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4Play: Sahara Smith, Steve Tibbetts, Soft Machine Legacy, Lunatic Soul

Ross Boissoneau - January 10th, 2011
Sahara Smith – Myth of the Heart (Playing In Traffic Records)
It’s too simplistic to say that if you like Norah Jones you’ll like Sahara Smith, though that may well be true. Smith’s gentle music hews closer to country and folk than to Jones’s jazz/pop hybrid. Her singing is lovely and lilting, not as breathy as that of Jones. You might throw in a Tracy Chapman comparison, or even early Joni Mitchell or Judy Collins. But while Smith has clearly absorbed a number of influences, she’s just as clearly her own self. The tunes, all of which she wrote, combine pithy observations with countrified soundtracks for her characters. Not as epic as Springsteen or Tom Waits, more like epigrammatic, small chapters of interesting people. And all delivered with a sweet and innocent, yet knowing, voice.



Steve Tibbetts – Compilation (Frammis)
Taken from his several recordings on ECM as well as excursions on Rykodisc, Cuneiform, Six Degrees and his own Frammis Records, this three-disc set is divided into Acoustibbetts, Elektrobitts and Exotibbetts. It showcases the composer’s strengths even better than the source albums. Tibbetts plays guitar, along with kalimba, synthesizer, and piano, along with contributions from various bassists, percussionists, and vocalists (including Claudia Schmidt). It’s all a bit exotic, crossing world music with rock guitar, jazz voicings with electronic sounds. Song lengths run from less than two minutes to more than ten, giving the listener both a taste of his music and enough room to breathe. That’s necessary as some of Tibbetts’s work can be so abstruse as to make for difficult listening.


Soft Machine Legacy – Live Adventures (MoonJune Records)
The celebrated Canterbury group Soft Machine bridged psychedelic rock through to jazz fusion. Years after its dissolution, a group of alums created Soft Works, which morphed into Soft Machine Legacy. Guitarist John Etheridge replaced Allan Holdsworth in both bands. When original reedman Elton Dean died, the torch was passed to Theo Travis, while Roy Babbington has replaced the late Hugh Hopper here as he did in Soft Machine. The music on this live disc features compositions from all the members, as well as Soft Machine classics “The Nodder” by Karl Jenkins and Hopper’s “Facelift.” Those two tracks may be the highlights, but it’s all worth a listen. If you’re not familiar with Soft Machine, this is an excellent place to start, and if you are, you’ll be well rewarded.


Lunatic Soul – Lunatic Soul II (Kscope)
The second solo album from Riverside frontman Mariusz Duda, it is both darker and more complex than the first disc, released in 2008. Musically it references movie music, exotic oriental sounds, and post-progressive rock a la Riverside. Interestingly, there are no electric guitars on the album, though a casual listen wouldn’t necessarily reveal that. Duda plays most of the instruments himself as well as singing the songs. He describes it as a story about the journey through the afterworld, a blend of various inspirations, from Dead Can Dance to Peter Gabriel circa IV or Passion, through films and books about ghosts. So yes, it’s kind of creepy and unsettling, yet melodic at times as well. Not exactly party music, at least not most people’s idea of a party.
 
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