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Top 20 Jazz Discoveries of 2009

Posted by: Gabe Meline on Dec 31, 2009 | Comments (2)


Larry Young – Contrasts
One of those breathtaking releases from the purgatory between soul jazz and free fusion in 1967. Young wears a paisley shirt on the cover; the entire band’s astrological signs are proffered in the liner notes. Makes the jazz organ a punk rock instrument. This burns hard.

 


Sunny Murray – Hommage to Africa
I loved the Big Chief reissue this year, and his appearance at Yoshi’s was utterly memorable—if not fully illuminating of his vast talent. The A-side is 18 perfect minutes of rich African roots-jazz with Alan Silva, Lester Bowie, Archie Shepp and Roscoe Mitchell.

 


Booker Ervin – The Blues Book
Somehow years of listening to Mingus left me without discovering Ervin’s own records. Everything good about “Live at Antibes” is compacted into this wonderful outing, a post-bop masterpiece. Must find the others in the “Book” series.

 


Raccoo-oo-oon – S/T
Often thrown in the noise camp, this Iowa City collective played a house party in Santa Rosa a couple years ago, all blaring clarinets and saxophones along with a tape recorder. Finally picked up this LP and Behold Secret Kingdom, and they’re both on another plane.

 


Johnny Mathis – Open Fire, Two Guitars
Yeah, I know. Is it jazz? Since interviewing Johnny Mathis earlier this year, his records have occupied a lot of time on the turntable. I would be a purist and pick his first LP, with Milt Jackson and Connie Kay. But this one sets a mood that’s sublime and irresistible.

 


Dewey Redman – Coincide
I fell in love with Tarik, but then found this one, which is the entire versatile range of jazz on one record, almost. Imagine being Joshua Redman and growing up around this huge variety of influence. A life of study and wisdom in seven parts.

 


Jaga Jazzist – The Stix
Electronics in jazz has until recently been mostly confined to Eddie Harris’ electric saxophone and the occasional pedal effect. What about a meeting of electronic(a) and free-form playing? The Bad Plus is nice, but this feels more like the actual future of jazz.

 


Gil Melle – Tome VI
Which reminds me: this strange little record, billed as “the first album of electronic jazz,” was an early experiment to mesh jazz and electronic instruments with names like the “Electar” and the “Doomsday Machine.” Results sometimes scary. Worth picking up.

 


Lucy Ann Polk – With the Dave Pell Octet
Lucky Lucy Ann on Mode is still her best, but I was fortunate enough to find this 10″, a session of mostly standards arranged in part by Shorty Rogers. Is there any sound more breezy than Polk’s voice? An exhaustive biography of Polk has been thanklessly compiled here, if you’re interested.

 


Jerri Adams – It’s Cool Inside
Just a nice, smoky album from this “tall, dark and comely” singer from Cincinnati. She would be 79 by now. Frankie Laine discovered her and signed her to Columbia, but she’s got a voice that’s the opposite of his excited yip, thank heavens.

 


Squarepusher – Music is Rotted One Note
Unlike anything else in the Squarepusher catalog. Basically a meticulous tribute to fusion-era Miles. It works, if imitatively.

 


The Tony Williams Lifetime – Emergency!
When this got reissued on CD, there was a note from the engineer that said, in essence, “Don’t blame me – they requested this album to be recorded so it sounded like shit.” It’s in the red, beginning to end. With John McLaughlin and the aforementioned Larry Young.

 


Solidarity Unit, Inc. – Red, Black and Green
St. Louis in 1970. Oliver Lake and crew. Recorded on the day that Jimi Hendrix died. Nice and messy in a lo-fi way.

 


Shirati Luo Voice Jazz Band – Kenyafrica!
Longer, deeper and more meditative than most highlife stuff. I think about what band practices must have been like. Vocal arrangements by serendipity and chance. I’d love to personally hand-craft a trophy for the bass player.

 


Jeri Southern – Southern Breeze
Marty Paich was just so wonderful as an arranger, especially for female singers. This record is like vocal morphine for California beach parties. That languid, relaxed sound for after you’ve listened to the Tony Williams album too many times.

 


Reflections in the Sea of Nurnene – S/T
I have no idea who this is, except it’s on Tribe, it was recorded in San Francisco the year I was born and it belongs to another world.

 


Bill Evans – Quintessence
Interplay gets a lot of credit for presenting Evans in a larger-then-trio setting, but this album, with Kenny Burrell and Harold Land on guitar and sax, respectively, is just plain better. Ray Brown and Everybody Digs Philly Joe Jones hold down the rhythm. Really excellent stuff from 1977.

 


Khan Jamal Creative Arts Ensemble – Drum Dance to the Motherland
Philadelphia in 1972. Dogtown. Songs titles like “Cosmic Echoes,” “Breath of Life,” and “Inner Peace.” Self-released, of course. Further proof that free-jazz guys in Philly were the progenitors to ’80s DIY indie labels.

 


Joe Henderson – Power to the People
I used to talk mad shit about 1970s jazz, but looking down this list so far, I guess I’m getting into it. I’ve always said that one of the greatest things about being alive is the ability to change one’s mind.

 


Carmell Jones – The Remarkable
A trumpet player from Kansas City who shines here with Harold Land and Gary Peacock. He made another album later on with Gerald Wilson that’s about as good a trumpet/big-band record can be. He disappeared, it seems.

The Top Albums of the Decade, 2000-2009

Posted by: Gabe Meline on Dec 15, 2009 | Comments (6)

While other music writers sharpen their prejudices and draw up hindsight-assisted “Albums that Defined the Decade” features, I think it’d be more honest to revisit my genuine annual top album rankings from all ten years of The Aughts. Yes, these are the actual year-end-best lists that I composed from 2000-2009, recovered with no small amount of tenacity from old hard drives, pieces of paper stuffed in boxes, CD-Rs, the backs of posters, photocopied record store gift guides, and email newsletters.

If anything, these records deserve far more company. (D’Angelo and Lucinda Williams would be obvious places to start.) Lists can often work like shackles, but I see them instead as springboards of discovery. Jeez, I’m still discovering more favorite albums of the 1950s! And if you’re a listener that’s at all passionate, then you probably are as well. This decade might be over, but it’s by no means completely wrapped up. Anyone insinuating otherwise is selling you something.

Anyway, without further ado—here’s what I was loving over the last ten years.

2000

1. Built to Spill – Live (Warner Bros.)
2. Steve Earle – Transcendental Blues (E-Squared / Artemis)
3. Jurassic 5 – Quality Control (Interscope)
4. Modest Mouse – The Moon and Antarctica (Epic)
5. Radiohead – Kid A (Capitol)
6. Kid Koala – Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (Ninja Tune)
7. Jets to Brazil – Four Cornered Night (Jade Tree)
8. James Carter – Chasin’ the Gypsy (Atlantic)
9. Bjork – Selmasongs (One Little Indian)
10. Blackalicious – Nia (Quannum)
11. Johnny Cash – American III: Solitary Man (American)
12. Belle and Sebastian – Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant (Jeepster)
13. V/A – Xen Cuts: 10 Years of Ninja Tune Records (Ninja Tune)
14. Godspeed You Black Emperor – Raise Your Skinny Fists Like Antennae to Heaven (Constellation)
15. People Under the Stairs – Question in the Form of an Answer (Om)
16. Deltron – Deltron 3030 (75Ark)
17. The Clash – Live: From Here to Eternity (Epic)
18. V/A – Solesides’ Greatest Bumps (Quannum)
19. Beck – Midnite Vultures (Geffen)
20. V/A – Freight Train Boogie (Jackalope)

2001

1. Gillian Welch – Time (The Revelator) (Acony)
2. Cursive – Burst and Bloom (Saddle Creek)
3. Bob Dylan – Love and Theft (Columbia)
4. The Velvet Teen – The Great Beast February (Self-Released)
5. Atmosphere – Lucy Ford (Rhymesayers)
6. McCoy Tyner – Plays John Coltrane (Verve)
7. The Now Time Delegation – Watch for Today (In the Red)
8. Radiohead – Amnesiac (Capitol)
9. The Strokes – Is This It (RCA)
10. Aesop Rock – Labor Days (Def Jux)
11. The Jealous Sound – EP (Better Looking)
12. Greg Brown – Over and Under (Trailer Park)
13. Life in Braille – New York City Ending (Underground Sounds of America)
14. David Axelrod – S/T (Mo Wax)
15. DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist – Product Placement (One29)
16. Fred Eaglesmith – Ralph’s Last Show (Signature Sounds)
17. Buddy Guy – Sweet Tea (Silvertone)
18. Poets of Rhythm – Discern / Define (Quannum)
19. Robert Earl Keen – Gravitational Forces (Lost Highway)
20. V/A – Darker Than Blue: Soul From Jamdown (Blood and Fire)

2002

1. The Velvet Teen – Out of the Fierce Parade (Slowdance)
2. Jets to Brazil – Perfecting Loneliness (Jade Tree)
3. Desaparecidos – Read Music, Speak Spanish (Saddle Creek)
4. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Nonesuch)
5. DJ Shadow – The Private Press (MCA)
6. Tom Waits – Alice (Anti-)
7. Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Warner Bros.)
8. RJD2 – Deadringer (Rhymesayers)
9. Elvis Costello – When I Was Cruel (Island)
10. Jurassic 5 – Strength in Numbers (Interscope)
11. Chuck Prophet – No Other Love (New West)
12. Solomon Burke – Don’t Give Up On Me (Anti-)
13. Bob Dylan – Live 1975: Rolling Thunder Revue (Columbia)
14. Los Lobos – Good Morning Aztlán (Mammoth)
15. V/A – La Musica Della Mafia: Il Canto di Malavita (Play it Again Sam)
16. Converge – Jane Doe (Equal Vision)
17. Beck – Sea Change (Geffen)
18. D-Styles – Phantazmagorea (Tableturns)
19. Bright Eyes – Lifted (Saddle Creek)
20. V/A – Cuisine Non-Stop (Luaka Bop)

2003

1. Crooked Fingers – Red Devil Dawn (Merge)
2. Mountain Goats – Tallahassee (4AD)
3. Gillian Welch – Soul Journey (Acony)
4. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever to Tell (Interscope)
5. Ugly Duckling – Taste the Secret (Emperor Norton)
6. Stark Reality – Now (Stones Throw)
7. Against Me – As the Eternal Cowboy (Fat Wreck)
8. Carla Bozulich – Red Headed Stranger (Dicristina Stair Builders)
9. Broken Social Scene – You Forgot It in People (Arts & Crafts)
10. Detroit Cobras – Life, Love & Leaving (Sympathy)
11. Joe Strummer – Streetcore (Hellcat)
12. The Rapture – Echoes (DFA / Universal)
13. Soul Position – 8 Million Stories (Rhymesayers)
14. The New Trust – We Are Fast Moving Motherfuckers (Slowdance)
15. John Fahey – Red Cross (Revenant)
16. Shesus – Loves You… Loves You Not (Narnack)
17. Lyrics Born – Later That Day (Quannum)
18. D.D. Jackson – Suite for New York (Justin Time)
19. Ashtray – S/T (Self-Released)
20. V/A – Miami Sound (Soul Jazz)

2004

1. MF Doom & Madlib – Madvillian (Stones Throw)
2. The Velvet Teen – Elysium (Slowdance)
3. Nellie McKay – Get Away From Me (Sony)
4. Jolie Holland – Escondida (Anti-)
5. The Walkmen – Bows & Arrows (Record Collection)
6. Bjork – Medulla (One Little Indian)
7. Mastodon – Leviathan (Relapse)
8. Arcade Fire – Funeral (Merge)
9. RJD2 – Since We Last Spoke (Rhymesayers)
10. Green Day – American Idiot (Reprise)
11. Elliott Smith – From a Basement on a Hill (Anti-)
12. The Go! Team – Thunder Lightning Strike (Memphis Industries)
13. The Rum Diary – Poisons That Save Lives (Springman)
14. Usher – Confessions (LaFace / Arista)
15. Modest Mouse – Good News For People Who Like Bad News (Epic)
16. Haiku D’Etat – Coup de Theatre (Project Blowed)
17. Joanna Newsom – The Milk-Eyed Mender (Drag City)
18. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Abbatoir Blues / Lyre of Orpheus (Anti-)
19. Immortal Technique – Revolutionary Vol. 2 (Viper)
20. Howard Wiley – TwentyFirstCenturyNegro (Self-Released)

2005

1. M.I.A. – Arular (XL)
2. Edan – Beauty and the Beat (Lewis)
3. Black Mountain – Black Mountain (Jagjaguwar)
4. Common – Be (G.O.O.D. / Geffen)
5. Robert Earl Keen – What I Really Mean (Koch)
6. Sharon Jones – Naturally (Daptone)
7. Sonny Rollins – Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert (Milestone)
8. The Boredoms – Seadrum / House of Sun (Vice)
9. Four Tet – Everything Ecstatic (Domino)
10. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (Self-Released)

2006

1. Camille – Le Fil (Virgin)
2. My Morning Jacket – Okonokos (ATO)
3. Gotan Project – Lunatico (XL)
4. Ornette Coleman – Sound Grammar (Sound Grammar)
5. Tom Waits – Orphans (Anti-)
6. People Under The Stairs – Stepfather (PUTS)
7. Kris Kristofferson – This Old Road (New West)
8. The Slackers – Peculiar (Hellcat)
9. Mastodon – Blood Mountain (Reprise)
10. CSS – Cansei De Ser Sexy (Sub Pop)

2007

1. The Cribs – Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever (Warner Bros.)
2. M. Ward – Post-War (Merge)
3. !!! – Myth Takes (Warp)
4. M.I.A. – Kala (XL)
5. The New Trust – Dark Is The Path Which Lies Before Us (Slowdance)
6. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible (Merge)
7. Jesu – Lifeline (Hydra Head)
8. David Murray – Sacred Ground (Justin Time)
9. Bassnectar – Underground Communication (Om)
10. Menomena – Friend and Foe (Barsuk)

2008

1. Q-Tip – The Renaissance (Universal Motown)
2. Of Montreal – Skeletal Lamping (Polyvinyl)
3. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend (XL)
4. Grip Grand – Brokelore (Look)
5. K’naan – The Dusty Foot Philosopher (Interdependent)
6. Headlights – Some Racing, Some Stopping (Polyvinyl)
7. The Roots – Rising Down (Def Jam)
8. Jackson Conti – Sujinho (Mochilla)
9. Peter Brotzmann & Han Bennink – In Amherst (BRO)
10. Cassandra Wilson – Loverly (Blue Note)
11. Esau Mwamwaya & Radioclit – Are the Very Best (Ghettopop)
12. The New Trust – Get Vulnerable (TNT)
13. People Under The Stairs – Fun DMC (Gold Dust)
14. Portishead – Third (Island)
15. Okkervil River – The Stand-Ins (Jagjaguwar)
16. Titus Andronicus – The Airing of Grievances (Troubleman Unlimited)
17. Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part One: 4th World War (Universal Motown)
18. Loma Prieta – Last City (Discos Huelgas)
19. Zomo – Best Of (Self-Released)
20. Jolie Holland – The Living and the Dead (Anti-)

2009

1. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca (Domino)
2. The-Dream – Love vs. Money (Def Jam)
3. K’naan – Troubadour (A&M / Octone)
4. Nellie McKay – Normal as Blueberry Pie (Verve)
5. Thorns of Life – Live at 924 Gilman (Torrent)
6. Sunn o))) – Monoliths and Dimensions (Southern Lord)
7. Tyondai Braxton – Central Market (Warp)
8. Nomo – Invisible Cities (Ubiquity)
9. P.O.S. – Never Better (Rhymesayers)
10. Litany for the Whale – Dolores (Molsook / PMM)
11. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest (Warp)
12. Superchunk – Crossed Wires (Merge)
13. Not to Reason Why – Would You Hug Fire? (Pandacide / 1912)
14. Vijay Iyer Trio – Historicity (ACT)
15. Passion Pit – Manners (Frenchkiss / Columbia)
16. Adam Theis & the Jazz Mafia – Brass, Bows & Beats (Jazz Mafia)
17. Souls of Mischief – Montezuma’s Revenge (Heiro)
18. The Full Blast – Black Hole (Atavistic)
19. Finale – T.I.M.E. (River City)
20. Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown (Reprise)

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(See more year-end lists from 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.)

Live Review: Lady Gaga at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Francisco

Posted by: Gabe Meline on Dec 14, 2009 | Comments (4)

“Well, San Francisco,” cooed Lady Gaga, wearing one of dozens of bazonkers outfits eclipsed in ridiculousness only by the feathers, leotards, Mickey ears, sequined chokers and ill-fitting hot pants donned by her audience, “this is our first date together, which means I can suck your cock and still feel okay.”

So yeah, let us hail the emergence of a new pop star and all that. Lady Gaga sang, danced and swore her way into the shamelessly superficial affections of San Francisco for nearly two hours tonight, asserting her perfectionist dedication to fame, fashion, sex appeal and music. In that order. She also loves to say “fuck.” She may love to say “fuck” more than making music. Crass, vulgar, loves it. Selections from the Gaga patter book:

“I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I have a pretty tremendous dick.”

“Let me see your fucking teeth! I am not a dentist! I’m a free bitch!”

“Do you like my show so far? If you don’t, I don’t care, ’cause you can fucking leave!”

“Do you want to fuck me? Come on, San Francisco!”

Adding up the costume changes, set changes, stories about her fans and her pushy record label and her days living in a studio apartment plus legs legs legs dance dance dance skinny skinny skinny epic chorus part dance breakdown red bikini flip hair #1 song in the country scream scream gay gay gay keytar fame fame aliens tinkerbell i love you i love you i love you i love you hundreds of counterfeit tickets outside dance dance dance fuck off dance rah-rah ah-ah-ah-ah skinny skinny fame crawl crawl shake shake singy singy sing song, Lady Gaga is decidedly here to stay. Despite sometimes not making very much sense when talking to a crowd.

“Some of you may not know where to fit in in the world, but know that you always have a place with me. When you are lonely, I’ll be lonely too. And that is THE FAME!!” Huh?

“The way my fans work their cameras, it’s like kings writing the histories of their kingdoms.” Huh?

But fuck it, she was genuinely appreciative of her fans—she thanked them, like, 30 times, I swear—and put on A PARTY-BLIZZARD OF A SHOW. Entire auditorium letting hella loose for “Just Dance,” “Paparazzi,” “Poker Face,” “Shameless,” and big cluster-love we are one closer “Bad Romance.” (It helped that her warm-up music was 35 minutes of MJ, which killed it more than opener Kid Cudi.) Everything on point, choreographed or improved with such fluidity so as to look choreographed, real live actual singing, backup dancers great, huge spectacle. “How to Give Fans Their Money’s Worth,” by Lady Gaga, coming soon from Da Capo Press.

Gaga makes a big deal of being “from the underground” and doing things her own way, and it’s true—no major label is going to call a meeting to say, “You know, you’ve got the sound, the look, the moves, but what you really need is a video screen of a waifish girl throwing up all over you. Maybe you should also put the barrel of a machine gun in your mouth when you’re at the piano and tell your audience to fuck themselves.” That’s all her.

But what Gaga has is a fulfillment of dual needs; one for that uncensored down-to-earthness and another for something that we kinda forget in all this dancing on the grave of the record industry that we’ve been doing.  We need pop stars, no matter how obvious the myth. “The thing I hate more than anything is the truth,” bespoke Gaga at one point tonight, “I can’t stand the truth—in fact, I prefer a giant dose of bullshit.”

Fuck if Lady Gaga doesn’t have the whole illusion down.

Top 20 Albums of 2009

Posted by: Gabe Meline on Dec 9, 2009 | Comments (1)

1. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca (Domino)

2. The-Dream – Love vs. Money (Def Jam)

3. K’naan – Troubadour (A&M / Octone)

4. Nellie McKay – Normal as Blueberry Pie (Verve)

5. Thorns of Life – Live at 924 Gilman (Torrent)

6. Sunn o))) – Monoliths and Dimensions (Southern Lord)

7. Tyondai Braxton – Central Market (Warp)

8. Nomo – Invisible Cities (Ubiquity)

9. P.O.S. – Never Better (Rhymesayers)

10. Litany for the Whale – Dolores (Molsook / PMM)

11. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest (Warp)

12. Superchunk – Crossed Wires (Merge)

13. Not to Reason Why – Would You Hug Fire? (Pandacide / 1912)

14. Vijay Iyer Trio – Historicity (ACT)

15. Passion Pit – Manners (Frenchkiss / Columbia)

16. Adam Theis & the Jazz Mafia – Brass, Bows & Beats (Jazz Mafia)

17. Souls of Mischief – Montezuma’s Revenge (Heiro)

18. The Full Blast – Black Hole (Atavistic)

19. Finale – T.I.M.E. (River City)

20. Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown (Reprise)

Live Review: Ornette Coleman at Davies Symphony Hall

Posted by: Gabe Meline on Nov 9, 2009 | Comments (0)

Ornette Coleman, a slow, frail-looking figure at age 79, shuffled onto the Davies Symphony Hall stage last night. Slowly making his way to the bandstand, he bowed, remarked that it was good to be able to get to know the audience, and picked up his alto saxophone. He and his band began to play.

Suddenly, Ornette Coleman wasn’t 79 anymore. He was 24, or 34, or any particular age in between. His saxophone came to life with his unmistakable butcher-paper tone, a singular voice in jazz that is ageless. During the next five minutes, he picked up and played a flugelhorn, then a violin. His band rumbled forth until the line between improvisation and composition blurred, and the whole propulsion came to a quick, sharp stop.

It was, in a word, miraculous.

While many jazz legends age ungracefully and move into smooth-jazz territory, Coleman through thick and thin has continued to follow his own path, a journey that is at the heart of jazz itself. In recent years, this journey has brought him to the Pulitzer committee and, in one of the funniest television moments of the last few years, the Grammy Awards. He has also time and again returned to the SFJAZZ festival, who presented last night’s concert. But he hasn’t rested on his laurels, playing at Davies from a chartbook full of new compositions and old classics with a stellar band featuring son Denardo on drums, Anthony Falanga on upright bass and Al McDowell on five-string electric bass.

In a mostly adventurous, tight set, there were admittedly moments when the men on stage weren’t entirely together. “Blues Connotation,” the opening track from This Is Our Music, was the first sign that age might be catching up with Coleman—he layed out for the lightning-fast head, and when it came around again as the outro, he struggled to keep up.

But any minor diminishments were more than overshadowed by the stellar, unpredictable vision of Coleman’s music. MacDowell provided swirling counterpoint to Coleman’s playing, like a spider doing the Charleston, while Denardo, playing more rock beats than usual, maintained a strange sense of control. Falanga, an excellent bassist, brought the house down by bowing Bach’s Prelude to Cello Suite No. 1, more than capably handling the iconic theme arranged for jazz in a surprise twist.

Coleman himself, with his bizarre white saxophone, played remarkably. After a short, beautiful encore run-through of “Lonely Woman,” the applause was too great, and the band returned for “Song X.” Davies Symphony Hall resonated with Coleman’s bended notes, his falling glissandos, his jumping lines. It was clear that nowhere else in the entire world was music like this, full of humanity and love, being played at that same moment.

May Ornette Coleman live on, and may his music last a thousand years.

Live Review: Trio 3 at Flying Goat Coffee, Healdsburg

Posted by: Gabe Meline on Nov 4, 2009 | Comments (0)

When I talked to Reggie Workman on the phone last week, I asked him how it felt to go from playing large theaters in Europe to playing small coffee shops in America. “The music is not embraced enough in this country so that you can have an ideal situation every time you perform,” he said. “We are constantly trying to make our own situation.”

Last night at Flying Goat in Healdsburg, the café tables were cleared out and Workman’s group, Trio 3, made their own situation by setting up in the front corner near where that one guy is always scribbling in his notebook with a mocha. It may have seemed ersatz and thrown-together—until, that is, the group started playing.

I caught the 9pm show and dear reader, it was one of the most satisfying avant-garde jazz performances I’ve ever seen—this coming from a huge fan of the genre. Workman may be the big name, and certainly his bass playing was illustrious. Andrew Cyrille I equally admire, one of the few drummers confident enough to record a solo drum album, and he punched accents in all the unexpectedly right places.

Oliver Lake, though, stole the show. Never deploying too much from his trick bag, Lake was sparing in his use of bitten reeds, growled harmonies, wild scales and percussive short blasts. Instead, he incorporated them into thoughtful, searing solos with all the elements of a Hollywood movie, slowly building the tension while his rhythm section sped up and pushed him further and further. An inspired spoken-word about labels and division called “Separation” fit right in.

And Flying Goat? What a perfect venue—especially for a more avant-garde act that might not fill the Raven. Both shows were sold out, while the sound, with the café’s high ceilings and hardwood floors, was punchy and alive. It made me proud that so many people came out to a 9pm show on a Tuesday night in Healdsburg to honor three legends of a music so often misunderstood. As long as they don’t mind coffee shops, here’s to hopefully having them back in the future.

Live Review: Treasure Island Festival 2009 – Day Two

Posted by: Gabe Meline on Oct 21, 2009 | Comments (0)

Ah, the things you don’t get from other festivals. Hearing people on the shuttle bus talk about the night before and how much they drank. About the game of Scrabble that lasted until 2:30am and the crackhead sleeping in the hall. About how they’d love to move but their rent is low. “I’ll only move if I can buy a house, or get married,” says a woman pushing 40, “and neither is going to happen very soon.” She’s good looking. More talking. About how nice the shuttles are. “Grizzly Bear’s pretty cool,” says someone, to his girlfriend. “They’re like a mix of… of Yo La Tengo, and the Walkmen, and the Flaming Lips.” Amazing how his frame of reference encompasses today’s lineup.

I have written about the Treasure Island Festival time and time and time and time and time and time again. By now, it is a good friend and a bottle of pills: comforting, scenic and dependable, with enough variety and excitement for me to keep singing its praises. Word has obviously caught on, because this year’s festival, with a somewhat weak lineup, was the best attended yet. Both days were sold out.

 

Contrary to what you might overhear on the shuttle to the island, Grizzly Bear doesn’t sound anything like Yo La Tengo, the Walkmen or the Flaming Lips. Their new album, Veckatimest—the first time I heard it, I couldn’t believe I was enjoying it. (I regularly root for the “rock” contingent of “indie rock,” not the increasingly visible four-part harmony infiltration of indie rock.) There’s a prodding, experimental aspect to their compositions that I can’t let go of. “Two Weeks” may have been the summer hit, but give me long, intricate songs like “Fine for Now,” whose lyrics are a bunch of vague bullshit but whose music is sheer beauty.

They opened with the Talking Heads’ “Warning Sign” “Cheerleader,” and played a brief set heavy on Veckatimest material, replicating almost exactly the precise tone and instrumentation of the album. Singer Ed Droste attempted to have some personality between songs, and failed, but their songs gave off a polished classicism that hid their complexity. What the hell were they doing playing so early, at 4pm?

One more reason to like Grizzly Bear: their website—and Droste’s Twitter feed—mentions whenever possible the options for buying tickets to the band’s shows without a shitty service charge. Also, my friend Kerri points out that Veckatimest is an anagram for Meat Vest? Ick! Luckily, their heads didn’t explode in the middle of “Two Weeks.”

 

I spoke too soon when I said something about Bob Mould lulling nostalgia hounds to sleep. Assuming Mould would play songs from his recent solo albums, I headed to the bathrooms, only to be pulled back by “The Act We Act,” the first song from Sugar’s Copper Blue. In fact, Mould represented Copper Blue hardcore. “A Good Idea,” “Changes,” “Hoover Dam”—was this for real?

It was a genuine stroke of luck. Mould’s regular bassist couldn’t make the show, so at the last minute he called up David Barbe, the bassist for Sugar, and throughout the set many, many nights in 1994 came rushing back to me. Yes! It was nostalgia! But of the entirely unexpected variety. Oh, sure, Husker Du fans got “Makes No Sense at All,” “In a Free World,” “Something I Learned Today”—but who’d'a thunk Mould would rock the Sugar songs so hard? It was like Prince playing a show of all shit from Graffiti Bridge.

 

I’ve never gotten into their Eastern European brass tip, but Beirut makes me glad for one reason and one reason only—because of their unlikely success, the independent San Francisco distributor Revolver is able to take more chances getting good, otherwise unheard music into stores. The plight of an independent distributor is a lonely one, and Revolver over the years has seen a ton of exclusive deals with labels and artists who decide they can do better with R.E.D. or Caroline and jump ship, leaving their early supporter in the dirt. When I see “Exclusively Distributed by Revolver USA” on the back of a hugely selling album like Gulag Orkestar, I am heartened for the DiCristina Stair Builders.

 

The Walkmen have the East Coast written all over them; they fuckin’ rule. What was decided at their first band practice? “Look, you guys, we’re gonna get vintage instruments and play them like nobody else played them. You, Hamilton, you gotta good voice, you’re the singer. Okay? But we gotta look tough. Or bored. Somewhere between tough or bored. Then we gonna write the best songs you ever heard.”

Bows and Arrows is a bonafide gem, and at the Outside Lands festival last year, even newer songs like “The New Year” floored me. I hope that they don’t turn into the Guadalcanal Diary of their day, i.e. a band with a fresh semi-retroish take on current trends who fades into Rockin’ Road Trip obscurity. More songs like “Thinking of a Dream I Had” ought to do the trick.

I ran into Hamilton Leithauser afterward; he told me the horn players—who were tight as hell—learned their parts five minutes before going on stage. Funny thing, going on tour and having to hire pickup musicians in each town.

 

The greatest psychedelic guitar work recorded in 1997 (not related to Jason Pierce) belongs to Yo La Tengo and the outro to the song “We’re an American Band” from I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One. I have listened to this particular guitar solo more times than I care to remember, and I still haven’t fully figured it out—meaning that I haven’t tried to PLAY the thing, merely to comprehend it. Is there a ghost of an angry debutante inside the guitar? Did they bring an octopus in the studio to flail upon the strings? Can you keep feedback alive on an iron lung?

During Yo La Tengo’s second song, Ira Kaplan re-creates that same mayhem five feet from my face and I still can’t make heads or tails of it. I do know that what he did to his guitar didn’t constitute the accepted definition of “playing.” He sometimes put his fingers on the strings, just like he sometimes let it swing away from his body entirely to let the angry debutante do her thing. Maximized control in chaos environments. Rhythm section calm and holding. Snapped back together like elastic. Amazing.

 

The Flaming Lips have put out a new album, Embryonic, that reminds me of the Nobel Peace Prize—it’s getting a lot of acclaim simply for not being At War With the Mystics. If it could be chopped down to an EP, it would be perfect, but better yet is that it has shaken up the band’s live show, which though visually incredible has stayed pretty routine for about five years. I’ve seen them three times, and I swore that if Wayne Coyne smashed blood on his head and made a puppet nun sing “Happy Birthday” into a fisheye-lens camera yet again, I would scream.

As soon as the Decemberists finished, Coyne spent a good deal of time onstage helping his roadies set up their ever-more elaborate set. Then the music began. After walking atop the crowd in a plastic space bubble, shooting confetti from blaster guns, blowing fog around the stage, flinging ribbons to and fro and leading his band in “Race for the Prize,” Coyne settled into a friendly rapport with the San Francisco crowd, talking about the band’s first show at the I-Beam and how San Francisco had always felt like a second home. “Thank you for being the home of the freaks,” he said.

The band played a standard mix of “hits,” with new tracks like “Convinced of the Hex” sounding the most invigorated, but it was an obscure song called “Enthusiasm for Life Defeats Existential Fear” that reminded me most of the Flaming Lips’ magic. Musically settled squarely between soothing and weird, the song’s title alone could serve as the band’s mission statement, and it carried us across the Bay Bridge and back into the real world.

 

SFJAZZ Picks for the Fall

Posted by: Gabe Meline on Oct 20, 2009 | Comments (0)

Every year, SFJAZZ puts on so many shows, all around the city, and it can be kind of daunting for a casual jazz fan to decide which ones to attend—especially those living in Santa Rosa, where attendance means am hour’s drive plus gas and bridge toll. The new season starts this week, and everyone’s got different tastes, but here’s my whittled-down list of the best five SFJAZZ shows this fall.

Nov. 8: Ornette Coleman at the Masonic Auditorium
Beg, borrow or binge—whatever you do, see Ornette Coleman. His history doesn’t need to be recounted here; what you need to know is that he still sounds as creative and vital as he did fifty years ago. Seriously, you will not believe that he’s 79 years old. He plays with two basses—one bowed, one plucked—and his son, Denardo, on drums, with whom he’s been playing since Denardo was 12. Expect to be left speechless.

Oct. 31: Marco Benevento at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
I first heard Benevento playing wildly on a 35-minute song by Zach Hill, the drummer for Hella; he, along with Ethan Iverson, represents a trend of assimilating indie rock into jazz. Live, Benevento manhandles a group of pedals and effects with his trio, which keeps one foot in the “jam” world. Bonus: the ticket price is on the low side and the venue is nice and small.

Nov. 4: Trio 3 at Swedish American Music Hall
I make no reservations about recommending these three and their intuitive magic created together. Reggie Workman’s resume with John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter speaks for itself; Oliver Lake is a mammoth tenor player and Andrew Cyrille spent 11 years backing Cecil Taylor. If you can’t make it to their show in Healdsburg, do yourself a favor and head to the wooden-interior Swedish American Music Hall.

Oct. 23: Gonzalo Rubalcaba Quintet at the Herbst Theatre
I’ve had a cassette of Rubalcaba’s Discovery: Live at Montreux in my car for a month now, and have not tired of it in the slightest. This show is with a quintet—the same guys on his last album, Avatar—and he fuses Cuban music and jazz in a decidedly artistic, and not commercial, fashion. Always worth seeing.

Oct. 30: Nicholas Payton & Don Byron at Grace Cathedral
Part of SFJAZZ’s “Sacred Space” series, where artists perform solo in Grace Cathedral and utilize the incredible seven-second echo attainable from the towering ceilings. Payton is most likely to work the room with sharp trumpet punches and high wails in the New Orleans tradition, while Byron specializes in Eastern scales on the lower-register clarinet.

For more lineup information and tickets, see SFJAZZ.

Live Review: Victims Family at the Phoenix Theater

Posted by: Gabe Meline on Oct 16, 2009 | Comments (0)

After several days of re-thinking the Victims Family show in Petaluma on Sunday night, the thing that sticks out the most is their songs’ unremitting sense of right and wrong. “Times Beach,” “As It Were,” “Insidious”—they all have a direct moral center, which is something that you don’t find in Animal Collective songs. Commenting on society is no longer hip, I’m afraid.

“Punk funk” is no longer what it once was either, which means that when I talk about Victims Family I tend to downplay my enthusiasm in the interest of context, much in the same way I do for golf. No friends my age really like golf. I suppose it’s not that weird; golf isn’t the most, uh, “progressive” sport. Reputation for elitism, wastes a lot of water, lots of old white men. That perception has forced me to talk about golf dismissively, like, “Oh, well, I wouldn’t expect you to care, but I saw Tiger Woods tee off at point blank range and, um, it was pretty cool, I guess.”

Victims Family is the same way. “Oh, they’re this metal-funk jazz thing, kinda punk rock with slapping bass, you probably wouldn’t like them,” I sometimes tell people, when really, I oughtta be saying: THEY ARE THE GREATEST BAND SANTA ROSA HAS EVER KNOWN. A completely elated crowd of over 400 people who packed the Phoenix to see one of their rare shows—the last one was five years ago, in 2004—would agree. Even after just a few practices, they were mind-bogglingly tight as ever, and if you’ve ever tried to play a Victims Family song, you know that playing it correctly, let alone tightly, is a harrowing challenge.

The set skewed old, with “Zoo,” “August 6th” and “Product” from Headache Remedy, “Insidious” from The Germ, and all the rest from Voltage & Violets, Things I Hate to Admit and White Bread Blues (remastered and reissued very soon on Santa Rosa’s own Saint Rose Records). Basically, the show was a veritable onslaught of the band’s best shit, and a patent reminder that here’s a local band that put out seven full-length albums, toured the world, and is now something that barely anyone under 30 in town knows about? That’s a wrong that needs to be made right.

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