Thursday, March 25, 2010

Roundup of Recent Music Things

Realized last night that I was extremely remiss in overlooking the death of Willie Mitchell, which occurred early this year, between those of his fellow Memphis legends/recording artists/producers Jim Dickinson and Alex Chilton.

As a producer and label head at Hi Records, he was responsible for some of the best-sounding records of all time.  Some of these productions, most notably Al Green's peak period hits, still stop me in my tracks even though I've heard them countless times.  Check out the documentary Gospel According To Al Green for a peek into Mitchell's soul factory (a converted movie theater).


Speaking of notable drum sounds, listening to the new Paul Motian record (Lost In A Dream, recorded last year at the Vanguard) and seeing him at the Vanguard (with Jason Moran and Greg Osby) got me thinking about live music vs. recordings of live music.  My home stereo setup is, to say the least, not hi-fi, but I have a strong sense that even on the beautifully recorded Lost In A Dream, some of the sound that the musicians made got left behind in the room (I get the same feeling listening to Fred Hersch's also beautifully recorded Vanguard record).  Being in the room, especially that room, in the moment, there's just more music.  I guess this is an obvious point, the existence of an indefinable (at least for me) gap, the thing that drives audio engineers to keep pushing toward truer and truer sound reproduction.

A couple more quick notes on the Motian-Moran-Osby trio:

It seem to me that the Motian-Moran hookup has become a little deeper since the last time I saw them together (the week Lost In A Dream was recorded, when it was already quite deep).  As with so many of the fleeting pairings in today's jazz world, it's a shame they don't play together more often.

Osby has a substantially different sound than Chris Potter, who appears on Lost In A Dream, and he brought some things to Motian's music that I hadn't heard from any of his other collaborators. On one tune, he achieved a very bird-like (though not especially Bird-like) sound, almost reminiscent of the gentler moments of Eric Dolphy.  He turned another tune into a clinic on the discipline and rewards of playing very softly, something he's given substantial thought to lately.

On the closing "Drum Music", I experienced the pure pleasure of seeing and hearing a 78 year-old man beating the living f*ck out a drum kit.  By the way, I think today is Motian's 79th birthday - WKCR and Phil Schaap, isn't it about time to give this man a birthday broadcast?


At the risk of running this post into the ground by hitting too many of my usual subjects, I thought I would toss in a few notes on this week's Clientele/Field Music show at the Bowery Ballroom:

Going in, I would have just referred to it as this week's Clientele show, but Field Music was just about good enough to receive co-billing.  Walking to the show, I overheard someone with an English accent outside a bar say something like, "they're great, like XTC meets Yes".  I thought it was funny at the time, but at the show I started to suspect that he'd been talking about Field Music.  They are a fun band to play spot-the-influences with, but they've been around long enough now to have integrated the various strands of their sound into something pretty cohesive and individual.  Hearing their new album in a record store over the weekend, I thought I detected hints of Steely Dan, Grizzly Bear, and Emitt Rhodes (all mostly in the vocals and melodies), but live I could see where XTC might be present in some of the rhythms (though this may just be a more generalized post-punk thing).  There were also some sounds that said "70s" to me without pointing to any specific acts, though at a couple points, I half-expected Jeff "Skunk" Baxter to step on stage and take a solo.

These guys are all really good on their (multiple) instruments, and the well-structured songs allow them to show off a tight group sound and one of the more distinctive vocal blends going (having a pair of siblings as vocalists usually helps).  If I was feeling flippant, I'd be tempted to say that Field Music, from the wilds of Sunderland, NE England, has got more going on right now than anyone in Brooklyn, but that would probably be going too far.

The Clientele was sharper than the last couple times I'd seen them (perhaps seeing them at the end of a tour helped), and the songs from Bonfires On The Heath especially seem to have benefited from some road time.  Mark Keen (drums) and James Hornsey (bass) are always in the pocket, but the whole band was more consistently together than at last year's Music Hall show.  Maybe following Field Music for several nights pushed them to raise their game.  The Violet Hour's "Lamplight" (with the usual NYC addition of Gary Olson on trumpet) was a highlight, possibly the best version of it I've seen, with Alasdair's psych freak-out solos sounding particularly inspired.  The addition of pedal steel (courtesy of a member of Vetiver whose name I didn't catch) to a few songs was a nice surprise, but didn't stray far from replicating some of Bonfire's slide parts.  Might've been fun to hear what steel would've sounded like on some older Clientele material.

And I was glad they brought back their stellar version of "Nighttime" as an Alex Chilton tribute.  I don't really think of the Clientele as a Chilton- or Big Star-influenced band, but "Nighttime" points up something they share, the rare ability to imbue a simple vignette or image with the emotional resonance of a suddenly resurfacing memory.

Bonus Links

A Field Music interview (in which they deny any Yes influence)

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