Live Jazz in MKE: Peter Bernstein Organ Trio with Larry Goldings and The Avishai Cohen Quartet with Jason Lindner

Larry Goldings, Bill Stewart and Peter Bernstein have played together as a trio for over 20 years.

Larry Goldings, Bill Stewart and Peter Bernstein have played together as a trio for over 20 years.

Apologies to readers: CC’s headline was misleading regarding The Peter Bernstein Trio date. The trio played on April 19th, but not this week, as my previous headline suggested. 

Guitarist Peter Bernstein’s Organ Trio with Larry Goldings, organ and Bill Stewart on drums will perform Tuesday , Tuesday April 19, 8 p.m. at Shank Hall 1434 N. Farwell Ave ($20).

This hot, smart, very modern organ trio keeps a great jazz tradition cooking in the present.  Golding burns, and stretches the organ as well as anybody today. Among Goldings’ many credits is a monumental 2006 ECM recording called Saudade, with Trio Beyond, which included guitarist John Scofield and drummer Jack DeJohnette. The album and short-lived “supergroup” reinterpreted the music of the jazz fusion-pioneering Tony Williams Lifetime, which included John McLaughlin on guitar and Larry Young on organ, and ex-Miles Davis Quintet drummer Tony Williams.

Bernstein and Stewart are right there in the jazz pantheon, as players and leaders, deep in the pocket, swinging, but fearless. Bernstein has played extensively with Diana Krall,  Dr. Lonnie Smith, and the late, great Milwaukee organist Melvin Rhyne.

Best of all, the Bernstein-Goldings-Stewart trio has played together for over 20 years.

AvishaiCohenQuartet_Pomigliano2011_03

Then, The Avishai Cohen Quartet with pianist-keyboardist Jason Lindner will  play at Collectivo Back Room, 2211 North Prospect Ave., at 8:30 Saturday Apr. 30 on Prospect Ave. ($25)

I saw trumpeter Cohen in San Francisco with the SFJAZZ Collective in 2014, and he plays beautifully, at times like a wizard. The highly multi-cultural Israeli bandleader has played often with the Mingus Big Band and Mingus Dynasty, and also with the remarkable family band, The 3 Cohens Sextet with his sister, acclaimed clarinetist-saxophonist Anat Cohen, and brother, saxophonist Yuval Cohen.

Keyboardist Jason Lindner, a very inventive sonic experimenter, records with emerging sax giant Donny McCaslin, both of whom played on the late David Bowie’s last album Blackstar, one of the hot topics in the recording industry these days.

Lindner is a repeat Down Beat Rising Star award poll winner, and in 2014, he topped the Electronics Player Of The Year category in The Jazz Journalists Association’s annual poll. The Avishai Cohen Quartet includes Tal Maschiach on bass and Justin Brown on drums.

Kudos to East Side venues Shank Hall and Collectivo for picking up the slack for touring jazz artists, while The Jazz Estate on Murray Ave. is renovated for its re-opening in October, under new ownership.

For more information, and links to tickets for both concerts visit Milwaukee Jazz Vision.

If you scroll down briefly there, you will find full information on Avishai Cohen and his concert.

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Peter Bernstein Organ Trio photo courtesy northcountrypublicradio.org.

Avishai Cohen photo courtesy jazzItalia.net 

 

 

Is Hillary for the working class and positive change for them, or not?

Hillary car

Hillary Clinton recently visited car wash workers in Queens, New York, who are represented by the RWDSU (Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union). Courtesy rwdsu.info

Note: Culture Currents normally does not get quite this specifically political. But this is a very important election year, especially if we are to realize change in our government, our economic system and our way of life, for the better. So, in this post, CC is testing the culture currents of change.

Understand first of all, I am thrilled at the powerful movement that Bernie Sanders has spearheaded, and I’ve been a big fan of his for a long time, as a spokesman for the majority of Americans’ financial interest, and a critic of Wall Street and the corporate world’s domination of American economy.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding at the Surf Ballroom Friday, Aug. 14, 2015, in Clear Lake, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding at the Surf Ballroom Friday, Aug. 14, 2015, in Clear Lake, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Having said that, it appears certain that Hillary Clinton will win the nomination, though Sanders should continue as long as he has a mathematical chance to win the popular and delegate vote.

But if Sanders is aiming for a brokered convention, it will fracture and divide a potential consensus of supporters and voters who should be aligning to vote for the Democratic nominee to beat Trump.

President Donald Trump. Wrap your head around that. Yes, Bernie ranks ahead of Hillary vs. Trump in most polls. But he’s still not likely the nominee. If somehow he wins the nomination, then I feel confident he will beat Trump. Of course, that is a massively unlikely “if” at this point. And Hillary will win in November too, especially if disenfranchised workers and young people feel that she’s on their side, and understand that she must also work with at least a modicum of negotiation and compromise, which most successful politics entails (Republicans will never flop over and play dead to leftist demands.)

This leads me to a fairly historically informed argument by the noted liberal writer Thomas Frank in an interview with Financial Times. http://finance.yahoo.com/news/watch-hillary-clinton-revolt-brewing-101500894.html

Frank recounts how the Democratic Party has shifted its constituency response from its previous working-class base to that of middle-class liberals since the 1960s, and more recently, towards entrepreneurial power and the so-called “creative class.” This seems historically accurate in that young liberals sparked the leftward revolution of the ’60s and have driven much of Democratic Party direction of the  since.
And certainly Bill Clinton’s administration shifted gears toward the middle, and triangulated away from the poor and the working class, especially with his reform of welfare and tough-on-crime bills which resulted in our horrible black incarceration rates, a development he now admittedly regrets.

President Obama hasn’t done enough for the working poor and the dispossessed as one would’ve hoped, but he’s been fighting uphill against an obstructionist Congress his whole two terms. Chances are the Dems will take back the Senate and gain in the House, which will make things better for a Democratic president. And Hillary Clinton is a tough, smart and reasonable negotiator.
The problem I see now, however, with critics of Hillary Clinton is that they, including Frank, to often tend to conflate her with her husband in their arguments against her.

Thus, a significant amount of union people perceive her as anti-union, even though this is not the case. And many non-union workers assume she is against them and tend to support Trump, who feeds off their understandable feeling that nobody backs their interests. These contingents comprise much of the frustrated people creating the “revolt” the article refers too, a split between ardent Sanders and Trump supporters.

This is one reason why we need to work to bring the union movement back to something close to its former strength and respectability. I believe this intellectually but also because I have a lot to be thankful for from union membership. And I also know first-hand how vulnerable a worker, including journalists like myself, can be without union representation.

Like Clinton, some unions have hardly been paragons of virtue. Being comprised of humans, some have been subject to excess internal power-brokering, greed and self-interest. But they suffer, like Clinton does, from a very besmirched reputation from decades of right-wing and pro-corporate disinformation.

To the point of this election, let’s look at Hillary Clinton’s Senate voting record on jobs, the category in this comprehensive policy survey most relevant to working people.  http://www.ontheissues.org/Hillary_Clinton.htm#Jobs

For the most part, it shows how strong her support has been for issues that concern workers, both blue and white collar. Note also her high approval rating by the AFL-CIO and, in this election, the endorsement of her by a majority of labor unions.

Those who think that Hillary will preside like Bill Clinton did may presume that she’s stuck back in that era. She learned lessons from it, no doubt. But the truth is, she’s been extremely attuned to the present, which is why she has embraced her progressive ideals, even though she remained largely supportive of her husband as First Lady. Yet, unlike Bill Clinton, she would not compromise on the pioneering Clinton health bill, the prototype for the Affordable Care Act. The Clinton bill failed because she remained principled, she cared too much about the uninsured — mostly the working poor, minorities and the disenfranchised.

I think it is a perhaps-unconscious but sexist reflex to presume that Hillary is going to be Bill Clinton redux. She has always been her own woman, and obviously her relationship to women, and their issues, is probably 180° different than her husband’s, or at least 120°. So it makes a lot of sense that she will work hard to correct many of the excesses of Bill Clinton’s welfare reform, which has harmed poor black men and single women and their families for the most part. It figures she will do more to change the situation than any current candidate. Most African-Americans with a sense of history appear to know this, judging by their strong support of her.

hillary

Courtesy edition.com

So if that’s not fighting for working people, I don’t know what is. We used to associate the image of workers predominantly with men, who used to most typically be the primary Income provider of families. We know how much that has changed, but most pointedly by seeing how bad things remain for poor and working-poor women in forced (or misguided) single motherhood.

Remember, Hillary famously said, “It takes a village to raise a child.” She clearly wants to create an administration that fosters just such a village, metaphorically and literally.

And for those who still profoundly distrust her, due to some past associations and decisions, I remain among you, especially in foreign affairs, where she’s very experienced, but, I fear, still too hawkish. Prove us wrong on that, Madame Secretary. This era cries out for American prudence and restraint overseas, as Obama has largely exhibited.

Nevertheless, I’ve gained trust in Hillary Clinton partly because she is a calculating politician, and she hears and understands the angry winds of change, for which Bernie Sanders has spoken most powerfully and persistently. Regarding Hillary’s relative dishonesty, consider the recent comment of Nicolas Kristof, arguable America’s most respected journalist, though an avowed liberal:

When Gallup asks Americans to say the first word that comes to mind when they hear “Hillary Clinton,” the most common response can be summed up as “dishonest/liar/don’t trust her/poor character.” Another common category is “criminal/crooked/thief/belongs in jail.”

“All this is, I think, a mistaken narrative.

“One of the perils of journalism is the human brain’s penchant for sorting information into narratives. Even false narratives can take on a life of their own because there is always information arriving that can confirm a narrative.” Here’s Kristof’s column: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/24/opinion/sunday/is-hillary-clinton-dishonest.html

Given that tendency of journalism and the human mind, it’s unwise to ignore the Pulitzer Prize-winning Politico.com‘s recent fact-checking assessment of the truthfulness of statements by all the current presidential candidates. Hillary Clinton comes out as the most truthful, with Bernie Sanders a close second. http://www.dailynewsbin.com/news/fact-checkers-confirm-hillary-clinton-is-more-honest-than-any-of-her-2016-opponents/24196/

As MSNBC’s Chris Matthews commented Sunday, it’s up to Hillary to win the hearts of Americans. Against Trump, I’ll bet she succeeds.

And given the polarization between the two major parties, Hillary Clinton seems much better positioned and experienced to do something about positive change for the 99% as president. Assuming she’s the candidate, the Dems will need Sanders supporting her, along with great voices like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, to continue to fight for everyone who works for a living, or tries to, or hopes to.

And by that, I don’t mean people who play morally-decrepit games with numbers on Wall Street.

 

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Bernie Sanders photo courtesy salon.com

 

 

Listening to the “deluxe edition” bonus disc of Tedeschi Trucks’ “Let Me Get By”

 

The cover of the box-set 2-disc deluxe edition of “Let Me Get By” mimics a vintage guitar amplifier. amazon.com

The bonus deluxe edition of the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s latest album Let Me Get By further demonstrates how you can turn a stylistic assessment of this remarkable band into a parlor game. Try pigeon-holing them — short of a six or seven-hyphen phrase —  and they’ll invariably squirm free, or break the bindings. That’s another of the metaphorical meanings of the album’s eloquently powerful cover image of a Mongolian eagle, flying free from his master’s binding.

The cover of their bonus disc is a photo portrait of the same eagle perched on the leather-sheathed hand of the ornately outfitted eagle hunter who, though unnamed, appears Mongolian himself, with his thickly fur-lined hat, and long coat reaching to the tops of his tall boots, which can ford deep snow drifts.

So it’s a pan-cultural nod to the Eastern influences that make this a group defy even the multi-various vernaculars of American roots music.

I said in my first blog review of the basic album Let Me Get By (here: http://kevernacular.com/?p=7331) we’ve never seen anything quite like this band before. I stand by that, however their precursors are three personnel-related groups — Derek and the Dominoes, Delaney and Bonnie, and Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen. So Eric (“Derek”) Clapton is a visionary forefather. 1 Yet TTB has encompassed influences beyond what any of those groups ever did, by standing on their shoulders. Plus, they’re already longer lived than any of those, with no signs of slowing down.

All the styles, solos and 12 performers might sound messy in terms of musical structure and arrangements and, at times in the past it has been, but mainly in close listening as the power of their grooves usually carries along loose ends.

The success of the new album reflects the fact the band spent more time in the studio than in any recording project before, according to album annotator Ashley Kahn. It helps that their Swamp Raga Studios are in the Jacksonville, Florida home of Susan Tedeshi and spouse Derek Trucks, and that the group functions almost as an extended family.

The overall musical quality of the ensemble also seems upgraded since jazz bassist Tim LeFebvre came aboard last year. Lefebrve’s credits include jazzers Donny McCaslin, Wayne Krantz, Chuck Loeb, and jazz-contemporary classical’s Uri Ciane. Also he recorded  with the late David Bowie on his already now-celebrated last album Blackstar, which also includes McCaslin and several other top jazzers. LeFebvre co-wrote three songs on Let Me Get By, and actually flew between Bowie’s New York studio and Jacksonville during those albums’ overlapping dates. LeFebvre clearly facilitates the band’s inclusion of the 1971 Bowie  song “Oh! You Pretty Things,” which they cover on the deluxe album second disc, and which I’ll address below.

The fluency of several complex, stirring ensemble passages on both discs heightens the collective groove and may betray the arranging and playing skills of LeFebvre.

Along with three alternate takes of the new album’s songs and the Bowie cover, the deluxe-set disc includes a  quirky quintet studio instrumental “Satie Groove,”  and a three-song update on the band’s celebrated live-concert prowess — one song from the new album and two covers, recorded at New York’s Beacon Theater.

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The first of the three alternate takes is a LMGB song I haven’t commented on previously: “Hear Me.” It opens like a long dusty trek, but it calls to a lover who may or may not be left behind forever. TTB seems very strong conveying that welter of feelings on the verge of break-up or post break-up, when life both shrinks and one imagines so much is possible, for better and worse.

Their lyrics’ deft rhetorical ambiguity allow such songs to resonate for many losses and failures in life. Reminding the loved one “we were one in a million years” speaks to the profundity, grandiosity and cavernous sense of loss in shattered romance. Here Derek Trucks shows his lyrical side, drawing from The Allmans’ singing guitar style of Dickey Betts, specifically his alternating oblique note bends, which mimic a pedal steel.

The live version of “In Every Heart” is slower more burdened and stripped down, but Trucks’ animated solo almost sounds like a conversation with his own heart, recalling Clapton’s buzzing blues style, perfected on Derek and the Dominoes classic album Layla.

Bowie’s “Oh, You Pretty Things,” fits this group’s POV, as a challenging but stirring appraisal of the human race that finally advises: Look at your children/ see their faces in the golden rays/ don’t kid yourself/ They’re the start of a coming race.

The “Just as Strange” alternate take is, surprisingly a 2 ½ minute instrumental jam on that LMGB song, with Trucks and the rhythm section and co-composer Doyle Bramhall II on bass.

Another short hornless instrumental, “Satie’s Groove,” rides Tim Lefebvre’s fat and funky bass guitar in a satisfying descending progression that may allude to piece by 18th century French composer Erik Satie, a sort of proto-minimalist. In fact, much of these first five bonus tracks may appeal to those who prefer an unadorned approach. For sure, they provide a little breathing room from the often heart-pulsing intensity of much of the basic Let Me Get By album.

But that also sets us up for the bonus disc’s last three cuts, live performances of TTB with all guns blazing and, on the last song, a great hired gun. These astonishingly potent performances from New York’s Beacon Theater make the deluxe edition worth the extra money, to me (this was no free reviewer’s copy)

By then, late in their odyssey-like 2015 tour, Susan Tedeschi’s voice had become somewhat raw, and here she sounds a lot like another influence, Janis Joplin. Her pained-tiger growl on these tracks conveys as much raw powerful and emotion as any singer working today. That’s especially remarkable because she never tries to stretch beyond her natural contralto range, unlike so many pop-rock-soul singers and would-be American Idol divas, to varying degrees of success.

I described “Laugh About It”  in the LMGB review post and this version has Tedeschi’s voice rough-riding the infectious but tricky guitar figure the song’s built on.

I’m glad they included their cover of “I Pity the Fool,” which I heard them do in Madison during that tour. It’s an old R&B song done memorably by Bobby “Blue” Bland and Paul Butterfield. This song of bitterness and pity — for the fool who falls for with the narrators ex-lover — shows that TTB can get down in the darkest of emotions, despite their generally uplifting music and lifestyle ethos.

Derek Trucks (left) and David Hidalgo (right) of Los Lobos do some fancy jamming on “Keep on Growing” in this shot from the performance included in the deluxe edition of “Let Me Get By.” Photo by Dino Perrucci photography.blogspot.com.

The last song is another final statement as apt as “In Every Heart” is for the main LMGB album. That song is the exhilarating “Keep on Growing,” by Eric Clapton and Bobby Whitlock, from Derek and the Dominos’ classic Layla album.

Nominal message aside, the nine-plus-minute version really shows them hoisting the Southern jam band aesthetic to a fresh peak. Part of their current tour includes a number of dates with Los Lobos, and in 2015 that band’s superb lead guitarist David Hidalgo teamed up with Trucks on the song’s two-guitar jam, which bristles with riffing fire, contrapuntal wit and invention that compares to the Allman Brothers in their prime (Trucks was, of, course the Allman Brothers’ last lead guitarist). Characteristic of the Allmans’ longer jams, they slow down the tempo at one point, and then end in a whisper, so it becomes almost suite-like (which ultimately hearkens to the formal rock instrumental sense pioneered by Butterfield’s “East-West”).

Amusingly, from a video of the song performance, it’s evident that Hidalgo knew not much more than the song’s chord changes. And when he stepped to a mike to sing a few lyrics he’d picked up from the first chorus, Tedeschi turned and began mouthing lyrics to him, because who wouldn’t want Hildalgo’s marvelous tenor singing harmony? That is only partially successful, however when the two guitarists jam, Hidalgo’s eyes stay riveted on Trucks’ fretboard, and it works splendidly, a fine example of courageously performing on the fly. 2

I hope something like this happens when I see Los Lobos and Tedesci Trucks Band on the same concert bill this summer.

I’m not sure why Susan Tedeschi doesn’t try such improvisational interplay with her husband at times. She can play the rhythm guitar of a groove like the aforementioned, but perhaps she’s never done much plecteral jamming. Although hardly in Derek’s league technically, she’s a gritty blues guitar soloist, as she shows on “I Pity the Fool.”

The deluxe set also includes lots of cool pix and a brief insider comment on the bonus-disc selections by the band’s resident scribe Mike Mattison.

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  1. I don’t know for a fact, but it’s a fair bet that Derek Trucks was named after the mythical Derek of the Dominoes.
  2. As the video of The Beacon Theater’s “Keep On Growing” is evidently a bootleg, and TTB doesn’t allow bootleg recording like most major concerts, I’m not re-posting it. But its not hard to find online.
  3. Back cover of deluxe LMGB box with song titles courtesy amazon.com

A message to a great actor: Jim DeVita in the one-man play “American Song”

Jim DeVita, as a devastated father of a dead son from a terrorist gun massacre, in the world premiere of Joanna Murray-Smith’s one-man play “American Song,” at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Photo courtesy jsonline.com

I decided to post the e-mail message below, which I sent to actor Jim DeVita today, even though the brilliant one-man play American Song, which he delivered the world premiere of at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, has closed.

I managed to get to the end of the play’s run, but I still wanted to offer my appreciation to him, and for those who may have an opportunity to see the play, and to see DeVita perhaps performing American Song elsewhere, or in other roles with Milwaukee theater companies, or in his long-time position as a lead company actor for American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wisconsin.
Anywhere you see him, you will probably understand why The New Yorker critic Terry Teachout called him “America’s greatest classical actor.”

But in this case, DeVita played the heart and stone-burdened Andy, in an overwhelmingly up-to-the-minute play by Joanna Marie-Smith, and directed by The Rep’s artistic director Mark Clements. 1

The play’s title references Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, wherein the poet likens America to a song and its citizens as potentially a chorus, just as he celebrates American individualism, throughout the “Grass” collection, most famously in the poem “Song of Myself.”

The new play American Song, challenges Whitman’s optimism for an American populace singing in harmony. In fact, playwright Murray-Smith isolates one individual with almost cold-blooded scrutiny.

A father named Andy is hand-building a stone wall on his property while he struggles to come to grips with the harsh, devastating reality of his son’s recent death. The spectral back story is a terrorist gun massacre in the son’s school, which left nine people dead including his son and many injured, an all-too-familiar dirge of a song today. One wonders how Whitman would’ve responded to this numbing American refrain.

I will say no more about the story, only to add that the play’s scrutiny allows us to experience and feel the depth and array of feelings of this human being, an every man with warm blood and a lacerated heart.
In my message, I do try to express some appreciation of the power of the play and especially of DeVita’s astonishing performance.

Hey Jim,

I want you to know that my girlfriend Ann and I finally caught the last Sunday matinee performance of American Song. We were in the balcony in the middle. Both of us were greatly impressed by the play, and engrossed and moved by your performance.

Ann said that she felt on the verge of tears frequently. This is a tribute to you, and your uncanny ability — often in mid-set sentence — to shift into an emotionally charged tone. The audience senses, in the bat of an eyelash, the increased pressure and weight of that nuanced, yet charged, moment. The cumulative effect is draining yet quietly exhilarating.
Yet, the 90 minutes flew by with only you, and the text and stage direction, to sustain their flow and power.
I can think of very few actors who have such skills as yours, in this regard. You also commanded the narrative flow beautifully.
And I love the metaphor of you building the stone wall, it’s rhythm and symbolism, which is rich and open to interpretation.
For me, perhaps you are building a wall around your heart, to protect it. Of course, we never see you complete it because that is perhaps a lifelong project, at least internally, which adds to the play’s poignance and the footprints of personal history, your stone-hauling and pacing back and forth  — and talking to the sky in confounded wonder and anger.
The latter act evokes, for me, King Lear, before he loses it, and Melville’s “quarrel with God.” You recall, Melville also lost his oldest son, age 18, to a gun death, most likely suicide.
Thank you for an indelible experience,
Kevin Lynch
p.s,. Stay in touch regarding your performance and writing exploits, especially regarding Melville. Hi to Brenda.
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1. Milwaukee Rep director Mark Clements approached playwright Joanna Murray-Scott about writing this play for the rep in 2012, “not too long before America and the world was shocked to its core by the fatal shootings of 20 children between the ages of six and seven, along with six other adult staff members, at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut., The director writes in his program notes to American song.”
Murray-Scott is an Australian playwright and novelist. Among her plays are Honour and Rapture, which both won the Victorian Premier’s literary award for best play.

Tedeschi Trucks articulates their full voice and vision on “Let Me Get By”

Susan Tedeschi’s soul-stirring voice soars and dips more majestically than ever, on an eagle’s wing. Listen to “Anyhow.” It’s a broken heart with tenacious muscles. Time after time, Derek Trucks’ slide guitar solos, searing and catchy, nail a song’s heart. Kofi Burbridge’s sinuously gleaming flute emerges periodically like a spectral angel. The band’s a glorious monster, like we’ve never quite experienced before. Yet there’s more, much more.

We’ve watched The Tedeschi Trucks Band grow before our eyes into the 12-musician offspring of the most blessed musical couple in American music. I’m hardly alone in thinking they’re the best performing band we have today. It’s also amazing how they become so great so fast, even while still coalescing. Their collective and individual talents have slashed through and absorbed thickets of influences, up the mountain to the roots-rock summit. Then, they reach out to pull you up with them. Their path betrays the sheer toil of inspired dedication, performing on the road for more than 200 days for the fifth straight year in 2015 — and they’re currently on another summer-long tour.

On Let Me Get By, their third studio recording,  they articulate overarching purpose and meaning more clearly than ever. That statement is quite evident on the basic album, as it should be. But it becomes more fully realized in the album’s two-disc deluxe edition, which includes eight bonus tracks, three of them live concert performances, and a David Bowie cover. I’ll address the bonus material in a second post, to try getting a handle on a great collective group finding its fullest self. Remember, TTB’s reputation remains foremost as a live band, despite their Grammy for their 2011 debut studio album Revelator.

Cover of the two CD deluxe box of “Let Me Get By.” amazon.com

The new album title and cover say something like “unchain your heart!” A Mongolian golden eagle has broken free from its master’s glove, and seems bound for new heights — bound for glory, as the band put it, on a great song from Revelator.

“’Let Me Get By’ actually refers to a lot of things,” says Trucks in their website profile, “like the band becoming more self-reliant than ever before—writing our own songs and producing our own music in our own studio. It’s about moving on to a new recording label (Fantasy/Concord) with a deal that gives us more freedom.

“It definitely took time for us to get here. I think the connections we have in this band and among the crew and extended family are the real reason why.”

His spouse and band co-leader, singer/guitarist Susan Tedeschi comments, “Derek hears everything from a big picture stance. Not just track-by-track but the album as a whole.”

Adds Trucks: It’s a bunch of different true stories meshed into one.”

So much feel-good P.R. talk? Listen closely, after you’ve felt the music, and judge for yourself. The road-tested communal feeling Trucks speaks of feeds into the band’s ethical worldview, which seems more clearly crystallized on Let Me Get By. Lyricist and background singer Mike Mattison’s emergence speaks plenty about the band’s step forward. He gets his first two lead-vocal spotlights on a TTB album (on “Crying Over You” and “Right On Time”), and his increasing mastery as a lyricist and songwriter is more central than ever to the band’s vision. Despite their prodigious musicianship and Trucks “guitar hero” status, they funnel those powers into the songs, and a sense that the collective sound fuels human aspirations.

Even vocalist Tedeschi, like her spouse, seems lacking in typical leader ego. She started a kind of joke about her joy and gratitude, Trucks says. “After shows, she started to say to everyone, ‘Thanks for letting me be in your band’ and we’d all laugh. Now we all say it.”

Joy and gratitude ooze from Let Me Get By, amid more complex emotions, and as qualities that might help heal and make a difference in a deeply injured earth and troubled society.

Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi at Red Rocks Amphitheater in 2015. Courtesy iwebradio.fm/Kell Yeah Photography

Hear the clarion call of Tedeschi bracing opening note of “Anyhow” signaling the “wreckage in my soul”: Running from a bitter taste/took a rest from all the chase/feeling something anchored in my soul./ played the game by all the/learning lessons no one gets to choose. The song continues about a personal relationship, but that first verse can speak to anyone in the economic 99% feeling betrayed by the game and its rules — the rigged system — whether you lean left or right. The song goes on to speak of cold-hearted desperation among the unemployed and even working poor, and invokes Biblical myth: “Cain and Abel lit the flame/we can never go that way again.” This clearly references brother-on-brother crime, whether it is inner-city shootings, police brutality/homicide, or white-collar financial betrayal.

Yet “Anyhow” is an absolute soul-stirrer — not a downer. And TTB doesn’t preach, they understand the philosophic pause and the medicine of laughter, in the ensuing “Laugh About It.” This band’s ethically-driven sort of communal political synergy resonates from the rapturous gospel choruses right into the groundswell roar of the Bernie Sanders political movement, a sense of empowerment and transformation.

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Here is The Tedeschi Trucks Band in a NPR Tiny Desk Concert, performing “Just as Strange,” “Don’t Know What it Means,” and “Anyhow” from the album “Let Me Get By”:

http://www.npr.org/2016/03/24/471725403/tedeschi-trucks-band-tiny-desk-concert

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The instrumental break in “Laugh About It” shows how tight and rich their grooves and arrangements have become, with Truck’s guitar quick-stepping through horn and rhythm counter-punches. You can dance along to it or your music head can marvel. And Susan does laugh about it at the end.

“Don’t Know What It Means” shows this band reaching new heights in its pop appeal, in the power of call-and-response. The refrain glows with as much warm infectiousness as a vintage Sly and the Family Stone song, another collective-oriented stylistic precursor. That refrain melody descends like the slowing last yards of an exhilarating roller coaster ride, and the rhythmic hand-clapping helps turn that dynamic into a Juneteenth Day gospel-infused parade.

The lyric continues the previous song’s laugh-it-off wound-licking: If the story feels exactly like a dream/ don’t know what it means… And you can’t just turn the page and let it go/ things that you’ve been told/ deep down in your soul.”

Rather, it’s time to strategize: “Don’t make your move too early” or you may “surely lose your way.” And the shyster or con man may be poised to snooker the unwittingly earnest. Yet TTB believes self-empowerment perseveres: Now don’t look down in the dirt/ just to find out what you’re worth… To work hard and do it right/ learn to speak up and fight/ the truth is gonna beat them down the line.”

If that sounds preachy to some, it’s hardly fire-and-brimstone browbeating. Rather, it the sort of uplift that even the ostensibly angry American black writer James Baldwin articulated in the voice of his preacher father-figure in his transformative 1962 novel Another Country. The black minister’s own son had committed suicide, yet the father counselled his congregation, all grieving his own son’s death: “Don’t lose heart, dear ones, don’t let it make you bitter, try to understand. The world’s already bitter enough. We got to try to be better than the world ‘…Except for someone — a man weeping in the front row — there was silence all over the chapel…” 1

You find no comparable moments of low-key compassion on this recording, as this band has achieved on their brilliant story-song “Midnight in Harlem.” But the new “bunch of different true stories” now mesh into a bramble-strewn path rising toward sunlight.

“Learn to speak up and fight” can mean collective song as much as righteous chants. A group of remarkably persevering protest singers in Madison, WI have assembled every noon each weekday at The Capitol building for five years — over 1,300 consecutive weekdays — to sing. The Solidarity Sing Along sustains the spirit of the original massive protests of Gov. Scott Walker’s collective bargaining-busting, anti-education Act 10 “repair bill” — which has helped decimate and polarize my home state. The Sing Along’s 60-plus song repertoire ranges from Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” to adapted country blues classics and a Ramones song, to originals by participants. The Act 10 bill and its 100,000 protesters helped inspire Occupy Wall Street and now the Bernie Sanders “revolution.” 2

TTB’s solidarity stresses human commonality, via a collective gathering of cultural tribes, from Tedeschi’s ex-gospel choir singer-cum-blues mama roots to Trucks’ voraciously wide-ranging “big picture stance.” Trucks rose from country-blues bottleneck guitar to Allman Brothers’ band trademarks – gutsy singing, swampy blues, pealing guitar riffs for modal flights. And his Coltrane/Shankar micro-tonalities help summon this band’s patented “swamp ragas.” That simmering instrumental vocabulary facilitates exquisitely meditative introductions or segues, which help embrace a more worldly cultural vision.

Flutist-keyboardist Kofi Burbridge highlights “Swamp Raga for Holzapfel, Flute and Harmonium” on “Let Me Get By.” Courtesy Wikipedia.com

And all the band members seem attuned to the wellsprings of the blues, ‘60s-‘70s gospel and R& B, free and funk-jazz, and modern pop-rock, epitomized, of course, by the Beatles.

Which leads me to album’s next song, the slightly tipsy rollick of “Right on Time,” Mattison’s vocal seems to channel John Lennon’s gentle side, “What is it that you lack? What is it that you seek?” Then, the gently bouncing harmonized refrain: “Does a smile come alive when you share the wine..?” and a “Hey!” refrain, with woozy dance-hall horns. The whole effect, the George Martin-esque arrangement, could’ve fit right into Magical Mystery Tour or even The White Album. Heresy? So sue me.

Lyricist and backup singer Mike Mattison of Tedeschi Trucks Band gets two lead vocal spotlights on “Let Me Get By.” Courtesy pghintune.wordpress.com 

For blues-rock buffs who fear they’re getting too cute, the title song is another full-throated empowerment barn burner. “Let me get by/cuz time won’t wait!” And then, they pause again, for a reality check. “Just as Strange,” co-written by Doyle Bramhall II, is a stripped-down Robert Johnson-like wail about abject craving for sex or drugs, as pure  bedevilment.

Mattison’s fervent lead vocal on “Crying Over You” with the deliciously cheesy line “I caught you snooping ‘round swimming pool” segues to a lovely, haunting swamp-raga. The album’s last few songs tread in lost-romance/relationship territory, but very convincingly.

However, the final song (of the non-deluxe album), “In Every Heart,” resounds like a thematic recapitulation, blending reality and inspiration. Mellifluous horn harmonies, the ever-ready background singers, and an easy, reflective groove cue Tedeschi’s voice, honoring a warm primary influence, Bonnie Raitt. Yet “Heart” is TTB’s own statement: “In every heart there’s a name/under the perfume and the blame.” It’s about coming to terms with your true identity and your “story,” admittedly no easy task. “In every heart, there’s a song/ turning the pages… In every song, there’s a psalm/ coming to find you to sing along.”

With a surrogate family like the Tedeschi Trucks gang, one need not be alone. They deliver the power of the song. Perhaps some existentialists will call that mere sop. Me, I’d rather not stand in the rain of my spiritual solitude.

PART 2. I’ll consider the deluxe bonus disc of Let Me Get By and that 2-disc total package in another post, coming shortly.

______________________

  1. James Baldwin, Another Country, Vintage International, 1993, 121

2. Scott Walker, who survived a re-call election driven by the Act 10 protests, later declared, “If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world,” in reference to defeating the terrorist group ISIS. The spurious analogy may have marked the beginning of the end of Walker’s short-lived presidential nomination bid. Meanwhile, he’s back in Wisconsin working his same far-right agenda and the singers continue, as they say, “until Wisconsin gets better,” as one of their mottos declares.The Solidarity Sing Along is open to anyone each weekday starting at noon at the Capitol. Their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SolidaritySingAlong. At times, noted musicians have joined the participants, including Woody Guthrie’s famous son Arlo and Billy Bragg, who wrote music for and recorded unpublished Woody Guthrie lyrics in his Mermaid Avenue project with Wilco.

For the full story on the Wisconsin protests, see John Nichols’ book Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street.

“Let Me Get By” album cover at top, courtesy zumic.com

Why should we care about Miles Davis? New biopic, live tribute, local thoughts

Portrait of US jazz trumpet player Miles Davis taken 06 July 1991 in Paris. Portrait du trompettiste de jazz Miles Davis pris lors d'un concert le 06 juillet 1991 à la Halle de la Villette à Paris. (Photo credit should read PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/GettyImages)

Portrait of US jazz trumpet player Miles Davis taken 06 July 1991 in Paris.
Portrait du trompettiste de jazz Miles Davis pris lors d’un concert le 06 juillet 1991 à la Halle de la Villette à Paris. (Photo credit PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/GettyImages)

Why care?

Miles Davis dwells at, and helped create, the root thrust of many music vernaculars of the 20th century — from vintage bop with Bird, to purring like a breeze-cooled cat in Birth of the Cool, to kicking in the blues ‘n’ back beat of workin’, walkin’ hard-bop with Trane, to modal jazz trance with Kind of Blue, to cutting-edge modern slash with his second great quintet, to polyrhythmic Afro-fusion with Bitches Brew, to deep street funk and proto-hip-hop ‘tude with On the Corner. And he always gave us the essence of personal style, as an expression of American individuality and romance. Whew.

Well, that’s by way of introduction to this radio story. Thanks to 88.9 Radio Milwaukee’s Glenn Kleiman and trumpeter Jamie Breiwick for including me in this fine feature. http://radiomilwaukee.org/discover-music/still-care-miles-davis/

The feature, with interviews of Breiwick and me is hooked on Don Cheadle’s highly-anticipated biographical film about Miles Davis Miles Ahead, and “A Tribute to Miles Davis,” (a supper club edition) a live concert event at Company Brewing, 735 E. Center St, Milwaukee, at 9:30 p.m. on April 15. The event is organized by and features saxophonist Jay Anderson along with trumpeter Russ Johnson, pianist Mark Davis, bassist Ethan Bender, and drummer Mitch Shiner. This is an excellent ensemble event, featuring music by and associated with Miles, not to be missed: https://www.facebook.com/events/1671208159798613/

Also, here is a link to my review of the 1983 Miles Davis concert in Milwaukee, for The Milwaukee Journal:https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1499&dat=19830218&id=XWgaAAAAIBAJ&sjid=4ykEAAAAIBAJ&pg=4166,4949562&hl=en