Music Review

Coffey Break!

coffey.jpgDennis Coffey: Big City Funk (Vampi Soul)

Back in the '80s I was working college dorm security at an inside post and one of the uniformed outside guards was a guy who also deejayed as Super Dan. Every few hours he had to do a tour of the building. I was always listening to a portable tape player (yeah, that’s how long ago it was), and we inevitably ended up talking about music. The best tip he ever gave me was to keep an eye out for Dennis Coffey’s “Scorpio.” Read more »

Lee Johnson: Dead Symphony No. 6

dead_symphony.jpgThis piece, subtitled “An Orchestral Tribute to the Music of the Grateful Dead,” is considerably classier than most such offerings, because Johnson is an ace arranger with a fine ear for orchestral color. As he strings together ten Dead tunes – some quite familiar, others less so – he contrasts timbres and moods with subtlety, avoiding garishness (and often bringing to mind the words of one of my teachers: “the viola is the workhorse of the orchestra”).

Johnson, who conducts the Russian National Orchestra in the performance, is not merely transcribing notes off of Dead LPs and assigning them to instruments; the songs’ raw materials are used (or omitted) with a discerning ear for taste and proportion, with new elements introduced to abet their adaptation to this very different context. Read more »

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson: Beloved Mezzo Lives on CDs

lieberson.jpgLorraine Hunt Lieberson/Roger Vignoles
Wigmore Hall Live (BBC)

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson/Boston Symphony Orchestra/James Levine
Peter Lieberson: Neruda Songs (Nonesuch)

American mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, who died at age 52 last year after a long battle with cancer, is remembered on two new releases of concert recordings commemorating her artistry. Read more »

Björk: Volta (Atlantic)

bjork_volta.jpgVolta is Björk's most accessible album since Vespertine, and at times of the whole decade, not because her imagination is curbed, or because she makes any compromises. No, it's going to bring back some fans scared away by her far-out stuff on Medulla and the Drawing Restraint soundtrack because she takes what she did on those albums and pours the ingredients into song structures and lays beats underneath. (And I'm not just being metaphorical; the brass arrangements of pieces on Drawing Restraint are heard again on "Vertebrae by Vertebrae" and "Declare Independence," changed in role from focus to support.) It's the best of both worlds, really. Read more »

Michael Brecker: Pilgrimage (Heads Up)

brecker_pilgrimage.jpgThis is the late tenor master’s elegant and substantial swan song project. In the final stages of his lost battle with leukemia (he passed away in January of this year) Brecker summoned the strength to create his last and perhaps most profound work. No simple task considering his deteriorating condition or the fact that over his 30-plus year career, he appears on something like 900 recordings. Brecker’s technique of fusing Coltranesque expression through a modern fusion prism created a unique voice in jazz and pop. The result: session appearances for artists from Aerosmith to Zappa, from top 40 to the obscure niches of the jazz world. Read more »

ANNIVERSARIES: The Clash's UK Debut Released 30 Years Ago

the_clash No less an authority than Jon Savage, the most thorough chronicler of British Punk (his book England's Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond is a must), has proclaimed The Clash "the first major Punk statement." That it is excellent (Robert Christgau declared it "the greatest rock and roll album ever") certainly helped, but it achieved that status partly because the Sex Pistols' first LP was delayed by the controversy surrounding the group, which resulted in several record labels dropping them. Read more »

Andrew Hill June 30, 1931 - April 20, 2007

andrew_hillLung cancer finally took Andrew Hill on Friday, April 20. The jazz cognoscenti mourn; the rest of the world never heard of him. This is seemingly a familiar situation, but Hill may be the most extreme example. Blue Note founder/producer Alfred Lion called Hill "my last great protege." An odd choice of words -- what did Lion have to teach Hill? Maybe just to be himself? -- but Blue Note recorded Hill extensively for the rest of the 1960s despite a lack of sales, and if not all of the resulting albums were issued at the time, at least they were made, and have since appeared. Read more »

Devin Phillips: Wade in the Water (Devin Phillips Music)

devin_phillips.jpgIt’s a stretch, but viewed from a certain angle, the dark pall that was (and still is, for many) Katrina has a sliver of a silver lining. The seeds of jazz that could only originate in New Orleans were scattered far and wide, enriching communities across the country that would otherwise be culturally less advantaged. Saxophonist Devin Phillips became one of those storm-borne seeds. Having lost everything but his horn and the clothes he was wearing upon evacuating, Phillips wound up in Portland, Oregon, a city with a strong commitment to the arts and an active jazz scene.

Fronting two distinctively different bands, Devin Phillips New Orleans Funk Project and Devin Phillips New Orleans Straight Ahead, the man has been able to do some serious musical outreach. Read more »

Nine Inch Nails: Year Zero (Interscope)

year_zeroSince debuting in 1989 with pretty hate machine, Trent Reznor’s one-man band nine inch nails has made music by fusing industrial and rock with bits of funk, pop, noise, and every other genre real or imagined, capturing it with an everything and the kitchen sink layered approach, for some of the most beautiful, invigorating, and forward-thinking music of the last two decades.

What’s interesting, then, about his latest, year zero, is how it finds Reznor at both his most accessible and inaccessible, sometimes at the same time, making it his most eclectic album to date. Read more »

Lent Time Refound

raybrooksRay Brooks: Lend Me Some of Your Time (Polydor)

Singing actors are rarely a touchstone of sincerity. A thin veneer of polish on ordinary furniture. Too showy. Too faux emotional. Too used to having words put in their mouths of songs they didn't write. The efforts of Burt Reynolds, Richard Harris, and John Travolta spring to mind, for a myriad of farcical reasons. So this forgotten curio from 1971 by the English actor Ray Brooks is something of a trend-bucker. Sincere, accomplished, and self-penned, it suggests genuine songwriters such as Bill Fay, Al Stewart, and Cat Stevens. Read more »

Kronos Quartet: Henryk Górecki: String Quartet No. 3 (Nonesuch)

songs_are_sungKronos Quartet: Henryk Górecki: String Quartet No. 3 (Nonesuch)

The aspect of this release that is immediately commented on in all the publicity and reviews is that this is a "drawer" work -- a piece a composer finishes and then sticks in a drawer rather than releasing it to the world. Kronos had already commissioned and received the first two string quartets (also available, on one disc, from Nonesuch) of Henryk Górecki (b. 1933), and when they commissioned this one as well, he responded quickly -- this monumental fifty-minute work (longer than the combined length of his first two quartets) was written in just two months and ten days -- this monumental fifty-minute work (longer than the combined length of his first two quartets) was written in just two months and ten days -- but then held onto it for ten years. Why? "I don't know why," he writes. Read more »

A Scissor Sister by Any Other Name

rita_jean_bodine.jpgRita Jean Bodine: Bodine, Rita Jean (20th Century)

Before succumbing to a silence she has regrettably yet to break, singer-songwriter Rita Jean Bodine produced two strikingly eclectic albums in 1974. They weren't her first sojourn into pop.

Her grandfather had purchased a piano for her even before she was born in Los Angeles on September 1, 1949 as Rita Suzanne Hertzberg. Little Rita was taking lessons by the age of four, Chopin, Bach, and Brahms being her heroes, but as she grew older she discovered that she also liked to sing, and write her own songs. Read more »

ANNIVERSARIES: Henryk Górecki's Symphony No. 3 Premiered 30 Years Ago, Topped Charts 15 Years Ago

sorrowful_songsHenryk Górecki (b. 1933) was a respected Polish avant-garde composer but little known in the West except to cognoscenti. Then Górecki wrote his Symphony No. 3, Op. 36 "Symfonia Piesni Zalosnych" (loosely translated as "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs") at the end of 1976. For soprano, multiply divided string sections, flutes and piccolos, clarinets, bassoons and contrabassoons, horns, trombones, piano, and harp, it is an unusual symphony. With just three movements, it's a bit less than 54 minutes long in this recording, which is faster than most; all three movements are marked Lento, with vocals about the deaths of children at the center of each. Read more »

Paul deLay Jan. 31, 1952-March 7, 2007

paul_delay.jpgBlues harmonica virtuoso Paul deLay, called by Howlin’ Wolf guitarist Hubert Sumlin “the greatest harp player in the world,” died suddenly in his home city, Portland, OR on March 7. deLay, who earned an international reputation not only as a harmonica master but also as a singer and bandleader, led his band at a benefit gig the weekend prior to his death, after which he complained of not feeling well. Monday he was diagnosed with acute terminal leukemia; he went into a coma Tuesday and expired on Wednesday.

Paul Joseph deLay was born in Portland, Oregon in 1952, into a musically inclined family. He became charmed by blues harp as a youngster after hearing Paul Butterfield, which led to his discovery of future influences George “Harmonica” Smith, Little Walter Jacobs, and Charlie Musselwhite. Read more »

"Old Knit" Benefit for The Stone -- Town Hall 3/1/07

zorn.jpgThe Stone, John Zorn's (photo left) Lower East Side club, pays the entire door to the performing musicians and supports itself with monthly benefit nights, mostly at the location. This exception was a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Knitting Factory produced by the Knit's original owner, Michael Dorf, who in his opening remarks from the stage said, "It's felt a lot like a reunion." To the extent that was true for the members of tonight's audience who frequented the club's old space on Houston St., it was a warm and enjoyable experience; the parts of the evening alien to the Old Knit experience, though featuring the biggest names, were the parts that were most problematic. Read more »

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