Monday, August 01, 2005

The Weekly, Volume Ten

Double digits. So that means I've been unemployed for longer than I ever hoped possible, and thus have been passing the time by imposing my tastes uselessly on the twenty or so people who find the time to scoot over here once in a while. Any continuity this blog has now attained can likely be credited to habit (and maybe that certain masochism that comes with sharing your opinions with randoms every week) over any other explanation. Oh well, let's get on with it then.

Album #1:
Rocket House (Chris Whitley)

Captivating, soulful music from an artist who is rightfully considered one of today's true music industry mavericks. Rocket House, released in 2001, has the singer/guitarist experimenting with electronics and dabbling in musical populism (Dave Matthews contributes some vocals on the surprisingly good "Radar"), but is something of an avant-blues album at its core. There's a lot to recommend here. On a strictly musical level the music is textured and atmospheric, fitting perfectly with Whitley's distinct tenor howl and sparse guitar playing. But what's most noticeable and quite commendable is his decision to place what are very solid pop melodies over decidedly non-pop structures and arrangements. It's almost as if Whitley knows his stuff is ten times better than the standard AOR, and he couldn't care less.

Album #2:
Soulville (Ben Webster)

One of the first jazz albums I ever purchased, way back in maybe 1994. It has been in rotation ever since. At one point I held this record in such fervent admiration that I attempted not only to transcribe the tenor solo from "Late Date" (a minor feat for a high school student, but only a trifling matter for any profession jazz musician), but also set it to vocables, the latter being a foolish idea that was abandoned with as much zeal as it was begun. Personal anecdotes aside, Soulville is one of the classic pre-bebop era jazz albums. The Bear's tone is as seductive as ever, with tunes such as "Makin' Whoopee" even betraying a hint of whimsy; while accompaniment by the Oscar Peterson trio is unsurprisingly rock solid. On a whole, the track selection is slightly too sedate, but if you enjoy the sound of one of the tenor saxophone's most distinctively breathy players, Soulville is bound to satisfy.

Film:
A Very Long Engagement (Jean-Pierre Jeunet)

Probably too long and likely more tangential than any film in recent memory, this World War I epic is nonetheless an emotionally resonant and visually arresting bit of cinema from the French director of Delicatessan and, more recently, Amelie. The love story is about as classically romantic as they get nowadays, so if you're one of those unflinchingly ironic types, this might not be your bottle of Red Bull. To everyone else: highly recommended.

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