Osamu Kitajima—MASTERLESS SAMURAI (1978)

61ulfqyympl

Review by Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho

Assigned by Victor Ferreira Guimarães

Why do people in this game keep assigning me instrumental mild-mannered electric folk-jazz? I don’t like this type of music, never did! Go figure. After reviewing Akelarre, in which American soulsman William S. Fischer travelled to the Basque Country to mix Basque folk melodies to modern genres, I now get to review Masterless Samurai, whose author, Osamu Kitajima, did the opposite. Born in Japan, he travelled, first to the UK, then to Los Angeles, to absorb Western influences and make fusion of his traditional Japanese music to prog and jazz. And it’s uncanny not only how those two albums resemble each other, but also in how they make me feel.
Consisting of 10 instrumental pieces, with most being less than 5 minutes long, and the longest one not even reaching 7 minutes, one would imagine they didn’t overstay their welcome. Sadly, this isn’t the case. The main problem is that the songs lack both dynamism and emotion. No song builds to anything, there’s no big changes or progression, they end the way they started, so there’s no tension, nothing to surprise the listener. And, mood-wise, everything just goes for “well-played background”.

Texture-wise, there is much less of those marvellous Japanese woodwinds than there could have been, which is a pity. My favourite song here, “Sei”, is precisely the one that explores them the most. It is also one of the few songs that goes for a mood (relaxing), rather than being just noise. The awful bossa-nova-ish “Floating Garden” is the worst of the bunch. Japanese strings are also present in many tracks, but again in a not very prominent position. The rhythm section is very technically proficient, but they are just there, making noise but not making sound. I really think this album could have used more minimalist percussion to great effect. The same could be said for all the guitars, synths and electric pianos present in all tracks. All songs invariably have sections with all those instruments, with no variation in tone or texture. The way it is, everything feels too busy with no payoff, and too samey.

In the end, Masterless Samurai feels like something that was done for the sake of itself. A mixture that was focused more on the ingredients that had to be put in the pot, rather than the taste of the stew.

Advertisements

Neil Young—ON THE BEACH (1974)

r-579392-1151781228-jpegAssigned by: Diabli Ben

Reviewed by: Victor Guimarães

Dear reader, do you believe in coincidences? I personally don’t, but the concept of it and its psychological implications had always amused me, as well as other related stuff, such as dé ja vu (which happens often to me). And being assigned a Neil Young album surely do fit my coincidence-meter.  It might need to be a bit calibrated, but ok. Easy, I’m going to explain why. But for now, can’t complain about the quality of the assignment, Neil’s a legend with his own star in Canada’s walk of fame with a strong discography that I’d recommend to anyone. But for now, let’s focus on this record, On the Beach.

July, 1974. Amazing days for music, which I haven’t lived, sadly. Ok, partially sad. Those times, Young released On the Beach, an album whose impact at that time wasn’t pretty – it’s got mixed reviews at best, sold poorly and is the second of the then-infamous Ditch Trilogy. Ok, today it’s well regarded, but I might imagine what it have been to Young, especially after the previous record, Time Fades Away (the first of the infamous aforementioned trilogy) was subjected to the same critics. Guess the public was in dire need of more Harvest-like albums, his last best-seller, which sounds indeed different from the trilogy. While Harvest sported a much more pop approach and easier to digest lyrics, the Ditch Trilogy had a slightly different tune on sound and way different lyrics. From the three, the first one, Time Fades Away is the most similar to Harvest, apart already far from it, and the last one released, Tonight’s the Night, might have been the most artsy and misunderstood, and On the Beach, the middle one, might can be considered a progression between these two. This two-sided, eight-track effort sports a crude sonority and a somewhat raw production that makes you feel like you’re listening to a live session. Expect great instrumentals. Not overwhelming great, but perfect matches between instruments, with the right notes and chords in the right tempo, in the right moment. The crudity of the record is powered by its amazing basslines and percussion, giving the whole record a kinda bluesy feeling to Young’s common folkish rock. While not sporting awe-inspiring guitar solos, guitars are solid. All songs are very pleasant to listen to, exhibiting good-to-great melodies powered by his amazing voice. Lyrics are quite pessimistic, which kinda fits the heavier, bleak, bluesy vibe of the record. And while most of Young’s 70s records are full of great finishes, I got the feeling that On the Beach is much more powerful and talented in from the beginning to the middle.

Coincidence or not, that pessimistic crudity is exactly what I was needing in the middle of a quite busy, hectic week, and, ironically, listening to On the Beach kinda lifted my mood in the midst of endless traffic and hard deadlines. I was familiar with Young’s work and this timely assignment plus the feeling of listening to it in this week situation gave me a curious, but comfortable feeling. Dé ja vu, huh? Hahaha! Of course, hard days are not needed to enjoy the discography of this canadian legend, and if you’re looking for a first-misunderstood-then-acclaimed classic with amazing blues-lite instrumentals you might schedule your next tour On the Beach.

The Tony Williams Lifetime – Emergency! (1969)

Assigned by: Jaime Vargas Sanchez
Reviewed by: Victor Guimarães

Image result

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.

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

A YEAR IN MUSIC: 1968
Review by: Victor Guimarães

dr-strange-4

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 

mi0000020629

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

yardbirds

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?