Paul McCartney - McCartney II: I think I've found my Macca Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins: an album I love that everyone else thinks is middling. It wasn't promising at first: after "Coming Up" comes "Temporary Secretary", two tracks I hated the first time (ended up digging them); "On the Way" is a bluesy throwaway and "Waterfalls" is a pretty nugget stretched to tedious length. But then? Gold, all the way through. The album doesn't sound like Paul McCartney at all, but who cares? "Front Parlour" is my favorite track. The bonus tracks are great as well: "Secret Friend" took a listen to digest and works best as background music but it presages ambient (in the electronic-music sense) and would seem to influence such things as "Visiting Friends" (Animal Collective). "Goodnight Tonight" is a great way to finish. I understand this record's poor reception but if you're into this kind of thing -- like an electronic counterpoint to Wild Life as a groove album -- you'll really like it. (Is that Paul's mugshot on the cover?)
Paul McCartney - Tug of War: Pretty good. For the first two tracks, sometimes I love the lush, dramatic, unpredictable production, and sometimes I think it's OTT and cheesy. But the songs themselves are great, and the style of production isn't kept up. Unfortunately the two tracks after that are crap: the worst track is the longest on the album. "What's That You're Doing?" marries funk and disco to synth-pop: not in a No. 1 in Heaven way, but combining the worst elements of each. The second side is consistently good but not great, with only "Get It" dipping below memorable and enjoyable. I had actually never heard "Ebony and Ivory" before; it's not *that* bad (or not *as* bad) if you ignore the lyrics. (Aside: between stuff like this, the success of the Cosby Show and Michael Jackson, and some of the popular (the more apolitical) rappers of the era, there seemed to be a yearning for better race relations in the '80s that would largely dry up in the '90s. Obviously there was more than just a little gilt on the situation -- no pun intended.) This is the best "traditional" Macca album since London Town.
Paul McCartney - Pipes of Peace: I haven't listened any further to his discography than this but it seems this is Macca's Pulling Rabbits Out of a Hat in several respects, not the least of which is that I like it better than most people, and of the production and sound (from several indicators this record was meant to be of a piece with Tug of War. What could have made him change styles so drastically?) I can believe that these are Tug outtakes as Joe H. said, held onto to rush to release on an album once the Michael Jackson tracks were put down. "Say Say Say" has its charm and many other tracks are inoffensive, though Paul on this one is becoming trite, with most of the melodic clichťs and little tricks of McCarnteyana getting quite stale. It's perfectly listenable, except for "Tug of Peace", a mashup of "Tug of War" and "Pipes of Peace" and a bunch of bullshit ####ery. A million puns have probably been written about "So Bad". It and the bonus tracks are all shit.
Sonny Rollins - Tenor Madness: I've come all this way without ever hearing the title track, featuring Rollins with John Coltrane. Certainly I had heard of, and it definitely lives up to its reputation: the two men are clearly distinguishable, and there are a few discrete parts to it making the whole thing naturally flow while giving the individual sections room to breathe. The rest of the album, I guess, is the comedown. Rollins can sometimes be elliptical and it can be hard to pick out what you're meant to (Bill Evans can do this same thing). In "When Your Lover Has Gone" I had to wait for Red Garland to play the melody straight and then start the track over again (and then, as always with this kind of track, finally wondered what the hell the difficulty ever was!) I've come to love that one. Oddly, "Paul's Pal" doesn't really feature Paul Chambers or, to my knowledge, have a difficult bass part at all. "My Reverie" is wonderful.
Art Tatum - Decca Solos 1940: To be perfectly honest this isn't much better or worse than either of the Tatum compilations I have (well it's not as good as 20th Century Piano Genius in length, breadth of repertory, and integrity as a live set in an intimate setting). If you're considering this album you know exactly what you're getting, and it delivers. There's some high-frequency distortion throughout, which would seem to indicate digital noise reduction -- but maybe it's just the recording technology.
McCoy Tyner - Things Ain't What They Used To Be
McCoy Tyner - The Real McCoy: Things is a 1989 release of mostly solo tracks, with two musicians I've never heard of joining him: a guitarist plays in three tracks on the first side, and a saxophonist (credited as tenor, but he plays in an awfully high register) plays on two tracks on the second; there is almost a side's worth of music on the CD between the two LP sides on which McCoy plays alone. The duets bring down the album some: it wants to be a solos disc and the sax has a kind of Kenny G tone. The music is mostly covers and standards. I put on The Real McCoy to hear how 1967 Tyner stacks up in 1989; he's less quick in Things but has made up for it with more ambidexterity, which I suppose is natural if he's trying to accompany himself. "Contemplation" really is a great track, isn't it? The Real McCoy was one of the five jazz CDs I started with; I got to know all the music and like it a lot and it's worn on me the least of them, so that I can play it again and always find enjoyment and something new in it.
John Coltrane - My Favorite Things: To listen to McCoy Tyner some more. (It was this or A Love Supreme, and this was the less familiar of the two.) After the first side I thought I had discovered a great album that I had just never appreciated (Coltrane is a beast in the latter half of the title track): I had always thought the song was too banal to merit ten minutes of music, but this time I focused on the central section and found myself loving it. The second side, unfortunately, is why I've never thought much of the album as a whole. "Summertime" (which I've never liked to begin with -- as with much of Gershwin at all, TBH) is done no favors at a brisk tempo with Trane playing arpeggios over it at a zillion notes per second. Frankly Tyner saves it. The title track and "But Not For Me" are great; the rest reminds me of why I never play this one.
Chausson, D'Indy - String Quartets (Chilingirian Quartet): I know next to nothing about the late 19th-century French school but picked this up (a) to get educated; (b) because it's on Hyperion, which usually have high-quality recordings and the best liner notes in the business, and are usually astronomically expensive because they're imported: but lucky me, this was $5.99 used at the record store. Somewhat surprisingly the music is very traditional (I wouldn't say conservative) in its forms and sequence of movements. The Chausson is the shorter and less ambitious of the two. The Chilingarian Quartet here provides a tight structure, bringing a little order to take it down to earth when they could have played a wallowing haze. The D'Indy aspires to be a great work; it's cyclic, with what the annotator calls the "Bell" motif from Parsifal but which I hear as a flattened version of the "open" spell from the computer game Loom. Several of the themes (some are quite good BTW) are reused in the finale. Altogether the Chausson is the better, and better-played, of the two; I have some Faurť and that would be the logical next step.
Haydn - Orfeo ed Euridice (Cecilia Bartoli, Uwe Heilmann, Ildebrando D'Arcangelo; Academy of Ancient Music/Christopher Hogwood): Dramatically this is undone by the shitty libretto, which devotes the entire first two acts to the conflict between Creon and Aristaeus -- which is never heard from again, though I guess it's a framing device. That leaves precious little room for the descent into the Underworld -- it goes straight from the Furies to having convinced Pluto, with nothing in between -- and in the ascent it literally goes from "The sublime gift was earned by my sweet singing and the music of this lyre" to "O gods! Disaster has struck!" in the space of two secco recitative lines, with no variation in the music (the same thing happens with the snakebite itself). I did like that the librettist didn't go for the deux ex machina ending as Monteverdi and Gluck did, but keeps Euridice dead forever while Orpheus is killed and torn apart by the Bacchantes. It's actually dramatically well-done, shitty parts aside (Euridice gets the snakebite in a secco, but she yells "ohimŤ!" then spends the rest of the recitative and the next two tracks dying). Very different from the masses and oratorios but well worth checking out if you like Classical opera: and who doesn't? Bartoli is wonderful in her two parts, kept separate by singing style.
Paganini - Guitar Music (Marco Tamayo): Music for his other main instrument. The opening Grand Sonata dominates the first half of the disc. It's basically just like a piano sonata, but for guitar, an enjoyable one, not at all profound; the brief romanze and the closing theme and variations are very good but the first movement plays itself out very quickly. Otherwise we have a handful of Sonatas (not Grand), which are short two-movement pieces of a minuet followed by a quicker piece. I wouldn't mind including some of them in a mix CD (in particular No. 6 with its beautifully serene opening, and No. 14, which pairs the minuet with a waltz. You'd imagine triple-time overload but no). The ghiribizzi are basically just guitar bagatelles and the ones presented here only take up eight minutes on the disc combined. Finally we have transcriptions of three Caprices (Op. 1): No. 11, No. 5, and... well, you can guess what the third one is. I'm not familiar with the originals (except that one) so I can't say how skilfully they're done (I assume the transcription is by the composer). Basically if you like classical guitar this is one to check out, but if you're just a Paganini fan I'd recommend a little more caution. Although parts seem quite difficult -- I have no way of knowing -- this is essentially salon music, without pyrotechnics.
Saint-SaŽns - Piano Concerto No. 2; Ravel - Concerto in G; Gershwin - Rhapsody in Blue (Benjamin Grosvenor; Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/James Judd): I've never been able to stand the "Rhapsody" but thankfully it's placed last, after the Saint-SaŽns and Ravel (even with which excision the disc is an acceptable 46 minutes): the Ravel brought me here, as the D'Indy quartet led me to a Casadesus recording I have of shoddy sound quality with the Symphony on a French Mountain Air, backed with the Ravel concerto. I've always felt that that concerto was flawed for whatever reason and it's done about as well as it can be here. Grosvenor is a young pianist, a very good one who puts out very few albums; his debut was lauded but I don't know his reputation since. The Saint-SaŽns (the only piece here I unreservedly like) is worth having. The Ravel I've always found problematic though I can't quite put my finger on why. The movements themselves aren't the problem, nor is the integration. The outer movements are appropriately brilliant and the slow movement (which has always been a bit slick IMO) takes some time to establish itself. It doesn't seem that the recordings are the problem, either; I just don't know what it is that turns me off from this piece so.
Schoenberg - Die Jakobsleiter; Chamber Symphony No. 1; Begleitmusik zu einer Lichtspielszene (BBC Symphony Orhestra/Pierre Boulez): My Schoenberg-recording winning streak ends. This disc is pretty much unlistenable; die Jakobsleiter ("Jacob's Ladder") is a 45-minute unfinished oratorio that is quite more than long enough already. I've only listened twice and my appreciation wasn't appreciably better. Most of all it's just ####ing boring and it goes on forever. The Chamber Symphony isn't bad but it comes on the heels of all of that, and I don't have an opinion about the Begleitmusik because that comes later on the disc still. I suppose I ought to listen to the other two works again with fresh ears, but the Jakobsleiter is enough to sink this one.
Aliens: Very glad I gave this one a second viewing, because, as much as I enjoyed it the first time through -- the first hour flew by; the whole thing is very well-paced -- the second gave me a much greater appreciation for what it does and how it does (and how well it does) it. The second you know the plot and all the plot points and can just take it in. This probably isn't as good a film as the original but it's the more entertaining and still quite a piece of work in its own right. One stumbling block is there seemed to be at least a dozen redshirts, and the first time through you have no idea who dies, and of these who is important, and although by the time it's winnowed down to about half a dozen people you don't remember which character was which because there was so much going on earlier. I know that later films, especially the crossovers with Predator (strangely the one major Arnold movie that I haven't seen) and a few more shitty Alien-proper films; I've seen that the third movie isn't much good either. Is it worth checking out? Where should one bow out with the Alien franchise?
The Silence of the Lambs: All I knew about this going in were the fava beans and Chianti and the Buffalo Bob scene from Joe Dirt. I thought this was a really good movie, both well-acted and well-directed. Jodie Foster is pretty but she's nothing to kill the president over. The climactic scene in Buffalo Bill's house was a little drawn-out, I thought. His basement is bigger than the house itself and I don't know why he has a cistern or well down there (it's not, and looks as if it had never been, ground-level, too). Question: if Buffalo Bill skins his victims and then dumps their bodies into the river, why is there a body dissolving in acid in his bathroom? A practice run, or early attempt? I'm not trying to nitpick it to death (and if anyone knows why the body's down there, please let me know); I like this movie a lot. Today we'd consider the "big girls" average weight.
Slap Shot: I had vague recollections of having seeing it but didn't remember anything about it. It sucks. Paul Newman is one of the least appealing protagonists I've seen and the premise -- a losing minor-league hockey team signs three goons to make the club money to keep from folding -- is a bit much, although this kind of thing actually does happen -- albeit less cartoonishly -- in some minor-league teams. The "major" minors are the AHL (a feeder league for NHL affiliates) and the ECHL (same thing but for the AHL). Beside these you have countless independent and semipro, etc. leagues of varying repute where this movie isn't as much a stretch. Odd, because before the violence gets cartoonish half of the Hanson brothers' "thuggery" is perfectly legal (and uncontroversial) hockey plays, alongside what would be just minor penalties and fighting majors. The A plot is ludicrous and the B plot would be far more compelling if Newman's character weren't a sleazy douche. (And I'm not saying this sucks just out of protest. I love hockey fights as much as the next guy.) There's enough fag- (and dyke-)calling to make ethan proud.
Vertigo: I really don't know what to say about this one. I enjoyed the first viewing but thought it had some holes, which mostly were tied up when I paid more attention to them in the second (even though it's a 24-hour rental I was able to do so). Leaving aside that this is an enormously unlikely (in planning or execution) conspiracy, what got me was that the husband and the impostor were able to escape from the tower after throwing his wife off. They were above Stewart the whole time; it was suggested that they hid behind a box until the coast was clear but come on. At times it was too slow-paced and it's a little too long -- and the whole last quarter of the film where he turns Judy Barton into his sex doll couldn't be made today, though that's not necessarily a bad thing -- and in my ignorant opinion I don't think it quite earns its reputation, but I did enjoy it. James Stewart has this annoying thing that he does where he leaves his mouth hanging half-open. I wouldn't think acrophobia was a real thing, but rather pathological in its absence (though try working in a warehouse with it sometime).
Donald J. Mastronarde - Introduction to Attic Greek: Finished this. Took a while to do it but I've reinforced... everything, really. Glad I decided to review (fairly in-depth) my weaknesses. On to real literature!
Plato - Crito: Just started on this one and going slowly. I'm getting the sense easily but I need to go back and reread every word to compare against a fairly literal translation. You can get it "right" but overlook or assume some grammatical points that need exercising. Somewhat counterintuitively Xenophon and Lysias share a lot of common vocabulary and I can read them without looking up too much. With the Crito I'm looking up every second word. Obviously this is on another level from Mastronarde.
Hans ōrberg - Roma Aeterna: Done with the Sallust (and some Eutropius and Livy after him) and now I'm on to Cicero, whom I've always found more difficult than Livy but whom I can more easily read now. Getting towards the end of this book and I think I'll go on to the Pro Milone afterwards (Cicero). This is doing much for my Latin.
Nathaniel Hawthorne - Twice-Told Tales: #### me, I had forgotten how boring many of these are. Well-written but yeah. (I remember The House of the Seven Gables being exactly that way but it left a very good impression.) On to M.R. James.
I've ordered a new turntable to replace my busted one so I can start transferring LPs again, and probably get really into that for a week and do nothing else. Never buy a Music Hall table. The thing was a piece of crap out of the box then the store was b###hy when I wanted to return it, and it subsequently got a mechanical problem.