Saturday, March 29, 2008

Bill Hart
Subject To Change

BHM Records
15 song CD

Focused fusion is the name of the game with guitarist Bill Hart. His electric guitar-based brand of jazz is sharp, clean, on target, and always right in the groove.

Hart avoids needless and flashy histrionics and simply centers his attention on the song at hand, blending in seamlessly and making perfectly executed musical exchanges with his cast of skilled backing musicians. The styles run from laid-back jazz to biting and driving rockers, with Hart taking an eclectic overall approach. The standout track here is What Are You Doing, a bluesy, rhythmically offbeat adventure that just rips out of the speakers.

MISH MASH Mandate: Eclectic Electric
Bill Hart Website

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Lawrence Blatt
Fibonacci's Dream

13 song CD

Lawrence Blatt takes a mathematical approach to his music, quite literally. You see, Blatt is a microbiologist who happens to have a passion for math, and he eagerly combines this with his passion for music. Don't let this fact scare you off, though, because you'll appreciate it even if you are not a math nerd.

For those of you not in the mathematical know, Leonardo Fibonacci was a famous mathematician in the 13th Century who introduced Arabic numerals and the "Golden Ratio" to Europe. Blatt pays homage to Fibonacci by applying his math skills to his music, which is based mainly around a finger-picked acoustic guitar.

Blatt's playing is technically superb, yet he plays with a feeling and soul that a purely technical approach could not create on its own. He obviously lets his heart override his head in that department, and it shows in the emotional resonance of his songs. The styles are a mix of traditional world sounds and a modern edge, and he relies on complete takes instead of dubs and edits, giving the album an almost organic feel. Great stuff, even for those of us who skipped math class (you know who you are).

MISH MASH Mandate: Reading, Writing and Arithmetic
Lawrence Blatt Website

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Georgio "The Dove" Valentino
You Brought a Knife to a Gunfight

Tom Perkins Entertainment
7 song CD

If you have a name like Georgio "The Dove" Valentino, chances are you have a melodramatic streak, and Mr. Valentino does not disappoint in the slightest. Drama is his specialty, as he pouts and preens like the rock star he is, or at least would like to be.

Iconic images of David Bowie and Bryan Ferry intersect with the gothic angst of Robert Smith and Morrissey, only to merge with every lounge lizard who ever crooned the night away in a smoke-filled bar. It's glam, it's dark, it's moody, and downright beautiful in its own special way. All the elements shine through in the track She's Got Eyes In All The Right Places, where Valentino turns the smarmy charm up to 11.

MISH MASH Mandate: The Pompatous Of Love
Georgio "The Dove" Valentino Website

Friday, March 21, 2008

Notes Interdites
Two Films by Bruno Monsaingeon
-The Red Baton

-Gennadi Rozhdestvensky: Conductor Or Conjuror?

EuroArts/Naxos DVD

Russian conductor Gennadi Rozhdestvensky is the centerpiece of two documentaries by director Bruno Monsaingeon, the first being an exploration of life of a musician during Soviet rule, and the second being a biographical look at Rozhdestvensky and his approach to conducting. As the focus revolves around Rozhdestvensky in each film, we get to see the common thread of one individual's experience within the two divergent themes.

The Red Baton: Scenes From The Musical Life Of Soviet Russia deals with the isolationism of Soviet cultural policy and its impact on Russian musicians and composers. Monsingeon explores the methods and madness of totalitarianism when dealing with art, along with an inquiry on how creativity reacts to oppression. The unique irony of Soviet Russia is that creativity was able to thrive under extremely hostile political conditions, and some of the most important works in Russian music were composed at this time, by the likes of Shostakovich, Schnittke, and Prokofiev. Rozhdestvensky provides firsthand experiences of life as a musician under the Soviet thumb, describing many of the outlandish policies, procedures, and political authorities that artists such as himself had to deal with in their musical careers. Overall, it's a revealing look at one of the more obscure and unknown aspects of Soviet life during the Cold War.

Gennadi Rozhdestvensky: Conductor Or Conjuror? takes a more lighthearted approach than the first film. In this second documentary, we get to know Rozhdestvensky as the artist, the beloved conductor who uses his unique style to bring the best out of his musicians and woo audiences worldwide. His wit and humor are striking, qualities that come through in his actions on stage. We are treated to footage of Rozhdestvensky in rehearsal and in concert, seeing him up close from the musician's point of view. Facial expressions and body movements dance along with the music, as he dives into his work with every ounce of his being. The climax of the film comes when Rozhdestvensky watches himself conduct on a TV monitor, giving a play-by-play of what is happening on stage while he conducts.

Bonus features on the DVD include two performances by Rozhdestvensky where we get to see him perform uninterrupted; a Rozhdestvensky-orchestration of Schnittke's Dead Souls, and Prokofiev's Zdravitsa (Hail To Stalin). The latter piece has an interesting historical background, as it was written as a birthday praise to Stalin in 1939 after Prokofiev returned from exile. Beautifully written and performed, the work is a shining and ironic example of artistic grace under pressure.

MISH MASH Mandate: Red Skies At Night
Notes Interdites Page @ Naxos

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Daniel Edlen's Vinyl Art

There has always been a close connection between art and music, and Southern California artist Daniel Edlen has found a way to bring them even closer.

Edlen uses vinyl records as his canvas, painting portraits of the musicians onto the vinyl itself. We had a chance to catch up with Edlen and find out a little more about his unique brand of art.

Where did the idea for Vinyl Art come from?

When I was a teenager, I started collecting records from the local library where my mother volunteered running used book sales. I ended up with unplayable duplicates. In a high school art class I did a project using white pencil on black paper, and then thought, why not try it on the records? Initially I mixed values of grey, painting traditional portraits on the vinyl. I did about six of them and moved on to other art projects. I started up again two Halloween's ago when friends saw them and suggested I try selling them.

What's the process from start to finish?

Not too complicated: I just pick the photo, print it out in black and white, and paint the white parts. I use only white, using the density of the paint to create the shading with the record showing through. Coming up with the composition, the size and placement of the image is the trickiest part because I don't want to obscure too much of the label.

What kind of paint do you use?

It's white acrylic right out of the tube.

Do you have a set price?

Right now the price is $175 framed plus shipping for single portraits.
This is the price a couple galleries have been successful with, so I'm going by that for now. I add $10 for each additional person. I've done up to four for the Beatles and Pink Floyd.

I know a lot of vinyl aficionados that might be concerned about ruining a perfectly good record. Do you use damaged LPs or ones good playable condition?

I went to a local record collectors' show and most of them recoiled in horror when they realized what I do. One avid collector suggested I paint just in the inner and out grove areas so the record could still be played. I've also gotten very enthusiastic responses, though, from collectors who appreciate the fact that records which would probably end up boxed in the garage are put to good use, celebrating the music and medium. I try to use ones that scare record needles that are headed for the garbage, but I do use a fair amount of ones people might play.

Any interesting stories attached to any of your works?

Yes, definitely. I got an email from Roger Steffens, host of The Beat radio show and co-founder of The Beat magazine and owner of a HUGE collection of Bob Marley and reggae-related memorabilia from all corners of the globe. He informed me that his archive was going to become the founding collection of a new museum of music in Jamaica and he wondered if I wanted to contribute to it. I subsequently painted two pieces for him, one on Catch A Fire, Roger's first Marley album, and one on Exodus using a photo that Roger had actually taken of Bob while on tour with him.

When you do multiple pieces of the same musician, do you do the same painting again, or do you try to do something different?

It depends on how well the previous piece turned out. I've used three different Hendrix images, for example, but the image I used for Page/Plant worked well, so I've stuck with it.

How do you get the records --- does your customer send them to you, or do you provide them?

Both. I'm actually waiting for a New York Dolls right now from someone to paint on for them, and I'm going to be hitting the local record stores myself for a Grateful Dead for another person. If someone sends me their own record, I knock $10 off.

MISH MASH Mandate: Artistic License
Daniel Edlen Website

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Anna Jarvinen
Jag Fick Feeling

Hapna Records

10 song CD


Jag Fick Feeling is the debut solo release from Sweden's Anna Jarvinen, formerly of the band Granada. Even though the lyrics are in Swedish, Jarvinen sweetly sings her atmospheric pop in such a universal, heartfelt way, eliminating a need to understand exactly what she's saying.

Jarvinen's voice is gentle, yet piercing, much in the same style of The Sunday's Harriet Wheeler or The Cardigan's Nina Persson, and it commands your attention from her first breath. The music has a distinctively understated acoustic feel, based more in a traditional roots rock sound that could just as easily be found in southern California rather than Stockholm. My favorite track is Svensktalande Battre Folk, a driving pop song that rambles along with a 60's styled jazzed-out flute line and a catchy sing-along hook in the chorus, even though I couldn't sing along with the lyrics no matter how hard I tried.

MISH MASH Mandate: Sunday in Sweden
Anna Jarvinen Website
Jag Fick Feeling Album Page (English)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Blue Note
A Story Of Modern Jazz

Directed by Julian Benedikt
EuroArts/Naxos DVD
91 minutes

The story of Blue Note is the story of jazz. It is also the story of two German immigrants who changed the face of American jazz forever. Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff may have been outsiders in the eyes of America, but their vision helped spark a movement in jazz that is still felt to this day. This film by director Julian Benedikt was originally produced in 1996 at the Jazzopen Festival in Stuttgart as a television documentary, and has now been released in the DVD format with additional material.

The name Blue Note has become synonymous with jazz, and that is mainly because of the pioneering spirit of Lion and his recognition of raw talent. He used his small and independent label to take chances on artists that have become legends over time, and the list is mindblowing: Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Herbie Hancock, and Jimmy Smith, just to name a few. Add to that the iconic photographic images by Wolff, the production prowess of producer Rudy Van Gelder, and you have a standard that few labels could ever hope to approach.

Benedikt uses the story of Lion and Wolff to present the history of Blue Note as a very personal one. To say that it was a labor of love would be an understatement, as the pure art form of jazz was the ultimate goal, with Lion insisting on his artists to find the authentic "schwing" of the music. Many of the artists interviewed talk about working with Lion and how he based his decisions on the feeling of the music being played, instead of commercial viability. It wasn't done until it felt good, and that is all that mattered. Ironically, it just so happened that even though commercial success wasn't a deciding factor, the label met with success by staying authentic.

The film is packed with performances and interviews from many jazz legends and jazz lovers, a true testament to the legacy of Blue Note, with an acknowledgment of the label's rebirth and its quest to continue the work that Lion and Wolff started almost 70 years ago.

MISH MASH Mandate: The Birth Of The Blue
EuroArts Website
Blue Note Page @ Naxos

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Play Your Own Thing
A Story Of Jazz In Europe

Directed by Julian Benedikt
EuroArts/Naxos DVD
90 Minutes

Jazz may be an American creation, but it is by no means exclusively American as an art form. Play Your Own Thing documents the long and sometimes controversial history of jazz in Europe and how European artists have grown into their own over the years.

Introduced in the 20s, and then re-introduced by Amercian servicemen after WWII, jazz became the infatuation of European music lovers, an affair that lasted from hot jazz to the free jazz of the 1960s and beyond. The film explores this situation as the proverbial outsider looking in: European musicians and fans who became obsessed with what was considered to be an American art form, born out of the black American experience. It was generally thought that European jazz was a facsimile of the American original, a carbon copy at best, with a few exceptions (like Django Reinhardt, for example). This mindset was pervasive amongst many of the musicians themselves, that is until European jazz came into its own.

Director Julian Benedikt does his best to uncover the history of this "coming out", set against the background of Europe itself, as footage of picturesque landscapes are mixed in with interviews of key jazz players from places like France, Denmark, Germany, and Italy, among others. These various countries, each with their own unique cultures and music traditions, have put their own stamp on jazz. Play Your Own Thing argues that the European players have managed to create a wealth of jazz that is unique to the continent, far removed from the musical environment that started it all in America.

Filled with a fabulous wealth of archival performance footage, including famous American jazz musicians playing alongside their European counterparts, the film covers a wide scope of time from jazz's early days up until the present. Above all, Benedikt gives American viewers a chance to explore a world of music that has been sorely neglected and overlooked.

MISH MASH Mandate: Jazz Geographic
EuroArts Website
Play Your Own Thing Page @ Naxos

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I Feel Like A Jerk EP

X! Records
3 song 7" vinyl single

Fontana packs a whole lotta stoopid into three songs. This is sloppy trash punk at its best, with plenty of noisy guitar-bass-drums and aimless shouting, just to make you feel like a good punk should.

Dumb Luv starts it all off with a straightforward punk stage dive, which gives way to the Black Flag-inspired (Having A) Good Time. Side two gives us the wild and meandering You're Obscene, a track that breaks down into a slow, plodding groove in the middle that almost makes it two songs for the price of one. Your turntable is begging for this one, don't let it down.

MISH MASH Mandate: Almond Joy
Fontana Website

Monday, March 10, 2008

Various Artists
Phantom Guitars

A Cool Collection Of Twangin' Guitar Instrumentals From The UK 1961-1964

Psychic Circle
25 song CD

Travel with Psychic Circle and The Bevis Frond to the UK, back to the early days of the sixties and big, twanging guitars. This compilation brings together a terrific set of obscure British instrumental groups, all of who hoped to ride the coattails of Duane Eddy, Dick Dale, The Ventures, and The Shadows.

The disc is a great mix of classic twang guitar styles, featuring straightforward rock-n-roll to campy surf wipe-outs. My favorite tracks include the bouncy go-go dancing beat of the Krew Kats' Jack's Good, Bobby Taylor's deep bass twang on Temptation, and The Players' groovy makeover of Bizet's opera Carmen on Bizet As It May.
Phantom Guitars is a great look at a little-explored slice of underground UK rock music that was soon wiped away by Beatlemania and the ensuing Invasion. Sure to please any fan of the twang thang.

MISH MASH Mandate: Rebel Rouser
Phantom Guitars Page @ Psychic Circle

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Trapper Schoepp Band
A Change In The Weather


9 song CD

There's an innocence in the folk-tinged tunes of the Trapper Schoepp Band, one that belies their young age (I believe they're all still in high school). It's a beguiling quality, if only because it has a magnetically positive idealism behind it that seems to be severely lacking in contemporary music.

The band explores the paths tread by Dylan and his many followers over the years, punctuated by rambling, story-telling songs that are delivered with nasally matter-of-factness. The optimism manifests itself in spite of the obvious influences and sometimes goofy lyrics, all which is forgiven just because it feels so good.

MISH MASH Mandate: Freewheelin'
Trapper Schoepp Band Website

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Jay Umble
Spirit Crossings

Umbolli Records

8 song CD

Jazz guitarist Jay Umble's latest release Spirit Crossings finds its muse in simplicity. Umble creates beautiful soundscapes and dreamy atmospheres, letting his guitar ride along without overpowering the mood of each song.

At times the album is laid back and relaxed, and at others there is an upbeat and warm positivity, yet Umble always keeps his direction in sharp focus. World beats intersect with gentle, driving rhythms, giving a variety of musical directions to the disc, never becoming stale or predictable.

MISH MASH Mandate: Good Vibrations
Jay Umble Website

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Glowing Red Pill

X! Records
10 song CD

If you like your music a little on the snotty side, then the Frustrations are tailor made for you. The last time I had the pleasure of reviewing them was two years ago with their 7" single release, Nerves Are Fried. With this CD, their first full-length release, the group has ample room to dig deep and wide to fully explore their brand of trash-bin noise.

The band's sound is caught somewhere between proto-punk and the early dissonant days of 90s-era hardcore. Relentlessly driving, droning, moaning, and whining, they do their best to avoid any semblance standard rock fare. It's pure rebellion without a cause, and it finds beauty in the noisy ugliness.

MISH MASH Mandate: Snot Rock
X! Records

Monday, March 03, 2008

Nine Inch Nails
Ghosts I-IV


Another chapter in the Internet music saga has begun. Following the lead of Radiohead, Trent Reznor has clogged all the web tubes with free downloads of his latest NIN release, Ghosts I-IV. This latest endeavor is an instrumental-only album in four volumes, offered in a number of package options, including the first volume in a free download. Other options include CD and vinyl sets at varying price packages from $5.00 to $300.00.

And the files are hi-rez with no DRM. Leave it to someone like Reznor to thumb his nose at the industry in such wonderful fashion. Of course, today the site is being overwhelmed by freeloaders (not that I would be one of them), so be patient. I'm sure it will be worth the wait.

MISH MASH Mandate: Free Ride
NIN Ghosts Website

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Clash Live
Revolution Rock

PBS Documentary
Check your local listings

How do you know when you're getting old? A good indication is when PBS does a special fund-raising drive around vintage live footage of The Clash. Not Celtic Woman, not America's Ballroom Challenge, not Great Performances, and not Frontline. The Clash. Right after the ubiquitous 60s retrospective, where crusty baby boomer musicians still try to squeeze into sequins and leather pants while warbling through their one hit from 1967. Wow.

You've got to hand it to PBS for trying to do something different, they have certainly gone outside their comfort zone. The fund-raising "commercial" breaks do their best to fit the mood, although they fail miserably in typical geeky public TV fashion: the walls of the call-in studio are draped with military drab netting and Clash posters, while the operator call centers are circled around red flashing police lights. (Danger! Caution! It's the Clash!) It doesn't help that the commentators are aging hipsters in sports jackets, attempting to sound cool while they wax on about how Mick Jones had the pop sensibility to counter Joe Strummer's political punk fury. If you ever wondered how those fund drives could get more annoying, this would be it.

Moving on to the show, with the exception of the live clips, the program is a pretty basic overview of the Clash, touching only on the surface history, much of which would only interest a newcomer to the band. Thankfully, the performances are strong, touching on various points in the group's career. The upcoming DVD release apparently has more "bonus" material that isn't in the show. I can only imagine why.

I must say I found it very amusing to see Strummer writhing around on the stage, clutching at the microphone like a man in pain, all the while knowing that little old ladies across the nation were double-checking their TV schedules to make sure PBS hadn't changed channels on them. When PBS presents White Riot and Guns Of Brixton in order to pimp the membership drive, you know there's something off kilter in the world, and I can only imagine there's a producer somewhere out there looking for a new job. Catch it while you can.

MISH MASH Mandate: Public Service Announcement
The Clash Live on PBS