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Tag: album review

A Mighty, Majestic Big Band Debut from Christopher Zuar

Let’s say you want to start your career with a real bang. You don’t just want to slip in via the back door – you want to smash a grand slam on the first pitch you see in the majors. That’s pretty much what Christopher Zuar did with his debut recording, Musings, which hasn’t hit Spotify yet although there are a few tracks up at Sunnyside Records’ page. With the aid of producer Mike Holober, the young-ish (20s) composer assembled a titanic nineteen-piece crew of some of this era’s most distinguished names in big band jazz to play his lavish, lyrical charts. The result is the year’s best jazz debut – nothing else comes close. They’re playing Symphony Space on Dec 15 at 7:30 PM; cover is $22. If large ensemble jazz is your thing, you’d be crazy to miss this.

Zuar comes out of the Jim McNeely school of lush jazz orchestration, and there are echoes of the serpentine sweep of Maria Schneider as well here. But ultimately, this a toweringly individualistic statement. For all the epic gramdeur, there’s purpose, and drive, and eclectic influences as diverse as latin, Brazilian and baroque music.The opening track, Remembrance, springboards off a very simple octave riff and builds tension around a root note, in a Marc Ribot vein. At the center is a long, expressively nuanced Dave Pietro alto sax solo.

Frank Carlberg’s austere piano opens the steady, Bach-inspired Chaconne with a sly allusion to an infamous Led Zep riff, drummer Mark Ferber’s misterioso brushwork and bassist John Hebert’s minimalistic punches grounding the bright, brassy swells overhead as Zuar works another famous tune into the equation. Disquieting echo phrases mingle and flutter as Vulnerable States opens, Jo Lawry’s crystalline vocalese sailing over an uneasy, latin-tinged bustle: Zuar employs that superb voice as impactfully as Asuka Kakitani did with Sara Serpa on her similar blockbuster of a debut a couple of years ago.

Ha! (The Joke’s On You) – a shout-out to Zuar’s bubbe – references the baroque with its call-and-response along with a fiery, horn-driven vaudevillian funk surrealism driven by Pete McCann’s frenetically crescendoing wah guitar. Artfully fragmented voices intersperse, converge and then join forces as the ballad So Close Yet So Far Away coalesces, tenor player Jason Rigby’s turn from wistful to gritty triumph taking centerstage, down to a long, suspenseful outro

Anthem has chattering Brazilian tinges, a dancing bass solo and a big vocal hook from Lawry,. Lonely Road, a reflection on the systematic destruction of Zuar’s beloved West Village in the ongoing blitzkrieg of gentrification, is a gem of a miniature rich with elegaic counterpoint: it quietly screams out for the composer to make a big wrecking ball out of it like the other numbers here.

The album winds up with its lone cover, a lithely bittersweet take of Egberto Gismonti’s 7 Anéis,  a striking, nebulously furtive interlude punctuated by swirly soprano sax at its center. This album is genuinely spectacular effort that also comprises the inspired, energetic work of woodwind players Ben Kono, Lucas Pino and Brian Landrus, trumpeters Tony Kadleck, Jon Owens, Mat Jodrell and Matt Holman, trombonists Tim Albright, Matt McDonald, Alan Ferber and Max Seigel. You’ll see this as this blog’s pick for best jazz debut of 2016 when the full list is published at NPR next week.

Pianist Mara Rosenbloom Makes a Fiery Statement With Her Incendiary New Trio Album

Mara Rosenbloom‘s first two albums showcase an elegance and melodicism that compares to Sylvie Courvoisier. Where Courvoisier veers off toward the avant garde, Rosenbloom is more likely to edge toward hard bop, no surprise considering that she has Darius Jones on alto sax as a member of her long-running quartet. But her new trio album, Prairie Burn, with bassist Sean Conly and drummer Chad Taylor – streaming at Spotify – is her quantum leap into greatness. An absoutely feral, largely improvisational suite, it’s essentially about playing with fire, something Rosenbloom turns out to be very, very good at. She and the trio will be setting a few things ablaze at her birthday show on Dec 15 at around 9 at Greenwich House Music School. As a bonus, Conly opens the night at 7:30 with his Re:Action+1 with Michaël Attias and Tony Malaby on saxes, Kris Davis on piano and Gerald Cleaver on drums. Cover is $15/$12 stud/srs.

Controlled burns of pastures and plains are nothing new: take the coastal route to Boston in the fall and you may see one or two in progress. But they’re a lot more dramatic at the edge of the Great Plains where the Wisconsin-born Rosenbloom grew up than they are here…and obviously left a mark on her Recorded in a single four-hour session at Brooklyn’s legendary Systems Two, the album captures both an unbridled ferocity and a remarkable chemistry honed in concert over the course of a year’s worth of gigs.

The result is a fearless, often feral yet extremely intimate and highly improvised performance. What might be most impressive about this is that it’s a true trio effort. Just as JD Allen does with Gregg August and Rudy Royston, Rosenbloom puts her rhythm section on equal footing with her own instrument. Taylor is just as much a colorist, and Conly as much a part of the melody as the rhythm – and Rosenbloom completes that rhythm section as much as she drives the harmonic balance. The opening number, Brush Fire (An Improvised Overture) rises apprehensively with bowed  bass in tandem with Taylor’s increasingly tense, spiraling drums, then calms, Conly steady at the center as the band converges and diverges, Rosenbloom’s dynamic attack embodying elements of 70s ECM, dusky 20s blues, percussive Jason Moran-style insistence, spare gospel-tinged chords and glistening melody. Taylor’s bristling, sparely snare-driven pulse indicates that this is a fire that won’t go out anytime soon

The four-part Prairie Burn suite opens with Red-Winged Blackbird, a jaunty, balletesque pastoral jazz theme based on a popular, playfully joshing rhyme from Rosenbloom’s childhood. The trio expands it to a similar percussive intensity with stairstepping crescendos that sometimes allude to and sometimes directly channel the deep blues that Rosenbloom has immersed herself in most recently. Her cleverly vamping interlude gives Taylor a chance to cut loose, and then turn it over to Conly for some solo comic relief

From there the trio segues into the second segment, aptly titled Turbulence, a tightly bustlning opening interlude giving way to harder-hiting pastoral variations. Conly picks up Rosenbloom’s looping triplets as the pianist’s methodical, kinetically chordal drive shifts around the center. After they wind down to a murky, allusively ominous solo piano interlude, the bandleader springboards off it for terse, ruggedly ambered blues, her uneasily looping lefthand anchoring sternly balletesque, Russian-tinged varations.

Part 3, Work! begins with ruggedly cyclical spin on the earlier triplet theme, Taylor giving it a wry clave, descending to a stern, Monk-like solo interlude and then a long, slow upward drive. The suite concludes with its fourth segment, Songs from the Ground, slowly coalescing from a darkly lingering nocturnal solo piano intro to a spare, resonant gospel-tinged 6/8 riff and moves outward from there, Taylor prowling around the border with increased agitation and driving it upward. Conly’s spare, wistfully bowed phrases deliver to Rosenbloom, who ends it on a note of hope and renewal.

The album’s two final tracks are a blues and a standard. The first is Rosenbloom’s epic take of John Lee Hooker’s I Rolled and I Tumbled. Like Hooker, Rosenbloom takes her time, slowly developing a terse lefthand groove, building intensity with her judicious but assertive righthand chordal attack. She concludes the album by reinventing There Will Never Be Another You as a blues-infused, angst-fueled lament. Mirroring her approach to her own suite here, she chooses to end it sweetly. Count this as one of the ten best jazz albums of the year (you can see all of this blog’s picks when they’re published by NPR).

A Look Over the Shoulder at Americana Crooner Jack Grace’s Darkest Record

Since the early zeros, Jack Grace has been one of the bright lights of the New York Americana sceene. He tours constantly, puts out geat records, gets his songs in a lot of movies, is a hell of a guitarist and with that big baritone of his, can croon with anybody. He booked Rodeo Bar for years, until that late, lamented venue was forced out by a rent increase – and whose space is still unoccupied, two years later. Grace has a new album in the works, ostensibly titled Everything I Say Is a Lie. His next New York gig is at Bar Chord in Ditmas Park at 10 PM on Dec 10, and that is the truth.

Grace’s most recent album, The Money’s Gone Away – some of which is at Grace’s Soundcloud page– is where he really concretized the latin sound he was drifting toward on the one before that, 2010’s Drinking Songs for Lovers. But that’s a funny album and for the most part, this one’s dark and serious. The album’s title track is an uneasy cha-cha with creepy vibraphone lingering in the background, a grimly allusive early teens nocturne from when it was clear that the divide between rich and poor was only getting worse.

Hard Times All Around is the kind of midtempo oldschool C&W numbers Grace writes so well, backlit with keening pedal steel and his own stark guitar lines over the swinging rhythm section of his bassist wife Daria Grace and drummer Russ Meissner. Stark violin opens the tango-inflected Jack/Daria duet Warm Rock in the Sun, a horn-spiced cautionary tale.

Maybe Ya Wanna waltzes morosely out of a moody flamenco intro, a lament for missed chances that hits a bitter peak capped off by a bitingly psychedelic Grace guitar solo. The album’s haunting centerpiece, Don’t Run Out of Gas rises from spare, fingerpicked southwestern gothic to a towering backbeat drive:

Smoke has yet to clear
Battle was fought, I don’t think it was won…
Don’t run out of gas
My advice to you
Try to get there fast
For your troubles

With its creepy, icy chorus-box guitar and tuba pulse, Bothered to Think works the kind of blackly sardonic. bluesy Tom Waits territory that Grace dove headfirst into on his 2007 album The Martini Cowboy. Ghostly steel guitar mingles with spiky ukulele and terse violin in Polenca’s Blues, a windswept cinematic theme, followed by Poor Boy. a swinging 99-percenter lament.

Just when you might think that I Think I Broke My Heart is a mellow slice of dadrock, Grace hits a minor chord and runs his vocals through a vintage chorus pedal: “It hurts just to breathe,” he shivers.

Another real gem, the wistful Remember When We Were in Love, blends vintage Memphis soul and artsy late Beatles unease. By contrast, We Made It harks back to the surrealistically swinging oldschool C&W Grace was writing after his cult favorite 90s jamband, Steak, went on hiatus (they’re back on Dec 23 at the Bitter End, of all places)..

The only cover here is the Nancy Sinatra/Lee Hazlewood hit Summer Wine – it’s not awful, but there’s no getting away from the Vegas cheesiness. The album winds up with Lobster, Steak and Seafood, one of those silly, boisterous vamps that Grace likes to jam out live, a shout-out to roadside diners, which as dubious as they be, still beat the hell out of Olive Garden.

Slashing, Fearlessly Populist Classic Detroit-Style Rock from Sulfur City

Sulfur City evoke the hard-charging, uncompromising Murder City garage-punk intensity of Radio Birdman and Sonic’s Rendezvous Band, with elements of retro soul, psychedelia, a little funk and a fearlessly populist political sensibility. But they’re not from Detroit or Australia: they hail from Sudbury, in northeast Ontario. Their album Talking Loud is streaming at Soundcloud. And it’s one of the best four-on-the-floor rock records of the year.

The opening track, Whispers, is anything but. It’s basically a frenetic one-chord minor-key jam over a stomping hardcore punk pulse. The way frontwoman Lori Paradis bends her notes with just a hint of plaintive angst, she sounds a lot like the Passengers’ Angie Pepper with a slightly lower voice. Keith Breit’s organ interlude midway through is unexpected, and wouldn’t be out of place in the Radio Birdman songbook either.

The defiant War Going On, with its funky, organ-fueled sway, connects the dots between the grotesqueness of consumer capitalism and combat – is the reference to “plastic-wrapped people” a dis, or a grisly image of battlefield casualties?

Pockets is a sort of mashup of Bo Diddley, Rare Earth and the MC5 at their most populist and confrontational, with a snide gospel interlude. With its smoky organ, Ride With Me has a Sticky Fingers latin soul groove. It ‘s hard to figure out whether Paradis’ vengeful wail in Don’t Lie to Me is channeling the wrath of an abused woman, or if this is an S&M anthem. Jesse Lagace’s eerie slide guitar bends and warps through the gritty boogie backdrop of Sold, revisiting an ages-old, devilishly bluesy theme.

Highways, a ghoulabilly shuffle, keeps the lurid intensity going up to a tumbling, bluesy piano solo straight out of the Pip Hoyle playbook. With its intertwining minor-key guitar leads, the ominously elegaic murder ballad Johnny could be an outtake from Radios Appear with a woman out in front of the band. The album’s most epic track, One Day in June is a brisk noir blues in 6/8, fueled by Lagace’s slide guitar and Paradis’ grim, Patti Smith-ish vocals. It’s an apt post-election anthem: “We tell ourselves it’ll be ok, this too shall pass, everything must change,” Paradis intones. “The end of November and the leaves have all gone, and the air is cold and the snow’s about to fall, standing with my palms raised up to the sky.”

By contrast, Raise Hammer is a sarcastic Celtic punk number with layers of gritty open-tuned guitars and a carnivalesque organ solo. The album winds up with You Don’t Know Me, a gutter blues shuffle in an early 80s Gun Club vein. Lots of flavors and plenty of tunefulness from a group with great influences that seems to be on the verge of similar greatness.

Dorian Devins Brings Her Inventive, Low-Key Jazz Nocturnes to the West Village

Singer Dorian Devins occupies a pretty unique place in jazz. She doesn’t just sing standards and the occasional obscurity: she reinvents instrumental numbers from across the years by penning her own pensive, tersely crafted, often subtly amusing lyrics. She sings in a cool, unadorned mezzo-soprano that harks back to golden age songbirds from June Christy to Peggy Lee, and like those singers, works the subtlest corners of her repertoire. For the past few years, she’s led a succession of trios and quartets and the occasional larger ensemble, gigging constantly from the West Village all the way out to deep Queens. Her latest album is titled The Procrastinator, parts of which are up at her webpage and at her youtube channel. Her next gig is out in front of a trio with her longtime pianist Lou Rainone and bassist Paul Gill at the Bar Next Door on Dec 5, with sets at 8:30 and 10:30 PM. Cover is $12.

The album’s opening number, Let’s Get Lost benefits from Devins’ low-key, enigmatic delivery – Karrin Allyson might have remade it this way. It’s about getting really lost, not just half-lost. Devins’ interpretation is a perfect match for the lyrics: “Let’s defrost, in this romantic mist.” Richie Vitale takes an animated, brightly toned trumpet solo followed by a bustling piano solo from Rainone.

A plush, balmy take of Wayne Shorter’s Deluge – retitled as Momentum – is next. Peter Brainin’s wary soprano sax adds welcome acidity, Rainone’s gracefully bluesy rainy-day lines matching the gritty mood. Kenny Dorham’s La Mesha gets an opiated, wary vocal echoed by a long, resonant, judicious Vitale solo, Rainone and the rest of the rhythm section – bassist Karl Kaminski and drummer Steve Johns – taking it into more jaunty territory.

I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry, done here with equal parts steadiness and Rainone’s wee-hours glimmer, is a great choice of cover: Devins loves the surreal, and her deadpan approach to this one fits it to a T. Bob Dorough’s Better Than Anything, a jazz waltz, gets an unexpectedly emphatic treatment, and the ordinarily low-key Devins pulls it off, Brainin’s flute hovering in a Frank Wess vein, Rainone reaching an unexpected crescendo with his volleys of triplets.

The album’s title track, a Lee Morgan tune, gets reinvented with a neat intro where Kaminski shadows Devins’ wry 99-percenter lament, which she picks up with deft flights of chromatics. She invents Kurt Weill’s Speak Low as a nocturnal samba; Vitale’s sunny flugelhorn adds vivid contrast with Rainone’s darkly majestic, chromatically-charged attack. Likewise, Devins does Night Bird as tiptoeing, late-night swing, much more darkly than the famous Anita O’Day version, Vitale adding distant, steady unease. Devins’ devious little curlicue on the final “I still fly by night” is priceless.

Devins takes another Lee Morgan tune, Lament for Stacy, back in a grim St. James Infirmary direction, with a brooding bass solo. The final Lee Morgan number, Soft Touch. gets a surprising amount of oomph from Devins…and then she switches it up from a jazz waltz to flute-infused, latin-tinged swing.

Dreamer, better known as the Jobim tune Vivo Sonhando, has a hazy wistfulness and distant echoes of LA lowrider soul. The album closes with Time Was, best known as a Coltrane tune; Devins’ take gets a fondly nostalgic treatment, her calm delivery in contrast to the rhythm section, who are pretty much jumping out of their shoes.

Since this album came out in 2012, Devins reputedly has another on the way soon – maybe it’s time this blog was rebranded as The Procrastinator. Fun fact: Devins is not only a musician but also co-founder of New York’s Secret Science Club, a popular series that began as a WNYC program and predated the TED Talks by several years, covering all sorts of developments in technology, medicine and many other fields that will impact our lives in the near future.

Jackie Venson Brings Her Searing Guitar Chops and Smart Tunesmithing to Harlem

Jackie Venson is one of the most world’s most awe-inspiring Texas blues guitarists. She also happens to be a strong, eclectic songwriter and an excellent singer with a soaring top end to her vast range, similar to how she plays guitar. Her latest album, Live at Strange Brew – streaming at Bandcamp – captures her blazing fretwork, soulful vocals and a tight rhythm section at the top of their game in the intimate confines of an Austin coffeeshop. Now, you might wonder where this amazing musician might be playing when she swings through New York this weekend. Hmmm…Bowery Ballroom? The Beacon? Or, considering that she’s a blues player, you might expect her to be at Terra Blues, or Lucille’s, or maybe Paris Blues Bar uptown.

Nope. She’s playing Silvana – the younger, yuppier, yappier Columbia-area sister to the wonderfully scruffy Shrine further north- on Dec 4 at 10 PM. If great guitar is your thing, the trip on the D train will be worth it. And if you can’t make it, you can livestream the show here

The album’s opening track, Show My Light, comes across as a mashup of 70s Stevie Wonder and another Stevie, a guy from Venson’s home state, who used to play a Strat and left us way too early. The funky Real Love pulses along with an uneasy, spare vibe until Venson hits her volume pedal and delivers a long volley of counterintuitive triplets that really get the crowd going. Then she opens the moody Lost in Time with a trippy, echoey, dub reggae edge and has all kinds of fun with her pedals before spiraling off into deep-space blues.

Venson veers between a slow, gritty boogie and shuffling Hendrix funk throughout See What You Want. One Step Forward, a brisk, straight-up blues, is a cautionary tale to Venson’s fellow guitarslingers:

We lose our freedom when we’re too scared to fight…
When we make music and fall for the dollar sign
One step forward, two steps farther behind

The allusive, death-obsessed Back to Earth is the most overtly Hendrix-inspired (i.e. Third Stone from the Sun) track here. What I Need careens between 70s stoner riff-rock and reggae, rising to some pretty unhinged tremolo-picking. Then Venson pulses through the set’s poppiest number, Instinct, echoing both All Along the Watchtower and Foxy Lady.

The slow blues Rollin’ On gives Venson a launching pad for her most dynamic, thoughtful guitar work here, finally rising to a screaming, icy, reverbtoned peak: it’s the album’s best song. “Are you awake now?” she taunts the audience as she slinks into the final number, Always Free, with its understatedly poetic, broodingly relevant urban imagery and a sizzling solo midway through.

More artists should do live albums. Do it right and you can catch magic in a bottle like Venson did here (but you have to know your material and you can’t slack off and let the producer play your instruments for you like all the indie rock boys do). And live albums are truth in advertising: your audience, and your potential audience, know exactly what they’re getting in advance. It’s hard to think of better advertising for Venson than this. 

The Taksim Trio’s Album No. 2: Intricate, Rapturous, Haunting Beauty

One of the year’s most rapturously beautiful, plaintively lush albums is Turkish classical luminaries the Taksim Trio‘s latest release, simply titled Taksim Trio No. 2, streaming at Spotify. Baglama player Ismail Tuncbilek, clarinetist Husnu Senlendirici and kanun player Aytaç Dogan weave haunting, serpentine arrangements to get lost in. Their music’s intricacy is such that unless you listen closely, it’s often hard to tell who’s playing what. Yet the group has a conversational tightness: despite the fact that everybody’s playing a lot of rippling, spiraling notes, nobody steps on each other. The overall ambience tends to be pensive and brooding: most everything here is in a minor key. Tempos are slow and the compositions expansive, pretty much everything here clocking in at over five minutes.

The opening track, Unutmamali is one of the album’s catchiest, anchored by an uneasy, minor-key riff that eventually expands and then the band plays in unison, shifting from a twinkling, starlit lattice of individual voices to a biting hook that brings to mind the Romany party music from across the Black Sea.

Track two, Yesli Basli Govel Ordek, is a sort of a lighter variation on the opening number, lit up with gracefully sliding electric guitar chords and clarinet sailing over the bristling underbrush. By contrast, Ic Benim Icin builds off a spiky, rapidfire Turkish folk theme over a lilting guitar groove with a few artfully overdubbed layers. Seni Kimler Ani goes in the opposite direction, a wary, wounded dirge with the kanun and then the baglama’s mournfully tremolo-picked lines front and center. From there, the band picks it up with the dynamically shifting Elfa Laila, itsbrapidfire, cascading, distantly Egyptian-tinged dance motives interspersed within a windswept twilight atmosphere.

Sevda Degil follows a delicately cautious, sad tangent, wistful clarinet sailing over lingering, enigmatic guitar, incisive baglama and icepick kanun. Track 7, Naz, blends ancient, ambered baglama/clarinet lines with sparsely resonant guitar and picks up with an uneasy, dancing energy as it goes on. The band return to the fast lane, with tons of lickety-split picking throughout the catchy Kumsalda Dans, with echoes of both Brazil and Russian Romany music.

The waltz Unutamadim is a lot slower, moody clarinet contrasting with all the machinegunning string licks blazing underneath. Mahur Saz Samaisi has the album’s trickiest tempos and also its most easygoing melody, although it goes in a decidedly darker direction as it picks up. Yalan Dunya gives the band a platform to spaciously build variations on a suspenseful, unresolved riff, then they take it skyward as they speed up. They wind up the album with the hard-hitting, Hicaz Mandira, blending elements of flamenco and dizzyingly rhythmic Macedonian folk. This isn’t Middle Eastern music that’s been watered down for American hippies: this is the real deal, state-of-the-art, straight from the source. For whatever degree of wildfire improvisation may be going on here – taksim means “jam” in several Middle Eastern languages – the Taksim Trio sound like what they’re doing is completely composed.

While the group made a quick New York trip this summer and then went back to Turkey, there are two New York acts with shows coming up that fans of intricate Middle Eastern music will love. You can go to both this Saturday night if you want: at 6 PM, soulful singer Jenny Luna’s Balkan-Turkish folk band Dolunay play the first night of their monthlong December residency at Barbes. Then at 8, six stops north on the G train, the Secret Trio – virtuoso kanun player Tamer Pinarbasi, clarinet titan Ismail Lumanovski and brilliant oudist Ara Dinkjian – play Roulette at 8. Tix for that one are $30 and considering how mesmerizing that band was at their most recent show at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, it’ll be worth it.

A Slinky, Catchy New Album from Nubian Dance Band Alsarah & the Nubatones

Alsarah & the Nubatones call their music “East African retro pop.” That designation may be historically accurate, but it hardly does justice to the Sudanese-born singer and her band’s enchanting blend of slinky Middle Eastern sounds, starkly bluesy folk and propulsive dance grooves. They’ve got a new album, Manara – streaming at Bandcamp – and an album release show on Nov 30 at 7:30 PM at the Poisson Rouge. Advance tix are $12, but get ’em now – the band pretty much sold out Flushing Town Hall, a much bigger venue way out in Queens, earlier this year – and the 7 train wasn’t even running that evening.

The album’s opening track, Salaam Nubia, is basically a retro 70s disco groove with blues riffage from Brandon Terzic’s oud over clattering percussion and wickedly catchty vocal harmonies. Alsaarah’s tender but resolute vocals soar over a lush bed of strings and accordion on Alforag, a warmly propulsive love ballad. Its austere soul/blues phrasing make a stark reminder of the blues’ African origins.

Albahr follows a moody, minor-key, bluesy sway, eclectic percussionist Ramy El Aaser fueling its dancing peaks as Terzic ripples and simmers, up to a spacious oud solo. Jyan Tiban opens with Mawuena Kodjovi’s suspensefully bass and skeletal oud and builds to a trickily rhythmic, hypnotic call-and-response vamp. Terzic’s edgily dancing lines interspersed between the vocals.

The band follows the gently lilting, catchy minor-key Ya Watan and its wryly backward-masked oud with Nar, a study in dynamics with its airy psychedelic ambience bookending a scampering groove and biting oud solo. The album’s understatedly majestic, intricately orchestraed title track rides a slow pulse lit up by distant, muted trumpet contrasting with incisive, low oud and El Aaser’s misterioso tabla.

With Eroos Elnill, the group returns to catchy minor-key call-and-response, insistent syncopation and some vocal leaps from Alsarah that sound more like Bjork than anything African. Alsilah blends hints of vintage rocksteady and gospel harmony into its warmly hypnotic, undulating sway. The catchy, camelwalking bassline and interweave of voices in Fulani echo Malian desert rock, while the concluding cut, Safr Minni makes an aptly psychedelic, crescendoing coda. All of this is just as accessible as it is utterly exotic to western ears – and this band puts on a hell of a dance party live.

Beyond the love songs and the dance numbers, the Arabic lyrics often reflect on loss and longing for home. Nubian territory has had strategic value for millennia and as you would expect, has been overrun with regularity.  In the wake of mid-60s dambuilding, mass displacement followed, with thousand of migrants bringing their sounds to points further north. This music is a result of that.

A Historic Performance by Iconic Lebanese Composer Marcel Khalife and His Sons This Dec 7

Rami Khalife plays an elegantly allusive, haunting chromatic piano riff, his brother Bachar’s cymbals flicker and then the pianist goes inside, under the lid, for some otherworldly sonics echoed by the percussion. That awestruck deep-space ambience opens the brilliant, poignantly elegant new album Andalusia of Love by the great Lebanese oudist and composer Marcel Khalife with his pianist and percussionist sons, streaming at Spotify. They’re playing the Town Hall on Dec 7 at 8 PM and $35 seats are available. That’s a steep price by anybody’s standards, but consider that unless some kind of election recount magic happens, this is the last Americans will see of these guys on this continent for the next four years.

The elder Khalife knows no limits stylistically. Since his ascendancy among the elite composers of the Middle East in the late 70s, he’s played vividly bucolic protest songs, cinematic suites, lushly neoromantic orchestral themes, and some of the most poignant oud music written over the past forty years. Employing both traditional Middle Eastern and western instruments, he incorporates both European scales and the magical microtones of his native idiom throughout his diverse and individualistic oeuvre.While the arrangements on this album are somewhat more intimate than on Khalife’s titanically orchestrated 2012 magnum opus Fall of the Moon, the sound is hardly less lavish.

On the album’s opening track Rami’s extended technique on the piano is matched by the ripple of the kanun, the great oudist taking a brief, somber solo  – and then the band takes the piece flying, joyously, doublespeed. It’s victory snatched from the jaws of defeat, setting the tone for the rest of the album, a suite where pretty much every track segues into the next one. A spacious ballad, Ouhbouki, follows it, a richly spare but intricate web of piano, oud, kanun with an expressively crescendoing vocal from the bandleader, building to a characteristically pensive, plaintive swing. As the song hits a rippling peak, it segues into the scampering but similarly awestruck Ana Li Habibi.

Taratil, a spare, gracefully steady, minimalistically-flavored piano-and-drums duo is next, segueing into Nassiti, a hypnotic variation on the theme where the whole band picks it up with even more poignancy and then rises and falls through several dynamic shifts. Rami’s piano takes the conclusion, Maraya, out with a resonant. starlit unease.

The stately, brief levantine love ballad Ya Habibi gets followed by the swaying, rippling, uneasy Achtahiki, pulsing along on a distantly booming groove with the kanun and piano soairng overhead. Faracha, a tense interlude, features the piano almost fighting through a straitjacket of muffled, muted notes against the sparkling tones overhead. Nahla starts out much the same, but with vocals, and rises to a longing, majestic crescendo. Likewise, Araki rises toward a shadowy grandeur out of a tantalizingly brief, spiky kanun solo as it echoes the album’s opening.

A tolling bell motif holds firm as the kanun pulls upward, almost struggling, as Yadaik opens, rising and then quickly descending to a wary intensity. By contrast, Andalos Al Hob – a title track of sorts – is a scrambling, almost boogie-woogie take on joyous Egyptian habibi pop. The album winds up with its most epic number, Achikain, its opening contrast between muted and unmuted piano tones, briskly scampering groove and ending that’s so unexpected and symbolically charged that it’s too much to give away. The Arabic lyrics, by the late, great Mahmoud Darwish, tersely and symbolically reference an Andalucian golden age now gone but infinitely ready for a return. Middle Eastern music in 2016 doesn’t get any more eclectic or magical than this.

Radio Moscow’s Live in California – Best Heavy Psych Album of the Year

Do you love Jimi Hendrix? Heavy psychedelic power trio Radio Moscow, San Diego’s best export since Karla Rose, are the closest approximation for those of us who missed the 60s.

Guitarist Parker Griggs echoes Hendrix in the purest sense possible, faster than you can say “Frank Marino.” Hendrix was a noisy player, and so is this guy. He takes a whole bunch of ideas springboarded by Jimi – playing off a root note a full step below the octave; letting a phrase bleed out in a pool of hammer-ons, leaving the natural reverb all the way up, and doing all sorts of deviously trippy things with feedback – without being blatantly derivative. The band’s titanic new double gatefold album, Live in California, is streaming at youtube. As heavy psych sounds go, there’s nothing that’s been releasd in 2016 that can touch this.

Radio Moscow also distinguish themselves with a surprisingly nimble rhythm section. Where other metal bands plod, bassist Andrew Meier and drummer Paul Marrone swing, hard. The album’s opening track, I Don’t Know echoes Hendrix but with three times the amp firepower and tighter rhythm – where Jimi would stretch his strings to the point where he needed his wammy bar to stay in tune with himself, Griggs works a savagely tremoloing lefthand on the fretboard: somewhere Jimmy Page is drooling with envy. The song’s trick ending on the way out adds a cool touch.

Death of a Clown – an original, not the vaudevillian Kinks classic – opens with lightning upper-register clusters and unhinged solar flare riffs, a galloping Purple Haze of a psych funk tune. The guitar trills at the end are precise, but not so much that Griggs can’t fly completely off the handle when the time comes. Broke Down takes a turn toward vintage Sabbath, echoed by Marrone’s trailing lines, up to a lysergically fried doublespeed wah boogie.

I Don’t Need Anybody kicks off as a turbocharged Train Kept A-Rollin’ shuffle, Griggs’ acid blues anchored by trebly, distorted fuzz bass that eventually mingles with the guitar’s low strings. 250 Miles Brain Cycles, a blues, comes across as a joint homage to Hendrix’ Machine Gun and Meddle-era David Gilmour, then hits a sick boogie peak with divebombing Are You Experienced sonics. The flurry of crazed blues about 6:45 in is worth the cost of the album alone.

Before It Burns has catchy Foxy Lady riffage matched to a heavy Nektar drive – the screaming sheets of guitar sound like the acid is really kicking in hard here. Then Griggs backs off into Middle Eastern territory for a bit, over a Caravan bassline. The trip continues through rises and falls, an echoey, suspenseful interlude over growly bass as the drums tumble around a little back, up to a screaming peak and a sudden, cold ending. It leaves you breathless.

The Escape sounds like the James Gang as Hendrix might have done it, with those crazed accents at the end of the riff. City Lights is punctuated by searing fuzztone leads. Griggs really cuts loose with the leaps, screaming harmonics, divebomb effects and a nasty tremolo on Chance of Fate, one of the best and wildest tracks here. Then the band takes a detour into slowly swaying acid blues with The Deep Blue Sea.

The hard-charging, vamping These Days is one of the catchiest tracks in the set, taking the energy back up to redline, even when the band goes halfspeed during a break that gives Griggs a launching pad for some of his most pyrotechnic bluesmetal work. Thee follow the scampering boogie Rancho Tahoma Airport with the album’s most epically psychedelic track, No Good Woman, rising and falling with Griggs’ most echoey, deep-space work here. The trio close out the show tersely and emphatically with the hammering, funk-tinged riffage of So Alone.

What are the best chemicals for experiencing this album? Good acid or mushrooms, obviously; good weed too. For purposes of coming up with evocative descriptions of the tracks, an evening of black russians did the trick. As the fifth of vodka got closer and closer to empty, the trajectory of the album matched the mood – these guys definitely programmed this show, and this album, to be a party.