= April 2021 =  
 
Silver Stairs of Ketchikan
 Djinn
 Jorge Elbrecht
 Rostro Del Sol
 Trace Imprint
 The Insektlife Cycle
 An Upside Down Tree
 Francisco Mora Catlett
 Katie Spencer
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


SILVER STAIRS OF KETCHIKAN - EDEIDA
(Vinyl/CD/Digital from bandcamp.com)

Anyone taking inspiration from a work by Richard Brautigan is bound to be blessed with a high degree of discernment. And so it comes to pass. Named after the late, great author’s poem, Silver Stairs of Ketchikan is the long-standing if only occasionally dusted-off solo venture of Bristol-based Charlie Romijn. She will perhaps be better known to The Reader for fronting Thought Forms and who, in both her band and solo incarnations, graced our two Woolf events (and in fact played a pivotal role in organising the first of those).

Both lyrically and musically, EDEIDA has the appearance of a defiantly bleak and personal take on life, love and all who sail in her, flashing a thoroughly satisfying two fingers (or middle finger if you happen to be reading this west of The Pond) to the idea that, post-lockdown, we must all join in the happy-clap. Not here, no sir. Down with the upbeat, this one’s for the gloomsters, and quite beautiful shadows it casts, too.  

The lead singles taken from the album serve as the pair of opening moves, with ‘Old God’s Tongue’ sounding for all the world like a much more interesting, doom laden take on Ultravox’s ‘Vienna’, regular band mate Guy Metcalfe channelling the sort of cavernous drum sound that John Bonham used to beat out of The Grange’s corridors. The dense gravitational thudding is offset by melodic keys, which, again, mischievously echoes the aforementioned Ure-rhythmics (or were they another lot?). ‘Golden’ represents another reassuringly desolate fumble through the murk, a dollop of dark psychedelic folk as hauntingly beautiful as it is unnerving. It’s hardly the type of sound for which you require an algorithm to calculate your BPM’s, yet unbelievably, ‘Passager’ manages to take things down a notch or two; a dirge-like incantation with ominous background accompaniment of the kind that prefaces a murder in Midsomer, latterly fleshed out with bass and some slappy drums. By contrast, ‘Child Smile Eyes’ has more of a lilting melody, trading on a repetitive, ascending guitar line which serves as a languid to the point of can’t-be-arsed instrumental mantra and with beguiling, vocals, wordlessly cooing away deep down in the mix.

The closest concession to catchiness here is the title track, a gorgeously refined serving of acid folk. You could get lost in those woods and never find your way out, not that you’d wish to. True to form though, the pastoral idyll won’t last the course, gathering pace and giving the impression of being hunted by assailant unknown.  ‘Pylon’ is another alluring, swoon-some bumble through the darkly delicious world of Meg Baird on downers, while, built on a drone ‘Of Dried Grass; On The Ground’ deploys mournful, layered harmonies that sound like the Unthanks gathering together at twilight to mediate on some family tragedy.

With new Thought Forms materials appearing as infrequently as tax rebates, this one not just marks time but, to its huge credit, succeeds in slaking the thirst. So what if it’s relentlessly downbeat, who honestly cares? I’m done with all that cosmetic happiness, which, much like caffeine, gives you an all too temporary buzz before you land nose first on the flagstones of reality. This, on the other hand, is substantial and deeply invigorating. Posties won’t whistle it and you probably won’t name that tune in one, but what it does have is that deliciously special Hex Factor. All is well here in Doomsterville.
(Ian Fraser)
 

DJINN – TRANSMISSION
(LP/DL from Rocket Recordings)

Hello, and welcome to Jazz Club...

Another variant strain of the Hills/Goat collective, Sweden’s Djinn trade in a blend of globetrotting and cosmically inclined jazz that, over eight succinct tracks, performs a finely poised balancing act between tasteful restraint and wild abandon. Melding the soundtrack to Noggin the Nog with the moodier recesses of the ECM catalogue, the spiritual ‘Sun Ooze’ provides the gentle introductory offer, presaging the skipping ‘Creator’, with it hints of Minami Deutsch’s ‘Tangled Yarns’. Here the ululating sax and vocals provide topping for a devotional post-Coltrane sound, the exploratory skronking held fast to its mooring by an unfussy, locked-in rhythm section. It’s a more feral cousin of the scene that has also found an unlikely home in the North West of England - think Nat Birchall and Matthew Halsall gone slightly off the rails.

There are distinct nods to Kosmische in its various forms with the title tracks affecting Popul Vuh-style pastoral classicism with it ethereal synth washes, while ‘Nights With Krupi’ is an imagining of how Can might have sounded had they branched into World Music (just waiting to be reminded that they did, and that this sounded nothing like it).  ‘Jaguar’ swaps ‘Krupi’s’ trilling flute for tenor sax, the measured approach of the first half becoming ever wilder as the finish line looms into sight.  For much of the time ‘Urm The Mad’ appears anything but - a gentle Balinese excursion until, like ‘Jaguar’ all hell breaks loose, tribal thumping punctuating the sort of free-form blowing  that might have elicited a grunt of approval from Albert Ayler. The delicately atmospheric ‘Love Divine’ provides another of those infrequent and indistinct vocal outings, the flute once more to the fore before stumps, courtesy of the exotically reflective ‘Orpheus’. If only all “mindfulness” was like this.

There is a tendency with inspirational, expressive jazz workouts to descend into extended jams, where the run out grooves serve as escape lanes. Not so here, where compositional discipline ensures a greater breadth of listening experience and, ultimately, more bang for your buck. Add to all that a download of Djinn’s hitherto cassette-only ‘Avant de Servir’ EP release and this is a gimme if ever there was .

...Grrrrreat

Ian Fraser



JORGE ELBRECHT – PRESENTABLE CORPSE 002

(LP/Digital on bandcamp)

 

Jorge Elbrecht is a talented multi-instrumentalist born in Costa Rica, and currently bopping back and forth between there, New York and LA.  He claims to be the victim of a more than ten-year cognitive decline and mental splitting into at least four distinct musical identities.  This malady has allegedly aged him by three decades and left him wheelchair-bound, in a shawl with scruffy hair and beard, supervised by nurses.  His body of work is overseen by an Estate, whose executor was kind enough to release this wonderful album.

 

Whether eccentric persona, true life or something else altogether, Elbrecht’s album is fabulous sunshiny psych-pop from start to finish.  And perhaps given his supposed split musical personality syndrome, or maybe morbid sense of humor, the melodies and tunes are all upbeat sugary snacks, while the lyrics are a concept album about a soldier in the Vietnam War, brimming with darkness, pain, fear and loss.  If you listen to the album, you’ll get that first part of what I wrote – about it being full of upbeat pop psych.  But if you’re one of those listeners who doesn’t listen closely to the lyrics on the first pass, I’m guessing you’d never pick up the second part about the Vietnam soldier story unless you were forewarned, though some of the song titles, like “Blocking Out the Horror” and “Run & Hide” and the image of soldiers playing instruments on the cover point in that direction.

 

But to the album.  Elbrecht is a master songwriter, musician, arranger and producer.  The album’s musical disposition can trace its lineage to The Turtles, The Association, The Byrds, or modern descendants like Triptides or The Resonars.  Elbrecht’s greatest talent is as vocal arranger.  The songs herein contain incredible, amazing, sensational harmonies – all by Elbrecht.  Those harmonies, lush, full and emasculated with a liberal dose of reverb, envelop you in a comforting hug.  There’s something about the harmonies – when you hear them on one song, they bring a smile to your face, but when they keep going for 40 minutes, you’re in a state of prolonged bliss.

 

Elbrecht has a strong cast of supporting musicians such as drummer James Barone and flautist Ben Donehower, but it is he who plays most of the instruments.  While not listed, it appears to be a varied assortment of guitars, bass, and keyboards.

 

Highlights – all of them ultra-catchy and would’ve been sure hits if we had a time machine – include the bouncy “Tuesday Morning,” jangle-and-harmony fest “Ancient Grief,” and poignant string ballad “Brittle Vines Break” (Elbrecht plays everything on this one).  “Run and Hide” is a 12-string Rickenbacker ’66 Byrds meet Beach Boys cut that is somehow simultaneously sweet and peppy with dark undertones.  “The Springtime Brigade” is another favorite – an indelible melody The Association couldn’t have harmonized any better that turns into a (somewhat) heavier rock song in the denouement.  But really, every song is nearly letter perfect.

 

Presentable Corpse 002 is one of my favorite records of this young year (and in case you’re wondering, yes, there was a Presentable Corpse 001 in his distant catalogue, but you might have to ask the executor of his estate’s permission to hear it).  In this release, Jorge Elbrecht shows he’s as brilliant at composing, playing and putting together a memorable, engaging tune as they come.  Check it out now.

 

(Mark Feingold)



ROSTRO DEL SOL – ROSTRO DEL SOL

(CD/Digital on LSDR Records)

 

On Rostro del Sol’s debut album, they join the storied history of great Mexican psych bands, courtesy of Mexico’s LSDR – that’s Loud, Slow and Distorted Riffs Records to you and me.  And what a fabulous debut it is.

 

Rostro del Sol – literally “Face of the Sun” - this heavy instrumental band veers from genre to genre, often within the same song, where it’s always 1968-1972 on the calendar.  They’re anchored mostly by the incendiary guitar work of Mitch Balaant.  Balaant and his trusty axe will distort, scream, gently weep and wah-wah your troubles away.

 

On opener “Effect of Creation” a Jon Lord-esque Hammond intro by Baruch Hernandez gives way to a “21st Century Schizoid Man” like horn section with Dan Samhain on sax, then onto an ELP-meets-Yes prog showdown, followed by a dizzying Mitch Balaant guitar freakout extraordinare.  And that’s just in the first few minutes.  It keeps going(!) into a Balaant-Hernandez funky guitar and organ break reminiscent of early Santana.  The Santana and King Crimson vibes continue as reprises throughout the album.

 

Allow me a brief interlude, as I’m listening while I’m typing – DAAAAAAMN, that Mitch Balaant can bloody play!

 

Sorry ‘bout that.  Almost pulled a muscle playing air guitar.  Now, where were we?  Ah, yes, “Backyard’s Blues” opens with Balaant playing some just sick, scorching guitar again.  This segues 90 degrees into some dirty, funky, chunky Tex-Mex blues a la ZZ Top or Stevie Ray Vaughn, before Balaant and Hernandez switch back to the heavy stuff.  The rhythm section of Israel Mejía on bass and drummer Demian Burgos bring their strengths to the fore.

 

On “Bop C Sketches” we get a return to a Santana vibe, mellow this time, but you just know that won’t last too long, don’t you, and it doesn’t.  What can I say?  Mitch Balaant grabs ahold of the song and it’s off to the races again with some sizzling lead guitar, leaping from there back to prog, then more of that doggone acid rock.  The sections highlighting saxophone player Dan Samhain, in addition to early King Crimson, bring shades of Sendelica, Gong, and Hot Rats-era Frank Zappa.  Another duel between Balaant and Hernandez on guitar and Hammond and our brains are splattered on the floor.

 

“Tales… I-III” starts out with Balaant on acoustic guitar and looks to be the obligatory token quiet piece, and, well, um, sorry, no.  Very soon we’re back on the prog and jazz fusion train, with some nice Mellotron, followed by some face-melting guitar.  An Allman Brothers “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”-like section rides us out to the finish.

 

Closer “Cynical Mind” was released a few months earlier as a single.  It’s kind of their “Soul Sacrifice” or “Moby Dick.”  The track’s musical themes touch many of the above genres, mostly Crimson meets Allman Brothers, bookending a drum solo by Demian Burgos.

 

Besides the touchstones mentioned above, if you love Terrascope fave Icarus Peel’s Acid Reign - and really who doesn’t? – you’ll take heartily to these lads from south of the border.  Rostro del Sol is off swimmingly to a hot start, and we can’t wait to hear more. Though their influences are many and easy to distinguish, in the end they’re their own band, full of originality and purpose, surprises, and that special spark.  Finally, we must doff our caps to Elena Ibañez for her imaginative cover art.  It would fit well in the trippy Netflix series “The Midnight Gospel” and works perfectly for this album.

 

(Mark Feingold)



TRACE IMPRINT – GOLITHA FALLS 

Available on Limited edition vinyl LP from traceimprint.bandcamp.com  

 

Trace Imprint is the musical project of West Country musician Jon Chinn, who on this new LP plays all manner of instruments, including guitars, keyboards, electronics, fretless bass, xylophone, melodic, gobichand, vocals and field recordings and he is joined by Dan Gunning who plays drums, tabla, djembe, shakers and hand claps. This LP is for all intent and purposes an instrumental album barring a little singing on ‘Gravity’.

 

Inspired by his Dartmoor surroundings and specifically by Golitha Falls, a lovely part of the river Fowey which glistens and glides through an area which is now a national nature reserve where he regularly walks his dog. The Full release available on Bandcamp is of a multimedia project, which includes a 30 minute film also entitled Golitha Falls plus a download with spoken word by award winning actress Maxine Peake who reads the Edward Thomas poem The Bridge and Patrick Aston.  

 

The album begins with a short piece entitled ‘Sweet Morning’ an awakening alive with the sound of birdsong, then we are into the album proper with ‘Interlude’ tabla and arcing fretless bass underpinned by electronics weaves its way merrily downstream. ‘Procession To Succession’ follows, a progressive ‘Sound Of Music’ motif is playfully suggested and Jon’s fluid guitar work pours itself across this quite lengthy track sounding a little like an outtake from Fish Rising the Steve Hillage album, which is quite apt really as it also alludes to watery themes. ‘Canopy Communication’ a short interlude is a little unsettling, like the sun suddenly disappearing behind a big cloud. ‘Systems Built On Boundaries That Are No Longer Relevant’ suggest a gradual return to nature, of structures being overgrown with leafy tendrils. This first side ends with the short ‘Jackdaws Circle At Dusk’ sounding like a synthesised camping nightmare.

 

Side two unfurls with ‘As The Light Returns, We Radiate Colours’ as gentle acoustic guitars, electronics and bass swirl around joined by some terrific electric slide guitar and twinkling percussion. It’s a lengthy piece which wouldn’t be too out of place on a Basho or Fahey album, albeit a much more modern sounding one. Another lengthy piece entitled ‘Gravity Is The Expression Of The Size Of Creation’ follows this. As we drowsily amble by the riverside I see more fish rising with some fluid progressive electric guitar movements, electronics and sympathetic drums. The record ends with a short cosmic sigh called ‘Mother’. This is a really fine piece of work, which I shall be returning to quite  regularly.  

 

(Andrew Young)



THE INSEKTLIFE CYCLE – SPECTACLE OF DREAMS

LP available from www.sugarbushrecords.com 

This is a compilation album of tracks appearing on Vinyl for the first time from instrumental psych rock band Insektlife Cycle. The is from the Philippines, and they have so far put out a couple of albums and singles, on labels such as Mega Dodo, Fruits De Mer and El Ron Del Mundo. The band is made up by members Ronaldo S. Vivo Jr, Ronnel Vivo, Jay Jumawan and Joy Legason.

Opener ‘Unicycle Monologue’ sets out their stall with a rifftastic, prog rock song which doesn’t do what you expect it too, never quite taking off but steadily motoring along. The following ‘Schizodelia’ takes off straight away, plenty of spindly psychedelic lead guitar pursuing heavenly spirals of glistening electric strings, again it has a central riff which the band return to throughout its duration, I am reminded of the American group Ruby formed by Tom Fogerty from Creedence Clearwater I believe, which British people may know from the track BART which was used by the BBC to accompany test cards. The first side ends with ‘Dreams Unrecalled’ an excellent, psychedelic progressive rock song which the band cooks up a storm to.

‘Sleep Crawler’ which begins side two is particularly good, heavenly electric guitars, a super tight rhythm section, Ronnel and Jay’s guitars playing is intuitive and fabulous throughout. ‘Forbidden Earth Dance’ does that great thing of taking off halfway through mutating into something entirely different before returning to its central melody. ‘Insekt Circus’ rocks like a bastard, another prog rock song invested with a high dose of psychedelia. The band are very intuitive and seemingly feed off each other, driving the songs along as one, much like a shoal of fish twisting and turning as one. The album ends with the brilliant ‘Tristful Ecstasy’. There are only 200 copies of this in existence and they won’t hang around long, so do yourself a favour and get one, it’s a terrific album.   

(Andrew Young)


AN UPSIDE DOWN TREE – SUNSHINE AT THE CAFE RIDARD

Self-released vinyl LP available from https://anupsidedowntree.bandcamp.com

This is the second album from Erik Moore and Annabella Maneljuk, the first was under a slightly different moniker being released as Journey To The Upside Down Tree. For this outing Annabella plays keyboards, melodic, glockenspiel percussion and vocals and Erik handles the bass, guitars, thumb piano keyboards, percussion, Balafon and vocals and again just like last time Mark Hill adds Korg MS20 and filtered radio synthscapes with George Harris additional vocals and Charlie Moore adding drums to a couple of tracks. It was recorded at the Sydenham Opera house studio in Crystal Palace.

The first album was a very organic sounding album which I enjoyed immensely and this has the same well recorded sound with plenty of space for the instruments, it sounds very good. Over a twinkling percussive bed with deep expressive bass, guitar and melodic, overlayed with synth the opening song pootles along merrily, it’s almost an instrumental start with just a vocal sample employed a couple of times. A village bell introduces the title track which follows; again it’s rich in percussion and bass. They do have a unique sound which I find hard to describe, a sort of electronic acoustic dubby folk kind of thing with plenty of space.  A filigree guitar bubbles away in ‘Travelling Alone In A World Full Of People’, rich with African accents and lightly billowing synth. The first side ends with ‘Something Happened And Our World Disappeared’ and a full drum kit is employed, a spoken word song with plenty of bubbling synth.

Side two continues with ‘The Perfect Plan’ a spoken word narrative that adds a soft folksy singing part by Annabella, and sparse injections of guitar and melodic, it’s a spooky folk song. This is followed by ‘Skipping Rope’ a spidery tune with plenty of expressive bass guitar and keyboards. ‘Jam At The End Of The World’ is the other song to employ a full drum kit, a lazily spun, deliciously dreamy narcoleptic tune. ‘I’m..... (Singing In The Bath)’ follows, another spoken word song delivered in a slightly bored world weary way by Erik as plenty of percussion and expressive bass provide a musical bed. The album ends with ‘Kiss That Warm Smile’ sung by Annabella, a charming song, soufflé light with a start stop motion, again rich in lightly dubby bass, piano spacey synth and guitar.  

(Andrew Young)



FRANCISCO MORA CATLETT – MORA! I & II

(LP/CD/Digital on Far Out Recordings)

 

Mexican-American percussionist Francisco Mora Catlett has re-released his ultra-rare 1987 LP Mora!, originally a private press release, and the even rarer follow-up recorded in the years after, but inexplicably shelved for decades.  He’d released it in 2005 as a now nearly forgotten CD called River Drum on a tiny label, but now both albums finally receive a proper full release with the treatment they so richly deserve.

 

Mora was born in Washington DC to a pair of Mexican bohemian artist parents, and grew up in Mexico City.  After spending time as a session musician for Capitol Records in 1968, he went to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, graduating in 1973.  Back he went to Mexico City, where he started making plans as a working musician and artist.  But fate had other plans in store from him when Sun Ra and his Arkestra came to town to perform, and ended up sweeping Mora away in the Arkestra for the next seven years.  I’m sure he must have amazing stories to tell about those heady days.  Space may be the place, but Detroit is where Mora settled down, and recorded what would be the ‘Mora! I’ album.

 

It's a joyful celebration of Afro-Cuban-American percussion-heavy rhythmic jazz, tying together many of the influences Mora absorbed over the years throughout the New World.  The expansive “Afro Jum” introduces many of the themes Mora would re-visit again and again throughout the two albums, each time with more exuberance.  The festive “Rumba Morena” is one of the highlights of ‘Mora! I.’  It’s got Afro-Cuban written all over it, with lovely vocals by Mora’s wife Teresa.  The percussion bursting from the Rumba is frankly astonishing:  Mora on conga and tumba, and Teresa on wooden rods developed in Cuba called claves; then through overdubs, Mora on the bata drum and a traditional drum kit; timbales, bells, more congas and finally steel drums by Emilio Borde to really put you in the mood.  Teresa’s alluring vocals appear again on the misty “Five AM.”  It’s a muzzy Five AM at the end of an enchanting evening (of course, it’s jazz!), not the dawn of a new day.  Whistles usher in the conga line and contagious joy of “Samba de Amor.”  It’s a marching party of a track, with Teresa’s vocals and steel drums returning for the carnival, a rumbling piano solo by Ken Cox, of course loads of percussion, and even just a tinge of library music.  The celebration will have you shaking and shimmying around the living room.

 

However, it’s actually Mora! Part II, the second, virtually unreleased album that’s the true gem here.  By now, Mora had added South American textures to the Afro-Cuban mix of his musical worldscape.  He also padded the already strong ensemble, adding a four-piece horn section starring ace trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, and even a string quartet.  The striking results leap with excitement.  Mora revisits many of the tracks in Mora! Part I, such as Afra-Jum and Samba/Conga de Amor, but this time everything is even punchier and brighter, now re-written and rounded from top to bottom with the stellar cast of players (twelve of them not counting the string quartet).

 

One of the highlights of the newer tracks on the second album is “Amazona,” which actually squeezed out into the world and received high praise in 2004, and even a remix version by Carl Craig.  “Amazona” is all exuberance and celebration, with all the best elements of the album – the new horn section blasting away, a swaying and bouncing percussion section, Ken Cox’s sprightly piano, and Teresa Mora’s vocals as the cherry on top, sassier and more assertive than ever.

 

The bongolicous “El Moro” comes across as almost Exotica, and almost everyone in the huge ensemble contributes something to the sonic palette.

 

With a title like “Old Man Joe,” you might think it was a slow ballad about a riverboat sung by a bass vocalist.  It’s anything but.  It’s another springy carnival celebration, with all those horns chipping in among the congas and timbales, based around an infectious earworm melody (and to think, some call Mora an avant-garde composer).  I can imagine it blasting from the speakers of every beachside bar.

 

Another highlight, the re-done “Samba de Amor,” now rechristened “Samba/Conga de Amor” is an even more can’t-sit-still-shake-your-booty fiesta, with the horn section aflame with great solos by Marcus Belgrave on trumpet and Sherman Mitchell on trombone.

 

I can’t for the life of me imagine why anyone would want to shelve “Mora! II,” and for decades at that.  It’s nothing less than an affirmation of all that’s wonderful about music; it’ll get your blood pumping and put a smile on your face.  Why, it’s almost a great workout just listening to it.  We’re lucky to have both of these albums finally released properly after all these years.  Salud!

 

(Mark Feingold)



KATIE SPENCER - HURT IN YOUR HEART
(CD from Bandcamp)

We previously stated that Katie Spencer was someone to watch, and as if to prove it she has recently blessed us with a lovely EP of John Martyn songs titled Hurt In Your Heart. The heartbreaking title track comes from Martyn’s sublime 1980 album Grace and Danger, which chronicled the painful collapse of John and Beverley's marriage. Katie's voice has never sounded better and her delivery really tugs on the heartstrings. Her lovely version of "Couldn't Love You More" from his 1977 album One World continues to captivate the listener's emotions in a very special way. Her stunning voice is so beautiful that it nearly overshadows her gorgeous finger-picked acoustic guitar playing, however they simply pair so well and naturally that one cannot help but become enchanted by it. Perfectly rounding out this EP is "Small Hours", also from One World. Truly a rare talent, Katie becomes one with these songs. With no disrespect to John Martyn's wonderful writing, listening to this you would swear that Katie wrote these words, her voice comes directly from her heart. And who better to accompany Katie here but none other than John's old bandmates Alan Thomson and Spencer Cozens. Lastly, it would be remiss of us not to acknowledge the exceptional sound quality on these recordings. An essential release -- do not hesitate to grab this while you can.

 

(Kent Whirlow)