Record reviews: Exhausted Prayer, Trio M, Tom Heasley.

exhausted.jpg Exhausted Prayer, “Looks Down in the Gathering Shadows” (Dwell). Another reason to wet your pants (from joy) about the state of L.A. metal -- Exhausted Prayer do everything right. Here come the riffs, like they got a Knox full of ‘em, hooky and fierce. Look out for the way the instruments mass together and alternately squirm to the top in measured motion, so they neither battle one another (viz. Cradle of Filth) nor lull us into dreamland (Isis). It’s musicianly, songwriterly blackish metal, minus keyboards and plus a dead-on sense of when a really passionate, well-constructed guitar solo would knock the rock over the top. And I keep coming back to the drums. This dude Mike (who didn’t even start out with kitman ambitions) is an all-over-the-place original, rattling here, whamming there, having a Moonful of fun and dragging us along in spite of our blackened selves. If the rhythm’s a little loose, it’s not sloppy -- loose in the mode of guys with a natural sense of give-and-take. Some of this newly collected material is five years old, so I can’t wait to see how the group, which has gone through some changes (retaining Mike and guitarist Swansong) has developed. And lucky me, wait I don’t have to.


triom.jpg Trio M (Myra Melford, Mark Dresser, Matt Wilson), “Big Picture” (Cryptogramophone). Corraling these three was an inspired notion -- toppermost musicians with obvious chemistry, relaxed and trying to prove nothing. Seems they made an adventuresome, extremely likable record without hardly trying. Yea tho they be avantists, they shrank not from having a bit o’ sport with the blues -- strolling, strutting and dazed/confused on “Modern Pine”; tumbling into a regular bar scuffle complete with busted stools and an escalating “oh yeah well so’s your mama” riff on “Naïve Art.” There’s a tip of the hat to Ornette (“For Bradford”), a dark and stealthy paranoia riff (“FreeKonomics”), and let’s see what happens when we seat post-bop next to Iberian tango and serve up the bubbly (“BrainFire and BugLight”). Melford applies her hard-rubber piano touch to rush and splash; Wilson drums with prodding, conversational humanity; Dresser is bigger and more bottomy than you probably expected, turning in an emotional hate-to-even-call-it-a-performance on Melford’s “Secrets to Tell You” -- the way his bass melody laments and his coarse overtones plead, it veritably feels as if he’s bowing your heartstrings. And let me tell you my own story of the long cinematic title track. Melford’s lost in the back roads of New Jersey, see, late for a gig, when she pulls over to scan a map and falls asleep. She wakes in another world -- beautiful, but she senses danger. As her head clears (did somebody slip knockout drops into her coffee?), bright light shoots painfully through her consciousness and she remembers a dire prophecy. A low rumble begins, then builds. The ground is shaking! She prays, unsure, never having prayed before. And the earthquake relents. It was only a 4.8. Or was that just the setup for the main temblor? Dunno. Wait for the sequel.

heasley4.jpg Tom Heasley & Toss Panos, “Passages” (Full Bleed). Tuba man Heasley is the only cetacean known to migrate above sea level; Panos is an omni-capable fusionistic drummer who’s served from Al Kooper to Zucchero and should spell both corrrectly on his web site. When they get together, they can teach you how to breathe underwater. Lovers of SunnO))) should also stock Heasley records on their shelves, as both track slow metamorphoses in the lower ranges of gravity. Here, Panos adds spare tribal thud and occasional shi-bop to five long and looped mood pieces. For Halloween, I recommend “98% Pure,” with its echoing monster groan, foghorn resonance and hollow tubularity. For Good Friday, enter the chanson-in-the-void of “Elegy for Philip Berrigan.” And for ancient, mournful ferocity (St. Patrick’s Day), visit “Cliffs of Moher,” on which Panos’ foot in your gut makes a special impression turned up real loud. (Said cliffs are an Irish vantage point from which you can see, y’know, forever.) Pax vobiscum. Available at