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I made a new years resolution this year to expand my musical taste and interests, and specifically, to listen to more jazz. My boyfriend is a super talented jazz pianist and all-around jazz aficionado. I, on the other hand, have an untrained (but good, he says) ear. I love my indie, folk, and pop-rock tunes and appreciate a good guitar lick, beautiful harmony and crafty lyrics. Until recently, Jason Mraz’s scat singing and Herbie Hancock’s piano was the extent of my jazz exposure.

But I’ve made good on my resolution. In the past month, I have seen and listened to more jazz than in my previous 22 years. And man has it been good.

It started in a small venue called the Jazz Gallery in the South Village, where Darcy James Argue’ over-sized group filled easily half the room. While I enjoyed the music, I didn’t feel connected in any way to it. Without any jazz training, I didn’t even know how to talk about it.

But it’s not in my blood to give up. The following night I found myself at Winter JazzFest, an annual gathering of some of the finest jazz musicians from around the world and their most dedicated fans who squeeze their way into five venues in Manhattan’s West Village to jam between the hours of 7pm and 2am. While the talent of Vijay Iyer and many of the other musicians I saw over the course of the evening was self-evident, the nights most impressive act came from Taylor Eigsti, whose 12:30am set at The Bitter End literally woke me up and pulled me into the world of jazz.

Since Winter JazzFest I’ve fallen deeply into the rhythm of three fantastic musicians: Taylor Eigsti, Becca Stevens and Gretchen Parlato, who often collaborate musically and are featured on each others records.

TAYLOR EIGSTI

Taylor Eigsti is a 27-year-old pianist who began his career as a prodigy at age 11. Taylor’s newest release, Daylight At Midnight, features Becca Stevens on a number of songs, including one of my favorite tracks, Magnolia:

BECCA STEVENS

 Becca Stevens is a New York-based singer, composer and guitarist who The New York Times described as “a best-kept secret.” Her pitch-perfect pure voice and youthful presence came to life for me when I saw her at both Winter JazzFest with Taylor and with Alan Hampton at Symphony Space. Her newest record, Weightless, is undoubtedly the best album I’ve heard in 2012 and should have been on my best of 2011 list. This is the music video from the album’s title track, Weightless:

GRETCHEN PARLATO

Finally, after loving Becca and Taylor’s music, I was told without hesitance the next artist to discover was Gretchen Parlato. Sure enough, her hauntingly beautiful and soulful voice on both In A Dream and The Lost And Found validated my entrance into the wonderful world of jazz. This song, Weak, is from Gretchen’s 2009 album In A Dream.

So with these three songs, and many more on each of their records, I pronounce that I am here to stay.

I can’t say enough about the Atlanta-born, LA-based singer-songwriter Tyler Lyle. His depth of lyrical creativity and sweet, yet powerful voice have made him one of my favorite young artists. He also happens to be a wonderful, engaged person, constantly questioning and thinking critically about the state of the world and his place in it. I had the great opportunity to chat with Tyler in November and posted my interview shortly thereafter, where Tyler described the process of writing and singing emotionally stinging songs, his dreams of writing a protest album, and the experience of co-writing music.

His debut full-length album, The Golden Age & The Silver Girl, was the first of Lyle’s music to capture my attention. From front to back the album is filled with heart wrenching melodies of love and loss. Through each verse, Lyle grows stronger and more empowered to move forward and find his way on his own.

Find My Way (On My Own)

After playing The Golden Age & The Silver Girl on repeat for at least 3 weeks, I decided I ought to explore the rest of Lyle’s collection. It only took a quick stroll on his bandcamp to fully realize his gift. Song after song captured the unique quality of his writing and his powerful delivery. The following tracks showcase the depth and breadth of Tyler’s musical gift.

The Unbearable Lightness

Now we fumble through the dark.
Atoms of a beating heart.
Unaware of the song we sing
Like sleeping gods inside a dream.
Don’t wake me. 

 

A Secret (About Secrets)

I’m just a blind man taking pictures in the dark
Trying to open up my arms.
And I’ll put my pictures on the wall for you to see,
But you’re blind like me. 

Pinewood Chests

Time moves steady along
It’s a similar tune for a different song.
Time moves steady along
It’s the way we move. 

or, better yet, see a video of Tyler performing the song:

Never Reach My Destination (Live at Eddie’s Attic) 

I will never reach my destination
Hallelujah I am on my way
I have seen the sunrise and the canyons
I have seen the last light of day.

Support Tyler by joining his Kickstarter campaign to press The Golden Age & The Silver Girl onto vinyl. This kid is 100% worth the investment.

January Gems

So I started writing this post on Tuesday, when temperatures in New York City fell as low as 11 degrees with wind chill. It is now Saturday and in typical global climate change fashion, the weather is oddly reminiscent of a beautiful crisp October fall day. But, pretend for a second that it is actually cold outside as you read this…

 

The weather has suddenly taken a turn for the worse. It’s possible (and likely) that we’ve been blessed with a mild winter so far, heightening our reaction to the recent plummeting temperatures. Either way, a cold front has arrived on my doorstep, and despite great willpower, I have not been able to turn it away.

But for all of my complaining, the arrival of cold weather has coincided with the arrival of refreshing, solemn, cold-weather tunes—Iron & Wine, The Tallest Man On Earth and Desert Noises.  While I have returned to work, and therefore am no longer able to enjoy my music sitting alongside the crackling fireplace, these tunes transplant me to my winter wonderland.

Iron & Wine

It was with great delight that I stumbled upon (well, let’s be honest, Pitchfork tweeted about it) the euphoric video for Godless Brother In Love, a beautiful song off of Iron & Wine’s 2011 album Kiss Each Other Clean (which, I must note, I totally overlooked in 2011). While the video is quite emblematic of the song, for me it takes place in the wrong season. If I close my eyes and let Sam Beam’s delicate voice stream through my veins, landscapes coated white with snow fill my imagination.

The Tallest Man On Earth

Kristian Matsson has quickly become a favorite among the many voices in my music library. His raw croak and fingerpicking guitar are the epitome of the folk revival. Stripped down and intimate, his music needs no embellishment. There is something about Love Is All, off of Tallest Man On Earth’s 2010 album The Wild Hunt, that grabs me. Be it his forlorn lyrics or repeated vocal hiccup.

Oh, I said I could rise
From the harness of our goals
Here come the tears
But like always, I let them go.

Desert Noises

It’s always good to know people who know people. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 50% of my new music comes from Adam over at songsfortheday, including the fantastic 2011 album Mountain Sea from Utah-based quartet Desert Noises. They are a perfect cross between Fleet Foxes and Band of Horses (his characterization, not mine, though I wholeheartedly agree). The band has me hooked it’s opening number, Highway Cars, with its funky beat and sun-filled harmonies. The album only gets better with the sweet melody Tell Me You Love Me.

 

 

So in November I had the great privilege of attending Jason Mraz and Toca Rivera’s incredible acoustic performance at Carnegie Hall. Less than 24 hours later, I wrote a post about the concert, oozing with hyperbolic language (I still remain convinced that it was the best live performance I have ever attended). Days later, the newest employee at my office, in utter dismay at being unable to attend the show, commented on the blog.

This marked the beginning of a new friendship, revolving mostly around our eerily common music taste. And so it is appropriate that it was the same coworker who today excitedly sent me the newest song from Jason, released on January 2 (thanks Dustyn!).

I Won’t Give Up is stellar preview of Mraz’s next album (due for release in the first half of 2012), a flawless addition to his catalogue and the perfect way to open a new year. Jason sings of a hopeful and inspirational love—one that overcomes rough skies, bends and learns without breaking. The song highlights Jason’s vocal range and talent, stays true to his reputation of lyrical wordplay and musicality and is layered with Toca Rivera’s beautiful vocal harmonies. It is raw with emotion.

‘Cause even the stars they burn
Some even fall to the earth
We’ve got a lot to learn
God knows we’re worth it
No, I won’t give up

The song is available for purchase on iTunes and is streaming on Spotify!

The Barr Brothers played Beggar In The Morning from their 2011 self-titled debut album on the Letterman Show last night. These guys never fail to impress me.

In the final days of 2011, which I spent enjoying time with family and friends in Vermont, I rediscovered some fantastic music that I did not adequately appreciate in the last six months. Music I struggled to put words to, felt pressured to love, and that I ultimately looked over in favor of my 2011 highlights. But in the spirit of the New Year—new attitudes, optimism and openness—I have given this artist and his album a second chance and stand corrected.

Bon Iver

My first Bon Iver experience was listening to Skinny Love on a friend’s iPod in February 2010 while driving through rural India. After four weeks living in the heart of Bangalore, overwhelmed daily by its smells and sounds, I felt a great relief leaving the city behind and driving into the rural countryside. With each kilometer further from the city, my whole body loosened and relaxed. Justin Vernon’s voice was the perfect soundtrack to that drive, facilitating my physical transformation.

My enjoyment of Skinny Love was organic and natural and unhindered by outside influences. Its pureness stands in stark contrast to my experience of Bon Iver’s 2011 self-titled album. It was stained by expectation and external pressure—by no one in particular; rather by the high praise I felt I needed to understand (I mean, it has earned four Grammy nominations) and reinforce. When the album did not live up to its hype, I rejected it.

Now, months later, I have returned to Bon Iver with a new ear and new attitude and with my “Best of” lists finalized and published. Vernon’s falsetto streamed through my headphones on a frigid winter morning as I glided through powder and over ice (yea, hasn’t been a great winter for skiers) down Stratton Mountain. It fueled and refreshed me. I embraced its expansive, unfamiliar sounds. I enjoyed it deeply and completely.

If I did it all over again, it may still not land on my Top Albums/Songs of 2011 list. But really, that’s irrelevant. I resolve to approach music with an open attitude, unhindered by expectations.

Happy New Year!

 

I can’t say enough good things about these Seattle sweethearts, The Head And The Heart, whose onstage energy and chemistry has won over many ears, hearts and wallets and whose Sub-Pop self-titled debut record earned them #28 on NPR’s All Songs Considered’s best records of 2011. Sound On The Sound released a bonus Doe Bay Session today of THATH playing No One To Let You Down with some friends against the beautiful backdrop of Orcas Island.

I am hoping 2012 will bring THATH more success and me a sophomore album to add to my collection. For now, enjoy: