Music Review

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 »

ANNIVERSARIES: Blue Oyster Cult's "(Don't Fear) the Reaper" Enters Top 40 Singles Chart 30 Years Ago

agents.jpgBlue Oyster Cult was strictly an album-rock fave before lead guitarist Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser's song "(Don't Fear) the Reaper" surprisingly entered Billboard's Top 40 Singles chart the week of September 4, 1976. It peaked at No. 12 on Billboard's singles chart in October 1976, the band's only Top 20 single. The song returned to the spotlight in 2000 thanks to a Christopher Walken-starring Saturday Night Live comedy sketch that spawned "more cowbell" as a catchphrase.

Another twist on Agents of Fortune, which went platinum after its July 1976 release, is the presence of punk icon Patti Smith, who wrote the lyrics for "The Revenge of Vera Gemini" (to which she also contributed vocals) and "Debbie Denise." Read more »

Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra - MTO Volume 1 (Sunnyside)

bernsteinTerritory orchestras were the small, regional jazz bands of the Midwest and Southwest in the 1920s, '30s, and '40s -- the scene that gave us Count Basie and many other greats. When trumpeter/slide trumpeter Bernstein (music director of John Lurie's Lounge Lizards, co-leader of slide trumpet/electric guitar/tuba trio Spanish Fly, and genre-spanning/changing quartet Sex Mob) was musical advisor on Robert Altman's Kansas City, set in the world of the 1930s big bands, he immersed himself in the music of that time and place. Four years later he formed the Millennial Territory Orchestra, which mixed and matched that style/material and free jazz in anything-can-happen, off-the-cuff shows at Lower East Side club Tonic. Read more »

ANNIVERSARIES: Twenty years ago, Janet Jackson's first #1 single entered the Top 40

control For those who may have forgotten, Janet Jackson is more than a breast exposer. (Not that I'm complaining about that aspect -- I wish her Vibe pictorial had been more daring, seeing as we've all seen more exposed at the Super Bowl.) But where lately it's seemed that few female R&B singers can string together careers of more than an album or two, Janet's been going strong for longer than some of them have been alive. Actually, in a way it's exactly two decades: It was in Billboard's August 23, 1986 issue that her first #1 single, "When I Think of You," entered the Top 40 singles chart. "When I Think of You" comes from Control, which is where Janet's icon hood began. Read more »

Jeremy Spencer: Precious Little (Blind Pig)

jeremy_spencerThis satisfyingly crafted surprise from an “exiled” Fleetwood Mac founding member could be hauntingly nostalgic for fans of the original British blues band from almost 40 years ago. As one of the “cursed” early guitarists of Mac, Spencer emerges as not only musically intact, but richly evolved as well. No small feat for a guy who walked away from it all 37 years ago, literally disappearing (into a religious cult he remains a member of) hours before a Stateside gig, in the midst of the band’s first incarnation and ascendence to popularity. They were a swaggering, slide-guitar-driven, uncannily Chicago-sounding blues band fronted by a very young foursome of English lads. Read more »

The Mystery Dance 45: Adam & Dee and a "Question of Childhood"

testpressingWe do judge proverbially by covers and sleeves, be it books, records, or even people. Second chances at first impressions aren't given, to burden a cliché. However, if that luxury is lost or, in this case, most likely never was, then one must use consideration over initial instinct. The characterless forward sloping scrawl on both sides of this rather battered test pressing betrays little, merely "Question of Childhood" with an "A," "Run to Her" adorned with a "B" plus the names "Adam and Dee." Read more »

Rufus Harley: 5/30/1936 - 7/31/2006

RufusHarleyBack in May, I wrote an Anniversaries article (which doubled as a review of his wonderful 1972 album Re-Creation of the Gods, finally reissued on CD around that time) for jazz bagpiper Rufus Harley's 70th birthday. Now, a sad update: Harley died this past Monday morning of prostate cancer. Tragically, the costs of his illness and final arrangements have added up to more than his family can handle (so often, we reward our most imaginative talents so little). Helpful donations can be sent to his son, trumpeter Messiah Harley, at: Messiah Harley 944 East Johnson Street, Apt. 202B Philadelphia, PA 19138. Read more »

The Joys of Wonderful, Obscure Folk Music Finds

littlesistersThe Little Sisters: The Joys of Love (MGM, 1963)

Some album covers can intimate to a vinyl junky too rewarding and intoxicating a hit. Imagine a pair of blonde girls a la Edie Sedgwick -- beautifully and perfectly shot in black and white -- with lazily dressed blonde hair. The one in the background is laughing, whilst the other looks dreamily skywards. Both appear timelessly and unbearably chic. It can only be hoped that such a delightful promise can deliver even a fraction of its beatnik suggestion. Read more »

Randy Brecker w/Michael Brecker: Some Skunk Funk (Telarc)

breckerThe Breckers’ decades-long genre-encompassing journey includes sessions from Aerosmith to Charles Mingus and all points in between. They came of age at the crossroads of bop, rock, jazz, soul and fusion. They took it all in, and return the gift in this very engaging live performance recording. After some years’ hiatus from their successful partnership, the firmly established omni-bopping brothers reunited on a dazzling live set of totally dialed-in big band jams. This performance (in Leverkusener, Germany in late 2003) is a dream gathering of fusion comrades-in-arms. The auspicious project enlists the high-wattage talents of arranger/composer Vince Mendoza, the muscular WDR Big Band of Koln, and the spot-on rhythm section Read more »

ANNIVERSARIES: New York Dolls' debut album released in July 1973

nydollsThe New York Dolls' cross-gender look and flashy, outrageous clothes got them typed as a glam band, but these guys sure didn't look androgynous. Even with lipstick and rouge slathered on, plus the odd wig and women's clothing item here or there, these were some rough-hewn guys. And their music was even rougher. Although the greatness of the first album remains powerfully evident three decades after its 1973 release, it has to be hard for first-time listeners to hear it the way it sounded to people at the time. In 1973, punk wasn't in people's ears yet. In many ways, it was invented by the Dolls, who formed in 1971 and distilled the Rolling Stones, the Velvet Underground, and the Stooges into one dirty, confrontational, deliberately unsophisticated sound. Read more »

Sunset Rubdown: Shut Up, I Am Dreaming (Absolutely Kosher Records)

sunset.jpgFew Americans will ever be in an It Band. There are only about twenty a year, and with the diaspora of bassists from the Indie world (not to mention the plethora of brother-and-sister acts), the openings for a Young Turk nowadays are awfully slim. If a young artistic type wants to make headway nowadays, he'd be better advised to learn the ins and outs of The Sims than involve himself with anything in this world.

And that is why it's staggering to find a young talent who was not only a member of last year's It Band extraordinaire, Wolf Parade, but also this year's Rookie of the Year, this time with his solo project, Sunset Rubdown. Read more »

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