At WSJ on the new recordings by Vijay Iyer and Regina Carter

2372 XIt isn’t often that two MacArthur recipients release jazz recordings on the same day, so that occasioned the pairing of two musicians who don’t sound remotely alike.

The inside story is that I listen to Iyer’s music all the time and had spent a good deal of time with Mutations and I didn’t get music on the Carter recording until 72 hours before I began writing (I wasn’t sure of the contact).  The Carter recording continued several thematic elements in her work, so it was easy to describe, whereas Iyer’s music wasn’t at all to my ears like his trio and solo work, so it was more of a challenge as a writer.  In addition, after the boilerplate and the Regina segment I had about 100 words to dwell on Mutations.  I’m not sure I did it justice.

Nonetheless, both are interesting musicians with interesting new recordings.  Here are my thoughts.

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At WSJ On the Rise of Local Itinerant Brewers

Waaa-aaay too much good stuff was left on the cutting room floor in this story, but that’s only natural when you have 2000 words of reporting in an 800 word feature. Twin

I’ll add some in later.

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Archives: The Return of Cibo Matto

A favorite group from the ’90s returns.

Miho and Yuka were very quotable and most of it made it into the story.

hotel valentine

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Archives: Gathering Call by the Matt Wilson Quartet with John Medeski

A great, fun jazz album.  What else can I say. Reviews

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Archives: The first published piece of 2014: Thurston Moore/John Zorn/Joe Morris at The Stone 12.31.13

Thurston_Moore_at_the_Brooklyn_Book_FestivalMy last assignment of 2013 couldn’t have come with more drama.  The musician I was supposed to interview blew me off.  No one could find the list.  Another musician threatened to beat up my photographer.  The best quote couldn’t make it into the story and another great quote was killed off in the edit.

Yet, here ’tis.  The show was a lot of fun; the music was mesmerizing.  I think the piece conveys that.

Oh, and the quote from the cutting room floor?  The woman I spoke to in line said she was planning to go to all 12 of Thurston’s shows.  She wasn’t a kid either.  Just shows the grip Sonic Youth still holds on New Yorkers (in the piece she mentions going to a Kim Gordon show).

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Sports: Can the Kings Matter?

832Bandwagons are by and large how we survive the dog days of the NBA season, those several months between the bright optimism of the early games until that time in March when every game has postseason seeding riding on it.

So far this season, there has been the Portland is really good bandwagon and the Phoenix is more than a fluke bandwagon (though with the injury to Eric Bledsoe, which was announced just before a long road trip), that one has gotten rickety fast.  I’d imagine that Toronto, Golden State and both New York City teams are due for their bandwagon moments, but the team that interests me most is the Sacramento Kings.

The Kings are a most unlikely bandwagon candidate.  They haven’t been to the playoffs in eight seasons and except for draft speculation, they haven’t been in the conversation as it pertains to the NBA since the questionable officiating robbed them of a chance at the Finals in 2002.  A bandwagon for them would be a bolt from blue and confirm that the NBA has regained its ability to surprise.

The case for the Kings rests of three simple premises.  For one they have played the elite teams in the NBA tough over the last couple of weeks.  They have beaten Miami, Houston and Portland and lost a relatively close game in San Antonio.  True, during this stretch their focus wavered and somehow they lost home games to Charlotte and Philadelphia, but they manhandled their last two creampuff opponents, beating Orlando and Cleveland by 20 and 44 respectively.

The Kings have an emerging superstar in DeMarcus Cousins.  NBA fans have been waiting for Cousins to start taking the game seriously forever, and finally he has.  His season averages 23.3 points and 11.5 boards in 32 minutes a game, are nice but consider what he’s done lately.  Since Dec 1, DeMarcus is averaging 25 points on 51% shooting, with 12 rebounds, 2 steals in 33 minutes per game.

Yeah, I think the light finally went on and stayed on.

Cousins isn’t the only King playing at an all-star level.  Point guard Isaiah Thomas is putting up 19.3 points 6.3 assists, and shooting 41% from behind the arc in 32 minutes a game.  Lastly forward Rudy Gay an in season acquisition from the Raptors has played very well for his new team.  His 20.6 points per game have come at a 52.3% shooting clip.

The Kings still have their negatives which could doom them.  Their defense would have trouble stopping you, me, and three cats from the coffee shop on the corner.  They rank 27th in Defensive Efficiency, points allowed per 100 possessions. And their bench is paper thin.  An injury to their big three and this nice run ends immediately.

Tonight they play the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis and then on the 24th they play them again at Sleep Train Arena.  In between they play a tough slate of opponents, Memphis, Minnesota, New Orleans and Houston, all on the road.  If in two weeks the Kings are still barreling along, it’s going to be time to paint a banwagon purple and black.


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Music: Cassandra Wilson at The Highline Ballroom 01.13.14

CassandraPromo3_400_400_s_c1In 1988, vocalist/composer Cassandra Wilson released Blue Skies (JMT/Verve), a recording of jazz standards with the conventional backing of piano, acoustic bass and drums.   It became a big hit and a big burden.  Ms. Wilson was quite capable of singing standards; her billowy contralto turns “Polkadots and Moonbeams” into a smoky siren call, but she was aiming to break convention not conform to it.  Five years later, November 1993 to be precise, she released Blue Light Till Dawn (Blue Note), a groundbreaking recording that continues to resonate just over 20 years later.  Monday night, she celebrated that landmark anniversary by revisiting the repertoire at the Highline Ballroom.

The easiest way to gauge the impact of Ms. Wilson’s 1993 recording is to look at the song list.  There are contributions from Robert Johnson, Ann Peebles, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Charles Brown, Thom Bell/Linda Creed, Don Raye/Gene DePaul, Cyro Baptista and several originals.  This kind of eclecticism from an African American artist was radical at the time.  Even more radical was the sound, Wilson a daughter of the Mississippi Delta with strong ties to New Orleans, created amalgam of blues, jazz, rock and various other afro-diasporic sounds.  The recording was iconic for African Americans of a certain vintage who were more than a little weary of being boxed in by arbitrary music industry categories.  Along with Lenny Kravitz, Wilson helped pave the way for today’s remarkable afro-eclecticism, heard in music ranging from Gary Clark Jr. to the Carolina Chocolate Drops to Valerie June.  And for everyone else, it was probably just a bunch of great songs performed in a passionate and unique manner.

The Highline Ballroom was packed Monday night with fans, many of whom looked as if Blue Light was the soundtrack of their collegiate years.  Blue Light gave Cassandra both first name branding and popularity well outside of jazz precincts.  The album, well CD, vinyl was in its most dormant phase then, was recorded in intimate settings.  Peebles “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” for instance was just a duet between Wilson and the late Chris Whitley (another artist whose career trajectory was sidetracked by a hit) on National Resophonic Guitar.  Now, she travels with an impressive eight piece band that added density and tonal color but no unnecessary heft to the tunes.  The most impressive element was the rhythmic weight brought to the Robert Johnson tunes, and diverse percussion that expanded Joni Mitchell’s “Black Crow.” Wilson’s eclectic tastes continue unabated.  One of the first tunes not from Blue Light was a cover of Nick Cave’s “The Weeping Song.”  After playing every song on the recording, each sounding a bit more colorful and deep than the original versions, Wilson cherry picked some highlights from the recordings made right after Blue Light then she closed with her somber take on Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.”

Perhaps the best part of the concert was that nostalgia was conspicuously absent.  There are many reasons to prefer New York City circa the mid ‘90s to today’s iteration of the Big Apple but that wasn’t the point.  The point was to draw on some innovative music released just over 20 years ago as both a celebration and a reminder that barriers can always be broken.  Always.

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