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Que es Este Tes Elations?

Que es Este Tes Elations?

Posted by: on Aug 4, 2012 | Comments (0)

Chris Votek got in touch recently, which was a nice surprise. I hadn’t talked to him in about seven years—after writing a cover story on Chris and his guerrilla chamber group Triste Sin Richard, he moved away from Sonoma County to develop his massive talent at Cal Arts.

In the package was a CD, though, by Tes Elations. Comprised of two cellos (Chris is one), a guitarist, a drummer and a singer, the band is less Arvo Pärt and more like something you’d stumble across at an outdoor music festival—but you’d be hypnotized, and you’d stop walking on your way to get a beer, and you’d raptly drink in the whole set. Get an idea of their delicate haunt here.

Tes Elations play Saturday night at the Arlene Francis Center with Girls in Suede—another throwback to 2005—and Kinship, which is the name with which Nick Wolch, for some reason, has decided to rechristen his long-running Goodriddler project. All these people sprung from a very tight-knit scene in Santa Rosa, which exploded to various parts around the state and reconvenes, in a reunion of sorts, at the show on Saturday night.

Below, watch the video for Tes Elations “Autumn”:

“Mitt Romney, A Hero In My Mind”

Posted by: on Jul 30, 2012 | Comments (0)

“Take nothing seriously on the internet” is advice I find myself doling out with more frequency. Presidential elections, on the other hand, bring out such earnestness in people:

Belatedly Thrilled: Revisiting Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’

Posted by: on Jul 16, 2012 | Comments (0)

 

I’m 36 years old, and just a few months ago I finally listened to the best-selling album of all time. I was six when it came out, but I associate Thriller with second grade, because that’s when Michael Jackson mania trickled down to the likes of little girls. I remember Bryn Taylor, the most stylish girl in my class, wearing a sequined glove to school one day. I remember my friend Julie Dillon holding her photo button up to my face so Michael Jackson, in his buttercream-yellow sweater vest, could give me a kiss, even though I thought it was weird. I remember going to Pastime Pizza Parlor with my parents and asking them for dimes to put in the jukebox so I could play “Billie Jean” and “Thriller” (alas, we left before my songs played, a fate I still suffer with jukeboxes to this day). It was the apex of Michael Jackson as a pop culture phenomenon, and to be a kid alive in America at that time negated the need to listen to Thriller to know what it was all about. If you watched T.V. or listened to the radio (both of which I did in spades), waves of Michael Jackson crashed upon you.

Where’s the Bridge from the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge”?

Where’s the Bridge from the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge”?

Posted by: on Jun 10, 2012 | Comments (0)

New York‘s Vulture blog claims to have found the bridge from the Red Hot Chili Peppers song “Under the Bridge.” Do you imagine it’s in MacArthur Park? Most commenters don’t.

I love a good romp in mystery-solving, but while Mark Haskell Smith seems to have done most of his legwork with Google Maps, on-the-street residents of Los Angeles offer up some other possibilities. Could it be this opening at W. 1st and N. Figueroa? Could it be near W. 2nd and S. Hill? Could it be where Myra crosses Sunset?

Dear Shuteye Unison: Cover These Songs

Dear Shuteye Unison: Cover These Songs

Posted by: on Feb 24, 2012 | Comments (0)

Just got back from the Shuteye Unison show, where the band gave an entirely new veneer to Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” But why stop there? Here are some nominations for Shuteye Unison’s resolute wayback machine.

Sailing“: Originally by Christopher Cross, there’s no reason Shuteye Unison couldn’t crank up the triple delay effect and make it their own.

I Wanna Know What Love Is“: Too majestic, you say? Nothing’s too majestic. Give this Foreigner hit a double drumset solo and a whispered chorus.

Lawyers in Love“: The Jackson Browne track, anchored by a single guitar arpeggio repeating for five minutes straight, over and over.

Magic“: Could be that this AM staple by one-hit-wonder Pilot is too peppy—that’s why Shuteye Unison would transpose it into a minor key and sing it backwards.

Alone Again (Naturally)“: Performed entirely by synthesizer and light show.

Shuteye Unison’s album ‘Our Future Selves‘ is stellar, and does not sound like Gilbert O’Sullivan.

John Prine Explains ‘Bruised Orange’

John Prine Explains ‘Bruised Orange’

Posted by: on Feb 18, 2012 | Comments (0)

He’s one of the great singer-storytellers, and yet I’d never heard John Prine’s personal explanation of “Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)” until coming across this clip from 1980, below. Watch as he drives around his old hometown, describing his job at a church, telling the story of the morning when one of the altar boys was hit by a train and pointing out all of the song’s landmarks:

“Like a long ago Sunday when I walked through… this alley, over here. On a cold winter’s morning.. to that churchhouse. Just to shovel some snow… off that sidewalk. An’ I heard sirens on that train track, over there.”

(The clip is from John Prine Live on Soundstage 1980, from Shout Factory.)

I’ve just spent the last 45 minutes on Google Maps trying to find this very church referenced above, with no luck. Prine grew up in Maywood, Ill., and the main train tracks in town run along S. 25th Ave, with some others along Main Street. Prine calls them the “Northwestern tracks.” Those are the clues. Let’s consider it one of those Andrew Sullivan “View From Your Window” contests—if you can find the church (here’s a starter), let me know.

(UPDATE: CSI pal Jake Bayless has found it! It’s the New Beginnings Christian Church at 205 S. Fifth Ave., in Maywood, about a block away from the tracks. See a Google Street View here. Thanks, Jake!)

Picking a favorite John Prine song is impossible, but when I met John Prine, once, about ten years ago, I was awkward and nervous as I explained to him that “Bruised Orange” had helped me through some very tumultuous times. I think I even quoted some lyrics back to him: “A heart stained in anger grows weak and grows bitter.” Like he needed to hear them. But he was kind, and told me he was glad to have lent a hand.

Naturally, I’m not the only one touched by the song and its story. While writing this post, I’ve discovered that Bon Iver has recorded a version of “Bruised Orange.” It’s reverent and soaring, of course. Hear it here.

 

 

 

 

Five Songs That Fifteen Should Totally Play Tonight

Five Songs That Fifteen Should Totally Play Tonight

Posted by: on Dec 30, 2011 | Comments (1)

Fifteen at the Phoenix Theater, 1993

 

Fifteen plays the Nostalgia Fest at the Phoenix Theater tonight, and according to reports, they’ve been practicing somewhere in the vicinity of 30 songs. That bodes well for fans, but will bode even better if the set list includes the following songs—five great Fifteen anthems that stand the test of time.

1. “Liberation” — If you’re playing a reunion show, it only makes sense to play the first song your band released. “Liberation” opened Fifteen’s self-titled 7” from 1990, and it bridged pretty clearly the gap between Crimpshrine and Fifteen: while the world has gone mad, two people find peace in their love for each other. “Just because these are songs about love and stuff doesn’t mean things don’t trouble me anymore,” Jeff explained in the photocopied lyric booklet. “It only means that I’ve found something infinitely more powerful than all the complaining and all the finger pointing and all the blaming.” This song’s intro also hints at the “tasty licks” on guitar that Jeff would eventually turn into a staple.

2. “Intentions” — When Swain’s First Bike Ride came out, many amateur guitar enthusiasts learned this song wrong, incorrectly playing the intro as chromatically ascending power chords starting on F#. Those who paid close attention learned the maj7/4-1 trick, alternately known as “squishy triangle.” Anyone who heard the song’s sad theme of giving up one’s aspirations to pursue a job in one ear while the choir of career counselors crowded the other was affected: when Jeff sings “It’s been too many years now of having my dreams beaten down,” and then repeats the words “beaten down” eight times, as if to truly beat the point to death, it’s a deeply cathartic sort of despair.

3. “C#(tion)” — Jeff told me once that he and Jack tried to arrange every song on Swain’s First Bike Ride to be perfect palindromes of each other. Listen and you’ll hear it—“Definition” begins and ends with those harmonics; “Inclination” is bookended by that noodling riff. But “C#(tion)” is an exception, with a great extended intro that repeats only as a half-time segue in the middle. This timeless song brings up two memories: 1) Seeing Green Day cover this at Gilman, thus blowing my mind, and 2) singing it with Jeff and Jack around a campfire somewhere in the sticks of Lake County. There was supposed to be a show, but for some reason everyone just killed and ate rattlesnakes instead.

4. “Domination=Destruction” — Fifteen is all but guaranteed to play “Petroleum Distillation” and at least one of the versions of “Separation” from Choice of a New Generation, so there’s no reason to waste any pennies in the fountain on those. The charms of this particular song are twofold: the fact that it initially existed as two separate songs but were combined into one, and then the way Jeff sings a melodic little “Fuck You” at the end, after exhorting “My hands are tied now, I cannot be silent in the face of the man.” You don’t realize how great this song is until it gets to the end, and then you’re like hell yeah. This is from an era when every time I saw Jeff, he wore the same Guns ‘n’ Roses T-shirt and no shoes.

5. “Run II” — After the first two albums, it’s tempting to reflect on Fifteen as the band that told you to ride a fucking bike ride a fucking bike ride a fucking bike, or gave detailed instructions on how to properly clean a hypodermic needle. Extra Medium Kickball Star was funded by the excess budget from the not-as-good Surprise! (a matter hilariously detailed in the song “The Deal”), and has this strange gem, which tells teenagers around the country that they should hitchhike to Berkeley, squat, and eat Food Not Bombs. Advising a life of squalor in a city already oversaturated with punk transplants is an unusual theme for a song, but it works, with a damn fine chorus.

Honorable Mentions: “The End,” played on the piano; “Equalized,” the Jawbreaker cover from Eggplant’s comp ‘Later, That Same Year'; “Mount Shrink Wrap,” which calculates the exact amount of shrink wrap the band is responsible for; and more than anything, probably more than any song on this silly list—“The End of the Summer,” which is just one of the prettiest goddamn love songs ever written.

…About Those Top 25 Albums of 2011

…About Those Top 25 Albums of 2011

Posted by: on Dec 18, 2011 | Comments (2)

1. tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l (4AD)

When I first heard tUnE-yArDs’ w h o k i l l, I was so flabbergasted that I could report my findings only in abstract poetry form. With a ukelele, a drum kit, a fantastic bassist in the form of Nate Brenner and a total command of loop pedals, Merrill Garbus has made a record that’s both daring, accessible, and fully enjoyable. Like Joanna Newsom revolutionized the harp and PJ Harvey rethought the autoharp, Garbus is probably spurring a boost in ukelele sales nationwide; what can’t be packaged is her incredible, malleable voice, which is sweet and cooing one minute and a roar from another world the next. Variety is the spice of w h o k i l l: There are grinding, horn-heavy jams like “Bizness,” and there are slow, beautiful ruminations on love, like “Powa,” with a breathtaking upper-register ending. Thematically, the record takes on a tortured society, from a refutation of modern America to violence, police brutality and empowerment. I saw tUnE-yArDs twice in 2011, and talked to Garbus briefly. (She told me “Santa Rosa isn’t piddly.”) I also played this record over and over and over and over and over and over.

2. Death Grips – Ex-Military (Third Worlds)

The Easy Listeningification of Everything was probably the defining thread of 2011. Last year’s chillwave mellowness permeated not just wispy rock hits from bands like Real Estate, Toro Y Moi and Washed Out, but it snored its way into hip-hop as well. Musically, Drake’s Take Care is just a couple steps away from new age, and Frank Ocean, sprung from the usually abrasive group Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, wowed critics (and Beyoncé) with a smooth, synth-ed out semi-R&B record, Nostalgia, Ultra. This Prozac-esque trend owes in part to three years of Lil’ B, the Oakland rapper from The Pack who released an album this year called I’m Gay, and whose Rain In England LP, heavy on rhythmless synthesizers, was released by the experimental noise label Weird Forest. (Going further back, one could tip the hat to Jay Electronica, who in 2007 released “Act I: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge),” a 9-minute track of rapping, with no drums at all, over the incidental score from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.)

All this lead-up is to say that I got tired of hearing rap music that wasn’t fucking rap music in 2011, and Death Grips’ Ex-Military was the perfect antidote to the annoying trend of blissed-out navelgazing in hip-hop. Led by the maniacal MC Ride and powered by Hella drummer Zach Hill, the album is one ferocious eruption of angry ideas after another, shouted recklessly over samples from the likes of Jane’s Addiction and Link Wray. The group’s videos are skittish, diseased and terrifying. Hip-hop in 2011 mostly said, “I’m cool, thanks.” Ex-Military said fuck you.

3. EMA – Past Life Modern Saints (Souterrain Transmissions)

Another pitfall of music in 2011 was dull oversharing. Menial details of one’s life do not a deep statement make, but plenty of artists (and Facebook users) thought otherwise. EMA’s Past Life Martyred Saints is an album by Erika M. Anderson, who realizes life is not poetry unless you make of it something different and eloquent. You might not think as much from an album that opens with the lines “When you see that ship / It is the ship you can see,” but hang in there, I promise. “I wish that every time he touched me left a mark,” Anderson repeats on “Marked,” sounding like an Exile in Guyville Liz Phair; “20 kisses with a butterfly knife” reads like a cast-off lyric from Tom Waits’ Blue Valentine. There’s blood, jealousy, disappointment and revenge, especially in the fantastic semi-spoken “California,” a masterful hypotenuse between Patti Smith and PJ Harvey. Live in San Francisco, EMA was all sorts of likable awkwardness—if you’re into real human beings trying to be real human beings in front of a crowd of strangers, against the odds, she is fantastic. If you are not, you will probably say it feels like a therapy session.

4. Jamie XX – We’re New Here [Instrumentals] (XL)

I remained apathetic to the universally loved 2010 debut album by The XX (except that beautiful intro!), and this year did not jump out of my seat for a Gil-Scott Heron remix record by Jamie XX, We’re New Here. Intermittent “old soul” voice samples in electronic music = kind of 1999, but in the limited-edition box set released for Record Store Day, there was a separate disc of the instrumentals. I played them, and played them, and played them. Each time, the sonorous bass kicking in during “I’m New Here” was like a drip of morphine; the insistent wiggle and menacing handclap of “Running” always put me in an imaginary heist movie. This BBC Essential Mix on Soundcloud gives you an idea of the thoughts running through Jamie XX’s brain; download and escape.

5. Givers – In Light (Glassnote)

When making these lists, I have to consider records that just plain make me happy. Sometimes those records shoot to the top of the list, like in 2007, with the Cribs’ Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever. This year the “always makes me happy” award goes to Givers’ In Light. Critics may have pointed out that it sounds a lot like a Vampire Weekend / Dirty Projectors hybrid, but there is an effervescence to this record that I cannot deny. I mean, the first song is called “Up Up Up”! If I were to pick a perfect single of the year, “Saw You First” would be a contender—just a sweet-sailing, high-kicking love song that hits all the right notes. Really, listen to it. There are mega-epic “rock moments” all over the record, the songs are a senior thesis in perfect arrangement, and goddamn if Tiffany Lamson and Taylor Guarisco’s voices aren’t a lovely blend.

6. The Weeknd – House of Balloons (Self-Released)

I’ve tried in the past to contain these lists to legit physical releases, but with more and more artists self-releasing via free download, I wave the white flag—five titles on my 2011 list began life as free online offerings. The Weeknd’s House of Balloons was posted online in the early part of the year, and it might win the award for broadest appeal. The Weeknd is Abel Tesfaye, an Ethiopian-Canadian R&B singer who bathes in dramatic lust; if you’ve ever wondered what might happen if The-Dream loved Siouxsie and the Banshees, here’s your answer. More about mood than songwriting, House of Balloons is a successful straddle between indie, R&B and pop, and its intrigue and atmosphere transfer a regular late night into something gripping and sexual; a regular morning into something laden with regret and haze.

7. Clams Casino – Instrumentals (Type)

“Lil’ B songs are better without Lil’ B,” a friend told me recently, and such subtraction leaves Clams Casino’s Instrumentals. Casino is from Jersey, makes beats that fit in to the 2011 aesthetic of laze, and has worked with A$AP Rocky and Mac Miller and maybe Drake but he’s not saying. He always sounds better on his own, and Instrumentals—originally a download, eventually released on 2LP by Type Records—skirts into an astral plane and deserves attention without clamoring for it. Seek it out if you can; he’s definitely on the rise.

8. Odd Bird – Smith (PCL)

Some albums don’t hit at first pass; you have to turn them inside out. In the case of Odd Bird’s Smith, I took the literal interpretation of this idea. First, I bent the gatefold LP backward and inside-out so that this excellent photo by Sara Sanger would be the “front” cover. Then, I began playing it starting on Side C instead of Side A. Both adjustments turned a decent local release into a year-end winner. Taut tunes, animal imagery, harmonies between Ashley Allred and Judah Nagler that are in the clouds, plenty of guest musicians, and songs that pay rent in your head.

9. Kreng – Grimoire (Miasmah)

Remember all that complaining about synthesizers, a lack of drums, and langour infecting all genres? An irony to The Easy Listeningification of Everything in 2011 is that much of it is imported from the so-called “noise” scene. (See: Oneohtrix Point Never.) I admit that I overdosed on noise in 2010, and try as I did to escape the genre’s clutches in 2011, certain artists grabbed me and would not let go. Kreng’s Grimoire is an Angelo Badalamenti soundtrack updated for the 21st century—it lulls, then slashes, and slashes hard. Aside from Bernard Herrmann’s music for Obsession, I have never been so downright terrified listening to a record . Here’s a Soundcloud; good luck making it out unscathed.

10. Amon Tobin – Isam (Ninja Tune)

There was a streak there where I was waiting for Amon Tobin to make a substandard album. It came with The Foley Room, an experiment in field recording and sound manipulation that fell flat. But with Amon Tobin’s Isam, the Brazilian-born DJ makes a pummeling, bombastic case for longevity. (Back in 1997, who would have predicted that Ninja Tune’s boy upstart would one day overtake DJ Shadow?) Everything Tobin does is interesting, but Isam is cohesive, and ranks up there with Supermodified and Out From Out Where.

11. That Ghost – Songs Out Here (TwoSyllable)

That Ghost’s Songs Out Here is a surprise favorite of mine recorded by a kid named Ryan Schmale from Santa Rosa, whom I have never met. Lo-fi and echoey, part Roy Orbison and part Shirelles, antiquated and warehoused. I keep pulling it out and putting it on, and finding new things to love.

12. Hudson Mohawke – The Pleasure Principle (Warp)

Though he released a “real” EP this year on Warp, Hudson Mohawke’s The Pleasure Principle is a fucking dance jam, with exuberant club-worthy remixes of Janet Jackson, Keri Hilson, Jodeci, Aaliyah and Gucci Mane. I want to hand it to a DJ at Rock ‘n’ Roll Sunday School and see what happens.

13. Grouper – Alien Observer / Dream Loss (Yellow Electric)

For those looking to kill the lights and imagine Lars von Trier’s Melancholia in real life, Grouper’s Alien Observer / Dream Loss is a two-separate-album release; a vision in reverb and lost emotion. For someone whose art can be very detailed and knotty, Liz Harris’ music is linear and soaring; I cannot help loving this.

14. Beyoncé – 4 (C0lumbia/Sony)

The video of the year, in my opinion, was this Jay-Z-filmed backstage iPhone clip of Beyoncé warming up in her dressing room by singing “1+1″ with sparse accompaniment. Though I didn’t dig the album at first (singles “Love on Top” and “Countdown” are not the best representatives of this effort), Beyoncé’s 4 won me over with its unapologetic bliss. Get happily married, y’all, and then play this album, and then tell me what you think of it.

15. Tom Waits – Bad as Me (Anti-)

Another album I initially dismissed was Tom Waits’ Bad as Me, largely because it breaks absolutely no new stylistic ground. I kept coming back to it, though, and more than a disappointing retread from someone who should have more vision, it’s a touching album. The incessant banjo on “Raised Right Men” matches any tense gait, and the last song “New Year’s Eve” should be played at every New Year’s Eve party.

16. Terius Nash – 1977 (Self-Released)

Terius Nash’s 1977, well, what can I say? Yes, I love The-Dream (a.k.a. Nash) up to a point (that point would be Love King, blecch), and this free download brought back some of what I love. “Used to Be” is everything all those other cold-fish rapper-singers who complain about their love lives wish they could attain, a village idiot with a huge, complicated heart.

17. Pete Swanson – Man With Potential (Type)

A holdover obsession from 2010, Pete Swanson’s Man With Potential grabbed my ears for expanding beyond Swanson’s noise parameters and into a bizarre type of… house, or something? Imagine Manchester’s Factory with an insistent short-circuit; fans of Eno, Vangelis and Kraftwerk might do good to watch this clip.

18. Liturgy – Aesthetica (Thrill Jockey)

Many years ago a band from the East Bay called Asbestos Death morphed into a band called Sleep, whose Dopesmoker ushered in a new wave of slow, plodding stoner metal. (Kyuss helped on a mainstream level, then turned in to Queens of the Stone Age.) For a time, stoner metal was everywhere, and Sunn o))) did it best, and then… oversaturation. Liturgy’s Aesthetica brings that beat back in amphetamine explosions of rapid-fire time signatures and eruptive, howling vocals. It’s fast, it’s furious, it kicks ass.

19. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy (4AD)

I avoided St. Vincent’s Strange Mercy (fashion spreads turn me off) but then saw a clip on the late-night, and dove in. There is no easy categorization for the music here, and Annie Clark seems to avoid it even further by piling up pedal effects on her guitar playing. If the last time you heard her she was covering Jackson Browne (or as the kids say, The Royal Tennenbaums), then it’s time to call again.

20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25…

I love Greg Brown’s Freak Flag because his voice is lower and raspier than ever. . . Crooked Fingers’ Breaks in the Armor has “Heavy Hours” and “Went to the City,” two goddamn incredible songs. . . Do feel free to be freaked out by the cover photo of Chelsea Wolfe’s Ἀποκάλυψις, and make sure to save some extra freakedoutedness for the music. . . I desperately want Concord Jazz to take good care of the entire OJC catalog they recently acquired—seminal jazz titles on Riverside, Prestige and more by Miles, Coltrane, Monk, Rollins, Evans—but their track record of honoring what we loosely call “real jazz” is not promising. Releasing Stefon Harris/David Sanchez/Christian Scott’s Ninety Miles is a step in the right direction. . . I loved James Blake’s James Blake for two weeks, then hated it, then saw him and loved it, then hated it again, and now it’s just there. . . and from the fantastic vocalist, Gretchen Parlato’s The Lost and Found is a collection of soothing, nuanced songs by Wayne Shorter, Bill Evans, Lauryn Hill and others, with contributions from Robert Glasper, Ambrose Akinsumire and Taylor Eigsti. And girl, she gots Skrillex hair.

Original list of the Top 25 Albums of 2011 is here.

 

Top 25 Albums of 2011

Top 25 Albums of 2011

Posted by: on Dec 14, 2011 | Comments (3)

1. tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l (4AD)

2. Death Grips – Ex-Military (Third Worlds)

3. EMA – Past Life Modern Saints (Souterrain Transmissions)

4. Jamie XX – We’re New Here [Instrumentals] (XL)

5. Givers – In Light (Glassnote)

6. The Weeknd – House of Balloons (Self-Released)

7. Clams Casino – Instrumentals (Type)

8. Odd Bird – Smith (PCL)

9. Kreng – Grimoire (Miasmah)

10. Amon Tobin – Isam (Ninja Tune)

11. That Ghost – Songs Out Here (TwoSyllable)

12. Hudson Mohawke – The Pleasure Principle (Warp)

13. Grouper – Alien Observer / Dream Loss (Yellow Electric)

14. Beyoncé – 4 (C0lumbia/Sony)

15. Tom Waits – Bad as Me (Anti-)

16. Terius Nash – 1977 (Self-Released)

17. Pete Swanson – Man With Potential (Type)

18. Liturgy – Aesthetica (Thrill Jockey)

19. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy (4AD)

20. Greg Brown – Freak Flag (Yep Roc)

21. Crooked Fingers – Breaks in the Armor (Merge)

22. Chelsea WolfeἈποκάλυψις (Pendu Sound)

23. Stefon Harris/David Sanchez/Christian Scott – Ninety Miles (Concord)

24. James Blake – S/T (Atlas/Universal)

25. Gretchen Parlato – The Lost and Found (Obliqsound)

There is much discussion about all of these titles over here.

Sonoma Jazz+: Goodbye, Fake Jazz Festival

Sonoma Jazz+: Goodbye, Fake Jazz Festival

Posted by: on Sep 21, 2011 | Comments (4)

Today it was announced that after seven years, the Sonoma Jazz Festival is pulling the plug. As a jazz fan, I have no immediate reaction to the news other than this: good riddance.

I would have had no real problem with the Sonoma Jazz Festival if the organizers had simply dropped the word “jazz” from its name. But they refused to do so. Instead, the Sonoma Jazz Festival siphoned shamelessly from the cultural cachet of the word “jazz,” presented wheezing baby-boomer classic rock acts and swirled it all down with Cabernet and a promise of doing good for the local economy and school music programs.

Yes, they donated money to local schools. But in booking the festival, they rarely honored their own mission statement to “present and preserve jazz.” Their headliners included Sheryl Crow, John Fogerty, Steve Winwood, Crosby Stills & Nash, Boz Scaggs, Steve Miller, LeAnn Rimes, Michael McDonald, Bonnie Raitt, Gipsy Kings, Chris Isaak, Joe Cocker and Kool & the Gang.

Nobody but an idiot or an asshole would ever call these acts jazz. It’d be like a “Sonoma Hip-Hop Festival” with the Barenaked Ladies, Limp Bizkit and Jack Johnson. Or a “Sonoma Farm-to-Table Festival” with In-n-Out Burger and Taco Bell. A “Sonoma Film Festival” that screened reality TV shows.

By continuing to call their festival a jazz festival, the Colorado-based organizers insulted the art form of jazz and, by association, embarrassed Sonoma County. It only got worse with the piddly concession of adding a “+” to the name. More then a few local jazz musicians I know joked that the festival was “Sonoma Jazz Minus,” except they weren’t really jokes. Jokes are supposed to be funny.

This is not to denigrate the worthy efforts of many locals who worked hard to make the festival what it was, some of whom actively pushed to get the name changed. And I would be remiss not to mention the few jazz and jazz-related acts that played the big tent in the “Field of Dreams”—Herbie Hancock, Harry Connick Jr., Diana Krall, and openers like Julian Lage and Hiromi come to mind.

But they all seemed like aberrant curiosities in Sonoma, politely endured instead of appreciated. In 2008, after Herbie Hancock opened his set with the Blue Note jazz classic “Cantaloupe Island,” an exodus of half-tipsy middle-aged wine country dilettantes who’d been trained that Michael McDonald is “jazz” filled the aisles and headed to their SUVs.

My very first experience in the cavernous, 3,000-seat tent also comes to mind—plunking down $110 for seats far away from the stage for Tony Bennett—and how it was marred by a well-heeled woman behind me blathering loudly on her phone, too bored to go through the motions of paying attention to one of America’s greatest song stylists. She eventually stumbled off into the wine lounge and never came back. Looks like the Sonoma Jazz Festival is following suit.