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No. 9 - Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan - Small Town (ECM/DG) - The SPEW countdown continues.

When I was a kid reviewer, I prided myself on my range. Yup, the nineteen year-old wunderkind who reviewed the Kinks and the Modern Jazz Quartet. Used to flash some of my music theory class chops. Ooh-ah. Once I might have been able to tell you when i heard the dorian or the mixolydian. Not any more. I now embrace that I'm a rock 'n' roll singer who appreciates jazz. I’d like to think that I’ve listened carefully and conscientiously enough to know shit from shinola. Put in my 10,000 hours … or whatever. 

So here's where I testify for an artist named Bill Frisell. He is a guitarist who can play almost anything. He’s performed or recorded with an amazing variety of artists, from the traditional to the avant-garde. His touch, tone, and technique are immediately recognizable, but he never descends to schtick or branding. 

Thirty-three years ago, Frisell teamed with tenor man Joe Lovano in a trio led by the exquisite drummer Paul Motian. They made three recordings together, It Should’ve Happened a Long Time Ago as a trio, two others as the core of quintet recordings.The title song from Happened is graceful and touching. It’s instrumental: there’s no singer, no lyric, but it’s the kind of tune that implies the lyric, subtly and beautifully. The song has always haunted me, and Frisell must be attached to it too because he includes it on Small Town, a 2016 recital with bassist Thomas Morgan, released by ECM in 2017. The version here, nearly double the length of the trio recording, is alone worth the price of admission. Gorgeous song, two musicians of extraordinary talent and deep empathy - it simply soars. 

Frisell’s versatility is partly to do with his having grown up with rock as much as jazz. He can play blistering rock. He can go toe to toe in extreme, outsider improvisation with the likes of John Zorn. He also has a gentle, poignant aspect that makes him this generation’s Jim Hall - endlessly tasteful, tuneful, articulate. And it’s that side of Frisell that dominates here. 

Small Town was recorded live at the legendary Village Vanguard with the kind of clarity one expects from the ECM label. It’s an eclectic program, including the Carter Family’s “Wildwood Flower,” Lee Konitz’s “Subconscious-Lee,” and Fats Domino’s “What a Party. The duo give each implied idiom it’s due while still weaving them into the overall mood of the performance. Small Town is a testament to the arts of collaboration and improvisation from two terrific musicians. And one of this year’s best records. 


The people have spoken.

Wire is having a 40th anniversary. Yes, I feel old.

"Editor's" Note: One Mr. Colin Newman of Brighton observes that it is he who plays most of the keyboards on recordings by Wire. I'm not sure where, or if, I indicated otherwise, but Mr. Newman's contributions (in the studio and to SPEW'S accuracy) are noted. He is certainly an authority on the subject. 

Wire is celebrating the 40th anniversary of their debut Pink Flag with the release of their fifteenth studio album Silver/Lead.

Wire’s first three records, Pink Flag,Chairs Missing, and 154 formed a blueprint for much of what came next in the wake of punk; showing how the drive and anger could be channeled beyond the roar and rage. Wire did, however, share with the Pistols a sense of the absurd. Uncomfortable with the conventions of rock, Wire set about reworking and subverting rock ’n’ roll. From Flag’s short, sharp blitz of songs to the more Kraut-Floyd atmospheres of Chairs Missing, to 154’s dark consolidation of Wire’s elements (immaculately produced),Wire’…

10. Alan Vega - It (Fader) ... SPEW'S Top 10 countdown.

If you know who Alan Vega is we can move along. 
But maybe some of you don’t. 
Alan Vega was part rockabilly hiccup, part electronic futurist. He was a poetic minimalist. Whether as musician, either with his partner Martin Rev in the band Suicide or solo, or as visual artist (his gallery shows were infrequent, but legendary), Vega was uncompromising and unwilling to play the game. He was interested in energy, in process, not in creating a portfolio. One romanticizes artists at one's peril, but Alan Vega didn't have time for bullshit, and his work shows it. 
Alan Vega died in 2016; he was seventy-eight years old. Much of his life he’d been a bit cat and mouse about his age, not wanting to let his Seventies “punk” peers at Max's and CBGB's know he was fifteen years older than them. He needn’t have worried. Nothing dated Alan Vega. 
His posthumous swan song It i(the back half of a New York 'exit' sign) is as abrasive and aggressive as his first record with Suicide, th…

Today, the Whiffs

Yesterday I called L.A.’s Starcrawler the greatest rock ’n’ roll band in the world.
Today, it’s the Whiffs.
A power-pop band from Kansas City. I recommend the Whiffs if you like Norwegian black metal. Not because they sound like Mayhem or Gorgoroth, but because there are laws against church burning and the Whiffs would never incite such a thing. Their songs are about various stages of infatuation, the yoozh for power-pop. Cheery melodies in bright keys with sprightly tempi tend not to mulch into diatribes against the Caliphate. Although a lot of shit rhymes with Caliphate … hmm (I can hear Joey Ramone rhyming Caliphate with ‘too late.’). But clearly, I digress.
Take a Whiff is a blast. Eight shots of tuneful adrenaline. Okay, one song is ALMOST three minutes - a veritable jam. But you can fade it out. No problem (kidding). Not a token slow dance dragger on this puppy. Mid-tempo and up-tempo. There’s never a reason for a pop band to do a slow song unless it’s poetic and melodically gorgeo…