Archive for August, 2009

The Arrival.


28 August 2009

After two days of traveling 1300 miles in a densely packed car, with energy drinks and a book of CDs as my only companions, I’ve finally arrived in Maryland.  One of my friends chuckled at my road-weary, lame attempt at geographical/celebrity washed out comedian wordplay: “You mean to tell me that I drove all the way to Chevy Chase, MD – and he’s not here!?!?”


Mother Nature gave me her best and her worst; the former was on the first day of travel from Kansas City, MO to Columbus, OH, an 11-hour marathon through sunny plains and skies that were almost smiling, as if they were patting me on the back during the seemingly endless journey, saying “it’s ok, you can keep going, only 190 more miles to Indianapolis.”

The latter came today during the second part of my trip: for close to an hour near the end of the day’s drive, the sky went from a grin to a grinch, sending cascading sheets and waves of fat raindrops over us poor occupants of I68 East, reducing visibility to just a few feet in front of the hood.  Luckily, it cleared up for the final battle through D.C. traffic on 495.

However, today’s seven-hour cruise through one of the oldest and most beautiful parts of America was a drive that will remain forever engrained in this author’s memory.  The lush, rolling mountains and hills of West Virginia were stained shades of green that recalled the vivid Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz.  It’s clear I’m not in Kansas anymore.

[post image taken from Internet.  blog author was too focused on driving to stop and take his own picture of WV.]

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Farewell, Kansas City

open road

As promised, here’s the announcement: punkyjunk is taking a temporary hiatus as its author and his wife make the great leap to Maryland.  I’ve accepted a new position with the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland, which will afford me a wealth of opportunities to witness a wide range of phenomenal performances in jazz, classical, dance, and theatre – the whole spectrum of performing arts disciplines.

Kansas City, its people, and its music have been good to me for so many years, and I’ve deeply valued my last three years in service of the American Jazz Museum.  I may be leaving the town that launched the careers of Charlie Parker, Jay McShann and so many others, but I’ll always have the sounds of KC coming through my stereo.

It’s time for an adventure.  I’ll be in touch soon.

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Les Paul: 1915 – 2009


[EDIT: re-posted here with video at PRESENTMagazine.com]

Today is a day of mourning for guitar players and music lovers across the globe.  We’ve lost the man who gave us the electric guitar, multi-track recording, an array of effects pedals and a deep catalog of some of the most inspiring guitar playing ever recorded.

Les Paul’s influence is immeasurable.  From a young guitarist who fiddled around with an acoustic guitar and radio parts to revolutionize the six-string instrument to becoming a 94-year old man who still held a weekly residence playing at the Iridium in New York City, Les Paul broke the rules, soared over the sonic spectrum and became a legend.

After reading Will Hodgkinsons’ Guitar Man, I hoped that one day I too would be able to visit the famed NYC club where packed crowds came every Monday night to worship at the altar of Les Paul – who himself would hang around after every show to individually greet each person in the interminable line of fans that hoped to just get a glimpse of him, take a picture, or get an autograph on their LP, CD, or guitar.

Hodgkinson’s book details his own chance to meet the man and ask him the all-important question: “How do I become a better guitar player?”  – only to recieve the single greatest one-word answer:


Arguably the finest guitar in the world, the Gibson Les Paul is the most sought-after axe aside from the Fender Stratocaster.  Guitarists and music fans alike will forever engage in passionate debates over which guitar reigns supreme.  There is a clear line in the sand, and one must choose a side when asked another all-important question: “Gibson or Fender?” 

Just look at this blog’s banner image to see what I did to one of my Fenders about seven years ago.  I already explained what happened in an early post, but from that point on I was a Gibson man.

I’m proud to be the [temporary] owner of an early 1970s model Les Paul Deluxe with a gorgeous sunburst finish, a priceless instrument with a tone like no other.  It’s on loan from a good friend, a man who taught me my first chords on the guitar and helped nurture my interest in making music.  Reissue models aside, instruments like these are rare, and only get better with age [under proper care]. 

I’d link to a photo right now, but the Gibson website at the time of this post is crippling under the weight of the massive amount of site visitors it’s getting right now.  Trust me, it’s a beaut.

I urge those of you reading to pay tribute by listening to some of Les Paul’s music – or Led Zeppelin – or Eric Clapton on John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers – or just about any of the other legendary rockers who knew that there are few sounds in this world better than a Les Paul plugged into a stack of Marshall amplifiers.  Or if you play – and you own one the guitars that bear the legend’s name – well, you know.

Although I’m a bit busy at the moment [big news coming in a future post soon], I’ll probably plug in the ’71 and rip on it for a few minutes.  It’s what he would want everyone to do.  And so I will.

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fayvictor[image from allaboutjazz.com]

Probably one of the best-kept secrets in the world of vocalists, Fay Victor gets inside of a tune and wrangles it into something abstract and artful, yet still accessible.  Listeners can reap rich rewards both immediately and through repeated spins of her discs. 

Although she nails the standards perfectly with her smoky & sophisticated voice, her most alluring vocal takes are tracks where she bends, twists and pulls the melodies apart, leaving them wonderfully warped and taking listeners exactly where they don’t expect her to go. 

She also receives fine support from a tight backing band whose sound is the perfect delivery vehicle for her unpredictable forays into uncharted vocal dimensions, turning down alleys where “bwopping” and braying trumpets weave around trembling, “ooooing” ghost-like guitars before they slip into something more comfortable.  Sounds fun, right? 

You can try to hum along, but much like Willie Nelson’s near-impossible-to-copy-phrasing, Victor always seems one step ahead – but chasing after her is a true delight for those who love a good musical challenge.

Dive right in with Lazy Old Sun: Live/Life in the Lowlands.  Her take on The Doors’ “People Are Strange” is much weirder than the iconic L.A. psychedelic rockers’ original.

Listen/download here(vocals kick in around :45)

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[from the series “Live at the Village Vanguard,” presented by NPR and WBGO Jazz 88.  Originally posted here on March 17, 2009]

*part 2 of the punkyjunk Village Vanguard review series*

St. Patrick’s Day – what a wonderful occasion to go listen to the best…jazz?  Those who were at the Village Vanguard five months ago on that day got more than their fill of green; saxophonist David Sanchez and his quartet treated the legendary NYC club live a massive blank canvas, painting it with a variety of swatches of tonal colors with subtle shades. 

Originally a percussionist, Sanchez spilled out wave after wave of gorgeous lines through his tough-yet-tendor tenor that reflected his strong background in a variety of polyrhythms and a deep-rooted connection to Latin sounds; an approach that was nurtured by his mentor and one of the great masters of blending Afro-Latin and bop, Dizzy Gillespie.

 The pianoless quartet, which also featured Norwegian guitarist Lage Lund, drummer Henry Cole, and bassist Orlando LeFleming, provided solid support throughout the evening.  Lund’s guitar provided a nice counterpoint to the leader’s sax, often playing several melodies in unison an octave higher.  His slightly fuzzy hollowbody tone sounds best when he’s got the spotlight, and his solos are exquisitely built upon a foundation that dances between tasty comped chords and lightening-quick single-note runs.

When the band really gelled, they were almost hypnotic, finding some deep grooves in the tunes.  LeFleming’s funky-plunky bass and Cole’s in-the-pocket drumming helped guide the band through an evening’s worth of music finely balanced between rolling, sweeping ballads and more intense tracks that charged forward at a pace that left the audience in the aural dust.

It’s clear why Sanchez has won a Latin Grammy.  Although the award doesn’t hold as much for weight for some these days, this night at the Village Vanguard displayed a thoughtful, exciting and fresh perspective on the directions where Latin music can go.

 [post photo by Devin DeHaven, taken from www.davidsanchezmusic.com]

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