Category Archives: Chicago

Notes on Gannett layoffs, and the business in general…

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I just finished reading about the latest round of layoffs in the newspaper industry, in this case Gannett, arguably the most powerful media organization in America today. Props to Jim Romenesko for breaking the story, which is Brutal–just brutal. As a journalist based in Florida (where Gannett owns seven newspapers, three TV stations and four radio stations), I’ve watched in horror as this process has unfolded over the past decade.

This is the first generation of newspapermen who’ve proven incapable of doing business correctly. The number of veteran reporters, photographers, cartoonists, etc. laid off over the past decade could fill a medium-sized arena–and the papers and magazines they left behind are, in most cases, either shells of their former selves or just out-of-business altogether. A number of papers have installed pay-portals in hopes of increasing revenue, but that has the effect of limiting the size of their audience; even The New York Times, the greatest newspaper of all-time, is suffering, although it appears new editor Jill Abramson has done a really great job getting the “Old Gray Lady” back in fighting shape.

Consumers of media need to be more aggressive about using their power to make clear what they want from the product, and editors and publishers around the country need to grow some balls and stop playing a defensive game with new media. The web caught fire in the late-’90s, right as the old guard of print media management was exiting the stage; having weathered multiple storms in the post-war era, they might have managed the transition more effectively, but their replacements seemed to instinctively view the Internet as an existential threat to their operations. Around the country, editors and publishers alike were largely dismissive of the potential of “new media”, and the bias can still be discerned from their public statements. As a result, most papers did not begin to develop their digital game until it was almost too late–and once they did, the transition was handled badly, because their heart wasn’t really into it.

I’ve always likened the dynamic to that of the radio industry at the dawn of television. Many performers and executives for those networks similarly dismissed the new technology’s potential, and either refused to familiarize themselves with it altogether, or waited until it was too late. As a result, many careers ended, and several companies went defunct. But those who were open to the new technology, and made sincere efforts to acclimate themselves to it, ended becoming the people we now recognize as the pioneers of television; most of the top stars thus remained viable for the rest of their lives, and their families benefit from the royalties to this day. Likewise, print media outlets should stop thinking of the web as competition for the business, while engaging in counter-productive, reactionary decision-making, and instead start appreciating it as simply a powerful new tool to augment and enhance their business. Those who prove capable of doing this correctly will end up as the dominant forces in the media environment of the future–a future that may already be upon us.

A Note on the Effervescent Swag of the Reverend Jesse Jackson…

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#SWAG

Love him, hate him, or both, but the Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr. is arguably the greatest black politician in American history–and that covers a whole lot of ground, including The White House. He stepped into the spotlight in a moment of near-total darkness for progressives nationwide, following the murder of his mentor, Dr. King, and then proceeded to ball out in unprecedented fashion for 45 straight years. He has many, many critics, and rightfully so, but not one of them has even half his hustle on his worst day, whether it’s international hostage negotiations, high-level national politics, or building mass-movements from scratch across multiple platforms. Yeah, he didn’t become president, but he’s helped put three in office so far, and Hillary Clinton might be the fourth in 2016.

Jesse Jackson meets with Dream Defenders in Tallahassee, July 30, 2013

His work in Tallahassee today was masterful: Dream Defenders had been up there for days, and their appeals were curtly dismissed by elected officials–then Jesse showed up, wielding a power that transcends party politics, and transformed the dynamic of the whole situation is less time than it took him to put on their t-shirt. He’s like a walking signal-flare alerting national media to the relevance of situations they were otherwise inclined to ignore–and he’s done this for three generations, with a record of consistent long-term success unmatched by anyone since Saul Alinsky, if not the legendary “Boss” Tweed himself.

Put most simply: Jesse is to President Bill Clinton and President Obama what “the American Dream” Dusty Rhodes is to “Nature Boy” Ric Flair and Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, in terms of being an early prototype for the type of politician that would eventually thrive in the new reality, and today pretty much certifies that. Is he shady and controversial? Of course–he’s from Chicago! His efforts over the past couple days have really helped reinforce the essential role he has played in organizing–and galvanizing–activist groups, and those efforts are worthy of praise, independent of ideology.

Notes on Gene Krupa: “Dial M For Music”, 1967

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May 11, 1937: Krupa sweats through his suit as the Benny Goodman band challenges Chick Webb at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. Some estimates suggest that between 4,000 and 20,000 people went in, through and around the venue that night…

Multi-instrumentalist Eddie Shu did epic work with Gene Krupa in the mid-’50s, following up from Charlie Ventura in the ’40s. Parts of this were in the old DCI VHS on Krupa (which, like the whole series, never went digital); so was the session with Sid Catlett on “Boy, What A Girl!” For some reason, after 20 years, the full videos of both find their way online, entirely unrelated–in this case, thanks to Shu’s children. Here Krupa, a devout Catholic, lays it down for some teenagers in Chicago, and basically does a shoot interview; truly essential stuff. He’s 58 here. If Krupa were a wrestler, he’d be Lou Thesz

“Last Splash” at 20: The Breeders Ride Again

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Original cover of “Last Splash”, 1993.

Full disclosure: From a personal and professional perspective, there is no way to overestimate the significance of the Breeders in my own life and career. If music is a drug, and there have been studies suggesting that the two affects part of the brain in similar ways, then the Breeders were my marijuana, my gateway drug—at least, to the circles in which they ran and rotated. As such, I was thrilled to hear that the original lineup—Kim and Kelley Deal, Josephine Wiggs and Jim McPherson—was reuniting this year to tour in support of the 20th anniversary of their most well-known album, 1993’s Last Splash (4AD/Elektra).

The "classic" lineup. Front: Jim McPherson and Josephine Wiggs. Back: Kelley and Kim Deal.

The “classic” lineup. Front: Jim McPherson and Josephine Wiggs. Back: Kelley and Kim Deal.

The album, which was a touchstone of the “alternative rock” scene of that era, has been re-released in stunning new form by 4AD’s Vaughan Oliver, who’s been established as a master of album cover design and packaging for a quarter-century. The new “LSXX” version contains 46 tracks, spread across three CDs for a very reasonable price of $23; the same material is also available on a sumptuous seven-LP box set for $90—worth every penny for a serious fan. Both versions of the box set contain not only the entire original Last Splash album, but other key documents from that time, including: the full 16-track Stockholm concert that was previously only available in truncated form through the Breeders Digest fan club; 14 tracks recorded in settings ranging from demos and BBC/Peel sessions to guest appearances on compilations like the epochal No Alternative; and all four of the four-song EPs that came immediately before and after the album—1992’s Safari and 1994’s Head To Toe, in addition to the singles for “Cannonball” and “Divine Hammer”. There’s also a 24-page booklet.

Last Splash LSXX

LSXX, interior…

At this writing, the box-set is in pre-order; the CDs start shipping on May 14, but the vinyl doesn’t go out until June/July. For me, as a longtime fan who’s not gotten my copy yet—although “fan” seems imprecise; the old wrestling term “mark” seems more appropriate—just reading through the tracklist brings back fond memories of not only the music itself, but of the often extreme lengths I once went to in order to obtain this material in the good ol’ days before the Internet, before e-commerce, eBay, Amazon and automated shipping.

For me, a Breeders run usually meant a trip to historic Five Points in Jacksonville, the longtime hub of my city’s alternative/indie scene before the action began diversifying into downtown and Springfield while crossing over into other genres. Last Splash was a hit, so it wasn’t necessary to hit up spots like Now Hear This!, since it could be had at the mall, but I got it from there anyway; it was my first trip to that neighborhood, and I also bought the excellent Copacetic album by Velocity Girl that day, starting a relationship with the area (where I now live) that will always persist in some form or another.

Now, getting hold of the EPs was a chore involving phone calls, special orders and the kind of research I only put now into corrupt politicians or would-be business partners. In the ‘90s, my resource for this stuff was a place called the Theory Shop, on Park St. It was owned by the Faircloth sisters; they also owned the legendary Beaches club Einstein-A-Go-Go, where many of the era’s top alternative bands performed and where a whole generation of artists, musicians, writers, fans and entrepreneurs first met each other, slowly knitting a social fabric that now stretches across most of this country. (A lot of those shows were taped, but sadly I’ve never heard any of it; it probably comprises an indispensable auditory document, and hopefully it sees light someday.) They were geniuses for special orders; if they didn’t have it, they could get almost anything, and usually for far less than one was willing to pay. They had the music, and certain curios that are now almost impossible to find: autographed posters, signed Breeders tube socks, even promo copies of the album on green vinyl.

The 1990s were an especially explosive time in the cultural development of a nation that is always pushing hard toward the future, and a big part of that era was what was then called “alternative music”. The term has fallen out of favor now, even retrospectively, as that music’s pervasive impact ultimately overwhelmed whatever outsider pretentions once existed. But, at the time, it was the perfect description not only of the actual music itself, but also of the intent that drove the many artists, producers, record executives, journalists and fans who were involved in its production and proliferation, starting with the man who was, for a time, at the center of the entire music world: the late, great Kurt Cobain. Had he not existed, a significant portion of the last 20 years of music history would quite possibly have never happened, and that fact is of special relevance in regard to the subject at hand.

Last Splash was officially released on August 31, 1993, but audiences were already primed, myself included. I was 15 back then. I was mostly into jazz and rap music; my tastes in rock and roll at that time were strictly limited to AC/DC, Queen, Hendrix and Guns and Roses; I recall enjoying GNR’s Use Your Illusion double-album, which I bought on cassette, way more than any decent human being should, absurdly, decadently, obnoxiously hyperbolically brilliant as it was. (To this day, I’m still kinda sad that the Axl Rose/Bob Guccione, jr. fight never actually happened; if it ever does, someone please inform me.) The first CD I ever bought was the self-titled debut by Rage Against the Machine, and I enjoyed it, but I was in no way culturally-inclined toward the rock music of that time, not at that point. My favorite rock band then was Led Zeppelin and, as much as I love the Breeders, they remain a very close second.

Many of my peers, of course, came from backgrounds were they were able to experience the genesis of what would evolve into “alternative music” holistically, so the effect of its rise was perhaps not as game-changing as it would be for. At that time, I had no idea what had been percolating in the New York, or Boston, or Athens. Seattle? Other than it being the estranged home of Hendrix, I knew nothing about the rock scene there, or anywhere else, until Kurt Cobain got the big push and methodically began programming names into the collective database of pop-culture. Once he started wearing certain t-shirts, covering certain songs and hiring certain bands to open for his band or sit in with them, I, like most people, spent the rest of the decade playing catch-up to what he had already internalized and regurgitated as the music of Nirvana.

Cobain’s infamous description of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as his failed attempt to write a Pixies song was to the eternally-corrupt American music industry what then-president George Bush’s declaration of “a New World Order” was to geopolitics. It was, in both cases, the start of a new era in mass-consciousness, a new formulation of the context in which we all exist. To be a Nirvana fan meant you had to listen to all these bands you’d often never heard of, because you knew their work was crucial to the development of the stuff you like. It’s like how the British Invasion forced mainstream America to take a second look at the Blues, or how hip-hop helped spur a new appreciation of older black musicians ranging from Clyde Stubblefield to Roger Troutman—or, for that matter, how the “New World Order” concept became the global context in which we placed the many obscure, localized conflicts and atrocities that have happened in the subsequent years. While it is entirely coincidental that Bush made the relevant remarks to a special joint-session of Congress on September 11, 1991—which happened to be the day after “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was released, it’s fitting.

By the time Last Splash made its big splash, the Nirvana push was almost two years old, and the; Cobain would be dead within seven months of its release-date, but a significant portion of the time he had left was spent in various ways of giving the Breeders the rub. They were one of the opening acts on Nirvana’s last American tour, and they got perhaps the biggest exposure of their careers when they opened for Nirvana on MTV’s (pre-taped) New Year’s Eve special in 1993, playing the two lead singles from their album, “Cannonball” (released August 9) and “Divine Hammer” (released October 25).

“Cannonball” was released as a single 22 days before the album, which eventually went platinum based largely on that song. To this day, it remains their best-known song, and one of the more recognizable musical documents of that era. It’s been so ubiquitous, in fact, such a pure and perfect song, that it will always threaten to overshadow the depth, diversity and dynamism of their other stuff—a legacy that jumps genres and hews to no particular pre-defined aesthetic. For as the Deal sisters made their way through the business in those years, they did so as themselves; it’s not that their music conformed to people’s expectations, but that the expectations conformed to the music. That seems a trait they shared with Cobain, a trait he recognized, appreciated and did his very best to encourage, on- and off-stage. (Some seven months before Last Splash was released, Cobain praised Pod as one of his favorite albums ever in an interview with Melody Maker; “It’s an epic that will never let you forget ypur ex-girlfriend”, he said, and he was right.)

Cobain was neither the first nor last artist within those circles to meet a tragic, premature and, frankly, suspicious end, but because it was him, the overall effect was much, much worse. Culturally, Cobain’s death was later book-ended by the murders of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls, but many great talents fell in the interim. The summer of 1994 was a summer of death for the musicians who knew him most closely, many of whom took their own demons on the road, touring through grief and uncertainty. Among the casualties of that brutal year were the Breeders—that is, the version of the band that recorded Last Splash. After Kelley Deal was allegedly caught signing for a FedEx package of heroin, virtually all of the band’s forward momentum to that point was stopped cold as a corpse. She went to rehab, Wiggs and McPherson left to pursue their own projects, and Kim Deal simply remained Kim Deal—the one constant in all of this. Despite all of the great work they’ve done since then, separately and together, they would never again ascend to a commercial plateau anywhere near their peak, which sucks, but life moves fast, and the fickle tastes of the pop-music business move even faster.

The sisters Deal and their colleagues continued recording their own projects for the rest of the ‘90s and then, like a phoenix of sorts, the Breeders was reborn in May 2002. That Title TK happened at all was viewed by some as miraculous, and by others as a sign of the apocalypse, but not even their most hard-core fans (and I count myself among them, maybe even at the tippy-top of the list) would have expected the album to be as unbelievable epic as it was. It’s not just that it was a good album by the Breeders; it was an amazing album by a version of the Breeders that did not exist prior to that point. With its antecedents in the Deals’ solo work in those frustrating years between Breeders albums, the difference between Title TK and Last Splash, in terms of both form and content, was as dramatic as that between Last Splash and Pod. Aside from the vocals and a couple little musical tricks, the three albums might as well have been by three completely different bands, and to a certain extent they were.

It’s now been over a decade since the revamped Breeders lineup strolled into the new century, recording two full-length albums, releasing two albums and an EP in that time while touring the world and landing high-prestige gigs like Coachella and All Tomorrow’s Parties (ATP). Despite this new era of success, some fans remain nostalgic for the “classic” version of the band, with Wiggs and McPherson. With the new lineup gelled and seasoned, it seemed unlikely that would ever happen, but as one has come to expect from the Breeders, anything can happen. As such, the Deal/Deal/Wiggs/McPherson version of the band will reunite and tour this year, in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the record that made them. I’ve not seen them play in a decade, and I just realized I’ll have to miss their show in Atlanta on May 15; it irritates me beyond words, but that feeling is well-surpassed by the overall joy I feel, just knowing that the Deals are not only alive and well, but thriving. And as they celebrate the 20th anniversary of their biggest commercial success, it’s really more like a celebration of a scene they helped create—a scene that now holds a dominant position across the scope American culture. As it turned out, with Last Splash, the Breeders were just dipping their toes into the water.

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DVD Review: “Women Of Honor” (ROH)

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Women Of Honor (Ring of Honor DVD)

In my opinion, 2012 was one of the best and most productive years ever for the unique artform that is women’s professional wrestling, particularly in the American market, where the ladies have had to struggle for acceptance and respect from fans, the media and indeed the industry itself. But they have succeeded, and then some. At this moment, the active roster of women’s wrestlers in this country is probably the strongest it has ever been, and at the forefront of that movement is Shimmer Women Athletes.

Shimmer has been running its own live events since 2005, as exhaustively-documented on the more than 50 volumes of DVDs released since then. They’ve recently partnered with the Florida-based Shine promotion, whose Internet pay-per-views feature a number of Shimmer mainstays. The new and steadily-evolving “iPPV” market has already been a serious boon to independent promotions over the past couple of years, allowing them to project their products to fans worldwide with minimal overhead, increasing exposure for the companies and boosting revenue for bookers and workers alike. But a significant factor in Shimmer’s success has come through their partnership with Ring Of Honor, which is currently the third-biggest wrestling promotion in America, but stands in good position to eclipse the chronically underperforming TNA/Impact Wrestling in the next couple of years.

During its decade in operation, ROH has put forth some of the very best matches of the 21st century; their former world champions include currently WWE/TNA stars Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, Samoa Joe, Seth Rollins and Austin Aries, while current champion Kevin Steen has been on fire all year. “Women Of Honor” showcases the best of the collaboration between Shimmer and Ring Of Honor. It also functions as a nice introduction to the women’s wrestling scene in America and its leading talents.

It’s worth noting that, while the stars women’s wrestling strive to be regarded on the same level as the men, of course, in my opinion certain differences between the genders result overall in products that are fairly similar, but very much unique and distinct from each other, while being equally compelling on their own accord. Not everyone cares for the joshi game; many wrestling fans can barely sit through five minutes of Divas action on Monday Night Raw, let alone 20-30 minutes. The apostates can’t even appreciate one of the old Manami Toyota-Aja Kong classics, which basically defined the art-form at its peak; they would have no use for the material discussed herein, and that is entirely their loss.

The ROH DVDs have none of the sweet documentary-style content associated with WWE releases; they are simply compilations of matches, so there’s no backstory of promos to provide context, but the fan-base would already be up to speed on all that. (Curiously, WWE has never done a serious anthology of its own rich women’s wrestling history, which extends from the Fabulous Moolah down to AJ Lee. One would presume that such a thing would be easy to make, and a solid seller; it seems inevitable.) What this disc does offer is more top-notch joshi action than you’re likely to see anywhere, outside of Shimmer itself.

The double-disc set includes 33 matches, featuring 25 different women; there are also three mixed-tag matches. Allison Danger appears eight times. Sara Del Rey appears 15 times. Another standout here is Lacey, who also appears in 15 matches as a singles competitor, and also in a tag-match with Del Rey against Daizee Haze and Awesome Kong. Lacey, who retired to earn a Master’s degree in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, and who’s now working on her PhD in China, was a major figure in the evolution of both Shimmer and Ring of Honor. Her dealings with Jimmy Jacobs made for one of ROH’s all-time enduring storylines, while in Shimmer she teamed with Rain to form the infamous Minnesota Homewrecking Crew, which was the dominant heel tag-team of Shimmer’s early years, the equivalent of today’s Canadian Ninjas (Nicole Matthews and Portia Perez). Lacey, Haze and Del Rey were the early triumvirate around which the ROH women’s division was built, and this DVD set captures those formative years nicely. Any Lacey fans out there will want this; looking back, thinking mainly of promos and angles she was involved in, one forgets how good Lacey was in the ring.

Certainly the most important thing of all about “Women Of Honor” is that it is probably the closest thing wrestling fans will ever have to an anthology devoted to the work of Daizee Haze, who wrestles in 23 of the 33 matches collected here, including all three mixed-tag matches (all against Lacey, by the way). Besides just wrestling, she was also a trainer for ROH and Shimmer, and she main-evented the latter company’s first four shows; she (along with Del Rey) also helped bring the joshi scene into Chikara.

Haze (who is also notable for being one of the few pro-wrestlers whose real name is not public knowledge) abruptly stepped away from the ring in August 2011, and it’s been almost impossible to find out anything about what happened to her. As such, the best year yet for women’s wrestling in America has taken place with one of its chief architects on the sidelines. One hopes she returns, but whether she does or not, her presence makes this DVD essential. There are also matches featuring the likes of Allison Danger (Steve Corino’s sister), Sarah Stock (aka Dark Angel, aka Sarita in TNA), Alexis Laree (aka Mickie James), Serena Deeb, Sumie Sakai, Jetta, Eden Black, Tracy Brooks, Mercedes Martinez, Nikki Roxx, Persephonie, Jennifer Blake, Ashley Lane, Tomoko Nakagai, Hiroyo Matsumoto, Ayumi Kurihara and former Shimmer champions MisChif, Madison Eagles and Cheerleader Melissa. The whole thing’s a lot of fun to watch, having seen how far all these ladies have already come Now that the industry has taken notice of their abilities, it will be even more fun to see what happens next.

sheltonhull@gmail.com

Book Review: Bill Banfield

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Representing Black Music Culture: Then, Now and When Again? By William C. Banfield. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, Inc. 263 pp, illustrated.

Professor William Banfield, director of the Africana Studies Center at the prestigious Berklee College of Music, is what one might call a “Renaissance Man”; “Harlem Renaissance Man” is more like it. This book is, first and foremost, a book about William Banfield, and that’s a story well worth telling. Born in Detroit, 1961, his matriculation was shaped by his local music scene, which was then one of the world’s best. He was playing guitar in bands as a teenager, writing his own music in college, and released his first recordings in the early ‘80s. As such, he knows a lot of people, and he doesn’t mind dropping names; it’s pretty cool. The index runs ten pages, and includes many of the leading figures in Black Music over the past 40 years; odds are he knows anyone who’s living among them. In fact, there’s probably a picture.

While most of the narrative transpires in native haunts like Boston, New York and Minnesota, it was a pleasant surprise to see that pages 58-65 relate to events in Jacksonville, where William Brown died in October 1994. Banfield was a longtime friend and collaborator of Brown, who sang tenor at high-end spots around the country (ending with a run at Friday Musicale) while teaching at the University of North Florida and other places. Banfield’s only trip to the city was for the funeral; it was the second time in three days that he had to bury a close friend, which is the hard part of being a creative artist in any field. Life is short, and one is constantly reminded of that in that business.

The selections from Banfield’s journal entries offer slices in the vital life of a full-time academic and veteran musician. The rest of the book consists of Banfield’s essays on matters related to the art today, and they’re fine enough. The author’s prose modulates from pedantic to ponderous; the second half doesn’t read quite as breezily as the front. There are some splendid interviews that he conducted with artists like Don Byron, Wynton Marsalis, Nnenna Freelon, Maria Schneider and Dr. Billy Taylor, and an awesome section near the end with sketches of key colleagues and concepts built around photographs. The pictures are, in general, a real highlight here. Mr. Banfield is only 50 years old, but has already had a tremendous run in the business; this new book looks back on that past, while laying the groundwork for a prosperous future.

 

sheltonhull@gmail.com; May 10, 2012

Notes on Names Divine and Christopher Bell

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[I’ve seen lots of musical acts so far this year—the more, the better. They’ve been mostly local, but plenty have come through on tour; here’s a few quick notes about two of my favorites:]

On a recent Monday evening—Feb. 13, to be exact—I had the great pleasure of watching a band from Chicago called Names Divine perform at Burro Bar. It was their second time playing this city, but surely not their last, as local audiences have already taken to them, and vice-versa. It was a crowd filled largely with other musicians. The Infinitesmal Records crew was out; bought a Kevin Lee Newberry CD, which is excellent and well-worth having.

Names Divine is a large band, led by singer/guitarist Kendra Calhoun, a spectral young woman who’s the only person I’ve ever heard cite Jendak as their favorite musician. Lukas Wolever played a drum-set that appeared to be missing its bass drum; it is unclear whether that was a matter of course or a concession to the inefficiencies of van-travel. The band has at times numbered up to nine; the show at Burro had seven, all shrouded in dark, a whooping whirlwind of sound built around Calhoun’s guitar, the clarinet of Kalina Malyszko (which rhymes with “Zbyszko”) and Ike Floor’s violin.

Names Divine has a two-song EP (containing the songs “Something Vague” and “Maybe Rotten”) available for download via Bandcamp, with more recordings planned for the year. The EP was originally released in a limited cassette-only edition of 100; the hemp cases, hand-woven by Calhoun, are useful for all kinds of things, but those versions are surely gone by now. Another two-track EP was released last December, and hopefully all this is building to a proper full-length release, along with another trip to Florida, at some point this year.

Watching Christopher Bell performing at Burro Bar, where he opened for the sumptuous Canary In The Coalmine on March 3, was something of a revelation. The music was excellent, but his means of making it was even more compelling. Bell’s approach to crafting a full-band sound for his solo sets begins with his instrument of choice, the cello. While almost all cellists prefer to play from a seated position, which is better for bowing, Bell plays his standing up, like an acoustic guitar, with more emphasis on finger-picking than the bow.

His style with the instrument reminds me, oddly enough, of the late jazz bassist Oscar Pettiford: After breaking his wrist playing baseball, Pettiford was unable to comfortably play the double-bass for a time, so he went with the cello; his recordings during that period are marked by a delicacy of sound that almost anticipated Chico Hamilton’s groundbreaking groups.

Bell’s cello is augmented with a self-contained wooden box full of effects pedals, as well as a keyboard that he uses to sample himself, as he crafts his beats in real-time. It was fun, and instructive, to watch each song come together, piece-by-piece, and it speaks to his dedication to performance that he does this for every show, instead of just playing over pre-recorded tracks. Despite his affable demeanor on-stage, which comes off somewhat geekish and slightly goofy, his command of the tools before his gave the performance a professional sheen.

His new album, Cashing In On My Mistakes (2012) represents a huge step forward—more songs, more complex, better-recorded. It’s the sound of a musician who, after years of experimentation, has finally found his mature sound. That was how he sounded at Burro. It would be interesting to hear him performing with Robin Rutenberg & Friends next time he’s here, just to hear the contrast in cello-work between him and Ms. Naarah Strokosch, who is my favorite cello player in the world right now—not because I’m some expert on the instrument, but because she’s cool, and so is that band’s music–a new CD out now.