FRINGE PRODUCT GIFT GUIDE: Shopping for musical inspiration has perhaps never been such an expansive—and also exhausting—experience, when much of the world’s best available music is absent from above-ground commercial media sources. Word-of-mouth from kindred spirits becomes evermore vital to our emotional survival. Here, then, some gift ideas for fringe-leaning listener, with restless ears and an open mind. Ben Riley’s Monk Legacy Septet, Memories of T (Concord)
When it comes to dealing with Thelonious Monk’s great songbook, drummer Ben Riley has a more direct link—and possibly divine right—than most, having played with Monk for years, as part of the classic Monk band sound. After Monk’s death, Riley revisited his old comrade’s tunes in the band Sphere, with Kenny Barron in the piano seat, and again recently with his fascinating Monk Legacy Septet—sans piano, and all the more intriguing for it. Memories of T, besides being one of 2006’s best jazz albums, is one of the freshest Monk sets in years. The song list opens with “Let’s Call This” and closes with the common Monk set-closer “Epistrophy,” and ranges from the standards “Straight, No Chaser” and “Rhythm-a-ning” to quirky delights like “Brake’s Sake” and “Green Chimneys.” Trumpeter Don Sickler’s cool arrangements cleverly divvy up the melodic material between players, and guitarist Freddie Bryant is a stand-out soloist. Generally, the project reminds us that Monk is history, in the best and most renewably inspiring way.
Sonic Youth, the destroyed room, b sides and rarities (Geffen)
For many bands, a package of “b sides and rarities” might be a euphemism for spring cleaning, with a capitalist’s gleam-in-the-eye. For Sonic Youth, always with experimental ideas and avant-garde-ist tendencies beneath their song parade, it’s a different story, as heard in this collection of mostly instrumental and often hypnotic avant-rock vamps from the Geffen years. Kim Gordon’s mumbly voice appears on the minute-long “Razor Blade,” and briefly on “Blink,” but is an anomaly on an album of atmospheric debris from a blessed mess of a destroyed room. Here’s further proof, from the attic, that Sonic Youth is among the most important rock bands of the last quarter century.
Derek Bailey, The Play (Samadhisound)
Avant-guitar hero Derek Bailey was one of the jazz legends who passed on in 2006 (if “jazz” is the proper term for his adamantly free, atonal and arrhythmic sound painting genius). This final solo guitar recording, for David Sylvian’s gamey label Samidhisound, is full of typically dry, abstract Bailey-esque magic, with plinking Giacametti-ish harmonics, cracked intervals on the fly, and anti-sentimental spirits somehow soaring and dodging clichés. There’ll never be another him.
Marisa Monte, Universo ao meu Redor (Metro Blue)
Brazil’s sensuous sophisticate and it girl released two albums this year, after a four-year silence, and this tribute to samba is the more dazzling of the two. In part, her artful feat lies in balancing a passionate homage to tradition and subtle contemporary manners and textures, and even a cameo by David Byrne. Just try not to succumb to its wiles. We dare you.
SURFING TO THE LEFT: Following up our recent respectful nod to the alternative airwaves of KCSB-FM (91.9 fm), two more compelling shows have bubbled up into consciousness. On the subject of refreshing Brazilian sounds, check out “Tudo Bem” (Wednesday, 2 to 4 p.m.). Jazz from the edges live on “Roots to the Source” (Sundays, 3 to 5 p.m.), which actually plays music by Henry Threadgill—one of the Great American Heroes too few know about.
TO-DOINGS: In this otherwise slack zone in live music hereabouts, discerning Christmas cultureniks actually have two fine options to choose from tonight: The Blind Boys of Alabama return to the Marjorie Luke Theater with the Christmas show they memorably brought two years ago; Phil Kline’s “Unsilent Night” public performance art event, involving ambulatory ghetto blasters a’caroling—an annual fete in NYC for years—comes west, starting at Contemporary Arts Forum at 6.
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