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MICHAEL MANRING/ Unusual Weather: All hail the return of a neglected classic. At the time, I don't think anyone suspected what a ground breaking set this was, it just seemed like a nice entry in the new age/new acoustic music canon. Ha ha. Avoiding all the usual commercial clichés of a bass player's record, Manring forged his distinctive style that would go on to be as much of a game changer as the playing of Jaco was. Even if you don't want to deeply consider all the ramifications of this 30 year old set and it's impact on musos, you can just sit back and enjoy what wonderful playing is on parade here. Real music for real muso fans, this is a fine look at an MVP getting his spurs. Check it out, again.

DAROL ANGER/BARBARA HIGBIE QUINTET/Live at Montreux: The lynch pin recording that defined the second golden age of Windham Hill as it entered the mass market and people began to realize there was more to the label than George Winston, the first Windham Hill night at Montreux confounded the masses as they didn't know what to call and how to pigeon hole this lovely, adult reaction to hair cut and hair metal bands taking over the airwaves, disenfranchising boomers that were weaned on buying records. Still as fresh, ear opening and groundbreaking as it was in 1985, it's such a treat to hear all the players on board as ‘youngsters' and now realize what a bunch of old souls they really were. Riding the gulf of chamber jazz classical, no wonder Will Ackerman was so insulted when people would call this "American ECM' music. It really was ground breaking stuff that stood quite well on it's own. A classic for contemporary instrumental music lovers.

HOLLAND PHILLIPS/Daydream Alley: With his background in prog rock and classical, Phillips has the skills to add commercial chops to his blend of multi-instrumental new age to blunt the bleats of those who don't cotton to new age music because they feel it doesn't go anywhere, like the pop songs they are used to. Not dumbing the genre down to reach farther into the masses, Phillips uses his skill to bring newbies into the tent and charm them with warm, fuzzy, kind of familiar moves to disarm them and open their ears. Another in a line of his winning sets, this is a great audio oasis.

RY COODER/Broadcast from the Plant: Even though he was jamming with Edward, not everyone wanted to follow Ry Cooder into the purple valley until after his third record, "Boomer's Story". This live radio concert hit the airwaves just before the release of his fourth album, his "breakthrough" "Paradise and Lunch" which finds this set heavy on tracks from those two albums. With spare but killer backing from Jim Dickinson and Jim Keltner (which will mean a lot to boomer music fans), you could almost mistake Cooder for a proto, friendlier Leon Redbone who'd be wandering onto the scene a few years later. A shining example of the last days of FM underground music where hits were defined by heart, this is a must for any boomer that spent too much time in the campus coffee shop back in the day. This is a first class journey through the past that'll have you glad to be coming in on a wing and a prayer once again.

ANIMA/Sacred Alliance: Released right on the heels of the murder of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, this sonic call to respect the earth and all parts of it should be called into play as the soundtrack for the movement to bring justice to those who desecrate the inhabitants of the ecosystem. The way a society treats it's animals is an indication of how it's going to treat it's people and this is almost an instrumental call to order. Of course, new agers can hot tub the day away with this in the background as well but just like all young creatures call out ‘ma' when they are in trouble or danger, it is a call to Gaia to set things right with her divine energy waving the magic wand.

STEVIE NICKS/Beauty and the Beast: This recording of a 1986 live concert simulcast finds Nicks tearing it up in support of her third solo album released long after the Big Mac's special sauce had temporarily run dry in the wake of the great "Tusk ‘ implosion. If you've seen any of the long performances videos of La Nicks on You Tube where she gets so lost in performance that she's just losing her mind and you don't know if it's real or just stage presence, you'll have an idea where she's at and where she's coming from in concert here. Segueing songs together like a Miles Davis performance, Nicks ends up this show with some long form mind losing that underscores why she's become such an enduring icon. Without the restrictions of the man tugging at her brocade, she cuts loose here like she didn't in the studio giving her full power and glory a righteous display.

SHAI MAESTRO TRIO/Untold Stories: Some cats know how to work the switchback and head fake and others just try for the gold ring each time the merry go round passes it by. Maestro leads a piano trio where you might call what they play modern jazz but you certainly wouldn't confuse it for cocktail jazz. Staying away from the pots and pans version of modern jazz that too many manqué fall back on, this is forward thinking, creative stuff that keeps you in your seat even thought there's nothing smooth about it or the ride it takes you on. Tasty stuff from a cat that'll take you on the journey as he breaks down walls, this is high octane stuff you don't have to be strictly left leaning to get. Well done throughout by a rising master of the head fake.

JAY GORDON & BLUES VENOM/Woodchoppers Ball: It's Friday afternoon, work is over. But this isn't the kind of Friday that beckons smooth jazz and cocktails, this is the kind of Friday that needs shredding and beer to give the weekend the proper start. Gordon, his guitar and his crew are right there with ya, buddy. Rounding out this set with some tracks from previous sets, this Chicago born hard core blues rocker wears his heart on his sleeve as he delivers the smoking goods and forces you to discharge corpuscles that are dragging their way through your bloodstream rather than pulling their weight. Almost like he never heard the 60s ended, you might think Butterfield will start playing next. Killer stuff that never lets you down.

MARK CHRISTIAN MILLER/Crazy Moon: Some things just speak for themselves. Miller was a protégé of Page Cavanaugh in the later stages of Cavanaugh's life when he mastered the art of keeping cruise ship passengers musically satisfied. Miller takes those lessons and more and incorporates them into his piano/vocal stylings where he takes on a wide variety of chestnuts, breathes new life into them when needed, and creates an atmosphere where you can enjoy him in the background or be glad he can spell you when you don't feel like talking for a while. A game changer in the sense that he only wants to entertain, he let's his fine sense of taste lead the way whether in the song stack, choice of sidemen and arrangements or attitude and vibe in general. A bar raiser for cabaret/salon singers everywhere.

MICK KOLASSA/Ghosts of the Riverside Hotel: Wow, whatever this guy's back story is, it matters less and less with each new release. A aging white boy with the blues, Kolassa once again picks up his ax with an eye toward giving the proceeds to the Blues Foundation to continue to do good by doing good. It's so deeply from the heart it's almost like he's playing with open heart surgery. Whether original, cover, or cover that shouldn't work but does, we're starting to get the sense that this cat is a self compiled encyclopedia of the blues with the chops to back up putting himself out there front and center. And before he's done, he got a load of white boys with the blues coming by to strut their stuffs as well. Hot stuff throughout with all the right moves in all the right places, dis cat is da bomb! Well done throughout.

Volume 38/Number 273
July 31, 2015
830 W. Route 22 #144
Lake Zurich, IL., 60047
CHRIS SPECTOR, Editor and Publisher
Copyright 2015 Midwest Record

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