Saturday, January 31, 2009

Ferran Fages - al volant d'un para/.lel (Etude)

One general aesthetic notion that unfailingly fascinates me is what I think of as the "pendulum effect", that is, when a form or individual artists swings between one (ostensible) pole and another, picking up information from each and applying it across town, so to speak. So, an abstract painter might return to a kind of realism, but it will be informed from lessons learned in abstraction and, inevitably, emerge differently than it would have otherwise, generally reinvigorated. Fages, for a while now at least on his solo projects, has "returned" (I imagine he never left) to a kind of traditional approach, the guitar played as a guitar in a fairly tonal, very seductive manner, melodic after a fashion, intuitive. Quantifying exactly how it's different from what would have transpired had he not been involved in freer formats is, to be sure, a fool's errand, but one has the strong sense that it's the case. The pieces here are quite overtly beautiful, somewhat self-similar, Fages spending much time in the lower registers, brooding, allowing tones to hang, contemplating them with a certain melancholy. Take Bailey at his most tonal then up that tonality by 50% and you're in the ballpark. Lovely disc, well worthwhile.


Massimo Magee with Barry Chabala - Filter (Array Music)

There's relaxed and then there's relaxed. Magee trawls perilously near whatever the dividing line is (if it is) between purposive playing and, well, less than purposive playing. At least, so it seems to me here. If I don't listen closely, it sounds fine. If I do, I find myself wanting more cohesion, more intent. This may entirely be a failing on my part, seriously. This is one of those recordings that I wouldn't be at all surprised to return to in a few years and say, "Oh sure, of course, that's what was happening." For now, dunno. Two cuts here; on the first Magee is solo for some 26 minutes, with a bunch of noisemakers, some electronic, and a tape of himself on soprano sax recorded just prior. The often free/avant style of the sax bothers me on the one hand but, when sliced and diced, not so much. While there's some degree of layering, there's more a sense of a fellow wandering about the room, casually triggering this or not touching that, not very concerned as to the outcome. (Watch, I'll find out that the whole escapade was pre-programmed down to the second). Still, it's all about choice-making; the interesting thing for me, here, is that after several listens, I remain ambivalent about whether I think his choices were apt or if aptness isn't the relevant criterion. Barry appears (via long distance, non-synchronous playing, I believe) and adds some more "traditional" consistency with delicate notes amongst the Mageesian detritus. Intriguing disc....

Massimo Magee - Any Way You Slice It (Array Music)

Similar in some ways to the above, this one has a more linear character, more thoroughgoing structure, due in large part to the consistency of underlying, quietly noisy sounds and the more overt saxophonics (tenor and soprano) atop. Magee, in the notes, mentions using the recording itself as a kind of instrument, freely utilizing "start/stop/pause/rewind" which is apparent at several points. When the tenor, some 25 minutes in, launches into more traditional playing (David Murray-ish, that is) including, um, "Mack the Knife", it's more problematic, though I'd assume Magee acknowledges this and wants us to deal with it. Again, intriguing...

Both of Massimo's discs, and more, are downloadable from array music

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Filling in the gaps. One of the phrases that kept returning to me last evening at a lovely performance by The Magnets (Annette Krebs/guitar, electronics), Magda Mayas (piano) and Anthea Caddy (cello) at the Stone. If you only isolated the sounds created by each musician, you might think that there's a real danger of a jerky, disconnectness occurring, but it never happened, not once. They unerringly filled the interstices left by each other, doing so rapidly enough that you barely had a moment to recognize that there may have been a gap at all. At least part of this might have to do with their musical nature. Mayas, in particular, seems to be an inherently extremely melodic player, perhaps filling a role here similar to what Tilbury did in AMM. She spent most of her time inside the piano (what keyboard work she did largely dealt with prepared strings--very beautifully handled, incidentally--save for one clear, low chord), edging often toward the harsh but always managing to ground things in at least a quasi-tonal framework. Caddy was at the other extreme, all extended technique of a generally abrasive (though quiet) nature, never overbearing, always seeking to insert her sounds into the thicker fabric spun by Mayas and Krebs. Krebs was the wild card, and a wonderful one, ranging through conversation samples, sine-like tones and various guitar attacks, both melding with her comrades and opening the unexpected door.

"Sustained" was the other word I kept thinking; how well both pieces (a longish one, about 35 minutes and a shorter piece of 10 or so) were sustained, how they floated. Very impressive, hope to hear more.


Glad to see Pinnell has risen to my bait!


Thanks for all the beauty and honesty, Mr. Updike.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A long while ago, maybe two or three years, I received an e-mail from one Lars Gotrich would had, as I recall, seen some mention I'd made about having attended a WSQ/Max Roach (with M'Boom) concert--I think the only such event--at St. John the Divine Cathedral in the early 80s and bemoaning the lack of a recording therefrom. We said that he in fact owned one such and graciously offered to send me a copy. That was the last I heard and, naturally, I soon forgot all about it.

Then a couple weeks back a package appears bearing two discs worth of music from the event courtesy Mr. Gotrich! Sounds very good and I'm a bit surprised how much I specifically remember, especially those piece from Roach's M'Boom ensemble. So, thanks, Lars!

He also runs a small CDR label and kindly sent along three recent releases, at least one of which might be of interest to regular readers here.

Nick Hennies - Paths (Thor's Rubber Hammer)

I'm unfamiliar with Hennies' prior work (percussionist with Weird Weeds and Jandek), but here we have a solo no-input mixer performance. Thought Toshi had cornered the field! It's brief, about 24 minutes, but very well structured and considered, keeping to a subdued volume range but allowing things to fluctuate-and-hold in a very natural series of patterns, balancing between changes in timbre and (slow) pulse. Kind of unusually for this area of recording, I can easily imagine myself hearing this live--there's a clearly apparent sense of volume here despite the quietude. Fine work, well worth checking out.

(Various) Last Winter We Didn't Sing (Thor's Rubber Hammer)

A compilation revolving around winter, fairly song-oriented, with at least a couple of people readers here will recognize: Greg Davis and Susan Alcorn. The tone is pretty consistent throughout: wistfully melodic, but the approaches vary nicely. A rich acoustic guitar piece by Scott Tuma leads into a very attractive, melancholy song by The Instruments (about whom I can't find much aside from their myspace page--excellent sound with e-piano, percussion, guitar, cello.voice, french horn)--beautiful song, worth picking up the disc for by itself. Davis' piece begins with a rich electronic assault before, very weirdly, segueing into "Silent Night". Yes, that "Silent Night"; very unsilent. Fabio Orsi's "Dead Leaves" is rather Eno-ambient in nature, but well done in that sphere followed by a lengthy and thoughtful pedal steel improvisation by Alcorn, maybe midway between Frisell and Connors. Other pieces by Chartreuse, Beggin' Your Pardon Miss Joan, and Nicholas Szczepanik.

Gene Janas/Jeffrey Hayden Shurdut - Ray-Gun (Thor's Rubber Hammer)
Nine tracks on a 3" disc, with Janas (bass, vocals) and Shurdut (Alto, trumpet, piano) screeching, gurgling and generally carrying on in post-free, skronk fashion, not a favorite avenue of mine. The vocalizations can be embarrassing ("Here comes de judge!"), as though going for something like the AEC's "The Spiritual" and falling way short. Take everything I don't like about Viz Fest (both have played with folk like Daniel Carter, Marshall Allen, etc.), and it's pretty much encapsulated here. For others, of course, this may be exactly what excites them.

All three available from Thor's Rubber Hammer

Friday, January 23, 2009

There's this blog back-slapping thing going on. I know because I've been so slapped by buddy and all around mordant wit Richard Harland Smith over at Movie Morlocks. You can peruse his plaudits here. Such honors rarely arrive without obligation, however, and each designee is asked, nay forced, to list five blogs he or she deems worthy. Normally, whenever I happen across one I think should be more widely read, I simply add it to the Links column on the right, so naturally, that's from whence I'll draw. (I'm guessing that if Richard knew I'd be using the term "whence" in my reply, he might've withdrawn the accolade.) I won't get overly reciprocal by log-rolling Movie Morlocks, where he contributes a couple columns a week, but you should visit there as well if you've any interest in film, particularly of the macabre ilk.

I actually don't read many blogs with any kind of regularity. Most of the music oriented ones will doubtless be familiar with anyone who visits here, so I'll only single out one. Robert Kirkpatrick's a spiral cage. Robert clearly spends a good deal of time thinking and listening and is forthright in his opinions. He even footnotes posts! He also contributes on a reasonably regular basis, something that can't be said for certain *cough* British bloggers whose appearance every other leap year caused them to lose out in this particular awards ceremony.

Is Edge a blog? Maybe not, but it's a fine site for those interested in recent thoughts on philosophy, science and even occasionally art from leading folk in various fields with a decided tilt toward the neurobiological and anti-mystical though opposing views are regularly expressed. This despite reminding me of U2 every time I drop in.

I've only recently begun to routinely read Ed Howard's Only the Cinema, but it's quickly become a favorite. Ed writes extremely well thought out opinions on a wide range of films. I get envious with people who write about movies with things like, oh, images, narrative structures etc. where I have to deal with thumps and sine waves.

Pete Cherches waxes sarcastic and indignant about food and other stuff over at Word of Mouth. He's pretty unerring on the gustatory front (as I type, I'm awaiting his arrival to venture out to what's purported to be the only Kenyan restaurant in the NYC area, right here in Jersey City!), very humorous and perceptive otherwise. Even if he doesn't like eai.

Geez, that's only four (like I said, I really don't peruse so many). OK, one more music one that doesn't get enough attention. Caleb Deupree's Classical Drone. Caleb, who I know from zorn-list days, writes extremely well (and with way more musical knowledge than I'll ever have) about various areas that sometimes touch on the eai-end of things, but more often reside around post-minimalist classical concerns. He also writes gently, a rare enough quality around these here parts.

OK, gentlemen, you have your assignments. Thanks for all the words.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Listening to the title track for the first time in a long while, I was struck how quasi-similar it is in structure to Terry Riley's "In C". Here, Eno creates a few very simple elements, sets of one, two or four notes and allows them to intermingle at intervals that are sometimes regular for a few iterations, more often irregular, the tonal values such that it doesn't matter much when they appear or how they overlap--it always sounds "good". He varies the timbre slightly over the course of the piece, but that's about it. Listening to it on old vinyl, one has the added enjoyment of multitudinous crackles, providing a fine, scratchy scrim over the smooth proceedings; helps the piece a lot, imho. His suggestion of playing the record at very low volume, enough that it occasionally falls out of the range of hearing, impressed me very much back then (and I followed those instructions sometimes) and stuck with me as a unique (in my experience at the time) and beautiful approach.

Once again, we have the case of names appearing on the back of the album who I wouldn't become familiar with for 10-15 years (this was recorded in 1975, I believe released the following year): La Monte Young, Henry Flynt, the Scratch Orchestra, George Brecht. Annoying, that.

Luckily for Eno, his "Three Variations on the Canon in D Major by Johann Pachelbel" appeared a few years before that bit of music became irritatingly unavoidable in mass culture. He makes the excellent decision, given the potential science lab nature of his dissection of it into constituent parts, to have his conductor, Gavin Bryers, render the piece in hyper-Romantic, slowed down lushness, providing an erotic contrast.

It troubles me no end to have a record that numbers Phil Collins among the personnel occupying a space in my collection, but I've learned to live with it. Always been half and half on this one. On the one hand, Eno has sidled a bit closer to a fusiony kind of sound here (there's even a track titled "Zawinul Lava") and that contributes a certain coldness to many of the tracks. Then again, there are some seriously great little riffs here, ones that adhere to the neurons with extreme tenacity. Can't tell you how often "Sky Saw" and "Sombre Reptiles" have been hummed over the years. Always liked the back cover photo, too:


Just finished Graham Greene's "The Quiet American". It's no doubt been cited thousands of times before, but one can't help be struck by its prescience, not just for Viet Nam, but for the general US attitude in overseas murderous escapades, right up to today, that naive "innocence" and self-regard that inevitably results in people being killed. Great book.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Dan Warburton - Life in the Greenhouse (Appel)

The first of two releases on the new Appel label finds Dan playing his ax by himself in a "greenhouse" (judging from the cover photo, I don't think any photosynthesis was effected, hence the quotes) designed by Peter Coffin, amidst the quiet hubbub of the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. His playing isn't very much up my alley--too gestural and hyperactive for me, by and large. I might guess that he would've found the idea of playing more discreetly, allowing the ambient sounds equal footing, to be trite by this point and chosen a different path. Or maybe he didn't care and just felt like sawing and plucking away. To my ears, those moments where he grows more subdued and entertains a mere handful of options, pausing to listen to the space around him, work very well; wish there were more of them.

Jean Bordé - Morceau en forme de la (Appel)

A new name to me (hard to fathom or excuse given the range of playing companions listed on his myspace page), Bordé's piece for, I take it, overdubbed violin, piano and a pair of double basses is a wonderful, fascinating work. I detect all sorts of referents, from George Crumb to Simon Fell, but it manages a unique character itself, calmly striding from point to point, balancing itchy arco with serene piano chords, vigorous pizzicato with soft bells, constantly varying the attack and actually coming up with different angles each time that nonetheless coalesce into a very satisfying whole. Good one.

Matthieu Saladin - Experimental Music (editions provisoires)

Ah, our favorite trickster. When last heard from, he had the lovely idea of hyper-amplifying Cage's 4'33" to an extreme volume level. When he issues something called, blankly, "Experimental Music", you know something else is up his sleeve. Well...OK, it's game piece of sorts, consisting of the letters, in English, of the phrase "experimental music" being spoken (female voice), each on a 4-second. The mini-disc, therefore, contains 1:08, 17 4-second tracks. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to play the disc on shuffle until the letters spell out the phrase "experimental music" in the proper order. That's it. I did this for a bit and, actually, the first time through, my initial two letters were "E" and "X". "Hmmm", I thought, "this might be easy." But no...So, needless to say, even stretching my Cagean ears to the utmost, it's not such a rewarding task. Obviously, to really do this, one mus concentrate, likely far more than one does when listening to even difficult music, mentally tracking the sequence of letters. I can imagine that were one to do so (and I admit that I doubt I'll ever get there), one might enter a kind of trance state where unusual things might be revealed. Maybe not. Of course, you're free to try it yourself, here. Do let me know what you experience.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

By 1974-75, I was over my youthful love of all things Crimson ("Red" was the last album of theirs I bought). I was in school in Boston and, though I was seriously short of cash, I'd still trawl the local record stores and scrape up enough for the odd purchase. There was one in Kenmore Square I'd hit regularly. This one time, I noticed (how could you not?) the then-current Roxy Music LP with the semi-naked women on the cover; it intrigued me. Next to it, however, was displayed a rather fascinating image, that of Fripp & Eno's "No Pussyfooting". The Crimson-oid itch returned. I'm pretty sure I hadn't heard of Eno at this point but between the cover, Fripp and seeing that the album contained two side-long pieces, it was enough to get me to pull the trigger.

I'm not sure what sense it would make to classify this as "rock", but to the extent one does, it still remains a major favorite of mine from the genre and also served to open me up to Eno's work. Interestingly, though, not to his pop recordings. It wasn't until my baby brother Drew played those for me around 1980 that I discovered them.

Ah, that "No Pussyfooting" cover! I imagine the story behind it is around, but searching on Willie Christie, who's credited with cover design and photography, doesn't yield much of anything. I've always read it as analogous to Eno's later quasi-minimalist experiments. You're shown four images (including the gatefold interiors) that are structurally identical, albeit in two mirror-image pairs, but most of the items contained within, including the two people, are subtly shifted or exchanged for each shot. Captured me immediately, lotsa fun.

There's an exceedingly poorly written wiki article here that documents some of the methods employed for the recording and also, humorously, makes reference to the apparently still negative reaction to Side Two, "Swastika Girls", as opposed to the more easily digestible proto-ambient first side. Ree-dik-a-luss. For myself, it holds up just fine, Fripp in excellent form but, more importantly, Eno discovering a combination technique and general approach that he's exploited wonderfully, its excitement still clearly fresh.

The follow-up, 1975's "Evening Star" is a half and half affair. Side One turns decidedly in the direction of what would soon come to be called Ambient Music, taking the previous album's approach and softening it a bit, blurring its edges. Taken on their own though, without worrying about what they'd help spawn, the tracks are really not bad at all and, if one listens, there's even a spot of roughness here and there.

Still, it's Side Two that holds the attention. Firstly, what a title. "An Index of Metals". This may be nostalgia talking, but that is so cool. When it showed up in the local record shop (late '75, I think), the proprietor, Gary Velletri, a big Canterbury-head, pronounced that this track portended the death of rock. If only. You can almost see what he meant though, the way rock elements are splintered into small shards and strewn across a very bleak landscape. Fripp's playing is wonderfully flat and bitter, dystopic in the extreme. High, sine-y tones pierce the miasma, other lines crackle like faint radio bursts. I've said it before--it's not as though eai would have been different had this recording never been made, but it does have more than a little in common with some work of a couple decades hence. (Huh. I just noticed that Malcolm Le Grice is thanked on the sleeve! Interesting that a former roomie of Rowe's intersects here...). In any case, it wears very well, maintains a good, desolate, airless keel throughout. Might be my single favorite Eno-involved piece, for that matter. Unsurprisingly, I come across references to this piece probably less often than anything in Eno's oeuvre.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Last month, I had purchased two of the recent releases on Matchless, AMM's "Trinity" and the duo of Seymour Wright and Eddie Prévost. I enjoyed the AMM well enough, largely for some extraordinarily beautiful playing by Tilbury, less so for Butcher's integration into the ensemble. In brief, while it worked well as simply an improvising trio, if I came at it listening for AMM as such, I didn't hear that. I wasn't so fond of the duo. Prévost's approach in each sort of exemplified the poles I've come to expect (mistakenly) in his recent playing: with AMM, a concentration on bowed metal and smaller sounds, with Wright a kind of extension of his duo with Gare, ie, a post-free jazz drumming style. While I'd mentally leave a space for his more mechanistic experimentation as heard on "Entelechy", these were the poles, as it were, I'd anticipate hearing him operate within.

Shortly thereafter, Prévost's duo with Alexander von Schlippenbach, "Blackheath", appeared on the review list from Squid's Ear. I hemmed and hawed whether or not to go for it as I'm not an enormous fan of AvS by any means and guessed that the combination would be some well-played but ultimately not too interesting music. On the other hand, I feel generally desirous of hearing what Eddie does in this period to give context to the post-Rowe AMM era, so I pulled the trigger.

The disc is from a live concert, presumably presented in the order heard: Solo AvS, solo Prévost, duo, each between 20-25 minutes or so. As I said, AvS never did much for me. He played two nights at Environ once, probably in 1977. I forget if it was solo or with others, but what I do remember is that the violence of his onslaught left two keys of the house piano broken. After that initial set, he came into the office and haughtily said, "If you don't repair those keys, I'm not playing tomorrow!" Yeah, thanks, Alex. Kinda prejudiced me against his music after that, I'll admit. What struck me most about the piano set here was how much like Cecil it sounded--not insofar as a jackhammer attack or anything, very much in terms of melodic content. Much of it sounds as though spun off from the "Silent Tongues" concert or something, especially the "After All" sections. (btw, I forget if this was ever resolved or not--are those pieces Cecil's or Ellington's, or at least derived from the latter? I remember the issue coming up years back. In any case, they're a couple of the most beautiful bits of music I know) So, in a sense, AvS' performance here is good--certainly very accomplished--but overly emulative for my taste and nothing I'd be in a rush to rehear.

Ah well, I said, more or less what I expected, and settled back to listen to Eddie's piece.


I'm going to go out on a limb and state that, in my experience, I've never heard a finer, more perfectly balanced, more inventive drum solo in the jazz tradition. There may be a handful that, all told, equal it--I'm thinking of some Max Roach solo pieces I heard him play at the Brooklyn Museum, Jerome Cooper's early solo work, some Ed Blackwell--but this is one astonishing, and in a sense (for me) damned troubling work of art. I'll probably kick myself for saying this eventually as other things come to mind but at the very least, I haven't been so enthralled...not just by any percussion solo but by any new, jazz-oriented (as reasonably defined) piece of music in quite a long while. But there's one of the rubs, I think. I'm not sure that such a work could be created by someone in 2008 (as opposed to, say, 1958), something that would ring so true, who had not lived through something like what Prévost has. This is trivially the case, of course, but I mean more in the sense that he's used certain elements gleaned via the AMM experience to inform the performance, though they're not the obvious ones. In other words, someone who has operated strictly from a jazz tradition and whose last name isn't Roach, would likely have gone about this in a crucially different manner, one that would probably have weakened the performance, reducing it to something of a pastiche, however well played.

He begins with brushes on drumheads. Immediately, as is the case throughout, it's clear that he's concerned with at least three areas simultaneously: tone, rhythm and texture. I understand that some will immediately object, "Hey, any good drummer has the same concerns." Easily said, very rarely encountered, imho. One of the astonishing aspects---maybe the single thing that stands out--is how consistently he's able to incorporate all three into his playing, really something of a high-wire act that creates a constant tension/exhilaration effect that, of course, is a classic feature of great jazz. The sheer balance/variation axis is a joy to hear. But the central tenet carried over from AMM, I think, is Prévost's willingness to stay in one general area for several minutes at a stretch. Instead of quickly covering his entire set, he moves calmly from place to place, investigating each area in some depth before choosing to move on. So the brushes and skins are given play for the first few minutes, gradually bringing the cymbals into the picture, the initial feathery touch growing a bit more robust, all in quick, complex rhythms. About eight minutes in, he switches to sticks, concentrating on toms and cymbal, deepening the tone, engaging in melodic roll after melodic roll, nodding more than a little to an early inspiration, Ed Blackwell. The same rapid fire attack is maintained but with not a shred of flash; it's far too intense for that, far too concentrated on the narrowed focus at hand, here the toms and the huge range of tones available. There's some delightful interplay between sock cymbal and sticks on rims, the latter hit at various places along their length to impart yet another set of pitches. There follows a few minutes where the full set is brought to bear, again keeping the quick pace already established but still evincing a concentratedness as opposed to the kind of wild abandon more typically heard, an refusal to jettison the tonal and textural discoveries made earlier for simple combustion. He ends largely on cymbals (with a bit of bass drum), skittering through them, even engaging in a bit of shuffle play, finishing concisely, at the exact moment where no further thoughts are required.

Had someone told me I'd have this strong a reaction to a 2008 drum solo in the jazz tradition, even by someone whose musicianship I greatly admire, I'd've likely dismissed the notion. It would have seemed, to me, a near impossible thing to attain. Maybe Roach, if his mental state was healthier, could have pulled it off. I can't imagine a younger musician, whatever his or her technical abilities, even coming close. Susie Ibarra, maybe? Though I hazard that there would be less jazz in her playing. Others could doubtless do a fine job in their own way but making the kind of connection Prévost does here to the Roaches, Blakeys, Blackwells...I just don't think so, I think there would be a kind of artificiality in the approach that, whatever its technical merits, would tinge the effort irreparably. Prévost sounds utterly natural here, something that I admit, is more than a little confounding to me. It shouldn't be, yet it is. (Who should I believe, my premises or my own lying ears, as they say?)

This, of course, begs the question: Even so, is it of value today, in 2008, to do so in the first place? I doubtless part company with many of my eai cohorts here when I say, yes, I think it is. (Hell, if many of them get around to hearing this, they may well disagree with me as to its strength and beauty.) The attempt will probably fail 99 times out of 100 (more, I suppose) but when the mark is hit, it reminds one of what one loved in jazz in the first place, back when it was vital as a whole, and shows at least its potential viability still, even if that vigor is seldom heard. The tendrils may be sparse and weak, but there remains the possibility of breaking through the soil. Would I desire to hear Keith do a 20-minute solo that similarly referenced Barney Kessel, Charlie Christian and Johnny Smith? No, of course not. But Keith is Keith and Eddie, Eddie--there's no reason they should be subject to the same "rules". Art is too complex for that and even if one thinks that certain general ideas apply at a given place and time, it's heartening to discover major exceptions, to have one's premises healthily shaken. You can never have too much of that.

So, thanks, Eddie.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

My lovely niece Tiana came down from Poughkeepsie yesterday for some art-gazing. We walked down to Chelsea, making a point to stop in at Black & White where my friend Derick Melander had a piece, a curving wall of folded clothing, arranged so the colors flowed rainbow-like, very entrancing. Strolled over to Pace Wildenstein for the Jim Dine show, Hot Dreams, a wild mass of photos, prints, writing, sculpture, books, etc that was overwhelming in a sense, but maybe a bit to glossily handsome for its own good.

We then journeyed out to the Brooklyn Museum which I hadn't visited in perhaps 15 years. Its extreme renovation back around 2003-04 had entirely escaped my awareness; it's not longer the pleasant but slightly stodgy place it used to be. There's an interesting (permanent) feminist gallery that includes Judy Chicago's "The Dinner Party", making for an nice contrast to their old stock, including the still-wonderful "A Storm in the Rocky Mountains" by Albert Bierstadt.

The most enjoyable surprise though (I hadn't checked their site before going) was a massive exhibition of the work of Gilbert and George. Now I've seen their work since the early 70s (heard it, as well) and probably seen an actual piece here and there but it had never really impressed me one way or another. Here, however, in large rooms filled with their enormous, color-saturated, wildly inventive panels, I have to say I was mightily impressed. The initial surface allure, the semi-Rohrschach'ed images, the in-your-face coloration all mask a great deal of subtlety in image manipulation as well as--ironic given their air of studied detachment--a great deal of emotion, from tenderness to rage. Additionally, the relatively rare monochrome pieces, like "Dusty Corners" above, added a layer of quietude and contemplation, very beautiful.

Too much to absorb in a single visit. I was refreshing my knowledge of them and their idiosyncrasies on-line this morning...Pretty amusing in their (so to speak) single-mindedness. More investigation required.....

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Just watched Bergman's last film, "Saraband" (very, very beautiful) and wanted to say that there's not an actor around (still around, thankfully) I'd rather watch than Erland Josephson. Ridiculously great.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Plopping into bed last evening, I switched on the TV and found myself near the beginning of a documentary or sorts on The Who, "Amazing Journey", I think it was called, from 2007. Now, I was only a bit of a fan in my teens, owning only "Tommy", iirc, seeing them once live at Tanglewood in 1971 (sharing the bill with Jethro Tull and It's a Beautiful Day, both of whom I probably preferred) but friends of mine, the Steins, were Who fanatics. They were also fledgling filmmakers and, that day, we went around back of the stage to the trailers (you could do so then without fear of being tossed bodily by superstar protection), chatted with Entwhistle (very pleasant) and they got Daltry to take their camera (Super 8?) into the trailer to film goings on within. This led, eventually, to Jeff Stein filming "The Kids Are Alright".

I never saw that movie until a couple years ago when a co-worker happened to bring in the DVD, which I borrowed. It was interesting, kinda, especially the earlier footage, less so post 1970 or so. I never could tolerate Daltry, but the rest of the band was relatively OK. I knew that Townshend had attended the Destruction in Art Symposium held in London in September, 1966 which featured Gustav Metzger and his corrosive, eroding "paintings", Yoko Ono and others, including AMM. Watching film of Townshend at the more extreme end of his guitar abuse (sliding it up an down the mic stand at Woodstock, for instance) I could only wonder if he'd seen Keith and absorbed a thing or two. I've made a few attempts to reach him through the Steins and others, so far to no avail; nothing major anyway, more a curiosity.

In the documentary last night, he mentions the Symposium and having learned about the nature of performance art there. Incidentally, in conversation, he sounds remarkably like Keith in his phrasing, etc. though, to be sure, on a different level as to meaning and understanding of the larger world outside his domain. So you have this young musician with adventurous tendencies in 1966, in London, where all manner of exciting experiments were taking place. But, and he's very explicit about it, he quickly realizes that he can be paid for writing three-minute songs that many people like and he wholeheartedly embraces this, creating the foundation for his subsequent career. I hadn't realized they'd done a Coke commercial back then, satirizing (lightly) pop ephemera while at the same time reaping the benefits of same. It's a little startling, given his obvious intelligence, to hear him--without much of a trace of cynicism--make no bones about having made such a calculated, commercial decision. All fine and dandy, his business as far as I'm concerned, but it was the kind of thing that should be seen by folk who somehow hold up rock icons like Townshend as epitomes of creative virtue.

So The Who go on and make relatively exciting rock for a few years (I've always thought "My Generation" one of the better early rock songs and that the stutter therein was a rare example, in the genre, of inspired poetry) until succumbing to bombast with Tommy and most of the rest of their subsequent output. This is brought to an unintentionally gruesome close with the final portion of the film, which documents the recording, in 2003, of a new song ("Such a Good-Looking Boy", I think?) with a rather portly Greg Lake on bass and a youngster (Ringo's son?) on drums, along with a pianist and back-up guitarist. Here, in a multi-million dollar studio, the musicians sit in isolated rooms, cobbling together in good corporate-rock fashion, a machine of a song perfect for boomer airplay and eventual use as thematic fodder for an ESPN feature on an aging athlete one day, having entirely, utterly lost the dollop of freedom, of devil-may-care attitude they had 40 years before. It's become pure product, the predictable outcome of the decision Townshend had made in 1966. And they're very happy with themselves.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

I really thought there was a chance this year. Come fall, Erstwhile hadn't released a Rowe-related disc and even then, while the recordings it had issued were very fine, there were others I liked more. I thought, "2008 might just be the year that no Erst/Rowe disc tops my favorites."

Yeah, no.

As related below, the solo Rowe performance on erstlive gave me no little amount of trouble upon initial exposure and, truth to tell, I still find it a knotty go. But there's so much there. Nuggets of musical richness continue to reveal themselves and I've little doubt that I'll be returning to it many times over the years and that it will continue to provide audio-psychic sustenance. All obvious caveats aside, I'm really not aware of any other musician in this neck of the woods who approaches his/her art with as much consideration and purpose as Rowe. I've no problem whatsoever with those who would rather "just play" and see what emerges, but to my ears, you have an extra layer of meaning and beauty when there are explicit (in the mind of the creator) ideas underlying things. And the Rowe/Sachiko set is due to hit the stands early 2009....crap.

I heard about 200 new recordings in 2008; below are, fwiw, my favorites. A silly enterprise, yes, but it becomes a habit. Robert Kirkpatrick has come up with a very fine way around the problem, at least partially; please check out his blog, a spiral cage. I don't have the time to go into as much detail as he does--wish I did--but it's an excellent approach.

Contrary to fears about the death of whatever we choose to call this thing, I keep hearing a lot of music I enjoy. This may, of course, be a function of increased bleary-earedness on my part but I also think that certain...lessons have sunk in. For the time being, this results in some very strong work. Eventually, to be sure, this will likely result in an amount of stasis and lessons will have to be unlearned. Can't wait to hear that.

So here are the ten things I most enjoyed in 2008, followed by (in alpha order) the twelve that were loved only slightly less, tailed by all the other recordings that I really liked and wished I could play more. Thanks to everyone who keeps sending stuff my way; it's much appreciated.

Keith Rowe - s/t (erstlive)
Olivia Block/Luis Recoder/Sandra Gibson - untitled (sos editions)
Rhys Chatham - Guitar Trio Is My Life! (Table of the Elements)
Esther Venrooy - The Spiral Staircase (entr'acte)
Keith Rowe/Taku Unami - s/t (erstlive)
Asad Qizilbash - Sarod Recital in Peshawar (Sub Rosa)
Lucio Capece/Sergio Merce - Casa (Organized Music from Thessaloniki)
Morton Feldman - Turfan Fragments (Dog with a Bone)
Arek Gulbenkoglu/Adam Sussman - untitled (Rhizome)
Toshimaru Nakamura/English - One Day (Erstwhile)

Joonyong Choi/Chulki Hong/Sachiko M/Otomo Yoshihide - Sweet Cuts Distant Curves (Balloon & Needle)
Alfredo Costa Monteiro - Epicycle (Etude)
Morton Feldman - The Viola In My Life (ECM)
Jeff Gburek - Vicious Circles (A Question of Re-Entry)
Kassel Jaeger - ee[nd] (Mystery Sea)
Annette Krebs/Toshimaru Nakamura - siyu (sos editions)
David Lacey/Paul Vogel - The British Isles (Homefront)
Brendan Murray - Commonwealth (23five)
Stephane Rives - Much Remains to Be Heard (Al Maslakh)
Vanessa Rosetto - Whoreson in the Wilderness (Music Appreciation)
Keith Rowe/Seymour Wright - 3D (w.m.o/r)
Matt Sansom/Rhodri Davies - Live Uncut, vol. 1 (A Question of Re-Entry)

A Contest of Pleasures - Tempestuous (Another Timbre)
Kunehara Akiyama - Obscure Tape Music from Japan, vol. 6 (Omega Point)
AMM + John Butcher - Trinity (Matchless)
Asher - Instability (leerraum)
Asher - Intervals (The Land Of)
Asher - Study for Autumn (con-v)
Asher/Ubeboet - A Map of the Ocean (Field Recordings)
Asher/Ubeboet - Cell Momory (winds measure)
Frederic Blondy/Thomas Lehn - obdo (Another Timbre)
John Butcher - Resonant Spaces (Confront)
John Clair/Jed Shahar - Tennis (Fenimore)
Alfredo Costa Monteiro - centre of mass (Another Timbre)
Angharad Davies/Tisha Mukarji - Endspace (Another TImbre)
Hugh Davies/Adam Bohman/Lee Patterson/Mark Wastell - For Hugh Davies (Another Timbre)
Rhodri Davies/Matt Davis/Bachir Saade - Hum (Another Timbre)
Salvatore Dellaria/Adam Sonderberg - Untitled->Ongoing (no label)
Andrew Deutsch/Stephen Vitiello - Inductive Music (absurd)
John Fahey - The Mill Pond (Important)
Cor Fuhler/Claire Cooper/Axel Dorner - Crax (Conundrom)
Bernhard Gal - Installation/Installationen (Kehrer)
Richard Garet - l'avenir (winds measure)
Richard Garet - Winter (leerraum)
Ryu Hankil/Chulki Hong/Joonyang Choi - 5 Modules V (Manual)
Daniel Jones/David Papapostolou - Levaing Room (Adjacent)
Kostis Kolymis - .accumulated (Organized Music from Thessaloniki)
Robert Kirkpatrick - thaw (hollow earth)
Graham Lambkin/Jason Lescalleet - The Breadwinner (Erstwhile)
Hangjun Lee/Chulki Hong - Expanded Celluloid Extended Phonograph (Balloon & Needle)
Sebastian Lexer/Seymour Wright - blasen (Another Timbre)
Alan Licht/Aki Onda - Everydays (Family Vineyard)
Socrates Martinis - Blanca Estira Nuestro (+) (entr'acte)
Mawja - Studio One (Al Maslakh)
Christopher McFall - City of Almost (sourdine)
Christopher McFall - Solen Words for a Fabled Apparatus (Gears of Sand)
Pali Meursault - un(zero)deux (entr'acte)
Emmanuel Mieville/Eric Cordier - Dispositif: Canal St. Martin (Xing Wu)
Mouths - 3v1/3v2 (absurd)
Toshimaru Nakamura - Dance Music (bottrop boy)
Phill Niblock - Disseminate (Mode)
Oldman - Two Heads Bis Bis (Low Impedance)
David Papapostolou - one and two (Adjacent)
Paper Wings - Ash Field (Black Petal)
Kevin Parks/Joe Foster - ipsi sibi somnia fingunt (no label)
Wolfgang Rihm - Piano Pieces (Neos)
Michael Rodgers - Curtained Moon (Black Petal)
Vanessa Rossetto - Misafridal (Music Appreciation)
Matthieu Saladin - 4'33"/0'/00" (Editions Provisoires)
Howard Stelzer - Bond Inlets (Intransitive)
Joel Stern - objects.masks.props (naturestrip)
Tandem Electrics - Intaglio (RAR)
Valerio Tricoli - Amaryllis (Lalia)
Trio Sowari - Shortcut (Potlatch)
Toshiya Tsunoda - The Argyll Recordings (edition.t)
Birgit Uhler/Ernesto Rodrigues/Carlos Santos - Doppelganger (Creative Sources)
Nikos Veliotis/Anastasio Grivas - Vertical (Low Impedance)
Esther Venrooy - Shift Coordinate Points (entr'acte)
Christian Wolff - Early Piano Music (hat[now]ART)
Seymour Wright - Seymour Wright of Derby (CDR)
Mitsuhiro Yoshimura/Masahiko Okura - Trio (Presquile)
Anna Zaradny - Mauve Circles (Musica Genera)

Happy 2009!

Friday, January 02, 2009

I may have mentioned before that my Dad was (and is) a jazz fan. However, like many of his generation (in his case, born in 1923), he cut his teeth on swing bands and never really made the transition to bop, much less anything beyond. He was born in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and spent much of his teen years trying to gain unpaid entry into both the old Madison Square Garden (to see his beloved Rangers--he owns an autographed team photo from 1939, the last year they won the Stanley Cup until, when, 1994?) and the various jazz clubs clustered in the Times Square area. Unlike, I imagine, many of his contemporaries, he was equally enamored of both black and white bands and has told stories of seeing Jimmy Lunceford, Ellington, Chick Webb etc. in addition to the more popular Glenn Millers, Dorseys, Goodmans and so on.

But the rise of bop didn't appeal much to him, probably for similar reasons as it didn't appeal to much of the swing crowd: the un-dance-ability, the excessive complicatedness, perhaps the "art" aura. So he retained his swing music passion and, to be sure, ventured into other, less rewarding realms as well--lotsa Rafael Mendez in his collection. Classic Broadway fare was also around and I do have very fond memories of absorbing West Side Story when I was around 10. Officer Krupke!

He had probably about 300-400 LPs at home (also a bunch of 78s) which, when I began to listen to jazz at around 17-18, I necessarily perused. Most of the items held no interest for me then, indeed striking me as pretty fuddy-duddy. But for some reason, he had acquired some recordings that fell outside of his normal ambit. Miles' "Sketches of Spain" was one (he disliked it). Monk's sublime "Monk's Dream", still one of my favorite jazz albums, was another. Then there was Ellington's "New Orleans Suite".

I know that Ellington's late, larger-scale work isn't held in exalted opinion by many, but I don't agree. This one dates from early 1970 (it was Johnny Hodges' last recording) and true, one can hear glimmers of overly smooth production and perhaps the slightest nod toward pop (although, given its "subject matter", a certain steadier rhythm might be expected) but the hell with that, this record contains almost nothing but one gorgeous piece after another, with some achingly beautiful individual contributions. Will Bill Davis' organ on the opener, Harold Ashby's incredibly lush and deep tenor on "Thanks for the Beautiful Land on the Delta" (one of my all-time favorite examples of the instrument), Russell Procope getting a relatively rare solo opportunity and the extraordinary and heartfelt performance of flutist Norris Turney on the concluding "Portrait of Mahalia Jackson". And the compositions themselves--great melodies, great riffs, great orchestration. An absolute joy, do yourselves a favor and check it out.

As with many "older" musicians whose music I could readily hear on the radio, I didn't buy many Ellington records at all (I've since filled out my Ellingtonia slightly with CDs). In fact, this was my sole exception, for obvious reasons. Quite a contrast to "New Orleans Suite", stripped down and raw, with two of the greatest musicians to learn from Duke then move off in other directions. Just amazing piano work hear--vibrant and unadorned. You can hear most of Abdullah Ibrahim's and Randy Weston's career in this music. (another great example of his keyboard work, btw, is the duo with Ray Brown on Pablo) He really dominates here, whether out of deference by the others or the force of his own personality, who knows? The version of "Caravan" is stellar and "Fleurette Africaine"...well, it's hard to think of a more beautiful melody, more delicately and even sadly played.


An excellent and thoughtful post by Richard Pinnell on the state of new music can be read here