Tag Archives: Theo Travis

Upcoming gigs – Theo Travis Double Talk tour, Death & Vanilla/LUST in London

24 Sep

While I’m not particularly happy with the fact that time and concentration opportunities are mainly restricting me to posting up gig news at present, there are side benefits. One of these is to go on virtual tours of my own, finding out (via tour schedules) where music is still happening in this time of chopped budgets and closed venues. If I’m covering musicians who play in out of the way places, or out-of-the-way venues, I get to find out even more – drawing myself out of my London-centric knowledge or a focus on big-gig places. I get to discover pubs, restaurants or found spaces in which people are still fanning musical sparks or maintaining a tradition instead of just selling up for luxury flats. I find this heartening.

Theo Travis

Theo Travis

Theo Travis has just announced an English tour for his Double Talk quartet, promoting their new album ‘Transgression’. Over the past decade, Theo’s made a name for himself as a musician who slips particularly easily and unfussily between genres. While he’s become the go-to saxophonist for British progressive and psychedelic rock and legacy fusion as well as for assorted ambient projects, he’s also achieved this without denting his impressive if understated jazz credentials. Double Talk – Theo on saxophones/flutes/ambitronics loops, plus Mike Outram (guitar), Pete Whittaker (Hammond organ) and Nic France (drums) – puts him together with three similarly flexible, fuss-free musicians.

Between them, the four can collectively boast involvement with some heavy-duty transatlantic jazz names (Nucleus, Loose Tubes, Tim Garland, Norma Winstone, Herbie Mann, John Etheridge, Slim Gaillard, Martin Speake), but also some serious engagements with rock (David Gilmour, Steven Wilson, The Wonder Stuff, Catherine Wheel), soul and dance (Bill Withers, Working Week), loop work with Robert Fripp and Steve Lawson, drum-and-bass with Photek, contemporary classical with Harvey Brough, and excursions into country and kids’ music. Having straddling all of these approaches via the application of talent and open-mindedness (and, crucially, a lack of preciousness), all four bring the same qualities and the lessons learned to Double Talk’s music – an airy English merge of fast-moving quizzical tunes, omnivorous jazz vocabulary and breezy humour bouncing on a solid chassis, but with the ability to move purposefully into open meditational territory and to stop and smell the fresh air whenever necessary.

The new tour starts on Saturday and crops up hither-and-yon until January next year – and here are the dates:

  • Jazzlive @ The Crypt, St. Giles Church, Camberwell Church Street, Camberwell, London, SE5 8JB, UK – Saturday 26th September 2015
  • The Eagle Tavern, 24 High Street, Rochester, Kent, ME1 1JT, UK (afternoon performance at 1.00pm) – Sunday 4th October 2015
  • Restormel Arts @ Bosun’s Charlestown, Quay Road, Charlestown, St Austell, Cornwall, PL25 3NJ, UK – Wednesday 21st October 2015 –
  • Jazz Steps @ Bonington Theatre, Front Street, Arnold, Nottingham, NG5 7EE, UK – Thursday 22nd October 2015 –
  • The Bear, Mill Yard, 24a Guildford Street, Luton LU1 2NR, UK – Friday 23rd October 2015 –
  • The Oval Tavern, 131 Oval Road, Croydon, CR0 6BR, UK – Sunday 1st November 2015 (afternoon performance at 1.00pm)
  • Sound Cellar @ The Blue Boar, 29 Market Close, Poole, Dorset, BH15 1NE, UK  – Thursday 5th November 2015 
  • International Guitar Festival of Great Britain @ Floral Pavilion Theatre, Marine Promenade, New Brighton, Wirral, CH45 2JS, UK – Thursday 12th November 2015
  • St Ives Jazz Club @ The Western Hotel, Royal Square, St Ives, Cornwall, TR26 2ND, UK  – Tuesday 17th November 2015 
  • Fringe Jazz @ The Mall, 25 Union Gallery, Clifton Village, Bristol, BS8 4JG, UK – Wednesday 18th November 2015
  • Fleece Jazz @ Stoke by Nayland Hotel, Keepers Lane, Leavenheath, Colchester, Essex, CO6 4PZ, UK – Friday 15th January 2016
  • Arts Depot, 5 Nether Street, North Finchley, London, N12 0GA, UK – Saturday 30th January 2016

 
* * * * * * * *

Closer to home for me, there’s the opportunity to discover a new set of promoters and their club nights. On this occasion it’s Baba Yaga’s Hut, who’ve been ferreting away for years on the fringes of some of the (once) cheaper, artier and edgier London districts without me hearing about them before. I think I’ll be mentioning them again, as their mashed-up roster of latterday hard-psychedelia, noise bands, alternative pop and assorted fence-vaulters certainly interest me. For now, here’s just one of their upcoming gigs, which is happening this coming Tuesday:

Death & Vanilla, 29th September 2015Death & Vanilla + Lust + T.Edwards (DJ) (Baba Yaga’s Hut @ Corsica Studios, 4-5 Elephant Road, London, SE17 1LB, UK, Tuesday 29th September 2015, 7.30pm) – £9.00/£10.00

Swedish dream-poppers Death & Vanilla have moved some way away from the psychedelic lounge-pop of their debut releases (in which they had a similar sepia-sampler sound to ’90s British post-rockers such as Broadcast and Pram, or even the cunning rush of Laika). These days they’re a tad more musically pointed and direct – positioning themselves straight in front of you, catching your eye and flipping open little musical doors as if they were some kind of musical advent calendar. In some respects, they sound like a more relaxed version of The United States Of America, the late ’60s experimentalists (part distracted folk carnival, part avant-garde tape effects) who arguably grandfathered and grandmothered the likes of Broadcast in the first place, albeit a little more smoothed out and hazy. They themselves offer “hands in the dark” and “Kraut-lullabies” as other labels which we can use. Check out a couple of their more recent songs below.

In support are multinational London-based quintet Lust, who’ve evidently looked back to those mid-’90s dream pop ideals of girl-group coos and quilted waves of balmlike guitar noise and decided, perhaps, to try to do it all better. With a sixty/forty girl/boy split, the instrumentation shared across genders, and Anna Haara Kristoferson, Moa Papillon and Andrea Muller singing in a creamy and hypnagogic triple-blend as they play, you can indulge happy memories of Lush (just one consonant shift away), Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine. You can also note that Lust seem a little cannier and calculated than Kevin Shields, Emma Anderson and co – not contrived as such, but perhaps a little more on-the-ball as regards their sense of pop music. The rills of ‘Loveless’ might never be far away, but neither is the songwriting suss of ‘Rumours’ and the directness of The Shirelles… or the option to go all gloriously New Romantic in a video. Take a look and a listen…

One “T. Edwards” is listed as playing as DJ for the night – I suppose that there’s a reasonable chance that this is man-of-all-seasons-and-many-instruments Terry Edwards, but you’ll have to find this out by yourselves.

Tickets available here, while up-to-date information is here.

Coming up – October events. It’s damn well snowballing…

Upcoming concerts in October – Jonas Hellborg & Steve Lawson in Birmingham, London & Leeds; Tim Bowness/Peter Chilvers/David Rhodes/Theo Travis quartet gig in Cardiff

7 Sep

Although there are still some September gigs to flag up, here’s advance notice of four interesting concerts in early October for those of you who are interested in the amorphous terrain between jazz, balladry, art pop and ambient electronica. (Just straight press release stuff – the analysis will have to wait for another time, although I’ve also stuck a few review links in where I’ve covered these musicians before…)

Hellborg & Lawson, 2015

Two of the world’s leading solo bass guitarists together on one stage.

Crossing musical boundaries and blowing listeners’ minds for over thirty years, Jonas Hellborg is one of the great innovators of the bass guitar. From the pyrotechnic flamboyance of his early solo electric albums, to his unique exploration of the richness and depth of the acoustic bass guitar, Jonas has changed the way people think about – and play – the bass. Whether as a solo artist, or collaborating with many of the most respected names in music, from John McLaughlin to PiL, Ginger Baker to Shawn Lane, Jonas’ signature sound and uncompromising creative philosophy have produced an unparalleled body of work, mostly on his own Bardo label. Lauded by press and public alike, this is a rare opportunity to hear Jonas up close in the UK.

Steve Lawson is one of the most celebrated solo bassists in British music history – early in his career, he opened for Level 42 on their first Greatest Hits comeback tour, placing his unique take on melodic looping-based live performance in front of tens of thousands of bass aficionados. Fifteen years of regular gigging across the UK, Europe and the US have solidified his place as a leading exponent of solo bass. Steve’s sound-world borrows liberally from electronica, jazz, pop, rock, ambient and experimental music, to form a sonic fingerprint as compelling as it is unique. Following on from two years of wide-ranging collaboration, playing alongside musicians as diverse as Reeves Gabrels and Beardyman, Andy Gangadeen and Divinity, (and with the imminent release of his twelfth and thirteenth all-solo albums – on the same day!) Steve is back with fresh explorations pushing the notion of what the bass can be in the twenty-first century. (Here are a couple of ‘Misfit City’ reviews of earlier Steve Lawson records for those who’ve not read/heard them -‘Not Dancing For Chicken‘ and ‘Conversations‘).

Full dates, details and links:

  • Tower of Song, 107 Pershore Rd South, Cotteridge, Birmingham, B30 3EL, UK, Sunday 4th October 2015 – £10.00, tickets here.
  • The Vortex Jazz Bar, 11 Gillett Street, Dalston, London, N16 8AZ, UK, Monday 5th October 2015 – price t.b.c. – contact venue for tickets.
  • Left Bank Leeds, The former St Margaret of Antioch Church, Cardigan Road, Hyde Park, Leeds, LS6 1LJ, UK, Tuesday 6th October 2015 – £10.00, tickets here.

* * * * * * * *

Bowness/Chilvers/Rhodes/Travis, October 2015

Tim Bowness/Peter Chilvers/David Rhodes/Theo Travis (Chapter in association with Burning Shed @ Chapter,  Market Road, Canton, Cardiff, Wales, CF5 1QE, UK, Saturday 3rd October 2015, 7.00pm) – £15.00

A unique combination of atmospheric music and songs performed by the following four British art-pop, jazz and textural music mainstays:

Tim Bowness is vocalist/co-writer with the band no-man, a long-running collaboration with Steven Wilson. He has also worked with Richard Barbieri (Porcupine Tree, Japan), Peter Hammill, Judy Dyble (ex-Fairport Convention), Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera and others. He has released three solo albums – ‘My Hotel Year’ (2004), ‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’ (2014) and ‘Stupid Things That Mean The World‘ (2015).

Peter Chilvers is a frequent collaborator with Brian Eno (including co-creating the hugely successful app Bloom), Underworld’s Karl Hyde and Tim Bowness, Chilvers has become known for his innovative work with generative apps and imaginative use of electronic textures. (Here’s a review of ‘Thin Air‘, an album Peter did with Michael Bearpark many years ago).

David Rhodes is one of the world’s most respected and inventive guitarists, having worked extensively with Peter Gabriel as well as with Kate Bush, Talk Talk, Scott Walker, Japan, New Order, Paul McCartney and Blancmange, amongst many others. David has also released two solo albums (2010’s ‘Bittersweet’ and 2014’s ‘The David Rhodes Band’) and was a founding member of the influential post-punk band Random Hold.

Saxophonist and flautist Theo Travis (making his Chapter return after performing with the cinematic/musical crossover project Cipher) has an international reputation as one of the stars of the contemporary UK jazz scene. Travis has more recently emerged as a key figure in the progressive and art rock sphere, working with David Gilmour, Robert Fripp, David Sylvian, Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson, Bill Nelson, Gong, Soft Machine Legacy, Bill Bruford, Harold Budd and more. He has recently released his ninth solo album ‘Transgression’ (and here’s a review of an earlier one).

The evening is presented by Burning Shed, the online label and store founded by Bowness and Chilvers with Pete Morgan that has become a global specialist in progressive, ambient/electronica and art rock music. As well as releasing works on its own imprint, amongst others, Burning Shed hosts the official online stores for Panegyric (King Crimson, Yes), Ape (Andy Partridge, XTC, The Milk & Honey Band), Jethro Tull, Kscope (Porcupine Tree, Sweet Billy Pilgrim), Thomas Dolby, All Saints (Brian Eno), Medium Productions (Jansen, Barbieri and Karn), Gentle Giant and Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera.  The label has recently expanded into book publishing, and at this concert musician and author Anthony Reynolds (perhaps best known as the former frontman of Jack) will be signing copies of his Burning Shed Publishing book, ‘Japan – A Foreign Place (The Biography 1974-1984)’.

More information here, and tickets available here.

REVIEW – Theo Travis: ‘Heart Of The Sun’ album, 2001 (“one of Britain’s finest yet least precious saxophonists”)

12 Aug

Theo Travis: 'Heart Of The Sun'

Theo Travis: ‘Heart Of The Sun’

Having followed a series of assured, wide-spanning loops passing through jazz, art-rock, prog, ambient electronics and Gong’s fertile psychedelic universe, perhaps it’s time for Theo Travis to come home. Or, perhaps, to build a home.

One of Britain’s finest (yet least precious) saxophonists, Travis has paid tribute to the post-bop traditions of Coltrane and Tyner, blown full improv and racing fusion, played balladeer and pop romanticist, and breathed frost over ambient darkness. ‘Heart Of The Sun’ summarises this breadth on a single album, unifying itself around his compositional variety and the flexible determination of his playing voice. It’s remarkable for the humility and warmth of its approach – partly from Steven Wilson’s beautifully atmospheric mixing (an object lesson in letting jazz studio performances breathe as naturally as live gigs), but more significantly from Travis’ uncomplicated attitude towards allowing music to happen.

A sometimes-unguarded, sometimes-studious musician – who gives his all either way – Travis is also someone who doesn’t need to throw a leader’s weight around. Subtly poised and authoritative, he stands back from the obvious limelight throughout ‘Heart Of The Sun’, allowing his guests (in particular, pearly-toned trumpet veteran Palle Mikkelborg) to illuminate the music, and then gracefully reflecting that light back himself. Grinding no axes, ‘Heart Of The Sun’ sits itself down at the accessible end of jazz, with Travis discreetly polishing his musical breadth to a smooth evanescent ‘Kind Of Blue’ consistency.

His standard quartet members – David Gordon on piano and organ, Andy Hamill on double bass and Marc Parnell on drums – are the album’s backbone (with occasional rhythm section substitutions from Stefan Weeke and Björn Lücker). Theo’s partnerships with these players allow him to exercise some more straightahead jazz moves, via a tenor sax tone blending the polished New York bite of Michael Brecker and Dave Liebman with the earthier strengths of British bluesman Dick Heckstall-Smith: as demonstrated on the velvet-smokey blues of All I Know. On the other hand, the standard crew also raise the stakes on Fast Life, in which Andy Hammill makes the most of his experiences backing contemporary drum’n’bass luminaries like 4 Hero and LTJ Bukem. It’s a nimble, daring demonstration of how clubland’s drum’n’bass beatscapes are both nourished by jazz and able to feed back into it. Hammill, Parnell and Gordon slip and slide through a succession of sleek, exciting, ever-morphing junglist pulses, like Red Snapper in black ties. Travis and Mikkelborg travel cheek to cheek over these flexing surges, quoting mischievously from mariachi and Mission Impossible, Mikkelborg occasionally rinsing the beats in a wash of wah-wah’ed electric trumpet.

It’s also the standard quartet who are behind the very different approach of Northern Lights – texturally, a close cousin to Travis’ dark-ambient work as half of the electronica duo Cipher. His soprano sax (making its only appearance) stands poised in a lonely, bowed-head intro, redolent with melancholia, over Eno-esque dark-water atmospherics. Mikkelborg responds with a silvery, fantastically tender muted melody – comforting and passionate – that comes and goes like caught breaths and compassionate advice above the carpet of Gordon’s Hammond organ, slowly warming and soothing that initial exposed chill.

The quartet – this time augmented by Mystics guitarist Mark Wood, a companion from Travis’ nights in the improv lab – turn in a relaxed yet magnificent performance on Barking Dogs And Caravans. A musical picture of childhood holidays and British holiday camps, it provides Travis’ best melodic solo of the album. But with its friendly air of disarmed tongue-in-cheek pomp, the barrel-organ Hammond figures and Wood’s Frisell-ish lacing of bell-like guitar, it’s also an opportunity for Travis to explore the more unselfconsciously affectionate corners of the British jazz impulse. Here, you can hear the same mingling of warm, pubby matey-ness and superbly expressive playing as found in the Loose Tubes school of Django Bates and Iain Ballamy: particularly when Travis cuts loose with some celebratory, laughing tenor wails.

Elsewhere, British improv-scene tendencies get a look in on That Old Smile: initially a deceptive, straight sounding blues strut driven by Parnell’s haughty cymbal. Wood – using a solid-yet-limber blowtorching tone – moves outward from a supporting position via a series of iridescent bubbles of sound, allying themselves with Gordon’s increasingly shardlike organ, The piece’s impatiently accelerating choruses (and its nods to the excitability of prog) moves to a point where the playing melts, with a dropping silence, into a heated atonal Bitches Brew jam. Inflamed by hissing cymbal work, Wood’s Sonny Sharrock-ish car-crusher guitar explorations utterly displace the saxophone as the heart of an aggressive whirl of mutinous invention.

More extra-curricular activities are represented by Gong guru Daevid Allen. His infamous glissando guitar (a gentle, thrilling shiver of sound, like sheets of luminous rain stroked by fingers of wind) adds an unearthly, spine-prickling element to offset the familiarity in the album’s lone cover – Van Heusen and Burke’s Here’s That Rainy Day. The returning Mikkelborg (on serenely confident flugelhorn) and Travis (in luxuriant, purring ballad mode) handle the traditional melodics, while the subtle icicle colorations of Gordon’s piano and Björn Lücker’s steady click of rimshot mingle with Allen’s eerie distortions of the atmosphere.

More outright subversion of tradition comes with the surreal Last Flight From Twinwood – an impressionistic, pulse-free, last-days-of-Glenn-Miller tribute in which a spectral big-band sound is provided care of multi-tracked Travis flutes and the one-man clarinet ensemble of Stewart Curtis (moonlighting from Kletzmer Groove). Mikkelborg’s delicately wah-ed electric trumpet haunts the music’s open spaces; Travis’ sometimes anguished tenor cuts across them. But the trump card comes in the unrepentant, disincorporated screech and spring-noise of Mark Wood’s distant guitar, a harbinger of failing aircraft machinery…

The sixteen-minute trail of Bass Rock is a final piece of Travis landscape portraiture, tracing a fluent and understated post-bop slide. Its freedom is defined by Stefan Weeke’s beautifully-timed, gliding elisions on double bass and the casually intent whisper of Lücker’s brush-drumming. And also by its cessations into near-silence but for oscillating ambient loops. Here, Gordon’s flickering touches of piano are sometimes the only foil to Travis’ sax – liberated now from discretion or restraint, to cry with a kind of baffled joy into the night. An open-ended homecoming.

Theo Travis: ‘Heart Of The Sun’
33 Jazz Records,  33JAZZ063 (5020883330631)
CD/download album
Released: 2001

Buy it from:
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Theo Travis online:
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Cipher: ‘No Ordinary Man’ album (“its own burning chill, changing the air around it”)

10 Oct
Cipher: 'No Ordinary Man'

Cipher: ‘No Ordinary Man’

Coldness and the lack of feeling – an odd association to make, if you can remember the feel of a fragment of ice held in the intimacy of your mouth or your hand. Something not lacking but, rather, almost too intense; shocking the flesh so that you can only touch it by degrees. Something that slowly changes as it becomes closer to what you are, and is consumed by the process.

By these standards, as well as by immediate impressions, Cipher’s ‘No Ordinary Man’ is a very cold album – it’s something intimate, but in an unusual way. Unquestionably this is beautiful music, but it’s the kind of music which would play in your mind while you lay immobilized on an Arctic snowbank, watching, with a hypnotized joy, the glow of the Northern Lights even as you slipped deeper and deeper into exposure and a chilly coma. Cipher’s music is unadorned, passive, slow and sparse in resolution (if it ever resolves at all) and it’s quiet: but it also has its own burning chill, changing the air around it. Former Jade Warrior Dave Sturt’s minimal, expressive forays on fretless bass float upfront or squash deep valleys into the music. Theo Travis‘ pale and lovely lines on soprano sax and flute hang like solitary albatrosses, beyond the programmed loops and sounds which both men come up with together.

There’s a lot of Nordic-style ECM clarity and mournfulness here: Jan Garbarek is certainly a constant touchstone for listeners, if not necessarily for the players. The slow, measured bleeding-in of Theo’s psychedelic influences (along with Dave’s leaning towards both electronic ambience and Celtic airs) means that there’s more to Cipher’s music than you could find from simply haunting Garbarek’s footsteps from fjord to fjord. However, these additional elements end up tinting the music rather than colouring it. It retains its own arresting static integrity while remaining entirely open to the outside; so that even when such superbly individual guest texturalists as Steven Wilson and Richard Barbieri are linked to the Cipher core they blend in perfectly, adding another layer of ever-so-slightly disturbing atmosphere.

Cipher’s particular skill is to balance lightly and enigmatically on the cusp between that obvious ECM-flavoured tastefulness and the more psychoactive disturbances of dark electronica. As such they constantly, subtly, put the listener on the wrong foot with a delightful unease. Given that it’s a contemporary soundtrack not just to an early Jack the Ripper film but to one by the young Alfred Hitchcock, The Lodger is appropriately creepy. Theo haunts the upper air past the smokily building, menacing wind patterns: Dave offers glassy, melodic spindles of rotating bass.

A Far Cry deliberately undermines associations. The trapped gaiety of a looped-and-buried fairground calliope contradicts the sad, syncopated stagger of backwards tones that makes up the body of the track and underlays Dave and Theo’s unusually intense, bloodshot calling. Dank electronic drips and shades from Richard Barbieri form the environment of Canyon, beneath the dreamy electronic ripples and the drifts of sax and bass. The foreboding swells of Dusk suggest a disturbance just out of memory range, probed in shifting tones.

It’s the panorama of landscapes, both material and psychological, which predominates. Listening to Bodhidharma, with its little glitters of distant guitar, is like watching vapour ascend slowly out of a crater; while it shares something with Robert Fripp’s diaphanous Soundscapes, it’s also the point where unconnected post-rock bands like Labradford and Bark Psychosis suddenly meet, blink away tears and touch. Desert Song, in contrast, dips more obviously towards New Age. In its flamboyance, it recalls the underrated mystic-Mexicana of Alquimia with its extended slow-motion boom of synth and its garnish of throat-singing samples: however, the passionate tug of Rabbi Gaddy Zerbib’s devotional Hebrew vocals pulls it forcefully back into the real world. White Cloud, Blue Sky sees Theo playing bleakly over disintegrating tones somewhere between disturbed wind-chime and the expansive empty-gallery guitar Bill Frisell uses to paint his pictures of America.

The Waiting, though, is pure dreamscape. A simple shaker and cymbal rhythm is joined by Theo’s moody searching sax gliding in the sky. Dave’s tingling gulp of bass swallows at the ground, and a growing textural bristle of ringing tones and alien electronics builds in some blurry area between birdcall and gauze. Eventually all is submerged in a hallucinatory backwards dissolve.

It’s left to the title track (the straightest piece on the album, and also the finale) to bridge the ever-shifting gap between Cipher’s abstraction and their empathy. Essentially a free-floating blue-haze trio of bass, piano and ravishing alto flute, it hearkens back to a clutch of comparisons: Bill Evans, Miroslav Vitous, the spacey world-jazz of Dizrhythmia and – finally – Rain Tree Crow’s pattering, mysterious finale, Cries And Whispers (enclosed as it is both in sensous brushes of electronic air and a distant-walled cavern echo of Eastern-sounding percussion). Far from ordinary, and far from freeze-dried. Cold fingers can stimulate too.

Cipher: ‘No Ordinary Man’
Voiceprint/Hidden Art (HI-ART 5, 60438845732)
CD/download album
Released: 1st October 1999

Buy it from:
Burning Shed

Cipher online:
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