Thursday, February 11th
Streaming idiosyncrasy: Internet radio from the backwoods
I'm recommending two Internet radio stations today that share a number of characteristics, one of which is that they are both labours of love.
Hober is a wonderfully idiosyncratic Internet radio station which broadcasts from a geodesic dome (above) in an oak forest outside Washington DC. Although the last time I checked the dome houses three stories, three T1 lines and 30 computers, the music programming is about as far removed from high tech as could be imagined. As founder Gregor Markowitz explains: Lets face it, there are most likely a lot of artificial creations in the vicinity of your computers right now. The last thing you need is artificial music. Hober brings unvarnished sounds into a glossy space.
You used to need the free RealPlayer to listen to Hober's streams. In this case, the player window displays details of the tracks being played, messages from listeners and recommended website links. A couple of years ago they added an MP3 stream, so since then I've often tuned in using iTunes.
Much of the music youll hear on Hober Thinking Radio is what is often described nowadays as Americana bluegrass, American folk, blues and so on. But the overall effect is more eclectic and multi-dimensional than that implies. The essential theme is that most of the programming is acoustic, and they regularly include seldom-heard World music, jazz, celtic, reggae and pieces from select contemporary artists. Hober Thinking Radio is a breath of fresh air-waves on the Internet. When your ears feel like returning to nature, give them a treat by tuning in to this great station.
My second recommendation is Whole Wheat Radio, broadcasting from a little plywood cabin (above) in Talkeetna, Alaska. Like most webcasting stations, they focus on independent musicians, but their choice of genres includes acoustic, folk, jazz, classical, bluegrass, singer-songwriter, swing, big-band, new age, instrumental, blues, spoken word, and humour.
One of the things thats really special about Whole Wheat Radio is that theyve compensated for the fact that the music is usually programmed in advance so the volunteer DJs are not always live online by allowing the playlist to be over-ridden by listener requests. Their website was converted into a 'wiki' a while back, which is entirely appropriate to their open, cooperative approach. An example of how well the community feel works is that a listener competition produced a number of new logo suggestions, including the fun one above. Listeners can make requests, chat to each other, and even call in to an Alaskan number to leave a message that's broadcasted at the end of the current song. I applaud founder Jim Kloss for his terrific contribution to Internet culture, and thoroughly recommend that you give WWR a listen.
Friday, December 11th, 2009
Get ready to tap those chicken feet
My old pal Sean Bergin is bringing the latest version of his Song Mob to the Bimhuis next Monday evening for a free one-set concert. The set will also serve as a presentation of his new CD Chicken Feet, which features recordings made at the same venue two years ago. The title track has become a Song Mob favourite since he added vocals to his Mob (my own band) in 2005 and it being featured on the first Song Mob CD, Fat Fish in 2007.
Sean arrived in Amsterdam from South Africa a few years before me in 1975, and I got to know him in the early 80s when I was introduced by an even older and sadly missed mutual pal to the Sunday afternoon jam sessions at the Engelbewaarder. His music, and the several formations he performs with, reflects a wide range of influences, but nearly always features improvisation together with his South African roots, warm personality and sense of humour.
The latest incarnation of his Mob playing at the Bimhuis on the 14th will feature daughter Unas vocals, Anna Koene on harps, Felicity Provan on cornet and vocals, Ernst Glerum on bass and Alan Purves on percussion. Australian Felicity Provan has been mainly based in Amsterdam since 1990, and has regularly played with Sean and other local improvisers since then. Shes often been featured in one or other Mob, including their performances at the North Sea Jazz Festival, and can also be heard on Fat Fish. Ernst Glerum is this years winner of the prestigious VPRO Boy Edgar prize, which Sean himself won back in 2000. Hes played with Sean on and off for years, and is featured on previous Mob CDs Copy Cat (1999), Mob Mobiel (2003) and Fat Fish. Scottish percussionist Alan Purves has also often played with Sean in and out of Mob iterations, including Mob Mobiel, and shares his affinity for ethnic rhythms. A guaranteed blast..
Friday, October 9th, 2009
Probably the best Internet folk station. Period.
In the five years since I first discovered Folk Alley, I've recommended it to many people who I know share my affection for quality acoustic music. It remains one of my online music favourites, so I'm delighted to spread the word again as this month's recommended Internet radio destination .
FolkAlley.com is produced by WKSU-FM in Kent, Ohio, a service of Kent State University that first went on air 50 years ago. Folk music has long played an important role in WKSUs programming, and the University has hosted the Kent State Folk Festival for over three decades. WKSU supports live folk concerts at venues across Northeast Ohio and broadcasts more original hours of folk music than nearly any other radio station in America.
The streaming music programming for Folk Alley is created and hosted by Jim Blum, and the eclectic mix he chooses features both established and obscure singer/songwriters, Celtic, acoustic, traditional, and world music. Blum has been hosting a folk music show on WKSU for over twenty years. He provides entertaining, informative yet unobtrusive (short!) commentary on the music hes playing in the stream. The site also features a blog he writes, which includes news, CD reviews, artist interviews and reflections on the industry.
Versions of the stream are available in the three most popular formats: windows media player, real player and MP3. The latter format means the stream can be run from iTunes, but note as always that you really need a broadband connection. FolkAlley.com is unusually well-designed for a streaming radio website.
A feature I particularly like is the continually updated playlist window, which lets you know the title, artist and reference number of the track to which youre listening and the same information for the ten previously played items. Despite being a fan of the genre, the playlist has already turned me on to a number of talented people I hadnt heard before.
Friday, August 21st, 2009
The beer part I can get. Why a sextet should call themselves a trio eludes me. Im sure theres a story behind it, but none of that matters now, because...
Trio Bier Rides Again!
Its been around 15 years since this legendary Dutch band released their debut, Verspilde Tranen (Wasted Tears, or perhaps Tears Down the Drain). In between there have been a number of others, together with a collection of farewell and comeback concerts to keep us on our toes.
As my relatively free translation of their own bio goes: A band that sings in Dutch, who perhaps began too soon, or just as likely stopped too early: Trio Bier! Theyve certainly been called the best kept secret of the Netherlands. Their farewell concerts yes, there have been a few have drawn fans from Limburg to the north of Noord Holland, and were played in sold-out venues from the Paradiso to the Kleine Komedie.
But blood will out and breeding will tell the wild young guns have been working on a big comeback! After years of uncertainty and some great Heintje Davids (a famous Dutch revue singer, just as famous for his own comebacks), the time has come for the resurrection of Trio Bier!"
Recorded after the same fashion as the basement tapes, the new CD De Droom Voorbij (The Dream is Over) could perhaps be subtitled the attic tapes, as it was recorded in an improvised studio under the roof of band member (and genuinely nice bloke) Rini Dobbelaars Amsterdam home. The twelve new songs which you can preview here have a wonderful rough-hewn quality. Singer Jan Eilander tells us that theyve not yet been mastered, but I hope once they are that they retain this quality. You can hear them live and judge for yourselves on Thursday 3rd September, upstairs at the Paradiso in Amsterdam. Highly recommended.
Thursday, June 11th, 2009
July is Europes jazz month again
For the fifth year running, heres my blog round-up of a selection of next months European jazz festivals. Before too many of the most popular concerts sell out, Im taking a tour around the continent again today to sample some of this year's offerings a month ahead. If youd like to take a side trip to check out more about the seven festivals Im listing, click on the graphics to open the sites in a new window.
Lets start with the three giants of European summer jazz festivals: in Switzerland, Holland and France. The Montreux, North Sea and Nice events have become bloated with a bewildering number of big name acts for years now, and this year is no exception. Montreux remains the big daddy of them all, and although Ive been critical of them losing their focus on jazz in the past, they have put together a great line-up for 2009. I also criticized their 2008 website, but theyve put a lot of thought and work into the site this year. So much so, its an example of excellent design, written content and intuitive navigation. My picks for 2009 are Steely Dan on the 4th (whose European tour opens here in Amsterdam on the 25th of this month, and who are also appearing in Perugia see below), Herbie Hancock & Lang Lang on the 5th (also at the North Sea see below), Steve Winwood on the 9th and Baaba Maal on the 10th.
This years three-day North Sea Jazz Festival is being held on July 10th, 11th and 12th for the fourth time in the Ahoy in Rotterdam. Once again, fitting so many performances into three days means many simultaneous concerts on no less than 18 stages. My highlights in Rotterdam would be Saturdays James Taylor (who will also be in Copenhagen, Nice, Perugia and San Sebastian, and whose band is slated to include the brilliant Steve Gadd and Jimmy Johnson), Burt Bacharach, Charlie Haden & friends, and Sundays Herbie Hancock with Lang Lang.
The French Rivieras week-long Nice Jazz Festival follows as usual this year from July 18th to 25th. Being longer means Nice only needs two stages, and all the music happens in the evening, so theres less chance of musical overload. The setting and the climate are also big plusses. My picks from the 2009 edition are the Brad Mehldau Trio on the 18th, Joe Jackson on the 21st, James Taylor (see above) on the 22nd and Chick Corea with Gary Burton on the 24th.
Copenhagen has a deserved reputation as one of Europes jazz capitals, so its no surprise that it also has a major festival each summer. This years Copenhagen Jazz Festival is being held from 3rd 12th July. The picks I managed to find despite this years sites ghastly navigation are Chick Coreas solo piano concert on the 5th and James Taylor (again
) on the 8th.
A number of great jazz events are held in Italy every summer. One of my favourites is the Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia, which takes place again next month from the 10th to the 19th. Included this year are Steely Dan on the 11th, Burt Bacharach on the 16th and James Taylor (yes, here too
) on the 18th.
My last selection from the many jazz festivals on offer in Europe next month rounds off our tour from 22nd to 26th July in the lovely Northern Spanish city of San Sebastian. The citys Heineken Jazzaldia rivals the nearby Vitoria-Gasteiz Jazz Festival held earlier in the month, and I think outshines it this year. My picks are Brad Mehldau on the 22nd, the Buena Vista Social Club on the 23rd and you guessed it James Taylor again on the 26th.
Tuesday, April 14th, 2009
Serendipity & Memories
One of the enduring pleasures of the looking around the web is that it can be a bit like rummaging through an attic full of interesting stuff. While searching for something completely different last Tuesday and I cant now even remember what it provided yet another moment of serendipity. One of my favourite musicians from my youth who I hadnt heard of for years Terry Reid was playing a gig at a club in New York that night. Before long I was reading through his official site and a well-stocked fansite, which in turn informed me that hed be playing three nights at one of my favourite music places this summer.
Terry Reid is one of those archetypal musicians musicians and unfortunately, along with a number of others whove been described this way, he suffered contractual foul-ups that undoubtedly contributed to his catalogue of recordings being a whole lot shorter than it should have been. Especially for someone who was already a rising star in the mid-sixties and, as he was preparing to record his first solo album in 1968, turned down Jimmy Pages offer to front the band that would be Led Zeppelin. In Terrys case, the legal issues were followed and compounded by the bad luck of the release of two later albums coinciding with their labels going through administrative and financial problems.
My personal favourite has always been Seed of Memory, which came out in 1976, when I was running a record store in central London. Listening to it again now certainly brings back a lot of memories. Along with Rogue Waves, which was first released three years later, its now available from BGO (the Beat Goes On) Records, an independent reissue label based in Bury St Edmunds. One of the most popular bootlegs I used to stock in the store at that time was Silver White Light, a recording of Terrys performance at the 1970 Isle Of Wight Festival. Im pleased to say that five years ago it finally received an official release. It sounds very much better than the bootleg, and is available on iTunes, along with River (1973, which I never liked as much) and Super Lungs, a compilation of his first two 68 and 69 albums. Im seriously considering taking a long weekend in June to see him at Ronnie Scotts.