Sirkis Bialas IQ, Our New Earth, 2019

sirkis bialas iq - our new earthSecond album from Asaf Sirkis (drums) and Sylwia Bialas (vocals and waterphone) with Frank Harrison on keyboards and Kevin Glasgow on bass. Together they deliver 11 tracks on 2 discs (38 and 47 minutes)

I guess on the surface this is going to be labelled as vocal jazz, but close listening reveals this goes beyond that. Let’s have a look at Land Of Oblivion which is very dreamlike, with soundscapes and a voice that is  used as an instrument, rather than taking a leading role. Beautiful. And while on other albums wordless singing can really get on my nerves, in for example Letter to A. it is done just right.
Other influences include modern classical music, folk, progrock and world music.

While the result will not be to everyone’s liking perhaps, there is no denying a lot of heart and soul is put into the songs. This transcends the typical Jazz idiom for me and truly reaches out on an emotional level to anyone willing to listen.

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Yuval Ron, Somewhere In This Universe, 2019

yuval ron - somewhere in this universeLet me first set the record straight on the title. The official full length title of this album is Somewhere In This Universe, Somebody Hits A Drum. Featuring Marco Minneman.

With that out of the way, a confession; I have played this album many times now, and I still hate the title track that opens the album. The wordless “singing” from Ron destroys it for me. And there are other spots which keep putting me of. Something to do with the label name; Wrong Notes… On the other hand, there are also moments that I enjoy very much, like in Wifi In Emerald City and The Discovery Of Phoebe.
The strange thing is that it is advertised as a progressive rock album while for me it is above all a fusion record. And while it is less free form as some other albums discussed on these pages, in my current mood I have a hard time connecting to this.

No discussion about the musicianship on offer, technically this is great. Guess my expectations were just wrong, and I might also not be in the right state of mind. For me it is now time to move on. Sorry!

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Bryan Beller, Scenes From The Flood, 2019

Bryan-Beller-Scenes-From-The-FloodSome musicians are so talented it’s almost inhuman. And when they often work with other guys whose chops are also out of this world, I get suspicious. Maybe the aliens are already amongst us and just dazzle us with their musical capabilities…

Well one can never tell for sure, but Bryan Beller sure is a guy that has talent in spades. And not just as a bass player, the job he’s best known for.

This double album proves he is much more. And thus delivers another album to prove people wrong who do not believe instrumental music can be as entertaining as vocals songs. (There are some vocals present on the albums by the way).
A lot of diversity on offer too, and all packed in Songs, not just your (above) average rifferama. From catchy to spectacular and everything in between, the album delivers! And accessible too, I loved it at first play. But that is not surprising or else I would have chosen other words to describe the joy of listening to this. Stellar!

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Nicolas Meier World Group, Peaceful, 2019

nicolas meier world group - peacefulGuitarist Nicolas Meier has been featuring in many guises here on the blog. And where many of his contemporaries (on the familiar Moonjune label for instance) impress with improvisations (which do require a trained ear), Meier seems more at home in well thought out and arranged songs. The benefit? It is far easier to connect to his music!

Album Peaceful was released last year but as with a lot of albums, has silently been waiting on its turn.  Again this is an album one can play on many occasions. It is a joy for the casual listener because of the melodies and the obvious Eastern influences. And while I love that feel, I will always be impressed by the technical side too. Especially since here they are a means, and not a destination.

Another good one!

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Mark Wingfield & Gary Husband, Tor & Vale, 2019

wingfield husband - tor and valeGuitarist Mark Wingfield is no stranger to these pages. And while not everything he does suits me, several of his albums are a pleasure to hear. Sadly, this album with Gary Husband on piano is not one of them.

The reason for this is simple (at least for me); 3 of the 8 songs (together 39 of the 76 minutes of the CD) are spontaneous improvisations, recorded directly after they finished recording the other 5. And while there is no denying that these guys are very capable musicians, I am having a hard time connecting to this. Maybe I am currently not in the right set of mind or something. For me this is too abstract, too free of form and without structure.

So if that is something you do enjoy, be your own judge. I’ll take a rain check and play a more simple album…

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Oxley Meier, The Alluring Ascent, 2019

Oxley-Meier-the-Alluring-AscentAs if running an award winning venue, touring with Jeff Beck or releasing numerous albums isn’t enough, you can always get together to do another combined album. So that is what Pete Oxley and Nicolas Meier did on their fourth album together.

Since they tour as a quartet, or perform as a duo, all songs on the album can be played in both formats. As usual, they also use a plethora of stringed instruments of which the 11 string fretless guitar, or a 7 string nylon are amongst the less obvious choices.

But it is the music that counts and this album is just wonderful for many occasions. Yes it is jazzy, but this oozes the mood of a weekend barbecue with some good friends, drinking wine and enjoying each other’s company. Musically it is of the highest order, with intricate playing. But the guys made sure it would work for both the occasional listener, as well as the fan that studies every lick and trick. It is tasty, it is sophisticated as it is warm and authentic.
East Coast Jams is such a fine example. On the surface it passes along nicely, but there are so many details incorporated that showcase how talented all the musicians involved are.

A very enjoyable album, and one I would play to people who say they don’t like jazz / fusion.

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Vasil Hadzimanov Band, Lines In Sand, 2019

vasil hadzimanov band - lines in sandBeen a couple of years since previous album Alive was discussed here. And looking back, and now hearing this, I have been wondering; is this album more accessible, or have I grown in understanding this type of music? As you will know by now, a lot of releases coming from Moonjune are not for the faint hearted. Often based on jams and improvisations they always impress with musical and technical skills, but rarely hit home on first play. I consider most of them growers…

So how about this one then? Well it seems that this time, the mix of fusion, funk, psychedelia, rock and so on, has generated a couple of tracks I like from the first time I heard them! Mr. Moonjune has some recurring themes (always helpful to connect with), and a great funky groove going. The way the piano arpeggio in San Snova is rhythmically accompanied by the band is very imaginative. Lost, with vocals from Marta Hadzimanov, is a beautiful jazzy song, with impressive restrained playing. And Maklik is just brilliant.
Of course, variation is key here, and they do sometimes indulge in extensive soloing on whatever instrument they seem fit. But for me this is an album that I would play again in the future.

Yes, I like it, especially the funky side of it!

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Stephan Thelen, Fractal Guitar, 2019

stephan thelen - fractal guitarThird Moonjune release in a relative short time for me and still very different than other artists on the label. As is fairly usual for Moonjune, this release incorporates many other musicians. Markus Reuter is one of them, and a busy one. Other names are David Torn, Matt Tate, Jon Durant, etc. Thelen himself provides guitar, organ and samples.

Recorded over a 3 year period all over Europe and North America, this album is based around recurring themes over which layers and layers of guitars have been recorded. The drums (excellent sound by the way) lay down a groove and add fills, but this is all about guitar. I think the bass is coming from the 8 string guitars. Because of the constant repeating of especially the bass / base, a kind of hypnotic feel is created. The guitars are used in many different ways. Some sound are highly processed, with tons of reverb and echo, thus creating a certain mood. Other parts add colour, lightness, percussive elements and of course solos and or melodies.

After repeated listen I am still asking myself how I feel about the album. Main problem for me is that the constant repeating of the bass riff seems a bit one dimensional. Especially since the 5 tracks together generate 67 minutes of music. On the other hand, the drums and guitars often create nice moods and make me enjoy the tracks.

Fans of King Crimson (especially their instrumental side) will enjoy this. Fans of intelligent instrumental music should also listen in. I am curious how this will develop in the future.

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Dewa Budjana, Mahandini, 2019

dewa budjana - mahandiniFrom all Moonjune artists, I think Dewa Budjana is one of my favourites. He not only is a gifted guitar player, but  he also writes songs that appeal to me because of their fluid melodies and intricate arrangements. And on his new album he surprises with enlisting Marco Minneman on drums, Jordan Rudess on keyboards and the (just as) fabulous Mohini Dey on bass. Also John Frusciante sings on 2 tracks and plays a solo. Other guests are Mike Stern (solo) and Soimah Pancawati (vocal).

Opener Crowded is a bit of a surprise, but of the pleasant kind. A rather rocking track that shows another side. Queen Kanya is a more complex but still melodic gem where Hyang Giri marries East and West in a way that should please both sides too. All musicians also shine in a solo spot here.
Well, actually these musicians not really need a special spot to shine, because their talents are unmistakeable. But where several label mates prefer free form improvisations, with Budjana’s music it always seems to be composed. This gives the music a more clear direction and makes it more easy (for me) to enjoy it. So you try listening to Jung Oman and resist the beautiful playing, fuelled with emotion.

Yes, every of the 7 songs on offer highlights different aspects of the mix of  progrock and fusion. With releases like this, Budjana firmly remains high on my favourites list.

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Xavi Reija, The Sound Of The Earth, 2018

xavi reija - the sound of the earthSpanish maestro drummer Xavi Reija is giving us another insight in his musical world. And if you are familiar with his previous releases, you will already know that his world is one of complex ideas, based on inventive rhythms and jazzy notes and free form jams.

Accompanying him on this album are the ever so wonderful Tony Levin on bass and stick and on (touch) guitars Markus Reuter and Dusan Jevtovic. All of them no stranger to the Moonjune label.

If anything, this is another album that you will have to digest slowly and repeatedly. Well, at least for me that is certainly the case. Should you be familiar with the Three Of A Perfect Pair album from King Crimson, I am getting the same kind of vibe from several of the songs here. So lots of sound and noise things happening in seemingly random order.
So where opening track Deep Ocean surprises me with riffs and hooks I can immediately identify with, others like From Darkness make me look over my shoulder to check if I am still alone…

Of course there is no debating the quality of the musicians here. This is just a matter of taste and the willingness to invest a lot of time of getting to know and appreciate the music. Which is too rare a thing sadly in today’s world of fast everything. But if you regard yourself an exception to that rule, enjoy this trip!

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