Saturday, June 13, 2009

Music Review: Grand Funk Railroad - Grand Funk Railroad

So I guess I’m what you would call a “young” Grand Funk Railroad fan. I was only six in 1969, when their first and second albums came out.
While there is absolutely no question that On Time is a killer record, containing such classics as “Heartbreaker,” “Are You Ready,” and “Call Yourself A Man,” there is also no question at all what the greatest Grand Funk Railroad record of all time is for me.

Grand Funk Railroad is usually referred to as "The Red Album", but I have always considered it “The Green Album” for reasons that will become obvious.

Back in 1974, I was a young pup of 11 years, and getting way into music. Top 40 mainly, but at the time, Top 40 was really diverse. Hell, the first time I heard Parliament was on Casey Kasem, of all places. But I digress.

Talking up favorite songs and groups on the schoolyard was sort of what I did back then. I was certainly a nerd in training. One day a friend of mine showed up with two albums for me, minus the covers, of course. The records he gave me kind of changed my life.

His sister had moved out, and had left behind scratchy, worn copies of Neil Young’s Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere, and GFR’s classic second album. Grand Funk Railroad was on the original green Capitol label, hence my predilection to think of it as green, rather than red.

I didn’t really even know who Neil Young was at the time, but I sure knew about Grand Funk. I had the 45’s of “We’re An American Band,” “The Locomotion” and “Shinin’ On”, and loved the fact that “Destitute And Losin” was only available as a "B" side on my single.

The “pop” stuff of GFR that I was familiar with was no preparation at all for the assault of Grand Funk Railroad. This record spun my head. Do you remember the first time you heard “Paranoid"? Good Lord, it scared the crap out of me! And the first thing I did was start it over.

Later on I heard a Black Sabbath song called “Paranoid”, and just had to laugh. They had nothing on GFR! Those weird voices in the beginning, that thundering power chord crunch, and lyrics that were legitimately frightening, there was nothing like it.

“Well I’m sittin here lonely like a broken man, doing my job, best I can…” Thunk, thunk, thunk…Best one two punch ever. Following “Paranoid” was another GFR classic: “Inside Looking Out”. And it was even longer!

I never really did turn the record over, to tell you the truth. I was so sold on Grand Funk Railroad at that point, I can’t even explain it. Ten years later I was still talking them up to anyone who would listen, and a friend started calling me “Mr. Grand Funk” It certainly stuck, and I am a proud American Fan.

This would be an easy end to the conversation, but there are other classic songs on Grand Funk Railroad which deserve mention. Of the longer songs, “Winter And My Soul” is awesome. And how could you really live without hearing either “High Falootin’ Woman” or “Mr. Limousine Driver” again?

I will be working up reviews of every GFR record eventually, but as you can see, Grand Funk Railroad was destined to be first.

So I will take this moment to share the night I finally got to see the band live. No, it wasn’t at Shea Stadium. It was in 2000, at the Puyallup, WA Fair, and it was fantastic. The set was just stellar, no question. But there was an aspect to the evening the band themselves may be unaware of. There were a huge amount of Seattle area rock stars present that night.

I personally spoke to guys from Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Metal Church there. And who knows who else attended. Kurdt Vanderhoof of Metal Church summed it up the best for me: “How many times do you get to see a reunion show with ALL the original members, and they still sound as great as they did before.”

I am including a link on my blog to a petition to get Grand Funk Railroad inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame.
If those wimpy Sabbath guys could get in, why not Grand Funk?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Music Review: Weather Report - Heavy Weather

While Weather Report were always a collaborative effort, it took the addition of bassist Jaco Pastorius for them to reach their true potential. In 1977, they exceeded all expectations with Heavy Weather.

After recording Bitches Brew with Miles Davis, Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter formed Weather Report in 1971. The group recorded six albums prior to Heavy Weather, including the underrated Mysterious Traveller. Each of these had their moments, but none of them completely gelled.

When Pastorius joined in late 1976, everything came together for Weather Report. Heavy Weather’s status as one of the finest fusion albums of all time is well deserved. 32 years after it’s initial release, Heavy Weather still sounds as fresh as ever.

Much of the credit goes to Zawinul, whose signature tune “Birdland” kicks things off in high style. Zawinul’s genius as a composer is his lack of ego. In so much of his music it is difficult to place him as the author without reading the credits. The reason is simple. He never used his own songs as an excuse to showboat, which so many others often did. When he does take a keyboard solo though, it is typically electrifying.

Co-conspirator Wayne Shorter’s sax is used to great effect all over Heavy Weather also. One of the chief complaints about Weather Report’s earlier recordings was that Shorter was not being utilized enough. The situation is remedied nicely on his own “Palladium” and the album’s closer, “Havana.”

The real star of Heavy Weather is Jaco Pastorius. It is unfortunate that this troubled genius never received the credit he should have in his lifetime. There is no exaggeration in the claim that Pastorius did for the electric bass what Hendrix did for the electric guitar. One listen to his “Teen Town” or “Havana” will confirm this sentiment without a doubt.

While most of my generation were listening to Led Zeppelin, or the imported sounds of punk in 1977, somehow Heavy Weather filtered through the haze. For many of us, it served as an introduction to the then contemporary sounds of jazz.

It’s too bad that few, including Weather Report themselves, were able to equal Heavy Weather in the ensuing years. This is a record that is a serious contender for best fusion album of the 1970’s. The new 180 gram Columbia Legacy audiophile vinyl reissue is a perfect way to hear this remarkable recording. Regardless of format though, Heavy Weather is an outstanding achievement, definitely one worthy of a spin.

Whatever Happened To The Drum Solo?

This is a follow-up of sorts to fellow Blogcritic Glen Boyd’s recent “Whatever Happened To The Live Album?” article published on BC a couple of weeks ago. I really enjoyed Glen’s piece. But there seemed to be an essential element of the Seventies live album absent from his article.
Whatever happened to the drum solo?

When you went to a concert in the Seventies, the drum solo was a given. And it was never really an issue. It simply provided you with an opportunity to reload the bong, or to take a whizz. Kind of an intermission basically. But then someone got the bright idea to include the drum solo in the inevitable double live album, and all hell broke loose.

Blame it on Iron Butterfly, or I. Ron Butterfly as Bart Simpson calls them. At one point their In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida was the biggest selling album in Atlantic Records’ history. The centerpiece of that 17 minute extravaganza is Ron Bushy’s drum solo. It may not have been the greatest in the world, but it was memorable. When the record blew up, the drum solo was with us for a long time to come.

Atlantic’s next biggest selling band was Cream. Did Ahmet Ertegun force them to put Ginger Baker’s 16 minute “Toad” on Wheels Of Fire? I hope not. Jeez, “Toad,“ what a title! The guy looks like a toad for starters, and the song is about as interesting as one to boot.

Blue collar rockers Grand Funk Railroad then entered the picture. On “Mark Says Alright” from Live Album, drummer Don Brewer beats the skins mercilessly. Meanwhile singer Mark Farner utters his immortal line, “All right!” A truly transcendent moment.

After an excursion with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Deep Purple decided to get into the drum solo business in a big way. Their classic Made In Japan from 1972 contained “The Mule.” Ten excruciating minutes of Ian Paice showing the world what he could do when left to his own devices. “The Mule” kind of felt like punishment for enjoying definitive live versions of “Smoke On The Water,” “Child In Time,” and “Highway Star.”

Between Physical Graffiti and Presence, Led Zeppelin released their live document, The Song Remains The Same. While Robert Plant was asking the audience if they remembered laughter, John Bonham was composing his magnum opus. “Moby Dick” clocks in at nearly 13 minutes, and comes complete with Bonzo tossing down his sticks to beat the drums bare handed. “Moby Dick” was an endurance test of sorts. Only a true blue stoner could sit through it, patiently awaiting the finale of “Whole Lotta Love.”

For me, the last great Seventies double live LP drum solo was by Rush’s Neal Peart. All The World’s A Stage chronicled their 2112 tour, and his solo caps the era. I love Geddy Lee’s intro, “And now, the professor of the drum kit” and Peart, great drummer as he is, really does rock a great one.

The extended drum solo was as much a part of the double live LP as any FM radio “hits” were in the early 1970’s. By the time Frampton came alive, the moment had clearly passed.
But as a true child of the High Times magazine era, I miss one of the weirdest, and oh so Seventies-ish aspects of rock and roll. That endless, stoned, and basically pointless section of the show.

The drum solo.

Music Review: Heaven And Hell - The Devil You Know

Way back in 1980, when I first heard that Ronnie James Dio was going to replace Ozzy in Black Sabbath, the very idea seemed ludicrous. Dio had only been heard thus far in Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow, and the thought that he could replace the legendary Ozz was simply crazy. The resulting album, Heaven And Hell proved me wrong in no uncertain terms.

Sabbath's output had declined drastically in the latter part of the 1970's. Anyone remember Technical Ecstasy? Their final Ozzy record, Never Say Die was simply DOA. But a funny thing happened when Dio joined the band. They got good again. Really good. Obviously Tony Iommi is an immense talent, but he seems to need a worthy vocalist to play off. Ozzy was a spectacular foil in the beginning, and Ronnie James was shown to be one as well.

In 1982 the Sabbs came up with The Mob Rules, a very strong successor to Heaven And Hell. And then things went quiet. Iommi continued on with various singers, most notably Ian Gillan of Deep Purple on the 1983 Born Again album, but the law of diminishing returns proved to be fatal. There was an attempt in 1992 with Dio again, called Dehumanizer. Frankly, the less said about Dehumanizer, the better.

So here we are in 2009, and the band have taken the name of their maiden voyage as moniker for the band. Against all odds, Heaven And Hell have come up with one of the best metal albums so far this year.

The Devil You Know opens up with the crunching power chords of "Atom And Evil" and immediately you are swept up. No half measures are taken here, this band obviously still has much to say. Another highlight is "Bible Black," which features a great acoustic Iommi introduction. "Bible Black" is reminiscent of "Sign Of The Southern Cross" from the vastly underrated Mob Rules.

Few have ever claimed to "know" what the hell Dio's lyrics mean, but they usually sound great with the music. "Eating The Cannibals" is a prime example of this, I have know idea what he is on about, but it doesn't matter one bit. On "The Turn Of The Screw" drummer Vinny Appice really shines. Appice replaced original Sabbath drummer Bill Ward on The Mob Rules, and along with stalwart bassist Geezer Butler, make up the rhythm section of Heaven And Hell. The Devil You Know ends on a high note with "Breaking Into Heaven" another anthemic riff-fest.

It is rumored that Dio is in his sixties now, which when you listen to his still powerful vocals, is amazing. The Devil You Know is a must for hard rock/metal fans everywhere.

Music Review: Miles Davis - Bitches Brew

From the moment the needle slides into the groove of “Pharoah’s Dance” on Miles Davis’ landmark Bitches Brew lp, the listener is transported. Forty years after its initial vinyl release, the album is back, as a limited audiophile edition double album. And it sounds better than ever.
I have been listening to this for at least the past 25 years, and every listen seems to bring out some new aspect of this dense, adventurous record. There is probably not much a person can add to the discussion of one of the most influential albums in jazz history. But just for kicks I went back and looked at some of the original reviews, published in 1969.

They are illuminating, to say the least. Why the so-called “underground” press did not jump all over Bitches Brew at the time is fascinating when you think about what was being touted as “revolutionary”. In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, anyone? Or how about the endless, meandering blues workouts of Cream? I’m sorry, but remove the drugs and most of that stuff is un-listenable these days.

Not so with Bitches Brew. There are a number of reasons for this, beginning with the unprecedented line up. Just a few of the musicians credited here include: John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, and Joe Zawinul. Bitches Brew was the template of jazz well into the 1980s, in a lot of ways defining the last significant era of the music.

And it really is some incredible music. The original release contained but six tracks, each a self contained exploration into the wonders of improvisation. The side long title track may be the best of the best here. The sustained notes of Miles’ lonely trumpet in the opening are simply stunning, heralding a 27 minute journey into his own tortured soul.

Most of side three is taken up by “Spanish Fly”, another cut that reveals more and more with each listen. The obvious comparison is with his own brilliant Sketches Of Spain, but “Spanish Fly” holds it’s own. For one thing, with Sketches Miles was reworking Rodrigo’s “Concierto De Aranjuez”, and “Spanish Fly” is wholly original. But Miles’ playing had evolved in the intervening 10 years as well. “Spanish Fly” really is an amazing song.

I own enough oddball vinyl records to have never ditched my turntable. Having heard people praise the quality of high end pressings such as MFSL over the years, I decided to do a little experiment with this one. I played this 180 gram Bitches Brew record track by track with the CD reissue to see if there really was a difference.

To tell you the truth, the difference was astonishing. It sounded like the band were in the room with me at times with the vinyl version. Those remarkable sustained notes that Miles is so famous for seem to hang in the air forever. I guess I’ll have to stop putting those audiophile snobs down after hearing this.

The original liner notes by the great Ralph J. Gleason are reprinted in the gatefold cover as well, and they are remarkably prescient. This vinyl reissue of Bitches Brew is no mere marketing scam, the sound really is noticeably improved. On a record as uniformly great as this one, it is a welcome addition to the Miles Davis library.

Music Review: Herbie Hancock - Thrust

There was a period in the mid 1970’s that fusion took a serious detour into funk. This was reflected in the mainstream with Quincy Jones’ famous “Sanford And Son” TV theme. Miles Davis was exploring this direction pretty seriously with his On The Corner LP also. But Herbie Hancock’s 1974 album Thrust remains the definitive statement of the style.

Columbia Legacy has just re-released Thrust on vinyl, and it is really a nice set. The 180 gram Audiophile pressing sounds remarkably warm, much better than the original mass produced records did. Naturally, the original liner notes and packaging are intact as well.

Leaving the format aside for a moment though, Thrust is just an excellent record, one of Hancock’s best. The opening cut, “Palm Grease” is a funk workout, with obvious nods to Parliament and The Meters in the grooves. “Actual Proof” continues in this vein, with great solos by everyone, particularly by Hancock himself.

At 11 minutes plus, “Butterfly” was always my favorite song on Thrust. It is nowhere near as R&B oriented as the rest of the record, but sometimes a change of pace is in order. This is a languid tune, with plenty of room for the quintet to stretch out in understated improvisation. Four years later, Steely Dan would use “Butterfly” as a blueprint of sorts for Aja. In the Eighties this sound would come to be known as “Quiet Storm.” Over the years, “Butterfly” has remained an extremely influential piece of music.

Thrust ends with the funkiest groove of all, “Spank-A-Lee.” Drummer Mike Clark is totally “on the one,” and Paul Jackson’s bass threatens to pop out of the speakers. Herbie Hancock’s amazing solos and synth colorings are as distinctive and unexpected as ever, and bring this four song record to a triumphant conclusion.

In any format, Thrust is a great recording. But my recommendation is for you to pull the old turntable out of mothballs and fire up this new vinyl version. It sounds so good, you may wonder why you ever switched over to CDs in the first place.

Product Review: Worn Free T-Shirts

The 1970’s were the Golden Era of the rock t-shirt. Everybody got into the act, from artists such as R. Crumb to every band under the sun. You could have all the Led Zeppelin albums and posters you wanted, but the t-shirt was an integral part of any rocker’s uniform.

Worn Free is a company that absolutely gets this tradition, and has added its own twist. Instead of offering up the usual run of the mill band shirts, they got a little creative. They carry the tees that were actually worn by the artist.

It is a subtle, brilliant idea. Everyone has seen the iconic John Lennon picture of him wearing a shirt with old-school block lettering reading “Working Class Hero.” Worn Free carries an exact replica, authorized by the Lennon estate.

The company doesn't restrict itself to the Classic Rock era. A more recent example is the red Olympia Beer t-shirt Kurt Cobain was photographed wearing in Paris in 1994. The great back story is the fact that although Cobain spent a lot of time in Olympia, WA, he was not really into beer at all, especially not the Olympia brand. For anyone who knew him, seeing him wear that shirt was hilarious.

I liked Worn Free’s ideas enough to send off for a shirt, and when it arrived I was really impressed. Not only do you get a high quality tee, but it comes with a “backstage pass” -- a removable tag with a picture of the artist wearing the shirt, information about the origins of the photo, and any other relevant details. Also it is actually a sticker, should you choose to peel it off and wear it like a real backstage pass.

The shirt was extremely comfortable as well. Apparently they use an old-school method of silk-screening, or however they transfer the image, because the shirt is very cozy. After receiving a cheap, uncomfortable-as-hell Obama t-shirt recently, I was pleased that someone had taken the time to think about the transfer process, and how it feels when actually worn.

All in all, Worn Free is definitely a place to check out for some pretty cool rock t-shirts. They are also available in retail outlets such as Macy's and Nordstrom, with a brand new line debuting May 15. They are certainly worth a look.

Music Review: The Church - Untitled #23

Absolutely mesmerizing. I had no idea The Church still had a record like this in them. Untitled #23 is hands down their best since Heyday, and it gives that one a run for the money. I was so floored I began composing this review before the disc even ended.

One of the things that makes these songs so good is their textured sound. The majestic pop of “Already Yesterday” or “Under The Milky Way” was a thing of beauty, no question. But that style dated very quickly, which is one of the reasons they had such difficulty following up their early success.

The atmospheres The Church toyed with back in the day have now fully matured. Untitled #23 is a dark dream of a record, hypnotic almost. The opening track “Cobalt Blue” draws the listener in immediately. With Marty Willson-Piper’s chiming guitars framing Steve Kilbey’s haunting refrain “Let it go, let it go” the results are riveting.

“Pangaea” and “Space Saviour” continue the mood, but it is with “On Angel Street” that this record becomes triumphant. It is a film noir journey through Kilbey’s subconscious, as he ruminates on a relationship’s end. This is the most personal song I have heard in ages, an achingly beautiful piece of music.

“Anchorage” is another peak, the interplay between the band is just incredibly tight as the song builds to it’s climax. “Operetta” closes things out as they began, with swirling guitars framing stream of conscious lyrics, as only The Church can do.

Given the band’s spotty record since Starfish, I thought they might have front loaded the best tracks, and I kept waiting for the clunkers to appear. There are none on Untitled #23. To record what is quite possibly their best album ever after nearly 30 years together is an extraordinary achievement.

It is also one hell of a record. I wish I knew the significance of the title, but like everything else here, it really does not matter. All that matters is the music, and in that regard The Church have hit a home run.

Music DVD Review: Dengue Fever - Sleepwalking Through The Mekong

Sleepwalking Through The Mekong is one of the most fascinating documentaries I have seen in a long time. The subject matter is fairly straightforward: Los Angeles band Dengue Fever recently toured Cambodia, and brought along some cameras. And if that were all there was to this film, it would be enough. But there is much more to this story than just a simple travelogue documentary.

Dengue Fever came together as a result of some L.A. musicians discovering their mutual passion for obscure Cambodian rock of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. Much of the original music appears on the soundtrack, and it is really quite extraordinary. When the five men found their sound, they realized they needed a Cambodian woman to sing their songs. Enter Chhom Nimol, who actually had a career as a pop singer in Cambodia, and had relocated to L.A. five years previously.

Dengue Fever’s music is a unique blend. One could call it a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy. But unlike a tape or picture, there is no degradation of the sound. The original Cambodian rock music took contemporary American music, such as surf and psychedelic, and blended it with their own, traditional sounds. Dengue Fever took that mix to 2000’s era American music, and added a genuine Cambodian pop princess’ vocals. They then brought the whole thing back home.

The background is important in understanding the true depth of this film. When the band plays, they are met with a plethora of responses. Stares of disbelief are common, as is the way the music wins over seemingly everyone in the end.

There is a great scene when the band sits down to a traditional meal with Chhom Nimol’s family, and are somewhat overwhelmed by the situation. Probably my favorite spot is at the end, when they play in a literal shanty town. Old automobile headlights are used as the lighting rig, the speakers look as if they were exhumed from a time capsule, and the entire stage seems on the verge of falling down. But the crowd turns out in droves, and dances joyously to the songs.

When one thinks of the misery these people have suffered under over the years, under the regime of Pol Pot in particular, these scenes become all the more poignant. Despite all the visual reminders of the absolute devastation the Khmer Rouge inflicted, Sleepwalking Through The Mekong is a film of hope through music. It is a reminder that even in the midst of utter desperation, music still has the power to inspire.

Book Review: Waiting For The Sun: A Rock 'N' Roll History Of Los Angeles by Barney Hoskyns

As one of Los Angeles’ most famous bands, The Doors once said: “People are strange.” The statement would be an apt subtitle for Barney Hoskyns’ excellent history of L.A. music: Waiting For The Sun. Many “scenes” have come and gone over the years: London, San Francisco, New York, and Seattle, just to name a few. But the power base, the hub of the industry has always been Los Angeles, California.

The combination of talent (genuine or not), opportunism, endless summer, greed, cocaine, and a host of other factors come together in a truly fascinating story here. Hoskyns is a self-described “Brit-in-exile,” and with that title comes a certain (welcome) distance. In Waiting For The Sun he notices things a little more clearly than others might.

Although the full title of this book is Waiting For The Sun: A Rock ‘N’ Roll History Of Los Angeles, Hoskyns spends the first couple of chapters discussing the scene from 1940 to the early 60’s. There is a sense of loss in these early years, as the city had every opportunity to support jazz and early R&B, but lost out due to institutionalized racism. It is a theme that resounds throughout this book, at least until the rise of Ice T and NWA in the late 1980’s.

The bulk of Waiting For The Sun covers a roughly 35 year period, from 1962 to 1997. From The Beach Boys to Beck, Hoskyns includes extensive chapters on each era. Surf, psychedelic, garage, country-rock, punk, metal, and rap are all represented here by iconic bands. The actual number of truly genre defining groups in each of these (and more) categories was kind of shocking to me at first. When you stack it up, side by side, there really has been a hell of a lot of excellent music released by L.A. bands over the years.

The reason Waiting For The Sun ends in 1997 is because it is a soft cover reprint with a new introduction. The twelve years from ‘97 to the present have seen the transfer of power in the music industry (L.A.) to the Internet (worldwide). While Hoskyns touches on the changes that have unfolded in the world since his original publication, a full update would necessitate a completely different book.

Waiting For The Sun is an outstanding history of an industry’s musical legacy that is now well and truly gone. Oddly enough, I found myself agreeing with one of Hoskyns' "outsiders," Randy Newman, in his ironic song "I Love L.A."

It is a city that describes the U.S. as any other, only through a weird filter.

Book Review: Seattle's Best Dive Bars: Drinking & Diving In The Emerald City by Mike Seely

Is this the greatest book ever written? As a native Seattlite, and long time connoisseur of dive bars, I would have to say yes. Mike Seely, who is managing editor of the Seattle Weekly, really gets it right about these places.

A good old fashioned dive is a dying breed these days, at least in ultra yuppie Seattle, so the newcomer needs a guide like this. I have been to probably 95 of the 100 bars listed here, but with this guide, I now know which ones I have missed on my own personal drunken quest.
I found myself laughing out loud at a lot of the descriptions, like this one of the Comet Tavern: “One of the city’s most bona fide dives, all piss odors, cigarette smoke, cheap beer and disheveled patrons. Puke rimming the toilet? Yep. Regulars nodding off before closing time? You bet.” My kind of place indeed.

Back in the Eighties, Joe Bob Briggs wrote a book about what he called “Bar bars.” Basically what he was describing were dives. He talked about favorites all over the US, and it was a great read. I think Seattle’s Best Dive Bars works the same way. Even if you have never been to Seattle before, you can relate to these watering holes where time just seemed to stop about 40 or 50 years ago.

Of course, actually having been to many of the places Seely talks about makes it all the more entertaining. He gets the details right too. The ratings system is one to five mugs of Rainier, and the cover is a great shot of the legendary Blue Moon Tavern.

Seely’s number one dive bar in Seattle is one of the few I have never been to, and plan on visiting very soon. It is the Rimrock Steakhouse in the Lake City neighborhood, and the bar is called The Stirrup Room. The current owner describes the legacy of The Stirrup Room: “Used to be, if you passed out on the floor with two dollars in your hand, they’d serve you another drink.”

Perfect. I’m about done here, and Lake City is not too far away, so we’ll see you there.

Book Review: John Zorn: Tradition And Transgression by John Brackett

As a fan of the “downtown” New York music scene, I was very interested to read the first full-length biography of John Zorn: Tradition And Transgression by John Brackett. Zorn’s prolific output, controversial album art, and undeniable impact boded well for a fascinating story.

That book remains to be written, for Tradition And Transgression is not it. This book is an extremely scholarly study of Zorn’s music, written by a professor of music. One has to wonder what percentage of Zorn’s audience actually have a degree in music theory. I do not, and for this admitted fan, Tradition And Transgression was a tough read at times.

The book starts off promisingly enough. The first chapter, “From The Fantastic To The Dangerously Real” discusses some of the controversial artwork Zorn has utilized on his recordings. Violent images of Sado-Masochism, and disturbing Japanese Manga stills have drawn the ire of critics, which is unsurprising. By reprinting some of the pictures, and quoting those offended by the images, Brackett illuminates the discussion quite effectively. He also refrains from editorializing on the situation, leaving the reader to decide for themselves the merits of each side.

Besides the Introduction, Epilogue, and extensive notes and discography, Tradition and Transgression consists of four extended essays. The remaining three are serious music theory discussions. I do not consider myself a “dummy” by any means, and even play a little guitar. But these essays left me lost in a world that seemed very far removed from the seedy downtown New York milieu that spawned the music in the first place.

“Magick And Mysticism in Zorn’s Recent Works” is a provocative title for the second chapter. And the manner in which Zorn utilizes ideas from HP Lovecraft to Aleister Crowley to numerology in his music is a curious subject. Brackett’s correlation of the music to the occult influences is enlightening as well. Again, it is when he gets down to the minutia of the notes and theories of the music that my eyes began to glaze

Music Review: Arvo Pärt - In Principio

Arvo Pärt is probably the most well known composer in minimalist music today, thanks largely to his association with ECM Records. His first recording for the label, Tabula Rasa was released in 1984, and was enormously influential. Celebrating his 25th anniversary with the label, ECM has just released In Principio, and it is a marvel.

In Principio consists of six compositions. They are: “In Principio,” “La Sindone,” “Cecilia Vergine Romana,” “Da Pacem Domine,” “Mein Weg” and “Für Lennart In Memoriam”. The titles are all in German, however this mostly instrumental work transcends nationalities. Literally “In principio” translates to “In the beginning” as the text for the piece is from the Gospel of John, 1 1:14.

Pärt is a deeply spiritual composer, and much of his work in informed by the early history of Christianity. “La Sindone” concerns the Shroud of Turin, “Cecilia Vergine Romana” refers to the Christian St. Cecilia, martyred for her devout belief, early in the second century A.D. Pärt composed “Für Lennart In Memoriam” for the burial service of his friend Lennart Meri. Meri was President of Pärt’s homeland, The Republic of Estonia from 1992 to 2001.

"Da Pacem Domine" is a prayer piece for the victims of the Madrid bombing of March 11, 2004. It is performed in Spain every year to commemorate the tragedy. "Mein Weg" was originally written in 1989 for organ. Pärt has revised it for 14 strings and percussion for inclusion here.
In Principio certainly conforms to the accepted notions of minimalist music, of which Pärt has been a pioneer.

With a mixture of Gregorian Chant, subtlety, and superior musicianship, In Principio is a fine addition to the canon of Arvo Pärt. The works are performed by the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Chor, and the Talinn Chamber Orchestra. Tõnu Kaljuste is the conductor.