A very behind-the-beat blog on my favorite jazz recordings of 2013.

Monk_Paris1969_cover Courtesy bluenote.com

My computer plays mind games with me at times, which is why this blog on my choices of best jazz recordings of 2013 is, um, behind the beat. (Dexter Gordon fans, among others, might be forgiving) I put it together for a European-based creative music/jazz website and then my list disappeared into the computer limbo of my files.

I just stumbled upon it — and felt 2013 still isn’t that far in the past. So I wanted to share the list (at the bottom of the posting) and commentary, with you readers.

I’ll start with an invaluable and  fascinating previously unreleased historical recording that includes a DVD film of The Thelonious Monk Quartet performing at the renowned Salle Pleyel concert hall of Paris on December 15, 1969.

Thelonious Monk Paris 1969 on Blue Note is actually my choice for best CD/DVD of the year, and I focus on it partly because, with a lot of excellent recordings, nothing stood head and shoulders above the rest for me, among pure CD music recordings. However, I list them in order of preference.  

Despite it being mid-December, we see Monk sweating profusely — and fully immersed in the music. Perhaps part of the challenge was working with a “pick-up” rhythm section, because his long-time band mates bassist Larry Gales and drummer Ben Riley had recently quit.

And, according to annotator and Monk biographer Robin D. G. Kelly, the bandleader was “tired, ill and frustrated” on this European trip, which may account for the perspiration. That makes this sterling performance all the more unforgettable. Long time saxophonist Charlie Rouse remains here, a sort of musical security blanket, and springboard.

But the surprise is how well the two newcomers work — the bassist Nate Hygelund was still a student at The Berklee School of Music. And drummer Austin “Paris” Wright was only 17 and Monk had asked his father, the bassist Herman Wright, for permission to take his son on the road.

Wright is no Tony Williams — who had joined the Miles Davis Quintet in 1963 at 17 and had proved a wunderkind and a great innovator — which maybe Monk secretly hoped for with this slender young man. (Monk never spoke much about the music, so an interview with a French writer afterwards is amiable, but Monk seems guarded about discussing his major role in modern jazz history. Yes, he seems under the weather.)

But these two youngsters could play. Drummer Wright especially dances along in Monk’s buoyantly swinging groove, right from his first solo on “I Mean You.” It’s a testament to the new generation’s talent, schooling and dedication, and to the common yet pliant bond of jazz rhythm — swing should not be undervalued.

But it’s hard to know if anyone expected what happened after the third tune “Straight, No Chaser.”  The camera captures Monk hearing some offstage conversation, then peering stage left into the semi-darkness. A small smile lights his face — and the great drummer Philly Joe Jones walks onstage. The unspoken jazz pecking-order etiquette of an elder musician “sitting in” unfolds, as young Wright shakes Jones’s hand, and walks off, as Philly Joe settles in (Of course, elder jazzers often allow younger players to sit in, especially at jam sessions.)

They dive into Monk’s “Nutty” and the music suddenly cracks open with a delicious burst of musical protein. The great drummer — best known for his stint in the first great Miles Davis Quintet of the ‘50s — immediately boosts the rhythmic dynamics with his powerful style, comparable only to Art Blakey among his peers. Philly Joe’s bristling swing, bomb-dropping, and the pugnacious accents — jabbing and counterpunching like a heavyweight boxer — give Monk’s music a sudden boost. I recall seeing Jones in the early 1980s and witnessing the same superbly controlled explosiveness. One tune, including an authoritative drum solo, and Jones is gone.


Despite being road-weary and ill, Thelonious Monk rose to the occasion for the concert captured in the CD/DVD “Paris 1969.” Courtesy Republic of jazz blogspot.com

The film also contains some of the best footage of Monk’s piano playing and technique I’ve seen — shedding more light on the “mysterioso” of this truly monumental American original. You see his mind at work — through his body, meaty hands and fingers — and sense the profound wit, pithy eloquence and improbable beauty of the creative man inside.

Another of the most enjoyable recordings of year is Unsung Heroes: A Tribute to Some Unsung Trumpet Masters Vol. 2 by trumpeter Brian Lynch, which I wrote about at length recently on Culture Currents.

Many readers of this blog should also easily dig the deep simpatico of saxophonist/flutist Charles Lloyd and pianist Jason Moran on the duo album Hagar’s Song. The recording attracted me partly because Hagar is the mother of Ishmael in the Bible — both forsaken outcasts — and, of course, Ishmael became the name of Herman Melville’s narrator in Moby-Dick. I hope to ask Jason Moran about that connection soon. But on its own purely musical terms Hagar’s Song is a warm and probing call-and-response between two great jazz men of successive generations, often parlaying the vibrant power of gospel music into large-hearted chamber jazz intimacy. Especially memorable are readings of Gershwin’s “Bess, You is My Woman Now” and an ingenious instrumental  cover of Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s “God Only Knows.”

The Darcy James Argue Secret Society’s vividly imaginative tone poem Brooklyn Babylon, reveals how the Duke Ellington/Gil Evans tradition lives on in a whole new generation of jazz orchestra leaders and arrangers, which also includes Maria Schneider and Ryan Truesdell. Argue has his own  colorful, sometimes brash sensibility, with irrepressible maximalist Charles Mingus and perhaps minimialist composer Steve Reich as other influences. He makes it work magnificently. 


Composer, arranger and jazz orchestra leader Darcy James Argue (far right) conducts The Secret Society, one of the most imaginative and resourceful big bands on the scene today. Courtesy stereofile.com

The recordings by pianist Craig Taborn, guitarist Mary Halvorson, trumpeter Dave Douglas and drummer, composer and bandleader John Hollenbeck (and his dazzlingly intuitive and interactive Claudia Quintet) demonstrate how musicians working on the cutting edges of jazz are finding fresh solutions to musical and artistic challenges in the dialectical push-pull between tradition and innovation.


The sonic textures and interplay of vibist Matt Moran (far left) and accordionist Red Weirenga (second from left) provide much of the distinctive identity of The Claudia Quintet, led by drummer John Hollenbeck (far right) Courtesy eyeshotjazz.com

On Holding it Down: The Veterans Dreams Project, Pianist Vijay Iyer and poet/performer/librettist Mike Ladd take perhaps the greatest chances of any on this list in an engrossing and sometimes harrowing literary evocation/documentation of the experience of American military veterans recalling the hell of war and its devastating aftermath in their lives.

Finally we have two veteran jazz masters. On Wislawa, the Polish trumpeter Tomas Stanko delves into some of the darkest curtains of lyrical reverie imaginable on his instrument, with a new American quartet, including brilliant young pianist David Virelles and drummer Gerald Cleaver. A frequently gorgeous and ambitious two-CD statement.

 And Without a Net, Wayne Shorter, a modern legend as a saxophonist and composer, proves that, at 81, is he’s as utterly fearless as a great old eagle soaring into the proverbial void of deep improvisation and unknown inspiration, with all the music resources he’s acquired over a half-century of finding mystery, strange beauty, and even the mythos of tragedy, in music.

Culture Currents best jazz recordings of 2013:

 Claudia Q


  1. September — The Claudia Quintet (Cuneiform)
  2. Brooklyn Babylon — Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society — (New Amsterdam)
  3. Hagar’s Song — Charles Lloyd and Jason Moran (ECM)
  4. Wislawa — Tomas Stanko New York Quartet (ECM)
  5. Time Travel — Dave Douglas Quintet (Greenleaf)
  6. Illusionary Sea — Mary Halvorson Septet (Firehouse 12)
  7. Chants — Craig Taborn Trio (ECM)
  8. Unsung Heroes: A Tribute to Some Unsung Trumpet Masters, Vol. 2 – Brian Lynch (Hollistic)
  9.  Holding It Down: The Veterans’ Dreams ProjectVijay Iyer & Mike Ladd (Pi)
  10.  Without a Net — Wayne Shorter Quartet (Blue Note)

Best Recording from the Jazz Hinterlands: The Day after Yesterday — Steve Lindeman with BYU Synthesis (Jazz Hang). A pretty darn hip jazz orchestra recording from the Mormon intellectual mother lode Brigham Young University, of all places. Will wonders never cease?

Historic recording and DVD of the year: Paris 1969 — Thelonious Monk (Blue Note) (See commentary above)

Best hard-to-find recording unearthed in used CD bins: Shades — Andrew Hill Trio and Quartet (Soul Note). A warm yet deeply substantial statement by the late, iconoclastic pianist-composer Hill. I gave up my vinyl version when painful circumstances forced me to sell my vinyl collection.


Best 180g vinyl re-issue: Conversations with Myself — Bill Evans (Verve) It’s an incomparable treat to hear Bill Evans playing piano with two double-tracked versions of himself, in gloriously enveloping analog sound. This now-classic experimental recording includes resplendent versions of Monk’s “‘Round Midnight” and “Blue Monk,” also “Stella by Starlight” and “Theme from ‘Spartacus'” and others, in triplicate Evans.


The Claudia Quintet September CD cover courtesy soundcloud.com

Bill Evans Conversations with Myself CD cover courtesy en.wikipedia.org

Gorky’s “Garden in Sochi” might give new meanings to the Olympics.

Sochi 1 “Garden in Sochi,” Arshile Gorky, oil, 1940- 41. Courtesy studiointernational.com

When I first heard that the winter Olympics would be held in Sochi, I thought it must be a beautiful place, endowed with sumptuous Russian landscapes. That’s because my primary association with the city is a series of paintings that Arshile Gorky (born, Vosdanig Adoian) created in 1940 through 1943, titled Garden in Sochi. So I present several digital reproductions of them with commentary inspired not only by these wonderful paintings but by two aspects of the Olympics that have grabbed me.

The first event was the performance at the Cultural Olympiad in Sochi by the Brian Lynch Quartet, led by the Grammy-winning, Milwaukee-raised trumpeter who has worked in the bands of many jazz greats including Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Horace Silver, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Phil Woods, and Eddie Palmieri. I recently wrote at length about Lynch’s recent recordings on another Culture Currents posting. But he played a time-honored role as an American cultural ambassador and he’s a product of both Nicolet High School and the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, and the surprisingly vibrant jazz scene of Milwaukee in the late 1970s and early 1980’s.

I’m also celebrating the first gold medal ever won by America in ice dancing, thanks to the dazzlingly executed and sublime performance of Meryl Davis and Charlie White, a duet performance that few artistic athletes could equal, a testament to youthful dedication and vision.

So my subject is art and its resonances and, if they had asked me, the Cultural Olympiad would have borrowed one of Gorky’s Sochi paintings and used it as a motif in their promotional efforts for the Olympics. These beautiful works are both evocative of the region’s natural splendor while being distinctly modern in their abstract and dynamic lyricism. I now see certain athletic postures and gestures in these forms.

In the painting above, see the figure in the upper left, seemingly balancing on one leg and holding other limbs and bodily forms out in a complex and exuberant manner. Throughout the composition, the undulating forms can be seen as expanding and contracting muscles and tendons amid exertion and artful self control. Gorky surely never consciously intended such associations, but they seem valid now, because this is an art of allusion.

“By allusion the thing alluded to is both there and not there,” the critic Harold Rosenberg wrote of Gorky’s abstract work. “Allusion is the basis upon which painting could, step-by-step, dispense with depiction, without loss of meaning.” Thus, I contend the meaning could become multi-various, like the forms that arise in a garden each spring, related to forebears, yet each possessing unique character.

Allusion’s regenerative meaning was achieved through “emotional reference, evoked by color, shape, by movement…” Rosenberg wrote, which brings us back to physical art of movement, like ice dancing. 1

Rosenberg and a number of other observers also see the weight of history in Gorky’s work, as did the artist himself. His art testifies to the plight of the almost perennially oppressed Armenian people, an experience that many indigenous cultures of the sprawling regions of greater Russia endured as well, through that nation’s troubled, tragic and powerfully human history.

As a teenager, Gorky tried to flee with his mother and his sister Vartoosh to escape the Turkish genocide of Armenia. These children and Lady Shushanik were forced on the 100-mile “death march” of 1915 to the frontier of Caucasian Armenia. The mother grew sick as she refused most food and water that her children frantically searched for, because she cared about their health and welfare over her own. According to Vartoosh’s son Karlen Mooradian, “In a frenzied effort to obtain food money, Gorky, aided by Vartoosh, carved traditional Armenian women’s combs from ox and bull antlers acquired from street vendors, and tried to sell them.” 2 This experience may be a genesis of one of his most famous paintings,  The Liver is the Cock’s Comb which, though a later and more complex work, actually contains compositional parallels to the Garden in Sochi series. the-liver-is-the-cock-s-comb “The Liver is the Cock’s Comb,” Arshile Gorky 1944: Courtesy wiki paintings.com

The Adoian family had hoped to reach the Georgian capital, about 100 miles to the north and toward Sochi. But they never got beyond Yerevan, because the mother became critically ill from malnutrition and refused to leave the soil of Armenia.

After the government refused to allow the children to place their mother in a hospital for homeless genocide orphans, the brother and sister tried to care for her in an old “war-torn room in a dusty abandoned structure whose inhabitants had been killed,” wrote Mooradian. The roof leaked when the snow began melting near the end of the winter of 1919, and each morning before leaving, Arshile and Vartoosh “lifted up their mother and placed her on the window ledge to lessen the chance of forgetting wet.”

On March 20th of that spring, 39-year-old Lady Shushanik collapsed in the arms of her children — dead of starvation and of the genocide that killed two million Armenians, or three-quarters of the nation. The Turks were also warring with Russia, so Armenia became a great battlefield. At the time, Vartoosh was 13 and Gorky was nearly 15, and beginning to develop strong artistic sensibilities. 3

Vartoosh says that his mother taught her brother “the poetry of Van’s nature. Of the sea, plants, animals, the mountains and valleys, the earth and clouds. She was the port Queen. Gorky never forgot what she had taught him.’ Someday,’ he told me, ‘my paintings of mother will make her live forever.”  4 66512de13fdb7dfc318a40d0d0782e35 “Portrait of the Artist with his Mother,” Arshile Gorky, 1926-29, Whitney Museum of American Art. Courtesy pinterest.com

And a couple of paintings and drawings of their beautiful mother are among Gorky’s most famous works of art and show his mastery of traditional and modernist artistic portraiture. Gorky wrote in a 1943 letter that he should have really titled the Sochi series Garden in Khorkom, for a Gorky family garden in Armenia. Nevertheless, one can imagine that he envisioned this garden in Sochi as signifying the family’s deliverance — Sochi was the closest city in Russia that would not be under Turkish influence. In the letter,  he referred to the family garden, perhaps to gratify family members: “In that series I have, for example, depicted most prominently the beautiful Armenian slippers father and I used to wear, the ones we purchased in Armenia’s Van from the Armenian artists when uncle Grikor and I rode there by horse.”

Sochi 2 Another variation in Arshile Gorky’s “Garden in Sochi” series from 1943 nowritza.pwp.bluyonder.co.uk

The artist also depicts “my translations of mother’s soft Armenian butter churn, that pearl in the crown of our hard-working village women. How vividly those days imprint themselves in my heart.” (Note: There is controversy over some of the Gorky letters published by the late Mooradian, whom some art scholars accuse of forging or changing some of his uncle’s letters.) 5

This evocation also reveals Gorky’s deep affinity for Armenia’s ancient and widely influential culture, what Mooradian extensively argued is Gorky’s predominant “hylozoist” outlook. One can begin to sense the dark and deeply personal historical complexities of expression in Gorky’s inherently lyrical abstractions.

Rosenberg saw Gorky’s as work as less biographical while acknowledging their historical heft. Gorky was an extremely erudite amateur historian of art and his early work clearly claimed Picasso and Cézanne as influences. Joan Miro’s influence is also evident underlying some of the Armenian artist’s fanciful forms and compositions.

Gorky’s went on to become among the greatest of the first generation of American abstract expressionists, which included many immigrants who fled war-ravaged Europe, Russia and the Middle East. Willem de Kooning, who once shared a studio with Gorky, commented: “He knew lots more about painting and art—he just knew it by nature—things I was supposed to know and feel and understand. . . . He had an extraordinary gift for hitting the nail on the head.” 6

So, given Arshile Gorky’s sense of art’s historical threads of development, Rosenberg saw the abstract art as products of a program “experimental research.” : “Each of the different versions garden in Sochi is a rap upon a different stylistic door to the future, and a disappointed turning away when no answer comes.

“We can see today that the 1940s Garden was a sufficient opening through which unexplored regions might have been reached. Unfortunately, history, when it does supply answers, never labels them as such.” 7

So the Sochi paintings’ echoes of artistic allusion resonate with the dark clouds of historical experience, and yet remain alive with the inspiring energy of springtime — and of indomitable human achievement.

To make them a world community experience, pan-cultural events like the Olympics need all the historical resonance they can get.

Garden-in-Sochi-1941-by-A-001 3 A third “Garden in Sochi,” variation by Gorky, from the Museum of Modern Art. courtesy the Guardian.com


1. Harold Rosenberg, Arshile Gorky: the Man, the Time, the Idea, , Horizon, 1962, 55-56

Karlen Mooradian, Arshile Gorky Adoian, , Gilgamesh, 1978,143

3. Ibid. 147-48

4. Ibid. 148

5. Ibid. 277 (NOTE: Arshile Gorky Adoian and sister Vartoosh escaped to America in 1920, a story recounted in a previous Culture Currents posting  https://kevernacular.com/?p=1848 which further details Gorky’s artistic development and relationship to his mother, and my visit with Vartoosh Adoian Mooradian and Karlen Mooradian. I was fortunate to meet them in Chicago, after they noticed a review I wrote of the 1981 Gorky retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum.

6. Melissa Kerr, Gorky Life Chronology, The Arshile Gorky Foundation http://arshilegorkyfoundation.org/gorkys-life/chronology

7. Rosenberg, 82-83.

Thelonious Monk died today in 1982. An obit column from back then


Monk and Dizzy Gillespie. Courtesy indulgo.com 

I guess I’ll call this posting “played twice” in honor of a composition by Thelonious Sphere Monk, the genius of musical cubism that danced and dwelled in its uncanny depths, which no one ever completely understood. But that didn’t matter. They understood more than enough, in the head and the heart.

As he once told Down Beat magazine: “Sometimes it’s to your advantage that people think you’re crazy.”

I realize my “played twice” is a recycled obituary column, but today, February 17, is the anniversary of Monk’s death in 1982. I wrote this for The Milwaukee Journal at the time, and as a fairly immediate response to the news of his death, so it has that emotional authenticity. Quite a few people liked this piece and I think it still holds up. Thanks to pianist and composer Frank Stemper for reminding me of the occasion.

For some reason, my blog editing is not allowing me to enlarge this scanned text. My apologies. If you can do so on your computer please do.

Or, try a right click to open this link in a new file: Monk obit doc
PLEASE NOTE: Readers with tablets ought to be able to expand the text of this obit to read it easily. For example, a Kindle Fire HD does the job well.


*check out “Played Twice” on 5 by Monk by 5 on Original Jazz Classics from 1959.

Better yet, check out this video of Monk playing his “Crepescule with Nellie,” written for his long-time and beloved wife, Nellie. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QIVoOwOMq2c

Monk obit 1982 by K Lynch

Culture Currents adopts a new theme image from the Appalachian mountains

Welcome to Culture Currents, and its new header theme photo (above the headline of this post). I enjoyed using the Grand Tetons as a theme image but I recently contemplated the subject of a header and came up with this image as more apropos in its symbolism. It’s a picture of the Delaware River in the Delaware Water Gap of the Pocono Mountains. The Gap and this part of the river are actually in New Jersey and part of the great Appalachian Trail, the footpath stretching over 2,000 miles from Georgia to northern Maine.

So the river and trail signify a current running through the Appalachian culture that produced some of America’s great indigenous music, like bluegrass and country music.

And of course, the river is the key Culture Currents image because one of America’s greatest waterways, the mighty Mississippi, spread the profound and central currents of American vernacular music: the blues, gospel music, R&B and jazz.

And as previous readers know, this blog may explore virtually any noteworthy development or event of common (and uncommon) culture, regardless of medium, as well as political strains of culture.

So enjoy the new theme image and come on up and down the rivers and trails with me, and hear the vernaculars speak. We’ll stop off at virtually any port on the cultural map, from low-down folk to “high” art.
— Kevernacular (Kevin Lynch)

Grammy-winning trumpeter Brian Lynch salutes unsung heroes of his art


Brian Lynch — Unsung Heroes: A Tribute to Some Underappreciated Trumpet Masters, Volumes 1 and 2 (Hollistic Musicworks)

Recent jazz rarely swings or sings with the fire and verve of these straight-ahead sessions. Brian Lynch, perhaps Milwaukee’s greatest baby-boomer gift to jazz, has trumpeted for such iconic names as  Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Phil Woods, Eddie Palmieri and Toshiko Akiyoshi.

With scholarly artfulness, Lynch mines compositions from unheralded trumpeters. He digs deep into their now-cold cases, like a detective with enough of a criminal mind to always get his man.

Lynch (no relation to the writer) earned the 2006 Best Latin Jazz Album of the Year Grammy for his album,  “The Brian Lynch/Eddie Palmieri Recording Project – Simpatico,”  It’s a near-definitive statement of Palmieri’s mature art and Lynch arranged all its large ensembles and produced the record. Still, he’s slightly undervalued in the landscape of brass giants, which may have inspired his sense of justice regarding these nearly forgotten musician-composers.

I heard Lynch often in his developing years in Milwaukee, and unforgettably once in a small inner-city club owned by a relative of the great saxophonist Sonny Stitt, who played there that night. Lynch was blowing when Sonny noticed something. While Brian played, the bebop legend bent over, grabbed the startled trumpeter’s upper back and jammed his palm into his gut, forcing him into a more erect posture to improve his projection. It worked, and Brian’s song burned brighter from that day on. Now it illuminates another layer of songfulness buried in the jazz tradition.

This recording project amounts to serious jazz archeology. Lynch says that almost all of the tunes on the two volumes were never recorded by other artists than the composers and two, by Idrees Sulieman and Tommy Turrentine on Vol. 2, though published, evidently have never been recorded.

There’s something special about Lynch’s dusting off these relative unknowns — as if you’re hearing trumpet bells that gleam fleetingly in sunlight that teases us amid clouds that beckon the blues. And yet here they are, captured in aural amber.

Brian Lynch - blog - vale esta

Trumpeter and bandleader Brian Lynch. Courtesy mwanaafrica.com

Tommy Turrentine is a street-corner poem in name and music. Add these names: Idrees Sullivan, Joe Gordon, Donald Byrd, Claudio Roditi, Ira Sullivan, Howard McGee, Charles Tolliver, Louis Smith, Kamau Adilifu.

These amount to dances with bebop spirits. Lynch’s own sinuous playing never calls undue attention to itself, yet it proclaims these compositions’ timelessness, and mourns the loss of their clarion call.  The project mixes of righteous covers and a few pitch-perfect Lynch originals.

Among volume one highlights: “Household of Saud” by Charles Tolliver, which searches ardently like a hunter traversing the peaks and valleys of time.

Here’s a video of the recording of Tolliver’s “Household of Saud”:


Louis Smith’s bebop maze “Wetu” unfolds with effortless grace; the chops-busting changes seen as natural as breathing. Meanwhile, “RoditiSamba,” a Lynch composition dedicated to Roditi, saunters like a rake surveying the sun-blessed pulchritude on a Rio beach.

These recordings’ professional sheen never allows inspiration, conviviality or gutsy swing to take a backseat, thanks to saxophonists Vincent Herring, Alex Hoffman, pianist Rob Schneiderman, bassist David Wong, drummer Pete Van Nostrand and conga player Vicente “Little Johnny” Rivero.

Here’s a video of the recording of Tolliver’s Household of Saud:



Volume 2:

This 2013 release is  a separate CD but, coming from Volume one’s same three-day sessions, they fit together like a twin bros. Howard McGee’s floating “Sandy” pinpricks the soul with the sad majesty of memory. Idrees Sullivan’s “Short Steps” enchants while demonstrating how intervals shape melody and harmonic motion. Suddenly you hear Lynch’s own “Marissa’s Mood” (dedicated Ira Sullivan) — a more complex weave of changes and rhythmic phrasing — and understand how composers appeal, with the deftest strokes, to our head and our heart. Lynch’s solo, a gem of sustained melodic invention, and the ensuing ensemble carry the romantic torch like a handful of dancing long-stemmed roses.

Lynch dedicates the album to “the great Tommy Turrentine,” brother of renowned sax man Stanley, and includes Tommy’s “Gone but not Forgotten” which might aptly title this project, if not for the actual title’s click-the-heels salute to these trumpeters’ unsung glory, as a kind of fading musical ideal. The “heroes” add up to a substantial and satisfying reassessment of hard-bop history.

brian seated

                                           Lynch relaxin’ at Camarillo? Courtesy berkeleyagency.com

Among recent releases on Lynch’s Hollistic Music Works label are two albums that reveal his loyal appreciation of the Midwest jazz scene, and he’s featured on both. Lynch returns to Milwaukee frequently for residencies at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, one of which led to Combinations: Live at the Jazz Estate, co-led by Milwaukee-based trumpeter Eric Jacobson and saxophonist Eric Schoor, billed as the Eric Jacobson Schoor Quintet + Brian Lynch, and recorded at Milwaukee’s premier jazz club. It also features a rarely recorded Milwaukee legend on piano, Barry Velleman, a Monk-esque modernist, and the Conservatory’s crackling faculty rhythm section, Jeff Hamann on bass and Dave Bayles on drums.

The second recent Hollistic recording Naptown Legacy is nominally dedicated to Naptown a.k.a. Indianapolis, with its great tradition of musicians like the Montgomery brothers, Freddie Hubbard, J.J. Johnson, James Spaulding, David Baker, Slide Hampton and others. The date is led by drummer and Indianapolis native Ray Appleton, who has played with many of those Naptown greats as well many years with Wes Montgomery’s pianistic brother Buddy, who spent much of his career in Milwaukee. This date however, features a Milwaukee native, the swinging piano virtuoso Rick Germanson who’s making a strong name for himself in Manhattan and as a recording artist. (Full disclosure: Germanson played at my wedding, but don’t count that against him.)

Check out all the CD, video, educational and digital download offerings at Lynch’s label website: http://hollisticmusicworks.com/

CD cover photo credits: Vol. 1 — atane.net . Vol. 2 — brianlynchband.com 

A shorter version of this review was published in the Shepherd Express


What are the most “popular” posts on Culture Currents? Here’s a full list.

Dear Culture Currents readers,

I thought that you browsing visitors might find this list of interest. This post contains the titles of each blog post that I’ve written here, ranked by WordPress according to the number of hits each has received.

So it’s a list of the most popular blogs in descending order. The most hits by far to date was at the home page/archives, representing people checking out my latest posting or searching through the archives, which are listed by months only on the home page sidebar.

So this new list allows a reader a little easier access to the archives. Simply click on any title and you’ll be directed straight to it. 

The most popular single post to date is my Moby Dick-like interpretation of Santiago Calatrava’s celebrated addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum (pictured above). I was also happy to see that many culturally attuned people apparently find it significant that Milwaukee has lost its last black talk radio station.

I realize “The Day the United States Hanged a Woman” is a provocative title, but the movie review amounts also to a fascinating true historical story that resonates today, regarding capital punishment.

And the Duane Allman posting is a testament to that great guitarist’s ongoing legacy, evident most notably in the work of Derek Trucks, co-leader of the marvelous Tedeschi-Trucks Band which, in my book, has no peer today among groups attempting to combine and expand on a wide range of roots music styles.
I hope this information helps you to enjoy Culture Currents (Vernaculars Speak) a bit more.
As always, thank you very much for visiting, reading and commenting.

Kevernacular (Kevin Lynch)

All Culture Currents postings in order of number of hits (listed after each title):

1.Home page / ArchivesMore stats3,108

2. Discovering a Famous Seafaring Scene in Calatrava’s PavilionMore stats490

3. The loss of Milwaukee’s black talk radio stirs memories of Marvin GayeMore stats485

4. “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” — and Duane Allman *More stats479

5. The Day the United States Hanged a WomanMore stats463If These Quilts Could Talk: Signals along the Underground RailroadMore stats436Will the Wolf Survive — or Attack? Examining “The Grey” ControversyMore stats328Rembrandt: Last Chances To See a Life-Changing Work of ArtMore stats306A remarkable Mother’s Day story of an unforgettable “Lady” and her gifted son, Arshile GorkyMore stats242My All-time Best Americana/Roots albums.More stats221The Deadly Attack of the Smart Phone ZombiesMore stats205Ishmael and Queequeg: the Original Pan-Cultural Odd Couple?More stats175Samsara: A Wordless World of Magnificent Images (opens Friday)More stats173The Magician Behind Miles: Reviving the American Individualism of Gil EvansMore stats146Blogger bioMore stats133Garry Wills exposes the cultural roots of America’s gun mentalityMore stats124Kathy Mattea’s “Coal Journey” Back HomeMore stats116If Dylan wanted to back him up, he must’ve been a hell of a leader. 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Russell Banks returns to short stories with a great novelist’s sagacity for human nature


Russell Banks  — A Permanent Member of the Family (Ecco) $25.99 228 pages.

From a son’s massive saga of his father, Civil War firebrand John Brown, to his incisive story collection, Russell Banks has demonstrated acute insight into human relations, in a myriad of their intensely pressurized, comic and tragic permutations.

Ostensibly about family in the broadest sense, these stories rarely comfort but reveal how most all of us strive upstream for human connection, an instinct often as haphazard as a windblown leaf.

Banks is best known as a novelist, and two of his books have been made into acclaimed films, Affliction and The Sweet Hereafter. His 2004 novel, The Darling, about the odyssey of a wanted 1960s radical, is in development with Jessica Chastain in the title role. His epic John Brown novel, Cloudsplitter, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and stands up to any historical novel in recent memory.


James Coburn (right) won an Academy Award for best supporting actor in the film adaptation of  “Affliction,” Russell Banks’ novel of a troubled and divorced working-class man. The character is played by Nick Nolte. Courtesy sodahead.com

Two of his most provocative novels involve young protagonists. Rule off the Bone is a sort of picaresque mix of Huckleberry Finn and The Catcher in the Rye. Banks’ last novel, Memory of Lost Skin, follows the struggles of a very young man who has done a sentence for a sex offense, and must fend for himself in a fearful world that refuses to understand much, including his crime’s context, until a sociology professor takes interest in him. And yet, Banks was always a masterful short story writer. The previous collection Angel on the Roof contained all his short fiction, until this one.

The opening story, “Former Marine” exposes the fault lines of desperate paternal pride and love to heartbreaking and shocking effect. An ex-Marine can’t bring himself to admit to his three grown sons the precipice he has recklessly reached in his life. Along the way comes a scene in which the father stops in a movie theater to watch the recent film Lincoln. It seems an incongruous act for this man on the edge, yet very telling of humanity’s crooked path, following perhaps the instinct to find succor or salvation in the past.

The rest of the stories in A Permanent Member of the Family are comparatively muted in final effect, until the last story, but each illuminates the strange, comical and provisional beauty of human interaction in a seeming harsh world.


Author Russell Banks. Courtesy online.wsj.com

The title story concerns a divorcing family hanging onto the pet dog like a life buoy that each must pass among them in a manner that may not really save any of them. The father, struggling hard to keep the family intact despite diminishing odds, finally has all of his four daughters in his car at once. Hope springs anew. Then he makes a fatal mistake. A heavy pick and cold, hard earth come to signify the damage done to a family’s heart.

“Searching for Veronica” involves a mother’s enigmatic quest to find her missing daughter, but may be a search to find herself just as much. One conversation has a meta-consciousness aura, a rather literary contemplation of how blood and identity entwine. But it works completely as real-life dialogue, the mark of a master fiction writer.

Sometimes Banks’ people do find tender if temporary connections that strike deep chords of joy and pain. In “Lost and Found” a middle-aged man and woman rekindle romance after five years:

“It wasn’t male vanity. It was Ellen herself, a very specific woman, whose smoky low voice, green eyes, dry humor and right, interesting words, and yes, slender legs, that had got to him. That and the way she made him feel about himself…funny, smart, good-looking, and lonely. These were feelings about himself that he had lost, bit by bit, over the years of his marriage in middle-age, small increments of loss, so that he wasn’t even aware of the loss, until that night when they ended up alone in his room at the Marriott. Lost and, because of her, found. And then all of a sudden lost again. Until now.”

“Blue” is almost surreal, yet utterly plausible — a black woman, shopping for a car, is trapped in a far corner of the dealer’s large lot by a vicious guard dog. The salesmen, having pegged her a “tire-kicker” who’ll leave and return, close the lot. After hours, a young male Good Samaritan finally offers her hope of rescue, like a long lost son.

The closing story, “The Green Door” concerns a drunken family man fatefully attracted to a sex club, and a casino bartender-narrator, playing the classic role of social facilitator.

Yet, in these tales, nothing is quite as it seems, and Banks, with no contrivance, shines lyrical light and shadow upon his characters’ yearning and risk, suffering and loss, with sage understanding of the deep corners of human nature.

I suspect that these are stories, like those in Angel, that I will return to, and make permanent members of my family.

Here’s a video of Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman interviewing Russell Banks about his writing and his choice of writing through the voices of outcasts, criminals and revolutionaries. It includes a scene from the film The Sweet Hereafter, a story about “lost childhood.”http://barclayagency.com/speakers/videos/banks.html/1

A shorter version of this review was published in The Shepherd Express.

Editorial assistance by Ann K. Peterson