When was the last time you saw a new CD that comes with a supporting quote from Mark Twain? "I think that Polk Miller and his wonderful four, is about the only thing the country can furnish that is originally and utterly American. Possibly it can furnish something more enjoyable, but I must doubt it until I forget that musical earthquake, 'The Watermelon Party.'" Read more »
For the practicing agnostic or atheist in search of a religious experience, Nick Cave might be the high priest youâ€™re looking for. Tales of sorrow, loss, hope, and murder tempered with Biblical allusions made for an entertaining evening at the venue formerly called WaMu Theater this past Saturday night.
Nick Cave summons faint memories of Frank Zappa, surrounding himself with a small army of expert musicians who he conducts from center stage as he commands most of the attention for the evening. Read more »
Few jazz innovators or heroes of the avant-garde are as little known beyond the cognoscenti as Dixon. An utterly distinctive trumpeter who pioneered the use of extremely non-standard timbres on his instrument, he is also an improviser and composer of boundless imagination who applied that adventurous deployment of timbres to works of uncompromising artistry with a painterly sense of color and abstraction unlike anyone else's jazz. Read more »
I suppose I should have a clever theme to tie all these together, but the best I can do is that with one exception theyâ€™re all recent and I like them all (and I stick to popular genres -- no classical, jazz, blues, etc.). First up are six new releases, followed by one thatâ€™s two years old, followed by five reissues.
Tricky's first album in five years, and his best in ten, or maybe even since Pre-Millennium Tension in 1996, is occasionally a return to his Maxinquaye/PMT style and definitely their mood, though the first track is as drastic a departure from any of his previous styles as you could imagine: jazzy, cool, laid-back. Read more »
Jobriath set out to be a star of stratospheric proportions; what he became, if he was remembered at all, was the leper boy of Glam. Excluded from features and books on the subject, he was written off, and written out of, the picture. The Bowie clone and wannabe, a parable of hype over content, he fell beneath the radar of the taste-makers and shakers. Maligned and marginalized, he died in obscurity; the man who never came back, but the one who sang in supper clubs in Manhattan for out-of-town tourists. A record industry joke that wasn't all that funny. Read more »
That a new set of songs from Jake Holmes should have slipped without fanfare into the wider world is remarkable, a little sad, but of no real surprise. Holmes, not exactly a name of the household variety, hadn't released an album for thirty years. That Dangerous Times is superbly crafted, sounding like the sort of distinguished fare reviewers dust down their cliches for when delivered by young pretenders (Holmes was born in 1939) isn't a big deal either. Good records come and go, and as good things go, this one went nowhere. Read more »
In a weird way, Metallica has kind of become like Star Wars. While the conventional wisdom dictates that both have lost their way, that they were better in their early days, true fans of both know this just isnâ€™t the case. Sure, Metallicaâ€™s previous release, 2003â€™s St. Anger, wasnâ€™t their best album any more than The Clone Wars was the best Star Wars movie, but both have some great moments. Read more »
I have often noted that saxophonist Joe Lovano, for all his greatness, does his best playing on other people's gigs. Well, he shares the billing here, but once again he achieves the unrestrained feeling I've mostly heard from him when someone else is in charge. Maybe here it's because Joe knew he could relax, secure in the certainty that everything was going to be taken care of without him worrying about it when the only other guy on the bandstand was pianist Hank Jones, who's always got twice as much experience as anyone else in the room (unless Barry Harris is in the room, but even then Hank has the edge).
Sixteen years ago, while working for a music magazine in New York City, a CD came across my desk that immediately caught my attention. The album was 1961, a compilation of two albums from the titular year, Fusion and Thesis, by the Jimmy Giuffre 3, a mid-'60s jazz trio whose line-up included bassist Steve Swallow and pianist Paul Bley. But what caught my attention was that the group had no drummer, unusual for small jazz combos, and was led, also unusually, by a clarinetist named Jimmy Giuffre (who, I sadly noted while working on this review, passed away just this past April). Read more »
Jenny Lin has seemingly infallible piano technique, not merely in terms of velocity but also evenness of touch and beauty of tone. She also has an admirable devotion to modern classical music, with the majority of her releases exclusively concerned with the music of our time. On her newest CD, these are applied to a program built around the theme of "night": states of sleep, lack of sleep, dreams, nachtmusik, and more. Read more »
Some records are evocative and wistful, conjuring with just the right amounts of longing and loss. One such artifact is Marsha Malamet's 1969 LP Coney Island Winter. A small chill of abandonment runs through this brief and hauntingly expressed affair. Where Summer footfalls and romance would have filled the air, this is a record of intense, short evenings and the intimation that what was once a cause for celebration has become a source of sighs and reflective glances. Read more »
Glam was a peculiar time in popular music. It allowed the genuinely weird to posture, albeit briefly, whilst forcing the sadly mundane to look like trainee drag queens. The New York Dolls got it genuinely and alarmingly right, as did Marc Bolan. Bowie claimed the era as his pilfered kingdom, but the sad buffoonery of the Glitters and Stardusts were hot on his heels as also-ran competitors. Early Roxy Music were divine Glam at its most arch. Eno, all feathers, finery and ambient soundtracks; Ferry like the decadent space-age spiv, a routine that would finally entomb him as a lounge lizard fossil. Read more »
Because he's (Algerian) French, many American jazz fans have overlooked Martial Solal, but as he moves into elder-statesman status, that may be changing, as is certainly due one of the greatest living pianists. Thanks be, his albums are appearing more regularly here than they used to. Here's the latest one, with twins Francois and Louis Moutin on bass and drums, respectively (one of the great current rhythm sections). Read more »
If an artist of the nature of Craig Davies were to surface today, he would earn superlative plaudits for his eclecticism and genuine verve. As it was, he emerged into the flashing strobes of the late '80s, when you couldn't give singer/songwriters away. Everything that didn't begin with an 'e' was passe, hedonism was all, and introspection was a dirty habit best indulged in behind closed doors. His two Rough Trade albums are rare escapades, forays of excellence into enduringly unique territory. Read more »
An excellent tenor saxophonist of my acquaintance was once putting down another excellent tenor saxophonist for moving away from free jazz and playing on changes. "He couldn't stand on stage with Johnny Griffin and get away with that," he said (or words to that effect; this conversation was around 15 years ago). I retorted, "Who could? You're setting the bar awfully high there." For Johnny Griffin, whose death Figaro is reporting yesterday, was arguably the greatest bebop tenor saxophonist ever. The only way to take tenor beyond what he did with it was to go beyond bebop itself, as John Coltrane did. Read more »