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King Porter Stomp

Jelly Roll Morton - "King Porter Stomp" 1924
Benny Goodman and his All Stars- "King Porter Stomp" 1935
Pat Williams- "King Porter Stomp" 1968
Manhattan Transfer - "Stomp of King Porter" 1997
Wynton Marsalis - "King Porter Stomp" 1999

Women in Jazz

Billie Holliday- "They Can't Take That Away From Me"
Ella Fitzgerald - "Take the A Train"
Mary Lou Williams with Andy Kirk and his Twelve Clouds of Joy - "Mary's Idea"
Albinia Jones with Don Byas' Swinging Seven - "Evil Gal Blues"
Terri Lyne Carrington - "Mosaic Triad"

Jazz as Concert Music

Miles Davis- "So What"
Charlie Parker - "Ornithology"
Thelonious Monk w. John Coltrane "Bye-Ya"
Dizzy Gillespie - "Salt Peanuts"

Modern Jazz

The Bad Plus- "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
Esperanza Spalding - "Endangered Species"
Vijay Iyer - "Optimism"
Ikue Mori - "Invisible "Fingers"
Matana Roberts "Pov Piti" from Coin Coin vol. 1
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Because I am perverse, I structured my vidding panel around the reasons why you shouldn't vid jazz music. I had come up with a pretty good list of reasons before the panel:

-unstructured 'songs', not necessarily verse-chorus-verse-chorus
-many different versions of songs, no 'canonical' expected version from audience
-audience not as familiar with the music as with pop songs
-vidder not as familiar with the music as with pop songs
-sounds old-fashioned
-Can be hard to follow the melody
-syncopation/swing makes tricky rhythms to cut to
-Songs often much longer than typical vids
-concern to be sensitive about jazz as an African-American music and avoiding racism/appropriation
-not a lot of female musicians visible in the genre/misogyny in the music

The audience agreed that yes, these were all good reasons not to vid to jazz. We considered adjourning the panel right there. Instead, I tried to play a variety of kinds of jazz music to illustrate some ideas I had about how to overcome these problems. I didn't manage to mention all of my ideas in the panel, so these notes will constitute both an attempt to summarize what we talked about at the panel and an attempt to restructure the panel retrospectively so that it conforms more closely to its platonic ideal form.

The first set of music I played was five version of Jelly Roll Morton's classic jazz melody "King Porter Stomp." Composed in honor of his friend and fellow pianist Porter King in the early 1900s and first recorded by Morton in the early 1920s in the infancy of recorded jazz music, "King Porter Stomp" has had long, long legs as a jazz standard.

The playlist was

Jelly Roll Morton - "King Porter Stomp" 1924
Benny Goodman and his All Stars- "King Porter Stomp" 1935
Pat Williams- "King Porter Stomp" 1968
Manhattan Transfer - "Stomp of King Porter" 1997
Wynton Marsalis - "King Porter Stomp" 1999

By looking longitudinally at one song, we get to see the way jazz reinvents itself while retaining its history. Goodman's version is considered historically important as the kickoff of the big band era, at a seminal Los Angeles concert that told the record companies that swing would sell. The subsequent recordings retain specific and calculated quotations of both the Goodman and Morton arrangements- the Williams recording opens with the exact piano riff from the Morton version, the Manhattan Transfer version uses the Goodman arrangement but interpolates lyrics relating the story of the creation of the Morton version, and the Marsalis version returns to the original Morton arrangement only with a more highly prominent trumpet part and better recording fidelity and .

I had intended to talk more about the recording technology and the history of jazz, as I think it's actually important to keep in mind since jazz's history overlaps almost exactly with the history of recorded music. Until the mid 1940s, jazz was recorded to wax, which was then laboriously transferred to a metal master for pressing to 78 rpm vinyl. The result was mono both in recording and playback: If you wanted to 'mix' different instruments you did so by literally rearranging the musicians with respect to the recording head, moving the horns to the back to keep them from drowning out quieter instruments and so on.

In the '40s, three technologies emerged in parallel that changed this: the electronic microphone allowed instruments to be recorded individually with different recording settings, magnetic tape allowed those recordings to be separately edited and mixed and overdubbed, and the LP allowed those recordings to be played back at a substantially higher fidelity. As a bonus, the LP gave musicians the choice of either writing multiple songs to fill a side, or for the first time recording songs longer than ~ 3 minutes. The technology changed the way jazz was performed once artists assimilated the new capabilities.

So if you are looking to use a jazz song from the '20s or '30s, one of your difficulties is that it's going to sound like shit, and it's specifically going to sound old fashioned, because that grainy, mono sound is what we think of when we think of old fashioned music. You have several ways of dealing with this. One is to embrace it. If you're vidding a 1920s fandom, or vidding something more modern that you want to sound old fashioned, then choosing something recorded to wax will give you the sound you're looking for. The other alternative is to look at recordings like the Marsalis recording- there are musicians today who are recording consciously nostalgic versions of classic jazz songs, with the latest and greatest new recording technology.

The other thing we pointed out about the set of "King Porter Stomp" covers is that the song is a dance song, with a straightforward 4:4 time signature, obvious and repeated jazz form, and a lot of elements that make it fairly unintimidating to vidders compared to a lot of jazz music. In the late '40s and into the '50s, jazz was transformed from primarily being a dance music to being as much a concert music for sitting and listening to as a dance music. The next set of music I played was a collection of jazz music from this period of transition, highlighting the new sounds coming into jazz: Trickier rhythms, stranger harmonies and dissonances, faster note patterns. Music not consistent enough to dance to, but music that relied on the individual voices of its lead practitioners to tell expressive, emotional stories through music.

The playlist was:

Miles Davis- "So What"
Charlie Parker - "Ornithology"
Thelonious Monk w. John Coltrane "Bye-Ya"
Dizzy Gillespie - "Salt Peanuts"

To counter comments from the audience about the difficulty of finding structure in these more musically complex pieces, I pointed to specific structures common in jazz music, like the precomposed call and response passage that opens "So What", a technique originating in jazz's history as a music inspired by African folk traditions, and a technique we'd come back to in the Modern Jazz playlist to follow. I also pointed to examples of improvisional structures such as 'trading fours', the technique of two soloists altenrately improvising four measures back and forth. I also pointed out that the classic AABA 32 bar pop song form and 12 bar blues song form don't go away in this concert jazz era, it's just that rather than repeating the melody each time, the chord progression is what's repeated, embellished and revoiced to suit the individuality of the soloists. Someone in the audience pointed out that this individuality of instrumental expression offers opportunities for vidders to associate particular instrumental parts with themes or characters.

It was particularly hard for me to cut these songs down to a minute or so, because their overall structures play out over the full scale of the song.

The next set I played was Women of Jazz, to present some female voices, both singers and instrumentalists, as a counter to the idea that jazz is this male-driven genre. Because I do think this is a problem for vidders, who are predominantly women. This set also let me revisit some genres and techniques otherwise not as well covered by my music choices- Ella Fitzgerald's song highlighted the use of vocalese or scat, a technique of singing nonsense syllables that offers tremendous potential value to vidders who are often thwarted by that one lyric that undermines our whole vid. "Take the A Train" is also the prototypical 32 bar song, and "Evil Gal Blues" is a prototypical blues, so it let me talk more about the importance of those song structures to jazz music, and to consider those structures if you need to cut down a song. Meanwhile, Mary Lou Williams let me bring in some more swing music that wasn't "KIng Porter Stomp", and Terri Lyne Carrington introduced listeners for the first time in the panel to contemporary jazz sounds.

The playlist was:

Billie Holliday- "They Can't Take That Away From Me"
Ella Fitzgerald - "Take the A Train"
Mary Lou Williams with Andy Kirk and his Twelve Clouds of Joy - "Mary's Idea"
Albinia Jones with Don Byas' Swinging Seven - "Evil Gal Blues"
Terri Lyne Carrington - "Mosaic Triad"

I concluded with a set of music from the last ten years or so, contemporary jazz in some of its multifarious forms.

The playlist was:

The Bad Plus- "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
Esperanza Spalding - "Endangered Species"
Vijay Iyer - "Optimism"
Ikue Mori - "Invisible "Fingers"
Matana Roberts "Pov Piti" from Coin Coin vol. 1

It's a bare sampler of the diversity of modern jazz, but it at least hints at all the directions jazz is heading in, use of electronics alongside acoustic instruments in Ikue Mori's music, use of rock and roll idioms in the music of Iyer and the Bad Plus, use of funk and soul idiom alongside jazz improv in Spalding's music, the incorporation of spoken elements in "Pov Piti" and the consciousness of modern political struggle. And I pointed out that the opening call and response between piano and bass in the Bad Plus "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is an almost explicit homage to Miles Davis's "So What", that no matter how much jazz pushes in new directions, what makes it jazz is its awareness of its history and its relentless reinterpretation of that history.

So I think the bottom line of the panel was that jazz is a terrible music to vid, but it's awesome music, and the more you learn about how jazz works, its context and its history and its structure, the easier it will be to overcome the inherent difficulties it presents to vidders. That's not necessarily an easy answer, there's no great and simple technique that solves all the problems, but different jazz music suffers from different problems, and in this way the diversity of jazz is a tremendous asset to vidders.

I will post a download link for all this music once I'm back at home after Worldcon.

Also, [personal profile] settiai posted notes on the jazz panel
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Yet the gods do not give lightly of the powers they have made
And with Challenger and seven, once again the price is paid
Though a nation watched her falling, yet a world could only cry
As they passed from us to glory, riding fire in the sky

I skippped out of the Dreamwidth meetup at Loncon for a half hour, making apologies to [personal profile] liv and [personal profile] starlady and others, to see Jordin Kare's filk concert. It left me weeping in sadness in places, and laughing in delight in others. I bought a CD from him afterward and thanked him for his music.

For the engineer sighed as he studied those plans
And he read the demented designer's demands
Then he called in his techs and he said to his crew
This guy seems to think that there's jobs we can't do
And parts we can't build so let's give him a thrill
We'll build his machine and then send him the bill

I'm sad to hear Dr. Kare passed away the other day. His music and his science inspired me constantly.
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For [personal profile] morbane

A Playlist of Interesting Instrumental Music

"River Pulse" - Anoushka Shankar

Shankar is ravishingly, ferociously talented on the sitar, in ways that feel so individualistic that comparisons to her famous sitarist father don't seem useful.

"Carmen Fantasie- Movement 1" - Anne Sophie Mutter

I love the whole thing, a virtuoso violin adaptation of themes from Bizet's opera, and I particularly love Mutter's rendition, but here, have a taste and see if you can choose not to seek out of the rest.

"Death by Triple Fiddle"- Edgar Meyer, Joshua Bell, Sam Bush, Mike Marshall

-So many fiddles! So fast! And Joshua Bell's electrifying solo!

"Mah Yedidus" - Andy Statman and co.

-I just mentioned Statman's concert last week. This song... It's a bluegrass rendition of a Jewish song traditionally sung at Shabbat lunch. I love the fusion so much.

"Caravan" - Fanfare Ciocarla

-Romanian wedding band cover of a Duke Ellington classic

"King Porter Stomp" - Wynton Marsalis

-An elegant modern take on one of the THE essential jazz tunes... which honestly I am putting here because I HATEd leaving it off the playlist I made for [personal profile] liv.

Download morbane's playlist here

For [personal profile] bookherd

A Playlist of Songs I Can Listen to On Indefinite Repeat When I Have A Headache

"Twinklebell Canon" by Rodney Farrar's Fat Notes

-Cello choir mashup of Pachelbel's Canon and Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. It actually works, trust me.

"Vexation of Erik Satie" - Jean-Yves Thibaudet

-A ridiculous piano piece that comes with instructions to play 840 repeats. Needless to say, it's not been performed in its entirety many times, and it's unclear if Satie ever really intended for it to be performed, but it hits a nice balance for me between repetitive and having enough harmonic content to hold a tiny part of your brain occupied.

"U Smile Slowed Down 800%" by Justin Bieber

-This was a weird viral hit a few years ago, and I actually wrote a whole NaNo novel while listening to this on repeat. It's freakishly soothing.

"Sakura, Sakura" by Chanticleer

-Honestly you can't go wrong with anything by Chanticleer, right? This is a Japanese folk melody.

"Untitled 1" by Sigur Ros

-From their weird Hopelandic album (), spacy and gorgeous, with a clear sense that the band is operating in a different paradigm of time.

Download bookherd's playlist here
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For [personal profile] liv

A Playlist of Jazz from the Last 20 Years

This turned out to be harder to make than I thought it would be... I cut a lot of great music to keep the time down to something sort of reasonable.

"Sleeping Wild" by Norah Jones

-Wonderfully insistent bass line, perfect minimalist piano solo, and simple, affecting vocals from Jones... a song that looks like it could've been song from her debut album except that the musicianship is better in every way.

"Hadasha" by Electric Masada

-Mutated version of the Klezmer/Avant Garde jazz fusion that John Zorn pioneered in the early '90s with Masada. This is from an early '2000s concert held in honor of Zorn's 50th birthday. A set of inspired musicians led by guitarist Marc Ribot, percussionists Cyro Baptista and Joey Barron, with extra weirdness contributed by Ikue Mori. And of course some wonderful saxophone from Zorn, reminding you at times of how much he's taken from Coltrane.

"Umbrella" by Postmodern Jukebox ft. Casey Abrams

- Um... It is a jazz cover of the Rihanna hit. Because it's silly. With winks to the standard "Singing in the Rain" for extra fun.

"Bear Town" by Polar Bear

-I originally was going to have both Polar Bear and Basquiat Strings hold down the fort for modern experimental jazz, but realized that was kind of redundant, since Seb Rochford drums for both. I went with this song, which has one of the best grooves of either band.

"Pointless Nostalgic" by Jamie Cullum

-For my money, Cullum is the best of the modern standards singers, with a bright tone and a willingness to borrow selectively from modern pop without sounding like he's trying too hard to create a crossover hit.

"Transit" by Darcy James Argue's Secret Society

-It's an argument that the big band is not yet dead. And a pretty convincing one, if you ask me.

"Transformation" by Terri Lyne Carrington

-Off "The Mosaic Project", an album featuring a range of female vocalists and an all-female jazz/funk band helmed by drummer Carrington. This song features vocals from Nona Hendryx of the soul trio Labelle.

"Optimism" by Vijay Iyer

-I struggled for a while trying to decide which song from Accelerando I wanted to include here, because I love the whole album so much. Iyer's piano sound is so exciting.

Download Liv's Playlist here

For [personal profile] chaila

A Playlist of Music That Could Maybe Possibly Be Wonder Woman Vidsongs??!?

Yeah, I dunno, [personal profile] chaila and I choose vidsongs based on such different criteria that the odds I give her anything useful are pretty low, but hopefully the songs are enjoyable on their own terms.

"Oxygen" by Renee Fleming

-"I wanna be cooler than T.V. / For all the kids that are wondering what they're going to be" List of previous fannish characters I have suggested vidding this song to: CJ Cregg, Birgitte Nyborg, Kara Danvers.

"Naima" by Karrin Allyson

-Lovely vocal cover of John Coltrane's ode to his wife.

"Legends" by Julia Ecklar

-"I remember Apollo, / Who flew the chariot of the Sun. / And I wonder of the legends they will tell / A thousand years from now."

"No Anthems" by Sleater-Kinney

-"To feel rhythm in silence / A weapon not violence / A power, power source". Also Sleater-Kinney for all the vidsongs!

"One of the Boys" by Gretchen Wilson

-"But I still got this little girl inside of me / That likes to be treated like a queen". A song where you'd have to work against the regressive country-music-ness of it, but I think all of the problem lyrics are at least potentially workable.

"We Can Rise" by Chana Rothman

-"Where on Earth will my help come from? / I come from heaven/ I come from Earth / I come from life / I come from my birth." Also, Hebrew for Gal Gadot? (Adapted from Psalm 121, fwiw)

"Sunrise" by Jefferson Starship

-"Two thousand years / Of your / God damned / Glory" Because Grace Slick is the best. And fuck the patriarchy.

"Laughing With" by Regina Spektor

-"But God can be funny/ at a cocktail party when listening to a good God-themed joke." Because Diana's divinity is so interesting and complicated.

Download Chaila's Playlist here

[personal profile] morbane, your playlist may take another couple of days.
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I haven't done this in a few years, and I had fun the last time...

Comment on this post and I'll make you a playlist. If you want to specify things you are looking for musically, you can, otherwise I'll just surprise you.
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I did something this week I'd been meaning to do since I was in college: Went to one of Andy Statman's regular residence gigs at the Charles Street shul in the Village. He's been in residence there since, like, the late 90s, and I spent four years in the mid '00s just a half mile east, and I knew he was playing shows, and I knew I loved Andy Statman's music like burning, but I never managed to do it. Because his weekly gig was on Thursday nights and Thursday nights were usually frisbee team practice in Union Square, I think.

Statman is a klezmer clarinetist and bluegrass mandolinist and sometimes a jewgrass mandolinist/clarinetist. He plays both instruments with prodigious speed and fluency, and more importantly, with tremendous soul and spirit. He was a student of the great klezmer clarinetist Dave Tarras and became one of the great proponents of the '70s klezmer revival.

I came across one of his albums in the library last week and said "Hey, I wonder if he's still playing at Charles Street" and I checked and he was, so I went in to the City to see the show.

The concerts are in the tiny and cramped basement of the shul, with Hebrew school posters of the Alef Bes on the walls. There was a bottle of vodka and some pareve cookies on a table, apparently for anybody who wanted to take. They didn't take admission, but at intermission the shul president asked everyone who could afford it for a fifteen dollar donation. When a woman tried to give him a twenty, he forced her to take change. It was, in short, one of the most heimishe concerts I've ever been at.

And the music was splendid, an opening set of klezmer with Statman blowing beautiful strings of notes on his clarinet along with his trio of bassist Jim Whitney and drummer Larry Eagle (Highlighted by 'the Lobster song', supposed a song played by Romanian Jewish lobstermen in early 20th century Maine while they gathered their treif bounty), followed by an instrumental bluegrass set. They were later joined by visiting guitarist and bluegrass singer Gene Yellin for a handful of songs. They made up the setlist as they want along, sometimes just strumming a chord or a simple melody to get the rest of the band on the same page. Yellin wanted to play a couple of songs that Whitney and Eagle didn't know- Whitney told Yellin and Statman- "You two get started, we'll either figure it out and catch up or we won't." Spoiler alert: They figured it out.

The whole experience was a blast, getting to hear such great music in such a low key setting. I need to go back again when I get a chance.
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I bought it a couple months ago, but I've finally given Norah Jones's latest, Day Breaks, a few listens in the past few days. It's quite an impressive album.

The media around it has talked about it as a return to the sounds of her full length debut "Come Away With Me". Aside from the ubiquitousness of "Don't Know Why", "Come Away With Me" was not my first introduction to Jones and is still not my favorite mode of Norah Jones, though I do think it's also an exceptional piece of work. Each piece of it is a small mastercraft unto itself, a little story that doesn't push very hard but knows exactly what it is and where it lives in the history of jazz and pop. After that and the sudden success it afforded her, Jones created a marvelously odd set of albums bouncing off in all sorts of surprising and exciting musical directions, and I caught on that Jones was something more than just a pop-jazz songstress.

Purely in the sense of genre, Day Breaks is a return home to the language of "Come Away With Me", but Day Breaks is a very different, and in my opinion much better album. The musicianship both of Jones and her accompanists is worlds better, and conscious of this improvement in quality, the mixing brings the instruments more to the fore and blends Jones's stellar, remarkably controlled vocals deeper into the ensemble mix. There is a sharpness and a precision in the sound that isn't there on "Come Away With Me" that comes of bringing musicians of Wayne Shorter's caliber to play with Jones, and more importantly, comes of having producers involved with the musical intelligence to understand how to take advantage of bringing in people of that caliber (Jones co-produced the album herself- clearly she knows a thing or two she didn't know fifteen years ago).

I'm always going to love it more when Norah Jones makes weird shit with her friends like El Madmo, in which a group of brilliant musicians perform the perfect deliberately bad punk album (A song like "Carlo" is such a studied contradiction, with remarkable guitar work playing stupid-obvious chords and controlled vocals shout-singing the absolute dumbest punk lyrics). But if Norah Jones wants to return to her most commercial fare, this is absolutely the way to do it.
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So this is about the time where traditionally (You do something twice and it becomes a tradition) I post a playlist for [personal profile] bookherd of the best new songs I found this year.

But I thought about it and realized that it's just Beyonce's "Lemonade". All of it. From her performance of "Formation" at the Super Bowl to the release of the visual album to just many, many listens over the course of the year, "Lemonade" dominated my musical consciousness. Every song has something to offer, every song has something to say.

"Hold On" and "Sorry" are my favorite songs, and I've listened to them the most, but the rest of the album has textures and themes I keep returning to depending on my mood. If you haven't listened to "Lemonade" yet, you should.
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Terry Riley's "In C" is a really special piece of music. It consists of about fifty short snippets of music, all of course in the key of C, to be performed by any number of musicians, in order, but each of the snippets is to be played any number of times, at the discretion of each of the performers. The result is amazing, a tug of war between musicians that will never turn out the same way twice. The piece can be as short as twenty minutes, or over an hour in length.

I got minorly obsessed with it last year and collected about ten different recordings, all of which I've listened to multiple times. It astonishes me how the same piece of sheet music can yield so many different interpretations, and each of the interpretations astonishes me on its own as an expression of musical joy and creativity. What I have always loved most is the moments of overlap, where some musicians have moved on to the next snippet while others are still playing the last one.

A high school friend invited me to see the Darmstadt Ensemble play it live at le Poisson Rouge last night and I could not say yes fast enough.

And it was a blast, a performance that lasted over an hour, some thirty musicians playing and singing for the love of it for a rapt, packed crowd. And though what I have always loved most about "In C" is those moments of overlap, what caught me seeing it live was something else. The moments of overlap represent the negotiation. Riley has, of course, ceded some of the composer's power to each of the musicians. In order for music to emerge, they must negotiate with each other to decide how to perform. And I've always loved listening to that negotiation, the back and forth, the disagreements. But what was coolest about Darmstadt's performance was not the negotiation, but the eventual agreements that emerged, those times when the whole group found itself together again. Those were moments of the highest kind of musical communion, ecstatic celebrations of the power of music.
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Last year I made a playlist for [personal profile] bookherd of my favorite songs from 2014. Here's the 2015 version.

Favorite Songs of 2015

-"Elevator Operator" by Courtney Barnett. "Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit" was my favorite new album this year, which should be of little surprise as I've posted about it several times and written fic for "Pedestrian at Best". I was torn between putting "Elevator Operator" here or putting "Pedestrian at Best" here or both, but my gut tells me "Elevator Operator" is a step up. The inversions it takes you through, with such wicked lyrical precision... it is a deep song disguised as something petty and insignificant, or vice versa.

-"Young Moses" by Josh Ritter, the best song on Ritter's new album, and it is no surprise a new Ritter album means a place on my best of 2015 list. I love what this song says about American faith in the context of traditional faith, and also faith as a journey of constantly growing.

-"Ready to Get Down" by Josh Ritter, the other best song on Ritter's new album. My favorite thing here is Ritter's riffs through Biblical storylines: "It's four long years studyin' the bible,/ Infidels, Jezebels, Salomes and Delilahs" and later "Every little thing they ever hoped you'd never figure out/ The Red Sea, the Dead Sea, the Sermon on the Mount." This is a song about how the antidote to bad religion is actually READING THE FUCKING BIBLE.

-"Lincoln's Nigun/ Yamin U'smol" by the Joey Weisenberg and the Mechon Hadar Ensemble, which has unexpectedly stolen my headspace for the past week after a friend posted a live recording on Facebook. It's a lovely melody, and the album cut is gorgeous, but the live cut is what really does it for me. It was recorded at SCI, a weeklong seminar in using Jewish song to uplift Jewish communities and hearing dozens of Jews singing together out of the pure joy of singing is just wonderful.

-"The Ascendant: No. 1. The Beginning And" by Wally Gunn, performed by Roomful of Teeth, setting of a poem by Maria Zajkowski. This was so lovely that I sought out the poetry book it's from, a small volume of simple but marvelously composed poems about death and what comes after. Unsurprisingly, Roomful of Teeth knocks it out of the park.

-"Somebody Will" by Ada Palmer, performed by Heather Dale. The original Sassafrass version is amazing, but isn't from 2015 but Heather Dale's new cover is pretty great, too. I first met this song at Balticon, when Jo Walton introduced it as her favorite song and asked Sassafrass to perform it as part of her Guest of Honor Q&A. It speaks so much to the geek's sense of purpose, that there is a meeting of the mind's between being dreamers and being practical workers toward a better future.

"No Anthems" by Sleater-Kinney... It was such a joy to hear Sleater-Kinney reunite this year, picking up their place in the culture as if a decade hadn't happened.

"Foreign Object" by the Mountain Goats because of all the lulz. Such a delightfully danceable melody, such delightfully murderous lyrics.
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Josh Ritter's new album is out today, "Sermon on the Rocks", and I can't wait to listen. I thought I'd do a quick review of Ritter's discography.

-Josh Ritter- his eponymous self-published debut was my first encounter with Ritter, from the sample tracks posted on for free download. "Potter's Wheel" has held mindspace for me continuously in the fifteen years since- the rolling chord progression makes the whole thing feel cyclic and insistent and makes me ruminate on the mysteries of life. "Hotel Song", less impressive on its own, remains memorable to me for a concert performance where Ritter interrupted the song to tell a story about grave robbing.

-The Golden Age of Radio- actually the third Ritter album I listened to, after Hello Starling, it's Ritter's best pure folk album, particularly in its fully acoustic guise. "Harrisburg" I like to say is the best railroad ballad written in this century, and while that's a peculiar distinction it makes it no less powerful and evocative a song.

-Hello Starling- most of the music I found on in its heyday as a source for interesting indie music, I lost track of the musicians after the demise of the site. When I found Hello Starling in Tower Records (RIP as well), I was excited to learn that Ritter had gone on to better things, especially once I listened and heard how impressive it was. It's still probably my favorite end-to-end Ritter album, and "Kathleen" is still my favorite Ritter song, with its sharp and memorable lyrics and evocative portrait of making the best of unrequited love. But from start to finish it is fully of songs that put a smile on my face, from "Bright Smile"'s charming seduction to "Bone of Song"'s meta meditation on storytelling's power to "Wings"'s post-apocalyptic landscape.

-The Animal Years- the only Ritter album that gives Hello Starling a run for its money, sharply bookended by the brilliant "Girl in the War" and the terrifyingly passionate "Thin Blue Flame". It's an album of the late Bush years, and it is deeply about the politics of the era, but it's not a polemic in any fashion. It's a collection of songs about faith and doubt and love in the face of terror and fear. I've seen "Thin Blue Flame" live twice- once it was plaintive, a prayer for a certainty we know we'll likely never have. The other time, it was angry, furious about a world so broken that prayers seem to have no effect. Both ways it was mesmerizing, eight minutes of building emotion to a powerful payoff.

-The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter- Evolving out of the heavier sound developed in "Thin Blue Flame", and taking advantage of the solidification of Ritter's Royal City Band in the aftermath, marks the beginning of a shift in Ritter's music from folk-rock toward more songs that are more clearly in a full rock 'n roll vein. Overall, the songs are less memorable than Hello Starling or The Animal Years, but there is one clear advantage to the rock-ier songs- they make for a more danceable concert. And there's one notable exception to all this: "The Temptation of Adam", a song which I have written fic for twice because it's such an amazing story and it's so well-told. It's about lovers in a nuclear missile silo contemplating ending the world so their love can endure till the end of days, chilling and disturbing and yet somehow really, really believable. It's also the song that probably introduced a lot of fandom to Ritter by way of [personal profile] isagel's "The Temptation of John Sheppard", one of my all-time favorite fanvids.

So Runs the World Away- Likely my least favorite Ritter album, it does at least have the mummy love story of "The Curse", but it doesn't have much else worth remarking on.

The Beast in its Tracks- Ritter's post-divorce album, it's more introspective than the albums that precede it and it's mostly maybe a little too personal, a little too hard to connect with. But "Joy to You Baby" is I think Ritter's best song since "Kathleen", with the lyrics perfect and memorable and clever while still being incredible emotionally resonant as a story about letting go of a relationship and trying to feel good about it despite the pain. And here I'll once more mention my own Ritter fanwork, a Fringe vid that uses the sharp sense of place in "Joy to You Baby" to resonate with the AU NYC of Season 5 Fringe.
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In memory of the great Yossi Piamenta, a playlist of songs of yearning for the Redemption, including Piamenta Band's "Yalla Mashiach".

Download here
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Ornette Coleman's "Tone Dialing" came out in 1995, but I probably didn't discover it until around 2000. I still don't universally love the album, but there were enough surprising and delightful things on it, particularly a reinterpretation of a Bach Prelude, that it stuck in my head. It blended funk and jazz and 1990s electronica with surety and style.

Eventually, of course, I was led to Coleman's "Free Jazz" by a co-worker on one of my college internships. Now that was a revelation. Over the last decade, I've probably listened to the whole forty minute thing a dozen times, when I'm looking for creative inspiration. Last time was about a year ago. It's still so fresh sounding, so original, so expressive. I think that last is the most striking thing about "Free Jazz"... I hadn't realized, before my first listen, that music was capable of saying the things that "Free Jazz" says. Its exuberance, its playfulness, its sense of freedom, remains unrivaled.

Coleman's death is a great loss.

Music Post

Apr. 13th, 2015 10:16 pm
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I saw The Mountain Goats last night at City Winery. It was fantastic.

The Mountain Goats new album is a concept album about wrestling, which is intriguing. As I think I mentioned in a recent post where I mentioned this, I like the idea of wrestling, of storytelling made physical, more than I actually enjoy watching wrestling programming. The thing I thought was interesting about the songs from the new album that Darnielle played was that they committed to kayfabe a lot more than I thought they would. I figured Darnielle's angle would be behind-the-scenes, telling stories about the lives of the wrestlers, and to a degree he did, like "Southwest Territory", but he also had songs that were in-character, or at least mostly in-character, like "Werewolf Gimmick" ("a song about a wrestler who has a werewolf gimmick") and "Foreign Object".

In a way, it's a little perverse that I love the Mountain Goats. John Darnielle is one of the ultimate creative anarchists, and my aesthetic preoccupations are almost always obsessed with form. Darnielle doesn't subvert form- he flat out isn't interested in form. During both covers he played during the show- Ozzy Osbourne's "Shot in the Dark" and the Grateful Dead's "St. Stephen"- he stopped in the middle of the song to ramble about his interpretation of the lyrics. He claimed to have retooled the band's orchestrations in a stripped down form just that afternoon, and while I've heard other claims like that from bands at concerts that I put down just to showmanship, I'm pretty sure Darnielle wasn't lying- the band was too discombulated for it to have been a total lie. He told the crowd at another point that he'd put an audible into the show- a place he'd worked out with the sound people where he could choose to play one of two songs. And as he was explaining this, he was very clearly working out in his head which of the two songs he wanted to play.

The early Mountain Goats shows were famously anarchic venues for Darnielle's musical whims, but playing with a full band and touring a new album, this show was clearly about the internal struggle between Darnielle's raging inability to be consistent and the responsibilities of his fame. The result was entertaining, particularly because the Mountain Goats have so many good songs that whatever Darnielle chooses to play at any given moment, you're going to get something good.

He played "This Year", famous for the brutal chorus "I am going to make it through this year if it kills me." He played murder ballads and broken love songs and songs about the brutality of professional wrestling and a song about endangered species. He didn't sing "No Children" because he didn't have to. The band just played it and the entire crowd sang the song while Darnielle walked around the room, high fiving people and gesticulating wildly. It was just a lot of fun.

I know I promised a baseball playlist for opening day, but I'm sorry, Pesach was distracting. Here it is now.

1. Joltin Joe DiMaggio by Les Brown and his Band of Renown

Everything about this song is perfect, from the sound effects to the name "Band of Renown" to the fact that it's a song about how awesome Joe DiMaggio is at hitting the ball.

2. Van Lingle Mungo by Dave Frishberg

This song is just a catalog of old timey baseball names. Van Lingle Mungo actually was a pitcher. And I actually knew that before I knew this song existed, because I'm a baseball nerd. But this song is awesome because of how these almost nonsense sounds are invested with meaning by our shared baseball fandom.

3. Pastime by The Baseball Project

The non-famous guys from REM singing a song about the history and legacy of baseball. I think I particularly like it because its random sweep of baseball history means I don't need to include Terry Cashman's "Talkin' Baseball" on this playlist.

4. Tessie by the Dropkick Murphy's

Yes, yes, I know, I'm a Yankee fan. But look this song is catchy and fun, and then you add in the backstory and it's perfect: "Tessie" was a vaudeville hit adopted by Red Sox fans in the early 20th century as a theme song of a fan club called the Royal Rooters. After nearly a century without a championship, the so-called Curse of the Bambino was broken the very year that the Dropkick Murphy's did a punk cover of "Tessie" that featured several Red Sox players on the chorus. This song is literally magic.

5. Take Me Out to the Ballgame by St. Paul School

Because this version is adorable.

6. Rincon by Dan Bern

Entering the extended Dan Bern part of this playlist. This is my new favorite song about baseball, though I'm not sure I can explicate why. It's a narrative about stalking a past-his-prime, cheating Barry Bonds to a medical clinic where he may have gone to seek a 'magic cure' to the old age that is finally dragging his skills down to Earth. It's a song about the lies we tell ourselves about baseball and life, it's a song about compulsions and desires and our failure to live moral and rational lives. It is a bleak, terrible song, and yet I don't read it bleakly. The magic cure doesn't exist, and Montezuma won't find his gold, and Columbus won't find the new world, and in seeking desire without any limits, we only leave destruction in our wakes. But that's life, and the rain will wash it away to give us another chance tomorrow.

7. The Year By Year Home Run Totals of Barry Bonds

Precisely what it says on the tin. The numbers themselves are marvelous, without any adornment. One suspects that Bern's "Doubleheader" was supposed to be a Barry Bonds concept album that he couldn't quite flesh out, but the Bonds songs that Bern has are uniformly magnificent. The other song, the one I'm not including, is a dirge about Bonds's World Series appearance, in 2002.

8. Merkle by Dan Bern

Fred Merkle was a New York Giant who famously made a baserunning error that cost the Giants the pennant. This is a song about dwelling on failure to an almost obsessive extent, that marvelously droning chorus "Merkel shoulda touched second base." repeating and repeating until it has no meaning left.

9. The Game by the Damn Yankees cast

Because baseball is a game that worms its way deep inside you until you have feelings that you can't control.

Download baseball songs

And on another line, I want to recommend Courtney Barnett's new album "Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit". On "Pedestrian at Best", the album's best song, she sounds like a really, really good Nirvana rip off. At other places, her discursive storytelling, precise phrasing, and wicked vocabulary remind me of Dan Bern, Craig Finn, Joanna Newsom, and other favorite musicians. It's a really awesome set of songs.
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Stuck at work waiting for software to update, so let's talk about life.

Passover so far has been pretty excellent. I have successfully kept up my Omer count so far!

First night seder was at my aunt and uncle's house across town. Second night seder was at my parents' house. Food was great and in massive, impossible quantities both nights, and had some interesting conversations about the historical context of B'nei Brak seder with a goyish labmate of my cousin who was there the first night. He asked why we don't still eat Karban Pesach, which is one of my favorite questions ever. It's so interesting to me to imagine a Judaism that did eat Karban Pesach even after the Churban, and to wonder what that Judaism would look like and whether it would have survived.

At the second seder, I used my new shiny Asufa Haggadah, which was beautiful. I loved turning a page and being stunned by both the beauty of the art and by the reinterpretation of the meaning of the page it forced upon me. The seder as a board game with a series of steps that must be followed in order to win. Hallel as a drunken outcry of joy for the redemption. Chad Gadya as a dizzying and deadly duel with the Malach Hamavet.

My cousin was back from having made aliyah less than a year ago, with stories of the election and her life on the Tel Aviv beaches. My sister shared stories of her engagement and wedding preparations. My father ranted against Obama. My uncle wisecracked under his breath. It was family, for good and for bad. I missed my grandfather, but not as much as I'd expected I would.

I was born on second seder night, thirty years ago- my mother literally leaving the seder to go to the hospital. So we had chocolate pesach cake at the seder to celebrate. Tuesday was my birthday on the Gregorian calendar, marked by a terrible pesach seven layer cake. I'll mark the birthday with my friends next Tuesday, when I'll be able to eat real cake and real beer. I don't really believe you can have a real birthday celebration without those two things.

On Sunday, I've got tickets to see the Mountain Goats. Their (I never know which pronoun to use for bands with plural names but functionally only one performer) new album, which comes out this week, is apparently about professional wrestling, and I haven't listened to it yet, but hell, I'll go see John Darnielle sing songs about professional wrestling if that's what he wants to do. I'd go see John Darnielle sing about much stranger things. Pro wrestling is one of those things where the concept was always more appealing than the actuality. I love reading ABOUT pro wrestling, I love people dissecting the angles, but I don't actually enjoy watching it. So in all likelihood I will enjoy hearing John Darnielle sing about pro wrestling.

And um... that's life. Besides work, which is a sinkhole of misery from which I cannot escape. No, not really, but it would be nice if my boss had some comprehension of the fact that when he gives me a tight deadline and I say "Okay, that's tight, but I can manage it," I don't mean "I can still manage it if you also give me five other things to do." Oh well, the deadline will slip and he will just have to live with his frustration or hire another damned engineer like he's been saying he will for the past year.
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It turns out that a couple years ago, Dan Bern released an album of baseball songs. Doubleheader

I've loved Dan Bern since I found his eponymous album a decade ago, but I think this may be my favorite Dan Bern thing ever. It is also the greatest baseball album I've ever seen, by miles. The songs aren't just about fans and their relationship to baseball, they're also about baseball and its relationship to culture, politics, society. There are some absolutely magnificent songs here.

I'm planning to put up a baseball playlist for Opening Day, so you'll get to take a listen to the best songs then.
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There are two concerts I didn't attend that are on my list of regrets. There are many other concerts I would have liked to have gone to, but these two took place when I was a student in NYC. I knew about them ahead of time. I wanted to go, could have afforded to go, had the time to go. And then... busy with school, forgetful, whatever, I didn't actually go. Those two concerts were Sonic Youth's last show at CBGB's before CB's closed, and Sleater-Kinney's Brooklyn show on their final tour.

I've still never seen Sonic Youth play, but I've seen Thurston Moore solo, which I figure counts for something. I'd always assumed I'd missed my chance to see Sleater-Kinney, but they got back together this past year to record a new album, and they're touring it right now, and I bought tickets for their NYC show the day I learned this.

The show was amazing. Carrie Brownstein pranced around the stage like the rock star she is. SHE FUCKING WINDMILLED ON ONE OF THE ENCORES. Janet Weiss anchored everything with her wonderful, driving, off-kilter drumming. And Corin Tucker... well, I can't remember the last time I saw a performer so amazingly present in her performance. Her intensity was what fueled most of the show's most memorable moments. It was like she had something inside her that she needed to let out and she just released it, to share it with us.

They played a mix of new and old songs. I only have extensive knowledge of four of their albums including the new one, so I didn't recognize everything, but they hit everything I wanted to hear- "Jumpers", "One Beat", "What's Mine is Yours", "No City to Love", "Surface Envy", "No Anthems", and so on. I'd worried we wouldn't get "Modern Girl", since it's not what I would call concert friendly, but we got it as part of the encore, as a joyously ironic singalong with the whole entire crowd. Which was the best way to get "Modern Girl" I could have asked for.

Terminal 5, which I'd never been to before, is a massive warehouse-feeling club in Hell's Kitchen. And the show was sold out and it was packed so tightly that dancing was mostly limited to vertical movements. There was an enormous crowd of people who were all passionate about the music and the band and also what S-K means culturally, and I'm just so glad I got a chance to sort of right my regret about that concert a decade ago.
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Tonight I'm going to Rossini's La Donna del Lago at the Metropolitan Opera, and I'm going to see Sleater-Kinney at Terminal 5 on Thursday. I'm hoping I'm capable of the emotional transition between bel canto and riot-grrl punk in one day. We'll see. :D :D :D

[personal profile] freeradical42 has been trying to persuade me to go to Balticon. It's Memorial Day Weekend, which is Shavuos, so I was not all that high on the idea. It's tough to go to a Con where you lose a day to Shabbos, so imagine three days of the Con being restricted to not doing melacha! Also, I like to actually celebrate Shavuos, so spending time doing Con-stuff might take me out of the spirit of the day. But they ARE scheduling services at the Con, and we were bandying the idea of doing a SF-themed Tikkun Leil Shavuos at the Con, and... [personal profile] freeradical42 emailed them and they were okay with giving us a room and listing it in the program, so it looks like that might actually happen.

Tikkun Leil Shavuos is the tradition of staying up all night on the first night of Shavuos studying Torah. I've only managed it three or four times, but it's amazing, and the prospect of doing it in the context of a SF con is really, really exciting to me. Our brainstorming googledoc has all sorts of cool ideas for shiurim, from the kashrut of fantasy animals to the optics of Rav Sheshet's eye lasers to the medieval Rabbinic contributions to astronomy.
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A The Bad Plus Playlist for [personal profile] elipie

1. "Seven Minute Mind" by the Bad Plus

-Becaus Ethan Iverson's driving piano melody that opens off the track rocks hard, but it's the way they disrupt that piano melody, again and again, in different and jarring ways, that really makes this song rock. I think I particularly like the last few bars, where the melody slows down painstakingly arrythmically. It's almost like a musical heart attack.

2. "Lithium" by the Bad Plus

-Because the affinity between Nirvana and The Bad Plus is strong and because this is one of a tiny handful of songs where The Bad Plus let another musician infiltrate the tight intimacy of their trio, and it is a breath of exciting, fresh air. Also, Reid Anderson on bass, ladies and gentlemen.

3. "The Radio Has a Beating Heart" by the Bad Plus

-Because it's the first track of their first album of all originals, and it is dreamy and relaxed and spacy while still being a pulsing Bad Plus song. It tries to be everything Bad Plus all at once, and because it's the Bad Plus, it almost succeeds.

4. "Super America" by the Bad Plus

-The song I used for my Batman dance vid. It basically doesn't let up from start to finish, it's just so joyful and exuberant and retro.

5. "Keep the Bugs Off Your Glass and The Bears Off Your Ass" by the Bad Plus

-Because it's a super-jazz-nerdy homage to Mingus. Also, Reid Anderson on bass, ladies and gentlemen.

6. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by the Bad Plus

- Because it is THE iconic Bad Plus cover, and because somehow Iverson's brilliant piano playing is the least interesting part of a track that has incredible drumming from Dave King and once more, Reid Anderson on bass, ladies and gentlemen.

7. "Anthem for the Earnest" by the Bad Plus

-Because someday I will figure out how to make my Danger 5/ Inglourious Basterds crossover vid to this song work. And that will be a glorious day.

8. "(Theme from) Chariots of Fire" by the Bad Plus

-Because this just might be their weirdest cover, and I have a weak spot for weirdestness. Holy shit Dave King's drumming on this song, though. Iverson keeps repeating that obnoxiously catchy melody again and again, not even really deconstructing it, just assaulting you with it, while Anderson and especially King just tear it up around it.

Download Here!


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