2013 CD, 10 tracks, $12
AZUL’s self-titled debut album is a landmark progressive jazz work that explores the outer limits of the modern day trio. Their brazen approach to making an album is uncommonly innovative and simple; record a short session, completely improvised from start to finish, and then without changing the order of the tracks, release it with no overdubs as if it were a live performance. It sounds like a dare.
From the moment Chapman Stickist Greg Howard lets the genie out of the lamp in the opening riffs of "Wave after Wave after...", we are captivated with the lush wash of sound. His approach to each musical chapter is complimentary, providing a splendid canvas for John D’earth (trumpet, flügelhorn, voice) and Brian Caputo (drums, percussion) to wash over. D’earth is an impassioned and innovative horn player, at times emoting sounds of love and desperation, and then of victory and confusion. This, coupled with his creative vocal inflections, prove him an evocative storyteller. Caputo is the wildcard, willingly casting out the convention of “the drummer”, and instead opting for a more thoughtful and balanced approach to his role. Caputo conjures up a myriad of inventive percussive sounds and exhibits a level of patience not evident in traditional players of his trade. His organic rhythmic sensibility aligns perfectly with Howard and D’earth, creating a surprising and fun musical conversation.
The command each player has over their instrument is self-evident as they effortlessly bridge wicked grooves with memorable melodic elements that cascade over and under one another, so much so, that we forget that they are making this up as they go. What makes this session even more amazing is the group’s uncanny ability to engage the listener with each passing second. The music is colorful and playful at times, and then on the turn of a dime, thrashing wildly for air.
Was it a dare? We’ll never know, but we are assured that AZUL is unlike any trio we’ve ever heard. Its ingenious design is at once a fistfight and a love affair; a hard-boiled odyssey of sound and color, a blindfolded foray into the "wildlands" at midnight, and an unbending expedition through a multitude of styles and genres (progressive jazz and rock, funk, reggae, and ambient). As listeners, AZUL’s first effort has us willingly steering over the event horizon into the unknown and daring us to ask the question, "Where are you going next and can we come along?”.
Track Listing total time: 68:11
1 Wave after Wave after... 10:18 (see video at right)
2 Night Birds 6:35
3 Boys Make Noise 3:48
4 Seared, the Seer Soared 5:58
5 Wildlands 9:42
6 Tear Jay 5:02
7 Donít Be a Baby (note to self) 6:59
8 Queequeg 4:36
9 Whales Versus Ships 9:15
10 Ahabís Release 5:58
For more about AZUL's music visit www.greghoward.com/azul.
Emmett's take on AZUL
Azul, a trio of strings, wind and skins, of three ancient instrumental families now brought together with only the strings electrically powered for the lightest two-handed touch. Three musicians with a sense of acoustic space who play daring improvisational games, creating distinct songs on the fly.
The trio is compact, easy to fly, but the orchestral scope is broad. Each instrument is sovereign in its own sonic space but each musician is listening to the whole, observing the present past, the "remembered present" (a sensation of following the intervals more than the notes themselves). This is what communicates in a language of their own making.
Greg describes The Stick as "a high-speed idea conduit" and "an improviser's dream axe". In this seminal trio, he is in the process of defining the Stick's pivotal role in an improvising ensemble - very close to my heart as Stick creator. His "idea conduit" allows him full control over the harmony (the chord progressions and hints thereof from the bass on up) as well as the rhythm, texture, orchestration, counterpoint, overall mood, and an occasional lead solo as well.
This is an inspired (and inspiring) group that can draw you right into their conversations, and there are many musical subjects under discussion - much mileage ahead.
Live version of "War Dance", November, 2012|
2012 CD, 14 tracks, $12
Tom Griesgraber: Grand Stick, synths
Bert Lams: acoustic guitar
Unnamed Lands, the debut studio release by the Stick and guitar duo of Tom Griesgraber (Agent 22) and Bert Lams (California Guitar Trio), takes us on a settlers' journey through the Old West, an epic tale often told in legend and song, but now re-imagined by Tom and Bert through the lens of contemporary sounds, rhythms, harmony and instrumentation.
Thematically, Bert and Tom connect more traditional sounds and styles with the hopeful point of view of settler protagonists. From an anthemic "Don't Look Back", to a bucolic "Prairie Suite", a nostalgic "A Letter Home" and a sentimental "Rebecca", all these songs are quite "acoustic" in their character. Tom's clean, minimally processed Stick bass sounds at times like a lower extension of Bert's guitar strings, one register blending nicely with the other to complete an orchestra of plucked and tapped strings.
Mysterious, aggressive, cacophonous, atonal and polyrhythmic elements represent the myriad threats faced by settlers including the unknown landscape ("Where the Trail Divides"), the hostile natural world ("Insects","A Red Glow Against the Sky", "Lumbering Prowlers"), and the Native American inhabitants ("Smoke Signals", "War Dance", "Unearthly Screams/Scattered"). Each piece has a distinct identity, with shifting keys, tempos and tonalities propelling the listener further Westward.
A beautifully designed and illustrated 12-page booklet (by Milk Graphic Design's Jack and Laurent Durieux) spins the settlers' tale through brief vignettes written by Tom, one for each track. The period-inspired drawings and graphics complete the look and guide us on our journey.
As a duo, these two virtuoso instrumentalists have a chemistry that can't be faked in the studio, but only comes through extensive touring and rehearsing. They are both accomplished rhythm players and soloists, trading these roles as needed, one always complementing the other in thoughtful dialogue. The arrangements have a spontaneity that belies the four years it took Tom and Bert to complete this project.
Unnamed Lands is spectacularly produced, with a clear and integrated sound throughout, as mixed by Tom and Howard Givens of Spotted Peccary Records. Though there are no drums present, the naturally percussive tones of the Stick and the acoustic guitar lay out the groove with driving precision. This sonic landscape is alive with wailing and abstract synths, distorted Stick and guitar polyrhythms and leads, and always that far-off horizon. Who knows what we will hear as we cross the next ridge on our way to the glorious Pacific?
2010 CD, $12
review by Greg Howard
Rundio: Chapman Stick, Stick loops, Zendrum, synthesizer, acoustic guitar, drum loops
Steve Dedow: guitars, vocals
Steve Clarke: baritone and soprano sax
Ellen Dedow: vocals
Ian Sinclair: djembe
Lucas Jacobson: shonga
Rundio describes his music as "atmospheric progressive rock with ancient overtones", but don't let the word atmospheric fool you. There's lots of energy here, and if you'll forgive the pun, Carved in Stone frequently "rocks", hard.
The Minneapolis-based multi-instrumentalist (a.k.a. Louis Sinclair), patiently sets his songs up with big, warm Stick bass grooves, loopy Stick melody rhythm parts, and the Zendrum, a sophisticated drum-sample triggering instrument that he commands equally as well as The Stick. On top of it all he delivers melody after melody of warm lyrical Stick leads.
In the age of "digital recording", this one sounds anything but. Rundio's distorted leads just cross the feedback line, sustaining and melding with one another in this, his sonic crucible. His Zendrum playing is incredibly natural sounding, tastefully spare, and always in the pocket, even on the more demanding polyrhythmic "prog" tracks. I found myself admiring "the drummer" more than once.
SAMPLE TRACK: "Pendulum"
2011 CD, $12.
review by Greg Howard
Michael Bernier: Chapman Stick, guitar, bass, violin, acoustic drums, V-Drums, bowed Stick and vocals
Michael Schirmer/bass clarinet and piano
Multi-instrumentalist Michael Bernier's new release, Leviathan, doesn't so much invite as compel the listener into the deep, where the sounds are loud, heavy, energetic and eerily beautiful. If you go by first impressions, the odd time signatures, angular guitar licks, soaring whammy-pedal distorted melody, and relentless polyrhythmic drums are a clear offshoot of the King Crimson branch of the progressive rock family tree. But Michael is adept at re-inventing his medium, and so there's another layer to this album, that of an original stylist with his own approach to music.
The title track is by turns dense and powerful, then spacious and open, giving guest drummer Pat Mastelotto plenty of room to stretch out, and for Michael to take a truly lyrical bass solo. "Sunrise" is lushly layered with ambiguous chords and rhythms, a most effective contrast to the opener.
Though he could easily have made Leviathan a one-man show (his own drumming, guitar, bass, vocal and Stick work are on display), the guest performers add their own personal color and brilliance to the album. "Parasite" introduces us to Michael Schirmer's voice-like bass clarinet, and Caryn Fitzgibbon's driving "rhythm volin".
"Burbur" and "Circus Elephant" with their electric piano and rolling open-ended cadences recall a heavier side of the progressive music family tree (bands like Soft Machine and even echoes of Frank Zappa). His use of these sounds pushes the bounds of the heavier progressive context. It's a kind of inventiveness that shows up in other distinctive ways, like when he takes the cello bow to The Stick (a Bernier signature technique), or pairs bass clarinet in unison with chunky heavy metal guitar chords. It's great to hear Michael's fast and fluid Holdsworthian two-handed melody soloing applied to the bass side of The Stick as well.
After four instrumentals, "Leviathan" itself is reinvented the powerful vocal track, "The Old Ways". Half rock ballad, half death metal, somehow it all comes together as a memorable song. His standout Stick bass part provides a powerful counterline to the vocal. You'll find many great arrangement ideas for The Stick throughout this CD.
Unlike his recent Stick Men CD and live tours with Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto, this music was not born in live performance, but was carefully crafted in the studio. Here the elements fit together in compositionally imaginative ways, proving that Michael is as adept in the studio as onstage.
All tracks by Michael Bernier:
1 - Leviathan (Pat Mastelotto/drums)
2 - Sunrise
3 - Parasite (Michael Schirmer/bass clarinet, Caryn Fitzgibbon/violin)
4 - Burbur
5 - The Old Ways
6 - Lumberslush
7 - Circus Elephant (Michael Schirmer/bass clarinet)
8 - Morning (Michael schirmer/grand piano, Caryn Fitzgibbon/violin)
9 - G.D.D
10 - My Sorrow (Kandy Harris/Vocals)
Leviathan is available as a download from from Band Camp and Amazon.com, and as a CD from Stick Enterprises.
For more information about the CD, or to order it directly from Michael, please see: http://michaelberniermusician.blogspot.com
2011 CD, $12.
review by Greg Howard
Nima Rezai - Grand Stick, AcouStick, santour, Stick-controlled synths, electronic drums
Jesus Florido - violin, viper violin
Dan Heflin - flute, soprano and tenor sax
Christopher Garcia - drums, shaker, clay drum, tabla, djembe, kanjira, frame drum
Adam Darling - electric guitar, classical guitar, electronic drums
Delton Davis - cajon, shaker, triangle, chimes, bongos, vibes, Darabuka
Brad Ranola - Pocket pandiero, ribbon crash, surdo, talking drums
Houman Pourmehdi - Daf, Udu, bass drum
Harry Scorzo - violin
Milad Derakhshani - Taar
John Zeretzke - kamanche
Michael Alvarez - cello
Kevin Goode- piano
Randin Graves - koto, guitar, ebow, didjeridu
Nima Collective is the new project from Bay Area Stickist and composer Nima Rezai.
Nima has expanded his Merge quartet into a full-blown world music orchestral ensemble, supplementing the core sound of Stick, drums, violin and saxophone with Persian string instruments (taar, santour and kamanche) koto, didjeridoo, and unusual percussion instruments like the Udu drum and darabuka, as well as synthesizers and electronic drums. With such a broad array of sound and musical traditions to draw from Nima collective spans not only the globe but also the centuries.
The orchestrations are deep.† Each new listen reveals new sonic layers sounds.† On some tracks, like the opener "Division",† the mood shifts dramatically even with† steady pulse ó from mystical soundscape to ancient, percussion groove, through a contemporary World Beat melody and then into an "electronica" interlude, all in the space of five minutes.
Their version of what is arguably the first "world music" pop recording, the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood", takes its time,† languidly laying the familiar melody over an "orchestra" of exotic acoustic and electric strings.† Nima sounds out his roots on "Persia", with a majestic melody and an epic cadence that sounds like it could be have been played in Cyrus's court.† The AcouStick prototype even makes a brief and powerful appearance at the center of "Memory On", which recalls John McLaughlin's foray into Indian music with the band Shakti. †
Nima is a generous band-leader, letting violinist Jesus Florido and saxaphonist Dan Heflin assume many of the melodic and solo roles, but when it's his turn, as on the original "Three Steps", he lets loose with a dramatic and daring lead.† He's just as adept at weaving his clean ACTV-2 equipped Grand Stick's tone among the edgier acoustic instruments, or laying down a delicious synth pad under his two colorful soloists.
|VIDEO MONTAGE OF SELECTED TRACKS|
2010 CD, $12.
"Blue Is Your Color" (excerpt)
There's a line somewhere between the solo musician and the duo where Stick players often find themselves — between laying down a groove with their left hand for the right to take a solo, and building complex interwoven two-handed chords or two-handed bass parts.
In his new CD, All No Talk, Jeff Norem obliterates the line, using any and all sub-techniques to create energetic and intimate instrumental solos and duets between his two hands, and even duets between layered Chapman Stick and Alto Stick, reminiscent of "piano four hands".
Among Stick soloists Jeff may be the most guitar-like to come along yet, both in sound and style. He has a remarkable ability to integrate his two hands to create an open, rolling "finger-picked" sound just by tapping.
His ACTV-2-equipped 10-string reminds me of Ralph Towner's acoustic 12-string guitar, bathed in spacious reverb. The sound resembles carefully plucked strings, which Jeff holds onto, coaxing out every last vibration before moving on. When doubling his long-scale Stick and Alto together, offsetting them by octaves, it sounds like a gigantic 12-string guitar (but with a deeper bass range). On solo Alto tunes, his tone with the PASV-4 is warm and ringing, like John Abercrombie's hollow-body electric.
"Projections", the opening track is something of an opus, nearly 10 minutes long, and built largely around a pulsating midrange loop. Themes and tones appear, disappear and re-emerge, and there's a refreshing conversational looseness about it that seems to expand the possibilities of loop-based music.
On the Flamenco-inspired "New Quixote" Jeff's high-energy interlocking hands create a percussive finger-picked guitar effect, sonically recalling Micheal Hedges's no-holds-barred approach to using all possible techniques on his acoustic guitar. "Just a Minute" offers another take on the Alto, an intense, almost frenetic, bluesy two-handed dialog. His right-hand solos are often soulful and expressive, but at other times are fast and furious.
"Blue is Your Color" is a true solo on 10-strings, that starts out with some languid octave lines and jazz chords, but then Jeff ratchets up the energy with some blindingly-fast improvised passages. Even though it's clearly a two-part piece, Jeff finds the relationship and makes the musical connections.
On the "The Oval" Jeff explores a driving two-handed melody, stretching it out in all directions with subtle variations on thematic patterns.
Jeff's use of subtly different ambient effects for song adds a sonic flow to the album, which was nicely produced and engineered by John Durr. The natural energy and flow of the performances is captured ó particularly refreshing in an age of perfectly sliced, diced and and re-spliced digital music.
For more about Jeff's performances and recordings, please see: www.myspace.com/jeffnorem
All No Talk is now available from Stick Enterprises.
2010 CD, Papa Bear Records, $12.
Sample TracksFor more information about the band's touring and to hear sample tracks from the CD visit:
Soup is now available from Stick Enterprises.
Arbutus and Jade 2009 CD $12.
No Matter How Faint There's Light In Everything 2009 CD $12.
review by Greg Howard
Alex Nahas: vocals, Chapman Stick, keyboards, melodica, percussion
Nick Smeraski: drums, percussion, keyboards, acoustic guitar, trumpet
For those of you who may have been wondering what Alex Nahas (Laughing Stock) has been doing for the last 10 years, this is it — writing, singing and recording some brilliant songs, full of pathos and alienation, but sweetened with strong doses of optimism. Together with fellow multi-instrumentalist Nick Smeraski (drums, percussion, keyboards), the now Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter looks to the American West for sonic and thematic influences on this new collection of cinematic originals. Singing Stickists are something of a rarity, perhaps because it would seem even more difficult to play two parts and sing simultaneously (a debatable point). True or not, Alex doesn't minimize the musical underpinnings of these songs; there's a lot of creative Stick playing going on as well.
Alex is a singer for our time. As we ponder our post-millenial and post-9/11 zeitgeist, feeling like aliens in our own society, we live out our lives waiting for something big to happen ("gray sky, make up your mind..."). Alex invites us to be more in the present, but there's a catch. He willingly pulls our cultural reference points out from under us ("There never was the 1950s...no such thing as the American Dream"), but he's kind enough not to leave us sprawled out on the floor; there is something more.
From the dessicate "Like Texas" to the plaintive and even more partched "King of Thirst", this music often broods along with us, but Bright Brown never fails to counter our collective agita with healthy doses of climactic major chords and high-arcing vocal choruses. Here are echoes of Leonard Cohen and Nick Drake, but with much more urgency ("I come to you seeking relief. Are you listening? Do you hear my plea?"). Alex's voice is immediate, dry and full of emotion, perfectly suited to these self-described "melodramatic pop songs." He's also become a father, and turns his imagination as the ultimate outsider to his infant son Aurel's new life, inside and outside of the womb ("...want to know what it was like inside"). These songs are about relationships, between father and child, individual and society, ("am I moving or just another roadside attraction?"), dreams and reality.
The musical relationship between Alex and Nick comes through loud and clear, and soft and sure. Smeraski knows how to hold back, and then rain down drums upon us at just the right moment. There's an unmistakable "band" tightness between the two. Sonically, Bright Brown is a classic rock trio of bass, guitar and drums. Together they know how to weave a quiet tale, but they also know how to "rock out." The "bass" and "guitar" are Alex's ironwood 10-string Stick, run through old tube amps, and sounding all burbly and warm, with chunky, overdriven leads, and a twangy tremolo that spaghetti western composer Ennio Morricone would be proud of. While the role The Stick occupies in this music is already clearly defined, many of the lines are unique to tapping and the interweaving between the hands that it brings. Sometimes painfully spare, and sometimes lush and clamorous, these are masterfully produced tracks - dynamic, engaging and full of heart.
Sample tracks and more info about Bright Brown at:
Verdadero Fruto 2009 CD $12.review by Greg Howard.
Matías Betti: Chapman Stick
Andrea Alvarez: Batería y percusión
Sergio Alvarez: Guitarra
Renzo Baltuzzi: Guitarra
Pablo Belmes: Cajón Peruano
Guillermo Cides: Stick ambients
Adrià Grandia: Zanfona
Lulo Isod: Batería
Argentine Stickist Matías Betti's Verdadero Fruto is a diverse and impressive debut Stick CD. These eleven instrumentals run the stylistic gamut from his own raucous composition "Tras los Pasos del Gigante," where he slaps and whacks his ten string Stick in time with the heavy rock drums of Andrea Alvarez, to romantic ballads, like the theme from Charles Chaplin's 1952 film "Limelight" ("Candilejas"), also composed by Chaplin. "Alfonsina Y El Mar" is a lilting waltz by Félix Luna and Ariel Ramirez, a tribute to Alfonsina Storni, the Argentine poet who ended her life by drowning herself in the sea. Matías shows a remarkable gift for getting inside the tune, telling it's story patiently, awash in the softly swelling zanfona (hurdy-gurdy) played by Adrià Grandia.
For anyone to attempt a recording of Ravel's "Bolero" in this day and age is remarkably brave, as it has been recorded so many times before. Matías offers a truly contemporary take on Stick with drums, guitar and percussion, and soaring electronically harmonized Stick melody lines. It's an engaging and fresh version of a widely popular piece of music.
Matías's Stick sound bridges the divide between acoustic and electric instruments. There is a real punch, edge and growl to the bass, and his melody is sometimes sweet and lyrical, and sometimes distorted and heavily processed. In his left-hand chord accompaniment I can clearly hear his fingers engage the strings. He seems perfectly at ease with the whole range of sounds at his fingertips, and uses them all with good effect.
Matías and his supporting cast of musicians perfectly complement each other. Most of the pieces are duos or trios with clearly conceived overdubs. The sound is deep but never cluttered. Cides contributes an ambient wash to "Floreciendo," providing an ambiguous tension against the broad major and minor tonality. Matías's own compositions are melodically often as sophisticated and memorable as those he choses to cover, especially "La Esencia", which lingers playfully in my head after each time I hear it.
Stylistically, Matías brings a clear and distinctive new voice as a composer and interpreter of his musical roots, capable of looking backwards into the music of the past and bringing it forward into the present. I wonder what the future holds for Matías?
1. Tras los Pasos del Gigante (Betti)
2. La Esencia (Betti)
3. Bolero (Ravel)
4. Candilejas (Chaplin)
5. El Camino de lo Imprevisto (Betti)
6. Tribal (Betti)
7. Alfonsina y el Mar (Félix Luna and Ariel Ramirez)
8. Mar Aéreo (Betti)
9. El Sostenido y Vertiginoso Avance del Tiempo (Betti)
10. Floreciendo (Betti)
11. Verdadero Fruto (Betti)
SAMPLE MP3s ©Matís Betti|
"Tras los Pasos del Gigante"
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