Saturday, July 04, 2009
Been quite a while since I had the luxury of dipping back into my vinyl for some leisurely listening and reconsidering. As it happens, I had finished up the E's last time around, so...
[Curious that I have no Fa's in the waxworks. No Jon Faddis, Gabriel Faure, Nanette Fabray?]
I'm guessing I read reviews of Fell's work in Cadence, maybe in early issues of the Wire, and was intrigued by comparisons to Braxton, Mingus, Stockhausen, etc. I think I picked these up after "II" was out, presumably around '92. Can't say I ever, erm, fell under his sway, at least in this guise. The proto-deconstructivist aesthetic at play just seems to me to be basically at odds with the black jazz experience at the heart of the music. It ends up being somewhat dessicated and astringent, a mouth-puckering experience instead of a saliva-generating one. Not that the latter was Fell's purpose; my recollection is that he was trying to apply strict serialist technique to jazz composition, among other things. Just seems like a quixotic idea; why invest that heavily in, say, Mingus, if you're only dealing in surface aspects of his work, not with the meat?
Maybe it's just that, given much of the source inspiration, I'm unable to listen to it as "not-jazz". I should mention that I've enjoyed Fell's work very much in other contexts, notably the very first Erstwhile recording (Fell and Hession are both on Compilation II ) and the wonderful IST Trio which I had the good fortune to witness at Tonic, whereat Mr. Fell inflicted hitherto unseen-by-me tortures on his instrument (and parts of his own body, including using his left ear to fret the bass as well as bowing over his own hand atop the strings) that were mighty impressive.
Here, there are certainly snatches where he eases up on the reins and lets the band more or less fly, though it always sounds as though constraints are in effect. Might it work better with other musicians? I'm not overly familiar with most of the band at hand; hard to say if better could have been had.
Compilation II is, largely, a definite improvement, far more full-sounding though still far, far short of real interest. The conception is healthier enough that I find myself dwelling less on its aridity and more on the shortcomings of the soloists! None of whom, with the exception of Fell, I find too compelling. Even so, it begins to dribble and drag after a decent start, the ghost echoes of the back-line sounding too contrived, the electronics too doodly. I'm sure I'm "listening wrongly" but it just doesn't do much for me.
Of course, one of the fun things about surfing through one's vinyl like this is the juxtapositions that inevitably occur. Here you have the hyper-serious Mr. Fell with an very complicated project that pretty much leaves me cold and right next door you have one of the avant's silliest supergroups, but I'll be damned if I don't enjoy "Live, Love, Larf & Loaf" a damned sight more.
I didn't really know Richard Thompson from a hole in the ground when this came out and, honestly, my working knowledge of him has hardly improved in the meantime, but the other three were well-known quantities and, for their first effort (I repeat, for their first effort), they put together an enormously fun album chock full of solidly crafted, often quite amusing and imaginatively wrought pop songs. Frith's "Where's the Money" is one of the most sardonically bitter rock rants I know and to follow it with their extraordinarily goofy take on the Okinawan ditty, "Hai Sai Oji-San" is just inspired. Even "Surfin' USA' works. Thompson's faux sea-shanty dirges are an acquired taste, I guess, and I'm not sure I'd be so interested in hearing much more, but they fit just fine here. I think this was the first I'd heard French since Drumbo days, so that was an added thrill; if he's not so absurdly creative out from the Beefheartian umbrella, he's still perfectly serviceable. Good record, well worth checking out.
I emphasized "first" above because the next one by this quartet, which appeared for some baffling reason on Windham Hill, might just possibly be the worst piece of crap ever to appear, however briefly, in my collection. I only retain vague, unsavory memories at this point (happily) but I know that, in fairness, I put it aside for a while and gave it a second taste. It remained retch-inducing. Man, was that foul.
Have a couple of Ella Fitzgerald records but I've declined to spin them, no offense to her or her fans. Saw her in Paris, in 1983. Kinda fun.
Oddly, given the FFKT album, I next have the back-to-back ensleevement of Mssrs. Frisell and Firth, themselves entwined in a good bit of activity. Again, I can't bring myself to listen to the Frisells (Smash & Scatteration with Vernon Reid and Before We Were Born)
The Friths are another matter though, but they deserve their own post.
btw, I've picked up, and am listening to now for the third time, the Rowe/Ambarchi performance of four pages from Treatise that recently emerged on the Italian Planam label (LP), a set from February of this year. Mighty tasty.