Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Joel Frahm Quartet: Live at Smalls

My review of a new album by tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm was just published in The New York City Jazz Record.  Check out the PDF version of the paper at if you're interested.  The last time I saw Mr. Frahm, two summers ago at the Bar Next Door in the West Village, I was studying jazz criticism with Ben Ratliff.  Quite a lot has happened since then.  I am now living in New York--Long Island City, to be exact--and will start a job in digital journalism in the new year.

Mr. Frahm's new album was recorded live at Smalls, one of my favorite jazz clubs in New York City.  I've only been there once--two summers ago, to see the stride pianist Mike Lipskin--but I remember it fondly.  I hope to visit the club many more times in my new tenure as a New Yorker.

Here's the first paragraph of my review:

The black and white snapshots arrayed on the inside flap of "Live at Smalls," tenor saxist Joel Frahm’s latest recording, show the members of his quartet in the middle of a thought, with their eyes closed: guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel is reaching high up for a note on the neck of his hollow body; bassist Joe Martin hugs his instrument in closely, wearing a look of seeming elation; drummer Otis Brown III (unfortunately listed as a pianist) swings coolly on his ride cymbal. Then there’s Frahm, hunching his shoulders in tightly, brow furrowed, drawing the audience in with his focus. You wish you could have seen the show in color, especially at Smalls, that unpretentious basement hangout in the West Village. But this live recording is intimate enough.  

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My Judeo-Christmas Roots

I promise, this is the last post (at least for the year) about the relationship between Judaism and Christmas.  A blog post I wrote about my relationship with Christmas was just published on the website of Moment Magazine, and I figured I'd share it with you.

Here's the first two paragraphs:

Christmas doesn’t mean much to me anymore, though for the first ten years of my life, it was my favorite holiday. Pretty standard, even for a Jewish child, to be drawn in with eager spirit by that yuletide festivity. But you might wonder: why only ten years?

In my fourth year of elementary school, my parents decided that our family would stop celebrating Christmas, and that abrupt halt, to me, signaled the end of an era. Why were we, a secular Jewish family, celebrating this holiday in the first place? Well, as a child, my mom adored Christmas; she celebrated the holiday every year with her paternal grandmother. (My grandfather, her dad, converted to Judaism for my grandmother, a child of Depression-era Brownsville.)

Read the rest here.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A John Zorn Christmas

A young Zorn, now 58
I reviewed John Zorn's first Christmas album, "A Dreamers Christmas," for the Arty Semite, a blog over at the Jewish Daily Forward.  What wonderful music it is.  John Zorn is as prolific as he is omnivorous, and this album is a testament to that.

Here's the first two paragraphs: 

The CD case to John Zorn’s first Christmas record, "A Dreamers Christmas," comes as a sort of stocking. Reaching into the sleeve you’ll find, along with the CD, a sheet of stickers that could represent a new line of holiday-themed Giga Pets.

You might be tempted to over-think this album, with its cute and somewhat disturbing iconography, especially if you’ve come to expect music from Zorn more agitating than these lovely tracks. You shouldn’t. Zorn released this album through his own label, Tzadik, which puts out a steady stream of avant-garde recordings. And although he only served as producer and arranger here, this jazz album is as much Zorn’s brainchild as it is the Dreamers’, the band he assembled.

Read the rest here.

And listen to a rendition of "The Christmas Song," featuring Mike Patton, from the album:

Friday, December 9, 2011

Ralston Heights

The Castle at Ralston Heights
This has nothing to do with jazz, but I'm proud of it, so I figured I'd share it with you.  I recently wrote a story for the Hopewell Express about an old mansion in my hometown, Hopewell, NJ, that was once the capital of a strange health cult.  Its figurehead was Webster Edgerly, a weird, paranoid man who formed his own obsessive-compulsive philosophy of racial purity in the late 1800s.  He planned to put his beliefs into action on Ralston Heights, where the mansion sits.  There have been stories about this guy circulating in my town for a long time.  That's why I was happy to do the research and reporting necessary to put it all in perspective.  Here are the first four paragraphs:

Small-town stories are often apocryphal, the stuff of popular myth. However, in the case of Webster Edgerly, a bigoted health reformer who moved to Hopewell in the late 1800s to establish a utopian community based on his own principles of hygiene and eugenics, the odd and disturbing stories surrounding him are mostly true. 

Next to the Lindbergh House, probably the most well-known artifact of Hopewell’s parochial history is the Castle, across the street from the Highland Cemetery on Greenwood Avenue, up a long, gravel road, and tucked snugly away in a wooded clearing dappled with tall Japanese maples and ginkgo trees. 

Most Hopewell residents are told that an eccentric white supremacist once lived there; that he wanted to create an exclusive, utopian community; that he failed, and his mansion—the Castle—is all that really remains. Those details are, indeed, accurate. 

And today, the current residents of the mansion—a married couple seeking to foster community involvement—serve as an intriguing foil to the legacy of the bizarre man who once haunted the estate formerly known as Ralston Heights.

Read the rest here.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Dead Cat Bounce, Again

Chance Episodes
I reviewed the Dead Cat Bounce album "Chance Episodes" for Exclaim! back in October, and I liked it a lot.  So much so that I chose it as one of the best jazz albums of the year for Exclaim!'s "Improv & Avant-Garde 2011: 10 Favourites" list.  (Note the Canadian English, which I find so charming!)  I usually feel that I lack the knowledge to make an informed decision for these lists.  But the jazz editor at the magazine told me to just go for it.  So I did.