Music Review

Evil Miles Live!

cellar_door.jpgMiles Davis: The Cellar Door Sessions (Columbia Legacy)

The Cellar Door was a club in Washington, D.C. (insert Basement Tapes reference here). In the early 1970s, trumpeter Miles Davis seemingly developed an allergy to the studio, but Columbia made up for it with frequent concert recordings, most of which have never been released or had just bits and pieces cherry-picked by producer Teo Macero. Over two-thirds of this music is appearing for the first time, 35 years after it was recorded.

The Strokes: First Impressions of Earth (RCA)

The Strokes' latest record, First Impressions of Earth, is highly anticipated, and understandably so, given the band's proven ability to pen songs about love and angst with infectious downbeats and lead singer Julian Casablancas's plaintive growls. The timing of the release -- January 3 of the brand new year -- is prime time for music fans chomping at the bit to catch the first of this year's golden sounds, the only big-name release this week.

Unfortunately, First Impressions falls into the same trap that at least half of the average person's New Years resolutions do: The promise of self-actualization is met with the all-too-ordinary failure of those aims to be consummated.This record is full of promises unfulfilled, beginnings of songs that sound like happy rock and roll explosions only to dawdle and shift uneasily in their own skins.

Defunkt: Defunkt/Thermonuclear Sweat (Hannibal/Ryko)

DefunktThis two-CD reissue reminds me that back in the early ’80s, Defunkt was one of my favorite bands. I saw it play many times, most memorably a night at Danceteria when leader/singer/trombonist Joe Bowie’s older brother, trumpeter Lester Bowie of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, sat in (brother Byron was often on sax as well, in person and on record). It was an era when there was much cross-pollination between styles, when the fringes of art music and underground pop intersected and all sorts of hybrids were conceived. Defunkt mixed jazz (ranging from jagged avant-garde to edgy bebop), a particularly sharp and sweaty funk groove, the alienated, disconnected lyrics of immigrant Janos Gat, and a punk attitude to make some of the most hard-hitting, abrasive dance music this side of the Contortions (in which some of the members of Defunkt had served time).

Tri-O & Sainkho: Forgotten Streets of St. Petersburg (Leo)

TrioSainkhoTri-O & Sainkho: Forgotten Streets of St. Petersburg (Leo)

Tri-O is currently Sergey Letov (baritone and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet, flute, Chinese flute, piccolo, swanee whistle), Alexandr Alexandrov (bassoon, swanee whistle), and Yury Parfenov (trumpet, althorn). Sainkho Namchylak is a Tuvan singer who combines the traditional vocal techniques of that region on Siberia's eastern border with Mongolia, including throat-singing that produces overtones, with classical and avant-garde influences.  

Heavy Thunder

When I heard that J. Mascis -- the lead guitarist of much admired, and recently resurrected rockers Dinosaur, Jr. -- was the drummer for new band Witch and not the singer, songwriter or guitarist, I disappointedly thought that meant he wasn't the band's front man. Watching Witch set up and play last night at the Bowery Ballroom, though, I realized my mistake. In fact, all the bands on display that night proved the defining element of music categorized as metal or acid rock is not anarchic yelling or noodling metal guitar, but the rhythms pounded out by the drums at their center. If there is a front man to a metal band, it's the thick, heavy rhythms at work on the bass drum. In that sense, Mascis remains ever the front man, this time literally front and center, with drum kit in tow.

Boards of Canada: The Campfire Headphase (Warp)


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.

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.

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.

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.