Music Review

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 »

ANNIVERSARIES: Reinhold Glière died 50 years ago.

gliere.jpgBorn in Kiev on January 11, 1875, Reinhold Glière claimed to be of Belgian-Jewish descent, though the Belgian part has been challenged (he was born Reyngol'd Moritsevich Glier). The son of an instrument maker, he played violin and studied with Arensky, Taneyev, and Ippolitov-Ivanov at the Moscow Conservatory. His own music proved to be strongly nationalistic. He collected folk melodies throughout Europe and Asia and often chose distinctly Russian subjects for his music. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the remarkably programmatic Symphony No. 3 "Il'ya Muromets." Read more »

The Rachels/The Clogs - Merkin Hall, 29 May 2006


It's rare to close your eyes at a show these days and not be able to distinguish one instrument from another, the sound so carefully constructed and interwoven that images get conjured under closed eyes -- backdrops of foreign places, evocations of heartache and old dreams, where the instruments themselves become almost incidental to the story being told. I'm not talking Enya or New Age meditation music. I'm talking skill, technique, concept and theme, all used to tightly harness in and breathe out sound. Read more »

Beirut: Gulag Orkestra (Ba Da Bing!)

beirut.jpgThis music outfit is the moniker of one Zach Condon of Brooklyn by way of Albuquerque. More to the point, it sports a strong foreign influence of Balkan gypsy music by way of Neutral Milk Hotel (in fact, Jeremy Barnes of NMH sits in on most of the tracks).

Truth be told, the foreign influence gig can be tough to pull off. Once you eliminate the sitars, the bagpipes, and Chinese zither music, there's precious little left that isn't already being used by Peter Gabriel. But Condon & Co, have managed to banish the guitar and stretch those atypical rock instruments with which we are already familiar -- ukulele, accordion, and mandolin -- into something that sounds like, well, Eastern Bloc Milk Hotel. Read more »

ANNIVERSARIES: Benjamin Britten's War Requiem premieres at reopening of Coventry Cathedral on May 30, 1962

brittenIf you'd like to listen to some appropriate music on Memorial Day (which, before we made most of our holidays fall on Mondays or Fridays because corporations like that better, always came on May 30), try this masterpiece. Sir Benjamin Britten wrote it for the consecration of St. Michael's Cathedral in Coventry and dedicated it to the memories of four servicemen who had been friends of his or of his longtime partner, the tenor Peter Pears, for whom one of the solo parts was written. The original Coventry Cathedral, dating from the 14th century, had been destroyed by a German air raid in 1940. Read more »

Bobby Previte: The Coalition of the Willing (Ropeadope)

bobbypreviteDrummer Previte and cast bring us fine candied sturm und drang high-velocity instrumental rock combining edginess with listener-friendly themes. Swaddled in faux-agitprop graphics and packaging, the “super bar band” surges across rock fusion terrain with respectable fervor or moody exuberance, depending on your age. Think Arcana lite, laced with traces of psychedelia and blues; metal Mahavishnu Orchestra.

The Coalition recently opened a show in Portland, OR with Previte’s declaration “we play what we want.” Read more »

Jan Jelinek: Kosmischer Pitch (Scape)

JelinekElectronic music has spawned so many genres and subgenres that only aficionados can keep up. So I’m not sure if Berlin-based whiz kid Jan Jelinek’s (Farben; Gramm) music is properly called Ambient Techno, Laptop, Click-House, or what. If you’re in New York City, go hear him tonight (5/26) at Tonic (107 Norfolk St.) with his group Kosmischer Pitch (Cosmic Pitch), which also includes drummer Hanno Leichtmann (Static, Pole) and guitarist Andrew Pekler (Sad Rockets).

Jelinek’s most recent album, also named Kosmischer Pitch, which came out last year, is definitely music made for listening, albeit generally the loops (boy does this album have loops) create a nice steady beat that you could very slowly and mellowly dance to if you really wanted to, though gentle head-nodding is more likely. Read more »

ANNIVERSARIES: Bob Dylan Celebrates His 65th Birthday on May 24

bobdylanBorn Robert Zimmerman on May 24, 1941, young Bob was inspired by Woody Guthrie, changed his name in tribute to Dylan Thomas, moved to New York City, and became the most culturally important American musical icon of the 1960s. Signed to Columbia Records by the discerning John Hammond, Sr. (a few of Hammond's other signings: Benny Goodman, Aretha Franklin, Bruce Springsteen) after creating a buzz on the city's folk scene, Dylan debuted on record in 1962 with Bob Dylan. With only two original compositions, it's not one of his most crucial albums, but it's nonetheless an impressive effort that, after Dylan became popular, introduced a generation to the folk, country, gospel, and blues classics he covered on it, most successfully Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Please See That My Grave Is Kept Clean." Read more »

ANNIVERSARIES: Jazz bagpipes great Rufus Harley born 70 years ago

rufusharley.jpgBorn May 20, 1936 in Raleigh, NC, of African-American and Cherokee descent, Rufus Harley is unique. The turning point of the longtime Philadelphia-area resident's career was the November 1963 funeral of President John F. Kennedy. Harley, then a promising young jazz saxophonist, was fascinated by the bagpipes heard on that solemn day when the regimental pipers of the Black Watch (a Scottish infantry division of the British Army) played in the funeral procession. He went looking for bagpipes, and finally found a set in a New York pawnshop for $120. He made four treasured albums for Atlantic in 1965-70 (Bagpipe Blues, Scotch and Soul, Tribute to Courage, Kings and Queens) and had cameos on albums by Sonny Stitt, Herbie Mann, and Sonny Rollins. More recently he's been heard on fellow Philadelphians The Roots' Do You Want More?!!!??! Read more »

Christian McBride: Live at Tonic (Ropeadope)

christianmcbrideBassist Christian McBride was among the young jazzers who rose to fame, albeit limited, in the brief boomlet of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s as Blue Note and Verve competed to see which could groom the most snappily attired young stars in carefully themed and heavily guest-starred productions that mostly followed in the retro footsteps of the Marsalis brothers. McBride, probably like many of them, was more stylistically adventurous than many of those records allowed him to reveal, although in 2000 he finally unveiled his fusion impulses. Verve dropped him soon after that. After a one-off release three years ago on Warner Bros., he reappears on a more sympathetic label with this three-CD document of McBride’s two-night stand at downtown NYC club Tonic a year ago. Read more »

ANNIVERSARIES: Johann Gottlieb Goldberg Died 250 Years Ago

goldberg.jpgNot many people know who Johann Gottlieb Goldberg was, but plenty of people love Johann Sebastian Bach's Goldberg Variations, and the name is no coincidence. Goldberg (born in Danzig in March 1727) was a talented harpsichordist and composer who studied with Bach's son Wilhelm Friedemann Bach and then with J.S. in 1742-43. The story of Bach's Goldberg Variations goes that a year or two before Goldberg studied with J.S., Bach was asked to compose a harpsichord piece with which the youngster could entertain his patron, Count Hermann Carl von Keyserlingk, a Russian ambassador to the Saxon court. Goldberg had come to Dresden with the count in 1737, and the insomnia-afflicted von Keyserlingk frequently had Goldberg divert him with harpsichord performances during sleepless nights.

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