Tuesday, February 26, 2008
What more to say about Van Vliet?
My first CB was "Lick My Decals Off, Baby". My recollection is that Rolling Stone published four reviews of this album, one by Lester Bangs. Checking, I see that these ran in the December 10, 1970 issue. I had already become aware of Zappa's music so Beefheart's name was known to me; in fact, I guess I already had Hot Rats with his stellar turn on "Willie the Pimp". So I was intrigued.
I sauntered into Recordland, Poughkeepsie's only record store. (Some of the department stores, like Merit and Bradlee's, had record sections, but pickings there were slim) It was a good-sized store, located near the intersection of Market and Main streets in downtown Po'town, run by an old cranky geezer and his two pudgy, slick sons. They used to slice a corner of the cellophane on each LP and stamp a capital 'R' in a circle on the back, so if you returned it they'd know it was theirs. I still have a few bearing that tiny insignia. So I wandered over to the rock section and was confronted with a choice: this weird Beefheart album that I didn't know if I'd like or not and.....Mott the Hoople's second recording, 'Mad Shadows', a follow up to the Escher-covered first album which was something of a favorite of mine at the time.
I wussed out and went with the Hoople. Terrible, terrible mistake. Not only because it delayed my first taste of CB for a few weeks, but the album itself sucked royally.
Anyway, I soon rectified this error. Good thing too as Decals about ripped off the top of my head. No problems whatsoever getting into this one. I quickly went back and got Trout Mask, I think Safe as Milk too. A key moment in the Olewnick musical history, especially given the door to Ornette that Van Vliet would open for me about a year later.
I won't go into Decals or Trout Mask here; done so too often elsewhere. Just to say, they're still probably my two favorite rock albums ever and sound as great to me today as they did then. Even so, in my mid 70s mission to rid myself of all things rock, I was ruthless and the Captain didn't make the cut. His period of exile was probably the shortest of any, however, and I quickly realized the error of my ways, repurchasing a bunch on vinyl in the late 70s, I think before Shiny Beast hit the stores.
I do have this British release oddity, going under the title "Top Secret" that cobbled together a few pieces each from Safe as Milk and Mirror Man. Good stuff, circa 1967. "Kandy Korn" is particularly amazing, the swirling psychedelia of the instrumental section as strong as ever.
For me, "Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller", while signaling a welcome return in the right direction away from those miserable mid 70s albums, isn't entirely successful. I'll pause and mention here that, long ago, Linda thought she was doing me a favor when she came across a CB album she was pretty sure I didn't have and brought it home for me. It was "Unconditionally Guaranteed". I've kept it for historical reasons, but it's quite possibly the very worst album among the 3100+ I own. Anyway, I've not read all the back and forth, but from what I gather, I tend to side with those who assign a good half the credit for the greatness of CB's earlier work to the musicians in the Magic Band: Zoot Horn Rollo, Rockette Morton, Drumbo, Art Tripp etc. To my ears, those assembled for Shiny Beast just can't compete. There's still a certain slickness present on pieces like "Candle Mambo", "Harry Irene", etc. The title track's the only one that really holds together for me. A few of the others chug along nicely and I'll admit that "Floppy Boot Stomp" sounded better to me now than it probably ever had before.
Still, I far prefer both "Doc at the Radar Station" and "Ice Cream for Crow" of the late work. I'm still not entirely sold on the personnel (a few of these guys--Feldman, Martinez, Fowler, at least--went on to have careers scoring Hollywood films, something I doubt Harkleroad ever had a chance or desire to do) but by this time they've gelled nicely and can rock out in jerky Beefheartian fashion to a good degree. "Dirty Blue Gene" is the one piece from the last three albums that, for my bucks, can stand with anything on TMR or LMDOB; perhaps not surprisingly, it's a piece Van Vliet wrote and played in the 60s.
There's also, of course, a wonderful, deep bitterness in Doc and Ice Cream, a real harrowing aura through many of the songs. "Telephone", from "Doc", is a marvelously malign take on the instrument, a venomous spew directed at that "plastic-horned devil". "Skeleton Makes Good", which closes his last album, is as harsh and horrific as anything he'd ever done.
About ten or so years ago, I saw an exhibition of Van Vliet's paintings at the Knoedler Gallery. I was surprised how impressive they were in a brute, animist way.
Monday, February 25, 2008
Over the weekend, I finished "Rabbit at Rest", the fourth volume of Updike's amazing series, charting the life of Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom from about 1960 to 1990. I mentioned this over on Jazz Corner and, as had occurred in the past, received a variety of opinions about Updike, by and large negative. I'm curious about this.
I'd always brushed Updike aside and had little interest in reading him for a long, long time. I associated him with a certain New Yorker magazine kind of writer--white, WASP-y, novels concerned with wealthy Westchester-ites, in whom I had no interest. There were a few writers who fell in to this category--Bellow, Cheever (who I still haven't gotten back to, having only read a short story collection back in the 70s). Maybe it was seeing his books on the shelves of parents of friends (not sure if we had any ourselves) figuring, if they like him, how good could he be?
Somewhere in the early or mid-90s, for reasons that escape me, I picked up his novel, "S."--and enjoyed it greatly. I then read both "In the Beauty of the Lilies" and "Toward the End of Time" and loved them, marveling in both the language and the perspicacity of his observations. Much of it is simple affinity--his characters notice and consider many of the same things I do. The latter novel is one of the finest, most subtle works of speculative fiction I know. Incidentally, I wasn't able to get much into "The Centaur" at all and had a good deal of difficulty with the more recent "Seek My Face" as well, while I've generally enjoyed his non-fiction essays, especially those involving art criticism.
So a couple years back, I began the Rabbit series ("Rabbit, Run", "Rabbit Redux", "Rabbit is Rich" and "Rabbit at Rest". For my money, it ranks with Richard Yates' "Revolutionary Road" as the most trenchant, honest and real example of contemporary American fiction concerned with middle class life in the period. Rabbit seems to be someone Updike could have been, had he been athletic, more stolid, more fundamentally conservative. He's an absolutely fascinating character to have created, in his complex combination of antipathetic characteristics and a surprisingly keen and penetrating mind. He's baffled by much of the change that occurs over the three decades, a large part of him wanting things to remain as they were during his "glory years" as a star local basketball player, he's utterly selfish though he doesn't think he is, he's fascinated by people and how they run their lives and he observes thousands of small things that etch the middle class American landscape with more brutal honesty, good and bad, than I've ever encountered elsewhere.
Yet he seems to be held in low regard by at least a good number of people whose tastes in literature I generally admire. Someone used the phrase, "a phallus with a thesaurus" which I don't get on either account. His use of language, while imho very beautiful, is hardly a matter of fancy words; pretty much the opposite. (Maybe I've not read the ones to which that observation pertains?). And while there are a number of scenes throughout Rabbit that are quite sexually explicit (more so for the eras in which the first two were published), it's all bound up with Rabbit's character which, as mentioned, was a local athletic star who reaped the side benefits of same and spent a good portion of his life thinking that state of affairs should somehow always be maintained (and who, indeed, found a few partners who felt the same way, one of the aspects that lends a tawdry, tragic atmosphere to the books).
My guess is that a large part of the negative reaction toward him (unless it's based on novels, like the Bech series, I haven't read) lies in his unflinching rendition of the banality and smallness of the existence of a character like Rabbit, someone whose way of thinking is uncomfortably close to those of us who grew up in similar surroundings, that is white and middle class in the US (though Rabbit is about 20 years older than myself). It's extremely unhip and, indeed, "hipness" is viewed by Rabbit with extreme suspicion, a foreign kind of virus that upsets what he thinks should be the normal course of things, though he'll appropriate aspects of it if it suits his purposes. He's too much like our parents, perhaps, something we'd rather not examine this closely.
Oh well, just riffing while at work here. I'm sure I'm leaving out tons of analysis that could be, and I assume has been, done. When I finished "Rabbit at Rest" yesterday, it was with great sadness, not merely for coming to the end of the books, but for Rabbit who, for all his obtuseness, insensitivity and stubborn oafishness, was one incredible, complicated individual.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Just a wee plug for Tandem Electrics' fine disc, "Intaglio". Good, solid, propulsive noise, providing a well-needed ear scouring (not too harsh) over its scant 31 minutes. Richard Kamerman (amplified laptop circuits) & Reed Evan Rosenberg (programming).
There's a myspace page here, an in depth review of the disc by Richard at Bagatellen and it looks like they'll be appearing at the Knit as part of the ongoing sigogglin series come April 14th. Looking forward to that.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Received my copy of Marion Brown's "Afternoon of a Georgia Faun" yesterday. Always nice to see those old, German-issue ECMs. Sadly, this one lacked that unique aroma--what? Yes, of course I checked. I mentioned this before, no? Most of the pre-Polydor import ECMs have this wonderful smell to them, heady and nostalgic. They also have those inner sleeves that are just slightly wider than they are long, about 1/8 inch, so that it's impossible to replace the sleeve with the opening facing outward. Kind of a +/- situation: it's awkward and annoying to have to remove the whole interior sleeve to take out the vinyl; on the other hand, there's something snug and "safe" about reinserting the sleeve in the vertical position....
Anyway, very nice recording. I'm sure I've heard this a few times over the years on radio, though I can't say anything about it ever stuck with me. It's much freer than I expected, with nary a trace of the folksiness and down-home qualities that would suffuse the 70s things on Impulse!, maybe aside from the pastoral whistles and small percussion on side one. But two good collective near-improvisations, the "solos" hardly seeming such, more just emerging from the ensemble with slightly more prominence, not commanding attention. Fine Corea work on Side One as well.
Happy to have it.
Monday, February 18, 2008
I'd taken out my sole Cannibal Ox disc, "The Cold Vein" (their only release?), a few weeks ago, some thing I hadn't listened to in quite a while and pretty much enjoyed it, especially the opening track, "Iron Galaxy". Doing some research, I saw that one of the Anticon producers, going by the nom Odd Nosdam, had released a disc last year that received much good press, "Level Live Wires". The reviews cited the great amount of noise and field recordings he interwove with hip hoppish music. Sounded interesting. Well, that'll learn me to believe mainstream reviewers when it comes to things like "noise". It's like someone eating bland Indian food and putting the tiniest pinch of spice on it, then pronouncing it "really spicy". It's not bad and overall it's listenable but way routine, only mildly imaginative and not noisy enough by several powers of ten.
Speaking of buying mistakes, somewhere in the recent past I read about this band, Dengue Fever. They're a California-based (should've been fair warning right there) band that melds Cambodian pop into a jazzy mix, including a Cambodian lead singer (female). Now, I loves me much of what Southeast Asian pop I've heard, including some from Cambodia. Detty Kurnia kills me. So when I stumbled across this at Other Music, I figured it was worth a shot. Well, no, not really. Some catchy numbers, the vocalist, Chhom Nimol, is ok and winning on a couple of tracks, but too many of the songs fall into regulation fusion, no bite and not enough over-the-top sweetness to compensate.
Happily, I managed one good one out of the three purchases that day, Volume 6 of Obscure Tape Music of Japan, featuring the work of Kuniharu Akiyama. More later when I digest is further, but on first blush, it was a winner.
Later in the week, trooped over to Erstwhile Command Central, picking up the Magic I.D., Graham Lambkin's "Salmon Run" (pictured above) and Tandem Electric's "Intaglio". I have an issue or two with Magic I.D., exclusively centered around the vocals and lyrics (I love the clarinets) but I'll get to that later as well after more listens. Kinda liked "Intaglio" so far.
But portions of "Salmon Run" knocked me out, the opening track especially. Last night I played it at Record Club and wowed the group, a couple of members insisting on acquiring the disc. On this piece and several others, it's not so much that Lambkin is working in a very new area, just that the choices he makes are near perfect. The decay on the string and piano piece when it returns packs an emotional wallop for me, casting an extreme and beautiful melancholy over the music. Again, maybe more later on, but I'd highly recommend picking up one of the scant 300 copies of this.
Some other good stuff played at RC last night. Guest Richard Brown, in from Calgary (!), played an intriguing track by MGMT, an area I'd normally have little interest in, but they seem to use lessons derived from bands like Godspeed! You Black Emperor in an interesting way. Dan played a very nice Milton Nascimento song from '74 and Chris brought back the memories by offering up "Train Time" from Cream's "Wheels of Fire". Actually, given that the live performance is just Bruce (harmonica, vocals) and Baker (brushes), I was thinking that perhaps they should be called, for the occasion, CRM II.
Monday, February 11, 2008
This wee image is the only one I could find of Dave Burrell's "High", released on Douglas in 1968. Wiki and other sources list it as 1965, but I think '68's correct.
So, I'm down to the last three occupants of my "B" vinyl section. I guess the Burrell album is a relative rarity; it's also a really nice one. Three pieces--first is a enjoyably romantic/free medley of themes from "West Side Story" with Norris Jones (pre-Sirone) and Bobby Kapp, plus Pharoah Sanders assisting on tambourine. "East Side Story" is a lengthy free excursion with Sonny Murray manning the drum kit. The real joy is "Margy Pargy", one of the happiest ditties you'll ever come across.
Burrell was always a favorite of mine, especially his work with the David Murray quartet of the late 80s and the Archie Shepp group documented on Arista around 1975.
I have a Don Byas double album, The Savoy Sessions, things recorded in the mid-40s. I have no idea how I came to own this--maybe lifted from my Dad's collection? Couldn't work up the interest to give it a spin yesterday, though.
Back around 1980, my brother Drew stayed with us for about a year while we were out in Corona, Queens. I'd been paying little if any attention to the punk and new wave of the preceding five or so years but he was a big fan so I heard a bunch of stuff, generally enjoying Talking Heads, Pere Ubu and others. We went to see Talking Heads in Central Park, I guess it was '81, the first rock concert I'd attended in seven or eight years probably since Mahavishnu around '74. I figured, judging from their records, that the Heads would be different from your standard rock show, grinding out songs from existing albums identical to the recorded versions. Wrong. Really disappointing, note for note recreations, down to the guitar solos. To this day, I don't understand this approach. Why bother? Why attend? Is seeing your admired musicians going through these motions so important and fulfilling? Yecch. And, true to form, the crowd acted like crowds tend to, automatically cheering everything served up, forcefully reminding me why I went out of my way to avoid these chilling, quasi-fascistic gatherings.
Anyway....I picked up this album not long after, probably spurred by Eno's presence. Holds up fairly well, some good tunes, intended for a Twyla Tharp production. Lotsa Eno to be heard. Not that I by any means am aware of Talking Heads discussion these days, but I don't seem to hear this one mentioned very often. My interest waned pretty quickly (I think I have the Stop Making Sense album, that's it). I remember a Byrne disc that came out around 1985--The Knee Plays?--that copped the theme from "Theodora Is Dozing", the ultra-gorgeous Bulgarian song I first heard on the Nonesuch sampler back in the early 70s, giving himself composer credit. Kinda pissed me off.
Howard Waldrop - Things Will Never Be the Same (collected stories, 1980-2005)
Hannah Higgins - Fluxus Experience
Saturday, February 09, 2008
I went over the historical whys and wherefores of Bryars' "Sinking of the Titanic" and "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet" enough back in November on the occasion of my hearing a (not very good) performance of his early works. But the original Obscure recording still sounds mighty fine.
I file this one under "Bryars" as well, though Hobbs might be more appropriate. His "Aran" is a lovely, slow percussion march (Hobbs, John White and Bryars manning the armory), all cloudy references to ancient Eire. It was written in 1970-72, not so long after he left AMM but sounds absolutely nothing like anything that emerged from "The Crypt".
I guess this was the first I ever heard John Adams, though I can't say it registered as strongly as his "Shaker Loops" did a few years later. It does include a talk radio excerpt in its second movement, "Christian Zeal and Activity", a clear antecedent of Byrne & Eno (who produced the session). Very different thing, of course from AMM's radio usage as this is a "composed" part of the piece. The final movement is a kind of interestingly spacey and loopy reworking of "Sophisticated Lady". Not a bad piece, overall.
Hobbs' "McCrimmon Will Never Return", for two reed organs (Hobbs & Bryars) is a wonderful piece based on Pibroch bagpipe drones. Gorgeous, sinuous music.
"1, 2, 1-2-3-4", by Bryars, was the piece mauled last November by the ensemble using Beatles references. Here, the base is a smoky jazz number that swiftly tumbles into its constituent parts as the musicians play their roles in aural ignorance of each other. As I think I mentioned before, there's a great dreamlike effect achieved, something that anticipates Badalamenti's music for Lynch. The ensemble includes Derek Bailey and Cardew (on cello). I note in the mini-bio on Hobbs, Tilbury is mentioned. I can't tell you how much this irks me to have had Cardew on record (here and on Reich's "Drumming" and Tilbury's name around in the goddamn mid-70s and being otherwise clueless about their music for the next 20 years. Why wasn't the Net around when I needed it?!?!
"Hommages", originally issued on Les Disques du Crepuscule around 1981 and finally due, as far as I know, for re-release on disc this month, remains a throughly lovely outing. Four pieces (two more to be added to the disc) for piano, vibes and soft percussion, in a loosely minimalist vein but suffused with sharp-tanged nostalgia, like walking through a fondly remembered old neighborhood at night, a gentle snow falling. OK, the Holst tribute/knock-off might be a bit much....Actually, maybe there are more connections regarding the other "hommages" than I'm aware of. Others are in respect to Bill Evans and Percy Grainger, neither of whose work I'm overly familiar with (always had a blind spot for the former). I will admit that "My First Hommage", the one for Evans, is the piece that holds up better than the others, but still...
"Three Viennese Dancers" (1986) was Bryars' initial recording for ECM and can be heard as something of an extension of "Hommages", though with more overtly dramatic elements. I'd probably consider it the best of of his run there. While at the time I enjoyed several of the subsequent ones, I get the sense I'd have more trouble with the these days. Bryars' String Quartet No. 1 is richly performed by the Arditti and a really nice work while the other major composition, "First Viennese Dance", for french horn and percussion, strays a bit into the woozy and points the way toward a good bit of his later music. An odd feature of this record is that the brief opening piece is repeated at the end. Not a different performance of the same piece, but the same recording. I think, unless it's an incredibly mimetic recreation. Odd.
I followed Bryars' path until the late 90s; "A Man in a Room, Gambling" (1998) is the last thing of his I've heard. As I said, I generally liked at least some of each disc enough to continue, but the returns gradually diminished to a point where I gave up. I've recommended it before and will do so again: if you can find the Les Disques du Crepuscule release of "The Sinking of the Titanic" that was recorded in 1990, pick that sucker up. Better than the original.
Friday, February 08, 2008
Our good friend Alex has gone and set up a blog, Negative Potential. In the current entry he assigns more depth than did I to Mattin & Unami's "Attention", perhaps with good reason. Alex has been one of the most trenchant posters on various music boards (ones that he's not kicked off of, that is) for the past several years and I look forward to reading his thoughts here, at least when he's not posting in German.
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
Went to hear Christian Wolff perform some of his music last evening at the Merce Cunningham Dance Company space. To the best of my recollection, I'd never heard his work performed live, having only experienced it via the seven or eight discs I've picked up. Not that those recordings are necessarily representative or that they're not subject to the vagaries of the non-Wolff performers, but I've generally found the music tough sledding. To my ears, there's a tinge of academicism present (maybe too many Mode recordings in the bunch!) which doesn't help me steer through the essential knottiness of the compositions. But, of course, that may well be just me.
So I was prepared for a night of difficult listening and got it, though not in the sense I expected.
There was a quintet of musicians on hand: Wolff (piano, melodica, percussion), Robert Black (bass, percussion), Timothy Fain (violin), Larry Polansky (electric guitar, electric mandolin, percussion) and Robyn Schulkowsky (percussion). They performed six works, three from the mid-70s (Exercises 1, 10 & 18), one from 1991 (Jasper) and two premieres of new pieces (Grete & Duo 7).
I guess there were two main surprises. One was how relatively conservative much of the music struck me, in a kind of post-Neo Romantic vein. Second, was the absolute predominance of "notes" as opposed to "sounds". Not just that it was virtually all written as near as I could tell, but there was--to put it perhaps too vaguely--more of an interest in "sonic colors" than the sounds themselves. This plus what I felt was (on the part of several of the musicians) an overly studied way of phrasing caused several of the works to pall a bit. Since this wasn't an working repertoire group but rather an ensemble hand-picked by Wolff, I have to assume they were rendering his music as he wished and maybe I'll come to see the wisdom in his choices, but for now, I don't quite get it.
Things were too clean, in a word. My exposure to Larry Polansky's own work has left me feeling similarly; I just find his guitar sound entirely too smooth and characterless. What I wouldn't have given for a certain Nantes-based guitarist to be occupying that chair, improvising within the complex structures Wolff created. I had similar qualms with the violinist and, especially, the percussionist. The cadences fell on the wrong side of the delicate/prissy line, sounding too much like every other contemporary piece you've heard since 1960.
This is not by any means to say that there weren't beautiful moments. The Exercises especially created a fine sense of space and the give and take between instrumentalists was playful and enjoyable. #18 used a good deal of small percussion, Wolff manipulating stones, small patterns emerging that bore a whiff of Reich, a lovely 6-note piano melody coming and going; a delightful piece all around. The closing Exercise as well, with Polansky thankfully switching to mandolin, occupied similar ground, though more "expressive" in a emotional sense.
That was the rub in some of the other works--they seemed to uncertainly balance between pure melodicism and academic restraint. On "Jasper", a duo for violin and bass, Fain seemed just about to launch into virtuoso paroxysms; I didn't want him to, but on the other hand, I felt, "If you're going to do it, do it!" Though perhaps that was Wolff's point, dunno. The episodic nature of many of the pieces left a certain amount of dissatisfaction, though having just re-read Calvino's "If on a winter's night a traveler", I probably should have been listening with that in mind, with that sort of playing with the listener's expectations. I did want to hear far more grit, however, more elaboration on sound.
Big crowd there, filling the house. Props to Joey Baron for showing up. I had a good time sitting next to David Behrman and Robert Ashley, listening in. Merce Cunningham himself was in attendance, in a wheelchair, looking frail but attentive and appreciative. And my friend Julie, who I don't see nearly enough, made a surprise showing.
I was able to speak a little with Wolff after the show and hope to do so more, at greater length, re: AMM & Keith.
Jon Mueller/Asmus Tietchens -Acht Stuecke (Auf Abwegen)
Jon Mueller/Jeph Jerman - Nodes and Anti-Nodes (Crouton)
Saturday, February 02, 2008
I know I've gone on often enough here and there about the great Marion Brown albums of the mid 70s, but damn they're good and still unreleased on disc.
"Geechee Recollections", recorded in June of 1973, is the first of the Toomer trilogy (poet Jean Toomer and jsut such a unique, wonderful record. Free country jazz? I guess there are other things that could fall into this category (John Betsch's "Earth Blossom" maybe) but they're few and far between, at least at this level of quality. Leo Smith and Steve McCall are the two sidemen with big names but everyone's absolutely fine: Abraham Adzenyeh and the late Jumma Santos on percussion (the intro to the opening track is a feast of intertwined percussiveness), James Jefferson, bass, William Malone on thumb piano and autoharp and, especially, Bill Hassan's narration of Toomer's poem, "Karintha". I'm not the boggest fan of jazz/poetry combos by any means but this one hits exactly the right tones and Hassan's voice has a great, real musicality. And man, the fantastically titled "Buttermilk Bottom" is the finest free funk antecedent to work like Mitchell's "Snurdy McGurdy" that I know.
Side Two is a suite, "Tokalokaloka", bracketed by brief solo statements from Brown and Smith. It's a much looser, less countrified piece, one that would fit comfortably in an Art Ensemble set, with a strong African current in the percussion and works itself up into an excellent lather and, eventually, a lovely, bittersweet theme.
But as good as "Geechee Recollections" is, for me the gem of the bunch is "Sweet Earth Flying" (as with the prior album, images are aggravatingly difficult to come by on the web. The above is from Ebay, where the vinyl can be had for around $10 as I type. Go for it!) THe band--and what a band it is--consists of Brown, Muhal Richard Abrams, Paul Bley, Jefferson, McCall and Hassan. Each side is a suite, the title one opening with a gorgeous Bley solo on Fender Rhodes, elaborating with vast feeling on an achingly beautiful theme of Brown's. The whole group comes in on Part Three (I guess Part Two didn't make the cut), Bley still on FR, Muhal playing "Ring modulated Hammond organ" (! - sounds great), Brown's woody tone singing out, bearing some amount of pain. Bill Hassan returns for one of the major highlights on "Prince Willie", for which he penned the words, leaping from Swahili (I think) to English midway through. It's perhaps the most musical vocal recitation piece I've heard in a jazz context, absolutely thrilling. Brown's entrance after the main vocal is also a marvelous and memorable thing. And then...and then, as if that's not enough, Side One close with solo Muhal on acoustic piano. I've said it before and I stand by it: I know of know more stunning and deep example of Muhal's playing than this here, though presumably some of the credit goes to Brown for the thematic material--hard for me to tell how much is improv.
As on the prior LP, the suite taking up the second side (here, "Eleven Light City") is a more expansive, looser-limbed set of material. It's rather different than the pieces on Side One, perhaps a bit less overall impressive but still a fine, fine work. The keyboards dart all over the place, sometimes electric, occasionally not, plus the odd Hammond appearance; indeed, there's a tinge of early 70s Miles to be heard here. Brown has a great, tart solo after a particularly loony ring-modulated section, the perfect antidote. Brown wafts over Bley and Muhal, taking things out with dignity, wistfulness and a touch of sorrow.
That this album has never been issued on disc (at least that I'm aware of) is an enormous shame.
I think "November Cotton Flower", the final piece of the trilogy, was released on two or three occasions; mine is on the Japanese Baystate label. Recorded five years after "Sweet Earth Flying" with a very different band (Hilton Ruiz, piano; Earl May, bass; Warren Smith, drums; Karl Rausch, guitar) the sound is rather different as well. More subdued, "straighter". I had seen Brown perform once in the meantime, at Axis in Soho, and recall being quite disappointed at the Latin-pop tinge to his music that day; it seemed very superficial and I think it was one of the very rare occasions when I left a live set midway through. This album is better than that, substantially so, but perhaps overly relaxed and routine in its structure. He performs "La Placita" here, a piece I have the impression was fairly ubiquitous in his sets around this time and, I have to say, it doesn't wear well. "Fortunato" carries a lovely theme (reminds me very much of something I can't put my finger on) but again, it's theme-structure-theme, an approach largely avoided on the earlier recordings. The revisiting of "Sweet Earth Flying", though, is quite effective, easily the highlight of the album.
Likely even rarer than the above three releases is the lovely album of Marion Brown compositions performed by Amina Claudine Myers, "Poems for Piano", one of, I think, five recordings ever issued by Sweet Earth Records, from 1979. I'd seen Amina on many an occasion at Environ and elsewhere in the mid-70s but I'd always found her playing in avant jazz groups a bit lacking, far preferring her more gospel and blues oriented work. Here she weds that latter approach with Brown's pieces and the result is quite beautiful. There's a lot of Muhal in her style, true, but when she digs deep into her roots, she's a unique individual ("Sunday Comedown" and much of Side Two). She can go on a bit more than necessary sometimes, as on the rendition of "November Cotton Flower" here, but by and large she's just fine. Some interesting pieces I was otherwise unaware of, like "Evening Song" with its surprising Satie-like phrases. A really nice album. Along with Abrams' "Afrisong", probably my favorite solo piano to come out of the AACM (albeit via Georgia).
Marion Brown's been in poor health in recent years, including undergoing brain surgery and having a portion of a lower limb removed. I think last I heard, he'd relocated to Florida? Very sad. A lovely musician who flies beneath the radar all to often.