East Bay View (a blog about several things)

now 98% free of substantive content

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hit count: You could be a star, it ain't hard

Katy Perry, "I Kissed a Girl": Yeah, it's a bad song, but don't talk yourself into claiming it's not daring. In about forty states this is sizzling stuff, no matter the singer's commitment to lesbianism, or lack thereof. And the "I Kissed a Boy" gay remakes are endearing. Now, if only Perry weren't a horrible singer.

Chris Brown, "Forever": I can't quite say I like Brown now, but I've gained some, gulp, respect for him: he's at least adequate at what he does. Meanwhile, Polow's bubblegum macrohouse is improving. If someone hands him a Roger Sanchez record, he'll be making top-notch schlock in no time.

Natasha Bedingfield, "Pocketful of Sunshine": A career-saving single, thank goodness. The sunny singer gritting her teeth in a grim minor key is a trick so simple, you'd never think it'd work until you heard it.

David Cook, "The Time of My Life": With Katharine McPhee and Jordin Sparks releasing very good and quite alright debut singles respectively, I'd begun to wonder whether it might be worth finally starting to watch Idol. Ha ha. No.


Monday, August 25, 2008

The history of the cartoon universe: The Chain Gang (1930)

1930 is an interregnum: Ub Iwerks strikes out on his own and does idiosyncratic, unfocused work. The new Looney Tunes series more or less rips off Disney, except it makes the minstrelry more overt. The Fleischers know they have something in their Clara Bow-lookalike poodle, but they haven't quite worked out what to do with her yet.

So let's say it's still Mickey's year. Of the 1930 Mouse toons I've seen, The Chain Gang edges The Fire Fighters (both are directed by new ace Burt Gillett) through its setting. A group of prisoners trudge in the work yard in ball and chain, while Mickey rides his ball, dragged by an unwitting fellow inmate. There's no hint of false imprisonment here: you know that he's in here because he had a little too much fun at one point, or perhaps for cruelty to animals. He's no tough guy -- he cowers from the prison guard, he can't even break a rock -- but my, that little country boy can play. Then it's the now-standard song-then-chase, with some fun gags involving Mickey escaping with his ball. Also, he gets hit in the crotch, repeatedly. He accidentally ends up back behind bars, and everybody thinks this is fitting.

Next year Mickey would get chained up for good: with his stardom unparalleled and the censors getting tetchy, Walt domesticated him. Mickey would remain an interesting character in his comic strip for many years, but this is the end of the mouse as trickster.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

While we're here

25 favourite albums of jazz predating 1970, in somewhat more arbitrary order than the previous list. Fats Waller and late Armstrong count, Sinatra and Louis Jordan don't for some reason.
  1. Louis Armstrong, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1923-34)
  2. Thelonious Monk, Brilliant Corners (1956)
  3. Billie Holiday, Lady in Autumn (1946-59)
  4. Billie Holiday + Lester Young, A Musical Romance (1937-57)
  5. John Coltrane, A Love Supreme (1964)
  6. Thelonious Monk, Misterioso (1958)
  7. The Tatum Group Masterpieces, Vol. 8 (1956)
  8. Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Rip, Rig and Panic/Now Please Don't You Cry, Beautiful Edith (1965-67)
  9. Louis Armstrong, The California Concerts (1951-55)
  10. Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster (1957)
  11. Ornette Coleman, The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959)
  12. Duke Ellington, The Far East Suite (1966)
  13. Ella Fitzgerald, Ken Burns Jazz (1938-63)
  14. Miles Davis, The Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel (1965)
  15. Everybody Knows Johnny Hodges (1964-65)
  16. Louis Armstrong, Hot Five and Hot Sevens (JSP, 1926-28)
  17. Billie Holiday, Lady Day (4CD version, 1935-42)
  18. Mingus Ah Um (1959)
  19. Duke Ellington, The Best of Early Ellington (MCA, 1926-31, yeah the RCA recordings are better but there's no available single disc)
  20. Horace Silver, The Very Best (1954-66)
  21. Fats Waller, If You Got to Ask, You Ain't Got It (1926-43, just found this last month, still working through it)
  22. Cecil Taylor, Conquistador (1966)
  23. Duke Ellington, The Blanton-Webster Band (1939-42)
  24. Charlie Parker, Bird of Paradise (Prism cheapo, 1945-48)
  25. Coleman Hawkins, A Retrospective (1929-63)


Monday, August 18, 2008

In lieu of actual content: 25 favourite jazz albums since 1970

Year given is year of recording. Compilations are kosher if they're entirely recorded since 1970.
  1. James Carter, Chasin' the Gypsy (2000)
  2. Miles Davis, A Tribute to Jack Johnson (1970)
  3. Sonny Rollins, Silver City (1972-95)
  4. Sonny Rollins Plays G-Man (1986)
  5. David Murray, Long Goodbye: A Tribute to Don Pullen (1996)
  6. Irene Schwèizer, Portrait (1984-2004)
  7. The Don Pullen-George Adams Quartet, Breakthrough (1986)
  8. James Carter, The Real Quietstorm (1995)
  9. William Parker, Raining on the Moon (2001)
  10. Sonny Rollins, This Is What I Do (2000)
  11. William Parker, Double Sunrise Over Neptune (2007)
  12. Vandermark 5, Target or Flag (1997)
  13. Pat Metheny & Ornette Coleman, Song X (1985)
  14. David Murray, Like a Kiss That Never Ends (2001)
  15. Art Pepper, Winter Moon (1980)
  16. David Murray, Shakill's Warrior (1991)
  17. Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra, MTO Vol. 1 (2005)
  18. Ornette Coleman, Dancing in Your Head (1973)
  19. Pharoah Sanders, Welcome to Love (1990)
  20. William Parker, Scrapbook (2002)
  21. Nils Petter Molvaer, Solid Ether (1999)
  22. Keith Jarrett, The Köln Concert (1975)
  23. Mahavishnu Orchestra, The Inner Mounting Flame (1971)
  24. Jewels and Binoculars, Ships with Tattooed Sails (2006)
  25. Patricia Barber, Modern Cool (1998)
  • Just about all the picks are on Tom Hull's Jazz A List, not surprising because most of the post-1970 jazz I've listened to was picked because it was on that list (apart from more recently when I've listened more widely).
  • I've only been listening to contemporary jazz for about five years, which isn't really enough time to catch up. Of David Murray's 150 albums, are the three I picked (out of six I've heard) really the best? Probably not. And I've never heard anything by Jan Garbarek or Billy Jenkins or George Coleman. So these are definitely the picks of a dilettante.
  • There's a bias against music predating 1990 because it's less likely to have been released digitally. I stream most of my music though Rhapsody these days; for jazz, this is supplemented by downloads from my on-again/off-again eMusic membership. If unavailable through these channels, sometimes I'll track down a physical copy and buy it (or, in the case of the well-worn tape of Breakthrough I periodically check out from the Berkeley Public Library, borrow it); more often I'll give up and listen to something easier to find. There's probably also a bias towards the last five years because I've heard more jazz from this era.
  • Double Sunrise Over Neptune just came out last week, so I'm still digesting it. But it's a contender for the best Parker album I've heard (even though he's the best bassist on the inner planets and he doesn't play bass on it), which makes it a contender for the best avant-whatever record since whatever Ornette album you think should've won the Pulitzer. (Which might be Sound Grammar.) In general, though, the list favours the "progressive" over the "emergent".
  • Rollins, Murray and Parker each lead three list entries. (Ornette should probably have three as well.) Clifton Anderson and Bob Cranshaw play on G-Man, This Is What I Do and much of Silver City. Hamid Drake drums on all the Parker albums. Don Pullen kind of shows up three times: co-leader on Breakthrough, featured player on Shakill's Warrior; mourned and celebrated on The Long Goodbye.
  • #25 is a slightly tokenistic pick to show that vocal jazz didn't die with Jimmy Rushing. Since 1970 there have also been first rate vocal records from Helen Humes, Diana Krall, uh, the new Cassandra Wilson is quite good, um, ... Dying, maybe, but not dead.


Saturday, August 02, 2008

Top ten: The world's most dangerous places

1. Lil Wayne, "I'm Me"; "Tie My Hands" (ft. Robin Thicke): Since Obama is also at least as socially responsible as K-Fed, I'm sure he knows it's not enough just to ask like the boss: you have to back it up. Wayne's Tha Carter III sounds about as much like a bestselling classic as any album can in this age, the highlight being the post-Katrina song "Tie My Hands", in which Weezy, Robin Thicke and producer K. West out-Root the Roots. But even that's not as thrilling as "I'm Me", the lead track on The Leak EP (included with some versions of the album). He takes particular pleasure in expressing, in descending syllables, the first word of the first verse, "unfuckingbelieveable": pleasure in polysyllabicity as much as obscenity.

2. Be Your Own Pet, "The Kelly Affair"; "Heart Throb": Right now these adventurers are the most accomplished young band around. "Heart Throb" discovers excitement in temptation itself. Hopefully they understand that not everyone finds that fidelity gets easier with age. In the "The Kelly Affair", a rehash of Meyer/Ebert's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Jemima Pearl makes casual sex and partying all the time seem like something to feel genuinely uneasy about. The gifted Jonas Stein plays garage-punk Honeyman Scott, slinging terse riffs where they fit.

3. Alicia Keys, "Teenage Love Affair": A slightly more grown-up prodigy, Keys's string of hits grows ever more impressive. This particular affair celebrates feeling each other up before going home to Mom. Of extreme importance, though, is the qualifier "my first": long ago she learned there was more than one way to fall.

4. Nik Bärtsch's Ronin, "Modul 36": Pianist Bärtsch's percusses minimally, while the rest of his band wants to be the JB's. I hear there's a lot more where this came from; would Bärtsch and/or ECM please get it on Rhapsody or eMusic? Thanks.

5. Sugababes, "About You Now": Back when they still had two-thirds of their original lineup, they covered the Numan-Adina Howard mash-up "Freak Like Me"; this time they all-but-cover "A Stroke of Genius". The lyrics aren't as good though.

6. Orchestra Baobab, "Beni Baraale": Specialistest in old styles, Orchestra Baobab here covers a Guinean hit from the Sixties. Barthelemy Attisso leads guest Babe Nabe through some high-level guitar.
7. Mavis Staples, "Eyes on the Prize": After a few months, We'll Never Turn Back is sounding more and more like an album of the year (2007, 2008, whatever) to me: even the trad songs motorvate thanks to the dedication of Staples, the second most famous member of Jeremiah Wright's congregation, with major assistance from drummer Jim Keltner -- producer Ry Cooder thankfully condemns his son Joachim to percussion. Not quite a Buena Vista Socialist Club -- but there's an idea.

8. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, "More News from Nowhere": Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! is, after 23 years, their first really good album (and I've heard all of them); not coincidentally, it's their funniest.

9. Steinski, "It's Up to You (Television Mix)": Nothing Steinski has done solo has been as epochal as the Lessons he created with Double Dee and a cast of hundreds. Still, this assemblage, first put together around the time of the First Gulf War, lets us retrospectively extends the history of Bushisms. (Please let us snigger: small pleasures, small pleasures.)
10. No Age, "Brain Burner": Sucker for pretty that I am, I liked not loved Weirdo Rippers; I love Nouns.

Thirteen more: King Sunny Ade, "Nibi Lekeleke Gbe Nfosho" and "Ori Mmi Maje N'te" (medleys from Gems from the Classic Years); Nik Bärtsch's Ronin, "Modul 33" and "Modul 38_17"; Björk, "Declare Independence"; Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, "Lie Down Here (And Be My Girl)" and "We Call Upon the Author"; DJ Khaled ft. a bunch of people, one of whom is Lil Wayne, "We Takin' Over"; Lil Wayne, "Dr Carter" and "Dough Is What I Got"; Orchestra Baobab, "Ami Kita Bay"; Portishead, "Silence"; Santogold, "I'm a Lady".

Does this mark me as a hopeless urbaniser? I prefer Miley Cyrus to Taylor Swift.