Ms. Padgett rocks goofily, Matthew Shipp keeps traveling
The Good Ms. Padgett
If We Must We Must
What do little children like? I dunno—candy, toys or some kind of overpriced plastic wearable thing? Fake mustaches? Smartphones? When it comes to music, small children are probably not very discriminating, so as long as it is melodic and happy, it will probably do.
At some point, people realized that music for children need not be insipid, cloying or annoying, and this realization likely has done wonders for the mental well-being of thousands—nay, millions—of parents around the world.
The album at hand is by the Good Ms. Padgett, a.k.a. Anna Padgett, a Brooklyn preschool teacher, and while ostensibly it is for little kids, it seems like it was created mercifully with the (indie-rock-loving) parent in mind.
Padgett is well-connected musically—her partner is Miggy Littleton, drummer for the rock band Blood on the Wall, and she’s joined by her daughter Penelope (age 7) and guests such as Daniel Littleton and Elizabeth Mitchell of Ida and the You Are My Flower/Sunshine/Little Bird children’s albums and Tara Jane O’Neil.
If We Must We Must is cute, sure, but it rarely oversteps the line of being too precious; one exception is the cover of the Vaselines’ “Molly’s Lips” (famously covered by Nirvana) that is presented in a tamer fashion as “Mommy’s Lips.” It’s too much for this writer.
The other covers fare better; Jonathan Richman’s “Hey There Little Insect” has a great hollow-body electric guitar sound and a Bo Diddley vibe, and the version of Michael Hurley’s “Black and Yellow Bee” resembles a Yo La Tengo song with a sauntering lead guitar—this one seems to be for the adults.
Several of the selections are right on the verge of totally rocking out but are delivered with a little restraint because, I guess, kids will go nuts or something. This includes the candy-larceny-themed “Lollipop Nightmare” and the Velvet Underground-esque “Tattle to the Turtle” which teaches children to not be a tattletale (“If it’s an emergency, the teacher you tell / If it’s not, you tell the one with the shell.”)
Padgett’s voice is clear and unfussy—not particularly flowery, but it strikes the right tone and demeanor. Think of it as a slightly goofier, slightly more rockin’ version of Elizabeth Mitchell’s You Are My Flower that, similarly, appeals to adults as much as it does to kids.
I’ve Been to Many Places
Like those “When I bite into a York Peppermint Patty...” commercials, the music of pianist Matthew Shipp is instantly and deeply transportive, sweeping the listener off the ground to other worlds or familiar sights or even shrinking down, Fantastic Voyage-style, to explore the folds of Shipp’s brain.
He started with classical and moved to straight-ahead jazz, but his career as we know it really took off after the rapid development of his own distinctive style, which is immediately identifiable although complicated, with a hearty, forceful and nimble style that can go to breathtaking heights in uncharted regions.
As implied by the title, I’ve Been to Many Places, Shipp’s latest solo album has the artist revisiting some familiar spots in the form of jazz standards, mixed with total avant-garde improvisational pieces. While we can put these tracks into two categories, in Shipp’s world they belong together, with the two forces working in conjunction.
Shipp told this writer in an interview in 2011 that, “To be honest, I sometimes get bored out there in the stratosphere” and that touching back with jazz standards “revivifies my imagination and consciousness for another flight out into free space.”
Shipp’s take on “Summertime” hammers and bulldozes before getting cloudy toward the end with a persistent repetition of two-state patterns; his interpretation of “Tenderly” is impatient, charged, agitated and quite different from the version he played with the late David S. Ware’s quartet 20 years ago.
Seemingly out of place is “Where Is the Love,” best known as the easy-listening Roberta Flack/Donny Hathaway hit, but Shipp’s version takes inspiration from Phineas Newborn Jr.’s recording of it with the personal significance of being one of Shipp’s first jazz records; he lets his left-hand notes roar and magnify the chord transitions, in a relatively straight reading.
Alongside the transformed standards are free-flowing improvisations where Shipp lets his subconscious take over; this isn’t auto-pilot, but instead, he seems to be using his technical skill to articulate whatever his brain is transmitting. “Symbolic Access” is one particularly striking and beautiful number that lingers at just the right moments, confounding any typical chords with extra contrary notes.
Any proficient piano player can learn jazz chords and spit them out, but Shipp is far beyond mere chords; a chord is just a slice of time, but Shipp has a fascinating complexity, drawing lines between notes from the past to the future.