Sunday, May 29, 2005

Ringtone tops British charts?

Phone Ring Tone Set to Top U.K. Charts

May 29, 8:30 AM (ET)

LONDON (AP) - A cell-phone ring tone appeared set to top the British singles chart Sunday, outselling the new single by the band Coldplay by nearly four to one, a music retailer said.

"Crazy Frog Axel F," a ring tone based on the sound of a revving Swedish mo-ped, is the first tune being used on mobile phones to cross into mainstream music charts, said Gennaro Castaldo, a spokesman for HMV, the British music retailing chain.

Coldplay had hoped to go straight to No. 1 on this Sunday's British singles chart with its new song, "Speed of Sound." But by Saturday, it appeared that the ring tone - which is available for digital download and as a compact disc single - would prevail, said Castaldo.

The ring tone was expected to replace the Oasis tune "Lyla" as the No. 1 hit on the list released Sunday by the Official UK Charts Co. The weekly singles chart, which has been released since 1952, is based on the sales of 5,600 retail shops across Britain.

While "Crazy Frog" and other ring tones do not appear to be much of a hit among adults, so many youngsters are personalizing the sound of their cell phones that such digital music could change world music markets.

"Music purists might not be too happy at the prospect of the "Crazy Frog" outselling Coldplay, but it shouldn't come as that much of a surprise when you consider its huge novelty appeal and the massive amount of exposure it is currently getting," said Castaldo.

The ring tone is based on a song that was recorded in Sweden nearly a decade ago by 17-year-old Daniel Malmedahl, using the high pitched revving of a two-stroke motorcycle, The International Herald Tribune reported Saturday.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Pat Metheny on Kenny G

Part 1; click here to get to the reference post and then part 2. This was apparently posted on Metheny's official website, but I could not find the original.

Date: Jun 05 2000 Subject: Controversy and Kenny G

Question: Pat, could you tell us your opinion about Kenny G - it appears you were quoted as being less than enthusiastic about him and his music. I would say that most of the serious music listeners in the world would not find your opinion surprising or unlikely - but you were vocal about it for the first time. You are generally supportive of other musicians it seems.

Pat's Answer:

kenny g is not a musician i really had much of an opinion about at all until recently. there was not much about the way he played that interested me one way or the other either live or on records. i first heard him a number of years ago playing as a sideman with jeff lorber when they opened a concert for my band. my impression was that he was someone who had spent a fair amount of time listening to the more pop oriented sax players of that time, like grover washington or david sanborn, but was not really an advanced player, even in that style. he had major rhythmic problems and his harmonic and melodic vocabulary was extremely limited, mostly to pentatonic based and blues- lick derived patterns, and he basically exhibited only a rudimentary understanding of how to function as a professional soloist in an ensemble - lorber was basically playing him off the bandstand in terms of actual music. but he did show a knack for connecting to the basest impulses of the large crowd by deploying his two or three most effective licks (holding long notes and playing fast runs - never mind that there were lots of harmonic clams in them) at the keys moments to elicit a powerful crowd reaction (over and over again) . the other main thing i noticed was that he also, as he does to this day, play horribly out of tune - consistently sharp.

of course, i am aware of what he has played since, the success it has had, and the controversy that has surrounded him among musicians and serious listeners. this controversy seems to be largely fueled by the fact that he sells an enormous amount of records while not being anywhere near a really great player in relation to the standards that have been set on his instrument over the past sixty or seventy years.

and honestly, there is no small amount of envy involved from musicians who see one of their fellow players doing so well financially, especially when so many of them who are far superior as improvisors and musicians in general have trouble just making a living. there must be hundreds, if not thousands of sax players around the world who are simply better improvising musicians than kenny g on his chosen instruments. it would really surprise me if even he disagreed with that statement.

having said that, it has gotten me to thinking lately why so many jazz musicians (myself included, given the right “bait” of a question, as i will explain later) and audiences have gone so far as to say that what he is playing is not even jazz at all.

stepping back for a minute, if we examine the way he plays, especially if one can remove the actual improvising from the often mundane background environment that it is delivered in, we see that his saxophone style is in fact clearly in the tradition of the kind of playing that most reasonably objective listeners WOULD normally quantify as being jazz. it’s just that as jazz or even as music in a general sense, with these standards in mind, it is simply not up to the level of playing that we historically associate with professional improvising musicians. so, lately i have been advocating that we go ahead and just include it under the word jazz - since pretty much of the rest of the world OUTSIDE of the jazz community does anyway - and let the chips fall where they may.

and after all, why he should be judged by any other standard, why he should be exempt from that that all other serious musicians on his instrument are judged by if they attempt to use their abilities in an improvisational context playing with a rhythm section as he does? he SHOULD be compared to john coltrane or wayne shorter, for instance, on his abilities (or lack thereof) to play the soprano saxophone and his success (or lack thereof) at finding a way to deploy that instrument in an ensemble in order to accurately gauge his abilities and put them in the context of his instrument’s legacy and potential.

as a composer of even eighth note based music, he SHOULD be compared to herbie hancock, horace silver or even grover washington. suffice it to say, on all above counts, at this point in his development, he wouldn’t fare well.

but, like i said at the top, this relatively benign view was all “until recently”.

not long ago, kenny g put out a recording where he overdubbed himself on top of a 30+ year old louis armstrong record, the track “what a wonderful world”. with this single move, kenny g became one of the few people on earth i can say that i really can't use at all - as a man, for his incredible arrogance to even consider such a thing, and as a musician, for presuming to share the stage with the single most important figure in our music.

this type of musical necrophilia - the technique of overdubbing on the preexisting tracks of already dead performers - was weird when natalie cole did it with her dad on “unforgettable” a few years ago, but it was her dad. when tony bennett did it with billie holiday it was bizarre, but we are talking about two of the greatest singers of the 20th century who were on roughly the same level of artistic accomplishment. when larry coryell presumed to overdub himself on top of a wes montgomery track, i lost a lot of the respect that i ever had for him - and i have to seriously question the fact that i did have respect for someone who could turn out to have have such unbelievably bad taste and be that disrespectful to one of my personal heroes.

but when kenny g decided that it was appropriate for him to defile the music of the man who is probably the greatest jazz musician that has ever lived by spewing his lame-ass, jive, pseudo bluesy, out-of-tune, noodling, wimped out, fucked up playing all over one of the great louis’s tracks (even one of his lesser ones), he did something that i would not have imagined possible. he, in one move, through his unbelievably pretentious and calloused musical decision to embark on this most cynical of musical paths, shit all over the graves of all the musicians past and present who have risked their lives by going out there on the road for years and years developing their own music inspired by the standards of grace that louis armstrong brought to every single note he played over an amazing lifetime as a musician. by disrespecting louis, his legacy and by default, everyone who has ever tried to do something positive with improvised music and what it can be, kenny g has created a new low point in modern culture - something that we all should be totally embarrassed about - and afraid of. we ignore this, “let it slide”, at our own peril.

his callous disregard for the larger issues of what this crass gesture implies is exacerbated by the fact that the only reason he possibly have for doing something this inherently wrong (on both human and musical terms) was for the record sales and the money it would bring.

since that record came out - in protest, as insigificant as it may be, i encourage everyone to boycott kenny g recordings, concerts and anything he is associated with. if asked about kenny g, i will diss him and his music with the same passion that is in evidence in this little essay.

normally, i feel that musicians all have a hard enough time, regardless of their level, just trying to play good and don’t really benefit from public criticism, particularly from their fellow players. but, this is different.

there ARE some things that are sacred - and amongst any musician that has ever attempted to address jazz at even the most basic of levels, louis armstrong and his music is hallowed ground. to ignore this trespass is to agree that NOTHING any musician has attempted to do with their life in music has any intrinsic value - and i refuse to do that. (i am also amazed that there HASN’T already been an outcry against this among music critics - where ARE they on this?????!?!?!?!- , magazines, etc.). everything i said here is exactly the same as what i would say to gorelick if i ever saw him in person. and if i ever DO see him anywhere, at any function - he WILL get a piece of my mind and (maybe a guitar wrapped around his head.)

NOTE: this post is partially in response to the comments that people have made regarding a short video interview excerpt with me that was posted on the internet taken from a tv show for young people (kind of like MTV) in poland where i was asked to address 8 to 11 year old kids on terms that they could understand about jazz.

while enthusiastically describing the virtues of this great area of music, i was encouraging the kids to find and listen to some of the greats in the music and not to get confused by the sometimes overwhelming volume of music that falls under the jazz umbrella. i went on to say that i think that for instance, “kenny g plays the dumbest music on the planet” - something that all 8 to 11 year kids on the planet already intrinsically know, as anyone who has ever spent any time around kids that age could confirm - so it gave us some common ground for the rest of the discussion. (ADDENDUM: the only thing wrong with the statement that i made was that i did not include the rest of the known universe.)

the fact that this clip was released so far out of the context that it was delivered in is a drag, but it is now done. (it’s unauthorized release out of context like that is symptomatic of the new electronically interconnected culture that we now live in - where pretty much anything anyone anywhere has ever said or done has the potential to become common public property at any time.) i was surprised by the polish people putting this clip up so far away from the use that it was intended -really just for the attention - with no explanation of the show it was made for - they (the polish people in general) used to be so hip and would have been unlikely candidates to do something like that before, but i guess everything is changing there like it is everywhere else.

the only other thing that surprised me in the aftermath of the release of this little interview is that ANYONE would be even a little bit surprised that i would say such a thing, given the reality of mr. g’s music. this makes me want to go practice about 10 times harder, because that suggests to me that i am not getting my own musical message across clearly enough - which to me, in every single way and intention is diametrically opposed to what Kenny G seems to be after.

Proceed to Part 2

Pat's comments are © Pat Metheny.
Copyright © 2000 Jazz Guitar ONLINE

Saturday, May 07, 2005

America Heavy Metal Concert in Cuba

U.S. Band Gives Outdoor Concert in Cuba

By JOHN RICE, Associated Press WriterSat May 7, 4:46 PM ET

The American group Audioslave broke decades-long barriers with a thundering concert before thousands of Cuban fans — who knocked over barriers to get closer to the first U.S. rock band to play an outdoor concert in Cuba.

Chris Cornell's scream — "I won't do what you tell me!" — boomed off the high-rise apartment buildings on south side of the stage Friday night as feedback shrieks from Tom Morello's guitar drifted into the night breeze over the Caribbean to the north.

"This is the best thing that has happened here this year," said 25-year-old rock fan Omar Juanes.

"The best thing in your life," shouted a nearby friend who darted back into a crowd of more than 3,000 people — many with dreadlocks, body piercings and tattoos. A few swooped around the edges of the crowd on roller blades.

It was a distinct difference from the orderly, clean-cut crowds who march in massive anti-U.S. protests along the Malecon waterfront at the same venue: the Jose Marti Anti-Imperialist Tribunal before the U.S. Interests Section, or diplomatic mission.

Even before the concert, hundreds of fans were so eager that they sent metal security barricades clanging to the pavement and rushed forward to fill a 50-yard long area that had been reserved for special guests — mostly workers and teachers with exemplary official records.

Police allowed the fans to stay in the invaded space and several joked with tattooed youths in Metallica T-shirts swigging rum.

U.S. travel restrictions on Cuba and the Cuban government's ambivalence toward rock music have limited visits by U.S. rockers to Cuba.

Officials often cite Billy Joel's 1979 indoor performance as a rock and roll landmark here.

But elemental grunge, thrash and metal are the most popular styles of rock on an island rich in its own complex, polyrhythmic popular music.

Audioslave had the whole crowd screaming and dancing when it went back to its frantic, pounding, grungy roots, but left those in the back merely toe-tapping on some of the newer, less frantic songs.

"We would like to have stronger music — bands like Metallica," said a gaunt man sitting alongside friends on the Malecon seawall who gave his name as Walter Delgado, 32. Even so, he said, "We are happy for the first time in our rock and roll history."

Friday, May 06, 2005

New of the Weird: Music Item 05-05-05

Christopher Garica, 46, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was turned down for unemployment benefits in March because as administrative judge found that he was proporely fired by a convenience store for misconduct in that he would not stop "air drumming" on duty (using real drumsticks), causing some customers to complain of feeling threatened.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Louie Louie, Round 185

Band Banned From Performing 'Louie Louie'

2 hours, 40 minutes ago

A pop culture controversy that has simmered for decades came to a head when a middle school marching band was told not to perform "Louie Louie."

Benton Harbor Superintendent Paula Dawning cited the song's allegedly raunchy lyrics in ordering the McCord Middle School band not to perform it in Saturday's Grand Floral Parade, held as part of the Blossomtime Festival.

In a letter sent home with McCord students, Dawning said "Louie Louie" was not appropriate for Benton Harbor students to play while representing the district — even though the marching band wasn't going to sing it.

Band members and parents complained to the Board of Education at its Tuesday meeting that it was too late to learn another song, The Herald-Palladium of St. Joseph reported.

"It's very stressful for us to try to come up with new songs for the band," eighth-grader Laurice Martin told the board. "We're trying to learn the songs from last year, but some of us weren't in the band last year."

Dawning said that if a majority of parents supports their children playing the song, she will reconsider her decision.

"It was not that I knew at the beginning and said nothing," Dawning said. "I normally count on the staff to make reliable decisions. I found out because a parent called, concerned about the song being played."

"Louie Louie," written by Richard Berry in 1956, is one of the most recorded songs in history. The best-known, most notorious version was a hit in 1963 for the Kingsmen; the FBI spent two years investigating the lyrics before declaring they not only were not obscene but also were "unintelligible at any speed."

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Reggaeton in LA

A Rowdy Sound Leaves Salsa Behind on the Dance Floor
By Agustin Gurza
Times Staff Writer

April 30, 2005

At the Rumba Room, a two-story nightclub at Universal CityWalk that draws a young Latino crowd, the entertainment is segregated. Downstairs, dancers groove mostly to a mix of salsa, cumbia and merengue. Upstairs, the vibe is strictly hip-hop, the language mainly English.

Every Friday, however, the stroke of midnight signals a spontaneous shift toward that most elusive of dance-floor moments: full nightclub consensus.

That's when DJ Joe Matrix starts spinning the hottest new sound in Latin music: "reggaeton," a gritty tropical fusion that palpably amps up the club's energy level. Fans swarm the main floor as music born in Puerto Rican barrios takes center stage 3,300 miles away.

Within the last year, this rowdy and often raunchy dance music has spread like a riot through the youth culture of Latin America, from the streets of San Juan to the nightclubs of Santiago de Chile, Hollywood and East L.A. With a pulsing beat that even detractors find hard to resist, reggaeton (pronounced reggae-TONE) has suddenly surfaced as the most powerful commercial force in Latin music since Ricky Martin made America live la vida loca.

While corporate music executives were caught up looking for another Ricky, it turns out, the rough-and-tumble stars of reggaeton were developing the next big thing under the industry's radar in the poor neighborhoods and housing projects of Puerto Rico. Their grass-roots musical movement, nurtured at the edges of society and commerce in the do-it-yourself fashion of early hip-hop, is a bootstrap success story in today's focus-group-driven entertainment industry.

The music followed several intertwining paths from barrio to world music stage. It spread slowly at first through the constant mobility of immigrants: Puerto Ricans in New York, especially, and Central Americans in Los Angeles. Once major record labels caught wind of this localized phenomenon, they helped disseminate the style by feeding records to club DJs, the genre's key tastemakers. Then, in the past year, the music catapulted to the top of the charts through the tried-and-true music business method: the making of hits.

This weekend, the Reggaeton Invasion tour sweeps into town for two shows at Gibson Amphitheatre (formerly Universal Amphitheatre). Tickets sold out in 10 days for concerts tonight and Sunday at the 6,200-seat auditorium. The tour features the genre's top stars — Daddy Yankee, Don Omar, Hector El Bambino and Luny Tunes — and testifies to its recent West Coast breakthrough.

The wave seems to have hit California overnight, even though the music's origins date back a quarter-century. Just last year, major reggaeton acts Tego Calderon and Ivy Queen appeared in Los Angeles with almost no fanfare, drawing modest crowds to obscure venues such as Prince Hall, a Masonic lodge near Compton.

Since the birth of rock 'n' roll, populist musical movements have exposed the recording industry as being out of touch with the pulse of the streets. Major record companies, for instance, were slow to take rap seriously when it began in the 1970s.

In Puerto Rico, while Latin labels continued to promote the polished salsa sound of stars such as Marc Anthony, fans were growing weary of the dance music that many felt had become homogenized in the corporate rush to spread its popularity.

"We asked ourselves, 'What's happening with salsa sales?' " said John Echevarria, president of Universal's Latin division in the U.S. "They keep falling and falling and falling. One answer, obviously, was piracy. But the next thing we discovered was that an underground [reggaeton] market had developed, and it was very active. We realized there was this whole other genre that had filled the void."

Topping this weekend's bill is the dashing Daddy Yankee, a veteran rapper with a bullet wound in his leg who has emerged as reggaeton's first superstar. His latest CD, "Barrio Fino," is the first reggaeton album to crack the Top 30 on Billboard's pop album chart. Propelled by the infectious party hit "Gasolina," it's close to becoming the first reggaeton album to sell 1 million units in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

The CD is one of eight reggaeton releases among the Top 25 sellers on Billboard's Latin album chart.

Though reggaeton hasn't yet reached the success of crossover artists such as Martin or Shakira, the music is getting a big boost from some mainstream media outlets. Reggaeton and other Latin hip-hop tracks are now part of the regular rotation on L.A.'s top-rated hip-hop station, Power 106 (KPWR-FM, 105.9)

"All the kids are going crazy over this music," said Tony Matrix, brother and business partner of the Rumba Room DJ. "It's like when disco came out and everybody went wild for it."

And nothing says success like endorsement deals. Recently, Daddy Yankee was tapped to promote rapper Sean "P. Diddy" Combs' clothing line, Sean John.

Calderon, with his big Afro and gap between his front teeth, appeared last year on billboards promoting Hennessy Cognac. Still, in the fickle world of popular music, reggaeton's staying power is an open question. "Those who don't understand it say it's just a fad," said Daddy Yankee, interviewed recently in Puerto Rico. "But those of us who live it, who dress it, who speak it and express it, we know that what we have created is more than that. It's a way of life."

A Distinct Twist

The first Spanish-language reggae records were made in the 1970s in working-class neighborhoods of Panama City, populated by descendants of Jamaican immigrants who moved there to help build the Panama Canal.

"When we recorded [reggae] in Spanish, we gave it our own distinct twist, adding idiosyncrasies that are totally different from Jamaican folklore," said Panamanian musician El General, whose 1980s recordings are considered precursors of reggaeton. "We added timbales and congas instead of drums, and it started taking on a different flavor."

The signature rhythm of reggaeton is based on the beat of Jamaican dancehall music, but with more muscle. It has the go-go energy of a cheerleading chant, the menacing undercurrent of gangsta rap and the chug-a-lug ethos of a fraternity party. It also has its own dance, a sexually suggestive bump-and-grind indelicately called el perreo — roughly translated, the doggie dance.

The music quickly took root in Puerto Rico, where artists such as Vico C had pioneered a vibrant style of Spanish-language rap, also during the 1980s. It was this melding of borrowed styles — Latino rap and Latino reggae — that gave birth to the genre. Puerto Ricans later enhanced it by adding layers of other tropical styles: salsa, merengue, bachata and even Puerto Rican bomba.

As the popularity of reggaeton has spread, it has not only eclipsed salsa sales, but also muscled ahead of competing strains of Spanish-language rap and hip-hop, including the homegrown L.A. variety by artists such as Akwid, who combine hip-hop with traditional Mexican music. Most local Latino rappers still struggle to attract audiences to club shows where they play for promotion but little or no pay.

L.A.'s barrio rappers tend to have a somber message and thuggish image, which, even supporters admit, has kept them from breaking out of their niche market.

"People love the fact that reggaeton is danceable," said Rick Valenzuela, partner in Rik-Raf Entertainment, which manages local Latino rap acts. "That's part of why it's blowing up."

Reggaeton can be socially conscious and politically assertive, but it's the sexually charged, party-hearty aspect that has it blasting from car radios seemingly everywhere.

"You can have a headache, you can feel upset, you can be anemic, and suddenly, you're in your car, you put on the music and it's all good," said Tato Hernandez, a burly promoter who cranked up the volume in his pickup as he cruised San Juan streets. "Reggaeton takes people and just turns them around."

British-born businessman Adam Kidron sees another quality in reggaeton that helps explain its success: "That hip-hop confidence to influence the world."

Kidron's company, Urban Box Office, a New York-based firm that markets directly to Latinos via bodegas, barbershops and newsstands, distributes a DVD/CD package titled "Chosen Few 'El Documental,' " which has been on the Billboard charts for almost 20 weeks.

It's the only reggaeton album among the eight on the chart that is not distributed by Universal Music, which has taken the lead in making deals with the major players. This year, Universal went beyond simply distributing reggaeton recordings by establishing its own urban music label, Machete Music, and it quickly bought a half interest in VI, the dominant independent reggaeton label with five of those eight charting albums.

Partnering with mainstream multinational labels has been one key to the recent growth of reggaeton. But coming to those agreements was not easy. At first, reggaeton was often associated with drugs, gangs, violence and sex. The music was largely ignored by the record industry and actively suppressed by powerful opponents in Puerto Rico.

Additionally, the performers weren't terribly interested in all that came with major-label respectability. They were accustomed to using music samples of U.S. hits without permission and saying whatever they wanted without censorship. Many were suspicious of corporations and believed they could make more money peddling homemade cassettes out of apartments in the projects, or cacerios.

That insular attitude slowed the music's expansion. But it greatly increased the musicians' credibility in the eyes of fans.

"These guys have survived in a world where nobody would open up a door for them," said Gus Lopez, head of Universal's Burbank-based Machete label. "They made money, lost money, made videos that never got played, got shot down by the media, maybe even hit with a couple of lawsuits because of all the sampling they were doing. But they did it all themselves…. The kids know when they say something, they've lived it."

Today, even Puerto Rican politicians have abandoned their opposition and jumped on the reggaeton bandwagon. In last year's national elections, candidates from all three of the island's political parties campaigned to reggaeton beats.

Still, the music remains primarily a Latino pop phenomenon, lacking the crossover success that catapulted artists of the Latin explosion into mainstream pop stardom. Some say the continued growth of the genre depends on its ability to establish greater links with mainstream hip-hop.

Combs' choice of Daddy Yankee as a pitchman is more than just a fashion endorsement; it's a crucial endorsement for reggaeton, said Jazmin Perez, assistant music editor at the hip-hop magazine Vibe in New York.

"It's kind of like [Combs] saying that Daddy Yankee is part of hip-hop," Perez said.

Continued collaborations, she added, will determine whether reggaeton remains a fad or becomes a long-term force in pop music. Last year, a reggaeton/hip-hop collaboration — "Oye Mi Canto" by New York rapper N.O.R.E. with Daddy Yankee — marked a milestone when it hit the Top 20 on the Billboard and MTV charts.

"That was the song that put reggaeton on the map, maybe more so than 'Gasolina,' " said David Gomez, a musician who works the world-music section at Amoeba Music in Hollywood. " 'Oye Mi Canto' got people asking about the music. That was the bridge."

Back at the Rumba Room, a firecracker DJ named Khool-Aid, from Power 106, warmed up the crowd with a string of epithets and obscene gestures. A self-described "Jewish girl from the Valley," she was there to introduce reggaeton's Julio Voltio, the night's special guest from Puerto Rico.

Voltio, who has recorded a track with L.A. rapper Lil Rob, emerged with the ubiquitous hip-hop cap worn sideways, "L.A." stitched to the front. It's a savvy salute to the hometown fans, mostly Mexican American, and who, like the Matrix brothers, are helping propel the reggaeton juggernaut on its westward expansion.

"The boom is here," Khool-Aid, host of the syndicated Latino rap show "Pocos Pero Locos," said during an interview. "People want to hear their own voice. It's the streets…. It's the future."