Music and Recording Features

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Jim Austin  |  Oct 21, 2020  |  1 comments
Last month, I received so few vinyl reissues that I had to invite a guest writer—jazz critic and political commentator Fred Kaplan—to fill in. Fred had managed to grab an early copy of the excellent Analogue Productions 45rpm reissue of Bill Evans at the Montreux Jazz Festival. I didn't get mine until a week or so after his review was submitted.

This month, I have a tall stack to choose from, so I'll mention several.

Ken Micallef  |  Oct 08, 2020  |  2 comments
"The data lords are gathering data and giving it to organizations that then manipulate us with the things they know about us, things that we don't even know about ourselves," says five-time Grammy Award–winning composer, conductor, producer, and band leader Maria Schneider. "They give our data to any company that'll pay for it to manipulate you, specifically targeting your vulnerabilities. It takes away freedom of thought, a true discourse where people are thinking for themselves. Count me out."
Fred Kaplan  |  Sep 22, 2020  |  11 comments
The late pianist Bill Evans may be the most reissued jazz musician in the catalogs of audiophile record labels. There are reasons for that: He played standards, mainly ballads (many audiophiles shun the avantgarde), almost never in groups larger than trios (stereo systems often do best with small-scale ensembles). Whether by design or chance, his best recordings were miked by superb engineers. Perhaps because of that, proprietors of high-end labels have cherished Evans's music with heightened passion.
Thomas Conrad  |  Sep 04, 2020  |  2 comments
An outburst of saxophone flurries sits you straight up in your chair. The tone is rich but with a cutting edge.

It has to be Rudresh Mahanthappa. The riveting cry of his alto saxophone is one of the most recognizable sounds in jazz.

But those darting runs coalesce into Charlie Parker's "Red Cross." So it can't be Mahanthappa, can it? He has made 15 straight albums of original music. He doesn't do covers, right?

Ken Micallef  |  Aug 05, 2020  |  16 comments
On iconic singer-songwriter James Taylor's 20th album, American Standard, the lanky crooner adapts the classic American songbook to his easy-rolling musical ways. The result is an American mixture of timeless songcraft.

Where some popular singers use the songbook canon to increase record and ticket sales, Taylor has no need to change himself or increase his audience. He's as comfortable as any man can be, having sold many millions of records the world over for almost 50 years.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jul 29, 2020  |  3 comments
For two months, I'd been planning to attend Terry Riley's appearance at Seattle's 536-seat Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall. For two weeks, I'd been planning to watch a presidential-candidate debate on television. Only one problem: As it turned out, the two events were scheduled for the same night. Even after a decade of trying to master the muddle known as multitasking, it was impossible to do both.
John Swenson  |  Jun 30, 2020  |  8 comments
New Orleans, Louisiana — As I write this, my city is locked down. To make sure of it, the National Guard is encamped in Louis Armstrong Park, site of Congo Square, where in former times enslaved Americans gathered to dance and play music, and tourists gathered to watch them. People still gather there when the city is not locked down; they gather at other places, too. No one's gathering now.
Sasha Matson  |  May 28, 2020  |  2 comments
"What happens in college stays in college" might be the best policy for most undergrad-formed bands, but Snarky Puppy is an exception to that rule (and a number of others). Bassist/composer Michael League found fertile musical ground in the jazz studies program at the University of North Texas when he formed Snarky Puppy in 2003.
Ken Micallef  |  May 08, 2020  |  10 comments
In a 2014 profile in the New Yorker, Paul Elie, author of the book Reinventing Bach, wrote, "There it was again: the stinging treble, the spooky overtones, the strings snapping and booming under his hands—the sound of a Tele being played as skillfully and exuberantly as it can be played."

The musician in question was Jim Campilongo . . .

Thomas Conrad  |  Apr 07, 2020  |  7 comments
I remember the only time i ever saw Chet Baker. It was at Parnell's, a jazz club in Pioneer Square in Seattle, long since defunct. It was a few years before Baker died under mysterious circumstances, in Amsterdam in 1988, after a life of creativity, notorious dissipation, and addiction.

Emaciated, with a caved-in face, he already looked near death. He played like an angel. I remember something that happened to me toward the end of the night. Sometimes last sets in jazz clubs, when the crowd has thinned, seem to exist outside of time.

Phil Brett  |  Mar 12, 2020  |  22 comments
Few would have predicted that the Sex Pistols' first gig—in November 1975, at the Saint Martin's School of Art in central London—would be the start of an explosion of music. Not many even knew it was happening. That soon changed. Punk would create a space that other bands rushed to fill. Inspired by the DIY ethos and the rejection of the notion that pop music had to be a 30-minute conceptual track on the lives of elves, punk was just grab an instrument and form a band.
Art Dudley  |  Mar 11, 2020  |  24 comments
In the January 2020 Stereophile, I described my transformation from John Fahey skeptic to John Fahey fan; suffice it to say, the late guitarist was far from the only musical artist whose work I came to enjoy only after a number of failed attempts. Another was the English band Yes, which I saw in concert in 1977, at New York's Madison Square Garden: I was so bored by the many lengthy instrumental solos, each one remarkable only for the sheer number of notes being squirted at me, that I literally nodded off. (In my defense, it was also very warm in there.)
Ken Micallef  |  Mar 05, 2020  |  10 comments
In the mid-1990s, record labels were cash-flush and music magazines plentiful. Warner Bros., Capitol, Universal, Mercury, RCA, Arista, Mute, and Astralwerks shuttled US-based music journalists across the Atlantic to cover England's burgeoning Britpop, trip hop, drum and bass, and techno music scenes. The latter three genres were hailed by the press as the "electronic dance music revolution."
Art Dudley  |  Feb 05, 2020  |  7 comments
Next to Christmas carols, Sousa marches, and the collected works of Bobby "Boris" Pickett, there's no more seasonal music than bluegrass, which comes to life at the 30 or so major outdoor festivals and scores of smaller events that take place every summer throughout the US. As I write this, on the day after Thanksgiving, 2019's bluegrass season is only a memory, and the 2020 season is more than a half a year away.
Ken Micallef  |  Jan 07, 2020  |  9 comments
Of the celebrated triumvirate of John Scofield, Pat Metheny, and Bill Frisell—the most original and influential jazz guitarists of the past 50 years—none is more distinctive, or self-effacing, than Frisell, a true changeling of the guitar. Frisell is a jazz-based musician, but his music crisscrosses genres, and his guitar playing isn't bound to or limited by a specific technique. He's a master illusionist, able to alter a song's meaning far beyond its original intent with the aid of a Telecaster guitar, a modest effects chain, and, most importantly, his rich imagination.

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