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Music Notes


The night after I returned from the Old 97s 30th anniversary show in New York I discussed last week, I had to make a stop in New Haven to see the Jeff Lederer/Mary LaRose “Schoenberg on the Beach” program at the beautiful Firehouse 12 space. Now, modern jazz interpretations of Arnold Schoenberg’s early work with some silent footage of New York beaches might not sound super exciting. But it was really good! The performers were a bit different than the usual band. Patricia Brennan was still on vibes and Hank Roberts was on cello (I have seen Roberts in so many different ways over the years, including playing a wedding!). But I know Chris Lightcap (a personal favorite of mine) replaced Michael Formanek on the bass and I am not sure now who replaced Matt Wilson on the drums, but it was someone else. Also, there was a guy in the band with electronics, which added a pretty nice touch. I really knew nothing about this project; mostly it just fit my schedule when I was driving through New Haven. But it was pretty dang cool; a deeply conceptual set of songs that combined the great composer, New York, a bunch of philosophers, and other ideas all coming together in some pretty interesting interplay and cool solos.

Well, here’s a live recording of the band, you can get a lot more than I can describe.

Some other news:

Can’t as say I expected Big Boi to be such a huge Kate Bush fanboy that he inducted her into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I have nothing against some sort of “new” Beatles song being released, but I also can’t say I care one way or the other.

AI is a serious issue for the future of music.

I reviewed a book manuscript recently for University of Illinois Press. When you do this, you usually get an offer of a small amount of cash or a somewhat larger amount of credit in books. Normally I take the cash, but since Illinois has an esteemed music history series, I took it in books this time. I look forward to discussing some of these books in the coming months in these posts.

If Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s long marriage works despite their disagreements about music, are the disagreements about which one of them sucks the most?

Bjork and Rosalía come out with a single to protest unsustainable salmon farming in Iceland.

First Avenue, the legendary Minneapolis rock club, is now a union shop. Yay!

Should at least mention the death of the mostly forgotten but once important Dwight Twilley.

A documentary about King Crimson. Color me as skeptical as I would be if forced to listen to Lizard again.

This week’s playlist:

  1. Mitski, Be the Cowboy
  2. Sun Ra, Singles
  3. Fabiano do Nascimiento, Tempo dos Mestres
  4. Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth, Deluxe
  5. Whit Dickey/Mat Maneri/Matthew Shipp, Vessel in Orbit
  6. William Parker/Hamid Drake, Summer Snow, Vol. 2
  7. Wussy, Funeral Dress
  8. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, self-titled
  9. Tom T. Hall, New Train Same Rider
  10. Willie Nelson, Shotgun Willie
  11. Serge Gainsbourg, Histoire de Melody Nelson
  12. Neko Case, The Worse Things Get…..
  13. Robbie Fulks, Georgia Hard
  14. Frank Ocean, Nostalgia, Ultra, Sno-Cheetah
  15. Gang of Four, Solid Gold
  16. Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Braver Newer World
  17. Old 97s, Fight Songs
  18. Wanda Jackson, self-titled
  19. Townes Van Zandt, At My Window
  20. Solange, When I Get Home
  21. Los Super Seven, self-titled
  22. Townes Van Zandt, High, Low, and In Between
  23. Jemeel Moondoc, Judy’s Bounce
  24. Stevie Wonder, Signed, Sealed, and Delivered
  25. Tom Russell, The Long Way Around
  26. Kris Kristofferson, The Essential, disc 1
  27. George Jones, The Essential, disc 2
  28. Hacienda Brothers, Arizona Motel
  29. Juliana Hatfield, Pussycat
  30. Matthew Shipp, Equilibrium
  31. Michael Nesmith, And the Hits Just Keep on Coming
  32. TJ Kirk, self-titled
  33. Amyl and the Sniffers, Comfort to Me
  34. ¡Conjunto! Tex-Mex Border Music, Vol. 1
  35. Willie Nelson & Ray Price, San Antonio Rose
  36. Tom T. Hall, New Train Same Rider
  37. George Jones, Blue & Lonesome
  38. Faron Young, Sweethearts or Strangers
  39. Carl Smith, Let’s Live a Little

Album Reviews:

Ava Max, Diamonds and Dancefloors

While dance music usually isn’t really my bag (I mean, not that this is going to surprise anyone) sometimes it can be really good and I thought this was a great example about how a genre I am usually indifferent about can break through to me sometimes. Even knowing she’s a Sconnie doesn’t hurt her, despite my belief that no good dance music really can come from Wisconsin. This is just solid, escapist dance pop filled with earworms of the most burrowing variety, like a parasite that just keeps the rhythm going. It’s not lyrically brilliant or anything, but hey, it’s good enough for Wisconsin.


Margaret Glaspy, Echo the Diamond

So….I loved Glaspy’s debut Emotions and Math, despite disliking both emotions and math. It’s one of my favorite albums of the last ten years. But her follow up was a disaster. Taking away both the guitar and the attitude left just anodyne indie rock that did nothing for basically anyone. Glaspy took some time off after that, married Julian Lage (good for them!), and retooled.

I’d say that her new album sort of splits the difference between the two albums. The guitar is back and so is the attitude. There are a few very good songs here–“Irish Goodbye,” “Female Mind” especially, which starts “Don’t be a dick.” There’s also some songs I found pretty forgettable and that’s the thing here–it was time for a new album and this is a big step back to where she needs to be, but I think she needed one or two more really first-rate songs to carry the album. But it’s good and I will probably buy it.


Bokanté, Strange Circles

I am always skeptical about things that are self-consciously “world music” and Bokanté is very much that–a bunch of global musicians who decided to form a sort of super group that combines all their backgrounds. Whereas too often this approach means that all the interesting things about those traditions get squashed into a banal mush, that doesn’t really happen here. It ends up being a straightforward album that centers Afro-Caribbean traditions, even though all the songs basically do the same thing. It’s totally fine, but not that memorable.


David Liebman/Adam Rudolph/Tyshawn Sorey, New Now

These guys are all great. I am especially a fan of the percussionist Rudolph, who I saw live several years ago without really knowing him well and he was just great. This isn’t quite the noise fest I was kind of hoping it would be, but the longer I heard it, the more I fell for it. Liebman is more a post-bop than a free jazz guy and he remains so here but he gets pretty squawky at times, even if it is mostly pretty measured. I thought the rhythms Rudolph and Sorey found together were especially powerful and I like this album a lot.


Skyzoo, Milestones

Why shouldn’t hip hop represent the entirety of the Black experience? Obviously there’s no reason it shouldn’t, but it kind of doesn’t. What Skyzoo does here is to represent the reality that sometimes fathers are indeed around and there’s stories to tell here too. It works. It’s thoughtful and it’s smart. It’s also pretty short, which I usually better for hip hop albums. I could see some listeners being uninterested in the topic, but that feels like authenticity fetishism to me.


Drakeo the Ruler, Thank You For Using GTL

Well, this is certainly an interesting album. Drakeo was in prison and decided to record an album. How? Using the prison’s phone system to rap his lyrics and then having them produced on the outside. I guess that explains the muffled vocals well enough. Seems fair. How good this is outside of the fact of its production is something that I question. It didn’t get a ton of attention at the time, but those who did (i.e., Pitchfork) thought it was basically the greatest thing ever. As a statement of life from prison and about a life of crime, it has a certain effectiveness as a document of that. But I think at least some of the accolades were basically about its “authenticity,” which certainly matters to a lot of people. I felt that a lot of these songs didn’t really go anywhere and just weren’t that interesting. Shoutouts to your lawyers doesn’t exactly spin my wheel.


Kate Davis, Fish Bowl

One of the weirdest, most wonderful pop albums I’ve heard in a long time. Davis is interesting herself–a former jazz prodigy on the bass, she has completely reinvented herself as a indie-pop musician. There’s no jazz in sight here, except perhaps for the understanding that a musician can do whatever they want if they are good enough. She certainly has a unique sensibility, especially lyrically. Among the lyrics include “I feel like a crummy pie, a shriveled fucked french fry/ Cold in the bottom of the bag“ and “Scooby Doo was a pup who never could get enough mystery/ It’s the same goddamn thing for me… Jesus was a punk who never could get enough mercy/ It’s the same goddamn thing for me.” Well then. She sounds a little like Liz Phair, but her writing and oddball way of seeing the world is what carries this remarkable album. She is also still of course an excellent musician and she played everything on here except for the drums. Will it surprise you that her guitar sounds as odd as her lyrics? No, it shouldn’t.


Kahil El Zabar’s Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, Spirit Gatherer

El Zabar is one of the great AACM Chicago musicians in jazz and his percussion has been on so many great projects over the years. This is a tribute to Don Cherry that includes Cherry’s son David Ornette Cherry (who sadly died himself shortly after this recording) and the fascinating deep voiced vocalist Dwight Trible. It combines versions of some of Cherry’s greatest performances with some original cuts inspired by him. What really hit home though was the cover of Ornette’s “Lonely Woman,” which was one of the first songs that made Cherry famous. This? It might be my favorite version of this song I’ve ever heard, including the original. It’s that good. The whole album doesn’t quite reach that high in every song, but it’s still a very good release.


Ken Vandermark/Nate Wooley/Sylvie Courvoisier/Tom Rainey, Noise of Our Time

Cool album that came out all the way back in early 2019. Some good quality free creative jazz right here, led by legendary Chicago-based sax player Vandermark, who has worked more with the great New York scene people in the last decade or so. Most of what I know from Courvoisier is her measured, almost classical piano work, so this was a refreshing energetic set from her. Wooley and Rainey are always solid players. There’s just so much complex work between these musicians riffing off each other and working together to create new sounds. It’s kind of a platonic example of a great free jazz album to my ears.


First Aid Kit, Palomino

I often find these Swedish sisters frustrating because they are cosplaying as Americana artists. But they aren’t from America and it just doesn’t feel like they quite get it. They sound good–no question that they sing great together. And I’ve always liked them for a song or two. So I was happy to hear them remember they were European a bit more here and bring in what the Europeans do well–dance music. This has more beats and at times almost a club feeling to it at times. It still follows their basic model of singing fundamentally American music in English with their very slight accents, but it’s musically a lot fresher than usual and it helps.


Elijah McLaughlin Ensemble, II

This is a Chicago group that is a bit different than anything I’ve ever heard. I guess it’s a combination of a sort of free jazz, classical music, instrumental Americana, and nature sounds. Lot of dulcimer, which isn’t so common these days. The well known Chicago bassist Jason Toth is here too. I like it but it has the fatal flaw of turning into background music. Very interesting background music though, yes.


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

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