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Sunday, Feb 28, 2010

Green Day has a knack for kicking off records in a riveting fashion, but the band often has a problem wrapping them up as strongly.  For album closers, the trio typically opts for an unremarkable rocker (“Walking Contradiction”, “Prosthetic Head”) or a decent understated number that lacks the punch and passion of preceding tracks (“Macy’s Day Parade”, “Whatshername”).  And the less said about the ghastly AOR sheen of “See the Light” from last year’s 21st Century Breakdown, the better.  Consequently, “F.O.D.”—the final listed track on Dookie—stands as the band’s best official album closer by virtue of the process of elimination more than for being a great tune.


Green Day aims to conclude its third full-length record in climactic fashion, building from understated verses and choruses (featuring only Billie Joe Armstrong’s voice and an acoustic guitar) to an anthemic crash of amplifiers and drum rolls as Armstrong profanely explains the meaning behind the song’s acronym title.  It doesn’t quite work, though.  The main reason is because the acoustic preamble is meant to set listeners up for the sudden sucker punch of the full band onslaught, but it’s severely undermined by the fact that Armstrong plays his acoustic guitar exactly as he would an electric—strumming power chords aggressively with a precise rhythmic thrust (it must be noted though that this does provide listeners with a glimpse of Armstrong’s rhythm guitar prowess shorn of amplifier distortion).  Really, the only major difference in tone between the two parts of the song is that one half is noisier than the other.



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Friday, Feb 26, 2010
Some artists are more than merely great. There are some artists that for a period of years, a period that is finite, consistently produced music that, it can be argued, far exceeded the work of their peers. For that brief period of time they were definitely Masters of the Form.

In 1976, Parliament, led by the incomparable George Clinton, released chapters one and two of a trilogy that changed the landscape of contemporary music. Mothership Connection and The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein proved that Parliament were Masters of the Form by pushing the boundaries of what funk music could be.  1977 found Clinton and his funk mob touring the country in perhaps the most elaborate stage show ever produced by a black musician.  The tour reinforced the storylines of the two albums, and when the Mothership landed onstage each night, the band was lifted into the musical stratosphere. 


Mothership Connection had recast Clinton and his musical peers, Bootsy Collins, Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker, and Bernie Worrell amongst many others, as otherworldly freethinkers descending from space onto a planet in desperate need of the free thought that funk music symbolized. The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein introduced their leader and his clones, who had come to help their listeners fight for this freedom.  In 1977, Parliament didn’t release an album at all; they released a war, a final stand, the third part of the trilogy and an absolute musical masterpiece called Funkentelechy Vs. the Placebo Syndrome.  It was the third album in a funk-tinged science fiction comic book trilogy that focused all of Parliament’s power, humor, and politics into 44 minutes of courageous musical climax.


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Thursday, Feb 25, 2010

Way back in 1997, the Verve released a single that launched them into the commercial stratosphere. The band were already well known in their native Britain by this time, having released two dynamic albums that mixed their innate gift for sonic exploration with a knack for composing anthemic songs in the rock medium.


“Bitter Sweet Symphony” was the band’s first salvo since reuniting after a two-year hiatus, and it was a good one. But while it was good enough to earn the band a worldwide chart smash (including #2 in the UK, and #12 in the US), the song as released was built upon a sample of a tune by the Rolling Stones, both of which can be heard at the “Bitter Sweet Symphony” Wikipedia page.


Actually, while the song in question was written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the sample itself was taken from the Andrew Oldham Orchestra version of “The Last Time”, recorded in 1966. The Verve licensed a sample of the song in advance, but had apparently bitten off more than they were allowed to chew. When “Bitter Sweet Symphony” became a hit, the Stones’ lawyers came calling.


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Wednesday, Feb 24, 2010
It's only February, but 2010 has already yielded a fistful of significant jazz releases.

My 2009 was largely devoted to music-making (and the drinking of copious amounts of lagers) with too little time spent checking out new music. As a result, one of the big resolutions I made for 2010 was to hear more new works—at least a handful each week. It was ambitious, but, through the first month and change of 2010, so far so good. Certainly it takes time to fully digest some music in order to form an educated opinion and make any weighty decisions. But, well, weighty decisions are overrated anyway! So, I present to you my personal favorite jazz of 2010: a highly uneducated—and frequently irritable—compendium. (Note to readers:  Keep an eye out for an upcoming piece on my least favorite jazz of 2010, which is much funnier.)


Favorite Piano Album:
Orrin Evans—Faith in Action (Posi-Tone)
I’ll be one of the first jazz fans to admit it:  the jazz piano trio format usually bores me to tears and makes me value my Nation of Ulysses albums as if they were the last drops of Alagash Curieux in the universe (though, I usually do anyway). While there are certainly some phenomenal piano trio albums in the history of jazz—Oscar Peterson, Brad Mehldau, Bill Evans, to name a few—most of the trio albums I’ve heard in recent years were self-indulgent exercises in musical masturbation. They essentially served as demo recordings, creating a relatively inexpensive means for the pianist to obtain gigs and earn coveted positions in the bands of larger fish. That being said, young jazz tuna (the term “lion” is so overused!) Orrin Evans’ latest effort, Faith in Action, is one of the best trio recordings I’ve heard in recent time. I’ll cut to the chase: it’s accessible, filled with bluesy solos, swinging rhythms, and playful harmonies. Most importantly, this music is overflowing with emotion, passion, soul, and humor—and all from a trio! Drummer Nasheet Waits and bassist Luques Curtis kill.


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Tuesday, Feb 23, 2010
Nico Muhly-protoge and acclaimed avant-garde composer Ben Frost discusses the works of Futurama, Groundhog Day, and his ability to wear through clothes at alarming speeds ...

In a short amount of time, composer Ben Frost has gathered up a powerful arsenal of friends, ranging from (his mentor and The Reader score composer) Nico Muhly to Icelandic string quartet Amiina to Swedish metal band Crowpath to Bjork & Bonnie “Prince” Billy producer Valgeir Sigurðsson.  Then, he invited them all to play on his album. 


By the Throat is Frost’s third major full-length album, and it’s been bathing in ecstatic (and well-deserved) praise, mixing minimalist melodies with an eclectic mix of beats, vocal samples, and sheets of distortion, making for a powerful, cutting, and emotional disc that sounds like nothing like it on the avant-classical front today. 


Yet as film scores beckon and a long-awaited US tour is rumored to be in the works, the Australian-born Frost takes some time out of his busy schedule to discuss the paintings of Mark Rothko, the appreciation he holds for Looney Tunes, and why it’s best to carry a big stick with you when time traveling ...


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