Monday, December 31, 2012

Best Live Music Seen in 2012

Being less a list than a year-end roundup in numbered sections. The order is not to be taken as a ranking of relative quality, except perhaps for #1, which was pretty much transcendent.

Fred Hersch/Dave Holland/Billy Hart @ Jazz Standard
This is the one I've found myself thinking back on most often.

Milton Babbitt Retrospective @ CUNY Graduate Center
Seeing Philomel live is an experience I'll take with me to the underworld.

Oliver Lake @ 70
In the latter half of 2012, especially the period around his 70th birthday, Oliver Lake seemed to be everywhere in NYC. Playing with several different groups at several different venues, it was hard to keep up with all his activities, but I did manage to catch him a few times. Sets with his organ quartet at Shapeshifter and playing new material with Tarbaby at Le Poisson Rouge were memorable, but the high point for me came at Jazz Standard, where Lake joined Andrew Cyrille and Reggie Workman as Trio 3 with Geri Allen guesting on piano. It was as good as those four names would suggest. At Shapeshifter, Lake was preceded by the Darius Jones Trio, who played beautifully and had Lake sit in for a couple tunes of inter-generational altoism.

Tim Berne @ Shapeshifter Lab X3
Like Fred Hersch, Tim Berne figured in my Best of 2011 Iist as part of John Hebert’s Mingus tribute project Sounds of Love. While I didn’t manage to see Berne’s most acclaimed new project this year, Snakeoil, I did catch him in several other groups, including three excellent sets at the new Shapeshifter Lab - trios with David Torn & Ches Smith (Sun of Goldfinger) and Nels Cline & Jim Black (BB&C) and a new septet (the Tim Berne 7) that includes the members of Snakeoil. The guitar trios were both beasts, with highly formidable guitarists and drummers capable of taking the music at any moment from eerie soundscape to titanic freak-out. As for the septet, I haven’t yet gone back and watched it again on YouTube, but I remember having the feeling as I left Shapeshifter that this was one of the best sets I’d seen all year. The combination of Ches Smith on vibes, Matt Mitchell on electric and acoustic piano and Ryan Ferreira on electric guitar brought a sort of depth-of-field and range of color I’d never heard before in Berne’s music. I’m hoping this band, or at least some version of it, has a future within the ever-expanding Berneverse.

Andrew D’Angelo @ Shapeshifter Lab X2
Andrew D’Angelo turned up in last year’s list as a member of the School for Improvised Music Big Band, where he stood out among a very distinguished lineup with show-stopping solo on a Kris Davis arrangement. This year, I followed through on my resolution to check out some of the saxophonist's own projects, two of which I saw at Shapeshifter Lab - a quartet with Bill McHenry, Mike Pride on drums and the young bassist Noah Garabedian, where the two saxophonists displayed some of the best musical chemistry I saw all year, and D’Angelo’s own big band, the DNA Orchestra. D’Angelo writes knotty, rhythmically and melodically intricate tunes in the bop lineage, but plays them with a passion that never allows the music to sound like an intellectual exercise.

Peter Stampfel & The Ether Frolic Mob @ Brooklyn Folk Fest
Stampfel makes friendly, joyful, and joyfully twisted music that still has and probably always will have the power to inspire WTF? reactions, putting him in good company among the truly singular American artists.

Ethan Iverson/Ben Street/Tootie Heath @ the Village Vanguard / The Bad Plus’ On Sacred Ground @ Damrosch Plaza
After several Smalls appearances (two of which I mentioned in 2010 and 2011 roundups) and a live album, it was about time Iverson got to bring his simple-but-profoundly-rewarding concept of playing standard jazz repertoire in trio with some of the Master Elders of the music into the Vanguard. The tunes spanned several decades (from Eubie Blake to Paul Motian) and were well-chosen to showcase the many aspects of Tootie Heath’s drum mastery, to the benefit of a very appreciative audience. If you missed it, the NPR stream will give you a pretty good taste. Seemingly at the opposite end of the spectrum scale-wise from standards at the Vanguard was The Bad Plus’ take on The Rite of Spring, presented with synchronized video projections, in front of a big crowd outside at Lincoln Center (what they had in common: deep attention to rhythm). In the big outdoor venue, On Sacred Ground almost felt like Stravinsky as arena rock, in the best possible way - I even saw people attempting to groove to the Rite's still-radical-sounding mixed meter. The authority with which drummer Dave King, in particular, handled those rhythms was a marvel to behold.

Psychic Paramount @ LPR & Pitchfork Festival / Earth @ Littlefield
Earth’s slooow tempos and repetitive, heavy but spacious riffs add up to a sound that reminds me of Noguchi sculpture - massive but refined, static but seething with potential energy. There’s a temptation to resort to metaphors involving coiled desert snakes and the like, and "menace" is certainly a word that comes to mind. Not a band to be compared to immovable stone objects, the Psychic Paramount are all about forward motion. Although it was fun to see them outside on a sunny day (well, maybe “overcast” is a better word - it poured rain soon after their set) at Pitchfork Fest in Chicago, they were more in their element inside at Le Poisson Rouge (although the set was a bit early by their standards, at least it was in a basement, albeit a pretty fancy one) where they could deploy the smoke machines and strobes that make theirs one of the most unified presentations in music today - they actually care about matching a look to a sound, and it pays off to overwhelming effect.

Nick Lowe @ Town Hall / Human Hearts @ Hank’s Saloon / AC Newman @ Rock Shop
In which I lump three of the great songwriters of our time, all quite distinctive, somewhat arbitrarily into one list entry. Nick Lowe is a tremendous, charismatic solo performer, but with a backing band (including the soulful Welsh keyboardist and singer Geraint Watkins) his songs, new and old, come into full bloom. Franklin Bruno (as The Human Hearts), celebrating the release of his excellent (and in its Kickstarted-funded vinyl incarnation, beautifully packaged) new album Another, did some songs with only a drummer and was joined on others by guest guitarists and singers, including Laura Cantrell. Bruno is a fine guitarist and I'd love to see him sometime with a keyboardist who could get into some of the Steve Nieve-ities that show up on the new record and recent EP. I saw Carl Newman at the record release party for his latest (and best) solo record, and while he didn't play as long a set as I imagine he would on a regular headlining appearance, the combination of his new songs and new band easily made it one of the most satisfying nights of music of the year.

In which I cram A Few More Outstanding Performances into one entry to make an even ten.

The JACK Quartet @ Abrons Art Center

Lee Konitz's Les Enfants Terribles (Bill Frisell/Gary Peacock/Joey Baron) @ the Blue Note 

Billy Budd @ The Met
A fine night at the opera with Benjamin Britten’s Melville-by-way-of-E.M. Forster all-male sea tale. Most impressive: the chorus of sailors (“heave away”!), though the closing epilogue, with Captain Vere alone on stage reprising the opening and completing the frame that contains the rest of the story, is hard to forget.

Jason Kao Hwang’s Spontaneous River @ Brecht Forum

Repeat Performances

I tried to select different artists, or at least different projects or lineups, for this year’s list, but a few acts from last year that I saw again in 2012 are worthy of another mention.

I put Bill McHenry’s quartet w/ Andrew Cyrille, Orrin Evans, and Eric Revis on last year’s list for what I believe was their first engagement at the Vanguard. I saw them at the same venue twice more this year, including during the March run that yielded their new record, La Peur du Vide, and was reinforced in my opinion that this is one of the most exciting groups going. I’ve read varying opinions on this group from some fine critics, often hingeing on the McHenry-Cyrille pairing (as opposed to McHenry’s previous, longstanding collaboration with Paul Motian): pro, con (scroll down), and some of both. While I happen to like both drummers in the context of McHenry's music and admit that the change makes a big difference, I would argue that the change in chording instruments, from Ben Monder’s guitar to Orrin Evans’ piano, is the most important factor in the new McHenry sound, something that comes through very dramatically on the first track of La Peur du Vide, “Siglo XX”. And as anyone who’s seen Tarbaby live can attest, the combination of Evans and bassist Eric Revis is one that always produces urgent, exciting music. The new album, while very strong, hasn’t yet managed to displace McHenry's previous release, Ghosts of the Sun, as my favorite of his - McHenry-Motian was a special combination, and I believe it reached its peak on Ghosts. Based on the way the current quartet were playing in October, though, I'm very eager to hear more from them, live and on record.

Another group from last year's list that I saw twice more in 2012 was Marshall Crenshaw backed by members of the Bottle Rockets. Neither of the two performances I saw (indoor and outdoor shows at City Winery) surpassed the 2011 Chicago show that saw, but they each presented new aspects of this partnership (I've now seen the “Marshall Rockets” in three different configurations, differing in which one or both of the BRox guitarists were available). While City Winery would probably be fine for a Crenshaw solo show, it felt wrong to be seated at a table sipping Gamay while the full force of the three-guitar lineup kicked in. The Winery's back yard stage was a better setting, and the outdoor show featured a tune I hadn’t seen them do at the previous shows, a very creditable cover of Hendrix' “Manic Depression”.

I mentioned Jeremy Denk’s Zankel Hall pairing of the Ligeti Etudes with the Goldberg Variations in last year’s roundup. I saw him again this year, playing a far smaller and more casual (if I remember correctly, Denk wore jeans) venue, Le Poisson Rouge. He played some of the Etudes again, but the centerpiece of this recital was a time-stopping performance of Beethoven’s last sonata (Op.111), which is paired with the Ligetis on Denk’s latest album.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Recent Faves from Pop Vets

The Human Hearts - Flag Pin EP
Franklin Bruno's recent EP is a digital-only appetizer for the forthcoming full-length Human Hearts album Another, which is getting a Kickstarter-funded vinyl release. I'm not familiar with the entire Bruno discography - it's extensive and spans many years and many tiny labels - but I've enjoyed his work with John Darnielle as the Extra Glenns/Lens, his '90s solo material collected on Local Currency, and, especially, the album of his songs recorded with Jenny Toomey and Calexico, Tempting. The title track of the new EP is a rocker that deals with a subject that was (thankfully) more-or-less absent from the recent campaign season. "Flag Pin" features one of the best Bruno vocals I've heard and, as with many of his songs, is a bit more complex than it sounds at first listen. "Plot of a Romance", currently my favorite track on the EP, is a smart, self-aware love song, a bit meta though not unsincere, the kind of song I associate with New Wave, especially early Joe Jackson and Elvis Costello (Bruno is the author of one of the most musically insightful volumes of the 33-1/3 Series, on EC's Armed Forces). Though it nods to the Attractions sound, this is a Franklin Bruno song through and through - who else (outside of the English folk revival) would refer to the couple in the song as "fair maid, ardent swain"?

A.C. Newman - Shut Down the Streets
Carl Newman's latest is for me the first of his solo records to match up to the best of the New Pornographers (by my definition, their first three records). Newman's songwriting took a somewhat different direction after Twin Cinema, and that direction seems to have finally, fully paid off with Shut Down the Streets. Not only did he write a batch of superb songs, but he found the right group of musicians to realize them. At the Rock Shop record release party, I was struck by just how beautiful and intricately detailed the arrangements of these songs are (incorporating flute and banjo, among many other instruments) and how well Newman and the group were able to translate them to the stage. "I'm Not Talking", perhaps the most memorable song on the record, is sequenced first, but I wouldn't call Streets front-loaded. There are plenty of other high points, like "Encyclopedia of Classic Takedowns" - the most New Pornographers-y track here, both in sound (Neko Case's harmonies are prominently featured) and title - and "There's Money in New Wave", one of the best (and least treacly) father's-advice-to-his-young-son songs I've ever heard.

Redd Kross - Researching the Blues     
Though Redd Kross' music has been described many ways ("sugar-punk"?!), I would just say that this is one of the best power pop records I've heard in ages. I need to revisit Neurotica, often considered this band's masterpiece. My recollection is that that record, from 1987, had some rather un-assimilated punk and metal elements while Researching fits more comfortably in the lineage of classic guitar-pop, though there is certainly punk attitude. It's a brief album, unabashedly Beatlesque in places (even the total running time is very 1965) and full of brief, super ear-catching gestures - twin George Harrison-style melodic slide guitars, a distorted guitar that appears to play a couple of sustained, bent notes before vanishing, and even some good-old-fashioned "la la la" harmonies. The best of the best for me is "Stay Away From Downtown", the track that the band and their label (the great Merge Records) seem to have recognized as the catchiest thing on a record full of them, promoting it with a KISS-inspired video. "Stay Away" is a three-and-a-half minute masterpiece, with an unstoppable and unforgettable main riff. Another favorite is "Winter Blues", which, despite the title, could be considered one of the great odes to California sunshine ("solar-regulated days"), a category of song that's certainly been well-represented in pop music since the '60s.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


The Master
One of the best movie experiences I've had in a long time was seeing The Master in 70mm at the Ziegfeld Theater. I avoided reviews before seeing it, and still haven't caught up with them (so some of my comments may be inadvertently repeating critical conventional wisdom), but I did see some chatter about the 70mm format possibly being a gimmick. Maybe the images on the screen would've been just as impressive in 35, but on the genuinely big screen of the Ziegfeld, this was a flat-out beautiful-looking movie. One particular beauty shot stands out in my memory, of The Master's Fitzcarraldo-looking ship sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Master seemed like a further exploration by Paul Thomas Anderson of some of the themes/conflicts/relationships seen in There Will Be Blood. Some of those themes, and certainly the title character, made me think of Orson Welles. The Master, Lancaster Dodd, would've been a natural role for Welles - a charismatic patriarch with serious flaws and an outsized gift for bullshit (not to mention a somewhat outsized waistline). Philip Seymour Hoffman (who is commanding in the role) and Anderson surely must've had Welles in mind, at least as one reference point. Joaquin Phoenix is captivating and weird and brilliant, and despite a fairly large cast, the movie almost feels like a two-hander between Phoenix and Hoffman, with the other characters receding into the background when these two are in the same scene.

Oliver Lake
If you've been wanting to see Oliver Lake play in NYC, the last couple months (centered around his 70th birthday) have offered plenty of opportunities. During his multi-group run at Jazz Standard, I saw a set of Trio 3 (Lake, Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille) with Geri Allen. This trio, whose combined discographies must be mind-boggling, has a wonderful chemistry, perhaps partly due to their being more-or-less contemporaries, having each made important contributions to the development of the jazz avant-garde. The trio has a strong book of compositions, and Geri Allen was featured effectively, but I was most impressed by Reggie Workman - his sound, his time, and his melodic ideas were all exquisite.

I also saw Lake around the same time with Tarbaby, one of the most exciting groups going, and one Lake has been collaborating with since his appearance on their End of Fear album. Their show at Le Poisson Rouge included a number of compositions from a new, commissioned project inspired by the anti-/post-colonialist writer Frantz Fanon (The Wretched of the Earth). I didn't make any notes from which I could try to describe this new music, but there were at least one or two pieces that didn't sound to me like anything this band has done before. The album will definitely be on my must-buy list whenever it appears.

Tarbaby members Orrin Evans and Nasheet Waits were scheduled to be on Oliver Lake's night of improvised duos at Roulette over the weekend, but Waits was apparently under the weather and had to cancel. I only managed to catch one set, but Lake's duo with Evans was a highlight, with the pianist touching on blues, gospel, and what sounded to me like Milton Babbitt. Another of Lake's duo partners, Joe Daley, on tuba, was something of a revelation. I don't have much of a point of comparison for tuba in this context, but Daley seemed to be doing things technically that I hadn't imagined a tuba could do. I missed Lake's Big Band the next night, one of his groups that I have not yet seen, but I did see another excellent big band at Shapeshifter Lab, Andrew D'Angelo's DNA Orchestra. Driven by D'Angelo's charismatic playing, conducting, and composing and a powerful rhythm section of drums and electric bass and guitar, the music embraced relentless rhythm, daunting complexity and unabashed emotion. Both Lake's and D'Angelo's big bands have records on the way, and I'm sure both will be highly worthwhile.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Patrick Leigh Fermor Glossary

Since completing the first two parts (A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water) of Patrick Leigh Fermor's as-yet unfinished trilogy (the final, posthumous volume is apparently being assembled for publication as early as next year) recounting his journey between Holland and Constantinople in the early 1930s, I've been compiling a list of some of the more unusual and striking words he uses in these books. Many of them come from the worlds of medieval European architecture, horsemanship, agriculture, warfare, and nobility/heraldry, among other more or less arcane subjects, along with Britishisms and a few archaic words that Fermor must've just liked the sound of. It's a tribute to Fermor's writing that somehow these books make for very smooth and enjoyable reading despite being minefields of obscure words.

I'm not sure whether I'll be able to summon the courage to go through this exercise with Between the Woods and the Water, but here are some of the best and, to me, most unusual words I found in A Time of Gifts, presented roughly in the order they were encountered in the text:

impecunious - penniless
teazles - plant, genus Dipsacus
spinney - a small wood with undergrowth or a thorny thicket
pursuivant - officer of arms, ranking below a herald
aedile - type of Roman official
puttee - strip of cloth wound spirally around the lower leg or a leather legging covering the same area
oleograph - color lithograph in imitation of oil paint
jonkheer - Dutch honorific, “young lord”
besom - broom made of bundled twigs
punctilio - minute detail of (often ceremonial) conduct
aurochs - European wild cattle, ancestors of domestic cattle, Bos primigenius
impedimenta - baggage or objects that impede or encumber
gorgeted - wearing a collar-like piece of armour to protect the throat or (on a bird) having differently-colored feathers covering the same area
mangolds - Swiss chard
postilion - rider guiding the horses of a coach
beetle (noun) - heavy, wood-splitting maul
beetle (verb) - to be suspended over or overhang
caracoling - performing a half turn (by a horse and rider)
margravine - female aristocrat w/ military responsiblities in border territory of a kingdom (margrave is male)
ramify - to have complicating consequences or to divide into branchline parts
toper - drinker [interestingly, my search for this word also returned an image of Amy Winehouse]
undercroft - traditionally, a brick cellar, storage room or crypt, often vaulted
shako - tall cylindrical military cap
comitadjis (or komitadjis) - a band of resistance fighters or irregulars
machicolated - having machicolations - openings btwn. corbels of a projecting gallery or battlement through which stones, etc. could be dropped on attackers
velleity - slight or mild wish or inclination
puggaree - light scarf wrapped as a band around a sun helmet
sabretache - flat bag or pouch worn from the belt of a hussar calvary soldier along with the saber
uhlan - Polish or Prussian light cavalry
czapka - Polish cavalry hat
aigrette - tuft or spray of feathers (esp. from an egret) worn as a headdress
bustards - large, terrestrial European birds
capercaillies - large European grouse
roodscreen - ornamental partition separating choir from nave in Medieval churches
brindled - tawny or grayish with obscure streaks or spots of a darker color
fimbria - Latin for fringe, often used in science and medicine
monstrance - vessel for display of the Eucharistic host in Catholic churches
congener - a person or thing like another in character or action
ostler - stableman, esp. at an inn
purulent - suppurating, full of or discharging pus
ewer - vase-shaped pitcher
scumbled - softened or dulled color by application of thin opaque coat
grisaille - decorative painting in shades of gray, often to represent three-dimensional relief
hawser - thick nautical cable or rope for mooring or towing
loden - water-resistant material made from sheep’s wool, usually green and associated with Austrian traditional dress
junkers - landed nobility of Prussia and eastern Germany (perjorative)
mediatization - process by which a lesser state is annexed by a greater state, permitting ruler of lesser state to retain title
hospodar - Slavonic lord or “master”
boyars - Bulgarian or Old Russian aristocrats
quinquereme - ancient Roman galley with five banks of oars
cicerone - a museum or gallery guide for sightseers
pavane - slow, stately dance of the 16th and 17th centuries
baldachino (or baldacchino or baldachin or baldaquin) - canopy of state over an altar or throne (as Bernini’s in St. Peter’s), originally fabric, later of costlier materials
jocund - cheerful and lighthearted
cincture - belt or sash worn as a liturgical vestment
forage-cap - non-dress (“undress”) military cap, originating with the cap worn by 18th-century British cavalry while gathering forage for their horses
pelf - money, esp. acquired by dishonesty
guerdon - reward
fardel - pack or bundle
creel - wicker fisherman’s basket
kepi - cap with a flat circular top and a visor, associated with the French military
crapulous - marked by intemperance in eating/drinking
noctambulism - sleep walking
crosier - stylized pastoral staff carried by high church officials
manege - a riding academy
lavolta - a Renaissance dance
coranto (or courante or corrente) - a triple meter dance of the late Renaissance and Baroque era
limpet - type of gastropod/mollusk/snail
yatagan - Ottoman knife or short saber
damascened - decorated (metal) with patterns of inlay or etching
sapper - combat engineer
spahis - light cavalry of the French army recruited from North Africa
deracination - act or process of uprooting or displacement from native environment
tarn - glacial mountain lake or pool
spoor - track, trail, trace or scent of animal or person being tracked
danegeld - originally a tax raised in Anglo-Saxon England to pay tribute to Danish invaders or finance protection against them
virago - noisy, domineering woman or strong, heroic woman
swart - swarthy
puszta - Hungarian grassland/prairie
crockets - hook-shaped decorative elements in Gothic architecture
diapered (architecture) - decorated w/ geometric patterns
stickle-back - type of scaleless fish
banneret - rank of knight who led troops under his own banner
ogee - architectural molding in the shape of an s-curve
incunables - books printed in Europe before 1501
uncials - Greek and Latin capital-letter script used from 3rd to 8th Century
imberb - beardless []
pargetted - plaster-coated, as a wall or chimney, often ornamental
irrefragable - irrefutable, indisputable
apricocks - apricots (archaic)
twigged - realized, understood
nacreous - pearly, iridescent (esp. of a cloud)
charabanc - open-topped horse-drawn or early motor coach used for sightseeing outings
dolman - Turkish robe-like garment or uniform jacket worn by hussars

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Heard and Seen - Projectors, Shipp on Farfisa, Konitz, Ornette on Film

Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan  
The new DPs album has grown on me after some initial disappointment. Though I've found much to like, I still have a hard time seeing it as a step forward from its predecessor, Bitte Orca, an album that sounded like a sustained, cohesive statement of a new direction without obvious predecessors. Swing Lo is a more stylistically diverse record, but perhaps as a result, there are more weak spots, and I don't think the more Bitte-like songs (like the opening "Offspring Are Blank") quite reach the highs of "Cannibal Resource" or "Temucula Sunrise" (to be fair, that's a very high standard to meet). 

I'm not sure whether to describe it as cloying or grating, but "Dance for You", programmed smack in the middle of the record, breaks up the flow for me to the point where I've taken the liberty of editing it out of the album. Its admittedly strong melody did succeed in getting stuck in my head, but I wish Dave Longstreth had left the melisma on this one to Amber Coffman and Haley Dekle. I'm not quite ready to accept Longstreth singing more or less directly about love and feelings, but he does pull off a solid, honest-to-God love song with "Impregnable Question", an undeniable album highlight. 

While Swing Lo isn't a Nashville Skyline-level WTF? veer into romantic crooning, Longstreth does seem to be trying out some new vocal personas. He really is crooning on the closing "Irresponsible Tune", doing what sounds to me like an impression of late-model Nick Lowe, and it works, so much so that I'd like to start the campaign to get Nick to cover it. Another successful move into what sounds like new territory is "Unto Caesar", with lyrics written in some sort of courtly, high Dylanese leavened with casual, sassy responding harmony vocals and a horn section (plus some prominently mixed studio chatter). Just the sort of eccentric mix of elements that get this band accused of being pretentious or weird-for-weird's-sake, but it all adds up and makes a strong impression, especially sequenced after the beautifully minimal arrangement, featuring (amplified? synthesized?) thumb piano, of "The Socialites". For me, this is one of those rare backloaded albums, with a strong run of tracks at the end making up for some weak spots in the middle.

Black Music Disaster 
A single live improvised track with two electric guitars, a Farfisa organ, and drums. Hearing a Farfisa in this kind of long form, rock-leaning improvisational context makes me think of Rick Wright on the early Syd-era Pink Floyd records - not a reference point you'd normally expect when the keyboardist is Matthew Shipp. John Coxon from Spring Heel Jack and J. Spaceman (Spiritualized) are the guitarists and British improviser (and Derek Bailey collaborator) Steve Noble is on drums. I don't know about Noble, but Spaceman and Coxon have recorded with Shipp before, and it was my appreciation of Spring Heel Jack's Live album (which also features Han Bennick, Evan Parker, and William Parker!) that made me pick this one up. I haven't listened to Live in a while but recall it having quite a bit more space than this record, which is pretty full-on start to finish, with Shipp's seething Farfisa expanding into all the sonic cracks like a luridly colored psychedelic fog. 

Lee Konitz - Satori and Enfants Terribles
One of my better finds at Chicago's great Jazz Record Mart last month was Lee Konitz's mid-'70s Satori. The lineup is pretty stacked - Martial Solal, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette, with producer Dick Katz sitting in on electric piano on the free, swinging, and seemingly collectively improvised title track. Though I've never really connected with the only other record I've heard with Konitz and electric piano - Pyramid, with Paul Bley and guitarist Bill Connors - the two electrified tracks here (Solal also switches to electric on "Sometime Ago") fit just fine with the rest of the album - Konitz's approach remains the same and it's just a different texture added to the mix. Solal - virtuosic, restless and unpredictable - has a fine rapport with Konitz developed over many collaborations (their shared, deep commitment to improvisation is very much in evidence on the fine live duo album Star Eyes). Though each has recorded with the saxophonist separately, this is the only Konitz record I'm aware of with both Holland and DeJohnette. Only a few years removed from their epochal recordings with Miles Davis, they're relatively restrained here, but swinging and subtly easing the music forward into adventurous territory. Holland and Konitz have a nice duo passage on "On Green Dolphin Street" which helps make it one of the standout cuts on the album.

Konitz himself is in good form (he sounds particularly strong to me on the closing "Free Blues"), as he was recently at the Blue Note with another sterling lineup - Bill Frisell, Gary Peacock and Joey Baron - playing under the name Enfants Terribles. Some of the tunes I remember hearing were "Devil & the Deep Blue Sea" (intro'd by Peacock), "Subconscious-Lee", "I'll Remember April" (with a beautiful intro and melody statement by Frisell), and at some point, a little hint of "Misterioso". This group has a live album coming out from an earlier Blue Note appearance, which, based on the performance I saw, should definitely be worth getting.

This is another band, like Bill McHenry's quartet with Orrin Evans and Eric Revis, that I imagine might've featured Paul Motian if he was still with us. But as with Andrew Cyrille in McHenry's group, having Joey Baron is not exactly "settling" - it's just a different kind of awesome. This was my first time seeing Konitz live, though I've heard live recordings from various periods of his career, including two highly recommended albums with Motian recorded 50 years apart - Live at the Half Note with Warne Marsh, Bill Evans and Jimmy Garrison, and Live at Birdland with Brad Mehldau and Charlie Haden. While the early records with Warne Marsh featured some very tight and tricky heads, these days Konitz seems to cultivate a loose atmosphere in which improvisation is valued above all else and form can take care of itself. I don't know at what point Konitz started moving in this direction, but it was already coming into focus (or becoming more diffuse, depending on how you look at it) on Satori. Since Konitz has returned to many of the same tunes throughout his long career, it would be possible (and fascinating) to trace his development by comparing some of the various versions - "Just Friends", for example, or his own "Subconscious-Lee" which he's been playing for over 60 years at this point (for a little context on that, try to imagine how Charlie Parker might've been playing "Confirmation" if he had lived into the Obama administration).

Ornette: Made in America

Finally, I'd urge anyone who's an Ornette Coleman fan to try to see Shirley Clarke's restored and rereleased documentary, Ornette: Made in America, which recently opened at IFC in New York. Made in the mid-'80s and focusing on a Fort Worth (Ornette's birthplace) performance of Skies of America with Prime Time and the Fort Worth Symphony, this is far from cinema verite. Clarke, who directed and edited, deploys a large battery of devices and effects to get at the nature of Ornette and his music - otherwordly, forever futuristic but always rooted in the blues. We see a (very much pre-CGI) Ornette on an exercise bike in space, Ornette eating BBQ and talking about King Curtis, a string quartet (w/ Denardo) in a Buckminster Fuller terrarium, and William Burroughs (no special effects needed), among many other strange and wonderful things. Ornette's early music isn't much represented (and I don't think the great Billy Higgins appears at all), but there is some amazing footage of Ornette and Charlie Haden rehearsing with 12 year old Denardo, plus a bit of Blackwell and Cherry, and Ornette and Robert Palmer playing with the Master Musicians of Jajouka. In other words, wonders upon wonders.   

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Recent Listening - In Their Absence

Thoughts on two records featuring the compositions, but not the playing, of two of the most distinctive instrumentalist-composers of the past fifty (or so) years:

Charlie Haden w/ Don Cherry & Ed Blackwell - Montreal Tapes
I've been gradually acquiring Haden's Montreal Tapes albums as I come across them. There are ten or so in all, recorded live in '89 and each featuring Haden with a different lineup. This is one of the best I've heard so far and one of the best of the "Ornette without Ornette" genre that is best exemplified by Old & New Dreams. This is essentially that group minus Dewey Redman, or to think of it another way, the Ornette Coleman Quartet of This Is Our Music minus Ornette. Ornette's music tends to bring out a special dimension in Haden's playing, and his sound is very much large and in-charge on this set, which is made up of six Ornette tunes and two from Cherry. There's a wonderful moment in "Lonely Woman" when Haden starts playing the old folk outlaw song "John Hardy" ("...was a desperate little man / carried two guns every day"), flaunting the freedom available in Ornette's music, which is large enough and open enough to contain the folk and country Haden grew up with. And what really makes this passage work is the way Blackwell comes in to simply but perfectly support Haden's line. (Apparently, "John Hardy" also pops up on the Ornette Reunion 1990 live set, which I intend to get soon.) I tend to enjoy Don Cherry most when he's playing Ornette's music - I love hearing those unison heads and his interactions with Ornette and/or Dewey Redman - but he carries the front line very well here on his own, standing on the powerful yet fluid foundation created by Haden and Blackwell.

I also revisited the Quartet West record Haunted Heart after reading Haden's comments on the passing of drummer Larance Marable on DTM and it was even better than I remembered it - a super-evocative and well-balanced blend of standard ballads, bebop tunes (by Charlie Parker, Lennie Tristano, and Bud Powell), and originals inspired by classic Hollywood and/or noir. On the ballads, Haden reverses the procedure sometimes used live by the Bandwagon of playing a recording (of Billie Holiday, for example) and then launching into an improvisation based on it. Here, the vintage vocal performances (by Jeri Southern, Jo Stafford, and Billie Holiday) follow and sort of flow seamlessly out of Quartet West's renditions of the tunes. As this is the only one I've heard, I certainly need to catch up with the rest of Quartet West's output.

Motian Sickness - For the Love of Sarah
I mentioned this album in my previous post and have now had the chance to check it out in more depth. Motian Sickness is West Virginia/DC-area drummer Jeff Cosgrove's Paul Motian tribute project, apparently conceived and recorded before but not released until after Motian's passing last year. After the group name, the instrumentation is the first thing that might raise eyebrows - mandolin/viola/bass/drums. While the mood and the approach taken to the compositions is very much in the spirit of their composer - this isn't Pickin' on Paul: A Bluegrass Tribute to Paul Motian - the mandolin does give the music a dimension that isn't present on any Motian recordings I know of. There's no one dominant voice, but the mandolin (played by Jamie Masefield of the stylistically eclectic Jazz Mandolin Project), with its distinct timbre and characteristic tremolo picking technique, is the element that first grabs the ear in this context.

There's some good background on the album in this interview with Cosgrove. One interesting point is that the album was originally supposed to feature fiddle and that violist Mat Maneri was a last-minute sub. As Maneri is a strong and distinctive musical voice and a veteran of a few different Motian groups, I can only imagine that this would've been a very different record without him. Despite the unusual instrumentation and charismatic players, Motian's compositions still exert the strongest influence on the overall sound - it seems that however they're arranged, they bring their own inescapable mood, evoking sometimes nameless emotions. "Dance", which originally appeared on an ECM trio record with David Izenzon and Charles Brackeen, works well here as an opener.  Relatively brief and upbeat but a bit thorny, it's a good intro into the Motian sound-world, preceding a plunge into the deeper, darker waters of "Conception Vessel".

Many of the following tunes are ones I associate with Motian's Soul Note era (though he recorded most of them multiple times), and the tracklist reminds me of the depth of Motian's catalogue (and the potential for a Motian Sickness sequel) in that it's full of strong tunes despite the fact that it includes almost none of the ones I might list as my favorites or the ones I'd be most likely to recognize in a few notes (there's no "Abacus", "Etude", "Byablue", "Cathedral Song", "Blue Midnight", "Yahllah", or "Drum Music"). Motian Sickness has already brought me back to the Soul Note records (some of the best and, until the recent box set reissues, perhaps least known of Paul Motian's recording career as a leader) with renewed attention and given me a deeper appreciation of tunes like "The Owl of Cranston" and "The Story of Maryam". Ending with "Trieste" was another good sequencing choice, closing the record with one of Motian's loveliest and most melancholy tunes, highlighted by Maneri's viola.

Cosgrove has, of course, the difficult task of being the drummer on a Paul Motian tribute record, a situation that doesn't exist on recent Motian-themed records by Russ Lossing (solo piano) and Joel Harrison (on guitar with his String Choir). He doesn't seem to be copying Motian's style (which would probably be impossible to pull off convincingly, anyway), but his playing does seem to embrace the more open, free, coloristic side of Motian, with an emphasis on interplay and reaction. The bassist, John Hebert, set himself a similar challenge last year when he assembled a Charles Mingus tribute group at the Stone (one of the best sets of music I saw all year). I don't know if he ever played in any of Motian's bands, but they did play together (here's some video of them with Russ Lossing) and, as seems to be the case in just about any situation, his sound and his ideas play a major role in shaping the music on this album. Insomuch as there's any such thing as a "standard repertoire" anymore, I hope For the Love of Sarah will play a part in cementing Paul Motian's place in it.

[Update: Just noticed that the Bad Plus plus Bill Frisell set from Newport has been posted. Four of five tunes in the set are by Paul Motian. If you've somehow read this post to this point and are not already aware of this set of music, YOU ARE ADVISED TO LISTEN TO IT IMMEDIATELY. Frisell's guitar sounds on this. Oh man.]

Bonus Links
I've been reading some older essays on Kyle Gann's blog lately (his pieces on just intonation and historical tunings are by far the clearest explanation of these subjects I've ever seen) which led me to this series on the history of American piano music by pianist-composer "Blue" Gene Tyranny. All of this has had me Googling and YouTubing all sorts of amazing piano works. One new favorite is Lou Harrison's Piano Concerto from the mid-'80s performed by Keith Jarrett.

Next time out, I'll probably be talking recent pop/rock-oriented records and stuff I bought in Chicago (good haul at the Jazz Record Mart).

Friday, July 13, 2012

Talking Motian

Check out this panel on Paul Motian with the drummer Matt Wilson (who recently organized a tribute band, Mumbo Jumbo) and frequent Motian band members Steve Cardenas and Chris Cheek (video is in 4 parts starting here). They tell some good stories and provide some insights on the man and his music. And unlike so many panel discussions, the moderator mostly stays out of the way and lets the participants have a free-flowing conversation. I hope somebody can make the imagined book of Motian compositions that's discussed into a reality - that's one Kickstarter campaign I would most certainly contribute to. I also hope the Mumbo Jumbo band plays in NYC soon. One last link: the Motian tribute with bluegrass instrumentation that's mentioned in the panel can be found here and it sounds mighty fine.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Talibam! & Sam Kulik's Discover AtlantASS

In a Village Voice piece previewing the initial production of their Discover AtlantASS project, the musical duo Talibam! dropped (coined?) the term "post-goof", which is not a bad way to describe something that features the production values of a grade-school play, music that combines substantial chops with sub-juvenile humor, and includes, among other attractions, a more-than-healthy amount of simulated sex with stuffed animals, including a Muppet-like crab (and yes, they seize the opportunity for a "crabs" joke) who is actually something of a major character.

Kevin Shea as Franklin, the boy who comes from "the surface" with his magic pillow to save Atlantis (further plot summary would probably have diminishing returns), brings the same manic energy to acting as he does to drumming. Even with all the other strange things happening on stage, he's hard to look away from. Musical interludes are frequent, often taking the form of pop song-length, plot-related pieces with Kulik most often on vocals and either bass or trombone, and the Talibam! duo on their usual instruments, drums and effects-juiced keys (though all three contribute vocals, sometimes shifted an octave up or down). If the idea of avant rock/jazz/improv dudes performing songs like "Squeeze My Nuts in the Barnyard" while wearing funny pants sounds like your kind of thing (and I didn't realize it was my kind of thing until I saw it), I'd certainly recommend checking out AtlantASS if it's ever staged again. If that doesn't happen, there is a CD/comic book package available.

The show had various "opening acts" throughout the recently concluded run upstairs at St. Mark's Church. I was lucky enough to see Christopher Meeders' performance of Ursonate ("Ur-sonata"), the proto-sound poem by collagist Kurt Schwitters. It was virtuoso stuff, both hypnotic and funny, and seemed to put the audience in the appropriate anything-can-happen frame of mind to appreciate what followed.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Brief Notes on Recent Shapeshifter Shows

The new Shapeshifter Lab in the Gowanus is really taking off, with strong bookings multiple nights a week for the past month or so. I was able to catch the trio Sun of Goldfinger (Tim Berne, David Torn, Ches Smith) at the Lab last week. It was a great follow-up to the recent Tim Berne/Nels Cline/Jim Black appearance at the same venue. In either case, take Tim Berne on alto, add a guitar magus/shaman/mad scientist and a heavy, multi-genre-spanning drum presence doubling on electronics, and you've got something that could be its own sub-genre of improvised music, though I wouldn't know what to call it.

I also saw the middle night of Oliver Lake's three-night run at the Lab, which featured the Darius Jones Trio playing before Lake's Organ Quartet. I've been enjoying Jones' new quartet record, but seeing the trio (Jones is the only musician the quartet and trio have in common) made me realize I need to catch up with his earlier stuff too. Jones' musical voice is strong and clear and there seems to be no limitations on what he can do technically on his instrument. Seeing him play with Oliver Lake was a pleasure, with Lake stepping in to contribute some fiery solos on a couple of Jones' tunes.

I think this was my third time seeing the Organ Quartet, and what I noticed most this time was the richness of Lake's compositions. They can be enjoyed, but certainly not wholly apprehended at first listen (at least not by me). There's a lot going on in these tunes - rhythmically, harmonically, structurally - and the format - alto/trumpet/organ/drums - adds to the sense that Lake has carved out his own territory with this music. It's recognizably part of a tradition (or maybe multiple traditions) but there are no real, obvious antecedents that come to mind. I'm looking forward to hearing how Lake's compositions sound on the big band record he's been working on.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Three Nights in May

Psychic Paramount @ Le Poisson Rouge
I finally got the chance to see the Psychic Paramount, the heavy, vocal-less guitar-bass-drums trio whose albums I've been enjoying for the last year or so (especially the latest, II). There's a great purity to what they do, with everything, including their look, stage lighting (and smoke!), and album packaging contributing to the total effect. And it is very effective. On record, their sound is an enveloping, physical experience (and a frightening one if you've been listening to something quiet before a Psychic Paramount album comes up on the iPod - they master their music LOUD). Live, they sacrifice none of the precision of the studio and, as it should be, the experience is more overwhelming.  As in any successful trio, and especially for one that produces this big a sound, all three musicians have to pull some serious weight. Jeff Conaway on drums sets a high level of intensity while getting into some complex patterns and remaining locked in with Ben Armstrong's bass, which is often the most steady, insistent rhythmic element, relentlessly propelling the music forward. Drew St. Ivany, on Les Paul, alternates between contributing to the rhythmic drive and taking effects- and feedback-aided solo excursions. Much of the variation and drama in the music comes from these shifts in what the guitar is doing. There's no loud-quiet-loud here, but it is surprising how many different kinds of loud these three musicians are able to produce.

Fred Hersch/Dave Holland/Billy Hart @ Jazz Standard
On paper, this lineup sounded like the product of a very hip jazz fantasy league draft. In practice, this was a dream team that lived up to its promise, giving me the feeling that I might just be listening to the world's greatest piano trio (though I really wouldn't want to get into a debate on that question - how can you compare, for example, Hersch's regular working trio with John Hebert and Eric McPherson - just about the gold standard these days - with The Bandwagon and The Bad Plus, two long-running trios who are almost in their own separate categories, existing in musical worlds of their own creation?) The set included some tunes from Hersch's repertoire - "Still Here", Ornette's "Forerunner" (probably the best version I've ever heard from a Hersch group, surpassing even a very memorable one at the Vanguard with Paul Motian) - as well as at least one Holland composition and, to close, Charlie Parker's minor-key "Segment".

I was seated to extreme stage left, so that I was closest to Hart's kit. From this location, the sound mix was a bit off, but it was worth it to have such a privileged vantage point on exactly what the drummer was doing. I don't recall hearing Hart in a piano trio context before (though there are some fine trio moments on his latest quartet album, All Our Reasons), but he supported Hersch beautifully and the feel he brought to the music was supreme. Holland played through an amplifier, which didn't seem to color his tone much but did help make every note distinct (something his technique had a lot to do with too, I'm sure). He seemed to be having a ball playing with Hart, and his solos were full of clear, spontaneously realized ideas - he seemed to be improvising in complete sentences. There was a nice moment on Hersch's "Mandevilla" where Holland played a brief idea based on a descending pattern, only to have Hersch echo it part way through his solo which followed - just the kind of detail that makes piano trio music, at its best, a deep, rich music rewarding (and sometimes requiring) close listening. There were also a few of those moments which seem to happen in every Hersch set, and on his records, where he seems to have reached a peak of invention in the course of a solo only to go beyond it, fluidly unspooling a few more yards worth of brilliance before coming back to earth (apologies for the mixed metaphors!).

Milton Babbitt Retrospective @ Elebash Recital Hall
This memorial retrospective at the CUNY Graduate Center, featuring nine of Babbitt's compositions spanning almost 60 years, was a good crash course for me. I'd heard only a few Babbitt compositions, though I did get the chance to see the massive (and currently non-working) RCA Mark II synthesizer he used up at Columbia a year or so ago. Perhaps because it was the first time I was hearing many of these extremely dense, complex pieces, I tended to enjoy the solo works best, particularly None but the Lonely Flute, More Melismata (for cello, and one of Babbitt's last works), and My Ends are My Beginnings (in which a single performer alternates between clarinet and bass clarinet). While the program was full of impressive performances, the undoubted highlight was Philomel, the Babbitt work that is probably most often tagged with the term "masterpiece". Like "masterpiece", "stunning" is an overused term of praise, but it accurately describes the effect of Judith Bettina's performance (in conjunction with the backing tape featuring the Mark II). Combining otherworldly (and now probably unrepeatable) synth textures and Ovid-derived serialist arias, Philomel (composed in the Year of Beatlemania, 1964) is still a revelation (as Ethan Iverson put it in his Babbitt obit, this is "permanently avant-garde" music). If you follow that last link, I recommend you go one step further and check out the really excellent Babbitt documentary Iverson links to (also available on YouTube).

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Peter Stampfel @ Brooklyn Folk Festival

Peter Stampfel utterly lacks all the qualities that sometimes make folk music boring to me. Though his knowledge of American music matches that of the most scholarly revivalist, none of the following adjectives apply to him: tradition-bound, conservative, retrograde, humorless. While he plays multiple instruments, including a mean fiddle, Stampfel's art is one in which instrumental technique for its own sake is not a concern. His voice is, and has been for almost 40 years, one of the strangest in any genre of American music, though it wouldn't sound out of place on the Harry Smith Anthology - for which he contributed Grammy-winning liner notes - among the likes of Dock Boggs. This live uke rendition of one of Stampfel's signature covers, "Goldfinger", makes for a bracing immersion in the man's singular artistry. I'm glad whoever made this video got some audience reaction shots - lots of smiles ranging from politely baffled to genuinely amused, a few blank looks suggesting a state of shock, and one dude absolutely loving it.

My first exposure to Stampfel was via a live album he made in the mid-'90s with Chicago's Dysfunctionelles, a band of folk-rock weirdos every bit as great as their name. Though they played at least one show with fellow founding Rounder Steve Weber, the album, Not In Their Wildest Dreams, just features Stampfel and was compiled from shows in New York and Chicago. The album features Stampfel classics like "Griselda" and "Hoodoo Bash" and wacky covers of "Be True to Your School" and the Springsteen/Pointer Sisters "Fire", but it may have been Stampfel's solo banjo version of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", from a soundcheck, that made the biggest impression on me. Desert island material, for sure. Unhinged but capable of playing anything, the Dysfunctionelles seemed like the ideal band to stimulate and support Stampfel's peculiar genius, and it's a shame their collaboration produced just the one micro-label tape (which I desperately need to dig out of storage and transfer to digital - my comments above are strictly from memory). I did find an old article from the mid-'90s that referred to a planned follow-up session, but as far as I know nothing ever came of it. Note to the possessor of the master tapes: Not In Their Wildest Dreams deserves a reissue - a digital download, a CD, vinyl, whatever!

At the Folk Fest, Stampfel played one tune that I knew from Wildest Dreams, "Screaming Industrial Breakdown", which also appears on 1986's Peter Stampfel & The Bottle Caps. Robert Christgau has a typically perceptive appreciation of Stampfel in which he reviews the Bottle Caps album. Though not wholly uncritical, he goes so far in his enthusiasm as to declare it better than the contemporaneous Psychocandy(!). I found a vinyl copy a couple years ago, and it is, as Christgau says, "well-made", but despite having strong songs and imaginative arrangments, it suffers a bit from the unmistakable time-stamp of a well-made '80s record - yes, even folk-rock records on Rounder had that reverb-y drum sound. I'd like to hear some of the later Bottle Caps recordings, as these guys are clearly excellent musicians with a feel for Stampfel's music.

His current band, the Ether Frolic Mob (I hope they were named in honor of this Bugs Bunny cartoon), which in this incarnation included a variety of stringed acoustic instruments, an electric bass, Stampfel's daughter Zoe on percussion and vocals, and fellow '60s folk legend John Cohen on guitar, is agreeably loose and plenty capable of getting in the right spirit for this music. Their too-brief Folk Fest set started with "Shambalor", setting the bar high for weirdness (read more about this incredible '50s artifact here), and peaked for me with "Demon in the Ground", an answer song to/parody of "Spirit in the Sky", which Stampfel instructed the band to play with (if I heard correctly) a "boogie shuffle machine"(!) feel. My repeated exposure to the latter on classic rock radio as a teenager primed me to appreciate the Satanic glee (and who can do Satanic glee better than Peter Stampfel?) of the former, including the lyrics "I gotta friend in Sa-tan" and "when I die my soul will be cursed/I'm gonna go to the place that's the worst".

I also saw Dennis Lichtman's Western Swing outfit Brain Cloud at the Festival. They escape the trap of merely turning out museum-quality reproductions of period music (something they clearly have the chops for) with song choices both obscure and wide-ranging (true to the spirit of the original Western Swing bands, which drew from blues, Dixieland and Big Band jazz, country, and various strains of "old-timey" string band music to create one of America's most ear-catchingly potent though still somewhat underappreciated forms of music) and the presence of vocalist Tamar Korn. Korn's vocals, seemingly inspired by the great radio and Big Band singers from, I'd guess, Annette Hanshaw to Ella Fitzgerald, feature many of the vocal mannerisms common to that era, but eccentrically magnified to great effect. Lichtman and company succeed by doing justice to the inherently lively quality of a style that was essentially created as dance music, and at the Folk Fest they received the best possible endorsement by inspiring widespread dancing in the crowd.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Top Ten Things Currently on My iPod

In no particular order:

Sebadoh - Harmacy
I imagine this is an unusual entry point into the Sebadoh catalog (I almost entirely slept on them in the '90s), but I picked up this second last of their records after hearing "Ocean" on The Best Show on WFMU. Best Show boss Tom Scharpling's interview with Lou Barlow on the Low Times podcast also pushed me toward finally catching up on this band. With a mix of well-written, often moving jangly pop songs broken up by shorter, harder punkish outbursts, Harmacy is a mighty fine electric guitar record considering this was a band that made their name mostly with lo-fi acoustic recordings.

Miles Davis - Big Fun
A copious mixed bag spanning a few years worth of different sessions and employing an all-star army of musicians, this is a strong and semi-essential if not a cohesive electric Miles record. There's a particular pleasure, almost unique to '70s Miles, in hearing some of these long, sketchy pieces coalesce into the beautiful and/or wildly grooving passages that justify the whole enterprise. Miles did seem to be making truly "experimental" music in that there seems to be no way he could've fully anticipated the results of the musical situations he was setting up. Teo Macero's cutting, pasting, and sound manipulation, so important a component of Miles' studio work in this era, is very much in evidence here, nowhere more than on "Go Ahead John", with its wild noise gate effects, hard whip pans, and multi-Milesing overdubs.

Jack White - Blunderbuss 
This first White solo record has enough strong songs and stylistic diversity to make it highly re-listenable. Once it's done, I want to hear it again. Scattered notes: the title track reminds me of a Dylan song, though I'm not sure which one ("Isis"? "Time Passes Slowly"?); White makes good use of keys and acoustic instruments, expanding on a trend which started to appear on later White Stripes records, but there are still enough deliciously nasty guitar tones here to meet expectations. In fact, there's even a moment that reminds me of John McLaughlin's damaged, can-of-bees solo from the aforementioned "Go Ahead John".

Richard Strauss' Don Juan (NY Philharmonic 1998 live recording)
I still haven't quite connected with the rendition of Death and Transfiguration on his disc, but the Don Juan is exuberance itself and I can't get enough of it. Now I need to seek out more versions of both and go on a Strauss tone poem binge.

Nick Lowe - The Old Magic
In which Lowe continues to refine his already quite aesthetically refined, relaxed late-period style - retro in a non-period-specific way, with mellow sounds often serving as camouflage for the lyrical barbs that have never not been present in Lowe's music. His recent show at Town Hall presented this music in the best possible light, and it was a treat to finally see him with a full band (including frequent collaborator Geraint Watkins, quite an artist in his own right and sort of a Welsh Spooner Oldham), though he's just as effective as a solo performer, a fact that testifies to his personal charm onstage and the strength of his songs.

Ches Smith & These Arches - Finally Out of My Hands
Although these musicians, individually and collectively, have a penchant for (usually quite rewarding) trips to Weirdsville, this album is distinguished by some really strong, even hummable, tunes. Disc opener "Anxiety Disorder" is one of the strongest and features some especially fine drumming from Smith (love that fast cymbal pattern!).

BB&C (Tim Berne, Jim Black, Nels Cline) - The Veil
Though I missed the Stone show documented on this album, I did catch the trio (also known as the Sons of Champignon) at the promising new venue Shapeshifter Lab in the Gowanus. It's obvious that Tim Berne is not a musician to be easily intimidated, as evidenced by his willingness to step onstage with guitar demons the likes of David Torn or Nels Cline armed only with an alto saxophone, looking to the uninitiated like a man bringing a knife to a gunfight. Fortunately, this music is about collaboration, not competition - if the music sounded violent at times, it was a three-way, collaborative violence.

It's hard to describe the kinds of sounds Nels Cline is capable of producing, and at close range in a smallish venue, it can be an overwhelming, immersive experience. If a Wilco show doles out the high-proof Nels in sensible drams, contained-though-dramatic outbursts, this was like bathing in the stuff, football-coach-Gatorade-bath-style. At a few different points, Cline and Black locked into some ferocious grooves, driving the music along with an incredible intensity. At other times, when Black switched to laptop sound manipulation, it was possible to imagine Berne's saxophone as a lone human voice calling out amid the electronic thunderstorm. An argument could be made that this group is the legitimate successor to Motian-Lovano-Frisell, the drums-sax-electric guitar trio. Though their music may seem radically different on the surface, there is some overlap in the textures and moods the two groups explore as well as a history of collaboration and influence (Berne recorded with both Frisell and Motian, Cline and Frisell have collaborated live, and I once saw Black studying Motian at the Vanguard from the front row, directly in front of his kit).

Billy Hart - All Our Reasons
I've been listening to this for about a week now, and it keeps getting better. It's well-written, well-played, well-recorded, and most importantly, is animated by moments of spontaneous invention and surprise of the kind that aren't always captured on a studio record. Current favorites are Mark Turner's "Nigeria", which ends with the kind of interplay between Hart and Ethan Iverson that I enjoyed so much when I saw this group live, Iverson's "Ohnedaruth", with a piano intro (featuring a hard-to-describe but very distinctive touch and rubato-ish time feel - sort of swaying rather than swinging) which is one of the album's most ear-catching moments, and the memorable closer "Imke's March", composed by Hart and bookended by group whistling(!).

Marc Maron has done some excellent interviews on his long-running podcast in recent weeks, including a surprisingly personal look into David Cross' childhood and early career and a very easy, free-flowing conversation with a man whose outlook I always find inspiring, the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne.

The Pod F. Tompkast
I haven't even scratched the surface of everything that's going on in comedy podcasting right now, but it's hard to imagine that anyone is doing more with the format than Paul F. Tompkins. I can't recommend starting with the latest episode (#17) if you're new - this is one of those things that's best experienced from the beginning - but it is one of the funniest I've heard. Tompkins is developing the stream-of-consciousness, improvised monologues (accompanied live-in-the-studio by Eban Schletter's piano) he does between recorded bits into a viable comedic form that he totally owns.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Symphony of Souls, etc.

Symphony of Souls at Brecht Forum
Last Saturday, I saw Jason Kao Hwang's Symphony of Souls performed by the composer and his 38-piece "improvising string orchestra" Spontaneous River. The room at the Brecht Forum (on the far western edge of the West Village) was small enough that the orchestra took up about half of it. Even if every seat had been filled, the audience to performer ratio still would've barely topped 1:1. While I enjoyed watching the musicians at close range and being immersed in the sound, it is a shame that we don't live in a time and place where a piece like this could've been played in a big hall and touched off a Rite of Spring-like riot.

Though it has been done by Braxton and others, it still seems like a major accomplishment to put together this large of a group of musicians who can creditably improvise while making their way through a complex score. Yet this wasn't a Dr. Johnson's dog-walking-on-its-hind-legs type of thing, but a fully-realized, powerful piece of music that moved confidently through improvised and written, fragmented and unison sections, producing thrills and surprises that seemed to be shared by audience and performers. In his composition, Hwang seems to have handled the basses (there were 6 bassists) and drums particularly well, deploying them to power some strongly rhythmic passages that provided effective contrast to the relatively open spaces featuring acoustic guitars (which I'm tempted to describe as "post-Derek Bailey") and solo improvisation. Although individual solos were not a dominant part of the work, I thought the violins stood out in this area, with a particularly fine solo early on from (I believe) Mazz Swift.

A few more things heard and seen recently:

This East Village poetry walk audio guide, written up by the NY Times and featuring a soundtrack of John Zorn music and narration by Jim Jarmusch, makes for good listening even if you're not actually walking the route. If you're not up to speed on the so-called "Second-Generation New York School", this will put you on the path (literally and figuratively).

All too appropriately, soon after listening to the poetry walk, which talks about the changing neighborhood, I heard that the Lakeside Lounge is closing at the end of this month. The Lakeside, just off the corner of Tompkins Square Park, was a place I never went to enough, but I did see some excellent shows there and the jukebox certainly lived up to its reputation.

I'm not a big fan of Charlie Rose (I can't completely trust a man  who rocks the loafers-with-no-socks look), but I have to commend him for putting together a fine hour of TV in tribute to Christopher Hitchens. The panel was made up of Hitch pals Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, and the poet and journalist James Fenton. As to be expected, the anecdotes flow like Hitchens' favored Johnnie Walker Black.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Heard and Seen - Windmills to Snuff Box

Paul Motian - Windmills of Your Mind
It couldn't have been a particularly easy task singing while backed by late-period Paul Motian. Left to fill in the thin-stroke pencil sketches of the song forms by Motian, Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan, Petra Haden comes through beautifully on this record, with an appealingly straightforward style which admits just enough sweetness to sell the love songs ("Easy Living", originally from a Jean Arthur film of the '30s, is a high point). I haven't yet heard On Broadway 4 w/ Rebecca Martin, but it's hard to imagine any singer doing better than Haden in this musical context. (I've also been meaning to get Haden's album with Bill Frisell from several years ago.)

The format on Windmills is standards sung by Haden, interspersed with generally brief trio versions of Motian tunes w/ Frisell and Morgan (there have to be more tracks on this album than any other single disc Motian release). The Motian tunes come off very well as miniatures, including two I don't remember hearing before - "Backup", built around some sort of minor arpeggios played by Frisell, and "Little Foot", which could almost be mistaken for one of Frisell's folk/country-flavored compositions. Hearing Paul Motian play a standard ballad was and is (on his many recordings) a sublime experience. From all evidence, he didn't treat standards as merely vehicles for improvisation - he played tunes that meant something to him. I don't know what other releases of previously recorded material might be planned, but if Windmills turns out to be Motian's last as a leader, an album that so eloquently demonstrates his love for songs would be a fine conclusion to one of the great recording careers.

Whether released on Winter+Winter, like Windmills, or ECM, Motian's albums always have excellent sound. They're clearly recorded with precision and care (though the ECM reverb treatment sometimes goes a bit over the line to my ears - something I noticed recently when listening to the still most excellent It Should've Happened A Long Time Ago from 1985). I was thinking about this issue of recording quality and record labels after finally catching up to Mark Turner's Dharma Days from 2001. I've wanted to get this one for a while, and after hearing it, I can understand why Turner and Kurt Rosenwinkel became such important influences on the next generation of musicians. The record also features one of my favorite drummers, Nasheet Waits, and I was immediately struck by how good the drums sound - both the performance and the recording quality. Every detail of Nasheet's playing seems to have been captured vividly and three-dimensionally. Not coincidentally, Dharma Days (a major label - Warner Bros. - release) was recorded at NYC's Sear Sound, by most accounts one of the last great old-school recording temples, with a legendary and priceless microphone collection. A lot of excellent work gets done in small and even home studios, but how many future jazz albums will be recorded to the highest quality standards as record label money dries up?

I noticed in some of the press for Tim Berne's new ECM album that he'd been putting out live albums for the last several years because the money just wasn't there for a proper studio date. If this is the case with a major figure like Berne, where does that leave all the up-and-comers who deserve to be properly documented? Though lo-fi can convey a certain immediate, crucible-of-spontaneous-creation feeling (Greg Osby's bootleg-esque Banned in New York comes to mind, though ironically it was released on the legendarily sound-quality-conscious Blue Note), music that's full of intricate details and shadings of tone color will obviously benefit from being recorded on top quality equipment by serious professionals, something that doesn't come cheap, even in the digital recording age. Of course, there's a huge middle ground between bootleg quality and Sear Sound, but is "good enough" good enough? A recent post over at DTM has sparked a good conversation on the ethics of file sharing and its effect on the survival of the small labels, like ECM, that have been so important in documenting the music.

David Torn - Prezens
I saw David Torn at Barbes last year w/ Tim Berne, Trevor Dunn and Ches Smith, but I was still not quite prepared for the ass-kicking/name-taking that occurs on this album (if you saw ECM on the label but didn't know anything about Torn, some of the more aggressive sounds - such as on "Bulbs" - might be pretty surprising). Berne is here, along with Craig Taborn on various keys and electronics and Tom Rainey on drums. Like Smith, Rainey sounds more than comfortable in heavy rock territory when the music takes that turn, and I think there might even be some drum'n'bass-y moments, though I don't know that style well enough to really say. (Rainey on this album back-to-back with some of his trio work with Fred Hersch would make for a mind-blowing blindfold test.) Together with Torn's guitar, effects, and loops, they establish a broad sonic palette over the first several tracks, and the variety of sounds and moods easily sustains interest over a 70+ min running time. I would've thought all the sonic cards would be on the table by the second-to-last track, but then Torn throws in acoustic slide guitar, string-emulating mellotron, and tabla-like percussion on "Miss Place, The Mist...". Even though it's five or so years old, Prezens is one of the best things I've heard this year so far.

JACK Quartet at Henry St. Settlement
This concert, part of Carnegie Hall's American Mavericks series, featured string quartets by Charles Ives (No. 2) and Ruth Crawford Seeger, and a quartet-plus-electric-guitar piece ("Physical Property") by Steven Mackey. I was hearing all the pieces for the first time, so I'll just record a few surface impressions. The Ives struck me as a pretty major work, built on an effective structure of three movements (titled "Discussions", "Arguments", and "The Call of the Mountains") - the first setting the table, not-too-gently ushering the audience into Ives' sound world, and the last two building to powerful, though quite different, conclusions. The Seeger quartet seemed to derive most of its considerable interest from rhythm - Seeger apparently was a pioneer in applying serial techniques to rhythm and duration, as well as pitch - and certainly would require multiple listens to fully grasp. Mackey, appearing on guitar with the quartet, had the probably impossible task of following these two pieces. Though I think the work was, on the whole, successful and certainly moved along with a strong momentum, I was unsure what to think about Mackey's guitar language. Was his occasional flirtation with rock guitar cliche a sort of fun, effectively anarchic juxtaposition with a string quartet or did it just sound a little dated? Or are these elements intended to have a similar effect on someone who grew up listening to rock guitar as Ives' hymn and popular song quotations might've to one of his contemporaries?

Snuff Box
I just watched the complete series (comprising only six episodes) of Snuff Box, the sketch comedy from Mighty Boosh alums Matt Berry and Rich Fulcher (who appears in this rather amazing new Nick Lowe video). Though it aired on the BBC almost six years ago, it's only recently been released in the US. Snuff Box can safely, though perhaps inadequately, be classified as a descendent of Monty Python and Mr. Show in the lineage of sketch shows - Berry and Fulcher are unafraid to go to dark places (the show is mostly set in a private club for hangmen) but also indulge silly and surreal impulses while making good use of linkages between scenes to give each episode a smooth but unpredicable flow.

The use of music in Snuff Box is more sophisticated than most of its predecessors, thanks to Berry, who composed and performed the retro/psych/lounge-y theme music that appears in various forms throughout the series (I had the theme stuck in my head for days after seeing the final episode). In one episode, a seemingly pointless recurring character (a Python-esque bowler-hat-and-umbrella type with a penchant for profanity - a common trait for Fulcher's characters) touches off a sort of swear word concerto that unexpectedly resolves into the closing theme - a brilliant moment of profane whimsy, like something out of a hard-R-rated Sesame Street. Some of the shows most successful sketches are music-themed, including left-field parodies of the Old Grey Whistle Test and instructional guitar videos and a recurring bit that has an old-school songwriting duo having uncomfortable encounters with rock stars (at one point, they murder Elton John).

Unlike Mr. Show, which also had a writing/acting duo at its center, Snuff Box doesn't rely on a deep supporting cast. Though there's some fine supporting work from Richard Ayoade, a familiar face in British comedy, Guy Ritchie-favorite Alan Ford, who plays the priest in the hanging scenes, and the ensemble of old-timers at the hangmen's club, the show focuses almost entirely on Berry and Fulcher. They frequently appear as two or more characters in the same scene, most memorably playing their main characters' brothers. The Berry brother, a near-deaf musician, is one of the show's finest creations. I found Fulcher grating and basically unpalatable when I first saw him as Bob Fossil on the Mighty Boosh, but he's grown on me, especially as I've realized that being grating and unpalatable is his gift, something that he's developed to a world-class level. The Berry-Fulcher relationship on Snuff Box somewhat resembles that of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in The Trip and Tristram Shandy, with Fulcher and Brydon as the barely tolerated junior partners (it may or may not reflect some kind of trend that real names are used in both of these fictional relationships).

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Slava + The Raj

I recommend watching the entirety of this BBC documentary on the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, but if you need to be convinced, the two minutes or so starting at approximately 42:30 contain some of the best live performance footage I've seen of any musician.


I finally finished the book I've been reading since late last year, Raj by Lawrence James, an appropriately lengthy but mostly fascinating history of the British in India. One of the things that kept me going was the succession of amazing names, mostly British. A sample:

The Marquess of Tweeddale
Sir Montstuart Elphinstone
Ba Maw
Maud Diver
Sir Bampfylde Fuller
Sir Hugh Gough
Lord Minto
Tanti Topi
Sgt. John Ramsbottom
Major Henry Broadfoot
Lieutenant Hooke Pearson
L. Marsland Gander
The Faqir of Ipi
Francis & George Younghusband
Field Marshal Viscount "Weevil" Wavell
Lord Pethick Lawrence (referred to in the book as "the Etonian vegetarian")
Field Marshal Sir Claude "The Auk" Auchinleck

Friday, January 27, 2012

Recent Record Finds

Rounding up some of the better items I've found in recent record digs, stretching back to that annual colossus of record shows, the WFMU Record Fair, and including more recent trips to the pride of St. Louis record stores, Euclid Records (sorry Vintage Vinyl, I like you too), and a worthy new discovery, Greenpoint's Co-op 87. There are also one or two finds from Gimme Gimme in the East Village and Permanent Records in Greenpoint here too, plus a couple items on the soon-to-be-obsolete compact disc format.

Grant Green - Goin' West
Grant Green's Goin' West is a somewhat lesser-known link in a tradition stretching from Louis Armstrong's collaborations with Jimmie Rodgers to Sonny Rollins to Bryan & the Haggards. (I also tend to enjoy when the jazz-to-country crossover goes the other way - Bob Wills, Willie Nelson, Jethro Burns, even Merle Haggard have ventured to varying extents into jazz territory with good results.) Though it was released in the late '60s, the early '60s recording date and inclusion of "I Can't Stop Loving You" certainly suggest the influence of Ray Charles' surprise success with Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music in the choice of this concept. Whatever the impetus, this group makes it work, turning some of the potentially hokiest material into music that sounds like golden age Blue Note, which in fact it is. I think a lot of the credit has to go to Billy Higgins, who finds creative solutions for making these tunes swing. Check out Higgins on "On Top of Old Smokey" (feels weird even typing that) - great drummers are often praised for making complex music sound natural and spontaneous, but here you have a great drummer making something fairly sophisticated out of very basic musical materials. A young Herbie Hancock also sounds quite comfortable in this territory, and as for Grant Green, all I can say is that hearing that tone coming out of my speakers is one of life's great pleasures. Oh, and the bass player is Reggie Workman!

Goin' West makes an interesting point of comparison with Bill Frisell's treatment of country and folk material. Frisell revels in the beauty and simplicity of the melodies (check out Frisell's versions of "Red River Valley" with Gary Peacock, a tune that also appears here), whereas Green & co. are more about adding layers of complexity. I could imagine both approaches ending in disaster, but these musicians are too good, too tasteful for that to happen.

Pat Matheny (w/ Charlie Haden & Billy Higgins) - Rejoicing
Although I normally much prefer Bill Frisell to Pat Matheny, I've been enjoying this record more than the Power Tools record (Strange Meeting w/ Frisell, Melvin Gibbs, and Ronald Shannon Jackson) I picked up at the same time. Rejoicing is an ideal companion piece to Song X - quieter, heavy on Ornette tunes but w/out Ornette himself. If you can manage to make a bad album with Haden and Higgins on board, shame on you, but that's certainly not the case here. Everybody sounds good, although I prefer the first side, with mostly Ornette tunes, to the second side, which gets into Pat originals and some guitar synth textures.

Julius Hemphill - Blue Boye
It's probably an unfounded bias, but I tend to steer clear of solo saxophone albums, or really most solo instrumental albums that don't feature piano or guitar. I knew Julius Hemphill would do something worthwhile with the format, though. In any case, Blue Boye is really better described as a "saxophone Conversations with Myself" or a "one-man WSQ" than a solo recital, with most tracks featuring Hemphill overdubbed on multiple instruments. I love the liner note description of Hemphill, one of the masters of writing and arranging for multiple horns, confidently building up the multiple tracks in a series of single takes while still wearing his overcoat in some half-assed, freezing basement studio.

It's often been noted that there was always a strong blues feeling in everything Hemphill did (and though I may be on shaky ground, I would argue that this stronger blues strain is one of the things that distinguished the music and musicians that came out of the St. Louis BAG scene from the closely related Chicago AACM scene), and it is certainly in evidence here, as the album title would suggest. I've been particularly enjoying the bluesy, boppish and truly solo "Kansas City Line" and the funky flute and hand clap driven "Homeboy Tootin' at the Dog/Star", which brings to mind the deep roots of Otha Turner's Mississippi fife & drum pre-blues.

Charles 'Bobo' Shaw & The Human Arts Ensemble (feat. Joseph Bowie) - P'nkJ'zz
This is a NYC loft scene edition (recorded at Sam Rivers' Studio Rivbea) of the Human Arts Ensemble, which had originated with a very different lineup in St. Louis as a racially integrated adjunct to the Black Artists Group. BAG-related figures Joe Bowie (whose punk-jazz fusion project Defunkt would've been operating at this time), Julius Hemphill and Abdul Wadud are on this record, and most of the music resembles the Hemphill-Wadud collaborations (with their blend of free, blues, and African gestures) more than it really touches on punk. The exception is the first track, the wild (and gloriously titled) "Steam Away Kool 1500". While it may be a stretch to call it "punk", it's certainly in your face, gesturing toward rock with a heavy electric bass groove that reminds me a little, but only a little, of Keith Jarrett's "Mortgage On My Soul". It's a bit of a disappointment when the album doesn't continue in this vein, although I also enjoy the Latin or Afro-Latin acoustic guitar-driven vamps of the next two tunes, and the last and shortest track, "Be Bo Bo Be", gives Wadud the chance to go off a bit with a bowed solo.

Especially since reading Point From Which Creation Begins, Benjamin Looker's history of BAG, I've been picking up records here and there from what might be called the post-BAG discography. I haven't yet found another Dogon A.D.-style lost masterpiece, but Hemphill certainly went on to make many strong records in the '70s and '80s (and not just with the WSQ - see above), and I've also enjoyed some of the records where Lester Bowie got together with his old St. Louis associates, such as Fast Last! with Hemphill, brother Joe, Philip Wilson and John Hicks. One I'm on the lookout for is Shaw's Streets of St. Louis, also recorded under the HAE moniker and featuring a monster lineup, including Hemphill and Wadud, both Bowies, and Hamiet Bluiett.

Sonny Rollins - There Will Never Be Another You
This has to be one of the greatest two-drummer albums, with Mickey Roker (who talks a bit about it in his DTM interview) and Billy Higgins (who participated in some notable two drummer recordings with Ornette and Ed Blackwell) burning live in the MOMA Sculpture Garden in 1965. There's some great Tommy Flanagan, and the 16-minute title track is a particular must-hear, with Sonny wandering off mike around the courtyard near the end.

Laura Nyro - Gonna Take a Miracle
The legendary Philly team of Gamble & Huff brought a restrained but meticulous production approach to this record, only unleashing the strings a couple times and putting all the focus on the vocals of Nyro and Labelle (just a few years before they hit big with "Lady Marmalade"). The result, especially on the more sparsely instrumented tracks, is something like street corner harmony in a gloomy cathedral. It's a very precise but hard to describe atmosphere I don't think I've heard on any other record. In retrospect, it was a smart move to do an album of remembered songs, songs that had nostalgic value to Nyro, in what was up-to-date style in 1971. She didn't go to Motown and try to replicate the sound of the original records, instead going with producers and singers who were still on their way up and would go on to help define the sound of '70s R'n'B. Another unexpected but effective move was sequencing what is in my opinion the strongest track last. That song, the title cut, is a tour-de-force heartbreaker, originally a minor 1965 hit for the Royalettes (check out this great video), and a great expression of the breakup-as-Armageddon trope that Jens Lekman was gently mocking/paying tribute to with "The End of the World (Is Bigger Than Love)".

It must be a mark of how much I like Robert Christgau's writing that I can get pissed off about a forty year-old review, but his dismissive B-minus write-up of this record, where the best he can say about Labelle is that they "don't screech once", is pretty galling. I imagine his anti-Nyroism was at least in part a contrarian reaction to her critical darling status amid the earnest atmosphere of the early-'70s singer-songwriter scare, but at least he was able to recognize the greatness of the "Monkey Time/Dancing in the Street" medley. When Labelle start repeating the line "don't forget the Motor City", I get chills.

Roger Woodward - Shostakovich - 24 Preludes & Fugues
This was a WFMU Record Fair find, one of a few 20th Century classical records I picked up, still under the sway of Alex Ross' The Rest is Noise. This is the only version I've heard of this music, and the only thing I've heard from Woodward, who came out of Australia and is apparently still active, having recorded this in his early 30s in 1974. So, I'm thoroughly unqualified to write in depth about this, but I can see where this is in some way a 20th-century response to Bach as well as a chance for the composer to try out a bunch of ideas in short pieces. Though listening to the whole thing in one sitting is a bit taxing for someone of my attention span, there is a variety that sustains interest through the set of 24, with some pieces sounding like Baroque music with a few 20th-century harmonic touches and others more like full-blown Shostakovich squeezed into the prelude-and-fugue form. There's also a Keith Jarrett recording of the Preludes & Fugues on ECM which I'm somewhat curious about. I'm not crazy about his Goldbergs on harpsichord but I'm willing to give Klassical Keith another shot.

Mstislav Rostropovich - Britten - Cello Suites
Another one from the Record Fair. I first discovered Rostropovich through his recording of Shostakovich's first cello concerto, and after hearing this record of the first two of Britten's beautiful and technically dazzling suites for solo cello, I'm on the lookout for more recordings by the great Azerbaijani cellist. There's a record of Britten (on piano) and Rostropovich together that I'd like to hear, and there's also BBC documentary that I think is available streaming online if you do a little digging. I'd also really like to hear the 3rd Britten suite, which was written for but not recorded by Rostropovich. Another win for vinyl: this record has a really cool cover which seems not to have been retained by any of the CD releases of this music.

...and last and also least:

Having Fun with Elvis on Stage
One of music history's most notorious novelty/bizarro items, this is 37 or so minutes of Elvis' stage banter from the Adderol-addled early '70s brought to the public courtesy of Col. Parker's cynical avarice. Judging by this record, Elvis spent much of his time on stage during these years dealing with requests for his sweaty scarves from female fans of all ages.