Saturday, December 30, 2006

Been listening through my remaining Air vinyl. Actually, Air pretty much disbanded, I think, right around the time I began the switch to CDs (1988) so all my Air recordings are on vinyl. For the record, these include:

Live Air (Black Saint--released in 1980, but recorded in 1976-77)
Montreux Suisse Air (Novus)
Air Lore (Arista/Novus)
Air Mail (Black Saint)
80 Below '82 (Antilles)
New Air (Black Saint)
Air Show No. 1 (Black Saint)

They hold up surprisingly well. Air Lore got a lot of press back then simply due to the "in the tradition" aspect of it, though this followed Braxton by a long shot. Part of me flinches at the notion that they felt obliged to do so (like Bailey's "Ballads" a few years back--it's fine but really unnecessary) but I have to say, they pulled it off really well. The sleeper is the Antilles release, one I always thought was unfairly overlooked. They do a trad number here also, Jelly Roll Morton's "Chicago Breakdown" and I'd take it over anything on "Air Lore". It's also the last album, if I'm not mistaken, with Steve McCall at the drums. With New Air, he was replaced by Pheeroan Ak Laff, an excellent player but a bit more the power drummer and not the colorist that McCall was. The final album feature one of the earliest appearances by Cassandra Wilson.

Never picked up their first album, Air Song, on India Navigation; I'd like to hear that one. Air Raid, too, for that matter. I count eleven releases in their discography and, with the possible exception of the Montreux Suisse Air album (and allowing I don't have access to the first two), not a weak one in the bunch.

Threadgill himself, of course, went on to a strong career as a leader though it's been several years since I've picked up anything of his, the last few I did not warranting further interest. But I'll get to him eventually....

I do miss Fred Hopkins, though.....

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Volume 3 of Unseen Cinema is titled 'Light Rhythms: Music and Abstraction' and includes the Ralph Steiner work ('Surf and Seaweed') that initially inspired me to pick up this set. Those 13 minutes remain absolutely gorgeous as does his other film from around the same time, 'H2O' which arcs beautifully from fairly prosaic realism to dazzling abstraction.

But there were plenty of other finds on this disc: A fine short by Man Ray, 'Le Retour a la raison'; a number of works by Slavko Vorkapich, a name new to me, including "The Furies" and "Moods of the Sea"; some wonderful animations by Douglas Crockwell and Dwinell Grant.

But the killer was "Night on Bald Mountain" by Alexandre Alexeieff and Claire Porter who used a type of animation I thin kI've heard of but never seen involving a vast pinscreen in which thousands of pins are arrayed, adjusted for each frame. The result is unlike anything I'd seen before, a fantastic chiaroscuro effect with startling 3D, volumetric impressions. It's actually up on You Tube (can't post the link for some reason--google on "bald" and "Alexeieff" and it's the first recult) though in nowhere near the detail to really appreicate it.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Along with the Art Ensemble, the quintessential AACM band for my money. Three absolute masters of their instruments, two no longer with us. All three moved to NYC in the mid-70s and became fixtures of the loft scene then. We used to joke about Hopkins, that he was a member of almost every band around; everybody wanted him. He was the first bassist I ever heard use a pick-up and not just so he could be heard over the rest of the band but so he could make audible a world of fascinating small sounds. I believe he was also the first I saw (doubtless, it had been done by a few bassists before) to utilize drumsticks on the bass, working complex, subtle rhythms on the strings, including beneath the bridge. Not a big guy, he wrapped himself around his instrument, vigorously attacking it. Both of these at Environ around '77. He was a delightful person as well, always up for a discussion.

'Air Time' is from November 1977 on the great, great Nessa label. Thanks, Chuck! It opens with a gorgeous ballad by Steve McCall, "I'll Be Right Here Waiting", as moody and dark as anything Threadgill would come up with later. McCall was probably my favorite drummer from this period, incomparably musical (Roach-like in that respect) and a constant force beneath any group. Air made concrete the truism about "playing as a unit" more than any other band at the time, imho. Even with as imposing a figure as Threadgill on what would normally be considered the lead instruments, you really didn't ever get the effect of "The Henry Threadgill Trio"; his cohorts were every bit his equal.

Oh yeah, the hubkaphone just made its appearance on "G.v.E.", what a kick. I think I only saw them in operation once or twice (Threadgill didn't routinely carry them around). Once definitely at Jazzmania on E. 23rd St. and there I believe the proper name for the apparatus in play was "hubkawall": an array of 20-25 hubcaps played with mallets, on a rack leaning diaginally from floor to about eight feet in height. A truly wonderful sound--I haven't heard of them being used in a long, long time. Too bad as the music could use some of that sort of excitement. I imagine, these days, maybe only Roscoe Mitchell would have something approximating the hubkaphone in his arsenal. Ah yes, and there weren't many flute players who could touch Threadgill back then. On Side Two, the spare, kabuki nature of "Subtraction" is the negative of the tidal force embodied in "Keep Right On Playing Thru the Mirror Over the Water".

Were I to engage in such things, I'm pretty sure this would appear among my Top Ten jazz albums of the 70s. Did I mention that Threadgill has one of the all-time greatest faces in jazz?
Just a note: That Kitakata novel, "Winter Sleep", is one of the worst things I've read in recent years. I came across a reference to the author a while ago while looking up contemporary Japanese thrillers and, for some, he apparently has a reputation as the Japanese Spillane. Now, I like Spillane. I've read Spillane. Kitakata is no Spillane. On top of everything else, this is one of those novels whose action takes place in the art world, written by someone who hasn't got a clue. So we have a (current day) artist making the "daring" leap into abstraction and having to explain it to people. Plus, of course, he's the tired, incredibly tired stereotype of the struggling painter, alcohol and sex-driven, striving to put his "heart" on the canvas, etc., ad nauseum. It's like those direct-to-cable thrillers you sometimes saw on Cinemax. Amazed the guy wasn't wearing a beret and reading Sartre. Just awful.

One thing was bugging me. Throughout, reference was made to "size hundred" (or twenty or fifty or ten) paintings, as though the artwork was being produced like bolts of cloth. I couldn't figure this out. 100 centimeters? On each side? Are they all square canvases? But the way it was used--and it was used constantly--was in a very general way, the way you'd say "a two-story house" or "a triple cheeseburger." "I want to buy the size hundred painting." "He liked the size twenty painting." It bothered me enough that I wrote the translator; have yet to hear back. For all I know, this is common parlance in Japan, but it seemed extremely odd to me.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The second volume of "Unseen Cinema" is titled "The Devil's Plaything" and concentrates on surrealist aspects of early American film. Though like I'm sure millions of others, my first encounters with "serious" art involved Surrealism, I've long since become largely bored of it as a genre, retaining affection for the odd (imho) excellent example but...

To the extent the 18 pieces collected here display a Surrealist aesthetic, I don't find them particularly interesting except as regards given technical innovations. But to even call some of these "surrealist" is to stretch the term to accommodate what are essentially fairy tales in several instances.

The real tasty morsels here are those films which adopt and adhere to a visual sense owing much to German Expressionism, especially "The Fall of the House of Usher" (1926-28) by J.S. Watson and Melville Webber from which the above still was taken. Beautifully shot and paced, including dreamlike images that are actually redolent of dreams rather than Hollywood-ized variations thereof. Less artfully accomplished but still enjoyable were "The Life and Death of 9413-a Hollywood Extra" (1927, Robert Flary & Slavko Vorkapich)--I believe this was the one whose opening credits proudly proclaimed the fact that it'd been shot for under $200!--and another piece o' Poe, "The Telltale Heart" (1928, Charles Klein).

"The Hearts of Age" shows us Orson Welles' first screen appearance but is otherwise forgetful. The DVD closes with five shorts by Joseph Cornell, most using "found" footage (newsreels, largely), assembled--again if you stretch the point--in a manner related to his boxes. The last one, though, "Jack's Dream" (1938) is an appealing bit of puppetry.

Recent music arrivals:

Charles Curse - Rain in Skull
The International Nothing (Kai Fagaschinski/Michael Thieke) - Mainstream
Jason Kahn/Tomas Korber/Christian Weber - Zurcher Aufnahmen

Sunday, December 24, 2006

An unusual thing happend the other day. I was asked to review an upcoming performance. That doesn't happen very often at all. The performance in question is Robert Ashley's "Concrete" being staged mid-January at La Mama Theater in NYC and the review (assuming it's accepted) will be for ParisTransatlantic (not sure if Dan checks in here--if so, Hi Dan and thanks!). Now, Ashley and the Lovely Music stable can pretty fairly be located in the avant garde to at least some extent, never having become quite as mainstream-ized as those hacks who appear annually at BAM's Next Wave festival (a more inappropriate name is difficult to imagine) though, through people like Laurie Anderson, Ashley's ideas and conceptions have certainly filtered into the popular culture to some extent. In any case, the corporate distance between an event like the premiere of "Concrete" and, say, the ErstQuake festival, is still enormous, that gap illustrated by the "review package" that arrived yesterday. I'm sure this is entirely typical once the artists involved have reached a given level but it's new enough to yours truly to cause more than a chuckle or two, though not unappreciative ones. A folder with a thorough personal biography of Ashley, review quotes, copies of articles from recent years, etc. Best, though, and most surprising were copies of both "Dust" and "Celestial Excursions", 2-disc boxed sets of his last two "operas".

I've always dipped into and out of Ashley's catalog since around 1980 when I picked up the superbly titled, "Music Word Fire and I Would Do It Again Cuckoo" and through marvels like "Automatic Writing" (imposed on me by Jon Abbey--thanks, Jon!) plus hearing his work here and there on radio. But I was ignorant of these works and I'm kinda kicking myself now. The two discs comprising "Dust" are 66 and 24 minutes long--odd, but it makes sense after you hear it. Disc 1 is fantastic, moving evocations of homeless people, not so much the day to day miseries but more an examination of the psychological conditions that brought them to this point. Using everyday speech, sung/said by five vocalists, the stories are dreamy, sad, wonderful--David Lynch should collaborate sometime. Put it this way--I generally can't abide Tom Buckner (his upscale nasality seriously bothers me) but I could even tolerate him here. The final "fugue" on Disc one is amazing. He makes frequent use of a secondary dialogue, spoken/sung "beneath" the primary libretto, acting as a dreamlike obbligato--very spooky and effective. Strangely, and I assume this is the way the opera proceeded in performance, the final 24 minutes consist of five "Songs" (one of which, "Don't Get Your Hopes Up" I'd actually heard on a solo album by chanteuse Jacqueline Humbert) that verge on the blatantly mawkish though, again, one recalls Lynch and presumes the effect is intentional.

I have "Celestial Excursions" (not the greatest title I've ever seen) on at the moment and it's aesthetically in the same ballpark though I think requiring a bit more studious contemplation. The material concerns elderly people, slipping into and out of rational thought. The music seems a little bit more driven by "Blue" Gene Tyranny (who I tend to enjoy a lot), less dreamy, more dreamily-pop-referential.

According to the notes provided, "Concrete" seems to follow similar paths. "...makes public the ruminations of an old man and his reminiscenses of people he has loved and worked with--all of whom have gambled spectacularly with money and with their lives." We'll see but, given the depth and richness of these two works, I'm highly looking forward to it.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas arrived several days early as I came home to find "Unseen Cinema" on my doorstep. Seven discs, nineteen hours, so it'll take some time to get through. Watched Disc 1 last evening, "The Mechanized Eye" which included several pieces both beautiful and amazing for various reasons. "In Youth, Beside the Lonely Sea" (unknown creators, 1924-25) made very effective use of multiple screens. Jerome Hill's "La Cartomancienne (The Fortune Teller)" from 1932 (still shown here) contained some fantastic imagery. The Steiner film that inspired me to get this set (it's on Disc 3) largely involved black and white abstraction of wave action, something that seems to have been on the mind of several people around the time. Henwar Rodakiewicz' "Portrait of a Young Man" spends considerable time in that area filming the sort of thing I'm sure many of us have contemplated: dappled sunlight on water, complex droplet patterns...much of it, anachronistically, reminds me of cellular automata activity programs. The purely visual takes you pretty far but when it's enhanced with additional "meaning", so much the better and that's accomplished in my early favorite from this particular set, Walker Evans' "Travel Notes", filmed aboardship on his way to Tahiti (as well as on the island). A marvelous job at melding the abstract (especially the sail ropes) with the utilitarian (those ropes are there for a purpose, after all).

Much more to come....

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Listening to a couple of things sent my way by David Brown, a guitarist/composer out of Melbourne who, as I understand it, spent a few weeks as a member of AC/DC in times past. Heh heh. How far we've come! Interesting stuff, initially sounding maybe too much out of Zorn circa 'Spillane' but, on closer listen (not that I should have needed to, really) having much more to do with concrete composers like Henry. Two discs, "Candlesnuffer" (which is a solo Brown project) and "Morpho", his collaboration with David Wadleton. Like an absurd number of fellow Aussie musicians, he's marvelous as far as sound separation, etching an enormous variety of such into space with startling clarity.

My never-ending delve into Japanese literature continues apace with three more acquired today, one classic and two in the thriller vein. "The Tale of Genji" was written in the 11th century by Murasaki Shikibu and is one of the contenders for the First Novel Ever award. Yes, I went for the abridged version, cowed by the massive complete tome. I'd heard good things about Kenzo Kitakata and now have "Winter Sleep" in hand. And I've just begun Natsuo Kirino's "Out"--not spectacularly written (as far as one can tell by the translation) but well paced early on.

Updike's "Rabbit Redux" was pretty amazing. As was the first in the series, just a ruthless study of the tall, lumbering, dazed central character, bumbling his way through the late 20th century, hurting some people, helping some, sensitive to certain issues, utterly ignorant of others. The novel takes place in 1969-70 and one of the sidelights is how, writing in '71, Updike so unerringly captured so many events, signs, etc. that would become emblematic, even cliched, over the ensuing years. Very impressive.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Saw in the paper this morning that Allan Stone had died. I used to frequent his gallery on East 86th St. after I moved to NYC in '76 as he showed several of the contemporary realist painters I was interested in (William Beckman, Richard Estes, Malcolm Morley) as well as painters like De Kooning, Thiebaud and Kline.

There was a receptionist who, as I was up there often enough, I began chatting with, eventually letting on that I too was a fledgling painter and she arranged for me to bring up some work to show to Stone. I returned with seven or eight pieces, leaned them against a wall and waited for Stone. He walks in, a gruff, short gorilla of a guy (if he wasn't actually puffing a cigar, he should have been), paces back and forth in front of the paintings for about 30 seconds, goes, "I like this one, this one and this one. I'll put 'em in a group show next month."

"Wow," thought I. "That was pretty easy!" So I went home, had the pieces framed and the next month found myself being exhibited at a fairly high level NYC gallery. Cool. Of course, none of them sold and (also of course) the next time I went up there, Stone hadn't a clue who I was. Reality check time.

But, thanks for the opportunity, Mr. Stone and thanks for showing a ton of really good work, much of it unfashionable at the time.

Friday, December 15, 2006

If you've been here you've probably already been there as well, but just in case you haven't seen Robert Kirkpatrick's fine write-up of the recent David Tudor/Gordon Mumma album, please do so now I've been meaning to pick this up for a while now and, with luck, will do so later on today (Other Music, don't fail me now).

Received two new releases on the Norwegian Sofa Music label yesterday: No Spaghetti Edition Festival's "Sketches of a Fusion" and Sidsel Endresen's "One". The former is a sextet boasting an impressive line-up of Martin Tetreault, Xavier Charles, Christian Wollumred, Tonny Kluften, Ingar Zach and Ivar Grydeland. Two long tracks, pretty nice first time through. Despite an apparently lengthy pedigree with ECM, I don't think I've ever encountered vocalist Endresen before. First impression is more of virtuoso (unusual) technique at the expense of musical interest but we'll see. Slightly odd that the TOOT recording on the same label from only a couple months back was also titled, "One".

Monday, December 11, 2006

On any music-oriented discussion site I've ever seen, the subject of LP and/or CD filing emerges at least annually and is greeted with the appropriate amount of seriousness, which is to say: life and death.

Back since the days when my LP collection occupied about two linear feet of bookcase space, I've always used the same system, the onlu one that makes any sense at all and the one that, upon my attaining kingship of the world, will be enforced by dint of law: Alpha/Chrono. Which is to say, alphabetically by Last Name or Group Name and chronologically within that person/group. Absolutely no distinguishing between "genres". Brahms sandwiched between Bobby Bradford and Glenn Branca. Caetano Veloso abuts Nikos Veliotis and Matthijs Vermeulen. Back when the notion of a "record store" (kids may wish to google on the concept) was something to dream about, I loved the idea of a shop set up in just such a fashion. "Where would I find music from Mozambique?" "Over there, between Don Moye and Mozart."

The above exchange touches on one of the difficulties encountered using this system. Where does one file field recordings where no individual musicians are listed? Well, if forced to do so, under the country of origin. How about split recordings, often found in classical music? I usually opt for the composer most prominently featured though, if it's the case that I bought the disc due to the presence of a shorter included work, I may well file it under that name. Minor matters!

The benefits, aside from ease of locating a given release, are significant. I've long held to the practice of "playing through" my collection. That is, when there's nothing pressing upon me to listen to (like stuff I'm supposed to be reviewing), I'll trip alphabetically through my stock, happening on albums I might never get back to otherwise. If you own a decent number of records by a given individual/group, the chrono set-up affords a nice walkthrough of their history. If one's collection is sufficently catholic, you also get excellently jarring back to back listens as indicated above. Why people file otherwise escapes me!


With LPs there was virtually no variation in size, apart from width to accommodate multiple albums. I assume somewhere along the line, this or that person released something in outsized packaging (examples?) but I don't remember seeing such and nothing of the sort made it into my little grubbies. The LPs all fit nicely into their compartment. btw, back around 1980, my great friend Marc, a woodworker by trade, and I devised and constructed a piece of furniture specifically designed for LP storage. Eight feet long, with four 13" high storage areas, it's a wonderfully functional piece, capable of holding about 800 LPs. I have about 1,000. Placed in a corner of the room, the additional couple hundred records can be leaned into the corner, the remaining surface serving as a platform for the receiver/amp and turntable.

CD's, on the other hand, lend themselves to a wide variation in size and shape. My basic storage units are simple, wooden "crates" designed for CDs and taking up as little space as possible. I have (by necessity, as I purchased them over time) several kinds but they're fairly similar, sometimes dangerously stackable. My CDs currently number over 1,800 and new space is always required, so they've oozed into adjacent bookshelves and the like. However, the storage units generally are fit to house standard sized cases. Anything much larger needs its own area and I have a whole bunch that are much, much larger (also about 25-30 3" discs in tiny, cute packages, easily arrayed, thus far, in front of their normally sized cousins on a bookshelf). The large packages are set on top of a couple of the storage cases, alpha order of course, their irregular heights creating two small cityscapes. Conveniently, a couple of boxed sets (AMPLIFY and the IMJ wooden box) serve as "bookends" for one, a couple of glasses filled with small stones for the other. One of the main "offenders" in the oversized department is a wonderful label out of Berlin called absinth, run by Marcus Leibig.

Most of the twelve releases so far on absinth come enclosed in 7" sleeves, hand-stitched with individually decorated covers, all quite attractive. Most all very good music as well, including the latest by Mark Wastell, "Amoungst English Men" (although this last opinion isn't universally held--see Robert Kirkpatrick's well-argued point of view here). In any case, when browsing through my collection for this or that reason, I often will initially forget about these outliers, as I have yet again. I reviewed this one at Bagatellen in April 'o5 here so won't go through it again. Suffice it to say that anyone reading this should do themselves a favor and pick up an absinth disc. Hard to go far wrong.


Two arrived yesterday from Azul Discografica, on each by Starving Weirdos and Howlin' Magic.

*sigh* these kids today and their wacky names......

Friday, December 08, 2006

Just a note on yet another DVD music/video combo, this one called "Dark Room filled with Light". There's a fine review over at Bagatellen here by Robert Kirkpatrick so no need to go into depth on it. Musically, of the three recent such issues (AVVA and Michael Renkel being the others), this is by far my favorite. Ultra-spare, beautifully paced trickles of dusty noise by Filament (Otomo Yoshihide and Sachiko M) in two different "soundtracks" for the same hour-long video (you can choose which to play). The images, by Yasunori Ikunishi, Yasunori Kakegawa and Tetsuya Nagato are also relatively spare, entirely black and white (silvery grey and white, actually) and the less they're representative of actual objects, even microscopic ones, the better the video tends to work. When there's nothing but white on slightly darker than white, it's quite beautiful. The constant subtle flicker is fascinating to observe on its own.

Listening: Traw & Rhodri Davies - Cwywp y dwr ar ganol dydd (Confront)

I seriously suspect the Welsh of just making up letter combinations sometimes....

Thursday, December 07, 2006

I'm not sure I can think of a musician whose work is fairly strongly connected to the rock milieu that I've enjoyed more consistently in recent years than Barry Adamson. Not that I listen to very much, of course, but...

He cut his teeth with Magazine and Nick Cave, neither of which/whom I'd know if I stumbled over their remains. My loss, perhaps. I think I came across Adamson entirely by accident, seeing his first LP, "Moss Side Story" in a used bin, maybe at a street fair, finding it intriguing looking (helluva cover photo) and picking it up. Good choice. Not sure what I'd pick as the antecedents of a work like this, a noirish soundtrack for a film in Adamson's head. In 1989, when this appeared, you had things like Zorn's "Spillane" available which, in somes ways, might be its closest approximation. Adamson shorts the irony, however, and has more feel for funk and soul than Zorn ever did. While "Spillane" remains, for me, very enjoyable, the effect of Adamson's music is deeper, more resonating these days. [Funny--putting it on now for the first time in a while, I thought there were some Galas-inspired vocalizations on the first track. Didn't realized the divine Diamanda herself is here] Should've gotten him for the soundtrack of something like "Sin City". His signature vibes and organ are up front for much of this, along with latent industrial rhythms, a potent combination. He ends each side lifting the intro from Mingus' "Freedom" and, in some ways, Adamson can be heard as a kind of rock version of Mingus.

Looks like he got to do a real soundtrack next, "Delusion", directed by Carl Colpaert and starring the lovely Jennifer Rubin. Much more scattered album necessarily, though it closes with a fine version of "These Boots Are Made for Walking".

But then he really hits his stride with "The Negro Inside Me". There's a title that might brook some analysis. Another great cvover, too. It's listed on his site (which appears not to have been updated for a couple of years) as a single, though with six tracks and running 1/2 hour or so, I guess EP would fit. But two killer pieces, "The Snowball Effect" and his version of Serge Gainsbourg's "Je T'Aime...Moi Non Plus". The former with more tremendous organ work, a furious beat and (hey, this is 1995!) excellent sampled answering machine tape, his manager (female) trying to set up interviews with various media including Option and Reflex magazines. "It's kind of a snowball effect, I like it". As mentioned sometime last month, I played Adamson's take on the Gainsbourg piece along with Cibo Matto's at a recent record club, but his just kills. He launches into heart and soul, not holding back on the extreme sex-kittenish vocals or his own (? I think) surly counterpart, enhancing the whole with some brilliant string orchestration. The other tracks aren't bad either--a real nice, tight, powerful little package.

After that, I picked up both "Soul Murder" and "Oedipus Schmoedipus". They're each very good, each with some very fine individual numbers, several of them with the habit of lodging into the neurons that control my daily humming and whistling activity. I began to get a sense of drifting, however, and never followed up on subsequent releases. I recently noticed that a new one is available, "Stranger on the Sofa" which looks like it might be worth a go. Opinions, contrary or otherwise, welcome.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

It annoys me no end that I can't locate an image of the original cover of John Adams' 1980 release on 1750 Arch that included "Shaker Loops" and "Phrygian Gates". It's been re-issued on disc but with a new cover, replacing the rather hilarious black and white image of Adams, adorned in wide-brimmed straw hat, against a night-time image of LA, big white collars jutting out over a sweater beneath a corduroy jacket, too-large glasses. Seriously goofy looking in an early 80s, Californian kinda way. Don't remember why I picked it up; I don't think I'd heard much about him before this, though a piece of his ("American Standard") appeared on the second release from Eno's Obscure label around '75, a recording I didn't know until sometime later. Probably it was just the wonderful title, "Shaker Loops" and the general knowledge that he was a "young" minimalist. That work holds up pretty well. It's already clear that Adams wasn't going to be as rigorous in his approach to minimalism as Reich (even the Reich of 1980), that there was a more Romantic nature at work. Interestingly, listening to it now for the first time in many years, some of the string writing here is very "reminiscent" of that found in Reich's "Different Trains" from some seven years later. As is often the case, I'm rather surprised how well I remember all the ins and outs of the piece. Side two is the solo piano work, "Phrygian Gates", performed by Mack McCray. The photos I see on-line of Mr. McCray all find him clad in tuxedo, hence won't see publication here. The piece strikes me as kinda Reich Lite.

Disturbingly enough, I'm also unable to find the cover image of my other Adams LP, his "Grand Pianola Music" (shared with Reich's "Eight Lines"). Jeez, doesn't anybody scan their old avant LPs anymore? Fortunately, the painting used on the cover is relatively well-known and also pretty spectacular, Charles Demuth's "My Egypt", seen above. Here's an interesting Demuth quote, from a letter to Alfred Stieglitz: "America doesn't really care - still, if one is really an artist and at the same time an American, just this not caring, even though it drives one mad, can be artistic material."

"Grand Pianola Music" is, in its own way, a pretty amazing piece of music. Steeped in Americana, unabashedly nostalgic it's almost Adams' take on Rzewski except without the political depth. Or, more cynically, with a Reagan-esque veneer instead of a Guevarian one. But the "Gipper" aspect of Reagan, the one that harked back to gazebo bands, lemonade on the porch and the passing marching bands. You can listen to it and enjoy it the way you might some 40s cornball schmaltzfest on film--there's something attractive about it even though you know it's ultimately unhealthy for you. A last gasp of innocence, maybe.

I saw Adams' "Nixon in China" at BAM around 1987, liked a couple of scenes, was left rather cold by the rest and pretty much lost interest. I think some well-meaning person gave me his "The Wound Dresser" later on, though I had a tough time slogging through it and have no intention of doing so now. As the perceptive reader may have ascertained, I'm loathe to throw out recordings (or books, for that matter) simply because I don't currently enjoy them. You never know. Twenty years from now, I may be saying, "What kind of idiot was I back in aught-six, not realizing the consummate beauty that is "The Wound Dresser?" Not likely, but.....

While we're on boring Adamses, there's also John Luther Adams, a composer hailing from Alaska, if I'm not mistaken, and whose "Clouds of Forgetting, Clouds of Unknowing" was foisted upon me by way of some glowing write-up (Kyle Gann in the Voice? I forget) which posited it as one of the greates works of the century or some such. Feh. "New Age Morton Feldman" is about as horrid a concept as I can think of and this comes pretty damn close. Kind of a cotton candy version of "For Samuel Beckett". Some nice sonorites here and there but endless and overbearing otherwise. But yes, I've kept it too.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Back in the early to mid 70s, while I was at Vassar, there was a small record store a couple blocks west of the campus called something generic like, iirc, The Music Gallery. It became a popular place to hang out in no small part due to its owner, Garry Velletri. Garry was a huge fan and proselytizer of King Crimson and the Canterbury scene in general, branching out into affiliated areas. I recall walking in one day and being astounded at the music coming from the house system, soon discovering it was by a guy named Dudu Pukwana, from his glorious "In the Townships" album. Also where I heard Frith's "Guitar Solos" for the first time, around '75. More on that sort of thing later.

Toward the back of the store, in a small raised area, there were the Classical and World sections. Probably wasn't called "World" at them time; maybe "International". In any case, in one or two small bins was found the entire stock of contemporary classical and "International" recordings, including a bunch from the Nonesuch catalog. These were great discoveries! First of all, they were sold at a discount price. LPs were going for four or five bucks at the time while most Nonesuch items were 99 cents or a buck forty-nine, making them relatively easy to take a chance on. But it was my first exposure to people like Xenakis (the Electro-Acoustic Music album! Bohor!), Penderecki, Crumb, Stockhausen, etc. (though the Stockhausen record I remember from then was Microphonie, I think on Angel) It was also my first real exposure in any depth to non-Western music.

There was a 2-LP set, "The Nonesuch Explorer", that proved invaluable insofar as pointing me down various paths. To this day, I think it contains some of the most thrilling music I know, things like "Theodora Is Dozing" and that incredible mbira tune, "Gumbu Kumbu", with Laura Chiora's voice...I picked up several individual records, especially things from Bali and South Africa/Zimbabwe, though not enough and eventually, at least since the mid-80s, the LPs went out of print.

Happily, a few years ago, Nonesuch began reissuing them on disc. They've been doing it by geographical area, beginning with Indonesia/South Pacific and Africa, then getting to Latin America and the Caribbean. They've been stalled there for quite a while though a friend of mine who knows Bob Hurvitz asked him (on my prodding) and he says that they indeed plan to continue issuing the entire catalog.

I've been picking them up almost on sight. This one's a fairly recent addition, a brief but joyous batch of selections performed by Saka Acquaye and His African Ensemble out of Ghana. Pop-influenced, to be sure, but retaining more than enough indigenous spirit to over-ride any qualms on that account. A piece like "Saturday Night", infectious in an everyday way, can be heard echoed in compositions by Randy Weston, Grachan Moncur and other musicians who, in the 50s and 60s, sought to inject West African melodies and rhythms into jazz forms. Acquaye's band is really a jazz group: Drums, reeds, vibes, trumpet, guitar and bass. This was recorded in '69. Wonderful album. Thanks for everything, Garry!

Listening (otherwise) arrivals:

Keith Rowe/Oren Ambarchi - Squire
Jason Kahn/Norbert Moslang/Gunter Muller/Keiichiro Shibuya/Maria - Signal to Noise, vol. 1
RM74/RLW - Pirouetten
Candlesnuffer - Apsomeophone
Morpho - s/t
Gunter Muller - Live & Replayed
Michael Vorfeld/Chris Heenan - Half Cloud, Half Plain

Saturday, December 02, 2006

I have to admit, it's becoming a little painful wading through some of these records. I think I'll deal with the remaining Muhal's in one fell swoop.

Yeah, not one of his better covers. And the first track--oh my lord. The vocalist is Janette Moody (a relation? don't know) and her singing--more accurately, the part assigned for her to sing--is one of the most grating, unpleasant things I've ever encountered. Obviously, I don't mean "harsh" in the normal sense of things but in context, yikes. Accompanied by cello (the redoubtable Abdul Wadud) and arco bass (Rick Rozie), it's an amazingly tedious piece. My good friend Walter may disagree, but this track epitomizes, for me, everything that Muhal gets wrong. The following piece has some nice reed voicings and sounds a bit like some of Anthony Davis' work from around the same time, but not as vibrant. I'm pretty sure by this time, I'd've been eyeing the track titles, trying to figure which one was likely to be the "good" one. Has to be "Bloodline", right? I think I got a sinking feeling in my gut as it began, though, with brooding, semi-tonal horns but....then it takes off, launching into a hugely fun, quasi-strut march with a wacky theme reminiscent of 20's Ellington. The solo sections settles into a medium bop groove with fine efforts from Muhal, Baikida Carroll, Craig Harris (remember when he was exciting?) and others. Nice to hear Howard Johnson on bari here as well. Then a couple more desultory pieces, though the finale tries to get some steam working, sounding a bit like the more boppish pieces from Braxton's original Creative Orchestra Music LP (Brax wrote the liners for this one). Onward....

The great Ray Mantilla joins Abrams' octet on "View from Within" and intitiates things with some fine solo conga. With Thurman Barker and Warren Smith in tow, you've got the makings of an excellent rhythm section. Ah, but then....I guess the horn parts are intended as a modernist take on Afro-Cuban jazz but it just tries too hard. It's OK, I suppose, but not nearly as gripping as I'm sure was desired, seeming resolute in its reluctance to really groove, though when the percussionists get their brief turn late in the piece, it's pretty juicy. Then the usual run of stuff. There's some uncredited synth here that I assume is Muhal; not good. I note that both Braxton's liners for the previous disc and Hale Smith's for this one pay appropriate homage to Muhal but say nothing about the music contained therein. As always, and it's getting to be a pretty tiresome construct by now, Side Two opens with the "straight" piece, "Down at Pepper's", a good, slow blues.

Aggh...I can't do it. Too hard to sift through this stuff. I have three more albums in this vein, "Colors in Thirty-Third", "The Hearinga Suite" and "Blu Blu Blu", all of which pretty much follow suit, at least to these ears. I do want to mention one other that gets overlooked, Muhal's duo with Cecil McBee, "Roots of Blue". I think it's the only thing ever issued on his own imprint, RPR, recorded in '86. However, almost humorously, it has essentially the same structure as the large ensemble discs with only the title piece (Side Two, Cut One!) a rich blues, the rest kinda wishy washy.

I gave up after "Blu Blu Blu" in 1991 and I remember it being an iffy proposition even at that point. Muhal is a great and important musician, imho, but his best work was done by the late 70s as far as I can hear. But even had he not produced a single note, founding the AACM is something for which we're all enormously indebted to him. Plus, as I said a while back, he's a helluva good person. Thanks, Muhal.

Friday, December 01, 2006

I own a grand total of only five 7" vinyl releases (If there are others, they're hidden within regulation-size LP sheathes and I can't remember them). They've been sitting for a while now, somewhat forlornly, me not having a working turntable until recently. So I thought I'd play through them.

First up was Jason Lescalleet's "Another Example of Parkinson's Law" issued on Freedom From Records, oh maybe four or five years ago, iirc. A fine little nugget, this one, Jason in rumbling old tape player mode, layers accreting like mold on a pavement.

Next was the fifth release on Table of the Elements, Boron, by Keith Rowe, called "City Music for Electric Guitar" which is a piece by Frank Abbinanti, I believe, I think graphic in origin (have to check that). It's from 1992-93, an interesting period between his solo album on Matchless and the later solo work he'd do from '97 on. Side One is titled "We Want Some Minutes, OK?" although the extracted voice is pretty clearly saying, "We wait some minutes, OK?". Mine has a skip, making it sound as though the voice is on extended loop. Rowe's in serious guitar thrash mode here. Side B is "Scratch Music", I think a Rowe improv, and closer in character to what would come in the ensuing decade, delicious and mysterious, full of watery throbs, field recordings, etc. Great piece, all too brief.

We arrive next at Jim O'Rourke's record on the same label, the Nitrogen release, both tracks apparently tributes to actors. "Muni" (Paul, not DJ Scott, surely!) finds him on acoustic guitar, somewhere between Bailey and Fahey, though closer to the former. (This one's at 33 1/3, btw, the previous one at 45) Good, sensitive track. "Michel Piccoli" (star of Godard's "Contempt") continues in this vein with more nods in the direction of flamenco although Bailey still looms large.

I can't locate an image for yet another Table of the Elements disc, this one "Nickel". It comes in a cloth sack with prints of the front and back of a US nickel on either side and was a promotional release from 1994 to thank various artists for their support of the label. One side is engraved with information including the admonishment not to pay for the record; it was intended to be given as a gift by whomever had copies (and that's how I got mine. Thanks, Keith!) The other side contains brief tracks by O'Rourke, Tony Conrad, Faust, Richard Youngs and Rowe. Still never absolutely sure which is's the TOTE discography page

Lastly is the most recent thing, a double-45 set, of all things, by Howie Stelzer and Jason Talbot called "Four Sides". I fear this may have arrived during my time of turntablelessness, rendering me unable to pen a review. Too late now, I imagine, though the sides are chock full of crunchy yet discreet noise, turntable and tape machine abuse and generally high-spirited sonic malicious mischief, good unhealthy fun.

In closing, I'll note that the necessity of getting out of one's chair every couple of minutes to flip a piece of vinyl is a strong argument, as one ages, in favor of CDs. On the other hand, I have a strange hankering to hear the first piece of vinyl I ever owned, The Hollies' "Bus Stop". Damned good song.
Pity the poor music reviewer, Chapter 139.

A few weeks ago I received a lovely recording called "In" by the Norwegian percussionist, Ingar Zach, whose music I've only come to know in the last year or so but which I've enjoyed a great deal. It's a solo outing, on the intriguingly named Kning label (maybe not so intruiging to a Norwegian, but certainly to me). On the sleeve, Zach is listed as playing percussion and "sruti box". This last term was unknown to me so I dutifully googled and discovered that a sruti box, pictured here, is a common South Indian accompanying instrument, roughly analogous to a harmonium, powered by bellows. Indeed, much of the central section of Zach's piece incorporated the sort of sounds that would seemingly emanate from just such a device: organ-y chords with a pronounced respiratory quality, a bit breathier than a harmonium perhaps, but in the same ballpark. As there was a bunch of other activity occurring simultaneously, I did briefly wonder if Zach had pulled all this off in real-time, if there were mechanical aids of some sort or if the session involved overdubbing. After all, the sleeve didn't include an admonishment, as some are prone to anally do, to the effect: The sounds contained herein were created WITHOUT ANY OVERDUBBING. OK, stop shouting.

So I wrote up the review, posted it on Bags this moorning and sent Ingar notice of same with a copy of the Word file, my normal routine. Ingar responded, not perturbed but just sharing info, that the sruti box utilized for the recording, was in fact of the electronic variety, one that could be operated without need of the extra bellows-pushing appendage, thus freeing them for more percussive work. This pretty much rendered a portion of my review inoperable but, as is my tendency when things like this crop up, I left it intact and added an explanatory comment.

It's minor in the scheme of things, of course, as the music is more important, by several levels of magnitude, than the specific means with which it was created, but it's something you do like to get right if possible. But when you're dealing with music in this general field, when it's all but impossible to specify exactly how a given sound is being produced, whether its source is being masked, processed, subject to software algorithms, etc. it's often a fool's errand to think blunders like this won't occur. You go with what you think you're hearing and if you're mistaken, that's the way it is.

But do check out Ingar's disc if you're able. It's a good 'un.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Kenny Weir (an Aussie, naturally) posted this at JazzCorner recently. I've seen similar images in the past but not for a while. Interesting how disorienting it is, no? You see things one way your whole life and they acquire a "rightness" on which you (or, at least, I) hang certain attributes that have nothing whatsoever to do with the reality of the situation. Like the way Africa "hangs" pendulously, like a hunk of melting camembert. Or Australia, like a sack of grain propped on a log. You assign gravitational qualities to land masses as though "down" means anything in this context. Look at the US. I mean, it's entirely natural to, in the West at least, have a nice, delineated border, a firm pinion from which the rest of the country hangs, its irregular tatters along the southern border entirely explicable. Here's another image that abstracts things helpfully:

Though this strikes me as less troubling, even without national borders (not sure what that arc thing is) it seems a bit alop. Africa looks perilously poised there, about to tumble into the Atlantic not to mention South America all but snapping off; no way that little isthmus can bear so much weight!

I guess the less deeply familiar you are with a geographical area, the less you're bothered by it. For example, to me Japan looks positively natural!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I'm consistently amazed at the ability of the brain (well, my brain, but I assume the characteristic applies widely) to remember music and lyrics it hasn't encountered in decades. I mean, I forget all sorts of things routinely, but all someone has to do is mention a given pop song from 1967 and, bam, there it is, at my mental beck and call at an astonishing level of detail. A year or two ago, there was some discussion of the Incredible String Band on JazzCorner. Their "Changing Horses" album was a big favorite of mine in high school and I have fond memories of seeing them at Vassar around 1971. However, this record, along with the vast majority of my rock holdings, was sacrificed in the Great Rock Purge of 1975 when I traded 'em all in, purifying my collection to almost all jazz components. Even in retrospect, I bet about 80% of them are better off gone though, in the intervening years I did have to replenish things like Beefheart, Hendrix and such. I remember a couple of times looking over "Changing Horses" in the disc bins, wondering how I'd hear it today.

In any case, when the subject was brought up on JC, I immediately flashed on the opening track, "Big Ted", a song I'd not heard once, I feel safe in saying, for over 30 years. But there it was, complete and whole, music and--at least for the most part--lyrics. Where was this lodging all those decades, so uncorrupted? This morning, while walking Nanook, "Big Ted" surfaced unbidden once again. I was whistling the tune, singing the song in my head. Let me see how close I've gotten the lyrics; this is without checking:

Well Big Ted's dead, he was a great old pig
He'd eat most anything never wore a wig
Now he's gone like snow on the water
Don't cry

He was getting old, so the farmer said
Sold him to the butcher just to make a little bread
Now he's gone like snow on the water

Ted may be a moo cow next time around
Giving sweet milk to the people in the twon
He'll be whatever he will choose
On air or sea or ground

Sows are busy with piglets fine
I'd put them in the forest now if they were mine
'Cause I know they like acorns
And I don't like bacon

( a bunch of diddly-diddlies and sham-sham shanoos....)

Big Ted's on and gone.
OK, now to check on-line. Here's what comes up:

Big Ted's dead , he was a great old pig
He'd eat most anything, never wore a wig
Now he's gone like snow on the water, good bye

He was getting old so the farmer said
"Sold him to the butcher just to make a little bread"
Now he's gone like snow on the water, don't cry

Ted may be a moo cow next time around
Giving sweet milk to the people in the town
He'll be whatever he will choose on air or sea or ground

The sows are busy with the piglets fine
I'd put them in the forest now if they were mine
cause I know they like acorns and I don't like bacon

Boochy, boochy, boochy, boochy, boochy, boochy, boochy
Squidly, squidly, squidly, squidly, squidly, squidly, squidly
Boochy, boochy, boochy, boochy, boochy, boochy, boochy, boochy
Sham sham sharoo, oh sham sham sharoo

Big Ted's sold and gone


Not too shabby. I still like "on" better than "sold" in that last line, though.

However, they also include these other stanzas which only ring a vague bell with me:

He came into the kitchen while we were away
He took all the rice and he forgot to pay
He´s gone like snow on the water, good bye

He never cared to do the boogaloo dance
All he ever thought about was food and romance
And he's gone like snow on the water, good bye

Interesting that this set of lyrics would vanish while the others are almost perfectly intact.

Memory is strange.


Mattin/Tim Barnes - Achbal Al Atlas
Mike Shiflet - Ichinomiya 5.3.6
Asher Thalnir - Landscapes elsewhere
Alessandro Bosetti - Il Fiore della Bocca (a rather disturbing recording using the voices of mentally deficient patients as principal sound source)
Alison Knowles/Taketo Shimada - fluxsweet

Monday, November 27, 2006

Went to the Met yesterday with my friend Carol and saw two exhibitions that, when visited consecutively, make for some interesting comparisons. The first was a show containing German portraits from the 20s, the second, titled "Americans in Paris", focussed on late 19th century US expatriate work.

I've never been very enthusiastic about the former whose ranks include Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, George Grosz, etc. This despite the fact that my most important painting teacher, Alton Pickens, came very much out of that tradition. My main issue probably has to do with my aversion to caricature, of being told how one should react to an image or person rather than allowing the viewer (or listener or reader) to work it out for himself. If the subject of a painting is, in the artist's mind, evil, shallow, vile, etc., I'd prefer that those qualites emerge from a careful viewing of his personage, not from warped eyes, horns sprouting from head, coins being rubbed between fingers and so on. It's like in a crappy, normal movie where the casting of the "bad guy" involves finding an actor with shifty eyes, a 5 o'clock shadow, whatever, essentially screaming at you, "This guy is bad!". One feels pushed. (I'm reminded of the wonderful John Cage line when, while fidgeting through a performance of "The Messiah", was asked by his concert companion Peggy Guggenheim (iirc) if he didn't like being moved. "I don't mind being moved," he replied, "I just don't like to be pushed.") Whatever technical or aesthetic prowess appears--and many of the works here are quite impressive to look out on those grounds--that sense of being sledgehammered tends to be rife. There are exceptions, to be sure. Christian Schad, one of whose works appears above, is far more subtle even, a la Velazquez, investing his "freakish" subjects with a quiet, sad dignity. I found Schad's work as represented in this show, generally very interesting and understated, disturbing even if you're not sure why. I also thought this self-portrait by Karl Hubbuch was striking and disquieting. As an aside, it was intriguing to see how long a shadow had been cast by Durer, intimations of whom could be seen throughout the exhibition.

The "Americans in Paris" show, on the other hand, while populated by a far higher percentage of bland works (American Impressionists, in particular, have never greatly impressed me) contains several portraits that exactly get to what I prize wherein the viewer has to exercise his brain and read into the figures and their environment. I've always had a weakness for John Singer Sargent whose bravura technqiue may sometimes get in the way of his acute observational powers (his watercolors! Unbelievable stuff). While at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston ('74-'75) I spent many an hour in front of this baby. On one level, of course, it's a kind of society group portrait. The girls are clearly privileged and comfortable. But the picture on the whole, with its dark, looming background, its oversized vases, etc. implies an uncertain future and, in my view, casts doubt on exactly how comfortable this family really is in other than material terms. The vast distances between the subjects. Plus, admittedly, it's just gorgeously painted, with "Las Meninas" clearly in mind.

There was another portrait, I think by Charles Curran (though I can't locate a reproduction) where the sitter's eyes, obscured behind fogged spectacles, cause one to puzzle over his character, looking for other clues in the accompanying objects, his stance, the position of his hands, etc. You can't be quite sure about it. A given Dix might be a better painting in a number of respects (a lack of academic quality among them), but a Sargent or Curran provides far more latitude to the viewer to make his/her own judgments and interpretations, without being pushed. The parallels, from such an odd choice of areas, to contemporary eai, are interesting......

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Had another thoroughly enjoyable Record Club last evening. Guests were the painter David Humphrey and his wife, painter Jennifer Coates. David played a track from Fred Frith's "Gravity" and then a pretty fascinating one by the Brooklyn-based thrash/rap/jazz band Candiria, Jennifer a wild piece by the 60s British psych/folk group Comus. One of the interesting things about hearing the music in this context is how good something can sound which I would never, ever have gone a half-inch out of my way to hear. Something like the First Edition's "Ruby" which Nayland played last night. Scary. Derick came up with a marvelous piece by Ian Murray from an old Tellus cassette. Kind of an early Plunderphonics piece from around 1970, Murray edited together the opening 10 seconds from all the Number One pop hits of that year, back to back, then hired a drummer to "play along" with the tape without having heard it. Pretty hilarious. My selections were, 1) "Qua Cau Gio Bay", from Vol. 1 of Music from Vietnam, the fantastic three-disc set issued in '94 by the horribly named Celestial Harmonies label. It features Trieu Tien Vuong on the sao mot lo, a bamboo flute capable of a gorgeous, keening tone. The piece is a folk song, one that was covered by, of all people, Henry Kaiser as part of a medley with a blues and a Grateful Dead piece ("Cold Rain and Snow", I think) on one of his cover albums, an incredibly beautiful song and 2) "The Ballad of Wounded Cities" from Blitzstein's "Airborne Symphony" about which I've raved earlier.

On the way there, I made a stop at Shakespeare's and picked up:

Updike - Rabbit Redux
Murakami - After the Quake
Palahniuk - Haunted

I read the first contained story in the latter, "Guts" after getting home last night whilst parked on the toilet. Not a good place to read that particular story. Hard to believe that some variation on the escapade described therein failed to make it into "The Aristocrats".

With a little more time to waste, stopped in DMG and bought a new Feldman release on New World. Three pieces, all earlier recordings. "The Viola in My Life" with an ensemble that includes David Tudor, Feldman conducting, "False Relationships and the Extended Ending" with Paul Jacobs and Yuji Takahashi on pianos, Feldman again conducting and "Why Patterns?" with Eberhard Blum, Jan Williams and Feldman his own bad self on piano. That last made it a necessary buy as I don't believe I have any other recordings with Feldman playing his own work Beautiful stuff. The ending of "Why Patterns?" kills me every time.

I also bought, with many reservations, the new Earle Brown disc on Tzadik. Those reservations revolved around the personnel which, looking at the back cover where they're grouped together, included Zorn stalwarts like Ikue Mori, Sylvie Courvoisier, Mark Feldman etc, and musicians I've never cared for like Larry Polansky. On the other hand, Steven Drury was there as well as Christian Wolff and Brown himself. Happily, Manny had an open copy, so I could ascertain that the performances (of "Folio" and "Four Systems") were in varying combinations with most of my uncared for personnel confined to single tracks. It's on now. Sounds pretty OK.

Oh, and the Lescalleet review referenced yesterday is up here

Saturday, November 25, 2006

I'll probably post my write-up of Jason Lescalleet's astonishingly powerful "The Pilgrim" at Bags tomorrow, but anyone interested, don't wait. A great, great recording, immensely sad and moving (it's an homage to his father, who died from cancer last year).

Listening at the moment to Howard Skempton's "Well, Well, Cornelius" (Tilbury at the piano), much of the music also summoning up a certain, very moving kind of melancholy.

Recent Arrivals:

Mark Wastell - Amoungst English Men (absinth) - very different tack than usual for Mark, having something of a ritualistic air. For piano, tam tam and tubular bell.

Filament - Dark Room filled with Light - DVD of a video film by Yasunori Ikunishi, Yasunori Kakegawa and Tetsuya Nagato with two distinct soundtracks by Yoshihide and Sachiko M. Very interesting on first blush. See Robert Kilpatrick's fine review here

And three frlom the Greek label antifrost (thanks, Dimitris!)

AS II - Monotheism
Textu rizer - 7
Francisco Lopez/Ilios - Hysechasterion

Having much fun with the Rashomon collection....

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Maybe it will become something of a trend--maybe it is already and I've only recently encountered it--but two recent releases combining music and interactive video have made their way into my paws. These don't, just to be clear, consist of videos accompanied by music. In each case there's a direct connection between the musician and what appears on the video, both performers improvising, the images changing in real-time depending on what gets played and relayed.

"Gdansk Queen", created by Toshimaru Nakamura and Billy Roisz (known, in duo, as AVVA) was released a couple months back on Erstwhile. Toshi's one of my favorite musicians extant, half of what for my money is the finest release of 2006, also on Erstwhile, 'between', with Keith Rowe. I'd seen Billy Roisz' work a couple of times previously, both in live contexts, once at Tonic, once at the Austrian Cultural Center. In each instance, I found it only mildly interesting. Let me backtrack.

I'm not an expert on avant video by any means, but I've seen my share of it since the early 70s. My tendency, especially if the work is more toward the abstract, is toward pieces of visual, formal depth. I have something of an aversion to flatness in the visual arts and certain branches of abstract video play to that hand. Images that I think I can grasp the essence of in a short time quickly begin to bore me when they hang around. It's not as simple as that, to be sure, but there are certain elements that tend to reappear in many videos...hard to describe as a class, except they're often "crisp-edged" and thin appearing. Vague, I understand. In any case, that had been my impression of Roisz' work previously and, while it's mitigated to an extent on the AVVA release, that's still an aspect I have trouble with. Another is the direct, one-to-one correspondence of the sounds created by Toshi to the changing of the video images. Toshi's contributions are really pared down here, his no-input mixing board sounding more unprocessed than normal, generating more the type of sound you'd expect from such devices "out of the box". In and of itself, that takes some getting used to and I'm not quite there yet on much of it. A noise emerges or modulates and the video alters in some manner. Roisz, presumably, is also at the same time introducing variations into what can change, how it will change, etc. I find, a little paradoxically perhaps, that when really concentrating on it, I have a difficult time maintaining interest. When I played it on the monitor I have adjacent to my PC at home, when it became one of several activities in the room, I found it much more engaging. I don't know why exactly, and wouldn't at all be averse to the notion that I'm simply not getting what there is to be gotten. On the other hand, there are several moments when things do indeed click for me and, suddenly, the piece attains a degree of profundity, though I'd be hard pressed to delineate why it worked here and not there. Maybe it'll sink in in a few years.

I posted a review earlier today of theMichael Renkel/Sonia Bender DVD, "7ft._KONKA" at Bags, here so I won't go into too much detail. Suffice it to say that Bender's video renderings are far more to my taste, generally speaking, using imagistic, dreamlike themes that are at once beautiful and disturbing, layering them in a manner that evokes Rauschenberg prints from the 60s (always a big favorite of mine). I had a suspicion that Renkel was splitting the signal from his guitar into several, only one of which was influencing the video at a given moment. Purely based on what I was seeing/hearing, this seemed to be the case as you can sometimes discern a relationship between a sound and a visual change, but it's often buried beneath other waves of sound having no apparent effect on the video. I mailed him and asked him about it, but he says there's just a one-to-one correspondence. Dunno, I remain a little unconvinced of that--maybe a lack of good communication betwixt German and English--but if so, the effect is certainly different than with the AVVA DVD, much more organic and hypnotic.

As I said in the review, I have a feeling that certain moments of the AVVA are deeper than anything on "7ft._KONKA" (and, no, I've no idea what the title refers to. The Konka is a river, I think a tributary of the Dnieper, but what 7ft. would have to do with that, I dunno). There are points where everything coheres and the work becomes fundamentally mysterious. But on the whole, the Renkel/Bender work provided more pleasure. Not that pleasure need be the sine qua non, but....

So, I expect we'll see more in this vein. I imagine someone's already tried the reverse approach: have aspects of the video image generate sounds, the sound performer modulating them on the fly. Hopefully it won' t become a de rigueur thing, though, where everyone feels they have to do such a collaboration. Should only occur, like anything else, when it's necessary to concretize an idea.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

One odd thing right off the bat: I guess when this album, "Blues Forever" was issued on disc they reoriented the cover painting because mine, on the original vinyl, floats horizontally. I suppose it makes sense in that the face drawn in gold does stand that way. I always figured there was something to his sideways-ness, but maybe they simply screwed up the image first time through.

Anyway, next in line for Abrams' continuing work with mid-size bands, this 11-piece date from 1981. And, as mentioned previously, it pretty much sticks true to the unfortunate model of one killer, relatively straightahead track and a passel of less interesting, more academic ones. Oh, there's the brief (2 minutes) "Du King", a kind of rave-up you'd hear from the World Sax Quartet, but it's more bluster than substance. The band has lost something personnel-wise, with utility infielders like Eugene Ghee, Jimmy Vass and Michael Logan sitting in. It also features the newcomer Jean-Paul Bourelly who, difficult as it may be to believe these days, once showed a great deal of promise. "Duet for One World", closing out Side One, plods along more mercilessly than almost anything I can imagine. (Just about alone among people who listen to this stuff, I'm no big fan of Sam Rivers' "Crystals", but if you enjoy that, I suppose you might like this one too).

Ah, but then the title track. Gooey, dirty, slimy, wonderful slow blues. Bourelly playing the way he should've for much longer, a richly voiced horn back-up, nicedeep bass. Craig Harris with a fine muted solo, the riffs varying beautifully, Muhal at his bluesiest; man, when he gets cooking, he's unstoppable. The tempo picks up midway through, Baikida Carroll strutting finely, the hugely undervalued Wallace McMillan with a strong baritone statement, the pace slowing down to an ooze, taken out with a bang. Wonderful stuff.

But then it continues....the chant in the following number, "Cluster for Many Worlds", is simply painful to experience. The words were inscribed on the back of the record with Amina; they read pretty awfully there--they sound much worse when actually spoken. The final cut, "Quartet to Quartet", for the musicians sans rhythm section at the start, is the kind of romantic/academic piece that Hemphill could pull off. Abrams gives it a go, but it goes into serious meandertude after a couple of minutes and never really gets back on track until it eventually breaks into a tight little rampage in a neo-bop vein. Still, more mess than meat.

Sometime in the late 80s, I made a compilation tape of all the amazing single tracks from Muhal's albums of that decade. That was a nice tape.

Abrams did the painting for his first album, "Levels and Degrees of Light" (which, unaccountably, I don't have) and with this release, began to use his works routinely for covers. I go back and forth on them, myself. This one is rather nice but sometimes the fauxness of the Africanisms gets to me, much like my reservations on the Art Ensemble's use of "tribal" paint.


HZL (Jesse Kudler/Tim Albro ) - Ayes
Taylor Deupree/Kenneth Kirschner/Tomas Korber/Steinbruchel/Aaron Ximm - May 6, 2001
Nina Katchadourian previously appeared on these pages with a pair of caterpillars affixed to her upper lip. Today, there's a front page (of the Arts Section) article on her latest project, Office Semaphores, in the New York Times. Another lovely, haunting idea from this absurdly fertile mind. Here's the piece:

Watch That Space: The Oracle of the 17th Floor

Published: November 21, 2006

The creators of the maritime semaphore system apparently did not have New York office workers in mind when they formulated the staccato messages used by ships and ports for basic communication. But as it turns out, the language is quite supple when it comes to conveying the universal urban condition.

Top, at Liberty and William Streets in Lower Manhattan, Martin Griffin, left, and Jerry Morgero check out Nina Katchadourian’s artwork, a semaphore on a lawyer’s office window sill. Center, a key to the code lets viewers interpret the changing messages. Bottom, the viewing platform, at 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza.

There are signals for the angry: “Keep clear of me.” There are signals for the frustrated: “I have received faulty instructions.” And of course there are signals for the weary and the Friday-afternoon defeated: “I am dragging anchor”; “I require a tug”; “I am ending maneuvers early.”

Several years ago the artist Nina Katchadourian found herself staring up at the sky full of office windows in Times Square and thinking about the faceless occupants behind them. “You think, ‘My God, all those anonymous people up there, living and working,’ ” she said. “There’s this sense of so much detachment between interior and exterior.”

With the cooperation of one of those anonymous people and the help of the Public Art Fund, Ms. Katchadourian is now trying to build a bridge — or at least, as she says, stretch a tenuous thread — between those two worlds.

Last week, on a windy plaza at the corner of Liberty and William Streets in Lower Manhattan, workers installed a heavy-duty tourist-type telescope. Its lens is fixed on a 17th-floor office window two blocks to the east, and at least once a day for the next two months the corporate lawyer who sits near that window will choose three objects from his office — for instance, a potted plant, a picture of his young son and a calculator — and arrange them on the sill. Anyone who wanders by the telescope can peer into it and see the objects, a kind of occupational variant on the famous lanterns in the Old North Church.

Then, using a pictorial key mounted on the telescope, the observer can translate the lawyer’s messages and, perhaps, divine something about personality or his soul. Or at least whether the deli forgot to put mustard on his pastrami sandwich again.

On Thursday morning, the first day of the project, a calculator, a clock and a glass jar filled with brightly colored markers could be seen on the sill, arranged left to right, announcing that the lawyer was “proceeding without incident.”

But at about a quarter past noon a woman with small-framed eyeglasses and a half-smile — maybe a coworker or assistant — could be seen at the window assembling a new message. (Apparently even conceptual art can be delegated.) She removed the clock and the jar and replaced them with a container full of heavy-duty paper clips and a potted plant. The calculator was shuffled to the far right.

The new message was either existentially portentous or maybe just an indication that the lawyer needed a nap. “I am adrift,” it said, gnostically.

As big-city voyeurism goes, the project might not be exactly titillating. But Ms. Katchadourian, 38, said she sees it as a modern form of portraiture, especially suited to such a large and impersonal city. The project, which she had tried to bring off several times before, also unites her obsession with things nautical (she collects shipwreck literature) and her love of languages, codes and signs. In one earlier piece, she replaced the regular sounds of several car alarms with snatches of birdsong. In another, she inserted a microphone into a concession-stand popcorn machine and then used a computer to analyze the sounds of the pops, converting them into Morse code to reveal what the popcorn was “saying.”

Rochelle Steiner, the director of the Public Art Fund, saw the popcorn project several years ago and said it stuck in her mind. “I thought it was just such a wacky yet rigorous piece dealing with communication and language,” she said.

The logistics of the semaphore project were considerably more complex. First, a site for the telescope had to be found, with good sight lines and a chance of a decent crowd. Then someone in a nearby office had to be enlisted to serve as the unseen oracle of the postmodern predicament.

Ms. Katchadourian said she felt that it was imperative to the meaning of the work that the participant remain anonymous, just another life being lived high above the city. The lawyer immediately got the idea, she said, and was more than happy to contribute his knickknacks while keeping his identity a secret. Together they chose the objects to be displayed and then she devised a code for the objects to correspond to a dozen basic semaphore messages, which are usually conveyed with colored flags.

On the first day of the project, only a few observers wandered tentatively over to check it out, seemingly confused about why a tourist telescope was pointed in the direction of nothing particularly touristy. But Bill Fatouras, a project manager for Chase Manhattan Bank, who had walked outside to enjoy a cigarillo, squinted into the telescope and said he would return to make a daily smoke-break check on his nameless neighbor.

“That way if he’s having a bad day and I’m having a bad day, maybe we can get some empathy going, you know what I mean?” he said.

Martin Griffin and Jerry Morgero, underwriters for a commercial insurance company, said they might keep tabs too, but admitted that they didn’t quite know what to think of the project as an artwork.

Mr. Morgero shrugged: “I guess it just goes to show what I don’t know about art.”

Mr. Griffin shrugged too, but then brightened.

“It’s a big, glorified mood ring,” he said. “If that’s what it is, I like it.”

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Back in my Environ days, Amina Claudine Myers was a frequent presence both in our loft and others. A charming woman, she cut a unique figure on the scene. She was (still is, I suppose) a bit short with a somewhat stunted posture (I suspect something odd with the spine), tended toward floor length African-print sarong-type attire and was probably the first person I ever saw, around '77, to style her hair in lengthy tight braids with all sorts of shells, metal and other trinkets wrapped therein. She was also one of several musicians who overtly had never lost the connection between blues and sould bands and the avant garde, having come up, if I'm not mistaken, as an organist for many a smoky bar band as well as for gospel choirs. If she was in a group, you could always count on at least some of the music being deeply grounded in the tradition. And she was always a peasure to deal with.

For several years prior to this '81 recording, duos had become very popular. While part of the reason was musical (conversationl free improvisation at its most minimal an uncamouflaged) there were strong economic imperatives as well. Duo piano albums were pretty unusual, though. Not sure if there was a precedent for this, at least among US free jazz musicians (someone can correct me if I'm wrong). With Myers alongside, Abrams' increasing tendency toward dry formalism was nicely muted and the result is a solid, enjoyable recording. Nothing too spectacular or earthshaking, but solid with an abundance of blues-soaked playing and even boogie in the finely titled, "Down the Street from the Gene Ammons Public School". The lone free, Taylor-ish track doesn't fare very well --much storming about, little left to ponder--but it leads into the highlight of the session, Myers' beguiling "Dance from the East", an extremely catchy, motoric composition that whizzes along with cheerful abandon. Listening to it now, I'm reminded, of all things, of Ron Geesin's solo piano pieces from albums like 'Patruns'. "Duet" closes with a lovely, balladic tribute to Abrams' wife, Peggy.


Finished Kishi's "The Crimson Labyrinth". It's a light read in most respects but I have to say it kept me fairly rapt throughout. I'm thinking of the author now as Murakami's younger, still comic book-reading, games-obsessed brother. Curious to see how he progresses and mildly interested in reading his previous works, though I'm not sure if anything else has been translated into English--don't think so....though I see three films have been made from his books in Japan.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Well, with a turntable back in the house, I can return to occasionally carrying on with the little project I began some months back, Browsing Through My Record Collection. When last we met, I'd gotten to Muhal's "Mama and Daddy" but wasn't sure my recollections were up to snuff. So I played it today and, I'm afraid they were. "Afraid" in the sense that, with this album (Black Saint 0041, recorded June, 1980) Abrams settled into a kind of rut that would persist at least until I grew weary of checking out his every release. This rut consisted of, generally with one exception, constructing an album made up of exceedingly dry, quasi-academic works, albeit with a definitely jazz-based ensemble. That one exception, inevitably the saving grace of the session, was a heavy, often beautful, blues-based piece. The frustration factor was large. I mean., look at this line-up: Abrams, George Lewis, Wallace McMillan, Vincent Chauncey, Bob Stewart, Leroy Jenkins, Brian Smith, Andrew Cyrille, Thurmna Barker. All-Stars at every position. Yet he forces them through three pieces that are just tired excercises in melding avant playing with the sort of "classical" approach that was popular in Third Stream circles in the late 50s and early 60s and arrives as arid and brittle as week-old Wonder Bread here. When we finally reach the title cut, it's with a mix of joy and anger, the latter to the effect of, "Why aren't you filling the album with stuff this beautiful?!" *sigh* Gorgeously languid, strolling juicily along and capped by a superb Abrams solo. Almost worth it for this piece alone. Back in the late 80s, I made a cassette of the single pieces from this and subsequent Muhal albums that were worthwhile. Damn good. It's always struck me as bizarre that Abrams seems to have felt it necessary to prove himself in such a tedious area, as though the world needed more sterile, academic pseudo-avant classical music.

Oh yeah, the cover. I can't say I was ever all that big on the dressing in African costumes, the face-painting and all, but some people can pull it off better than others. And it helps when it's in some kind of context, even if it's just a performing stage. A photo that looks like it was taken in some mall-based picture studio just looks silly, reading as though someone had just rifled through the props basket. The one on the back cover, fortunately unavailable, is even worse.
Finally, after over a year without any turntable at all and after several where the chances of it functioning on a given day had dwindled below the 50% mark, I picked one up. I've never been an audiophile and I'm still not. I tend to look for mid-range items from companies with a good track record, sometimes scanning a few reviews. I picked out this Audio-Technica AT-PL120. It wasn't difficult to set up and it works, so I'm happy.

The immediate spur for this purchase was the arrival, a couple weeks back, of Jason Lescalleet's amazing release, "The Pilgrim", about which I'm sure I'll have much to say later. The bulk of it is on disc, but also included is a vinyl recording that I was very anxious to hear. It's an extremely moving piece of work and a very brave one as well.

The second thing I put on was the Philip Samartzis/Rasmus Lunding album, "Touch Parking". I managed to eke out one listen to that on the old turntable. This was a Nikko with a tone arm that ran perpendicular to the center of the record, gliding along in its slot. The problem was that it was increasingly refusing to drop once it reached the record's rim. The only way I could listen to "Touch Parking" at all was by stacking it atop six or seven other records so the needle could catch. Not very efficient. Philip was kind enough to send me a disc burn of the recording shortly thereafter but it was still nice to hear it as originally intended.

Both releases, by the way, feature elaborate photo-engraving on the vinyl. I think I posted one side of the Samartzis disc before. Here's the other. I have no idea how common this is among contemporary vinyl releases. I assume it is so, but I'm out of the loop on these things. I still remember how awesome we thought it was when that live Jethro Tull album from about 1971 appeared on translucent purple vinyl!