Saturday, April 12, 2014

Monk Would Talk to Me, I Bet Ya

Playing right now: Jimmy Giuffre 3 & 4 - New York Concerts
(This thing is going to blow a lot of minds.)

The CD version of the newly released Thelonious Monk Paris 1969 album includes a DVD of the entire performance, along with an interview filmed on that same tour. Anyone who knows anything about Monk knows that the pianist was a man of few very succinct words. The thought of hearing him speak is cool, but one can't exactly expect enlightenment from it.

After watching the interview, I'm tempted to say that it might not simply be the case that Monk was an aloof guy. It could be that people just approached him the same way, like he really was a freak who played freaky music. And they only threw very general, vague questions at him, which left him to try and make the best of a lame situation in hopes of getting it over with soon. The guy interviewing him in the segment, Jacques B. Hess, seems to like his music. He gets very effusive about "Round Midnight" (which, of course, he calls "Round About Midnight") and "Crepuscule With Nellie," saying that they're the work of a genius. But he basically asks Monk to respond to that claim. What kind of question is that?

Hess is French and speaks to the camera in French, switching to English to talk to Monk. No less than three times during the interview, he tells that camera, "Monk does not like to talk very much," which comes across as fairly patronizing. When Monk finally does agree that his work is genius, he seems to be doing it to placate Hess, who takes it further by saying basically, "And there you have it. Monk is a genius."

Orrin Keepnews once said that when he first met Monk, the pianist remembered a review Keepnews had written of one his early Blue Note 78s. The review seemed to grasp, or attempted to grasp, what Monk was trying to do on the record, rather than saying, "Wooooooooah, what's going on HERE?!" Because of that, Monk was a little more friendly and conversational to Keepnews because at the time, (long before they worked together at Riverside) no one was giving Monk any credit for what he did. I can't understand why people would approach an interview subject that way that treated them like a circus freak. Sure, you don't want to take their work as golden but don't come in with skepticism on your mind.

And for pete's sake, don't ask yes-or-no questions.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

CD Review: Blaine Lanehan - Meta Music #27

Blaine Lanehan
Meta Music #27

Guitarist Blaine Lanehan first gained some recognition as part of a free improvisation collective in Evanston, IL. They garnered some press in their hometown despite the fact that their house concerts were attended only by the 10 members of the collective and a handful of girlfriends.

His noisy string abstractions have been located in Chicago for the past 12 years where he's generated controversy and won fans for his intense, almost deafening performances, usually performed with just a six-string guitar and a bank of pedals. On one tour he cleared the room at Pittsburgh's Garfield Artworks with a 30-minute performance consisting of guitar feedback and a 15-foot tape loop that was strung across the stage, recording the racket on one reel-to-reel deck while another played the results back 10 seconds later, providing sonic variations on the initial noise. Although he began and ended the piece, Lanehan was not in the building as it unfolded. He was down the street arguing over a lost food order.

While that performance in particular might evoke John Cage, Lanehan gets especially prickly when compared to any experimental forefather, especially Cage. With a sanctimony that Steve Albini would appreciate, he has gotten in the faces of people - even supporters about to drop money on his extensive catalog -  who dare to make a connection between the guitarist and the grandfather of experimental music. In the rare interviews he's given, it's hard to tell if the attitude is just an elaborate put-on or if he really means it. (It should be noted he has expressed a love of Derek Bailey, boasting that he owns every release on which the guitarist appears.) The Wire has praised his work, saying 15-CDr set No Hands on the Fretboard was a fearless document that probes deep into the recesses of an individual's tempermental lobe.

For the last three years, Lanehan has devoted himself to what he calls "meta-music," an approach in which the preparation for a performance is equally as valuable, if not moreso, than a performance itself. He claims that the thought process that goes into the music gives the music "a pre-destined quality that will either make it suck or not suck. That alone determines why Fleet Foxes are so awful and my music isn't," he has stated in liner notes to previous releases.

Meta Music #22 was recorded last year at the Hungry I-Land on two mikes placed above the stage. It comes with an elaborate drawing that Lanehan sketched to chart the music. Math theories about sound arcs appear on graph paper next to meticulous drawings of his effects pedals, many of which he built himself.

A continuous 32-minute piece, it begins with nothing but audience noise and clinking bottles for the first three minutes. Gradually, we hear him setting up his equipment, amp first. A delay pedal is plugged in next, which loops the buzz of a guitar cable being touched on the plug. Lanehan can be heard talking to himself as he adds different pedals and bends the amorphous sound. A girl in the audience asks, "When is the show going to start?" Lanehan snorts and says, "It started seven minutes ago."

Things don't always go as planned, he says, but "that randomness is what meta music is all about." After a while the snaps of a guitar case are heard, followed quickly by an array of expletives. Apparently Lanehan forgot to pack his guitar in the case that evening.

CD Review: She & Him - Two Virgins [Record Store Day release]

She & Him
Two Virgins

It's rare that I get around to reviewing something before it comes out and even more rare to get my hands on a Record Store Day release in advance, but somehow the fates have played into my hands for what must be the most unique full-album tribute ever made.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono made the original Two Virgins album in 1968, shocking the public with a record that few people heard because they couldn't get past the front cover (if they actually got a hold of it at all), which showed the two of them in the buff. Had the sounds on that record come in any other type of sleeve, they probably would have been forgotten as soon as they hit the record store. What one heard was little more than Lennon and Ono noodling around with tape loops and piano, and none of it happening in any linear fashion. The tape recorder was turned on and they just went about their business, or they didn't, since there are several patches where nothing is really happening. It's a perfect example of you-had-to-be-there.

So why release an complete "tribute" to such an amorphous recording? The answer seems to be, why not? Zooey Deschanel has been a career out of showing how to be an eccentric in the spotlight, so kudos for her. Her partner in crime M Ward seems to put more effort into making their Two Virgins a tad more compelling than the original too. Though it follows the same sonic arc as the original, his guitar and her ukulele give the performance a bit more musical quality which sounds a little more interesting. Their use of a grapefruit on the record label, instead of an apple, seems like a tip of the hat to Yoko Ono (who published a book called Grapefruit), so they seem serious about the entire homage.

And, of course, there's the cover. The advance copy, alas, didn't have one, but it can be seen here. It's impressive that Deschanel and Ward took it to the extreme and posed nude without making goofy faces or doing anything ironic to set off the album. Coupled with the fact that it's limited to 421 copies for Record Store Day, that makes it a release to seek out, even if you'll only play it once.