Friday, May 14, 2010

Gonzalez' to Gordons...

tough to find a cover image....

Ah, the good old days, when it seemed like Bang On A Can, and the composers therein, had serious potential!

Gordon's first recording, released on Branca's Neutral label in 1987. "Strange Quiet" carries more than a whiff of Branca--not bad, but redolent of a kind of mid-80s approach, kind of leaden, the harsh electric guitar harmonies (Bob Loughlin) of the sort you'd hear in contemporary Frith and Didkovsky, sour. It veers into an insistent, to an annoying degree, section that shrilly drives home its point, though allowing for a respite here and there. Huh, I only just now realized that Rohan de Saram is on the second cut, Acid Rain (An octet called Spectrum? I take it he may have been a regular?), a very irritating piece, kind of like a student wanting to out-Xenakis Xenakis at his thorniest. The intriguingly titled, "Thou Shalt!/Though Shalt Not!" actually has something of the rhythmic concretism one might associate with such commands, made up of blocky kernels of strings against clarinets against overbearing percussion. I hear some John Adams here, with the slightest of punk edges; some Daniel Lentz as well in the bell-like keyboard sonorities. It gets cooking once in a while, after a fashion, but there's an overall anality to it (and, I've found, to much of the work of the BOAC composers) that, at the end of the day, leaves me itchy and unsatisfied.

Yet another dinky cover image--just as well, too as this one's pretty brutal. 1986--the era of the first computer graphics covers...*shudder*.

Love of Life Orchestra (LOLO) was a pretty important band, along with the Palominos, Hanrhan and others, for getting me to relisten to rock-based forms. I loved their "Geneve" and "Extended Niceties" (which I imagine I'll get to here in a few years at this pace), played them quite often. Saw them at Danceteria once, maybe 1983? After they disbanded, leader Peter Gordon did a few solo outings. I saw him at La Mama, with a big band that included future SNL bandleader Lennie Pickett (yes, I have his debut album as well) and a pre-Buster Poindexter David Johansen doing a rather fantastic, quasi-rap song called "This Hat". I had a cassette of that work, a dance suite as I recall, though I fear it's long gone.

In LOLO, Gordon had always intentionally flirted with the saccharine sweet, crafting melodies that could have arisen in a 1963 pop hit, but a good one. His use of David Van Tieghem was another tightrope walk--he was ponderous but could be ponderous in exactly the right way.

Well, that's why they have nets. On his solo ventures (this and "Brooklyn", which I disliked enough to jettison sometime ago), which appeared on Columbia presumably due to Gary Lucas' brief tenure there as A&R man, Gordon went over the edge into a slick pop-jazz that nods to punk and free jazz but is entirely wrapped up in its own would-be deliciousness. In a way, he's traversing similar territory to that being trod by Laurie Anderson (whom he performed with at times) around the same time--attempting to get to a kind of elusive funk--elusive to white Soho bohos anyway. "This Hat" retains some enjoyment value, though it's a much smoother version here than on the tape--not sure if it's an uncredited Johansen or not--with a very attractive, sinuous melodic line. I think it's the track that's saved this particular LP from the trash. "St. Cecilia" is kind of a fun chugger and I have to admit, rehearing it now, I realize it's popped into my head unbidden several times over the years, not remembering what it was. Gordon brings in "Diamond Lane", straight from "Geneve", a mistake in that it's much better than the surrounding material. The albumn then degenerates into ham-fisted political pieces. Get a load of this title: "Psycho (i.e. Reagan)" bold!

Ah well, what coulda been. I've little idea what Gordon's been up to in recent years. Though he is a facebook friend....I've badgered him a bit to release "New Music from Antactica".

Here's another outlier. My good friend Mike Zelie gave this to me in 1980. I subsequently bought one or two follow-ups but Grisman swiftly plunged into MOR status and I've long since disposed of them. This one, though, recorded in '76, is just a really good album. Other members of the quintet would traverse similar New Age-y roads in upcoming years (violinist Darol Anger, especially) but this is just a strong, sweet collection of bluegrass-y, jazzy tunes, wonderfully intricate and, on occasion, even ferocious. Artie Traum's "Fish Scale" swings like mad and the closing piece, "Dawg's Rag" is a small marvel. Lightweight? Yes, to be sure, but when it's as joy-infused as this music, that's ok.

Damn, finding images for this stuff is hard--I checked e-bay and found a listing (couldn't copy the photo, though) and they were asking $95 for it)

So, the end of my 'G' vinyl is my first exposure to the music of Barry Guy, though I absolutely purchased this for the Braxton sides. A shared double LP with Guy's "Polyhymnia" and Braxton's "Compositions 135 (+41, 63, 96), 136 (+96), 108B (+86, 96), 134 (+96)", recorded in 1987 (Guy) and 1988 (Braxton). That I ended up filing it in the G's indicates where my preference came to lie. Something in Guy's approach to the large ensemble revivified thoughts of the Mantler-led JCOA for me, always a great love, and for a little while, served as one of the last bulwarks of avant jazz for me, grasping at keeping that notion alive. I didn't abandon jazz willingly! I truly loved Guy's LJOC music through the 90s, though it's been a while since I've listened and, I imagine, I'd find some of it a bit ponderous now. "Polyhymnia" holds up reasonably well, though--some of the string improvising is especially nice and most of the arranging is refreshingly unmuddy. The Braxton fares pretty well too, although there's something of a series of solos about, tethered by written material--not as breathing as the Guy. I love the multiple composition strategy of his, that collage technique, but I have to think that the key to its success is working with musicians, like his 80s quartet, who know the compositions in their bones.


Ok, on to the H's...sometime.

1 comment:


David Grisman is a monster!
Glad to read something about him here, Brian.