Friday, July 4, 2008

Midnight Spaghetti and the Chocolate G-Strings - Velour on the Floor

I recently was lucky enough to meet the guys in Midnight Spaghetti and the Chocolate G-Strings in an unrelated place, literally still sweating from the stage lights after they had played a show at a downtown venue in Manhattan. I was immediately drawn in by the loose, upbeat, positive vibe I got off of these guys; it was only then that I introduced myself as a writer and reviewer of music.

My initial impressions of these guys were not made disingenuous by the flavor of their tunes. Danceable, upbeat, rollicking, splashy, loud, soulful, militant. The singer, Seth Casana, tries to pull off a John Popper but sounds a little more like early Anthony Kiedis or Les Claypool. It’s almost as though he’s still searching for that one sound he will call his own (or I could be still searching for that one perfect adjective to anoint this band; it won’t happen) The sound he spews will no doubt mature as his songwriting does.

This is sort of an album which starts out with seemingly bold ambitions and then descends into the wild party that it always planned on being. Just listen to the song “Don’t Mind If I Do;” the protagonist singer’s devolution into a sexual encounter with just about anyone who passes by.

What always keeps this singer from becoming too self-congratulatory is the fact that he’s backed by some wipe-the-floor-with-your-ass musicians. The driving kick drum, the steady backbeat bass, the underscoring organs, and the triumphant horn section all add to the melding of worlds. An instrument that sometimes gets lost in jazz is the guitar but not on this record (if you’d call this record “jazz”) as it trades the lead line pretty evenly with the horns.

While this is not a traditional record by any stretch of the imagination, that’s probably what makes it so damn interesting to listen to. If you’ve bored of the standard fare on Hot AC Top 40 Radio or if you’ve heard all of your top 10 favorite Lil’ Wayne songs and you’re ready for the symbiotic dissonance of crashing, splashing, happy times, you should check out Midnight Spaghetti and the Chocolate G-Strings.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

First Look: Bill Bartholomew: Live at Pianos

First Look: Bill Bartholomew: Live at Pianos
by Jesse Schmitt

My first encounter with the upstairs lounge/performance space at Pianos (158 Ludlow Street in the Lower East Side) was to recently check out a solo-acoustic-guitarist Bill Bartholomew ( with accompaniment by Quinton Gelderman on assorted percussion as part of the Jezebel Music Resonance Series! ( Bill Bartholomew is a singer and songwriter but his band is a six piece ensemble with a three piece percussion section as well as a piano and bass to add to the singer’s guitar.

However this is a review of the solo artist and his percussion accompaniment. Apparently the Bill Bartholomew name brand is had in a variety of different ways. According to the bands website, they play in three different formats; solo acoustic, duo (as I saw tonight) and the full six piece ensemble. So the joy in that is walking into a venue where the Bill Bartholomew crew is playing and never knowing what you are going to get.

This show was fairly low key; there were scarcely inches and wires separating the band and the audience. This is always an interesting dynamic and one which the Bill Bartholomew outfit played to their advantage in a strange way. When I saw them begin their set in near pitch black in the upstairs venue with its cobbled seating and low ceiling, I thought maybe the lights would come on. But they played the entirety of their set in a dark red glow which ran congruent with the aggressive edge which was paramount in the set.

Bill Bartholomew seemingly finds his essence in his physicality; the way he twists and squirms at the microphone comes through in his vocals which are at times whiny and struggling to get out of his throat and are at other times commanding and decisive. The bloody fingers pounding he gives his guitar obviously allows the edge to come through.

The first song was a solo track and began in nearly all black. He gave a droning, haunting message of despair which may just be his Achilles heel. More about that later. Once Mr. Gelderman joined the ensemble for the remainder of the show, his big, open barreled djembe playing gave the tunes a steady through line.

Here is my biggest crank on the show that I saw. Remember that this is the first time I have ever seen these two and I got a copy of their CD which I will be reviewing shortly; so my instincts could be flawed by the facts, but this is just my opinion. These two guys played in total 9 or 10 songs. I remember feeling, as the set began to wind down, a somber sort of melancholy. Yes, a few of the lyrics were spirited and yes one or two of the melody was bright and yes the lively percussion playing did leave me rhythmically satisfied. But by and large the tunes were dark. Moody, ethereal, stock, contrived. The lyrics seemed despondent and most of the time it felt as though a great deal of craftsmanship and labor had gone into the construction of the very predictable elements; I saw some band members across from me mouthing the words to some of the songs and in my mind, I mouthed right along with them.

So I felt that I had seen all I needed to and I questioned whether or not I would even write this review at all. Bill Bartholomew crashed down his guitar at the end of this very labored song, number 7 or 8 in the night, and Quinton splashed his splash cymbal to a joyous conclusion.

Then they were told they could play two more. This is the spot where if these guys were some of the overpaid by millions famous RAWK musicians, they would all run off stage for a hot toddy and triumphantly return to play some fan favorites that, while the band may have tired of them, they would elicit the strongest roar of applause and fainting women and all that.

Bill Bartholomew got on the mic and said “these last two songs are older ones; they’ve been around for three or four years,” dismissively. Almost as though he were ashamed of them in lieu of the more challenging, downtrodden, calculated music they were playing now.

The last two songs were the highlight of the evening, for me. They were decidedly more upbeat, had a big, airy, open melody which was much more conducive to the inclusive sound that rang around in the percussive melodies, and they were arranged better. Now, yes, you could say that because they are four year old songs, they have obviously had a longer period of time to gestate into a pair of gems. But, it seems that if the crown melodies are going to be something of an afterthought; almost not included due to time constraints, and you’re barraging your audience with this edgy, aggressive sound, then it is the latter that you are going for.

Even Rush has “Fly by Night.” It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a radio hit; it’s catchy; people sing it. They also have all that synthesizer crap they did in the 80’s. Then they came back with "Roll the Bones". Encapsulating your very short career into some thirty years time may not be the most fair thing, but it is possible to do challenging music that is not ailenating.

I don’t want to pretend to be an expert and Bill Bartholomew and his band obviously know their own sound scores better than this casual, first time observer, but it was such a noticeable difference that even my spouse, who was there with me, agreed. She was walking to the subway, humming that next to last song, indulging in the thrill of great live music, happy and dancing all the while. A skilled singer who obviously has control of his facilities, Bill Bartholomew should figure out which road he is headed down and ask himself if that is where he’d like his sound to go.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Chucho Valdes

The tunes on the Chucho Valdes release under the Bele Bele Jazz Club label range in dynamic from Charlie Brown soundtrack to classical Hallmark card ad to the more familiar and forgiving Latin Jazzy Salsa beat. This sounds right about where Mr. Valdes is in his career right now, having played a long time and built a loyal following, he sounds about ready to showcase his playing styles.

This is recording is definitely that and any fan of the legendary Latin jazz band Irakere would be wise to take a listen. Mr. Valdes is not just a skilled bandleader he is also the founder of the Latin Jazz band Irakere who are one of Cuba’s most respected and well known jazz bands.

The eponymous release first was released in 2005 and is heavily piano saturated which is Mr. Valdes instrument of choice. He plays it with a skilled hand; one part deliberate Debussy, one part cheerful Chopin, one part glorious Gershwin, and the more dominant remainder which is fully and completely his own. It is more the complex arrangements and jazzy accompaniments which help set this recording apart from comparison and make this record a true individual.

Heralded in the liner notes to the album as “an amalgam of genuinely post-modern recordings by the celebrated Cuban pianist.” The tracks which are put together for this recording span a life’s work; some of these go back as early as 1970 with the latest being recorded in the late 1980’s.

Still actively performing at the ripe old age of 90 in 2008, Chucho Valdes is a three time Grammy award winner and is still one of Cuba’s most well known and respected pianists. Though he had begun playing piano at the age of three, Mr. Valdes did not waste any time establishing himself as a skilled bandleader as he found himself leader of a band at the age of sixteen. Definitely worth a listen for any fan of world music, this current Chucho Valdes release is certainly something you should check out.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

American Speedway "Ship of Fools"

American Speedway: Doing it Their Way

by Jesse Schmitt

On the debut CD release of American Speedway entitled “Ship of Fools,” there is a carefully studied, traditionally articulated punk ethos which may come off at first as same old hack. However if you listen a little closer to the subtle arrangements, the joyous rollicking, and the incisive lyrics, you will hear a band who is not only trying to do punk rock in the post-punk generation, but they are also positing that they do it on their own terms and with no apologies.

The album “Ship of Fools” begins with the title track. A simple looping guitar chord, heavy drums, and pretty shabby (albeit loud!) production values may at first glimpse turn off a listener. However there is an authentic mono-quality tinny sound in the record which brought back my earliest recollections of the classic LP. The opening track also has some pretty incisive lyrics “full speed ahead we plow with no remorse…where we’re going we might not survive; so cut to the end we’re not making it back alive.” Punk lyrics with a decidedly “un-punk” resonance in these times of tumult which exist in our world today; this rollicking band not only has a fair amount of angst, they also come off with a message that you need to hear to understand; are you listening?

American Speedway is a relative new kid on the block with a congealed lineage which extends only as far back as February 2007. Michael Thursby Speedway (guitar/lead vocals) Bill Angry (bass/vocals) Johny Griswold (guitar/vocals) and Chris Callahan (drums) make up this quartet who began as a high energy live act. Their ethos is simple: they play what THEY like; which is, according to them, the only “real rock and roll.”

Comparisons leap out at you from the moment you listen to their frenetic musical style. Mr. Speedway’s vocals draw sharp parallels with the likes of Bon Scott on “Highway to Hell” era AC/DC; the quickly cadenced kick drum beneath his high pitched growl you could think you were listening to “Holy Wars” era Megadeth; the simple, looping guitar riffs and naked bass lines could even lead you to believe that you were hearing some 311 outtakes. The fact is that American Speedway is able to effortlessly draw from all of these influences and create a sound which is refreshingly and honestly their own.

Just give a listen to a song like “One Foot In, One Foot Out,” and you’ll know what I’m talking about. At just under 2:40 and with a rapid fire lyric you could miss the tune before it’s gone. “Well I’m just like any other man; trying to live my life the best way I can, but something seems to veer me off that road.” It was then that I took a look at the American Speedway cover art for “Ship of Fools,” and I saw the spirit of this whole record: Four animated, pissed-off, rebellious young men at the helm of a pirate ship amidst choppy seas; doing what any four rebellious, pissed-off, joyous young men at the helm of a pirate ship amidst choppy seas would do:

Letting it all hang out.

Top down, balls to the wall, full throttle, fused with synergy, created with ability, conveyed with energy; if you are a hard-charging, balls to the wall, pissed-off, choppy-seas-sailing fan of absolute punk; check out American Speedway, the new paradigm for a lost art.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Record Review: Omara Portuondo "Lagrimas Negras Canciones y Boleros"

Whenever I hear the Buena Vista Social Club or any of its members, I am always taken back to my glory days in college when I convinced the director of our spring main stage production; Eric Bogosian’s “Suburbia” that we NEEDED to use The Buena Vista Social Club as part of the soundtrack to the show. Being the shows sound designer and also being familiar with the playwright’s work, I felt that I was best inclined to make this judgment.

I think I made everyone sick with the hypnotic beginning of their song “Chan Chan.” Not me! I thought it was great; a real breakthrough for my otherwise white, suburban college. But because this song led off the show and because nobody could get the blocking in the first scene right; we revisited those same familiar guitar chords over and over again.

So it was with a fair amount of interest that I recently was able to check out Omara Portuondo latest two disc release “Lagrimas Negras (Black Tears) Canciones y Boleros.” Portuondo was one of the singers from the Buena Vista Social Clubs 1997 Grammy award winning album and sang with the likes of Ibrahim Ferrer, Manuel Licea, Ruben Gonzalez, and others. Portuondo is also featured in the documentary Buena Vista Social Club which was directed by Wim Wenders.

This is a double disc edition and is inclusive of a number of fine songs form this commanding front lady. This album was “the result of an interpretive creation full of feeling, intimacy, and naturalness,” according to the liner notes. There is a great deal of feeling from this seasoned vet, all of which is on full display in the jangling, ambling, happy tunes.

Portuondo has been singing professionally for more than 50 years; she has a deft and impressive command of not just the notes and the harmony but also of the feeling which makes her fans swoon and was a large part of the crossover success of the Buena Vista Social Club. One commentator, Manolo Ortega has affectionately labeled Ms. Portuondo “Feeling’s girlfriend.” When it comes down to the music on “Lagrims Negras” it definitely shows.

Standout tracks on this double set are too numerous to mention; but include the laid back opener, “Incredible” where her sultry voice is accompanied by a jazzy saxophone and the gentle strums of a guitar; the lazy horns of “Vieja Luna;” the restrained exasperation in her voice on a tune like “Nosotros;” and a standout track of both discs “Como es possible” her duet with Pedro Rivero.

Unfortunately for me, I barely speak a very bad Spanglish; but the melodies are nice enough for me not to get too caught up in the fact that I have no idea what she’s singing about. It’s sort of like great opera at considerably less cost! There is no reason anyone who is able to appreciate all styles of music wouldn’t be able to appreciate the sounds from a talented and versatile artist like Omara Portuondo.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Gifts of Poetry

Gifts of Poetry

by Jesse Schmitt

So I’ve recently come across this European singer, Roesy, and I wrote an article about his 2006 release “Colour Me Colourful;” a great record and one I hope they will release stateside soon. If you have a hard time finding his stuff then you should definitely make your way to an indie record store in your area or even,, or something like that to try and locate an international copy. Apple doesn’t seem to care that some of the best music I’ve heard in years is being made outside of the US.

World Wide Web. Humph.

Anyway, I was able to find some info on this guy from his myspace profile (note the spelling; not: Rosey – ROESY) and while Wikipedia wasn’t really much help, Google did get me to this section of his webpage – It looks like is under construction and should be in place in due course, but the above listed URL will get you a little more info.

As I cruised and perused the Roesy myspace profile, I was thrilled to hear more music. As I said, “Colour Me Colourful,” was from 2006 so when I heard this one tune, “Sober Clown,” I figured that this had to be new music; the production values were great (for myspace) the sound was mature, the lyrics, brilliant. So imagine my shock and awe when I came to find that this was an even EARLIER recorded song!

In 2004, on the record “Only Love is Real,” comes this masterpiece. Beginning with a simple, ambling piano introduction, joined in time by a strong guitar strum, “Sober Clown” sounds like Sunday morning and all the rebirth and weekly catharsis inherent in that day. From his opening lines, this is obviously a song about loss, change, the end of something that was great, and the start of something uncertain.

“I’m glad you’re happy now; I know you did what you had to do.
It’s just that my road is clear of traffic, I’m going walking; but I wish to God I was walking with you.”

It is with those lines that we are taken on this journey of self-aware self-actualization. At first the lonely soul seems drowned in his own sorrows;

“I been spending too much time alone I’ve gripped the fact now that I’m on my own. Brooding too much on memories and I’ll admit that I was kind of bitter to the bone.”

As though there were any other way to be; the evocative nature of a phrase like “kind of bitter to the bone,” shows the depth and intensity of the relationship between the scorned and the heart-sick.

There is a certain blind invincibility one feels when they are living with the one that they love and on high. Naturally, then, there is a certain exposed feeling which is very apparent when that blanket is gone. The character in the Roesy tune, they know it too:

“Sun up and down and then the moon’s around
And all the while they’re watching us we’re in different towns”

Not only is the love lost victim feeling the loss of their partner, they are also feeling the grating glares of everyone who sees him now alone. Even though most of them probably don’t even know who he is, it can still be a shameful perp-walk many people feel that they must take when they are cast asunder.

There is more beautiful imagery in this song; more heart sick cries and so much emotion in this poor soul’s voice that you feel as though you were in his shoes; taking the walk with him. This is one of the true gifts of truly gifted artists; that they can make their audience “feel” right along with them, with their gifted gift of poetry.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

New REM CD Sold Out! Days Ahead of Schedule

New REM CD Sold Out! Days Ahead of Schedule

by Jesse Schmitt

Is nothing sacred anymore? I remember in my younger days, when getting all excited for a new release of a new album by a favorite band used to mean something. There was some kind of solidarity in the understood “waiting” for something. Tuesday. That was the day when records were released. Tuesday. And while the facts have become muddled in my old age and the lines of black and white have frayed to grey, there are some things I’ve always felt responsible for; among these is holding to tradition.

So it was with some shock and awe earlier today (FRIDAY) that I stumbled upon a horrific entry into my daily life’s journal. This was a thing which made me mad, sad, and indifferent; it had to do with the new release of the latest album of my favorite band, REM. I had been looking forward to this release with some anticipation (this COMING Tuesday) however when I achieved the golden ticket earlier this Friday, I felt sad because it’s true that all that glitters isn’t necessarily anything more than pixie dust.

When I went into the coffee shop of record this morning it was not with the intention of writing an expose. In fact, I was quite content to just grab a cup and go. However the story goes that I stepped up to the counter of the Starbucks Coffee shop on Allen Street in Chinatown in New York City, I saw a thing which I’d been anticipating for days!
For those of you who don’t frequent this chain of coffee store, you would have a hard time distinguishing this place from a music store with a coffee counter if you didn’t know any better. In recent months Starbucks has become your home for all things audiophile including new releases of records. So it goes and the aforementioned shock and awe was quickly replaced with a feeling of intense guilt. I knew that this record didn’t go on sale until four days following; what the heck was it doing in their racks?

I was met with a turn and a shrug at the counter of Starbucks on Allen Street in Chinatown when I queried to the gent at the counter. I snatched it up nonetheless and turned it over to read the track listings and be sure that I wasn’t imagining things.

“The manager just told me to put these out, you know?”

I bought it anyway, and that was when I felt a strange sickening feeling and wanted to return it. I have memories of standing on lines in the middle of the night; long, epic lines with my muggle wife to get things like the latest Harry Potter book. Come to think of it, there hadn’t been too many record releases of recent memory which had shook me in any real way. Then I thought more about it and realized that this release wasn’t so special at all. No, in fact you can hear the whole album online. And event though I’ve listened to the tracks in their entirety online, I’ve only done so once! REM is my favorite band! Why don’t I care more that this new record is out? Why don’t I feel more guilt that I’ve gotten this secret stash so soon?

A footnote in this disappointing chapter: New REM CD Sold Out at Allen Street Starbucks; Days Before Release. And Nobody Seemed to Notice; And Nobody Seemed to Care.

Roesy's Masks

Roesy's Masks

by Jesse Schmitt

I don’t know where my head has been these last years. I’m very impressed how so-so musical acts can get all this play, everywhere; and for the last four years or more this amazing singer, songwriter, and guitar player has been lurking in the shadows. Alas, this is the way for the American music industry (“Can I get a what-what”) but never fear as the world stage continues not to let us down.

From the Irish artist known as Roesy comes the 2006 release “Colour Me Colourful.” When I first heard this record I was flummoxed with a mixture of restrained jubilation and anticipatory depression as I felt I’d already missed something huge. The fact is that Roesy is still around and for any fans of off-the-mainstream, acoustic pop, his soft spoken excellence will sweep you off your feet and take you off and away.

Roesy’s image, standing in a purple chef’s jacket holding his guitar on the blacktop backdrop which is colored in psychedelic Rastafarian paints; I was taken back to the late 1980’s. To the uninformed eye, you’d think that this poor guy stumbled onto the photo shoot at a Milli Vanilli sound stage. It seems as though that this photo shoot is where his album title came from. Further research would reveal that Roesy actually has an impressive art resume as well. But on this record, the art is in the music and the Colours are certainly there in the songs and in the musician.

Roesy’s sound seems a strange amalgam of every one of my favorite musicians of the last fifty years. It’s a little bit hard to describe. He’s European; Irish, so, there you go; there are definite vocal similarities with Crowded House; but there are also hints of Cat Stevens, those Gallagher brothers, and, on first listen, I kept going back to Thom Yorke. Maybe it was the Euro lilt; though it seemed to be much more. Roesy’s songs are nothing like Radiohead. They’re more like Radiohead doing lullaby’s. Or Jazz. There is a definite homage to some of the American jazz greats; Duke, Louis; but there’s a free form about the music which reminded me of Mingus, Coltrane, Cobham. I hear the Eagles, I hear Steely Dan, I hear Paul Simon and I hear none of them. This is a sound which washed over me with its simplistically beautiful originality.

Colour Me Colourful starts out with fingers snapping, wind blowing, jazzy electric piano, soft saxophone, hypnotic harmonies and this lead singer who has the commanding presence of Leonard Cohen. “Shape shift me, walk with me, stay a while; trying to shake the devil down.”

As one door closes, a second opens wide and you feel like you’re listening to The Counting Crows or some other lively pop band. His plaintive cry on “One of the Same,” reminds me or Adam Durnitz which made me feel as though this is some mix CD. I was vexed until Roesy broke out in this songs chorus, “And I said baby we’re all one in the same; together in joy, together in pain.” And there he is again; this large voice which opens up and calls out “nobody’s got it stitched or got it all sewn.”

It kept going on and on like that; I was repeatedly challenged every time the track changed. I had to listen to this record twice just to be sure I heard it all right. From the hypnotic conspirator of “Get to the Ocean;” to the gentle strumming of “Home It Has Flown;” or the aggressive beat of “Propellor” to the gentle finale of “Don’t Be Afraid;” you are never sure what it is that you’re listening to.

And that’s okay. As music gets more and more the same old stuff just rehashed in uninteresting and dull ways, it’s really encouraging to hear an artist who is able to take what’s come before him and honor the sound without raping it. Roesy is hopeful which seems to be congruent of the mood of many in my circles. It’s not sugar-coated however; Roesy’s a realist as well. Listen closely to the lyrics, as he sings on the finale track, and you’ll know too; “In these modern days, a troubled mind is all the rage, oh please when you fall low, know that I will hear you, know that I won’t judge you.”

In a music industry that’s just reeling and stifled and groping and feeling, Roesy is an artist who brings promise for a brighter tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Plastic Crimewave Sound "No Wonderland"

"No Wonderland" by Plastic Crimewave Sound

by Jesse Schmitt

Plastic Crimewave Sound is a nightmare. That is what I first thought when listening to their disc, “No Wonderland.” The heavy bass lines, incessant tom toms, screeching guitars, and squealing vocal lines of some tracks made me feel as though I had fallen squarely inside of my worst nightmare.

Everything seemed a little unsettled and it’s no surprise that Plastic Crimewave Sound has had a huge following out of their local Chicago roots for some time. “No Wonderland” is the first CD release from their now long out of print 2006 LP. It’s unnerving, it’s raucous, it’s aggressive, it’s trippy. All in all the Plastic Crimewave Sound “sound” is an unsettled one; shifting, moving, gyrating, pulsating, beating up the wall yet standing still.

Upon first flush of “No Wonderland” you might believe that one of the musical tracks had fallen out. There were minimal vocals on one song, oops, where’d the vocal track go? Perhaps someone had fallen asleep at the sound board and jacked the guitar line way up. Maybe, you’d think, it was your own stereo or headset; maybe that was the problem. No, in fact, this is just these crazy kids doing what it is that they do.

Actually, according to their myspace page, Plastic Crimewave Sound has been delivering “face melting punk since 2001,” so this group has been around for some time. By their own admission they are “psychedelic/punk/minimalist.” This description got me wondering: was that the sound I’d heard on “No Wonderland”?

Maybe. My only contention with this is that they seemed like they knew what they were doing. They seemed like they could be these amazing musicians trapped into this box of psychedelic/punk/minimalism. The first real track on the album (#2 Korean Ghost Ship – the first track is just some hippie breathing into the microphone about “1000 wings open” and “small segmented dreams”…or something) is an epic number which really deserves your ear. On this track the musicians sound like they’re about to blow out, blow up, get going…then they recede. It’s the meandering guitar lines; jingle, jangling all the while. The bass and drums are ready to go; and you can feel it! But then it never happens.

Plastic Crimewave Sound show off their pop sensibilities on tracks like “Rolling Seas” and “Into the Future” and tracks like “Flowers Eating Dreams” return to the psychedelic/minimalist trap they’ve set up for themselves.

I’d love to hear more of what the Plastic Crimewave Sound are playing today; my only fear is that it might sound just like the same ol’ stuff they were playing two years ago – or six!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Patrick Moraz in Princeton

Patrick Moraz in Princeton

by Jesse Schmitt

Patrick Moraz starts his “Live in Princeton” DVD beating not on the keys of his piano but on the top of the piano; then on the strings of his piano; then on the sides of his piano. Maybe Mr. Moraz had wanted to join the drum corps at some point in his auspicious career.

Those who recognize the name will remember his playing keyboard and touring with the band Yes, in the 1970’s and “The Moody Blues” in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. It could just be that this talented keyboard player was just showing off his understanding of and respect for the importance of rhythm and beat; irregardless of how outlandish his playing style is.

Moraz would go back to that beating before this evening was done; but his piano playing was all this talented artist needed and he obviously played to a beat all his own. Just having a look at his wild shock of black hair or the crystals which hung round his neck let you know that this was a guy who marched to his own beat.

His “Princeton” DVD opens up with “Aural Contact I: Sacrifices” an eight and a half minute introduction that begins with establishing his tempo, continues with his rumbled, garbled, conflicted, yet crystal clear intonations as he dances across the ivories. At times you feel like you are listening to a song you have heard before; maybe a classical tune, maybe some bit of pop snuck in there, maybe even elevator music; but then that distinctive hand of Moraz dices it all up and fakes you out by serving you something you undoubtedly have not heard before. That is the cunning of progressive rock and progress in general; taking you places you have never been before. This is what Moraz does with such finesse.

For fans there are obvious influences; through his long career he came up with the likes of Billy Joel and Elton John; certainly those ghosts are tinged in his seemingly random rants. Moraz’ trick that you will soon familiarize yourself with is that you will only hear it for a moment before it’s gone.

Then, of course, there are the masters. Moraz does a seemingly harried interpretation of the Duke Ellington’s “Talisman.” While the Duke played it slow and close to the chest, Moraz seems a bit impatient to get it out as fast as possible. In spite of his impetuousness, there is definite spirit and respect.

Moraz also attacks Monk in his nine and a half minute tribute to “Blue Monk.” This version was a bit more recognizable and to tempo. Moraz still is able to let his jazzy side shine when he would duck through the side door and totally go off during the breaks; still always careful to return to the melody.

“Patrick Moraz in Princeton” is a colorful and worthwhile showcase of a classical progressive musician in a progressively progressive time and is certainly worth a viewing.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Monster Island Re-Issue 2001's "Dream Tiger"

Taking Control of Their Destiny; In Re-Release

By Jesse Schmitt

There is not really all that much written about the band Monster Island and in this narrow and growing narrower by the heartbeat music climate, that is just too bad. Just to listen to the lyrics on their re-release from 2001, “Dream Tiger” and I’m immediately taken back to a very familiar place; a place we’ve all been before; a place of shame, insecurity, misdirected rage, curious indignation, sought approval, and the ultimate disappointment that these actions are never forthcoming.

This album sounds to me, in my guesstimation, as a freshman effort from a sophomore band. We all remember the pain and humiliation of being just on the cusp of something much greater; this thing called “adult life” and the constant frustration when we’d always just come up short.

This is what this album sounds like to me; a picture in a frame of a person we once were years before. This picture may be embarrassing to look at today, but if you’d closely examine it, you might see some greater hints of the person you’d come to be. The slight turn in your head and the angle at which the brim of your cap was cocked; the way your head turned away with disinterest yet your body lunged forward in yearning and need says so much about the person you have become. Or the laser stare which cuts through the camera lens and had taken you from your Junior Prom all the way to the bright lights of Hollywood; just as you’d always imagined. Maybe not in the way you’d imagined but the tests of time are present.

So listening to this album which features strange sounds and haunting vocals I was immediately taken back to my grandmothers porch. The initial cling and clang of instruments and the hypnotic hum of an organ made me feel as though I were on the back porch with Grandma, whiling away the early summer days of my youth as the wind chimes tinkled in the still air. This is the way for this band all throughout.The idea that this outfit somehow “needs” to keep their instruments going throughout an entire song seems not the point to these musicians as they play when they want to. This says a great deal about this band as well. We are always struck between our own impression of ourselves cast against the prejudices and preconceptions allotted to how the rest of the world looks at us; this seems to be the same for Monster Island.

The lyrics go back and forth and sometimes meet in between. There is the flighty and airy vocals of Cary Loren who sounds as though she may just be a small girl skipping rope. The male singer (Matthew Smith) sings with darker, more direct, more aggressive intonations but seems similarly caught in the trap of this new to testosterone manner about which he sings. Erika Hoffman also sings and plays violin and harmonium; Warn Defever plays the drums, shakuhachi, and rocks out on the toy piano.

Music is artistry and I like to think of all the music in the world the same way many people view gallery art. Unfortunately music has gotten so commercialized and our tastes are all so fickle that it seems just when something good comes along; something worthwhile and revolutionary, huge money interests are right there to exploit whatever uniqueness was once there and they craft and groom the musician, sucking all the talent right from their bones until they are but a shell.

Monster Island say that they use a variety of influences in their sound including “oud, sitar, tanpura, harmonium, shakuhachi, djembe, gamelan, guitars, bass, cello, flute, drums, Chinese organ, water harp, mini-moog, and gongs.” These musical influences go right along with their lyrical content of “artist and literary biographies, social protest, ecology, apocalyptic verse, long narrations, regional histories, spiritualism, conspiracy theory, Zen, UFOs, Japanese monsters, Haiku death poems and Voodoo.”

This all makes for an interesting listen. So if you are fed up with the standard fare which is offered for you on commercial radio and you want to hear something real and something raw then you should check out Monster Island.

Fame 4 at Fuel Rock Out!

Seeking It Out In Studio City

By Jesse Schmitt

We all, somewhere down deep in our heart of hearts, want to be famous. It’s intrinsic; it’s the way we’re brought up, it’s part of that dreaded envy/expectation gene which is split to believe that not only do we want what we see that others have, but that somehow, we’re entitled to it.

So it goes that one of the biggest proponents of this high style of envy is American Idol. Many people watch it; many people enjoy it; a surprisingly larger number of people strive to participate in this contest/slaughterhouse. In the end it turns into a contest; in the beginning though it is just like a bunch of pigs led to slaughter as the large majority of those who all have a singular goal on their minds are shown the door rather than the glitz and glam of the camera and the limelight of the stage.

It was with this in mind that my wife and I attended the most recent production of “Fame 4” at the bar Fuel (11608 Ventura Blvd) in Studio City. “Fame” we’ll all remember, was a 1980 movie which was thus adapted into a musical; along the way it was a television series and a reality TV program before “reality TV” had entered the public lexicon. Any child of the 1980’s no doubt was up early Saturday morning, dancing around their living room in their Pac-Man pajama’s singing “Fame! I’m gonna’ live forever” softly, so as not to awaken the parents. The fact that I lived next to the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Performing Arts for four years should not be lost on this reading audience; the fact is that even thought the program had been off the air for years, I thought it was a little endearing that there had been the actual dream coming to life on my street – just across the street, coincidently (and just to the rear of my building) from what I’d affectionately dubbed the “Lincoln Center Projects;” the vast public housing units were what made the whole thing real. A reference is mentioned to the area by Jason Mraz in his song “Curbside Prophet:” (“You see it started way back in NYC; When I stole my first rhyme from the M-I-C; At a West End Avenue at 63”).

Back to the subject at hand, though; we had attended this “Fame 4” spectacular hoping to just get an idea for what was going on. In the world of performance, there are definitely some who belong and some who maybe not so much. I won’t get into any specifics on any of the individual performers just because I wasn’t jotting down names; I will say though that performance is really all about interpretation.

I have a very extensive music collection and a fairly diverse knowledge of pop music popularity and history; Phil Collins, John Cougar Mellencamp, Michael Stipe, Elvis (!) all stood shoulder to shoulder with Lisa Loeb, Linda Rondstat, Nena, and musical theatre in the invocations of these folks. The truly refreshing thing about this experience was that I was able to hear the individual performer’s voice despite the fact that these were very popular tunes (I know you know ”99 Luftballoons”)

I can sometimes be a stickler for the details and I found myself sitting right to the front, more interested in the screen which displayed the words and the subtle differences in the recorded versions of these songs and the karaoke versions. I spoil things for myself sometimes by being such a cad, but I have the non-alcoholic hangover headache today as my reward.

An enjoyable time was had by all. I must say, in complete deference to all the rest of the performers, my wife had to be the best one I’d heard all night. That is with no implicit bias whatsoever.

“Fame 4” goes on for the next several weeks or so in Studio City CA so if you are out on the town and are looking for something a little bit different, why not head on over to Fuel on Ventura Blvd?