Oberlin students Nathan Swedlow (bass), Matt Gold (guitar), Saul Alpert-Abrams (guitar) & Julian Cartwright (violin)
Sporting the playful moniker Beards and Bass, this Oberlin quartet has been seen and heard playing hot club jazz (or gypsy jazz) tunes on a regular basis around campus and in town, including at the twice-monthly Observatory Open House events on the rooftop deck of Peters (pictured above).
On April 9th, WOBC jazz director Adam Hirsch invited the group into Studio B to play live on his show, Shades of Blue. You can listen to the three classic standards they played below. Fans of Django Reinhardt will be right at home.
Daniel Rossen, the guitarist/composer of Grizzly Bear and Department of Eagles acclaim, has been relatively inactive in the record world in recent years. Since the release of Grizzly Bear’s electrified masterstroke Veckatimest in 2009, Rossen has released a collection of old Department of Eagles demos and contributed a cover to Crayon Angel, a Judee Sill tribute album. After a three-year drought of new material, Rossen has finally released his long-awaited debut release as a solo artist on Warp Records: Silent Hour/Golden Mile, a five-track EP of all-new Rossen originals.
One of the most refreshing aspects of this release is that Warp gave Rossen free reign over the creation of the music; besides the help of some brass players, a lap-steel guitarist, a drummer on one track, and the masterful mixing of Nicholas Vehrnes at the Rare Book Room in New York, Rossen played almost every role on the record: composer, producer, performer, and engineer. The result is a personal, intimate product of Rossen’s solitary creative process.
“Up on High” kicks off the EP in classic Rossen style: soft acoustic guitar and vocals reverberate with huge force, painting a wide-open soundscape filled with fresh air and soothing chords. Other instruments are gradually brought in and out of the mix: tom-toms pound, a bowed upright bass moans, cymbals sizzle and fade away, all suddenly filling up the space and clearing away like waves on a shore. The whole situation seems like an expression of Rossen’s new freedom to create holistically, without any pressure from producers or collaborators; he seems to be talking to himself when sings, “In this big, empty room / Finally feel free / To sing for me”.
The whole EP really sticks to this idea of the music being a kind of emancipation for Rossen. Compared to the earlier music of Grizzly Bear and Department of Eagles—in which Rossen’s vocals are double-tracked and muddled beneath electronics and his own slippery articulation—Silent Hour/Golden Mile is a crisp, clean statement of his lyrical and musical ideas. The record tables a lot of the more abstract sounds heard on previous Rossen releases and adheres to a stripped-down, acoustic presentation of his songs. You can really hear this restrained economy of ideas on “Saint Nothing”, the fourth track on the EP: the slow, steady pulse of three simple piano chords recalls “Herring Bone” from Department of Eagles’ In Ear Park, while a gorgeous array of french horns, trombones, and trumpets meander softly in the background, confirming and responding to Rossen’s solemn vocals. The music is infinitely spacious and reposed, breathing in the fresh air of the blue desert twilight pictured in the EP’s cover.
Although Rossen has been hard at work developing his solo material, he is still keeping busy with his other projects. He has commented that some of the music on the EP was originally supposed to be on the new Grizzly Bear record (which is currently in the works), so we may expect the band’s new music to be influenced by Silent Hour/Golden Mile’s stripped-down vibe. The new EP, while showcasing a newfound spaciousness in Rossen’s sound, is also a great example of his development as a producer and engineer. With this release, Rossen is joining the ranks of people like Sufjan Stevens and Chaz Bundick (Toro y Moi), who play the solo musician-as-producer role better than most. With Rossen’s growing versatility as not only a musician but a creator of records, we can only expect his other projects to become more diverse and independent as a result.
You know the financial crisis has been going on for too long when bands as generally uplifting as Passion Pit can’t help but write songs about it. That’s not to say Passion Pit, founded and lead-singered by Michael Angelakos, did not just release a soundly uplifting and catchy new single. “Take a Walk” continues to perfect the upbeat, unabashed pop sound of the band’s music but is captured through a wounded and more personal filter.
The song opens with a sober introduction of flutes, accordions, and bells, that together sound sorrowful but are almost immediately replaced by a loud driving kick, happy organs and synths, and toy pianos. The song is not disjointed. It’s well-written, well-arranged pop, that leaves room for dancing, singing, reflecting, and most of all listening. In my opinion one of the best aspects of Passion Pit’s debut EP, was that it interested me as a student of music theory and player of music and as a dude in car with loud speakers. In an interview with Pitchfork, Angelakos mentions his love of trying to craft perfectly written songs, cited his major influences as Irving Berlin and Harold Arlen, among others, and mentioned his love of honesty, which apparently he claims is more and more absent from indie music nowadays.
Angelakos writes from the point of certain players in the recent financial meltdown, singing of ‘cowards’ blaming ‘socialist pigs’ for not ‘[admitting] they’re in need.’ It may sound contrived but he pulls it off simply through honesty in his lyrics. He’s telling the story of which we’ve been all been a part over the last few years and manages to convince us we might be okay, though times are still pretty shitty.
If you’re like me, then the idea of attractive, young-looking, Irish man-twins launching a semi-successful pop career through various music contests and the obsessions of ten year old Irish girls is like the best thing ever. Fortunately for us, Jedward exists. Made up of 20 year old (its okay, they’re legal) twins John and Edward, Jedward rose to a mild level of fame among tween girls in the UK and Ireland after their appearance on The X Factor in 2009. They were described by then-judge Simon Cowell as being “Not very good and incredibly annoying” (which is actually how most people would describe Simon Cowell, so whatever), and lost the competition. Then they released a CD of all the songs they covered on the X Factor, and did some other stuff, including releasing another album, modeling, doing charity whatever, being real cute, and representing Ireland in the 2011 and 2012 Eurovision contests.
No, they cannot sing well. No, they cannot dance well (although they do cartwheels and handstands and stuff sometimes). Yes, you will want to mute your computer and pretend to be looking at something else when you watch the videos below and someone walks past. But, if you are like me, you’ll probably enjoy it all the same. And if you dig it, don’t worry. They have another album coming out next month.
The four members of Philadelphia band Son Step draw from their diverse backgrounds in jazz, rock, folk and music from around the world to write and perform tight, rhythmic pop songs. Pat Lamborn, Matt Scarano, and twin brothers Jon and Chris Coyle all attended Temple University in the jazz studies department and now each have their feet in a wide variety of projects in the Philly music scene.
In April they toured the midwest, stopping in Oberlin between shows at The Happy Dog in Cleveland and at The Empty Bottle and The Burlington in Chicago. The band recorded some live takes of a few songs in WOBC’s Studio B, including a couple of new ones slated for an upcoming full-length album. Listen to those recordings below, and check out their Bandcamp page to listen to their past releases!
On Tuesday May 1st, the ‘Sco housed another option for electronic music for those who thought Fracture was really not enough. Addison Groove, a.k.a. Headhunter, but who introduces himself as Tony, played a very eclectic but very accessible set of house, drum and bass, minimalist, dubstep, juke, mixing genres and samples from many realms of danceable music. Considering how varied the styles he played were, it might seem that the concert was disjointed or going in too many directions, which couldn’t be further from the truth. What makes Addison Groove so special is actually somewhat evident in his moniker; groove. He never loses the groove. Though the styles varied, the beat prevailed and the crowd both of first-time listeners and more-than-one time listeners responded.
His new album as Addison Groove for 50 Weapons, Transistor Rhythm, dominated the first part of the set, but towards the end, he displayed his eclectic tastes and skills as a DJ. He also mixed on real vinyl which always looks shiny. For anybody who wants something new, check out Addison Groove and Headhunter.
The James and Susan Neumann Jazz Collection is the largest privately owned collection of jazz materials in the United States, and possibly the world. James Neumann, proprietor of the collection and an Oberlin Alumnus, decided last year to donate all of the materials to Oberlin. So far, the school has received about 45,000 vinyl LPs along with thousands of jazz periodicals and collectibles, which does not event amount to half of the entire collection. The recordings will not be available for students for some time, which is why WOBC has decided to give followers a regular taste of the collection’s rare gems. Disclaimer: Information and music posted are sourced from WOBC copies of albums also included in the Neumann Collection.
This week’s dig from the collection is a beauty: an original pressing of John Coltrane’s masterpiece A Love Supreme. This particular vinyl copy of the album is in its original monoaural format, kept in absolutely pristine condition since its pressing in the year of the record’s release, 1965. The amount of A Love Supreme copies of this kind probably amounts to a few thousand—but in terms of copies that are still in perfect condition, there must only be a handful in existence.
A Love Supreme was originally released on Impulse! records in February 1965. The whole record was cut in one session on December 9th, 1964 at the studio of master engineer Rudy Van Gelder in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. The personnel on the record consists of Coltrane’s legendary quartet of the early to mid-1960s: McCoy Tyner on Piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass, Elvin Jones on drums. The music is a suite in four parts: I. Acknowledgment; II. Resolution; III. Pursuance; IV. Psalm. Each movement is dedicated to a different aspect of Coltrane’s newfound devotion to God in the 1960s, and his deep spirituality is viscerally apparent in every moment of the record. Musically, each movement is based on a simple modal chord structure, over which Coltrane plays a short theme and then engages in a more or less “free” improvisation with the other members of the group.
The design and layout of this particular printing of the album is unique for Impulse! records. Most Impulse! releases bear a colorful photograph on the cover, the signature black and orange label on the side binding, and a foldout that includes liner notes, additional information, and photos of the featured musicians. The original release of A Love Supreme, however, bears a stunning black-and-white photo of Coltrane’s face in a position of meditative repose, a matching black-and-white side label, and a foldout that is filled up by a hand-drawn image of Coltrane playing his instrument and personal inscription from the saxophonist/composer proclaiming his love for The Almighty.
It’s clear from the design of the whole package that the record label felt this release needed special treatment. Impulse! turned out to be correct in its projection of the album’s importance: it is one of the best-selling jazz records of all time, and is held as a centerpiece of inspiration by countless musicians. It goes whithout saying that Oberlin is extremely privileged to own an original, mint-condition record of this historic album.