fjb, local currency: solo 1992-1998 (fayettenam)

the human hearts, civics (tight ship)

the human hearts on myspace

nothing painted blue, taste the flavor (shrimper)

info on older band and solo work; I have no idea who compiled the scarily complete discographies

free music, discography, etc. here

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19. Big Dipper, Supercluster

(Merge, 2008)

Reviewed for Village Voice.

[P.S.: Though this is a 3-CD set, I can really only count the disc of unreleased material into the tally here, as Boo Boo/Heavens/Craps have bulked large in my cosmology for 20 years or so. Curiously, a number of demos I've had a on a decaying tape (perhaps acquired through John Henderson?) for almost that long didn't make the cut: "She Skates" and "The Painting Game" merit official release. The Southpaw show, btw, was more satisfying than Maxwell's the previous night, though the scene was pretty time-warpy.]

18. Juno, Encores! at City Center, 3/30

[N.B.: If this supposedly quick-and-dirty reviewing project is going to work up any steam, I have to establish some self-imposed limits. Not Twitter-length: though Paul Ford's SXSW tour de force makes a critical virtue of the crushing imperatives toward for Procrustean compression under present conditions, I'm not actually "on assignment" here. Except in special cases (and we'll see how many of those there are), I'll try instead to observe the five-sentence rule of thumb recently recommended by productivity/GTD types. (That whole world, by the way, awaits its Kulturkritik.)]

Marc Blitztein's adaption of Sean O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock was a Broadway bomb in 1959, partly because neither of its bankable leads (Shirley Booth and Melvyn Douglas, both charming in the right roles) were not up to realizing the rather difficult score, and partly because the play is a huge fucking downer that Blitztein was, to his credit, uninterested in softening. On the evidence of Cradle Will Rock and No For An Answer, it's seemed to me that Blitztein's equal commitment to (a) a modernism that disallowed easy show-tune solutions and (b) a very '30s left-populism left him very little room to move. This show is actually quite accessible by his standards: the Irish setting allows for folkier melodic material and dance forms (though the excellent orchestrations, restored for this revival, often complicate the picture), and one of the central events/images of the original play (the family's acquisition of their first phonograph, an effective enough figure of modernity) is a better excuse than most for some diegetic genre writing (a John MacCormack pastiche, "The Liffey Waltz"). But O'Casey's themes of intolerance and resignation (best encapsulated in the mother-daughter duet "Bird Upon the Tree," one of the few numbers I could imagine being detached from the show), not to mention their political context, do tend to make the lighter elements seem an uncomfortable compromise. (The cheery OCR cover above, based on the original Playbill design, gives a sense of how uneasy the show's producers must have been about marketing it: no dancing cat was in evidence on stage.) The final stage picture -- a line of young Republicans raising their guns to the audience -- is evidence, if there was any doubt, of Blitztein's Brechtian leadings, but since I couldn't see that the play as a whole had done much to implicate its audience (unlike Sondheim's Assassins, which has a similar moment), the device seemed tacked on. Oh, and there is an unplanned teen pregnancy involved, though I'd be more than a little surprised to learn that Diablo Cody was making an intentional allusion.

[Okay, that was seven, not bad for me.]


17. Alex Hassan, Phantom Fingers

(1998, Stomp Off Records)

Instrumental solo disc by a ragtime/"novelty piano" specialist; I'm not sure where he's based (the main scene for this stuff seems to be the Bay Area), but I have to assume he's done a fair bit of silent film accompaniment. Tracked it down b/c I wanted to hear a recording of "The Angel Cake Lady and The Gingerbread Man," (Jasmyn Joan/M.K. Jerome) a song that Bree's been working on for her next show. (We learn the songs from sheet music.) Hassan plays it faster than I'd ever be able to, with much tricky chromatic embellishment that is pretty much the point of this specialized style -- anyway, no one would sing it that fast, so it doesn't matter, but it's good to get some idea about voicings and adding to the written harmony. The bulk of the CD is in the same vein -- it's hard to describe the precise rhythmic profile of this style, which you wouldn't exactly call "swinging," but which doesn't follow classical performance canons either. (See "Three Syncopated Romances." The brilliance of Hassan's pianism (and that of the overly bright recording) can be enervating in large doses, though there are a few more sensitive performances, as of this tune. What I really wish is that lyrics had been included for those songs that have them. I mean -- "Igloo Stomp (Will Thaw Icicles)"? "Mindin' the Baby"? "I Breathe on Windows"? Might have to write that last one myself.