man, it's been hard as hell to find time to blog recently. i feel like i'm going to have to go into super-efficient digest mode for this one. i'm going to do a LIST of things i have been finding awesome of late, with potential for elaboration.
1) finally recording w/ Aa. was such a unique joy to play in this band and i was always worried that my contributions to the sound would go undocumented. but i finally went in last night and got a few things tracked. some astounding musical minds in this group--John, Aron, Nadav and now Josh, and formerly Sean and Mike. it's a real pleasure to collaborate with folks like this, especially since what i play in Stay FKD is so utterly different. so... thanks to these dudes and all best of luck in future endeavors (which hopefully will involve me at least intermittently!).
2) Nate Wooley. have loved this guy's trumpet playing for awhile now. he plays as though musical ideas were calories and he's gotta watch his weight--a real efficiency. never moves on until he's really exhausted a concept. i just get a feeling of intense, poignant concentration, even meditation when i listen to him. caught Nate's set w/ Paul Lytton and David Grubbs (!) at the Festival of New Trumpet Music on Sunday and it was really fascinating. look for a published review soon. in the meantime, definitely check out the Lytton/Wooley CD on Broken Research. i don't see it listed on that page yet, but apparently it's out soon. anyway, it's an exemplary document of experimental improv circa '07. brief pieces, very listenable, and again with that deep sense of listening and honoring the ideas you introduce. Lytton sounds NOTHING like he does w/ Evan Parker in this project. check it! (i also love Wooley's 2005 solo disc "Wrong Shape to Be a Story Teller" on Creative Sources. extremely tense, quizzical, almost scarily FRAUGHT music. pins and needles the whole time.)
3) the new reissue of Peter Brotzmann's "Machine Gun" on Atavistic, which was sent to me out of the blue yesterday (thanks, dudes!). how effing easy is it to underestimate Brotzmann? c'mon, raise your hands, you've all done it. yeah, "burly, blustery German tenor in the post-Ayler vein," blah, blah, blah. i'm as guilty as anyone. i've always considered his work as having a ceiling due its perceived one-dimensionality. and i always thought of this record as being basically ground zero for why i and so many others think that way about him. but it's kind of bullshit, i'm realizing. this is a very, very diverse, not to mention deliberate session. the title track has a blowout aspect, sure, but it's also got incredible plotting and pacing. it's a real episodic piece. and the other cuts on the record (one by Fred Van Hove and one by Willem Breuker) are so damn odd and so diverse. "Responsible" even has this sort of calypso thing happening! the live take of "Machine Gun" is also great; it doesn't have that crazy bomb-shelter sound of the original, but you can really hear what's going on so it's a good reference. great tactile playing throughout all this stuff, especially from the basses. so gritty. but so much more spacious than i'd ever thought! i thought i knew this record, but i absolutely did not. it's a RECORD, not just a gesture of brute catharsis.
4) Say Anything. basically my favorite band right now. a more, er, formal expression of this sentiment is brewing, so i'll shut up. but i feel like a damn teenager in anticipation of their new album and upcoming tour. Laal and i may be the only ones there over 12! (is "...Is a Real Boy" one of the greatest rock concept albums ever made, or is it just me?)
5) "The Rest Is Noise," Alex Ross's history of 20th-century classical music. huge fucking ups on this one. this was one of those books that i'd wished someone would write: i.e., a challenging and thorough, yet totally accessible intro to a subject i'd wanted to explore forever. just dipping my toe into Messiaen, Schoenberg, Feldman, Reich and others, but i'm so glad i have a road map. was fortunate enough to be able to interview the author, so i will wave a flag when that piece is readable online.
6) Ben Ratliff's new "Coltrane" book. mentioned this in my previous post about my little '65 Coltrane phase, which is still going strong. a very fascinating, insightful and extremely idiosyncratic book. unlike the Ross tome, i can't say i was waiting for another Coltrane book, but that's sort of what's so amazing about it: Ratliff actually writes the book from the perspective of being weary of all the mythology surrounding Coltrane and so he just methodically dispels it. his approach is not so much cold as incisive. i could never write the way he does, but i really admire the book's economy, the fineness of its points. plus i'm hugely envious of Ratliff's excellent grasp on jazz theory, something i'm a bit of a dummy about. he really helped me understand, at least in broad terms, Coltrane's journey from chord-change playing to modal to free. i have to say that my favorite sections of the book, though, were the ones that dealt with Coltrane's assimilation of Albert Ayler and other avant-garde players.
Ratliff writes that Coltrane "had a baseline authority. He was a master bebop player. The overwhelming percentage of jazz lovers, who as a rule do not like to hear screaming through the horn, would never have tsk-tsked him about not having come to terms with Ayler. He could simply have ignored him." Coltrane as perennial student is one of the major themes of the book. he apparently was able to see the good in just about any musician and Ratliff lets you feel exactly how revolutionary an approach this was.
i found the first section of the book--the step-by-step unpacking of the recordings--a bit more meaty and engaging than the second, which examines the evolution of Coltrane's reputation over the years. but overall, i marveled at Ratliff's unique confidence as a critic. there's no pretension to definitiveness in this book whatsoever. every sentence is a personal statement. it is an extended riff, a work of pure criticism--Ratliff sifting through all the documents and constructing his personal narrative of this man and his myth.
as with "Machine Gun," you might think you've thought enough about Coltrane, but reading "Coltrane" gets you thinking not just about Coltrane but about the way you're thinking about Coltrane. it's a deep book, more a hip philosophical treatise (Ratliff is a critic first, a storyteller second and a fan third) than a jazz-history book. this guy is such a wry, curious writer. his turns of phrase just jump up and bite you. i loved the way he described certain Monk tunes, such as "Four in One," as "gnatlike." anyway, deeply engrossing book and an awesome counterweight to the sumptuous history presented by Ross.