7/29/11

7/28/11

Seun Kuti & Egypt 80




















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PN Video Jukebox - Frank Sinatra

Singing and skits from the career of Frank Sinatra.  It was harder to put together than you would think!  Featuring performances with Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitgerald, and Dean Martin -- spanning the years 1946 to 1982, with a 1977 guest host appearance on the Tonight Show thrown in -- with extra Rickles.



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7/27/11

Reader's Notes - Sonny Rollins Interview

Here's an excellent interview of Sonny Rollins by Cornelius Myers for Jazz Times.  At times, it's hard to believe that a musician as important as Rollins is still around -- he'll turn 81 this September -- and one can probably ake the argument that Rollins is the prime candidate for the title of Greatest Living Jazz Legend.  With well over 50 albums recorded as a leader since 1954, Rollins is still best experienced in concert.  Maybe some of you got to see him at this year's Jazz Fest in New Orleans -- and for the rest of you, here's his 2011 schedule of appearances.

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7/25/11

Gretchen Parlato - The Lost and Found


The soulful, piquant voice and gently swinging phrases of Gretchen Parlato have been drawing the attention of jazz listeners since her self-titled debut in 2005 and the confident follow up, 2009's In A Dream.  Not that there was every much reason for doubt.   An alumni of the Thelonious Monk Institute, Parlato's career has been gaining momentum ever since she won the 2004 Thelonious Monk Institute International Vocal Competition. She works incredibly hard across a range of styles, and sometimes seems to be everywhere. A ready collaborator, Parlato's unmistakable voice has been heard by this critic on at least two recordings in the last year – on David Binney's Greylen Epicenter and a track from up-and-coming trumpeter Suresh Singaratnam.

Her latest work. The Lost and Found (ObliqSound) finds Parlato continuing to grow, producing the album, writing much more of her own material, and once again working with many of the people from her 2009 release, including her core rhythm section of Derrick Hodge (bass) and Kendrick Scott (bass), as well as Robert Glasper, who is associate producer and shows up on Fender Rhodes here and there. The biggest surprise of the album is not its quality – one would expect it to be good. But it is remarkable to learn just how much of Parlato has involved herself in every aspect of music-making here.

Parlato's choice of covers has always set her above many other singers. Though I would imagine she's not shy of the occasional tune from the Great American Songbook, you're probably not going to find her going into the studio with "Fly Me To The Moon" or "Stormy Weather." No, Parlato opens with an understated take on Simply Red's "Holding Back The Years," a song which takes some of us back to the ninth grade, which which the singer makes cool all over again. Lauryn Hill's tune (by way of Mary J. Blige) "All That I Can Say" gives Parlato the chance to make the most of the lines in the chorus: "Genuine, seraphim/Sweeter than cinnamon/Heaven-sent gentleman/Sent him here for loving him." Works for me. Singer/songwrtier Josh Mease contributes the bubbly, fanciful "Me And You,"featuring Parlato jamming with Glasper. And on the charming "Alo Alo," by Paulinho da Viola, the arrangement is all Parato in its multitracked vocals and percussion.

For those with more straight-ahead jazz tastes, Parlato leads her band through Wayne Shorter's "Juju" (showing the Shorter's Coltrane influence), and her rendering is dense, challenging, and highly original – no small feat for such a tune. Parlato is joined by tenor Dayna Stephens, and the singer and the horn blend tones for a unique texture. No less ambitious is a Parlato/Glasper arrangement of Bill Evans' "Blue in Green," which features Taylor Eigsti on a cover that is as straight ahead as the album gets, without ever abandoning Parlato's signature voice and phrasing.


Five of the fifteen tracks on this album are stand-alone Parlato compositions, most of them very strong. "Winter Wind" is a bossa nova with a fascinating series of shifts and breaks in tempo and mode, with a thrilling closing minute that shows the singer making the most of a simple phrase. The playful, flirting "How We Love" can't help but make you smile and feel more attractive, and the languid "Better Than" is a song that seems to deliver on the flirting. The loose, impressionistic "Henya," provides enough space to show Parlato's group – Hodge, Scott, and Eigsti – trading ideas throughout. Strongest of all is "Circling," which has a fine groove, interesting changes, a poetry to the lyrics – and it seems to a be song that only Parlato could write and perform with this ensemble.

The most ambitious tracks are those Parlato has written in collaboration with others. While a remix of 2009's "In A Dream" seems a bit unnecessary and the group's arrangement of "Henya" never seems to find a center of gravity the remaining three tunes offer many rewards. The title track, "The Lost and Found," written by Parlato and guest tenor Stephens, is complex, disquieting, and magically arrives in the same ambiguous place it began. "Without A Sound," by Eigsti and Parlato, bassist Hodge creates a hypnotic layering of three different bass parts, over which the singer's voice floats, cloudlike. And, call me a sucker for a guitar every time, but who can turn down the cheerful fingerpicking of Alan Hampton's "Still," which he co-wrote and sings in a wistful duet with Parlato? I've listened to the song about 50 times in the past month, and I still love it.

Simply said, there's so much music on The Lost and Found – some of it straightforward, smart, radio-friendly, and some of it rich, manifold, formidable – that it's a challenge to take it all in. But what Gretchen Parlato does again and again on this release – more so now as a writer and producer -- is to keep the texture of the music and the sound of the band unified. She does this, first at foremost, of course, with her remarkable voice. But with The Lost and Found, one can hear Parlato's musical intelligence and imagination fully in residence. This is a jazz musician who has found herself.

Gertchen Parlato – voice, percussion
Taylor Eigsti – piano
Derrick Hodge – bass
Kendrick Scott – drummer
Taylor Eigsti - keyboards
Robert Glasper – Fender Rhodes
Alan Hampton – guitar, voice


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7/24/11

PN Video Jukebox - Wes Montgomery


A selection of performances from the peak period in guitarist Wes Montgomery's career.










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Undead Notes - Dawn of the Dead (1978)


After directing Night of the Living Dead for release in 1968, George Romero spent the better part of the next decade in and around Pittsburgh making independent films that dead with quirky horror plots.  In the mid 70s, Romero started work on his next zombie movie after being given a behind the scenes tour of the state-of-the-art Monroeville Mall.  Not a bad place to survive a zombie apocalypse, he must have thought.  With financing (about $2.2 million in current dollars) secured from Italian filmmaker Dario Argento, production began on Dawn of the Dead -- largely on weekends, when the same Monroeville Mall could be closed for shooting.

Much of the storytelling strength of Dawn of the Dead lies in the sure-handed development of its core question: What's the most likely way to survive if there are thousands of flesh-eating undead walking the earth.  The short answer: Get yourself a great big fortified storehouse, hunker down, and keep quiet.  If only things were so simple. . .

The plot begins with two pairs of characters.  There's Stephen (David Emge) and Francine (Gaylen Ross); he's a chopper pilot for the local television station, and she's a news producer.  Romero's opening scenes focus mostly on Fran as she attempts to maintain journalistic standards amid the growing social chaos of the zombie crisis.  It's clear from the way the reporters and production staff are arguing with each other that, in the end, the media may be the last place to turn in a real crisis.  Stephen finds Fran -- they're a couple, apparently -- amid all the hubbub and suggests they chopper it out of town as soon as possible.

The other pair of characters is more interesting, two friends on the police force -- the confident, intelligent, and strong Peter (Ken Foree), and the nervous, somewhat shrimpy Roger (Scott Reiniger).  We meet them in the middle of a zombie-sweep at a low-income apartment building, where Peter does what needs to be done, Roger hesitates, and a few of the other fascists on the force are more than happy to kill anything that moves. In the end, as well, law enforcement may be one of the last places to turn.  Roger, who knows Stephen, suggests that he and Peter say fuck the police and skip town.  Sounds good.

The four make their escape at night, refuel with a little zombie harassment, and eventually land on the roof of a relatively rural shopping mall.  Breaking in through a skylight, the find the service complex behind the scenes in the mall to be zombie free.  They lock and barricade the doors, engage in some gruesome zombie housekeeping, and disguise their hideaway just in case someone comes looking.  Roger is bitten during this process, which makes for a sad moment later when Peter has to decommission his zombified friend, but survival comes at a cost.

Everything in the mall, of course, comes at no cost.  As the months pass, Peter, Stephen, and Fran eat the finest (preserved) food, booze it up, wear mink coats, sleep on satin sheets, listen to classical music on a top-of-the-line stereo system, and make the most of the hundreds of retail outlets providing their every need and want. As you might imagine, it's not all it's cracked up to be. Peter, a leader and a man of action, ends up trapped and bored because of the success of his survival plan.  Francine gets tired of being treated like a girly-girl, even though she's pregnant.  Stephen, who's really kind of a putz, agrees to teach Fran to fly the chopper, but one still doesn't manage to like him much.  A fine, quiet scene comes about two-thirds of the way through the film when, after another delicious meal amid the luxuries, Fran asks, sadly, "What have we done?"

What they've done, of course, is survive. Survival in a true crisis often requires a real and antisocial selfishness, a cold ruthless approach to addressing immediately threats, and, in the long term, a radically proscribed existence to keep the dangers at bay.  It's an almost inhuman way to live -- an insight granted by The Last Man On Earth and I Am Legend.  But the problem, usually, is people.  They get bored, they get lazy, they get reckless, or they just get mean.  Remember those helicopter lessons Stephen was giving to Fran?  Well, that reckless act attracts the attention of a roving gang of meanies in the form of bikers.  Harleys, not Schwinns.

And here's where Romero shows that he understands how to make an entertaining film.  In Act One, set up your premise and get the plot ball rolling with a good dose of action and a generous glimpse of the monsters.  In Act Two, slow it down a bit and let the characters deepen the narrative in a thoughtful manner.  In Act Three, close with a rip-roaring finish that messes with the heart and the head.

The bikers break in to the mall, suspecting there's someone hiding in there, but really just to do some good-natured looting.  Of course, in all the ruckus, they bring a fair number of zombies behind them.  And Peter and Stephen can help but sneak out of their hideout to check out the scene, leading Stephen to deliver my favorite line in the film: "Hey, that's our stuff!" Then Stephen (the putz) starts firing his gun at the bikers.  Now it's Stephen and Peter against the biker gang against the zombies.  Stephen is overwhelmed by zombies, Peter makes it back to safety, temporarily, and the bikers retreat with their armloads of summer sausages and aromatic soaps.  In the end, Peter and Fran attempt to flee in the helicopter, but let's not give away the ending, shall we?

Aside from the fine, fundamental storytelling in Dawn of the Dead, special recognition should go to Tom Savini for his makeup work.  Savini, a Vietnam vet who strove for a gruesome realism in his work, developed the blueish hue for the zombies in Dawn of the Dead, as well as a whole range of mangling, dangling, and gnawed fleshy parts.  One of the great visual contrasts in the film is the outright pretty artificiality of the mall and the ugly, deformed presence of all those zombies.  The effect is somehow subtle at first, almost unnoticed, which probably says much about how even normal people can shamble through the mall at times.

I won't be the first to write it, but Dawn of the Dead is an excellent zombie film, horror film, just plain film, that holds up well after all these years.  With a great concept that is well-executed and outstanding effects, George Romero's return to the land of zombies sets the standard in terms of balanced tone, entertainment value, and social satire that most other zombie movies should strive for.



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