Friday, August 12, 2011

Alex Skolnick Trio Releases 'Bollywood Jam' Video

Alex Skolnick Trio have just released the official music video for the song "Bollywood Jam" off of their latest album Veritas. The song in itself captures the vibe of its title very well, but this video gives it a whole another dimension and presents the concept visually. Besides the trio, the video features three belly-dancers named Erica, Tava and Kazja, who successfully bring forth the Bollywood aspect. The video is very elegantly and aesthetically done, and it's something not only every AST fan will enjoy, but is sure to go down well with jazz fans in general. I look forward to see if the band will present more songs from the album in the form of music videos in the near future, but until then, this will most certainly do. Check out the video below.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Rodrigo y Gabriela: re-Foc (Album Review)

Released: Sometime in 2002
Reviewed: August 2nd, 2011
Label: Rubyworks

Rating: 9.5/10

Track Listing:
1. Diem
2. New One
3. Foc
4. Georges Street - The Tartar Frigate
5. 30 de Marzo
6. Paris
7. Take Five
8. Temple Bar

Even though the duo of Rodrigo y Gabriela is perhaps not defined as 'jazz' in the strictest sense of the word, their music is a fusion of a wide variety of styles and I feel it has an element of jazz. It certainly carries the same soothing vibe that characterizes jazz music. It comes as no surprise to me that the duo often participates in jazz festivals, like their appearance in the Nice Jazz Festival in Portland last year. Over the course of their short but much celebrated musical career, they have collaborated with jazz aficionados like Alex Skolnick, and their music often exudes a very recognizable Al Di Meola influence. Hence I found enough reason to write about them in this blog. I start with their re-Foc album, which was technically their second album but it was really the first album that was easily accessible to everyone.

The album starts off with "Diem", a tune decorated with brilliantly crafted acoustic guitar segments of varying speeds along with the violin which provides the smooth touch, if you can call it that. Besides being terrific musicians, Rodrigo and Gabriela are also huge fans of music themselves, and they often dedicate their tunes to some of their favorite musicians, Dave Mustaine in the case of Diem. The following tune "New One" is slow in tempo, giving you ample chance to absorb and savor the incredible melody of the acoustic guitars. The layer of vocals and violin on top of the guitars makes the tune even more powerful than it already is. "Foc" brings back the speedy Di Meola-esque style of musicianship that was evident in the opening track, and by the time I was done listening to the 5 minutes and 40 seconds of this tune, I was gasping for air, such is the breathtaking splendor this tune possesses.

"Georges Street - The Tartar Frigate" has a more prominent violin sound, even though the acoustic guitars are in full flow as usual. The interplay between the guitars and violin is just beautiful. It's followed by "30 de Marzo", a slow, soft and melancholic tune that perhaps serves as the breaking point of the album. These incredibly powerful 4 minutes lead into "Paris" which comes across as a complete contrast. The interlude contains a small portion of "Blitzkrieg", a song originally written by a band of the same name, covered years later by Metallica. "Take Five" follows, the longest tune on the album and certainly the most enjoyable one as well. This is another tune with a reference to Metallica, as it contains an excerpt from the song "One". The tune carries forward with a brilliant build-up to the One interlude which then leads into a delightful final segment. "Temple Bar" brings the album to an end. It's a very interesting tune in terms of its composition, as it alternates between full-sounding passages, those that consist of nothing but a single layer of guitar, and others with only percussion. It breaks the tune into several segments and I would very much like to see this played live, as it should turn out to be a great live tune.

Overall, this album proves the sheer brilliance the duo possess in their musicianship. If acoustic guitar-oriented music is something you enjoy, you shouldn't look past Rodrigo y Gabriela's re-Foc.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Al Di Meola: Elegant Gypsy (Vinyl Review)

Released: Sometime in 1977
Reviewed: August 1st 2011
Label: Columbia

Side 1:
1. Flight Over Rio
2. Midnight Tango
3. Mediterranean Sundance

Side 2:
1. Race With Devil On Spanish Highway
2. Lady Of Rome, Sister Of Brazil
3. Elegant Gypsy Suite

My rating: 10/10

After falling in love with jazz legend Al Di Meola's debut album "Land Of The Midnight Sun", it was only appropriate that I gave his second album a listen. Thanks to Amoeba, the record store that never ceases to amaze me, I got myself a copy of it on vinyl for a mere 4 dollars. I found the vinyl in absolutely pristine and flawless condition, and I can safely say I can't think of anything better to spend 4 dollars on.

But even before I took out the disc and started listening to the music itself, it was a purely delightful moment for me just to feel the smell of a record that's several years old, and to hold the artwork in my hand. It's a piece of art that does complete justice to the album title and even though the front cover is nothing short of amazing, the picture on the back is the real gem, beautiful to say the least. This is one reason why I have gravitated towards vinyl, due to the sheer joy of being able to appreciate cover artwork as actual works of art, being able to see the details the artist wants me to see, on a piece of cardboard that's 9 times the size of a CD cover.

Moving on to the music, "Flight Over Rio" gives the album a magical start with a haunting yet peaceful and soothing beginning which then leads into the speedy latin jazz style of music that can be heard in plenty on the debut album. It's a very dynamic sort of tune, one that clearly indicates the musical progression Di Meola made from the first album to this one. This 7-minute bonanza gives way to the next track "Midnight Tango", one the most beautiful pieces of music I have ever come across. Devin Townsend's acoustic performance at this year's NAMM left me hypnotized, and listening to this tune for the first time was another experience of a similar kind. I never imagined the clean electric guitar sound to be as powerful as this, and to put it mildly, listening to this guy make the guitar talk is quite an overwhelming experience. Side 1 ends with "Mediterranean Sundance", which sounds exactly like its title suggests and turns out to be a brilliant exhibition of flamenco guitar played at lightning pace for major portions of the tune, backed by Paco de Lucia's acoustic guitar as he adds another layer to an already breathtaking composition.

"Race With Devil On Spanish Highway" starts off Side 2 and straightaway offers something different from the tracks on Side 1, presenting a sound that's bass-heavy to begin with. In fact it's the interplay between the bass and guitar that makes this tune stand out on its own. You could listen to this song countless number of times and I can assure you that you'll be amazed every single time. It leads into the next tune "Lady Of Rome, Sister Of Brazil", a title which aptly captures the Latin essence that's exuded by its music. The most amazing thing is the manner in which Di Meola presents the speed in his guitar play even in tunes like this where the overall rhythm is either very down-tempo or doesn't exist at all. It takes a musician of his calibre to make tunes that sound rhythmical even without much of a rhythm section. The album closes out with the Elegant Gypsy Suite, quite simply a masterpiece that can only be listened to and not described in words, so I'll leave it at that.

Overall, Di Meola certainly took his music to the next level with this album as compared to his debut, and emphatically so. Now I am even more interested in checking out his third studio album to find out where the music takes me.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Al Di Meola: Land Of The Midnight Sun (Vinyl Review)

Released: October 25th, 1976
Reviewed: July 29th, 2011
Record Label: Columbia

My rating: 10/10

Track Listing:

1. The Wizard
2. Land Of The Midnight Sun
3. Sarabande From Violin Sonata In B Minor
4. Love Theme From Pictures Of The Sea
5. Suite Golden Dawn:
    Morning Fire
    Calmer Of The Tempests
    From Ocean To The Clouds
6. Short Tales Of The Black Forest

Al Di Meola is undoubtedly a legendary musician, and despite the fact that I have devoted the best part of the last seven years of my life listening to heavy metal, I often came across his name, hearing and reading about how great and influential he has been, not only to jazz musicians but to musicians across the board. And when Glen Drover included a great rendition of Al Di Meola's "Egyptian Danza" in his solo debut "Metalusion" this year, it only succeeded in further piquing my interest. Other than that cover, I had honestly never heard his music. But now that I've decided to delve into the wonderful world of jazz, the first artist I'm laying focus on is none other than Di Meola. I wanted to start right from the beginning, so I paid a visit to Amoeba yesterday to pick up his debut album on vinyl. There was a sense of excitement and anticipation in me as I held that huge piece of artwork, took out the vinyl, placed it on my turntable and started listening to it.

"The Wizard" gives the album a very Latin start. Di Meola's guitar, synth and percussion combine together to create insane harmonies, as the song makes a journey through multiple tempo shifts. The tune is nothing short of mind-blowing, and makes a long-lasting impact on the listener's mind straightaway. The sheer range of Di Meola's musical abilities is quite evident even in these mere 6 and a half minutes. The title song keeps a similar style going, but in the process it provides yet more delightful musical passages that vary from each other but are brilliantly arranged together to somehow make the tune sound like a cohesive unit. The bass sound is also quite a lot more prominent in this one as compared to the opening track. The song is over 9 minutes long, but I have come across countless number of songs that are of equal or longer duration, and don't even come close to being as musically rich as this one.

A short acoustic guitar piece titled "Sarabande From Violin Sonata In B Minor" comes next. There is nothing quite as mentally liberating as the pristine sound of an acoustic guitar, and when it's being played by someone like Di Meola, it's even better. So needless to say, I'm glad that the album includes an acoustic guitar piece by itself. This is followed by another soft little piece of music titled "Love Theme From Pictures Of The Sea". Besides the sounds of the acoustic guitar, electric guitar and traces of percussion and synth, for the first and only time on the album you'll hear vocals.

Side B has just two tracks, the first being a three-part opus titled "Suite Golden Dawn". I would say the titles of the three parts, "Morning Fire", "Calmer Of The Tempests" and "From Ocean To The Clouds" are completely justified as the music creates images that go perfectly with their respective titles. The tune moves beautifully from part to part as they blend very smoothly into each other. Di Meola and his posse of musicians offer a whole plethora of music, creating 10 minutes that can truly be savored. The album comes to a perfect ending, with veteran musician Chick Corea joining in with a composition of his own, titled "Short Tales Of The Black Forest". Not only did he write the complete song, but also played the piano and marimba on it, making it quite a unique track that stands on its own when compared to the rest of the album.

Overall, this album is every bit as great as I had expected it to be, and then some. From this it's pretty clear that the brilliance of Al Di Meola was there for everyone to see, even at such an early stage of his career, and I can imagine how this album must have provided the ideal launching pad for the rest of his career, inspiring Di Meola to keep creating music that in turn became a huge inspiration for others who were fortunate enough to be exposed to this piece of music when it was actually first released, exactly nine years before I was born.

Interview with Glen Drover (Audio)

I did this interview with Glen Drover to talk in detail about his solo debut "Metalusion". Listen to the 15-minute chat above.

Interview with Alex Skolnick (Video)

This is an interview most Metal Assault followers must have seen already, but I'm posting it here because I feel it ties in appropriately with my album review. Watch the 3-minute chat if you haven't already.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Interview with Evan Brewer (Video)

I got to do a brief interview with Evan Brewer at the Key Club in Hollywood CA just a few weeks back, on July 10th, to talk about his solo album "Alone" and the tour with Animals As Leaders. Watch the 5-minute chat above. Thanks to Amanda G Hernandez for filming it.