Music Review

Boards of Canada: The Campfire Headphase (Warp)

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At its best, Campfire Headphase, the latest outing by electronic duo Boards of Canada, evokes what it might be like to walk through some Icelandic landscape: icy sheens, coarse static from some transistor radio off in the distance, and snow drifts blowing across wide-open plains. While the record is not without its hiccups, the band's soundscapes are, overall, deftly crafted, and make for an enjoyable listen.

Echoes, guitar strums, live drum shuffling, faint blips, synthesizer brushstrokes, and a range of other computerized sounds all feature prominently in a record that shows the band consciously shifting away from computer-reliant sounds to the integration of instruments and organic sounding elements. Read more »

Happy 30th Pattiversary

horsesPatti Smith: Horses/Horses (Arista Legacy)

Listened to now, three decades after its release, Horses still sounds like one of the top rock albums of all time. But I wonder if anyone who didn't hear it in the context of its 1975 release can fully appreciate just how pioneering it was. After all, '75 is the year that brought us Born to Run, Blood on the Tracks, Katy Lied, Fleetwood Mac, Wish You Were Here, and Barry White's Greatest Hits. Few people had noticed the New York Dolls' two albums, and the Ramones' debut wouldn't come out until 1976; not until 1977 did we get Blank Generation, Marquee Moon, and Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols. Read more »

Imaginational Anthem: A Guitar Anthology (Tompkins Square)

ImaginationalThe finger-picking acoustic guitar instrumental is a world unto itself. The biggest continent on this world is variously named "the Takoma sound," for the John Fahey label that did so much to promote the style, and American Primitive Guitar, Fahey's choice of genre name. Born (though it didn't know it at the time) in the 1950s folk movement, it matured in the anything-goes '60s (extending into the '70s), and interest in it -- underground for so many years -- has revived at the same time as the resurrection of psychedelic folk. A key early figure in both fields is the late Sandy Bull, and some artists such as Jack Rose extend that dual legacy, but this brilliantly programmed new compilation focuses on the more purist vision. Read more »

Yu Kosuge: New York Recital Debut. Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, 11/14/05

Kosuge's debut recital here (sponsored by the S&R Foundation two years after she won its Washington Award for young artists) was a big enough event that Ambassador Hiroyasu Ando, Consul General of Japan in New York, introduced her. More importantly, Kosuge played with spectacular poise, technique, and poetry. Was she perfect? Not quite, but she'll have awhile to grow artistically.

Kosuge has lived in Europe since 1993, studying with Karl-Heinz mmerling and András Schiff, and this orientation was reflected in a mostly Austro-Germanic program. Read more »

The Passion of Sam Cooke

sam_cookeOne Night Stand! Sam Cooke Live at the Harlem Square Club

Night Beat

The Best of Sam Cooke (RCA Legacy)

The question of how Sam Cooke's music is received by modern listeners is raised by the juxtaposition of these three recent reissues. First, there is the smoothness of production that Cooke usually favored. Read more »

Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto - Joshua Bell/Berlin Philharmonic/Michael Tilson Thomas (Sony)

joshua_bell.jpgBell and MTT combine to give this warhorse a lithe, elfin gracefulness at times (in the fast outer movements) more reminiscent of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto than of the heavily Romantic readings often heard in the Tchaikovsky. Linda Kobler's booklet notes quote Bell as calling the piece "the most intimate, elegant, almost 'balletic' warhorse I know!" Well, that's also a partial list of Bell's strengths as a player -- just add in the most beautifully silken, refined tone of any player of his young generation on record, an exquisite sense of dynamics and the technique to project clearly even in the most hushed moments, and the good taste to avoid the sort of grotesqueries that some fiddlers are resorting to in order to distinguish themselves from the crowded field in well-known repertoire. Bell doesn't show off in this music by emphasizing its difficulties, instead making it sound easy --which, really, is much more impressive, especially in the finale.  Read more »

Silver Jews: Tanglewood Numbers (Drag City)

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For a fan such as myself, sitting down to listen to the Silver Jews' Tanglewood Numbers was somewhat like bumping into an old friend one hasn't seen in a long while, pleased to see that they retained qualities that drew you to them in the first place and yet changed in ways that have earned them new charm in your eyes. Indeed, Tanglewood Numbers should mark a happy reentry for old fans and a welcome introduction for those who have not yet come to know and appreciate Dave Berman's idiosyncratic, matter of truth tales and sardonic musings. With this latest record, however, Berman adds yet another set of elements to the mix: violins, Nashville swing, and, dare I say, actual happiness. Read more »

John Coltrane: One Down, One Up: Live at the Half Note (Impulse!/Verve/Universal)

coltrane.jpg This captures Coltrane’s classic quartet with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones at its 1965 peak (a few months before Trane began adding other players; by the time he went into the studio in 1966, Tyner had been replaced by Alice Coltrane) in radio broadcasts from a New York club on March 26 and May 7. Crescent and A Love Supreme had been made the previous year and The John Coltrane Quartet Plays... was being recorded contemporaneously.
Coltrane had refined his modal playing to the point where he’s playing with absolute assurance, pushing into the highest levels of imaginative expression that the style could support; soon he went further and crossed the line into free jazz. Read more »

Shirley Horn: But Beautiful - The Best of Shirley Horn (Verve)

Shirley HornWooing jazz listeners with thrillingly intimate deliveries of standards and surprises for over three decades, Shirley Horn secured a spot high in the jazz pantheon long before she died last month. Not only a superb singer, she was also an excellent pianist who prefered to accompany herself and did so once she'd gotten it through record producers' heads that that format allowed her to communicate best with her audiences. Read more »

Yusef Lateef/Adam Rudolph/Go: Organic Orchestra: In the Garden (Meta/YAL)

Yusef LateefI'm late in reviewing this, but I wouldn't want to deprive improvised music lovers of notice of this truly great album. Multi-instrumentalist Yusef Lateef, one of the amazing musical innovators of the past four decades, fully deserves his own genre (he dislikes the connotations of "jazz" and has dubbed what he does "autophysiopsychic music") because he crosses all other style boundaries; he once won a Grammy in the New Age category -- for a symphony -- and had to ask what New Age was! Lateef has been working with percussionist Adam Rudolph for about a decade now, and in their collaborations they seem to consistently inspire each other to the most exquisite heights of improvisational imagination. Read more »

Jon Brion: The Canal Room, NYC

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The word "genius" is severely overused, but if Jon Brion hasn’t earned it, no one has. He composes movie scores, produces records, plays every instrument that you can imagine (he’s contributed notable guest performances to records by Beck and Elliott Smith), and has released an album of original material. His talent is enviably flexible, but everything that he does bears the mark of his original and distinctive sensibility; his work is always marked by a lush, ornate, retro atmosphere, catchy riffs played on antique instruments, and a delicate balance between wit and sadness. It's the sort of music that makes you feel nostalgic the first time you hear it. Whether you know it or not, you've heard Brion play, and you may be an unconscious fan. Read more »

Shemekia Copeland: The Soul Truth (Alligator)

Shemekia CopelandShemekia Copeland, daughter of bluesman Johnny Copeland, followed in her father’s footsteps for her first few albums, but with this release she’s slid into the adjacent genre on the musical spectrum: Southern soul. The disc is produced by Stax-Volt legend Steve Cropper of Booker T & the MGs (kids, if you haven’t heard of him, at least you’ve probably seen him in the Blues Brothers: he’s the guitarist), who also plays on all but one track. Add the Muscle Shoals Horns on seven of the eleven tracks, plus keyboards (especially organ) from Felix Cavaliere (Rascals) Chuck Leavell, etc., a rock-solid rhythm section anchored by Steve Potts or Chester Thompson on drums, plus Copeland herself, and there’s soul oozing from every track. This was a direction Copeland was already moving in, so it’s no surprise. Read more »

McCoy Tyner: Passion Dance (Milestone)

Passion DanceThis was the first McCoy Tyner album I bought, on the recommendation of my friend Josh Bloch, a couple decades ago when I was just starting to explore jazz beyond the superstars. I’d heard Tyner playing on recordings with one of those superstars, of course (John Coltrane), but his style had changed since then. Well, this recording (with bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams on two of its five tracks) from a Tokyo festival on July 28, 1978 certainly convinced me of his merits away from the older context.

The album opens with the trio on “Moment’s Notice,” a Coltrane tune played with explosive energy. Read more »

My Morning Jacket: Z (Ato/BMG)

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The songs that My Morning Jacket create, set against lush pastoral backdrops, have always been infused with something beautiful and serious and notoriously impossible to categorize. Their earlier full-length recordings, Tennessee Fire and At Dawn -- this reviewer is an avid fan of both -- were songs hung loosely, then held together in a delicate fashion by Jim James's reverberating vocals, the yearning poetry within each song, and the band's ability to extend songs into instrumental meanderings without losing their structural integrity. And while this latest release -- Z (ATO/RCA/BMG) -- is certainly a well-made rock record and may please some with its smoothed-out production and electronic dabblings, it's an unfortunate step down from the band's earlier sensitivity. No poetry and whiskey here, rather a washboard approach to the songwriting and sound that doesn't do the band proper justice. Read more »

Bill Evans: The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961 (Riverside)

EvansWhen I reviewed the most recent Paul Motian Trio album awhile back here on CultureCatch.com, while putting his career in context I of course made reference to his time in the Bill Evans Trio, especially the edition with bassist Scott LaFaro. And now here comes a three-CD set compiling everything extant from their peak moment: June 25, 1961, "live," just ten days before the tragic death of LaFaro in a car crash. Read more »

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