Music and Recording Features

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Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jan 08, 2019  |  11 comments
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975) was hardly the first composer to run headfirst into opposition from political authorities. In his case, however, the pushback was so extreme that it affected everything he wrote thereafter.

In early 1936, after the style and subject matter of his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk clashed with the so-called proletarian aesthetic of Russian dictator Joseph Stalin (1878–1953), Shostakovich was denounced by the official state newspaper, Pravda. From then on, his symphonies reflected either his defiance of decades of Socialist realism, or attempts to appease the authorities while still speaking his truth.

Sasha Matson  |  Dec 27, 2018  |  3 comments
Autumn in New York—watching Central Park change colors. Also time to catch the Bill Charlap Trio during their annual residency at the Village Vanguard: Charlap at the piano, Peter Washington on bass, and Kenny Washington at the drums in the Church of Jazz, the room the Bill Evans Trio called home in the 1960s and '70s. Exploring the great traditions of jazz and American song has become a Charlap trademark.
Fred Kaplan  |  Dec 17, 2018  |  4 comments
Sorry I've been away from this space for so long. My day gig (national-security columnist for Slate) has kept me busy (as you can imagine), and I've got a tight deadline on a new book. Still, as Congreve observed, "Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast," and there's plenty of breast-beating savagery out there, so I've continued to listen, and here is my dispatch on the Best Jazz Albums (10 new and two historical discoveries) of 2018.
Ken Micallef  |  Dec 11, 2018  |  3 comments
Wayne Shorter is 85. His mind moves at warp speed, a million miles from Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, who rescued him from Newark, New Jersey—or the Miles Davis's second great quintet, for which the saxophonist wrote the compositions that would establish his genius. Shorter's constellation of classic Blue Note recordings from 1964–67—Night Dreamer, JuJu, The All Seeing Eye, ETC, The Soothsayer, Adam's Apple, Speak No Evil, Schizophrenia—is now but a dim cluster of stars in his ever-expanding musical galaxy.
Art Dudley  |  Nov 29, 2018  |  12 comments
The stars lined up.

According to biographer Charles Reid, the British conductor Sir John Barbirolli "burned with Elgarian zeal," attributable in part to Barbirolli's participation, as a young cellist in the London Symphony Orchestra of 1919, in the premiere performance of Edward Elgar's Cello Concerto. That performance, conducted by the composer and with Felix Salmond as soloist, was a disaster—Elgar's rehearsal time had been cut short by a lack of cooperation from another conductor on the bill, a slight the composer never forgave—yet from then on, the 19-year-old Barbirolli regarded Elgar's music with reverence.

Ken Micallef  |  Nov 06, 2018  |  2 comments
Photo: Nicholas Suttle

Electric guitarist John Scofield, winner of multiple Grammy Awards, has a knack for staying a step ahead of musical trends. In hundreds of jazz settings, "Sco" and his signature Ibanez AS200 guitar and Fender Reverb amplifier have created a unique style and sound that have earned him a popularity beyond jazz's usual audience.

Ken Micallef  |  Oct 04, 2018  |  5 comments
Even as hypergentrification runs rampant, enriching financial opportunities for some and crushing small-business dreams for others, New York City remains ground zero for jazz and for the small clubs it thrives in. The New York Times may not cover jazz unless someone of the stature of Wynton Marsalis is on the bill, but the music moves ahead undeterred, taking up residence at such iconic venues as the Blue Note, Cornelia Street Café, Fat Cat, 55 Bar, Jazz Gallery, Mezzrow, Smalls, Smoke, the Village Vanguard, and Zinc Bar.
Jim Austin  |  Sep 18, 2018  |  70 comments
I attend at least a couple of dozen classical-music performances each year. I also read reviews of recordings and live performances, and have even dabbled in writing them. Why, then, do I find classical music reviews so frequently annoying?

It's the vocabulary. In these reviews I often see words that I rarely see used elsewhere: scintillating, irresistible, delightful. One venerable reviewer for Gramophone magazine has used the word "beguiling" 100 times in some 900 reviews. When I read such words, I envision the poor music critic writhing in his (occasionally her) listening chair, approaching an involuntary state of aesthetic ecstasy. It isn't a pretty image.

Sasha Matson  |  Sep 04, 2018  |  2 comments
There are the Grammys, and then there's the supermarket. Both are marks of achievement and permanence in popular recorded music. Having just begun writing this piece, I walked into the Price Chopper Supermarket in Cooperstown, New York, and what do I hear? Rita Coolidge, and the refrain from her 1977 recording of "(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher." Now that's a hook—a high mark on the tree of pop.
John Atkinson  |  Aug 21, 2018  |  19 comments
The dingy green-and-ochre poster on the subway-station wall, advertising events at Queens's Forest Hills Stadium, didn't draw attention to itself. But what else is there to do on a subway platform but look at posters? I looked at it. There, near the bottom of the left column, I read: "SEPT 12: VAN MORRISON AND WILLIE NELSON & FAMILY."

Van Morrison. In concert. In Queens.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jul 31, 2018  |  2 comments
We who love recordings of massed voices have learned the hard way that some succeed in blending vocal clarity with acoustic resonance, while others deliver echo-muddied jumbles. Happily, some very fine choral recordings have come my way in the last six months. Along with John Atkinson's acoustically stunning engineering of recordings by the vocally gifted Portland State Chamber Choir and the all-male ensemble Cantus, these aural documents do composers proud.
Ken Micallef  |  Jun 27, 2018  |  36 comments
A stunning jazz discovery presented at a historic citadel of recording technology. That event took place June 11, when the new John Coltrane recording, Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album, which will be released June 29, was unveiled at Van Gelder Studio, the fabled location where the celebrated engineer recorded many jazz masterpieces.
Jim Austin  |  Jun 19, 2018  |  45 comments
Photos: Jim Austin

I'm sitting in a rented Nissan just off Highway 61—yes, that Highway 61—looking out at a Shell station through the bug-stained windshield and across a litter-strewn, not-yet-planted cotton field. It's late March, and I've just left Clarksdale, Mississippi, on my way to Memphis. Leaving Clarksdale made me thoughtful, so I've pulled over to jot down a few notes.

Robert Baird  |  May 29, 2018  |  11 comments
Notoriously opinionated and obstinate Steve Albini, a guy ever vigilant and vocal about the wicked ways of the music business, showing up in Austin, Texas, at the annual South by Southwest festival? This I had to see. After a near-miss at his Austin hotel, we spoke the next morning on the phone.

"It was unspeakable on all levels, as bad as I imagined, and in some ways worse."

Any notion that he'd somehow softened, somehow accepted the music biz as it—

Wait. What the hell am I thinking?

Robert Baird  |  May 08, 2018  |  1 comments
Saturday night in hipster Brooklyn . . . yet there could have been actual sawdust on the floor. Inside National Sawdust, a youngish crowd, many clearly ready to party, were shuffling, some were full-blown jitterbugging, while onstage the Lost Bayou Ramblers, a progressive young Cajun band who'd at first seemed a bit awed by their futuristic surroundings, were slugging beers, sawing a fiddle, squeezing an accordion, and generally finding their groove.

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