Music Review

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.

Vijay Iyer Separates the Men from the Boys at Castle Clinton Concert

Vijay Iyer Sextet at Castle Clinton, June 23, 2011

A free concert will draw not just the people who know they like the artist, but also the curious, some of whom may be utterly unprepared for what they are about to experience. This show brought to us by the River to River Festival gave folks a chance to hear one of the most praised young jazz pianists, but apparently not all of them were ready for his complex and challenging music. The personnel this night were bassist Stephan Crump, drummer Marcus Gilmore, tenor saxophonist Mark Shim, longtime Iyer collaborator Rudresh Mahanthappa, and guest Graham Haynes, the elder of the band, on cornet (Haynes is Gilmore's uncle). 

Wall Street Goes in Hocket

There were supposedly over a thousand performances scheduled for the Make Music New York festival on June 21. A daunting prospect, but I knew which one I had to attend. Listening to Dutch composer Louis Andriessen's Hoketus on my stereo could never convey the full flavor of this spatially designed piece, so I headed to the New York Stock Exchange for a 1 PM show (also part of the ongoing River to River Festival) for which the Exchange was allowing half of the ten performers (the oddly named ensemble Yarn/Wire and friends) to play from its balconies, which the other five players faced on the sidewalk across the street.

ANNIVERSARIES: Joni Mitchell's Blue Released 40 Years Ago

Joni Mitchell: Blue (Reprise)

Joni Mitchell was the most iconic female of the 1970s West Coast singer-songwriter scene, and no album more perfectly epitomizes that first phase of her career than 1971's critically acclaimed Blue. In 1970, Mitchell's career had taken off: she won a Grammy for her second album, Clouds; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young had a hit single with her song "Woodstock"; and her third LP, Ladies of the Canyon, was released and became her first album to "go gold" (reach 500,000 in sales). Surprisingly, instead of touring constantly to push the album, she retreated from the stage to travel and write.