Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Written by Fantasma el Rey
“Wow! The Black Crowes live! This will give me a chance to see what I missed about four years ago”, is what I thought to myself as I was handed this disk. That’s right. I gave up my seat to a Black Crowes/Oasis concert much to the dismay of my sister and brother-in-law, Rob; it’s a long story, I won’t go into it here. Since that day, every time a Crowes tune comes up I hear about it, especially from said sister and brother-in-law.
It was through Rob that I got my first introduction to The Black Crowes. It all started with him lending a teenaged Fantasma The Crowes' second album The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, which included such rockers as “Sting Me” and “Remedy”. From there I was hooked, making one more band he got me into and I do owe him a lot. He ranks right next to El Bicho himself, as far as getting me into new music and sounds, but that’s a tale for another time.
Freak ‘N’ Roll, filmed in late 2005 at San Francisco’s historic Fillmore auditorium, finds the band, Mark Ford and Rich Robinson (guitars), brother Chris Robinson (vocals), Steve Gorman (drums), Eddie Hawrysch (keyboards) and Sven Pipien (bass) in top form. The guitars are awesome and Chris’ vocals have lost nothing since the band first album, Shake Your Money Maker. All but four songs on this DVD are from the band's first four albums, which most fans consider to be their best body of work. The concert moves well from beginning to end and is dotted with footage of the band wandering thought different parts of the city including Chinatown and some backwoods areas; this footage is used mostly while the band jams and works well that way. As a bonus, there is some extra footage of the band in rehearsals and warming up before the show, which includes scenes of Chris’ wife, Kate Hudson, applying make-up to him and a few others and provides a good look at the playful side of The Crowes.
The disk kicks off rocking with “(Only) Halfway To Everywhere” and moves through soulful performances of “No Speak No Slave” and “Welcome To The Good Times”. For the stomping “Jealous Again” the horn section exits, bringing the band to its rock ‘n’ roll core. After “My Morning Song”, the rest of the band takes a break, leaving the stage to the two guitarists and the wonderful bluegrass number “Sunday Night Buttermilk Waltz”. From there we’re set up for the acoustic versions of “Cursed Diamond” and fan favorite “She Talks To Angels”, after which the core of the band returns for a few more mellow rockers.
The return of the horn section brings The Crowes back to solid rocking, by way of their first hit, the Otis Redding classic “Hard To Handle”. The band keeps the mood jumping and hopping with blues master Willie Dixon’s “Mellow Down Easy” and their own romp “Remedy”. To close out the show, a very entertaining two hours and fifteen minutes later, the Crowes simmer down a little for Robbie Robertson’s “The Night They Drove ol’ Dixie Down” and do a great job at it.
Throughout the entire show Chris’ enthusiastic dancing and interaction with the crowd give off a wonderful hippie/Mick Jagger vibe. The whole band displays a hippie/southern rocker attitude a la Canned Heat, making them the perfect band for the Fillmore stage, which by the way, is wonderfully illuminated by electric candles. The band, including horn section and back-up singers are definitely having a rocking good time playing their brand of straight forward rock ‘n’ roll and it shows in the jams they indulge in, which I ‘m sure my pal Fumo would appreciate. Freak ‘N’ Roll is certainly not “hard to handle” as it captures one of the better bands of the day at their best; this DVD is surely one I’ll enjoy time and time again. So boogie on out, grab this disk and let the “bon ton roulet” into the fog.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Written by Fumo Verde
“Chris Berry's story sounds like a Hollywood script...because it is hard to believe that a white boy from California moved to Africa, became a ‘spirit caller’ and went on to sell over a million records in Southern Africa”- Steve Leggett, All Music Guide.
I can believe that because Berry has a native African sound to it. From “Love on the Mountain” to “Dancermakers”, the title track, his spirit calling comes in pretty handy. He has a lot to say, and it's pretty politically charged. His message is of justice and peace, but then whose isn't? His music is sincere, and New York Press is correct about him having a “reedy” voice like Sting, but something just seems to be missing.
I listened to this album three times, yet I really couldn't find a song that grabbed me. I like what he has to say on some songs such as “...a captive on her ship...on a one-way trip, bound for the sea of ecstasy” from “Every Day”. Others I can understand, like “Why Do We”, a song questioning the death penalty and the whole “eye for an eye” story. I don't agree with him, but I see where he is coming from. “Axe Forgets” is actually the one song I did like more than the rest, but it had to do with the lyrics not so much the melody. “ Axe forgets what fallen tree cannot”. So true. Those words right there tell a lot. “Dancemakers” has to do with those who run our world: the governments and those who are in power. The last track, “911”, comes off on the face as a call for help, “bring my country back to me”, but its undertones are of that fateful day back in 2001.
For some reason I just could not get into this CD. Berry’s lyrics are cool, but other artists have spoken them before. There are no new thoughts here. It seems like he wrote what he felt, but these feelings have already been expressed better by other artists. Nothing on this CD, with the exception of “Axe Forgets” (but only cause I like that saying) comes across as something that touches your spirit. If he's calling my spirit, he better start using a different connection.
The beats are a little limp too. Nothing to hard-hitting, I guess you don't want to anger the spirits, but maybe the spirits should get angry with the way the world is today. Anger is a gift and we should use it wisely, but if you are softly asking the powers around the world to change there ways, the word “please” isn't gonna fucking help.
I think we will hear more of this guy in the future; I just hope he puts a little power behind what he has to say. Lay down some raw African beats. I'm talking tribal Zulu-like beats; ones that make British soldiers shake in their boots. This CD is a start, at least out here in the States, but with the country split down the middle and with both of the “far-ends” at each others’ throats, Berry is going to need to open himself up a little more if he wants to be heard, because if he can't, well “axe forgets what fallen tree can't.”
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
Written by Fumo Verde
If you want more of Bob Marley and the Wailers and are ready to get to the root of "roots" music, then the One Love CD is just what you are looking for. This is BM&W before they ripped open the world to the sweet, hard-driven beat of reggae music. This double CD gives us a chance to hear what Bob and the boys sounded like back when they were fresh and still a little raw. By the early sixties, the group was well rehearsed and trained by Joe Higgs, a major Jamaican music star. Bob himself was pretty well known in the Jamaican music industry, writing four tracks for Leslie Kong's Beverley's label, another major Jamaican star power player. In the summer of '64, BM&W was ready to record, and this CD has 41 tracks ready for you to hear.
First off, this isn't a "best-of" or a mixes disc, or any of that shit. During these recordings, the band had taken to the Rastafarian religion and culture, evident in the first song on disc one, "This Train", which was previously unreleased. First recorded in 1927 by the Biddleville Quintet, "This Train" is steeped in the praises of Jesus, of which Rastafarian beliefs are embodied. The second track is "Simmer Down". Here you find the beat and root of reggae, rocksteady, which is a blend of Ska and R&B. It was BM&W's first release and their first big hit. Rocksteady had a huge influence on BM&W, as this CD testifies to that.
The next few songs are total rocksteady beats, with the horns mixing with vocals, you get the feeling of being in those dank dance halls in Kingston or maybe its just the haze I'm sitting through while listening. You will also notice that Bob doesn't sing all the songs. Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, and Junior Braithwaite all contribute. Peter takes a page from Rasta with "Amen" and Junior hits it with "Habits". The Rocksteady beat adds to the Rasta gospel songs, giving them an energy and pace different than others of the time.
This double-disc set is filled with little treasures and the liner notes are great. They give a story behind almost all the songs, which is pretty cool. Kind of gives you an insight into what was happening at the time of the recordings. Let it be known that there are ten previously unreleased tracks, six on the first disc and four on the second; seven of which are alternate takes.
Not all the songs are Wailers originals; there are a few covers. The discs themselves lay out the songs chronologically according to the liner notes, but "This Train” is first and was done in '65 while "Simmer Down" was laid down to vinyl in '64. Hmm, maybe it’s just the haze they are sitting through. Who cares? This collection is awesome for someone like myself, who is dedicated to the reggae beat, and all its roots. Yet, not all the songs are dancehall songs either. Bob busted out the love ballads early and you can feel them through songs like "I’m Still Waiting" and "Lonesome Feelings", which is more of a weeping request for help from the Almighty. Bob pours out his heart here, and he’s only in his twenties.
The elements of Rasta gospel and rocksteady were a staple for BM&W and after adding the rhythmic Island sounds, reggae seemed to be a natural hit, and not just in Jamaica. Nowadays when we think of Bob Marley and the Wailers, the first thing that comes to mind is--besides that, we think of that driving reggae beat, and now with this collection you can really get a feel where that initial drive came from. One Love has more roots than an oak tree. Even the title track, "One Love", is a lot different then what you will hear on the radio or on "Legend". It may not be reggae, but it does rocksteady.
Jah love, Babies..........the Fumo
PS...El Bicho and I are off to Jimmy Buffet this weekend; I won't be reviewing the show, just the parking lot party.
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Written by Fantasma el Rey
I’ve heard Drive-By Truckers mentioned a few times before and have wondered about their sound, so when El Bicho passed this one off to me I thought it might be an alright recording. Not so much, I think as I write this, not that it’s a bad album or that they’re a bad band it’s just that they don’t move me. They do have their highlights but they are too few and far between for me to fully enjoy this album.
Track one “Feb 14”, opens with a good beat and heavy guitar twang, sounds like it could lead to something; then we hear the lead vocalist and from there the song starts to lose me. The title has potential but this one falls short for me and is now another reason not to dig said date. The third track “Easy On Yourself” is the first number that caught my attention. The guitar work is solid and the drums are rocking, the lyrics and vocals come together well here, and the vocalists on this track I like a whole lot better than the guy on “Feb 14”.
Tracks four and five are two more highlights from the eleven on this disk, so along with track nine that brings my grand total to four. Kind of says something right there. “Aftermath USA” is an Eagles-inspired number complete with harmony background vocals. The lyrics and vocals are okay but just don’t get me going, even with lines about “crystal meth in the bathtub”. “Goodbye” is a slow, country number with a steady beat to keep it moving and the guitar soars once again here. The use of curses such as “God damn it/I swear to you I tried” again just don’t work for me and sound forced. Oh and trust me I’m not against cussing and cursing in songs of any sort. But for most bands I dig, these phrases and words are used to highlight a point and usually come across well, yet here I just don’t dig the vocal delivery of it.
Jumping to track nine and what to me is the best track on this album “Space City”, a solid country tune with good, strong lyrics, acoustic guitars and a solid drum thump. “It is a slow tune that’s hits hard, carried well by its vocals and simple yet heartfelt lyrics, which is why this number is the band's shining moment for me. Maybe it’s because I’m reminded of Cowboy Nation on this track, with its honest, straightforward country, back-to-basics sound.
From nine we move to ten, the title track “A Blessing And A Curse” and what starts out to be a damn good song (see there it is, told you I’d use it too. I used it to highlight the fact that this track could have saved the entire album for me). The drums kick this one off and are quickly followed by good guitar playing and a solid bass drive. They kick it up a few notches and we expect to them fly. For a solid minute and fifteen seconds I was into this tune, heavily thinking that this CD was going to kick ass in its final three songs, but it was not to be so. As soon as the lead singer put his mouth to the mic I was done. The band continues to rock behind him but the vocal mixture of Glenn Frey meets Perry Farrell just doesn’t jive with me; no offense to Glenn or Perry both whom I like. Even my girlfriend (who’s a big Eagles fan) winced and this kitten's only just recently been exposed to the country/rock sound.
The final track, “A World Of Hurt”, is a talking country blues tune about the disadvantage of suicide and how it’s not always the best option. Yet again, it just doesn’t stand out for me. Nice try though; if they can stop one of their fans from going down that road, then good for them.
The Drive-By Truckers are not a bad band and as I’ve mentioned before, they do have their moments; yet as a whole there is not too much that stands out about them or which would lead me to want to rush out and get this disk. They sound too much like what’s already out there and some of the vocals are far too close to the whole whiny vocals that are taking over modern rock. They fall just short of what seems to be their goal of outlaws of country music or “saviors of rock ‘n’ roll” as I have heard said about this band.
As for outlaw country, I’ll turn to my personal favorite and a true country musician who deserves a lot more attention than he gets, Mr. Dale Watson and for country/rock ‘n’ roll I recommend Jesse Dayton and his Road Kings. Hit their web sites to find their music. ‘nuff said.
Monday, April 17, 2006
Written by Fantasma el Rey
What a saga! For years I’ve listened to my brother-in-law tell me how good these guys are. So when I saw Mindcrime II was up for review I jumped at the chance to hear for myself. And I must say that they do indeed rock and have something to say as well. I did my homework for this one, reaching into said brother-in-law's CD collection for “research” material, so that I could get the whole effect of Operation: Mindcrime.
I began with Mindcrime I and gave it a solid listen, reading the lyrics as I bopped my head to the music; which rocks a little harder than the second album. Queensryche has also put out a box set of Mindcrime I to help aid the story along. The box comes with a complete lyrics book, a video of the live performance and a live CD. Very helpful for those new to Queensryche and just plain awesome for fans. I was taken into Queensryche's world of drugs and sinister beings, as I followed our hero Nikki as he began to remember exactly how he came to be in a mental institution.
The story of Nikki, a junkie who becomes the puppet of Dr. X, doing his bidding and killing a good number of people along the way, is long and fascinating, so I’ve got to try to condense it here, so as not to go off on some tangent about politics and government crooks. Nikki has an epiphany about the wrongness of his actions after killing a prominent individual who was connected to his beloved Mary. He turns on Dr. X, but fails to stop him, which results in the death of Mary. Nikki winds up being captured and tried for his crimes, thus landing in the loony bin and bringing us to the beginning of…( drum roll please).
Operation: Mindcrime II which stars off with “Freiheit Ouverture” that sets the mood of the album with its slow, dark opening and killer strings section. From there we hear the release of Nikki and launch right in to the first full track on the album and one of its most rocking, “I’m American”. It is fuelled by killer guitar solos and Geoff Tates' rapid-fire vocals, which hit hard in their portrayal of politicians and the government; there are some key lines that pretty much sum it all up. “If you voted for the man, you’re wasting your time. /He’s got his fingers dipped in everyone’s pie” sounds kind of familiar and recent, doesn’t it? Sorry moving on, I said I wouldn’t get into it.
We continue to follow Nikki on his personal mission of revenge. “One Foot In Hell” puts him back on the streets, where he further formulates his plan of attack against Dr.X. “Speed of Light” finds our hero pondering life and his current situation, with a nice little Led Zeppelin “Kashmir”-sounding guitar backdrop. This is also where he comes to the final solution for the good doctor, “Don’t Worry, I’ll Kill The Bastard”.
“Signs Say Go” jumps and pushes Nikki even closer to his target. The confrontation between the two takes place through the songs: “Re-arrange you”, “The Chase” and “Murderer?” “The Chase” is cool because of the dialog between Nikki and Dr.X. very reminesent of the scene in Batman where Joker and Batman argue over who “made” who. “Murderer?” has more awesome guitar work and Nikki, who has now overcome Dr.X, thinking over what he has just done.
Nikki continues to struggle and confront himself, falling back into “A Junkie’s Blues”, thinking about the women he loved and who is waiting for him on the other side of the dawn in the dark halls and passages of his mind. “Fear City Slide” and “All The Promises” deal with Nikki contemplating suicide and reflecting more on the love he has lost. Here is where I get kind of lost. One can interpret the end in a few different ways, but I feel that Nikki offed himself; the way he talks of love and how he felt in the presence of his loved one, Mary. It seems he had nothing else to live for and how would he spend the rest of his days anyway, unless he disappears and becomes some kind of odd junkie figure of justice or a hit man of some sort, I don’t know perhaps the new junkie version of “The Foolkiller”.
Here is where you decide and take from the story and see of it what you will; what did you yourself bring to the lyrics and take from them? Hopefully, people can see this entire concept as more than just heavy guitar-driven albums. Don’t get me wrong, this band and the Mindcrime albums are solid rockers which help, but the lyrics are passionate and meaningful. The first Mindcrime has more political lyrics that still ring true and make just as much sense today as they did in the Reagan era; take a look around and you’ll see truth in them. The same truth is found in Mindcrime II, except in this one we deal more with love and the consequences of our actions. Each album stands alone, yet played together you get the full effect and can visualize the story more clearly.
So all in all, Queensryche: Operation: Mindcrime II go get it, if you don’t have the first one get that too, listen to it and hold on for the ride it takes you on. For fans, part two should deliver what you’ve been waiting all these years to hear. And while you’re shopping look for Fear Factory’s Obsolete it should be right up your alley. It too contains a good look at an Orwell/Huxley-esque world with heavy guitars.
Sunday, April 16, 2006
Written by Fumo Verde
Fumo likes the bluegrass, along with the green. Through newer bands such as the Yonder Mountain String Band and Nickel Creek, I have heard the distinction between traditional and progressive bluegrass where percussion and extended jamming have become a part of the latter form. RRE blurs the line and bridges the gap.
Elko is a double-CD live set of songs and jams from their last three albums. If you would like to try something new in the way of bluegrass music, RRE could be your band. For those of you who may have heard of these cats already, you know what they can do.
Being a virgin to this new sound, “Long Way to Go (The Good Life)” was the cherry-popper for me, and oh, what a song. The roar of the crowd and the picking and tickling of the strings as they tune up makes way for a melody that sets you free as you listen to the story of a long way to go. This tune is a six minute and twenty-one second song that is the second shortest on these CDs, so these guys qualify as a “jam band”, believe me.
“Colorado (The Black Bear Sessions)” gives you more of a traveling feeling with its rolling banjo and sweet violin, but my favorite song off the first disc is “Bird in a House”, the title track off their second album. This song has a very “Dead” feel to it with as the drums keep the beat bumping along while the violin strolls along with the lyrics. “I want to sing my own song that's all/cried the bird and flew into the wall” sounds goofy, but the words reflect a feeling that most of us at times can relate to: a desire to do your own thing even if the outcome will lead to failure. The mandolin and violin blend well together during the jam, but when the electric guitar kicks in, it produces a soothing Jerry Garcia feel as the riffs wander and express themselves.
The second disc starts off with the title track Elko with its beat clicking along and all the strings coming out to play, this song's lyrics toss out images of the tired motel stuck in the middle of nowhere on some lonesome road.
“Like A Buddha” is a sixteen-minute jam that strings together elements of all aspects of this bands talents. The plucking that starts it out, along with the cymbals tinkling away give a great lead-in to the flute that causally draws you in, “Jethro Tull” like. Once again, there is the hint of Jerry when the electric guitar joins in. Off the second disc, this song is my favorite. The one political song on the second disc is “Warhead Boogie”, which also becomes a wandering jam that wanders for a little too long.
RRE shows their grand talents here on this CD, before a live audience and what makes them differ from other bluegrass bands can be described in one word: fullness. With a sound like bluegrass, usually the more simple it is, the more traditional it becomes, but with RRE, it's the fullness of the instruments that gives way to the simplicity of what bluegrass is all about. RRE's rhythm, along with its harmonies, holds the spirit of bluegrass while the dobro, the flute and electric guitar open up for the free ride that lets RRE take bluegrass and the listener to a whole new realm of what bluegrass can be.
So step right up and buy your ticket, cause Railroad Earth is leaving the station, and this train you don't want to miss.
This is Fumo, saying “All Aboard.”
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Written by Tío Esqueleto
Some months ago, when Slither was first brought to my attention, it was via a quick blurb synopsis, accompanied by a small, special effects headshot of what has become known as the Rookerslug. If you don't know what I'm talking about, it looks remarkably like a cross between Belial from Basketcase, anything From Beyond, and a struggling William Hurt at the end of Altered States. Heaven, to some of us. My initial thought was straight to video, but kudos to the "concrete", or "practical", special effects. No CGI. I later found out it was, in fact, soon to be a theatrical release.
Instantly, as with any film that sparks an interest, the very first (and most important) question is "Who's directing?" A trip to the IMDb, and a few VERY disappointing clicks later, I had my answer: James Gunn, a virtual no-name who, to his discredit, had penned three of what I would consider to be, personally, the most frustrating and insulting adaptations in the last 10 years: The Scooby-Doo films, and the Dawn of the Dead remake.
OUCH!! Scooby Doo is something I still hold very close to my heart, and couldn't believe that when it finally had it's chance (potential! - potential! - potential!), was hugely mishandled. Dawn of the Dead - REMAKE? Just plain blasphemy. Fanboy lament...cry cry cry...blah blah
blah..yeah, I know.
So, just when I was about to toss Slither over to "maybe someday through Netflix" status, I scrolled down a bit more, expecting to further my disgust for Gunn, when I came across this little nugget. James Gunn had directed Tromeo and Juliette, along with soiling his hands on a number of various Troma productions. He is Troma family, so to speak. Now I'm not the world's biggest Troma fan. In fact, with the exception of The Toxic Avenger, I find most of it pretty unwatchable. Respectable, but unwatchable. One thing you cannot take away from Troma, is that Troma has heart. So, it was a combination of that Troma "heart", the photo of the Rookerslug (and its obvious nods within its respected genre), and the fact that he tends to pretty much stay within the horror archetype, that I decided to give Mr. Gunn the benefit of the doubt.
I figured if this guy, with a true love, and a background in the most offensive of horror titles, is given a budget and an 'R' rating on a killer slugs from outer space movie, we could be in for horror gold, or at least one hell of a good time. Given the recent state of the horror film, a few gems aside, what's to lose? And, from there, it all fell into place. No big stars, an 'R' rating but with the Universal Pictures imprint, and the eventual arrival of what has got to be in the running for the best one-sheet of the year, the Slither bathtub poster. It was finally time to see what Mr. Gunn and, ultimately, Slither was all about...
Slither is your classic drive-in monster movie about a parasite from outer space, bent on taking over whatever planet it lands on next. In this case, a jelly-like, slithering, space vagina, born from a meteor that has recently crash landed in the woods of a small farming town, Anywhere, USA, where the recent start of deer-hunting season, appears to be all that is on anybody's mind.
The creature eventually finds a human host in an unsuspecting Michael Rooker, a loving husband who stumbles across it while taking a nighttime stroll to clear his head after a tift with the wife. It then proceeds, via its new Rooker shell, to mate with a local and begins its world domination, one parasitic slug at a time.
Slither is gross, suspenseful, and at times genuinely scary. It hails back to a time in horror movies that we haven't seen in quite some time. A time where a lot of directors are now claiming to go, but usually fall short. Drive-in, grindhouse, splatter, 42nd street, whatever you want to call it, Slither beckons back to the good old days when nothing was taboo. When kids (yes kids) were just as prone to an on-screen demise, as their grown-up counterparts (usually a
telltale sign that the studio system was in no way involved).
All of these things ring true with Slither but, more than anything, Slither is fun. FUN! - FUN! - FUN! The comedy in it is superb. It is equally as funny as it is gross, scary, or "wrong", if not more. Everybody in it does such a phenomenal job. One-liners and bad dialogue are quite possibly the biggest downfall for most genre movies. I learned long ago to excuse this shortcoming, as it just seemed to come with the territory. One-liners, especially.
Even Hellboy, while I know it is his shtick, and I was more than happy to oblige them, was tiring at times, especially to somebody who didn't know the character. With Slither you actually hang on for the next great line. The dialogue overall is one of the greatest assets to this movie. I found it a lot like Stephen King when he writes Podunk's and idgets. He does it quite well. Very realistic, yet very colorful. Slither's dialogue falls somewhere between this colorful King-speak, and the finer filth of the great John Waters.
The mayor in this film, played by Gregg Henry, being the prime example of this Midwestern, yet overtly Southern fried local flavor. Gunn doesn't skip on the references, either. If you know what you're looking for, this picture has more references than if Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino, and Kevin Williamson, engaged in a threeway behind the video store, while Eli Roth watched. Jam packed! The aforementioned Mayor character, Jack Macready, is a nod to Kurt Russel's character in The Thing. One of many references that include The Blob, The Brood, and Videodrome, just to name a few. There is a serious Cronenberg undertone running throughout. Pregnancy woes, slime, one's body rebelling against oneself. I wasn't surprised to find that Gunn is a rampant Cronenberg fan. It certainly shows here.
My only very minor Slither complaint would be the CGI slugs, but there are more than enough wonderful concrete/practical SFX, that what little CGI there is is more than bearable. In fact, most of the CGI is really quite good.
They just do not make them like this anymore, my friends. This is what they mean by a 'B' movie. Most people confuse 'B' movies with really shitty attempts at 'A' movies. Not this one. It was a 'B' movie from its inception. No stars, nobody big backing it, no budget but surprisingly well made, and Rated R, it is a CAPITAL B+++ (A), a fucking riot!
Does it excuse Mr. Gunn from his past travesties? No, but it is a great start down the road to redemption.
Sunday, April 09, 2006
Written by Fumo Verde
For a real freaky evening, pack a freshy-fresh, pop this CD into the player, pull out a bottle of red (and not that Charles Shaw shit, either) and prepare for a different kind of East meets West. Lebanese-born oud master Rabih Abou-Khalil lays down some of the most interesting tracks you'll ever hear. Not being one to be pigeonholed to a certain genre of sound, Abou-Khalil explores waves not yet ridden. Journey to the Centre of an Egg has nothing to do with omelets but everything to do with breaking the shells and pushing boundaries.
At first, I thought these guys were just tuning up when I started playing the disc. Once I turned it up, I started to catch on. Now, I think I know what an oud is, but I'm not too sure. I do know to become a master at anything, you have to be practicing for a long frackin' time. For 25 years, Abou-Khalil has been charming the world with his oud and the way he plays it.
In Journey... he blends jazz, the sweet-controlled sound of chaos, with his Middle Eastern sound. Subscribing to the Miles Davis theory that "what you don't play is just as important as what you do play", Rabih takes his oud to a new realm along with long-time percussionist and collaborator Jarrod Cagwin, whose artistry is subtle, yet dynamic. He seems to be at home on this disc as he sometimes slips in and out of the chaos until Rabih takes control.
Joachim Kuhn, one of Germany’s greatest pianist/composers, adds in with his renowned skills. He is one of Europe's most accomplished and respected jazz musicians. Like Felix the Cat's magic bag of tricks, Kuhn's experience brings a cornucopia of ideas that lend themselves to Rabih's adventures. This is the first time Rabih has ever added a piano. Drummer Wolfgang Reisinger joins in on two tracks.
The Journey… starts out with the oud and piano in a comparable rhythm with the drums softly beating in the back on "Shrewd Woman", sounding like you are about to set out down the old Silk Road. Somewhere down that road some unstructured jazz breaks in as the piano and oud now offset each other with different little riffs and chords that bounce around. Cagwin is lured into the chaotic form, but then his beats seem to charge off into the distance. He is the first to come back, bringing in Jochim and Rabih, as the first track settles down. That is followed by "Little Camels". The oud and drum start this out with a traditional Arabic sound, but then Rabih stretches the oud deeper as Kuhn brings in the keys of the piano.
The first three tracks are a build-up to the middle two, " I'm Better Off Without You" and "Natwasheh and Kadwasheh", both of which are the antithesis of the CD. In the former, the movement of the rhythm starts out strong and quick, similar to "Little Camels", yet in the middle of the piece the oud takes a slow, dark turn. Here is where the Davis Theory is applied. Rabih holds well to it, and so do Kuhn and Cagwin. Wolfgang too knows his formats as he taunts the oud and piano with his taps and rolls. "Natwasheh and Kadwasheh" comes right after and the distinction between the two becomes blurred. Like a 25-minute jam, the tone picks up in "Natwasheh and Kadwasheh" after a few moments.
"Mango" and "No Plastic Cups, Please" follow. They break from Middle Eastern tradition and blow full on, especially on "No Plastic Cups, Please", as the oud chases the keys around the pattering of the drums. "Sweet and Sour Milk" finishes off the "Journey..." at just over four minutes with a retracing of Middle Eastern sounds as the piano blends in to the storytelling of the oud. Chaos is over and all have made it safely home, least it seems so for now.
Journey... is the equivalent of an abstract painting where the artist’s idea is for the viewer, or this time the listener, to make up their own definitions about what they had just experienced. I believe in Davis’ theory, but at times I found myself getting up just to make sure my player was still on and the disc wasn't over yet. I understand that what is not played, like what is not said, can be made out to be very powerful or very delicate depending on the enterprise that is being presented. The essences of which, is captured here.
Abou-Khalil and his crew have brought us the ancient sound of the Middle East and crafted it into the abstract format of Western, specifically American Jazz. Rabih has proved that sounds from anywhere in the world can be brought together, and when this occurs, new ideas in music can arise, although you may have to crack a few eggs in doing it.
This is Fumo saying.....I’m gonna make an omelet...I got the munchies. Later.