Wednesday, August 29, 2007

So a little while back, an obscure gentleman going by the nom de web of Arbogast posted a comment here. Intrigued as I always am by a new presence, I followed his linkage to the very enjoyable blog, Arbogast on Film, which you can see listed there on the right. Check it out, it's quite good.

My immediate though was that it was actually the work of my friend, the noted playwright and all-around cuss Richard Harland Smith, who comments here occasionally. I mean, all the telltale signs were there: Mario Bava obsession, vampiric arcana, caustic, dismissive wit, absurdly detailed knowledge of cinematic ephemera. He claimed otherwise, insisting his blogging was confined to Movie Morlocks. I remain suspicious, however, though I'm told that everyone and his brother are posting about Lee Marvin today as have those "two". Then I see a link from Smith to Arbogast's site....Hmmm...

Advance 2nd birthday greetings to Richard's (and Barbara's) lovely daughter Vayda!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

My lovely niece Tiana was down this weekend so I dutifully shepherded her around the city on Saturday, hitting several museums.

First up was the Frick which she'd never visited. Easily my favorite of the "classic" NYC museums, it's a small but incredibly strong collection housed in the former mansion of the Frick family. How strong? Well, there are 37 Vermeers in the world and the Frick has three. Plus, world-class works by Titian, Bellini, Holbein, Ingres, Velazquez, Rembrandt and Whistler. I've been there countless times but there are certain narrow hallways that tend to escape my perusal. I went down one yesterday and saw (I don't know if it's always been there or is a rotating piece) a fantastic little sculpture, I think you'd call it an haut-relief, by Houdon of a dead thrush:

Then over to the Whitney, which I'd not visited in a bunch of years. Very impressive show of Rudolf Stingel, whose work I was unfamiliar with. Something of Gerhard Richter in his range, to be sure, though not quite of Richter's depth, imho, but still pretty cool. The top image is his but he'll also produce thing like:


The Psychedelic Era show there had some fun stuff. First time I've ever seen a Mati Klarwein painting in the flesh, I'm pretty sure. Some good light show/videos. The La Monte Young piece, an illuminated box in a darkened room with complex sine-like tones occurring wasn't too engrossing.

Onto the subway and out to Queens to PS 1 to see the Organizing Chaos show. I think this might be the same one Richard caught a while back. In any case, it includes the Scratch Orchestra documentary as a featured event. Very funky place and surprisingly crowded. There was electronic music going on in the courtyard, eventually eliciting a pang of early 80s nostalgia in this listener as electro-percussionist David Linton took the stage. His stuff hasn't changed too much--less "primitive" sounding than it used to be, probably to its detriment--but it was nice seeing it get such relatively large exposure. As to the show itself, eh, it was ok. Nice video by Christian Marclay, Guitar Drag, providing ghostly echoes of the James Byrd murder case.

The book store there could have seriously dented my wallet if I had any surplus cash. As it was, Tiana bought me the score for 4'33" as a belated birthday present!


Watched "Wild Strawberries" this afternoon which, inexcusably, I'd never seen. Very beautiful, moving film.

Friday, August 24, 2007

An outgrowth of the Galas event, this afternoon I picked up this 4-disc set on the British JSP label, "Rembetika; Greek Music from the Underground". Recorded from 1925 to 1947. Most of the way through the first disc and it sounds wonderful so far. Not dissimilar from what little I'd heard before or generally expected, but beautiful nonetheless. Also picked up a Juliette Greco album for Linda...we'll see about that 'un.

I've had hit and miss luck when purchasing Booker Prize winners or nominees. Chalk up another miss with Kate Grenville's "The Secret River", a 2005 runner-up. I'd read great things about it for a while and always kept it in mind before finally seeing it last week. Essentially a historical novel about the earliest days of the Australian colony, it reads like a bland TV miniseries, a network one at that. I at least expect the writer's ability to be of some interest and I suppose Grenville could be called "competent"; I'd prefer "pedestrian". You could have come up with the entirety of the plot line in about two minutes: poor, rough man doing his best for his growing family in London falls afoul of the law (well-intentioned!), is sentenced to hanging, gets a last minute reprieve to a lifetime banishment on England's newest penal colony, takes family, tries to begin a new life, is the most decent of a slimy bunch, has grudging respect for the natives unlike his fellow countrymen, works to establish a homestead, conflicts with said natives, conflagration ensues, he and family survive to preside over the new colony but with misgivings as to how they attained it. Snore.

On to "On Chesil Beach" from which I expect far more.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Cleared up another small matter at the Galas show that had been bugging me for a little while. I was seated at a table with composer/writer Mark Grant who was covering the concert for New Music Blog (not sure how reviews are posted there; maybe just added atop). He described his work in some general terms that prompted me to guess a comparison to William Bolcom might not be out of line; apparently it was at least minimally accurate. I mentioned being very fond of his "Graceful Ghost", a piece I wrote about here a month or two ago. Mark asked which version. Inveterate readers will recall that I was somewhat bemused by the violin/piano version on the recording in question. In my head I was positive I was hearing a solo piano rendition and I was reasonably sure I wasn't fabricating it out of thin air. Mark mentioned the other two sections of the "Ghost Rags" suite, "Poltergeist" and "Dream Shadows", both titles striking memory chords. I knew I must have it somewhere, presumably as part of a multi-composer album and filed elsewhere.

A bit of brain-racking on the way home gave me the answer: a wonderful 1980 release on Nonesuch, "Paul Jacobs plays Blues, Ballads & Rags" on which the pianist (who died of AIDS in 1983) performs the Bolcom suite in addition to Copland's "Four Piano Blues" and (my initial reason for purchase) Rzewski's great "Four North American Ballads". Well, that solved that!

It's spinning at the moment and sounding fantastic, the solo Bolcom especially far, far outpacing the version with violin. I'd always meant to hear more Jacobs, a beautiful player, who premiered works by Stockhausen, Messiaen, Berio, etc. Any recs would be appreciated (the above pic is from a recording of Bach Cantatas and other pieces). I'm pretty sure this recording (the Rzewski/Bolcom/Copland one) has never been discafied, a shame.

[Just remembered: I do have another Nonesuch LP featuring Jacobs: Debussy's Etudes, Books I & II]

Monday, August 20, 2007

Saw Diamanda Galas last night (a review will appear at Bagatellen within a few days). Hadn't seen her live since attending the Plague Mass concert at St. John the Divine which eventually made it to disc. Enjoyed it more than I thought I would; it's obviously not an area I listen to much these days but what she does, she continues to do quite well. She's been doing songs for a while now and last night's show varied between older blues-based pieces, French chanteuse songs and Greek lamentations. Her second encore, "Gloomy Sunday", was especially moving. But more later, in the write-up.

This was at the Highline Ballroom, a relatively new club on West 16th St. that David Bowie has something to do with (at least curating some shows) Though nice enough on its own, it's the kind of venue I rarely venture into. Essentially a dinner theater seating maybe 200-300, but determinedly upscale and...well, I'll delineate Galas' issues with it in the review. But I think she'd have been better served performing in a more modest, scroungier place. You choose to live the rock star's life and you make your accommodations, I guess. But I was imagining her doing her show at the 155th St. corner, even in the little Italian restaurant there. Happening to walk by and hearing Galas emanating from inside there or from the parking lot below, now that would've been cool....

(I looked around for a non-made up pic of her. Tough to find...)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Drove up to Poughkeepsie yesterday to see the folks and my brother Glen and his wife Arlo. Blasting Ligeti in both directions (very wide range of music in that set, requiring much more digestion). Conveniently for me, the annual Sean Meehan/Tamio Shiraishi outdoor event was taking place in upper Manhattan, at the intersection of 155th St. and Macombs Place at 8PM, which was near enough to my return route to make stopping by a no-brainer.

The site is on the east side of the island, looking out on the Macombs Dam Bridge, a frilly structure painted off-white and lit at night, and across the Harlem River, Yankee Stadium. It's pretty close to the site of the old Polo Grounds as well. There had been a late afternoon game and, as I pulled in, numerous fans in Yankee t-shirts were streaming by, elated by a Clemens-driven win. I serendipitously located a parking space, got out and surveyed the surroundings. It was about 7:45 but I didn't immediately see anyone who resembled a likely audience member for the event. A few minutes later a car service vehicle pulled up and disgorged a couple peering intently at a white sheet of paper and looking around quizzically. I ventured to ask if they were trying to find Sean's show and they were. Turned out to be Geoff Dugan and his companion (whose name I've stupidly forgotten). Geoff most recently was in the news for the release of his recording of orchestral tune-ups, "Favorite Intermissions". Shortly, others arrived, maybe 25 in all, including Shiraishi, but no Sean.

There was an Italian restaurant and attached bar near the corner, an odd place for such an establishment, and I met Chris Wolf there, had a drink. Meanwhile, Shiraishi had set up at the base of an old, stone staircase that led from the bridge level down to the street and which served as seating for the audience and had begun playing. His style has remained the same since I last saw him at Tonic, all ultra-high, keening tones on alto, something guaranteed to draw the interest and scorn of passing motorists and pedestrians. Every so often, I thought I detected other non-traffic sounds being emitted from somewhere above and then, about ten minutes into the performance, caught sight of Sean walking barefoot around the upper level, about 40 feet above Shiraishi, snare in hand, occasionally sitting down and exciting it. Soon he ambled down the staircase to sit and play at various points about 10 to 100 feet distant from his cohort.

Around this time, I got antsy myself at sitting in one place. It just doesn't seem appropriate to me to do so for one of Sean's concerts if one has the possibility of moving around. So I went back up the staircase and walked in the area Sean had occupied previously, sometimes paying close attention to the music, sometimes turning my back on it and listening to the traffic, watching the bridge and Stadium. Shiraishi's alto doesn't lend itself to environmental integration nearly as easily as Meehan's snare (which does so effortlessly); in fact, I think the duo combo is a little odd in that regard. But I walked west on 155th St (you can see the railing over the space on the left in the photo above) several hundred feet until I could no longer hear the saxophone, then slowly walked back, enjoying its emergence among the general noise.

Very nice evening. Hung around for the post-show watermelon and picked up the LP of Sean and Tamio recorded by Dugan, "Summer Concerts", consisting of similar events from 2002-06. (excellent stuff)

Friday, August 17, 2007

I came to Roach's music indirectly and still probably don't have a really good grasp of it. I think I first became familiar with his work, on record, through the recordings he did with Mingus around '57, some of which were issued on a Prestige twofer that I bought early on in my jazz listening years. Then, of course, there was the great, great "Money Jungle". I never acquired much classic bop, it being readily available and often played on KCR, but his drumming in those contexts always stood out for me. I remember Mingus saying that he could walk into a club and if Roach was in the middle of a solo, he could tell what the piece was; his playing was that melodically precise.

I was fortunate enough to see him six or seven times. The first was in duo with Abdullah Ibrahim at Environ in, iirc, 1977. Annoyingly, I can't really recall details of the show (except that Richie Havens was in the audience!). Sometime in the early 80s, I made my one and only call-in for a ticket giveaway on KCR. The DJ said to name the drummer and played "The Hard Blues". Ah the late, great Philip Wilson. The prize was tix to see Roach perform with the World Saxophone Quartet at St. John the Divine in upper Manhattan, a cavernous, amazing space. There was an oversized bass drum positioned front and center of the playing area, horizontally. To begin the show, Roach appeared, grasping a thick, wooden club. He raised it over his head and brought it down on the drum with significant force, then just stood there for about 15 seconds listening to the reverberations die away. He did this a few times as members of M'Boom! filed in behind him to begin their set. The collaboration with WSQ was wonderful; don't know if it was ever recorded.

Saw him several times in the 90s with his quartet, his double quartet and otherwise. For a while, we were friends with a close friend of Roach's daughter, Maxine, and would go to see them when they played in town. My condolences to Maxine, who was lovely and charming the one time we met.

My strongest memory, though, is of a brilliant concert that took place on a sunny afternoon behind the Brooklyn Museum, a duo with Randy Weston. The duo itself was as supremely musical as you would expect from these two but what sticks in my mind is the brief solo set Roach did to open the show. Playing only snare drum, he performed three or four "songs" with as much musicality as you'd normally hear from a saxophone or piano. Just a jaw-dropping event.

Obviously the end of an era, but also the passing of one of the supreme musicians of the last century.

Thanks for all the beautiful music, Mr. Roach.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Birthday pelf:

Simon Schama - Landscape and Memory
Jim Harrison - Returning to Earth
Shisaku Endo - Stained Glass Elegies
Manuel de Landa - A New Philosophy of Society
Kate Grenville - The Secret River
Michael Chabon - The Yiddish Policeman's Union

Waddled over to Other Music, which I hadn't entered in quite a while, and just picked up the first four items that attracted my attention:

Drumm/Menche - Gauntlet (Mego)
David Garland - Noise in You (Family Vineyard)
Ligeti - Clear or Cloudy (complete Deutsche Grammophon recordings)
IMJ 2006 issue (Berlin)

also on hand, the two new Formed discs,

Nakamura/Capece - Ij
Mersault - Raymond & Marie

Of these, I've only listened to Ij so far...

Off to the beach for the day...

Saturday, August 11, 2007

I'm not the biggest Monet fan in the world. Maybe an early prejudice against certain painters I was "supposed to" like early on in my education is responsible, but I've never really clicked with his work. When I was taking Art 101 at Vassar, he was one of those whose works looked much better via color-saturated slide in a dark room than in the original. So I was a little surprised how taken I was with the above painting, seen at the McNay Museum in San Antonio a couple days ago. In this instance, the only image I could locate on-line, the reproduction is substantially off from the original, to the latter's detriment. It's too dark and the contrasts in the background between the various greens and browns are overstated. The red lilies, though looking ok here, explode out much more deliriously in the original. In fact, inevitably I suppose, I couldn't help but make analogies to certain strains of eai. In any case, a lovely painting.

That museum visit was pretty much the cultural highlight of the past week. I don;t get out much (at all) to middle American cities and perhaps it's typical, but downtown San Antonio was a weird experience for a New Yorker. First of all, it's much smaller than I would have suspected for such a large city (some 1.3 million), not significantly larger than Jersey City's. Second, aside from the River Walk, the place becomes virtually vacant after 5PM or so. We'd go out to find a place to eat and there'd be only handfuls of people walking around and almost no traffic to speak of. More bats flitting about than humans. Strange. That River Walk is a park/esplanade affair, sunken about 20 feet below street level, meandering along the San Antonio River, a waterway hardly worthy of the name as it's only about 50 feet wide. We call these things "streams". The central stretch is line with restaurants, bars and trees--nice enough though overly populated and semi-Disneyfied. The oldest architecture seemed to date from the mid to late 19th century, again fairly interesting in a Spanish/Texan way but not too striking. For a place founded in 1691, there didn't seem to be much from the earlier period. We (I went down with a geriatrician from Mt. Sinai) did happen upon a small house once occupied by O. Henry which was a little cool.

Some good eats including the obligatory BBQ and Tex/Mex but our favorite place was a small Japanese joint called, erm, Sushi Zushi.

Anyway, the McNay Museum of Modern Art was open late on Thursday so I cabbed out there. It's a former mansion, turn of the century or so I think, in Spanish style with an interior courtyard. About the size of the Frick all told, though the collection isn't up to that standard by a long shot. There are a number of fine pieces, though, including the Monet, a lovely Cezanne landscape sketch, and solid works by Picasso, Hopper, Larry Rivers and others. Special exhibitions included one by Keith's disreputable cousin, Reginald Rowe, a local artist who turned out 4th rate Rothkos and an odd series of drawings by David Hockney inspired by Picasso's "Blue Guitar". Rather surprisingly, the museum also house a couple of rooms devoted to Medieval and Early Renaissance Northern European works with a few beauties therein.

But the most fascinating find for me was in a space showing works in stage design and in particular, three watercolor and ink paintings by one Leslie Hurry done for a 1958 production of Tristan und Isolde. Small, intense whirlpools, dark but luminous with amazingly variegated bands of color. Really impressive stuff. Of course, I can find nothing on the web of these things and the only Hurry images I can locate aren't at all like these paintings (though whether or not the ones I saw were representative, I've no idea). Hurry was British, dies in 1978. Seems to have had a bit of a rep, wondering if Richard might know of him.

Listened to no music at all during the week if one discounts mariachi bands. Went to a small park one evening, though, found a bench equidistant between two man-made waterfalls (of differing sonic character) and enjoyed a soundscape that included train whistles, the water, kids playing and traffic hum.

Came home to a package from Tim Albro (thanks, Tim!) consisting of four items (a solo 3" disc, another 3" by a quartet calling itself Benito Cereno, an EP by Sympathizers and a collection of work by various folk under the title, Technicolor Hell, all of which are sounding pretty good to these music-starved ears this morning.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Light posting around here recently due to general busyness (and consequent lack of opportunity to delve further into Braxtonia) and paucity of interesting new releases finding their way into my grubbies. Didn't get a lot out of the new solo Dorner on Absinth and haven't a clue what, if anything, to write about it. The third release on Manual out of Korea, "5 Modules III", a quartet with Ryu Hankil, Jin Sangtae, Taku Unami and Mattin is intriguing enough but requires many more listens. I'm kind of hearing it in relation to "sight" though its means of generation is entirely different.

Picked up the older "Futatsu" release as well (Sugimoto & Malfatti) which also requires much digestion.

Off to San Antonio for a week on Sunday (work-related), back Friday. Carry on.

Reading or have read:

Amos Tutuola - My Life in the Bush of Ghosts/The Palm Wine Drinkard
Jonathan Rosenbaum - Essential Cinema
Russell Shorto - The Island at the Center of the World
Kobo Abe - The Face of Another
Kingsley Amis - Lucky Jim