The Best Films of 2014 [Get Visual]

February 20th, 2015, 11:00 am by Sara
Patricia Arquette and Ellar Coltrane in Boyhood

Patricia Arquette and Ellar Coltrane in Boyhood

Reviews by David Brickman

With the awards season in full swing, I’m ready to weigh in on my favorite films of the past year. 2014 was an excellent year for movies, and that shows in the truly tough-to-handicap Oscar races. Luckily, I have so far seen six of the eight Best Picture nominees, and they are all worth the time. I’ve missed American Sniper and Selma, but plan to see the former very soon. As for the latter, I’m just not that interested in a dramatic alteration of Civil Rights history, so I’m skipping it.

1. Boyhood – How anybody can not be completely blown away by the achievement of this 12-year project by Richard Linklater is beyond me. It’s a drama about a kid growing up, in which all the actors actually age in real time through the course of the filming. More than that – it’s a really great life story, beautifully performed. Patricia Arquette will win the Oscar for this one, and if Linklater doesn’t, it’s simply wrong.

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BEST OF 2014: Kirsten Ferguson’s Top 15 Concerts

January 12th, 2015, 4:00 pm by Greg
Paul McCartney @ The Times Union Center

Paul McCartney

Story and photographs by Kirsten Ferguson

1.) Paul McCartney @ the Times Union Center, Albany (July 5)
Best concert of the decade, maybe longer. I watched the entire concert again on YouTube several days later and cried when Paul sang “The Long and Winding Road” – and I don’t even like that song!



2.) Wussy with Bloodshot Bill @ the Low Beat, Albany (July 24)
The “best band in America” tag had started to stick by the time Wussy pulled into town from Cincinnati, hours late because a cop pulled them over along the way and confiscated their stash. Despite it all, they fired it up and even though I knew only a few of their songs, I loved every one, and I can’t disagree with the “best band” award at all.

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BEST OF 2014: Fred Rudofsky’s Top 21 Albums

January 7th, 2015, 4:00 pm by Greg


By Fred Rudofsky

1.) Hamell on Trial: The Happiest Man in the World

2.) Ian McLagan & the Bump Band: United States

3.) Phil & Dave Alvin: Common Ground: Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy

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Ten Indelible Moments of Theater Magic in the Berkshires in 2014 [Berkshire on Stage]

January 6th, 2015, 1:00 pm by Sara

The curtain falls on 2014

By Larry Murray and Gail M. Burns

End of the year, time to reminisce. Gail Burns and I considered the state of health and energy of theater in this earlier article.

But the beginning of a new year is always a good time to look inward, too.

One of the reasons many of us love theater so much is the impact it can have on our minds and emotions. I love theater because it lets us see and consider things we don’t usually have a lot of time to think about in our daily life. Like the provocative scene below, one of ten memorable moments I had going to theater – lots of theater – this past year.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage

Richard Brody’s Top 11 Concerts
Michael Eck’s Top 10 Albums
Fred Rudofsky’s Top 21 Live Music Events
Albert Brooks’ Top 11 Albums
Gene Sennes’ Top Concerts & Albums
J Hunter’s Best Jazz Albums, Part II
The Capital Land Crate Digger’s Cultural Top 10
J Hunter’s Best Jazz Albums, Part I
Stanley Johnson’s Favorite Things
Rudy Lu’s Top 10 Concerts
J Hunter’s Top 10 Concerts (And More)
Tim Livingston’s Top 10 Albums

BEST OF 2014: J Hunter’s Best Jazz Albums, Part II

December 26th, 2014, 2:00 pm by Greg

Reviews by J Hunter

Okay, now that the Honorable Mentions are out of the way… DRUM ROLL, PLEASE!

Orrin Evans' Captain Black Big Band: Mother's TouchNUMBER TEN…
Pianist Orrin Evans has two other discs that are showing up on more than a few Top 10 lists: The Philadelphia native’s own Smoke Sessions release Liberation Blues and Sean Jones’ killer Mack Avenue date As great as those discs are, I couldn’t ignore this tremendous set of 21st-century big-band jazz. Propelled by a powerhouse unit that includes Marcus Strickland, Duane Eubanks, Conrad Herwig and Luques Curtis, Evans’ blues-soaked “In My Soul” sets the wide-screen tone for the date; his soaring “Prayer for Columbine” finishes it off, and in between are monster arrangements of Wayne Shorter’s “Water Babies,” Eric Revis’ “Maestra” and Donald Edwards’ “Tickle.” Big Band ain’t dead – thanks to Evans and Captain Black, it ain’t even SICK!

CLARENCE PENN & PENN STATION: Monk: The Lost Files (Origin)
Drummer/educator Clarence Penn has firsthand knowledge of how tough it is to sell today’s young musicians on music that’s anywhere from 60 to 100 years old. It was that resistance to the “jazz canon” that sent Penn into the studio to give ten Thelonius Monk compositions a serious re-boot. Mixing sampling and studio wizardry with ragged-edge arrangements, Penn brings classics like “Well You Needn’t,” “Evidence,” “Bemsha Swing” and “Rhythm-a-Ning” into the 21st century while keeping them as savory and singular as the original recordings. And that’s not even the best part: Due to a mishap with a computer and some wine, Penn erased the tracks a few months after recording them; we only have them now because the Englewood, NJ studio Penn recorded them in hadn’t cleaned out its hard drive. WHEW!

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BEST OF 2014: J Hunter’s Best Jazz Albums, Part I

December 23rd, 2014, 12:00 pm by Greg

Reviews by J Hunter

I had planned to write a lot more about new jazz this year, particularly in the last couple of months. Then I found out all it took to move a radio show from one station to another – and that’s BEFORE I had to learn how to drive the tractor-trailer! Well, anyway, I’ll try and do better next year, particularly since this year’s crop gave me over 100 CDs to consider for this list, and the stack’s already growing for 2015!

With that in mind, we’re splitting the column in two again, with the performance awards first:

Bobby Hutcherson: Enjoy The ViewLIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD:
BOBBY HUTCHERSONEnjoy the View (Blue Note)
Despite long-term health issues, vibes legend Bobby Hutcherson still gets around, making the occasional appearance in concert and – in this case – in his first studio recording as a leader for Blue Note since 1977. And even though Enjoy the View is more of an ensemble date than a star turn, Hutcherson’s elegance (and eloquence) is knockout beautiful on a date that has more than a whiff of Blue Note recordings from back in the day. Whether it’s on altoist David Sanborn’s grooving “Delia,” B3 master Joey DeFrancesco’s bluesy waltz “You” or Hutch’s own roaring flag-waver “Hey Harold,” Hutch brings home the goods every time. Enjoy gives us a sweet time trip, as well as one more tantalizing glimpse of one of the greats. But unlike most looks we get of legends nowadays, this music is happening now.

Arch Stanton Quarte5: Blues For SoliLOCAL HERO AWARD (CD Division):
After creating a sound on their 2012 debut Along for the Ride that nobody else in Greater Nippertown had made, the next goal for the Arch Stanton Quartet was to conjure up another set of kickass originals while avoiding Sophomore Slump. As some guy who likes to paint his feet in the bathtub nowadays might have said: Mission Accomplished. The second half of Blues for Soli says the Stanton Quartet could have made this happen without their whirlwind tour of Egypt in 2013. That said, the tone that’s set by the four monster tunes contained in the opening “Lady Egypt Suite” is about as blood-and-guts tough as you’re going to get. It’s still “garage-band jazz,” in that the ASQ is a no-frills outfit with a license to kill; however, there are layers of richness to this music that were only hinted at on Ride. What the future brings for the ASQ is anyone’s guess, but as far as I’m concerned, the guy in the bathtub said it all: “Bring it on!”

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BEST OF 2014: Stanley Johnson’s Favorite Things

December 22nd, 2014, 4:00 pm by Greg
Sheila E @ Alive at Five

Sheila E. @ Alive at Five

By Stanley Johnson

This is not a “best of” list because, as recent comments about a local cancelled awards show indicate, these kind of things are often considered political and, even when judged by an educated panel of peers, are mostly just quantified opinions.

But even that non-event got me thinking. Just the other night while I was photographing a high school wrestling match (where I was paid to be) I witnessed something that occurred several times that evening. A wrestler in a weight class was brought out on the mat. But there was no opposing wrestler in the same weight class. So the ref held up the arm of the wrestler in a sign of victory, the audience applauded and the wrestler went over and shook the hand of the opposing team coach. Then the wrestler went back to his side of the mat, where he was congratulated with high fives by his coach and teammates. All for doing nothing.

But I realized that the wrestler did do something. He joined the team, practiced and practiced some more, got into his uniform and made the effort to be there and ready. That’s what the applause was about.

Most of the time, taking pictures at shows shuts down my ears for the sake of my eyes and my camera. I spent many years going to concerts without bringing a camera. This was because I cared so much about the music and what it did to me that I didn’t want to distract myself. The sometimes miserable circumstances of my daily existence are changed into an alternate here and now, where I am completely involved in every moment of a performance.

I’ve learned this heightened here-and-now experience also happens while reading a good book, when watching a good movie or play, and, sometimes, despite commercial interruptions, while watching television. Not only do my senses seem sharpened, I feel connected to the minds of the artists and audiences who share these experiences. Sometimes these good feelings continue beyond the next day.

So that’s what this list is about: My Favorite Things that this year distracted me from worry (like how I’m going to afford big increases in health insurance) and put me right in the here and now where I am fully involved. These individuals and groups made the effort and succeeded in making my year a whole lot better:

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Best of 2014: Tim Livingston’s Top 10 Albums

December 16th, 2014, 1:00 pm by Greg

By Tim Livingston of WGXC-FM’s “Radio Warfare”

Almost all of my fave albums this year are new releases by old school rockers…

THE BOYS: Punk Rock Menopause
Joey Ramone named them as his favorite band and for obvious reasons, as between 1977-1980 the band released four LPs of punk-driven power-pop, rivaled by few at the time for pure melodic power. This year they returned with their first album as a band since the day, and it is a scorcher! Ringing guitars, booming drums & bass, punk swagger and grit, mixed with pure pop melodies, vocal harmonies and most importantly – great songs. This album picks up right where the Boys left off. Original members Honest John Plain, Casino Steel and Matt Dangerfield deliver the goods with newly minted pop classics like the rumbling “How Hot You Are,” the super-catchy “She’s the Reason” and the very Beatlesque “Baby Bye Bye,” all of which sit nicely alongside straight-up, old-school punk-rockers like “1976” and “Punk Rock Girl.” The whole album is S-O-L-I-D, from the opening riff to the ending notes and is essential for fans of the band, or anyone missing the old-school sound… ALSO OF NOTE: Original Boys bassist Duncan “Kid” Reid (who was not involved in this project) and his solo band Duncan Reid & the Big Headsput out a cracking new power-pop keeper of his own this year, Difficult Second Album, which is well worth checking out.

THE NEW CHRISTS: Incantations
Radio Birdman frontman Rob Younger’s side-project since 1980 returns with a new album of dark, brooding garage rock that sits along the top with the Boys as No. 1 for me this year. A bit more complex and diverse than some of the band’s previous straight-up nuggets-style garage-rock/Detroit-worshiping efforts, this album, however, lacks no power. It’s just a more subtle fury, rather than a head-slamming guitar attack. Oh, there is still plenty of powerful six-string assaults to be had, but presented in a moodier, smoldering context. Sinister yet romantic, Younger has one of the best rock voices out there as his deep, dark pipes snake their way through 11 devastating songs such as the killer opener “Ghostlike,” the surf-guitar-inspired single “Waves Form,” the brilliant “A Window to See” and the goth-tinged “We Are Lovers,” which could have been an ’80s dance-club classic back in the day. A brilliant album from a band whose entire back-catalog is worth searching out.

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