Friday, July 30, 2010

Alejandro Escovedo, Real Animal, various

Back Porch, Manhattan Records EMI, but also Blue Note, if you notice on the back of the CD, which I notice because Alejandro makes me think of jazz as I have listened to him now through five CDs since developing a jones with his latest, Street Songs of Love. Nah, he's not a jazz musician. Except maybe he is at heart.

He assimilates stuff. I think of Springsteen and the E Street Band, the Sex Pistols, neither necessarily surprisingly, Muddy Waters and, for gods' sake, John Prine and even Randy Newman (Nuns Song) listening to this. Golden Bear, I'm thinking of Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators. Not that he is really like any of them.

He bends forms to his own purposes. He does things you wouldn't expect. He slips in odd instrumentation (like the frigging hot violin--yeah, I said hot violin--that colors hard-rocker Smoke) and makes it work. He's frequently discordant and adept at manipulating tension and release, a la Monk and Miles, in his lyrics (Chelsea Hotel '78) as well as his musical structure. He knows how to work in a good sax solo, like on Sensitive Boys.

Rockin' for sure, but thoughtful, as well, the classical strings opening Hollywood Hills, for instance. Tom Waits would be down with the whole program, I expect.

Plays a damn fine guitar, I might add.

Friday, July 23, 2010

P!nk, Missundaztood, Arista

This has to do, what, with avant-garde jazz and the blues and reggae and fado, my purview? Well, it has this not exactly what you would expect thing going (take Respect), and it is generally discordant, lyrically as in My Vietnam if not always, but sometimes, musically in a Monkian sense. Likewise, the words are generally ironic, in, more or less, a Robert Johnson, Bob Marley or Albert Ayler (in Albert's case ironic sounds not words) sense (see 18 Wheeler). What I perceive is that she is laying herself bare in her music, which when you think about is precisely what Miles and Coltrane did, or any good fadista does, and, hence, I respect it. Oh, and Misery, Aretha would R-E-S-P-E-C-T it. She could certainly sing soul well and kind of does here, like on Eventually, and I think she would be a fine fado singer, too. Gone to California is a blues. Which is to say, this isn't typical pop bullshit, but something I might, actually, listen to in 2111 and beyond.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Eddie Harris & Ellis Marsalis, Homecoming, ELM

This is as excellent a saxophone and piano duo pairing as People Time with Stan Getz and Kenny Barron, one of my all-time favorite jazz sessions (and People Time: The Complete Recordings, Sunnyside, 2009, which includes all seven sets from which the original was derived, is even better).

Here we have Harris, who really should be considered a tenor giant, and Marsalis, patriarch of one jazzy family and a stunning musician in his own right, on an out-of-print session from 1985 and reissued on the Marsalis family label with his son the stellar drummer Jason Marsalis in charge. Ethereal Moments, 1&2 is a track that really strikes me as revelatory because it could be taken as excellent 1) Third Stream music incorporating European classical forms and jazz or 2) advanced avant-garde jazz, neither of which you would necessarily associate with Harris, whose reputation suffers (unjustly in my my mind) from some of his more commercial efforts and Marsalis, at heart a New Orleans traditionalist. This is not, however, an out session (although some of the Harris licks on Zee Blues make the think: Archie Shepp). Ethereal, for example, is followed by an inside, but creatively Latinized, version of the Harold Arden-Johnny Mercer tune Out of This World, which is followed by a post-bop rendition of Darn That Dream, which would have struck a chord, so to speak, with the second great Miles Davis quintet, or Stan Getz and Kenny Barron for that matter.

The original clocked in at 42 minutes, so Jason Marsalis added four tracks with his father dueting with the young New Orleans pianist Jonathan Batiste in December 2009, a tasty bonus, and a final track, Blues at the End of the Session, with Ellis on piano, Batiste on melodica and Jason drumming that is a boffo blues and as good as anything else on what is a track-after-track gem.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

You can have my book when you pry it ...

I am reading the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot in the Kindle app on my iPad as I ride my exercise bike in the morning and it has me worried. More or less on a lark, I opened it in the Kindle app on my iPhone over lunch downtown today. The book came up in the exact place, the beginning of Chapter 36, where I left off on my iPad at the end of this morning’s ride at home.

That ability to keep track of my place through the ether is certainly a nifty trick. But think, I also carried the book with me without having to carry the book, or anything else other than what I normally carry--my cell phone.

Then there is the way I have bumped up the type size of the book on my iPad to make it easy on my not-as-young-as-they-used-to-be eyes, and the ease of turning the pages simply by swiping my index finger across the screen. Likewise, the iPad sits flat on the book holder that’s a feature of my bike and the pages don’t have to be clipped down to keep the e-book open, or unclipped to turn them. I don’t even have to turn on the reading lamp connected to the book holder; iPad backlight. Moreover, the Kindle book is hyperlinked in many places, for example to more information about DNA or historical incidents like the Tuskegee experiment.

So what worries me? I love books. When I moved into my condominium pretty much the second piece of furniture I bought, after a bed , was a set of bookshelves. I don’t think books are going anywhere soon, certainly not my books. But I also love bookstores, I love spending hours perusing them, even when I don’t buy anything (which isn’t often). I now have to think--given online sellers like Amazon, et al, and buy them, carry them, read them anywhere e-books--that brick and mortar bookstores will soon go the way of film cameras, record shops and video rental stores. You may be able to find one (I hold out hope for the kind of wonderfully overstuffed used bookstores I adore), but it won’t be easy, convenient or in every community of decent size. Technologist though I am, I dislike the thought nonetheless.

The other thing that bothers me about reading Immortal Henrietta in Kindle form is this: it’s a stunningly good book I would love to loan, or give, to someone else; great science journalism, great journalism period, excellent reportage and marvelous writing. But I have no easy (or legal) way to pass on my e-copy.

I’ll just have to go to the bookstore and buy copies for people.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


Now I am really sorry I stayed up too late, got too lit and passed out on Alejandro Escovedo in Austin, Texas, that time because his new CD Street Songs of Love is better every listen I keep giving to it. Tender in places, tough in others, which is appropriate to the topic, great guitar play throughout (Street Songs rocks). Favorite track: maybe Fall Apart With You, kind of of doo-wop with an edge. But I dig it all.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Harpin' on it

I was hanging out around Fisherman's Wharf one time and ran across Dave Earl playing there and I have to say that on his CD S.F. Blues he plays some mean harp. I mean Little Walter mean, if you know what I mean.