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.)