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”
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.

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”.

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.

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

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.

Disco innovator Hamilton Bohannon died April 24.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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


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.

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.

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.)