Sunday, April 26, 2020

CD Review: Lisa Mezzacappa Six - Cosmicomics

Lisa Mezzacappa Six
(Queen Bee)

This isn't the first time bassist Lisa Mezzacappa has found musical inspiration from literature. Her 2017 album avantNOIR was inspired by crime fiction novels, which resulted in some adventurous film noir jazz. The bassist wrote the music for Cosmicomics after immersing herself in the late Italo Calvino's Cosmicomic series. These stories about the origins of universe, and the way humans deal with both big and small ideas and our place within them, offered a situation comparable to the way musicians interact in an improvisational setting. Once again the muse has helped Mezzacappa create some unique pieces that are rich in detail.

With one exception, the Mezzacappa Six features the same musicians as the 2017 album. The bassist has Aaron Bennett (tenor saxophone), John Finkbeiner (guitar), Tim Perkins (electronics), and Jordan Glenn (drums) with her. Mark Clifford plays vibes, an instrument played previously by William Winant. That instrumentation allows the group to bounce from a moody lounge scene (thanks to sustained vibes) to something that gets a little more choppy, which happens out of the gate in "The Soft Moon."

Finkbeiner and Clifford often work together to create the melodic center of a theme while the rest of the group builds a foundation around them. "Crystals" begins with Mezzacappa viciously plucking the bass while Clifford moves parallel to her.  When she moves into a walking line, then things really open up.  Before they conclude - stopping cold, more accurately - Bennett adds a feverish solo of wails and overtones with some interjections from the vibes, until things calm down. For three tracks titled "Signs," Mezzacappa involves the group in conducted improvisations. Two of them build on bowed bass melodies, one with minimal drum commentary, the other with the group reacting to her overtones. Glenn and Clifford get most of the space in "Signs III" - the vibist reprising a three-note line from "Signs I" which recalls Black Sabbath's title tune - before everyone joins the short conversation.

With a strong source of material and imaginative players, there is only one set back on Cosmiccomics - Perkins' electronics. In "Sun Moon" it adds a free percussive quality, almost like an arhytmical guitar. In the final "Blood, Sea" he creates some whirring over the rubato opening which feels like the band is ready for a dramatic lift-off.  But during other tracks, Perkins generates sounds that feel kind of similar to one another, chattering noises like angry birds and distract from the fire the rest of the band is creating. The most frustrating one comes in "All At One Point" where a mutant blend of R2D2 and Moog-style bloops start to get in the way. It's not that they spoil the music but the limited sound elements distract from, rather than elevate, moments like this.

Nevertheless, the group cooks. Other things to listen for are the ways the rhythm section takes a simple melodic structure and twists it over shifting tempos, while Finkbeiner, Clifford or Bennett tear it up on top. Like a good story, a lot happens here so it's best to dig in and get to know these.. characters.

Incidentally, Mezzacappa is currently active in trying to help musicians and performance spaces in the Bay Area, which have fallen on hard times due to the pandemic. In adddition to checking out her music, check out her Facebook page or things like this that are trying to help the Center for New Music.

Friday, April 24, 2020

CD Review: Paul Bryan - Cri$el Gems

Paul Bryan
Cri$el Gems

Paul Bryan is the kind of musician who gets around. A Grammy Award-winning producer for his work on Aimee Mann's Mental Illness album, he also played on Jeff Parker's recent Suite for Max Brown (International Anthem), in which the longstanding Tortoise guitarist blended electric jazz with spacey grooves and samples.  Both Bryan and Parker also appear on drummer Jeremy Cunningham's The Weather Up There (Northern Spy) which came out in February.

So the story goes, Bryan hadn't played in a jazz vein for several years. That changed when Parker moved to Los Angeles and pushed his college friend back in that direction. Cri$el Gems is the result of a year-long residency at the performance space ETA where Bryan played with a rotating cast of players, eventually taking a few into the studio to capture the mood of those sets. Along with Parker, the group consists of drummer Matt Mayhall and electric pianist Leo Pardini. Davey Chegwidden (congas) and Jay Bellerose (percussion) also appear on a few tracks.

Pardini's electric piano really sets the mood for the album, projecting a mellow vibe while giving the sound some grease at the same time. Parker maintains a clean tone, adding single note lines to the music, never getting too heavy but always making sure thing don't relax too much. It's a challenge to cover Aimee Mann's "It's So Easy To Die" with no lyrics to drive the song, but by slowing it to a sleepy pace, these players project a different aura that sustains the song's looping chord progression. If the sound of the group evokes the not-quite-fusion feel of electric '70s jazz, their 21st-century mindset ensures that they're playing modern, not retro, music.

Bryan spends a lot of Cri$el Gems in the background, keeping the players on solid ground rather than playing up his role as a leader. Together with Mayhall and the various percussionists, they create enough rhythmic action to make sure things never lock in and get too calm. He does, however, peel off a slinky solo on "Lucky Thirteen" to assert his presence. The writing has a casual feel, but he uses rhythmic shifts to give it twists and turns. His 6/4 vamp in the first half  of "Pyramid Scheme" gives the rest of the group plenty of room to stretch out freely. "Phife" also adds a subtle chord change that becomes a serious melodic hook. While the album could have used a couple more of those small changes to yield a bigger harmonic impact, the group still serves up an engaging set that makes you wonder what those nights at ETA were like when they'd stretch out a little longer than five to seven minutes.

Incidentally, the album title is pronounced "crizzle gems." Although it sounds like a Snoop Dog homage, it came from Bryan's daughter, who walked into his studio during a mixing session and drew a picture inspired by what she heard. The resulting picture of a bass guitar had the title written on it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

RIP Lee Konitz, Henry Grimes, Giuseppi Logan, Bucky Pizzarelli

My wife mentioned that after David Bowie and Prince died in 2016, a friend of hers pondered that maybe the Rapture had come and those two were the only ones that were saved. After last week, I started wondering the same thing because we lost Lee Konitz, Bucky Pizzarelli, Henry Grimes and Giuseppi Logan. Maybe the Rapture is happening in slow waves, with an earlier wave having come for the likes of John Prine and Wallace Roney.

Or maybe the world just sucks.

Probably the latter.

I'm not feeling miserably depressed and my sanity is still with me. But of course the days can be exhausting, especially if you dare to look at social media and dare even further to read comments on articles or posts, wondering, "Is this going to piss me off and doubt humanity even more?"

But this blog is social media, technically, isn't it? It's time to raise the mug to some of the ones that we lost over the past week. Here is a little of what they mean to me.

Lee Konitz.
I was always interested in him because he played alto saxophone, the instrument I played while I was in high school, and thought I would seriously pursue. It was several years beyond that before I finally dug into some prime Konitz material. It started with my parents' Gerry Mulligan Quartet 10" on which Lee is a guest. I loved that cool, dry tone of his. It was clear he was on to something with those few tracks and his mind was miles ahead even as the song started because he was already beyond the head of the song, soloing away, probably reshaping it about three times before it came out of his horn.

A friend had told me about "some Konitz album" where it was just him, Elvin Jones and a bassist doing standards but never playing the theme until the very end of the tune. Imagine how stoked I was when I found Motion, the album in question, at Jerry's Records. It was convoluted, again, like the conversation between the players had started before the tapes were rolling. It felt like the record was saying, shut up and listen and dig into the nuances of what they're doing.

When I took the record over to my parents' house, my dad noticed that Sonny Dallas was the bassist. "He's from Pittsburgh. I knew him. I used to think I was a better player than him. But he was ambitious." Interesting aside - in his early 20s, I always felt my dad looked a bit like Lee Konitz, what with the crew cut and the horn-rim glasses. At least as much as an Irish Catholic boy can resemble a Jewish boy with Russian roots.

I finally got to see Lee play at the Detroit Jazz Festival in 2013. A day before his set, we crossed paths in the hotel lobby, a few hours after he had done a Q&A with one of the festival emcees. Lee was a man who didn't mince words and that was obvious at the talk. But I was in awe. So in awe that I felt that if I ever did meet him, I should say, "I love you, Lee Konitz."

That awe came to a boil upon having him to myself. I didn't express my love but I did thank him for the music.

Henry Grimes.
There was a good reason that Grimes' return to the limelight was so significant, aside from the fact that it was such a wonderful story of helping someone get back to what they were born to do. Grimes was a monster bassist. I mean, up there with Mingus. That was apparent in 2006 when he came to Pittsburgh with multi-reedist Oluyemi Thomas. The sound that emanated from Grimes' instrument was huge, rich and imaginative. The fact that he was back playing again, which happened through the efforts of a social worker, gave me hope for the world

Earlier that day, I met with Grimes to do a Before and After listening test for JazzTimes. The real reason for those types of articles is not to see how well a musician can identify performers. The goal is to uncover what they listen for, what they like or don't like, etc, and get them to talk about it. Having been out of the music arena for a few decades, Henry identified a few people but missed others. As many articles have said, he was a man of few words too, so it was hard to get much out of him that day. The piece never ran but no matter. There were bigger things he had on his mind.

Giuseppi Logan.
New York Times writer Giovanni Russonello wrote an article about Grimes and Logan, which mentioned that both had similar histories of disappearance followed by comebacks. Like Grimes, Logan recorded for ESP-Disk', releasing two albums of wild, free jazz that were intriguing despite being a bit more on the primitive side. Logan might not have been technically as adept as his peers, but there was no denying the passion of his work. More, his second album for ESP, includes a piano solo that really got to the emotional heart of what Logan was trying to convey. While I wasn't as into his 2010 comeback disc, it felt like he was just getting (re)started, getting his chops going and that greater things were coming. Hopefully, the last ten years gave him some sense of satisfaction artistically.

Bucky Pizzarelli
Of these four musicians, guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli is the one whose catalog I am least familiar with. But at the same time, he was one of the most recorded guitarists in history, doing session work all the time, so perhaps I've heard him more often that I realize. Anyone who is that prolific and called upon has to be an ace at what they do, so I tip my hat to him. Besides, he played on Walter Wanderley's album Kee-Ka-Roo, an album that my sister and I practically wore out when we were kids. (At least we wore out the cover because I have the same copy at my house and the seams are totally split, making it a double gatefold record.)

Another Detroit story: The first year I attended the Festival, I was sitting in the hotel lobby talking to author Ashley Kahn (listening to him, rather) when Bucky Pizzarelli walked by. Kahn looked at him, smiled and said, "Hi, Mr. P." It made me think that anyone who can get a well-rounded author like Kahn to address him as "Mr. P" deserves kudos.

For a full obituary on Lee Konitz, check out Michael West's piece on the JazzTimes page.  There is also a great one on the WBGO website by David Adler.

West also wrote this one on Bucky Pizzarelli.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

CD Review: Curt Sydnor - Deep End Shallow

Curt Sydnor
Deep End Shallow
(Out Of Your Head)

Curt Sydnor saw something when he was young that left a strong impression on him. His hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia had a public swimming pool with elaborate cut stone in the gazebo and the pool itself. In 1961, rather than take the advice of civil rights advocates, who wanted to integrate the pool, local leaders decided to drain it, and walked away from what would have been a beautiful public space. The Riverside Park Pool still exists, only now it's become a modern ruin, with grass growing out of the pool floor. Young Curt saw that space when he was growing up and wondered what would motivate someone to take such a drastic step, denying everyone of this opportunity in the process.

Deep End Shallow is not a concept album, but keyboardist Sydnor muses about the Riverside Park Pool in two songs, the title track and "Fall Behind." The latter features him singing fragmented lyrics on the subject: "Let's describe to the high industrialists/ Fields mown fallow/ the deep end is shallow/ Don't fill it in, men/ Think of the children."

Unless you know it's there, the lyrical punch might be easy to miss. While Sydnor has the chops to pull of some prog-jazz - which occurs throughout the album - "Fall Behind" leans a little closer to psychedelic electronics heard in bands like Black Moth Super Rainbow and the solo work by their front man Tobacco. Voices are distorted to the point where it's hard to tell if Sydnor is singing lyrics or simply vocalizing. If the message is buried in translation, it puts more emphasis on the layered music surrounding the words.

Out of Your Head, the label spearheaded by bassist Adam Hopkins, lays claim to a catalog that includes complex jazz by Hopkins and Dustin Carlson, as well as Michael Attias' dexterous saxophone/piano performances.  Sydnor sounds nothing like either of those things, which is part of the charm. Along with the latest Destroyer album, Have We Met, Deep End Shallow has taken vintage keyboard sounds that were once novel voices used minimally by '80s bands and has given them a serious role in creating progressive music . The album also includes a seemingly far-flung group of players: Deerhoof's Greg Saunier on drums, Matisyahu collaborator Aaron Dugan on guitar; Michael Coltun of Mdou Moctar on bass; and saxophonist Caroline Davis.

Sometimes the instruments blend together. "Rus in Urbe" sounds like an aggressive version of mid '70s Soft Machine where it's hard to tell Davis' horn from Syndor's overdriven keys, since the saxophonist ran her instrument through a guitar amp. This comes amidst Dugan's shredding breakdown. Just as things start getting veering towards proggy soundtrack music ("Them"), Syndor jettisons the band and sits at the acoustic piano for "Fieldgaze Variations," a contemplative Romantic piece that's bookended by a sizzling sound that might have come from the amps that he, Davis and Dugan just finished ravaging on the previous tracks.

Curt Sydnor has a lot of ideas of what kind of music he wants to play. (Now residing in Richmond, VA, he spent several years living and playing in Brooklyn.) In addition to all of the above, "Starewell" launches the album with a keyboard riff inspired by Herbie Hancock. Sometimes the act of putting all your muses in one basket spreads an artist too thin. The mix of styles on Deep End Shallow, on other hand, has yielded an diverse program. It might cause some head scratching but things become clear pretty quickly.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

CD Review: Liberty Ellman - Last Desert

Liberty Ellman
Last Desert

Guitarist Liberty Ellman's music is constructed in such a way that all the performers have interlocking parts that all work together. Although members of the band get a chance to lead the music at various times, it doesn't always sound like they're playing a solo, definitely not in the traditional sense. Often times trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson makes a brief, brightly colored statement which is quickly followed by alto saxophonist Steve Lehman, who fires off a series of rapid lines. The brevity of these moments in a piece like "The Sip" makes them feel more like an open section where the players recline in the mood of the music, rather than play over changes. 

Even though Ellman's sextet locks in with one another, that doesn't necessarily mean it's a smooth ride either. In "Doppler," the guitarist, bassist Stephan Crump, tubaist Jose Davila and drummer Damion Reid roll on a moderate 6/8 while Lehman and Finlayson play a staccato melody in four on top of them. The horns aren't playing the kind of melody that meets the other players every few bars either. It feels a little unsettling, but anyone familiar with fellow Pi artist Steve Coleman (with whom Finlayson plays) can hear the musical logic as these two parts move as one.

It helps that this group knows each other so well too. They all played on Ellman's last album, Radiate, in 2015 and their paths have crossed in other projects.  The guitarist and Davila both play in Henry Threadgill's Zooid. Lehman's octet features Davila and Finlayson, and his trio includes Reid. Crump also plays with Ellman in the bassist's Rosetta Trio. The comfort they exude makes the music flow easily.

While the two-part title track might be the album's centerpiece, the eight-minute "Portals" offers a detailed account of how the band moves.  After a haunting, out of tempo melody, Crump plays a throughtful bass interlude marked by both rapid plucking and open space. Then Reid shapes the mood with a pulse that cues everyone, sans Davila, back in. Ellman favors single note lines, drawing on his unique melodic scope. The guitarist sounds a bit like his mind wants to rush but his notes always sound crisp. When he does play polyphonically, particularly in "Lost Desert Part 1," it adds to bright splash of color to the setting, even if the attack happens quickly. 

In the end, one of the most impressive things about Lost Desert might be that no one comes across as a leader in this music. Everyone's role is equally significant and all six of them shift between support roles, which add clarity, and moments where they take center stage, with no easy way to predict when the role will change. Just keep listening to discover how this happens.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

RIP Hal Willner

I've always thought John Zorn helped me to discover Thelonious Monk, and it's true to a great extent. But I never would have discovered Monk if Zorn hadn't appeared on That's the Way I Feel Now, a wide-ranging tribute to the great pianist which was assembled by producer Hal Willner. So maybe it's Willner I owe big time.

Hal Willner passed away yesterday at the age of 64. It hasn't been confirmed yet but it appears that he was suffering from symptoms of the coronavirus. Along with Ellis Marsalis, Bill Withers, Mike Longo, Manu Dibango, Wallace Roney and many others, it's almost too much to bear.

But I am here to praise Mr. Willner, not bury him. Around 1983 when I was aspiring to be an alto saxophonist, I discovered John Zorn playing that horn along with an array of duck and bird calls.on the first Golden Palominos album. Suddenly I wanted to hear everything he was doing. That eventually lead me to That's the Way I Feel Now, which featured him playing "Shuffle Boil," a deep Monk cut, of course.

Although I was getting into jazz, having purchased some Coltrane, Miles and even Ornette, I wasn't really up on Monk, aside from the fact that I knew I should be. This album was a perfect primer for me. To present a thumbnail sketch, it went from Monk's close associates like Charlie Rouse and Barry Harris on one end to Zorn and Shockabilly (who totally ripped "Criss Cross" apart) on the other. In between, French hornist Sharon Freeman (and four other people on that same instrument) make "Monk's Mood" sound like what he might have heard as he walked through the Pearly Gates. And no less than Peter Frampton killed on a version of "Work." Rather than list everyone that played on it, click here to check out the whole lineup.

But the music wasn't all that Willner provided. Hoping that his production would motivate listeners to find the original versions of these songs, Willner provided an index on the inner sleeves. One list had a select discography, the other cross-referenced albums and songs. It also included the address for Mosaic Records who had just released their first box set - Monk's complete Blue Note recordings. I know at least one person that took all that information to heart. You're reading his words now.

Who would do all that? (I usually don't ask questions when I'm writing but this situation calls for it.) Someone who really cares about music. Someone who knows music and wants to share it, even when it's delivered with some crazy ideas added to the mix.

The same thing happened when Willner produced Weird Nightmare, a tribute to Charles Mingus in 1992. He even admits in the liner notes that Sue Mingus might have thought he was crazy for this one. This time around, he incorporated instruments built by Harry Partch into the arrangements, which didn't really add anything to the music - aside from intrigue. But even though it wasn't as consistent, it worked because it was a Hal Willner production, and the flops were just as significant as the home runs. Yeah, Keith Richards' swagger in "Don't Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb On Me" is embarrassing (he gets the title wrong in the introduction) but the ensemble's swampy version of "Canon" is the epitome of dark pedal point drone in my book. And when Robbie Robertson reads from Beneath the Underdog in the second part of that track, it slays me every time.

My wife had a similar eye-opening experience thanks to Willner. Being a Tom Waits fan, she bought Lost In the Stars (The Music of Kurt Weill). That album introduced her to Marianne Faithful, who appeared on it. She also researched Weill and came across the works of his wife Lotte Lenya. Then she picked up Stay Awake, the Disney tribute album on which Willner got Waits, Ringo Starr, Sun Ra and the Replacements to all interpret songs from Disney movies.

Naturally those accomplishments are just the tip of the iceberg with Hal Willner. He worked on Saturday Night Live. If he hadn't asked Jeff Buckley to perform at a tribute to the singer's estranged father, the world might have never heard of the younger Buckley. As the music director for Night Music, he curated one of the craziest music shows to ever grace the airwaves. If you don't believe me, go to youtube and find Bongwater performing "You Don't Love Me Yet." That performance encapsulated everything that was right about music to me in 1990.

But those tribute albums both shaped me in ways that I almost take for granted now. And the mention of his name brought me and Jennie together years ago.

So, Hal, thanks. Your bold outlook is an inspiration. You can't be replicated but I hope someone listens to the world with the same joie de vivre that you did.

CD Review: Shabaka & the Ancestors - We Are Sent Here By History

Shabaka and the Ancestors
We Are Sent Here By History

"We Are Sent Here by History is a meditation on the fact of our coming extinction as a species. It is a reflection from the ruins, from the burning, a questioning of the steps to be taken in preparation for our transition individually and societally if the end is to be seen as anything but a tragic defeat." - Shabaka Hutchings

There's really no way that Shabaka Hutchings could have been thinking of the COVID-19 pandemic was he was preparing his new album. In this statement, he continues by talking about how "western expansionism, capitalist thought and white supremist [sic] structural hegemony" have brought us to this end. So he's looking far beyond the virus and these modern times. Nevertheless, it's a little too prescient.

Which is not to say that We Are Sent Here by History is a downer of an album. It's heavy at times, but it comes in the form of driving jazz with African and Afro-Caribbean foundations that reinforce the urgency of the music. Tenor saxophonist Hutchings's approach has more of a wide-ranging appeal, which can appeal to listeners whose tastes might lean more towards Robert Glasper than Matthew Shipp. While his performances might inspire audiences to cut the rug instead of listening attentively, neither does Hutchings simply play things to lure that kind of crowd either.

Hutchings, born in Britain and raised in Barbados,  and the Ancestors - a group of South African jazz musicians - debuted in 2016 with Wisdom of Elders. The new album marks their debut for Impulse!, and the label is an apt place for him. His music dips into the spiritual jazz that Pharoah Sanders recorded for the label in '60s and '70s. In fact, "Beast Too Spoke of Suffering" fades in much like Side Two of Sanders' Karma, when "The Creator Has a Master Plan" reaches the point where free jazz commingles with a tent revival. However, Hutchings' free moments don't get as searing.

He plays with more restraint, showing variety throughout the set in the way he alters his tone. When moments call for it, Hutchings' upper register has a crying tone similar to John Coltrane. In "The Coming Of the Strange Ones" he has the attack of a bar walking honker. "Teach Me How to Be Vulnerable," which closes the album with only Thandi Ntuli's piano behind him, sounds like he's playing a lyric due to the ruminative quality of  his performance.

Although he gets plenty of room to blow, as does alto saxophonist Mthunzi Mvubu, Hutchings's solos often feel more like variations on riffs. It isn't until "Til the Freedom Comes Home" that he really gets a chance to fully stretch out as a soloist.

But with the Ancestors' churning behind him, there's never a moment where it sounds like Hutchings is settling. Drummer Tumi Mogorosi and percussionist Gontse Makhene create plenty fire of an Elvin Jones variety, tumbling and driving the music, along with Ariel Zamonksy's solid bass grooves (during which you can hear the wood of his instrument resonating). Many of the tracks feature Siyabongu Mthembu singing, but the vocals never get in the way of, or distract, from the music. In fact the lyrics, and Mthembu's background shouts, elevate the emotion.

Granted there are more aspects of We Are Sent Here By History that could be excavated, such as the lyrical contexts, written by Mthembu and sung in languages such as Zulu. But even without knowing the text, it proves that the music stands on its own as a solid release.

Monday, April 06, 2020

CD Review - Landline

Another release from late last  year that should be noticed now.

(Loyal Label)

It sounds like a crazy concept for a musical project. Or one so esoteric that it might only appeal to the performers and their close supporters. Four musicians get together for a project where no one, absolutely not one of them, is a leader. Each of them has two weeks to compose a piece. They can use any medium to compose it - standard notation, graphic scoring or whatever. Upon the two week deadline, the music is passed along to another band member, who can add to it, change it or leave it alone. Then it gets passed to the next player. Everyone gets to initiate an idea and serve as second, third or fourth person on the other player's works. The process is inspired by the kid's game "Telephone," where information gets reshaped with every person it passes through. The band name Landline riffs on the Telephone concept.

The egalitarian quartet consists of Chet Doxas (tenor saxophone), Jacob Sacks (piano), Zack Lober (bass) and Vinnie Sperrazza (drums), who have come up with an album that never allows the listener to settle easily into any situation for very long. Instead, the album feels like a 12-part suite where even the lines between the pieces get blurred, adding to the intrigue of the whole thing. "Michael Attias" begins in tribute to its namesake's dexterity at playing piano and saxophone simultaneously with an out of tempo unison line that later gets played in a canon over a chugging rhythm section. Without looking at the CD player, it's hard to tell where it ends and "Modern Jazz" begins, with its piano and tenor alternately playing close together and in opposition over a rigid pulse.

Short pieces act as interludes, revealing that the band realized that laying out can be as effective as playing. At least one track last around just a minute or so, and several don't end so much as merely stop. Sacks plays mostly single notes in "Crystalline," waiting until they've completely decayed before striking the next key. The rest of the group sits this one out, leaving his sparse approach to fill the room, albeit sparingly. Next up, "Feel the Bernstein" finds him playing a dislocated Monk lines over steady rhythm section before Doxas enters gruffly, eventually joining him in a theme.

"12 Years" sounds like an Wayne Shorter abstraction from a mid '60s Miles Davis album, with Sperrazza simply rolling on the cymbals while Doxas plays long tones. In "Shiny Things," the saxophonist simply toys with the pads on his horn without blowing a pitch, and Lober takes the most prominent role in the languid scene. To prove that the band can come together and groove, they follow this track with "After the Money" which has a loose-limbed groove making it move.

Only half of the quartet's 24 pieces appear on this album, which means there is very likely going to be a sequel in the offing. Landline is one of those rare albums where the journey feels just as exciting as the destination. Maybe that is esoteric after all, but it's esoteric in the non-pejorative sense.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

"Stairway to Heaven" and "Free Bird" To Be Pulled From the Airwaves

Back in January, word leaked out that the self-proclaimed "#1 Audio Company in America" was engaging in a series of massive layoffs across the country. As Rolling Stone aptly described it, the move struck a serious blow to local radio, an institution that is slowly coming to a halt. Locally 3WS (WWSW-FM 94.5) seems to have eliminated the '60s from their "oldies" playlist, adding freeze-dried music from the 1980s in its wake.

Now it appears that two of classic rocks songs might be put out to pasture.  A internal memo obtained by a college intern says that Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" and Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" are set to be pulled from commercial radio playlists around the country. While some listeners might rejoice at the move, having heard both songs enough to last a lifetime, the move isn't being taken because of oversaturation. It's based on length.

"Stairway to Heaven," originally from Led Zeppelin's fourth album - which was originally untitled but has also become known unofficially as ZOSO due to the one of the set of runes that appeared on the album - clocks in at 7:55. "Free Bird," from Lynyrd Skynyrd's debut album (Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'erd), comes in at a whopping 9:08. (In keep with industry standards from the 1970s, both bands also released live versions of the tunes, which drag on even longer and feature banter before and during the songs, which has also become iconic.) Therein lies the rub: Both songs are too damn long for today's commercial playlists.

"We understand that a lot of people love these songs. Some of our executives have claimed that they, literally, would not be here right now if these songs hadn't been playing on car radios at a certain time," the memo states, "but the industry is changing. We didn't become the top dog in the USA by clogging the airwaves with noodling over three-chord riffs or lyrics that don't make sense. It's done with advertising."

The intern who obtained the memo - who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of losing an opportunity to work in an industry that hires their demographic - sat in on the meeting when the announcement was made. "No one seemed to be to bothered by it," says the intern, who luckily made it home for springbreak just before the Covid-19 pandemic took hold. "A lot of the dudes in the room said they didn't really know the songs anyway. The senior staff people said that listeners might get mad but the bigwigs don't seem to really care about music anyway."

And how did the intern feel? "I didn't think I knew the songs. But my dad pulled them up on Spotify and gave me a hard time for not knowing them," she said. "And I was, like, 'Oh, yeah., you played  these at my graduation party.'"

With Covid-19 putting business on hold, it's unclear when the two songs will be deleted from the hard drive, or whether they're just two in a longer list of songs that will be pulled. When asked if there was any mention of the Outlaws' equally lengthy (9:46) boogie jam "Green Grass and High Tides" making way for more commercials, the intern replied, "I don't know what that is."