[The following is a true story, despite the annoying and hopefully temporary lack of photographic evidence]
Early this evening, I was walking a dog down a street I don't walk down very often, and happened to glance into someone's yard. I stopped. An emu walked over. Is it legal to have an emu as a pet? I stepped back, worried it might peck my eyes out or that the dog might attack the big bird.
The emu and I stood for a while, contemplating each other. The dog sat, but was equally attentive. As the few cars to go down this street passed by, I semi-attempted to draw the drivers' attention to the emu. "Have you seen this?!?!"
The emu, who was quite still the entire time, seemed a fairly amiable and non-aggressive fellow. As I walked away, it followed me on its side of the fence. A dog started barking, in the same yard. Apparently dogs and emus can cohabit.
Monday, July 31, 2006
An email I just got:
ELLERY ESKELIN NEWSLETTER
web site: http://home.earthlink.net/~eskelin/
Eskelin w/Parkins & Black Concert Videos on-line...
Just posted a number of concert videos of the band from our 2001
European tour appearance in Barcelona, Spain. They are available for
free streaming at google video. Included are:
1. One Great Day...
3. Paris Swallowtail / Nymphaliadae
The Barcelona video was professionally shot by a crew with several
cameras and artfully edited. For best sound I would suggest using
headphones or listening on a good set of speakers as opposed to the
small ones in your computer. Thanks to Arco y Flecha for the
Also included are a couple of 1999 out-takes of Eskelin & Parkins from
the film "Off the Charts - The Song Poem Story" by Jamie Meltzer.
6. "Yummy Yummy Dum Dum" (version one)
7. "Yummy Yummy Dum Dum" (version two)
This selection is from our 1996 CD "Green Bermudas" (eremite). Thanks
to Jamie for the use of these clips.
Lastly is a trailer from the band's 2004 DVD "On the Road..." narrated
by my son Rami Eskelin. I probably should have made this trailer at
the time of the DVD release but better late than never, eh?
8. DVD trailer
Upcoming recording by the band...
Since the 2004 release of the band's last recording, "TEN", we've
accumulated quite a bit of new music. So this past spring during our
European tour we took a couple of days to record in one of France's
finest studios, "la Buissonne" in Avignon. The result will be "Quiet
Music", a double CD package set for release in October on my own label,
prime source. In addition to myself, Andrea Parkins and Jim Black we
are joined by vocalist Jessica Constable and keyboardist Philippe Gelda
on selected tracks.
There will be a more detailed newsletter to follow in October upon the
release of "Quiet Music". In the meantime, the web site is always
updated with upcoming appearances and tours:
As always, recordings can be obtained from the site:
Next appearance by the band...
Ellery Eskelin w/ Andrea Parkins & Jim Black
55 Christopher Street
New York City
Sunday, August 13th / two sets at 10 pm
if you're in NYC then please stop by...
to be removed from the list please reply with "remove" in the
I watched the last-ever Top Of The Pops yesterday, which, fittingly, was as anti-climactic as almost every other TOTP episode I've seen (I'm not a regular viewer). The choice of archival full-length videos seemed to have been made in five minutes, yielding results probably slightly worse than a totally random selection. Not that any particular selection was terrible, it was more of a general "42 years, and this is what you come up with?" feeling. Maybe that's for the best: digging out the truly historic TOTP performances (whatever they may be) would have lent the show a gravitas it studiously avoids, most of the time.
Things that struck me:
1. The Spice Girls' "Wannabe" performance is great precisely because it's only a very small step above an end-of-year high-school performance. I actually enjoyed it far more than the Rolling Stones and David Bowie clips.
2. The juxtaposition of Sonny & Cher's "I Got You Babe" and Beyoncé's "Crazy In Love" was (unintentionally?) brilliant, despite Jay-Z's absence.
Apart from Jimmy Savile's shiny gold jumpsuit and impressive pot-belly, that's about it. It was a slow sunday.
Bagatellen has a nice list of YouTube links.
Friday's happiness recipe:
Gather friends in garden.
Drink several glasses of IVN's mojito.
Accompany BBQ'ed meat with taboulé and, especially, salmon/aubergine pasta (and wine, of course).
Fuel late-night discussion with Bacardi and Coke.
Sunday, July 30, 2006
Tienen is one of those places that you have to know both French and Dutch names of if you're hoping to find it on a map, as it's Tirlemont in French. Road signs will switch from one language to another (Liège -> Luik, Mons -> Bergen) without warning.
The singer announced "This next song is by Christina Aguilera. It's called 'I eat Britney's shit.'" I was disappointed: I'd hoped for a "Ain't No Other Man" cover. The set started out fairly metal, but became more straight-forwardly rock as it wore on, which the crowd appreciated. They ended with the only song I recognised, "Diane," (because I heard it on the radio a few days ago) after having played "Die Laughing" "In honour of Syd Barrett. [crickets] Who died last week. [crickets] Big deal in Belgium." The bassist played shiny silver basses and spitted acrobatically. "Adios, motherfuckers."
The main reason for our presence. Logically, she brought her rock band rather than the chamber group we saw last time. She didn't disappoint, her eyes distant and melancholic, even when rocking out.
The final sequence of "All I Need" (slow 12/8 quasi-soul) and "Sugar" (all-out rock, topped off with a great solo by the lead guitarist) was particularly good (and particularly well-suited to a festival called Sugar Rock). The lead guitarist's every gesture was that little bit cooler, simply because she was a woman, even if she was built like a trucker.
Apparently, a studio/remixing project gone live. None of the five people on stage looked like nerdy studio types, least of all the two far-too-good-looking male and female singers. Pleasant, in a little bit of dance, little bit of rock, little bit of rap kind of way.
The Human League
Like opening a time capsule and being reassured that, yes, the 80s really were exactly as you remember. They even had three of those strap-on keyboards, which, unfortunately, I didn't get to see on stage all at the same time. The only thing added to the capsule was a Mac laptop, as resplendently white as the rest of the stage set. After a handful of songs, we closed the time capsule.
The Go Go Prophecy
A singer roaming the stage in front of a keyboardist/guitarist and laptop guy huddled in a cubicle. The second song consisted first of a cool, hoarsely shouted verse over a thudding beat, with lyrics that made me think "This is such a MySpace band" ("What's your sign/What's your colour" etc.) and second of a terrible sing-song, guitar-strum chorus that confirmed it ("From virgin smile to porno slut/From DIY to Web Web Web", "Cruising on the Internet"). Inexplicably, this song is not on their MySpace profile. They did play "Cannot Touch My Candy" and "Undercover," though.
The announcer came out afterwards and declared TGGP "100 times better than The Human League," which they certainly were, at least on the tiny "new talent" stage. Far from great, but very loveable, which sometimes is more important. IVN, O and I were hardcore fans by the end. Admittedly, my enjoyment was greatly enhanced by the very sexy girl dancing a few steps in front of me.
We went into this one in "we'll stay a bit if it doesn't suck" mode, but ended up watching the whole set. I'm not much of a techno fan, but thanks to thorax-rattling sound, a mixture of electronics and live instruments and a couple of wild, sexy dancers, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I may even go to a rave someday. Weirdly, PK's leader is from Tienen, which seemed a very unremarkable, sleepy town.
Coca-Cola nurses (pictured above) giving out massages, a couple of P Magazine models posing for pictures with passing males (I convinced IVN to get a photo with them, I think she was the only girl to do so), Cointreau cocktails and a Superman-themed monster truck crushing a Jaguar, among other sights and sounds.
Thursday, July 27, 2006
For a long time, it seems, being a great artist — a “skilled manual worker,” as Samuel Johnson put it — was enough. For Bach and Mozart, for Rembrandt and Titian, even for Shakespeare, their art was their job. Their output was valued, but in a social order dominated by church, royal court and wealthy patrons, their standing was not high.
Then came the Romantic movement, and with it, artists turned from pleasing the world to indulging themselves: they rebelled against conventions, proclaimed their uniqueness, disdained the bourgeoisie as philistine, savored their own melancholy and formed cliques. Many also chose a bohemian lifestyle to exhibit their otherness.
Flaubert's skewering of Romanticism, when he turns Madame Bovary's suicide - the ultimate Romantic gesture - into a farce, is hilarious. There have been others:
In truth, this was already such a cliché that around 1839 a mischievous Spanish artist, Leonardo Alenza y Nieto, painted his “Satire on Romantic Death,” which portrays a crazed-looking artist as he leaps from a cliff, dagger in hand, leaving behind his sword, writings and a poet’s laurel on a cross. In the background, two other artists have already committed suicide, one by hanging, another by gunshot.And yet, the Romantic artist continues to be one of the dominant ways of thinking about creative people. Shuffle over to the music section to see it in action, in Kelefah Sanneh's article on DMX.
Americans, especially black Americans feel a justified feeling of ownership of jazz, and I can see how seeing E.S.T get press in the New York Times ahead of Marcus Strickland or whoever can hurt. It’s not necessarily a rational emotion, but it’s a pretty understandable one.Note that Ken Waxman's column at One Final Note is called Unamerican Activities. Tongue in cheek, sure, but still indicative of something.
Second, the roots of jazz are, above all else, African rhythm. Traditionally, jazz has been what one of my teachers calls “gut music”, connected to a groove that you feel in your loins. Groove is the main connecting line in all American black music, from Louis Armstrong to Bessie Smith to Ornette to Fats Domino to Prince. (Yet another reason the JALC crowds’ rejection of fusion is so absurd, but I digress…)... When I think about the “Euro-jazz” albums I go back and listen to a lot, groove is not the main reason I listen to them.
So in a way, this is an argument about cultural ownership and nomenclature more than it is about music.
It only took a few weeks for Destination: Out to make itself indispensable. It's now cemented its place in jazz blog history: drop everything and go download three tracks from Ornette Coleman's recent three-bass Carnegie Hall concert.
I'll admit to near-total ignorance of Coleman's career beyond the early stuff, so I was grateful for D:O's first Coleman installment. His tone at Carnegie, though, is incredible, as classic and delicious as any you could care to name, starting with Johnny Hodges. Sound Grammar should be great.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Chuck Mitchell, a former head of Verve/Polygram, writes to Rifftides:
I'm unconvinced that there is enough consumer demand for most deep jazz catalog to justify continued CD manufacturing and retailing in conventional stores. When I was running Verve/Polygram in the mid-to-late 90s, there was a good deal more stability in the jazz reissue and catalog market than there is now, and we still had to work hard to convince retailers to hold more titles of slow sellers...
That began to change in 1996-7, as stores became saturated with product of all kinds, and we started to see a radical escalation in returns. Things kept getting worse from there. The record industry would have you believe it's all about downloading, but many other factors have brought the CD business to where it is now, beginning with outrageous pricing in an attempt to rescue a bad-margin business. The simple fact is that most catalog titles don't turn over fast enough to justify the retailers' cost of doing business, starting with real estate and shipping costs... if it was tough to sell Dizzy a decade ago, how does it make sense to try to get Chubby into whatever stores are left today?
Which makes the "long tail" of digital distribution the only hope for the continued existence of the highways and the back roads of the riches of our recorded musical archives.
After The Roots, something else to look forward to: Ornette Coleman's Sound Grammar. After all the ecstatic live reviews of his two-bass band, apparently the album doesn't disappoint. Phil Freeman says:
his new album is just as brilliant and beautiful as you're hoping it will be. It's live from last year, with the two-bass band he's been traveling with since '03, and...well...it's hard to describe just how fucking awesome it is. It's called Sound Grammar, it comes out on 9/12, and if you don't buy it, there's no excuse you can offer - I just don't want to be your friend anymore.There's some more info in a USA Today blurb:
"Sound Grammar is to music what letters are to language," says Coleman, 76, who is launching his own Sound Grammar label with this release. "There are only 12 notes, but they are used by everyone to compose and sing."Coleman's current publicity boiler-plate is here. Looking up those Coleman quotes, I found a possible, but probably remote, reason why TBP have been hanging out with Ornette lately: they have the same publicist
The album showcases eight Coleman compositions, including a remake of Song X, the title of a 1985 album, and Turnaround, from 1959's Tomorrow Is the Question.
"What is unique about this record is that the melody and the playing are all equal in relationship to ideas," he says.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Lately, I've been wondering about The Roots. Namely, has let's-save-the-music ideology overtaken innovation? Do You Want More and Illadelph Halflife represented a phase of ambitious sharpening and tightening, which culminated in Things Fall Apart. Phrenology sprawled and reached for new things, just as ambitiously. The Tipping Point's back-to-basics, quasi-preservationist drive seems to have devolved into blandness, at least on Game Theory's first single, "It Don't Feel Right." Even the rock edge of "Long Time" doesn't really help: the chorus is weak (but the backing on the verses is nice), Black Thought is enjoyable, but doesn't really bring anything new (but Peedi Crack's verse injects some energy). Hopefully it'll all sound better in the context of the album (not to mention on CD rather than on a lo-fi MP3), which the singles from The Tipping Point certainly did.
It's not like I was ever not going to buy the new album (I mean, I have Organix, the From The Ground Up and The Legendary EPs, the two-CD edition of Come Alive and both volumes of Home Grown! The Beginner's Guide To Understanding The Roots), but Status Ain't Hood has unexpectedly heightened my expectations. However, his last sentences ("I wouldn't call it a masterpiece, but Game Theory is certainly a triumph for the Roots, a breakthrough to a new sensibility. They're onto something special here, and I hope they keep going with it.") show he still has a little ways to go to understand this band.
Is it plausible that someone in the Roots' camp will stumble across Ulrich Beck and the next album will end up being called Risk Society?
J.B. Spins mixes jazz and right-wing politics. J.B. does a lot of reviews of jazz-related books and films, which is unusual and refreshing. His writing is matter-of-fact and concise.
The jazz and the politics regularly cross paths. For example, in a discussion of Bobby Previte's Coalition Of The Willing. I don't share much political ground with J.B. (or his appraisal of Previte's cover art), but I've long wondered what Che t-shirts (not a new phenomenon) were supposed to mean. Even more puzzling is when his effigy is brought to peace rallies. At the same time, I've never seen anyone wear a Martin Luther King, Jr. or Gandhi t-shirt. Those t-shirts must surely exist, but I've never seen any and I'm certain that they aren't fashion icons.
A few weeks ago I was surprised - maybe even shocked - to see bags with Mao's face printed on them in a shop window. Che's rebel cachet is understandable, but why would anyone want to flaunt Mao? Who next, Stalin? Franco? Pinochet? Idi Amin? Pol Pot? (actually, that one might not be too far off) Put bloody dictators from all continents in your wardrobe, collect them all!
Monday, July 24, 2006
Recently, hearing a radio interview with one of my favorite musicians regardless of genre—Toots Thielemans—my inability to salute Miles Davis as a rock and roller became more meaningful, at least to me. Toots has worked with Charlie Parker, Bill Evans, Zoot Sims, Quincy Jones, Oscar Peterson and many other jazz creators—as well as with Paul Simon, Billy Joel and other non-jazz performers. But he said in the interview, whatever the gig, “My center of gravity is jazz.” While Miles Davis could never purge his music of jazz—nor would he have wanted to—the performances that resulted in his becoming, posthumously, a member of rock royalty, did not have jazz at their center of gravity.Lots of those Hentoff columns are worth reading. In April, he pre-empted my little Euro-US discussion. A year ago, he recounted some fascinating Clark Terry anecdotes.
I kind of feel like someone who's written ten symphonies, but is best remembered for an advertisement jingle. Okay, that's gross hyperbole. Had I known that kittens would get me my first NewMusicBox appearance and lots of first-time commentors (welcome!), I'd have done it a long time ago. After all, if Alex Ross can, why can't I? Not to worry: upon further reflection, I won't be converting wholesale to Hallmark-worthy clichés.
Initially, the kitten project was much more ambitious: a Feline Big Brother, with readers voting on which kitten to keep and which to kick out, as well as choosing a name for the winner. Regular photos and videos of their progress would have been posted. Too much trouble, as it turned out. It's probably best for them not to become media stars at such a young age, anyway. I'll now be returning to the real cats, like those who play on Ascenseur pour l'échafaud.
Sunday, July 23, 2006
Magris is one of those European artists so steeped in jazz that in a blindfold test a listener--no matter how perceptive--would be unlikely to conclude that he was hearing somone not from the United States
Many naming suggestions have rolled in. To show my appreciation, here's a pretty good idea of what the two brothers spend half of their time doing (the other half is spent sleeping). Ours is the lighter of the two.
A warning for sensitive readers: there is a disturbing moment in which ass-kicking turns to ass-licking.
Friday July 21 was the 176th birthday of Belgium's creation. To celebrate, we decided to drive to Amsterdam. IVN and I disagreed as to whether the last time we went was in 1997 (me) or 1999 (IVN). Any credibility those memoirs I was planning to write might have had is now lost.
Hotel rooms there are expensive, so we ended up spending the night in a rather funky camping site on the city's eastern edge.
We rented a couple of bikes. Definitely the best way to see this city, despite the blazing heat on Friday and the brief, unexpected downpour on Saturday. The backpedal braking system is kind of treacherous.
For those less motivated, the leisure of cycling can be combined with the effortlessness of driving.
This trip was totally unprepared, so we simply bought a map and cruised the canals, did some shopping and napped in the Vondel Park, Amsterdam's equivalent of Central Park, until the rain chased us away.
Of course, there's more to Amsterdam than pretty canals, H & M and the Indonesian restaurant on Spuistraat. There are museums and the red light district as well. We didn't do any of the former, but did pedal through the latter Saturday morning on our way to a neighbourhood market. Understandably, Saturday morning is not the district's finest hour: apart from a few unsavoury stragglers, we did cross the path of a stag party. I assume the bridegroom was the one wearing nothing but sandals and a jock strap.
Modern dutch design and architecture are formidable. The cars parked outside the appartment blocks in the northern dock area indicated that they were not social housing. The barrier (I have no idea what it was) outside of Utrecht, which we passed on the highway, also deserves mention.
The same docks area also houses some upscale interior design shops. Upscaleness doesn't guarantee taste, though.
Decades of bloody dictatorship, but at least they got a snappy name out of it (translates to Pol's Pots, Pol being a common first name or nickname).
I tried to fit some jazz into our Friday night by going to the BimHuis (another architectural marvel). I didn't know any of the participants, but they sounded good from the entrance. Still, I felt too sweaty and stinky from a full day's worth of driving, cycling and shopping in crushing heat to be truly comfortable in the BimHuis's rarefied atmosphere. The night before, Ahmad Jamal's trio had played there. I would have stunk up the place for that. Instead, we hung out on the waterfront underneath the building for a while, which allowed me to watch (from a distance) Beyoncé's BET Awards performance on some guy's Mac laptop. Without the sound, it was awesome. I don't like "Déjà Vu," but the visuals remain awesome. YouTube has it in very lo-res.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
I'm know you've heard "Crazy" enough to last you several lifetimes, but have you heard the spaghetti western tune that spawned it?
I'm fairly certain you've watched the ultra-slow airline version, but have you seen the slightly faster, low budget bathrobe version? Or the fast, high budget Star Wars version?
It may now seem that Gnarls Barkley (cool website) is its own ultimate cover band, but there are other contenders: Ray Lamontagne in the keep-only-the-melody-and-strum-along category; Nelly Furtado's is a Euro 2004 throwback, rather than a 2006 Timbaland-fueled model.
Exhausted? Confused and wondering where the substance of "Crazy" really lies? Put all that aside and check out the time-travelling video for Smiley Faces.
For the sake of parity, here's Nwabhu back when he was roughly the age the as-yet-unnamed kitten is now.
The comments to the original post have been good, please keep them coming if you can. A few things I forgot to mention initially: it's a male kitten, ideally I'd like an abstract, sounds-good-but-isn't-really-identifiable name (like Nwabhu) that works in English and French and will be accepted by IVN.
The following thoughts will probably benefit me more than anyone else...
Tim's suggestion of Mdenko is good, but maybe a bit too identifiably African. Then again, watching him prowl through our garden's yellow, dried-out grass yesterday, he did kind of look like a stripy lion in the savannah... Bootsy (as in Collins) is a cool name for a cat, but this one isn't bad-ass enough. It might have suited his brother.
Names ending in "u" are summarily rejected (sorry, G), because they rhyme with Nwabhu. Even if he were a girl, Nwabhi wouldn't work (sorry, Ethan) because it sounds like one of Nwabhu's myriad nicknames.
Musician names are difficult, because generally too identifiable and I'd feel weird regularly shouting out "Mingus, come here!" Hmmm, Shihab? Maupin? Jeff Albert?
djassmunkurinn (thanks for writing in!) suggests the Icelandic Brandur. I don't like that one too much - it's kind of harsh - but I hadn't thought of exploring Icelandic names, they should prove interesting. Kisa means cat in Icelandic and is also a pretty cool cat name. In a similar vein, Swahili offers up some interesting words for cat (topito means catapult, which would be a funny translation, but it too comical).
I kind of like Sabi (popped into my head yesterday), which is apparently both African and Japanese.
S/FJ is hosting a series of reader-submitted record store stories, starting here, spurred by an article on fading stores.
My favoured mode of purchase remains the record store: the whole trip/gathering/unwrapping experience is highly pleasurable. Scouring the web to save a euro or two is tiresome. Recently, I even had some interaction at the FNAC's till for the first time (it only took 5 years), mainly consisting of the cashier approving of my TV On The Radio purchase. I got to know P (who works or worked in the jazz section) at concerts, through a mutual friend and regular FNAC visits, so I felt at home there. And I have never had unpleasant clerk-related experiences anywhere.
I've chronicled the decline of the Brussels FNAC (a French cultural supermarket that evolved from a single store set up by a couple of ex-Trotskyists to a multi-national behemoth), which will probably force me online, as I am unaware of any other good jazz section in Brussels (if you are, please let me know). All the other good shops I know are second-hand.
As I've seen it, the contentious issue regarding the acceptance of European approaches to jazz music is the non-linearity with which many European musicians regard the jazz tradition.Excellent point (which is developed further), but wouldn't apprehending the tradition in a rigourously linear way mean confronting everything from ragtime to Armstrong to bebop to Ornette and Cecil and the AEC to Miles in the 60s and 70s to Zorn, etc.? I don't think that's even possible for an individual to do. So isn't everybody picking and choosing, and it's just that certain pick 'n' mixes have been canonised?
SiS states (and then dismantles) a couple of well-worn clichés:
It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing. Europeans are either regarded as inherently incapable of swinging, or of willingly ignoring it as an essential part of jazzdom.It's a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation: Europeans can't swing, but if they can, they're merely derivative. That said, many, many European musicians love to swing and play swinging music. The whole Europe = 70s free jazz/improv equation is quite false.
Peer beyond the free jazz/straight-ahead dichotomy, and you'll see that Steve Coleman's Hot Brass recordings from the early 90s had a huge impact (in France, but also in other countries, I think) on musicians and listeners.
Europeans, by virtue of their non-American status, do not understand the jazz tradition at all. It is impossible to gloss over the bebop section of the history, and equate the early jazz and Dixieland with the avant-garde rumblings of the late '60s.Sorry David, I don't get what you're saying in the second sentence.
I'm surprised that critics and some musicians alike still regard the treatment of repertoire from artists like Bjork, Paul Simon, Radiohead or Nick Drake (to cite only the people I've covered in my own groups) as mere novelty, and that the inevitable next step - to write music evocative of these artists - is considered as some sort of jazz heresy.I think lots of critics are fine with it, but opinions are still pretty strongly divided (cf. the controversy around The Bad Plus playing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" on a major label (if you do it on a small label like FSNT, it doesn't matter)). I wonder if Miles got the same reactions when he played "Someday My Prince Will Come."
This kitten needs a name. If you have one handy, please suggest it in the comments box. Guidelines:
- Ginger and Socks are not acceptable
- Entries that go well with Nwabhu (the first cat) will be favoured.
The winning entry (if there is one) gets a CD.
I think I have to admit that my great enjoyment of TV On The Radio is deeply linked to the fact that on one section of "Blues From Down Here," whoever is singing sounds a lot like Andre 3000.
Is the preceding comment merely a flimsy excuse to post a photo of myself with the cover of our new garbage can on my head? Perhaps.
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
The Bushman Pocket Sax "sounds like a sax, looks like a clarinet and is played like a recorder... It is a true portable instrument that can be carried everywhere - in your pocket, backpack, even up your sleeve!" You will be happy to learn that "it is tuned in the popular key of C." Unless you're one of those snobbish underground types who only play instruments in the unpopular key of G#. The Pocket Sax can also improve your social life, as "its uniqueness will jump start many conversations."
Maybe it's not the right thing to do (and notice how I'm hiding this under the pocket sax), but sometimes, you have to call your fellow amateur critics out.
Recently I had a conversation about a certain gigantic jazz webzine and defended it by pointing out that because reviewers aren't paid, reviews naturally slide towards the positive: who wants to listen intently to bad music, for free? I could have added that its writers probably get little to no editing or outside help.
Blogcritics functions in similar fashion, except with an extra dose of anarchy. I sometimes consider starting to post there again, but then I read stuff like the staggering accumulation of haphazard pronouncements and bizarre metaphors in Larry Sakin's last two reviews:
"Pianist Monk and sax player Coltrane revolutionized music, adding a measure of soulful, spiritual rhythms which exposed the African heritage of jazz. They knew each other well, and considered each other mentors."
"[Miles Davis] is probably best remembered for his forays into be-bop in the forties and early fifties and as the progenitor of cool jazz in the fifties and early sixties"
"Listening to Monk and Coltrane play is akin to watching a splendidly exotic rose open its petals to capture the warmth of a spring morning."
"Van Gelder acts as professor here, rendering tutelage to this young, brash septet." (50+ years ago, RVG was tutoring Miles? I doubt it)
"The music on The Complete Riverside Recordings will clue jazz novices in on what all the fuss is about-- it’s exalted lovemaking as compared to average sex."
"Davis and his group ascend to the apex of musicianship on Walkin’ and they put the word 'genius' in a whole new category."
I'm opening myself up for harsh criticism, but I welcome it: the way things are going, there probably won't be any paid primarily-jazz critics at all, so us rank amateurs will have to start monitoring each other and, especially, helping each other improve our writing.
You may have been taken in by Daniel Cassidy's discovery of Irish roots for just about every English word, in particular:
Jazz: from teas, meaning heat, warmth, passion, enthusiasm. The common adjective associated with jazz is “hot”. Cassidy attributes its emergence in New Orleans to Irish immmigrants.
However, you should not believe anything Cassidy says.
[via Nate Dorward]
Francis Davis has apparently survived the Village Voice's recent reshuffling and is back with a bang, taking on the Euro-US issue with more subtlety than most. He uses a review of Trygve Seim's work to expand into a full-fledged discussion. A good one, but I continue to be bothered by the latent us-versus-them mentality the article's very existence implies (cf. the article's confrontational title). Also, the Europeans-struggling-for-acceptance angle is slightly distasteful, if you set it against a wider historical backdrop.
But the question I can hear the jazz police asking is whether that much originality is desirable in a foreign musician.That last sentence is quite a zinger.
"Originality" has become dissociated from "origin," Raymond Williams holds in Keywords: "Indeed, the point is that [originality] has no origin but itself." The problem in a nutshell, the Stomping the Blues crowd would say... [T]heir argument [is] that jazz becomes something else, something not nearly as vital, when it loses touch with its blues ancestry... [T]he increasing dominance of elements from their own [European] cultures is [felt as] an affront to both American and black exceptionalism—though I doubt the affronted would ever put it that way.
If jazz were a folk music, the belief that only its originators can do it justice would have validity. But art music embraces change and claims universality, and not even Albert Murray can have it both ways.I've never understood the hostility towards Europeans bringing their own, non-American influences to jazz. Does "if you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn" (and, especially, its implicit corollary "what you live is what comes out of your horn") not apply beyond America's shores?
In free's lasting wake, there are at least three distinctly European schools of jazz, two national (Dutch dada and British improv) and the other defined as much by a label (Germany's ECM) as by a region (Scandinavia).That's all well and good (one would have no difficulty adding a few schools, French and Italian, for starters), but when will people start talking about transatlanticism? Ken Vandermark finds common ground between Chicago, Germany and Sweden, improvisers on the electronic edge of things meet in Vienna and Tokyo, Americans move to Berlin to record albums or paint and many European musicians you've never heard of regularly spend as much time in New York as their visas will allow. But even transatlanticism is an outdated term: pretty much the entire world meets at Berklee.
Europe is still a lucrative market for American jazz, more lucrative now than the U.S.. With jazz on the ropes commercially back home, the unspoken fear is that if it ceases to be regarded as a touchstone of African American culture, the mass media are unlikely to pay any attention to it at all. But getting used to the fact that different European outposts now have their own jazz traditions needn't involve buying into the British critic Stuart Nicholson's belief that American jazz is played out, any more than it has to mean sharing his enthusiasm for tepid Scandinavian techno.Certainly not. Again, it's disappointing that, in 2006, such manicheistic views continue to hold sway. Then again, maybe Davis is setting up straw men (or maybe just thinking of Jack Reilly's hilarious diatribe). Speaking of whom, for those of you who missed it, the infamous Jason Moran review is back online.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Thursday, July 13, 2006
Darcy has a new concert for you to download and enjoy.
I don't know about you, but I can't stop drooling over Kelefa Sanneh. Justin Timberlake's new single is actually as good as Sanneh implies.
Great solo voice/acoustic guitar performance by Thom Yorke. It's like he's suddenly morphed into a bluesman, or something.
Steve Coleman interviews Dave Douglas.
But the one thing about these new business models is that listeners and people who love music also have a responsibility to support the artist. It doesn't take a lot. With an artist-run web site, you assume the goodwill of people-that they will buy the CD but not copy it for their friends. I see it at gigs. With a group of college guys, where once I'd sell five CDs, now I just sell one. How you purchase music is a political decision. To perpetuate the music, people have to pay back into the system. It's only happened a few times, but I've been approached by fans asking me to sign a CD-R. They don't understand the humor of that.
(Coleman) There's a lot of detail you don't see by just looking to the past. Looking back to the '40s and '50s is like seeing the highlights of a basketball game on ESPN versus seeing the entire game. We're not hearing conversations that Charlie Parker was having.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Monday, July 10, 2006
Sunday, July 09, 2006
Radiohead as the evil U2? Sounds plausible.
Destination: Out's Alice Coltrane post is a revelation. I'd never heard her music before, but the way she brings wild passages together with straight-off-the-soundtrack ones on "My Favorite Things" and the ominous strings surrounding the spluttering saxophone outburst are both really cool.
Everything on Destination: Out is worth listening to.
Zidane head-butts his way to a glorious, tarnished legacy.
Saturday, July 08, 2006
Kurt Van Herck Trio
Van Herck is a near-ubiquitous saxophone player, with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra for instance, but he rarely leads his own groups. His last album came out 10 years ago. His new album (which, coincidentally, was waiting for me when I got home) is in trio with guitarist Jacques Pirotton and drummer Mimi Verderame, playing the unrecorded compositions of Karl Van Deun, a barely known guitarist. It's almost the Herbie Nichols Project, on a Belgian scale (and Van Deun is alive and well). The sparsely populated tent wasn't exactly the best environment for this music, what with kids running around, people moving in and out, a basketball tournament outside, etc. Still, what I managed to hear (I got there late) was unexpectedly good, but I'll listen to the CD before discussing it further.
The Bad Plus
I had high hopes - very high hopes - for this one, which were easily surpassed. If anyone invites a blow-by-blow review, it's TBP, so I apologise in advance for what's to come.
The concert was insane, as in insanely good, but also as in "TBP is crazy!" On the left, you had Ethan Iverson, generally cool as ice behind the piano or dead-panning these incredible spoken introductions that must be at least partly improvised or embellished, because even his bandmates were laughing. The intro to "1980 World Champion" was particularly good, involving Lyle Mays (not Lyle Mays), a ski jumping world champion from Ann Arbor, Michigan, who celebrated his title every day by dancing in the street. On the right, you had Dave King, whose body movements have to be seen to be believed. I guess he has a reputation as a banger, but he's actually more likely to be making a subtle kind of clatter. And then, in the middle you had Reid Anderson, the dapper bassist. What they do as a group is even more impressive live than on record: you can really see how they fit bits of improv into the the manic arrangements' interstices. And, of course, there's the random stuff thrown out apparently just to keep people guessing, such as the brief groovy soul bass solo that served as coda King's "Thrift Store Jewelery," totally unrelated to the modest melody and Latin undertow of the body of the song.
They played a lot of new, unrecorded songs. Ethan's concert-opening "Mint" continually seemed to have two things going on at once, and juxtaposed a dozen more, starting with some great abstract piano blues. Reid is an awesome composer, whose pieces tend to have a rock song feel to them. The first encore, "Physical Cities," was the biggest and best of them: it switched between ascending piano arpeggios over a hard-driving riff and a stabbing hip hop groove. The downshift from the stomping latter to the low-lying former was particularly delicious. And then, out of nowhere, came this unison morse code staccato section, with lots of dramatic rests. Imagine the rhythm of a Tim Berne composition, played on one note. It might have lasted 90 seconds, but what was so thrilling about it was that I truly had no idea how long it would go on, or what would come next (which happened to be a massive beat based on the morse code).
"Casa Particular," another unrecorded tune, surprised - shocked, even - by staying in one engrossingly low-key place throughout: King pushed forward relentlessly, but on brushes and very quietly (I was reminded of Jorge Rossy on the version of "Exit Music (For A Film)" on Mehldau's Art of the Trio: vol. 4), while the piano drifted and dreamt prettily. "1980 World Champion," like "1972 Bronze Medallist" before it, set up big, simple chords and then sprinkled them with dissonance. Here, though, it was done over a fast 2-beat that, when King picked up a tambourine and Ethan played some blues, lent the song a fervent gospel feel.
Of course, TBP is loved and hated for their covers (even though I generally find their originals more rewarding). Their versions of Interpol's "Narc" and Bacharach's "This Guy's In Love With You" had some common ground: sweeping crescendos leading to a big chorus, for example. The Bacharach was the more sarcastic one: a subdued 12/8 led to faux cocktail piano; sleigh bells comically accented a break. Ornette Coleman's "Song X" (I don't have that album, must get it) started with the melody played in trio unison three times, with yawning chasms of silence in between. This led to fast Ornette-ish swing, open and rambunctious, and the most traditionally-configured piano solo + rhythm section passage of the concert. What happened next was, therefore, totally unexpected. Reid subverted the song twice: first by playing a slow and relatively melodic solo, then, as he stuck ultra-quietly and minimally to a couple of high-register notes, King rubbed a whining, blinking toy on his floor tom. Deploying near-silence against a somewhat talkative crowd was bold and brilliant. Well, it all seemed subsersive to me, and on a tune by the nec plus ultra in jazz subversiveness, no less!
Finally, the second encore (concerts in the tent usually struggle to get one encore, so it's a tribute to TBP that they could easily have gotten a third, if the organisers hadn't wrapped it up) was "Chariots Of Fire," as requested by an audience member. Some people don't like this cover, but I think the superposition of the theme, played at varying tempos, and an unrelated funky bass line really works. Also, the way it opens up into a scrambling free section reminds me of my all-time favourite TBP cover, Blondie's "Heart Of Glass" on These Are The Vistas. Here, Ethan started the song standing stock-still, staring unblinkingly out into space and playing a few notes with his hand behind his back. Those theatrical touches are fantastic and really help them communicate with the audience. Both times Ethan named the band members, they'd play fragments of a theme music: silly, but great fun.
Afterwards, we had a jazzblogger tripartite summit (not quite Yalta, but almost?) with Ethan and Jazzques at the Archiduc, laughing and discussing everything from Brad Mehldau to hip hop to blogging to TBP itself to writing/reading about music to the virtues and advantages of the siesta and many other things I'm forgetting. Reid and sound man/engineer/designer Michael (I think) joined us later. Excellent times. One interesting thing I hadn't really realised was the extent to which Ethan is a jazz kid. Do The Math hints at that, but I'd always assumed he started out from a classical and contemporary music background, but not at all. On a personal note, there was absolutely none of the awkwardness you usually get around visiting musicians, who are, essentially, people you've never met before. Maybe it's Ethan's sense of midwest hospitality or something.