Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Why every music fan should be going to see Peter Hammill at the Soiled Dove on Friday.

Peter Hammill was in Van Der Graaf Generator. Actually, he was the founder and leader of the group, who have stayed together with little change in personnel or intensity, for 40 years. OK, they broke up and regrouped 3 or 4 times in that period. OK, OK, they didn't play together for at least 25 years, but still, Peter has never stopped in that time, and Van Der Graaf are still playing the occasional show, recording the occasional LP. With rare ferocity.

Van Der Graaf Generator are the coolest “File under: progressive rock” group in the world, ever. In the 70s they recorded a series of albums so intense and uncompromising that they are forever cited as a major influence on everyone from David Bowie to Nurse With Wound, Nick Cave to John Lydon. VDGG were a sonic terror cult that despite being huge in Italy, never sold out, never went gold and never mellowed with age.

Hammill is a total genius.

Peter Hammill is not dead. He is alive, having recovered from a recent heart attack. Perhaps if he were not alive you'd be sorry, wishing you'd have seen the great man while he was still with us. Well, he is with us and he's come all the way from England to see you and the least you can do is show up.

In 1974, Peter Hammill made a proto-punk album called Nadir's Big Chance. The artwork, the liner notes (which include the word “punk”) and the attitude are all an uncanny sign of things to come.

Peter Hammill is the most confrontational artist in rock history. He probably never cut himself with a bottle or even sworn at an audience, but for 40 years he has gone on stage and sang the most personal, beautiful, insane and terrifying music imaginable without ever even considering toning it down or being appropriate. Peter Hammill is the ultimate my-way maverick, and has been rewarded with god-like status among a few, knowing music fans.

Buy Van Der Graaf's Pawn Hearts. Buy Silent Corner and the Empty Stage. Go and see Peter Hammill this Friday at the Soiled Dove. I'll see you there.

Peter Hammill at the Soiled Dove - get tickets here

- Ben Sumner

Farewell To Neighborhood Flix

Last week we were so saddened to hear that our friends Jimmie Lee, Michelle and Melodie were going to give up the ghost on their wonderful dream. Neighborhood Flix represented a lot to us. They were part of the retail culture-plex here at the Lowenstein Theatre development that we are all so proud of. They were independent business people who shared our entrepreneurial drive and spirit, and they were just really nice people.

The implications of their loss loom large to us.

I’m sure that the dreamy space they built with the power of their convictions will become occupied by another theatre soon enough, but it is that spark of independence that might be missing. We relate to all independent business people in our city and our country because we share more than just the experience of running a business, we share the uphill battle of running counter to societal trends. More and more our country favors the powerful and already rich more that those who use their bootstraps and grit to fight their way to the top.

There are so many ways this ties in to the current economic woes we find ourselves facing. As I saw Ralph Nader point out the other night, Wall Street used to be a place where money was made to fund the growth of our country - factories, schools, infrastructure etc. Now it is a place where those who have money make more money. It really is every bit as sleazy and unproductive as Vegas. Nothing good comes out of it and virtually none of that money gets redirected to those who need it the most. (“trickle down” Ha!) In no way, does the average American benefit from either buying a house they can’t afford or by patronizing giant chain stores that require you to exchange your loyalty and sense of community for some highly discounted crap.

It seems we might all benefit by taking a deep breath, turning away from the precipice and walking back toward that place in our hearts called home.

Farewell Neighborhood Flix!

Sigur Ros at Red Rocks, Sept. 27th 2008

So, my first Red Rocks experience was impeccable! It started with the scenic drive to the Rocks, then being bused up to the stage. Sigur Ros soon arrived to sound check a song or two, then Jonsi (the singer) met us in front with greetings and handshakes.

He was quite nice and signed my goodies, as did the drummer and bassist. Their English was good and they spent some of their time talking with us and being very nice. We all then got handed signed lithographs and soon after were bused back down. The opening band Parachutes was good – sounding a bit like Sigur Ros – and several members were from Iceland. The Sigur Ros set was great! Several singles were played and the audience loved it all! The visuals were limited due to the lack of giant screen or multiple screens they needed, but there were lighting effects added and the audio was mesmerizing enough! The songs were tight and almost perfect renditions of the studio takes. There was an encore we didn't have to wait long for and several more brilliant songs were released upon us and the cool night air. The venue's sound was great, the band was spot on and the whole experience was unforgettable!

- Joel Boyles

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The only place to find cool old music

As the major label distribution companies (Universal, Warner Group, EMD and Sony) continue to fall apart before our eyes (largely due to problems of their own making) they also seem less and less willing to raid their own vaults. Much of the great music of the past resides in their control yet releasing it doesn’t fit their economy of scale. Thus a niche has been created for smaller boutique labels to license these forgotten gems and raid their own record collections of super-rare small label pressings and the savvy consumer is the winner. It reminds me of the period in the late 60’s and early 70’s when I could easily spend an entire Saturday going from one used record store to another and find an almost unlimited supply of hip obscurities that were beneath the radar of radio, press and most of the public. There were tons of soul, folk, and outsider rock albums that, while unknown by most, were as good, or in some cases better, than the 50-100 same songs to be found on commercial radio. In those days artists like Boogaloo Joe Jones, Professor Longhair, Nick Drake, Fred Neil or Red Krayola were findable and often cheap because not even the clerks in the record stores knew or cared who they were. Now, original LPs by these artists are costly but almost everything is being reissued by small specialty labels and available at local music stores. Here are a few great ones that have been reissued in just the last couple of months.

Pick up Paul's recommendations online here!

Rodriguez - Cold Fact

The legend of Sixto Rodriguez is so weird that it could only be true. In the 60’s the Detroit resident made a couple of albums of socially conscious psych-folk and then seemingly slipped into obscurity like so many others. But something weird happened. History would not let the man go. He became a cult figure in Australia for a few years and then seemed to disappear again amid rumors of an untimely death. He then became a cult sensation in South Africa (?) where his albums achieved gold status. In reality, he had removed himself from showbiz and sought a career in politics (unsuccessfully it would appear). While surfing the internet, his daughter discovered her father’s cult status and thus Rodriguez began his return to the public eye. In the years that had passed the song “Sugar Man” had become something of a crate-digger’s Holy Grail item, It is an unforgettable “just-say-yes” drug anthem filled with spooky strings, some early studio trickery, a killer horn part and a hook that will not leave your head once it gets in there. Various modern DJs and musicians have embraced the song, and now the wonderful Light In The Attic label has released this classic album for everyone to enjoy.
Musically it is definitely of the times with trippy, folky, softish-rock not too dissimilar from Tim Buckley, and lyrically he covers much of the same ground as his contemporaries - poverty, drugs, sex, racial inequity, etc. He is tremendously sincere if a bit heavy-handed yet the overall effect is both dated and strangely timeless. Throughout listening to it I kept looking at the picture of him on the cover and marveling at the coolness of this obscure one-of-a-kind weirdo that time refused to let slip away. The entire album is very enjoyable, but the real marvel is “Sugar Man.”

Boscoe - Boscoe

The lone album by this insanely obscure Chicago Soul, Jazz, Funk powerhouse has been released on CD by the Numero label which has excelled at finding rare soul music much to the joy of the DJ community. Boscoe made their one album on a rinky-dink label that made as few as 500 copies of it originally. Nobody had this record. Made in 1973, it brings together many of the urban sounds of the years preceding it and presages much of the music to come. One hears echoes of everything from Sun Ra, Pharaoh Sanders and Santana to Gil Scott-Heron, Earth Wind and Fire, and War. Highly conscious, soulful lyrics float above a tough, muscular horn and rhythm section, creating a really groovy stew that should have DJs sampling like mad. This album should have been recognized as a unique part of the Black Music legacy of America but its absolute scarcity kept it from the public’s attention. Now is your chance to get it in a really nice, high-quality album-style cover that befits the cool music within.

Marie “Queenie” Lyons - Soul Fever

Another mysterious singer who produced only one superb album and then disappeared forever, Marie “Queenie” Lyons could have truly been a contender. Almost nothing is known about her other than some early 60’s experience with King Curtis (whose influence is obvious on tracks like “You Used Me”), and years working the chitlin’ circuit as an opening act for many bigger names. There is some suspicion that she might have been a James Brown protégé, and his vocal style is also quite obvious on this album. But almost nothing is known about her past and absolutely nothing seems to be known about her since the release of this album on the DeLuxe label in 1970. Stylistically she sounds like a throatier version of Etta James with obvious inspiration from Motown as well (check out the Tamla-esque arrangement on “Snake in the Grass”). Unlike many of her contemporaries “Queenie” never utters a phrase without soul. For instance, a song like “Fever” has tricked many a well-intentioned singer to try and sound sultry or sophisticated when they are neither. In the hands of Miss Lyons it is a stone groove sung with real guts. In fact every song on the album is strong and soulful. This is a real find by the Vampisoul label which has made a great reputation for discovering rare albums by lost Soul, Jazz and Tropical artists.

Embryo - Rocksession

I remember first discovering the Brain label in the mid 70’s at Underground Records, the store I was to buy some 15 years later and turn into Twist and Shout. Brain was a fabulous German label that released great, weird progressive and psychedelic albums by unknown (to Americans) European bands. Those, shiny, slick Euro album covers featuring avant-garde artwork with a slightly erotic subtext always drew me in, and the far-out music often kept me there. Rocksession is an album of inspired Jazz-Rock-World fusion that is sure to please fans of Can, Pink Floyd, Traffic or even Mahavishnu Orchestra. There are no vocals to get in the way, just four extended tracks of solid and spacey ensemble playing. The major solo instruments (organ, guitar and sax) are played with serious chops and the ethnic, multi-layered percussion is reminiscent of the best moments of early Santana. This CD has been reissued by the SPV label which has become one of the best sources for obscure 70’s prog, taking care to even reproduce those luxurious covers in all their sensual glory.
I can almost guarantee that if you play this album at your next party, all your cool friends will want to know what it is and your work friends will think you are somewhat more enigmatic than the guy who helps them change the toner in the Xerox machine all week.

Yahowa Presents - Songs From The Source-Children Of The Sixth Root Race

The absurdly long and nonsensical title should clue you in to what a singularly interesting album this is. For those who don’t know about The Source, it was a religious cult in the late 60’s and 70’s that began as the health food restaurant of a charismatic kook named James Baker who became “Father Yod” then “Yahowa” to his followers whom he indoctrinated into a hippie broth of Christianity, Eastern Sprituality, Health Food, Weed, Sex and Rock and Roll. Sounds pretty cool right? Well, from the sounds of things (read The Source by Isis Aquarian to get the whole story) it was pretty fun in a totally hedonistic and irresponsible way for quite awhile, until Father Yod decided he could hang glide without any instruction and killed himself by jumping off a cliff in Hawaii. Before this cult-ending event though, they indulged in all of the above-mentioned sacraments resulting in a number of albums that are now considered kind of religio-psych classics. They are definitely religious, with lots of talk about love, Father, Father’s teachings, love of Father and that sort of stuff, but musically they are quite interesting. There seems to have been some liberating element to not caring about being popular. They made this music to profess their faith and have a good time, and thus it is free of any commercial convention. It sounds kind of like a cross between the 5th Dimension and the Polyphonic Spree with lots of wailing electric guitars and righteous church organ. The overall effect is actually quite psychedelic. You know those Andy Hardy movies where Andy said “hey kids, let’s put on a show!” This sounds like that - if they were all on acid. While not for everyone, this album will offer some insights into a specific facet of 60’s consciousness for those so inclined. Released by the legendary punk and garage label Drag City this weird, un-commercial album actually does have some things in common with the punk ethos.

Nigeria 70 Lagos Jump: Original Heaveyweight Afrobeat, Highlife & Afro Funk

This compilation brings together 16 tracks of energetic African music from a period when it was just starting to really make waves on the international scene. Most music fans are aware of Fela Kuti and his genre-defining style of repetitive big-band grooves, and a couple of the artists on this comp. sound familiar that way. However, most of the cuts here sparkle with fresh authenticity and varying African styles. There is wealth of great, danceable material to discover on this disc, and the company distributing it - K7 - is a well-known dance label, so there are obviously opportunities aplenty to uncover great exotic breaks. This CD is a great resource to be mined by DJs with an ear for the interesting and unexpected.

Lorez Alexandria - For Swingers Only

I don’t know how I missed out on this superb singer all this time but this album is a revelation to me. Recorded in 1963 on Chess subsidiary label Argo, Ms. Alexandria was already well into a small yet noticed career. She possesses a voice with some of the natural, soulful qualities of Billie Holiday and the sophisticated control of Sarah Vaughan. She uses her gift to great effect throughout a program of standards ranging from beautifully executed ballads like “All or Nothing At All” and “Little Girl Blue” to up-tempo numbers like “Baltimore Oriole,” “That Old Devil Called Love” and a slinky take on Memphis Slim’s signature tune “Mother Earth.” Sharing equal responsibility for the success of the album is the crack band that includes Coltrane band member Jimmy Garrison on bass and some sympathetic woodwind work from Ronald Wilson. One can’t help but marvel at a voice so great being so underappreciated over the passage of time. Nobody mentions Lorez Alexandria when talking about the greats but if you give this album a good listen you may well start to put her in that exalted category. This album is perfect for a sophisticated party or late night contemplation. The label, Dusty Groove, is an outgrowth of an uber-hip record store that has started to release some of the vinyl gems that they see come through their doors that would probably otherwise never see the light of day on CD. Nice work guys!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Garcia, Nash - when young

An early look at the new Grateful Dead DVD

I received an advance version of the new Rocking The Cradle CD and DVD set and am a little mystified by what I have seen and heard. I am well familiar with these shows, having listened and watched unofficial versions for years. I was hopeful for a massive upgrade in quality, or a complete version, or something. What I have says “Not Final Mixes” which is good because I had a few problems with the audio side of things. The quality was sub-par and the editing hard to understand. To me, the most interesting moments of these shows were the few numbers where Nubian musician Hamza El Din shared the stage with the band. There is one of these moments, but it cuts in just as El Din is about to leave the stage. Otherwise the audio portion confirms the Egypt shows’ reputation for being…ok. The video portion promises a much more compelling experience. The band looked great at this point (with the exception of Keith Godchaux who seems really out of it). Garcia is animated and wearing his hair in pigtails. Weir is deep in his L.A. phase and he looks like a movie star. Billy Kreutzman has one arm in a cast thus explaining some of the musical sluggishness. Donna Godchaux provides a wonderful visual counterpoint to the rest of the band which is something that is often forgotten about her tenure with the band - it kind of felt like a family. Unfortunately, the video sample I have is only four songs long, so it just gives a tantalizing glimpse into what looks like the ultimate vacation home-movie of the Grateful Dead. The visuals of the Sphinx in the distance while the band plays in front of a pyramid is pretty enticing stuff. Hopefully the full version will live up to the promise.

Graham Nash - Songs For Beginners Deluxe Edition

This album, released in the spring of 1971 really deserves the attention that Nash’s counterparts received in this heady era. Like Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name the album is loaded with the cream of players from the scene; Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, David Crosby, Dave Mason, David Lindley, Rita Coolidge and many others deliver warm and memorable performances on a great batch of songs. Many of them stand up today as some of Nash’s best. “Military Madness,” “Chicago,” and “We Can Change The World” seem weirdly relevant to our current political situation, while “Better Days,” “Simple Man,” “There’s Only One” and especially the magnificent “I Used To Be A King” with a soaring pedal steel solo by Garcia are classic hippie fare.
The thing that really excited me about this reissue is the addition of a DVD with the entire album in a three-dimensional 5.1 mix. It is a completely different experience to step inside this album and have all the instruments cascading around in a circle. This technology has improved greatly and albums that have been properly produced for the medium are a rewarding experience indeed. I would suggest this album and Crosby’s Only Remember My Name… discs as the perfect albums to explore the world of surround sound. It truly is a step forward.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Jefferson Airplane Flies Again

There are two tremendous new releases of live Jefferson Airplane material that warrant your attention. They are both on the Charly label out of Europe. The first is At The Family Dog Ballroom. Recorded in September of 1969 in San Francisco, this recording showcases the band during what I consider their best period - following their landmark Volunteers album and before the rancor that split them up fully took hold. The band is unbelievably tight and the musical side of things just shine with Jorma and Jack at the height of their improv powers, and Grace, Paul and Marty singing their hearts out. The material is heavy on Volunteers including some rarely played songs like “The Farm” and “Good Shepherd” and a powerful “Wooden Ships.” For collectors the most interesting thing might be the 20 minute freeform jam that ends the CD and features Jerry Garcia wailing away with the band. The sound is crisp and the packaging is really nice with great liner notes. This is essential.

Slightly less essential, but still quite a nice addition for Airplane fanatics is Last Flight which captures the bands final concert at San Francisco’s Winterland on September 22, 1972. Taken from the same source material as the bands great 30 Seconds Over Winterland album, this 2 CD set includes the entire show featuring the post-Balin band with Papa John Creach on fiddle and a ton of material from their final albums. A very interesting setlist showcases some very strong playing by the entire band and great versions of “When The Earth Moves Again,” “Trial By Fire,” “Feels So Good” and many other never-heard songs. The Airplane remain one of the most sophisticated and politically charged bands of the 1960’s and their mystique seems to just grow with the years.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Earrings of Madame de…

There’s quite a following for this terrific film, which I saw for the first time earlier this week, and I can certainly understand why – I’m pretty sure I just saw a masterpiece. Director Max Ophuls has crafted an absolutely exquisite tragic romance, light and breezy at first, but as it starts to accumulate more and more details and the triangular relationship at its center becomes more complex, the meanings imbued in every line, in every glance, (and certainly in every camera move) start to take on more significance and the film turns serious indeed. Much has been made of the fluidity of the camerawork, and rightly so – Ophuls’s camera roves around rooms, follows a character’s gaze, or moves from floor to floor, but always with a purpose, to show the flighty nature of Madame Louise de… early on, or her frantic worry later in the film. Performances by the three leads – Danielle Darrieux as the disaffected and flirty wife, Charles Boyer as her husband, and Vittorio De Sica as the would-be suitor – are also spectacular. I’ll take this film’s suppressed passions over those in just about any film of unrequited love. And the film’s design - its mise-en-scene if you’ll pardon the film geek terminology – is as dazzling as the camerawork, all baroque mirrors reflecting the characters and their social trappings of lace and glass enmeshing them in the roles they’re expected to play. And here’s where the earrings come in – at first they’re a tossed-away symbol of the marriage that doesn’t seem to be working, but each time they change hands, they’ve accrued a new level of meaning for both the viewer and the character giving or receiving them. It’s a lot of layers to pile on to what could’ve been a simple love story, but Ophuls’s film never collapses under the weight of his ambitions. I’m not ready to call it the greatest film ever made, as some film critics have, but I’m open to the idea that it’s a possibility.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Chicago Jazz Festival 2008 Pt. 2

Saturday we took the day off from jazz since Evan's not really a fan and he hadn't enjoyed Sonny all that much (I would've liked to see Dave Douglas's set, but you have to make some compromises, y'know?), but Sunday I made him go down early with me to make sure we got a space for Ornette. Didn't get to connect with Michael and Eva unfortunately, but my friend Mary joined us in some good seats. We got there as Ron Dewar was wrapping up his set and waited for the terrific Dutch ICP Orchestra to come on. I'd seen them before here in Denver when they got trapped by a huge snowstorm traveling between gigs. They played then in a rehearsal room at Denver Univeristy where players could sweat right on you or you could reach out and touch them if you wanted. This time in the giant Petrillo Music Shell was quite a different experience for music of some subtlety. Three strings (vln, clo, bs), four horns (trumpet, trombone and two reedsmen), plus of course Han Bennink and Misha Mengelberg made up the group and it was interesting to compare this large group mixing traditional and avant-garde styles with the AACM group I'd seen doing something very similar two nights before. Almost all the charts these guys played sounded out of the 1920's or 30's, though they opened with a loud, dissonant blare from the entire band to grab the audience's attention and slowly worked their way into a trad-sounding tune. (I didn't recognize any specific songs they played, though I'd swear there was something by Porter or Lerner-Loewe in there.) Anyway, exuberant playing a definite sense of humor (not just in Bennink's playing either, though he got a good laugh by starting his solo on one number in a bop style and then shouting "Salt peanuts, salt peanuts" once he'd moved sufficiently far away from that style). Good stuff.

Between ICP and Ornette came 8 Bold Souls, featuring at least two of the players from the AACM show I'd seen, but as much as I thought it was a good group, they were overshadowed on both sides by some real titans. I'll have to check out their CDs because it certainly sounded good (any recommendations?). Oh yeah - they had Dee Alexander perform two numbers with them as well. She sounded and looked great, but I could not take my eyes off the sign language interpreter on the side of the stage offering lyrics when she sang and gestural interpretations when she scatted, which was often. Marvelous.

Best for last - Ornette Coleman. Two basses plus Ornette and his son Ornette Denardo Coleman, but instead of his usual recent bass duo of Greg Cohen and Tony Falanga it was Falanga and Al McDowell (on electric), which was fine with me since McDowell has logged plenty of time with Ornette since he worked in Ornette's Prime Time in the 1980's. Unlike Rollins, no excessive time was given over either to sidemen (everyone soloed and supported more or less constantly, just like they say about Weather Report) or tunes (average song length was probably under 6 minutes, unlike Sonny's 15-20 minutes per song). Most of the tunes were on Sound Grammar (which I absolutely love) plus one reinterpreted Bach piece from Tone Dialing, and most of those were re-workings/re-titlings of older numbers anyway. I didn't recognize about three tunes, but it hardly mattered. Once the head has been played it's anybody's game after that and all about the real-time interplay, which sounded great to me. Evan and Mary also enjoyed it, more than ICP or Rollins or 8 Bold Souls (possibly combined, though I'd have to ask). For me, it was the best music I heard all week, though the total experience of the Velvet Lounge - ambience, music, etc. - was probably the best evening for me.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Orson Welles' Don Quixote

Long one of the missing links and great mysteries of Orson Welles’ career, Don Quixote has long been rumored to have been his lost masterpiece, languishing in the vaults unfinished with only a few stills leaking to the general public. Like many things in Welles' life, the reality is a beguiling mix of visionary genius and incomplete dreams. It is clear that the movie is unfinished. The sound is patchy and there is frustratingly little information available on what exactly Welles’ assistant Jess Franco did in post-production to get this film release worthy. With that said Orson Welles Don Quixote is essential viewing. Like Picasso’s elemental paintings of these characters Welles adds definitive images to the lexicon of this important work. He also lends his own stamp to the story, allowing the modern world and his own movie-within-a-movie presence to collide with the lead characters. Because it is impossible to know exactly what Welles intended for the finished product it is most satisfying to just sit back and allow the amazing images to wash over you and burn themselves into your memory.

The Dumbing of America

What is going on with the mainstream television media? I’m specifically talking about ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX NETWORK. Cable is where extreme views are supposed to live. It’s disillusioning that so many people go there to get confirmation of their extreme feelings, but I’m talking about the big four. I think these guys are very responsible for swaying the public away from substantive, critical thought and toward an intellectual vacuum the like of which we’ve never seen. Wasn’t the idea of the people in the media that they would represent the best of us? Ask the questions we wish we could have asked? Help us get to the important stuff and look past the superficial?

The other day I saw the host of the big morning show bellyaching about the media being blamed for the mishandling of the electoral coverage. “What did we do?” What you did and continue to do is take complex issues and reduce them to the kind of easily digestible sloganeering we get from brand name advertisers and the candidates themselves. How many times do we have to see that stupid clip on the hockey mom/pitbull comment by Sarah Palin and have it be left at that? Is that really what we need to know? It’s reducing our grand democratic process to “apply directly to the forehead.”

It boils down to this; the news media is supposed to raise us all to a level of better understanding and informed discussion. It is not supposed to take our biggest failures as a society and reflect them back at us - is it?

Burning Spear

Winston Rodney has never strayed far from the well of his inspiration. He has steered the Burning Spear ship with a steady hand, toward the purest Rasta ideology. His new album Jah Is Real is no exception. Everything is exactly in place. Chanted, repetitive statements of faith and fact, rock solid beat, punchy horns embellishing every song and Mr. Rodney’s unique brand of charisma imbuing every moment of the album. He is joined on a handful of songs by the legendary funk pioneers Bootsy Collins and Bernie Worrell, and what we learn is that the Spear is mightier than the Mothership. Collins and Worrell sound as though they have always been playing Reggae, especially Bootsy who is completely on the money.

It is comforting to have an artist keep his high standards and produce album after album of this kind of rewarding music. Perhaps it is the fact that Mr. Rodney owns his own label now and totally controls his career and artistic direction. He addresses the pitfalls of the music business quite forcefully on the song “Run For Your Life.”

In conjunction with the new album and our upcoming instore performance with Burning Spear ( September 19th at 6pm) Mr. Rodney agreed to answer a few questions for Twist and Shout. Here are his words:

7 questions for Burning Spear

1) Do you have any feelings about the upcoming American election?

Yes I think it's great that we will have a young President for all the people of the United States. What we have to remind many Mr. Barack Obama is not a civil right leader, he is running for the highest office in the world. To be a leader for all the people and the color of his skin shouldn’t matter.

2) Is Barack Obama a significant figure to you? -
Yes, he speak with such poised, and I love how he call for a changes. And the term yes we can. And in deed we all can make a different if we try.

3) What do you feel are the biggest issues facing humans on this earth right now?
someone taking too much while others get now. The need for peace and not war

4) Can music heal the world? -

5) It is obvious from your new album that you are connected to music outside of Reggae?
Can you list a few things you are grooving to right now?
Erica latest album and I love Ben harper

6) Has the mission changed for you over the years? -

7) How has the experience of owning your own label been compared to working for other people’s labels?
wow what a great feeling to be in control and to finally get paid for the sales of my records. Independent means freedom to I man Spear.
What advice would you give up and coming musicians?
Never sign any contract or agreement and to stick to the plan.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Chicago Jazz Festival 2008 Pt. 1

Got back last Friday night from the excellent Chicago Jazz Festival and some other travels, and enjoyed it immensely. Wednesday Evan and I had dinner with a couple local friends who last time took us to Rick Bayless's great Frontera restaurant - this time they recommended we all go to a place run by folks who used to work with Bayless at Frontera and were doing their own equally great (and less expensive!) thing further uptown now at a place called Mixteca. Our hostess Eva and I talked food and astrology and Mexico D.F. in my broken Spanglish while Evan and host Michael bonded over sports.

Thursday night was the opening of the festival - a Sonny Rollins set at the nicely appointed Pritzker Pavilion. Michael and I - the jazz fans of the group - agreed that it was hardly inspiring, but it still had moments I enjoyed - all of them strangely enough when Sonny was playing. I knew none of the tunes except "In A Sentimental Mood" and the closing number sounded like it might have been "Don't Stop the Carnival" but I wasn't sure (further investigation has shown me that the best piece - the opener - was the title cut off Sonny's album Sonny Please, which I guess I'm gonna need to hear now). Set started strong and then went steadily awry as the tunes went on (and on - five songs took up his 1 1/2 hour set, thus averaging a whopping 18 minutes each). He followed the strong groove-based number in odd time-signature ("Sonny Please") with a waltz-ballad, which was nice but nothing special. Third number was a bebop-flavored piece that was perhaps the least interesting thing of the night. Much solo space given to the percussionist who before he soloed had been inaudible and was turned up was simply uninteresting. This followed on the heels of plenty of space in each tune for trombonist Clifton Anderson and guitarist Bobby Broom, neither of whom do a lot for me at extended lengths. Fourth number was the Duke tune, done nicely enough but again nothing exceptional. Closing number was the Rollins calypso-type number that might have been "Don't Stop the Carnival" but I wasn't sure. By then my energy had flagged and it wasn't enough to salvage it. Nothing they played was bad for me, but nothing was inspiring. I thought the solid first number singalled greater things to come, but it was not to be.

Friday I headed downtown to the superb Velvet Lounge to catch a show by the current AACM Great Black Music membership. Huge band in a small room - 5 vocalists, keybs, drummer and percussionist, elec. bass and guitar, 3 trumpets, a trombone and 4 reeds. Plus the conductor. Plus a poet/spoken word artist. (Can anybody help me out with names?) Plus guests who sat in for a number or two each from the day's AACM-tribute at the main stage (Amina Claudine Myers, Roscoe Mitchell, Wadada Leo Smith, Thurman Barker, and Ari Brown all had their moments). Great venue for vibe and for community if maybe a little cramped for space. Band was already playing when I got there and they sounded great. Even though everyone was introduced at least twice I didn't recognize and can't remember any names except Douglas Ewert and the special guests (found all the AACM folks here). Band moved cleanly between charts, solos, and free moments, all set in motion by the conductor, all very well-rehearsed and beautifully done. Crowd was into it and gave back as much energy as the group put out, even before the "stars" started sitting in. Barker took over percussion duties for a track or two. Myers played keybs and lead the band for a heavy gospel-ish number. Smith came into a Sun Ra arrangement of a Fletcher Henderson number that the band was doing and played a duet/duel with the conductor (who was on clarinet) while Ewert took over conducting duties, bringing in orchestra "hits" and dense backgrounds behind the soloists. Mitchell blew the roof off with a relatively short (5 min or so) alto number backed by free drumming, plus bass and percussion (and maybe some interjections from others that I'm not remembering). Mitchell did circular breathing techniques and never took the horn from his mouth or stopped playing once he started. Wild stuff. After him the vocalists took center stage (metaphorically that is, there was no physical space for them to do so) for a nice choral piece that the poet came into after they set up some basic vocal rhythms. The group took his words and started incorporating them into their chants. Whole thing ended on the vocalists chanting "Obama, Obama, Barack Obama" which no matter what your political leanings had a better cadence and flow than "McCain, McCain, John McCain" would have. It was a real high for me. Great night overall, and even walking by the drug dealer hanging on the corner didn't bother me when he sized me up as a jazz fan heading home and not a customer and left me alone after a couple preliminary inquiries into my reasons for walking through his neighborhood at 2 AM.

Part 2 tomorrow...

Friday, September 5, 2008

Sunshine Superman

Sunshine Superman-The Journey of Donovan (Released 10/7/08)

I have certainly watched a lot of movies about musicians. It is one of the hazards of the job. I can’t tell you how many films I have seen with a thin career stretched out over two hours with the most embarrassing assortment of blather, and modern concerts by artists who once were great, but are now unable or unwilling to pay for the rights to their own legacy. For instance, the new documentary on John Kay and Steppenwolf presents some interesting information on John Kay’s life and times, but illustrates it with almost no footage of vintage Steppenwolf. No matter how well intentioned, I am not thrilled to see the classic stuff played by whatever modern band he is now flogging. Not the case with Sunshine Superman. This incredibly loving and thorough portrayal of Donovan Leitch spares no expense, actually licensing clips of The Beatles or Bob Dylan, if that is what is called for. In addition, the two-disc set gathers together many, many great clips of Donovan from every stage of his career: TV appearances, promotional films (the entire “Wear Your Love Like Heaven” film), private reels, and it is all woven together by a startlingly honest and coherent narrative by Donovan himself.

Amazingly, Donovan still looks and sounds great. He is thoughtful and sweet and has all his marbles. His recollections of his early years are some of the most clear-eyed and poignant I’ve heard from a rock star. And he certainly was a rock star. In case you’ve forgotten, this film will remind you what an immense and influential star Donovan was in the 60’s. There is an argument to be made that his early career was very similar to Dylan’s in a favorable way, and much is made of this idea in the film. Donovan suffered from the comparisons at that time, but reflecting on it now, it is not such a stretch.

Perhaps the most affecting aspect of the film is Donovan’s very real quest for and ultimate attainment of spiritual enlightenment, which sets him apart from most of his peers. What we find in the modern Donovan is a man at peace with his past, present and future. We see him meditating in a pastoral setting outside his quaint Irish manor with his wife of many years, celebrating with his recently reunited traveling companion from the 60’s Gypsy Davey in Greece, and at the very end he participates in all-star jam on “Season of The Witch” with all kinds of cool people playing with him. Garth Hudson does an otherworldly organ solo. Throughout I was just mesmerized by the sincerity of this gentle soul and his historic journey through pop music.