Saturday, March 31, 2007

I have more albums by Anthony Braxton than anyone else. Maybe the AMM/Rowe combo will surpass it sometime...Haven't bought many in the last few years however, though I've liked a good bit of what I've heard, notably Composition 247 and some of the Ghost Trance discs (though a few of the infinite number of duo projects I've encountered have fallen very flat). I'm thinking, if I ever have the cash in pocket, of eventually getting the new 9-disc + DVD set, recorded at Iridium last year, just to have a good capsule picture of where he was mid-decade. Went over to Downtown Music yesterday and it was on the house system; not fair at all to go from ten minutes worth (out of nine hours plus) but it sounded OK, if naggingly similar to what I would have expected. We'll see.

Anyway, when I do pick me up some Brax these days, it tends to be earlier works I could never find on vinyl which gradually show up on disc. Yesterday, DMG had his Paris Recital 1971 available, on Futura. I'd always wanted this one but, even back then, it was difficult to find. Two tracks: a 25-minute rendition of "Come Sunday" and "GN6 (X'70B)...K'7" for four pianos. Ya gotta love someone in 1971 dedicating two pieces on an album to Johnny Hodges and David Tudor.

Also picked up the Skeleton Crew comp on Fred Records, consisting of the band's two albums (Learn to Talk and Country of Blinds) plus some extra stuff. I never had the first one (just Frith and Cora) but the latter had always been one of my favorite song-oriented albums from the 80s. Holds up reasonably well with minimal dating.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

I'm lifting this from a post by inharmonik on IHM just because I enjoyed it so much (even better if it's actually true):

A dude was playing one of Feldman's graph pieces and it had a box with a 3 in it to indicate 3 tones. The pianist hit his three notes and Feldman grimaced..... The dude looked at Feldman like, "WTF? you said 3 pitches?" Feldman responded, "yeah, but not those three."

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

So, Carla Bley. I hadn't heard "A Genuine Tong Funeral" until about ten years ago when a friend found it for me in a used vinyl shop (thanks, Peter!). While it's a good, solid recording, it made clear to me just what she was talking about when, somewhere in the early 70s, I read her comment that it was "Sgt. Pepper" that drove home to her that she wasn't a jazz composer but a pop one. (I think I'm paraphrasing accurately). At the time, I was a bit put off by the statement but nowadays, I think she gauged things well. "Tong" is missing much of what makes a good jazz album. It's fascinating, interestingly constructed, well played, but straining at the leash in some respects, overly confined to a stylistic form. Happily, Bley would explode all that with "Escalator Over the Hill."

EOTH was a very early venture of mine into jazz/jazz-rock/electronica/general weirdness and had a huge impact on me. It seems to be one of those recordings that, to someone half a generation younger or older, it's difficult to see what all the fuss is about but for myself (and numerous people my approxiamte age whom I've encountered), it's a milestone. Proto-post-modernist, Bley freely interspersed musicians (and artists and writers) from wildly diverse backgrounds into Paul Haines' amazing collection of verbiage. Linda Ronstadt and Charlie Haden? Why not? Viva, Don Preston and Roswell Rudd? Sure. Commonplace (sorta) nowadays, but just not done at the time. Sprawling, messy, overblown, extravagant, arch--yep and it works. Possibly my favorite playing from Barbieri and McLaughlin. Amazing Don Cherry on trumpet and voice. The great, great Jeanne Lee. And those words...No lyricist I'd rather wallow in than the late Paul Haines.

Confusing what's right with what's right
And what's wrong with what's wrong

Stop refusing to explain

Give up explaining

Even better, Bley managed to follow this up with an almost equally wonderful record, 'Tropic Appetites'. Beautiful group: Barbieri, Mike Mantler, Howard Johnson, Dave Holland, Toni Marcus (violin/viola), Bley, Paul Motian and the divine Julie Tippetts on voice. Great songs, more wonders from Haines.

In India

This sun's so hot

In India
Most buildings shut up

All huts afire

The one bird

Alive afternoons

Colored milky sweet

Wearing stunned hot eyes

And a scooped vanilla head

Sings in this yeasty air

A couple of notes

Every quarter hour

Lack of a stereo (stolen, 11/76) for several years meant I didn't pick up the next couple, 'Dinner Music' and 'Musique Mechanique' (nota bene: I file the fantastic '13/ 3/4' under Mantler just because of the superiority to my ears of his composition) but I reacquired a system in time for 'Social Studies'. Always liked the cover:

Adored it then but listening to it now, it palls a bit. Handsome, yes, but draggy and too careful overall. I remember loving the Steve Slagle feature, "Utviklingssang" at the time; don't know how I tolerated the dreadful backbeat. Not a bad recording but the sizzle has become decidedly soggy.

The Nick Mason record, 'Fictitious Sports' (yes, just like I don't file 'Tong' under B for Gary Burton, I file this under Bley since she wrote the music. Mason merely sings it) is actually still a bit of goofy fun. Would never have thought it would hold up better than 'Social Studies' but it kinda does.

I gave Bley one more chance with the Live! record on Watt/ECM, whose creepy cover I can't bring myself to reproduce here ("Carla, we might sell more copies if you show some leg!"). By this time, her music has settled into jazz-rock pastiche, really tedious, like a slightly hipper version of Paul Schrader's Late Night band. Someone gave me a disc of the Very Big Band from the early 90s that's even worse. Haven't read anything in a very long time that's gotten me remotely curious to hear even more recent work.

But for two very great, very beautiful records and for opening up several worlds of music to a 19-20 year old, thanks, Ms. Bley.

Monday, March 26, 2007

I take it for granted that everyone reading this blog has seen the "Wordplay" documentary from last year. If you haven't you should. It's actually very entertaining and informative no matter how little interest you have in the subject. Well, hundreds of thousands of people have apparently done so and a good two hundred of them decided to show up to Stamford this year, raising the field from about 500 to 700 contestents. Unfortunately for me, at least a few of those 200 are pretty damn good solvers.

I did once again manage a mistake-free tournament, my basic goal going in. But when I did it last year, I notched 26th place. The same performance in 2007, with no appreciable reduction in speed, only netted me 42nd. *sigh* Not bad, of course, and still roughly sitting in the same percentage slot vis a vis the field, but I fear I'll never see the top 20 again. Good, geeky fun in any case, great seeing the few folk who I generally only see once a year. Phil Donahue competed this year; weird. Never actually caught sight of him. Checked his results though--he sucked. In quasier celebrity land, Jerry Orbach's son was there for the second year--nice guy.

Last year, they gave an advance screening of "Wordplay". This year they had an hour-long feature of outtakes, publicity tour film, etc. Great Jon Stewart outtake where he's solving an NYT puzzle, generally ragging on Will Shortz in mock-combative style. At one point he goes, reading a clue, "Like Mary's little lamb, eight letters......fuckable." Why that didn't make the cut, I've no idea.

Word geek quiz question for the day: What plural form for members of a religious denomination anagrams into the first and last names of a well-known singer?


Ryu Hankil/Jin Sangtae/Choi Joonyang - 5 Modules I (Manual)
Hong Chulki - 5 Modules II (Manual)
Axel Dorner/Lucio Capece - s/t (l'Innomable)

Reading :

David Eggers - How We Are Hungry

Friday, March 23, 2007

I'd been searching for this for quite a while, finally saw it come up on e-bay in late February, bid on it and won. Arrived yesterday.

This is a double LP recording from the memorial concert held for Cardew on May 16, 1982. There's a very large cast of musicians--one of the mildly annoying things about the Impetus release is that individuals aren't credited on the various pieces so you have to do a bit of guesswork as to who's playing when.

Side One has three works from his more avant-classical folio. First Movement for String Quartet (Balenescu? Bryars?), Octet 71 (not at all sure who's playing but a gorgeous work) and an extract from Treatise (AMM, John White I think on tuba, maybe Ian Michell on clarinet, a bassoonist, others). The second side is the performance of Paragraph 1 from The Great Learning that was included on the Cortical release a few years back. Side three has three lovely renditions of Cardew's political piano pieces: The Turtledove (with soprano), "The Workers Song" and "Thalmann Variations". Sounds to me like it's Rzewski playing and the latter work is especially beautiful. Count me among the few who find his music in this area quite deep and moving. The final People's Liberation Music. Those of you who've heard the recording from around '73 that appeared a few years ago will understand my apprehension but, actually, while by no means great, the band of earnest socialists had smoothed out some (musically) by '82 and the songs aren't too offensive. Well, yes they are, but not nearly as bad as the earlier release. Though every time I hear "Smash the Social Contract!" it's tough not to grin. Listening at the moment to "There is only one lie. There is only one truth." Yikes. Don't think this was on the earlier disc (?). Essentially a denunciation of Soviet imperialism. Interesting lyrical content.....

Anyway, very happy to finally have gotten a chance to hear this.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

So, in my little descriptive over there on the right, I mention crosswords. Well, it's far geekier than that. Since 1983, I've competed in crossword tournaments, since 1987 at the US Crossword Open in Stamford Ct. That event occurs this weekend.

About 500 people gather each spring to race, preferably with accuracy, through seven puzzles, seeing how they stack up against the country's best (a few from outside the US as well). Hosted by NYT crossword editor Will Shortz, it's as dorky an affair as anything this side of a Star Trek convention--I imagine there's even some overlap. A high percentage of folk who you get the impression emerge from their warrens once a year, blink at the sunlight, then waddle over to Stamford to compete. Many of them are absurdly good at it, ripping through puzzles at superhuman speed. You can get a sense of the bristling excitement of the event from the pic above. I'm half-decent, finishing 26th last year and having twice made the top 10 (6th and 8th in the early 90s) though those days are long gone--too many fast, young competitors now. If I absolutely ace a tourney, I might make around 15th.

Happily, there are a small handful of relatively normal, altogether interesting people who regularly attend. Among other things, there are actually those whose musical tastes somewhat overlap with my own, shockingly. Joshua Kosman, a music critic for the SF Chronicle, is a regular attendee; he knows his contemporary classical far better than I, among many other things. Tony Dutra used to share a house with the guys who ran About Time records in Boston in the 80s and knows his way around avant jazz. Ran into another guy at one of the Bang On a Can marathons a buncha years back--the last person you'd think to have a Xenakis fetish, but...And of course, Dan Okrent, all around bon vivant and geek who, inexcusably, unwittingly scheduled a vacation in Venice on the same weekend as the tournament and, even more bafflingly, didn't cancel it when he realized his error! I mean, really.

I dream of the day when there's an impossible clue where the crossing entry is "UK improv ensemble" (3 letters). 499 other people are squirming, trying to choose between ARM, ACM, ABM etc......

[I should put in a plug for the documentary, "Wordplay", a totally enjoyable, even-handed look at this neck of the woods. Very funny, very geeky and, seriously, pretty dramatic insofar as the 2005 tournament final puzzle. Check it out. I think my back is in there once or twice.]

Saturday, March 17, 2007

"Mass" is a project joining the ensemble Looper (Nikos Veliotis, Martin Kuchen & Ingar Zach) with my favorite pianist in the world, John Tilbury. Their initial release, a DVD on Esquilo records out of Portugal, arrived yesterday. This was a highly anticipated offering in that, aside from Tilbury, Looper's "Squarehorse" (absurd) was a much-loved disc from last year and the prospect of the four musicians together seemed especially juicy. I'll withhold more detailed judgment until subsequent listens, only to say that of the two tracks, the first falls in line with more or less what I'd have expected, that is to say, long, rich dronage with piano surfacing periodically, either in brief melodic patterns or stroked, tapped, etc. All well and good, but the second performance is happily a whole 'nother issue, a rough and complex piece that will bear much further investigation.

However, I gotta say that the video accompaniment, by Veliotis, does almost nothing for me. Consisting of layered images of a (generally, intentionally kitschy) religious nature, the means of creation becomes clear after a minute or two and then ceases to have very much interest aside from this of that fleeting visual effect. You keep waiting for a new tack but it never arrives. Worse, after lasting through the first work, the entire video recapitulates for the second. Again, more later in the write-up I'll do for Bags, though in the case of the video, I'm not sure there's much left to discover.

Certainly worth it for the music, though.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Jon Abbey hipped me to this disc and it's definitely a fascinating release. Many more listens required but I think we have a winner here. On the (h)ear rings label whose website can be found here. More on it later.

Just arrived in house:

Mouths/Haptic - IV2E/Danjon Scale (split 12" on entracte)
Helena Gough - with what remains (entracte)

[both the above sounded very good on first listen]

not yet heard...

Artur Nowak - Guitar Granulizer (
Daniel Menche - Animality (
Xavier Charles/Robert Piotrowicz - /// (

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

I find myself getting more and more finicky at live performances of improvised music, not so much for the music but for the performance aspect. I'm guessing that in the overwhelming number of cases, the musicians "simply" set up in the stage area and play. Often, of course, this is entirely appropriate to the music though from my vantage it's difficult to see a clear rhyme or reason why this works and that doesn't. Sometimes, however, given the music that's produced, a staged performance--sitting in front of an audience--doesn't seem to me to be the best way for the music to be experienced.

These and other thoughts crossed my mind last evening while listening to Jason Kahn and Jon Mueller playing at Experimental Intermedia. Their set was different than the music on their release from last year, "Supershells"--less monolithic for one thing--but still generally revolved around drones. Each concentrated on snare drums, though in different aspects. Who'da thunk several years back that the snare drum would be so prominent in new improv? Kahn began by rapidly tapping with thumb and ring finger on a brass (?) gong (of the Asian variety--about 1/8" thick with a cymbal-like flattened bell on one side) overturned on top of the snare, subtly augmenting the resultant sound with electronics. Mueller had a snare lying atop a sound monitor, its strings being brutally excited by the throbs therein. Vibrating snare strings was one of the central sounds of the evening, actually. Requires a little reorientation for those of us who, traditionally, have found such sounds to be an irritant at "normal" music shows. He also played a gong and brushes in a more standard manner, but did his most interesting work on that snare, using his hands to dampen or open up the vibratory effect.

Kahn did some wonderful stuff with controlled snare feedback. I've no idea what the actual mechanics are, but from the audience it's as though a feedback charge is slowly built up in the snare. Kahn allowed it to well to a point just short of aural pain, and would then bring his cupped hand into contact (or near contact?) with the drum head, somehow "containing" the feedback. Very cool.

As an entirety, however, the performance didn't particularly cohere. For me, part of it was simply the physical fact of the duo being situated in a "stage" environment and the concommitant restriction of the sound source area. I very much wanted to hear a more pervasive, thicker sound and, given XI's speaker potential, felt the space could have been far better utilized. In fact, about 2/3 of the way through, during a quieter portion, I heard a fantastic, very alive sound from the rear of the space and momentarily thought they might have done just that: had speakers there at the ready for late activation. Turned out to be cars outside driving over planks in the road, providing a luscious double-thump. It worked, in any case. But I couldn't help feeling that the performance would have been better served had the duo been secreted behind the baffles on either side of the audience space. A good portion of their sound was of the "industrial drone" kind, the sort of thing I find more enjoyable experiencing as an environmental artifact as opposed to the overt product of a musician or two. I've no need to look at someone doing this, even though both musicians last night evinced a certain amount of physicality in their playing. I could, and did, shut my eyes fairly often but there's still the narrowly focussed sound in front of one. Needless to say, I'm guessing this problem wasn't encountered or even considered by most attendees.

It's interesting, to me anyway, how this issue does or doesn't arise for a given performer and that it has little to do with how abstract the music is. For example, I'm perfectly happy to hear and see Sachiko M. or Toshi Nakamura perform even though they're doing next to nothing in terms of motion and the music is (gorgeously) static. At the other end of the eai scale, I thoroughly enjoyed something like Fennesz' solo on guitar and keyboard which was quite emotive. In each case, perhaps the salient point is that the sounds produced don't especially merge with the ambience or sound as though they might in most circumstances. Kahn's and Mueller's music was on the other side of that divide for me. I imagine I'd feely similarly about, say, nmperign for example, or hearing one of Sugimoto's recent works. In fact, I loved his Live from Australia set largely because his musical presence receded into just one element in the soundscape; you had little sense of him existing as a focal point.

Meandering here and probably not stating things well....In any case, it was very pleasent to meet both Jason and Jon and to have the opportunity to thank them for the fine things released on theie repsective labels (cut and crouton).

[I see Steve Smith wrote up the event on his fine site as well (wherein he's much too nice to me): night after night]

Monday, March 12, 2007

Record club last night worked itself into a soulful, songlike groove. Luckily, as it turned out, I had nixed a Christian Wolff piece (would've brought the evening to an awkward halt) and went with a track from Loren Connors' fine singles collection, "Night Through"--I'm forgetting the title...a traditional Irish piece with "Bonny" in the name--which blended in fairly well. Second round was only a bit dicier with Taku Sugimoto's piece from "Opposite", "Spoon River", providing a nice, reflective pause. (I also enjoyed considering those two, from 1996 & 1997 respectively), alongside each other, Taku taking Conners' hyper-stretched out elegiac approach and evanescing it even further...)

Zeena Parkins was a guest at the proceedings last night and a very enjoyable one. Her first offering was a fantastic track from Konono No.1, a Congolese troop who (I guess among other things) fashion mbiras out of used auto parts and such as pictured above. Wonderful piece; the disc is on my list to get now. Other highlights included a live Otis Redding performance from Europe of "I've Been Loving You Too Long", a wild number by some Bakersfield area rockabilly band from around 1960 (blanking on their name), Billy Strayhorn's "Your Love has Faded" and a great Buddy Guy/Junior Wells tune also from around '61.

[btw, re: my doppleganger's comment--back in October my initial self-googling post was instigated by some bizarre results that surfaced when I plugged my monicker into google's image search. The ones I mentioned at the time have blessedly disappeared. In their stead is this:

I've no idea why, though I do retain a fondness for "House of the Rising Sun".

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

New Stuff:

Graham Halliwell/Tomas Korber - The Large Glass (Cathnor)
Dropp Ensemble - ingen tid (tonschacht 7")
Dropp Ensemble - The Empire Builders (longbox)

These last two not new but excellent...

Thanks for the burns, Richard!

Listening to Carla Bley vinyl; report later....

Friday, March 02, 2007

I picked up Antonioni's "L'Eclisse" yesterday, watched it this morning. Another incredibly beautiful film, maybe even a half-notch up from "L'Avventura". So many deeply evocative frames, like the one above with the "mushroom" structure and the nursemaid. The use of objects was fantastic, including especially their sound, from the small table fan in the opening scene, to the windblown, night time flag poles. I guess it's been commented upon often enough that his landscapes and cityscapes can render the characters almost insignificant and it happens here numerous times, giving the impression that they're merely visitors, that the hills, buildings and machinery will remain. Great stuff.


Among the musicians I got to know and enjoy while working at Environ back in the late 70s, one of the most purely pleasant individuals was the drummer, John Betsch. I think he was just beginning his tenure with Abdullah Ibrahim and would soon become Steve Lacy's regular drummer. Just one of the nicest, warmest guys you could ever meet. As far as I know, he's only released one recording as a leader, "Earth Blossom", issued on Strata-East in 1974, under the arguably unfortunate name, "The John Betsch Society". Like its leader, its an extremely enjoyable, user-friendly album. Recorded in Nashville of all places and the rest of the band seems to be made up of local session musicians (some of them were in Jimmy Buffett's band around the same time) but as near as I can tell, didn't establish themselves much in the jazz world: Bob Holmes (keyboards), Jim Bridges (guitar), Ed "Lump" Williams (bass), Billy Puett (flutes, tenor sax, bass clarinet), Phil Royster (percussion).

The music could be described as acoustic pop jazz but in the best possible way, like a good Stanley Cowell album from the same period. Holmes and Puett are particularly outstanding here, both in their writing (each contributes two pieces) and playing, making one wonder why they never achieved wider acclaim. Tons of eminently hummable themes and relaxed, imaginative playing. Why this worked so well when the "same" thing would likely sound flat, forced and thin today has always struck me as an interesting question. I have to think it boils down to the much decried idea of "newness". I'm sorry, but when there's something new in the air, some sense of exploring new areas (and it's not even like this is a remotely avant session--it's more in that pastoral, funk jazz area which was also rather new at the time) some sense of vitality and excitement tends to creep into the playing. How much better, more full of life this sounds than (to pick on my standard whipping boy) your average William Parker Viz Fest performance.

Did anything on Strata-East ever make it to disc? Maybe some of the Music Inc. records? In any case, see if this is around for download anywhere. btw, another one for you Destination-Out guys to consider.

[just found a mini-bio of Holmes by Eugene Chadbourne at AMG--the url is too long to work here for some reason, so cut'n' paste this: ]

New listening:

Alessandro Bosetti - Her Name (Crouton)
La Pieuvre - 1999-2005 (Circum-disc)

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Ya gotta admit: That's a cover. I suppose I picked this up due to Bisi's name having appeared on a number of Celluloid and other releases as engineer; dunno. Frith is on a couple of tracks, Lee Ranaldo on one. But it's a pretty bizarre mishmash, melding Latino/Amerind inflections to the sort of juicy exotico-rock people like Nicky Skopelitis and Laswell were doing around this time (1988). Does it work? Well, not really, though there's enough sloppy good will and earnestness to hold your attention...maybe. I guess it's, aside from those guest appearances, essentially a duo between Bisi (drums, voice) and Sandra Seymour, a kind of interesting-sounding guitarist/bassist about whom I know nothing. A lot of effects-laden detritus, however, that really drags down a few tracks.

And of course, there's also "Kaw Liga". I suppose for those of us of a certain age, some songs are just there, just part of the fabric of space-time in which you were raised. I can't recall a specific instance, in my childhood, of ever having heard this song or having seen Hank Williams or anyone else perform it on TV. But I must have, 'cause the damn thing was and is instantly, scarily, recognizable. Bisi pretty much rips into it with unwarranted gusto, with Frith providing some modernistic folk fiddle for texture, and it's like watching a grisly, unfolding accident. Cuh-reepy.

On an entirely other front, I'm enjoying in an interesting way the Tomas Korber/Bernd Schurer disc on Balloon & Needle, a label out of South Korea run by Choi Joonyong. It's not so much that the music is so striking--it's fine and all--but there's a real nice unforced quality in the sounds and an unusual airiness in the recording. Hard to describe, but it's one of the more unhermetic sounding releases in this area I've heard recently. Something very kitchen table, window open about it.