This Week’s Best Albums: August 31, 2010

This Week's Best Albums

Bill Frisell: Beautiful DreamersBill Frisell: Beautiful Dreamers (Savoy)

There’s little ground that guitarist Bill Frisell hasn’t covered in his 30-year career, which has spanned country, folk, jazz, blues, film scores, and experimental music.  And though each subsequent release is exciting and often unexpected, this new ensemble — featuring violist Eyvind Kang and drummer Rudy Royston — gives Frisell the chance to spread his reach ever that much further.

Beautiful Dreamers presents the three splicing together Frisell’s melodic phrasing, Kang’s amorphous talents, and Royston’s soft jazz drumming for a unique batch of originals and reinterpretations of classics, including takes on tunes by Benny Goodman, Stephen Foster, and Blind Willie Johnson.

Kang has worked with Frisell for 15 years, so his ability to mesh in this setting is hardly surprising.  But he also has made a career of fitting any recording, whether it’s for Secret Chiefs 3, Sunn O))), Mr. Bungle, Animal Collective, or Lou Reed.  Royston has spent less time on the East Coast, but he has already established a chemistry with Frisell and co., and it’s evident here.

Bill Frisell: “Beautiful Dreamer (for Karle Seydel)” (Stephen Foster)

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Cephalic Carnage: Misled by Certainty

Cephalic Carnage: Misled by Certainty (Relapse)

It’s been more than three years since a release from tech-death-grind masters Cephalic Carnage, this time with no extended single to satiate fans.  The group’s complex brand of dissonance and punishment, however, makes the wait understandable and worth it.

Misled by Certainty is another jolting dose of death metal and grindcore, built on blast beats, tech riffs, breakdowns, breakneck double kick and tom fills, lightning-fast finger tapping, and alternating growls and rasps.

The band’s quick jaunts into other genres aren’t as pronounced, and the new material isn’t quite as fast and frantic as on previous albums — but that’s like saying that a hurricane isn’t as fast as a tornado.

Yakuza saxophonist Bruce Lamont appears on the prog jam “Ohrwurm” and adds a bit of skronky wailing on “Repangaea,” which also features a piano-and-feedback outro and a pretty minor-key melody (before, naturally, another crushing dose of metal).  The latter may be the band’s most epic creation, and perhaps it will spawn a new direction of its own.

Cephalic Carnage: “Warbots AM”

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Portico Quartet: IslaPortico Quartet: Isla (Real World)

In 2008, London’s Portico Quartet was nominated for a Mercury Music Prize for its debut album, an amalgamation of composed and improvised jazz with rock and other contemporary styles.

With that album, Knee-deep in the North Sea, the group also became known for its use of the hang, a Swiss percussive instrument that is just 10 years old and that sounds like a steel pan mixed with gamelan.

Isla is Portico’s sophomore full-length, and it finds the four-piece growing into its own.  Like its predecessor, Isla features improvisation over strictly composed backdrops, but it strikes a balance between calm, circular cadences and wild soloing.

The rest of the lineup’s instrumentation remains — with soprano sax, upright bass, and a drum kit to play with the hang — and the result is a disc of slowly building, trance-inducing grooves that make way for a few wailing leads.  Most importantly, the musicians don’t overstep their bounds on Isla, resulting in an album that knows when to heat up and when to cool down.

Portico Quartet: “The Visitor”

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Honorable Mentions

Film School: Fission (Hi-Speed Soul)

Jon Hopkins: Remixes single (Domino)

Ion Dissonance: Cursed (Century Media)

Vijay Iyer: Solo (ACM Music)

Madlib: Medicine Show No. 8 (Stones Throw)

Quest for Fire: Lights from Paradise (Tee Pee)

Philip Selway: Familial (Nonesuch)

Tub Ring: Secret Handshakes (The End)