Saturday, August 29, 2015
Monday, August 24, 2015
Monday, August 17, 2015
|The Beastie Caddy|
|Apologies To Pete Frame|
|With Chris Whitaker|
|Chris Whitaker's Incredible Painting|
|Smartphone Pandemonium For DMC & Unlearn|
|It's Like That - And That's The Way It Is|
|Gorgeous Artwork By Andy Katz|
Adam Yauch Remembered: A Tale Of Two Bassists
Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Roland Barthes could have a field day with the array of signs and signifiers contained in Brad Petering's look when he fronted TV Girl at Shea Stadium on a sweltering Friday night a couple of weeks ago.
Saturday, August 08, 2015
But you don't have to know any of that to feel the questing nature of the violin writing, and the tension in the melodies. Unlike the sometimes oppositional nature of the traditional concerto, the orchestra is often there to support what the violin is going through. Like a Greek chorus, the other instruments amplify the violin's oratory and provide commentary and illumination. Kudos to the Chamber Music Midwest Festival Orchestra and conductor Akira Mori for their sympathetic playing.
The first movement, Breath, has Plum tentatively emerging from the darkness, a melancholy wisp looking for signs of life. Winds and other strings gradually emerge, almost appearing the breathe alongside the violin. Pizzicato sounds delicately encircle the violin, providing a little sparkle but there is little respite from the almost exhausted sound world. An image of people waking from a drugged slumber with no idea of where they are or how they got there comes to mind, as the other instruments poke and prod with their questions.
The movement ends with gathering strength and then we're into The Dark, angular, fragmented, trying to marshall forces. For brief moments, the instruments take up a martial tone, driving forward, relentless but unsure. The triangle is a marvelous touch here. Dance rhythms are hinted at, the horns bleat, and then...steel drums! A most unusual, original touch, which works wonderfully, the bright metallic sounds finding the spaces between the strings. This moment also showcases the excellent production, which is warm and involving while still transparent and well-defined.
The violin is alone again, mostly, at the start of Shirayael, the third movement. Single notes talk back and forth, seeming to be too devastated to create whole phrases. Then comes crescendo, horns and percussion raising a whirlwind of sound. But it does't last. Yael, or Plum, is alone again at the start of the fourth movement, called Archipelago. More questions, maybe the same ones, end this distinctive, quietly intense piece.
Christopher Adler's Violin Concerto is quite a different thing, kicking off with Shift (The Knife Grinder), spiky and full of stop-start rhythms and clattering percussion. The call and response between soloist and orchestra is a little more traditional and the movement ends with what feels like a cadenza. The second movement, Verelloe, quietly spooky with low sounds from the harp, stands in for the adagio that often forms the middle movement of three. So, classical architecture then, but the steel and glass sheath is purely modern. Adler's writing here is very beautiful, but also unsettling, and he develops his ideas impressively in this long movement.
Verelloe grows darker as it nears its end, fading out before the start of Tektonika, the final movement. There's lots of drama here, with a wide dynamic range and some violence to the rhythms, especially in a Stravinskian herky-jerky section in the middle. San Diego New Music and conductor Nicholas Deyoe handily dispatch anything the composer throws at them. Adler counts Russian Suprematist painter Kazimir Malevich as an influence and you can hear it in the angles and sharp contrasts. The end of the movement, and the concerto, is pensive and lyrical at the same time, with a worried ostinato working behind the violin line, which eventually ascends on its own, seeking a hopeful future from a new perspective.
Both Corbett and Adler are accomplished composers and each piece feels very complete. This is not difficult music but it is challenging on an emotional level and well worth the journey it takes you on. Each artist draws on something with great personal meaning for them but puts it in a context that allows anyone to find their place in the sounds. Plum's playing is exemplary throughout, with a level of comfort that allows you to concentrate on the music fully. Based on her performances, both works deserve to be heard and played widely. However, until the next brave soul schedules a performance we have these excellent recordings to enjoy.
Plum - busy as ever - also just released volume one of her traversal of Bela Bartok's music for violin and piano. Christopher Lovelace is her partner here and on this well-programmed collection they play the Romanian Folk Dances, Rhapsodies 1 and 2, Sonata No. 2, and three Hungarian Folk Tunes. There's a lot of playfulness to Bartok's writing and Plum's approach is very lighthearted on the whole. While I prefer the gutsier attack of, say, Peter Nagy or Isabelle Faust in this repertoire, Plum's take is perfectly valuable and I look forward to hearing Volume 2.
These releases continue to establish Sarah Plum as a valuable presence in the world of music, new music especially. It's great to hear her making her mark with these two releases and I just hope I can keep up with her in the future!
Sunday, July 26, 2015
The pre-order. The Deluxe Edition. The leaked track. The video. The Super-Deluxe Limited Edition. The website landing page. The merch. As susceptible as I am to the Pavlovian triggers of the modern album release scaffold, I do sometimes wonder if the gilding drips off the lily and forms a cage for the artist. It may be, in fact, that all of these extras are better suited to works that are already solidly canonized - go to town, Jimmy Page - but can be a drag on the ascent of a band's new music.
Wilco were solidly on that path with their last two or three albums - I have the Deluxe Editions to prove it - but have ditched it all with their new album, Star Wars, which was released as a free download with no advance warning about a week ago. Why? Wilco main man Jeff Tweedy has the answer: "Well, the biggest reason, and I'm not sure we even need any others, is that we thought it would be fun."
Remember fun? Gaiety can be in short supply when a band is 20 years into their career, which may be why it's been four years since Wilco's last album and why they spent the last couple of years in a semi-atomized state, with each member pursuing outside interests. But whatever the trajectory that led us here, there is new music from Wilco, which is always worth celebrating.
EKG kicks off the 11-song album with a short sharp shock to the system, a dissonant and dense little instrumental overture to what lies ahead. Which is More..., a fuzzed-out rocker with a touch of Glam. Nels Cline's guitar sparkles for just a second or two and there's a great moment when the rhythm guitars nearly drown everything out - more, indeed.
Random Name Generator is a romp, with a joyful riff and some Pere Ubu-esque electronics buried in the mix. An instant live favorite, no doubt. The Joke Explained is the sound of a band with the entire history of American music at their disposal, as echoes of folk, country, Chess Records, and 70's rock blend effortlessly. "If I had known, I would've never believed," Tweedy sings - and haven't we all been there?
You Satellite quiets things down to a slow burn and confirms that in the production and the arrangements, Star Wars is the most unified Wilco album since A Ghost Is Born over a decade ago. The three guitars of Tweedy, Patrick Sansone and Nels Cline create a beautiful sound, blending together in a thicket of sound bolstered by Mikael Jorgensen's electronics while the rhythm section of John Stirratt and Glenn Kotche cooks up a storm, six people playing as one. Clearly a Wilco classic from the first listen and maybe proof positive of the benefits of spending time apart.
"Why do our disasters creep so slowly into view?" Tweedy sings in the low key Taste The Ceiling, and wouldn't we all like to know? Like that line, the song seems to ask more questions than it answers, providing solace via its detailed arrangement and comforting backbeat. Pickled Ginger begins with guitar so blissfully fuzzy that it could be called furry, and more than a touch of T-Rex to the melody. Although it builds up a head of steam near the end, it's more like a sketchy Marc Bolan outtake than a jukebox single, but it's that tossed off quality that has you hitting repeat as soon as it ends.
Where Do I Begin also feels a bit like a demo for the first two minutes or so, with Tweedy accompanied only by two guitars. But then the backwards drums and bold George Harrison riffs burst in and you know you're listening to a fully finished product - and a damned good one at that. Cold Slope comes together with some fragmentary guitar and a druggy pulse before opening up into a rhapsodic section that ends as quickly as it began. The pulse returns, growing into something more rocked out before cutting back down again. Tweedy murmurs, the guitars converse and there is sense of expanded possibility. Verse/chorus/verse? Sure, but you don't have to all the time.
The pulse of Cold Slope leads directly into the stomp of King Of You, which sometimes threatens to become that old favorite I'm The Man Who Loves You, but they rein it in. Album closer Magnetized explores some of the melodic and sonic terrain of the later Beatles while remaining resolutely Wilco. It's an introspective gem that may be an ode to the band's inner magnetism, which keeps them together through thick and thin, or to the attraction that keeps us fans of the band tuned in to their every move. Either way, it's beautiful, a quiet little anthem and a perfect ending to what begins as a delightful surprise and becomes gradually more nuanced. And you know what? If they put out a Star Wars Death Star Super Deluxe Limited Edition with extra songs as good as these, sign me up for the pre-order.
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Thursday, July 23, 2015
Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment - Surf While we wait for Chance The Rapper to follow up Acid Rap we can enjoy this sunny and eclectic group effort from him and his buddies (some of them famous, like Busta Rhymes and Janelle Monae). Perhaps some of the positive vibrations are little more than bromides ("Just be you!") but it's hard not to be infected by the joyous spirit that runs through Surf. With darkness emanating from TV's and headlines everywhere this is a welcome dose of sweetness. This is free on iTunes so don't hesitate.
Beck - Dreams Well, he said the next one would be different. After the triumph of the GRAMMY-winning Morning Phase (also my #2 album from 2014), the world was Beck's oyster and he's found a new direction: polished dance-pop. While that might make you think that this notorious appropriator is being cheesy and ironic, Dreams is beautifully produced and seems completely sincere. It's delightful. I think when he performs at the GRAMMY's next year, the Twittering masses will remember who he is.
Shamir - Call It Off This young singer/songwriter from Las Vegas is getting a lot of attention and rightfully so - he's bursting with talent. After a time playing country, he's thrown his lot in with a brand of stripped down electronic R&B that at its best is irresistible. Call It Off is the most appealing song for me, an addictively danceable kiss off that will have you moving no matter where you are. Give his album Ratchet a try, too - there's some depth there. Shamir is one to watch.
Aleksam - All Is Forgiven I heard this haunting dub-inflected beaut on an episode of Don Cheadle's excellent House Of Lies. Turns out Aleksam is the duo of Sal Masekela and Sunny Levine, the respective offspring of Hugh Masekela and his collaborator Stewart Levine. So it's in their blood - get transfused.