Sunday, January 27, 2008

In Rotation: Shostakovich's Cello Cto. No.1

What? Sure signs of aging: cold winter night, alone in the car, stereo up loud, and what I am I listening to? Dmitri Shostakovich's first cello concerto.

Why this? Why today? Who can say? On my way out the door, I headed to the CD shelf, and something guided my hand toward this. Used to be I took a handful of RFTC or Husker Du when I knew there'd be nobody else in the car to complain about the noise. This still rattles the sinuses, but I take it as a sign of maturity that it was my first choice. Can tucking in my shirts be all that far off?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Tonight on Now's the Time: Michael White

A very special version of Now's the Time tonight - the show I host along with four other members of the Improvised Music Collective over on CKCU FM - dedicated to the work of jazz violinist Michael White.

In addition to music spanning his career - his own records, as well as sessions led by John Handy, Jerry Hahn and Joe Henderson - I'll be playing audio from an interview I did with White just last week.

So, if you're not busy, do what I do when I'm not hosting the show: put some basketball/baseball/hockey on the TV, mute it, pull a book off the shelf, and plug yourself into the radio/computer. Then let me do the rest. (And if televised sports aren't your thing, feel free to omit the TV-on-mute part. The energy gods will thank you.)

For more info on White's current endeavours, please visit his Myspace page, or his website.

NTT can be heard from 8:30-11:00 PM EST every Thursday night on CKCU 93.1 FM in Ottawa and environs, and at everywhere else.

***UPDATE, Jan. 25--> Apologies to anyone outside CKCU's broadcast range who tried to listen via the station's website last night, only to be stymied by the broken link there. I learned shortly before going on the air that the RealAudio stream is not currently functioning. I will be re-airing the profile on White in its entirety again in the future, once the website audio situation is fixed. I'll post the date here once I have it. Again, profuse and sincere apologies.

Monday, January 21, 2008


It’s amazing to watch a clip of Charlie Parker and ponder the seismic shift he and the first wave boppers triggered in music. Parker, like our man Brancusi, produced a body of work with unmistakable aims: formal effrontery buoyed by a snap, a dynamism that put the lie to the 1:1 relationship of artistry and stuffiness.

No coincidence, of course, that jazz went wonky in the middle of the twentieth century; a century which amounted to a virtually unending string of cultural and political revolutions, a breathless and traumatic period so singular that it represents a rupture in the timeline of human history.

Maybe, at this remove, what’s so charming about bebop, and visual art from several decades ago, and French New Wave cinema, and Ulysses, is as much their inherent charms as the suspicion I can’t shake that we’ve seen the last of works with the power to surprise us by virtue of their disdain for formal restrictions. There are no sacred cows left to be slaughtered (hell, you can see the Met’s latest production in glorious HD at your local multiplex), and even if I’m wrong about that, we can’t be shaken because there is no contiguous we left to shake, just a bottomless ocean of micro-interests and personalized homepages. The way I figure it, the only cultural revolutions we can expect have everything to do with technology; new platforms of information delivery changing the way we consume cultural products. The only consensus we’ll reach, as consumers of art, will be in the gadgets in our pockets we use to access it.

So Bird, as tragic an individual as he was, also represents, I think, a lost epoch wherein the new could actually prove novel. A time when the sanctified still awaited demystifying. That, as much as the changes, the furious runs, the flurry of notes fluttering from the bell of his alto, is what I hear when I listen to Charlie Parker.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Housecleaning: Best Songs of 2007 / Baseball / Michael White

Songs of Yesteryear

Alright, time to face facts: I've lost that loving feeling as far as writing about 2007 is concerned. It just feels so, I don't know... over. So rather than hem and haw and force myself to spew out a thousand dispassionate and listless words on the topic of the best songs from that long-ago time, as I had promised to do, I will instead just give you the list, and let you fill in snarky/clever/thoughtful and poignant little write-ups about each one.

So, the songs, in the order they appear on the TiOM: Bo2007 CD (i.e. not ranked) are:

01 His Name is Alive, “Sweet Earth Flying”

02 Beirut, “Cliquot”

03 Iron & Wine, “Wolves (Song of the Shepherd’s Dog)”

04 Yeasayer, “2080”

05 Burial, “Shell of Light”

06 M.I.A., “Paper Planes”

07 Chromatics, “In the City”

08 Battles, “Atlas”

09 Kanye West, “Stronger”

10 Caribou, “Melody Day”

11 Spoon, “You Got Yr Cherry Bomb”

12 Stars, “Take Me to the Riot”

13 Robbers on High Street, “The Fatalist”

14 Feist, “I Feel it All”

15 Band of Horses, “Is There a Ghost?”

16 The Arcade Fire, “Keep the Car Running”

17 Okkervil River, “Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe”

18 The National, “Apartment Story”

That was weird. I don't even remember 2007.


Nextly, it's no secret to anyone who occasionally reads this blog that I love (lurve!) baseball, but I suspect that many of those who do frequent TiOM are not exactly what you'd call "baseball fans." So rather than subject them to the arcane and pithy details of the game and my rants thereon, when all they're really looking for is my incredibly narrow view of the world of music, I've created a new spot for all things beisbol related. Trip on over to The Bottom of the Order ( if you're interested. If not, stay put.

Michael White

Okay, I'm very excited about this: I have just this very evening conducted an interview with the great jazz violinist Michael White. I've mentioned him here before, but you can expect something more detailed to appear in the days (weeks?) to come. Very gracious man, and a wonderful conversation. It blew my mind just a little bit that this man, who has played with Dolphy, Coltrane, Joe Henderson, John Handy, and scores of others, was answering the questions I was asking as I sat at my kitchen table (thank you, Skype!) The interview will air on January 24 on Now's the Time. More details as that date approaches.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Twelve Days of Listmas: Day Twelve

3 Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Spoon can’t lose.

After Gimme Fiction, you might have expected a letdown. Instead, Britt Daniel and company delivered a lean collection, an efficient machine with its manifold parts in plain view; the inner workings and gears of sturdy independent rock & roll open and visible.

Spoon’s masterplan involves craftsmanship, bringing a tradesman’s mindset to bear on these songs. The payoff is as diverse as it is finely honed: “The Ghost of You Lingers” is probably the best rock song ever inspired by John Cage; powerpop throwdowns “You Got Yr Cherry Bomb” (which incorporates Big Star’s soul stew) and “The Underdog” (to which guest producer Jon Brion brings a wealth of mariachi horns) brim with big sound; the frayed-wire prickle of opener “Don’t Make Me a Target” (which could be directed at either President Bush or a recalcitrant lover) sounds like the minute vibration of rebar and concrete in the seconds before collapse.

This is an incredible streak we’re witnessing: from A Series of Sneaks on up to Ga5 , Spoon haven’t produced a weak album in nearly a decade, a five record run that may well go down as indie rock’s defining artistic achievement, once the tallying’s done. That’s a matter for the historians and musicologists, of course, but for the time being we can remain happy in the knowledge that Spoon aren’t done yet.

2 His Name is Alive, Sweet Earth Flower: A Tribute to Marion Brown

I have already effused praise all over this record, and I’m not sure I have anything to add, except this: it is a warm, generous, genuinely appreciative nod by one artist to another, and I think that’s what comes across in the sound of it, makes it such a joy to listen to. Way to go, Warren Defever.

1 The National, Boxer

Boxer opener “Fake Empire” starts as the sound of predawn coffee making, standing at the sink and filling the carafe while staring at the horizon where a line of light cracks the pitch. By the time the skittering drums have ushered in the horn section, full on day has arrived and you find yourself in the midst of it, heat prickling the back of your neck. Welcome to Boxer, twelve stately admissions of resignation, weariness, desperation, and the need for hope. Music for introverts, new fathers, and tired lovers.

No other collection of songs held together so well as an album this year, and no other album made me feel as much an adult, from its evocation of suffocating isolation to its fleeting joys to its acknowledgement of the myriad disappointments and compromises that constitute the mantle of maturity.

The twin pillars of Bryan Devendorf’s drumming and singer Matt Berninger’s smoke and leather purr prop Boxer up, but the foundation is hewn of heartbreaking songwriting. Peel back the music and these stories hold up. Read them when you’re done soaking up everything Raymond Carver ever put to paper.

Probably these songs hit me squarely in the solar plexus because of their vantage. The National are no longer young and they haven’t set the world on fire. They, like me, are looking back at carelessness; at guilelessness. We’re prodigies no more; we’re adults, and it isn’t always pretty. But with enough albums like this, we’ll be alright.

* * *

So there it is: 2007, all wrapped up and topped with a bow. Now I’m sitting on the couch, watching the season’s umpteenth snowstorm rage outside, keeping half an eye on the Winter Classic, and I’m moved to consider how enjoyable a year in music it was. I’ll ruminate further on it, of course, both on the air (with four of my fellow IMC members, this Thursday night), and here when I run down my favourite songs of the year now passed (which will be about as anticlimactic as Scorsese’s Oscar for those who have already received the CD). If you’ve held in and read all twelve of these posts, I thank you for your patience. Please drop a comment and let me know what you agree with or what you vehemently oppose. Then we’ll sit back and wait for 2008 to unfold.

Happy New Year.