If there is a band today that digs psychedelic music more than the Portland, Maine outfit Herbcraft, well, this writer hasn’t heard it. Herbcraft was formed by Matt Lajoie as a solo recording project and later augmented with various members first for live incarnations and eventually for studio releases; it’s a group that hearkens back to the late ’60s/early ’70s, hitting psychedelic rock from just about every angle imaginable.
The first three albums from Herbcraft have oozed styles/genres like the underground American acoustic-guitar hippie jam, the Indian raga and heavy Japanese psych (think Flower Travellin’ Band). The band’s fourth album, Wot Oz, released on Woodsist, pushes further in the trajectory marked by the previous album, The Astral Body Electric, with loose Krautrock jams.
The German influence on “Fit Ür-Head” is more than apparent (even without the umlaut), with Can’s Tago Mago and, more specifically, the minimal-bass-line style of Can’s bassist Holger Czukay coming to mind immediately. It’s loud and entrancing, with the guitar wah-wah pedal effect being stomped and wiggled pretty hard and animalistic yelps echoing through the proceedings.
Toward the end, there’s some disorienting primitive studio sorcery in the form of slicing and dicing and reversed delay-processed sounds. Still on what seems to be a Can kick, “Push Thru the Veil” beats out an irresistible funk-inflected rhythm that evokes Can’s “Mushroom” and hammers out one riff for the entire five minutes, capturing a deeply felt groove.
At times, Wot Oz can teeter in and out of subconscious absorption for the listener, especially on the 12-minute amorphous “No More Doors,” with the only sonic glue being a two-note bass line holding the track together on a largely untethered Kosmische spacewalk.
Herbcraft seems to be a band that is honest about its appropriation and is at peace with it; the relentless use of delay/echo effects and the wah-wah pedal may make some listeners think, “OK, we get it, you like psychedelic rock,” but it does an excellent job with transmitting its entrancing throwback vibe.
My Favorite Things
The backstory of Joey Alexander may make some musicians throw up their hands and say, “I give up”: originally from Indonesia, the self-taught jazz pianist began playing when he was six years old, and he recorded his debut album My Favorite Things at the age of 11, having already earned fans including Herbie Hancock and Wynton Marsalis.
However, the story also could serve as inspiration for aspiring musicians of all ages; on the other end of the age spectrum, for example, this writer knows a woman who started to play the drums in her 90s.
Malcolm Gladwell’s oft-cited “10,000 Hour Rule” ascribes a figure for the amount of deliberate practice before a person can typically be an expert at something, so for Alexander’s five years of playing, that’s the equivalent of five years at a full-time job.
Obviously, Alexander has some innate traits that facilitated his musical learning; listening to My Favorite Things, it is clear that he knows his ways around jazz chords and scales, and this writer and would-be nit-picker has listened carefully for flaws or any evidence of faking it and has emerged empty-handed.
The album is full of jazz standards of the “beaten path” ilk, including Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” and Thelonious Monk’s “’Round Midnight,” plus one original composition, “Ma Blues”; among the solo tracks are numbers with bass and drums accompaniment and an occasional trumpet.
Fair questions to ask are, “Should this album even exist? Would people care if he wasn’t so young?” Classical pianist Glenn Gould harshly questioned musicians who recorded oft-visited pieces without bringing some kind of new perspective to them.
The good news here is that, even at such a young age, Alexander has revealed his own style, with a few trademarks: a crisp but gentle playing method, often with a low bustle and scurry that’s articulated but not mushy, and a tendency to tap out the same melody on both hands on dexterous runs.
Alexander’s story is remarkable, absolutely; what’s more remarkable is performing well-worn jazz standards with a freshness that justifies their existence.