Archive for June, 2012

Malcolm McLaren could bend a whole generation to his will but he could not bend John Lydon. McLaren, the evil genius and Svengali behind the Sex Pistols and the Punk explosion of the mid-1970s, cast Lydon as Johnny Rotten – the figurehead and spitting, snarling poster boy of Punk.

What McLaren hadn’t counted on was that – unlike Sid Vicious and most of McLaren’s other minions – Lydon had a mind of his own, and a razor sharp mind at that. As soon as the Pistols debacle had slithered to a halt, Lydon cut all ties to McLaren’s circus, cast off the faintly daft Rotten name and formed Public Image Ltd – known (and loved) as PiL.

With bass player Jah Wobble and guitarist Keith Levene, Lydon produced a number of superb albums, incorporating experimental rock, dub and drone over which he ranted and howled his pained, angered lyrics like a manic preacher. The second, 1979s Metal Box (packaged in a round metal box) was described by NME as ‘arguably the first post-rock record’.

It is hard to say whether PiL has ever truly split and reformed, as John Lydon hired and fired at will, working across the years with an army of musicians as diverse as Bill Laswell, Steve Vai and Ginger Baker. His music has always been highly original, willfully abrasive – full of sardonic wit and the sort of withering insights that a mind like like Lydon’s can’t help.

The last official PiL album was 1992’s That What is Not. The intervening years have been used up with Lydon playing the pop-culture game as only he can (appearing on British reality TV and, hilariously, on Judge Judy), writing his memoirs (the wonderful Rotten – No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs) and unashamedly making money on Sex Pistols reunion tours.

Oh, and making butter commercials for British television. This is significant because it is the money made from his TV ads for Country Life Butter that funded the recording etc of the new PiL album This Is PiL. Is this rock and roll? In a world where AC/DC put their name to a range of mid-priced wines and Mötörhead put out a fine-bodied shiraz (not to mention the Sex Pistols fragrance range) I don’t know what rock and roll is anymore.

But I do know I like This Is PiL. On reggae thumper ‘One Drop’ Lydon caterwauls “You cannot change us” with the same dramatic defiance he used to power the best of the Sex Pistols’ fuck-you tunes. Throughout the album Lydon’s vocals also have the same feeling of stream-of-consciousness that made any PiL album always seem close to coming off the rails with intensity (check 1983 single ‘This Is Not A Love Song’ or the “Anger is an energy” refrain from 1986’s ‘Rise’).

Lu Edmonds guitar is a wonderfully irritating  (as it should be) foil for Lydon’s squawks and retorts across the album – jangling till your head splits on ‘Deeper Water’ and fuzzing it up on ‘Terra-Gate’ – with enough of those post-punk one and two-note string constructions that work to such great effect (I often wonder what The Edge would have come up if he had never heard Metal Box?)

The electro-dub of ‘Lollipop Opera’ shows Lydon at his dramatic best as his voice slides in and out of a harsh robotic tone, adding a metallic bristle to his hectoring. One of rock’s all-time great non-singers, Lydon – like Lou Reed or David Byrne – makes up for any lack of God-given pipes by laying the drama on thick and filling your head with a new atmosphere. Rock is one of the only musics where this could work and it is one of rock’s true mongrel delights.

But the question always remains with a new release from a band that did its best work 30 years ago – is it worth it? This Is PiL gives us what we want from John Lydon and his cohorts, but after all the intervening music from the bands that Metal Box influenced, this could sound a little tame. If shock and abrasion was all PiL had to offer then This Is PiL would fall short. But Lydon has not lost his drama and the PiL sound still delivers.

As with Janes Addiction’s 2011 album The Great Escape Artist (my review here) it is a still a bit of a thrill to hear any music by rock’s great rule breakers, even now that there are few rules left to break.

One does wonder, though, what Malcolm McLaren would make of it all.

 

Published June 2012 on theorangepress.net

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When the celebrated rock writer Nick Kent published a collection of his best work, he chose the title The Dark Stuff. It was a fitting title and perfectly apt for a writer who seems to be drawn towards the great doomed genius-romantics of his selected artform: rock and roll – Kurt Cobain, Roy Orbison, Jim Morrison come to mind.

The Dark Stuff – that gothic romanticism which looks to the amoral, twisted and broken shadowland of human nature – has long been one of the most delicious aspects of rock and roll. Elvis Presley always had a sense of danger and violence just behind his sneering beauty. Gene Vincent, Link Wray, Richie Valens had it. The later more self-conscious Rimbaud-readers such as Jim Morrison, Lou Reed and Nick Cave cultivated it. And rock and roll fans love it, for within its black heart dwells the true rebellion and anti-social cool that has all but been leached out of the form by commerce and the plastic star-system.

Carl Manwarring is a musician in search of the Dark Stuff. His band, The Darkened Seas’ recent eponymous EP, The Darkened Seas contains five pieces of blues-bruised punk-rock that hit that dark mark five times. Hard. And at the recent launch of The Darkened Seas EP a packed Annandale Hotel found out the band’s music has enough rock and roll in it to keep your ass twitching as they drag you down to the bottom with them.

From garage-rocking opener ‘I Give It All’ Manwarring was all intensity and threat – his demeanour not nervous but edgy, not wild but abandoned. This was not 70s style blues-rock, nor purist roots-blues, but blues shredded through the strainer of punk – it calls to mind the Bad Seeds or Jon Spencer, at times even the dervish-like momentum of Junior Kimbrough.

During Doors-dark minor boogie ‘Nighthawks’ Manwarring’s voice and guitar-playing brought to mind Television’s Tom Verlaine, both in timbre and in the way both seem wound too-tight yet flow just fine. The New York thing is there – both ‘Circus Boy’ and ‘Shantyman’ have that Lou Reed economy with punk punch that works to great effect (the band’s name comes from a phrase in Reed’s VU smack-anthem ‘Heroin’). ‘Street Lips’ is a straight 12-bar blues that allows the character and power of the band to really rise up – there is nowhere to hide in this form and bassplayer Alek Cahill, keysman Luke Kirley and firecracker drummer Lozz Benson deliver beautifully. Everything Manwarring’s smart songs throw at them they eat up with a grin and a wink.

Manwarring has obviously steeped himself in the history and masterworks of his chosen musical path and this gives the music heft and dimension. His lyrics also are sharp and original – once again, he knows his shit. Hints of images that are surreal and dislocating (such as the ‘circus life’ of ‘Circus Boy’) recall Jim Morrison or Dylan, with some of his declarations of passion bringing to mind Nicks Cave or Drake. And you sense he means every word too – he is what a good friend calls ‘genuine’.

This is a talent to watch and a band to watch. The Darkened Seas have debuted surprisingly fully-formed in style and sound. They know the road they are on, now all they have to do is follow it and let it take them, and us, somewhere truly special.

 

Published June 2012 on theorangepress.net

 

The towering figure of jazz/funk trumpet superman Freddie Hubbard casts a very long shadow over the latest release by Melbourne’s Daimon Brunton and his quintet. Brunton’s fourth album – entitled Wha Sa (Chinese for ‘already done’) – was recorded live at Northcote’s Open Studio between November 2010 and February 2011, after a long gestation period involving various abandoned recordings and changing lineups.

It is no surprise that Brunton settled on this set of recordings and this lineup (Greg Lavell plays keys on three of the five tracks, Olaf Scott on the other two). The band is hot and cohesive, and the recordings sparkle with all the musical flashes that only a truly live performance can. The five track LP is warts and all, but with a band this ON, even their warts can be pearls.

Of the five, three tunes are Brunton originals and the other two are covers – Herbie Hancock’s jamming warhorse ‘Chameleon’ and Freddie Hubbard’s highly influential ‘Red Clay’ from 1970.

Of the Hubbard connection, Brunton says “After Sky Dive (1972) he seemed to move away to more pop-oriented music, but I was interested in exploring what might have been if Freddie had continued down the jazz path.” Brunton’s playing has all the snap, crackle and pop and Woody Shaw-style edge to his tone to carry this off, where a lesser trumpeter would get tangled up in the blistering runs or just plain lose their mojo. This is high-energy stuff. Maybe Brunton could have suggested a little more of Hubbard’s buttery lyricism now and again (check out ‘Delphia’ on the original Red Clay album) amongst the nuclear blasts, but it’s his call.

The same can be said of the moods and grooves across Wha Sa – they seem a little out of the same funky electric-jazz bag; a ballad or blues would be nice – if only to hear this superb quintet attack something more introspective.

That said, the places Brunton’s combo goes are pretty tasty – the impromptu boogie-shuffle (beautiful held by drummer Adam Donaldson) that grows out of the middle of ‘Chameleon’, Pat Farrell’s tasty bass intro to the same tune, Stella Skinner’s silvery guitar lines during her solo in the 13 minute closer ‘They Know Not What’.

In fact, apart from Daimon Brunton, it is guitarist Skinner that shines throughout Wha Sa – her bright Scofield-like lines during the opener ‘Wha Sa’, her neo-bop interjections during ‘A Happy Coincidence’s chase chorus with Brunton and Scott, the spaces she leaves in her ‘Chameleon’ solo – Skinner is a guitarist to watch.

Daimon Brunton uses words such as ‘firepower’ and ‘intense energy’ when talking about Wha Sa and says “This time it was all about energy, and that’s why we had to record it live.” So it is clear what the band was going for – did they hit it? I think you will agree they hit it hard – hard, bright and funky. Check it out.

Daimon Brunton and the band will be touring Wha Sa  nationally from 28 June through to 15 July. Details are at his website http://www.daimonbrunton.com

Published June 2012 on http://www.jazzandbeyond.com.au/

When the bands and polemicists of Punk Rock created their Year Zero circa 1977, they ushered in a new age of creative play in music. The 20th century had already gone through a Jazz Age from the roaring 20s through to the late 50s, when it was supplanted by Elvis et al (artists who the Punks’ frenzy and danger ironically mirrored) and the new Rock Age.

When the Punks decided it was time to wash the past away, their theories (if not always their practice) opened rock music up – a dam-busting which gave birth to Punk’s obsessively creative monster children: New Wave and Post-Rock. Musically it was the Miasma Age, where anything goes and the only artists sticking to the bindings of a particular genre were those who did so out of purism, zealotry or blind love.

It is obvious and plain that this Big Bang still reverberates today – but a bright surprise that it is present in non-Rock musics, such as Jazz.

Melbourne guitarist Tim Willis and his band, The End, have as much rock going on in their jazz as jazz in their rock – and who cares anyway? In the Miasma Age, this is what all music should sound like. The End’s second album, Keep Your Chin Up is eight tracks of sublimely creative music that packs a funky rock-edged punch.

Openers ‘Chers Amis’ and ‘Save Me From The Rednecks’ are a pair of great rockers – the first brisk with a tautly unfolding jazz solo from Willis, the second a muggy half-time skank – that have everything we knew and loved from their 2011 debut album, The End (see my review here): the tough rhythm section of double-bassist Gareth Hill and drummer Nick Martyn, the unusual twinning of the alto and tenor saxes of Jon Crompton and John Felstead, and the heavy powerchords/fleet jazz lines of Tim Willis.

But it is the third piece, the evocatively named homage to Willis’s partner ‘Lying On Her Bed Listening To Steve Reich’ that shows how far the band has evolved in the short time between The End and Keep Your Chin Up. The piece is built on a lattice of stabbing eighth-notes that fade in and out, leading to a remarkable middle section where the band passes these eighth-notes around almost mechanically, yet to extraordinary effect – mirroring the music of minimalist maestro Reich. It’s jazz, Jim, but not as you know it.

Extra horn player Jack Beeche is brought in for the meshed sax harmonies of Jon Crompton’s piece ‘The Rose’ which rolls along on a heavy blues-boogie shuffle over which Willis solos entirely unhinged but in complete control. Title track ‘Keep Your Chin Up’ has a strutting swagger that reflects its positive title. (Willis dedicates the album to his sister’s courage during her battle with breast cancer).

The drive and looped melody of ‘It’ll Be Ok… No It Won’t’ calls to mind 70s proggers Van Der Graaf Generator more than it calls to mind any Jazz artist I can think of. And why not? Such is the nature of Jazz in the Miasma Age – and this is one of the best bands and albums of this Age.

The End’s website is here – www.timwillis.com.au

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Prior to publishing this review, TheOrangePress asked Tim Willis for his top 5 ROCK albums. Here are his responses:

1. Jimi Hendrix – Axis Bold As love
I love this album cause Jimi plays his arse off on every track and it has some of his most beautiful and most rockin’ tunes. I love albums where you can listen to every tune and not want to skip through it, this is one of those. It sounds so raw and energetic, it’s still so fresh and exciting!

2. The Beatles – Abbey Road
Fantastic songs and I love the way the album flows from one song to the next. I love the lesser known tunes on this album such as I want you (She’s so Heavy) and  you never give me your money.

3. Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine
This album made me want to join the young socialists and burn down the local Liberal Party member’s office. It rocks out hard and has some fantastic grooves. It’s so angry and you can feel all that in the music.

4. Radiohead – OK Computer
Once again, It’s an album  where you can listen to the whole thing without skipping through tracks…every song is gold and has it’s own story to tell. The overall mood is one of melancholy and loneliness, it’s beautiful.

5. Faith No More – King For A Day Fool For A Lifetime
I love this band because they are impossible to categorize and every-time they do something new it’s different and out of left field. Standout moments on this album are Richochet, Evidence, Cuckoo for Ca Ca, Star A.D. and Just A Man.  This Album rocks out hard and has something for everyone!

Published June 2012 on theorangepress.net

What is Style? Style is a spectre, a ghostly sheen that is impossible to describe and pretty much impossible to buy, steal or fake. In short, you either got it or you don’t.

Today’s styles tumble over each other with such rapidity that the more style conscious among us are almost perpetually dizzy with Style’s glittering spin. The truly stylish – whether in fashion, music, food, even politics – seem to have an enviable ability to cherry-pick what they want from this or that and make it their own.

Sydney singer-songwriter Vanessa Raspa has all the Style she needs and more. Her look and vibe are an impeccable and captivating combination of much of the best of the 20th century – 40’s chic, 50’s sass, even a splash of 70s and 80s pop smarts -– while being entirely of today. The same goes for her music.

La Raspa’s recent launch of her single Movin’ took place at Newtown’s Vanguard. She could not have selected a better venue – part Paris bordello, part über-urban jazz bar, The Vanguard’s décor was a perfect fit for an entirely stylish night of music.

Opener, Tether (singer Cat Robinson) chilled the room with her intimate tunes including a hushed and lush version of The Church’s ‘Under The Milky Way’. The Conscious Pilots’ brand of extroverted rap-funk-with-horns woke us out of our revery and prepared us for La Raspa and her band.

Strutting out with Motown belter ‘Like Candi Says’, Raspa’s band – the wonderfully named Zombie Cats – pricked our ears up. These are some of Sydney’s sharpest young jazz players but they don’t mind putting their foot down as the music commands. Cameron Henderson’s SRV-style solo spat some sparks during the opener. Yet for ‘Real Deal’ the Cats laid back, evoking the smoothest of smooth jazz – with a wonderful Chick Corea-like solo from Emma Stephenson adding a pearlescent lustre.

Raspa’s songs demand this level of switched-on musicianship – her fashion sense is smart and eclectic, and so is her music: there are flavours of soul (not Nu-, but the Detroit stuff, the real stuff), pure pop, finger-popping jazz and more than a nod to cabaret. The torchy ‘Broken’ or the hip-swinging ‘Superman’ put out velvet textures that hung perfectly among The Vanguard’s rich, deep drapes. ‘Sometimes Silence’ had the band flamenco-clapping to a Spanish 6/8 with drummer Oli Nelson kicking up some Andalusian dust under it all. Elsen Price, on electric upright, began the tune ‘Carousel’ with complete authority over the groove. 

But it was Vanessa Raspa’s night – she was chanteuse, diva, blues lady, jazz baby. Like all the most truly musical singers, she worked with the band – over it, within it, around it – a synergy all too rare in this age of counterfeit Stardom, but always a startling thing to experience. By the time Raspa and her Zombie Cats hit us with the single Movin’ – its launch was the reason we were here – the Vanguard was hers. A sharp slice of Motown soul-funk – with horn man Jack Shanley working and sweating like a whole section – Movin’ raised everyone’s temperature on this chill late Autumn night.

We wouldn’t let her go, but her impromptu encore of The Beatles’ ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ (by way of SRV’s ‘Pride and Joy’) left us all smiling. As does La Raspa’s music and pin-sharp style – which she gets just so right.

Photos by Lily So. Check the full gallery here.

Published May 2012 on theorangepress.net

Carlos Santana, latin-rock shaman and one of rock’s most elegantly passionate guitarists, is back. Or so it appears from his latest – and 36th! – album, Shape Shifter.

Santana has spent the last few years in a creative hole, resorting to putting out an album of rock guitar classics – 2010’s Guitar Heaven – which, to old and new fans alike was the nadir of his recent output. Since his 1999 smash, Supernatural – which, due to a guest list of contemporary stars such as Lauren Hill and Rob Thomas, won him a whole new raft of fans (Supernatural went 15 times platinum and won 9 Grammys) – Santana has gradually taken on a Bob Marley-like saintliness, in direct proportion to the decline in his music. Of course there have been flashes of the old “spiritual orgasm” in Carlos’ playing, but they have too often all but been buried in the dross.

Shape Shifter is a welcome departure – oddly a departure back into what Santana does best: jamming over the top of jazz inflected funk and world-music (largely Afro-Cuban) grooves. Only one of the 13 tracks is a vocal, so Carlos is free to blow – rather than inject blues-style call-and-response lines in between Rob Thomas’s crooning – and blow he does.

As ever, his playing is split between sweetly lyrical blues and frenzied sky-high howling. His guitar tone is as phat and warm as ever – on strings led ballad ‘Dom’ his tone seems almost overwhelmingly so, like cables of honey pouring from the speakers. Smooth jazz grooves such as ‘Angelica Faith’ recall the late 70s output where he and The Santana Band were listening more to John Coltrane than AM Rock.

‘Nomad’ is the wake-up – heavy heavy rock flavours with his solo biting and scratching its way into Jimi Hendrix territory (although Santana was always the cool blue moon to Hendrix’s thousand burning suns). The title track, ‘Shape Shifter’ opens the album with some serious Latin heat after a Flamenco intro, intermingled with Native American chants (the album is dedicated to Native Americans).

Some of these Spanish interludes and textures – such as the sole vocal track ‘Eres La Luz’ –  can veer a little too close to library ‘world’ music at times, but they are almost always saved by the quiet (and not so quiet) fire of Santana’s superb band (when has Carlos ever had anything but?).

Raul Rekow on conga, like the 70s stalwart, Armando Peraza before him, is the heartbeat of the band. Rekow has been with Santana’s band – bar a 2 year hiatus – since 1976. His percussion break with percussionist Karl Perazzo, is a sunsplash of percussive joy. The band also features the almost supernatural drummer, Dennis Chambers and keyboard veteran Chester Thompson. It is these players’ knowledge and respect for the past and present state of Latin music that allows them to fly. And on Shape Shifter, unencumbered by more pedestrian pop beats, they put big wings under Santana.

And there is a sense of breaking shackles, of – well – freedom on this album. Santana’s music, based as it originally was in the flower power jams of his native San Francisco, has always been about freedom and openness. Maybe the sense of positivity is deeper than that. Speaking to the US Indigenous radio show “Native America Calling”, Santana said he wanted to make this record because “everything in this year of 2012 points to the peak of fear… we need to connect our youngsters back to nature; they are so confused and fragmented…”. Sure, it is the idealistic flower child of San Franciso speaking, but as even that bitter punk Elvis Costello sang –  “What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?

Published May 2012 on theorangepress.net