Music Review

The Uppercut: Matthew Shipp Mat Walerian Duo: Live at Okuden

In recent years, some of the most interesting and evocative jazz albums -- including Anouar Brahem's The Astounding Eyes of Rita and the Wolfert Brederode Quartet's Post Scriptum -- have featured someone playing the bass clarinet slowly and carefully in a way that recalls some of the most interesting and evocative jazz albums of all time, Fusion and Thesis by the Jimmy Giuffre 3 (later collected as 1961). Which may explain why, despite featuring the nimble, expressive, and yes interesting and evocative fingers of pianist Matthew Shipp, Live at Okuden really gets its mood, and thus its mojo, from the bass clarinet, alto sax, soprano clarinet, and flute playing of Mat Walerian. Read more »

Video of the Week: Melody Gardot - "Preacherman"

"The profound nature of our existence is that we are able at any moment to connect to anyone, anywhere. History is there to remind us of how far we've come, and every day our journey is to continue with that progress of becoming more wise, more compassionate and more considerate human beings. Remembering Emmett though song is way to remind people that there is no need to continue with senseless crimes. Race and racism do no go hand in hand. We are only one race: human." Melody Gardot

Album of the Week: Greg Trooper - Live At The Rock Room

NY-based Greg Trooper is an extraordinary singer-songwriter. You probably don't know him and that's a damn shame. In 2003 he released Floating, one of the finest Americana albums ever. One of his most ambitious songs is on that album -- “Muhammad Ali (The Meaning of Christmas).” I've shared it with countless friends over the years. Folks like Steve Earle, Billy Bragg, Vince Gill, and Maura O'Connell have covered his songs. He lived in Nashville for a spell, but he's back with us. And he continues to dazzle, to too much anonymity. He has a real yeoman's approach to his craft; his stories occupy the same territory as another fellow New Jersey-born songwriter, The Boss. Yet you won't find him filling stadiums; more like clubs and small venues such as The Rock Room in Austin, where Greg's lastest effort, appropriately titled, Live At The Rock Room, was recorded live with Jack Saunders on upright bass and Chip Dolan on keyboards and accordion. This stripped-down lineup allow all fourteen of these well-crafted tunes to penetrate your soul. Read more »

Song of the Week: Houndmouth - "Sedona"

Their first album, Hills Below the City, had moments of pure bliss ("On The Road," "Penitentiary"), but overall was just a tad under-nourished. On their sophomore effort Little Neon Limelight (Roughtrade), this handsome Indiana-based quartet (guitar, keyboards, bass, drums) deliver a stronger set of songs, tighter playing, and much better results. They still have a ragged, Americana vibe, but with songs as infectious as "Sedona" finding plenty of airplay and plenty of new Youtube fans, their popularity will continue rise. Well worth the investment of your time.

Song of the Week: Lord Huron - "Fool For Love"

Lord Huron have just released their sophomore effort Strange Trails and it's one of the finer albums of the year. The clean, guitar-driven track "Fool For Love" instantly pulls you in and continues to reward. Former Michigan-now-based-in-LA frontman Ben Schneider's soaring folk-rock outfit have arrived. Yes, it's more than a nod to the sideways Americana swagger of My Morning Jacket, the gentle SoCal sound of the Dawes, and the gentle swagger of Fleet Foxes but with more sepia tones and throwback attitude. And it's perfect for your upcoming Spring or Summer roadtrip. 

Song of the Week: Gil Scott-Heron - "Pieces of a Man"

Gil Scott-Heron's Nothing New is a stripped down vocal and piano version of songs from his back catalog recorded in New York with producer Richard Russell between 2005 and 2009. The track "Pieces of a Man" appeared on that album originally released as a limited edition vinyl-only LP for Record Store Day 2014. The music was finally made available digitally for the first time earlier this week. iTunes also released the documentary Who Is Gil Scott-Heron?, a film by BAFTA nominated film makers Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard. Check out the 10 minute sizzle reel of the film – along with Richard Russell’s full album sleeve notes and exclusive photography at Screenings of the film will take place in select cities, including New York and Washington D.C, in spring, with full details to be announced soon.

April 1 Classical Reviews Roundup

Fillip Cornershop
Satiediously, vol. 2
(Unheard Universe)
Following up on last year's initial Satie volume, Cornershop now delivers a unique reading of Satie's notorious "Vexations," the one-page piece which Satie said should be performed with repeats until it totaled 840 times through the printed text (or perhaps not; debate has raged since its 1949 publication). Cornershop brings the piece in at a monumental 48 hours (more traditional performances of the 840-times length range from 18 to 28 hours). 

As I was wondering how Cornershop could achieve such a performance without the aid of caffeine, which in turn would mitigate against his chosen slow tempo, I noticed a splice after the 168th time through and then, in turn, after the 336th. Shortly after the latter, and concurrent with my wife's threat of divorce, I had to stop listening, but a little math revealed to me that 1 through 168 and 169 through 336 were precisely the same length, so it appears that we may have a use of studio recording technology whose scandalousness could rival that of Schwarzkopf's high C in Tristan und Isolde, as well as literal confirmation of my wife's statement "this is getting a little repetitious, don't you think?" Potential controversy aside, this release is an obviously desirable artifact for Satie completists and insomniacs, a Goldberg Variations for the 21st century. Read more »

ANNIVERSARIES: Johann Sebastian Bach Born 330 Years Ago on March 21, 1685

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) never left Germany but became internationally respected by his peers during his lifetime and a symbol of pure musicianship for future generations. A virtuoso organist, harpsichordist, and violinist/violist who may have also played lute, as a composer his mastery of counterpoint and fugal writing remain unmatched, yet he was also open to the influences of contemporary Italian and French composers.

Born into a highly musical family in Eisenach, Germany, Bach became organist at the Neukirche in Arnstadt in 1703 at the age of 18. His first major appointment was as court organist to Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Weimar, in 1708; six years later the Duke made him Concertmaster. In 1717 Bach became Kapellmeister and music director to the music-loving Prince Leopold of Anhalt in Cöthen, where Bach wrote much of his greatest secular music. Bach's duties switched to writing choral and organ music for use in church services and training the choirs of several churches when he took the position of Cantor of Leipzig in 1723, where he spent the rest of his life. Suffering from failing vision due to cataracts in his later years, he went blind in 1749 after a crude operation and died the following year, having left an unparalleled legacy. Read more »

Video of the Week: Antix - "Come Home"

UK hip-hop artist Antix releases his heartfelt new single "Come Home" on 16 March 2015. Already gathering steam from his remarkable 2014 year, this stunning track will be released in conjunction with Mind, the mental health charity, as the track deals with the difficulties and stigma of mental health, a subject that that he knows all too well. This is my favorite song of the year, so far. 

Martha Argerich & Claudio Abbado: Complete Concerto Recordings

One can't help but assume that this five-CD compilation is a tribute to its conductor, Claudio Abbado, who passed away last year. Certainly his collaborations with thankfully-still-with-us pianist Martha Argerich reveal music-making of brilliant spontaneity and imagination. Consider, for instance, their two recordings of Ravel's G major concerto. Their 1967 recording with the Berlin Philharmonic won immediate acclaim as one of the most sparkling and lively renditions the work had ever had. What good could come of re-doing it in 1984 with the London Symphony Orchestra? How often we have heard artists return to repertoire in which they'd made landmark recordings only to fail to reach their previous levels of achievement. Yet Argerich and Abbado came up with a new yet equally valid and compelling interpretation in 1984: darker, more detailed (and in better sound), and more emotionally profound. Read more »

Jazz Review Roundup

I didn't have enough free time in 2014 to review nearly as many of last year's prolific output of fine jazz albums as I wanted to. Here's a small step toward catching up, plus two 2015 releases (Ligeti/McDonas, The Side Project Saxophone 4tet).

Tom Varner: Nine Surprises (Tom Varner Music)

Composer and French horn player Tom Varner is indeed full of surprises, and they are not confined to the suite of that name (which, surprisingly, has 15 movements). I was most surprised by the outburst of New Orleans jazz in the last piece on the CD, "Mele," which Varner calls "a Gil Evans-influenced variation on the harmonic structure of a pop Hawaiian Christmas song." In general the music here seems highly composed -- these are not heads with strings of solos -- but still allowing for improvisation. The soloists who make the biggest impression are trombonist David Marriott and, no surprise here, Varner himself, but everybody in his nonet acquits himself admirably. Occasional aberrations aside, the style is "inside-outside," advanced harmony with a fair amount of dissonance, most often during solos. Many of the sections of the suite are quite short (eight are under a minute each, most of them with just one player), seemingly character sketches, but the longer sections are thematically compelling. Read more »

ANNIVERSARIES: William Boyce Died February 7, 1779

In a time when the most famous composers in England were -- for example, Handel, and J.C. Bach -- relocated Germans, William Boyce (1711-1779) was arguably the premiere English-born composer. In 1736 the former choirboy turned organist (he studied with Maurice Greene at St. Paul's Cathedral) was named composer to the Chapel Royal; in 1759 he was made Master of the King's Musick. By 1769 deafness had largely ended his official musical duties. Read more »

Happy Birthday, Bob Marley

Had cancer not taken him at age 36, Bob Marley (1945-1981) could have turned 70 today. The man who did more than anyone to make the reggae sound of his native Jamaica popular in the United States had made his first recordings at the age of 17 in 1962, so despite his early demise, he left a large and rich legacy of recordings. Fortunately, his popularity also led to a few of his concert appearances being filmed; here's a classic one.

Aldo Cicciolini R.I.P.

The great pianist Aldo Cicciolini died on Sunday, February 1 at his home in Paris. He was 89. Cicciolini was best known for his expertise in French music, and especially for twice recording the complete piano music of Eric Satie for EMI. But he had a broad repertoire and was also, for instance, a superb Beethoven pianist. Read more »

Video of the Week: José González - “Leaf Off/The Cave”

“Leaf Off/The Cave” is the brilliant second single from the new José González album Vestiges & Claws to be released on February 17th, 2015. Play it often and share it, too. Well, pay for it, of course.

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