Legendary musician Phil Ranelin returns with a completely new set of tracks with the new album Infinite Expressions (ORG Music), his first album in a decade! Here, the master trombonist takes his time from track to track, allowing his band to build around his compositions. Now while the essence of free-jazz ruminates through the album, songs are well structured to allow the melodies to rise above the surface. It’s almost existential, becoming the soundtrack to our lives. It was my hope the animated film Soul would shine a spotlight on the all but forgotten composers of our time, and it may have worked. The 82-year old musician is still well-versed in his craft as the 15-minute “In Time With The Times” showcases. There are no lulls within the song as it careens blissfully along with Ranelin leading the way. Percussion begins to wrap itself around his instrument as bass notes & guitar chords slink their way in, slowly, adding color to the track. It’s enthralling, much like the 9-minute opus that is the title track. We all need to rediscover the master that is Phil Ranelin.
Turning points come often, and I often come to those points myself. Some question me and offer up how I need to relinquish some of the music I loved in my youth. “You’re not 21 anymore,” they say, and while that may be true, fuck that. If it moves me, I will continue to listen and find artists that share the same inspirations they do, as I do, as most should. But I will never press upon anyone else my own ideals of what they should be doing or what they could be listening to.
I just discovered JOHN and I’m left questioning, “Why haven’t you sought me out like Daniel Day-Lewis did Madeleine Stowe in Last Of The Mohicans???” We could have been such great friends you two and I, but I guess it’s better late than never. The London duo of John Newton (drums, lead vocals) and Johnny Healey (guitar, backing vocals make quite the racket on its new Nocturnal Manoeuvres (Brace Yourself) the band’s third album, rife with 10 powerful tracks. The band delivers scorchers like “A Song For Those Who Speed In Built-up Areas,” which is literally one of my favorite tracks here. It’s the build-up, the repetition, we’re all aware that as the song’s level gradually increases – even ever so slightly – there’s greatness on the horizon. And yes it does. The wall of John’s guitars is matched by the pummeling of John’s drums and it’s fanatically fantastic. It’s loud and frenetic with shifting dynamics, and we find both instruments up, front and center, dismembering everything in its path!
The band offers much more with “Austere Isle,” which plays a bit more with space but holding onto the dramaticism within the song with powerful rhythms a dynamic shift as John Healey’s voice is filtered with effects. It’s quite captivating. But it’s the thundering power in “Sibensko Powerhouse” that stands out, as it rumbles loudly, laying waste to everything in its path, which is what many of the songs here do. If that doesn’t convince you, it’s “Jargoncutter” that slices and dices here, leaving open wounds in its wake. This is cataclysmic with no rivals in sight. Or is it? “Nonessential Hymn” is a grinder of a track, continuously beating listeners into submission. Here, JOHN is about repetition without becoming repetitious. Literally, this could go on for much longer than six and a half minutes and no one would mind because it’s the consistency of the track that makes it fucking brilliant.
Right about now, we should all be about Nocturnal Manoeuvres. The band showcases a vigorous display of ingenuity with just two members, allowing it to sound like many. This is easily one of the best things I’ve heard this week which I’ll be revisiting again and again.
In this game of life, you come across many people; some are liars, others come can go and are placed at certain times just for a moment, and some are there for extended periods of time. By the time you realize it, it’s been years you’ve been building relations with them. Someone who was a friend of a friend of a friend, is now an associate of your own, your friend, or at least someone you respect.
Nashville’s Spoken Nerd has been quite busy, finding inspiration in horror films for a select number of singles he’s released throughout the past couple of years while Cincinnati’s Juan Cosby, a well-versed beat master hasn’t been sitting on his laurels, so to speak, most recently releasing Quantum Foam earlier this year. The album featured a number of artists like Chris Conde, Happy Tooth, Eyenine, a number of others as well as Spoken Nerd. It only made sense the two should collaborate at some point, and rather sooner than later, the two drop the new 13-track Grapes (Audio Recon). Do worlds collide? Is there anything that stands out? Were the two artists able to find a space they could mutually exist within? Well, yes, although that might seem like an understatement.
While Spoken Nerd has always been the emcee/musician that’s been able to hold his own alongside his contemporaries, with Grapes he reaches levels naysayers may have thought he wasn’t capable of. But not the Spoken Nerd, he himself probably saw it coming all along. There isn’t a track here that anyone could cynically dissect because it’s just that good. But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. From the start, the opening Godfather-like intro of the title track, Juan Cosby’s melody is fitted well against Spoken Nerd’s delivery and lyricism. He cleverly cites others, stating “I drop a lot of bars like a Wu-Tang lyricist,” and he’ll “wait for the first harvest of winter” but is unwilling to move forward as “there’s 36 chambers that I’m not about to enter.” He mixes these rhymes with images of TMNT, He-Man, and Charlton Heston B-movies. It’s done well as he strays from becoming campy, hitting every rhyme forcefully & direct. Cosby’s beats are melodic & friendly and find solace against Nerd’s style. “Delicate Flower” is one of the best examples as Nerd flows over just a couple of keyboard notes and bassline that are infectious. But when he offers up those rapid-fire lyrics, this is when man seems to discover fire!
Spoken Nerd & Juan Cosby aren’t afraid to share the limelight as Florida’s E-Turn on “Sacrifice For Destruction” where we hear and understand how she has honed her craft the past few years to become one with the mic, the tool that is her weapon but slashes with her words. Both emcees together clearly cut through with lyrics and Nerd’s over-the-top chorus accentuates the track. Spoken Nerd surrounds himself with others through a number of tracks here, including MC Homeless on “Circle Of Friends,” punctuated with Cosby’s beats and melody that are inviting, and well, friendly. The juxtaposition of music and lyrical content is pretty obvious but works flagrantly well. The gloomy timbre of “Catch 23” where Spoken Nerd shares verses with Isaac Stinson is a bit self-deprecating but hopeful but it’s that beat that’s haunting. It’s as eerie as eerie gets. The surprise here though just might be “Tales With Darko,” featuring Darko The Super. Wrapped in that evident Boom Bap, Spoken Nerd hits, and he hits hard. His delivery, his cadence on the beat is straight-up gangster, coming across like he’s from the Bronx and for a moment I forget he’s from Nashville. Now Darko here, he spits rhymes like a well-seasoned emcee with the utmost control. He doesn’t have to hit that beat every single moment because he knows where it’s heading and either the rhythm or his words will catch up with one another at some point. Not many are able to pull this off but Darko does it with such ease.
While there remain a couple of other emcees on tracks (247, Isaac Stinson), On this album it doesn’t seem Spoken Nerd utilizes them as a crutch but more as a welcomed wonder. He kills the beat on the frantic “Hit Or Miss,” and builds his words figuratively & literally around “Tokens.” He cleverly wraps his words around the arcade life many of us are familiar with. There are a number of aspects of the emcee we see here, and the whimsical “Bad Coffee” is one we can all relate to. Cosby’s playful beat captures the feel completely as Nerd runs through situations coming back to that bad cup of java.
Grapes. It’s an album that’s filled with variety but filled with the essence that is Spoken Nerd and Juan Cosby. It’s idiosyncratic, it’s dark, it’s heavy; it’s the culmination of a number of emotions that plays to the strength of both artists. One thing is certain though, this is good. Warriors good. Safe to say, one of the best.