Music Review

Darius Jones at The Stone, February 18, 2016

Alto saxophonist Darius Jones recently curated a week at The Stone and I caught the first set that Thursday night. He was playing with his Big Gurl trio, a collaboration with bassist Adam Lane and drummer Jason Nazary. His opening remarks include the observation "I haven't played any of this music in a long time," noting that this was one of his first trios after coming to New York. Read more »

Three J.D. Souther Reissues Remind Us How Good He Is

 
J.D. Souther's songs are better known as sung by other people, which is good for his bank account but puzzling if you've heard his fine LPs. I wouldn't be surprised if more people nowadays know of him from his acting on the TV series Nashville than from his career in music. If there's any justice, these three reissues will redress that imbalance.

After this Texan moved to L.A., he teamed with Glenn Frey in the band Longbranch/Pennywhistle (they kept co-writing songs after Frey founded the Eagles, notably "New Kid in Town"), lived upstairs from Jackson Browne, and dated Linda Ronstadt. Read more »

Song of the Week: Robert Kidney - "Big Paradise"

Robert Kidney, of the legendary N.E. Ohio-based agro-blues outfit 15-60-75 aka The Numbers Bandis set to release his long-awaited solo album, -- Jackleg (Exit Stencil Recordingsl). Friend, producer and bassist Tony Maimone (Pere Ubu) wisely persuaded him to record a solo album at his Brooklyn studio sans any outside distractions apart from a satchel of new songs and his guitar. What you hear is what you get. Unfiltered. His earnest vocals and guitar playing will leave you mesmerized. Not unlike the Rick Rubin-produced Johnny Cash sessions. "Paradise Lost" is the blues of a white man, blues that never try to mimic the blues of the African-American blues giants of the past, but rather distilled into Mr. Kidney's own unique style, a style that he has nurtured and refined for well over five decades. This track is only the tip of the iceberg and a full ablum review will be posted shortly. In the interim, please listen and share this unique tale of Americana. And order the album today!

ANNIVERSARIES: Wilhelm Furtwängler Born 130 Years Ago

Is Wilhelm Furtwängler (January 25, 1886 - November 30, 1954) the greatest conductor ever? While there are some who, in preference to his highly inflected, interventionist style, would prefer a more straight-forward conductor such as his contemporary Arturo Toscanini, many cognoscenti believe that at the least Furtwängler, when heard in his favored 19th century Austro-Germanic repertoire, ranks supreme of his type in the pre-stereo era. The aforementioned Toscanini himself was an admirer; asked who aside from himself was the greatest conductor, he named Furtwängler, and also pushed for the German to take over the directorship of the New York Philharmonic when Toscanini relinquished its reins, though controversy prevented that. Read more »

In Defense of the Eagles, and Not Being a Jerk About Recently Deceased Musicians

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even as 99% of my Facebook friends were eulogizing the late David Bowie in reverential terms, there were a few dissenters. Aside from a non-musical issue*, the most negative thing I saw about Bowie was along the lines of "I never cared/listened/understood the attraction." It's kind of passive-aggressive, since there's not much point to alerting us all to the fact that you are apparently apathetic yet somehow still feel we all need to hear from you on this trending topic, but it's pretty low-key, so whatever.

Then Glenn Frey died, and a much larger portion of the internet decided that this was the perfect time to remind us how much they hate the Eagles, how bad the Eagles' music is, and how clueless the rest of us are for apparently being deluded into liking them. Read more »

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band: The Complete 1978 Radio Broadcasts (Soundstage)

I bought it for myself, but this was my Christmas present, arriving in the mail from England on Christmas Eve: a fifteen-CD set containing five epic Springsteen concerts from the legendary Darkness on the Edge of Town tour. When the Cleveland deejay who emceed the show for WMMS-FM introduced the band by saying, "Round for round, pound for pound, there ain’t no finer band around," he wasn't just rhyming, he was telling the truth.

Why, you ask, did this set come from England? Well, it's an unauthorized collection of bootlegs, but in Europe, radio recordings are public domain, so this is actually a legal release.

The word went out through the fan network I ordered it on Amazon U.K. before the release date. Perhaps Bruce doesn't get a penny out of this, but I've seen it suggested that writers' royalties would still have to be paid. Either way, for £15.99 (slightly under $24) plus Amazon's usual $3.99 shipping, I couldn't resist. In the years soon after these shows, when all of them were individually bootlegged on massive vinyl box sets, any one of them cost more than that. Read more »

Songs of Mortality

David Bowie: Blackstar (Iso/Columbia/Sony)

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 »

Best Classical Albums of 2015, Part Two

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.

1. Soloists/Warsaw Boys' Choir/Warsaw Philharmonic Male Choir/Warsaw Philharmonic Choir & Orchestra/Antoni Wit
Penderecki: Magnificat; Kadisz
(Naxos)
 
Naxos' invaluable Krzysztof Penderecki (b. 1933) project continues to bring us conductor Antoni Wit's impeccable renderings of the Polish composer's complex and challenging music, especially excelling in the choral works, as here. 
One of the longer settings of this text (here nearly 45 minutes), Penderecki's Magnificat (1973-74) is also epic in sound, written in a high-avant style similar to his iconic St. Luke Passion, with extended singing effects (especially long glissandi, but also speaking and whispering), highly disjunctive melodies, extremely dense dissonance, and colorful cluster interjections by the orchestra, especially the winds.

Best Classical Albums 2015, Part One

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.

 
Supposedly this release of a previously unissued concert recording was approved by the pianist shortly before his passing in July 2015. Certainly it's hard to hear anything of significance that he wouldn't have liked about it, because it is a magnificent testament to everything that made him one of the greatest pianists who ever lived: one of the most beautiful piano tones ever heard, allied to liquid phrasing that gave him one of the greatest legato touches ever recorded. 

Paul Bley (November 10, 1932 - January 3, 2016)

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 »

Song of the Week: The Besnard Lakes - "Golden Lion"

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!

Best Jazz/Improvised Albums of 2015

1. William Parker: For Those Who Are, Still (AUM Fidelity/Centering)

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 »

ANNIVERSARIES: Motörhead Released Ace of Spades 35 Years Ago

[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 »

Blues Images 2016 Calendar

It's calendar-buying time, so here's my annual boosterism for Blues Images' great calendar/CD combo.  Read more »

Best New Rock/Pop/Electronic Albums/EPs of 2015

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 »

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