Thursday, October 25, 2012
Pianist and producer Mark de Clive-Lowe is a man of the world. Splitting his childhood between New Zealand and Japan, he has also called Boston and London home before settling here in sunny Los Angeles.
Today he'll be celebrating the two year anniversary of his monthly residency Church at the Del Monte Speakeasy, where he has been regularly performing small miracles. Specifically, he's gotten jazzbos on the dance floor, and gotten booty shakers to soak up acoustic bass solos.
Between sets last month, de Clive-Lowe asked me what seemed like a rhetorical question: "Do you like whisky?" He does, and in fact there's a drink named after him on the menu at the Speakeasy, the "de Clive Lowe." It's brimming with Jameson.
The first set, a brisk straight-ahead romp, found de Clive-Lowe working a strong left-hand alongside his swinging sidemen, bassist Trevor Ware, and drummer Dexter Story. The room was packed and the bar swarmed.
The second set was turned up a little louder. The staff cleared the tables from the dancefloor and pretty young things hit it as guest drummer Jamire Williams laid down a funky backbeat and de Clive-Lowe's fiancée Nia Andrews took to the microphone for a few tunes.
After two years of hosting his residency, de Clive-Lowe knows his audience and what they are looking for. And his wandering spirit has brought this particular party on the road. He has an upcoming monthly residency in New York's East Village and has performed in South Africa and London in the last few months, with plans for Miami, St. Louis and Lisbon in 2013.
De Clive-Lowe started on piano at the age of four, branching into jazz as a teenager in Japan. He tried his hand at the Berklee School of Music but gave it up after a year to immerse himself in London's dance scene. He ended up staying for ten years. "The formal side of training didn't sit well with me," he says. "The ironic part of the whole thing, growing up wanting to be a jazz musician, was that my ear wasn't ready for some things but working in the London underground scene helped shape my ear in different ways."
That unique blend of experience and soul brought him to Los Angeles four years ago, where he started to embrace all of his musical interests. "The main thing for me, at this point, is jazz music has come back in my life. In the UK, I was running away from any jazz at all. By the time Church started, I wanted the dynamic of the night to present my journey as a musician. That's why it starts acoustic and moves to the dance floor."
Most importantly, de Clive-Lowe has found a ravenous audience for his blend of genres. "The night has the improvisation and jazz dynamic throughout. That's the journey I want to present. Music is the religion to me. There is so much expression shared through it and it can be so uplifting. It's our celebration of music and dance. That's our gospel."
Last Saturday, de Clive-Lowe tied the knot with Andrews and it looks as though he may be here for a while, or at least as long as any man with gigs booked on five continents can. "It's great that L.A. is where this all started and that's where we want to throw down. We're still in wedding mode. The show is part of our extended post-wedding party!" I don't know if the de Clive-Lowes are registered anywhere, but I do know a good drink you can send their way.
Mark de Clive-Lowe @ LA Weekly
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Saturday, October 20, 2012
It's hard keeping a jazz band together. Most bands only last a few years before better offers or more stability step into break them apart. Baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams, who appeared on over 600 albums, only worked with trumpeter Donald Byrd for three years. Those three years (1958-1961) happened to be during one of the biggest shifts in modern jazz and despite their short span as a unit, they managed to release 11 albums of classic hard bop. Local saxophonist Dale Fielder has always had a fascination with their brief collaboration and this Friday, as part of a nationwide Pepper Adams resurgence, he'll be paying tribute to the classic pairing at Soka University the best way he can, by bellowing his baritone saxophone through their songbook.
For Fielder, the Adams/Byrd band was an easy choice to idolize. "They were the first music that I heard. I grew up in the late '60s and early '70s and back in that time they were really popular with the average guy that worked in the mill all day. They played a form of music that was extremely acceptable. People loved it. It swang. It was uncomplicated to a certain extent but on the other hand it was cutting edge and intricate."
Fielder plays with a similar accessibility. His full-bodied sound has been in Los Angeles since the 1980s and he has managed to keep a steady group around him for much of that time. Pianist Jane Getz, an underappreciated chameleon on the piano, has been with Fielder for 17 years. "I wanted to get somebody with an old school sensibility," says Fielder. "She's played with everybody: Mingus, Roland Kirk."
Although Fielder plays all four saxophones, the baritone has become his baby of late. "The baritone is an extremely interesting instrument to play. What I discovered is you don't have to play as many notes to be effective on the baritone. It has something to do with the lower register having more weight so you can play a simple eight note line and it can sound really good. If you did it with an alto or a tenor, people would be asking "have you had any lessons yet?" It slows your thought process. It's not about complicated patterns. You can lay back and concentrate on melody."
Adams, who passed away in 1986, had an endless stream of melody. The undersung baritone saxophonist managed to place himself in the center of every scene he encountered from New York to Detroit to Los Angeles but has faded from the history books. This year, biographer Gary Carner, who will be MCing for Fielder's show, released an annotated discography as well as a sprawling five disc box set featuring performances of Pepper Adams' tunes by current bands.
Although Fielder is not on the box set he does have his own homage released this week entitled Each Time I Think of You. "Part of why I put the tribute quintet together was just for stuff like this. I wanted to give my take on really unappreciated artists that came out of a time that was a golden age of jazz, the early '60s, and they just got kind of overlooked. This is what my band was created to do plus it was a perfect project for a baritone player."
Dale Fielder @ OC Weekly
Friday, October 12, 2012
Grizzly Bear, the musical emblems of Williamsburg, played a solid, nearly two hour set at the Greek Theater last night. The quartet, boosted by a Phantom of the Opera-esque keyboardist looming in the shadows, presented a set of entirely original material with a flawless display of dynamics and musicality that most bands would have a very hard time rivaling. That seems to be why they get so much shit.
Recently New York Magazine ran a profile on Grizzly Bear that harped mostly on the financial difficulties of keeping a band afloat. To their credit, Grizzly Bear seemed to mostly dodge that topic and didn't really come off as complaining about the position they were in. Anybody who has gotten into the music business since, say, Bach, knows that the pile of money available is fairly slim and wholly unreliable.
What struck me most about the article was this: "Droste knows how his band is perceived, including by dedicated non-fans. They're occasionally charged with being prissy, tame, or 'polite' -- a recent Slate review lamented that they're 'pale and incorporeal and non-punk rock.' Droste wonders, sometimes, if any of those charges have to do with his sexuality."
As someone who has been listening to 2006's Yellow House and 2009's Veckatimest for the past two years, it wasn't until this article that I was aware that his sexuality was worthy of discussion. And knowing what I know, I still don't believe it is. And certainly not to contextualize their sound.
Rather than appearing polite or reliant upon "expensive and fastidious arrangements", Grizzly Bear have an eerie quality that is evident in all of their songs. They write the soundtrack for a seaside town in the off-season: the bumper cars are padlocked, the wind is a persistent and maddening presence and 90% of the population has disappeared.
The band set up on stage four across, each member capable of adding a dense harmonic vocal part to the proceedings. Bassist, clarinetist, tenor saxophonist and flutist Chris Taylor hung on stage right, honking through his under-mic'ed horns and fuzzed out basslines while towering vocal presence Ed Droste worked his guitars and applause-winning autoharp. Daniel Rossen, guitarist and Rhodes twinkler, worked his small space.
This collection of instruments might imply a twee and perhaps polite sound if it weren't for drummer Christopher Bear, who pummels and thrashes behind the delicate structure with abandon. Anyone accusing this crew of lacking muscle are probably not paying enough attention.
For all the intricacies of their recorded sound, what is most impressive about Grizzly Bear is their ability to recreate it on stage with only ten hands and four voices. Instead of aiming for creative reworkings, the band reaches for the recorded sound, which is not easy. Through it all, their light show captivates.
Eighteen oversized Edison bulbs rose and fell with the sound, creating a complex dance that resembled over-stimulated jellyfish carried by the current. At one point people were clapping for the synchronized orchestration of the lights.
Aside from a tour of songs old and new, the band's most ambitious statement was to close the third song of their encore, 2009's "All We Ask," as an acoustic number. Absorbing all of the adoration and strangely illuminated trees, the outfit stripped down to the essence of intimacy and economics, with Droste and Taylor sharing a microphone as Rossen held his acoustic guitar above his shoulder and Bear stuttered over a tom-tom and tambourine. It was a declaration of trust that didn't go unrecognized.
In any other genre, such confidence and manipulation of dynamics would be highly prized. Grizzly Bear are wrestling for that reward and it is hard to argue with the results.
Personal Bias: I first discovered Grizzly Bear on a eight-hour long continuous mixtape a friend made for me as a wedding present.
The Crowd: Youths sneaking cigarettes, guys with well-cultivated stubble and Adam Scott.
Random Notebook Dump: The guy working the cameras seemed to be having his own directorial fantasy. There was enough going on with the lighting on stage that all those multiple exposures and fadeouts weren't really necessary.
Grizzly Bear @ LA Weekly
Best Record Store in Long Beach since VIP Records closed
Where does one go in the LBC for a fix of vinyl, bobble-heads and copies of both LA and OC Weekly? Fingerprints Records has been a go-to spot for almost twenty years. With VIP succumbing to the tide of public record buying whims, Fingerprints has managed to stand tall in their recently expanded space in Long Beach’s East Village Arts District. Now they have enough space for people to browse records and watch a show without the two groups jockeying for elbow space by the “exotica” selection. Their carefully chosen selection of new and old music is enough to keep everyone satisfied, from sullen teens to slightly less sullen OGs. 420 E. 4th Street. Long Beach. (562) 433 4996.
Best place for cheap vinyl
Downtown’s Last Bookstore is an oasis of all kinds of dusty culture. Their newly-opened sprawling second floor dollar book room can steal hours of your life. On the first floor, closer to the street, are just as many records. 10s of thousands of LPS and 45s are meticulously stacked by genre, alphabetically. It’s a stunning achievement that that space stays so consistently organized. In less than an hour you can build a massive collection of soul 45s for less than a hundred bucks. Need a few good small-print West Coast jazz LPs for five dollars apiece? Or some late 70s New York punk albums? Grab a basket cause you’ll need help carrying them. 453 South Spring Street, dwntwn.
Best Under-The-Radar Jazz Festival
Central Avenue Jazz Festival
Los Angeles used to be a major jazz hub. From the 1920s until the 1950s a small strip of Central Avenue, around Vernon Avenue, played host to every major jazz figure passing through town: Louis Armstrong, Lester Young, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker. These days almost every building from that era is gone save for the Dunbar Hotel which housed many of those aforementioned musicians. Seventeen years ago, however, initiative was taken to preserve what little remained. A great oral history entitled Central Avenue Sounds was released, the Dunbar is under renovations and the Central Avenue Jazz Festival was born. The free, two-day festival now attracts a few thousand people each day and is a great annual reminder of this town’s once-vibrant jazz scene. 42ndStreet and Central Avenue, South Central.
Best Place to Hide From Your Editor
Been avoiding that story about Miley Cyrus’ newest hairdo? Having trouble coming up with something nice to write about Dwight Howard? Turn off the Blackberry and climb aboard the Redwood Bar. A steep block from the LA Times, Redwood Bar is a cozy, nautical-themed bar that also happens to be a full of disgruntled Times writers. Have a good Sam Zell joke? This is your forum. It’ll probably even be better than the open mike comedy show offerings. For low-lighting, cheap drinks and a decent burger, this is a safe place to dodge those early morning, alt-weekly deadlines while feeling like you are in the bottom of ship. 316 West 2nd Street, dwntwn.
Best Jazz Venue
There are few nice jazz rooms in Los Angeles but none are as accessible and forward-thinking as the Blue Whale. Joon Lee’s dark low-key room atop Little Tokyo’s Weller Court is consistently booking some of the most important young jazz musicians, not just locally but globally. People actually bring dates there! Sometimes there are more women than men. Ok, at least one time. The Blue Whale has done a lot to boost the city’s profile and give some really great musicians ample space to stretch out. An indispensible part of the scene. 123 Astronaut E S Onizuka Street, Little Tokyo.
Best Jazz Jam Session
World Stage Jam Session
The best jam sessions are ones where musicians actually learn something. People who come to jam sessions looking to be comfortable and play the same tunes every week have lots of options around town. For amateur musicians looking to determine whether or not they’ve got the chops to make it, the World Stage is a great place to check because if you aren’t up to snuff, someone will tell you bluntly. The World Stage, a Leimert Park landmark since the early 90s, has been the home base for countless great local talent. If you get through ten choruses of “Cherokee” and people are still smiling, it isn’t time to quit yet. 4344 Degnan Boulevard, Leimert Park.
Best Hidden Mini-Golf Course
Arroyo Seco Golf Course
Why is croquet so refined but mini-golf is not? Is it the windmills? Is it the bright orange golf balls? Located a 5 iron from the 110 in South Pasadena, nestled between the driving range and the par 3 course, is an adorable 9 hole mini-golf course that provides endless challenges. It doesn’t have any lakes or fire-breathing dragons but it has enough log cabins and castles to provide a half hour of entertainment in a sunken oasis that most South Pasadena residents don’t even realize is there. Plus they have a four stool bar! 1055 Lohman Ln, South Pasadena.
Best Public Library to Spoil You Rotten
South Pasadena Library
Los Angeles has some great public libraries. With the ability to order any book from any branch, all of the libraries can be pretty great but South Pasadena, that tiny tree-lined enclave, has created the library we all wish we could have. Entirely self-contained, the budget for music and movies seems to be endless. New albums roll in everyday and the entire Criterion Collection hovers on the shelves waiting for someone to spend three weeks with Nanook of the North. Aside from the intrigue choices on the shelf, the lights are on seven days a week and they stay open until 9pm Monday through Wednesday making them practically a late-night spot by sleepy suburban standards. 1100 Oxley Street, South Pasadena.
Best Bar Bathroom
The HMS Bounty, the beacon of light on an otherwise sleepy strip of Wilshire Boulevard, is a great bar and has a time-capsule restroom. The 3300 block of Wilshire wasn’t always sleepy. The Ambassador Hotel used to loom large across the street and the Bounty is one of the last witnesses to that faded glamour, the presence of ghosts felt in the old jazz jukebox, wood paneling and strong drinks. The spooky restroom is located through the lobby of the neighboring, 20s era apartment building, past the front-desk clerk, a wall of mailboxes and down a flight of stairs towards the sound of rumbling washers and dryers. Maybe that’s where all the ghosts wash their sheets. 3357 Wilshire Boulevard, Wilshire Center.
Monday, October 08, 2012
Angel City Jazz Festival
Is the Angel City Jazz Festival the best jazz festival in Los Angeles? It depends on how you measure it. If you are going by quality of acts, quantity of acts, accessibility of venue, price of parking or friendliness of crowd, then yes, it is the best jazz festival in Los Angeles. Last night, to close out three fantastic days of bookings across the L.A. basin, the Angel City Jazz Festival hosted a night of new and old at the pastoral Ford Amphitheatre in Hollywood under the banner of "Artists & Legends."
Sunday night's festivities started with drummer Peter Erskine's New Trio, featuring pianist Vardan Ovsepian and Erskine's nephew, Damian, on bass. The trio dealt in lighter swinging fare with frequent nods towards Ovsepian's crisp piano playing and writing. The trio built their largest swell as the elder Erskine took an extended drum solo that drew hefty applause to close the set.
All the while, the Los Angeles Jazz Collective provided performances by the fountain outside the venue. There were many teenagers in attendance at this event -- a mind-boggling amount, frankly, and they seemed to dig the sounds. A lot of them could be found outside taking in locals like Dan Schnelle and Hamilton Price. There is still hope for this scene.
Bassist Mark Dresser followed on the main stage with a quintet that included trombonist Michael Dessen and horn-man Marty Erlich. The most curiously billed part of the set was pianist Denman Maroney who was credited as playing on hyperpiano. What is a hyperpiano? Not quite sure but it involved a regular piano and the coarse strings driven to wiry overtones by something that resembles a straight razor. It was a fine match for Dresser's out bowing. Local luminary Bobby Bradford joined the band on cornet for half the set and reminded us all why he is so important. Dresser and Bradford go back over forty years and their interplay implies a language all their own.
Trumpet wunderkind Ambrose Akinmusire, recently returned to the West Coast, brought his quintet but seemed a distant bandleader. The group spoke as a collective ensemble with Walter Smith III's tenor weaving intimately with Akinmusire like a latter-day Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter. Bassist Harish Raghavan stepped into a contemplative bowed solo and was forced to compete with the Florence + the Machine concert crowd at the neighboring Hollywood Bowl. (Why was that crowd so loud, so early in the set?). His hushed tones coupled with the audience's absolute respect resulted in some strange distant roars that would continue throughout the night.
Finally, headliner Archie Shepp came to the stage. Tenor saxophonist Shepp had not played in Los Angeles since 1986 and seemed in no hurry to start. Dressed in a sharp suit and matching fedora, Shepp waited for his drummer to find his footing with help from no less than five stagehands. What was to be expected from a living avant garde legend? Where would the mysterious heir to the Coltrane throne take us on a blissful early Autumn night?
Curiously, he took us straight to the roots, adhering to a set of mostly blues and a tune apiece from Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. The quartet, driven by drummer Steve McCraven (who seemed in a state of perpetual soloing), stuck to a largely blues-inflected set, with Shepp appearing as a sort of Coleman Hawkins-like character: benevolent, bluesy and unafraid to sing a couple of choruses in a Johnny Hartman-esque baritone.
Throughout the set he quoted such tunes as "Sweet Georgia Brown" and "A Night in Tunisia," playing gently with his sound until tackling his soprano saxophone towards the end and touching ever-so-slightly upon a shrill and powerful fire below. Towards the end, he dug into a personal poetry that resonated with history as the band churned behind him, before closing his set with straight-forward blues.
Were there any reasonable expectations from this man? Could we have complained if he looked at the sound system, the lights and the crowd and just decided "ah, fuck it!" and walked away? That was the risk in booking him and, clearly, a 26-year absence from our shores implies something. Either way it was a captivating performance that enforced the importance of defying expectation and leaving the crowd with as many questions as answers.
Personal Bias: Last time I was at the Ford Theatre I almost got my ass kicked. And it was an M. Ward show. How sad is that?
The Crowd: As diverse as imaginable. From ten year olds to 80 year olds.
Random Notebook Dump: The shushing has to stop, people. If a picnic is permitted then so should a little chatter. There are plenty of seats up close that will accommodate those with more sensitive ears. Go sit up there. (I was not one of those people shushed last night.)
Angel City Jazz Festival @ LA Weekly
Thursday, October 04, 2012
Is Dr. Dog the worst band name ever? It is pretty close but that kind of thing can be overcome. The Beatles is a pretty stupid band name too but look what they managed to accomplish. Most notably Dr. Dog are neither doctors nor canines. They are a 60's-indebted rock band from Pennsylvania that make the most of their tight harmonies and bouncing keyboards. Their most recent release, Be the Void, finds their 4-track aesthetic slightly polished but their live performances remain satisfyingly fierce.
Dr. Dog aren't the only doctoral poseurs in the music world. Dr. John, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Dr. Dre, Dr. Hook, and Dr. Teeth are all implying more student loans than they really had to pay. In honor of Dr. Dog's appearance at the Observatory tonight, here are five musicians who actually nabbed a PhD.
Original Velvet Underground guitarist (and occasional bassist) Sterling Morrison lived an interesting life. He put his studies on hold to help start VU and lasted with the group longer than Lou Reed. When things began to fall off in the early 70s, Morrison completed his bachelor's degree and kept on going, eventually obtaining a Ph. D in Medieval Literature from the University of Texas, Austin. What did he do with the degree? He worked on tugboats and occasionally played with his former bandmates until passing away in the mid '90s from non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Local rocker Phil Alvin (Hello Downey!) made his name churning out crunchy riffs with the Blasters in the early 1980s alongside his brother Dave. When the party first ended in 1986, Phil decided to return to school eventually earning a PhD from UCLA in mathematics with an emphasis in set theory, determining the "meaning of meaning" as he put it. Heavy shit but his true passion was the guitar and he reformed the Blasters before the 80s were through. Their still rocking with a new release earlier this summer.
The Descendants lead vocalist has gotten a lot of mileage out of his penchant for education. The first full-length from the South Bay punk rockers was entitled Milo Goes to College. They could have riffed on that theme for several more years because Aukerman went on to obtain a doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is making his family proud by actually using that degree to make some dough out in the wilds of Delaware but the bespectacled frontman still steps out of the lab to shout about coffee.
The band Caribou, which is pretty much just Dan Snaith, can get pretty out there. His dense, dance-able rock rewards repeated listening and complete attention without ever losing the beat. It is fitting that his attention to detail has led him to a PhD in mathematics from Imperial College London but no amount of education can help explain how punk rock bartender Handsome Dick Manitoba succeeded in convincing Snaith into changing his original band name, Manitoba.
Snaith isn't the only overly-educated musician to graduate with a PhD from the Imperial College. One of the most melodic guitarists of all time, Queen's Brian May, holds a PhD in astrophysics because, well, why not? The curly-haired master of the six string is enamored with the cosmos but as far as he may look, he will never find another Freddie Mercury. Currently he holds the title of Chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University. I wonder if any of his colleagues are familiar with his earlier odes to fat bottomed girls.
Doctors without Degrees @ OC Weekly
Tuesday, October 02, 2012
Angel City Jazz Festival
LACMA, UCLA, Redcat, Ford Amphitheatre
The theme of the fifth annual Angel City Jazz Festival is "artists and legends" which might as well be the theme for L.A.'s whole jazz scene in October. Legendary L.A. trombonist Phil Ranelin hits LACMA on Friday night while guitarist Anthony Wilson reprises the awesome trio he put together at his Blue Whale residency last April (organist Larry Goldings, drummer Jim Keltner) on the 6th at the Redcat. The 7th sees a long-awaited return from saxophonist Archie Shepp as part of a four-band line-up at the Ford. The following weekend sees guitarist Bill Frisell (13th) and pianist Vijay Iyer (14th) at Royce Hall. A truly amazing lineup.
Tues, Oct 9th
The Bad Plus
Midwestern jazz trio the Bad Plus must love playing the Mint. And who wouldn't? But they could certainly fill a bigger venue than that if they wanted. Nonetheless the frenetic trio, who found success on a lot of college radio station playlists with their interpretations of the rock canon (Bowie, Pixies, Blondie), have been pushing their own challenging compositions lately and with great effect. Pianist Ethan Iverson is also a lightning rod for debate on his blog (Do The Math) which only adds to their interesting combination of academia and goofiness.
Thurs, Oct 11th
Steinway Piano Gallery
Consumate professional Alan Broadbent left Los Angeles for the Big Apple about a year and a half ago, depriving our city of a great arranger and lyrical pianist. He came back this summer to twirl the baton for Diana Krall's Hollywood Bowl appearance. For this show, however, the Jazz Bakery will provide him with a fine piece of furniture to lay down a solo set of standards and originals. Few people can tackle the great American songbook like Broadbent. Expect a set of hushed reverie and unmatched delicacy.
Sat, Sun, Oct 13, 14
John Daversa Small Ensemble
Local trumpeter John Daversa seems to be everywhere. His big band makes a monthly date at the Baked Potato while his smaller ensemble regularly pops up amid the muddled mint crowd at Seven Grand. For this weekend of shows, Daversa will be celebrating the release of his newest album, "Artful Joy," with his small ensemble that includes saxophonist Robby Marshall and drummer Gene Coye. Daversa can make any ensemble sound like a large ensemble with a richness that few can match. Plus he's not afraid to get into the strange, with his electric valve instrument.
Wed, Oct 24
If you really want to get out, here's your man. 83-year-old pianist Cecil Taylor has an unmatched musical spirit and a freewheeling disposition. He is one of the pillars of the free jazz movement and an enemy to all piano tuners. When he started out in the '50s, Taylor was grounded in the classics by the likes of Duke Ellington, but by the end of the decade he was speaking his own language behind the piano. It's a rare treat for Taylor to come out to Los Angeles, and witnessing him in a room that holds less than 250 people will be nothing short of amazing.
Sat, Oct 27
Ron Carter Quartet w/ Robert Glasper
UCLA's Royce Hall
Upright bassist Ron Carter held down the low-end for Miles Davis' quintet in the mid-'60s. A man of taste and sturdiness, Carter has since brought his bass (and his beard) to over 2000 recording sessions including a lion's share of famed 1970s label CTI's output. He doesn't make the trip out west all that often and Royce Hall has paired his band with young phenom Robert Glasper's trio. It's a great double-bill that bookends a month of intriguing, generation-hopping double-bills.
Best Jazz @ LA Weekly
Monday, October 01, 2012
Wilco and Joanna Newsom
Wilco's name has graced more marquees in Los Angeles this year than a majority of bands that actually live here. Last night, under a full moon and amid looming Santa Ana winds, Wilco wrapped up a lengthy promotional tour by rocking their largest audience yet, mesmerizing an enthusiastic crowd of inebriated grey hairs at the Hollywood Bowl with an assist from Joanna Newsom.
Songwriter, vocalist and harpist Newsom opened the show backed by drummer Neal Morgan and string man Ryan Francesconi. Newsom spent all but one song pinned beneath her harp, strumming strange odes driven by a cleverly-obscure vocabulary that would make Elvis Costello smile.
The crowd was respectfully attentive to Newsom's demure set. Morgan, dressed in jeans and a tie, played more than a strict time-keeping role while Francesconi delicately found his way in and out of the tunes. Through it all Newsom led the parade.
Her high singing voice has lowered since her debut album eight years ago and that's a good thing. She has now settled into a range of a zither-toting Joni Mitchell, which is admittedly higher than most people would find appealing. She still leaps into springy heights but uses that preciousness sparingly. She is a captivating performer who seemed to win some converts.
The greatest thing to happen to Wilco in the last ten years is the addition of Nels Cline's whammy bar. The lanky guitarist, who used to regularly shred before handfuls of people in strange corners of Los Angeles, has been a member of the band since 2004 and adds an immeasurable arty muscle to the group's sound.
Wilco's set kicked off with some of Cline's patented feedback, his double-necked guitar pointed skyward before the full ensemble launched into "Dawned on Me." From there the group spent over two hours driving through their back catalogue and showcasing Cline's infectious energy whether he was laying down heavy fuzz, countrified riffs or a Brian May-indebted guitar solo.
Six songs into the set the band spiraled into Cline's feature tune, "Impossible Germany." With multi-instrumentalist Patrick Sansone joining bandleader Jeff Tweedy in a dual guitar front, Cline went to work, writhing and ripping over the Allman Brothers-like riff. The solo, which lasted nearly five mintues, was an impressive balance of script and spontaneity. Left to his own devices Cline could have ruled the stage for the entire night.
The burly Tweedy was playfully homey with the crowd, saving most of his energy for his songs. "He walks amongst you!" he announced following Cline's master class while later remarking "I think something crawled up my nose during that song."
Wilco is one of the tightest rock groups traversing the planet and their professionalism has been honed by countless dates. Mid-'90s chestnuts like "Box Full of Letters" thumped across the amphitheater while the blip-rock of "Art of Almost" challenged the epileptics in the crowd with a blinding light display. Their 2001 release Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was a pillar of the set including a bass-heavy "War on War" and an sing-along to "Jesus, Etc."
"We're a very lucky band," Tweedy announced towards the end. True. He may have taken our beloved Nels but he has brought him to a far larger audience. Trading in the Smell for the Hollywood Bowl without giving up your soul is an impressive feat, and at least he returns every few months.
Personal Bias: My wife has a strong crush on Nels Cline but I've made peace with that.
The Crowd: People who were concerned about leaving their tweens home alone for a few hours.
Random Notebook Dump: Was there any place in Los Angeles with more middle aged bro-dancers last night? I saw many moves I hope to never see again.
Wilco @ LA Weekly
Pat Metheny Unity Band
September 28, 2012
Pat Metheny is an incredibly accomplished guitarist. He has had to clear mantle space for 18 Grammys during his nearly 40-year career. Not just academies, but people love this man. Lots of people. I can't really say I'm one of them. Last night, before an ecstatic crowd of middle aged men and their lady friends, Pat Metheny's quartet worked through a set that lasted over two hours and included three encores.
I bookended my week with the Pat Metheny Unity Band, catching them on Monday at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. It was not something I intended and it is not something I plan to do again anytime soon. Metheny deals in a strange sort of fusion jazz. Swing is of limited importance and note counts seem to dominate every solo. Challenge me to sing back a melody and I would lose that wager.
In between these two sets I happened to catch Metheny's drummer Antonio Sanchez and saxophonist Chris Potter in a more free jazz setting at the Blue Whale in Little Tokyo and had a completely opposite experience. The two played with an unmatched ferocity with Sanchez turning the house drum kit into a smoldering pile of rubble. In Metheny's hands that rubble is polished into shiny stones and then slathered in a gearhead's wet dream.
By the end of the first three songs of Friday's set, Metheny had already played four different guitars. He opened alone with a 42-string Pikasso guitar, strumming in every direction while supplying his own bass line, evoking a spa-like tranquility. His band, which also included bassist Ben Williams, soon joined him.
They mostly worked through tunes from their recent release, Unity Band, with Metheny giving ample solo space to his tight ensemble. Although lacking in soulfulness or modest tempos, this band can play through anything but always in deference to their large-haired leader.
Several times this summer, in the wee hours of the morning, I have heard a pack of coyotes chase something small and frightened up a tree near my apartment. They make a jarring and terrifying howl that seethes with uncontrollable lust and leaves me wide-eyed in the dark. Metheny's Roland G-303 Guitar Synthesizer controller strikes a similar tone and leaves me feeling equally uncomfortable. Metheny turned to this guitar several times and he seemed capable of playing more notes on this machine than any of the other guitars on his rack.
Halfway through the set, Metheny unveiled his true mad scientist machine: the Orchestrion. The Orchestrion is a one-man band consisting of an accordion, a glockenspiel, various cymbals and a series of tuned bottles. He mans the system from his guitar as lights highlight where each instrument is being played behind them. It is a bit like the Old Spice Muscle Music filtered through the 8-bit mind of Johnny Five. The band plays along with Metheny and his machine, doubling the size and sound of the group. When the curtains were stripped off of the machines several people applauded in recognition of the beast.
The band then took turns dueting with Metheny which was a pleasant break from the assault. Metheny strayed slightly from his barrage and leaned into a sort of Joe Pass vein, outright swinging alongside Williams who offered his own Ray Brown-like chops on a crisp blues.
The group then closed the show four times. The audience provided a standing ovation every time with Metheny returning once for a smooth solo and then with the entire band.
A week of Metheny has not turned me into a convert. I respect his ability on the guitar but yearn for a warmth and simplicity that few around me seemed interested in. I'll wait for when Ahmad Jamal comes in November. Hopefully I won't be alone.
Personal Bias: I know what it is like to spend window-less afternoons in a Berklee practice room.
The Crowd: Couples who remember when Metheny only had a half-dozen Grammys.
Random Notebook Dump: I have never seen such a busy merch table at a jazz gig.
Pat Metheny @ OC Weekly