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Posts Tagged ‘classical music’

(Above: They aren’t the mountain chain associated with bluegrass music, but the Rockies are still an excellent backdrop for Chris Thile and Edgar Meyer.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

One of the perks of being a cult artist is that you can count on a good portion of your audience to follow you anywhere. Barely a month ago, Chris Thile was onstage at the Uptown Theater celebrating the reunion of Nickel Creek, the influential bluegrass trio he helped found in the ’90s.

A good portion of that night’s audience likely followed Thile across town for his Kauffman Center debut on Thursday night. Acclaimed classical bass player Edgar Meyer joined Thile onstage in Helzberg Hall.

The hall was three-quarters full for the two-hour and 15-minute performance (including a 20-minute intermission.) Although the music occasionally recalled Nickel Creek’s buoyant acoustic melodies, Thile and Meyer quickly established their own identity.

The pair play a hybrid of classical, bluegrass and folk, equally at home on the couch after dinner or dressed up at a wedding.

The delicate bowed melody of “Monkey Actually” recalled banjo player Bela Fleck’s classical work. The connotation is appropriate, since both Meyer and Thile have worked with Fleck separately. Together, the pair earned a Grammy for their work with cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

Chris_Thile_and_Edgar_MeyerMuch of the evening focused on Thile and Meyer’s new album, “Bass and Mandolin.” The pair played all but two tracks from their second collaboration. Standouts included “Friday,” which sounded like both instruments were in a race, and the gentle “I’ll Remember for You,” which found Meyer on piano and Thile on guitar. “It’s Dark in Here” could have been a lost Rodrigo y Gabriela cut.

If albums like this had singles and radio had interest in playing anything like this, the enchanting “El Cinco Real” would be on every DJ and programmer’s desk in the country. Instead it will have to settle for a life of NPR bumper music.

The material’s musical intricacies were offset by the pair’s between-song banter and jokes. One running gag was how lazy the song titles were. After fretting that the audience might not be able to keep up with the show not knowing that “Ham and Cheese” and “Fence Post in the Front Yard” had been played, Thile casually referred to two Bach arrangements as cover songs.

One song had an intentional title. Meyer’s father introduced him to the jazz bassist Ray Brown when Meyer was a child. Later, Meyer learned that Brown once recorded a cover of “Doxie,” but unwilling to pay royalties to songwriter Sonny Rollins, Brown put a new melody on top of the same chord changes and called his number “FSR.” Meyer and Thile titled their tribute to Brown “FBR.”

After an improvised number the duo said since the piece changed every night, it should have a new title as well. They took several suggestions from the audience — “Swiss Cheese,” “Hole in My Sock,” “One Numb Toe,” “Succotash” — riffing on the ideas and sharing titles from other cities. In the end, Thile and Meyer decided they liked “Snuffleupagus” best.

After announcing the upcoming intermission, Thile joked that they had been counting people during the first half of the set and would notice if anyone snuck out.

“What Chris means,” Meyer said, “is we’re glad that each and every one of you is here.”

Setlist: Why Only One?, The Farmer and the Duck, Monkey Actually, Ham and Cheese, Friday, FRB, Canon, I’ll Remember for You, Fence Post in the Front Yard. Intermission. Tuesday, Tarnation, This is the Pig, Look What I Found, El Cinco Real, Snuffleupagus, Prelude, It’s Dark in Here. Encore: BM3.
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55

By Joel Francis

From “Brand New Cadillac” to “Little Red Corvette,” no art form has had a love affair with the automobile quite like rock and roll. So while the subject matter for Andrew W.K.’s fourth album, “55 Cadillac,” is well-trod, his approach is surprising and fresh.

W.K. appeared on the scene in 2001 sporting a bloody nose on his album cover and urging hard rock fans to “Party Hard.” In the years since opened a New York night club, penned an advice column that was compiled into a book, produced an album by reggae legend Lee “Scratch” Perry, hosted a show on Cartoon Network and continued to turn out big dumb anthems like “Make Sex.” That said, few could have seen the side of Andrew W.K. he reveals on “55 Cadillac.”

Comprised of eight “spontaneous solo piano improvisations,” the album finds W.K. expressing himself on the 88 keys he started learning at age 4.

“55 Cadillac” opens where Neko Case’s “Middle Cyclone” – which features our heroine on the hood of a 1968 Mercury Cougar  – left off, with the sound of crickets and frogs. Like a drag race, W.K.’s prize auto doesn’t start, but “begin.” Appropriately, we can hear the motor thrust and idle as pistons warm up on the first cut, “Begin the Engine.”

Though the performances are spontaneous, W.K. obviously put a lot of thought into tone and texture. “Seeing the Car” is suitably elegant, while “Night Driver” features an upbeat, galloping melody. The stately ballad “5” is the album’s most tuneful moment and “City Time” is choppy, reflecting urban stop-and-go traffic.

The tracks are joined by the sound of a car racing past and the album works as one long piece. The songs flow well, sustaining the mood without becoming stale, but despite the solid pacing it can easily become background music.

W.K.’s party rock persona doesn’t emerge until the opus’ closing minutes. When the flood of electric guitars enter on “Cadillac,” the closing track,” it sounds like a lost snippet of musical dialogue between Queen’s Brian May and Freddy Mercury.

Co-released on the Sonic Youth guitarist’s Ecstatic Peace! Label, “55 Cadillac” is the rare album that can be enjoyed by both Thurston Moore and Thurston Howell, III.

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(Above: A recent performance by the Blue Note 7 at the Gem Theater started this whole debate.)

By Joel Francis

Friend of the blog Plastic Sax ran a compelling editorial earlier this week about government sponsorships. The questions it raised about why classical music and jazz are the most heavily subsided genres and why private businesses featuring similar artists had to compete against government funds are worth greater discussion.

It seems the crux of the issues with subsidizing government sponsorships is that they run counter to the age-old capitalist creed of letting the marketplace decide. The folks at Jardine’s and The Phoenix work just as hard to bring people in to hear jazz as the Folly and the Gem, why aren’t they getting help?

At the risk of sounding like a socialist, The Daily Record believes there needs to be boundaries placed on the free market. Aside from public radio, there are no government subsidies on Kansas City’s radio dial, and the town has been without a jazz station and an FM classical station in nearly two decades. Beethoven will never bring the ratings that BTO seem to provide to the city’s countless classic rock stations, but does this warrant erasing classical music from the dial? How can an audience or appreciation be built in this void?

A case could be made that successful jazz clubs are penalized for their success, but the nights they compete with federally funded concerts are scarce compared to the evenings they have to themselves. Are the dozen shows each year at the Folly and Gem cutting that deeply into their profits? 

Jazz and classical music are funded because they’re the least controversial. They’re popular enough that most people will applaud the effort, but ignored enough that no one is going to waste the time digging into the music searching for scandalous meaning. There will never be a Piss Christ controversy with this music. However, imagine being the senator that suggests the National Endowment of the Arts support an evening of Slayer doing “Reign in Blood” at the Kennedy Center or a 20th Anniversary Death Row Records tour. This may not be fair, but equality is a rare visitor in the annals of politics.

It’s easy to be cynical and complain about an ever-dropping lowest common denominator. Jazz and classical artists will never be as popular as Ryan Seacrest and the latest American Idol, and “Nightline” and “Meet the Press” will never bring the ratings of “Two and a Half Men” and “Rock of Love Bus.” But that doesn’t mean work with greater meaning – whatever the medium – shouldn’t coexist with revenue-generating evanescence. A balance must be struck, and if it takes government funding to maintain that equilibrium, then the money should be spent.

Therefore, The Daily Record posits that if the government has billions of dollars each month to spend waging war and sustaining the defense industry, it should certainly continue to throw as many sheckles as possible into the arts, however they’re defined.

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