Wildcard - Theo Bleckmann
A jazz singer and new music composer of eclectic tastes and prodigious gifts, GRAMMY® nominated Theo Bleckmann makes music that is accessibly sophisticated, unsentimentally emotional, and seriously playful, leading his work to be described as “from another planet” (New York Times), as “magical, futuristic,” (AllAboutJazz), “limitless” (Citypaper, Philadelphia) “transcendent” (Village Voice) and “brilliant” (New York Magazine). Theo Bleckmann will be performing June 16-21 in residence at The Stone in New York City. For more information visit: http://www.thestonenyc.com/calendar.php
Also be sure to check out the newly released Julia Hulsmann Quartet with Theo Bleckmann recording "A Clear Midnight: Kurt Weill and America," which just received this great review on JazzTimes.com.
I was a bit shocked to see that I had listened to Judee’s Sill song “Jesus was a Cross Maker” 1123 times. And it’s still not enough. She’s probably the biggest secret of any singer-songwriter out there. The lovely folks of Kneebody brought her music to my attention. A few years back we collaborated on a Judee Sill project that we performed only a few times.
Her writing, singing and lyrics are easily on the level of, lets say, Joni Mitchell. Her all too short life (she died in 1979) and her even stranger CV certainly have to potential to make her a cult figure. Why isn’t she more known? Perhaps because she only put out two records? But let’s get back to the actual music, which is deeply influenced by Bach and his forms. Her lyrics speak of Christianity and redemption but somehow don’t come off as proselytizing or missionary to me. He beautifully simple, straightforward singing serves the music and content and there is nothing superfluous or distracting in her delivery - no false emoting. Listen to “The Donor” with its many tracks of male and female overdubs of echo-y voices singing Kyrie Elision, recorded way before looping or that kind of layering were common practice. More than a trailblazer in studio work, her music works in the context of her own recording and as stand-alone compositions. Check out her live studio recording of “The Kiss” on YouTube, shot at the BBC in 1973: Mesmerizing.
Obsessed with Johannsson’s music for a while, this might be his crown jewel. The orchestration and performance of these pieces is lush and thick and despite the ambient and repetitive character of his music it never seems to wear off. Or as Brian Eno says: Repetition is a form of change. Miners’ Hymns is the soundtrack to a beautiful and equally epic film by Bill Morrison about the ill-fated coal mining communities in Northeast England. The film has no dialogue, so Johannsson’s music serves as the story teller. I can highly recommend both, as a night of visual and aural immersion.
One of the most interesting (jazz) singer-composer-lyricists comes from Melbourne Australia. I have been listening to this collection of songs since Gian gave me an advance copy three years ago, and it’s been a staple in my listening rotation ever since. Besides her impeccable musicianship, intonation and improvisational skills, her depth really knocks me over each time. She gets to an emotional truth through actual content in her writing and singing. I love Gian’s use of metaphors and images in her lyrics.
“I’m my own worst enemy
And the friend I really need
Take advice that I would give”
In another song (unfortunately not on this record) she sings:
“ I’d like someone who is tall as a tower
who doesn’t move an inch when the wind blows.
With concrete skin, unshakable power, don’t let nobody in through your front door.
But here you go defender of so and so
You stand on your pedestal tall watching them all down below.”
Gian’s voice is light and precise. There is such sweetness and innocence in her pure and clear sound, and yet her lyrics can sometimes be dark or mysterious; a wonderful contradiction that lures you in when you least expect it to.
John Hollenbeck played this record for me over 10 years ago and I am still listening to these solo piano pieces with the same excitement and wonder as I did when I first heard them. The writing on this record has deeply influenced my own writing. The combination of Satie and Mal Waldron in this music shimmers with detail and mystery. The pieces take their time to unravel and I appreciate the calmness and steady pace at which they move. They often feel more like sculptures than music. This is a record that always makes me stop whatever I am doing and truly listen.