Youth & Young Manhood
It’s hard to say whether or not it’s appropriate to hand off
the “new Strokes” tag just yet. Technically, they spearheaded
a refreshing movement in rock & roll and, judging by the
proliferation of “garage rock” on modern-rock radio nowadays,
they’ve already exerted a hefty influence on radio programmers
and A&R folk, if not the listening public. But the Strokes
haven’t really proven themselves as a real long-term contender
as of yet—releasing the same record twice does not a lasting
career make (Have you heard Room on Fire yet? Yes,
you have. It used to be called Is This It)—which means
there’s still time for an upheaval in the garage-rock hierarchy.
What does all of this Strokes talk have to do with the Kings
of Leon? Well, several major music publications would have
you believe that the Kings are the “new Strokes,” in that
they’re young and attractive (bearing an uncanny resemblance
to the band from Almost Famous), they borrow from most
of the same sources, and they both have marble-mouthed lead
singers. I would argue that the Kings have taken the Strokes’
formula to the proverbial next level. Them Strokes are a damn
tight rock & roll outfit, but in this kind of rock &
roll, the only things that should be tight are the leather
pants. Kings of Leon are a loose, bluesy, Southern-fried boogie
band, and that’s really where it’s at. They sound as if they
keep their Stooges and Television records right alongside
Eat A Peach and Second Helping. What really
sets these guys apart from their peers is they actually pen
some killer refrains. Good old-fashioned garage rock (or whatever
you want to call it this week) was always based around solid,
repetitive hooks, and Youth & Young Manhood is
just brimming with ’em. Exhibits A and B: “California Waiting”
and “Molly’s Chambers.” The court finds in favor of the plaintiff.
Bill Vol. 1
(A Band Apart/Maverick)
As with previous Quentin Tarantino films, there’s no doubt
the director was heavily involved in selecting the music for
Kill Bill. There are the musical rarities Tarantino
loves, like Nancy Sinatra’s stark cover of Cher’s hit “Bang
Bang,” and cult rockabilly genius Charlie Feathers’ “That
Certain Female.” But the bulk of this album is instrumental,
which is what makes it fascinating—it’s Tarantino, the ultimate
postmodern movie geek, at his, well, most geeky.
In the ’70s, film buffs-turned-directors would try to capture
a retro feeling by hiring a legendary film composer to write
a score, or by packing their film soundtracks with Tin Pan
Alley tunes. Tarantino goes one step further: Almost the entire
soundtrack for Kill Bill consists of music lifted from
Well-known names like Bernard Herrmann, Quincy Jones and Isaac
Hayes are represented along with non-Hollywood composers from
spaghetti westerns and kung fu films. It’s recycled music
that, on screen, is perfectly used. And on disc, it all sounds
as exciting as it does in the film. Tarantino has superb pop
taste, from Al Hirt’s “Green Hornet” theme through the surprisingly
affecting, Ennio Morricone-esque track by Zamfir (aka “master
of the pan flute”).
The only unwanted contribution is a not-very-good rap by the
RZA (of the Wu-Tang Clan) about Lucy Liu’s character, gang
boss O-Ren Ishii. (She’s allowed to speak for herself in a
memorable dialogue excerpt, though: “The price you pay for
bringing up either my Chinese or American heritage as a negative
is—I collect your fucking head.”) And it would have been nice
to hear more than one song from the rockabilly-punk combo
the 5,6,7,8s, who performed at least three numbers in the
These are small complaints, however. The disc wonderfully
evokes the style and panache of the film—and without all the
hacked-off limbs and blood.
24 Preludes for Violin and Piano
Vadim Guzman, Angela Yoffe (Bis)
They begin by hovering in a sense of uncertainty even though
the key is easygoing C Major. They end in D Minor, peacefully.
The journey between, comprising nearly an hour, is as emotionally
wrenching as it is unpredictable. It’s an old-fashioned set
of 24 preludes, a trip round the circle of fifths for violin
and piano, and it’s one more piece of evidence that Russian-American
composer Lera Auerbach has a voice to be reckoned with.
Locally, we had a taste of Auerbach’s music when Gidon Kremer
and the Kremerata Baltica performed her Suite for Violin,
Piano and Strings during a 2002 Union College appearance
that also featured Auerbach herself at the piano. It was difficult
then to square the image of this young (she’s 30) composer-poet
with the profundity of her music, and the preludes make it
still more difficult.
No false pretense of youth here, and if at times she seems
to be channeling Shostakovich, it’s not to her discredit—his
influence was simply too huge during the last several decades.
The performers are violinist Vadim Gluzman and pianist Angela
Yoffe, who are both sensitive to the music and practiced enough
to easily conquer its difficulties. Listen to the second prelude,
as Gluzman shifts suddenly between full-bore playing and wispy
false harmonics; during the transition to Prelude No. 3,
Yoffe slides from percussive cacophony into a charming fairy-tale
voice. Brilliant playing.
Although seemingly disconnected, a through line emerges as
each prelude gives way to the next. The smashing agitato
chords of number 15 (presto) ease into the most wistful
lament you can imagine in a prelude that then lives up to
its misterioso marking with a series of ghostly harmonics.
Number 20, Tragico, is actually a sweet-and-sardonic
romp, a dialogue between elephant and mouse. A sweet andante
ties up the emotional loose ends of the piece with more than
a hint of Shostakovich, before Auerbach caps it all with a
five-minute presto that opens in a fiery perpetuum
mobile and gradually gives way to a graceful finish.
Two short works finish the CD: T’filah (Prayer), for
solo violin, a five-minute meditation of questions raised
by the Holocaust that emerges as a stirring lament (if laments
can be stirring), and a sweet postlude that has the feel of
one of Rachmaninoff’s more gentle songs.
Auerbach’s music needs and deserves whatever attention fans
of contemporary stuff can offer, and the rewards will be tremendous.
A highly recommended disc.
The new album by Czech bassist Miroslav Vitous rightfully
draws comparisons with his 1969 debut, Infinite Search
(also issued under the title Mountain in the Clouds).
Besides a similar instrumental lineup and the return of Jack
DeJohnette and John McLaughlin, Vitous’ compositions evoke
similar moods and feelings. In fact, the very bearing of his
writing, which mixes post-bop ’60s freedom with folk and European
traditions, sounds like a virtual blueprint for the more robust
aspects of the label he now sporadically records for, ECM.
That Universal Syncopations sounds utterly contemporary
yet hard to locate in time is a testament to how sympathetically
matched these players are to each other and the material.
This also serves as a reminder (not that one should be necessary)
that the ’70s fusion tangent of Chick Corea ended decades
ago. Also, that Jan Garbarek, whose pristine soprano tones
opened the door to wallpaper salesman like Kenny G (that G
stands for either “Go away” or “eee-Gads!”), was never
one of their ilk. From the hypnotic gallop of “Faith Run”
to the sassy swagger of “Tramp Blues,” this is one of the
finest quartets ever assembled, and one can only hope that
this is but the first of a series of vital and bracing recordings