We’re on the record: the world needs another Christmas music collection about as much as another porno clip. We’ve got plenty. What more needs to be added, what else can be said on the subject of Christmas songs that hasn’t already been said wonderfully well by hundreds — thousands? — of others? Pianist-arranger-composer Laurence Hobgood, until recently the celebrated collaborator of jazz vocalist Kurt Elling, thinks differently. After hearing his new collection “Christmas,” we’re glad he does. “The Twelve Days of Christmas” in twelve keys. A symphonically dense “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies” that sounds like Tchaikovsky on ‘shrooms. Joni Mitchell’s “River” — with Mr. Elling making a valedictory appearance. This is unlike all the Christmas albums that have come before it. No reiterations, many inventions.
Despite being handicapped by a complete absence of CGI natural disasters, murderous firearms, or human bloodshed, the feature film “A Late Quartet” is surprisingly interesting. You could say it’s an adult film — about four adults (members of a world-famous string quartet) playing adult music (Beethoven, Shostakovich), grappling with adult concerns (mortality, fidelity, honesty). Writer-director Yaron Silberman isn’t afraid of big ideas or small idiosyncracies. Working with a masterful cast that includes Philip Seymour Hoffmann, Christopher Walken, Catherine Keener, and the sensationally sexy Imogen Poots, he’s made a movie as compulsively watchable as much louder films. Encore, we say.
Aside from the usual side-effects of hypnotic music — tapping toes, pumping heads, swaying shoulders — one of the interesting results of listening to the Cambodian Space Project is the onset of what feels vaguely like a psychoactive hallucination. They’ve got a delightful weirdness factor (at least to unseasoned Western ears). You feel transported. But where? Angkor Wat? The 1960s? Thanks to front-lady Srey Channthy’s captivating voice — part feline mewl, part tuneful warble — CSP’s music, which they call “space rock” is as fun to hear as to dance.
Finland’s Don Johnson Big Band is an ironically named collective of modern hip-hop artists. They’re not big and they’ve got nothing to do with the former star of “Miami Vice,” but they are a band. A funky one. With percussion and a flute-and-sax man. They’re extremely groovy and unabashedly weird — klezmer gangsta rap, anyone? The best reason to see the DJBB live is their sensational front-man, the wickedly talented Tommy Lindberg, who you could fairly call “the Finnish Eminem.” But that doesn’t do him justice. He’s a superstar. If you can’t seem them live, check out their killin’ recordings (“Fiesta” is the latest) or watch Tommy and his crew on the Helsinki Metro: Ripping it Up.
The show is billed as “stories of Dinah Washington, Queen of the Blues.” And it is. But I Wanna Be Loved, which features all of Dinah’s hits, could just as easily be billed as “An Evening with Barbara Morrison.” L.A.’s Queen of Jazz & Blues is now confined to an electric wheelchair after diabetes-related operations. The scooter might as well be a throne. Barbara Morrison is a genuine American treasure, one of the living links to the era of Ella, Billie, and Ms. Dinah W. The show, which features a sensational 18-piece big band under the direction of cool cat John Stephens, runs through the end of the month at Queen Barbara’s namesake performing arts center, in Leimert Park. Go. Enjoy. Witness a living legend, a master, demonstrate the art of singing and performing.
. . . → Read More: I Wanna Be Loved
Lately we’ve been immersing ourselves in stand-up comedy and feeling altogether good about it. You can be addicted to a lot worse things than endorphins.
Much of the past year in Los Angeles has been spent closely observing comedians doing their thing: ranting, rambling, telling jokes, riffing, raving, singing songs, reading from a script, making it up on the spot, playing it safe, taking risks. Being funny. Being very funny. Or not. But always trying to find the magic, searching for that moment or that thing that connects us all – most of us, anyway; the ones who get it – in a sense of real delight and shared understanding, similar to the way we communally react to live music or to a brilliant actor telling the truth.
Los Angeles is home to an enormous number of funny people, a minority of who works in . . . → Read More: The Art of Being Funny in Los Angeles
We’ve previously discussed how poor programming choices on jazz radio are unintentionally sabotaging the medium’s noble mission to “keep jazz alive.” But terrestrial radio, an increasingly irrelevant distribution channel in the age of the Internet and satellites, isn’t the only culprit in our music’s alleged “death.” Some of jazz’s most effective assassins are the people who care most: the professional musicians.
In an age when fewer folks than ever are willing to pay for recorded music, the only way for a full-time jazz recording artist to earn a living is by touring, giving concerts, putting on shows, performing – being a performing artist.
Performing Artist: It’s a two-word job description. The majority of accomplished jazz musicians have no problem with the second part, the artistry thing. They’ve committed their life to learning and mastering a transcendent and mysterious magic replete with its own language, codes, and . . . → Read More: Jazz is Dead, Part 2: Performing Artists
Since the 1970s, for as long as I’ve been aware of the music commonly known as “jazz,” various authorities, mavens, and aficionados have been declaring it dead or soon-to-be-deceased. “Jazz is dead.” “Jazz is dying.” “Jazz is going extinct.”
If this is so, the suffering patient has been enduring a kind of decades-long hospice care that would bankrupt Medicaid. While it’s true that jazz record sales comprise a comically small percentage of the (withering) recording industry and an even smaller slice of the radio market, and live music venues calling themselves jazz clubs close more frequently than sales of foreclosed homes, the music itself is gloriously alive.
Thanks to college jazz programs, the advent of cheap recording technology, and an irrepressible need for members of a free society to express themselves individually and collectively, there are more artists than ever creating modern American music rooted in . . . → Read More: (K)Jazz is Dead
A celebrity with a record label announced recently that she had signed a talented teenager to a recording contract; album due out soon! The adolescent lad joins another teenager on the Celebrity’s label. She specializes in discovering post-pubescent stars-to-be-made; indeed, this Celebrity, Ellen DeGeneres, discovered the Filipina belter Charice Pempengco, now known as Charice, which is a lot easier to say and a lot less Filipino and therefore easier to sell to the producer’s of Glee, for whom the teenaged singing champ permitted the use of Botox on her not-yet-old-enough-to-vote-or-drink face.
Kids these days! Man, do they ever have talent! Not a day passes without someone’s home video going viral, forwarded around the globe by folks who are deeply impressed by a precocious youngster doing something that seems way beyond her years.
One of the hottest acts in the jazz-pop world right now is . . . → Read More: Blame it On the Youths
Most of the people I’ve not met who recognize my name “know” me as a book writer, or as that guy who used to be on television blabbering about poker. A smaller subset might know me as the producer and proprietor of jazz records, or even as a former jazz vocalist.
Those are all cool associations. But none of them fully address what it is I really aspire to be.
For a several years I’ve had a secret. In a few weeks it will be completely out, a matter of the cultural record, and I’ll no longer be able to hide the truth: What I enjoy doing most is writing lyrics to music.
It comes naturally and easily to me, with none of the labor or anxiety one associates with the blocked and tortured artist. I don’t mean that writing lyrics is easy, exactly. I . . . → Read More: A Secret I’ve Been Keeping