Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Sundries: DC, CS, WSQ, THB, CB, JN

an old drum instructor i had told me that "Ionisation" by Edgard Varese was like a litmus test for percussionists: those who were truly badass could play it and those who were just so-so would crash and burn in attempting to do so. anyway, i have done some field research and have found the math-rock equivalent: the opening drumbeat to "Don Caballero 3," the first track from Don Caballero's "What Burns Never Returns."

this beat became a joke when my band was on tour this summer b/c we heard like six different drummers warm up with it--everyone thinks it's the most awesome beat, but few can really kick it out. the hard thing about it is that it's got this triple stroke thing on the bass drum that you sort of have to spasm your foot to execute. anyway, it's really fun to play and really hard--on a good day, i can sort of do it (thus making me sort of badass...).

in the era of a dude like Zach Hill (of Hella), who does multiple bass-drum strokes on like every beat, this Don Cab thing seems kind of passe, but i still think it sounds really awesome. thanks to Damon Che for this godly figure--it is our "Good Times, Bad Times."


have to listen to nothing but Cat Stevens for the next few days b/c i'm reviewing his new record. ok, it's Yusuf Islam's new record, but same diff. it's his first "pop" disc since the late '70s apparently.


very psyched about the World Saxophone Quartet's classic lineup of Julius Hemphill, David Murray, Oliver Lake and Hamiet Bluiett. four master improvisers/composers who know ALL of jazz and will throw it all down at once for you to dig in one quick piece. on the recording i've been loving, "Steppin'," the saxes are nicely panned into the L and R channels so you always know who you're hearing--just wonderful soul and virtuosity abounding. makes me wish more jazz groups were collectives, b/c the polyphony and democracy of voices, both between compositions and within the improvisations, is astounding. truly celebrational, jazz-loving sounds. check out the last track on "Steppin'," called "R&B," for some amazing trading of fours, which sounds pretty awesome w/out a rhythm section.


would like to direct y'all to some other sites here. first off, check out Taylor Ho Bynum's Spider Monkey Stories blog, featuring an awesome account of the same Cecil Taylor set i wrote up below. Bynum is a brass wizard who has played extensively with Cecil and offers some cool commentary informed by that experience.

second, please visit my friend and colleague Cristina Black, a master of the elusive Time Out New York "opener" feature, many strong examples of which can be found on her Subnoto site.


by the way, thanks to Cristina for encouraging me to give the new Joanna Newsom CD a chance. i'd sort of dismissed her b/c i hate bandwagons and her last disc obviously set a huge one rolling. but i sort of had a sense that she was something to be reckoned with b/c the consensus was just too, uh, unanimous. anyway, i've only listened to two tracks of the new one so far, but i was kind of amazed. don't know that i'm ready to say that i like it yet--it's more that i'm just impressed (god, what a critic-like thing to say...). the intricacy of the compositions, arrangements and lyrics is totally incredible. the pieces are really catchy too in this weird way. the presentation is almost overwhelmingly affected--it's like she thinks she's this fairy princess or something--and i'm still in the process of letting down my guard to it, but i find it very exciting and fresh. it's another entry in the category of hugely ambitious and grandiose avant-pop records released in '06, a few others being Scott Walker's "The Drift" and Xiu Xiu's "The Air Force," the latter of which is particularly stunning and one of my very favorite CDs this year.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Urban Haute Basho

checked in tonight with "Metropolitan," a really wonderful movie by Whit Stillman. it's set in some ambiguous "not so distant" past that could actually be the present day but sometimes feels like the '20s or something due to the old-fashioned-ness of the characters. they're these twentysomething New York socialites/debutantes who attend parties and afterparties and dances and the like and bullshit about political theory and literature. it's very episodic--kind of a cousin to Noah Baumbach's "Kicking and Screaming"--just a collection of conversations, but many of them are absolutely hysterical (one of my favorites moments is when the main character says he never reads novels, only literary criticism). you kind of feel sorry for these people and find them ridiculous but their relationships are really affecting somehow.

the movie taps into all these fascinations that i have. i've always been really into New England preppy (or "UHB," i.e. "urban haute bourgeoisie," as one character in the film calls it) culture, maybe b/c i'm Jewish and Midwestern. i really like Salinger and Cheever and Fitzgerald and lately i've been reading Edith Wharton, who writes about the old New York society that was the precursor to what's depicted in "Metropolitan." i just find the whole thing really romantic and sad and funny and glamorous.

"Metropolitan" is definitely an autumn-in-New York movie and that probably has something to do with why it felt right to watch it tonight. it's just a wonderful mood piece--it feels really cozy and comforting even though some of the characters' attitudes are so backward and absurd.

was also thinking tonight about Robbie Basho, the late acoustic guitar mystic. am stretching here, but his music is also all about mood. got this compilation called "Bashovia" and the pieces on it sound very, very similar to the other compilation i have of his called "Guitar Soli," which is alright by me.

basically, Basho recorded for John Fahey's label Takoma and is generally associated with him, but Basho's a very different character. his pieces are like extended meditations that are less about discernable melodies than kind of a glowing haze of tone--very luminous and free-flowing, which makes sense since Basho was really into Indian ragas. the music can get old, but it can also really sweep you up. one amazing feature of Basho's music is this incredible swirling strum thing that he often gets into late in his pieces (they tend to be really long), where he plucks faster than i've ever heard anyone pluck--it's like a tornado on the strings and it's impossible for me to visualize how he might be doing it. there's some of this late in the second piece on "Bashovia," called "Lost Lagoon Suite-Vancouver, Canada."

that title tips you off to Basho's eccentricity. Fahey was having none of it; in his liner notes, he accuses Basho, who named himself after the 17th century Japanese poet, of being "drunk on the Oriental," a kind of charlatan mystic. he hedges though--and i think this wording is just brilliant: "The first sections of these notes are somewhat critical of Basho's personality but the conclusion is laudatory re his talent." Fahey does grudgingly admit to liking the LP "Basho Sings," but--and this is kind of weird--none of that record appears on this CD compilation, which Fahey apparently curated. Basho seems to really have hit a nerve with Fahey, maybe b/c Fahey's personality--verbally at least--was so cynical and sarcastic and Basho's is so hippyish and mumbo-jumbo-ful.

anyway, Fahey's evaluations should obviously be taken with salt b/c he of course disowned all of his OWN early work late in life. Basho is no Fahey, but when the mood is right--and i think chilly autumn is a good time for this--he will assist with providing metaphorical warmth.

[next day update: thinking about the setting of Metropolitan some more... maybe i actually mean that it feels like the '40s or '50s--but it has to actually be at least the '70s b/c "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" is mentioned. incidentally, that scene is hilarious b/c one character says he was looking forward to someone actually revealing the charms of the bourgeoisie and he's upset that the film was a critique. anyway, i think part of--or a lot of--the point is that you can't date the film based on the characters b/c they're so obsessed with old social modes.]

Sunday, October 29, 2006


Ocrilim at the Stone. kind of intense for a Sunday night. felt kind of off all weekend and this knocked me back to a pretty good place. in a disclamatory gesture, for those who appreciate that sort of thing, i might add that my very close friend and bandmate Tony G. was on this gig, holding down the bass chair with fury. see the Archaeopteryx link over to the right for Tony's own compositions.

as Tony pointed out, this was very much a recital, i.e. a verbatim reproduction of the recent Ocrilim record entitled "Anoint." [Ocrilim is, btw, Mick Barr, who is also Octis, who is also is the guitarist from Orthrelm and Crom-Tech. if you're not familiar with him, he's a scary-level shredder in a sort of weird postmetal vein of insane precision and sophistication, and also a writer of pi-length nonrepeating compositions as well as ones that stick for twenty minutes on an air-raid riff. anyway, make sense?] "Anoint" is, quite simply, a masterpiece, something that should attain canonical status, the kind of recording that assures you that art is still pushing forward and that anyone who says otherwise is a total dumbass. (See Zs post below for another example of a group of musicians who say, "Hell no," to the idea that there's nowhere new to go.)

basically the record takes Mick's aesthetic and normalizes it ever so slightly, just enough so that it's not sooooooooo hard to digest but only soooo hard to, or something like that. more repetition, more variation of tempos, more recurring motifs, more harmony (i don't wanna get out of my league but many of my theory-knowing friends say it's the first time he's really explored the vertical musical dimension, per se.). anyway, it's a totally fascinating record and contains an alarming amount of vertigo-inducing Amazing Parts.

my favorite parts of the show were pretty much my favorite parts of the album, which is to say, the reproduction was flawless. Tony had a huge sound and used pedals that replicated how the bass parts (overdubbed on the CD) sound on the record. when Mick and Tony locked in, the sound was crushingly heavy and watching them rock out together was a beautiful thing.

do not want to downplay Tony's contributions, but the main attraction was simply focusing on Mick's incredible technique and inventiveness. my favorite piece on "Anoint" is part 5(there are seven pieces, all untitled) and seeing this live was astounding. he just makes the guitar snarl and sing and gleam. and the fact that he's repeating more here allows you to really feel these parts and rock to them. the entire suite is just so powerful and overwhelming, but there's more of a sense of cohesion than with a lot of past Barr stuff. listening to the whole thing is like a journey. tonight, certain parts would settle down (like the beautiful meditative line that starts off part 2), but then the energy would just ramp up to an insane level of shred. Mick is just a deadly, deadly musician, embodying one of the purest unions of chops and creativity i have ever witnessed.

watching the show i was thinking about what a herculean achievement this guy's music represents. think about how many musicians get congratulated week in week out for their INFLUENCES, for copping to this or that hip style from this or that year or for emulating the band that happens to be cool to emulate this week. EVERY press release that i get at work is like that--"Hey, we're cool b/c we like the right bands." and for many bands, quite honestly, all they're setting out to do is to recombine influences in a cool and fun way and not change the world (which is fine, of course, as long as people know their place in the pecking order). but what about music that has only the faintest precedent, that is so glaringly new that you just have to take it on its own--you can dislike it but you sure as hell can't refute the immense creativity behind it. Mick just goes so far and pushes so hard in a way that's so so rare. Ian Mackaye once said of him, "He is our John Coltrane" and this is something like the gospel truth--a reminder that it's really easy to pretend that everything monumental in art, culture, human development happened THEN. seeing Mick, you know that NOW ain't so bad at all.

ps: it's amazing to think that the old guard is still around too! this has been an insane time for NYC music: several Cecil sightings, Evan Parker, the Zs fest. it is all happening around you.

Catching Zs

NYC has no shortage of amazing bands, but Zs is something more than just that. if you've ever hung around with these guys, you've no doubt heard them talk of "vibes." though it sounds really dude-like, i think this is a serious concept for Zs--basically what they seem to be after is creating an ever-evolving forum for their music. last night's Zs show at BAM showed how far this concept has come. basically, Zs is like a snowball of mind-bending avant-garde music. for the past few years, it's been rolling and picking up amazing satellite player after amazing satellite player. now it's more than a band; it's an aesthetic.

last night was basically a showcase for Zs' extended relations--Zs headlined and before came four other projects, all featuring Zs members. as my friend Joe said, every group had a revelation. none of the Zs people seems to ever do anything casually. they start new projects like every week, but when you see them, they're always dead serious and unbelievably developed. in short the walked is walked.

first was Moth, which is Zs saxist Sam Hillmer and trombonist Ben Gerstein. they play minimal improvisations that truly deserve to be called spontaneous compositions. Hillmer is one of the most thoughtful and economical improvisers i can think of. he's never just playing or just throwing ideas out there; you can always hear him constructing something. he tends to work a lot with repetition, but really it's more like refinement. he'll pick a weird sound and then just work at it, whittling away all the imperfection and varying only gradually. his playing is refreshingly free from "free-jazz catharsis"--he's always working with some weird extended technique that i've never considered before. last night there was some amazing overtone stuff. often in Moth, Sam will be like the control and Gerstein will sort of dart around him. the duo is all about listening; the two select a direction immediately and just burrow into it and basically try to be one entity.

then Little Women, a great sort of punk-jazz quartet. that idea (punk jazz, or what have you) is not a new thing and can be really tedious (i'm not a fan of Naked City or any of these projects where jazz players go around congratulating themselves for listening to heavy or abrasive music). but Little Women has a very genuine raucousness. also though there's a gorgeous sense of structure. the band--2 saxes, guitar and drums--works a lot with these sort of fanfare type themes, often with jagged, proggy rhythms. for the improvisations, the band atomizes, constantly splitting up into different mini groups. the guitarist Ben Greenberg--who, it must be said (must it? i don't know, really), is a very close friend of mine--plays with a crazy snarling tone and extreme volume, giving the music a real attack feel, and the saxists just completely go for it as well. tenor player Travis Laplante has an absolutely huge sound, with an apocalyptic-free-jazz meets R&B kind of vibe. the set ended with this amazing coda: the two saxists--the other being the excellent Darius Jones--took off their mouthpieces and just started basically ranting/moaning/emoting into their horns, using the keys to fuck with the sound. it was unsettling and beautiful.

then was Extra Life, which is Zs guitarist/keyboardist Charlie Looker playing solo. Charlie is a completely badass composer who has, in my opinion, some of the most advanced musical ideas in New York. his pieces for Zs and Seductive Sprigs are these insanely complex amalgams of noise-rock, modern classical, medieval music and what have you. just unbelievably extreme but in ways you've never thought of. anyway, the solo music was also extreme, but subtler and more methodical. basically, he played this probably 10- or 15-minute piece that had one main theme: a beautiful rubato thing that almost sounded like a futuristic John Fahey or a cleaner more direct take on the Neil Young soundtrack for "Dead Man" (a very cool document if you haven't heard it). the tone and sound were just massive--gleaming, metallic--and the precision and force were scary. there was a long instrumental part that sort of orbited this theme, and then Charlie began singing along to these tiny pointillist guitar lines in a weird almost falsetto voice, with cadences that reminded me a little of hip-hop. as usual from Charlie, focus and concepts were scary and flawlessly executed. can't wait to hear more of this shit.

then Period, a highly conceptual improv project that started as the duo of Looker and drummer Mike Pride but which has been expanding its live incarnations to include horns and the like. last night it was Pride, Looker, Hillmer and Jones. the set was kind of like a simultaneous construction and deconstruction of a pummeling, staccato noise-rock groove, with the horns developing their own maniacally repetitive and focused themes. Pride and Looker were constantly hinting at a kick in, but constantly fucking around with the beat and the groove. as with Moth, there was a sense of burrowing into something, or whittling away the fat on one basic concept. i really like the idea of such purposeful improvising (though there could have been some predetermined material), and these guys play with a ton of power and also brainpower.

then Zs. they're currently playing a 20-minute or so piece for a new quartet lineup, which is Looker (on keyboard instead of guitar), Hillmer, Greenberg and Ian Antonio. at the most basic level, the piece is an episodic collection of repetitive rhythmic cells which have all these minute variations. as Sam told me once, Zs thrives on the concept of the hit, the attack, the stab. Antonio's playing encapsulates this--you will find very few players of any instrument who combine force with precision the way he does; he really does seem awesomely robotic when he plays but with a sick sense of groove simmering under the surface. the first part of the piece was based around these off-kilter rhythmic stabs that had this weird slightly irregular cyclical momentum. each time a new theme was introduced, it would be catchier and more exciting than the last. the end of the piece was the coolest part. leading up the finale, Antonio started in on this amazing extended vamp on the snare (always played w/ the snares off), toms and hi-hat. it reminded me of one of those skittery, slippery Destiny's Child 32nd-note things (i invoke those types of beats often, so i should probably come up with a term for them; but i hate terms)--just amazingly intricate and grooving. then came this gorgeous kind of simmering prog groove that reminded me of that really clean, austere Genesis or Crimson sound. or maybe even something like Tortoise in a weird way. it's just really propulsive yet classy and clean and precise, with fascinating touches from the piano. here as elsewhere, the band played with a remarkable unity--you just hear the total effect, not any one player. this piece has to be seen up close, but a clip of it (including the awesome ending) from a show this summer can be seen here.

so all in all a fascinating show and more evidence for why Zs and their extended family must be watched closely. [note, whole Zs crew is accessible through the Zs website and the myspace page of Fucking A Show Releases, which is their label.] definitely vanguard shit afoot in this collective. one interesting thing that i wanted to point out is that i think there's a real connection between the kind of thing the aforementioned crew has been into and the work of Mick Barr, who was in attendance at last night's show and is a close friend and collaborator of the Zs players. to me it's all a part of this monumentally obsessive wing of the American underground, almost like a return to high modernism, where you just go and go and go into a concept. for a lot of these guys, marathon repetition and the kind of burrowing into one infinite riff seems to be a theme. this Zs piece, the way Hillmer improvises, the way Antonio hits the drums, the way Period strips away all fat from a rock riff, the way Laplante screams into his horn to the point of exhaustion--it's all got this amazing focus and purposefulness and what have you. Orthrelm's "OV" is kind of the benchmark of this thing that's been happening and it's just interesting to see the cross-pollination that happens since all these guys know and work with each other.

anyway, speaking of Mick Barr, tonight is live debut of Ocrilim in NYC. Ocrilim is next step, Ocrilim is future. you can't not go.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Kick It with a Tasty Groove

[below is an account of the late Cecil Taylor Trio set at Iridium from Thursday, 10/26. i had the pleasure of attending with Steve Smith, who really knows his Cecil cold. we had a brief but fruitful talk about the show afterward and i'm sure you'll read a detailed account soon on "Night After Night," so keep checking over there (link to the right). no pressure, Steve!]

saw Cecil Taylor play last night for the second time in two weeks (which is kind of amazing). the last one was solo and this one was a trio with Henry Grimes and Pheeroan akLaff. i and just about every other Cecil fan i know was psyched about this personnel b/c his last working trio (Albey Balgochian on bass and Jackson Krall on drums) was not the hottest. saw them at Castle Clinton a few years ago and at Iridium last year and i thought the bass playing was really weak--tentative, clunky and just sort of aimless. Krall i never thought was bad so much as kind of neutral. when i saw that trio, his playing was really choppy and kind of timid; he always seemed to be waiting for Cecil to make the first move.

after seeing last night's show, it was clear to me that the best Cecil sidemen are the ones who confront him head on, who really have a concept of their own to advance and don't mind getting in his way a little. i think akLaff did a completely excellent job of doing this. at times, i was thinking that if i wasn't familiar with the players beforehand, i actually might have thought that he was the leader rather than Cecil. i loved what Grimes did as well, but it took me longer to figure that out.

the set i saw was one long piece, maybe about 70 minutes, though i could be wrong. it started off very tentatively, with Grimes bowing (amp and mike setup weren't kind to him at first; the bass sounded really murky) and akLaff playing quietly with his hands. Cecil seemed really low energy at first and i was worried that the others were going to be too submissive and let him dictate the flow.

about 10 to 15 minutes in, though, akLaff really started to move. as soon as he started playing more busily, i knew i had misjudged him from previous times i'd seen him. i saw him with Hamiet Bluiett at the Knit like five or six years ago and with Roscoe Mitchell and Sam Rivers at the Vision Fest in '05 and both times i came away thinking that he played way too loudly and didn't listen. last night, though, i had almost the opposite impression. he was awesomely sensitive and really the heart and soul of the band.

i was talking to a friend before the show and he said he was excited to hear akLaff with Cecil b/c he was the kind of drummer who could play free and also imply a really deep pocket. i pretty quickly heard what he was talking about. akLaff moved around the kit really nimbly, and with a light touch; his darting movements reminded me of Tony Williams. he gradually worked up the intensity and brought in the cymbals more, just to the point where he was threatening to be too loud, but not getting there.

there was definitely a kind of implied groove happening. especially when akLaff would move to the closed hi-hat and snare, he seemed to be threatening to drop into some kind of backbeat thing, like you'd catch just a hint of that feel. (to my knowledge, Ronald Shannon Jackson is really the only other Cecil drummer who has experimented with this kind of thing.) it was sort of like he was goosing Taylor to come out of his shell and Taylor responded. he was moving more at his stool and working up into a feverish mode of playing.

the band hit a real stride about 30 to 40 minutes in. i started to really hear what their sound was at this point and how Taylor fit in. it was fascinating, because to me, what the rhythm section did was kind of smooth out the choppiness that you hear in Taylor's solo playing. i mentioned in the post about the solo concert (look way down below) how Taylor does this thing where he'll play either deep, dramatic chords or high kind of commentary stuff. unlike a bop-style pianist, he doesn't seem to really go for a lot of left hand/right hand separation. that was true last night too but because the band was simmering underneath, there was no sense of empty space. i'm not saying that i dislike that space in the solo playing, but it was just cool to hear how the band moved in to fill those gaps.

i couldn't see Taylor's face but he was glancing up at akLaff frequently and the drummer was just beaming and clearly having the time of his life. there was this amazing exchange where i started to hear Cecil almost like an electric guitarist. he was doing those deep chords and when he'd move to the high trills, his whole body would sway and he'd play these awesome bluesy figures that really reminded me of single-note blues-guitar lines. he seemed to want to dig really deep into that soulful feel, and this seemed to come right out of akLaff's funkiness. the pocket was sort of right on the tip of the band's tongue and that was an awesomely tantalizing effect.

during this more heated section, i really started to hear Grimes. though his bowing seemed kind of unfocused, his pizzicato stuff here was just on fire. i was totally amazed by his speed and precision--people really aren't bullshitting when they say he's returned to full strength as a bassist. what he was playing didn't jump out at me so much as how consistent it was. he was really gluing the band together and supporting the momentum and this was the perfect contrast to Balgochian's tentative approach.

as with a lot of Cecil sets, the ending was kind of awkward. at one point, the volume came way down and akLaff did this press roll and looked at Cecil and you could totally tell he thought that this would've made a perfect stopping point. Cecil just kept right on going. he was at his most high energy--though not necessarily at his densest or loudest--really late in the set. he was really moving at the bench and despite that sort of false ending, akLaff seemed really delighted by this. it just seemed like a real jam vibe between them, like they were just getting off on interacting with one another. there was very much a feeling that this was a new, exciting collaboration for both of them.

overall, i loved what Grimes was doing, but the piano-drums connection was really the heart of the music. which kind of makes sense, given all the duets with percussionists that Cecil has done. right near the end of the set, though, there were some awesome quiet exchanges between Grimes and Taylor where they were almost echoing each other. it was a really brief moment, but it was some of the most interactive playing i've ever heard Cecil do.

if the solo set i saw at Merkin had this kind of arduous, mountain-climbing feel--i felt a lot of strain from Cecil at that one--this one was much more about a feeling of exhilaration. i hope this band stays together for a while. what would be great is to see the solo and trio settings in one concert so you could hear the differences up close. when i've been particularly frustrated with a Taylor sideman, either live or on record, i've often said that there's just no point in listening to him play with anyone else. but someone always proves me wrong (Jimmy Lyons, Raphe Malik, Tony Oxley, Andrew Cyrille, etc. etc. etc.). i think these players definitely belong in that category.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

IIIrd Man

in college, when i was DJing at WKCR and when i was just generally starting to enjoy jazz, i developed this interest in "Lost Masters," as they were called in station parlance. basically this meant a musician who was really awesome but whose discography was, for one reason or another, very slim. the classic example would be Herbie Nichols, who's been called a lost master so many times that he's actually sort of famous. but the station had a festival dedicated to these players at one point; can't remember who was included, but i remember this pianist named Oscar Dennard for some reason.

anyway, i just became generally interested in the idea and WKCR's library had everything i needed to do the research. obviously, just because a player is scarce, doesn't mean he was a master. there are a bunch of guys i unearthed that sort of seem to me like curiosities, more interesting than truly great. an example of one of these would be this drummer Robert F. Pozar, who's on a few Bill Dixon records and has two LPs of his own, one of which "Good Golly, Miss Nancy" on Savoy is pretty cool. there's this crazy track where he plays a drum solo along with a computer that's sort of improvising with him. it sounds totally dated but it's a fun piece.

but there were also a few guys in this category who were just triumphantly amazing, one of them being Booker Little, whose disography is actually not that small. he's truly one of my favorite composers and improvisers and if you haven't heard "Out Front" or the Five Spot sessions w/ Eric Dolphy, you need to. amazingly sophisticated and heartfelt '60s jazz. he can make a sextet sound like an orchestra. my favorite piece by him is "Moods in Free Time," which breaks down into this almost unbearably intense dirge section over which Dolphy takes this solo that makes you want to die/cry/live/etc.

that dirge is in my mind related to "Evolution," a piece by another lost master (who truly deserves that title), the trombonist Grachan Moncur III. this is the title track of a 1963 Moncur record that became sort of a holy grail to me in my early days of loving jazz. basically i had picked up "Point of Departure" by Andrew Hill and flipped for it and i knew that that general period and style--sophisticated inside/outside postbop with avant-garde leanings, i guess you could call it--was really what i wanted to hear more of. my friends Joe and Russ told me of a few sessions i needed to check out and two of them were Jackie McLean's "One Step Beyond" and the aforementioned "Evolution."

i remember going to every record store in town searching for these on CD or LP and no one had them. the CD editions were long out of print and forget about the LPs. i remember at a few stores, like the now-closed Village Jazz Shop, i got a knowing nod and smile when i mentioned them, as if to affirm their mythic status.

anyway, i think Russ had the discs all along and just burned them for me at some point. can't remember which one i heard first, but "Evolution" was the one that stuck out as being a total masterpiece. i just completely glommed onto that thing and it remains one of my favorite jazz records ever, probably second to only "Point of Departure" but that's a real tight race.

"Evolution" has four pieces. i had been told to listen for "The Coaster," the third track, and that turned out to be a cool, snappy hard-boppish thing. but what really killed me were the first two tracks. the opener, "Air Raid," demonstrates why Moncur is one of the most formally innovative composers ever to record for Blue Note. the form of the tune is ingenious. basically the piece starts with this sort of holding pattern/drone with Bobby Hutcherson doing this kind of ominous roll on the vibes. then comes the solemn, midtempo head--really simple but really catchy--and then back down to the drone. Grachan starts blowing and gradually, you hear the rhythm section ramping up the tempo until it's totally racing underneath the trombone. and this pattern repeats for each soloist, so they each get to play over both this ominous free time section and like breakneck swing thing. kind of simple, but the effect is awesome, especially when so many tunes from this period/style really don't make use of dramatic shifts in tempo and mood.

the title track is this entirely different thing. dirge is the only word for it. it's basically these really long horn drones with Tony sort of playing this abstract march on the snare. the harmonies are really spooky and kind of humid, if that makes any sense. you just get this feeling of heat and sweat and building tension that never gets resolved. this must have been an incredibly daunting thing to solo over, but Jackie McLean just goes for it. he was unstoppable during this period and he just figures out this tune, knowing when to mirror it and when to soar away from. the solo sounds like he's describing the mood of the piece to you and can't quite get there but he's straining really hard. but there's no sense of hurriedness. overall, "Evolution" is just an insanely focused piece of music that kind of scares you. it's not entirely unique in the Blue Note catalog, b/c Grachan himself wrote a few more tunes like it, but it's by far the most successful of this style.

i interviewed Grachan on the air once at WKCR and as you might guess, i was grilling him about this particular piece b/c i was so fascinated by it. he told me an amazing story: it turns out that the piece was recorded the day before Kennedy shot and Grachan told me how when he was watching the funeral, a military band was playing taps and he was of course immediately reminded of his own piece that he had recorded the day before because it has that marchy, dirgey feel. he said that since then, listening to "Evolution" has made him cringe. i'll never forget that he actually used that word "cringe." even if you didn't see the Kennedy funeral, you can still get that feeling from the piece.

whew. anyway, so after hearing this remarkable record, i hunted down everything else the guy ever recorded. there's some amazing stuff--"Blue Free" from the "New Wave in Jazz" comp on Impulse, the Brazilian record he made for BYG--but nothing really comes close to "Evolution" in my opinion. i heard his other Blue Note session, "Some Other Stuff" way back then, but it didn't make much of an impression. since i've recently been in this deep Blue Note phase though, i knew i wanted to revisit that one. it's not in print on its own so i decided to spring for the Mosaic Select Moncur set, which has "Evolution" and "Some Other Stuff," plus all the Jackie McLean BN sessions he appears on: "One Step Beyond," "Destination Out," "Hipnosis," and part of "'Bout Soul."

checked out "Some Other Stuff" today and my feelings on it were pretty much the same. basically it's a flawed session--it kind of lives up to its offhanded title--but nevertheless fascinating if you're an enthusiast of the players, those being Grachan, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Cecil McBee and brother Tony.

the first and most serious problem i have with the record is the writing. the pieces are really conceptual, a la "Evolution," but they seem to be straining. there's just very little for the soloists to work with. the first song, "Gnostic," is kind of this marchy, dirgey thing that to me feels like an attempt to replicate "Evolution." it's a pretty simple, repetitive figure and it leads to a pretty cool solo from Grachan, but what Herbie's doing is to me really distracting. he keeps up these kind of gimmicky insistent patterns that kind of give the piece this sense of fake urgency when what it really needs is space. Wayne is having none of it, and he's definitely the highlight. he takes a completely amazing solo--slow, slurry and just kind of haunted and just really, really patient. it blows open into these deep blasts that Herbie insists on echoing with deep chords that again feel forced. without the piano, this part would be truly great, but as is, it's just kind of quizzical and weird. fascinating all the same though. Wayne ends with this weird outburst of disjointed phrases that kind of sounds like he's throwing up his hands, but maybe i'm reading too much in.

[do not mean to slag Herbie in general, obviously; i think it's as much the presence of piano at all that i dislike. Hutcherson's vibes work better for Grachan's wide-open sound. but then again, Herbie is one of those straight-ahead players who pop up on a few of the more out Blue Notes and don't always seem to be totally in synch with that school. Freddie Hubbard is another.]

anyway, the rest of the album has similar problems. the second track "Thandiwa," is a pretty tedious kind of straight-up midtempo hard-bop thing (if you haven't guessed, i just get kind of bummed when those kind of tunes end up on more out-type sessions). "The Twins" has this kind of goofy, bouncy head that's more quirky than actually cool. the solo parts are ok--McBee does a good job of keeping things interesting by kind of soloing alongside the soloists--but the whole thing just goes on too long and there's very little to the tune to actually inspire much.

"Nomadic" is another failed experiment. the head is this plodding straight-eighth-note thing that's split between the trombone and tenor so they rarely play at the same time. the kind of minimalist, droll obnoxiousness (that to me is totally not meant as a dis) of it reminds me a lot of some of those pulsating-up-and-down-and-up-and-down heads that Braxton was playing a lot in the '70s and '80s. but it's really just a drum solo by Tony. which one would think would be awesome but never really gets off the ground. Tony is a M A S T E R and as i have said, perhaps my favorite jazz musician, period. but he works best when playing with people, like really kicking a soloist in the ass. listen to the aforementioned "Air Raid" for a scalp-peeling example of this phenomenon.

ok, so am i sorry i bought the set b/c i don't like "Some Other Stuff" all that much? hell no. when it's players of this caliber, i love every second even if it doesn't agree with my tastes. i love figuring out why i think one session works and another with almost the same personnel tanks or works but in a totally different way. Blue Note gives you great bunches of opportunities to do this kind of comparative listening.

speaking of that, the other two sessions, "One Step Beyond" and "Destination Out" fall in between "Evolution" and "Some Other Stuff" in terms of awesomeness. but fortunately, they're much closer to the former in that sense. "Destination Out" is solid throughout but the entirety is overshadowed by the ridiculous beauty and grace of the opening track, "Love and Hate," which Grachan wrote. Roy Haynes plays on this, simmering ballad time; if it was Tony, it might almost feel totally avant-garde "Evolution" but with him it's jazz. exquisite, sad, complex, blue jazz. Jackie is again completely killing.

good shit on "One Step" too, especially the crazy last track, "Ghost Town"--what do you know: another dirgey thing; actually more of a spooky thing, in an almost but not quite hokey way--on which Tony does all this kind of knocking about to sort of evoke the title setting. it's funny b/c in the original liner notes, Jackie writes, [and this is sic] "Doors knock, things scrap as Tony falls in step with [Eddie] Khan [bass]." obviously he means "scrape." whatever, i just think that's funny. anyway, really good piece--kind of a gimmicky, conceptual thing that pays off in precisely the way that the "Some Other Stuff" tunes don't. the lack of a piano and cool, long chord structure definitely help.

Grachan recorded very little throughout the '70s, '80s and '90s. in fact, i was surprised to find he was still alive in '00 or '01 (can't remember) when i met him and did that interview. i have to thank Glo Harris, Beaver Harris's widow, for making the introduction; Grachan came to the station to talk about his experiences with Beaver on a tribute show we did, and i booked time to do an interview with just him. it went really well, though it was kind of sad b/c he was describing how teeth problems had kept him from playing as much as he wanted to.

he has played out a few times recently and a record called, i think, "Exploration" came out a few years back where he plays some of his old tunes with this ace midsize band. the shows i've seen have been kinda not so good, mainly b/c he sat out a lot and took very few substantial solos--again, it's probably chops problems, which is really too bad. i did hear him, Jackie and Bobby do "Love and Hate" together at Iridium though and that was mindblowing and deeply sad at the same time. since that one was slow, he could totally dig into it and his ideas were as patient and thoughtful and poignant as ever. he's a really deep-thinking soloist and he hasn't lost that quality.

anyway, he's at the Stone in December playing in a trio with just two saxists (i think that's configuration). hopefully that'll draw him out a little. you know i'm going to be there, calling for "Evolution" during the breaks.

[a crazy p.s. is that Grachan has a MySpace page! and if you look at the blog there, you'll see that it's actually him updating it. craziness. so go visit him here.]

Monday, October 23, 2006

No, All

i feel like as time goes on, i discover fewer and fewer bands that i think are among the BEST bands. since high school/college, which was when i was figuring everything out, there have been a few though, and one of them is definitely All.

for the uninitiated, All are basically the last lineup of the Descendents plus a singer who is not Milo. there was Scott Reynolds, Dave Smalley (i think) and Chad Price. i first heard All in high school via the album "Breaking Things," which is a respectable enough pop-punk album, but not life-changing. at that time, i was busy ignoring the fact that i loved the Descendents, probably because my friends discovered them and not me and i always wanted to be the one who was discovering bands. but i couldn't avoid listening to them b/c my friends Kyle and Adam--who intro'd me to punk rock via their tastes and their unbelievable punk-metal-hardcore-pop band the Crackbabies--played their stuff all the time.

after a while, it became impossible for me to ignore the fact that i had developed an intense affection for songs like "Silly Girl" and "Clean Sheets" and i bought "Somery," the greatest hits thing, without telling any of my friends. back then, i only had a tape deck and so i made a tape of "Somery," but i made MY version of what i wanted that album to be, which was only the poppy Descendents songs. anyone who has ever spent any meaningful time with the Descendents knows that their catalog can pretty handily be divided into the poppy "hits" and the weird heavier and/or proggy stuff. a song like "Hope" or "Bikeage" would fall tidily into the former category, while something like "I Wanna Be a Bear" or "Kids" belongs in the latter. anyway, i decided then that i didn't like anything but the supercatchy bubblegummy stuff and that's all i wanted on my tape. i dug that a bit, but the Descendents were never really one of my favorites; as far as that poppy stuff, i probably spent a lot more time with J Church and even Green Day--i still contend that their song "Going to Pasalacqua" is one of the best things i've ever heard--and definitely the Misfits and a bunch of others than Milo & Co.

i can credit Tony, the bassist of my band and one of my best friends, for getting me back into the Descendents. the first time his band Archaeopteryx played w/ Stay Fucked, he told us afterward that he thought we sounded like the instrumental Descendents stuff. i'm always happy when someone bothers to compare us to anything, but i thought that was a real cool complement b/c it was so obscure. the only no-vocals track i could recall by them, though, was "Theme," which is this weird funny little ditty-like thing. but Tony told me to go listen to the song "Uranus" from the "All" record (the name of the final record of Descendents 1.0, not the band). i checked it out and i was totally blown away. this song, recorded in 1987, is officially a math-rock song. it's totally, totally proggy, complex and virtuosic but with that weird Descendents charm still very much intact. (anyone interested in the little-known antecedents of math rock, as i very much am, will find this one to be a revelation methinks--a true prog-punk fusion.) anyway, so obviously i was even more flattered to be compared to that and also newly interested in the Descendents, so over the next few years i amassed the whole collection and realized they were really one of my favorite bands. i had a new appreciation for all the material, not just the poppy stuff, and i especially liked the songs that were sort of in between the two aesthetics, e.g., "Cameage," which has this awesome weirdly Van Halen-esque guitar part and a really wrenching chorus.

only this summer did i revisit All though. Tony and Ben had it on all the time in the tour van and it slowly started to hit me how fucked up and awesome this music was. when we got back, i knew i had to buy something of theirs and Tony recommended "Allroy Saves," which is one of the Scott Reynolds discs. this record is a real tour de force, no joke. it's more absurd, complex, psychically tortured and ambitious than anything by the Descendents. it's really like the Egerton (g), Alvarez (b), Stevenson (b) team just totally went off and dragged Reynolds along with them. the prog-punk thing is in amazing effect here. when "Educated Idiot" kicks in, the uniqueness of the sound just smacks you: the bass and guitar are totally independent, with Alvarez pretty much playing the heart of the melody and Egerton sounding like a more chopsy Greg Ginn kind of. and the tempos and rhythms are all over the place--the overall sound is honestly closer to fusion than punk at times. "Idiot," like so many of the others, has a killer chorus that sort of irons the weirdness out but it keeps coming back.

"Just Like Them" is beautiful too (it was actually written by Milo, weirdly enough). really catchy and hard-hitting and it's got one of the most incredible drum fills i've ever heard leading into the first verse--it's like some Zach Hill-style shit; honestly, you will rewind it a million times even if you've heard it a million times. my favorite song though is definitely "Just Living" which is an almost unbearably emotional song. the guitar line in the verse is this weird, wistful, washy thing that kind of reminds me of "Cameage" just in that it's hard to believe how sophisticated and beautiful it is, but also in the tone. the lyrics are just about being sort of strung out and feeling empty: "What about the bills? What about the rent? What about the days in the park you never spent? I wonder what's the use. I need time to have a purpose." Reynolds just sounds so listless and dejected and pissed and weary, and then he gets to the title line: "Not alive, just living," which you're crazy if you can't relate to. the whole thing is hugely catchy and hugely affecting. Tony and i played it in the van last night and it was late on a Sunday and i felt the encroaching week and also it felt like the first real day of fall and i felt like it was time to start girding up for the cold, which is an emotional thing as much as a physical one, at least for me. this song just screamed fall and Tony described it as "brutal" and i was like, "no shit."

i'm not as familiar with the later tracks on the album, though i know they're all good. the lyrics completely hold up on the whole thing and you cannot have this disc on in the background b/c the music is so fascinatingly involved and inventive and just special. also it's got that crazy weird SST production that makes everything sound kind of terrible and muffled but in a way you love and know. the album just has the feeling of being a labor of love in every sense, a lost classic, blah, blah, blah. like Cheer-Accident, these guys are American geniuses, still making really good music. Alvarez and Stevenson back Dando on the new Lemonheads disc and they do a damn good job. word has it that there's a new All instrumental album coming out sometime--that could very well be unreal. get "Allroy Saves" and listen to it as you welcome/resent fall.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Never Not Fun

since i've started writing about music as a job, i've been thinking a lot about what that means. i think basically what i mean is that i'm uncomfortable calling myself a critic.

maybe it's the implications of the word or the profession that piss me off. the stereotype of dispassionate engagement that i just can't get with at all. i know that as a writer i can be whatever i want to be but i'm still not comfortable. it's hard for me to reconcile going to a party and dancing to Madonna for three hours or singing Steve Perry alone in front of the mirror or headbanging to Necrophagist in the car or any of that stuff with sitting at a desk and trying to tell someone verbally what something means or how i feel. sometimes i feel like people who know me and know the way i feel about music might not be able to reconcile that with the way i write, which sometimes feels dry to me. maybe it's dry b/c i take the shit so seriously. i don't like to make jokes when i write b/c the music is too important to me. but then maybe i fall into the trap described above and turn into the stereotype.

Steve Perry is emblematic of all this. i was reading some Village Voice article where the author quoted Greil Marcus talking about Perry's voice. here's what he said: "It was the self-evident phoniness in Steve Perry's voice -- the oleaginous self-regard, the gooey smear of words, the horrible enunciation...." blah, blah, blah--it's like way to tee off on an easy target. i'm sorry but it's hard for me to imagine someone who is describing music with such disdain not just doing it because his dog peed on the rug, or because he feels inadequate in some way or whatever. that whole idea of pop music angering people can often be really annoying; like when Mike Patton or someone like that starts going off on Britney Spears in interviews, it just feels so stale and insincere. let me put it this way: i do not believe in Marcus's disdain.

that may sound stupid, but it is my belief that EVERYONE loves Journey. i know this is dumb and deluded. there are probably a lot of people out there who actually mean it when they say that they're the antithesis of all that is artistic and virtuous and good and all that. but try this: next time you're at a party, go over to the iPod and find Journey's greatest hits, which is fairly likely to be on any given iPod, and put on "Don't Stop Believin'." people will probably start cheering and completely freak out and enter a state of bliss. everyone will become friends. it will be easier for you to make out with whomever you've been hitting on. blah blah. it doesn't matter what it is: if it's not Journey, everyone has some pop song that has the aforementioned effect on them.

i guess that for me, pop music of that sort can give me such an emotional high and it annoys me how as a """"""""""""""""critic"""""""""""""" i'm expected to ignore that part of the way that i listen to music.

i have these mixes that i make called the "Never Not Fun" series. basically the idea is that you can put these on in any environment, with any company and they will immediately make everyone happy. the first volume had a lot of Journey and Perry solo, but also "Rock Your Body" by Justin Timberlake, "Africa" by Toto, "To Be with You" by Mr. Big, "Careless Whisper" by Wham etc, etc, etc. basically THE amazing songs that everyone loves. i've brought this on car trips, played it at parties, etc., and people will literally scream and cheer when the next song comes on. people forget that they're allowed to listen to the music that they actually love instead of what they say to other people--or for that matter publish--that they love.

and i'm not talking about some bullshit guilty pleasure thing, where you act like it's all funny that you love Steve Perry songs. here's the thing: music can be completely anti-intellectual. it can hit your heart no matter what it's doing to your brain. and would you really want a Journey song to make you think the way, say, a Steely Dan song would? like that's what bugs me, that i could write an article that would seem very critically proper about why i loved Steely Dan b/c they're cynical, knowing, wise, etc. etc. when you listen to Steely Dan you feel smart. when you listen to Journey, you feel...happy. i'm not dissing Steely Dan; i fucking love them. i just hate how as a professional opinion giver, there is no way to justify loving Journey, how i'm expected to jump on the Greil Marcus bandwagon of eloquently dissing what millions of people find to be exceedingly blissful. there is no way to critically account for the kind of bliss that listening to Steve Perry gives me. what am i supposed to say? "his voice just makes me feel so goddamn good and makes me want to be a lead singer in an arena rock band so i could touch a million people with a song" or blah blah? you can't say that shit. you're obliged to address the lyrics, the outfits, all the things that make it uncool to like stuff like that. it is not a guilty pleasure. it's just pleasure. and it is a shortcoming of most writing about music, including my own very frequently, that you don't get the sense of how much the writer LOVES music.

there is no other reason to write about music if you don't love it. if i have the chance to tell you how much i love a band, i will do that 9.9999 times out of 10 rather than tell you how much i hate one. that may make me a bad critic. but there are too many people that make good music for me to want to use space to do a negative thing very often. i hate the idea that i'm supposed to want to dress shit down just because that's part of the job. maybe saying all this will get me in trouble. who knows. this is just what i'm trying to figure out as i do this work: how to keep that part of me that wants to fucking blast Michael McDonald intact. it's never not going to be there.

at work, in band practices for bands i'm no longer in, in all kinds of situations i've taken tons of shit for being the guy who likes the funny pop music. no, i'm just the guy who likes whatever he likes. if i'm at a party, i want to dance; i'm not going to put on Cheer-Accident. though i may sit at home all day listening to Cheer-Accident alone. is that when i'm a critic? when i'm listening to and contemplating "serious" music? what about when i'm singing "Careless Whisper" at karaoke Thursdays at the Alligator Lounge? i'll bet Greil Marcus never sang karaoke, i bet he never dances.

Steve Perry is my hero. i have spent hours on YouTube looking for clips just to get some idea of how he could possibly be that amazing of a singer. i have listened to "Foolish Heart" 15 times in a row so i could learn all the words and the cadences. i don't know how the way his voice moves me is related to the pleasure i get when i'm listening to, say, Evan Parker. i guess people can just like a lot of things for a lot of different reasons. but i'm pretty sure that neither is lesser. if you haven't heard it, watch the video for Perry's "Strung Out" on YouTube or just find another way to have a fucking good, blissful time today, like eat a burrito or something. don't bother justifying it to yourself or anyone else.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Unaccidental Cheer (heyo!)

saw Cheer-Accident play last night and it almost broke my heart. Cheer-Accident live is sort of a glorious mess, grab-bag, surrealist sketch show, what have you. plenty of "huh?" stuff, but then the right-on stuff just blows you away--maybe the contrast is part of the effect.

anyway, Thymme Jones--"Thymme" is pronounced "Tim"--is an important figure. this man is a true American musical artist. he is one of the most purely musical people i have ever seen play. i guess what i mean is that he seems completely at home on all of the instruments he plays, but at the same time he makes them all seem like vehicles, like the music is coming out of him and he's happy to use whatever implement is at hand. when he plays drums, he has this wonderful beatific look on his face: he kind of tilts his head back and looks upward and squints, almost as if he's trying to remember where he left his keys. he's not one of those "ecstasy" musicians who grimaces or tries to otherwise portray great effort. his appearance and general bearing are amazing: this is the kind of dude who if he got in line at the bank behind you, you'd think he was some classic rock burnout: baggy jeans, baggy faded blue T-shirt and this huge mane of shaggy greying hair. he just looks like the kind of guy who couldn't not be stoned at any given time. but when you see him play, it's like this angelic force comes over him and he almost seems like a child discovering he can sing and play and he's just as baffled by it as you are. the jokes that are part of Cheer-Accident's music no longer seem conceptual or highbrow or as having any overarching message--it's really just innocent fun from an incredibly sincere band.

aside from Jones's bearing, his playing will floor you. he has this churning groove that can seem laid-back, but then he'll step it up and really pound on certain parts. there's an incredible funkiness and dexterity, but he's one of the most unchopsy players you'll ever see, which is kind of amazing b/c some of the rhythms the band works with would give Neil Peart a hernia. as i said above, his formidable ability really just seems like a means to an end; if that's what it takes to play such awesome music, then that's what he'll do. i remember i first really got psyched on his playing through "When in Vanitas," a mid-'90s album by Jim O'Rourke's This Heat-ish band Brise-Glace. that album has always seemed more like a fascinating curiuosity than a great record--it's basically like these dark prog grooves all cut up and reassembled by O'Rourke; very frustrating at times and not always in a good way, in my opinion--but Jones's beats are just explosively awesome. he likes to do these weird circular patterns where you can't tell where the downbeat is for a few measures. it's almost like some kind of weird lumbering prog-funk, but again, you have to imagine it being played with flair rather than chops.

also he sings and this is where he might make you cry. last night the band did this tune called "Failure" from "Enduring the American Dream." and if you know anything about the band, you know that those titles, which seem like jokes, are deep--when you see Jones sing this song, you know he's really telling you something. it's a strangely timeless piano ballad, with this wistful, almost Broadwayish melody. he sings it mostly in falsetto and the piano (last night Sheila Bertoletti played the parts on a big-ass keyboard) follows along with the occasional strange comment. i once described his voice as "neutered," and i think that's appropriate--it's not an expressive voice necessarily, i.e., there's no throat or grit or wavering timbre, but it's also not an affected one. it's just pure and clear and deeply sad, to me. "Failure" is one of those songs that's so beautiful you feel like you've always known it and you feel like anyone would feel that way about it. it's a clean, sad, beautiful melody that kind of sums up what's so musical about Cheer-Accident.

there was some heavier stuff too, like the first track from the mid-'90s album "Not a Food," and the band really banged it out--top-notch prog with sometimes wacky chords that tell you you're dealing with an essentially Midwestern band. i don't know what i mean by that exactly. maybe i just want to identify with that aesthetic b/c i'm from the Midwest. i don't think Cheer-Accident (they're from Chicago) could be from anywhere else though. maybe that's romantic, but a band that's been around for over 20 years, releasing this incredibly strange, elaborate, inspired music that's completely ignored by everyone but dorks, but they do it with absolute passion and only the wryest hint of cynicism. when i spoke to Thymme after the show, to trade gas money for CDs, as he put it from the stage, i told him i had seen him play in KC in the mid-90s and how i had loved his band for years and all that other crap, and he just sort of kept saying, "Wow, man. Wow. thanks, man." but i knew he meant it. it must be a trip for a genius/lifer like this to go out on the road and see that indeed his work is making an impact, like a really deep impact. i'm not just yapping about myself here: all these dudes from great, sophisticated bands like Time of Orchids, Friendly Bears, Make a Rising, Dysrhythmia, etc. were there feeling the same about it and showering Thymme with happy kudos and wishes and whatnot. maybe Cheer-Accident is a musician's band but i really don't think they have to be. anyone could love "Failure" and i think of it as part of the Great American Songbook in another dimension.

four songs for (Cheer-Accident) beginners:

1. "Learning How to Fly" from "The Why Album" (twisty vocal melody and jacked rhythms. alternate dimension pop masterpiece. or maybe just pop masterpiece.)
2. "Failure" from "Enduring the American Dream"
3. "Find" from "Introducing Lemon" (20-minute epic; first four minutes alone are kind of more epic than the entire song though; heart-rending prog that's as good as Yes but way more down to earth and lovable)
4. "Smile" from "Introducing Lemon" (wistful, sincere, beautiful, sad, smooth-rocking)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Dan of Steel

i have a three-CD changer in my bedroom. a burned Steely Dan CD, which has both "Aja" and "Can't Buy a Thrill," has been in the "number 3" slot for several months. often when i put a CD in one of the other two slots and try to play it, the Steely Dan CD comes on instead. almost always, i decide to keep the Steely Dan CD on rather than stop it and put on what i intended to listen to. like just now, i was going to put on "Symphony for Improvisers" by Don Cherry, which i was going to write about, but then "Black Cow" came on and my listening/blog plan changed.

i first discovered Steely Dan i think about three years ago. i found a greatest hits tape of theirs in the trash and brought it home and listened to it very gradually. for a while i would only listen to "Do It Again," but gradually i gave in to some of the others.

the first song that really grabbed me was "Here at the Western World," which is this B-side that i don't think was ever really released except on the greatest hits disc. it's actually very anomalous for a Steely Dan song, for reasons that are hard to pinpoint. i think really what it is is that the lyrics are unusually serious. usually Fagen and Becker write about characters who are kind of lovably bumbling (or something like that). like if you think about "Deacon Blues," the main character is pathetic and ridiculous but not necessarily sad b/c you can't relate to him at all, probably b/c his fantasy of moving to the suburbs and learning jazz is just so misguided.

in a way, it's hard to relate to the main character in "Here at the Western World" too. but it's a different scenario, b/c in "Deacon Blues," the main character speaks in the first person whereas "Western World" is in the second person--Fagen is speaking to "you." therefore it's harder to get that comfortable, smug distance that one can feel when listening to Fagen sing about losers.

basically the song is about a whorehouse named the Western World. maybe this is a dumb assumption, but i feel like the song takes place in Germany, b/c of the opening line: "Down at the Lido, they welcome you with sausage and beer / Klaus and the Rooster have been there too, but lately he spends his time here." sausage + beer + Klaus = Germany? ok, i guess that's pretty lame.

anyway, it gets better. the chorus goes, "Knock twice, rap with your cane / Feels nice, you're out of the rain / We got your skinny girl, here at the Western World." that image of some over-the-hill businessman knocking on the door of a brothel is really powerful to me. but the fucked up part is that pretty soon, the song takes you inside his head: "In the night you hide from the madman you're longing to be / But it all comes out on the inside eventually." there aren't many songs where Fagen tells his characters what they're feeling; he usually lets them tell their stories themselves, and though they're often very transparent, the words don't cut to the bone that way. in the second verse, Fagen sings, "Lay down your Jackson," which i'd assume is a gun [hey, gotta retroactively interject here that i'm real dumb and that, as a bunch of readers have pointed out, a Jackson is obvi a 20-buck bill. duh.], so it may be that the guy is some sort of a criminal.

i often find myself walking around and thinking about that "madman" line. it's pretty fucked up, the idea of "longing" to be mad.

it's basically a devastating song, probably the heaviest Dan track in my opinion, with "Deacon Blues" running a close second. but if you have a hazy impression of what Steely Dan is about, this will slap you firmly on the wrist and show you how you're completely wrong. i thought of Steely Dan as a joke before i listened to them, a '70s punchline soft-rock band like Hall and Oates or something. and "Yacht Rock" perpetuates that image. but the thing is that you can't make fun of Steely Dan for being breezy or smooth or any of that crap. it just doesn't stick b/c the entire thing is totally self-aware and cynical. listen to "Babylon Sisters" and then "Glamor Profession" for an immediate revelation on that front. "Here at the Western World" was really the one that did it for me, the one that made me a die-hard. i don't think i've listened to any band more frequently or with more pure enjoyment--intellectual, musical, emotional--since.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Doing Splits: blog and Cali

hi, this is going to be the new blog from Hank separate from the Stay Fucked blog. feel like there's no need to subject my bandmates to my rambling crap anymore. below are the last few posts from the band blog to get the ball rolling: my observations on some amazing shows seen over the past few days, including the Melvins, Evan Parker and Cecil Taylor.


just saw Altman's "California Split," which i'd been looking forward to seeing for ages. Elliott Gould and George Segal star--basically a kind of formless essay on bachelorhood, gambling and other "mythical forms of loserdom" (that's taken from Walter Becker's description of "Deacon Blues" in the "Making of Aja" DVD--told you you had to see that!). Altman is one of my very favorite directors and though this isn't one of his best, there are some great off-the-cuff scenes, with Gould stealing the spotlight with his vapidly charming patter. check the scene where he schools some kid in one-on-one b-ball. (reminded me a lot of "White Men Can't Jump," truly one of my favorite films.) most interesting characters are these two hookers that Gould is shacked up with. they're incredibly opaque, eccentric, dissipated--real '70s ennui. the gambling scenes at the end are kind of freaky--the characters are basically sober, but they're so caught up in the hustle that they act all tweaked out. Segal has this massive downer crash after winning $80,000. classic '70s "now what?" ending. not a great movie, but a great period piece no doubt.


Tower stores are closing. tried to score "Complete Communion" by Don Cherry at their going outta biz sale, but no dice. very into the Cherry Blue Notes right now.

Melvins/Blue Notes/Parker/Taylor/MORE

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


the new lineup of the Melvins proved itself a smashing success w/ the recently dropped "(A) Senile Animal," but they sealed the deal big time at Warsaw tonight. the show simply kicked total ass.

openers were weak to piss poor. i'm a huge fan of Joe Lally's bass playing in Fugazi, but his solo stuff doesn't do much for me--basically very chill songs built around bass vamps and Lally's speak-singing. the songs he sang on the last three Fugazi records were awesome, but these just feel half-baked. it was interesting to hear him backed by Dale Crover and Coady Willis of the 'Vins and (of all folks) Melvin Gibbs on "lead" bass, but the set was pretty much a snooze.

Ghostigital (i think one of the dudes from the Sugarcubes) just totally blew. boring arty dance music w/ rambling poetry over top.

then was Big Business who played a really solid set of mostly new stuff. this was the first time i heard them live where the mix was just right. their music is straightforward and relentless and, it must be said, very Melvins-like, but they've got a really strong identity, owing to what awesome players Jared and Coady both are. the notsosecret weapon is Jared's voice, a hugely powerful and melodic instrument. Dale joined in on guitar on a few tracks including "Easter Romantic" from "Head for the Shallow" ("White Pizzazz" was also played, after Dale exited), which i thought was probably the best heavy record of '05.

set segued right into the 'Vins set. the two drummers started up this intricate marchy-type vamp, which led into (i think i'm remembering this right) "The Talking Horse," the first track from the new record (which weirdly was the last track on the promo disc i got; entire record was reversed from actual track order and i'm not sure if that was a mistake or just the Melvins messing around). a good deal of "Animal" was played and the stuff simply sounded flawless (didn't hurt that Warsaw is an excellent room with near-perfect sound). usually the drummers would sort of jam out at the end of the songs and launch right into the next one. pacing and setlist were amazing; i heard songs i never expected to hear live, such as "Revolve," "Sky Pup," "Set Me Straight" and..."Oven," which is perhaps the heaviest song ever written and was like a moment of communion for me and my Stay Fucked bros--we opted to attend this show together instead of practicing--b/c we cover that song live. then there were the staples, such as "Let It All Be," "The Bloated Pope" (totally badass track from the very spotty "Pigs of the Roman Empire" record), "The Bit" (which sounded completely massive and benefited from a creepy drawn-out intro), "The Lovely Butterfly" and "Hooch."

it's true that there are certain songs that are in every Melvins set (no "Night Goat" tonight, though), but they play all the material with absolute conviction; they simply do not phone shit in. you might be wondering why i hadn't mentioned how the new lineup (Jared and Coady from Big Business are now in the band if that wasn't already clear) affects the sound and i think the reason is that the new guys fit in so seamlessly. the new songs already sound like classics and the old ones sound pretty much the same but with the added punch of an extra drummer. i really think this new record is one of the best of the band's career and this live show was a whole lot better than the other two i've seen. special props again to Jared's voice: check his performance on "A History of Bad Men" on the record and you'll see what i mean. like Buzz, he can be ferocious and melodic at the same time.

don't miss this band if they come back! hail Melvins! can't believe how long they've been around and how they keep kicking ass completely outside of the spotlight. who else even comes close to this kind of longevity and consistency let alone constant renewal. damn, these guys are just...


so i wanted to sort of revisit something from the last post. was trying to home in a certain period of jazz and i cast too wide a net. what i'm really talking about are the more avant-garde-leaning records on Blue Note from the early to mid '60s. i think this music is unparalleled in jazz--total virtuosity and control but with an experimental streak. but CONTROLLED, formal, TOGETHER. not free jazz. free jazz lives but it doesn't have the depth of this music. i'm talking about (partial list):

Andrew Hill - Point of Departure (3.21.64)

Andrew Hill - Andrew!!! (6.25.64)

Grachan Moncur III - Evolution (11.21.63--> day before Kennedy assassination! i
interviewed Grachan and he said he got chills listening to the funeral broadcast the next day because the horns playing taps reminded him of the dirgey title track of "Evolution" recorded one day prior.)

Jackie McLean - One Step Beyond (3.1.63)

Sam Rivers - Fuschia Swing Song (12.11.64--> one day prior to Tony Williams's 19th birthday)

Don Cherry - Complete Communion (12.24.65)

Eric Dolphy - Out to Lunch (2.25.64)

you'll notice that Tony Williams appears on many of these. i feel that he is the best jazz percussionist who ever lived, and one of the finest musicians period that i've ever been exposed to. he played music, not drums. utter finesse and conviction in every note. few things feel more sublime to me than the above-mentioned music and especially Tony's part in making it. this was such a special time.

uniformly strong WRITING on these discs. every piece hummable--never just heads. structural fascinations--Cherry's suite formats, Hill's episodic "Spectrum"--solos to melt your heart and brain (think of Jackie McLean on title track of "Evolution"). real improvisation and composition perfectly balanced. it's dumb that Blue Note lets these things waver in and out of print--as much as i love Coltrane and Miles and Duke and a ton of more well known things, these--and a bunch of related sessions from around the same time and with a lot of the same players--are really the essential records for me, my gold standard for jazz.

[a HUGE thanks needs to be given here to Andrew, Joe and Russell, dudes who first helped me cultivate my love of the aforementioned jazz regions and to Schaumann and Jeff, who understand exactly what i'm talking about when i gush about this vital realm of art.]


Monday, October 16, 2006


Don Cherry's "Where Is Brooklyn?" (recorded 11.11.66) is a breathtaking small-group inside-out jazz session. but what Blue Note record from this period and general category isn't? these sessions are just too much for me sometimes: how is it that every one of these players--here it's Cherry, Pharoah Sanders, Henry Grimes and Ed Blackwell--have such a strong identity and concept, that it's Cherry's session, but everyone contributes such a unique sound. this is living jazz. Grimes gets a lot of solo space and he sounds amazing--really extreme dexterity and outness of concept. my favorite piece i think is "The Thing," which is this awesome bluesy piece--supercatchy, like so many of Cherry's pieces. Pharoah digs into this one so hard. he does a lot of screaming/overblowing, what have you on this disc, but on this one, he just grooves. Ed Blackwell is a true great--his blinding speed and just sense of hurtling along is basically unparalleled. when you wanted the music to just move/cook/etc., you called this guy.

i'm so stuck on this period of music. basically all of my favorite jazz albums date to around this time: all the great Andrew Hill's, the Sam Rivers's, "Out to Lunch," the early Miles quintets, "Interstellar Space." Booker Little's "Out Front" and the Five Spot sessions w/ Dolphy are a few years earlier, but it's really like '59-67 or something. shit was just ridiculous during this time.


hey, a quick thanks to my friend and colleague Steve Smith for linking here from his blog, Night After Night, which is a really cool and diverse resource for opinions on all kinds of music. link is way up there to the right where the links begin ("Steve Smith's blog")-->

kinda nervous to be connected from there b/c that blog and many of the other ones that Steve links to are pretty serious, pro-type endeavours. not really sure what this one is. been very irregular about posting and also, everyone should know that this is really in theory the news page for my band, Stay Fucked [ED: this post was originally on the Stay FKD page, but actually, you're now reading this on the Hank alone blog.] though a lot of the posts end up being about shows i've seen or records i'm listening to. basically it's just about me as someone who makes and listens to music a lot. ok--again, thanks Steve.

strange record to think about: Van Morrison - "Veedon Fleece"


Sunday, October 15, 2006


had the good fortune of seeing Evan Parker play solo saxophone for the second time in my life tonight. this was at the tiny Stone. this was, not surprisingly, completely awesome. some quick thoughts:

a) i think about Parker's sound as consisting of a main sound and a residual sound, the latter coming across to me like sonic exhaust, like it sort of shoots out the back as he's playing the main line.

2) his tenor sound has an amazing bite to it, just very gruff and scratchy. in such a small room as the Stone, it had a huge impact.

d) four pieces were played, plus a tiny encore of "Played Twice" by Monk, which i took as a nod to the recently deceased Steve Lacy, who performed that tune on his 1960 (is that right?) LP, The Straight Horn of Steve Lacy. Lacy obviously being a fellow soprano master--the two played together on that Chirps disc which i honestly haven't heard but need to.

H) Parker showed an awesome sense of pacing. the pieces were long, but they ended when they needed to. an interesting contrast with the Cecil show earlier in the week was that Parker seemed to end pieces in a very deliberate manner, like bringing them down dynamically, whereas Cecil would stop very abruptly. both players give the sense though of dipping into this infinite stream, like it's just a constant flow that you're hearing part of--nothing really begins or ends. both can sound repetitive and constantly fresh at the same time--bringing to mind that idea that i heard quoted once that "Cecil Taylor has been playing the same piece of music since the '70s." it's at once dead on and totally false. Parker's the same way--the music is unmistakable and the basic materials are the same but each piece has it's own logic and the really great ones seem totally unique. for example, one of the tenor pieces tonight had this really key melodic element; Parker jumped between registers and created a nice contrast, something almost hummable. strange b/c i don't think of Parker as being about melodies, but about like liquid pitch changes. the sound is like mercury, constantly burbling or gurgling or flowing in this slippery quicksilver way.

1) listening to the sort of "exhaust" pitches described above is a really cool experience. at times, i detected these very regular rhythms happening "behind" the main note flow, like pulses of 5 or 6 beats. it makes me wonder if there's a limit to how much of each level of sound he can control when doing multiphonics, like if it's the sort of thing where when one layer is shifting, the other must remain constant. sorta like a Heisenberg type of thing.

there is endless mystery in these sounds. time spent communing with Evan Parker is like brain floss, totally bracing and wondrous.

thinking about a lineage about such obsessive musicians, who pursue this one ultraspecific sound--though as stated above, with marvelous microcosmic variation--over an entire career. saw two of these types, Evan and Cecil this week. i believe that Mick Barr of Orthrelm, etc. is this type of player as well. you always know it's him and even though his works are very diverse (especially the Ocrilim record), it's still all pointing toward this basic vibe--laser focus. who else? ... are there artists in other mediums? like Rothko or Mondrian or something? something to think about...


Friday, October 13, 2006


got to see...

Cecil Taylor

last night.


at Merkin Hall.

i guess you could say this was one of those check-that-off-the-list-of-things-to-do-in-this-lifetime kind of shows. the best thing about it, for me, was the chance just to do my best to home in and listen really really hard to him for over an hour. obviously i have like 100s of hours of his music on CD, but when you're at a concert, that's all you're doing. sounds obvious, but i was thinking about how that's the best thing about live music, not that it's live, but that it gets your undivided attention--insofar as anything ever does. maybe i just have ADD, but it's just special to me to be able to focus so much.

anyway, he played i think four pieces, interrupted by very brief breaks, during which he turned the pages of what i guess was some sort of score resting on the piano, though it could have been poetry. he recited a short poem before playing which was really awesome, one of the more coherent texts i've heard from him. it was printed inside the program notes and contained stuff about "coefficient of viscosity" and "coriolis" and stuff like that. sounds absurd, but it started w/ (get this) the names of five drummers: Chick Webb, Sunny Murray, Andrew Cyrille, Max Roach and Tony Oxley. so to me, the whole poem was about rhythm. really fascinating.

anyway, the music. i'm avoiding trying to describe this b/c it's so hard. ok, Cecil's music is instantly recognizable b/c you have these sort of musings in really short units where the fingers of his right and left hands will mirror each other. those are the connective tissue of his recent solo music. and then there are obviously the percussive parts, where he'll use either the side of his hand, his fists, or his fingers in kind of a rapid-fire downward stabbing motion. and there's also the really dramatic, usually low-end chords that he often slams on in between the aforementioned spasms.

last night was generally in keeping w/ the Cecil solo i know. in the first piece, he seemed to take a bit to build momentum and toggle somewhat predictably between the modes described above. the second piece was fascinating though b/c at one point, he was clearly playing a written figure--he stared at the "sheet music" and repeated this flowery subtle melody three or four times. there were these strange moments throughout the show where he dropped just the slightest hint of a beautiful, consonant melody and then pulled back. at one point, he paused and i actually felt him hesitate: his fingers were shaking above the keys before he plunged back in. also, he was wheezing audibly throughout--a reminder that he is in fact 77 (!!!!) years old.

dammit, i lost my train of thought, but i was going to comment on some interesting features of the fourth piece. i think some similar stuff was going on in terms of these isolated moments of more conventional beauty than i'm used to hearing from him. this is not to say that i'm one of those people who characterizes him as some basher and is surprised to hear something beautiful from him--far from it. but there was some really delicate, quiet playing in this set. during those parts you could really admire how athletic his hands are. he seems to put as much bodily thrust into his quiet attack as to his loud one. the fingers really dance.

this is the way to experience Cecil. just a beautiful thing to be able to witness. can't imagine ever not being completely awed by this man's music.


ran down to the Mercury Lounge to catch Xiu Xiu afterward. this is the band responsible for what is, i think, definitely one of the best albums released in '06, that being The Air Force. the live show was really, really intense, though i'm not sure i prefer it to the records--really it was a totally different thing. on the album, the music envelops Jamie Stewart's voice, but never overwhelms it; the timbre and lyrics are always right up front. live, unless you know how the vocals go already, you might have a hard time making out just what he's up to b/c this was LOUD stuff with the instrumental interplay taking center stage. and awesomely rhythmic i might add. lineup was: Stewart on vocals, percussion, lap steel, etc.; Caralee McElroy on vox, melodica, samples and probably a whole lot of other stuff; and Ches Smith on drums, percussion and vibes. they played over backing tracks, but got into some really heavy syncopations and rhythmic workouts that reminded me (duh!) of Aa a little bit. Ches did a great job of working with the drum machine and playing what sounded like really powerful, fucked up versions of those crazy 32nd-note dance beats you hear in Destiny's Child and shit like that. Stewart is pretty awesome to watch; he's obviously digging pretty deep and he shuts his eyes tight the whole time. a great show, definitely. it's cool that they're sort of interpreting the album rather than reproducing it.

like i was saying, "The Air Force" is definitely something to hear.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006


in the All Music Guide's review of the new Cannibal Corpse disc, "Kill," the writer refers to them as a black metal band. ouch.

that album is pretty savage, though it gets totally old after three songs. all the players have gotten a lot better than the last time i really checked them out, which was in like eighth grade, around the time of "The Bleeding" (as you can see, they've really got this album titling thing down to a science). i remember my mom said she would buy me an album if i went on a Sunday school retreat and the one i wanted was fucking Cannibal Corpse. thanks, mom!

also in the middle of this alto thing. been enjoying disc 1 of the Jimmy Lyons box set (thanks Scofield for the burn) immensely. it features this drummer Sydney Smart who may be one of the most cooking freetime pulse players i've ever heard--just complete frenzy, but at a simmering temperature. he sounds like he must have been a pretty crazy dude. or maybe really well-adjusted and he just had this crazy side to him. anyway, where are you Sydney Smart? the first track is a boiled-down burner of ridiculously fast and potent freeness, sort of a la Ornette, but sometimes i like listening to Jimmy even more. Raphe Malik is killing too. Lyons's control is scary, obviously translating those superfast liquidy runs a la Bird to the free thing. but that's really the truth. he is that good. also digging Burnt Offering, recommended to me by my free jazz source Russ Baker. [ed: intended to add that i'm now moving on to "Porto Novo," which pairs one of my other alto heroes, Marion Brown, with Han Bennink, mentioned below.]

who, like me, attended one of the Brotzmann/Bennink sets the other night at Clemente Soto Velez. they really cooked. "track" lengths were a little skimpy, but Bennink's chops made me wanna barf. Brotzmann's tarogato was like an annoying little kid wailing. i love the burr of his tone. made me go back and check out "Reserve," this great FMP disc w/ Barre Phillips and Gunter Sommer. basically i feel that Brotzmann is just a texture--you can turn him on or off and he will go and sound really awesome. not so interactive though. don't know how much that matters when all is said and done. though there are some nice quiet bass clarinet passages on "Reserve" that kind of debunk all that. it's not an absolute thing.

"The Departed" was great. i like Matt Damon's Boston accent and boyish macho thing so much. look out for the scene where he picks up the lady shrink in the elevator. he says something like he'd get stabbed in the heart with an icepick if he could go out w/ her. and then the actual date scene is amazing, with both him and her commenting on this weird architectural dessert. most will comment on Nicholson, but it's the painful scenes between Damon and the girl that got me. plot is SO confusing, like "Miller's Crossing" but worse. very brash and audacious, if at times predictably so. whatever, you'll love it.

reading John Feinstein. i love his books about sports. i could give a shit about the Baltimore Ravens, but he writes characters so goddamn well. i love the narratives. proves my point about nonfiction: any documentary work is interesting if it's well told. the subject is totally irrelevant.

Cheer-Accident is coming to town. hail this band. listen to "Learning How to Fly" from "The Why Album" or "Find" or "Smile" from "Introducing Lemon." their drummer/pianist/vocalist/trumpeter Thymme Jones is an utter progpop genius. he plays these sick funky oddtime beats and sings in this beautiful sort of neutered whine. that's not a good description. it's just a pretty high croon sans drama. melodies are something like Beatles meets Yes. hail hail hail this fucking band.

enjoyed Cosmos at ErstQuake. tiny sounds. people laughed at me when i described it. Ami Yoshida is a poet of the throat and a very sad performer to watch--sad as in full of pathos. amazingly austere yet fragile. don't wanna get into stupid cliches re: her gender and ethnicity. listen to Cosmos.

looking forward to: Peter Luger, Cecil Taylor, Xiu Xiu (AMAZING new album), playing the new Stay Fucked song live--it's called "Naked from the Waist Up" and we've had some of the riffs kicking around for several years.

other things of note:

Ocrilim - Anoint
Point Break on DVD - Ultimate Adrenaline Edition
Steely Dan - Making of Aja DVD
The Band - Making of "The Band" DVD
some people that i have encountered recently, both for good and for bad...