Go Dig!

Here are the albums I can’t stop spinning:

An intricate suite of compositions revolving around a modern indie rock fusion with leanings towards the work of David Binney, Alas No Axis and the Bad Plus. A must listen!

Continuing my obsession with drums, I can’t get enough of the playing on this record. Not only does Sanchez dominate with style, Chris Potter and David Sanchez show us just how intricate and complex these relaxed, open forms can get.

A classic, but one that’s returned to high rotation. Sco put together a live recording from some of his ing-time associations. The rapport on this set is practically psychic. Bill Stewart demonstrates why he’s a top call drummer, and Steve Swallow’s charming eccentricities are a joyous treat.

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In Celebration of Drums

There’s been a ton of good music this year, but for the last month or so, the music scene has felt slow. So rather than plug recent records, I think I’ll take inspiration from my Summer obsession – learning drum set. In honor of this, here’s a few drum records I’m really digging right now:

Bert’s Playground, Ari Hoenig

Ari is celebrated for playing melodies on his drum set. He has several albums on his site playing standards on solo drum set. Wild stuff…you can actually hear the melodies going by. And sometimes, he plays some crazy stuff while singing…so…

This album is him with a band of monsters. Chris Potter and Jonathan Kriesberg are amazing additions. And the rest of the band are no slouches. The set opens up with a ridiculously chopsy version of “Moment’s Notice” in 7/8. And it features a nasty little reharm. on the extended C section of the tune. Great solos throughout. I also recommend “Green Spleen”.

Birds of a Feather, Roy Haynes

One of the great drum heroes and a celebrated master of bebop released this tribute to Charlie Parker in 2001. It features a line up of young lions including Joshua Redman, Kenny Garrett, David Kikowski and Dave Holland, but the real features here are the arrangements. “Yardbird Suite” and “Barbados” are real standouts.

Telepathy, Bill Stewart

One of my favorite drummers! He has an intricate, highly textured style featuring amazing cymbal work. All of his albums are worth checking out, as well as several of his sideman dates (En Route from John Scofield being a personal favorite), but Telepathy comes up time and time again among critics as a masterpiece.

So, tell me…what are your favorite drum records from any style?

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Recent Music Reviews: Ultraísta, Wires Under Tension and Soundgarden

There’s been a ton of great music being released recently…enough that I’ve nearly burned through my credit it Zia, one of our local CD stores. I’m going to hit a few highlights I recommend here.

UltraístaUltraísta, by Ultraísta (8/10)

Nigel Godrich, best known to my friends as Radiohead’s producer, but a talented songwriter in his own, has just put out a new project with singer Laura Bettinson. Its very reminiscent of Thom Yorke’s The Eraser, which is not surprising since Nigel was instrumental in engineering this record.

The vibe of the record is stark, synth-laden and a bit droning. And it took a little time to adapt to it. The first time I let it roll, I was unimpressed. The barren soundscapes didn’t click. But there was enough to come back for to make me leave it in the car cd player. With each repeat, I found more to enjoy – clever harmonies, melodies that were elusive on the first pass, surprise twists in the arrangements… All in all, this has been a good slow-burn recording.

Stand-out tracks include “Bad Insect”, “Smalltalk” and “Static Light”. Recommended for fans of Yorke’s The Eraser, James Blake, electronic music with vocals.

Wires Under Tension's ReplicantReplicant, by Wires Under Tension (8/10)

In the vein of Explosions in the Sky, Mogwai and the instrumental experiments of Sufjan Stevens, Wires Under Tension is an electronic meets live / acoustic instruments ensemble featuring two thoughtful, classically-minded collaborators. The music is full of looping, electronic manipulations, and live improvisation all fed into some software tools to create some very complex soundscapes. I liked this right off the bat, but I’ve been exposed to music like this a lot. Much like jazz, there’s a certain language to this style of performance that not everyone will get right off.

Plan to give it a few passes if instrumental exploration isn’t your normal thing. Here’s a bit of performance footage to get you started.

Soundgarden's King AnimalKing Animal, by Soundgarden (9/10)

After 15 years doing other things, the Seattle boys in Soundgarden have released a new album. Given the weakness of Audioslave and Chris Cornell’s solo projects, I didn’t have a lot of confidence in this one being any good. I mean, “Like a Stone”, really?

Thankfully, it turns out that Cornell is at his ballsiest, bluesiest, and most experimental when he’s backed up by Shepard, Cameron and Thayil. The band sounds energized and back to form. The songs are rich, layered and complex. Chris’s vocals have his trademark roar all over them. Kim’s guitar work is just as quirky and exotic as ever. And there’s more key changes, meter changes and odd chords per track than I’ve heard since Radiohead on Kid A.

As the disc started, I was let down by the not-bad-but-very-trite “Been Away Too Long” that probably opened the record only for its goofy symbolism, and “Non-State Actor”, which while good, is a typical Shepard art-punk track that didn’t wow me. Not bad songs, but nothing to pull you in.

But that’s when track three began…

Starting with “On Crooked Steps”, there’s a brilliant 3-song run that hooked me in. This is the triumphant return of Soundgarden! Its all here – quirky, blues-scale choruses layered over odd meter, and strange chord choices that only Soundgarden would ever think of, freshly pouring from your speakers. From that point on, excluding the throwaway track “Halfway There”, which will mostly only appeal to fans of Chris’ recent solo work , its a uniformly strong album.

If you’re new to Soundgarden, you’ll probably still like this record, but its decidedly 90s vibe will appeal more to long-time fans of the band. The music sounds fresh to my ears, but this is a signature sound of an older era. The sludgy 90s art rock kings are back with this album.

Recommended tracks include “On Crooked Steps”, “Blood on the Valley Floor”, “Eyelid’s Mouth” (the “Limo-Wreck” of this collection) and the oddly plodding but groove-driven “Rowing”.

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Riffing On Audio Quality…

Ian in Headphones

I’ve been ripping my CD collection to my computer for (oh, what…like) 2 years or so. I chose to use 258kbps aac files, the Apple standard for lossy encoding (meaning audio data is lost). It sounds good and yields small files. Great for archiving…or so I thought.

See…I’ve been selling off the bulk of those CDs to local record shops to recoup some of my investment…but my archive was a lossy format. Maybe I’m a bit OCD (haha…a bit…), but the fact that the audio on the CDs was superior to the versions I’d archived started to get under my skin. At first, my solution was to upgrade the files to 320kbps…

That didn’t help…the files sound good but its still a lossy format. And it didn’t take long before I began to get bugged again. Even though CDs (16 bit typically) themselves are lower quality than acoustic / analog sound (ugh…don’t get me started), it’s what I had, and in most cases, the best available way to hear a particular recording. And I owned them in that format but was selling them relatively cheap without properly ripping them…arrgghhh!

See, now I’ve got myself all worked up. :)

Well, now I rip everything with Apple Lossless. As the name says, it’s lossless…the files are pretty big. But now I don’t lose anything except the physical stuff, which was taking up too much space anyways.

A size and sound comparison…

The 4 minute Radiohead song “15 Step” is 7.5mb if you use the “standard” 258kbps format.

That same 4 minute Radiohead song is 25.8mb using Apple Lossless.

That’s a pretty huge leap in file size. And how big is the difference in sound quality? Well, in headphones, the Apple Lossless track is warmer (not by a lot, but its there) and a lot louder. I get better definition in the bass and cymbals, and saxes and brass sound fuller to my ear. But it’s all just a marginal improvement. Without headphones, this is way more subtle. I really only notice the volume change and a general warmer sound to the track.

Worth it? To me, yes. But my collection takes up a laughably huge amount of space on a separate terabyte hard drive I have (457 gigabytes currently and I have 500+ discs to go). A small-ish price to pay for peace of mind…

Does this stuff bother you? What solution have you come up with? Or are you blissfully unconcerned?

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Chris Potter plays Pat Metheny’s “New Year”

Pat Metheny - Unity Band

Pat Metheny has always been one of my heroes. With Michael Brecker as a saxophone hero in the 90s, you really couldn’t miss Pat, as he was on many of Brecker’s albums, and vice versa. Well, as I’m sure most of you know, we lost Michael on January 13th, 2007, breaking this duo up for good.

While Brecker will be greatly missed, it seems Metheny has found a new saxophone virtuoso to work with. This time, Chris Potter is taking the tenor chair. Needless to say, the match is fantastic. Their CD Unity Band is an explosive, dynamic and complex recording featuring Pat’s usual melodic, folk rock infused compositions and extraordinarily technical solos. To add to the weight of the album, Antonio Sanchez and Ben Williams make for a fantastic back line.

I was inspired to pick this track due to the band’s impending concert, this Saturday (the 29th) at Mesa Arts Center. It promises to be amazing. I can’t wait!

On to the transcription!

This is the first track from Unity Band, called “New Year”. It’s a latin tinged composition with twisting harmonies. After a quasi-classical rubato guitar intro by Metheny, the head enters, loosely playing off a quarter note triplet theme. Pat’s solo is surprisingly understated, probably due to the acoustic guitar, but very melodic and smooth despite the colorful harmonies.

But onto Chris…

This solo is masterclass on arpeggios. His opening lines (at D) are sweeping, unadorned outlines of the harmonies. And in the rare moments he veers away from that, he contrast them with elegant melodies and lightning fast displays of his bebop chops. Its a very refined solo, even for Chris.

A few favorite moments

  • Measure 147 begins one of those bebop displays. Check out the slick pivot from concert A-7 to C-7, with a strong implied F7.
  • Chorus (E) shows off some development with a triplet run that meticulously outlines the changes. Note where he places the starting and ending notes of each grouping.
  • 169 is a playful line that has the feel of a Rousseau classic etude and is played in a similar fashion. I love the ear-twisiting shift to the G-∆7.
  • The coda (starting at H) takes the alternate end of the 2nd solo chorus form and turns it into a 14-beat loop. As always, Chris’s ability to navigate these shifts in meter is flawless. Check out the double-time moment at 271!

This solo is probably one of the more straight ahead ones to draw ideas from. The lines are perfectly on the chords, the changes, while unusual, follow a lot of logical patterns, and many of the juiciest moments land on common sequences of chords. So instead of practice tips, I’m going to suggest you just dig in and steal to your heart’s content.

See you at the concert on Saturday!

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New St. Vincent, Now with Avant-Garde Master David Byrne and a Brass Band

The new David Byrne / St. Vincent record dropped today via email. Its pop, hook laden, but as odd as you’d expect from these two playful weirdos. Here’s the video for “Who”, the 1st track in the collection:

I’m going to be reviewing this one and the new Deerhoof in a double review up later this week…for those that like that sort of thing…

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Tom Waits, “Hell Broke Luce”

The wait is over! Tom teased this for a few days in a row with stills and odd slogans, only to release a fantastically odd video. It seems to be a hardened, roughneck soldier dealing with the horrors of war.

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Something Wicked This Way Comes…

These graphics have been creeping onto Facebook all week. Looks like Tom Waits has something in the pot. And that always means good things for the rest of us.

Permission to Come Aboard?

Permission to Come Aboard?

I Breathe Better Underwater

I Breathe Better Underwater

Never Bring a Gun to a Spoon Fight

Never Bring a Gun to a Spoon Fight

I’ll give you the scoop tomorrow, once I know.

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Fiona Apple and Another Excessively Long Title…

Fiona Apple's The Idler Wheel...Fiona Apple has just released a new record for the art-minded. As is her bent, she’s given it a really long title… The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do. But if anything, it’s a short title compared to her second record.

I’ll cut to the chase. The verdict on this new album? Fantastic! But definitely not for the faint of heart. It isn’t as direct as Tidal or When the Pawn… and seems to use a lot of found sounds and peculiar harmonies. Here are the highlights for me:

5/5 – “Every Single Night” the preview single from the record. A very quiet song, with a lot of compressed ideas and a somewhat rapid-fire delivery of lyrics. She contrasts the free-flowing lyrics with sparse, music box-like textures and found-sound percussion. So cool! I can’t wait to see this live!

5/5 – “Johnathan” a masterfully eerie, minor key thing with a vaguely Grusin piano part. Seems to be about her ex, Jonathan Ames. I don’t know enough about the backstory to say anything intelligent about this…but what a strange, awesome song!

On many of the songs, she’s singing with enough intensity to distort her normally very smooth, sultry voice. The grit and gravel she chews on songs like “Daredevil” and “Regret” really pay off. Those songs create some of the most satisfying, pained moments in the collection.

I strongly recommend this one for anyone who loved the sparse, dry qualities of James Blake’s self-titled album…this unfolds in a similar way. Also, Tom Waits fans my find a kindred spirit here. The quirk and instrumentation on display is of a similar aesthetic.

And to Fiona fans, prepare for her to push the boundaries…this isn’t the angst pop of old, but its well worth exploring. Fiona has proven herself no longer an angry 90s pop star, but an artist evolving. Time to let “Criminal” and “Sleep to Dream” lie. Those were great songs in their day, but she has moved on. And I’m cheering her on every step of the way.

Last bit…get it on iTunes. Normally, I’m a firm believer of CDs or vinyl, so its weird to be saying that, but this collection is a definite exception to the rule. The “mastered for iTunes” thing sounds great, the bonus track “Largo” is one of the better cuts, and the 5 included videos are from her wonderful SXSW performance. Additionally, the iTunes LP artwork and interactivity is very cool!

Dig!

Posted in Music, News | 4 Comments

The value of one life

Radiohead’s stage collapsed last night in Toronto, killing drum tech Scott Johnson. While I don’t know anyone involved, let me add my voice to the collective expression of sympathy for the family and friends of this person. I know I would’ve been honored to have the job he was doing and imagine it was a dream come true. I can only imagine the anguish of those left behind. May you all find peace.

But to the main point…want to see how pretentious pricks hijack a memorial thread? Read the comments at the bottom of this post…you’ll see it rapidly evolve into an attempt at valuation of life that I find sickening.

The debate is summed up simply…Radiohead’s impact on the world, in the eyes of one commenter, exceeds the worth of the drum tech who was killed in the stage collapse.

I disagree emphatically. Regardless of Radiohead’s accomplishments, a life was lost. Scott Johnson’s family will forever be changed as will the lives of everyone he would’ve interacted with. And the world has lost another voice, quiet or not.

Who are we to place worth on an individual?

So it seems a cross-section of Radiohead fans disgust me.

You are valuable. May you all recognize your worth.

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