Friday, March 27, 2009

Shambolic (#1 in a Series)

This is the first entry in a new series on albums (and maybe other things) that I like despite (or because of) their shambolic nature. To qualify as "shambolic" in my definition, there has to be a touch of half-assedness or a sense that things are about to fall apart. Mere looseness or raggedness isn't enough.

I'm starting with two very divisive entries in the catalogs of beloved artists. Each of these has been called a trainwreck and a masterpiece, with strong opinions mounted on either side of the argument. Of course, they're a little of both.

Harry Nilsson's Pussy Cats

Like many albums that could fit into this category, Pussy Cats is wildly hit-or-miss. Its best moments ("Don't Forget Me", "Many Rivers To Cross", "Save The Last Dance For Me") approach greatness. At its worst, though, it's merely goofy ("Rock Around the Clock" with Ringo and Keith Moon adding up to less than the sum of their parts) or a bit pointless ("Subterranean Homesick Blues"). At times, though, as on "Mucho Mungo/Mt. Elga", the goofiness becomes almost transcendent.

Famous as the album where Nilsson shredded his vocal chords rather than stop the session and risk missing his chance at having John Lennon as a producer, you can hear the early, high, clear Nilsson voice being quite literally sacrificed in the raw-throated fadeout to "Many Rivers". "Don't Forget Me", recently covered in a multi-piano arrangment by Neko Case (I haven't heard the whole album cover by the Walkmen), is Nilsson at his songwriting peak, blending bitter, black humor and genuine heartbreak as no one else could. As with "Snow" on the reissue of Nilsson Sings Newman, the best thing on the album might be a bonus track, the solo, vocal-and-electric piano demo of "Save The Last Dance For Me". I don't think it's ever been sung better, not by the Drifters or Buck Owens.

Alex Chilton's Like Flies on Sherbert

Recorded at Sam Phillips Studios (the successor to the original Sun Studio, built with the money Phillips made by selling Elvis to RCA) with certified legend Jim Dickinson, it's difficult to determine how much of the chaos of this album was by design and how much was a natural outgrowth of Chilton's post-Big Star state of mind.

The WTFing starts with the first track, a totally cracked rant by way-underground Memphis sub-legend Ross Johnson. Chilton doesn't sing until track two, and from there on it's a mix of originals and unexpected and obscure covers (including a composition by Cordell Jackson, who appeared as the Rockin' Granny in a memorable Bud commercial) played in a deliberately unrehearsed, looser-than-loose style. Somehow, though, magic happens. The whole thing feels a little dangerous, even sleazy, which is to say it's rock'n'roll.

As with Pussy Cats, the cover is a classic - a William Eggleston photo of baby dolls on the hood of a Cadillac (that hood is the only thing connected with this album that could be called "polished") that perfectly compliments and completes the mood of perverse beauty.

Further reading:
Here's a great reminiscence from Will Rigby of the dB's about his adventures in Memphis, which included popping in to the Sherbert sessions with Chris Bell.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Musical Crime

The radio at work (which I do not control) just played "Golden Slumbers". Hearing it filled me with a wonderful feeling, until it ended and was followed immediately by a Ben Folds song.

Now, I have nothing against Ben Folds, but the transition was an utter, jarring, painful failure. The tempo didn't work. The tone was wrong. It made me angry. I wanted to walk over and smash the radio with a hammer, or a bat. I wanted to call the station and scream profanities.

If you're going to follow "Golden Slumbers" with anything other than "Carry That Weight" and "The End", it better be a f***ing great segue. If you picked the right song, it could conceivably be a pleasant, expectation-defying surprise. I'd like to hear that, but that's not what happened.

The medley is just over five minutes long. You couldn't just play the whole thing!?!?!?


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Good Read re: Astral Weeks

I came across a great interview from last fall with the producer of Astral Weeks. He talks a lot about the bassist on the album, Richard Davis. I'd heard quite a few of Davis' recordings with Andrew Hill before I realized that he was the same guy who'd played on Astral Weeks. He's got an amazing resume for someone with so little mainstream name recognition, but I guess jazz bass has never really been a ticket to fame and fortune.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Paul Motian Trio 3 in 1 - Live at the Village Vanguard (performance)

This was my third time seeing the 70-something year-old drummer Paul Motian, each time with a different trio. First time was with Joe Lovano (tenor) and Bill Frisell (guitar), a long-standing group with several recordings and at least one run at the Village Vanguard each year. Then it was Motian and Frisell with bass giant Ron Carter. This time it was a relatively new group with Jason Moran (piano) and Chris Potter (tenor), each about 40 years younger than Motian. Their first album was supposed to be recorded during this run at the Vanguard, but I didn't see any recording equipment at this set. In any case, I hope the recording happened - this is a record I'll be watching for.

Moran and Potter are well-established players by now, but I'd only heard one album of Moran's (his solo Modernistic) and nothing by Potter. I knew Potter had an excellent reputation, and I was curious to see what Motian would do with these young players. I also wanted to see Motian with piano - I'd never seen piano at the Vanguard and Motian's associations with Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett are historical stuff (he also played, very briefly, with Monk).

The set was a good mix of up-tempo tunes and slow, ballad-y/atmospheric tunes. Most were probably Motian compositions, but there was at least one standard, which I'm fairly sure was Cole Porter's "Let's Fall in Love" (it was Valentine's Day). Motian seemed to do more straightforward (by his standards) swinging that I've seen him do previously*. Potter handled everything effortlessly, shifting with apparent ease from fiery to lyrical, soft to loud. Some of the best moments involved the interplay between Motian and Moran. At one point late in the set, Motian broke into a hard swinging tempo, pushing Moran, who seemed to be slowly stepping on the gas, heating up into a series of wild right-hand improvisations. The fast stuff was exciting. The slow stuff was beautiful. A very satisfying set.

A good recent interview with Paul Motian can be found here.

*As has been often noted, Paul Motian's approach to the drums goes way beyond time-keeping and the effect can be a bit jarring if you come in with preconceived notions of jazz drumming or if your only reference point is his playing with Bill Evans. Plenty of drummers have explored different approaches to rhythm, but I don't think anybody is doing quite what Motian is doing. It's certainly not bombastic, but it's definitely exploratory - he's not falling back on set patterns but seems to be constantly trying to find new ones. As a listener, you become used to certain conventions even when you're not consciously aware of them. Then, when someone tweaks those conventions you're forced to adjust and to really listen.

With Lovano and Frisell, perhaps because of their long association, Motian seems to get into his most exploratory mode, leading that trio to create some real equilateral 3-sided improvisation. When I saw the Motian-Frisell-Carter trio, made up of three "rhythm section" instruments, Ron Carter's bass was often the most traditionally rhythmic element of the music. On Valentine's Day at the Vanguard, Moran's left hand and Motian's drums often seemed to be working in combination to form the rhythmic basis of the trio's music.

Monday, March 16, 2009

List Making #2 - Elvis Costello's Discography, Ranked

The list of albums is from the Elvis Costello Wiki. I added three semi-obscurities from my collection that the wiki did not include in the main album list. Then I put them in order.

I should point out that, in my opinion, there are no bad albums on this list.

1 Blood & Chocolate (1986)
- My all-time favorite. Nick Lowe's production makes stuff that shouldn't work (splicing together two takes of a song with different tempos, letting anything bleed into anything else) work. Dirty where King of America is clean, B&C is a gut wrencher. EC's anger on his first records was snotty. Here it's almost scary.

2 King of America (1986)
- Maybe EC's best collection of songs. I don't love every track, but the high points are as high as he ever got. EC was King of 1986.

3 Get Happy!! (1980)
- All the short songs just blew right by me the first few listens. Then at some point, wham!, it all clicked. With 20 tracks on vinyl, EC used a lot of parts, but he built a helluva machine. Surprising how little guitar there is. An A+ Attractions showcase.

4 Imperial Bedroom (1982)
- Geoff Emerick-produced, so you know it sounds great. Some of his very best songs here. Absolutely top shelf EC.

5 Armed Forces (1979)
- The only one to get a (quite good) 33-1/3 volume so far. Seems more obviously like a Great Album or Big Artistic Statement than Get Happy!! or Imperial Bedroom, but I enjoy listening to those two just a bit more. All of my top five are serious contenders for Best EC Album.

6 Trust (1981)
- Overshadowed by some of the great albums preceding and following it, Trust features a healthy portion of EC & the Attractions at their best.

7 This Year's Model (1978)
- Just as I understand why some people prefer the first Clash album to London Calling, I understand why some people think this is EC's peak moment. In both cases, I'll take the improved songwriting of the later albums even if it comes with a slight dimunition in nervous energy (a similar point is made here). I won't deny that it's totally classic, though.

8 My Aim Is True (1977)
- He had the songs. He just didn't have the band yet. Compare "Watching the Detectives" to everything preceding it to understand how much the Attractions brought to the table right from the start.

9 Brutal Youth (1994)
- See this post below.

10 When I Was Cruel (2002)
- Could've trimmed a bit of fat and ended up with a shorter, tighter, totally seamless album. Still, one of EC's best-sounding albums.
10a. Cruel Smile (2002) - I hitched this and Clarksdale Sessions to their "mother albums" as they seem more like bonus discs than stand-alone releases. If I threw this into the mix by itself, though, it would do pretty well. Odds 'n' sods, but good ones.

11 Spike (1989)
- Lots of styles and collaborators here, but it stands on the strength of the songs.

12 Almost Blue (1981)
- EC is too great of a songwriter for a covers album to rank in the top ten, but the high points here are high enough to beat out a lot of very fine albums.

13 The Delivery Man (2004)
- The "concept" aspect of this album doesn't really work for me, but the country-soul, Dan Penn-inspired feel does.
13a. Clarksdale Sessions (2005) - Rawer versions of Delivery Man songs recorded with Jimbo Mathus. Not essential but fun to hear.

14 All This Useless Beauty (1996)
- Strong, varied collection of songs. Good replay value. Not a beloved or frequently mentioned EC album, but the quality kind of sneaks up on you.

15 Momofuku (2008)
- Obviously very solid EC. Sounds good. Good songs. The newest album on this list, I could see it moving up with time.

16 Punch The Clock (1983)
- Horns, of-the-moment pop production, and some strong songs. Mostly I find this to be good-but-not-great EC. I keep expecting this one to grow on me the way some of the albums above have done, but it never really happens.

17 Deep Dead Blue (1995)
- Brief live document of a performance with Bill Frisell at the EC-curated Meltdown Festival in London. Makes me want to see a whole show with these two.

18 North (2003)
- Most of the tunes don't really stick with me, but it has a nice feel overall and closes with one of EC's best in his would-be-standard mode, "I'm in the Mood Again".

19 Kojak Variety (1995)
- Maybe the only EC reissue with a bonus disc stronger than the original release. I wasn't sure whether to figure in the bonus disc, but since my experience with this album is as a twofer, I'm going to give it some weight.

20 My Flame Burns Blue (2006)
- Live big band/jazz orchestra concert of rearranged EC numbers and Mingus and Strayhorn tunes with EC lyrics. Not everything works in this setting, and the whole thing is a bit of a novelty, but overall quite enjoyable.

21 Piano Jazz: Costello/McPartland (2005)
- This is from the long-running and often excellent public radio series. Kind of an oddity in this list since it contains interviews between songs, but it's a nice mix of standards and EC tunes. The beautifully spare arrangements make this a real showcase for EC's singing.

22 Mighty Like A Rose (1991)
- This one could move up with more listens, but most of the songs haven't made much of an impression so far. Check out the "Other Side of Summer" video for one of EC's strangest (and for this video, most incongruent) looks.

23 Painted From Memory (1998)
- The Burt Bacharach collaboration. There are some good songs here, no doubt, but I've rarely found myself in the mood to listen to this.

24 The Juliet Letters (1993)
- One of my more recent aquisitions on this list. EC w/ string quartet. Another one that could move up with more listens. He wasn't capable of writing this type of song ten years earlier, but perhaps his reach exceeded his grasp on this project.


Il Sogno (2004) - EC's classical thing. If I recall correctly, a ballet score based on A Midsummer Night's Dream. Not bad at all, but I find it difficult to compare it to his song-based, vocal albums.


Goodbye Cruel World (1984) - EC once referred to this as "our worst album", but I haven't heard enough to make my own judgment. I know it produced at least one good video (for "I Wanna Be Loved") and that some of the songs acquitted themselves nicely in later versions.

Costello & Nieve (1996) - This is the live multi-EP set from their duo tour, my most coveted EC rarity. I'm hoping for a reissue.

For The Stars (2001)

The River In Reverse (2006)
- Post-Katrina Allen Toussaint collaboration. I imagine this is pretty good. Just haven't picked it up yet.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

$7 Recession Beer

Let me say up front that Pacific Standard on 4th Ave in Brooklyn is a great bar. However, isn't it a bit insulting to sell 12 oz. of a beer called "Recessionator" for $7?

It's probably pretty good, but I don't think I've ever seen "alcohol" listed as one of the flavor components in a beer description.

Update 3/13: I broke down and tried one (at the $6 Happy Hour price). Pretty good, and pretty strong.


I'm glad I never liked Smashing Pumpkins, so I don't have to feel disappointed by this. The most important sentence of this article is the P.S. at the bottom.

Will the Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger create a company that's "too big to fail"?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Beyond The Law

I saw Norman Mailer's low-budget 1968 cop movie Beyond The Law last night at Anthology Film Archives. Part of Anthology's Rip Torn retrospective, it could've benefited from double the Torn and half the Mailer. But, of course, this was Mailer's movie. He was writer, director, star, and even co-editor. His presence in the editing room might explain why a couple of shots with cameras and boom mikes very visible in mirrors stayed in the final cut. These shots both featured dramatic Mailer moments and the performances might've been deemed "too good" to cut. Mailer is compelling to watch as Sgt. Francis X. Pope, with an Irish brogue that broadens as the film goes on and the character has a few more whiskeys. It's not a good performance by any conventional standard of movie acting, but it is fun to watch.

Many of the actors in the station house where the bulk of the movie takes place (before switching to an extended restaurant scene toward the end) are quite good, but the sound is so inconsistent that much of their dialogue is inaudible. The station house portion of the movie involves cutting back and forth between various interrogations of the evening's haul of perps, including drug-crazed, violent bikers (Torn and poet Michael McClure), an ax murderer, a man falsely accused of molestation, the proprietor of an Upper East Side "floating crap game", and the participants in an S&M "whip party". The last half hour or so focuses on the interactions between Mailer's cop, the wife who wants to divorce him, and one of the whip girls he's invited out for drinks. Mostly it's Mailer riffing in maximum brogue. I must've blinked and missed George Plimpton's cameo as "the Mayor".

A '60s curiosity from a lost literary world. Can you imagine any major contemporary novelist attempting something this loony and hubristic?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Richard Brody on Norbit

Film critic Richard Brody, author of a recent, well-received 720-page book on Jean-Luc Godard, has now published his second piece in praise of Eddie Murphy's Norbit in The New Yorker. When the 10th Anniversary Deluxe Edition comes out in 2017, I hope the studio remembers to use this Brody blurb:

"a scintillating piece of psychodrama"

To be fair, I have not seen Norbit, but I have seen this and this (NSFHE*).

Brody's original review is here, but today's item is the keeper for me.

*NSFHE=Not Safe For Human Eyes

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Underrated, Underappreciated (#2 in a Series)

Willie Nelson's Me & The Drummer (AKA Tales Out of Luck)
and Me & Paul

The Willie Nelson albums that get noticed are the ones with big-name collaborators or attention-grabbing concepts. As a result, some of Willie's finest work flies under the radar or gets lost in his constant stream of releases.
As much as I liked Daniel Lanois' work on Teatro, Willie is his own best producer, and these two albums prove it.

Me & Paul (1985) is just Willie and his usual band going about their business. That business: kicking ass, Willie-style. "Pretend I Never Happened" has one of my all-time favorite Willie solos, and putting a Billy Joe Shaver song at the beginning, middle, and end of an album is never a bad idea.

Me & The Drummer (2000) reunites Willie with some members of his pre-outlaw '60s band, billed here as The Offenders. I don't think there's anything here that he hasn't recorded before (he's probably getting close to triple digits for "Rainy Day Blues"), but the fiddle-and-steel-driven, classic country sound is a perfect match for this batch of songs. Hearing "What a Way to Live" on KDHX in St. Louis is what made me seek this album out, and I'm still amazed at how great it is - a model of how the best country always seems so simple.

The all-instrumental Night & Day (1999) is worth mentioning here, too. I picked it up for next to nothing, having no idea what it was, and of course it was great.

Jamaican Patties with Coco Bread

They did get a feature in the NY Times
and are no secret in Caribbean neighborhoods, but I still think this spicy-and-sweet, extremely filling "snack that eats like a meal" is underappreciated. And getting the patty without the coco bread is like getting a hot dog without a bun. Why would you do it (unless you were on the Atkins diet, in which case you wouldn't be going near a Jamaican patty in the first place)? This place has some of the best.

Matthew Sweet's Altered Beast

The dark sequel to Girlfriend. Judging by the ubiquity of this CD in used bins for several years after it's release, a lot of fans of Sweet's breakthrough album must've been very disappointed in the follow-up. What soured Matt's worldview? A breakup? His first taste of fame? As Alex Chilton descended into darkness, the sounds on his albums got weirder, sloppier. Altered Beast is relatively slick and full of great guitar sounds - speaking of underrated, Sweet's pairing of Richard Lloyd and Robert Quine was one of the great studio one-two punches - which somehow has the effect of throwing the bitterness at the heart of many of these songs into sharper relief and making it harder to look away. Matthew Sweet will never make an album with the heft of a Big Star's Third or even an XO, but he has a gift for a particular strain of power pop, and it was fascinating to see what happened when he used that gift to show us his dark places. Good music is never really depressing. Trouser Press
calls it "disappointing", "puzzling", and "a mess". I call it one of the best albums of the '90s.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Underrated, Underappreciated (#1 in a Series)

Bob Dylan's
Planet Waves

Recorded in L.A. with The Band, this might be more overlooked than underrated, though I think it's both. Dark, troubled albums usually have a better shot at attaining "classic" or at least critical favorite status than upbeat ones with songs about the positive side of love. Dylan doles out some of both here, which makes Planet Waves tough to pigeonhole or fit into a single concept. Jam-packed with some of the greatest Dylan songs that nobody ever seems to talk about: "Going, Going, Gone" (memorably covered by Jay Farrar), "Tough Mama", "Dirge". I was surprised to find out this made it to #1 on the album charts, though apparently sales dropped off fast after an initial burst of publicity. Today, it seems to be lost in the still-growing Dylan discography between the low of Self-Portrait (probably also underrated given its horrible reputation) and the high of Blood on the Tracks. Christgau called it "
stray cat music--scrawny, cocky, and yowling up the stairs". No way I can do better than that. The phrase on the cover, "Cast-iron songs & torch ballads", is not a bad description either.

Old-fashioned donuts

I was a fan of this style long before discovering Peter Pan Donuts in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, but their perfect renditions are the pinnacle of classic donut making. The old-fashions at Edwardsville, IL's Donut Palace were sweetly glazed, dense, irregular and hard-fried. They were good (and hopefully still are). Peter Pan's are a bit lighter, and the glazed versions are less thickly glazed (and therefore not quite as sweet). PP also has sour cream versions, which are a nice variation, though the flavor difference is subtle to me. I've also been meaning to try Donut Pub on 14th St in Manhattan, which has a good reputation but as far as I know does not live up to its name by serving beer with donuts.

There are fancier donuts (the Lower East Side's "correctly"-spelled Doughnut Plant does great things) and more popular donuts (the airy, sticky, tasty but overrated Krispy Kreme glazed), but the humble, homely old-fashioned is the king.

Van Morrison's Veedon Fleece

Might be Van's second best album (if you don't think this is his best, you are truly a contrarian and need to defend yourself with a well-reasoned argument). Two other underrated/underappreciated VM songs, though not from this album: the early "Joe Harper Saturday Morning" and the more recent "High Summer".

Murphy's Irish Stout in the nitro can

Better than nitro can Guinness, and often cheaper.

Elvis Costello's Brutal Youth

Has some middling (for EC) tracks in the middle, but benefits hugely from one of the best openers ("Pony St.") and closers ("Favourite Hour") of any Costello album. I played this a lot in the car, when I had a car. Good replay value.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Brooklyn Record Riot - What I Found (Part Two)

Notes on two used CDs purchased at the Riot - part of my continuing and almost completed series. These were both non-deluxe editions, just the original albums on CD.

Joy Division - Closer (CD)

Before wading into this, I have to admit to being one of those people who didn't know much about Joy Division before the recent uptick in mainstream attention they've received . I certainly knew their reputation, their cult status, their place in the canon, but I hadn't really heard much of the music. They were somewhere in my mental list of "important bands to check out", but I never seemed to around to checking them out. 24-Hour Party People opened the door for me, and I'd watched that mainly because I wanted to see another Steve Coogan-Michael Winterbottom collaboration after enjoying Tristram Shandy. Then came the Joy Division/Control two-fer. I liked all three (Control maybe the least), and there was a cumulative interest in seeing how the same events were represented in three contemporary movies, particularly 24 Hour's somewhat-less-than-somber treatment of Ian Curtis' suicide. I'm sure some people found Winterbottom's approach inappropriate, but it was consistent with the tone of the rest of the movie and seemed to capture some sort of slightly perverse Mancunian/Tony Wilson/Factory spirit.

Returning to Closer, it seems to me that the least innovative and influential aspects of Joy Division's music were Curtis' lyrics and vocals. That's less a knock than an acknowledgment that he was sui generis and that imitating him is likely to be a dead-end proposition. His contributions to Closer's sound are "none more black", and while absolutely key to the album's mood and overall effect, I don't see where you can go from there. Everything else - the production, the song structures, the rhythms, the bass-drums-guitar-synth sounds - have all been copied and used as jumping-off points for innumerable bands, albums, and whole sub-genres. These guys weren't tremendously skilled musicians, but they were one of those groups that created a capital-s Sound. Further listens may change my mind, but I don't think anything on Closer tops the great singles: "Atmosphere", "Digital", "Transmission", "Love Will Tear Us Apart".

Brian Eno - Music for Films (CD)

I've given this one about 1/2 of a close listen so far and a couple of background spins. If you take the liner notes to Discreet Music seriously, you might argue that background listening is the most appropriate mode of listening for Eno's ambient music. Either way, my impressions on this so far are very positive. It's somewhat more varied than the later Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks, but still feels of a piece. Lots of short compositions, with some of the guitar textures more often associated with Eno's "rock" albums providing occasional disturbances in the ambient force field. Fred Frith, Robert Fripp, and surprising-to-many Eno regular Phil Collins appear. I'd say I enjoy this more than Music for Airports but not quite as much as the beautiful, Daniel Lanois-on-pedal-steel-assisted Apollo. Fitting Discreet Music into this hierarchy might require a few more listens to Music for Airports and a short essay.

Monday, March 2, 2009


If I have been informed correctly, today is the 25th anniversary of This is Spinal Tap. The band's official website is currently a countdown clock with about 8 hours to go. I'll certainly be checking back to see what happens when the clock runs out.

I'm not sure if there is any movie that I have seen more or derived more pleasure from.

I should add that I was lucky enough to catch Tap on their "Break Like the Wind Tour" back in nineteen-ninety-something. Quite a show. A 25th Anniversary tour is supposed to be in the works.

[Update: The tour is "Unwigged & Unplugged", Guest, McKean, and Shearer playing Tap & Folksmen songs acoustic.]

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Brooklyn Record Riot - What I Found (Part One)

I'm trying to write a little something on everything I bought at the recent Brooklyn Record Riot in Greenpoint. Here's the first batch:

George Adams-Don Pullen Quartet - Live at the Village Vanguard, Vol. 2 (LP)

Released on the Italian label Soul Note, one of the many overseas and obscure labels that filled the void left by the retreat of the majors from jazz and the withering of the great independents (Blue Note, Impulse!), this music probably deserved a wider audience than it got in the mid-'80s. This purchase ($2!) is part of my recent attempt to dip into the for-me uncharted waters of '70s and '80s jazz. Some excellent posts on Destination:Out and Do The Math gave me some names and albums to look for. This also worked as a browsing strategy for the Record Riot, as the boxes of jazz records were relatively accessible in the vinyl geek scrum of Warsaw and the general lack of love for this period means that generalist dealers sell these records cheap (whereas a specialist like Downtown Music Gallery would likely price them many times higher).

I bought this album based on the quartet's connection to Mingus (3 of the 4 played on the two Changes volumes, which I like very much) and the generally high quality of Live at the Vanguard albums. I don't know what the Adams-Pullen band sounded like in the studio, but they were certainly hot live. Good mix of "out" and "in" playing with strong grooves. The closing "Big Alice" was apparently something of a signature song for Pullen and must have been a crowd pleaser. The quartet rides the tune's Bo Diddley beat for almost 18 minutes (with Adams actually quoting the "Bo Diddley" melody near the end) in a way that suggests they were capable of going much longer without running out of ideas or gas. Only four long tracks on the album - 3 compositions from Pullen and one from Adams.

A strong album that challenges some of the preconceptions about jazz in the '80's - it's not "smooth", "revivalist", "fusion", or suggestive in any way that jazz was a worn-out art form at this point. It could be considered an extension of Mingus' late work, but doesn't sound all that much like him.

I'd definitely like to track down Volume One, recorded the same night.

Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy & BSB Appendix (2CD)

Okkervil are becoming one of my favorite current bands. They've been around for a while, and I'm still catching up with them. These are the only complete albums (well, a full-length and an EP) that I've heard from them, and they date from 2005. The tracks I've heard from their two most recent albums make me want to get those next. I like Will Sheff's voice a lot. I can understand why the word "emo" was tossed around in reviews of this album. It's not totally off the mark as one adjective to apply to his singing, but in the context of his songs and the band's arrangements it's inadequate and a bit misleading. Bottom line, he's a good songwriter and the band can get into some different modes - quiet, loud, bouncy - and do interesting things within them. I'm not that worried about figuring out the "concept" of this project, but I like the idea of using Tim Hardin's "Black Sheep Boy" as a starting point/touchstone for an album. Whatever Sheff used to generate these songs, it worked for him. And the "Appendix" is more than leftovers. It's a good companion piece that extends the album with more songs well worth hearing.

[Side note: OR's Daytrotter Session is highly recommended. Besides being good listening, it shows the influence of a certain strain of late-'60s/early-'70s SoCal folk/country-rock on their sound. Also makes me want to get John Phillips' John the Wolfking of L.A.]

Henry Threadgill - Easily Slip Into Another World

So much going on in this music. I can hear New Orleans brass, funky marching band music (the cover photos conjure up some kind of Sousa-meets-Sgt. Pepper-at-the-jewelry-store scenario), blues, and a little bit of free playing, but it's not quite any of these things exactly. It's very alive and fits somewhere in the jazz and African-American music tradition. There's an Olu Dara composition and Asha Puthli (known for her work with Ornette Coleman and called an "intrepid cosmopolite" (!) on her Wikipedia page) sings on one track.

[Side note: I saw Puthli perform at Central Park Summerstage a couple years ago. Certainly the only performance in history to feature both an unaccompanied solo by Dewey Redman and a cover of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy". And Ornette Coleman watching from the wings. Her pitch seemed a bit uncertain at times, but she got by a heavy dose of charisma.]

Threadgill is part of the Chicago AACM scene, which I'm only beginning to get familiar with. As a composer, Mingus comes to mind as one point of comparison. Both seem to have a certain sense of humor and fun, as well as a sense of history and ability to incorporate elements of early jazz and pre-jazz sounds into their compositions.

Air - Open Air Suit

Threadgill again, in a different mode. More abstract and "difficult". The little bit of Air I've heard other than this, plus descriptions I've read of some of their other albums, makes me want to continue exploring them. If this was all I knew of them or Threadgill, I might be wary of going deeper. Great album cover illustration of a mandrill showing his brightly-colored ass in some sort of celestial cloudscape.

Probably need to listen to this some more before I can say more about it.

Bill Evans - Conceptions

I've lost track of how many Bill Evans albums and compilations I have on CD and LP, but it's still a small fraction of his discography, especially since live recordings keep emerging on various labels. Despite dying too young, he recorded lots of music. This 2 LP set was released in 1981, maybe a year after his death. It's kind of a strange compilation, pairing his first album as a leader, New Jazz Conceptions, with some outtakes and solo recordings.

NJC was recorded with Paul Motian and Teddy Kotick, Evans' pre-Scott LaFaro bassist. Brisk, swinging stuff, but doesn't seem to belong among the great Bill Evans recordings, at least upon first listen. The solo recordings are a fascinating listen, most being recorded in one of Evans' first sessions after his hiatus from music after the death of Scott LaFaro. The liner notes make a lot out of his fragile state of mind at this point, and it's not too much of a stretch to hear a reflection of this in his playing. There does seem to be something heavy happening in his slow, sad take on Danny Boy, which features an odd moment where Evans seems to be bringing the tune to an end, then changes his mind and ramps back up for a few minutes more playing.

The evolution of Bill Evans' approach to solo playing is a sort of theme tying this compilation together. NJC features a few solo performances, but they are very brief, staying around the 2-minute mark, as if anything longer would have tried either the pianist's confidence or the audience's attention span. The later solo work shows him slowing down and stretching out solo, though he would take things much further later on, with the overdubbed Evans-Evans-Evans trios of Conversations with Myself and the nearly 14-minute "People" from Alone (Again).

More on Bill Evans solo here and here.

A good addition to my collection, but not an essential. Also not the greatest sound, at least on my portable record player. Some slight warping might be to blame.


There's a great roundup of Record Riot purchases over at The Bad Plus' blog Do The Math. Found it after I started writing this piece, and realized that we probably looked at some of the same records. Took me a lot longer to write up my finds, though.

List Making #1 - Movies from the Criterion Collection

Inspired by this, I decided to go through the Criterion Collection's online DVD catalog and come up with my own top ten. I got carried away and came up with a top thirty, arranged into three tiers. Maybe I'll add a little commentary at some point, but for now, here's the list:

(Notes: The format is title/Criterion catalog #/director. Within each tier, titles are arranged by catalog number, in true geek fashion.)

group one - 1-7
grand illusion (#1) - renoir
beauty and the beast (#6) - cocteau
this is spinal tap (#12) - reiner
the passion of joan of arc (#62) - dreyer
rushmore (#65) - w. anderson
burden of dreams (#287) - blank
kind hearts and coronets (#325) - hamer

group two - 8-20
the third man (#64) - carol reed
the orphic triology (#66) - cocteau
gimme shelter (#99) - maysles
the lady eve (#103) - sturges
contempt (#171) - godard
the rules of the game (#216) - renoir
le cercle rouge (#218) - melville
night and the city (#274) - dassin
f for fake (#288) - welles
au hasard balthazar (#297) - besson
mr arkadin (#322) - welles
days of heaven (#409) - sayles
pierrot le fou (#421) - godard

group three - 21-30
fishing with john (#42) - lurie
rififi (#115) - dassin
withnail and i (#119) - bruce robinson
in the mood for love (#147) - wong kar-wai
down by law (#166) - jarmusch
the flowers of saint francis (#293) - rossellini
naked city (#380) - dassin
house of games (#399) - mamet
cleo from 5 to 7 (part of #418) - varda
bottle rocket (#450) - w. anderson

Update: Since making this list, I've seen The Man Who Fell to Earth (#304), which probably fits somewhere into Group Three. Not sure what to bump to make room for it, though.