1959 remains, arguably, the most important year in the history of jazz music. Among all-time classic efforts from Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus released his masterpiece, Mingus Ah Um. To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of this seminal session, we were blessed with Mingus Ah Um: Legacy Edition (which includes a remaster of the original, along with bonus tracks and the entirety of the other album Mingus cut for Columbia in 1959, Mingus Dynasty). 1959 signified the year that Mingus, after considerable dues paying, fully matured as a musician and composer. Mingus Ah Um is a virtual encyclopedia of the jazz music made at that point in the 20th century, which means it celebrates the sounds and feelings of America. This is the one Mingus release that has a little bit of everything, from ebullient statements of purpose (“Better Git It in Your Soul”) to soulful tributes (“Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”, “Jelly Roll”) to Mingus’s inimitable sociopolitical smackdowns (“Fables of Faubus”). This reissue is at once an essential reminder for fans and an imperative introduction for novices; it is the ultimate testament to the miracle that was Charles Mingus, one of the immortal voices in American music.
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As sweet and understated as Jens Lekman is, he has managed build up quite the audience of devotees. Playing three sold out shows from New Years Eve to January 2nd at the Empty Bottle couldn’t have been easier for the Swedish folk musician. In addition to this brief residency he also added a solo show at The Viaduct Theater as a Sunday matinee that, in turn, sold out just as quickly. The fans were clearly waiting for Lekman with baited breath.
10. Continued improvement of this year’s new shows: FlashForward, Modern Family, Community, and V are solid new additions to my TV lineup, and I look forward to their continued growth. Some of them need a little work, particularly FlashForward and V, but four new shows in a season is something to be thankful for.
9. Double seasons of reality stalwarts: Shows like Top Chef, The Amazing Race, Project Runway, and Survivorare the biggest reality-series that we get double-doses of most years. American Idol and all those horrible dancing shows get usually one season per year, but these stalwarts typically get a Spring and then a Fall run, and I am thrilled at having them around all year long.
December in Chicago is typically nothing short of frigid, full of blistery winds and unpredictable weather patterns. For me the long winter months lead to hibernation, longing for warm sunny days filled with ample outdoor activities, and endless concert opportunities. On Saturday December 12th my longing paid off in the form of the second annual Chicago Bluegrass and Blues Festival (CBB) at the city’s historic Congress Theater.
For the past decade, Swervedriver seemed destined to be one of the Bands That History Left Behind. The hard-hitting, melodic, often thrilling music the band produced in the early-to-mid 1990s would forever be lost in a wash of bad record deals and bad timing. Anyway, what to make of a British band that sang about Ford Mustangs? Swervedriver were pigeonholed into the short-lived UK “shoegazer” scene because they had an indifferent image and made music that was as pretty as it was loud. Here, though, was driving music that was neither as obtuse as metal nor as bleak as Nirvana. 1991 debut “Raise was a strong enough feet-finding effort built around a trio of outstanding singles. 1993 follow-up, Mezcal Head, however, was a bona-fide masterpiece, with a devastating combination of great tunes, great playing, and great production. Thankfully, these thoughtful, rich-sounding reissues gave fans and curious music lovers in general a chance to catch up with a band that shouldn’t have been left behind in the first place.