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This article was published 11/7/2019 (560 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Happy Crimes (Independent)
Rock operas and progressive rock got a bad rap in punk’s first wave. Pink Floyd’s The Wall did a lot to kill the notion, but it has nevertheless persisted. Mention the phrase and more than a few people still cock a suspicious eyebrow. Never mind the work of, say, Queensrÿche or the career of Coheed and Cambria; Green Day’s American Idiot and F***ed Up’s David Comes to Life or Dose Your Dreams (to name a handful).
All of which is a roundabout way of getting to the fact that local band Trampoline has created a 15-track rock opera of its own, called Happy Crimes (which came out in February, but only just caught the attention of this page), and its conceptual breadth, lyrical depth and audacious musicality should have people singing its praises far and wide.
Trampoline is a power trio fronted by singer/guitarist Michelle Lecnik, with the band’s sound filled out by drummer/percussionist Steve Martens and bassist Joey Penner (formerly of the Waking Eyes). Working with producer Jon Paul Peters, the threesome tells the story of an unnamed protagonist at an existential crossroads — a man convinced of impending apocalypse yet wondering if it’s possible to enjoy "life’s harvest."
As the record unfolds, Happy Crimes’ anti-hero succumbs to desire yet is wracked with doubt and resigned to dread. The tale itself is laced with an impressive litany of Biblical and literary influences while the band’s sonic palette takes in everything from straight-ahead rock to punk-pop to shades of My Chemical Romance via the shredding churn of, say, System of a Down. At the same time, the album is shot through with a panoply of Zappa-esque carnival noises, cinematic narrative passages and turn-on-a-dime time changes.
As guitarist, vocalist and, essentially, lead actor, Lecnik can’t help but be the focus of this performance, and she’s more than up to the task. How Trampoline follows this should be eagerly anticipated
★★★★ out of 5
— John Kendle
STREAM THESE: Don’t You Want Love; Emily’s Tea Party; Apocalypse III
Mixtape Vol. 1 (Blue Élan Records)
Beaumont, Texas guitarist/singer/songwriter Jesse Dayton is a wonder to behold on his latest album Mixtape Vol. 1. On the 10 cover tracks here, Dayton and his crack band mates prove that there can be new life brought to some aging chestnuts.
Ostensibly an Americana artist, Dayton knows his way around the form from a unique personal angle. He worked with Jennings and Cash, toured with L.A. punkers X and has more than 11 solo albums under his busy belt all of which have shown his musical taste to be wide, wild and dangerous. There are not many places you can find an artist willing to tackle Elton John’s Country Comfort and The Cars’ Just What I Needed next to ZZ Tops’ Texas-sized twanger She’s A Heartbreaker and AC/DC howler Whole Lotta Rosie.
For his part Dayton has his tongue firmly out of his cheek and delivers these songs with respect and a kind of newly found dirt-kicking refinement. The Clash’s Bankrobber centres itself on an impressive guitar and bass riff with an I Fought The Law edge to it. Neil Young’s Harvest is even updated to bring it closer to the honky-tonk weeper it really needs to be. On the even more serious side, Dayton infuses Gordon Lightfoot’s If You Could Read My Mind with a down-home reverence, and a melancholy steel guitar and strings section provide emotional heft. The real icing on the cake for our money is his take on U.K. pub-rock titans Dr. Feelgood’s She Does It Right, complete with the perfect trademark Wilko Johnson-informed guitar riff. One can only hope there is further volumes to follow.
★★★★ out of 5
STREAM THESE: She Does It Right; If You Could Read My Mind
Alina Ibragimova & Cédric Tiberghien
Johannes Brahms: Violin Sonatas (Hyperion)
Russian-British violinist Alina Ibragimova teams with French pianist Cédric Tiberghien in this upcoming Hyperion release featuring a trio of Brahms violin sonatas, each infused with the lyrical spirit of the 19th century German composer’s expressive lieder.
First up is the Violin Sonata in G major, Op. 78 — a.k.a. the Regenlied, named after the poetry created by the composer’s friend, Klaus Groth — provides the first taste of the musicians’ simpatico artistry, from the opening Vivace ma non troppo movement through to finale Allegro molto moderato, including melancholic quotes from Brahms’s earlier Lied. Violin Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 100, with its reassuring opening theme first stated by Tiberghien’s solo piano unfolds through musical hills and dells before ending with its longer-spun Rondo.
The players bring out the darker undertones of Violin Sonata in D minor, Op. 108, with their sensitive approach immediately displayed in the first movement’s sotto voce opening bars, as well as the plaintive Adagio movement that follows. The Scherzo is given particularly deft handling, including Tiberghien’s feather-light double stops that add textural interest, before a more forceful, rousing Presto agitato.
However the best is saved for last, with the album paying homage paid to Clara Schumann, wife of composer Robert Schumann, and for whom Brahms famously suffered the pangs of unrequited love throughout his life. The players sensitively breathe life into her introspective Three Romances, Op. 22, expressing through their limpid music-making that which cannot be explained.
★★★★ out of 5
STREAM THESE: Three Romances, Op. 22.
— Holly Harris
The Art Ensemble Of Chicago
We Are On The Edge (Pi)
The Art Ensemble of Chicago is an iconic band which truly shook up the jazz world 50 years ago. This two-CD anniversary release is a fitting tribute to the free jazz and experimental influence of the band. Two original members are part of this reconstituted group — saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell and drummer Famoudou Don Moye. The album is dedicated to the other original members — Lester Bowie, Shaku Joseph Jarman and Malachi Favours Maghostut.
The music of the AEC was always seen as overtly focused on black history, from Africa to the present. This release, which features one CD from a studio session and one CD from a live performance, continues that fact with comments on American social realities and African drumming showing up regularly. This AEC has 17 members (I’ll leave them for you to check if you wish) who clearly understand the legacy they are celebrating. The music often is rhythmically melodic, but this is the AEC, so there is huge dissonance and hard-edged improvisation. There are voiceovers, like in the title track (We Are On The Edge), with a tightly written but unhummable tune. Other voiceovers have a hip-hop style and more aggressive feel.
The overall effect of this extraordinary release is the affection and care that has been taken to reflect the power and unrepentant experimentation of the groundbreaking band of 50 years ago. Like that band, this new iteration takes no prisoners. Not everyone likes the free jazz part of the genre, but it is an important factor in the total picture of the music. The AEC deserves its place in jazz history.
★★★★1/2 stars out of 5
— Keith Black
STREAM THESE: I Greet You With Open Arms; Mama Koko