Groove Tunes

Friday, 10 June 2011

Jackson C. Frank - Jackson C. Frank

Although certainly not a new album, Jackson C. Frank's self titled album is a fairly recent discovery for me. I have heard his songs for a number of years though, as will many other Nick Drake fans. 

Nick Drake, undoubtedly
a fan
Drake recorded some cover versions of Jackson's songs which, in some ways, became more famous than the originals after the Drake family started to hand out copies to fans which and subsequently made their way on to numerous bootleg releases. 

There is good reason for Nick Drake to record the covers. You can hear Jackson's influence on all of Drake's album, and they share a very similar style. Jackson, like Nick, was a solo singer/guitarist/song writer with some deep roots in both blues and folk. 

The tracks on this album almost seem to be too short even though the are mostly over three minutes long. I think this is because there's something so captivating about his voice, the power and the slight drool quite reminiscent of Tim Buckley. 

This has to be one of the most influential albums of the folk genre, even though a lot of people have never heard of him. The production credit going to Paul Simon certainly attests to the standard of the album, not only in production but also in song writing and musicianship. 

Get this if you haven't heard it before. 

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Ghazal - The Rain

Ghazal is quite an unusual group. Not only because of the style of music that they play but also because of who the members are. Shujaat Khan is part of a musical dynasty.

His legendary family has produced a line of seven generations of musical geniuses. His father, Vilayat Khan, is one of the most highly regarded sitar players ever, a giant in Hindustani music.

As far as I know, Shujaat is the first member of this family to break away from the confines of ragas to explore other genres of music. This is not the first non-raga music that he has made but it could well be the most impressive.

His partner in this project is Kayhan Kalhor, a Kurdish Iranian musician who plays kamancheh. The kamancheh is a Persian violin-like instrument that is not played like a western violin but rather standing up, rested on the leg of the player.

Kayhan is a virtuoso in his own right and makes an excellent match for the skills of Shujaat Khan. They combine to make a formidable super-group.

The music is quite unusual as well. As I mentioned, this is not raga music such as Shujaat is most widely known for. The band is based on the idea of improvising around a blend of North Indian and Persian classical and folk melodies and traditions. This is the last album that they produced and is all recorded live.

The music is spellbinding from the opening chord of Shujaat's sitar. The two players weave around each other like they were born to play together, echoing one melody and then taking it in turns to expand and improvise around the theme. Shujaat also sings in places, always fairly softly but more than enough to be powerful and prominent at the same time.

Needless to say, the sitar playing is stunning, but as is that of the kamancheh. In fact, the range of sounds that Kayhan draws out of his instrument is amazing. He alternates between plucking and bowing, both techniques producing very different sonic effects.

The three songs on this live album are lengthy, with none of them being less than fifteen minutes long, but these two masters know how to keep the interest up and before you know it the track is over. It is simply mesmerising.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Ozric Tentacles - Yum Yum Tree

The Ozric Tentacles have been around for years and years. They have only one remaining original member since they formed two decades ago but have released twenty eight albums in that time. They are one of the most prolific and original bands of the past fifty years yet they have never achieved mainstream fame. 

You could be forgiven for never having heard of Ozric Tentacles. Although giants at an underground level, they are barely known by the majority of people. That said, they are a legendary band and you will almost have heard an artist or group that have taken inspiration from them. 

When I heard that Ozrics were playing in the my city, only a few hours before they were due to walk on stage, I was somewhat surprised. I live about as far away as you can possibly be from their roots in Somerset, England and I didn't expect to ever see them again when I left the UK. 

However, they came to play two shows on consecutive nights, both of which were packed to capacity. It turned out that the band are quite famous here. This is mainly due to the virtuoso guitar skills of Ed, the main founder of Ozrics. 

I had not realised that they had previously released yet another album so soon after the gig I went out and got it. As with all of their albums, I wasn't disappointed. There are a couple of albums that are not as strong as the others but generally you can buy any Ozric album and rest assured that haven't wasted your money. 

I was always fond of the band's line up when they have guy who played flutes and whistles (and occasionally some strange vocals), circa Become The Other, but their sound has become even more refined with the production getting stronger and synths getting more futuristic, if that's possible. 

Yum Yum Tree sounds excellent, the quality of the recording and the production is top notch and the songs themselves match. It is perhaps not as hard as their previous couple of albums as there is a definitely chilled out sound to this one. 

The formula is the same and all the usual components are present, from Ed's incredible guitar licks and leads, to the floaty pads and arpeggiated synths, and the live drumming pushing the Ozric sound somewhere between and beyond the boundaries of psychedelic progressive rock and dance music. The formula works well and the band obviously enjoy playing it so why change it?

The most recent line-up
There is, of course, lots of world music influences throughout the album. This isn't anything new but somehow it still sounds quite fresh, the textures and clarity in the production making everything as clean and well produced as any modern dance music. One track has a reggae/dub skank and, naturally, it spirals off in to psychedelic and hazy aural madness/loveliness. 

Yum Yum Tree doesn't disappoint at all and proves that Ed Wynne and the rest of the band have still got it. If anything I would say they are getting stronger and stronger with experience. They are not veering off in experimental directions as some bands do, they're sticking to what they do best and continuing to do it well, and getting better at it all the time. 


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