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The Mailman’s Children, The Spiders We Eat

16 Jan, 2015 Alex Henderson

mailmanschildren

2015 marks the 15th anniversary of The Mailman’s Children, a Canadian/American alternative rock/indie rock band that was formed in 2000 and debuted with their album, Maritime Sun, that year.  The Mailman’s Children are often described as Canadian/American because they have a connection to both the U.S.’ Upper Midwest and Central Canada: frontman Eric Labossiere was born in Canada but now lives in Montana, while the other members of the band (including Joel Perreault on lead guitar and background vocals, Joel Couture on bass and Eddie Vesely or Ivan Burke on drums) are all based in Winnipeg in the Canadian province of Manitoba.  The Mailman’s Children have a history of bringing quality songs to alternative rock and indie rock, and they are in good form on their five-track EP, The Spiders We Eat (it should be noted that Burke, their touring drummer, plays drums on this EP, although Vesely is still part of the band).

There are only four songs on this 2014 recording/early 2015 release: “Private Room,” “Ride in Your Mind,” “Humility” and “Off to Work.”  But “Ride in Your Mind” is heard twice: there is both an electric version and an acoustic version.  The electric version rocks a bit harder than the acoustic version, yet when the two versions of “Ride in Your Mind” are heard side by side, it speaks volumes about the musical outlook of the Mailman’s Children.  Some alternative rockers and indie rockers will try to use attitude, electricity and aggression to grab the listener’s attention, but this is an EP that thrives on quality songwriting above all else.  Songcraft is the name of the game on “Ride in Your Mind” as well as “Humility,” “Private Room” and “Off to Work.”  So whether “Ride in Your Mind” is heard in a stripped down acoustic setting or a more amplified electric setting, it still jumps out as an example of good, sincere, honest-to-God songcraft.   The Mailman’s Children don’t need electricity to win over listeners: they do that with the quality of their songs.  And Labossiere continues to be an expressive frontman.  From “Private Room” to “Humility” to the two versions of “Ride in Your Mind,” Labossiere never has a problem getting his points across emotionally.

The direct or indirect alternative rock and indie rock influences that have served The Mailman’s Children well in the past continue to serve them well on The Spiders We Eat, and those influences range from the Smiths and the Replacements to the Goo Goo Dolls, Counting Crows, the Gin Blossoms and the Tragically Hip.   In other words, the Mailman’s Children get much of their creative inspiration from melodic bands that ruled alternative rock and indie rock in the 1980s and 1990s.  But one of the people the Mailman’s Children have cited as an influence is a Baby Boomer icon who became a superstar in the 1970s: Billy Joel.  Perhaps Billy Joel isn’t the first person a casual listener would think of while checking out “Off to Work,” “Humility” or “Private Room,” but someone who pays really close attention while listening to those songs could see why the Mailman’s Children would consider Joel an influence.  Alternative rock and indie rock are not things that came out of a test tube in a laboratory back in the day; many Baby Boomer artists who emerged in the 1960s and 1970s helped to pave the way for the alt-rock and indie rock artists who emerged in the 1980s and 1990s.  Counting Crows and the Gin Blossoms certainly had 1960s and 1970s influences; so did the Replacements and the Goo Goo Dolls.  Bearing those things in mind, it makes perfect sense that the Mailman’s Children would cite Billy Joel as one of their influences.  Labossiere and his colleagues obviously appreciate solid pop-rock songwriting regardless of whether the artist is part of the Baby Boom Generation or Generation X.  And that appreciation works to their creative advantage on tunes like “Ride in Your Mind” and “Humility.”

Keeping a band together for 15 years is not easy.  But the pleasing The Spiders We Eat makes one glad that the Mailman’s Children have hung in there and stuck to their alternative rock/indie rock guns.

 

Review by Alex Henderson
3.5 stars out of 5

Cozzetti & Gemmill, Voyage of the Mummy

14 Oct, 2014 Alex Henderson

Voyage (180x180)

 

 

Jazz enthusiasts got a taste of how successfully jazz and Middle Eastern music could be combined when Duke Ellington’s orchestra first recorded “Caravan” back in 1936, but it was with the modal post-bop explosion of the late 1950s and early 1960s that the use of Middle Eastern, Indian and North African elements became such a high priority in the jazz world.  Modal jazz, as envisioned by trailblazers like trumpeter Miles Davis, tenor/soprano saxophonist John Coltrane and tenor saxophonist Yusef Lateef, involved the use of “modal” or “scalar” playing (which is what one finds in traditional acoustic music from the Middle East, North Africa and India as well as parts of Eastern Europe).  And that modal influence continued in the jazz world in the 1970s.  Some post-bop of the 1970s was totally acoustic (McCoy Tyner’s work, for example), while other post-bop reflected fusion and soul-jazz’ use of electric instruments.  Voyage of the Mummy is a pleasing example of the latter.

In the 1970s, soprano saxophonist Tim Gemmill and keyboardist Bob Cozzetti had a quartet called Rorschach.  The group started in 1972 and had been in existence for five years when Voyage of the Mummy was recorded live at the Gerdes Folk’ City in New York’s Greenwich Village in 1977.  Rorschach could play either acoustic or electric, but they favor an electric approach on Voyage of the Mummy with a lineup consisting of Gemmill on soprano saxophone, Cozzetti on electric keyboards, Wes Jensen on drums and the late Midge Pike on electric bass.   And while these performances include electric keyboards and electric bass, they are clearly in the spiritual post-bop vein of Coltrane, Lateef, Tyner, Pharoah Sanders and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

Voyage of the Mummy gets off to an intriguing start with a performance of Coltrane’s “Cousin Mary,” and it is clear that when Rorschach took the stage at Folk City in 1977, the last thing they had in mind was emulating Coltrane’s original 1959 version.  Coltrane’s influence is quite strong on this CD, but instead of approaching “Cousin Mary” as Coltrane approached it in 1959, the improvisers go for an approach that is closer to the modal Coltrane of 1963 and 1964.  In 1959, Coltrane was still playing hard bop: “Giant Steps,” recorded that year, is the consummate hard bop blowing tune.  But in 1963 and 1964, Coltrane was recording for Impulse Records and was fully immersed in modal post-bop.  And it is that period of Coltrane’s career that Rorschach identify with on their live interpretation of “Cousin Mary.”  Of course, the quartet that Coltrane had in the early to mid-1960s with Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones was strictly acoustic.  But the use of electric instruments on this album doesn’t erase the fact that Rorschach get a great deal of inspiration from Coltrane melodically, rhythmically and harmonically.

“Cousin Mary” is the only song on Voyage of the Mummy that Cozzetti and Gemmill didn’t write: the other selections (which include the 17-minute “Red Valley,” the 15-minute title song and its brief info) are all Cozzetti/Gemmill originals.  And the influence of Middle Eastern, Arabic and North African music comes through loud and clear on their original material.  It comes through on the placid, good-natured “Red Valley,” which recalls the more mellow side that Coltrane showed on “Central Park West,” “Naima” and the standard “My Favorite Things.”  It comes through on the more aggressive and hard-swinging title track.   Cozzetti and Gemmill, it should be noted, wrote the title track after seeing the King Tut exhibit at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (the exhibit opened in November 1976).
The sound quality on Voyage of the Mummy isn’t of audiophile quality, but it is decent sound and captures the energy and passion of Rorschach’s performances.   Voyage of the Mummy is an enjoyable document of Rorschach’s appearance at Gerdes Folk City 37 years ago.

 

Review by Alex Henderson
3.5 stars (out of 5)

Cozzetti & Gemmill, Timeless

14 Oct, 2014 Alex Henderson

Timeless (180x180)

When tenor and soprano saxophonist Tim Gemmill and acoustic pianist/electric keyboardist Bob Cozzetti were living on the East Coast during much of the 1970s, the instrumentalists co-led a jazz quartet called Rorschach (which also included Wes Jensen on drums and the late Midge Pike on acoustic and electric bass).  Cozzetti & Gemmill lived in Hackensack, New Jersey but frequently performed in nearby New York City, where Rorschach had both acoustic and electric gigs.   But Cozzetti and Gemmill moved back to Seattle, which marked the end of the Cozzetti/Gemmill/

Pike/Jensen lineup.  However, Cozzetti & Gemmill performed in Seattle clubs for awhile in the early 1980s with new lineups they initially billed as Rorschach.  And they ended up changing the name of their group to the Cozzetti & Gemmill Quartet and later, simply Cozzetti & Gemmill.  They recorded two vinyl LPs during that period (1981’s Concerto for Padre and 1983’s Soft Flower in Spring), and Timeless is an hour-long CD containing material from those two albums.

The lineup on Timeless consists of Gemmill on tenor and soprano saxophone, synthesizers, electric keyboards and acoustic piano, Cozzetti on electric keyboards, acoustic piano and trumpet, Steve Bartlett on electric bass and Fred Taylor or Bob Merrihew on drums.

The material on Timeless ranges from fusion to post-bop.   There is plenty of rock and funk muscle on “Captain Pike,” “Blue Jay,” “For the Rock Artist” and “Cyclops,” whereas Cozzetti & Gemmill favor more of a post-bop approach on “Contemplating Raindrops” (which has a strong John Coltrane influence), “Colony Four” (another Coltrane-minded offering), the Asian-flavored “China” and the Wayne Shorter-ish title song of Soft Flower in Spring.  Meanwhile, Concerto for Padre’s title track combines some McCoy Tyner-ish moves with a healthy appreciation of European classical music.

“Captain Pike’s” melody is not unlike something tenor/soprano saxophonist Wayne Shorter and acoustic pianist/electric keyboardist Joe Zawinul would have done when they were co-leading Weather Report, one of the great fusion bands of the 1970s.  “Cyclops,” however, is much closer to something trumpeter Miles Davis would have done during that era.  Davis, of course, was quite influential in different styles of jazz, from bebop and cool jazz to modal post-bop to fusion.   And on “Cyclops,” the Davis that influences Cozzetti & Gemmill is the electric fusion Davis of the 1970s.  Cozzetti’s trumpet playing on “Cyclops” is mindful of Davis, and the melody is equally mindful of him.

“Tree Leaves” is a swinging yet melodic post-bop track that is very much in the vein of Coltrane and tenor/soprano saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, who was part of Coltrane’s group during the last few years of Trane’s life and has also, enjoyed considerable success as the leader of his own groups.  Think of the more ethereal side of Coltrane and Sanders (Trane on “My Favorite  Things” in 1960, Sanders on “Thembi” in the early 1970s), and one can get an idea of where Cozzetti & Gemmill are coming from on “Tree Leaves.”

At times, the synthesizers on Timeless sound dated.   Listening to Gemmill’s synths on “Blue Jay,” for example, there is no doubt that the tune was recorded in the early 1980s.  But sounding dated isn’t necessarily a negative thing if one holds a particular era in high regard.  A lot of great music came out of the 1980s, and the fact that Gemmill’s synthesizer playing on “Blue Jay” says “early 1980s” in no uncertain terms is nothing to be ashamed of.
No less than 47 years have passed since Bob Cozzetti & Tim Gemmill first met in Seattle.  They met in 1967, going on to enjoy a long and productive working relationship on both the East Coast and the West Coast.  And this engaging reissue demonstrates that when the two of them left the East Coast and moved back to Seattle, their creativity didn’t suffer a bit.

 

Review by Alex Henderson
3.5 stars (out of 5)

 

Mykeljon & Groovexpress, Ukrainian Doll

22 Sep, 2014 Alex Henderson

Ukrainian Doll 8 Page CD Booklet Template.inddDuring World War II, jazz was very much a part of pop culture in the United States and elsewhere.  Swing-oriented bandleaders like Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Harry James, Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller took the pop charts by storm.  But a lot of things changed during the 1950s and 1960s.  Jazz came to be widely regarded as music for intellectuals, and rock and R&B took over popular culture.  Nonetheless, the soul-jazz artists of the 1960s and 1970s tried to restore jazz’ pop-culture appeal, and Ukrainian Doll recalls the funky, groove-oriented instrumental soul-jazz of that era.  Combining jazz, soul, funk and pop in a melodic, accessible fashion, grooves like “Mi Bella Paula,” “High Heels,” “Pretty Little Thang” and “Foxy Brown” are easy to absorb and are a throwback to a time in which soul-jazz improvisers were making a concerted effort to reach young R&B fans.  The very fact that there is a song on this album titled “Foxy Brown” speaks volumes: the 1974 film Foxy Brown (starring Pam Grier) was one of the top blaxploitation movies of its time, and having a song with that title on Ukrainian Doll underscores the group’s fascination with African-American Baby Boomer culture.  And unlike many of the so-called “smooth jazz” recordings of recent years, “Tell Me Why,” “Pretty Little Thang” and other selections are quite faithful to jazz’ improvisatory spirit.

The members of Groovexpress (who come from Australia, New Zealand and Los Angeles) include group leader Mykeljon Winckel on electric guitar, Ernest Semu on Hammond B-3 organ, acoustic piano and electric keyboards, Robert Kyle on sax,  Haggis Maguiness on harmonica, Isaac Sanchez on drums and percussion and Bruce Kerr on electric bass, electric guitar and acoustic guitar.  Direct or indirect influences on Ukrainian Doll range from saxophonists Grover Washington, Jr. and Stanley Turrentine to the Crusaders to organist Charles Earland, whose 1969 recording of the Spiral Staircase’s “More Today Than Yesterday” was a big crossover hit.  But the use of harmonica is one way in which Ukrainian Doll differs from most of the soul-jazz and jazz-funk of the 1960s and 1970s.  When Maguiness is playing his harmonica on “No Way Home,” the gritty “E-Type Blues” or the gospel-ish “I Say Praise,” he really jumps out at the listener because the harmonica was by no means a prominent instrument in the soul-jazz and jazz-funk combos of 40 or 45 years ago.  Groovexpress’ use of sax, organ and guitar is standard for organ combos, but Maguiness’ melodic yet funky harmonica is not the type of sound one usually associates with this type of material.  And Maguiness has an attractive sound that is somewhere between Toots Thielemans (the most famous jazz harmonica player of all time) and R&B veteran Stevie Wonder (a singer who is known for his harmonica solos).

Although Ukrainian Doll is mostly instrumental, the exception to that rule is the Latin-flavored “You Are My Fantasy” (which finds Winckel singing lead).   “You Are My Fantasy” is the only thing on this album that falls outside of jazz, and the tune recalls the type of Latin soul sound that artists like El Chicano (of “Tell Her She’s Lovely,” “Viva Tirado” and “Don’t You Want Me” fame), Malo, Tierra and the late Coke Escovedo (brother of Pete Escovedo and uncle of Sheila Escovedo, a.k.a. Sheila E) were known for during the 1970s.  The lyrics are in English, which makes sense because El Chicano and Tierra’s biggest hits were performed in English.  But rhythmically, “You Are My Fantasy” clearly has a salsa edge.  It is a perfect example of how an Afro-Cuban rhythm can be incorporated on a song that is essentially soul-pop.  Had Ukrainian Doll been a 1976 or 1977 release instead of a 2014 release, “You Are My Fantasy” would have been a strong candidate for the pop/Top 40 stations of the time.  And younger listeners who aren’t old enough to remember the 1970s will appreciate the retro vibe of that song as well as the instrumentals that dominate this album.

The instrumental soul-jazz and jazz-funk of the 1960s and 1970s continues to attract new listeners, and Ukrainian Doll is an enjoyable, if derivative, celebration of that era.

 

Review by Alex Henderson
3.5 stars out of 5

 

Daniel Roure, Bar de Nuit

19 Sep, 2014 Alex Henderson

danielroure

French cabaret, French pop and chanson have a long and rich history, from Edith Piaf’s classic recordings of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s to the soundtrack of the 1966 film Un Homme et une Femme (A Man and a Woman).  And in recent years, the chanson tradition has been kept alive by younger vocalists such as Amélie les Crayons, Coralie Clément, Camille Dalmais and Keren Ann. Some masters of chanson are from France, while others might hail from Belgium, Luxembourg or the Quebec province of Eastern Canada.  Some chanson has a strong jazz influence, and there is no shortage of jazz influence on Daniel Roure’s excellent Bar de Nuit (which means Bar of the Night in French).

A veteran singer who was born in Marseille, France in 1948, Roure (danielroure.com) occasionally inserts English lyrics into his performances on this album.  For example, a few English phrases are inserted on “Le Piano Jouait” and the Brazilian-influenced “Lily.”   But those songs are mostly in French.  At least 97% of the time, Roure sings in French on this album.   And he has a pleasingly smoky vocal style that works well with the strong jazz influence whether he is performing at a slow, relaxed tempo on “Rien Ne Change” (“Nothing Changes”), “Un Bateau, Une Ile,” “Vous Mes Souvenirs” and “M’en Aller” or swinging passionately at a faster tempo on “Le Cirque” (“The Circus”), “Venez Ce Soir” (“Come This Evening”) and the bluesy “Arizona.”  Roure is a skillful torch singer, and French lyrics serve him well when he is going for a torchy, dusky, noir-ish ambiance.  But as “Le Cirque,” “Venez Ce Soir” and “Arizona” demonstrate, Roure also has a more energetic side.  And on “Venez Ce Soir,” Roure gets his energy from chanson as well as from gypsy jazz.  That track has an infectious swing beat, bringing to mind the gypsy jazz style that the seminal acoustic guitarist Django Reinhardt (a French speaker who was born in Belgium and lived in Paris) and his colleague, violinist Stéphane Grappelli, made popular in the 1930s.

When this album is playing, there is never any doubt that Roure’s love of jazz runs deep.  On Bar de Nuit’s title track, Roure mentions the seminal alto saxophonist Charlie Parker (who, in the 1940s, brought bebop to the forefront of the jazz world).   Roure also mentions Cole Porter (one of the great Tin Pan Alley composers of the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and 1950s) on that selection, and when he is referencing those American icons, one is reminded of the impact that American culture had on French culture during the 20th Century.  In fact, Roure’s publicity bio states that his musical inspirations range from French stars Yves Montant and Charles Trenet to American greats such as Nat King Cole, Dean Martin and Count Basie.

Roure employs a bossa nova beat on “Lily,” which is not unusual for a French-speaking vocalist.  When the bossa nova movement exploded commercially in the early 1960s thanks to Antonio Carlos Jobim (who was exalted as “the George Gershwin of Brazil”), João & Astrud Gilberto, tenor saxophonist Stan Getz, guitarist Charlie Byrd, composer/guitarist Luis Bonfá and others, a lot of French-speaking vocalists in France, Belgium and Quebec were quick to incorporate bossa nova’s influence.  And the fact that many of them didn’t speak Portuguese (which is Brazil’s official language) didn’t matter.  A bossa nova beat and French lyrics can work really well together; parts of the soundtrack for Un Homme et une Femme made that abundantly clearly 48 years ago, and it is abundantly clear when Roure is singing “Lily.”

From smoky ballads to uptempo swingers, Roure’s vocals have a great deal of character.   And those who like their French pop, French cabaret and chanson with a strong jazz influence would do well to give Bar de Nuit a close listen.

 

Review by Alex Henderson
4 stars (out of 5)