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Key J “Transition”

28 Jul, 2010 Julian Gorman

keyjAs a torrential downpour cleans this dirty city once again, the sound of the rain pummeling the streets below hums along to the sweet jazz compositions of Key J (Ki Joon Sung) and listening to “Out of My Mind” my thoughts drift to the black-&-white 20s, imagining a sultry detective’s office and the next big case.  The music playing is the new album Transition and it is the epitome of cool.  A throw-back sensibility and respect for jazz when the genre was being formed keeping the style classic with a dash of postmodern groove, keeping things new and exciting,  the music is soothing -relief for a troubled mind- yet energetic enough that it definitely is not elevator music or that sort of contemporary jazz that puts one to sleep.  This is adventurous jazz with hints of bop that span the range from that seedy imagined sleuth’s office to a glamorous gala ball, making it appropriate for any occasion.

Off the top of the album things get swinging, exploding with big band energy.  The ensemble of instrumentalists is always on top of these new compositions, playing them as if they were jazz standards.  Because of that confidence, most of the songs fool one into thinking they actually are classical jazz tunes.  In “Talking About Me” the scope of quick musical references to the past are neatly arranged in ecstatic reverence.  Almost as though it were a montage of what to expect on the album, the first song really gets things moving and is what’s so exciting about Key’s creative gifts.  The instrumental chorus gives it all a full warm sound that is undeniably mesmerizing, advancing the jazz form, and a vacation for the ears.

Composer and Pianist Key J has surrounded himself with, give or take a couple instruments, an octet of brilliant musicians on the same vibe.  Their style is difficult to pinpoint within the cornucopia of jazz taste.  It is perhaps easiest to classify then as a sort of Post-bop Jazz found in the likes of John Coltraine, Thelonious Monk or Miles Davis, and has the ability to sample from harp bop, modal jazz or free jazz without breaking the core swinging rag-time soul of the music.  However, this is just a style choice, as the hard dissonance and chromaticism are tastefully done as accents, rather then the crux of the entire song, such as be-bop.  In this way, Key J’s compositions sample from all classical forms of the art and still manage to have its own voice and style notably different from any of the labels.

Perhaps most remarkable is Key J’s sense of timing.  Syncopation and tempo are always impeccably done.  Delicate attention to detail is most notably obvious in the soft and patient retardo captured in Duke Ellington’s classic “Prelude to a Kiss.”  It is nice to see all original work alongside one fantastic cover song, as it gives us a wonderful contrast to the new songs.  Perhaps some of Key J’s most delicate work can be found here, and it speaks volumes to his future potential as a composer.  This instrumental version is on par with the more popular lyrical versions done by Ella Fitzgerald or Billy Eckstine because of the vulnerability found in the piano.  Each note is played with the same attention and care as a vocalist, showing everything from ferocity to frailty.  Similarly, tension of the piano in “Resemblance” plays alongside a desperate sax echoes the same eccentric taste with darker emotion.  Highly refined but still empathic so that a high level and intelligence and feeling are being poured into this album from daftly trained skill and a passionate love of music.

Key J and his ensemble may have what it takes to make jazz hip again.  Much of what is missing from contemporary music is the gritty reality of the music being paired with the refined taste of the old styles; like aged cheese and fine wine, they go much better together then separate.  Transition beautifully balances the old and new to make a high class jazz masterpiece.  Key J could easily compose music for vocals, but the instrumental artistry makes it unnecessary, letting the drums horns and strings speak for themselves.  This is a wonderful album for anything from just hanging out with friends to throwing a classy party.  It is difficult to imagine Key J excelling in technical music ability much beyond this, meaning all there is left to do is play his music around the world and spread the sound.  It is rare for such intellect and feeling to be exhibited by the same composer, making Transition a gem of an album.  With this sort of jazz combo consistency, this writer is really looking forward to the new future of jazz.  Now, can someone get this man a full orchestra, too?  Key J can only get better from here on out.

Review by Julian Gorman

David Raleigh “Beginning Again”

19 Jul, 2010 Julian Gorman

davidraleighThere is something very familiar about David Raleigh’s style of music.  This balladeer has a powerful voice that one could easily hear on Broadway, highly stylized but not a character voice, it falls nicely on the ears.  His music moves people to laugh, cry and most of all find hope in the desperate situations life has to offer.  With David’s piano and back-up keyboards alone, the sound is full and bright.  All this combined with an intentionality to spread love and hope, Beginning Again is an album that shouldn’t be missed.

The piano and keyboard are both very well played and work well together.  The teamwork of David Raleigh on vocals and piano, Nathan Leigh Jones providing additional keyboard accompaniment, perfectly compliment each other’s musical sensibility.  None of the music sounds over-produced or synthetic.  The instruments sound natural and pleasant. There isn’t much creative exploration going on here, the melodies are comforting, simple and beautiful, but rarely surprising or really new.  Singing along is fun.  Much of Beginning Again echoes 90’s R&B and soft rock, but higher quality sound.

Some songs feature light vocoding and vocal enhancement, but all appropriately and obviously without use of any auto-tuner nonsense; on Safe he sings “I’ll go over the limit, I’ll jump from the sky, drive off a cliff, run into a fire, howl at the moon, I’m gonna laugh in Death’s face.” Mellow flanger and echo give the sound a tight style when combined with impeccable keyboard and sequencing production.  The verse vocals of Safe remain raw, which is the perfect contrast.  And you have to love that talk-box at the end!  Too many artists use vocoders as crutches instead of wings.  Raleigh’s singing ability is wonderful and definitely good enough without the effects, so he has artistic license as a bona fide vocalist who is only enhanced by whatever device is elevating his voice.  There are quite a few “pop-artists” who could learn a thing or two from these tastefully done vocals…Kanye, Cyrus, silly boy/girl bands, please take note and if you can’t sing naturally, get into spoken word or get off the stage.  Singers must take back the spotlight from these mechanically voiced charlatans!  Too many great artists go unnoticed due to the force of the corporate pseudo-musicians.  David is always in tune, stylized with a range from cool calm on songs like The Only One to fierce alternative intensity with Here I Am.  Occasionally Raleigh’s riff boarder on the smooth syncopation and crooning that made Usher famous; though poetically no where near as trite or sexually driven.

Raleigh treats the subjects of his songs with a tender loving respect that a storyteller gives their characters, taking them to grand proportions in Gratitude, singing “I look at the sky and see your face in the moon.”  Lyrically the music is typically straight forward advice on love, life and relationships.  Mostly positive, the poetry is appropriate snogging theme music with enough contrast in the ballads that it doesn’t get too mushy.  On the active side of socializing, there is Get up and Dance, akin to a mello sort of house.  It is nice to see so much energy from a balladeer.  Even though there are tough life lessons to learn, they are never hindrances to his outlook.

However many of the lyrics are repetitious, riddling off colloquialisms of love too often.  Phrases like “Night after night” and “My Life” seem to be mantras.  More ways to describe love would improve the philosophical aspect.  The repetition in the chorus of Ready, Willing and Able just annoys me a bit, as rhyming the same word is a pet peeve of mine.  Anything else is acceptable, even not rhyming is more interesting, in my personal opinion.  That being said, the songs are really catchy and easy to sing along to within the first few listens.  There is some definite pop potential here for a more mature audience, but many of the chivalrous values, unfortunately, seem to in one ear and out the other for most.  Still, it is refreshing to here such a smooth sound that isn’t raunchy or distasteful at all.  The poetry is PG-13 at its worst, making it fairly family appropriate.

The musical values of David Raleigh are very respectful and have a sweet honesty that is quite enduring to their message, which if it can be summed up, is love.  Strong friendships, bounding, unity and a positive outlook for the future are all common themes that make his poetry unique for its hope.  The musical style is simply that of a classy balladeer proclaiming his love to the world.  Although there is nothing really unique, the pop-goodness will keep these tunes on the tip of your tongue and these hopeful messages in your heart.

Review by Julian Gorman

Peter Bayreuther “Let’s WorkTogether”

27 May, 2010 Julian Gorman

Music for meditation is somewhat of a novelty in the west.  Most do not understand that all matter resonates, from the tiniest particle spin resonance to the drifting planets and stars all create sound when moving through space.  Much traditional eastern music is in tune with these natural sounds, utilizing their harmonic overtone resonance to encourage states of energy in the mind, body and environment.  It is then especially exciting when artists fuse multicultural music from ancient songs and chants.  Peter and Karin Bayreuther have done just that, experimenting with traditional German folk music, playful English poetry and a world sense of musical technicality to blend in Indian Bhajan creating new experimental music with a solid sense of tradition.  The new single, Let’s Work Together is hopeful, exuberantly happy and a wonderful exercise in interconnected transpersonal meditation with friends.  Though strange to the unfamiliar ear at first, it is only in so much as the new music is so fresh that it requires many plays to understand; it grows and blossoms with time and familiarity.

The first time one puts on Let’s Work Together it is quite a shock.  There is little in our postmodern culture to prepare us for Bayreuther’s musical genius.  The violin parts are oft so complex, that one feels a sense that perhaps this music is ahead of its time.  The complexity derives inspiration from German greats such as Mozart, Bach and Beethoven.  This classical European music sense is forged together with a classical Indian perspective similar perhaps to the legacy of Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, whom helped to decentralize Gharana hold on cultural norms popularizing fusion raga throughout India, much as many German composers did for Europe.  Now we have Peter Bayreuther taking those previous incarnations and again making then new by combining two very distant cultures with their intrinsic musicality.  It is possible that this new combination of harmonic understanding with the fun of folk is revolutionary.  Much in the same way music from the 60’s is more worldly and experimental; we may just be at the cusp of a whole new generation of musical synthesis.  The resulting synergy from the combined styles is wonderful inward meditative journeys, a peaceful state of mind and ultimately a sense of happiness that one wishes to share with others.  Perhaps the only critical problem is the technical complexity and hyperactivity of the violin and mouth harp.  A few more chances to slow down and appreciate the serenity would do well to balance their somewhat frenetic style.  However, one must appreciate the sheer amount of energy being put into each performance.  A few more meditative moments similar to the end of the single, where the progression can be aloud to take place in a more gentle fashion would be comforting and complimentary to the philosophical outlook of the lyrics.  The childlike bliss of the music is, without a doubt, joyful.

Peter Bayreuther’s voice is hauntingly reminiscent of the Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg, calling in the same deep bellowing tremolo over raga scale Bhajan with similar peaceful and meditative purpose.  Peter’s poetry is less radical and much more practical then Allen’s.  In fact, Bayreuther too would also be quite good at spoken word.  His voice is comforting and the words are simple, yet incredibly wise. The primary focus is a sort of entrancing march of positive communal values that builds to a wonderfully silly crescendo of “fun!”  That type of humor echoes the happiness of dharma bums the world over, no matter the generation or in which culture they experience it -as these mantra and yatra have been discovered and forgotten again in every age, by every society- that they are indeed timeless lessons of affirmation though peace.  The most difficult is remembering to practice peace and happiness everyday.  Honest lyrics refrain in mantras of hope such as “Hey, Let’s do it all together, Life is much more fun like this…  Make the magic work!”  Such proclamations of mirth are so rare these days that it’s utterly refreshing to here such positive hope from these profound German musicians.

There is a sort of childlike playfulness to Let’s Work Together.  Perhaps it’s the vibrant bouncing style of the fiddle and hand drums, it could be the chanting vocals, or maybe it’s the mouth harp twangin’ away in harmonic resonance, but whatever it is, the Bayreuthers  seem to be having so much fun one can’t help but smile and laugh.  The end of the single builds up into a youthful explosion of rolling instruments, Karen performing beautiful raga style riffs and Peter rolling his lips on the mouth harp finale; a wonderful song for young and old.

Peter & Karin Bayreuther are part reincarnate kirtankar (Indian devotional chanter) and part meistersingers (German lyricist) and part English troubadour poets.  Their love for life is eminent in the hopeful music of Let’s Work Together.  They are on the right path to a wonderfully inspired and energetic new collection of work if this is any sign of what’s yet to come.  The blend of classical understanding in multiple musical styles and chants greatly enhance the importance of their art. However, many will not understand it and may require a little encouragement, but the payoff is worth the effort to have mini-enlightenments about how we understand sound resonance and fundamental philosophical poetry.  Peter Bayreuther is a musician’s musician, an illustrator of the new sound landscape with ancient maps in hand to make a new path through the wilds and a great understanding of how to utilize different aspects of many cultures creating powerful songs with meaning that only becomes more important over time.  And that’s just one song!

Review by Julian Gorman

Earl J. Rivard “Underground Railroad”

14 Apr, 2010 Julian Gorman

Political artists are hard to find these days, especially those with poignant messages.  Earl J. Rivard, III has something to say on Underground Railroad. Making a huge statement right off the bat, the record begins with a warning preamble before the title track. A beautiful Spanish dirge sweeps the audience up into reverence for the broken families between the United States and Mexico.  After drawing in your ear so sweetly the song changes to in your face English rock, with heart-breaking verse at the brink of shouting “The time has come to say it loud, we have lost our f*cking minds.”  The song and album Underground Railroad is about the need of a new secret safe house network as for slaves during civil war, only this time the slaves are the immigrant sweatshop workers of Mexico, notably the millions of mothers separated from their children.  No matter one’s political stance, the situations described by the Rivards are undeniable, real and a perspective urgently needed amidst our “democratic” social media.

The collaborative work of a father and son team, both immaculate songwriters, Rivard, Jr. & III have created some very powerful fusions of multi-music genre styles that span the American continents with a dash of classical European influence.  The band members are all technically impeccable musicians.  To play such a wide range of music is indeed quite difficult and commendable.  However, it is hard to select a place to fit Earl into.

The voice of Earl J. Rivard III is complex, versatile and capable of singing many genres.  Usually this is a very positive thing, but with so many different styles of song, it often feels as though Earl is still searching for his niche.  It is difficult to compare his voice to any other, as it seems to jump depending on the song.  Sometimes our ears are in the care of a tender Spanish balladeer, yet other times pop-rock ferocity overpowers the band.  “Till I Met You”, for example, sounds like an epic sort of Elton John piano and all, soft yet strong and confident, riffing similarly.  Whereas the very next song, “Coldest Place”, sounds like the lounge of Vegas meets country music.  The overwhelming voice of Rivard is sometimes reminiscent of Tool frontman Maynard Keenan in its power.  The problem in Rivard’s vocals, however, is his tendency to scoop up to notes, making performances not nearly as solid, with harsh emphasis on English vowels.  His Spanish is so soft and romantic; one wants more for these moments than the shouting “Loud and Strong.”  It would sound far better if extreme English proclamations were treated with the same calm clear resolute tones as the Spanish lamentations, instead of being so intense.

“Lady, Sweet Lady” is a sweet carol in disguise as a ballad, if not part elegy, for a troubadour parting ways with a loved one.  The tune is “Greensleeves”, best known to the Western world as the Christmas carol “What Child is this?”. Compared to the rest of the album, this song is like a rose in a field of wild flowers; beautiful yet out of place and sometimes a bit prickly.  The arrangement could have 4-6 melodies as with a choir, but has a nice simplicity to it.

This production, album, band, and lyrics would have warranted a perfect rating, but it is the strange genre flipping vocals of Rivard that hurts them the most.  His tone is too serious, even classical to the point of trading some of the soul for power.  Still, Rivard has great potential as a singer if only he will find a comfortable genre and treat his English dynamics as he does his Spanish.

Underground Railroad as an album is brilliant.  Is it unfortunate, then, that the strength of it is in the band, not in Rivard as a solo artist.

Review by Julian Gorman

Michael Lee “Face Forward”

10 Mar, 2010 Julian Gorman

MichealLeeWhen most people hear the name Michael Lee mentioned in the music industry, they first think of the legendary drummer whom played for such greats as The Cult, Echo & the Bunnymen and most notably Robert Plant’s and Jimmy Page’s answer to a finally fallen Led Zepplin.  This is not that Michael Lee, may he rest in peace, but a new artist from Buckinghamshire (both hailing from the United Kingdom, respectively) with a new record, Face Forward, a fierce alternative rock album with ambient sensibility and star quality performances.

Every song on Face Forward is remarkably consistent, an impeccable studio album with Michael Lee himself playing 10 instruments including vocals.  All of the artists in Lee’s entourage have an incredible sense of dynamic control perhaps best displayed in the album’s namesake song “Face Forward,” – an instrumental, of all things!  Progressive layers of sound build with Lee –also on drums- into something more on par with rock opera. Imagine a much more mellow, chill Queen and you have Michael Lee’s epic album, yet they are multi-inspired and definitely developing their own unique style.  The guitar and vocals are unmistakably some sort of alien homage to Jeff Buckley, though Michael Lee is more consistent perhaps and less on the experimental side.  Their inspiration is as though they were picking up right where Jeff tragically left off.  Hopefully there is room in live performances to seek out such innovative music, but there is almost something too neat and clean about Face Forward, that has more pop sensibility then alternative creativity.  While well suited to the production studio and the radio, one must question the playability live.

“Despite” has a nice bluesy sound, but Lee fails to fully resolute many of the minor notes, usually nice and dirty, occasionally turns pitchy when the verse builds; by the chorus everything is perfect again.  One desires to hear the pain and struggle in those notes more, reaching more into an alternative soul that understands these songs shouldn’t only be about personal suffering, but the resonance of that pattern where ever one might travel this world with music.  The musician is essentially lucky in that they are only singing about the pain, and usually not directly experiencing it, though Face Forward has its moments of real empathic caring, it is questionable how much of this is metaphor and how much has really been lived through by the artist(s).

Face Forward is a powerful album with plenty of songs that are all at once comforting to the soul, refreshing to one’s musical senses, and full of glorious alternative fuzzy guitar goodness.   There are multiple tracks here that deserve to be singles, such as “Trust” or “In The Picture” having choruses good enough to stick in your mind and cheer up your day, or ease that aching heart; whereas the instrumentals and verses are complex enough to listen to the album many times through, discovering little guitar echoes fading to trippy keys or wonderful chorus harmonies that perfectly support Michael Lee.  This is what producers are talking about when a musician can both perform and cut a perfect studio album:  Michael Lee has “starpower” or that “wow-factor,” if you will, as a producer and the ability to back it up with a full-blown live concert tour.  But in order to do so he will have to be humble, and surround himself with many talented artists in order to compensate for the massive about of studio work he now takes on mostly single-handedly.  This American writer will be hoping they get enough homeland support to cross the pond and give our bars, clubs and stadiums a go!  The only real negative critique one can think of is confidence:  they have all the right ingredients to be super-stars, now they just have to want it and show the fans that they need it.  See a little of the world, write some more songs about why the love ballads like “Distant Future” are important.  What love is worth protecting from all these problems we face?  Perhaps even a name change would be appropriate, or a side-project where Lee’s creative energy is forced to synergize more with other artists whom have experiences that would add to Michael Lee’s lyrical perspective and instrumental experimentation.   Face Forward is technically impeccable, but so perfectionist and self-indulgent that one misses the grunge or perhaps punk aspects inherent in the lyrics and verging on strange guitar solos, but not necessarily clearly vocalized or expressed.  The only remedy for this is life: traveling, touring and really trying to understand the ethnicity of each exotic land you are blessed enough to travel through, otherwise the refrain in “Never Enough Time” could destroy anyone’s fame with simple worry and ego.  Michael Lee is strong enough to go out into the world and help solve some major issues with his music, and maintain the confidence and charisma needed to truly become an international recording artist, but it will take lots of hard work and understanding only gained helping others.

Review by Julian Gorman