Archive for February, 2008

New Critical Theory Blog

The Unit for Criticism at the University of Illinois has a new blog (Kritik–pronounced “Critique,” I’m told), and I think it’s a Very Interesting Thing.  So far they have a number of papers that were originally presented at symposia sponsored by the Unit (including a quite nicely poetic one by Matt Hart and a few thought-provoking questions.  We’ll see what it evolves into–hopefully it will not be exclusively literary theory oriented, and have material from people in a variety of disciplines interested in social theory contributing.  The model is interesting: a large collection of scholars participate in the Unit, so there is the potential that lots of new and interesting things will show up on their blog.


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More Campaign Music

At what point does parody jump the shark?  So far it’s still funny and still fairly smart politics, I’d say.  And somehow it strikes me that the sensibility of these parodies is much, much more appealing than the ads from last time around.

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Herbie and the Grammy

In light of the in-depth commentary that previously appeared on this blog concerning Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters, I figured it was appropriate to mention that the album won a Grammy last night for Album of the Year. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I certainly did a double-take when I saw the results. (I didn’t watch the Grammys live.) I was certain at first that Hancock must have won Jazz Album of the Year, but I soon realized that I was wrong. Certainly, I was pleasantly surprised that a jazz album could win Album of the Year, but I’m not sure what it says – if anything – about the current state of the music industry. Perhaps it just says that the academy liked this album better than their other options, and because Hancock has several pop-oriented collaborators on the record, it was fair game for the Album of the Year category.

I’ve copied NPRs coverage of the win below. I think the write up is fine, but I want to point out one thing the writer says that caught my attention: “From a distance, River looks like another of those tribute projects that have become a depressing fixture of recent jazz.” What exactly do you think he’s talking about? Charlie Hunter’s Bob Marley tribute album? Dave Kikoski’s Beatle Jazz project? And, if that is what he’s talking about, can you make the statement on a national news program that it’s “depressing” without any further comment or clarification? It seems that the statement is problematic because 1) we really don’t know exactly what he’s talking about, and 2) he makes a sweeping generalization about an object that is unclear.

From NPR.org


On ‘River,’ Hancock Skates Away with Grammy

Tom Moon

All Things Considered, February 11, 2008 – Last night, the Album of the Year Grammy went to an underdog. Herbie Hancock‘s River: The Joni Letters is only the second time a jazz album has received the big award — the last one was Stan Getz’s Getz/Gilberto, 43 years ago. But for those who know the pianist, who has made thoughtful contributions to jazz in each decade since the 1960s, the unlikely honor isn’t really so unlikely.

For much of his storied career, Hancock has explored jazz, funk, hip-hop and all sorts of pop with renegade fearlessness. So it wasn’t exactly a surprise when he decided to take on the Joni Mitchell songbook. With help from a mighty band and big-name stars including Norah Jones, Tina Turner, and Leonard Cohen, Hancock set out to reframe Mitchell’s confessional songs — cornerstones of singer-songwriter music — in a jazz context.

From a distance, River looks like another of those tribute projects that have become a depressing fixture of recent jazz. But Hancock is too smart to follow the tribute-record script. He doesn’t radically overhaul Mitchell’s songs — instead, he gently opens them up and lures the singers into fascinating free-associative conversations.

It’s like there are two stories being told in these songs. One in Mitchell’s words, alongside a secondary narrative being told between Hancock and his longtime collaborator, the amazing saxophonist Wayne Shorter.

This isn’t a great jazz album from start to finish, especially compared with the towering LPs Hancock made for Blue Note in the 1960s. That’s why it’s strange to see it win the Album of the Year prize. As Hancock noted, it is completely different from what’s happening in pop music these days.

But who knows why it won? Maybe the Recording Academy is finally suffering from diva fatigue. Or maybe this time the music won out. Because the interactions on River are more thoughtful and spontaneous than most of what crossed the stage on music’s biggest night.

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I don’t know what to do with Pearl Jam’s new Barak recording, “Barak Around the Clock.” [Sorry, It’s broken]

I suppose it’s meant to be funny; or maybe “edgy,” like, ironic, you know. Said with rising inflection. It’s pretty stupid, as political statements go and as music; cornball, whatever.

Mostly it makes me wonder if Pearl Jam is really still that juvenile. Makes me say “Eew, dudes, grow the hell up!” Am I really that old???

The Vulture has a funny post here, titled: “Pearl Jam Will Not Rest Until John McCain Elected President.” I wouldn’t go that far–I don’t think this has the potential to hurt Obama; but I would say “Pearl Jam Will Not Rest Until Every Shred of Their Credibility and Dignity Is Forever Gone.”


Well, apparently Pearl Jam is running away from “Barak Around the Clock.”  For whatever reason (I’m inclined to think the extent of mockery on the internets, but who knows) they’ve pulled it from their website.  If someone finds a working link I’ll re-link, but for the moment you’ll just have to imagine it.  Or go see David Daniel and his band perform it on Youtube.

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I can never really get my head around the Lawrence Welk show. Welk, himself, seems clearly unironic, and I’m pretty sure that most people who watch it, or at least who watched it at the time, liked it without irony; but I really wonder about the musicians, singers, dancers and so on. Could they possibly have been THAT wholesome? I always envision them going off stage, doing acid and having mad sex while LW’s handlers kept him in the dark. With that in mind, get a load of this:

How can this be? Sure, LW probably believed this was just a “modern spiritual”; but what about Gayle and Dale? what about the accordionist introducing the number?? Madness this way lies, I guess, but I can’t help reading more and more into the little details the more I watch it. How can the announcer’s little cough at the beginning NOT be a winking reference to smoking dope? How can he not be signaling to an in-group when he turns his head and touches his tie before the camera cuts over to the singers? How can Gayle and Dale’s little winking looks at each other not come from knowing that as soon as they cut to commercial the two of them will be one toke over the line; and perhaps in flagrante delicto as well, maybe WITH the announcer. And yet, and yet…

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Did Will.I.Am read (and hate) Maureen Dowd’s post (linked here)? Did Obama? Did Scarlett Johansson and Herbie Hancock and Kareem Abdul Jabbar and John Legend and the lot of them?

Perhaps not, but this is a nice response to the notion of Obama-as-Smooth-Jazz-Modernity. It is certainly smooth, and like Hancock’s Joni Mitchell tribute (I wrote about it here) it has its jazzy-qualities; but this is a far hipper, somewhat younger Obama-music connection. And one that, like Smooth Jazz, has racialized overtones for some audiences, but that can be read as (and is explicitly) multi-racial.

And it is gorgeous.  I love the multi-voiced quality, the overlapping sounds of men and women’s registers.  As I love it in Leonard Cohen’s work and Helena Noguera’s.

Smart politics, smart music, well done.

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