Music Review

ANNIVERSARIES: Jackson Browne's The Pretender released 30 years ago

pretenderWhen one of the most upbeat songs on an album is entitled "Here Come Those Tears Again," obviously there's not a lot of happy material therein. That didn't stop The Pretender from taking Jackson Browne, poster boy of the introspective singer-songwriter movement, to a new level of popularity at No. 5 on Billboard's album chart. The Pretender appeared in November 1976. Eight months earlier, Browne's wife Phyllis had committed suicide. Small wonder that this is Browne's darkest, most personal album. Read more »

Robert Lockwood Jr. March 27, 1915 - November 21, 2006

lockwoodThe short list of living blues legends became shorter Tuesday, November 21st with the passing of Robert Lockwood Jr. of complications from a stroke suffered earlier in the month. At 91 and still performing up to the time of the stroke, Lockwood was a member of a small cadre of over-90-year-old still-active legends, including James "Honeybo" Edwards, also 91, and piano legend Pinetop Perkins, 93. Most elder blues artists of their age coming from the Delta south had a passing encounter with uberlegend Robert Johnson, but none could claim the relationship Lockwood had. Johnson was the young Lockwood's stepfather for ten years. Read more »

Chamber Jazz

Chamber JazzOn October 12, Merkin Hall presented one of a series of concerts held under the intriguing banner of Chamber Jazz of which this particular night's program fit rather neatly if not a bit abstractly into, though as far as concepts go, this evening was more chamber and less jazz. It was billed under the confusing title of Cecil Taylor + 2 followed by a triple space, then Mark Feldman violin Sylvie Courvoisier piano. We all of course assumed, and I mean everyone I spoke to, that Cecil was playing with a trio and Mark and Sylvie were doing a duo. As it turned out, the latter was true but the former, completely unexpectedly, was a solo performance (my favorite Taylor setting.) Read more »

Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Live at the Fillmore East, March 6 & 7, 1970 (Reprise)

FillmoreSix tracks (one previously released), just 43 minutes playing time, but there’s not a Neil Young fan in the world who won’t run out and buy this immediately. This is Neil and Crazy Horse when guitarist Danny Whitten and keyboardist Jack Nitzsche were in the band.

From the opening track, “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” (the title track of the then-new LP Young was touring to support), the spirit and energy of this band are apparent. Read more »

An American Pink Moon

silent_song.jpgFor a debut album, Louisiana-born Ron Davies’s Silent Song through the Land (A&M, 1970) is a world-weary and somber affair of startling economy. The brevity of the arrangements and the unadorned quality of delivery marks this out as a minor American stroke of genius.

Had Nick Drake gone into an emotional tailspin and then sat around a campfire in Texas, this is how his final album might have evolved: dark, stark, and full of angst. On eight songs in fewer than twenty-five minutes, Davies delivers diverse moods and tones. Read more »

R.I.P. Snooky Pryor 9/15/21 – 10/19/06

snooky_pryor.jpgLegendary octogenarian blues harmonica player and singer James Edward “Snooky” Pryor passed away on October 19. Despite his role as one of the architects of the post-war amplified blues harp sound, the media response has been shamefully lacking.

Mr. Pryor was born in Lambert, Mississippi in 1921. His inspiration for becoming a blues harp man was the blues cornerstone Rice Miller (Sonny Boy II) whom he met in Vance, Mississippi in 1927. Pryor busked around the South before being drafted during WWII. As a musician in the service, he played bugle calls on the camp public address system. It was here that he got the idea to blow his Read more »

Eliane Elias: Around the City (RCA)

eliane_elias.jpgSao Paulo-born, NYC-based vocalist/pianist/composer Eliane Elias is one of those musicians who, stylistically speaking, has something for almost everyone. She’s a virtuoso instrumentalist with a well-deserved global reputation - she was Tom Jobim’s musical director at the age of 17, and last year her beautifully eloquent piano on husband/jazz bassist Marc Johnson’s Shades of Jade was vital in elevating that release to classic status.

Elias’s newest album is a very radio-accessible, pop-skewed collection that pulsates seductively through hot covers and finely realized originals. Elias ventures further into vocal territory here, though her signature keyboard still manifests in rewarding bursts. Read more »

ANNIVERSARIES: Kansas' Breakthrough Album Leftoverture Released 30 Years Ago

leftoverture.jpgProgressive rock was largely a British phenomenon, but Kansas, a sextet named for its native state, is a prominent exception. On Leftoverture, its fourth album, Kansas took giant steps forward in quality and popularity. The LP, released in October 1976, sold over three million copies and peaked at No. 5 on the album chart, and the single "Carry On Wayward Son" broke the group out of cult status and into mainstream notice the following year, reaching No. 11 on the singles chart. The musical ingredients of Kansas, an interesting mix of art rock sophistication with American energy and emotiveness, are at their peak here. Read more »

Symphony for Improvisers

roy_campbellA Living Tribute to Don Cherry: Dave Douglas and Roy Campbell Perform Symphony for Improvisers
Merkin Hall, Saturday Sept. 16, 2006
Special event presented by the Font Festival

Played to a full house, this concert, dedicated to the late great Don Cherry, showcased his compositions as well as tunes dedicated to him.

Two quartets lead respectively by Dave Douglas & Roy Campbell (co-founders of the festival) occupied the first half of the program. Douglas’s group, up first, included J.D. Allen on sax, drummer Andrew Cyrille, and bassist Henry Grimes. Read more »

Al Di Meola: Consequence of Chaos (Telarc)

aldimeolaFifty-two-year-old virtuoso guitarist Di Meola is firmly ensconced in the pantheon of the greats. The unavoidable accompanying hype can, of course, get a bit thick. His assertion that Larry Coryell (a profound inspiration to Di Meola) is the ultimate “godfather” of fusion is debatable: the seminal Jerry Hahn and, perhaps most worthy of the accolade, John Abercrombie, are two that come to mind in sharing responsibility with Coryell. And then there’s John McLaughlin. Influences and opinions aside, Di Meola ascended to lofty pinnacles of success and acclaim via a formidable body of work.

Fusion’s heady entry into the commercially viable arena came via 1969’s Bitches Brew. Miles’ Read more »

Balkan Beat Box & Sway Machinery @ Southpaw 9/16/06

balkanbeatboxIt was a night of multiculti mashups at Brooklyn’s best mid-sized concert venue. First up was Sway Machinery, led by Jeremiah Lockwood. His contributions are singing (in Hebrew) influenced by the classic Jewish cantors - his grandfather Jacob Konigsberg among them - and guitar playing that mixes Afropop and the blues (at times inevitably recalling the late, great Ali Farka Toure). Throw in bass saxophone, tenor sax, and trumpet by members of Antibalas and powerhouse drummer Tomer Tzur and the result mixes the above influences with klezmer, free jazz, and soul. Read more »

Pat Metheny & Brad Mehldau: Metheny Mehldau (Nonesuch)

Metheny MehldauA pianist and a guitarist, both known for beautiful ballad playing, get together for an album of mostly duos (Mehldau's rhythm section of bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard join on two tracks of the ten here). Snooze city, right? That's what I thought after the first track. Boy was I wrong. This thing is intense! Not that the opening number, written by Mehldau (everything's original; he wrote three, Metheny seven) is sleepytime; I'd just made the mistake of trying to listen to it in the background while I did something else. When Metheny's "Ahmid-6" followed, it grabbed me, and my other work was put aside. Read more »

Steve Miller: Fly Like an Eagle - 30th Anniversary Reissue (Capitol)

flylikeaneagleElectric guitar guru and family friend Les Paul ignited the creative fires in the five-year-old Steve Miller, introducing the youngster to his first chords. Jazz heavies including Charles Mingus and Tal Farlow also passed through the Miller household in Steve’s youth, guests of young Steve’s music savvy parents. The rest is pop music history. The veteran guitarist/singer/songwriter will be the recipient of the Les Paul Award this October in San Francisco at the 22nd annual Technical Excellence and Creativity Awards.

Miller’s songbook has proven remarkably resilient and lucrative, resurfacing once again in this summer’s refreshed 30th anniversary “special limited edition” Eagle package. Read more »

Trying to Crack the Code: The Enigma of Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 15, Op. 141

shostakovich15Shostakovich began his Symphony No. 15 while convalescing in a hospital. The first performance was by the USSR Radio Symphony conducted by Maxim Shostakovich on January 8, 1972. It's one of the stranger works in the composer's canon, and surprised early listeners with its repeated quotes of the famous theme from Rossini's William Tell and the "Fate" motif and "Siegfried's Funeral March" from Wagner's Ring cycle, as well as references to many of Shostakovich's previous symphonies. These deliberately blatant borrowings have never been definitively explained, but to some extent the composer knew this would be a valedictory work, so some form of autobiography has been assumed by later commentators and analysts, who regularly call it "puzzling" and "enigmatic." Read more »

Anatomy of the Comeback Kid

john_howard2Strange links result in strange confections.

As a fifteen year old, I remember seeing John Howard's Kid in a Big World in the racks of a local record shop in Northern Ireland. It must have a made a strong impression, because that rather pointless memory from 1975 remains embedded in my grey cells. The sleeve confused me. In those last-gasp days of glam and prog pretentiousness, I couldn't fathom why John Howard wanted to resemble a suburban bank clerk gazing out of a window in a derelict house. Read more »

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