Music Review

Song of the Week: Side Saddle - "Don't Wait For Him"

Some songs beg for the repeat button and so it is with this infectious folk-pop nugget from Side Saddle AKA Ian McGuiness, the pop maestro from Astoria, Queens, NY. Download this track for free on SoundCloud until his The Postcard EP drops on March 25th.

Making A Happy Noise: Al Jardine & Friends

For about ninety minutes on Friday evening, February 7th, the auditorium at the Rubin Museum of Art was filled with the sound of music. The occasion was a fundraiser for the David Lynch Foundation, which brings the principles of transcendental meditation (TM) to school children and adults, as a way of dealing with stress, and with a larger message of peace. Read more »

Seconds Before Landing

Seconds Before Landing: The Great Deception (SBL)

First, let me say that, setting aside a quibble or two, this is almost certainly my favorite album of 2013. And that has less to do with any specific personnel, "song," or individual aspect of the album than it does with the fact that the old adage "they just don't write 'em like that anymore" does not apply here. This is a "progressive" album in every sense of that term, and is somehow able to both evoke the heyday of a particular genre of progressive rock (i.e., have a certain "timeless" quality to it) and to be both timely and relevant in the present.

The primary writer here is John Crispino, about whom little seems to be known except that he is a "composer and musician." (He plays drums, keyboards, and percussion, and provides most of the vocals.) He is joined by a distinguished group of musicians, most notably Trey Gunn (King Crimson) and Tim Bogert (Vanilla Fudge, Cactus). Read more »

Song of the Weekend: Galactic - "Dolla Diva"

Galactic bring the funk with plenty of NOLA flavor on their latest single "Dolla Diva" with some righteous vocal help from David Shaw and Maggie Koerner. Currently on tour.

15-60-75: Jimmy Bell's Still in Town

15-60-75 (Numbers Band)
Jimmy Bell's Still in Town
(Exit Stencil)

Haven't heard of this oddly named band? You're probably not from Ohio, and you're definitely not from Kent. Formed there in 1969 by lead vocalist Robert Kidney and saxophonist Terry Hynde (brother of Pretenders vocalist Chrissie), it created a strange and compelling amalgam of styles. Kidney doesn't sing so much as chant, or emphatically recite. There are not really any melodies, and the horn section, so often in other bands a sweetener, only adds acrid commentary. There's an obvious blues influence, but this is not tidy 12-bar blues, it's a primal drone that pulsates with dark energy, not least because of drummer David Robinson's angular beats. Read more »

Grammy Video of the Day: Buddy & Jim - "It Hurts Me"

Though Buddy and Jim -- by Buddy Miller And Jim Lauderdale -- didn't win Best Americana album at the Grammy's last night, this was tops on my ballot. Here's a track -- "It Hurts Me" -- from that wonderful album.

ANNIVERSARIES: Klaus Nomi Born 70 Years Ago

The one-of-a-kind New Wave singer Klaus Nomi was born Klaus Sperber in Bavaria on January 24, 1944. Though his career effectively lasted just five years and he had no hits, he became a beloved cult artist and introduced people outside the realm of classical music to the glories of opera through stunning, highly stylized performances that crushed genre boundaries in a way that the many more calculated "classical crossover" acts since have been unable to achieve, no matter how many more records they may have sold.

Some sources say Nomi (adopted as a stage name as an anagram of "omni") was "classically trained" (though that could just mean piano lessons); Kurt Loder, writing for MTV, calls him "a true, if untrained, countertenor." (A countertenor is basically a male alto.) He did, in his youth, work as an usher at the German Opera in West Berlin, and informally sang there for an audience of his fellow workers. He would also sing opera arias in Berlin's gay nightclubs. In 1972 he moved to New York City; he achieved his breakthrough in 1978 as part of New Wave Vaudeville, a variety show put on by habitués of the downtown New/No Wave scene. Fortunately, there is video of this performance, in which he sang "Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix" from the opera Samson and Delilah by Camille Saint-Saëns: Read more »

Song of the Week: The Rooks - "Twister"

From NYC, here's the new single from the agit-soul of The Rooks. Currently touring on the East Coast.

Steve's Favorite Jazz Historical/Reissue Albums of 2013

Yes, there's a big disparity in the lengths of these reviews. It's not intended to slight albums 2-4; they all gave me great joy, and, I am sure, will continue to. But the scope of the first box set here is vastly broader, and thus each ensemble featured on it requires explanation. And of course I assume you're familiar with the styles of Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and Keith Jarrett.

1. William Parker: Wood Flute Songs (AUM Fidelity)

Eight discs proving that Parker is not only the supreme bassist of the current avant jazz world, he is also a fine and prolific composer and leads some of the scene's greatest bands, most notably on these 2006-2012 concert recordings his quartet with alto saxophonist Rob Brown, trumpeter Lewis "Flip" Barnes, and drummer Hamid Drake, who are at the core of every band featured here. Read more »

Steve's Favorite Jazz Albums of 2013, Part 1

I have already discussed seven new releases and one compilation in my article on the Jazz Artist of the Year, Matthew Shipp. Here are my other favorite new albums from the jazz world in 2013. Most surprising for me is the number of vocal albums, because I'm very particular about jazz singers and dislike most of them. So coming from me, the praise for the jazz singers listed here is really saying something.

1. Andy Bey: The World According to Andy Bey (High Note)

Andy Bey is my favorite living jazz singer, and he's not recorded nearly as often as his talents deserve. Now 74 years old, he has only recorded 11 albums in the course of a 50-year career (one a concert album I've never actually seen). In comparison, Kurt Elling, 46 and active for 18 years, has already made 10. It had been six years since Bey's previous album, and he's been living HIV-positive since 1994, so I was worried. Thus, the appearance of this album was both a relief and a pleasant surprise. Read more »

Jazz Artist of the Year: Matthew Shipp

Last year I started anointing a Jazz Artist of the Year after a spurt of six Ivo Perelman albums that would have dominated my best-of list if not set apart. I've done it again because once again there was an artist so prolific AND so good that he was again worth noting separately. Though pianist Matthew Shipp only released one album as a leader in 2013, he was a prolific collaborator, especially with Perelman. And it has been many years since Shipp was a 'sideman'; he is an equal on these projects.  Read more »

Video of the Week: PT Walkley - "Don't Forget About Me"

Puppet phobias aside, here's a wonderful new video -- directed by Jade Harris -- for a terrific new tune from NYC-based singer/songwriter PT Walkley. "Don't Forget About Me" is the first single from his soon-to-be-released long player Shoulders and will be released on 2/18/14.

Steve's Favorite New Classical Albums of 2013

As always, there are biases at play here; my greatest interests are symphonic music, choral music, and piano music, so that's what comes my way most often. There are some paired reviews; the ranking of the second of each pair might not be the true, exact ranking, but it works better from a writing standpoint this way. 

It is not easy, at this point in recording history, to match the giants of the baton in a Brahms cycle, but Chailly has done it (this is my fiftieth Brahms cycle, and I have more than another fifty Brahms Firsts, and upwards of thirty each of the other symphonies outside those cycles, so I've got some basis for comparison).  Read more »

Steve's Favorite New Rock, Soul, and Electronica Albums of 2013

My alienation from current pop is almost complete; the only 2013 Top 40 material I enjoyed enough to play repeatedly was Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, from an album released in 2012. So I am officially a cranky old fart. But there are more and more of us, and maybe fellow COFs will find this list useful. By the way, crossing that border of alienation made me think more than ever that saying my lists are of the "best" albums is nearly absurd, hence the new headline.

1. Wire: Change Becomes Us (Pink Flag)

This is my favorite Wire of this century thanks to more emphasis on Colin Newman's brooding. When allied to their chugging motorik beats, it's irresistible to me. There are still some uptempo burners that recall their beginnings in punk, and some more whimsical though still musically solid songs, but it's Newman's dark musings that made me play this repeatedly. Read more »

Yusef Lateef R.I.P. (February 11, 1920 - December 23, 2013)

Yusef Lateef, who died on Monday after a bout with prostate cancer, was a devout Muslim who did not like his music to be called jazz because of the supposed indecent origins and connotations of the word (although those origins are still debated). He preferred the self-coined phrase "autophysiopsychic music." Furthermore, his music encompassed an impressively broad range of styles, and the only Grammy he won was in the New Age category -- for a recording of a symphony. Think about those things amid the flood of Lateef obituaries with "jazz" in the headline.

That said, certainly Lateef's own musical origins indisputably revolved around jazz. Growing up in Detroit, a highly fertile musical environment in the 1930s and beyond, Lateef got his first instrument, an $80 Martin alto sax, at age 18. Within a year he was on the road with the 13 Spirits of Swing (arrangements by Milt Buckner). Read more »

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