Four new releases spotlight four diverse visions of artistry, from the samba of Studio Rio to the synth-pop of Philadelphia’s Resistor to the pure clean organic country of Madison King to the jazz of Wolfgang Muthspiel. Feel like experimenting? You can’t go wrong with these four.
Truth be told, I find watching the World Cup about as exciting as watching a paper cup. Best thing so far, though, has been the snippets of music ESPN pumps up.
It’s all from “Studio Rio Presents The Brazil Connection” (Legacy) wherein the producing brothers Berman have given 12 American Beauties a samba makeover. From Bill Withers, Aretha, Marvin Gaye, Lady Day, Sly, Isleys and Mel Torme to Nina Simone, Johnny Nash, Brubeck, Andy Williams and the divine Sarah Vaughan, they all now sport a percussive Brazilian sheen.
If you can get past the oddity of hearing songs like “Summertime” and “I Can See Clearly Now” as bossa novas instead of a Broadway showstopper and reggae, the whole package is quite appealing and mesmerizing in an adventurous and eclectic way.
Madison King is “Onward And Upward” (State Fair Records) on her impressive second CD, showing all those female so-called “country” stars how it’s really done. Her sexy Texas drawl on her own songs makes the 26-year old guitarist a real stand-out and when that banjo, dobro and lap steel combine to swing enough in a ‘grassy jam (as produced by Paul Williams (Polyphonic Spree), it’s a kind of homespun organic magic.
Austrian Wolfgang Muthspiel just might be the greatest guitarist you never heard of. His trio on “Driftwood” (ECM) could have been called “Brilliance Times Three” because double-bassist Larry Grenadier is a monster as is drummer Brian Blades. Muthspiel first played with Grenadier in the great mid-’90s band of vibraphonist Gary Burton. Blades is in the Wayne Shorter Quartet and has helped artists as diverse as Joni Mitchell and Emmylou Harris in the studio.
Recorded in Oslo, Norway, “Driftwood” starts with a tribute to Joe Zawinul of Weather Report. “Joseph” — and the album-ending “Bossa For Michael Brecker” — are perfect snapshot ways to hail an influence. I’d like to hear more of one-track tributes (as opposed to the standard multi-artist long-form projects.)
Muthspiel, 49, divides the eight tracks into acoustic and electric trips. On “Cambiata,” he delicately fingerpicks a moody cinematic scene for a movie that doesn’t exist invoking Italian composer Ennio Morricone in the process. The title track is played “free,” composed in the moment, a total improvisatory whirlwind. He told Blades to follow his lead on “Lichtzelle” and the duet could be seen as a tribute to legendary French composer Olivier Messiaen [1908-1992]. Blades, in his own ingenious way, comes up with some atmospheric percussion despite never having heard the piece before. This is unique, lulling, surprising, adventurous, eclectic and passionate music, certainly worth taking a chance on.
“First World Problems” (self-released) by Resistor goes down easy. It’s a funny trip-hoppin’ slice of synthpop from a Philadelphia weirdo, Steve Goldberg, whose way with a written word slices and dices the conundrum of celebrity on such songs as “Narcissist,” “Insecure,” “All I Want To Do Is Strum My Ukulele,” “Vincent Van Gogh,” “Choose Your Parents Well” and six others.
It’s a man and his machine as the synths bubble, burble, blip, bleep and coalesce into the kind of old new wave reminiscent of The Human League and OMD. Hey, this isn’t exactly my cup of meat but between the creative words that dig and needle plus the anti-human sound of the non-metal machine music, a plausible alternate-universe genre is reached that acts as a buffer for all the organic blues, country, rock, folk and jazz I listen to…sorta like cleansing your palate with the ginger slices at the Japanese restaurant. (www.resistorsings.com)