I'm about to do three or four things that I hate. They are all done in the name of love, though, so I assume that makes it okay. This place needed something to kick off the dust, so here goes.
This morning I listened to the first two tracks off of Gianni Gagliardi's debut album Nomadic Nature. I found this one browsing through emusic.com's recently added stuff, looking to burn through some built up credit, and pulled the trigger based on the sideman. Anything with Gilad Hekselman, Alexis Cuadrado and Mark Ferber on it deserves at least one good listen.
My first impression is how exciting Hekselman's playing on this is, as a sideman and a soloist. While playing the out head on the first tune Paris, where the guitar and sax are playing the melody as a closing statement to the tune, Hekselman starts filling in the empty spaces nicely, with some pretty interesting guitarish stuff. At one point, he reaches way up for an upper harmony to the melodic line and it becomes this super exciting moment to the music, and a pretty gutsy move.
On the second tune, L'Ironie d'une Jolie prise de Tête, Hekselman's solo is pretty fearless. After a few initial statements playing the harmony in a straightforward way, he takes a left turn and starts exploring. With no hesitation, he holds a nice long dissonance, making a firm statement that he knows exactly what he's doing on this one. Then to close out his solo, an extremely nice building phrase up to a flat 5. Hekselman's whole solo on the tune is one I know I'll be coming back to.
I'm definitely looking forward to checking out the rest of this album. Both for Hekselman's playing, and the rest of the band's. Gagliardi's writing is pretty impressive for his first time out, and he's definitely chosen a first rate band to record with. Give the track up top a listen, or the whole album if you get a chance!
I might run with the wrong crowd here but out of the "guitar album pantheon" I've never heard John Scofield's Bar Talk mentioned. Metheny's Bright Size Life, Holdsworth Metal Fatigue or Sixteen Men of Tain, whatever McLaughlin album you like, maybe Sonny Sharrock Ask the Ages.
All amazing albums. All have guitar playing or compositions that are really pushing the envelope of the time they were made in. Maybe Bar Talk isn't in that list, especially by how people talk about it now (or don't talk about it at all). Allmusic.com says it was pretty well received. I could just be crazy, or not talking to enough people.
Enough about the reception, let's talk about the meat and potatoes of this album. First of all, Scofield sounds hungry. New Strings Attached is a pretty aggressive tune for a jazz guitar trio in 1980, Steve Swallow's electric bass certainly contributes to that sound. Everybody gets to stretch out on these tunes, obviously Scofield does most being the leader, and it's wonderful. His phrasing has always been his strong suit, and on New Strings Attached, Scofield really shows it. He keeps throwing out new ideas over Swallow pedaling in the bass, and resolving each phrase beautifully. A few surprisingly large leaps keep you guessing. It's the kind of playing that makes you want to go and do your homework for something you'll only achieve 8 years later on a gig some night. Not cerebral or technically flashy, just gutsy and strong.
Swallow throws down here, really contributing a lot of dynamic when comping. His solos are straight gorgeous - even if they run into the question "how do you build a bass solo in intensity?" that found a mediocre answer in effect pedals a decade or two later and a better answer in having an extremely sympathetic drummer.
Fat Dancer is another standout track, a little slower but just as strong. Adam Nussbaum's playing is great as well - I wish I was smarter and more adept to be able to describe his playing in more detail. This album is one I dig out every few years and wonder why I haven't transcribed anything from it yet, or learned a few of the tunes to play in a group. I think it's time to do that now.
Recently saw the much lauded film 20 Feet From Stardom on Netflix. There were so many interesting parts to the film like great live footage and interesting interviews.
A few things really stood out for me. One, Bruce Springsteen. Over the past decade or so I've begrudgingly developed a huge respect for the guy. I was kind of a douchey little teenager and tried to be "anti anything popular" and probably missed out on a lot of great stuff. Luckily, I had to learn "Born to Run" for a cover gig at some point and realized how great a tune it was, especially the super cool glockenspiel bridge. What a wild thing to throw into a pop song. I've never seen his band live, but his shows are still legendarily grand: two or three hours at the minimum, extremely entertaining. You really have to respect him as a musician.
Seeing Springsteen in 20 Feet From Stardom was probably the first time I saw him just sit and talk. His knowledge of background singers was truly impressive and listening to him talk about the different attitudes it takes to go from background to lead singer was really interesting.
Besides Bruce, the standout to me really was Merry Clayton. I'm sure everyone has their favorite, but what sealed the deal for me was a short clip they showed of Clayton trying to strike out on her own with an absolutely powerhouse band playing Neil Young's "Southern Man". I went and checked out her solo albums and was equally impressed. This is really good, up tempo, powerful soul funk. Think Donny Hathaway on the more up tempo stuff.
I posted her "Gimme Shelter" as there's so many cool things here to enjoy. Just one year after singing on the original tune, she comes out with her own. I love the reworking of the original guitar intro, and check out how just loud and energetic things get when the horns come in. Bob West on bass is great (although maaaaaaybe a little too "I walk jazz bass wherever I want" in the outchoruses, but who am I to really judge). Check out her third album titled "Merry Clayton" with the great Wilton Felder on bass as well. Really powerhouse, fun stuff. Enjoy!
I met Robert Ashley once. David Kulma and Dorian Wallace, two musicians I know and play with, wanted to perform a piece of Ashley's called Perfect Lives. They play together in a duo called Trystero, and I play with Dorian and a drummer named Max Maples in a trio Ammocake. With a dancer, Diane Skerbec, we were all set to perform this piece. We just had to figure out how.
Luckily, Dorian and David had performed the piece in the past, so the heavy lifting was already done. The thing about Ashley's work, the little bit of his giant body of work that I'm familiar with, is it's completely out of this world. Every time you try and approach it on a superficial levels, it smacks you in the face. John Cage said " Perfect Lives." And that's just the text. The original soundtrack is the ahead-of-its-time mix of synthesizers that wouldn't work if we tried to just play it "straight." Dorian and David had worked out landmarks of sorts in the text that coincided to musical motifs, and we would sort of improvise our way between each one, all the while Diane is improvising this wild modern dance stuff in front of us. It worked out and I hope it was interesting for the 20 people or so that were there.
Two of the people attending were Mr. Ashley and his wife. I was petrified - performing a pretty heavy piece in the way we had arranged was enough. To be performing it for the composer was another thing entirely. We knew we had something going when Ashley actually yelled out "YES!" during one part. He must have been 80 or 81 one at the time. After we finished, he came up to us and gushed about all the different sounds we were able to create. His wife was a complete sweetheart as well.
What was thrilling to me was seeing his energy and accessibility. Dorian had emailed him an invitation to come see if. Not only did he show up, but he brought his wife and was on the edge of his chair. The man brimmed with excitement. After Perfect Lives, Dorian and David as Trystero did a song cycle of modern rock and hip hop tunes played as 20th century modern classical music and Ashley loved it as well. He even yelled out a few jokes during the performance. Weirdly, that kind of interaction was what made me love the guy. No matter how dense or obscure or difficult a piece was, he showed that it came from a place of joy ad love. Hopefully we can all follow that example.
If you're not a bass player, you probably can skip reading this entirely. Listening to a new track posted by a new band called The Shift with Nick Cassarino on guitar and Ben Geis on bass, I started thinking about an idea I wanted to throw up here. The track:
Ben Geis might not be a household name, and his playing on this track is relatively simple, but so effective. The part that really stands out to me (and why I prefaced this with a warning about true bass geekery) is his great decisions regarding note duration - when to hold out a note, when to play short, clipped notes - even if he's just pedaling the root of the chord, it really contributes to the vibe of the song. Which made me think of this track:
The recently Grammy winning, newest Daft Punk album has this incredible song on it (along with a bunch of other gems). James Genus and Nathan East are both credited for the bass part, and my random guess would be the former. The stand out thing about the playing, besides the absolutely gorgeous and perfect bass tone, is how much room there is! So many players would try and fill that space up and it takes a huge amount of restraint to leave all this room. The even crazier thing is how he (whichever 'he' that is) manages to keep this funky, bubbling 16th note pulse going the whole time, while the drums are really only playing half that. Such a cool vibe. Tons of stuff to practice here!
I've been a big fan of Ben Allison for almost a decade. His playing is great, his albums are always fun and listenable with great writing and excellent personnel. Outside of recordings, his shows are always interesting. He did a night of Neil Young tunes at MOMA (which I wish was recorded, "Cinnamon Girl" was amazing). For a few months he had a series of pick up gigs at some hookah bar on the Lower East Side with new players each gig that was a lot of fun. I assume he was looking for new talent to play with for upcoming recordings, it was right before his last one, Action Refraction had come out.
One of my favorite moments ever on recording is Ron Horton's solo on Language of Love off of Little Things Run the World. Certain players have this magic of being able to lift a tune or the entire band into another stratosphere. The pianist Gary Versace always is a great example of this, instead of just blowing over changes the entire time, he will throw out these pieces that everybody in the band can latch onto and expand upon, transforming the feel of the tune and making everything evolve in a wonderful organic fashion.
Brandon Seabrook is the star of this album. A phenomenal guitar player, he also plays shred banjo in his own group, Seabrook Power Plant. Throughout The Stars Look Very Different Today, Brandon has no problem throwing out string scrapes, delayed figures, dissonant little nuggets that transform a fun and nice tune into something completely different. Even when he's playing more inside, like on the song The Ballad of Joe Buck, his playing is beautiful. The beautiful descending quick-banjo-picking phrase near the end of his solo fits so well and really works perfectly.
Make no mistake, the rest of the band is just as great, Steve Cardenas is a monster and has played with Allison for a long time. Drummer Allison Miller is fantastic as well, and brings a different feel compared to Rudy Royston, who played on the most recent few recordings from Ben Allison. Enjoy!
Tom Scocca from Gawker wrote this long read about smarm and it's one of those pieces that makes you look directly back at yourself ( I hope that's not the most self-absorbed thing I've ever written).
Scocca's critique of smarm seems to be targeted mainly at those with influence or power; he doesn't point a finger at anybody with less than 10,000 twitter followers. Nor is it necessary for him to. But his criticism on David Eggars' advice to Harvard undergraduates to not be snarky isn't completely wrong. Sure, Eggars' smarm is a form of bullshit: soft selling his brand in a way no one can really argue against, but Eggars' prescription is right for an 18 year old.
Understandably, no one needs to make a $200 million dollar movie to see what a pile of nonsense the plot of Transformers was. On the other hand, there is something worthwhile in understanding the craft of story telling, or acting, or computer animation: really getting some experience or knowledge, more than reading a wikipedia article and the first 50 pages of first book on Amazon's suggested list for the topic. Snark is a haven for those without actual experience. It allows you to seem like an expert on something when you probably don't know anything more than saying "Todd Rundgren is a goddamn hack." I don't know a thing about Todd Rundgren.
I admit snarking my ass off about pop music, or anything popular, when I was younger. Having gotten more experience listening, understanding, trying to write, or playing that genre of music, I only started to grasp how powerful and connecting a lyric or song could be that a critic probably would write off as "trite." And that's driven me to a ton of behavior that would probably fall under Scocca's definition of smarm. Hopefully, most of what as a musician or a listener is driven by passion and love of the craft, but sometimes you just don't insult somebody or their work because it's the wrong thing to do or it will hurt your career.
Which leads me to my last point. His examples of memorable negativity (Hunter Thompson on Nixon, Mencken on the Scopes Trial, etc.) are all truly fantastic works written by certified giants in their field. No, you don't have to have a lick of previous credit to do something truly wonderful, but it certainly helps. Personally, I don't feel like I've ever done something truly great, although I certainly hope I've given every project I've been on my absolute best. But I don't think Moby's wonderful negative piece of R. Kelly's "Black Panties" would carry the same weight if it wasn't Moby writing it (and he still fills the piece full of "conditional" smarm). For me, I'd rather focus on truly amazing works, things that inspire because of their novelty, their genius, or their charisma. And if you come across something bad, learn from it. Ask yourself why it's bad and how you can avoid the same mistake, instead of tweeting about its worthlessness.
Let me get this out of the way: I have no business blogging or reviewing music. As for why I decided to throw a blog up here, I'm pretty sure my fiance just is tired of me telling her about music she's never heard of and I need to blab about it somehow - maybe I'll even stir up a discussion. As for reviewing music, my opinions are meant be completely subjective. I just want to talk about things that I love, completely surprised me, or I'm still trying to wrap my head around.
This record killed me. Completely randomly I grabbed the record and listened to it on a subway ride to a gig last week. Since then, it's been in pretty heavy rotation. Simply put, no one is writing tunes like these guys put on this album. Like too many other musicians, I end up tuning out the vocals half the time. Here, the vocals demand your attention - they play just as interesting a role as any horn line (dig the way the odd phrasing moves over the bar line on the opener "Be Mine") and push very solid tunes into an "infectious" realm.
And that's the killer factor about this album. Take out some of the jazz, and these are really good pop tunes. Take out the pop stuff, and you've got a pretty solid jazz record (these aren't tunes just for blowing, and it never goes anywhere "skronky" just to show they can). What really amazed me is that these relatively young (mid-20s) musicians were able to meld the two together so well. There's a lot of "where the hell did that come from" left-turns that work so well in these tunes and constantly keep things interesting that really kept me coming back.
I'm really looking forward to hearing more from this group as they continue, and hopefully they come to New York sometime to tour. If you give them a listen, let me know what you think!