Thursday, September 21, 2006

The intrusion of a popular song into an eai performance always has a dual character. Ever since Rowe began using tapes of Lou Christie's "Lightning Strikes" or the Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann" in early AMM shows, I bet the reaction of thelistener hovers between the immediate enjoyment of a juicy, sweet piece of candy and the troubling feeling that one is succumbing to an all-too-easy temptation.

On the plus side, it's often the case that the frame provided by an improvised work casts the song in a surprisingly good light. When "Son of a Preacher Man" erupted in the midst of a Rowe/Burkhard Beins set, one of the first things to cross my mind was, "Damn. That's a really nice song." Typically, Rowe would engage in the excellent practice of abruptly cutting off whatever song he happened upon just about when the listener was in "danger" of settling in and enjoying it, though in the case of Dusty Springfield, he let it go on for a length of time that's both beguiling and uncomfortable. When does a song become a crutch, a convenient hat-hanger in a welter of noise? It's a tough judgment call to make.

Christof Kurzmann has been messing around in a similar area in recent years. His duo with Burkhard Stangl, "schnee_live" (Erstwhile) used Prince's song, "Sometimes It Snows in April" as a basis for a 1/2 hour "improvisation", seguing into and out of the thematic material, ending with an updating of an Austrian drinking song. It's lovely and, essentially, I like it a great deal even if there's something nagging at me. Something that says: using popular song in eai is like steroids in baseball (at least in the general public's opinion--I have my own thoughts about that whole business, but never mind). It's....cheating, maybe. Maybe not. My opinion fluctuates.

So, along comes this recording by Kurzmann and Kai Fagaschinski (here referring to themselves as Kommando Raumschiff Zitrone (don't ask me)) bearing the title and containing two versions of Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face". The album's cover, btw, is a photo of one Marisol Sanchez whose lovely visage was reason enough, I suppose, to so use her as there's no other overt connection to the disc. The first track is a 12 minute rendition of the Flack song, beginning with softly strummed acoustic guitar (from the original? I don't think so, but neither musician is credited with guitar, so perhaps it's sourced from elsewhere) and some languidly bitter clarinet (both musicians are clarinetists), establishing a edgily romantic mood and then...well then, Ms. Flack herself comes in singing. They essentially accompany her for several minutes with microtonal reedwork and subtle electronics. Again, the first impression is, "What a lovely song!" You appreciate it on its own terms, in this context, much more than you (or, at least, I) ever did before. It also provides a very nice "spine" for the improvised accompaniment. To their credit, this duo dispenses with the theme after three or four minutes, using its "ghost traces" to improvise off of for the bulk of the piece. A briefer "reprise" closes out the disc, four non-thematic though relatively tonal pieces are sandwiched between.

As always, I go back and forth on my feelings. Initially, the undeniable frisson of pleasure at the integration of abstraction and song-form carries the day. On second listen, a sense of...disappointment sets in. Third and fourth tend to hover between those poles. I like it, it ultimately so substantial? Is it even trying to be? The mere fact that it raises these questions, of course, is a good thing on the one hand. On the other, though, is the existence of music that is "past" asking these questions already. Well worth hearing, in any case.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

I admit it, I'm a Survivor-holic. Have been since the very first show. There was something that immediately grabbed me from a gaming aspect. Even with all the garbage that's shoehorned into every season (the product placement, the enormous hokiness of the "tribal council", the inevitable condescension toward whatever the local population happens to be) as well as the working knowledge that each episode is the condensation of three days worth of activity and, hence, has been edited into shape for the desired dramatic arc. Even so....the damn thing works. At bottom, despite all the nonsense, you have a group of people living together in extreme conditions for an extended period of time and having to deal with each other. That just cannot help but be fascinating.

The way the game's set up, you can't even really strategize to any great extent except to avoid doing overtly stupid things like lazing out at the beginning or generally acting in an assholish manner. Otherwise, it's almost a random event and has been since the second series. In the first, when most of the contestants had no clue what they were doing, only the inimitable Richard Hatch understood that it was a game and that strategies should be employed. Whatever the gaming aspect, it's inevitable that interesting relational dynamics develop and those can be great watchin'.

The new season, with its racially segregated initial groups, begins tomorrow. As someone who despises that part of the whole Olympics gestalt, that nationalist or ethnic rooting, I have my misgivings, but we'll see.....

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The irrepressible, not to say irresponsible, Mattin sent over three discs the other day, one of them his new duo with trumpeter Axel Dorner (or Doerner if you're umlaut-challenged), "Berlin". The words "extreme" and "Mattin" often go hand-in-hand and this disc's no exception although, as it progresses, you realize the extremities have more to do with structure than in harsh noise. There's plenty of the former, especially toward the beginning, but more jolting are the abrupt and unexpected stops and starts along the way. They're pretty brutal. Dorner (who, as near as I can tell, doesn't use laptop on this date) sticks largely to his patented "trumpet as tubes of metal" approach, generating metallic breath tones throughout that mesh cleanly enough with Mattin's electronics to often be indistinguishable. But somehow, a real sense of give and take and collaboration oozes through. What begins as sonic aggravation has you upset that it's ending an hour later. Good record.

Gave up on the last Roth; better than its predecessors but not good enough to finish. Half-skimming the Rush as well, which is disappointing. The sexual interplay, here between a husband and wife, just doesn't hold interest or, for that matter, come across as very believable. There's a glimmer of a plotline surfacing here and there, hopefully it'll be enough to warrant plowing through 700+ pages; I've got about 400 to go.

Attempting to slake my neverending thirst for Japanese novels, I picked up:

Shusako Endo - The Samurai
Yasunari Kawabata - The Old Capital
Kenzaburo Oe - Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids

Also ordered the new Cardew Reader, despite having previously shelled out substantial dollars on Treatise Handbook and the Scratch book, both of which are included in this one. Also despite the unaccountable and unacceptable omission of Rowe from the invited commentators. Presumably a leftover from the scrap with Prevost, but there was no one, as near as I can discern, who was closer to Cardew than Keith and, arguably, there's no musician around who understands his work as thoroughly and deeply. But, so it goes....

Thursday, September 07, 2006

We bought a piano this past weekend.

We'd had an upright back around when we were first married and living in Queens, 1979-84. Linda played a bit growing up; I'd never really played. My family did have a little organ my sister Lisa doodled around on and I'd sit there making noise pretty often, teaching myself a handful of single-note themes. The one I remmeber was a Bach riff that Jethro Tull purloined--I forget the original's name or the TUll construct now, but I can still play it.

Having one in-house, though, I figured I'd try to teach myself the rudiments but, of course, I was unwilling to really learn the basics, instead buying sheet music of things I knew and loved and figured wouldn't be absolutely impossible to bull my way through. So I got some Satie scores ("Sports et Divertissments" and a volume of vairous pieces, none of them the better known stuff, the Gymnopedies, etc.) and did get to the point where I could play some of the "simpler" ones (none of them are simple, of course, to play well) at about one quarter speed. Also got Barber's "Excursions", which proved well beyond my meager capabilities. Needless to say, I spent a great amount of time simply noodling around, figuring out Roscoe Mitchell lines, etc.

We kept the piano when we moved to E. 96th St. (a large apartment), but when we bought our co-op on W. 105th, a one-bedroom job, it had to go. Linda's pined for one since then and as we have both the space and, recently, the finances for one and, since a certain elderly relative with a passion for playing is due to arrive for a visit soon, plans were set into motion to procure one. We checked around and found a listing for an Altenburg Pianos in Elizabeth and drove down on Saturday. It's a lovely old establishment, begun in 1847 iirc, where a very pleasant 6th generation member of the Altenburg family showed us around. Turns out the manufacture their own line of pianos and we bought a new upright for $2,500. It was delivered a couple days ago. So, we once again have a piano.

I wasn't sure if I'd kept the Satie and Barber scores but indeed I had. Broke them out of storage for Linda, noodled a little myself. On the way to work this morning, I remembered I have some Cardew non-graphic sheet music as well that came along with one of his books. Hmmm....might have to check that out. Of course, int he intervening years between 1988, when we got rid of the last piano, and now, I've heard tons more piano music. I'm wondering if it's worthwhile to get the score, for instance, of Feldman's "For Bunita Marcus". That could be fun....Or maybe some Skempton.

It's nice to have a piano around again, I must say.


Received three items from Mattin yesterday, including his duo with Axel Doerner, jointly issued by Absurd and two other labels. Pretty brutal stuff. The others are a duo with Mattin and Lucio Capece and a solo Capece disc, each also very, very noisy.

Picked up the Ruscico DVD release of Tarkovsky's "Stalker"; looking forward to re-watching it (only seen it once before) this weekend.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Lunching with Pete Cherches and Steve Smith yesterday, the latter recommended the Destination-Out! site:, a fine place that specializes in mp3s of out-of-print avant jazz, especially from the 70s. The current feature is Marion Brown's lovely "Geechee Recollections". I should mention Pete's and Steve's blogs as long as I'm at it: Pete's is a wonderful, often very funny food-oriented one: while Steve's is pretty much about music, at least as much as he can squeeze in between his TimeOutNY and NYT gigs: Check 'em out.

Brown, in addition to possessing one of the greatest faces in the music, released a couple of super fine albums on Impulse! in the 70s, the aforementioned "Geechee Recollections" and its follow-up, "Sweet Earth Flying" with both Paul Bley and Muhal Richard Abrams on piano and electric piano. Muhal's feature on the latter might be my single favorite example of his playing. There was a third in this Jean Toomer-inspired trilogy, "November Cotton Flower", issued on the Japanese Baystate label, also real nice. Additionally, Amina Claudine Myers released a gorgeous collection of his works for solo piano, "Poems for Piano", on Brown's own short-lived label, Sweet Earth, in 1979. This is not to even mention his great work with Shepp in the 60s and the ECM recording (which I don't own for some reason?!), "Afternoon of a Georgia Fawn".

Last I heard, Brown was in western Massachusetts, not in very good health. A very under-recognized musician and a very beautiful one.