Ugly, Nevada

I was fortunate to be sent to Las Vegas on a business trip.  Fortunate, because I didn’t have to pay for the trip, or anything associated with it.

Most places I travel to, I manage to find something interesting or of merit. The most interesting thing about Las Vegas was that I didn’t like Las Vegas, at all.

Everything about this city is ugly. If you don’t like gambling, prostitutes or fakery, there’s nothing here for you – by day, or by night.  The sheer, neon-lit obscenity of the place can only hold your attention for a few minutes. After that, you’re left with a sinking feeling that you’re trapped amidst the worst products of the human imagination.

I was mystified by the expectation in Las Vegas that every visitor was there to be “entertained”.  Taken out of themselves, transported to fake castles, fake pyramids, fake Parisian monuments, to be shamelessly stripped of their money while being bombarded by sound and fury. It is a singularly depressing thought that anyone  comes to this town of their own free will.

Occasionally during my stay, I was reminded of a sane world beyond the glittering gulch. At points along the Strip, there was a gap bewteen the high-rise hotels and I glimpsed the desert and mountains beyond. Nevada seems like a beautiful state, at least the parts  not afflicted by circumstance, customer service and casinos.

The good news is that Las Vegas has an airport. You can escape.

Random Act of Culture

I rather thought that this was a fabulous idea: a “flash mob” choir of 650, singing the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah in Macy’s department store in Philadelphia, surprising the early Christmas shoppers.

They were accompanied by the shop’s pipe organ (only in America), which is apparently the largest pipe organ in the world (also, only in America).

It’d be great to do something like this in Paris… perhaps in Printemps or the Les Halles shopping centre?

Someday We’ll All Be Free

This week’s musical interlude is courtesy of the Miguel Atwood Ferguson Ensemble, performing Donny Hathaway‘s Someday We’ll All Be Free. This video was shot live a few weeks ago at California Plaza in Los Angeles.

Bilal Oliver does a fine job shadowing the original vocal style of Mr Hathaway on this song. He will have his own album Air Tight’s Revenge out in September… could be worth checking out.

What’s even better is that the mp3 of this performance is available as a free download!

Eddie Palmieri live in Paris

It is a rare and exciting day when you hear a musician of the calibre of Eddie Palmieri in concert. One of the founding fathers of New York salsa and a great innovator in the Latin jazz of the 1970s, Palmieri brought his Afro-Carribean All-Stars to New Morning in Paris last Friday, and they blew the roof off.

Eddie Palmieri, Concert Pique-Nique, Reims France, 17.07.2010. Image: Eulsteph

Two hours of music stretched out over a pair of sets, suffused with humour and generosity. It was hard to suppress a giggle when Palmieri threw a quote from Salt Peanuts into one of his famously overblown solo passages. The grinning complicity between Palmieri and his bass player, Luques “Salsa” Curtis was evident throughout the gig.

Brian Lynch, Concert Pique-Nique, Reims France, 17.07.2010. Image: Eulsteph

The presence of trumpeter Brian Lynch in the touring band was a particular pleasure – an incredibly technically accomplished player, Lynch has been a regular collaborator with Palmieri since 1987, and directed the Grammy-winning album Simpàtico in 2006.

The music traversed Palmieri’s jazz catalogue (including tunes from Simpàtico and 1990’s Palmas) and included a steaming Latin version of Monk’s In Walked Bud, a nod to one of Palmieri’s own stylistic influences on the piano.

Palmieri apologised that the band wouldn’t be playing his salsa hits (Vamonos pa l’Monte, Cuidate Compay…), because of a lack of vocalists in the group. But with the energy on show last Friday, nobody went home disappointed. This is a gig I’ll remember for a long time.

The Wilkis Polish

Every so often, it’s worth checking in with Alan Wilkis, an artist/producer who’s been featured several times on this blog . You can read a little more about his music in my previous posts here and here and here.

Beavering away in his Brooklyn laboratory, Alan seems particularly busy at the moment producing remixes for all sorts of people. I particularly liked his latest project, a remix of Phantogram‘s “Mouthful of Diamonds“:

Once again Alan takes some unlikely raw material (in this case, the trip-hoppy, slightly industrial-sounding Phantogram original) and given it the “Wilkis Polish”: he turns it into a little drop of Orangina-flavoured dance pop that says “There’s a party in my iPod and everyone’s invited!

Paper Swords

I get a lot of messages in my blog inbox from bands and promoters wanting me to review and post their new music.  There’s simply too much to listen to, and since this is not just a “music” blog, I tend to only post stuff when I really like the music and if the artist’s message is nice, and particularly if it’s personalised.

This week I got one such nice message from Paper Swords, an folk-rock quintet from Southern California, which has been quick off the mark into the studio – according to their biography they only formed this year! Here’s a little taste…

The band consists of Ryan Myers (vocals, guitar, banjo, harmonium, piano), his brother TJ Myers (drums), Patrick Grant (bass), Russell Fletcher (trumpet, banjo, guitar, harmonium, vocals), and Teresa Ramallo (vocals, piano/keys, guitar).

If you like rich orchestrations and interesting songs, they’re worth checking out.  They do a particularly nice job of meshing TJ’s angular drumming with more traditional “folk” instrumentation – in this way they remind me a little of Laura Veir‘s erstwhile backing band Saltbreakers.

Regular readers of this blog will know I’m a sucker for time signatures, so I have to recommend their song Bethseda, which is written in 21/8: but you’ll have to buy their EPWax Moon, Wane” to hear it! As a statement of intent, the EP is very impressive – hopefully there’ll be more music forthcoming soon!

A couple of sample tracks are available via their website, otherwise go to iTunes to pick it up.

Paper SwordsWax Moon, Wane [Buy on iTunes]

Saved in Lake Wobegon

Garrison Keillor – The News from Lake Wobegon, February 4th 2010

This is radio at its best: Garrison Keillor delivers one of the wittiest homilies on 1 Corinthians 13 that you’ll ever hear. Well worth 14 minutes of your life.

As usual, Keillor tells his story with the sort of humour that is only found in small towns in rural Minnesota. This was performed at the Prairie Home Companion show last week that was cinecast in HD nationwide across America.

The News from Lake Wobegon is available as a weekly podcast.

Bebop, Swing, Drugs and Fusion: Part II

More student howlers, to round off the weekend…

“Jazz has the technique of classical music, the feeling of blues, and the hope of children everywhere.”

“I know what troubles musicians now when I watch and listen to them play.”

“My ties to jazz were through Bleeding Gums Murphy, a character on TV show called the Simpsons. It comes on at 8pm on Sunday nights.”

“I was surprised to find out about the different styles of jazz like hard, be, and post bops.”

“I thought that jazz was a certain amount of instruments that you played and was composed for you, not believing that it was their improvisation and the jazz musicians who made up the music on the spot doing what they wanted to do with the tunes. I know this is hard to explain but it is true.”

“When I try to play jazz, I mess around with the instruments pounding out random notes that were just me making nonsense up and it sounding like a big pile of crap.”

“Jazz is more profound when it doesn’t help pay the bills.”

“The first thing I learned in jazz history that happy birthday is the most played jazz classic. You want to hear happy birthday in swing BAM! You got it You want to hear happy birthday in classic jazz BAM! You got it. You want to hear happy birthday in be bop BAM! You got it. It’s great! The second thing I learned is free jazz is where its at. I think that I could be a free jazz musician cause it all sounds like a drunk 7 year old jamming down on some notes and making the sweet sweet music fly. Free jazz was defiantly the best part of the class but unfortunately you didn’t play free jazz enough. My one suggestion for your next class is that you start out every class with a 5 minute free jazz intro. Over all and all, I defiantly learned a lot in jazz history class.”

“Hip hop and pop are fine, going out for fame and bling bling. Jazz has been around for a while, is out of style, but can really sing.”

“Jazz musicians sing and play music because they can’t contain their passions. Their music starts in the soul radiates out in every direction.”

“Jazz is a very dynamic kind of music. Loud and Soft.”

“Swing makes you want to get up and dance and free jazz just makes you want to get up.”

“If any kind of music can calm a hectic day, its cool jazz. If you feel like going out and dancing, however there is ragtime.”

“In conclusion, jazz is music.”

“Jazz has come from the fields of New Orleans to my 2pm class, and beyond.”

“Unlike other forms of music, jazz is listened to by old people as well as us.”

“I learned what intros and outros were in this class. Now I look for them when I go searching for good music.”

“I went to do my (jazz) listening report at the house of blues.”

“Jazz has taught me a lot about the Civil War, World War I, and World War II.”

“I thought of jazz as a thing of the past, something old African American men listened to on old record players while sitting on their front porches smoking cigars.”

“Steve Turre has taught me that sea shells should be left on the ground instead of his mouth.”

“Over the course of the semester my knowledge of jazz has gone from nothing to practically nothing.”

“Even though I probably won’t listen to jazz after this semester, it has given me a greater appreciation of movies.”

“My favorite person to study was Sonny Rollins. He knew that he had to throw his saxaphone off the bridge when he heard how good Charlie Parker was.”

“Jazz to me was the shoo opps. From groups in streets downtown in the olden, golden days.”

“Happy birthday: That song is just amazing to me.”

“My all-time favorite jazz artist to listen to was Buddy Baldwin, AKA the jazz king. I think I’m going to go out and buy a couple of his CDs.”

“I was surprised to find musicians with such odd names such as Vilage Von Guard.”

“Jazz is not as popular with all of the adolescence going around.”

“I like jazz more in books than on cds.”

“I remember coming into class with no facts but a whole plate of bullshit to dish out.”

“I found myself learning about Blues, Early Jazz, Dixieland, Swing, Be Bop, Brazilian, Afro-Cuban, Cool Jazz, Hard Bop, Free Jazz, Third Stream, Japanese, Post Bop, Fusion, Smooth, Modern Jazz, and the list goes on.”

“Call and Respond is where one musician plays and the other one tries too hard to figure out what he’s doing.”

“The people in Dixie Land originated jazz music.”

“Jazz is now a part of me from 2pm-3:15pm every Tuesday and Thursday.”

“Jazz started in the fields where they used hand-me-down instruments and wore hand-me-down clothes.”

“If Wynton Marsalis said jazz was dead in the 1970’s, what was he playing at the time?”

“Weather Report was the final big band back in the day.”

“My girlfriend and I both agreed the next morning that jazz-club food was something we could’ve done without.”

“Jazz agitates me.”

“I like jazz, but I need something else besides rhythm, melody, and harmony.”

“I had no clue that so many (musicians) used drugs. Thinking about that, there is no doubt that they are living the life I dream of.”
“They are spending money on things that they don’t really need or even want.”

”I noticed that there weren’t many jazz women in our textbook until I looked to see that the author was a guy. All guys are sexist, women bashers, who don’t ever give us our credit.”

“The part I most enjoyed was studying and appreciating slavery.”

“Its hard to imagine where Winton Marsalis gets his ideas from.”

“I’d like to see midgets getting bribed in every jazz club. Not just with Birdland. I’m of course talking about the jazz club, not Charlie Parker.”

“We’ve had our share of good times and bad times over the semester. By bad times, I mean my tests.”

“Count Bassie WAS the swing era.”

“This class increased my intelligence with aptitude.”

“Duke Ellington had the ability to turn jazz compositions into pure magic.”

“Swing died in World War II when the soloists took over.”

“I could go on and on about jazz, but I won’t.”

“Tony Williams was my favorite drummer because his group, Lifetime, is the same name as my favorite channel that I watch.”

“How do the musicians know what to play when their eyes were closed the whole time? And what was with the piano player talking while played his solos. His musician friends must have been thought he was crazy.”

“I technically wasn’t in your class but I was happy to be along for the ride.”

“I was in jazz band in high school but we didn’t play jazz music.”

“Dizzie Gillespie was the one who jammed on the drumss.”

“I thought doing our listening report would be a painful sort of torture.”

“I was bummed out at the beginning of the semester because I thought Louis Armstrong was going to be one of the guest lecturers.”

Be Bop, Swing, Drugs and Fusion: Part I

Jelly Roll Morton and his band, discussing their new release BloodSugarSexMagix

I received these by email a little while ago. They are (apparently) quotes from American students in a college jazz history class, extracted from the essay topic, “What I learned over this semester in jazz history.” These are all (apparently) genuine responses, completely unaltered.

They are all 18+ year old students; not high school or middle school age kids. None of them are music students; they all took this class as a gen. ed. credit.


“Free Jazz is an era that I wished I had never learned about.”

“Free Jazz. Wow; what a sound it makes. An awful, horrible sound. I don’t see how that can actually be called a sound. My 5 year old nephew could pound on the piano and make the same sound! He may even make a better sound. To be honest, that sound is one big mess.”

“With swing, it’s kind of up in the air for me. I must say I tried like hell to keep up with it.”

“My favorite jazz has a bluesy, Mexican feel to it.”

“Though Jazz started in New Orleans, it traveled all around the world picking up and dropping off things along the way.”

“One thing that confused me was Jelly Roll Morton. Did he play with the Red Hot Chili Peppers? I didn’t think that they were around back then.”

“Jelly Roll (Morton) bridged the gap between piano and ragtime.”

“My grandpa likes it, but I think scat stinks.”

“Chick Corea, Dizzie Gillespie, Bix Biderbeck, and the monk created the first cool group.”

“I wished Don Cherry would put his trumpet back in his pocket.”

“There is not enough space in my head to fit all that I learned.”

“This class taught me about a lot of things that I never knew about.”

“Some of the big jazz musicians we learned about were: Lous Armstrong, Duke, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Cillespic, T. Mark, Ken Barns, Buddy Baldwin, Jellyroll Mortin, Sydney Bichai, Fats Waller, Earl Hines, and many many more.”

“Coming into class on the first day, I assumed there would be a boring professor standing in front of the class droning on and on about jazz. Here’s where it started; this is who played it; and here we are today; blah, blah, blah. I now realize that my assumption wasn’t all that wrong.”

“I assumed that jazz had started in the African-American community only because it fulfilled a multi-cultural course that I was required to take.”

“I really enjoyed hearing the big band, Frank Foster’s Arrangement.”

“I learned in this class that, contrary to my mom’s opinion, Kenny G is a joke. A really non-funny one.”

“I fell in love with that tune, Stablemates. It really hits home.”

“Jazz musicians don’t play for women any more.”

“I learned that going to jazz concerts gets me in good with my girlfriend.”

“I learned a lot about Be Bop, Swing, Drugs, and Fusion.”

“I found new respect for Miles Davis. He was adamant about not using drugs when everyone else was trying to get him to try some.”

“I liked hearing the Original Dixieland (Jazz) Band, and how they were the original Dixieland band.

“You might want to mention to future classes that jazz brings true romance to a scene.”

“I’m glad I took this class, because I feel more comfortable to talk about jazz in its awesomeness.”

Put it back in your pocket, Don.

“Drugs caused many artists their careers in many ways.”

“Jazz is a style of music that is almost very sober.”

“I figured jazz started in the 1960s, but to my surprise, it started back in the late 18th century.”

“Smooth jazz now just plain old angers me.”

“A lot of the things that I learned were facts that I never new about, not only in jazz, but in life as well.”

“I got really excited by the tenor sax, soprano sax, baritone sax, but not so much the alto sax.”

“I can’t believe that blacks had time to invent jazz if they were hanging out in the whorehouses with Jelly Roll Morton.”

“A lot of black jazz musicians were very talented, which probably came from them not having anything else to do.”

“When blacks and whites finally decided to get together to make jazz, it was a big hit.”

“Lennie Tristano and Lee Konitz were two guys who would sit down and enjoy cool jazz.”

“Going to the club gave me jazz sensations.”

“I hear the hard-bop jazz influence on bands today such as Matchbox Twenty and Dave Matthews Band.”

“James Crow worked to bring the slaves together with the creoles.”

“Learning jazz has helped me beat my mom at Jeopardy. She had no idea who a blind pianist from Toledo, OH was for $800.”

“I learned the definition of supreme technical virtuosity is to play like Louie Armstrong.”

“Charlie Parker was a famous jazz musician who played saxophonists.”

“Getting 81% (on a test) is all well and good until you see that dumb guy next to you who picks his nose getting 91%. I then started studying and coming to class.”

“I asked the drummer what the names of the names and styles of the tunes that he played but he didn’t seem to know.”

“TV has become more jazzy to me now.”

“Studying jazz has been a coming out party for me.”

“I loved the vibrational solos of Clifford Brown.”

“When I think of tradition and instruments, I think of Fiddler of the Roof.”

“I learned a lot from the different guest speakers in class, whether they were an experienced piano player, a director of music at a major motel, or a guitar player with an oddly placed hankerchief in his pocket.”

Clifford Brown: vibrational

Beck vs Charlotte Gainsbourg

Beck and Charlotte Gainsbourg seem a strangely appropriate duo: America’s pop wunderkind of the 1990s teaming up with the daughter of one of France’s most famous performing artists.

Heaven Can Wait is the first single off Gainsbourg’s new album Master’s Hand, but it sounds like a Beck song through and through. And the video is completely fabulous:

Although officially it’s on a Charlotte Gainsbourg disc, Heaven Can Wait sounds almost like a return to form for Beck. He’s frankly showing a little of his age in this video, but the music contains some of the hallmarks of his classic period: honky-tonk beat-making, lyrical bricolage and a story of misfits played out under the sun of East Los Angeles.

The video even contains sly visual clues to Beck’s earlier work (and the visual is almost as important as the music with Beck). See if you can spot:

  • The hemp rope guitar strap (from the interior album artwork on Mellow Gold)
  • Guy in a horse mask (a Human Jackass partly made his Odelay tour of 1997 such a gas. Still the best concert I’ve ever seen.)
  • The goat skull that’s another reference to cover of Mellow Gold

(Don’t know if I should confess that Mellow Gold was the first CD I ever bought. Given that the first cassette I bought was Arrested Development’s 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of…, I’m not sure if my taste improved. But I do own all of Beck’s albums. Including the pre-Geffen indie obscurities).