Catching Up With My Favorites

Over the past few years I’ve come across a few artists that have taken places among my favorites.  So this week I’m checking out what’s new with Lake Street Dive, Snarky Puppy and Chris Thile.

In an amazing convergence, Chris Thile performed with Snarky Puppy at a recent live show.  Chris jumps in to play jazz mandolin at about 2:30. You’ll hear Snarky Puppy’s band leader Michael League say, “We got six minutes, Chris Thile you got four-and-a-half!”. Suitable homage from one supremely talented musician to another.

Chris also dropped by the Steven Colbert show where he played his Punch Brothers song “My Oh My” with Jon Batiste & Stay Human. You don’t often get to see Stay Human play a full song, so check out their work including Batiste’s fantastic piano accompaniment. You’ll see why Thile exclaims “This band!”.

Lake Street Dive’s members seem to have taken time over the winter for some side projects.  Listen to Rachel Price tap into her jazz roots with a 1930’s Gershwin Brothers tune, in a duet with Brooklyn-based guitarist/singer Vilray.

And LSD’s base player, song writer, backing singer and all around super talented Bridget Kearney put out her own album “Won’t Let You Down” a couple of weeks ago. Here’s the video from “Wash Up”.

What’s Old Is New Again with Garbage and Hiatus Kaiyote

Garbage released “Strange Little Birds” on June 10th. It’s the band’s first album since 2012 and only their second since 2005. “Empty” is the first track with an official video, and if you like Shirley Manson and the band’s original sound as much as I do you’ll really enjoy it.  To compare it to their earliest days, watch “Only Happy When it Rains” from their eponymous 1995 debut.  Fun fact to know and tell: one of the band’s founders is drummer Butch Vig, a record producer prior to forming the band best known for producing Nirvana’s “Nevermind” in 1991.

While Hiatus Kaiyote doesn’t have the 20-year history of Garbage, they go further back than that in gathering their musical influences. The Australian quartet formed in 2011 and draw on soul, R&B and jazz fusion. They’ve already been nominated twice for the Best R&B Performance Grammy. Here are those two nominated tracks: “Nakamarra” from their first album “Tawk Tomahawk” and “Breathing Underwater” from their second album, last year’s “Choose Your Weapon”.  Actually, the Grammy nominated version of “Nakamarra” included a verse by Tribe Called Quest co-founder Q-tip – you can hear it here at 2:30. Thanks for introducing me to the band, Victoria!

More Jazz – Esperanza Spalding

Been covering a lot of jazz so far this year, but there’s so much good stuff out there!

Esperanza Spalding won the Grammy for Best New Artist in 2011, an unusual feat for a a singing, songwriting, bass-playing jazz artist.  She beat out Justin Bieber, Drake, Mumford & Sons, and Florence + The Machine that year – gives you a feel for the impression she made to stand out in that decidedly non-jazz company.

Spalding released her fifth album “Emily’s D+Evolution” on March 4th.  It was co-produced by Tony Visconti who also co-produced David Bowie’s “Blackstar” (see our recent post).  The psychedelic visuals for the album’s first track “Good Lava” go with its progressive rock/jazz vibe, and you know you want to see her in concert after watching the live video for the album’s second track “Unconditional Love”.

While the new album shows off her eclectic side, Spalding’s career features plenty of straight jazz sensibility as well, winning her praise from the likes of Gary Burton, Pat Matheny, and Joe Lovano. Here she is playing live at the White House earlier this year, and a couple of years ago with Herbie Hancock at the Kennedy Center Honors, singing Sting’s “Fragile”

2016 Grammys – Instrumental Jazz

As I write, the Grammy results are not all in yet, but winners in a number of jazz categories have been announced. It’s great to know the musical form is still going strong.

Thrilled to report that Snarky Puppy won Best Contemporary Instrumental Album for “Sylva”. I wrote about the band a bit over a year ago, a few months before the April release of “Sylva”. For this album the group teamed up with Holland’s Metropole Orkest. Enjoy this video performance of the album’s first three tracks. It’s 15 minutes long, but well worth it.

A couple of weeks ago you read about young Joey Alexander, who was nominated for two Grammy awards. Well, he didn’t win either, but no shame in that when we look at the winners (and since he’s just 12, Joey will have plenty more chances).

Bassist Christian McBride won Best Improvised Jazz Solo for “Cherokee” from “Live at the Village Vanguard”. It’s hard to find someone in the world of jazz whom McBride hasn’t played with over the years, from Wynton Marsalis to Chick Corea to Herbie Hancock. And he’s played with the likes of Paul McCartney, James Brown and The Roots as well. There is plenty of great soloing by all three musicians on this track by the Christian McBride Trio, but that is some fine base work.

In the category of Best Jazz Instrumental Album, young Joey was bested by legendary guitarist John Schofield for his latest release, “Past Present”. Schofield’s jazz resume may be even more amazing than McBride’s, having played with George Duke, Charles Mingus, and Gary Burton, before a long stint with Miles Davis.  For “Past Present” he teams up with saxophonist Joe Lovano, a bandmate from the 80’s.  Here’s “Get Proud”.

David Bowie’s Last Shape Shift

David Bowie’s prolific and inventive recording career began over 50 years ago, and he achieved fame early on with the release of “Space Oddity” in 1969 (see our post from 2013).  Over the decades he was called a “shape shifter” for surprising us regularly with changes in look and musical style.  It is a bittersweet final chapter to his story that he passed away on the day he released “Blackstar”, with its full serving of new musical direction.  We won’t have the opportunity to hear Bowie expand and expound upon this new direction in interviews or performances, so let’s make sure to do a little examination of his last work on our own.

Blackstar was recorded with the backing of jazz musicians saxophonist Donny McCaslin, guitarist Ben Monder, drummer Mark Guiliana and keyboardist Jason Lindner.  Bassist Tim Lefebvre was on hand as well.  Bowie met McCaslin in 2014, and McCaslin, Monder and Guiliana played in the orchestra on Bowie’s 2014 single “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)”.  The track is in a straighter jazz vein than the more eclectic sounds the group created on “Blackstar”.

The songs from “Blackstar” getting the most early attention are its nearly 10-minute title track and “Lazarus”. Both are the subjects of elaborate videos, the latter taking on a special meaning in light of Bowie’s passing.  But the videos can frankly be a distraction from hearing the music, so let’s start with “Dollar Days” which has no video – but close your eyes for good measure.

Now that you’ve practiced listening with closed eyes, listen to “Lazarus” once that way, then take the last look at one of Rock and Roll’s geniuses he apparently intended us to take.