Wednesday, April 29, 2020

April 2020 Recap: A Monthly Exercise in Critical Transparency

Top Five Albums
I’m glad so many people claim to love Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters.  I’m not among them.

1. Peter CottonTale- Catch
My review.
2. Clarice Jenson- The Experience of Repetition as Death
My review.
3. Dvsn- A Muse In Her Feelings
A not so quiet storm.
4. Tomeka Reid and Alexander Hawkins- Shards and Constellations
My review.
5. Laura Marling- Song For Our Daughter
Both sides now.

Top Five Songs
Even better than my beloved’s halting piano recitals.

1. Frank Ocean- “Dear April”
Vital correspondence.
2. Zsela- “Drinking”
In the parlance of the moment, I feel seen.
3. Playboi Carti- “@meh”
Modern art.
4. The Streets and Tame Impala- “Calling My Phone Thinking I’m Doing Nothing Better”
I don’t know how to dismiss an incoming call either.
5. Earl Sweatshirt featuring Maxo- “Whole World”
My favorite iteration of Earl.

Top Five Livestreams
I continue to appreciate nightly opera productions thanks to the generosity of the Metropolitan Opera.

1. Daniel Barenboim- plays Chopin at Pierre Boulez Saal
2. Post Malone- plays Nirvana at home
3. Stacey Pullen- in Detroit
4. Boombox Cartel- Room Service Festival
5- Taylor Swift- One World: Together at Home

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

(Screenshot of the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Rossini’s Cenerentola by There Stands the Glass.)

Monday, April 27, 2020

It Takes Two

I’m infatuated with a trio of new duo recordings by masters of improvised music.  Less is indeed more on these masterful musicians’ spare demonstrations.  Their controlled chaos reflects the epoch of uncertainty.

Martial Solal and Dave Liebman- Masters In Paris
How is it possible that a man born in Algeria in 1927 is among the most inventive pianists working in the new millenium?  Eighty-eight years old when this session with the storied saxophonist Dave Liebman transpired in 2016, Solal made a case for being the best pianist alive on inventive readings of standards.  “Coming Yesterday,” the Solal composition closing the live set, sounds just as essential as the more familiar material.  Here’s
video evidence of the sorcery.

Tomeka Reid and Alexander Hawkins- Shards and Constellations
The seemingly ubiquitous cellist Tomeka Reid is among my favorite musicians of the moment.  She and the British pianist  Alexander Hawkins pair well on thrilling free-range explorations.  Skronk-averse listeners are encouraged to begin with the sublime “Peace on You.”

James Taylor Lewis and Chad Taylor- Live in Willisau
Saxophonist James Taylor Lewis and drummer Chad Taylor achieve a propulsive sense of forward momentum during their vigorous appearance at a Swiss avant-garde jazz festival.   They leave no room for piano or bass.

I review Jackie Meyers’ new album Clementine at Plastic Sax.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Friday, April 24, 2020

Comfort Items

I’m bewildered when pals proudly share current playlists consisting of nothing but dusty vinyl albums.  To each his own, but discovering innovative new sounds is my lifeblood.  I prize surprise.  Even my ongoing opera obsession during the quarantine is rooted in enlightenment.  Last night I learned I loathe Franz Lehár’s “The Merry Widow.”  I’m disappointed, consequently, by my recent regression into the sort of sentimentality I mock in my friends.

I was lying half-naked in the sun on the nicest day of the year when I first listened to Shelby Lynne’s new self-titled album.  Complemented by the warm sun and cool breeze, Lynne’s barely-concealed recasting of her classic 1999 album I Am Shelby Lynne elevated me to cloud nine.  Subsequent plays revealed Shelby Lynne to be as innovative as a McDonald’s combo meal.  That’s precisely why I adore it.

After catching Lionel Loueke’s show with bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc Nemeth at the Blue Room in 2009, I figured the guitarist could do no wrong.  His 2012 album Heritage met the high standard I set for the artist who blends rock, soul and jazz with West African dance music.  Since then, his previously hidden propensity for corniness has repeatedly disappointed me.  Gilfema’s Three, Loueke’s reunion with Biolacati and Nemeth, is a familiar and comforting return to form.  Here’s the trio’s interpretation of “Little Wing”.

Jazz Is Dead’s name implies a revolutionary sensibility, but the project overseen by Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad specializes in painstakingly accurate recreations of timeworn variations of jazz.  Released today, the Roy Ayers vehicle “Synchronize Vibrations” is a nostalgic update of the cosmic soul of Ubiquity’s “Everybody Loves the Sunshine.”  Alas, I’m smitten by the blast from the past.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Monday, April 20, 2020

Album Review: Peter CottonTale- Catch

My life partner feared I might succumb to Jerusalem syndrome during our trip to Israel three months ago.  She was relieved by the absence of unhinged surges of spiritual intensity during our ecumenical pilgrimage to holy sites.  The ecstatic mania she expected me to exhibit at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre manifested in my living room on Friday night as I listened to Peter CottonTale’s Catch.  Not only does Jesus save, the new music He inspired interrupted my obsessive bingeing of devilish ambient music.

My profound appreciation of the gospel recording isn’t surprising.  Its tone and personnel parallel my top album of 2019 (Jamila Wood’s Legacy! Legacy!) and my #2 album of 2016 (Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book).  I adored performances by Peter CottonTale’s collective at a pair of Chance the Rapper concerts in Kansas City and in a star-studded performance by The JuJu Exchange at the Chicago Jazz Festival last year.

I anticipate finding inspiration in vital hymns like “Hi 5,” “Feels Like Church” and “Pray for Real” for the remainder of my life.  The joy-imbued Catch is a vigorous representation of the optimism at the core of my faith.  Aside from the inclusion of a brief skit, my sole grievance is the brevity of the selections.  Songs fade out moments after my delirious convulsions begin to kick in.

I report on the results of the American Jazz Museum’s Charlie Parker Song Contest for KCUR.

I review the Cur3’s The Anecdote at Plastic Sax.

(Original image of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem by There Stands the Glass.)

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

It Ain’t Over 'til the (Talented) Lady (Stops) Sing(ing)

Even after finally managing to cross attending a performance at the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center off my bucket list in January of 2019, I never could bring myself to pony up $25 to watch recorded versions of the institution’s new opera productions at a nearby movie theater.  Not only are the tickets expensive, I’m constitutionally incapable of sitting still as images flicker across a screen.

I finally know what I’ve been missing.  The Metropolitan Opera offers a different free video stream of its cinematic productions every 24 hours during the ongoing lockdown.  (Donations are requested.)  Indulging in the benevolent gesture changed the tone of my quarantine. 

I could only afford a ticket in the nethermost tier of the Metropolitan Opera House to take in the double bill of “Iolanta” and “Bluebeard’s Castle” in New York City last year.  The filmed versions place the viewer in the front row and behind the scenes during set changes and between each act.  I was especially grateful for the clear vantage points that allowed me to admire Anna Netrebko in her starring role as Norina in a 2010 production of “Don Pasquale” on Saturday.

Now that I’ve learned how to insulate my laptop in ice packs to prevent overheating during the lengthy, data-heavy performances, I know I’ll be able to watch all of “Boris Godunov” tonight, and more importantly, Netrebko’s 2019 star turn in “Adriana Lecouvreur” on Saturday.

It’s not all opera and ambient noise in my retreat.  I list my ten favorite jazz albums of 2020 (so far) at Plastic Sax.

Apropos of nothing, here’s a reminder of Brad Mehldau’s brilliance.

Nostalgic fans of gentle folk-rock of 1970s artists like Christine McVie, Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake will be beside themselves when they catch up with Laura Marling’s exceedingly lovely Song For Our Daughter

Dream team!  Kevin Parker and Mike Skinner combine forces on “Call My Phone Thinking I’m Doing Nothing Better”.

(Original image of Anna Netrebko on my television by There Stands the Glass.)

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Album Review: Clarice Jensen- The Experience of Repetition as Death

I didn’t mention Max Richter’s surprisingly humble demeanor in my review of his splendid concert in Austin last year.  He may be one of the most respected composers of the 21st century, but Richter possesses a sheepish stage presence.  Clarice Jensen, however, led Richter’s accompanists with dramatic flair.

Jensen’s new album The Experience of Repetition as Death is correspondingly suspenseful.  The ambient recording would convey a sense of inconsolable devastation even in the best of times.  Experienced during the current global crisis, The Experience of Repetition as Death provides the quintessential soundtrack for dread-imbued isolation.

The Experience of Repetition as Death,  Jóhann Jóhannsson’s apocalyptic posthumous album Last And First Men and the slow burn of Nine Inch Nails’ astoundingly impactful Ghosts VI: Locusts and its slightly less gripping companion Ghosts V: Together make up the most meaningful- albeit jarring and disconcerting- portion of my current discretionary listening. 

I attempted to lighten my mood by blasting a playlist featuring hits by the likes of E-40, Pusha T and Nicki Minaj during a run for provisions a couple days ago.  I felt like an idiot.  Until all this is behind us, I’ll be brooding right here.

I was never entirely smitten by a Hal Willner production, but I’ll always be grateful to the eclectic gadfly.  I was unfamiliar with Nino Rota and Kurt Weill until his tribute albums brought the giants to my attention in the 1980s.  Willner died April 7. 

I can only assume the people praising Yves Tumor’s Heaven to a Tortured Mind are also big fans of Godsmack.  The difference between the commercial metal band and the critically acclaimed artist is marginal on his new album.  The tired playlists of active rock radio stations would be much more interesting if they featured Tumor songs like “Gospel For a New Century” between tracks by Stone Temple Pilots and Tool.

I returned to the 1970s catalog of Norman Connors upon learning of the April 6 death of keyboardist Onaje Allan Gumbs.  The cosmic jazz of Love From the Sun has aged exceedingly well. 

(Original image of downtown Austin by There Stands the Glass.)

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

I Bought the Rights to the Inside Fights

The death of John Prine compels me to divulge an anecdote I’ve kept entirely to myself for 38 years.  I never had much in common with my friend A.  Jimmy Buffet’s Volcano was his favorite new album when we met in 1979.  I was obsessed with Off the Wall.  A. loved marijuana.  I’ve always detested the drug.  He wore Hawaiian shirts.  I prefer black clothing.  Yet we bonded over our mutual love of John Prine.

It was only natural we found ourselves at a nightclub’s peculiar double bill of Prine and the Righteous Brothers in 1982.  The young women we met after Prine’s opening set danced with us during renditions of the classic slow jams “Unchained Melody” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.”  I once thought making out with one of the strangers on the dance floor was the highlight of the night.  Only now do I fully appreciate the inestimable value of seeing Prine in the company of A.  He died in a car accident a few weeks later.  He was 19.

I rarely thought of A. when my work as a sales rep for independent record labels brought me into the tumultuous orbit of Prine’s in-house record label.  To put it mildly, I had a rocky relationship with the business manager of Oh Boy Records.  (My antagonist died in 2015.)

The bitter conflicts never diminished my passion for Prine’s work.  “Illegal Smile,” the first track on Prine’s 1971 debut album, was among A.’s favorite songs.  Yet it’s three lines from “Flashback Blues,” the album’s closing selection, that contain particular resonance today: Cloudy skies and dead fruit flies/Waving goodbye with tears in my eyes/Well, sure I made it, but you know it was a hell of a trip.

I decry the indifferent reception of Rock Chalk Suite among Jayhawk fans at Plastic Sax.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Monday, April 06, 2020

They Decorated My Life

After a longtime friend derided There Stands the Glass as a “death blog” a few years ago, I made the conscious decision to stop acknowledging the passing of every prominent musician.  The furious spate of recent bad news compels me to return to the gloomy format to lament several recent fatalities.

Cristina Monet-Zilkha
The no wave/new wave musician Cristina is among the peripheral artists who were once the momentary focus of my attention.  Shamefully, I’d completely forgotten about her.

Manu Dibango
I like to think I already know everything, so I was flabbergasted to have never made the connection between Manu Dibango’s global 1972 hit “Soul Makossa” and Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Starting Something” until I read one of Dibango’s obituaries.  Other than hearing “Soul Makossa” on the radio as a child, the only music of Dibango’s I’d spent time with is Electric Africa, his mind-boggling 1985 album for Celluloid Records.

Joe Diffie
Joe Diffie’s biggest hits sounded like holdovers from the ‘80s.  While he was never as good as John Anderson or Randy Travis, Diffie made markedly better music than the majority of his hit-making peers in the ‘90s.

Genesis P-Orridge
Wendy Carlos and Genesis P-Orridge introduced me to the concept of gender fluidity, but unlike Carlos’ work, the music GP-O made with Psychic TV and Throbbing Gristle never grabbed me.

Jan Howard
I was so floored by seeing Roy Acuff in person to appreciate much else at the time, but my first trip to the Grand Ole Opry in the late ‘80s turned out to be a big moment in my concert-going career.  In addition to taking in sets by the likes of Little Jimmy Dickens and Skeeter Davis, it was the only time I witnessed Jan Howard perform.

Aurlus Mabele
I’m so grateful for the African music scare of the ‘80s and ‘90s.  Attending shows by groups like Aurlus Mabele’s Loketo in American clubs changed my life.

Ellis Marsalis
I’d be lying if I pretended to have been captivated by Ellis Marsalis’ concerts and albums, but what a legacy he left!

Krzysztof Penderecki
Embarrassing confession: I first sat down to intentionally focus on the composer’s “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima” last year.  The London Philharmonic Orchestra’s new release Penderecki: Horn and Violin Concertos was in my queue when Penderecki passed.

Kenny Rogers
You’d think I would have detested Kenny Rogers and everything he represented.  What a cornball!  Yet my heart never allowed my head to have its way.  Even though my dad died more than 20 years ago, I can still hear him bellowing “Lucille” like a drunken sailor.  And Rogers charmed me each of the several times I saw him perform.

Wallace Roney
In many ways, Roney’s discombobulated career exemplifies the plight of jazz during the past 40 years.

Adam Schlesinger
Hours after learning of Schlesinger’s death, the loud renditions of Fountains of Wayne’s “Stacy’s Mom” on repeat in my memory banks kept me up half the night.

Eric Taylor
Eric Taylor isn’t the only musician who pledged to kill me, but the singer-songwriter’s oath was one of the most believable of the several murderous threats I’ve received.  Here’s the story.

Bill Withers
My relationship with the music of Bill Withers is tainted by overexposure.  Excruciating renditions of “Lean On Me” by countless children’s choirs and innumerable hack jobs of Withers hits including “Use Me” and “Ain’t No Sunshine” tortured me in churches, jazz clubs, blues joints and hotel lounges.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)