Album Review: Dan Israel – You’re Free

Dan Israel

photo by Steven Cohen; photo courtesy of Dan Israel

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Dan Israel: You’re Free

You’re Free is the new album from Dan Israel, released May 2018.

Dan is a talented singer songwriter with 14 albums behind him; You’re Free is number 14. On this album he sings and plays guitars and is joined by a host of great musicians and singers all bringing an array of musical strengths to his interesting and foot tapping songs.

The songs are mostly about the personal, political and cultural crises that he finds in the world today. In Dan’s own words, “Few of the songs offer explicitly political messages, but many are colored by frustration, anger, and concern over the political situation, environmental degradation, and the alienation that often accompanies our reliance on social media.”

Dan Israel - You're Free

image courtesy of Dan Israel

These inspirations have led Dan to create 11 highly accomplished songs, and whilst you may think the dire state of the world these days would lead to a maudlin bunch of tunes, you would be wrong. There is a jaunty juxtaposition to the songs. Serious matters couched in upbeat musical moods. He certainly has a knack for tuneful, contemplative rock.

The production is also rich and creates a very listenable montage of musical layers. A good mix of jangly guitars and keyboards with tasteful additions of the occasional violin, steel guitar, trumpet, piano and percussion. The sonics match the high quality of the songs. I can’t not draw comparison to Tom Petty as Dan’s voice has similar qualities, and the Americana rock vibe is familiar albeit still fresh to listen to. He has brought his own style to what is a well-trodden musical path, and the music is comfortable but contemporary. Lyrically, too, I am glad to say that he doesn’t fall into cliche, and the words are well though-out and engaging.

His musical influences shine through but don’t drown him out. There are flashes of Dylan and Petty and also, interestingly, I found myself hearing bluesy Stones vibes, especially on the acoustic slide guitar groove “Porch Storm” that ends the album. A similar vibe comes through on “Long Gone Dream” and “Soul Will Be Found,” which have a bluesy retro feel, kind of Canned Heat and Beggars Banquet-period Stones.

Dan Israel, Minneapolis 2018

photo by Steven Cohen; photo courtesy of Dan Israel

The album starts a little downbeat with “Gets You Through It” but is sent hurtling on with track 2, “You’re Free.” I always question whether it’s useful to start making comparisons to other artists. Not sure it’s very fair on the reviewee, but on the flip side it is handy for readers to get a feel for whether they will like the albums based on their own musical tastes. So I’m going with the comparison route, and with that in mind I would say that the title track is very Traveling Wilburys, and that can only be a good thing.

There are nice twists on the next song, “Back To You,” with the introduction of violin and a female backing vocal alongside the main voice. Also some lovely Springsteen-esque organ playing and a bright guitar solo.

“Make This Life Mine” and “Stay on the Run” are softer and bring a beautiful acoustic shade to the album, whilst “Feeling Better” and “If I Didn’t Have You” are back in the Tom Petty groove.

It’s always brilliant to discover an album of music that you dig. Quite out of the blue, I am very lucky to have been introduced to Dan Israel and look forward to continuing listens to this excellent album.

The album is available on LP, CD, and for download. You can find out more on Dan’s website, www.danisraelmusic.com.

Looking Ahead

He is a busy performer, and if you want to keep up to date with his live shows, you should keep an eye on the website, but in the meantime he can be found in June playing the following dates:

Thursday, June 14: Dan plays solo in downtown Minneapolis at 333 South 7th Street, a free show outside on the lawn of Accenture Tower, (in close proximity to Hennepin County Government Center, Capella Tower and other downtown buildings) from noon to 1 pm.

Friday, June 15: Dan participates in the Wooldridge Brothers Starts at Dusk album release show at Eagles 34 in Minneapolis, at 8 pm, along with White Sweater, Lolo’s Ghost, and more.

Saturday, June 16: Dan plays solo at the Stone Arch Bridge Festival in Minneapolis, 3:15 pm on the City Pages stage under the Central Ave bridge; earlier in the day, Dan plays a show at 11 am at a family farm, for the Friends & Family Day event at Tangletown Gardens, in Plato, Minnesota.

Friday, June 22: Dan plays solo at Flat Earth Brewing in St. Paul, 6:30 pm to 9:30 pm.

Thursday, June 28: Dan opens (solo acoustic) for Peter Himmelman at the Dakota Jazz Club in downtown Minneapolis; the club website lists showtime of 7:00 pm.

Friday, June 29: Dan plays solo at the Trempealeau Hotel in Trempealeau, Wisconsin, 8 pm to 11 pm.

Saturday, June 30: Dan plays solo at Chankaska Winery in Kasota, MN, 6:30 to 9:30 pm.

[Publisher’s Note: Of course, I also reviewed Dan’s last album, Dan, in January 2016. If you’re interested in reading that, too, here’s the link. -GW]

Album Review: Meand’er – This Magic Path

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Meand’er: This Magic Path

This Magic Path is the first album from Devon based English duo, Meand’er.

Father and daughter, Graham Crocker and Hannah Power have been playing acoustic music together for many years although only recently as a duo. In previous incarnations they have been a support act for many well-known artists, including Martin Carthy, Seth Lakeman, Al Stewart, Roy Harper, Julie Felix and Roy Wood, to name a few.

Meand'er - This Magic Path

image courtesy of Meand’er

The new album is a beautiful, gentle, acoustic affair. The 12 tracks are self-penned with lyrics by Hannah Power (apart from the instrumental in the song “Service and Bond,” which is a medley of three traditional Irish tunes: “The Eavesdropper,” “Saddle the Pony,” and “East at Glendart”).

Hannah and Graham play all the instruments on the album but have assistance from James Crocker, who adds guitar, mandolin, bass, and accordion on the tracks “Service and Bond” and “There Will Be A Spring.” They are also joined by the wonderful violin playing of Morwenna Millership on “Ed’s Song” and “The Boat That Brought Me Home.”

All the album’s songs are highly accomplished and have taken many years to reach the point where the duo were ready to commit to recording them. As the pair say on their Bandcamp page, “This album has been a long time in the making, partly because the arrangements developed naturally as we performed them. We finalised the recording of each track only when we were happy with the way it was sounding.”

Happy they should be, indeed. I really enjoyed the organic quality of the recording from the slight creak of a performers chair on the opening track “The Short and the Long” to the entrancing simple lone voice of Hannah on the final and title track, “This Magic Path.”

Meand'er

photo courtesy of Meand’er

It is worth highlighting the spellbinding nature of Hannah Power’s voice. There is a contemporary resonance to it but it also rests in your soul as if you’ve been listening to it all your life. Warm and calming classic English folk tones but with so much more. A beautiful delivery that reflects her own inner voice. There is a natural tone and accent, a genuineness that makes it unique and appealing. This sense of realness carries through the words of each song and makes the album iridescent with heartfelt and personal experiences. On first listen you get a sense of eavesdropping into a personal world, and you know that further listens will reward you with rich detail.

There is so much lyrical content to try and cover in one short review, but in short I would sum it all up as brilliantly refreshing. They avoid cliche and they spark imagery and intriguing storytelling. So often writers fall back on easy solutions, and you get that feeling that you’ve heard it all before. Not so here; for instance, the biographical intensity of “Ed’s Song” with Hannah wanting to “be more rock n roll” but instead having bus fares and P.E kits to find with a forlorn cry of “I’m an ageing single mother trying to make it good.”

The unique lyrics are gently couched within a melodic tapestry created through a delicate approach of guitar with well thought out acoustic embellishment, be it mandolin, violin, or accordion. The sequencing of the album tracks is also key and effortlessly takes you on the journey. The mix of instrumentation and delivery means you are always met with intrigue and a smile of a new familiarity as one song ends and the next begins. All very beguiling.

A great debut album of sparkling unique, new English folk music.

You can find the album on their Bandcamp page at https://meander1.bandcamp.com/releases or follow them on Facebook at
https://www.facebook.com/MeanderDevon.

Album Review: Marina V – Born to the Stars

Marina V

photo by Franz Salvatierra; photo courtesy of Marina V

Marina V is an international, award-winning singer-songwriter based in Los Angeles. Her music has been featured in television shows and movies. You’ve probably heard some of her music without realizing who wrote or performed it. She’s one of those L.A. artists, one of the performers who is one right place-at-the-right time away from being a household name. Suffice it to say, she’s exceptionally talented. Of course, I discovered her music and became a fan in much the same way you may be now, randomly finding a review or a music clip and, after a bit of investigation and song-sampling, realizing I had stumbled across someone special.

Marina V

photo by Erik Fischer; photo courtesy of Marina V

Longtime Blog readers may also recall that Marina was one of the artists I featured in the nine-part “Road Back to Music Journalism” series I wrote to launch this Blog in the fall of 2015. This CD and house concert review was item number five on my nine-part journey back. The follow-up to that album, Inner Superhero, is Marina’s new release, Born to the Stars.

Album Review of Marina V: Born to the Stars

Marina’s voice is strong and versatile. Her trademark is a quickly-identifiable, breathy vocal delivery, and many of her popular songs are the slow-tempo, soaring songs you’d expect to contain those vocals. A 10-song album format, however, can show her range and versatility, as she mixes rocker power and uptempo pop styles that reflect the variety of influences you’d expect from an artist with Marina’s clear star power – that transcendent quality you know is there but can’t quite pin down. Born to the Stars explores the rough-edged rocker influences, the pop hookiness, the hint of pop-danceable energy, all while remaining rooted in classical influences (she’s a pianist, after all) and folky traces that creep into her keyboard- and guitar-driven ballad and light pop-rock tracks. As is the case with so many of my favorite artists, Marina V has an identifiable core sound while incorporating a variety of influences.

Marina V - Born to the Stars

cover photo by Evelina Pentcheva; image courtesy of Marina V

The new album kicks off with power and authority, the initial release off the album (supported by a video sporting cameos from a lot of A-list [and B-list] musicians singing along to the music), the title track, “Born to the Stars” (featuring Árstíðir). Marina’s voice can be so sweet and crystal clear that it’s nice when she balances the softer songs with tracks like this one, a stadium-filling rock ‘n roll song with a vocal edge. There’s an ’80s pop flavor and an Imagine Dragons-esque soaring-music-wall roar providing the arena-caliber bigness, with Marina’s rich, tuneful vocal carving the melody weaving through the big sound. Indeed, this is either a concert-opener or an encore song, one that’s meant to bring a crowd to its feet.

Marina V

photo by Erik Fischer; photo courtesy of Marina V

The following “I Am Iron” is a nice transition to the softer songs on the album. It’s edgy, with dance-pop/rock-type of power and some of the soft, sweet, clearly soaring power vocals just a handful of vocalists can pull off.

It’s that softening of the vocal the leads well into the ever-softer, more saccharinely-pleading “Be My Light.” The expressive, emotional vocals are extraordinarily classical in nature, as is the piano. You can imagine a music video with a grand piano, a mostly-empty ballroom with large windows, curtains flowing in the breeze, perhaps a starry sky outside. Yes, it’s one of those grand, big, sweeping ballads. Classical-driven popular music.

Marina V

photo by Emily Hanley; photo courtesy of Marina V

Next up is “Together Alone,” another favorite of mine, this one a folky soft pop swayer that serves as a commentary on the solitude of modern life.

And then the album gets super-ballady for a while, soaring behind Marina’s vocal power, all the while maintaining lightness and conveying tremendous emotion. “Fire in the Sky” has some of that booming pop-balladness (the sound that often recalls bands like Imagine Dragons for me). “Beautiful Forever” is so sweet, strong, and touching. “Good” has one of those big-empty-room, piano-ballady openings, which the richness of Marina’s soft vocal carrying the day as it displays both fragility and determined strength in support of its emotional message.

Marina V

photo by Erik Fischer; photo courtesy of Marina V

“Bring It On” picks up where “Good” left off, but this time sporting a rhythmic music bed of soft pop power carrying the emotional rises and falls.

“Autumn Song” is the Russian-language song in this collection. And perhaps it’s just me, but with the rhythm of the music and Marina’s pianowork, this makes me think of a song that might accompany a ballerina music box. Or perhaps, at a fancy costume ball, it might be played during a dramatic ballroom dance.

Marina closes the collection with a cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” The soft edges of her voice and the unique tempo Marina uses in her phrasings sometimes become most apparent when she covers other people’s songs, and they’re what make her covers truly unique, identifiably Marina V. This is one of those Marina V covers I enjoy immensely as its own song, even though the original is so iconic. (Her cover of Scorpions’ “Wind of Change,” which appears on her extended 2017 release of Inner Superhero, is another such tune.)

Marina V

photo courtesy of Marina V

In the end, the rock ‘n roll power at the beginning of Born to the Stars and the softer, more balladic and slower tempo power that inhabits the middle and latter portions of the album result in a satisfying, beginning-to-end listen. They showcase the talent that has earned Marina a fair level of recognition within the music business and has garnered her music placement in video productions. You’ll wonder why you’ve never heard of her before. Of course, that’s the reason for this review – to introduce you to one of those top-shelf talents who’s still flying somewhat under the radar. Seriously, give this album a listen, sample some of Marina’s music. You’ll be glad you did.

Looking Ahead

Marina V

photo by Amelia Yokel; photo courtesy of Marina V

I can also vouch for her exceptional live shows. Whether in an intimate setting or on a big stage, Marina V delivers a rock concert performance you’ll long remember.

Check out the “Tour” page of Marina’s website for upcoming shows, and check back regularly as she adds new dates. Currently, the only spring shows listed are an April 22nd afternoon gig in Woodland Hills, CA and a May 11th show (opening for Tiffany) in Big Bear Lake, CA. Marina’s summer shows scheduled so far are June 23rd at The South Bay Festival of the Arts in Torrance, CA; a June 24th “Concert at My House” (these intimate dinner concerts sound fun!) in Valencia, CA; and an August 3rd through 5th sequence of shows in Big Bear Lake, CA (3rd), Mesquite, NV (4th), and Las Vegas, NV (5th). Since I’ve been following her music the last few years, I’ve noticed that Marina plays frequently on the west coast, regularly in and around Illinois (where she got her U.S. start), and periodically books European tours. Catch her when you can, and on the rarer occasions you find her performing elsewhere, be absolutely sure not to miss her.

Marina’s Patreon

Marina also has a “2 Songs a Month Club” via Patreon. For as little as $1 per song ($2 per month), you’ll receive 2 songs each month. Of course, greater pledges earn greater rewards. Her club members received the Born to the Stars album when it was released. Of course, some of the songs were monthly releases along the way. Rather interesting was being able to witness a couple steps of the evolution of “I Am Iron” via the club. Once you’ve discovered Marina’s music, it’s a neat way to support a new favorite musician. She’s not the only musician doing this, but I really do like the approach of offering a new song or two each month, as Marina has adopted, as a Patreon format.

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]

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!