“Covering” The Scene

As I’ve said before I’ve never been more uncertain that I hear all the releases I should every year. The outlets and information sources have never been so scattered. I’ve never felt so many PR providers have no idea what I cover.

But every year I hit a point, usually around this time or a little later, when I conclude that enough innovative, captivating and durable music is being produced to keep me jiggling for another year. Here’s the three that put me over in 2017 (all played for the first time in the last few days):

Bearthoven, Trios (Cantaloupe) Karl Larson piano, Pat Swoboda bass, Matt Evens percussion/drums. Six piece belonging to the vague New Music category, the only writers I know at all being Anthony Vine. Best effect: breaks ways loose of the often too-cozy tent of piano-trio sound.

Jay Som, Everybody Works (Polyvinyl). Jay Som belongs to the vague bedroom pop category and is a solo project of Melisa Duterte, with a few added voices. A fresh twist of intimacy and a needed reminder that all single-soul projects don’t have to sound stunted or samey.

Migos, Culture (Quality Control). I don’t pretend to keep up with hip-hop like I should, but I’m still abashed this trio slipped under my radar until now. In the grand tradition of Atlanta rappers, they’re rootsy and funny and sensual and casually scary at times. Still probing the personalities.

Excellent “Borne” Review

The connection to Melville is spot on target.  Mord and even Borne him/her/itself are clear descendants of Moby Dick even if in no way derivative. Much more accurate than the Lovecraft comparisons. After all, Melville was somebody who had dribbled the salt from his body into the salt of the ocean and knew nature. Lovecraft was more like a strange kid who secreted himself in the basement and yelled for you to come down and kill a spider for him. Also — gives climate catastrophe the key role in the story it deserves. Bizarrely all but passed over in some other reviews I’ve read.

Movies Ain’t What They Used To Be …

Of the 25 top-grossing films of the 21st century so far, 20 have been visual-effects showcases like “Avatar,” “The Avengers” and “Jurassic World.” (The other five were entirely animated, like “Frozen.”) — New York Times Magazine

I adored animated features as a child and was enormously gratified when they re-found big-hit audiences with Who Framed Roger Rabbit? But I honestly wish there was more variety in movie smashes nowadays. More hints of theater. More emphasis on inspired writing. More grownups less all-ages.

(But like I say, at least the seating has never been better.)

Oddest Food Recommendation on “Miles To Go”? Well — Up There

It’s a lunch discovery in Washington DC. I am exploring the same unfamiliar neighborhood where I ran across the lovely non-profit book-and-music store. Chance on this place called Stone Fish Grill which I check out because I think Stone Fish are cool and the menu looks intriguing. So here’s what makes this pick odd:

Place seems to be primarily an Afro-Caribbean disco that serves lunch from 11-2 and dinner from 5-9. So the lighting and decor is, well, not suited to relaxed narfing.

I only ate one dish.

But it was the most exquisite crab cake and veggie side I can remember.

The side was green beans cooked to perfect firmness with what tasted like a Southern-style sauce (Carolinas or Caribbean I couldn’t tell).

But the cake itself — oooh. About the size of a hardball and done the right way — all crab meat with spice and a bit of sauce and no sinful filler stuff — with the right crab, Maryland, which I find deeper flavored and more delicate than even fresh Maine.

Completely satisfying. A full meal. Only. 10. Bucks.

And I was the only person in there eating lunch. You people are missing out.

If in the area, don’t join the missers.

1st Playlist 2017

I assembled a batch of records to show a big music fan we intended to see in DC (though we did not end up doing so) what had most fascinated me during 2017. Hardly definitive and clearly not all from 2017, I will try to annotate it later, but may not …

The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane: Turiyasangitananda (Luaka Bop)

The Creation, Action Painting (Numero Group, reissue of complete works)

Lowell Davidson Trio, S/T (ESP, 1965, 2008 remastered CD)

Gorillaz, Humanz (Warner Bros./Parlophone)

Kendrick Lamare, Damn. (TDE)

Jens Lekman, Life Will See You Now (Secretly Canadian)

Low Cut Connie, “Dirty Pictures” (part 1) (Contender)

Donny McCaslin, Beyond Now (Notema)

The Magnetic Fields, 50 Song Memoir (Nonesuch)

Metalwood, S/T (self-released, 1997)

Nicole Mitchell/Tomeka Reid/Mike Reed, Artifacts (482 Music, 2015)

Joe Morris Quartet, A Cloud of Black Birds (AUM Fidelity, 1998)

On Fillmore, Extended Vacation (Dead Oceans, 2009)

Art Pepper, the Hollywood All-Star Sessions (Galaxy, 1997)

Oumou Sangare, Mogoya (No Format)

Matthew Stevens, Preverbal (Ropeadope)

The XX, I See You (Young Turks)

Brazilian Jazz Serendipity

So we spent several days in Washington DC this week. I am exploring a neighborhood I am not familiar with and I run across Carpe Librum. As soon as I figure out what the setup of the place is, I have to try to find something to buy. (Can’t find any older Jeff VanderMeer books, so the second choice is international CDs.)

About the last item I look at is this 2015 album by bassist Nilson Matta, East Side Rio Drive (Krian). I barely know Matta, but master percussionist/experimenter Cyro Baptista and solid sax/bass clarinet star Craig Handy (also one of the rare flute-blowers I love) are trademarks of quality and I see some good things on line (though not the review linked below) and for $3 what can be so bad. Later I got quite wound up after I discovered the liner notes were a rave by Will Friedwald that nailed the problem with too much recent Brazilian jazz: “”every album sounded like the one before, the same tropical groove, the same rhythmic patterns, the same lightweight feeling.” The latter phrase, in particular, struck me as right on target. Then he did a track-by-track that set me up to find out what a superb record it is. Certainly a Top 20 of the year if I had heard it then — if only because voices and flutes, hard-jazz saxes and bass flights and Brazilian and Cuban influences twist and twine around each other so attractive all the way through.

Basic scoop.

“National Lampoon” (What, Again?!?!)

Almost all of these depressing and catastrophic developments were news to me.  As I said earlier, in what has proved to be the most surprising frequent topic in this blog, I stopped paying much attention to the operation and its spin-offs after 1978 or so. (I’ve never even seen a “Vacation” movie since I regard Chevy Van Chaser as toxic unfunny.) But the NatLamp story is still enlightening on several levels.

One, in the contest to revive a once-notorious outsider magazine, Punk and CREEM now have to give up the Botch Crown to National Lampoon. Obviously no other publication has fallen as far or squandered so much energy.

Two, this is further confirmation of a most peculiar failure of understanding: reviving a brand is weak and lazy. It’s just throwing out an imitation. Inventing a hit brand is a lot harder, but the real task at hand.

Third, the piece touches on a crucial transformation: NatLamp started as a mixture of the subversive and the sophomoric. And it eventually went with the easier option. Part of that whole horrible wave where racist and sexist and generally bigoted humor was considered “bold” or “rule-breaking,” whereas the opposite type of satire was and is the tough way forward.

Yeh, I know — it’s cheap fun to satirize the squares and the Establishment. But those are extinct. The powerful and smug and cruel and hate-mongers and anti-thinkers are the targets of our time, and they can be fired upon.