Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Nathan Hubbard/Skeleton Key Orchestra-Furiously Dreaming; Orenda Records, 2016

A few years ago, while dining with a pal in Long Beach and listening to two amazing local Jazz musicians play lovely versions of several Standards, said pal said something like "...the great thing about L.A. is the fact that everywhere you turn, real TALENT abounds..." Disaster Amnesiac, after listening to Furiously Dreaming, will just go on and add San Diego to that statement.
Across two CD's containing eight tracks in all, S.D.-based Nathan Hubbard/Skeleton Key Orchestra puts in an absolutely stunning performance of Post-Bop Big Band music that will surely please just about any fan of any number of strains within 20th Century and beyond music.
I figure it can be somewhat of a cliche to brand music with the broadness of scope evinced within Dreaming as visionary, but, damned if that's not exactly the way the Hubbard comes across as one listens. Elements of Jazz, Serialism, Electronic Music, Beat Poetry, Medieval European composition, Turntablism: all are blended within this group's book. As Disaster Amnesiac has listened, I've found myself comparing it with similar offerings from the likes of Mingus, Braxton, Evans et al. Seriously, Nathan Hubbard's scope is that vast, and long, seemingly through-composed pieces such as Crows On The Roof and Other Ideas offer ample proof of that.
This kind of vision can suffer for lack of musicianship or preparation. It sounds as if every player/singer/writer within Skeleton Key Orchestra is very much up to the task of delivering upon the promise of Hubbard's ideas. All the solos are creatively fiery, the group passages are tight...it all sounds just so sublimely together and fused.
The liner note of the disc shows that many years' time was spent on the preparation of Furiously Dreaming, and Disaster Amnesiac must tip the cap to Nathan: it must have been trying to have to wait to get this vision out into the world, but holy smokes how that patience has paid off in aesthetic dividends. The tones are clear, and the instrumental mix is beautifully wet and alive.
Jazz and Orchestral music are, ideally, all about personal vision and the execution thereof. With Furiously Dreaming, Nathan Hubbard has utilized Skeleton Key Orchestra to show his own. Many years ago, Disaster Amnesiac read a liner note for one of Gerry Hemingway's Hat Hut discs, in which a writer said that Hemingway has "...written his way into the Big Book..." In my opinion, a new edition of said book must be published, and it must include a chapter for Furiously Dreaming. I'm floored by this CD. Find it!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Eloine-Bizarre Flight; Gertrude Tapes #019, 2016

In conversation, Bryan Day never seems to try to dominate. The times that Disaster Amnesiac has spoken with him, I've gotten a sense that there's a lot going on within his thoughts, but he always listens; his responses are often fascinating. 
Bizarre Flight, his most recent release, under the moniker Eloine, is as good a reflection of that personal style as one can find. Across six tracks, all coaxed from Bryan's self-made instruments, he presents sounds that, underneath their somewhat placid surfaces, are exploding with any and all manner of percussive popping on a track called Hammer Cipher, metallic drones on Gravity Harbor, and a generally mysterious atmosphere for the entire duration.  
Flight, recorded as part of a music series in which sound artists play within unique, non-gallery spaces, has a full, echo-ey feel; this feel gives the listener a very intimate vibe within which to immerse. Pieces such as Wellwater Construct and Cupola do not so much attack as they do envelop the mind with their patient pacing and broad strokes. Corner Sources features a bit more heat, at times sounding like a factory at war with itself, if the battles of that war were all staged within its machine brain as philosophical dialogue.
It's tapes such as Bizarre Flight that make the underground experimental music scene such a cool part of the world in which to do research and discovery. Anyone that's inclined to dig into this type of musical output is advised to book a ticket with Eloine for continuing journeys therein.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Ernesto Diaz-Infante-My Benign Swords; eh? Records #92, 2016

The other day Disaster Amnesiac got lost while driving around the the East Bay Hills near Richmond. As this was going on, I was quite happy to have My Benign Swords, Ernesto Diaz-Infante's new release playing on my car stereo. This, on account of how his adventurous guitar playing provided a mental frame of exploration and wonder, perfect for moving through unfamiliar areas.
The songs on Swords, all coaxed from a nylon stringed guitar, go to many fascinating sound worlds: percussive clanged notes on My Forgotten Stars and Where are you? Hope you're okay?, warbled stutters in Fear of Love, harmonic overtone sliding in Yin, and the floating, wide open spaces of Moving Away From My Mind (Disaster Amnesiac's fave track on the disc) and The Inside Answers. Across all of the disc's tracks, laid down "Next Door to the Jefferson Airplane Studios", and presented with really beautiful cover art, Diaz-Infante displays great control and creativity: he's got a vision and chops with which to achieve it.
My Benign Swords is a recording that near perfectly realizes the fusion of quiet, intimate ideas with challenging experimental moves, and, as such, is highly recommended to those that would get lost within such zones. Disaster Amnesiac should probably keep my copy in the car, as I do tend to get lost fairly often.



Friday, October 14, 2016

The Heartwood Institute-Calder Hall: The Story of Britain's First Atomic Power Station; Reverb Worship, 2016

While it is not at all unusual for a piece of music to be produced in homage to some sort of "real life" event, place, or dynamic, one has to admit that music in homage to a nuclear reactor could be thought of as, quite possibly, rather odd.
Anyway, that was Disaster Amnesiac's impression upon reading of Reverb Worship's recent release of The Heartwood Institute's Calder Hall: The Story of Britain's First Atomic Power Station. An intriguing disc, it attempts to tell said story across eight instrumental electronic pieces of varied style. The arc of the tale begins with cool, chill tones of Heat Exchanger and Graphite Core, these two tones setting a calmly rational mood; it's almost as if they are musical analogs of the mechanical engineering process. The pace quickens within Diagrid's incessant, dancing beat and bouncy synthesizer lines, and then slows back down for the melancholy whir and buzz of Bepo (this one, like the short opening piece The Shape of Things To Come, also has narration from an anonymous BBC voice over announcer). Things get glassily surreal during Turbine House, which also features nice, subtle acoustic guitar and 1970's-sounding synth hits.
Calder Hall's short duration ends with two more pieces: first, the upbeat, melodic Control Room, featuring more great analog sounds and hard, primitive drum programming; this one is Disaster Amnesiac's favorite tune on the disc. It just really moves. Secondly, Cooling Towers, with its quiet, contemplative mood, wraps things up. As I've listened to Calder Hall, and read the disc's liner note, I can imagine this one being played as the facility was being shut down for the final time in 2003. Fitting ending sounds for this interesting concept.
Disaster Amnesiac cannot know if Calder Hall: The Story of Britain's First Atomic Power Station is coming from a place of actual reverence or black humor, but I do know that its sounds are creative and enjoyable in their mostly chilled-out electronic frames. This one's super limited, so, if you want to hear it, I'd say find Reverb Worship's online presence pretty quickly.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Henry Kaiser/Alan Licht-Skip To the Solo; Public Eyesore Records #135, 2016

Attention electric guitar fans: Public Eyesore, Henry Kaiser, and Alan Licht have prepared a recording that Disaster Amnesiac suspects will be seriously up your sonic alley. The stated template consists of a rhythm section laying down a somewhat simplified rhythmic/chordal progression, upon which Kaiser et al can dispense with everything that leads up to the solo space and just get to it. Again: fans of electric guitar playing will find tons of enjoyment on Skip To the Solo.
The disc's 14 tracks are all formatted in a similar way that Zappa's Shut Up And Play Your Guitar discs were: brief spoken Dada leading directly into the quartet as they get down to the business of jamming.
And oh, how they do this! The rhythm guitar/bass guitar section, made up of Mikko Biffle along with Licht and Kaiser, lay down chordal sketches while drummer Rick Walker plays in an understated style that is both simple enough not to interfere and complex enough to be compelling to the the soloist and listener. Skip's tunes all swing like crazy in this way. As Disaster Amnesiac has listened, the thought has occurred to me that this music's rhythmic richness makes it ideal for either deep, focused listening, or as more of a sonic backdrop for working or partying. It has that kind of broadness to it.
Of course, the whole point of this set was to feature the electric guitar as a soloing instrument, and on that front it succeeds wildly. Standout solo action for me: the hard Sci-Fi chop and slice of File & Rank, the cutting Psychedia of Variations On The Jerry Garcia Secret Chord Progression, the spacey Fripp-ey tones of Rendezvous In Space, and the shiny melody of Ask Me About the Dorian Mode. These are just Disaster Amnesiac's picks, though. Every track on this one has compelling tones that are tremolo'ed, reverb'ed, even talk boxed into the head bliss zone for guitar solo maniacs.
The way this band gets down to the point of ripping out fun and fascinating instrumental music is beautiful. Again, if you're any kind of a fan of personal expression on electric guitar in the form of soloing, you'll truly want to seek out Skip To the Solo. Your ears will thank you for the effort.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Swim Through Darkness: My Search For Craig Smith and the Mystery of Maitreya Kali; Mike Stax, Process Media 2016


                 "...people are strange when you're a stranger..."

In some way, it feels almost corny to use a line from what's become one of the somewhat annoying "Classic Rock" staples to introduce the subject of Craig Vincent Smith here, but, honestly, this line kept floating to the fore of Disaster Amnesiac's perceptions as I plowed through Mike Stax's book about the man, Swim Through Darkness: My Search For Craig Smith and the Mystery of Maitreya Kali.
Still, one overriding impression that comes across, at least to this reader, is the overwhelming amount of strangeness, which quite clearly overflowed into a life lost in the darkened waters of Los Angeles alienation, that emanated from Craig Smith. Almost every interview subject recalls moments during which their interactions with the man were colored by an intense, frightening otherness, darkened energies that more often than not keyed their flight instincts to "take off".
Eventually, they all did.
Swim Through Darkness is Stax's attempt to tell the tale of a talented man who was initially likely affected by certain neurological challenges that were exacerbated by a tragic run-in on the Hippie Trail in Afghanistan. Smith seemed destined for a prosperous life within the Los Angeles entertainment world: his list of hep early to mid 1960's contacts was impressive to read. As mentioned, this often described "Golden Boy" seemed to evince some strange vibe that served to put people off even within that sun shiny world. As Stax spins the story further, what were initial hints at the tragic aspects of Smith's life become more and more apparent, more and more open as he became less and less moored within the shared reality of those around him. What eventually emerges from the tale is a lonely shell of a man, almost a ghost, really, inhabiting the streets of Van Nuys and Santa Monica, seemingly completely cut off from "reality" all together. A stranger.
It's to Stax's credit that he stuck with the story, and to read about the redemptive action that he finally took, revealed as the book closes, alone makes Swim Through Darkness eminently worth reading.
As with all of his articles for Ugly Things, Mike's research is highly in depth, and his treatment of the subject of Smith is incredibly moving.
Read and remember: be kind to strangers if at all possible. It seems likely that there are more than a few "Maitreya Kalis" shuffling about in our towns and cities. Their stories, while likely not as initially shiny as that of Craig Smith, should be equally honored within the consensus. Thanks Mike, for the reminder. Hopefully you found a fine place for that box.



Sunday, September 4, 2016

Brandon Evans/Rent Romus/Alex Cohen/Philip Everett-Live KFJC 89.7 FM; digital download 2016

Brandon Evans's recent swing through the San Francisco Bay Area seems to have been a success. An appearance at Outsound New Music Summit with a workshop and a show, a large ensemble recording at Gold Lion Arts in Sacramento, and this set at the venerable Wave of the West, KFJC in Los Altos Hills.
Featuring what sound like four or five separate improvised micro-pieces, strung together into one long suite entitled improvisation, Live KFJC 89.7 FM has all kinds of sounds and interactions to be enjoyed by the Improvised Music fan.
Leader Evans gets great high pitched squeals and squalls from his alto and sopranino saxophones, while Rent Romus adds to the winds mix with his own signature riffs. Particularly compelling are Rent's post-Ayler lamentations and double horn harmonizing. The two sound great together; they were close musical mates within the early 1990's SF Jazz scene, and it's clear that their simpatico remains, and joyfully so.
Guitarist Alex Cohen's clean tones display a great sense of Jazz comping; his guitar often seems to take on a solidly supportive, almost bass-like rhythmic role within the quartet,  and when he solos he sprays great clusters of notes all over top of the horn harmonies. 
Multi-instrumentalist Philip Everett adds some of his surreal clarinet bleats and really great minimal kit percussive action. His popping rolls on a snare drum serve to move the music, and they are spiced with bursting interjections on small cymbals and bells; Disaster Amnesiac finds his approach instructive and very cool. Philip can do a lot with a little!
The overall feel of Live KFJC, obviously on account of these fours' great listening and playing skills, is tight and focused, with what strikes me as a great blending of Jazz, Improvised, and New Music influences. Any fan of these streams would do well to click on over to Brandon Evans's ever-expanding bandcamp page and dig in to this one.
Lastly, how 'bout that excellent cover imagery? Mysteriously cool!