New York State of Jazz

The Iridium
Times Square, NYC

Bar Thalia @ Symphony Space
Upper West Side, NYC

Yeah, NoLa and KC...but we’ve also got that jazz magic here in NYC. Every single night. Whether it’s legends or local heroes, we’ve got it covered. And this weekend was just another reminder.

Closing out his 2-night Iridium stint, Saturday night’s late set by the legendary Mr. 335 was simply pure delight. Backed by an excellent 5 piece band—which included the astoundingly impressive playing of his son, bassist Travis Carlton—he ripped thru choice cuts from his catalog and a smattering of Steely Dan faves including “Black Friday”, “Josie” and “Kid Charlemagne” for an intimate but adoring crowd who celebrated every note and every nuance of his 90 minute set.

[Decker flanked by Bryant (left) and Greene (right)]

On Sunday, the rainy October night was the perfect backdrop for the deep, mellow groove of the great Mr. Decker, a singular jazz vocalist and local treasure. (Full disclosure: Decker is a professional colleague and dear personal friend.) Performing alongside the brilliant guitarist Freddie Bryant and outstanding upright bassist Hill Greene for a small but enraptured audience of uptown jazz fans, Decker’s velvet smooth baritone was every bit as impressive as on his multiple critically acclaimed albums. But among a night of gems, like the standard "Come Rain or Come Shine" and a series of wonderful originals, there was an unexpected curveball: a bossa nova-flavored take on The Beach Boys classic “God Only Knows”, making it clear the old dog’s not averse to showing us his new tricks.

6, 9 or Both?

It has become customary for the last couple of generations to bemoan the cultural prospects of the one immediately following them, decrying falling standards in art, cinema, literature, music and even television. (Although the latter has enjoined an undeniable renaissance since the last days of the 20th century.) And while some of this might legitimately be ‘back in my day’ nostalgia, it’s no less true that from the vantage point of a Kardashian world in which the US is run by an unfit, former reality show star turned president, it seems practically unfathomable that MTV not only used to air music videos but also—and during prime time, mind you—short films recreating scenes from literary classics like “The Metamorphosis”.

Which leads me to ponder the following: what is in fact more surreal—that approximately 20 years ago a for-profit pop culture TV network purposely included Kafka in their programming or our current reality?


A Brief Appearance Before The Court Of The Crimson King (1969-1974)

Inspired by the short takes (props, JD Considine) I did for each of the albums in the Joni Mitchell box set covering her first decade of studio releases, I thought I'd do the same for Messr. Fripp and co.
In this case, however, there was no album release to serve as a catalyst and it's actually half a decade (1969-1974) I'm "covering" here. (I was actually gonna focus on the '80s quartet but that'll be for another time.) Also, curiously enough, they released seven studio albums during that half decade span...which is the same amount of studio releases they've put out in the almost 45 years since. Hmm.
Btw, these aren't really reviews but brief impressions I wanted to share of albums that, in some cases, I had not heard since the 20th century. So, here we go...

In the Court of the Crimson King [Atlantic - 1969]
50 years later still a masterpiece. But you all knew that. The title track still gets to me. And "21st Century Schizoid Man" is still the shit.

In the Wake of Poseidon  [Atlantic - 1970]
Probably the "nicest" record in the band’s catalog. Oh, and the Lake-sung version of “Cadence and Cascade” should’ve been included instead of Gordon Haskell’s. Speaking of which…

Lizard [Atlantic - 1970] 
I like his bass playing but Haskell’s singing is not my cup of tea. Neither is this record, to be honest.

Islands [Atlantic - 1971]
A little more bite than the previous two but, like them, it’s still a bit too precious.

Larks’ Tounges In Aspic [Island - 1973]
With new additions John Wetton and Bill Bruford on board they really start going somewhere, especially during part 2 of the title track, which brings back some of the attitude sorely lacking since the debut.

Starless and Bible Black [Island - 1974]
Now we’re cooking! And it would only get better.

Red  [Island - 1974]
Fripp, Wetton and Bruford were about to go their separate ways but you can’t tell from the badass music on here. And so, the Crimson story ends (or so it was thought at the time) like it began: on a magnificent high note.


Right Back Atcha

This Is Boomerang
[Bandcamp - 2019]

As anyone who has witnessed their pummeling onslaught live knows, this Brooklyn-based fireball of a duo pulls no punches. But the most recent release by Even Twice (vocalist/bassist Robert Hait; vocalist/drummer Pat O’Shea) makes it clear these gentleman are not just your run-of-the-mill loudmongers but also posses a gift for nuance they are none too shy about flaunting.

On the 7-song EP This Is Boomerang, the band’s trademark post-punk/prog is effortlessly blended with elements of psych and catchy melodies, resulting in an interesting hybrid that manages to cover much ground while retaining all the power and focus of the Even Twice experience. It’s also a treat to hear both of these distinct but similarly expressive vocalists exhibit their wares in this context, adding another layer to a sound that, taking into account the sonic limitations inherent in a duo format, could come across quite monochromatic in lesser hands.

Bravo. What’ll these crazy kids cook up next?


Mr. Jones’ 5 Fave Songs About Fellow Musicians

[in alphabetical order by artist]

CHRIS CORNELL “Wave Goodbye”
Dedicated to Jeff Buckley, this soulful tune is from Cornell’s debut album ‘Euphoria Morning’ [A&M-1999] and alludes to Buckley's demise with a clever pun as its title.

CPR “Morrison”
Oliver Stone’s 1993 movie about The Doors was the inspiration for the first song David Crosby wrote with his long lost son, keyboardist James Raymond, for the self-titled, debut CPR album, released in 1999. Key lyric: Croz puts aside the poetic imagery of the verses and sings bluntly about Stone's characterization of his friend in the song’s chorus, “I’ve seen that movie / and it wasn’t like that”. Yikes!

The John Lennon tributes are plentiful and include high profile ones by George Harrison and Elton John, but I’m most partial to this heartfelt track from his old writing partner.

It’s the only one from this bunch that was written while its subject was still alive and the lone uptempo rocker here. If not their top song, one of the band’s very best. Oh, and the implied advice to "never travel far / without a little Big Star" is one I have always adhered to.

TEMPLE OF THE DOG “Say Hello 2 Heaven”
Wrapping up this quintet as it began with another song written by Cornell, this time a moving tribute to his old friend and roommate, the late Andrew Wood, frontman for the bands Malfunkshun and Mother Love Bone. In a career full of them, this is arguably, Cornell’s finest recorded vocal. (Btw, Alice in Chains' “Would?” is also about Wood.)

Honorable Mention:
SONIC YOUTH "Teenage Riot"
It's not clear whether it's about an alternate reality where J Mascis is President of the United States (we’ll take it!!!) or president of the alternative dream but, regardless, it's a longtime fave that ALWAYS makes me smile.


No Sheep Allowed

Diver Down
[Warner Bros - 1982]

Much-maligned by the band's titular siblings—despite the presence of their beloved dad, the late Jan Van Halen, playing clarinet on “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)”—the existence of this album was not just a fluke but also another reminder of a time in which major labels exerted undue pressure on their artists, even the multi-platinum selling ones.

Coming off the Fair Warning tour, the band was in real need of a break but wanted to keep their fans engaged, so they released "(Oh) Pretty Woman" as a one-off single in early 1982. But when their cover of the Roy Orbison classic blew up the charts, Warner Bros. smelled blood in the water and forced the band back into the studio, mere weeks after returning from the road, to record a new album.

Misgivings aside, a sunnier and recently regained sophomoric disposition—evidenced in the album’s title, and the band dubbing its attendant concert schedule the “Hide Your Sheep” tour—was present this time out, perhaps due to Fair Warning bearing a bit of an overcast vibe and not having as strong sales figures as its predecessors.

This was ultimately the catalyst for 5 of this album’s eleven tracks being covers—including another stroll through the Ray Davies songbook with “Where Have All The Good Times Gone?”; the aforementioned “(Oh) Pretty Woman” and "Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)”; the awkwardly out of place Motown classic “Dancing In The Streets”; and a Roy Rogers tribute, closing track “Happy Trails”—a move prompted by their label. The originals do stand up, thankfully, especially the vintage VH rockers “Hang ‘Em High” and “The Full Bug” along with the more pop-oriented singles “Secrets” and “Little Guitars”.

The end result was their most diverse album with DLR and one that, although not a classic, should be revisited with fresh ears when in the mood for some fun, ballsy rock and roll.

Released April 14, 1982.


Talking 'Bout Their Generation: What Popular Music Means Now

Music, as we've come to know it, immerse ourselves in it and love it, does not hold sway in the same manner with today's music fans: it's part of the package, not the be-all-end-all.

To them, an instrument is an archaic, inconvenient vehicle to express music; a song is a disposable means of conveying a temporary sentiment; a concert is not a place to commune and bask in the glow of performers making a joyous sound but a measure of exclusiveness, status and cool meant to be bragged about on social media.

So, the people who interact with that paradigm are, in so far as this subject is concerned, unlike us, and thus the music is not for us.


Karma Police Arrests The Fans

Concert ticket prices are going thru the roof and have been for sometime now. Promoters, scalpers, third party ticket vendors and even unscrupulous artists (ie. the ones who scalp their own tickets) are all part of the problem.

With few exceptions, like NiN, who make it very difficult to scalp choice tix for their shows, in order to give true fans a fair chance at landing them for a decent price (not to mention Trent Reznor blowing the whistle on artists scalping their own tix), all everyone cares about is making loot. Whoever gets screwed, too bad.

Aside from a friend getting ripped off, there's not much sympathy for the price gouging of concert goers 'round these parts, particularly since that time when Pearl Jam waged war on TicketMonster and NO ONE, not fellow artists, not fans, backed 'em up. Plus theft, um, file sharing.

Exorbitant ticket prices is karmic payback, so...


Too Fast For Love

The Dirt
Directed by Jeff Tremaine

Despite being based on a tell-all book that doesn’t skimp on the sordid details, The Dirt comes across as lacking in both story and character development in comparison, and feels quite rushed in how it depicts the band’s origin story, subsequent rise to fame, fall from grace and eventual resurrection, not to mention the changing music scene of the early ‘90s that pushed aside bands like the Crüe. (The life-size poster of Pearl Jam’s debut album Ten outside the Crüe’s rehearsal studio is, by its lonesome, supposed to clue us in on that latter development.)

Some folks have chastised Netflix for programming The Dirt in the midst of the #MeToo movement, which is ridiculous, considering the movie revolves around the true life and times of a rock and roll band prone to debauchery (depravity?) during the ‘80s, a decade mostly defined by a carefree attitude towards drugs, greed and hedonism.

However, those of us who’ve read the book, and/or know how it all went down, will find it hard to get past the movie feeling like a sort of a visual checklist and not a story. Whereas for those vaguely or plain unfamiliar with the Crüe, one can surmise them experiencing a rated-X Lifetime movie about an ‘80s hair band and little more.

Bottom line: The Dirt is entertaining and doesn’t suck but it fails to live up to its source material. Or even the hype, for that matter.


Days of Future Past

Something curious happened while we were not paying much attention: Rock, popular music's dominant global force for decades, has reached the age when the average person begins to contemplate retiring, feeling perhaps vital still, but not as when the brio of youth gave it its verve. (When was the last time a new rock band captured the attention of the masses?) So, taking this as a starting point, it might be a good opportunity to try to analyze where the record industry is in general and where it could be headed in the not too distant future.

Due to the many ways in which technology has impacted our lives, it's interesting to observe the various attempts to discern how we will consume music as the music industry undergoes more changes in its structure. It's important to point out that the music business operates in a slightly different realm than other areas of entertainment and popular culture: despite streaming, people still watch TV, go to the movies and even purchase movies and TV series in physical formats, while the consumption of music in physical formwhich was the main form of distribution during the second part of the 20th century in particularhas diminished considerably, despite the recent (relative) boom of vinyl. (And notwithstanding the various options offered by technology, live concerts still remain the main revenue source for artists at all levels.)

There's talk of various subscription models (a la cable TV) as MP3 sales decrease continuously and compact discs are relegated to the stuff of memories. (Beginning a few years ago, computer manufacturers stopped adding the optical disc drives necessary to read CDs / DVDs, the first indication of a possible future physical obsolescence.) But if there is something that cannot be ignored it's that the factors that invariably determine how the masses consume music are price and convenience. Frequently, sound quality is brought up as driving the commercial behavior of consumers (and the audiophile community is a strong example), but the reality is that the other two factors mentioned above have prevailed more often than not when the public decides how to spend its money vis-a-vis music.

What is undeniable is that we are experiencing a historical moment, one in which there is more access than ever to all kinds of music, regardless of genre or style. However, despite appearances, it seems that no particular form of music will be dominant as we see specialized niches pop up like never before. This could open the door to all kinds of innovations in terms of both art and commerce. And if the last few years have taught us anything, it's that change might be right around the corner.

Will it be minor or all encompassing? The only thing we can dare predict is that the erroneously considered dead and buried major record labels, still in possession of billions of dollars at their disposal which they've been using to finance the likes of Spotify, as they manage to become profitable (along with the catalogs of thousands of popular artists), as well as the mighty Internet, will be involved in one way or another in how consumers enjoy pre-recorded music. 

"We'll see," said the blind man.
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Sailing on the Seas of Psych

South of Reality 
[Prawn Song/ATO – 2019]

On paper this doesn’t necessarily seem like the most auspicious of collaborations: Les Claypool is a proggy alt-rocker with a fondness for the weird and absurd, while Sean Lennon is a melodic singer/songwriter with a taste for psych. But these two talented gentlemen have made the most of their common ground, namely that sweet spot where Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd meets John Lennon in “I Am The Walrus” mode with a dash of early ‘70s King Crimson, which they further explore to much fruition on this, their second album.

Despite the name recognition of the two principals involved it’s hard to imagine a wide audience for this kind of record in the current musical climate. But perhaps this is the album the masses need to experience in order to shake them free of the oppressiveness of the by-the-numbers pap they are bombarded with on a daily basis. Or maybe just give ‘em something to hate. Regardless, if a trippy, psychedelic vibe that grooves is your cup of tea, there is much here to warrant repeated refills. Drink up! 

Highlights: First single “Blood and Rockets: Movement I / Saga of Jack Parsons / Movement II, Too The Moon”, “Boriska”, “Easily Charmed By Fools”, “Amethyst Realm” and the title track.



"We bullied Hootie and each Blowfish, and we liked how it felt, so we didn’t stop. We laughed them out of the game for no good reason, while we let Dave Matthews Band continue kicking around the same hacky sack for their next few albums. We shamed them in a way we never did Counting Crows, and to this day Adam Duritz walks the earth with a hairdo that answers the question: what if a fireworks display could be brown?" 
- Dave Holmes, Esquire magazine, January 2019.

It always seemed like those who supported H&tB were the same ones to turn on them when it was deemed no longer cool to like 'em. But here's the thing: they were never cool. Talented and hugely popular? Sure. But they were never cool. Regardless, they were singled out for being bland and/or hokey when there were, as Holmes points out, plenty of other guilty parties out there who did not suffer the same fate. (Dishwalla?)

One could argue H&tB were a reflection of their followers: folks who were, as most young people are, preoccupied with notions of cool but, not knowing how to discern this elusive designation in the middle of the 1990s alternative nation, latched onto something they could readily identify with, only to later find out it was the uncoolest strain of them all and eventually bailed.

But time has a way of blurring memories, burying shame and enabling the embracing of nostalgia, as we've seen with the throes of middle aged women attending New Kids on the Block concerts in the 21st century. And judging by recent developments one assumes Holmes' mea culpa might be unnecessary: the Blowfish are touring this summer and playing venues like NYC's Madison Square Garden and the Hollywood Bowl, so this is not has-beens embarking on a low-key, low rent affair.

Again, Hootie and the Blowfish were never cool and will never be more than an outfit which put out bland, ably performed pop/rock. But now, as their fans have gotten older, they get to acknowledge that and still enjoy them just the same. Good for them.