My recent Nation columns are here:
1) Neocons Helped Fuel the Rise of Donald Trump. Will They Apologize?
2) Why Are Public Broadcasters Parroting Conservative Talking Points?
3) Why There Will Be No New New Deal
I was fortunate to catch Joan Osborne's show at the Cafe Carlyle last week. Osborne is one of our most underappreciated talents. She's got a deep and beautiful voice that is as much at home in pop, blues, ballads, country and especially soul music. She turns almost all of it into soul music, especially when she allows herself to fall into her trancelike stance where her whole being collapses into the music and both gets lost inside and becomes one with it. She's doing her first stand at the Cafe Caryle, though March 18 playing all Dylan songs. Joan has been making wonderful albums ever since "Relish" though that was the only time pop radio showed much interest. Since then she has sung with Dylan (while touring as the "chick vocalist" with the post-Jerry Dead), Luciano Pavarotti, Stevie Wonder, Emmylou Harris, Taj Mahal and Mavis Staples, among others. And she's learned well from all of them. Accompanied by Keith Cotton on keyboards and Jack Petruzzelli on guitar she took songs like "Gotta Serve Somebody," "Dark Eyes," "Love Sick" from his 1997 album, "Time Out of Mind," and especially "Forever Young" and "I Shall Be Released" and made them not only her own but also things that sounded as if they always been that way and should be. The small audience was deeply appreciative and supportive and Joan gave it back many times over. At one time she said she thought we were lucky to be alive in Bob's time--it was like being alive with Shakespeare--but we also felt lucky to be hearing these songs premiered in her set. Almost all sounded new and many if not most were gems. I hope she comes back to the Carlyle many times and at some point records this album. Lena Hall and Michael C. Hall did a show of just Radiohead songs over the weekend and while I didn't see it, I'm pleased to see the Cafe expanding the old Great American Songbook beyond the Tony Bennett/Sinatra version closer to the present. Dylan is a no-brainer but Radiohead is a really cool idea. Check it out, if you're looking for a splurge, it's a great one.
I also caught a show by Natalie Merchant at the Beacon Theater celebrating the release of her album and film Paradise Is There: The New Tigerlily Recordings, . The record is a revisitation of her "Tiger Lilly" album of 1995, which was her first solo album after leaving 10,000 Maniacs. She's had a remarkably ambitious career since then and one can only admire her independence almost as much as her voice. And her fans sure love her. The main difference between these versions and those on "Tigerlilly," aside from the years in the voice, are the strings. She brought a quartet with her to the Beacon and did lovely, moving renditions of the songs. She explains what she was after here
http://america.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/talk-to-al-jazeera/articles/2016/2/12/natalie-merchant-talks-to-stephanie-sy.html and if you're a fan, you'll surely want to follow up.
Among the biggest Jazz events of the year is the upcoming (April 1) release of three separate box sets by the visionary composer,sax man and occasional pianist, Anthony Braxton via the Tri-Centric Foundation and Firehouse 12 Records. Individually, they are :The box sets consist of:
Trillium J (The Non-Unconfessionables), a reinvention of post-Wagnerian opera:
Quintet (Tristano) 2014, a heartfelt tribune to an improvisatory hero of Braxton's:
3 Compositions (EEMHM) 2011, a fully immersive electro-acoustic sound environment:
Trillium J (The Non-Unconfessionables) captures the premiere of Braxton's latest four-act opera in a high-definition video documenting the multimedia performance at Roulette in Brooklyn on April 19, 2014 and a four-CD studio recording made the following week. It is also the latest installment in Braxton's ongoing Trillium Opera Complex System, made up of 36 interlinked acts.
On Quintet (Tristano) 2014, is a seven cd tribute to the great Lennie Tristano (1919-1978). Braxton plays the piano and leaves the sax to Jackson Moore and Andre Vida, joined by bassist Eivind Opsvik and drummer Mike Szekely. This set includes not only not only Tristano compositions, but those of his colleagues and students, among them Warne Marsh, Lee Konitz, Sal Mosca and Connie Crothers. As Kevin Whitehead writes in the liner notes of this set: "None of Anthony's tributes to jazz heroes have been as extensive as this delve into the works of Tristano and his circle...Time and again these recordings have an uncanny way of evoking the Tristano esthetic, then letting it dissolve into free space, sometimes to be reconstituted, sometimes not."
3 Compositions (EEMHM) 2011 features three cds of first studio recordings of Braxton's Echo Echo Mirror House Music--his most recent conceptual innovation, which builds on his "Ghost Trance Music." Available in a traditional three-CD box set and a 5.1 Surround Sound audiophile Blu-ray disc, I have to say, some of this is over my head. But perhaps not yours.
Braxton is planning to celebrate the three releases with rare U.S. concert appearances with his 10+1tet at the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee, performing on April 1 and his Trio on April 2.
One of my favorite concerts in recent decades was the "Concert for George" organized by Eric Clapton and Jeff Lynne. The new "George Fest" is a kind of alternative version of that show organized by Dhani Harrison and focusing more on his father's "deep cuts." The highlights are Brian Wilson, Nora Jones and the Wilson (Heart) sisters. I also kinda liked The Killers Brandon Flowers and The Flaming Lips. I could have lived without Weird Al Yankovic and Conan O'Brien. It was recorded and filmed on September 28th, 2014 at the The Fonda Theater in LA and is being made available in 4 configurations including 2xCD/DVD, 2xCD/Blu-Ray, 3xLP (180 gram) and digital download.
Back to jazz, I am loving cds of rediscovered performances by the flutist and also a couple by Stan Getz. First, Mann Live at the Whiskey A Go-Go, 1969: The Unreleased Masters In the late 60s, Mann had an incredible band made up of guitarist Sonny Sharrock, Miroslav Vitous on electric & upright bass, saxophonist Steve Marcus, drummer Bruno Carr and vibraphonist Roy Ayers. This cd is drawn from a four night run there. The original album was just just two side-long tracks. Now multi-track tapes, (never before mixed), strech across two cds including a 23-minute jam of Donovan s Tangier into Tim Hardin s If I Were A Carpenter that goes into space, as does a and a newly discovered take of Ooh Baby that clocks in at 21 minute Ooh Baby. More famous (and more mainstream) as second helpings go is a new/old album by Stan Getz and João Gilberto called simply "Getz/Gilberto '76" and backed up by pianist Joanne Brackeen, bassist Clint Houston and drummer Billy Hart. This deluxe CD includes a 32-pg booklet of essays by author James Gavin, bossa nova pioneer Carlos Lyra, Stan's son Steve Getz, and producers Zev Feldman and Todd Barkan, as well as previously unpublished photos from the archives of acclaimed music photographer Tom Copi. It follows up on the famous verision from 1964, Getz/Gilberto (Verve). Personally, while I love the original cd, I prefer a second Getz re-release to this one, called "Moments In Time," which is a combination of newly discovered tunes by the Stan Getz Quartet with Joanne Brackeen, Houston, and drummer Billy Hart and is just terrific, and has much the same fancy packaging as the above, but no Gilberto
Other cds I'm really liking are: Charles Lloyd and the Marvels "I Long To See You featuring bassist Reuben Rogers, drummer Eric Harland, guitarist Bill Frisell, and Greg Leisz on the steel guitar with appearances by Willie Nelson and Nora Jones. I was unfamiliar with Mr. Lloyd but I will now go in search of what I missed; "God Don't Never Change: The Songs Of Blind Willie Johnson" which features Tom Waits, Lucinda Williams, the Trucks/Tedeschi Band, and a bunch of other luminaries doing the songs of the largely unknown bluesman, Blind Willie Johnson. It's really quite awesome. And speaking of the blues, somebody found a bunch of lost tapes by John Mayall's Bluesbreakers from 1967 and released it with that title. This was the period with Peter Green on lead guitar and John McVie on bass and Mick Fleetwood on drums. (Guess what band they became.) There are some great performances here, but the audio is rather distant, so you have to really want it to buy it. I am also among those who are really pleased by the return to recording of Emmitt Rhodes. His "Rainbow Ends" is his first album in 43 years. It's a gorgeous album of sensttive songs about love and loss, like most great songs. The Times had a nice profile of him which you can find here http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/07/arts/music/emitt-rhodes-a-new-album-out-emerges-from-his-slumber.html
On the literary historical front, my good friends at the Library of America are about to release Abigail Adams: Letters, edited by Edith Gelles, simultaneously with John Adams: Writings from the New Nation 1784-1826, edited by the great Gordon S. Wood, which is the third and final volume in the Library of America's John Adams edition. Those titles speak for themselves as does the georgeous job the LOA does on everything. And Adams is among my favorite presidents, especially for his "in search of foreign monsters" speech and his selfless sacrifice in the election of 1800, something that is perhaps unique in our political history. Still, I would only be pretending if I did not own up to the fact that I'm rather more eager to curl up with Ross Macdonald: Three Novels of the Early 1960s: The Zebra-Striped Hearse / The Chill / The Far Side of the Dollar. Read this awesome essay http://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/aug/01/ross-macdonald-crime-novels if you're unfamiliar with the work of this almost-but-not-quite-as-great-as Hammett/Chandler/Cain detective writer. And I haven't had a chance yet to sit down in a serious way with the LOA's Henry James: Autobiographies: A Small Boy and Others / Notes of a Son and Brother / The Middle Years / Other Writings, but if you take my "American Autobiography" course next year we can read it together (along wit a forthcoming bio a certain son of Freehold by way of Asbury Park).
Right now I am smack in the middle of an incredible set of stories by a first-time writer, Greg Jackson called "Prodigals" published by Farrar, Straus and I am constantly blown away by its eloquence and knowingness. I hope to say more about it in the future when I'm done. I am also quite excited to get started on Sarah Bakewell's new book, The Existentialist Cafe. I say this not only because of reviews like this one, http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/a90daf10-d4e1-11e5-829b-8564e7528e54.html but because her previous work, "How to Live, Or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer" is one of my favorite books of the past twenty years. Aside from Jonathan Franzen's Freedom or Elena Ferrante's four-volume masterpiece, I don't think I've recommended any book to friends as frequently or enthusiastically.