Sunday, November 20, 2011

Loud and Louder

I have been to two concerts of two highly-regarded groups in a week--Ted Leo and the Pharmacists and two other punk bands in a church basement, and Los Campineros at the Black Cat, a DC rock club. And both suffered from over the top loudness.

The sound systems at each venue were ill-equiped to handle the sounds of either group, and the resulting muddled music mix was a thick cereal of noise. But in both cases, the crowd seemed to eat it up with enthusiasm. The difference between the rest of the crowd and me may have been that I was not really familiar with either band's catalog of music, and the fans were--they could make out the songs even with the murky mix. But that should not matter. Judged on the quality of the real sound that was present for all, the fans and all music listeners deserve much more from the groups and the clubs, and until the groups and clubs ensure the appropriate sound, the appropriate place for the fans and music listeners is at home.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Selling Out

It was a cloudy day at first in center of culture in NYC as we lined up to drink at the trough of corporate excess and greed--it was Baron's day of food, talk, and entertainment all bought by Ron Baron to honor his corporate accomplishments and achievements. The corporate honchos talked about their philosophies and played up their growth and visions. A few were thoughtful and impressive, but most were blocked in their vision by their ids, their egos, their libidos, and achievements. One's business plan had at its center a brutal criticism of the geeks who probably had a lot to do with his success as he moved away from them and criticized their complications. Ron Baron set up his philosophy which seem above politics and somewhat enlightened, but in response to a question, he seemed blinded by his own politics, and said the President should resign as a joke (maybe) that was applauded by many in this slobbering crowd.

James Taylor was one of the lunchtime entertainers, and while I wondered why he had sold out his caring soul to the corporate concert sponsors, he gave a warm and pleasant concert. Sting was the surprise headliner, and he seemed to phone in his pedestrian performance with his pleasant songbook sung in a perfunctory manner. The day ended with the handout of a corporate goody bag, and I felt like it was a final nail in a day of selling out to the corporate largesse, and I needed some good spirit from a music-laden Friday night service at Romomu to save the day and the soul.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

open door--musical interconnectedness

Coming to this concert of mixed traditions, was a crowd for India Arie and a crowd for Idan Raichel, and then there were a smaller group who wanted to see and hear them both together. On one level, it was an unlikely pairing and melding of a multi-talented African-American rhythm and blues singer, India Arie, who has built up a decent treasure of songs and fanbase, with a jazzy Israeli pianist/composer, Idan Raichel, who fuses singers from around the world into the music of his Israeli trio. On another level it's a natural blend of voices, talents, and visions into a deep feeling of togetherness that sparks a menu of songs for interconnectedness.

At the beginning of the concert, India greeted the crowd by turning up the lights to see them and and greet each section of the vast hall, thanking them for trusting in the artists in a new experiment of song. And she asked the audience to experience the concert in three ways--to see the concert, to listen especially for the poetry of the words, and to keep their hearts (and souls) open. The concert hung together loosely and tightly as the night weaved its musical threads through the varied work of the two artists together and then separately and then together again--crafting a musical vision of relations and unity even when there are clearly distances between the songs.

She set up a striking stage presence, almost luminous in a flowing white dress that was made by her mother, that is accented by a high white turban and a personality that lights up the stage with its warmth and engagement. Arie introduced each of the songs and built a direct relationship with the audience that is so rare in modern music. From the moment she asked for the light to come on and she walked along the stage waving at the various sections in the theater, she had the audience with her.

Her music, though, is what really grabbed the crowd. She and Raichel and their backing musicians performed many songs from “Open Door,” their album that’s due out next spring, but as much as the show was billed as an international pairing of sounds (aside from an occasional interlude from the oud, a Middle Eastern instrument somewhere between a banjo and sitar), it is still rooted in Arie’s intense American-soul approach. Her voice ascends to unexpected heights and often dips into a husky deep when it needs to, carrying Raichel’s jazzy-pop melodies along for a sweet soulful ride.

As vivid visually as the concert was – her nimble dancing and presence with Raichel's swinging curly locks, gave the show a strong feast for the eyes – it definitely felt like Arie’s vehicle with Raichel's support more than a fusing of two equals. Raichel seemed comfortable with the role, for his group, The Idan Raichel Project, while featuring music written and played by him, always has a variety of guest singers. Idan seemed like the perfect party host for a celebration of music and ideas built around world unity.

While sometimes Arie’s lyrics, built around world unity and understanding of other people and other cultures, seemed too literal and bordering on preachy, she and Raichel are so sincere and devoted to their uplifting messages that the show never bogged down. For me , the most interesting moments came on a couple of tunes when Arie and Raichel sang in Hebrew. Another high, if not chai moment was when Arie and her two backing singers dove into the funky, soulful “Complicated Melody,” an already interesting song that flashed when Arie’s mother came out and joined them with a voice that was surprisingly skillful. It was clear that Indie Arie’s had a good source for her talent.

Indie and Idan blended well into a style that is becoming their own--Indie’s lyrics along with her Afro-American soulful sounds blend nicely with Idan’s authentic Middle Eastern musical expression--and together their multilingual lyrics sung in forged cultural divides to created a performance that was uniquely personal and uplifting. Together with their very different backgrounds, they tell a story of a world of healing and love, of brotherhood that can be shaped with little pain and no hatred. Through spoken word and music, they lead you through a lilting journey of their meeting, their friendship, and their appreciation of each other's talent and culture. Their music and lyrics were politically correct, but filled with energy and emotion and life affirming. It is more than what I usually receive from a concert.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Labor Day Reset--Take the Risks for Freedom

With skyrocketing profits for American companies, but lack of confidence in investing in new jobs in America, it is time for leaders in all sectors of the economy and the body politic to grow up and step forward together and take steps to affirm their belief in what America is and stands for. While men and women continue to die across the world to defend what America believes in, it is time for other sectors of America to take a risk, and contribute to America stands for; they need to put aside political squabbling and corporate, owner, and stockholder selfishness, and invest in America and what it stands for. It may not be the most profitable and the safest politically, but it is time to put pure profits aside and other priorities and make a decision that America as we know it is worth it. It is what soldiers, and policemen and fireman and many other people and their families do everyday for each one of us.

It is simple plan, and all politicians should step forward to come together and forget about elections and partisian politics and come together for the good of America. For now, we seem at a crossroads. We have heard enough debates about whether stimulus packages, bail outs or tax reforms are the answer--there are merits to each of them, but there may not be just one answer, and it is time to step away from the debating, and do something simple for America.

If there is one thing that seems clear, it is that our leaders need to step away from the fractious political discourse and mature if they want to earn the right to be our leaders and our chief businessmen and women. The business people need to commit to invest in America (and put aside their shaky sense of confidence in America and their decision to invest in cheaper foreign workers, and other choices for a profitable moment), whether it is making new investments in creating new jobs and contribute through donations to our social well-being. And we need to report clearly on the results so that the public can decide whether to buy their products and services or decide to pass them buy for those who care about us and America, or until they care about us. One place that companies can invest in is customer service, which is woefully poor in so many companies with putting people on hold for literally hours (and then when we finally connect with a person (often in a foreign country), the service is woefully poor and uncaring).

We are in this together, and it is time that we did something about it. We need to grow up and invest for the great democratic and free society that we all believe in. We know that the world is flat and we need to be globally competitive and globally connected. But for the moment, if our country is worth saving, it is worth investing in. We cannot just think about how best to deal with the current situation ("momentary situation ethics"), we need to address our situation for more than just the immediate moment. We cannot just ask our soldiers, policemen, and firefighters to take the risks. If it is worth it for all of us to take the risks, we need to grow up, and invest in us for a better America.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Whole Lot of Shaking and Raining Going On

In a week of a earthquake and a hurricane/tropical storm, it is useful to look back and see what stood out as memories or lessons learned. One feeling is of gratitude for relatively little damage, harm or inconvenience. Another standout is the positive and cooperative attitudes of people who shared in these events. Driving up and down to NYC and back on Saturday in particular demonstrated people's good humor, friendliness and helpfulness in times of shared troubles ahead. People in shared experience came through for one another and that is great to experience and remember.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Search for Meaning--A Work in Progress

This may have been straight out of a book that John Updike did not get to write. It had those same privileged guests in it--the suburban couples--glamorous, somewhat cold, and not clear what their jobs or meaning are. They are still at it with some of the same exclusive emotion if that what it is, and the same air of upper class-ness that excludes just about everyone else. They may have lost a step in the process of life and aging, but they are still at it.

The wedding had stabs at religion in it--a rabbi who wore a black robe and a tallit with little observable meaning. She reminded me of Diane Keaton just playing another role that never got really defined. At one point during the ceremony, she passed a tallit onto the couple being married--for just a brief moment, she said a brief blessing without much emotion, and placed the tallit down on the dais--after it served its brief and limited purpose, all alike an artifact, a prop, like the glass to be crushed without the usual meaning. We were just visiting this artifact of history.

And then there were the words of advice or meaning to the couple--the rabbi just spoke the words of the couple on why they said that they loved each other--from the dog to being smart and honest to loving the Redskins to being up when the arrived home late from work. This couple lived together for awhile and knew the surprises of togetherness; so some of the newness of marriage was gone--maybe to be redecorated.

The reception began with the appetizers and bar--dominated by the sushi of a trendy hotel that just made it into the traditional Jewish wedding reception. But at this wedding trendy was in, and was dominant while tradition and ruach or spirit was an artifact of life and just receding in the background. When the hora finally came out or was brought out from the closet, it was late after many meandering speeches and searches for meaning in relationships that were dominated by phone calls and connections that seemed like tall grass unmowed like the weed mentioned by the bride's brother who asked that the couple "don't go married on me."

Even the music played professionally enough by the loud 12 piece band whose vocalists screeched out too many of the words, and drained all energy or subtlety out of many of the new and old songs. Kay Perry and AC/DC in one medleyed into each other and everything else.

The dancing was fun of sorts but it all was just an artifact for another part of the visiting of the wedding ceremony and celebration. I am sure it had a different meaning for the wedding participants.

The father of the groom said that he wanted Yiddishkeit in the events and hired part of a klezmer group the night before for the rehearsal dinner--not the main event, but an attempt to have some meaning for a part of our tradition that seemed like just another piece of the evidence, an artifact to the visiting of the tradition and the spirit. Ruach a receding gene in the tapestry of this beautiful event at a trendy hotel in a part of town that is artificially built on a circle that goes nowhere and overlooks everything.

Lost Childhood

With my mother's recent passing, my period of elongated childhood ended and so did a piece of great luck. For I had a special relationship with my mother that cannot and should not be repeated or duplicated. Now there is no one who will provide that undying love and connection that only my mother provided. It seems almost surreal that I had that special relationship when it is gone--you earned it just by being a son, hopefully a good one in return. A lot of good memories are what stand in its place, it is irreplaceable, as maybe it should be.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Suze and the Duke

It is indeed a sad day in Flatbush, and in certain other parts of my receding childhood.

The Duke of Flatbush passed away at age 84. He was my favorite player as a Brooklyn Dodger fan in the 50s, and even as a Met fan in the 60's. He had a unique kind style and grace, and power and speed that he brought to his batting and fielding, and in his attitude on and off the field (at least during the late 40s, and the 50s). He had a regal air about him as he strode and patrolled the green outfield at Ebbets Field. He often was compared to Mays and Mantle in the 50's in the NYC center field sweepstakes, and tended to be the underdog in that comparison.

Unfortunately, when I met him at a baseball card show many years later in the 80's, he seemed a little too money-driven and unfortunately was on his way to tax difficulties, and some "wrong choices." But I will always have my childhood memories of this wonderful ball player.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Suze Rotolo, will always be remembered for her romantic relationship with Bob Dylan in the 60s and her inspiration to him. But she will be best remembered, in one of the iconic images of the decades, walking arm-in-arm with the Bobster on the cover of the legendary “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.” She died recently at the young age of 67.

In the picture she seemed like the romantic muse for the ages for the creative Mr. Dylan. As Dylan wrote in “Chronicles: Volume 1, “Right from the start I couldn’t take my eyes off her.” “She was the most erotic thing I’d ever seen." "Cupid’s arrow had whistled past my ears before, but this time it hit me in the heart and the weight of it dragged me overboard.”

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of reading her book, “A Freewheelin’ Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the 60s”, and I enjoyed her description of Mr. Dylan as among other things, “oddly old-time looking, charming in a scraggly way.” She also accounted for herself as more than just a walking companion.

Her views on social issues, especially her commitment to the civil rights movement seemed to have a deep and early influence on Mr. Dylan’s writing, along with her interests in theater and the visual arts, which may have opened him up beyond his world of folk music and his self-made image as the Guthrie-esque troubadour.

Her ultimate absence from Mr. Dylan's life was supposed to have inspired “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” “Boots of Spanish Leather” and “Tomorrow Is a Long Time.” She played a key role in inspiring and shaping one of the great songwriters of our time.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Best of 2010: Music That Is

I think it was Descartes or another philosopher, who said that "once a rock critic, always a rock critic." Once you review music as a job or avocation, you can never just return back to the safety and security and relaxed attitude of the normal listener. Listening as a critic is a little more disciplined and a little less joyful.

So I will begin this look back to the best of the year with a confession that my selections for top songs and albums of this year involved some unnatural, repeated listening for the sake of this once and always critic's summary; the results are albums and songs that are some new, some borrowed, and even some blue. That may be par for the course for a once and forever rock critic; the boundaries of a year are arbitrary and somewhat flexible, and lists are imperfect and always leave out some great music. The bad things about lists of top music of the year are well covered in the discussion at this web address:

Even with many shortcomings, here goes my observations about the best music of this arbitrary year period--

The best album of the year for me was "Suburbs" by Arcade Fire--which stood out in its variety of song styles, its effective messages, and its overall theme that made it work as an complete album, at a time when albums are being discarded and disregarded by orderless downloading. There are so many good songs on the album--songs that are well-crafted, well-performed and had enough variety to keep all of the songs fresh and successful, no matter how many times I heard them.

Vampire Weekend had my second favorite album, "Contra," which was a sprightly trip through some world-influenced pop rock. They may be going a little too mainstream and popular, as evidenced by "Holiday" becoming a friendly car company reminder. But even in their concerts, they play very tightly yet still with enough joy and organization to make it work well and produce happy and contagious music.

My next favorite was "Broken Bells" by Broken Bells, which was as close to a super group as we would get this year--and the down-tempo and smooth vocals and interesting arrangements help. "High Ground" was as good a song as anyone could craft this year, and the sound is intricate and fresh each time I hear it.

Beach House came in next with a good sound in "Teen Dream" (as in the song "Zebra"), even though it all sounded like they were still trying to figure out what direction to go in. In person, they were louder, sloppier, less careful, and not nearly as artful, but they continue to have a lot of potential.

My next two groups showed artful promise in 2010, but were not quite ready for a larger stage of success. LA's Warpaint placed in the top 5 with some interesting sounds on the "The Fool," but the sound is a little thin and they lack an ingredient or two to fill out their repetiore and sound.

Avi Buffalo's 'Avi Buffalo' included the simple, catchy, and wonderful "What's In It For?" with a fitting video, but their album and their live show is also a little thin, and uni-dimensional, yet they show some promise.

The rest of the year's favorites are a mixed group that all played well, but lacked a certain level of musical power when compared to those above them.

Gil Scott-Heron, one of original rapper/poets returned to center stage with his sometimes powerful "I'm New Here." "Your Soul and Mine" provided a good explanation of where he is and has been, and where we are and have been too.

Neil Young's "Le Noise" was a punned title that hailed the work of the eternally electronic, never old Mr. Young with veteran producer Daniel Lanois. The results are mixed with the intimate instant classic sounding "Love and War" and "Hitchhiker" alternating with the more noisy and less rhymical sounds of "Walk with Me" and "Angry World."

The rest is the best of the rest:

Belle and Sebastian - "Write About Love"

LCD Soundsystem - "This Is Happening"

Sleigh Bells
- "Treats"

Band of Horses - "Infinite Arms"

The National - "High Violet"

Manic Street Preachers - "Postcards from a Young Man"

First Aid Kit - "The Big Black & The Blue"; "Ghost Town" (EP)

Best Coast - "Crazy For You"

Black Keys - "Brothers"

Deerhunter - "Halcyon Digest"

Hey Marsielles - remastered version of 2008's "To Travels and Trunks"

Lost in the Trees - "All Alone in an Empty House"

Yeasayers - "Odd Blood"

Newspeak - "Sweet Light Crude"

MGMT - "Congratulations"

Mumford & Sons - "Sigh No More"

Broken Social Scene - "World Sick"

Kanye West - "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy"

Jens Lekman
- "
The End of the World is Bigger Than Love"

John Grant - "
Queen of Denmark"

Sleigh Bells - " Rill Rill"

The New Pornographers - "Together"

And it was the year of Glee, including Gwyneth Paltrow's performance of "Follow Me" that played proper homage to the great version by Cee Lo Green.

Finally, there is the hope of classical music reviving itself in reaching across boundaries and there is a good indie classical scene evolving as reported in this article and broadcast:

It was a good year for a varied diet of interesting music, and the music business is spinning and evolving into new business models with the end or landing point nowhere in sight. I wish all a Happy and Healthy New Year.