WILLIAM S. FISCHER – Akelarre (2005)

Reviewed by: Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho
Assigned by: Schuyler L.

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This here is an oddity; American arranger and film score composer William S. Fischer had travelled to the Basque Country in Spain, and decided to record funky versions of their traditional songs. The name of the record couldn’t be other than “Akelarre”, which might be the only Basque loanword in the English language. The word itself comes from the words “aker”, “he-goat”, and “larre”, “meadow”, but is more accurately translated as “Witches’ Sabbath”, the place where they were supposed to perform their dark rituals, guided by Satan in the guise of a black he-goat.

Despite having such an occult title, Akelarre itself is quite lightweight. All the tracks are completely instrumental, and they have the base melodies taken from the Basque musicality, and those are usually done with the flute. The other most prominent instrument is the electric guitar, which is often very screechy, to the point where I don’t know whether it’s playing distorted folk lines, or adding new ones. Not that it matters, it is the strongest point of the record! Completing the line-up, there is a jazzy/funky rhythm section of bass and drums, nothing out of the ordinary, and some electric effects.

Now, the flaw of this approach is that, most of the time, it is too mellow to have the strength funk demands. The flutes are played in a very… “softspoken” way, that lacks the acuteness that I so love in this instrument. This problem is particularly notable in the stretch from the third to the fifth track, in which the album slogs in flimsy jazzy wallpaper. The sixth track, “Eguntto Batez”, my favourite, comes to the rescue then, and it’s almost shocking how fierce it is, specially by the halfway mark where the guitars start raging in a solo clearly inspired by Eddie Hazel! The rest of the album sits in between these two extremes, and to be fair, not even at the lowest point this is as annoying as some jazz I’ve found. The ninth track, Xarmangarria, is also a highlight.

The basic Basque melodies themselves are also beautiful, and the more I listen, the more I notice the traditional backbone that holds this album. I’d say this particular factor makes Akelarre a “grower”, and not as much an obvious jazz-fusion as it would have seemed. However, and this might be more of my flaw as a listener, I can’t help but feel the lack of vocals really hampers this album, and make it much less interesting than it could have been. A coarse voice singing or even chanting something in Basque would do wonders to make even the most uneventful parts more interesting! It might even bring some of the promised witchcraft to this otherwise nice album.

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FRED FRITH – Gravity (1980)

Review by: Ivan Kovalevsky
Assigned by: Eric Pember

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Preface: on the day of writing this review, i ingested a large amount of the substance lysergic acid diethylamide. Evidently, I thought it would be a reasonable idea to write my review of this album while feeling the effects of that particular substance. It was a wet night when this happened, and I was in the dark, in some public space, wandering around like a child when I was coming up. The friends I had needed to go home, so I wandered around the city for a while, looking in wonder at the fluctuating world around me before deciding that walking home in this state was not necessarily optimal for my sanity. I made the most sensible decision I could, which was taking a taxi home as the rain worsened. The ride was hellish – I had no idea where I was in the city. It had become an abstracted maze of grey shapes, formless hulks looming out of the fractalised dark. We drove through a park and the green of the wet, dusky leaves perhaps saved me from insanity as it was filtered through the harsh electronic light of the lamps. When I emerged from the taxi, the rain had stopped to a drizzle, and the pastel fish on my raincoat smiled at me as though we shared some obscure, nameless secret. I listened to the first half of this album pacing up and down the hallway of my apartment, and the carpet felt almost like a holy land as I walked on it. I sat down at my computer around the time the song Hands of the Juggler was beginning, and aside from the brief note at the beginning, I was almost possessed by the album. It was automatic writing in its purest, untainted form. The review you are about to read is perhaps a quarter of the size of the original review, which contained pointed remarks towards people I knew, and whom I did not know (The person who assigned me this album gets a mention as both “the master of lies” and “the gouda dispensee”, two occupations I am not sure Eric would actually qualify as), dipping in and out of gibberish until it comes until the flaming wreckage which I have preserved as the ending three paragraphs. The repetition of the word “eleven” is the high me assuring the reader that I am not panning the album, working under the assumption that they have managed to work through the rest of the review.

(beginning with a query: why are the first two bonus tracks of this album by art bears and aksak maboul, respectively? both feature frith as a player, if not necessarily guitarist (giving fred frith the title of a guitarist seems mildly belittling in itself, does it not?), but when they are both on rather well-respected albums of their own, is it really a necessity? on.)

so, this is gravity, an album from 1980, which doesn’t sound like it was from 1980. it doesn’t really sound like it is from any time. it is maddeningly ageless, and maddening in a good way. gravity transcends genre and time, as testament to frith’s skill; jumping from one mood and locale to the next with freakish dexterity. it’s generally just hard to posit what you’re listening to when it transposes as many moods as this does.

(oh, mr frith, you are classically trained! the deformed body of rock in opposition suddenly seems more crudely exposed to me than ever.)

klezmer, polka, calypso, is something wrong? then dancing in the street, oh! is something wrong! (that strange rhythm! dance your sins away in the swirling dervishes’ palace of sin, for christ’s sake, you heretical bastard.) have i committed a crime? is something wrong?

we see mr frith and madam krause (of art bears fame, for as of album time, she has not been claimed by the fearful mr brecht of berlin). they both wear pastel-pigmented dresses with polka dots splayed into spontaneous rows. (see: leigh bowery, or something in their style)

krause: die strasse est bedeutungslos. alle ewigkeit ist in der decke de wolke verloren, und ich juckreiz.

frith: for god’s sake woman.

(the members of SAMLA MAMMAS MANNA shamble onto the stage, dressed as an elaborate pantomime horse, and conversing softly in mannered swedish about the latest tuxedomoon album. legend says that an unnamed member of the famous residents sew the costume for them)

frith: what the fuck is this shit doing on my album you fuckers. i wanted joy, not nonsense.

krause: for these are dangerous times.

frith: go piss up a rope.

frith walks off the side of the stage, and the magician of the music vanishes. the ghosts of the ronettes, bleached bone-white by collegiate bastardism and commercial overuse, surreptitiously appear and vanish in front of krause, who faints, if only to mold with her gender role.

10 glorious years later, on the outskirts of joujouka, the ghost of mr brian jones is spotted by an unnamed british traveller who sells her story to the sun and sells it for millions. she uses her proceedings to buy a new house, where her life becomes a dreary retelling of a roxy music song. en perpetuitas. in the same storied pages of that hallowed publication, shocking details are revealed of a mr frith’s barely concealed affair with that cad vivian darkbloom; the story is ignored because neither person is popular or very personally interesting at all outside of some leftist rubbish recorded in the seventies.

and they say there are other things to come from this unholy union too. a crew of undergraduate students locked in their conservatorium room by a crazed professor soon learned how to make shards of broken beer-bottle glass adopt the sound of a weeping xylophone. (enough with your soulless vienna school claptrap, get to the fucking point, you cunt.) they felt as though the whole universe had given them a nudge. they were also not yet ready to die.

so gravity is all at once full of (teeming with, bursting with, as though it were a hornets’ nest) life, which is taken away by the experimental tendencies which yea, even the best of us are prey to.

i hear the deluxe remaster comes’ with herr frith’s piss samples.

(eleven eleven eleven eleven eleven eleven eleven eleven eleven eleven)

WEATHER REPORT – S/T (1982)

Review by: Eric Pember
Assigned by: Sam Belden

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I admit that I’m a bit of a sucker for this sort of 1980s sitcom opening music. I have both Heavy Weather and Mister Magic in my collection, and they are surprisingly cool albums.

However, while this album goes on with the same sort of sound, it feels more unfocused. Considering that the main redeeming factor of the aforementioned albums are their melodicism, this makes it a bit dull to listen to. “Dara Factor 2” has some melodic flair to it, but that’s about it. However, it still remains entirely fine background music, and there’s nothing to really hate about it.

León Gieco – De Ushuaia a La Quiaca Vol. 1 (1985)

Review by Roland Bruynesteyn
Assigned by Charly Saenz

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Wikipedia claims Léon Gieco is known for mixing popular folkloric genres with Argentinian rock and roll (suggesting something like the south American Los Lobos), and that he can be considered the Argentinian Bob Dylan (suggesting a political and / or poetic singer song writer). I wouldn’t know about that, but I do think there’s a local, ethnic, element in the music, a bit like the Argentinian Fairport Convention or Incredible String Band.

In 1981 Gieco started a Never Ending Tour all over Argentina, collecting material from the different places he visited during the tour. Following the tour, he recorded this first volume of De Ushuaia a La Quiaca various local musicians in 1985. Two other volumes were recorded in different locations of the country. Paul Simon may have gotten the idea for Rhythm of the Saints upon hearing this, when he had to come up with a follow up to Graceland…

His voice is nicely sincere and almost theatrical. Not as overdone as by flamenco artists (like Camarón de la Isla) but definitely in, say, Triana territory. Because I sympathize with social activists (he suffered censorship in the 70’s) and because I like the intention to redo traditionals and employ locals, I want to like this album, but the production is making it difficult. Sometimes bad production tricks seep through: at 7.32 (on YT) you’ll hear the programmed keyboard fuck up. At other times, for instance on the third song Por El Camino Perdido, a nice enough song gets lost in a silly repeating keyboard pattern and a nauseating guitar sound that make it sound like your average 80’s pop ballad. But then, on Principe Azul, it all works: mainly acoustic, sounding quite authentic.

The YT version I listened to, proudly claims that Gustavo Santaolalla, the musical director for the project, was the first to integrate MIDI into traditional music. Based on this album, I consider this a bad idea. In ‘updating’ the sound, he actually loses the sound, making it hard to judge the quality of the song writing. It’s as if you update the Clapton song Let It Rain into My Fathers’ Eyes. Still, Gustavo wrote No Existe Fuerza En El Muno. It is potentially one of the best songs on the album, but you wouldn’t know it from this version.

Yo Vendo Unos Ojos Negros does sound quite a lot like Los Lobos, as it’s one of the few up-tempo tracks. Again, not a bad song, the accordion and the background yelling adding to the authentic atmosphere. A nice song to end the album, but I do not really like the album

I’ll have to postpone my final verdict about Léon: I (desperately want to) believe that this is his “mid 80’s Dylan phase”, and that there are better albums before and after, but I just do not know yet.

The Tony Williams Lifetime – Emergency! (1969)

Assigned by: Jaime Vargas Sanchez
Reviewed by: Victor Guimarães

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The Tony Williams Lifetime! The rising times of jazz-fusion! Who was the ingenious mind who thought about mixing jazz improvisation and harmony with elements of rock music? And 60-70s rock! Even better! Give this enlightened someone a cookie! And to this enlightened group of musicians revolving around the creative genius of their leader, the jazz drummer, Tony Williams, another. Or a full jar, for that matter!

For the record, Emergency! is their debut album. The legend says it wasn’t well received by jazz fans back in ‘69… Critics that time now look back and bite their conservative tongues. Well deserved, as Tony and co. really were groundbreakers. Apart from some minor spoken lines, the album’s focus is fully instrumental. It sounds well for both rock and jazz listeners – although a bit more for jazz people, I think. (We could exclude, maybe, some conservative I-only-listen-to-x variations. We don’t count them in the statistics as they are not funny at all). As I enjoy both genres myself, I gotta say Tony and Co. would carry you alongside a longer-than-hour trip into their timeless sound experience. Expect creative instrumentals, jazz-like. Guitars could sport a rock-like approach, it tends to jazz. Drums would keep jazz-ing, rock-ing, then jazz-ing again, building the right tempo for the right situations, generally on par with the guitar. Ah! Don’t try. Don’t say a thing. This drumming is simply beautiful. Organs complete the melody, adding key touches and passages that would truly be missed. And although not listed in the official records, I definitely listen to a bass – an amazing, well-played bass. (No-bass jazz don’t make sense, c’mon). And, of course, there’s the room for improvisation. I can listen to this album a thousand times and I’d still think they gathered to practice and ended up recording this in one-shot, listened to everything, fixed some stuff and recorded again only because of their own perfectionism.

This Groundbreaking courage, this fusion, this spirit! Music definitely need more of that! Thanks to The Tony Williams Lifetime, we had doors open for this innovation. Your move, 2017 artists.

LOS DELINQÜENTES – Recuerdos garrapateros de la flama y el carril (2006)

Review by: Andreas Georgi
Assigned by: Jaime Vargas Sánchez

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This was a fun album to listen to, although I didn’t have as much time to digest it as I might have liked. This album is a compilation of material from the band’s previous material, put together after the death of one of their key members.  The music was recorded in the late 90’s early 2000’s. Their style is very eclectic, based on flamenco or rumba, and incorporating a mix of international popular music styles, including rock, reggae, and even a bit of rap. These kinds of fusion often turn into a mess, but these guys merge the styles into a cohesive, unique style. There appear  to be two singers, one who has a raspy voice more in line with (my relatively ignorant preconception of) flamenco singers, and another singer who sings in a higher register who reminds me of Manu Chao a bit.

The album title and many of the lyrics make reference to “garrapatas”, or ticks. The reference seems to refer to humble and/or rural origins (I don’t know their biographies). Many of the songs refer to the street, and to life on the margins of society. The tick metaphor seems to be used as a symbol of freedom from the trappings and expectations of society. I do speak Spanish, but a lot of Spanish/Andalusian slang & cultural references went over my head.

Overall quite an enjoyable album. If you don’t understand the lyrics, you’ll miss out on the humor, but you’ll still enjoy the music. Fans of the afore-mentioned Manu Chao would probably like this album. Thumbs up.