Listening Post: Lionize, Motorpsycho, Dave Stryker, Olivier Boge, Xuefei Yang - The Buffalo News

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Listening Post: Lionize, Motorpsycho, Dave Stryker, Olivier Boge, Xuefei Yang


Lionize, “Jetpack Soundtrack” (Weathermaker Music). Maryland trio Lionize has already made a couple records that threatened to be classics of their era, all of them often startling marriages of rock, reggae and soul with just a touch of the hardcore influence that the band’s proximity to Washington, D.C., made them susceptible to. “Space Pop and the Glass Machine” (2008) and “Superczar and the Vulture” (2011) were the finest of these, remarkably confident and multifaceted albums that belied the youth of the band members, and hinted at great things to come. With “Jetpack Soundtrack,” those great things have arrived in the form of a tightly sequenced, beautifully produced (by Machine and Clutch drummer Jean-Paul Gaster) collection that deepens the band’s ability to bring weathered hard rock tropes screaming into the present tense, via an infusion of soul and blues. Hand-picked by the members of Clutch as the first signing to their own Weathermaker Music imprint, Lionize repaid that debt by delivering a sharply focused 11-song set that finds the interplay between guitarist/vocalist Nate Bergman, bassist Henry Upton and keyboardist/vocalist Chris Brooks striving for, and achieving, a new level of dynamic mastery within the broader framework of heavy rock. Fans of Clutch and the Bakerton Group are likely to love “Jetpack Soundtrack.” Look for Lionize on tour with, by turns, Umphrey’s McGee and Clutch in the coming months. ΩΩΩ (Jeff Miers)

Progressive Rock

Motorpsycho, “Behind the Sun” (one CD, two LPs; Stickman Records). Norway is known as a breeding ground for daunting, dark and complex heavy metal, but one of the finest Norwegian acts extant offers a more complex hybrid of musical idioms than the majority of its countrymen peers, and has been doing so for some 25 years. Motorpsycho is a band whose influence on progressive rock’s current leading light, Steven Wilson, seems obvious, even if it is speculative. The band – a trio these days, comprised of multi-instrumentalists Hans Magnus Ryan, Bent Saether and Kenneth Kapstad – has crafted a masterful double-album in the form of “Behind the Sun,”a record that displays more influences than might reasonably be listed here, but at its core, trades in a dizzying pyschedelic/prog-rock hybrid. This is the kind of music that all but demands to be listened to in one continuous sitting, preferably on headphones, but at the very least, on stereo equipment that an audiophile would be proud to own. (“Behind the Sun” sounds strong in the mp3 format, too, but some of the depth the band has taken the time to infuse these mixes with is undeniably lost. Vinyl is the best option.) Though there are definitely prog-rock tendencies at play here, Motorpsycho also retains a certain ’60s-era psychedelic garage-rock aura, one that might appeal to fans of, say, the Soundtrack Of Our Lives – which is to suggest that, though the songs are certainly complex, there is pop songcraft in ample evidence throughout. 2014 is just getting going, but fans of intelligent, dynamic rock music are likely to think of “Behind the Sun” as the record to beat in the year’s “Best Of” race. ΩΩΩΩ (J.M.)


Dave Stryker, “Eight Track” (Strike Zone). Here’s an idea for a good solid blue-collar jazz organ group disc that’s easy to love: “In 1975,” says guitarist Dave Stryker (a stalwart in The Buffalo News Jazz series outside the Albright-Knox Gallery) “like many people I had an eight-track player in my vehicle (mine being a ’69 GMC van). I remember sneaking out of class to listen to tapes of everything from Miles, Pat Martino and George Benson to Santana and Blood, Sweat and Tears.… To me (eight tracks) represented the ’70s – a time when there was a lot of great pop music going on as well as jazz.” So, after throwing occasional pop tunes into his sets, Stryker got used to making the joke “that last tune is from my next record – Dave Stryker plays the Hits of the 8 Track.” Well, no joke. Here they are, tunes like Percy Mayfield’s “Superfly” and Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman” and “Aquarius” from “Hair” and The Jackson Five’s “Never Can Say Goodbye” played by a good meat-and-potatoes Stryker quartet with the great Stefon Harris on vibes, Jared Gold on organ (obviating the need for a bass player) and McClenty Hunter on drums. You’ll seldom find jazz as unpretentious and likable as this these days. ΩΩΩ (Jeff Simon)


Olivier Boge, “The World Begins Today” (Naive). It was Chick Corea who said, in an interview before his last appearance in Buffalo, that among his greatest joys as a musician in the 21st century is the discovery of great young jazz musicians around the world, including Tigran Hamasyan, the pianist on this disc whom Corea first heard when he played a concert in Tigran’s native Armenia. His Aremenian hosts insisted Corea listen to their then 17-year-old jazz piano prodigy. And Corea was even more impressed than they expected him to be. Here, with first-rate 30-year-old French saxophonist Olivier Boge, bassist Sam Minale and the veteran drum powerhouse Jeff Ballard, 26-year-old pianist Tigran is integral to a terrific jazz quartet of musicians who have now played together a long time, considering their youth. Boge’s tunes are modal, simple and nothing if not infectious (he supplies Metheny-like vocalises too.) In the way they play together, Tigran and Boge are as exceptional as the most veteran alto saxophone and piano partners can be. Drummer Jeff Ballard does some of his best work on disc in years which makes this one of the happiest discs of younger jazz players in a long time. When Corea said he was blown away by Tigran at the age of 17, he no doubt knew that the day would come when he and friends would turn out discs like this. ΩΩΩ½ (J.S.)


Various Artists, Jazz and the Philharmonic (Okeh, disc plus DVD). Well, sure. Why shouldn’t longtime record producer Larry Rosen show off the quality of his friends by trying to reproduce for the modern age Norman Granz’s marvelous Jazz at the Philharmonic Concerts – only with a real attempt to combine jazz and classical music? Especially when the participants include Bobby McFerrin, Chick Corea, Terence Blanchard, Mark O’Connor and Shelly Berg? Throw in Met Opera star Eric Owens and classical pianist Elizabeth Joy Roe. For every gem like Corea and McFerrin’s “Autumn Leaves,” you’re putting up with the usual push/pull of jazz and kitsch when people of bad taste try to combine jazz and classical music. So there’s a lot of corn and a few good solos. ΩΩ½ (J.S.)


“Sojourn: The Very Best of Xuefei Yang” (Warner Classics). The Beijing-born guitarist Xuefei Yang has a strong rhythmic touch – sometimes, listening to the wide repertoire on this album, I would think of great blues or jazz guitarists I have heard. At 36, she seems a little young to have a “The Very Best Of...” album, but then all kinds of artists these days are lionized beyond their years. She covers a lot of ground on this album, from beautiful Bach miniatures like “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and “Bist Du Bei Mir” (I know that’s probably not really by Bach, but ...) to a host of Spanish hits like the Albeniz Tango and the Adagio of Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez.” In the middle is He Zhanhao’s “The Butterfly Lovers.” It is a Chinese piece and often has a Chinese tone, but oddly it often reminded me of American folk music, as does Huang Zi’s charming “Plum Blossoms in the Snow.” I liked this warm, witty, mass-market album. ΩΩΩ½ (Mary Kunz Goldman)


Mozart, Martin Fröst, Clarinet, The Deutsche Kammerphhilharmonie Bremen, Martin Frost, conductor (BIS Records). Here is a treat for Buffalo – a disc of Mozart clarinet music that includes the “Kegelstatt” Trio. It means “bowling” trio. Mozart supposedly wrote it while he was bowling. And however he did at the game, he scored a perfect strike with this music. It is incredibly wistful and beautiful, valedictory in that sense Mozart had when he was writing for the clarinet. This disc overflows with that sound. Besides the “Kegelstatt” Trio – in which he is joined by pianist Leif Ove Andsnes – celebrated clarinetist Martin Fröst also gives us the famous Clarinet Concerto, in which he conducts the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen from, well, the clarinet. A bonus treasure is the Allegro in B Flat Major, a seven-minute piece I do not recall hearing before. It is a rarity, a fragment of 93 bars for clarinet and string quartet that was completed in the 1960s by the Mozart scholar Robert Levin. I am trying to figure out how long 93 bars would be. It sounds as if there is very little in this delicate, utterly lovely piece that is not by Mozart. But Levin has extraordinary creativity, as well as deep knowledge of Mozart’s way of operating, so who knows? In any case, it’s wonderful music, recalling Mozart’s viola quintets, or late-period “Prussian” string quartets. Fröst is a clarinetist who seems to be very celebrated in Europe, though I can’t say I had heard much about him. He’s cute – in certain photographs, with his hair blowing a certain way, he looks like Prince Harry – and he plays like a dream. He has a light touch. The New York Times said, in words that made me giggle, that he had “a tone more slender than plump.” The highest praise I can offer is that he makes you thank Mozart, with an additional nod to Robert Levin, for these timeless creations. ΩΩΩΩ (M.K.G.)

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