Good Music / Bad Music

Tag: jazz

Nellie McKay – Normal as Blueberry Pie: A Tribute to Doris Day

by on Nov.12, 2009, under Good Music, Video

The evolution of Nellie McKay has been one of the more intriguing stories to follow in the world of music. Her first record, Get Away from Me, is a critically lauded classic, considered the antithesis of Norah Jones’ release at that time, Come Away with Me. Initially, Get Away from Me was to be a single LP but became the first double disc debut ever released by a female after McKay charmingly, but forcefully, schmoozed Columbia record execs into seeing it her way. She tried the same thing with the follow up, Pretty Little Head, but with far less success. This lead to a long delayed self release of what also ended up being a double disc, and then a subsequent reissue of the discs back on Columbia where she started. The on-again/off-again relationship produced a final product that had some definite gems, and more good songs than bad, but also a few tracks that really maybe should have been left on the cutting room floor. She took these lessons well for the release of her third and finest album, Obligatory Villagers. It was concise, raw, and very in touch with her jazz roots. Alongside of Montreal’s Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? and Rufus Wainwright’s Release the Stars, it was easily one of the three best albums of 2007. Musically, she was exactly where she needed to be. So what now?

Well, now is the release of her fourth studio venture, Normal as Blueberry Pie: A Tribute to Doris Day. As the title implies, the disc is comprised primarily of songs once sang by Doris Day (with one original). As to be expected for something like this, McKay’s volcano has cooled since Obligatory Villagers. Everything is nice and minimal, laid back and soft. While this may be off putting for the Nellie fans among us who were hoping she would grow her balls bigger and bigger, rather than chopping them off completely, it’s still an intricately touched, beautiful collection of songs.

Let’s be clear. This is technically a jazz album. From the album art to the actual content of the disc, it smacks of Susannah McCorkle or…well…Doris Day. At its heart, however, McKay makes these songs her own and wears them well. She is, after all, not just a vocalist, but a musician as well. This gives her an additional connectivity to the music that a vocalist alone might not always have at her disposal. The result is a collection of pointed arrangements that accomplish a lot within a small amount of space. Yes, this is technically a jazz album…but it sounds like something just slightly beyond the genre.

The two more upbeat tracks, “Crazy Rhythm” and “Dig It,” are infectiously swingin’. She visits Sioux musical interpretations on “Black Hills of Dakota.” She seems to border on surrealistic dreamscapes of sound on “Meditation” and the quaint “Send Me No Flowers” while tapping into something darker, but more awake on “Close Your Eyes.” The sole original, “If I Ever Had a Dream,” fits seamlessly among these classics. The whole meal is peppered with ukulele, brass, violin, mostly light percussion and some masterfully dizzying guitar by Jay Berliner.

From here, I’m hard pressed to wonder if McKay will continue in this vein, or move back toward more irreverent and monumental musings. While I have always hoped for the latter in the past, I can now delight in the knowledge that, really, either direction would be just fine. It seems that young McKay’s golden touch gets a bit stronger with each passing year, anyway. Of course, it’s doubtful that she would follow an album of covers with another album of covers next time around. (But wasn’t it doubtful that she would follow a double disc with another double disc, too?) So while her take on more classic notions of music is so very welcome and so wonderfully executed, no matter where she ventures next with music, I definitely look forward to hearing her rattle off a few swear words.

Here is some video of her being all cute and talking about the new album…

42,403 Comments :, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , more...

Kid Koala / Modifi / Telepath – Knoxville, TN – 10.10.2009

by on Oct.12, 2009, under Good Music, Video

kid koalaAs far as multi-act live shows go, it’s rare that one comes along that is definitively awesome from beginning to end. Sometimes the acts may all be quality, but the in-between time breaks the flow of the evening. Sometimes the headliner is all that’s worth giving one’s time to. Sometimes it turns out to be the same case for the supporting acts. Sometimes, it doesn’t even feel like a show, so much as just some stuff going on. Audience can play a part, too. Sometimes a lack of audience enthusiasm can wreck the energy of the thing. And yet sometimes too much enthusiasm can distract from the thing on the stage. I’m so very glad to acknowledge that not one of these circumstances played out as such the other night at Knoxville’s Club Catalyst.

modifiEverything kicked off a little after 10PM with local DJ, Modifi. I have followed Modifi for several years now. At least since his humble beginnings in garage rock bands around town. I’ve watched him evolve from a decent guitarist into an incredibly skillful turner of the turntables. (You can download one of his earlier releases, as DJ Simon Belmont, here.) On this evening, he had at his disposal two said turntables, a laptop and the necessary mixer. Perhaps he was harboring more on that table, as he’s been known to use an MPC and other goodies from time to time. I couldn’t elevate my perspective enough to tell for certain. Whatever he had, though, he used it well.

Without veering hard into pop territory, Modifi kept the music moving as any good DJ should. There was a touch of M.I.A. and T.I. here and there, but never as a standalone. The more modern servings were cushioned all around by Modifi’s own signature beats, as well as elements of classics and obscurities alike. As his set went on, it became difficult to discern what was coming from where anyway.

After a relatively swift and smooth transition, Kid Koala took the stage. His set up was mostly minimal. Three turntables and a mixer. No computer. No beat machines. Not even headphones. There was, however, a video projector displaying his set up (and all that he did with it) on a large screen above his head. This allowed for a more defined audience focus on his ability, pure and simple, and not just the music, itself. We were not in a position to merely dance, but to admire and be awed.

His set moved primarily between rock, hip hop and jazz. Meshing it all together, he did some tricky maneuvers. There was the usual exchanging of records and sliding of faders one would expect. Also, though, there were drops and juggles that could only be executed by a man who knows his music very very well. When I say, “knows his music,” I am not intending to pay respects solely to a knowledge of songs. Sure, he has good taste, but he literally knows his music. He knows not only what is tonal with what, but specifically where on his records those tones occur, bouncing the needle appropriately.

Among the more memorably novel aspects of his set were an ode to Louis Armstrong, an onstage remix of the White Stripes and the spacey, ambiance drenched work over of “Moon River,” dedicated to his mother. There was also the matter of a girl named Dawn. Dawn was celebrating her birthday at the show by heckling Kid Koala. Apparently she was expecting something more pop and less “turntable crap,” and so the Kid bantered with her from the stage. This lead to her taking to the stage, barely saving herself from a potentially nasty fall, and actually turning off one of the turntables by accident. The crowd booed her, but Koala was endlessly diplomatic and gentlemanly toward the southern, drunken birthday girl. By the end of the set, she was dancing her ass off like everyone else, even returning to the stage again to prove it.

telepathThe aforementioned “Moon River” closed the set out. After another brief, seemingly seamless intermission, Telepath took to the stage. Their equipment (guitars, drums and electronics) had already been set up on the stage, allowing them to dive right in. Their music complimented Modifi and Kid Koala well, as did their fairly decent light show. Where Kid Koala’s act was very forward and driving, Telepath worked it down into something that sat back and grooved. The dancing bodies continued to dance, but now without having to think or focus as much. It all drifted into the realms of a casual love in.

There’s not much to say about Telepath aside from the fact that it’s great music (and their guitarist has crazy Eraserhead hair). I hesitate to label them as a “jam band” though they obviously do jam around in their songs. If they are of such a classification, though, they are of a new school. This is not the sleeper shit popularized by the Grateful Dead and driven into the ground by Widespread Panic. No. This is tolerable. This is good because it’s really good…not because you are on drugs. (Though I couldn’t imagine the drugs not helping, I guess.)

Walking away from that show, I felt as though I was leaving some big shit event. It felt like something people attended with absolutely no doubt about its freshness. Call it an energy in the air. Call it an exceeded expectation, or a perfect surprise for some, perhaps. Whatever it was, it all equated out to a perfect storm of entertainment and a truly stellar evening for all involved. Even Dawn.

Kid Koala’s Ode to Louis Armstrong:

Kid Koala’s interaction with Dawn, the drunk heckler:

35,176 Comments :, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , more...

Busdriver – Jhelli Beam

by on Oct.04, 2009, under Good Music

I can’t truly figure out Busdriver’s true propensity for “selling out.” He certainly has more talent then Lil Wayne, Yung Joc, Young Jeezy and 99% of all else on the idiot radio. This talent comes both in vocal ability and beats. He’s also been in the game much longer than most of today’s redundant rap robots. Yet there he sits, unknown to all the wealthy suburban thug assholes that eat up all the gangsta garbage and keep the money flowing. Busdriver deserves to be what everyone likes in a perfect world. It’s barrier breaking, catchy and far ahead of its time. He also rages quite blatantly about all those rappers contributing to the imperfect world they continually pollute.

So what is it, Busdriver? Are you truly so benevolent that pretzels and cheese are more than enough earnings so long as you can keep to the truth you’ve always perpetuated? Or is the rest of the world so simply ignorant that they have never given you the myriad of expensive possibilities you deserve? Busdriver is one of those entertainers that deserves to have millions thrown at him, all the while honoring his list of demands. You know…like Beck.

On the other side of the coin, the perks are these: First of all, Busdriver belongs to himself and his moderate number of fans. The Dave Matthews Band stink of a frat following does not exist here. Also, and most importantly, whenever he raps against the evils of the recording industry and the “entertainers” they support, there is nothing false about it. He does not simply state these criticisms, he practices what he preaches. Could Busdriver be the Jesus Christ of the rap game?

Okay. So Jhelli Beam is the newest offering from our beloved Busdriver. My first impression is that it’s very difficult to imagine that something so truly unique came out of Los Angeles…a land generally only as unique as the corporate destruction they impress on grassroots goodness from other lands. However, this seems to be the deepest digging yet from Busdriver. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell if this is hip hop or…something else? As far as genre goes, it’s relatively undefinable in places.

Busdriver has always dealt in obscure samples and rich, multi-layered textures. On Jhelli Beam, though, every single phrase of sound at least feels like something new. It is as if a painting, with a new flourish of color for every three inches or so of canvass. He tackles sound structures that are highly unconventional for rap or hip hop. There are tempo changes (“Scoliosis Jones”), minimalist jazz drumming (“World Agape”), African roots fusions (“Manchuria”) and nonsense that dares to be poetic, rather than hokey (“Unsafe Sextet”). Verbally, Busdriver’s cadences are always sharp, thoroughly versed and on-point. Listening, it becomes painfully obvious that neither an autotuned asshole like Kanye West nor a generally sensible bigwig such as Jay-Z have the base talent to keep up with them, let alone mimic them.

Jhelli Beam is everything that rap and hip hop could have been and should have been. Unfortunately, it was hijacked by cocaine corporate interests and watered down to the sad state it exists in today. Lil Wayne may be content to program a simple, repetitive beat loop, say a bunch of repetitive, unaffecting words over it and cash his checks. Busdriver, however, is dedicated to the craft more than the millions…and it shows.

Please do the world a favor and reallocate your money as necessary.

32,571 Comments :, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , more...

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:

Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!