Sunday, March 31, 2019

Album Review: Coltrane '58: The Prestige Recordings

I devoured all five hours and 38 minutes of Coltrane ‘58: The Prestige Recordings in just two listening sessions this weekend.  After devoting much of March to the avant-garde sounds of today, bingeing on one of the most disruptive artists of 1958 has been as refreshing as chugging cool water on a hot summer day.  Even though I’m familiar with most of the material on the new box set, hearing it presented in chronological order provides fresh perspectives.  I’m particularly struck by my reaction to Red Garland.  The pianist’s combination of intelligence and soulfulness on the earliest dates are awe-inspiring.  Yet Garland’s inability to adjust to Coltrane’s rapid evolution occasionally threatens to send me into a blind rage.  (To be fair, pianists Tommy Flanagan, Elmo Hope and Kenny Drew also had a hard time keeping up.)  I can only imagine Coltrane’s frustration.

I write weekly concert previews for The Kansas City Star and Ink magazine.

I reviewed Dave Scott’s In Search of Hipness and suggest that Kansas City is the land that time forgot at Plastic Sax.

Scott Walker has died.

Ranking Roger has died.

The lineup of the We Out Here festival in August makes me giddy.  Round-trip flights to London start at $650.  Do I dare pull the trigger?

Shafiq Husayn’s The Loop would be a contender for my album of the year if the songs were just a little less loopy.  RIYL: To Pimp a Butterfly, marijuana, There’s a Riot Goin’ On.

I’m not laughing at the Faint; I’m laughing with them.  The members of the Omaha band sound as if they’re having a blast crafting variations on decades-old industrial pop and electronic funk on Egowerk.  RIYL: Front Line Assembly, Wax Trax, Front 242.  Here’s “Child Asleep”.


(Original image of an old OJC reissue by There Stands the Glass.)

Thursday, March 28, 2019

March Recap

Top Five Performances
1. The Big Ears Festival
My capsule reviews of 30 sets.
2. Leikeli47- Encore Room
My Instagram clip.
3. Metallica- Sprint Center
My review.
4. Ryan Keberle & Catharsis- Mod Gallery
My review.
5. Eric Church- Sprint Center
My review.

Top Five Albums
1. Solange- When I Get Home
I no longer pine for new music from Erykah Badu.
2. Little Simz- Grey Area
A true boss.
3. Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom- Glitter Wolf
Delirious chamber jazz.
4. Willie Clayton- Excellence
Take me to the river.
5. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah- Ancestral Recall
Generational brilliance.

Top Five Songs
1. Townes Van Zandt- “Sky Blue”
Buried treasure.
2. 2 Chainz with Kendrick Lamar- “Momma I Hit a Lick”
I want it, I want it, I want it.
3. The Wild Reeds- “Moving Target”
Garage-rock perfection.
4. Zara McFarlane- "East of the River Nile”
New life for an Augustus Pablo gem.
5. Nick Lowe- “Love Starvation”
Pure pop for old people.

I conducted the same exercise in January and February.

(Original image of Dwight Andrews and Leo Wadada Smith at the Big Ears Festival by There Stands the Glass.)

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Controlled Chaos: Thirty Sets at the Big Ears Festival

I booked a trip to Knoxville hours after discovering that the 2019 edition of the Big Ears Festival would serve as a fiftieth anniversary celebration of ECM Records.  As my ranking of 30 sets indicates, I didn’t limit my Big Ears experience to music associated with my favorite record label.

1. Art Ensemble of Chicago- Tennessee Theatre
Largely because I took in performances by the groundbreaking band during its heyday, I was skeptical about Sunday’s show.  Rather than attempting to recreate past glories, the group morphed into a rambunctious big band for the festival’s grand finale concert.  Even without the late Lester Bowie, Malachi Favors and Joseph Jarman, the Art Ensemble of Chicago continues to exude a sense of barely controlled chaos.

2. Artifacts Trio- St. John's Cathedral
The astounding new wave of forward-thinking Chicago jazz musicians rarely perform in Kansas City.  Even before I spotted Tomeka Reid on stage with the Art Ensemble of Chicago two days later, the ferocious outing by Reid, Nicole Mitchell and Mike Reed on Friday made me realize that they’re worthy heirs of that vital legacy.

3. Meredith Monk’s Cellular Songs- Bijou Theatre
Not only did I shed tears of joy on Friday, I guffawed so strenuously that people five rows in front of me turned to stare at my disruptive responses to Monk’s life-affirming work.

4. Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl- The Mill & Mine
Mary Halvorson was the most divisive artist on the lineup.  Heated arguments frequently broke out when her name was mentioned.  Halvorson’s dissonant attack elicits harsh rebukes from detractors while her advocates insist she’s the most significant guitarist to come along since the Big Three of Bill Frisell, Pat Metheny and John Scofield.  I’m no longer a doubter.  (The presence of the brilliant Ambrose Akinmusire didn’t hurt.)

5. Evan Parker’s Trance Map Plus- Bijou Theatre
What sorcery is this?  The septuagenarian’s perpetual embrace of the future makes him my role model.

6. Rhiannon Giddens- Church Street United Methodist Church
Giddens is a wondrous musical presence, but I predict that she’ll hold an even greater role as a prominent public figure 20 years from now.

7. Mathias Eick Quintet- The Standard
The Norwegians located the groovy sweet spot between Miles Davis’ Jack Johnson and Tutu.

8. Leo Wadada Smith- The Standard
Monk lives!  Smith’s unaccompanied interpretations of Thelonious Monk’s compositions were revelatory.

9. Kim Kashkashian- St. John's Cathedral
Rapturous solo viola.

10. Roomful of Teeth- Knoxville Museum of Art
The members of the a cappella vocal ensemble resemble the weird aunts and uncles of Pentatonix.

11. Alvin Lucier- Bijou Theatre
The avant-garde composer displayed his signature wit and adventurous spirit.

12. Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn- Tennessee Theatre
Iyer needs to calm down. His everything-at-once assault in a duo with Taborn was often overbearing.  The less frenetic passages were extraordinary.

13. Evan Parker's Trance Map Plus- The Mill & Mine
I fell in love with Big Ears when the festival announced this 10 a.m. pop-up exhibition of free jazz.

14. Tim Berne’s Snakeoil- Bijou  Theatre
As we say in Kansas, “that’ll put hair on your chest!”  The skronk-oriented saxophonist joked that “it’s entirely possible we’ll get dropped by the label between the third and fourth tunes.”

15. Columbia Icefield- The Standard
Nate Wooley’s reference to the poetry of Jim Harrison while the pedal steel master Susan Alcorn and guitar hero Mary Halvorson retuned encapsulates his group’s rough-and-tumble sound.

16. Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir- St. John's Cathedral
I’ll cop to showing up just to gawk at the twins depicted on the cover of Belle & Sebastian’s classic 2000 album Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant even though I was certain I’d loathe their frail music.  Instead, I was captivated by the convincing performances of Kristín Anna and Gyða Valtýsdóttir.  Like characters who escaped from the pages The Lord of the Rings, the sisters transported me to an alternate universe.  The plant seeds they hawked were among the festival’s most tempting merch offerings.

17. Carla Bley, Steve Swallow and Andy Sheppard- Tennessee Theatre
As they say on talk radio, “first time, long time.”  The highly refined outing lacked energy, but finally witnessing Swallow’s trademark electric bass work in person thrilled me.

18. Nik Bärtsch and Ronin- Tennessee Theatre
I assume the festival attendee who wore a King Crimson t-shirt is an even more ardent fan of Ronin than I.  The Swiss pianist and his collaborators including a saxophonist named Sha play prog-tinged jazz.

19. Jack DeJohnette, Ravi Coltrane and Matthew Garrison- Tennessee Theatre
The trio has improved immensely since I caught it in Kansas City two years ago.

20. Mercury Rev- The Mill & Mine
Loud rock and roll guitars sound especially good near the end of a jazz-filled day.

21. Joan La Barbara- St. John's Cathedral
I hadn’t realized that the vocal trailblazer collaborated with the late Jóhann Gunnar Jóhannsson on the Arrival soundtrack.

22. KTL- The Mill & Mine
The kids sprawled out on the floor during the loud drone cultivated by Stephen O'Malley and Peter Rehberg had the right idea.

23. Nils Frahm- Tennessee Theatre
Frahm was intent on making certain everyone at his elaborate one-man show understood that he’s extremely talented.  His curiously bass-free version of EDM didn’t do much for me, but I won’t be surprised if Frahm soon headlines 1,000-capacity venues.

24. The Comet is Coming- The Mill & Mine
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- the Comet is Coming is vastly overrated.

25. Joep Beving- Knoxville Museum of Art
Beving boasts more streams on Spotify than any artist at the festival.  The Dutchman’s effort was mystifyingly dull.

26. Moor Mother- The Standard
I’m willing to accept the possibility that the essence of this set sailed far over my head.

27. Kayhan Kahlor and Brooklyn Rider- Bijou Theatre
Tasteful to a fault.

28. Harold Budd- Bijou Theatre
29. Harold Budd- St. John's Cathedral
I take no pleasure in reporting that the ambient legend’s rare appearances were unmitigated disasters.  I went back for a second round only to verify my deeply distressing diagnosis.

30. Leo Wadada Smith- Tennessee Theater
I’d eagerly anticipated the reprise of the 1979 album Divine Love.  Alas, the trumpeter’s reunion with Dwight Andrews and vibraphonist Bobby Naughton was a shambolic mess.

What About Sons of Kemet and Makaya McCraven?
I intended to spend Saturday night at the Mill & the Mine sampling local beers while grooving to two of the most exciting acts in the world.  Yet after experiencing fatigue-induced hallucinations early Saturday evening- I didn’t consume any intoxicants during the festival- I elected to turn in early.

Wait For It...
I didn’t attempt to secure a media pass.  Instead, I paid $246.40 for a general admission wristband.  Consequently, I spent more than five hours in lines over the course of four days.  One exasperated wag suggested that only 10 people with general admission passes were allowed inside the Standard for each set.  I didn’t even attempt to gain admittance to the cozy club on Saturday or Sunday.  I made the best of the bad situation by making new friends as I cooled my heels.  The most telling indication that I was among fellow music obsessives was the absence of chatter inside the venues.

Knox in Box
I’m still thinking about a sidewalk placard advertising a three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in the heart of downtown for $1,750.00 a month.  I’m so smitten by Knoxville that I’d consider relocating to the college town.  Every local I encountered was kind and gracious.  My sole knock on Knoxville is that downtown is a food desert for committed fest-goers.  Who has time for a sit-down restaurant if it means missing a set?  Barring national chains from the district is a nice idea, but the lone convenience store is an unreliable mom-and-pop operation.  I would have killed for a 7-Eleven, let alone a Trader Joe’s.

Bright Size Life
I posted video clips of 20 performances at my Instagram account.

(Original image of Craig Taborn by There Stands the Glass.)

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Album Review: Snarky Puppy- Immigrance

Clinical studio perfection?  Check.  Ostentatious instrumental prowess?  Check.  Clever jazz references?  Check.  Insufferably smug fan base?  Check.  Snarky Puppy is the new Steely Dan.  The absence of Donald Fagen’s disdainful voice is the only substantive difference between Snarky Puppy’s Immigrance and Steely Dan albums like Aja.  Oh sure, Immigrance possesses additional components: the most dreadful moments reference the bloated pop of Toto while the best bits recall Return to Forever’s prog-rock fusion.  But it’s just a matter of time until a prankster releases a mashup of Immigrance and Aja.  I’m going to be all about it.  Here’s “Bad Kids to the Back”.

I write weekly concert previews for The Kansas City Star and Ink magazine.

I took a field trip to 424 Lounge in Leavenworth, Kansas.

The R&B OG Andre Williams has died.  Here’s one of the Williams concert reviews I wrote for The Kansas City Star.

The rock guitar pioneer Dick Dale has died.

I’ve elected not to share the sordid details of the lucid dream I experienced after drifting off to the Sokratis Sinopoulos Quartet’s evocative Metamodal.  RIYL: Regina Carter, Venus de Milo, John Blake.

I didn’t see the maturation of 2 Chainz coming.  Not only does Rap or Go to the League go down easy, the star-studded project offers nourishing food for thought.  Here’s “Money in the Way”.

The video of Tortoise’s set at the Midwinter festival is excellent.

It’s not funny anymore.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Album Review: The Comet is Coming- Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery

Attendees of music festivals are often required to make excruciating decisions.  I’ve been tortured by a particularly agonizing scheduling conflict coming up on Friday at the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Ralph Towner and The Comet is Coming play simultaneous showcases at different venues. 

Towner, 71, has blown my mind since I fished Sargasso Sea out of a discount bin at Classical Westport as a curious teen.  Friday’s show is my first- and likely last- opportunity to see the guitarist.

In contrast to the relatively staid Towner, the energetic the Comet is Coming is one of the most fashionable acts in the world.  The cool kids have glommed onto the London based trio as their token jazz act of 2019.  A commensurate allotment of coolness will be conferred on everyone at the band’s showcase on Friday. 

Alas, the release of the Comet is Coming’s major label debut made my choice a lot easier.  Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery doesn’t live up to the hype.  The best bits resemble a solid Pharoah Sanders tribute while the worst passages sound like a mashup of the late prog-rock keyboardist Keith Emerson and the manic jazz ensemble Moon Hooch.  It’s cheesy. 

So while fashionable folks dance to the Comet is Coming at a nightclub, I’ll be seated with my frumpy brethren in an Episcopal cathedral listening to a septuagenarian guitarist.  No regrets.

I created an audio feature about RL Brooks and Seen Merch for KCUR.

The process entailed several listening sessions, but I finally worked my way through Jordi Savall’s 146-minute epic Ibn Battuta, the Traveller of Islam.  While the music is uniformly compelling, the goofy narration is intrusive. 

It’s difficult for me to image Jim Keltner and Mike Watt in the same room, let alone in the same recording studio.  Yet the classic rock drummer and the intrepid punk bassist support Mike Baggetta on Wall of Flowers.  The guitarist’s attack falls somewhere between Terje Rypdal and Joe Satriani. 

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Album Review: Willie Clayton- Excellence

Several of my friends and associates are raving about Durand Jones & the Indications’ American Love Call.  While the group’s spot-on evocation of a lost 1972 album by the Dramatics is a neat trick, I don’t understand the point of the nostalgic exercise.  After all, Whatcha See is Whatcha Get and Dramatically Yours are just a few clicks away.

Unlike Durand and his admirers, Willie Clayton isn’t desperate to return the past. As he suggests on the aptly titled new album Excellence, Clayton’s Southern soul contains “a little old-school with a little new.”  The approach has made him a star on what’s left of the chitlin’ circuit.

The varied Excellence recalls Al Green’s classic work for Hi Records, the commercial peak of the Isley Brothers and the contemporary R&B of a certain pariah.  The music video for the so-wrong-it’s-right “Where You Get That Body” is something else.

I write weekly concert previews for The Kansas City Star.

I reviewed a performance by Ryan Keberle & Catharsis at Plastic Sax.

Drummer Hal Blaine has died.

Keith Flint of the Prodigy has died.

The South African icon Dorothy Masuka has died.

Sara Romweber of Let’s Active has died.  It’s hard to believe at this late date, but there was a moment in my life when “Every Word Means No” was important to me.

Four acts from Kansas City- the Get Up Kids, Hembree, Kadesh Flow and Shy Boys- have official showcases at SXSW this week.  I wish them well.

I’m not terribly interested in the gender dynamics explored on Angel-Ho’s Death Becomes Her.  It’s the startling sonic blend of the noise of Death Grips, the futurism of Grimes and the New Orleans bounce of Big Freedia that fascinates me.  Do I like it?  I’m still not sure.  Here’s “Pose”.  (Tip via Big Steve.)

When I saw Caleb Burhans’ Past Lives described as  “emo-classical,” I cued it up with the intention of hate-listening.  The opening track is titled “A Moment for Jason Molina,” for Pete’s sake!  In spite of my pernicious intent, I quickly became entranced by the album’s sentimental beauty.  RIYL: Jóhann Jóhannsson, melancholy, John Fahey.

Forward-thinking improvised music doesn’t get much more fun than Glitter Wolf, the latest album by Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom.  Equal parts klezmer, chamber jazz and pop, the drummer-led project features violinist Jenny Scheinman, cornetist Kirk Knuffke, clarinetist Ben Goldberg, pianist Myra Melford and bassist Todd Sickafoose.  RIYL: Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, joy, Charles Mingus.

Good news, old-timers: most of Meat Puppets’ Dusty Notes is entirely acceptable.  RIYL: Son Volt’s Trace, fried psychedelia, the Dead’s Wake of the Flood.

I’ve heard Havilah Bruders sing plenty of times, but she’s never sounded better than she did at my church on Sunday morning as she redeemed U2 in a restrained rendition of “Love Rescue Me.”

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Concert Review: Metallica at the Sprint Center

A record-setting crowd bid farewell to heavy metal at the Sprint Center on Wednesday.  Members of the audience of 19,646- the largest-ever gathering for a concert at the arena- gave Metallica and their concert-going days a worthy sendoff.

Even though an adorable little boy with a seat directly in front of mine tossed up devil horns for two hours, the concert felt more like a rowdy Irish wake than a passionate rock and roll revival.  I got the sense that most of the men in their thirties and forties who dominated the audience were bidding farewell to the rock-loving portion of their lives with one final blowout.

Most gave it everything they had.  There was little difference between the giddiness of the grown men at last night’s concert- “can you believe that Metallica is going to be on that stage in a few minutes” a wobbly man shouted as he shook me by the shoulders- and little girls at an appearance by the boy band BTS.  The misty nostalgia of my neighbor indicated that he had no intention of going to another show.

The members of Metallica reflected the outlook.  James Hetfield even trotted out the sad catchphrase “thank you for supporting live music,” a phrase usually uttered by unworthy hacks.  And while Metallica may be a lot of things, unworthy isn’t one of them.  Hetfield, Kirk Hammett, Robert Trujillo and Lars Ulrich were admirably energetic.  The astounding production supporting them equaled their intensity.  An inexcusably muddy sound field was the only snag.

While a fraction of the nearly 20,000 people at last night’s show will attend a concert featuring Slayer and Lamb of God in seven weeks, Metallica’s winning effort acted as a heroic last stand for the majority of the weary headbangers.

I write weekly concert previews for The Kansas City Star.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Album Review: Solange- When I Get Home

How I detested A Seat at the Table!   I didn’t hear what others claimed to like about Solange’s 2016 breakout album.  While I’ve admired Solange for more than a decade, I’m hardly a Stan of Beyoncé’s sister.  That’s why I’m enormously pleased to report that Solange has realized her potential with When I Get Home.  The new album equals or betters efforts by like-minded neo-soul and progressive jazz artists including the Internet, Flying Lotus, Robert Glasper and SZA.   While it doesn’t contain any so-called “bops” (ugh), When I Get Home represents everything I love about the current musical moment even as it recalls the seminal work of Stevie Wonder and Erykah Badu.  And no, I haven’t watched the accompanying album-length video.

I reviewed the first of Eric Church’s two concerts at the Sprint Center for The Kansas City Star.

I reviewed Norman Brown’s The Highest Act of Love at Plastic Sax.

I write weekly concert previews for The Kansas City Star.

Bluegrass giant Mac Wiseman has died.

Jazz guitarist Ed Bickert has died.

Mark Hollis of Talk Talk has died.

Drummer Andy Anderson has died.

André Previn has died.  What a life!  I’ve long employed his solo piano improvisations as sublime background music.

The jazz critic and producer Ira Gitler has died.

Zara McFarlane’s four interpretations of Augustus Pablo’s “East of the River Nile” are positioned at the precise center of my musical wheelhouse. 

Offset’s Father of 4 is so weak that I’m embarrassed for the rapper and for myself for intently listening to all 58 minutes of it.  Here’s “Quarter Milli”.

Guitarist Julian Lage, bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Dave King are in thrall of Ornette Coleman on the thorny Love Hurts.  I love it, of course.  Here’s “Tomorrow Is the Question”.

While attending the rock festival isn’t at the top of my bucket list, I’m consistently impressed by the scale of Rocklahoma.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)