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Music Notes

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This was a couple of weeks with a bunch of notable deaths in the music world, so I guess let’s honor the departed to get started.

We lost the great fiddler Byron Berline last week, at the age of 77. Berline was one of those figures who moved bluegrass in a new direction in the 1970s, not only revitalizing the genre, but making it influential on rock and roll. Berline notably played with the Stones and Dylan, for instance. Of course that’s going to get the most attention because people know those bands. But his real gift comes through in his own work and let’s listen to some of that.

We also lost Juini Booth, jazz bassist who had played with the Sun Ra Arkestra since the mid-90s. He was 73.

Rick Laird was the bassist on those great Mahavishnu Orchestra albums in the early 70s, before John McLaughlin tried to force everyone to follow the teachings of Sri Chinmoy and they told him to jump in a lake. He later became a key hired gun in the jazz world but then left it to be a photographer in the 1980s. He died at the age of 80.

Then there is, of course, the great Biz Markie. The thing about the Biz is that while he was a fun clown performer and is known pretty much only for “Just a Friend,” he was actually a critically important figure in the late 20th century New York music scene. He got a moment of appreciation on the Don Byron album Nu Blaxploitation, which was an attempt to merge Byron’s jazz with funk, including several Mandrill covers and this amazing performance from Biz Markie.

The latest edition of Ted Gioia’s The History of Jazz is out and here’s an interview with him.

This review of a recent concert by the Seattle Chamber Music Society is really a meditation on the glories of seeing live music again after so long and is worth a quick read for that. The extent to which live music continues here with the Delta variant is something I’m wondering about, but at the Newport Folk Festival, which I am attending as you read this, proof of vaccination is required to enter. I’m certainly not worried about catching the variant seeing music because I’m not an idiot and thus got a vaccine.

I confess that I didn’t even hear the term “yacht rock” until a couple of years ago. I have now interpreted it to basically mean “boring light rock albums from the 70s that I don’t like.” I see no reason to revisit that assumption after reading this list from Rolling Stone to serve as a guide to this “genre,” if we want to call it that.

Shockingly, the Sex Pistols are infighting over copyright use…

“The Worst Member of Cream Has the Worst Vaccination Views” Of course, the other thing about Clapton worth noting is that his last decent album was a mere 50 years ago.

Album Reviews:

Carmen Castaldi/Marilyn Crispell/Joe Lovano Trio Tapestry, Garden of Expression

A nice ECM album, like all ECM albums are nice in that label’s goal to merge jazz with chamber music. I confess to generally respecting Lovano’s saxophone than loving it, but his work here is really first rate, as is Crispell’s always astounding piano. Castaldi has evidently been around forever as a drummer, but this is my first exposure to him, I think. Not an all-time favorite album here, but a quite worthy one.

B+

Jane Weaver, Modern Kosmology

Weaver is someone who has exited at the edges of my knowledge for a long time, but who I never sat down to listen to. She has a new album out. This is not that, though it’s on my list too. This is her 2017 album, which I found quite excellent. I guess I’d say she’s a warmer version of St. Vincent, which similar electronic pop tendencies and songwriting skills, but also doesn’t present herself as this otherwordly, untouchable figure. The vibes are everything from Kraut rock to the English folk-rock scene to 70s pop. Fun stuff. Will check out more.

A-

Tim Berne’s Snakeoil, The Deceptive 4—Live

A 2 disc release featuring two live performances from very different times. The first disc was recorded in 2017 and the second all the way back in 2010, but neither were released until Berne, the superb saxophonist, put them out last year. This is one of his working bands, with Matt Mitchell on piano, Ches Smith on drums, and Oscar Noriega on clarinet. Both are truly first rate performances. Probably I’d rather see them released as totally separate releases, but this is really not an important issue. Just great music from great improvisers. I don’t think this particular performance is on either release, but it most certainly gives you a sense of what they do.

A

Thelonious Monk, Palo Alto

By 1968, Monk was no longer at the avant-garde of jazz. He was still at the peak of his game, but he never embraced either free jazz or fusion. So he was a bit out of fashion. That year, he and his band were desperate enough that they agreed to play a show at Palo Alto High School (!!!!) in California. By sheer luck, the thing was recorded and last year, 52 years later, it has seen the light of day.

The thing about Monk in this era is that he may not be breaking a lot of new ground and he certainly wasn’t writing much in the way of new tunes. But for a guy who wrote so few songs, his ability to new find new ways to tell those same stories continues to astound. It’s a really great show. I can’t imagine being a high school student and hearing this. Like, it’s literally unimaginable to me. Also, the cost of the show was $2 and it was barely advertised due to the racial tensions in the city at that time. This is also just about the last performance of this classic Monk band, with Ben Riley on drums, Charlie Rouse on tenor, and Larry Gales on bass. Monk may have been in personal decline at this time, but he certainly brought the goods to the kids that night. Here’s more information on the backstory.

A

LCD Soundsystem, Electric Lady Sessions

This is a 2019 live in-studio album released by one of the seminal bands of the early 21st century. It’s pretty solid, though I think is hurt a little by the inclusion of “You Wanted a Hit,” which is almost certainly the worst song James Murphy has ever recorded. Some solid enough covers of The Human League’s “Seconds,” Chic’s “I Want Your Love,” and Heaven 17’s “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang.” If perhaps this is more fan friendly than essential for a newcomer to the group, it’s still a worthy release.

B

Richard Thompson, Bloody Noses

The pandemic wasn’t going to get in the way of the always productive Richard Thompson from working. He couldn’t go on the road. But making an acoustic album from home was not exactly a huge stretch for him. This is a short 6-song EP but is probably one of his better recent releases, perhaps in part because he didn’t feel the need to stretch this into 11 or 12 songs. He’s a great songwriter, really one of the all-time greats, but the overall quality has certainly slipped in the last 15 years or so, with many albums having a couple of real great songs but also then some filler. No real filler here. The opener, “As Soon As You Hear the Bell” is a particularly excellent number and it’s followed by “She’s a Hard Girl to Know,” another real strong one. Nice release from the legend.

B+

Guided by Voices, Zeppelin over China

This 2019 GBV album is like a lot of other GBV albums, with a mere 32 short songs of loud rock and roll. As such, it’s perfectly fine. Not exactly an unpredictable band. But it’s a functional one at this point and a fun one.

B

As always, this is an open thread for all things music and art and very much none things politics.

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