Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Day After

  It's done... Mr. Obama is sworn in, now Mr. Pres. Getting on with his new beginning. Closing the special-order calaboose at Gitmo. It's time.


  Any information any of the prisoners might have had has been obsolete for years. The only reason not to release the majority is that those who weren't mad at us before, have lots of reason to be mad now. If there's real evidence against any of them, I say try them according to the principles our nation was founded on, and if that isn't good enough, the charges are trumped-up crap and the cases should be thrown out. You say "If anyone knows anybody who might be connected with Al-Quaida, bring us the wretch and we'll take him away and pay you lots of money", are you going to get the perpetrators or some poor schmuck the bounty hunters don't like? Possibly both, almost certainly the innocent schmuck.


  I'm just hoping (there's that word) that they do it right and don't just move them to the same situation elsewhere and rename the tribunals something else.


  Okay. That rant is done. One more, about the music.


  I was folding laundry at a launderette with TVs (still don't have a telly and rarely miss it) and the inaugural ball was on two of 'em. Mr. O made it the first OPEN public presidential ball ever. He'd been saying he would make things more open - what a spectacular way to kick that off! Of course security was awesome, but it was the grand gesture that began his presidency, and I don't mean that facetiously at all.


  Mary J. Blige - her solo early in the show - I vote for best soul, best performance of the evening. Period. No one else, no matter how revered, gave the raw heart she put into that song. Not slamming anybody else, but she was the cream. So ta speak.

  Okay. Done.


Friday, January 16, 2009

21st Century Gypsy Soul

ME  TALK  PRETTY


Members: “Julia” [real name Uliana] Preotu on vocals, James Kluz on drums, Leon Lyazidi on guitars, Nate Meng on bass

 
 I didn't start out wanting to like this group as much as I do. Internal conversation:

 “It's just pop stuff - romance/lovelife/soap-opera subject matter. Typical pop. What's the big deal?”

 “Is being in love ever really shallow? It's as deep as the individuals involved. And you do like some love songs. Besides, they're fresh in how they do – I swear I think I heard a new riff or two. And the dynamics is good, not just loud O/D and not just soft and smooth till it's lame.”

 “Yeah okay two points. Or three. But isn't some of it a little too predictable, going from delicate modulation to steady shouting, then back through the cycle again? And since when do you like shouting?”

 “One point, but it's Artistic shouting done by a cute chick and not aimed at me like a weapon. So I'm good with that. Actually I might be becoming addicted to hearing her.”

 “Whaddya mean like a weapon?”

 “Like when someone is in your face yelling AT you and threatening your life and limb because they blame you for their problems and you never even met them. This is exploring feelings about a relationship and it's not even about me unless I want it to be.”

 “Like a lot of hip-hop/rap. You know that sounds racist.”

 “Everything sounds racist if you're thinking that way. My black neighbors and I get along at least as well as the white ones. I just have no desire, and no wish to develop a desire, to look at album covers with big black guys glaring at me and then pay to hear them yell epithets at me. If I wanted that I could go down the street and beat on somebody's door at 3 AM. I hear this young lady do what I consider infinitely more musical and do delicate lines and then strong lines then other stuff and it makes me happy. So I'm gonna play it again.”

 “You're incorrigible.”

 “Absolutely. And I find this band very encorriging, including about the state of original music today.”

 Try this: Look up their MySpace and PureVolume pages and have a listen. 

 Now I'm going to try again: “Me Talk Pretty” is an Indie group based in New York. MySpace says “unsigned” but they're on their second EP or album, depending on your definition (7 on the first one, 5 on the other). In other words, they're not sitting around waiting for some giant label to hand them money and tell them what to play. They're getting on with putting their creations in people's ears. The MySpace page has links to several indie outlets (hey, maybe I should start one and call it that). And the studio names on the current album are all recognizable rockstars in their fields: Arun Venkatesh producing, additional programming by Rhys Fulber, Mike Plotnikoff mixing. And hey, Warped Tour 2008! Not shabby at all.
 BTW, my son pointed out that there's a famous wedding picture of Elvis and Priscilla touching tongue tips – just like the two x-ray people on the cover of the current CD, “Ruby” (done in 2007). So the album is like an x-ray pic set of love/desire relationships? The 2005 “Ana” has different artwork and a different approach, more experimental. PureVolume lets you select groups of tunes by the album they're from, so you can distinguish the timing of the work you're listening to.

 The group has been together with the present lineup for three or four years and they're tight, the vocals by “Julia” are often strident but rarely strained, and they can indeed kick it out powerfully or with simple elegance as needed. It has been commented that Julia's voice is sometimes overshadowing the rest of the band. Probably true – but I truly like it that way, maybe 'cause I get into lyrics and want to hear them. And let's face it, spotlighting the attractive female front/singer is a formula that has worked for a host of highly regarded successful bands. Turn off ego, turn on the feeling, play your heart out behind the talented young lady singing who looks a lot better in a halter top than you do. It works. Especially when she's as earnest as this one.

 “Julia” is actually Uliana Preotu, 26, a genuine Gypsy from Romania. I think I see the source of her flair for dramatic gestures and keeping the listener entertained in the best sense of the term. If you check out the videos posted on their MySpace and PureVolume pages you can catch her and the band in the minute details of the Warped Tour and her narration, often on-camera, keeps the pace and the interest moving.

 About the material: It's good, but the band would still probably make you like it even if it were mediocre or if they were doing covers. I was reminded how Janis Joplin took the old standard “Summertime” and cranked it into her own energy and it came out completely different than when anybody else did it. MTP's tunes are good, but the band's tightly done inventive licks and Uliana's dynamic treatment of the hook-y lyrics combine for a compelling set of tunes that grows on you, bigger than the sum of its parts.

  Here's where:

 www.metalkpretty.com
 Will be a standalone site someday, but right now it simply redirects to:
 http://www.myspace.com/metalkpretty

 http://www.purevolume.com/metalkpretty

 http://www.artistdirect.com/nad/music/artist/card/0,,3530008,00.html

  In case you're not familiar with ArtistDirect, it's newsy, a lot of varied content, with a base of album info. But I can't order the MTP albums there.
“Ana” is on Amazon.com.


  Uliana's page:
  www.myspace.com/stayfragile

  And the guys:
  www.myspace.com/jameskluz

  www.myspace.com/leonlyazidi

  www.myspace.com/natemeng

 “So after all that, did it sound too gushy?”

 “Completely. Like a Sunday Supplement interview PR piece. Like so-and-so is even prettier and nicer in person kinda crap.”

 “Sorry. But I'm not taking anything back. This is really good stuff, very – involving.”

 “They're not Lacuna Coil.”

 “No, they're Me Talk Pretty. And I bet you thought of them because MTP has the Big Enveloping Experience thing going on. Not Lacuna Coil's, their own Experience.”

 “They're not experienced enough to have experience.”

 “The quality of experience is not always dependent on its length – it depends on how smart you are. And in music for example how talented in what you're doing.”

 “Whatever. I'm going to bed now. Goodnight already.”

 And with that, Me Myself and I went to bed.

 G'night.


  J

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Pianist

Evgeny Kissin

 Initially, I want to address the recording by Kissin with the Moscow Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra that was my introduction to his work. It was done almost two decades ago when Evgeny was 13, about a year after he began to came to the attention of national leaders in Russia and the larger circle of international music figures.
 
 It is # 60051-2-RC in the RCA Victor Red Seal Series [Melodiya VDC-1330]: Sergei Prokofiev's Piano Concerto # 3, Visions Fugitives and Dance, piano by Evgeny Kissin and Moscow Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra on everything else (Andrei Chistakov conducting). And it has two movements at the end that are written by Kissin himself, as "Two Inventions".

 In the second-to-last scene of the movie "10", Bo Derek's character is saying she likes to use certain music, certain composers, for certain events going on in her life - this kind for housework, that one for exercising, etc. So her male visitor naturally wants to know about what she has playing now. "So what do you like to do to Prokofiev?" Her calm answer was "F___."
 If ANYTHING could make Prokofiev sound sexy and like something I'd want to develop an appreciation for, that should do it. But... no. Prokofiev, like most "Modern Classical" composers of the early-to-mid 1900s, doesn't reach my soul like say, earlier classical composers, or Amel Larrioux, or 38 Special or Sara Evans or Disturbed. They mostly have me wanting to look around for where the movie is that I'm apparently missing. It doesn't help that Prokofiev is supposed to have great cleverness and a sense of humor. So did Syd Barrett of early Pink Floyd, and the latter is more fun to listen to, I say.
 Listening for how the orchestra and Kissin express the material, I can appreciate it in a technical sense. I can hear the alacrity, the passion, the critical mass of musicianship, but despite the talent here Prokofiev still isn't a composer I warm up to. Sorry.
 HOWEVER. At the end of the CD are the 13-year-old's own "Two Inventions." Suddenly we are propelled back through time a couple of centuries or so. I hear the influence of several of the great classical composers, there's definitely some Chopin shadowing it, yet more the warm feel of a Mozart piece. It makes the whole CD worthwhile for me. BTW, he was playing his own compositions at 7.
 I scanned through the reviews of his live concerts. Uh, everyone has an opinion. Some of them are useful, some not. In general, those that describe rather than judge are useful On the other hand... Some of them would like to see Kissin interpret more with his head and less with his heart. My take on that is that if he did, it wouldn't be Kissin playing, it would be their flawed interpretation of Kissin. If they know the One True Way the composition should be interpreted, by all means they should walk up to the piano with THEIR boundless talent and play it their way, and see if others agree that theirs is THE perfect interpretation. No? Then shut up and enjoy the one who may be the most formidible classical pianist of our time. He is awesome not merely for his proficiency, but for his art.
 One thing they agree on (and so do I) is that he is passionate, lots of dynamics (loud and soft), pours his heart and soul into it and is likely to finish a concert exhausted, with sweat dripping, and may limit his encores to possibly three or four because his energy is spent. No cool technical renditions here. He gives it all he's got, and that's a lot. I find it enjoyable and satisfying, especially when I also like the composer.
 His early concerts specialized in Chopin, with everyone being stunned at this child bringing Chopin to life like nobody else could. In an interview more recently, he commented that he didn't have Beethoven mastered yet, so as to play him "adequately". But, a 2008 CD features exactly the Ludwig... I look forward to hearing it. It's "The Complete Piano Concertos" with the London Symphony Orchestra.

 You can hear a taste of his work on Beethoven and others on his website, which includes a discography:
   
 www.kissin.dk/

 The samples are medium-res 128k full-length mp3s, btw.

 And a few more on his MySpace site:
 http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewProfile&friendID=409069779

 This appears to be the Sony/BMG Music site for him:
  http://www.kissinmusic.com/


 Wiki has a short but decent article on him, with some good links:
 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evgeny_Kissin

 Which includes the link to this article that tells more than most:

  http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2004/jan/02/classicalmusicandopera.russia

 

Okay. More later. Peace and love to ya.


  J