Song du semaine: Journey, "Faithfully"

The spoilsports at Sony disabled embedding, so I’ll just link to the video and give you some screen captures of the most embarrassing grimaces caught on tape. Then I’ll tell you what a beautiful ballad this really is.

First, the grimaces, not exactly enhanced by the poor picture quality I’m delivering here …

Forget Randy Jackson — I’m Ross Valory, bitch!

I never really felt like part of the band.

Star Trek XLII: The Wrath of Schon

Should we tell Jonathan Cain his mike isn’t plugged in? Does he think he’s singing, or is this some sort of Liberty DeVitto tribute?

The guy from Guster never contorted himself backwards in pain and exhaustion after crashing a couple of cymbals, and he hit them with his hands. Is this why Steve Smith eventually went back to jazz?

Or maybe it was the video for Separate Ways, in which Cain steals the show by re-inventing the art of air keyboards.

All very silly. And yet this song is brilliant. It builds from a solid hook on the piano that carries through into the vocals and Schon’s guitar work.

The lyrics blow away the typical power-ballad crap. Maybe you have to have been in a 10-year relationship to appreciate it, but “Two strangers learn to fall in love again / I get the joy of rediscovering you” is dead-on, and Perry’s delivery is powerful without sounding like some melismatic monster on American Idol.

Rather than re-mastering their old stuff, Journey should probably just reshoot the videos. The songs are fine.


Does jazz suck?

I do feel a little guilty asking the question. I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, having grown up in an area in which “jazz band” meant you played Booker-T and the MG’s or the Hawaii Five-O theme. I played one semester in the Duke Jazz Ensemble but clearly couldn’t keep up. Besides, we should all be celebrating jazz after Herbie Hancock’s stunning Grammy, right? (For an album of Joni Mitchell covers??!!)

But not all is well in the jazz world. “Smooth jazz” is dying. Some might not lament that — no one I know will ever admit to liking Kenny G, but I never minded hearing George Benson and Norah Jones when I was giving blood. (A few months ago, they switched to one of the local “urban” stations. You know, “urban”? I guess it’s shorter than “African American,” but it seems even less accurate.)

Then there’s the stuff they play at Panera. I suppose you might call it “postbop” or maybe “hard bop” (but not “Mmm-bop”). Or the name I call it, “music that featured in Manos, the Hands of Fate.”

Good jazz exists. We played some good stuff in jazz ensemble, even my fingers never quite caught up to the notes on the page. I have some albums by various Marsalis brothers, including the truly excellent Black Codes (from the Underground). That album has memorable hooks and a sense that the talented musicians in the group were connecting. The crap they play at Panera sounds like a bunch of guys went into the studio at different times, played erratic phrases on an unfamiliar instrument while stoned, then patched it all together. And yet someone deemed it worthy of recording for posterity and foisting on Panera diners as if it were listenable.

When I was growing up, Wynton and Branford had substantial followings. Musician magazine covered jazz almost as thoroughly as it covered rock.

In these days of fragmented media, you’re not likely to find a magazine that covers jazz and rock. With the decline of “smooth jazz,” you won’t hear much that falls under the “jazz” umbrella unless you seek it out on XM or the Web.

So perhaps the question isn’t whether jazz sucks. Maybe it’s just dying, despite Hancock’s Grammy?


Progress report

I’ve written roughly 70,000 words, completed 15 interviews. I’m expecting to do four more in this final week of leave, and then I’m back to the grind.

I don’t usually apologize for a lack of blog activity, but it’s pretty obvious that if I’ve written this much while shopping the book around to publishers and preparing to go back to work, I haven’t had much power left in my brain or my laptop to write anything coherent about music or media. It’s been a while since I’ve had a spare hour to live-blog VH1 Classic or XM. But I’ll get back to it. I promise. Especially once someone agrees to publish this thing.