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Louis Vuittons Made in Hong Kong

Amy Rigby at El Cortez in Bushwick, This Friday Night

Voted for and said this about Amy Rigby’s “Tom Petty Karaoke” as one of last year’s best singles in the Voice’s Pazz & Jop poll. I still play it once a week, for self-bolstering and instant escape purposes. Three bucks says she’ll roll through it at the El Cortez Safari Room Friday, April 5. 

Can’t think of anything more restorative than getting out of your head whenever the need truly strikes, and inspired by J Mascis hitting a Cape Cod stage for a karaoke blast through “Don’t Do Me Like That,” one of America’s most insightful songwriters extrapolates about how we can all use a guardian angel who comes equipped with radiant refrains and indelible choruses. Rigby has been inspired by icons before; her ode to Joey Ramone is one of her finest moments, revealing just how nurturing and transcendent music can be when you’re not liking whatever reality the mirror is presenting. As far as Petty goes, Rigby can take an extra bow. The posi feels she generates while name-checking “American Girl” and “Learning To Fly” gleams with the same strength of strings that drives the dreams in “Free Fallin’.

And don’t forget Rigby’s latest cri de couer over the doomsday doofus in the ultra white house. “The President Can’t Read” is an acute indictment – of him, and maybe of us too for putting him there – that scans as fiercely as an “off with his head” rallying cry as it does a “we’re fucked” lament.

El Cortez 

Amy’s Blog 

Ralph Towner, Solo at Jazz Standard Tonight

Morning and night, morning and night. For the last few weeks at our house, the start and finish of the day’s events have been soundtracked by Ralph Towner’s solo work on ECM, specifically 2017’s ‘My Foolish Heart’ and its decade-older predecessor, ‘Time Line.’ Once upon a time I occasionally groused that the esteemed guitar OG could be a tad precious or a bit drifty in certain settings, but these recitals, especially ‘My Foolish Heart,’ are all about the kind of focus that arrives when inspired melodies stand their ground and demand their due. Towner’s ruminations prioritize concision, but manage enough caprice to give each performance an adventurous vibe. This kind of balance has earned him a sizable impact in a lifetime of music-making. I hear echoes of his well-mapped lyrical maneuvers in everyone from Romero Lubambo to Bruce Cockburn. Now almost 80, the guitarist recently received a tip of hat from a younger generation of string players at Joel Harrison’s Alternative Guitar Summit, and he earned himself lots of love at his Big Ears concert in Knoxville last weekend. His two sets at the Jazz Standard tonight come at the end of a curt US run that’s prob got him all limbered up. Heard great things about last night’s shows. Head by if you think the poise of “I’ll Sing To You” or the radiance of “Pilgrim” could boost your spirits. There’s a diaphanous aura to his most fanciful pieces and rather than feeling flimsy it arrives with its heart in its hand.

Jazz Standard 

Ralph Towner ECM

Broken Shadows at the Vanguard, March 26-31

They know each other, so the chemistry is cool. They know the music, so the connection is deep. They’ve been cranking their inspired repertory program for a minute now, so all the tumblers are aligned. The last time I saw Broken Shadows (Dave King, Chris Speed, Reid Anderson, Tim Berne) addressing their book of pieces culled from lengthy visits to Ornetteworld, the music’s glee and mystery were delivered in equal doses. Lots of vivid images remain. Let’s see…the heartbreak that Mr. Coleman wrote into their signature piece and the way the bloodcount buds twirled around each other while rendering it; the sustained buoyancy of the Bad Plus rhythm section and the way they conjured the act of floating (raise the bandstand, indeed). This week’s stint at the 7th Ave mecca will put their skills up front, but bring a larger lesson to the fore as well: building a book of these nuggets is an act of pride and preservation, a chance to tout the rigors of a wildly entertaining canon that could use a bit more sunlight than it usually gets, no matter how much lip service is given to the masters who birthed it. Special treat? Their jaunt through Julius Hemphill’s “Body,” from Flat-Out Jump Suite. Ornette’s Fort Worth homie was a Berne touchstone, and the limber squawl of their update reminds that the most fetching blues tunes have a physical side that likes to strut as often as possible. Along with “Song For Che,” “Ecars,” “Una Muy Bonita,” “Dogon A.D.” and other gems, it’s vibrantly captured on the Season 4 release from Newvelle Records.

Village Vanguard Info

Newvelle Records

More info and a Performance at Nate’s house

Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom   Glitter Wolf (Royal Potato Family)

You could see it coming. Boom Tic Boom’s four previous records – each a bit more elaborate than the last, each amplifying the grace that’s an essential part of the ensemble’s successes, and each providing a clear view of the leader’s thrillingly fluid drumming – are like bread crumbs leading long-time listeners to this new jewel. On its 2010 debut the band documented itself as a trio (albeit with a one-track visit from fellow traveler Jenny Scheinman); bassist Todd Sickafoose and pianist Myra Melford were all Allison Miller needed to buoy her clever themes and explode her shifting rhythms. Then the violinist became a full member, after which Ben Goldberg’s clarinets and Kirk Knuffke’s cornet were added to give the group a truly novel front line. 2016’s Otis Was a Polar Bear was impressive if a tad scrambled: wide-angle entertainment that stressed variety and nodded to humor while keeping a serious eye on the art of improv.

Glitter Wolf employs all the musicians mentioned above, but levels up the eloquence by providing the kind of focus that isn’t defined by restrictions. The sextet’s scope remains broad, but the tunes have more in common, and their “familial” relationship accents almost all of their particulars. A counterpoint groove on one piece might hark to a dance rhythm that sailed by earlier. A lilting theme such as “Vine and Vein” could re-conjure the pastel panache of “Zev – The Phoenix.” By the time the title track struts through its garden of polyphony, erupting with a joyous expressionism that Miller sometimes keeps under wraps, it’s tacitly high-fiving the bouncy uproar of “The Ride.” Knuffke’s genteel bray and Goldberg’s basso gurgles are twin sons of different mothers. Scheinman’s jitters share DNA with Melford’s flighty fingerings. Connections abound.

We live in a world where individualized tracks are likely to have more impact than a full program. But I consider Miller’s latest stream of sound to be one long song – it needs to be absorbed in full. Striking a blow for unity and balance, Glitter Wolf proves the “long-player” ain’t dead yet.


Kevin Whitehead on Glitter Wolf 

Joey DeFrancesco In The Key of the Universe

Pop-centric music sites make room for reviews of ancient Impulse! reissues, Kamasai Washington reignites the concept of soul-groove expressionism as both prayer book and political manifesto, and writers measure the breadth, value and impact of “cosmic” improv in pieces that dot the Internet. The fire music that certain maestros conjured during the late ’60s is enjoying a heyday, and its trickle-down is having a bit more reach than even its most ardent supporters might have imagined. A couple years ago, I wouldn’t have bet that a Pharoah Sanders and Joey DeFrancesco collab was in the cards, but In The Key Of The Universe finds the 47-year-old organ virtuoso and 78-year-old reed magician celebrating “The Creator Has A Master Plan,” the half-century-old song of praise that was the centerpiece of Sanders’ earthshaking album, Karma.

Though there’s plenty of bounce and swing in play throughout the 10-track program, DeFrancesco’s embrace of spiritual jazz employs the kind of contemplative aura that gave so many of yesteryear’s exploratory efforts their personality. Functionally, it can come from the use of dreamy long tones and pensive phrasings, and at several points here, a simmering heat rather than a roiling ardor shapes the record’s temperament. More relaxed and less predictable than previous swing-fueled DeFrancesco discs, Key is marked by a strain of passion that genuflects to grace. With veteran drummer Billy Hart—who was part of the original “Creator” recording in 1969—contouring the action, there’s an exquisite flow to the entire program. Even the rolling yowls Sanders deploys during “And So It Is” are refined, their gravitas speaking for itself while their message meticulously rendered.

To some degree, this aesthetic shift could be spotted in the cool fervor of “Lift Every Voice And Sing” and “A Change Is Gonna Come” from DeFrancesco’s 2017 album Project Freedom. That’s where the thoughtful impact of Troy Roberts came into play. The saxophonist has a key role here, as well, bringing eloquence to his nuanced solos on “Vibrations In Blue” and “A Path Through The Noise,” and tastefully echoing Trane when bolstering the music’s searching quality. There’s a sobriety to his work, identifiable even on the boppish ditty “It Swung Wide Open,” where DeFrancesco returns to the kind of barn-burning romp that earned him his rep.

When Sanders and Roberts’ horns blow side by side on the title track (which sounds like it could be pinched from McCoy Tyner’s songbook) the air gets thick. And the bookend solos of the elder’s pithy excursion and the keyboardist’s curt stroll are a sweet inter-generational exchange reminding listeners that improv can be a place where various roads converge and everyone benefits from the exchange.


Mack Ave Records

Pazz & Jop Ballot – Best of 2018

Hats off to everyone who worked on keeping the franchise alive this year. Still sobbing because Rosalía didn’t crack the Top 10.  Here’s what I voted for.


Harriet Tubman   The Beauty Side of Terror    (30 points)

The wordless roar of the NYC drums-bass-guitar ensemble has seldom sounded so poignant – even as it hits the gas on the expressway to yr skull. But better yet, it feels like a possible bulwark against the steady barrage of deceit that has shown up on most of our doorsteps for the last two years – like putting on a suit of new armor before facing down that demon for the umpteenth time.

Bill Frisell   Music IS  (10 points)

Yves Tumors   Safe In The Hands of Love (10 points)

Travis Scott   Astroworld  (10 points)

Rosalía   El Mal Querer (10 points)

The most addictive album to be streamed in this Red Hook brickstone accomplished its goals by foregoing the virtuosity of forebears such as Estrella Morente and concentrating on the kind of futuristic backgrounds that always leave the past in sight. I liked “Malamente” just fine, but doubled down on my commitment to the full disc when echos of tUnE-yArDs and Laurie Anderson wafted through the cantina.


Pistol Annies   Interstate Gospel  (10 points)

The last quarter of the year was dedicated to letting ‘Interstate Gospel’ pump through the earbuds while heading home from work on the F train to Brooklyn. Harried is as harried does, and but as isolated phrases like “recreational percocet,” “break him in good tonight” or “fool enough to lose the crown,” got visually pasted on my fellow straphangers, the textures of the songs (and their sentiments) became more and more red-blooded. Disappointment is always lurking in the trio’s stuff, and ultimately, if Pistol Annies reminds me of any other act, it’s the Flatlanders. Wonderfully viable on her own, each Annie has a POV that likes to keep a hankie ready for tears even when she’s whooping it up. When they join forces (like Ely/Gilmore/Hancock), that POV gets extrapolated and the emotions in play become more and more palpable. From “Got My Name Changed Back” to “When I Was His Wife” I liked the fact that I couldn’t figure out whether to laugh to keep from crying or cry to keep from laughing – praying all the while that kind of emotional turmoil never comes my way.  (From the Nashville Scene’s Critic’s Poll) 

Fay Victor’s SoundNoiseFUNK   Wet Robots  (5 points)

Neneh Cherry   Broken Politics   (5 points)

Noname  Room 25  (5 points)

Beach House  7    (5 points)



Midland  “Burn Out”

Still not sure if they own the pose or the pose owns them, but the Nashville trio sipped their double shot of classicism convincingly enough to invest in their twang for 3:08 and the second or two it takes to snuggle that soggy dollar bill into the jukebox.  Plus, somewhere in the middle of the dim lights, thick smoke and sad, sad music, the singer’s poor-poor-pitiful-me vibe became pretty damn convincing.

Anuel AA feat. Romeo Santos  “Ella Quiere Beber (Remix)”

Ashley McBryde   “Girl Goin’ Nowhere”

Robyn   “Honey”

Leikeli47     “Hoyt and Schemerhorn”

Cardi B ft. Bad Bunny and J Balvin    “I Like It”

Sure, sure – props to Cardi and her Caribbean superstar henchmen for guiding this baby through the summer and into the fall. From Washington Heights to San Pedro, no one was doubting its power. But how about an all-caps SHOUT OUT to Pete Rodriguez and his ’60s jewel for powering both the groove and refrain. With deathless charisma like that in the engine house, Tairrie (italics) B coulda been on the mic to kick it to the top.

The Internet   “La Di Da”

It’s not as if anyone asked for an update of Jungle Brothers’ “Feeling Alright,” but the sense of Cali cool that’s central to the sunny feels that drive the LA crew’s optimistic nugget is almost equal to the kind of de la soul the Native Tongue outfit sculpted as their mission statement.

Rosalía   “Malamente” 

Amy Rigby   “Tom Petty Karaoke”

Can’t think of anything more restorative than getting out of your head whenever the need truly strikes, and inspired by J Mascis hitting a Cape Cod stage for a karaoke blast through “Don’t Do Me Like That,” one of America’s most insightful songwriters extrapolates about how we can all use some guardian angels who come equipped with radiant refrains and indelible choruses. Rigby has been inspired by icons previously; her ode to Joey Ramone is one of her finest moments, revealing just how transcendent music can be when you’re not liking what the mirror’s presenting. Rigby can take a bow, though. The posi feels she generates while name-checking “American Girl” and “Learning To Fly” glimmers with the same strength of strings that drives the dreams in “Free Fallin’.

C. Tangana and Niño de Elche   “Un Veneno”