You either buy it or you don’t. That’s the way I felt coming out of the Bell House last week in Brooklyn after watching Norah Jones, guitarist Jim Campilongo, bassist Lee Alexander, drummer Dan Reiser and guitarist/singer Richard Julieni.e. The Little Willies do their thing.
Up on the old church altar, under the ceiling's massive and ornate wooden arches, in front of an array of stained glass whose center panel has been replaced with a modern rendering of a trio of bluesmen, singer and harmonica player Phil Wiggins and singer-guitarist Corey Harris are nearing the end of their set. Wiggins pauses, looks at his watch, and smiles.
"Time flies when you're playing blues in a church."
Okay, so now that we’ve all done our duty and held new babies, eaten dry turkey, listened to insane political diatribes and generally spent nothing but super terrific quality time with our families, not to mention paid fealty to the whole “it’s more blessed to give than to receive” rot, it’s time to get serious and talk about what WE want.
Tom Waits Bad As Me
Anti- 87151-1 (LP). 2011. Tom Waits, Kathleen Brennan, prods.; Julianne Deery, prod. coord.; Karl Derfler, eng.; Zack Summer, asst. eng. ADA? TT: 44:37
They only come out at night. Or when recession, wars, and gridlock rule. On Bad As Me, Tom Waits's first record of new material since 2004's Real Gone, things having gone bad all over gives his uniquely American narratives a fresh resonance: "Well we bailed out all the millionaires / they got the fruit, we got the rind / and everybody's talking at the same time / everybody's talking at the same time." ("Talking at the Same Time"). But lest anyone get the idea it's all politics and no licentiousness, the next track, "Get Lost," dives deep into loopy rockabilly slap beats as two of the three stellar guitarists who dominate this album, Marc Ribot and David Hidalgo (Los Lobos), conjure a twitchily convincing froth over which Waits revels in the simpler pleasures of Wolfman Jack and "real tight sweaters."
For the musically prolific, releasing too many records too close together can be problematic or worse. Just because you can make a record every week in your home studio doesn't mean you should. The impulse to commit every golden thought and performance to tape without self-editing or even pausing to reflect screams narcissism run amok. Asking listenerseven dedicated fansto then buy and spend time listening to half-baked nonsense that might have become something, given more time and care, is a sure career destroyer. There's truth in the old saw about building demand, avoiding saturation, and creating a hunger among the listening public. Most critical of all, despite downloads, piracy, and Lady Gaga's pointy hats and eggshell entrances, the old Hollywoodism still applies: while spontaneity may sound like a radical idea, you're only as good as your last album.
Usually, when friends become book authors, you tend to fawn a little too much over their golden meanderings. In my case, the opposite unwittingly happened when I tacked a short mention onto a recent Aural Robert that did not begin to do justice to Stereophile Contributing Editor Robert Levine’s Weep, Shudder, Die, A Guide To Loving Opera (It!/Harper Collins, 2011)
Bill Frisell All We Are Saying . . .
Bill Frisell, guitar; Jenny Scheinman, violin; Greg Leisz, pedal steel guitar; Tony Scherr, bass; Kenny Wollesen, drums
Savoy Jazz SVY17836 (CD). 2011. Lee Townsend, prod.; Adam Blombert, prod. asst.; Adam Munoz, eng.; Greg Calbi, mastering. AAD? TT: 68:12
How do you escape the pressures that come with making a record of well-known John Lennon tunes, many of them from archetypal Beatles songs? Convene a quartet of longtime bandmates, each a skilled instrumentalist with whom you've played this material beforealbeit not in a whileand just hang loose, let the ideas flow, and jam up beautifully recorded, feel-no-heat-from-the-classic-originals versions whose rough charms somehow seem exactly right. Oh yeah, and bring in pedal-steel wizard Greg Leisz to put an evocative, legato tang on the whole thing.
"So where did it all go wrong, George? When did the major-label record business begin slipping away?"
Before he can answer, I recall something George Avakian once told me over the phone. "Goddard Lieberson [former president of Columbia Records] said, 'I'm tired of sitting in A&R meetings with record guys. Get me some lawyers and accountants who don't want to argue about music.'"
"I don't remember saying that, but that's very interesting," Avakian says with a mischievous smile of recognition.
Tom Harrell: The Time of the Sun
Tom Harrell, trumpet, flugelhorn; Wayne Escoffery, tenor saxophone; Danny Grissett, piano, Fender Rhodes; Ugonna Okegwo, bass; Johnathan Blake, drums
High Note HCD7222 (CD). 2011. Tom Harrell, Wayne Escoffery, Angela Harrell, prods.; Joe Fields, exec. prod.; Mike Marciano, eng. AAD? TT: 62:12
Trumpeters use their horns to search for truth. At least that's the folk tale. Somehow, that pure, ringing tone that most strive for at some point in their careerthink Louis Armstrong, Clifford Brown, Miles Davissuggests a quest for deeper knowledge, something closer to the heart. In effect, trumpeters play a knifea blade that can cut through nerve, bone, and sinew to that heart; to realizations, we'd like to think, that force them to be honest.