Thursday, October 29, 2009

Casual Listening -- Havana Cultura plus Rock & Roll CAGE MATCH and Halloween Special!

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

October 30, 2009

! Gilles Peterson Presents Havana Cultura: New Cuba Sound (Latin)

In the musical world, Cuba is the gift that keeps on giving. In this case, it’s giving to a DJ from the BBC who brought back two albums of material, one from a recording session he engineered and another that features recordings of artists he came across while on the island. It’s all hot. The first disc runs from mambo to afrobeat, while the other has strong hip hop, jazz, and reggaeton influences. One of these days the U.S. will lift the embargo and Cuba will become a global musician’s paradise. Until then, we’ve got Gilles Peterson to give us a taste of what we’re missing.

Listen to Havana Cultura Band “Pa’ Gozar

And Ogguere “La Revolucion del Cuerpo

* Jessica Pavone – Songs of Synastry and Solitude (classical)

A collection of tuneful compositions that captures a brooding introspection in the midst of the mundane. These pieces for string quartet move quietly, evenly, and effortlessly. Beautiful stuff.

Listen to Jessica Pavone “Hope Dawson is Missing

The Blind Boys of Alabama – Duets (gospel)

A lineup of A-list musicians from rock, blues, country, and gospel each get a turn with the world’s best backup singers. It’s fun to hear descent singers suddenly sound awesome when surrounded by the Blind Boys’ enormous gospel harmonies. Lou Reed, Ben Harper, and Jars of Clay all get the royal treatment.

Listen to The Blind Boys of Alabama with Dan Zanes “Welcome Table

The Lawrence Arms – Buttsweat and Tears (rock)

OK, so I couldn’t resist the title, but the music’s surprisingly good. High octane, three-chord punk-pop.

Listen to The Lawrence Arms “Them Angels Been Talkin’


Wolfmother ­– Cosmic Egg vs. Winger – Karma

In this corner, the young guns of retro-rock, the monsters of the mainstream, Wolfmother! (YAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!) And in the other corner, it’s the killers from the crypt, the band that would not die, Winger! (yay.) Wolfmother tears through the power chords, taunting Winger with vocals that sound ripped from the throat of Robert Plant himself! Winger seems laughably uncool by comparison. Is there a slaughter rule in the cage match? But wait! Winger cranks it up and launches barrage after barrage of screaming guitar solos! It’s a classic rope-a-dope! Winger unleashes a massive dosage of Rawk and double back even harder at Wolfmother. Wolfmother’s on the ropes! The referee steps in! It’s Winger!!!!!! (yay.)

Listen to Wolfmother “New Moon Rising

Listen to Winger “Deal With the Devil


The Red Shore – Unconsecrated (metal)


Listen to The Red ShoreSlain by the Serpent

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Casual Listening - Sufjan Stevens, Forro in the Dark, Round Mountain

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

October 23, 2009

Welcome to all the new folks this week. I’ve got two weeks of music to give you, so you’ll get a lot to listen too, albeit with a little less to read about each one.

! Sufjan Stevens – The BQE: The Motion Picture Soundtrack (classical)

Beethoven wrote an ode to joy. Pablo Neruda wrote an ode to his socks. Sufjan Stevens wrote an ode to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. All three pieces make transcendent art out of something that otherwise would go unnoticed. In this case, it’s a multimedia symphony that draws into itself the best of the last century of classical composition and takes it another step. It’s time to start treating this cat as a real American composer.

Listen to Sufjan Stevens “Movement V: Self-Organizing Emergent Patterns

! Forro in the Dark – Light a Candle (world)

Forro is Brazillian party music, and this quartet carries it off with enthusiasm. Fantastic flute playing with electric guitar and a boatload of drums and percussion. It’s an inviting beat that’ll give you a grin the size of a Cheshire cat.

Listen to Forro in the Dark – “Saudades de Manezinho Araujo

* Round Mountain – Windward (folk)

Round Mountain gave their acoustic sound a passport and sent it around the world. It still invokes the melodies and harmonies of American roots music, but through a prism of global drums, accordion, musical bow, and bagpipes.

Listen to Round MountainDon’t Lie Down

* Jay Farrar & Ben Gibbard – One Fast Move and I’m Gone: Music From Kerouac’s Big Sur (rock)

Lonely pedal steel guitar winds along the coastal mountains on this literary journey. The album includes original songs by rock royalty (Farrar: Son Volt, Gibbard: Death Cab for Cutie) based on texts taken from Jack Kerouac’s book Big Sur. What’s most interesting musically is hearing the fragile clarity of Gibbard’s voice in Farrar’s rugged Americana milieu.

Listen to Jay Farrar & Ben Gibbard “Williamine

Jello Biafra – The Audacity of Hype (rock)

For those who missed out on the 80’s, this is what great punk rock sounds like. Biafra is a master, and his piercing voice alongside roaring electric guitar comes across as a steamroller of righteous indignation. He’s one of a handful of artists with the brains and the gumption to pull off a song about NAFTA.

Listen to Jello BiafraNew Feudalism

Electric Six – Kill (rock)

This is gonzo rock & roll. Macho vocals and guitars wrapped in disco. Tongue in cheek, but not so far to miss some really catchy music.

Listen to Electric Six “Egyptian Cowboy” (explicit)

Del Tha Funky Homosapien & Tame One – Parallel Uni-Verses (rock)

Two very clever lyricists rhyming over jazz-inspired grooves. The strength of their flow is impressive, and evokes what made old school rap such a phenomenon in the first place.

Listen to Del Tha Funky Homosapien & Tame One “Flashback” (explicit)

Doug Cox & Sahlil Bhatt – Slide to Freedom II (world)

Slide playing is a sound that crosses continents. In this case North America and Asia, with two musicians playing a mix of blues and Indian classical on modified instruments that are half-guitar, half-sitar.

Listen to samples of the album at CDBaby

The Flaming Lips – Embryonic (rock)

Weirrrrrrrrrd. In a good way.

Listen to The Flaming Lips “Evil

Twilight: New Moon (soundtrack)

I guess when vampires aren’t sucking blood, they’re hanging around indie record stores. This will be one of the most talked about soundtracks of the year, and there are several worthy cuts here, from a who’s who of hip artists.

Listen to Bon Iver & St. Vincent on Twilight: New Moon, “Roslyn

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Casual Listening - Dudamel Concert Review

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

October 16, 2009

I’ve been away at a conference this week, without a chance to listen to new music. Next week will be a double issue. In the meantime, here’s a review of a concert that you ought to be aware of.

Dudamel's Winning Premiere

In an age when a “classical event” feels like an oxymoron, the national simulcast and webcast of opening night at the Los Angeles Philharmonic will be the talk of the music world for a long time to come. Gustavo Dudamel, a 28-year old Venezuelan, took the baton of one of the top North American orchestras, and powerfully so. People are nuts about Dudamel – not just the musical elite, but a lot of ordinary Angelinos, many who are paying attention to classical music for the first time. His story is inspirational; his music even moreso.

It's hard to see a year go by without another major study being done tolling the decline of classical music. Audiences are graying and shrinking, and 21st century audiences have less patience for music of the 18th and 19th. In the last few years these studies started grudgingly to include an asterisk: Venezuela. There's been a major effort in that country to put instruments and classical instruction in every school in the country. "El Sistema" (the system) has resulted in an unbelievable pipeline of new classical musicians that are just now coming of age through institutions like the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra. So while Cuba's exporting shortstops to American baseball teams and Brazil's exporting midfielders to soccer leagues, Venezuela's starting to export principal violinists to American orchestras.

Dudamel has spent more than half of his life on the podium. He toured internationally as conductor of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, where he made an impression on the folks at the L.A. Philharmonic. From the sound of it, he makes an impression on everybody. Exuberant, flamboyant, engaging - it's emblematic that he made his major pre-season appearance with the "Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's Ninth.

The program for opening night juxtaposed novelty and tradition, the adventurous and the familiar. "City Noir" is a symphony commissioned from John Adams, one of America's most lauded living composers. This was paired on the program with Mahler's First Symphony, a crowd-pleaser with a second movement that's among the most recognizable passages this side of Beethoven.

The orchestra attacked the Adams symphony. Opening with brash, honking tones, it could easily have been the soundtrack to a lost Hitchcock movie. A cymbal and woodblock kicked in a syncopated beat while the wind section staggered over the top, invoking the pace of jazz with none of the familiar harmonies. Slower passages provided no respite, with eerie xylophone cascades rising from droning strings.

A trumpet solo at midpoint provided the piece’s only melodic handle, and it disappeared almost as soon as it appeared, replaced by violent lurches in the low brass. A saxophone picked through a wreck of notes. The arrival of bongos ultimately carried the piece to a dramatic climax, leaving a profound dread to hover in the silent air.

For a populist conductor, it's an odd introduction, although one that Dudamel managed to sell with tremendous energy and athleticism. He conveyed vividly this portrait of a dark, senseless city, a heightened dramatization of a place synonymous with drama. Despite enthusiastic applause, this isn't the kind of piece that's going to win over curious new listeners to contemporary music. Any commission involves risk, and this is an atypical entry for Adams, generally known for his accessibility. What it does show us is Dudamel’s willingness to take risk as well as his appetite for new music.

Dudamel's Mahler was exquisite. The pianissimo, lento opening of the first movement is a difficult one to conduct, and Dudamel showed above all a patience with the music that carried through the entire piece. He turned over each note with attentiveness, an expectation that there might be surprises hiding even under these familiar passages.

His approach to the second movement was romantic in the Hollywood sense - seductive, playful, lusty. He managed total intensity at a relaxed tempo, releasing the big, booming fourths with gusto. It was here that Dudamel the Epicure arrived, and that’s the persona that turns serious music connoisseurs into starry-eyed teenagers.

Long silences between movements served as palate-cleansers, giving the listener a chance to savor the finish of the prior emotion and prepare for the next one. Dudamel brought a dose of levity to the moodier third movement. His direction was measured and serious, but not too serious. The final movement broke with alarm, echoing the Adams symphony. Deliberately, Dudamel led the orchestra deliberately toward a grand, not grandiose conclusion.

As a conductor, Dudamel shows way more emotional range than you’d expect from a 28-year-old, and yet it’s the energy and audacity of his youth that’s spellbinding. Performances like this ought to be inspiring audiences for years to come.

You can catch a TV broadcast of the full concert on PBS October 21.

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Casual Listening - Osso & Sufjan Stevens, Califone, Me'Shell Ndegeocello

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

October 9, 2009

Slightly abbreviated this week to make time for the Dudamel premiere. Who’s Dudamel, you ask? Tune in next week for full report.

! Osso & Sufjan Stevens – Run Rabbit Run (classical)

A song cycle of compelling modern compositions arranged for string quartet and based on the Chinese zodiac. Its composer Sufjan Stevens is better known in other circles, although his classical training shows through in pieces of both great resonance and dissonance. Originally written as an electronic piece, members of the Osso quartet have reinterpreted it for live instruments. Listening without access to the original, one can only speculate what was lost and gained in translation. The current work holds its own as a piece of serious music.

Listen to Osso & Sufjan Stevens “Year of the Horse

* Califone – All My Friends Are Funeral Singers (rock)

It’s no ordinary musical mind that says “I picture this song accompanied by a theramin and a bucket of bolts.” Understated vocals and acoustic guitar are petrified in an amber of experimental sound, reminiscent of Wilco at its most adventurous. Albums like this are why headphones were invented.

Listen to Califone – “Polish Girls

Me’Shell Ndegeocello – Devil’s Halo (R&B)

Ndegeocello’s cosmic visions hail from the same galaxy as Sun Ra and Jimi Hendrix. Her fearless experimentalism is belied by easy melodies and steady grooves.

Listen to Me’Shell Ndegeocello “Love You Down

Maria Muldaur: Garden of Joy (blues)

As the unemployment rate continues to climb, people are finding new meaning in the hard-times rags and blues of the Great Depression. Maria Muldaur is an able blues traditionalist, and she brings real emotion to these rarely performed laments.

Listen to Maria Muldaur “Bank Failure Blues

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Casual Listening - Barbra Streisand, Alice in Chains, Poncho Sanchez

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

October 2, 2009

! Barbra Steisand – Love is the Answer (easy listening)



As someone with almost no context for Barbara (Funny Girl, Yentl) and no prior experience of her singing offscreen, this album caught me completely off-guard. Her voice is unbelievably smooth and powerful – still one of the best in the business. Every vocal gesture is considered, and even with a voice that big, she still manages to come across as understated. The songs on this collection are available both in full orchestral and quartet settings. I love the full-on orchestra, but the quartet settings may help to convince those with a more jazz-attuned ear.

Listen to Barbra Streisand “Gentle Rain (orchestral)” or “Gentle Rain (quartet)”

! Tingsek – Restless Soul (R&B)

This is deep soul, reminiscent of Stevie Wonder’s creative excursions of the 70’s. Electric piano, acoustic guitar, and layered vocals give a heavy romantic feel intensified with a harmonic sophistication rarely found in contemporary R&B. I’m conflicted as to whether to recommend this as a make-out album – the music’s good enough to be distracting.

Listen to Tingsek – “Coming Back to You

! Anthony Coleman – Freakish: Anthony Coleman Plays Jelly Roll Morton (jazz)

While Jelly Roll Morton’s claim to be the inventor of jazz is disputed, he was certainly the bridge between ragtime and the eternal sound of Louis Armstrong. Coleman’s renditions for solo piano are definitive modern recordings, showing tremendous emotional and technical range. His sureness of hand is absolute. Bravo.

Listen to Anthony Coleman “Fickle Fay Creep (Soap Suds)

* Kris Kristofferson: Closer to the Bone (country)

Like Johnny Cash’s American recordings, the magic in this recording is of a man confronting his own mortality, and the freedom it gives him to sing his heart out fearlessly. Much of this is solo guitar, voice, and an occasional harmonica.

Listen to Kris Kristofferson “Sister Sinead

Alice in Chains – Black Gives Way to Blue (rock)

I always imagined this band as Crosby, Stills, Hetfield, and Ulrich. Heavy, twisted rock that still manages to hook you with impeccable harmonies. As the title implies, this album isn’t nearly as dark as the band’s early work, and consequently has the potential to attract a new circle of fans.

Listen to Alice in Chains “Check My Brain

Poncho Sanchez – Psychedelic Blues (Latin)

Sanchez is one of the greatest living conga players. His latest is a textbook example of the musical hybrid that is contemporary Latin jazz, with an emphasis on the jazz. His “Canteloupe Island” is smokin’.

Listen to Poncho Sanchez “Canteloupe Island

The reviews above are, in my opinion, the best of the best. Still, it’s been an amazing week for music, possibly the heaviest week for new releases all year. Here’s a list of some of the rest that still caught my attention: Ramsey Lewis, Robert Earle Keen, Karen O. and the Kids (Where the Wild Things Are soundtrack), Dethklok, Patty Loveless, La Roux, Miranda Lambert, Samuel James, Selena Gomez, Bebel Gilberto, Fred Hammond, Zero 7, State Radio, and Fungus.

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

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