Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Continental Drift


Jazz fans are familiar with the concept of big band battles.  I’m intrigued by the unofficial jazz clash between Europe and North America.  Based on my listening habits in recent months, my money’s on Europe.

Three new releases by European pianists illustrative the point.  Each is more imaginative and engaging than the efforts of most of their American counterparts.  Tigran Hamasyan is one of the most exciting musicians of the moment.  The Armenian pianist’s 29-minute For Gyumri possesses improvisational daring, melodic charm and a vast sonic range.

The septuagenarian Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson demonstrates that it’s still possible to make the conventional jazz trio format seem fresh on Contra la Indecisión.   Elliot Galvin, an impudent British talent, conveys funny jazz jokes on the deeply amusing The Influencing Machine.  I’m eager for Americans to rise to the challenge.


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I write weekly concert previews for The Kansas City Star.

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I’ll feature David George on my weekly KCUR segment tomorrow.

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I reviewed Cyrille Aimée’s concert at the Folly Theater for Plastic Sax.

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The Kansas City rock musician Billy Johnson has died.

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I barely survived Mary Chapin Carpenter’s morose headlining set at the Kansas City Folk Festival.  To paraphrase the eminent philosopher Chief Keef, that’s that stuff I don’t like.  To be fair, following the jubilant set of Los Texmaniacs and Flaco Jiménez’s party music would have been a challenge for anyone.  Kalyn Fay, an Oklahoman Cherokee singer-songwriter, was my find of the day.

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An in-store performance by the soul revivalist and roots-rock newcomer Liz Brasher thrilled me last week.  Here’s “Cold Baby”.

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Sa-Roc’s self-empowerment anthem “Forever” is persuasive.  RIYL: Lizzo, appreciating “exactly who you are,” Brother Ali.

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I realize it makes me little different than an awful 13-year-old boy, but the novelty of countertenor vocalists still amuses me.  Even so, I’m awed by Franco Fagioli’s Handel Arias.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Classical Gas


My world wasn’t instantly transformed when I impulsively purchased a promotional copy of Philip Glass’ North Star for $1 as a teenager.  My unseasoned ears couldn’t process the work of the minimalist composer.  What initially struck me as impossibly cold and foreign now sounds warm and familiar.  The propulsive portions of Pulse/Quartet, a lively rendering of two works by Glass’ peer Steve Reich, put me in mind of North Star.  I’m immediately smitten this time around.


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I write weekly concert previews for The Kansas City Star.

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I named Olivia Fox the KCUR Band of the Week.

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Recently at Plastic Sax: Ozark jazz, a weekly survey of Kansas City’s jazz scene and a report from an Ornette Coleman symposium.

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Crooner Vic Damone has died.

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The country artist Daryle Singletary has died.

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I was one of six people at Lola Pistola’s show in Kansas City this week.  I didn’t buy any merch, but I 'll donate a somewhat misleading new tagline to the artist: “Patti Smith with a Puerto Rican accent.”

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Intermediate State, a 20-minute EP of Ethiopian jazz by the Belgian group Black Flower, is wondrously transportive. 

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If I were to become a Lyft driver, GoGo Penguin’s A Humdrum Star might provide the soundtrack to my midnight shift.  The cosmopolitan but ultimately vacuous fusion of jazz and electronica would create a tip-oriented tone for my clients.

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I realize it’s hypocritical to deride derivative bands like Greta Van Fleet while praising the recycling of Fu Manchu.  My primary defense of Clone of the Universe hinges on the epic 18-minute closing track.  Here’s the title track.

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Third-rate Roxy Music, anyone?

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J Dilla lives!  The Jefferson Park Boys play dreamy Dilla-esque jazz on Casual Horns, Dog.

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Nightfall, the hushed pairing of trumpeter Till Brönner and bassist Dieter Ilg, is gorgeous.  Here’s “A Thousand Kisses Deep”.

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While it’s not the least bit titillating, the Fifty Shades Freed soundtrack is a handy survey of modern pop. 

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Review: Black Panther: The Album


I don't patronize movie theaters.  Staring at a screen in a dark room doesn’t appeal to me, partially because there’s an endless supply of live and recorded music I could be processing instead.  I may never see Black Panther, but I’ve had the soundtrack on repeat all weekend.  It’s the Kendrick Lamar album I hadn’t expected.  Not only does he dominate the mixtape-like soundtrack, K. Dot sounds like he’s having fun.  Unlike his mercenary turns with Taylor Swift and Maroon 5, Lamar seems entirely at home on the pop-laced project.  The first single is my least favorite song.  The tracks with hip-hop royalty including Ab-Soul, Jay Rock, Future, Vince Staples, Schoolboy Q and 2 Chainz are instant classics.  Lamar does, in fact, “live on ten.”


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I wrote and narrated a five-minute feature about the Kansas City jazz musician Stan Kessler for KCUR.

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I write weekly concert previews for The Kansas City Star.

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I highlighted Julia Othmer in my weekly Band of the Week segment for KCUR.

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I lauded a momentous concert by Ryan Keberle & Catharsis at Plastic Sax.

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Composer Jóhann Jóhannsson has died.  It’s a tremendous loss.  I documented my passion for his music at There Stands the Glass in 2012 and 2016.

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Dennis Edwards of the Temptations has died.  I’ve always adored his solo hit “Don’t Look Any Further”.

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Cabaret vocalist Wesla Whitfield has died.

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Hip-hop pioneer Lovebug Starski has died.

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I haven’t been truly enthused about a new Tech N9ne release in a few years.  The initial singles “Bad Juju” and “Don’t Nobody Want One” indicate that his next album will focus on the elements that once made him exceptional.

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There’s nothing worse than contrived jazz poetry.  Affected jive voices make me cringe.  Backed by the all-star band of saxophone titan David Murray, pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Jaribu Shahid and drummer Nasheet Waits, the spoken word artist Saul Williams sidesteps the pitfalls of the form on the vital Blues for Memo.

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Sports journalists often speak of narrow defeats as good losses.  That’s how I feel about Bigyuki’s latest synthesis of jazz, R&B and electronic music.   Reaching for Chiron is RIYL Thundercat, moral victories, Bilal.  Here’s “Eclipse”.

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FaltyDL’s galvanizing Three Rooms transports me to a terrifying place.  RIYL: rubber rooms, dancing as bombs drop, straightjackets.

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Just as I can’t listen to Mount Eerie’s devastating A Crow Looked At Me, I can’t handle the raw pain documented on Mary Gauthier’s Rifles and Rosary Beads.  Here’s “Bullet Holes in the Sky”.  RIYL: depression, Dave Van Ronk, PTSD.

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The James Hunter Six’s Whatever It Takes is RIYL Jackie Wilson, all vintage everything, Amy Winehouse.  Here’s “I Don’t Wanna Be Without You”.

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Wanna make out?  I have the perfect soundtrack cued up.  Woman, the seductive new album by Rhye, is the best Sade album since 1988’s Stronger Than Pride.  Here’s “Count To Five”.

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Mopo is a wild-eyed Finnish jazz trio.  Mopocalypse is RIYL Moon Hooch, dancing, Galactic.  Here’s "Tökkö".

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The more I listen to H.C. McEntire’s Lionheart, the less I like it.  RIYL Emmylou Harris, melancholy, Kacey Musgraves.  Here’s “Quartz in the Valley”.

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The good stuff on Lonnie Smith’s All In My Mind is capable of inducing altered states.  Alas, it’s not all good.  RIYL: Dr. John, organ jazz, Pharoah Sanders.

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God bless John Prine.

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Julian Lage’s Modern Lore is a loopy surprise.  RIYL: Chet Atkins, smiling, Les Paul.  Here’s “Roger the Dodger”.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Friday, February 09, 2018

Album Review: Stax Singles, Volume 4: Rarities & the Best of the Rest


What’s the best music the United States produced in the 20th century?  Candidates range from the songs forged at Tin Pan Alley in the early 1900s to the New York raps of Nas and Jay-Z in the ‘90s.  While I wouldn’t bicker with anyone who nominated Aaron Copland’s compositions, the salsa issued by Fania Records, Hank Williams’ pain songs, prime Kansas City swing, Meters-driven New Orleans funk or ferocious Chicago blues, my favorite sound is the earthy Memphis soul documented by Stax Records.

Released today, the six-disc boxed set Stax Singles, Volume 4: Rarities & the Best of the Rest contains a treasure trove of some of the finest music of the last 100 years.

The first three discs are essential for anyone who already owns The Complete Stax/Volt Singles (1959-1968), The Complete Stax/Volt Soul Singles: 1968-1971 and The Complete Stax/Volt Soul Singles: 1972-1975.  As Rob Bowman asserts in his liner notes, the first half of the collection consists of “75 B-sides released between 1960 and 1975 that are, by and large, better than most companies’ A-sides.”

Far from dregs, these B-sides are extraordinary.  Standouts include Bobby Marchan’s manic proto-punk “That’s the Way Life Goes,” Dorothy Williams’ rabid “Watchdog,” Booker T. & the MG’s elegant “Sunday Sermon,” the Soul Children’s devastating “Poem on the School House Door” and Shirley Brown’s uplifting “Yes Sir Brother.”  As I continue to enjoy these 75 life-affirming songs for the remainder of my life, I’m certain to embrace new favorites.

The less said about the fourth disc the better.  Appallingly wretched schlock like Billy Eckstine’s “I Wanna Be Your Baby” and the overwrought acid rock of Finley Brown’s “Gypsy” dominate the dated material culled from the Stax subsidiary Enterprise.  The 26 songs from the Hip imprint on the fifth disc are far more compelling.  Ranging from the Goodees’ berzerk pop freakout “Condition Red” to Cargoe’s power-pop gem “Feel Alright,” the disc contains plenty of worthy curiosities.

The boxed set returns to soulful form on the sixth and final disc with 22 exquisite sacred songs from the Chalice and Gospel Truth labels.  The Dixie Nightingales’ civil rights anthem “Forgive These Fools” and Pops Staples’ eerie “Tryin’ Time” are among the cleansing hosannas.

Aside from the completist-only dreck on the fourth disc, my sole objection to Stax Singles, Volume 4: Rarities & the Best of the Rest is the failure of the 78-page booklet to identify the A-side for each of the tracks on the first three discs.  I’ve been compelled to spend more time than I’d care to admit doing research at Discogs.  Even so, geeky inquests aren’t necessary to appreciate the indispensable set.  After all, it contains more than four hours of the best music ever made.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Album Review: Migos- Culture II




Why’s everybody picking on Migos?  Even one of my favorite locally based rappers joined the indignant mob that’s bashing the group.  The herd mentality has it wrong.  Culture II, the Atlanta trio’s new album, may be even more entertaining than last year’s massive breakout release Culture.  If Culture II works as a failsafe party-starter in the dead of winter, I can only imagine how combustible it’ll be in July.  Criticizing Migos’ laughable lyrics is folly.  The hilarious ignorance of Offset, Quavo and Takeoff on bangers like “Stir Fry” is an essential component of Migos’ appeal.  Migos is all about staccato rhythms and wavy vibes, attributes in abundant supply on the 105-minute release.  Ingrates whine that Culture II is too long.  That’s like complaining that a case of beer is too heavy.


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I write weekly concert previews for The Kansas City Star.

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I featured Rubeo on my weekly spotlight on locally based musicians for KCUR.

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Blues saxophonist Eddie Shaw has died.  I’m fortunate to have seen the member of Howlin’ Wolf’s band perform a handful of times.

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Wut.  The sax-wielding Kansas City band Merlin manages to evoke both the classic metal of Iron Maiden and the zany prog-rock of Van der Graaf Generator on the astonishing Wizard.  If the lackluster vocalist were supplanted by an appropriately hammy singer in the vein of Bruce Dickinson or Peter Hammill, Wizard might be an instant classic.

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Kansas City’s Sara Morgan makes convincing ‘80s-era country on Average Jane.  RIYL: Pam Tillis, homespun charm, Kathy Mattea.

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Wayne Escoffery demonstrates that it’s still possible to make a mainstream jazz album filled with exciting surprises on Vortex.  RIYL: Branford Marsalis, persistence, John Coltrane.

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Evidence’s Weather or Not is a standard-issue Rhymesayers release, which is to say it’s first-rate hip-hop.  RIYL: Atmosphere, slow flows, Eyedea & Abilities.  Here’s “Jim Dean”.

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“Space Gun”, the title track of the forthcoming Guided by Voices album, is pretty great.

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Ivan Lins and Gilson Peranzzetta collaborate on the understated Cumplicidade.

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Catching arena-ready pop shows in small clubs is disorienting.  I took in a show by the OneRepublic-like Mako and the Joywave-ish Night Lights at RecordBar last night.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)