EXPANSIONS (KRIS BECKER): THE KIND OF ART MUSIC THE MARKET MIGHT ACCEPT

photoArticle by PJ Cornell.

Syndicated from the Asterisked Music Journal.

Assessment: 9.7 out of 10.

Bottom line up front: For several decades now, the culture of the so called “art music” genre, which, in most cases might more aptly be called “academic music;” the institutional heir of what is known as “classical” music, has been to shun anything which might be construed as being accessible enough to be sold to the general public. This condescending attitude toward the listener has, predictably, led to the decline of art music consumption to an amount approaching zero. Kris Becker (composer and piano virtuoso) is a refreshing exception to this trend. This release abounds with clever quartal harmonies set to jazzy rhythms, and an upbeat attitude that, while sophisticated, does not take itself so seriously as to be a burden to listen to.

Highlights: This album, while being largely consistent in style (as opposed to some of his earlier releases, which were eclectic, to say the least), expresses a very wide range of emotional content, from the pensive Elegy, to the blindingly bright and upbeat Piano Sonata #1. One thing this release is not is boring — at any point in time. The harmonic center tends to shift suddenly, with little warning, and by the time we’ve processed the occurrence, we’re on to something else. The harmonic content, in general, is stable enough to not lose the audience, yet varied, dissonant, and progressive enough to hold the attention of the listener throughout each track.

Criticisms: This album does not break new ground in any revolutionary way; it sounds a lot like some of Barber’s better works — but it certainly displays mastery of the art. Think Hindemith spruced up for the market place. This isn’t even really a criticism; you could say that creating market-acceptable art music is a massive innovation in and of itself.

Conclusion: This is a highly sophisticated and listen-able release that displays a lot of theoretical, compositional, and performance mastery, while avoiding the common pitfall of being out of touch with what people want to hear.

FLAVAROOM: THE CROATIAN TIGRESS

425455_397317286951594_1707773970_nMusic review by PJ Cornell.

Syndicated from the Asterisked Music Journal.

Assessment: 9.5 out of 10.

Bottom line up front: I love a good blues band. This is an exceptional blues-fusion band. The harmonic language is complex. The rhythm section is delightfully sophisticated. The vocals and solos are assertive, powerful, polished — rhythmically and harmonically complex, yet perfectly accessible and expressive. The feel is aggressively beautiful and dripping with class.

Highlights: These songs are subtly chromatic, and the harmonic textures are surprisingly varied, yet cogent — perfectly integrated with the rhythmic language. The vocalist is a virtuoso. These people are pros. I challenge you to try to listen to their songs and not get up and dance. I predict you will fail. Their hooks are beyond excellent. Their melodies tend to transition suddenly and seamlessly from being notey and dense to being smooth, simple, and plaintive. Their songs are complex while sounding simple, and the performance is flawless. Their best song, in my opinion, is Walking Down the Stream. Opens with a classic hook in the rhythm guitar, complemented with a sparse, laconic piano hook and warm bass hook. The genius of the melody is that it is assertively on beat — but sounds off beat against the jungle of hooks below it.

Criticisms: The only criticism I have of these guys, is that their sound builds on top of paths that have been explored before. I cannot think of any band that does it better, but they aren’t the first to do it. Don’t let that cause you to overlook them, though. This is some of the best blues I’ve heard in quite a while.

Conclusion: Amazing band with a gorgeous, complex sound. Listening to them is like eating Godiva in a hot tub. Utterly indulgent.

ASCENDERE: METAL — SHIVA STYLE

292265_354946391214168_271990769509731_955633_739138811_nArticle by PJ Cornell.

Syndicated from the Asterisked Music Journal.

Assessment: 8.5 out of 10.

Bottom line up front: Metal is alive and well in the Indian subcontinent, and one of the better representatives of the rising Hindu (I’m assuming) Metal Horde is the band, Ascendere. With their blindingly fast and precise riffs, guitar solos dripping with chromatic flames, brutal screams, and crackling drums, these guys are a force to be reckoned with. Their single, Worthless is a fine specimen of reptilian metal brutality.

Highlights: These guys have everything hardcore metal heads are looking for in a band — driving riffs at breakneck speeds, powerful growls (focused mainly on the mids), an impressive drum performance, and great guitar solos; all set in a brutal quasi-octatonic pitch set.

Criticisms: Ascendere has demonstrated mastery of the genre. However, they have not yet added anything new. Of course the band was only formed in 2011, and they already have a very clean, sophisticated, and powerful brand of speed metal. It is not difficult to imagine that in the coming years, they may yet break new ground in the genre.

Bottom line: These guys stand out among their peers in terms of ability, although they do not yet stand out in terms of originality. That may yet come.