Thursday, March 31, 2005

Ruining it for you

Because I'm in a foul mood, thought I'd talk smack about two albums I've only given the most cursory listens. First, what's up with the new ultra shitty Stephen Malkmus cd? Ugly falsettos, bland and uncatchy tunes, swarmy lyrics about the role of art in society, and basically a repudiation of everything that made Pavement seem important. It's a quirky album where the quirks themselves are the be-all and end-all. Like Ween, but less funny. Although give the man this: it's definitely a departure. If someone played me these tracks blindfolded, I would never guess Malkmus. Well, maybe, if it was one of the tunes that contained his trademark nonsequitars, although the elliptical lyrics here seem more like jokey self-parodies. Or if it was one of the two tunes that sound like under-rehearsed outtakes from Pig Lib. And what's up with the title? Face the Truth? Which is what, exactly? That this once Major Dude now sounds like a decidely minor artist?

And while I'm bashing reputations, let's heap some scorn on the new Spoon. Gimme Fiction is a fine title and in fact all the songs contained therein are well-crafted and high quality. So well-crafted and high quality that the first half of the album nearly drove me into a stupor. No, the drummer isn't playing the exact same numbing midtempo beat for the first five songs, it just feels like it. And no, there's nothing wrong with smart lyrics, Beatlesque harmonies, and spiky guitar outbursts - but this go round the songs feel so carefully wrought that they lack for nothing except excitement. Admittedly, things pep up during the second half with the jumping "Sister Jack" and anthemic "Never Got You." But from the band that made Girls Can Tell and Kill the Moonlight, you have a right to expect more than mere craft. On the opening tune Britt Daniels sings how "he's been landlocked too long." Later he promises "I'm going back to the water" - but if he made it, he's too stingy to offer his fans more than the smallest sip of what he found there.

Something clever referencing Woods and Threes

May 24 still seems like it's a long way away, but more info about the new Sleater-Kinney album continues to slowly leak onto the web. If you're a fan, you may be amused by the stumbling antics of fellow fans trying to decipher the lyrics to the new opus. Or you may care to read this fellow's short review of the album. Or how about feasting your eyes on the cover and promo artwork? Best of all, here's a short piece that apparently appeared in EW where some lucky reporter goes drinking with the S-K ladies and gets them liquored up enough to start talking about their favorite threesomes.

Registered Nurse.

Looks like one of the more sensitive and knowing reviews of Sonic Youth's last album, Sonic Nurse, appeared last summer at The Center for Nursing Advocacy. The album scored three out of four stars on their artistic rating system, and three out of four on the "nursing rating." It does not appear that Washing Machine was reviewed at Appliance magazine.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Some like it shot.

McGonigal scores again with another great all-over-the-place post that ranges from the rare and rarefied song he presents (Happy Cat, "We Fuck You Like Supermen"), to Andre Breton, to how he met the artist Nancy Spero, and her late husband, artist Leon Golub, finishing up with a well-placed jab at the NYTimes, which saw fit to highlight, among several stoopid articles that appeared in her august pages over the weekend, the hot topic that is bands covering other bands.

His art gab is enough to motivate me to finally plug a documentary I caught on cable a few weeks ago --- How to Draw a Bunny, on the late artist Ray Johnson. Johnson, whose 1995 suicide was the last act in a life lived as art, was infamously known as "New York's most unknown famous artist" --- the consummate art insider. I first came to Johnson via a 1999 retrospective at the Whitney Museum, the Artforum review of which can be found here.

Though his mail art (Johnson was founder of the New York Correspondence School, the granddaddy of mail art orgs) and intricate collages and fluxus happenings are not best displayed in vitrines, and though his relationship to the art firmament was complicated (“Dear Whitney Museum, I hate you. Love, Ray Johnson” goes one letter, which looks even better than it reads), the show was spectacularly eye-opening. How had I missed this guy? and I love this guy! were my two main responses. If you like Joseph Cornell’s stuff, you’ll probably groove on at least some of Johnson’s oeuvre; he’s like Cornell, only more prickly, more interactive, more impatient. Less boxy. If you’re a Dylan fan, you’ve probably seen his work on this book cover. If you’re an Elvis fan, you may have seen his work on this book cover.

In the end, the doc provides a good overview of an otherwise under-known figure, but tries a bit too hard to be coy, works a little too furiously to capture some of Johnson's attitude. And while the soundtrack provided by Max Roach’s solo drums works well initially, the frequent cutaways to his hands are cumulatively distracting. The best places online to see Johson’s work are the Feigen Gallery’s site, which has mostly late period work, and this page called the Ray Johnson Gallery, which features his mail art. Also highly recommended is the catalog that accompanied the Whitney show, which is a model of the form, and includes a revealing interview with the artist. As revealing as he allows, anyway.

The catalog is called Ray Johnson: Correspondences, and the title brings to mind Lawrence Weschler (again; see below), whose series of convergences have appeared in many issues of McSweeney's and elsewhere, and who would probably make great hay out of Johnson's textuality and shifting meanings. Weschler has written two books on artists, one on Robert Irwin, and one on J. S. G. Boggs (who, like Johnson, made the negotiation for his artwork part of the art itself), and it would be fascinating to see his take on Johnson. Seems unlikely, given Weschler's apparent need to spend time with his subjects, but I can't help thinking up projects for the man.

Sound and vision.

Assorted links, some via the Aum Fidelity email update:

  • Vision Festival X. The tenth annual Vision Fest line-up is online and it's a doozy. For the unitiated, this free jazz / improvised music festival is like the Warped Tour, Coachella, and All Tommorow's Parties all rolled into one freaky free scene. It will run June 14 to 19. Night 1 highlight: WARM: Reggie Workman, Pheroan akLaff, Sam Rivers, Roscoe Mitchell. Night 2 highlight: Henry Grimes Quartet with Marshall Allen, Andrew Lamb, Hamid Drake. Night 3 highlight: Joseph Jarman, Fred Anderson, Alvin Fielder, Tatsu Aoki (it's Fred Anderson Day). Night 4 highlight: Bill Dixon Group. Night 5 highlight: Peter Brotzmann, Nasheet Waits (ouch). Closing night highlights: Little Huey Creative Orchestra and Matthew Shipp, William Parker, Sabir Mateen, Han Bennink. And that's just skimming the surface.
  • Sam Prekop's new outing not satifying your Prekop jones? (No relation to Crackity Jones.) Aum Fidelity will soon release the debut album, long unavailable, of Prekop's pre-Sea and Cake band Shrimp Boat, featuring an appearance from Brad Wood on soprano saxophone.
  • Tales of Canada's emergent hipness may have been exaggerated. Carl Wilson reports on the inaugural Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards.
  • On giggly twits. The effervescent individual behind Everyone Who's Anyone in Adult Trade Publishing, the exhaustive online resource for the aspiring writer and network-obsessed publishing professional, recently unveiled the fourth edition of his opus, and includes a cover letter that is a model of unrestrained ranting. I'm not sure if lines like "the main reason I made the site was so that I could sit down one fine day like today and send all 6,000 of the shortsighted, money-grubbing goons and giggly twits in the book business and the movie businesses an e-mail telling 'em exactly what I think of 'em" or "I write great books, important books, books worth reading and writing, books that would make great movies, and you reject 'em, how stupid is that?" or "Your children and grandchildren are gonna see your name among the thousands of money-grubbing schlock-peddlers and giggly twits and useless goons who dismissed my beautiful books and chose instead to go gaga over the unspeakably inane, mind-numbing twaddle that will become known as American literature and culture of the early 21st Century" or "You may never know how stupid you are, how ignorant, how useless, how negligible, due in large part to having your head buried all the way to China in the dirt of your own giggly greed, but posterity will" will get his books published, but it does make for entertaining reading. Plus, some of us like mind-numbing twaddle.
  • Ware are you? Two fine David S. Ware articles can be found in the "real" world that's rumored to be outside, the one without URLs. One will appear in the April 11 issue of The Nation, the other in Signal to Noise.

Strange Encounters, Part One

Borrowed some back issues of The Wire from a friend and noticed this small-but-telling episode in the history of free jazz popped up in two consecutive issues. Like many such instances, it's probably as telling for what people made of it as for what actually happened. To wit: In 1977, venerated grand dame jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams played a much-anticipated duo concert at Carnegie Hall with her friend Cecil Taylor. It looked like just the gig to break Taylor to mainstream audiences, to prove that he too belonged in the canon. But it was not to be.

Brian Morton: "If there is a stronger word than debacle, this is it. Pianist and educator Mary Lou Williams had the idea of Taylor joining her on what had become a kind of concert history of jazz from ragtime and stride to bebop and beyond. The problem was that Taylor, who apparently hadn't agreed to any such role, started in the beyond and wouldn't come back. The result is a mess but illustrates a valuable point. However unwilling or unprepared Taylor was to play rags and stride vamps, Williams had shrewdly identified him as a man unshakably rooted in the tradition."

The show created a small firestorm in the jazz communtity - occasioning a long pieces from Giddins, Crouch, Hentoff, etc. Cecil was vilified as intractacle and rude and even his admirers seemed at a loss to defend him. From all the huzzah, you woulda thought he had slapped Williams on stage, or something. The set was later released under the (ironic?) title "Mary Lou Williams & Cecil Taylor Embraced."

Greg Tate: "There's that insane collision between Taylor and Mary Lou Williams, a duet where it becomes clear that Cecil is not compromising with anyone just to get along or just to prove his legitimacy to the rest of the jazz world. 'This is who I am, this is what I do, take it or leave it.'"

Of course now there's no argument over who's the greater artist and who's made the larger contribution to music. Cecil towers above Williams, not to mention most of her contemporaries. Who then should have been adapting to who? Who was really being disrespected? Cecil recognized where people thought he stood in the jazz pecking order and merely had the self-esteem to claim his just due.

Tate again: "Cecil's contribution to jazz is unquestionable, he's written his chapter in the book on what jazz has become. He fortifies anybody who is trying to not just go against the grain but split the board in two in the process."

Thursday, March 24, 2005

We [heart] Ren.

Once tried to get Lawrence "Ren" Weschler to write a book, back when I had a job that included among its responsibilities tasks that didn't necessarily squash one's self-respect every second of every day. The dude was nigh impossible to get in touch with; to this day, years later, I have no idea whether any of the letters reached him. So it surprised me recently to see that Ren is practically spray painted over the web. You can't sneeze and not hit a link to the man. Which is all good, because he wrote one of the great books of recent years, Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder, about the Museum of Jurassic Technology. Like Robert Caro's The Power Broker, with which it shares no other traits, it represents the perfect welding of form and content, of author and subject. It's a book that, as you're reading it and after, changes your experience of the world; the air around you seems to have a higher concentration of charged ions. Nothing seems quite as it was before. It's a book you press on people who otherwise don't want to be bothered by your mindless blatherings. I'd consult my copy for choice excerpts, but I gave it away, amid much drool and blather, to my mother-in-law.

Anyway, via Panops, noticed that Weschler held court at last fall. (Transom appears to be an organization that fosters creative approaches to public radio, and aids producers and Ira Glass wannabes in getting over [the transom], and on the air.) The entire conversation between Ren and a number of listeners makes up a complete Transom Review. It includes a number of longer pieces from Weschler, including a bit on why he can't write fiction, but the best item is a twenty-minute radio story Weschler filed from the MJT (scroll down to A Tour of the Jurassic; link amid two other audio downloads). This probably represents the best chance I have of (virtually) visiting the place over the next twenty years, and rekindled the fascination I felt on first reading the book. Definitely worthwhile.

Around the same time, Weschler also found enough spare moments to have a conversation with Jim Ruland, proprietor of The God Particle. There's not a lot of overlap with the Transom stuff, and LW goes into his early writing career in much detail, including an amusing Matt Groening anecdote.

We look forward to the day Weschler's mammoth collection Vermeer in Bosnia is published in paperback, and the day soon after when someone gives it to us.

The insider.

This is so the best blog about Pat O'Brien I want to hold my head in my hands and cry:
I'm Stuck in Rehab with Pat O'Brien
[via; via]

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Billy Joel's not a muskrat?

Trem, too.

The machine that is Doug Wolk recently had a baby (er, his partner did; he's not that kind of machine -- congrats, DW!) but continues to rage, rage against the crying of the tyke, filing a sort of Jukebox Jury item over at eMusic, with Mission of Burma commenting on their own discography. From Roger Miller: "On Vs. and Signals, the concept of three-part harmony would be all of us yelling at the same time." There's a different concept?

Meanwhile, Wolk is plowing through Dylan's complete catalog in chronological order (he's up to the soft belly of the beast, Infidels), taking on the Naked City box, and reviewing the Fall's complete radio sessions (MES: "Lloyd Cole’s-ah brain and face is made of cowpat.” YES.). Because anything less and brain scans would discover a synapse or two that were not firing in DW's research-grade skull. When my first child was born I gave myself the assignment of remembering to breathe every few seconds.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Where eagles soar.

TMFTML recently linked to Tom Waits' list of twenty "most cherished" albums. Curious about Lemmy's faves? Go here, where you'll find how he gets that peaceful, easy feeling. And you'll also find Mountain Goat John Darnielle's picks, too.

It's still you.

Consumer news you might be able to use:

Pixies reunion didn't satisfy your '80s indie rock jones? Maybe the Dinosaur Jr. reunion will help. Tomorrow, Merge rereleases the first three Dinosaur albums, with some scant goodies added on. You can get all three straight from the Merge site for $33.

Last month's monster jazz memorabilia auction leave you lusting for more rarities? Maybe these legendary free jazz reissues will help. Numbered runs of 5,000 each; until last week available only as imports. See you at J&R. Bagatellen recently weighed in on one, sort of.

Ps. If anyone out there is interested in buying a pre-Jr. Dinosaur LP, in good condition, leave a comment.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Easley come, Easley go.

Two weeks ago a fire broke out at Easley-McCain Studio in Memphis. From the Memphis Flyer:

The band room -- home to a Mellotron, dozens more instruments, and a handful of vintage microphones and amplifiers -- was spared, as was the studio's archive of master-tape recordings, including Charlie Feathers' and Townes Van Zandt's last sessions, classic tracks by the Grifters, the Oblivians, Alex Chilton, Lorette Velvette, and more. While the fire decimated the lobby (even the microwave autographed by Loretta Lynn and Jack White was destroyed [arhgh! is there no god?!-Prof.]), the control room, which sustained some damage, may be salvageable. Right now, studio owners Doug Easley and Davis McCain are just trying to assess the damage. The studio, which was originally called Onyx, was owned by the Bar-Kays, country singer T.G. Sheppard, and several others, before Easley and McCain opened shop there in the early 1990s. No word yet on whether they plan to rebuild.

Not exactly Sun Studio, but any place that spawned Pavement's Wowee Zowee, Sonic Youth's Washing Machine, and the legends noted above deserves at least a passing mention, and a bad pun.

Treading water.

Perhaps you knew there were two squid blogs, both dutifully named squidblog. No doubt you're aware of this whole detachable squid penis story. But did you know there was an iPod cozy for the cephalopod lover [insert Michael Jackson joke here]? No? Well, better luck next time, 'cuz they're sold out, sucker.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Victims rock.

Recently stumbled onto the blog Orbis Quintus, out of New Orleans, which at first glance features a bracing blend of science and music, and perhaps, if we can go by the name, an appreciation of Borges. Anyway, the OQ recently posted a pair of killer songs by Australian punk ravers The Victims, from the late 1970s, about whom I knew nothing. I encourage you to visit, listen, and enjoy. Apparently, some of the Victims went on to form the Hoodoo Gurus, who made 1-1/2 great albums before succumbing to marketplace forces and becoming sucky. You can actually hear this happen on side 2 of Mars Needs Guitars!

There must've something Detroity in the water Down Under in those days, as some phenomenal garage rock emerged from the pop culture slime, including the Gurus, the Scientists, and the Lime Spiders, all of whom have decent anthologies now available. Also, if you need a news hook, EMI recently released remastered versions of the first two Gurus albums, with bonus tracks, available in the US at import-only prices.

And, for the intrepid collector, this discography would appear to be the final word in Australian punk 1978-1983. (But don't even ask this guy about 1984. I mean, please.)

Friday, March 11, 2005

Le freak.

Back around '99/'00, when I was between jobs and "freelancing" (i.e., staring at the computer for long stretches), I stumbled onto a UK-based music site called Freaky Trigger, which at the time featured longish, extremely well-wrought and enthusiastically argued essays about pop music, with a decidedly British bent. This was good, but ultimately kind of eh. Soonish after, an offshoot called New York Paris London Munich started up on the site, featuring shorter takes on pop music --- now and way back when --- again Britishy but pithy, evocative, fanning the flames of fandom; it was addictive. To the point where I actually emerged from my penumbra of self-conscious gloom long enough to send in an email or two, and ended up contributing to some year end thing or other. The person behind all this was the very great Tom Ewing, and unbeknownst to me (and possibly him), he was making me an initiate to the world of Blog, Jurassic Period. It was an innocent time. But times change, and FT & NYPLM have undergone the inevitable redesign; Ewing this week took time out to pen a brief history of the original site and its many daughter products (including a science blog that bears watching). Now, NYPLM is a team blog, and I find myself scrolling through looking for Ewing's contributions, nostalgic for a time before blogs began to eat themselves.

It's about that time (22:53).

Fan of Miles Davis' '70s output? Comfortable with sentences like this: “'Directions' floats in on a rocket before dropping into half-time at 3:27; the transition into 'Honky Tonk' begins at 10:25 and stretches over two minutes...."? If so, you can read about some bootlegs from the post-Bitches Brew period, and the concert DVD Miles Electric: Another Kind of Blue, featuring the Davis band's entire 1970 Isle of Wight set, in an occasionally overwrought essay at One Final Note.

Cheese's christ.

Free-form radio station WFMU is in the midst of a fundraising drive right now, and among the items available for pledgers is this miraculous grilled cheese sandwich, about which more at its eBay page. Beats a tote bag. The auction ends Wednesday, March 16.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Sweeeeeeet and sour.

One of the sweetest things I've seen online in a great while:
For the straight-edge downloader, Pinchworm, a site that selects and collects only the finest in strictly legal mp3s from around the web. The well-designed site has a distinctly indie/pop sensibility, for all of your Spoon/Morrissey/ Low/Hot Hot Heat listening needs.

Only slightly less sweet, and significantly more high concept, an mp3 blog devoted to covers: Copy, Right? Don't listen to the "Float On" cover unless you hate kids, or want to.

On the sour tip: Tuning Fork, a loud, small, convoluted blog devoted to critiquing Pitchfork reviews, in the process making Pitchfork's usual insidery blather seem like the highest form of ecumenical clarity. [via]

Shutting up now.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The counterfactuals of truly golden bleep.

A while ago, my new pretend best friend Carl "No, I don't surf" Wilson helpfully defined a wide and trendy range of musical terms for those of us slow on the linguistic uptake. There's something touchingly generous in this gesture, given its matter-of-fact tone, we're-here-to-help functionality, and limited snarkiness. I choose to ignore his unkind prognosis concerning free jazz -- the term, I guess, not the actual music -- given the book proposal on that subject with my name on it now moldering on or under the desks of a rapidly dwindling number of editors. The article reads like the anti-Rock Snob's Dictionary, which, while itself amusing and even occasionally clarifying, is ultimately an exercise in pointing fingers at the geeks and laughing. (Not that some of us don't deserve it.) (After occasional appearances in Vanity Fair, the RSD is, predictably, soon to be a book.)

Wilson's piece brings to mind yet again how willfully obscure a lot of music writing can be. What is it about music crit that breeds such insular, crappy prose? There's the fanboy approach, all enthusiasm, atmospherics, and ridiculously recherche name-dropping; the track-by-track rehash; the Bangs/Meltzer homage; the grad school dissertation; anything at all by this guy (for example...). Part of it is a volume problem: too much music, too much writing, too much bandwidth --- a combination that's bound to produce a steaming pile.

For me, the best music writing (and good writing in general) shares a common characteristic of Wilson's writing: generosity. Wilson always seems invested in what he's writing about, and interested in sharing some part of what he knows about it. Not for the sake of one-upmanship, or as a pose, but as the start of some kind of conversation with readers. Crazily enough, he actually seems to want to communicate. A selfish bastard, I know generosity is hard, and I know it when I see it; it's practiced regularly by most writers in the right-hand column, and many others. The beauty of the blog is that instead of relying on some musty arbiter of current cultcha to funnel the reviews our way, we can seek out those voices we find most generous. Or whatever characteristic works for you. But you knew that already.

* * * * * *

Bonus bad review, culinary category: From January's Gourmet magazine [no link], wherein they tested ten toasters, and came up with the following "toasting skills" ratings (verbatim):

1. Truly golden toast; very even and consistent.
2. Golden toast; consistent.
3. Nice toast; consistent.
4. Consistently good toast.
5. Works well; nice toast.
6. Golden toast.
7. Beautiful toast.
8. Good toast.
9. Nice toast.
10. Nice toast, but inconsistent.
The worst entries, unranked, made "tiger-striped toast."

I'm not sure what this list communicates, other than the fact that deep within the test kitchens of Gourmet there is an intern who has seemingly lost the will to live. I love it, though. I love how the gourmands at Gourmet can parse the difference between nice toast, good toast, golden toast, and beautiful toast. But my how toaster reviewing has fallen, as evidenced by the thorough going-over provided by the Consumers Union, who really took it to the toasters of 1939:
Bread was carried slowly through the toasting compartment by a motor-operated conveyor. Must be preheated. No provision for retoasting too light toast. If bread slices not uniform or too large, possibility of their sticking in toaster and burning. Difficulty as to the degree of toasting appreciably without a screwdriver to change adjustment inside toaster. Working parts durably constructed. Plastic base. Method of conveying toast past heating elements makes exceptionally uniform toast.

Ruth, you oughta be ashamed.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Love call: diamond anniversary edition.

Tomorrow, March 9, is Ornette Coleman's 75th birthday.* Who he? What's he done? For those who'd like a thorough schooling, tune your internets to the jazz archives of WKCR, Columbia University's radio station, where you can listen to Jazz Profiles, a five-hour program devoted, in this case, to Coleman's life and work; it originally aired in 2003 on the occasion of OC's 73d birthday. Part 1 is a little over an hour and it is almost all talk, as host Ben Young runs down the details of Coleman's early existence and the sources of his rarefied approach to music. For tunes, better to start with Part 2. Not sure if KCR has one of their birthday broadcasts planned for tomorrow; you might check in with the live stream to see if anything's going on there.

You can also read a 1996 intervew with Coleman from the Austin Chronicle.
And there's this 1987 interview that ran in Cadence magazine, but given the horrid screen background (not to mention this question: "Your music is beautiful, but you also dress beautifully. Explain your interest in clothes."), you might skip this one.
When does this guy get his own, full-fledged biography? I mean, Sun Ra got his. Wayne Shorter, too. And this doesn't even begin to count.

Saw Ornette last June, when he played Carnegie Hall --- part of the JVC Jazz Festival. We were in the cheap seats; his body seemed somewhat bowed, but his playing was full force. Here's hoping we all get to enjoy his genius for years to come. Happy birthday, OC.

* Per Ben Young's audio bio, Ornette's older sister, Trudy, holds that he was born in 1931, not 1930. She was there, and so would know, but, still, we're going with the date on Coleman's own site.

WEDS. UPDATE: KCR is indeed airing a live birthday broadcast all day today (3/9).


Looks like it's always Blue Monday over at Terry Gross's place. Yesterday she sat down with Wu Tang's RZA, and, per O-Dub, had her game face on (or whatever the radio equivalent is). Somehow seems fitting that it is on the occasion of his new book, The Wu Tang Manual, and not timed to any new music. Because while NPR listeners may read about hip hop, we don't, y'know, listen to it.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Like it was.

Plucked from an agonizingly recondite jazz blog post and discussion:

There’s a Sunday morning public affairs show in these parts [NYC] called “Like It Is.” This morning [3/6] it featured Max Roach. For those of you who don’t know, Max is in pretty bad shape. He’s 81 now. I missed the beginning of the show, but based on the footage I saw, it seems apparent he is suffering from Alzheimer’s. The story revolved, in part, around a visit to Max paid by Randy Weston. Mr. Weston talked about the musical and cultural importance of Max, reminisced a bit, and played some tunes for Max. Sadly, Mr. Roach didn’t speak, nor did he seem to recognize his old friend or even understand what was going on.

Roach, seemingly the only drummer to be named a MacArthur Fellow, is so innately rhythmic he knocks on doors in 9/8 time. I missed this program, but note that it has recently been cut back from an hour to a half an hour; doubtless this had nothing to do with Black History Month coming to its short end.

Friday, March 04, 2005

A Wrens battle plan.

This one goes out to Chilly, on retreat: if you'd like to see, and support, a documentary on The Wrens, you can help out here. Not sure if they deserve your support? There are also mp3s here. And: Wrens at home.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Out of the woods and into the fire.

Reports on last night's Sleater-Kinney show at Mercury Lounge can be found here and here.

And to conclude our transformation into a two-trick pony, here is LCD Soundsystem covering Harry Nilsson. [via]

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Book news of limited interest dept.

Gary Benchley, Rock Star, will be a book this fall, in a new paperback from Plume. Despite what some wags say, some Internet-originated material is worth putting between two covers, and this column surely makes the cut.

D/b/a DFA.

Simon Reynolds kindly reprints most of his thorough profile of LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy at blissblog; it originally ran in a German muzikmagazineichsprach. (One wonders why Britney Spears didn't come up this time.) Murphy comes across as a representative member of that growing breed, the collector-performer (coformer?), someone so supremely aware of music history up to and including yesterday that it can make your neck hurt just trying to keep up with the references --- "I mention Bloom's anxiety theory pretty regularly in interviews!" sez Murph. (Ira Kaplan, holler.)

Say hello to never.

NYer music critic Sasha Frere-Jones took a hiatus from his blog a little while ago, allowing us to come out from under the bed, and imagine, slowly at first, that we knew something about something. To fill the now-empty daylight hours, though, we poked around NYC-based music blogs One Louder and More in the Monitor and Brooklyn Vegan, Austin-based Tim O Thompson, the redoubtable UK-based No Rock&Roll Fun, and realized, no, we still know nothing about nothing. Possibly even less. Then SFJ came back after less than a week and it was back under the bed.

Also sighted while out and about:
Panopticist, which, after a heavily didactic start, hit its stride with this post on DeLillo's annotations to the first page of White Noise. I was also pleased to note Pano's role as faux cover boy for Stay Free!'s American Gentrifier magazine, as I had earlier claimed that status.

Carrie McLaren of Stay Free! has also started a rip-roaring blog that makes me feel indignant and useless in equal measure.

And straight outta Jersey City, WFMU is blogging. Also podcasting.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Reject #5. And, while we're at it, #6.

Crown passed on Destination Out!, as did (o my lord) Billboard Books, publishers of Freebirds: The Lynyrd Skynyrd Story. We're down to a few majors now, and a sad string of farm teams that are just on this side of being vanity presses. Seems the audience for free jazz, in most editors' minds, is miniscule. (It is, isn't it. Don't tell me.) And it seems that we haven't been especially convincing when it comes to the overlap we claim exists between fans of out jazz, and, say, jam bands. Also, most editors have mentioned that a narrative history, rather than a record-centered approach, would appeal more, though whether this is simply a hollow, face-saving gesture is anybody's guess.

Anyway, here's more of what they're politely saying No to, for your trouble:


Arthur Blythe
Lenox Avenue Breakdown

Arthur Blythe, as; Bob Stewart, tuba; James Newton, fl; James Blood Ulmer, g; Cecil McBee, b; Jack DeJohnette, ds.

Dexter Gordon ended his self-imposed exile in Europe with a series of ecstatically received gigs in New York, followed by the release of the disappointing and predictably named album The Homecoming. Viewed at the time as a sign of jazz’s reemergence as a relevant artistic force, in retrospect it signals the spot at which jazz turned in on itself, shedding new influences in favor of a museum-grade worship of the past. A much less heralded moment of jazz transformation came when NYC loft veteran Arthur Blythe signed to Columbia in 1978. After a week of rehearsals with bandmates, Blythe created Lenox Avenue Breakdown. A bracing amalgam of the new and traditional, the album balances melody and free play, cohesive group dynamics and wild fights of fancy, in creating an ode to urban life in all its contrasts. Ranging from noirish nocturnes to vampy blues wails, the album brought the influences that had been incubating in the hot-house of loft jazz earlier in the decade into the mainstream, however briefly. The first track in particular, the carnivalesque “Down San Diego Way,” is as breezy as its name, with all players contributing equally to the lightly free funk. It stands as a high point in the careers of all involved, particularly Stewart, who put down here one of the great tuba statements in modern jazz. Once loosed on the world, the world took little notice. But sometimes it’s important to step out of the museum and into the light of day.

Sad-eyed gentleman of the Low Life.

The wonderfully erudite Luc Sante gives Dylan's Chronicles, volume one, the New York Review of Books treatment in their March 10 issue. The multi-part essay also folds in a look at the complete Lyrics; Studio A: The Bob Dylan Reader; and the recently re-released astral emission that is Tarantula. It's a great review, the best of Chronicles I've seen, as Sante finds a way to place the book into some kind of context ("young man arrives in the City, wide-eyed but nobody's fool"), while also allowing for its weirder, sui generis aspects --- the non-peak moments described in chapters devoted to the making of middling efforts New Morning and Oh Mercy.

Sante also looks closely at Dylan's lyric writing process, how he made an art out of marrying "the folk-lyric tradition and Western modernism," his linking of trad./arr. and his own Dada-fueled unconscious. Some of this is just Sante conjecturing, but he does a fine job of picking over the tidbits related to Dylan's creative process that litter the four books under discussion. And, as a bonus, he (too gently) puts Sleater-Kinney PR flak Rick Moody in his place regarding the overall importance and merit of Blood on the Tracks.

Dylan bonus #2: The Independent (UK) recently posted a chunk from Sam Shepard's Rolling Thunder diaries, on the occasion of the publication of Shepard's Rolling Thunder Logbook in the UK this month. The book was re-released in the US back in December.

Dylan bonus #3: TMFTML recently linked to this amazing story by Ian Frazier following up on William Zantzinger, who in 1963 killed Hattie Carroll; he was later immortalized for the act in Dylan's "Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll."