Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Superb five star review of Heath Common & the Lincoln 72s by Nick Toczek in RnR July/Aug 2017

Over several CDs, Bill Byford, lyricist and frontman of Heath Common, has been mining his past. The songs, each of which forms a succinct chapter of what's becoming a fragmentary sung autobiography, form an unique record of life in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
Latest addition, Heath Common, offering five episodes each from his childhood in early-60s Halifax and his later years in late-60s and 70s Notting Hill Gate, is the best yet, featuring a far fuller sound employing an impressive array of musicians and singers.
Of the five Halifax songs, the standout 'Spirit of Ogden' encapsulates his vivid, almost filmic, evocations, while 'Mixenden I'm coming Home' shows touching affection.
By way of contrast, the more objective London quintet recalls Beat culture, starting with the upbeat and celebratory 'Satori in the Sky'. This is followed by his paen - set in the early 80s - to seminal artists 'Basquiat and Warhol', the former then in tragic drug-addled decline. 'Still Howling' recalls the mid-60s Poetry Olympics at the Royal Albert Hall, organised by Michael Horovitz and featuring, among many others, Beat icon Allen Ginsberg. Suffused with healthy tongue-in-cheek cynicism, Byford's detailed audio-pictures are so much more than mere rose-tinted nostalgia. Strongly recommended!

Monday, 18 September 2017

Brilliant five star review of Closer to You by Trevor Watts' Amalgam by Philip Clark in Jazzwise 220!

It's good to have this one back. Originally released by Ogun Records in 1979, Closer to You features the trio incarnation of Trevor Watts' Amalgam born after table-top guitarist Keith Rowe left the group following the release of their mighty albums Over the Rainbow and Wipe Out.
Sans Rowe, the textures and structural manoeuvres are cleaner and more directly etched. 'De Dublin Ting' - take no notice of the decidedly Father Ted-like title - is a rollicking piece of badass harmolodic funk in which Watts plays Russian roulette with displaced beats, while 'Keep Right' develops as a stately blues-immersed ritual. Amalgam had always been the place where Watts ran with compositional ideas that would have felt alien to the work he was pursuing with John Stevens in the Spontaneous Music Ensemble and the extended 'South of Nowhere (With Quiet Beginnings)'has an air of composerly architecture as those quiet, whispered beginnings evolve into granite sounds. The 20-minute 'Dear Roland' (Kirk presumably) slowly develops into a stark, relentless procession, led by saxophone multiphonics that grind against and are illuminated by, resonant metallic percussion. This reissue comes supplemented by five previously unheard tracks from the same session - sketches for what finally emerged.

Heath Common poetry reading in Paris 19/9

As part of the European Beat Studies Network Festival, Heath Common will be reading at Berkeley Books, at 8 Rue Casimir, Delavigne, Paris on the evening of September 19th.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

HyperViolet by Johnny Butler - excellent review at Jazzchill Blogspot

HyperViolet is a space. It is a destination. HyperViolet is the hollowness behind aching, arching light glancing off half-hidden spires and metallic mountaintops. In HyperViolet, Brooklyn-based saxophonist and electronicist Johnny Butler has found his perfect medium, his perfect space within the sound of his own life. Combining pop sensibilities with avant-garde yearnings, Butler has created a world within a world, and it is a glorious place within which to get lost.

"It is its own little eco-system, a forest of its own, growing with its own organic rules," explains Butler. "I hate when music is in its box and that's it. I hate conservative creative behavior. The album has an electronic angle but I want it to sound real too though. I want real people playing organic music."

The result is a forty-four minute, hard-hitting tour-de-force that explores the depths of depression, the ravages of creativity, the brilliance of overexertion, and the final serenity of embracing closure. Whirling through myriad musical environments, Butler and his band (bassist Michael Feinberg, guitarist Jeff Miles, drummer Bram Kincheloe, alto saxophonist JJ Byars, and keyboardist Dov Manski -- along with special guests including Kassa Overall, Raycee Jones, Tecla, Sister Sparrow, Todd Reynolds, and Jackson Kincheloe, and mastering from Daddy Kev) paint in strokes that cut deep, leaving the listener hanging over a precipice of musical motion, waiting for the cliff edge to crumble.

That mastery of time and timbre is no accident for the Seattle-born Butler, who as a young man found himself drawn to the tension and passion of seemingly unconnected genres of music. "Even though I grew up in the jazz world, I used to judge the quality of any band based on how many people were moshing," recollects Butler of those wild, early days. "If some band was playing and no one was moshing, I would just walk out. Maybe I'm in the wrong community, now. But at the right kind of gig I still get the occasional guy going buck wild." That wildness lies at the heart of everything Butler does. And now, after years giving himself to other people's projects -- including being a founding member of the Brooklyn-based soul rock band Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds, plus accruing writing and arranging credits for such artists as Beyoncé, on the Grammy Award winning Love on Top -- Butler is ready to take his biggest step yet in bringing his unique, bridge-like ideas and songs into the world.

"I have this crazy creative energy that if it is not getting used, it sort of turns inward and becomes a self-destructive feeling. I was channeling all of this emotional energy into all these songs and creating something out of it rather than having it turned inward. I have to be doing this," Butler says with a smile. "After committing myself to this music, to my own vision, I had this crazy writing period where I was writing a ton of music. I wrote, like, five hundred songs. Things for myself, chamber pieces, pieces for other people, beats, remixes..."

Butler was on a hot streak and began enlisting as many friends as he could to play and collaborate on his overflow of ideas, which culminated in HyperViolet being recorded in stages, with each musician adding their own special touch to Butler's initial vision. "It's sort of like each person came in and spilled their guts. Everyone was so honest and vulnerable. It made the record come to life in a way I'd never imagined."

"Crossing the River" and "Jump" both feature rapper Kassa Overall. The former uses immense space to support Overall's syrupy flow. Incidental chatter and Todd Reynolds' ethereal violin push and pull the listener through the former's hazy reality while the latter digs even deeper into the hip-hop realm. "I think Kassa is exploring a lot of ideas that have to do with staying and going. Don't stay or don't leave. It's all about trying to control the situation," says Butler. "He thought he knew what he was writing but there is so much more depth that I don't think he initially saw what had formed. You can hear the process very clearly. You can hear Kassa drinking. I wanted that to be part of it. That kind of stuff is my favorite: the seams of the music where you see the canvas a little bit like Monet in his old age where you can see the brushstrokes."

If there's a tune on this album that can fill the dance floor it is "What It Deserves." Butler uses beats and the charms of vocalist Tecla to provide a forum to both riff and cut loose over a rising storm of percussion. "Crake's Dream" is a pensive build-up of beeping keyboards behind the intricate twists and turns of vocalist Bridget Davis' tightly harmonized lead. The title is derived from Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel Oryx and Crake. "Flipper Wants Out" was one of Butler's first tunes for the record and features his former band-mates from Sister Sparrow. Jackson Kinechole's wheezing harmonica appears to emanate from a Martian juke joint before vocalist Arleigh Kinechole snarls a firm request for a little personal space. Butler's horns swirl with downtown attitude, chomping at the air in tight formation.

HyperViolet is an eclectic debut riddled with creative insights and original horn work with Butler hanging in the back as often as he is in the spotlight. Each pluck of a string and tap of a pad is given its own room to breathe in a space that can be brimming with ideas. Butler knows that the all encompassing vibe only makes him stronger so he is happy to share, soloing when it feels right and laying back with an embracing pillow of thick harmonies and unexpected beats for friends and band-mates.

With his roots in the Pacific Northwest, his feet firmly planted in Brooklyn, his mind turned towards strangely swirling lands, and his saxophone unsheathed and ready to slay, Johnny Butler has -- with the release of HyperViolet -- announced himself as a true force in this musical landscape.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Trevor Watts Amalgam - Closer to You reviewed by Tim Owen at Dalston Sound

Trevor Watts formed the first Amalgam in 1967 during time out from the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, which he’d co-founded earlier that same decade. After recording the first Amalgam album he turned his focus back to the SME until the mid-1970s before re-forming Amalgam, initially with a shifting lineup.
Drummer Liam Genockey first joined for the fourth Amalgam album, Another Time (1976). Bassist Colin McKenzie came on board for 1977’s Samanna. The same year’s Mad was their first outing trio outing, with Closer To You being recorded the following year.
Guitarist Keith Rowe later made up a quartet for Over the Rainbow and Wipe Out (both 1979), which Thurston Moore has cited as influential on the nascent Sonic Youth. Watts, however, subsequently took a more rhythmic direction, fusing jazz, African percussion and elements of Reichian minimalism with his various Moiré Music groups, only lately returning to freer music in partnership with pianist Veryan Weston.
This is the first reissue of Closer To You in any format since its initial release on Ogun, and Hi4Head have expanded it, adding five previously unreleased titles to the original four.
As the 1979 liner notes say, nothing here is slack. “The mood, feel and structure, as well as the themes” were all predetermined, so: “Precise timing is the essence … the musicians are always conscious of the pulse and know exactly where they have to lay down their lines in relation to it.”
‘De Dublin Ting’ makes for an urgent opening salvo. It’s a compact performance, and more uptempo than much of what follows. Watts’ impassioned sax sounds tart against McKenzie’s ruggedly pliant bass work as the trio twist and turn through knotty exchanges and tempo shifts.
For its first four minutes, ‘South of Nowhere (With Quiet Beginnings)’ (10:20) is a bluesy, twilight number, but then it restarts, propelled urgently along a bubbling electric bass line.
The album sounds pretty good for its age, but these uptempo passages expose a thin, boxy sound that particularly affects Genockey’s drums. Otherwise the sound is vividly immediate, and Watts has done a good job of re-mastering.
Amalgam never sound like straight fusion in the sense that, say, Ian Carr’s Nucleus did; yet though their sound has a distinctly modern jazzy, almost Harmolodic edge, it also evidences Watts’ feel for African rhythms and the rhythm section’s grounding in progressive rock and R&B.
Genockey had a prog background. Within months of recording this album he’d be recruited by ex Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan into the first incarnation of Gillan, and he’s been a member of Steeleye Span since 1989. McKenzie’s work as a session player in the 80s and 90s would see him backing the likes of Billy Ocean and Ruby Turner. But the Amalgam trio’s relationship was evidently tight, and for over a decade from the early 90s McKenzie and Genockey provided the bedrock of the Ghanaian rhythm-influenced Moiré Music Drum Orchestra.
The foundations are laid here, with the three musician’s parts interlocking, independent but not bound. That allows them to keep a track like ‘Keep Right’ (4:40) simple, Watts wrapping licks around the rhythmists’ mid-tempo rocking ebb-and-flow.
The original album’s concluding opus is something else. ‘Dear Roland’ (19:37) moves from a near silence studded by metallic percussion, vibrations tapped out on detuned bass strings, and raspy multi-phonic sax licks (which sound lie they’re played live á la Rahsaan Roland Kirk than overdubbed) to only slightly more concentrated intensities. While Genockey moves from snare to lightly malleted toms, McKenzie sets up a constant shimmer of overlapping tones, making his bass reverberate like a prepared piano harp.
Only in its final third does the piece slip into a firmer but still somnolent groove, as Watts moves from a simple melody etched in circular breaths – sounding overtly like Kirk now, so no doubts as to the dedication – to a firmer line souring in tone as the backing dissolves in peak abstraction, then finding new melancholia in an almost solo coda.
‘Dear Roland’ is a remarkable piece that prefigures an approach to sound and texture that’s only recently gained wider currency in contemporary improvised music.
The five ‘bonus’ cuts – four of which are around four minutes long – return us to the terrain of jazz-rock-fusion. The urgency of ‘Mad’ prefigures post-bop in a post-Zorn universe, particularly given its abrupt segue into the louche noir of ‘Seaside Blues’. Watts dredges up some steamy blues licks here, occasionally pushing into the red with loud, piercing cries.
‘Albert Like’ chugs along in gutbucket blues style, keeping closer to the groove than anything on its dedicatee Albert Ayler’s New Grass. There are more sudden transitions here, and some tape hiss that (pleasingly) evokes intimacy with the source tapes.
‘Bottle Alley’ (7:49) sounds like an open-ended improvisation, but its tamped-down tensions are subtly and creatively modulated and expertly released – Watts wailing hoarsely against relatively restrained backing, which is an Amalgam speciality – making it perhaps my favourite cut after ‘Dear Roland’.
The rousing ‘Latino Flo’ is the album’s shortest, tightest and funkiest cut, with McKenzie thumb-popping bass notes to nail the groove.
The extra cuts here do more than pad the album out. They flesh out the scope of the session. I wouldn’t argue with the initial track selection, but the expanded Hi4Head reissue adds real meat to what is anyways a significant item in Watts’ criminally under-appreciated discography.
Trevor Watts – alto and soprano saxophones; Colin McKenzie – bass guitar; Liam Genockey drums.

Closer to You by Trevor Watts Amalgam reviewed by Stewart Smith in The Wire 401

Reissued for the first time, 1979's Closer to You finds Trevor Watts blowing over superbad grooves and slinky blues riffs. 'De Dublin Ting' is a tight bit of free funk, with drummer Liam Genockey racing through Clyde Stubblefield-meets-Rashied Ali grooves. Colin McKenzie's in the pocket bass guitar provides an anchor, but can be a little stodgy, lagging behind Genockey's tearaway drumming. 'South of Nowhere' opens with McKenzie playing John McLaughlin-esque harmonics under Watts's soulful alto, before an angular groove heralds a leap into freedom. A 19 minute tribute to Roland Kirk, 'Dear Roland' begins with Watts playing two horns over understated bass throbs, resonant gongs and rumbling toms. With shades of Miles Davis's 'He loved him Madly' it's the album's clear highlight, with gorgeously mournful playing from Watts.

Heath Common & the Lincoln 72s - review at With Guitars.com

Kerouac-songwriter and former Melody Maker journalist Heath Common returns to his roots with new album ‘Heath Common And The Lincoln 72s’ – out via Hi4head Records on June 26th.
Heath Common has always been on the move. From birth, he and his family began a life of constant traveling, from place-to-place, throughout Britain, never staying in any one area for too long. Despite this somewhat ‘rootless’ existence certain spots have made a lasting impression on Heath’s creative formation, in particular, Halifax, West Yorkshire and Notting Hill Gate, West London.
Born in Normanton, West Yorkshire, Heath Common began a fabled musical career after relocating to the infamous All Saints Road, Notting Hill. From there, he soon found himself touring in New York City – performing with the legendary Robert Lockwood and Johnny Shines – the stepson and close friend, of seminal blues musician, Robert Johnson.
After becoming immersed in the ‘Art Rock’ scene of the 1980s and early 1990s, Heath formed a partnership with kindred spirit Christopher Halliwell. The duo went to work with a number of diverse musicians, ranging from guitarist John Fahey to the British indie act The Rhythm Sisters. Still exploring life, the former Melody Maker journalist, published poet and now a recognised authority of the era, Heath Common continues to work closely with many of the surviving figures from the original Beat Movement.
The songs on latest release ‘Heath Common And The Lincoln 72s’ document the stories and characters emerging from those times. From West Yorkshire to the East Village, it’s an album designed to celebrate a lost world featuring, amongst others, a psychotic bouncer, a faded beauty queen and an out-of-time beat. Rooted in the past whilst sounding out a future – hey, maybe it’s finally time to trust a hippy!