An evening with Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood is an evening of jazz infused with bossas and boogaloos, an evening of quicksilver sonic play. The joy of listening to these guys can be eclipsed only by the joy of watching them watch each other. With the slightest nod and smile, they shift to a new idea and lock into it together, seamlessly, as if they were a single consciousness rather than four individual musicians.
Take guitar, stand-up bass, piano, and drums, and put them in front of peerless musicians with wide open musical sensibilities and backgrounds in jazz, blues, folk, soul, and rock. Then take a straight-laced, wonky Washington crowd and remind them to leave the suits and smartphones at home. What you get is an evening of genre-crossing music and an audience nodding along, grinning, and dancing to the funky grooves and improvisational playfulness of Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood.
A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress. –Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History”
A spectral bird, its wings outspread, imparts a white glow to the dim stage. The sculptural eagle — a spirit animal of sorts for The Airborne Toxic Event — recalls Klee’s angel, and the music of The Airborne Toxic Event evokes the struggle with the chaos of modern life described by the historian Walter Benjamin. But unlike Benjamin’s angel of history, confronted with the devastation of the past but propelled inexorably into the future, the music of The Airborne Toxic Event encourages us to linger, to rebuildthese stunning ruinsand piece together the fragments of our compartmentalized lives.
I’m home for a day between week-long trips to Alaska and northern California. (As much as I dream about being Bob Boilen’s lackey, I do love my job.) There’s just enough time to do laundry and post some photos that I took last week. I’ve written volumes about the indie-folk band Vandaveer, so I won’t repeat myself here. Just promise me you’ll give them listen. Fistful of Swoon is sublime and aptly named. (Darker than the swoon of sin. James Joyce. Discuss.)
Click through the slideshow for pics from Vandaveer’s August 9, 2014 show at the 9:30 Club.
I don’t need a vision, I’m just waiting on collisions of the brain and the heart / I’m patient for decisions and some stormy revelations I can claim from the start.
— Jamie Cullum, “Edge of Something”
“Dance,” said the Sheep Man. “Yougottadance. Aslongasthemusicplays. . . . Yougottauseallyougot. Weknowyou’re tired, tiredandscared. Happenstoeveryone, okay? Justdon’tletyourfeetstop.”
— Haruki Murakami, “Dance Dance Dance”
In mechanical physics, momentum is the product of the mass and velocity of an object. At a concert, momentum is determined by setlist composition, stage presence, and the mental focus needed to do full justice to the songs. When the elements coalesce, a live performance propels the crowd somewhere sublime. The energy transforms a multitude of concert-goers into a single creature with eyes trained on the stage and heartbeat keeping time with drumbeat — hearing, feeling, breathing, being.
Momentum is also the title of Jamie Cullum’s new album. The English piano player and singer-songwriter sounds bolder than ever, shifting from the jazz-dominated sound of earlier albums to more pop-driven, free-wheeling, heterogeneous creations. Cullum characterizes his latest album as reflective of a crossover period. Though he’s a little bit older, I connect with his sense of liminality, of teetering on the threshold separating childish fantasies and adult responsibilities. That sense pervades Momentum, both in its genre-crossing exploration and in its lyrics about making peace with fickle hopes and dreams, collisions of the brain and the heart, and being a star in limbo.
When Cullum bounded onto the stage at the 9:30 Club last night to deafening cheers, his energy was palpable and his joy infectious. With an impish grin and a toss of his artfully-mussed hair, Cullum launched into an evening of effervescent stylings on piano, employing unconventional techniques like palm-muting and striking out a rhythm on the outer rim. In moments of sheer elation, Cullum clambered onto the Yamaha grand and belted out a few lines before leaping off to grab drumsticks and accompany his bandmates in the percussion section. It was a feast for the senses. Continue reading “Jamie Cullum: Collisions of Heart & Mind”
Cowboy boots are not typical Washingtonian footwear, but they made an appearance at the 9:30 Club last night when the Old 97s blazed through town. The indefatigable alt-country standard-bearers are touring on their tenth studio album, Most Messed Up, and delivered an energetic performance that included old favorites like “Barrier Reef” and “Hitchhike to Rhome” and new offerings such as “Guadalajara.”
This was my fourth Old 97s concert, and the Dallas-based band is in as fine form as ever. The rollicking tunes and Rhett Miller’s wordplay, by turns sincere and sardonic, sweetly wistful and bawdy, are core elements of what we’ve come to love and expect from the band. Most Messed Up is wryly reflective, but not nostalgic — Miller and his crew contemplate middle-age and a life spent on the road, playing songs, getting drunk, and getting up the next day to do it all over again, giving it all they’ve got and hoping it’s enough.