Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Combat Rock: Joe Strummer and Four Fists


Strummer 001, a recently released two-hour compilation of Joe Strummer rarities, confirms what I’d already knew.  The man who died in 2002 did his best work with the Clash.  Even so, hearing Strummer working out new ideas before and after his contributions to the seminal band is fascinating.  I hadn’t heard half of the 32 punk, folk, pub-rock and reggae tracks on Strummer 001.  The previously unissued selections make it clear that Strummer was striving to become a modern-day Woody Guthrie.  He succeeded.

Four Fists’ 6666, a collaboration between underground hip-hop luminaries P.O.S and Astronautalis, is a de facto tribute to Strummer.  Not only is the sixth selection titled “Joe Strummr,” the opening track “Nobody’s Biz” references the Clash’s “White Riot.”  The snippet of a Strummer interview that opens “Unjinxed” highlights Four Fists’ embrace of Strummer’s mandate to create protest music.

With the exception of the title track of Four Fist’s album and a version of Strummer’s garage-band classic “Keys To Your Heart,” all of 6666 is better than anything on 001.  The vitality of Four Fists’ fusion of rap, rock and electronic music honors Strummer’s legacy.  The only thing P.O.S and Astronautalis get wrong is their lament that “Joe Strummer has been dead for too damn long.”  Strummer lives in 6666.


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I reviewed Ed Sheeran’s concert at Arrowhead Stadium.

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My most recent concert previews for The Kansas City Star are here and here.

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I reviewed performances by the Vijay Iyer Sextet at the Gem Theater and Ramsey Lewis and Urban Knights at the Folly Theater for Plastic Sax.

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Jazz saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett has died.

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The opera star Montserrat Caballé has died.

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The experimental musician Takehisa Kosugi has died.

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Angela Maria has died.  My fellow music obsessives will appreciate this documentary about the Brazilian star.

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Ambrose Akinmusire’s Origami Harvest has replaced Kanye West as the subject of the most heated music-related altercations I'm having with my family and friends.  Not everyone shares my enthusiasm for the probable album-of-the-year.

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Zinc City is a fever dream in which saxophonist David Binney and pianist Manuel Engel give free reign to their most psychotic impulses.  RIYL: Karl Stockhausen, nightmares, John Cage.

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The avant-garde bluegrass of Nathan Bowles’ Plainly Mistaken occasionally sounds like a mashup of Earl Scruggs and Philip Glass.

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Spider Bags’ scuzzy Someday Everything Will Be Fine is my kind of rock and roll album.  RIYL: Tav Falco, stage-diving into the abyss, Deer Tick.  Here’s “Oxcart Blues”.

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Lovely or fussy?  Artful genius or pretentious twaddle?  Past his prime or a lion in winter?  I won’t argue with either set of assessments of Paul Simon’s In the Blue Light

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Donny McCaslin’s concert at the Folly Theater in 2017 was transcendent because the saxophonist’s trio played jazz with the energy, volume and showmanship of a rock band.  McCaslin loses the plot on Blow, a rock album that resembles a forgettable solo venture by a David Bowie sideman.  RIYL: Adrian Belew, miscalculations, Reeves Gabrels.

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Prodded by a pal, I reluctantly listened to the Midnight’s Kids, a nostalgic love letter to mid-’80s suburban America in which synth-pop and video games were ascendent.  RIYL: Howard Jones, synth-wave, Yazoo.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Festival Review: Cropped Out 2018


I pogoed at a rapturous performance by the revolutionary rock band Half Japanese five minutes after my mind was scrambled by a collaboration between the heroic titan Anthony Braxton and the imaginative harpist Jacqueline Kerrod in Louisville on Saturday.  The startling contrast between the iconoclastic musicians is what the Cropped Out festival in Louisville is all about.

The annual event represents a paradise for broad-minded aficionados of outsider music.  I heard folk, punk, indie-rock, hip-hop, free jazz, experimental noise, bluegrass, chamber jazz, honky tonk, footwork and a comedian dressed as a opossum at the two-day event.  The music-centric festival isn’t for everyone.  Cropped Out is all about the music.  Organizers can scarcely be bothered with maintaining an online presence.  And while it boasts a glorious view of the Ohio River, the festival grounds at the American Turners Club resemble a condemned country club.

Unlike many of the approximately 750 attendees whose stylistic choices signaled an absolute rejection of the mainstream, my enthusiasm for the esoteric lineup isn’t exclusionary.  I embrace Cropped Out because it allows me to gorge on acts that I might not otherwise see without the hassles associated with major festivals.  I certainly didn’t like everything I heard.  Circuit Des Yeux, the most anticipated act at the festival, did nothing for me.  Thankfully, outings by the two veteran artists that compelled me to attend Cropped Out fulfilled my expectations.  My ten favorite performances:

1. Anthony Braxton and Jacqueline Kerrod- a giant of American music (my Instagram footage)
2. Michael Hurley- a true folk hero (my Instagram footage)
3. Drunks With Guns- surly St. Louis punks
4. Nathan Bowles and Bill MacKay- avant-garde folk (my Instagram footage)
5. Jana Rush- footwork pioneer
6. Half Japanese- bandleader Jad Fair is a rock heretic
7. The Web- disaffected prog-rock
8. Sex Tide- punk rage
9. Quin Kirchner- chamber-jazz (my Instagram footage)
10. Taiwan Housing Project- incendiary rock noise

Next year’s goal: crossing Harold Budd, Evan Parker and Ralph Towner off my bucket list at the Big Ears Festival.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Album Review: John Scofield- Combo 66


John Scofield is so unassumingly exceptional that it’s only natural to take the guitarist and his rapidly expanding catalog for granted.  He tours relentlessly while issuing a steady stream of recordings.  Combo 66, the latest album in his vast discography, is (ho hum) excellent.  Joined by keyboardist Gerald Clayton, bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Bill Stewart, Scofield grooves like a Wurlitzer jukebox stocked with Grant Green and Jimi Hendrix singles.  In addition to acting as a party-starter, Scofield plays with breathtaking grace on lovely melodies including  “I’m Sleeping In.”  Yet it’s Clayton’s singular work on organ and piano that will compel me to return to Combo 66 years from now.


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I write weekly concert previews for The Kansas City Star.

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I reviewed a performance by Ryan Lee’s Mezzo String for Plastic Sax.

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The material Otis Rush recorded for the Cobra label in the 1950s epitomizes what I want from the blues (and most other forms of music, really.)  Raw songs like “Groaning the Blues” and “Double Trouble” have terrified, thrilled and inspired me for decades.  Rush died last week.

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Charles Aznavour has died.

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Latin jazz legendJerry González has died.

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Studio wizard Geoff Emerick has died.  (Tip via BGO.)

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The most interesting aspect of Giorgio Moroder’s appearance at the Truman last week was the way in which individual members the audience of about 600 responded to each selection.  I was there primarily for the Donna Summer hits, but most people only became fully energized when the influential producer’s contributions to movie soundtracks like “Top Gun,” “Flashdance” and “The Neverending Story” filled the room with processed cheese.

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Chic’s It’s About Time doesn’t damage Niles Rodgers’ legacy.  RIYL: “Good Times,” dance floors, “I Want Your Love.”

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The lithe production of No Name’s Room 25 won’t bump in anyone’s whip.  Even so, it’s an entirely winning hip-hop album.  RIYL: Dessa, taking a break from Cardi and Nicki, Chance the Rapper.

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I remember when Lil Wayne was the best rapper alive.  While it’s not a disaster, Tha Carter V saddens me.

(Original image of John Scofield and Bill Stewart at the Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival in 2017 by There Stands the Glass.)

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Concert Review: Lonnie Holley in Swope Park




An ugly truth was revealed 25 minutes into Lonnie Holley’s appearance in Swope Park on the afternoon of Saturday, September 29. More than 100 name tag-wearing people who were part of a Kansas City art tour affiliated with the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art left the concert and boarded buses that were parked near the pavilion hosting weekend presentations for the Open Spaces festival. Less than 20 people remained. The small group of Holley’s fans and Open Spaces staff members witnessed an amazing performance.

The music of the celebrated artist with an extraordinary backstory is equal parts Moondog, Nina Simone and Sun Ra. Accompanied by Dave Nelson’s looped trombone and Marlon Patton’s drumming (both men also triggered electronic effects), Holley shouted, pleaded, whispered and whistled as he played keyboards on loose compositions about the presence of God, the nature of time, an epidemic of sorrow and the sacrifices of our forefathers. A piece about emotional and electrical currents resembled an avant-garde version of “Wichita Lineman.” The hypnotic resonance of Holley’s cosmic gospel raised my spirits even as it moved me to tears.

Heavy traffic for The Illusionists show at Starlight Theatre made exiting Swope Park difficult. The professional magicians are entertaining tricksters (my review of a 2016 show by the Illusionists), but I left the park knowing that I’d witnessed Holley conjure real magic.




















(Original images by There Stands the Glass.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Album Review: Blood Orange- Negro Swan

I once thought Blood Orange was exceedingly overrated.  The music made by the lionized auteur Devonté Hynes finally catches up to the breathless hype on Negro Swan, one of the most engaging alternative R&B albums to be released in the wake of Frank Ocean’s game-changing 2012 masterpiece Channel OrangeNegro Swan’s glossiest songs could be psychedelic remixes of George Michael’s biggest hits while less structured tracks sound like spontaneous late-night D’Angelo jams.  The spoken word interludes about sexual politics and gender identity don’t address concerns of immediate interest to me, but the passages provide effective transitions between the stylistically disparate selections.  Here’s “Jewelry” and “Saint”.


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I reviewed Billy Joel’s concert at Kauffman Stadium for The Kansas City Star.

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I write weekly concert previews for The Kansas City Star.

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I slam everything in an irritable Plastic Sax post.

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Chas Hodges of Chas and Dave has died.  (Tip via BGO.)

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Good Lord!  The deep 1980s funk on the Dur-Dur Band compilation Volume 1, Volume 2 & Previously Unreleased Tracks saved my soul the other day.  Not even the atrocious sound quality spoils my appreciation of the uplifting music that seems to be based equally on the (Jamaican) Wailers and indigenous African styles.  (Tip via Big Steve.)

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The Near East Quartet achieve one of the rarest feats in jazz with “Jinyang”: the creation a compelling music video.  The South Korean group’s ECM debut is imbued with similarly originality.

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“The Gypsy Faerie Queen”, a new song by Marianne Faithfull and Nick Cave that “exists in the twilight in-between,” is almost more than I can bear. 

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Mandy Barnett’s Strange Conversation has a few nice moments.  RIYL: Patsy Cline, near misses, K.D. Lang.

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I expected to like Anthony Roth Costanzo’s Arc.  I was mistaken.  RIYL: Philip Glass, countertenors, George Frideric Handel.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Song Review: Ambrose Akinmusire's “a blooming bloodfruit in a hoodie”




















Ambrose Akinmusire’s validation of my hot take on his new song “a blooming bloodfruit in a hoodie” gratified me last week.  Minutes after I suggested that the “essential new ‘a blooming bloodfruit in a hoodie’ is the jazz equivalent of Lou Reed’s monumental ‘Street Hassle’” on Twitter, Akinmusire affirmed the assessment.  Like “Street Hassle,” the coarse 13-minute track is simultaneously funny and tragic as it fluently merges high art and popular music.  The opening selection from the forthcoming album Origami Harvest is one of the most exciting things I’ve heard in 2018 and reinforces my belief that Akinmusire is one of the most vital artists of the new millennium.


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I write weekly concert previews for The Kansas City Star.

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I reviewed the Count Basie Orchestra’s new album All About That Basie at Plastic Sax.

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I’d be lying if I suggested I was a fan of Mac Miller.  Even so, his recent Tiny Desk Concert featuring a band that includes Thundercat and Justus West showed Miller evolving toward a musical direction that appeals to me.  Miller died last week.

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The rugged saxophonist Big Jay McNeely has died.

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Maartin Allcock of Fairport Convention and Jethro Tull has died.  (Tip via BGO.)

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Katherine Paul, the woman behind Black Belt Eagle Scout, is less heralded than many of her similarly winsome indie-rock peers, but I prefer her album Mother of My Children to most of the more acclaimed efforts.  Here’s “Indians Never Die”.

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Rich the Factor makes a cameo appearance on Rico, the new album by the ostensible drug kingpin and rapper Berner.  Chronixx, Cam’ron and Kevin Gates are also featured.  Here’s the title track.

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Cedric Burnside’s Benton County Relic is an admirable blues album.  RIYL: R.L. Burnside, family traditions, T-Model Ford.

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I’m still mourning the February death of Jóhann Jóhannsson.  The Icelandic composer’s posthumously released score for the horror flick Mandy also acts as an unsettlingly abrasive soundtrack for the current societal discourse.

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Most people think I’m kidding when I tell them I adore Ariana Grande’s recent music.  Maybe they’ll come around to my way of hearing things after they take in the pop star’s interpretation of Thundercat’s “Them Changes.”

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Friday, September 14, 2018

Concert Review: The Bang on a Can All-Stars and the Kansas City Chorale at the Folly Theater



















The most prestigious offering of Open Spaces was an artistic triumph and an attendance disaster.  About 100 people showed up for the ambitious collaboration between the Bang on a Can All-Stars, one of New York’s most decorated new music ensembles, and the four-time Grammy Award recipients the Kansas City Chorale at the Folly Theater on Thursday.  Tickets to the Kansas City premiere of “Anthracite Fields”, the oratorio about coal miners that won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Music, were only $20.  The dismal turnout for the once-in-a-lifetime event at the venue with more than 1,000 seats was almost certainly the smallest showing for either acclaimed group in years.

Bang on a Can clarinetist Ken Thomson didn’t bother to use a microphone when he told the small gathering seated near the stage that his group had rehearsed with the Kansas City Chorale the previous two days.  The preparation paid off.  Conducted by the Chorale’s Charles Bruffy, the rendering of “Anthracite Fields” was magnificent.  Bruffy’s 27-member group excelled in the uncharacteristically adventurous context.  A melding of classical, rock and folk elements, “Anthracite Fields” is a sonically jarring but emotionally compelling work.  Composer Julia Wolfe grinned broadly as she was rewarded with a standing ovation at the conclusion of the evening.

Bang on a Can opened the concert with interpretations of two similarly engaging pieces.  Described in the glossy 20-page program for the concert as “an exploration into the use of video to create a framework in which live music can develop,” a madcap reading of Christian Marclay’s “Fade to Slide” showcased Bang on a Can’s ability to transcend labels.  The sensitive playing of cellist Ashley Bathgate during Michael Gordon’s meditation on mortality “Light is Calling” was almost as heartbreaking as the sparse attendance for the crown jewel of Open Spaces.


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I reviewed the record-breaking concert by Taylor Swift, Camila Cabello and Charlie XCX at Arrowhead Stadium.

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I write weekly concert previews for The Kansas City Star.

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I implore Kansas City’s jazz artists to redirect their promotional efforts at Plastic Sax.

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The promotional video for Cropped Out causes me to my question my decision to attend next month’s outsider music festival in Louisville.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)