Music Review

Unearthed Gems from Leon Fleisher's Past

An American-born pianist, Fleisher was a child prodigy who studied with Artur Schnabel. In 1950 he moved to Europe to pursue his career, which paid off when he won the Queen Elisabeth Piano Competition of Belgium in 1952. In this time, there was an abundance of radio orchestras, and the young Fleisher was a popular guest soloist. Released earlier this year -- I've been meaning to review them for months -- the recordings here are examples.

The participants' credentials in the Beethoven, recorded in 1960, are excellent. Fleisher studied with Schnabel, who studied with Theodor Leschetizky, who studied with Carl Czerny, who studied with Beethoven; Cluytens recorded all the Beethoven Symphonies with the Berlin Philharmonic starting in 1957, that organization's first recorded Beethoven cycle -- consider how much respect this implies for a Belgian-born French conductor to have beaten Karajan himself to the punch in this repertoire. Read more »

John Coltrane's Latest Offering

The question is not whether this album is good. It's freakin' John Coltrane, of course it's good (though my expectation of your agreement with that assumes that you appreciate him in free-jazz mode). It's a matter of setting up your expectations properly and prioritizing. So, although this is "the first official release struck from the original master tapes," as opposed to dingy-sounding bootlegs, you still have to be prepared for sub-par sound. This concert was recorded by the Temple radio station, apparently using one microphone up front, so the horns dominate -- though even they come and go. 

And whoever was recording it didn't get every minute; he missed the very beginning, and with just one machine at his disposal, missed the end of "Leo" when he had to change tape reels. So allowances must be made, and if you don't already have all the other Coltrane albums on Impulse!, they are more of a priority. Read more »

Steve's Review Roundup for October

Aphex Twin: Syro (Warp)

Though the length of Richard D. James's absence from the electronic scene has been overstated by people who neglect his less famous aliases, it HAS been almost a decade since we got new music from him, and yes, the release of Syro is a welcome surprise. It is less abrasive (by my tastes, at least) than the aggressive beats found on his previous Aphex Twin album, Drukqs (I'm thinking of the blast-beat assault of 'drill-n-bass' tracks such as "Omgyiya Switch 7"); like Drukqs, Syro offers a wide variety of styles, but the whiplash factor is absent; there are no juxtapositions of frenetic computerized beats and beatless ambient piano pieces here.  Read more »

Song of the Week: David Bowie - "Sue (Or In A Season of Crime)"

As David Bowie and Tony Visconti continue work on a new album, the enigmatic rocker will release a career-spanning greatest hits package entitled Nothing Has Changed due out before Christmas featuring two new songs, the one above and "Tis A Pity She's A Whore," both recorded this past summer. Is "Sue (Or In A Season of Crime)" , a collaboration with jazz arranger Maria Schneider's big band, the track were Bowie finally gets his Anthony Newley meets Gil Evans meets drum-n-bass on? You decide...

Matthew Shipp, State-of-the-Art Jazz Pianist

Those who keep up with the more avant-garde end of the jazz spectrum have long known that Matthew Shipp is one of the great pianists, but he's reached a higher level of creativity this decade, most recently displayed in his two releases this year, the new solo album I've Been to Many Places and the trio album The Root of Things. Read more »

Cover Song of the Month: Arborea - "Bad Moon Rising"

Okay, so I admit that for me cover songs are nearly impossible to best. Huge props to the indie folk duo Arborea's pastoral and haunting take on '60s rock icon Creedence Clearwater Revival's hit single -- "Bad Moon Rising" -- as they remolded it in their own image. Perfect fare for a movie soundtrack. Buy it today on iTunes and Amazon!

Video of the Week: Ty Segall - "Manipulator"

At one time Ryan Adams was the music savant releasing 2-3 albums a year. Now it's West Coast guitar wizard Ty Segall. His latest is a double set of Nuggets-friendly fare that is well worth the effort. Check out director Matt Yoka's play through of the interactive music video for the of his song "Manipulator" from the album of the same title from the fine folks at Drag City!

Darius Jones Switches Genres

A jazz-identified musician who, for this release at least, is working in the classical realm, Jones is an excellent alto saxophonist, but also a consistently interesting composer, so this move to fully notated music for an a cappella quartet of female singers is hardly too big a hurdle for him to clear. The degree to which I loved this on first hearing, however, surprised me; this isn't just interesting, it's downright masterful.

This is the fourth volume in Jones's Man'ish Boy series, which I have never really understood the finer points of. That this one's sung doesn't help, because the 'words' are in an invented language of short syllables; the press release says it's a song cycle for a sacred alien birthing ritual. Read more »

ANNIVERSARIES: Bud Powell Born 90 Years Ago

No jazz pianist in the last 45 years has been uninfluenced by Bud Powell, because his work in the early days of bebop with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie established the prototype for the style's pianists, at least in a group setting: quicksilver, horn-like figures from the right hand, jabbing harmonies from the left that add off-kilter accents to the rhythm. (When playing solo, and sometimes on ballads in trio, Powell deployed a fuller, more lush style derived from Art Tatum, with some of his friend and mentor Thelonious Monk's style mixed in.) He left surprisingly few official documents of his collaboration with Parker and Gillespie, with most coming after the style's foundation because of two recording bans. By then he had already become a leader in his own right and had begun recording a legacy of not just great pianism but also his unique compositional style. Read more »

They Got the Steely Dan T-Shirts: The Debate Continues

As I mentioned in its introduction, my Ste ely Dan appreciation last week stemmed from an email exchange with several other people. And my article was not the last word by a long shot. One of the participants, Tony Alterman, is responding with his own album-by-album review, and his brother, CultureCatch's own Ian Alterman, is pitching in with his own observations. Here, with punctuation corrected and tangents omitted, is the origin of the debate and its continuation. Read more »

Song of the Day: Forster Anderson - "Red"

"Red," the new roots-rock single from Australian singer-songwriter Forster Anderson debut EP Banter is available for pre-sale on download from iTunes. The song explores the mind and psyche of a pyromaniac's modus operandi and the senseless destruction that ensues. Moreover, the tragic bush fires that ripped through the Australian State of Victoria in February 2009 and killed 173 people occurred while Forster was backpacking through Colorado, USA. This is his homage to that horrible event.

A Highly Personal Retrospective Appreciation and Ranking of Steely Dan's '70s Albums

Recently a bunch of us were emailing back and forth about something and a tangent appeared in which we were ranking our favorite Steely Dan albums in order -- sticking to their '70s albums, their prime period. Read more »

Surprises from U2

The biggest story of the week is Songs of Innocence, the U2 album available for free from iTunes. It's not, however, considered a big story for the right reasons.  Read more »

Remembering 9/11

John Adams's response to 9/11, On the Transmigration of Souls is a bit under a half hour in length, but seems timeless. Partly this is the lack of narrative, partly Adams' shimmering music. Read more »

ANNIVERSARIES: Little Milton Born 80 Years Ago

Little Milton (born Milton James Campbell on September 7, 1934 in Inverness, Mississippi; his father was Big Milton) came up singing the blues and by the '70s had moved into hardcore soul. He was a master of both styles.

In 1953 Ike Turner recruited Milton for the legendary Sun Records. His Sun singles didn't achieve success, and he spent subsequent years hopping from label to label until he started a label, Bobbin, with a St. Louis DJ. When they had a falling out, Little Milton moved to the Chess subsidiary Checker (which had been distributing Bobbin), even bringing at least one track recorded for Bobbin. Soon Milton branched out from performing to producing and managing other performers, and also gained his first hit (on the R&B chart) in 1962, "Mean to Me." Read more »

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