Latest Blog Posts

by Mehan Jayasuriya

2 Dec 2009

Strange though it may seem, the jury is still out on the Pixies’ live show. For every fan who insists that the band’s live sets are life-changing, you’ll find another who asserts that the Pixies are shoddy performers and always were. Lingering behind this polarization is the band’s considerable legacy; it weighs heavily in any discussion of its merits, inviting revision from the few who did witness the Pixies in their heyday. Regardless, this year’s reunion tour—on which the band played its 1989 classic Doolittle from start to finish—has reignited the debate regarding the Pixies’ live prowess or lack thereof. Chicago Sun-Times critic Jim DeRogatis slagged one of the band’s Chicago dates, dismissing the Pixies as “a cynical corporation cashing in on blatant nostalgia.” The Washington Post‘s David Malitz, meanwhile, described the band’s Monday night set in DC as the musical equivalent of a “slam dunk contest,” a performance that could win over “even a cynic.” So which is it: are the Pixies an incredible or terrible live act? Actually, they’re a little of both.

by Dave MacIntyre

30 Nov 2009

Over the past few months, Ontario has seen a flood of live shows from great bands out of Glasgow Scotland, including Glasvegas, The Twilight Sad, and We Were Promised Jetpacks. On Thursday night at a surprisingly quiet Phoenix Theatre, Camera Obscura added their name to the list. Opening for the band was San Francisco’s Papercuts who despite appearing painfully nervous and awkward on stage (front man Jason Quever dropped his guitar pick mid play and later got his guitar tangled in the microphone cord) played a short but impressive set. Their dreamy-pop guitars and keyboards nicely complimented Camera Obscura’s moody sounds. By the time Camera Obscura stepped on stage the room had filled in somewhat. The group played a variety of fan favorites, including “I Don’t Want to See You Anymore,” “Lloyd I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken,” “If Looks Could Kill,” and “French Navy.” Singing effortlessly, Tracyanne Campbell’s voice contained an underlying melancholy that lent authenticity to the lyrics. Her band mates Carey Lander, Kenny McKeeve, Gavin Dunbar and Lee Thomson were equally musically solid, but the overall stage presence of the band left much to be desired—a trait that seems to be common amongst even the most talented Glasgow acts. This utter lack of stage dynamic made seeing them live no different from listening to their albums played really loud. The evening ended with encore performances of “Let’s Get Out Off This Country,” “Forest And Sands,” and the highlight finale “Razzle Dazzle Rose.” Despite the showy name, I left feeling underwhelmed.

by Allison Taich

30 Nov 2009

It’s hard to believe that it has been two weeks since the Meat Puppets stopped in Chicago. The band played at Schubas, a neighborhood favorite known for its small den-like feel, modest stage, and decent sound. I managed to catch the trio on their second night of a three-night run.

by Angelos Koutsourakis

30 Nov 2009

The 2009 Cinecity Film Festival in Brighton opened with a preview of Micmacs à tire-larigot, the first film from Jean-Pierre Jeunet since 2004’s A Very Long Engagement. The film proclaims itself to be a satire on the world of arms trading. The official press release states:  “Is it better to live with a bullet lodged in your brain, even if it means you might drop dead any time?  Or would you rather have the bullet taken out and live the rest of your life as a vegetable?  Are zebras white with black stripes or black with white stripes?  Is scrap metal worth more than landmines?  Can you get drunk from eating waffles?  Can a woman fit inside a refrigerator?  What’s the human cannonball world record?  Find out answers to these questions and more.  A comedy in the vein of Delicatessen,  and Amélie.”

by Michael Kabran

26 Nov 2009

On August 17, 1959, Columbia Records issued what would become one of the best-selling and most influential recordings in jazz. Over the next half-century, Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, featuring a cadre of up and coming jazz stars including those named Coltrane, Evans, and Cannonball, wriggled its way into nearly every aspect of popular culture—filling in the backgrounds of numerous movies and TV shows, seeping into the music collections of every romantically-inclined college student, and rising to the top of countless all-time greatest lists. As Ashley Kahn describes, in the introduction to his excellent and exhaustive book, Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece, people seem to vividly remember the first time they heard Kind of Blue in the same way that they remember significant life events. The album means that much—to jazz, to music, to popular culture, and to history.

It’s no surprise, then, that the centerpiece for the 41st Barcelona International Jazz Festival should be the 50th anniversary of this landmark piece of American musical history, with a number of musical tributes by artists from around the globe. The most significant of these tributes in the month-long festival was the November 9 concert by drummer Jimmy Cobb’s So What Band.

Cobb, at 80 years of age and the only musician from the Kind of Blue sessions that is still living today, is perhaps the least known of the album’s legendary cast of stars. Whether due to personal style or personality, or simply due to the enormous personalities of Davis and his other bandmates, Cobb’s stick work on Kind of Blue is the least discussed and most underrated piece of the album’s deceptively simple musical puzzle. In hindsight, Cobb seems like the only true choice for Kind of Blue. His subtle, subdued polyrhythms, exquisite brushwork, and lockstep time-keeping are the record’s bedrock, the foundation from which all the magic takes place.

The grand setting for Cobb’s performace was a perfect match for Kind of Blue. The Palau de la Música Catalana is perhaps the most stunning Modernista edifice in a city teeming with them. The ceiling, with its myriad stained glass faces, threatens to drop like a single tear onto the eager audience. Brightly colored tile mosaics sweep across the theater’s walls, insulating you from the hustle and bustle of Barcelona’s neon nightlife. An enormous stampede of horses hangs ominously over the stage. All in all, it’s the perfect stage on which to take stock of a jazz masterpiece.

Despite a perfect setting, an eager audience, and superior musicians, the actual concert, entitled “Kind of Blue @ 50”—which started with an up tempo version of “So What”, ended with Davis’s arrangement of the Thelonius Monk standard “‘Round Midnight”, and included by-the-book versions of the four remaining tunes on Kind of Blue—was forgettable. The star-studded band—Buster Williams on bass, Larry Willis on piano, Javon Jackson on tenor saxophone, Vincent Herring on alto saxophone, Wallace Roney on trumpet, and Cobb on drums—was never completely in sync, and seemed genuinely afraid to explore Davis’s sparse compositions. “So What” and “All Blues” felt rushed. Transitions between solos on the remaining tunes were shaky, especially considering these musicians have been performing these songs together since May.

Throughout the concert, Roney, Jackson, and Herring would walk to the side of the enormous stage whenever they weren’t playing, and these roundtrips distracted from the music, which most of us are used to hearing in clubs with no stage at all or lounges with stages barely big enough to fit six musicians. Only Roney’s work on “Blue in Green” and Cobb’s solo on “Flamenco Sketches”—his only solo of the night—seemed to exude passion for the music. None of the musicians addressed the audience in the sold out hall until the 90-minute show’s conclusion, when the fit-looking Cobb, dressed in suspenders and a baseball cap, sheepishly thanked the audience for its extended ovation. There were no stories from Roney about his studies with Davis in the ‘80s, from Jackson about the influence Davis’s music has had on his playing, or from Cobb about working with Davis during the Kind of Blue sessions. Perhaps fittingly, there was just the music. 

In hindsight, any performance of Kind of Blue, especially one that closely adheres to the album’s arrangements, is bound to be disappointing. As listeners, we’ve had 50 years to inhale every note, every harmony, every chord change (of which there are comparatively few) on the recording. Even the mistakes—those glorious missteps—like Davis’s apparent slip-up 2 minutes and 13 seconds into “So What”, have come to be cherished and attributed to musicians finding their footing on the wholly new and rocky terrain of what would come to be called modal jazz, what would lay the ground work for the free jazz and fusion and jam bands and classical minimalists and movie music to come. So it seems unlikely that any performance of the music on Kind of Blue could live up to the original recording—the best a musician can do, and what Cobb’s band certainly accomplished, is to evoke in the listener that feeling that he or she had when he or she first heard Chambers’s introductory bass phrase on “So What” as recorded way back in 1959. And at the end of the night at the Palau de la Música Catalana, uproarious applause rained down upon not a performance, but the artistic legacy of what one musician and his bandmates did some 50 years ago.

//Mixed media

NYFF 2017: 'Mudbound'

// Notes from the Road

"Dee Rees’ churning and melodramatic epic follows two families in 1940s Mississippi, one black and one white, and the wars they fight abroad and at home.

READ the article