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.

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.

Laurence Hobgood’s “Christmas”

LH Xmas

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.

Late Quartet

alatequartet promo

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.

 

Cambodian Space Project

CSP LIve

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.

Don Johnson Big Band

Don Johnson Big Band

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.

I Wanna Be Loved

Queen Barbara Morrison

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

The Art of Being Funny in Los Angeles

bamford onstage

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

Jazz is Dead, Part 2: Performing Artists

Kurt_Elling8615_depth1

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

(K)Jazz is Dead

kkjz

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