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.

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