Thursday, November 05, 2015

Lynn Harrell & Vladimir Ashkenazy
"Beethoven: The Cello Sonatas" (Vinyl)

The cello sonatas, like Beethoven's string quartets, can act as vignettes into his life, highlighting his compositional and emotional maturity at different points during his output.

The early sonatas (1 & 2) belong to the very early Opus 5 and show a young Beethoven still wrestling with the traditional forms of his predecessors while the more famous 4th and 5th sonatas (Opus 102) come from the composer during his most revolutionary period.

Harrell attacks the early sonatas in this cycle with a sort of intensity that I'm not sure I like.  Perhaps this ferocity will be more appropriate for the later sonatas on the second LP when I manage to arrive there.
"Bird-Brains" (CD)

Merrill Garbus' performance pseudonym is most accurately spelled tUnE-yArDs, but we'll simplify it for the sake of personal sanity and so I don't feel like I'm dyslexic every time I try and read something written lIkE tHiS.

I first encountered Tune-Yards because of the infectious and weird 'Gangsta' off of her sophomore album.  Being very familiar with Whokill, it was fun to reverse engineer Garbus' efforts looking back to her first album which I feel is decidedly primitive in many technological efforts.  Don't misunderstand: primitive, but no less creative and inspired.

I've become a big fan of Tune-Yards' work if for no other reason than she seems completely unafraid of being her own version of whatever she is. The freak flag pole is indeed tall with this one. Delightful.
Ahmad Jamal
"at the Blackhawk" (Vinyl)

Released in 1962, this was the final recording by the trio made up of Ahmad Jamal on piano, Vernell Fournier on drums and Israel Crosby on bass.  Use of the designator the Ahmad Jamal Trio or the Three Strings seems to be common for this time.

In August of 1962 Israel Crosby died from a heart attack just after beginning work with the George Shearing Quintet.  Whether it was Crosby's departure to work with Shearing or his death that drove Jamal into a three-year hiatus late in 1962, I can not tell.

Is it...could it be? A...return from the dead?!

I hope so.  

That little "break" took a lot longer than I was anticipating.  Nearly an entire year.  I could mention how I've lived in two separate parts of the country during that time, but it should be sufficient to say that I've relocated a mere 1,900 miles away from my last home, started a new job and am sitting in the comfort of a new home enjoying my new internet for the first time in over a year.

Among other time-wasting pastimes, I will be getting back to the record blogging as soon as I can with a bit more explanation.  Until then...

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Because I never actually said anything...

It's worth mentioning (because no one noticed) that there's been a hiatus here.  There are several good reasons for this.

1) My records are all in storage
2) My stereo is all in storage
3) I'm NOT in storage

Life's many games have me in an unusual holding pattern right now that means my recordings, stereo and I are not in the same place at the same time.  We'll get back to it as soon as we can.  In the meantime, my iPod and I are becoming even closer friends.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Essa-Pekka Salonen
"Bartok: Music for Strings, Percussion & Celeste" (CD)

American orchestras have ascribed to a certain hierarchy for the last 100 years or so.  The Big Five have included a bevy of east coast orchestras, but recently, perhaps in the last 30 years, California has emerged with not one, but two contenders for inclusion amongst America's Finest.

The San Fransisco Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic are now regarded as two of the finest, most stable and productive ensembles in the country.  In Los Angeles, this is in no small part to the tenure of Finnish conductor Essa-Pekka Salonen, music director from 1992 - 2009.

Recording Bartok's "Music for Strings, Percussion & Celeste" and "Concerto for Orchestra" is an overwhelming idea. Once the recording is finished, it's added to a very large pile of recordings that have been made of these works.  This is to speak to the power and popularity of these two works.  They are instantly gripping, challenging and yet rewarding to listen to, even to the moderately untrained ear.

Creedence Clearwater Revival
"Creedence Clearwater Revival" (CD)

One of the 70's finest purewater rock 'n roll bands made their debut with this album in 1968.  While they always had a country-fried flavor to them, CCR was forever willing to play boogie woogie, soul, R&B...whatever they felt like playing.  On this album, one of their biggest successes was with a cover of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You" while the band's "Susie Q" turned out to be one of the band's most enduring singles.

While this album was released at the height of the hippie movement, the band is decidedly (and gratefully) out-of-step.  There are no flower power undertones or any love-fest thinking.  It is Bayou boogie in it's purest distilled form.  The world needed these boys.
Sonic Youth
"Dirty" (CD)

Sonic Youth's 7th full-length album (though only their 3rd on major label Geffen) was released in 1992.  Recorded by Butch Vig, it features a grungier sound than previous Youth records due to the overwhelming popularity of Grunge at the time.  (Hiring the producer and mixer of Nirvana's "Nevermind" couldn't have helped either.)

I don't profess to be the biggest authority on Sonic Youth, but I will say I am a huge supporter of the process they represent.  Alongside the radio-friendly top 40 world was East Coast's underground music scene, a darker, noisier music world that also brought us bands like the Pixies.   It pleases me that alongside the bubble-wrapped easily digested music there was (and is) this exploring continually happening.  I think you've always had to dig deeper to find it, but it lurks, just beneath the surface.
Soledad Brothers
"Soledad Brothers" (CD)

Digging back into my college music days we find the Soledad Brothers.  Hello, friends.

Released in 2000, this debut album by the Toledo, OH trio was produced by Jack White.  It helped bring the revival of garage blues-rock that the Greenhornes, the Kinks, the Vines and the White Stripes participated in.
While they never enjoyed huge success, the Brothers are often quoted as being influential to the likes of Jack White for their raw, unpolished bluesy touch that sounded a great deal like a tent revival service drenched in guitar overdrive.
I played regularly in Toledo during the time this band was active.  It was fun to see a community support their hometown heroes.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Andrew Bird
"Armchair Apocrypha" (Vinyl)

Andrew Bird's fourth solo album was released in 2007.  A slight departure from his earlier solo albums (and their heavy emphasis on the violin) sees a favoring more electric guitars and traditional "combo" feel.

That change, for me, makes this album less magical for me than Bird's earlier work.  Albums like "Weather Systems" or "The Mysterious Production of Eggs" had a quirky, unique flavor that was not easily imitated.  With 'Apocrypha,' some of that magic has waned and more accessible song-writing leaves this collection feeling a little washed-out.

A harsh opinion for a record that is still head-and-shoulders above your regular fare, but when you have a habit of being exceptional...

Monday, December 30, 2013

Rage Against the Machine
"Renegades" (CD)

This was Rage's fourth and final studio album.  It was released in 2000, just after Zach de la Rocha had already left the band. It followed closely on the heels of their seminal work, 'The Battle for Los Angeles.'

Unlike their other albums, 'Renegades' is a record made exclusively of covers from a wide-ranging list of artists including Bob Dylan, Devo and the MC5.

For me, it's less appealing than their earlier, original works.  While their treatment of known songs is often interesting and compelling, there's some level of sizzle that is lost.  I'm sure that's a statement engineered to pick a fight with a hardcore RAtM fan, but I'm pretty sure I can take her.
Various Artists
"The Man with the Iron Fists" (CD)

Imagine the meeting: a member of the Wu-Tang clan comes to you and describes a film starring himself living in a turn-of-the-century Chinese village where he must learn to Kung Fu against the evil families with the help of an Australian cowboy.  All set to a soulful set of old-school hip hop.

Who wouldn't sign on for that? Well, no one, apparently.  With co-writing credit to Eli Roth and production credit from Quentin Tarantino, this film knows its audience and went after it with as much grace and finesse as it could muster.

The film itself is far from great, but who really could've expected that? No, what you did expect, however, was fun Kung Fu fight scenes set to bumpin' hip hop.  And that you get. Sort of.

In the film there is a heap of music that has been tweaked for it's own purposes.  A perfect example is the opening credit's use of the Wu-Tang's "Shame on the Nigga" which gets a Far East makeover and is a great asset to the film.  Sadly, that track isn't included on this soundtrack.

I'll never quite understand how so much of the most memorable music in a film can be excluded from the official soundtrack, but once again, I would say this is a compilation that falls far short of it's potential.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Joy Division
"Unknown Pleasures" (Vinyl)

The debut album from the British post-punk band Joy Division was released in 1979. It proved to be the first of only two albums that Joy Division would release before the untimely demise of lead singer Ian Curtis.  The rest of the band endured as New Order, but the Division albums have built a healthy cult following.

I can't say this is a genre/time I've mined too much. The post-punk years in Great Britain are largely outside my sphere of knowledge. I only mention that because for me a healthy portion of my understanding of music can come from knowing where we were and where we were headed, musically speaking.  The music on this album comes from a time and geography that is largely foreign to me.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Charles Bradley
"Victim of Love" (Vinyl)

Bradley's sophomore album was released earlier this year (2013) and has been quietly sitting on my record shelf ever since. Shame on me.

It's not that there's been a 'hit' single off of the album that has started to garner attention for the 65 year-old singer, but rather Bradley's dynamic performances have been garnering attention worldwide as he tours with the Menahan Street Band. He's growing to be viewed as the disciple of James Brown, picking up where Soul music left off.

At first listen, this album doesn't seem to stretch too much from his previous.  The distinctive instrumental stylings of the Menahan crew are quickly becoming their own idiom.  This is fine with me.
I think the next think Charles Bradley & Co. should do is release a live album in an attempt to capture the energy from one of his concerts.  I think this is where people would realize just how good Charles is.