In my copious spare time (heh) I've been known to pen brief CD reviews for the Internet music service eMusic. Somehow, happily, over there I'm enlisted as a jazz specialist, which is good for keeping that work from conflicting with my regular gigs. And a true bounty arrived just this week, as eMusic added a sizeable number of new titles from the catalogs of the Italian labels Black Saint and Soul Note.
To call these labels -- or perhaps "this label," since they're both imprints operated by a single operation -- important is to understate the case by an order of magnitude: I literally can't imagine a scenario regarding jazz in the '80s, nor my own education and immersion in the music, without the efforts of label owner Giovanni Bonandrini and his colleagues.
Lucky me, I was allowed to review three longtime favorite discs: John Carter's magnificent Dauwhe, Paul Motian's mellow The Story of Maryam and Cecil Taylor's mysterious Olu Iwa.
Other crucial albums in the launch -- many reviewed by some of my favorite writers, including Kevin Whitehead, Britt Robson and Peter Margasak -- include two more desirable Taylor sets, Winged Serpent (Sliding Quadrants) and For Olim, as well as the self-titled debut by Old and New Dreams, Antony Braxton's Eugene, the World Saxophone Quartet's Revue,Trickles by Steve Lacy and Roswell Rudd, Henry Threadgill's Spirit of Nuff...Nuff,Voodooby the Sonny Clark Memorial Quartet, and so very much more.
Even if you're not an eMusic member -- and I'm certainly not trying to sell you a subscription -- this is worth a look, and definitely something to celebrate. Me, I'm a paying subscriber, and I can't wait to dig in and hear more than a few albums I've always meant to hear, but never quite got around to.
Many of my friends and colleagues first became acquainted with the United Palace, a magnificent old auditorium on Broadway at 175th Street in Washington Heights, through Carnegie Hall presentations: either last year's "Rite of Spring" Project or this year's sequel, the "Bernstein Mass" Project. Having missed both of those, I finally visited the hall last night in what was for me another first:
"Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the poet laureate of rock 'n' roll. The voice of the promise of the '60s counterculture. The guy who forced folk into bed with rock. Who donned makeup in the '70s and disappeared into a haze of substance abuse. Who emerged to find Jesus. Who was written off as a has-been by the end of the '80s, and who suddenly shifted gears, releasing some of the strongest music of his career beginning in the late '90s. Ladies and gentlemen: Columbia recording artist, Bob Dylan!"
Right: my very first live encounter with Bob Dylan, in a sold-out show before a rabidly enthusiastic audience of fans, who had acquired tickets for this unpublicized event exclusively through his official website.
No surprise to the Doctor or myself that Dylan's band was ferocious, mixing a well-honed discipline with a vibrant, raucous edge. Guitarists Stu Kimball and Denny Freeman, bassist Tony Garnier and drummer George Receli were lined up stage right, angled toward the middle. Dylan faced them from stage left, playing mostly organ and harmonica; behind him Donnie Herron played pedal steel, electric mandolin and mostly inaudible fiddle. Now and then Dylan ambled out to center stage, armed with a handsome hollow-body electric guitar.
Although I've long admired Dylan's work, I'm no hardcore follower. I imagined it was something special when he opened the show with "Gotta Serve Somebody" -- perhaps in deference to Reverend Ike and the Christ United Church, who own and operate the building -- but I would not have guessed that the last time it was played was February 5, 2002 -- a statistic shared by a poster at The Never Ending Pool, an online Dylan community. (I stumbled upon that site this morning while seeking to confirm the set list I scribbled during the show; pretty intense to read along as the speculation there turns to a sort of mild panic as fans at the show failed to provide a blow-by-blow account via cell phone or Blackberry! Not that I'm poking fun; there's a part of me that can definitely relate to this kind of fanaticism.)
The Doc and I had a terrific time here: the seats were great, the sound (inaudible fiddle aside) was excellent and the vibe was one of loose-limbed, funky joy. Even the inscrutable Dylan was seen flashing more than a few toothy grins near the end of the night -- causing the first fan whoresponded on Dylan's own site to speculate whether he'd had dental work done. It was especially fascinating to hear the way this mercurial icon reinvented songs from his estimable back pages: "The Times They Are a-Changin'" as a bullfrog-voiced waltz; the recent "Thunder on the Water" as a hard-edged shuffle; "Blowin' in the Wind" turned to a gentle sway a la "What a Wonderful World."
But was this, as another poster on The Never Ending Pool bemusedly speculated, the last concert of Dylan's legendary "Never Ending Tour" (which has rolled on now for more than 20 years and upward of 2,100 shows) -- and perhaps of his entire career? Somehow, I don't think so. Hardly seems likely that anyone playing this well, having this much fun and engendering so much devotion plans to bow out any time soon, though devotees would certainly know better than I. But whatever the case, I'm glad to have been in attendance.
Set list: "Gotta Serve Somebody" / "The Times They Are a-Changin'" / "The Levee's Gonna Break" / "Tomorrow Is a Long Time" / "Things Have Changed" / "Desolation Row" / "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" / "Beyond the Horizon" / "Til I Fell in Love with You" / "Make You Feel My Love" / "Honest with Me" / "Spirit on the Water" / "Highway 61 Revisited" / "Ain't Talkin'" / "Thunder on the Mountain" // Encore 1: "Like a Rolling Stone" / "All Along the Watchtower" // Encore 2: "Blowin' in the Wind"
My first news brief for the Times, this is a paragraph about what transpired when I turned up on Thursday night for the first event in the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center's "Night Fantasies" mini-festival. The concert was rescheduled for this afternoon at 1pm; it's probably coming to an end even as I type this. I'm sorry to have missed it, especially Gilles Vonsattel's first performance of Elliott Carter's masterful Night Fantasies. But a day off work has become an almost unthinkably dear privilege just lately, and I selfishly chose to cling to it. There are two more concerts in this admirable series: tonight (Sat., Nov. 22) with Claron McFadden and Gil Kalish, and tomorrow evening (Sun., Nov. 23) with Pierre-Laurent Aimard. Unsurprisingly, both are completely sold out.
Two notes regarding the second of these articles. First, in the print edition of the Times, the review was credited to Vivien Schweitzer; a correction was added on the web site, where the byline was correct all along. Second, in the penultimate line I meant to write that Alexei Tanovitsky sang his role with an appropriate touch of pathos, not chaos. That was my glitch, not the paper's, and the Times rightly makes no allowances for unintended brain bubbles.