Friday, June 29, 2018

Album Review: Justin Brown's Nyeusi

Justin Brown was shrouded in darkness the last time I caught up with the peripatetic drummer.  As a member of Thundercat’s band at the Granada in Lawrence, Kansas, Brown was heard but not seen.  (I reviewed the 2017 concert at Plastic Sax.)  Brown’s new album Nyeusi is imbued with a similarly enigmatic atmosphere.  The straight-up jazz fusion project has a few pleasing contemporary updates.  A cover of Tony Williams’ intergalactic “Circa 45” is telling.  Not even a dopey promotional video can prevent me from loving Nyeusi.

I was awed by Kesha’s headlining appearance at the Sprint Center.  I reviewed her concert with Macklemore for The Kansas City Star.

I examined Built To Spill in advance of the band’s appearance at the Middle of the Map festival.

I write weekly music previews for The Kansas City Star.

The storied rock drummer Vinnie Paul has died.

XXXTentacion was killed.  I’ll always love “Roll in Peace”.

Eugene Pitt of The Jive Five has reportedly died.  (Tip via BGO.)

My pal McLain Johnson is the subject of a four-minute video profile.

Kamasi Washington perfected his over-the-top approach to celestial jazz on Heaven and Earth.  Superior in every way to his 2016 breakout album The Epic, the bigger-is-better attack on Heaven and Earth is ecstatic rather than excessive.  Because it’s so long, I tried to take a nap while I absorbed the gospel-laced release last weekend.  I didn’t sleep, but I’m pretty sure I communed with God.

Arp’s freaky Zebra is beyond description.  Jazz, classic rock, New Age, electronica and classical elements weave in and out of the transportive mix.  RIYL: Bonobo, headphones, Weather Report.  Here’s “Nzubu”.

A piano trio led by Harold López-Nussa finds new life in the format on Un Día Cualquiera.  The Cuban’s album is so good that I’m almost tempted to head out of town to a date on his tour of the United States.  Almost.

What a disappointment!  Let the Trap Say Amen, a collaboration between star producer Zeytoven and Christian rapper Lecrae, had the potential to elevate the tone of the hip-hop zeitgeist.  Neither man brought his a-game.

The Record Company is as generic as its name.  The band sounds as if it’s auditioning for an advertising agency that specializes in beer commercials on All of This Life.  Even so, I find the journeyman rock oddly comforting.  RIYL: The Wallflowers, Bob Seger fan fiction, Dan Auerbach.  Here’s the Black Crowes knockoff “The Movie Song”.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Concert Review: The LSD Tour at Starlight Theatre

As my tardy date chatted with attendants at the northwest gate of Starlight Theatre while waiting for me to deliver her ticket on Thursday, a couple members of the venue’s staff confessed that they were stunned that about 4,500 people purchased tickets to hear Dwight Yoakam play for less than an hour.

They didn’t understand that the LSD Tour was far more than the sum of its parts.  While Yoakam is the only bonafide hitmaker in the package, Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle are arguably even more culturally significant.  I’ve heard each artist perform multiple times during the past 32 years, but the rare chance to hear them on one evening was too good to pass up (especially when good seats could be secured for the bargain price of $35 at the box office on the day of the show.) 

After a convincing outing by King Leg that a pal and I characterized as sounding like Morrissey covering Roy Orbison, Earle and the Dukes played about 45 minutes of crusty country-rock.  The hard-core troubadour was as irascible as ever.  While he touched on classic original material like “Guitar Town,” “Copperhead Road” and “Transcendental Blues,” a grungy cover of “Hey Joe” provided my favorite moments.

Williams’ appearance was bittersweet.  She’s never been a dynamic performer, but Thursday’s outing was far more awkward than usual.  Sensing that it was the last time I’d see the storied songwriter, I pulled for Williams to overcome her struggles.  A series of perfect guitar solos by Nashville cat Stuart Mathis and the repurposing of “Foolishness” into a potent political rant pushed the set over the top.

Yoakam- along with Marty Stuart the most convincing country traditionalist alive- is the rare performer who can thrill audiences with an uninterrupted string of hits.  That’s probably why he apologized for playing two new songs.  He needn’t have make excuses for “Pretty Horses” and “Then Here Came Monday.”  They were as good as his old favorites.

A chintzy stage set didn’t do any of the musicians justice.  Not only did the ostensibly psychedelic video projections resemble ‘90s-era computer screensavers, the backdrop and lighting rigs were far too small for the Starlight Theatre stage.  Then again, perhaps no stage is capable of containing the outsize talents of Yoakam, Williams and Earle.

I wrote profiles of Nikki Lane and Spoon in advance of their appearances at the Middle of the Map festival.

I recount my experience at a battle of jazz big bands at Plastic Sax.

I write weekly music previews for The Kansas City Star.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Friday, June 22, 2018

I Don’t Feel Pain Anymore: Music Midway in 2018

The primary conceit of my mid-year rankings is a sanction on artist overlap in the album and song lists, an arbitrary policy that allows me to delay a verdict on Kanye West’s insistence that his abbreviated Ye, Daytona, Kids See Ghosts, Nasir and Keep That Same Energy releases are proper albums.

The Top 25 Albums of 2018 (so far)
1. Dave Holland- Uncharted Territories
2. Black Panther the Album
3. Rhye- Blood
4. Ashley Monroe- Sparrow
5. Hailu Mergia- Lala Belu
6. Logan Richardson- Blues People
7. Cardi B- Invasion of Privacy
8. Joshua Redman- Still Dreaming
9. Sons of Kemet- Your Queen Is a Reptile
10. Courtney Barnett- Tell Me How You Really Feel

11. Fantastic Negrito- Please Don’t Be Dead
12. Fatoumata Diawara- Fenfo
13. Matthew Shipp- Zero
14. Snoop Dogg Presents Bible of Love
15. Brad Mehldau- After Bach
16. Angelique Kidjo- Remain in Light
17. Bettye LaVette- Things Have Changed
18. Sly & Robbie and Nils Petter Molvaer- Nordub
19. Rich the Factor- CEO of the Blacktop
20. August Greene- August Greene

21. Meshell Ndegeocello- Ventriloquism
22. Migos- Culture II
23. Jorja Smith- Lost & Found
24. Alasdair Roberts, Amble Skuse and David McGuinness- What News
25. Arctic Monkeys- Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

The Top 25 Songs of 2018 (so far)
1. Prince- “Nothing Compares 2 U”
2. Janelle Monaé- “Make Me Feel”
3. Kanye West- “Ghost Town”
4. Kids See Ghosts- “Freeee (Ghost Town, Pt. 2)”
5. Nas- “Cops Shot the Kid”
6. Pusha T- “The Games We Play”
7. Sa-Roc- “Forever”
8. J Balvin featuring Jeon and Anitta- “Machika”
9. Childish Gambino- “This Is America”
10. Chris Dave and the Drumhedz featuring Anderson Paak- “Black Hole”

11. Alejandro Fernández y Los Tigres del Norte- “Para Sacarte de Mi Vida (Versión Norteña)”
12. The Breeders- “Wait in the Car”
13. Tech N9ne- “Don’t Nobody Want None”
14. Parquet Courts- “Almost Had to Start a Fight/In and Out of Patience”
15. Ben Miller Band- “Akira Kurosawa”
16. Black Thought- “Dostoyevsky”
17. Christina Aguilera- “Maria”
18. Orchestra Akokán- “Un Tabaco para Elegua”
19. Progger- “Housewives”
20. Tracey Thorn- “Queen”

21. Valee with Pusha T- “Miami”
22. Banda Pelillos- “No Sabes Lo Que Se Siente”
23. Kitten- “I Did It!”
24. The James Hunter Six- “I Don't Wanna Be Without You”
25. Post Malone- “Psycho”

The Top 25 Concerts of 2018 (so far)
1. Anat Cohen Tentet- Gem Theater
2. David Byrne- Muriel Kauffman Theatre
3. Uriel Herman Quartet- Black Dolphin
4. Protomartyr- Zanzabar (Louisville)
5. Pink- Sprint Center
6. Bill Frisell, Rudy Royston and Thomas Morgan- 1900 Building
7. Julien Baker- Vinyl Renaissance
8. Low Cut Connie- Doug Fir Lounge (Portland)
9. Ryan Keberle & Catharsis- Black Dolphin
10. Injury Reserve- Encore Room

11. Ghost- Rockfest at the Kansas Speedway
12. Flatbush Zombies- Providence Medical Center Amphitheater
13. Cyrille Aimée- Folly Theater
14. Drive-By Truckers- The Truman
15. Atmosphere- VooDoo
16. The Breeders- The Rave (Milwaukee)
17. Tech N9ne- Boulevardia in the West Bottoms
18. The Project H- Westport Coffee House
19. Los Texmaniacs with Flaco Jiménez- Kansas City Folk Fest at Crown Center
20. McFadden Brothers- Helzberg Hall

21. Marcus Lewis Big Band- RecordBar
22. James Taylor- Sprint Center
23. Lyric Opera of Kansas City’s “Rigoletto”- Muriel Kauffman Theater
24. Hi-Lux- Mills Record Company
25. Lucinda Williams- Starlight Theatre

(Original image of Julien Baker at Vinyl Renaissance by There Stands the Glass.)

Monday, June 18, 2018

Album Review: Jorja Smith- Lost & Found

Jorja Smith’s episode of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert floored me.  The performance seemed to signal the arrival of a major talent.  Alas, the 21-year-old British woman’s debut album Lost & Found is slightly less convincing.  I was about to write it off until I was arrested by a surprising interpolation of Dizzee Rascal’s “Sirens,” my favorite song of 2007, on the eighth track.  Smith could be the next big star in the mode of Erykah Badu, D’Angelo or Lauryn Hill after all.

I covered the first day of the Boulevardia festival for The Kansas City Star

I write weekly music previews for The Kansas City Star.

I analyzed the significance of Social Distortion in a forecast of the band’s appearance at Middle of the Map festival.

I reviewed the Ryan Marquez Trio’s Moving Forward in Time at Plastic Sax.

I was backstage in Austin Music Hall at a SWSW showcase for the All the King’s Men project in 1997.  I was on cloud nine watching a parade of stars walk past me to perform with Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana.  Fontana has died.

At the conclusion of Matt “Guitar” Murphy’s first set at the Jazzhaus in Lawrence, Kansas, in the 1980s, I convinced two friends to abandon the club for my apartment.  I’d run out of money, but cold beer was in my refrigerator.  I’ve been haunted by that shameful decision for decades.  Murphy died last week.

Lorraine Gordon of the Village Vanguard has died.  I’m fairly certain she’s the person who scolded me for dawdling during my first visit to the club in the 1990s.

Jalal Mansur Nuriddin of the Last Poets has died.  (Tip via BGO.)

If three minutes were cut from the 7:33 “Everything,” Nas’ Nasir would be close to perfect.  It’s the best of Kanye West’s recent stellar musical outburst.  My new ranking: Nasir, Kids See Ghosts, Daytona, Ye.  Another thought: it’s increasingly clear that the five-part series (Teyana Taylor’s effort is slated for release on June 22) is intended to be heard as a single song cycle.

Nick Lowe’s new four-song collaboration with Los Straitjackets is almost as wonderful as his classic work of the 1970s.

The four-song Consolation affirms my belief that Protomartyr is one of the most vital bands in rock.

Jeffrey Osborne’s Worth It All suffers from a serious quality control problem.  The soul crooner’s voice is intact, but decent songs are few and far between.  Here’s the title track.

Lower East Suite Part Three, the sloppy debut album of the Onyx Collective, is a lo-fi mess.  And that’s precisely what I like about it.  The young jazz musicians play with the reckless indifference of punks.  RIYL: the Jazz Passengers, nose-thumbing, the Lounge Lizards.

Orange Goblin’s The Wolf Bites Back is a blast.  RIYL: Clutch, prison tattoos, Red Fang.  Here’s “In Bocca Al Lupo”.

I listened to The Carters’ Everything Is Love once.  Never again.  RIYL: Forbes list flexing, Us Weekly, misplaced priorities.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Monday, June 11, 2018

Album Review: Angelique Kidjo- Remain in Light

The young man next to me refused to stay seated when a band led by David Byrne launched into “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)” at Muriel Kauffman Theatre on Thursday.  (I reviewed the concert for The Kansas City Star.)   My new friend confided that “it’s from my favorite album, I have to dance” as he rose to his feet.  I joined him even though I knew that my display of solidarity would draw the ire of the handful of prim people who refused to stand.  My dance partner had yet to be born when Talking Heads' Remain in Light was recorded, but I bought it as a new release in 1980.  Angelique Kidjo shares our passion for the seminal album.  The Beninese star has remade Remain In Light in her own image.  Her translation of songs including "Born Under Punches" and “Once in a Lifetime” address some of the most crucial issues of 2018.

I reviewed the Marcus Lewis Big Band at RecordBar for Plastic Sax.

Eddie Clearwater has died.  The Chief seemed to play in Kansas City nightclubs and at area festivals at least three times a year during the blues boom of the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Danny Kirwan of Fleetwood Mac has died.

The problematic Kids See Ghosts is better than Ye and not as good as Daytona

Of Life, Steve Tibbetts’ first album since 2010, is enchanting.  RIYL: Ravi Shankar, dreaming, Terje Rypdal.

Marcus Miller’s Laid Black is a star-studded party.  The accomplished bassist and producer hosts pals like Trombone Shorty and vocalist Selah Sue on a feel-good project that’s ideally suited for backyard barbecues.  RIYL: Quincy Jones, getting down just for the funk of it, Jonathan Butler.

Sullivan Fortner is my top pick among the legions of young neo-conservative jazz pianists.  Moments Preserved features Roy Hargrove on a few tracks.  RIYL: Cyrus Chestnut, tradition, Cedar Walton.

(Original image of Kiki Smith sculpture by There Stands the Glass.)

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Clarence Fountain, 1929-2018

I wasn’t prepared the first time I attended a performance by Clarence Fountain and the Five Blind Boys of Alabama.  Fountain and his sightless bandmates repeatedly rushed to the lip of the stage during the gospel ensemble’s outing at the Kansas City Blues and Jazz Festival at Penn Valley Park in 1991.  I was certain the frenzied men would topple, but they seemed to know exactly where to stop to avert disaster.  The gasp-inducing stunt was intended as testimony to God’s grace.  It worked.  If I hadn’t already been a believer, I would likely have found Jesus that day.  Fountain died on June 3.

I surveyed Rockfest for The Kansas City Star.  As my analysis implies, my three favorite performances were by Ghost, Underoath and Sevendust.

I took a fresh look at last year’s infamous Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival at Plastic Sax.

I write weekly music previews for The Kansas City Star.

Stewart Lipton of Jonathan Fireeater has died.

Thunderpussy’s self-titled album goes like gangbusters before fizzling out in its second half.  RIYL: Sheer Mag, that old time rock and roll, Thee Oh Sees.

The Esbjörn Svensson Trio's Live in London was recorded in 2005 when the pianist was 39.  He died in a scuba diving accident three years later.  Alternately thrilling and rhapsodic, not a single one of the 105 minutes on the piano trio album is mundane.

Not-so-hot take: Black Thought’s Streams of Thought, Vol. 1 is superior to Ye.  9th Wonder’s production is typically outstanding.

African Scream Contest Vol​.​2 - Benin 1963​-​1980 may have prevented me from going to jail on a particularly difficult Monday morning.  It may not be quite as mind-blowing as other recent African compilations, but it’s a blast.  (Tip via Big Steve.)

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Friday, June 01, 2018

Album Review: Kanye West- Ye

I’ve long tolerated the erratic behavior of my favorite artist of the millennium.  I stuck with him when he cancelled a concert in Atlanta after I booked a non-refundable trip to see him at Philips Arena.  Even his unsettling flirtation with the current president didn’t phase me.  I’m firmly in the music-is-the-only-thing-that-matters camp.

Each of Kanye West’s first seven albums is a masterpiece.  Released today, his eighth album Ye ends that remarkable streak.  While it’s enormously entertaining and endlessly fascinating, Ye isn’t up to West’s colossal standard.

After listening to the 23-minute project on repeat for hours on end, I’ve concluded that only the druggy gospel of “Ghost Town”- a mashup of the styles of Queen, Rihanna and Kirk Franklin- is exceptional.  The punchline lyrics and inconsistent production on the other six tracks betray a lack of focus.

West flew higher than anyone for more than 15 years.  While Ye can’t be characterized as a crash landing, it’s an extremely bumpy return to earth.

I write weekly music previews for The Kansas City Star.

I examined Grizzly Bear’s return to the Middle of the Map festival for The Kansas City Star.

I recently became obsessed with a premium brand of cream soda.  The empty calories infuse me with a fleeting sense of euphoria.  The silky production on J Balvin’s lightweight Vibras is similarly satisfying.  Here’s “Ambiente”.

Tia Fuller’s Diamond Cut is precisely the sort of thrilling mainstream jazz album I keep waiting for a Kansas City musician (other than Bobby Watson) to make.

The song titles and press release for Awase, the latest effort of Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin, are painfully pretentious.  The music, however, is genuinely funky, albeit in a Swiss kind of way.  RIYL: Manu Katché, bass clarinet, the Esbjörn Svensson Trio.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)