Category Archives: Music

Posts about music

Leonard Cohen Speaks the Truth

Share

leonardcohen

 

Leonard Cohen has a new album out. Popular Problems. I’ve listened to it twice and it lives up to the tremendous expectations I have of every new Cohen album.  Coming just two years after his last album, he also claims that the next album is already half-written. He’s 80 years old now and seemingly not wasting any time.

Anyway, I was reading the review on Pitchfork (7.6 out of 10, which seems about right) and there’s this quote from Cohen in which he’s talking about a lesson he learned from his Zen master (who died in 2014 at the age of 107) and which struck me as seriously fucking true:

“Roshi said something nice to me one time,” he started. “He said that the older you get, the lonelier you become, and the deeper the love you need. Which means that this hero that you’re trying to maintain as the central figure in the drama of your life—this hero is not enjoying the life of a hero. You’re exerting a tremendous maintenance to keep this heroic stance available to you, and the hero is suffering defeat after defeat. And they’re not heroic defeats; they’re ignoble defeats. Finally, one day you say, ‘Let him die—I can’t invest any more in this heroic position.’”

I just love the way he starts off that story. “Roshi said something nice to me” followed by something that could be taken as astonishingly depressing. But it could also be pure optimism – because if something is wrong, how can you fix it unless you know what it is?

Here’s the lyrics to one of the new songs on the album, Almost Like the Blues. I think the second verse is killer. And then the third verse is even better.

I saw some people starving
There was murder, there was rape
Their villages were burning
They were trying to escape
I couldn’t meet their glances
I was staring at my shoes
It was acid, it was tragic
It was almost like the blues

I have to die a little
Between each murderous thought
And when I’m finished thinking
I have to die a lot
There’s torture and there’s killing
And there’s all my bad reviews
The war, the children missing
Lord, it’s almost like the blues

So I let my heart get frozen
To keep away the rot
My father said I’m chosen
My mother said I’m not
I listened to their story
Of the Gypsies and the Jews
It was good, it wasn’t boring
It was almost like the blues

There is no G-d in Heaven
And there is no Hell below
So says the great professor
Of all there is to know
But I’ve had the invitation
That a sinner can’t refuse
And it’s almost like salvation
It’s almost like the blues

Share

Orange Peel

Share

Orange Peel is a new music bar located at 38-44 D’Aguilar Street (2nd floor) in Lan Kwai Fong. A good friend is one of the co-owners, so I was invited to their soft opening last night. A lot of the people from Peel Fresco in Soho are involved with this bar, so if you’ve been to PF, you have some idea of what to expect from OP. They’re going for a more adult crowd with a line-up of mostly jazz and they’ve got a sommelier on staff so expect a good choice of wines to go with the music. There’s a kitchen there but I don’t know what kind of food is planned.

Since I was in “party mode” last night, I wasn’t going to drag a lot of heavy equipment with me, just my Sony RX100 Mark III. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time behind the camera, but I did manage to grab a couple of quick shots here and there.

DSC00117

 

DSC00146

 

DSC00133

They’ve clearly spent a lot on having proper acoustics for the music, and as you can see the place is large enough to fit a grand piano – not something you’ll often see in Lan Kwai Fong bars.

I don’t know when the official opening will be, but it looks as if they’ve got live music planned for every night this week. If you’re in the area, check them out. I see they’ve got some jazz, some blues and a bit of r ‘n b on the schedule and there’s been some discussion about nights featuring bands from HK’s indie rock scene.

I think it has probably been a year or longer since I last went to Lan Kwai Fong at night, especially a Saturday night. The first thing I noticed is how many old spots have been replaced with new ones. Maybe this is old news to you but I was really surprised to see some old favorites apparently long gone.

The second thing, no surprise, is that on a Saturday night at 11 PM, the streets are packed, and the quantity of gorgeous women to be seen remains mind-boggling. On the other hand, aside from myself, I’m not sure that I saw anyone else in the street who was over 30! Either the crowd is getting younger, or I’m getting older.

At one point I grabbed a quick kebab from a new (to me, anyway) spot called TavaQuick.

DSC00125

I guess that guy is quite used to drunk people whipping out a camera while waiting for kebabs to be ready.

Share

New Old Music – Allman Brothers, Eric Clapton

Share

Near the top of my ridiculously long list of favorite albums is The Allman Brothers Band’s At Fillmore East live double set, recorded and originally released in 1971.  It’s an album that I still play fairly regularly 43 years (gulp!) after its release.

allmanFillmore_East-353x

The Allmans had earlier released two studio albums that failed to catch a fire. This 2 LP, 7 song set is the album that put them over the top. There’s something about that 23 minute live version of Whipping Post that still excites me. Plus, it’s possible to listen to this album differently each time – focusing not just on Duane Allman’s astonishing guitar work but listening instead to Berry Oakley’s melodic bass lines or the interplay between drummers Jai Johanny Johanson and Butch Trucks.

In 1992, this was reissued on CD as The Fillmore Concerts with 5 additional tracks. The 2003 “Deluxe Edition” release changed the running order slightly and added a 13th track.

Allman-Brothers-Band-The-1971-Fillmore-East-Recordings1

This week, we finally get what I’ve been 40 years for, a 6 disc boxed set called The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings. The box features 5 complete Allman Brothers Band concerts – early and late shows from March 12 and 13, 1971, as well as the Allman’s complete June 27th show the same year – the last show performed at the closing of the fabled Fillmore East.  While some of these tracks eventually turned up on Eat a Peach and various compilations, 23 of the 37 tracks here are previously unreleased. (Plus the original release of You Don’t Love Me was pieced together from two separate versions; here we get both original performances in their entirety.)

One can argue that the box is still not completely complete. They also played two sets on March 11th that are not included here. That’s because on that night they added a reportedly under-rehearsed and out-of-tune horn section. Producer Tom Dowd thought it sounded horrible and basically ordered the band to drop them for the following nights. We may be better off not hearing that. Or perhaps in another ten years there will be yet another release of these shows that reinstates that material as well.

At six hours and six minutes, there’s a lot of material to go through here, and I haven’t listened to all six discs yet. From what I’ve heard, I have no doubt that they picked the “right” versions for the original release. But the other performances ain’t exactly chopped liver either.

And that’s why this set is such an important document of a major band. They might have played similar set lists from show to show, but there’s a lot of variation in the performances. The Allmans were not just an incredibly tight unit but really into improvisation in ways rarely heard outside of jazz in that era. So you can listen to them as they come to forks in the road and take different turns each time. Rather than just having the 7 tracks we’ve known all these years, hearing these different versions side by side provides a truer picture of what made the original Allman Brothers Band so unique.

The set was produced by Bill Levenson – the man who helped invent the retrospective boxed set back in 1988 when he put together the Eric Clapton Crossroads boxed set. (I guess I should mention that I knew Bill back in the 80s and 90s and we remain friends today via Facebook.)

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Speaking of Eric Clapton, he’s got a new album out, and it’s the first Eric Clapton album in decades that I can wholeheartedly recommend. It’s credited to Eric Clapton & Friends and titled The Breeze – An Appreciation of J.J. Cale.71tNgqxL-dL._SL1032_

It’s no secret that Cale was a huge influence on Clapton. Clapton basically changed his career direction and musical style completely after being exposed to Cale’s music. Cale never sold a lot of records and has said that it was the royalties from Clapton’s covers of his songs After Midnight and Cocaine, among others, that kept him going.

J.J. Cale died in 2013 and Clapton decided to record this tribute to his idol. (Clapton said in a recent interview that he no longer writes new songs, he finds it too difficult and time consuming.)  A decision was made to not try to reinterpret any of the material but to stay relatively close to the original versions. To his credit, the album doesn’t include any of the Cale songs that Clapton previously had hits with (but apparently there were a lot more songs recorded and there might be a “volume 2,” much like Clapton’s Robert Johnson albums a decade ago).

The “& Friends” is a pretty stellar list. Tom Petty, Mark Knopfler, John Mayer, Willie Nelson, Don White, Derek Trucks, Albert Lee, David Lindley, Doyle Bramhall II and quite a few others. I think the most successful tracks on the album come from Mark Knopfler (Someday) and Willie Nelson (Songbird). Cale was clearly also a major influence for Knopfler and Nelson just effortlessly wears that Tulsa groove like a comfortable old pair of boots. Mayer does better than I would have expected but Tom Petty sounds uncomfortable.

To be honest, I’m a fan of Clapton from the days with the Yardbirds, Mayall, Cream, Blind Faith, Delaney & Bonnie, Derek & the Dominoes.  Clapton’s first solo album (the self-titled album produced by Delaney Bramlett) was the only one of his solo albums that I ever really liked. I’ve always loved him as a musician but mostly I could take or leave the studio albums.

I think this may be the first Clapton album in at least 20 years that I’ve played more than twice and would recommend to anyone else.  And that might be more a tribute to the amazing songs that J.J. Cale wrote than anything else.

Share

Led Zeppelin Super Deluxe Editions Are Out

Share

Finally, after years of deluxe and super deluxe editions from so many artists, the deluxe and super deluxe editions of the Led Zeppelin albums are rolling out.  Just a few quick notes here for people who may not be aware of them.

First and most important – these are new remasters supervised by Jimmy Page. I haven’t spent a lot of time listening to them yet and haven’t compared them to previous editions but they definitely sound a bit spruced up.  You can buy these as deluxe edition 2 CD sets (or digital downloads) but I opted for the “super deluxe” editions, something that I rare do, because these are important albums to me.  These boxed sets are huge and heavy – I think each box weighs about 10 pounds. They’re selling for US$116 each on Amazon.

Last week saw the release of the first 3 albums. The others will come later this year.  Here’s what you get.

ledzep1

 

Led Zeppelin I

  • 72 page 12×12 hard cover book (photos, credits, article reprints, tour info, no new essays)
  • Reproduction of original press kit, including 2 8×10 glossy photos
  • Numbered edition 12×12 artwork of album cover
  • 2 CDs each packaged in cardboard sleeves
  • Bonus disc is complete concert Olympia, Paris, October 10, 1969
  • One vinyl LP (180g) of original album in original cover
  • Two vinyl LPs (180g) of the Paris concert
  • certificate with details to download FLAC tracks (zip file 1.8 gig)

ledzep2

Led Zeppelin II

  • 88 page hardcover book
  • numbered artwork
  • 2 CDs in cardboard sleeves
  • 180g vinyl of original album in original gatefold sleeve
  • 180g vinyl of bonus material
  • The 8 bonus tracks here include alternate mixes, rough mixes, backing tracks
  • Certificate for downloading FLAC tracks (zip file 1.6 gig)

Led Zeppelin III

ledzep3

  • 80 page hardcover book
  • numbered artwork
  • 2 CDs in cardboard sleeves – the sleeve for the original album duplicates the dye-cut cover w/ spinning artwork
  • 180g vinyl of original album in original gatefold sleeve, with dye-cut cover & spinning artwork
  • 180g vinyl of bonus material
  • The 9 bonus tracks here include rough mixes and backing tracks
  • Certificate for downloading FLAC tracks (zip file 1.8 gig)

For many of you, the regular deluxe editions should do just fine. The Paris concert and a lot of this studio outtake material has been available on bootlegs forever, though not at this quality. The real draw is the Jimmy Page remastering.

As for the albums themselves? I think Led Zepp II is the strongest of this batch. It’s album #4 that everyone wants, of course – for me Led Zep IV, House of the Holy and Physical Graffiti are my favorite LZ albums. As for albums 7 through 9, when they come out, I’m not so certain I’ll need to have the massive editions of those.

But I’ve been known to change my mind in the past.

 

 

 

 

Share

King Crimson Lives!

Share

My wife thinks I have too many all-time favorite bands and albums. With that in mind ….

King Crimson is one of my all-time favorite bands. They started in 1968 and they’ve undergone massive changes in line-up and sound over the years, guitarist Robert Fripp being the only constant, and I thought done was done. Aside from their still astonishing debut album, my favorites of theirs include the 3 album run in the early 70s of Larks Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black, and Red (Starless is a song I still play pretty constantly). I saw them twice around 1973 or so and they were amazing to behold and hear live. (One of those times was at the Boston Orpheum, where the opening act was Roger McGuinn doing a solo acoustic set. One of the strangest pairings I’ve ever seen.)

And now, the NY Times reports that they’re back, with a U.S. tour set for this fall. This is the 8th line-up of the band and the roster promises something interesting indeed.  Three, count ‘em, three drummers (Gavin Harrison, Bill Rieflin and Pat Mastelotto). Tony Levin on vocals and bass (and, undoubtedly, stick), two guitarists (Fripp and Jakko Jakszyk) and back in the fold, Mel Collins on flute and saxophone. 

I’m sure we won’t get to see them in Hong Kong. But I imagine there will be albums and hopefully concert videos.

Share

One and a Half Billion Chinese Like Shitty Music

Share

Okay, I’m sure not all of them like this. But apparently a lot do. From an article in the NY Times.

But no mystery is more confounding than that of China’s most enduring case of cultural diffusion: its love affair with “Going Home,” the 1989 smash-hit instrumental by the American saxophone superstar Kenny G.

For years the tune, in all its seductive woodwind glory, has been a staple of Chinese society. Every day, “Going Home” is piped into shopping malls, schools, train stations and fitness centers as a signal to the public that it is time, indeed, to go home.

One recent Saturday afternoon, as the smooth notes of “Going Home” cooed repeatedly over the ordered chaos of Beijing’s famous Panjiayuan Antiques Market, hawkers packed up their Mao-era propaganda ashtrays, 1930s telephones and “antique” jade amulets while the last bargain hunters headed for the gates.

To ensure no stragglers miss their cue, the melody plays on a loop — for the final hour and a half.

According to a manager, Panjiayuan has used the tune since 2000. She did not know why.

“Isn’t it just played everywhere?” she asked.

For a generation of Chinese youth, “Going Home” has featured prominently on the soundtrack of their lives.

Mao Xiaojie, a junior at the Communication University of China in Beijing, said, “They’d play it over and over again at wedding banquets.”

Her classmate Zhang Dawei had more academic associations. “This is what they put on when they’re kicking us out of the school library,” he said.

Emma Zhang first encountered “Going Home” in a cafe many years ago, and then at home, at school, in bookstores, shopping malls and health spas, and on the street. “I used to think the tune was really nice and catchy,” she said. “But now I’m sick of it.”

Decades of easy listening to this one recording, with its undertones of social engineering, have led to certain habits. “Whenever I hear ‘Going Home,’ I finish things faster,” said Cheng Gang, 35, who works in finance.

On the popular Chinese video-sharing website Youku, “Going Home” accounts for four of the 10 most-played videos in the saxophone category, with 313,786 plays over the last three years.

“Nobody knows why the Chinese even like Kenny G so much,” said Jackie Subeck, a music and entertainment consultant from Los Angeles who has been doing business in China for 12 years. She first heard “Going Home” in China in 2002, when it was blasting on her hotel television. At the time, Ms. Subeck was trying to help establish a music royalty collection process in China, so the popularity of “Going Home” was more bitter than sweet. “That song’s on nonstop play and doesn’t collect a penny,” she said.

To add insult to injury, Ms. Subeck was once delayed for hours at the old Beijing airport, where the food court was playing a loop of Kenny G music videos. “We just sat there drinking beer and watching incessant Kenny G,” she recalled. “It was terrible.”

Which is my cue to break out an excerpt from Pat Metheny’s famous Kenny G rant.

Stepping back for a minute, if we examine the way he plays, especially if one can remove the actual improvising from the often mundane background environment that it is delivered in, we see that his saxophone style is in fact clearly in the tradition of the kind of playing that most reasonably objective listeners WOULD normally quantify as being jazz. It’s just that as jazz or even as music in a general sense, with these standards in mind, it is simply not up to the level of playing that we historically associate with professional improvising musicians.

Not long ago, Kenny G put out a recording where he overdubbed himself on top of a 30+ year old Louis Armstrong record, the track “What a Wonderful World” … when Kenny G decided that it was appropriate for him to defile the music of the man who is probably the greatest jazz musician that has ever lived by spewing his lame-ass, jive, pseudo bluesy, out-of-tune, noodling, wimped out, fucked up playing all over one of the great Louis’s tracks (even one of his lesser ones), he did something that I would not have imagined possible. He, in one move, through his unbelievably pretentious and calloused musical decision to embark on this most cynical of musical paths, shit all over the graves of all the musicians past and present who have risked their lives by going out there on the road for years and years developing their own music inspired by the standards of grace that Louis Armstrong brought to every single note he played over an amazing lifetime as a musician. By disrespecting Louis, his legacy and by default, everyone who has ever tried to do something positive with improvised music and what it can be, Kenny G has created a new low point in modern culture – something that we all should be totally embarrassed about – and afraid of. We ignore this, “let it slide”, at our own peril.

I once found myself on the same flight as Kenny G. He held the bathroom door open for me so I didn’t kill him. Please don’t tell Pat Metheny.

Share

Friday Night Rocks

Share

There’s a new place in town and it’s called the New Central Harbourfront, a huge outdoor area right along the harbor next to the Central Ferry piers.  This week, with the Hong Kong Rugby 7′s in town, they’re holding daily events here as part of what they’re calling HK Fanzone. The opening night featured local star Khalil Fong while Saturday night brought De La Soul back to Hong Kong.

Friday night brought Friday Night Rocks, the first in a series of events celebrating the 10th anniversary of Underground. So for the crazy low price of just HK$150 for advance tickets, you got a festival celebrating the amazing diversity of Hong Kong’s independent music scene (plus a guest band from Korea). The bands that played were:

It was a great night, to put it mildly. Stand-outs for me were Shotgun Politics, Galaxy Express and Dr. Eggs.

Here are a few quick photos. There’s a lot more over at the Friday Night Rocks Gallery Page at Spike’s Photos.

SHS_1073

 

SHS_1197

 

SHS_1329

 

SHS_1498

Share

Friday Night Rocks!

Share

Yes, every Friday night rocks but Friday March 28th is going to rock even harder.

fridayrocks

After staging at least 150 shows in Hong Kong clubs over the past ten years, my good friends at Underground are doing their first music festival – and it’s long overdue in my opinion!

The Hong Kong Rugby 7′s are coming up in two weeks and some organizers have put together a multi-day event called HK Fan Zone. Khalil Fong is scheduled for the opening night, Tuesday March 25th, and De La Soul will be headlining on Saturday March 29th. All of this will be taking place at the “New Central Harbourfront.” This is really nice – a second waterfront venue for events and concerts. Is Hong Kong finally dipping some toes into 21st century water?

Print

Friday March 28th belongs to Underground and they’ll be bringing along SEVEN bands for the event. This includes local indie favorites like Noughts and Exes, Dr. Eggs and Bamboo Star, as well as Galaxy Express, a hard rocking trio from Korea.

There are a limited number of advance tickets for sale at only $150 – admission will cost $200 at the door. I think that’s an incredibly reasonable price for an event like this.  You can buy advance tickets online here.

Read more about the event and the participating bands here.

Share

Finance Live! – Charity Benefit

Share

financelive

 

(Please click on the above image to see it full size.)

I’m sure that a lot of people in town know Steve Bernstein. By day he works in the financial field and somehow most nights he finds the energy to be playing mandolin in a variety of bands all over town, frequently The Wanch, where I’ve seen him perform many times as a member of the Joven Goce Band.

As if all of this wasn’t already enough, he also puts together charity shows and the latest one is coming up on March 20th at Grappa’s Cellar. Titled Finance Live!, it will feature five bands, all of which include musicians who work in Hong Kong’s financial industry.

The proceeds from this show will be going to Hong Kong charity Foodlink, This is the charity that is working to end hunger in Hong Kong primarily by collecting all of the food that hotels and restaurants used to throw out at the end of the day and distributing this food to those in need.  

So in essence, you’re going to have a great night out, hear some great live music, drink a bit (or a lot, if you’re so inclined) and know that you’re helping people in Hong Kong who really need your help.

Finance Live! is almost sold out, but not quite. I’m asking you, my readers, to help make this event a sell out, and to keep an eye out for their future events as well.

If you’re looking to buy tickets, or if you just want further details on this event, drop an email to steve (dot) bernstein (at) sinopac (dot) com.

Share