Music Review

Giuffre-Tastic Jazz

wolfert-brederodeWolfert Brederode Quartet Currents (ECM)

Sixteen years ago, while working for a music magazine in New York City, a CD came across my desk that immediately caught my attention. The album was 1961, a compilation of two albums from the titular year, Fusion and Thesis, by the Jimmy Giuffre 3, a mid-'60s jazz trio whose line-up included bassist Steve Swallow and pianist Paul Bley. But what caught my attention was that the group had no drummer, unusual for small jazz combos, and was led, also unusually, by a clarinetist named Jimmy Giuffre (who, I sadly noted while working on this review, passed away just this past April). Read more »

Night and Nostalgia on Piano

jenny-lin-insomnimaniaJenny Lin
InsomniMania (Koch International Classics)
Silvestrov: Piano Works Nostalghia (Hänssler Classic)

Jenny Lin has seemingly infallible piano technique, not merely in terms of velocity but also evenness of touch and beauty of tone. She also has an admirable devotion to modern classical music, with the majority of her releases exclusively concerned with the music of our time. On her newest CD, these are applied to a program built around the theme of "night": states of sleep, lack of sleep, dreams, nachtmusik, and more. Read more »

Postcards in the Fall

marsha_malametMarsha Malamet: Coney Island Winter (Decca)

Some records are evocative and wistful, conjuring with just the right amounts of longing and loss. One such artifact is Marsha Malamet's 1969 LP Coney Island Winter. A small chill of abandonment runs through this brief and hauntingly expressed affair. Where Summer footfalls and romance would have filled the air, this is a record of intense, short evenings and the intimation that what was once a cause for celebration has become a source of sighs and reflective glances. Read more »

A Fabulous Wind

clive_kennedyClive Kennedy: Clive Kennedy (UK)

Glam was a peculiar time in popular music. It allowed the genuinely weird to posture, albeit briefly, whilst forcing the sadly mundane to look like trainee drag queens. The New York Dolls got it genuinely and alarmingly right, as did Marc Bolan. Bowie claimed the era as his pilfered kingdom, but the sad buffoonery of the Glitters and Stardusts were hot on his heels as also-ran competitors. Early Roxy Music were divine Glam at its most arch. Eno, all feathers, finery and ambient soundtracks; Ferry like the decadent space-age spiv, a routine that would finally entomb him as a lounge lizard fossil. Read more »

French Vintage Sparkling Jazz

martial_solal_longitudeMartial Solal Trio: Longitude (CamJazz)

Because he's (Algerian) French, many American jazz fans have overlooked Martial Solal, but as he moves into elder-statesman status, that may be changing, as is certainly due one of the greatest living pianists. Thanks be, his albums are appearing more regularly here than they used to. Here's the latest one, with twins Francois and Louis Moutin on bass and drums, respectively (one of the great current rhythm sections). Read more »

Teaching a Tea Boy Guitar & Other Stories

craig_daviesCraig Davies: Groovin' on a Shaft Cycle (Rough Trade)

If an artist of the nature of Craig Davies were to surface today, he would earn superlative plaudits for his eclecticism and genuine verve. As it was, he emerged into the flashing strobes of the late '80s, when you couldn't give singer/songwriters away. Everything that didn't begin with an 'e' was passe, hedonism was all, and introspection was a dirty habit best indulged in behind closed doors. His two Rough Trade albums are rare escapades, forays of excellence into enduringly unique territory. Read more »

Johnny Griffin R.I.P. (April 24, 1928 - July 25, 2008)

johnny_griffinAn excellent tenor saxophonist of my acquaintance was once putting down another excellent tenor saxophonist for moving away from free jazz and playing on changes. "He couldn't stand on stage with Johnny Griffin and get away with that," he said (or words to that effect; this conversation was around 15 years ago). I retorted, "Who could? You're setting the bar awfully high there." For Johnny Griffin, whose death Figaro is reporting yesterday, was arguably the greatest bebop tenor saxophonist ever. The only way to take tenor beyond what he did with it was to go beyond bebop itself, as John Coltrane did. Read more »

The Familiar Stranger Gets Expanded

stranger_30Billy Joel: The Stranger: 30th Anniversary Edition (Columbia Legacy)

If you live in New York, it has been impossible to avoid mention of Billy Joel lately. On July 16 and 18, the semi-retired Piano Man played the last two concerts at Shea Stadium (scheduled to close at the end of the current baseball season). A week earlier, this set appeared, and if you want to know why the fanfare for Joel’s own reappearance is so loud, well, The Stranger is the reason why. This is not, in the opinion of this writer who was a Billy Joel fan before The Stranger was issued, Joel’s best album. That would be Turnstiles (and The Nylon Curtain is arguably second best). Read more »

A Venue Grows in Brooklyn

crystal_antlerPerfect summer weather, a just-eclectic-enough lineup, and a cooperatively breezy and un-pungent Gowanus Canal combined to form a sort of axis of righteousness on Saturday, July 12. Uber-promoter Todd Patrick (with Derek Impose and Lio Kanine) brought over fifteen acts from varied corners of the country to the new-ish outdoor venue The Yard, situated directly next to the canal off Carroll Street. The lot accommodates both fist-pumping front row types and the picnic table, white wine in Dixie cups crowd. When the stage antics lose your attention, The Yard's weedy overgrowths and shaded gravel trails reward exploring. Read more »

Lonely Space Boy

klaus_nomi_coverKlaus Nomi: Za Bakdaz (Heliocentric)

The joy of popular culture is its ability to occasionally manifest something unique, unsettling, and strange. The Gothic fearsomeness that is Diamanda Galas. The mannered madness that was Leigh Bowery. Candy Darling ghosting through Madonna. These refugees head for the metropolis, fleeing staid suburbia and its stifling confinement. Not mere entertainers, they had an ability to unsettle. Read more »

A Slow Decline to Lasting Silence

second_chapterDanny Kirwan: Second Chapter (Warner, UK)

When Danny Kirwan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, he was absent from the proceedings in New York. In terms of his contribution to popular music, this is a near-perfect act of symbolism. He was living a mundane routine of homelessness, a regular at a hostel for alcoholics in Soho (London), his semi-permanent address since his life had taken a downwards turn at the end of the Seventies.

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Columbia's LPs Rock, 1967-87

columbia_eye_logoHere's Part Two of my celebration of the 60th anniversary of the LP, which has turned into an exploration of one the greatest labels of all time. (Click here for Part One.)

1967 Clive Davis, who'd been working his way up the corporate ladder, became President of Columbia, and the label's attitude towards rock changed immediately. Read more »

In Praise of the New Sobriety

charlatans_cross_my_pathThe Charlatans: You Cross My Path (Cooking Vinyl)

There is a commonly held and much venerated myth in rock that creativity is enhanced by hedonism. Sometimes it is, but an exact dictum this isn't, although an exacting one it most certainly can be. Was Janis Joplin any better a star for being a druggy drunk? Was Jim Morrison? The doors of perception can be slammed shut shockingly early, or may incarcerate revelers in Sid Barrett-like suspension. Kurt Cobain blew his mind out when it was upsetting him, and Richey Manic took himself to the bridge, or so it seems. Read more »

Columbia Introduced LP Sixty Years Ago

LP_logoOn June 21, 1948 Columbia held a press conference to announce the introduction of their long-playing (LP) 33-1/3 RPM record. There had been earlier attempts to take this step, but finally the time was right (not being in the middle of The Depression helped). A week later, on June 28, Columbia released its first LP. Within a few years, the combination of the LP and the 7" 45 RPM record (introduced by RCA to compete with Columbia's new format) made the 78 RPM record obsolete and changed the way artists thought about presenting their work to the public.

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Faking It Like Porn

viva_coldplayColdplay: Viva La Vida (Parlophone) Read more »

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