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Chicago Opera Vangaurd performance of Winterreise

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“Schubert: Winterreise” (Mark Padmore, Paul Lewis)

If I get a chance, I’d like to hear this performance. You should go if you can.

Chicago Opera Vanguard continues it’s 2009/2010 Season with the Chicago premiere of WINTERREISE by composer Franz Schubert. WINTERREISE’s limited run begins Friday March 5 in the Fasseas White Box Theatre at the Menomonee Club Drucker Center, 1535 North Dayton Street, in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.
The most difficult journey begins with a single step. The team behind last season’s hit Orpheus & Euridice bring you a new look at Schubert’s beloved and haunting song-cycle of love and loss. WINTERREISE! This romantic masterwork receives the unique staging that only Chicago Opera Vanguard could conceive!

Premiered in 1827 and traditionally relegated to the concert hall, Chicago Opera Vanguard has put the task to Artistic Director Eric Reda to create a unique, highly visual staging of the work in the raw, storefront theatre aesthetic for which he has become know in the Chicago theatre and music scenes. Joined by an impressive team of performers and visual artists from across Chicago’s creative community, this is a “Winter’s Journey” that will not soon be forgotten!

“I have been haunted by these songs since first hearing them over two decades ago and have always been struck by the operatic scope of their construction,” says COVArtistic Director Eric Reda. “I am so excited to explore and share WINTERREISE not only as a dazzling musical masterpiece, but also as a dramatic tour de force.”

WINTERREISE (Winter Journey) is a cycle of 24 poems by Wilhelm Müller, best known as the song cycle set for male voice and piano by Franz Schubert (D. 911, published as Op. 89 in 1827). It is the second of Schubert’s two great song cycles on Müller’s poems, the earlier being Die schöne Müllerin (D. 795, Op. 25, 1823). These two works, in their scale, their dramatic coherence and power, their musical and literary unity, and their interpretative demands, stand in a league of their own within the song-cycle genre.

In his introduction to the Peters Edition of this work, Professor Max Müller, son of the poet, remarks that Schubert’s song-cycle has a dramatic effect not unlike that of a full-scale tragic opera. While normally presented in a recital setting, the work’s strong narrative through line and emotional intensity has prompted several international stagings in the past.  

“I like these songs better than all the rest, and someday you will too,” Franz Schubert told the friends who were the first to hear his song cycle WINTERREISE.

WINTERREISE performs 8PM Fridays and Saturdays & 3PM Sundays, beginning Friday March 5, in the Fasseas White Box Theatre at the Menomonee Club Drucker Center, 1535 North Dayton Street, in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. General Admission is $25; a limited number of $10 student discount tickets are available for all performances. Tickets are available online at www.chicagovanguard.org. Running time is approximately 80 minutes with one intermission.

[Click to continue reading CHICAGO OPERA VANGUARD | SEASON 0 - GREEK]

Written by Seth Anderson

February 22nd, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Posted in Chicago-esque,Music

Tagged with ,

A Hot Breath of Saharan Rock

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“Imidiwan: Companions” (Tinariwen)

Tinariwen is by far one of my favorite discoveries of recent years. Love their sound, hypnotic, desert blues. Awesome stuff.

Since the late 1970’s, on and off, Tinariwen has been a voice for the Tuaregs, a nomadic minority who attempted a rebellion in 1990 against the government of Mali. The band’s founder, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, and the musicians he gathered as Tinariwen (which means “deserts”), wrote songs at first as propaganda. Now its lyrics, by the two lead singers who took turns as frontman — Mr. Alhabib and Mr. Alhousseyni — are solemn, filled with longings, memories of “freedom fighters,” homesickness and a determination to hold on to Tuareg identity.

The group had heard rock as well as African and Middle Eastern music. Its instruments are acoustic and electric guitars and electric bass, with a lone hand drum for percussion. They applied Western instruments to the traditions of home: gnarled picking patterns from West African lutes, call-and-response vocals, three-against-two rhythms, a high descant sharing a melody, the modes and inflections of North African and Arabic music. The melodies are as straightforward as folk tunes, but they tug against the harmony in ways different from Western pop or rock, and the vocals stay unpolished — like the voices of footsore travelers, not slick performers.

Tinariwen’s songs extend minimal materials over time. Instrumental passages are more like incantations than solo and backup; guitar lines are bonded to the rhythm, with a twang glinting through now and then. The songs are comparable, inevitably, to a journey through a desert landscape that only appears unchanging to those who don’t perceive its details. A vocal quaver, a guitar trill, some new quick notes in a bass line, a flicker of extra drumming or a burst of ululation from the group’s female singer, Wonou Wallet Sidati, all became events. When some songs picked up speed, in triplet rhythms with handclaps resembling Moroccan gnawa music, they sounded ecstatic.

A few songs revealed that Tinariwen is persistent, not provincial. There were hints of blues and reggae, and in one song, Mr. Alhousseyni placed a repeating guitar line in the foreground: a full-fledged rock guitar hook. But Tinariwen has clearly decided not to change too much for outsiders, and stubbornness only makes its music stronger.

[Click to continue reading Music Review - Tinariwen - Hot Breath of Saharan Rock at Highline Ballroom - NYTimes.com]

A wonderfully apt description actually: this kind of music is subtle, rewarding multiple listenings to discover nuances. A casual listen might not reveal how the music shifts in time, this is not Auto-tuned pop music.1

  1. Reminds me of a long-lost friend from Morocco, a drummer, and student at UT, who basically pontificated the same thought to me one evening. I’ll tell you more in person if you are interested. []

Written by Seth Anderson

February 21st, 2010 at 9:33 pm

Posted in Music

Tagged with ,

From ABBA to ZZ Top, All the Good Bands Names Are Taken

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Well, not all the good names, of course, the English language is resilient. Still, why can’t band names be re-used like movie titles are re-used?

iPod beach joy

When former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones recently formed a new rock band, the music flowed easily. The struggle: inventing a name for the group.

Between takes in a recording studio, Mr. Jones brainstormed about names with his new band mates, including former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, then checked them online. Their first choice, Caligula, turned up at least seven acts named after the decadent Roman emperor, including a defunct techno outfit from Australia. Eventually the rockers decided on Them Crooked Vultures. The words held no special meaning.

“Every other name is taken,” Mr. Jones explains. “Think of a great band name and Google it, and you’ll find a French-Canadian jam band with a MySpace page.”

The available supply of punchy one- or two-word band names is dwindling. So, many acts are resorting to the unwieldy or nonsensical.

Among more than 1,900 acts expected in March at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, are bands with the names And So I Watch You From Afar, and Everybody Was In the French Resistance…Now! The f-word1 is part of 100 band names in a media database maintained by Gracenote, a unit of Sony Corp. that licenses digital entertainment technology.

For the generations of musicians who have taken up guitars and drumsticks, picking a band name has been as crucial as teasing out a distinctive style—and usually the name comes first. For a lucky few, a word or phrase can become iconic. The Beatles, before they were legends, were briefly the Silver Beetles, a nod to Buddy Holly’s Crickets. Jerry Garcia discovered the name Grateful Dead in a dictionary.

[Click to continue reading From ABBA to ZZ Top, All the Good Bands Names Are Taken - WSJ.com]

My band2 has staked claim to the name Sir Swanksalot and the Swanksalot Orchestra. Just FYI.

Though we haven’t yet made it into the Allmusic database

There are about 1.4 million artist names, including 29 individual musicians named John Williams, in the database of Rovi Corp., which owns Web sites including AllMusic.com and licenses editorial content to Apple’s iTunes and other music services.

Last year, Rovi added an average of 6,521 new names a month to its database. And the repeats are piling up.

  1. Frak, I’m guessing []
  2. consisting of me, a couple of Macs, and a couple of guitars. No good songs yet, but we’re trying. Well, we promise to start trying one of these days… []

Written by Seth Anderson

February 17th, 2010 at 12:00 am

Posted in humor,Music

Tagged with ,

When Giants Walked the Earth Playing Guitars

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“When Giants Walked the Earth: A Biography of Led Zeppelin” (Mick Wall)

Yet another gossipy book about the tabloid years of Led Zeppelin, ignoring, again, the actual music, its influences, how it was created, how it shaped music that followed, yadda yadda.

Rick Moody writes:

Young rock enthusiasts! The thing that this sensational material neglects is the music. In Wall’s biography you will learn that Page has voted Tory repeatedly, and you will learn that Peter Grant, the Zeppelin manager, also snorted mountains of cocaine and was very large, and you will also get very many italicized second- person portions of the text — the deep history — passages that are more showoffy than necessary but easily skimmed. What you may not get enough of is the astonishment of the music. Because, no matter how horrible they were as people — and, frankly, they do seem as if they were rather unlikable people who wasted immense talent in a spendthrift fashion — the music is still remarkable, even when borrowed. What enabled that spooky end section of “When the Levee Breaks,” which used to give me the chills when I first heard it in the eighth grade? What about Robert Plant’s amazing harmonica solo on “Nobody’s Fault but Mine,” on the considerably underrated “Presence”? And what about the Indian strings on “Kashmir”? Whose arrangement? And beyond saying that Page and Bonham banged out most of “Kashmir” by themselves, what accounts for this mesmerizing and timeless composition? And is it really possible that John Paul Jones has nothing to say, though many of the really interesting frills and ornaments are his? The tamboura on “In the Light,” or the electric piano on “No Quarter” or the lovely faux-Cuban piano riff on “Fool in the Rain.” Should we not, young rock enthusiasts, use language, use paragraphs, to account for these splendid moments?

Maybe this is arcana. And maybe the time for arcana is past, the time for the picayune details of dinosaur rock — such that it’s the dirt, not the song, that remains the same. Maybe some publisher was looking over Mick Wall’s shoulder saying, “Put more about the shark incident in there!” Or maybe the members of Led Zeppelin are themselves somewhat to blame, as Robert Plant muses aloud at one point, despairing of the true story ever getting out: “We thought it was time that people heard something about us other than that we were eating women and throwing the bones out the window.” Indeed! Wall is conflicted enough about the facts that he allows this mythologizing title to be appended to his work: “When Giants Walked the Earth.” But these were no giants, these were just young people, like you, who for a time happened to have more power and influence than was good for them. In the midst of it all, they made extraordinary music.

[Click to continue reading Book Review - 'When Giants Walked the Earth - A Biography of Led Zeppelin,' by Mick Wall - Review - Rick Moody NYTimes.com]

So far, the best book I’ve read about the band and its music is the 33.3 book by Eric Davis, though even this dwells1 on a discussion of Satanism and the occult as far as it related to Led Zeppelin.

“Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin IV (33 1/3)” (Erik Davis)

  1. amusingly, actually, and one of the highlights of the book []

Written by Seth Anderson

February 13th, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Posted in Music

Tagged with , , ,

Random Friday – Man From Pakistan edition

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It is a simple game, hit shuffle on your music library interface, and record the first ten songs that emerge. You can play too, but here’s what showed up on my Friday shuffle. Some notes below

  1. Jules Dupont Gregorian Chant- Benedicamus Domino (Exultemus…)

    A Treasury Of Gregorian Chants

  2. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy- I Am Drinking Again

    I See a Darkness
    – a little too melancholy for this morning, but a strong track nonetheless. I’m on my 9th warm glass of gin

  3. Clark, Gene- The True One

    No Other
    -state of the nation, circa 1974, complete with slide guitars.

  4. Van Ronk, Dave- Sprig of Thyme

    Inside Dave Van Ronk
    – No Dave Van Ronk, no Bob Dylan. Simple as that. Bet Dave Van Ronk was fun to drink whisky with.

  5. Joni Mitchell- Happy Birthday 1975

    – a rousing Happy Birthday sung to Charles Mingus, with the additional refrain, How Old Are You? Mingus sings back, 54, motherfucker, but Joni Mitchell corrects Mingus, 53! You were born in 1922, Charles Such an odd little track

  6. Drake, Nick- Summertime

    Tanworth In Arden
    – more melancholy, can barely even hear Nick Drake’s voice.

  7. Rolling Stones- Street Fighting Man

    Beggars Banquet
    – hard to listen to this song, as good as it is, we’ve all heard it too frequently. I tried to listen to it as I have never heard it before, but this is difficult task.

  8. The Open Mind- Magic Potion

    Nuggets II: Original Artyfacts From The British Empire And Beyond
    garage rock paean to drug use. This could very well be a contemporary band like The Killers, Brian Jonestown Massacre or Queens of the Stone Age.

  9. King Oliver’s Creole Jazzband- Southern Stomp (1st take)

    Louis Armstrong And King Oliver
    – Hey didn’t New Orleans win some sort of sporting event? Whatever, never need an excuse to listen to Louis Armstrong and King Oliver

  10. Flaming Lips- Man From Pakistan

    Hear It Is The Flaming Lips
    – This was the iteration of The Flaming Lips I first knew: psychedelic punk rock, outsider music, and catchy as hell.

  11. Doors, The- Hyacinth House

    Box Set -Disk 1- Without A Safety Net

Written by Seth Anderson

February 12th, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Posted in Music

Tagged with ,

Metal Machine Music’s Improbable Second Act

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“Metal Machine Music” (Lou Reed)

I am endlessly amused that Lou Reed’s famous Fuck You album has gotten a second life, and is being performed by live musicians. I was foolish enough to have owned a copy of it once, but have since sold it. Just not something I could ever bear to hear more than a few seconds of. In concept, a rather clever idea, but in practice, pretty difficult to enjoy.

Reed recorded his 1975 album “Metal Machine Music” (RCA) by leaning guitars against amplifiers, cranking them up until the feedback screamed, playing melodies amid the sonic melee and layering and manipulating the results, including changing the tape speed of some parts. Then he chose four segments for 16-minute LP sides.

It sounded like a riot in a shortwave radio factory: a fusillade of sustained, pulsating and scurrying electronic tones that adds up to a hyperactive drone, as consonant as the overtone series. It was proudly anticommercial and defiantly arty. It was Minimalistic process music at rock volume, an impersonal wall of sound. Now, 35 years later, it also sounds unexpectedly merry.

Ulrich Krieger had the bizarre idea of transcribing that thicket of tones to be played by live musicians. It took considerable time and the help of a partner, Luca Venitucci, to analyze the welter of information; they had finished only three of the four sections when the transcription had its premiere in 2002. Now they have four. At the Miller Mr. Krieger directed a 16-member, amplified ensemble of strings, winds, guitar, accordion, piano and percussion, though there was no conductor. The music is in proportional notation, played to a clock; a violinist periodically stood up to signal.

The transcription changes everything. It corresponds to some of the more perceptible events of the original: sudden dropouts and surges of certain registers, rhythmic throbs, the squeal when a high overtone suddenly appears, the suggestion of a melodic moment. But the original “Metal Machine Music” has no narrative line, no direction. It simply, and wildly, exists. There are few intentional phrases or interactions between parts, and no sense of ensemble. That’s what humans bring, no matter how conceptually disciplined

[Click to continue reading Music Review - Fireworks Ensemble - More Strings for Lou Reed’s ‘Metal Machine Music’ - NYTimes.com]

Like I said, I am amused that this piece of agit-pop is being performed by classically trained musicians.

From the Metal Machine Music wikipedia page:

According to Reed (despite the original liner notes), the album entirely consists of guitar feedback played at different speeds. The two guitars were tuned in unusual ways and played with different reverb levels. He would then place the guitars in front of their amplifiers, and the feedback from the very large amps would vibrate the strings — the guitars were, effectively, playing themselves. He recorded the work on a four-track tape recorder in his New York apartment, mixing the four tracks for stereo. In its original form, each track occupied one side of an LP record and lasted exactly 16 minutes and 1 second, according to the label. The fourth side ended in a locked groove that caused the last 1.8 seconds of music to repeat endlessly. The rare 8-track tape version has no silence in between programs, so that it plays continuously without gaps on most players.

A major influence on Reed’s recording, and an important source for an understanding of Reed’s seriousness with the album, was the mid-1960s drone music work of La Monte Young’s Theater of Eternal Music (whose members included John Cale, Tony Conrad, Angus Maclise and Marian Zazeela). Both Cale and Maclise were also members of The Velvet Underground (Maclise left before the group began recording). The Theater of Eternal Music’s discordant sustained notes and loud amplification had influenced Cale’s subsequent contribution to the Velvet Underground in his use of both discordance and feedback. Recent releases of works by Cale and Conrad from the mid-sixties, such as Cale’s Inside the Dream Syndicate series (The Dream Syndicate being the alternative name given by Cale and Conrad to their collective work with Young) testify to the influence this important mid-sixties experimental work had on Reed ten years later.

In an interview with rock journalist Lester Bangs, Reed claimed that he had intentionally placed sonic allusions to classical works such Beethoven’s Eroica and Pastoral Symphonies in the distortion, and that he had attempted to have the album released on RCA’s Red Seal classical label;

[Click to continue reading Metal Machine Music - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]

“Metal Machine Music” (Lou Reed)

original Rolling Stone Magazine review from James Wolcott, 1975

Lou Reed’s new set, a two-record electronic composition, is an act of provocation, a jab of contempt, but the timing is all wrong. In its droning, shapeless indifference, Metal Machine Music is hopelessly old-fashioned. After a decade of aesthetic outrages, four sides of what sounds like the tubular groaning of a galactic refrigerator just aren’t going to inflame the bourgeoisie (whoever they are) or repel his fans (since they’ll just shrug and wait for the next collection). Lou Reed is disdainfully unveiling the black hole in his personal universe, but the question is, who’s supposed to flinch?
The critics. In a recent interview, Reed’s metabolism was in its usual inert state until the subject of critics came up, at which point he became agitated, lashing out at several. Reed probably conceived M/M/M knowing that only critics would pay serious attention to the damn thing. In the liner notes he admits that he hasn’t listened to it all the way through, and in the interview the claim that he made for M/M/M was that playing it “would clear the room.”

Well, I have. Played it, that is. Once. Which is one of the better feats of endurance in my life, equal to reading The Painted Bird, sitting through Savage Messiah and spending a night in a bus terminal in Hagerstown, Maryland. Yet, when my turntable mercifully silenced Lou Reed’s cosmic scrapings, I felt no anger, no indignation, not even a sense of time wasted, just mild regret. Avant-garde artists (Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Andy Warhol) have been experimenting with ennui as a concept for so long that it’s no longer daring to tax the audience’s patience by being deliberately, intensely boring. By now, one knows how to respond to such distended buzzing: One simply tunes out and tunes back in when the action picks up. Reed himself understands this: “I’m like everybody else, I watch things on TV,” he sings on “Satellite of Love.”

[Click to continue reading Lou Reed: Metal Machine Music : Music Reviews : Rolling Stone]

and from an interesting Lou Reed interview with Pitchfork writer Amanda Petrusich

Reed: The myth– depends on how you look at it, but the myth is sort of better than the truth. The myth is that I made it to get out of a recording contract. OK, but the truth is that I wouldn’t do that, because I wouldn’t want you to buy a record that I didn’t really like, that I was just trying to do a legal thing with. I wouldn’t do something like that. The truth is that I really, really, really loved it. I was in a position where I could have it come out. I just didn’t want it to come out and have the audience think it was more rock songs. It was only on the market for three weeks anyway. Then they took it away.

Pitchfork: Right, I read that it was the most returned record at that time…

Reed: It still may be the all-time champ.

Pitchfork: Do you think the critical and commercial response would have been different if it had been released on a classical label or an avant-garde label?

Reed: I haven’t a clue. I tried to have it released on the classical label at RCA. And on it, it says “An Electronic Composition”. That means no words.

Pitchfork: Plus it’s got that cover…

Reed: That’s a rock’n’roll cover, that’s for sure.

Pitchfork: As a songwriter in 1975, what kinds of contextual or personal cues made you want to experiment with things like drone, volume, and sustained sound?

Reed: In the Velvet Underground, my guitar solos were always feedback solos, so it wasn’t that big of a leap to say I want to do something that’s nothing but guitar feedback, that doesn’t have a steady beat and doesn’t have a key. All we have to do is just have fun on the guitar, you don’t have to worry about key and tempo. We just had tons of feedback and melody and licks flying around all over the place. I had two huge amps, and I would take two guitars and tune them a certain way and lean them against the amps so they would start feeding back. And once they started feeding back, both of them, their sounds would collide and that would produce a third sound, and then that would start feeding and causing another one and another one, and I would play along with all of them.

[Click to continue reading Pitchfork: Interviews: Lou Reed]

Written by Seth Anderson

February 9th, 2010 at 6:00 am

Posted in Music

Tagged with ,

Tezeta – Ethiopian Blues and Ballads

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“Ethiopiques, Vol. 10: Tezeta – Ethiopian Blues & Ballads” (Tezeta)

I’ve been slowly acquiring the complete set of the Ethiopiques, which is simply a stunning1 collection of music from Ethiopia. Volume Ten is a collection of Tezeta songs2, which was a term I was unfamiliar with. Here’s what Allmusic’s Don Snowden had to say about Tezeta:

Tezeta, an Ethiopian style with a relatively strict format built on repeated circular riffs, relies on the singer to put his stamp on the form with improvised verses and the up-and-down vocal spirals characteristic of Arabic music. The word itself means something like memory or nostalgia — in musical terms, it’s similar to saudade in Portuguese music, duende in flamenco, or blues and soul in the U.S. music world. It’s that indefinable something that separates the great musicians from the merely competent — you can’t exactly say what it is but you know when someone’s got it.

All ten tracks here date from the early ’70s, when versions of the tezeta were an innovative force in Ethiopian pop’s golden age. There’s a surprising variety: swirling accordion handles the circular riff accompanied only by minimal percussion on Fréw Haylou’s opening “Eyètègnu Nègu,” but an almost ’50s rock ballad feel pervades Alèmayèhu Eshèté’s “Tèrèdtchéwalèhu” and Menelik Wèsnatchèw’s “Tezeta” is tranquil and dreamy. Tezeta is also an excellent launching pad for saxophonists Tèsfa-Maryam Kidané (featured on his own “Heywèté”) and Tèwodros Meteku to provide backing fills and solos behind the singers. It’s instrumental storytelling and the breathy saxes achieve that smoky, brooding flavor that seems unique to Ethiopian music, shading the music with a deep indigo to purple color. The slow, mournful versions really bring out that smoky trance sensation here.

Sèyfu Yohannès is the first singer to really stand out on his nagging “Tezeta,” supported by Meketu’s fills and Mèssèlè Gèssèssè’s prominent piano. Moges Habté and Feqadu Amdè-Mèsquèl duel tenor saxes over a mysterious Fender Rhodes lick and Andrew Wilson’s sharp wah-wah guitar on Mulatu Astatqé’s instrumental “Gubèlyé.” And Mahmoud Ahmed’s “Tezeta” runs for 12 and a half gripping minutes with swirling organ, muted sax, and bubbling bass runs supplementing the voice of the most expressive singer in Ethiopian pop music. With nearly 75 minutes of music and extensive liner notes, Tezeta is another impeccable release in the outstanding Ethiopiques series. But even more than earlier soul-influenced compilations geared toward dancing, these brooding love blues laments cut to the emotional core essence of the country’s music. This music sounds distinctly Ethiopian, like it could be from no other place on the planet.

[Click to continue reading allmusic ( Ethiopiques, Vol. 10: Tezeta - Ethiopian Blues & Ballads > Overview )]

Such beautiful music, other-worldly is an apt description. Highly recommended.

  1. mostly, there are a few tracks I cannot listen to very often []
  2. sometimes spelled Tizita []

Written by Seth Anderson

February 8th, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Posted in Music,Suggestions

Tagged with , ,

Gil Scott-Heron is back with a new album

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“I’m New Here” (Gil Scott-Heron)

Very happy to read that seminal poet/musician Gil Scott-Heron is back from jail, cleaned up, and has recorded an album due for release in February 2010. I already pre-ordered it.

The first surprise is the album’s ironic title and the fact that the title song itself was not written by Gil Scott-Heron but by Bill Callahan of the American indie group Smog. Like the covers that producer Rick Rubin chose for the late Johnny Cash on his valedictory American Recordings series of albums, “I’m New Here” sounds like a song tailor-made for Gil Scott-Heron, the great survivor: “No matter how far wrong you’ve gone,” he sings, “you can always turn around.” My instinct, on first hearing it, was to cross my fingers tightly.

Gil Scott-Heron was born in Chicago in 1949. His mother, Bobbie Scott-Heron, was a librarian and an accomplished singer, his father, Giles Heron, from Jamaica, was an athlete who would later earn the nickname the “Black Arrow” when, in the 1950s, he became the first black man to play for Celtic FC. “I’m used to white British guys getting in touch with me,” says Gil, laughing. “There’s this guy, Gerry, who keeps me informed about the Celtics. He brings me a new shirt every time he’s in New York.”

[Click to continue reading Gil Scott-Heron: the godfather of rap comes back | Interview Music |The Observer ]

and how the album came to be:

The story of how Gil Scott-Heron’s new album came to be made is a long and convoluted one. It is, among other things, a testament to the abiding power of great music outside the mainstream to spread like a virus across cultures, across decades. It begins back in 1987 in a rented house in Edinburgh when a young student is mesmerised by his friend’s collection of soul and funk music from the halcyon days of the early 70s – albums by the likes of Curtis Mayfield, Sly and the Family Stone, the JBs, the Meters, Bill Withers and, most mesmerizing of all, Gil Scott-Heron. The first Gil Scott-Heron song the young student heard was called

H20 Gate Blues
[from the Winter In America album]

one of the singer’s great spoken-word monologues that would later earn him the soubriquet the godfather of rap. It was ostensibly about President Nixon and the Watergate phone-tapping scandal, but it was also about wider issues of power, corruption and injustice and the great divide that is race in America.

“I was just taken aback by the voice, the words, the poetry,” remembers Jamie Byng who, 22 years on, is the director of Canongate Books and still a fervent soul fan. “I had been raised on rock but this was just breathtaking. The seasoned voice, the wryness of the delivery, the level of irony and satire in the lyrics, the whole thing just blew me away. Discovering those songs was an epiphanic moment for me.”

Those songs range from the reflective – “Winter In America”, “Lady Day & John Coltrane”, “I Think I’ll Call It Morning” – through the socially aware – “Home Is Where the Hatred Is”, “Pieces of a Man”, “The Bottle” – to the wry and satirical – “H20 Gate Blues”, “Whitey on the Moon” and “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”, whose title has now entered the pop cultural lexicon.

So taken was Byng by those songs that, having bought and rebranded Canongate, he tracked down his hero and, in 1996, republished his two long-out-of-print novels, The Vulture and
The Nigger Factory. An unlikely friendship was forged that lasts to this day. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for Jamie,” Scott-Heron, who is the godfather of one of Byng’s sons, told me last week, before adding, “That’s why I agreed to this interview, bro’. You come with good references.”

Written by Seth Anderson

February 6th, 2010 at 9:28 pm

Posted in Music,Suggestions

Tagged with ,

Random Friday -Letter to the East Wind Edition

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Simple game, hit shuffle on your music library, record the first ten songs that emerge. You can play too, but here’s what showed up on my Friday shuffle.

  1. Bowie, David- Letter To Hermione

    Space Oddity
    – Strange to hear David Bowie play softly psychedelic rock before he became famous, and a better musician. Not skippable, but not a desert island disc either.

  2. Band, The- Key To The Highway

    A Musical History
    – If you are looking for a good introduction to one of the seminal bands of the 1970s, you wouldn’t go wrong picking up this boxed set. Full of gems. This particular track has enough reverb to start a pogo-stick revolution. Err something like that. Hard to imagine The Band recording songs like this in isolation. I have no evidence either way, just strongly suspect this was recorded with minimal over-dubs.

  3. Fools Gold- Poseidon

    Fool’s Gold
    Fool’s Gold is a Los Angeles collective that weaves together western pop aesthetics with African rhythms and melodies, and indeed this is true. If I didn’t know better, I’d think this song was from the Nigeria 70 series, or a Luaka Bop compilation.

  4. Fahey, John- Give Me Corn Bread When I’m Hungry

    The Dance Of Death & Other Plantation Favorites
    – can never have enough John Fahey. This is a straightfoward acoustic blues, with percussive bass strings in homage to Mississippi John Hurt and others.

  5. Tosh, Peter- Coming In Hot

    Honorary Citizen
    – Bob Marley was never as good as when he was part of The Wailers, and Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer were co-members. Peter Tosh as a solo act was hardly ever as deep as Bob Marley, but still better than most. This is a pop reggae tune with dub-style drums. I guess every song doesn’t have to have political and religious over (and under) tones.

  6. Johann Sebastian Bach -

    Bach: Cello Suites [Disc 1]

    Bach: Cello Suite #1 In G, BWV 1007 – Menuet #1 & 2- Jaap Ter Linden

    ahh, Bach – in my best Radar O’Reilly voice…

  7. Professor Longhair- Cherry Pie

    House Party New Orleans Style
    – A duet with Snooks Eaglin’s guitar. Not much of a lyric, I suspect cherry pie is a sexual innuendo perhaps.

  8. The Ruts- Babylon’s Burning

    No Thanks! The ’70s Punk Rebellion
    – Meh. Serviceable track on a great boxed set. Tellingly, this is the only Ruts song I have in my library.

  9. Thomas Mapfumo, The Acid Band- Matiregerera Mambo

    Hokoyo! – Thomas Mapfumo deserves a Nobel Peace Prize more than Barack Obama! One of my favorite musicians I’ve seen perform live: such a leonine stage presence. Don’t know if his band is playing electric guitar arpeggios or an electrified mbira, just know that the Zimbabwe government didn’t like the criticisms, and Mr. Mapfumo lives in exile these days.

  10. Bert Jansch & John Renbourn- East Wind

    Bert And John
    – absolutely spectacular acoustic guitar duel/duet. If you play acoustic guitar, you should give this album a listen.

Written by Seth Anderson

February 5th, 2010 at 9:04 am

Posted in Music

Tagged with , ,

Friday Randomizer – Too Drunk to Fuck edition

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Come on, you can play along too! Shuffle your music library by song, then post the first ten songs on the playlist. Here’s what my list looks like today:

  1. Nouvelle Vague- Too Drunk To Fuck

    Nouvelle Vague

  2. MC5- Skunk (Sonically Speaking)

    The Big Bang! Best Of The MC5

  3. Queen- Leaving Home Ain’t Easy


  4. Davis, Miles- Mademoiselle Mabry

    Filles De Kilimanjaro

  5. R.E.M.- Fall on me

    Life’s Rich Pageant

  6. Clancy Eccles- Be Faithful Darling

    Trojan Tighten Up Box

  7. Townes Van Zandt- No Lonesome Tune (with Willie Nelson)
    Texas Rain
  8. Mingus, Charles- Fables Of Faubus

    Mingus Ah Um

  9. Galaxie 500- Decomposing Trees

    On Fire

  10. Jones, Rickie Lee- Nobody Knows My Name

    The Sermon On Exposition Boulevard

Again, for me, I want to post a brief discussion of each song, but entirely too busy with “paying” work to do so. Imagine my sonorous voice droning on…

Written by Seth Anderson

January 29th, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Posted in Music,Narcipost

Tagged with ,

Reading Around on January 20th

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Some additional reading January 20th from 12:07 to 17:38:

  • Stuart Carlson – 2010-01-18 – Satan’s tools, Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh

  • DIY Refrigerator Care Saves Money, Keeps Refrigerator Alive Longer – Saving Money – Lifehacker – Pippen becomes famous for his refrigerator love
  • Devotion to CTA is tattooed on her foot – CTA Tattler – This woman loves maps so much — and the CTA — that she has the rail system map tattooed on the top of foot.

  • Open Letter From OK Go – OK Go – Fifteen years ago, when the terms of contracts like ours were dreamt up, a major label could record two cats fighting in a bag and three months later they’d have a hit. No more. People of the world, there has been a revolution. You no longer give a shit what major labels want you to listen to (good job, world!), and you no longer spend money actually buying the music you listen to (perhaps not so good job, world). So the money that used to flow through the music business has slowed to a trickle, and every label, large or small, is scrambling to catch every last drop. You can’t blame them; they need new shoes, just like everybody else. And musicians need them to survive so we can use them as banks. Even bands like us who do most of our own promotion still need them to write checks every once in a while.But where are they gonna find money if no one buys music?

Written by swanksalot

January 20th, 2010 at 6:00 pm

Mississippi Goddamn

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youtubery in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Verve Jazz Masters 58: Nina Sings Nina” (Nina Simone)

The name of this tune is Mississippi Goddam
And I mean every word of it

Alabama’s gotten me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

Alabama’s gotten me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

Can’t you see it
Can’t you feel it
It’s all in the air
I can’t stand the pressure much longer
Somebody say a prayer

Alabama’s gotten me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

This is a show tune
But the show hasn’t been written for it, yet

Hound dogs on my trail
School children sitting in jail
Black cat cross my path
I think every day’s gonna be my last

Lord have mercy on this land of mine
We all gonna get it in due time
I don’t belong here
I don’t belong there
I’ve even stopped believing in prayer

Don’t tell me
I tell you
Me and my people just about due
I’ve been there so I know
They keep on saying ‘Go slow! ‘

But that’s just the trouble
‘Do it slow’
Washing the windows
‘Do it slow’
Picking the cotton
‘Do it slow’
You’re just plain rotten
‘Do it slow’
You’re too damn lazy
‘Do it slow’
The thinking’s crazy
‘Do it slow’
Where am I going
What am I doing
I don’t know
I don’t know

Just try to do your very best
Stand up be counted with all the rest
For everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

I made you thought I was kiddin’

Picket lines
School boy cots
They try to say it’s a communist plot
All I want is equality
For my sister my brother my people and me

Yes you lied to me all these years
You told me to wash and clean my ears
And talk real fine just like a lady
And you’d stop calling me Sister Sadie

Oh but this whole country is full of lies
You’re all gonna die and die like flies
I don’t trust you any more
You keep on saying ‘Go slow! ‘
‘Go slow! ‘

But that’s just the trouble
‘Do it slow’
‘Do it slow’
Mass participation
‘Do it slow’
‘Do it slow’
Do things gradually
‘Do it slow’
But bring more tragedy
‘Do it slow’
Why don’t you see it
Why don’t you feel it
I don’t know
I don’t know

You don’t have to live next to me
Just give me my equality
Everybody knows about Mississippi
Everybody knows about Alabama
Everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

Written by Seth Anderson

January 18th, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Posted in Music

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Ella Fitzgerald, Twelve Nights in Hollywood

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“Twelve Nights in Hollywood” (Ella Fitzgerald)

Another glowing review of Ella Fitzgerald’s residency at the Crescendo Club in the early 1960s, this time by Will Friedwald:

June 1962. The Crescendo Club on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip. Ella Fitzgerald and her quartet have settled in for a two-week run in her adopted hometown. In the middle of a set, she starts singing “Too Darn Hot,” which had been a highlight of her 1956 album, “The Cole Porter Songbook.” But a few notes into the song, Fitzgerald is interrupted by the sound of kids dancing the twist in another joint upstairs. She decides to go with the flow: Drummer Gus Johnson and pianist Lou Levy start pounding out a boogie-shuffle beat, and the singer improvises lyrics about how hard it is to sing Porter while everybody’s twistin’. She then launches into the “Kiss Me Kate” show tune with the kind of energy and swing that the young twisters couldn’t even dream about. It’s a brilliant, spontaneous moment, and a wonderful insight into the thinking of one of the iconic interpreters of the Great American Songbook.

This performance is one of the many joys of the recently released four-CD boxed set “Twelve Nights in Hollywood,” and it’s also a microcosm of what was occurring in American culture at the time. At start of the ’60s, Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra were the powerhouses of the record-album business. Rock ‘n’ roll was in the doldrums, and even at its earlier height it was mainly a singles market. No less than Sinatra with his concept albums, Fitzgerald and her producer-manager Norman Granz had transformed the long-playing medium with their songbook and live albums. In 1959 and 1960, Fitzgerald brought both these ideas to unprecedented heights with one project that was incredibly ambitious, her five-LP “George and Ira Gershwin Songbook,” and another that was masterful in its simplicity, “Ella in Berlin—Mack the Knife.”

[Click to continue reading Ella Fitzgerald, Twelve Nights in Hollywood | By Will Friedwald - WSJ.com]
[non-WSJ subscribers use this link to read the full review]

Written by Seth Anderson

January 12th, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Posted in Music,Suggestions

Tagged with , ,

Ella Fitzgerald, Rediscovered Tapes of 12 Nights in Hollywood

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“Twelve Nights in Hollywood” (Ella Fitzgerald)

Finally got my copy of the new Ella Fitzgerald boxed set, Twelve Nights in Hollywood. Awesome. Recorded over a two week stay at the Crescendo Club in Hollywood, 1961, with some additional material recorded in 1962 with a trio1

With all the multi-disc jazz boxes that have come out in recent years — the complete Miles Davis on Columbia, the complete Charlie Parker on Savoy, the complete Duke Ellington on RCA and so on — it’s hard to believe that any significant tapes by any major musician might still be languishing undiscovered in a record company’s archives.

Yet Verve has just released “Twelve Nights in Hollywood,” a four-CD boxed set of Ella Fitzgerald singing 76 songs at the Crescendo, a small jazz club in Los Angeles, in 1961 and ’62 — and none of it has ever been released until now.

These aren’t bootlegs; the CDs were mastered from the original tapes, which were produced by Norman Granz, Verve’s founder and Fitzgerald’s longtime manager.

They capture the singer in her peak years, and at top form: more relaxed, swinging and adventurous, across a wider span of rhythms and moods, than on the dozens of other albums that hit the bins in her lifetime.

[Click to continue reading Ella Fitzgerald, Rediscovered - ‘Twelve Nights in Hollywood’ - NYTimes.com]

I haven’t had a chance to listen to the whole thing yet (77 songs, over four hours of music), but what I’ve heard is just spectacular. Highly recommended for fans of the human voice. The band is good, swinging intimate small-combo jazz2, but the highlight is Ms. Fitzgerald’s emotive expressive voice and utter, relaxed joy.

“Twelve Nights in Hollywood” is not a complete document. (If it were, it would consist of more than a dozen CDs, not four.) But it does include what Mr. Seidel regards as the best version of nearly every song — 76 out of 83 — that Fitzgerald sang on those nights. Six of those 76 songs were also included on the “Ella in Hollywood” album. Because Verve was about to reissue it as well, Mr. Seidel, to avoid redundancy, picked different versions of those songs, which she’d sung on different nights from the ones that Granz selected. On five of those six songs, Mr. Seidel’s choices are clearly better — more spirited, more playful, more passionate, even bluesier.

The blues were never Fitzgerald’s strong point; her few stabs at singing them in the studio came off as lame because it was hard to believe she had the capacity to be sad. But on these recordings she sings several blues songs, most notably “St. Louis Blues,” and, while no one would mistake her for Billie Holiday, she takes them for a bumpy, saucy ride.

When she scats on these recordings, she goes higher, lower, faster, more syncopated, more harmonically complex than usual; it sounds like a really good bebop horn solo, not an affectation, as her scatting on studio albums sometimes does.

And when she sings a ballad, she takes the melody in more — and more inventive — directions while still making it at least as heartbreaking as she ever did in a studio or large concert hall.

Herman Leonard, the great photographer, once took a picture of Duke Ellington sitting at a front-row table in a small New York nightclub, beaming at Fitzgerald while she sang. More than any other album, “Twelve Nights in Hollywood” gives us an idea of what Ellington was smiling at.

photograph © Herman Leonard – Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington at the Downbeat Club

  1. Paul Smith – piano; Wilfred Middlebrooks – bass; Stan Levey – drums []
  2. Lou Levy- piano; Herb Ellis – guitar; Wilfred Middlebrooks -bass; Gus Johnson – drums []

Written by Seth Anderson

January 11th, 2010 at 11:10 pm

Posted in Music,Suggestions

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Reading Around on January 5th through January 8th

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A few interesting links collected January 5th through January 8th:

  • Letters of Note: Art is useless because… – Included in the preface to Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is the now famous and often misconstrued line, ‘All art is quite useless’. In fact, following the novel’s original publication in 1890, Oxford undergraduate Bernulf Clegg was so intrigued by the claim that he wrote to Wilde and asked him to elaborate. The following handwritten letter was Wilde’s response.
  • The Airport Scanner Scam | Mother Jones – Beyond privacy issues, however, are questions about whether these machines really work—and about who stands to benefit most from their use. When it comes to high-tech screening methods, the TSA has a dismal record of enriching private corporations with failed technologies, and there are signs that the latest miracle device may just bring more of the same.
  • Never Underestimate the Power of Stupid People
  • Buddyhead’s Best and Worst Records Of 2009 | BUDDYHEAD – Animal Collective – “Merriweather Post Pavilion”Lazy music journalists tried to act like these nerds armed with bongos and delay pedals were the second coming of The Beatles or some shit. Everyone from Mojo to Rolling Stone to Pitchdork seemed to have these fruitcakes somewhere in their top five records for 2009. These dudes couldn’t write a song if their lives depended on it, they are to songwriting what “Alvin and The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” is to cinema.

Robot and Mary Anne

Written by swanksalot

January 8th, 2010 at 1:00 pm