Thursday, July 31, 2008

Luis Recoder/Sandra Gibson/Olivia Block - (untitled) sos editions DVD

I just watched and listened to this for the first time and I gotta say, it's pretty impressive. There will be more viewings, but just a few notes.

Unlike the previous release on this label, Sean Meehan's 'Sectors (for constant)', I decided to open this one. The external packaging contains what printed text there is, the interior pieces lending themselves to be assembled into a small box, into which the DVD sleeve can be inserted. But aside from Block, by the time I put it into my player, I'd forgotten the names of the other two contributors and, indeed, didn't know what the make-up of the disc was with regard to who was responsible for what, if there were three pieces, etc. The disc itself provided no further clues, beginning without a menu or any other indication of what was in store (which, btw, is the way I like it; would that more music DVDs followed this pattern). So one result was that I wasn't sure if the audio portion was entirely Block's responsibility or not (it is).

Her music, not surprisingly, is excellent, though less Block-ish than one might have come to expect given her last several releases. The only telltale signs were a handful of echoing bangs, the kind of large-vessel-interior booms we heard on parts of "Heave To". Otherwise, the music carries a traditional arc from quiet to loud to quiet, very much in the "roar" category, from dull to enormous. On its own, as an audio disc, it would likely have been a big favorite of mine this year. Combined with the video, it's pretty damned fantastic.

The initial image is a light rectangle (the entire video is black and white) with a somewhat darker border, its shape roughly congruent to that of your TV, with rounded corners. In the first few minutes, this shape pretty much sits there, the shades varying very slightly, minimally enough that you're not sure if they're actually changing or your eyes are playing tricks. Gradually, a kind of aura projects from the rectangle, seeping into the surrounding dark. Later, as the music intensifies, faint light pulses are seen within the white quadrangle, flashing irregularly and dully, as if seen through thick, clouded glass. Throughout the video, there's a shifting placement of these images, emerging and receding from the rectangle, sometimes "within" it, sometimes, exploding outside of it. Around the 25-minute mark (total time of the video @42 minutes), the action is ratcheted up and an incredibly dense and chaotic period of activity occurs, throbbing and organic, though as if on a microscopic level; it's like you're watching neurons and synapses in action. Anyone ever use the old CA Lab cellular automata program? I was reminded of the kind of seething movement you'd get there, organic and pattern-oriented but a step or two beyond what your brain could easily perceive as a pattern.

Jeez and this on just one listen....

It eventually subsides but here's the real special part. You sort of expect a reversion to the visuals that began the piece, a kind of A-B-A form. The music more or less does so but instead of the white rectangle coming back into sharp focus, the writhing movements and flashes of light gradually go extremely out of focus, resulting in an utterly marvelous several minutes of pulsing blur, a beautiful and eerie effect, the kind of thing some protege of David Lynch will be featuring in ten years, an abstract image that has (viewer imposed) glimmers of realism (headlights, heat lightning, etc.). Very, very cool.

So, big kudos to Recoder & Gibson, whose work I'm otherwise unfamiliar with (can't locate any images of this disc online). And of course to Block, the three teaming for a superlative effort, maybe the best thing I've seen and/or heard this year.

Here's a capture, courtesy Erik:

It's a little pricey, but well worth it, available from erstdist

sos editions

Monday, July 28, 2008

The single best thing about reunions has to be when people you remember as being lovely, bright and interesting decades ago turn out to still be lovely, bright and interesting.

I attended a high school reunion this past Saturday, the 36th year after our '72 graduation. We'd had only one previously, the 20th in '92. My brother Glen's class ('74) holds one every five years and this year decided to do a 3-fer, with the classes from '72-'74. There were people I'd seen reasonably often over the last few years but not often enough (hi, Joy!), others I'd been in touch with but hadn't seen in ages (great to see you, Corky & Jodé!) and others who's presence was a wonderful surprise like Anne Schwartz and her husband Dan Levitan (who, btw, is a composer, specializing in works for percussion and keyboard and who studied with, among others, Henry Brant). Great to see Carol, who had extreme trepidations about going, enjoying herself so thoroughly, the belle of the ball!

Mucho fun, very nostalgic. Hope it happens more often in the future.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Conjure - Music for the Texts of Ishmael Reed (American Clave)

This one just gets better with age and it's a royal shame that it's currently, as far as I know, unavailable on disc. One of the most inspired of Kip Hanrahan's multi-genre projects, it was a thrilling idea in 1983 and the stew remains damn tasty.

With Reed's words as a basis, we have pieces composed by David Murray, Carla Bley, Steve Swallow, Carman Moore, Allen Toussaint, Taj Mahal, Lester Bowie and Hanrahan, with additional instrumental contributions from, among others, Olu Dara (in primo form) Jean-Paul Bourelly, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Billy Hart, Puntilla Orlando Rios, Elysee Pyronneau, Milton Cardona, Kenny Kirkland, Andy Gonzalez and Arto Lindsay.

Most every piece is strong. The deep blues-funk of Murray's "Jes' Grew" is one of my favorite compositions of his. Bley's "The Wardrobe Master of Paradise" has a surpriingly bouncy groove for her with a subtly smooth vocal from Taj Mahal and some soulful tenor from Murray. "Dualism (1)", by Swallow, is a small masterpiece featuring my prize playing from Dara, a marvelous combination of consideredness and soft swagger, just stunning. Moore's "Oakland Blues" attempts and largely succeeds in combining street grit with an almost operatic form, courtesy Robert Jason's vocal. The real jewel on Side One, though, is Toussaint's "Skydiving", a perfect, serious pop song with some heartbreaking piano and organ work from the composer and an extremely moving vocal from Mahal. Classic.

Side Two is almost as good, especially the other Swallow piece, "Untitled II" with some wonderfully smoky Murray. If one track has faded a bit here compared to my memory, it might be Bowie's "Fool-ology"; it's a great deal of fun with the late Lester doing a fine job acting a clown and with some neato backing vocals by Molly Farley and Brenda Norton, but it's structure sounds creakier now than it did then, maybe requiring a bit more tightness.

Fantastic cover, too. American Clave's trademark was a metallic undercoating--gold, silver, copper--that imparted a burnished look that's still pretty unique (it's not as red as the image above would indicate, much more penny-colored).

Just located and bought a CD copy of this on e-bay; I guess it surfaced for a while somewhere.

The follow-up, "Cab Calloway Stands in for the Moon", runs a close second to this one in the Conjure catalog, well worth hearing (another great Toussaint song, "Running for the Office of Love") but their most recent offering, "Big Mouth" was, as I wrote here last year sometime, a major disappointment.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Brendan Murray - Commonwealth (23five)

Every so often I hear a piece that brings to mind Harry Partch's wonderful line about his invented instrument, the Blo-Boy. "It does exactly one thing, but that one thing it does superbly." In many respects, that may not apply to Murray's "Commonwealth"--there's a good deal going on within the vortex--but one can imagine it sitting out there like a single, seething mass of sound. On the whole, there's a tonal feel to it, though trying to untangle the number of elements contributing to the skein is a fool's errand. If you enjoyed Murray's previous outings, this is a no-brainer. Good stuff, play it loud. 23five

Chop Shop - Oxide (23five)

Chop Shop (Scott Konzelmann) constructs an interesting "second remove" piece. Original tapes he recorded from already abstracted source material accidentally underwent extreme damage while in storage. Like any good post-Cagean, he took these "marred" tapes and investigated what the accident had wrought. The sounds themselves are fine, tending toward the dirty rumble and dull roar. The structure, though, strikes me as a bit...un-thought out, blandly conceived, blocky, I didn't sense a rationale for the disc as a whole (it's a single piece). Maybe doesn't matter, but it didn't convince me as a real entity as much as the Murray above.

BJ Nilsen & Stilluppsteypa - Passing Out (Helen Scarsdale Agency)

I hadn't heard Stilluppsteypa in a few years and, as far as I know, I've never heard BJ Nilsen. This is their third collaboration but I had little more than vague expectations. Well, it subverted them. One track, some 68 minutes long, of quiet disquiet, brooding augmented field recordings (guessing), uncomfortable blistering, passive roiling. I gather the previous releases have referenced aspects of drinking in their titles as well. Not sure I make the sonic connection but never mind. The music isn't earthshaking in conception, simply extremely well executed and conceived, moving at its own unhurried pace, finding several surprises around the dark corners. Gets a little loopy at the 50-minute mark but overall, very nice. helen scarsdale

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Agustí Fernández/Ingar Zach - Germinal (Plastic Strip)

Fernández (piano) and Zach (percussion) proffer six pieces that are perhaps closer in feel to Xenakis than most current improv--the pianist especially has a similar kind of rigor--fashioning music that moves from sharply etched and jagged to a kind of quiet that possesses a sandpaper roughness, the latter especially enjoyable ("Hojarasca"). Good restless, prickly probing on the part of each, resulting in a good strong disc that absorbed me more on each listen. plastic strip

Axel Dörner/Clare Cooper/Cor Fuhler - Crax (Conundrom)

Another fine release from Fuhler's willfully obscure Conundrom label (that's not the cover above, but a pic of Ms. Cooper). A single 35 minute track, recorded on December 21st of 2007, it's a lovely blend of bittersweet, long tones, Dörner providing the acerbity, Fuhler the tonal ground and Cooper, a harpist from Australia new to me, the glistening pinpoints of color. Several very beautiful "patches" where the trio is absolutely unified as well as cohesive throughout. Good stuff and good luck finding it, but here's Cor's site.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I wasn't expecting much.

I'd bought the first Fennesz/Sakamoto disc, Sala Santa Cecilia, and found it to be so much attractive fluff, not unlistenable but certainly unmemorable. Hadn't heard anything more recent but had a nagging suspicion things hadn't exactly taken a turn toward the gritty. But the show was free, in the Winter Garden near the World Trade Center site, an easy train jog from home, so off I went.

I'd been to a couple of shows there before, though not in a while. One was Fripp and his League of Artsy Guitarists. That was pretty bad; this may have been worse.

Lot of people, maybe 1,000, kind of dispiriting considering the 100 or 150 that showed up in 2004 when Christian played with Rowe at Tonic. I gather Sakamoto is fairly big in Japan and the crowd may have been 1/3 Japanese. They began each on laptops and that was easily the best part of the show, rising to the level of a lousy eai set, some quiet noise but assembled with little touch or rigor. Even so, I was kind of surprised and wondered if, whatever the quality, the cotton candy aspect of the music was going to be less than I expected.

No such luck. Sakamoto went over to the piano which, for the duration of my stay, he proceeded to play with a ham-handedness and vapidity that would have challenged George Winston. Fennesz largely just provided background fuzz, sugary waftings. Once in a while he picked up his guitar and scratched at it, a relatively welcome sound. Amazingly shapeless music, enough so that, for a while, I attempted to listen to it as a Cagean, "personality-vacant" performance. Maybe it was my lack of ability, but I couldn't even get that to work.

I was more or less trapped in my seating situation, but after about an hour a small aisle opened up and I took advantage to make a hasty exit. Walking over the Vesey St. Bridge back to the PATH station, the roar of traffic on West St. below and the deep chugging of a helicopter above were infinitely preferable to what I'd experienced inside.

I don't care a whit about Sakamoto, but I do hold out hope that this is simply a financial issue for Fennesz and that he returns to creating vibrant music sometime in the future. It'd be mighty sad if he ends up churning out this pap for years to come.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

For a supposed avant jazz fan since 1972, my Coltrane LP collection is extraordinarily sparse. Aside from a reissue copy of "A Love Supreme" from '86, which I'm pretty certain was a gift from someone, it only consists of two items. There's a reason for this, sorta. Coltrane, along with Charlie Parker, was easily the most played musician on my radio station of choice, WKCR. In fact, the first time I came across that station, in the summer of '72, it was in the middle of one of the longer versions of "My Favorite Things". With some exceptions, I tended to devote what record buying funds I had to newer music and since I was hearing Coltrane constantly on radio, he got short shrift in the collection. I've stocked the shelves during the CD era though, even here, it's virtually all post-1960 work, with a heavy concentration in the last few years of his life.

To that extent, it's not too surprising that the two LPs I do own are from that final period.

As always, there may well be some nostalgia at play, but if I had to pick one Coltrane recording, "Interstellar Space" might be it. Especially for "Mars" and "Jupiter". What incredible, protean power. Always get the mental image of a huge dam breaking. Can't say much that hasn't already been said about the session though.

This is probably an odder one to happen to have purchased. Might've found it for cheap in a college store or cutout bin. It's an oddity, to be sure, but an attractive one, imho. I wrote it up for All Music Guide and stand by that opinion. Don't keep up with Trane disciplism, so I've no idea what the consensus up or down is these days. Listening now, it reminds me a bit of Jarrett's mid-70s US quartet a bit, "Living Space", anyway.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

[Shocked at the apparent non-overlap between eai listeners and Jeopardy fans, btw]

So, yes there was a prize. During the game, they announced what the 2nd and 3rd place finishers were to receive, which announcement hardly registered with me. Immediately following the show's conclusion, we were brought to the table of one of the producers and asked to sign a form saying we would or wouldn't accept delivery of said prizes. I signed, OK.

My prizes were 1) a 286 Motorola computer (this was 1991, recall) and some kind of brass "desk set". I didn't own a "regular" computer at the time, just a C64 for gaming purposes. I'd been looking into it though and knew that the Motorola wasn't one I particularly wanted but I figured I could sell it and use the cash toward getting the desired one.

The show was taped in February and aired in mid-April. (Jeopardy, for tax purposes I imagine, had valued the PC at its list price of $1,800 though a quick check upon my return home showed that you could buy one anyplace for $1,200.) My prize (I never saw hide nor hair of the desk set) arrived on Oct. 31. During the course of the preceding summer, Motorola (and everyone else) had brought out their 386 line, rendering my unwanted PC obsolete. So I didn't unpack it but looked around for a business that purchased computers and found one in midtown. The deal was, you give them a product description, they put out a notice. If they locate an interested buyer, he sends them a check and they notify you. You then ship the PC to the buyer and when he verifies receipt, they release his check to you less a 10% commission. Fine, they found someone who would pay $660 for it which I figured would cover my taxes on my "winnings". I shipped out the box to Louisiana and shortly received my $600 check.

A few weeks later, I get a note in my mailbox of a package awaiting me at the Post Office. I go over and there's my box. I see that the Louisiana guy had, without removing my return address, sent it to somewhere in South Carolina where it had apparently been refused and so the PO sent it back to me. Wonderful. Being an honest feller, I called the middleman company I'd dealt with, explained the situation. They contacted the LA guy, he sent me a check to cover reposting and I sent it out again.

Come tax time, I receive a W-2 from Jeopardy, claiming full value, natch, for the merchandise. However, i know that if I can show "true market value", which I could due to my legit sale, I can claim that income instead and did so, including copies of all pertinent documents.

Three years later...I get a letter from the IRS accusing me of under-reporting my income for 1991. Oy. I call some IRS office out in Long Island and explain the story to a lady. "Oh, you were on Jeopardy! How exciting!" etc, etc. Turns out I was correct in my approach except that they needed a letter from the company who handled the sale, explicitly stating that $660 was the market price for the PC. Fer krissakes. Amazingly enough, the company was still in business and, even more amazingly, I got hold of a sweet young girl who was willing to look through three year-old records, find a copy of my transaction and write the needed letter.

Thus, finally, ended my Jeopardy experience.

Linda was actually on "So You Want to Be A Millionaire" in 2001, but that's another story....

Friday, July 11, 2008

Ellen Ripstein is a lovely lady and one of the best crossword solvers around (she won the US Open once and finished 2nd or 3rd innumerable times). I just came across a link to her experiences as a contestant on Jeopardy in 1991 (here) and thought, it being a lazy Friday afternoon at work and all, that I'd do the same for posterity (I've recounted it elsewhere, I'm sure, but....)

Like any self-respecting geek, I'd been a fan on the show (btw, I find it impossible to tag on the technically correct exclamation mark after the show's title) since I was a wee one, growing up with Art Fleming, pictured above, in the emcee role. He had a kind of gruff manliness that contrasted with the knowledge-based game, none of the occasional smarmy middlebrow-ness of Trebek. Somewhere in the back of my head was always the idea that I should try out for the show. For a long time, iirc, it was a matter of sending in postcards and suffering the randomness of the draw. Eventually, possibly due to the increased popularity of the reborn, Trebek-led program, score-based tryouts began to be held. In 1990, perhaps with some added confidence derived from my reasonable success in crossword tourneys, my friend Peter Cohen and I journeyed to Atlantic City, attempting to gain entry into this mythic kingdom.

It was a sleek operation, held in some large hotel there. They ushered groups of 80 or so into a big room (there had to be 7 or 8 such groups that day) and gave us the lowdown. We were going to be given 50 questions, roughly on a difficulty level equal to the harder Double Jeopardy questions from the show. We were handed a sheet of paper with 50 blank, numbered spaces and there was a large-screen TV on the room's stage. The questions would pop up, just as in the game, and remain for 10 or so seconds before proceeding to the next. They didn't tell you how many you needed to answer correctly in order to move on into the next "round", but the rumor circulating around the room was 37.

The host took questions from the gathered nerds. Some people were already asking about prize payouts. "Jeez", I'm thinking, "How about passing the test first?" One asked why the 2nd and 3rd place finishers weren't allowed to keep the money. Interesting reason: Going into Final Jeopardy, it wasn't uncommon to see someone in 2nd place with a substantial sum, quite possibly enough for them to be happy about and not risk on the last question, thus screwing up the drama of the game. The producers wanted to avoid that scenario, so instead you're sent home with a Barc-a-Lounger or whatever.

So I hunkered down for the test. The questions seemed to be grouped in categories and the first six or seven were all political or US historical in nature, not my favorite subject. I know I was unsure about every answer I wrote down. Then, however, there was a string of 10 or 12 that I was positive about, a bunch of art or music related items I knew easily, etc. After it was over, I was guessing (I'd never find out) that I was probably pretty close to the cut-off. They design the quiz so as to eliminate 90% of the wannabees and, in my group, this worked to a tee as eight of us passed, including yours truly. My friend Peter, alas, didn't make it as didn't those idiots asking about their prize shares.

They herded the octet into a smaller room where we were compelled to play a mock game. The purpose of this exercise, I think, was to determine a) if we were more or less presentable (a good thing about Jeopardy is that they don't care how bubbly or hyper-enthusiastic you are, but they like their entrants to be on the seemlier side of Ratso Rizzo) and b) if it seemed likely we'd freeze up due to nerves. There were clearly two or three in my group that had zero chance of ever getting on the show. That done, we were told, "Go home. If you don't hear from us in the next two or three weeks, feel free to try again." So home I went.

A little over a week later, I received the call. I was to fly to LA mid-February. They don't pay your way or put you up so we found some old friends of Linda's to mooch on and went out for four days, my first trip to Tinseltown. The city failed to impress, btw, living up to several of its worst stereotypes including smog and lack of pedestrians though a car trip up into the San Gabriel Mountains was very cool, the only place I've encountered where "Fallen Rock Zone" signs were accompanied by actual fallen rock in the road, including one boulder which, as I approached it coming 'round a curve, was still surrounded by a cloud of dust!

On the appointed day, I went to the TV studio. They taped (still do, I suppose) a week's worth of shows on a given day so there were 16 other contestants in our little group, two extra in case someone got sick or was overcome by stage fright. The rules were laid down: there were only certain staff with whom we were allowed to talk. If we happened to encounter Mr. Trebek in the hallway or astride a urinal, we were to ignore him on the off-chance we'd establish some kind of relationship (as if). In the mid-morning we got to play some practice rounds on the set to familiarize ourselves with the situation and, crucially, the clickers.

Now, we all (we Jeopardy geeks, that is) go to the event armed with certain areas of knowledge that we know inside out, that appear with some regularity as Jeopardy categories and that few other people seem to have a grasp of. In my case, this includes art, music (non-pop variety), science and math, etc. Chatting with some of the other contestants, I met a very enjoyable young guy from Boston (I forget his name!) who was a sculptor with a big science/math interest! We joked about facing off against each other. We were discussing recent shows and he mentioned knowing a very difficult final answer ("The Picture of Dorian Grey") because, as he said, "I've been reading a lot of Wilde lately." As it turned out, on the practice round, we were indeed up on the set at the same time. Not only that, but there were a few art and math-related categories which we zipped through, much to the consternation of the other lady up there with us.

Come the tapings, they select three people more or less at random (they like to mix up the sexes, if possible), the rest of us sitting in the studio, watching the goings on. As it turned out, I didn't get chosen until Friday's show, so I watched four games. Well. Not only did every one of "my" categories show up during those four shows but no one knew any of the answers. I was sitting out there cursing my head off. Moreover, no one was particularly good, the champion changing on each show, winning with a paltry amount of money. This sucked. My buddy from Boston was on Wednesday's show. He was in contention through Double Jeopardy then, the category being "English Literature", he hit a Daily Double and bet most of his money. The question was something like, "This author spent two years in Reading Prison" "Wow," silently exclaimed I, "The lucky dog!"

But he blanked out. He stood there, having the answer on the tip of his tongue, knowing he had just talked about the person in question hours before, but couldn't get it out! Aggh, I felt terrible for him. He lost.

The fellow who won on Thursday, a lawyer, was pretty good. I got picked for Friday. It was what I would call a "general interest" show, the categories being fairly broad and the answers not too difficult. However, getting the timing down on the buzzers proved to be tricky. Time and time again, all three of us would know the answer but the champion, having gotten the timing down very well, beat us out. It was rather frustrating; you expect to get edged out sometimes but this guy was up around the 90% mark. I blew a couple as well. To this day I get glasnost and perestroika confused; did then too. But things got better in Double Jeopardy and our scores got closer, though the lawyer still had a good lead.

My kick-myself-in-the-ass moment was a failure to guess on the $1,000 question as to which sense was accommodated by the Jacobson's Organ in snakes. Though I didn't know it offhand, going through the possibilities, it was (almost) obvious that it could only be smell. But I couldn't pull the trigger. Had I done so, when I hit my own Daily Double, things would have been different. The category was "Russian" (not something I know) and I bet about 60% of my winnings up to that point. The question was, "In 1957, this Russian term for 'comrade' became popular" Well I didn't know, but for me, 1957 and Russia equate to one thing, and I was correct. (I'll leave this open for others to guess) It was near the end of the round and had I ventured an answer on the snake question, I would have had to bet more, enough to overtake the other guy. Grrr...

So, we go into final jeopardy with the lawyer at $8,500, the other woman at $6,500 and me at $5,600. (Very similar, overall, to Ellen's experience). Now, I'd watched the show enough to know what my deal was: The woman would bet all of her dough, the guy would bet enough to cover her amount if she won (ie, $4,501). I have to bet a fairly small amount and hope that they each get the answer wrong. I'd seen many a show where the idiot 3rd place person unnecessarily bets all or most of his cash and needlessly lost. The category comes up: Broadway Musicals.

There are probably two Jeopardy categories that I both know nothing about and, further, have no desire to know anything about. One is British Royalty. The other is Broadway Musicals.

So, I bet $0. (I had a couple thou to play with).

The question appears: This 1955 musical featured the songs, "Shoeless Joe from Hannibal Mo." and "Heart"

Naturally, I knew the answer. So I write down "Damn Yankees", figuring if I knew it, these guys will know it. Alex comes to my lectern. "Brian wrote, 'What is Damn Yankees?' Correct! How much did he wager? Zero! Leaving you with $5,600" Yawn. He goes over to the woman and it seems she wrote, "What is 'Annie Get Your Gun'?" "How much did you bet?" "$6,500! Sorry, you're down to $0." I quickly crossed my fingers.

But, of course, the lawyer got it right and I was Jeopardy history.

Then there's the story of the prize, but this post is quite long enough.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Love this record. I suppose it's a jumbled mess in some respects, a set of 20 some loosely related themes patched together but some of those themes, especially the slower sections, are some of the most beautiful melodic lines I know. Very romantic, very...aspirational in the sense of floating upward. Has this ever been staged live? Performed in recent years? Again, as with the Town Hall concert, in many respects the writing is obviously very conservative relative to things going on in the contemporary classical world in 1972. Curious if Ornette simply didn't care, if he dismissed those trends or if he was more or less oblivious to them. Aside: He was taken to see AMM in '66 while in London and, from reports, ignored them and talked with friends.

Lovely date, just Haden and Ornette, the latter on tenor throughout save for the final track where he switches to trumpet. Interesting that it's from '78 when Prime Time was running full steam; the music here has nothing to do with that. Don't know how many know "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman", the subversive TV show whose theme is played here. Both are in fine, relaxed form. I don't see this mentioned too often, but it's something of a gem, well worth checking out.

This may rank in my 10 Worst Album covers ever list. A 1979 Prime Time date released by Antilles in 1982, it's always struck me as lackluster. I wasn't a huge Prime Time fan. Saw them twice, once in 1977 at Avery Fisher Hall on a "double bill" with Ornette's acoustic quintet (Cherry, Redman, Haden, Blackwell) and then out in the park in Hartford Ct. for Ornette Coleman day around 1983. Might be Calvin Weston's and Denardo's drumming that I find too plodding; could use some Shannon Jackson here. But it's also the tunes he used with this line-up--few of them for me, have as much inherent beauty as his earlier compositions so whatever instrumental filigree they overlay, the structure, to my ears, is rickety.

Been quite a while since I listened to this. I recall cringing when I heard that Ornette was working with Metheny, a musician I've never been able to abide (absurd that he gets top billing on the record). He's OK here, though, kind of subsumed into the harmolodic concept. Good dual drum team of Denardo and DeJohnette. Happily, this holds up surprisingly well, some good intense playing, barely controlled free for alls. By the end of the record, it gets to be a bit much and you want some lemon sorbet to cleanse the palate, but overall, pretty decent.

The remainder of my Ornette on vinyl consists of three items I can't quite work up the interest to spin:

Opening the Caravan of Dreams (1985) more Prime Time that I recall finding pretty tiresome.

In All Languages (1987) Split 2LP with Cherry/Haden/Higgins on one disc Prime Time on the other. My memory of the acoustic set is that the pieces were way to short, almost treated like Prime Time pop songs. Hideous album design as well.

Virgin Beauty (1988) - The sole representation of Jerry Garcia in my collection (he guests on a couple of tracks), enough to keep it off the turntable.....



My only Steve Coleman album, 1998's "Sine Die" on the short-lived, Sting-financed Pangaea label. Boy I hope he's changed his wardrobe since then. I never understood the buzz around his work (though I think he was a fine component of some of Dave Holland's bands around the time). Stilted funk, dry, overcooked melodic lines, sappy lyrics ("Everybody's got to have a destination/Everybody needs somewhere to go")--I don't get it. I had fairly negative memories of this one but wanted to make sure. Now I'm sure.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Toshimaru Nakamura - Dance Music (Bottrop-boy)

Robert has a more in-depth analysis of this release on his blog, but yes, it's a good one. Two cuts, about 23 and 50 minutes long, the former largely a fine, complex hum, the latter more episodic. I go back and forth as to whether I'd rather have heard more of a steady-state sense; he gets into areas that I'd be happy to linger in for a good while, but his shifts also parse well. If I have a quibble, it's that the sounds themselves are often so gorgeous that I neglect the structure (or wonder how much is there). I still think Toshi's best work is in collaborative mode, but find "Dance Music" to be among the top three or four of his solo projects.

Christian Weber - Walcheturm Solo (Cut)

Weber's an amazing bassist with a wonderfully rich tone and technique to spare. The latter is one reason why this ends up being something of a chore, a 38 minute improv high on the "wow" factor, something that Barry Guy might envy, but far too up front for my tastes. Weber adds an warm element when in a group like that with Korber, Kahn, Muller, Noslang et. al. but this one will likely be appreciated more by avant jazz bass fans (who might well love it).

Arek Gulbenkoglu/Adam Sussmann - (Cdr) (the Rhizome Label)

The disc exists, I have it in my hands, but evidence on the web is only slightly more apparent than for the Wright disc so that's not the cover, though it is a rhizome. 76 minutes of next to nothing, very beautiful. I get the feeling they found Taku's "Live in Australia" too in your face, took the idea and toned it down a few notches. Glimmers of the pair's presence arise like reflections of water on a wall, if that much, though I believe it increases a tad toward the end. Otherwise, it's ambient sound including faint traffic and what I think is a distant foghorn. Really enjoyable, imho. Of course, it raises questions like, "What if all recordings went this way?" Mmm...dunno, what if? I admit to being stuck in, ultimately, wanting some variation, but at the very least, coming across something like this (or Taku's release) is extremely refreshing.

the Rhizome label is carried by erstdist

Friday, July 04, 2008

This isn't quite the cover of Seymour Wright's marvelous new solo recording, but it's pretty close. His website ( appears to have lost its lease and I can't find any other mention of the disc anywhere. The title seems to be "Seymour Wright of Derby", unless that's simply how he's referring to himself these days. Whatever the arcana and obfuscation, it's probably the finest solo saxophone work that's crossed my path since Stephane Rives on Potlatch a few years back.

Four pieces, each described as "after" two or four musicians, "after" being used, I assume, as one normally encounters it in painting where a given work is acknowledged as a direct inspiration to the present one. The first, each with titles punning on Wright/right, cites Steve Lacy at Avignon and Keith Rowe's "For A" (a rare composition of Rowe's that he's recorded two or three times). Indeed, some radio appears, but overall it's a lovely, brief study in breath tones with, as near as I can discern, the breathing controlling snippets of radio conversation. A strong, impressive nugget. "Reed 'n' Wright" (told ya) goes out to Tetuzi Akiyama, Pepper Adams, Ferrin Adna and Ahmed Abdul Malik and is another relatively short (5 minutes) work, still breathy but with a liquid feel as well. Ptui's, clicks and pops almost cohere into a cadence of sorts, though it wavers and reels enough to escape.

The remaining two works are more extended, the first referencing Billy Higgins and Eddie Prevost, an engaging enough combination and an interesting pair for a saxophonist to cite. Only alto is listed on the sleeve although, unless his wizardry with the instrument has reached ungodly levels, I'm guessing other implements are in play, some of which echo Prevost's signature cymbal bowings. There's a wonderfully sustained, low buzz in the piece's first half that serves as a fine bed alongside which various odd and unexpected sounds emerge, all parceled out with a sure, steady hand. The mechanical thrumming reminds me, in fact, of the beating technique Prevost used on "Entelechy". Here, it's a great spine for the 26-minute track, an absorbing journey with the minimum of saxophonic baggage. The final cut, in honor of Trevor Bayliss and Evan Parker is perhaps the toughest sledding, stopping and starting with a range of guttural half buzzes/half belches. Wright deploys the sounds with patience and more than enough variation in duration to maintain interest, gradually stirring in a hollow rush of air. A swatch of radio, a downward swooping buzz tone, a mix of smooth notes and granularity to close it out. Each piece is intense and displays a deep and perceptive intelligence at work, no nonsense.

A wonderful recording, one of the richest things I've heard this year. I believe it will be distributed by erstdist in the near future if it's not there already. Limited edition of 100, so grab it.

I've always loved Victor Hugo as a writer, the well-known works yes, but particularly a couple of lesser known novels, "l'Homme Qui Rit" (The Man Who Laughs) and "Quatrevingt-Treize" (Ninety-Three). But when I've come across them, I've also been amazed and fascinated by his drawings. Hadn't thought about them for a while before arbogast went and posted the striking ink drawing of a gallows, so I went a-googling.

Delacroix reportedly told Hugo that had he devoted his career to the visual arts, he would have been one of the century's greatest; maybe so. He combines a kind of gothic romanticism with an amazing degree of abstraction--these are from the 1850s to 1870s. There was a certain amount of tradition, even among academic painters, to be fairly loose and abstract in their studies for finished paintings--there are some by as polished a painter as Bouguereau that would surprise many. But even as you get a sense that they're tempted in that direction, few seemed to really relish and investigate the area for its own virtues as Hugo. I'm sure there are others, but the only roughly contemporary painter I can think of who explored this proto-abstract area seriously (and, again, pretty much only in drawings and watercolor sketches) was Gustave Moreau. I guess you could make a case for Turner as well.

Anyway, here are a few:


Picked up yesterday:

Morton Feldman - The Viola in My Life (ECM)
(Various) Drums, Chants & Instrumental Music of West Africa (Nonesuch)
(Various) Witchcraft & Ritual Music of East Africa (Nonesuch)
Fela - Zombie


Murray Bookchin - The Ecology of Freedom