Listening Post: Misfit Toys, Dick Hyman, Scott Neumann, Django Festival All-Stars and some classical music for a heat wave - The Buffalo News
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Listening Post: Misfit Toys, Dick Hyman, Scott Neumann, Django Festival All-Stars and some classical music for a heat wave


John Fogerty, “Wrote a Song for Everyone” (Vanguard). One of the great discs of 2013. The last Fogerty disc four years ago had the venerable Creedence Clearwater Revival leader playing all the instruments and doing all the singing himself in overdub. This time, one of the all-time great rock songwriters throws a first-rate party for some great current admirers with some of most important rock songs of the past 60 years: with the Foo Fighters backing him on “Fortunate Son,” the Zac Brown Band on “Bad Moon Rising,” Kid Rock on “Born on the Bayou,” My Morning Jacket on “Long as I Can See The Light,” Bob Seger on “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” and, are you ready, no less than Jennifer Hudson and the legendary Allen Toussaint on a zydeco version of “Proud Mary.” At this stage of rock history, the great master of “swamp rock” (where R&B met rockabilly) is obviously just as comfortable with country hitmakers Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley and Miranda Lambert and they’re here, too. And if you think that owning the original versions of all these rock Hall of Fame classics obviates the need for this, forget it: Fogerty’s notes for this, on their own, make it essential for those who love this music. Here’s Fogerty on writing some of the seminal songs of American pop music. On “Fortunate Son” for instance, “To sacrifice a young man’s life with no real purpose, taking these young men from their mothers and families was wrong. I was the guy who was living this life.” 4 stars (Jeff Simon)

Jazz Pop

Misfit Toys, “Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is?” (ACF). How can you not love a “hybrid-jazz” disc that declares it comes from a circle of musicians “who will always say 'that sounds like fun – let’s do it.’ ” A disc that claims that its creative process was “to track anything and everything imaginable, no matter how crazy or impractical it might seem.” The musicians who comprise Misfit Toys are: drummer/percussionist Matt Wilson a near-ubiquitous jazz drummer for over a decade; Paul Elwood, “psychedelic folk” musician, composer and five-string banjo experimentalist; Robert Parades, a composer, reed musician, essayist and lover of root beer floats, and drummer and omni-percussionist Dan Moore (who, according to the disc, likes “ice-cold watermelon with a little kosher salt”). The songs they sing and play? How about Michael Martin Murphey’s “Geronimo’s Cadillac,” Chicago’s “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?,” Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again Naturally,” Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City,” the heavy-metal Black Sabbath anthem “Ironman” (as bebop drum solo) and a bluegrass version of the Talking Heads’ “Drugs.” Think of it as surreal wiseacre jazz version of MOR pop (yes, there’s Todd Rundgren’s “Hello It’s Me” and Randy Newman’s “Mama Told Me Not To Come”) by some musicians who couldn’t care less that it’s almost completely weightless, as long as their sarcastic grins remained on their faces throughout the recording. 3 stars (J.S.)


Scott Neuman and Neu3 Trio, “Blessed” (Origin). Lesson one in how to ruin an otherwise powerhouse pianoless jazz trio disc: have formidable tenor and soprano saxophonist Michael Blake play one entire selection on melodica, the harmonica with the piano keyboard that any kid can play and that, unlike the real harmonica, can’t really be manipulated with the magnificent and astonishing sonic variety and expressivity of the most cheap and ordinary harmonicas. It sounds, when Blake does it, as if drummer Scott Neumann and bassist Mark Helias dared him to do something foolish after playing such terrific pianoless tenor-and-rhythm pieces as the opening title tune and Roswell Rudd’s crawling blues “Keep Your Heart Right.” “Ebb and Flow” says the drummer/leader, is a piece meant to reflect the influence of Ornette Coleman’s great drummer Ed Blackwell. So how, again, did a straight-ahead disc of such terrific linear improvisation and rhythmic agility get mired down in tinker toy sound? Go figure. Except for the melodica intrusion, a terrific disc. 3 stars (J.S.)


Dick Hyman and Ken Peplowski, “Live at the Kitano” (Victoria). At the age of 86 (three years OLDER than Sonny Rollins and Ornette Coleman,) pianist Dick Hyman sounds virtually the same as he did 45 years ago, when he was one of the greatest and most delightfully versatile mainstream lions in all of jazz piano. His playing is literally indistinguishable from that of a player a third his age. Clarinetist and tenor saxophonist Ken Peplowski would be the veteran in a duet disc with almost any other jazz pianist but on this record, he’s practically a kid; certainly, he’s the junior partner in the firm. Hyman says that he and Peplowski have frequently played together in groups performing at New York’s Kitano Hotel but this duet disc of the two of them at the hotel is a rarity. It’s a rip-roaring conjugation of standards that, in their hands, has lost none of the joy they instilled in jazz musicians going back before the Depression – a boogie-woogie version of W.C. Handy’s “Yellow Dog Blues,” a ripping fantasia on “The Blue Room,” “Gone With the Wind,” Monk’s “Ugly Beauty” and “I Mean You,” “Lover Come Back to Me,” “The World Is Waiting for The Sunrise,” “Lucky To Be Me” and Kurt Weill’s “My Ship.” Irrepressible musicians for whom all delight is joyfully contagious. 3½ stars (J.S.)


Django Festival All-Stars, Live at Birdland 2012 (Three’s a Crowd Records). This is absolutely as much fun as you think it’s going to be. Sure, sure, sure, there’s a lot more accordion playing on it than anyone in their right mind would want. But Ludovic Beier is a terrific accordion soloist, not a wallowing bore choking you with the sounds of French cafe bathos. And, as for the rest, it’s full of regular jazz and gypsy jazz stalwarts anyone could love – guitarist and violinist Dorado Schmitt (and his rhythm guitar brothers Bronson and Samson) and, as a soloist on Django’s “Nuages” Anat Cohen on soprano saxophone. American cities are full of gypsy jazz groups (Buffalo, among them, with Babik) but this concert in Paris in November 2012 is, not surprisingly, a kind of summa of the form. Wildly enjoyable. 3½ stars (J.S.)


Heinrich von Herzogenberg, “Lieder” performed by Helene Lindqvist, soprano and Philipp Vogler, piano (Classic Produktion Osnabruck). I’ve enjoyed a few jokes in The Buffalo News at the expense of the German Romantic composer Heinrich von Herzogenberg (1843-1900). He married a woman Brahms had had a thing for, and to Brahms’ dismay, she championed her husband’s music relentlessly. Herzogenberg, making things worse, idolized Brahms, and sent music to him for his critique. (Brahms would stall, making vague excuses.) It was all too funny, and to top it all off, a Heinrich von Herzogenberg Society insists on promoting him. They sent me symphonies that struck me as pleasant, well above average, but unexceptional. So I could not help snickering. Now, along comes this disc. It floored me. Herzogenberg’s songs are excellent. A few are exquisite. They are very Brahms-like though of a lighter texture. Herzogenberg had French ancestry, which may have colored the songs’ timbre, however unconsciously. Most of the songs aren’t flawless. They suffer through your inevitable but unfair comparisons with Brahms. Herzogenberg’s wife, who used to critique Brahms’ work for him (!), could have had her husband work on his endings, in particular. But I am going to add this to my Lieder collection and treasure it. Maybe Herzogenberg excelled in songs the way a writer might excel in short stories. In any case, the performers clearly believe in this music, and now I do, too. 3½ stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)


Wagner, “Lohengrin” performed by Vienna State Opera, featuring Jess Thomas, Martti Talvela, Walter Berry, Christa Ludwig, et al, Karl Bohm, conductor (Orfeo, three discs). Somewhere along the line it became fashionable to knock Karl Bohm. Heck, just his name, printed in block letters on hundreds of box sets, looks stodgy. Listening to this live recording, though, I was struck by the vigor of his conducting, how the music jumps out at you. The brass, in particular, has brashness and bite, good for this courtly medieval drama. This performance features so many of the great voices of the 1970s. It is a special pleasure to hear, as Lohengrin, the great American tenor Jess Thomas. Thomas, born in South Dakota in 1933, died in 1993 and is becoming a name lost to time. He was a unique triumph, a tenor who did not decide to become a singer until he was 27, and went on to tremendous success at Bayreuth. The Elsa in this recording, Claire Watson, was another American, an Eastman grad, who like Thomas died young. The Austrian bass Walter Berry (Telramund) was usually heard in comic parts. This shows a different side of him. In 1965, the year of this performance, he was married to Christa Ludwig, who played Ortrud. They divorced in 1970. This production was famous, by Wieland Wagner, the composer’s grandson. It seems predictably stark, though the photos are frustratingly vague and do not even identify the singers. There is no text, of course, and the booklet is cramped and unattractive. I miss those big old opera box sets. 3 stars (M.K.G.)


“Ay, Amor:” Songs about Love, Desire and Passion performed by Duo Arcadie (Chromart Classics). Duo Arcadie are two German women, mezzo-soprano Franziska Markowitsch and classical guitarist Ulrike Merk. They perform a sultry set of the kind of songs that Carmen, the character in Bizet’s opera, might sing. Lots of sharp strumming, minor keys and ruminations on lost love. Markowitsch’s style of singing is beautifully unpretentious. She has just the right unhurried manner and atmospheric inflections for these Mediterranean gems. Many of these songs are similar in melody and mood, but everyone will have his or her favorites. I loved the two sets of traditional Jewish Sephardic Songs, arranged by the performers themselves. “Three Spanish songs” by Joaquin Rodrigo will make you think of his famous “Concierto de Aranjuez” for guitar. A half dozen familiar “popular Spanish songs” of Manuel de Falla twirl and swing. I love Merk’s free, whimsical approach. This disc was designed as a tribute to a brief, utopian situation that supposedly existed in Spain in the Middle Ages, when Christians, Muslims and Jews are said to have lived peacefully side by side. 3 stars (M.K.G.)

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