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Music Notes


Is it possible to have too much music? It probably is. This is an interesting essay about the problem with a very abbreviated 2017 resolution to only listen to one album a week so the writer can get to know it like he knew albums in the 90s when we all listened to a few albums obsessively. Of course, it’s a disaster. He concludes that we just listen to music differently today than we used to and that’s OK. I agree. I probably could sing along to Def Leppard songs I haven’t heard in 25 years (Love Bites! Love Bleeds! It’s Bringing Me To My Knees!) more easily than I could to a lot of the albums I listen to more now, simply because an album I listen to a lot is an album I listen to once a month. I’m fine with that. I don’t know my own music all that well, although I regulate the acquisitions to build it slowly and not get carried away with my own obsessiveness. Maybe something is lost, but being exposed to new sounds is a wonderful thing and I have no regrets.

The wonderful James McMurtry is not inherently a political songwriter. He avoids it until conditions make it necessary. And then he produces a killer song. This was the case in the Bush years and now it is the case again.

It’s the 40th anniversary of Rush’s A Farewell to Kings, which is a good time to remember what an awful band they are.

This is a fine Will Layman essay on jazz singing, which largely reminds me that I just don’t like jazz singing very much. Although I do like peak-era Sinatra quite a bit so there are exceptions.

Album Reviews, a rather varied set of music this time:

Deerhoof, The Magic

There was a very long time when I didn’t listen to new rock bands. This was basically 1992-2006, which revolved around a series of complex issues not worth going into here. So I have a lot of knowledge gaps. That’s OK, I’ve been trying to make up for it over the last several years. Thus, I had never listened to a Deerhoof album before, even though they have been around for nearly 25 years now. I finally took care of that. This 2016 album is by most accounts not one of their best. But I found it pretty fun. Recorded over a quick week of putting down 15 tracks, it’s obviously inconsistent. But I like Satomi Matsuzaki’s accented vocals, I like the noise, and I like the style changes. I probably should check out some of the “classic” albums of this band.


Beyond the Wizards Sleeve, The Soft Bounce

Maybe it is my general disdain of fantasy writing but I nearly wouldn’t listen to this band just because of their stupid name. But that would be a dumb reason not to listen to an album (after all, my favorite bands are named Drive-By Truckers and Wussy, two terrible names). And at first, I wasn’t into this. But it grew on me, as I suppose listening to an LCD Soundsystem album on acid while wishing you were in 1970 would. What I found were pretty annoying synth effects earlier in the album made me happier later in the album. This is definitely psychedelic nostalgia filtered through electronic music and that’s not really ever going to be my favorite thing, but in the end, this is at least a worthy listen for those of you with a greater interest in these genres than I have.


La Santa Cecilia, Amar y Vivir

This 2017 album by this acclaimed Mexican-American band from Los Angeles is the first from them I have heard. Evidently, it’s supposed to be a multi-media experience at its purest with video installations and the like. But for regular listening, it’s still pretty great. Marisol Hernandez has such a wonderful voice and the band is great too. I love traditional Mexican music in pretty much all its forms. It’s one of the world’s finest musical traditions, whether the German-influenced norteños or the less “modern” music of the central and southern regions. And La Santa Cecilia does great popular version of Mexican musical ballads for both Mexican and American audiences. Most songs are in Spanish, but one or two are in English, including a cover of Smokey Robinson’s “You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me.” Most of this album consists of glorious covers from the Mexican songbook, including from greats such as Jose Alfredo Jimenez and Cafe Tacuba, expertly done.

Sometimes, especially earlier in this series of posts, commenters, perhaps nervous that someone was challenging them to listen to new music instead of the same albums they’ve heard for 35 years, called me a hipster for listening to a lot of new and sometimes odd music. But what they don’t understand is that the sounds humans have made over the centuries to express their emotions is both a wonderful thing and a inexhaustible resource of inspiration to live through not such great times or enjoy great times even more. Discovering bands like La Santa Cecilia is exactly why I listen to new music most days and why I write these posts.


Cuong Vu 4-Tet, Ballet: The Music of Michael Gibbs

The Seattle-based trumpter is back with his usual trio and the great Bill Frisell on guitar. Vu is often playing pretty outre stuff, but interpreting the work of Michael Gibbs, this is relatively accessible while also still a great listen for everyday jazz fans and a lot of interesting stretches for the avant-garde listener. This is a live album, but the audience is almost completely recorded out, with one or two exceptions, which I like as the main problem with live albums is audience noise that I don’t want to hear. And what great playing by Frisell. For a very long time, Frisell was my favorite living jazz artist. I found his work so compelling, moving from genre to genre with a guitar tone that unmistakably his own. But over the last decade, he’s really stalled out, with more on an emphasis on prettiness and atmospherics than really doing much or trying new things. So it’s wonderful to hear him shred here, especially on “And On the Third Day.” This is a fine, fine album. Had I heard it in 2017, it would have been high on my year-end list.


Steve Gunn, Eyes on the Lines

This is a strong album from a good songwriter. This reminds somewhat of a Kurt Vile album and somewhat of the 70s California scene–in other words, it’s a good set of songs with a laid back vibe and enough quality guitar work to not allow this to settle into the background.


Mestre Cupijo e Seu Ritmo, Sirlá

Another great release from the world music label Analog Africa, although this one takes us to northeastern Brazil, where Mestre Cupijo, scion of a leading musical family, updates the music of his home region of Cametá, in the Amazon. Siría is evidently a form of music that combined the African music of slaves with the music of the indigenous inhabitants of the region. I can’t speak too much to the indigenous part of this, but I can tell you that this album is awesome. Mostly recorded in the 70s, this stuff sounds as fresh as something recorded. Highly, highly recommended.


Danish String Quartet, Adès/Nørgard/Abrahamsen: Works for String Quartet

Ok, look, I know I suck at writing about music. But that goes double for writing about classical music writ large, whether some new album of Bach compositions (which I would be unlikely to listen to in any case) or modernist compositions (which I do like). But I try anyway. Here’s what I can say: Their ECM debut sounds like an ECM album. That’s not a good thing or a bad thing, but for 20 years I have felt that no label has had a more signature type of sound than ECM, which is a contemplative and somewhat experimental jazz and classical sound that usually doesn’t get too loud or raucous but remains consistently interesting. These recordings of three contemporary European composers fit that model, interestingly exploring the contours of these works in a reasonably accessible way.


And just to throw in a couple random, unexpected old albums:

Terry Riley, A Rainbow in Curved Air

Riley’s 1969 album is legendary but I never heard it before. I think the first side–“Rainbow in Curved Air” with its insistent processed keyboards–works a bit better than the second side–“Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band”–with its more atmospheric and saxophone-oriented arrangements. I was listening to this while drinking a Ninkasi Total Domination IPA, but soon realized that this was designed for people on a different kind of drug, albeit one also defined by three letters. Nonetheless, even for those of us tame on a beer, Riley’s work is utterly legendary for a reason. The amazing slow notes, the looping, the clear Hindu influences, all of this leads to a profound pair of songs and an album that I wish I had heard 20 years ago so I could have heard it so many times since.


Sonny Rollins, G-Man

I put on this 1987 album with some trepidation. Sure, I had heard good things about. Still, it’s not as if most older jazz legends transitioned well into the 80s. It wasn’t a good decade for again classic artists of pretty much any genre. But holy hell, this is an amazing mostly live album. Rollins sounds great and his band is nearly a rock and roll band. In fact, for as wonderful as his classics such as Saxophone Colossus, Alfie, and Way Out West remain, not to mention his Village Vanguard releases, I think G-Man is probably just as good as any of them and maybe more fun to listen to. A perfect album.


As always, an open thread for all things music and no things politics, including the shutdown, Trump, or anything else. There is more to life than politics after all. As for me, I’ve spent most of the last two days in the lands outside of Moab, Utah hiking around. Not bad.

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