Music Review

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.

Mutated Ambience

Bang on a Can All-Stars: Music for Airports (Live) (Cantaloupe)

In the Spring of 1998, when this was recorded in concert, the Bang on a Can All-Stars consisted of cellist Maya Beiser, clarinetist Evan Ziporyn (who doubles on keyboard and samplers on "1/1"), guitarist Mark Stewart, percussionist Steven Schick, pianist/keyboardist Lisa Moore, and bassist Robert Black. The previous year, the same group -- plus guests -- had made a studio recording of this music for Point, a Philip Glass label distributed by PolyGram. That album is still in print, so the question is whether this new release is different enough to justify its existence.

Hybrid Vigor from Brooklyn's Finest

TV on the Radio: Nine Types of Light (Interscope)

In the wake of TVotR bassist/keyboardist Gerard Smith's young death of cancer, it’s hard to listen to the band’s new album without a sense of loss. The more brooding tracks, such as "Killer Crane," can emphasize this feeling. Nonetheless, the music is so ebullient -- even on the song that exhorts us to "do the no future" like an imaginary dance exhortation taking "do the Mashed Potato" to an existential level -- that the tinge of sadness is often overwhelmed.

Kenny Werner's Evans-Tyner Hybrid

Kenny Werner: Balloons (Half Note)

This album is a showcase not only for Werner’s agile, silken-toned pianism, but also for his fine compositions, though only four of them -- perhaps if this had been recorded in the studio, it might have taken a different shape, but in concert three tracks are in the 12-minute range and the exception is nearly 18 minutes. Pianistically Werner is sort of a cross between Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner; yes, normally they are thought of as opposites, but the versatile Werner manages to unite Evans's Impressionist sensibility and balladic touch with Tyner's explosive refulgence. Compositionally he favors somewhat elegaic melodies over a mix of modality and harmony. His pieces can start out slightly brooding and gradually build to joyous exuberance.

Miles Davis Goes Electric

When my Miles Davis birthday retrospective got out of hand, I split it into two parts. The first covered his acoustic periods. Here's the second, covering the most controversial part of his career, when he "went electric" and brought in all kinds of styles that were anathema to jazzbos. Once again, the most crucial albums are those with cover art.

Filles de Kilimanjaro (Columbia)

Miles's first foray into electric music came on Miles in the Sky, a transitional album that also included his last acoustic studio recordings. Filles was his first album to have electric instrumentation on all tracks.

Gil Scott-Heron R.I.P. (April 1, 1949 - May 27, 2011)

Last summer Gil Scott-Heron played a free show in Central Park. It was broiling hot, but I was not going to miss that show because, despite having been a fan since the late '70s, I had not seen him "live" since the MUSE (No Nukes) concerts in 1979, and I suspected there might not be many more chances. Sadly, I was right. Gil Scott-Heron is dead at age 62. The man who was our best at proclaiming uncomfortable truths, and at finding the black humor (in several senses) in those situations, has left us.

ANNIVERSARIES: Miles Davis Born 85 Years Ago (Part 1: Acoustic)

Miles Davis (May 26, 1926 - September 28, 1991) was never just a trumpet player -- and I'm not referring to his occasional outings on piano or synthesizer. Even when he was a technically limited Charlie Parker sideman, he garnered attention; as his knack for constructing innovative bands became obvious, his salty persona and cool attitude became as iconic as his ground-breaking albums, which regularly changed the course of jazz history while making abstruse concepts accessible to mainstream listeners.

Throughout his career, Davis was reproached for abandoning styles he'd made popular in pursuit of new sounds that often alienated his fans.

ANNIVERSARIES: Underrated English Composer Edmund Rubbra Born 110 Years Ago

BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Richard Hickox
Edmund Rubbra: Complete Symphonies
(Chandos)

Edmund Rubbra (May 23, 1901 - February 14, 1986) was an English composer much admired by some connoisseurs in his native country, but not much recorded even there and rarely heard overseas. His teachers included Cyril Scott, Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughan Williams, John Ireland, and Eugene Goosens. Rubbra wrote much excellent chamber and choral music, but as is so often the case, his reputation seems most closely linked to his symphonies, and they certainly reward attention. From much commentary that exists about these works, especially the first four, the neophyte might expect pedantic grayness, but I think that's unfair.

I Got Yer Rapture Right Here

Anonymous 4: 1000: A Mass for the End of Time (Harmonia Mundi)

So today is supposed to be the Rapture.  That’s not the end of the world, merely the airlifting out of the chosen before the carnage leading up to the end of the world gets really messy. So there will be time for you to go buy this album and listen to it for a few months, assuming none of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse tramples on your iPod or whatever.