Exfiltration Radio

We just finished another Veracode Hackathon, and this one was rock and roll themed. One of our brilliant hackers put together an Internet radio station where you could sign up for a one-hour time slot and post a playlist. Naturally, this was catnip. I spent a few hours putting together two playlists, which I’ve embedded below—one all genres and one focusing on (mostly) 21st century jazz.

Production notes: I did some processing of individual audio files through Amadeus Pro and assembled everything in GarageBand. I’m very much still learning how to crawl with the latter tool, so I hope it doesn’t stink too much.

The playlists are below. Enjoy!

  1. Orbits (Live) – Wayne Shorter (Without a Net (Live))
  2. Tangled – Idris Rahman, Leon Brichard, Emre Ramazanoglu, Yahael Camara-Onono (Ill Considered)
  3. Love What Is Mortal – Donny McCaslin (Fast Future)
  4. Be There – Leon Gardner (Spiritual Jazz)
  5. Everybody Wants to Rule the World – The Bad Plus (Prog)
  6. El Swing – Hudson (Hudson (feat. Jack DeJohnette, Larry Grenadier, John Medeski & John Scofield))
  7. I Came to See You / You Were Not There – Ahmad Jamal (Marseille)
  8. From One Island to Another – Branford Marsalis Quartet & Kurt Elling (Upward Spiral)
  9. Lathe of Heaven – Mark Turner Quartet (Lathe of Heaven)
  10. Look at Me – Cécile McLorin Salvant (For One to Love)
  11. For Amiri Baraka – Vijay Iyer Sextet (Far from Over)
  1. Sivad – Miles Davis (The Columbia Years 1955-1985)
  2. Uncloudy Day – Mavis Staples & The Staple Singers (Gospel Brunch)
  3. Where the Sun Never Goes Down – David Byrne (Music From the Knee Plays)
  4. Rotating Head (raga version) – English Beat
  5. It’s All Too Much – The Beatles (Yellow Submarine [2009 Stereo Remaster])
  6. Damaged Goods – Gang Of Four (Entertainment!)
  7. Winter ’68 – The Black Angels (The Black Angels)
  8. Ascension Day – Talk Talk (Laughing Stock)
  9. Rebecca Sylvester – Gastr Del Sol (Upgrade & Afterlife)
  10. Hey Vegas – Bows (Cassidy)
  11. Circle – Miles Davis Quintet (Miles Smiles)
  12. &&& . . . && . &&& . . – The User (Symphony #2 For Dot Matrix Printers)
  13. Farnham – Daniel Bachman (River)
  14. Life On Mars? (2003 Ken Scott Mix) – David Bowie (Nothing Has Changed (Deluxe Edition))

iOS 11: high-bitrate audio is finally here

I updated my iPhone to iOS 11 over the weekend, having first replaced or exported data from two old apps that haven’t been updated for 64 bit (I’ll miss you, Cocktails app!). And then I synced music from my Mac and noticed that I didn’t get the customary message about tracks that couldn’t be synced.

I checked and found that a whole bunch of Boston Symphony tracks purchased from their store, which I converted from FLAC to Apple Lossless but were apparently still at a too-high bitrate for iOS to handle, appear finally to be supported and were synced to my phone for the first time ever. This appears to be a feature, and may be related to the ability to play back FLAC through some apps (like iCloud Drive).

Looking forward to finally carrying all my music with me!

Raised on radio

I’ve found myself doing more radio listening lately. Partly because it’s starting to be challenging to spend time digitizing LPs or even doing digital digging on Bandcamp (though I’m still doing both). But most of my listening has not been FM. Here’s what I’ve been turning to:

Sirius/XM Radio. Though the poor quality audio throws me off—I can’t stand listening to the classical channels for more than a few minutes—it’s great being able to turn on the First Wave channel and hear “Mad World” pretty much any day you want to. And a bunch of other tracks as well.

Iron Leg/Testify/Funky16Corners. I’m a long time listener of Larry Grogan’s expanding family of podcasts. Though I found myself fast forwarding a few of this summer’s F16C guest podcasts, I am really enjoying Larry’s posts of his WFMU radio show, “Testify.” Sample episodes: tribute to Steely Dan’s Walter Becker, heavy epics from Joni Mitchell to Nick Drake to the Temptations, and more on the show page (he also cross-posts the full sets to the Iron Leg podcast). The show graphics are great too (see above).

In the Groove. Another radio-originated podcast, Ken Laster’s WWUH radio show is jazz focused and has a special slant covering independent jazz artists. I’ve had a few discoveries from this show, including Cecile McLorin Savant (featured in Ken’s Newport Preview episode). The Wayne Shorter episode is pretty good too.

The Broadcasting System. My friend Tyler DJs this show on Monday afternoons under the nom de radio of “Tyler Broadcasting System.” WTJU doesn’t podcast but they do stream live and archive a few weeks worth of shows. I highly recommend the show from September 18 while it’s still available, which veers from Meredith Monk and Moondog to Pram and ELO and Pharoah Sanders.

Classic Quadrophenia, part 2

 

Yesterday I wrote about the experience of singing Pete Townshend’s Classic Quadrophenia, including the odd feeling of being a backup singer for some of the biggest names in rock and roll and of being inside a rock concert at normally staid Tanglewood. But what about the work? Did it, well, work?

I should acknowledge, to begin with, that I was unfamiliar with Quadrophenia except by reputation before this all began. I knew “Love Reign O’er Me,” and I had heard Pete Townshend perform “Drowned” in a solo acoustic set as part of the video release of Amnesty International benefit The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball. I knew the Mods/Rockers plot and the concept of multiple personal disorder that the title refers to (“Schizophrenic? I’m bleeding quadrophenic“). And I knew about the character of the Ace Face, because Sting played him in the 1979 feature film based on the rock opera.

But the material?

So, first of all, a rock opera isn’t an opera. The songs are songs, not arias. And yet… the musical themes carry from number to number (“Is it me for a moment,” “The Real Me,” and other motifs appear in several tracks, as does the chugging honky-tonk of “5:15”). The emotional arc of the show carries us from Jimmy’s bold statement of theme (“The Real Me” again) through despair and nihilism to a final desperate statement of hope.

And there is a real emotional story at the core, an exploration of what it means to be a man when all the supports for manhood are crumbling around you. Jimmy looks for approval from his father and mother but doesn’t find it. He falls back to the approval of his tribe (“Why should I care if I have to cut my hair? I’ve gotta move with the fashions or be outcast”). He looks at his Mod band idols to realize that they offer nothing more than the fashion he’s already growing disillusioned with (“You declared you would be three inches taller/You only became what we made you”). He takes a manual labor job and realizes that the workers are being abused but won’t stand up to protest (“The Dirty Jobs”: “My karma tells me/You’ve been screwed again/If you let them do it to you/You’ve got yourself to blame/It’s you who feels the pain/It’s you who takes the shame/…You men should remember how you used to fight”). He feels threatened by the changes to his society, the arrival of black immigrants taking jobs and the mechanization affecting even retail jobs (“Helpless Dancer”).

And so he turns to casual sex, and fighting, and ultimately slides into homelessness and despair, and strands himself on a rock in a torrential rainstorm, pleading for love to rain over him in a lyric that has echoes of The Waste Land (as well as the teachings of Pete’s guru Meher Baba).

Lyrically it’s a bleak journey but a fully realized one. Robert Christgau thought so: “… if Townshend’s great virtue is compassion, this is his triumph — Everykid as heroic fuckup, smart enough to have a good idea of what’s being done to him and so sensitive he gets pushed right out to the edge anyway.”

And as a classical crossover work? I think the real challenge that this production faces comes down to sound. For instance, there’s percussion aplenty — various drums including an enormous bass drum, timpani, snare — but if not mixed well you can still get complaints, as we did from one reviewer, that the drums weren’t there. But the visceral punch of the Who orchestration is traded for the grandeur of a full orchestral (and choral) treatment, as heard in “Love Reign O’er Me.”

And the songs are first-class earworms. I’ve had “The Real Me,” “Is It In My Head?,” “5:15” and of course “Love Reign O’er Me” in my head for the better part of two weeks now. With any luck, our rehearsals of the Berlioz Damnation of Faust will finally chase them away. 

Classic Quadrophenia, part 1

At the beginning of the summer I was feeling a little down. I was only doing one performance at Tanglewood with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, and while I was really looking forward to singing Mahler’s Second again I was sad not to perform with my friends for the other weekends—especially for Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast, which I sang with Reilly Lewis twenty years or so ago. But I had business and family travel and so resigned myself to it being a quiet and ordinary summer.

That’s when the email came. “On Saturday, September 2nd, The Who’s Pete Townshend will bring his ‘Classic Quadrophenia’ show to Tanglewood. This show will feature Townshend, Billy Idol, Alfie Boe, the BSO Pops and TFC singers.”

I didn’t even ask. I just checked the calendar and put my name in. A few weeks later, I was dancing when I got the roster and my name was on it.

I suspect that for all classical singers of Generation X and later (and maybe for a few born before me), there’s a part of us that wants to be a rock and roll singer. And while I’m not the biggest fan of the Who, I’ve always had a ton of respect for Pete Townshend’s songwriting — and Billy Idol’s stage presence.

So we started rehearsals last week and by Friday’s orchestra rehearsal we had a show. It was mind-blowing to sing backup with Pete Townshend on tunes like “The Punk and the Godfather,” and to hear his guitar with us on “I’m One.” Even more mind-blowing was watching Billy Idol, looking a great deal like James Marster’s Spike (from Buffy the Vampire Slayer), duetting with wundertenor Alfie Boe.

On Saturday, we boarded a bus to Tanglewood, rolled off and got straight to rehearsal on the stage. The main learning from this: the tech part of the rehearsal, as Pete’s sound team figured out how to balance soloists vs. chorus vs. orchestra, was the most important part of the day. As our director noted, they get one shot at balancing sound in an unfamiliar space and have to balance the audibility of quiet instruments like acoustic guitars against the punch of big percussion sections and voices. We even got our own sound check. (See below.)

And then came the performance, and it was amazing. First, Alfie Boe is a force of nature:

Second, I have never seen a Tanglewood audience so excited. They cheered for the opening bell; for the orchestra tuning; at the end of solos. They jumped to their feet and started dancing at various points. It wasn’t a full on rock concert audience—it couldn’t be, given the seats in the Shed—but it was as close as Tanglewood comes.

Last, it was an amazing honor to sing behind these guys. The passion they brought to the stage was unbelievable, and the music still hasn’t left my head.

The Punk and The Godfather #williamsnyderphotography #classicquadrophenia

A post shared by Alfie Boe (@mralfieboe) on

I had a bunch of thoughts about the music itself, but I’ll save that for part II.

Mahler 2, Boston Symphony/Andris Nelsons, Tanglewood, July 7, 2017

Between a week-long vacation in Asheville and a residency at Tanglewood, plus the usual work and family stuff, posting on this blog has ground to a halt. But it’s not as if I haven’t been busy.

Take the Tanglewood residency, for instance. This was my third performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony with the Boston Symphony Orchestra; my first Mahler 2 was with Seiji in 2006, my second with Christoph von Dóhnanyi in Symphony Hall. This was my first performance of the work under the baton of Andris Nelsons, and my first time through the piece with James Burton, the new conductor of the TFC.

It was a pretty magnificent experience, all told. Besides the improvements to tuning, diction, and affect that I’ve come to expect with Jamie, the chorus also found its way deeper into the work than we’ve done in the past. We talked about the difference in vocal tone required in the “Bereite dich” to ensure that we were strong and assertive but not aggressive. We were more attentive to the maestro than I remember being before.

Here’s the audio of the full performance.

Now listening: Bill Evans, Moon Beams

I haven’t listened to Bill Evans’ Moon Beams in a while. I listened to it yesterday afternoon in my living room sitting next to the right channel. I was completely blown away by Chuck Israel’s bass, which I hadn’t really heard before but which is panned hard right in the stereo mix. It made me think I was listening to a recording from a different, much more recent decade.

Special bonus note: The cover model was Nico.

Mavis Staples, Cary Memorial Hall, June 2, 2017

I went to see Mavis Staples in concert at Cary Memorial Hall on Friday night. It was immensely moving and a hell of a lot of fun.

Mavis’s sets are heavy on covers and on Staple Singer tunes, which on paper sounds problematic until you realize just how completely she owns her covers. I couldn’t have told you that George Clinton had been anywhere near “Can You Get to That”, so thoroughly did she own the song, and yet it was also recognizably funky.

Mavis was the most moving in “Wade in the Water,” where she started testifying after the song was over, then stopped about a minute later. “I didn’t mean to get ugly up here,” she joked back to the band.

Mavis clearly has health issues. She was helped to and from the stage, had to move carefully, and displayed what looked like shortness of breath. I hope that she continues to be with us for a long time.

I for one welcome our new input-only HiFi overlords

Yesterday I bought and connected a Rega Fono Mini A2D phono pre-amp to my new Marantz amplifier. Setup had me swearing for a minute, until I remembered that setup turned on the input ports depending on what was connected when the receiver was first run, and that I needed to use the onscreen menu to turn on the input I was running the Rega into. Initial listening — a Marian Anderson 45 of spirituals which was unfortunately staticky, the new Beatles Sgt. Pepper remaster — was sublime. Looking forward to getting in some more listening this week.

But wait,” you might say. “I thought the Marantz had a built in phono preamp. Why did you need an external pre-amp?”

Well, the Marantz does have a built in phono preamp. I’ve even used it, and it sounded fine on cursory listen. What it lacks is a tape monitor out connection. And without any sort of output connector, it’s impossible to use the system to digitize vinyl. Which meant either I needed to get a USB turntable—and I don’t want to part with my Denon DP-45F—or add a pre-amp with a digital out.

And the Rega works just fine for that as well.

But the absence of “monitor out”—the closing of the traditional “analog hole” even in a relatively high end consumer system—has me thinking anew about future-proofing, customer “requirements” vs. unanticipated use cases, and product features that appease other parts of the supply chain to the inconvenience of the customer.

New mix: God made me funky

I’ve been working on this one for a while, and today felt like the right day to finish it up. This is an indulgent (over four hours long) tour through at least four different genres, with a common thread of funk.

There’s no particular logic to the sequence except that they’re loosely grouped by genre so as to keep the groove flowing. And the first track might seem odd, but listen to Carleton Coon and Joe Sanders trading scat syllables (in a style that will seem familiar to fans of the Warner Brothers cartoon “Dough for the Do-Do”) and the connection to funk becomes clear.

  1. RoodlesThe Coon-Sanders Nighthawks (“Radio’s Aces”)
  2. Calling On My DarlingAlbert King (Chess Blues 1960-1967)
  3. Grab This Thing (Part 1)The Mar-Keys (The Stax Story)
  4. Black BoyRoebuck ‘Pops’ Staples (The Stax Story)
  5. I Have Learned to Do Without YouMavis Staples (The Stax Story)
  6. Sissy Walk (Full) (Vocal)Eddie Bo (The Hook and Sling)
  7. Tighten Up Tighter (Feat. Roosevelt Matthews)Billy Ball and the Upsetters (The Funky 16 Corners)
  8. Dap WalkErnie and The Top Notes Inc (The Funky 16 Corners)
  9. Check Your Bucket (Full)Eddie Bo (The Hook and Sling)
  10. Sock It To ‘Em Soul BrotherBill Moss (Eccentric Soul: The Capsoul Label)
  11. Hey Pocky A-Way (A Way)The Wild Tchoupitoulas (The Wild Tchoupitoulas)
  12. The Meters – Here Comes The Meter ManDJ Jedi (Blowout Breaks)
  13. The Headhunters – God Made Me FunkyDJ Jedi (Blowout Breaks)
  14. Honky Tonk (Parts 1 & 2)James Brown (Messing With The Blues)
  15. Outer Spaceways IncorporatedSun Ra (Space Is The Place (Original Soundtrack))
  16. UmbrellasWeather Report (Weather Report)
  17. Red China BluesMiles Davis (Get Up With It)
  18. Harvey Mason – Hop Scotch (1975)Herbie Hancock (Herbie Hancock – Man With a Suitcase)
  19. Eddie Henderson – Ecstasy (1978)Herbie Hancock (Herbie Hancock – Man With a Suitcase)
  20. Whitey on the MoonGil Scott-Heron (Small Talk At 125th and Lennox)
  21. The Last Poets – Black Is – ChantDJ Jedi (Blowout Breaks)
  22. Ku Mi Da HankanThe Elcados (Nigeria Rock Special: Psychedelic Afro-rock & Fuzz Funk In 1)
  23. Everybody Likes Something GoodIfy Jerry Crusade (Nigeria 70 – Lagos Jump)
  24. Live in Another WorldItadi (Afro-Beat Airways)
  25. The Things We Do In SowetoAlmon Memela (Next Stop Soweto 4: Zulu Rock, Afro-Disco & Mbaqanga 1975-19)
  26. Do The Afro Shuffle – Godwin Omabuwa & His Casanova DandiesGodwin Omabuwa & His Casanova Dandies (Nigeria Afrobeat Special: The New Explosive Sound In 1970&#0)
  27. Sex VeveVerckys & L’Orchestre Vévé (Congolese Funk, Afrobeat & Psychedelic Rumba 1969-1978)
  28. KenimaniaMonoMono (Nigeria Rock Special: Psychedelic Afro-rock & Fuzz Funk In 1)
  29. Afro-blues – Orlando Julius & His Afro-soundersOrlando Julius & His Afro-sounders (Nigeria Afrobeat Special: The New Explosive Sound In 1970&#0)
  30. Khomo Tsaka Deile Kae?Marumo (Next Stop Soweto 4: Zulu Rock, Afro-Disco & Mbaqanga 1975-19)
  31. Nuki SukiLittle Richard (King of Rock & Roll: The Complete Reprise Recordings)
  32. Home Is Where the Hatred IsGil Scott-Heron (Pieces of a Man)
  33. Mommy, What’s a Funkadelic?Funkadelic (Funkadelic)
  34. Maybe Your BabyStevie Wonder (Talking Book)
  35. Funky Dollar BillFunkadelic (Free Your Mind…And Your Ass Will Follow)
  36. Ride OnParliament (Chocolate City)
  37. Everybody Loves the SunshineRoy Ayers Ubiquity (The Best of Roy Ayers (The Best of Roy Ayers: Love Fantasy))
  38. So Ruff, So TuffZapp (Historia de la Musica Rock: Locas)
  39. I’ve Got My Eyes On YouThe Girls (Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound)
  40. HigherThe Lewis Connection (Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound)
  41. Feel UpGrace Jones (Lives of the Saints 5)
  42. ContagiousRonnie Robbins (Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound)
  43. Cloreen Bacon SkinPrince (Crystal Ball)
  44. Sexy M.F.Prince (The Hits/The B-Sides)
  45. Tribe VibesJungle Brothers (Done By the Forces of Nature)
  46. Doin’ Our Own DangJungle Brothers (Done By the Forces of Nature)
  47. Can I Kick It?A Tribe Called Quest (People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (25th Anniversary Edition))
  48. Rhythm (Devoted to the Art of Moving Butts)A Tribe Called Quest (People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (25th Anniversary Edition))
  49. The Magic NumberDe La Soul (3 Feet High And Rising)
  50. Where I’m FromDigable Planets (Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time & Space))
  51. Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)Digable Planets (Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time & Space))
  52. God Lives ThroughA Tribe Called Quest (Midnight Marauders)
  53. Jettin’Digable Planets (Blowout Comb)
  54. Gold ChainsBeck (Odelay (Deluxe Edition))
  55. Manteca (The Funky Lowlives Extended Remix)Dizzy Gillespie & Funky Lowlives (Verve Remixed 2 – Exclusive EP)
  56. Show MeMint Royale (Dancehall Places)

Pixies, House of Blues Boston, May 20, 2017

It’s been almost thirteen years since the last time I saw the Pixies live. In that time they’ve released two new albums, toured a whole lot, and replaced Kim Deal — twice. I was thrilled to get tickets to see them at the House of Blues — I mean, the last time I was there it was the Avalon, and it’s been the HoB since 2009. With so much time passing, I wondered what I’d see from the floor.

First, let’s acknowledge that the opening act, Cymbals Eat Guitars, is no Mission of Burma. But it’s no Bennies either (though Jeremy Dubs’ band did rock). Cymbals did a perfectly respectable set that wandered around …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead territory for a while and had me feeling pretty psychedelic by the end. We waited for a while while they set up the next band, and my friends Chris and Fred got into a conversation with the girls behind us. “You can’t possibly have been alive when the Pixies released their first albums. When were you born?” “1989.” Between that and the lengthy drunken monologue from one of the women, things were looking a little sketchy.

And then the band showed up. So how were they? In a word, tight.

Time was that I could have remembered the setlist, song by song. Thank goodness someone else has done that for me. All I can say is: 36 songs (35 if you subtract the false start of “Wave of Mutilation”). The opening, “Ana,” has been one of my favorites since I picked up Bossanova in my first year of college, but wasn’t in the setlist at the Tsongas Arena in 2004.

And when “Head On” started I was transported. Totally in another place.

Back to the Cathedral, and the Cheeselords

I’ve been in my old home grounds this week for a conference, and ended up with some spare time and in the Glover Park neighborhood. So on Monday I walked up the hill to Washington National Cathedral, just in time to join in the first half of the Cathedral Choral Society‘s rehearsal.

I was amazed at the number of familiar faces that I recognized, and who recognized me. I was astonished at how familiar everything was, to the extent of pushing the same talk button to enter the handicapped door for rehearsal and the chairs that everyone sat in—and how different it was. The passing of Reilly Lewis has left a hole in the organization that they are still working to fill.

And for me, having just passed through the conductor revolving door as the Tanglewood Festival Chorus sought to replace its founding conductor John Oliver, it felt very familiar—the uncertainty of the future direction of the group, the dislocation with each new guest conductor, the determination to make music despite all the ambiguity of the future and the organizational distractions. I look forward especially to hearing the Nico Muhly commission, “Looking Up,” that I rehearsed with the group and that was one of Reilly’s last programming choices.

Branford Marsalis Quartet, Cary Memorial Hall, April 28, 2017

I saw Branford live for the first time with Sting, on January 29, 1988, and with his band in 1989 (if my notes are correct). Because of Branford, I started listening to jazz in earnest, first finding John Coltrane, then Miles Davis, Monk, and others. Last Friday I finally got to hear him live again.

What struck me about the performance by the Branford Marsalis Quartet with Kurt Elling was the high level of talent in all the musicians on stage, and the high level of generosity from the leader. Joey Calderazzo in particular stood out for his range, going from high volume warfare with Justin Faulkner to atmospheric washes generated by plucking the strings of the piano to some moments of Bill Evans/Erik Satié inspired playing. Faulkner himself was a force of nature, dropping bombs left and right over the stage and performing incredibly complex fills. And Eric Revis was a solid pivot who proved in the encore of “St. James Infirmary” that he could play a solo of high complexity and sensitivity. Branford himself blew my socks off in a few moments, but mostly stood out for how well he accompanied Elling.

Elling is an astonishing vocalist who was not on my radar before his collaboration with this quartet, but whose other work I’ll be seeking out.

Happy 100th birthday, Ella

New York Times: An Ella Fitzgerald Centennial.

It’s nice to see some love for the First Lady of Song. Her contributions to popular song are eternal, due largely to the Songbook series, but for me I’ll remember her as a fellow child of Newport News (aside: what was it with that city in the early 20th century and jazz vocalists? Pearl Bailey also spent her childhood there) and as a great interpreter of song, period. For proof, have a listen to her version of the Beatles’ “Got to Get You Into My Life.”