Morphine – Live at Westbeth Theatre, NYC (1996)

Hello again friends! I apologize for missing yesterday’s post, but I’ve got a great way to make up for it! If ever there was an appropriate way to start a November week, it’s got to be watching Morphine rock the stage like only they could.

Morphine come with a particular seasonal baggage, they grow on you, slowly, like a sort of sweet drowsiness, perfectly timed with the late fall mists which keep assaulting the city early in the morning and come nightfall. This is music which makes you want to retreat, with your clique and a sea of wine, have endless conversations, like lazy swimming, and thus find the cure for pain. Alright, enough Morphine references, I’m obviously at a loss for words when it comes to these guys, save for gimmicks and tricks. Just enjoy Mark Sandman’s smooth honesty and Dana’s unbelievable triangle skills. See you soon!

Esperanza Spalding and Madeleine Peyrou – Austin City Limits (2010)

Hello my (d)ear friends. Here I am again, although where I went I couldn’t say. This is as close to an explanatory post as I can get. There must also be plans for the future outlined, so bear with me, I promise I won’t make it too long and tedious. But first, and foremost, always – the music.

I figured, after so much time, I couldn’t care less if it’s Saturday or not, so I’m going to go with a concert for today. Actually, it’s a two in one, because, in spite of the title of the performance, the two musicians involved do not play together in this, merely following each-other on stage. This makes sense – their styles are very different indeed and I’m not sure they would’ve meshed just right had they decided to jam. As it is, however, the succession works very well, forming a jazzy feast, with excitement and refinement galore.

Esperanza Spalding is a new discovery for me. The Hiromi reference before was not by accident, as she does remind me of the Japanese pianist’s furious energy and playful approach to jazz standards, on the one hand, and jazz as a whole, on the other. She’s a very talented vocal performer, but her main selling point for me is the remarkable prowess she displays on the double-bass and bass. “Wild as the wind” (around the 17 minute mark in the video) is presented in this concert, for example, in probably one of the most chilling renditions I have ever heard, and it’s mostly because of her use of the double-bass in a boldly classical (don’t miss the subtle meta-tribute to Nina Simone here, who would pepper her performances with forays into classical music) fashion. And then the voice, just as powerful and crisp as the song demands, decidedly avoiding the self-indulgence which is such a powerful lure for many jazz musicians… And there’s the gist of it – Esperanza Spalding doesn’t identify herself as a jazz singer; sometimes these attempts at influencing labels by the artists being labeled put me off, but this time I think she’s right. Hers is new music, and that’s all there is to it. Bottom line, this performance has turned me instantly into a great admirer, and I hope it does the same for you.

Now on to Madeleine Peyrou – I was acquainted with her dry, precise, smoky vocal style some years ago, and it’s stayed with me ever since, albeit not in the very foreground of my playlist, but always there, as a welcoming place to return to every time the experimentation got a bit much. Not to imply that her music is comfortable as a bedroom slipper. What I’m talking about here is a difference of philosophy which will become crystal clear as you listen to this concert. Madeleine Peyrou doesn’t play jazz, but it’s there, in between the lines. (If you ask me, Billie Holiday didn’t play jazz either, it was just… free blues, if you will, but hey, tomato/tomahto.) It’s nurturing, welcoming music, conversational in a close friend sort of way – not avoiding argument, but handling it with a twinkle in the eye and much grace. It’s touched by a sort of French atmosphere (accordion, mandolin and French lyrics notwithstanding, if you can believe that), a bon-viveur sort of nonchalance, terribly seductive and, well, healthy, I would say. So, after a bit of modern tumult, Madeleine Peyrou’s velvety vintage vocals provide the perfect change in pace, turning this into a wonderfully balanced concert. Enjoy!

Now for the plans and explanations. I started this blog with the desire to speak of the albums and performances which inspire me over and over, which give me goosebumps and leave me speechless for spans of time ranging from minutes to days (yes, days). Somewhere along the way I started feeling like I was about to start compromising a bit, for the sake of keeping the blog updated constantly. I hadn’t done that when I stopped writing, a few months ago, but had I continued then, at the same pace, I would have eventually ended up writing about albums I merely liked, instead of truly being passionate about. I was afraid of a certain deleterious inertia, so I just stopped for a while. I’m back now, but there must be a few changes. I won’t be updating daily anymore – I simply don’t want to circle the same trap again. Music is my favorite foreign language, but there’s only so much I can absorb and confirm to myself before I get tired. That means I will update twice a week from now on. One post will be an album review, just as before. The other post I reserve for a bit of play – it can be a concert review, it can be a top, it can be an invitation to talk in some ingenious way yet to be determined, or, why not, it might even end up being a review of something disappointing. I want to have as much fun writing this blog as I hope you’re having reading it, and for that purpose, I won’t let it become too restrictive anymore. I sincerely hope I’ve got you wonderful readers on my side for these tweaks. Thank you very much for sticking with me for so long! See you later this week, with a proper album review!


Beirut – Cheap Magic Inside DVD (2007)

Beirut’s Flying Club Cup album is one of the most soothing, delightful records I’ve got, and I thought it would make a great feature for this Live Saturday, given that spring has finally decided to assert itself. There’s a change in the light outside, it’s not a question of temperature anymore, it’s official. I saw hyacinth for sale on the street yesterday – it’s on!

This is a live performance, no doubt, but done in a fresh manner, something I haven’t really seen anyone else do. I won’t describe what’s going on, just that there’s a fair share of coordination and directing involved, and it pays off really well. It’s one of those rare live videos where it really pays to keep an eye on what’s going on instead of just shutting out the lights and the crowd and getting lost in the music (or am I alone in doing that at most concerts I go to?…) Sure, that takes away from the usual tension one can feel between performer and crowd in a live setting, but Beirut’s music isn’t really all that much about tension anyway, it’s more about flow, filled to the brim with an open, relaxed mood, swaying and slightly nostalgic. This style of video is the concept and trademark of independent film maker Vincent Moon, famous for The Take-Away Shows, a collection of over 120 such videos, usually spanning only two or three tracks, but sometimes acting as a full-fledged concert. Cheap Magic Inside was released as a DVD in 2007, it sold out in approximately 2.3 seconds, and has since been made available for free digital download and distribution, with the sanction of the band. Lovely!

There’s a wealth of story to tell about Beirut, but, as I promised, I’ll keep the words scarce on Saturdays. I’ll probably end up writing about The Flying Club Cup anyway, on a regular day, since it’s one of my favorite albums for good, warm, hopeful days. I leave you with this really quite beautiful live video of this really quite beautiful music. May it brighten your day!

Portishead – Roseland New York City Concert (1997)

Just so you guys know, I haven’t forgotten about live Saturdays. The past few weeks have been pretty draining and I’m having a hard time pulling myself together. I guess it shows in the frequency of my posts. In any case, I’ve got a great video for today. I know I wrote about this album before, but the Roseland NYC performance is simply legendary, and it’s, to my eyes, even more impressive and charming than the studio material Portishead issued throughout the years.

Beth Gibbons is just staggering live. She’s so intense she seems to bend the space around her, in spite of seeming so awkward, so fragile on stage. To me it feels like it’s all she can do not to curl up in a fetal position, in midair, and draw all the light and air out of the room towards her, as a sort of supernatural human/black hole hybrid. I must admit I’ve had a crush on Beth Gibbons ever since I first heard her, but seeing her smoking a cigarette while singing like that makes me want to forget I ever tried quitting! I can’t recall ever seeing a cooler image in my life!

The music itself is greatly augmented by the orchestra. The ominous, hurtful, emotional maelstrom bubbling beneath the surface in Portishead’s simple, repetitive riffs and heavy rhythms is simply elevated to a new level of intensity with the subtle presence of the strings vibrating in the background. The movie soundtrack influence in many of the band’s songs is thus highlighted in a very effective way, everything becomes even more overwhelming, even larger than life. I can’t believe Portishead haven’t done a James Bond theme song yet, honestly…

Well, I leave you with Roseland NYC, one of the most intense concert videos I’ve ever seen, and I’ll see you soon!