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24 June 2011

Coronarias Dans - 'Visitor' (Inner City)

The leader of Coronarias Dans is clearly Kenneth Knudsen, the keyboardist, who composed all eight of these jazzy fusion/prog jams, and dominates with his vibe-like electric piano. The liner notes tell me that this an exciting chapter in Danish music, but I'm not so sure. This has lingered in my accumlation of vinyl for so long mostly because I forgot about it; does my passion for wonky 70's Scandinavian prog have limits? Visitor really catches fire at the end of each side, when the band starts to rawk; until the we get a lot of noodling, and Peter Friis Nielsen's bass guitar continually poking it's head through the dirt, like a worm. 'Morning' is abstraction at its best, a nice dewdawn despite the aforementioned punchy bass. Some of these guys used to be in Secret Oyster, and also Burnin' Red Ivanhoe, and I guess that's what the Købehavn kids were jamming in the mid-70's when they weren't busy making those Tegn pornos. Actually my entire concept of Denmark in the 1970s comes from porn, but not actual porn as much as that Rodox magazine which I once saw a bunch of photos from, all cropped to be PG-rated, and one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. I feel that same sense of toppling into a mystery here, but only if I strain. I think I grabbed this cause it was on Inner City, which did release some Art Ensemble of Chicago records around the same time, and because I was hoping for something as far-out as Flasker-Brinnet or Arbete/Fritid. Had I noticed the telltale name of Friis I woulda not mistaken this Danish band for being Swedish. This could of course benefit from being further out, though the rocking bit of 'Don't Know' does have a nice burning drone underneath, like a hurdy-gurdy thing on a guitar. On the flipside, the title track has some snappy drumming but the bassist is in total Bill Laswell mode; you wonder how these guys would sound with some Rodoxed vocalist wailing on top of everything. There's one section when the drum solos for a few measures, right before the song sputters out, and it's like a dub track because they've kicked the treble or done something weird. I dunno, but it's kinda cool in a This Heat way. 'Tied Wawes' immediately takes it down a notch; it's the sensitive ballad. (Yawn.) The compositions are actually quite open - there are times when everyone is playing well with each other around nothing at all. 'Which Witch' is the most aggressive tune of the album but it never rips free from it's shackles; it's a bit frustrating overall, Knudsen's compositional style, as it's rooted in its own navel-gazing but without really being willing to say anything. I'm being too harsh on it - the whole LP ends in a bit of Canterbury-esque chordal crashes that are kinda nice in a familiar way. I guess I'm just tough on the Nordics.

22 June 2011

Elvis Costello & the Attractions - 'Armed Forces' (Columbia)

This time the Attractions get billed, showing a move away from the cult of personality created by My Aim is True. Maybe this is why I hear this as a more cohesive band record, in everything from the keyboard arrangements of 'Senior Service', the group playfulness of 'Big Boys', or the backing vocals throughout the LP. We are a tad closer to new wave but also with a musical sophistication not heard on This Year's Model. And lyrically, Costello is taking a step to more global themes with 'Oliver's Army', the memorable hit from this record, along with '(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding', which appears on this US pressing. 'Peace, Love and Understanding' is a great ending to the record, though to be honest, it doesn't fit; Elvis' snarled, bold vocalising is out of place with the rest of the LP, and it feels a bit tacked-on, despite being an iconic tune. There's quite a few great songs, because this was really the peak of his songwriting prowess, still poised on that balancing beam of relevancy. 'Army' is a somewhat complex one, dealing with Northern Irish political conflict but through the disguised format of the upbeat pop song. It pisses all over U2, but that's not tough is it? But despite this new theme, Armed Forces has plenty of classic Elvis Costello bile. 'Green Shirt' retains that jilted bitterness that made the first two records so great, even if the arrangement is more 80's radio friendly and the production infuses the song with a confidence almost disregarding it's lyrical angle. This confidence is heard in a strong drum sound (check out 'Chemistry Class' which has none of the ragged edge of a tune like 'Lipstick Vogue' or 'Miracle Man') and lots of keyboards - piano, and synth assonance between the gaps. The original title of the album, still printed in the liner notes, was 'Emotional Fascism' and that's a wonderful gem to chew on.

18 June 2011

Elvis Costello - 'This Year's Superstar' (bootleg)

When I pulled this out I thought "Whoa, I still have this." I couldn't remember too much to recommend about this Elvis Costello bootleg unless you're a total nut for the guy. I found this cheap, years ago, and enjoyed it enough when I last listened to it over a decade ago ... but now I was wondering why I keep dragging it around with me. Of course, like many times in Dislocated Underbite Spinal Alphabetical Encourager Templates, the re-listen brings out some rewarding elements and I find a new faith in a record. These recordings seem to come from a radio-recorded concert, situated chronologically I think between This Year's Model and Armed Forces, with decent-enough (for a bootleg) sound quality -- there's crowd noise, but the vocals are mixed high, with the crashing hiss of the cymbals being the biggest key to the illegitimacy of this all. The two sides are suggested by the back cover to start with 'Walk & Don't Look Back', a Temptations cover, but I think the second side is actually the beginning of the concert, as indicated by the fleeting bits of radio announcer voice. 'You Belong to Me' is certainly the set-closer, and then 'Oliver's Army' and a rather aggro 'Pump it Up' serve as encores. There's a shit-ton of vocal effects on 'Watching the Detectives', suggesting that they were really trying to play up the dub/reggae thing. Said reggae influence is evident on 'I Stand Accused', except cut with some slicing Steve Nieve guitar solos. It's sloppy, or just sounds this way because of the recording, and there's a lively energy that makes this a nice alternative to the studio albums. The Attractions (not yet called that, of course) are as furious as I've ever heard them, and I suppose this is a great live document of a time when Elvis Costello carried a vitality he's definitely lost in the intervening years.

Elvis Costello - 'This Year's Model' (Radar)

I always thought that my copy of this was rare, because the cover was misprinted, wrapping the spine around to the back, cropping the title to His Year's Model and leaving ugly printing registration marks on the right. But when I googled for an image to put here, I found a few versions of this look, suggesting this edition, if not intentional, was at least pretty common. At my peak of enjoying Elvis Costello records (approximately 12 years ago), I was happy to find this UK issue because it contained '(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea' instead of 'Radio Radio' and the former is a far better tune. Yeah, this is the best of the first three Elvis Costello records, of course containing the most hits and far better production and confidence than My Aim Is True. Here, as throughout these pages, I'm gonna express the same awkward uncomfortable approach towards writing about such "classic" records. I don't have a lot to say specifically about these songs - yes, 'Little Triggers' is a great and surprisingly nuanced look at dating, 'No Action' is a stomping side-1-track-1, and 'Chelsea''s guitar lick is like a biting razor. But I don't want to go into a deep analysis of late 70's British masculinity, cultural tropes, or any of the other things that could probably be written about here. I'm sure someone's done a PhD on Elvis Costello already, anyway. What does strike me on this revisit is how rooted in 50's and 60's rock and roll these songs are - 'You Belong to Me' could be Cliff Richard, and some of the keyboard riffs seem so obvious, but maybe that's cause I've heard these songs a million times. 'Living in Paradise' and 'Lip Service' are really great songs too. 'Lipstick Vogue' is a good fast stomper. I don't know what else to say; just enjoy this!

Elvis Costello - 'My Aim is True' (Columbia)

The black and white pattern on the front cover of My Aim is True makes a moire pattern that is somewhat dizzying, and also suggests some two-tone ska bullshit, which Elvis Costello most definitely is not. (Although 'Watching the Detectives' gets close with its reggae groove). Things aren't so black and white for young Declan McManus, but given the decades-long career that would follow from this, he's remarkable confident in his songwriting in our earliest recorded output. Some would even say his aim was true. This is a record that launched a million imitators, while itself being a perfect pastiche of British pub-rock, punk attitude, and 60's hooks. I have always liked these early Elvis Costello records a lot despite how often I've had to hear them; the songs are simple, short, and there's a lot of them -- a few too many, maybe, as I could live without 'Sneaky Feelings' or 'Pay It Back'. All great bitter rock songs are made greater when that bitterness is so obviously motivated out of fear. They become infinitely adaptable; when you're young, you can rage along with it all and when you're older you can infuse the tunes with your own experiences. The sentiments on My Aim is True are not exactly teenage, but definitely laced with more fire than resignation. I actually really like the punchiness of the backing band, Clover - there's a rough edge that fits perfectly with the Stiff records sound that I didn't appreciate either when I was back in college. 'Miracle Man' is absolutely rifftastic; even the hit ballad 'Allison' has some lovely guitar intertwining in the intro passage. Nowadays I don't listen to these records much, but they're nice to have around when I'm in the mood. I usually overlook this and Armed Forces in favour of This Year's Model, but there's a reason this has so much fame and notoriety.

17 June 2011

Galactic Supermarket (Kozmiche Musik)

Strictly speaking, this isn't credited to the Cosmic Jokers but I file it as the second of their "albums", though (as we have already discussed) these are just recordings released by an evil svengali trying to make a buck off the name of Ash Ra Tempel, etc. Galactic Supermarket is a somewhat more eclectic and interesting record that Cosmic Jokers. 'Kinder des Alls' is less horizontal than anything on the first album, bringing in some delay-affected small sounds - it's more like a collage of quieter subjams where maybe not all of the members are playing at once. Guitars are less dominant; I hear some ivories being twinkled and far more effects and processing than the first album. Someone's girlfriend sings a little bit again, her voice manipulated in a Brainticket-like manner. It's definitely more NWW-list style psychedelia than before, though things still coalesce into group crescendos. I have a vague suspicion that some post-party overdubbing may be at play. The liner notes indicate (in English, strangely) that this is a quadrophonic recording and I can only imagine how great it would sound were I in a similar state of mind and placed equidistant between a quartet of speakers. The title track, on side two, is also erratic in structure but also lurches into loud jammy freakouts more. There's a really strong sense of improvisation on the quieter bits, and all of these musicians know how to let each other breathe. Occasionally there are rock guitar riffs but they never dominate, usually melting into a noisy sound ball. The synths are full-on too, sounding like various teleportation chambers bringing musicians in and out of the party. I don't know if these jams were from the same session that produced the first album, but they certainly are a 'development'. The cover artwork is like a technicolour version of the early Blue Oyster Cult album covers, and the pseudo-Timothy Leary associations are appropriate. This, really, is the winner of the two and I've always avoided the later releases which I've been told are barrel-bottom-scraping.

16 June 2011

The Cosmic Jokers (Kozmiche Musik)

Focused, no; nor are they even a real band! Actually this was a manipulating ploy by a producer to get a bunch of famous Kraut dudes super high and make 'em jam - and then release it as a "super group" and laugh all the way to the bank. What came out was majestic - two side-long jams, of plodding, slowly building guitar epics, washes of synth, occasional vocals, and the haziest atmosphere you could imagine. It's accidentally a true classic, and I think the musicians ended up suing the shit out of this guy, as they should have, but without really failing to thwart the endless stream of reissues. 'Galactic Joke' is the first one, and it's mostly instrumental apart from some muttering at the end. The pitter-patter of the drums sound pretty solid, and on this these Ash Ra members eek out their epic construction. Focused, no, but there's some higher power that prevents more discordant urges from taking over. On the flipside, 'Cosmic Joy' begins on a Popul Vuh vibe, but then clouds approach quickly. Over twenty minutes, the Jokers sketch out another slow, unfolding exploration of murky sonic space, this one less rhythmic and more textural. It climaxes into a tribal fury for brief moments, then pulls back and allows dissonant guitars to come in. The presence and fidelity is distant, obscure; when piercing guitar notes flicker around the edges, it's never close enough to touch. Of course we now know they were just some super high dudes in a (presumably very smoky) room dicking around, but dicking about with their brainwaves locked together due to the shared experience of whatever they ingested. I feel sluggish, yet opened to something, just by listening to it. These are jokers more in a Hagbard Celine way than Monty Python, if you know what I mean; but as the group Krautjams go, this is definitive and masterful, maybe even too much so (for while I do enjoy this, I'll take the weirder and fruitier songforms over the space jams 7 times out of 10).

Larry Coryell - 'Barefoot Boy' (Flying Dutchman)

I first heard of Coryell because he plays guitar on some late, late Mingus records. Jazz guitar is always a weird one for me; I'm never sure how to put that instrument into a jazz context. Barefoot Boy puts Coryell in a group with Steve Marcus on sax and some more fusion-oriented rhythmic players. It opened with the Gabor Szabo/Santana tune 'Gypsy Queen', which sets a pace the rest of the record never catchs up to. Coryell starts the song with a rapid, muted repetitious figure and lets Marcus blast away on tenor; it's a crazy tone, and the drummer (Roy Haynes) propels things along with a light touch as well. It's really just an intro to the guitar lead, which finally comes in after a few minutes and starts screaming like the severed head of a banshee, occasionally flirting with muddy textures and flange/phase stuff. The liner notes compare him to Hendrix and I guess that's apt, though I hear Sharrock in there. The photos really make Coryell look like a nerd, like someone who shoulda been programming a VAX computer in 1971 instead of busting out ripping, swampy axe licks. I like this record a lot though, even though it mellows a bit. 'The Great Escape' finishes the first side and it's a bit more open and loose as the title might suggest. There's more breathing and still some stunning runs, but it takes on a more romantic tinge at points. Side two is one lengthy 20 minute jam called 'Call to the Higher Consciousness', which despite its name is not a long drone meditation. It's really two parts, separated by a slow, peripatetic Roy Haynes drum solo, with some straight-up rock pyrotechnics at points and the addition of Michael Mandel on piano. At times it feels like the drums and piano are in one calm mentality while Coryell and Marcus are blasting away with speedy, screeching licks. Because they have the same harmonic centre, it works well and starts to actually take on a minimalist monotony after about 15 minutes. It's too all-over-the-place to be the psychedelic call to higher consciousness I'd like, but it's good anyway.

7 June 2011

Chris Corsano - 'Another Dull Dawn' (Ultra Eczema)

Coincidence and circumstances places two Ultra Eczema LPs back-to-back here, this one being #71 in the label's run and showcasing Chris Corsano's personal, idiosyncratic brand of percussive noisemaking. These were recorded in Edinburgh when Chris was living there and seem to reflect the manic-depressive nature of Scottish temprement while reflecting the uniquely bleak weather of the region. For someone as powerful at pounding things, there's an equal amount of scraping and breath here. The 15 short pieces, all recorded in a wooly, murky manner, run the gamut from drumset freakout to toy gamelan (the beautiful 'Kittenish Gnawing pt 2' is a particularly highlight), with a lot of wind instrument mouthpieces, often modified with plastic pipes. There's a primitive, guttural feel t stuff like 'The Misread Altimeter', which is a searing, sharp wave of human breath often redlining into gutbucket territory, only with a skiffle-band aesthetic. The pieces flow; it's a really coherent statement of one man's energy, simultaneously referencing all the solo free drum classics by Milton Graves and Andrew Cyrille while also trying to stake out something new. The speedy drumset work is certainly remarkable - 'The Wreck' is a total explosion, and the full kit parts of the closing track ('The Chair Dustless in the Tiled Room') are practically blast beats. Said closing track swings between these energetic bursts and pot lid/gong melodies, which unfold into a really loose expression of rhythm. Eclectic, yes - expressive, even more so. This style of solo Corsano - also exhibited in his Cricketer album - seems to perfectly bridge the gap between the noise underground's focus on dense, textural material and his own passion for free jazz/improv. What's remarkable is how natural it feels, and how flowing and introspective it manages to be despite carving out an original, singular language. Though I think this maybe flew under the radar a bit (due to the limited nature of the pressing) this might be a high water mark for the genre, if the genre could be defined.

Cassis Cornuta - '25 jaar de gebraden zwaan zingt' (Ultra Eczema)

The low countries are full of weird obscure electronic musicians whose early experiments have been seeing the light of day in recent times - for more, see the Edmund de Deyster record, when we get there, also on Ultra Eczema. Cassis Cornuta is a synth/electronics goofball who is still active in the Antwerp underground, though these recordings were made in 1985 for a radio show which is still running. Cornuta, whose real name is Daniel de Wereldvermaarde, mines some Anton Bruhin territory though with a significantly less refined approach. There's rhythms made from the difference between turntable needle and dictaphone static, with bursts of space between them to provide a curious momentum. The tracks are all untitled and flow together well - the middle of side one is probably the most feisty bit, where there's various objects bashing together to be heard, and they all are given their own voice. It's a no-style style, a celebration of cheap mass-produced consumer electronics and the pure, childlike experimental approach of shoving fingers and toys between the gears. There's nothing digital about this type of electronic music - it's a pure product of the early 80s, the Pride of the 80s Radio Hut magic. Some of the murky bumps on side two start to resemble a steel drum, though the resemblance to anything human is superficial. It's a good listen - difficult and harsh but not annoyingly so, and Cornuta resists the temptation to mix everything into a thick soup. If anything, this music is very democratising, in that it welcomes the listener to experiment, maybe even generating sounds from the very equipment on which the record is being listened to. This isn't to say Cornuta is an idiot savant or naive; there's a real beauty in what's here - a strong sense of curation, of not just selecting sounds but expressing himself through the tension. I've seen Cornuta live and he was more invested in analogue synths and complicated electronics, but this pause-button madness is much more charming of a clamor.

5 June 2011

Chick Corea / David Holland / Barry Altschul - 'A R C' (ECM)

Ah, the C's have provided us such great and underrated jazz bassists - I've already written at length about David Izenzon, and Holland has been wonderful in both of his appearances (here, and in the Paris Concert LP by Circle, a band which is identical to this one except for the addition of Braxton). The ARC trio, though, is quite a different language from Circle, despite such similar personnel and even opening with the same song, Wayne Shorter's 'Nefertiti'. This version is somewhat more lyrical, though with such a sunny tune it's hard to downplay the lyricism; maybe the difference is more from the studio setting vs. the big stage of the Paris concert hall. Corea is top-billed and very much the star of this trio, which is why I file this under Corea, Chick. His four compositions only hint at the fusion/Scientology sound he's known for, and express a much more free (if less individual) language. Side two gets into more experimental territory - 'Thanatos' actually has this weird doppler effect volume change that make the tune feel like an eavedropping, and 'Games' is just that - a bursting ball of interplay that is pretty fun. Holland's own 'Vadana' is a beautiful piece, and though he stays underwhelming throughout this record he's as solid as ever. Altschul gets one solo in the title piece, 'A.R.C.', which is tom-heavy and slightly highschooltalentshowish. If you can tolerate the triangular all-caps liner notes, you can learn a bit about Scientology and reality; one wonders how much the other guys were going along with this. This is one I cite when defending ECM, a label whose early work is pretty great, and see my gushings over Afternoon of a Georgia Faun if you need more proof. This mid-afternoon sunny day was made all the merrier by the several moods of A R C, though I'm really now thinking that I should find a copy of Conference of the Birds before I get to the H's here. (I think I have plenty of time).