Saturday, March 31, 2007

Quarterly Projection // Left to Beav'

there's nothing like seeing an already great band at the end of a really, really long tour. Dirty Projectors completely blew my mind last night at Europa. i've never known of any band that could change lineups so often and always sound so insanely together. current output is *extremely* funky and infectious worldpop, or some such. just really sharp and twinkly and crisp and exuberant. guitars and razor-clean and very sharp and very trebly, like in African pop. it's like an updating of "Graceland" or something like that. two new female singers harmonize amazingly together. drummer hits insanely hard and plays crushing dance rhythms. to me, this music sounds as new as anything going now. here's a clip from a recent SXSW show:

DP's opened for Hella and if i may be so bold, blew them off the stage in terms of tightness and group chemistry and sheer enjoyability.


have a burning desire to discuss Beaver Harris on here. no discussion of '70s jazz is complete without him. most folks know Beaver (born "William Godvin") as the drummer on some fine Ayler and Shepp sessions. he was definitely on that scene in the mid-'60s and to my ears, as strong a free-jazz drummer as Rashied, Sunny, Milford or any of those guys, if maybe a hair less groundbreaking than the latter two. i'm always happy to see him name on a session from that era.

but what is absolutely forgotten about him is his expertise and immense vision as a bandleader. ok, if i were to nominate, say, five of my favorite albums from the '73-'90 period that's received so much attention of late, i'd have to say that "In:Sanity," by the Harris-convened amalgamation known as the 360 Degree Music Experience, would be a strong contender for the top spot. and it's also part of the illustrious Black Saint/Soul Note catalog i was raving about the other day...

so this group got started in the late-'60s and according to AllMusic, it was a collaborative venture between Harris, pianist Dave Burrell and trombonist Grachan Moncur III (the latter two being, of course, perennial DFSBP faves). the whole idea w/ 360 was exemplified by the title of its first record, which was called "From Ragtime to No Time." basically, Beaver was interested in promoting unity among all jazz players, from trad to free. it's an admirable mission, for sure, and if anyone could carry it out, it was him. he's an absolutely sick drummer in every conceivable vein.

i've heard most of the 360 records. they're all super hard to find. i believe i checked out "Ragtime" years ago at WKCR, and i've got this other nice one called "Beautiful Africa" from a bit later (that one's got Harris's "Afro-Blue"-ish 6/8 anthem, "African Drums," which Shepp made part of his repertoire). but "In:Sanity" is the one that really kills me just for sheer weirdness and ambition. the personnel list is huge. in addition to regular Harris collaborators like Hamiet Bluiett, Burrell and Ricky Ford [realized several days after posting this that Ricky Ford ain't on this disc, but he is on several other Beaver items, including a really awesome '84 session called "Well-Kept Secret" co-led by Harris and Don Pullen, and with cover art by none other than Ralph Steadman (of Hunter S. Thompson fame) and production by Hal Willner, that crazy conceptualist dude who organized the avant-garde Monk and Mingus and Nino Rota tributes and tons of other stuff of that nature. someone desperately needs to digitally resurrect that record; it's easily the equal of "In:Sanity"...], you've got steel-drummer Francis Haynes and Sunil Garg on sitar, which tips you off to what a strange and indescribable sound this band has happening.

check out an excerpt from the opening track "Tradewinds," which is a Burrell piece:

The 360 Degree Music Experience - Tradewinds (excerpt)

(re: why just an excerpt... i'm gonna post the entirety of another track in just a sec; i'm a little wary of giving up too much material from an album that's still in print. this one's hard to find, but Downtown Music Gallery can usually hook you up w/ just about any Black Saint title.)

are you convinced yet that 360 is one of the oddest and most underappreciated avant-jazz bands ever? what in God's name kind of music is this? it's like this beautiful, spooky, orchestral soundtrack thing. the last thing you'd expect to hear on a record led by a so-called free jazz drummer. the piece is just wonderfully arranged and orchestrated and enjoyable right off the bat. it's the kind of piece that immediately sets a mood and banishes any thoughts of genre. it's "just" music.

the rest of the record is badass too and extremely varied. there's some real heavy blowout free jazz, like "Open," which i'm pretty sure is a trio w/ Burrell, Bluiett and Harris," and "Sahara," which is this Caribbean sort of thing written by Taylor and featuring him and a bunch of other steel drummers. maybe the coolest track though is Harris's "In:Sanity Suite, Part 1," which contains the following parts (dig these titles): "Skull Job/Confine of Mine/Dr. Urrutia/Sane Major/'Bye' Centennial March/Separation Tag." here's the entire piece:

The 360 Music Experience - In:Sanity Suite, Part 1

at the beginning you've got weird thudding drums and this droll piano melody that the horns pick up, with the sitar kind of answering. it's got a very loopy sound, very hallucinatory and cinematic. (i really don't know of any other music that sounds like this whatsoever.) so then the steel drums come in and this weird hypnotic vamp starts. it's just totally gorgeous and thoroughly odd. the piano plus the sitar plus the steel drums plus the horns plus Beaver's minimal thuds just make for this wonderfully colorful and surreal blend.

then there's this total scene change around five minutes. it sounds almost like orchestrated Ayler--very triumphant and romantic and woozy. like this awesome wistful fanfare. and then another scene change, to what i assume is "'Bye' Centennial March," a very quirky almost cartoony klezmerish piece. and then right at the end there's like this dissonant vortex of sound, where it sounds like all the instruments are flowing down the drain. it's incredibly strange and delightful and surprising music.

a lot of the other 360 stuff is amazing but it doesn't have quite this high a surreality quotient or such a weird, large assemblage of disparate musicians. "In:Sanity" is a huge achievement and an essential disc. if you only know Beaver as a drummer, you are in for a serious treat.

little epilogue/tidbit: many years ago, i hosted a Beaver Harris tribute show along w/ Beaver's widow, Glo, who was an extremely cool woman. i haven't seen her in many years, but i hope she's doing well. anyway, that show was a trip: Grachan Moncur and Rashied Ali showed up to talk and reminisce about Beaver and some pretty heavy cats, namely Andrew Cyrille and Jack DeJohnette, called in with their thoughts and remembrances. that was a seriously cool program, if i do say so myself; i've got a tape of it somewhere, so maybe someday i'll digitize it and get some of it up here.

one final tidbit, re: that awesome section title "Skull Job" from the "In:Sanity Suite" above... apparently it's a reference to one of the first successful separations of Siamese twins (joined at the skull, i assume), which was performed by Dr. Aureliano Urrutia in Mexico, who (i'm pretty sure bout this, though i may be getting this info garbled) was a relative of Glo Harris. there's a lot of weird info on this Urrutia character out there. i don't know if any of this is true, but it's definitely intriguing.

at any rate, i think you'll find that Harris's music is its own kind of "Skull Job."

btw one: Harris was apparently a hell of a ball player, and i think even did some time in the minor leagues. he was playing baseball in the army and that's where he met Ayler.

btw two: check the awesome album cover of "In:Sanity," w/ some sort of weird "lemonhead" object...

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Trickle-down jazz

time to bust out a few words on one of my very favorite jazz records that i've just been rediscovering, and that would be the mighty "Trickles," recorded just over 30 years ago in NYC by Steve Lacy (soprano sax, duh), Roswell Rudd (trombone), Kent Carter (bass) and Beaver Harris (drums). it's billed as a collective date, but Lacy sorta gets the nod b/c he wrote all the music.

this was one of the first Lacy records i heard back in college and it's still one of my favorites. there are a bunch of really obvious strengths to the record, such as the inspired pairing of Lacy's soprano and Rudd's trombone (Lacy was always best w/ a sharply contrasting foil, be it Rudd, Steve Potts, Charles Tyler, et al) or the presence of the always-incredible Beav on drums, who, to my knowledge, never worked w/ Lacy outside of this session. but the thing that drew me to it then and that still grabs me is the strangeness of Lacy's writing.

one time Stay Fucked (my band) was being interviewed and we were asked how we'd describe our sound. we coined the term "obnoxticore" and that stuck for a little while. basically the quality of obnoxiousness was and has continued to be a goal. this isn't to say that we're all that jokey or even bratty per se, but it really has to do with this sense of insistent minimalism, of just sticking on a few riffs and sort of grinding them into the ground while making tiny changes.

Lacy's tunes on this record totally earn the obnoxticore tag. he's always been a staunch minimalist, but these pieces are really, really bonkers--almost maddening in their queasy, flailing repetiveness. i think he got a lot of that mischievousness from Monk, who had his fair share of obnoxious tunes ("Off Minor," "Worry Later," "Friday the 13th" and "Epistrophy" are just a few that come to mind as especially taunting and kind of bratty), but he pushes it to the max here.

the title track has a totally insane head. it's like four unrelated vamps, all totally stumbling and lopsided and crazed-sounding. Lacy does this little cadenza thing and then the band is off, just hammering on these crazy, repetitive figures. it almost sounds like the record is skipping. there's actually a lot of variety in the other tunes: "I Feel a Draught" is spacious and AACM-y, full of little sounds; "Papa's Midnight Hop" is funky and swaying; "Robes" is expansive and swinging and gorgeous, with Rudd adding some pealing chimes.

but the definitive track might just be "The Bite" and this is the one i'm going to post. it starts where "Trickles" left off and goes even further. listening to this tune is seriously like banging your head against the wall (the "A" section) and then stumbling around and falling into things (the "B" section). it is one of the most repetitive, simplistic, obnoxious, audacious and straight-up fucking awesome jazz tunes i've ever heard in my life. this is the definition of the word droll and that mood continues into the queasy, wary improv. as i've said so many times, i love free jazz that subverts the ecstatic paradigm. this is curious, deranged, loopy, idiosyncratic jazz. it's full of listening. listen to how the improv breathes, how the horns play off each other, how Beaver creates this carpet of rhythm at such a contained volume. the out head is even more nauseating and lurching. don't forget: where i come from, these are compliments! this is a masterpiece.

Steve Lacy, Roswell Rudd, Kent Carter and Beaver Harris - The Bite (3/76)

"Trickles" is just one of countless classics on the twin Italian Black Saint/Soul Note labels. (does anyone know what the quantitative difference between those labels is? are they totally separate? is it a time thing? i'm answering some of my own questions as i type. check out this interview with BS/SN boss Giovanni Bonandrini, who maintains that Soul Note was started to free Black Saint from a stricly avant-garde paradigm. muy interesante!) it occurs to me that that catalog is one of the most formidable and underrated in jazz history. you talk about your '70s and '80s jazz: you could trump anyone who said that jazz sucked during those decades simply by producing a list of recordings on those labels. they documented everything! like ESP, BYG, Blue Note and Impulse rolled into one.

Black Saint/Soul Note has never enjoyed the cache of any of the aforementioned labels and i wonder why. is it the dorky rainbow-spine motif? is it the sometimes garishly-rock-style drum production? or is it something simpler, like the perennial lack of good U.S. distribution? i'm trying to find a complete label checklist but can't; all the same, i feel that this catalog stands up respectably to any of those mentioned above. i think it easily trumps BYG, if not ESP as well. maybe it's silly to be pitting these wonderful institutions against one another, but it just seems odd that BS/SN is so often left out of the discussion. maybe it's that ESP and BYG totally played up that primitive "energy-music" vibe, which has been wholeheartedly embraced by rock fans moonlighting as free-jazz admirers, and that's something BS/SN never indulged in. those labels had nothing going for them aestheticaly, other than, uh, pretty much every progressive jazz artist of note recording for them.

think about it: the countless Lacy discs (including the awesome Monk/Nichols tributes), the stunning series of Braxtons, the s/t Old and New Dreams record, the solo Don Pullen records, the solo Andrew Hills, Cecil's "For Olim," the Mal Waldrons, the Airs, etc. etc. for chrissakes, the freakin' BEAVER HARRIS/DAVE BURRELL 360 DEGREE MUSICAL EXPERIENCE ("In:Sanity" may be the straight-up most unfairly overlooked jazz record of all time and if i can get my shit together, you'll be hearing more about that here soon.) i even remember loving this crazy record by bassist Art Davis w/ Pharoah Sanders. the discography is just staggering. "Trickles" is only the beginning...

wish someone would just buy the rights and put these damn records in stores. in the meantime, there's always the almighty Downtown Music Gallery, which always has an insane number of these in stock. speaking of DMG, stopped by today to meet Mr. Anthony Braxton and give him a copy of this article. he was real cool and gracious. can't wait to see him play Saturday and to see Nels tomorrow and also (!) to see Andrew Hill tomorrow. check this out. Hill plays at 1pm for $2! you gotta go.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Brothers of the 'sphere // Hive at it // Dewo exchange

gracias to those that answered my somewhat mopey plea for feedback. one productive thing that came outta that inquiry was that i learned of a very cool musician-run blog, which would be Harris Eisenstadt's Tie a Bow Not a Knot. Harris is a percussionist and composer who i've heard a ton about but haven't checked out too much. i hope to remedy that in the near future. in the meantime, i'm enjoying his blog/travelogue. he's been in Senegal studying African drumming and he's posted a bunch of videos of his teachers playing. some really, really sick shit on there that i couldn't even begin to understand but can easily dig.

in other blog news, i loved Steve Smith's recent post on the Cryptonights festival currently occurring at Jazz Standard. he does a great job of contextualizing the Crytpo label in terms of the West Coast jazz developments that gave rise to it. speaking of the Crypto thingie, i'm very much looking forward to hearing Nels Cline and band do Andrew Hill on Thurdsay.


listening to a very nice little miniature CD that i picked up from Joe Colley when i saw him play in Chi-town. this one is called "Hive" and as far as i can tell it is on a French label called Ferns (if you go to this Aquarius page and scroll down a bit, you should be able to order it).

so this one is a little gimmicky, i admit. check the package text: "Source sounds from beehive...," and then later on, he refers to "hive embedded contact microphones." and the artwork has honeycombs on it and all that. kinda cutesy. but the recording is so not gimmicky/cheap what have you. the bee sounds are there, sure, but they're so rich and attractive and droney but at the same time gross and scratchy and sort of wet or something. he really captures this sense of teeming aliveness/alien landscape. i'll post a little excerpt just so you can get an idea of what it's about.

Joe Colley - excerpt from "Hive," second untitled track

i'd definitely suggest picking up "Hive" b/c it's just a cool little document. i'm intensely impressed by all the Colley stuff i've heard, but for some reason, his littler documents (like this other 3" CD called "No Sound Has Ever Been Heard") have hit me harder than his big ones. need to really dig into the new full-length, "Waste of Songs," at some point and see what is what.


another thing that i think you should sample is Dewey Redman and Ed Blackwell's "Red and Black in Willisau," an absolutely killer live duo session recorded (i believe) in 1980. while listening to Blackwell on this, i thought of a way to express how i feel about his playing. his boxy, concise, demarcated swing and the way he sort of arranges these tight little one- or two-bar phrases makes it seem to me like he's always thinking in terms of trading fours. i.e., it often sounds like he's thinking of these little manageable rhythmic units, and they're just so damn satisfying and swinging. i know it might sound like i'm accusing him of squareness, but it's really just tightness of logic i'm speaking of.

Redman is just grooving. i don't know how else to put it. so swinging and joyous and patient. he's just having a great time in this setting you can tell. this session is absolutely mesmerizing b/c it just moves, leisurely but swift. it is very much a study in flow, bouncing, buoyancy, bopping. both players just seem generally up for creating some very fun and celebratory jazz, full of joyful movement. here's a choice excerpt from the long opening track...

Dewey Redman and Ed Blackwell - Willisee (excerpt)

around 2:45 you can hear a little of the trading-fours feel i was talking about. Redman totally picks up on that too, the idea of playing in these tight, resolved, digestible phrases. this is the kind of improv where you can sing the lines back right after you hear them--this is not ecstatic jazz, but rather the kind where you really hear a kind of instant, simultaneous composition happening between the two players. gracias mucho to my friend Herr Schaumann for tipping me off to this record, years ago no less... come to think of it, i also probably wouldn't have heard Joe Colley were it not for him.

Monday, March 26, 2007

And Tyler too

have been off my game a few days. feeling a bit rusty. have a really nice Charles Tyler track on in the background. trying to thaw myself out a bit. i've found that blogging is very much a momentum thing, or an inertia thing or what have you. it's very much about jumping in and not thinking too much before you start and if you proscrastinate, it's harder and harder to get into it. all i can say is if you like what you're reading, drop a comment in, even just to say "hear hear." feedback is good fuel for the lonely typist.

anyway, enough about "the process." so this is Charles Tyler we're talking about. a very accomplished and intriguing Kentuckian saxophonist who got his start playing with Albert Ayler. there has been some lively discussion of him at late over at the awesome Church Number 9, including a posting of a 1981 album called "Definite, Vol. 1" that i have not had time to dig yet.

wanted to weigh in with a little on what i think is awesome and maybe not so among Tyler's work. believe i first heard of him re: Ayler (he's on "Bells" and "Spirits Rejoice," and that might be it of the officially released stuff), and then began exploring the offerings in the WKCR library. one record i have a vivid memory of despite not having heard it in many moons is "Folly Fun Magic Music" on the French Bleu Regard label. again, it's been ages, but the first track "Ride of the Phantom Politician" made a big impression; i recall it as a ghostly version of "Ride of the Valkyries." alas, this record ain't in my possession. wonder if it's still in print. (am seeing that the BL label does indeed have an active website though it is a bit too not-in-English for my purposes. as far as i can tell, you can actually order titles from the label though. hmmm...)

i'd like to respectfully differ w/ C#9 in recommending Tyler's ESP sessions, a self-titled one from '66 and one called "Eastern Man Alone" from '67. i hate to say it, but i think Ayler's influence is a bit too pronounced on both of these. for one, there's a track on the former called "Three Spirits" that sounds *so* much like Ayler's "Ghosts" that i can't really take it seriously. the opening track on that disc, "Strange Uhuru" is a pretty nice ghostly dirgey kind of a think, but the fluttering vibrato and spooky vibe complete with strings still just sort of add up to Albert on alto. it's not a bad recording; i just don't hear that he's shaken his mentor's vibe yet.

just heard "Eastern Man Alone" for the first time, and it's decent but not as awesome as i was expecting given the super-odd and compelling instrumentation--Tyler plus two basses plus a cello (!). some of the tunes, like the opening "Cha-Lacy's Out East," tap into this sort of free-jazz/funk vibe that Tyler explored a lot. it and the subsequent "Man Alone" are fun tunes, kinda bouncy and vampy, but they grow a little tedious. best track is the very beautiful mournful ballad "Le-Roi." it's a good record, but i can't say i'm in love with it.

anyway, enough of the boring lukewarm crap. i think the true truth is when Tyler rocks the baritone, which is not in evidence on the ESPs. while in Chi-town recently, i picked up a really cheap cut-out copy of "Sixty Minute Man," a 1979 solo (!) Tyler record on the Adelphi label. (go here for exegesis of the title track, a version of an old R&B tune, which appears to be intensely raunchy.) this is some really, really hot shit. i will provide you a link in just a minute, but i want to tell you a few things. there are numbers on both alto and baritone, but the baritones are the real deal.

this one called "A Tale of Bari Red" is especially lowdown and sick. the theme has that kind of marchy free-funk vibe i described above. Tyler really digs into the nasty low end of the horn. a truly volcanic flow and deep swaggering soul. i think that bari should sound a little bit unwieldy even in a master's hands, like the player is wrestling with it, and Tyler captures that grappling vibe. occasionally he fixates on this shuddering, warped sound, like heat-line vibrato or something. don't know how the hell to describe this, but listen at about 7:20 in the mp3 and you'll hear what i mean. it's a sick track. gotta give props to my man Russell Baker (still spinning heads--not to mention primo free-jazz delicacies--on alternate Wednesdays during WKCR's "Out to Lunch" progam.)

so here's that (my first vinyl rip for DFSBP!):

Charles Tyler - A Tale of Bari Red (from "Sixty Minute Man"; Adelphi, 1979)

and another stunning example of Tyler's bari control would be "One Fell Swoop," a fucking rad Steve Lacy Quartet sesh recorded in Paris in '86 and released on Silkheart (believe you can order from the label here!). the soprano/bari combo is an inspired one, first explored by Lacy on "The Straight Horn of..." way back in the early '60s (Charles Davis was the low man on that one), and here with Lacy's standard '80s rhythm crew (Oliver Johnson on drums and Jean-Jacques Avenel on bass), you are in for some free-swinging and highly sophisticated expatriate vibes. there are really no bad tunes on this. the title track is one of Lacy's manic, minimal obsessive figures (anyone know the record "Trickles" w/ Roswell Rudd? talk about some crazily manic, minimal shit. need to post from that methinks...) and there are great readings of Monk's also incredibly minimal and strange "Friday the Thirteenth" and Lacy's gorgeous, fluttering poem "Keepsake" (word up to Lacy's incredible sextet version of this one, recorded just a month later and released on "The Gleam"--do not get me started on Lacy's classic sextet music. suffice it to say that i find anything that contains Lacy, Bobby Few and Oliver Johnson--and by implication Steve Potts, Irene Aebi and Jean-Jacques Avenel--to be among the hippest most joyous most Free jazz i know. that band is true expatriate bliss right there).

anyway, but i'm posting none of that and am giving you instead a brief funky, rompy Tyler-penned tune entitled "The Adventures Of." major swagger and bari/soprano register war here. Tyler squares off R&B style with the completely sick rhythm team resulting in maximum funk, while Lacy does as usual and lilts to his own so-swinging-it-sounds-stiff inner pulse. is he the most unflappable soloist of all time? the dude feels no compulsion to ride the rhythm in any literal sense. abstract soul at its finest and an awesome contrast with our boy Tyler.

so here's that:

Steve Lacy (feat. Charles Tyler) - The Adventures Of

Bleu Regard has a helpful list of Tyler's recordings. i'm salivating b/c there is so much from the '70s, '80s and '90s that i ain't heard. if the two recordings above are any indication, late-career (or at least post-ESP) Tyler is definitely where the shit is at. would love to see some brave blogger undertake a real parsing of all those obscure late Tyler records.


real quick: see "The Prestige." checked it out w/ Laal this weekend and was blown away by how fun and narratively swift and diabolical it was. directed by Christopher Nolan of "Memento" fame but despite being very plot-twisty, it has none of the gimmicky machination of that earlier movie. it's very poignant and scary and the 1800s-London setting is vivid as hell. no one gives a bad or even remotely half-assed performance. dig David Bowie as Nikola Tesla! this movie tells a slowly unfolding and increasingly complex story about rival magicians (how you can not love this subject matter?!?) and you can't wait to see what happens next and everything is poignant and interesting and above all fun to watch. why can't every Hollywood movie be this enjoyable and gripping? SEE IT.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Sharrock steady and more

do you remember in "Boyz in the Hood" when "Ooh Child" comes on Laurence Fishburne's car stereo and he turns it up and he's all like, "Man, I love this *song*!" and he's just totally groovin' and whatnot? there's a couple parts like that in "Jackie Brown" too--scenes of people just blissing out listening to music.

anyway, there was this one time where i was DJing the early morning show at WKCR and i threw on "Who Does She Hope to Be?" which is this gorgeous ballad from Sonny Sharrock's "Ask the Ages" record. the song played for a little bit and then the phone rang. i always loved getting calls from listeners, even if they were outraged "you call this jazz?" complains. but anyway, i pick up and this dude was like, "Man, thank you so much for playing this. i love this *song*! i'm just driving to work and it sounds so nice." i'm paraphrasing, but you get the idea. i remember that the image of Laurence Fishburne groovin' out popped into my head; i just imagined this guy cruising to work in a convertible, wearing shades and basking in the sun, just chilling out listening to Sonny.

Sharrock's music delivers that direct shot of emotion more than almost anyone else's that i've heard. his best performances accomplish his central mission, as stated by the man himself: "I want the sweetness and the brutality, and I want to go to the very end of each of those feelings... I've been trying to find a way for the terror and the beauty to live together in one song. I know it's possible." that's obviously some seriously deep shit. it's funny, b/c there were definitely times when Sonny went perilously far in one or the other direction. anyone who's heard "High Life" knows that his '80s solo work could verge on smooth jazz, and Last Exit is sort of the flip side, where he's just chasing the noise most of the time.

i respect both of those directions, but i don't think they're necessarily where the terror and the beauty truly lived together. for my money, those vibes united best on "Guitar," his solo disc from '86. yeah, i know that "Black Woman" and "Monkey Pockie Boo" have that wild free-jazz cache, but neither of those is a true classic in my opinion. "Guitar" is quite simply one of my favorite records ever.

it's a simple concept really. on most of the tracks, Sonny lays down a simple, jangly melodic vamp and then he solos over it. that's it. most of the pieces are real short. some of the record is really over the top. "Black Bottom" is this really raunchy blues thing, and "Blind Willie" is like this swirly, psychedelic FX fest.

but some of the tracks are just compltely pure and free. "Devils Doll Baby" is maybe the purest Sharrock recording i can think of. it's just this free extrapolation thing that kind of worries over this one melodic fragment. meanwhile there's a track of what amounts to howling static in the background. there's your terror and beauty right there. the logical melodic movement of the piece and the way it keeps returning to this sort of center-of-gravity motif remind me of John Fahey's freer stuff. at their best, both guitarists played what i've referred to as Total Music. the Fucking Champs (or their label) sorta coined that term but they don't really deserve it. basically i use it to refer to that point when a musician has totally broken free of genre and is just playing him- or herself. it's like the sound of freedom or something, where the musician just has so much music at the fingertips that it just sort of happens. total music is usually solo and is usually at least partially improvised and is almost always made in the later stages of a musician's career; it flirts w/ genre but isn't contained by it. Fahey is probably my number one in this regard, but Sharrock gets there from time to time. Dave Burrell is another one.

anyway, i really really love "Princess Sonata," the suite of four tracks at the end of "Guitar." the first and last parts are pretty fleshed out but the middle two are just these weird miniature curiosities. "Like Voices of Sleeping Birds" has this pleasant, leisurely strumming in the background, and then over top of that Sonny is just sort of wigging out with the slide. the lead is noisy but not angry; it just sounds like he's having fun wringing loopy sounds out of the instrument, kind of using it as a noisemaker. that one's very brief.

the real sleeper track on the album is the next one, "Flowers Laugh." it's got this stately, palate-cleansing prelude and then it moves into this almost goofy sounding lopsided staccato vamp. Sonny's lead part over it is this trilly, frilly thing. his tone is so amazingly brittle and hollow. it definitely sounds like a one-take kind of a deal; he just kind of explores this one trilling effect and trails off as the rhythm track moves out of the vamp. it's a tiny enigma.

"Guitar" is sorely in need of reissuing. it's fucking unadulterated Sonny, and there's not a lot of his stuff you can really say that about. a lot of his leader records--like "Sieze the Rainbow," for example--are fun, but kind of clunky and unsatisfying. and as i said, i enjoy Last Exit and the early "Black Woman"-type stuff just fine, but they do not give you a flavor of Sonny the brilliant melodist and composer whatsoever. yes, he's a pioneering noise guitarist, but that is literally only half of what makes him special. "Guitar" lays it all out for you. i only wish he had recorded a second volume of solos.

there's been some nice Sharrock web activity of late, namely this lovely entry at (where else?) Destination Izzout, which has basically become a friendly neighborhood trading post for free-jazz nerds like myself. they post the "Space Ghost" tracks. yeah, the "Space Ghost" tracks. go there to see what the hell i'm talking about. also, as the D-O boys say, don't neglect the Sweet Butterfingers site run by the indefatigable Margaret Davis.

in other Sonny news, don't think a lot of folks know that he actually has had his own official website,, for quite some time. it's maintained by someone named Netty, whom i suspect is a relative. the coolest part of this site is the media archive, which contains some very, very brief (like 10 seconds apiece) viddies of Sonny, including one of him performing with... Bill Cosby! very cool. there's a few things on YouTube as well, including a Last Exit clip uploaded by the Flying Luttenbachers' Weasel Walter which has the caption "mountains of cocaine" or something like that.

anyway, here are some tracks to check out:

Devils Doll Baby

Flowers Laugh

(both from "Guitar," 1986)

Who Does She Hope to Be? ["i love this *song*!"]

(from "Ask the Ages," 1991)

Your Eyes

[this one's a guilty pleasure and may horrify some. there's no denying its overwhelming resemblance to dentist's-office jazz. but it's so damn catchy and twangy all the same. it's still got that sweet bite, even though you know you'd run screaming if you didn't know it was Sonny.]

(from "Highlife," 1990)


1) has anyone heard any of the post-Sonny recordings by Linda Sharrock? discovered this weird label, Quinton, that has some of her late stuff, described as singer-songwriter material. do folks know if she's alive? and if so, whereabouts is she? does she perform?

2) has anyone heard this brand new limited edition beast? i so want this. i need this. but i'm holding out for a potential CD release. i love vinyl, but my LPs just don't get listened to w/ the frequency that they should.

3) what do people think of the weirdo Sonny/Linda collabo "Paradise"?


anyway, saw Werner Herzog's "The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser" over the weekend. had been waiting to dig this one forever and was faintly disappointed. next to Ross McElwee, Herzog is my favorite documentary dude, but i gotta say, i'm not crazy about the fiction films of his that i've seen. like "Fitzcarraldo" and "Aguirre," "Kaspar" is a kind of episodic mood piece, centered around one actor.

"Kaspar" is basically about this dude who, after being raised in total seclusion for 20 or so years, suddenly appears in this small German village. it's based on a true story from the 1800s. Herzog's treats Kaspar's story as social critique; like so many other "noble savage" sorts of tales, Kaspar makes all the so-called "rational" villagers who attempt to analyze him and teach him the way of the world look silly. the message becomes clear very quickly: Kaspar's untrained mind is purer and more insightful than all these scholarly types. but that whole thing grows a bit tiresome.

that said, the movie has some really poetic, understated sequences, and Bruno S. does an awesome job in the title role. he's a very charming character, always marching about stiffly with his eyes opened comically wide. i was surprised to find out that Bruno S. actually did suffer horrible abuse as a child, so maybe he's drawing on that a bit in his portrayal of Kaspar's trauma.

anyway, i liked the movie, but didn't love it the way i do Herzog's docs, such as "Grizzly Man," "The White Diamond" and (my favorite) "Herdsmen of the Sun," which is this incredible but hard-to-find film about the strange androgynous mating rituals practiced by the Wodaabe people of the Sahara. maybe it's that i miss his awesomely Teutonic narration? or maybe it's just that i find his fiction films slow and overly deliberate. i know it's sacrilege, but i felt that way about "Aguirre" and "Fitzcarrldo" too. i enjoyed them, but i sort of felt like i got the point near the beginning and didn't necessarily need to check out the whole thing. anyway, a lot of folks will hate me for saying that.


also, i'm finally realizing for real why "Dortmund (1976)" is a lot of people's favorite Braxton recording. so fucking tight and focused. the band is just locked. the Braxton/George Lewis frontline is unstoppable. just picked up "Four Compositions (Quartet) 1983" featuring Lewis and i can't wait to dig in. i know there are two Braxton/Lewis duo discs, and i remember them being smokin' but i haven't heard them in years.

quick shout-out to Braxton's Arista LP, "For Trio," which is Composition 76. it's two sidelong readings of the same piece, which is like this weird episodic, modular thing, each w/ different personnel. one awesome feature of the record is the stereo separation. on each side, Brax is in the middle, flanked on side one by Douglas Ewart and Henry Threadgill and on the other by Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman. heavy-ass company. this is maybe Braxton's most overtly AACM-y document, in that it's very sparse, rigorous, experimental and process-oriented ,and very, very committed to multi-instrumentalism. the players switch axes after almost every phrase. it's a very spatial, conceptual sort of a thing. very choppy, with very little sense of flow. but the rigor becomes satisfying and it's cool to compare the versions. gotta love the LP, with its photos of the instrument menagerie at the session, including Threadgill's wall of hubcaps.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


the snow has kept me inside, but there's been some good music happening.

listened to all of Braxton's "Six Compositions (Quartet) 1984." it's an absolutely beautiful record, and for me, an easier-to-digest document of Braxton's '80s quartet ideas than the double-disc live Leo sets from '85. i was thinking how important it is to be able to read Braxton's liner notes and look at the images of his scores while you're listening. i have burned copies of a lot of the other quartet stuff--hey, a lot of it isn't too easy to come by--but i've got this one on vinyl and i'm glad i do.

with the studio records from this period, the compositions are performed separately, as opposed to the live ones, where they're strung together. so you can see how each composition is like a little laboratory experiment; each one has its own little area of research. the one i'm listening to right now is 110A, of which Braxton says it "seeks to emphasize curved sound dynamics." i'm not sure exactly what that means, but you can definitely hear a sense of gradual curving in the methodical up-and-down lines that make up the piece. the graphic title has these hooded, grey ghostlike figures; very cool and spooky. i love how these images complement the pieces.

the record also has two "impressionistic ballade structures" dedicated to Braxton's wife, Nickie. "chamber jazz" gets thrown around a lot, but that's pretty much what these pieces are: brief, reflective, fairly meticulous. but there's some really nice, subdued soloing as well, especially Braxton's clarinet improv on "Composition No. 110D," which has a really lonely, liquid sound. the graphic title of the piece contains the really awesome text "Nickie Journeys to the City of Clouds to Make a Decision." wow.

the record also contains the awesome 115, which is, as Braxton puts it, "an accordion sound space context that stretches and contracts the sound space." basically what this means is that the tempo increases and decreases throughout the piece. this could be a disaster, but the band functions so tightly (or i guess that would be loosely) that it sounds completely amazing. a real feat, that one.

No. 116 is a motherfucker, with some very heavy pulse-tracking going on. in the liners, Braxton's talking about how he's very excited about this method and in "Forces in Motion," he posits 116 as kind of the epitome of pulse-tracking. a pulse track is basically a long notated series of accents, with improv spaces of defined numbers of beats interspersed. usually, it's just bass and drums getting in on this, but here the sax and piano do as well; Braxton points out that sometimes at least three separate rhythms are happening. i think i've successfully heard two at a time in this piece, but i'm not sure. the overall effect, though, is that you're always second-guessing whether each player's part is composed or improvised; you have to listen very closely to hear who's synching up and who's just blowing. very dense and amazing.

anyway, this is a serious record; probably in print but tough to find on CD. unfortunately the graphic scores aren't on the Restructures page, so you'll just have to pick the record up. again, to restate, it's very enriching to have the titles and composition notes handy while listening (as he says in "Forces in Motion," a record producer who doesn't print his titles or composition notes is "no friend of mine." all in all, a very good reason to buy rather than burn Braxton if you possibly can.


just finished watching one of my favorites movies, "The Talented Mr. Ripley." has there ever been a better embodiment of bourgeois decadence than Jude Law's Dickie Greenleaf? his perfect tan coupled with his dabbling in jazz (he names his sailboat "Bird") just makes for epic WASP pretension. you want to believe that Law is so good at playing this character b/c he simply is this character, but that's probably not giving him enough credit.

Damon is formidable as well. he does an amazing job at projecting insecurity and nerdiness. his trauma becomes very real by the end. it's just a really disturbing and powerful movie, mainly because you sympathize a lot with Damon wanting to be a part of Law's perfect world, even while you judge him as a madman. Blanchett, Philip Seymour Hoffman, etc. it goes on and on. part of me wants to live in the happy, sunny, Italian parts of this movie. it's just a really, really intoxicating piece of scene-setting and therefore it's all the more poignant when everything comes crashing down.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Let "Loose" // Ton of Brax // THB on J@LC

it's been too long a week for my liking and now comes the sleet...

anyway, last night, after we had stalled on a Jacques Cousteau doc about the search for Atlantis that was cool in theory but ultimately too slow, Laal finally convinced me to check out "Loose Change," a full-length 9/11-was-an-inside-job flick viewable on Google Video.

i was skeptical about this for probably the same reasons everyone else is. conspiracy theories are tiresome in general and i was sick of being handed fanatical pamphlets on the street and whatnot, not that i had ever really investigated this stuff. but this movie lays it out for you pretty clearly. in fact, it's incredibly convincing. not to mention terrifying.

if you believe the claims made in this film--and i have to admit, it's hard not to be seriously skeptical after watching it--the evidence against 9/11 having gone down the way we've been told it did is overwhelming. some of the more glaring info on offer here:

1) if the WTC towers and WTC 7 collapsed because of a fire caused by the airplane crashes, they would've been the first skyscrapers in history to do so. tons of experts and eyewitnesses say that there were multiple auxiliary explosions--clearly visible on video of the incident--and that there's no way the towers would have collapsed so thoroughly without additional firepower.

2) in the months leading up to 9/11, the owner of the WTC negotiated a gigantic insurance policy to protect the buildings against terrorist attacks, and tons of people took out "put options"--basically a speculation that a stock will fail--on the stocks of the airlines in question.

3) the wreckage of all the plane crashes is highly suspect. the film shows how no bodies or significant airplane debris was found at either the Pentagon site or the Flight 93 crash site. tons of experts say that both "crashes"--as well as the ones on the towers--were likely staged missile attacks, with no commercial airplanes involved.

4) there is basically no way that any of the cell-phone calls we've all heard about could have actually happened; as we all know, cell calls can't be made from 32,000 feet.

anyway, it goes on and on. there's an incredible quote at the beginning from this conservative think-tank (including Rumsfeld, Cheney, Jeb Bush and others) which reads, "...the process of revolutionary change is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event--like a new Pearl Harbor."

i'm not really sure what to think or what to do from here, but i'm extremely glad i saw this and it's definitely worth taking a peek. it will draw you in immediately. the narrator is annoyingly glib at times and the trip-hop in the background is pretty cheesy, but the onslaught of facts from reliable sources and the methodical intelligence of the argument are hard to deny. i'm not going to say i'm 100% onboard with the film's claims, but my suspicions and fears are certainly aroused.


Braxton interview went very well, thank you. more on that project later.

for now, i am still immersed in his universe. let me say that my favorite of the Ghost Trance documents is the recent "Quintet (London) 2004." for reasons that will be obvious to some, i feel odd gushing too much about this one, but let me just say that i think it's the fullest realization i've heard on record of the freedom Ghost Trance offers. inspired playing throughout, but i've got to nod to Satoshi Takeishi, an incredibly deep and subtle percussionist. kind of like the next step after Tony Oxley or something. anyway, get this one.

was very surprised to hear "First Species" Ghost Trance for the first time in the form of the Istanbul sextet concert from '96. Braxton was working with an incredibly minimal concept at that time, and though it can be numbing, the sheer focus of the concept is remarkable.

the "Willisau" box set from '91 (thanks, Steve Smith) rules in a very intense way. sooo much information on that thing. it's really a landmark document. the live stuff contains some of the most ferocious Braxton playing i've heard; some of the stuff even sounds like conventional "fire music" free jazz at times. the variety of the compositions is amazing and the "sidemen" are absolutely inspired. wish that set wasn't so damn o.o.p.

here's a little snippet. i do not wish to do a disservice to the music by chopping it up, but i wanted to draw attention to the laserlike wizardry of one particularly Braxton outburst. he sounds like a fucking irate dolphin here. check it out:

excerpt from "No. 23N (+ 112 + 108A + 33)"
6.2.91, Willisau, Switzerland
Braxton, Marilyn Crispell (p), Mark Dresser (b), Gerry Hemingway (d)


lastly, i wanted to link up to this excellent blog post by Taylor Ho Bynum (incidentally, the trumpeter on the aforementioned Braxton London set) where he zeroes in on the "J@LC" problem better than anyone i've ever heard, not to mention offers several brilliant ideas for edgier projects that could be presented up there. now THB called out Ben Ratliff's review of Taylor/Zorn, but he could've just as easily called out mine, since both of us implied that avant-jazzers don't really need J@LC's facilities. Taylor makes the excellent point that while the avant-garde isn't going to wither without uptown support, J@LC's massive financial resources certainly wouldn't hurt an artist like Anthony Braxton or Sam Rivers. it really made me think about how the uptown/downtown divide is about way more than just scene politics.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Grudge match // Snarlor

several tidbits as i head off to work...

1) a hot tip from Destination Out led me to a goddamn hysterical New Sounds edition with Cecil Taylor, featuring an interview (scroll down a tad) that's more like a sublimated fistfight. listen to how ruffled John Schaefer gets when Cecil won't abide by a strict Q&A format. now i respect the fact that Schaefer's got to keep things moving, but he does a pretty awful job of adapting to Cecil's oblique way of speaking. at one point he says something like, "Do your conversations always go like this? Starting at one place and ending up somewhere completely different?" he tries to play it off as a joke, but the dude is clearly majorly flustered.

Cecil meanwhile continues to sound more and more like some sort of baroness or something--decadent, almost woozily cultured, aristocratic. his demeanor almost has a little in common with perhaps my fave WNYC host, Jonathan Schwartz, the world-weary, terminally nostalgic host of the Saturday cabaret show.

anyway, this is a first-order culture clash happening.

oh, and also read my Time Out preview of the Taylor/Zorn show at Lincoln Center and Ben Ratliff's review. i'm a big fan of Ratliff, and this review is another gem. i've never met him, but sometimes i could swear we're tapping into some sort of hive mind. which i guess would be WKCR radio station, where we both worked.



2) an apropos-of-nothing (my current pet phrase, btw) snippet from a recent Stay Fucked practice. this is me on drums and Joe on guitar. i guess you could say it's a jam; i would prefer to call it a germ. anyway, i like the way it sounds.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Waiting for the man // Windy City noise // Ganging up

there is a decent chance that this will be the only night of my life during which i could utter, "I'm going to interview Anthony Braxton tomorrow," and have it be true.

as stated below, "Forces in Motion" has been invaluable. am sifting through the recordings--including the upcoming nine-cd-and-one-dvd box set of 2006 Iridium peformances on Firehouse 12--and trying to make sense of a gigantic oeuvre. another awesome resource is the Restructures interactive discography, put together by Jason Guthartz, who's also responsible for the excellent documentary DVD (featuring performance footage and a lecture Braxton gave at Columbia) in the box set. this site rules b/c it's got a lot of Braxton's color graphic titles scanned in for reference. it's not quite up to date, but i'm sure it's getting there.

during my last-minute googling, i came across a superweird and somewhat disconcerting document: this 1971 audio interview w/ Braxton. in watching the aforementioned documentary, one of the things that struck me is what a kind and amiable man Braxton is; he frequently describes his Ghost Trance Music as a kind of game or system for inducing wonder. the word "friendly" comes up often, and he concludes by saying that his recent compositions are at best intended to provide him and his collaborators with a "fun," challenging experience. the Braxton you hear on the interview above though is a suspicious, bitter and even nihilistic man, clearly suspicious of the interview format and of discussing his music at all. he refuses to ascribe any meaning to his work and expresses a sharp distrust of the lovey-dovey hippie mindset. his thinking clearly took a positive turn in later years, but it's interesting to see where his head was at then, just two years after "For Alto."

fortunately by "Forces in Motion," he was on a much more life-affirming and spiritual tip. at one point, he says, "The challenge of creativity, as far as I'm concerned, is to move towards the greatest thought you can think of." another positive-leaning quote i like is this one: "I can say for a fact, based on my own life, that John Coltrane's music has helped me to be a better person, that Arnold Schoenberg's and Karlheinz Stockhausen's music has made me work harder and want to be a better person." so anyway, you can see where he ended up, but his mindset apparently wasn't always so optimistic.

anyway, wish me luck.


so i'm just back from Chicago, where i went to hang for the weekend with some of my very dear friends (Kyle, Jeff, Mike S. and Mike P.) from the Midwest. the trip was really an excuse to hang out with extremely tight bros of mine who i see all too little of, but the reason we chose Chi-town and this date in particular was an edition of the Lampo concert series featuring Joe Colley and Jason Lescalleet, who are some pretty formidable noise/drone types.

i had first seen this duo at ErstQuake two years ago. i attended the entirety of that fest, but the Colley/Lescalleet set was the obvious highlight; it was the most physical and tense of the sets. it wasn't the most assaultive, but it was the most visceral. i remember headbanging at several points.

i'm not really a noise aficionado, but i was sufficiently impressed w/ Colley (a California musician who used to record under the name Crawl Unit) to follow his work in the intervening period. his solo set was easily the strongest of the three sets i saw this weekend (Friday night featured each musician solo and Saturday was a duo). Colley seems to improvise most of his stuff and he seems to have a real fascination with tension. watching his sets one feels endangered.

at Lampo that feeling was intensified b/c of the awesome and awesomely loud p.a. setup. Colley mumbled, "hi, i'm Joe Colley and i'm going to play some sounds for you," and immediately plugged in a power adaptor, creating a deafening din. as he performs, he stands over his mixing board and makes these hesitant gestures. often it's as if he's sort of afraid of what's going to happen when he twists a knob or plugs in a cord. his best pieces are wonderfully physical and alarming. it often sounds like he's frying his equipment. i have a few of his records, but if there's any advantage to seeing this stuff live it's that you're not in control. you can't turn it down when it becomes disconcertingly intense.

Colley's got a great presence. he's tall and blond, with gaunt, sly features and greasy hair. a pretty punk-looking dude given to sly smiles when not onstage. when he plays, it's as if he's plugged into his gear. it's not histrionic, but neither is it stoic. it's just sort of charged. sometimes he seems almost sickened by the sounds he's making. the set the other night climaxed with a fast, thudding pulse accompanied by a flashing white light. it was a brief set and left you wanting more; he's maybe the only noise musician i've ever seen who understands the importance of playing short sets.

i picked up his latest CD, "Waste of Songs," and it seems pretty darn good. as with the live show, the music isn't all abrasive, but it does all work with a sort of tension. any atmosphere he creates is in immediate danger of being assailed.

i wasn't as crazy about Lescalleet solo or the duo. Lescalleet's solo was a very deliberate piece, pretty much composed as far as i could tell. he performs as if he were skulking around in his basement--with shoes off and with nerdy concentration. his solo set started off with a slowed-down recording of a song i presume was entitled "Cherokee Nation"; it was kind of this funny, cheesy rock song with lyrics like "Cherokee Nation, so proud to live, so proud to die," or something like that. after that, a lot of the set was taken up by glacial drone. it was rich but uneventful. not really my kind of thing at all. he was doing a lot of live recording and processing, using various dictaphones set up throughout the room. when i last saw him, he was working a lot with these rickety analog tape machine to get some really abrasive, alarming sorts of sounds. he had those machines this time but focused more on synths and laptop. too placid for me.

the duo was kind of so-so. it was kind of tentative and episodic, with each musician making a little move and the other responding. kind of clunky in that way. there was a cool section when Colley was fooling aroung with wobbly dictaphone textures, and there was a highly ripping noise burst toward the end when Lescalleet was monkeying around with the analog player. but overall, the set just kinda happened.

i loved the venue though. it was at this weird, squat brick building called 6ODUM. low ceilings, moody lighting, folding chairs--it was sort of like a church basement. really great sound though and really cozy. i'd go back.

got to speak with Kevin Drumm after the show. my friend Mike S. is a huge fan and he introduced me. Drumm was a very nice and humble guy. wish i'd heard more of his music. anybody else into his stuff? i know that "Sheer Hellish Miasma" is supposed to be a noise classic.

other highlights of the trip were two visits to the Jazz Record Mart (best purchase: a cut-out copy of Charles Tyler's "Sixty Minute Man," a solo LP from, i believe, '79), a walk along Lake Michigan (it was balmy out, but there was still some pretty ice drifting about) and a trip to the planetarium for a dumb but fun space show. oh, and fucking awesome conversation on all manner of aesthetic issues with people whose company i cherish. epic conversation on the politics of noise/electronic-music performance at a Mexican joint after the show, where we later ran into Colley. anyway, tons of fun and way too brief.

here's a nice Colley mp3: Claysound 10.02 from "Desperate Attempts at Beauty"


last night Laal and i finished watching a goddamn fascinating documentary called "Bastards of the Party." it's an HBO film about L.A. gangs made by Cle "Bone" Sloan," a lifelong member of the Athens Park Bloods. this is simply one of the most engrossing docs i think i've ever seen. it's impeccably researched and devastating to watch.

basically, Sloan's objective is to find out how gang warfare began. the film tells how the Bloods and the Crips are basically the "bastard" leftovers of the black power movement. the first black gangs in L.A., such as the Slausons, were simply units of self-defense against Klan-style white groups. then in the '60s, the Black Panthers and the Us movement took black pride to a much more politically charged level. the L.A. Panthers, led by "Bunchy" Carter, took a militant stance, while the Us members, led by Ron Karenga, advocated peaceful rebellion.

using interviews with former Panthers and Us members, and FBI agents, Sloan tells the disturbing tale of how the FBI turned these groups, essentially working toward the same goal of racial equality, against one another through insidious propaganda. this campaign culminated in Bunchy Carter's murder at the hands of a few Us members. this incident, Sloan argues, basically derailed black power in L.A. and led to decades of disillusionment culminating in modern-day gang warfare.

Sloan gets a lot of help from the brilliant Mike Davis, whose alternative history of L.A., "City of Quartz," was the book that planted the seeds for this film. Davis, Sloan and a bunch of other L.A. historians show how inner city blacks turned to crime in the '70s, inspired by films such as "Superfly" and motivated by the city's increased job shortages. Davis talks about how prisons ("human storage," he calls it) sprang up in alarming numbers, as the LAPD sought to round up black men and take them off the street at the slightest provocation.

the Crips apparently started off as a benevolent community organization. they even had a constitution, basically derived from Panther doctrine. but Sloan shows how drugs flooded the inner city during the Iran contra scandal, and basically turned the Crips and their rival Bloods into drug trade pawns. turf wars began and the violence started spilling over into white areas; police cracked down and the Rodney King riots resulted. interestingly, Davis portrays the looting as community activism; he points out how people weren't just grabbing for themselves but were looting as families.

the riots brought the two gangs together, but just as with the Panthers and the Us movement, the police intervened, even going so far as to perform drive-bys in cars impounded from gang members (or at least one Blood member says). the violence escalates. former gang members tell of Crips kicking over the caskets at Blood funerals and Bloods organizing killing parties in retaliation. it's some pretty grim stuff.

Sloan is an inspiring and complex figure. unlike a lot of people who have reformed and left gangs, his mission is to change them from the inside out. his viewpoint isn't self-righteous. he implies several times that he's participated in the violence since an early age; he doesn't admit it outright, but it's pretty clear that he's been involved in murders. the most interesting thing is his equivocal viewpoint. on one hand the film is the story of him learning about the historical injustices that led to the gangs' formation, about how sowing black-on-black violence has been the essential aim of the FBI and LAPD all along. but even while he understands that the murderous gang warfare is playing right into the racists' hands, he's still deeply caught up in it.

near the end of the film, the son of one of his close friends is murdered by a Crip. we see Sloan struggling with the question of what he would do if he were to confront the killer. on one hand, he reasons, it would be treason for him to let the man live. on the other, he wants desperately to stop the cycle. his nonviolent choice is noble, but things remain muddy. when he visits other gang members who disagree, it becomes clear what a fucked situtation this all is. one man speaks of having an obligation to kill, as a fulfillment of his dying friends' last wishes. i'm pretty sure Sloan makes an Israel-Palestine parallel at one point, driving home the universality of this scenario.

there are a million other amazing testimonies in this movie and i felt like i learned so much about L.A. and U.S. race relations in general that my brain hurt. i only wish "Bastards of the Party" was a miniseries instead of just one film. i don't know if it's rentable yet, but it's a must-see. (sorry for all the plot summary, and i hope i don't spoil anything. maybe i just wanted to go over all those facts for my own sake, just to make sure i don't forget!)

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Lock's key

i am rereading Graham Lock's "Forces in Motion: The Music and Thoughts of Anthony Braxton." this book means a lot to me. it might be my favorite music book ever.

i have a suspicion that this is in large part because it reinforces an interplay between journalist and subject that i would like very much to believe in--very simply it's a working relationship that closely comes to resemble friendship. i realize that it may be too rosy a view and that anytime someone publishes anything having to do with anyone else that they risk offending them. but Lock and Braxton seem to work so well together. i hope to undertake a large-scale biographical project like this at some point and i guess it's just that i would want it to feel a lot like this.

one thing i mean is that Lock's tone is that of a tribute rather than a critique. i can't imagine that anyone would undertake a book-length project about anything that they did not adore passionately. Lock makes it clear early and often that he is more a fan than a critic. he even refers to Braxton as his idol at one point. a lot of people would find this fawning, or bad criticism, or what have you. i just find it honest. my favorite musicians ARE my idols and i'm not afraid to say that. Lock says this in the intro:

"It will, I hope, be evident that this is not a biography nor a critical analysis in which the critic attempts to assess and judge the artist. My sole intention here has been to *learn* about Braxton's music. How is it structured? How has it evolved? What is his purpose? Who were his models? What is his philosophy of music? Of life? How do the parts fit together?"

goddamn, i just cherish this shit. i just relate to it so goddamn much. my greatest joy in writing about music is learning about it. i enjoy constructing a cogent argument now and again, but what i like more is getting to know the music in an encyclopedic way, taking notes, interacting with the musician, transmitting my experience of the person and of the music. in other words acting as a medium. not as a judge. not as a hatchet man. etc. etc. i've talked before about my ambivalence about the word "critic." i feel more like a fan. whatever the case may be, i consider myself first and foremost a lover of music. and if i were to write a bio, it would be for no other reason than to learn about a subject i adored and to help others do the same.

goddamn, Lock does an amazing job of this. the book has a great freeform structure: interview transcripts interspersed w/ reminiscences from being on the road w/ Braxton and his quartet. if there is a narrative it's one of knowledge. it's as much an autobiography of learning about art as it is a biography of an artist. Lock is brave enough to frequently admit that he just doesn't get what Braxton is saying--he often says, literally, "I'm getting lost" in the interviews. that's so awesome! it's fucking revelatory, actually. that's what criticism doesn't do, cannot do. it can't say, "i'm simply in awe of this thing. i'm not worried about its quality; i'm concerned only with knowing it more, because all i do know about it is that is exciting to me. exceedingly so. i can catalog my reaction to it, but i will not try to pass that off as a judgment as to its inherent objective worth. i'll admit that i'm confused, but i won't blame my confusion on my subject." that IMHO is a godly, and extremely honest, way of looking at things. it embodies curiosity rather than spitefulness, enthusiasm rather than suspicion. i recognize the beauty and honesty of Lock's approach because it's the way i think too.

the raddest thing is that Braxton seems to recognize how brave this process-oriented, knowledge-based viewpoint is. for an artist who, as he expresses time and again in the book, so distrusts critics, it's a big thing for him to advocate so strongly for Lock in the intro: "It was always clear to me that only a creative person can write with insight about creativity--and I was right! Read the book and like or hate me if you will--but I wouldn't have had a chance with an average writer. I respect Graham Lock's efforts because he respects his profession--Lock has technique but he is not a technocrat... *Thank you for your work, sir.*"

beautiful! god, can you imagine how wonderful that must have felt for Lock to hear that? it's a contract of mutual respect. Braxton clearly relishes the opportunity to speak his mind as much as Lock enjoys picking his brain. and Braxton clearly appreciates Lock's struggle to make sense of his systems. at one point, Lock observes this at one of Braxton's lectures: "Braxton pauses and wearily surveys his silent, shivering audience. 'Is that clear? I don't want to assume that for once in my life I've said something clear enough that everybody understands it.'"

in other words, Braxton gets it. he understands what a massive undertaking it is for someone to try to parse his musical and linguistic systems, and maybe Lock's endeavor even put him on the spot a little bit, made him clarify oblique terms that he was hiding behind. Lock never flinches, just drills right through, asking Braxton to define his pet words like "restructuralist" "co-ordinate musics," etc. it would be a mistake for a writer to swallow this stuff whole, just as it would be a mistake for a critic to dismiss it as highfalutin' garbage, as so many have done vis a vis Braxton.

whatever you think of Braxton, reading this book, there's no doubt that he's a genius worthy of having such a book written about him, worthy of being studied and analyzed and yes, critiqued, but more importanly appreciated. Braxton's insights are too numerous to recount. suffice it to say that if you read this book, you'll receive incredible insight into jazz, period. Braxton has an incredibly holistic viewpoint on the music and his whole theory of restructuralists (Parker, Coltrane, Ayler, etc.) and stylists (Warne Marsh, Jackie McLean, etc.) is a really useful framework. so are his theories of sexism, "the myth of the sweating brow," "black exotica" and the countless other prejudices that have infected the music. you'll also get some great humor out of the guy (at one point, he hits upon the idea to establish a chain in England and serve "Braxburgers"). he's just a fascinating person to "be around," and Lock lets you do that; his reactions always seem honest, and he knows just when to ask for clarification and when to let Braxton hold on to his obliquity.

as i said, there are a million insights into music and life here. this is only one. Braxton offers:

"When you establish a consistent body of work it makes its own reality, and there's no way it can be put down or put up: it bcomes something that exists for human beings, a body of musics that will help people on the planet."

i say amen to that. Graham Lock did too, and he and Braxton have got a timeless work of scholarship to show for it. i'd suggest you pick up a copy posthaste.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

My idea of weirdness // Spice guy // Pieces of me // Alto-tude

hello good people. i want to start off by giving you a little palate cleanser. this is "Idea of Fun," a track from the new Stooges album, "The Weirdness," which came out today. my "Time Out" review hasn't run yet, so i'm keeping mum on my verdict. all i'll say is that i love this particular song and i believe that it does justice to the legacy. the vibe is rockin', yet nice and creepy.


maybe it was the pre-"Zodiac" buzz in the air, but for some reason Laal and i caught the serial-killer bug one night about a week ago while futzing about on YouTube. after viewing an incredibly disturbing but also riveting prison interview w/ Jeffrey Dahmer (there used to be a longer clip, but that's been taken down), we quickly scored the mother lode of the A&E Biography on John Wayne Gacy. it's some pretty horrific shit, as much for the wanna-be ominous and strikingly Phil Hartman-esque narration--"John was thrilled at the prospect of becoming a father... But the yearnings he had repressed as a boy were forcing their way back to the surface"--as for Gacy's fucked-up deeds.

[speaking of fucked-up, apologies to anyone who finds it distasteful to be trolling around the net for footage like this. it seems to me though that pretty much everyone is interested in serial killers in some capacity; i'm especially fascinated by watching them speak and explain their deeds "rationally."]

now i'm not trying to make light of any of this stuff, but i've got to share this one tidbit from the Gacy dealie. so during the part of Gacy's first prison sentence, for sodomy in '68, they're talking about how he was really personable and popular among the other inmates and how he eventually became the jail's head cook. from there, they cut to an interview with one Ray Cornell, Gacy's fellow inmate, who has this to say [emphasis mine, obvi]:

"I can say unreservedly that the quality of the food improved dramatically. One thing John was was a very, very, very fine cook. And he understood something that traditionally folks who cook in prisons don't understand: *****He understood the use of spices.*****"

i almost wish i was making this up. i'm not. go to about 9:00 into this clip:

that there's a hard hitter. if anyone's interested, the rest of this doc is easily accessible on YouTube.


thought i'd throw up some links to some of my recent "Time Out" pieces that i was happy w/. i thought the Stooges one turned out well, but that won't be up for a few days. in the meantime:

--> article on Hella's new record feat. Zach Hill interview snippets. boy, what a nice dude, for realz!

--> worshipful--but hopefully remotely level-headed!--review of Deerhoof's latest

--> weirdo interview/impromptu drum lesson with Chico Hamilton. this one was somewhat nerve-wracking to live through, but it made for an entertaining read.

--> preview of last year's Necrophagist show at BB King's

--> preview of a show by Seductive Sprigs (RIP!)

--> review of Xasthur, black metal's favorite blogger!

--> article/interview on Matana Roberts, a hell of a saxist and composer


i just had a extreme and rather ill-advised snack attack, pigging out on way too much Annie's Cheddar Bunnies (you know the Annie's folks who make the mac and cheese? well this is their cheesy baked snack cracker, which tastes a good deal like Goldfish, though not as subtly spiced. they should've hired Gacy to devise the recipe!) and Ben and Jerry's Strawberry Cheesecake. the latter item is a no-brainer, always has been; i can't stop eating the shit. i also recommend the new Willie Nelson Peach Cobbler varietal. i have no idea what the Red-Headed Stranger has to do with peach cobbler, but my stomach didn't seem to care when i ate the whole pint in a sitting and a half.


i continue to dream of the masters as it were. from Sonny Simmons, it was on to his brother princes of free alto, John Tchicai and Jimmy Lyons. real quick, i just have to point out something awesome that they have in common. nowadays, playing free-jazz sax pretty much automatically implies overblowing or growling or some other histrionic way of "abusing" the instrument. Tchicai and Lyons weren't about that at all.

so on the Tchicai tip, i've been digging the first New York Art Quartet record, an incredible place to hear not only the Danish-Congolese sax hero, but Roswell Rudd and an absolutely smokin' Milford Graves, the latter already kicking up a mesmerizingly virtuosic clatter. but Tchicai is maybe the most impressive. he's deeply soulful and free, but intensely unhurried; he's not an "ecstatic" player. it must have been hard to resist Coltrane's fiery gravitation in '64 when this was recorded, but Tchicai just goes about his business. he works up to some gorgeous moaning and warbling stuff, but mostly he's just swinging to the free pulse. literally playing free jazz, not fire music, per se. this is a deep-ass record for sure.

the other one is the Cecil Taylor, Jimmy Lyons, Sunny Murray live stuff from '62. this stuff has been released under like 100 different names, but Revenant's definitive edition is called "Nefertiti, the Beautiful One Has Come." this is just some very serious music and some of the earliest true free jazz, period. Sunny Murray is just figuring out his wraithlike approach to time, while Cecil is busy coming off the rails, sounding overjoyed to be playing with a drummer who "gets it." Lyons is the real revelation, though. he blows gorgeous mercurial bop curlicues over this stuff as if it were "I Got Rhythm." i'm tempted to say that he normalizes the music in a way or brings it back to earth, but really he makes it that much more special and foreign by daring to play in a bop-derived style over this new groove and make it totally swing. it's players like Lyons who really connected the dots in jazz, reconciling bop w/ free. again, this isn't free jazz as catharsis; it's free jazz as darting, joyous exploration, as true split-second interplay. what a remarkable trio.

try these, and not just for the saxists in question...

Cecil Taylor (p), Jimmy Lyons (as) and Sunny Murray (d) - Trance (11/62)

New York Art Quartet: John Tchicai (as), Roswell Rudd (tb), Lewis Worrell (b), Milford Graves (d) - No. 6 (11/64)

Braxton and Marion Brown too need to be dealt with. am on a marathon listening kick vis a vis the former for an upcoming article. details on that to come. suffice to say that i feel that Braxton's recent playing is some of his most revelatory ever. he's evolved into an instantly recognizable saxist, with that jagged, ragged rasp married to blazing speed and conceptual sharpness. killin' it.


you don't need me to tell you that "Zodiac" is very very good. word up to my man, Ruffalo. anyone see him in "XX/XY" back in the day? i loved that shit.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Catching (post-tour) Zs // Gpoint gala // Cough syrup // Sonny pleases

Zs: ultra-slaying show at the Stone last night. they are back from tour and now diamond hard. easily the most savage and wired show i've ever seen them do. Ian on drums looked and sounded murderous. "the long song" featured the new addition of noise-blast guitar and intermittent screaming. scary stuff. Extra Life: frozen chunks of mangled blues. kill-you focus. missed Moth and Regattas which i'm bummed about. all is accessible from Zs. many new Zs-related releases afoot.


heretofore, i haven't really used this space self-promotionally--it was kind of a (non-)habit that became a rule. but there's no good reason for any of that, so here goes. if you live in the area, you might want to, you know...

this Saturday, 3/3

Saturday, 3/3
9pm - FREE

Yukon - Baltimore precision
Stay Fucked - three approachable local musicians
Animal - Bklyn math/majesty
From Cocaine to Rogaine - new lionhearted trio feat. Phil Kennedy, ex-Timber!

@ Tommy's Tavern
1041 Manhattan Ave at Freeman St - Greenpoint
(the G train to Greenpoint Ave or the B61 bus will put you right there)


now that you have that info, i offer a little auxiliary treat, which is a classic mp3 by Timber, the sadly defunct math-rock unit that Phil Kennedy, now of From Cocaine to Rogaine, used to drum for. they were part of the super small scene of nonpop music at a certain uptown university that also birthed Stay Fucked, and damn were they good. started off as bass bass drums, then it was just bass drums, then it was bass guitar and drums. all the lineups were great, but that last one--w/Mike Friedrich, now of Rahim, on guitar--was most killer.

Nick KJ on bass had a very solid and visionary compositional sense. i always envied how logical and holistic his songwriting was. Phil's drumming was sort of the same way. it was meticulous w/out being fussy; in the grand tradition of Neil Peart, his parts were 99.9% written. he left basically nothing to chance and it was awesome to hear the little nuances repeat themselves from verse to verse or performance to performance or what have you. basically as a drummer, i strive to plan out every note, but i leave a lot of blurry edges to chance. i got the sense that Phil never did. i love that kind of commitment. anyway...

Timber - Yars' Revenge


a few Misfit ends to tie up. i kept thinking of all the gorgeous idiosyncrasies i had left out of my survey of lyrical weirdness. some stuff i forgot...

ok, remember that thing in "Horror Hotel" i quoted re: "down the hall with my vampire girlfriend"? well, there's also this line in that song that goes "And a little vampira wrapped on my neck, said, 'Say something, say something--you wanna start something with me?'" i love how the vampira is "wrapped on [his] neck." and are we to assume that this vampira is the same entity as the vampire girlfriend he's down the hall with? and how are these creatures related to the "Vampira" Glenn is serenading in the song of the same name on "Walk Among Us"? pressing inquiries to be sure.

the other thing is "Cough/Cool." now what in the flying fuck is up with this song? insanely weird and noirish. insanely fucking GORGEOUS. i had this one on today at work and started freaking out. what in God's name is this?!? there's no musical precedent; i've never heard anything like it (ok, maaaaaybe the Doors, but that doesn't cut it). it's got this amazingly slinky, jazzy drumming--totally syncopated and nonobvious--played by this dude named Manny. Glenn's vocal is ghostly and Jim Morrison-esque; he croons in a low voice but occasionally really belts it. structure is very abstract. Jerry Only is throbbing away on (i think) bass while Manny cuts loose underneath. prominent electric piano. this is severely spooky, but not in a horror-movie way or even in the later gothy Samhain way. it's this weird, psycho Doors-punk. what exceedingly strange music.

and the lyrics?!? wtf is this about? i must quote them all:

This street we walk upon
This corner full of piss and fear

This street won't bear it long
It slants, it tilts, it's brought outside

Cover your face when you walk by
Drench your visions in darkness

Spit up blood when you cough
Cool, cool, cool
Cough, cool, cool, cool

We dine on visions with new eyes
Creep, creep, creep, creep
We cut our visions with two eyes
Cool, cool, cool, cool

This street we walk upon
This corner full of fear
This street we walk upon
This corner full of piss and fear


gorgeous, ghostly, ominous. Glenn really starts to cook on the "Cover your face when you walk by / Drench your visions in darkness," then simmers way down into this wraithlike moaning on "Creep, creep, creep, creep." it's a hugely powerful two minutes. i found it incomprehensible as a teenager; now i think it might be the coolest, deepest Misfits song there is. AND get this: it's the very first Misfits recording! yep, June 1977, baby. here it is...

The Misfits - Cough/Cool

and here is something else you need to see. it's perhaps the coolest thing that Pitchfork has ever run, a set of two essays on Glenn Danzig: one by Jon DeRosa of the band Aarktica, whose parents grew up in Glenn's hometown of Lodi, NJ, and one by none other than Will Oldham, who shares some great reminiscences about his childhood obsession with the man. i love the part about how he sends Glenn this crazy collage of morbid imagery and gets a Samhain T-shirt in return. it reminds me of the line in "All Hell Breaks Loose" where Glenn says (ahem), "I send my murdergrams to all these monster kids." that there is a pretty blatant reference to the infamous Misfits Fiend Club barter system: "Send us yr skulls and we'll send you ???"

and because i'm so nice, here's a related superawesome gem that i found while strolling around Soulseek...

Bonnie "Prince" Billy - Die, Die My Darling

(note the line "Your future is in an oblong box.")


all this leaves me little time/energy to talk about my current jazz obsession, Sonny Simmons, but i gotta say a few things.

to me, Sonny Simmons is one of the two most stellar altoists of the first wave of free jazz. Dolphy is of course the king, the link from Bird to parts unknown, but Jimmy Lyons and Sonny, both of whom came into their own after Dolphy died (though Simmons did record alongside Dolphy) entered an even more supersonic realm.

for such an obscure figure, Simmons actually has a shitload of product out there. i enjoy his recent work with the collaborative band the Cosmosamatics, and i like his '90s trio stuff (the record "Ancient Ritual" marked Simmons's comeback after many years of homelessness and destitution), but i gots to say that like so many other of the free heavies, his best work is his ESP stuff.

i had had some hang-ups about "Staying on the Watch" and "Music From the Spheres" in the past. ok, i'll just say it: sometimes piano in free jazz bothers the crap out of me unless it's Cecil. everyone knows the story: Ornette blew the door open and after that piano comping sounded like a cage. these records both have pianists (John Hicks on the former and Michael Cohen on the latter) and both players are generally on board to get nasty but pretty busily conventional at times too. a little bit of a drawback. but...

i've just been revisiting these sessions and i don't mind the keyboard so much. mainly b/c the music just fucking cooks, boils, snap-crackle-pops, what have you. seriously, when people say "burnin'" in regards to jazz, they are--well, they're sounding kind of silly for one--but seriously, they are talking 'bout intensely blazing and poised and hyperenergetic shit like this. the key is the way Simmons, who's got it all--nasty free-soul stuff, reed-shredding freak-outs, dizzying Birdlike runs, you name it--locks in with his wife Barbara Donald on trumpet.

this woman absolutely shreds. i cannot believe that she is not more renowned, even based on only these two sessions. AllMusic pulls a bullshit hedge and calls her "one of the top female trumpeters all-time," but no one who has spent serious time with these sessions would damn her with such faint praise. i've got to say, i think she is one of the most powerful trumpeters of the '60s, and of the free-jazz movement in general. Don Cherry, Don Ayler, guys like that--hey, i love them to pieces, but Donald smokes them here. her playing is just incredibly bold and fat and smart and exuberant. she just bursts out of the gate with each solo. and on the heads, she and Sonny are just frickin' glued together--insane tightness.

that feature, not to mention Simmons's elaborate compositions, makes these some of the most intricate and well-plotted sessions ever to be released by ESP. admittedly i even used to think that was a shortcoming, i.e., that they were too meticulous. the arrangements can get a little baroque at times--i.e., the heads usually have like five parts and one of those parts will be repeated after each solo and then the concluding head will be some permutation of the original--but overall, the architecture and level of musical communication is stunning. this is NOTHING like your typical ESP "brief, squiggily obligatory intro head leads into total freakout leads into brief, squiggily obligatory out head" thing (that's hyperbole of course; i love me some brief, squiggly heads just as much as the next guy)--it almost has a Blue Note level of tightness and togetherness.

and who is this cat James Zitro? he drums furiously on these two discs. don't know much about him other than that he's got his own ESP session in addition to these Simmons discs.

all the tracks on these records are long so i'm just going to give you one. it's from "Staying on the Watch," which i think edges out "Spheres" slightly as the better of the sessions. (though they're really of a piece; they were recorded just a few months apart in late 1966.) this is a great example of how Simmons and Donald spur each other on. she takes the first solo and absolutely scorches, playing with amazing clarity and boldness; Sonny bats clean-up and kills it as well.

Sonny Simmons feat. Barbara Donald - City of David

i reckon you'll need both sessions upon hearing this, so head to Downtown Music Gallery for the remastered set of both records, which also includes audio interviews w/ Simmons. ESP is up and running again, and they've got a cool site w/ audio clips and the like, but they've sold out of this set for now, so DMG is where you want to go.

while you're there, you might want to pick up a new ultra-limited-edition repressing of the already extremely scarce "Out Into the Andromeda," a really intense Simmons solo alto session from a few years back. it was on Parallactic, a great but now defunct label run by reedist-composer Brandon Evans. i guess Evans has resurfaced w/ a few copies of this disc, but only DMG has 'em. the session is basically the exact opposite of the ESP recordings. it's all improv and instead of feeling fiery it's almost lazy in spots; it's sort of like the anti-"For Alto." instead of being really meticulous and concept-driven, it's completely stream-of-consciousness. the looooong, meandering pieces can grow a little wearisome, but it's awesome to just be in such intimate proximity to Simmons's gorgeous sax concept; the tone is heavenly and the logic is still totally unique. extremely tart playing with an odd, slow flow. would post one of those tracks, but they're all superlong. if anyone really wants to hear one, email me and i'm sure we can make an arrangement.

Brandon Evans also made a wonderful interview-based documentary about Sonny Simmons, called "The Multiple X-Rated Truth" or something like that. i know you used to be able to buy the DVD at DMG, but it's not listed on the site. maybe drop by and ask about it, b/c it's a killer film.

in conclusion, i know Sonny's been very active of late w/ Cosmosamatics and others, but does anyone know what's become of Barbara Donald? or has anyone heard either of the Cadence albums she recorded in the early '80s? scant info is here. any info whatsoever on BD would be greatly appreciated. wait, there's actually a ton of great material here, on Sonny Simmons's own page (which, overall, is kinda goofy but really informative).