Music Review

An American Pink Moon

silent_song.jpgFor a debut album, Louisiana-born Ron Davies’s Silent Song through the Land (A&M, 1970) is a world-weary and somber affair of startling economy. The brevity of the arrangements and the unadorned quality of delivery marks this out as a minor American stroke of genius.

Had Nick Drake gone into an emotional tailspin and then sat around a campfire in Texas, this is how his final album might have evolved: dark, stark, and full of angst. On eight songs in fewer than twenty-five minutes, Davies delivers diverse moods and tones. Read more »

R.I.P. Snooky Pryor 9/15/21 – 10/19/06

snooky_pryor.jpgLegendary octogenarian blues harmonica player and singer James Edward “Snooky” Pryor passed away on October 19. Despite his role as one of the architects of the post-war amplified blues harp sound, the media response has been shamefully lacking.

Mr. Pryor was born in Lambert, Mississippi in 1921. His inspiration for becoming a blues harp man was the blues cornerstone Rice Miller (Sonny Boy II) whom he met in Vance, Mississippi in 1927. Pryor busked around the South before being drafted during WWII. As a musician in the service, he played bugle calls on the camp public address system. It was here that he got the idea to blow his Read more »

Eliane Elias: Around the City (RCA)

eliane_elias.jpgSao Paulo-born, NYC-based vocalist/pianist/composer Eliane Elias is one of those musicians who, stylistically speaking, has something for almost everyone. She’s a virtuoso instrumentalist with a well-deserved global reputation - she was Tom Jobim’s musical director at the age of 17, and last year her beautifully eloquent piano on husband/jazz bassist Marc Johnson’s Shades of Jade was vital in elevating that release to classic status.

Elias’s newest album is a very radio-accessible, pop-skewed collection that pulsates seductively through hot covers and finely realized originals. Elias ventures further into vocal territory here, though her signature keyboard still manifests in rewarding bursts. Read more »

ANNIVERSARIES: Kansas' Breakthrough Album Leftoverture Released 30 Years Ago

leftoverture.jpgProgressive rock was largely a British phenomenon, but Kansas, a sextet named for its native state, is a prominent exception. On Leftoverture, its fourth album, Kansas took giant steps forward in quality and popularity. The LP, released in October 1976, sold over three million copies and peaked at No. 5 on the album chart, and the single "Carry On Wayward Son" broke the group out of cult status and into mainstream notice the following year, reaching No. 11 on the singles chart. The musical ingredients of Kansas, an interesting mix of art rock sophistication with American energy and emotiveness, are at their peak here. Read more »

Symphony for Improvisers

roy_campbellA Living Tribute to Don Cherry: Dave Douglas and Roy Campbell Perform Symphony for Improvisers
Merkin Hall, Saturday Sept. 16, 2006
Special event presented by the Font Festival

Played to a full house, this concert, dedicated to the late great Don Cherry, showcased his compositions as well as tunes dedicated to him.

Two quartets lead respectively by Dave Douglas & Roy Campbell (co-founders of the festival) occupied the first half of the program. Douglas’s group, up first, included J.D. Allen on sax, drummer Andrew Cyrille, and bassist Henry Grimes. Read more »

Al Di Meola: Consequence of Chaos (Telarc)

aldimeolaFifty-two-year-old virtuoso guitarist Di Meola is firmly ensconced in the pantheon of the greats. The unavoidable accompanying hype can, of course, get a bit thick. His assertion that Larry Coryell (a profound inspiration to Di Meola) is the ultimate “godfather” of fusion is debatable: the seminal Jerry Hahn and, perhaps most worthy of the accolade, John Abercrombie, are two that come to mind in sharing responsibility with Coryell. And then there’s John McLaughlin. Influences and opinions aside, Di Meola ascended to lofty pinnacles of success and acclaim via a formidable body of work.

Fusion’s heady entry into the commercially viable arena came via 1969’s Bitches Brew. Miles’ Read more »

Balkan Beat Box & Sway Machinery @ Southpaw 9/16/06

balkanbeatboxIt was a night of multiculti mashups at Brooklyn’s best mid-sized concert venue. First up was Sway Machinery, led by Jeremiah Lockwood. His contributions are singing (in Hebrew) influenced by the classic Jewish cantors - his grandfather Jacob Konigsberg among them - and guitar playing that mixes Afropop and the blues (at times inevitably recalling the late, great Ali Farka Toure). Throw in bass saxophone, tenor sax, and trumpet by members of Antibalas and powerhouse drummer Tomer Tzur and the result mixes the above influences with klezmer, free jazz, and soul. Read more »

Pat Metheny & Brad Mehldau: Metheny Mehldau (Nonesuch)

Metheny MehldauA pianist and a guitarist, both known for beautiful ballad playing, get together for an album of mostly duos (Mehldau's rhythm section of bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard join on two tracks of the ten here). Snooze city, right? That's what I thought after the first track. Boy was I wrong. This thing is intense! Not that the opening number, written by Mehldau (everything's original; he wrote three, Metheny seven) is sleepytime; I'd just made the mistake of trying to listen to it in the background while I did something else. When Metheny's "Ahmid-6" followed, it grabbed me, and my other work was put aside. Read more »

Steve Miller: Fly Like an Eagle - 30th Anniversary Reissue (Capitol)

flylikeaneagleElectric guitar guru and family friend Les Paul ignited the creative fires in the five-year-old Steve Miller, introducing the youngster to his first chords. Jazz heavies including Charles Mingus and Tal Farlow also passed through the Miller household in Steve’s youth, guests of young Steve’s music savvy parents. The rest is pop music history. The veteran guitarist/singer/songwriter will be the recipient of the Les Paul Award this October in San Francisco at the 22nd annual Technical Excellence and Creativity Awards.

Miller’s songbook has proven remarkably resilient and lucrative, resurfacing once again in this summer’s refreshed 30th anniversary “special limited edition” Eagle package. Read more »

Trying to Crack the Code: The Enigma of Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 15, Op. 141

shostakovich15Shostakovich began his Symphony No. 15 while convalescing in a hospital. The first performance was by the USSR Radio Symphony conducted by Maxim Shostakovich on January 8, 1972. It's one of the stranger works in the composer's canon, and surprised early listeners with its repeated quotes of the famous theme from Rossini's William Tell and the "Fate" motif and "Siegfried's Funeral March" from Wagner's Ring cycle, as well as references to many of Shostakovich's previous symphonies. These deliberately blatant borrowings have never been definitively explained, but to some extent the composer knew this would be a valedictory work, so some form of autobiography has been assumed by later commentators and analysts, who regularly call it "puzzling" and "enigmatic." Read more »

Anatomy of the Comeback Kid

john_howard2Strange links result in strange confections.

As a fifteen year old, I remember seeing John Howard's Kid in a Big World in the racks of a local record shop in Northern Ireland. It must have a made a strong impression, because that rather pointless memory from 1975 remains embedded in my grey cells. The sleeve confused me. In those last-gasp days of glam and prog pretentiousness, I couldn't fathom why John Howard wanted to resemble a suburban bank clerk gazing out of a window in a derelict house. Read more »

ANNIVERSARIES: Blue Oyster Cult's "(Don't Fear) the Reaper" Enters Top 40 Singles Chart 30 Years Ago

agents.jpgBlue Oyster Cult was strictly an album-rock fave before lead guitarist Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser's song "(Don't Fear) the Reaper" surprisingly entered Billboard's Top 40 Singles chart the week of September 4, 1976. It peaked at No. 12 on Billboard's singles chart in October 1976, the band's only Top 20 single. The song returned to the spotlight in 2000 thanks to a Christopher Walken-starring Saturday Night Live comedy sketch that spawned "more cowbell" as a catchphrase.

Another twist on Agents of Fortune, which went platinum after its July 1976 release, is the presence of punk icon Patti Smith, who wrote the lyrics for "The Revenge of Vera Gemini" (to which she also contributed vocals) and "Debbie Denise." Read more »

Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra - MTO Volume 1 (Sunnyside)

bernsteinTerritory orchestras were the small, regional jazz bands of the Midwest and Southwest in the 1920s, '30s, and '40s -- the scene that gave us Count Basie and many other greats. When trumpeter/slide trumpeter Bernstein (music director of John Lurie's Lounge Lizards, co-leader of slide trumpet/electric guitar/tuba trio Spanish Fly, and genre-spanning/changing quartet Sex Mob) was musical advisor on Robert Altman's Kansas City, set in the world of the 1930s big bands, he immersed himself in the music of that time and place. Four years later he formed the Millennial Territory Orchestra, which mixed and matched that style/material and free jazz in anything-can-happen, off-the-cuff shows at Lower East Side club Tonic. Read more »

ANNIVERSARIES: Twenty years ago, Janet Jackson's first #1 single entered the Top 40

control For those who may have forgotten, Janet Jackson is more than a breast exposer. (Not that I'm complaining about that aspect -- I wish her Vibe pictorial had been more daring, seeing as we've all seen more exposed at the Super Bowl.) But where lately it's seemed that few female R&B singers can string together careers of more than an album or two, Janet's been going strong for longer than some of them have been alive. Actually, in a way it's exactly two decades: It was in Billboard's August 23, 1986 issue that her first #1 single, "When I Think of You," entered the Top 40 singles chart. "When I Think of You" comes from Control, which is where Janet's icon hood began. Read more »

Jeremy Spencer: Precious Little (Blind Pig)

jeremy_spencerThis satisfyingly crafted surprise from an “exiled” Fleetwood Mac founding member could be hauntingly nostalgic for fans of the original British blues band from almost 40 years ago. As one of the “cursed” early guitarists of Mac, Spencer emerges as not only musically intact, but richly evolved as well. No small feat for a guy who walked away from it all 37 years ago, literally disappearing (into a religious cult he remains a member of) hours before a Stateside gig, in the midst of the band’s first incarnation and ascendence to popularity. They were a swaggering, slide-guitar-driven, uncannily Chicago-sounding blues band fronted by a very young foursome of English lads. Read more »

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