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.”

The Colors of My Rainbow

When I was a little kid—I mean, probably seven or eight years old—we were visiting my grandparents in Paradise, PA. My Pop-Pop liked to play music for us, generally the radio but often a tape that he had gotten from his work at Spectrum Fidelity Magnetics. And this time he had a kid’s album, “The Colors of My Rainbow.”

That album, by a kid’s musician named Joe Wayman, squirmed its way into my psyche through repeated listenings in cassette players at home, Pop-Pop’s, and in our car on long trips between Newport News and Paradise. Having grown up on a diet of my mom’s kid’s music, much of which dated to her days as a music teacher in the 1950s and 1960s (think “Tubby the Tuba”), the smart-assery around the edges of “Recipe for Red” and “Mellow Yellow Coot” appealed to me. But maybe most of all, the melancholy in “Brown’s the Saddest Color” hit the bullseye of my soul. I still remember the lyrics to many of the songs.

Other than half remembered snatches of the songs floating through my head, I wasn’t able to find the music. But then this morning I decided to Google the lyrics I remembered. And there was a full playlist of the album on YouTube (misattributed to “Joe Hayman”). And a Creative Commons archive of the album on the Internet Archive. And now I’m happily listening to the dated production and less-good-than-remembered singing and refreshing my memory.

Silly love songs

Yesterday I listened to a few demo tracks from Paul McCartney’s Flowers in the Dirt, included in the just-released Archive Collection reissue. And I was moved in a way I hadn’t expected to be. Stripped of their late-80s production (not that that’s a terrible thing), even the lesser McCartney/Costello songs (“This One“, I’m looking at you) are surprisingly powerful and lovely things.

It made me realize: I don’t listen to nearly enough silly love songs. And there aren’t nearly enough of them being written.

Maybe this year we all need more silly love songs.

New mix: don’t put no headstone on my grave

I struggled with this mix for quite a while, and probably have two other mixes of rejected tracks even though the final version clocks in at 2 CDs’ length. The hard bit is always mood. Summer is easy mixin’ weather; winter, especially this winter, was hard.

And a lot of this mix struggled with the challenge of a world turned upside down. So there are a few more instrumental tracks, a few more down tracks. But it starts in a place of fragile hope, with Lou Reed’s incredibly timely song of transsexual identity which is equal measures crisis and birth of the new, and ends in a place of defiance. And maybe that’s what we have left to ourselves right now.

  1. Candy Says (Closet Mix)The Velvet Underground (Peel Slowly and See)
  2. SilverEcho & The Bunnymen (Songs To Learn & Sing)
  3. Boys Keep SwingingDavid Bowie (Lodger)
  4. Damaged GoodsGang Of Four (Entertainment!)
  5. DevotionMission of Burma (Signals, Calls and Marches (Remastered))
  6. World Cup DrummingMclusky (My Pain and Sadness Is More Sad and Painful Than Yours)
  7. ElectioneeringRadiohead (OK Computer)
  8. The Great Curve (live)Talking Heads (Jaap Eden Hall, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, December 11, 1980)
  9. Wish FulfillmentSonic Youth (Dirty)
  10. As I Went Out One MorningBob Dylan (John Wesley Harding)
  11. Time, As a SymptomJoanna Newsom (Divers)
  12. Morning LakeWeather Report (Weather Report)
  13. Sense Of DoubtDavid Bowie (Heroes)
  14. What Will You Say (feat. Alim Qasimov)Jeff Buckley featuring Alim Qasimov (Live at L’Olympia)
  15. This RoomThe Notwist (Neon Golden)
  16. Politician ManBetty Davis (The Columbia Years 1968-1969)
  17. For What It’s WorthTalk Talk (The Very Best Of)
  18. Above ChiangmaiBrian Eno (Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror)
  19. Magpie to the MorningNeko Case (Middle Cyclone (Bonus Track Version))
  20. State TrooperBruce Springsteen (Nebraska)
  21. DaphniaYo La Tengo (I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass)
  22. The Sky Is BrokenMoby (Play)
  23. Here Come the Warm Jets (2004 – Remaster)Brian Eno (Here Come The Warm Jets)
  24. Give Me Cornbread When I’m HungryJohn Fahey (The Dance Of Death & Other Plantation Favorites)
  25. After AwhileSwan Silvertones (Love Lifted Me / My Rock)
  26. The Last Broken Heart (Prop 8)Christian Scott (Yesterday You Said Tomorrow)
  27. Mystic BrewVijay Iyer Trio (Historicity)
  28. Why Was I Born?Kenny Burrell And John Coltrane (Kenny Burrell With John Coltrane)
  29. Meeting in the AisleRadiohead (Airbag/How Am I Driving?)
  30. The Last RayThis Mortal Coil (It’ll End in Tears)
  31. Cedars of LebanonU2 (No Line On the Horizon (Deluxe Edition))
  32. We FloatPJ Harvey (Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea)
  33. No Headstone On My GraveEsther Phillips (Oxford American 2003 Southern Music CD No. 6)

Marantz SR6011: initial thoughts

Following up my post about the new AppleTV, I finally got my new Marantz receiver hooked up and working. First thoughts below.

First: not only did I get this receiver at a relative bargain, I ended up getting this year’s model. That’s right; I ordered a new-in-box Marantz SR6010 but the seller sent me a new-in-box SR6011. For a few hundred dollars off list. Score!

Second: this is the first “modern” AV receiver I’ve had, and so many of my notes are just awe that the thing works. You run one HDMI cable from the receiver to your TV, then plug all the HDMI cables from your other devices into the back of the receiver, and hey-presto, easy peasy. All you have to do is to switch the receiver to the new input source–the TV settings can remain unchanged.

Third, as compared to the Onkyo, which seemed to go from quiet to loud awfully quickly, the Marantz has miles of quiet built into it, which is nice for more nuanced classical or jazz listening. I seem to regularly be setting the volume to between 30 and 40, which is comfortable without being distracting from other rooms.

Fourth, I love the onscreen menus and the manual speaker calibration. In older receivers, I used to be driven mad by the hoops required to tell the amp I had no center channel so that it would redirect the dialog to the stereo speakers. On this model, you pull up the settings menu, choose Speakers, and tell it you have no center channel. Easy.

It’s weird, but useful, to see the Marantz show up in my AirPlay menu on my iPhone too.

The only thing I don’t like is that it’s just a little too deep for me to be able to close my audio cabinet.

Coming up with the TFC: the Busoni Piano Concerto

One of the comforting things in my life right now is that, no matter how much things change, music remains a constant. On Friday and Saturday I am lucky enough to be able to take my place with the men of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus in a rare performance of the Busoni Piano Concerto, whose “everything and the kitchen sink” approach to orchestration includes a men’s chorus part in the final movement.

The choral writing in the work is interesting, anticipating modern harmonies in several places, and our guest conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya has drawn some rich sonority out of the ensemble. I’ve enjoyed preparing the work, which has involved sitting “hashed” so that we can all hear all the other parts and blend our sound and pitches more effectively.

The men’s choral sound also makes me nostalgic for my friends in the Virginia Glee Club, whose exploits this week on tour are being chronicled on Frank Albinder’s tour blog. Wafna!

Sounds of anguish

Christopher C. King, Oxford American: Unearthly Laments. It’s easier than you might think to connect the dots between the earliest known complete musical composition—the Seikilos Epitaph—and “Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground.” I’ve got a mix almost in the can that explores some of these connections.

But that isn’t why you should read King’s piece. His tale of discovery of a 78 of the Blind Willie Johnson record is: a little physical remnant of sorrow, left to rot in a sharecropper’s shack until saved from fiery destruction.

The Chieftains, March 1, 2017, Chevalier Theatre, Medford, MA

Lisa and I went to see the Chieftains tonight in Medford. It was an amazing show, not so much due to the displays of individual artistry (though those were plentiful), but due to the astonishing generosity on display.

The Chieftains are one of those musical groups that it’s possible to take for granted, owing not least to their incredible longevity (55 years and counting) and their recordings with seemingly every possible type of guest star. But when you see them live, you get the essence of what Paddy Moloney, a founding member and still going strong 55 years later, and his compeers Matt Molloy and Kevin Conneff (Seán Keane was not there tonight) have been doing all these years.

Put simply, they’ve been pulling on threads.

Tonight’s threads included a diversion into country music, led by Jeff White (who helped out the Chieftains on Down the Old Plank Road), reminding one that it was the Irish and Scots who settled the Appalachians, then fanned out west, carrying Gaelic touched musical traditions with them. They included a gospel sextet singing “Shenandoah,” as part of a medley from their album Long Journey Home, as a reminder of how the music of that group touched on the core of American traditions. They included “The Foggy Dew,” a sobering reminder that not all Irish music is light hearted, and that some is paid for in blood. And they included a bagpipe group from the North Shore, and the house band from the Burren, reminding us that the music that the group brings has deep roots here in Massachusetts.

A wonderful night and a great show.