Daniel Koren’s “The Most Important Thing”

the most important thing

When a performance is difficult to explain yet utterly cogent to live audiences, something suspiciously like art is probably happening. In the case of composer Daniel Koren’s “The Most Important Thing,” a mélange of music, video, dance, and comedy, the results are wildly entertaining, formally provocative, and resolutely their own thing. That’s not easy in a culture built on reiteration. But the Israeli-born, Berklee-educated, Brooklyn-based Koren appears to have an essential quality intrinsic to liberated creators: fearlessness. Disembodied heads singing in harmony; tiny hands clapping and snapping; nonsense syllables conglomerated into a symphony — “The Most Important Thing” is subversive, surreal, and, if you’re hip, unmissable.

Samsara

samsara

The intent of the documentary “Samsara” is to “illuminates the links between humanity and the rest of the nature, showing how our life cycle mirrors the rhythm of the planet.” Birth, life death: and repeat. The director and cinematographer Ron Fricke, working in ravishing 70mm film, guides us through the journey with no words, no dialogue, no voiceover, only exquisite music and imagery of heartbreaking beauty and transcendence. But “Samsara” is not merely a collection of pretty pictures. Fricke successfully manages to explore profound ideas solely through imagery. The film contains visual puns and several strongly sequenced “narrative” threads, particularly our human connection to other animal species. The result is one of the most transcendent works of art we’ve ever experienced.

Tierney Sutton’s “After Blue”

tierney sutton after blue

When one of the world’s greatest jazz singers, Tierney Sutton, interprets one of the world’s greatest songwriters, Joni Mitchell, the result, in the case of Sutton’s new “After Blue,” is a startlingly sublime work of art. Recording for the first time in a decade without her Tierney Sutton Band mates Christian Jacob and Ray Brinker (the extravagantly musical Kevin Axt appears), Sutton’s clarion voice receives stellar accompaniment from the Turtle Island String Quartet, Peter Erskine, Larry Goldings, and other heavy dudes. Al Jarreau duets — and trades scat licks with her. Hubert Laws blows. It’s that kind of album. And it has most of the Joni songs you’d hope to hear, all of them sung so beautifully, so knowingly.

A Cheap Trick that Might Be Something More

mad-genius

Better than Tristan and Isolde, better than the union of European Nations, the marriage of Form and Content is the zenith of harmonious blending, the devoutly wished for goal of writers and artists and anyone else in the business of making something from nothing — creating, that is — who strive to match message with medium, all in the hope of somehow communicating the ineffable to observers (listeners, readers, innocent passers-by) who almost never have time for cogitating or interest in unraveling, folks who are more concerned with the obvious and reasonable question “what’s in it for me?” or, more precisely, what utility does it have for someone whose chief concern, like all of us on some level, is if it can it be eaten or worn or driven to the mall, where the collected baubles of our culture hang in window displays like so many . . . → Read More: A Cheap Trick that Might Be Something More

Encouraging Words for Despairing Artists

courbet-the-despairing-man-1843-1845

If you’re an artist, or have an artistic impulse, or care deeply about art, you probably experience the kind of quiet despair that I find in many of my jazz musician friends, my poet friends, my painter friends, and frequently from myself. Yes, it’s heartbreaking to be part of a culture that finds the work that we do increasingly irrelevant and of little worth (at least in the marketplace sense). It’s depressing to be so astonishingly good at something and yet so relatively uncelebrated and unappreciated. But you must never stop. We — all of us who care in varying degrees about stuff other than acquiring and consuming — are out there. We’re reading, and listening, and looking, and cogitating, and arguing, and questioning, and loving. We can’t be co-opted. We’re too smart and too aware. We’re not going anywhere. And we need you, you specifically, . . . → Read More: Encouraging Words for Despairing Artists

Ode to “Opening Night: The Improvised Musical”

opening night

Los Angeles is lousy with talent. Just as the plethora of beautiful men and women on the streets (and in the stores, and everywhere else) start to blend into the palm-lined boulevards, it’s easy to become immune to the charms of so many funny, clever, quick-witted people. When you see theater or hear music or comedy in this city you expect excellence — or at least what passes for it in a society whose cultural norms make folks like Adam Sandler and Chris Rock the emperors of entertainment. LA is home to a thriving live-performance scene; there’s not a day of the week when an intrepid ticket buyer can’t find stellar talent doing their thing on small stages in every precinct of town.

Improv Olympic West, the LA-branch of the Chicago-based institution — Second City also has an emerging presence here in Hollywood — . . . → Read More: Ode to “Opening Night: The Improvised Musical”

Remix Manifesto

rip remix

1. Culture always builds on the past. Whether it was composer and piano virtuoso Franz Liszt using Gypsy melodies in his compositions, Metallica borrowing song structures from Diamond Head or The Rolling Stones recording Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain” as a “traditional, arranged by Keith Richards,” composers have always used previous works as inspiration for their own pieces. Even Walt Disney – whose company is now among the most aggressive of copyright holders – was an inveterate remixer.

2. The past always tries to control the future. Since the Internet was developed, the entertainment lobby of the USA has pushed the government towards tougher laws leading to lawsuits being filed against more than 24,000 American citizens. Corporations have limited the free exchange of ideas in order to increase their profits. Whether it’s patenting forms of life or intellectual concepts, these attempts to gain control . . . → Read More: Remix Manifesto

An Opinion You Can Trust

grammy

The most irksome problem with the Blogosphere is that everybody is a critic, which is cool for everybody but troubling for everybody else. Without institutional authority — a newspaper, a university, a trade group — to certify who should be listened to and respected and who should be dismissed and neglected, discerning the wheat from the chaff has become increasingly difficult.

This is why now, more than ever, we desperately need award shows.

When a consumer must decide which record he needs to own — or, more likely, steal — he can either trust his own critical faculties, sift through thousands of nattering nabobs postulatiing into the ether, or he can take the word of Sony/Warners/Universal. Who knows more about music than those guys?

Buzzkillers who dismiss industry-sponsored awards shows as cynical marketing ploys meant to consolidate advertising power among the most influential of the . . . → Read More: An Opinion You Can Trust

Planning for the New Year

Beautiful horizon

Those of us who suffer from Horizon Sickness — always looking ahead to the next thing instead of being fully engaged with the present — tend to be excellent planners. We maintain detailed lists; we’re fantastically organized; our desks are neat. We foresee everything.

Sadly, after several decades of insisting otherwise, we must admit that no amount of color Excel spreadsheets and Post-It notes on the refrigerator can bring order to a chaotic universe. So much, alas, is beyond our well-meaning control.

What you are reading is a from-memory transcription of something that got inadvertantly erased twenty minutes prior. I had a couple of nice paragraphs going, but know they’re lost and I can’t remember them. But I can simulate them. They were about how things never turn out quite how you expect them.

Staying the course — remaining in what seemed at first . . . → Read More: Planning for the New Year

Art After 40

old guitar

After the excessive optimisim of youth, the impressive energy of young adulthood, and the confidence of being all grown up, those of us who are fortunate enough to make it to our Forties generally look forward to an incremental and inexorable decline in just about every meaningful area of life — and not just health, romance, and adventure. Your work, your career, if you’re lucky enough to still have one, changes. For some, it ends. If you are, say, a professional athlete, your days of glory will either be in steep decline or finished. If you’re a model, you had better start looking for judging jobs on third-rate televsion programs.

These are extreme examples, of course. Few of us rely solely on the magnificence of our body (or the feats we can do with it) to earn a living and leave a legacy. But all . . . → Read More: Art After 40