Ropeadope Sur continues their selection of the finest progressive albums from Central and South America with the new release from La Pingo’s Orquestra. Their first album, Peregrino, was selected as one of the top albums of 2017 by the editorial board at Bandcamp, and now the band brings us Musica para Domar Monstruos, a complex interweaving of current and past elements of the Mexican Cosmovision. It started when the great Steve Albini offered to visit Mexico and record the band; the title means ‘Music To Tame Monsters’ , and the intent is to dominate the monsters that hover in the mind of the human being. On the cover is the photograph of the aquatic animal known by the ancient inhabitants as Axolotl (Water Monster) that lives in the lakes of Mexico and is currently in danger of extinction.
Accomplished singer and Harlem native Vivian Sessoms, in the company of some of the world’s finest musicians, stakes a claim to a sound all her own on her new album LIFE. Having earned her stripes as a performer with Ryuichi Sakamoto, P. Diddy, Michael Jackson, Donna Summer and many others, Sessoms and co-producer/creative partner Chris Parks bring their vast array of experiences to bear on an inspired, jazz-influenced set that proves Sessoms a fiery, forward-thinking artist in her own right.
Sessoms grew up in a musical family, no stranger to the challenges of life, nor to the continuing refinement of one’s musical career. With LIFE she opened a new chapter, expressing her vision in the first of a two part album. (LIFE II is due out in 2019). With guests like Casey Benjamin, Keyon Harrold, Donny McCaslin, Amp Fiddler, and Shedrick Mitchell she gives us a glimpse into her extended family of seasoned and progressive musicians.
Yeah, we’ve got the Jazz, but sometimes you just have to kick out the Jams and get loud. Big Hands Rhythm And Blues Band does just that - passionate blues tracks with a driving, soulful rhythm lead the way, with Osei Essed’s deep growl conjuring thoughts of past times. Their new album is called Thoughts And Prayers (easily with a sense of irony), and mixed in with the rocking and powerful cuts are longing ballads that can sit with the best of songs in the Americana tradition. As another Ropeadope song craftsman, Andrew Nelson (Great Peacock) stated ‘It’s all just 12 bars and the human condition.’ BHRB brings that sad, yet hopeful element out in all of us, so if you’re reflecting on life as the new year begins, drop in here and get ready.
Once again Modern Icon Recordings adds a key title to its growing catalog. This time accomplished bassist Fima Ephron, who has performed and recorded with a cross section of some of the greatest talent in the music industry: Walter Becker, David Torn, Gil Scott Heron, Natalie Merchant, Meshell N'Degeocello, just to name a few. Fima had the opportunity to gather his talented friends - Adam Rigers, David Torn, Chris Potter, Nate Smith, and Kevin Hays - for a 10 hour session and document 10 of his compositions. The result is Songs From The Tree, and Fima states clearly:
‘My hope is that it will in some small way bring some positivity into the world, and that whoever is listening will find some enjoyment from having heard it.’
Aaron Parks refers to his new project - Little Big - as the natural successor to his Blue Note debut, Invisible Cinema. Here we see a prodigal talent doing anything but relying on the norms of the past by bringing electronic sounds, Indie-rock style, and Hip-Hop elements into his music. Little Big is a band; and it is obvious right from the start that while you will hear Aaron’s sublime playing, you will first and foremost hear the band, and therefore the full compositions. It’s a fine line to walk as an artist, player, and composer; that of balancing powerful voices that all wish (and deserve) to be the lead. Aaron Parks Little Big can delight and interest a listener with no ear for the quality within, and it can delight the listener with refined ears.
From Modern Icon Recordings comes the next in the foundation of a great record label; Brockett Parsons is well known for his work with Lady Gaga and his invention - The Piano Arc circular keyboard - yet it is his debut album that truly reveals his talent and inspiration. The Brockettship is a wide ranging expression of Parson’s interests and style - from the spoken word intro setting the tone, to funky and soulful R&B, to the flow of Ohene Savant’s freestyle. All with the delicate and futuristic production that Adrian Harpham brings to the table. Special guests abound, from MonoNeon to Spank, James Genus to Peter Gunz, but these are not folks placed on the record for promo, these are friends with a shared musical mission.
Jared Sims seems to often speak of places; with his 2017 release Change Of Address he brought us from the busy streets of Boston to his home in West Virginia as he took the chair heading up the Jazz Studies department at WVU. And now, Jared returns with The New York Sessions, his tribute to the places and sounds of New York City. There's something about the sax that can describe the feeling of New York, that sexy and gritty feel on the street, that energy, that flow, that feeling that you not only belong but that it's YOURS. Jared captures the heat on the street as he and the band are in absolutely top form, taking us through the city with tracks titled Tribeca Tap Bar, The Bodega, Pelham and more.
From Todd Clouser’s Ropeadope Sur comes Cienfuegos, a band that proposes a new way of seeing Mexican-ness by blending cultural elements of the past and present. Reflecting the present and integrating folkloric music from the past, Cienfuegos takes us through history. The trip begins through the tribute to pre-hispanic gods such as "La Serpiente" and "El Jaguar", shortly after arriving at the Latin fervor in "El Alebrije". The music advances exploring the dual conception of beauty in "El Cenzontle" and the destruction in "El Perro de Agua". The trip of the Bestiario ends in "El Sumidero", a piece that invokes a traditional Mexican song that travels through a stream of peace and longing, heading south, to the heart of the Mexican cosmovision.
We know Kyle Nasser from the band Beekman, whose two albums here at Ropeadope are still a delight and in heavy rotation. 2018 marked the release of Kyle’s second solo project, Persistent Fancy, where Nasser had the opportunity to get into the studio with a disparate cast of musicians. Nick Jost from the metal band Baroness, Roman Filiu currently performs with Steve Coleman, Miguel Zenon, and Dafnis Prieto) , and Alan Mednard is one of the most in-demand drummers in the jazz world. The band rounds out with Dov Manski on piano and Jeff Miles on guitar, and together they journey through the heady world of Kyle Nasser’s vision.
"Means to the Ends" Album Review
by Adam Ahuja, Infinity Gritty
Bright Dog Red might be a recurring dream character: that mesmerizing image of an animal icon placed face-to-face with an observer, maintaining a deep and unmistakable familiarity, yet owning a mysterious personality that cannot be consciously recalled. The character holds a strong purpose, but one that is rather better felt than understood. "Means to the Ends," released by Bright Dog Red on Ropeadope Records, might be the sonic counterpart to that subconscious creature.
The album's first scene opens with an inter-weaving, inter-dimensional calling home, taking the listener straight into the caverns of a musical monk circle, priming the ears for a journey. The listener is quickly christened by the sound of drummer Joe Pignato's guiding ride-cymbal surfs. Vocal narrations by emcees Cully and Righteous follow with worthy contemplations, easing the listener further into the deep mind.
The journey is decorated with sax and trumpet echoes, guitar swirl-pools, and mountainous, rebellious bass steps. As the listener engages Bright Dog Red, a continuation of organic and synthetic sounds splash the atmosphere with assertion, expressed with a palpable sense of liberation. You might call it Self-Reflective Swing Hop.
"Means to the Ends" is a refreshing surrender into sound that will appropriately answer the listener's questions with more of the right questions. A full album encounter may cause one to pleasantly hum diminished scales and melodies as a result thereafter, as if that wasn't anything out of the ordinary. Essentially: if one is eager and ready to unmask the Bright Dog Red in waking life, the album "Means to the Ends" is the right place to do it.
Courage is the order of the times we live in, and these cats have it. Led by music educator and industry veteran Joe Pignato, the band composes while performing. There is a level of communication at play here that is both a lesson in music and a lesson in well, just being a human. Patience, mutual respect, and fierce collaboration is what the world needs, and Bright Dog Red are proving it possible simply by playing music together. In any great movement there is a great leader, and the best leaders know how to stay out of the way - another lesson that many of our political leaders would do well to understand. Pignato and Bright Dog Red released Means To The Ends this year, and we suspect the title is a subtle message to us all.
In keeping with today’s orchestral, cinematic theme, next up in the countdown is the 2018 release from composer David Cieri. His 2017 release - Notes From The Underscore - show his work on a variety of documentaries with Florentine Films. His previous work with Yusef Komunyakaa and Mike Brown captures the intersection of poetry and music just as if you were wandering by a downtown club and heard it live. This fall David returned with the soundtrack to the new documentary - The Mayo Clinic: Unity Of Forces. Here David composes for the unique film, with the great Bill Frisell on guitar. Cieri describes the project and the music:
‘This documentary is a 2 hour comprehensive dive into the history of a health care ideal as exemplified by The Mayo Clinic. The story traces the clinics origins - a pact - made by a visionary doctor named William Worel Mayo and the sisters of St Francis in Rochester Minnesota to set up a hospital which put the needs of the patient first. From this singular philosophy, a model of health care in the United States emerged with international influence and impact.
Talk surrounding our current health care crisis needs to step away from the divisive, un nuanced, and essentially useless binary modes of I’m right and your wrong. The Mayo Clinic model is actively shifting this conversation away from political gridlock and into the realms of discovery and earned possibility.
The music is striving to represent this ideal - historically and into the future - this perhaps is an uncommon story because it offers real hope and prescription rather than description of our ills which too often get inordinate attention. My intent was to bake the church pew and Wagner and Americana into the compositions. It’s the most moral music I’ve made to date. The sessions were challenging - it’s one thing to give the darkness due weight in music but it was another challenge altogether to make very positive gestures have real and earned gravity too. And the musicians! Listening back to Bill and Putnam dialoguing on a few of these cuts is to feel immense love and joy in being here to witness, to watch, to pry, to learn, to become something better than we have imagined.’ (David Cieri)
Brian Wolf and Tony Nozero are back; after a long recording hiatus the legendary Austin duo hit the studio with some friends adding percussion, flute, and guitar. While the lineup has expanded, the avant garde irreverence and focal point is in full effect. Triumph’s cover immediately reveals the posture; power to the people in this challenging time. Live samples weave in and out of rhythmic chants as the tuba marks the time with layers of swooping melody painting the scene. Triumph continues to intrigue and delight us, at once reminiscent of an old art film and a futuristic landscape. While the complexity might seem daunting, Triumph is suprisingly accessible.
Putting the Gritty in Infinity Gritty, label head Adam Ahuja cued up the second full length album from E Scott Lindner in September. Composed, recorded, mixed, and mastered in three days, Port Of Dreams is an adventure into a self-described style dubbed ‘Orchestral Psych’, featuring a string quartet, woodwinds, piano, drums, bass, synths, and more. Gathering in groups at Lindner’s Pinch Recording studio, ideas were conveyed, arrangements were developed on the spot, and recorded to two track. By the end of day three the album was complete, a spontaneous and collaborative creative endeavor that influenced all of the musicians in a powerful way simply by the challenge of making it.
The album is titled Dred Scott Rides Alone, and it is an accurate statement. Written during an artist residency at the Ucross foundation in rural Wyoming, dred returned to the studio and played all the instruments - drums, bass, and piano. The songs are reflective, comfortably lonely, and reminiscent of the pastoral West. The album marks an interesting change in scott’s style, as he settles into a downright positive mindset throughout. There is something indescribable in dred scott’s touch; just like hearing a trumpeter’s breath, you can feel the humanity in his fingertips and fully understand that the piano is simply an extension of his expression. We are thankful for this exquisite nod to humanity, finding comfort and hope with each listen.
We’ve been on the Jonathan Scales tip for some time now, and we have witnessed his truly remarkable ascendence in the music world. While he’s not the only one who has been a pioneer of the steel pan in a Jazz context, Jonathan persistently brings diverse and complex compositions to life while connecting with some of the top musicians of the day. His new album, Pillar, brings his path into full focus as he is joined by fierce young guns MonoNeon, Mason Guidry, and E’Lon Jordan Dunlap as well as seasoned greats Victor Wootten, Oteil Burbridge, Shaun Martin, Weedie Braimah, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, Jeff Coffin, and his hero Bela Fleck. The presence of these great musicians speaks volumes about the man and his music. This is history in the making, all brought together by a vision, a mission, and a whole lot of hard work. Dig in here for the podcast that explains it all.
Tony Adamo is a character - he’s been a rock drummer, a billboard guy, a TV set tech - but his true calling hit him while hanging with Mic Gillette and Skip Mesquite from Tower Of Power and mixing it up with drummer Mike Clark. Tony creates spoken word pieces, writing them out before recording, and then out comes a completely different riff as he hits the mic. he speaks of the greats, of a time past for most but still vibrant for some. His tone evokes a feeling of freewheeling abandon, of true independence as his band cooks with gas. His 2018 release, Was Out Jazz Zone Mad feature Mike Clark in peak form with special guest Roger Smith. The album is funky, and Tony’s poetry references not just the Jazz greats but the lyrical blues tradition.
When a band that records from different locations finally gets the chance to be in the same physical space at the same time, something extraordinary is bound to happen. Light Blue Movers found themselves in that situation in Los Angeles last year and hit the studio; no songs, no charts, just common experiences after a challenging year and a desire to document the feeling. The result is Teleological Devolution (The Venice Sessions Pt. 1), a solemn reflection on the times we live in and the common desire to find, to make something beautiful to provide sustenance for all. Deron Johnson, Jonatan Levy, Gabe Gordon, and Adrian Harpham are serious cats, and Light Blue Movers is the common vehicle.
Three cats with a deep sense of purpose, serious chops, and a desire to mix it up live - that’s Yak Attack. Staples on the PDX scene, Dave Dernovsek, Rowan Cobb, and Nick Werth take their Classical and Jazz backgrounds and flip the whole thing into a live looping session with real instrumentation. Their 2018 release Safety Third is a hugely addictive, groove based excursion into the late hours. These are the days when electronic music comes of age and sheds its futuristic stereotype, becoming a unique form of expression that fits into any mix. Yak Attack, please lead the way!
We always love when the music comes home to Philly, and this time its a solid hometown banger. Ill Doots transcends the term collective in an open source, dynamic community of artists, educators, and musicians. They are from many places, assembled in the great city of Philadelphia, with a shared emphasis on the value of the process rather than the product. With an open flow like this, it is natural that the output takes varied forms. If we had to define it, we’d call it conscious and soulful Hip-Hop. Their self titled LP was praised by many, with the great curators over at WYEP adding it to their top albums of 2018 at # 3. Well played all around.