Saturday, August 08, 2020

Album Review: Luke Bryan- Born Here Live Here Die Here

I love women, beaches and alcohol.  So why does Luke Bryan’s latest batch of songs about lust, sand and booze infuriate me?  It’s not that I reflexively reject the superstar’s form of bro-country.  While I don’t often listen to Bryan for pleasure, I’ve given at least two of his concerts favorable reviews in The Kansas City Star.  I’ll never tire of drunken singalongs amid tens of thousands of people in arenas and stadiums.  

Yet I consider Born Here Live Here Die Here a proxy for the flagrant disregard of pandemic safety guidelines I’ve witnessed outside my home for five months.  I haven’t been to a social gathering, bar or restaurant- let alone a concert or an airport- since mid-March.  Meanwhile, a daily block party rages in my neighborhood.  A steady parade of walkers, joggers, skateboarders and cyclists winds its way through the gathering.  Needless to say, no one’s wearing a mask.  The anti-social distancing soundtrack is dominated by contemporary country.

None of this is Bryan’s fault.  Anticipating how fun its songs would sound performed live, I might have raised a toast to Born Here Live Here Die Here a year ago.  Yet in this climate, innocuous party songs like “One Margarita” fill me with impotent rage.


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I survey the month’s Charlie Parker centennial celebration events in Kansas City for KCUR.


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Opera update: My marathon currently stands at 139 operas in the last 138 days.  Teatro La Fenice’s bold production of "Il Sogna di Scipione" was one recent highlight.  Mozart really is the best, isn’t he?  And Howard Moody’s manipulative but effective "Push" deserves to be performed at churches, synagogues and high schools throughout the world.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Dust in the Wind

I enjoyed every minute of Kansas’ 16th studio album The Absence of Presence last weekend.  Even though the band retains only two members from its 1970s heyday, the new release is an impressive facsimile of the majestic pomp of Kansas’ prime.  Receiving the awful but not unexpected news of the death of my friend R. prompted the listening session.

R. was my best friend for three or four years ending in 1977.  He loved prog-rock and jazz-fusion.  R’s unusually kind and accommodating father escorted us to my first large-scale rock concert in 1976.  Fleetwood Mac, R.E.O. Speedwagon, Heart, Head East and Henry Gross were on the bill of Summer Jam at Royals Stadium, but R. was all about Kansas’ set.  We’d later see concerts by the likes of Genesis and Emerson, Lake & Palmer together.  Encountering another kid in my new neighborhood with a similarly severe music obsession altered the trajectory of my life.

Although I always preferred Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Earth, Wind & Fire and the country music I was raised on, R. expanded my horizons.  An aspiring drummer, Bill Bruford, Billy Cobham, Phil Collins, Jack DeJohnette, Carl Palmer and Tony Williams were among his favorite musicians.  Watching R. attempt to play along with tracks like “Nuclear Burn” and “Tank” introduced me to jazz and classical music.

My bond with R. inevitably decayed after my family moved again.  Our infrequent communication in the intervening years focused on girlfriends, wives and work rather than music.  R.’s death leaves me with only one surviving close male friend from my childhood and teen years.  As with my other pals, R. succumbed to substance abuse.  Dust in the wind, indeed.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Monday, August 03, 2020

Suburban Lifestyle Dream

I was an hour into The Capitol Transcriptions 1946-1949 when I encountered the President’s incendiary “Suburban Lifestyle Dream” tweet on July 29.  I was already feeling self-conscious about my affinity for the collection of whitewashed jazz, but not even the boastful coward’s divisive comment could tear me away from the recently released three-hour and thirteen-minute collection of rare Peggy Lee tracks.

On the digital-only set consisting of “records exclusively for radio airplay and not commercial sale,” Lee and (I’m guessing as credits aren’t available) West Coast jazz musicians work their way through 72 songs with the efficiency of clock-punching office workers.  The informal approach is effective.  It’s easy to imagine the optimistic post-war recordings as part of the soundtrack for tens of thousands of young white couples shopping for homes in newly developed American suburbs.

I’ll always associate Lee with “If That’s All There Is?”  The nihilistic 1969 hit scarred me as a child.  Hearing her as-yet unblemished voice sail over commercial-minded jazz shocks me.  She articulates the heartbreak of “Cottage for Sale” and the romantic ode “The Way You Look Tonight” with equally affectless tones.  Lee’s impassiveness works because the songs are so good.  The flat approach also sidesteps cringeyness on problematic selections like “Porgy.”

Interestingly, Lee’s effectiveness fails only when the whitewash fades.  She blatantly copies Billie Holiday on “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man” and assumes a put-on sacred tone on an awkward version of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.”  The bizarre inclusion of a dreary organ ruins several other tracks.  Yet at its best- such as on the cheerful interpretation of the fiancé-outing “My Sugar Is So Refined”- The Capitol Transcriptions 1946-1949 gives me a sudden urge to construct a white picket fence around my conventional suburban home.


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I rarely leave my (suburban) home for non-essential outings, but I felt obliged to check out the Saxophone Supreme: The Life & Music of Charlie Parker exhibit at the American Jazz Museum.  I share my impressions at the Kansas City jazz blog Plastic Sax.

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Even though opera is inherently absurd, productions openly acknowledging the ridiculous nature of the form are few and far between.  Opera Ballet Vlaanderen’s outlandish interpretation of Franz Schreker’s obscure 1932 opera “Der Schmied von Gent” (#130 of #133 in my daily opera binge) is hilariously irreverent.  Ignore the conformists who insist opera newbies be initiated with “La Boheme.”  All my ostensibly opera-averse friends should begin here.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

July 2020 Recap: A Monthly Exercise in Critical Transparency

Don’t let my uncharacteristically buoyant selections fool you- I’m no less agitated than I was three months ago.

Top Five Albums
1. Westside Gunn- Flygod Is an Awesome God 2
My review.
2. Asher Gamedze- Dialectic Soul
Better git it in your soul.
3. Lianne La Havas- Lianne La Havas
My review.
4. Mike Dillon- Rosewood
My review.
5. Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, Christian McBride and Brian Blade- RoundAgain
My review.

Top Five Songs
1. Genevieve Artadi- “Godzillaaa”
A purposeful grimace.
2. Ray Wylie Hubbard featuring Paula Nelson and Elizabeth Cook- “Drink Till I See Double”
Honkytonk humor.
3. Illuminati Hotties- “Freequent Letdown”
Not a pick-me-up.
4. Flo Milli- “May I”
Can she kick it? Yes, she can!
5. Elle King- “The Let Go”
Liberating.

Top Five Livestreams
1. Bobby Rush- at home
The bluesman meets the moment.
2. Snoop Dogg and DMX- Verzuz rap battle
Murder was the case.
3. Charlie Parker Centennial Tribute featuring Bobby Watson and Deborah Brown- Gem Theater
Kansas City’s finest.
4. Guitar Elation- Black Dolphin
Funkshun junkshun.
5. Little Freddie King- Louisiana Music Factory
Eightieth birthday party.

I conducted the same exercise in June, May, April, March, February and January.

(Screenshot of Isabel Leonard in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette by There Stands the Glass.)

Monday, July 27, 2020

Infinite Opera

After withstanding three productions of “La Boheme,” a trio of “La Traviata”s, two versions of “Aida” and seven hours of Der Ring des Nibelungen during my quarantine-inspired opera binge, I was ready for a reset.  My viewings of “Infinite Now” and “The Ice Break” over the weekend felt like the rewarding payoff of my self-directed 18-week crash course.

“Infinite Now,” a 2017 avant-garde freakout composed by Chaya Czernowin, is a cacophonous examination of war’s horrors and contemporary anxiety.  Only the most intrepid listeners are probably capable of enduring more than five minutes of the plotless 150-minute (semi)opera.  Fully acclimated to sonic hardship, I embrace the ways in which the Opera Ballet Antwerpen production builds on the disruptive innovations of Berg, Britten and Corigliano I’ve come to admire.

Michael Tippett’s “The Ice Break” premiered in 1977, but I suspect the Birmingham Opera Company's 2015 production is the first time it made any sense.  Staged in an industrial warehouse in which the members of the audience stand and swill beer when not being pushed about by stagehands, the depiction of social unrest looks as if it could have been filmed in Portland last weekend.  It’s astonishing.

My streak won’t end tonight.  I can’t resist watching the Metropolitan Opera’s free stream of the charismatic Natalie Dessay starring in Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor.”  Rather than inviting you to join me in relishing the diva’s ghastly meltdown in the 127th opera I’ll take in in 126 consecutive days, I double-dog dare readers to instead dip into the free streams of “Infinite Now” and “The Ice Break” linked above.


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I applaud Black Dolphin’s free livestreams at the Kansas City jazz blog Plastic Sax.

(Screenshot of Opera Ballet Antwerpen’s production of “Infinite Now” by There Stands the Glass.)

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Look What They’ve Done to My Song Ma

People keep asking what I think of Taylor Swift’s new album.  Although I prefer Shirley Collins’ wondrous new release Heart’s Ease, I’ve invested more time than I’d care to admit playing the spot-the-influence game with folklore.  I’m genuinely happy for Swift fans hearing the eclectic folk-pop sounds of the ‘70s for the first time.  To that end, I created a 47-minute Spotify playlist of songs that may have inspired folklore.  Those unwilling to click on the link should know the first five songs are by Janis Ian, Peter Gabriel, Joan Armatrading, Phoebe Snow and Jimmie Spheeris.  Fashion-conscious folks shouldn’t get too excited- the sixth song is Air Supply’s “Two Less Lonely People in the World.”

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Friday, July 24, 2020

Album Review: Juice Wrld- Legends Never Die

My spouse promptly turned the substantial contents of a medicine cabinet over to authorities after the funeral of a parent last year.  I pouted for a couple days.  I haven’t consumed a single pain-numbing pill stronger than an aspirin since undergoing knee surgery more than a decade ago.  I felt a profound sense of despair when I was unable to renew my opioid prescription.  Juice Wrld’s new posthumous album makes me thankful for the integrity of the orthopedic surgeon and my life partner.  Legends Never Die is a cautionary tale about the dangers of the intoxicants.  Hearing the troubled kid born Jarad Anthony Higgins repeatedly address the physical and psychological consequences of his pill dependence is unnerving.  He died a week after his 21st birthday in 2019.  Juice’s polished sing-song raps make Post Malone sound like Mozart but the musical simplicity of songs like “Can’t Die” resonate with Juice's peers.  Legends Never Die currently tops Billboard’s album chart.


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Opera update: After being compelled to cleanse my eyes and ears with Anna Netrebko’s portrayal of Juliet in Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette” immediately after enduring a recent work with the cringey tone of a ‘70s after-school TV special yesterday, I’ve taken in 123 operas in the last 122 days. Opera Philadelphia’s production of Lembit Beecher’s “Sky on Swings” is a recent highlight.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Album Review: Lianne La Havas- Lianne La Havas

I fully realize I’m often viewed as an eccentric misfit.  My longstanding indifference to conforming to societal expectations grows even stronger as I age.  I’m accustomed to being the age and/or racial outlier at events.  Social media statistics, celebrity gossip and the latest outrage in the daily news cycle are among the popular topics I happily ignore.  Still, I welcome occasional opportunities to feel like a regular guy.  My instant affinity for the sophisticated adult pop on Lianne La Havas’ new self-titled album gives me a sense of belonging.  The singer-songwriter’s extreme normcore sound is tailor-made for people in my demographic.  In the tradition of the storied chanteuses Carole King and Robert Flack, Lianne La Havas songs like “Can’t Fight” and “Paper Thin” are in keeping with similarly age-appropriate favorites by K.D. Lang, Shelby Lynne and Lizz Wright.  La Havas’ lovely form of easy listening is talkin’ to my generation.


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I review Mike Dillon’s remarkable new album Rosewood at Plastic Sax.

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Opera update: Programmers at the Metropolitan Opera began slipping reruns into their free stream schedule.  How dare they!  Scotland Opera’s production of Stuart MacRae’s outstanding “Anthropocene” is among the unconventional works I’ve come across since being forced to look further afield.  I’m now at 118 operas in 118 days.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Friday, July 17, 2020

The Years Have Changed You, Somehow

Is jazz corny?  The many people who think so aren’t necessarily wrong.  I regularly publish counterproductive screeds about wack forms of jazz.  Yet I’ve taken great pleasure in willy-nilly dips into a few of the ostensibly squarest recesses of the jazz archives during the pandemic.  Here’s a sampling of my rewarding discoveries.

Speaking of corny, get a load of this album title: A Singer, A Swinger, A Gasser!.  Yet there’s nothing hokey about vocalist Annie Ross’ 1959 collaboration with saxophonist Zoot Sims.  A straightforward reading of “I Don’t Want to Cry Anymore" is among the astonishingly moving tracks.

I’ve never hidden my distaste of organ jazz.  Yet Departures, the recently reissued 1969 album by British organist Don Shinn, is an unlikely mashup of Martin Denny-style exotica and Ray Manzarek-esque pomp.  The three newly recorded bonus tracks are less essential.

More exotica: the unfortunately titled “Chung King” from Guitar/Guitar, a 1963 pairing of Charlie Byrd and Herb Ellis, is an unorthodox trip.

A profound interpretation of “Sophisticated Lady” induced tears of ecstatic joy the first time I heard The Duo.  The privately commissioned 1999 meetup of pianist Mulgrew Miller and bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen was recently made available to the general public.

My sincere admiration for Mac Miller’s new posthumous album Circles reflects my morbid fascination with recordings by dying musicians.  The jazz canon is loaded with devastating death knells.  I recently happened upon Lester Young’s Laughin’ to Keep from Cryin’, a session recorded 13 months before the saxophonist’s death in 1959.  The heroics of pianist Hank Jones can’t disguise Young’s agonizing frailty on “They Can’t Take That Away From Me”.


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Four months ago, I bragged about buying a deeply discounted ticket to a Daniil Trifonov concert.  The presenter announced a date for the rescheduled performance: April 24, 2022!  Here’s hoping I’m still alive 21 months from now.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Monday, July 13, 2020

Good Timing

Rolex watches don’t tempt me.  I’ve never even touched one of the expensive status symbols.  And while I haven’t been inside one of the luxury cars, I’m sure top-of-the-line Mercedes sedans merit their price tags.  I have the same sort of conflicted feelings about RoundAgain, the new album by the reunited quartet of saxophonist Joshua Redman, pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade.  I was initially floored by the shimmering summit of four of the world’s best musicians.  Yet I grew increasingly irritated by the quartet’s relentless perfection with each subsequent listen.  Is there such a thing as being too good?  Happening: Live at the Village Vanguard, the second most notable acoustic jazz album released July 10, is far from flawless.  The sound is surprisingly sketchy for a Blue Note Records release, and the quintet of pianist and bandleader Gerald Clayton, saxophonists Logan Richardson and Walter Smith III, bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Marcus Gilmore occasionally flirts with chaos.  While it’s clearly inferior, I find the slightly derelict Happening: Live at the Village Vanguard more interesting than the crystalline RoundAgain.  Then again, I wear a $50 watch and prefer Fords to Ferraris.


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The latest diary entry essay at Plastic Sax addresses the reevaluation of my priorities during the pandemic.

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Opera update: I eagerly devoured all four hours of last night’s free stream of Richard Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde.”  The tally currently stands at 113 operas in 113 days.

(Original image of the primary clock at Grand Central Station by There Stands the Glass.)

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Gunns Blazing

I’m led to believe the career of the Buffalo rapper Westside Gunn has an elaborate backstory.  The details don’t particularly interest me.  I only care about the enormous pleasure I derive from his hilarious 2020 albums Flygod Is an Awesome God 2 and Pray for Paris.  The ridiculous recordings scratch an itch the similarly playful but unapologetically infantile raps of hitmakers like Roddy Ricch and Lil Uzi Vert don’t reach.  In addition to doing an even better Ghostface Killah impression than Action Bronson, Westside Gunn relies on dusty soul and jazz samples evoking the glory days of Gang Starr and Ultramagnetic MC’s.  Yet the genuine sense of menace place Flygod Is an Awesome God 2 and Pray for Paris squarely in the here and now.


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Opera update: Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” is the 111th opera I watched in the past 111 days.  I was disappointed to learn it’s not about the Pacific Northwest.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Album Review: Rich the Factor- Blaccfish

I revisited the music of DJ Screw upon discovering George Floyd was affiliated with the innovator.  DJ Screw’s vast canon remains impenetrable to most sober non-Texans.  I come by my enthusiasm honestly.  As a travelling salesman calling on Southwest Wholesale in Houston in the ‘90s, I was present during the chopped-and-screwed revolution.  Full disclosure: Robert Guillerman once offered me a job.  (I regret passing on the opportunity.)

My affinity for the chopped-and-screwed sound prepared me for the similarly disorienting music of Rich the Factor.  While Rich’s sound owes as much to Oakland as Houston, the rapper’s slow and murky style makes him the Kansas City version of DJ Screw.

The grimy new Blaccfish- Rich’s second, third or fourth album of 2020 (his output is difficult to track)- differs little from the hundreds of hours of music he's already released.  He continues to obsess over Sade, status and his hometown through a stupefied filter in which time, space and gravity are uncertain propositions.  Blaccfish is best experienced through a thick cloud of smoke and a greasy layer of sweat in a slow-moving car in July.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Monday, July 06, 2020

Patriotic-lee

What were our parents thinking?  Not only did they supply us with bottle rockets on the Fourth of July, they occasionally watched as my friends and I fired the projectiles at one another in adrenaline-fueled battles.  We stored our caches of cherry bombs for more sinister purposes.  I somehow made it through the 1970s with all ten fingers intact.  Given my childhood misadventures, I’m not bothered by the annual amateur pyrotechnics that light up neighborhoods like mine every July.  In an ongoing observance of Lee Konitz’s recent death, I listened to his 1958 experiment An Image for the first time as I lounged outdoors on Saturday, July 4.  Even through the rat-a-tat-tat of firecrackers and Roman candles, I immediately realized the album is unfairly neglected.  The 46-minute third stream synthesis may not be American in the sense of Mount Rushmore and Lee Greenwood, but An Image is certainly as American as Ellis Island and Aaron Copland.


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I reviewed Steve Cardenas’ Blue Has a Range at Plastic Sax.

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Bailing on an insufferable version of Gaetano Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” starring Beverly Sills in favor of the San Francisco Opera’s production of Carlisle Floyd’s interesting but deeply flawed “Susannah” allowed me to keep my uninterrupted opera-a-day streak alive.  It now stands at 106.

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KCUR’s sister station 91.9 Classical KC launched today.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Friday, July 03, 2020

You Better Watch Your Speed

Even though I’m a jazz-blogging opera freak living in a classic rock town, I don’t feel like a misfit.  I love Def Leppard, Bob Seger and Led Zeppelin every bit as much as my neighbors who will blast the classic rock staples at their outdoor parties this holiday weekend.  I just have no interest in enduring “Fly Like an Eagle” again.  As with every piece of music I’ve heard more than a few dozen times, the Steve Miller Band hit is permanently etched in my brain.  Still, I recently verified my fealty to classic rock by investing seven precious hours on a pair of new collections of unreleased recordings from 1970.

When it comes to the Grateful Dead, I’m an American Beauty guy.  I’ve found swiftly diminishing returns after the band’s artistic apex.  The Angel’s Share, two-hours and thirty-two minutes of outtakes from Workingman’s Dead, confirms my bias.  It’s of little of interest to non-obsessives.  I’d rather listen to an entire Phish concert than endure the more than a dozen aborted takes of “Easy Wind” again.

I’m hardly a Frank Zappa enthusiast, so I’m not sure what’s up with my affinity for the new four-hour-thirty-minute The Mothers 1970 boxed set.  Zappa’s self-congratulatory smarminess still repulses me, but the musical brilliance exhibited by the guitarist and ringers including George Duke and Aynsley Dunbar makes a significant chunk of the four-hour and thirty-minute set engaging.  Unsurprisingly, the best tracks are instrumentals- “Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar,” indeed.  The credible Thelonious Monk ripoffs and bursts of proto-punk are my kind of classic rock.

(Screenshot of Patricia Racette in the San Francisco Opera's production of Giacomo Puccini’s “Il Trittico” by There Stands the Glass.)

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

100 Operas in 100 Days

I visited the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville years before I attended my first opera production.  Raised on Waylon and Willie rather than on Puccini and Rossini, I didn’t hear opera as a child.  I’ve grown increasingly self-conscious about my ignorance of the form with each passing year.

When the Metropolitan Opera beneficently opened its archives to encourage patrons to remain quarantined during the pandemic, I reckoned it was time to get educated on the cheap.  (Tickets to the opera’s weekly live broadcasts are ordinarily $25.)  The free streams represent an attractive substitute for my compulsion to take in live music several nights a week.  Committing to a lengthy opera has a way of ordering an evening.  (The remarkable forbearance of my quarantine partner should also be noted.)

I enjoyed Gaetano Donizetti’s “La Fille du Régiment” on Monday, June 29.  It was the 100th opera I watched in 100 days.  The romantic comedy went down easily.  Having taken in plenty of Donizetti in the past three months, I was perfectly attuned to the opera’s cadence and flow.  And I knew from recent experience I’d delight in the performances of the young stars Pretty Yende and Javier Camarena.

The process wasn’t always painless.  I wondered what I’d gotten myself into back in March.  Even though I’ve attended seven or eight productions since seeing my first opera in 2010, the operatic rituals and format remained foreign.  As I suggested last month, opera’s high body count, unapologetic lustiness and preponderance of drinking songs kept me in the game. 

I’m not giving anything away by pointing out the moldy fustiness of too many productions.  Not only does the sight of a powdered wig sap my spirit, the inherent dorkiness of opera nerds- please slap me if I ever utter the exclamation “toi toi toi”- is insufferable.  But I like challenges.  Powering through all four hours and twenty minutes of Hector Berlioz’ “Les Troyens” and every bit of Richard Wagner’s  three-hour and 43-minute “Lohengrin” made me feel invincible. 

Moments of transcendence compensate for the frequent bouts of tedium.  “Salome” altered my consciousness.  I felt the heavens open during Philip Glass’ “Akhnaten.”  And I feel better about my time on earth having seen Leontyne Price in “Aida,” Luciano Pavarotti in “Tosca” and Joyce DiDonato in “Cendrillon.”  Becoming conversant in “Le Nozze di Figaro,” “Turandot” and “La Traviata” also made me a significantly more informed consumer of popular music.  With all due respect to Irving Berlin, Stevie Wonder and John Legend, Mozart, Puccinni and Verdi did it first.  But let me be clear: my newfound expertise elevates rather than diminishes my appreciation of less rarified forms of music.

What happens when the epidemic ends?  I can’t readily afford nice seats for productions at the Lyric Opera of Kansas City, let alone at the Metropolitan Opera and the San Francisco Opera.  And my closet doesn’t contain much in the way of formal wear.  Even so, I won’t be intimidated even if I wear jeans and a t-shirt while sitting in the uppermost balconies at opera houses.  I’ll almost certainly have taken in more (virtual) operas than any member of the audience. 

Until then- and as long as access to the operas continues- I’ll keep learning.  I’m alarmed by how much I loved all four hours of the ‘80s-tastic production of Wagner’s “Die Walküre” (opera #101) last night.  Valhalla!  Incest!  Predeterminism!  Valkyries!  I’m bracing myself for tonight’s showing of Dmitri Shostakovich’s insanely freaky “The Nose.”

(Screenshot of Pretty Yende and Maurizio Muraro in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of “La Fille du Régiment” by There Stands the Glass.)

Sunday, June 28, 2020

June 2020 Recap: A Monthly Exercise in Critical Transparency

The absence of Ambrose Akinmusire, Armand Hammer, Hum, Norah Jones, Ingrid Laubrock/Kris Davis, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Sara Serpa, Teyana Taylor, Kahil El’Zabar and 6lack on the following lists reflects the crushing avalanche of outstanding music released in the past four weeks.

Top Five Albums
1. Moor Mother and Nicole Mitchell- Offering
My review.
2. Brad Mehldau- Suite: April 2020
Quarantine-era solo piano from the modern-day Gershwin.
3. Bob Dylan- Rough and Rowdy Ways
God might smite me if I failed to recognize the prophet.
4. Bobby Watson- Keepin’ It Real
My review.
5. Run the Jewels- RTJ4
A timely torrent of rage.

Top Five Songs
1. Beyoncé- “Black Parade”
Ankh charm.
2. City Girls- “Jobs”
I won’t apologize.
3. Megan Thee Stallion- “Girls in the Hood”
Another hot girl summer.
4. John Legend featuring Rapsody- “Remember Us”
Hot buttered corn.
5. John Prine- “I Remember Everything”
Tears.

Top Five Livestreams
1. Alicia Keys and John Legend- Verzuz battle
2. Bang on a Can Marathon- Iva Bittová, Roscoe Mitchell, Terry Riley, etc.
3. A Night For Austin- James Taylor, Alejandro Escovedo, Bonnie Raitt, etc.
4. Roots Picnic- Roddy Ricch, Lil Baby, Black Thought, etc.
5. Kandace Springs- Blue Note at Home

I conducted the same exercise in May, April, March, February and January.

(Screenshot of Alice Coote in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Hansel and Gretel by There Stands the Glass.)

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Album Review: Moor Mother and Nicole Mitchell- Offering

I walked out on Moor Mother at the Big Ears Festival last year.  After enduring 20 sweaty minutes of what I perceived as self-indulgent industrial art-rock in an overcrowded room, I bolted for another option.  Her compelling work with the Art Ensemble of Chicago aside, I’ve remained skeptical of the artist also known as Camae Ayewa.  I have no reservations about Nicole Mitchell.  Her set with Tomeika Reid and Mike Reed at Big Ears was transcendent.  And like Ayewa, she performs in the current incarnation of the Art Ensemble of Chicago.  Consequently, I didn’t know what to expect of Offering, a recording of the pair’s ostensibly improvised 2019 collaboration at Le Guess Who festival in the Netherlands.  The spoken word of Ayewa simmers with quiet intensity.  While Mitchell also plays flute, the electronics manned by both women regularly veer into musique concrète freakouts.  Ayewa is affiliated with the Black Quantum Futurism collective.  The label encapsulates the aesthetic of an album designed to captivate daring listeners who admire the most challenging works of John Cage, Amiri Baraka, Alice Coltrane and Angel Bat Dawid.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Aggressive Ambiance

Snow Catches on her Eyelashes fooled me twice yesterday.  After intently listening to the album by longtime collaborators Eivind Aarset and Jan Bang on headphones, I set it as background music through a speaker as I read.  Rather than recognizing the recording had concluded, I twice assumed the hum of an air conditioner, the drone of a refrigerator and the rumble of traffic were components of the album’s aggressive ambient music.  Dissevered from headphones or a sound-proof room, the pristine sound field created by Aarset, a Terje Rypdal-style guitarist, and Bang, a sampler/producer favored by chamber-jazz luminaries including Tigran Hamasyan, spills into space like water from a leaky cup.  My appreciation of the Norwegians’ project represents an evolution of my affinity for sinister sounds in the quarantine era.  The disquieting Snow Catches on her Eyelashes is less harsh than the industrial noise I favored three months ago.  My favorite track?  It’s the one combining electrical murmurs and birdsong at the end of the album.


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I reviewed Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Hero Trio at Plastic Sax.

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Last night’s showing of the Metropolitan Opera’s 2017 production of Verdi’s “La Traviata” was the 93rd opera I’ve watched in the past 93 days.  John Adams’ “Doctor Atomic” streams tonight.

(Original image of Akko by There Stands the Glass.)

Friday, June 19, 2020

Album Review: Groupe RTD- The Dancing Devils of Djibouti

I swipe a couple dozen new albums and a towering stack of digital singles into my streaming queue almost every Friday morning.  It’s not unusual for me to forget why a particular title initially came to my attention.  I was stumped, consequently, when I finally checked out Groupe RTD’s The Dancing Devils of Djibouti earlier this week.

I initially reckoned it was a reissue of 1970s recordings by an Indonesian party band.  But the Bollywood elements belied the assumption.  Is it Indian?  That wouldn’t account for the Jamaican or Ethiopian jazz components.  And what about the clue provided by the name?  Pathetically, I needed to reference an atlas to locate Djibouti on a map.  The African country on the Gulf of Aden is just 18 miles southwest of Yemen.

The ensemble’s base in a global crossroads accounts for the unlikely array of styles, but learning The Dancing Devils of Djibouti was recorded in 2019 shocked me.  Dated keyboard textures and the dampened sound field make the recording an anomaly in the space-time continuum.

A 60-second promotional video overstates the quality of the album while offering tantalizing glimpses of the musicians.  The Dancing Devils of Djibouti isn’t the most transcendently uplifting or irrepressible dance party released in 2020, but exploration of the novel hodgepodge is a mandatory trip for aural globetrotters.


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Any album with song titles like “King Tubby,” “The Euchirist,” “Flavor Flav,” “Slew Foot” and “Ramesses II” merits my attention.  Shrines, the word-drunk release by the underground rap duo Armand Hammer, sounds as if it was recorded in a cloud of noxious smoke.  Mask off.

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I caught 23 sets of Sunday’s Bang on a Can Marathon.  My ten favorite performances: Iva Bittová, Roscoe Mitchell, Terry Riley, Rhiannon Giddens, Don Byron, Conrad Tao, Tomeka Reid/Vicky Chow, Ailie Robertson/Gregg August, Paula Matthusen/Dana Jessen and Helena Tulve/Arlen Hlusko.  Iva Bittová’s stunning Czech folk drones led me to Bartók: 44 Duets for Two Violins.  The new reissue of a magical 1997 album is even more psychedelic than the Armand Hammer title referenced above.  Here’s appropriately loopy archival footage of “Pillow Dance”.

(Original image of a flight board at Ben Gurion Airport by There Stands the Glass.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The Top Songs, Albums, Livestreams and Concerts of 2020 (So Far)

The Top 25 Songs of 2020 (So Far)
1. Zsela- “Drinking”
Misery loves company.
2. 070 Shake- “Guilty Conscience”
Pop perfection.
3. Pongo- “Uwa”
Pure joy.
4. Little Simz- “Might Bang, Might Not”
“A one-woman army.”
5. Thundercat featuring Steve Arringtona and Steve Lacy- “Black Quails”
“Am I keeping it real?”
6. Future featuring Drake- “Life Is Good”
Is it, though?
7. Sleaford Mods- “Second”
Miscount.
8. Mozzy featuring King Von and G Herbo- “Body Count”
Let the bodies hit the floor.
9. Earl Sweatshirt featuring Maxo-  “Whole World”
Dank.
10. Bob Dylan- “Murder Most Foul”
He contains multitudes.

11. Six9ine- “Gooba”
I wish I didn't love it so much.
12. Polo G, Stunna 4 Vegas & NLE Choppa feat. Mike WiLL Made-It- “Go Stupid”
Genius.
13. Roy Ayers, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge- “Synchronize Vibration”
Everybody loves the sunshine.
14. J Balvin- “Amarillo”
Not-so-mellow yellow.
15. Playboi Carti- “@Meh”
Dadaism.
16. Ashley McBryde- “First Thing I Reach For”
Downward spiral.
17. Kehlani featuring Jhené Aiko- “Change Your Life”
Essential R&B.
18. Moneybagg Yo featuring DaBaby- “Protect Da Brand”
Goon squad.
19. Sam Hunt- “Hard to Forget”
There stands the glass.
20. Laura Marling- “Strange Girl”
Trouble child.

21. Sa-Roc- “Hand of God”
Dexterous.
22. Against All Logic featuring Lydia Lunch- “If You Can’t Do It Good, Do It Hard”
Can’t stop. Won’t stop.
23. Terrace Martin featuring Denzel Curry, Daylyt, Kamasi Washington and G Perico-“Pig Feet”
Rage.
24. Chloe x Halle- “Don’t Make It Harder On Me”
Supreme(s).
25. Tony Allen and Hugh Masekela- “Agbada Bougou”
Immortals.


The Top 25 Albums of 2020 (So Far)
1. Peter CottonTale- Catch
My review.
2. Jay Electronica- A Written Testimony
My review.
3. Beatrice Dillon- Workaround
My review.
4. Flying Lotus- Flamagra (Instrumentals)
My review of the original album.
5. Bad Bunny- YHLQMDLG
My review.
6. Freddie Gibbs and the Alchemist- Alfredo
My review.
7. Clarice Jenson- The Experience of Repetition as Death
My review.
8. Ambrose Akinmusire- On the Tender Spot of Every Calloused Moment
The best working band in jazz.
9. Run the Jewels- RTJ4
One-two punch.
10. Jennifer Curtis and Tyshawn Sorey- Invisible Ritual
Avant-garde hoedown.

11. Mac Miller- Circles
His self-awareness is devastating.
12. Jóhann Jóhannsson- Last and First Men
My review.
13. José James- No Beginning No End 2
Even the Billy Joel cover pleases me.
14. Gil Scott-Heron- We’re New Again: A Reimagining by Makaya McCraven
An almost perfect tweak.
15. Childish Gambino- 3.15.20
My review.
16. Blackstarkids- Surf
Kansas City N.E.R.Ds.
17. Nicolás Jaar- Cenizas
Dark shadows.
18. Nine Inch Nails- Ghosts VI: Locusts
My review.
19. Jeremy Pelt- The Art of Intimacy, Vol. 1
Heartbreakingly gorgeous.
20. Kaja Draksler Octet- Out For Stars
My review.

21. Bad Bunny- Las Que No Iban a Salir
Even Bad Bunny’s YHLQMDLG also-rans are excellent.
22. Sara Serpa- Recognition
Anti-colonialism chamber-jazz.
23. Yaeji- What We Drew
Forward-thinking electro-pop.
24. Mike and the Moonpies- Touch of You: The Lost Songs of Gary Stewart
My review.
25. Kassa Overall- Shades of Flu: Healthy Remixes for an Ill Moment
Exhibit #2,637 in the case of the jazz/hip-hop continuum.


The Top 10 Concerts of 2020 (So Far)
1. Post Malone, Swae Lee and Tyla Yaweh- Sprint Center
My review.
2. Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin- Folly Theater
My Instagram image.
3. Roddy Ricch with Cuuhraig and Xslapz- Uptown Theater
My review.
4. Luciana Souza, Chico Pinheiro and Scott Colley- Folly Theater
My review.
5. Jerry Hahn, Gerald Spaits and Todd Strait- Black Dolphin
My Instagram clip.
6. Pavel Haas Quartet with Boris Giltburg- Folly Theater
My review.
7. Bill Frisell’s Harmony- Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
My review.
8. Miranda Lambert with the Randy Rogers Band and Parker McCollum- Sprint Center
My review.
9. The New Pornographers with Diane Coffee- The Truman
My Instagram clip.
10. Joseph with Deep Sea Diver- Madrid Theatre
My Instagram clip.


The Top 10 Livestreams of 2020 (So Far)
1. Bang on a Can Marathon #1 (Mary Halvorson, Vijay Iyer, Meredith Monk, etc.)
2. Bang on a Can Marathon #2 (Iva Bittová, Roscoe Mitchell, Terry Riley, etc.)
3. Daniel Barenboim- at Pierre Boulez Saal
4. Post Malone- Nirvana at home
5. Stacey Pullen- Movement at home
6. A Night For Austin (Alejandro Escovedo, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, etc.)
7. Molly Hammer- at the Gem Theater
8. KC Bands Together (Samantha Fish, The Greeting Committee, Krystle Warren, etc.)
9. Bill Frisell- Blue Note at home
10. Kandace Springs- Blue Note at home

(Screenshot of Roscoe Mitchell performing on the Bang On a Can Marathon by There Stands the Glass.)

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Album Review: Mike and the Moonpies- Touch of You: The Lost Songs of Gary Stewart

It didn’t seem extraordinary at the time, but Saturday, October 19, 2019, was one of the best days of my life.  While my life partner attended to work in Austin, Texas, I hit a day show at Independence Brewing.  Mariachi Las Coronelas was particularly charming.  I continued honky-tonking at a matinee show by the Cornell Hurd Band at the Continental Club.  My subsequent peregrinations up and down Congress Avenue included an avid discussion about the exorbitant pricing in a rare book shop and refreshments with new friends at Güero's Taco Bar.

My wife joined me at a Rodney Crowell concert when the sun went down.  We danced in the aisles to hits including “I Couldn’t Leave You If I Tried”.  Inspired by liquid courage, we dared to spend the remainder of the evening doing the Texas two step on the crowded dance floor of the Broken Spoke.

“Bottom of the Pile,” the opening song of Mike and the Moonpies’ Touch of You: The Lost Songs of Gary Stewart, revived the memory of that glorious day.  The tribute to a bar “where the air is stale from the smell of beer” and patrons entertain themselves by “dancing on a hardwood floor” is one of ten previously unreleased songs written by the late Gary Stewart.  The Texas band led by Mike Harmeier sounds uncannily like vintage Stewart.

The unapologetically grim “Drinkin’ Thing” and “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles)” were among the Stewart classics in heavy rotation in my childhood home.  The cautionary cheating and drinking songs scared me then.  They terrify me now.  The material on Touch of You: The Lost Songs of Gary Stewart isn’t top-shelf Stewart, but listening to one of my favorite country bands rendering second-rate but still memorable Stewart compositions significantly increases my odds of having a day to remember.


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I last attended a performance of live music on March 7, a devastating setback for a guy who shoots for catching 365 sets each year.  I partly offset the deprivation by contributing to a The Kansas City Star feature about the state of the locally based live music industry.

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After I take in a stream of Handel’s “Rodelinda” tonight, I’ll have seen 85 operas in 84 days.  I’d pledge to stop at 100, but I began to really get into the form around #65.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Canned Goods

Back when air was unthreatening and gainful employment afforded such luxuries, I considered traveling to Brooklyn to attend the Long Play festival.  Those were the days!

Although the event organized by the Bang on a Can collective was canceled, an extremely satisfying simulation of the festival thrilled me last month.  Not only were the awkward technology-related fumbles of Bang on a Can founders David Lang, Julia Wolfe and Michael Gordon utterly charming, their post-performance chats with musicians provided insights I wouldn’t have gained while sitting amid a big crowd in Brooklyn.  And most of the low-resolution performances by the likes of Mary Halvorson, Meredith Monk, Tim Fain, George E. Lewis, Meara O’Reilly, Martin Bresnick and Vijay Iyer were excellent.

That’s why I’ve blocked out six hours on Sunday, June 14, to watch the second installment of the Bang on a Can Marathon.  I risk hyperventilating while perusing the auspicious lineup. Rhiannon Giddens! Nik Bärtsch! Roscoe Mitchell! Tomeka Reid! Nico Muhly! Don Byron! Terry Riley!  I refuse to allow bill collectors to interrupt my Sunday afternoon revery.


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I review Hermon Mehari’s A Change For the Dreamlike at Plastic Sax.

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I like to believe Congressman Emanuel Cleaver is inspired by my screed about the Jazzy Jamdemic (ugh!) when he expresses chagrin about anemic viewership while justifying the expenditure during his frequent opening remarks for episodes of the daily initiative.

(Screenshot of Meredith Monk performing for the Bang on a Can Marathon on May 3 by There Stands the Glass.)

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

He Feared the Multitude

As an uncultured country bumpkin and pathetically unlearned Christian, I was only vaguely aware of the retelling of the story of Salome in works by Oscar Wilde and Richard Strauss.  I didn’t realize the dancing stepdaughter of Herod in the lurid tale of John the Baptist’s beheading in Matthew 14 was ostensibly Salome until I experienced Strauss’ opera for the first time on Sunday.  I’m still reeling.

The 73rd opera I’d consumed in the last 71 days, the Metropolitan Opera’s 2008 production of “Salome” is among the most disturbing works of art I’ve encountered.  I was an unsuspecting rube when I dipped into the Met’s free stream.  Two hours later, my worldview had been permanently altered by the abrasive sound, lurid libretto, unconstrained acting and contemporary staging. 

I thought “Salome”’s blasphemous rendering of incest, bigotry, bondage, drunkeness, malfeasance and necrophilia was the ultimate depiction of depravity.  The next day, however, another horrifically craven exhibition transpired at an institution coincidentally named for John the Baptist.  Even Herod and Salome might have been horrified by the shameless desecration.

(Original image of the Church of St. John the Baptist in Akko, Israel, by There Stands the Glass.)

Monday, June 01, 2020

Album Review: Freddie Gibbs and the Alchemist- Alfredo

I sensed I was acting prematurely when I published lists of my favorite music of May last week.  Sure enough, Alfredo, a scathingly relevant outburst of soulful protests and abrasive swagger, was released May 29.  The elite collaboration between producer the Alchemist and rapper Freddie Gibbs combines the wizened soulfulness of Curtis Mayfield with the harsh immediacy of younger artists like SOB x RBE.  “1985” and “Something to Rap About” are among the essential tracks, but Rick Ross’ unexpected presence on the Gil-Scott Heron-inspired “Scottie Beam” makes Alfredo one of last month's best albums.


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While less essential, Stik Figa’s If It’s the Last Thing I Do is of a piece with Alfredo.  The 29-minute recording reaffirms the Topeka rapper’s status as a crucial elder statesman in the region’s underground rap scene.

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I examine the woefully-named Jazzy Jamdemic concert series at Plastic Sax.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

May 2020 Recap: A Monthly Exercise in Critical Transparency

My opera compulsion continues. I’ve taken in streams of 68 productions in the last 67 days.  The following albums, songs and livestreams balanced my maximal intake of ostensible high culture this month.

Top Five Albums
1. Bad Bunny- Las Que No Iban a Salir
Even the Puerto Rican’s discards are thrilling.
2. Sleaford Mods- All That Glue
My review.
3. Future- High Off Life
Chart-topping nihilism.
4. Aaron Parks- Little Big II: Dreams of a Mechanical Man
Fusion lives.
5. Dinosaur- To the Earth
Laura Jurd’s lawless group careens into the center lane.

Top Five Songs
1. Little Simz- “Might Bang, Might Not”
Oh, it bangs all right.
2. 6ix9ine- “Gooba”
I know, I know.  As the hooligan suggests, I must be “dumb, stupid or dumb.”
3. Shirley Collins- “Wondrous Love”
Selah.
4. The Magnetic Fields- “Favorite Bar”
Gloriously droll.
5. Hot Country Knights- “Then It Rained”
A gut-busting Garth Brooks spoof.

Top Five Livestreams
1. Bang on a Can Marathon
The online version of the canceled festival featured appearances by luminaries including Meredith Monk.
2. KC Bands Together
Full disclosure- I’m listed in the closing credits.
3. Bill Frisell- Blue Note at Home
The guitarist’s apartment has a better vibe than the venue.
4. Century Media’s Isolation Festival
Dead Lord was among the metal bands bringing the vital noise.
5. Molly Hammer- Jazzy Jamdemic
Classic Kansas City.

(I conducted the same exercise in April, March, February and January.

(Screenshot of the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Nico Muhly’s "Marnie" by There Stands the Glass.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

What I Learned From Having Died

I’ve watched streams of entire operas for 61 consecutive days.  I finished a hideous three-hour-and-43-minute 1986 production of Richard Wagner’s “Lohengrin” this morning.  The strenuous process altered my ears.  Out for Stars, a challenging album by an Amsterdam based octet overseen by the Slovenian pianist Kaja Draksler, would have almost certainly have struck me as overly precious and exceedingly cacophonous just two months ago.  The scratchy recording sets the poems of Robert Frost to avant-garde chamber music.  While vocalists Björk Níelsdóttir and Laura Polence mimic operatic singing on “The Silken Tent,” their approach is more often in line with experimental folk ensembles.  Based on Robert Frost’s “A Passing Glimpse,” “Danas, Jučer, Sutra” reduces my opera-traumatized psyche to a puddle.  But don’t mind me- I’m so intoxicated by the European-steeped Kool Aid that even a woefully inept and horribly out of tune saxophone solo on “Away!” pleases me.


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Hearing Jah Wobble’s opening bass line on “Public Image” in 1978 was among the most transformative musical moments of my life.  I had a friend who sprung for Public Image Ltd.’s Metal Box a year later.  Corrosive songs like “Poptones” also modified the way I experience sound.  Almost every song by Sleaford Mods catapults me back to that era.  All That Glue, a 72-minute compilation of the group’s most popular songs and odds-and-sods, is a thrilling career summation and logical extension of PiL’s legacy.  Here’s the excellent video for “Second”.

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I lament the conservatism of the Folly Jazz Series’ forthcoming season at Plastic Sax.

(Original image of smoke near the entrance of Churchill Downs by There Stands the Glass.)

Friday, May 15, 2020

Sempre Libera

I’ll have a ready answer if I’m ever asked how I spent the lockdown of 2020.  I’ve been immersed in opera.  I’ve watched more than 50 productions since the Metropolitan Opera began offering free daily streams in March.  I continue to bask in a new show every night.

I began the endeavor almost entirely from scratch.  I bought the least expensive ticket each of the seven or eight times I’ve attended an operatic production.  While they’re not legitimate substitutes for attending live events, the Met’s archived broadcasts offer closeups of the performers and tantalizing glimpses of the action backstage.  I studiously read the digital programs, consult outside materials and augment each production with supplemental listening sessions.

Even though it’s sometimes a slog, working my way through even the most tedious operas gives me a sense of purpose and fills the enormous void left by the moratorium on live music.  And the glacial pace, decadent length and over-the-top melodrama associated with the form suits the strained atmosphere of the quarantine.  I’ve come to adore opera’s disarming lustiness, high body count and vocal caterwauling.

The treasure trove of free streams allows me to admire the work of stars including Jessye Norman, Luciano Pavarotti and Leontyne Price, marvel at opera’s evolution from stationary belters to athletic vocalists and learn the context of popular arias like "Pagliacci"’s “Vesti la Giubba”.

I haven’t been at it long enough to cultivate a distinct sense of my personal taste, but I was moved by the striking modernity of Nico Muhly’s “Marnie”, stirred by Natalie Dessay’s ravishing portrayal of Violetta in Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata” and floored by Anthony Dean Griffey acting in the title role of Benjamin Britten’s disturbing “Peter Grimes.”

A date once asked me what types of music I liked.  I told her that I loved “everything but opera.”  The trivial exchange stuck with me because I loathed myself for speaking out of ignorance.  I didn’t even know “Le Nozze di Figaro” existed.  Had I somehow been able to see and hear Cecilia Bartoli and Bryn Terfel perform Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s shockingly coarse work when I was a girl-crazy 17-year-old, my life might have turned out entirely differently.

(Screenshot of the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Richard Strauss’ “Capriccio” by There Stands the Glass.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Rip It Up

The passing of Little Richard necessitates a second accounting of personal remembrances about several notable pandemic-era deaths.

Little Richard was always a part of my life.  Even though he was a country fan, my dad regularly referenced the Little Richard hits “Lucille” and “Good Golly Miss Molly”” when I was a tot.  While he wasn’t as towering a figure as Elvis Presley, Little Richard- along with Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis- was an integral part of popular culture throughout my childhood.

I was surprised to discover Little Richard’s essential recordings for the Specialty label weren’t readily available when I began intentionally building a music library as a teenager.  I was obligated to buy a pricey British import.  The thick vinyl and sturdy packaging gave the album pride of place in my collection.

I acquired the faux autograph pictured above at a 2004 concert at the Austin Music Hall during SXSW.  Many people at the festival were nonplussed by Little Richard’s proselytizing, but I always understood his Saturday-night-and-Sunday-morning conflict was essential to the art of the legend who was the personification of rock and roll.  He died May 9.


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I still haven’t processed the April 30 death of Tony Allen.  Just writing these words makes it too overwhelming to elaborate further.

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I worked in a record store when What Up, Dog was released in 1988.  The contributions of Hillard “Sweet Pea” Atkinson convinced the entire staff to embrace the Was (Not Was) album.  I believe I last saw Atkinson perform as a member of Lyle Lovett’s band.

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Disco innovator Hamilton Bohannon died April 24.

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Richie Cole died May 1.  I saw the Charlie Parker acolyte perform once or twice.

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I walked to Paris Blues from my AirBnb in Harlem 15 months ago.  The band was terrible, but the roadhouse vibe was sublime.  The joint’s founder and owner Samuel Hargess Jr. died April 10.

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The threat of lawsuits forced me to delete two There Stands the Glass posts during the past 15 years.  One made a passing reference to a then-obscure rapper from Toronto.  The other documented a performance by “Bad Company” at a corporate party.  I showed up fully expecting to see Mick Ralphs.  I got Brian Howe instead.  The vocalist and his band were fine, but the host was incensed by my sardonic take.

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Moraes Moreira’s obituary in The New York Times sent me down an extremely rewarding rabbithole.  The Brazilian’s astounding self-titled 1975 album combines MPB with classic rock.  Much of his earlier work with Novos Baianos is equally surprising.

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My life partner and I still laugh about family and friends who maintain a steadfast allegiance to commercial country acts of the ‘70s and ‘80s.  These hitmakers were referred to with affectionate abbreviations like the Stats, the Oaks and the Gats.  I’d hear demands like “Cousin Bill, put on the Stats.”  We bonded while fondly goofing on Harold Reid’s bass singing on Statler Brothers lyrics like “smoking cigarettes and watching Captain Kangaroo” and “I’m in love with Mary Lou.”  Reid died last month.

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Confession: I thought Kraftwerk was a novelty band throughout the 1970s heyday of the groundbreaking ensemble.  Kraftwerk cofounder Florian Schneider died last month.

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I was too young to understand the mechanisms behind the push, but the Kansas City rock radio station KY-102 played Missouri’s “Movin’ On” to death in the late ‘70s.  I worked with a member of the band a few years later.  He refused to talk about the experience.  Ron West, another member of Missouri, died May 2.

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I recognized the May 10 death of Betty Wright by marveling at concert footage of the soul hero’s dynamite performance in London in 1992.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Mal-icious

I communed with the spirits of three musicians the other night.  Mal Waldron, Reggie Workman, Billy Higgins and I met at a cosmic astral plane while my poor human body lay on the floor in an unlit room well after midnight.  The out-of-body experience facilitated by Up Popped the Devil was entirely unexpected.

I was inspired to play the obscure European release after reading a The New York Times feature about an outlandish record label’s plans to reissue one of Waldron’s albums for Prestige.  Knowing the pianist’s work from the ‘50s doesn’t interest me, I crassly opted for the 1973 session based on its odd album title and excellent cover art.

The trio’s hypnotically transportive playing stunned me.  How could I not have known about Waldron’s two radically distinct careers?  I’ve since learned that he had a mental breakdown in 1963.  The music Waldron made after the trauma is just as idiosyncratic and almost as innovative as the work of Thelonious Monk and Cecil Taylor. 

Waldron explains his approach in the illuminating documentary “A Portrait of Mal Waldron”.  He says “when I play piano I’m trying to find things... it’s always a constant search.”  As Waldron’s newest convert, I’ve joined his search party.  My initial exploration into his dozens of late-career albums- including the maiden voyage of ECM Records- has just begun.  Hours of ecstatic delirium await.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Monday, May 04, 2020

There Are Other Worlds (They Have Not Told You Of)

The quarantine soundtrack at my compound has gone sideways.  Much to the chagrin of my lockdown partner, harsh music dominates my recent playlist.  The noise-induced epiphanies I’ve experienced remind me of the final track on Sun Ra’s Lanquidity.  I couldn’t deal with “There Are Other Worlds (They Have Not Told You Of)” when I bought the album as a new release in 1978.  Only now do I realize the song was an exhortation from the future.  Diligent autodidactic training during the subsequent 42 years finally allows me to expertly appraise and fully appreciate new music by Lil Baby and Martin Bresnick and old works by the likes of Mal Waldron and Alexander Borodin.


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I’m the primary contributor (the emojis aren't mine) to KCUR’s Adventure newsletter about locally based musicians’ entries in the Tiny Desk Contest.

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I call out Kansas City’s cultural provincialism in a Plastic Sax post.

(Original image of a Mediterranean sunset in Acre by There Stands the Glass.)