Paul McCartney (Wings) - Wings at the Speed of Sound: Pretty good album overall. The other band members are generally competent songwriters and, except for "Cook of the House" (and I have a high tolerance for Linda McCartney) generally have something going for them. "Let 'Em In" and "Silly Love Songs" (I'll always like the latter) are top-tier tracks and "Warm and Beautiful" is lovely (I don't care if it's corny and veers off-key; it's a nice song). The second side is the worst side of McCartney since maybe the debut, but that's for reasons other than McCartney. It's telling that Wings Over America only has three or four songs from this album but just about all of Venus and Mars. The first skippable album since Wild Life.
Paul McCartney (Wings) - Wings Over America: This must have been a hell of a show to have been at (well, it's probably a composite of several, but you get my point.) The songs, though, in the main aren't different enough from the studio versions to listen to this more than once or twice. Props for not loading it up with Beatles tunes. At over a hundred minutes, Paul sure isn't skimpy with the portions. (George rattles off a bunch of niggling differences between the live and studio cuts, so I have to say that for people who don't already know all the songs forward and backward the differences are minimal. Hey, I'm the same way with live Fall albums: does Fall in a Hole have the better "Backdrop", or Austurbæjarbíó?)
Paul McCartney (Wings) - London Town: A step sideways from Speed of Sound. Most of the first side is pretty crappy: the title track is brilliant and "I've Had Enough" and "Girlfriend" are decent (the latter sounding slightly very-early-Beatles-ish). The rest pretty much is crap that would fit in on McCartney. On the second side, however, all the tracks are really good; "Famous Groupies" is a gas and "Morse Moose and the Grey Goose" reminds me of "Nickee Coco and the Invisible Tree" for no real reason. More important, it rocks for its duration, which reinforces that the band has taken a course right into soft rock. That genre is more than an approach than much of anything to do with sound; it's even more evident here than on Speed of Sound. The bonus tracks are good; "Mull of Kintyre" was crap for halfway through the first listen before I came to really like it (don't you love tracks like that?). In general bagpipes turn everything they touch into shit unless you're AC/DC; I may have to carve out an exception here, too. This is the first McCartney/Wings record that didn't totally ingratiate itself after the second or third listen.
Spiritualized - And Nothing Hurt: They put out records so rarely that you'll probably overrate any of them when it comes out. Jason looks old in the promotional materials until you realize he's fifty-two and you're still thinking of him from the Perfect Prescription cover 31 years ago. I really have little to say except that it's generic Spiritualized, but they're back to where you could give four or five listens to the arrangements alone. Probably will make no converts but hell, they're in the fans-only stage of their career anyway. (Check out Let It Come Down for something a lot like this but better.) That's not to diminish the album: it's great and will sate any Spiritualized fan's appetite. It does adhere pretty strictly to the formula (great melodies on top of simple progressions on top of everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink sonically). Derivative or no; they're all really good songs. Recommended to fans. (I'm glad I didn't listen to either of the advance singles. Really gave "A Perfect Miracle" the right oomph the first time you hear it, in context.)
Charlie Christian - Radioland 1939-1941: Live recordings from the guitarist. A couple of the tracks are very bright and hurt the ears, and a few have a layer of surface noise, but all in all the sound is acceptable, especially for (1) pre-tape (2) live recordings. "Oh Lady Be Good" is ten minutes long and is clearly supposed to be the album's climax, but there are seven or eight cooks in that kitchen and Christian's part is comparatively small. I had never really cared for "Stardust" before but here there are two versions, one instrumental and the other vocal. The latter of these was a particular revelation, as it explicates the somewhat irregular vocal melody; having heard it, I have much greater appreciation for the piece. "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams" is here a (lovely) vocal cut far slower than the Bill Evans (on Interplay) version that I had come to love. Very entertaining disc, really; the track sequence is masterful as well.
Coleman Hawkins - At Ease: To be honest this album is a bit of a snooze. A collection of standards and ballads, ranging from slow to slightly-less-slow and wearing out its welcome after the first side-to-30-minutes. Hawkins himself is basically fine -- phrasing is good, brings out the musical subtleties -- as is the rhythm section, but it's all so samey. Check it out if you're really into Hawkins or if you have a high tolerance for mid-tempo standards. If you want to sample, try "Mighty Like a Rose" or "I'll Get By (As Long as I Have You)". I had never heard any of these songs before so the album may improve with familiarity.
Wes Montgomery - Smokin' at the Half Note
Wes Montgomery - Full House: I don't know Full House's reputation but I think I still prefer Half Note if only because there's one fewer soloist and one fewer track: the piano-and-guitar pair, without saxophone, is very pleasing to the ear and they work more neatly together, too. Full House doesn't really come into its own until the last two tracks ("I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" notwithstanding) but is consistently enjoyable. (The title track seems like a good jumping-off point but it turns out anticlimactic, and "Cariba" is actually pretty good -- so I guess I'd say the whole second side is when it comes into its own?)
Art Pepper - Modern Art: Bought this because I got him confused with Pepper Adams. Art Pepper plays the alto sax, and he's relentlessly laid-back à la Hank Mobley but smoother and more sentimental, with an appropriately lightly swinging accompaniment. Not bad stuff though it occupies an uncomfortable middle ground: it's too substantial to be considered slight, but too slight to be reckoned substantial. (Looking him up it seems that he was one of the pre-eminent alto players from the West Coast. He must be better-represented elsewhere.)
J.S. Bach - Tombeau de Sa Majesté la Reine de Pologne (Ricercar Consort): Great disc. The mass and the cantata obviously aren't very much alike but, the disc containing them as distinct parts, they fit well together. I was reading that the full orchestra wasn't really involved in Italian opera of the 17th century (see also the Handel cantatas below) and figured that's why much of the vocal music of that period is so unbearably dull: but the "Domine Deus" and "Qui tollis" are scored with only solo violin and recorders (respectively) and continuo, plus, in the latter, some strings to discreetly fill in the harmony, and the tracks are the best in the work. The cantata is also really good and is filled with great tunes, with the two parts separated by a chorale prelude and bookended by the prelude and fugue (for organ), BWV 544. The works are about equal in length. As for the musicians, the tenor is pretty weak (and it's done one-to-a-part). As the title suggests the program is the music director's imagination of what the memorial service (not funeral) of the Queen of Poland might have been. Very recommendable.
J.S. Bach - Cantatas BWV 82, 169, Arias; Handel - Italian Cantata No. 1, Cantata No. 13 (Janet Baker; Bath Festival Orchestra/Yehudi Menuhin; ASMF/Neville Marriner; English Chamber Orchestra/Raymond Leppard): Three LPs thrown together (the Bach cantatas, the Handel cantanas, the Arias). The Bach cantatas leave something to be desired: I have enough recordings of "Ich habe genug" for a lifetime, and almost all the music in the BWV 169 is cribbed from the second keyboard concerto (the slow movement is reworked into a lovely aria but the eight-minute instrumental opening allegro is basically presented verbatim, just with organ instead of keyboard). The Handel, on the other hand, is very Italianate and operatic: the instruments generally just support the vocal line, often just a ritornello or absent altogether save for the continuo (the solo aria in the Cantata No. 13 is ravishing). That leaves us the Bach arias: Janet Baker does pretty great on the non-Bach-cantatas part of this album and these are eleven little gems, though spread over the two CDs (not as big a deal on iPod). I ragged on Neville Marriner just last what's-spinning, I think, but I have no complaints with the Academy or Marriner here and in fact it might be the best orchestra on the discs. If you see it cheap, it's worth picking up.
Barber - Songs (Cheryl Studer/Thomas Hampson; John Browning): Excellent stuff. If you like -- or even can just stand -- classical vocals I recommmend this one. Tonal 20th-century art songs sung and played and sung beautifully, in mostly chronological order (ten works without opus numbers are placed at the beginning, and "Dover Beach", though Op. 3, is put at the end of the first disc because it's long and scored for string quartet instead of piano.) It being the complete -- not best of -- the songs, there are a few duffers in here but as I said, if you're open to art songs at all you need this set.
A HAUL, so soon after the last one -- my record-store buddy expanded his LP storage space so he could buy records again, and even though I bought a bunch of discs just a few weeks ago I went to the trough again. Call it an early birthday present. These purchases were met with the clerk's approval.
Dave Brubeck - Time Out
John Coltrane - Live at the Village Vanguard Again!
Miles Davis - On the Corner
Duke Ellington - The Duke's Men: Small Groups, Vol. 2 (1938-9)
Herbie Hancock - Perfect Machine
Jelly Roll Morton - Last Sessions
Charlie Parker - The Complete Sweden 1950 Recordings
Sun Ra - Angels and Demons at Play/The Nubians of Plutonia
J.S. Bach - Mass in B minor (Saramae Endich, Adele Addison, Florence Kopleff, Mallory Walker, Ara Berberian; Robert Shaw Chorale and Orchestra/Robert Shaw)
Barber - Cello Sonata, Excursions, Summer Music for Wind Quintet (various)
Bliss - A Colour Symphony; Adam Zero (English Northern Philharmonia/David Lloyd-Jones)
Gluck - Iphigénie en Aulide (Lynne Dawson, Anne Sofie von Otter, José Van Dam, John Aler; Monteverdi Choir; Orchestre de l'Opera de Lyon/John Eliot Gardiner)
Monteverdi - Eighth Book of Madrigals (Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini)
Prokofiev - Scythian Suite; Suite from "The Love for Three Oranges"; Symphony No. 5 (London Symphony Orchestra/Minneapolis Symphony/Antal Dorati)
Barclay in "The Nth Degree" (TNG episode) somewhat exaggeratedly = bipolar mania.
These movie notes might contain the most embarrassing comments from someone unfamiliar with an art form since Trung called Beethoven's Fifth front-loaded. Nevertheless:
2001: A Space Odyssey: Fan-####ing-tastic. The visuals obviously are impressive but this is (arguably) as much a sound movie as it is a visual one: I don't think I've heard silence used better, and the drawn-out sequences allow for incidental background noise or breathing to dictate whole scenes. (These also allow for kids and others with short attentions spans to be bored ####ing stiff.) My dad actually had the soundtrack, though it was on vinyl and I came into records too late to spin his ones a lot before I bought my own. (Works better in context. Both Strausses are represented.) Props for using the complete "Blue Danube" though (in the ending credits it's slightly abridged). I could do without the psychedelic freakout towards the end. This would be amazing to watch high (they even give you an intermission to redose!) You'd think the first weapon would be a rock and not a bone. I took the ending my own way and then foolishly read a couple of reviews about it so my interpretation is polluted.
Casablanca: A good movie; on the short list of best-movie-ever nominees I've seen it's above Citizen Kane but below The Manchurian Candidate. It's probably been noted before but Humphrey Bogart looks to be in his 40s and is banging a girl half his age. Some of the dialogue can be hokey (attempting to be witty and having a canned rejoinder for everything) and Bogart roughly has the cadence of Groucho Marx. I wonder if classic-rock type snobs watching movies in the 1940s thought that the art form had gone to shit after the advent of talkies. The prevailing theme is amorality; I don't know what the state of morals were in the early '40s for a popular drama (it certainly wouldn't have flown at the turn of the century, when the opera Salome, and Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure were challenged). Given that Bogart pals around with Nazis and their collaborators while the Americans were in the war I'd think it may have ruffled a feather here or there.
Rear Window: Not the greatest movie, and probably not one that would hold up at all with repeated viewings -- though I'm kicking myself for not rewatching it before the rental period expired -- but I liked it a lot. There are two possibilities to the murder: either it's the obvious when Jefferies and friends are descending into paranoia (that is, that the murderer didn't do it) or the obvious counter-obvious reaction (that is, that the murderer did do it.) It actually had me unsure until the last scene, and I don't think I'm just a moron. The woman overdosing on sedatives IIRC never had a conclusion (and the dancer, rowr). It does thread a few needles (rather effortlessly) to keep it up until the end, and with hardly a line of dialogue the various denizens of the courtyard are remarkably fleshed-out. The overall off-camera part is strong; I'd be interested in seeing another of Hitchcock's soon. (After Jeffries breaks his other leg in the fall he seems awfully happy to spend another eight weeks in his new cast when I don't think workman's comp would cover injuries off the job.) The main piece of evidence that he killed his wife, BTW -- that he's got her wedding band -- can be explained away that it's established that he's a jewelry dealer, and the ring could have been sold or pawned to him. Early in the movie he's shown without his but it's brought up that the two could be divorcing.
Oliver Goldsmith - The Vicar of Wakefield: It got better after the first few chapters, and I kind of see where Burks got the Jude the Obscure vibe from. The family doesn't stay "perfect" (spoiler: one of the daughters is forced into prostitution) and the plot is one catastrophe after another, bringing -- or, rather, not bringing -- the family down, and the narrator/title character's unrelentingly wholesome (and naïve) attitude does him no favors. The villain actually is, although as two-dimensional as the other characters, well done, although the means by which he's brought down are not. There are two inexplicably long philosophical digressions, one or two pages each (which is a lot considering the book is 155pp long) about politics and religion that I mostly skipped over. Worth a read, and it doesn't take much of your time. My copy smells really good.
Nathaniel Hawthorne - Twice-Told Tales: Just starting this one. It reminds me that the weather is getting colder so my annual M.R. James reading is due after this one.
Hans H. Ørberg - Roma Æterna: Done with Sallust, on to Eutropius (one of the easiest Latin authors) then Cicero. I'm far enough to where the back pages close on the book when they're not weighted down. Really has improved my reading immeasurably.
Donald J. Mastronarde - Introduction to Attic Greek: Chapter 40 of 42. Who knew there were so many ways to say "before" and "until"? though English is similarly chaotic in this respect.