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.