Archive for February 2018

Album review – Never Stop II, The Bad Plus

Never Stop II is the 13th studio album released by The Bad Plus and their second album featuring all of their own material; the first being, you guessed it, Never Stop.  The title seems appropriate for another reason.  It’s the first album featuring Orrin Evans in the piano chair, recently vacated by Ethan Iverson, one of the band’s co-founders.  So perhaps, the title reflects the fact that the band continues despite one of the original trio leaving.  And if you suspect that the reference to a piano suggests that we’re not talking a rock band here, you’d be right.  TBP are a jazz trio but not a jazz piano trio in the classic sense.  The bass (Reid Anderson) and drums (Dave King) aren’t just there to support the pianist; it’s a far more democratic affair than that.  TBP are also a little different from the typical jazz trio.  They’re well known for their cover versions, including Nirvana’s Smells like Teen Spirit, Aphex Twin’s Flim, and the Pixies’ Velouria.

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Whether the band plays their own material or cover versions, it’s always clear that it’s TBP.  So I guess there are two questions that need to be answered:  is the album any good; and has the band lost its distinctive sound now that Orrin Evans has arrived?

The answer is yes and no (to coin a Wayne Shorter tune!), respectively.  From the first few seconds you know that this is a Bad Plus album and that remains the case for the rest of the album.  I mentioned earlier that this is a democratic affair and that’s the case with the writing.  Each band member has always contributed tunes and looking back over the band’s output over the last 18 years, I can see that some of my favourites have been penned by bassist Reid Anderson (including Physical Cities, and Seven Minute Mind).  So the loss of Iverson, at least in writing terms, hasn’t dented the band’s capacity to knock out a great tune.

Like Iverson, Evans is no slouch on the piano.  His 2015 album, The Evolution of Oneself was one of my favourites of that year and you can hear from that album alone that he’d have no problem joining TBP.  Evans and Iverson have their own styles but it’s clear that there’s someone else at the keyboard.  Evans has the same sense of anarchic abandon that Iverson possesses but has, it seems to me anyway, a more slippery sense of time, something which I appreciated on his aforementioned album.  The tracks on Soundcloud are three of the ten (if you include the two bonus tracks) and are representative of what you’ll be getting yourself into.

Never Stop II isn’t available for streaming, at least at the moment.  Nevertheless, it’s an investment well worth making, whether or not you know TBP.  I’ve seen the band a couple of times and hope they’ll be making a visit to these shores sometime soon.  They’re a great live band, so, like Pokemon, you should try and catch ‘em if you can.

Book review – WTF

WTF (2017) is Robert Peston’s fifth and latest book and focusses on ‘Brexit’, by which I refer to the UK Government’s decision to exit the European Union (EU), following a referendum in 2016.  Peston is the political editor of ITV news and has followed a journalistic career focussing on business and the economy.  The ‘WTF’ of the title refers to the unexpected outcome of the referendum; an outcome which shocked Peston and made him question whether he really understood the British population that he was reporting to.  As the cover states, Peston seeks to answer three questions: What have we done? Why did it happen? and How do we take back control?

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The book is an open letter of sorts to his father, Lord Peston, a notable economist who passed away in April 2016.  Both Peston and his late father were state school educated: ‘comps rule!’ as Peston puts it.  While that doesn’t necessarily give Peston the platform of speaker for the working man or woman, it did nevertheless surprise me.

So, what’s the book like?  Well, I should firstly say that it’s well written.  Peston has an easy writing style and avoids economics jargon, making the 288 pages a fairly light while engaging read.  One of the surprising things about WTF is Peston’s tone and openness.  He’s not averse to using the occasional swear word or being critical of government policy, far more so in fact than I had expected.  Peston nevertheless approaches his subject in a balanced way, seeking to understand why over half of those who voted, voted to leave the EU.  As Peston notes, ‘we might not love the bureaucracy and remoteness of the EU, but what defined us as a nation was moaning about it, not actually tearing up our membership card’.

Peston’s investigation adopts an historical approach, as he looks at subjects spanning declining social mobility, the stagnation of incomes, ‘austerity’, the disparity between incomes in the north and south of the UK, the rise of the super rich, and the empowerment of capital over labour, including organised labour in the form of unions.  All of which, Peston argues, contributed to the referendum outcome.  Peston also looks at other contributing factors, such as the way in which the remain and leave campaigns were run, the adoption of social media and analytics to determine which content would hit the hardest.  A particular quote (from Roland Rudd, the ‘In’ campaign’s treasurer) summed things up for me:  ‘Craig Oliver ran the campaign on the slogan “Don’t Risk it”,’ he says.  ‘What we failed to understand was there were too many voters with absolutely nothing to risk.’  One gap in Peston’s analysis, however, is the cultural aspect of Brexit and the extent to which individuals voted to leave the EU based upon their desire to return to the perceived halcyon days of the British empire.  For a relatively short book, Peston packs a lot in and it’s understandable that he can’t cover everything.

Often with these kind of books, the author prescribes some half-hearted remedies, if at all.  That isn’t the case here. Peston identifies a range of measures which he considers will help address some of the social issues which gave rise to the referendum outcome.  Though as Peston says, ‘the priority is to fix the country’s structural flaws, those that hobble us out of the EU or in.’

If you’re interested in how ‘Brexit’ came about, but want something readable and free from economic jargon, I’d highly recommend WTF.

Songs from the Vault – Guitars (Part Two)

I hope you enjoyed the first installment of this guitar-themed edition of SFTV.  There are so many tunes to pick from that it’s impossible to squeeze them into even a couple of posts.  Nevertheless, I hope that you’ll enjoy my selections.

First up, is the Jeff Healey Band with See the Light, from the band’s 1988 album of the same name.  Healey, who regrettably passed away in 2008, at the age of 41, lost his sight as an infant.  This obviously didn’t hold Healey back: Healey had a rich life and career, even appearing with his band in the great cult movie Road House featuring the late, great Patrick Swayze.  The track in question features some awesome blues-rock playing, aided with a wah-wah pedal.

Robben Ford is one of those guitarist’s guitarists.  For many years Ford was a hired gun and played with the likes of Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, and even Kiss!  Ford always plays with great taste and he’s got a great, jazz-inflected blues sound.  The tune I’ve picked is The Miller’s Son from Ford’s 1995 album Handful of Blues.  It’s got a simple but effective hook but what I love most about this tune is Ford’s raw and earthy guitar tone.  The album track isn’t available online but there’re a few live versions, like the one below, which I hope you enjoy…

I’d never heard of Buckethead until I went to guitar tech in the early 90s.  My flat mate was a big fan.  Buckethead has technique in buckets (sorry!) and is prodigious having released over 300 albums.  If you wondered why he’s called Buckethead, this is what his Wikipedia entry says:

The Buckethead persona came to be when Carroll saw the 1988 horror movie Halloween 4 and was inspired by the film. He went right out after seeing it and bought a Michael Myers-like white mask. The bucket idea came later that night while eating Kentucky Fried Chicken:

I was eating it, and I put the mask on and then the bucket on my head. I went to the mirror. I just said, ‘Buckethead. That’s Buckethead right there.’ It was just one of those things. After that, I wanted to be that thing all the time.

— Buckethead, 1996, Guitar Player Magazine 

So there you have it, and in case you needed to know any more about the risks associated with fast food!

While I’m not a massive fan (I have one album which I like, Enter the Chicken), I do have great respect for anyone can use nunchaku, do the robot and then play a cool guitar solo, in that order.  I’ve done all three but not all at once!  Anyway, check out the rather surreal video below…

We’ve reached the end of our guitar-themed journey down memory lane.  I struggled to think of a final tune.  Eric Clapton (my first guitar hero), Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, etc. could have featured but I’m going to go with David Gilmour and one of Pink Floyd’s greatest tunes.  Comfortably Numb features on Floyd’s classic 1979 album The Wall.  Gilmour takes two solos on the track.  In my opinion the second, later solo is one of the great moments in electric guitar history.  The solo is, in a way, quite simple, with Gilmour largely playing blues phrases.  But simple things are often the hardest things to achieve, which Gilmour does here, creating an epic solo for an epic tune…

There must be something in the fact that the video above has been viewed over 100 million times, and almost streamed 100 million times on Spotify!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this guitar-themed edition of Songs from the Vault.  I certainly enjoyed writing it and listening to these tunes and others that didn’t make the cut this time.  Until the next time…