I once wrote that Yoko Ono (born February 18, 1933) made more great albums than any solo Beatle, but also more bad albums. Of course, perspectives on Ono's music vary wildly, and the albums I think are great are the ones the mainstream rejected most vigorously. It's when she makes the most concessions to pop norms (whether rock or dance/electronic) and her lyrics get sappy that I don't like her work. But certainly anyone starting to explore her music could use some guidance.
There are plenty of places to read about her life, so I won't review that info, especially as I touched on some of it in my recent interview. But a few points are worth making, over and over, to counter clichés and misconceptions that have thrived for decades. Ms. Ono was a respected artist for years before she and John Lennon met near the end of 1966. And she didn't break up the Beatles, they broke themselves up (as Paul McCartney himself has stated). Read more »
Attending Lorna Luft's performance at Birdland last Monday night, a foreign tourist couple were seated next to my table. They happened upon the show when looking for a "jazz" club, and knew nothing of Ms. Luft previous to seeing this show. After the performance, they shared that they truly enjoyed the entire evening. I mention this because Ms. Luft, who cannot help but reside to some degree or another in the shadow of her mother, Judy Garland, and sister, Liza Minnelli, is very much a fine and talented entertainer, quite independent of those associations. Read more »
REPOSTED FOR 2013 GRAMMY LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
It was playing Bach that brought Canadian pianist Glenn Gould worldwide fame when his recording of the Goldberg Variations – at the time, 1955, a rather esoteric corner of the repertoire – and certainly a hefty percentage of his albums over the course of his career were devoted to the German Baroque master's keyboard output. But in celebrating the 80th anniversary of his birth on September 25, 1932 (and looking forward with sadness to the 30th anniversary of his death of a stroke on October 4, 1982), it's worth remembering that he was interested in many more composers. I didn't have to make too much of a conscious effort to diversify this baker's-dozen list until I got down to the last two spots. (All the recommended recordings were issued by Columbia Records/CBS Masterworks/Sony Classical.) Read more »
Some of Cash's '60s concept albums were burdened with much too talking between tracks; here the tribute to the American working man gets to mostly stand alone on its musical merits, and shines. Notably, it incluces the top version of the traditional "John Henry"” about the most legendarily heroic working man ever, and the version of "Casey Jones" here is classic as well. Politically and psychologically, Cash was the perfect man for this job. Read more »
Elmore James (January 17, 1918 - May 24, 1963), inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, is one of the most important figures in the development of the blues. By playing electric guitar not as a louder version of an acoustic guitar, but rather as a new instrument that took advantage of the amplifier to create a new sound, he revolutionized the blues and influenced several generations of rockers as well.
Fortunately, there is a single-CD compilation that offers an excellent cross-section of his legacy: The Sky Is Crying: The History of Elmore James (Rhino, 1993). Unfortunately, it's no longer in print and isn't on iTunes, but it was so popular and highly acclaimed that there are plenty of copies still floating around, as a look at Amazon.com quickly reveals -- and they're still cheap, too. The 21-song collection includes items from the Trumpet, Chess, Flair, Atlantic, Chief, Fire, Sphere Sound, and Flashback labels, made in the years 1951-61. Fine liner notes by the late Robert Palmer make it an even more enticing package. Read more »
Though French composer Jean Barraqué (January 17, 1928 - August 17, 1973) was not destined to be the best-known of the post-WWII Serialists, he was perhaps the most dedicated to 12-tone technique. Though this naturally limited his appeal to mainstream listeners, it did make his life's work more coherent than, for instance, Karlheinz Stockhausen's. It is also considerably more concentrated. Due to the painstaking compositional process inherent in his sizeable and extremely complex works, alcoholism, a 1964 car accident, and a 1968 house fire, and his early demise of a cerebral hæmorrhage, Barraqué's published output comprises just seven completed pieces, not counting juvenilia. Yet the concentrated essence of those works is so intense that in total they seem quite a satisfactory output for the two-decade span of his career. Read more »
Love: Black Beauty (High Moon)
Black Beauty is a previously unreleased album from 1973 produced by Paul Rothchild (producer of the Doors, among others); the label went out of business before it could be issued. Given that the band's best songs were written by Bryan MacLean and Burt Bacharach, I wasn't expecting much from something from 1973, by which point MacLean was long gone and Arthur Lee was the only original member.
I suppose that while some fans could protest that Black Beauty is not really a Love album, that's fine with me. It's an all-black band led by Lee, in the context of which he frequently indulges his love of Jimi Hendrix ("Midnight Sun" makes this particularly obvious) and gets a little funky -- both for the better. Read more »
There's nothing quite like the sustained pleasure of immersing one's self in a huge chunk of a top-notch artist's output for a significant period of time. This was easily accomplished in 2012, because lately it seems like the classical arms of the major labels are trying to get all their best material into budget-priced box sets (in Europe even more than in the U.S., so check the imports, especially for Sony). And anything they aren't doing that with, another label would be happy to license. In that sense, it's a great time to be a classical fan. Nonetheless, I'm keeping this list shorter than my new releases list, because, well, there's too much to listen to all of it! So to make my list, these items had to make me very, very happy in 2012. Read more »
My usual explanation in this space: I am especially interested in piano and choral music, plus symphonies, so that’s what I get the most promos of. Other stuff obviously gets through my filters, but the percentages of what comes in inevitably affect what comes out, i.e. this list. That said, in terms of number of centuries spanned, rather than genres or formats or whatever, I think I'm covering as much or more musical territory than most critics. By the way, look for a shorter list of my favorite classical reissues of 2012, to follow in a day or two.
When I was putting together my best jazz albums of 2012 article, Ivo Perelman's productive year had him dominating the list, so I made him artist of the year and then compiled a separate top ten of new recordings and a top five of older recordings mostly given their first releases this year. There were still plenty of excellent jazz albums to choose from. Jazz isn't dead, it just has to live on a fixed income.
Artist of the Year: Ivo Perelman
Brazilian tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman's album The Hour of the Star was #18 on my Best New Jazz of 2011 list. He was just warming up for an amazing 2012 in which Leo Records released six -- SIX!!! -- Perelman CDs. All of them are excellent (and none of them, alas, are on iTunes yet). Read more »
Somehow, John Tefteller of Blues Images still manages to find a few rarities each year to make his calendar and accompanying compilation CD a must-own even for the most dedicated collectors. Originally inspired to do this annual release by his acquisition of a big "find" of archival Paramount material full of advertising images from the 1920s and early '30s, he has branched out to include material from other labels. For instance, the January picture is a newly discovered 1928 Columbia promotional flyer for Blind Willie Johnson that features the clearest image yet of the one photo we have of him, March features a previously unknown photo of Vocalion artist Memphis Minnie [above], and April boasts the only photo, also a new discovery, of obscure Columbia singer/guitarist Lil McClintock. Read more »
For the first time in my life, I approached my end-of-the-year lists with trepidation, as 2012 had seemed disappointing, musically speaking. But when it came time to narrow my choices down, it turned out that there HAD been plenty of good music, and I hadn't even reviewed it all here.
Too tuneful not to be #1. Review here.
Just because I gave you the best dozen first, don't think that Part 2 can be skipped. Albums 13-25 get more interesting, because they're less obvious choices.
Veteran folkie with bluesy leanings makes yet another superb album, for the first time using only his own songs. Review here.
Norwegian guitarist Terje Rypdal (1947- ) formed his Odyssey band in 1975; the group's debut album was the eponymous two-LP set that's on the first two discs in this box. When ECM first issued Odyssey on CD, it was as a single disc that omitted the album's last and longest track, "Rolling Stone" (the uncut album's around 88 minutes). A few months ago, ECM answered 18 years' worth of prayers with this three-CD set, on which the long-missing "Rolling Stone" is restored to its rightful place. It'll be a great Christmas present for any fans of electric guitar or jazz fusion on your shopping list. Read more »
December is a month that increasingly sees few releases of new albums, so the closer this list gets to the present day, the fewer albums of importance there are to discuss, and most of those are hip-hop albums.
Shortly after Steve Winwood quit the Spencer Davis Group (of which he was the lead singer and organist), he formed Traffic with some guys he'd jammed with at a club in Birmingham: guitarist/vocalist Dave Mason, saxophonist/flutist Chris Wood, and drummer/lyricist Jim Capaldi. After a couple of hit singles, they convened at a country cottage and put together the debut album by Traffic, titled Mr. Fantasy in their native country. By the time it was released, Mason had already quit. Read more »