Listening Notes, Ultra-Brief (Pt. 117)



James Brandon Lewis, Divine Travels     (OKeh Records)

Debuting on a major label via sax/bass/drums trio requires more than the usual amount of jazz bravado, all those empty spaces begging for the company of a second hornman or at least the melodic comping of an extended rhythm section. Tapping the world-class likes of William Parker and Gerald Cleaver for bass/drum duties, well, that’s just good taste and trusting your own youthful skill set. Yet rather than exploit Parker/Cleaver as old guard free jazzers to scream over, Lewis displays admirable restraint on ten unfussy originals, drenching his themes and improv in the church and the blues. I hear a bit of Fred Anderson when Lewis worries above and around the short descending fragments of “Desensitized” or swaggers into the buoyant blues of “Tradition,” but no doubt plenty of listeners will be reminded of John Coltrane at his most spiritually stentorian (think “Pursuance/Psalm”). Two cuts featuring Brooklyn poet Thomas Sawyer Ellis at least don’t linger much longer than necessary, although Ellis’s brief interjections do add a nice beatnik vibe to an old-school setting. But mostly the trio just does their thing, whether riding the straight-ahead bustle of “No Wooden Nickels” for a way too short 3.53 or covering acres of jazz ground on the 7.39 mini-epic “A Gathering Of Souls”. And then there’s the nearly twelve minutes of “Wading Child In The Motherless Water,” which is exactly the sort of church/blues summit meeting it sounds like.

Tinariwen, Emmaar     (Anti-)

When NPR’s Bob Boilen scratched his chin a few weeks ago and mused over the possibilities of a world without musical genres, I doubt salsa and melodic death metal fans across the globe sensed a great disturbance in the force - certain strains of mush-headed liberalism are forever praising universal vagaries over mud-splattered tribalism. But when Boilen singled out north Malian guitar ensemble Tinariwen as proof positive of the evils that genre do, his confusion seemed palpable. A successful appearance at jam-band loving Bonnaroo by a loose conglomeration of Tuareg performers specializing in solo-happy electric drone does not suggest a need for looser genre labels. It speaks to the universal appeal of steady beats, bluesy riffs, and the kinds of minor key melodies that have long emanated from West Africa’s Great Bend region. Because the long-suffering outfit’s latest offering was recorded in California’s Mojave Desert rather than their own war-torn Sahara, you’ll hear some wistful talk of psychedelia and Kyuss. Because Matt Sweeney of Chavez and Josh Klinghoffer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers make brusque cameos, you’ll hear chatter about genres transcended or even, good grief, “selling out”. Utter nonsense. Lovely as 2011’s all-acoustic Tassili was, this is the sound of a band plugging their guitars back in the better to fight off “Sendad Eghlalan” (“This Constant Lethargy,” track 7). And although I rolled my eyes at Saul Williams’ IMAX-worthy opening recitativo about “dancing through fire,” such goop is thereafter left behind in favor of Tinariwen’s electric guitar paradise of North Africa. Tempos? Well, things do shuffle along, perhaps appropriately so for an album named after hot desert breezes. Just call it the trudge of the exiled, for as the closing “Hassan’s Song” makes bluntly clear, exiles they remain: “I no longer believe in unity”.


Mssingno, Mssingno EP     (Goon Club Allstars)

London-based DJ vaguely associated with post-dubstep circles, named after a Pokémon gaming glitch - wait, where you going? How about if I told you he’s got a real jones for r&b, as see last winter’s re-jiggering of Brandy’s “Right Here,” entitled “Brandy Flip”? Or that this four-song EP kicks off with Rihanna demanding via sample to be frisked good (that would be “Rockstar 101”)? And that “Xe2” slices and dices R. Kelly’s “I’m A Flirt” all over digital hum and click? The remaining two tracks conform more generally to the kinds of shimmering synths and chipmunk vocals that remain manna for the post-dubstep crowd. But come on, R. Kelly cut to ribbons, doesn’t that sound like fun?