This is linked all over the liberal blogosphere, but in case you haven't seen it elsewhere, Stephen Colbert's performance at the White House Correspondent's Dinner is essential viewing, both for Colbert's sharp, very funny routine, and the utterly stone-faced reaction from the members of the press corps. What, exactly, did they expect when they invited him?
It's amazing how few journalists get what the Daily Show and the Colbert Report are all about. They seem to be under the impression that these shows are a "satirical" take on the news, something like SNL's Weekend Update. When it eventually dawns on them that Stewart and Colbert are actually throwing barbs at them -- and especially, their incestuous relationship with the DC elite -- they become extremely uncomfortable, as you can see in the video.
Corey Dargel is compared to Stephin Merritt with almost inevitable regularity. His laconic, deadpan vocal delivery and his music's transparent electronic textures make the reference irresistible, although truth be told, neither Dargel's distinctive songwriting voice, nor, for that matter, his actual voice, are all that similar to Merritt's. However, listening to his first official release, Less Famous Than You (which drops May 1), I kept thinking of someone else entirely... Randy Newman, circa Sail Away and Good Old Boys.
No, wait... seriously, stay with me here.... The songs on Less Famous Than You are all internal monologues delivered by emotional cripples -- fanboy stalkers, media-whore parents, detoxing addicts, hydrophobes, agnosia patients, and self-loathers of all stripes. Of course, Dargel's music sounds absolutely nothing like Newman's (then or now), but his uncanny ability to get deep inside the heads of the characters he portrays, combined with the confessional lyrics, delivered with absolute sincerity but inviting equal parts empathy and repulsion, are very much in the spirit of classic Newman songs like "Marie" and "Guilty." And the idea of a relatively unknown (albeit rapidly rising) figure like Dargel making his recorded debut with a collection of songs about famous people (and the people who love them) isn't that much different from RN singing "Lonely At The Top" in front of 12 people at the Bitter End back in the day.
Dargel's tunes are full of vintage-sounding electropop timbres. He overlays deceptively simple patterns and fragmentary beats to create subtly shifting rhythmic undercurrents. What might initially feel like a stable, comforting musical foundation usually turns out to be a thing in constant internal flux, with parts being passed around and added or subtracted from the overall texture. The bass might draw down so a barely audible midrange figure can come out, or the beat might melt away to allow a subordinate rhythmic pattern to take over. The melodies are often fragmentary and the phrasing lands in unexpected places, giving the tunes a conversational ebb and flow that perfectly compliments Dargel's lyrics.
The second track on the record, "I'll Drown," has the exact kind of descending bass line that always slays me, overlaid with crystalline high-register figures that become increasingly blurry as the song goes on, setting the scene for the narrator's plea to his lover that he not be made to set foot on a cruise ship.
"Gay Cowboys" is the only song on this album I was previously familiar with. The album version of this track is now available as a freebie download from Dargel's site, so I recommend you go get. This is one of Dargel's most autobiographical-sounding songs, and also one of his wittiest -- "the gay-affirmative Starbucks / has lost its charm" still makes me grin every time.
"Withdrawl" continues in the lineage of Dargel's series of songs about pharmaceuticals -- he name-checks buphrenorphine, a methadone-like opiod often given to recovering heroin addicts. Sadly, it's stopped working for the self-pitying, Chekhov-reading narrator, who still has sixty hellish days of detox left. In fact, the only thing holding him together seems to be the fantasy that he and his lover will "get back together like we were never apart / and as my nerves get better, so will my heart." The music is all electronic pinpricks, with Dargel's voice floating forlornly over top.
The opening phrase of "The News" sees Dargel breaking out of his usual midrange deadpan, shooting up into a clear falsetto at the climax of the line. This sets up a bit of uncomfortably personal media criticism from someone so enthralled with a journalist that he desperately wants all the news to be about the object of his desire.
Dargel's whole aesthetic expresses so much personal vulnerability, it may seem unfair (sadistic, even) to ask for more, but nonetheless, about three-quarters of the way through the album, I found myself thinking, "You know, the vocal doubling/thickening effects are all subtle and cool and effective, but I would like to hear just the straight sound of Corey's voice before the record's out." Sure enough, the album's tenth track, "Change The World," gave me exactly that -- unadorned voice plus acoustic piano and acoustic drums, an aural counterpoint to the refrain "my heart is not a metronome."
"Like A Ghost" is a skittish, disorienting track, opening with a brief, searing lead synth bit that suggests feedback-driven guitar, followed by an active bass line accompanied by a stuttering drum machine pattern. Of all the songs on Less Famous Than You, this is the one most explicitly about celebrity, artifice, and the toll of fame-driven power imbalances. The anthemic chorus "I watched you conceal / everything I loved the most about you" seems like it could be an encapsulation of the whole record.
By rights, Less Famous Than You should put Corey Dargel on the map as a prodigiously talented, entertaining, and original singer-songwriter. He's scheduled to open for Owen Pallett (aka Final Fantasy) in London, Nottingham, and Manchester in May, but you can hear him in NYC this Friday, April 28, 8:30 PM at the Listening Room of Bruckner Bar in the Bronx, along with Dan Fishback, The Lisps, and Ching Chong Song.
The official NYC CD release for Less Famous Than You, though, is May 22, 8:30 PM at the Cornelia Street Café -- save the date.
[FULL DISCLOSURE DEPT: This is the first review copy of a CD I've ever gotten for this blog. Surely you noticed how this review was all extra-professional and objective-like? And, hey, anyone else wants to send me review copies, you know how to reach me.]
Don't get me wrong. I say this with love. At its best, the Great American Songbook is a wonderful document of a sophisticated and elegant time in American popular culture. When the melody, harmony, and lyrics are expertly combined, it's like a perfectly blended, bracingly cold classic cocktail. Those who know me know I'm not one to turn down a vigorously stirred martini. And sure, even when the ingredients are a little off, a good singer can make you forgive a lot.
But let's face it. Not only is the range of acceptable song subjects in the GAS incredibly narrow and formulaic compared to the post-Dylan musical landscape, the emotional range of the lyrics is -- with a few glorious exceptions -- similarly constrained. And all too often the lyrics are stilted, lazy, or just straight-out cringe-worthy.
So, let's have our own contest: what are the worst standards lyrics of all time? And no fair using post-facto lyrics written to jazz heads like "Inner Urge" or other such abominations -- it has to be lyrics approved by the composer. So, "Satin Doll" is eligible, but the Manhattan Transfer vocalise rendition of Coleman Hawkins's solo on "Body and Soul" is not. Also, it's better if it's songs that people actually sing, still.
Let me start things off with some classic terrible lyrics, starting with the one referenced in this post's title:
Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most
Lyric: Fran Landesman
All afternoon, those birds twitter twit,
I know the tune, "This is love, this is it."
This whole tune is incredibly painful.
Days Of Wine And Roses
Lyric: Johnny Mercer
Through the meadowland toward a closing door,
A door marked "Nevermore,"
That wasn't there before
Okay, let me get this straight. This door you speak of... it's in the middle of the meadowland?
I've Got A Crush On You
Lyric: Ira Gershwin
Could you coo, could you care
For a cunning cottage we could share?
The world will pardon my mush
'Cause I've got a crush, my baby, on you.
Sorry Ira, but oy... there's cute, and then there's that.
Lyric: Cole Porter
No citation needed beyond the title. "De-lovely"? Arwgh... (See also: "'S Wonderful")
Lover, Come Back To Me
Lyric: Oscar Hammerstein
The sky was blue
And high above
The moon was new
And so was love
Oscar Hammerstein is the most overrated lyricist of all time.
Teach Me Tonight
Lyric: Sammy Cahn
The sky's a blackboard high above you
If a shooting star goes by,
I'll use that star to write "I love you,"
A thousand times across the sky.
The sky's a what now? Yes, I understand it's part of the conceit of the song, but still...
You And The Night And The Music
Lyric: Howard Dietz
Until the pale light of dawning and daylight
Our hearts will be throbbing guitars
I have got to get me one of them throbbing guitars.
Nominate your favorite bad standards lyrics in comments!
My MySpace page is now all gussied up, just for you.
UPDATE: Oh, bleargh. Now I feel all icky.
To expand ad sales, especially to big brands, Mr. Levinsohn plans to supplement the MySpace staff with a second sales force linked to the Fox TV sales department. He wants to expand one of Mr. DeWolfe's advertising ideas — turning advertisers into members of the MySpace community, with their own profiles, like the teenagers' — so that the young people who often spend hours each day on MySpace can become "friends" with movies, cellphone companies and even deodorants. Young people can link to the profiles set up for these goods and services, as they would to real friends, and these commercial "friends" can even send them messages — ads, really, but of a whole new kind.
And, for now, Mr. DeWolfe and Mr. Anderson say they are happy working for the News Corporation and Mr. Murdoch, its 75-year-old chairman and chief executive. "Rupert Murdoch blew me away," Mr. DeWolfe said. "He really understands what youth is doing today."
Remember: Tom is not your friend.
UPDATE 2: What'd I say?
Things I did not know about Mel Gibson:
Mel Gibson is a bigger Leonard Cohen fan than you are. Yup, Mel Gibson is such a big Leonard Cohen fan that he executive produced a movie about him: Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man, due in theaters June 21. What have you done for Leonard Cohen lately, huh?
Part documentary and part concert film, I'm Your Man centers around a January 2005 Australian tribute concert, "Came So Far for Beauty", organized by producer Hal Willner and featuring performances by Antony, Nick Cave, Jarvis Cocker, Rufus Wainwright, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Martha Wainwright, Beth Orton, Linda Thompson, Teddy Thompson, the Handsome Family, Julie Christensen, and Perla Battala. Cohen himself performs "Tower of Song" with U2.
I'm Your Man was directed by Lian Lunson, whose previous claims to fame include a PBS documentary about Willie Nelson and work on the companion CD to The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson's other movie about a Jew with a fanatical cult following.
When I was little, the music I liked best was TV show themes. "Entertainment Tonight," that was a good one. Also, "Ripley's Believe It Or Not," "The A Team," "LA Law," "MacGyver," "Cheers"... these were the core of my repertoire at the piano. There were some movie soundtracks I liked too -- St. Elmo's Fire (though I wasn't allowed to see the actual movie) and Ghostbusters especially. The first tape I really got deeply into was a dub of a Henry Mancini record my grandfather made for me.
As may be quickly becoming apparent, I did not listen to any of the popular music that would have been normal for a kid my age. Unlike my classmates, I didn't flip out over Michael Jackson's Thriller or Prince's Purple Rain or the Police's Synchronicity or the Beastie Boys' Licensed to Ill -- while they were an inescapable part of the general musical landscape, I didn't own 'em and (at best) the music just didn't make much of an impression. One of my best friends was really into the Ramones, the Talking Heads, the Violent Femmes, etc, but I thought he had terrible taste in music, and I kept going back to my beloved Mancini tape.
It was the summer of 1987 when finally I decided I might get beat up less, escape constant ridicule, etc, if I tried to engage with the popular culture of my peer group. I made it my mission to listen to the radio constantly. Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 became a sacrament not to be missed. I forced myself to listen to everything with an open mind -- it didn't matter if I loved it or hated it, it was just important that I know about it. I still know all the words to almost every hit song from 1987.
My next step was to try to persuade my parents to let me sign up for the Columbia House Music Club -- in that initial, glorious batch of twelve tapes, the one I was most excited about was Huey Lewis and the News' Small World -- which, for some reason, was never as popular with my peers as it was with me. Ditto with Steve Winwood's Roll With It, Richard Marx's self-titled debut and Rick Astley's Whenever You Need Somebody. But like everyone else, I got way into INXS' Kick, George Michael's Faith, Michael Jackson's Bad, and U2's Rattle and Hum. I never did buy a copy of GNR's Appetite for Destruction, but I (somewhat surprisingly) found myself loving all the radio hits, especially "Paradise City."
Following that, like all good suburban white boys, I started getting into rap -- especially It Takes A Nation of Millions and Ice-T's Power -- but what I really loved around that time, more than anything, was Living Colour's Vivid. I think that's the first record (well, er, tape... ) I listened to that clicked for me as something more than just a collection of tunes. It was heavy but it was smart, the playing was badass and it was incredibly varied -- it drew on all these genres and styles I knew absolutely nothing about, and every listen gave the thrill of fresh discovery. The angry and anguished tunes felt far more real to me than anything else I'd ever heard -- "Cult of Personality" (of course) but also "Middle Man," "Desperate People," "Open Letter To A Landlord," "Memories Can't Wait," (I'd never heard the original) -- damn. This music did things to me I'd had no idea music could even do.
As it turns out, my fling with popular music lasted just three years -- in the summer of 1990, I abruptly stopped listening to anything at all except jazz. (I would allow myself a little blues, occasionally, and I also made an exception for Living Colour's Time's Up, but that was about it.) I had started playing piano in the school jazz band and discovered I had some talent for it, so I started taking lessons and going to workshops, and it seemed like everyone was broadcasting the same Wyntonite message to us budding jazz nerds: "Popular music is an evil and corrupting influence, and jazz -- and, uh, classical -- are the only True Musical Arts. If you want to play jazz, you have to listen to jazz exclusively. Anything else will fuck up your playing."
So I obediently purged almost my entire collection and started over with Kind of Blue (and, um, the soundtrack to Siesta -- those were the two Miles tapes they had in stock at the mall), Clark Terry's In Orbit (with Thelonious Monk), and an Italian import of dubious legality that had some of the Charlie Parker Dial sessions.
Because of this, I missed out on what's supposed to be the transformative musical moment of my generation, which had been brewing practically in my own backyard. I never got Nevermind or In Utero or Ten or Ritual de lo Habitual or Badmotorfinger or Superunknown or Dirt. I lost track of hip-hop as well -- I completely missed out on De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Gang Starr... What was the point? They weren't captial-A Art -- not like "Watermelon Man" or "The Sidewinder." Kurt Cobain couldn't possibly have anything of any value to communicate to an obsessive, depressed, antisocial teenager like myself -- unlike, say, Sammy Cahn or Johnny Mercer. What good would it do to stay in touch with the musical culture I was growing up in? All that was current and popular was necessarily coarse and unclean, and needed to be sacrificed in the name of Art. At least, that's what anyone who knew anything about jazz seemed to be telling me, and who was I to argue?
This brings me to a couple of recent posts at New Music Box by a young composer named Colin Holter, who is just finishing up his first year of an MM in comp at the University of Illinois. Colin is... somewhat conflicted:
Are my colleagues and I at a disadvantage because pop, rather than Western classical music, is the music in which we were socialized? In other words, wouldn't it be better to know the Beethoven piano sonatas forwards and backwards than the second Weezer album? Were we listening to the wrong music in our formative years?
Those of us who are preparing for doctoral prelims in the next couple of years would probably agree that we were. I certainly wish I had familiarized myself with the standard rep rather than Gang Starr's "Just to Get a Rep," and not just for the prelims' sake either. My respect for the "classical" literature is enormous, having heard and performed quite a bit of it, but my knowledge of it is peppered with holes—holes that are not only embarrassing but also potentially detrimental to my compositional awareness. More importantly, I wonder how years of pop have shaped my perception of music as a listener. Has my familiarity with the conventions of rock weakened my ability to make sense of large-scale formal shapes, for example? Why is it that even my favorite new music masterpieces don't elicit an emotional reaction from me, but the right band playing the right song at the right time can reduce me to tears?
In answer to that last question, composer and WWE afficionado Seth Gordon helpfully observes: "Well, seems kinda simple - you just don't like classical music as much."
Leaving that possibility aside for the moment, though, the idea that a composer who didn't cut themselves off from popular music during their formative years -- as I mostly did, much to my regret -- now lamenting that they wish they'd O.D.'d on Haydn string quartets back in junior high makes me want grab Colin by the shoulders and shake him very hard. Despite what his teachers may be telling him, the idea that there's actual virtue in being disconnected from the musical culture at large is completely insane. Insane, Colin. The idea that you, as a composer of contemporary music, will write better music if you purge the stuff that has the deepest emotional resonance for you is also, I'm afraid, bugfuck insane. If this is what the your teachers are feeding you, Colin, flee. Either that, or tell them to go screw, and crank that Gang Starr record you loved so much. Revel in it, swim in it, but also: take notes. Because when you figure out how to draw out what attracted you to that record in the first place and make it yours, you'll be much further ahead than if you'd gone back in time and force-fed your 11-year old self more Haydn.
Undaunted, Colin returned the following week with a related post:
A former teacher of mine whose opinion I respect enormously once compared pop culture to a giant amoeba: It's tempting to believe that we can sever a pseudopod or two for our own use, but the integrity of our music will ultimately be enveloped and digested by it. He was referring in part to the ideal of immanence, a goal easily compromised by appropriation from other styles or works, and implying, I think, his conviction (which I share) that a project based on the recontextualization and manipulation of preexisting elements rather than on the difficult but utterly necessary search for new elements is doomed to produce incestuous and shallow music.
To be clear, Colin's appetite and affection for pop culture and popular music are (apparently) undiminished -- it's just that now, he feels much more guilty about it. I won't spoil Seth's priceless response by excerpting it here -- just go read the thread (scroll down to "incest, peppermints, color of time... ").
[Seth has promised to start his own blog soon, which I will gleefuly link to once it's up and running. The blogoshpere needs him.]
I will only point out that my captial-A Art has always been about appropriation. Early jazz musicians started by appropriating blues, ragtime, marches, impressionism, etc, and continued on merrily appropriating Tin Pan Alley and Broadway and gospel and soul and atonality and so on, right on down the line. Was the integrity of Miles Davis's music enveloped and digested by "Bye Bye Blackbird" or "Someday My Prince Will Come"? Are John Coltrane's recordings of "Chim Chim Cheree" and "The Inch Worm" incestuous and shallow?
And if the monstrous amoeba of popular culture is so all-consuming, what makes you think you can escape it even if you want to?
SETLIST (click to listen/download)
Solos: Jon Wikan, cajón; Sam Sadigursky, tenor sax
Solo: Ingrid Jensen, trumpet
3) Lizard Brain
Solo: Josh Sinton, baritone sax
Solo: Ericka vonKleist, alto flute and soprano sax
Solos: Alan Ferber, trombone; Sebastian Noelle, guitar
6) Induction Effect
Solo: André Canniere, trumpet
7) Flux in a Box
Solos: Rob Wilkerson, alto sax; Mike Holober, Yamaha CP70 electric piano
8) Desolation Sound
Solo: Donny McCaslin, soprano sax
Please see Steve Smith's detailed and insightful review.
I should also mention that the recorded sound is greatly improved this time -- everything except the opener was captured by the BPC's house mic (a stereo pair suspended above the audience) and recorded by Stefan Zeniuk direct-to-HD. Thanks again to all who came out to hear us -- we hope to see you again before long.
Many thanks to all those who came out last night to hear our Bowery Poetry Club hit. Audio and photos will be posted soon, but in the meanwhile, check out the indefatigable Steve Smith's blow-by-blow report.
Tuesday, 18 April, 10 PM, Bowery Poetry Club. $12 cover.
Our estimable co-conspirator Josh Sinton brings his band Holus Bolus to Cafe Grumpy for their first ever NYC hit. The band includes former Bostonites Jeremy Udden (alto and soprano saxophones), Peter Bitenc (bass), and Eric Platz (drums), and transplaneted Montrealer Greg Ritchie (drums). Josh alternately describes Holus Bolus as "well-made American improvised music" and "the quietest two-drummer band you may ever hear."
Tonight, 9 PM, Cafe Grumpy (Green Point)
Neko Case talks about what is easily the worst thing to happen to popular music in the past ten years, the gratuitous and inescapable use of auto-tune pitch correction:
Pitchfork: You seem like somebody who would be especially annoyed by the "American Idol"-ization of modern pop.
Case: You mean the horrible singing?
Case: When I think about Jackie Wilson or the Platters and then I think about modern, Top 40 music that's really horrible, it makes me mad. Singing isn't important anymore. I'm not a genius-- if I had been around during the time of Jackie Wilson or Rosemary Clooney or Patsy Cline, I would be shit. I would be singing in some bar somewhere for $5 a week and that's as far as I would ever go. But I'm living now and I write songs, it's different. There's some part about the craft of singing -- craft is too important of a word, I hate that word but I just used it anyway -- in a lot of places, it hasn't really made it. It's not to do with the people who are doing it as much as the people who are producing it. There's technology like auto tune and pitch shifting so you don't have to know how to sing. That shit sounds like shit! It's like that taste in diet soda, I can taste it-- and it makes me sick.
When I hear auto tune on somebody's voice, I don't take them seriously. Or you hear somebody like Alicia Keys, who I know is pretty good, and you'll hear a little bit of auto tune and you're like, "You're too fucking good for that. Why would you let them do that to you? Don't you know what that means?" It's not an effect like people try to say, it's for people like Shania Twain who can't sing. Yet there they are, all over the radio, jizzing saccharine all over you. It's a horrible sound and it's like, "Shania, spend an extra hour in the studio and you'll hit the note and it'll sound fine. Just work on it, it's not like making a burger!"
There's a great discussion of auto-tune on the Stereogum thread, which is where I first spotted this item.
Goddammit, this looks killing. I can't go (locked inside writing music for our April 18 hit) but you all had better:
8:00 PM - Shane Endsley (trumpet) with John Hollenbeck (drums), Mike Gamble (guitar), Matt Moran (vibes), Erik Deutsch (keyboards), and our co-conspirator Matt Clohesy (bass).
9:30 PM - Jonathan Finlayson's Common Thread -- Jonathan and Shane (trumpets), Tim Albright (trombone), Tyshawn Sorey (drums), and -- again -- Matt Clohesy (bass).
$10 for both bands.
[via Brooklyn Vegan]
Also, I take back (some of) my previous skepticism of the Arctic Monkeys. I'm still not convinced their songs are anything special, but based on the audio from this show, Andy Nicholson (bass) and Matthew Helders (drums) can definitely kick it live, and have considerably more agility than most pop-punk rhythm sections.
The latest All Songs Considered has a track from the upcoming (tomorrow) Calexico record, Garden Ruin.
And, of course, who doesn't love Neko?
A review of Saturday's gig, via Chuck Obuchowski of the Hartford Courant:
Moran created a very different sonic environment for the next selection, an as-yet-untitled composition he co-wrote with one of his acknowledged musical mentors, Andrew Hill. The pianist began unaccompanied, establishing a serene mood with carefully chosen single-note patterns. When Mateen and Waits joined him, they were instantly attuned to Moran's gentle musical wavelength. Solos emerged and disappeared seamlessly into the trio flow. Mateen's Marco acoustic-electric bass was especially effective here, offering both the woody resonance of an upright bass with the added flexibility of volume and tone that an electric stringed instrument provides.
The Bandwagon's set offered captivating slices of jazz history, from the stride piano-meets-barrelhouse boogie of a Jaki Byard medley to a deeply spiritual take on "Lift Every Voice and Sing."
The 14-piece Artists Collective Youth Jazz Orchestra opened the Hartford Jazz Society event with a half-hour dedication to McLean. They presented heartfelt renditions of McLean's "Dig," "Blues Inn" and "Appointment in Ghana."
Paul Olson reviews them for All About Jazz.
Potter’s frontman role in this band was a significant one, but McCaslin’s much more than adequate here. His show-stopping solo on “Buleria, Solea y Rumba” on Maria Schneider's Concert in the Garden (ArtistShare, 2004) may have cemented his reputation as a tenor solo fireworks technician, but there’s always been more to his playing than building lead-horn drama, and it’s all on display on Meaning and Mystery. Throughout the recording, his lines entwine with and dance around Douglas’ trumpet so deftly that he seems a wizened veteran of the group.
That said, his solo on “Culture Wars” is stunning. But then, so is the tune. Built around a simple horn phrase and eschewing Douglas’ trademark mixed-meter predilections in favor of a more straightforward groove—seldom has Douglas done so much with so little—it’s the best jazz performance this year. Douglas’ trumpet intro, which carries on two minutes into the piece before the theme is even stated, seems to investigate and limn the possibilities of what’s to come and is, like all his playing on this album, deft, sly and full of his trademark crispness and wit. Caine bravely follows McCaslin's solo with one of his own that, without resorting to grandiosity, somehow builds even more momentum as it negotiates the song’s simple but elegant harmonic landscape. It’s a fantastic song.
“Be Love,” “Push Up the Sky,” “Soar,” and “Laid Bare” are extended pieces. Their length, coupled with cynicism-free optimism (just glance at those titles) and epic yearning—plus sweetening touches like Souza’s vocals and the hardly dry production values—could have led to disaster. Records like Soar are often toothlessly bland or annoyingly precious.
Soar is neither. It's very good. This is an important year for McCaslin.
Jackie McLean: "Whenever I have a conversation about what's wrong with the jazz business, I always start out by saying, 'Where is Grachan Moncur?'"
Answer: Saturday and Sunday night at the Iridium. With Billy Harper (tenor sax), Michael Blake (alto sax), John Hicks (piano), Calvin Hill (bass), Noriko Kamo (electric piano) and Richard Pearson (drums).
Grachan has been largely absent from the scene for far too long. His comeback began with 2004's Exploration, a nonet record featuring classic Moncur compositions arranged by Mark Masters. While he has been quietly honing his chops at clubs in Newark and Brooklyn, this is Grachan's first appearance as a leader in a Manhattan jazz club in many years. Absolutely not to be missed.
Sets Saturday, April 08 and Sunday April 09, 8 PM and 10 PM. Cover is $27.50.
I say "Carroll Gardens," you say...
You hear that, Starbucks? This is not the place for you. Our hood belongs to Rattus norvegicus, see?
"Rats are not something we can control," said Moses Gross, a partner on the construction project.
Jackie Mac proclaimed his allegiance to the New Thing with 1962's Let Freedom Ring. At the time, it might have seemed heretical for one of the burningest chord change players of all time to announce that he was taking Ornette Coleman's side in the jazz wars, and more importantly, that free jazz wasn't fundamentally incompatible with mainstream hard bop. Jackie was king of the hard-swinging standards-fueled blowing session, and he even released an entire record of blues (Bluesnik), but he also knew that jazz could aspire to more than just spang-spang-a-lang on Tin Pan Alley song forms and 12-bar blues. (He played on Pithecanthropus Erectus back in 1956, after all.) Let Freedom Ring promised great things to come, and it's Jackie's next three records for the label that make good on that promise.
More than just a followup to Let Freedom Ring, One Step Beyond is a great leap forward. For one thing, it marks the recorded debut of a 17-year old kid by the name of Tony Williams. I'll let Jackie tell that story:
In December 1962, I left New York for Boston to do a week at Connelly's. It was the week before Christmas to be exact. Again it was a local rhythm section and again it was the rush to get in town early on the first day to rehearse the section and get some originals set up. It was already dark when I arrived at the club.
When I hit the door, a young man gave me a hand with my bags. I thanked him and sat down to catch my breath. After a few minutes, the young man returned and informed me that the musicians were up by the bandstand and waiting. Looking at this youngster and thanking him once more, I assumed that he was a young jazz enthusiast waiting to listen to a band rehearsal before going home to his studies. At this point I stood up, and having no idea with whom I was going to play, I turned and asked the kid if he knew who the musicians were. He immediately answered "yes" with a certain look of excitement in his eyes. "Who's on bass?" I asked. "John Neves," was the reply. "And on piano?" "Ray Santisi."
"What about the drums?" I inquired. "ME! -- Tony Williams -- and I am very happy to meet you, Jackie." "You?" I said with amazement and some doubt seasoned with a little worry all mixed together. "Damn -- you'll have to excuse me, Tony, but you look so young! How old are you?" "Seventeen," he answered with a big, happy grin that I was to get to know very well in the weeks and months that followed. [N.B. Tony had just turned 17 the week before, on December 12 - DJA] We had a lot of musical fun that week; the whole rhythm section was good. John Neves and Tony had played together quite a bit, and in Tony I heard and felt a fresh inspiration that made me want to play.
Tony is legendary for playing like Tony Williams right from the very start, and it's no lie -- listen to Tony's solo on the opening track, Jackie Mac's "Saturday and Sunday." (And of course, Tony's incredibly creative and ballsy playing on all subsequent excerpts.)
But Tony wasn't the only one to make waves with this record. Grachan Moncur III -- who incidentally, is appearing this Saturday and Sunday in a not-to-be-missed stand at the Iridium -- was familiar to fans of the Art Farmer-Benny Golson Jazztet, but no one had ever heard him write music like this before. His two contributions to the record -- the loping, time-shifting waltz "Frankenstein" and the darkly atmospheric "Ghost Town" -- are absolutely brilliant, both as tunes unto themselves and as vehicles for liberated improvisation. "Ghost Town," especially, slayed me when I first heard it, and has slayed me every time since. The space, the pacing, the development, the vibe -- everything is so bracingly original, fully realized, and utterly unlike anything else going on in jazz at the time. Grachan, like Booker Little, ranks among the truly great, criminally unrecognized jazz composers.
Bobby Hutcherson didn't make his recorded debut on One Step Beyond -- he had recorded several times already in his native Los Angeles -- but was still new in New York and an almost complete unknown at the time the record was released. (Grachan had played some sessions with him after hearing Bobby play at Birdland with Billy Mitchell and Al Grey, and recommended him for the band.) Moreover, in 1963, the vibraphone seemed like an old-fashioned instrument at best, an anachronistic novelty at worst. Milt Jackson could pull it off in the MJQ, but it was not an instrument most people wanted in their bands. That is, until they heard what Bobby could do with it. His bracingly cool sound, prodigious technique, modern harmonic sensibility, and innovative four-mallet voicings made him the go-to guy for the New Thing. He caught the ear of Eric Dolphy and Andrew Hill, and in 1965, he recorded his brilliant debut as a leader for Blue Note, Dialogue. (I am convinced that Bobby Hutcherson's contributions to all these cutting-edge Blue Note recordings led directly to the prominence of the vibraphone in 1970's minimalism.) But it all started here.
Listen to Bobby's solo on "Ghost Town" -- clearly one of his greatest recorded solos. Also, Bobby's comping on this date is just as impressive and vital as his blowing.
Bassist Eddie Kahn is not someone I know much about. He was Max Roach's bassist at the time of the recording, and was apparently a former West Coast tenor player, who had switched to the bass only recently, though (as Jackie says in the liner notes) you'd never know it from his playing here. He went on to make some great records with Eric Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard, and Charles Lloyd, among others. He plays admirably on One Step Beyond, despite often being thrown into uncharted territory. Go back and listen to the way he plays behind Tony's solo on "Saturday and Sunday" -- not any easy thing to do, by any means. In fact, this is the earliest recorded example I can think of of a bassist playing an improvised accompaniment to a drum solo, and Eddie pulls it off admirably.
Of course, there's Jackie's own playing. Every solo here is a gem, but if I had to pick, I'd go with his blowing on the alternate take of the opener "Saturday and Sunday" (more adventurous than the issued version). I've included the head in this excerpt, which is notable for its alto-under-trombone voicings ("Saturday") and chromatic, rubato middle section ("Sunday").
The blowing changes are "So What"-derived modalism (in fact, they are essentially an inverted "So What"), and Jackie's searing solo is a terrific example of his ability to apply his trademark hard bop intensity and Colmanesque freedom to this kind of chord progression.
Here's what Jackie Mac wrote about this tune in his liner notes:
This composition consists of 32 bars for the solos; the form is again modal. E-flat minor for 16 bars in the first section. Then moving to D-flat minor for one and D minor for seven and finally repeating E-flat minor for eight. The melody sections are in two segments, the first "Saturday" a section which is bright and moving in contrast to the "Sunday" section, which is directed as opposed to being felt or counted. Sundays were always too long and too eerie when I was a kid growing up. Two hours of Sunday School followed by three hours of Church afterward. After four hours, everyone in church began to look like Frankensteins with wigs and dresses. Finally, after the Sunday section, we revert back to Saturday and get off into the solos with a happy bright feeling.
Jackie's next Blue Note session, Destination Out, continues in the same vein, albeit with a different rhythm section. Miles had stolen Tony away by this time, so he was replaced by Roy Haynes, and Larry Ridley takes over from Eddie Kahn on bass. But Tony would return two months later on Grachan's Evolution, along with Bob Cranshaw on bass, and with the fortuitous addition of Lee Morgan on trumpet, playing some of the best music of his career. These records, recorded in late 1963, are both just as happening One Step Beyond, and they both deserve more attention. I promise to give them their due soon.
Meanwhile, the best way for the uninitiated to get these albums -- plus with Grachan's second BN record Some Other Stuff (with Wayne, Herbie, Tony, and Cecil McBee) and Jackie's late 60's BN's Hipnosis and 'Bout Soul -- is Mosaic Select's limited-edition Grachan Moncur set.
Virtually everyone playing today owes this Jackie McLean-Grachan Moncur-Bobby Hutcherson outfit a tremendous debt. We are all the inheritors of their "New Thing" legacy.
Promoted from the comments:
Don took me all over the world. He played masterfully night after night. Miles Davis once told me he is the best percussionist in the world. Everyone who heard him left in amazement...
He never got his due. I tried so hard to get his vibe out. He was so entertaining onstage. He was a good man. Lived to protect me. We split up when my health stopped me short. He was there for me even when I could no longer be there for him. I'm okay now, and I thank Don for so many great years.
his island girl
I posted a website I made for him about ten years ago at
The website is highly recommended, especially this excerpt from Don's autobiography-in-progress, "I Beat The Conga Drums and They Pay Me Money."
On Ran Blake's website, there is a new video (Safari users control-click and select "Download Linked File") of Ran playing solo piano in his apartment near Coolidge Corner in Brookline, MA. Amazingly, the lights are left on and Ran even allows the camera to show his hands occasionally. (For best results, someone ought to plant a hidden night-vision camera near Ran's piano and capture his playing when he thinks no one is listening... )
Ran starts with one of his own, the classic "Horace is Blue," then moves on to a medley of themes from Bernard Herrmann's score for Vertigo -- vintage Ran Blake, in other words. If Ran's abbreviated appearance at The Stone last month left you hungry for more, check out the video.
I was curious about Kebekwa, the Montreal-based percussion ensemble mentioned in Don Alias's NYT obit, so I emailed my friend Chris Smith, a Montreal-based trombonist and arranger. Here's what he had to say:
The band is [now] called Québa (kay-bah) and is still going, under the direction of one of the original members, one of Don's protégés, a guy called Chipito (Alain Labrosse, but even his wife calls him Chipito). [...] The guys Don tutored are all still the best Afro-Cuban percussionists in Montreal, including the Labrosse brothers, Normand Bock, Michel Dupire, and some others. They played a lot at the now-defunct L'Air du Temps, where I heard them a couple of times. I last heard them (obviously without Don!) a couple of years ago as the closing show at the JazzFest des Jeunes du Quebec (MusicFest Canada provincial level) where I adjudicate each year.
I understand that some of you will need some mental floss after listening to the Right Brothers. So, please enjoy this deliciously old-school video for one of the greatest political songs of all time:
Avast, me hearties, thar be the Pirate Party:
In Sweden, a new political party is pushing a platform that would abolish patents and free creative works from copyright protections after five years, instead of the 50 to 100 years typically associated with a creator's exclusive rights.
Politically, the only issue that unites members of this fledgling party is intellectual property protection; on all other debates, they agree to disagree, or not.
Leaders of the Pirate Party - that's what they are calling themselves - admit that their most likely accomplishment is raising awareness of alternatives rather than changing the world all at once.
"Overall, today's copyright does not strike a balance between the creator's interest in regaining an investment on one hand and society's interest in creation of culture on the other," Rick Falkvinge, the party's founder, told the LinuxP2P tech blog. "The law is totally one- sided toward the creator's interests, preventing the spread of culture."
... and tell Pat Boone the news: there's a new generation of wignut "rockers" come knocking: The Right Brothers. I keep hoping for a band with the balls to actually call themselves Neocon Death Cult, but no. Instead, we get this:
"But what you gonna do to fight three chords and the truth... "
Because nothing rocks harder than a sniveling plea for greater civility in electronic correspondence.
[via Lawyers, Guns, and Money]
UPDATE: You must see this. "From songs that will make you laugh to songs that will make you cry... "
It's actually quite a nice tribute by Nate Chinen, hitting most of Don's career highlights:
Playing in Boston clubs by night, he met students from the Berklee School of Music, most notably the bassist Gene Perla.
It was Mr. Perla who got Mr. Alias a job as a drummer with Ms. Simone, even though he had no experience with a full drum kit. He handled the challenge and eventually became Ms. Simone's musical director. In 1969, his work in her ensemble caught the attention of Miles Davis, who was then developing the hazy jazz-rock that would suffuse his album "Bitches Brew."
Hired as an auxiliary percussionist for the album, Mr. Alias ended up playing a trap-set part, along with Jack DeJohnette, on the track "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down." His lean and loosely syncopated beat, inspired by New Orleans parade music, is one of the album's most distinctive rhythms.
Mr. Alias played the role of trap drummer again on a 1979 concert tour with Joni Mitchell, in a band that included the saxophonist Michael Brecker, the guitarist Pat Metheny and the bassist Jaco Pastorius. A live recording from the tour, "Shadows and Light," is often cited as a favorite among musicians.
Also, I did not know about Kebekwa (cute), a percussion ensemble he founded while he was living in Montreal. Don talks more about that band here:
DI: In addition to Stone Alliance, you had another band, Kebekwa. Tell us about that.
DA: That's a play on words. I was living in Canada at the time, in Montreal. The terminology for the people from Quebec was Quebecois. I took it, and spelled it in African intonation, and called it Kebekwa. If you said Kebekwa, it sounded like Quebecois, from the French people there. This was '85 to '87. At that time I thought that maybe I was going to settle down a bit and get off the road. Montreal had that European ambience to it, yet it was still near the States. I went up there and got a band together, a 10-piece band with five percussionists. It turned out to be one of the greatest bands up there.
The Juno awards just keep getting better and better:
TORONTO (Hollywood Reporter) - Red-faced Canadian broadcaster CTV on Tuesday apologized for airing a commercial congratulating Vancouver crooner Michael Buble for winning a prize that had yet to be announced during the recent live telecast of the country's top music awards.
The commercial network ran an advertisement from Buble's Warner Music Canada label before he walked on stage in Halifax to grab his Juno Awards trophy Sunday night. The gaffe sparked rumors that Warner Music knew the results before the ceremony began, something the label vigorously denied.
Sondre Lerche in New York Magazine. Good to know the Junos aren't the only national music awards that suck:
Sondre Lerche (SAHN-druh LAIR-kay) is honest when asked about his Best New Artist Norwegian Grammy win. “I’m still bummed out I didn’t get Pop Album of the Year,” he admits. Who won? “You wouldn’t know him. He doesn’t have an international career.”
[via larghearted boy]
Not all acts affiliated with Warner Music Group labels have been as lucky as the Flaming Lips. Coyne watched Wilco's well-publicised fight with Reprise over 2001's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," which eventually was released on WMG's Nonesuch, and admits to worrying about being dropped.
After all, Wilco had a more consistent sales history, and the Flaming Lips had just released the four-disc "Zaireeka." That album was an experiment in which all four CDs were designed to be played at the same time. (Band manager Scott Booker says "Zaireeka" did not count towards the band's contract.)
"We have a firm understanding of what the company is trying to do and what we're trying to do and where we all meet," Coyne says. "When we made 'Zaireeka,' which is a very difficult record for a company to try and market, we didn't hand it to Warner Bros. and say, 'F*** you, we're making art.'"
Radiohead in NME -- the band promises "terrifying" new album.
The Toronto Sun states the obvious (someone's gotta do it):
It's a great time for Canadian music, as everyone will tell you.
In the past couple of years, artists of many musical styles have emerged from thriving scenes across the country to make great records, and bask in an unprecedented amount of international support.
The indie boom is undoubtedly the story of the year, so tonight's Juno Awards will naturally celebrate those artists and their success. Right?
Broken Social Scene may sell out in London, New York and Tokyo, but the Junos are more about celebrating TV karaoke contests and the priorities of major labels, which seem to be increasingly relying on Canadian Idol judges as their talent scouts.
The list of nominees for the major awards reveals a dependence on characterless, TV-polished material that could have (and in some cases did) come from elsewhere, rather than reflecting the flavour and variety of recent Canadian music.
What's up for album of the year, for instance? Surely The Arcade Fire's Funeral, which has sold half a million copies. No doubt Neil Young's Prairie Wind. Perhaps Jully Black's This Is Me, Blue Rodeo's Are You Ready, Stars' Set Yourself On Fire, K'naan's Dusty Foot Philosopher or The New Pornographers' Twin Cinema?
Oh, no. Those artists are lucky to get nominated for non-televised genre awards.
Instead, the nominees include a Christmas album, a collection of retro standards -- which contain exactly one Canadian song between them -- two forgettable releases by Canadian Idol contestants and Nickelback's All The Right Reasons.
What can I say but "I told you so."
[via largehearted boy]
Following their Juno win, members of the Toronto indie band [Broken Social Scene] took some shots at the major label side of the industry, slamming the Canadian Idol star-making machine.
"I feel really sorry for those kids in Canadian Idol because they're going absolutely nowhere," singer Kevin Drew said backstage after Sunday's awards.
"It's a trick . . . It's a Canadian music industry downfall because in three years no one is going to remember them."
Bio from congahead.com -- be sure to check the audio clip where he talks about his early days with Nina Simone, being stolen away by Miles, and recording kit on "Miles Runs The Voodoo Down" (preempting Jack DeJohnette and Lenny White).
Listen to Don lay it down on "Miles Runs The Voodoo Down" (left channel).---
UPDATE (April 2, 3:23 PM) -- ATTENTION MAINSTREAM MEDIA: You suck. Don Alias died on Tuesday, March 28, and now, five days later, not a single mention of his passing anywhere? He played on Bitches Brew. He played on Shadows And Light. He played on Jaco's solo debut. He played and recorded with Weather Report, Blood, Sweat and Tears, the Brecker Brothers, Herbie Hancock, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Nina Simone, Dave Liebman, Chick Corea, Carla Bley, Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, Joe Lovano, Marty Ehrlich, Carlos Santana, Roberta Flack, Marianne Faithful, James Taylor, and just about anyone else you can think of. Show some fucking respect.
What can I say? A giant is gone, one who never really got his due. His records with Grachan Moncur and Bobby Hutcherson -- One Step Beyond and Destination Out -- are two of the greatest albums in jazz, and remain a wellspring of inspiration for me and many others. Maybe at some point I will write an extended post about the amazing music on these discs -- for now, I'm too sad to write much of anything.
Matana has more.
Also, Stan Simpson's heartfelt column in the Courant.
Julian Chan, a young Malasian alto player.
Jeff Parker writes:
Jackie McLean was my hero when I was in college. The thing I always dug about his playing was his level of conviction - he sounded like he was gonna die if he didn't play, often times he sounded like he was going to explode. He always sounded as if he was struggling with something in his music. His music was so honest, so emotionally direct. Most musicians I knew back then (in college) couldn't stand his playing, and my defense of him was often the subject of many debates. His intonation was consistently sharp, sometimes almost an entire semitone, and his tone was bright. The combination of the two could sound pretty abrasive. But his time was always perfect, and his harmonic sense very advanced. And NOBODY could swing like Jackie McLean. He had the type of time and rhythm that could carry a band, just like his hero and mentor, Charlie Parker. There was so much humanity in his music, so much HEART.
NPR: Fresh Air (2001 - great interview)
The Telegraph (UK)
New York Times (finally)
Peter J. MacDonald (Recorda-Me) talks about One Step Beyond.
A great 2001 essay on Jackie Mac's Blue Note years, by Graham Wood.
MySpace (includes audio)