Happy Birthday Joni Mitchell

ECM at 50 – Tracks That Stick With You



The first ECM title I bought was either Marion Brown’s Afternoon Of a Georgia Faun or Corea/Holland/Altschul’s A.R.C. Can’t really remember. But I do remember once having to put Bobo Stentson’s Underwear back in the racks because I didn’t have enough money. Maybe because I was getting that Bailey/Holland duet album. Favorite early titles through the decades are many, but definitely Facing YouThe Colours of Chloë, Conference of the Birds, Illusion Suite, Bremen/Lausanne, Conception Vessel, The Jewel in the Lotus, Eon, Gnu High, Silent Feet, and Emerald Tears were big in Macnieville. I recall David Breskin pointing to Jarrett’s Sun Bear box and saying “I’ll take it” when I was working in a Providence record store. Same place same time: when Carla Bley’s Watt titles got an ECM ride. Did that start with Social Studies? Another biggie for me. Things took off when Manfred tapped the outcats for Nice Guys and Divine Love and Special Edition and Contrasts and Bitter Funeral Beer. Here’s a thank you to him for bringing the world Meredith Monk. The first album I reviewed for Musician mag was Frisell’s Rambler. I just found my Boston Globe review of The Third Decade in the basement last summer. And these days keeping in touch with Edition of Contemporary Music has led lots of listeners back to New York with Snakeoil and Larry Grenadier and Billy Hart and Andrew Cyrille and Mike Formanek and Chris Potter and Aaron Parks. Miles to go, I bet. Here are 50 pieces I always return to.

(put the spotify crossfade on 10 seconds for this list) 

And RIP to Jan Erik Kongshaug, master engineer and co-architect of ECM’s sonic personality.

JEK profile

ECM Facebook

The Bad Plus Activate Infinity (Edition)

My interest in covers by The Bad Plus waned with “Mandy.” As the trio’s version of Barry Manilow’s first No. 1 hit spilled forth on 2016’s It’s Hard, histrionics outweighed humor, and I started jonesing for the cagey originals they’d delivered from day one. Last year’s self-penned Never Stop II deeply sated that need (while inviting Orrin Evans to the piano chair); this new follow-up of their own stuff is just as pithy and powerful.

Activate Infinity reminds how clever the band’s writing can be. Instead of recalibrating pop and rock titles, the trio composes a fast-moving program that milks mainstream music’s most salient elements: catchy melodies and assertive hooks. Each theme penned by bassist Reid Anderson, drummer Dave King and Evans is instantly infectious. To a one, these tracks have a sing-along vibe.

The band has seldom been long-winded, but here a coordinated dedication to economy seems to reduce the unholy blend of fanfare and melodrama the trio enjoyed milking previously. In general, there aren’t a lot of “solos” in the air, and when they do occur, they take place in compact arenas that keep the action corralled. From the opening “Avail” to the closing “Love Is The Answer,” the band’s exchanges are enhanced by abbreviated episodes, and grandiosity is shown the door.

One trad Bad Plus tenet remains intact: Their chemistry still can thrill. How the band moves from carefree jaunt to floating extroversion is jazz magic. Chock with intra-group wiles, Activate Infinity reminds these guys need only rely on themselves.

The Bad Plus play Brooklyn Bowl on Sunday, 11/3 with Tim Berne/Matt Mitchell ‘Angel Dusk’ duet.

DownBeat Digital


The Bad Plus

Edition Records

Portrait of Paul Geremia

Went to see a vocalist accompanied by an acoustic guitar player the other night, and their songbook was filled with Memphis Minnie and Bessie Smith tunes, played quite competently. But it reminded me just how lucky we Rhode Islanders were to live in a time when Paul Geremia was at the top of his game, blowing minds with his acoustic blues and rags. Here’s a chance to find out more.

Geoff  Adams made this portrait of the acoustic blues master in the early 1983.

Rick Belaire wrote this career history when Paul was inducted in the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame

Here’s a bunch of things I blabbed about Paul a long time ago in the Providence Phoenix:

Astonishment is the norm when Paul Geremia sets up shop: the various strains of acoustic blues are wildly rigorous, and easy to get “wrong.” The guitarist has been getting ‘em “right” for half a century. He is one of our most nuanced and compelling acoustic blues players.

I like to cut to the chase when discussing Paul Geremia. The Rhode Island guitarist is the best country blues picker working today. The breadth of his stylistic expertise, the old-time vibe in his picking prowess, and the killer chops that he brings to bear on his now-enormous book truly make his one-man presentation seem near orchestral. Jumping rhythms and nasty trills, vocal growls and spiritual murmurs, a rush of energy that stomps its way through a tune – he’s got it all. When he’s having a great night – which is often – you can see just how alive this ancient music can be. And watch him drag Bush through the mud, too. A protector of the little guy, Paul’s always worked politics into his art.

Paul Geremia starts jabbing that 12-string on “Shuckin’ Sugar,” and it becomes obvious: he’s one of America’s top blues guitarists. The track is a part of the very impressive Love My Stuff (Red House), a compendium of blues styles, each of which Geremia has insights into. The piece I’ve been liking is “My Money Never Runs Out,” where a full-flowing rhythm drives the amusing tale of a penniless dude with an upper crust attitude; it’s a great example of how much sound can come out of Geremia’s instrument.

They Meant “Let’s Make Lots of Money”

Two Heroes

Mavericks Swingin At Rhythm & Roots

What if one of your fave bands covers one of your fave songs? Turns a reg weekend into a righteous weekend. Well, I was already happy with the Mavericks doing “Beer Barrel Polka” and “Never On Sunday” – the band’s retro cred has always crazed and cool. But now that they’ve thrown John Anderson’s “Swingin'” into the mix, they’ve leveled up another notch. Their take has a “Wooly Bully” slant, groove-wise. Do the math on Sam the Sham’s roots and that makes sense, too. Last time they closed the Rhythm & Roots Festival in Charlestown, they had the place bumpin. That was a couple years ago, and below you’ll find a blab I wrote to preview that show.


Sometimes it’s all about riding the rhythm. When the Mavericks rolled through their set at the Rhythm & Roots Festival a couple of years ago, their songs had plenty of hooks, but it was the thrust driving the action that had the crowd juiced up. When you hear ’em on the radio they’re a sing-along band. Melodies galore. But when you’re standing in front of them onstage, they’re a propulsion outfit. Shuffles, rumba, bluebeat, and swing are all part of the mix – maybe even some implied funk. And of course the kind of pop momentum that drives the insistent guitar strumming of their their update of “Here Comes My Baby.”

They’re back at this year’s R&R Fest, closing the kickoff night’s offerings, a spot meant for an act that can leave the crowd sweaty and exhuberent. Some of that fervor has to do with the charisma that pours from Raul Malo’s voice.  A powerhouse vocalist, he lets loose a clarion call when leading the band through their set. Could be a honky-tonk bounce, might be a tejano-inflected romp. There’s an operatic element to his singing, and it’s often earned righteous comparisons Roy Orbison – a mix of guts and grandeur that becomes unmistakable when he lights into a shimmering piece of balladry like the Cuban standard “La Sitiera.” Malo’s pipes are key to the Mavericks’ impact; he rides the grooves in all sorts of ways. When he flows through the lyrics of “Be My Guest,” the N’awlins swag gets nudged front and center. (Maybe that’s just what happens when your horn section includes an accordionist.) Watching him lead the band through a set that stretches from Springsteen to ska should be a blast. Wonder if they still do that crackerjack cover of Van’s “Bright Side of the Road”?

Rhythm & Roots Festival takes place today and through Sunday. Aug 30-Sept 1