On a recent trip to New Mexico, I saw a band called Lone Piñon play at the Historic San Ysidro Church in Corrales. This is a very interesting musical project. As you may know, over the past 20 years or so, there have been several projects that revive old, often nearly lost music. The Freighthoppers, reasonably popular in the late 90s and who I am very happy to have seen once, did it for Appalachian music of the 30s. Carolina Chocolate Drops received a lot of acclaim for doing the same for black Appalachian music. There are occasional Cajun revival bands and the like. What you don’t really see is much attention paid to the New Mexican musical tradition. Of course, New Mexican music has a tremendous amount in common with music from parts of Mexico the United States didn’t steal in a grotesquely unjust war to expand slavery. And because Mexican music hasn’t had the impact on American popular music and because it is sung in Spanish, it hasn’t received the attention of revivalists.
Lone Piñon is an attempt to change that. It plays New Mexican and Mexican music from the 1930s-1950s, learning field recordings of ancient tunes and adapting them to the present. What’s interesting about this band is that two of the three members are white kids other areas, including the singer who was trained in the Ozark tradition of Missouri. He’s fluent in Spanish but obviously has an accent. I wondered how people would respond to this; it’s not as if Hispano New Mexican culture is exactly all that open to outside appropriation. But certainly no one seemed to mind. They’ve been playing with a young fiddler of New Mexican heritage and see gave a really heartfelt little speech about how she loved this music but felt it was ossified and dead and now she didn’t feel this way anymore. And that summed up the tenor in the room. There were a lot of people, some Albuquerque area cultural aficionados and some people from the Hispano communities from around the area. Just a lot of love and joy. And they are a pretty great band. Very interesting stuff and a very rewarding show.
I then saw Tacocat play at the incomparable Meow Wolf in Santa Fe. This is the most unique concert venue I have ever seen. Basically, it’s a large building where they have a created a sort of Victorian house inside. They hire artists to design a different room. And to say the least, it’s a huge mind trip. Open the refrigerator in the kitchen and there’s a corridor leading to hidden rooms. Go into another room and see this weird light show that you can adjust by playing with video game knobs. Enter another have be bombarded with weird video installations. Enter the bedrooms and watch an alarm clock go on the fritz. Or go into the closet of another and find yet another hidden passageway. This is one heck of a unique place. It also fills an enormous gap in the New Mexico music scene. New Mexico is pretty terrible for music. Albuquerque is fine if you like metal. If you don’t, there’s not much. Bands just don’t play there, even though it has 500,000 people. Santa Fe is small and snooty. In the 7 years I lived there, the state simply lacked even a decent venue for an indie band. And then it built basically the best one ever. As for the music, Tacocat is a lot of fun live. Emily Nokes is a very good performative lead singer, not only with the voice, but with the dancing and the fashion and the posing. The band’s political yet fun lyrics about street harassment, mansplaining, menstruation, and other such topics work really, really well live. Also, evidently the shark costumes when Katy Perry performed in the Super Bowl were stolen from a Tacocat video. The opening bands were fine too. Daddy Issues is a fun straight ahead girl band of a genre I like. The Simple Pleasures are an 80s electropop band that brings in a lot of modern computer-based sound. Less my thing, but completely fine to see live.
In other news:
In the rush of year end lists, I missed The Village Voice putting together a Top 50 protest songs of 2016. We all need protest songs.
The people who run SXSW seem nice. Also, thanks for ruining Austin for 2 weeks with your festival of music executive jerkoffs walking around with their huge badges and making downtown a nightmare zone. And this was 10 years ago, god knows how bad it is now.
It was really hard for free jazz guys to get gigs, even at the peak of the music in the early 70s.
Darius Jones, Le Bébé de Brigitte (Lost in Translation)
This 2015 album is a tour de force from this amazing saxophonist. Released on AUM-Fidelity, a label that consistently releases outstanding material, this album squawks, it honks, and it even has its moments of funk. With Ches Smith on drums, Sean Conly on bass, and Matt Mitchell on piano, this is a great band. I’m a bit less a fan of Emilie Lesbros’ lyrics at times, not because she sings in French but because she sometimes just makes mouth noises that can get in the way of the rest of the music. Of course, what is free jazz but a bunch of people making creative noise and I confess I am less a fan of jazz vocals of all styles than some. She certainly has a heck of a range and I do enjoy her more conventional vocals here. The songs tend toward the ballad but with the great range that free jazz provides. Overall this is very much worth a listen.
Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth, Epicenter
I saw this band play a year or so ago in New Haven and they were great. Both of their albums are outstanding as well. This is the latest, from 2015. With the wonderful Craig Taborn not only on piano but also Fender Rhodes, Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek on saxophone, the wonderful Gerald Cleaver on drums, and of course Lightcap on bass, this band really sizzles. And while jazz covers of rock songs can be cliched, “All Tomorrow’s Parties” is pretty great here.
Jesca Hoop, Memories Are Now
This confident album sounds a bit like a cross between Fiona Apple and Joanna Newsom. She’s an interesting story, as she was the nanny of Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan and they encouraged her to become a professional musician. It was certainly a worthwhile discovery. With songs about escaping Mormonism and the excesses of consumerism and a voice with a wide range that go from the flighty (thus, the Newsom comparison) to the intense, it’s a solid album.
Yo Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble, Sing Me Home
Several years ago, a friend gave me a copy of the early Yo Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble album Silk Road Journeys. I enjoyed it a good bit, a combination of traditional classical music from not only the western but the eastern traditions, a blending of some very different styles in a great band. But I hadn’t paid much attention to their follow up work until Sing Me Home came out last year. This is a sort of world tour of this band, taking their style and bringing in guests such as Bill Frisell, Toumani Diabate, and Rhiannon Giddens, among many others. It works pretty well (Frisell is of course recognizable after the 2nd note), but I don’t think I like this as well as I did the focus on Asia of the earlier album. This seeks to consider ideas of home around the world and as such, it switches styles pretty radically from song to song. None of it fails and the version of “St. James Infirmary” is quite striking. But as a concept, I found the constant genre swapping a little distracting. It’s certainly well worth a listen though as the music itself is impeccable.
Erik Friedlander, Rings
Friedlander is part of the experimental jazz scene that revolved around the string quartets and other chamber music arrangements that John Zorn did a lot of 15 or so years ago. Along with people such as Mark Feldman and Sylvie Courvoisier, Friedlander turned his writing and playing heavily toward modern chamber music. Rings is a 2016 entry in his catalog. He plays with his frequent collaborator Satoshi Takeshi on percussion and Shoko Nagai on piano. The album is sort of a journey around the world to a small extent weaving in different styles, but it’s subtle. Friedlander also uses looping technology for the first time, again in a subtle way. Primarily this is a pretty interesting album of often lovely music, although I’d like to be grabbed by the throat by it a bit more.
Chaya Czernowin, Maim
This Israeli composer has written a set of intense compositions. Written for a large orchestra, it provides 45 minutes of intricate soundscapes, full of oboes and other underutilized instruments. Seen as one of the most interesting and compelling composers working today, this is a pretty arresting recording.
Japandroids, Near to the Wild Heart of Life
I seem to remember listening to Japandroids’ last album all the way back when it was released in 2012 and feeling indifferent about it. I’m not really sure why because Near to the Wild Heart of Life is a really solid rock and roll album. Short at 8 songs because they claim so many of the best rock albums have 8 songs, this is a tight rock band playing at a high level. As bands do these days, they wear their classic rock influences on their sleeves, which is fine. I’m not saying this is some sort of brilliant work, but it’s a good rock album and we all need good rock albums.
A couple of older albums:
Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg
I had never actually listened to this before. I have had Histoire de Melody Nelson for years and always loved it. These of course go very well together, largely because Gainsbourg combined a great musical sense with being a creepy old man into much younger women. Birkin was 22 when this came out in 1969; Gainsbourg was 41. “Je T’aime Moi Non Plus” is one of the great sex songs of all time and the whole thing holds together wonderfully behind his great arrangements. I don’t per se find Birkin’s vocals all that remarkable, but they certainly work well enough.
Henry Mancini, A Warm Shade of Ivory
Mancini is one of those mid-century figures that I knew primarily from him showing up on Christmas albums that I think my parents were given by my grandfather. I always thought of him vaguely in the Sinatra vein of mid-century music. But now listening to Sinatra a lot more than I used to, I picked this 1969 album up on a lark, primarily because it starts with “In the Wee Small Hours.” But I sure enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Evidently, it’s much more focused on Mancini’s solos than most of his albums, but I can’t compare it as it’s the first album of his I have listened to. What I heard was a great set of romantic songs, lushly orchestrated and just highly enjoyable, particularly for moments where maybe I don’t want to think too much.
As always, this is an open thread for all things music, or anything except politics.