Technicians of the Sacred
Ecstasy. Before it was a drug taken by fans of electronic dance music, it was a state of being. In many cultures, that state is best arrived at via the transformative powers of transcendent music. Native American Shaman-led chants or the drumming rituals of deepest Africa – we don’t normally associate these with popular music. But perhaps we should. Maybe we’ve been missing the point.
For 30 years, British collective Ozric Tentacles has been doing its very best not to miss the point. As major players in the unification of the festival scene and the underground rave scene in the UK of the late 1980s and early ‘90s, Ozric was channeling trance music before “trance music” was a thing. We might call this sort of marriage of the hypnotic repetition of electronic music to the brave exploration inherent to true improvisation jamtronica these days, but when Ozric Tentacles was birthing it, it wasn’t called anything. It just simply was.
If the goal of Ozric Tentacles is to craft audio portals to euphoria for listeners, then the freshly released double-album “Technicians of the Sacred” comes closest to fulfilling such a mandate of any of the many Ozric albums filling the band’s 30-year canon. The 90-minute magnum opus combines indelible grooves with elements of dub, EDM, progressive rock and jazz-fusion, all of it wrapped in gauzy psychedelia, and all of it unfolding in a teleological manner, toward moments of musical epiphany. Listening to the album split across four sides of vinyl is the ideal, but “Technicians” manages to bring its pulsating humanity into the digital realm, too.
On this journey, song titles exist to serve as mile markers along the way, but one is meant to sit (or stand and dance) and listen to the whole thing in one go. I can’t assure you that doing so will make transparent and obvious to you the secrets of the universe. I can promise it will make you smile, though.
- Jeff Miers
The Bad Plus Joshua Redman
If this turns out to be the best Bad Plus disc you’ve ever heard, by far, don’t be surprised. You probably won’t be alone in thinking that. Melody outwits bombast at every turn here. Seven of the nine compositions on the disc are new and you can hear how Redman’s presence influenced every single one.
When, for instance, you hear bassist Reid Anderson’s new tune “Dirty Blonde,” pianist Ethan Iverson’s playing sometimes seems like Dave Brubeck at his most pseudo-classically and lurchingly rhapsodic, but the presence of Redman’s tenor saxophone grounds it all superbly in music of the earth. And then, on the next tune, Iverson’s “Faith Through Error,” the pianist conjugates everything from Cecil Taylor piano splatter to Keith Emerson keyboard bombast, while once again Redman’s tenor saxophone song grounds the whole thing in jazz melodeering.
That’s Redman’s function here – not necessarily to be a long-form jazz tenor soloist but to sing the melodies of the group’s compositions in a way they’ve never been sung before. The members of this acoustic piano fusion trio couldn’t possibly have asked for more or better from a saxophone player. What Redman conjures up is both more power than the Bad Plus has been able to access before but a good deal more purity and tenderness too.
When they perform in concert, all of them say Redman is able to do the kind of tenor saxophone soloing that a first-rate tenor player should do – especially one whose father was the great tenor player Dewey Redman.
But Redman is clearly a most-honored here. He only contributes two tunes, “The Mending” and “Friend or Foe.” There’s nothing by his father or his father’s most famous music mate and friend Ornette Coleman, no matter how interesting it might have been to hear this quartet do those.
Redman’s tune “Friend or Foe,” predictably, allows him to do the most “blowing” in the ancient be-bop sense. But it’s very much music in Bad Plus territory, nevertheless.
Not only was this meeting across one jazz generation completely compatible, so was this meeting across usual genres. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at first. And then, long before the disc is over, you’ll be thankful the Bad Plus and Joshua Redman found each other.
– Jeff Simon
Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniola
The consummate guitar duo of Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo has played an estimated 1,000 gigs together in the past five years.
Vignola’s fans are said to number everyone from Ringo Starr and Madonna to Wynton Marsalis and Les Paul. (When you’re as good a guitar player as Frank Vignola, it’s amazing the variety of musicians who can love you and find work for you in their musical vineyards.) Raniolo is a rhythm guitarist of perfect poise and sensitivity.
Just so that you know just how wide their fans reach, guests on this festival of swing-era beauties include the redoubtable Bucky Pizzarelli and Gene Bertoncini and Finnish guitarist Olli Soikkeli who kicks out the jams Django-style on “Joseph Joseph.” Julian Lage takes the lead on “Sleepytime Gal.” Lest anyone possibly think this is altogether too many fret aristocrats and too much plectral splendor for one disc of music, bassist Gary Mazzaroppi and singer Audra Mariel join in on a languorous and sensual “All the Things You Are.”
Never mind that when playing is this good, sonic variety is probably the last thing on an appreciative listener’s mind but yes, you get that too.
Divertimentos and Serenads
Orchestre des Pays de Savoie
Nicolas Chalvin, conductor
Three and a half stars
This whimsical disc captures perfectly the airy qualities of Reynaldo Hahn’s compositions. “Le Bal de Beatrice d’Este” seems to capture the charm of France’s La Belle Epoque. It captivates from its opening harp glissando. The briskly skipping last movement of the 1942 Wind Serenade seems to look back to Renaissance dances.
The concluding “Divertissement pour ene fete de nuit” recalls the 18th century and mirrors, with its title, Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” – and sure enough, you are not long into the first movement before he begins hinting, subtly but clearly, at Mozart’s famous creation. The second movement is a portrait of Haydn at the Esterhazy court. A later French horn passage recalls the Nocturne from Mendelssohn’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The finale dissolves into shimmers of percussion and then broadens out into a nostalgic waltz.
There are such gossamer textures here. Hahn was a genius at combining instruments in various ways and creating a transparent chamber music sound. His imagination teemed and his vivid and the musicians here give it such a loving treatment. This isn’t music that will change the world, but it sure makes it lovelier.
– Mary Kunz Goldman