Review: Let's Go Everywhere - Medeski Martin & Wood

LetsGoEverywhere.jpgDespite the fact that jazz is one of the great American art forms, its current popularity among the population is not exactly mass-market. As a result, I'm hesitant to call Let's Go Everywhere, the first kids music CD from the popular modern jazz trio Medeski Martin & Wood, a good kids' jazz CD. Because if I did so, I'm afraid that a lot of people that would otherwise enjoy the CD would just tune me out. Take the insanely catchy title track, which, unlike MMW's previous discography, features vocals (by Tim Ingham) and lyrics that beg for singalongs. The track, which echoes Johnny Cash's "I've Been Everywhere," features throwaway lines like "Tijuana, Grand Bahama, don't forget to call your mama." It's propulsive, hand-clappy, and a poppy hit -- it certainly won't sound like jazz to most people. Or one of the better songs begging for kid-interaction I've heard, "Where's the Music?," a funky jam that breaks down every now and then only to be started up by gleeful kids begging, nay, shouting, "Where's the music?!?" That's not all. "Pat a Cake," a punky rap featuring a number of kids -- a quick track which, judging by the number of e-mails about it I received after my recent NPR chat, will be heard in a lot of households this spring. John Lurie's spoken-word piece "The Squalb" features gentle musical accompaniment and manages to be mysterious and reassuring all at once -- if you need 3 minutes and 17 seconds of silence via rapt attention in the car, play this track. I don't mean to give the tracks which do sound more jazzy short shrift, because those are excellent, too. "The Cat Creeps" has a funky, slinky bass line and tinkly piano that absolutely sounds like a cat creeping. "Let's Go" sounds like it could've been recorded 45 years ago in some West Coast studio (except for the kids occasionally shouting "Let's go!" in the background). And for those of you looking for a little deconstruction of classic tunes, "Old Paint" (on which the trio channels the Vince Guaraldi Trio) and a nearly unrecognizable (but fun in its own way) "All Around the Kitchen" will fit the bill. Out tomorrow, the 40-minute album will appeal mostly to kids ages 4 through 9, but if you're not listening to this and having fun, I don't know what to say. You can listen to four tracks at the album's Myspace page and a couple here. In the liner notes, both the band and Tim Ingham sound almost surprised at how well the album turned out. The band says "the best part was collaborating, improvising and making new friends. Who this was going to be one of our favorite records." Mine too. That sense of fun and wonder comes through loud and clear on every track. So rather than calling Let's Go Everywhere a good kids' jazz CD, let's call it what it really is -- a great CD. Period. Saying this when the year is barely a week old sounds like damning with faint praise, but it's true -- Let's Go Everywhere is the first great kids' CD of 2008. Highly recommended.

Review in Brief: High Meadow Songs - Various Artists

HighMeadowSongs.jpgHigh Meadow Songs is a collection of tracks from artists in New York's Hudson Valley to benefit High Meadow Arts, a local non-profit providing arts education for children and families. When getting a bunch of local musicians together for a benefit album, it doesn't hurt if your definition of "local musicians" includes Elizabeth Mitchell, Dog on Fleas, and Medeski, Martin & Wood. And if the CD just consisted of the tracks from those artists or collaborators, you'd have a pretty nifty 9-track album. Dog on Fleas turn in a very Fleas-ian (and local) "Buffalo Gals" and sound a bit like The Band on "Jenny Jenkins." Mitchell covers Jane Siberry's sweet "When Spring Comes," while MMW offer their reworking of "All Around the Kitchen" (accented with kids' voices) from their upcoming Let's Go Everywhere CD. Luckily there are a number of other tracks worth it for someone who's not from the area -- for example, Rebecca Coupe Franks & Her Groovemobile offer an original jazzy instrumental, "Ella Skye," and Abby Hollander and a whole bunch of High Meadow students perform Mark Morgenstern's story-in-song "Hudson River Girl." The album isn't so much an album of "kids music" as much as it is an album of kid-friendly folk music, "folk" defined rather broadly, as the album also includes a song from a musical comedy based on Beowulf ("True True Friend") and a couple of tracks from drummers Fode Sissoko and Toby Stover. As with any benefit album, especially a 65-minute one such as this one, the quality (or interest) of the tracks is not uniformly high, but the high points outweigh the rest. You can hear the first three tracks in their entirety here or listen to samples at the album's CDBaby page. It's probably most appropriate for kids ages 5 and up. High Meadow Songs will appeal most to fans of Dog on Fleas and Elizabeth Mitchell, but I think any listener (or family) who's a fan of folk music will find many pleasures here. It's a testament to one particular community's creative vibrancy. Recommended.

Elizabeth Mitchell, Dog on Fleas, MMW on Benefit CD

I hear about a bunch of benefit albums. And a benefit album with tracks from Elizabeth Mitchell, Dog on Fleas, and Medeski Martin & Wood definitely piques my interest. But any benefit album which includes songs like "True True Friend" from Dog on Fleas collaborator Debbie Lan with this description -- "This song was written for our musical last year (a collaborative piece, interpreted and adapted by Allison Uzzle and the 7th/ 8th graders – the challenge was to take the epic poem ‘Beouwolf’ and make it into a musical comedy!) and we needed a sweet song for four of our sweet girls, and so I wrote this for them. They did a sterling job. Thanks girls!! (Isabelle Lacedonia, Rebekah Underhill-Hval, Corin Mosack and Zoe Saridakis.)" -- well, I'm well beyond piqued. Proceeds from High Meadow Songs benefits High Meadow Arts, Inc. a Hudson Valley non-profit organization "dedicated to providing excellent arts education to local children and families." Listen to 3 tracks -- Debbie Lan's soulful "I'm On Your Side," Dog on Fleas' typically Fleasian (that is, eclectic and fun) "Buffalo Gals," and the nifty "Hudson River Girl" from Abby Hollander, Lilly Morganstern & the Hudson River Girls -- here. The record release party is Sunday, Dec. 2 at 6 PM.

Little Monsters, Big Expectations

So with the collapse of V2 Records, one might be wondering what the future of Little Monster Records is. I have word that Little Monster Records will be announcing a new home soon, which I'm very excited about, because even though I found their Beatles release underwhelming, I'm increasingly excited about the rest of their release schedule. To wit: yesterday's WNYC Soundcheck, which included Little Monster's Kevin Salem. About 10 minutes in they play a portion of the title track to their upcoming Let's Go Everywhere CD, and it's nothing less than what would you get if you combined Johnny Cash (specifically "I've Been Everywhere") and jazz funk. In a good way. In an awesome way. Folks, John Lurie is performing on the album -- this is going to be interesting at the very least and could be great. To wit, part deux: Well, sadly, I don't have a part deux, because Ralph and Ralph have deleted a blog post where they talked about their goals for the new album. But now it's gone (or they've deleted their old myspace page with the post) and I can't really say anything other than "I read it, and it made me excited to hear even more tracks than what's on their myspace page. Knew I should've posted it at the time...