Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Heavy Metal Bebop Podcast #2: Kate Gentile

The second installment of the HMB Podcast, featuring a long-form interview with drummer-composer Kate Gentile, is now live. You can listen/subscribe in iTunes or stream/download via the player below.

To everyone who has listened or sent feedback on the podcast so far, thank you so much for your support. If you like what you hear and are inclined to rate or review the show in iTunes, that would be sincerely appreciated.

More great conversations have already been recorded for the coming months, so please stay tuned!

Lately (3/17/19)

*A review of an awesome four-band death-metal bill, featuring DFSBP faves Cannibal Corpse and Morbid Angel.

*A write-up of an excellent new oral history of the band King's X, with whom I've become fairly obsessed within the past year or so.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Heavy Metal Bebop Podcast

Some reading this may be familiar with Heavy Metal Bebop, the online interview series I launched back in 2011 dealing with the intersections of jazz and metal. I'm happy to announce that Heavy Metal Bebop is now a podcast. Go here to learn more and to stream or download the first episode, which features a conversation with Bad Plus drummer Dave King. Or just hit play below:

I've had more fun conducting these interviews than I have in just about any other journalistic endeavor to date, so I'm enormously happy to unveil this latest chapter of HMB. The other HMB Podcast episodes I've recorded so far have been a blast, and I can't wait for you to hear them.

Hope you enjoy! And stay tuned for episode 2 sometime in March.

Update: You can now hear and subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Lately (2/12/19)

*An interview with La Dispute's Jordan Dreyer about the band's history and new LP. To my ears, this band made one of the best rock albums of the past decade or so with 2014's Rooms of the House, which I discussed a bit here. Their other albums are also excellent, and that includes Panorama, out next month. LD are one of those bands who are already legendary in their niche ("post-hardcore," "emo," what have you), but anyone who appreciates intense, well-crafted, thought-/feeling-provoking rock really needs to check in with them.

*A review of January's Black Flags Over Brooklyn fest. Kim Kelly put together something really special with this one. Caught some extraordinary sets that weekend and tried to do 'em justice.

*Wrote up a couple new tracks by James Brandon Lewis and Angel Bat Dawid, respectively, both very much worth your time.

More soon…

Monday, January 14, 2019

Lately (1/14/19)

Happy New Year, and welcome once again to this little corner of the internet. As ever, if you're reading this, I appreciate your kind attention and do not take it for granted. Cheers to you. Onward!

Here are:

*A rundown of my 2019 Winter Jazzfest faves. I only caught a tiny fraction of what went down at the fest, but still managed to hear a broad array of world-class groups. I'm happy that WJF is now a firmly entrenched annual staple of the NYC concert calendar, and I look forward to many more.

*A piece on the Jawbox reunion, with commentary from three of the four members. I'm a huge fan of this band, and have been for around 25 years, so this was simply an honor and a pleasure to put together. See also an older DFSBP piece in which I delve into some of the reasons I find their music so inspired/inspiring.

*A brief write-up on the latest from Krallice, which I would not hesitate to name one of New York's, and the world's, premier avant-garde ensembles, regardless of genre. More on them, and what they mean to me, here.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Best of 2018: Digest

*Jazz list.

*Metal list.

*All-genres-in-play list.

*Live list.

*All-genres-in-play top 10 list archive, 2005 through the present.

*Jazz-only top 10 list archive, 2008 through the present.

Thank you as always for your kind attention. Cool things are afoot for 2019 — stay tuned and take care!

Best of 2018: Live

Frank Mullen of Suffocation performs at Gramercy, November 2018.
Suffocation's Frank Mullen. Photo: Ignacio Orellana Alarcon

Some great shows I saw this year:

Dan Weiss / Starebaby
Jan 5, 6 @ the Stone; Jan 13 @ Winter Jazzfest; April 1 at Nublu 151

Demilich + Blood Incantation 
May 4 @ Saint Vitus
At long last. Worth the wait in every way. The openers, a band who hadn't quite clicked with me on record, were pulverizing and awe-inspiring.

Defeated Sanity + Behold... the Arctopus
May 23 @ Saint Vitus
This show was utter mayhem. Defeated Sanity are at the forefront of contemporary prog-meets-caveman death-metal insanity and I have a feeling whatever they release next is going to be a new benchmark in the genre. Behold played their most avant-garde music to date.

The Bad Plus
May 31 @ Blue Note; November 8 @ Village Vanguard
The highest compliment I can pay the new lineup is that these shows were as exuberant and dialed-in as any other TBP gigs I've caught over the years.

40 Watt Sun
June 16 @ Saint Vitus
DFSBP thoughts.

This Is Not This Heat
July 23 @ Pioneer Works
A band I never thought I'd get to see, in any incarnation. They managed to retain both the mystery and the brutality that made the original lineup so great.

Alan Braufman, Cooper-Moore, Ken Filiano, Andrew Drury
BarrSheaDahl 10th anniversary

August 1 @ Greene Space, Market Hotel, respectively
Dual DFSBP write-up.

Newport Jazz Fest
August 3–5

King's X
August 22 @Sony Hall
Such a warm, communal vibe. Humble masters with an enormous catalog that I really got lost in this year. King's X are one of a kind and should not be taken for granted.

Killing Joke 
September 12 @ Irving Plaza

September 14 @ Brooklyn Bazaar

Robert Glasper, Derrick Hodge, Chris Dave
October 7 @ Blue Note
The most state-of-the-art grooves imaginable. Chris Dave, dear God...

Bonnie "Prince" Billy
October 11 at Murmrr Theater
The most "scripted" show I've seen him do to date, and one of the most joyous too. Speaking to Will at length was a highlight of my year.

October 26 @ Irving Plaza

Suffocation + Krisiun
November 16 @ Gramercy Theatre

Makaya McCraven
December 2 @ LPR

Flying Luttenbachers + Reg Bloor / Marc Edwards + Opening Bell w/ Tamio Shiraishi and Rob Mayson
December 7 @ Ceremony
New Luttenbachers were everything a fan might hope for. Rest of the night (that I caught) was a deafening brain-scramble. Loved catching Tamio twice in close proximity.

Esperanza Spalding
December 12 @ Town Hall
A multimedia, genre-transcending tour de force.

Stinking Lizaveta + Azonic
December 17 @ Saint Vitus
I only recently fully grasped how outstanding this veteran band really is. In terms of a grit vs. precision rock-music Venn diagram, they're among the most skilled practitioners on Earth. Buy all their albums. Nice spirit-massage from the openers too.

Clutch + The Messthetics
December 28 @ The Starland Ballroom
Back for more Clutch! There's been a good amount of Fugazi satellite activity going down in recent months, most notably the emergence of the Messthetics. A very cool band on record — call it the post-hardcore version of fusion — that delivered scrappy, undiluted intensity live. I'm really excited to hear where they go next.

Best of 2018: Overall top 10 + songs

Image result for 12 little spells

Here is my all-genres-in-play 2018 top 10, as submitted to two independent year-end surveys — neither of which is online yet — along with links to my coverage of each album.

1. The Bad Plus, Never Stop II (review)
2. Esperanza Spalding, 12 Little Spells (review)
3. Haunt, Burst Into Flame (review)
4. Dan Weiss, Starebaby (feature)
5. Voivod, The Wake (review)
6. Wayne Shorter, Emanon (review)
7. Peter Brötzmann / Heather Leigh, Sparrow Nights (review)
8. Tomb Mold, Manor of Infinite Forms (blurb)
9. Harriet Tubman, The Terror End of Beauty (track write-up)
10. Tyshawn Sorey, Pillars (review)

Some of these records also appear on my respective jazz and metal lists; some are unique to the above; all hit me hard. (See here for some thoughts on why the Spalding and Sorey discs did not appear on the jazz lists I compiled, despite their inclusion here.)

Here, for fun, is an archive of all my year-end top 10s stretching back to 2005, the first year I was employed as a staff writer-about-music.

And here is a playlist of some songs I really liked this year, some from the albums I've cited and some not.

Best of 2018: Metal

Image result for burst into flame haunt

Here is Rolling Stone's list of 2018's 20 best metal albums, as chosen and annotated by my colleagues Suzy Exposito, Kory Grow and Chris Weingarten, along with myself. My personal top 10 picks, many of which I wrote up for the main list, are as follows:

1. Haunt, Burst Into Flame
2. Voivod, The Wake
3. Tomb Mold, Manor of Infinite Forms
4. Deceased, Ghostly White
5. Immortal, Northern Chaos Gods
6. Turnstile, Time and Space
7. Judas Priest, Firepower
8. At the Gates, To Drink From the Night Itself
9. Portal, Ion
10. Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown

If I'd heard Messa's Feast for Water before the polls had closed, I almost certainly would have made room for it on my ballot. Really impressive album. Here are a few late-to-the-party thoughts.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Best of 2018: Jazz

I was thinking it might be fun to dissect this whole year-end process a bit, for anyone that might be interested in the extremely unscientific, whim-driven process behind the various lists, polls and reckonings I participate in each year around this time.

Let's take the general topic of jazz first. So this year, I both published a top 20 list on behalf of Rolling Stone and also submitted a top 10 list to Francis Davis' annual Jazz Critics Poll, the full results of which I expect will be online soon the results of which can be found here, with the annual round-up essay located here and the full ballot tally here. For me, the RS list — the first time that I know of (though I could be wrong) that the publication has run a year-end list devoted exclusively to jazz — was an attempt to unify my own, often idiosyncratic tastes with a more general-purpose portrait of the "year in jazz," which, at least to some degree, took into account intangible factors like "reach" and "impact" (relevant factors, in my mind, given Rolling Stone's fundamentally mainstream-oriented purview) not to mention the perspective of the publication as a whole. (For example, Kamasi Washington, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Makaya McCraven, the Bad Plus, and the London vanguardists like Shabaka Hutchings and Nubya Garcia are all artists that other writers — including Chris Weingarten, Natalie Weiner, David Fricke and Will Hermes, among others — have covered/championed at RS in recent years, and given that jazz is still more or less a niche genre within the larger scheme of RS coverage, that kind of "track record of support" with regard to a particular artist matters, at least in my estimation.) Again, it's an inexact science, but I wanted this list to feel institutional, i.e., representative of the aggregate RS perspective, while at the same time — especially given that it was, in the end, written solely by me — inclusive of my own opinions.

As an illustration of the above principles, here is the RS 2018 jazz top 20 (again, the full annotated list can be found here), followed by the personal 2018 jazz top 10 that I submitted to the Davis poll. You'll note that the rankings do not correspond exactly, and that some titles that ranked highly on the RS list are absent from the Davis one. With the Davis list, there's of course no attempt made to represent anything other than my own tastes, and more specifically, the albums that I spent the most time with this year— specifically/ideally, time that felt purely pleasurable, non-"work"-driven; this is an elusive idea, because the two can absolutely blur together, but over the years, I've come to really privilege and take note of the new music that attains true "escape velocity" within the sphere of my listening, that is to say, becomes part of my collection, as it were; I've found that only a couple of albums a year, if that, really satisfy this criterion in a given year, let alone continue to do so after the year in question has passed. Put another way, my private, purely for-pleasure listening rituals are sacred to me, often centering on old favorites, or lesser-known releases by artists I already love, and it's simply not that often that new music really worms its way into that company. (Not surprising, given how much of this for-pleasure listening centers around artists I've loved for years, if not decades; currently, for example, I'm cycling through the Cannibal Corpse discography for the umpteenth time, apropos of nothing other than that I love the band and "celebrate their entire catalog.")

Anyway, here goes…

Rolling Stone's 20 Best Jazz Albums of 2018:

1. The Bad Plus, Never Stop II (Legbreaker)

2. Cécile McLorin Salvant, The Window (Mack Avenue)

3. Wayne Shorter, Emanon (Blue Note)

4. Makaya McCraven, Universal Beings (International Anthem)

5. Brötzmann/Leigh, Sparrow Nights (Trost)

6. Charles Lloyd & the Marvels + Lucinda Williams, Vanished Gardens (Blue Note)

7. Various Artists, We Out Here (Brownswood)

8. Dan Weiss, Starebaby (Pi)

9. Ray Angry, One (JMI)

10. Houston Person and Ron Carter, Remember Love (HighNote)

 11. James Brandon Lewis and Chad Taylor, Radiant Imprints (Off)

12. Harriet Tubman, The Terror End of Beauty (Sunnyside / Early Future)

13. Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas Sound Prints, Scandal (Greenleaf)

14. Kamasi Washington, Heaven and Earth (Young Turks)

15. JP Schlegelmilch, Jonathan Goldberger and Jim Black, Visitors (Skirl)

16. Hailu Mergia, Lala Belu (Awesome Tapes From Africa)

17. Anteloper, Kudu (International Anthem)

18. Kris Davis and Craig Taborn, Octopus (Pyroclastic)

19. Andrew Cyrille, Lebroba (ECM)

20. Joshua Redman, Ron Miles, Scott Colley and Brian Blade, Still Dreaming (Nonesuch)

My personal 2018 jazz top 10, plus supplementary categories, as submitted to Francis Davis' annual Jazz Critics Poll:

New Releases

1. The Bad Plus, Never Stop II (Legbreaker)

2. Wayne Shorter, Emanon (Blue Note)

3. Dan Weiss, Starebaby (Pi)

4. Peter Brötzmann / Heather Leigh, Sparrow Nights (Trost)

5. Ray Angry, One (JMI)

6. Charles Lloyd & the Marvels + Lucinda Williams, Vanished Gardens (Blue Note)

7. James Brandon Lewis / Chad Taylor, Radiant Imprints (Off)

8. Makaya McCraven, Universal Beings (International Anthem)

9. Cécile McLorin Salvant, The Window (Mack Avenue)

10. Houston Person and Ron Carter, Remember Love (HighNote)

1. Charles Mingus, Jazz in Detroit / Strata Concert Gallery / 46 Selden (BBE) 

[see review here]

2. John Coltrane, Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album (Impulse)

[see review here]

3. Beaver Harris/Don Pullen 360° Experience, A Well-Kept Secret (Corbett vs. Dempsey)

[see tweet here and related post here]

Cécile McLorin Salvant, The Window (Mack Avenue)

Ray Angry, One (JMI)


A few notes on the above. Just to drive home how arbitrary this whole year-end-list process is, how governed by moods, whims, memory lapses, etc., I'm already wishing I could revise the Davis list above, to bring it more in line with my actual "year in music," i.e., to make it just a bit more reflective of that "listening for pure pleasure" concept I cited above. To be clear, I very much enjoyed all the albums I listed above, but there are others from the RS Top 20 pool that probably hit me harder on a personal level, one being the Schlegelmilch/Goldberger/Black disc (see RS entry here) and another being the Harriet Tubman (see RS entry here). Don't quote me on this, but I think at the time I submitted the Davis list, I was feeling some compulsion to get a little stricter re: what I did and didn't consider to be "jazz," though now I realize that deeming both of those albums — which, very much to their credit, don't fit comfortably into any kind of genre-centric reckoning — to be "jazz" for RS purposes and not for Jazz Critics Poll purposes seems flat-out absurd.

Oh, well! Again, I can't stress how make-it-up-as-I-go-along this whole process is, and in a way, I celebrate that fact, as it only drives home how ultimately subjective and, in a certain sense, pointless these kinds of reckonings are. The one sense in which they aren't pointless, I'd argue, is that they actually do allow for some kind of spotlighting of great/worthy music made during a given time period, which, given how short everyone's cultural memory is these days, can't really be viewed as a bad/detrimental thing.

Anyway, yes, those two albums are outstanding, and if I had the opportunity to resubmit the Davis poll, I'd probably find a way to include them. While we're on the subject of exclusions, I ought to mention that two of the albums on my all-genres-in-play top 10, which I'll discuss in a subsequent post, were made by artists who have been known to work in the "jazz" field but who, in these particular cases, seemed to transcend it to the point that labeling these records "jazz" just didn't feel right to me. I'm referring to Esperanza Spalding's 12 Little Spells and Tyshawn Sorey's Pillars. I think that my reviews of each, linked in the prior sentence, give a pretty good idea of why I think these records transcend not only jazz but any kind of idiomatic thinking. (If pressed, I'd call the former some kind of baroque art pop — honestly, I'm not sure there's a single moment of improvisation on it, which, to me, is maybe a dealbreaker in terms of it being labeled "jazz" — and the latter some kind of long-form ambient trance improv?)

That said, this is just one writer's opinion; I've seen these albums popping up on many jazz lists thus far and expect to see both represented somewhere in the Davis poll, to which I say, cool! However anyone wants to classify them, they're worthy of celebration, and to sweat the details seems, again, petty and absurd. I just feel compelled to mention them here by way of explaining why these titles, both of which I loved, are nowhere to be found on the "jazz" lists that I personally compiled.

There's a lot of music cited above, so I'm not going to get too deep into an exhaustive honorable-mentions list this time around. But I will say that I wish I had been able to spend more time with Jon Irabagon's Dr. Quixotic's Traveling Exotics, an outstanding, suite-like album of long-form compositions for "postbop" quintet (maybe something like the 2018 version of Wayne Shorter's All-Seeing Eye?) that, like, pretty everything Jon does, reveals new facets of his border-less, frequently revelatory art. If the chips had fallen just a little differently, this could easily have ended up among the titles named above. Listening back to it now, I'm remembering how compelling and compulsively listenable this record really is. Related: Do not miss this fascinating interview with Jon on Jeremiah Cymerman's invaluable 5049 Podcast, in which he discusses this recording in some depth.

P.S. Speaking of the whole categorization question, I'm not sure I'd call Middle Blue's Love Chords and Brandon Seabrook's Convulsionaries "jazz records" either, but I really dug both!