Music Review

Jimmy Giuffre R.I.P. (April 26, 1921- April 24, 2008)

jimmy_giuffre.jpgJimmy Giuffre, the great modern jazz clarinetist (and saxophonist and flutist), died on Thursday (4/24) of pneumonia, two days before he would have celebrated his 87th birthday. If not for that, this article would have appeared on May 27 to commemorate the 15th anniversary of his last recording before Parkinson’s Disease ended his playing career. That recording,Conversations with a Goose, still stands as a superb valedictory album. Read more »

When Elvis Met Lou

elton_elvisThank heavens for going off script. In terms of mass media (what's left of it anyway), we live in such a heavily scripted era -- everything managed, sanctioned, picked over, obsessed upon; it makes the 1950s look like a time of cultural hedonism. But at a recent (April 16) taping of the new, Elton John-backed TV show (remember TV?) Spectacle: Elvis Costello With ..., scripts were checked at the door.

What else would one expect when you get Elvis Costello interviewing Lou Reed? Read more »

An Inspired Evening of Beefheartiana

captain_beefheart2It has been over twenty-five years since Captain Beefheart’s last official studio album, Ice Cream for Crow, was released on Virgin in 1982. At the time it seemed like the musical career of Beefheart, the nom de plume of Don Van Vliet, was on the ascent, but he then abandoned music and built a second career as a painter. His musical hiatus has lasted much longer than his musical activities did. (It is rumored that health problems have been a factor.) This is a great loss to us music lovers, as he was one of the most original creators and performers of his time, unique in rock despite having influenced many (look for an overview from me in a day or two). Read more »

R.E.M. Picks Up Speed

rem-accelerateR.E.M.: Accelerate (Warner Brothers)

As The Who, Van Halen, and so many other rock bands have shown over and over, a group cannot lose a member without irrevocably changing things. Consider the case of R.E.M., whose original drummer, Bill Berry, retired eleven years ago; they smartly never tried to replace him. Though mostly good, their three Berry-less albums - 1998's Up, 2001's Reveal, and 2004's Around the Sun - have been increasingly…less enthusiastic. Read more »

A Later Limelight

somethings_bunyanVashti Bunyan: Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind (Fat Cat)

The critical and commercial resurgence of Vashti Bunyan – from a sort of leftfield Marianne Faithfull (without the vulnerable success, or the tragedy) to bona-fide Sixties siren and revitalized recording artist – has been painstaking, unlikely, and snail-like. Never a star, though she knew plenty who were, she was cursed with a name that tripped off the tongue for all the wrong reasons, and possessed a wanderlust that wasn't the best approach for maintaining a career. Read more »

Paying the Piper, Calling the Tune - Ashley (Kristen) Dupré Sells Us Our Dreams

ashley_dupreThere are many roads to the top of the musical mountain. For some, it is Julliard and years of practicing. For others, it's touring from the back of a battered van across the North of England or the South of America. For some, it's the Mickey Mouse Club. And then there's Ashley Alexandra Dupré. Otherwise known as "Kristin." Otherwise known as the, well, you know what she's known as.... But this is a music review, not a social review. So, what's the story on her musical chops? Like almost a million other Americans, I dropped 98 cents into the internet and got her song, "What We Want." So? I'd say it was worth about 58 cents. Not terrible. Of course it's pulling in the candy for her; by some counts she's a million bucks richer today than she was yesterday. One thing I'll give this gal, she knows how to make people pay for it. (Interesting that she is being represented by Don D. Buchwald, a "New York Lawyer," according to the Associated Press. He may not be the same Don Buchwald who is Howard Stern's agent, but even the fact that they have the same name has a certain poetic justice. But I'm straying, I'm straying.) So, Ashley as artist? Read more »

Peach Fuzz and Peppermints

tarantula_coverTarantula: Tarantula (A&M)

What was quintessential can quickly fade. It then becomes the gift of those who decide where relevance exists, and there lies a problem. History is largely a composite, a construct by those who were not present. Much of what is deemed to be wholly representative of an era was largely ignored at the time: the poetry of Rimbaud, the paintings of Van Gogh or the songs of Nick Drake. Messages can take a long time to get through to receptive ears, and one such missive that remains in transit is Tarantula's sole album, from 1969. Read more »

Best Jazz of 2007

piano-vortexAs was the case with my best-of-2007 list of new rock, pop, and soul releases, most things on this list are on independent labels. Sadly, though, that's because the major labels (aside from Universal-distributed ECM) just don't bother with jazz's low-selling artists anymore. Even Blue Note is more interested in chasing the adult contemporary market in the wake of their success with Norah Jones, though their reissues are still a great boon. But in terms of musical quality (as opposed to sales numbers and promotion), does it make any difference whether a Dave Douglas album is released on RCA or on his own Greenleaf imprint? As long as we get it... Read more »

Best Recordings of 2007: Rock/Pop/Soul/etc.

dap_kingsAs the pop music mainstream becomes ever more corporate, lowest common denominator music aimed at mall-culture teens dominates. Outside the mainstream, though, diversity reigns and anything can happen. The most interesting part of this phenomenon is that it’s mostly happening on small labels. When you don’t have to sell a minimum of 500,000 (or whatever) copies of an album to hit your corporate goals – when 50,000 is considered a runaway success – a lot more interesting things can happen, or are allowed to happen. So there’s no need to lament the decline of your favorite genre, be it pop, rock, soul, because if you look beyond the flashy flavor of the month, there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on. Read more »

Best Recordings of 2007: Classical

songs_are_sungAny "death of classical" moanings can be safely dismissed merely by observing the continued profusion of classical recordings each year. Has it become more of a niche market? Yes. But the internet, especially the fine website Arkivmusic.com (which has the best search engine), makes it easier to track down CDs on small labels - and big ones as well, in the wake of Tower's demise and the downsizing of the classical department at Virgin. And of course there's iTunes for those (unlike this writer) who don't fetishize the physical packaging. I don't pretend that this is a definitive list, but I am convinced of the lasting value of every item on it. Read more »

Last-Minute Gift Ideas

corner-sessionsThere are the obvious gifts that you’ve probably already seen recommended in many guides like this. Legacy’s completion of its series of Miles Davis box sets covering his Columbia studio sessions up to his 1975 sabbatical, The Complete On the Corner Sessions, is certainly another commendable entry, with six CDs documenting 16 1972-75 sessions that revolutionized jazz as much as anything else Davis had done – though this radical rethink certainly met more resistance at the time. But Miles fans already have a lot of it. Read more »

Joel Dorn April 7, 1942 - December 17, 2007

joel_dornEven before I met Joel Dorn, I felt like I knew him. The CDs his label 32Jazz issued almost always included his thoughts about and/or experiences with the musicians and music contained therein, sometimes reverent and more often witty. He could’ve had as great a career as a writer as he had as a producer. When I did meet him, it was to interview him for a now-defunct website. Alas, my tape recorder malfunctioned and I was unable to transcribe from it and thus wrote no article. I felt doubly guilty because he had been so warm and friendly. He had been in person exactly the man I had extrapolated from his writing. Read more »

A Rarely Heard Bird

tony_birdTony Bird: Tony Bird (CBS, 1976)
Bird of Paradise (CBS, 1978)

Born in 1945 and growing up in Malawi, Tony Bird might be expected to have absorbed some unusual influences, and indeed he did. Long before Paul Simon’s Graceland brought quirky African vibes to bear on Western folk, Bird created music of wonderful fusion and vibrancy. Read more »

He Shall Be Levon: Then and Now

rco_allstars.jpgLevon Helm and the RCO All Stars
Live at the Palladium NYC New Year's Eve 1977 (Levon Helm Studios)
Levon Helm Dirt Farmer (Vanguard)

Arguably one of the finest popular music groups in recent decades, The Band officially disbanded in 1976, its members having been on the road for almost twenty years commencing in the late '50s as Ronnie Hawkins’s band, on to notoriety as Bob Dylan’s backup and collaborators, then stardom on their own as The Band. Read more »

Matthew Shipp Trio: Piano Vortex (Thirsty Ear)

shipp_vortex.jpgWith this latest trio effort by pianist Matthew Shipp, we are led deeper into his dark, lyrical maelstrom. Slight touches of Tristano can be felt as Shipp caresses and brushes the keys in his usually offensive (as opposed to defensive) manner, as in the title piece, where he creates an inviting rather than threatening whirlwind, always on the attack, in his brutal love affair with his instrument. Here we are taken on short, sometimes bumpy rides, as with the Herbie Nichols-esque, off-kilter rollercoastering of "Key Swing." Read more »

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