Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Maia Macdonald – Islands Are Born

Singer-songwriter Maia Macdonald quotes Rachel Carson on the page for her new cd Islands Are Born: “It is one of the paradoxes in the way of earth and sea that a process seemingly so destructive, so catastrophic in nature, can result in an act of creation.” Aptly put. This is a pensive, evocative, resonant meditation on distance and absence. What’s strongest here are Macdonald’s casually soulful voice and her thoughtful, direct lyrics, set to sparsely fingerpicked guitar. Boston is where it all begins, where the narrator finds the guy. Not everything here is dark and wary, as when, completely out of the blue, Macdonald says “testing.” Of course, it’s a loaded statement. “Nice is not open,” is the mantra that recurs tellingly at the end. By the way, why does Boston figure so frequently and so poignantly in breakups? Mary-kate O’Neil’s Green Street, Steve Wynn’s Boston, now this?

The title track is the initial breakup – or the separation, since there’s far less rancor here than simple wistfulness and longing: “Islands are born as you disengage.” The next cut, Some Success is spiced with bass, percussion and plaintively echoey electric guitar accents: “You’re out in the midwest you confess, hiding with some success. And the isolation”coats me with too much whiskey, wine.” The City Is Sea foreshadows  resolution, and it’s not optimistic: “There’s a reason I’m staying here, it’s the simple life I fear.” A storm hits, she runs to the kitchen: “You asked me where I went, I said where I have wings…sometime in the summertime, you’ll find a box of tapes we wrote.” All of a sudden there’s a new level of meaning here: a band breakup, ouch.

Set to a charmingly sad, spiky guitar arrangement, It’s Cold and I’m Cold sees her putting him on a plane to Cali. And then she wants to follow him. “You took my hand. Goddamn!” More curse than exclamation. In Hungry As You Were, she’s back in Somerville, he’s way across the country in Potrero Hill – maybe. “Ever since the war began I’ve been living as comfortably as I can…still haven’t gone south to get my hands dirty,” campaigning for Kerry maybe? The cd closes with Steps: “Do you see Coney island in winter we do not speak.” But he sees her on the train, calls her name and she moves away. “Pick up those pieces of your heart, throw away what you don’t need anymore, plant those seeds in a big big garden…these weekends feel like The End.” What’s nicest about this cd is its refreshing individuality. Macdonald gets umpteen opportunities to lapse into cliche and misses every one. This is a really good quiet rainy day ipod album, for times like when you want to go out to the deli but it’s too wet and nasty and you’re too depressed to move much anyway. A good companion piece to Robin O’Brien’s more wrenchingly sad Eye and Storm. Maia Macdonald plays Sidewalk on June 12 at 10 PM.

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May 7, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Scott Reeves Quintet at 55 Bar, NYC 5/3/09

Fresh off a Japanese tour, composer/educator/horn player Scott Reeves was playing the second of two cd release shows for his quintet’s new one, Shapeshifter, one of the most strikingly beautiful melodic jazz albums of recent years.  What proved most interesting to discover was how thoroughly composed the songs are – and they are songs in the purest sense of the word, no words necessary. As a composer, Reeves writes to the strength of his players, tenor saxist Rich Perry’s thoughtful bluesiness, pianist Jim Ridl’s laserlike sense of darkness, bassist Mike McGuirk’s tirelessly prowling propulsion and drummer Andy Watson’s uncanny, understated feel for shade and surprise. With the new cd being a live recording, the question was how much of it would turn out to be improvised and the answer was not that much. That such a question could only be answered by seeing the band live speaks volumes.

Seated behind the club’s precariously swaying Rhodes instead of an acoustic piano, Ridl adjusted to the reverberating textures and dynamic consistency by leaving plenty of space for the notes to ring out, saving his pyrotechnics for the infrequent, bluesy run down the keys (his playing on acoustic piano on the cd is a feast of nocturnal textures). Reeves himself played with clarity, precision and the kind of exacting rigor you would expect from an academic, frequently utilizing a pitch pedal that allowed him to play chords. They opened with the cd’s darkly metamorphosizing title cut, Reeves’ alto flugelhorn harmonizing with the Rhodes to the point where the sound was a perfect blend, one instrument indistinguishable from the other, then Perry taking a lengthy, balmy excursion before a sparse Rhodes solo as the bass and drums swerved around it. The catchy, Miles Davis-inflected Last Call swung with a buoyant bluesiness before Reeves, now on trombone, introduced a subtly overcast, modal undercurrent.

Reeves went back to flugelhorn for the bustling, rhumba-flavored 3 ‘n 2, followed by a surprisingly casual and comfortable take on the otherwise quite poignant Without a Trace, a showcase for some blazing fingerwork for Ridl. They wrapped up the night’s opening set with a Miles Davis dedication, the Alchemist, a funky track that would be perfectly at home on, say, In a Silent Way. McGuirk paced it with an energetic Ron Carter-ish insistence, Ridl taking charge with an ocean of waves up and down the scale, Reeves and Perry winding up and then down in a bracingly fluttery exchange of riffs. Reeves is not exactly unknown, but underappreciated: jazz fans should discover him. And even if jazz is not your first love, you’ll undoubtedly find his melodies percolating in your brain long after taking in a show.

May 7, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two Years After the Payola Bust, Major Labels and Corporate Radio Still Playing the Same Game

Repost from the Future of Music Coalition via Lefsetz:

Using playlist data licensed from Mediaguide, Future of Music Coalition (FMC) examined four years of airplay – 2005-2008 – from national playlists, and from seven specific music formats: AC, Urban AC, Active Rock, Country, CHR Pop, Triple A Commercial and Triple A Noncommercial. FMC looked at each playlist and calculated the “airplay share” for five different categories of record labels to determine whether the ratio of major label to non-major label airplay has changed over the past four years.

The data in the report indicates almost no measurable change in station playlist composition over the past four years. While this may lead some to conclude that payola is alive and well, and that the Spitzer and FCC agreements were ineffective, the report instead views these results through a broader lens, using the data to describe the state of radio thirteen years after the passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. The playlist data analysis underscores how radio’s long-standing relationships with major labels, its status quo programming practices and the permissive regulatory structure all work together to create an environment in which songs from major label artists continue to dominate. The major labels’ built-in advantage, in large part the cumulative benefit of years payola-tainted engagement with commercial radio, combined with radio’s risk-averse programming practices, means there are very few spaces left on any playlist for new entrants. Independent labels, which comprise some 30 percent of the domestic music market [editor’s note: actually less, considering the hundreds of thousands of independent, label-free releases every year], are left to vie for mere slivers of airtime, despite negotiated attempts to address this programming imbalance.

This report also confronts a practical challenge in measuring the effectiveness of the policies negotiated by the FCC, broadcasters and the independent music community in 2007. The ambiguous language of the Rules of Engagement and the voluntary agreements make it difficult to set specific policy goals and effectively measure outcomes. In this report’s conclusion, FMC puts forward three policy recommendations – improving data collection, refocusing on localism and expanding the number of voices on the public airwaves – designed to assist both broadcasters and the FCC in ensuring a bright future for local radio and for the music community.

Read the full report here.

May 7, 2009 Posted by | Culture, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 5/7/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Thursday’s song is #447:

Simon & Garfunkel – Richard Cory

Despite using some pretty primitive amps, a lot of 60s bands got an amazing bass sound and this has some of the best, both boomy and clicky at the same time. Makes you wonder who the player was and what he was playing: a hollowbody, no doubt. Then there’s the lyrics, Edward Arlington Robinson’s offhandedly savage poem about the guy who had everything, who went home one night and put a bullet through his head. From Sounds of Silence, 1966; mp3s are everywhere. The link here is a youtube clip.

May 7, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment