Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ron and Russell's high water mark

Playing right now: Sparks - Propaganda

This is the second night in a row I've sat at the computer with my big honkin' headphones on me head, with Propaganda shooting into the ears. What a masterpiece.
A couple weeks ago I had to review Sparks' latest album, Exotic Creatures of the Deep for Blurt. I really wanted to like it, but it was lacking a lot of the things that made Propaganda great. Not that I was using that criteria alone when reviewing the album. But the new disc made my pull out this 1974 classic. Listening to it again reminds me of what was so great about them. The lyrics on this album really shoot out fast and furious like bullets. If you miss them, the melodies still grab on to you and say, "Follow the lyric sheet the next time."
And when you do, it's easy to see that nobody was twisting classic lyrical scenarios like the Maels - military metaphors ("Reinforcements"), a song about those who didn't make it onto Noah's Ark ("Bon Voyage," which is funny just thinking about the subject and title), a kid conflicted between his overprotective parents and wanting to take candy and rides from strangers ("Thanks But No Thanks"). The latter song is also interesting in the fact that the real story is left a little vague: are his parents really overprotective, or is it that little Russell is too naive to realize that the people to whom he's apologizing are really child abusers? It's like a John Vanderslice song.
"Thanks..." also has a lyric that's both pithy and simplistic: "My parents think the world is cruel/ I think that they prefer it cruel." I love how vulnerable Russell sounds in this song too.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Usually, they go in threes

But let's see, last week we lost Yma Sumac, Jimmy Carl Black, Miriam Makeba and Mitch Mitchell. What a jam session that would be in the afterworld.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Yes, some respect for David Sanborn


Playing up until a few minutes ago: Disc 6 of The Complete Arista Recordings of Anthony Braxton
What can I say about it? Nothing right now. I have to review it, so you can read all about it later.

Instead, I'm going to weigh in on something that's been around the house for a while now. But since this fellow is on the cover of the new JazzTimes, I suppose I can opine and not seem too behind the times.



David Sanborn
Here and Gone
(Decca)

I've developed a level of respect for David Sanborn ever since he hosted Night Music in the late '80s and early '90s. Many people have probably said as much, but there was one particular instance that made me rethink my original position on the frizzy-haired (now shorn off) alto man. Tim Berne was on the show once with his group and Sanborn sat in with them on Berne's "Hong Kong Sad Song." In the middle of the piece, it wasn't Berne but Sanborn who took the first alto solo. He cut loose with a shriek that rivaled the bandleader and drew on Dave's early years, hanging out with the pre-AACM guys in St. Louis.
Then, a few years later, Sanborn appeared on Berne's Diminutive Mysteries album, where they played the music of Julius Hemphill. Somewhere around that time, he also released Another Light which featured Charlie Haden in the band and covered the Velvets' "Jesus." Kind of made you think there was more to this guy than just smooth stuff. If Pat Metheny ever had a chance to really beat Kenny G to a pulp, Sanborn might've been the one holding that chump down.
Which brings us to Here and Gone, Sanborn's latest, which pays homage to Hank Crawford, who played alto with Ray Charles and released numerous r&b sides of his own. For starters, he doesn't try to take Crawford's style and transpose it into some limp, electric context. There aren't any moist keyboards here.
The first thing that struck me on the opening "St. Louis Blues" was how much Sanborn's tone sounds like John Zorn: they both have that pungent, reedy quality. (As Mort Sahl would say, is there anyone I haven't offended yet?) It's not exactly gutsy or down and dirty, but the arrangement puts Sanborn in the presence of a group that sounds like a good, modern day swing band.
Among the guests on the album, Eric Clapton plays and sings on "I'm Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town," which he pulls off because he pulls back. He doesn't try to be Louie Jordan, or whoever else did the song, and he focuses on the old time lyrics without trying to make them cute. Joss Stone on the other hand really does the little-chick-trying-to-sound-big-and-sassy shtick and while she has the pipes, it still sounds a little forced.
Guitarist Derek Trucks appears on "Brother Ray" and his leads, the call and response of the horns and Sanborn's attack all sound pretty tight.
The only problem is the record is mixed in the frequency that makes my fillings hurt. Maybe it's Sanborn's tone, but that high end can really take some getting used to. But Zorn does the same for me too. (Has anyone ever observed how often he enters with that one really high shrill note, on all those Naked City tunes?)
Hmmm, that connection has me thinking that for Sanborn's next album, he ought to collaborate with ex-Naked City keyboardist Wayne Horvitz. With that guy's writing and Dave's tone, that could be an amazing album.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Coping devices

If I listened to Anthony Braxton's For Alto album every morning while getting ready for work, maybe I'd have a better outlook on things.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

October update

Geez, I didn't mean to be away for so long. Since I last wrote, saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa came to Pittsburgh for the International Festival of Firsts and premiered a new piece that was spellbinding. I wrote a review for JazzTimes that should be up on their website by the time you read this. (Check out www.jazztimes.com) I picked up a copy of Rudresh's 2004 album Mother Tongue last week, and it has me thinking that this guy is really on the cutting edge of something big. He has amazing technique on his horn and his compositions are really astounding - going to places that haven't been gone before without any cliches or highminded ideas about "this is world music," or anything like that.

Yet again, musicians have left the earth. And while the three I'm thinking of didn't die right around the same time, the old "they always go in threes" adage seems to apply. Guitarist Hiram Bullock died in July as did tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin - something I didn't hear about until last week! - and then arranger Neal Hefti died on October 11.

I grew up hearing Hefti's name because my folks were into big bands and they had a Count Basie album that he arranged. He also composed an obscure but really good ballad called "Falling in Love All Over Again" that Phil Woods did on an album called Woodlore. So the story goes, he was in Pittsburgh with some band and my mom called him at his hotel room to get a chart of that song for some even that she was staging. (I believe because she's not known to tell tall tales.)

But Hefti is probably best known to people my age due to a song for which he was supposedly credited with "word and music": the Batman theme. Like any simple song that became a hit, he said that it was really hard for him to write. It took a lot of time to come up with that 1-4-5 riff. Where would the music world be without it?

Johnny Griffin is one of the last tenor giants of the early 50s era. I know I say that everytime one of those guys dies, but damned if it isn't true. 80 years old, he was. Heart problems were listed as the cause.

Griffin came to Pittsburgh several times for the Pitt Jazz Seminar and was a really gracious guy. Who knows how many times he was asked what it was like playing with Thelonious Monk, but he still was willing to tell me stories about the pianist hiding the written music from Griffin, insisting he learn it by ear. Listening to Monk's Misterioso on Riverside, Griffin is amazing enough playing with the band, but then a few choruses into solos on a couple of tunes, you hear, "I got it, I got it," and the rest of the band drops out. Griffin just blows away without any need for a safety net.

Hiram Bullock's death really came out of left field. He was only 52 but he supposedly was suffering from a throat tumor. He did a lot of slick music, and for a time was best known as the original guitarist on David Letterman's NBC show. But he also played on many of Carla Bley's albums, so he had pretty diverse qualities.

Friday, September 05, 2008

A talk with Bernard Stollman of ESP

Alfred Lion, Neshui Ertegun, Orrin Keepnews - all started record labels that released records that shaped musical history. (Blue Note, Atlantic and Riverside were their labels, in case you didn't know.) Bernard Stollman deserves to be on that list too. Without him, the world might've never heard the Fugs, Patty Waters, the Godz, Pearls Before Swine or Burton Greene. Albert Ayler might've recorded a few early sessions in Europe, but it was his ESP album Spiritual Unity that really presented his approach to the saxophone.

At the time of their original releases, these albums might not have sold huge amounts, but like the old comment about the Velvet Underground (or was it the Stooges), everybody who bought them started a band.

After reading my post about Giuseppi Logan last week, Bernard Stollman got in touch with me. What follows in the first installment of our conversation, about Mr. Logan and the label itself. As I transcribe the talk, I'll post more of his insight into the origins of the label.

How did you find out about Giuseppi Logan?

Bernard : He was brought to me by Milford Graves, the percussionist. I hadn’t heard him before, but Milford recommended that I record him. I trusted Milford’s judgment, tastes and recommendations. So that’s what I did. It happened throughout the history of the label: musicians have been brought to me and I frequently, perhaps almost invariably, listened to their recommendations. This label has been shaped in large measure by the ideas and thoughts and tastes, if you will, by its artists.

Did Milford take you to a show to see Giuseppi or did he just say you should record him?

I hadn’t heard him play. I didn’t really no what he sounded like. Milford felt really strong about him. As I’ve done many times with the label, I would take the risk, if you will, and provided the opportunity if one of my colleagues felt very strongly about it.
The session took place at Richard Alderson’s studio. I remember standing at one end of the room. At the other end of the room was, single file, where the artists were going to perform. They were walking into the recording studio. They didn’t come towards me. They were at a distance. And at one point Giuseppi passed and from that distance, about 20 feet away ,he said clearly, “If you rob me, I’ll kill you.” And that was the beginning. Kind of an inauspicious beginning to a relationship. It got better from there.

So he didn’t know you were the man from ESP?

Oh yes, he did.

So he meant, “If you rip me off, I’ll kill you”?

Yes. Exactly. Coming up very defensively. He knew nothing about me really that I could imagine. It was just this stance, posture. We weren’t personally acquainted. Milford was mortified. He was very embarrassed.
So we went into record. I had no idea who they were going to be, except for Milford, or what they were going to do. There were no exchanges. They went in and did their music. I sat in the control room with Richard Alderson listened to the sessions go down.
I’ve stated before, we stood there and at some point we got very spellbound. Engaged - that’s the word for it. What they did was so engaging. Everybody thought it was totally improvised, like a group of, oh I don’t know, people in a souk in Morocco or something. Playing just to express themselves. And we were actually spellbound. [Alderson] was a producer too.
So were standing there listening to the session and it’s going forward, and all of a sudden, “thwuck,” the tape had run out on the deck in the middle of the performance. I thought, Oh my God, this gorgeous thing is going on and it’s blown because we weren’t paying attention.
So Richard got on the intercom and said, “Giuseppi, we’ve run out of tape. What do you want to do?” Logan says, “Run it back, so I can hear to right before it cut off and we’ll take up where we left off.”
That’s exactly what he did. He ran the tape back and played two bars so he could tell where they were, and they kept right on playing. He hit the record switch and there was no loss whatsoever. If you listen to the record, for the life of you, you couldn’t tell that it was suspended and redone.

Do you remember which track?

I’m not really sure. But it was certainly really….[laughs] all of his songs were really engaging in that sense. I couldn’t tell which one it was.
What amazed me, what absolutely amazed me was the realization that what I had heard was not essentially chaotic pandemonium, or just a freewheeling exercise. Everyone one of those musicians knew exactly what he was doing, from a fraction of a second to a minute. And there were doing it without the slightest hesitation, winding out the songs, letting the music unwind. That was very sobering to me. It dawned on me at that point that I hadn’t a clue what was going on. It was not chaotic. This is a dialogue. It was grounded, they knew exactly what they wanted to say. And that was just……. you have to experience something like that to appreciate just how extraordinary a phenomenon it is. I owe that to Giuseppi. That was quite a lesson to me. We were fooled.

At the Town Hall concert, he played at that and we put that out as a second album. Many years later, at least 10 years ago, we were listening to a tape of the {Albert Ayler] Bells concert from that same Town Hall show, and lo and behold there was seven minutes of music at the begin of that tape. And it was the remainder of Giuseppi’s performance that somehow had gotten separated. So we’re going to reissue that record with the additional seven minutes.

When will that come out?

We’ll get it out probably in February. There are so many things waiting to be done.

During that session or any point before that, did you think, I’m really onto something. Art is being created here.

The whole experience of doing ESP was a serious shock. A very, very pleasant shock. I never ceased to be astonished by what happened.
Paul Bley’s first album with Dewey Johnson, which we’re going to reissue now, is an extraordinarily beautiful album. And it’s not at all like his Closer album. Very very free album. I want to put it out again.
[Laughs] I mean every single one, they all surprised me. They all took my quite unaware. There’s no way I could’ve prepared me for what they did. I didn’t know what to expect and I wasn’t disappointed.
The New York art Quartet - I went to the studio around 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Roswell Rudd and John Tchicai were there and they had this little kid with them. I thought what’s he doing here? Of course, I didn’t ask. And they introduced me and it was Leroi Jones, Amiri Baraka. He wasn’t a little boy, he was just a rather short individual, but a very serious one. That too. I had no idea what to expect and I wasn’t disappointed.
So this has been the course of my career in music.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Shanley online

Some of my recent reviews for Blurt can be found here:

http://www.blurt-online.com/reviews/view/353/

This should take you to the ZuZu's Petals review that I did. But if you scroll down on the right, my review of Love's two Blue Thumb album is a little further down the column (August 28), along with Juliana Hatfield (dated August 22; I'm really happy with this review by the way) and going way back (July 17) the Wedding Present and Veda Hille a few days before that.

This week, I reviewed two CDs on the MCG Jazz label for Pittsburgh City Paper too. Read them here: http://www.pittsburghcitypaper.ws/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A51592

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Bloodcount - Seconds


Bloodcount - Seconds (Screwgun)


I figured this set would generate a little more fanfare upon its release. Bloodcount was one of the more exciting of the explolatory jazz groups during the mid '90s. Lead by Tim Berne (alto, baritone saxophone), it included Chris Speed (tenor sax, clarinet), Michael Formanek (bass) and Jim Black (drums). As good as Berne's group around the late '80s/early /90s was (which included drummer Joey Baron and bassist Mark Dresser), he really hit the mark with this quartet which sort of set a standard that he seems to continue with his current projects. They specialized in extended compositions, some lasting upwards of 40 minutes. Jagged melodies would often cut off on weird beats or suddenly change your perception from freedom to riff; Black whacked his kit like Elvin Jones doing repair work on an old car, while Formanek would hold down the fort with solid lines as Berne and Speed would run at each other like crazy.


Seconds consists of two live discs and a DVD of a performance film which, in keeping with their other work, consists of one 50-some minute composition. Berne's deadpan humor comes across in the packaging, describing Disc One as "live in the middle of somewhere," recorded with "an obsolete format no longer used by professionals." I can only wonder if it was recorded in Pittsburgh, where they played that year or thereabout. He had a DAT machine set up to record, which might be said antiquated format. Disc Three was recorded at the Children of the Corn Festival, which is probably another wiseguy description.


Several of the songs on Seconds have appeared on previous Bloodcount discs. "Yes, Dear" even appears here twice, making its third or fourth documentation. "Mr. Johnson," "Byram's World" and "Screwgun" have also appeared previously. But they all deserve another examination even if all of Bloodcount's discs -three for Screwgun, plus three more originally on JMT - line your CD shelves. I've listened to everything several times and I've yet to be able to pinpoint the similarities between the two "Yes Dear"s for instance. Berne has certainly crafted his own style and sense of soloing but newer tracks like "Scrap Metal" and "Sense and Sinsemilla" reveal new qualities in terms of melody and group interaction, sealing the deal and making this a mandatory purchase.


Guitarist Marc Ducret, a frequent member and a Berne collaborator in current projects, appears in the film. Eyenoises doesn't work like a traditional performance film, giving more space to off-center closeups of faces and instruments. It seems like the audio and video don't exactly match most of the time. In fact, the former sounds a lot to these ears like the version of "Eye Contact" on the band's JMT release. So in the end, it's more of a quality bonus to a strong package.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The year is 1988. The band is Animal Time

Playing right now: Bill Coles - Proverbs for Sam (It's been quite some time since I've been able to list something here)

So I did talk to Bernard, a little about Giuseppi, quite a bit about the label itself and even more about Esperanto. Details to follow. Along with thoughts about a few recent releases.

But first.......

Tonight while I was doing dishes I listened to the album Jacked Up? No More by a band called Animal Time. In 1988, these guys were a big deal to me. It was started by brothers Jeff and Jay Norem. Originally Jay played drums and sang and Jeff played the Chapman stick. On this album they were a quartet. Jay was just on vocals, and they had another guitarist and a drummer.
The band was this great combination of Minor Threat-like barked vocals and taut music with weird elements thrown in: harmonica that could sound like screeching tires (intentionally and effectively), riffs that sounded like they were appropriated from soul and of course that Chapman stick.

The album contains a bunch of really solid songs. Some are almost great, but even the lesser ones has something going for them. "You Don't Live Around Here," aside from a set of lyrics that don't give Jay a chance to breath between lines, is catchy and hard hitting, lyrically. "Rebel Game" is a pretty spot-on indictment of people who dress the part but don't really have a cause. "It's Like I'm Being You" is really a post-thrash song with a stop at the beginning of each verse: "You're like a Christmas tree with it's lights unplugged"; "Got a heart full of lies and a soul full of gimme." Later that song has the line, "You and me we're a lot alike/ you disgust me, get out of my sight." And for the coda, a trumpet and tenor sax jump and blast an off-kilter (again) mutant soul riff.

In the fall of '88, Animal Time played a show at a short-lived Pittsburgh venue called the Foundry, which is just a block down Penn Avenue from the 31st Street Pub. They played with this awful band that was in the Athens, GA film who were adept at ugly songs and screamed singing but couldn't blend the two of them together.

I bided my time in the back until Animal Time went on and they were amazing. Afterwards, Jay couldn't believe I was singing along to the songs. He was shocked and appreciative. I was probably hopped up on coffee. I had yet to become a java freak. The band later went to a party that I was also going to and we swapped band stories.

Then I never heard from them again.

But I still have the album. If you ever see it, buy it.

I looked up their previous EP, Double Veteran, on eBay and saw a copy for $10. I would've sprung for it had it not been a radio station copy with call letters written across the front.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The man behind the music

Tonight I'm going to talk to Bernard Stollman, of ESP Records. I could probably throw questions at him all night, but I'm going to try to be polite and stay on topic.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Giuseppi Lives!

I just received a message today from the fine folks at ESP who say that Giuseppi Logan is still alive and well. After having posted about so many musicians who have passed on, it's good to know that many people lost track of is still around.

And speaking of ESP, check out the response to the previous blog.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Giuseppi Logan re-examined

I got on the press list for the rejuvenated ESP label and received a package of discs in the mail a couple of weeks ago. In addition to reissuing their infamous back catalog, they've also started putting out new recordings. And not just newly released works by folks like Albert Ayler and Don Cherry. New music from new bands. I'm going to review a few of them for JazzTimes, so I figured I'd devote a couple blog entries to the back catalog.







Giuseppi Logan Quartet (ESP)

The big criticism that was lobbed at free jazz/avant garde/new thing players in the early days of that music was that the musicians couldn't play their instruments. Otherwise they'd do something besides creating that racket. Anyone who listens to Cecil Taylor - even his greatest detractors - would have to say that he has technique out the wazoo. Albert Ayler might not have been too adept at straight ahead jazz (the clunky themes on My Name is Albert Ayler hint at this), but listen to the tracks on In Greenwich Village where he plays alto. He makes it sound like a tenor, and it's only then that you may realize what an amazing tone he had. It sounds like the entire alto should be vibrating from the gale force airstream he's blowing through the horn. It gave me more appreciation for his tenor sound. He found a way to take his skill and create his own niche with it. Ornette Coleman too - he carved out his own movement and was able to get the sounds in his head out onto the bandstand. You think Prime Time is eight guys playing different things at the same time? Then explain how they all manage to stop on a dime together.

All this leads me to Giuseppi Logan, a saxophonist who the Music Hound Jazz Guide said encapsulated the "I can play that" line of thought. When liner notes of that era defended Archie Shepp and dissed "other guys who can't play," they were referring to guys like Logan.

On this album, recorded in October of 1964, Logan plays Pakistani oboe, alto and tenor saxes and - they're listed but I didn't quite hear them - flute and bass clarinet. Pianist Don Pullen, making his recording debut, bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer/ESP regular Milford Graves back him up. I'm not here to bury Logan or praise him, but to shed some light on the album. First of all, his tone is pretty weak. As a one-time alto player who never stuck to it long enough to develop a good tone, I know of what I speak. On "Dance of Satan," track number two which introduces us to his alto work, he sounds wobbly, in some cases as if his embouchure failed him as he tried to get into upper register.

Had Logan stuck to just alto, he might have progressed at least a little bit more. There are moments, especially in "Dialogue" where he sounds like he could become a player in the same vein as Jimmy Lyons, the altoist who spent most of his career playing with Cecil Taylor. But he dabbles in too many reeds. He switches to tenor in "Taneous," making the bigger horn sound like it's half asleep.

Then there's the whole issue of the oboe, which opens the album in "Tabla Dance" a totally free excursion in which Graves plays tablas and Logan wails while Pullen and Gomez pluck and scrape. It's chaotic and loose, but..... they're all playing with a sense of restrain. It's not like the over-the-top screaming that marks Sunny Murray's ESP album. And that aspect of the music makes this album worth revisiting.

There are moments where Logan's expression reaches beyond his raw playing, like in "Dialogue." As loose as it sounds, this track even follows something of a structure. Sure it features bleating quarter notes in the bridge, if you can call at that, but they keep threatening to turn it into a ballad. "Bleecker Partita," the 15-minute epic that closes the album, and takes it well over the 35-40-minute length of most albums of that time, is built upon a droning riff that Logan uses as the background for a mournful, emotional solo that proves he does know his way around his horn.

Having Don Pullen, Eddie Gomez and Milford Graves back you is bound to put you in a better light anyway, or at least provide some high points when Logan stops soloing. One of the weirdest elements of the record is the sound of the piano on "Dance of Satan" which sounds just like a banjo when Pullen hits a certain chord, making the whole thing transform itself into a free jazz hoedown for a split second, only to shift back to its shambolic, New York City origins. I'd like to think Logan meant for that to happen.

The Giuseppi Logan Quartet is not classic ESP material and bellweather free jazz like Ayler's Spirits Rejoice and Spiritual Unity. But it's not awful-in-an-intriguing way like Erica Pomerance's You Used to Think (not a jazz album, but the polar opposite in the ESP canon). Instead, it's somewhere in between, a curiosity that can stand up to repeated listens.

Chances are anyone who has been curious about it picked up one of the myriad reissues of the album in years gone by. If not, ESP's package is essentially as simple as the original. Bernard Stollman offers a quick memory of the album's sessions, although a little more bio or background on Logan's affiliation with the label would've been nice. Everything written about him indicates that no one knows his whereabouts or if he's even alive now. Maybe I'll try to interview Stollman about the disc. We could run the interview here. Bernard, you listening? Enquiring minds want to know.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

You know you're a Grade A jazz geek when....

....you listen to a CD/record and think, "Hmm, this must've been recorded before 1957 because Coltrane hasn't really developed his sheets of sound style on this," and you're right.



I've spent the last five or six days in Mosaic-ville. I got the two sets that I mentioned in the last post. Things have changed in my life, let me tell you. Why, gawrsh, son there was a time when a Mosaic box came in the mail and time would stop. It took just about 2 days for me to get through the Cecil Taylor set when that came. And the Larry Young set? Eight discs in about three days.

And now.....

The box arrived on Thursday and I don't think I tapped into the Art Farmer-Benny Golson set until Saturday. True, I did listen to two of the three Chambers discs in one night, I think. And, man, is that good stuff. There are a lot of bass solos but they're all pretty amazing. I was listening to the Bass on Top album (the last one on the set) on earbuds today and Chambers didn't waste a note.

By the way, that Coltrane reference at top was going through my head during the first couple songs on the Chambers set. He's good, but the tone is a little softer and the five-notes-on-one-beat approach wasn't happening yet.

The interesting thing about the Chambers set as well is that most of the material is original or was written by one of his peers, in many cases, Benny Golson. These guys weren't stuck playing standards or rehashing Charlie Parker (although the set opens with a Bird tune and it is unique since the bass plays the melody with Trane). They were building on the triumphs of the early bop guys and taking it to the next level. You have to wonder why Whims of Chambers doesn't get the same kudos that Blue Trane does.

The Farmer-Golson set is also pretty hot, although the solo sets that end the box lack the power of the Jazztet recording on the first four discs. Golson was such a prolific, well-regarded composer that by the time the Jazztet made those albums, a lot of his tunes had been recorded by other musicians. Lee Morgan did a bunch of them on his early Blue Note albums. Benny was also in the Jazz Messengers, who recorded a number of them, including "Blues March." Farmer was a good foil for him, and they have trombone players on the frontline with them - Curtis Fuller, Tom McIntosh and Grachan Moncur III.

I need to dig back into it because I only finished my way through it yesterday and some of those spins were done while I was a little distracted.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Where've I been?

I get a comment - a real live comment, commenting on something I said in one of these entries - and yet I ignore it and retreat for about a month. Dadgum.

I've been deluged with music and it's really going to hit full tilt tomorrow. That's when my Mosaic package is supposed to come. I ordered not one but TWO sets from them. One classic big box design, the other a 3 disc Mosaic select set. The latter package is the Paul Chambers one I went on about last summer. Or at least I made reference to one of the albums therein in a posting about buying a bunch of jazz albums. The set features several sessions that Chambers lead for Blue Note and includes John Coltrane as a sideman.

The other set is the Art Farmer-Benny Golson Jazztet set. Mosaic was having a sale in July, where selected sets were 15% off. I scrolled down the list and was either uninterested in the selections or had the good ones already. Then I came upon this one. I'm not exactly a big fan yet of the group, though I do think Art and Benny are pretty underated guys, but there was a part of me that wanted to get this set. And another part that said once the set goes out of print, you'll regret not buying it in the summer of 2008. The same way I felt about not jumping on the Miles at the Blackhawk set. Don't get me started.

So that's what I'm waiting for. Next time I'll tell you what's been in my ears.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

However....

I feel like I should say that I find Earwig, Blake Babies' first album, to be very good set of songs.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Oh, boy, Shanley's cranky again

After I posted the previous entry, I wrote a few reviews for Blurt as promised. One was the latest Juliana Hatfield album, How to Walk Away. I'm not going to go into my thoughts on the album because that would defeat the purpose of the Blurt review. And I want you to go online and check it out. (It's not up there yet, but my Modey Lemon review is.)

While writing the review, I did the usual things I do to make the process take forever: listen to the songs over and over. Which I must say was a bit of a challenge because - as the industry trend goes these days - I guess I contacted the p.r. folks too late to get a tangible copy of the disc, so I got, um, special access to a streamed copy. This wasn't your average "Download here so you can make a CD-R and listen to it while you're doing dishes or driving or changing the baby" stream. Hoo noo. This was a "click here and go to the page with one song on it, which will always be cranked up really loud before it starts, so brace yourself for loud opening chords, or else keep your earbuds out of your ears before the song starts, so you'll have time to turn it down."

So in addition to each song being loud as hell, each song was on a separate webpage, so there's no way to get a good feel for how things flow as an album. "Use your imagination, you lowlife hacks," is the message it sends. "We'd rather have you do that than take a chance on you letting your friends listen to this CD and decide they don't like so they won't buy it." Tell ya what they ought to do. Buy some old shellacs and an old record cutter and press up promo copies and mail that out to us. We music critics love everything on vinyl, so you'd be doing yourself a big favor. (Yeah, I know the last part is ridiculous and stupid. I just don't feel like deleting it all now.)

But I didn't start this entry to opine about that.

I started because as I was looking stuff up on the web, I came across the allmusic.com entry for Juliana's band Blake Babies' second album, Sunburn. I was thinking as the review came together in my head that Juliana became a much better songwriter post-Blake Babies, at least as far as hooks were concerned. "Super Model" and "My Sister" seemed infinitely more catchy to me than anything on side two ("the second half" to all of you who never owned on vinyl) of Sunburn. In fact, most of that album seems pretty dull to me; verses without chorus, or if they have a real chorus it has the same quiet-to-a-loud-E major chord transition. (That in turn reminds me of another irritating and extremely overrated band from that same time period - Slint. But I'll talk about the green light they gave to inarticulate indie elite boys some other time.)

So imagine my incredulous surprise when the allmusic guy says that not only was Sunburn the best Blake Babies album, but the last great college radio album, leading up to Nevermind. Geez, now I know what so many people my age don't mind blandness. WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE? DON'T YOU KNOW HALF-BAKED WHEN YOU HEAR IT?

Okay, "Out There" is a great song. And it really hits an emotional chord with me since it deals with that coming-to-grips-with-disillusionment feeling. And a few of the other songs on side one are good too. But that stupid "Girl in a Box" song, oy. "Gimme Some Mirth" has the same climax as "Sanctify" on the other side.

I hear a lot of songs at work on satellite radio by people who probably came of age when that album came out, as well as other nice, safe but unadventurous college radio bands. And these bands don't have a hook or a clever lyric to save their lives. And they owe it to bands like that.

...and another thing, you goddam kids stay outta my yard. (Figured I should end on a lighter note before I start going off about everything that's wrong with music.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Make It Rain

Jennie and I went to see Tom Waits in Columbus on Saturday night. We didn't realize until we got to our seats that we WERE IN THE FIRST ROW. That's right - orchestra pit, three feet from a speaker on the edge of the stage. We could see all of his wrinkles and sweat.

It was a great show too. By tomorrow, my review of it should be visible on Blurt's website, http://www.blurt-online.com. I'll stop talking and you can check out what I really thought of the show there.

Gotta go review a few CDs for them now.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Rambling thoughts

Playing right now: David Murray Black Saint Quartet - Sacred Ground

In keeping with my tradition of buying new albums six months after their release, I picked this David Murray album up today, along with last year's Clap Your Hands Say Yeah album. Of all the band with high-pitched, somewhat whiney singers - Arcade Fire, Shins - I think CYHS ranks pretty high. Well at least I liked their sophomore effort more than the Arcade Fire's album last year, which were pretty strong but not exactly Woh my god, this is amazing (the Shins do that to me sometimes). CYHS's Some Loud Thunder reminds me of Neutral Milk Hotel and Olivia Tremor Control at times, which in my book really takes the cake.



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They were playing bad nu country at work yesterday. Things really reached the bottom of the moonshine bucket when they played a twang version of the reggae classic "The Harder They Come." Whose stupid idea was that? Yeah, they thought, it fits the sentiment of a country singer's style, so just strip away what makes it unique and give it backbeat that appeals to people who drink too much. Wham. I can see the numbers adding up.

I was also inspired to come up with a country parody for the next time my friend John and I have a session with our made up band the Wayback Machine: "I Like Music When I Don't Have To think." None of the songs I heard have one iota of creativity behind them, a buttload of annoying melodies and they probably won't be remembered 9 months from now.
Re: that song title: it'll probably require some tweaking to get the thought to be concise. But you get the idea, right?


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I haven't heard the song "Me and You and a Dog Named Boo" in at least 30 years. (I had it on a record of '70s hits by some no-name cover band, which was a birthday present at age 7.) I've heard the original version - by soft rocker Lobo - about three times in the past month.

Thanks WJAS. You're going down the drain.

More Gogi Grant please.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Kawasaki............

Yesterday, I finally remembered to check youtube to see if there was a posting of the classic '70s commercial for Kawasaki with the "Let the Good Times Roll" jingle in it.

They have it. Here it is:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbgkkvIvswU

I can't get that song out of my head. It was written by Bob Thompson, a guy who one of the cheesier of the cheesy lounge music bandleaders in the '50s. He did have one classic album cover, though, with a broad reclining in a giant martini glass.

I spent about 10 minutes trying to find out his name before writing this posting, which took about 2 minutes.

Hope you're impressed. Hope you let the good times roll.

(Holla to Kirsten.)

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Baby D Digs Braxton, sort of


This past Sunday, my son Donovan went to his first live music performance. It was a unique one to be sure, at a unique venue. He and I went to the National Aviary to see Anthony Braxton perform with a local group called the Syrinx Ensemble. And the birds were part of the performance too, as their songs and squacks and sounds shaped the music. It's crazy being at a gig/show where everyone sound becomes part of said performance and shapes the direction of it. That's a rather John Cage way of thinking of it, but nobody probably thinks about shows that way anymore.

I was worried that things might get too shrill for Donovan's 13-month old ears, but Ben Opie (who was a catalyst in the slew of Braxton Plays Pittsburgh Plays Braxton events for the weekend) assured me otherwise. He was right. About 30 minutes in, Ben and Braxton were building up a low drone on their contrabass clarinets. As the sound started bubbling I looked at Baby D to see what he thought.


He was asleep.


I don't think that's a bad thing at all. From someone who falls asleep to music each night, that's probably a compliment.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

I don't like that message. It's too scary.

Playing right now: "One Less Bell To Answer"

(Maybe he wouldn't've left if she served something other than fried eggs once in a while.

Him: Hey, baby, what'd you make for us?

Her: Fried eggs.

Him: Again?! Dammit, woman, I'm outta here.)



Something at work triggered the memory of Christmas' 1989 album Ultraprophets of the Psykick Revolution so I got it out the other night. I was reminded of how brilliant this album is and how great and unsung a band Christmas was. I don't know if they meant for this to be a concept album, but it holds together like one, expressing all the horrible things that were festering as the '80s drew to a close (the threat of nuclear annihilation; AIDS; the fact that the world should be blown up because everyone is so awful; and the need to put on a smiley face and act like everything is fine). Rather than handling it all Dischord-style, Michael Cudahy (guitar), his brother Nicholas (bass) and Liz Cox (drums) proved that they were top-shelf practitioners of post-punk pop with a stinging lyrical approach whose closest touchstone was probably their neighbor Peter Prescott of the Volcano Suns. (He had been in Mission of Burma, but his writing really blossomed with the Suns.)

Michael and Liz handled lead singing duties and acted as great foils for one another: Liz singing in a sweet soprano - maybe mezzo-soprano - as the straight member of the band, with Michael going back and forth from the equally straight one to the off-the-wall zany one.

Musically, they could go from chunky, college radio pop ("Stupid Kids") to heavy riffs that sounded like a twist on Led Zeppelin's "Custard Pie" ("Punch and Judy") to drop-tuned even-heavier riffage ("Royal Klutch Tattoo"). Sometimes they fire on all cylinders, acting bold enough to write a song called "Richard Nixon" that discusses the shamed ex-prez in a talk-speak rant that I'm sure many college music directors called "quirky" in 1989, and they segue the verse into a chorus of Liz chirping "Richard Nixon sees you/ Richard Nixon sees through you," with some ooh-la-la backing vocals behind it. It might sound ridiculous in print, and it is ---- but it works.

"Human Chain" tackles the issue of AIDS, but only in an off-hand way. Over a programmed cowbell and drumbeat, Michael bangs out another meaty riff (see - you can take your classic rock roots and use them for good) while the band sings cryptic lyrics like, "Lovers say that love is strange/ Sleep with me your life will change." After about a minute, the distorted guitar changes to a sweet acoustic that cues some even sweeter backing vocals. The lyrics here include "Here's a token of my infection/ pass it on to your connection." The contrast between sweet and dark is what makes this one hit hard, which gets driven home in the coda when the harmonies are muddied by screaming in the back of the mix. And the song gets cut off abruptly, mid-phrase.

Michael told me in an interview years after this came out that "Warhog" was about something to the effect that we should all die in a war because humankind isn't smart enough anyway. I forget exactlywhat it was he said and for 18 years, I can't make out most of the lyrics to the song. Michael, if you're reading this, a lyric sheet would be appreciated. Perhaps knowing what they had just said, the group ends the song with a friend's phone message excerpt: "I don't like that message, it's too scary." Before things get to that point, they've won me over with the harmonies and the guitar work.

Most of the lyrical fodder seems to have been birthed from the rise of the Republican regime, but it kind of serves as snapshot of where we are now as well. Maybe that's also what I'm reacting to now, the relevancy. When the album came out, I remember seeing a review in Rolling Stone that gave it one-and-a-half stars, which proves how out of touch mainstream music media still was at that time. It's not like these guys were Pere Ubu. In fact, there's probably a closer link with Christmas and REM, other than the fact that they were on the same label. The entry in allmusic.com says the album was misunderstood and that some reviews were "downright hostile." I guess the band was right.

"Hymn" ends the album with a sombre string trio alternating with a wobbly farfisa. (Another brilliant musical idea.) The first line of the song, sung by our heroes in a dark drone is "As sure as eggs is eggs/ life is good." They can't be serious. Right?

Right now, "Royal Klutch Tattoo" is playing in my ears and it's one of the fattest, most bad-ass riffs ever. I've always wanted to cover it. Though "My Operator" which follows is equally as good a cover. But I can't decipher those lyrics.

I should write one of those 33 1/3 books about this album.

Buy this record. Now. Or make me dub it for you.

Post-script: Michael, Liz and Nicholas escaped their misanthropic ways and went on to form Combustible Edison, the authentic and always happening lounge band, in the mid-'90s.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Hey La, hey la, hey la, hey laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

I wondered if I would lose it when the New Pornographers hit that rousing coda in "The Bleeding Heart Show" on Saturday at the Carnegie Music Hall. Just talking about that song makes me think of the wall of voices roaring out of the speakers. When I interviewed NPs bassist John Collins, I could feel myself getting a little misty. (Some songs have a way of tapping the tearducts for me; can't explain it.)

The Music Hall's bad acoustics gave me some doubt at the start of the evening. The room is really echoey and some things get lost. Like in-between-song banter. I couldn't figure out what Neko Case and Carl Newman were saying half the time. OK, I figured, the song will be fun but it won't be the emotional release that I pondered.

But, as the song - the last in the set proper - started to build up in dynamics, it felt like riding the Jack Rabbit at Kennywood Park (sorry if the metaphor is lost on you non-Pittsburghers). It pulls out of the station and slowly rounds the corner and you start to think, "Ooooooooooh boy! The first dip coming up real soon." Just a few miles down the road from Kennywood, Carl and Neko and the gang were making me feel the same way. Six out of eight of them starting wailing on that coda and while I didn't get misty, I certainly whipped my head around like I was having a paulsey. Goddam, it felt good. I don't think I'll ever get sick of that song. Or grow weary of expounding on it.

As stated in the previous blog entry, the NPs had a lot to live up to in my head, after the stellar John Vanderslice performance on Friday. The show was excellent. The sound kind of buried the guitars, mainly the lead work, but that served to boost the vocals. With Carl, Neko and keyboardist Katherine all chiming together that was definitely a good thing. The set really crossed over all of their albums, even including a couple from Mass Romantic towards the end of the set.

For an encore, they played ELO's "Don't Bring Me Down" and, naturally nailed the harmonies, making it sound as full as a Jeff Lynne production.

Okkervil River opened the show. I'm not up on their music but I thought they put on a pretty good show. Several friends of mine absolutely hated them. Despised them, even. Oh well.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Dispatch on the John Vanderslice show

Playing right now: a slightly hissy (surface noise) 10" by Clifford Brown and Max Roach, "Daahoud" specifically

Last night was the John Vanderslice show at the Andy Warhol Museum. Sometimes you build something up in your to such a high degree that it's impossible for the real thing to meet your expectations.

That wasn't the case last night.

I've listened to John's albums a lot, the last three especially. Hearing these songs in person was totally mind-blowing. The full (four-piece) band really brought them to life and emphasized subtleties that the albums only hint at. The albums really came together in the studio from what I gather, instead of the studio replicating a live performance. I was thinking how the tunes acts sort of as inner shots of John's head, and now they're so much more in person.

He didn't play "Coming and Going On Easy Terms" which is one of my favorite Vanderslice songs. That's not an easy song to call for from the audience either, so I couldn't do an obnoxious request. But the set offered a good cross-section of songs from almost all of his albums so it was a real treat.

Dave, his drummer, played about half the songs with one hand doing moog bass parts while the other played the beat. And bassist Daniel spent half the set playing violin and singing while he bowed. He had a great effect on his fiddle that turned a steady, bowed noted into 16th notes that really kicked. When Ian the keyboardist had some technical difficulty, Daniel did a HI-larious imitation of Michael McDonald playing "Little Wing." This was especially funny for me and my friend Brendan, for whom Michael Mc is a running joke.

The show ended with an encore of about four songs performed in the entrace gallery with the audience surrounding the band. Ian played concertina, Dave played floor tom and xylophone and Daniel stuck with the fiddle. And boy can that young man harmonize!

It should be mentioned that there was a really good crowd there. I didn't think that many people knew about John, based on all those years of playing shows with out of town bands who I thought would appeal to more people, but who sadly didn't draw very well. This exceeded my expectations, and on top of that, I only knew one person there besides Brendan.

All I can say is the New Pornographers have a tough act to follow.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Ain't nothing but a lot of music goin' on

Two more days 'till John Vanderslice plays at the Warhol.

Three more days 'till the New Pornographers rawk Munhall.

If only I had my druthers, I'd make it a three-tiered weekend and drive to Buffalo to see Marilyn Crispell on Sunday. But my druthers are at the cleaners, so for now I'm staying in town.

However, I did get to interview Marilyn last week for Art Voice, Buffalo's alt-weekly. (Her new CD on ECM, Vignettes, is really good by the way. It drops on April 22.) Later that same day, I interviewed John Collins of the New Pornographers. Thus began a week of writing, which was sidelined at several points by a teething young son with a fever and a bad disposition. Yesterday, it finally ended. I had to turn in the Marilyn article as well as three CD reviews for JazzTimes. Once I had the time to devote to writing, it wasn't too much of a challenge, but there's always that part of me that worries that the time will vanish and it won't get done. Or else I won't have any idea what I'm talking about.

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Lately I've been fixated on Clifford Brown. I've been trying to win some of his EmArcy records with Max Roach. I had one slip through my fingers at the last minute last week. But I also got really lucky and won a 10" by them! For $22, no less. Ha cha!

I've also started digging out Beatles records. Last week I had a hankering for A Hard Day's Night. It was the first one I ever heard because my oldest brother had the soundtrack when I was a wee thing. Then a few days later I pulled out Meet the Beatles. It's easy to forgot how tight they were at that point in time. Even the throw-away songs had something to them. You can't hear any of the instruments in "Little Child" but it still rocks. So does "I Wanna Be Your Man." Part of it is extra percussion they added. And "It Won't Be Long"? Man, what a killer song. I'd've been screaming for them too if I heard that live.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Harp is gone. Read all about it.

Playing right now: a Classical mix to help Baby D sleep

I got an email on Friday that Harp - the magazine that straddled the line between independent, geek-centric music and all other forms of rock and pop that were smart enough to be covered - has gone the way of Creem. In other words, it has ceased publication. This hurts me especially because I was a freelancer for the magazine.
The reasoning was the one you'd expect, it wasn't solvent enough to keep it running any longer. (This is no industry secret, lest you wonder. The word is being made official as I type.) Besides, if I'm writing for a publication, it's destined to go under before too long. InPittsburgh? It died less than two years after I became a staff writer. Pulp? Took about two years and four months for that critter to get the rug pulled out from under it. If there's any lesson to be learned it, it's that good things never last.
Sorry I don't mean to be so bitter. And I don't mean to make it all about me.
Well, wait......this is my blog, so it IS all about me, at least for the moment, right? And I'm not about to bite any hands out there that have fed me, anyway. Harp was very good to me. You know what it's like reading people like Fred Mills for years and then have him become your editor? It makes you feel like you've climbed up another rung in the music journalism ladder. Gillian A. Gaar's name was usually just a few pages away from mine. And I got to sound off on a Barbara Manning box set in a major publication. You know how many years I've had to practice that? And it didn't look like a gush fest either. It teaches you something when you only have 200 words in which to do that too.
So thanks, Scott Crawford for founding the magazine. Thanks, Fred for everything. Thanks, Randy Harward for letting me move beyond just CD reviews.
I've never met any of them. Yet. Only communicated through email. It's ironic: I was thinking that maybe, just maybe, if I got more ambitious this year and took on more freelancing that more opportunities might open up and I'd be able to get myself to South by Southwest next year. (This year's installment just wrapped up over the weekend.) Then I might get to meet all those guys, since Harp has been involved in the festival the past couple years. Or at least they've had a lot of parties and written about it.
Not only is that not going to happen, but all those guys probably got word of what was going on right as SXSW was kicking into high gear. That must have been really demoralizing. Or the best reason to stay snockered all weekend. Or both.
There is something that I feel is at the root of Harp's demise that I do need to sound off about, and that's the fact that nobody reads magazines anymore. Nobody cares enough to shell out a few bucks to buy a magazine to keep music journalism alive. That's a bit of a stretch between two points, but it's true. Everything these days is electronic. And that's fine to a degree because there's so much information out there. But where are the tactile experiences of everyday life going? You don't read the paper because you get the information online. You don't need CDs because you've got the songs in the little chewing-gum wrapper sized thing or on your goddamed cellphone.
Sure, I know, we're older and we're too damn busy to take the time for a lot of these things. (I, for one, should be listening to a couple CDs of 50- and 70-minute jazz pieces that I should be reviewing) And it's easier to read this way, or listen this way. But we're missing out on a lot. I know vinyl will never come back the way it should, but there were so many tactile discoveries that went along with the playing of the album that added to it: "Oooh, that song's pretty long. That one's short. Wait, there are six tracks here and only five are listed." You can make those time discoveries with CDs - if they list them - but it's not the same. And a lot just washes over you when you just put on a disc and let it go. Now with iPods, you have your music everywhere, but you don't CD booklets to go through as your listening to add to the experience. Your visuals for Cat Power are the same as the ones for the Black Sabbath cut you have on it.
The same is happening with print media. Maybe the Sunday New York Times is the only thing that will survive the fallout. If it's lucky. Sunday is the one day that people find time to sit and read something. (On a tangent, I wonder how Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce's performances would have gone had they had all the headlines at their fingertips for easy access, rather than needing to spread newspapers out across the hotel bed and read the basic info of each relevant article.)
It all has me wondering what things will be like when my son is in high school. What kind of magazines will be around by then? Will I be waxing nostalgic about buying Double Nickels on the Dime my senior year and ranting about the decline of magazines and sounding like some out of touch old man? Will I be right - to anyone besides myself?
On the other hand, it was really hard to find a copy of Harp in Pittsburgh up until about two or three years ago. It's a real tragedy that it didn't make a bigger name for itself. I think it had everything it needed to do it: irreverance; love for music without being either smug or fawning; good layout; good sections that went beyond the typical rock mag standards.
Anyhow, I urge you all to go out and by a copy of the final issue of Harp. The cover has Dave Grohl on the front announcing his run for presidency. Yeah, you read right. What a great way to go out.
Cue the closing credits. If there was a song that would set the scene here, it would be Angst's "Some Things I Can't Get Used To" (from 1986's Mending Wall on SST).

Sunday, March 09, 2008

You never know who you'll meet....

Playing right now: a musicbox that plays "Swan Lake" in the nursery

In the previous entry here, there was a posting from Joy, the keyboardist of Stony Brook People, who I wrote about on January 3. Then I scrolled down to that entry and saw that another member of the band posted a comment.

I hardly ever get comments and to hear from two people in the band....well don't that just beat all.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

We are Time....and the time I'm thinking of is 1984

I've always sneered at the idea of listening to nothing but music from a certain bygone period of your life. I mean, that mindframe seems reserved for the people who don't really like music; they're not listening because of the music, they're listening because of the images from the past that get conjured by the music. (If I'm being vague, let me give an example: somebody who would buy one of those 20th Century Masters compilations of Fleetwood Mac at Best Buy. And before you get on me about the band - everything in that scenario has to be in place: the particular disc, the [type of] artist/band and the location. There is at least one of those discs in our house, but they came from Paul's CDs.)

Anyhow.........I set that scenario up to knock it down, and take me with it.

A couple weeks ago, I won a copy of the Pop Group's album Y in an auction. They were a particularly polemic and abrasive British punk band, who added elements of funk and free jazz into their music, over which singer Mark Stewart often ranted and raved about politics and social issues. The album came out in 1979, long before the days of "in your face" approaches in music or art or commercials. Y came with a huge poster/lyric sheet that featured a collage of pretty disturbing images, including but not limited to a crowd looking on at a corpse while a young kid pisses on it; two nuns getting ready to bury a casket that clearly shows a young child or baby in it; a crowd of soldiers that seems to be firing on a crowd. Anyway, brutal stuff.

I had this album in high school; bought in 1984. At that time I was really into the punk-jazz group Rip, Rig and Panic which included two ex-Pop Group members, so I went back to the original source. Selling that album (sometime between high school graduation and college) has always been a big regret. Reissues of it are hard to find and usually overpriced, as are the original copies, which don't always have the poster anyway.

So I won the album (in one of those "I shouldn't've bid that high; I hope I'm outbid" moments) and when I got it and threw it on the turntable...............suddenly it was 1984 again. I remember the type of day when I bought it. It was early 1984, a Friday when we only had half a day of school, so I was planning on picking up that album at the Record Recycler (it was on hold), and then taking a girl back to my house to show her how to play the bass. (True story: she had casually said she'd be up for playing bass and I took her seriously, borrowed my brother's Rickenbacker and pretty much threw it at her.) Except she blew me off and I went home alone with the record. Since no one else was home I played it on the living room stereo while I made lunch.

All the songs came back to me right away last week. In fact, a lot of them were burned into my brain and have stayed there for 20+ years. The last time I saw Mike Watt, about four years ago, he encored with "We Are Time," the song I always thought closed the album. (Apparently I was flipped the a- and b-sides since neither were marked as such.) "Blood Money" is a free piece where slow bass and drums keep shifting in and out, with some sort of horn occasionally bubbling to the surface, while Stewart wails under a sea of echo. I remembered most of it. The opening of side two (or one) - a heartbeat, following by Stewart yelling, "Scream of my heart....BEAT" as the band comes in, sort of sloppy. Then there's "Don't Sell Your Dreams" a spare, quiet piece that explodes a couple times when Stewart bellows the title. Yeah, abrasive, but for all the right reasons.

The time period all came back to me: Thinking I might start a band with this girl, who might have been a crush or not depending on how I felt, and might've ended up being a real girlfriend if I would've had the confidence to pursue her and if I would've stopped talking about another girl that had dumped me a few months prior. I was listening to Rip Rig and Panic, playing sax in the marching band at school, and trying to figure out how I could do something as bold as RR+P. It wouldn't happen for two more years. I soon discovered the Minutemen, who I can really tell now, took a lot of cues from the Pop Group.

So anyway, now I know why people will latch on to some album from their past and not let go of it. Not that 1984 was a golden period of my life. It was actually filled with a lot of longing and wishing for things that either wouldn't happen or didn't happen for a couple years. But when you have all that free time to sit in your room and just listen to records and pine and read Henry Miller when no one's looking, and you're only job obligation is delivering the Post-Gazette and collecting payment for it once a week - things might not be too bad.

Post-script: During the '90s, I'd occasionally see the aforementioned girl (now a woman) out with a boyfriend and I always wanted to thank her because if it hadn't been for her flip "sure I'll play the bass" comment, I never would've borrowed my brother's bass, learned how to play it and started a band. I was always too shy and worried that she wouldn't remember me. I wonder where she is now.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Peter Cetera wants to kill me

I'm sitting at work, getting ready to start the day and I'm hearing Chicago for the THIRD time this morning. As I was moving around the radio dial in the car today, I heard the closing of "If You Leave Me Now," switched to another station and heard "Feeling Stronger Every Day" and now, it's "Beginnings."
AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
(I thought they were going to play the percussion breakdown at the end of the latter song, but no dice.)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A good shoe to gaze at


Of all the bands that either played music that paved the way for shoegazer, and of all the bands on 4AD not to achieve some level of iconic status, the Pale Saints qualify as a really overlooked band. I should qualify that statement by admitting that I only own their debut album, The Comforts of Madness, but I've played it a lot in the 18 years since it came out. And it's one of those albums that stays near the turntable for about a week when it gets pulled out. Plus it has a kitty on the cover, as you can see here.
They were quite a bit more rock than many bands of that period on 4AD, but they had those pretty choir boy vocals over top of the charging wall of guitars. I also like the fact that almost all the songs segued together and that many had interludes of noisy chaos between the dreamy hooks. The best one comes after "Insubstantial," or as I like to think of it, "the first song on side two." It's an upbeat little number that melts into noise marked by a particularly abrasive caterwaul from the guitar that whines and whines and whines and gets under your skin. Then the slow bass line intros "A Deep Sleep for Steven" which is all shimmery guitars and voices, with the only percussion appearing on every fourth beat in the shape of a loud thudding drum.
The album also includes a cover of "Fell From the Sun" which I think Kendra Smith wrote for her pre-Opal band Clay Allison. It too has some great picked chords with lots of echo, and it climaxes in an echoey sea of Ian Masters's voice again.
Comforts of Madness was one of those albums where the song titles were never listed in the order that they ran, so there are still some songs whose titles I always forget, at least at first.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Playing right now: Marshall Allen with Lou Grassi's PoBand - Bird Symphony
This is a 32-minute free improv blow-out which, if I remember correctly, gets a little busy at times, with four horns, bass and drums getting totally out. I had to pull it out again and listen to it, because there's something I like about very long pieces like this.

This disc is on CIMP, a label lthat prints a statement on the back of all their discs about how the CD shouldn't be played as background music, but as if there's a concert going on in front of you which you should give your undivided attention. I can sort of understand what they're getting at, because free jazz shouldn't be for casual listening. I wonder what they'd think about my thought that it's easier for me to pay attention to music while I'm driving than it often is when I'm at home.

Regardless, I'm playing this CD and I'll be damned if I can remember what I want to talk about.

I had kind of been hoping to spend my Christmas money on the Mosaic box of Miles at the Blackhawk, which is the vinyl edition of the CD set of his quintet with Hank Mobley when they played at that club. Then in January, Mosaic sent out a message that they were running low on that Miles box. I didn't take any action right away, and now it's gone. Out of print. Sure I could buy it on CD, but there's something about owning a six-record Mosaic set. It's kind of the same appeal as a 32-minute free jazz excursion: monumental and entertaining.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Be still my beating heart

Playing right now: something on satellite radio (i'm at work but haven't clocked in yet)

A couple weeks ago I found that John Vanderslice is coming to the Warhol on April 11. And I was ecstatic. He hasn't been here since about 1996 when MK Ultra played with the Pundits at Luciano's. I've been anxiously awaiting John's return since I got completely immersed with his solo career around the release of Cellar Door (I had some catching up to do).

Then, I found out last night that the New Pornographers are coming to town.......ON THE NEXT NIGHT?!?!? Could this really be true? My little head is going to explode! What's next, Big Dipper will decide to drop by Pittsburgh for brunch on Sunday?

Big Dipper is getting back together for a few shows in late April to mark the release of Supercluster, a collection of their Homestead releases and some later, solid, unreleased stuff. I interviewed Gary Waleik from the band on Monday night. Me and him go way back. 20 years in fact. When Dipper came to the Decade in 1987, I was one of about seven people in the audience and I put them up for the night. That was about 2 months into life in my first apartment, and one month into a relationship with a new hipster girlfriend. The relationship died two months later, as did the fun of the living situation, but Big Dipper never let me down.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Print Jazz

Playing right now: Stephen Gauci's Basso Continuo
(I'm reviewing this for JazzTimes so I won't comment on it here. Read it in print in a few months. Buy JazzTimes.)

I finished reading Ben Ratliff's book Coltrane: The story of a sound. It was an interesting read and an interesting angle to take on a book about someone who's been analyzed a lot. The idea was to focus on how Trane developed the sound of his playing, what influenced it, how it was received etc. Ratliff certainly knows how to write, but there were times when I questioned his somewhat flowery comparisons. Why use an Oscar Wilde quotation to discuss Coltrane's artistry, especially if you're going to disprove what Wilde says?

Plus there were some points that seemed clear to me that he didn't address. He keeps pondering why Coltrane got so immersed in free jazz in the end of his career, and why didn't the reaction to it impact his approach. Welllllll, it seems obvious to me that many artists, of different media, are so wrapped in what they're doing that they can't take a step back and attempt an objective look at what they're doing. This seems especially true of Coltrane. His music was so consuming and he was so obsessive about what he did. And, as Ratliff himself points out, he was never satisfied with what he did. And even though Coltrane's recorded encounter with Cecil Taylor was less than successful, it should have been mentioned for historical purposes and described in a way that says why it didn't work.

Besides that, he also uses the timely phrase "Oh no you didn't" in one section. Funny, but in 10 years it'll look silly.

In reading that book and the liner notes of a recent reissue of Lee Morgan's Tom Cat, which I bought a couple weeks ago, I started feeling like there might actually be a point where you can learn too much about jazz. I mean, when you can pinpoint where Lee Morgan, Coltrane and Miles Davis were and what they were probably doing at a given time of a given year.........you know too much minutiae about these people.

Tom Cat was recorded around the same time as The Sidewinder, Morgan's smash hit that took hard bop into the pop charts and changed the way Blue Note and bop were treated. The album wasn't released for about 15 years because Blue Note shelved it in favor of material more similar to The Sidewinder, which is odd because this album is still in keeping with that one. In reading about that in Tom Cat's liner notes, and how it fits in with Lee's first stint for Blue Note, his return to Philadelphia to kick heroin, his return, The Sidewinder.........it just made me feel like, damn I read to much of this stuff and it's overshadowing the music. At the time I thought that Ben Ratliff was leading me on a guided analysis of what was going on in Trane's brain so I was really overloaded with the back stories.

Then again, I just complained a few paragraphs ago about how Ratliff should've talked about the Cecil Taylor/Trane session, so maybe I am a glutton for selective jazz overanalysis.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The music of my life, chapter 53

I woke up on New Year's Day with a strange craving for Englebert Humperdinck. I was slightly hungover and had either "After the Loving" or "The Last Waltz" going through my head. I have a cheapo Best of comp that I could have listened to, but at that point, getting up, going into the other room where the records are, crouching down near the cement floor to look for it and rooting it out seemed like too much trouble.

On New Year's Eve, I got a single in the mail by a '60s band called Stony Brook People. When I was a young kid my brothers and I got a bunch of promo 45s from our uncle, who was in local radio. I wish we had all of them: Kak, Little Richard on Okeh ("Lucille" b/w "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin on" which I FINALLY found on an album a few years ago after searching for that version of "Lucille" for ages), the Tremeloes. And there was this female vocalist leading these Stony Brook People through a passionate version of "Easy To Be Hard." It was the same song on both sides, though I'm not sure if it was a mono/stereo flip. I always kind of liked their version of "Easy to Be Hard" better than 3 Dog Night's. SBP's singer really tears into the song, especially at the end. Chuck Negron seems to be going for compassion; this gal is laying her heart out.

I still have a copy of the 45, but it's beat to crap. So when a stock copy with a B-side popped up on eBay for 99 cents, I said SOLD. The b-side isn't bad either. It's more rocked up with some punchy brass backing the singer, who sounds like she's doing more of a Grace Slick type of performance there. (Funny, when I was a kid, I pictured her more like Shirley Jones in the Partridge Family although that might be because they were the only band with a female singer that I knew of back then.)

Here's a link to a publicity photo of them. Aside from the Shirley Jones thing, this is probably how I envisioned the rest of them. I wonder if they performed in an off-off-off Broadway production of Hair.

http://groups.msn.com/PSPOT/general.msnw?action=get_message&mview=0&ID_Message=508