All posts filed under: Music

Paul Dano stars as Brian Wilson in "Love & Mercy." Photo Credit: Francois Duhamel.

‘Love & Mercy’ shows the making of the Beach Boys’ ‘Pet Sounds’

Early on in “Love & Mercy,” the middle-aged Brian Wilson of the 1980s phones up a car saleswoman he’s just met, Melinda (a luminous Elizabeth Banks), and says, “Hi, it’s Brian Wilson from The Beach Boys.” It’s a fact he was coy about acknowledging when they first met, but it works as a good, if funny, identifier. When asked why he was initially reluctant to own this, he comments that fame and all that is just “ego stuff,” because what matters is the work. That emphasis on craft as the ultimate achievement is an admirable one that’s becoming increasingly a part of how we talk about musical greatness in films, from “Whiplash,” to “Seymour: An Introduction,” and it’s a big part of how the film envisions Brian Wilson, as a working musician pursuing new sounds and perfection. Unfolding across two different decades — in the 1960s with Wilson in his twenties (Paul Dano) and in the 1980s with Wilson in his forties (John Cusack) — in parallel, “Love & Mercy” charts Wilson’s mental breakdown that began …

Simon Russell Beale – King Lear. Photo Credit: Mark Douet.

The best non-film posts of 2014 at The Seventh Row

Although I mostly dedicated my time to reviewing films in 2014, I still dabbled in theatre, television, and music reviews — my other passions. Here’s a look at my best writing of 2014 for The Seventh Row that’s not about film. 1. Theatre Review: Sam Mendes delivers a lucid, dark, and funny “King Lear” for NTLive One of the best plays I saw this year was Sam Mendes’s production of “King Lear” starring Simon Russell Beale (who played Falstaff in “The Hollow Crown” films) at the National Theatre of London. The show was broadcast to cinemas around the world via NTLive, and I wrote about why this was such an exciting reimagining of the Bard’s play and how well it played on cinema screens. Here’s an excerpt from my review of the production:  “In Sam Mendes’s almost flawless production of King Lear at the National Theatre, broadcasted live to cinemas worldwide through NTLive, Lear (the phenomenal Simon Russell Beale) is a megalomaniac slowly losing his mind. He suffers from dementia and is prone to violent, childlike outbursts of …

Courtesy of Shaftway Productions.

Led by mandolinist Chris Thile, The Punch Brothers reinvent bluegrass in “How to Grow a Band”

Is it possible to have a successful band when its members may not be musical equals, even if they are all very talented virtuosos? It was a central question in Cameron Crowe’s film “Almost Famous” about the often bickering, fictional band Stillwater, which had a guitarist who had musically surpassed his peers. Since it was also a film about a young rock critic following the band, we also got an inside look at how a poorly thought out quote in an interview could put the band at odds. There are are scenes in Mark Meatto’s documentary, “How to Grow a Band”, about the progressive bluegrass band, Punch Brothers, that seem to be straight out of “Almost Famous”. Early in the film, guitarist Chris Eldridge reads out a magazine interview with their mandolinist and vocalist Chris Thile. In it, Thile gives Eldridge a back-handed compliment, now a source of tension. Thile claims he was misquoted. Twenty-six-year-old Thile is the musical genius behind the band and everyone knows it, no matter how much he insists to the …

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There were never too many notes from solo mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile at the SFJAZZ Centre

In the encore to Chris Thile’s fantastic sold out show at the SFJAZZ Centre on Friday, the refrain went: “I’ll play you a song on the mandolin. There’ll be too many notes, but then again…There ain’t too many folks can play too many notes on the mandolin”. And many notes there were – although never too many – across many genres, from classical music to bluegrass, all infused with Thile’s signature virtuosity and clarity. Within the first fifteen minutes of the concert, Thile had already made his way from seventeenth century baroque music to twenty-first century pop and his own original compositions. He opened the concert with J.S. Bach’s Sonata no. 1 in G Minor for solo violin, and seamlessly segued, without stopping or skipping a beat, into a couple of consecutive bluegrass tunes. Genre-hopping is something Thile is legendary for, having in the past year performed in a jazz duo with pianist Brad Mehldau, in the folk/bluegrass quartet with cellist Yo-Yo Ma (whom he regularly upstaged), and with his progressive bluegrass group Punch Brothers. …

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Interview with Stanley Clarke

On Saturday, jazz bass legend Stanley Clarke will take the stage at Dinkelspiel Auditorium with his trio – pianist John Beasley and drummer Mike Mitchell – for what is sure to be one of the highlights of the Stanford Jazz Festival. In anticipation of his performance, Intermission talked to Mr Clarke about his upcoming performance, where we can expect a mix of acoustic and electric bass, his approach to composition, and the future of jazz. Clarke, a Philadelphia native, entered the New York jazz scene in 1971, playing with greats like Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, and Joe Henderson, and eventually forming the legendary “Return to Forever” group with Chick Corea. He is now a veteran performer, composer, conductor, arranger, producer, and film score composer, with several recent Grammys to his name. A lyrical, virtuosic bass player, Stanley Clarke is equally comfortable playing the melody center stage as crafting bass lines. When Clarke was learning to play the bass, he explains, his “thoughts about music had pretty much crystallized”; his mother was a professional opera singer, …

Courtesy of Chris Potter Music.

Review: Chris Potter Quartet at Yoshi’s Oakland

The great jazz saxophonist Chris Potter brought his newest project as a bandleader, the Chris Potter Quartet, to Yoshi’s Oakland last Sunday for a fantastic show. Since his career began twenty years ago, Potter has distinguished himself as one of the very best and most virtuosic saxophonists on the scene, equally comfortable as a sideman for bassist Dave Holland in his progressive Dave Holland Quintet as with the more traditional pianist McCoy Tyner at Herbst Theatre in 2011. He’s amassed an impressive resume as a sideman with much of the who’s who of jazz today, including recently with the new Axis Quartet with Joshua Redman.

Weekend Jazz: James Farm, Mulgrew Miller & Kenny Barron, and Hugh Laurie

The Memorial Day long weekend was an amazing one for jazz fans on both sides of the Bay, featuring musicians young and old from a variety of styles. I started off the weekend with a trip to Yoshi’s Oakland on Friday, a venue with consistently high-quality international acts on a student budget, making it well worth the trip across the Bay. This weekend, Yoshi’s Oakland hosted the internationally acclaimed saxophonist Joshua Redman, who is also a local North Berkeley resident, with his collaborative acoustic jazz project James Farm: bassist Matt Penman, pianist Aaron Parks and drummer Eric Harland. The group plays all original music from what Redman calls their “greatest and only album,” also titled “James Farm,” with compositions by everyone in the band. And it’s all very contemporary and hip. Playing to a sold-out house, James Farm performed a fantastic opening set. Though it was clear from the start that Redman, switching between soprano and alto sax, is the standout star of the group, by the third or fourth number the group was starting …

Review: Hiromi Trio Project

The Hiromi Trio Project were on fire at Yoshi’s Oakland last Thursday at 8 p.m., their first show of the weekend. Though the performance was a few parts fusion, there was solid classical jazz alongside it. The 90-minute set was largely a showcase of pieces from the group’s latest album, “Voice,” recorded with Anthony Jackson on bass guitar and Simon Phillips on drums joining Hiromi on piano. The group started the set with the original composition “Delusion” and within seconds they were in full gear as they had done all their warming up backstage prior to the set. It was a triumphant concert all the way through. Hiromi stuck almost exclusively to the Yamaha grand, with only the occasional diversion to the keyboards, hitting a zenith in “Now or Never” as she played a call-and-response sequence between the keyboards on the left hand and the piano on the right. As much as I tend to hate keyboards finding their way into jazz, Hiromi’s deft handling of the board really added to the performance, giving her two different …

Dave Holland Overtone Quartet jazzes up SF

It goes without saying that when a concert involves bassist Dave Holland and saxophonist Chris Potter—in collaboration—it’s going to be good. Holland’s rhapsodic syncopated bass lines and Potter’s counterpoint cerebral, dissonant, rich sax are at their best live and always sound amazing, no matter who the two are playing with. They’ve both played with their fair share of masters: Holland with Miles Davis and Potter recently with Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner. These two are born performers, completely brilliant and enthralling on stage; despite owning all of their albums, I rarely listen to them at home but never miss their concerts. Yet what makes these two real performers is not just their inventiveness but also their knack for togetherness. Holland and Potter have been playing together in the Dave Holland Quintet for years, and it shows; they are remarkably in sync. Holland knows how to lead a band to collaborate, to build off one another, to keep adding layers of rhythm and harmony step by step. I’ve seen Potter do the same when he leads his Underground …

Stanley Clarke Band delivers jazzy performance (Stanford Daily)

Stanley Clarke Band recently swung through San Francisco, playing a fantastic show with a familiar repertoire re-imagined. From the album “Return to Forever,” the song “No Mystery” was recreated for an acoustic ensemble, full of energy and spunk but with no signs of fusion, and with space made for the violin to play a key part in sharing the melody with the piano. The Band transforms pieces from Clarke’s relaxed, cool jazz trio album “Jazz in the Garden,” such as “Paradigm Shift,” “Sakura Sakura” and “Three Wrong Notes,” into something closer to bebop. They’ve got the energetic rock sensibilities, but thankfully and gratifyingly, they stuck to their jazz and fusion- free roots. There is no other jazz bassist quite like Stanley Clarke. Though his mainstream fame comes from his rock-star fusion electric bass playing from “Return to Forever,” it’s his upright bass work where he’s a true visionary. He has the uncanny ability to play the bass like a cellist, equally comfortable leading the melody or backing it up with bass lines that do so …