Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Thank you, gentlemen.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

One of the most oddly frequent search engine avenues to this site is when someone types in "bump on wrist" or the rough equivalent. This leads the concerned party to my wonderful post of last October (? I think) when such a bump emerged rather disconcertingly on the underside of my right wrist.

Well, for those who are experiencing a similar unwanted growth and are fearing some dire malignancy, I thought I'd mention that said bump, while lingering around for a few months, gradually retracted itself and is now only barely discernible, if that. All without recourse to hitting my wrist with a Bible or other dread tome.

So take heart, ganglion cyst developers. All will likely turn out well. Maybe.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Listening through my remaining Braxton LPs on Arista...

"Five Pieces (1975)" (aside from introducing parenthetical year markings in AB album titles) seems a bit like a reheating of the previous album, though on lower flame. The first cut on Side Two gets back to that dirge-like area I like very much though not nearly as intensely as on the earlier recording. Altschul gums things up a bit.

Of course, the Creative Orchestra recording perked up everyone's ears back then, particularly the parade track. There's actually a hint of that approach on the sax quartet piece, Braxton on sopranino emitting a Sousa-like line briefly. It's still fun, as is much of the disc, though once the surprise factor has worn off...If I'm not mistaken, this was George Lewis' first recording and he does indeed shine. Always enjoyable to hear dueling bass and contrabass saxes as well.

The duo with Muhal begins with a sprightly take of Dolphy's "Miss Ann" then arcs out into some fairly dry territory, never my favorite aspect of Abrams' playing. The brutally motoric piece at the end of Side One with the contrabass sax is still a fair amount of fun though the awkward run through of "Maple Leaf Rag" isn't. Nice ballad, "Nickie" (a rare--sole?--AB piece with a non-formulaic title, though I guess that's attributable to its being an improv between the two) to close things out.

Can't bring myself to listen through the 3-LP orchestral set. As I've mentioned before, aside from a lovely complex chord about midway through Side One that lasts for a minute or so, the entire piece is unrelentingly tedious. I've heard tell that the blame lies with the student orchestra and maybe so. But damn is the piece boring.

The last one is "For Trio" (Composition 76), an intriguing idea for an album wherein the same sidelong piece is performed twice by different trios, each with Braxton, the first with Threadgill and Ewart, Side Two with Mitchell and Jarman. It certainly falls into AB's "difficult" area, very abstract in a contemporary classical way, more concerned with instrumental color than anything else (the musicians all wield an enormous array of reeds and percussion). It's a recording that, at the time, gave me all sorts of problems but which, today, I enjoy pretty much as well as anything else he produced in this period; really very nice. The enclosure gives a rare (?) example of the real world aspects of his diagrammatic titles, in this case referring to the spatial situating of the musicians and, more abstractly, the flow of the music between them.

If Mosaic or whomever get around, one of these years, to issuing the Braxton Arista recordings in toto, the critical re-evaluation will be interesting to see.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Found myself thinking about this album in a very different light the other evening. It had always been a big favorite of mine and holds up musically pretty well, but I was wondering....

Well, check out that wonderful Benno Friedman cover photo. It's almost just too perfect in some ways, especially in what it transmitted to a young, suburban would be avant white kid in 1975. You get to have your black cred but without any vestige of anger, without a sense of street or ghetto or class. Instead you have an intellectual looking black guy, smoking a curved pipe no less, wearing a thick winter sweater, rimless glasses, and sporting a bemused smile as though chuckling in surprise at some well-turned mot that you've just delivered. On the back, his ghostlike form is strolling through leaf-strewn woods, not the South Side of Chicago. This was likely the first image of Braxton seen by most listeners as the Arista recording was the first of his to be generally distributed. It's an affable one and I'm guessing went some way in making the music herein more palatable.

More, when you play the disc, you're far from the fire-breathing free-jazzer you may have expected to encounter, given his prior press and the reputation of the AACM generally. You're presented with extremely complicated and convoluted lines, ripped off with a precision you'd come to expect from King Crimson and spawn thereof. This isn't Coltrane, it's too clean for Mingus, it's not even Mitchell, lacking the delicious sourness and granularity. I can almost--almost--understand the charge of over-intellectualism leveled at Braxton at the time but it's exactly the kind of approach that could hook smart young fans weaned from prog and eager to investigate modern jazz. On the first side particularly, with the quartet of Wheeler, Holland and Cooper (incidentally, Cooper--along with Steve McCall--was always my ideal drummer for Braxton) things are wrapped up in a very complex bow, but a bow nonetheless. He gives you a lot to chew on but maybe lets you avoid rubbing up against the harsher realities implicitly proffered by the Cecil Taylors or Julius Hemphills of the world. I don't mean this as an aspersion on Braxton, just a partial explanation for why his music may have been chosen as the stuff to launch a semi-major label like Arista, that there was reason to expect that he'd "go down easy" with a significant portion of the market, guys like me. otoh, you could simply argue that he was the most interesting young jazz musician on the planet at the time. No reason not to combine both...

I find most of my pleasure today on Side One is derived from the heads, the intricate insistence of the first track (giddily, massively obsessive on the last run through), the charming additive nature of the second (23C, I think. I remember at the time it's not being obvious to me how it was constructed--hard to understand how I could've missed it--took me a while to figure it out. Since then, I've wondered if Rzewski was a direct source of the structure here, from pieces like "Attica") and the lovely, lazily romantic theme from track three with its unexpected and delightful sidetracks on the recapitulation. The improvisations between, however, come off as somewhat busy and/or routine. Not bad but unexceptional.

The three pieces on Side Two offer more to this listener these days. The duo with Teitelbaum is restrained and interesting throughout; I like it much more today than I did back when, probably simply due to understanding the language better. The first seeds of the World Saxophone Quartet appear in track two, another attack of obsessiveness appearing through much of it, though only marginally interesting to me now, more for the historic value. However, the last piece, with the quartet from Side One plus Leroy Jenkins, remains one of my single favorite works of Braxton's. The dark, dark theme is wonderful, played by the contrabass clarinet, Holland's arco and Jenkins, brooding like a large reptile disturbed from sleep. The improv is fine but set off brilliantly later on when Holland re-introduces the written material with some seriously deep, abyssal bowing accompanied by Cooper's crisp, spare cymbals. Very beautiful. I always wanted to hear AB investigate this area more often.

It was an important recording, putting the AACM on the general cultural map (though the AEC had made inroads on Atlantic previously). Practically speaking, it may have been the best possible choice to debut the label, though part of me wonders if we might not have been better served with, say, "Coon Bid'ness".

The follow-up record, "Five Pieces (1975)" was kinda more of the same, less solid with Altschul's busyness replacing Cooper's ultra-musical precision, a little treading of water until the Orchestra album which I'll get to sometime soon.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Well, that'll learn me.

In the throes of my day long Shiina Ringo obsession, I figured I'd walk up to Book Off, the oddly named Japanese book/DVD/CD store located not too far from my office. So, skirting the recently created crater at 41st and Lex and the associated massive clean-up details attending to it, I made my way over at lunch. Sure enough, there was a Shiina Ringo section with six or seven discs available. Though I'd done some research yesterday, I didn't quite have her sequence of releases committed to memory and the fact that virtually everything was in Japanese didn't provide me with many hints. So I picked up "Adult pour Femme", a 2006 release ("Kalk..." was from 2003, I think) and a two disc package from, as it turned out, 2001 bearing the titles "Kame" and "Mori".

These latter are collections of covers, mostly Japanese songs but a few US/British as well ("Autumn Leaves", "Yer Blues", "More"). They're by and large just awful. Some of the pieces themselves are as bad as you can possibly imagine, the schlockiest of pop ballads with all affiliated detritus. I'm fairly sure it's not a joke. Just brutal stuff; it's going to be hard giving them my requisite minimum of two listens. "Well", I thought, "that was 2001. She obviously made some kind of creative leap between then and the
album I heard the day before. Maybe she advanced on that one for "Adult..."

Erm, it's better than those two I guess but doesn't come remotely close to KSK. At its best, it's somewhere in Ambitious Lovers territory. Jazz rocky in a competent manner for part, lounge-y for most of the rest but not very interesting at all.

Wha' happened?

Well, worth a shot I suppose, but very disappointing. Back to the Brax....

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The first time I attended Record Club in 1998, one of the guests brought a track by Kahimi Karie, called "Good Morning World", an extremely catchy little number with one refrain that goes, "pretty like a trumpet" and which has lodged itself cranially on many an occasion. Almost picked up that and other Karie discs now and then but never quite pulled the trigger. A little while ago on IHM, a thread on Ms. Karie arose, piquing my interest again. In that she had recently recorded with Otomo's ONJQ and that "Nunki", pictured above, included participation by Otomo, Sachiko and Rhodri Davies, among others, it needed to be heard.

As it turns out, I only find myself moderately enjoying the album, three or four songs pretty nice, the rest so-so. My favorite, not too surprisingly, is the sparse track with Sachiko and Rhodri. Glad I heard it but doesn't make me overly eager to hear more.

A poster in the same thread made intriguing reference to Shiina Ringo, however, so I took a flyer on her "Kalk Samen Kuri no Hana". One of the several translations offered for this title is, "Lime, Semen, Chestnut Blossoms" though another, more idiomatic, is something like, "Semen Smell, Semen, Semen (Feminine)". I've also seen it referred to as the greatest j-pop album extant. Whatever, it's pretty wild. Just arrived today and I've only listened once, but damn. "Yattsuke Shigoto" has to be one the best pop songs I've heard in years. I understand she's something of a rarity in more than one respect, doing her own composing, arranging & lyrics.

Any more recs along this line would be greatly appreciated. (Jon, what does Yuko think of this?)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Not having listened to this in quite a while, I had it in my head that Side One from "Trio and Duet" (I believe it's Composition 36 in the current catalog) was as close as Braxton came to eai. Well, maybe it is, at least from earlier in his career, but it's really not very close at all. I was probably thinking of the extended, drone-like stretches but those actually occur mostly in the written passages. That plus Richard Teitelbaum's presence; he does engage in a few moments that, removed from context, might throw some listeners, but does far more active burbling than contemplative playing.

That said, it remains a favorite Braxton piece of mine. The theme is just gorgeous, one of the all-too-few beautiful dirge-like lines he wrote in the early 70s (another, best of all imho, serves as the basis for the last track on "New York, Fall, 1974" which is next on my hit parade). In fact, listened to now, the theme's couple of appearances are easily the highlight of the track. In between, the improvising of AB, Leo Smith and Teitelbaum is OK but really meanders off from everything the theme opens up.

One of the first concert events of this sort of music I ever attended was the Braxton/Teitelbaum duo that took place at Mt. Tremper on June 10, 1976, subsequently issued as "Time Zones" on Arista and reissued since with "Silence". Aside from my first live exposure to Braxton, it was also the first time I'd seen a synthesizer handled in non-keyboard fashion, having aurally teethed on Keith Emerson and his ilk. It was pretty revelatory to see Teitelbaum manipulating dozens of jacks and generating sounds that bore little or no relation to standard musical tones. Still, I've never really warmed to his playing. There was a point in the mid 80s where he and Braxton worked together (there's that double LP on Hat, I forget the name) and began to get into an almost rockish groove on occasion that got fairly exciting. I caught them at SOBs (!) around then on a double bill with Blood Ulmer (!!) and they rocked the place.

Of course, Side Two of the record in question is three duets with Holland on standards. Braxton seemed to have a penchant at the time for picking works from the repertoire that included "You" in the title: "You Go to My Head", "Embraceable You", "You Stepped Out of a Dream", etc. They're fine, though admittedly a bit boring at this point. Holland is absurdly agile, though.

Monday, July 16, 2007

About a year ago, I posted on my general hatred of attending weddings (nothing against the pair getting so married, just despising your average wedding ceremony and reception). Well, it still holds but over the weekend I attended about as enjoyable such an affair as I can imagine, short of Rowe and Caetano Veloso providing music at a civil ceremony.

Steve Griffith's (who JC denizens know as Captain Hate) lovely eldest daughter Heather completed the second of two rites with hubby Vineet (the first having taken place in India in January) on Sunday. The ceremony took place outside in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, as beautiful a setting as one could ask for. The affair was non-sectarian, presided over by one Rev. Cohen. Yes, that's right, Rev. Cohen. Can't be a whole helluva lot of those around. It took about 15 minutes--excellent--and consisted essentially of vows of love. Beats a mass any day.

The reception was in this large, sunlit greenhouse-like structure. As about half the contingent was Indian, the music was happily not your standard wedding crapola but included a great deal of bhangra. Now, perhaps it's my relative unfamiliarity with the music and I guess it's possible that there's some Indian version of Olewnick typing away right now in Delhi proclaiming the superiority of "Hot, Hot, Hot!" to his native pop music, but I could easily listen to bhangra all afternoon, no sweat. Way more rhythmically and otherwise interesting than US/Brit pop/schmaltz. There were also more than a few individuals who knew their way around the dance floor, providing some attractive and amusing visuals. Add several very enjoyable people at our table and some really good food and you have a wedding I can get behind.

Congrats, Steve!

Recent viewing:

Maria Full of Grace - Very fine, very sad

Samurai Rebellion - Wonderful Mifune; a small cut below Hara Kiri

Recorded in February 1972, "Saxophone Improvisations/Series F" is the next solo Braxton in my collection and, more so than "For Alto", makes a move into the cataloging of attacks that he'd engage in more and more frequently. Really a very fascinating approach at the time, imho, the isolating of the hundreds of possible approaches in a really rigorous fashion, concentrating intently on one basic attack and seeing what you can find. He's not as explicit about that here as he would be on subsequent recordings, but you do get the sense that there's little wandering about, that each track is tightly focused on a small area although, of course, that area probably doesn't turn out to be small at all. btw, I have to say how utterly cool the album title was back in the day. You just didn't get such (quasi) mathematical phrases like "Series F" every day. You just knew this fellow was up to something serious.

The short triad of pieces that opens the album (I have the 1976 Inner City release; I know it's been reissued with an additional set of compositions) is dedicated to Bobby Fisher [sic] with the parenthetical comment, "If Fisher wins the world championship I will add another stage. If he loses I will take off a stage and give it to someone else..."

The sidelong piece on Side Two, JMK-80 CFN-7 (Composition 26B per Martinelli's Discography) is one of Braxton's finest, a raging but precise storm wherein he engages in a bunch of amazing...not sure what you'd call it-hocketing? Where he rapidly alternates between higher and lower notes, giving the impression of two separate lines, all the while maintaining a ferocity level you'd be hard-pressed to find anywhere in the jazz scene nowadays.

I see that there's a two year + gap between Brax recordings among my vinyl and, consulting Martinelli, find that he only (as leader) recorded a couple of things in this period (at least as existed when the discography was compiled around 1999) none of which would've been readily available to me at the time, so it makes sense there'd be a gap. Needless to say, the "In the Tradition" releases--I only have the one volume--caused something of a commotion when released. There was a whole storm of controversy as to Braxton's legitimacy as a jazz musician in the early 70s even though he'd often included standards in concert and on record, and play them in heartfelt fashion. Well, here he was with a pretty mainstream group of musicians playing Warne Marsh (Marshmallow), Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, Just Friends, Ornithology and Lush Life. The pieces where he uses alto are fairly straightforward and fun but it was the two on contrabass clarinet that raised eyebrows. The Mingus, a duo with Niels-Henning ├śrsted Pedersen, gets some extremely abstract rumination before, at the tail end, settling into a dark reading of the theme in unison while Ornithology is just a riot. Braxton used to get a kick playing up-tempo bop on the most unwieldy of his axes (this and the contrabass sax) and he does so with gleeful abandon here.

Is there much lasting value? Probably not. Should he have bothered? Well, no, I don't guess so. There's something of the need to "prove" himself to the mainstream jazz world at play here. Of course, he was also piss-poor most of this time so it's hard to blame him for trying to walk that tightrope, especially considering he did have a true love for the music. In any event, it's an enjoyable recording, far more lively and creative than much of the straighter jazz of the era. Always meant to hear more Montoliu but never really got around to it.

Once again, I have only one recoding from a two volume vinyl set, this time "Duo 2" from the Braxton/Bailey concert of June, 1974. Hey, funds were tight back then. Can't find an image of the LP anywhere...Probably saw this one and snatched it up, not having seen Vol. 1. Again, the youthful reader must attempt to imagine a time when Braxton releases weren't as plentiful as...um, latter-day Braxton releases. This was the first Emanem record I ever laid paws on, pretty sure, and only my second encounter with Bailey, the first being the ECM Music Improvisation Company. He still caused me a good deal of trouble then; this was about as abstract as any music I knew in '75, at least as far as improvisatory music was concerned. I recall going back and forth on it, sometimes baffled, once in a while catching a glimmer of what he was about. For a long while, the only other occasion of his music in my collection was on the Guitar Solos Vol. 2 (released in '76 or '77 I think) of which I was always fond, and I didn't really re-investigate Bailey until about 1990.

While listened to these days with the knowledge of AMM's music, the set necessarily feels a bit stuck in that "insect improv" aesthetic, though it works reasonably well on its own terms. There's a decent amount of communication taking place, each musician acceding to the other on multiple occasions. And there are certainly individual moments, such as the end of Side One, where a kind of tonal stasis (many notes, but staying in the same zone) is achieved that's quite beautiful.

Finally, for today (and once more bereft of any locatable cover image--annoying) is the Live at Moers solo recording, originally issued on Ring, from June 1, 1974 (Hey! Out of chronological order; must remedy!) Another very, very strong solo performance in front of, if the back cover photo is to be believed, a pretty large audience. Did Moers regularly draw like that back then? Must be 500 or so people in the photo, clustered tightly together on a hillside and clearly going past the frame. Again, a nice variety of approaches from the screeching to a ballad that sounds as though based on "A Foggy Day" changes, to a staccato boppish piece, to a lightly swirling bunch of tendrils, to a repetitive Kelvin series track, closing with an ultrasonic squeakfest.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Some thoughts stimulated by the "sight" discussion below, probably tangential but maybe serving to illustrate how I come to hear work like that, including aspects of randomness and how difficult it comes to making qualitative judgments of same.

Two events from my early painting career were crucial in my understanding of the nature of vision as regards art. One I remember specifically, occurring in my room in Boston in late '74 while I was attending the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. I was sitting around, trying to think of something to paint. (I should mention that I did then and still, to the extent I do at all, paint in what can be fairly described as a "realistic" manner). Finally one of the basic lessons osmosed from several years of poring over Vermeer and Velazquez hit home: it didn't matter. Whichever way I turned, whatever I focussed on, there was an enormous amount of visual beauty to be seen if only I looked. "Composition" didn't have to be set up, it could be developed by reading the scene deeply enough. I turned an arbitrary number of degrees in my seat and painted what happened to be in front of me, in this case an old, faded pink arm chair with a couple of brooms and mops leaning against it, my boards from the ASG baseball sim I was playing sitting on the cushion. There were wires coming down from somewhere, their multiple shadows resulting from the several light sources in play. Nothing astounding from a historical perspective, of course, but revelatory to that 20-year old. Served me in good stead.

The second is a bit more subtle and possibly more difficult to get across. I was, and remain (contrary to much 20th century pictorial thought) very fascinated by visual depth and its depiction on a two dimensional surface. I recall reading (I forget where or by whom) the assertion that Velazquez, like no one else before, succeeded in painting the air between and around objects. Now of course we all see in depth (at least those of us with sight in two eyes) but it's a different thing to be conscious of that depth, aware of the air between things. Again, very hard to explain, but I found myself able to mentally toggle on and off the ability to look at things as objects in space and be very, very, conscious of the surrounding air. Maybe everyone else does this routinely, I don't know. But I have the idea that most everyone functions (in terms of looking at things, not, obviously, in terms of interacting with them) in a kind of 2-D fashion. (Maybe this wasn't the case before TV?) It's a wonderful little technique to practice, especially outside, where you can get a vivid sense of the mass of large things, say the skyline of Manhattan, when you're conscious of the air behind it, its density, its emergence from miles back. Try it!

Combining these two states of awareness (really not trying to sound at all mystical about it because mysticism has nothing to do with it) makes for an impossibility of ever being bored in visual terms. There's simply, always, too much to see. You can probably see where I'm going in terms of sound.

To the best of my recollection, these visual understandings were things I (crudely) developed myself, though it wouldn't surprise me to learn of some other direct pointers that I've since forgotten. It took me a long, long time (well, maybe ten years) to make the obvious correlations to sound. That ol' transition from looking to seeing didn't automatically cause the jump from hearing to listening. A large part of this, I imagine, was simply the kind of music that was occupying most of my time, which is to say avant jazz, an area where Cagean concerns aren't paramount. But I'm also guessing that, once I finally got around to it, it made the transition to greatly appreciating eai and, especially, field recordings and associated areas, that much easier. Not that it's been a quick process; some baggage has a nasty habit of being difficult to throw off. In other words, having been able to see "blank" walls (after marveling at them in Vermeer for years), and paint them made it easier to hear "silence" and appreciate variations in same on recordings.

Just as I don't routinely flip on the depth-o-vision (I wish I did, but it's still something I have to think about), I also don't always walk around consciously experiencing sound in a Cagean manner. I daresay I do so more than your average Joe, probably more so than your average taomud-head but it's still a conscious decision, not my natural mode of operation. I wish it was; maybe it is for some.

This is a roundabout way of saying that just as I've for a few decades been able to entrance myself looking at whatever happens to be in my field of vision, so it becomes "easier" to happily lose myself amongst any ambient sounds in my vicinity. Still, there are preferences...a recent favorite has been waiting areas in airports. You have a cavernous space, all sorts of mechanized sounds, far more than are apparent on first blush and, as icing, conversations that are likely to be in six or seven different languages. Person I'm picking up's flight delayed? No problema! I'm not sure if it's a positive or negative that when the sound concerned is slightly less random (as in "sight"--how random can be argued) there seems to be even more, potentially, enjoyment to be derived. There shouldn't be, I suppose, but I'm afraid I'm too far gone acculturated to really make that leap. The same applies for contemporary visual art, I should mention. I'll still derive more pleasure, in all likelihood, from a Richter or Rothko than the wall next to them (maybe Agnes Martin comes closest to bridging this gap). And put me in front of a Velazquez, well, forget about me for an hour.

Cage's well-known aphorism is apropos here: "If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all."

The problem, such as it is (especially if I'm to write critically about something), obviously revolves around explaining why one might bother purchasing, say, "sight" as opposed to opening one's window. Sometimes I think this is a very good question. But for better or worse, there's still a substantial part of me that wants to hear human interaction, that still subscribes to the notion that certain people can hear (and make heard) sonic relationships that I'm unable to (and find beautiful), make choices that seem "righter" than those occurring, choiceless, in my vicinity. The reverse as well, that some choice don't seem right, seem awkward, ill-advised, aggravating (though again...). There's a wonderful dialog between Rowe and Cardew that took place around early June, '66 where the interviewer asked what their (members of AMM) reactions would be if a pile of chairs collapsed during a performance. Their response was that if someone had intentionally pushed over the pile, they probably wouldn't like it whereas if it just happened, it would be fine. The motives of the person pushing would go against the grain of what they were about, in other words, and that would somehow tinge the atmosphere of the room. I'm not sure about that, but it's something I've thought a lot about. Clearly, there's much more thought needed but, again, that's one of the things that "sight" compels and one of the reasons I value it so highly.

Not at all sure how much sense the above makes....

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Just got a kick out of this shot, from "Kwaidan". Inching, little by little, through the Japanese films I'd never previously got around to seeing. Allah bless Netflix. Give me three or four years and I should be through my queue. I guess there was no real option to see these in my youth. Wondering now if they were shown at Vassar and I was unaware (I did see a couple things there) or maybe at a theater in Woodstock, where I remember driving up to see Satyricon in '70. But short of having been an extreme cineaste and knowing where to venture to in NYC, not sure how I otherwise could've seen them then.

When we were on W. 105th St., there was a video place on our block, simply called Movie Place, that was reputedly one of the best in the city. I went through a whole helluva lot of their foreign selection which while large, was clearly missing a bunch (maybe many of these weren't available on video?). So making up for lost time now.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

A few weeks ago, when talking with Martin Koenig out in Mazama, I became (re) interested in the Smithsonian Folkways label, one of those million things I've never gotten around to but always meant to. I went and scouted e-bay to see what happened to be around, saw the above item, bid and won it. Arrived this morning.

Pretty amazing 1957 LP release. Here's a track listing:

1) Bahnfahrt (a 1920s German burlesque piece incorporating industrial sounds)
2) Symphony of Machines/Steel Foundry - Alexander Mossolov
3) Dnieprotrot - Julius Meytuss
4) Dance - Cage
5) Ionization - Varese
6) Aeolian Harp - Cowell
7) Banshee - Cowell
8) Sonic Contours - Vladimir Ussachevsky
9) Fantasy in Space - Otto Luening
10) Symphony in Sonic Vibration - Halim El-Dabh
11) Transposition - Ussachevsky
12) Reverberation - "
13) Composition - "
14) Underwater Waltz - "
15-17) Natural Pipes - Roger Maren/Frederic Ramsey
18) Sonata for Loudspeakers - Henry Jacobs

The Jacobs piece, which is largely a demonstration of how he created the various tape-oriented sounds, is fascinating. For one thing, sonically (to an extent procedurally as well, albeit electronically) he seems to anticipate Reich. Apparently, he's been the subject of a decent amount of re-evaluation in recent years, including an NPR special. Still around, I think, in his 80s; seems to have gone through a psychedelic phase, involved with people like Alan Watts, etc.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

I'm a little baffled by the lack of discussion (so far as I can tell) on MIMEO's "Sight" release. There could be any number of reasons (maybe everyone thinks it's no big deal) but two possibilities loom prominently for me:

One is its nature as a "thought experiment". Rowe has expressed his sense that an idea can be just as important, more so perhaps, than the actualization of that idea. While this resonates very strongly with me, it's a stance that meets with a great deal of opposition from others. "Ivory tower", "disconnected", "elitist", etc. are terms of opprobrium often tossed around. I know for my part that, once I heard the idea behind what became "Sight", it almost didn't matter what the final product sounded like. I do enjoy it (very, very much) but given my affinity with the underlying idea, that's almost a foregone conclusion. In other words, the idea imbues the physical result with value by its nature. It almost didn't even have to be actually created at all except for the nagging sense of incompleteness this would have engendered. Whether that anxiety betrays some fundamental lack is another question. In some ways, "Sight" is an extension from the directional pieces created by the Fluxus members, later elaborated upon by the Scratch Orchestra. I wonder if "confining" it to a recording studio (or eleven studios) is a step forward, back or sideways in this regard? In any case, I get the impression there are still a large percentage of listeners uncomfortable with process works like this, who--when all is said and done--prefer a visceral, corporeal character in their new music, a lineage from, maybe, the jazz and rock backgrounds from which (I imagine) most arose.

The second reason might be the extremely uncomfortable itch created among improvised music fans (and improvisers!) whose notion of communicative playing might be thought to be stood on its head here. I'm not so sure it is, but clearly it would be easy to get that impression just in knowing how the disc was assembled. If the disc sounds indistinguishable from a restrained live improvisation (does it? dunno....) what does that say about the value of live interaction between musicians? For my money, one of the salient features of "Sight" is Rowe's pushing the limits of listening to one's co-musicians, getting into memory and deep knowledge of one's companions that needn't depend on physical proximity; maybe there's a slight analogy to his mentioning, a few years ago while on tour with Toshi Nakamura, that he'd reached a point where he found he could go through an entire performance without physically touching his guitar. That retention of sensitivity while at a remove seems to me to be an extremely fascinating area of study.

Of course, I could be entirely wrong with the above but one of the (many) virtues of Rowe's work is that it sets you thinking about things, an attribute in scant supply elsewhere. There has been similarly little discussion about "The Room", aside from (generally) listeners greatly enjoying it. I really look at them as a pair; nonidentical twins. There's a ton of material, conceptual and physical, in each that I'm confident will provide food for thought for years.

Newly received or bought:

Asher - the depths, the colors, the objects & the silence (Mystery Sea) (beautiful recording)
Electrelane - No Shouts No Calls (Too Pure) (disappointing; I'm afraid I'm giving up on my former favorite all-girl rock band)
Konono No. 1 - Congotronics (Crammed Discs) (fun and fine, though a little samey over the course of the disc)
Kim Suk Chul Ensemble - The Shamans of the Eastern Seaboard (Alula) (pretty awesome)
Tom Hall - Flueve (Nightrider) (up next--recordings of a bridge in Brisbane--looks pretty cool)
The United States of America - s/t (Sundazed) (on deck after 'Flueve')

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Received a handful of discs yesterday from a hitherto unknown to me label out of Sweden, Slottet. Interesting variety:

Boots Brown - a quartet that includes Mats Gustafsson and Johan Berthling, creating an odd, improvised "chamber jazz" with Kenny Wheeler-ish overtones.

Jean-Louis Huhta - Enjoyable, rhythm-driven but relaxed set of tunes from this refugee of Swedish hardcore bands.

Santa Maria - ex-lead singer of the (apparently, though not to me) well known Swedish pop band, The Concretes, Maria Ericksson. Only slightly odd, often overblown, occasionally effective.

I see they have upcoming releases scheduled by Tetuzi Akiyama with Gul 3 and a Gustafsson/Christian Marclay collaboration.

btw, I can't recommend Charles Mann's "1491" highly enough for anyone with an interest in pre-Columbian American history. Fascinating stuff, not the least due to everything you learned in school about the period being pretty much wrong.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

In the spring of 1975, I was walking around downtown Boston when I was stopped by an attractive young woman holding a clipboard. "Hi! Do you have a few minutes to take an interesting survey?" Well, I wasn't doing anything in particular and she was cute. "What's the survey about?" "It's kind of a personality questionnaire. It'll only take about ten minutes." I said OK and was then informed the survey would be administered in a nearby house. Slightly more dubious, I nonetheless followed the young thing a couple blocks to a very nice, old townhouse in the Back Bay section.

I was given the test, several pages of questions regarding personal affinities and so forth, iirc graded on a 1-5 scale. I handed it in when finished and was asked to stick around for the results which were relayed to me by some guy, the winsome lass having departed to ensnare other unwitting dupes. I don't recall the specifics of my result other than their purported finding that my sense of humor was lacking (*sputter!*) but it was only after going over the details that the person let on that what I was being "tested" for was admittance into the hallowed halls of Scientology. Aw, crap.

Now, this was 1975 and L. Ron Hubbard's brainchild wasn't quite the sensation it developed into by the 80s. Celebrity cretins like Cruise and Travolta weren't involved with it, etc. In fact, I only associated one name with the cult...The guy says, "I notice on your list of things you enjoy that you mentioned jazz. Have you ever heard of Chick Corea?" "In fact," I said, "Corea's name was the only one I really connected with Scientology and I have to say, ever since he became affiliated with it, the quality of his music has deteriorated drastically." With that (or, likely, more awkwardly phrased words to that effect) I took my leave.

Within a couple of years, I'd divested myself of virtually every recording I owned that featured Corea's unsavory presence. When I learned a bit more about Scientology, I had a real strong, gut reaction against its precepts (even more than most religions!) and found its practitioners to be a sickening combination of loathsome and cynical. So out went the other Corea ECMs: the two volumes of Piano Improvisations, the previous Circle disc (A.R.C.--didn't realize the Scientological component before!--with Holland and Altschul), the first three Return to Forever's (the ECM and "Light as a Feather", arguably both good music as well as "Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy" [gah!], a piece of dreck), and earlier Corea outings like "Now He Sings, Now He Sobs", "Is" and "Inner Space". I just couldn't stand having anything of his around, though he was still there as a sideman on things like Miles'.

The sole exception was Circle's "Paris Concert" and that only because of the presence of Braxton. Up to now, I file it under Braxton, actually. And I'm glad I didn't toss it because, stink of Corea aside, it's a very, very good recording. Corea of course is fine here, my prejudices notwithstanding; all four members are in top form. I often have some trouble with Altschul, finding him to be generally overbusy and there's some of that, though his percussion feature, "Lookout Farm", is rather impressive. But it's Holland and Braxton who steal the show. The former's "Q & A", which would be reprised the following year on "Conference of the Birds", is a wonderful hide 'n' seek piece, a fine balance between the Bailey-esque music Holland had been playing and the theme-driven work he'd settle into.

They do a rocking rendition of Shorter's "Nefertitti" [sic] as well as closing out with "No Greater Love". At the time, it was a bit shocking to hear Braxton waxing so romantic! Little did we know....

Strong concert, worth hearing. On purely musical grounds, I've surely shortchanged Corea, at least up to 1972 or so, but my conscience is clearer. For all I know, Jerry Falwell might've been a fine improvising musician as well but unless there's some oop duo with Rowe hanging around somewhere....

I wanted to note in passing another nostalgic fact: The smell of the original ECM pressings. Very unique and heady and still manifest 30+ years later! Not sustained when Polydor began printing the albums for US consumption. Mmmmm....ECM smell......

btw, there's an Arista album whose recording dates slightly precede this one (February, 1971), "The Complete Braxton 1971", a double LP issued in 1977. Hard to imagine as it may be today, there was a time when a Braxton album was a rare thing, especially in US stores. Aside from "For Alto", almost nothing was around until Arista's spate beginning in '75. This one's pretty fascinating, not the least because it fills in a pre-Arista gap and demonstrates that the ideas that, as far as most people were concerned, including myself, appeared to have sprung forth fully formed in "New York, Fall, 1974", had been gestating for several years. Three tracks with the Wheeler/Holland/Altschul quartet, two duos with Corea, an over-tracked solo sopranino piece, a solo contrabass clarinet number and a work for the London Tuba Ensemble. Worth the hunt for a Braxophile.