Thursday, February 27, 2014

Remembering an iconic announcer: Jim Lange

You know an announcer has become an icon when you appear as yourself on TV shows and movies.
That was JIM LANGE, who died this week age 81.
A Minnesota native, Lange emerged into the national spotlight while hosting a radio show on the legendary San Francisco station KSFO -- famous breeding ground for indelible voices.
He moved to Los Angeles and hosted numerous game shows on TV, including "The Dating Game" and "Name That Tune."
He portrayed himself during guest appearances on sitcoms such as "Bewitched" and "Laverne & Shirley."
Lange was a classic announcer, who eventually returned to radio.
Today's generation of Carson Daly, Ryan Seacrest and the like might not realize the debt they owe to Lange.
Trust me, it's huge.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Can the fiery Blakey percussion beat this enduring chill? Here's hoping!

We can't seem to escape the icy grip of WINTER.
It's only supposed to "warm" to 10 degrees Fahrenheit today, and tonight the bottom falls out and temperatures plunge as winds increase: The forecast calls for a low of minus-12 and wind chill values as low as minus-30.
My reaction (besides complaining) is to bundle up and listen to the fiery JAZZ of ART BLAKEY & THE JAZZ MESSENGERS.
Blakey was the hard-bop drummer whose rotating cast of players read like a who's who of modern jazz: Lee Morgan, Bobby Timmons, Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Cedar Walton, Chuck Mangione, Chick Corea and Wynton Marsalis, to list just a few.
Behind these fabulous players was Blakey's remarkable percussion.
Critic Ralph Gleason wrote:
"Blakey is like a man on fire. When he drums, every inch of his body is involved in it. He can get a greater variety of counter rhythms going at any time than any drummer I have ever heard."
As a result, no piece of Blakey music can ever be called "dull," because there is always something interesting to hear.
I need something fiery to hear today. Anything to try to beat this enduring chill.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Vizzini brought shadowy subject into the light

It's difficult reading the NED VIZZINI novel, "IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY," after the events of Dec. 19, 2013.
That's the day the author committed suicide, after producing works of fiction that featured struggles with MENTAL ILLNESS.
"It's Kind of a Funny Story" is a first-person account of those struggles, told by New York teenager Craig Gilner.
Gilner's matter-of-fact account of depression are memorable:
"Some days I woke up and got out of bed and brushed my teeth like any normal human being; some days I woke up and lay in bed and looked at the ceiling and wondered what the hell the point was of getting out of bed and brushing my teeth like any normal human being."
Most people have someone in their lives who have dealt with mental illness. It's a subject veiled by stigma, however, so it's an illness that usually festers in the shadows.
Vizzini's great achievement was bringing the subject into the light of the modern young adult novel -- hopefully, the awareness he raised prevented others from following his suicidal lead.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

I've just completed a wonderful musical journey

I've finished reading RICHARD COOK'S "IT'S ABOUT THAT TIME: MILES DAVIS ON AND OFF RECORD," and with it a couple of weeks of immersing myself in the ever-progressing work of MILES DAVIS.
We have amassed a notable collection of Davis albums over the past decade or so, and I enjoyed listening to them in order during the course of the book, a biographical discography.
There was "BIRTH OF THE COOL," the nonet sessions that featured unique arrangements and helped launch the "cool jazz" movement.
There was "WALKIN'" and its relaunch of Davis after a period of drug-induced, limited activity.
The remarkable quintet recordings follow soon after, as Davis gathered John Coltrane and "The Rhythm Section" of Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones.
The Gil Evans orchestral collaborations that began with "MILES AHEAD" remain some of the most beautiful musical pieces I have ever heard, and ever expect to hear.
"MILESTONES" and the modal style of "KIND OF BLUE" will forever remain musical landmarks, too.
I've always been a real musical geek, and I probably get more excited than I should for the George Coleman-era Davis group, the one inaugurated by "SEVEN STEPS TO HEAVEN."
The fabulous Wayne Shorter era follows and included the superb piano contributions of Herbie Hancock.
I've taken longer to warm to the "Electric Miles" period, but "A TRIBUTE TO JACK JOHNSON" is a powerful and fun listening experience. I can appreciate the other albums of that era as well.
We only have a handful of tracks from Davis' final period of music making, when he added his fabled trumpet sound to pop-jazz songs. I love his version of "Human Nature."
It's hard for me to believe, but we have 31 Miles Davis albums, not counting compilations featuring his work.
I enjoy them all for different reasons, and I'm thankful I've become so acquainted with them.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Shedding light on Miles' electric period

If you have had trouble figuring out what MILES DAVIS was doing during his polarizing "electric period," I suggest watching the 2004 MURRAY LERNER documentary "MILES ELECTRIC: A DIFFERENT KIND OF BLUE."
I watched the 87-minute film last night.
The film features musicians who worked with Davis during that turbulent time of musical change. The now-greying jazzmen recall a brave journey into new musical directions -- with critic Stanley Crouch on hand to continue to accuse Davis of "selling out."
Carlos Santana and Joni Mitchell are among other musicians who speak about Davis' influence, before the film wraps up with a 38-minute set the Davis band performed at the 1970 ISLE OF WIGHT music festival.
The gig is extraordinary, as the band shift moods during a marathon medley.
I also found the 2003 interviews with the participants fascinating, as Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, Chick Corea and others discuss the musical excitement of the time, and the thrill of discovery they shared with Davis.
I highly recommend the film.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Complicated jazz... My late father would have loved it

DAVE HOLLAND/SAM RIVERS is so deceptively simple.
One album... two players... two songs... DAVE HOLLAND plays bass throughout... SAM RIVERS plays soprano saxophone on one side... he plays tenor saxophone on the other.
Simple, right?
Not really. The 1976 release is an album of avant-garde JAZZ that repays close listening -- it's bursting with ideas and intricate melodic lines.
I'm listening closely today and thinking about my late, jazz-loving FATHER, who would have been 87 today (he died in 1992).
The skies are grey and the rest of the family is out. Perfect time for headphones, closed eyes and complicated jazz.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

But you've heard of Genesis before, though, right?

These kids today.
Try telling them PETER GABRIEL and PHIL COLLINS were once in a band together...
... and they won't believe ya.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Time to investigate 'Bitches Brew'

"BITCHES BREW" has always been about 10 years ahead of my time.
I thrive on the music MILES DAVIS made about a decade or so before this revolutionary JAZZ-ROCK hybrid, so although I own the 1969 album, I haven't really spent much time fully investigating it and the myriad sounds it contains.
I've reached the chapter on "Bitches Brew" in RICHARD COOK'S comprehensive biographical discography "IT'S ABOUT THAT TIME: MILES DAVIS ON AND OFF RECORD," so I am going to closely listen to the album the next couple of days.
Davis knew he would leave some of his old fans behind when he radically changed his approach to music.
I want to find out what I missed he left me standing.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Whisked away by 'A Hard Day's Night'

Today marks the 50th anniversary of THE BEATLES' inaugural appearance on the ED SULLIVAN SHOW, a watershed moment for television and pop music in the United States.
Last night, I prepared for the occasion by watching the 1964 RICHARD LESTER film, "A HARD DAY'S NIGHT."
I have enjoyed watching the film many times before. Last night, I was struck by how propulsive the film seemed -- it seemed to rush headlong across the screen.
This effect was Lester's great touch, with quick cuts between scrambling legs and screaming girls' faces, shots of the band descending a fire escape  as viewed from the bottom and the marvelous use of a helicopter to show The Beatles scampering around the field.
When set to the band's uptempo rock, the scenes seem to whisk past, sweeping the viewer with them.
It really is a breathtaking film experience.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Seriously weary of this endless winter

I've become seriously weary of this WINTER.
Another 2 inches of SNOW are coming our way later today, which will give us 40 inches for the season -- our winter average is 45, so we're nearly there with most of February and all of March still to come.
The real story has been the cold.
DUBUQUE just endured its coldest January since 1979 and 11th coldest in 141 years of weather record keeping.
We've had no thaws -- no string of days when the high temperature bounces along above freezing, melting some of the snow and ice.Instead, one random 33-degree day is followed by another plunge below zero.
It's putting a chill on my psyche.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Joy of ABBA reveals songwriting, recording legacy

"THE JOY OF ABBA" does more than trace the ascent of AGNETHA FÄLTSKOG, BJÖRN ULVAEUS, BENNY ANDERSSON and ANNI-FRID LYNGSTAD as pop superstars.
The BBC Four documentary also chronicles how the Swedish pop combo ABBA overcame critical scorn to create a songwriting and recording legacy that even influenced punk iconoclasts such as the Sex Pistols.
I watched last night and laughed at footage of scathing critical reviews of ABBA that degraded their efforts as "easy" music to make. Perhaps it wasn't appreciated at the time (except by the musicians ABBA influenced), but the band produced from 1974-82 are towering, majestic examples of perfect song construction.
"The Joy of ABBA" does a fine job of bringing ABBA's true worth to light, as musicians, producers and journalists gush about the impeccable songbook.
My only gripe about the fine documentary is that Ulvaeus is the only member interviewed. In a quartet where personal relationships -- and their deterioration -- played such a leading role in song material, it would have been nice to hear from more of the principal agents.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

French victorious in thrilling start to 6 Nations

I watched on TV as FRANCE defeated ENGLAND, 26-24, today in a thrilling start to this year's SIX NATIONS TOURNAMENT in Paris.
Teenage substitute Gael Fickou's late try lifted XV de France to the victory after the hosts had given up 18 unanswered points to the visitors after leading, 16-3.
It was a memorable RUGBY UNION encounter -- one that reminded me about the greatness of the sport.