Brian Crook doesn’t make solo albums very often. He doesn’t need to. The Joshua Tree, Calif., resident is the co-lead singer and writer in the Renderers, and if he ever makes it back to New Zealand, which he left seven years ago, the Terminals would probably be happy to welcome him back. At any rate, the latter combo (full disclosure: I put out one of their singles back in 1996) never replaced him with another lead guitarist, and when you hear Crook on The World Just Eats Me Up Alive, you can well imagine why. If a tune requires long, spiraling lines of fuzz or terse, white-knuckled accompaniment, he’s right there. But Crook also stands ready to drop in abstract starbursts, acid-scored drones or sonic black holes that’ll put your heart in arrest for the duration of a song. He doesn’t just make a whale of a noise—he makes you feel like it matters.
Since Crook is a team player, he’s not going to let his contributions put a band’s music out of balance. The Renderers wouldn’t be the group they are, after all, without the beauty of Maryrose Crook’s singing to balance her husband’s beastly groan. In fact, Brian Crook is backed by both bands on this LP, whose seven tracks were recorded over a span of eight years. But focus on these performances. His voice (whose range has expanded over time to attain parched-yet-nimble rasp as well as the horrified holler of yore) and his corrosive guitar playing (which is simply better than ever) share the center. Every once in a while, you need to stare into the dark without any light to distract you. When that time comes, The World Just Eats Me Up Alive is at your service.
The name Weeping Bang Band stokes expectations for cannabis-reliant comedy, or at least a few cracks about why the bong is sad. But while II evokes the cloudiness of consciousness that comes from congregating in smoke-filled rooms, neither tragedy nor hilarity is on the agenda here. Just ask NASA; it requires both serious intent and technical facility to induce lift-off, and this quintet—Anthony Pasquarosa, Beverley Ketch, Clark Griffin, PG Six and Wednesday Knudsen—has the right stuff.
Weeping Bang Band’s sophomore LP opens on a ceremonial note, with echo-laden banjo and reverent organ tones marking the clearing where Ketch stands, reciting a poem that intimates knowledge and loss. After that, II is completely instrumental, with liquid guitar tones and knowing piano figures winding around quietly questing bass lines. This music was recorded in real time by musicians who know how to listen and respond, and who do so in ways that keep the focus on sustaining a zonked vibe rather than indulging in wanton zonkedness themselves.
Sam Rivers’ jazz journey was as long as it was extraordinary. Born in 1923, he toured with Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, recorded essential sides with Dave Holland and Anthony Braxton, operated one New York City’s key loft-jazz venues during the 1970s, and kept an avant-garde big band going in Florida, of all places, right up to his death in 2011. Rather than rely on the tender mercies of the music industry, he diligently documented himself, and his estate has recently selected Lithuanian label NoBusiness Records to turn Rivers’ archive into finished releases.
Emanation is the first fruit of this partnership, and it’s an excellent start. Recorded in 1971, it offers two complete sets by Rivers’ working trio with bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Norman Connors. A gifted multi-instrumentalist, Rivers moves easily between muscular saxophone, airy flute and stormy piano playing, sustaining a thread of invention that never goes slack.
Back when MAGNET reviewed the Silence’s self-titled debut, the writer suggested that the main difference between Masaki Batoh’s latest rock band and Ghost (the one he led for a quarter century) was the acoustic real estate that opens up when the guitar gets demoted from lead instrument to embellishment. Four years and three albums later, a more nuanced impression emerges.
First of all, the Silence is a lot more productive than Ghost was. Whatever dynamics slowed the old group down must be kept in check now. And while it’s true that Batoh and crew are still finding ways to first clear and then refill acoustic space with maximal gestures, the instrumental balance has shifted. The piano and organ have been reigned in, and Batoh’s squalling electric guitar trades solos with Ryuichi Yoshida’s wheeling flute and roaring baritone sax in the fields where keyboards once ranged free. It’s the balance between the sounds that matters, not any particular instrument. To ensure equilibrium between said sounds, the Silence records in a high-end analog studio. The result is music that feels rooted in a 1970s sound world but not bound to it.
Depending on whether you know John Davis from his solo records or his tenure with the Folk Implosion, you’ll either know him as a vocal performer or an artisan of grooves. If you head to the guy’s website or listen to his last record, 2017’s El Pulpo, you’ll find that his command of language endures; he has a lot to say about food, politics, corporate encroachment and the ongoing effort that it takes to be human. But if you listen closely to his records, you’ll find that they are studded with marvelous little guitar moments, licks that jump out, snag your ear and drag you into the songs that they serve.
Gnawing On The Bone is Davis’ guitar record, but the album’s title also says something about his compositional approach. He’ll play a phrase, then take it from another angle, then layer it and mull it over some more. He can pick out a tune, but the same stop/start dynamics that show up in his songs often win out over melodic elaboration. And while he sticks to acoustic guitar, he uses overdubbing, delays and a good old-fashioned slide to expand its sonic footprint. There’s plenty to chew on here, whether you come at this record motivated by interest in Davis or his instrument.