Yoko Miwa – Ryles – April 27

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When modernism hit the West early last century, everything was about industrial invention. Innovation has always been central to music, but as guitarist Joe Morris says, there is very little true innovation. Sometimes, as in Yoko Miwa’s case, it is cloaked in a reverence for the past that makes it seem buried in the past. But this is precisely Yoko’s innovation, that she continually mines the past, finding jewels in the jazz tradition she polishes with her Asian sensibility. She swings so well you could mistake her for Monk or Bill Evans or Horace Silver, but an invisible mist envelops it, as in a Japanese landscape, where the trees and mountains are grand, and the people are small.

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In Yoko’s case, great jazz heroes are grand, and she is just their chambermaid at times, not because she is meek, but because her veneration is so total. Yoko restores the ecology of great jazz, when so many are simply trying to build a better mousetrap.

She plays The Beatles’ “For No One”, and it makes me cry. It is so invested in intricate classical music niceties, it is only when she gets to the chorus, past the song’s halfway mark, that I recognize it. Then it’s off to the delicate section of the suite from The White Album’s “Happiness Is a Warm Gun”, which belies the arch, ironic cruelty of the song. She takes it to an entirely different place, where the natural elements of her soul converge and dissipate.

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Will Slater & Scott Goulding

Yoko has a consistently recognizable style, but this can be deceptive, as she can shift gear abruptly and radically within on song, and with such subtlety and grace you don’t know what hit you.

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Fat Creeps, Hurricanes of Love -BUFU Fest 2014 – Elks Lodge, Cambridge – April 26

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Gracie Ellen is elegant in maroon cardigan, hair up in a bun. They open with a bouncy, sinister number, the first on their recent album. It goes into high gear, and people start dancing. Mariam Saleh is more mysterious, dark, with a black top. Gracie has a hypnotic guitar style, which reminds me of Bernard Sumner of New Order. Funny, for all that Fat Creeps is a kind of candy punk group, they have these traces of Britpop. Next number chugs like a subway train. Then it gets poppy like The Lemonheads. This is simple music, but it is intricate, with quick but seamless transitions from motif to motif. The vocal harmonies are eerie and ethereal. Serene landscapes are strafed with shot. What about the guy dancing with no shirt? He’s up onstage. Part of the band, I guess; very British like the stuff Happy Mondays used to do.

Interesting accord between guitar and bass. Mariam’s bass is very lively. Sparse, but with peppery surprises which shift Gracie’s guitar lines in slightly different directions. Or is that an illusion? Makes it more fascinating. Now it’s like something out of Tommy, with the spacey fuzz guitar and angelic harmonies. Wild Live at Leeds freakout. So theses girls get into heavy rock and psychedelia too.

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Frank starts with some lovely fingerpicking, after some gritty rap, which he continues after the sequence. You never know where you’re going to go with these narratives, so it’s scary, even though they’re funny. Ivor Cutler comes mind, with his Scottish song /story stuff. But Hurricaine’s from the South, so this is much more wild. Now he’s talking about a Mennonite thrift store. It’s absolutely nuts. Chi-Raq, things are really tripping there now. Spiritual angel dust. Light picking the while. “That’s what this next song’s about” – he says that every time, and the song’s invariably about something completely different. “We’re going to make love under that holy moon”… Moses Lake Blues. “O that water flows in a strange design, and so does your life.”

Last tune, precisely 6:16, the number of the beast… Thinkin’ ’bout that waterfall coming down the hill – the music rolls and swirls, grand. His hair tosses wildly as he strums brutally hard, and he wails. He’s just like a whirling dervish, except he’s sitting down. He’s as holy as a Sufi.

Greg Mullen and The Cosmic American Band, Con Tex (trio) – Whitehaus, April 24

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Greg Mullen starts with “Embarrassing Song”. He wants to die and get high with friends. Is the problem with ideas or kissing or getting embarrassed… He’s solo, on a country style electric guitar. He’s got kind of a folksy core, which is too authentic to be tongue in cheek, but he’s got a glitzy Gram Parsons quality. He’s got long fingers that pluck the strings gently. The sounds are stinging and resonant. The band is like The Grievous Angels, Parson’s band. It gets tense, and then it’s feel good music, then it’s funny.

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Con Tex had some great new songs with his new bass and drums trio. For one of his later numbers, he rocked out, wailing and windmilling, Pete Townshend thrown into his Jerry Garcia cocktail. At times, on the acoustic numbers, he still sounds shy and awkward, but on the heavy , edgy numbers he’s a rock star. Con Tex plays Dark Star-like freak outs at shows sometimes, mixed with his surreal short stories on tape, stuff about drug producing trees in South America. Let’s hope he works that into the trio soon.

Chris Cross – Whitehaus, April 23

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I’m feeling the queer quirks. It’s Chris Cross playing, it just feels good to hold my iPhone. It’s like holding a teddy bear. Nice Christmas music in the background. The tense air mellows me, I’m free. This is spacey stuff. Do I have to describe it? Indescribably delicious, like the old Almond Joy ad from the seventies.

Clarinet Panic Deluxx (Toronto) – The Warehouse, April 22

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This is a jazz inflected group, with abrupt, unexpected rhythms. Electric guitar, cello, drums, alto sax – it could say just about anything, and it’s always threatening to. Wisps of classical cello braid though the puffy sax, cuts of silk. This is very textural music, with motifs and patterns that zigzag nearly out of control, pulled together again like drapes to a curtain pole. Very elegant.

The music gets more intricate and frenetic. Distressing trance patterns develop. It veers towards heavy, edgy rock, then the guitar goes solo, ending the song mysteriously, in the strange new morning of a jaw harp collective.

You could call it cut and paste, but this is different from Zorn’s. It’s not about shock, it’s about veins, jocular veins. Humor will segue into pathos, with a lugubrious cello tone, into jarring dance rhythms. Small sections of music develop with each instrument, going in different directions, then coming together like a city intersection.

You imagine Toronto on Lake Ontario, international city, proliferating in frontier zones. The music proliferates, pulling electric currents into the wilderness.

With the last two numbers, the musicians build to a grand finale, like fireworks, grand romantic tones. “Detroit,” the final number, starts like math rock, but with cool jazz inflections. It’s a night in last century New York, but is it the ’40s or the ‘ 90s? A different place altogether, as the artists, with their Canadian sense of spectacle, create something out of nothing, light out of dark.

Moshi Moshi, Chalaque (UK), Jookla (Italy), Pad Thai Drugstore – Deep Thoughts, April 11

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Moshi Moshi

Dave starts by passing out Lucky Strikes. I take one, of course; though I didn’t take a Nat Sherman the first time I saw him in 2006. He sings Elton John’s “Your Song”, and you really feel it. Vic Rawlings dominates on his electric guitar, power pressure chords, Polly is just like Ringo. It’s an experience that transcends transcription. Like a carnival or bursting open a piñata. Angela Sawyer sends blitzkriegs through her synthesizer, and Vic comes back with sixties cheese fuzz. Then it’s “Owner of a Lonely Heart”. This is twenties’ style Paris pastiche.

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Chalaque

Chalaque is Punjabi for smart ass (no one likes a smart ass). Nick of Chalaque is English, of the North country. His band is heavy acid, and instrumental. The music goes nowhere and everywhere. One point of reference, The Bevis Frond. It’s got that dark and painful, but gentle melancholy.

Chalaque is a trio, power trio I guess, with bass and drums. The effect isn’t like Cream or Hendrix though. It’s spacier, and spicier. You feel like you’re traveling tapestries over different lands.

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Jookla

Davide, Virginia, Bill Nace

Jookla is an Italian energy band, with tenor sax and drums, and electric lap guitar. It has the feel of Machine Gun, or Last Exit, driving dentist drill music. It just keeps driving, harmonic on tenor pushed to the limit. The energy is erotic, and carries through Virginia, on sax, as she travels into the audience, willow blowing in the wind.

This is sewing machines gone wild, a specular sweatshop, the stitches making music, needles sewing flesh and bodies. The basic gist is linear propulsion of tones into the stratosphere. Harmonically simple motifs that are ripped and mangled and wrought into new shapes.

Now she picks up a curved soprano, with a small bell. The sound is strangely familiar, Coltrane soprano, but deeper and darker, because of the bell. Bill Nace on guitar gets a Peter Brotzmann effect, demolition derby drives. The lanky drummer, Davide, with the long hair and beard is one with his set.

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Pad Thai

This is Andy Allen’s band, glamor boy psych jazz stuff, with genuine claims to each. He gets strange sounds out of the bell, sometimes by stuffing stuff down it, but it’s always beautiful. He uses pauses gently and dynamically, showing a grasp of dynamics, the interplay of sound and silence.

The music goes from acid bliss to soft floating petal tones, natural but architectural. Jesse of Cowboy band on bass is a great grammarian, punctuating the flow of sound with funky commas and semicolons.

Billy McShane on alto sax joins for last number. I saw McShane at Deep Thoughts anniversary, and he was mellow but very human. Here he deals with another music. Still he’s very sparse and minimal, with sharp spurts and honks. He duos with Allen, an avian dialogue. The two just play their mouthpieces, but they have sublime control, and get many notes from them. Ethan on drums is salt and peppery. Sam Lisbeth, of Cult and Leper, is subdued, as the music starts to border on schizo-folksy.

Then it gets intellectual and complex, but with a hypnotic, building beat. Jungle forest birds.