Thursday, August 17, 2017

The fans are rabble

The Fans Have Spoken: Top Ten Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Snubs - CultureSonar | Cool Stuff to See, Hear, Read and Do:

The article linked to above argues the  case for ten acts that have not been included so far in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, an attempt, I suppose,  to drum up some kind of otherwise harmless internet outrage  about a supposed string of injustices that have not, demonstrably, made any one's life worse for the fact of it. Irritating ,however, is that the case is being made for bands and musicians who Really Don't Matter on my grading system   of who     is worthy and who ought to disappear into retirement anonymity. It 's subjective, I hear you muttering, but admit it, won't you, that not all opinions, subjective as they are, are created equal? It's not even the case that I disagree with who this writer argues for, it's that he doesn't give a sufficiently thought     out rationale . This is list has all the taste of stillwater, a lazy assemblage of press releases. The criteria here is whether the groups or artists sold out stadiums, garnered many platinum albums and otherwise made the record companies billions of dollars. 
The premise is as bogus as the Hall of Fame itself. Grand Funk? Moody Blues? Jethro Tull? These are not bands that made rock and pop music change course. They made hit records, not history . My peeve is that the MC5 is still not in the Hall, a band that arguably influenced more artists after them than all three of the bands I've mentioned combined; along with the Velvet Underground, Iggy and the Stooges, the MC5 pioneered the attack, the aesthetic and the philosophical defiance of Punk Rock. It's tragic enough that it took the RRHOF over 30 years to induct the widely acclaimed and hugely influential Paul Butterfield Blues Band. It's just as tragic that witless and bankrupt squibsters like this person from Culture Sonar wants to prate about musicians who mostly have no value beyond their ability to make corporations money. What I'm saying is that the Hall of Fame is a scam. I can't help but think that for every induction ceremony we go through each year, more nails are driven into the coffin and more dirt is shoveled into the grave of an art that is no longer a defining force in the lives of a generation, but only another distraction, like most everything else that is passed off as artistic expression. The secret is this: we haven't been sold out at all. We've sold ourselves out, sacrificing  genuine discovery for convenience and ease of acquisition over discovery. We Google information to settle a bet and cannot remember the answer a minute later. We read books on Kindles and cannot remember plots or character names. We download music for free and use it to retreat, isolate and block out the world as it blasts crudely over headphones and ear buds, and not to engage the world , not to be inspired to create something new, not to sustain a reason to believe in defensible values and moral concerns. We have given up our ability to think critically and given our lives over to 2 bit commentaries and corporately sanctioned views that sell us on the cliches of our times; our conversations are reduced to advertising slogans and photo captions. Moody Blues? Grand Funk?Jethro Tull? Really? Really?!? To be fair to the author, he did mention Warren Zevon, Little Feat and the Cars as artists who should be inducted, three acts I like very much and for each of whom plausible arguments for inclusion can be made.  I am not so convinced the Cars quite merit the award,but I am at least willing to listen to reason   without my routine resistance to canon-formation, but it would a sure bet for Zevon and Little Feat, Zevon for his pugnacious wit and ability to endure pressure with grace and humor, and LF for their artful and literally seamless meld   of rock, funk, jazz motifs into a  fusion that sounds even more organic than what the laudable Steely Dan could do.  What saddens me,if that's the word, is they are on list otherwise studded with profitable mediocrities. Doobie Brothers? Three Dog Night? The Guess Who? Emerson Lake and Palmer? Keeee-rist almighty.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

3 from 1981: SIMON and BARD, ROBERT GORDON, GARLAND JEFFERYS

Musaic - Simon and Bard (Flying Fish) 

Fred Simon and Michael Bard, a pianist and multiple reedman respectively who ve been around the jazz scene virtually unknown the past few years, here emerge from relative obscurity with their first record Musaic, an effort that strikes me as an example of  playing-it-safe: the melodies are pleasant and draw on a number of recognizable sources, the rhythm section does its chores competently, and the solos display the requisite knowledge of technique. But, the music never takes chances.  Admittedly the skill level is high,  but Simon and Bard s insist on tilling styles that have been farmed  too long to less bountiful yields: their sources sound like an overly-familiar crossbreeding of Paul Winter, Oregon and Bruebeck: with a dash of Ellington thrown in for good measure - makes the stuff on Musaic merely run of the mill. Even Larry Coryell's appearance on the funk jam "Fancy Frog" fails to liven things up. The usually idiosyncratic guitarist sounds more than happy to merely cruise along with the flow of things, content to only dish out cliche blues licks and occasional fast runs instead of really pushing himself or anyone for that matter. Bear in mind, the music is not atrocious. It's nice and would make the ideal backdrop for when your mother was over for dinner. Otherwise, your time would be better spent catching up on your sleep, or staying up all night watching black and white movies highlighting big lizards devastating Japanese coastal cities. 

Are You Gonna Be The One--Robert Gordon

Image result for are you going to be the one robert gordonFor a number of years Robert Gordon has, in his own way, been trying to revive the spirit of rockabilly music. For all the sweat that's soaked his satin shirts because of his efforts, he's hardly scratched the surface of authenticity, let alone come close to the essence of , grease. The problem isn't Gordon's lack of vocal apparatus - his voice is impressively clear and demonstrates a better-than-average range - but rather that he too obviously relishes the. cliches of his chosen form. The title tune "Are You Gonna Be the One" has him affecting a low voice called from one of those baritone backup singers, and "She's Not Mine" is a ballad wherein he offers a fragile Presley-like falsetto (something in Elvis's singing that I never liked, all corn pone and no guts). Obviously the The Guardian list of syllogistic borrowings goes on, and throughout the album, Gordon sounds too exacting, with each phrase sounding as though he's practiced them through a tape recorder so he'd capture the right nuance; he never allows himself to truly mess with the format or defile the expectations of the potential audience. This leaves little to talk about, praise or condemn , really, and makes this more about his skill as an impostor than an artist who can revive styles from decades before his own.This is not the duty of an interpreter of a style. Though the comparison is tenuous, early rock and roll, like jazz, did have an element of spontaneity, and the magic of the best rockabilly was a kind of barely-contained craziness that was reflected both through the singer's voice and the near-anarchism of the band. Gordon comes across like a stand-up comic impressionist: a ' soon a the shock of recognition ion fades, Robert Gordon it's readily apparent that he's not the real thing. Gordon, however, does show promise in another style. "Standing on the Outside of Her Door" is a change of pace. a country and western ballad in the most maudlin sense. Gordon's voice sound comfortable for once, resonating, low and caressing as he milk every bit of tear-in-the-beer pathos from the lyrics, which are 0 sentimentally sticky they drip down on you like stereophonic tapioca. Not exactly my cup of tea - I would like to hear someone do some rockabilly that didn 't 'SOund like a rusty door hinge - but I might suggest t that Gordon shed his rolled up t- 13 shirt and buy an outfit from Nudies.

Escape Artist - Garland Jeffreys 
(Epic) 
Image result for escape artist garland jeffreysYou'd think that Garland Jeffreys' multiple-racial identity - strains of Puerto Rican and Afro-American twined with a strong immersion in the White culture of the Bronx - would enable him to devise a cross-cultural rock and roll fusion that would unify the variegated elements of the Big Beat into an exhilarating, cogent synthesis. Things being as they are, however, Jeffreys' never attained the heights critics have long predicted for him, nor the high water mark
aspirations he 's set for himself. Instead, he is a rather likable sort who can deliver, now and again, with a great song and remains naught but an interesting minor talent. Escape Artist, his most recent release, suffers less from Jeffreys' seemingly habitual confusing of identities. His cover of the Question Mark and the Mysterians oldie "96 Tears," is a delightfully tacky clone of the original version, with his voice sounding expressively sleazy against the farfisa organ. "Modern Romance " and "Christine" are straight forward as he deals with the problems of boy ·girl relationship. Some of the other rockers su~est the influences of Spnngsteen and Costello. Jeffreys, though, does again stumble .on his bad habits in his reggae numbers which sound as limp and washed out as they've ever been. His stabs at clarifying profundity, as in "Miami Beach," only tread the obvious polemics. What Jeffreys needs is a sense of irony, a demonstrations of some kind of street- sharpened wit that would reinforce his particular world view. Presently he seems like someone who tries a little too hard with the options in front of him. A little loosening of the music could make Jeffreys more comfortable with himself as a performer, and to us as listeners. B minus.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

A ramble about my record collection in one paragraph. Do not look for a formal thesis

It was after I slid into my forties where the other songs and albums by Led Zeppelin reemerged on my radar and revealed a band that was more diverse, musically, than the popular invective allows. Where I lived at the time, Zeppelin fans were just as likely to be listening to the Band, Van Morrison and CS&N, along with other folk "sissy" artists as they were the macho sounds of hard rock. By the time I turned 48, how I perceived the world at 18 - 21 is irrelevant to the fact that they've made some good, sometimes brilliant tunes. Hardly perfect: the lyrics are an embarrassment, but the band is about riff and sound, as Richard Cobeen said in the Lennon thread by way of dismissing the band, but is something I think is crucial to their rock and roll success: riffs and sounds over laid on a varied set of styles and influences that work, sonically, more often than they don't. The lyrics, with the vocals, were just part of the overlay, a part of the texture. Like the Beatles, Steely Dan, and Led Zeppelin were studio artists, where the studio was the proverbial third instrument. Live, they were one of the worst bands I've ever seen--though they sounded pretty damned good when I saw them in '67 (?) on their first US tour with Jethro Tull--but in the studio , their music was finessed and honed, typical in those days. For all his faults as a faulty technician in live circumstances, he is a producer who brought a fresh ear to the recording process, and came up with ideas that circumvented the routine dullness and rigor that's become the bane of less able hard rock and metal bands after his Zeppelin's break up. It was after I slid into my forties where the other songs and albums by Zeppelin again got my attention. What the new fascination revealed was a band that was more diverse, musically, than what the fidgeting knocks against them at the time allowed.Led Zeppilin IV is their high water mark for track-by-track knockouts and variety of sounds, but Houses of the Holy is where the band really stretched beyond the comfort of the hard rock style they created. I think they do reggae fine, and "The Crunge" is quite funked up-- Plant's Brown vamping is inspired, and the lyrics are , in turn, somewhat surreal without losing a greasy, fry-cooked crease in the seam.The only real bad aftershock of " Sgt Pepper's" and other "concept albums" from the period was the mistaken notion by other artists that there had to be one grandiose and grandiloquent theme running through  both sides of their albums in order for the their work to be current with the mood of the art rock of the period. The Beatles succeeded with "Sgt.Pepper", "Magical Mystery Tour", and, and "Abbey Road" ( easily their most consistent set of material, I think) because they never abandoned the idea that the album needs to be a collection of good songs that sound good in a set: over lapping themes, lyrically,
are absent in the Beatles work, unless you consider the reprise of the Pepper theme song on a leitmotif of any real significance (it's use was cosmetic), although musical ideas did give the feel of conceptual unity track to track, album to album. Lennon and McCartney and Harrison's greatest contribution to rock music was their dedication to having each one of their songs be the best they could do before slating it for album release. For other bands, the stabs at concept albums were routinely disastrous, witnessed by the Stones attempt to best their competitors with the regrettable 'Satanic Majesties Requests". The Who with "Tommy" and "Who’s Next" and the Kinks , best of all, with "Lola", "Muswell Hillbillies" and "Village Green" , both were rare, if visible exceptions to the rule. "Revolver" and "Yesterday and Today" are amazing song collections, united by grand ideas or not. I buy albums; finally, on the hope that the music is good, the songs are good, not the ideas confirm or critique the Western Tradition. Conventional wisdom is often wrong, but not always, and I think the popular opinion that Pepper is a better disc, song by song, than Satanic Majesties is on the mark. Majesties had The Stones basically playing catch up with the Beatles with their emergent eclecticism and failing, for the most part. That they didn't have George Martin producing and finessing the rough spots of unfinished songs marks the difference. Majesties, though does have at least one great song, "2000 Man", and a brilliant one, "She's A Rainbow" For the rest, it sounds like a noisy party in the apartment next door. The album sounds like a collection of affectations instead of a cohesive set of songs. Cohere is exactly what the tunes on Pepper did, good, great, brilliant, and mediocre. The sounded like they belonged together. Authenticity is such an elusive quality that it's mostly useless when judging as subjective as whether someone's music is legitimate. It's a nice way to chase your own tail, though, which is what many like to do. Better to consider whether the music is at leas
t honest, or better yet, if it's done well: whether music , lyrics, voice, style work on their own terms, makes for a more interesting set of topics, and a more compelling record collection.
I would say that "She's Leaving Home" is one of the most atrociously three hankie wank fests ever written, but I would say that "Good Morning Good Morning" has a lyric that is defensible: it serves the purpose, it's lines and images are clipped, fitting the beats, and the words don't address anything larger than what they're supposed to, a bad mood on a fast morning. It's a self contained set of references, locked in a particular frame of mind. It is not Lennon's subtlest work, but it's not embarrassing at all. "Catch the Wind" is a lovely song, with a beautifully tendered lyric. Though obviously coming into public view on Dylan's coat tails, Donavan was no talentless amateur: he wrote good material in his "new Dylan" period, and did, remarkably, go in a direction quite distinct from Dylan's. He had his moments of good work. Anyone who is still complaining about Zep's less-than-Eliot lyrics has spent too much time staring at their lyric sheets while wearing headphones.It's better to consider Sgt. Pepper as a good album as a good album as a good album, with its historical importance set to the side. There are several good songs on it that have worn well over the decades that keep it from become the equivalent of the nutty uncle you don't want your pals to see. Realizing which songs were good after the fact isn't nostalgia, it's common sense. Catcher in the Rye remains what it is, certainly the classic of growing up twisted and feeling put upon. It makes no sense to trash it just because your reading habits became more sophisticated.





Chet Baker's return home in 1977




Image result for you can't go home again chet baker
You Can't Go Home Again-- Chet Baker
Trumpet player Baker has a cool, lyrical, muted style not similar that of Miles Davis from his Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain period. One ought not stop with the maybe too obvious comparison , as Baker is fairly much his own man when it comes to speaking in the hushed , muted tone that Davis also preferred in his best period. Baker's riffs are his own,personalized medals and scars of good looks and good loving gone bad due to women, whiskey and heroin. Baker did eventually succumb to a drug related death, a repeating tragedy among artists as it is among the rest of us , but his particular album was made during one of his periods of getting clean and commencing to make music again. It's a good one, seductive, alluring, not perfect and a bit frayed around the edges of Baker's improvising; some notes are harsher than you know he intends, some ideas are a little clammy in this mood  inclined project. But it works, soulful, intuitive, honest.   You Can't Go Home Again (released in 1977) , applies himself more tactfully and imaginatively than a dozen other flashier players could, Freddie Hubbard (Liquid Love ) included. The music is generally lyrical and moody with heavy orchestration by Don Sebesky (whose career as CTI house arranger has converted many a talent into a white faced, mass market commodity) , but Baker's pensive, searching emotionalism transcends the limits, as well as the efforts of a superb group of sidemen, including drummer Tony Williams, saxist Michael Brecker, bassist Ron Carter, guitarist John Scofield, along with other famous names like Hubert Laws, Paul Desmond, and Alphonso Johnson. The group playing is infectious and allows for a number of sparkling moments, particularly in the solos of Scofield, Desmond and , Brecker. The lyricism here is terribly handled, without  sentimentality. Emotionally, this music is tougher stuff. Baker's power seems to come from a deeper; each note, even when he quickens his phrases as the rhythm section doubles and triples the time, seems like a hard won victory of expression. Today, pain , heart ache and the series of self inflicted wounds that constitute Baker's non-music playing life, cannot quiet this man's need and ability to create a terse and jarring poetry.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Dark Tower

Image result for the dark tower
The Dark Tower, directed by Nikolaj Arcel is a missed opportunity for the next quality sci/fi fantasy continuing series.  Originally a nine-novel sequence penned by Stephen King, it has the ingredients for a continuing saga revolving around protecting the titular dark tower that exists between realities and which stabilizes the varied realities within its domain. This being based on a potent and endlessly unfolding Stephen King narrative, which is to say that the  original series of novels takes side trips and falls into distracting, if entertaining rabbit holes at many turns of the story, has the central element of this problematic phantasmagoria  to be children, one child in particular, who has the power to create all things or cure the ailments that threatens everything that lives. Lots of characters, super   powers, magic, betrayal, good versus evil, a gifted child with abilities far beyond those of men and gods; King certainly provides quite a bit for multi-season streaming drama. 

The film, though, is brutally condensed, curt, and abrupt in transition both in scenery and idea. It would be kind to suggest that the movie is breathless in its pacing and one should be admiring the briskness in which a great deal of thematic material from Stephen King's writing they manage to wedge into the 90 minute time, but do so, for me,would be dishonest. Where others think breathless I say gasping for breath, the singular tone being someone who wants this project done with much  sooner rather than way later. For all the explanations that might be given for how slipshod the story telling is, think of that one kid in high school, yourself   perhaps, who tried to ad lib their way  through an assigned oral report they  hadn't prepared for. This is exactly what The Dark Tower feels like for its duration.

Matters of plot point, explanations of thematic conceptions, and revelations of what's been going on are passed off in hurry through cavalier bits of expository dialogue. The Man in Black, watching the Gunslinger wondrously dispatch minions with his weapons, reveals that legend has it his guns were forged from the same metal that made the mystical sword Excalibur. And that's it, which is annoying, since that's an intriguing notion worth expanding on. Skillful expansion isn't the aim here, but rather contraction, and this feels more like a Quick Notes summary than anything else. I was never beyond the feeling that what I was watching was the usual prelude   before a new  episode of a television drama as to what's  occurred earlier in the season in quick montage. A shame, since the premise is attractive and Movies with Iris Alba and Matthew McConaughey should leave you breathless from their performance, not scratching your head wondering why they bothered with this.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Album reviews: SWING LOW, SWING HIGH

Petite Fleur -Zzmzzy Quartet 
(Art Hurts Records)

This originally appeared in The San Diego Troubadour.
Used with kind permission
.
The summer of 2017 thus far has heard a good loud, crashing, dynamic music coming from my apartment, speed metal, hard rock and hard bebop, fast and infuriating. With the recent passings jazz-fusion guitar geniuses Larry Coryell and Allan Holdsworth  , I pulled their respective CDs from my collection and played the fastest, hardest, most blistering music I could find from these two. Understandably, noise complaints, frayed nerves and headaches ensued before long, necessitating a change of music, both in tunes, tone, and mood. Rather handily, Petite Fleur by Zzmzzy Quartet came into my possession.  Noise complaints ceased, nerves soothed, headaches abated, and the apartment currently resounds with the mellow gypsy swing of the Zzmzzy Quartet. The first word of the troupe’s name, their web site advises, rhymes with “whimsy.”

And whimsy it is, as this time honored music is performed by four skilled musicians (Beston Barnett on guitar vocals, Matt Gill on clarinet, Paul Hormick on upright bass, Peter Miesner on guitar and lead vocals) who  move through the snaky  and occasionally minor key melodies and occasionally acrobatic chord progressions with contagious good humor . This is hardly a stiff resurrection of an old timey style; this is music that pulses, moves, swings indeed, performed by some guys who continually find the sweet spot in the heart of the songs. Principle in this effect is the sultry and sonorous playing of clarinetist Gill,  who provides a tone that is rich and finds the right emotion a song’s melody suggests, either doleful or exhalting,  gleeful  or meditative. His reading of the title tune, Sidney Becket’s “Petite Fluer”, rises and ebbs fluidly, each note a smooth caress against a steady and sympathetic back up   of guitarists Barnett and Miesner and the resonant bass work of Hormick.

 Zzmzzy Quartet, in turn, sweetens the pot with fine medley of Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood / Solitude”, a beautiful guitar figure framing Gill’s nuanced reading of the melody and a brooding improvisation that joins the contrasting melodies of both songs.  Sweetness abounds again with a jaunty take on “Lazy River” by Hoagy Carmichael, jumping and jamming with piquant guitar and reed making marvelous miracles though out.  There is quite a bit of splendidly played music on this music, not of this time but timeless in the sense of joy very fine tunes provide when played with the love and inspiration Zzmzzy Quartet obviously has. 

Those of you who like their swing jazz rousing, spiky and fleet fingered are in for a treat with the album’s last track, a robust take on “Sweet Georgia Brown”. Guitar, clarinet, trombone (form guest artist Billy Hawkins) take turns twisting and rocking the melody, the rhythm firmly propulsive, all before a wonderfully plaintive vocal from Miesner and Barnett.  This has been playing at least once a day as of this writing, which is to say that Zzmzzy Quartet’s Petite Fleur is cool and keen and a wonderful reminder that there is little in this life that good music can’t make better.