Some of the greatest songs ever written were inspired by the pain and anger of a failed romance (Bob Dylan’s Nobel-enshrined songbook positively brims with bitter kiss-offs). Los Angeles producer, multi-instrumentalist and sound sculptor MAST (aka Tim Conley) adds an ambitious and deeply engaging chapter to the annals of breakup albums with Love and War_ (Alpha Pup).
The project evolved out of a two-year relationship that didn’t end well. The album unfolds in three acts, the titular "Love," "War" and concluding "Transcendence." Maybe I’m perverse, but my favorite section is the angst-ridden middle act when everything falls apart, and the plot line keeps taking left turns, like on the darkly hilarious dating dystopia “Should’ve Swiped Left” featuring rapper The Koreatown Oddity.
Steeped in jazz, MAST draws on a sonic sensibility drawn from L.A.’s long-running Low End Theory, a weekly club night in Lincoln Heights co-launched by Daddy Kev, who mixed and mastered Love and War_. The majority of the album’s 17 tracks are instrumental, but MAST brings in a host of special guests, like the brilliant L.A. saxophonist Gavin Templeton, who adds a feral edge to the hi-hat propelled “On the Prawl Again, Again.” There are several seductive musical themes that surface and sublimate over and over, creating a cohesive sonic narrative amid the various beats and textures. I didn’t love every track, but many stand on their own, like “The Breakup,” which features haunting vocals from Ryat.
While MAST reinvents the breakup album, the Hot Club of San Francisco transforms The Beatles songbook with a dose of Gypsy jazz on John, Paul, George, and Django (Hot Club Records). Led by guitarist Paul Mehling, the Hot Club spearheaded the Gypsy swing revival in the United States some three decades ago. Over the years the group has featured a bevy of excellent musicians, but the present lineup is one of the strongest, starting with violinist Evan Price, a pithy Stephane Grappelli to Mehling’s mellower take on Django Reinhardt.
Mehling has been laying the groundwork for John, Paul, George, and Django for years, dating back at least to Quintet of the Hot Club of San Francisco, the 1994 album featuring “And I Love Her.” He found another effective vehicle on 1997’s Swing This with a gorgeous arrangement of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
In the same way, what makes this new project work is the arrangements, which honor and reference the original recordings, while always offering something new. The concept can be as simple as the lovely version of “Because” that opens at the song’s original ballad tempo and then accelerates to a brisk swing. I love the trance-like 5/4 groove on “Fool On the Hill” and the interaction between Price’s violin and rhythm guitarist Isabelle Fontaine’s vocals on “For No One.” She provides another highlight on “If I Needed Someone,” where her delivery of her translated lyrics turn the tune into a Gallic torch song.
More than another album of Beatles covers, John, Paul, George, and Django expands the Gypsy jazz repertoire, suggesting brave new worlds for exploration by Djangologists.