SEAN ONO LENNON - ASTERISMS

(LP, CD, Digital on Tzadik Records)

 

Lennon’s never been one to sit still within one genre.  From the psychedelia of Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger to the prog-psych of his Claypool Lennon Delirium offerings, if there’s a single thing bonding his works, it’s his use of melody and a vivid imagination (whoops, that’s two things).  On the superb Asterisms, Lennon abandons vocals and lyrics altogether for an instrumental record that encompasses jazz, spacey electronics and rock, where the whole is far greater than the sum of the parts.

 

As you might expect, he’s assembled a crack team of musicians including, besides himself on guitar and mini-moog, Ches Smith and Johnny Mathar (drums), Devin Hoff (bass), João Nogueira (Wurlitzer), Mauro Refosco (percussion), Michael Leonhart (trumpet), and Yuka Honda (electronics).  If I’m being honest, the sound tends to lean more towards jazz fusion than an even distribution of the above genres or throwing them in a blender.  Still, the five tracks are very different from one another while managing to retain the overall feel of the project.  It just works.

 

My favorite track is the opener “Starwater,” which is sort of like Mahavishnu Orchestra launching – nay, floating away - into space.  I read somewhere that Wilco’s Nels Cline encouraged Lennon to play his guitar more, but haven’t been able to verify that.  Lennon’s not a shredding monster, which he has said stressed him out playing with Les Claypool, who demands uncompromising virtuosity from his players.  But what he lacks in pyrotechnics he surely makes up for in feel.  The John McLaughlin-esque tone and his lyricism makes you just want to hear more.

 

I must be careful not to automatically compare anything jazzy with a trumpet and electric guitar to Miles Davis, but there is some bitchin’ brewing going on with “Thinking of M” and “Acidalia.”  And at eleven minutes, the title track is the album’s longest, and it’s stunning.  Lennon conjures up all his wizardly powers of spell casting, full of cosmic mystery, complex time signatures, fine muted trumpet and electric piano, and the return of Lennon’s soulful guitar, tones and weird effects in a wobbly and woozy psychedelic outro.  Very Lennon – Sean, that is.  The missus walked in while I was listening to that latter part and asked, “are you watching a scary movie?”  So you know it’s good.

 

It took me a minute to realize what Lennon was doing with closer “Heliopause.”  When Voyager 1 left the heliosphere on its way out of the solar system and into the interstellar medium, nobody knew what would happen to the spacecraft.  Lennon concocts the track with a mystifying touch, and a sense of tentative steps forward filled with trepidation, and finally a psychedelic fizzing before vanishing into the mist.  Love it.

 

Reportedly a couple of years in the making with some pandemic-induced stops and starts, Asterisms was well worth the wait.  Lennon’s got a full plate these days, caring for his Mom, tending to his parents’ musical legacy, and making his own music.  But he continues to grow as an artist, even at 48.  His releases always cross some new territory, full of inventiveness and curiosity.  Asterisms is a fine sojourn in his wanderings, and doubtless he’ll cross more boundaries at the next signpost.

 

(Mark Feingold)

MUSHROOM - MESSAGES FROM THE SPLIFF BUNKER

(Available on Heyday Again)

Pat Thomas and his revolving band of musical pranksters return after a nearly 15-year absence with their 15th studio album comprising their first recordings since the COVID lockdown. The current sextet includes three drummers, long serving bassist Ned Doherty and keyboardist/producer  Matt Cunitz, with Paul Hoaglin joining on guitar and frequent flyer Erik Pearson contributing his typically spacey and jazzy flute and sax embellishments. Toss in some Vibraharps, gongs, Likembe, and clavinet, season lightly with seasonal Sleigh Bells, call to order with occasional Prayer Bells and you have yourself another heady stew courtesy our favourite musicologists who bang, pluck, pound and tinkle things that make groovy noises. And of course there’re those song titles that only some crazy dudes with enormous record collections could love which start with Steppenwolf references, tell us where (presumably) drummer Mark Weinstein (he of art rockers MX-80 Sound, O-Type, and Can vocalist Malcolm Mooney’s comeback project) can be found, and what happens when former Camper Van Beethoven/ Mushroom guitarist Victor Krummenacher throws the gauntlet down at the feet of Jefferson Airplane/Hot Tuna string-stroker Jorma Kaukonen. All this and more in seven tracks across four sides of glorious vinyl clocking in at nearly 75 minutes. So let’s hunker down in the bunker and see what’s skinning away.

     We begin with that blast of heavy metal thunder from Steppenwolf ‘Looking For Adventure’ and what comes your way is a groovefest of organ grinding, skin pounding and booty shaking in a Booker T mould. Bass throbs, heads nod, toes tap, and smiles ensue. As with many improvisational jams, things just tend to drift off when the participants have taken the songs as far as they can go without deteriorating into needless repetition, so they decide to call time with I think is a neat little excerpt from the Deviants ‘Billy The Monster.’

     ‘One Ton Anvil’ is a little more hesitant - like Can finding their way in the dark or Six Musicians In Search Of A Groove. Eventually keyboards gurgle in the general direction of a tune which Pearson picks up on flute and flutters around clashing cymbals and meandering organ until, like feathers in a hurricane, everything drifts away. Pearson’s sax drives ‘I’m OK, You’re Not OK’ through beeping car horn-like utterances and a call-and-response sax/organ bop-off that King Crimson fans won’t find disagreeable. The fadeout suggests there’s more on the floor for another day.

     The next track has a message for the listener - ‘Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Beautiful’ and, indeed, it is. The spliffs and drums are kicking in, the organ is laying down a smooth vibe, guitar notes are sprinkled about and the listener is rocking back and forth, going nowhere and everywhere at once and having a damn fine time getting there.

     The second album covers nearly 40 minutes across three songs, including the sidelong answer to the question on everyone’s lips, “Where The Hell Is Mark (And Did He Pick Up Those Funny Sunglasses And Gnarly Thrash Boots)” (reference to be revealed later in the review!}: ‘Mark Moved To Buffalo.’ One could be unkind and say it probably took less time to get there than it takes the song to make its appointed rounds, but that would be only partially true. There’s a lot you can do in 18 minutes, so taking it slow and easy is a good approach. Kind of like Bardo Pond and Roy Montgomery in their Hash Jar Tempo phase, there’s a lot of “let’s try this and see where it takes us” going on, so the momentum ebbs and flows according the each participant’s head space, but that’s a good thing because it allows each member to take a little solo and see if the rest will hop onboard. For the most part, they do, so this is not the shambles that “We’ve got 18 minutes, whaddya wanna do?” can deteriorate into. The three drum setup comes at you from all angles, with peak-ins from Hoaglin and Cunitz to pull everybody back to Earth.

     The coffee break midway where everything changes direction and almost comes to a grinding halt before charting course into what feels like a completely different “song” seems spliced in, so this may have actually gone on for a few days before they ran out of tape. It’s a little jarring, but eventually your mind replots the GPS and you kinda forget where you were at before you were so rudely interrupted. But, hey, it’s cool man, I just hope Mark got there safely. Remember Mark? This song is about where he relocated!

     If you’re not too spliffed out to get up and turn the record over, you can contemplate the metaphysical philosophical implications of ‘In Dreams Begin Responsibilities.’ A sort of “look before you leap” mantra copped from some old camp horror movie: “don’t dream it, be it”. A little marching riff tumbles across the cymbals before Pearson blows some smooth, dreamy sax riffs across the room at Cunitz’s gurgling organ and the rest of the party puts down the spliffs and picks up the groove. The three drummers shine (presumably Mark came back from Buffalo for the session!), which is not very easy unless you’re all on the same page and don’t start tripping over each other (in both senses of the word!) trying to take the track in different directions than your mates want to go.

     Which leads us to the concluding smackdown: ‘Victor Krummenacher vs. Jorma Kaukonen.’ Not sure what to make of that (presumably another inside joke the band are wont to turn into song titles like ‘Blues For An Airplane’), but it’s another smokey, jazzy Pearson sax run with a bit of a Thirties-in-Paris vibe circling around some Dead-like 6-armed drumming, random string plucking from Hoaglin, and Cunitz at his multitasking best coaxing all kinds of weird sounds out of numerous multi-coloured keyboards. Toss in a few science fiction soundtrack-y earpiercings, dinosaur screechings, and spacey fx, and then try to imagine what Camper Van Beethoven might sound like jamming with the Airplane and Hot Tuna and I guess you’re sorta there. I guess? Oh, and don’t forget the bells! And prayers!!

     Whether spliced together from various jams or edited down from one long enlightened session, the album should best be experienced as one long, seamless flow rather than DJ-hopping ahead to a favourite track/section. There’re only seven of them anyway. So knock three times on the bunker door, say the secret password (hint: what Oscar-winning actor was immortalized in a Mushroom song?) and roll up for the mystery tour through the musical minds of Mushroom.

(Jeff Penczak)



     
   
=  March 2024 =  

 

the Hanging Stars

Sean Ono Lennon

Anton Barbeau

the Pat Smythe Quartet

Mushroom

Men from SPECTRE

Dodson and Fogg

















 

 

 

 

 

 



THE HANGING STARS – ON A GOLDEN SHORE

( LP/CD/DL from Loose Records

  www.thehangingstars.bandcamp.com  )

On A Golden Shore is due to be released in March but is available to pre- order now and I can report that it is a peach of an album. The band consists of Richard Olson on guitar and vocals, Paulie Cobra on the drums, Patrick Ralla guitars and keyboards, Paul Milne on bass and Joe Harvey-Whyte on pedal steel guitar. The album saw the band (sans Joe) travel up to Scotland to Edwyn Collins Clashnarrow studio at Helmsdale, up on the north-east coast, without any of their instruments, but with a few ideas which they then proceeded to transform into the songs on this album, Joe then added his parts later on at his London studio, It has been produced by Sean Read, he has also previously worked with the band.

The Hanging Stars have been playing regularly up and down the country over the last few years this has resulted in a tight knight group of intuitive musicians who are obviously happy in each other’s company, this set of songs came very quickly for them and they will be doing another tour in support of the album, I for one can’t wait to see them in action again, they excel in the live environment and put on a damn good show.

The album opens with a ‘Let Me Dream Of You’ a loose, groovy, choogler of a song which features slide guitar and a fine, contained solo from Patrick. This is followed by ‘Sweet Light’, a soufflé light hazy song imbued with a keening melody and tight harmonies. ‘Happiness Is A Bird’, is one of my favourites from the album, an interesting song that joins the dots between very English bands like The Clientele and Mojave 3 and the Grateful Dead, it even has a light wah-wah electric guitar ala Jerry on his ‘Cats Under The Stars’, the song ends with a ride which for me could have carried on longer and probably will do when played live, superlative stuff.

This then leads onto another great song; they just keep on coming, the terrific ‘Disbelieving’, Joe playing some exquisite pedal steel. ‘Washing Line’, features some electric piano and then it is into the title track ‘Golden Shore’ which sees Circlulus’s woodwind player Will Summers adding pan pipes and drummer Paulie playing funky bongos, a keep the home fires burning song of longing that drifts along quite languidly. ‘Silver Rings’ is another favourite, almost progressive rock in its composition, it feels so summery with Latin accents from the percussion and again has a kind of Dead like vibe, gossamer light with spidery guitars and a lovely piano motif.

 ‘I Need A Good Day’ is up next, a throw the curtains wide song with a open jangly sound that’s pure Hanging Stars. Lilting banjo sets the scene for the following ‘No Way Spell’, it is more acoustic in nature with some excellent acoustic guitar fills, terrific steel and again those excellent harmonies. ‘Raindrop In A Hurricane’ appears next, a gentle and sad reflective folk song, dreaming of a warm place where the Lemon trees grow, it also features what I believe maybe a crumhorn and more pan pipes from Will.  The album ends with another favourite ‘Heart In A Box’, a crumbling, mariachi inflected song with some nice lightly fuzzed steel. On A Golden Shore is one of the best albums they have produced; it sees the band going from strength to strength, highly recommended.

(Andrew Young)










ANTON BARBEAU - MORGENMUSIK/NACHTSCHLAGER

Available on Think Like A Key

Musical wunderkind Barbeau delivers this doppelgänger set vaguely tiptoeing through Berlin’s day (morgen) and night (nacht) life. Writing progressed through repeated trips back and forth between Berlin and California (I’ll let you guess which was morning and which surveyed the night life!) with the double disk set eventually recorded by over two dozen musicians, singers, speakers, yodelers, and yelpers in various studios and homes across three continents aided and abetted no doubt by unknown quantities of [sch]lager! Thus emerged a veritable Cabaret for the 21st century, the plot thickened into a hazy goo somewhere along the way with the album affectionately Siamese-twinned into Morgenschlager somewhere over the rainbow and across the Atlantic. There were even plans for a third disc of quiet, folky tunes that went fahren, fahren, fahren auf der autobahn and a selection of groovy remixes may someday see the light of morgen…or nacht.

     What remains was performed by Barbeau and over two dozen friends, musicians, past and present (and possibly future) bandmates, and relatives including Rosie Abbott, The Red Curtain from XTC, Bryan Poole from Terrastock performers Elf Power, Peter Daltrey from Kaleidoscope, Julian Cope collaborator Donald Ross Skinner, dB Chris Stamey, American Civil War expert Larry Tagg and his Bourgeois Tagg rhythm section partner, drummer Michael Urbano, and members of The Luck Of Eden Hall, Barbeau’s trio Three Minute Tease with Andy Metcalfe and Morris Windsor from The Soft Boys and Robyn Hitchcock’s Egyptians, and the ever popular “She who cannot be named for stealthy legal reasons” but who you may recognize by her Hindi voice. The point of rattling off this cast of dozens is to emphasize the collaborative effort, not to mention the great expense, frequent flyer miles, and possibly unlimited quantities of [sch]lager that came together to create this hoot ‘n’ nanny…

     …which begins with Ant, Rosie, Metcalfe, Skinner, Stamey, and Red Curtain supergrouping their way through ‘Waiting On The Radio’, a Laurel Canyonesque mellow vibefest that everyone can relate to - waiting to hear a favourite song on the wireless. The ghost of Mr. Bowie is also near to hand in Ant’s delivery, supplemented by Stamey’s “ghost harmonies.” Urbano’s powerful drumming and Metcalfe’s throbbing bass punctuates the fodderstomping ‘Bop,’ which leads us into the proggy “Milk Suite” comprised of an enigmatic ‘Milksnake’, Kinkini Deb’s haunting call to prayer ‘Maa’, some Parliament-styled funky disco bodyswerving  to the ‘Mothership Projection’ (complete with sly Dylanesque lyrical reference), and a cautionary toetapper ‘Gambit’ featuring an eagerly anticipated Three Minute Tease reunion.

     This being an Anton Barbeau joint (sorry, Mr. Lee), there’re not one, but two suites, so toote de suite we slide into the three-part “Clean Suite” which opens with ‘Greasy’ (naturally!). It’s easy, sleazy, and quite breezy, with Charlotte Tupman’s screaming guitars an added highlight. A short commercial break (a la The Who Sell Out?) to pitch ‘Blacklight Clean’, and we dry off after a dip in the bathtub and we’re all ‘Coming Clean.’

     There’s no way to get ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ out of your head once ‘Dog Go Zombie’ enters the fray, but the cha-cha-cha shuffle carries you through and ‘I Demand A Dream’ paints some sunny cellophane skies and marmalade pies with lysergic lyrics and Peter Daltrey’s kaleidoscopic narration for a psychedelic journey to the center of your mind’s eye. There’s some nice fuzzy wuzzy guitar and Ziggy-esque narration on the glitter and glitzy ‘Circustime Train’ to end disc one on a high note.

     Turning now to eine kleine Nachstschlager (“the sound of heaving”), we might expect a darker listening experience, but opening salvo, the motorific krautrockin’ ‘Chrono Optik’ could set Donna Summer’s heart a-flutter and ‘Beautiful Look’ is insanely infectious. I’m not quite sure how Lindsay Buckingham fits into ‘Dumb Thumping’ but freaking out on ‘Granny’s Gummy Crumpets’ may help that bash and get you ready for birthday celebrations courtesy the ‘Ding Dong (Wake Up)’ call.

     Easter eggs a-plenty populate Ant’s lyrics (‘Ganja On The Farm’) and make for a neat drinking game - take a shot every time you correctly identify a song (e.g., listen closely for Trio’s ‘Da Da Da’, a possible nod to Wizz Jones in ‘Colin’s [Moulding] Onion’ (?), et.al.) and I enjoyed the pseudo-FM DJ drop ins (‘KANT-FM’ - get it?) and more Sell Out adverts that create that olde tyme radio- listening experience. They got me digging out Country Joe’s ‘Acid Commercial’ to relive the experience!

     So pull up a chair, put up your feet, pour yourself some refreshment, roll up some ganja from the farm, and ‘Help Yourself To A Biscuit’ (B.A.D. reference?)  - DJ Ant & Co. have a pleasant listening experience in store for you.

Jeff Penczak





PAT SMYTHE QUARTET – NEW DAWN:  LIVE 1973

(CD, Digital on British Progressive Jazz)

 

This is a sparkling recording, capturing the Pat Smythe Quartet during a couple of gigs in France in the summer of 1973.  While bandleader and keyboardist Smythe spreads the wealth and the solos around, the recording is a showcase for the brilliant electric guitar playing of Allan Holdsworth, who needs no introduction here.

 

It’s jazz fusion, but the economy of the lineup (Pat Smythe, piano, Fender Rhodes; Holdsworth, guitar; John Marshall, drums; Daryl Runswick (double bass) thrusts Holdsworth’s role as lead guitarist into the spotlight much more than later years in the decade that would see typical fusion bands often balloon to seven or eight members or more, including multiple horn players and percussionists.  There’s nary a horn in sight here.

 

The venerable Smythe, by now a veteran on the scene, had already had quite an accomplished career, having been a World War 2 RAF fighter pilot, Oxford-educated solicitor, and of course, jazz musician and band leader.  Smythe shows precisely zero ego here, for the most part letting the other musicians shine, especially Holdsworth.  In fact, despite having written the lion’s share of the tracks and obviously having expert keyboard chops, Smythe seems to play fewer solos than even Runswick on bass and Marshall on drums.  That’s probably not accurate; but he’s not flashy, and is a generous and egalitarian leader.

 

Tracks like Smythe’s “Village Greene” and Holdsworth’s “Floppy Hat” show Holdsworth at his best.  His playing is fast and fluid, and his tone has just enough distortion to give it some bite.  “Waiting for the Walrus” goes slightly avant, displaying another side these folks had shown in other bands, such as Smythe with Joe Harriott and Holdsworth in Soft Machine.  On Smythe’s title track and Smythe and Holdsworth’s “British Rail,” Smythe finally lets his piano and Fender Rhodes do some talking, while always yielding to Holdsworth’s roller coaster ride up and down his fretboard.  Tracks like “British Rail” can lead one to imagine what those larger fusion aggregates would’ve done to it with all those synths, horns and conga players thrown in, before you realize this small, intimate quartet nails it perfectly as is.

 

Sound quality is uniformly excellent, though Smythe’s Rhodes is slightly overdriven in some small parts.  And you’ve got to give Holdsworth some breaks, but whether one wants to hear bass solos on all eight tracks is listener preference.  Despite having been officially released just days ago, the album is already the fastest selling record in British Progressive Jazz’s still brief history.  That’s with good reason.  I would hope an LP version (it would have to be a double-LP) is in the works, to complement the CD version out now.  New Dawn:  Live 1973 is essential listening to anyone who digs understated but still dazzling fusion, especially Allan Holdsworth’s luminous guitar mastery.

 

(Mark Feingold)










MEN FROM S.P.E.C.T.R.E. – MAGNETIC SUNSHINE

(LP, CD, Digital on Library of the Occult Records)

 

Swiss cinematic funk merchants Men From S.P.E.C.T.R.E. return, bringing grooves aplenty with their latest dastardly gem Magnetic Sunshine.  Theirs is a deadly assault of Hammond organs, wah-wah and fuzz guitars galore, and massive percussion featuring drums and bongos.  This album doesn’t let up for a minute.  If this were a soundtrack from an actual movie, it would be a film overloaded with bad guy, go-go club and car chase scenes.

 

Men From S.P.E.C.T.R.E. are Mario Janser (organ), Gerry Germann (guitar), Rolf Keller (bass), Stefan Saurer (drums), and Robert Ebler (percussion).  If you’re a fan of the Incredible Bongo Band’s Bongo Rock (and who wouldn’t be?) or Calibro 35 at their bounciest, you’ll love this.  It’s like those acts, but where every track has a sinister bent.  Now there are tracks – or portions of tracks at least – that aren’t all dance shakers, as where some goon is planting a bomb under a car or a beautiful naughty lady is slipping poison in a martini, but the Men From You-Know-Where always eventually get down to you getting down.

 

Opener “Eat Fire” is arguably the swingingest track on the record, though competition is fierce.  Tracks like “La Séance” and “Enceladus” weave mysterious sounding synths, theremins and flutes around, while the underlying wicked groove sets the pulse.

 

Men From S.P.E.C.T.R.E. have been at it since 1997, and this is album number five.  The cover artwork by Jordan Warren is splendid, and you would expect nothing less from Library of the Occult.  Vinyl comes in Ice Blue, and “Solar Wind” (that’s orange to you and me).  Magnetic Sunshine is spectacular fun.  Here’s one spy thriller where the bad guys come out on top.

 

(Mark Feingold)










DODSON AND FOGG

MOVEMENT IN THE EXTERIOR WORLD (2023)

MUSIC FOR STRANGE AND MYSTERIOUS STORIES (2024)

(Available through Wisdom Twins)

Chris Wade (aka Dodson and Fogg)’s prolific run of releases continues, bringing his discography over an impressive 40 releases over the last decade! “Movement…” may be the first album dedicated to a pet fish - Gill who died during the recordings.

     The title track is a rough and tumble bluesy swagger and along with ‘Getting Lost In The Street’ features a blistering solo that may be Wade’s most demonstrative display of fancy fretwork yet.      ‘On The Bus’ smooths out the raging rock of its predecessors with a soft ballad a la the Replacements’ ‘Kiss Me On The Bus’ (or maybe the title put the two songs together in my mind!)

     ‘The Birds’ is one of my favourite Dodson And Fogg tracks to date - an evocative acoustic instrumental perfect for navel gazing or cloud staring or simply watching the little creatures flit and fly around your backyard or on a favourite nature walk. ‘Of That Contradictory Age’ is one of Wade’s poems, a nice bookmark to separate the musical interludes, or viceversa!

     ‘My Home’ is another dreamy contemplation on Chris’s place in the world - what do YOU think about when you sit quietly in your home and look around at all the things you’ve populated it with and the history behind those purchases? We end on another dreamy thousand yard stare, ‘Looking Through The Glass’ which has a Traffic-styled “back to the country” vibe to it and perfectly encapsulates the melancholy that permeates the album.

     Music For Strange And Mysterious Stories is exactly what it says on the tin - a soundtrack of sorts designed to accompany his latest collection of short stories - think of a KPM or DeWolfe library album to be enjoyed while reading stories instead of watching a film or show on the telly. ‘The Death Of Arthur Kind’ has a roman à clef air about it (and that’s all I’ll say) and the meandering, ruminative electric/acoustic guitar interplay feeds off the ominous element of surprise awaiting us as we turn each page. ‘The Rat Faced Man’ is more frantic, with ferocious solos dragging us deeper into the lair of the eponymous character. The music races by like a chase scene through quicksand, the harder we struggle the deeper we’re dragged in and there’s a bit of curiosity killing a cat lurking within.

     ‘Roger’s Place’ is haunted by COVID-induced agoraphobia and Wade’s hesitant guitar lines stalk into the room like a hunter sizing up his prey. The twist in the storyline caught me off-guard as did the accompanying switch from screaming solo to stalking, dripping terror as we discover the real reason our hero’s been staying inside all this time. And pay close attention to the story’s prologue. It’ll come in handy later on!

     The final tale, ‘The Long Black Coat’ begins with the death of Wade’s pet fish Gill. Other autobiographical hints pop in as well as a claustrophobic feeling of dread, confusion, and reluctant acceptance. Wade has chosen a soft piano piece to accompany the tale, which eventually develops a classical air. As the story enters an hallucinogenic dream phase, the song glides into a playful, yet ominous almost stalking melody. Suddenly, there’s a fast-paced “chase scene” motif as our hero attempts to unravel the mysterious figure he meets in a park. The conclusion may  keep you guessing for a while and the track fizzles out in a puff of foggy smoke.

(Jeff Penczak)