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.


Anonymous said...

i'm enjoying your blog. i found it through do the math.

i love wtf!

i noticed you have been reading jack kirby as i was reading the nels cline portion of your post. mabye you already know but nels made a record with gregg bendian who dedicated the entire thing to jack kirby with art work and tune names etc...
apparently sonny rollins liked the record a lot as he is into jack kirby too!


Steve said...

Thanks, Matt. I actually picked up that Bendian/Cline record when I was in Chicago last year, at the great Jazz Record Mart. I knew a little about Jack Kirby before that, but that record is what motivated me to get the Kirby book. Didn't know that about Sonny Rollins. Interesting that he's into Kirby and Wayne Shorter is into Superman.