At first, I wished I'd gotten and listened to Blackstar before Bowie left us. Then I would have had an opportunity to judge it dispassionately, without the sense of loss and the desire to pay tribute altering my response. But as I listened to his slightly frayed voice on my second time through the album, I was reminded of Warren Zevon's far more ravaged voice on his last album, when we all knew he was dying, and I realized that any review written before Bowie's death would be missing Blackstar's ultimate context. Read more »
This concludes my look back at 2015 with the newer new albums -- the ones with new, or at least contemporary, compositions, most by living composers.
As I struggled, as every year, to get my end-of-year lists finished in a reasonably timely fashion, it occurred to me that I could publish half of the classical list earlier if I could find a reasonable way to split it into categories. Thus the non-contemporary/contemporary divide this year. The newer composers' work requires more listening; that's the only reason the older repertoire comes first.
The death of the visionary pianist/ improviser Paul Bley leaves a big hole in the jazz universe. Bley, a fearless improviser with grace, bite, humor, and knowledge, will be remembered for the ability to empty his self of all preconceptions and impediments before sitting down at the instrument, and for the ability to take his own specific approach and language and to morph it into something that works with whatever the environment and/or musicians that are in the ambient -- and for the ability to sit at any piano [and they all have different personalities] and except for being extremely stylized, he could pull out the personality of that particular piano while still sounding like himself.
Paul, though studied, was completely naturalistic and organic in his musical conception. He had a mindset that was always in the moment, and if so-called history ever came through in his playing, it was more a function of the natural flow of language than any ostentatious show of jazz knowledge. Read more »
A new year and right out of the gate some must-own new music to share. I admit I let the tremendousily engaging "The Golden Lion" slip through the cracks in my inbox back in November. Nonetheless, this Montreal-based quintet, named after a lake region in Saskatchewan, Canada and featuring the husband/wife team of Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas, are creating some grand work. If you're into hazy waves of reverb-drenched guitars and worshipped at the altar of My Bloody Valentine, or the shoegazer rock scene in general, you'll be pleased as punch. But that's just half the story as their melodic, alt-rock has traces of Pink Floyd and even some slight prog leanings. Influences aside, The Besnard Lakes' track begs repeated headphone listens to fully appreciate the sonic weave of texture and nuances. Taken from A Coliseum Complex Museum (Jagjaguwar) and set for a January release date, order your CD or vinyl copy today!
I have been an admirer and observer of William Parker for a quarter century, but nothing prepared me for the impact of this three-disc set's final CD, which features an orchestral composition, Ceremonies for Those Who Are Still, which ranks high among the best orchestral music of the 21st century, and I'm including classical composers. In other words, don't cringe while imagining the usual jazz-with-strings hack job. There are moments in Ceremonies for Those Who Are Still -- particularly when the choir is singing Parker's poems of life and loss and creation -- when the grandeur of the year's most fashionable jazz album, Kamasi Washington's The Epic (also a three-CD set) comes to mind, but the difference -- the reason Parker's set ranks much higher -- is that his orchestrations are vastly more contrapuntal, colorful, individual, and just plain daring. Read more »
[Lemmy passed away yesterday. RIP, you badass!] As we watch what may soon be the end of Motörhead, with a fine new album just out but iconic leader Lemmy's failing health forcing him from the stage on multiple nights, let's also look back at a milestone in the group's long career.
Bassist/singer Lemmy Kilmister started Motörhead in 1975 after getting kicked out of prog-rockers Hawkwind for being jailed on a drug charge in Canada during a tour. The band's early days were not marked by success. After being signed by United Artists, Motörhead's first shot at recording an album was rejected, and the label then blocked the group's attempted release of a single on Stiff. In '77 -- the lineup having completely turned over aside from its frontman -- they were ready to throw in the towel and even scheduled a farewell concert, but then Chiswick Records gave them money to record a single and by working quickly (and with a little more support from Chiswick) they turned that session into their debut album. After that things got better, but the band had yet to break through as of 1980. Read more »
Another year, another move further away from caring about pop. Whether that's pop's fault or mine, I'm not sure. But there was still plenty of great new music released in 2015, and here, according to my idiosyncratic tastes, are the best albums, or at least my favorites.
1. Wire: Wire (Pink Flag)
This is said to be the first time that Bruce Gilbert's replacement, guitarist Matthew Simms, was heavily involved in the creation of a Wire album, and the result is...the closest Wire has ever come to sounding like a Colin Newman album. I exaggerate for effect, but only slightly: most everything thrums along smoothly and motorik-ly, he takes all the lead vocals (though Graham Lewis supposedly wrote many of the lyrics), and there are none of the post-punkier outbursts of the group's previous two reunion albums, though near the end of Wire, the one-two punch of "Split Your Ends" and "Octopus" come close. And I'm fine with that, because Newman's 1980s solo albums were brilliant (especially 1980's great A to Z) and Wire sounds like a continuation of them as much as of Wire's own work. That said, though, this is not a break from the Wire style, just another twist in the band's always unpredictable evolution. Read more »
There are always plenty of Christmas-music roundups this time of year. This one's different. The others usually focus on the newest offerings. Nothing I've gotten this year has really struck a chord, but there is no shortage of favorites from years past that have proven their merits and held up over time. It is those in the classical realm, where trends matter least; and choral, because it's sacred choir music that's at the heart of the celebration of Christmas, that are listed below. Read more »
The Thin White Duke is more than just a middle-age rock 'n' roll icon intent on just cruising along, playing it safe, releasing rehashed variations on previous themes. He's one of a handful of artists who is still capable of creating genre-defining music. This title-track -- "Blackstar" -- from his 28th studio album builds off of the sonic vibe of Station to Station but adds jazz textures and extended motifs. And it seems like a logical extension offered on his previous "rock" album, The Next Day, and even more so from his 2014 single "Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)" Aided once again by longtime producer Tony Visconti, Bowie is in fine voice. Moreover, his young NY-based backing "jazz" band led by saxophonist Donny McCaslin, who appeared on said 2014 single -- have definitely provided a creative spark for the veteran rocker. Visconti's production provides just enough sonic texture to keep things percolating. Blackstar is set for release on January 8th, 2016.
Miranda Lee Richards, one of my favorite L.A.-based singer-songwriters, was in town a few weeks ago playing songs from the inspired Echoes of the Dreamtime, her third studio album and first release in more than six years. "7th Ray," the first track and single from said album, is an atmospheric, mid-tempo, psychedelic-folk-rock rumination on love and life. Wearing her love like heaven, layered electric and acoustic guitars weave in and out of the nuanced mix and then suddenly a Mellotron adds yet another delectable dollop of color to keep you hitting your repeat key. She's currently on a West Coast tour with the Dandy Warhols, making stops in L.A., San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland. For fans of Laura Marling and Joni Mitchell alike.
The promo mailings have recently yielded a new crop of Ravel recordings. None displace my favorites, but all are interesting and worth discussing. Read more »
This is Performance Series 11 from the Neil Young Archives project, a two-CD set of live recordings from eleven 1987-88 shows with his Bluenotes band, which had to be renamed because of a lawsuit by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. (The new name better reflects Neil's original inspiration, a beloved Winnipeg bar called, yes, Blue Note Café, shown on the cover.) The first two tracks on Bluenote Café are from the year before This Note's for You was released, the rest (oddly, presented in chronological order of recording date, with just one exception) coming from the tour to promote its release.
There has never been a consensus about This Note's for You, which marked Young's return to Reprise Records after his contentious tenure at Geffen, when his stylistic shifts into genre tangents (rockabilly, electronica) led to Geffen actually suing Young. Read more »
Ron Sunshine's mix of jazz, soul, and blues is always a little different from album to album. This time out the vibe is classy late-'50s/early '60s R&B with a small horn section and lots of blues shuffles. The horns and the pianist will sometimes play jazz harmonies, but in general the feeling is more down-home than his more swing-oriented efforts were -- though we're talking fine distinctions here; he's not changing styles, just shifting leanings by degrees. Read more »