Saturday, 18 November 2017

Space Music 21

Bob Seger - I Knew You When, album review


I caught up a little with Bob Seeger a while back here, and need to do more [though I have – just didn’t write about it].

This latest seems more of the fine same to me, and that’s an accolade because he has his signature and this is it, though opener Gracile is a dirty swamp-rock that is a stand-out track.

Indeed, for me this album’s strength is its signature sound throughout – basically upfront, straight rock that avoids complexity and is informed by Seger’s distinctive voice – but the fact it is bookended by Gracile and, on the deluxe edition, closer Glenn Song dedicated to his great friend Greg Frey gives it a memorable edge. The percussive beated simplicity of this song’s pace and its foreground lyrics in terms of rhyme are perfect as a fond, unadorned lament, the violin providing its plaintive accompaniment. I think it is superb.

The album also reflects on other passings with covers of Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen, this latter’s selected song Democracy [a rousing cover] so the album is reflecting on more than recent musicians’ deaths. We’re going to get more of this over coming years, sadly, but when it is as honest and self-reflecting as this, the music becomes the truest empathetic obituary.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Into the Distance Music 63

Jeff Lynnes ELO - Wembley or Bust, album review

Long Time Coming

I've written about this before, a couple of years ago. The consolidation of change continues...

When studying in Oxford I used to live in a flat just off the Iffley Road. It was a downstairs flat with another one above.

The first occupant upstairs was an American studying at one of the universities - I forget which - and he once invited me and my wife to his College for a meal in its great hall and with all the service afforded to those studying there. It was a most pleasant experience.

The second occupant was a drunkard and a complete asshole who used to play his music extremely loud late at night and it was usually ELO. I damaged the bathroom ceiling from banging on it for him to turn the volume down; called the police once who said they couldn't do anything for me [a lie I think], and I once stormed up to his place and pulled the stereo lead from the wall in as threatening a manner I could, and I think for that night only he didn't play any music. He probably fell asleep in a drunken stupor.

He ruined our lives at the time, ruined to this day my wife's ability to sleep soundly on a regular basis, and definitely ruined listening to ELO - so much so that hearing the band on the radio made us both sick and angry.

That was around 1979-80. I avoided ELO until 2015. Read here.

So I've listened to this album all these years later with the baggage lightened, especially through the catharsis of disliking intensely the asshole 'above' rather than the music he then played, and it is excellent. Lynnes' vocal is softer it seems to me, and the orchestrations on this recording less full of pomp and more restrained. The songwriting, obviously, retains its brilliance, including that not from ELO.

It's only taken nearly 40 years.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Joanna MacGregor & Andy Sheppard - Deep River, album review

Both Sax Sides

I have returned to this album after seeing Andy Sheppard live a few days ago. Along with pianist Joanna MacGregor, these 2005 covers of gospel to contemporary songs are beautifully as well as  excitingly played, and my focus has been on Sheppard’s stylistic variations.

Opener Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child is of course an indelible tune and one therefore listens for the nuances in the cover. Sheppard here is in his breathy mode and this is then developed with loops and multi-tracking effects to merge traditional with modern, electronic whines and wails railing across the looped sax and the trilling runs of MacGregor on piano. Second, the gospel again of Everybody Help the Boys Come Home is entirely modern with samples of an original recording by William and Versey Smith, MacGregor on piano-percussive beats and Sheppard on sax runs, the two merging in and out of those beats. A favourite is third Spiritual, the Charlie Haden song made memorable for me by Johnny Cash’s emotive cover, and Sheppard matches this with an emotional crescendo in his playing.

It is a beautiful album throughout. A pairing I will finish on is the sweet and delicate delivery of fourth track Georgia Lee which reminds most of the tone and pace of Sheppard’s Bristol gig I reviewed here. This is juxtaposed dramatically two tracks on by Up Above My Head with an acoustic blues guitar opening and the multi-tracked soprano sax of Sheppard, MacGregor joining her piano runs to Sheppard’s increasingly wild-rolling play. Two tracks on from this, a remix of the same song features Seb Rochford who also played the Bristol gig.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Sign Music 13

Andy Sheppard, St George's, Bristol, 9th November, 2017 - gig review

And I Loved It

[for Isobel]

Can you have convivial jazz? I should say you can have any adjectival music you care to describe, especially jazz with its expansive range, but for this review my naming is set up by the prelude to attending this fine show by the warm welcome and meal I enjoyed before travelling into Bristol. My thanks to our hosts for the early evening where a most pleasant dinner and company segued so precisely into a most pleasant performance from Sheppard and band.

Pleasant is seemingly faint praise for a jazz gig, but when I attach the other descriptors of mellow, pretty, soft, breathy and melodic to what could be a longer totally positive list, you’ll get the gist and link to convivial. This was a performance based in melody and gentle delivery overall, Sheppard’s breathy sax playing setting up each song to grow into the fuller playing, with Eivind Aarset’s guitar and electronics providing often ambient landscapes to the whole, and also including a lovely echoplex-esque a la John Martyn accompaniment to a signature song of the night based as it was on three notes, according to Sheppard, sung by a bird in his garden, assuming he wasn’t telling us a magpie. This also reminded of JM and Sheppard’s accompaniment to the gorgeous My Creator on The Cobbles album.

Michel Benita on bass provided tight mirrorings of melodic lines in most of the songs, and in one he also established and sustained a great riff that livened up the pace – a little. Indeed, those wanting a rip-up of notes might have been disappointed, but that wasn’t the case with me. There was one song near the end where Aarset demonstrated the wonderful growl and argument of his electronics, and Sheppard did run some speedy rise and falls around this. Sebastian Rochford on drums was a precise anchor throughout, often dancing around his cymbals.

Most of the beautiful songs played last night were from Sheppard’s upcoming album Romaria due for release in January 2018. I do look forward to that. It will have its own nuances, no doubt, but I can’t imagine it capturing the finesse of Sheppard’s playing live – the sweet shifts into higher octaves when he plays, especially in the gentleness of it all, is sublime. As my aural companion on the night said at one point in the performance, playing at such a pace and relative calm requires great skill.

This skill and pleasing/pleasant/palpable control was most evident in the sweet surprise of the band’s encore, a calming, convivial cover of The Beatles’ And I Love Her. A lovely end to a lovely gig.