Music Review

ANNIVERSARIES: Olivier Messiaen Born 100 Years Ago

MessiaenThe great French composer Olivier Eugène Prosper Charles Messiaen was born in Avignon on December 10, 1908. He was the first son of extraordinary parents: Cécile Sauvage, his mother, was a poet of note, and his father, Pierre Messiaen, was an English teacher who translated Shakespeare’s plays into French. At the precocious age of eleven Olivier entered the Paris Conservatory, where he studied with Paul Dukas, Charles-Marie Widor, and Marcel Dupré – a famed composer and two famous organists – and, most crucially, Maurice Emmanuel, who though not as well known as the above-named would prove to have arguably the greatest influence on Messiaen’s music through Emmanuel’s interests in birdsong and scales and rhythms of other cultures, notably India and ancient Greece. Read more »

The Early Days of a Unique Soul/Blues Duo

Satan_and_AdamSatan and Adam: Word on the Street: Harlem Recordings, 1989 (Modern Blues Harmonica)

Adam Gussow and Sterling “Mr. Satan” Magee were a fixture in New York City in the late '80s and early '90s: a young, white, Princeton-educated harmonica player and a black, experienced Mississippi-born blues/soul veteran who sang while simultaneously playing electric guitar and percussion. They eventually got club gigs, but they started out playing on the streets of Harlem, where Magee had been playing regularly and Gussow sat in one day in 1986 and, after a good response from the crowd (the tip bucket got filled), they became a team. Read more »

Special Edition of Great Album Isn't So Special

murmur-deluxeR.E.M.: Murmur Deluxe Edition (Universal)

When I first heard the news, my heart jumped ever so slightly. I was so excited that Universal were releasing one of their famed Deluxe Edition versions of an album I loved, R.E.M.'s 1983 full-length debut, Murmur. "What cool gems had they unearthed?" I wondered. Sure, there had been many before, enough that I had been able to compile my own nine-track compilation of B-sides and extras, but I didn't have access to their vaults. My mind reeled with possibilities.

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Hungary for More

adam-gyorgyVirtuosity comes with its own perils. Compound that with prodigy, and you're in some tricky waters. Too often flash substitutes for feeling, spectacle for connection, hoopla for art. Twenty-six-year-old Hungarian pianist Adam Gyorgy flirted with all of the above at his recent Carnegie Hall recital, but, happily, the marks of a true artist won out.

His chops are amazing, and we got fireworks galore, barn burners such as Liszt's Rhapsody No. 2 delivered with articulate aplomb. And if some of the more pensive pieces, like Petri's transcription of Bach's "Sheep May Safely Graze," didn't challenge the listener, it was all more than compensated for by Gyorgy's amazing reading of Chopin's never-ending journey that is the Balladein G minor. Read more »

Jazz, Italian-Style, Roosts at Birdland

pieranunziEnrico Pieranunzi at Birdland with Steve Swallow and Paul Motian
October 29, 2008

Enrico Pieranunzi, who will turn 59 in five weeks, is an Italian jazz pianist of formidable and varied talents. The Musica Jazz critic’s poll named him Musician of the Year in 1989 and 2003, and in 1997 he received the Django d’Or Award as best European jazz musician. But given the record industry’s lack of interest in jazz and Americans’ lack of interest in jazz artists from other countries, his career has not received the attention it deserves. Read more »

Dance Music for the Apocalypse

of-montrealOf Montreal at Roseland, Friday, Oct. 10

Of Montreal plays the music that you have to hope young people are listening to, and Roseland revelers brought that hope to fruition Friday night. Playing at close to capacity the band from Athens, Georgia rocked the audience, bringing back some of the former glory of the old dance hall. I haven’t sweated that much at a concert in while, but it’s hard not to when you have over three thousand fans bouncing and jumping in a crazed frenzy of music-endued energy. Read more »

Mark Twain-Approved Music

polk_millerPolk Miller & His Old South Quartette – s/t (Tompkins Square)

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 »

God is in the House


Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds Madison Square Garden, NYC

Friday, Oct. 4, 2008

For the practicing agnostic or atheist in search of a religious experience, Nick Cave might be the high priest you'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 »

Dixon's the One

bill-dixon-orchestraBill Dixon Orchestra 17 Musicians in Search of a Sound: Darfur (AUM Fidelity) 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 »

End of Summer Review Roundup

tricky_knowle_west_boyI suppose I should have a clever theme to tie all these together, but the best I can do is that with one exception they’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 that’s two years old, followed by five reissues.

Tricky: Knowle West Boy (Domino)

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 »

The Leper Boy of Glam

jobriath-coverJobriath: Jobriath & Creatures of the Street (Collector's Choice)

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 »

Theft As Ownership

jake-holmes-dangerousJake Holmes: Dangerous Times (Private Pressing)

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 »

The Force Is Strong in Metallica

metallica_death_magneticMetallica: Death Magnetic (Warner Bros.)

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 isn’t the case. Sure, Metallica’s previous release, 2003’s St. Anger, wasn’t their best album any more than The Clone Wars was the best Star Wars movie, but both have some great moments. Read more »

Jazz Duo Spans Generations

joe-lovano-hank-jonesJoe Lovano & Hank Jones Kids: Live at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola (Blue Note)

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).

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