Music Review

American Composers Declare Independence from Europe

When I was growing up, New York 's best (now long-defunct) classical radio station, WNCN, played only American composers' music each Fourth of July. With the classical world dominated by Europeans, this was a welcome and educational corrective. In the history of American music, independence wasn't achieved until the 20th century; 19th century composers such as John Knowles Paine and George Whitefield Chadwick studied in Europe and blatantly imitated European models. Listening to their music "blind," few would guess they were Americans. There was Revolutionary War-era vocal writer William Billings, but his originality was more a lack of proper technique. Continuing WNCN's tradition, here's a look at true American classical music. 

Chris Squire's Musical Legacy

Chris "Fish" Squire, the heart and soul and, yes, the foundation of iconic prog-rock band Yes, passed away Saturday at the age of 67. He had been battling leukemia, and last month had left the band for the first time -- he is the only member to appear on every Yes album (21 studio albums and a plethora of concert recordings). Squire, who played with a pick, achieved his unique sound by rewiring his Rickenbacker bass to stereo and sending the output of the bass and treble pickups into separate amplifiers. His sound -- and, let it be remembered, his vocals, usually heard in harmony or counterpoint to lead vocalist Jon Anderson's, but still prominent enough to be immediately recognizable -- was integral to the classic Yes albums of the 1970s.

Song of the Week: Todd Rundgren - "Put Your Arms Around Me"

Okay, so it's a collaboration and not a true solo Todd Rundgren track. The album Runddans is the result of the collaboration between Todd Rundgren, Hans-Peter Lindstrom and Emil Nikolaisen. Their track, "Put Your Arms Around Me (Stereolab/The High Llamas Remix)", is fantastic. Hopefuly Todd will get back to his organic roots on this next long player. Until then, this will do just fine.

Thoughts on Ornette Coleman

The first time I heard Ornette Coleman in person was at a New Year’s Eve concert in the Harlem State Office Building cafeteria. (He and his band Prime Time were topping a triple bill that opened with drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson  & the Decoding Society and found guitarist James “Blood” Ulmer’s band spanning the transition from 1980 to 1981; both leaders had spent crucial time as Ornette sidemen.) The thing I remember most about it was how closely Ornette’s sound on alto sax resembled that of Charlie Parker’s. I had never heard the resemblance on Coleman’s recordings, but on the nearly non-existent sound system in this low-ceilinged (with acoustic tile) room, the similarity was striking.

Video of the Week: Big Lazy - "Avenue X"

Avant twang, Americana noir, garage chamber music, whatever you'd like to label composer/guitarist Stephen Ulrich's NYC-based trio Big Lazy (drummer Yuval Lion and bassist Andrew Hall), one thing is undeniable -- the vibe is unforgettable. "Avenue X" is from their fifth long player entitled Don't Cross Myrtle and it features Sexmob trumpeter Steven Bernstein. Love the "Mission Impossible" guitar lick during the middle eight. And the video is pretty fab, too. Ready for consumption today.

Fare Thee Well... 50 years of The Grateful Dead!

So if you know anything about The Grateful Dead, you know that this is their 50th anniversary. Their final shows will take place in Santa Clara, CA (2 shows) and in Chicago at Soldier's Field (3 shows). (A live webcast of all five concerts will be available for $79.95 at Dead.net.) To celebrate this historic milestone, Dead.net has just started taking advance orders on their new 80-disc box set -- Thirty Trips Around The Sun -- featuring 30 unreleased shows; one show from every year of touring! (It's planned for a September 18th release date.) You may not have enough time to listen to all 80 discs, but if you're a Deadhead, how can you say no? There will also be a 4-CD sampler set -- Thirty Trips 1965-1995 -- that serves as an introductory sampler to the Dead’s live canon, including 30 unreleased performances — one from each concert in the boxed set – along with the 1965 recording of “Caution.” Also featured is an essay by Dead aficionado Jesse Jarnow dissecting every track in the collection. 

A Summer Wind...

The 30th anniversary of SummerStage kicked off last night at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park with the best touring band on the planet -- Tedeschi Trucks Band. And with the Allman Brothers officially retired, Mr. Trucks, and his wife Susan Tedeschi have easily replaced them as top dogs. Rolling Stone magazine may have ranked Derek Trucks the number 16th of the top 100 Guitarists of All Time, but in my book this virtuoso is a top five candidate. He so fluid, nimble, inventive, and identifiable on his Gibson SG that I would argue he's the best rock guitarist on the scene today. (Okay, feel free to prove me wrong with your comments below.) Yes, it's one thing to dominate on the jamband scene, but quite another to dominate the rock music biz.

David Lindley - Live at The Cutting Room - 11 May 2015

For L.A.-based stringed instrument maestro David Lindley, the more obscure the stringed-instrument, the more inspiring. Employing a half-dozen guitar-like instruments (several custom-made Weissenborns, a black top Irish bouzouki with added frets, electric oud) in various open tunings, he effortless finger-picks his way into your head and heart. And his droll between-songs banter is both hilarious and informative. Having been employed by some of the world's most-beloved singer/songwriters, such as Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon, to name just two of my favorites, has definitely served his stage presence and chops quite effectively.