Remember the first time you heard a band that didn't cop to anyone else's style or music vibe before? I can namecheck Patti Smith and the Talking Heads as bands that made that immediate impact on my ears and brain. Couldn't shake them out of my brain. Well, it's happened again. Heard a song on random shuffle on a Spotify playlist and bam!... I was hooked. Beauty Pill's tune "Afrikaner Barista" got lodged in my cranium and simply couldn't shake it loose. Nor did I want to. So I tracked down the publicist, begged for the album that the song was released on, sadly to no avail, and bought the album anyway.
Okay, it's time for me to stop trying to listen to more 2016 albums and just wrap up this list. In the past I would split my jazz list into a new releases part dedicated to current recordings and a historical part combining first releases of archival material with reissues. This year I'm skipping reissues, partly because some projects were so gargantuan that little guys like me weren't serviced with them, partly because the vinyl renaissance means everything is being reissued at once, and partly because so much stuff is just rehashing the same material in new packaging, with or without a gimmick or a little additional material added. So first releases of archival material are lumped in here. Maybe that's not entirely fair to the current guys, but on the other hand I don't include many archival items on my list.
Though I am usually turned off by women musicians who tend to dress way too sexy for their roles, particularly in the classical world, I do tend, in the long run, to judge them by their ability as players. I really prefer not to have to see this underdressed ideal of womanhood because I don’t understand why it’s necessary or what it could possibly have to do with the music presented, or for that matter, their possible talent. Are they perhaps trying to sell their SEX as part of the package as an extra enticement, in case their abilities fail them?
But every now and then while listening to one of these people, trying my best not to be distracted by this seeming “shortcoming,” I am overwhelmed nonetheless by their talent. Such is the case with Tania Stavreva, who, despite her sexy luxuriating atop the piano on the jacket of her debut CD, Rhythmic Movement, proves to be a formidable and accomplished pianist/composer.
R.I.P., Mr. John Wetton, you provided many of the songs for the soundtrack of my youth with your bass playing, and vocals, in Roxy Music, King Crimson, Uriah Heap, Asia, and your debut album with the quartet U.K. embedded above. For me you reached the zenith of your artistic expression with said progressive rock super band. From 1977 until 1980, you, keyboardist/electric violinist Eddie Jobson (Curved Air, Roxy Music, Frank Zappa), guitarist Allan Holdsworth (Soft Machine, Tempest, The New Tony Williams Lifetime, Gong) through 1978, and drummer Bill Bruford (Yes, King Crimson, tour drummer for Genesis), who was later replaced by drummer Terry Bozzio (formerly of Frank Zappa's band). There is some tremendous Youtube footage of the reformed U,K, with Wetton, Eddie Jobson and Terry Bozzio from their 2012 world tour. No doubt King Crimson, circa 1972 - 1974, boasting guitar maestro Robert Fripp, Wetton, violinist/keyboardist David Cross and drummer Bill Bruford was a highly dynamic and impressive lineup as well. (Hey, Mr. Holdsworth was no slouch on six strings.) Listening back to U.K.'s debut prog masterpiece, it's easy to hear how from the ashes of this formidable project Asia was born. And while that was not my cup of tea, I respected Mr. Wetton's deserving success. Thank you for sharing your joy of music with the world. We hail you!
This is where I'm supposed to summarize the past year, find some overaching theme or thread running through my choices, spot trends, or something along those lines. Instead it's just another mea culpa for my continuing and accelerating estrangement from mainstream pop music. Don't mind me, I'm just a grumpy old fart. But these twenty new albums made me less grumpy.
I'm certain many of you don't know that the New Jersey-born, Brooklyn-based Greg Trooper passed away yesterday after a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer, two days after his 61st birthday. Greg was one of those effortless singer-songwriters who other singer-songwriters cherished. And other well-known singer-songwriters actually covered his material, including Steve Earle ("Little Sister"), Billy Bragg ("Everywhere"), Vince Gill ("We Won't Dance"), etc. Never a huge star or mainstream name, his music resonated with us because he was so damn good at his craft, and he wrote amazing tunes. I once told a fellow musician that if I ever wrote and recorded a song as good as "Muhammad Ali (The Meaning of Christmas)," I would have reached the pinnacle of my craft. His voice was soothing, his delivery even, his lyrics vivid and inviting; he had it all. And, he would better himself time and time again; 13 albums of memorable music. Just a few years ago, he wrote another song I would have given my eyeteeth for -- "They Call Me Hank". RIP, Mr. Trooper. I believe your songs will resonate long after the embers of all of us have faded into the ether.
Happy New Year! It's been a tumultuous year for me and for many of us of a certain age. I lost a brother. The world lost a slew of pop culture -- Carrie Fisher, Alan Richman, Craig Sager, John Glenn -- and music icons -- Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, et al. One comfort for me was music and my rediscovery of vinyl. The warm, comforting sound of analog became my daily meditative fix. Quite literarily. Seeking out vinyl "nuggets" became a quest to help me deal with my own pain and depression. Chasing down albums that I owned thirty years, abadonded at the advent of those shiny new things called compact discs. Restorative analog power reigned o'er me. One of my chief caveats: I would not purchase anything on vinyl that I already owned on compact disc. Well, that rule didn't last long as I found comfort in such ancient vinyl relics as The Who's Quadrophenia, Jimi Hendrix's Band of Gypsies, Neil Young's After the Goldrush, Joni Mitchell's Hissing of Summer Lawns, The Beatles' Yesterday and Today, and plenty more.
Consumer culture sucks the content out of every subculture it touches. All except Glam, which returns every ten years or so altered by time but with its central message of theatricalized otherness unchanged. Glam pop and fashion were in all the magazines both for teenyboppers and young mums. It was commercial, not very musically challenging, and seemed to have arrived already fully absorbed. But British glam (glam of the '70s as opposed to American glam of the '80s, otherwise known as "hair metal") was highly critical of the counterculture.
With vinyl being a hot music commodity and back in vogue, it would seem inevitable that one of the music giants of the vinyl era would get remastered and re-released. Frank Zappa remains one of the those musical geniuses where his impact was missed by a deservedly larger fanbase while he roamed planet Earth. With a must-see documentary -- Eat That Question: Frank Zappa In His Own Words (Sony Pictures Classic) -- currently in theaters and on demand, hopefully some of his genius will be discovered by a new generation of fans. Certainly the above-titled masterpiece Hot Rats, reissued by Zappa Records in August on 180gram vinyl cut directly from the original analog master tapes by Bernie Grundman, remains one of his cornerstone releases in his immense and musically varied catalog.
Peaches is audacious but cool, her music is sexy but dangerous. She likes to push hard against the boundaries of conventional dance music. Her latest track -- "Hou You Like My Cut" from her album RUB -- finds her back on a fierce groove with provocative lyrics, slammin' beats, and some savage dancing from dancer/choreographer Miss Eisa Jocson. The dance is based on the exotic dances performed by men in the Philippines known as "Macho Dancer." And the video was directed by Peaches. Lady Power time!