Album Review: Dave Kerzner – Static

Dave Kerzner

photo courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Dave Kerzner: Static (RecPlay Inc.)

Dave Kerzner is a singer-songwriter/keyboardist/guitarist/producer/sound designer and developer with an impressive resume that includes duties working alongside such luminaries as Alan Parsons, Genesis, Neil Peart, Keith Emerson, Tom Waits, Smashing Pumpkins, Steven Wilson and Kevin Gilbert. He also has been a member of prog rock groups Sound of Contact and Mantra Vega and has released two solo albums, New World and the current Static.

On his latest endeavor, Kerzner shines his conceptual spotlight on contemporary society, with all its political and moral dilemmas in full effect. Sonically, this is a record that is very much of its time, where every track beams with full spectrum fidelity coupled with accomplished musicianship. Kerzner is joined by his core ensemble of guitarists Fernando Perdomo and Randy McStine, drummer Derek Cintron and backing vocalists Durga and Lorelei McBroom. And, although this is very much Kerzner’s baby, both his core and special guest musicians make this feel like a unified “band” project.

Dave Kerzner - Static

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

Kerzner’s songs and stories are ripped from today’s headlines and infused with a somewhat cynical and jaundiced eye. Among the highlights, “Hyprocrites” sets things in motion via staccato guitar chords that punctuate the air. It is all about the political, partisan and moral divide that seems so prevalent at the moment. In it, Kerzner sings “Pointing at me, pointing at you, making us gorge on your point of view.” Also, “Giving to steal, standing to kneel, hurting to heal, failing to heal.” These are thinly veiled lyrics that immediately address the polarization in our society.

The title track “Static” sounds like a Pink Floyd outtake from The Wall. Perhaps that may be due, in large part, to the drum track, which is a sample of PF luminary Nick Mason. It’s kind of a dirgy and dark tale about the personal static we all feel in our dealings with each other on a daily basis.

“Chain Reaction” is a strong single, both from a chorus hook and melodic perspective. A real alt-rock feel combined with a progressive lead sensibility is at play here through the interaction of Perdomo and guest Chris Johnson’s guitarwork.

“Trust” is another standout track that features Beatle-esque harmonies and a strong Alan Parsons Project sensibility. The addition of cellist Ruti Celli provides an eerie baroque atmosphere to the song.

Dave Kerzner

photo courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

There are some interesting instrumental sidebars as well in “Quiet Storm “and “Statistic.” These are vehicles for some experimentation and sound design manipulation.

Famed Genesis guitarist and solo artist Steve Hackett lays down some wicked leads on the provocative “Dirty Soap Box,” and the multi-sectioned “The Carnival of Life” takes the listener on a thrill ride that ends, as the album began, with the urging of the protagonist Kerzner for the populace at large to take a look at itself and reflect.

There are fourteen tracks in all. Static is best listened to as a comprehensive piece, however many of the songs do stand on their own. If you are a fan of such classic albums as Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, or Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, you would be well-served to check this out.

Live Shows

Keep up with Dave’s live performance schedule via the “tour dates” section of his website. His next gig, per his website is March 3rd at the Progdreams Festival in The Netherlands. Watch Dave’s website for additional dates as they’re added.

[You may also have recognized guitarist Fernando Perdomo’s name. I reviewed Fernando’s CD, The Golden Hour, back in December. -GW]

Single Review: Paige Davis – “Carousel”

Paige Davis

photo courtesy of Paige Davis

Single Review of Paige Davis: “Carousel”

I first reviewed Paige Davis last spring, in this review of Off the Stage Music’s Behind the Songs event at the Hard Rock Cafe in Boston.

Paige’s new single “Carousel” was released on February 14th in advance of a planned spring 2018 EP release. A pop-country number that sports a G-rated movie, all-American, apple-pie freshness, the song moves through verse, chorus, and bridge progressively, with a well-written complexity that ties tempo and progression to the song’s lyrical ins and out.

Paige Davis

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Interestingly, I get a couple pop-rock connections from the very beginning of “Carousel,” with the opening beat reminiscent of Avril Lavigne’s “Happy Ending” leading into a guitar progression and rhythm that uncannily recalls the early strains of Semi Sonic’s “Closing Time.” As the song settles in, its entirety sounds sonically more like the sort of pop-friendy country I might find on Lauren Lizabeth’s To Be Young (recalling an album I previously reviewed), the sort of music you might have expected to share the stage with Taylor Swift as a teenager, though with a vocal texture very specific to only Paige herself.

I’ll let you listen to the lyrics yourselves. And you should listen. Containing clever turns of phrases, using “Carousel” as a life metaphor, they’re appropriate to a high school fan base but worthy of a budding young artist. “Carousel” is a fine introduction for potential new fans – and a long-awaited reward for her Paige’s existing followers – in advance of her debut long-form (EP) release.

Looking Ahead

Yes, the EP. Also, though it doesn’t list any dates now, keep an eye on the “Shows” page of Paige’s website for upcoming live performances as they’re added.

Album Review: Quentin Angus – In Stride

Quentin Angus

photo by Desmond White; photo courtesy of Quentin Angus

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Quentin Angus: In Stride

Guitarist Quentin Angus hails from Eden Valley, Australia and has been based in New York City since 2010. In that time he received a PhD and is an Associate Professor of Music for the City University of New York. He’s released two previous albums as a leader, with his latest, In Stride, proving to be one of his most exciting and musically explorative to date. He is joined on the new album by bassist Sam Anning and drummer Ari Hoenig.

Quentin Angus - In Stride

cover photo by Desmond White; image courtesy of Quentin Angus

Perhaps the main thing one can take away from this album is the focused, yet very relaxed manner in which this trio interacts with each other. The inventiveness and complexity of the writing and arrangements combined with the intensity and execution seems mercurial and essentially effortless. Angus and company appear to be operating from one cerebral source, and the results are most impressive.

“Jingles” is a Wes Montgomery composition and sets things in motion at a vibrant pace. The sharp and succinct accents that bolster the melody come at you like an adrenaline rush. The tune is constructed tighter than a Swiss watch, with precise moves that shift from orchestral to all out swing. Angus’ mastery on the fret board knows no bounds as he takes this piece into an alternate dimension via athletic intervals and wide ranging octaves.

Quentin Angus

photo courtesy of Quentin Angus

They slow down the mood a tad for a lovely interpretation of The Goo Goo Dolls’ ballad “Iris.” The dreamy waltz-time feel coupled with the lilting melody makes this an ethereal delight. The trio plays the familiar head fairly straight forward while observing subtle alternate voicings and dynamics.

The title track “In Stride” is an Angus original. The tune’s brisk melody and tempo work in tandem to generate some real excitement, with a nice use of suspended chords and a wide range of harmonies. Hoenig and Anning provide plenty of space as Angus navigates some real in and out kind of playing.

Quentin Angus

photo by Desmond White; photo courtesy of Quentin Angus

The leader’s subtle political leanings rise to the surface, with the robust in-the-pocket track “One for Bernie (Sanders).” Hoenig initially lays down a funky beat and alternates with more open rhythms. Angus is at his most intricate and literate where every nuance is explored. The ebb and flow of overall dynamics from the band is nicely done as well.

Charlie Parker’s “Segment” is, perhaps, not one of the legendary sax master’s most well known works, but thoughtfully spotlighted here. This is a real jaunty one, which begins kind of funky and then breaks out into a lithe swing. Angus likes to get in the zone where you never know quite where he is going, but he is always on point. His solos are lively and melodic, and the mid-section is an added bonus sparked by the bass and drums.

“Droplets” is another Angus piece that blends a samba-like framework, with smooth and complex orchestration. Hoenig’s drumming is militaristic and fast paced, surely bent to keep you on your  toes.

Quentin Angus

photo by Desmond White; photo courtesy of Quentin Angus

Again, the band’s diversity and ability to seamlessly blend pop into their mix is displayed on Oasis’ “Wonderwall.” It’s a clever arrangement where Anning plays the initial melody on bass followed by Angus providing the “B” section. Hoenig kind of holds it all together, with a loosely framed pulse.

“Kinship” concludes the album, with another Angus gem. A bright and uplifting melody is powered by the leader’s stealth use of arpeggios and rolling chords. Anning and Hoenig give this a somewhat Latin feel that really caps things on an upbeat note.

Dare I say, Angus and company truly hit their “stride” on this wonderful album. It is a textbook treatise into what a tight knit and compact unit can bring to the table in terms of creating an inventive and original sound. Essential listening!

Looking Ahead

Angus’ next performance is tomorrow afternoon, Saturday, February 24th at 3:00 PM as part of the “Composers Now” Festival at the Shirley Fiterman Art Gallery in New York. Per the “Shows” page on Quentin’s website, he’ll be back at the same location on March 16th for a faculty recital. Be sure to check his website periodically to catch future live shows as they’re added. You can also keep up with the live performance schedules of the other two-thirds of Quentin’s trio on their websites: Ari Hoenig’s and Sam Anning’s.

Album Review: Black Bambi – Black Bambi

Black Bambi

photo courtesy of Head First Entertainment

Album Review of Black Bambi: Black Bambi (20th Century Music)

There’s so much good, throwback-styled, ’80s melodic hard rock out there these days, and this self-titled disc from Black Bambi ranks among the best of this past year’s batch. Or, at least, it would. But it was recorded nearly 30 years ago, scheduled for a 1990 release before all-too-common record-company issues landed it on the sideline. Punch, pop, big vocals, power guitars, and monster hooks. It’s a fun, well-crafted adrenaline rush from a cadre of talented compadres. I don’t typically review re-issues – though others who write for me sometimes choose to – but as with every rule, this one is made to be broken, and is it really a reissue if it was never released in the first place? I’d’ve probably given this release five stars if I had reviewed it back in 1990, when I was wordsmithing for hard rock and heavy metal magazine Tough Tracks. (Our star rankings went up to five, didn’t they, Lisa?) This many years later, I’m equally impressed, and with the resurgence in recordings of melodic hard rock (also referred to by the term “hair metal,” which I dismiss because it doesn’t describe the music) from bands and musicians active in its heyday as well as young, new artists, this seems like an ideal time to release – and to review – Black Bambi’s newly released old recording. (Technically, this album was also released in 2001, so this really a second release, but I missed the 2001 version, so it’s new to me and, in all probability, to you, too.)

Black Bambi - Black Bambi

image courtesy of Head First Entertainment

I’d place the band on the heaviness scale around where Tyketto was back in that band’s heyday but not as heavy as Tyketto is now or as L.A. Guns typically is. Perhaps a bit crunchier than bands like Sweet F.A. were back in the early ’90s, though.

“Mary’s Birthday” kicks things off strong, showing the guitars and drums, riffing a little, then delivering in memorably catchy melodic hard rock fashion, plowing somewhat straight ahead but with a little Extreme-reminiscent funk and lightly-instrumented bridges. This is a great selection for a first track, kicking the album off strong.

It’s followed by another of my favorite tracks, “In the Meantime,” pulsing guitars and drums joined by a thin Skid Row-esque ’80s vocal line as the song plods forcefully forward, providing ample contrasting backdrop to the song’s harmonious bridges and guitar solo noodling.

“Crucified” adds a little blues wail to the mix, spicing things up without obscuring the song’s ’80s hair metal roots. “Seven Miles to Rome” stands out for its heavy, plodding power; it’s a force of nature that grows on the listener more with each playing, sparsely-instrumented – almost the exact opposite of wall-of-sound – emphasizing the tune’s heavy axework.

Black Bambi

photo courtesy of Head First Entertainment

“Down” is a pulsing rocker that blends a street cred-building heaviness with Ratt-like vocals and a hypnotically catchy repeating rhythm; “The Celebration” follows that with a little funky vibe driving its hooky hard rock rhythm and wails.

My favorite song on the disc is probably “99 1/2,” whose verses recalled Quiet Riot’s “Metal Health” a bit the first few times I listened to it, but by now I have trouble hearing anything in it but Black Bambi.

In all, this is a terrific throwback disc. It’s a shame it wasn’t released when it was recorded – an all-too-frequent tale of music careers getting delayed and derailed by record label politics – but for those of us who loved that musical era, Black Bambi’s eponymous album is a welcome gift, a new discovery via an unearthed time capsule.

Album Review: The Black Butterflies – Luisa

The Black Butterflies

photo by Vladimir Radojicic; photo courtesy of Mercedes Figueras

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of The Black Butterflies featuring Gato Barbieri: Luisa

Mercedes Figueras is an Argentinean saxophonist who has released a series of independent albums as leader of New York-based jazz outfit The Black Butterflies. Much of their music is of a contemporary post-bop and Afro-Cuban nature, rich with lush percussion and rhythmic accents. On their latest installment, this was an exceptionally momentous release because it documented the last recorded work by the late legendary tenor sax great Gato Barbieri.

The Black Butterflies - Luisa

album cover art by Ima Montoya; image courtesy of Mercedes Figueras

The Black Butterflies consist of Figueras on soprano, alto, tenor sax and vocals; Tony Larokko on soprano and tenor sax and percussion; Fred Berryhill on djembe and percussion; Bopa “King” Carre on bongos and percussion; Nick Gianni on upright bass and flute; Rick Bottari, piano; Kenny Wollesen on drums; and Karl Berger on vibraphone and melodica.

The album begins with a mash-up of the traditional black folk song “Hambone” — with vocals by Larokko that flow nicely with the introductory rhythms — leading into the Astor Piazzolla piece “Adios Nonino.” This is a nice and easy samba that features Figueras playing a rather whimsical and snaky kind of melody, with its overarching intervals and valiant sonic leaps. Berge adds some really nice touches here on vibes.

The Black Butterflies

photo by Vladimir Radojicic; photo courtesy of Mercedes Figueras

Figueras’ original “Gato’s Hat” is a sweet dedication to the Latin saxman himself. It’s kind of a simple-sounding folk melody that the leader uses as a vehicle to engage Barbieri in a friendly horn duel. It’s a light and spirited piece uplifted by animated percussion that weaves in and out.

Title track “Luisa” is a lullaby between mother and daughter. Figueras’ words are poetic as she offers advice to her young daughter via words of wisdom. She sings these lyrics in whispery and eerily hushed tones that are gentle and comforting. The music shifts accordingly from ethereal and ambient to more of a 4/4 swing feel. It’s a nice conceptual piece that utilizes, in particular, the strengths of the bass and drums.

The Black Butterflies

photo by Vladimir Radojicic; photo courtesy of Mercedes Figueras

Another Figueras original, “Brother Nacho, Sister Lola,” is based on a lean and simple samba vamp featuring dense percussion and saxophonic cross-talk between Barbieri and the leader. Their playing is intense only to be offset by the steady hand of Berger on accompaniment and solos.

The mood shifts between major and minor modes on Ramon Sixto Rios’ “Merceditas.” Again, Barbieri comes to the fore here with some shimmering tenor work supported by Berger on melodica.

McCoy Tyner’s “Love Samba” fits in nicely with the Latin-tinged program here and shines a spotlight on Larokko’s soprano sax exchanges with Figueras’ horns. The set up is tight and effective, with Berger on the first vibes solo, Bottari mimicking Tyner’s percussive comping style to a tee, and then the horns intersecting with harmony and dissonance in a somewhat avant garde manner. It’s a John Coltrane meets Pharaoh Sanders sounding kind of affair and is a real highlight of the album.

The Black Butterflies

photo by Vladimir Radojicic; photo courtesy of Mercedes Figueras

The Black Butterflies conclude with the Carlos Gardel/Alfredo Le Pera-penned “Por Una Cabeza” as the group introduces a tango to the mix. Figueras displays some of her Barbieri tendencies as she emphasizes a full-toned gruffness in her sound that brings a fiery passion to the overall track. The leader rides the waves of emotion on this one as the dynamics and tempo shift in poetic and danceable formation.

This 2015 recording, released in 2017, is not only significant for being the last recorded project Barbieri did, but it reconnected him with his former bandmate from the mid-‘60s era Don Cherry Quartet, Karl Berger. It appears to have been an emotional and fulfilling experience for them all and, hopefully, for you the listener. Enjoy!

Album Review: Hristo Vitchev Quartet – Of Light and Shadows

Hristo Vitchev

photo courtesy of Hristo Vitchev

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Hristo Vitchev Quartet: Of Light and Shadows (First Orbit Sounds Music)

Hristo Vitchev is a Bulgarian-born and San Francisco-based contemporary jazz guitarist with a series of albums out on indie label First Orbit Sounds. His latest release, Of Light and Shadows, continues a string of progressive impressionistic albums he’s recorded with his steady unit of Jasnam Daya Singh on piano, Dan Robbins on bass and Mike Shannon on drums. It may be a cliché to say that an artist’s latest release is their best, but it takes a while to truly gel and operate on all cylinders as a group. And, with this latest endeavor, that is indeed the case.

The cover art for this latest album — as with most of Vitchev’s previous recordings — was painted by the leader himself. It is certainly an abstract blend of light and dark colors, hues, brushstrokes and shades, that tie perfectly with the album title.

Hristo Vitchev Quartet - Of Light and Shadows

image courtesy of Hristo Vitchev

“Of Light and Shadows” is the first track that sets the pace for the album. And, like the cover, is multi-tiered and complex. The tune seems to be broken down in sections, with a light samba-like feel supporting the main theme. The mid-section establishes itself as a vehicle for the drums and piano to step out. The piece is very open and has a kind of baroque ECM label element to it. Some of Pat Metheny or John Abercrombie’s early work comes to mind.

“The Shortest Wavelength” follows with a thoughtful piano intro by Singh that leads into something, I believe, in 7. As with the ebb and flow of a traditional waveform, the piece slowly builds in intensity and subsides as drummer Shannon and bassist Robbins ride the tide.

“Selective Absorption” features a soft and lilting melody that wafts above the rhythmic fray. The dialogue and transitions between Vitchev and Singh are extremely focused and smooth. The head of the tune is as tuneful as it is challenging and Shannon’s rubato figures at the end provide excitement and flair.

After the somewhat up tempo arc of the previous tune they take it down a bit for kind of a romantic piece called “At Your Side.” There are some lovely peaks and valleys here where Vitchev demonstrates his strengths as both composer and soloist. Shannon’s artful brush work in tandem with Robbin’s warm and resonant bass is transcendent.

Hristo Vitchev Quartet

photo courtesy of Hristo Vitchev

“Prelude to Prismic Dance” is a tasteful intro piece featuring Singh’s graceful and lush solo piano. His use of triads and trills really builds things up and leads into “Prismic Dance.” Vitchev’s glossy chord textures and seemingly effortless solos glide nicely over odd time signatures and well-orchestrated dynamics.

The colorfully titled “Pentachromatic Butterflies” is a melodic piece that blends with a slightly dissonant or minor edge. It is very modal and open, with some fluid solos from Robbins. Also, this tune features a nice use of time and space. Vitchev isn’t really about chops as much as giving his solos a chance to breathe and develop with each pass.

The other overt ballad here is “ A Portrait of a Love Forgotten.” This is a pensive and somewhat somber tune that is sweetly lyrical and a nice showcase for the band. Vitchev plays a very linear, yet abstract melody, with a tone and approach that recalls greats like Lee Ritenour, Steve Khan or George Benson. Singh’s Bill Evans-like piano and Shannon’s Joe Morello-styled brush work make this one a highlight.

The album concludes with the noir-ish coined “Partial Darkness.” There is a lot going on here rhythmically. The drums kick things off in a very vibrant and flashy manner. Singh shifts into some dense and reflective passages as Vitchev holds the weight of the melody with a somewhat funky repetitive figure. There is a nice breakdown of the drums and bass in the middle and the structure offers the listener some interesting twists and turns.

The Hristo Vitchev Quartet is truly setting the scene for cutting edge jazz on a global scale. Pick up this current snapshot of their visionary music and you will not be disappointed.

Live Performances

The “Itinerary” page of Hristo’s website lists three upcoming performances.  Tonight, Saturday, February 3rd, as part of the Pat Bianchi Trio (Pat Bianchi, Hristo Vitchev, Sanah Kadoura), Hristo plays Cafe Stritch in San Jose, CA. On Wednesday, February 7th, the Hristo Vitchev 3 (Hristo, Pat Bianchi, and Sanah Kadoura) perform at Cafe Pink House in Saratoga, CA. And on Thursday, February 22nd, Hristo is back at Cafe Stritch as part of the SJZ Collective (Brian Ho, Oscar Pangilinan, Saúl Sierra, Wally Schnalle, John Worley, Jr., and Hristo) for “SJZ Collective Reimagines Monk.” Be sure to check Hristo’s website for future gigs as they’re added.