Music Review

A Victim of Fashion and True Style

gerald-watkissGerald Watkiss: Purgatory and Paradise (Pye)

Fashion is a cruel mistress, one that treats talent with little respect. It isn't just in couture houses that the effort of yesterday is quickly rendered obsolete. Just as nobody would be seen in last year's flair of inspiration, so too can music be a classic victim of the fickle-hearted and the fashionably fearful. The shame of lending one's ears to sounds that might raise a derisory smile from the lips of those whose opinions appear to matter, albeit briefly, can be perilous to both the listener and the artist who takes one or two steps beyond the current boundaries of accepted taste. Read more »

Carry On Again, Moz!

years-of-refusalMorrissey: Years of Refusal (Lost Highway)

The much misrepresented man returns with an album in his fiftieth year. Those with conventional expectations who would like to wallow in a dollop of gray and sorrowing songs from the perceived maestro of misery will be bitterly disappointed with the serving of throbbing insistence on their plate. Morrissey is in a spirited mood. One dares to infer that he is happy, because on the evidence here, he most certainly sounds it. Read more »

A Pop-Symphonic Experiment at BAM

grizzly-bear-liveFinal Fantasy and Grizzly Bear at Howard Gilman Opera House, 2/28/09

Last Saturday night, Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Howard Gilman Opera House played host to a very special lineup of performers, Final Fantasy and Grizzly Bear accompanied by the Brooklyn Philharmonic. This was not a rock show; it was, in Final Fantasy’s words, an “exercise in trust.”

Final Fantasy is the solo project of Owen Pallett, a multi-instrumentalist who has arranged strings for Arcade Fire, the Last Shadow Puppets, and Grizzly Bear. Read more »

U2's End of the Decade Slump

u2_no_lineU2: No Line on the Horizon (Island)

Oddly, U2 is very predictable in its bad-album output. It's always the last album of the decade: Rattle and Hum in 1988, Pop in 1997, and now No Line on the Horizon in 2009. I suppose one bad album per decade is forgivable, but when you're only making three per decade, it hurts more. Based on the past two decades, it seems that Bono only has two albums' worth of good songs every ten years. Read more »

The Exceptional Synergy of ECM and Arvo Pärt

Arvo_PartEstonian composer Arvo Pärt (b. 1935) has become one of the most popular composers of our time. For a long time he was an obscure figure to all but the most in-the know mavens of the classical avant-garde. Then, 25 years ago, ECM owner/producer Manfred Eicher found Pärt's music so compelling that he started a classical division, New Series, to put it out (certainly no other labels were rushing to do so at the time). ECM’s marketing savvy and devoted following have provided Pärt more and hipper exposure than pretty much any classical composer who hasn’t written movie soundtracks or operas. Since 1984, a few other record labels have joined the cause, but ECM often makes the first recordings of major new Pärt compositions, the exceptions usually being choral pieces receiving their disc premieres under the direction of longtime Pärt boosters Paul Hillier (whose non-ECM work has been released by Harmonia Mundi) or Tõnu Kaljuste (an ECM stalwart who’s also recorded for Virgin Classics). Read more »

Brooklyn's Best Kept Secret

vern_woodhead_ensemble

The Vern Woodhead Ensemble
Freddy's Bar & Grill, 2/22/09

The Vern Woodhead Ensemble is currently playing venues such as Freddy's Bar & Grill in Brooklyn, but it is only a matter of time before this outer-borough gem is smuggled over the East River and into the established concert halls of Manhattan. If you appreciate the experience of seeing a great band in a more intimate setting, then now is the time to see them, before they go big. Read more »

The Correct Use of Hope

magazine-manchesterMagazine at Manchester Academy One, February 17, 2009

Proust never was one for the rock and roll -- it simply hadn't been invented -- but the most immaculate of consumptives would have sympathized with the strange relationship between performers and their public. The remembrance of former glories related to youth's often unrealistic expectations, and the ever-present grief over things that wither and die, would have rested heavily on his heart. The audience members for tonight's spectacle are returning after a quarter of a century; largely male and middle-aged, their waistlines have widened and their hairlines receded. Read more »

Keith Jarrett Lives in the Past with Standards Trio

Keith_Jarrett_YesterdaysKeith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette: Yesterdays (ECM)

Pianist Keith Jarrett, smart enough to recognize a good thing when he hears it, give us his twentieth recording (nineteenth as leader) with what may be the best configuration that he's played with over the course of his long career: the so-called Standards Trio of himself, double-bassist Gary Peacock, and drummer Jack DeJohnette. Read more »

As Brooklyn Burns

flame-queenFlame: Queen of the Neighborhood (RCA)

Flame, one of those briefly beguiling bands born out of a punk-garage sensibility but whose roots reached well beyond the limitations suggested by that particular tag, seemed destined for stadium rewards. Flame was fronted by the divinely lipped Marge Graham, who, on account of being a real woman, had the natural attributes that Steve Tyler, Mick Jagger, and a truckload of less gifted pouters and poseurs have been trying to appropriate for as long as rock has rolled. Read more »

Best Classical Recordings of 2008

Hilary_HahnThough it may seem that the classical music niche is shrinking each year, there is a contrary movement in that there is more classical music being marketed to avoid that tag. While it saddens me a bit to see "classical" come to be seen as a commercial kiss of death, what matters most is that the music find an audience, and tastefully imaginative marketing that achieves that goal can only help the genre survive. So if your initial reaction to things on this list is that they belong elsewhere, think again!

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The Second Best Rock Band Ever

Cheap_Trick_Budokan_30Cheap Trick. Of Rockford, Illinois.

Why? Well, if you really want the answer, stop reading this damn article and put on the entire Cheap Trick at Budokan, reissued by Epic/Sony with outtakes not on the original vinyl, and a DVD. Don't take it off until you've heard the entire thing five times, all the way through. But, on the odd chance that you aren't going to do that, read on. The best place to start when considering all the great things Cheap Trick is, is to catalog what they're not.

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Hey, Mr. Bassman, Pt.1

Slaughterhouse_3Gary Willis: Slaughterhouse 3/Actual Fiction

Mr. Willis has brought the electric bass beyond the now historic Pastorius/Vitous frontier and into new sonic territory. The music world has taken note of this with an Ibanez fretless signature bass, three Hal Leonard Willis-penned books, and a reputation the modest Willis endures graciously. The genius of Willis is in his departure from the known Clarke-to-Wooten parameters. Read more »

Favorite Classical Reissue of 2008

OrmandyEugene Ormandy/The Philadelphia Orchestra: The Original Jacket Collection (SonyBMG Masterworks)

My favorite classical reissue of 2008. Oh, there were rarer items (most, maybe even all, of the performances here had already appeared on CD), and more adventurous repertoire, granted reissue, but none I play more frequently or love so much as this limited edition ten-CD set. And, I admit, it gains points with me for finally placing Columbia's most prolific conductor up there among the label's other big names honored in this series (Bernstein, Stravinsky, Horowitz).

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ANNIVERSARIES: Mendelssohn Born 200 Years Ago

Mendelssohn_BartholdyJacob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (February 3, 1809 - November 4, 1847) was probably the greatest child prodigy composer that music has ever seen, even compared to Mozart (an estimation made by famed author Goethe, friend of Mendelssohn's teacher Carl Friedrich Zelter). Felix was born into a well-to-do family, grandson of esteemed philosopher Moses Mendelssohn and son of banker Abraham Mendelssohn. The youngster had every advantage, not least a spectacularly advanced education from an early age. He was almost immediately a superb pianist who entertained the cream of Berlin society at cultural gatherings in the Mendelssohn house, where he sometimes had a small orchestra to test out his compositions.

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Best World Music of 2008

Mekurya_DVD1. Gétatchèw Mèkurya and the Ex: Gétatchèw Mèkurya and the Ex & Guests (Ethiosonic)

This DVD was by far my favorite release this year. Venerable Dutch post-punk experimentalists teamed up with Ethiopian sax innovator Gétatchèw Mèkurya for a mind-bending, improvisatory take on modal Ethiopian pop from the ‘70s with a bracing dose of buzzsaw guitars and other skronky treats. The same lineup came to NYC this summer and was my personal concert-going highlight of the year. Read more »

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