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September 2009 Archives

September 15, 2009

Getting back on the horse, again

Ahh, fall. The time of new beginnings. The new school year is picking up, 5770 is nearly upon us, and the new shows are coming back to TV in advance of the new TV season. So I'm going to attempt to get back into music/tv/pop culture blogging as a way of refreshing my writing chops, which have withered terribly recently. And hopefully being creatively wordier about other pop culture will get me over the writer's block I've been having finishing the demos for untitled Andrew solo musical project 2008 2009.

This week, we start with some overviews of what's in the TiVo and recent playlists. But first, here's some of the blogging context that I'm drawing from for this revival of the site, meaning that I'll skim through most of these feeds on most days:

A List of Things Thrown Five Minutes Ago - A mix of pop culture, filtered through some of the smartest bloggers and commenters on the web.

What's Alan Watching - Sepinwall is the dean of the television blogosphere, starting with his own incisive analysis and continuing with the insightful and generally exceptionally well-behaved commentariat.

Tuned In - Time's James Poniewozik covers not only narrative television, but also news TV.

Ken Levine - TV comedy writer. A couple of the shows he worked on were little ones, like MASH and Cheers.

The AV Club - TV and music covered extensively and thoroughly.

Ear Farm - The indie music scene in NYC and beyond. Although they try not to self-promote on the site, editors Matt and Mike are in two of Brooklyn's finest bands: Goes Cube (Matt) and Mancino (Mike). I burned out on most of the music blogs I had followed, but Ear Farm is the one indie I keep in the mix.

Well, that and all of the various blogs from NPR - All Songs Considered, Monitor Mix, A Blog Supreme and Monkey See.

You can find me short-form blogging over at Twitter and a mix of short and long at andrewraff.com.

September 16, 2009

Jazz Now

NPR's A Blog Supreme is asking contributors and readers to name five albums you would recommend to somebody looking to get into modern jazz.

Here are my picks:

The Bad Plus - These Are the Vistas. Already the one album I've seen mentioned the most on these lists and for good reason. It may capture the best of modern millennial jazz music. Equal parts lyrical and dischordant in the best ways, The Bad Plus swagger through this record with driving force and relentless energy. It's as punk as any acoustic jazz album. For the cross-over crowd, covers of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and Blondie's "Heart of Glass" are accessible but full of enough restless energy to subvert expectations. Is "These Are the Vistas" the most timely jazz album of the decade?

David Binney - Welcome to Life. This is probably my single favorite jazz album of the decade. Binney assembled a group of musicians who all lead their own groups and bring their distinctive individual styles to elevate Binney's sinewy and intricate compositions. Brian Blade's drumming constantly propels the music forward while accenting unexpected places and always building tension. The interplay between Binney's alto sax and Chris Potter's tenor shifts subtly from unison melodies to interesting harmonies that diverge and intersect with the piano of Craig Taborn and guitar of Adam Rogers. Each of the sax players contributes solos that have particularly strong narrative arcs.

Brad Mehldau - Largo. Mehldau's sparse arrangements, deliberately delicate playing and first rate production (courtesy of Jon Brion) make it a good entry point from listeners who enjoy music in the precious NPR indie darling category. And the covers of songs by Radiohead and The Beatles

Chris Potter Underground - Follow the Red Line. Chris Potter may be the most impressive sax and woodwind player in jazz today, because he approaches his playing with unrestrained musicality. In personnel, Potter's quartet is almost like an abridged version of David Binney's group, with Potter working again with Craig Taborn (Rhodes) and Adam Rogers (Guitar.) But where Welcome to Life is more subtle and intricate, Follow the Red Line is raw and visceral. Both are products of the same New York scene but lets each leader make his own artistic statement.

September 17, 2009

The return of Must See TV?

With tonight's debut of Community, NBC may now have their first Thursday comedy block where all four shows are actually worth watching. Perhaps without a huge dominant hit like Seinfeld, Friends, Cheers or Cosby, they can't rely on sandwiching a piece of crap show between two big hits.

Or, at least, they will when 30 Rock comes back in place of the pointless, but not completely meritless SNL Weekend Update Thursday. The cold open, which imagined Michelle Bachman, Joe Wilson and assorted Republican crazies planning a group protest of the President's speech to the joint session of Congress, but deciding to back out while Wilson took a bathroom break, was a relatively clever take on the meme, even though it may already be played out.

But with The Daily Show and the Colbert Report doing more incisive and edgier topical comedy every night, Weekend Update Thursday looks like the second rate fake newscast that it is. Even Amy Poehler can't save this from being nothing more than an obviously cheap space filler until 30 Rock returns.

Amy Poehler's other half-hour in Parks and Recreation, however, was funnier and had more of a sharp comedic point. Tonight's episode, which dealt with backlash from a conservative activist when Poehler's Leslie Knope married two penguins at the Pawnee Zoo without realizing they were both male penguins, kept Leslie from being too unsympathetic and oblivious.

Community may be the best comedy pilot I've seen in a while. I'm somewhat disappointed to understand that John Oliver won't be a regular, as his character was consistently hilarious against McHale's.

September 25, 2009

Them Crooked Vultures

There aren't many bands who I will buy tickets to see by only knowing the band's lineup. But if the rhythm section is Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones? I'm there. Add in Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) and you get Them Crooked Vultures, who sounds something like this:

Jim DeRogatis was at their US debut: Them Crooked Vultures at Metro, "The best show by far of Lollapalooza 2009 really was part of Lollapalooza in name only: the after-show at Metro in the wee hours of Monday morning that marked the world premier of Them Crooked Vultures, the new supergroup featuring Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age, former Nirvana drummer and current Foo Fighters leader Dave Grohl and the legendary John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin.… During an amazing 12-song, 80-minute set, Them Crooked Vultures went on to prove it is one the rarest things in rock: a supergroup that not only deserves that appellation, but which actually is greater than the sum of its storied parts."

Them Crooked Vultures play Roseland on October 15.

September 29, 2009

Barbra Streisand at the Vanguard

As a jazz fan, I always love going to the Village Vanguard. Sitting in the club, you can feel the room's connection with Miles, Coltrane, Sonny, Evans, Dolphy and all of the jazz past, present and future. The club's pedigree elevates the level of performances on its stage. And so when I got invited to see Barbra Streisand there, how could I refuse?

Playing to a jam-packed house filled with contest winners, Streisand's family and friends (including President Clinton and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton), and film crew (and their lighting equipment), the show was as much an intimate gathering of friends as it was a film session as it was a concert. Streisand performed a mix of standards, tracks from her new album and her signature hits.

Eschewing an opening act for introductions by Vanguard owner Ruth Gordon and some of the other people who helped Streisand first break into success as a performer at various clubs (of a now-bygone era) in the Village kicked the evening off with the special feel. The audience was part of a small intimate party and performance.

Once the show started, however, from one perspective, we were taken out of the immediacy and intimacy of the show. Sitting on the side of the room towards the front, the view of pianist Tamir Hendelman was blocked, but the view of Streisand's teleprompter was clear. So we could read the script that Streisand followed. To one extent, this took away from any sense that the set was a loose, improvised and breezy little set in front of a group of friends, but was a reminder of the major film production part of the hybrid nature of the evening.

On the other hand, having a sense of that a good deal of the banter was scripted gives one a tremendous appreciation of why Streisand is in such high regard as a performer, because you could see how much meaning she puts into every phrase. And though the teleprompter cues were used more as reminders of the points she wanted to discuss rather than a script, Streisand's voice is so expressive that she could (as the trope goes) read the phone book and make it engaging, dynamic and interesting. Whether Streisand's performance is impeccably rehearsed or spontaneously improvised, I doubt you could tell the difference, because her dynamics are so precise and expressive.

Unlike most broadway-style performers, nothing about Streisand's performance felt artificial or calculated. It all felt natural, heartfelt and authentic. And it's not to say that the show was perfected to within an inch of its life. There was enough of a rough edge to the set that Streisand walked off stage to close the set one song earlier than she intended. As a result, the audience got an encore twice as long as intended.

The backing quartet, led by pianist Hendelman, was impeccable, but also unobtrusive and rarely featured. Hendelman played one well constructed and melodic solo and tasteful segues and vamps between songs. But for a album intended to be more of a jazz album at the country's premier jazz club, there was no swing to the set until the final encore, "The Way We Were," where the drummer switched to sticks from brushes for the first time in the set and the guitarist added interesting and tasteful soaring lines.

But since Streisand's voice was the top-billed star of the show, in impeccable form, that's what carried the show. Anthony Tommasini interviewed Streisand for the New York Times and discussed her vocal technique. Streisand’s Fine Instrument and Classic Instinct

"[Streisand] revealed herself as a vocal artist with powerful, if innate, insights into phrasing, legato, vibrato, interpretive nuances and, most important, the art of singing as an expression of words.… Opera singers might learn from Ms. Streisand’s way of treating singing as an extension of acting. In working so hard to cultivate the beauty and carrying power of their voices, too many opera singers compromise with indistinct diction and generic expression. Ms. Streisand sings as if she is speaking to you."

That's what carried the show. Not the songs, not the dynamic interplay between the singer and her band, but her voice. Which is not to say that there weren't moments where the arrangements came together to propel, as in "My Funny Valentine," which was one of the high points of the night. But on other songs, such as "Make Someone Happy," where Streisand's voice conveyed deep emotions and forged a connection with the audience, and she embodied all the pathos of the song and earned a standing ovation. And despite a lack of songs at anything faster than a ballad, the set did have an arc and momentum that carried it to the end, culminating with classic standards ("Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered") and her own signature hits ("Evergreen" and "The Way We Were.")

All in all, a tremendous performance, and an encouragement for all major musical artists to play rooms a few sizes smaller than they ordinarily would, to try material in more intimate arrangement and less stage-managed settings.

The Village Vanguard Set List

The New York Times, Lucky Streisand Fans Were A-Listers for a Night

NPR, Barbra Streisand, Live At The Village Vanguard?

The Barbra Streisand Forum, An Evening with Barbra Streisand at VV (The Show)

About September 2009

This page contains all entries posted to Buzz Rant & Rave in September 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

April 2009 is the previous archive.

October 2009 is the next archive.

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