Robert Finley – Goin’ Platinum!

robertfinWhatever you think of the Black Keys, its vocalist/guitarist Dan Auerbach has a way of producing a record. It started with Dr. John’s “Locked Down”, which won a grammy in 2013, now it’s there with Robert Finley’s “Going’ Platinum!” You might look at Robert Finley and wonder, like I did, who the fuck is this guy? Like seriously, who are you, dude? Where’d you come from? Supposedly Finley was busking somewhere in Arkansas, deemed legally blind and forced to retire from both the airforce and carpentry, when a non-profit named “Music Maker” gave Finley a musical comeback. Shit, I thought it was only producers dressed in tight button up silk shirts that “discovered” big-titted stars on the street; and I don’t see no tits on Robert. The fact that there are people out there giving lifetime musicians a shot fills me with joy that I thought the music industry completely covered in shit years ago. No, shut up, you’re crying!

So, Robert Finley’s last album called, “Age Don’t Mean a Thing” made in 2016 is fucking great. The title track is beautiful. When this motherfucker sings the words, “age don’t mean a thing” and you hear it knowing all the life he has led, it fills me with joy and hope and all these other scary words for a cynic. It’s a soul album filled with big bands and horns and everything. Totally worth a listen. Supposedly it was good enough to pick the ears of Auerbach as well.

This new album is definitely made by Auerbach. Actually, he co-wrote most of the songs (besides the ones from John Prine, Pat McLaughlin and Nick Lowe). So it has that old school but heavy sound of the Black Keys, but with a way more interesting singer than Dan (I think he would even admit that). In my opinion, Auerbach was made to be behind the board and produce. As a frontman? Meh. Each track on this album is completely unique, but somehow cohesive as fuck. That’s just good production. It’s got that dirty and raw horn section, that laid back groove that’s totally in the pocket, it’s got the sensibilities of an album made during a soul filled era but filled with the punchiness of now. And without Finley’s voice, the album falls apart. He’s a great frontman. I can’t believe a couple years ago this guy was busking somewhere in Arkansas. Nobody is doing him any favours, this isn’t an album to help the old man out. He hits that mic and everyone has to catch up to his professionalism. He sings this shit like he’s been in the studio since  ’64. At the end of “You Don’t Have To Do Right,” he asks Dan behind the board, “You got it?” as in, “did you just record that fucking magic young blood, cause I ain’t doing it again”.

This album is a must have for any blues/soul lover. But for anyone else, this is an album made for those days drinking a beer outside. It’s a good summer road trip album. And there’s a reason for this. It’s difficult at times to have that hope Finley gives you through his voice, especially during winter. It’s difficult to believe that the world has enough goodness to give a man at his age a career. It’s for those few moments where that hardened cynical shell surrounding that mushy thing inside you cracks a bit. It’s not that goth-punk-alternative rock album that “teaches” you the world ain’t fair. This is an album that says, “Hey bitch, shut your fucking mouth for a second and enjoy the sunshine. Enjoy your friends and family. Who knows, maybe you’ll even die one day with a smile on that face and surrounded by people you love.” 

 

Yazz Ahmed – La Saboteuse

yazzSome days are more difficult than others when it comes to picking out an album. Today was one of those. Nothing seemed to fit the mood today. I couldn’t quite get my eyes open even though I was awake. It’s like not all of me was quite there yet, even though I had already had my coffee. I went through Hip Hop, Classical, Rock, Indie, Folk, but nothing worked. I then threw a hail mary and turned on shuffle. What played was Arabic-like music mixed in with Miles Davis Modal Jazz. “Word?” I thought, “this shit is dope”. And what’s more, it fit. I understood its world. It was a fourth dimensional take on a 2D atmosphere. Music made for those days when you can’t shake your head awake. Where the dream world is somewhere just underneath your eyelids. One step is solid, the next can sink into the floor. This album works like a bridge, taking you from that world of dreams into a world of open reality. Or, alternatively, it dismantles you at the rough end of the day and brings you into a world of waking sleep. Animals like owls or cats, those that have one foot in the real world and another somewhere else, that’s this album. That’s right motherfuckers, today is going to be a weird one.

Yazz Ahmed plays the trumpet. Born in Bahrain but living in London. She’s played with Toshiko Akiyoshi, Jazz Jamaica, The Human Revolution Orchestra, Radiohead, Max Romeo, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Joan as Police Woman, and tons of others. The lady has got her credit and there’s a reason. When she plays she opens up a portal to a new world. Jazz artists and rock stars envy this power, so they rent it and say, “Hey everyone, look what I can do.” But it’s all her. If the music isn’t trippy enough, let’s look at how this album is built. 

Four Chapters. Chapter 1: The Space Between the Fish and the Moon (songs 1–4). Chapter 2: The Shoal of Souls (songs 5–7). Chapter 3: Spindrifting (8–9). Chapter 4: Sarabandes and Nocturnes. I’m not making any of this shit up, it’s right there on her website. Supposedly, if you look over at that trippy cover you’ll see all those titles drawn into that one picture. I don’t know what most of it means. But I do know that “Sarabande” is a dance evolved from a Spanish dance with Arab influences, which also happens to be the name of famous classical songs from Erik Satie. And, considering Yazz is Arabic trying to mix her ancestry into jazz there’s a meaning in there. I also know Nocturne is a musical composition inspired by night. Ha! I didn’t do too bad. The fact that on a day like today, when I’m half in a dream world, I just happen to listen to and connect with an album associated with dreams and night and shit. That’s fucking awesome. It just goes to prove that no matter the mood or mindset, music is made to connect. 

This album has so much more than I’m giving it credit for. I’m putting far too much of myself in today’s review, because I can hear the work and the years put into this album. But the mood of this album is hard to shake off. It’s influencing my writing even now. Like a dream I can’t wake up from. Fuck. Yazz is at the top of her game. And straight up, it’s one of my favourite jazz albums from 2017. 



 

 

 

 

 

 

Adrian Crowley – Dark Eyed Messenger

darkeyedmessScott Walker, Bill Callahan, Blue Nile, Leonard Cohen, and David Bowie. These are the influences I hear when I listen to Crowley. In fact, I can’t help but think this album would have been on the top of Cohen’s and Bowie’s new albums to listen to. It doesn’t hurt that Crowley has that rich baritone and does that half-speaking thing (recitative is the proper opera name for it) that Cohen did all the time and Bowie sometimes did. Though, Crowley is a bit more sonorant and on pitch than Cohen and has a deeper voice than Bowie. Crowley is best known for his album “Long Distance Swimmer” released in 2007 (11 years ago [anyone over 30 just had a mathematically induced heart attack]). He’s had three albums since then. And with each album release I’ve seen fewer fans posting online, less people taking time to write out the song lyrics, he’s got a solid 8-12 likes on youtube for the songs off this album. Well, why aren’t people talking about Crowley anymore? Did he do something wrong? Did he say a comment for/against trans people that I don’t know about? Did he invite people up to his hotel room and ask to masturbate in front of them? Did he play a game of grab-ass at some hotel bar in ’97? I don’t understand. Each of his album releases have been absolutely spot on. He’s only gotten better and has honed deeper into his art. Yet, as far as I can tell, writeups of this album are, “he’s still good…” Really? Is that all someone gets for continuing to grow as an artist and producing top grade albums for 20 fucking years? I understand part of his art is to be subtle and to say less to say more, but that doesn’t mean he should be forgotten. 

Anyway, I must digress. This is how people get hernias. I think Crowley lost his guitar before for this album. And it’s great. Instead, it’s replaced with droning sounds and simple piano motifs. His voice speaks above this and tells stories. It’s not an imitation of Cohen, but it’s difficult not to hear this poetic lyricism dripping out of this album. “Halfway To Andalucia” for instance, is a letter to an ex-lover as he runs to another country rather than attending her wedding. “Silver Birch Tree” is about a woman carving her initials into a tree with Crowley playing the part of the tree. Or,

“You can rip it up into tiny pieces, dip it in paraffin, and set it alight. You can stash it under the carpet, cover it over and hide it from the light. But, still there’s desire.”

Jesus, that’s just Cohen reincarnated as a 50-year-old Irishman. The worlds this man creates are visceral, wide, wild, and honest. I’d argue it’s his best album yet. Now, if only people would listen to it. 

 

Fred Hersch – Open Book

fredherschIt’s Sunday evening everyone (said while turning red wine in the bottom of my long-stemmed wine glass). Put those slippers on. Light a fire in the fireplace. Find that favourite chair of yours and kick back. Hell, why not, let’s put those feet up. It’s going to be a long week ahead. So, let’s just enjoy tonight. Is the wine bottle close by? Yes, there it is. Now, take a breath. Settle those nerves. Time to listen to some jazz solo piano from one of the greats, Fred Hersch.

“I’d rather not,” you may think, “I’d rather thrash to some metal.” Now, now. Calm down. We’ll have plenty of time for that on Wednesday when we feel like planning out a murder. For now, let’s get lost together (takes a long drag of wine and refills the glass next to candlelight). 

We’re in good hands with Hersch. He’s been part of the Jazz Studies in the New England Conservatory since 1980. His footsteps are lined with grammy nominations. He has played many weeklong engagements at the celebrated Village Vanguard and has recorded over 70 compositions. He’s a master of improvisation. “But improvisation is a manner of taste,” you may add (finishes my glass of wine in one gulp and gets slightly drunk), but … okay … there’s that sweet buzz … no matter your taste, in the world of improv jazz piano, Hersch is … he’s just… Hersch is the fucking shit. 

In all seriousness this album is bizarre. The themes explored are tense. It’s odd. At times it’s incredibly uncomfortable. This album is made primarily of an improvised piece called, “Through the Forest”. It’s thick. It’s not a song to play to seduce that 1950s girlfriend of yours. If you lose attention for a second, miss that thread, the entire thing falls apart. The song is 20 minutes. The rest of the album is made of a couple standards and a cover of Billy Joel at the end. These work like ice cream rewards for being such an attentive listener. “Through the Forest,” tells a story. A freaky story. You encounter monsters, darkness, and depression along the way, but you do eventually get through. In the end, it’s so fucking satisfying. To be honest though, jazz improv piano is tough. It generally takes more than one listen. It’s about being emotionally invested into the sounds of that moment, letting go of the self, and following along. It’s hard to focus and listen. Red wine can help, but listening more than once helps a lot more. But once the song is over, and the next song plays, you will let out a breath. Tension will be gone. Then, you can crawl over to that bed of yours slightly drunk and stress free. There will be no emotions left to feel after Hersch has played through them all. 

 

Giovanni Antonini, II Giardino Armonica – Haydn 2032, No. 4: Il Distratto

giovanniantoniniSo, Giovanni Antionini, a man with a very subtle Italian name, and his bud Giardino Armonica, decided back in 2014 to embark upon a very difficult task. Like, shit. This is the task of all tasks, and it makes whatever anyone else is doing in comparison laughable. Do you notice the “2032” after “Haydn” in the title? Ya, that’s not so Haydn’s name looks like a Daft Punk album. These guys decided that, between 2014 and 2032 (18 years), all of Haydn’s 107 symphonies will be performed and recorded, in two fat releases each year, by them and the Basel Chamber Orchestra. Crazy, right? Not only this, but they have a ridiculous reason for doing so. It’s a birthday present. A fucking birthday present! And the birthday present is to Haydn himself who will be 300 years old, and still very dead, in the year 2032. La-dee-fucking-da!

All the same, how cool is that? Just think, this is only the 4th volume and you can listen along with these guys, watching closely to see if they fuck up or not, until the year 2032. 2032! Another neat feature is that the pieces aren’t performed or recorded chronologically, but are picked by the two Italian stallions for their sexy groove. So grab your smoking jacket and your pipe, it’s time to listen to some high class classical!

Mentor of Mozart and teacher of Beethoven. The father of the symphony and the string quartet. Joseph-motherfucking-Haydn, or, @TheRealJoeHay, as his social media tag would be now of days, is a funny guy. No, he isn’t Prior or Carlin. But he does perform little jokes in his music. For example, in the finale of Symphony No. 70, which is on this album, all the instruments suddenly tune up. I know. I know. It’s not going to make you piss your pants. But, if you want to impress some high baller boys and girls with your plump, quivering, tumescent, vast classical knowledge, then it’s good to know. If you hear a joke, it’s probably Haydn. Other composers take themselves really fucking seriously. I’ve heard some composers and orchestras try and milk these jokes for all their worth. It’s not a good look. It’s the same feeling as being a teen and watching your dad trying to breakdance in front of your friends. These Italian boys don’t work this way, they play it straight faced. And the jokes are better for it. Haydn is in good hands with these motherfuckers. I’m glad it’s them taking on this task. 

Try and remember, Haydn’s music was made to entertain shitforbrains princes and rich inbred royalty: if it seems silly at some points, it’s because it’s supposed to be. You’re allowed to laugh. I hope you do at some of the singing on “Il maestro di cappella” aka “The master of the chapel”, where the dude just goes on for a while singing about what the instruments are doing: “This is the horn, it is blowing. Blow-ing. Blooow-ing!” Fucking hilarious.

This album was from 2017. I believe No. 5 is already out and No. 6 is on its way. So why not throw this shit on in the background one day while making dinner? By the year 2032, you’ll have listened to all of Haydn’s symphonies. That’s just badass. 

 

 

King Krule – The Ooz

kingkruleKing Krule, aka Archy Marshall, has a cool fucking voice. It’s a type of sneering dirty British that walks through brown street puddles as it enunciates. It’s held so low in the jaw that when you imagine his face it’s held in a grimace. Just with his voice, you see a pasty white Brit in thick boots throwing punches too quick and taking bumps of cocaine off a half-cracked nicotine-stained fingernail. He has the voice of that friend your girlfriend hates. My mother would hear that crony voice over the phone and say, “I don’t know what it is about that boy, but there’s just something about him I don’t like.” It’s the voice of someone that, each time they leave your house you think, “Ya, that piece of shit stole something for sure this time,” then you go directly over to your valuables to check and see if they’re still there.

So, what would you do with this pugilistic voice? Become what it sounds like? Vocal work? What Archy did was use this voice to tell a story, to rap. But King Krule’s style is not bouncy and hard, it moves around corners like a fog. It’s got the ambiance of dark jazz record, the beats of trip hop, and the anger of punk. It speaks of insomnia, depression, lost love, and planets. It’s impossible to not to be intrigued by this compelling combination, this character. It’s riding the tube to work at 7 am and seeing this crusty punk kid come in with a bloody nose and dark rings under his eyes, open jaw, and tears running down his face. He keeps sniffing and wipes his nose on the back of one of his black fingerless gloves. What’s his story? Where’s he headed? You look over and catch his eyes for a second. There’s something in him you recognize in yourself. He shouts, “Wha da fuck yer lookan’ at?” and stares at you wide-eyed. The other people in the train look at you as if to say, “Stop looking. The more you look the more likely it is to explode.” King Krule’s records are a glimpse into that character, that person. It’s like, instead of looking away and saying nothing like you’re supposed to, you offer him a coffee. Surprisingly, he accepts. You begin to do it weekly and becomes friends. You learn just how sensitive he is, how deeply he loves, how much his heart breaks. 

This is the best attempt of this style thus far. It feels the most honest and at moments you can feel a dreary U.K. rain outside your door. I already enjoy his records, and this one for sure, but I’m keeping a very open eye on King Krule. I believe there is better to come. I feel like there is more to investigate in this character. But for now, take a listen. It’s incredibly well done. 

 

 

Teodor Currentzis & MusicAeterna – Tchaikovsky, Symphony No.6. Pathétique

pathetiqueWhat wears leather, shaves half their head, wears doc martens, stays up all hours of the night screaming, sweats like a pig, and dances and walks like they’re always looking for a fight? Teodor Currentzis, composer. And he is insane. 

Teodor works an orchestra like a tormentor waterboarding a source for secrets. He breaks them in like that second-hand store owner in Pulp Fiction. He often records pieces until 2–3 in the morning even if his orchestra, MusicAeterna, begs for sleep. But Teo don’t give a fuck. He’s going to get the best he can get from you, whether you want to or not. He’ll take a talented player and squeeze the living shit out of them until every ounce of precious talent oozes into his greedy little fucking mouth. Most of his players, in the end, say, “It was torture. It was gruelling. It’s the best I’ve played in my life.” Classical music usually has a certain way of playing pieces that have been established through time. But Teo don’t give a fuck. He looks into the page and goes directly into the zeitgeist of when that piece was written. In opera, he makes his singers get so into their characters that he’ll sacrifice tone and quality for authenticity every single time. People love or hate him. This is the most common phrase said about him. Sometimes, instead of conducting with his hands, he’ll just start dancing in the middle of the band like a punk rocker, well … a punk rocker with perfect timing. Cause, yep, that’s right, Teo don’t give a fuck. He’s not here for you. How could a giant audience or listener ever believe that? No, he’s here for the music.

Albums like this are accumulations of lifetimes and probably some of the more interesting interactions with insane characters that have ever been experienced. Would I be surprised if I one day read Teo drugged his entire orchestra? Not even in the slightest. In fact, I’m not even sure it would make the news. This motherfucker will do absolutely anything for his idea of perfection. In the end, this shit ends up tighter than a duck’s asshole. And, I have to say, bravo. The recording is precise. Each instrument is clear and audible. It’s romantic fucking music so it’s supposed to be over the top. So, if you want chill classical to play at work, this is not it. This is the result of hundreds of bleeding fingers, sleepless nights, and over the top egos and maniacs thrown in together in an hour. After the first 10 minutes, almost exactly, this piece takes off like a goddamn jet.

Symphony No. 6 from Tchaikovsky is very spirited. And with Teo driving the semi-truck of this fucking thing while spitting out the window, it’s twice as much. It’s a piece that is supposed to recreate the human life. What’s that? Ya. It’s supposed to recreate the human life. Shortly after Tchaikovsky wrote this, he died. And it might be this thing that fucking killed him. It’s an incredibly well-known piece, and this is one of my favourite versions of it even though it just came out last year. There are lots of pieces Teo shouldn’t play. But if you want a little punk rock meth-addicted speed freak added into your classical, he’s your man. And it’s exactly what Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 was begging for. It kept knocking on doors and getting answered by bored men offering out tea. When Teo finally opened the door, it was given a dozen dirty hookers, two garbage bags of meth, a bathtub full of cocaine, and a freezer full of vodka. Now it’s alive, greedy, and fun. Tchaikovsky is ready to jam. Open sesame.