The Covalent Bond

This site is dedicated to the sharing of ideas in the field of music, literature, and whatever else strikes my fancy. To play the music, you must have Rhapsody. I am just getting started. There will be more to come. "Imagination is more important than knowledge." -- Albert Einstein

Monday, January 01, 2007

December 2006 - Songs of the Day

December brought a multitude of great songs, some of which I missed earlier in the year. The variety of styles was all over the map. There was freak folk from the likes of Wooden Wand, The Plants, and Christina Carter, the Spanish rock of Manta Ray, and the disturbing art rock of Scott Walker. I hope you enjoy the list and find a few new discoveries to brighten your days. Click here to listen.

1. Mother Midnight - Wooden Wand and the Sky High Band
2. Are You Swimming In Her Pools? - Swan Lake
3. Forest-Mountain - Nalle
4. Give All To Love - Niobe
5. Are You Going To Leave Me - Isobel Campbell
6. Watch Your Step - The Icarus Line
7. Elktooth (Master) - Woven Hand
8. Slow Train - Dirty Faces
9. Moving Intercepted - Christina Carter
10. No Tropieces - Manta Ray
11. Jaguar Love - The Hot Toddies
12. Grim Reaper Blues - Entrance
13. Oh, Bessie! - The Teeth
14. Ankle Injuries - Fujiya & Miyagi
15. Bitch - Rinocerose
16. Pink & Sour - Califone
17. Migratory Birds - Nethers
18. Settle Down City - Young Widows
19. Jolson And Jones - Scott Walker
20. Abandoned Meander - Andrew Rothbard
21. Acorn Child - The Plants

Friday, December 29, 2006

Song of the Day - December 29, 2006

The Plants debut release The Mind Is a Bird in the Hand is an epic freak-folk recording, and should not be missed by fans of the genre. Based out of Portland, the band consists of Josh Blanchard and Molly Griffith, who were recently married. The album title left me puzzled, however Josh Blanchard had explained in a previous interview,"It comes from a movie, Dementia 13, where a woman is freaking out and her analyst tells her to picture her mind as a small bird in her hand—when the hand is calm, so is the bird, and thus the mind. It really struck me as a good visualization technique, but then it took on more meaning." Molly is a cellist/pianist with a love for medieval music and has played with the likes of The Decemberists and 31 Knots. "Acorn Child" has a mystical air to it with sitar, cello, and acoustic guitar. Josh reminded me of very early Jethro Tull, but with a much more sinister twist. Click here to listen.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Song of the Day - December 28, 2006

As the year progressed, great psyche-folk recordings became increasingly abundant. Andrew Rothbard makes his contribution with his first solo effort Abandoned Meander, and it is quite a sonic delight. This is the first of a five part series of albums based on the Discordian law of fives: Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis, Parenthesis, and Paralysis. This album's theme is thesis. Andrew is already working on the second album entitled Rainbeam Sunbow. According to Andrew Rothbard, ""[Thesis] manifests chaos protected by Goddess Eris, codified by hexagram 2 of the I Ching and directed entirely toward Yin. She lives on the planet Venus, and her Tarot card appears as the High Priestess Trump II." I suppose that statement will give you a hint at the psychedelic nature of the tracks in store for the listener. If you didn't know, Discordianism is a religion based on chaos. I suggest the title track "Abandoned Meander" as a perfect introduction to Rothbard's Discordian world. Click here to listen.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Song of the Day - December 27, 2006

Scott Walker's album The Drift has been popping up with increasing regularity on end of the year best of lists. In fact, he was under serious consideration for my list. The reason being the truly disturbing nature of his record. It is dark, menancing, intense music that definitely falls into the acquired taste category. Scott Walker started out as a pop icon in the sixties and has now transitioned or should I say drifted towards something quite opposite. The album is brilliant, but best taken in small dose in order to avoid nightmares. It has been eleven years since his last album, but the wait was worth it. I highly recommend "Jolson And Jones," as I find it one of the most fearful, disturbing tracks with the combination of Walker's vocals, a distressed donkey, and violin combining into a work of pure terror. Click here to listen.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Best of Jazz 2006 - A Baker's Dozen

As last years list, I agonized over who would make it and who would not, hence the inclusion of 13 albums. The saxophone looms large over this year list and also the labels Sunnyside and Cryptogramophone made strong showings. As per last year, the list was limited to those recordings available on Rhapsody. The amount of phenomenal recordings available this year was truly staggering and I could not make any real attempt to list them in any particular order. Here is my Best of Jazz 2006, please enjoy.

Vijay Iyer and Rudresh Mahanthappa - Raw Materials Vijay Iyer is a perennial favorite in best of the year lists and this year is no exception. His pairing with long time collaborator Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto sax in a duo setting is intelligent, challenging music reflecting their heritage, with a strong modal bent. The lack of bass and drums is never felt, rather there is a musical richness evident that borders on the overindulgent for the sonic gourmet.

Misja Fitzgerald Michel - Encounter This is definitely one of the best jazz guitar records of the year, by a guitarist I was totally unaware of. Misja Fitzgerald Michel is a French master of the guitar and this album is spectacular. The album is a mixture of original compositions and original takes on compositors from the likes of Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, and Bill Stewart. The musicians in his band are top notch, including: Ravi Coltrane, Drew Gress, and Jochen Rueckert. Playing both electric and acoustic guitars Misja plays music in a variety of styles that never ceases to please.

Sai Ghose - New Blood I can listen to this record over and over and never lose interest. Sai Ghose is a wonderful pianist and this album grooves. I detect a touch of Vince Guaraldi in Sai's pianism, which is something I just love. Sai is given considerable assistance from guitarist Mark Jodice. This is mainstream jazz that is impeccably tremendous listening. Music does not always have to be extreme to be intelligent, thoughtful, works of art. This a collection of musicians that know what they are doing and do it to perfection.

Metta Quintet - Subway Songs A beautiful theme album inspired by the subways of New York and performed exquisitely by the Metta Quintet. In addition to being a great record, 100% of the proceeds of this album go to a good cause, the JazzReach foundation. The JazzReach foundation is a not-for-profit organization committed to fostering a greater awareness, appreciation and understanding of jazz, especially among the young. The album intertwines actual subway sounds with excellent musicianship resulting in a fascinating listen.

Charles Gayle - Time Zones This is a mindblowing album. First because Charles Gayle is known primarily as a saxophone player, yet he has released one of the best solo piano albums of the year. Second, his command of the instrument is exceptional and his incorporation of various piano styles is quite refreshing. There are musical references to the likes of Bud Powell, Art Tatum, Cecil Taylor, and Oscar Peterson all combined into one delicious collection of pianism. If you love piano, do not miss this record.

Roy Nathanson - Sotto Voce This has to be the most fun album on the list. It is the work of Roy Nathanson, a man known for his eclectic history of working with the likes of Elvis Costello to co-founding the Jazz Passengers. Here he has outdone himself with the creation of a jazz record that primarily features the spoken word, with occasional actual singing, and believe it or not the "human beatbox" Napoleon Maddox substituting for a drummer. You must check out his version of "Sunny." This album absolutely has to be heard to be believed.

Rashied Ali Quintet - Judgment Day Vol. 1 Rashied Ali is not heard from much these days, having risen to fame with Coltrane on his last albums. However, he deserves to be heard more and this album is proof. Lately, he has been functioning in an Art Blakey mode, nurturing young talent. On this record, you can hear the fruit of his labors and it just cooks. Actually, this is volume 1 of a two volume set. I haven't had the opportunity to hear volume 2, as it is not on Rhapsody, but I am sure it is a winner. The varied tone colors he coaxes from his drum set and the rapport with his band make this an outstanding adventure in post-bop musicianship.

Armen Donelian and Marc Mommaas - All or Nothing at All Saxophone and piano duos seem to be all the rage this year, witness the Vijay Iyer and Rudresh Mahanthappa recording. Armen Donelian and Marc Mommaas, piano and saxophone respectively, have created just as satisfying an album with what I would call a New York sound, as opposed to the exotic melodies of Iyer and Mahanthappa. All or Nothing at All is a live concert from 2003 in New York City. Armen Donelian has a lyrical quality to his playing touched with a smattering of the avant garde. He was initially trained in classical music, but jazz soon became an overwhelming passion. Armen is also a Fulbright scholar. Marc Mommass plays his horn with passion, edge, and modernistic tendencies. The overall combination of the two musicians results in an introspective collection of tunes that lets the listener peer into the soul of these musicians.

Francois Carrier - Open Spaces This is an exercise in saxophone aesthetics featuring both alto and tenor saxophones from Francois Carrier and Dewey Redman respectively. There is a lot of free playing on this record and it is of the highest caliber. It never turns me off, like some free playing can. It is the interplay between Carrier and Redman that is truly fascinating. Redman, who passed away last year, was a veteran of Ornette Coleman's band and knew a thing a two about free improvisation. The supporting musicians provide the sonic undercurrents to let both Carrier and Redman shine. The first track "Going Through" is a 21 minute monster of free jams that immediately caught my attention for best of the year. If you are looking for something a little more challenging this is the disc for you.

Kenny Garrett - Beyond the Wall This has to be the superstar jazz record of the year. The talent on this record is unbelievable: Pharoah Sanders, Bobby Hutcherson, Mulgrew Miller, Brian Blades, and of course Kenny Garrett. The album was inspired by a trip that Garret had taken to China. This album has a Coltrane sound and a definite spiritual feeling, perhaps it is the use of wordless vocals on some tracks. The Coltrane sound is no accident, as Garrett dedicated the album to McCoy Tyner and Mulgrew Miller is up to the task interpreting these modal tunes. This is a record that people will be listening to decades from now.

Charles Lloyd - Sangam This is a wonderful album that combines world music and jazz into a symbiotic whole. Charles Lloyd is paired with Zakir Hussain on tabla and Eric Harland on drums for a recording that was done live in 2004. This is a masterpiece of an album. Percussion fans will be overwhelmed with delight by Zakir and Eric, yet Charles Lloyd still is the star evoking a wide range of emotions, colors, and superlative muscianship on both saxophone and flute. If you have a taste for the exotic, please sample Sangam.

Bennie Maupin Ensemble - Penumbra Penumbra is an apt name for Bennie Maupin's latest release, as he as often lived in the shadow of others such as Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock. Maupin's main instrument is the bass clarinet, which he plays in an earthy, lyrical style using the spaces between the notes as eloquently as the notes themselves. In addition to his clarinet, he also plays tenor and soprano saxophones, alto flute, and piano. Bassist Darek Oleszkiewicz does an outstanding job accompanying Maupin. The whole album is an atmospheric journey that just leaves me in awe. There is even a song about Eric Dolphy, that other great bass clarinetist. Of course, Bennie could not forget the saxophonists, as there is also a swinging song about Lester Young. A few critics have referred to his music as chamber music, which fits with its intimate character and soulful sound of the bass clarinet.

Nels Cline - New Monastery Here's an album that was on practically everyone's best of the year lists. Nels Cline, that fabulous guitarist who leads both a jazz and rock life, has dedicated an album to the eclectic pianist Andrew Hill. In a moment of inspiration or maybe just pragmatism, Nels Cline decides to eliminate the piano from the album entirely, resulting in a truly unique take on Hill's music without being a clone. In addition to eliminating the piano, Nels Cline added the accordion which contributes greatly to the atmospheric nature of the pieces. Many of the works are performed as suites, which evolve from one song to the next with an ease that I know took a lot of effort. This is another album that will reward the musical adventurous.

Song of the Day - December 26, 2006

OK, it is no longer Christmas and my musical selection is not quite as gentle as yesterday's tune. You may not be ready for this if it is early in the morning, or evening for that matter. The Young Widows are in your face rock and roll. They are loud, rude, and great! Their influences range from bands like Shellac, Nirvana, Jesus Lizard, and Gang of Four. You are either going to love this or hate it. Yes, I love it. The distortion is beautiful to my ear and the beats are punishing, truly invigorating music. This Louisville based band pulls no punches on Settle Down City, a post grunge masterpiece. It may not be entirely the style these days, but it is one heck of a record. I suggest a small dose of the Young Widows to determine your level of tolerance, and the best song is the title tune, "Settle Down City." Click here to listen.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Song of the Day - December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas! I thought I would welcome Christmas with the gentle neo-folk sounds of the Nethers. Formed from the ashes of The Carlsonics, this Washington DC based quintet has released their debut album In Fields We Will Lie, a sublime collection of gentle but great tunes. Nikki West's vocals have a soothing demeanor that I find quite appropriate for this particular day. By the way, she is also the bassist for the group. As I listened to this album, one track in particular stood out, "Migratory Birds." The track starts out simply with Nikki and some strummed chords, an arpeggio is added, and the drums gently enter. The song slowly builds in intensity, but never simmers over. It is a gem of a song. Click here to listen.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Song of the Day - December 22, 2006

Califone's latest Roots and Crowns is a journey through Americana as seen through the eyes of Tim Rutili and company. Califone has created a lush sound by incorporating a variety of instruments, yet it is not always entirely pure Americana. The band twists and turns with melodies and sounds until it becomes a distorted version of Americana. A case in point is "Spider House," which incorporates a modified piano that had duct tape and paper clips layered upon its strings. There are also fragments of world music apparent in their music, such as "Chinese Actor." However, it is the track "Pink & Sour" that has won me over. It has an exotic percussive sound, augmented by Frippian style guitar licks, quite a tasty treat for the holidays. Click here to listen.

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