The Sweet Science
I remember when rock was young; Barbara Manning had so much fun. Melting the coolest hearts in indie rock with fuzzy strumming, fractured fables, and simple tales of lost love, she was the zaftig Zelig of indie pop: killer single on Forced Exposure, babysitting Pavement, singing the best 6ths song, recording with Flying Nun alums in New Zealand and old marble giant Stuart Moxham in the U.K. Truth Walks in Sleepy Shadows, the Matador release from her band, S.F. Seals, is probably the most accomplished work of a scene that disdained craftsmanship.
But the years went by and the rock just died. The kids like disco now, Matador dropped her, her relationship ended, and she lost her home to the rising tide in San Francisco. She took to the road, eventually settling into a trailer near Grass Valley, California, and earning a degree in soil science from Sierra College. Still, she won’t stop dreaming of her Ford van and her old routines, and on August 5 at Tonic, she launched her first U.S. tour in three years with her newest band, the Go-Luckys, featuring the preternaturally chipper 23-year-old Steinbach twins. Raised in their parents’ rock club in Sussen, Germany (or “Sweet-town,” as they insist on calling it), the Steinbachs answer the musical question, What if Hanson were raised by Gerard Cosloy (their “Boston Song” coulda come right off the turntable at Kim’s in 1994)? From the first chords of Robert Scott’s “Smoking Her Wings” they were off to the races, running through their entire repertoire of 35 songs in three hours, stopping only for as long as it took her to hop into the crowd and hug everyone.
Manning was the soul of generosity, offering to take requests out of turn so fans wouldn’t have to stay, covering songs by her friends (even the ones who didn’t attend), bringing up the road crew for avant-sax and keyb wailing (it was Tonic, after all), and playing almost all the new stuff and her recent singles-etc. collection. Flavio’s manic drumming is better than Fabrizio’s punky guitar, but their winsome exuberance was the perfect foil for her grande dame routine; she smiled wearily as they dove into a request for “Ipecac” before she finished introducing it. She was ready to leave it at that, but the Go-Luckys wanted to play “Goof on the Roof,” her cautionary kid song. “Well, it’s something sweet to finish with,” she noted, “but he dies in the end!” The Steinbachs shrugged and grinned and got their way. —Josh Goldfein
Help the Aged
This has not been a good year for jazz mortality. In the past few months alone, we’ve lost John Lewis, Billy Higgins, and J.J. Johnson. As a Gen X jazz critic in a field of geriatric worship, I feel a little like Bud Cort in Harold and Maude, romancing the autumnal lady of jazz, knowing I’ll soon be abandoned at the graveyard.
So I went to see altoist Greg Osby at the Village Vanguard on August 1, knowing I’d better hitch my wagon to some younger stars. At 41, Osby and his 26-year-old pianist, Jason Moran, have both spent enough time soaking up the past not only to make it new, but to make it theirs. It’s hard to place Osby’s sound: He plays clean and looks for the pretty notes, but he doesn’t really come out of Parker; one can find the splash of Benny Carter’s swing, offset by the occasional squeal outside. Pianist Moran is even harder to locate, because he’s such an adept dodger. He’ll rumble in the lower register and leap up when you least expect him. Most of the evening was made up of standards (“Jitterbug Waltz,” “Night and Day”), but they weren’t given standard treatment.
Osby, a cofounder of the funk-electronica-hip-hop hybrid M-Base, and Moran are both professed hip-hop fans, and Moran has said his rhythms are more influenced by rap and funk than Herbie Nichols or his late mentor, Jaki Bayard. Although the crowd included both Q-Tip and Wynton Marsalis, it was unmistakably a jazz set, more hipster than hip-hop. In fact, when they played Lee Morgan’s car-commercial Afro-funk “Sidewinder,” a notable avoidance of funk was evident. “Sidewinder” took a detour to beats looser than its soul-jazz origins, and certainly more flexible than the hip-hop to which Osby and Moran claim allegiance. I can’t say I minded the absence of hip-hop, either, but maybe I’m just getting old. —David Yaffe