Reader's Notes - Kerouac-Ginsberg Letters

There's a fine piece by Blake Bailey in the New York Times Book Review on the new release, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters.  For two Beat writers known for sharing so much of their private selves in their work, the directness of the letters between these two friends seems all the more remarkable.

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Fighting Shape for Yankees-Red Sox

Listener's Notes - From the CD Stack: Gold, DPOQ, Brooks

     It's time to pick my favorites from the stack of CD's that's been piling up over the summer.  Week-to-week, I receive an awful lot of music to review, so here's the deal.  Any new release gets a quick hearing on the stereo in the study, which might lead to a full rip onto my laptop, which is followed by a sync to my iPod.  If a new release makes it to the iPod, it means I'm going to be listening to it everywhere.
     The one album I queued up most often was organist Jared Gold's Supersonic (Positone 2010). Gold -- the musician, NOT the goth fashion designer -- has played with Dan Pratt, Randy Napoleon, and Avi Rothbard, but many people will likely know Gold's work from guitarist Mark Stryker's excellent 2007 release, The Chaser.  On Supersonic, Gold roots himself in the classic organ trio combo, with Ed Cherry on guitar and McClenty Hunter on drums.  Every track on the album has its rewards: uptempo numbers are clever and funky, ballads are cool and soulful, and interplay between band members is balanced. I'm sure I'm not alone in my deep appreciation of the opening track, a brisk reworking of John Sebastian's theme from Welcome Back, Kotter. With an opening like that, Supersonic grabs you from the start and doesn't let go.  A thoroughly groovy time.

     Gold provides support in the second release from the Dan Pratt Organ Quartet, Toe The Line (Positone 2010) , a thoroughly confident second release from the saxophonist's group, which is rounded out by trombonist Alan Ferber and drummer Mark Ferber.  Powerful and precise, both Pratt and Alan Ferber carry every tune forward with a clear sense of working together, then playing off each other when the moment calls for it.  Gold and Mark Ferber fill the remaining sonic space masterfully -- no easy task given the challenging nature of Pratt's compositions.  The excellent playing aside, what is most remarkable about Toe The Line is the writing.  Aside from the Ellington tune, "The Star Crossed Lovers," every song is a Pratt composition.  From the angular bebop opening of "Minor Procedure," to the Monk-ish "Doppelganger," to the whimsical "Uncle Underpants,"  and to the souful, gorgeous "After," Pratt has put together a range of songs that leaves little doubt as to the prowess of his songwriting skills. Toe The Line gets better each time you listen -- on the strength of the songs.
    Finally, we find a release from saxophonist George Brooks and his group Summit, a blending of jazz and classical Indian forms entitled Spirit and Spice (Earth Brother 2010).  Brooks and his core group -- Kai Eckhardt on bass, Fareed Haque on guitar, and Steve Smith on drums -- are joined on various tracks by Frank Martin on piano, Swapan Chaudhuri and Zakir Hussain on tabla, and other musicians on bansuri, violin, mrdingam, moorsingh, ghatam, kanjira, and konnakol.  Spirit and Spice, as its title might suggest, works effectively along two lines.  When the music cleaves close to American traditions, as in the driving "Monsoon Blues" and the outstanding "Sri Rollins," the playing is familiar enough.  When Brooks moves the group into clearly Indian territory on tracks such as "Spice," "Silent Prayer - Madhuvanti,"  and "Peshkar for Hamza" his playing in non-Western time signatures with the sitar and tabla works as well.  The three remaining tracks don't really have a clear idea of what they are and where to go, and wander into a slightly too smooth feel for this listener.  Overall, Spirit and Spice offers just what its title suggests -- some music that is familiar and tasty, and some that will challenge and stimulate. 


Louis (2010)

Trailer for this new "silent"film can be found here.

Review on eJazzNews - Naima by Meg Okura and the Pan Asian Jazz Ensemble.

My review of Naimaby Meg Okura and the Pan Asian Jazz Ensemble is up on eJazzNews. I haven't listened to a great deal of what Okura calls "chamber jazz," but I have enough listening background in "classical music" -- really, 20th century composers -- to appreciate what she's doing in this release.  Some of the music is through-composed, much of it is improvised, and all of it is worth a listen.

Reader's Notes - Pops by Terry Teachout

     Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong by Terry Teachout had been sitting near the top of my reading pile for much of the spring, and I finally had a stretch of time to catch up on my reading this summer -- a little sleepy time, perhaps, to luxuriate in the printed word. Teachout is a critic up to the task of constructing a narrative of the life of one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, a genius whose story, oddly and understandably, has been told none-too-well over the years.  Like Mark Twain, the other great cultural figure to whom I would compare Louis Armstrong, the body of work is hugely important, frustratingly inconsistent, and the product of a person often misunderstood.
     Teachout is fully mindful of the problems inherent in creating a biography of Armstrong: the worldview of a man from Satchmo's origins as a street kid from segregated New Orleans, of a purely confident virtuoso who creates the foundation for jazz in a country that took decades to recognize what he had done, of an African-American whose career longevity unfairly appeared to put him out of step with the Civil Rights Movement.  Teachout, whose research left no bit of Armstrong material unexamined, fairly addresses these usual problems. Armstrong emerges as a man who was grateful for the opportunities and gifts he had, who demanded the musical freedom to do as he pleased, and who maintained a public persona through which a full awareness of the problems of race and place would certainly emerge.  Through the remarkable arc of his life story, Teachout makes sure we know that Armstrong was always about the work - playing music for the people.
   Pops is notable, as well, in what it is not.  It is not a psycho-biography.  It does not delve deeply into musical analytics.  It does not meander sentimentally into evocative summary of New Orleans in the 1910s, or Chicago and New York in the 1920s, and so forth. If anything, at times, Pops moves too briefly over periods in Armstrong's life: his work on the Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings, his work on State Department cultural tours, and his friendships with other entertainers like Bing Crosby.  But Teachout quite clearly wants to clear the decks of some misinformation and to build a more fair, balanced, and concise account of Armstrong's life, leaving much of the detailed (perhaps over-detailed) work to others.  Pops succeeds in this sense -- as a confident, entertaining, mainstream book that most readers will enjoy.  Armstrong would have approved.


Reader's Notes - Barnes and Noble for Sale

From Gutenberg to Google: Electronic Representations of Literary TextsOne finds reports today in the New York Times, The Guardian, and elsewhere that Barnes and Noble is up for sale, after seeing in-store sales continue to slump and a 45% decline in its share price.  The sale of books online, of e-books, and the general migration of the written word from the page to the web is killing those industries associated with printing in one way or another.  From personal experience, I can tell you that many of my friends who used to work in newspapers and publishing have themselves left the business or moved to electronic media. Likewise, as a freelance writer, it's harder and harder to find paying print work.  I'm not complaining, mind you, just pointing out what now appears to be an inevitable trend.  With Borders going out of business in Britain and BN being sold, where will one go for that bookstore experience?  Did one ever really have a bookstore experience in Barnes and Noble?  Thank goodness for independent booksellers like Coral Gables' Books and Books, who have turned themselves into cultural institutions as much as they are retail stores.


What it's really like to work in a music store

Reader's Notes - Higher Education?

From NPR's Talk of the Nation yesterday comes a discussion with Andrew Hacker, emeritus professor at Queens College in New York and the author of Higher Education?: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids---and What We Can Do About It. With co-author Claudia Dreifus, Hacker calls into question the inefficiencies and dead-ends of the undergraduate experience -- poor instruction, bloated class-sizes, largely vocational degree tracks, and the tenure system -- all of which devalue the increasingly expensive four years of college. Combined with the PBS Frontline investigation of for-profit colleges, College Inc., Hacker and Dreifus should give students, parents, and educators reason to reconsider just why one should value going to college at all. A link to both the audio and a transcript of the discussion are here.


Reader's Notes - Jazz Video Guy

Bret Primrack is a writer and video journalist who works mostly in the world of jazz, and he regularly posts excellent interviews, profiles, and archival footage from around the world of jazz on his YouTube channel, JazzVideoGuy. Featured of late have been interviews with Sonny Rollins, features on the latest work from Lee Ritenour and John Scofield, and the usually erudite and articulate Billy Taylor. With scores of videos and over 12 million views so far, Primrack's channel is one of the absolute best places for old and new highly watchable material about the music.