Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Please Join Me at my new/old blogs - Between the Grooves, and Flickers & LIt

After a period of returning to Scribe Life for all of my music AND film coverage, I am reverting back to two separate blogs, both on WordPress.

Why? Because 1)Covering the waterfront on one blog tends to annoy/confuse readers; and 2)Wordpress is a superior blog publishing application, more easy to use, embed media, and update, and more likely to show up in searches.

So I'm mothballing Scribe Life, at least for the time being.

for music - Between the Grooves -

for film/books - Flickers and Lit -

THANK YOU for reading Scribe Life, and please join me at the above blogs.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Florida/New York Singer Whitney James Celebrates Her Debut CD

Rising-star jazz singer Whitney James, who splits her time between residences in Tierra Verde (the Tampa Bay area) and Astoria, Queens, has just released a startlingly impressive and mature debut CD, The Nature of Love, which also features the playing of acclaimed trumpeter and flugelhorn player Ingrid Jensen.

My feature on Whitney runs Thursday in the St. Petersburg Times' Weekend entertainment section. Click here to link directly to that story.

Or see below for the extended "director's cut" of the piece:

A dance student since age five, and a musical theater enthusiast since the days when she and her sister and neighborhood kids put on shows and charged a dime a seat, singer Whitney James first took the stage at age nine. That's when she played Dorothy in a children's production of "The Wizard of Oz."

The Chicago native, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, switched her focus to singing at age 10, when she embarked on classical vocal lessons with an opera singer.
But the jazz bug bit hard when James was 13, courtesy of her mom, who bought the budding vocalist a pair of cassette tapes by legendary jazz singer Sarah Vaughan and bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker.

"I absolutely fell in love with Sarah Vaughan. I couldn't get enough of her sound," said James, a Tierra Verde resident since relocating to the Tampa Bay area from Seattle in 2007. "The songs were so romantic and the lyrics were beautiful.

"That tape really set me on the jazz path," she said. "You had to be yourself and interpret the lyric, certainly, but you also had to infuse yourself into the song. That way, you can really expand and explore the boundaries of your voice. Charlie took a little longer to grow on me. Sarah Vaughan and Charlie Parker were my gateway drugs to the jazz world, if you will."

James demonstrates her allegiance to the jazz vocal tradition -- she also cites Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McCrae and Shirley Horn as major influences -- on her just-released debut CD, The Nature of Love.

She's joined by New York jazz heavy hitters, including trumpeter and flugelhorn player Ingrid Jensen and a rhythm trio led by pianist Joshua Wolff, on a set of standards including "How Deep is the Ocean" and "The Very Thought of You." The singer also offers smart readings of a challenging Jimmy Rowles ballad, "A Timeless Place (The Peacocks)" and Benny Golson's hard-swinging "Whisper Not."

For her CD-release concert, Friday night at the Palladium in St. Petersburg, James will be backed by Wolff and three stand-out local musicians -- saxophonist Jeremy Powell, bassist Alejandro Arenas and drummer Mark Feinman.

Although continuing to embrace recordings by jazz singers, James eventually rebuilt her jazz-singing concept on the sound of instrumentalists, she said.

"Miles is a huge influence -- his tone and the way he plays is so gorgeous, so transformative," she said. "And I love Bill Evans, and Keith Jarrett, and Dexter Gordon. I had soaked myself in a lot of jazz singers, including Dinah Washington and Etta James. But I made a very conscious effort when I was 17 to stop listening to singers and start listening to horn players and guitar players and piano players."

James continued her music studies at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, where she studied with singer Jay Clayton. She stayed in the Pacific Northwest for 13 years, finding her way to jazz and neo-soul gigs, along with opportunities to record commercial jingles.

Clayton, who served as the CD's artistic consultant, suggested that James ask the Canadian-born Jensen to play on the recording. It made for a rather organic process, as James had worked with pianist Wolff and Jon Wikan, the CD's drummer, around Seattle. And Wikan is married to Jensen. James also has spent much time in New York in recent years, as she and her husband have a second home in Astoria, Queens.

James spent one day rehearsing with the rhythm section and a second day with the band joined by Jensen before heading to the Brooklyn studio, where the group recorded live, playing no more than three takes of each tune.

Jensen wound up on five of the CD's nine tracks, and the singer and the trumpeter come off as natural-born foils, particularly on the extended, open-ended conclusions of "Tenderly" and "How Deep is the Ocean."

"The interplay between the voice and the horn is very special," James said. "I wanted someone to feature, as well as to complement what was going to happen vocally. I was very lucky to have her. When you play with players like that, they really bring out the best in you."

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Let the Right One In: More Love From UK Critics

Released in the U.S. to wide acclaim in 2008, Swedish horror shocker Let the Right One In (see my below posts) apparently didn't play many UK theaters until last year.

And the critical reaction to the film, across the pond, was similar to the reaction it received stateside: Tomas Alfredson's alternately tender and violent tale of pre-teen angst, masquerading as a vampire flick, landed at No. 5 in the year-end poll of 60 critics conducted by the British Film Institute's Sight & Sound magazine.

The full list (of 10), as might be expected, is a bit Eurocentric, with the French-Italian A Prophet at the top. Two entries are from Claire Denis, and also included is Antichrist, the latest typically provocative film from Sweden's Lars von Trier.

It's reassuring to see Kathryn Bigelow's intense and brilliant war film The Hurt Locker land at No.2; Pete Docter's animated comic drama Up and Quentin Tarantino's cheeky WW II historical rewrite Inglourious Basterds are the other U.S. productions on the list.

But back to Let the Right One In. Check out what the poll's critics had to say about the film:

Leonardo Garcia-Tsao (Critic, Mexico) - Teenage angst meets vampirism in a meticulously crafted film that transcends genre conventions and finds beauty in alienation.

Ryan Gilbey (‘New Statesman’, UK)
- Few pictures have combined tenderness, compassion and extreme bloodletting to such memorable effect. I didn’t realise how protective I felt towards the film until I caught myself grinding my teeth at the news of a forthcoming US remake.

Carmen Gray (Critic, UK) - With a soft spot for vampire films at the worst of times, I was touched by this very human, bittersweet take on the genre.

Mark Kermode (Critic, UK) - This year’s Pan’s Labyrinth, in which Alfredson reinvents the vampire genre from scratch.

Derek Malcolm (‘Evening Standard’, UK)
- Vampire movies are two-a-penny just now, but this extraordinary Swedish effort is easily the best around — an art film with considerable commercial potential.

Demetrios Matheou (‘Sunday Herald’, UK) - Amid the current craze for horror, this phenomenally well-crafted Swedish vampire film offers more bite than all the others put together.

Sukhdev Sandhu (‘Daily Telegraph’, UK) - From documentaries such as Three Miles North of Molkom to the Wicker Man-sampling visuals of Gothenburg’s Sincerely Yours label, I spent a lot of 2009 being ravished by Sweden. Best of all was this exquisitely melancholic and heartbreakingly beautiful vampire love story that also featured my favourite exchange of dialogue: “Will you be my girlfriend?" “Oskar, I’m not a girl.”

David Thompson (Critic and documentarian, UK) - Never mind the reinvention of vampires as soulful celibate lovers, this was a fabulous twist on the genre focusing on the theme of adolescent loneliness.

I'm looking forward to revisiting Alfredson's film on Blu-ray.

"Let Me In" - Release Date Announced

Quick Update: Let Me In, the U.S. remake of Swedish horror film Let the Right One In, is now slated for release on Oct. 1.

And director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) is now taking full credit for the screenplay (see my below post).

A rating is yet to be determined; here's hoping that the rough/violent edges aren't smoothed out to get the film to PG-13.

Will "Cop Out" and "Greenberg" Top the Best Comedies of 2010?

Too early to gauge which comedies will be the best of 2010?

Paste mag takes a stab, and several good directors and writers are on the list, including Kevin Smith (Cop Out), Noah Baumbach (Greenberg), Neil LaBute (Death at a Funeral, a remake of the Brit movie of the same name), and Todd Phillips (Due Date).

And Zach is back. Galifianakis, that is, a co-star of Phillips' breakout comedy The Hangover, and an inspired second fiddle on HBO's underappreciated comic noir series "Bored to Death." He's in the casts of Due Date and Jay Roach's Dinner for Schmucks.

For the picks, with video clips, click here.

Movie Remake Fever (2): Another Dune

David Lynch's sprawling sci-fi flick Dune, intriguingly photographed and ambitious if overlong and convoluted, was given a mostly lukewarm reception by critics upon its release in 1984, and died at the box office.

The film, adapted from Frank Herbert's book of the same name, the most popular sci-fi novel in history, and featuring the likes of Kyle McLachlan, Brad Dourif, Max von Sydow and Sting, became an expensive failure for both director and studio.

"Dune" was reborn in 2000, as a three-part, six-hour miniseries on the Sci Fi Channel, with a cast including William Hurt.

Third time's a charm? Herbert's 1969 novel is coming back to the big screen, with a film adaptation helmed by French director Pierre Morel, responsible for violent blockbuster Taken.

The screenplay reportedly is by rookie Joshua Zetumer, who contributed to the Quantum of Solace script. Peter Berg (Hancock), who was said to have worked on an early version of the new screenplay, was originally set to direct.

In October, FilmShaft reported that "New Moon" teen heartthrob Robert Pattinson was being considered for the lead role in the new "Dune."

For more about other, failed attempts to adapt "Dune," including a once planned 10-hour miniseries with Orson Welles and others, check out Ben Child's story in the Guardian (UK).

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Remake of Swedish Vampire Classic: Will Reeves Let the Wrong One In?

A recent vampire classic from Europe based on a popular novel is being subjected to a Hollywood makeover. So will it, uh, suck?

Let Me In, Cloverfield director Matt Reeves' adaptation of Let the Right One In, the Swedish shocker released in the U.S. in late 2008, is slated for release this fall.

The original movie, detailing the relationship between a bloodthirsty vampire taking the form of a 12-year-old girl, and a bullied boy of the same age, counts as the best horror film of the decade, and one of the creepiest and most chilling movies I've ever seen; its penultimate sequence struck me as deeply disturbing.

Director Tomas Alfredson, working from a script which John Ajvide Lindqvist adapted from his novel, makes great use of the snowy environs, in and around the generic apartments and stores of suburban Stockholm. For those brave enough to venture even farther into the world created by Alfredson and Lindqvist, I'd recommend the book -- it's twice as explicit, graphic, kinky, and frightening.

It seems impossible that Let Me In won't be disappointing, given the brilliance of the original.

But there are several good signs, including the casting of Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road) as the young boy, whose name is now Owen, rather than Oskar. The cast also includes Chloe Moretz, of (500) Days of Summer, as young vampire Abby (formerly Eli), the great Richard Jenkins as Abby's aged caretaker, and Elias Koteas.

Why did Reeves go for the remake, particularly so soon after the release of an original that was so well received?

Because of how it resonated with his own feelings about the yearnings and fears associated with adolescence, as he told the Los Angeles Times back in June.

"I was so taken with the story and I had a very personal reaction," he said. "It reminded me a lot of my childhood, with the metaphor that the hard times of your pre-adolescent, early adolescent moment, that painful experience is a horror.

"There's definitely people who have a real bull's-eye on the film," Reeves said, "and I can understand because of people's' love of the [original] film that there's this cynicism that I'll come in and trash it, when in fact I have nothing but respect for the film. I'm so drawn to it for personal and not mercenary reasons, my feeling about it is if I didn't feel a personal connection and feel it could be its own film, I wouldn't be doing it. I hope people give us a chance."

Let Me In is set in Colorado during the '80s, according to the L.A. Times. And it was shot in New Mexico, reports web site Cinematical.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Bad Movies Clogging Up the Multiplex? It's Not Just Your Imagination

Yes, there are exceptions to the rule. And thanks to the year-end push for critical favorites, there's a good chance a film as smart and funny as Up in the Air can be found on multiple screens in your neighborhood, at least for a couple more weeks.

But for those wondering why awful flicks like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Watchmen and G.I. Joe and The Ugly Truth so frequently squeeze worthwhile movies out of the multiplexes, here's a stat I just came across, from NY Times critic Manohla Dargis's round-up of the 2009 movie year.

"The question of consumer choice becomes all but moot when the Top 5 box office movies are playing on more than one-quarter of all the screens in America, as was the case during the first weekend of May, when “Star Trek” opened. That weekend 10 movies dominated 67 percent of the country’s screens. Three of those titles were released by Paramount. Warner Brothers and Disney had two movies each; 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures and the independent company Summit Entertainment each had one."

As Dargis points out, when the mega-budget, over-promoted movies are released, they hog practically all of the space available for movies: Revenge of the Fallen opened simultaneously on 4,000 screens in the U.S., and Angels & Demons opened simultaneously on 3,500 screens.

So, the upshot: More big screens for fewer movies made by fewer companies. That's the wrong kind of math, I think.

One obvious benefit to movie companies and distributors of so quickly spreading bad movies so far and so wide is that it makes those films even less immune to the slings and arrows of film critics, a group whose size and power seems to be diminishing by the day.

There are alternatives, of course, like tuning in to the Independent Film Channel (IFC) or the Sundance Channel, and pay-per-view, if you have cable; and keeping up with Netflix and pay-per-view offerings. I could always upgrade from my 32-inch flat screen to something gargantuan (if/when I have the funds).

But it's hardly the same thing as having access to first-rate films on a big screen, with good sound, in a theater, surrounded by other filmgoers.

Bonus overtime comment from Dargis, on Paramount Pictures' very good 2009: "Two of the year’s biggest hits, “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” and “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” have helped the studio climb out of its financial hole with a combined domestic take of more than $500 million. Both movies are deeply stupid, often incoherent and hinged on the principle that the spectacle of violence is its own pleasurable end. “Transformers” is also casually racist. But hey, that’s entertainment."

Saturday, January 02, 2010

2009's Fallen: The Musicians

R.I.P., guitarist Les Paul, drummer Louie Bellson, saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman, singers Koko Taylor and Chris Connor, Ali Akbar Khan, Michael Jackson and too many more great musicians who passed away in 2009.

NPR Music remembers, with short tributes and audio clips.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Best Jazz Discs of 2009

Jazz in 2009 meant the continuing dismantling and irrelevance of major-label homes for the music; the growth of vital indie jazz labels; the decision of many artists, including major jazzers, to take charge of recording, packaging and distributing their own work; and the emergence of a variety of strong new voices in jazz.

Gloomsaying to the contrary, jazz is in very good shape, at least on the recording front. Now, about places for all those artists -- and younger players, graduating in droves from still-proliferating college jazz programs -- to play ....

As promised, here are links to my list of 2009's best jazz discs, as published in the Village Voice, the Voice's complete jazz poll results, and Voice critic Francis Davis's overview of the year in jazz recordings.

My own list of the year's best jazz recordings, with one-line descriptions, as published in Las Vegas City Life (but slightly expanded here):

Allen Toussaint, The Bright Mississippi (Nonesuch) - The old-school R&B hitmaker digs deep into jazz roots, applying elegant piano to New Orleans chestnuts and pieces by Monk and Ellington.

Chuck Owen & the Jazz Surge, The Comet's Tail: Performing the Compositions of Michael Brecker (MAMA) - The Florida-based big band revisits and reinvents the music of late saxophone great Brecker.

David Binney, Third Occasion (Mythology) - The underappreciated alto saxophonist offers ambitious, expansive originals, with his quartet joined by brass.

Tom Harrell, Prana Dance (Highnote) - The trumpeter leads his tight-knit quintet on compositions that are brainy yet emotionally engaging.

Kurt Rosenwinkel Standards Trio, Reflections (Wommusic) - The most gifted jazz guitarist under 40 takes a break from his edgy originals for brilliant, shimmering readings of standards by the likes of Monk and Wayne Shorter.

John Patitucci Trio, Remembrance (Concord) - The bassist's heavyweight pianoless trio, with saxophonist Joe Lovano and drummer Brian Blade, bring piercing original compositions replete with surprising detours.

Fly, Sky and Country (ECM) - Saxophonist Mark Turner, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard turn in fertile modern-jazz explorations.

Joel Harrison, Urban Myths (Highnote) - The guitarist again draws from fusion, funk and blues for smart, multi-textured jazz originals.

John Scofield, Piety Street (EmArcy) - Sco wields his tangy overdriven guitar for hard-grooving gospel pieces, driven by Meters bassist George Porter, Jr.

New Orleans Nightcrawlers, Slither Slice (Threadhead) - The veteran brass band returns with horns chewy enough and funk deep enough to blast the competition.

Vocals: Roberta Gambarini, So in Love (Emarcy) & Gretchen Parlato, In a Dream (Obliqsound) & Tierney Sutton, Desire (Telarc)

Debut: Gerald Clayton, Two-Shade (ArtistShare) & Michael Janisch, Purpose Built (Whirlwind)

Latin: Arturo O'Farrill, Risa Negra (Zoho) & Dafnis Prieto, Live at Jazz Standard NYC (Dafnison Music) & Omar Sosa, Across the Divide (Half Note)

Reissues: Scott LaFaro, Pieces of Jade (Resonance) & Medeski Martin & Wood, Radiolarians: The Evolutionary Set (Indirecto) & Eddie Harris and Ellis Marsalis, Homecoming (ELM).

And 10 more of the year's best jazz recordings:
Vijay Iyer, Historicity (ACT)
Joe Lovano, Folk Art (Blue Note)
Joshua Redman, Compass (Nonesuch)
Gary Burton-Pat Metheny-Steve Swallow-Antonio Sanchez, Quartet Live (Concord)
Gary Peacock-Marc Copland, Insight (Pirouet)
The Bad Plus with Wendy Lewis, For All I Care (Heads Up)
Robert Glasper, Double Booked (Blue Note)
Cedar Walton, Voices Deep Within (High Note)
Christian McBride, Kind of Brown (Mack Avenue)
James Carter-John Medeski-Christian McBride-Adam Rogers, Heaven on Earth (Half Note)