Makoto Holmberg’s appropriately titled EP, “Slow Night,” is exactly the kind of thing I like to get the chance to review here, since its synthwavy nature puts it under the umbrella of genres I actually enjoy. You get the idea right away with “Crouched Clouds,” the opening number. It’s very chill and almost hypnotic. The songs evoke the ambiance of a dark rainy night in a futuristic city. The pacing of the songs is mellow and methodical, with the exception of the “Riccardo Noè 4th Dimension Remix” version of “Dust and Mirrors,” which has a slightly more upbeat and peppy tempo. That’s probably my favorite track on this EP, and I found myself listening to it multiple times. I’d recommend this EP to anyone going for a drive in the middle of the night.
An accomplished musician and producer, Jason Achilles Mezilis has just put out a video for his song, “Panhandle,” which is one of the standout tracks on his recently recorded vinyl record, “Comedown.” The video production quality for “Panhandle” is extremely professional and well put together, indicating that Jason has made the most of his time and connections in Los Angeles. It’s directed by David Urbanic and features actor Micah Fizgerald waking up in a rather desolate desert and wandering around. The black and white is a nice touch, and the whole thing sort of has a Chris Isaak / David Lynch kind of vibe. The song is entirely instrumental, a sort of brooding and contemplative rock. It seems very much open to interpretation by design, and all in all this is just a very well done and polished release. Clearly a lot of thought and effort went into this project, and it paid off.
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Not many people can create a large body of work that consistently retains the same high quality. That is what makes Gilbert Engle so impressive. Most veteran musicians will have released all kinds of recordings, but much of it would consist of mediocre or terrible stuff they’d rather didn’t exist. In the case of Engle though, he remarkably puts out a high volume of quality material, which even manages to span across genres.
So with that in mind, it’s no surprise that there’s nothing shabby about his “2015 Jazz Fusion One” release. Right off the bat I was prepared to say that the 4th track was my personal favorite. While this isn’t exactly music designed for teenagers, its energetic and laser beam like synth backing would put it right up there with the best video game boss battle music. It’s totally “danceable” as well and would work in an upscale club atmosphere or hotel bar. Upon continued listening though I realized track is the one that really blows me away. While all of the tracks are predominantly carried by the synth and the horn, the 9th track just has a certain articulate clarity about it. It’s just the most cohesive in terms of the different musical elements working well together, and the melody is the most detailed and precise on the album.
That’s what I like about a lot of Engle’s songs. They have crossover appeal and would fit with a wide variety of environments and audiences, even ones that normally wouldn’t be that receptive to jazz. This is another top tier release from Engle. He shows dedication to his craft.
Well traveled Swiss artist and self described “citizen of the world” Lars Rüetschi has released a new solo piano track titled “Merry Go Round.” For a minimalist piano song to work, the piano playing must be able to stand on its own. Fortunately, “Merry Go Round” does just that. The melody is emotive and complex enough to entangle the listener’s attention and win them over. Piano recording technique is a kind of art in and of itself, and Lars manages to capture a clear and warm natural tone without any of the abrasive clanky sounds typically associated with “indie” piano music.
Even without lyrics, one can sense that “Merry Go Round” is an appropriate title for this release. The song creates an atmosphere of calm and innocence not unlike the sort of actual Merry-Go-Round sequence that would be depicted in an art film. There’s certainly nothing epic about this song, but it is a measured and capable addition to Lars’ growing collection of conveyed musical experiences.
This 11 track debut album by Charles Luck is a team effort and contains a lot of variety as far as sound, as a features a number of musical contributors that vary in style and tone. Luck wrote the songs, and his fellow comrades performed them.
Some background info on Black Astronaut:
Black Astronaut Is A Hip Hop Collective Comprised of Lead Songwriter Charles Luck, Rapper/Singer Tino Red, Rappers Gyro, InZane, Sticky Bud, Vedo, and B Daz. Ex Members Include Pastor C and FlipLeaf. The group has 4 singers: Muze, Jonathan BT, Zack David, and Addie
Conceptually, the whole release seems meticulously put together as an ambitious and visionary project. One thing this album doesn’t do is disappoint. It is very high quality throughout and Luck and crew leave something for everyone. The songs range from hip hop to adult contemporary rock to spoken word poetry, and yet none of it really seems out of place.
Track 2, “Life on Mars,” featuring the terrific singing of Jonathan BT, is the most impressive song in my opinion, and its placement near the beginning is a wise choice, as it sets the tone for this being a polished and professional endeavor. The main single, “Is the Galaxy Just Pimping Me” is catchy and contains a bright and colorful musicality not normally found in most modern hip hop songs. The sparkly and curiosity driven delivery by rapper Tino Red fits perfectly with the question posed as the title of the song. Tino features on several tracks on the album. He maintains a thoughtful, unassuming style consistently, without ever coming across as preachy or lowbrow.
All of the performers are solid, and nobody weighs down the ship. Another memorable song is “Stardust,” a minimalist piano number with Ft. Muze providing a stellar vocal performance.
Black Astronaut hip hop collective claims they want to “reintroduce lyric focused rap music to the new generation.” This album certainly succeeds there, but what it also manages to do is reintroduce artistic minded songwriting to hip hop, something that the genre (which is mostly bogged down in mindless materialism) sorely needs.
Admittedly, there is a lot of competition in the universe of alternative or “indie” hip hop, but if these tracks were as aggressively marketed as they were produced, I could see the potential for some real hits here.
Gilbert Engle continues to demonstrate his musical versatility with this Jazz Reggae release, which has a mellow and sometimes loungy vibe. The light guitar work blends nicely with a Farfisa-like organ tone to give the tracks their reggae flavor. The more organ heavy songs almost have a 70′s psychedelic quality to them. The bass component definitely adds to this. With his detail attentive performance on the saxophone front and center, co-writer Peter Fraise helps deliver on the jazz end. Melody wise, the 9th track is probably my favorite. It’s just the most colorful tune. I’m also very fond of the first song, which at a 1:51 run time left me wanted more. Once I heard the organ, I was hooked.
The production quality is flawless, basically what I’ve come to expect from Engle, given the level of professionalism in his other recordings. What’s impressive about this release though, is that in the process of creating great jazz reggae jams, he manages to obtain some authentic vintage tones, without having to artificially sacrifice any of the recording quality to get them.
An Australian artist living in London, Jode Gannon has an album out called “3 Hours.” His style is mostly an indie acoustic, with the lyrics coming across as personal and heartfelt. The songs are mostly love songs but never venture into cheesy territory. Gannon maintains a slow and methodical pacing, and his voice seems to be tailor made for this genre of music. Even without drums, he manages to strum the guitar in a way that gives it a percussive quality that contrasts nicely with the softness of the songs. The best song on the album is probably “I Wanna Kiss You,” which is catchy and energetic.
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We reviewed Gilbert Engle’s Odd Time Jazz Fusion songs recently, giving them a favorable write up. As polished as those songs were, I have to say that on a personal level I find his Supernatural Absence just as impressive, if not better. One thing I noticed immediately is how much more rocking the songs are than I expected. Jazz fusion? This is rock n’roll!
There’s also a good deal of stylistic and creative variance between the songs, which is really saying something given that there are 16 of them. Each one is distinct and unique. For example: The opening track is terrific late night city driving music and has a hypnotic, almost vaporwave quality to it. The second track though kicks into high gear immediately with some guitar distortion, then injecting in some energetic keyboard work that achieves an authentic 60′s combo organ sound. It all blends together nicely with the sax and other instruments.
A lot of these songs have a psychedelic vibe to them. They are fast paced and several of them incorporate retro synth sounds into the music, which I hadn’t been anticipating. Track 9 is representative of this and has one of the best intros. I could actually picture many of these songs being utilized on a video game soundtrack for an older console. Many of the tracks would work well for racing or driving type games, such as classics like Fzero. There’s a sense of action in this music, but still keeping enough mellow jazz flavor to keep from going off the rails. It’s not rugged action.
The guitar and keyboard combination manages to steal the show on many of the songs. Engle plays both, but Marc Capponi is also credited on keyboards as well. The saxophone (played by Peter Freize) accentuates and stabilizes the mood successfully, after the catchy intros grab your attention and draw you in. Engle doesn’t cut any corners either. Every single one of these songs is just as polished and professional as could be. Normally on an album, there will be some padding, a few filler songs thrown somewhere in the middle. Not here. There wasn’t a single track that I listened to and thought was shoddy or “B-side.” Having said that, my favorite song is probably the first one. I think it has a lot of crossover appeal across a wide spectrum of genres. My second choice would be the seventh song, which has a disco-like guitar intro that opens up to a surreal musical experience. Robert Fink on harmonica particularly shines on this song.
Gilbert Engle is an incredibly prolific musician, having released over 50 albums. This album is a fine example of his versatility and imagination as a songwriter and performer.
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Gilber Engle on Wikipedia:
Recently we reviewed Cranky George’s song, “Nighttime” off of their brand new album titled “Fat Lot of Good.” Other memorable tracks include “Perfect Skin,” which has a terrific sort of brooding, almost haunting quality, reminiscent of artists like Chris Isaak. The full album is set for release tomorrow, October 14, and can be purchased here on CD as well as on a limited edition, signed, double vinyl record. The band’s CD release party will actually take place at Molly Malone’s in Los Angeles on Friday, Oct. 15th.
In addition to the release of the full album, Cranky George has also produced a video for the track “Nighttime,” and it definitely does the song justice. The video production and photography are high quality and tasteful, but the interspersed poignant scenes with the female and the fireworks displays help to retain an indie, artistic aesthetic and prevent the whole thing from coming across as “too slick.”
Nighttime Video: https://vimeo.com/182629451
Gilbert Engle is an established painter and musician who is impressively proficient in multiple instruments as well as a variety of musical genres. Recently he and a number of other talented individuals have completed some jazz fusion recordings. Gilbert plays guitar on the songs which instantly resonate as being of professional caliber. Performances are just incredible all around and the tracks are brimming with emotion and a smooth energy. Peter Fraize in particular stands out, with his tenor saxophone taking charge and setting the mood. The best way to describe the feeling Engle’s songs invoke, is that they feel as though they would fit well on a soundtrack to a 1980′s film set in New York(something like Arthur,) perhaps during a high society party scene. The music is too classy and upbeat for something like Zalman King’s Red Shoe Diaries or a 90′s erotic thriller.
It would actually be great if Gilbert were to release this on vinyl, as I get the sense this music would sound even better on some classic HiFi stereo. In fact, if I had a high end audio listening room at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, I would consider using these recordings to demo my high end audio amplifiers to prospective buyers. The music is that good.