YOUR FAVORITE MUSIC
Clem Snide isn't what you'd call a "party" band. To tell the truth, they're rather subdued -- a little mopey, maybe even downright melancholy. But with a sound that contains elements of timeless American rock; hints of alt-rock jangle; and classic, sad-boy introspection, their new album, Your Favorite Music, is a stunner. While the group's arrangements seem remarkably simple, the music is sometimes augmented by the raspy creak of a cello and a rather rustic sounding fiddle. Leaned against the band's waltzing tempos, gentle guitar strumming and the singer's vanilla plain sing-talking, Clem Snide's portraits come off as intimate, lovely and heartbreaking. Fans of Palace, Smog and REM are advised to investigate this modestly gorgeous album.
Full disclosure: wines made with muscat grapes get me horny. I dunno how, I dunno why, but pop a bottle of fizzy Moscato d' Asti or muscat dessert wine and I'll lick my lips and try to picture you reaching for the pack of cigarettes on the nightstand. Moelleux 1997 Domaine Fontan is made from the petit manseng grape (far as I can tell, the label's entirely in French. Lot of good that does me!). According to my reference material, (the excellent http://www.wine-lovers-page.com) manseng "appears as two clones, gros manseng and petit manseng, mainly to be found in the western regions of the Pyrenees area of southwest France. Used for producing both dry and sweet white wines." What's truly remarkable is this grape's similarity to muscat -- it's that delicious! Whooooooo! This wine is bright, deep and very yellow. Served nice and c-c-c-cold, the Moelleux takes its time glubbing its way out of the bottle. Yep, it's a thick, sweet, fruity white! My fave! The overwhelming flavor of the Moelleux is that of fat, ripe peach with just the slightest spritz of tangerine. The nose is faithful to these lush, plush flavors and also offers a whispery floral note. Readily available, this bottle's an astounding deal at under (yes, under!) $10. Ah, lust!
8 BOLD SOULS
While the Moelleux inspires the pants and panties, Chicago's 8 Bold Souls captivates the mind. Their latest LP, Last Option, is a dazzling meeting of jazz -- both old and new. Lead Soul XXX writes tunes with the majestic swagger of Ellington, and the heady blend of street smarts and avant sensibilities displayed by titans the likes of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Charles Mingus. Propelled by a seamless pairing of brass and woodwinds, the Souls are capable of conjuring a sound full enough to swing with impressive verve, but also small enough to step nimbly through Wilkerson's devilish vamps and stylish solo opportunities. More than anything, Last Option proves a modern group can craft seriously badass swing, art groove and freebop... and sound classy doing it. Fantastic!
As noted above, I'd taste a glass of warm spit if it were blended with a few muscat grapes. However, the 1998 Cuvee des Lilas Muscat Sec has me stumped. I can't tell if this is one of the weirdest bottles I've ever tasted or one of the worst. Out of the bottle, the Lilas lets off the usual muscat aromas -- a soft, gentle waft of flowers and fruit that's more a glow than a scent. Once on the tongue, however, the Lilas gets hectic. There's a strong and immediate burst of ginger, a flavor so powerful and so unusual it'll make you stop in your tracks. There are also short, sharp jolts of lime, alcohol and maybe tequila. Yeah, this wine's that weird! Do I love this wine? No. In fact, I'd rather just taste this than, you know, actually drink it.
Soprano saxist Steve Lacy (a rather serious vinophile, I hear) has devoted much of his career to the music of the very great (and very out there) Thelonious Monk, with whom he played for a few months in 1960. Shortly after that gig, Lacy teamed with trombonist Roswell Rudd in a quartet devoted exclusively to Monk's music. It's no surprise, then, that this reunion finds the pair once again paying tribute to Monk. Sparked by the quirky interplay between Lacy's spry, angular soprano sax and Rudd's rollicking trombone, Monk's Dream captures the joyful, unfettered sense of exploration that can be missing in overly academic readings of Monk. Instead, Lacy and Rudd rear back and let 'er rip, with Lacy tracing brisk, sharply defined lines around the perimeter of a tune while Rudd huffs, puffs and wobbles his way down a path closer to the song's charming center. Though only two Monk compositions are covered here ("Monk's Dream" and "Pannonica"), Lacy's "The Rent" sounds cribbed from the composer's notes, while Ellington's "Koko" is given a robust and funky swing that revels in the nooks and crannies of the piece. Supported by Lacy's long-time rhythm section of Jean-Jacques Avenel (bass) and John Betsch (drums), this is a warm, precisely rendered work by two of creative jazz music's finest.
As much as I love muscat grapes, I also love the noble hop bud. I love the hop bud even more when it's flavoring the best damn pint of beer I've had all year -- Rogue's Dry Hopped Red. While it's true that hops do indeed make the beer (take note Eastern brewers!), innovative applications of those hops make the difference between merely drinking a great beer and becoming blissfully shitfaced. The Rogue has layers of flavors that reveal themselves with more subtly than most wines. The hops give a slight bite at first taste, followed by notes of caramel and perfectly roasted malt, all lifted by sublime carbonation. Yes, most Rogue beers are outstanding, but this is a batch for the ages. Want more hops? Living or traveling in the Northwest? Try the face-peeling hop power of Tapps IPA; the regal, unfiltered glory of anything by Leavenworth; or the perfectly proportioned Maritime Red.
TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE IS BEYOND TIME
Whenever out-pianist Matthew Shipp got together with his pal, the equally out-bassist William Parker, the jazz produced always provided something substantial to chew on. Then suddenly, toward the end of 1999, Shipp announced a recording hiatus. "My opus," he remarked, "is complete." Time is of the Essence, the Essence is Beyond Time, recorded in 1997, features the Parker/Shipp duo, as well as drummer Rashid Baker, saxist Daniel Carter and the excellent trumpeter Roy Campbell Jr. Since this music's fully improvised, things can get exciting -- quick! Here, it's Parker who jumps to the fore. Accommodating Shipp's stabbing note jabs with the deft bob-and-weave of a boxer, or leading Campbell's trumpet into the stratosphere with his arresting bow work, the bassist seems everywhere at once. Saxist Carter seems content to observe the proceedings from a safer distance, offering quick commentary from the sidelines and occasionally jumping into the fray to tangle with Campbell. True to form, Shipp and Parker both excel at varying tone and tempo, creating textures that both excite and offer moments of contemplation.
When it comes to tasting wine, I'm a fervent believer in the power of good chow to bring out the whys and wherefores of a bottle -- especially a bottle of red. With the right food, even the most difficult wine (lotsa oak, heavy tannin) can snap into focus. Unfortunately, when the 1996 Gundlach Bundschu Sonoma Valley Tempranillo was opened, my fridge was bare. I mean EMPTY! No lamb, no venison, none of the beefy beef suited to the hugeness of the tempranillo. Half-can of cat food, three bottles of champagne, a few ziplocks with the remains of some sort of cheese and a box of Arm & Hammer. However, I'd just taken possession of a new shipment of Oregon Trail Peppered Beef Jerky. If you've never had Oregon Trail Peppered Beef Jerky, let me just say it's the best damn peppered jerky in the entire universe! I mean it! Tender medallions rolled in big chunks of cracked pepper -- it really is good jerky. Anyway you can guess the rest: jerky + wine = match made in heaven. The Gundlach Bundschu is a massive, heavily oaked, chewy wine. Whiffs of tobacco and leather leak outta the bottle immediately after opening. On the tongue (with the aid of a few tugs on the jerky) the wine shows many of the usual suspects: a nice deep cherry, cigar tobacco, black bramble fruits. They're all welcome flavors, yet even against the jerky, this is one tough wine. I'll recommend it, but please, plan your menu accordingly.