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.

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A YEAR IN MUSIC: PINK FLOYD – A Saucerful of Secrets (1968)

A YEAR IN MUSIC: 1968
Review by: Victor Guimarães

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A Saucerful of Secrets is a very meaningful album for an iconic band such as Pink Floyd. Not only because the album was referred to by drummer Nick Mason as his favourite, but because of the events related to it and to the band’s progression – band leader and lead singer, guitarist and composer Syd Barrett left due to (drug related) mental illnesses and, to replace him, the band recruited David Gilmour as new guitar player. This makes A Saucerful of Secrets the only album to feature all five members, which is another meaningful milestone (even if they only play together in one track).

The record kept the same space rock and psychedelic approach as its predecessor, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. On the time of release, it divided critics, mostly because of Syd’s contributions, now far less numerous. Better recognition came with time, specially after the band’s golden age. For this reviewer, this 7-track piece of work is not anything less than great. Expect amazing instrumentals, with beautiful guitars riffs and solos, strong and creative drums, captivating bass and the distincts time signatures, distortions and production-added stuff that marked the genius of the age of psychedelia. The record is also filled with a somewhat gentle mood, full of the expected space-like sounds, but touches darker and more distorted sounds that would be more present on the band future works. The lyrics are varied as well, reflecting the same past/future Floyd progression that makes the record iconic. Lyrics include: the full instrumental track who names the album, tracks based on past-Floyd themes, such as childhood, on future-Floyd themes, such as war, and there is the emotional final track, Jugband Blues, the only composition by Syd Barrett, who probably was aware of his incoming departure. The lines “It’s awfully considerate of you to think of me here / And I’m most obliged to you for making it clear that I’m not here” make me chill every single time.

And, as I want to be fully honest here, I gotta say I kinda agree with the general reviewing perception of this record. And why? I confess I didn’t like it the very first time I listened to it, many years ago (and way before reading any reviews on the album). But! – and emphasizing that “but” –  After a second or third try, I actually started to enjoy it. And why is that, mate?!? I could say my critics are like either: a) while the songs are mostly great by themselves, the album may not function too well as a whole or b) this album may be too much for the untrained ear, even if you’re used to and like Pink Floyd’s golden age albums or c) both of the previous letters.

Finally, I could only say there’s no reason to refrain from listening to A Saucerful of Secrets. Both the fanbase and the band itself revere it as an iconic album, the start of their independence from Syd and harbinger of their future potential. May your reason be to dig into Pink Floyd early works, check out the only collective work of all band members, see why it divided critics, love for psychedelia and space rock, see if this review is accurate or just sheer curiosity, it definitely deserves one or two tries. And for that I mean for you to get your phones ready. It’s time to unveil the secrets of that saucer.

NUSRAT FATEH ALI KHAN – Shahen Shah (1988)

Reviewed by: Victor Guimarães
Assigned by: Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho 

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What elements make a legend in music? Is it about the composing creativity? Or about strong live performances? Albums sold? Maybe the sum of all of this features. But regardless of which is your criteria, one must agree that one of the many factors that makes a legend is their influence. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, as a pakistani legend of music, certainly got the requirements. He is known as the most important Qawwali musician, a man of a distinct charisma, powerful presentations and an acclaimed career. An unparalleled local icon, also responsible for the introduction of his genre to the world and credited as one of the progenitors of the “world music”. Truly something!

This record, Shahen Shah, is something out of the ordinary. Composed of 6 tracks, all of them sung in urdu and each of them passing the 10-minute mark, the album shows from the start what it came for. First, there is mr. Khan’s powerful voice. And there’s those captivating instrumentals. And, yeah, notice that clapping, in tempo, in unison. Then, lots of voices – they start singing together! Then, another round. Some new instrumentals added, different lyrics, more clapping. Each new repetition brings in new power to the words, granting the songs an enticing energy. The lyrics are all based in classical poetry from the mystic islam dimension known as Sufism, adding a spiritual side to the listener experience. Ok, the round-based songs can be a little repetitive and tiresome. Or a lot. But, the boring moments are few in comparison to the crescent, thunderous, enticing rhythm that made Qawwali music known worldwide.

Trust me, Shahen Shah is a surefire method to transport you to the middle of a Pakistani celebration. Come on, clap along! As both a cultural and a musical experience, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan surely got it right. Would you expect less of a guy who had his own doodle at Google in Asia? That level of influence is definitely fit for a true legend!

THE YARDBIRDS – London Time (1963-2000)

Review by: Charly Saenz
Assigned by: Victor Guimarães

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The Yardbirds is a great band with a messy discography. You might be able to identify some highlight album (“Roger The Engineer” is the usual winner) but in general they’re great anthropologist material (as in “every song recorded is a stone worth turning”).

This album is such hodge-podge; quite interesting. I’d first assumed it was a live album but this is not the case, you get studio stuff and also live tracks. Among the latter, “Smokestack lightning” from their early days, is their best testament.

The selection for the studio tracks is top notch in a casual collector’s terms: we’re talking mostly Clapton stuff, mind you. The exception is an interesting studio take on “The Train Kept A Rollin'” with Beck & Page – you might know it from that classic Antonioni movie and that funny scene with the fight for the broken guitar neck: Beck had a temper – he didn’t need to improvise a lot, I bet.

You get the “mainstream” hit for Clapton’s Yardbirds: “For Your Love”. A pretty song by Godley & Creme. Not much to say; Clapton hated it (“you’re selling out!” And out he runs to Mayall) but it’s a good pop song, not a lot of Slowhand here in fact. On the other hand (pun not intended), “I Ain’t Got You”, it’s one of their most appreciated efforts (Clapton does it good: but it’s not God level anyway). “A Certain Girl” is another of those few Clapton tracks, good for completists – AND my favourite Clapton studio work with the band. The other live highlight might be the trademark “Rave up” in “I Wish You Would”. Great harmonica playing. And man, I’ve always liked Keith Relf’s vanilla voice. Sometimes I even dreamed he did make it to Zeppelin and change history with a band called “Led Renaissance”.

All in all a nice compilation; this is not The Yardbirds’ finest hour, but this is some endearing material anyway. It’s clear to see that the band didn’t come to its full potential with Clapton; they fared much better with Beck (“Train Kept a Rolling” is good proof) but history is history, go for it!

MATT ELLIOTT – The Mess We Made (2003)

Review by: Victor Guimarães
Album assigned by: Alex Alex

Labels such as “incredibly sad” or “probably the saddest album ever” were stuck upon The Mess We Made like they’ve been welded. The album was also labeled as an electronic music album by a dark folk guitarist and singer from England. Too many labels, huh? And pointing to the same sad thing. I braced myself. 

“Let it play, already!”  – My mind screamed.

However, when I first listened to the record, I didn’t find it as depressive as it seems. Strange. It was the right moment, the mood was there. After waiting for a while, I opened a beer at a particularly cloudy dawn. 

“Let it play, again!” – I needed to try once more.  And I did. 

Matt Elliott’s oeuvre is an amazing piece of art. Technically, he’s amazing. Complete instrumentals, be it either creative riffs who never get too much repetitive or cohesive melodies whose progression and tempo flows like a cold winter breeze. Yeah, the labels were kinda right. It is, by all means, a completely sad record. It was imagined that way, designed that way, recorded that way. I can picture Mr. Elliott reminiscing at a particularly cloudy british day, lazily strumming his guitar and getting ideas for those melancholic riffs and vocals. Lyrics point to the same place as well, always full of loneliness and regret but, as every sad album should have, there’s the “light at the end of the tunnel” in the track “The Sinking Ship Song”.

Full instrumental tracks, distorted vocals, melancholic lyrics and melodies are the labels I give to The Mess We Made. Strangely, a potential candidate to “the saddest album ever” didn’t made me sad. Instead, I found myself thinking about what inspires Elliott to compose like this, to express himself that way. I checked some of his other works and these moods were there over and over again. Regardless of the themes, his contemplative melancholy seems omnipresent like he is a man with one single intention, to pass these feelings on. After all, art is supposed to make you feel something, right? 

ANGRA – Aqua (2010)

Reviewed by: Schuyler L.

Assigned by: Victor Guimarães

It’s November the 9th, 11:48 AM, and I’m listening to sounds of “Aqua” by the band Angra. It’s raining, I have a lurking feeling of nausea that won’t go, and this sincerely feels like the worst day possible to be living in the free country of U.S.A.

According to Wikipedia, Angra plays a mix of power and progressive metal and are from Brazil, so hats off (to Roy Harper), ‘cause they must have really cornered the market in that area. This is ostensibly a concept album, but fucked if I know what’s going on here.

The music is loud, with barely any correlation between various sections whatsoever, and not the kind of thing I would listen to on any given day. Basically, we have this formula: brief sound collage-ism -> loud ‘n’ fast -> piano ballad motif -> more loud ‘n’ fast -> some namby-pamby constipated on the toilet -> acoustic guitar -> even more loud ‘n’ fast -> choral motifs -> WAIT, A FUCKING SITAR FOR A SECOND????

So it’s pretty much self-evident that, despite a few nice parts (the instrumental bits where they don’t focus so much on loud ‘n’ fast), this is not a good work in my view – and this has nothing to do with my foul mood at the present moment in time, I assure you!

Yes, despite some indubitably excellent drumming, bass-playing, and guitar noodles, I am very sorry to say that this recording sounds like dog shit. The cymbals are always floating away into the ether, the toms and snares sound incredibly brickwalled, the singer’s voice is placed obnoxiously at the forefront of the mix…

In fact, there’s such an alarming lack of studio ambiance I’m tempted to believe it was recorded in the singer’s asshole.

Still, there is an inspiring quote to be found in “Rage of the Waters”, the fifth track, which sort of stuck out a bit more than any of the other lyrics did, to my highly distracted and suggestible mind:

“So long, it took me to learn

Surging waves can take all your hope
But when the torment ends, comes the calm
There’s no reason to despair, no!”

Well, that really just popped my cherry. And now we’ve got a president who does that without people’s permission, ha-ha! I’m actually looking forward to it, four or more years of people screaming their heads off and getting all naked and free and united and kissing and loving and enjoying each other and LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS

THE MICROPHONES – It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water (2000)

Review by: Victor Guimarães
Album assigned by: Alex Smith

The Microphones is that kind of experimental band that would not be easy to find, even in experimental circles. Phil Elvrum, the creative genius responsible for this madness, is definitely something out of the ordinary — for whatever reason one may consider, be it a positive or a negative reason. 

But as I want to be objective tonight, It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water is a big art, experimental rock album. It sounds great, it never gets boring, but ok, it could be tiring, even if just a bit. The listener can appreciate some of the basic rock song structures, with guitars, basses and drums, while getting amazed by Phil’s musical idea of telling a story. Yeah, conceptual for you. Or it seemed so to me. The album flows smooth, full of lyrical metaphors and their corresponding sounds, creating a hazy atmosphere orchestrated by elements as different as electronic beats, synthesizers and organs, plus his very nice voice, dual male/female vocal parts, production-added traits, such as the distinctive sound of wind blowing, and noises, noise-pop style. The main song structure is very good as well. Good melodies, smart riffs, yadayada. 

After listening to it once, I dug a bit and found that there are some noticeable tributes to Eric’s Trip and other minor inspirations from many other sources. For me, the album sounded quite original and I got the feeling the big Phil added his touch to everything. I respect his way of doing things. And I may say I admire his work. And maybe his madness. Anyone around who’s got the same liking for a well-organized musical journey, in a progressive, creative fashion could take the bait and listen to Elvrum’s insanity. It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water is a good way to start.