Recorded live in June 1988, this CD showcases the late Telecaster legend performing alongside pedal-steel virtuoso Buddy Emmons in what is ostensibly a 9-piece jazz band. Although many of the songs are head arrangements of well-worn standards such as Ellington/Strayhorn’s “Take the A Train” and Monk’s “Well You Needn’t,” Gatton not only bops and swings, he rips through gutsy blues and rock lines, barn-razing country licks, mind-blowing bluegrass bursts, and humorous references to everything from pop tunes to cartoon themes—sometimes all within a single song! Gatton’s chord comping behind the many fine horn players is often astonishing, as is his incendiary interplay with Emmons. This CD was released on Gatton’s daughter’s label, and is available exclusively from its Web site: bigmo.com. This is one of the hottest guitar discs I’ve heard recently, and it’s a must have for Gatton fans. Flying Deuces.
Dry Humping the American Dream
Nothing makes you feel as sane as listening to musicians who are clearly out of their minds. One glance at none-too-serious song titles such as “O.J. Bin Laden,” “Dance of the Demented Pigeon,” and “Dry Humping the American Dream,” and you’ll know that the guys in Gutbucket are obviously, so to speak, a few beats short of a full measure. On the subject of mutant meters, this band does surf weirdo time signatures with zeal and tenacity, but what’s more impressive is how well they morph tempos. Like the circus clown who continually pretends he’s falling off his unicycle yet never actually does, Gutbucket has a wonderful knack for melting time without ever losing the groove.
But a collection of propeller-headed prog-rockers the New York-based quartet is not. These psycho improvisers—including guitarist Ty Citerman, who’s not afraid to kick in the lead channel—seem flung from the swirling musical maelstrom we call free jazz. And they swing. Saxophonist/bandleader Ken Thomson surely embodies the zany Gutbucket ethos best when he braids his twisted timbres with his frenetic sense of humor, as he does in his solo on the album’s title track. Towards the end of this raging bout of reed torture, Thomson’s horn shrieks as if being played by Ornette Coleman on a bad acid trip. Then, suddenly, Thomson puts his instrument aside and takes the chaotic emotion to the next plane of insanity by repeatedly screaming at the top of his lungs into his sax microphone, red-lining the mixing board’s level meters as much as he is his own vocal cords. It would have hurt my ears if I wasn’t laughing so hard. Cantaloupe.
Like many things that bubble up in an Irish cultural stew, Celtic music is simultaneously blessed and cursed. The music’s passion, angst, and ethereal beauty can be truly astounding, but—like the blues—it can become clichéd and almost laughable when embraced by dunderheads and dilettantes. Happily (at least for my ears), Avalon Rising drifts above the curse by being both real and adventurous. The band wisely lets violinist Cat Taylor and flutist/harpist Margaret Davis deliver the major Celtic vibe, and they are absolutely stellar musicians. The duo’s soaring, almost achingly sensual phrasing gives age-old and original melodies near-cinematic impact. (Don’t be surprised or embarrassed if you shed a tear when listening to their plaintive harmonic dances—it just means you’re a living, breathing, feeling person.) The wilder bits are injected by guitarist Kristoph Klover, who employs a bratty Strat tone and an affinity for blues and psychedelia to modernize the standard Celtic formula without tanking the traditional melodic and rhythmic devices that make this music so endearing. Avalon Rising isn’t the most trad or the most progressive Celtic-based band I’ve heard, but it’s certainly the group I’d pick to lift up my spirits or drown me deeper into my Guinness. Flowinglass Music.
Guitarist Henry Kaiser and horn man Leo Wadada Smith formed Yo Miles in the late ’90s to explore music in the style of Miles Davis’ controversial late-’70s electric period. Performing Miles covers and “in the style of” originals, the assemblage of heavyweight players that comprised the original Yo Miles—including guitarists Nels Cline, Chris Muir, Elliot Sharp, and Freddie Roulette—created a dense sonic wall of sound both live and on their 1998 release, Yo Miles. On Sky Garden, Kaiser and Smith have scaled down the group to allow for a more open and exploratory sound, while maintaining the extremely high musical and creative standards established by the original lineup.
Joining Kaiser on guitar on this new double-CD set are Chris Muir and Mike Keneally, with one-time Miles guitarist Dave Creamer adding what might be called ambient-bop lines on one track. The guitars blend beautifully, both texturally and when soloing, while leaving plenty of sonic space for keyboardist Tom Coster and sax men Greg Osby and John Tchicai. Also worth noting is virtuoso bassist Michael Manring’s extraordinary interplay with drummer Steve Smith and percussionist Karl Perazzo (and tabla master Zakir Hussain on two tracks). The disc has both regular and SACD layers. Cuneiform.
Band Box Boogie
In this swinging release, jump-blues and slide ace Rick Vito revisits the sounds he heard booming from Rock-ola and Seeburg jukeboxes while growing up on the East Coast. Whether paying tribute to Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian, Les Paul, B.B. King, or Earl Hooker, Vito has the tone and vibe wired. Distorted P-90 blues licks, snarling bottleneck fills, and jivey, slapback-drenched riffs abound, and Vito sings about Cadillacs, loose women, jail, and gambling—essential rockin’ topics—with humor and verve. Plucked on an acoustic, Vito’s snappy Gypsy-jazz lines add a Continental flair to this toneful outing. Streamliner.