The New iswhat?! Album is Called things that go bump in the dark

things that go bump in the dark is the new full-length release by Cincinnati’s iswhat?!, a hip-hop band that has toured the US and Europe and performed with major jazz artists, among them Archie Shepp, Oliver Lake and Hamid Drake. It’s a fine record, and I’m happy to report that, along with being available as a CD or a download, this full-length release had come out on vinyl. Locally the CD and LP are available at Shake-It and Everybody’s; online you can buy it on cdbaby and iTunes.

If you’ve caught ishwat?!, chances are you’ve seen Napoleon Solo Vox fronting a trio. On things that go bump in the dark band members change and band sizes fluctuate with each song, and others artists share some of the vocal duties. My sense is that Napoleon is still the mastermind behind the music, but, like Kip Hanrahan, he constantly shuffles musicians in order to make the words and music come to life.

More than half the cuts feature Hamid Drake, who happens to be one of the best drummers in the world. He’s also one of the most versatile, and he’s as comfortable laying down a hip-hop groove as he is playing avant-garde jazz with Ken Vandermark or Peter Brotzmann. Continue reading “The New iswhat?! Album is Called things that go bump in the dark”

A New James Brown Biography

I recently finished RJ Smith’s The One: The Life and Music of James Brown, and the impression I came away with was that by the time JB’s first single came out every day of his life was action packed.

In fact, I would guess that some days contained so many plots and sub-plots an entire novel could be written about one of them.

Probably there are thousands of stories to tell, and what impresses me about The One is Smith’s ability to tie together so many tales and still craft an entertaining and highly readable book. The One clocks in at just shy of 400 pages, but so much is packed into those pages that, considering how much information it contains, you would expect it to be twice that length.

Much of the book is focused on Cincinnati, where James Brown recorded countless singles and albums for King Records, hung out, met people, made friends and enemies, and worked with local musicians.

My favorite part of the book is where Smith recounts how Bootsy Collins added something to the band’s chemistry that helped take James Brown’s music to the next level. What happened seemed to be a combination of serendipity, raw talent and the kind of immersion in music that people experience when they’re aware that they have a chance to break something open.

Speaking of serendipity, I should mention that RJ Smith, whose extensive writing creds include gigs with Village Voice and Spin, is now moving to the city where James Brown recorded for King Records. A prior resident of Detroit and LA, Smith was recently hired as an editor for Cincinnati Magazine. As a music geek, I’m excited that he’s moving here, especially at a time when recognition of our rich musical history seems to be growing.

Gotta Groove Records

My theme this week is records, which are coming back with a vengeance, as the 1st Annual Northside Record Fair indicates.  In 2007 sales of new LPs dipped to below a million, but by 2009 sales jumped to 2.5 million, and the number climbed to 3.9 million in 2011—and that’s just for LPs that have bar codes, which is probably less than half of the total records released. (And I’ve yet to hear a count for 7-inches; I don’t think anyone has figured out how to count them yet.) Continue reading “Gotta Groove Records”

The Cincinnati Film Festival Returns September 6 – 14

The Cincinnati Film Festival is returning to Cincinnati on September 6-14. Today I had a chance to talk to Executive Director of the festival, Katharine Steele, about the event. For this, the third year, the primary (but not the sole) location will be the Esquire Theatre in Clifton, and as I talked to Katharine it became clear that along with bringing in movies from all over, the festival is as much about people, and Cincinnati, as it is about movies.  “We have more filmmakers coming in this year than in any of the three years, from NYC to LA and everywhere in between,” she explained. “It’s all about welcoming them here, showcasing their films to a new audience, and introducing the filmmakers to our city. If they like Cincinnati, maybe they’ll want to make a movie here.”

For more information on the festival, go to the festival’s website, cincinnatifilmfestival.com.

How do you choose the movies you choose?

The majority of the films are submissions through Without a Box, an online submission tool. This year we had submissions open from April 1 to July 1. Then our all-volunteer screening committee and staff reviews and puts down feedback for our submitted films. Submitted films that are accepted become part of our Official Selections, eligible for juried awards. Invited films, which usually already have distribution, are not. Continue reading “The Cincinnati Film Festival Returns September 6 – 14”

Blues Merchants Return with Tattoed with the Blues

Blues music is tricky. We’ve all been to shows where blues artists tear through a set like nobody’s business, yet when you get home and listen to their albums their recordings don’t do them justice. Somehow the energy that comes through when a fired-up audience is on hand up just doesn’t translate to the studio.

That problem does not apply, however, to the new Blues Merchants album, Tattoed with the Blues. A five-piece Cincinnati band. the Blues Merchants formed in 2006. Tattoed is their second full-length release, and it’s clear that the excitement of their live shows also comes through on their studio recordings. The band is tight but not slick, and although the sound is polished, it still has a live-in-the-studio feel. For this we have to give some credit to Ron Esposito, who produced the record and who also, along with Bill Gwynne, helped mix it.

Something else that stands out on the record is the songwriting, which is primarily split between guitarist Chris Kepes and keyboardist Bob Nave. You may have heard Bob on the radio (WNOP and WVXU, among others), and you may have heard him in other local bands, including the Lemon Pipers, whose “Green Tambourine” was a #1 single in 1968; they also performed at Ludlow Garage. Bob slips in some nice keyboard licks on the record, and Chris Kepes is a versatile guitarist whose slide work bears special mention. Continue reading “Blues Merchants Return with Tattoed with the Blues”

Lisa Biales Interview; She’s Playing Seasongood Pavilion This Friday

This Friday, June 27, at Seasongood Pavilion in Eden Park, a free concert will take place as part of the Edensong series. The artists performing that night will be Lisa Biales, Neil Jacobs, Noah Wotherspoon & Jessi Bair, The Tillers and Ricky Nye. The show starts at 8 pm and ends at 10 pm—and make sure you get there in time, because Lisa Biales will be opening the show with a solo performance. Lisa recently released her seventh CD, Just Like Honey, and recently I had a chance to chat with her about her new CD, touring, and her recent appearance in a Francis Ford Coppola film.

I’m making sure to tell everyone to show up on time for the concert, because you’re kicking it off.

I’m kicking it off, and I’m asking Ricky Nye, who’s closing the show, to sit in with me. Continue reading “Lisa Biales Interview; She’s Playing Seasongood Pavilion This Friday”

John Ray Is a Rock Star

In a recent blog I discussed how I sought out music that challenged me, and apparently I feel same way about drama, because I was quite fond of The Sweet, Burning Yonder by John Ray. Yes, he had given me a synopsis of the play, and yes, I read the program before the performance, but knowing what a play is “about” doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re ever totally grounded…and I don’t think you’re supposed to be when you watch a play by John Ray. The Sweet, Burning Yonder played to sold-out crowds all five nights at the Fringe Festival this year, and to me it embodies the spirit of that festival; it’s experimental, bizarre, funny and strange at the same time that  sheds some light on dark themes. Continue reading “John Ray Is a Rock Star”

Meditations on Radiohead at Riverbend (part 2)

MEDITATION #2: RADIOHEAD IS A BAND

Radiohead is a band. I mention that because quite often bands break down into separate islands that never quite connect. Sometimes this happens when a newly-formed “supergroup” fails to focus its energies, and sometimes it happens when a band that has been together a long time starts to splinter; when they play, you can feel the tug of war going on during a performance, either that or the apathy after they lay down their arms. With Radiohead the extended instrumental sections could threaten to make lead singer Thom Worke seem like an accessory, but that never happened. At one point—I can’t remember if he was singing part of the time or not—he was playing maracas, and while sometimes it seems like singers play incidental percussion in order to have something to do, what he played was well miced and really added something to the song. The light show was great; although it was dazzling, it never took over; but the best visuals of the night occurred when Thom raised his arm and then brought it down quickly and then made some other movements that the band synched with perfectly; powerful stuff. Continue reading “Meditations on Radiohead at Riverbend (part 2)”

Meditations on Radiohead at Riverbend (part 1)

 

       MEDITATION #1: KEEP IT COMPLEX AND ATONAL, GENIUS

“All things are a-flowing/Sage Heraclitus said,” but rock musicians and rock journalists keep pounding home the same theme: rock and roll should be raw and basic, and whatever you do don’t clutter it up with your fine little subtleties. When Jack White waxed rhapsodic about performing with a drummer who had no experience behind a drum set you would have thought that he had gone where no one had previously traveled, but actually the notion that people who don’t know how to play should go ahead and play anyway had been around for some time, and in the end (actually, in the beginning) the White Stripes were just one more band that kept things brutally simple. And beautiful music has been made that way. Certainly Bukka White made beautiful music while banging an acoustic guitar with so much force that you wonder not only how it stayed in tune if it did stay in tune but also how it was that the guitar avoided being shattered to pieces. Continue reading “Meditations on Radiohead at Riverbend (part 1)”