All posts by Greg Bueno

Concert Edition 2017

[Janet Jackson, Key Arena, Sept. 27, 2017]

I’m not the kind of person who has to post selfies or photograph everything I’m eating or doing.

Except concerts.

That would be Janet Jackson pictured with this entry.

JACK Quartet, Meany Hall, Jan. 10

I ran into my music theory TA at this concert, and we both we a bit meh about the program. JACK is a great quartet, but I honestly can’t remember much beyond the Morton Feldman piece which opened the concert.

Seattle Symphony, [untitled 2], Benaroya Hall, Jan. 27

The [untitled] series introduces me to a lot of new music of which I never follow up after hearing it. I still love going to these concerts, though.

University of Washington Modern Music Ensemble, John Zorn: Cobra, Meany Hall, March 1

I’ve known about Cobra for years, but this performance was the first I’ve attended. Recordings can’t do this piece justice. It must be experienced live to understand it.

Seattle Symphony, Aaron Jay Kernis: Violin Concerto, Benaroya Hall, March 18

Violinist James Ihnes has a lot of creative capital in Seattle as director of the seasonal chamber music festival, so I think the audience was willing to give Kernis’ concerto a chance. The piece and the performance went over well.

Japan Nite Tour, Chop Suey, March 22

Damn, had it been five years since I’ve attended a Japan Nite concert?

Emerson String Quartet, Meany Hall, April 21

There’s no way I would miss an Emerson concert with Shostakovich or Bartok on the program.

Seattle Symphony, [untitled 3], Benaroya Hall, April 28

A program centered around Andy Warhol concluded with a “popera”, which actually was far more engaging that I expected.

University of Washington Harry Partch Ensemble, Oedipus: A Music Theater Drama, Meany Hall, May 6

UW has a number of Harry Partch’s custom instruments, which were put to use in a production of Oedipus. Without the visual element, they pretty much sound like gamelan.

Midnight Oil, Moore Theatre, May 31

Yeah, definitely my favorite show of the year. The set list covered the entire span of their career, and just about everything I wanted to hear live I did.

Low + MONO, Neptune Theatre, June 16

I’ve known about Low for a long time — mostly through the band’s cover of “Africa” by Toto — but I was never curious enough to seek them out. I was duly impressed, even if I don’t think I’ll own anything other than Things We Lost in the Fire. MONO, of course, brought it.

The Revolution, Showbox, July 15

The band crafted the set list incredibly well. It started off with some obscure but recognizable stuff, but the second half kicked off the favorites. And everyone left pleased.

Jason Isbell and 400 Unit, Paramount Theatre, Sept. 12

Jason Isbell delivered a flawless performance as usual. The audience, though, was weird. It was a Tuesday night, and the Seattle Freeze was in full force, with half the audience sitting and the other half standing.

Sam Amidon, Fremont Abbey, Sept. 22

If nothing else, you really must go to a Sam Amidon show just to hear him talk between songs.

Janet Jackson, Key Arena, Sept. 27

I held onto my ticket after two cancellations, and I was glad I did. No opening act. Just Janet dishing out hit after hit in an epic DJ mix, only live.

Seattle Symphony, [untitled 1], Benaroya Hall, Oct. 13

I think this concert was the first where only one piece on the program was entirely unfamiliar to me. It’s always nice to hear Steve Reich’s Different Trains live.

Depeche Mode, Key Arena, Oct. 21

I think Depeche Mode 101 ruined this concert for me. I hadn’t really followed the band since the early aughts, and much of the set list drew from more recent albums.

Kronos Quartet, Federal Way Performing Arts Center, Nov. 4

Kronos has a way of upending expectations. Just when you think you’ve seen them do something new, some composer has them attach bowstring to a plastic toy.

 

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Catching Up: Michael Nyman, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

[Michael Nyman - The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat]

It’s taken 29 years for Michael Nyman’s The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat to enter my music collection.

I first encountered the chamber opera when it was first released in 1988. I read an article about it in Pulse! magazine (of course), and the main branch of the Hawaii Public Library acquired it for its new-fangled CD collection.

There was just one problem — my brother owned the only CD player in the house at the time, and he was loathe to let me use it.

So I listened to the work exactly once (when my brother was out of the house.) I had an inkling at the time it would be a work in which I could take interest, but after I returned the disc to the library, I never followed up.

It would be many years before I learned the source material was an Oliver Sacks book, and it would be longer still till I spotted that original recording at Everyday Music.

I’m glad I waited to listen to the work again.

I’ll be honest — I had no idea to what I was listening back in 1988. I was still a classical music neophyte, and my experience with modern classical music hadn’t yet expanded beyond Kronos Quartet.

I probably would have pretended to find it profound, only to neglect it years later.

But after a thorough college training, I can understand why I had that original inkling nearly three decades ago.

First, it’s a compelling story with a tight focus on its three characters — a renowned music professor, his wife and the doctor diagnosing him. As the doctor moves from one exam to another, the score evolves.

It helps Nyman is a tonal composer. I’m not sure this story would have been serviced well with a thornier score. The chamber instrumentation also suits the mostly internal dialog of the characters.

I remember following along with the libretto and getting engaged with the score. I did the same when I brought the album home again 29 years later.

I’m ambivalent about opera, but The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is one of the few works in the genre I can revisit.

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Exploring the record stores of Portland, Oregon

[Music Millennium]

As much as I love the variety and diversity of the music shops in Seattle, I sometimes think the stores in Portland, Ore. are better stocked.

I average a visit to Portland every 18 months, and they always end up being expensive visits. It’s also hard to exercise restraint when Oregon doesn’t have a sales tax.

This list in not comprehensive in any way because I usually don’t give myself enough time to explore all the city’s offerings. But when I visit, these are my regular destinations.

Everyday Music

I visit the Seattle location of Everyday Music every week, but I go crazy when I visit the stores in Portland. The Portland stores have more square footage, and I guess my tastes are esoteric enough that I end up grabbing someone else’s rejects. Example: I cleaned out the Meredith Monk CD section on one visit to the Burnside store.

The Seattle store also tends to have a loose interpretation of vinyl grades. I find the grading at the Portland stores a bit more aligned to reality.

Music Millennium

I didn’t have a very good impression of Music Millennium at first. I visited in 1998, but I was too enamored of Waterloo Records in Austin to make a fair comparison. Another visit in 2014 was no better.

But then my last two visits in 2016 and 2017 convinced me that Music Millennium was an essential destination. My purchasing priorities have changed a lot since those first visits, and Music Millennium have done me well since.

2nd Avenue Records

The punk and metal stock is where this store excels, but I found some out-of-the-way items here as well. It’s really easy to get lost exploring every genre in the shop.

Crossroads Music

Crossroads is actually a marketplace with a number of vendors sharing a space. Had I planned better, I would have spent half a day there. But in the hour I did spend, I found an original pressing of Smashing Pumpkins’ Gish and Soldier String Quartet’s Sequence Girls.

Photo: Music Millennium Facebook Page

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In pursuit of jazz

[John Coltrane - Blue Train]

It’s not often things I do for my music projects seep here to the blog, but over the summer I decided to start educating myself in jazz.

A number of my classmates in the music theory classes I’ve been taking at the University of Washington are majors in the jazz program. They know the literature of the genre the same way I know my classical music history.

The music has always felt a bit like voodoo to me. I dug my training in classical voice leading, but the harmonic language of jazz eluded me.

So I approached it the way I did classical music 30 years ago — learn about the theory and listen to as many recordings as possible.

It’s a lot easier now. I plugged the phrase “best jazz albums” into Google and sought the results on the streaming services. I also dusted off a pair of books on jazz theory I purchased years ago with a similar intent.

By contrast, I depended on Pulse! magazine and a textbook from a music appreciation class my dad took at a community college to get started with classical music. Even when I had Internet access in the early ’90s, it was limited to USENET.

I’m not at a point where I can improvise, but I do understand the ii-V-I progression, and more importantly, modal harmonies.

I’ve also bought a bunch of albums.

So what I have taken away from this summer’s experience?

My favorite era of jazz so far is hard bop

I’m sure I’ll learn to appreciate be-bop at some point, and maybe I’ll disentangle my old Hiroshima albums from Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. But for now, I like the soulfulness of hard bop.

I hummed Blue Train for days after first encountering it, and I’m particularly fond of Canonball Adderly’s Somethin’ Else and Art Blakey’s Moanin’.

I do not yet grok Thelonious Monk

I started with Brilliant Corners, and it didn’t grab me. So I moved on to Bill Evans instead. While I haven’t internalized the three Evans albums I’ve acquired, I do like his impressionistic voicings.

McCoy Tyner is another pianist I want to explore. I remember encountering Song for My Lady back in the late ’80s when my brother and I went to Jelly’s Comics and Music. His immediate reaction was disgust, which is why I still remember Tyner to this day.

Holy shit, The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady

I really dug Charles Mingus’ Mingus Ah Um, but then I streamed The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady and had my come to Jesus moment with Mingus. I’m hesitant to explore anything else because I don’t want to spoil the one-two punch of Ah Um and Black Saint.

I’m waiting on Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman

All these years listening to John Zorn, Bill Frisell and Wayne Horvitz without proper context makes me think I should ground myself a bit more into history before I explore the genre’s edges.

I have no idea why I’m ambivalent to Miles Davis

I like Kind of Blue, but I haven’t developed the gumption to tackle the copy of Bitches Brew I got from Lifelong Thrift Store for $1. I think maybe I’m still under the spell of Coltrane.

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Looking ahead: November-December 2017

[Shiina Ringo - Gyakuyunyu ~Kuukoukyoku~]

December is usually a month when the release calendar winds down but not this year.

Miguel, War and Leisure, Dec. 1

I heard snippets of Miguel’s first two albums, and they we’re terribly striking. Then he released Wildheart, and upped his game.

Cocco, 20 Shuunen Kinen Special Live at Nihon Budokan -Ichi no Kan, Ni no Kan-, Dec. 1

Cocco has released a number of live DVDs, but this two-night concert is her first live album.

Shiina Ringo, Gakuyunyuu ~Koukuukyoku~, Dec. 6

Shiina Ringo offers a second self-cover album which finally includes “Shoujo Robot”.

Kicell, The Blue Hour, Dec. 6

I haven’t followed Kicell in years.

Vinyl

Idlewild, Hope Is Important, Dec. 1
Idlewild, 100 Broken Windows, Dec. 1

I picked up a number of Idlewild albums from Lifelong Thrift Shop and discovered Hope Is Important is the Scottish band’s roughest — and quite frankly most interesting — album. It gets reissued on vinyl along with the masterwork, 100 Broken Windows.

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Vinyl find: Loretta Lynn, Don’t Come Home A Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)

[Loretta Lynn - Don't Come a Drinkin' (With Lovin' on Your Mind]

I traveled to Nashville in August for a conference, and the city’s reputation as a music center made me think I would sink a lot of cash shopping for records.

That was not the case.

I did, however, come away with a battered copy of Don’t Come a Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind) by Loretta Lynn.

Every cable channel music documentary that features Lynn always mention two songs — “The Pill” and the title track of Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’. Both songs got Lynn in hot water with the tender sensibilities of country radio.

It’s actually not the most confrontational track on the album.

That would go to “I Got Caught” — a bouncy, scathing tune about infidelity that also comments on gender inequality. That is, men can get away with cheating, but women cannot.

Most of my country music collection consists of Emmylou Harris albums, and she was the first artist to sink a lot of cash into making quality-sounding records.

Lynn, by contrast, cut her teeth in an era when artists recorded an entire album of material in three days. The speed at which she tosses out one broken-hearted ditty after another is breathtaking.

Throughout the album, she’s a wronged woman, but she explores the spectrum of the broken heart experience — pity, rage, acceptance, even liberation. On “The Shoe Goes on the Other Foot Tonight”, Lynn wonders if “two wrongs can make a right.”

With no track exceeding three minutes, there’s an almost punk rock sensibility to Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’. Lynn makes her point right quick — you’re no good, I’m sad, but I will prevail.

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My brother’s album: Phil Collins, No Jacket Required

[Phil Collins - No Jacket Required]

My brother picked up No Jacket Required by Phil Collins right around “Sussudio” was storming up the charts. When he played the album on the stereo, it was apparent he struck gold. For a while, I was a bit jealous.

Then radio ruined everything.

Subsequent singles from the album — “Don’t Lose My Number”, “Take Me Home” — would get played to death on every station.

When No Jacket Required had run its course, I never wanted to hear anything from Collins again. I think even my brother was put off by the overexposure.

Oddly enough, I had something of a crush on Collins. I’m not sure what triggered it, because he was no Sting or Huey Lewis. Even today, it puzzles me.

I spotted a vinyl copy of No Jacket Required selling for $1 at Lifelong Thrift Store, and 30+ years seemed like a good enough temporal distance to re-examine the album’s initial appeal.

The bona fides of the singles are very well established. What gives an album merit are the non-single tracks — do they stand up well against the radio hits? In the case of No Jacket Required, they do.

That’s why it seemed my brother lucked out buying this album — any of the other tracks on the album could have been the next “One More Night” or “Sussudio”. Sting’s backing vocal on “Long Long Way to Go” complements Collins nicely, and it could have been quite the radio coup.

The heavy-handed ’80s production dates the album like crazy, but abstracted from its sonic veneer, No Jacket Required really is a good album. And it would have been better if radio didn’t go overboard.

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Vinyl find: 24-7 Spyz, Harder Than You

[24-Spyz - Harder Than You]

When I spotted a vinyl copy of Harder Than You in the bargain bin at Jive Time Records, it had been close to 30 years since I first heard of 24-7 Spyz.

Living Colour was all over the radio with “Cult of Personality”, but the music press pointed out Vernon Reid and company weren’t the only rock band with black guys around. Fishbone would release its second album, Truth and Soul, that year as well. Bad Brains had been around since the start of the decade.

24-7 Spyz tapped into the same creative vein as Living Colour — brutal guitars, funk bass lines and punctuating drums. In some ways, Harder Than You and Vivid are nearly interchangeable. Each album even includes a cover, although the Spyz driving cover of Kool and the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” is truly transformative.

Harder Than You, lacking the commercial polish Ed Stasium gives Vivid, comes across rawer and, well, harder.

I remember Pulse! magazine plugging the hell out of this album with prominent advertising, glowing reviews and more than a few blurbs about the band. I don’t remember seeing the album itself in my local Tower stores, however. Its release on an independent label just about guaranteed it wouldn’t reach Honolulu.

24-7 Spyz would eventually sign to a major label, by which time the line-up that produced Harder Than You had changed. The work from this brief era can be found on streaming services, but the band’s early output remains offline.

If you find this album in the used bin, pick it up.

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Reconsidering the year in music 1992

[Wayne Horvitz/The President - Miracle Mile]

Back in 2008, I wrote a series of entries detailing my favorite albums from various decades. For the longest time, I held an incredibly dim view of 1992. Compared the years preceding and following, 1992 felt like a creative malaise had spread throughout the music industry.

Bands that used to be underground found themselves to be popular, and under this newfound, wide-scale scrutiny, some of them cracked.

Or so I thought.

I had only turned 20 years old, an age when the dopamine hit from discovering new music left a neophyte intoxicated. I wanted every album to matter, and the ones that didn’t received a harsh judgment.

Twenty-five years later, I’ve got more of an education on where 1992 fit in the larger scheme of things, and of course, I got it wrong. This old entry details all the ways I got it wrong. So let’s make it right.

Here’s a revised list of the Favorite Edition 1992.

  1. Wayne Horvitz/The President, Miracle Mile
  2. Máire Brennan, Máire
  3. Henryk Górecki, Symphony No. 3 (Dawn Upshaw, David Zinman, London Sinfonietta)
  4. k.d. lang, Ingenue
  5. Sade, Love Deluxe
  6. En Vogue, Funky Divas
  7. Prince and the New Power Generation, 0(+> (Love Symbol Album)
  8. Emmylou Harris and the Nash Ramblers, At the Ryman
  9. Kronos Quartet, Pieces of Africa
  10. Robin Holcomb, Rockabye

Honorable mention

  • The Sugarcubes, Stick Around for Joy
  • Faith No More, Angel Dust
  • Sonic Youth, Dirty

The original list stopped at five items, with a longer list of albums accompanied by explanations for why they weren’t favorites. In some cases, I’ve completely changed my mind.

At the time, Love Deluxe was such a drastic turn for Sade that I thought something went wrong. It would take another 18 years for Love Deluxe to reveal itself as the start of a new creative era, one marked by extreme pauses between albums. This early ’90s album shares more with its successors in 2000 and 2010 than it did with 1988’s Stronger than Pride.

I also got a chance to revisit Ingenue after the entry was written, and it’s place on the favorite list is well anchored.

Other albums would not have appeared on the list at the time it was written. Prince was unexplored territory for me in 2008, so I wouldn’t have even thought to include the Love Symbol album. En Vogue wouldn’t have gotten past my raging rock snobbery.

The rest of the albums on the list could have only been included after much research. Dirty makes a lot more sense if a Sonic Youth novice also considers Sister and EVOLAt the Ryman would not make sense to someone who’s only exposure to Emmylou Harris was Wrecking Ball.

I’ve even had a change of heart regarding Faith No More and R.E.M.

So it turns out 1992 wasn’t as bad as I remembered. It just took 25 years to reach that realization.

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The ones that nearly got away: Spice Girls, Spice

[Spice Girls - Spice]

It was the start of the century, and I volunteered to work behind the scenes at the Austin Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. Crowd control during screenings meant a lot of standing around, waiting for something to happen. Another volunteer with incredibly fashionable shoes started singing a vaguely familiar pop song.

“Who is that?” I asked.

“Spice Girls!” he answered, aghast someone who would identify as gay would not know something so basic.

Unbeknownst to him, I had been familiar with Spice Girls at one point.

You couldn’t go to a gay bar without hearing the quintet’s latest single. I had enough gumption to buy the album that didn’t have Geri Halliwell. And yeah, I owned Spice and Spiceworld.

They were casualties of a collection purge after the dot-com bust, and my tenure at Waterloo Records inflamed my rock snobbery. Spice Girls had been washed from my memory.

But like Sugababes’ “Overload”, “Say You’ll Be There” is one of those ear confections that don’t wear out. I could happily never encounter “Wannabe” for the rest of my life but not so with “Say You’ll Be There.”

At the same time, I wasn’t about to drop any more than $1 to bring the album back into my collection. (Thank you, thrift stores!)

Spice is certainly a relic of the late ’90s, but it ages pretty well. The quintet’s girl-power mantra feels sincere on this first outing, while subsequent albums would suffer under the pressure to turn a quick buck.

The album has its share of duds — I’m looking at you, “Mama” — but they’re offset by the likes of “Who Do You Think You Are” and “If You Can’t Dance”. On the whole, Spice is actually a cohesive effort, a pop album shooting for something beyond the top of the charts.

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