Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Four Items - A Boot, A Beard, A New Trio, A New Bakery

I'm willing to confess that I've tended to enjoy bands influenced by the Velvet Underground more than the VU themselves, which may explain why I enjoyed this (probably old news to VU fanatics but new to me) live bootleg recording - purportedly recorded from a mic placed inside Lou's amp - better than almost any VU I've heard. Wherever the mic really was, the mix is very heavy on guitars, with drums and organ audible and vocals faint to non-existent (I believe this is the Reed-Morrison-Yule-Tucker lineup). If it hasn't already been done, somebody should start a band doing instrumental versions of VU songs. But make sure the guitars are plenty loud.

Two other guitar-centric items:

Having taken a pass on most of Bob Pollard's many, many post-GBV releases, I'd been meaning to check out more of his Boston Spaceships project and was finally pushed to shell out for one of the albums by Tom Scharpling's endorsement of Let It Beard on the Best Show. (It's the latest from the Spaceships, but I'm going to assume that Pollard has released something else in the four weeks or so the record has been out.) Beard's got only two fewer tracks than Alien Lanes (26 vs. 28) but close to double the run time. I wouldn't mind some of the songs being tightened up a bit, or even radically truncated early-GBV style, but the BS's generally make good use of the extra length and the hit-to-dud ratio is pretty high here. Choice cuts include "Chevy Marigold", "Earmarked for Collison", "I Took on the London Guys", "Red Bodies", "The Vicelords"(!) and "German Field of Shadows". Unfortunately, after those last two, "Speed Bumps" is a speed bump in the album sequence, a missed opportunity (Pollard's lyrics, about driving-while-texting or something, don't live up to the great bouncy backing track) that interrupts the record's cruise to the finish line.

I saw the first set of Paul Motian's new trio (billed, straightforwardly enough, as Paul Motian's New Trio, probably a reference to the fact that it has the same sax-guitar-drums lineup as Motian's longest-running trio with Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell) at the Village Vanguard last night and I think the drummer has another winner on his hands. Ben Monder, who's played with Motian in several different configurations, is a guitar monster who deserves wider recognition. His guitar sound ranged from atmospheric to menacing evil in the course of the hour-long set. The new element was Parisian native Jerome Sabbagh on tenor. Not having heard him before, I sampled some tracks on his website (many featuring Monder) and immediately got the impression that this was a guy who was already operating in Paul Motian's general sound neighborhood, an impression borne out by his performance with the trio. Sabbagh might have negotiated the standards a bit better than the Motian tunes (which seems natural for a first time out), but he was compelling throughout, and I'm tempted to check in again later in the week to see how this group develops.

On a last, non-musical note, the place I've been touting as the best bakery in NYC to anyone who would listen, Almondine (in Red Hook and Park Slope), has some competition from a new Cobble Hill spot, Bien Cuit on Smith St. I need to try more of their breads, but the baguette is more than solid and I'd put the pastries up against any in the city. Based on the evidence so far, this is the real artisan bakery deal, of the kind that seems to be more often seen on the West Coast (where artisan bakeries were an actual thing before the word "artisan" got degraded to a laugh line through rampant overuse) and only aspired to here. Going in the afternoon after Irene, when they were just reopening, was like a non-early-rising bakery lover's dream. It was mid-afternoon but everything was fresh out of the ovens.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Jim Dickinson on Big Star's Third

This post is over a year old, but I just discovered it. Jim Dickinson interviewed about the recording of Big Star's Third (aka Sister Lovers, aka Beale Street Green). If you're a Big Star/Alex Chilton fan, this is THE SHIT.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Recent Listening - Jones and More

Hank Jones - The Oracle (with Dave Holland and Billy Higgins)
From 1989 - if you heard this record in a blindfold test and weren't familiar with Hank Jones, I don't think you'd ever guess that it featured a 70 year-old pianist who was born several years before Bud Powell and within a year of Monk. Of course, this is one of the standard lines on Hank Jones - though he could play authoritatively in older styles, he stayed contemporary over an incredible number of decades - but it's absolutely true and particularly striking on this session. The first track, Jones' "Interface", starts things off like a blast of fresh, cool air on a hot, muggy day. Holland and Higgins are tremendous in this trio, as you'd expect, though I wish there was a touch more Higgins in the mix (Holland is particularly well-recorded). Though Jones recorded with so many of the great musicians and assembled some amazing trios, and I have a long way to go in catching up with, for example, Ethan Iverson's deep knowledge of the Jones discography, I can't imagine he ever had a trio much better than this one.  So why is this record apparently out-of-print?

I've also been listening to Jones' entry in the Live at Maybeck Hall solo piano series. His full, two-handed approach was great for solo playing. Some of my favorites so far from this concert are "Blue Monk", on which Jones makes creative use of Monk's harmonic and melodic material without entering the realm of deconstruction or abstraction, and "Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'", the famous Rogers & Hammerstein tune he also recorded with Joe Lovano but which, to my knowledge, hasn't been done by too many other jazz musicians. You can feel the sun coming up when Hank Jones plays that tune. I also find Jones' version of Joe Bushkin's "Oh, Look at Me Now" (also recorded with Lovano on the excellent Kids) irresistible. From reading some interviews, it seems like Jones had an excellent dry wit, which would explain the introduction (given a separate track on the CD) where he refers to Bushkin (who composed "Oh, Look at Me Now" in 1941) as "one of the newer writers on the scene".

On the subject of remarkable pianists, I just watched a Marc-Andre Hamelin DVD I got from Netflix. Recorded a few years ago in Germany, it has a documentary piece combining interview and concert footage plus the full length interview and recital that the documentary draws on. All parts are well done, very professionally edited and shot, with good sound, but you could almost skip the documentary and go straight to the full length interview and concert tracks. I guess not everyone wants to watch an hour-long interview about classical concert piano conducted by a soft-spoken, almost taciturn (or perhaps just respectful) German interviewer, but I find Hamelin a fascinating character and enjoy watching his mind work. He's hugely intelligent and articulate and has a slightly odd but charmingly Canadian sense of humor. The recital features a fairly conservative program - Haydn, Chopin, Debussy, and some Gershwin in the encores - for Hamelin, who is known for playing works by lesser known composers along with his own compositions, but he's capable of making anything new - not by updating or modernizing anything but simply by playing the pieces so well. Or, you might say, so thoroughly - there seems to be no idea, nuance, detail that the composers put into these pieces that Hamelin does not extract and present clearly to the listener.

The new Okkervil River, I Am Very Far, is turning out to be a textbook "grower" for me. It didn't make much of an impression on first listen, but lots of nice musical and, especially, lyrical details keep revealing themselves (as mentioned in the previous post).

I recent purchased the Gillian Welch version of John Hartford's "In Tall Buildings" from this tribute album. Gillian's introduction pretty much nails it - this song will make you want to quit your job if your job involves a subway commute and an elevator ride, and maybe even if it doesn't. If "In Tall Buildings" isn't being included in anthologies of the great American folk songs, it should be.

I learned about Felt via the Clientele and Alasdair MacLean's expressed admiration for them and their leader Lawrence, but I didn't know about Lawrence's next band, Denim, until reading some tributes to him on his 50th birthday. This is a great example of his work, reminiscent of, and perhaps deliberately nodding to, some of Ronnie Lane's songs with the Faces.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Bitter, Sour, Sweet, & Misheard - Items Re: Food & Drink

Ramazzotti Amaro
This Italian bitter liqueur (whose producer apparently spent a bit of money on their website) is less bitter and less brightly colored than Campari. I'm not a big fan of it on the rocks or straight, but I have discovered a great use of it for dessert - a splash of Ramazzotti with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I also enjoyed it as a sub for sweet vermouth in what I called an Imperfect Manhattan:
1.5 oz rye whiskey
0.5 oz Ramazzotti
0.25 oz Dolin dry vermouth
a splash or two Angoustura bitters
stirred with ice and strained into a chilled glass

There is (or was - it appears to have been a limited thing) a Ramazzotti Ritter Sport Bar, which I would love to try if they're still available anywhere.  


Speaking of Ritter Sport chocolate bars, is the Olympia flavor (yogurt, honey and hazelnut) a great Ritter Sport flavor or the greatest Ritter Sport flavor? I've only seen it at places that carry large numbers of Ritter flavors (probably 10 or more), but it is worth seeking out. It has a sour-sweet thing that I've certainly never encountered in a candy bar.


Okkervil River's "The Valley" from their latest, I Am Very Far
For the first couple of listens, I heard the phrase "in the valley of the rock'n'roll dead" as "in the valley of the rock'n'roll deli" (would've been a nice internal rhyme) and assumed Will Sheff was referencing this place, on 6th Ave just south of Central Park.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Martin Amis' Joystick (Not a Metaphor or Euphemism)

Though today's Slate article on Martin Amis' arrival in Brooklyn was thoroughly unnecessary, covering ground that had already been trampled by herds of Brooklyn blogs in the past several months, I am thankful to Troy Patterson for one piece of information in the story. I had no idea, and still can't quite believe, that Amis published a book on video game tactics. As in, how to get high scores on Asteroids and Space Invaders. Check it out - seeing the recognizable Amis style applied to the minutiae of old skool arcade gameplay is mind-bending.