Earthworks/All Heaven …

fall of rebel angels

All heaven breaks loose on Earth’s sordid works

Sit up straight and pay attention, everyone, because if you don’t what follows will be terribly confusing. For this Album of the Month piece I’m going to review two albums by Bill Bruford’s Earthworks. Yes, Smithers minor, this is cheating but it provides a partial solution to a difficult problem. You see, I am very familiar with All Heaven Let Loose and I really want to blog about it but I can only find one track from that album anywhere online (see below).

So, what to do? Well, there is exactly one Earthworks album on my favoured streaming service and it matches All Heaven … for style, quality and inventiveness. That album is called Earthworks. (You see why this might get confusing?) Here’s My Heart Declares a Holiday from the band’s first, eponymous album, the one with the big ‘E’ on the cover.

This particular track has an almost latin beat to it, which sets it apart from everything else on the Earthworks album. In all other respects, though, it is typical of both albums. Django Bates swaps effortlessly between keyboards and tenor horn, Iain Ballamy adds soulful saxophones, Mick Hutton anchors the ship on double bass and Bill Bruford sits at acoustic and electronic drums in the engine room. All four players lock unerringly into the beat, even when it deliberately skips and stutters for rhythmic effect.

In contrast, the title track from All Heaven Broke Loose is a melodic piece in two parts: Psalm and Old Song. I don’t think you’ll find the psalm in a psalter or the old song in any hymn book but I can’t deny that the instruments sing as sweetly as a church choir. On this track Bill Bruford’s chordal drums prove that percussive instruments can carry a melody, too.

Those two tracks mark opposite sides of the Earthworks repertoire. In between there are delightful tunes, pulsing grooves and inventive riffs. If Frank Zappa’s band were the mothers of invention then Bill Bruford’s Earthworks must be their jazzier children. There’s nothing quite like the scintillating horn and saxophone duets by Ballamy and Bates, both ex-members of the legendary Loose Tubes jazz orchestra. The bass playing of Mick Hutton (on Earthworks) or Tim Harries (on All Heaven …) simultaneously holds the sound together and drives it on. And there’s no better exponent of electronic and acoustic drum kits than Bruford himself, rock drummer turned jazz percussionist.

Of the two albums, Earthworks is the more rhythmic, solid and earthy, All Heaven … the more melodic, dreamy and heavenly. Both are very fine examples of the jazz fusion genre and fully worthy of the Album of the Month slot in these pages.

Earthworks (the album) was released in 1987, All Heaven … in 1991. In between, Earthworks (the band) released Dig?, an album that Crotchety Man is not familiar with. If you want to hear more from that late eighties/early nineties period there are a few YouTube videos of live shows. This one is a bit low in volume but otherwise of decent quality.

Now, class, I’m setting a test to see if you were paying attention as I asked.

Question 1: Which band have we been discussing?

Question 2: Which two albums have I been talking about?

Question 3: What makes these albums so enjoyable?

Question 4: There is no question 4. You may now leave the room.

Quietly, boys! The other classes may not have finished yet.

Tears in Heaven

eye in the sky

While idly browsing the Web the other day, with my Release Radar playing in the background, my thoughts were hijacked by a bluesy bass solo. I knew immediately that it was something by Colin Hodgkinson. It had to be him because nobody plays bass like Colin Hodgkinson. Switching to the Spotify window I saw the track was called Tears in Heaven and the artist was listed as Kinga Głyk. The anomaly detector in my head said, “Hmm, that’s odd” and in a reflex action that a computer hacker would be proud of the fingers steered the mouse over to the artist’s name and clicked.

Kinga Głyk it turns out is an astonishingly young and accomplished Polish bass player with her own band; according to her website she is still only 20. Her version of Tears in Heaven is a cover of Jeff Berlin’s solo bass arrangement of the well-known Eric Clapton song inspired (if that’s the right word) by the death of his four year old son, Conor, in 1991. Here’s the original:

And this is Jeff Berlin’s interpretation from his Taking Notes album:

I must confess Jeff Berlin sounds a lot like Colin Hodgkinson here. And readers may remember that I compared Tal Wilkenfeld (another young, female bass player) with Jeff Berlin a few posts ago. So it seems I was wrong when I said that no-one plays bass like Colin Hodgkinson.

On the streets of London it’s said that you wait half an hour for a bus and then three come at once. I’m beginning to wonder if that’s just one example of a much deeper universal law. Jeff Berlin, Tal Wilkenfeld and now Kinga Głyk arrived at Crotchety Man’s stop on the Spotify music-go-round in swift succession. Take a ride on the third in line, where it’s less crowded, take a seat at the front and watch the lady with the hat and the nimble fingers. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Kinga Głyk:

As yet there is no Wikipedia page for Kinga Głyk and much of the information that is available is in Polish. The band’s website, however, let’s you choose English or Polish and there’s plenty of useful information there. That site lists four albums, one by Głyk P.I.K. Trio from 2013 called Released At Last, and three further albums by the Kinga Głyk band: Rejestracja (2015), Happy Birthday Live (2016) and Dreams (2017). Of those the last three are on Spotify and carry the Crotchety ‘highly commended’ rosette.

The music on those albums is jazz fusion with a strong blues heritage. Many of the pieces were composed by Kinga Głyk herself although there are covers, too, including tunes by Charlie Parker and Weather Report.

There may be a few tears in heaven but they can easily be fixed with a needle, some thread and a few lightning fingers.

Corner Painter

in a corner

Q: What’s small, female, Australian and brilliant?

A: Tal Wilkenfeld.

No, it’s not a joke. It’s what I asked Mrs. Crotchety the other day after reading a blog post by CirdecSongs. The article was a personal appreciation of Jeff Beck and it just happened to mention Beck’s bass player on his Live At Ronnie Scott’s album. In Cedric’s words:

The tiny Australian bassist had jaws scraping the floor as she played with style and soul well beyond her years.

As a diminutive ex-bass player myself I’m well aware that small hands are a handicap you really don’t need for that instrument. Being small, young, female and still good enough to draw that sort of remark is, well, remarkable. Hell, touring with Jeff Beck would be the apex of most musicians’ careers and in 2007, aged 20, Tal was just starting out on hers. Crotchety Man instantly developed an itch he just had to scratch.

Who is this woman with a strange name? How did she come to be in Jeff Beck’s band? What else has she done? Tell me Wikipedia, please.

Tal

The cyberspace oracle does provide a few details about Tal Wilkenfeld’s life and career to date. I won’t try to summarise them here. What strikes you most is that Tal was playing bass with musicians such as Herbie Hancock, Prince, The Who (as support act), Chick Corea and, of course, Jeff Beck at a relatively tender age. Her Wikipedia page lists collaborations with another couple of dozen big name artists, too. That’s a C.V. to be mighty proud of.

And that’s not all. In 2007, when she was still virtually unknown, Ms. Wilkenfeld formed her own band, recorded some of her own compositions and released the album, Transformation. The tunes on that record fall squarely into the jazz fusion category and Tal’s bass playing sounds a lot like Jeff Berlin on some of Bill Bruford’s albums. (That’s a Crotchety Man 5-star recommendation, by the way.)

More recently, Wilkenfeld has ventured into song writing. On what Wikipedia describes as her ‘upcoming’ second album she sings her own songs as well as playing guitar and bass. But that seems to be old news. Corner Painter, the album’s title track, was released as a single over a year ago, on 3rd March 2016. Tomorrow a live version of Corner Painter is due to be released on the Tal Wilkenfeld YouTube channel. But I can find no evidence that the album will be out any time soon.

I did, however, find this YouTube video that fits the description for tomorrow’s video release perfectly. Is it the same one? I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.

After the exciting sounds of Wilkenfeld’s bass playing I find this latest single rather less convincing. It’s a perfectly good song, Tal’s voice is pleasant enough and there’s nothing wrong with the performance. It just doesn’t rise far enough above the bar set by myriads of singer/songwriters out there to get the pulse racing. Tal Wilkenfeld is no competition for Taylor Swift. Then again, Taylor Swift doesn’t play bass guitars like Tal Wilkenfeld.

Postscript, 17 October 2017

The video that was released yesterday is different. It’s from her set opening for The Who and it’s rather good.

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Something Different

white apples

Crotchety Man lives in two parallel worlds. There’s the real world of solid objects like houses, apples and people. Then there’s the insubstantial world of the imagination. The other day, at the click of a mouse button, a bubble of the imagined world burst into the mundanity of real life.

My computer screen had given a link into a province of La La land known as Prog Rock and through that portal I glimpsed a new and intriguing vista. Here was a video showing a guy with a seven-string bass guitar, the bottom three strings unfretted. I’d never seen one of those before. Like a tractor beam the play button drew me in.

I have, of course, visited those regions many times before. Although I know the landscape pretty well I am always on the lookout for something different. And now I’ve found it. Something Different is the debut solo album by the Italian bass player and composer, Alberto Rigoni. He is currently crowd funding his next EP and you’ll find his biography here.

In some ways Something Different is much the same as any number of prog rock albums on the heavy side of the genre. It kicks off in typical prog fashion with a funky, rocky track called Factory with some fine guest musicians on guitar, keyboards and drums. Then we are treated to the “bass ballad”, Trying To Forget, a slow, melodic bass solo in which Alberto plays his instrument more like a Chapman Stick than a bass guitar. The contrast makes you sit up and promises good things to come.

Next up is Glory Of Life, another full band instrumental that swings easily along as it celebrates the joy of living. Track four, SMS, starts with an electronic buzz vaguely reminiscent of the original text message ringtone before slipping into a bass guitar duet backed by handclaps simulated on electronic drums.

It’s been a gentle perambulation down some pleasant prog paths so far, but just around the bend there’s a roadside bomb that will knock your socks off – along with a few toes if you’re not careful. Here’s the video for the X-rated BASSex. (The sexy vocals are by Irene Ermolli.)

Phew! After that we need a breather (or a cigarette, perhaps). And that’s just what we get for 1 minute 59 seconds with the ambient keyboard and bass piece, One Moment Before. Then it’s time to fasten your seatbelt for the Roller Coaster ride into prog metal territory complete with fast fuzzy guitars and snarling vocals.

The sleeve notes for Desert Break only list Alberto’s bass guitar but that’s misleading. There’s an intricate drum machine beat and recorded voices of children playing in the background that take it way off the main path and, presumably, into the desert. While we are there we are treated to some Jammin’ On Vocal Drums (whatever they are) with some superb jazzy guitar over a funky beat.

The album ends with the kind of ambient piano and bass track that plays behind the credits of a film in which the gutsy central character has seen unimaginable tragedy but has come through it and can now look forward to living out her days in comfort surrounded by those she loves. It’s called Sweet Tears.

Looking back, where have we been? We have encountered the heavy metal edge of hardened steel, we have celebrated the glory of life and even indulged in a little casual sex. There have been calmer moments, too. Times when we tried to forget and, finally, we have been able to rest easy bathed in our own sweet tears. A lot has happened on our short journey. And that’s the something that’s different about this album.

Moroccan Roll

khobz

Brand X are back. And how!

Here’s a splendid live version of Malaga Virgen from their 1977 album Moroccan Roll. This was recorded just a few months ago on the band’s reunion tour of the US.

If that performance doesn’t leave you panting with excitement and aghast with admiration I’ll … I’ll … errm … I’ll eat a Moroccan Roll and post the video on YouTube to prove it.

Strangely, although Brand X has been mentioned a few times in these pages before, so far none of their music has been featured here. To right that unforgivable wrong I’m making Moroccan Roll my Album of the Month.

According to AllMusic and Spotify, which quote identical biographies, Brand X was formed in 1975 by Phil Collins (the drummer with Genesis) and John Goodsall (the guitarist with Atomic Rooster) as a side project. The other members of the original band were keyboard player Robin Lumley and bassist Percy Jones. That line-up released their debut album, Unorthodox Behaviour, in 1976 and, after adding Morris Pert on percussion, followed it with Moroccan Roll a year later. Those first two albums are still, arguably, their best.

Judging by the album and track titles those guys must have had a lot of fun. Here’s the track listing for Moroccan Roll:

  1. Sun In The Night
  2. Why Should I Lend You Mine (When You’ve Broken Yours Off Already) …
  3. … Maybe I’ll Lend You Mine After All
  4. Hate Zone
  5. Collapsar
  6. Disco Suicide
  7. Orbits
  8. Malaga Virgen
  9. Macrocosm

Of course, you can’t judge a piece of music by its title any more than you can judge an album by its cover art. And that’s probably just as well because the cover for the CD re-issue of Moroccan Roll has the kind of glaring spelling error that once prompted journalists on other newspapers to re-title The Guardian “The Grauniad”. The most northwestern country of Africa is spelt with one ‘r’ and two ‘c’s, not as the CD artwork has it, “Morrocan Roll”. I suppose that might be deliberate, a way to emphasise the pun – “more rock and roll” does have two ‘r’s and one ‘c’ – but I’ve not seen that justification offered and the correct spelling has been used in everything else I have read.

Anyone at all familiar with Brand X will know that they are no rock ‘n roll band. They were among the pioneers of the jazz/rock fusion genre, the first blacksmiths heating jazz licks almost to melting point and hammering out a new type of horseshoe on an anvil of solid rock.

band in 1977

Brand X, 1977 – Pert, Collins, Goodsall, Lumley, Jones

Moroccan Roll is as good an example of that craft as any but it’s not all hammer and sweat. Sun In The Night, for example, is a laid back, world music song, the only one on the album that has words. Unfortunately for English speakers those words are in a language from the Indian sub-continent. Wikipedia says it’s Sanskrit; Google Translate thinks it’s Hindi and provides an English ‘translation’ identical to the incomprehensible original. This site is more informative but it still reads like a typical Eastern mantra, more mystical than enlightening. But no matter, it’s a good tune and John Goodsall’s sitar whisks us away to India, enveloping us in the spirits of Shiva and Vishnu.

The next two tracks are both credited to Phil Collins. Why Should I Lend You Mine picks up the beat for a while and we enter the heart of jazz fusion territory. The listener’s attention flicks between the instruments as they inject their individual contribution to the piece: five parts, each of them and none of them foremost. That is the hallmark of great bands. Then the beat dies away and we find ourselves cradled gently in the arms of the gods once again. This time, though, it is the gods of the Western traditions that comfort and protect us. Almost as soon as Why Should I Lend You Mine has faded away Maybe I’ll Lend You Mine After All filters through cotton wool earplugs to form a fitting coda to the previous track.

After that good deed of altruistic lending there’s a complete change of mood. A short drum solo takes us into John Goodsall’s Hate Zone. The synthesiser wails, the guitar rants, the bass grumbles irritably and the drums are definitely asking for trouble. Our gang of football hooligans has come face to face with the opposition. Both sides are throwing insults and violence is brewing. But soon the simmering hatred burns itself out, the crowds dissipate and everyone goes home fairly quietly. We should have thumped them (both on and off the pitch), but this blood-chilling music more than makes up for the disappointing draw.

Next up it’s Robin Lumley’s turn in the composer’s chair. Collapsar is an ethereal keyboard and electronics interlude that neatly rounds off side 1 of the vinyl release. When we flip the disc we are greeted with rippling piano sounds underpinning a soft fusion track that shows Brand X at their very best. This one even has some vocals picking out a simple tune with La La syllables. (Actually, it sounds more like Na Na, but La La reads better. :-)) Why it’s called Disco Suicide I can’t imagine; it’s no dance track and it has a joie de vivre that is the complete opposite of suicidal despair. Perhaps that’s the point – to play it in a disco might well lead to the DJ’s predictable murder on the dance floor.

Deep into side 2 we come to Percy Jones’ personal contribution. In Orbits Percy flies us around the fingerboard of his fretless bass in a solo demonstration of his unparalleled flair and technique. And as an encore he uses all his talents in his own composition, the Malaga Virgen that we met in the video at the start of this post. (“Malaga Virgen”, by the way, is a Spanish dessert wine.)

The album finishes with the third of John Goodsall’s pieces. Called Macrocosm, it’s another whole band celebration of the fusion genre – intricate, uplifting, a showcase for the individual skills of the musicians and a fine example of an ensemble that is more than the sum of its parts.

I should mention the part that Morris Pert plays on Moroccan Roll and I can do no better than to quote Wikipedia, which says:

percussion and a vast number of bits and things that he hit while the tape was running, including: The QE2, Idi Amin, and undiscovered parts of Scotland

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And, finally, here are a couple of quotes from the two founding members of Brand X that are currently on their Reunion Tour:

John Goodsall: “It’s a better version now. We’re all a lot more experienced – a lot more skilled… And that goes for every one of us.”

Percy Jones: “This music takes us back to a certain space – which was really cool. I wasn’t sure I’d ever feel that feeling again – and yet here it is!”

They really are back. And better than ever.

Acknowledgements

The photos in the slideshow are taken from an excellent review of the show at the Iridium in New York City on 3rd January 2017.

Sasse

title

A band called Antiloops appeared on the Crotchety Radar recently. I liked what I heard and added Luna from their 2014 Electroshock album to my list of tracks to feature in these pages. Then, two days ago, I played Luna again to refresh my memory of the music and to think what I might say about it. But I found it intensely irritating.

Puzzled and disappointed, I swung the radar dish around and probed the Electroshock album again. The first three tracks gave good strong blips so I replaced Luna with No Question About It and, reassured, went about my non-Crotchety business. Until yesterday, that is, when I listened to No Question About It once more and found … it, too, offended the ears.

Fearing for my sanity I set the radar for a wider sweep in the general direction of Antiloops. It picked up several bright spots a short distance from the Electroshock cluster, the brightest being Sasse, a track from their Lucid Dream album released on 3rd February this year. That one hasn’t faded away, at least not yet. (The curious among you, and I hope that’s everyone, should follow the link to Sasse on Spotify now and read the rest of this post as it plays.)

band members

Antiloops is a French band led by the jazz flautist, Ludivine Issambourg. That’s her in the picture here and looking sassy in the photo at the top. This ensemble, though, has done something I’ve never heard before – they have fused jazz with hip hop. The result is Quite Interesting (as Sandi Toksvig might say on the BBC TV programme, QI). Sometimes it works pretty well and sometimes it just grates on Crotchety Man’s increasingly sensitive ears. It even depends on Crotchety Man’s mood, which changes from day to day. That, presumably, is why I found it so hard to pick a Track of the Week this time.

Antiloops has a website that gives a potted history of the band and describes the music they play. Unfortunately, it’s in French – a language I haven’t studied since my school days – so I turned to Google Translate for some assistance. The resulting translation is quite fun to read; here’s an extract:

Viscerally organic, the group chose Lucid Dream to explore the voices of the machines, absorb them and make them a new driving force. Creation of hybrid crosses between classical instruments and digital emulators, Nicolas Derand, Timothée Robert, Maxime Zampieri and Julien Sérié have rethought their way of sounding, keyboards, bass and drums to begin to reason like samplers, sampling their own riffs and beats To knead them, to triturate them, and to replay them in a loop on themselves. Agitated and illuminated by the scratchings of Dj Topic, colored by the realization and mix of Mr Gib. 

Infused in the compositions through plugs, cables and connections, the machines switched their switches in the groove position, letting the creative energy circulate, injecting deeply this electro fluid that would permanently jam the tracks between them and the men, Without denying the influences acid jazz, new jazz, trip hop and hip hop. 

. . .

Mistress of hostilities, the flute of Ludivine Issambourg has also infiltrated the heart of the circuit boards, winding between processors, dressed in effects and distortions until sometimes forget its natural sound. But still knowing how to extract sound cards and software to come out to twirl in freedom, in and above these grooves become mixed areas where analog and digital have merged their DNA. 

If the reference to the scratchings of Dj Topic leaves you scratching your head in bewilderment this YouTube video, recorded in 2015, contains sections of several of Antiloops tracks and provides a good overview of the band’s material. It doesn’t include Sasse, though – that was written later (I assume).

According to several dictionaries the French word ‘sasse’ means ‘sieve’. Knowing that, though, didn’t improve Crotchety Man’s appreciation of Sasse one iota. It starts unpromisingly with a deep house bass beat and gibbering vocals but it soon settles down to a comfortable groove and at around 24 seconds the flute comes in with a refreshing tune. It then ambles along contentedly for another three and a half minutes, the deep bass keeping it grounded while keyboards and electronics fill out the sound, a drum kit injects jazzy beats and the flute puffs out a balmy breeze that gently ruffles our hair. This is cool modern jazz with a subtle hip hop influence and the overall effect is really rather pleasant.

The Lucid Dream album ends with two more cooled-to-ambient jazz tracks, neither of them having discernible hip hop ancestry: Castor and Titan. If you really don’t like hip hop and you can’t get past the first 30 seconds of Sasse, try those instead. The remaining tracks on Lucid Dream borrow a lot more from the hip hop scene; they are not really Crotchety Man’s cup of tea but, if you like that sort of thing, by all means give them a whirl. The whole band are highly accomplished musicians and their individual skills are something to savour whether you like the style of music or not. (I don’t count the DJ as a ‘musician’.)

All of the Antiloops tracks I’ve mentioned here are listed in this YouTube playlist but none of them seem to be available here in the UK. So, Crotchety Man recommends listening on Spotify instead. Here’s the Sasse link again.

What do you think? Sassy or not?

Rekt

dunno on bandcamp

Crotchety Man doesn’t make New Year resolutions. But this year I want to write more about recent releases. So, this week I’ve been sifting through my Release Radar, a playlist automatically created by Spotify every Friday based on my listening history. Only new releases appear on the Radar and although my taste is relatively broad I am expecting Spotify’s selection algorithm to have a tough time finding tunes that are both new and to my taste. This time, though, the solid state brains have exceeded my wildest dreams. Among the 30 songs on the playlist there were two excellent candidates for Track of the Week, rather more than twice as many as I’d expected.

Of course that left me with a dilemma. Should I choose Chill Kingdom by American Dollar or Rekt by Owane? Obviously, I chose the latter but it was a close call. Chill Kingdom, as you may have guessed, is ambient New Age music for the chill-out room; Rekt is refreshing guitar-led prog rock. Choose Chill Kingdom when you’re wrecked, Rekt when the morning sun opens your eyes, invigorates the mind and floods your limbs with energy. Today, Crotchety Man is wide awake and ready for action, so Rekt has to be the right choice.

Having chosen the track the next question was “who is Owane?”. There’s not much about him on the ‘Net. He does have a Facebook page and a YouTube channel on which he describes himself simply as a musician. He’s also on Bandcamp where we see that his first release was an EP called Greatest Hits (which shows an acute sense of irony and humour) and he has one full album entitled Dunno. There’s rather more information about the man and his music in this review of the Greatest Hits EP. Øyvind Owane is a young Norwegian guitarist, keyboard player and composer. He tags his music experimental, fusion, jazz, rock, pop.

If you check the Crotchety Man tags you will find that I have dropped the ‘experimental’ and ‘pop’ from Owane’s list. His compositions are certainly not chart material and ‘experimental’ suggests rather more weirdness than we hear. I would describe all of Owane’s material as jazz/rock fusion with heavy prog rock influences – lots of fuzzed guitar, plenty of piano and synth, fast runs. But above all there’s a light touch and a joyful feel that reminds me of the effervescent exuberance on Return To Forever‘s album Romantic Warrior. Owane’s guitar sings and its song says “it’s good to be alive”.

Rekt is the first track of the Dunno album, which is available in its entirety on YouTube.

The rest of the album is quite similar. If you like Rekt as much as I do the album is a great way to get the new year off to a flying start.