WEDNESDAY, 29 MAY 2013
Despite the sad news delivered online and repeated in a steady stream of tweets (based on an unsourced Facebook posting), news arrived later in the afternoon yesterday that the pianist Mulgrew Miller, who suffered a severe stroke last week, is still among the living. Read on to find out why I’m relieved that he’s still here, and why—if you’re concerned at all with straight-ahead jazz over the last several decades—you should know his music…
Update: Early this morning, official word arrived, via a forwarded e-mail message sent to William Paterson University jazz students by David Demsey, the coordinator of the Jazz Studies Program there, that Mulgrew Miller has in fact left the planet. Click through for further details.
SATURDAY, 20 APRIL 2013
Too soon after Thursday’s news, word came today that legendary recording engineer Frank Laico died yesterday at the age of 95. Laico was one of Columbia Records’ house engineers and has been celebrated for the recordings he made at the label’s 30th Street Studio in New York City. Among them were Miles Davis’s ’Round About Midnight (RAM) and Miles Smiles, the Miles Davis-Gil Evans collaboration Porgy and Bess, Thelonious Monk’s Straight, No Chaser, and a number of recordings by Tony Bennett, Bill Evans, and Frank Sinatra. Discogs.com has the fullest list of credits I could find, and it gives you a good sense of the variety of work one skilled engineer can do in a career. If nothing else, the number of artists with whom he worked serially indicates the respect they and their producers had for Laico. A few years ago, Sound on Sound published a feature on Davis’s RAM and the work done by Laico and others to make that recording (and the studio) sound as good as possible. You can get a more personal sense of why they loved his work and how he did what he did in an excerpt from an Audio Engineering Society oral history project video posted on YouTube. Click through to view it.
FRIDAY, 19 APRIL 2013
While running errands last night, I learned via a BBC news update that designer Storm Thorgerson has died at the age of 69. For better or for worse, he’ll likely be remembered mostly for his designs for Pink Floyd albums like Ummagumma (pictured) and Dark Side of the Moon. His importance in the history of album cover design, however, is much broader and deeper. He was one of the founders of the design studio Hipgnosis, which exerted a powerful influence on sleeve design in and beyond the UK during the 1970s and ’80s. You can see a selection of the work produced by the studio on this site. If that piques your interest, I highly recommend For the Love of Vinyl: The Album Art of Hipgnosis. Now, though, rather than pointing you toward one of the obituaries or remembrances that are appearing today, I’m suggesting a 2010 interview with Thorgerson and his business partner Aubrey Powell. The stories of how they conceived a number of their iconic designs are definitely worth the long read.
SATURDAY, 13 APRIL 2013
This one came across the virtual transom a couple of weeks ago, just as the latest trip to Italy was coming to an end. It’s a long thought-piece by Maddy Sparham posted in the Features area of The Quietus. In the piece, he muses on the careers and fortunes of Japan and Duran Duran. The former group was arguably at its peak with the release of its final studio album, Tin Drum, in 1981, before dissolving the following year, while the latter was still on the rise—and regarded as derivative of Japan in style and sound at the beginning. Read on for a sprawling but provocative take on British pop and rock, one that sweeps in David Bowie, Roxy Music, indie labels, politics, and a lot more over the span of its more than 7,000 words. I don’t agree with all of it, but I certainly like the thoughts it got going…
WEDNESDAY, 27 MARCH 2013
There’s an informative, but much too brief article on the Rolling Stone website which tells the story of how Public Enemy made what, for many critics, is their masterpiece. It seems to my ears, though, that the writer got an important detail wrong. The sound at the beginning of “Rebel Without a Pause” is not a backwards sample from the “The Grunt” by The J.B.’s: it’s simply a sample. In that sense, after so much time, Mark Dery’s September 1990 piece in Keyboard magazine—“Public Enemy: Confrontation,” pages 81–96—remains the best piece on the Bomb Squad’s production methods (it’s also available in That’s the Joint: The Hip-Hop Studies Reader, edited by Mark Anthony Neal and Murray Forman). Still, there’s something to be gained from reading Chuck D’s reflections on the album long after the fact. Click through to read them for yourself.
WEDNESDAY, 27 MARCH 2013
My 2012 best-of list has finally been posted. As usual, its contents range widely over the popular music and jazz landscapes. Click through to learn whether your picks match mine, to find out what barely missed the list, and maybe to add a few items to the list for your next CD-, vinyl- or mp3-purchasing mission.
WEDNESDAY, 27 MARCH 2013
- Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser…
- Jessica Bailiff, At the Down-turned Jagged Rim of the Sky
- Bat for Lashes, The Haunted Man
- Beach House, Bloom
- Paul Buchanan, Mid Air
- Cody Chesnutt, Landing on a Hundred
- Cold Specks, I Predict a Graceful Expulsion
- Ravi Coltrane, Spirit Fiction
- Shawn Colvin, All Fall Down
- Mark Eitzel, Don’t Be a Stranger
- Grizzly Bear, Shields
- Robert Hood, Motor: Nightime World 3
- Hanne Hukkelberg, Featherbrain
- Kendrick Lamar, good kid, m.A.A.d city
- Jeff Parker, Bright Light in Winter
- El Perro del Mar, Pale Fire
- Beth Orton, Sugaring Season
- Songs of Green Pheasant, Soft Wounds
- Andy Stott, Luxury Problems
- Sweet Billy Pilgrim, Crown and Treaty
- Tame Impala, Lonerism
- Paul Weller, Sonik Kicks
- Bobby Womack, The Bravest Man in the Universe