Archive for the Music Category

Leader of the Starry Skies – A Tribute to Tim Smith

Posted in Music with tags , , , on 9 December, 2010 by Ally

Leader of the Starry Skies is a tribute to Tim Smith, the mastermind behind such cult bands as Cardiacs, The Sea Nymphs and Spratleys Japs. Tim suffered a severe stroke in 2008 and all proceeds from the album will go towards his care.

The album will be released on Monday 13th December 2010. It features interpretations of Tim’s unique songs, performed by an array of his bandmates, friends and fans. The impressive lineup includes, among others: The Magic Numbers, Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree), Oceansize, Andy Partridge (XTC) and the specially-reformed Ultrasound.

Those who pre-order will receive an exclusive bonus album free of charge. I’m delighted to say the contribution from my band Bug Prentice is included on the bonus album. So pre-order before it’s too late!

Knifeworld — The Stench of Honey:

Pre-order Leader of the Starry Skies — A Tribute to Tim Smith from the Genepool.

Underrated Band of the Week: Chavez

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on 17 September, 2010 by Ally

I’ve been listening to a lot of mid-’90s alt-rock lately. The Jesus Lizard, Shellac, Jawbox, that sort of thing. About a week ago, a friend asked me if I’d heard of Chavez. “Vaguely,” I said, then checked youtube to remind myself.

I found the music video for Break Up Your Band, which starts with a standup comedian who seems to be getting big laughs with the word “yes.” He then introduces “the men of Chavez,” who play the song to accompany a succession of male strippers. The audience is composed entirely of middle-aged women. I had seen the video before, giggled and thought nothing more of it. This time I liked the music. I really liked it. I wanted to hear more.

“Damn, that’s actually pretty good,” I said.

“I know,” my friend said.

He knows these things.

Medium story short, a few days ago I bought Better Days Will Haunt You; a 2CD anthology of both Chavez albums and various singles, b-sides and compilation tracks. I ripped the tracks to my computer in a lossless format, separated the bonus tracks from the original albums (as is my wont) and transferred them to my Personal Portable Digital Music Player for Convenient Listening.

I haven’t listened conveniently to much else this week.

Chavez — Top Pocket Man

And you can listen conveniently to Better Days Will Haunt You on Spotify, if you care to.

Song of the Day: “Marrow” by St. Vincent

Posted in Music, Of the Week with tags , on 14 January, 2010 by Ally

St. Vincent is the “nom de tune” of Annie Clark, a very fine musician comin’ straight outta Tulsa. Having heard the name bandied about by numerous trustworthy sources, it only occurred to me a few days ago to actually listen to some of her music, and I must say I was pleasantly surprised. The music seems to fuse the ethereal melodic arrangements of Sufjan Stevens with the crunchy electro-funk of TV on the Radio, not to mention the occasional distorted guitar assault reminiscent of Glenn Branca. These elements are perhaps best represented in the song “Marrow”, embedded below for your viewing pleasure:

Why do I watch the X Factor?

Posted in Music, Television with tags on 17 October, 2009 by Ally

There is a certain satisfaction in having your prejudices confirmed. Despite immense resentment and frustration, that satisfaction is what moves me to watch The X Factor. As a musician and music-lover, the programme goes against my fundamental beliefs about art and entertainment. Which is precisely why it’s unmissable.

Tonight my senses were once again assaulted by the boorishly loud audience and the murder of songs I couldn’t fucking stand in the first place. And if there is such a thing is a hate orgasm, John & Edward never fail to bring me to it. Not to mention the judges’ assertions that any of the acts even approached authenticity. Just thinking about it makes my fists clench, forcing me to type this article by stabbing wildly at my keyboard with a pen.

I refuse to call it car-crash television, because I respect crash victims’ privacy enough to avert my gaze. It’s more like pornography: Depressing, demeaning but shamefully compelling. But this I watch with my family.

That’s entertainment!

Take Five, Austin

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on 15 August, 2009 by Ally

Yesterday I shared a video by Hisae Nakajima. It was a performance demonstrating great technical proficiency, an innate understanding of music theory and, most importantly, soul. Today I present another jazz luminary of equal, possibly even greater talent. I speak of none other than the legendary Austin McBride.

To cleanse your palate, enjoy a true example of 5/4 time by the supreme Max Roach.

Song of the Day: “Ruby, My Dear”

Posted in Music, Of the Day with tags , , , , on 14 August, 2009 by Ally

Today I happily stumbled upon Hisae Nakajima’s beautifully angular performance of Thelonious Monk’s (already quite angular) ballad Ruby, My Dear. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

Album of the Week: Members, Don’t Git Weary

Posted in Music, Of the Week with tags , , , , , , , , on 12 August, 2009 by Ally
Max Roach - Members, Don't Git Weary (1968)

Max Roach - Members, Don't Git Weary (Atlantic 1968)

Max Roach was one of the premier drummers of the bebop era and beyond. As well as playing on landmark sessions with jazz legends like Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, he recorded several celebrated albums as a leader. In the words of fellow drummer Stan Levey, thanks to Max Roach “drumming no longer was just time, it was music.”

Although best known as a bebop player, Max Roach flirted with post-bop and the avant-garde. His 1968 album Members, Don’t Git Weary is one such flirtation. The ensemble consists of Gary Bartz (alto sax), Charles Tolliver (trumpet), Stanley Cowell (piano), Jymie Merritt (electric bass) and Roach himself (drums).

Despite the use of electric instruments, Members is far from a fusion album. However the electric bass does lend an edge of funk to opening track Abstrutions; a short ‘n’ groovy piece punctuated by angular brass fanfares, but grounded by that funky bass and Cowell’s bluesy rolling piano.

My favourite track Libra takes us further out. During the main theme, the rhythm and horn sections appear to be playing in separate time signatures. The effect is equally compelling and unsettling, the divided ensemble conjuring complex and stimulating syncopations. The group eventually joins forces to provide a propulsive backing for solos by Bartz and Tolliver. Roach then blasts a furious drum solo before the group restates the theme to close.

Title track Members, Don’t Git Weary features a gospel-inspired vocal performance by Andy Bey, and is an uplifting call for strength and unity in the society of the time. When you consider the album was recorded soon after Martin Luther King was killed, it becomes all the more potent. Other tracks include Effi; a dreamy waltz which is oddly reminiscent of The Stranglers hit Golden Brown, Equipoise; a gentle modal piece with especially lyrical playing from Charles Tolliver, and Absolutions; the closing track to which Cowell’s electric piano and Merritt’s mantra-like bassline give an exotic quality.

I only bought the album yesterday, and have listened to it several times both for enjoyment and reviewing purposes, and could happily listen to it again tomorrow. Critics and experts may not see it as an essential album, but I couldn’t recommend it more highly. I won’t git weary (a-ho-ho-ho) of it any time soon.

The Unique Melodious Thunk

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on 5 July, 2009 by Ally
Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Monk

The listener’s relationship with Thelonious Monk seems to follow a common pattern — years of puzzled indifference, then an epiphany followed by ever-increasing affection and devotion. So it was with me.

A few years ago I bought my first Monk album, but it left me cold so I left it languishing on the shelf. Skip to earlier this year, when BBC Four broadcast a documentary about Monk’s friend and patron, Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter. The story intrigued me, and for the first time I found myself moved by Monk’s music. I had to hear it again. And again. Mere months later I’m gradually running out of Monk albums to buy. It has become an addiction.

But what can I add to the discussion? I’m late to the party by 50 years. Critics and fans have already waxed lyrical about his unconventional straight-fingered piano playing, his goofy syncopated rhythms, his beautiful melodic ideas and his enigmatic personality. I can but add myself to the list of admirers, and hope that my enthusiasm will inspire others to give themselves the second, third or fourth chance it might take to unlock this musical treasure.

Blue Monk (1958)

Song of the Day: “Gloria’s 100 Million Daughters” by Stephen Evens

Posted in Music, Of the Day with tags , , , , on 1 June, 2009 by Ally
Stephen Evens

Stephen Evens needs YOU!

Stephen Evens is a songwriter who has a lot of bitterness and resentment and is channeling it into writing songs to void it manifesting itself as a cancer or an abnormal growth. The songs are beautiful and the words are horrible. I don’t know why you don’t think that’s a good thing. It’s all our fault.

My good friend and bandmate Stephen just happens to be the man behind Stephen Evens. I hope you’ll trust me when I tell you his tunes are worth listening to attentively, not because I know him but because they’re quite marvelous. I especially recommend Gloria’s 100 Million Daughters, which makes my tummy go all funny.

You might even consider seeing his gig at the 12 Bar Club next Monday (8 June 2009). The password is “mukluks”, just tell him Big Vinny sent you.

Three Wishes: An Intimate Look at Jazz Greats

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , on 12 May, 2009 by Ally
3wishes

Three Wishes by Pannonica de Koenigswarter

Until recently, my knowledge about Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter (née Rothschild) was extremely limited. Born to a reknowned English banking family, Nica was compelled to move to New York City in the 1950s after hearing Thelonious Monk’s haunting tune ‘Round Midnight. She became a great patron of jazz, befriending legendary figures like Charlie Parker (who died in her house) and Thelonious Monk (who wrote another haunting tune in her honour). She became known as the Jazz Baroness.

Last month BBC4 screened a documentary entitled The Jazz Baroness. Written and directed by her great-niece Hannah Rothschild, it told the tale of Nica’s eventful life, her importance on the jazz scene from the ’50s onwards and the strong bond she shared with Monk. The programme also sparked my interest in Monk’s music, which had previously eluded me. I have since bought and assimilated many of his wonderful recordings, and allowed Monk into my heart.

Thelonious and Nica

Thelonious and Nica

So when I discovered Nica wrote a book, I had to read it immediately. And I did. It arrived today and I’ve finished it already. Three Wishes: An Intimate Look at Jazz Greats is the product of Nica’s passion for jazz. Over the years she asked hundreds of musicians what their three wishes would be, eventually compiling them into a book (accompanied by blurry and decaying polaroid snaps). Answers range from the predictable stock answers of “world peace” and “money” to touching, hilarious and occasionally embarrassing admissions. John Coltrane wishes for “three times the sexual power I have now,” Art Blakey wishes for a divorce so he could marry Nica and Miles Davis bitterly quips that his only wish is “to be white!” But perhaps the most beautifully-expressed sentiment is from legendary drummer Louie Bellson:

3. “I am hoping that music will mend the entire world. It has been proven that our relations with other countries has been one hundred percent pure in friendship because of music. I feel that music will blossom into a flower, and that flower will express one great thought, and that is: We belong to the human race and we all learn the same notes.”

– Louie Bellson