Sunday, May 27, 2012

Review: Esbjorn Svensson Trio- 301

I freely admit that I occasionally participate in the "whither jazz" discussions that careen around the internet like shots fired in an empty bank vault. The "absurd lack of an audience" is a frequently-employed tag at my jazz blog Plastic Sax. Instead of weighing in at this heated thread at NPR's A Blog Supreme, I'll use this album review as a meditation on jazz's declining popularity.

I reviewed a concert headlined by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band last week. While poorly attended by the venue's standards, it was still thrilling to witness over 200 people dancing to a raucous jazz act. I fully endorse the #BAM model displayed by acts including the Dirty Dozen, Nicholas Payton, Esperanza "The Future" Spalding, A Tribe Called Quest and Robert Glasper. The other end of the progressive jazz spectrum is no less viable. Witnessing concerts by Enrico Rava and Tord Gustovsen in recent months has only deepened by enthusiasm for the potential of refined European jazz.

The Esbjorn Svensson Trio was perhaps the most popular act of its type to emerge in the past decade. It was poised to single-handedly popularize jazz among a new generation of listeners when tragedy struck.

It's impossible for me to listen to 301 without asking "what if?". What if Svensson hadn't died in 2008? Would E.S.T.'s career momentum have continued? Could E.S.T. have been the act to successfully connect to the indie rock set in America? I think so. The 301 recordings are from a 2007 session reportedly planned for release prior to Svensson's death. Pamela Espeland of Bebopified puts it well: "301" is not a collection of scraps or outtakes. This is the e.s.t. we know and love, the trio that makes us think and feel, groove and raise our fists in the air."

Each of the seven tracks on 301 is excellent. The brilliant "Inner City, City Lights" is a post-Keith Jarrett, post-Pat Metheny mood piece. Is it "jazz"? Who cares? "The Left Lane" is a 13-minute jam that actually goes places. "Houston, The 5th" is an experiment in feedback. "Three Falling Free, Part I" includes a drum feature for Magnus Öström. The raw "Three Falling Free, Part II" is more Mars Volta than Bill Evans. "The Childhood Dream," the soulful blues that closes 301, belies the commonly held assertion that European jazz is bloodless.

Then again, I could be delirious. As of this writing, 301- easily one of the most exciting and artistically important albums regardless of genre to be released in 2012- is ranked as the #20,869 best-selling music title at Amazon. "What if?,"  indeed.

The members of Saint Etienne apparently uncovered the teenage diary of one of my former girlfriends. I'm smitten by "Over the Border.

Stik Figa continues to rep Top City. (Via Tony's Kansas City.)

Is Ozarks' "Pyramids of Love" genius or idiocy? (I can't tell.)

A new documentary about Cheli Wright looks promising.

I refuse to upgrade my Sugar collection.

Kansas City Click: You'll find me at the Celebration at the Station on Sunday.

The Louis Neal Big Band returns to the Blue Room on Monday.

Class Actress is at the Riot Room on Tuesday.

Elizabeth Cook plays Knuckleheads on Wednesday.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Review: Psychfest

I went to a psychedelic music festival and a punk rock show broke out.  Carnal Torpor, a band with which I had no familiarity, blew my mind in a most unpsychedelic fashion. 

A bunch of shirtless guys, the band made a sonic racket that fell somewhere in the small space in which Minor Threat, Dan Deacon and Tool overlap.  A dude resembling Dave Navarro hammered away at several instruments including one that looked like jerry-rigged loom.

The singer reeked to high heaven, a fact not lost on anyone in the basement of the FOKL Center.  A riveting presence, he shrieked in frustration, slathered himself in a dark, glue-like substance, decorated himself with foil, flayed at (and usually missed) a cymbal, banged on the rafters and slam danced and fought with a couple of confederates.

I don't know if Carnal Torpor is capable of transferring the same chaotic energy to a setting more conventional than a basement in Kansas City, Kansas, but the fifty people who witnessed its 30-minute set know that the theatrical performance was extraordinary.

Nothing else I heard was nearly as memorable, though I was impressed by DJ Memo, a man who clearly understands that the Geto Boys and Duke Ellington are part of the same continuum.  I also liked the set by one-man-band CS Luxem.  It was enhanced by projected footage of an American Royal Parade from the '90s.  The backdrop for the upstairs stage was similarly effective.  A collection of boxes had been painted white.  A light show specifically constructed for the structure was very impressive.

About 125 people- over half of whom were participating musicians and their friends- were present during the two hours I spent at Psychfest.  The laughably pretentious attitudes and inane amateurism displayed by a couple dozen nitwits were offset by the graciousness of a handful of genuinely groovy, far-out people.

Me too! I'm also excited about Killer Mike's new album.

The Liquor Buddies is Steve Wilson's new band.

Kansas City Click: The KC Sound Collective appears at the RecordBar on Sunday.

Creed plays the Midland on Monday and Tuesday.

Tracii Guns appears at Aftershock on Wednesday.

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band top Thursday's bill at Crossroads KC.

(Original image of CS Luxem by There Stands the Glass.)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Bustin' Loose: Donna, Doug and Chuck

The inevitable but dreadful news of the passings of notable musicians is relentless.  Here are brief notes on three recent losses.
  • I've long sensed that the blueprints for the future are right in front of all of us.  Yet aside from the countless people who have applied the gifts of the dual geniuses of James Brown and George Clinton to the creation and ongoing evolution of hip hop, very few have advanced the sound of funk and R&B in recent decades.  Chuck Brown was an exception.  He constructed a brand new bag.  
  • I realize that much of the world received regular exposure to the Dillards on television, but I've always considered the Dillards to be a regional phenomenon.  Missouri native Doug Dillard meant a lot to people in this region.  And this region meant a lot to him- here's "Kansas City Southern", from a collaboration with Gene Clark, another local boy.
  • Donna Summer's "Love to Love You Baby" was released when I was an impressionable kid.  Nothing more needs to be said about that.
I reviewed an appearance by Taj Mahal and Anders Osborne.

I was asked to pull a recent There Stands the Glass post.  I complied.

Mac Lethal crafted another meme.

Jazz blog Outside-Inside-Out hipped me to Edmar Castaneda's Double Portion.  I can't decide if I love it or hate it.  Here's the EPK for the album.

Sam Billen's Kickstarter campaign is one of the best-conceived I've encountered.

Kansas City Click: My official picks are published here.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Donald "Duck" Dunn, 1941-2012

Most readers of There Stands the Glass pick up on the fact that I often go on musical binges that last between two days and two weeks.  It's not uncommon for me to become fully immersed in a specific artist or style.  I can lose myself in old Dave Holland albums, the Skip James catalog, American Beauty, seminal thrash or Erik Satie.  I love these things so intensely that I inevitably burn myself out on each temporary obsession.  One of the few things I'll never tire of is the music made in Memphis from 1954-74.  Duck Dunn, of course, played a pivotal role in the creation of the timeless sound. (Get a load of this.)  Dunn died two days ago.

Here's my review of Rockfest.  My favorite of the fifteen performances? That's easy- Trivium.

Here's another song from the new Neil Young and Crazy Horse project.  I love it.

This is my introduction to Nathan Salsburg.

I like the homemade vibe of the Floozies' new video.

Krizz Kaliko's "Spaz" goes to "the next level."

The Clocks have reunited!

A Kickstarter campaign campaign for Renaissance was successful.

Oh no!  This spells another lost weekend for me.  It's safe to say that Pulp won't make my list.

Kansas City Click: Rocky Votolato is at the RecordBar on Tuesday.  I've admired his "hit" since its release.

Oriole Post plays at Kauffman Stadium before Wednesday's Royals game.

Chris Hazelton performs at the Blue Room on Thursday.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Review: Chicago Underground Duo- Age of Energy

A five-track Rorschach test, Age of Energy, the astounding  new album by the Chicago Underground Duo, elicits visions.
1. "Winds Sweeping Pines"- Ignore the selection's title.  I see a riot by discontented assembly line workers at a Chinese industrial plant.  This is everything I'd hoped for but didn't get from internet sensation BadBadNotGood.

2. "It's Alright"-  Once again, the title is grossly misleading.  It's most definitely not alright.  This is the sound of Miles Davis attempting to claw his way out of his grave.

3. "Castle In Your Heart"- The label amusingly refers to the track as a single.  (It's available as a free download here.)  Like a Gauguin painting of Polynesia come to life, the song's fleetingly sensual quality is akin to a moment of oblivious tranquility hours before a tsunami strikes.

4. "Age of Energy"- The drumming on the title track resembles the dull thump of wet Nikes tumbling in a distressed dryer.  The astringent screech of the trumpet might have been achieved through enhanced interrogation. 

5. "Moon Debris"-  The lost Kraftwerk jazz album from 1973. I've got yer jazz robots right here.
Fans of Tortoise, Matthew Shipp and Stereolab are encouraged to seek their own visions with Age of Energy.

I reviewed a wild concert headlined by Mushroomhead.

Farewell, Adam Yauch.

Michael Burks has died.

The new John Peel site is a thing of wonder.  I recommend watching the feature on Mike Absalom. 

Have you seen and heard Neil Young and Crazy Horse's Oh Susannah"?  It's insane.  (And that's just the way I like it.)

Dennis Brown interprets Jimmy Webb.  I love this world.

Here's Doomtree at NPR.

Subscribing to archival music channels sometimes leads to tantalizing surprises.  Yowza!

Kansas City Click: Aretha Franklin graces Helzberg Hall on Tuesday.

Kittie top Wednesday's bill at the Beaumont.

I get to see Bad Company play a corporate event on Thursday.  I hope to meet Mick Ralphs.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Saturday, May 05, 2012

The 100 Best Singles of the 1980s

I wish I'd never bothered to look at NME's recently published list of "The 100 Best Songs of the 1980s."  Since I innocently jumped down that vexing rabbit hole earlier this week, I've spent about eight hours creating the following list.  I was initially impressed by NME's effort, mostly because it reminded me of songs like "Buffalo Stance" that I hadn't thought of in years.  Stereogum provides a user-friendly version of NME's list.  Even so, I quickly realized that it only partially represented the music that consumed me during the decade.  Consequently, less than two dozen of NME's choices survived my cut.  Lest my list be dominated by M.J. and Prince, I decided to include only one song per artist.  I also required that each selection was officially released as a single.  And in order to actually complete this silly exercise, I didn't consider international acts like Fela and Juan Luis Guerra. In spite of its preposterous title, my list doesn't represent the "best" singles of the era.  Instead, it compiles the songs I loved most.

Here's the corresponding Spotify playlist.  (Only a few of my selections aren't available at the streaming service.)

1. Bob Marley- "Redemption Song"
2. Public Enemy- "Bring the Noise"
3. Michael Jackson- "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'"
4. George Clinton- "Atomic Dog"
5. Talking Heads- "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)"
6. Prince- "1999"
7. Lakeside- "Fantastic Voyage"
8. Tracy Chapman- "Fast Car"
9. Joy Division – “Love Will Tear Us Apart”
10. George Jones- "He Stopped Loving Her Today"
11. Teddy Pendergrass- "Love T.K.O."
12. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five- "The Message"
13. R.E.M.- "Radio Free Europe"
14. Z.Z. Hill- "Cheatin' In the Next Room"
15. Slayer-"Raining Blood"
16. X- "The Once Over Twice"
17. Def Leppard- "Photograph"
18. Maze- "Back In Stride"
19. AC/DC – “Back In Black”
20. LL Cool J- "Going Back To Cali"
21. Motorhead- "Ace of Spades"
22. NWA – “Straight Outta Compton”
23. John Mellencamp- "Check It Out"
24. Marvin Gaye- "Sexual Healing"
25. Newcleus- "Jam On It"
26. Cyndi Lauper – “Time After Time”
27. Faith No More – “We Care A Lot”
28. The Pogues- "A Pair of Brown Eyes"
29. Rick James- "Give It To Me Baby"
30. Madonna – “Like A Prayer”
31. Vern Gosdin- "Set 'em Joe"
32. Billy Bragg- "Greetings to the New Brunette"
33. The Smiths – “How Soon Is Now”
34. Sonic Youth – “Teen Age Riot”
35. Pete Townshend- "Rough Boys"
36. Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock- "It Takes Two"
37. The Specials – “Ghost Town”
38. Bruce Springsteen- "One Step Up"
39. Black Uhuru- "Sponji Reggae"
40. Dinosaur Jr – “Freak Scene”
41. Womack & Womack – “Teardrops”
42. The Embarrassment- "Sex Drive"
43. Merle Haggard- "Misery and Gin"
44. Run–D.M.C.- "King of Rock"
45. Guns 'N Roses- "Paradise City"
46. Boogie Down Productions- "My Philosophy"
47. Zapp- "More Bounce To the Ounce"
48. Van Halen- "Panama"
49. The Judds- "Why Not Me"
50. English Beat- "Save It For Later"
51. De La Soul- "Me, Myself & I"
52. Matthew Sweet- "Girlfriend"
53. EPMD- "You Gots To Chill"
54. Willie Nelson- "Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning"
55. Kool & the Gang- "Get Down On It"
56. John Hiatt- "Have a Little Faith In Me"
57. New Order – “Bizarre Love Triangle”
58. Tony! Toni! Tone!- "Little Walter"
59. The Replacements- "Alex Chilton"
60. Iron Maiden – “Run To The Hills”
61. Kurtis Blow- "The Breaks"
62. Sugarcubes – “Birthday”
63. The Beastie Boys- "Shadrach"
64. Dire Straits- "Romeo and Juliet"
65. Sade- "The Sweetest Taboo"
66. Randy Travis- "Diggin' Up Bones"
67. Psychedelic Furs- "The Ghost In You"
68. The Ramones- "Psycho Therapy"
69. Soul II Soul – “Back To Life”
70. Roxy Music- "More Than This"
71. The Pretenders- "Don't Get Me Wrong"
72. Smokey Robinson- "Being With You"
73. Ultramagnetic MC's- "Give the Drummer Some"
74. Metallica – “Master Of Puppets”
75. Salt N’ Pepa – “Push It”
76. The Pixies- "Here Comes Your Man"
77. Tears For Fears- "Woman In Chains"
78. Cameo- "She's Strange"
79. Los Lobos- "Will the Wolf Survive"
80. Roxanne Shante and Biz Markie- "The Def Fresh Crew"
81. Ozzy Osbourne- "Crazy Train"
82. Stevie Wonder- "Master Blaster"
83. The Undertones- "It's Going to Happen!"
84. The Cure – “Just Like Heaven”
85. Con Funk Shun- "Love's Train"
86. Gregory Isaacs- "Night Nurse"
87. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers- "Change of Heart"
88. Eddie Grant- "Electric Avenue"
89. Eric B. & Rakim – “Paid In Full”
90. Soundgarden- "Loud Love"
91. Motley Crue- "Shout At the Devil"
92. Joan Armatrading- "Drop the Pilot"
93. The Gap Band- "You Dropped a Bomb on Me"
94. Rolling Stones- "Waiting on a Friend"
95. The Rainmakers- "Downstream"
96. Devo- "Whip It"
97. J. Blackfoot- "Taxi"
98. Elvis Costello- "High Fidelity"
99. Herbie Hancock- "Rockit"
100. The Clash- "Bankrobber"

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)