For multi-instrumentalist and composer Marty Ehrlich, writing his new CD, News on the Rail, was an opportunity to balance innovation and tradition. "You don't reinvent music every time you do it, but you do come to something new," Ehrlich explains. "For me, I try to look at each piece as an emotional or musical problem or context, and then you try it, and you see what works. [Clarinetist and composer] John Carter once said to me, 'It's a pool we all dip into.' But you still have to come up with something that makes sense, that has validity and, hopefully, your own voice."
Raised in University City, the 50-year-old Ehrlich was influenced as a teen by the Black Artists Group, particularly saxophonist Julius Hemphill. After graduating from the New England Conservatory of Music, Ehrlich moved to New York in 1978 and has since won acclaim as a composer, performer and bandleader.
With a three-person rhythm section plus Ehrlich's alto sax and clarinet, James Zollar's trumpet and flugelhorn, and Howard Johnson on baritone sax, tuba and bass clarinet, Rail draws from a broader palette than Ehrlich's trio and quartet music. He makes good use of these timbral possibilities, inventively combining and contrasting the various wind instruments to maintain melodic and harmonic interest throughout.
And though Ehrlich is sometimes mistakenly stereotyped as an avant-gardist, Rail fits happily into the tradition of thoughtfully composed small-ensemble jazz (a tradition that runs from Duke Ellington through Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, and Ehrlich's mentor and teacher, Hemphill). The album is packed with enough twists and turns to merit sustained attention yet it's also accessible, with grooves, melodies and improvisations that engage the listener on an immediate, emotional level.
Along with Zollar and Johnson the latter a long-time collaborator who Ehrlich calls "sort of a walking history of American music" the band includes drummer Allison Miller and pianist James Wideman, both part of Ehrlich's quartet, and bassist Greg Cohen, who's worked with artists such as Ornette Coleman and Elvis Costello.
Having been a sideman on nearly 100 CDs, Ehrlich takes a player's perspective on leadership. "I think often a lot of this is really on the leader. The people on this record can play, and have played, a million different things. Can I sell the piece to them, through the writing, through my playing, through how I put it together? That's part of the art of leading an ensemble.
"Everybody in this band is a really good ensemble player who will subjugate their own sound to the group sound. That's what you're looking for players who can do that and then, at the drop of a hat, turn around and do a very focused, powerful solo. That's the art form." Dean C. Minderman
The Black Eyed Peas are the Carlos Santana of hip-hop. Formerly a fabulously original three-pronged act with shades of De La in their game, the Peas evidently decided that making smart, creative music didn't yield the requisite bling. So they set their sights on the top of the pops by inviting Fergie a tone-deaf sliver of talentless eye candy to whore it up on pencil-dick collaborations with the likes of Justin Timberlake, Sting and the insufferable Jack Johnson (himself a tone-deaf sliver of talentless eye candy).
But anyway, what you gon' do with all that ass? All that ass inside them jeans? I'm a make, make, make, make you scream. Make you scream. Make you scream. In spite of its obvious lyrical stupidity and gratuitous pandering to the knucklehead TRL/107.7 FM demographic, the Peas' "My Humps" is every bit as infectious as Kelis' "Milkshake." With this delightful little blast of Fergie-fronted booty-mongering, the Peas are wryly scraping the bottom of hip-hop's barrel and coming out winners.
Which, incidentally, is a lot more than you can say for the mess Nelly has become. If Page Six is to be believed (and it most assuredly is), the worst rapper alive recently dropped ten large at an NYC strip joint while tomcatting with Jermaine Dupri and then decided to match that amount in toys purchased for needy tots. Way to atone, asshat. And as if that duet with Tim McGraw wasn't bad enough, Nelly's indescribably horrible "Grillz" all but commands working-class black folks to go drop their paychecks on diamond studded rows of teeth. That ain't classy, that's trashy kind of like Nelly himself. Mike Seely
Sign o the Times
American-Idol-contestant-turned-country-superstar Josh Gracin is following the temple-rubbing footsteps of Prince and 30 Seconds to Mars by adopting an inexplicable self-symbol. In an effort to accelerate this obscene (yet always hi-larious) trend, B-Sides created some signs for other Idols.
Idol: Bo Bice
Season: Four, runner-up
Symbol: Sticks to the ribs as much as his intestinal problems!
Idol: Ruben Studdard
Season: Two, winner
Symbol: Get in my belly!
Idol: Clay Aiken
Season: Two, runner-up
Symbol: Gay long before Brokeback Mountain was hip.
Idol: Corey Clark
Season: Two, disqualified
Symbol: Extorting Paula Abdul has never been so fun!
Idol: Julia DeMato
Season: Two, tenth-place
Symbol: Putting the 'd' in drunk driving.
Idol: Constantine Maroulis
Season: Four, sixth place
Symbol: The greatest love of all: unbridled ego.
Idol: Scott Savol
Season: Four, fifth place
Symbol: Making spousal abuse acceptable again.
Idol: Justin Guarini
Season: One, runner-up
Symbol: "Would you like to start with our Tuscan Spinach Dip?"
Josh Gracin at the Argosy Casino, 1 Front Street, Alton, Illinois. Show starts at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, January 6 and 7. Tickets are $25; call 800-711-4263 for more information.