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Review: Leonard Cohen, 'You Want It Darker'

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October 14, 20167:00 AM ET
Tom Moon
Tom Moon
Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However,
you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.
Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker.
Courtesy of the artist
The first sound Leonard Cohen makes on his new album is a nanosecond's rush of l
abored air. It's not a wheeze, exactly, or a hiccup. But it's not a singer's not
e, either. The singing (such as it is) soon follows, and the 82-year-old's sombe
r tone signals that matters of grave import are about to be discussed. He's maki
ng an inquiry into the peculiar strain of creeping soul distress, both personal
and universal, that he's been diagnosing since at least 1992's The Future.
We lack the precise terminology for this condition, because the dimmer switch do
esn't go that low. To Cohen, the particular darkness that defines his 14th studi
o album is nearly inescapable, and found everywhere. It's in the sad futility be
hind the image "a million candles burning for the love that never came." And it'
s in the ambivalent confession, "I struggled with some demons, they were middleclass and tame / I didn't know I had permission to murder and to maim."
It's a thick blanket of grim. And then, after verses soaked in sentimental old-m
an rue and seemingly personal details, Cohen pivots to a curious "we" for the ch
orus: "You want it darker ... we kill the flame."
He could, of course, be talking about organized religion. After all, there's a c
antor and a cameo from a choir; it's certainly not the first time religion has b
een blamed for squelching the spark. At the same time, that phrase "We kill the
flame" could just as easily be a slogan for a new business offering an escapism
upgrade.
Sepulchral of voice but steady of eye, Cohen devotes much of You Want It Darker
to the metaphor of the fragile flame and the myriad ways it gets extinguished, f
rom within and without. He's written on this before, but not quite this way: The
nine songs are elegies. Sometimes wistful and sometimes angry, they're suffused
with sad violin and small, brave string orchestrations. They unfold with a slow
, stately, church-ritual order; when you're moving toward this thick dark, every
step is measured.
Cohen titled his last album Popular Problems, and there's nothing remotely popul
ar about the ones he addresses here, which fall under the general heading "Confr
onting Mortality At Close Proximity." It's terrifying but also oddly tranquil; t
he fast-running clock has a way of clarifying what matters. Still, it's unsettli
ng to hear this man who so eloquently mapped the terrain of lust and obsession s
ay that he no longer has use for temptation.
Plus, nearly everything that's brightening or uplifting about life is addressed
in the past tense. Cohen mixes score-settling personal reflections with existent

ial concerns observations about the twisted forms fear can take, grumbles about
the coarseness of current discourse, deep sighs over what he detects as a genera
l erosion of empathy. Even when he's lamenting his own insensitivity (in "Treaty
," he tells a former lover, "I'm sorry for that ghost I made you be"), he's ofte
n looking over his shoulder the way George Orwell did, wondering if some larger
state or societal force is forcing him toward ghostness, too.
Cohen certainly sounds like a ghost at times or a sentry who's so devoted to his
duty that he soldiers on past quitting time. There are multiple references to "
leaving the table" or "exiting the game," and what's startling isn't the questio
n of whether this is a formal stated farewell or the clear and beautiful detachm
ent he brings to this present circumstance. He's doing what he's always done, de
scribing what's in front of him and looking for layers of meaning in the shadows
. He's doing it in riveting ways, with a quality of attention that comes only fr
om inner calm and quiet and healthy distance from modern maelstroms. Cohen isn't
sugarcoating the news, and he's not relinquishing any of his grace. The flame m
ay be nearly extinguished, but while it still flickers, it's the poet's charge t
o ennoble it as best he can.
npr.org
Music Review: 'Day Breaks,' Norah Jones
Tom Moon
Music Reviews
October 10, 20164:38 PM ET
Music critic Tom Moon says the new album from Norah Jones is more subtle than so
me of her recent releases and that's a good thing.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Norah Jones has returned to jazz in her new album.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DAY BREAKS")
NORAH JONES: (Singing) Day breaks in your head and you're finally alone.
SHAPIRO: That's the title track, "Day Breaks." It's the sixth studio album for t
he Grammy-winning singer-songwriter and pianist. Since her debut in 2002 became
a massive hit, Norah Jones has experimented with country and electronic pop. Rev
iewer Tom Moon says this new release is not only a return to jazz. It's also a r
eturn to nuance.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLEURETTE AFRICAINE - AFRICAN FLOWER")
JONES: (Humming).
TOM MOON, BYLINE: Some singers arrive with sirens blaring, demanding attention.
Others take their sweet time - that's Norah Jones. She never actually sings on t
his track. She hums the entire melody in a serene, leisurely confiding way, leav
ing space for conversation with saxophonist Wayne Shorter.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLEURETTE AFRICAINE - AFRICAN FLOWER")
JONES: (Humming).
MOON: The original songs Norah Jones wrote for this album are supremely moody cr
eations, thick with atmosphere. Some of them utilize jazz harmony, most happily
sidestep jazz convention. This one features Jones on piano, electric piano and o

rgan, and bubbles with the energy of Detroit-era Motown.


(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLIPSIDE")
JONES: (Singing) You saw your reflection all over the news. Your temperature's w
ell past a hundred and two. Put the guns away, or we're all going to lose. Stand
by or take flight. Eat or throw your piece pie.
MOON: And there are several hymn-like like pieces that evoke legendary soul reco
rds.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRAGEDY")
JONES: (Singing) Babies and a patient wife. They just weren't enough to keep him
high. So he gave them up just to fill his cup. Every sip would make him feel al
ive. No bones in his body were dry. It's a tragedy.
MOON: There's fantastic openness to this music. No matter what the groove is, yo
u can hear everyone involved treading lightly, seeking nuance, using small gestu
res to enhance the spells cast by this uncommonly sultry voice. In 2002, Norah J
ones invited listeners to come away with her. This album sounds like one of the
places she always wanted to visit.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SHAPIRO: The latest from Norah Jones is called "Day Breaks." Our reviewer is Tom
Moon.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PEACE")
JONES: (Singing) When you find peace of mind, leave your worries behind. Don't s
ay that it can't be done. With a new point of view, life's true meaning comes to
you. And the freedom you seek is won.
Copyright 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and perm
issions pages at www.npr.org for further information.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contract
or, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. T
his text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the futur
e. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPRs programmi
ng is the audio record.
Get new music hand-picked by NPR Music staff and station DJs, watch Tiny Desk co
ncerts, and stream new albums before they are released. Delivered twice a week.
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In Acoustic Recordings, Jack White Winks At Tradition
Tom Moon
Music Reviews
September 12, 20164:40 PM ET
The new collection Jack White Acoustic Recordings, 1998-2016 includes unreleased
songs, B-sides and album tracks. Jo McCaughey/Courtesy of the artist hide capti
on
toggle caption
Jo McCaughey/Courtesy of the artist

The new collection Jack White Acoustic Recordings, 1998-2016 includes unreleased
songs, B-sides and album tracks.
Jo McCaughey/Courtesy of the artist
Every so often, you run across a collection that opens up an entirely new way to
think about an artist. Jack White s new, 26-track retrospective, which focuses
on his unplugged, less raucous songs, does just that. The unreleased songs, albu
m tracks and B-sides that make up Jack White Acoustic Recordings, 1998-2016 offe
r a fresh window onto the work of the creative, prolific rock musician.
Jack White On Detroit, Beyonc And Where Songs Come From
Watch: Michel Gondry Makes Mesmerizing Video For The White Stripes
City Lights
These short songs show White s delightfully scrambled take on American roots mus
ic. He starts out in familiar places the blues, folk, and bluegrass but rarely s
tays put. His tales of small-time hustlers are delivered with a distinct irrever
ence.
Sometimes White s embracing tradition; at other times, he s mocking it. Almost a
lways, what comes across is a great sense of playfulness and improvisation. List
en to a bunch of these ripping, effortless-sounding songs in a row, and you migh
t pick up on one of White s secrets: He s not afraid to try stuff, not afraid to
fail. That makes all the difference.
Jack White Acoustic Recordings, 1998-2016, is available now on Third Man/Columbi
a Records.
Get new music hand-picked by NPR Music staff and station DJs, watch Tiny Desk co
ncerts, and stream new albums before they are released. Delivered twice a week.

npr.org
Britney s Back: Spears Returns With Ninth Studio Album, Glory
Tom Moon
Tom Moon reviews the new album from Britney Spears, Glory. This is Spears
studio album.

ninth

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:


Britney is back again.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "...BABY ONE MORE TIME")
BRITNEY SPEARS: (Singing) Hit me baby one more time. Oh, Baby, Baby...
MCEVERS: Britney Spears made hits right out of the gate with her 1999 debut and
was a reliable presence on the pop charts for years after that. But in 2007, she
started behaving erratically in public, and her influence suffered.
Britney Spears is 34 now, and she is out with her first new album in three years
. It s called "Glory." She ll promote it this weekend at the MTV Video Music Awa
rds. Reviewer Tom Moon says the album is a surprising return to form.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CLUMSY")
SPEARS: (Singing) Call me a fool. Call me insane, but don t call it a day. Close
r to you, closer to pain - it s better than far away, oh.

TOM MOON, BYLINE: Britney Spears is on, like - what? - her third comeback cycle.
Every time, she hires teams of hotshot producers to help sell a slightly tweake
d version of her public persona - the party girl who s too hot for the room. On
the surface, the new album is no different.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRIVATE SHOW")
SPEARS: (Singing) Put on a private show. Pull the curtains until they close. I p
ut on a private show. We ll be whiling all on the low.
MOON: OK, so Britney s getting some electronic vocal help. But she s essentially
singing out in the open, not behind mountains of studio clutter like on her dis
mal last album, "Britney Jean." And this song has a real hook, and a groove that
glances at Motown. She clearly owns it.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRIVATE SHOW")
SPEARS: (Singing) Work it. Work it. Boy, watch me work it. Slide down my pole. W
atch me spin it and twerk it.
MOON: Lyrically, Britney Spears stays true to her brand. Just about every track
includes an invitation to some sort of carnal pleasure. Musically, though, she s
grown into an interesting pop omnivore, borrowing and recombining elements in u
nexpected ways. Here s a riff that sounds like it was inspired first by Gwen Ste
fani...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE ME DOWN")
SPEARS: (Singing) I see who you are with the lights out. We re better just skin
to skin.
MOON: ...Then OutKast.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE ME DOWN")
SPEARS: (Singing) My baby going to love me down, going to love me down, going to
love me down, yeah. My baby going to love me down. Don t make a sound. Just lov
e me down like...
MOON: "Glory" is a long album, but it s got surprising dimension. Spears sings o
ne atmospheric EDM track in French, and this one uses flamenco style guitar and
Spanish refrain.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHANGE YOUR MIND - NO SEAS CORTES")
SPEARS: (Singing) No seas cortes. I ll make you change your mind. No seas cortes
. You don t want to cross the line, but I m going to make you change your mind.
MOON: Anyone who follows pop culture knows it can be hard for an icon to recaptu
re the public s interest after a downfall. Britney Spears has tried several time
s now with dim, gimmicky records that sounded like she was begging for a hit.
This time is different. She s got some electrifying hooks, and she s singing the
m with confidence, maybe even a touch of fierceness. If "Glory" becomes a hit, s
he will have earned.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IF I M DANCING")
SPEARS: (Singing) One look at him, and I see candy-coated heart shapes.

MCEVERS: The latest album from Britney Spears is called "Glory." Our reviewer is
Tom Moon.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IF I M DANCING")
SPEARS: (Singing) He plays sitar, three notes so far. If I m dancing, if I m dan
cing...
Copyright 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and perm
issions pages at www.npr.org for further information.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contract
or, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. T
his text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the futur
e. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPRs programmi
ng is the audio record.

npr.org
Tom Moon: Turning The Tables On The Music Critic
Patrick Jarenwattananon Twitter
Music writer Tom Moon has just released Into The Ojal, his first album in over 20
years. Birdie Busch/Courtesy of the artist hide caption
toggle caption
Birdie Busch/Courtesy of the artist
Music writer Tom Moon has just released Into The Ojal, his first album in over 20
years.
Birdie Busch/Courtesy of the artist
Regular
out new
ic fans
quirer.
ay have
ie.

NPR listeners know Tom Moon as one of the fellows who regularly talks ab
CDs at the ends of hours on All Things Considered. Philadelphia area mus
may also know him for his long tenure as a critic at the Philadelphia In
Or even if you re neither a frequent listener nor Philly resident, you m
read his marvelously eclectic book 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You D

Tom Moon also plays the saxophone; he studied music at the University of Miami,
and spent time in the Maynard Ferguson Orchestra, among other professional oppor
tunities. But he largely put his career in music on hold to focus on journalism;
by 2008, he hadn t recorded his own material in some 20-odd years. So it was a
bit of a surprise to see him just issue his sophomore release, Into The Ojal, wit
h a band he calls the Moon Hotel Lounge Project. Like Moon s criticism, there s
ample room for jazz in his aesthetic, but that s certainly not all there is; dre
amy Latin rhythms and spacey, almost downtempo grooves suffuse the recording. He
re s a taste:
More Information: intotheojala.com
Now that the critic volunteered himself to become the criticized, I wanted to se
e what Moon had learned from the experience. Why did he do this? What was it lik
e to have the spotlight on him, for a change? What kind of sound was he aiming f
or, and what did jazz have to do with any of it? I sent off a few questions via
e-mail, and he most graciously responded:
Patrick Jarenwattananon: So the biggest question is: Why? Why, after 20-plus yea
rs away from the studio, did the music need to come out then and there? I think
of this great quotation that Shaun Brady extracted from you: "To bring music int

o this overcrowded world that s already choking with music is an act of some arr
ogance."
Tom Moon: Why not? There is no rulebook for music, as you know, or for that matt
er, music journalism. There s nobody up in the Critic Central Ivory Tower tellin
g scribes how to behave, setting down lines that cannot be crossed. One key trai
t of culture in the Internet era has to do with fluidity people who work in one
discipline can, with the necessary skills and gumption, take a flying leap into
another discipline. I d argue this is healthy. If you re here to grow as a human
being, you find yourself trying things all the time.
What happened to me is fairly typical of a phenomenon that might be called "down
sized into creativity." After the book I did [1,000 Recordings], I discovered th
at the entire dynamic of freelancing had changed: Without a steady platform, I f
ound myself spending much more time hustling writing work than actually writing.
That was a recipe for frustration, and as I have always done at any crisis poin
t in life, I turned to music. Over a period of time I began to revisit tunes I d
started years before. That investigation sparked new tunes. And that got me thi
nking I should get out of the attic and play with people again. And so on. Befor
e I knew it, I was in it. I didn t start out trying to make a record: I started
out curious to see if, after a long time away, I could communicate through music
. What I found surprised me.
PJ: How did you fall into writing about music in the first place? If I may be a
bit blunt, your biographical sketch leads one to believe your career as a perfor
mer wasn t exactly on the fast track to Saxophone Colossus Status when you began
focusing on journalism, those cruise-ship gigs notwithstanding ...
TM: I studied music in the jazz program at the University of Miami, at a time (1
979-1983) when the place was exploding with talent. By the semester break of my
freshman year, I already knew I d never have the requisite technique to become a
titan of the instrument. I quickly made peace with that; we have enough titans.
Instead I focused on tone and on composition, and was incredibly lucky to study
with Ron Miller, the composer, who was the first person to encourage what he he
ard as an "original" voice.
Around that same time, a friend told me that the student newspaper was giving aw
ay records and if you agreed to write a few reviews you could walk away with a s
tack of stuff. I was fairly obsessed with music, so this seemed like a good deal
, and I started writing little reviews. One of the highlights of that was gettin
g a copy of Steely Dan s Gaucho on the day it came out, and having to listen qui
ckly and write something on deadline for the first time. It wasn t very good cri
ticism, but I got swept up in the challenge of it.
After a year or so I stopped writing for the school paper because I was busy pla
ying gigs. But I still read the local paper (The Miami Herald), and when I was a
senior at UM I wrote a series of letters complaining about the music coverage t
here. On the third volley an exasperated editor said, "Do you think you can do b
etter?" I said yes. So they sent me to cover jazz concerts they d publish their
staff writer but read my reviews and give me advice. After I few weeks, they sta
rted publishing my stuff. I was incredibly lucky to have patient editors who wer
e willing to take time to literally teach me how to do it.
PJ: What do you think the experiences of studying music intensely in college, an
d then "paying dues" as a working saxophonist, have brought to the way you cover
music? Was any of it affirmed or changed after making this recording? Like, was
there any one particular experience that made you think, "Man, I really need to
change how I do criticism to better portray what musicians go through!"
TM: On the most basic level, I feel like I can fairly quickly discern the "nuts

and bolts" of a piece of music I read scores, I transcribed solos, I tried to em


ulate the tone of certain players. I still spend time under the hood, so to spea
k: If there s something I don t understand in a record I m reviewing, I can go t
o the piano and usually figure it out. I m not claiming this as any kind of spec
ial thing; it s just another tool in the kit, one that lots of critics use. I be
lieve that as critics, our reactions to a piece are much less consequential than
our understanding of what the artist is intending; the quote on my wall says, "
You cannot have critics with standards, you can have music with standards which
critics may observe." I believe that. I ve always tried to let my understanding
of the discipline of the musician inform and guide my criticism.
If anything, the time I ve spent this past year returning to active music-making
has sorta affirmed the soundness of that approach. Too often, critics bring a b
unch of possibly unfair and unrealistic expectations to a work. I also believe t
hat music is a lifelong pursuit, like yoga, and regardless of how one interacts
with it as a student, performer, critic the idea is to stretch one s perceptions
, remain open, etc. Mastery is unattainable where music is concerned: There s al
ways more to learn. Music is endless.
As for this project, among the goals was to try to grok the computer-based produ
ction approach (we recorded live into ProTools and were then able to mix and twe
ak each individual instrument) and all that. I knew about it in the abstract but
it was another thing to see the options and the decisions up close. The enginee
r, a great drummer named Vic Stevens, had what proved to be an essential zen att
itude and was constantly explaining the choices, making sure I understood the op
tions. I completely get why musicians enjoy the studio in an instant, it can rev
eal all the soul and all the shortcomings, too.
PJ: What was it like to recruit the band for this project? Did you know some of
the cats from jamming round town in Philadelphia, or work with them before? And
what was it like to call up a guitarist and producer Kevin Hanson whose band yo
u once gave a bad review to?
TM: I knew the core rhythm section from Huffamoose, which was a Philly band that
I d written about regularly in the 90s. As you said, I wrote a fairly harsh re
view of what turned out to be the band s last album, and after that I didn t tal
k to those guys or see them for a few years. Thing was, though, the tunes I was
writing sometimes seemed to call out for certain players guys I d played with on
cruise ships, or in Miami. In several cases, I kept hearing the Huffamoose drum
mer, Erik Johnson, who might just be one of the most solid and inspiring timekee
pers I ve ever encountered. Also Kevin Hanson. I ran into him playing a jazz gig
and just tearing it up a couple of years ago, and that was one of those "seeds
of an idea" moments I knew that if I could convince him to play my tunes, he wou
ld make them better. Much better. But I was in the middle of working on the book
, and frankly still intimidated by the bad review thing I fully expected him to
tell me to get lost if/when I called. When we did finally connect, it was just a
ll about music; the first time we talked about that review was a few weeks ago,
when somebody who was doing a story asked me about it.
I should add that as soon as I got over my initial trepidation, Kevin and I beca
me friends pretty quickly. We talked a lot about music, all kinds, and he very g
ingerly shared ideas about the tunes, and just playing them in duet fashion I fe
lt incredibly encouraged. Kevin is the kind of musician who makes everyone aroun
d him better. And in case I haven t made it clear, I am the kind of musician who
needs that. Kevin was interested in seeing what we might make of the material.
He didn t care that I d been away from music for 20 years, didn t care that I wa
s a critic. I have to say, to be welcomed back into the community of music-maker
s this way was an incredible thing. I will be grateful for that forever.
PJ: Tell me what you were aiming for with the "hotel lounge" aesthetic of this s

tuff. Is this an idea you ve been working up for some time, perceiving some unex
plored territory in the synthesis of stylistic references?
TM: The "unexplored territory" is more of a mindset: Does the musician come out
with guns blazing and demand attention, or does the musician operate more in the
background, the shadows? This is worth thinking about right now, in this moment
where so much music travels for free. Music has lost a bit of respect, its stan
ding in the world. Sometimes I feel like saying, "This is not a 99 cent commodit
y!" I m not at all against sharing music, but I do think that now, a generation
or so into the file-sharing ethos, the public at large seems to have the mindset
that music is something that s easily obtained and that means it can be easily
discarded. This could be my own sensitivity, but it seems that as a result, peop
le are comfortable talking over a live performance, or just disregarding whateve
r is going on in a room so they can send a text or whatever. Our screens are pre
venting us from fully using our ears.
I witnessed this epidemic in very nice lounges all over the place. The musicians
did not seem bothered by it maybe they re just resigned to the whole thing, or
they welcome being left alone. That s what made me want to play my music in thes
e types of spaces: Rather than start from the presumption that what I m bringing
is "art," I quite like starting from the notion of ignorability. Leave us alone
, and let us see if we can slip into your subconscious. Take that call, volley b
ack those texts, we ll still be playing and if you let your mind drift a bit, yo
u might encounter some pleasant, slightly melancholy sounds. The first time we p
layed as a group, the seven of us, we discovered that all kinds of quiet possibi
lities were available. There is room to be subversive. You can begin with a simp
le heartfelt melody, and if you are really working with it and believing in it,
you can take it someplace that s quiet and wonderful and entirely appropriate fo
r the surroundings.
That s one of the things I most admire about [Antonio Carlos] Jobim. What s more
background music than "Wave" or any of his tunes, right? Look more deeply and y
ou find that under the smooth cocktail-hour veneer, there s an enormous amount o
f musical sophistication going on. His melodies pack a deep emotional wallop if
you let them. His chords are like maps to idealized worlds. In terms of pure son
gcraft, it s possible to make a case for Jobim as the most important composer of
the second half of the 20th century.
PJ: One of the things I quite like about your writing and radio pieces is that y
ou make it a point to cover jazz (and other "intimidating" music) and put it in
the same "space" as rock, or Brazilian music, or modern pop, etc. It seems as if
that s what you re going after in your music too, to some extent.
TM: I am a generalist for sure. While I certainly respect the knowledge of criti
cs who concentrate exclusively on one area, those who have influenced me the mos
t Jon Pareles of The New York Times, for starters are interested in lots of diff
erent music, and bring readers into the search for connections between styles. I
believe that if you re fundamentally curious, you will sooner or later bump up
against music that is completely alien to you and when that happens, there s ple
nty to gain by grappling with it. As a critic or musician or listener.
As for my compositions, I never really thought about that before. I guess maybe
that has something to do with coming up in Miami, where sounds and philosophies
either coexist or are readily mixed together. One of my tunes sorta switches bet
ween an Afro-Cuban clave and a more fluid Brazilian rhythm; a purist might have
"issues" with that but to me it hangs together.
PJ: As a guy who has studied jazz, and often writes about it, and credits Joao G
ilberto, Wayne Shorter and Miles Davis, and hired jazz-capable musicians to work
this music out, jazz must be an important element here even if it s not capital

-J Jazz music. Could you speak on that?


TM: All during the process of this, I felt there was a fairly clear distinction
between "capital-J Jazz" and my comparatively lightweight endeavor which I hear
as certainly incorporating improvisation and chord changes found in jazz, among
other elements, but not living exclusively under that umbrella. The genre distin
ction game is useful only up to a point: As a musician and a critic, I m much le
ss interested in what something is called than the sound and essence of it. If t
here isn t an existing line in a dropdown menu to slot something in, that obviou
sly can impair its chances in the marketplace, but that doesn t mean the music i
s flawed. The categories and the funneling of music into categories is what s fl
awed. I went enough rounds with the neo-traditionalists as a critic to know that
Into the Ojala doesn t align with the "Wynton Marsalis test" of what jazz is. F
ine by me!
And just to clarify: The musicians here do not consider themselves exclusively j
azz musicians or rock musicians. They are simply musicians, capable of conversin
g in a number of different styles. To fully appreciate the range and depth of th
is rhythm section, check out anything on The Fractals Heavy Rotation.
PJ: I gather you produced and released this album yourself, too. I presume that
working as a critic, you gained a good sense of how the record business operates
in 2010. But I also bet you learned something new about the process, no?
TM: Actually it was produced by Kevin Hanson, the guitarist. He is one of the mo
st positive people I ve met, and I really think had it not been for his enthusia
sm this project would have remained in my attic, in demo form. He and I talked a
lot beforehand about strategies and options for capturing the music, and it was
interesting, in those conversations, for us to compare our experiences and know
ledge of recording and also the business, having seen it from different sides.
Once we did a "gutcheck" and it became clear that this was music we felt positiv
e about sharing, I embarked on what might be called a "crash course" in the indi
e side of the business. As has been said often in recent years, there are tons o
f tools available to someone who wants to contribute music to the discussion the
company CD Baby is set up to help independent artists at virtually every step,
from physical CD sales to administering digital distribution and helping with pr
omotion. Lots of that stuff takes serious investments of time and money it s a j
ourney you have to take one step at a time; you have to decide whether to pay th
is guy in the tollbooth who says he can get your music on the radio, or that guy
at a different onramp who can send a gazillion hits to your site. Right now I m
trying to decide whether Facebook ads are a good value or the next giant step i
n the evolution of evil marketing. Going through that process gave me incredible
insight into the road original music travels before it winds up on a critic s d
esk. In a way, it offered a type of professional development and education I did
n t anticipate. And wouldn t trade it for anything.
PJ: Do you find you process music differently as a critic vs. a musician? Like,
I was never a musician even on the cruise-ship gig level, but the stuff that sti
ll inspires me to shed, or even just work out ideas on a piano I find I think ab
out it a bit differently than stuff I have to intellectualize into words and his
tories and narratives.
TM: First, with all respect, it takes
n people on cruise ships. Even in the
free. In a sense, it can be much more
t on a ship than a paying customer in

a considerable degree of skill to entertai


cocktail lounges where all the drinks are
difficult to stir an emotion within a gues
a concert hall.

Now, to your primary question: I don t think I process music any differently whe
n playing or listening. In both settings I want to be moved; I want to encounter

sounds that take my breath away. What I ve learned lately and never knew as a y
oung musician has to do with what might be called the "evaluative" mind: As a cr
itic I sometimes listen with a focus on pitch or tone, or for the moment when a
soloist lands on a "wrong" note. That s part of the job to see if the bases are
covered, if the fundamentals are dialed in. When you re playing music, and espec
ially improvising, sometimes paying too much attention to those details can chan
ge the flow of the music. Gunk things up. I ve had to learn to sorta "quiet" the
evaluating mind and let stuff happen, to be willing to take leaps and make mist
akes.
PJ: So now that you ve put yourself "out there," are you hearing any insightful
(or at least interesting) feedback from any of your fellow critics?
TM: I m grateful to be reviewed at all there s lots of music out here to cover.
As I said in one interview, I m an extra-large target, an easy target for a snar
k-dispensing critic. There s been some sharp and totally constructive criticism
about how the material is a bit too easy listening, and also some fairly glib st
uff making the same point. For me, that s been easily offset by people who have
commented on specific aspects of the music several people have said they appreci
ate these unusual chord progressions and the moods they suggest, which is big fo
r me.
Also heartening are the comments about the soloists the pianist Mike Frank has a
couple of solos on the Rhodes that I think are marvels of motivic development,
and it s nice that others are hearing that too. Same thing with the guitar solos
I love that people whose ears I respect are as enthusiastic about Kevin Hanson
s playing as I am.
PJ: As you surely know, much of the appeal of jazz and improvised music is that
it really ought to be seen live. I gather you re planning to play this stuff on
a real stage for actual people?
TM: Yes, weather permitting, our first gig is Jan. 30 at a small and wonderful r
oom in South Philadelphia called L Etage. I have no idea if any "actual people"
will show up.