Music Review

Hendrix Immersion

Jimi Hendrix
The Dick Cavett Show
Blue Wild Angel: Live at the Isle of Wight (Experience Hendrix/Sony Legacy)

There's no question what the most important release is in the latest fusillade from the Hendrix estate. Dribs and drabs of Hendrix's fabled three-night stand at San Francisco's Winterland celebrating the Experience's second anniversary have been issued before: three tracks on The Jimi Hendrix Concerts in '82, and 11 on a 1987 Ryko CD specifically dedicated to Winterland material and quite well chosen. But there were two sets per night, so collectors knew those tracks were just the tip of the iceberg. The new four-CD set isn't everything from the six sets (technical difficulties are alluded to), but 35 tracks, which is certainly enough for all but fanatical completists, given how much repertoire gets heard multiple times. Since Hendrix was more of an improviser than most rock musicians, it doesn't sound repetitive; it's remarkable, really, how much the same song can vary from set to set.

In Memory of Songwriters Nick Ashford and Jerry Leiber

A great song is a gift to the world. And if, through luck and skill, it becomes well known, it takes on a life of its own. Past a certain level of fame, it comes to seem less like a created artifact than a given, a product of the natural world that’s always been part of the landscape -- an effect I first consciously experienced back in June of 1989 when I went to hear Ashford & Simpson at Radio City Music Hall and they performed some of the Motown hits they’d written for other artists before the duo’s own recording career took off. I was well aware of the fact that the writing credits on "Ain’t No Mountain High Enough," "Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing," etc. were theirs, but hearing them perform the songs really drove home the point that these two flesh-and-blood people standing in front of me had created these songs, in my lifetime, with their own hands.

The 50 Best Beatles Songs

Obviously, the entire idea of picking the 10, 20, 50, or -- as Rolling Stone recently did -- 100 "best" Beatles songs is not simply an exercise in futility, it is as stupid as every other "top" list that has been generated by radio stations, TV stations, and magazines. Even if the primary criterion is not sheer "popularity" (as with many of these types of lists), there are still quite a number of factors to consider. Are we talking about historic importance? The influence a song had? Songwriting? Musicianship?

Giving some serious thought to this, I decided to do the "stupid" thing and compile my own top 50 list of Beatles songs, based on a variety (or combination) of these various criteria. However, rather than rank the songs (probably the stupidest aspect of creating this kind of stupid list), I provide them alphabetically, with my comments on why each was chosen.

I Have Seen the Future of Classical Music, and It Includes Drinks

Tania Stavreva
Rhythmic Movement: A Modern View of the Classical Music Recital in the 21st Century
The Metropolitan Room, July 27, 2011

Whither the classical recital in our multi-media/attention deficit disorder age? Will kids nowadays sit in a dark room (worship at a temple of music, as they say) to concentrate only on a lone figure onstage playing non-rock music? Well, it helps to have a drink in hand, as the success of Le Poisson Rouge has shown over the past few years; classical music in a bar with table service is apparently worth the trade-off of the sounds of the music mixing with clinking glasses, the whine of credit card receipts printing, etc. But what else can be added? Well, visuals -- and not just the sight of good-looking people playing the instruments. Kronos Quartet has done this quite successfully with film and even a projection of the printed music score (showing that Penderecki's non-traditional sounds are scrupulously notated was a brilliant idea). As the subtitle of her recital program at the Metropolitan Room (which normally hosts tony cabaret performances) suggests, young pianist Tania Stavreva has some further ideas for enlivening recital presentation.

Amy Winehouse: Back to Black

When Kurt Cobain died at age 27, his mother, Wendy, said, "He’s gone and joined that stupid club."

The 27 Club. Members include Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, and Janis Joplin. The deaths of these stars shocked many. But few were surprised at the latest 27 Club inductee: Amy Winehouse.

In the 2009 documentary Saving Amy, the singer’s mother, Janis, said, "I realize my daughter could be dead within the year. We're watching her kill herself, slowly." Her father, Mitch, admitted that she’d been "close to death twice." Amy herself seemed indifferent or oblivious. "I don't think I'm going to survive that long," she’d told her mother.

Mr. Bennett’s Unanswered Prayer: Amy Winehouse 1983-2011

In the four years since she released Back to Black, an album that harnessed true artistry with massive commercial success, paving the way for a tribe-ette of greater and lesser lady talents, Amy Winehouse became a celebrity train wreck. Staggering about like a demented Olive Oyl, tattooed and emaciated, she was more famous for her excessive nature than her wonderful voice. A nice Jewish girl gone wrong, she slapped fans, abused audiences, blew out gigs, fell out of clubs skunk-drunk and rat-arsed, and failed to deliver any indication that she would ever manage to create that difficult third album.

ANNIVERSARIES: George Clinton Born 70 Years Ago

Born July 22, 1941 in Kannapolis, North Carolina, the eventual founder of the Parliaments (later Parliament) and Funkadelic grew up in Plainfield, New Jersey. While in his teens, he legendarily formed his first group at a barber shop, singing doo-wop in the style of Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers to entertain customers. Doggedly pursuing a career in music, he released some Parliaments singles starting in 1959 and finally had a little success in 1967 on the Revilot label with "(I Wanna) Testify" (not the same as the album version familiar from 1974's Up for the Down Stroke). He moved to Detroit and became a Motown songwriter; his song "I Bet You" was sung by the Jackson 5.

Bach Boxed

It's hard to believe that it's been a decade since the first of these instant-classic 2000-2003 recordings were issued. By then, while it was still not unusual for pianists to buck the authentic-performance movement where Bach is concerned in the solo works, piano in the concertos had become rarer.

Smokin' Soul Jazz

Brawner Brothers at Smoke
July 15, 2011

When a friend wanted to go to Smoke Wednesday night, I instantly agreed even without knowing anything about who was playing aside from the percussionist (nobody goes to a gig for the percussionist) and vaguely remembering the saxophonist's name . But the kind of jazz booked at Smoke, though not always transcendent or innovative, is a guaranteed fun time. Wednesday proved no exception, and better than the norm.

ANNIVERSARIES: Mission of Burma’s Signals, Calls, and Marches Released 30 Years Ago

Mission of Burma: Signals, Calls, and Marches (Ace of Hearts)

It's apt that one of the great American indie albums was released on Independence Day.

In 1980, Mission of Burma had caused a little stir with a 7" single: "Academy Fight Song"/"Max Ernst." The A-side was an instant classic among the few people who heard it, but it was the follow-up, the six-song EP Signals, Calls, and Marches (excellent example of the serial comma!) that established the quartet in the forefront of the American indie-rock scene.