Barry Ritholtz | The Big Picture | amazon
Take 3 parts Prince, 1 part In Living Color, add a dash of James Brown — and what you get is Miguel.
He may be that rare young artist who comes along once a decade with chops, vision, and creative conviction that gives you a glimpse of his entire career over 40 years as soon as you hear him sing.
For me, that moment was his live version of Adorn on SNL last week.
Miguel crushed it the way very few 25 year old artists ever do.
I loved the spare arrangement of Adorn. The lyrics have a joyous sultriness that just exploded off the screen. Drip his “raw honey falsetto” on top of those lyrics, painting aural portraits of loves, losses, heartbreaks and sexual fantasies. There is a dynamic tension in the song as it builds and fights tyo hold itself back before the song’s climax.
Gerrit Feenstra | KEXP | amazon
German DJ and producer DJ Koze has waited 8 years to release a fresh LP. Sure, he’s given us plenty of singles between now and 2005′s Kosi Comes Around, but to wait that long before offering a fully new vision to the world and still maintain relevancy and progression is a hard thing to do. But against all odds, DJ Koze has created a modern masterpiece of the genre. With a strapping cast of collaborators that help to take an accurate snapshot of the scene today, Koze creates an album that fits cleanly into his portfolio and will no doubt ripen and age sweetly. Amygdala is the biggest and best electronic record of the year so far, and you should waste no time in letting it blow your mind.
David Browne | Rolling Stone
Richie Havens, who brought an earthy soulfulness to the folk scene of the Sixties and was the first act to hit the stage at Woodstock, died of a heart attack on Monday, April 22. He was 72 and was living in Jersey City, New Jersey. Last month, Havens announced he would no longer be touring due to health issues.
From the beginning, when he played Village folk clubs in the mid-Sixties, Havens stood out due to more than just his imposing height (he was six-and-a-half feet tall) and his ethnicity (African-American in a largely white folk scene). He played his acoustic guitar with an open tuning and in a fervent, rhythmic style, and he sang in a sonorous, gravel-road voice that connected folk, blues and gospel.
. . . After recording two albums for a small label, Havens hooked up with Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman. With that, Havens’ visibility jumped up a new notches. In 1966, Havens was signed to Verve/Folkways, who released his classic Mixed Bag that year. Havens already had a growing audience thanks to albums like 1968’s ambitious blues-folk-psychedelic double LP Richard P. Havens, 1983, when he signed up for Woodstock. Recalling his trip into the grounds by helicopter, he later said, “It was awesome, like double Times Square on New Year’s Eve in perfect daylight with no walls or buildings to hold people in place.”
Havens wasn’t supposed to be the first act to open the festival; that slot originally was intended for the band Sweetwater, but that band wound up being stuck in traffic. Backstage, co-organizer Michael Lang approached Havens and practically begged him to go on instead. “It had to be Richie – I knew he could handle it,” Lang later wrote.
After performing a half-dozen songs, Havens ran out of material – until, he later said, he remembered “that word I kept hearing while I looked over the crowd in my first moments onstage. The word was: freedom.” Havens began chanting that word over and over, backed by his second guitarist and conga player, and eventually segued into the gospel song “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” which he had heard in church as a child. The combined, surging medley wasn’t just a crowd-pleaser; it later became a highlight of the Woodstock movie, which also immortalized Havens’ orange dashiki. (What many didn’t know at the time was that Havens wore dentures, which also gave his singing voice a unique tone.) “My fondest memory was realizing that I was seeing something I never thought I’d ever see in my lifetime – an assemblage of such numbers of people who had the same spirit and consciousness,” he later recalled of Woodstock to Rolling Stone.
Wook KIm | Time
Rowan Savage | Tiny Mix Tapes
Fear of Men’s influences include Anaïs Nin, Sylvia Plath, Freud (Sigmund and bonus points for Lucian), Jean-Paul Sartre, and Walter Benjamin. They wear these influences lightly but perceptibly, a translucent second skin. Bookishness may be another common indie trope, but, The Smiths aside, in a world where lyrics run somewhere between afterthought and cliché, to see inspiration of this caliber not only declared, but making its way into singer Jessica Weiss’ surrealist-confessional vignettes, is a pleasure that, in light of the subject matter, feels like it should be coupled with the term “guilty.” But let’s be clear, the guilt is that of voyeurism rather than elitism: Fear of Men, by their own account, take their work “as seriously as you can take pop music,” and that feels as it should be. As does the fact that Early Fragments is what it says on the box: a compilation (adorably described as “reverse chronological”) of pieces somehow fully formed yet still in the process of coming into existence, even if that box has been shredded into pieces fluttering to the ground, a phrase reflected too in cover art depicting dismembered Classical statuary. Oh, but there was one other act, enamored of Classicist imagery, who sunk deep into the literature of transgression and brought back what they found for our delectation, wasn’t there?
Tom Bunker & Nicos Livesey | Vimeo
WAS ITUNES A STOP GAP IN THE MUSIC-CONSUMPTION REVOLUTION?
Steven Hyden | Grantland
If you love your local record store, you definitely need to be patronizing it more than once per year, because a small but loyal battery of shoppers with money to burn on Johnny Marr 7-inches won’t be enough to stave off the rapid deterioration of its product base. But before you grab a pitchfork and shake it at the evil specter of Apple, remember that downloads may soon be as antiquated as CDs. Sift through the rosy statistics for digital sales and a less promising reality emerges: The gains made by downloads are sluggish compared with the exploding reach of streaming services like Spotify and Pandora, which saw a 59 percent increase in revenues last year thanks to listeners willing to pay a nominal subscription fee (or sit through ads) in exchange for access to libraries with many more songs than they could ever purchase. And there’s no sign that this trend has any hope of reversing course. Incredibly, from a customer loyalty standpoint, your neighborhood vinyl hut might have a better long-term prognosis than iTunes.
Ben Greenman | The Culture Desk | The New Yorker | amazon
“The Devil You Know” . . . returns her to interpretive territory, with a set of intimate, sometimes stark, versions of songs that she loves—and, consequently, that she loves to sing. The album kicks off with Jones’s take on the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” and moves through Van Morrison’s “Comfort You” and Donovan’s “Catch the Wind,” Rod Stewart’s “Seems Like a Long Time” and Tim Hardin’s “Reason to Believe.”
You’ve come back to these interpretive projects throughout your career. Are they all motivated by the same impulse, or do you think of them each very differently?
They are part of the same overall project. When my career started in 1979, the division between singer-songwriter-dom and singer-dom was a wide abyss, and singer-songwriters were not allowed to cover songs. Before I got signed, when I played live, I would do some of my own songs and also songs that I loved, like “Makin’ Whoopee” and “My Funny Valentine.” All those songs, the originals and the others, were part of me. And I got lots of flak. I’m not sure why, exactly, but there was a strong belief that singers should only sing their own songs.
Why do you think that was?
Singing other people’s material was perceived, I think, as a weakness of my persona. The effect, though, was to make me dig my heels in and try even harder to combine the two. There was a moment when I was doing jazz, with “Something Cool,” from “Girl At Her Volcano.” But I didn’t follow up on it right away. I went back and recorded originals, other albums. Then Linda Ronstadt released those records arranged by Nelson Riddle. So, when I decided to return to it, I was talking it over with David Was, who was my producer, and I wanted to do a guitar-based record. He suggested the bandoneón, which is how that record, “Pop Pop,” ended up with this Left Bank, café sound. I thought if I did a piano record it would bury me. It almost buried me anyway. The L.A. Times did a review with two journalists on the same page, a pop writer and a jazz writer, and the jazz writer tore me apart. What was happening? Was I being punished?
Mike Springer | Open Culture
Evans discusses his creative process in a fascinating 1966 documentary, The Universal Mind of Bill Evans. (See above.) The film is introduced by Tonight Show host Steve Allen and features a revealing talk between Evans and his older brother Harry, a music teacher. They begin with a discussion of improvisation and the nature of jazz, which Evans sees as a process rather than a style. He then moves to the piano to show how he builds up a jazz improvisation, starting with a simple framework and then adding layers of rhythmic, harmonic and melodic variation.
“It’s very important to remember,” Evans says, “that no matter how far I might diverge or find freedom in this format, it only is free insofar as it has reference to the strictness of the original form. And that’s what gives it its strength. In other words, there is no freedom except in reference to something.”
Paul Morley | The Observer
On the synthesiser:
“Instruments sound interesting not because of their sound but because of the relationship a player has with them. Instrumentalists build a rapport with their instruments which is what you like and respond to. If you were sitting down now to design an instrument you would not dream of coming up with something as ridiculous as an acoustic guitar. It’s a strange instrument, it’s very limited and it doesn’t sound good. You would come up with something much better. But what we like about acoustic guitars is players who have had long relationships with them and know how to do something beautiful with them. You don’t have that with synthesisers yet. They are a very new instrument. They are constantly renewing so people do not have time to build long relationships with them. So you tend to hear more of the technology and less of the rapport. It can sound less human. However ! That is changing. And there is a prediction that I made a few years ago that I’m very pleased to see is coming true – synthesisers that have inconsistency built into them. I have always wanted them to be less consistent. I like it that one note can be louder than the note next to it.”
On reporting in the 1990s that there was too much music being released and he was not going to add to it any more:
“I didn’t think it through to be honest.”
FIFTY YEARS AGO
Chris May | All About Jazz | amazon
Every now and again, a label pulls a previously unissued session out of the vaults and it proves to be a down-by-law number one with a mango. Candid did it earlier in 2006 with Jamaican tenor saxophonist Wilton Gaynair’s Africa Calling (London, 1960). Now it’s Blue Note’s turn with Solomon Ilori’s African High Life (Englewood Cliffs, 1963-64)—or to be precise, the album’s final three tracks, recorded eighteen months after the rest of the set, and which together clock up just under forty minutes of playing time.
The references to Africa in the two titles are purely coincidental. Gaynair’s album was down-the-line, but massively on-fire and passionate hard bop. Tracks 7-9 on Ilori’s album, on the other hand, anticipate—with great brio and deep grooves—the astral jazz of the late ’60s and early ’70s, and the world jazz which has in turn followed.