Monday, February 28, 2005

Music is the healing force of the universe.

NPR's Morning Edition had a segment this morning on free jazz drummer Milford Graves, who essentailly runs a heart research lab out of his Queens basement. Graves's rhythmic acumen lends itself to the study of heart troubles, and his work parallels that of doctors at the cutting edge of heart research. (Without the funding, institutional support, or pharma power.)

In much the same way, NPR's cultural coverage parallels that of the New York Times, which ran a story on Milford with exactly the same focus back in November. If our listening is any indication, this seems to be a pattern at NPR, and if you're getting scooped on cultural coverage by the Times, well, you are behind the times in more ways than one.

Friday, February 25, 2005

For those about to matriculate, we salute you.

More from the book news of limited interest dept:

Coming this fall, Schools that Rock: The Rolling Stone College Guide. In the publisher's description, "Schools that Rock will help college-bound high schoolers decide which universities will best cater to their interest in rock music."

As long as it includes a coversation guide for explaining to mom and dad the absolute importance of, for example, this class.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Rock's graphic death.

Over at Design Observer there is an articulate reflection by writer Tom Vanderbilt on the rise and fall of rock and roll graphic design. He starts with the question, "Has heavy metal graphic design run its course?," noting the current lack of readily identifiable rock icons (literally) on the order of those for Kiss, AC/DC, Van Halen, Yes, or even Asia. He makes a compelling comparison between those rock behemoths and the methods of corporate branding. He then rolls on to the bigger question: "Will graphic design ever have as great a role in popular music, or indeed any role at all, in the future?" This has been the big question ever since the 12" LP went the way of the dodo, and has presumably been answered many times over, but as an amateur graphics hound I seldom tire of hearing an astute recap of rock's graphic highlights and possible premature death. The comments that follow Vanderbilt's piece are also rich, including a fascinating story that traces (again, literally) the evolution of the Doors logo and the Reprise riverboat.

It'd be hard to underestimate the pull album covers had for me as an impressionable youth. I still remember seeing the Violent Femmes first album in a used record bin and knowing, without any inkling of who the band was or what they sounded like, that it had to be good, or at least interesting. Same for most 4AD covers, as a callow adolescent. And god knows Blue Note* eased my way into jazz by making such wonderfully covetable objects. Heck, Jonathan Lethem knows what I'm talking about; his remembrance in this week's New Yorker begins with him picking up two Eno albums in part for the way they look. (The article is not online.) As for now, as a mildly jaded adult, I still see evidence of strong graphic design around today, even if it's less corporatized and more boutique-y. I guess that means it has less influence on mass culture, but where's the harm in that? If each niche audience finds, and is inspired by, niche music---and graphics---only, graphic design is no worse off. Spoken, of course, as a true amateur.

And while we're dishing cover graphics, there's a similar if less rich discussion over at Bagatellen, focusing on jazz packaging; the jazz world right now, IMHO, has some of the most arresting covers going.

[DO link via Tim O Thompson]

* Speaking of Blue Note, per this discussion, it looks like a planned reissue of the Pete La Roca (Sims) album Basra was canned, or at least delayed (in the U.S., anyway), because of the artist's discomfort with the title, given current events. This is a forty-year-old album, mind you. The issue also gets a good going-over at Batatellen, where we first noted it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


This week's Village Voice runs another installment of the Francis Davis program, and he devotes most column inches to two recent albums that pay homage to Captain Beefheart and Miles Davis's 70s funk-fusion explorations, finding more to like in the second-generation versions than the source material. This is akin to preferring the Joey Pants From Here to Eternity to the Sinatra original. But it's a bold stance nonetheless, and marks Davis as an honest chronicler of his own tastes, if also nutty.

Davis also likes Jason Moran's new one.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

NPR runs the changes.

In parallel with Presidents' Day, perhaps, NPR got all Prez-y and jazzed up their Monday line-up. In New York, the public radio affiliate WNYC had Butch Morris on Leonard Lopate's show; you can listen in here. Morris is performing every day of this month around town in a marathon he's calling Black February. It's his way of celebrating the 20th anniversary of "conduction," his amalgam of improv and conducting. He explains it much better himself, though Lopate at times seems either distracted or simply out-matched. Morris is a major figure in jazz; it's amazing to me that his performance onslaught has not received more attention here. Caught his New York Skyscraper ensemble a few Sundays ago at the Bowery Poetry Club and it was hugely entertaining.

On Monday afternoon, Terry Gross aired a long and engaging conversation with clarinetist Don Byron, which you can listen to here. Like Morris, Byron is extremely good on own music---aware of the history on which he draws, of his goals and modern inspirations, and the extent to which listeners want to hear about the intricacies of playing music. He's NPR-friendly---Gross can't help touting the Byron track that has been used endlessly as an NPR bumper, and the black-on-klezmer action makes us all feel like intrepid cross-pollinators---but he keeps Gross on her toes, and schools her when necessary.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Zeus at the Piano

Still smarting from the news about HST's demise (see below), at first I wasn't going to write about the amazing Cecil Taylor Big Band performance at Iridium on Friday. But there's something about both Thompson and Taylor's willingness to go beyond the rules of polite discourse that unites them. Neither was willing to simply color within the lines.

The first thing to say about Taylor's band is that they were completely gonzo. It's a much smaller ensemble than the one he brought to Iridium last year (12 people instead of 25) and concentrates less on nuance, flow, and compositional finesse. Instead, this band showcases crazed energy, chaotic noise, speaking in tongues, and electro-shock horn riffs. With a few lovely passages thrown in for relief, of course.

At one critical juncture, the band started shouting their parts vocally. One-by-one the musicians put down their instruments until everyone was singing and yelling the riffs they had previously been playing. At first, you didn't notice but then the voices began to swell throughout the room. Cecil began scatting and banging *inside* the piano with mallets. Suddently the audience found themselves in the middle of a bizarre prayer meeting where the minister is creating gamelan-like noises at the piano and intoning ritualistic lines about "labeled skulls."

That's when people started heading for the exits. Before long, the club was almost as third empty. And these were people who were (presumably) Taylor fans and paid serious money to see the man. The Big Band's joyous noise was so unhinged - so unexpected and so beyond the ordinary conventions of concert music - that I believe it actually embarassed some of Cecil's fans. They would applaud Cecil for breaking the rules of traditional jazz, but they were shocked when he was willing to violate their own ideas of good taste. But Cecil was happy to risk looking ridiculous (which he ultimately didn't) to push his music higher and create new sensations in the listener. It was a reminder of how many of today's supposedly avant garde and transgressive artists are really just playing by a different-but-still-circumsribed set of rules.

Speaking of truly transgressive troublmaking types, Amiri Baraka was in the house for the show. The author of "The Dutchman" and the essentail free jazz tome "Black Music" was seen congratulating the musicians afterwards, aglow with a mischievous look on his face.

Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, RIP

A man who was infinitely smarter than both his drug-addled cartoon image and his many detractors. A brilliant stylist and astute analyst of American politics, whose "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72" remains unequalled for its strategic insights into the electoral system and its righteous disgust at the debasement of the process. In the '60s, he already understood how objective journalism was being exploited by the powerful. For monsters like Nixon and Kissinger, objectivity was a blind spot in the public discourse that allowed them to hide in plain sight. Hunter's outragous prose and behavior were his gonzo attempts to flush the bastards into the open and give voice to the cancer growing at the heart of the American dream. He trusted his instincts and was willing to play his hunches even at the risk of looking foolish. If there were more journalists with his intelligence, wildness, and courage, this country would be a better place. But there aren't, and it isn't.

Learn About Brazilian Music

The craze for Brazilian pop was several years ago, but perhaps you're (a) blissfully out-of-step with the times or (b) your interest in the music has transcended the fad. If so, check out this remarkable site with exhaustive critical discographies of all the major players and styles. It's also filled with commonsensical recommendations about what's good and why. Troll around the site and you're sure to come across something interesting.

I've gravitated toward the Tropicalia section, which details the brief period at the end of the '60s when Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, Os Mutantes, and Tom Ze created beautifully plastic and psychedlelic pop that managed to alienate both the country's liberals *and* it's military dictorship. Veloso and Gil were sent into the exile and the others faced house arrest or worse. Everyone's a critic.

Never seen what the fuss was about Veloso (Number Three in the New Dylan Trading Card Series), but this site's thorough description of this early recordings makes me think I may have been too hasty in writing him off. As for the others, I can personally recommend Gil's 1969 self-titled opus, Costa's "India," the Luaka Bop "Os Mutantes" compilation, and especially "The Best of Tom Ze." Jorge Ben also has a killer funk album from the '70s called "Africa Brazil" that's worth tracking down. And that's just the tip of the [insert Brazilian iceberg equivalent here].

Create Your Own Sleater-Kinney Press Release

The new Sleater-Kinney album "The Woods" has leaked to the net. This isn't a review, but I have been able to track down some previews of the new songs. Before entering the studio, Corin Tucker gave this report to Billboard. "The songs we've written are really heavy. We want them to have an organic feel that is simplistic yet sophisticated at the same time. Some of them are much longer than we've ever written before."

A blogger who has downloaded the album - and whose link I've misplaced - described the album as "very different" with "acid-rock freakouts and distorto drums." Compares it Dead Meadow. We'll refrain from speculating about that.

More exciting is Sub Pop's press release for "The Woods" written by Rick Moody (what, Mary Gaitskill was busy?). I'll spare you the opening paragraphs where Moody fixates on the band being from the Pacific Northwest and how they transcended their geographic roots (veiled riot grrl reference?). He also stupidly downplays the greatness of "Call the Doctor" and almost completely dismisses "The Hot Rock." But his description of the new songs are tantalyzing. As follows:
Now, before us, we have The Woods, which appears in the Sleater-Kinney catalogue as opus number seven, and like many things with sevens on it, it features an itch, a need to try new things. Sometimes people get scared by new things, which is one of the reasons people are disappointing. This is to say that you should not be afraid of new things, dear reader, which in this case amounts to a really much more ambitious idea of how the studio can be used, like on the massive upsurge of guitars in the children’s book parable “The Fox,” which opens the album. The drums are recorded with a panoramic quality they have never had before, and there’s Corin wailing in such a blood-curdling way that you would believe anything she told you, and all she’s telling you is “Goodbye, little fox.” This is the first difference: studio smarts.

But studio smarts is just a means to an end. It doesn’t imply that longtime Sleater-Kinney fans will not find what they love, namely the strange, delirious interlocking guitars and the way Carrie and Corin seem to finish each other’s lines, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a bunch of great melodies. But it does mean that it’s okay to have guitar solos. Yes, perhaps no development on The Woods is as indicative of the grab-the-rock-world-by-its-throat thrust of the album as the guitar solos. Everybody knows that Sleater-Kinney was never noted for guitar heroics. Well, if that’s your version of the story, start here with “What’s Mine Is
Yours,” a two-chord number in which the two guitars pick-up the opposite ends of the rhythm, in just the way the singers alternate verses, until, at the 2:13 mark, the song breaks out into an awesome silence, after which Brownstein’s Hendrix-style guitar solo, replete with backwards sections and wall of fuzz, erupts, lasting an entire minute before the drums return. It’s as satisfying as the ear-splitting second half of Sonic Youth’s “Mildred Pierce,” or the Ira Kaplan wall of sludge on Yo La Tengo’s Painful. And that’s not the only guitar solo. There are several!

If guitar heroics are not enough, there’s an ersatz jazz number. “Jumpers,” in which Carrie and Corin sing unison on the verses in a way that resembles Petula Clark. There’s a nice keyboard part, too, and the lyrics are about California, about the Golden Gate, and about, yep, about jumping from the bridge, and there are A, B, and C sections, and there’s no real chorus, because the new ideas of The Woods also include new ideas about song structure, like that there doesn’t have to be a chorus in the usual place, and you can solo whenever you feel like it, passion is the thing, emotion is the thing, art is the thing, and art can knock you out, disorient you, unsettle you.

And there are the drum rolls on “Steep Air,” and the insistence that the listener “please go away” on “Entertain,” which features Carrie’s desperate shouting, and there’s a catchy chorus on “Roller Coaster,” and the way Corin sings the words “cherry tomato” there, and the feeding-back of guitars on the out-chorus, and the incredibly sweet and beautiful and unadorned ballad by Carrie, “Modern Girl.” Never has purchasing a television sounded like such an integral part of contemporary romantic experience, never have a sinisterly droning synthesizer and a harmonica seemed like such appropriate bedfellows, and never has the shift from the present tense (“My baby loves me”) to the past tense (“My whole life looked like a picture of a sunny day”) seemed so telling.

The album closes with an improvisation, recorded in a single, unedited take; that’s right, an improv, which serves as the linkage between “Let’s Call It Love” and “Night Light,” just like on those old Grateful Dead bootlegs, or maybe like in those Led Zeppelin shows from the seventies, a big inflammatory guitar solo passage, with tons of noise, and why you ask, why is this necessary, why even connect the two songs at all, well, because they connect two halves of the experience of human psychology in these rather dispiriting times, these dark ages, the first half, “Let’s Call It Love,” being the totally outrageous and very sexy desire part of the story (“A woman is not a girl/she could show you a thing or two,” or: “Let’s call it my royal flush, I’ll show you what to do with it,”), the second half representing the domestic impulse: “How do you do it/This bitter and bloody world/Keep It Together and Shine for Your Family.” And the ligementary connection is the inarguable greatness of the instrumental passage, sort of like the over-the-top soloing in “Whole Lotta Love.” In fact, rarely has a band digested the influence of the Zeppelin catalogue in such a creative and diabolical way. The point of the improvisation is that it sacrifices everything to feeling, it throws everything onto the fire, in the name of provocation, the better to illustrate the kind of Dionysian/Apollonian opposition of Carrie and Corin, the enraged, the outraged, the unignorable, and then, differently, the tender, the melancholy, the gentle, each of these things in each of the players, always completed ornamented and augmented by
Janet’s amazing drumming.

They came from the Pacific Northwest, but they won’t be stuck there. They want history, they want time, they want art, they want to deal with culture, they have demands, they have needs, they have vision, they have aspirations. And now they have The Woods.
If that's not enough, you can also download these giant photos of the ladies from the Sub Pop press folder. Don't print them full size unless you need extra wallpaper. Or shower curtains. And if you want still more material about the band, here's a fun Q&A that Carrie did with the fans a ways back. I think it's right before the release of "All Hands on the Bad One" but could be wrong. Enjoy.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Let Me Touch Him.

Fish + barrel + gun = Worst. Album covers. Ever.
[link via jugi.]

Econo trailers.

A new documentary on the Minutemen will have its premiere next week, in San Pedro, natch. Trailers are available, and the talking heads are a parade of '80s punk luminaries. Prolly not coming to a theatre near you, or me, but a DVD release seems likely.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Invisible man.

First Mike Tyson and now 50 Cent? The New York Times asks white folks in the Connecticut suburbs how they feel about their elusive rap star neighbor. The reporter speaks with a town resident who, apparently, is the 50 Cent of the curatorial world:

Mr. Holmes, who despite his impeccable diction and penchant for bow ties, is hardly old school. Since he arrived at the Wadsworth, his interest in contemporary art has sent a shot of zeitgeist to the nation's oldest public art museum. He and his wife, Mary Haus, a writer, live in one of the few contemporary homes in the village and give groovy parties.

Impeccable diction? Groovy parties? Are they remaking High Society up there in Hartford?

Feel his power.

Had Henry Rollins on the brain recently (still stings, but not so bad), and this post at Mike McGonigal's peerless mp3 blog really scratched that itch, even if the concluding anecdote is the very definition of anticlimactic. Also, do not miss the entry right below the Rollins one, which goes so far beyond yer basic mp3 post it's not funny. Any bit of writing that begins, "When I got stabbed in the heart twelve years ago, " is worth a look-see. And you get an all-too-relevant soundtrack to go along with an unbelievable story.

More bad news from Clubland, NY.

On the bright side, jazz-noise master John Zorn is going to be artistic director for a tiny new club on Avenue C, where he can sling expletives at, and generally debase, patrons who do not properly understand how to appreciate his assault on their senses, 24/7.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The Underminer.

I realize this is more-or-less (usually less) a music blog, but I've recently read the single greatest book in the whole wide world, a piece of work so pitch-perfect and HIGH-larious it practially begs to be read aloud, and I need to tell you about it. In its way it is musical, an aria to be performed by anyone with the ability to make you feel like shit with an offhand comment. A person who might be called your frenemy. A person who might say, as you join her for lunch, "Did you throw up? No, I just smelled throw-up for a second."

SO. The book is The Underminer, or The Best Friend Who Casually Destroys Your Life, by Mike Albo, with Viginia Heffernan. (Referred to as Hefferman in the acknowledgments. Undermine much, Mike?) Albo is a writer/performer who recently closed a one-man show in New York, reviewed here. The Underminer follows the all-too-brief association between some poor sap (you) and the uber-successful, passive-agressive-genius best friend of the title, who speaks directly to the reader (still you). The one-sided conversation begins at college graduation, and progresses through the developmental stages of urban life in the 90s: starting a band; crashing hip parties; Internet dating; breaking up; catering; flirting with indie film; attending Burning Man; moving to an outer borough; ending, where all things do, in New Zealand. The Underminer has a ridiculously successful life ("But I did get this really weird call from some animated TV show that is starting up? It’s got this really boring name, The Simpsons? I don’t know it’s probably dumb, but we’ll see. “The Simpsons.” So lame, right? Whatever. The Simpsons the Simpsons The Simpsons. How boring, sorry to bring it up. The Simpsons."), as do all of her friends, while the undermined loser sinks lower and lower. Funny, eh? Yes, it is. Because it is so beautifully, underhandedly, understatedly cruel. Cruelty delivered with a smile ("Your singing voice is so different from your appearance. It’s like when I close my eyes I would imagine the person singing was a sultry sexy vocalist from pre-war Berlin, and then I open my eyes and there you are! Your big shiny American face!").

This book is so distilled, as if every slight you've every heard, or imagined, or invented for yourself was squeezed into a black lump of pure evil, then buffed to such a high gloss you can see yourself in it. And to look at it feels like retribution. And it's fucking funny as hell.

If I could, I'd read you the whole thing. You. But for starters you might enjoy a special Valentine's Day Underminer column that appeared Monday at Slate ("I have to say, I am so glad I am not single these days. It looks so hard! It's unfair for someone so nice and standard as you. With your new hairdo."), along with an audio clip from Albo. Also, since I can't help but share, here are the first few paragraphs of the book....

Campus of Clarkwell College,
Graduation in the town of Clarksville, somewhere upstate,

Hey there. Whew, what a day. First I did the ellipticycle for an hour and then I had to run to the dean’s small cocktail party for honors students and then I had to hurry up and turn in that Green Form so I could graduate.

You know, the Green Form.

The Green Form? You didn’t turn it IN?! No, it’s that green form that we got at orientation when we first came here four years ago. Yeah, sorry, but it kind of is important. It’s the Green Form. They told us never to lose it, remember? No not the blue registration card, the GREEN form! Maybe you just have it in your wallet and you didn’t even know or something. Check it.

Wow, your wallet. You actually keep everything all crammed in together like that? No, it’s just kind of amazing. I would freak out if I couldn’t streamline my wallet. Oh -- I think you dropped this $20. Oh, no wait, it’s actually mine. Sorry.

Well, anyway, you need the Green Form to graduate, otherwise…No, I mean I’m sure they have an alternative. You probably just have to wait an annoying day or one term or year or something. Wow, I can’t believe you forgot.

You are so funny, you. Man, am I going to miss college and all your crazy flakiness. Ha Ha! You’ve always been the funny one in our gang.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Giddins it romantic?

Speaking of Gary Giddins (see below), New Yorker music critic Alex Ross has weighed in, somewhat lightly, on his new doorstopper.

Mekons make top ten. World ends.

I was curious to see the Mekons' album So Good It Hurts listed in what appears to be the January 31, 2005, recent faves list for NYU's radio station, WNYU. These lists usually appear weekly in the print version of The Onion, and, come to think of it, I have no idea what the list actually represents. New releases for the week? Most played? CDs received, in the order the packages were opened?

Anyway, the weird part was that this album was originally released in 1988, by Twin/Tone. I figured the album was reissued, and of course it was: Touch and Go/Quarterstick have acquired the rights to just about all of the Mekons backlist and are thankfully bringing them out and keeping them in print; So Good is only the most recent of the reissues. In looking for this news, I stumbled onto the really fascinating part of the story: the old Mekons albums are still listed at the Twin/Tone site, along with sales information. Scroll down on the So Good page and you'll find this: "The vinyl version sold 2,815 copies, the cassette version sold 2,138 and the CD sold 2,324 in the first four years of release." Honky Tonkin'? "The vinyl version sold 6,109 copies, the cassette version sold 1,822 and the CD sold 1,847 in the first five years of release." CD-only Original Sin? "It sold 2,633 in the first three years of release." The forthrightness of all this was stunning to me, until I realized that, for the one Mekons CD they continue to sell, Rock'n'Roll, they do not list sales figures. Information wants to be free, but not that free.

I have no idea what constitutes a successful album release; 2,000 seems kind of light to me. Surely Touch and Go got a look at these numbers before opting to buy back the rights. To which I can only say: Go Touch and Go, go.

Reject #4.

Oxford Unversity Press, publishers of Gary Giddins, passed on Destination Out!, after having requested a look. Seems they wanted less record guide, more narrative history, where we provide much record guide, snippets of narrative history. There are still a few more majors with the thing, Penguin chief among them, but they're taking their pretty little time with it.

In case you're wondering just what pearls of edutainmental wisdom might lie in wait for the unsuspecting editor keen on acquiring (or not) a book on free jazz, here's a sample from the proposal, a review of Herbie Hancock's 1973 outing, Sextant:

Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock, keybds, perc, etc.; Eddie Henderson, tpt, flh; Bennie Maupin, sax, bcl; Julian Priester, tb; Buster Williams, b; Billy Hart, ds; Dr. Patrick Gleeson, arp; Buck Clarke, perc.

Sextant is one of peaks of the fusion period and the culmination of Hancock’s Mwandishi band, which he led for several years. This far-reaching album takes Miles Davis's jazz-rock innovations and pushes them into the airy realm of pure electronics—all without ever losing the groove. Or, as Herbie put it, “My new music is set up to make you high.” Drawing inspiration from African music and culture, Sextant opens with “Rain Dance,” which uncoils a loop of percolating rhythms, building to an ocean of percussive sounds, one drop at a time. Trumpets and synthesizers are spliced in without warning, only to disappear moments later. Eddie Henderson’s horn gamely channels Miles, while a potent mix of clavinets, ARP synthesizers, and mellotrons make it hard to pinpoint any of the freaked-out sounds and beats. “Hidden Shadows” rides along on a funky, stuttering rhythm later appropriated by DJ Shadow. Horns play big-band charts, and Hancock’s frenetic piano threads through the mix while synthesizers wash over everything. The album closer, “Hornets,” manages to spin in place and swarm forward at the same time. Atonal sax squalls rage against fuzzed-out basslines and surging keyboards, but the cacophony never devolves into a jam or loses its urgency. And the kazoo keeps things light. Unfortunately, the album tanked on release and Hancock retreated to the friendly grooves of Headhunters. “I went from heavy musical trips that tried to expand people's minds to making people feel like getting up in the morning and going to work,” he admitted. Still, Sextant’s shadow looms large, influencing hordes of electronica artists, such as Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, and Mouse on Mars.

Last sermon.

Bit late with this, but organ grinder Jimmy Smith died last week. Last month, Smith was designated a National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master. Talk about late....

Yr City is a Sucker

XTC: Frozen in fear in perpetuity.

The funny/sad thing is, there is probably considerable audience overlap between XTC fans and collectors of limited edition figurines.

[Link via the latest irrepressible 'FMU links page.]


Apparently the new Sleater-Kinney album "The Woods" has leaked to the web. Some early reports describe it as sounding more like a first album than a seventh - a fresh beginning for the band. But before everyone starts scanning indie bit streams, here's this crie de coeur about downloading from Carrie, Corin, and Janet. It's hard not to sympathize with them: after spending two years writing and recording the music, it must be hard to have people experience the music in a way they never intended - different track order, MP3 sound, and without the context of artwork etc.

I'm amazed that as more and more albums leak to the web months in advance that the record companies don't combat this with their most effective tool: releasing the albums quicker. Shorten the time from mastering to hitting the stores. This way leaks become less common and less detrimental. Simple, right? Anyhow, hopefully people will listen to the band in case of "The Woods". The over-eager might check out a new and apparently good-sounding version of the band's New Year's Eve show at MSG which is now avaiable in the S-K audio lockbox. Scroll down previous entries to find that link.

Fagged Out Masterpieces

Perfect Sound Forever has a fascinating article about Robert Frank's seminal Rolling Stones documentary "Cocksucker Blues." It's one of the most famous rock docs simply because it's been banned - by the group itself - for years. See a groupie shoot up on screen, watch Mick snort coke before going on stage, marvel as Keith nods off mid-sentence, shake your head as the band tosses a television out the window, recoil as roadies grope a groupie during a plane trip while Mick and Keith provide a soundtrack by playing bongos. There's also some powerful live footage - after all, this was 1972 and the band was at the height of their powers, touring in support of their "fagged out masterpiece" (per Robert Christgau) Exile on Main Street.

Frank, who also did the artwork for that album, was best known at the time for his photography and the classic beat film "Pull My Daisy." But "Cocksucker Blues" does more than just give the scaborous backstage highlights of the sleazy touring life. Like no other rock film, it also gives a sense of the soul-crushing of the boredom of the Big Tour. See the endless hotel corridors and hotel lobbies. Watch as the band eats coffee shop breakfasts after dull all-night parties. Marvel as they try to fit in some sightseeing during their forty minutes of afternoon freetime. Witness them receding further and further into their own insular and airless world.

Jim Jarmusch calls this "one of the greatest rock’n’roll movies because it makes you feel like being a rock star is one of the last things you’d want to do. It’s very depressing and gritty." Which probably doesn't make you want to run out and buy a bootleg copy from eBay, but it's accurate.While the film may be a big downer, it also has a rare ring of truth about it. Plus gorgeous photography. Plus the jaw-dropping title song, itself a bootleg, which contains some of the most soulful singing of Mick Jagger's career. (BTW, find the Mick solo version, not the band one).

As Perfect Sound points out, the film is relatively tame by today's celebrity porno standards. As its acquired near mythic status over the years, why not finally release it? Surely the Stones could use the gritty cred it would give them, right? Alas, the Stones would rather bury what even Mick called "a great movie" before risking a stain on their corporate image. Think of all those premium skybox seats that might go unsold - for like five minutes. The repression of "Cocksucker Blues" is just another reason the band is artistically bankrupt. They had the balls to hire Frank and misbehave in front of his camera. But when it came time to view those unvarnished images, they simply couldn't face the music.

Monday, February 14, 2005

When all else fails, just call your thing Kind of Blue.

Book deal news of limited interest:

Les Sussman's inside look at Miles Davis, with his oldest son, Gregory, KIND OF BLUE: The Jekyll and Hyde Life and Times of Miles Davis, sold to Richard Johnson at Backbeat Books, by attorney Lloyd Jassin.

Because Davis's autobiography wasn't inside enough.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Probably not what they meant by jazz docent.

Some pretty serious jazz cats---James Carter and Cyrus Chestnut among them---have recorded an album made up entirely of Pavement covers. Follow the link and you'll hear a solo piano rendition by Chestnut of "Trigger Cut." From a marketing perspective, there is a certain genius to this (as there was to The Bad Plus covering Nirvana, Blondie, etc.), though one wonders whether the indie kids will bother listening to it, as knowledge that it exists may be all that is required. Maybe one download for the obligatory "Summer Babe" mix disc track. It's "tentatively scheduled" to release in spring '05.

This is a pretty odd project, even given the recent spate of rock and funk tunes coming out of the jazz camp. (See also Jason Moran's "Planet Rock" and others.) For one thing, one Pavement cover from this crew would probably turn heads; an album's worth indicates an interest in the band's oeuvre that goes well beyond casual, and well beyond any marketing considerations. For another: Cyrus Chestnut listens to Pavement? Yay. It's hard to express why this makes me happy; it may simply come down to the notion that someone with an unerring ear for music---and generally music of a different sort---has settled on something that I like a lot, thereby allowing me to bask in some kind of good-taste-by-proxy glow. Or maybe it's that glorious mosaic thingy Dinkins was always invoking. Or maybe it's just some weird side project.

Then again, maybe it's not even that odd.

[Pavement news via hip priest S/FJ.]

Dreaming of the masters.

Bagatellen, discovered while trolling Carl "no striped shirt in my closet" Wilson's links page, is a fine free jazz-related blog and review site, featuring, among other things, contributions from Nate Dorward, who also maintains his own, infrequently updated web presence. Dorward recently posted a review of Anthony Braxton's Charlie Parker Project 1993. This is an especially generous piece of writing, if too generous in its explanations of where Braxton and bebop orthodoxy part ways, including counting bars and timing turn-arounds. It's hard to imagine this record getting a more thorough going-over, without resorting to eye-glazing arcana.

Anyway, since I recently picked up a used copy of Braxton's '80s homage to Monk (his first such project, per the Dorward review), I found it useful for framing this avant guardist's take on more traditional jazz material. Not for the uninitiated, I guess, but what in blogdom is?

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Jazz Britannia, Ken Burns-style.

The BBC is airing a three-part history of British jazz. This may seem like two parts too many, but the coverage appears wide, reserving feature space for adventurous types such as John Surman and Evan Parker. I guess it's easier to be inclusive given such a relatively small scene. Of course, God knows Burns would have found room for Louis Armstrong's touch-down in the UK. And it would've been hard, on the face of it, to avoid mentioning players named Buddy Featherstonehaugh and Ken "Snakehips" Johnson, simply to say the names aloud, which, apparently, no one does.

The Guardian has this to say about the series. The most interesting bit from the article:

In its repeated insistence that British jazz avoided being wiped from the face of the earth only through the discovery of its own distinctive sound, which it dates to the release of [Stan] Tracey's Dylan Thomas suite, this valuable series puts an unnecessary strain on its credibility.

Apart from occasional pastoral or folk-based works by the likes of John Surman, Danny Thompson's Whatever and Ken Hyder's Talisker, the very best of British jazz seldom shows any sign of overt "Britishness", or of any other distinctive sound or attitude. What has happened instead is that British jazz musicians of all kinds have gradually grown in self-confidence, losing the inferiority complex that had its roots in a deference towards the American masters, taking their place in a music characterised by its infinite inclusiveness and its embrace of musicians of true originality.

The boldface is mine. Sounds like someone's protesting too much: the very best British jazz has no distinctive sound or attitude? How could it not? One would think that shedding deference to the American sound would invariably, and favo(u)rably, result is something more natively British. I'm not saying that in a blindfold test one could hear the musical equivalent of a British accent coming through the speakers, but that there is some audible character unique to the music created in Britain, whatever the circumstances.

I like this argument less and less the more I read it over; it feels like I'm making the case for some kind of essentialist national musical character. But discarding geography's influence on music-making (or art-making) remains a mistake. Would Ornette Coleman sound the same if he had come up in Boston? In Toronto? In Moscow?

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Parkeralia for sale.

Recently found on eBay:

This is one of about 800 pieces of vinyl from the LP collection of saxophonist Evan Parker, all to be auctioned over the next year by this seller and seller "soulful-i". Roughly one half of the collection comprises modern Jazz LPs (including large collections of Coltrane and Dolphy originals) brought back by Parker on his early Sixties trips to the US; those will be listed by soulful-i. Parker also acquired hundreds of avant-garde and improvised music LPs directly from fellow musicians and contemporaries; these will be auctioned here. Nearly all are new or play as new. Please continue to watch for these auctions.

The seller in question is donaldbyrd, who as of this writing has nothing for sale.
[via Bagatellen]