Sunday, January 22, 2017

Hard Proof, Stinger

by Nolan DeBuke

Hard Proof
Modern Outsider (2017)

Hard Proof is a firmly fused band that integrates African rhythms laced with rock, jazz and deep funk adventures into their sound.  Austin, Texas based, this ten-piece collective began by studying the blueprint of Fela Kuti's Africa 70 band, as well as Funk and Jazz, what makes this even more unique is they are a totally southern based American musicians, yet eloquently capture the sub-Saharan vibe with authenticity.

Stinger picks up right where their last album Public Hi-Fi Sessions left off, yet continuing to take the sound to the next level at the same time.  The title track sets the listener up for what is to come.  A hard-hitting aggressive genre-bending jam that features low notes from baritone sax, and a cutting rhythm section that drives the record with hard grooves and deeply underpinned funk.

"Men of Trouble," offers a funky flute solo followed up by a searing guitar solo to contrast the textual differences between the instruments.  The song transverses thorough various feels, beats and the ever present ambient of wah, wah drives it through a soulful experience throughout.

"Trickle Down" is a nice transitional tune, that settles the moment and builds into a rock guitar solo fueled by Afrobeats and a mighty horn section that groove together like a prayer meeting.

It was the tune "Lots" that best shows Hard Proof's Afro-Funk chops with awe-inspiring syncopation and brilliance.  Danceable rhythms are non-stop, and get your "bood" moving to the grooving.

How does one describe Hard Proof, almost like a stew that features a dapple of
Antibalas, Bixiga 70, a chunk of Snarky Puppy, a dash of Ikebe Shakedown, and the rhythms of The Funk Ark, and this will give you your entree to Hard Proof!

Track Listing: Stinger; Men Of Trouble; A.R.A.S.; Incendiary; Trickle Down; Boss; War Gin; Lots; Soul Thing.

Personnel: Aaron Sleator: guitar; Derek Phelps: trumpet; Gerardo Larios: guitar, keyboard; Jason Frey: tenor saxophone; Joe Sokolik: bass; John Branch: guitar, keyboards; Joseph Woullard: baritone saxophone, flute; Stephen Bidwell: drums, percussion; Tony Cruz: congas; Tommy Spampinato: percussion.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Troy Roberts, Tales & Tones

Tales & Tones
Troy Roberts
Inner Circle Music (2017)

by Raul da Gama
Nine songs infatuate the modern equivalent of a power-quartet that gets off to a flying start. Leaping out of the gates are Troy Roberts (on soprano saxophone for starters), Silvano Monasterios on piano, Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums together with his old doppelgänger on bass, Robert Hurst. The visceral energy from this group is palpable as Troy Roberts puts his fellow musicians through their paces. In their hands these musicians essay forth with fastidiously-controlled moods and tonal colors. In these hands is also musical revelation. The tempo of each song is cool or hot, and deliberate, the passagework vivid and playful; that playfulness segues into profundity as the music transitions into Rivera Mountain where every bar of the music is infused with visionary authority as a soft hail of gem-like notes rush, gleam, resonate and bounce out of the horn of Troy Roberts, a young saxophonist who, as it turns out is now being hailed as Australia’s gift to the art of Jazz saxophone.

Tales & Tones focuses on the narrative aspect of Roberts’ playing while also highlights his facility with the tonal palette of his choice of woodwind instruments. The soundscape of this recording features a rush of boisterous Jazz pieces laced together with elegiac reflections such as Rivera Mountain. In the soundscape drenched with polyrhythms created by the emphatic sleight-of-hand of “Tain” Watts’ drums and low growl of Hurst’s bass, Roberts is kept on his toes throughout. To his enormous credit, the young saxophonist is every bit as responsive to the rhythmic prodding of the drummer and the bassist. The pianist Monasterios, for his part keeps up with both the breakneck as well as the laid-back balladry with even-handed rhythms that are crisp and buoyant even as virtuoso passagework is dashed off with devil-may-care abandon. This is truly impressive playing by every member of the quartet and one of the best places to enjoy this is on Billy Strayhorn’s Take The A Train with its wonderfully swing changes in tempo.

Fleeting moments in the more introvert pieces such as Bernie’s Tune and Pickapoppy feature expressive gestures (dynamic swells, romantic ritardandos and elaborate cadential flourishes by Roberts. This kind of musical treatment is diametrically opposite to what happens elsewhere, where the music is forcefully pummeled – especially by “Tain” – as in the show-opener, Decoration. However, here too, even “Tain” and Hurst are careful to avoid overkill. On Rivera Mountain, for instance, the drummer is at his most eloquent as the mood is more introspective and his big, bold hammer-throws are replaced by stirring the pea-soup with muted, delicate brushwork which, in turn, paints the melody with an undercoat of soft, glowing colors. Hurst is no less genteel, even when his bass sings with characteristic gravitas. Not to be outdone, Monasterios chips in with his own subtly varied pastel hues delivered with delicacy and at an unusually gentle pace.

There is so much remarkable talent and attention to detail in the individual playing on this recording, all of which slides into an ensemble venture that is gilded and interlocked with silken threads that’s hard to find on so many quartet albums today.

Tracks: Decoration; Trams; Rivera Mountain; Bernie’s Tune; Cotu Chi Chi Chi; Take The A Train; Pickapoppy; Mr. Pinononnk; Boozy Bluesy. 

Personnel: Troy Roberts: tenor & soprano saxophones; Silvano Monasterios: piano; Robert Hurst: acoustic bass; Jeff “Tain” Watts: drums.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Sound Underground, Quiet Spaces

by Sylvannia Garutch

Sound Underground is a trio with an unusual approach in instrumentation. Comprised of saxophonist David Leon, trumpeter Alec Aldred and guitarist Jonah Udall, the collective traverses through inventive textures and colors far beyond the limits of its unconventional chamber instrumentation.  Their album is aptly titled Quiet Spaces, as truly the spaces and beauty of the well-chosen ideas convey the lyrical and introspective sound of this trio.

Tiny Kingdom”and “Quiet Spaces” exhibit this wistful introspection best, reshaping through wide emotional landscape and texture of colors, the trio creates an intriguing sound. On “Awake With A Start” Leon creates a playful solo that is augmented by a warm and round tone.  A cheeky tune “$2.43 Regular Unleaded,” likens beeps from a car door and a gas pump for a fun and exhilarating joy-ride.

The trio is very connected emotionally, you can hear an unmistakable characteristic in Sound Underground’s music, it’s the way they weave improvisation and composition together into a single musical fabric, spinning lyrical ideas that have both careful craft and captivating immediacy.
What is most striking about this recording is the organic production.  Recorded live and without isolation, Quiet Spaces highlights a unique acoustic sound, intimate in personality and approach.  Left in purposefully the breath, key clicks, valve clicks, and fingers moving on guitar strings – allows the listener to feel as if they are personally in the room with the trio. 

Overall, a delightfully engaging offering enjoyable in many facets.  Sound Underground is an uncommon ensemble instrumentation, yet not a foreign sound, calmly inviting the listener to dig deeper, and to enjoy the finer points of their music. Well done, highly recommended.