Monday, November 20, 2017

Wembley or Bust (2017), by Jeff Lynne’s ELO

What more can I say that hasn’t already been said, not just about this live album but any of Jeff Lynne’s work, especially concerning Electric Light Orchestra?

Jeff Lynne is one of those artists whose music most people most likely will like, regardless of whether or not they are fans, and this is one of those albums that they most likely will like as well.

This is a great-sounding recording of Lynne’s performance in front of a 60,000-capacity crowd at London’s Wembley Stadium in 2017, with tuneful hit after tuneful hit after tuneful hit – 23 in all over two CDs and comprising one hour and 40 minutes of sonic bliss.

Of those, I can probably distill the album down to my top 10 for a compact personal playlist. However, there’s no point in me highlighting what those are, because every scintillating track here radiates accessible pop-hook brilliance.

I will say that Lynne’s cover of George Harrison’s “Handle with Care,” from Harrison and Lynne’s all-star supergroup The Traveling Wilburys, especially stands out. The only other person who comes as close to emulating Harrison’s voice and spirit – besides Harrison’s son, Dhani – is Lynne.

This is as delectable and delightful a pop confection as there ever could be, served up infectiously with both style and substance as only Jeff Lynne inimitably can.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Then! Live in Tokyo (2003, 2017), by Allan Holdsworth

One of my regrets in life is that I never got around to seeing master guitarist Allan Holdsworth work his fretboard magic in person. For me and others who share my predicament, this album is the next best thing, and it is a wonder.

Although this was originally released in 2003, the set was actually recorded in 1990, and it shows a musical visionary and genius in the improvisational brilliance of the moment.

Aside from the interesting but otherwise nonessential explorations of the composed-on-the-spot "Zones," the collection features a choice selection of artist and fan favorites, which generally hew to the overall structure of the studio originals but allow plenty of leeway for Holdsworth to take off on ecstatically dizzying flights of frenzy.

And take off he does, especially on “White Line” and “Non-Brewed Condiment,” which are the best versions of those tunes and, dare I say, among the most amazing and awesome displays of lead electric guitar playing ever recorded.

For diehard Allan Holdsworth fans, this is a great closer to the incredible, must-have, 12-CD box set, The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever! The Allan Holdsworth Album Collection.
For those who don’t want to do a deep dive into the box set or the 2-CD artist-curated retrospective, Eidolon: The Allan Holdsworth Collection, but want to hear great guitar by an exceptional guitarist, Then! is as close to an excellent, compact “greatest hits” collection as you can get, as well as a fantastic record of Holdsworth’s prowess live.

--Raj Manoharan

Flat Tire: Music for a Non-Existent Movie (2001, 2017), by Allan Holdsworth

Aside from some electric guitar on the lead track and Dave Carpenter playing bass on a couple of cuts, Allan Holdsworth's final studio album produced and released in his lifetime is primarily a synthaxe-only affair, making this his purest and most personal expression of his artistic vision.

The music, recorded at a difficult time for Holdsworth, is contemplative and cinematic, living up to the title and also making it curious that Holdsworth never composed actual motion picture and television soundtracks. Holdsworth would have been a perfect match for Hollywood.

It's also unfortunate for dedicated and loyal fans that Holdsworth didn't make any more solo records for the remaining 16 years of his life. However, he did stay active with live performances at events and festivals and guest appearances and collaborations on other musicians' albums.

Many unappreciative guitar aficionados, including several of Holdsworth's own ardent followers, found Holdsworth's synthaxe musings inaccessible and mystifying. But if you really pay close attention, you will discern not only Holdsworth's brilliance as a composer but also his unparalleled skill and unique talent as a guitarist, even and especially in the context of the synthaxe. And therein lies the reward.

--Raj Manoharan

The Grand Pecking Order (2001), by Oysterhead

"Come on kiddies gather 'round / There's a new sensation here in town / When all else has been done and said / Along comes Mr. Oysterhead."

Oysterhead may not be the last word – or note or chord – in music, or any art for that matter, but they are definitely one of the most unique, exhilarating, and maniacal voices in the socioeconomic and political entertainment continuum.

I recently exhumed this gem from deep within my archival collection in anticipation of the eponymous debut album by supergroup Gizmodrome, co-founded by Police and Animal Logic drummer Stewart Copeland, who also sits behind the kit for Oysterhead in collusion with Primus bassist/vocalist Les Claypool and Phish guitarist/vocalist Trey Anastasio.

Obviously, the collaboration of such musical giants as Copeland, Claypool, and Anastasio results in instrumental performances of the highest technical – not to mention grand pecking – order. And thanks especially to the freewheeling mad genius of Claypool, as well as Copeland and Anastasio, the lyrics and vocals are refreshingly ludicrous.

For example, sample some more practical wisdom from Oysterhead: "Rubberneck lions as I lie in bed / I bought a cactus from a miser named Fred / I choose to live on water and bread / Rubberneck lions as I lie in bed."

Although Oysterhead themselves are not the last word, I leave the last words of my review to them, extolling their presumably imaginary namesake's virtues, which I believe they also share:

"He's an inspiration! He's an inspiration! He's an inspiration to us ALL!"

--Raj Manoharan

Riff Tricks – The Instrumentals Vol. 1 (2017), by Gizmodrome

This is basically the same album as the official self-titled release, but without the main vocals and featuring some slightly different versions, a couple of live tracks, and guest vocals on one song.

The removal of vocals for the most part gives the record the advantage of focusing on the high-level instrumental prowess of the four musical giants involved, namely Adrian Belew on guitar, Mark King on bass, Vittorio Cosma on keyboards, and grand master Stewart Copeland on drums.

The generally rigid structure of the compositions indicates that they were designed more as “playing for singing rather than playing for playing” (shout out to Roger Low!). Regardless, the music is energetic and exhilarating, and the players still manage to let loose even within the confines of the arrangements.

In addition to being a great companion to the regular album and a satisfying alternative for those who would prefer instrumental versions, this is as fine an example of forward-thinking progressive rock as any.

--Raj Manoharan

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

3 for 3 (2017), by Mike Moreno

With 3 for 3, Mike Moreno’s scorecard for high-quality album releases is now 6 for 6.

The Texas-born, New York City-based jazz guitarist’s sixth solo record is his first leading a trio, and it is every bit as compelling and engrossing as his previous entries fronting quartets and quintets.

Moreno, bassist Doug Weiss, and drummer Kendrick Scott prove to be a tight unit as they dazzle their way through eight covers with aplomb and deftness. The arrangements and performances are elaborate and beautiful.

Very few artists in any genre have a body of work that is consistently good, and Moreno holds an esteemed place in that extremely small group. Not every single song of his, whether original or standard, is absolutely stunning or amazing, but none of them are sub-par or uninteresting either, a rare and unique feat in itself that makes each of his albums equally solid.

All of the songs here are captivating, but my favorites are “Clube da Esquina No. 1,” with its mesmerizing blend of lyrical acoustic guitar and swooning electric guitar, and “Glass Eyes,” which features swirls of cascading electric guitar tones.

This is another outstanding entry from an extraordinary musician who continues to excite, innovate, and inspire.

--Raj Manoharan

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

New Mike Moreno Album Scheduled for Release November 3, 2017

New York City-based jazz guitarist Mike Moreno is set to release his sixth solo album, 3 for 3, this Friday, November 3, 2017.

The collection appears to be the Texas native's first trio record as a bandleader. The lineup includes Doug Weiss on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums.

In anticipation of the new album, I have come up with a recommended playlist of my favorite Mike Moreno tunes, spanning his five previous entries.


World of the Marionettes * Uncertainty * I Have a Dream * Another Way 1 * Milagre dos peixes * Mantra # 5 * Another Way 2 * The Mariner * The Hills of Kykuit * Lotus

--Raj Manoharan