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29 November 2015

Gang of Four - 'Solid Gold' (EMI)

Jon King starts off Solid Gold without even singing, just intoning the poem of 'Paralysed' over a slow, start-stop rock beat that never quite lifts up. If I reviewed the last EP by complaining about how the fun was slowly disappearing from these guys, Solid Gold seems to further that tendency. We get 'Outside the Trains Don't Run on Time' and 'He'd Send in the Army', both from that yellow EP, and a few other memorable tunes, namely the secretly depressing 'Cheeseburger' and the iconic 'What We All Want', a brilliant deconstruction of desire under late capitalism, which slows down the disco fury of Entertainment to a crawl, allowing Gill's searing guitars to be layered in a way which sounds pretty great when turned up loud. No, it's not particularly fun, but there's enough of a hook (the chanted 'Could I be happy with something else?/I need some thing to fill my time', which is great because of the duality of 'something' and 'some thing', which not only questions the whole aspect of commodification but also introduces a sexual element into it) so this ends up being a record I've always kept around and enjoyed perhaps more than I should. A lot of the songs are stuck in the same template - jerky, not as musically satisfying as the hits on their first album, which makes the lyrical slogans stand out more - 'wasting time's a hole in the wallet', 'show me a ditch and i'll dive in it', etc. 'Cheeseburger' is definitely the highpoint, where Gill's harmonics give it a shininess that's ironic juxtaposed with its weary, wage-slave tale lyrics. You'll notice that I often follow the conventional wisdom, which is that after the original rhythm section changed, the band was never quite the same, and while their Marxist posturing was always clearly just posturing (after all this is EMI), it became too obvious to enjoy, as they strived more for pop hits. I don't know if that's actually true at all - I think I only heard Sara Lee-era Gang of Four once or twice - so maybe I should dig into Songs of the Free. We all know that the real radicals were just down the road -- the Mekons -- and yes, I will mention the Mekons approximately 40million more times here before we eventually make it to the Ms (2023?). There's a reason for that, though.

19 October 2015

Gang of Four (Warner Bros.)

This EP came out between the first two Gang of Four records, though I always thought it predated Entertainment! for some reason. It's actually a step between the punchy, dancy iconic classic that is the aforementioned debut LP and the slightly less fun Solid Gold. I know this was supposed to be about revolution but "fun" is what I keep going back to, what's missing here. Yes, I want my Marxist disco to have some joy behind it! I understand the struggle was important to these guys (or at least they were very convincing) but 'Outside the Trains Don't Run on Time' is just a chore. I guess the terrifying reality of Thatcher's policies weren't anything to laugh about, but 'Armalite Rifle' manages at least to include some irony. If you've ever seen Urgh! A Music War (and you really, really should) then you'll know that *thwack!* sound at the beginning of 'He'd Send in the Army' is Jon King hitting the back of a chair. It seems menacing and powerful in that film, but on record it just sounds like something stuck to the needle. I'm not being kind to these songs, though I'd never part with this record. And they used to hang out with the Mekons so they get an eternal pass from me.

Gang of Four - 'Entertainment!' (EMI)

Entertainment! was so iconic when I was 19 years old that I can hear it note for note in my head without actually needing to listen to it. In recent years, the disco-Marxism doesn't sound so fresh, but I have enough nostalgia for being young and inspired that I can listen to this still with some sense of joy. Another good justification for dragging these heavy vinyl versions around with me, even though I could hear any of these songs on YouTube any time I wanted too - the fidelity, on a nice clean copy as I somehow procured, is just stunning. That gravy-sounding bass thud which opens 'Ether' is so clear and resonant when the record starts, and Hugo Burnham's drums actually sound like drums here, which presages the Steve Albini era of punk/rock production techniques. Does it all feel a bit silly now, like these guys really thought they'd change the world from their major label deal? Maybe, as a decade of unearthed gems from the true "DIY" scene reveal Gang of Four to be little more than pop-oriented hitmakers. But the edgy shards of guitar which came from Andy Gill's guitar meant something to me in the late 90s, just like it meant so much to those in the north in 1979. I recently watched that Mekons documentary which goes through their early years and particularly the friendship (or at least mutual scene-sharing) they had with Gang of Four, and it's clear that even then, people knew who was going to ascend to the charts and who would toil in decades of obscurity. I'm not sure why it matters; the slash and burn of 'Natural's Not In It' still brings a smile to my face, especially when coupled with Jon King's snarl. What more needs to be said about this record? Every song is a classic, and if it can turn one more teenager towards socialist politics, then it's continuing to work after 35 years. 'Anthrax' remains one of the more sophsticated deconstructions of romance put forth in the punk era, 'Damaged Goods' is the real hit, still played nightly in British discos (at least in the late 00s), and 'I Found That Essence Rare' coined a phrase I still use. I actually saw about six minutes of a reunion show (though I can't remember if it was the original lineup or the Songs of the Free one), at the legendary Thurston Moore-curated All Tomorrow's Parties in December 2006. I was pretty burned out having been on tour myself the last five weeks, and only stuck my head in briefly when Gang of Four was playing, precisely in the middle of 'Damaged Goods'. It felt rote, lifeless and formulaic, and though I realised that less than a decade earlier I would have been over the moon about it, at that point in my life, it just felt like another reunion cash-in. This isn't fair to messrs. King, Gill, Burnham and Allen, and certainly more a reflection of my own frame of mind than anything they may have intended originally or reunion-era, but something just hit me -- the real revolution would be aesthetic, and this danceaholic armchair leftism was just another opiate. I've mellowed since, and pleased to say how great this sounds again, in 2015.

2 September 2015

Game Theory - 'Lolita Nation' (Enigma)

And here it is, the record that Game Theory's reputation is really founded upon, and Scott Miller's truest and most unencumbered statement of purpose. This is one of those cases where the notorious difficult double album really is their masterpiece; I'd say it's their Trout Mask Replica, except the length of Lolita Nation isn't due to impenetrable density (despite the bizarre avant-experiments on side three, one of which I will cut and paste the full title of here to make this post unnecessarily longer: 'All Clockwork And No Bodily Fluids Makes Hal A Dull Metal Humbert / In Heaven Every Elephant Baby Wants To Be So Full Of Sting / Paul Simon In The Park With Canticle / But You Can't Pick Your Friends / Vacuum Genesis / Defmarcos - Howsometh - Ingdotime - Salengths - Omethingl - Etbfollow - Afternoo - Ngetprese - Ntmomonti - Fthingswo - Ntalwaysb - Ethiswayt - Bcacausea - Bwasteaft - Ernoonwhe - Neqbmeret - Urnfromsh - Owlittleg - Reenplace - 27'). No, it's just kind of a LOOONG record, and new guitarist Donette Thayer is promoted to co-songwriter here, contributing a few like 'Look Away' and co-writing the brilliant opening hit 'Not Because You Can'. This is still an 80s pop record, so if you came expecting Schoenberg-influenced skronk, you've chosen incorrectly. Side one is about a perfect of a takeoff as you can get - the by-now standard Game Theory opening flash of amusical oddness, a brilliant first proper song ('Not Before You Can', which is all angles and tension before the singing finally delivers the money shot), and then it starts to get weird. But not too weird - the fragmentary 'Go Ahead, You're Dying To' is more like a hint of future worlds (some of which will be ruled by a certain Emperor Robert Pollard), and 'Dripping With Looks' is one of Miller's finest achievements ever, a fierce and soaring monster with a simple, drum-free arrangement that casts the song in a perfectly inappropriate heavy metal glow. As much as I've listened to Lolita Nation, I must confess side 1 has received about thirty times as much airplay as the other sides; 'We Love you Carol and Alison' and 'The Waist and the Knees' close it out, both amazing songs, and it would be a perfect, perfect EP if the other three sides were blank. But I'm not trying to diminish the rest of the record, which is consistent throughout, though there are a few dull spots (Thayer's 'Mammoth Gardens' is truly unremarkable, reminding me a little bit of Cyndi Lauper actually, and the instrumental 'Where The Have to Let You In', written by drummer/guitarist Gil Ray, feels like a wasted opportunity). The Thayer-sung contributions are mostly fine, if typical pop songs of the era, and neither can hang with heavyweight cuts like 'One More For St. Michael' or even 'Chardonnay' - there's an inventiveness, not just lyrically, but in how the songs fit together and are delivered, that is the Scott Miller Sound. Side three is the 'weird' side (aren't 'weird' sides always side 3??) but it just means there's more short experiments in between the 'real' songs, some of them perfect and some of them (such as the aforementioned  'All Clockwork And No Bodily Fluids Makes Hal A Dull Metal Humbert / In Heaven Every Elephant Baby Wants To Be So Full Of Sting / Paul Simon In The Park With Canticle / But You Can't Pick Your Friends / Vacuum Genesis / Defmarcos - Howsometh - Ingdotime - Salengths - Omethingl - Etbfollow - Afternoo - Ngetprese - Ntmomonti - Fthingswo - Ntalwaysb - Ethiswayt - Bcacausea - Bwasteaft - Ernoonwhe - Neqbmeret - Urnfromsh - Owlittleg - Reenplace - 27' being primitive and inconclusive, and not in a good way). The shorter song fragments are something Miller returned to years later for Loud Family's Days for Days, and a few (such as 'Exactly What We Don't Want to Hear') don't need to be any longer. Production-wise this is a bit glossier than Real Nighttime, with the keyboards and vocals even more prominent. The keyboard sound here is about as far away from the retro-hip analogue synths that became popular a decade later with bands such as Stereolab, Broadcast and the American Analog Set, and that's also part of the charm. Nothing here could ever sound like it wasn't made in 1987, but it's still somehow a unique beast that transcends the limitations of the zeitgeist. Miller's best work, probably, is really this, and it's not a concise or perfect vision - it's a sprawling, slightly messy cornucopia of ideas. But some artists are just more successful that way.

31 August 2015

Game Theory - 'Real Nighttime' (Enigma)

Sometimes I feel like this is Game Theory's best record. It has a nice, full 80's pop production and a lot of guitars, and Miller's voice is given the right about of reverb and compression to make it really soar over these songs. And lyrically it also might have the right balance of the cryptic and relatable, though I like his more experimental verbal constructions. The text on the back cover is cryptic and feels like an Arno Schmidt translation, but the songs inside are only halfway there - 'She'll Be a Verb' is actually a fairly straight love song (if a slightly wistful one); '24' captures the confusion of maturity with no relation to the Red House Painters song of the same name. If you've ever read Miller's excellent book Music: What happened? you'll know he was heavily influenced by the dBs and Chris Stamey in particular; you can hear this influence probably most thoroughly on Real Nighttime of all his records, both in terms of melodic construction and the affect of his singing. Chilton and Big Star too, with 'You Can't Have Me' getting a cover version, though I'm not wild about this take, which seems to remove the pain from Chilton's delivery. The violent overtones of 'Friend of the Family' are echoed in the very punchy drum recording technique, a stomper that opens up in the chorus and is probably the best song on the record. But that's not discounting the brash opener '24', or the sinewy, chorus-laden riff of 'Curse of the Frontier Land'. The latter ambiguously questions success in the music industry or maybe it's just California he's talking about; either way, it's drenched in the imagery of decay and sadness, and odd and moving juxtaposition against Miller's youth-infused voice. You could argue this is almost overproduced, with phase and flange effects on the lead guitars, and keyboards pulsing in the corners of the mix. But I think it works really well. The concise 'I Turned Her Away' closes things out, and there's such a joyous feeling to this record that it makes me really sad Miller has left this earth. But there's even wilder frontiers ahead....

20 August 2015

Game Theory - 'Blaze of Glory' (Rational)

'I never wanted to be tough', sings Scott Miller as the first line on this record, and that's sort of a career manifesto. It's not his debut release - there's the wonderful Alternate Learning LP from '81 - but it's the first one by Game Theory, and I've always viewed this as the Scott Miller band, so I take the Alternate Learning - Game Theory - Loud Family lineage as one more or less unbroken band (with apologies to Donette Thayer's later songwriting contributions). And it's impressive how fully-formed his vision is here. It begins with a snippet of more experimental sounds (like most GT records) before leading off with the one-two punch of 'Something to Show' and 'Tin Scarecrow', both brassy and buoyant. And the Sparks-like rave-up 'White Blues' follows, which ain't a bad tune either. Game Theory are such an exemplary band to me because they managed to sound very much of their milieu while being completely singular and remarkable at the same time - the cream of the crop, the crop in this case being early 80s college rock, or new wave, or Pasiley underground or whatever you want to call it. From this classification, I put them in the same league as This Heat, or the Art Ensemble of Chicago, or Animal Collective - brilliance within a vague framework of the then-'now' sound. The whole Paisley Underground thing I think came later and Game Theory were only really tangentially related to those neo-psych warriors; here, the psychedelia is restricted more or less to the lyrics, as the music is mostly bouncy post-punk with synth punctuations. Miller's voice has always been bright and somewhat effeminate (and an acquired taste which many people I've tried to turn on to his songwriting have never been able to develop), so any of the aggro edges from the fast-paced songs and bashing guitars are softened by this. This, like many first albums, is just a calling card for what's to come later with bigger and better production, which isn't meant to diminish the songwriting within; 'Bad Year at UCLA' is one of the earliest out-and-out classics by Miller,  and 'Stupid Heart' should make all the best-of mixtapes. His lyrics aren't yet as creative in terms of wordplay as what will come in the following decade, but even when grappling with the confusion of romantic feelings that takes place in one's early 20s, he displays a remarkable prescience and irony ('Date With an Angel'; 'All I Want is Everything'). I find myself listening to this just as much as the other ones, despite it's 'early' and 'rough' edges. Unfortunately my copy is packaged only in a plain 12" sleeve, so I'm missing part of the package.

22 July 2015

Fugazi - 'The Argument' (Dischord)

The paradox about Fugazi is that as their records get technically better (meaning, more interesting, more distinct, more experimental and more mature) they become less enjoyable to listen to. Ah, I'm a product of my age, what can I say -- to me, the peak is somewhere between 1993's In On the Kill-Taker and 1995's Red Medicine (so, approximately 1994 - the year of In Utero and Bee Thousand). I'm probably still just kicking my pre-teen intelligence failure, because instead of going to see Fugazi in 1993, my MTV-addled brain chose to see fucking Porno for Pyros on the same night. I got my chance in '95 in a much larger venue, and suffered my first blast of tinnitus afterwards, from which I've never fully recovered. The next time I attempt a quiet walk through the forest and can't escape the ringing/hiss inside me, I'll think back to Guy Picciotto flipping out during 'Bed For the Scraping' 20 years ago and re-evaluate "was it worth it?". Anyway. I bought this record the day it was released and probably have played it twice since; this listen, here is like hearing a lost album by an old favourite, which is I guess what it is, though lost in plain sight. By 2001 I had moved on - it was all avant-drone and neo-psych and discovering the post-everything world. Anyway, you get my point - Fugazi didn't change, I did. Or, rather, Fugazi changed too but I wasn't listening; this album was bought mostly out of loyalty. Of course, it's good. It starts with some musique concrete, but no, it doesn't go that far, instead settling into a mid-tempo indie-punk sound with occasional moment of fire, what we now describe as Fugazi-esque. Guy sounds a bit like a cat being swung by its tail on 'Cashout', which follows the 'Public Witness Program'-esque precedent of track 2 being a Picciotto-sung stomper that most of their albums seem to have. Here, it's a tad bit slower, and the 'anthemic' elements are a wooooo-sound that could be background vocals but is actually just a droning guitar lead, I think. Actually, this sounds more like a classic "Fugazi" album than anything after In On the Kill-Taker, or at least side 1. 'Strangelight' opens side two with a moody, arepeggiated guitar line, and when it turns into a rock song, it resists the impulse to go for it. The overall sound of Dischord records really shifted in the late 90s, thinking about bands such as Faraquet and Smart Went Crazy, none of whom I really paid much attention to at the time but now strike me as brilliant, and almost forgotten.The Argument remarkably incorporates this influence while also synthesising it with the more aggressive roots; it's like the post-rock parts of Faraquet are left behind and the intangibles bleed through. There's no red meat for the kids (such as 'Great Cop' on Kill-Taker) but the evolution is felt, and the 'experimentation' is still quite palatable. The formula gets back on track with "Oh", where Joe Lally's bass is dominant and almost, I daresay, 'funky'. There's a fifth member (the guy from All Scars) present on most songs, not credited as a full band member but playing a second drumkit and percussion on other tunes, such as the aforementioned 'Strangelight'. It's not always easy to hear him, or know what he's really adding, but For many of us, who abandoned Fugazi by 2001, The Argument really comes across like a bizarro version of something familiar, and hindsight affords the space to start appreciating. Competing against the infinite streams of other tones available to these ears (and brain) is the true challenge.

23 June 2015

Fucked Up - 'Hidden World' (Deranged)

When I heard Fucked Up it was a good five or six years after I had been semi-immersed into the punk and hardcore scene, and I was starting to feel a new wave of appreciation for these sounds. But the second time around, I didn't shy away from melody, I didn't care about the culture around this music - a new take on a familiar feeling was all I wanted, and thus I took interest in records like Jay Reatard's Blood Visions, and also this. Hidden World is arguably an updating of hardcore with contemporary themes circa 2006, shaking off the musical conservatism that saturated the HeartattaCk world and embracing any possibilities that were out there. These Canadians could certainly play with a fury, but they employed just enough pop sensibility to make them palatable to the Matador label, where they ended up after this - and soon started making weird pseudonymous fake compilations and concept albums. There's ideas bursting from both LPs of this set, and when they bring in, for example, a violin solo (at the end of 'Carried Out To Sea'), it feels like an organically integrated part of the composition and not just a gimmick like so many other "hardcore" bands use. The singer's name is Pink Eyes which is a nice take on all these bands from the time (Wolf Eyes, Frog Eyes, Black Eyes, Aids Wolf, Pink Frog, etc.) though maybe he just had conjunctivitis. It's a double album but doesn't feel long, presented well on nice thick vinyl with good mastering, as has become the fashion. I sort of remember the one after this, which I think got compared to Radiohead in the media, but I didn't hang with it for more than one listen, though I should re-visit it now. Maybe I'm most stimulated by records like this, where the really ambitious stuff is still following a template of a formula, a familiar sound; these subtle reinventions from something rooted are often the most inspiring (This Heat Deceit, anyone?). Fucked Up weren't the first hardcore band to have occult-leaning lyrics that deconstruct religion and myth, though maybe the way they do this without compromising their energy is what's special. Moss Icon's brainy, acid-drenched ramblings are maybe an influence, but there's a more coherent focus here, even if the lyrics are not necessarily more lucid. They also aren't the first band to have a mastery of rock songwriting, but they definitely do; the heard-it-before surface of 'David Comes to Life' or 'Two Snakes' belie the complexity underneath. When the bass and drums stop in the title track and a wall of strummed chugga-guitar builds up, and the band eventually comes crashing back in, it's tension-and-release straight from the Mission of Burma schoolbook - you know it's coming, but you're happy for the payoff (and then it ends with a melodic pattern of whistling). It all warps up with the 9-minute 'Vivian Girls', which is sadly not a Snakefinger cover, but an epic of its own, with march-like instrumental climax and a thick blanketing sound that's hard to escape from. This is such a great record, and thanks to this alphabetical project for reminding me it's here.

11 May 2015

Frosted Ambassador (Kindercore)

The Frosted Ambassador is another in the long line of pseudo-anonymous LPs, except the man behind this one (Eric Harris of Olivia Tremor Control) never was very good at keeping the secret. Naming the project after an existing Olivia Tremor Control song (and one that Harris's drumming played a prominent role on) was a dead giveaway, and when I asked him in person years ago if this was his work, he denied it with a knowing smirk. Anonymity isn't necessary though; this isn't particularly mysterious music, descending from the Olivia's neo-retro-psych pop (and I realise 15 years after their heydey, the "neo" and "retro" parts of that silly descriptor are already anachronistic and meaningless). This is largely instrumental, but has a bit of singing on a few of the untitled songs (where space is provided on the sleeve to write in your own song titles) - mostly on the opener, which is a real barnstormer. This could have all the members of Olivia Tremor Control playing on it, because the trademarks are all there: 4-track psychedelia that pushes the limits of the format's fidelity in occasionally spellbinding ways; thick, fuzzy basslines; steady, often marching band-styled drumming, and lots of little instruments peering around the cracks. Everything is pretty organic, including the electronics, which are limited to tape manipulations,  simple Casio tones and beats, and effects-pedal processing. It's as colourful as the album art indicates, with fluttering rock chords offset by chimes, bells, ethnic instruments (though played in a fairly major-key manner), and the occasional field recordings or other samples. It's very palatable accessibility, and it really stands up nicely against the Olivia's "proper" albums. The more goofy, erratic parts are built around the tape manipulations, which even when they jerk around in a start-stop way, they have a warm melodiousness to them. The penultimate track is the deepest work, with thick slabs of sound over which a million melted video games battle for some sort of supremacy. Maybe this is the record for people who would like Olivia Tremor Control if they removed all of the Beatles influence - if you wanted OTC to sound more like Bügsküll, here's your ticket.

26 April 2015

Edgar Froese - 'Aqua' (Virgin)

Your correspondent is not much of a Tangerine Dream fan, not really a massive fan of synthesiser records in general, with a few exceptions of course. I like retrofuturism as much as anyone else and I'm always intrigued by something that sounds novel and fucked up, but when it comes to sweeping, all-engulfing dronescapes, I generally prefer the reverberations of strings, guitars, and other acoustic instruments. This may be because I've owned a vinyl copy of Aqua for years, and this contains pretty much everything I'd want from a synth album. The title track's 17 minutes is almost enough - a slowly pulsing example of what the synthesiser is capable of. Lightweight, mid-range drones ascend and fall, and there's strange looping bubbles and gurgles overtop. The corners sound like the are infinitely expanding, making this a work of continual investigation rather than closure. The second side finds things getting a bit bouncier on 'NGC 891' and 'Upland', with more pings and pongs to go with the wet blankets. (I'm really bad at describing what synth music sounds like!) Despite being just over 45 minutes, Aqua feels long, with the two shorter pieces on each side feeling not superfluous, but like some sort of bonus track (on the original issue of the record). The liner notes suggest that side two should be listened to on headphones 'to appreciate fully the revolutionary artificial head system developed by gunther brunschen' but I didn't do this, because I'm terrible. and also cause my headphone cord isn't long enough. This is 1974, and while I've learned to mostly reject the dull narrative of rock in the 70s being all bloated cocaine music until punk came along, I can't help but feel that this must have been part of something, or at least seemed that way - it's not long after this that Eno's Discreet Music came along, and while that's a completely different beast, it certainly is within the realm of un-rock gestures. Tangerine Dream's output isn't wildly different from Aqua, at least from what I remember, but this is held together with the hand of a solo artist and that's clear throughout. I could probably learn to obsess over this record if I wanted to, but maybe that's a slippery slope to the whole genre.

25 April 2015

Fred Frith / Bob Ostertag / Phil Minton ‎– 'Voice Of America' (Rift)

The melting radio pictured on the cover is a pretty accurate image for the sounds heard in the grooves - a mishmash of tape manipulations, found recordings, and radio static blended seamlessly with guitar, synth, homemade instruments and some vocals. It's two concert recordings, the first side being a duo of Frith and Ostertag and the flip adding Minton. The tone is, as you can imagine, pretty far from the more structured tonal material Frith was doing around the same time on Cheap at Half Price and very much descended from the modernist quilt of Cage's Variations IV. This isn't music for everyone, and even improv-heads might struggle to understand the interplay here, at least on the first side where warm, thick bands of the manipulated source material are often indistinguishable from the 'instruments' at play, though it doesn't matter much to me. This is highly politicised material (of course!), stemming from the Rock in Opposition thing I guess, because Ostertag made most of the recordings in Nicaragua and blends them in with recordings of Let's Make a Deal, and some chatter from Merlin Olson of the L.A. Rams. I know this because the liner notes delineate all of the source material and even 'lyrics', which is an impressive feat for an album of field/found recordings. The b-side, as a trio with Minton, is more sparse and 'classically' improvisational, at least in a Derek Bailey kind of way. It starts and stops in fits and feels more like the disjointed series of challenges that it is, at least compared to side one's thematic cohesion. Minton does some traditional voice work at the end but otherwise is happy to assimilate into Frith and Ostertag's cacophony. Frith only plays 'homemade instruments' here and they are skiffle-band sounding, with resonating thumps and plucks, suggesting maybe a wooden box with nails sticking out of it. Voice of America was, I believe, the name of a CIA-backed radio station, and this propagandistic element is turned inside-out through the extremely musical avant-garde, a technique which retains inspiration even thirty-three years later.

22 March 2015

Fred Frith - 'Guitar Solos' (Caroline)

I have a near-reverential admiration for Mr. Frith as you probably saw way, way back when I "did" the Art Bears on here. The recent podcast interview he did on the 5049 podcast made me feel even more positive about him just from a personality point of view, and I daresay that listening to this record, his first solo release, I feel that personality come through. This is what its title purports it to be, and the liner notes explain how these are made without overdubs apart from the last track, and without editing apart form two notes removed on the beautiful 'Not forgotten'. Otherwise, this is pure guitar or prepared guitar, and while that purity doesn't matter so much to me these day, there's a certain 'what the fuck' sense on the first side. 'Glass c/w Steel' has an eerie echo throughout that maybe is from the glass or steel, but it sets an atmosphere that is still groundbreaking today in the realm of solo guitar, even today. The amplifier plays a pretty large role in 'Heat c/w Moment', where there's an almost gate effect caused by the overtones and whatever preparation is causing the strings to mute just after the attack stars. Frith's fingerwork isn't the centrepiece of Guitar Solos, though it's nothing to scoff at. But instead of going for dazzling, fast runs, he cuts the heavy motion with a strong sense of atmosphere. 'No Birds', the track with overdubs, reminds me of Pelt. It's actually two guitars played at once, at least on the middle part, and this part is smooth and nervous at the same time, two sliding lines trying to follow each other while skirting the overall orbit. It concludes with a harmonic finish, the sound of "pure" electric guitar ringing out, in a playful pattern with its own overdubbed partner; at moments Reichian, and throughout a work of utter beauty. It's easy to self-categorise records like this under the 'improv' genre, as if this was like an innumerable Derek Bailey release, but this listen (my first in years) reveals a stunningly careful construction that makes this feel closer to a modern classical composition (at least on certain tracks). It's crazy to me that this is Frith's first solo release because it sounds as complete and thought-out as something that a master would spend decades crafting, which is not to say that he didn't evolve further after this. That never-ceasing reinvention and evolution is something that inspires me as much as the music does. May he keep on going forever and may future generations have the same thrill of discovering his work that I did.

20 March 2015

Friendship Next Of Kin featuring Selwyn Lissack - 'Facets of the Univers' (Goody)

I used to know a guy who used 'Selwyn Lissack' as his Internet handle, which is a wonderfully obscure choice. This is the only LP by this group, a free bashabout led by two South Africans, Lissack on drums and Mongezi Feza's inimitable pocket trumpet. There's a bunch of British stars of the time present, most notable Harry Miller and Mike Osborne, who are no strangers to playing with these South Africans. And unlike Miller's own band, or the Chris McGregor Brotherhood of Breath, this is much more akin to the continental sounds of the time (1971), sounding like it could be an Italian band with Steve Lacy or something like that. Side one gets revving with the title track, with 'universe' spelled correctly on the label and song title, just incorrectly in the album title. There's some piano that is uncredited, though the Internet tells me it's second bassist Earl Freeman, and it's sparse enough to really set the tone when it's audible. This has that sorta shitty recording quality that affects so many jazz records from the time; Lissack's clattering is all sticks and cymbals with some ramshackle thuds; the highs of Osborne's alto and Feza's toy cut through everything and there feels like no middle. But despite all of this, it's great. It rumbles and growls, and when the brass erupts it's pretty intriguing, though I'm not sure if my verbal description here differs from any of the other free jazz records I've written about in these annals over the past six years. The b-side is one long track bearing the name of the group, which starts as a quieter exploration under a long spoken poem. I'm not sure who is speaking - the voice is male, and sounds African-American - I don't think it's Lissack cause there's no South African accent, but possibly the American Freeman. The recording is still as lackluster as the first side, especially on the spacious parts, which sound like they were recorded from down a long hallway. The spoken word is one of the more colourful passages of its type, with spirited absurdities and an earnest timbre to the delivery. When the two basses take over (one bowing, one walking) it moves the proceedings into a somber area that feels incongruous with the first half. But then it explodes, and this is where Lissack shines, pounding away with determination and style. The piano makes long glissando runs and Feza is once again the star. At times, there is a 'swing' vibe to this, but it never goes out of control or becomes too formulaic. Despite the flaws of the recording this is a favourite of mine, particularly due to the quite impressive scope of sounds explored on 'Friendship Next of Kin' (side B). Lissack apparently turned to painting in the late 70s but also appeared on the über-rare Ric Colbeck The Sun is Up LP, which for some reason still hasn't been reissued.

17 March 2015

Fresh Maggots - 'Hatched' (Sunbeam)

A few years back, amid the resurgence of interest in British folk-rock, came a bunch of reissues  of obscurities and 'lost gems'. Some, such as this, got such a gorgeous and deluxe treatment that it's almost ridiculous, far exceeding any interest in the band when they were actualy around. This Sunbeam reissues takes the lone self-titled Fresh Maggots LP and adds a bunch of additional material, becoming a pretty definitive record of a band that no one remembers anyway. These guys were a duo who were touted a lot in the press as the next big thing (at least in what the liner notes include), if the next big thing was going to be a folk duo that tends more towards fast strummy pop than the type of saccharine Simon & Garfunkel shit that is forever popular. There's definitely that folk duo vibe, as 'Rosemary Hill' apes the 'Sound of Silence' but adds glockenspiel-  a novel touch! The sound is soft folk-pop throughout, though with sometimes-searing electric guitar leads and occasional other instruments. The electric lead over acoustic strum template works well, though I'd struggle to maintain interest all the way through if the proper LP didn't close with 'Frustration', probably their best track. The lyrics are unremarkable la-la-la of their milieu, and there's a genteel Britishness, yet cigarette-stained, as if hinting at something nastier underneath. The third side is only two songs, though thankfully still mastered at 33rpm so I don't have to flip the belt for such middling fare (both songs are mostly just 'la la la's, suggesting that this might be unfinished tracks instead of a single, but the liner notes don't help). The fourth side comes from a radio programme and consists of live-in-studio versions of songs from the album. And with that, it's over; a retreat back into the forgotten corners of music history, cause now this reissue is surely unavailable again until the next cycle. Fresh Maggots isn't a great choice for a band name but I don't think their failure to hit it big is due to this; more likely it's because their sound, while certainly pleasant, lacked any sort of memorable edge or character. At the best moments, the electric guitar lines and the acoustic strum become trance-like, but then they usually start singing again.  They can't even lay claim to being the biggest band ever from Nuneaton (a place I only ever knew from always having to change trains there) because of Eyeless in Gaza, or Elastica's drummer.

5 March 2015

Chico Freeman - 'Chico' (India Navigation)

The very lengthy side one of this starts out with an extended Cecil McBee bass intro, and it's a pleasure, as is his playing throughout the 16-minute medley of 'Generation' and 'Regeneration'. This slow, open piece has Freeman playing soft and cautious, setting down a tone that's intense without being gusty. I heard this years back and was intrigued by Freeman's playing, but to be honest, it's McBee that owns this side of the record. 'And All the World Moved' finds Freeman fluting over some deep bowed McBee hustle; sometimes it's all-encompassing and echoing, and at other parts it's rumbling like it's about to rupture. Their start-stop interplay is pushed to two ends of the audible spectrum yet it doesn't feel empty in the middle. It's neither excessively solemn not overly tradition-based - it feels personal, open, and inviting yet hardly light. On the flip we find a quintet, the two being joined by some AACM alums including Steve McCall and Muhal Richard Abrams. This swings, and Abrams is a bit subdued; second percussionist Tito Sampa adds so much to this, making it a Larks Tongues in Aspic feel. About 3/4 of the way through the side's sole piece ('Merger', recorded live in concert in NYC), Freeman explodes with what's one of my favourite sax solos in the whole of my vinyl accumulation - a twisting, explosive and yet extremely harmonic flurry of notes that ends just before making it's pattern obvious. The proceedings are brought back down to a sweet, smooth denouement and then the audience claps. 

21 February 2015

Free Music Quintet - 'Free Music One and Two' (ESP)

Not a lot of Eurojazz landed on ESP and I guess that's not surprising as it was a NY-based label and these were the days way before the global communication network we're so used to now saturated our lives. So I'm not really sure what the story is with this album, which is one I almost never hear talked about but is pretty worthy of of the ESP brand, in my opinion. Ferdy Rikkers, Erwin Somer, Pierre Coubois, Boy Raaymakers and Peter van der Locht holed up in the farmhouse that Somer was living in and spent two days recording in June 1968, and this is the output. Free music it certainly is, and despite the jazz-leaning instrumentation this actually achieves something close to "non-idiomatic" at points (though it's probably years before that term was introduced). No instrumentation is listed besides Courbois's drum manufacturer (Yamaha and Paiste cymbals, if you were wondering) and the high-contrast photos on the back cover only hint at what we're hearing. Rikkers is on double bass, though it sounds like a higher-pitched stringed instrument, perhaps a violin, is getting played against him occasionally. Somer's on xylophone or vibes, though the photo shows him bowing it (I think). Van der Locht is on reeds and Raaymakers on trumpet or flugelhorn or something brassy. The latter two are playing two instruments at once in their photographs and that might explain some of the plurality heard here. Courbois pulls things into the jazz angle the most with his frantic yet light touch, and the saxes (which occasionally sound like they have wax paper stuffed in them) get appropriately bellicose when it's demanded of the others. Throughout the half-hour or so of music, the sliding measure between tense and fluid never settles, instead veering wildly from one extreme to another, often changing suddenly. Somer's xylophone playing is very mood-focused, and restrained; there are parts where he slowly rings out a descending pattern, the sonority of which cuts through the warring winds, and infuses a mature gravitas on the group. The punchier parts of this (such as the opening of side two) generally outshine the spacious parts, though Courbois does a stellar job creating atmosphere with his Paistes when he gets a chance. It's quietest moments are at the very end, where the proceedings sputter into nothing, and the crackle of 47-year old surface noise is barely distinguishable from the woodblocks, instrument-slapping and other light percussion that rides out this session. What does it feel like? Joyous, bright and open - the sounds of freedom, I suppose.

Bill Fox - 'Shelter from the Smoke' (Scat)

I was just talking about Bill Fox with a friend from back home, and I called him "the Bob Dylan of the Rust Belt" which is a bit of hyperbole, sure, but who else would it be -- Donnie Iris? Scat reissued this a few years back on vinyl, one of the first in hopefully a growing trend of great 90s records that were originally released only as CDs getting the vinyl treatment years later. Because my dream of eventually having 0 CDs can be achieved! Fox is really a genius, and this is sort of what you'd expect from an aging punk rocker. Lots of acoustic guitars, to the point where it feels mostly like a singer-songwriter album, though a few rockers such as 'Way Way Down' (which could be a Vampire on Titus-era Guided by Voices outtake) and 'Let's Be Buried Together' (which sounds pretty much like the Mice). The opening track, 'Over and Away She Goes' sets the tone by sounding like a neo-Byrdsian folk number; tambourine and shakers and bright jangly guitars do wonders to mask Fox's raspy voice, though I love his singing and don't mean that in a bad way. The Dylan influence is most obvious when there's harmonica coasting over the strum ('Baystorm', most obviously), but the band-led 'Grand-Ville Blues' could be mistaken for the Hawks circa '65 if you squint your ears. Many of the acoustic songs have an almost fairy-tale like quality; a tendency towards sing-song cadences, which makes this a pretty catchy album ('Let in the Sun' is almost a hymn in its simplicity, but that's also not meant in a bad way). When he slows down and opens up ('Sara Page', the aforementioned 'Daystorm') the space really builds it. I'm not from Cleveland but close by, and listening to this transports me back there in some way, even though I first heard this years after I left home. This isn't a trailblazing record, nor a clear example of an artist baring their soul, but it's full of such strong songs that it congeals into a small masterpiece. If only Transit Byzantium could get the same reissue treatment!

18 February 2015

Frank Sumatra and the Mob - 'Te Deum' (Small Wonder)

I forgot I had this! One of the side effects of releasing a record with no spine (a 12" single, in fact) is that I rarely remember to listen to it, as it gets skipped upon all casual eye-browses of the shelf. This is a delight, a one-off 12" by 'Frank Sumatra' which is an alias of John Pearce, aka Alig Fodder from the great Family Fodder who we reviewed just earlier up the alphabetical ladder. 'The Story so Far' is the more European pop side of Fodder's work, an arpeggiated, falsetto-sung bit of demented romance. Fodder's affect is in full force and he has some pipes on him! Backing vocals form an unknown female vocalist imply that 'The Mob' is just Family Fodder in a different configuration. By the end it stumbles into a messy cave, and collapses on itself, though not without some lovely twinkling bells. Track 2 is a goofy send-up of Joe Meek's 'Telstar', sounding like it's being performed on a synthesizer over the telephone while choppy guitar and woodblock accompany it. Perhaps the torch of interesting production techniques burns on. On the flip we get the one true 'hit' from this record (though I doubt anyone ever actually heard it).  'Tedium' could be right off a Family Fodder record - a destroyed pop song with bouncy bassline and beautiful riff-hook, with some extramusical forays into squelchy guitars and synthesizer madness. It never falls apart, nor does it even threaten to - it's a slice of pop magic and the way things oughta be. Pure experimentalism is reserved for 'The Blues', which is all studio fuckery and suggestion, sounding like that TUOB 7" a decade+ prior, and you don't get to compare things to TUOB very often.

Fraction - 'Moon Blood' (Phoenix)

There's something that divides people about this Fraction record. Maybe I swallowed the Kool-Aid pushed by The Acid Archives (which calls tracks 2-4 "among the most powerful music ever laid down", and that this is the "underground heavy psych monster to conquer them all") and other such private-press aficionados. Maybe this is really a third-rate amped-up Steppenwolf ripoff, a bunch of Christian meathead biker-rock garbage that would be intolerable were it not obscure. But whenever I hear 'Come Out of Her' I realise I must side with The Acid Archives, even if they do say that this bootleg copy sounds terrible compared to the official pressings. I'm not even a huge heavy rock guy - I don't own any Sabbath records even, and my sense of 'heavy' is probably different than most folks (I often cite Richard Thompson's 'Calvary Cross' as one of the heaviest tracks ever). Yet something about this album rips me apart. It's not so much the earnest, religious lyrics (which could all be easily about sex if you just substitute "vagina" for "God", though I guess most hymns could work that way too) as the extreme way that Jim Beach belts them out - it's like an unholy merger of Robert Plant and Jim Morrison, except I don't like either of those guys much. The recording really is good, even on this bootleg pressing, and I can imagine how a lesser production would dampen the impact of this. (Or, we can wonder how many other half-decent obscurities would have benefitted from better production). I can't deny the obscure nature of this is part of what appeals to me, but it's not obscurity for obscurity's sake. What's amazing about Fraction was that they existed at all, and I wonder what their lives were (are?) like, committed to this very uncompromising style of rock music but fervently theological in their execution. Maybe, as a nonbeliever myself, I like flirting with the idea of Christianity because it's the most 'out' trip of all, and the truest rebellion that I could enact in my life. I wonder what, if any, drugs were consumed - you'd think their beliefs would forbid it, but this sounds hand-in-hand with so many other heavy psych records which quite frequently partook. I'm with the Archives on this - this is a beast, an utterly singular record that's not an every-day listen (and may not offer many lessons in 2015) but hard to ignore when it does see the turntable.

13 February 2015

Fotheringay (A&M)

My copy of this is so beat-to-shit that it's buried in surface noise, and skips a good it bit too. I actually fear for the safety of my stylus and thus rarely listen to it. Also, despite being a pretty solid record, I never get any craving to hear it. This picks up where you'd expect it to - taking the Fairport sound but bringing in a stronger Dylan/Band influence, most obvious in the cover of 'Too Much of Nothing but also on 'Winter Winds', a less languid but otherwise derivative take on the 'You Ain't Goin' Nowhere' vibe. Co-lead vocalist (and Denny's husband) Trevor Lucas sounds pretty good against Denny; the timbre of his voice isn't a million kilometres away from Richard Thompson's, though, so this feels precisely like the second act it is. Additionally, naming your band after one of your iconic songs from your last band can't help but cast a cloud over whatever you do next. Through all the static I can hear how nicely this is produced; a good drum sound, lots of reverb on the guitar lines, and the voices soaring above it all. I think they only ever made this one record; Denny went solo with the excellent The North Star Grassman and the Ravens and I don't know whatever happened to Lucas. It's all what one might expect from a Fairport Convention spinoff, and that's perfectly OK. Denny's perfect touch is why this is remarkable; the Lucas-led songs barely stand out. There's some nice electric guitar leads, but it's the wispy, rolling Fairport sound that I like the most; Denny's 'The Pond and the Stream' being a great example of this. The cover art is pretty bonkers when you stop to actually look at it; on my beaten, faded copy it feels strangely, I dunno, authoritative.

Flying Luttenbachers - 'Destroy All Music' (Bourgeois / Elevated Chimp / ugEXPLODE)

I used to think of the Flying Luttenbachers and that whole Weasel Walter scene as some sort of 'death jazz', made the more extreme by his silly makeup and releasing albums with titles like Destroy all Music. Which makes this listen, a good ten+ years since the last one, so surprising - this is really quite goddamn musical. This is an earlier, more jazz-based lineup of Walter's ever-shifting ensemble and it's really just descended from the New York school of spazzy fusion improv, John Zorn and Massacre, Bill Laswell, etc. Despite the presence of Ken Vandermark, Dylan Posa's guitar is what really drives this (as well as Walter's strangely light touch on the drumset). 'Demonic Velocities/20,000 Volts' opens up the record with a pretty straight-up blueprint of what we'll get - tooting reeds, bumpy electric bass, and sheets of noisy guitar that is mixed low enough that everything else gets to breathe and find space. When Posa gets crazy strumming and picking the bridge, it works well with the chaos ('The Necessary Impossibility of Determinism' being one such example) but really, this is a pretty damn composed record. There's a joy throughout this, a real spirit of living despite the violent sonorities, suggesting that this is really a bunch of softies having a play at being extreme. The chops are undeniable, and when it drops into more traditional jazz swinging ('Tiamat En Arc') the inevitable descent into guitar noise feels integrated rather than sarcastic. Listening to this is fun, and not at all annoying which is how I remember later records like Revenge sounding. The final cut maybe is a preview of that direction, but in a small dosage, it's pretty fun. The synths add a nice touch as well, a bit of a Sun Ra Atlantis vibe (on 'Verlag Aus Den "Turbo Scratcher"'). I just watched Whiplash and decided I hate 'jazz', so this picked up my spirits somewhat. They aren't destroying anything, just creating something ephemeral and alive

8 February 2015

Flying Burrito Bros. - 'Burrito Deluxe' (A&M)

And now a blast of west-coast country rock, here far more pushed toward the "rock" side of the equation. There's a pretty good reason why this is never put in the same rarified air as The Gilded Palace of Sin - because it's nowhere near as good. Unfortunately I've never come across a copy of Gilded Palace, but enjoy listening to this from time to time. Gram Parsons leaves after this one and you still get a few bright, strident Parsons songs like 'Lazy Days'; a lot of covers fill this, including a lackluster version of Dylan's 'If You Gotta Go' (which I don't enjoy hearing in English, thanks Fairport) and a great version of the Stones' 'Wild Horses' featuring Leon Russell on piano. Jim Dickson co-produced this and it sounds great, even on this beat-up scratchy copy; all the high-mids ring out and the mandolin strum in particular sounds as fresh as yesterday. The songwriting just feels a bit behind the pace - there's nothing as cripplingly contrived as 'Sin City' or 'Dark End of the Street' here; the most memorable tune besides 'Wild Horses' is probably 'Farther Along', a traditional arranged here in full Burrito fashion, or the bouncy 'Down in the Churchyard'. Bernie Leadon's guitar lines are sharp, overpowering the pedal steel on songs like 'Older Guys'; his 'God's Own Singer' here presages the Eagles. But overall, this record is just too goddamn upbeat to really stand up as a classic. I've seen this tacked onto CD reissues of Gilded Palace and that's a great place for it. It ends with 'Wild Horses' which really is the strongest song, done straight but with those beautiful American harmonies adding a level of gloss over the longing. Bonus points for the back cover where they look like members of some cult. I have no idea what the band has sounded like since; I guess there's been a zillion members and something tours now under that name with zero original members (my friend saw them by accident in rural Norway a few years back).

6 February 2015

Fleetwood Mac - 'Tusk' (Warner Brothers)

What do we say about Tusk, now? For years it was mentioned by people like Byron Coley as a masterpiece, which I always figured was a joke or some sort of needless contrarianism; in those times of fear I stayed away and thus missed out on really absorbing this into my formative years. At some point curiosity took over, and its ubiquity in charity shops and secondhand stores means I eventually took the gamble (apparently risking $4, if this is my original price sticker). And then there was this gradual period where Tusk started becoming incredibly fashionable among my music-obsessed friends, as we finally learned to eschew the punk orthodoxy and listen for ourselves. Perhaps, initially with some degree of irony (though a variable amount, depending on the person). Hey, I actually liked this, I discovered; it's unsurprising as I love great pop music and fucked-up pop music, which Tusk is both; I found that the manic/ragged/experimental quality that made this so talked-about was really there. So now I would definitively say yes, Tusk is a great album, with surprisingly little filler given its length (I can only really count 'Never Make Me Cry' as such, as I'm sure many people would argue for its merits). The hooks are catchy, the production somehow both cold and intimate, and it contains a disjointed collection of songs that range from angry to disconnected and druggy. But most importantly, it was the followup to the most successful pop record of all-time, and thus it's 'edgy' qualities attain more sharpness in comparison. So yes, we may occasionally overrate it, but that's cause there will probably never be anything like this again. This isn't like Radiohead making Kid A and confounding their alterna-rock fans, or Lou Reed's obvious fuck-yous; instead, it's experimental precisely because its not, if that makes any sense. Tusk is a band who became so big that they no longer had to listen to anyone telling them what to do, and it turns out their inner path was a pretty righteous one anyway, but the pressures of stardom and interpersonal relationship fallouts inject so much conflict into this that it never quite lifts off cohesively. But unlike most sprawling messes, there's enough genius here and perhaps the external context of their previous success infuses a certain swagger into it all. If you told me that none of the three songwriters played on each other's tracks, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised; Lindsay Buckingham's tracks sound as fucked-up and home-recorded as most of McCartney II and I suspect he wanted to be nowhere near Stevie Nicks at this time. The fact that the title track was the biggest hit on the whole album is fairly incredible, since it's by far the most demented song. If you turn it up loud - and you should - you can hear all of these buried, twisted layers of gibberish vocals behind the marching band, sounding a bit like an anachronistic guest appearance by Dylan Nyoukis's Blood Stereo (actually, it kinda sounds like Animal Collective). Even the idea to lead off the record with 'Over & Over' - a great song, but hardly a side 1, track 1 - feels like a brick in the wall of perversity. Over four million people bought this record, and you can find it for pennies now (unless you live in Europe, where I regularly see it priced over 25€). As much as I'm a massive Camper Van Beethoven fan, their full-scale covering of the whole album never resonated too much with me beyond being a mere novelty. There's probably a whole bunch of people who have never delved deep into Tusk and I'm actually jealous that you get that feeling of discovery and fascination that I once had. This is one of the best arguments for cocaine use ever committed to vinyl.

Fläsket Brinner (Silence)

It's nice that the synchronicity of alphabetical order chooses this record next, as I just got back from a lovely visit to Stockholm, where I did not knowingly encounter any former members of Fläsket Brinner (but who knows!). The cover of this looks truly evil, though maybe it was just one of their dogs cast in strange lighting (are Swedish people ever evil, Nikanor Teratologen excepted?). This sounds like a live album throughout, at least for sure on side 1, and its built around thick instrumentals with searing and soaring guitar lines, that 1971 rock-organ sound, and solos galore. It's not nearly as far out as some other Euro-prog of the time (without vocals, 'Räva's chanting notwithstanding, a lot is actually lost for me when it comes to prog-rock). The legendary Bo Hansson appears here on organ on one track which he composed, though he was actually a full-time member of Fläsket Brinner, instead likely lending his celebrity to help sell some records for Silence. Most of side one is the epic 'Tysta Finskan' and it's melodic and driving, never letting up its momentum, while giving these guys a lot of space. 'Bengans Vals' starts like it's going to turn into some Don Cherry-esque earth mantra, but quickly seizes upon a double-tracked guitar line (as is the fashion so many times throughout). King Crimson was surely an influence (probably to everyone who made music like this in 1971) as well as some Canterbury stuff (I hear some Egg in this) and the reeds - sax + contrabassoon - give this a nice flavour halfway towards Henry Cow, never threatening to step into jazz. I believe this is a really well-regarded prog record (at least among Scandinavians) and I almost feel guilty that I've never been super into it; this has gravitated to my "sell" pile over the years but I always hold on for some reason. They can certainly get going with a lot of energy, though the rhythm section often takes on a boogie-rock feel. I'm not sure if I prefer 'Tysta Finskan's epic jam or the shorter piece that are dotted across side two. 'Bosses Låt' proves they can dig in and cut into granite, in a way that even Joe Carducci would approve of; 'Upsala Gård' is the most reed-heavy and occasionally feels like a Fela Kuti piece.

6 January 2015

Paul Flaherty - 'Aria Nativa' (Family Vineyard)

Another solo saxophone record I must try to write about both intelligently and subjectively. I was just talking with someone who mentioned a solo saxophone 7" release by some current artist (I forget who) and we were remarking on how that's actually the perfect format for solo sax. Though I've already weighed in quite positively on a few such longplayers in these pages (David Boykin, Hamiet Bluiett) and we're only up to the F's. Aria Nativa has the live audience that Last Eyes lacked, though they are quiet and attentive, leading me to only surmise the energy they must be fueling; it's like listening to something invisible and possibly a cultural construct. But maybe that's one of the beautiful things about music - that an audience can generate an undeniable effect on a performer, and that relationship is symbiotic - yet it's not scientifically measurable. I dunno, maybe the crowd noise is fake like some live records do, but I'm going to buy into the idea that this is a unique contract between Flaherty and audience, documented on wax forever by the Family Vineyard label. Flaherty's warm as blood here, letting the circular note patterns attain their overtones which build into something inviting, yet still challenging. When they eventually constrain themselves into dying shrieks (such as at the end of Side 1, on the short 'I Don't Live Here Antymore' piece), there's a sense of resignation. Maybe the tone is set by Ken DelPonte's poem, 'No More America', which plasters the back cover of this record, a 5 part revisiting of the turbulent late 60s (though copyrighted in 2008). He wouldn't have included this were it not meant to relate to what he was trying to express, and the longer piece at the start of side 2 reflects the most onto the history of "jazz", meaning there's some identifiable swing and blues residue. It's faint, but it's there; this couldn't be mistaken for having emerged from any other tradition, as extreme and attenuated as it might seem. But this is the jazz of Shepp, Ayler and Sanders; a jazz built on the same late-60s consciousness change that DelPonte's poem reflects. This is forty years later but the fire is still burning, and it seems (at the moment) that there's still something to say.

5 January 2015

Flaherty/Corsano Duo ‎– 'Last Eyes' (Records)

This live recording was made during a radio station session for MIT's station so it has a nice live sound, but no presence of an actual crowd. This doesn't seem to be a problem in generating energy between these two, though the key significance of Flaherty and Corsano together is how much they are able to channel their fiery explosiveness towards more fluid interplay. 'Sign Your Name in the Sand, Please' has exactly this - it opens with a flurry of cataclysmic sound and then refines itsel into some very melodic push and pull between Flaherty's earthy, low tone and Corsano's tom-tom pulse. The two sides of this are up and down in mood, but always maintain a good bit of space. A good solo bit in the middle is chunky and barren, inspiring Corsano to rejoin with aplomb. Side two's 'I Miss Jimmy' finds Flaherty clamping down on the mouthpiece and delivering some real shrill blasts, which will somehow bend back on themselves and pull these lovely complementary melodies from the lower register, darting between the two extremes instantly but somehow not sounding too discordant. There's a long drum solo as well on this track, and Corsano often sounds like two drummers playing at once anyway - this just affords the listener more space to perceive it. When I first put this record on I thought that I would end up writing a bit here about the meaning of 'jazz' today and what this type of free music means in a cultural context, but I don't have the energy for it right now. Listening to Last Eyes takes energy from the listener, though it's not the most abrasive work by either of these two; it's more because the momentum that never lets up, even if the tonality shifts. And recorded by an old buddy of mine!