Archive for October, 2007

Punk done good and LOUD

October 31, 2007

The Tyrades: Tyrades

tyrades-copy.jpg

Bands like the Tyrades are why I wish I went to more rock shows than I do these days. Not big stadium rock events, but loud, raw shows in small venues like Empty Bottle, Metro or the much missed Fireside Bowl. Places where how close you get to the band is determined by how much you’re willing to push through the crowd. And where, even if you dutifully wear earplugs, your ears will probably ring for a few days after.

I only saw the Tyrades a handful of times—in getting ready to write this piece, I was sorry to learn that they’ve broken up—but they blew me away every single time. Their live performances were filled with the explosive energy and hint of danger that makes punk so exciting to me. Jumping, spazzing and careening around often tiny stages, they seemed perpetually ready to crash into one another or just fly apart right there in front of you.

The video below is actually made up of still photos, but it captures a lot of that explosive energy. It was shot, edited and produced by Chicago-based punk rocker and photographer Canderson.

Energy is one thing, though. The music has to deliver too. And it does. It’s been dubbed garage rock and old-school California punk. Whatever you call it, it’s what I look for these days in rock music: fast and LOUD. Short, punchy songs that get in, get out and don’t pull any punches—the nine songs on the self-titled album clock in at under 23 minutes. Lead singer Jenny reminds me a bit of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Karen O, but with any girly tendencies stripped away. The guitar, bass and drums are tight, but not so locked down that you don’t get the sense that they could veer out of control at any moment. And that’s a good thing. The album’s songs are stylistically cohesive as a group, but not repetitive—not a given in punk music. There’s real musicianship here, also not a given.

The video below suffers from the same maladies that affect most amateur concert videos: poor sound quality [particularly in Jenny’s vocals] and a single point of view, for the most part. But it’s worth watching just for getting a sense of their live performances. Including how they dispensed with the “onetwothreefour” or drumstick hits to count off songs—the bass player would just shout “Go!”

The Tyrades may not have been “Chicago’s first and only punk band” as they were dubbed by their onetime label Big Neck Records, but they came damned close to living up to that charming bit of rock hyperbole.

Free jazz as a true three-way conversation

October 24, 2007

Joe Lovano: Trio Fascination – Edition One

lovano-trio.jpg

I originally wrote about this disk when the boombox was only a page on my main blog, and it got deleted as the page got too long. It’s an excellent album, though, and deserved reposting. Here you go:

I’m not normally a fan of trios. They’re usually the work of a front man—on sax or piano, typically—and a rhythm section, typically a bassist and drummer. And what happens more often than not is the lead guy has to do all the musical heavy lifting, with the rhythm guys each getting occasional and often tedious turns in the spotlight. I much prefer quartets or quintets, where a couple of horns or a horn and a piano play off each other, often in overlapping conversation. Much more texture and interest to be had.

But Joe Lovano is a versatile, prolific sax player who has been called one of the brightest tenor players on the jazz scene today. And when I saw bassist Dave Holland and drummer Elvin Jones on the roster, I knew Trio Fascination—Edition One would be worth a listen. It is.

Lovano makes the most of this line-up. There’s no “just follow me, boys” front man/side men feel to this album—you get the kinds of conversations I look for in quartets and quintets.

The music [nine of the ten tracks are written by Lovano] continually blurs the line between straight bop and free jazz, always a good sound for me. There’s plenty of variety in the compositions too, not always a given when the tunes all come from the same source. The disk holds your attention start to finish.

The one non-Lovano track is the jazz standard Ghost of a Chance. Coming near the middle of the disk, it felt like the odd man out the first couple of listens. But the more I listened, the more it grew on me. Its languid pace and haunting, melodic treatment stick with you, and it serves as kind of a palate-cleansing intermission among the more angular pieces.

A caveat: If you go looking for this disk, do not get sucked in by Lovano’s Flights of Fancy, Trio Fascination Edition Two. On that disk, he hooks up with various musicians in trio settings, never as successfully as he does with Holland and Jones on this one. Worst of all, one of those musicians is harmonica player Toots Thielemans, on far too many tracks. I don’t know who first decided harmonica and jazz went together, but they don’t.

Arvo Pärt: Richly minimalist

October 17, 2007

Arvo Pärt: Tabula Rasa

tabula-rasa2.jpg

What is it about far northern climes that seems to inspire minimalism in music? Consider the work of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. Or Estonian classical composer Arvo Pärt, born just across the Gulf of Finland from Helsinki. Or experimental, ethereal Icelandic rock band Sigur Rós, for that matter.

I’m thinking on some level, it has something to do with winter. In these regions, winters aren’t just harsh, they are long and dark, given to contemplation and introspection. Certainly the four beautifully minimalist tracks of Pärt’s Tabula Rasa, at once lush and austere, invite introspection. While there are melodic passages scattered through some of the pieces, much of the music consists of layer upon layer of tones, what a New York Times article described as eschewing display “in favor of a deliciously gloomy chordal unity.” The writer refers specifically to a piece composed for 12 cellos [apparently this piece has led a number of orchestras to add a full complement of 12 cellos for the lush depth they can create]. I don’t know that I agree with the gloomy assessment. To me, it feels more like a winter’s contemplation, but on a grand scale—like viewing a vast forest in snow.

On another track, Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten, for string orchestra and bell, a single tubular bell tolls with solemn beauty against a similarly layered background of strings.

Which brings me to the various ways we all listen to music. I’m a big fan of the ubiquitous tiny white earbuds that let us take our own music with us wherever we go. Music through headphones in general lets you focus more intently. I’m often finding details I’ve missed in things I’ve heard a hundred times when I do this. Music in the car is a must, whether for road trips or just Saturday errands. It just is. Late at night, there’s something cozy about listening to jazz or classical music on the tinny speaker of a clock radio as you settle in. And of course, there’s the kitchen boombox, for which this blog is named. It really is one place where I hear practically everything you read about here.

I listened to Tabula Rasa in all these settings, before I’d even decided to feature it as a boombox listing. But when it really came to life for me, made me feel it more than I thought I already had, was when I put it on the stereo in the dining room, in the middle of the apartment one weekend afternoon. We were bustling around, cleaning up, probably getting ready for company, so I turned it up enough to hear it in every room—not blasting, but big. The first track starts quietly, then builds. As the music swelled and filled the physical space of our apartment, it filled us too, with the true sense of the music—feeling it all around us, hearing it resonate and echo in other rooms. I would love to hear this music performed live sometime, in a concert hall designed for just such performances. I’m not sure, though, if I would find it any more powerful than it sounded that day in our apartment.

On the road with the Spanic Boys

October 10, 2007

The Spanic Boys: Strange World

strange-world.jpg

To hear a description of the Spanic Boys—a father and son duo from Milwaukee, two guys who have probably shopped in the husky department all their lives—does not necessarily inspire rock ‘n roll confidence. To hear them play is a whole other matter.

We saw them on Letterman back when Strange World came out in 1991. We immediately went out and bought the album. Had it been vinyl, we would have worn it out—that’s how much we played it.

But as with anything you play that much, sooner or later you stop. You start passing it by as you scan the CD rack. Then you just kind of stop seeing it. Lucky for me, Marion did see it when we took a quick road trip this weekend. We were somewhere in Indiana or Michigan when she popped it into the car’s CD slot unannounced, and this amazing music came flooding back into our lives.

It was perfect road music. Twangy guitars, tight vocal harmonies and lyrics about life, love and loss and working it out. Only not as cornball as that may or may not sound—it all felt and sounded real. Like in the song I’m All You Need, we hear someone trying to break through the walls we all build in self defense:
You’ve had to do it on your own for, oh, so many years.
I’ve come along, I did my best at beating back your fears.

For all the hints of rockabilly, the Everly Brothers and the Byrds and a bunch of other influences [and despite the fact that the disk is now 16 years old], it sounded as timely and timeless as when we’d first heard it. None of the looking back, ironically or otherwise, you get with the Stray Cats, say, or Chris Isaak.This is American roots music at its most original and best.

For a change, I seem to be on the same page as the critics. Vintage Guitar Magazine said of their music, “…as rootsy as their sound is, the Spanics are nothing if not original and contemporary.” David Wild at Rolling Stone magazine went further, saying, “Their songs are not museum pieces, they are startling, infectious pieces of contemporary rock that show just how much can be accomplished with just two voices, two guitars and a crack rhythm section.”

In case you’re wondering how a father and son teamed up to make such impressive music, their website tells the entire sometimes quirky story.

spanic-boys_sunshine.jpgFather Tom and son Ian are not exactly what you’d call prolific albumwise. Admittedly, they’d kind of fallen off our radar screens, but as we listened to them this weekend we were worried that they were no longer playing music. So I was delighted to find a brand new album at Amazon, Sunshine. From the samples I heard, it may come along on some future road trip.

By the way, you can now download entire albums or individual tracks at Amazon [individual songs from this disk are just 89¢]. Am I the last person to figure this out?