You, me, the music, and me.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

DAVID BYRNE Live from Austin Tx

New West Records NW8045 (2007)

Recorded in 2001 for PBS's popular Austin City Limits, Live from Austin Tx showcases former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne's versatility and live chops with a mixture of solo material and songs from his days with the Heads. He is backed by a trio of crack musicians on bass, drums, and percussion (how fitting that the third member of Byrne's backing band would not be a keyboardist or second guitarist but a percussionist, underscoring the importance of rhythm to his music) and the string ensemble Tosca. Byrne's new songs may not have the immediacy or shock of his earlier material (including a stunningly vital "Once in a Lifetime") but they do tend to lodge in the head easily (especially the tuneful "Marching Through the Wilderness"). Byrne's guitar playing is tight and rhythmic and his singing has gotten better with age, as on the show-closing cover of Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" (which he introduces as "a song my mother used to sing to me"). (Also available on CD)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

PHILIP GLASS/KRONOS QUARTET Newly-recorded motion picture score for Dracula (1931)


"Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make!"

One of the best special features found among Universal Pictures' Legacy Collection series of classic horror films on DVD is the modern musical score for Dracula, composed for string quartet in 1999 by Philip Glass and performed by the Kronos Quartet. The original 1931 film had almost no music and little dialogue, and the presence of the new score greatly enhances the viewing of this classic. Glass uses his trademark minimal harmonic and rhythmic materials expertly to fashion music that focuses on a sense of dread and inevitable tragedy, creating a sort of sympathy for Bela Lugosi's remorseless monster. The film can be played with or without the score, but viewing both versions will give a greater appreciation for Glass' achievement. (Also available on CD.)

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

CHARLES MINGUS Orange Was the Colour of Her Dress

Salt Peanuts 44613 (2007)

For my first DVD review, here's a disc from Salt Peanuts' new line of jazz DVD's. Averaging about 50 minutes each (about the length of a CD), these discs are an affordable way (mine cost about $10 each) to enjoy little-seen performances by jazz legends such as John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Bill Evans on video. The sound and picture quality are above average for footage taken largely in the fifties and sixties for European television.

The Mingus DVD contains four songs recorded in Norway, Sweden, and France in the early 1960's. Mingus' sextet for these dates included such notable musicians as Eric Dolphy, Clifford Jordan, Booker Ervin, and Bud Powell. It's a real treat to see and hear this band in complete performances of tunes such as "Meditations", "Orange Was the Colour of Her Dress, then Blue Silk", and "I'll Remember April" (featuring some stunning pianistics from the late, lamented Powell). Marginalized by both race and genre, Mingus has never received his due as not only one of the finest jazz composers of the twentieth century, but as one of its finest composers period. The fire and imagination found in these small-band arrangements certainly do nothing to refute this statement.