "Dick's Picks" releases where he said something like: "Christ's sake, you got a 25 minute Playin' In The Band on there, what more do you want?!" Now I'm not saying that this jam measures up to a good '74 Playin' In The Band, but you gotta figure that the label had something to prove by putting this on a promotional release. All I'm gonna say is, if a good long groove interests you... get it! Christ's sake, it's only eight bucks, what more do you want?

Last but certainly not least is Wise Monkey Orchestra with four cuts of their own, complete with horns and wonderfully soulful vocals. Some of Wise Monkey Orchestra's appeal seems to lie in there ability to make everything a little slower and funky. There is a kind of inner-city blues feel that resonates from the organ and horn mix, not to mention the deep back-bone the bass player lays down again and again.

"Three Sets" is a great compilation at a steal of a price, something more record labels should invest into doing. It made a convert out of me when I first discovered Grisman's own Acoustic Disc sampler's, and I can easily see the same thing happening again here. Assuming the quality stays at the level it is here, Lauan Records could easily grab a big share of the JamBands market.


"live: GUELPH ON CAN 4.5.00" - the New Deal
Sound and Light Live Series, volume 2
review by Jesse Jarnow

Shields' Paradox states that a band as a whole can become more musically mature even as their music itself becomes more hyperactive and schizophrenic. The latest by the New Deal (whose keyboardist lends his name to this newly minted theorem) - a new live EP, recorded in April 2000 - is a case-in-point proof of this. On the new EP, the New Deal's usually utterly patient grooves are shot up with some wonderfully speedy drug and stretched taut. Usually, a move like this - from a calculated evenness to a twisted explosion of loosely connected melodic ideas - can be seen as a regression. In this situation, though, that is not the case. The New Deal's first release - 1999's "This Is Live" - captured the band's first session together, a series of improvisations spliced and titled. These improvisations became the New Deal's first batch of "songs". As far as songs go, they aren't overly complex. For the most part, since then, the songs have retained the same vibe the original date was imbued with. The second release, an EP recorded in December 1999, elaborated on this with an elegant, spacey confidence, acting as a linear continuation, though not necessarily progression, of this vibe. Now, granted, this is a cool vibe -- but, for a band whose bread and butter is improvisation, one feel simply won't cut it. Thankfully, the new EP represents a vast change. At the center here is keyboardist Jamie Shields, who seems to have finally tamed his vast arsenal of keyboards. Where on the band's previous two discs it almost seemed as if he was a keyboard player thinking in terms of electronic music, it now seems as if he is an electronic musician thinking in terms of a keyboard. The difference is subtle but almost undeniable. In terms of phrasing, it seems as if he was previously still adjusting to a sample mentality -- taking a phrase and hammering it into trance-like bliss through repetition. In that, the band's parts seemed a little disconnected from each other. On the new disc, it seems like he is recognizing the flow and life of the parts a little bit more, willing to let them twist around each other in active ways, letting almost imperceptible variations breathe with the changes. The music is significantly less trancey and relaxing as it was in the past. This ain't a chill-out album. Drummer Darren Shearer jerks from groove to groove in a manner that makes it awfully hard to dance to. I wonder how the crowd in Guelph reacted to this music. There are definitely moments of airy bliss. The Escape, for example (making its first appearance on a New Deal disc), which begins - as far as I can tell - just after Shearer's live vocal "sample" about "Peter and the Wolf", acts as a nice valley after the wild peaks of Ravine -- this rendition of which is about twice as fast as the one on the Maine EP. The overall tone is brighter than the New Deal have been before and might well serve as a good introduction for someone who isn't all too familiar with their material. The improvisation definitely holds attention and progresses in a way somewhat foreign to the New Deal's thoroughly modern grooves. If the band can manage to hold onto to some of these vivacious spaces such that they can explore them with more complexity, they'll have a dangerous groove on their hands. It'd be interesting to see the band introduce more complex songwriting into their repertoire. They're certainly capable. Ultimately, it'd be nice to see them evolve into an electroed-out version of the Slip, who can (and do) play off the feel of the room with more efficiency than anybody on the circuit. The Slip, though, have become increasingly more grounded in proper songs of late (or maybe it's the shows I've ended up at). As the New Deal develops their voice - their various voices - it'd be wonderful to see them turn into a house band for this kind of exploration.


"jazzpunk" - David Fiuczynski
Fuze 8898-2
review by Chip Schramm

Albums like this one are refreshing. The music world is lucky to have daring, talented guys like David "Fuze" Fiuczynski around to rattle the cage every once in a while. As the title implies, "Jazz Punk" is a mixed breed of sorts, combining some well-known jazz sounds and standards with modern, unorthodox arrangements. The incredible finger speed and skill of Fiuczynski on guitar are belied by his taste for the esoteric. His projects in the past have ranged from ground-breaking work as leader of the Screaming Headless Torsos, to a more straightforward jazz collaboration with John Medeski. Here he gives plenty of new twists to tunes written by Chick Corea, Duke Ellington, John Phillip Sousa, and even Chopin. While the approach could be considered "punk" in attitude, I wouldn't compare it with classic punk from the early 80's. The sounds are far too complex, yet do not get lost in translation.

The album starts out with a Pat Metheny tune Bright Size Life, one of the longer tracks on the album. Fiuczynski works it over very well, combining some reverb and distortion effects to loop around his guitar soloing. He expands the jam a bit, bringing things tighter, then looser in orbit. This is followed appropriately enough by the classic Hendrix jam, 3rd Stone From The Sun. Here too, the song starts out dreamily enough before a vigorous breakdown in the middle, and final bass lead at the end. I do believe that an experimental musical pioneer like Hendrix would've appreciated what "Fuze" did with his song here.

Fiuczynski uses more than one lineup of musicians to support him on the album. On the third track, Prelude Op. 28 #4, by Chopin, he plays delicate, intricate guitar lines while Billy Hart on drums is his only accompaniment. Short but sweet, this track shows how many different approaches "Fuze" was willing to take toward the material. Star-Crossed Lovers gives "Fuze" a chance to switch gears yet again. Here he two-steps with Santi Debriano on the stand-up bass. Fiuczynski drifts in and out of key to represent the dueling themes at play in the Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn original.

In contrast, Chick Corea's La Fiesta is a tantalizing salsa number with a furious drum and percussion beat provided by Gene Lake and Daniel Sadownick, respectively. There, Fiuczynski picks quickly up and down the guitar to emulate the same kind of technique Corea used when he played it on the piano. Stars and Stripes Whenever is a clever take-off on the patriotic John Phillip Sousa tune bearing a similar name. Here, too, "Fuze" plays the parts of an entire orchestra all by himself. Needless to say, it takes both incredible finger speed and a well-trained ear to pull this off while retaining a sense of respect for the material.

The remaining songs on the album, Jungle Gym Jam and Hipgnosis are also worth mention. The former is the only original composition of Fiuczynski's on the album, while the latter contains a instrumental breakdown and reconstruction that includes Rufus Cappadocia on cello. Overall, this is a very interesting album to be appreciated especially by open-minded jazz fans. It goes to show that you can take 9 tunes that are disparate both thematically and technically, and rearrange them to give totally new meanings in each case. This is a great album for those looking for a little something different to spice up their music collection.


"Dancing" - Mike Keneally and Beer For Dolphins
Exowax Recordings 2404
review by Jesse Jarnow

"Dancing" by Mike Keneally and Beer For Dolphins is gut-wrenchingly bad. It's a shame, too, because Keneally is a helluva guitarist and a wonderful composer. Often times, negative reviews 'round here tend to say things along the likes of "this band is really tight but their songs are just bland". That doesn't entirely apply, but it comes closer to being true here as it does in any other case I've heard. With most discs that fall into that unfortunate category, there is no evidence that the band in question is capable of producing genuinely original music. In Keneally's case, he has proved quite able of such a task.

Fresh off of the wildly inventive "Nonkertompf" (1999), "Dancing" finds Keneally toning his cartoonish pieces down into something absurdly pandering. In places, bits of insane Zappa-like composition break through the murk, but - in general - it seems to be a fight for them to get through. On Pretty Enough For Girls, the second song on the second "side", interesting little breaks alternate with typically sluggish songwriting. The instrumental that follows, Taster, just feels lifeless until about three minutes into the piece. From there, it picks up.

To his credit, Keneally doesn't seem to fall into the all-too-easy trap for guitarists of his caliber to get snared in: insignificant songs with wanky guitar solos. No, the songs just seem to be insignificant here. An odd sign that the music is beginning to cook is the sudden appearance of vibes or other melodic percussion. It works invariably like a leitmotif. They come on and, miraculously, the song veers into coolness -- such as on Taster or We'll Be Right Back.

Something to consider before continuing: Keneally was Frank Zappa's "stunt guitarist" on several of FZ's later tours. I hate to bring that up as a point of reference, as I'm sure Keneally has worked long and hard to separate himself from Frank, but it seems relevant. A lot people who describe themselves as "respecting" Zappa's musicianship while claiming his sense of humor detracts from being able to take him seriously often pose the question of "what if FZ tried to be serious?". Regretfully, I think the result would sound like "Dancing".

Though the production here is extremely bright sounding and crisp - like Paul Fox's work on They Might Be Giants' "John Henry" (1994) and Phish's "Hoist" (1994) - a lot of the sounds themselves seem to be anchored in the 1980s, over-processed guitars and keyboards squealing and pirouetting in unison with a cold precision. FZ's music tended to reflect his lyrics, and the same is true here. Unfortunately, the lyrics here just don't work. They're not so much cliché as they are inconsequential. I don't like it when reviews quote lyrics out of context and deride them, so I won't. The imagery just isn't striking and the word play is clumsy at best.

The album is arranged into four "sides", as if it were a double-LP. As such, the mostly instrumental third "side" does the best. It is here that Keneally also falls into the wanker trap (specifically on the Brown Triangles)... but because he's such a good guitarist, it works. At its peak, the song feels very much in the same vein as FZ's Inca Roads. Selfish Otter, the lead off track on "side" three is the highlight. It's challenging and cool.

All of this begs the question: does a song's structure have to be strikingly new to be good? Of course not. But even songs with traditional verse-chorus-verse structures can challenge the ear and the mind. This album feels like Keneally's attempt at writing songs with accessible structures and, err, "soulful" vocals. It's overwrought. It feels disingenuous. There was more emotion in one two-minute schizophrenic track on "Nonkertompf" than there is on all of this disc's impassioned vocals.

And something about the packaging smells like glossy baseball cards. That's good. If you miss that smell, buy this album.


"New Pieces Of Clay" - Government Grown
Agave Records 001
review by Christopher Orman

Over the last few years, the East Coast has stolen the thunder within the jamband scene. While some claim an East Coast bias, very few bands of merit to the jamband scene comes from the West; an outré dilemma considering the ancestors of the scene started in San Francisco. Within the diverse state of California, the only jam related bands receiving accolades are Convoy, the Mother Hips and of course the Steve Kimock Band, while the latter could be considered the only true jamband of the three listed.

One may not have the intellectual foresight to decide on whether or not Government Grown will be the first West Coast band to garner attention on the East Coast. Listening to "New Pieces of Clay," the music seems eclectic, a homegrown blend of Pink Floyd and King Sunny Ade, which sounds infectious enough to attract the fickle music listeners within the jamband scene.

Opening with So Do I, Government Grown reveals their mind-numbing mix of psychedelia and polyethnic rhythms. As Jeremy Moss adds tribal rhythms and sings about a verdant jungle, Tyler Hardwick plays some rather esoteric guitar lines, which combined with Moss rhythms sounds neoteric but not egregious. Suddenly So Do I reaches the chorus, where horns accentuate Moss singing, pushing the song into African arenas. In fact, if a listener merely heard the chorus, s/he would never realize the thick psychedelia found in the songs verses. Upon reaching So Do Is brief jam section, Government Grown moves gently into a trance feel, reminiscent of a more relaxed Sector 9. In merely five minutes, the band moved deftly between multiple genres, but never at a pace which felt erratic or non-mellifluous.

The finest track on the album could be the Pink Floyd sounding, Take Me To the Moon. Lyrically, the song has intense poetics which yield mental images far beyond the banal lyrics contained in many musical compositions. By surrealistically mixing ethereal images with common everyday objects, the lyrics are reminiscent of an Andre Breton poem. The music then adds more emotionality to the song, forcing the lyrics to the cosmos where the words will wander on their own. Eventually, Take Me To the Moon has a transcendental quality, which makes one realize the sensitivity and mental comfort of Government Grown's music.

After such a transcending composition, Government Grown continues the journey with the equally elegiac New Pieces of Clay. Mellow and sonically multi-layered, once again Government Grown reveals their Pink Floyd side. Containing saxophone, congas and a multitude of guitar effects, the song takes you from the moon to the untraversed territories of the subconscious.

While "New Pieces of Clay" continually enters into the relaxing and gorgeous sonic idioms of Pink Floyd, the bands love of African music and reggae finds prominence on the album. Tracks like Africa ,Gamepark and Tigers Eye Dub pull the listener from reflection to moving their feet. Of interest, Africa has a joyous souskous feel, calling to mind the wonderfully infectious music of South Africa which Paul Simon brought to the ears of many Americans. Similarly, Gamepark contains African guitar filigrees, which calls to mind the traditional African song Mozambique. As Government Grown does throughout the album, the band mixes Gameparks African elements with ska horns, only to lead the listener into a full trance section. In a written context the changes must sound alarming, but such musical mixtures and movements reveal the true genius of Government Grown. Even a simple dub, like Tiger's Eye Dub sounds strangely psychedelic and far more interestingly sonically then most works created by Augustus Pablo, the disputable master of dub.

The public will certainly dictate the fate of Government Grown's music created by Jeremy Moss, Tyler Hardwick, Harley Orion and Evan Polselli. Based on the large amount of horrid music enjoyed by the public, it would be a travesty if "New Pieces of Clay" did not reach a large audience to absorb the beauty of the bands new album. Maybe Government Grown will forge across the Rocky Mountain Divide. If not, Californians will be able to keep quite a good secret to themselves.


"Heavy Flute" - various artists
Label M 5706
review by Pat Buzby

Joel Dorn, the compiler and annotator of this CD, and the producer of many of the original tracks, is a character. He made his mark with many oddball jazz productions in the 60's and 70's - the one that springs to mind is Rahsaan Roland Kirk's "The Three-Sided Dream In Audio Color", sort of an attempted jazz "Sgt. Pepper" that did in fact include three sides, as well as monologues, interludes featuring cosmic lawnmowers, and the like.

Unfortunately, Dorn's liner notes have more personality and guts than much of the music on this collection of "funky flute grooves." For instance, Herbie Mann's Comin' Home Baby from 1961, the biggest hit here, is a seductive tune, but Mann's sound is small and his licks don't work up much steam. His playing on Push Push, a decade later, has more body, and Duane Allman gets a solo (is there a need to say more?). It's hard to do much with the one-chord groove, though, especially over the course of eight minutes.

Similar problems exist throughout. The Kirk cuts prove (in case anyone didn't know) that he was the source of Ian Anderson's best tricks, but Anderson put his chops to more inventive use than a straight cover of Ain't No Sunshine. Kirk's other track, One Ton, does indeed get lewd, and Yusef Lateef gets points on Eboness for exploiting the flute's moodiness rather than settling for the lightness of the rest of the disc. And there are some good grooves : the funk guys (bassist Chuck Rainey and drummer Bernard Purdie appear twice, and "Tootie" Heath supplies a strong 16th note pulse under Lateef's Nubian Lady) outshine the jazz guys (Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette appear in their initial gig with Charles Lloyd, and Chick Corea plays behind Hubert Laws, but none of them get the chance to go deep).

For some truly heavy flute, try Gazzeloni from Eric Dolphy's Out To Lunch. It wouldn't have fit here, though - it's not in Atlantic's vaults (Dorn's source), and it's a bit low on groove, as well as potential for appropriation by today's crop of smug postmodern (mostly) white guys.


"Morning Dove Songs" - Jennie Stearns
Live and Kickin' 003
review by Christopher Orman

The face of country music will change, because Lucinda Williams and Jennie Stearns exist. While the former has reached high status within the music industry, the latter performer will certainly be the next to ascend into singer/songwriter stardom. Stearns, whose voice calls to mind Kim Richey, Lucinda Williams and Emmylou Harris, makes country music containing purity and emotion. Each song on her latest release "Mourning Dove Songs" pulls the listener into a vast mustard field to contemplate life and deep blue skies.

Opening with a simple acoustic guitar strumming and a steady bass line, Georgia Pine envelops the listener in familiar folk sonic textures. As Stearns croons about times past and the change of the landscape, her vocals sound sorrowful; revealing an earnestness seemingly absent in many singers complacent vocal treatments. The stark instrumentation begs the doleful feel, forcing the listener to feel the same depressing loneliness Stearns deftly describes with her poetics.

An argument will certainly ensue here by the reader: Does a vocalist always need to sound depressed and downtrodden? Certainly not; but must radio stations infiltrate childhood minds with tongue-in-cheek, childish singing. In a sense, to make a definitive paradigmatic shift, the listener must choose the absolute opposite from "standard music." Such a comment could bulwark the apparent problems with Phish and a multitude of jambands from a vocal perspective. When Trey Anastasio sings about Nellie Kane, the listener does not receive the same sincerity as Tim O'Brien's treatment of the classic bluegrass song, where O'Brien wails and moans in an Appalachian style.

Another result of non-sincerity in vocals becomes the degradation of the lyrical content. In many ways, words can become only words, especially when emotions become obviated. The belief in the lyrics, by filling each song with realistic imagery and then singing in a heart-wrenching manner, Stearns makes the listener feel truthfulness; a desire to make a point, instead of creating a postmodern briocollage where a bunch of words merely adding texture.

Songs like Madness, Knoxville Girl(Parting Gift) and Angel With a Broken Wing, float together seamlessly, inundating the listeners emaciated mind. Each song allows the listener multiple connotations; thoughts of hope collide with thoughts of irreconcilable anger. Every song becomes a well to analyze thoughts and feeling, soul and self through a healthy, pleasurable lens.

Continually, Stearns and her talented band lead the listener through the highways of America. Constantly reminding the listener of Emmylou Harris "Live at the Ryman," both texturally and production wise. In "Morning Dove Songs," Stearns has achieved the penultimate goal: creating spellbinding music while adhering to her artistic integrity. The result could be considered a gem within the alt-country genre, and a taste of beauty every listener could use.


"Simplicity" - Bob Nieske 3 featuring the Lydian String Quartet
Accurate Records 5042
review by Pat Buzby

A former associate of Jimmy Giuffre and the Either/Orchestra (where he rubbed shoulders with John Medeski), bassist/composer Bob Nieske presents a set of relaxed free jazz. This CD picks up on some experimental ideas that remained undeveloped after the early 60's, but Nieske and his cohorts lean towards the introspective rather than the aggressive.

Nieske's themes are generally brief and often leave him and trio members Phil Grenadier (trumpet) and Nat Mugavero (drums) free to improvise without chord changes. Mugavero has a distinctive time-keeping approach, while Nieske pulls off the unpretentious style which he describes as a goal in his liner notes. Grenadier combines Miles Davis's moodiness with some hints of Freddie Hubbard's chops and Don Cherry's eccentricity.

To spice things up, the Lydian String Quartet contributes to half the tracks on this CD. (If I understand the notes correctly, they overdubbed their parts just over a year after the trio session.) Here Nieske harkens back to the long-forgotten notion of "third-stream" jazz, and occasionally falls prey to the same problems that hampered that style - the strings are a bit heavy for the whimsical title track. Elsewhere, as on the Round Midnight-ish ballad I Don't Know and the intriguing Astor, the strings and the trio combine in more interesting ways than Nieske's third-stream predecessors, which too often failed to integrate the elements (modern classical and jazz) at hand.

The best testimony to the trio's versatility is the two takes of The Stretch - the first (with strings) evokes a very Miles-ish statement from Grenadier, while the second (trio only) develops from a bass solo into some empathetic three-way improvisation that goes in an entirely different direction. Worth delving into.


"A Night At The Flopera" - Sativa Brand
self-released
review by David Rioux

Sativa Brand is a newly formed band from the southern California area. They are a self proclaimed "soulful blend of R&B, Rock, Pop & Funk". The release "A Night at the Flopera" is a four song demo they have released on the world, and it is mainly a collection of short cuts aimed to give the listener an idea of their sound, without being too costly. Unfortunately that's all it does.

The first cut The One starts off with the line "Something's happening here..." which immediately smacks of Buffalo Springfield's For What It's Worth. With a combination of slap-bass and a generic sounding guitar and drum mix, they launch into questioning chorus of "Where did our love go?... Where did our love go?" that could (I can only assume) be expanded into something intriguing with some extended experimentation and effort.

The mix itself, is clean and wonderfully mastered. There is no doubt that, sound-wise, the band has something to offer the music world, but the songs themselves end up mired in the realm of basic rock song. The song Bougainvillea seems to be the only one with any real deviation from the well-worn sound that emanates from the rest of the disc, as I hardly noticed the segue from cuts one to two. Both sounded so similar that they were difficult to discern from each other in many respects. Finally the sampler wraps itself up with Kickin' My Heart Around, another cut that reminds me more of the stuff that Starship released in the mid-80's, than of anything progressive and fresh enough to get any serious radio play these days.

Wherever Sativa Brand heads with their music, I personally hope they open themselves up to the rest of the musical world for some additional influences. Where there is talent and sound, there is also plenty of room for content and quality.


"plan b" - Chupacabra
Bokonon Records 765459002424
review by Chris Gardner

While Boulder, Colorado's Chupacabra will never inspire in young children the awed terror associated with its goat-blood sucking, South of the Border namesake, they may well leave a few folks slobbering and jabbering in their wake as the vampiric fable is wont to do. On an ambitious debut that could have easily been bogged down by its multitudinous contributors (six permanent band members and thirteen guests grace appear on plan b) the clavinet, violin, trumpet, guitar, vibes, bass, and soprano and alto saxes all weave subtle and complex melodies beneath, between, and behind the densely layered Latin American and Afro-Cuban rhythms. Percussionists abound, slapping all manner of hand drum and pushing the highly danceable tempo without ever drowning the song.

While the whole album rewards repeated listenings with a seemingly endless string of instruments hidden in the mix, it is the traipsing electric guitar and violin counterpoint of Matus that grabs the ear first. The bottom feeding bass lays a bed of sound colored by the vibes and keys. Rhythms continually reveal themselves throughout the song, peeking around the blunt corners of the blunt and driving bass.

"plan b" is hard to pin down as it swings between English and Spanish voices, male and female voices, rhythm oriented churners, bossa influenced slinks like Fui Yo, and harmonica tinted funk interludes like Treading Water with its rich horns.

While none of the many players are virtuoso, they can all cook. Cheryl Etu has taken her voice and her vibes elsewhere in recent months, but her work on the instrumental, Mambero, is one of the album's highlights. Anthony Salvo splatters saxophone and violin lines across the canvas, often teetering near the lite-jazz brink and lithely dancing away. Brian Juan's modest keyboards are never flashy but always surprising. And bassist Jason McDaniel is a force when paired with Dan Porras. Jason Virunurm is an excellent complementary player, swapping off between acoustic and electric guitars expertly. While the disc is rife with players, they all seem to have something valuable to say. Solos are rarely wasted, and all the musicians have a well-developed rhythmic sensibility. While half of the album is instrumental, the vocals are far from the obligatory drones of "vocalists" who are truly musicians at heart. These are strong voices, rich in personality.

The most impressive thing about this self-produced debut is that it never falls flat on its face, despite every opportunity. None of the songs fall flat. None of the players overpower the others. The genre jumping is seemingly second nature, and the abundant instruments weave seamlessly. This is a highly accomplished debut from a band with real potential. Keep an eye out.


self-titled - Lunar Detour
self-released
review by Steven Shepard

Lunar Detour have, among other things, rhythm, space, and soul according to We Got..., the first track of their debut CD. The song has a Blind Melon feeling with an interesting creep of a groove. Erik Rabasca's vocals are clear and his guitar is a luminous covering to the soul of Tim Goodwin's bass and Geoff Goldman's drums.

The next track, the Sounding of the Trumpets, is highlighted by an eloquent guitar solo by Rabasca. The tune drops down into an electronic-lounge skat vibe after the solo. Once there, Rabasca creates a curious balloon with his vocals before the players bring the original tune back to life. The Sounding of the Trumpets is a sweet jam. Movin' On, the album's next track features more fine work by Lunar Detour. Even if the grandness of the structure never entirely meshes, the effort is true. Rabasca plays a solo with soft-distortion to a smooth, taut rhythm.

The next tune Hey Beautiful is toe tapping and almost mercilessly so. Goodwin's bass and Goldman's drums flex out an impressive display of rhythm work. It's almost a goddamn clinic. Then the song drops into an underwater effect, teases then runs with a Frampton vibe, explores the colossal rock n' roll comeback to eventually settle into its base again.

From the glory of Hey Beautiful, Lunar Detour go to the garbage bucket groove of That's Alright. This song is exploratory burn material. Not all of the off-time hammering coalesced with my current ear, but it gets an E for effort.

After two more numbers, Can't Betray closes out the record. Can't Betray begins in a stalled, white boy-Shaft groove. On their last track Lunar Detour remind you that if they're anything, they're smooth. Much like all the songs on "Lunar Detour", Can't Betray is crisp and fun.


self-titled - Organica
self-released
r eview by Patrick McNair

A quick perusal of Organica's website assures one that "those who enjoy the music of bands boasting exceptional musicianship through a diversity in style will love Seattle's newest product, ORGANICA [their caps]." It's a bold assertion to make. Maybe they're better live.

The album starts off with the track Sometime by the band's guitarist (Berl Shaffer), who joins lead vocalist Sarah Smith in singing this one. Typical hippie-jam feel pervades this track, with its jam-rock feel, its not particularly interesting lyrics, and a general sense of having been done before. This perception changes after listening to the second song, You Decide, which is a co-creation with writing credit given to all the band members, and a nod toward the promised "diversity." The cut gives the band's drummer, Paul Smith, space to lay out his ideas, which seem to blend a jazzy use of the high-hat and cymbals with some prog. rock style (in the vein of Yes) fills and feels. The track also gives keyboardist Rob Frain a chance to tickle the ivories with some of that classical sounding style that was so effectively co-opted be 70s prog. rock.

The songs that follow continue to explore some kind of prog. rock meets hippie funk-jam feel that seems time and again to have potential to meld the two in an interesting way only to swing too far in favor of one of the two leanings and become cliched. The two instrumental tracks by the bassist (Milton Sagahon) are good listens and stand out from the songs with vocals. Trolly Trip (the second) falls into a nice space somewhat reminiscent of early Phish songs (a la Buried Alive or Foam) without trying to copy them.

When Shaffer gets back in the driver's seat on "You don't have to go away" things go into a kind of ballady-pop that I find really lacking in appeal or direction. Sarah Smith's Luminosity is probably the disc's highlight, featuring her very full voice backed up by a playful, almost latin feel. Unfortunately the track doesn't manage to avoid the potential for cliche, and the track will sound vaguely familiar in terms of tonal choices to anyone who has heard Santana's Smooth on the radio. The final cut, Autumn Wisdom, is a very pretty, if somewhat lengthy tune, which contains Shaffer's best guitar solo of the album, which has a vaguely Samba Pa Ti (Santana) feel.

While this debut certainly shows a group with the potential to meld a coherent and original style, it also shows one that is currently trying to sort through its influences. In the meantime the tracks are all very listenable and well put together, if not mesmerizing or brilliant. These days it's not enough just to have a diversity of influences to make compelling music, and the songs here lack the kind of spark that might burn off the trappings of musical diversity and leave something new behind.


self-titled - Psychedelic Breakfast
self-released
review by Steven Shepard

A guitar groove taken from the later Allman Brothers Band catalog starts the Vermont Song the first track of Psychedelic Breakfast's impressive, self-titled studio debut. Guitar player Tim Palmieri lays down a crystal-clear and groovy solo that sends the record thoroughly into motion. Key master Jordan Giangreco follows Palmirei with an equally engaging run on the Hammond Organ and ZANG! Psychedelic Breakfast are off.

The album's next track, Garcian Fishbowl may be a bit too rock n' roll for the song's namesake, but it's delightful nonetheless. Working in between a saucy introductory groove and a Ray Manzarek trip feel, Garcian Fishbowl comes full circle when the band, led by Palmieri, reaches a transcendental peak from its lounge base. The playing is precise, loose, and an impressive piece of studio craft.

The sly funk of Puppetry keeps the flow in a keen direction. The simple vocal line in the chorus, "Laugh when you should cry," works 'cause it feels right. From its up-beat beginnings, Puppetry descends into a spacey and curious jam, highlighted by the high-fretboard runs of Palmieri and the trade-off work of bass player Ron Spears and Palmieri. Spears also falls into a nice hole with drummer Adrian Tramontano, as the two meet quite frequently to kick their groove into a notch. When it's all said and done on Puppetry, Psychedelic Breakfast have another piece of studio work to revel in.

Episode I (Happy) is a triumph, playful and perfect in its approach. The listener is casually drawn into a mix of off-time runs with smack and dribbled raindrops. Tim Palmieri can flat out play. On the piano, Giangreco trickles together perfect pitch movements at the edges of the music. Still un-schooled mind you, I'd say Giangreco's keys are McConnell-esque in their approach.

The record's next track Frankly Zo Pest has a stretched, tangled-web of a feel. Psychedelic Breakfast fall into a two-measure progression that erupts into an aggressive march. Palmieri again makes all his notes count, as does bassist Ron Spears. Drummer Adrian Tramantano ventures the band into radical places on Frankly Zo Pest , and turns in a commendable effort.

A swift jazz interlude called Uncle Freddy leads to the jaw-jangling cow funk of Superfly Phaddy Fat the album's final track. The song provides a nice bed for Giangreco's work on the Hammond. The group locks themselves into a pretty twisted funk rhythm while guitarist Tim Palmieri blows out one final time, on the record at least.

All in all a solid debut from a band that is still working to define its own sound. Still the muscianship is there, particularly from Palmieri, so this is a band well-worth watching. On a side note - This CD features sweet cover art. To which I propose: wouldn't it be fine if CDs could be somehow packaged in album sleeves?


"Three Feet Off The Ground" - the Bruce Katz Band
AudioQuest Music 1056
review by Patrick McNair

Put together a keyboardist who loves B-3, a guitarist with a blues/country feel, and drum and bass parts that compliment nicely and you'll get an album that's fun to listen to, with some nice quirks, good playing, and a fine sense of self. The songs generally have a country, folksy, bluesy inflection and are all fun to listen to. The players (Bruce Katz - keyboards, Julien Kasper - guitar, Blake Newman - upright bass, and Ralph Rosen - drums) certainly aren't breaking new ground but the playing is great throughout the disc, and the band members seem to be listening to each other very nicely. All but one of the songs are written by Katz, and that unifying thread makes the album flow well from song to song without taking away any of the feeling from the playing.

Highlights include the title track, an up-tempo little prance through the country inflected with a bit of the bayou, and the jazzier tune The Hook. While overall I wouldn't say the disc is a must have, it is definitely a good listen and a nice one to have in the collection for sunny afternoons.

 

 

Questions or Comments?
Content: jambands@jambands.com | Technical: Sarah Bruner and David Steinberg