Album Review/Live Review: Steve Hudson Chamber Ensemble Debut: Galactic Diamonds (2010.12.06)

This debut album by Steve Hudson (piano) and Jody Redhage (cello), Zack Brock (violin), and Martin Urbach (percussion) will tickle the fancy and delight. It’s not the jazz I’m used to listening to [see Tomasz Stanko Quartet] but it’s an imaginative and joyful romp through a lovely mélange of instrumentation. Catch them on their next trip to Baltimore when you can hear them live. These Brooklyn-dwellers would, I think, eagerly pop in at Metro Gallery for a gig, as well as return to the fantastic An Die Musik.

While I see this album as being the pale-moon reflection of the splendid sun of  their performance in An Die Musik’s premiere acoustic wonder-room, I do think it’s a worthy one to add to your collection. Even the musicians were excited by the possibilities that An Die Musik offered to their sound – that’s why they’ll come back.

This is venturesome yet affable jazz at its best: A little blue-glass, a little rock and roll, a little scat, a turn at tango. How does Galactic Diamonds offer such a genre-blending sound? Try the diversity of the players.

Consider Zack’s quote from a Strings mag interview: “I never drink wine before I play. But a sip of whiskey works. It’s the Kentucky in me.” I tell you he poured out this “Kentucky” from himself on Wanderin’ – you’d swear you were on a front porch drinking bourbon nice and slow and neat.

Zack Brock, hailed by the Chicago Tribune as “the great bright hope for jazz violin” does deliver. He and Jody have splendid onstage chemistry you demand of the best in trio musicians. And they add another element sometimes missing: sheer joy.

Then you have percussionist Martin Urbach who does most of his wonders on the cajón. That’s a box drum like you see in Flamenco and South American music. No surprise here, Mr. Urbach is tapping his Peruvian roots. He also isn’t above playing a stainless steel Nalgene bottle with water in it. This is in the same piece where Steve Hudson ditches piano for the charm of the melodica. No, despite his apologies to the contrary, he does not lose “cool points” with this reviewer for trotting out the blow-organ.

We’ve already touched on some of Jody Redhage’s strong points here. She’s glorious and giddy here. She’s spot-on responsive to all the ensemble’s playing.  She’s better than when we heard her last year. Her vocals have grown stronger, deepening with added control and better projection. Since you missed her with Steve Hudson, don’t miss her Fire in July tour: June 26 at An Die Musik.

Above all, Steve Hudson’s piano playing makes you think he’s “keeping it simple” while offering a treat of rhythmic tensions and light melodies. Think effervescent, lively music that brightens the day. This album can be like a whippet in your stable: a fast-paced pick-me-up.

Regarding the track “PG” you’ll wish you could see the movie that would use it as an opening scene’s soundtrack. My favorite tracks are “Mingus Moon” and “Tune With Tango.”

“Tune for Tango” is also one of their live performance winners where it shines with a real snap: Caterwauling-turns-sensuous strings, handslaps, cheekslaps even castanets. Urbach even slams the whole cajón on the floor for extra punctuation.

These skilled players are the opposite of pretension. After the show, we knocked back a beer and talked Skid Row and Butthole Surfers. Capital folk. Let’s welcome them back soon.

If you like: Time for Three, you’ll like Steve Hudson Chamber Ensemble.

Where/when to listen: Play Galactic Diamonds during a long leisurely brunch on a Sunday morning. This festival atmosphere is best for daytime. Try it on a car trip in the country. Or play it on a late afternoon when you’re in need of a smile.

How to buy: go to http://wwww.cdbaby.com/cd/shce

[Author’s note: Don’t forget Jody Redhage and Fire in July play An Die Musik on June 26. Two sets: 8 pm and 9:30 pm.]

Label: Groovaholic Music

Releaste date: Jun 11 2010

Track list:

  1. Tune with Tango
  2. Keep It Simple
  3. Speak Out
  4. Song For John Lennon
  5. PG
  6. Galactic Diamonds
  7. Para
  8. Moving On
  9. Funky Hobbit
  10. Wanderin’
  11. Mingus Moon

Livewire: Future Islands @ The Penthouse (2010.06.13)

Words and Photos: Greg Szeto

This is kind of shameful to admit, but I think this might be my first show outing in over 3 weeks. Science is an unforgiving mistress, and a stickler about intellectual monogamy sometimes. Nonetheless, I’m very glad I chose this particular show to venture out. I’ll try not to dwell on the oppressive cons of the night (mainly the sauna-like heat-sweat-humidity bog that left a film on my camera equipment).

Instead, I will say that this was a triumphant Baltimore return for native sons (and daughter) Future Islands and Lower Dens (unfortunately I walked in right as the Art Department was wrapping up). The packed Sunday night show was giddy and gleeful. Most importantly, Future Islands delivered a righteous set, clearly honed and toned by the tour to a dance-happy crowd.

Their set was filled with a nice balance of tracks, spanning recent releases In Evening Air and In The Fall (including the still grand guest-vocals of Celebration’s Katrina Ford) while also remembering to pull out old faves. “Long Flight” and “Tin Man” have easily emerged as favorite tracks both recorded and live, while ”Little Dreamer” shines as brightly as ever. William’s bass work was more propulsive and lithe than I ever recall hearing it, Gerrit’s synths swelled powerfully, and frontman Sam Herring resembled a poor man’s cyborg, strapping into his corrective, post-surgery support boot before launching un-fazed into his famed rager of a live performance. At times, things were a little worrisome as the crowd ebbed into the band’s space (with someone nearly taking out William’s pedal board with a lunging stomp). The only quibble with the performance was nagging feedback that occasionally broke the flow. That technical issue aside, we got a special treat from both acts.

Dave Carter did an admirable job with difficult source audio from this show. We hope you enjoy it.

Future Islands
The Penthouse
June 13, 2010
Baltimore MD, USA

J. Gerrit Welmers – keyboards
William Cashion – bass
Samuel Herring – vocals

Streaming player:

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MP3 links:

1. Inch of Dust (4:47)
2. An Apology (5:00)
3. Pinocchio (4:10)
4. Tin Man (4:12)
5. Long Flight (5:45)
6. Walking Through That Door (5:21)
7. Old Friend (4:57)
8. In the Fall (feat. Katrina Ford) (5:47)
9. Vireo’s Eye (6:30)
10. Little Dreamer (4:31)
11. The Happiness of Being Twice (3:26)

Total time: 54:30

ZIP link:

Entire set in mp3 format


AKG 414 mid/side pair -> Zoom h4n 48/24 -> Nuendo (stereo encoding, limiting) -> MP3

Recorded by:

David Carter(carteriffic@gmail.com)

Live Review: John Adams with the NSO; Leila Josefowicz Breaks Out Six String Electric Violin (2010.05.20)

Leila Josefowicz kicks arse. She broke out the “Violectra” for John Adams Dharma at Big Sur and you’re glad she’s Kerouac… rather than someone declaiming in best Beat tone Jack Kerouac’s words over the music. (That was Adams’ first idea for this orchestral work. Thank God Adams saw Tracy Silverman playing electric violin at an Oakland jazz club). It’s the sole reason that Leila’s Violectra came into being. It was born to play this concerto.

Dharma at Big Sur is a violin concerto about arrival. It’s about forsaking the East Coast for the West Coast. It’s not just about the cliffs, it’s the emotional shock, the visceral mental shift that hits with a salty, breathless slap at the edge of the Pacific coastline’s steep drops. That was Adams’ journey back in ’71. He shares it with us here.

Josefowicz’ violin is the perfect rhapsode in the midst of the National Symphony Orchestra’s instrumental chorus. The open: a dim orchestral hum, like a single ray of light expanding, mounts to roar – the sound of arrival. Leila’s tone is so clear and round it departs from the usual violin concerto role and becomes a sitar and throbs like an oud.  She captures the mystery of reflection that silences the soul who tries to talk about Big Sur’s upper reaches while still on the ledge. And then she bays like a wolf when the night is clear.

The principal violinist leads off the sighing cries of the other violins before surrendering to an echoing solitude as Leila plays on the bridge. The harp twangs, and the orchestra becomes a living wind. Triangle and almglocken lend a touch of gamelan to this pure, glistening sound. Leila enters again with piano enjambments and deep cello cuts.

Somewhere in all this we hear the suggestion of a Latin combo playing in the distance. Leila duels with brass. Trumpets start to bring up the horizon’s height. The piano and keyboard sampler relentlessly cast the rising crescendo, which builds such as to give you vertigo. Leila bays away on the bridge, starting to be subsumed, surrounded by the orchestra without weakening. That’s exactly what you get by going to Big Sur. Your whole little self cries silently in high-toned being: purer, more raw than your average B-more-bound existence. The wilds of Sur, its contrasts and colors, win over and you can’t help but feel reduced in size and nature into a spec of the great, the vast, the glorying pulse (even if it makes you, in paradox, feel larger than life).

This portamento riot for electric violin takes you on a great vacation. If you’re itching for a taste of the California road trip and the music, check this YouTube vid:
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Aural Slate Recordings: “Weeds” from Small Sur’s Bare Black

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MP3: Small Sur – Weeds

Just so everyone knows that I haven’t been completely resting on my laurels in regards to Aural States and affiliated enterprises, I come to you with an offering. I’m very proud and excited to present to you, reader, the track “Weeds.” It serves as the opener, and first single, from our label’s third record: Small Sur‘s Bare Black EP.

With this EP, Small Sur take their music to new heights of beauty by laying down some breathtakingly lush sounds, expanding their instrumentation (guests include Susan Alcorn, Geoff Graham, Natasha Tylea-Cooke, and Kate Barutha), further refining their exploration of space and almost spartan arrangements, and embracing some gorgeous and organic drones. We’re beyond thrilled with this special release, limited to 200 physical CDRs with gorgeous letterpressed packaging and art from Justin Lucas. As always, digital downloads will also be available in FLAC and MP3 formats.

Check the EP page on the label site for more details, track previews and links to buy online.

Album art is forthcoming, as well as a phenomenal EP Release Show on Friday July 9th at the Windup Space with Lo Moda, Moss of Aura (J. Gerrit Welmers of Future Islands), and Ghost Life (Wheattie Mattiasich + ex-More Dogs). This is a doubly-relevant show since Lo Moda will be providing the fourth release on Aural Slate Recordings later this year. Stay tuned for more developments!

Album Review: Moss of Aura – March (Unsigned)

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MP3: Moss of Aura – Cowboy

For the sound achieved by Future Islands, the importance of William Cashion’s rolling bass and Sam Herring’s impassioned vocals cannot be overstated. Both are incredibly important elements that have made the group one of Baltimore’s best and were critical in producing the band’s best album to date, this year’s In Evening Air.  But, with all due respect to them, the synthesizers and programming of J. Gerritt Welmers are the New Wave straw that stirs their “post-wave” drink.

His notes and backing beats can make a song like “Old Friend” a bubbly dance floor anthem in one moment, then intone as much emotion and despair as Herring’s tortured singing on “In The Fall” in the next.

Performing solo under the moniker Moss of Aura, Welmers has taken his cache of synthesized wizardry and filled out the arrangements a little more, while also giving them room to breathe. March takes us on a mellowed out journey through warm tones and tropical sounds that make for a highly enjoyable listen, the perfect summer album. Basically, if you’re not bumping this while grilling Esskay Oriole Franks and sipping Natty Bohs in the backyard, then you’re missing out.

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