Monday, July 28, 2008

A Work of Art Worthy of Parker or Coltrane

While I figured I could open this by saying something snarky- "How many stupid puns can someone come up with out of Art Pepper's name," for example- I realized after hearing "Unreleased Art Vol. 3" that it was a moot point. Critics are having a field day with this one, and while I don't think I've seen anything as ridiculous as mine, I also don't think that most critics have the same adoration of Art Pepper that I do. Art Pepper, like Lee Konitz, is one of an extremely small handful of musicians who constantly changed his sound throughout his career in search of something new. Pepper's substance abuse problems are well documented all over the place, so I won't delve deeply but to say that at the time that "Unreleased Art Vol. 3" was recorded, Pepper had already spent years in prison, kicked his heroin habit, and replaced it with a massive cocaine habit. Pepper died only a year after this recording, which unquestionably adds some gravity to the proceedings.

That said "Unreleased Art Vol. 3," released on Laurie Pepper's Widow's Taste label, is one of the great recently released concert recordings, up there with "Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall" and the recent reissues of early 60s Mingus concerts. Pepper calls pianist Milcho Leviev, bassist Bob Magnussen and drummer Carl Burnett his best rhythm section ever, and after hearing "Unreleased Art Vol. 3" I can't disagree; keep in mind, Pepper played with Philly Jo, Red and Paul on at least one extremely well-known occasion. All three have brilliant moments throughout the record, but their work on "Ophelia" is particularly stunning. Constantly building tension by starting off slow and moving into more and more complicated ideas both harmonically and rhythmically, Leviev plays a stunning solo. Magnussen also builds his solo, and by the end shows off his own blistering technique. Burnett keeps the whole thing anchored with flare throughout, and at the end shows off his own ability.

The rhythm section is at its best when supporting Pepper, however. Pepper is brilliant here, as he is on virtually every recording of his entire career. The opposite of his incredibly erratic life, Pepper's discography is incredibly consistent. That said, though, there are two recordings that stand out as his undisputed classics: "Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section," the famous recording with Philly Joe, Red and Paul, and the "Village Vanguard" recordings of the late seventies. Of these two, "Unreleased Art Vol. 3" most resembles the "Village Vanguard" recordings, but without some of the rough edges. While "Village Vanguard" sounded like one man wrestling with his demons over a backdrop of some reliable standards, "Unreleased Art" sounds more like a man attempting to play everything that he has left. Pepper tears up a break-neck "Cherokee" as if it's his last, and "Goodbye" sounds as serious as its title. The rough edges can still be heard in glimpses, as Pepper screeches on "Ophelia," using extended techniques to imbue a certain urgency, but for the most part what's here is powerful straight-ahead jazz.

Unlike the other two editions of the "Unreleased Art" series, taken from Laurie Pepper's personal collection, the sound quality on "Unreleased Art Vol. 3" is impeccable. Every note from every member of the band is audible, and Magnussen's bass- an instrument generally hard to hear in live recordings- sparkles. Highly recommended.

Don't ask what I'll have next time- I'm living on the edge. That said, I do know what I'll have here the time after next: this weekend I'll be covering the Caramoor jazz festival in Katonah (Ahmad Jamal, Jimmy Heath's big band, Wynton Marsalis, Mulgrew Miller, and Michel Camillo will all be performing at various points) for the Scarsdale Inquirer, and I'll try and have reviews of all of those shows.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Bill Stewart's New Album Close But Not Quite Incandescent

It goes without saying that whenever you have musicians of the level of Bill Stewart, Larry Goldings, and Kevin Hayes, the music will be of a certain level. Stewart is famous for his work with John Scofield; Goldings for his work as a solo artist and as Hans Groiner. Kevin Hayes, whose work I do not know as well as the work of the other two, is probably my favorite player of the three; his piano playing on "Tell a Televangelist" in particular is full of great ideas, if not ingenious. That said though, there's something missing from "Incandescence," the new album from Bill Stewart as a leader.

The thing that's missing isn't a bass, although there isn't one; the instrumentation on this record is piano, organ, drums. Chris Potter established with "Underground" that is possible to make a modern sounding, electric jazz album without a bass player, and there have been great bass-less saxophone-trio records since Lester Young's group in the thirties. What's missing, rather, is a lot more esoteric, and I can't quite put my finger on it. "Incandescence" is fun, and the playing is good, but with the exception of a couple of tracks it is unmemorable. The tracks, for the most part, bleed together; all are soul-tinged modern jazz compositions with occasional out sections.

That said, the idea of a bass-less trio consisting of a drummer and two keyboardists is interesting, and when it works the band sounds great. "Portals Opening" is a lot like Miles Davis' immortal "Nefertiti;" the drummer plays some incredibly hands-on, rhythmically out stuff while the rest of the band plays a melody (or groove, in this case). Goldings and Hays play with the repeated motif they've been given, of course, and there is more variation in the track than just percussion, but Stewart steals the show on this particular song, working out some complex polyrhythms over the keyboardists' relatively simple pattern. On the aforementioned "Tell a Televangelist," both Hays and Goldings have some interesting things to play, and the groove is insistent enough to be memorable. Not a great record, but not a bad one either, "Incandescence" is worth listening to once; the idea behind it is extremely interesting, and when it works, it works.

Next time I think I'll have a review of Art Pepper's "Unreleased Art, Volume 3," a posthumous release of a concert recorded in 1981.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Why? Why do we need a three way "Thunder" tour from Victor Wooten, Marcus Miller and Stanley Clarke (even if you never hit another link on this blog, hit this one)? Why do they think that the world needs a tour from Victor Wooten, Marcus Miller and Stanley Clarke? Why does it have to be called "THUNDER!"?

As much as I would like to say that I would expect this from Victor and Marcus- this is exactly the sort of stuff that they would attach their names to- but not from Stanley Clarke, he was pretty much dead to me in terms of integrity after he agreed to do a cash-grab reunion tour with Return to Forever (just in case you haven't read or seen any kind of jazz news recently: yes, Return to Forever is reuniting for a tour).

Come on guys, there's a reason Steve Swallow won the Critics Poll: it's because he has too much self-worth for a (oxymoronic) wank-y menage a trois of slapping and popping...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Buddy DeFranco: 85 and Swingin'

In keeping with Marian McPartland's poignant and adventurous 90th birthday celebration, "Twilight World," clarinetist Buddy DeFranco's recent album "Charlie Cat II" contains a few surprises. Unlike McPartland on "Twilight World," however, DeFranco barely moves out of his bop-era comfort zone, but that's okay; still at the top of his game at 85 years old, Buddy DeFranco breezes through this set of standards and reminds us that not only is he still around, but he's still a force of nature. Granted, this music could have been made in 1950 and it wouldn't sound any different. But honestly, with a musician of DeFranco's caliber, who cares?

It helps that he has a horde of completely indispensable sidemen, with trumpet veteran Lew Soloff, young guitar gun Joe Cohn and subtle bassist Rufus Reid making up the back-bone of his band's most recent incarnation. Cohn plays burning solos every time he touches his guitar, but of particular note is his turn on Clifford Brown's "Joy Spring," a simple, old-school cool bop solo reminiscent of Lennie Tristano's old cohort Billy Bauer. Soloff, who has worked for everyone from Joe Henderson to Blood, Sweat and Tears, also works up a sweat on every number, hitting high notes like an old Jazz at the Philharmonic screamer while managing to sound beautiful and melodic at the same time. Reid, drummer Ed Metz Jr and pianist Derek Smith have the most thankless job of anyone in the band- playing in the rhythm section- but they do it so brilliantly that when they aren't soloing you barely notice them. With the exception of a few moments of brilliant comping and interplay with the various soloists, the three of them are a well-oiled machine; the beat never moves, but somehow in spite of that they manage to keep it interesting.

And, of course, I haven't even gotten to Buddy DeFranco himself yet. At 85 years old, the clarinet player (who, in spite of his elder statesman status, barely even cracked the top 5 in this year's Downbeat Critics Poll) sounds as good as ever. He burns through up-tempo runs through "What Is This Thing Called Love" and "Joy Spring," and kills an absurdly fast take on the Charlie Parker stalwart "Anthropology," but the best stuff here are his ballads. "Once More With Feeling" shows DeFranco's indefatigable tender side, and doesn't have a single bad note. Recommended for those who play the clarinet or love bop music.

Next time I think I'll have a review of Bill Stewart's "Incandescence," but don't hold me to that. Also, on a random side-rant, why on earth are Return to Forever on the front page of BOTH JazzTimes and Downbeat this month? Are they worth this much attention? Can't they give a cover to Esperanza Spalding or Jenny Scheinman or Bill Frisell or someone else who's actually, you know, done something this year?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Radical Klezmer: New CDs from Paul Shapiro and Klez-Edge

I can understand how to many of you the title of this post, "Radical Klezmer," could sound like some kind of sarcastic joke. It isn't. Based on two new releases from John Zorn's Tzadik imprint, klezmer is not only alive and kicking, but undergoing a sort of creative resurgence not seen since Don Byron unearthed the music of Mickey Katz almost twenty years ago. Of the two CDs out this month, Paul Shapiro's "Essen" is more fun, while Klez-Edge's "Ancestors, Mindreles, Nagila Monsters" is more experimental and contains more variation. This is to be expected, of course, as Klez-Edge's leader, Burton Greene, was a figure in the early 60s New York free jazz scene, and recorded for ESP; others spotted on that label at the time included Albert Ayler and Marion Brown. His new project, like Shapiro's "Ribs and Brisket Revue," is not interested in creating free jazz so much as applying some of the concepts of free jazz to Klezmer music.

"Ancestors, Mindreles, Nagila Monsters" is successful because of it's variation. In addition to up-tempo numbers like the opener "Mindrele," there are slow tunes such as "Ancestral Folk Song." Greene, the band's leader and pianist, is an extremely capable composer of both classical and jazz music, and as such, his compositions never sound as if they've gone completely off the rails; that said, however, he has done an extremely good job of taking a free-jazz aesthetic and applying it to Klezmer. Take the extended, blues-soaked beginning of "Moldavian Blues," which contains some great free blowing from singer Marek Balata, clarinetist Perry Robinson and tuba player Larry Fishkind. In a later section, the tune takes on an air of controlled chaos, and the three improvise on an extended melodic line New Orleans-style. Klez-Edge is no Masada- don't get me wrong. Klez Edge is as different from Masada as Greene's other work is from John Zorn's; and any comparison of a group that makes free-Jewish-jazz to Zorn's Masada is bound to come up unfavorable, no matter how good it is. But in spite of that, this is recommended.

Paul Shapiro's new "Essen," with his Ribs and Brisket Revue, does not strive for anything as interesting as Klez Edge's "Ancestors, Mindreles, Nagila Monsters," but that doesn't take away from its inherent fun. A series of (mostly) covers of old Jewish novelty tunes, many of which are about food (titles include "Matzoh Balls" and "Dunkin' Bagel"), "Essen" is clearly light fare. The opener and title track, about a man who desperately wants to sit around and eat, is all over the place; depending on the section, the song is either full-on klezmer, reggae, or some kind of genre that I can only describe as "School-House Rock." The album's other major highlight is "Dunkin' Bagel," which gives Shapiro to show off his formidable talent on the tenor saxophone. The album's major flaw, as you would probably expect, is that you can only listen to so many old Jewish novelty songs about food, and eventually they all begin to sound the same. The choruses of half of the songs involve Matzoh Balls, and a little bit of lyrical variation (or a little bit more of Shapiro's or guest trumpet Steven Bernstein's playing) would have made the album considerably better. That said, it's fun.

Next time you can expect a review of something or other, I promise it will be good. I'm sorry for the long wait between posts, but I am now writing a column for the Scarsdale Inquirer and happened to be in DC over the weekend. That said, though, you can expect a new review sometime in the next few days.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Critics Poll 2008: Tally and Grievances!

There were some major upsets in this year's Critics Poll; upsets that nobody could have seen coming in a billion years. Upsets so insane, so absolutely inconcievable (Bela Fleck beating Toots Thielemans for Miscellaneous Instrument?!), that not even I had the faintest idea that they could even occur.

Alright, so I didn't get everything right. By any stretch. But I did get enough right that this blog should from now on be your guide to the annual Downbeat Critics Poll. Here's the final tally:

Will Win: 27/50
Should Win: 19/50

So out of the fifty categories, I got 27 absolutely right, although I suppose it was more like 28 with an asterisk (*while I didn't actually say that Esperanza Spalding would win Rising Star Bass, you read a prediction of her meteoric rise right here at the jazz monster). The more fun part is pointing out the major upsets anyway. First off, the pleasant surprises: Cassandra Wilson won the female vocal poll! There could be hope for jazz after all if she dethroned Dianne Reeves. Also, props to Josh Roseman, my pick for the should-be-winner of the Poll who actually won in spite of the fact that I was too lazy to actually pick him as the actual winner. Also, Eric Harland deserves anything he gets, and I'm not surprised at his win even though I called it for Matt Wilson.

And that's about it for the pleasant surprises. Come on! Vijay Iyer won nothing this year, in spite of his releasing the both the brilliant "Tragicomic," the game-changing "Still Life With Commentator" and the absolutely killin' "Door" over the course of the year. That said, though, John Hollenbeck deserved his wins even though I wouldn't have predicted them. As for guitar, Pat Metheny somehow managed to weasel his way into the number one spot over the better choice, Bill Frisell. The biggest upset, however, was the aforementioned win by Bela Fleck over Toots Thielemans for Miscellaneous Instrument by an absurdly wide margin (128 to Toots' 97). This is the first time in something like 20 years that Thielemans hasn't won. Uh, what?

There is only one decision that actually has me seething though, and I mean it from the absolute bottom of my heart when I say that Miguel Zenon does not deserve to be on the "Rising Star Alto" list, let alone that he deserves to beat out all three of my picks for the category. Come on, do downbeat critics actually think that Miguel Zenon is a better or more interesting player than Steve Lehman? Than Rudresh Mahanthappa? Give me a break. Miguel Zenon's playing is reminiscent of Ynwie Malmstein as covered by David Sanborn at his most melodramatic.

That's it for this year's Critics Poll; I didn't do that badly. Congratulations to (most of) the winners. Next time I'll have a review of "Essen," the killer new album by Paul Shapiro, who has not and probably will not make the Downbeat Critics Poll tenor saxophone list, ever.

Monday, July 14, 2008


And so goes the refrain of the title track to Marc Ribot's new "Party Intellectuals;" imagine Fred Schneider of the B-52s fronting The Nels Cline Singers, and you begin to get it. The rest is just as out-there ("When We Were Young and We Were Freaks" is early Sonic Youth with an 80s era Bill Frisell playing shards of guitar noise; "Girlfriend" is the greatest nineties middle-eastern flavored garage-rock track ever recorded ), but while no two tracks are quite alike, there is no question that everything is being played by Marc Ribot and his cohorts in Ceramic Dog, Shahzad Ismaily (bass, electronics) and Ches Smith (drums, electronics). If Nels Cline's "Draw Breath" was a manifesto last year that free jazz should be about rocking out, Marc Ribot has given the first shot back: "Party Intellectuals" is an incredibly loud rock record by a downtown jazz musician, and one of the best albums of the year so far.

There are occasional counter-examples; "Todo El Mundo Es Kitsch" isn't loud, and "For Malena," a Spanish tinged folk rock tune about a man making money for his daughter, is more Tom Waits than it is Dinosaur Jr. That said, however, the former is a joke. "Todo El Mundo Es Kitsch-" literally, "The Whole World is Kitsch-" follows through on its title, offering up a world-funk elevator groove along with incessant throw-away lines about doing kitschy things around the world ("In Paris, we sipped a coffee in a cafe," "In Monaco, we struck it rich") and insistent "la la la"s. The track that immediately follows, the aforementioned "When We Were Young and We Were Freaks," is the opposite: an avant-garde freak-out featuring Ribot's dark, half sung, half spoken vocals and skronky guitar-work.

Even the free noise tracks are worth listening to; both "Digital Handshake" and "Midost" have grooves to them, and while eventually they fly the rails, when they do it seems like a logical extension of the improvisation that has already occurred. "Party Intellectuals" is not a jazz album by any measure, nor is it really a fusion record, nor even an avant-garde free-rock fest like "Draw Breath" or the Free Form Funky Freqs' "Urban Mythology Vol. 1," but an entirely different beast. Clearly "Party Intellectuals" is not an album for everyone (purists need not apply, nor those with sensitive ears), but for those with an inclination to explore, "Party Intellectuals" is a true one of a kind. There is nothing quite like it, and while it doesn't exactly fit Marc Ribot's recent jazz direction ("Saints," "Spiritual Unity"), it happens to be brilliant anyway. Highly Recommended.

Next time I'll have the first annual Downbeat Critics Poll: Tally and Grievances! So get excited, it promises to be a classic. I heard from a source close to me that I didn't do so well, but we will see as soon as I can get my hands on the most recent copy. Also, voting is now open for the Downbeat Readers Poll, so if you click on the link you can vote, preferably for people who aren't supplied to you by Downbeat (The Jazz Monster voted for Chris Dingman on vibes and Nels Cline on guitar, for example). Check back next time!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Two Men Who Don't Realize They Are Past The Days of Artistic Relevance

"Two Men with the Blues" is something like the "Gigli" of the jazz world; an album plagued by high profile stars, a terrible concept, and terribly bad execution. An album, in spite of it's objective awfulness, that critics around the country are spewing accolades on out of fear of hell reigning down on them from Lincoln Center, or at least of losing their drug connection in Willie's van. An album on which Willie Nelson's elderly, tone-deaf singing is matched in mediocrity only by Wynton's penchant for playing all of the same licks he played on his last album, "Live at the House of Tribes," which was actually quite good.

That's the biggest problem with this album; we've heard it all before, and we've heard it done better. Willie Nelson plays "Georgia on My Mind," and while it sounds as weary and whiskey-soaked as you would expect after his recent kerfuffle with the law, authenticity is no replacement for the ability to hold a tune. For some reason Nelson has been billed as playing "Django-styled guitar" on "Two Men with the Blues," but his playing reminds me more of a somewhat talented 9th grade blues guitar player attempting real changes for the first time.

Wynton's "Live at the House of Tribes" from a few years ago was his most life-affirming release since the eighties, and is probably one of the best jazz albums of the decade; while it wasn't innovative by any stretch, his playing on that recording managed to prove he was still a force to be reckoned with in the current landscape of young people. Now, with "Two Men With the Blues," Wynton has come to the forgone conclusion that the only way to keep his reputation is to play exactly what he played on "House of Tribes." With the exception of "Ain't Nobody's Business," in which Wynton proves he can sing better than an ancient Willie Nelson (which is not saying much), every song is a jump blues that features a trumpet solo from Marsalis in which he plays a few hard-bop licks, a series of tremolos from piano player Dan Nimmer, and an old-school tenor solo tempered with a few modern thoughts by Walter Blanding. Highly recommended for people who enjoy paying 18 dollars to hear the same terrible song played 10 times.

Next time I'll have a review of Marc Ribot's brilliant new "Party Intellectuals," which has quickly entered my mental list of the year's best along with Vijay Iyer's "Tragicomic," Bill Frisell's "History, Mystery," "Esperanza" and Jenny Scheinman's two new albums. I know I've been promising it for a while, but I'm finally ready to actually write about it.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Flute Madness

A week or so ago I named Anat Cohen as my personal pick for the should-be winner of the Downbeat Critics' Poll rising star composer category; after having heard "Black Unstoppable" and "Xenogenesis Suite," Nicole Mitchell's two most recent albums, I've changed my mind. Like Vijay Iyer, the perennial winner, Mitchell's compositions grapple with the idea of total freedom versus through-composed standard fare, and come out somewhere between the two. Mitchell is often confused for a full-on free jazz musician, and after hearing her odd sounds on "Xenogenesis Suite" I can understand this impulse. That said, however, for every freak-out on either album, there is another tune that approaches funk, or falls somewhere completely uncharted in the jazz world.

"Black Unstoppable," the more straight-ahead of Mitchell's two most recent albums, still finds ample time to devote to her crazier side. The title track, "Black Unstoppable," is also the most out there, containing some odd extended technique-work from Mitchell herself. The best tracks, however, are the ones in which guitar-player Jeff Parker gets to show off. Luckily, however, that describes about half of the album. Parker is turning into something of a Chicago Nels Cline (or perhaps Nels Cline is a west-coast Jeff Parker), playing as a sideman on a random smattering of brilliant free jazz coming out of Chicago (Matana Roberts' "The Chicago Project," for example) and working with a rock band (the great instrumental post-rock group Tortoise). Of course the biggest star on the album is Mitchell's compositional ability; moving from the up-tempo funk opener "Cause and Effect" to vocal blues work-outs like "Love Has No Boundaries" and "Thanking the Universe" to crazy jams like "Navigator." Highly recommended for those who want to get into Mitchell's music.

"Xenogenesis Suite," although more than a little bit avant garde, will serve as a treat for anyone who loves free jazz or Mitchell's body of work. Based on a novel by science fiction author Octavia Butler, the suite sounds almost totally free upon first listen. After a few listens, however, it becomes apparent that Mitchell not only knows what she is doing, but is just as interested in creating a work that stands up track-by-track as she is in creating free music. While there are clearly sections that employ group improvisation as a device, these sections are clearly cued in some sense; even the clearly composed movements- "Before and After" and "Dawn of a New Life-" have a sense of free abandon to them. Recommended for those who love free jazz or Nicole Mitchell, or both.

I would like to apologize for the consistent lateness of this blog (I used to try and write every two days, now it's turning into more like every three or so); I recently started writing a column for the Scarsdale Inquirer and for the past day I've been swamped (I was planning on writing this yesterday but was hit with a deadline). In all honesty, I'm living day to day and have no idea what my next post will be about... maybe Marc Ribot and Ceramic Dog? Perhaps "What To Do Past the Days of Artistic Relevance," the new album from Wynton N' Willie? I have no idea. Check back in 2-3 days.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Leftovers: Contemporary Reissue Edition

When I say "contemporary," I'm neither talking about the jazz record label, Contemporary, nor making a sarcastic reference to the fact that nothing truly contemporary could be reissued; both of the reissues that I'm going to review hear were initially released in roughly the last ten years, so they can tell us a lot about the contemporary jazz scene. Avishai Cohen, the bass player, is sort of like the John the Baptist to Anat Cohen's (no relation) Christ figure in the Israeli jazz scene. After playing with Chick Corea for a while, Avishai Cohen struck out on his own with a record, "Adama," that lightly fused middle-eastern musical ideas with jazz. Granted, it was nothing nearly as bombastic as what John Zorn had been doing with Masada for years already, but the fact that it was a real, live Israeli who had played with Chick Corea who was doing it meant something. The other reissue, Mark Feldman's "Music For Violin Alone," has nothing in common with Cohen's straight-ahead Israeli music. In spite of Feldman's credentials as a founding member of John Zorn's Masada String Trio, "Music For Violin Alone" has most in common with 20th century avant garde music for violin.

"Adama," Avishai Cohen's first album and the harbinger of Israeli dominance in the jazz world in recent years, has worn extremely well. Yes, in recent years people have found newer and arguably more innovative ways of working middle eastern influence into jazz. Yes, Omer Avital is now the go-to bass player for all of the Israelis in New York. No, none of the other players on "Adama" are major players in the Israeli jazz scene in Brooklyn. Who cares? With Steve Wilson on soprano, Jeff Ballard on drums, and either Brad Mehldau or Chick Corea on piano, there is no possible way to go wrong, and everybody plays up to their talent. Cohen himself shines on the funky "Bass Suite #s 1 & 2." Sparks also fly on "Gadu," in which Mehldau and Corea are given a chance to trade off, with Corea on electric keyboards and Mehldau on piano. Recommended.

Mark Feldman's "Music For Violin Alone" is easily one of the most jarring recordings I've heard recently. Falling somewhere between Jenny Scheinman's most avant garde early work and the experimental classical music of composers like George Crumb, Feldman does his best to create music that cannot be ignored. Feldman has played on hundreds of recordings a studio musician, for artists as varied as Zorn and Johnny Cash, but this music is a far cry from virtually anything else he's done as a sideman. Front and center, Feldman's music runs a gamut from the screaming, abrasive noise of "Etude" to the angry motivic rhythms of "Jete" to the pensive, quiet, middle-eastern flavored "Calista-" and that's only over the course of three tracks. "Music For Violin Alone" manages to be all over the place musically while being unmistakable as a work by Feldman. I add this caveat to my reviews of a lot of albums, but "Music For Violin Alone" is not for everyone. It's a far cry from straight ahead jazz, and for some people parts of it could sound like a guy trying to make weird noises with his violin. But, that said, this album is recommended for those with open ears.

Next time I'll have reviews of Nicole Mitchell's latest albums, "Black Unstoppable" and "Xenogenesis Suite."

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Irony Isn't Dead, It Just Sits Around Waiting for Girl Talk's Newest Release

There's a moment at the middle of Girl Talk's brilliant new "Feed the Animals" during which I can't help but grin, even though I've listened to the album at least ten times in the past week or two: out of nowhere, Yael Naim's "New Soul," a gorgeous song about finding your place in the world, pops up, and after a second of the song's main vamp being played alone, a particularly brilliant Eminem verse about "[getting] buzzed, [getting] drunk, [getting] crunked" from "Shake That." There are only a small handful of rappers working with the verbal dexterity of Eminem (Ghostface comes to mind), and it's a shame that he hasn't released an album in a few years. That said, however, "Shake That" is not one of Eminem's great singles. Alone, it's just another dumb rap song about getting drunk and getting girls; when placed next to Naim's "la la la"s from "New Soul," there's something subversive about Eminem's lyrics about getting wasted.

I know I generally write about jazz in this blog (this should come as no surprise judging by the fact that the blog is called "The Jazz Monster" and the last post was about the Downbeat Critics' Poll), but Girl Talk's "Feed the Animals" is one of the most brilliant albums, jazz or not, that has come out this year. "Animals" is just as subversive as any recent album from a lefty jazz artist with political interest (whether that be Vijay Iyer's "Tragicomic" or Kenny Werner's "Lawn Chair Society"), albeit in a very different way. "Animals" is about the inundation of pop music into our lives, and he uses his sampled juxtapositions to (subtly or otherwise) highlight the ridiculousness of the music that gets played on the radio, ironically creating the best party record of the year in the process. Half of the mash-ups, as short as they are, simply sound better than the songs that are sampled (while the Eminem/Yael Naim section is the best example, there are other brilliant passages putting Jay-Z overtop Radiohead's "Paranoid Android" and juxtaposing "Whoomp! There it Is" with Big Country's namesake hit).

Although I love Girl Talk both as a person interested in decaying culture and as a person who enjoys a good party album, above all I enjoy his work as a total music nerd. Although for the most part the samples aren't quite as obscure or obvious as on the album before it, "Night Ripper," there is enough going on in "Feed the Animals" to satisfy any obsessed music fan for hours of listening. I'm not going to give anything away, but most of the best samples only reveal themselves after after a few listens; the first time through a listener can only pick up the really obvious clips. I can't recommend Girl Talk's "Feed the Animals" enough to interested listeners or pop music obsessives; that said, if you strictly listen to jazz, it's probably not your cup of tea.

Next time I'll have a review of (bass player) Avishai Cohen's "Adama," which was released a few months ago.