Devin Hoff

San Francisco Jazz Festival: Particular and infinite


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Marisa Monte is a true musician. Her albums routinely go putf8um around the world, and her shows sell out wherever she plays — whether in or out of her native Brazil — but her approach is not at all that of a pop star. Her musical background is rich and combines the samba traditions of her hometown, Rio de Janeiro, European classical opera training, and Brazilian and international popular music. Music for her is not a means to an end but a process, a way of life, as she explained by phone from her home in Rio.
“I don’t do a career. I do a life, and sometimes out of my life something happens that can serve the music in my career as well professionally, but you know I do music every day with my friends,” Monte said. “It’s really part of my house, of my environment. Most of my friends are musicians — we play almost every night at home, and so it’s a natural consequence of the style of life.”
Out of this atmosphere were born her new twin EMI albums, Universo ao Meu Redor and Infinito Particular. Her seventh and eighth full-lengths were the product of a hiatus of a few years — agonizingly long to her fans — during which she took time off to have a baby. This gave her a chance to comb through her tape archives, both of her own unreleased material and of sambas known only through oral tradition in Rio. Out of these archives came most of the material for the new releases.
Although these records were issued simultaneously, they take distinct approaches to Brazilian music. Universo ao Meu Redor reflects her commitment to and exploration of Rio’s rich samba heritage, whereas Infinito Particular focuses on original compositions written over the years by Monte in collaboration with various songwriting partners (Arnaldo Antunes, Carlinhos Brown, Seu Jorge, David Byrne, etc.).
Though Infinito is in the vein of some of the pop music Monte has recorded in the past, it has a conceptual depth and consistency surpassing that of her earlier work.
“Most of the songs were composed on the acoustic guitar, so all the harmonic texture is basically based on the acoustic nylon string guitar,” Monte explained. “But we also invited different arrangers to do different songs and had them all write for the same group of instruments, the same quartet, which is bassoon, cello, violin, and trumpet. So even if we have Philip Glass, João Donato, Eumir Deodato — each very different styles — the unity of the record happens through the same group of instruments, and it’s the same group of instruments that I have on stage now with me.”
For several years Monte has been archiving sambas passed around by veteran Rio sambistas, and her other new recording, Universo, collects her versions of these, combined with more recent sambas written by Monte and other contemporary Brazilian musicians. These are approached not as historical documents but as contemporary recordings of traditional music.
“Even if the repertoire sounds very classical, I didn’t want to do a traditional samba record,” Monte said. “I wanted to do a record that could dialogue with my other works — dialogue with the other references that I like and that are present in my work. So I wanted to do samba that I could call mine, and that’s Universo ao Meu Redor.
“The subjects of the songs are very pure, very naive as traditional samba,” she continued. “Most of the songs, they talk about love, about nature, about human common feelings like the values of the community … and yet it sounds very psychedelic. We deal with a lot of freedom with the sounds.”
Both records, as with most of her previous work, rely heavily on collaboration, not as a crutch but as a stimulus for collective creativity. For Monte, music is a social act both in process and in spirit.
“I really love to work together,” she said. “It’s something that stimulates me. It gives me discipline … and I like to think together. I’m very open in my work. I’m not very attached to what I do. I like to exchange and to collaborate, and something that’s very strange about music is that for me it can be also a lonely activity. You can be a solo artist, but for me it has always been a collective way, with bands, in the studio, with composers. I’ve been always finding ways of reutf8g with people and with life through the music.
“Sometimes I think if I was a plastic artist, like a visual artist or a writer, I would suffer a lot. If you are a painter or something, you have to work alone,” Monte added. “Though I would love to one day also be able to do a concert only myself. Maybe one day.”
This spirit of collaboration has manifested itself as a dialogue between different styles and approaches within Monte’s music. In addition to the Brazilian and international pop she grew up listening to as a member of her generation, more traditional and classical elements found their way into her life. Her father was a teacher at a samba school in Rio, and she grew up hearing and singing popular and traditional sambas.
“The fact is, samba is the most important musical expression from Rio, and I grew up in Rio,” Monte said. “It’s very natural, loving music.”
Later, Monte became a serious student of opera, which also continues to inform her music, both as a discipline to aspire to and as an aesthetic to avoid.
“When I was 13 or 14, people started to ask me to sing because they noticed — friends in the school and in the family — they noticed that I liked to sing and that I had a nice voice, and they started to ask me, ‘Sing for us. You sing very well — sing for us.’ And then I started to study,” she recalled. “It was very important for me to know my vocal apparel, to learn how. Until now I warm up before every concert with vocalizes that I learned when I was in classical training, but I don’t use that technique for popular music because it’s a technique that was developed for a premic world: you had to sing over a whole orchestra, so it’s very intense — a lot of volume, and it’s a little bit artificial.”
As with many musicians whose voices happen to be their instruments, Monte is forever linked in the minds of her fans with her timbre and delivery. (On Infinito, she plays with this idea of her voice as an instrument, employing wordless melodies and textures and using audio effects to alter and disguise her voice.) In any musical context, it is her profound sense of phrasing that captivates, while focusing the listener’s attention not so much on her own voice as on the song itself.
“I really search for simplicity when I’m singing. I love to sing, and my intensity, I try to find something very similar to the conversation we are having here,” Monte said. “It helps to communicate with people, to be direct, to be without any oversinging. If I am singing a song that is intimate, you can sing really slowly, you can sing it low, you can sing it soft, you can sing it with intimacy. It’s something that I really search for — the exact intensity that the songs ask me to do.”
For Monte, music is a social activity, and communication and collaboration are key elements. In her music and in her process of making music, dialogue flows in all directions: between songwriters and musicians, between audience and performers, between different musical worlds, between musicians and the music itself. The emphasis is not on creating commodities to sell but on sharing the musical process with as many people as possible.
“When we do a song, we don’t do a song to be recorded. I don’t do it like that. I just do it because it’s fun to do. It’s like a game. It’s like playing — a nice thing to do with friends, instead of playing cards or video games,” she offered. “And sometimes something comes out of this universe, this atmosphere, and can be part of something that you can share with a lot of people.” SFBG
Sat/4, 8 p.m., and Sun/5, 7 p.m.
Palace of Fine Arts Theatre
3301 Lyon, SF

Headbanger’s call to glory – line one


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Zakk Wylde is a postmodern metal god. Or perhaps a modern post-metal god. With his long, flowing hair and beard, bulging muscles, and Les Paul wielded like a battle ax, he is a figure straight out of mythology. His story mines Joseph Campbell territory as well: A working-class kid from Jersey one day receives the call from God (Ozzy Osbourne — well, Sharon, actually) and his life is changed forever.
From odd jobs in gas stations and supermarkets to sold-out stadiums around the world, Osbourne’s musical right-hand man and the heir apparent to Randy Rhoads’s throne (the most coveted position in the metal guitar pantheon), Wylde became a minor deity overnight, anointed by the Prince of Darkness himself. Since that day the figure of Oz has loomed large in Wylde’s career: the vocalist playing Jehovah to the guitarist’s Noah, Ozzy the Allfather to Zakk’s Thor, the Godfather to his Sonny. Literally — Osbourne is the godfather of Wylde’s son.
But Wylde’s newfound glory was threatened by history. His call had come in the late 1980s, just as metal’s star was dimming in the mass market. Within a few years it was totally eclipsed by the poppy neo-punk of Nirvana and their legions of imitators. Wylde, rather than cutting his hair and going flannel (as so many metal apologists did in those dark years), retained his locks and Samson-like strength in an era of cultivated weakness and whiny shoe-gazing, and kept the faith.
He didn’t retreat into the metal ghetto, however — he wasn’t content to preach to the converted. Instead, he embraced his unique position at the crossroads of generations of popular heavy rock music. Both his songwriting and playing style reflect this, and he freely incorporates the past and present of the oeuvre, from before metal’s heyday through its zenith, and after. He has an uncanny ability to invoke the swagger of southern rock, as on “Lowdown,�? from Black Label Society’s Alcohol Fueled Brewtality Live (Spitfire, 2001); the sentimental mush of the power ballad, displayed on “In This River,” from BLS’s Mafia (Artemis, 2005); acoustic neo-folk earthiness, as heard on “Spoke in the Wheel,” from his solo Sonic Brew (Spitfire, 1999); and good old-fashioned chunk-a-chunk (see “Suicide Messiah,” also from Mafia). But his music is more melting-pot than balkanized, more stew than pastiche, and he never loses the spirit of metal.
In addition, for many Osbourne fans, Wylde is the most worthy replacement yet for the late, great guitarist Rhoads. Rhoads helped launch Osbourne’s solo career in the early 1980s and in the process redefined heavy metal guitar playing and songwriting by incorporating classically inspired harmonies and virtuosity with strong pop songwriting instincts. His tragic death in 1982 left a void that has never really been filled, though Osbourne would continue to perform and record with various other guitar players. With Wylde, Osbourne finally found one who could serve as a worthy long-term collaborator and their musical relationship, though on-and-off over the years for assorted reasons, has produced some of the strongest and most consistent work Osbourne has made since his first two records with Rhoads.
The guitarists’ playing styles vary: Wylde’s huge sound and rhythmic feel are his main weapons — as opposed to Rhoads’s awesome technique and interesting scale choices — yet he can shred when he needs to and is clearly influenced by his legendary predecessor. Their writing styles differ as well; Wylde’s is more riff-based and bluesy than that of Rhoads, who tended to employ more gothic chord changes than static riffs (compare “No More Tears” with, say, “Mr. Crowley”). Yet in his collaborations with Wylde, Osbourne finally seemed to find the chemistry and energy that had been missing since Rhoads’s untimely passing.
Throughout his career, Wylde has maintained his perspective while high in heavy metal Valhalla. He has accepted his role in history and moved beyond the stylistic camps and divisions of hard rock, tracing the historic threads that tie Hendrix to Rhoads to Dimebag, redefining metal as the sum of its various fractions, fluid and constantly in play, and finding its unifying truth in its many separate and antagonistic truths. Call him the postmodernist’s metal hero, the mythologist’s new immortal, the modern headbanger’s best hope for salvation. Remember his role when he plays guitar with Osbourne on the main stage at this year’s Ozzfest and fronts with his own band, Black Label Society, on the second stage. Expect him to embody his metal warrior’s creed: “Strength. Determination. Merciless. Forever.” SFBG
Sat/1, 10:30 a.m.
Shoreline Amphitheatre
1 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View
(415) 421-TIXS

Beast of the Bay


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Woe to you, Oh Earth and Sea, for the Devil sends the Beast with wrath, because he knows the time is short…. Let him who hath understanding reckon the number of the beast for it is a human number, its number is six hundred and sixty six.

Revelation 13:18

This week marks an unusual holiday or unholy day that only comes along once every 100 years: the Day of the Beast, 6/6/06. For some it is a day to fear, when the Antichrist of Christian mythology will finally be revealed. For others it is a time of hope and celebration for precisely the same reason. For me, it is a time to rock. The Number of the Beast, Iron Maiden’s third studio album, was released in 1982. Vocalist Bruce Dickinson had just joined the band, and Maiden was at the height of its powers. My best friend Mike and I listened to the entire record every day after school for months. We would sit on the edge of my bed and stare at the record cover, trying to decipher its hidden meanings and getting off on the comic book/metal imagery. As true fans and converts, we felt compelled to spread the word, or at least show how cool we thought we were.

So one morning before school, we took a black Magic Marker to a couple of white T-shirts, writing three big 6s on the fronts and "The Number of the Beast" on the backs. We were so proud of ourselves walking to school, but our bubble was burst as soon as we got there: The teacher sent us straight back home to change, telling us, "Some of the other children might find it offensive." Mike and I both played it off like we were innocent little rock fans, with no intentions of offending or converting anyone to Satanism. We were just celebrating our favorite band and song.

The title song in question is, to my mind, one of the most rocking ever recorded. Maiden bassist Steve Harris wrote it, and it is a true metal classic: heavy riffs, strong, catchy hooks, and vaguely sinister metal lyrics. The words put the listener straight into the narrator’s mind, witnessing the dawn of Hell on Earth: "Torches blazed and sacred chants were praised/ As they start to cry, hands held to the sky/ In the night, the fires burning bright/ The ritual has begun, Satan’s work is done."

Dickinson invokes dark, paranoid imagery as if channeling Poe or Lovecraft, and when he spits out the chorus of "6-6-6/ The Number of the Beast," he conjures up all that is implied in the evil numerology: the tension between the narrator’s juvenile fascination with evil much like our own and the higher impulse to overcome and reject it.

"But I feel drawn to the chanting hordes / They seem to mesmerize, can’t avoid their eyes."

In the end, the narrator appears to be swayed, or possessed, by the dark forces, and joins them. But don’t worry, for we are shown the way to salvation by the album’s cover art: Amid a field of flames and an ominous night sky, a small man, representing humanity, dances on puppet strings held by a horned, red devil, who is himself attached to strings wielded by Eddie, Maiden’s ubiquitous undead mascot. The message is clear: While humankind may be weak and easily led astray by the Hoofed One, it is the power of rock or more specifically, metal, as represented by Eddie that can save us and help us to conquer our fears. The words of the song tell one story, but the sheer visceral power of the music itself transforms and redeems the lyrical narrative. Evil may exist in ourselves, on Earth, and in the universe but by the empowering grace of metal, we can exorcise our demons and tame the beast within. Metal becomes the negation of the negation.

Theologically, of course, before the devil became the grotesque and irredeemable character of novels and horror movies, he was the Adversary, the Fallen Angel, the Forsaken One of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions. Remember his friendly wager with God over Job’s soul, or his cordial philosophical debates with the Nazarene, long before Faust’s wager or Linda Blair’s projectile vomiting. It was he who questioned and encouraged others to do the same, the one who opposed and dared to think for himself. He was the rebel, the gadfly, the thorn in the side. The subsequent notion that questioning authority and tradition is the devil’s work, though intended to scare us straight, gives rise to a certain curiosity and yes, sympathy toward Lucifer, in some who cherish freedom of thought and expression. No doubt some of the titillation we feel watching Rosemary’s Baby or listening to the "The Number of the Beast" comes from such an impulse to defy a hallowed authority, from the safety of our imaginations.

Twenty-four years after it was released, the Iron Maiden album retains its power and vitality. It continues to be a benchmark for good, honest heavy metal now obscured by retro-fixated irony, emo-inspired whininess, embarrassing misappropriations of hip-hop, and false metal generally. The fact that Maiden has stuck to its guns through the waxing and waning of true metal’s popularity and has continued to record and tour on its own terms to this day somehow adds to the record’s staying power. The music is not tainted by revisionist questions about the band’s motives or integrity. In this, as well as the music, Maiden continues to be an inspiration to generations of musicians and fans.

I like to think of "The Number of the Beast" as a kind of "White Christmas" for the day of the beast. (Too bad it’s a holiday that only happens once a century it could mean a gold mine in royalties for Harris and co.) Never mind that the nice chaps in Maiden are not actually Satanists at all Irving Berlin was Jewish, and we all know you don’t have to be a Christian to have a tree. It’s the spirit of the day that counts. So on 6/6/06, do yourself a favor and crank up some Maiden. If you listen carefully, you might almost hear the children’s voices caroling:

"666 The number of the beast/ 666 The one for you and me." SFBG

Devin Hoff lives in Oakland and plays the bass with Redressers, Good for Cows, Nels Cline Singers, and others.