Monday, October 18, 2010

Albums of the Moment

I've purchased a lot of music lately, both online and on my trip to Chicago (Reckless Records!).  I haven't even listened to all of it yet, but here are some quick notes on the stuff I've been playing most in the last week or two:

Jakob Bro - Balladeering
This Danish guitarist's album is like the perfect blend of a Bill Frisell album and a Paul Motian album, both of whom, not coincidentally, appear on it along with Lee Konitz and bassist Ben Street.  There's some great footage on YouTube from a making-of documentary that was included in a deluxe edition of the album.  This 2009 record is kind of hard to find in physical form, but it is on iTunes.  Konitz is one of those major figures I haven't paid enough attention to, but he has some absolutely sublime moments here.  He doesn't play on the album's first track, but his entrance on the gentle, almost children's-song-like "Evening Song" is one of the finest, most memorable moments of music I've heard all year.

Tim Berne Sextet - The Ancestors
An Amazon MP3 Store find for under $3, this is a live album with just 3 long tracks (two of which are Parts 1 & 2 of the same tune, presumably split when the album came out on vinyl).  There's some great Paul Motian on this album, including what may be one of his best (and longest?) solos on record.  I was walking the other night on Houston St., from the quieter western reaches heading east.  The Jakob Bro album ended just as I reached Broadway and the opening track of this ("Sirius B") was the ideal soundtrack for the nighttime bustle of Manhattan.

The Bad Plus - Never Stop
I listened to this walking around Chicago and it seemed to be giving me energy, like a musical battery (I would recommend a loop of the title track to marathoners-in-training).  Never Stop, more than just about anything else, made me thankful for my new headphones (Koss PortaPros) and their nice bass response (an exponential improvement over my old earbuds).  I'm sure Ethan Iverson and Dave King would sound good as a duo, but if you can't properly hear what Reid Anderson is playing on this album, you're not really listening to it.

Teenage Fanclub - Bandwagonesque
When I first got this album, it didn't quite click with me for some reason.  I really liked "Metal Baby" and was lukewarm on the rest.  Now, after seeing them live and relistening to this for the first time in years, I get it.  How could "The Concept" have eluded me (I didn't intend that as a pun)?  It still pales in comparison to the Fanclub's obvious inspiration, Big Star, but it gets a lot of things right and not much wrong.  I hear TF's music as taking "The Ballad of El Goodo" as its starting point - the power ballad side of Big Star.  They don't have the funkier, Memphis soul-derived aspects, or the sense of half-willfully teetering on the edge of madness and collapse that was part of both Chilton and Bell's natures.

Marc-Andre Hamelin - Etudes
After seeing Hamelin for the first time recently at Le Poisson Rouge, where he played a program of pieces from this, his latest record (the bulk of which is devoted to Hamelin's set of 12 etudes in each of the minor keys), there was no question that I had to have this music.  As a person who still struggles to read music, a quick look through the scores for the etudes (which was for sale at LPR) made me feel like a third-grader trying to make sense of Infinite Jest, but this is far from mere virtuoso show-off material.  Hamelin's music is melodically and harmonically rich and as finely and intricately layered as a piece of Louis Sullivan ornament (see my previous post).  Hamelin's ability to render all of these layers and strands so that they can be heard individually as well as part of the total composition may be a more impressive, and, for the listener, probably more valuable, skill than the sheer, incredible volume of notes he's able to produce in a given measure.  The etude that first grabbed me was No.7 (for the left hand alone), a gorgeous piece of music and, for obvious reasons, a feat of technique, but 8 (a musical setting of a Goethe poem) and 11 (a minuet) have also become early favorites (I expect that many, many more listens will be required to get to the bottom of this music).

One album I'm looking forward to is Volume II of Henry Threadgill's This Brings Us To, which I mention because I was just checking out Studs Terkel's 2005 book And They All Sang, which features a chapter on Threadgill.  In 2005, Terkel was 93.  A 93 year old man, who was 16 when his favorite jazz record, Louis Armstrong's "West End Blues", came out, was into Henry Threadgill.  Can you get any hipper than that?  [A day or so after writing the above, but before posting, I thought I spotted Threadgill outside Jazz Standard.  Presumably, he was there, as I was, to check out Apex.  For some reason, I feel compelled to use profanity to describe just how good this group sounded, so I'll at least keep it brief.  Two word review: sh*t hot.  And to expand on that: really f*cking good.]

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