Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Glenn Frey

There are musicians who capture their time, and render out of it something timeless, and there are those who rack up serious hits—both equally noble achievements. Sometimes, a given artist can do both. I think Glenn Frey was one of the latter.

The Eagles were (are, always will be) the '70s, and as great as "Hotel California" is, you can't get more Eagles, more '70s, or, really, much greater than "Take It Easy." It's Jackson Browne's song, but he needed a character like Glenn Frey to really sell it, bring it to the masses and add that seal-the-deal line about the girl, my Lord, in the flat-bed Ford. (The same is true of Jack Tempchin and Robb Strandlund's "Already Gone.")

Likewise, "You Belong to the City" drips with '80s-ness, so much so that it was written especially for Miami freakin' Vice. A pop poem in neon. Radio-friendly existentialism. The apotheosis of MTV sax.

I came away from the Eagles documentary, History of the Eagles, as entertaining and enthralling a rock doc as I've ever seen, with a serious respect for Frey's vision. He seemed to have it all—star-quarterback good looks and charisma combined with an authentic blue-collar work ethic and a journalist's eye for detail (see: "Lyin' Eyes")—and he put his gifts to damn good use. And you can't help but love the straight talk, most of it centering on Frey's troubled relationship with bandmate Don Felder.

David Bowie was the aesthete's choice. When he died, the tributes poured forth on my Twitter feed, and do so still. But Frey and the Eagles were a people's band. Tonight, on the phone, my parents and I shared a moment of mourning for him.

There is something profound about music that cuts across generations this way, rather than compelling you to choose sides. You can call it safe, and once, I may have, but these days, noble is the word I'd use.


More on Glenn Frey:

20 essential songs

Will Hermes reflects

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Moment's Greatest Hits

A while ago on Twitter I used to roll out what I called Weekly Greatest Hits—a round-up of anything new or old that was currently hitting me hard. In that spirit, here are a few current faves. (This may or may not become a regular DFSBP feature.)

James Brandon Lewis  
Days of FreeMan

As I indicated in my 2015 round-up, I slept on a lot of music last year. Here's a late-breaking head-slapper. Days of FreeMan would've been an obvious, high-ranking inclusion on my jazz top 10, at the very least, if I'd heard it in time. (Seems like this flew under a lot of folks' radars; Phil Freeman and Seth Colter Walls were among those looking alive.) Little needs to be said—the appeal is immediate. Lean funk- and hip-hop-informed jams with tons of swagger and soul. I'm not sure I've heard backbeat-oriented jazz done this well before. Missed JBL at Winter Jazzfest last night, but I plan to remedy that soon.

David Bowie 
Live 1973 (from D.A. Pennebaker's Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars)

Speaking of swagger. The level of charm, charisma and peacock-ish sass oozing off this man in this performance is basically terrifying. I'm not a Bowie completist, but I am a fan, and I've been filling in knowledge gaps during the past sad, intense week. My Rolling Stone colleague Andy Greene is a real Bowie authority, and I learned a lot from this list, which tipped me off to the above.

P.S. Blackstar is a trip as well.

Iggy Pop
"Some Weird Sin" (from Lust for Life)

This Bowie-co-produced track is just staggering. (Note: It also sounds exactly like the Strokes at their thickest and most sensual.) I'm not crazy about what I've heard from the Idiot album, but Lust for Life lives up to its audacious title. Nasty, glammy brilliance; rough, sneering conviction. Listening to this, you can hear Bowie reckoning with Iggy's genius and framing it in just the right context where it can shine in a new, post-Stooges way. It's feral but theatrical too.

Tony Williams

New York Live (1989)


More on the idea of swagger... Tony Williams is one of my very favorite drummers, but I know less than I should about his later years. I've read a lot about his brash attitude and confidence (in Bill Milkowski's essential interview compilation Rockers, Jazzbos and Visionaries, the author describes Williams at a mixing session for the 1992 Story of Neptune album: "Pacing around the control room with a fat cigar jutting out the side of his mouth, Tony Williams is a portrait of swaggering intensity"), and those traits are on full display in this outstanding video. The effect is very different to hearing him during his '60s heyday. There was a brashness at play during that period, too, obviously, but here it has ripened into a sort of bullish, cocky, unabashed, Muhammad Ali–like badassery. This is hardbop as take-no-prisoners combat, the embodiment of what DamiĆ³n Reid calls the "[showing] up to crush" mentality.

P.S. It's downright pathetic that much of the recorded output of the band in the video above is out of print. I've been scouring the 'net for days looking for Neptune and its predecessor, Native Heart.

P.P.S. Vinnie Sperrazza is all over this period of Tony's output.

Mark Turner Quartet
Live at Winter Jazzfest 2016

I'm currently under the weather so I'm sparing myself the full-on marathon WJF experience, but I have to call out the outstanding set I saw by this band at the ECM showcase last night. Lathe of Heaven, from 2014, is a great record, but this group has apparently been gigging a lot since then because the set I saw last night made that album sound tame and undercooked. If there's another current working small group that can rival this band for attunement among the members, high-wire interactivity, and overall poise and alertness and excitement, I'd really like someone to tell me about it. They just sounded so dialed-in. And Marcus Gilmore, dear God... It's been no surprise for years, since he works with so many great bands, but this guy is simply operating on an elevated plane.

Bonus tracks:

Chris Dave with Robert Glasper

Thanks to the aforementioned James Brandon Lewis for reminding me that I need more Chris Dave in my life. What starts to happen—percussively, and with the entire band, really—around the 6:00 mark here is simply obscene.

There's all kinds of hoopla re: the jazz/hip-hop crossover thing. Robert Glasper is obviously a key conduit and has been for some time. I'd love to see him get the kind of attention Kamasi Washington has gotten, but for his trio work like this (and this), which speaks to me way more than his Black Radio output. The message I get from a performance like this is that you don't have to "cross over," in blatant genre-splicing ways, to engage meaningfully across traditions.

P.S. Contrary to the title, this video was not filmed at the Village Vanguard.


This band is still getting tons of plays around these parts. Not just the amazing Ygg Huur (discussed here) but also its predecessor and brand-new follow-up (which was actually, confusingly, recorded before Ygg Huur). You need to be paying attention to Krallice if you care about what is called the "progressive" spirit in music.

Joe Maneri Quartet

This group—the late Joe Maneri on various reeds, piano and the occasional vocal, with his son Mat on violin and viola, Randy Peterson on drums, and a revolving cast of bassists—had such an unmistakable sonic fingerprint. Jazz smeared into near-oblivion, unfolding in a slo-mo Butoh dance that can feel both tortured and whimsical. My favorite album is the hard-to-find Get Ready to Receive Yourself, but was digging In Full Cry recently.

P.S. Hearing Randy Peterson live last week with Tony Malaby's Apparitions band is what got me thinking along these lines.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Paul Bley

I remember seeing this performance—from Imagine the Sound, a fantastic 1981 documentary that also features Cecil Taylor, Bill Dixon and Archie Shepp—years ago and being a bit perplexed. Now I'm simply moved. The portion starting around 1:00 crushes me. Some commenters say, perhaps rightly, that Bley is riffing here on the "Lonely Man Theme" from the Incredible Hulk TV show. Either way, this is the epitome of romantic piano*, wherein the player seems to caress the melody along with the keys. For me, it's all in that flammed turnaround at 1:21, like a plunge-and-twist motion, right to the heart. Just one small sensory memory of Bley that I thought of when I heard the sad news of his death.

I know relatively little of Bley's work—there's so much—but I've heard enough to know that he was a giant of personal piano. Blues, abstraction, tenderness. Poise, concision and serenity, but also volatility, instability. (Masabumi Kikuchi clearly picked up on all this, by his own admission; in the Blindfold Test linked below, Bley, somewhat cattily, says the same of Keith Jarrett**, which seems entirely plausible.)

WKCR is a good place to start, if you're in NYC. (This morning they played this and this, both stunning.) I also love this Ethan Iverson piece at Destination Out and this Ted Panken Blindfold Test.

I'll be listening.


Update, 1/6/16:

*It seems to me that this romantic quality of Paul Bley's playing was especially evident when he was interpreting the works of Carla Bley—perhaps not surprising since the two were once married. I bought Open, to Love yesterday and listened straight through. What do you even say about a performance this beautiful? This record, recorded two decades later and featuring many of the same Carla Bley pieces, is also magical.

**Re: the Jarrett comparison, it's interesting to think about the divergent paths these two players took, despite the fact that they were working with similar building blocks: Jarrett ending up with a kind of bravura, extroverted style, and Bley arriving at something far more intimate, an almost private way of playing that exudes an inner glow. You have to lean in to enjoy Open, to Love, whereas, for example, Jarrett's Facing You—released on the same label, ECM, in the same year, '72—leaps out of the speakers to grab your attention with its virtuosity and personality.

Update, 1/8/16:

1) Thanks to Matt Merewitz for bringing this wonderful Nels Cline appreciation to my attention.

2) As I listen further, I'm starting to hear a strong connection between Bley's mature solo-piano work and that of Andrew Hill (compare this to, say, this). Both artists fixated on beauty, but a restless, unstable kind that can fracture and curdle without warning.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Heavy Metal Be-Bop lives

Tonight, after an inexcusably long delay, I posted the 12th installment of my jazz/metal interview series, Heavy Metal Be-Bop: a conversation with master guitarists and longtime collaborators John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez. You might know these two from Deerhoof, but that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Enjoy, and Happy New Year!