Category Archives: 2010+

15 Months Later…

Clearly this blog has been neglected, but I would argue for good reason…

For the last 15 months i’ve been working hard on recording and producing my debut album Five Colors

Hopefully this will mean I will emerge once again here to post, but in the meantime here are the details:

Featuring Sullivan Fortner, Christopher Mees, Alex Ritz, Kassa Overall, Danny Fisher-Lochhead and many others in support.

Stream and/or purchase the album here:

Check out more details here, including pictures, outtakes and videos from the sessions:

And feel free to comment here if you’re so inclined!

Influence In Strange Places…

I feel like a lot of artists these days are looking to music from the 80’s for inspiration. This seems strange to me. Not because there wasn’t good music in the 80’s, but because despite this it is still considered a ‘lost decade’ for music. Take any decent sample of generic Americans and ask them which decade had the best music, the 70’s, 80’s or 90’s, and I’d wager a large sum that the 80’s would consistently be chosen last.

But recently I’ve heard more and more about artists looking to groups from the 80’s for inspiration. In some cases, I can’t discern the influence in the final product, but in others it’s almost painfully obvious.

This track, for example, most likely could have come out in 1987 and no one would have known the difference:

The album is still great though, check it out…

Quick Listen ~~ Ambrose Akinmusire – When the Heart Emerges Glistening

I Got a hold of Ambrose Akinmusire’s sophomore effort, When the Heart Emerges Glistening. I have to admit, I was not much of a fan of his debut Prelude: To Cora, (I actually think the best tune on it is one written by a sideman), but was at least somewhat pleased to hear that he himself is not much of a fan of it anymore either (although everyone says they hate their first record). But at least Ambrose is being given a second chance at a debut: When the Heart Emerges Glistening is his first on Blue Note, and thus he can convince himself and others that this is, in fact, the real, debut.

Ambrose Akinmusire has been running a consistent band for a few years now, so I was not surprised to feel their presence immediately on the album. “Urgency” is a word used too much to describe this type of music, but you really can hear it here: Akinmusire, saxophonist Walter Smith III, pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Justin Brown have something to prove, and are trying to push into new places.

Many of the compositions, despite clearly having been written with strict forms and traditional assignments, have grown out of their constraints into more loose, flowing vehicles. This applies as much to melody statements as to solo sections. There is a lot of back and forth between the horns, as well as with the pianist. Boundaries that many are familiar with are loosening up, and the band is so comfortable with each other that they don’t mind stepping on each others feet in unexpected and constructive ways.

If the album and track titles hint at pretentiousness, Ambrose’s trumpet playing is void of it. He is certainly striving for a new sound: his heavily intervalic playing is quite unprecedented and requires a deep ear for harmony. But even though his ability lends itself to perfectionism, there is nothing “perfect” about it. His notes still crack and his leaps of faith sometimes fail, but when they do it just makes it all the more evident that his goal is to push himself constantly, even in the recording studio, and that in turn makes his playing very exciting to listen to.

Six songs into the album, however, few curveballs have been thrown. The band settles into a consistency that may or may not have been intended. “Confessions To My Unborn Daughter”, “Jaya”,  and “Henya” all have a loose groove, mild, lumbering tempos and very similar, dark harmonic timbres. But the second half of the disc changes things up a little. The use of the celeste  on “Ayneh (Cora)” is interesting, and makes for a nice contrast to a still similar tone. On “My Name Is Oscar”, Ambrose ventures into poetry on what was a pre-recorded drum solo. Its a unique use of recording-session-runoff, but I’m not sure that the result is consistent with the remainder of the album.

Tempos and instrumentations continue to change, with the trumpet/piano duet on “What’s New” an especially nice touch. But much of the second half in the end seems like a series of interludes, with few if any concrete statements. This isn’t exactly justified with the album’s closing either, which is on a low-note despite not really coming down from anywhere. In the end it seems as if the disc is split in half, with a Part 1 and a Part 2 having completely different purposes. When taken as a whole, i’m not entirely convinced it works, but if you subconsciously separate them, their statement becomes more powerful.

Jason Moran had some good ideas on the production end; I particularly like the use of panning, which adds even more atmosphere to the relaxed banter between the horns during solos and trading. The translation of both Smith’s tenor and Akinmusire’s trumpet through the studio was done very well, I don’t think much was lost there in terms of tone quality.

I think it’s hard with a band with so much to offer to come out of the studio with a clear and concise message, and in fact I think the inconsistency of it coupled with the band’s emphatic risk-taking makes When The Heart Emerges Glistening way more exciting as a record than something that works right off the bat, and I can’t wait to listen again.

American Idol: Miseducating the Masses

I don’t watch American Idol. I have, in the past, but these days I occasionally will just watch a YouTube clip of a finalist when it comes up. Truth is, they do sometimes manage to come across some good singers. But in the grand scheme of things, the producers, judges and anyone else involved in putting the show together are complicit in a large campaign of misinformation being disseminated to their millions of viewers.

As you may expect, my main anger arises at the complete disregard for the writers and original performers of some of the older songs performed on the program.

Due to its performance at Michael Jackson’s funeral, Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” has become forever associated with the King of Pop. When I first heard it sung at his funeral, I was very surprised and extremely happy, because its a great and underappreciated song. Unfortunately, it has since been falsely attributed to MJ by aspiring, uneducated singers everywhere.

It has also been licensed by American Idol and added to their ‘stock’ list of songs to be performed at any time, and I can’t tell you how many times I have seen contestants pick it, and open by stating how much they were inspired by Michael Jackson and how they wanted to sing one of his songs. While looking for a particular instance of this that I remembered from a few seasons ago, low and behold I found a contestant from this season doing the exact same thing:

Now, i’m going to give a TINY bit of credit to the producers this time, because at least they show themselves trying to inform the contestant in question, but it just becomes even more infuriating when it becomes clear that she a) clearly doesn’t care and b) doesn’t even know who Charlie Chaplin is. They have let this and much worse slip many times before. Is it too much to ask that a program with such a huge reach across the country could at least help inform its viewers (and at the very least the singers themselves) about the music?

I was particularly angered just last week when I saw an article with links to the most recent episode’s tribute to Elton John. Not once on the program or in the video notes did anyone mention that 99% of Elton John’s lyrics were written by Bernie Taupin. To be honest, I am surprised that John himself would let this pass, because by all accounts he seems like a very gracious person. But with each clip you hear, the contestants talk about how moved they are by ‘Elton’s music’ and ‘Elton’s lyrics’ and it seems like such an injustice done to his partner.

And perhaps Taupin doesn’t like the spotlight, maybe he’s content without being recognized. But that isn’t the point: the viewers and the contestants need to know whose music they’re listening to and performing. By not giving credit where it’s due, American Idol disrespects the thousands of artists it licenses from and just promotes misinformation and laziness to a whole generation of aspiring music lovers. But perhaps thats what they want.

Try, try again…

I am very much excited about the release of Brad Mehldau’s new record Highway Rider. This might be kind of silly because it’s Mehldau’s newest release of all his own compositions and his second produced by Jon Brion, and I actually haven’t enjoyed his own compositions as much as his interpretations of others, and I was not much of a fan of his and Brion’s last collaboration. That being said, I am a huge fan of both Brion and Mehldau, so I can have hope for the success of their second attempt at a record. I can only hope that Brion this time will help propell what have in the past been uninspring compositions to a new place. This is a very interesting video, and its great to hear Brion and Mehldau explaining their history and how they hooked up. It’s especially great to hear Brion, who, although a ridiculously versatile musician and experienced in a wide array of genres, is not known for doing much work in the jazz field, muse about the place he thinks Mehldau holds in music today. He is a very eloquent man.

The record is slated for a March 16th release.

And in other Mehldau news…

And then they go and redeem themselves…

While remains suffering, the Allmusic Blog has kicked into high-gear. Recently, a bunch of really interesting (and thorough) posts have started to emerge. Today’s post about the use of classical music in Olympic skating is particularly revealing, and has some great clips to go along with it.