Friday, September 28, 2007
saw "Eastern Promises" w/ Laal. a fun night at the movies for sure. it's gruesome, yeah, but in an almost comical way. i don't think i was the only one laughing when Viggo Mortensen stabbed his would-be assailant in the eye with a curved dagger.
anyway, if you--like me--thought the first hour or so of "A History of Violence" was ultra-badass, you'll have fun with this one. if there's one thing Cronenberg does well, it's the depiction of menace: of amoral characters brutally barging in on meek, conventional lives.
Viggo's Russian gangster is hilariously slick and disaffected. his accent is just shy of a caricature. it's a really meaty role, one that calls for a lot of suggestive smirking, priceless lines like "i am driver. i go right; i go left" and even some naked kung fu.
the plot--involving a sex-slave ring and an orphaned baby--is a little cumbersome and depending on how you read it, even sappy. Naomi Watts really doesn't have much to work with in the female lead. but whenever the bad guys are on screen, the movie is great wicked fun.
p.s., anyone seen Viggo in this obscure horror flick "The Reflecting Skin"? amazingly creepy movie and he's awesome in it. rent it if you like scary and surreal.
moving right along... i wouldn't hesitate to call John Coltrane one of my favorite musicians, or more specifically, i would call the pairing of Coltrane with drummer Elvin Jones one of my favorite musical phenomena.
despite my great affection for Trane, though, i don't throw on his music that much. i have the sound in my head, and it's almost as if i don't need to refresh it that often. it's just sort of permanently there. but sometimes the music finds me and i'm just sort of like, "jesus christ, this shit is intense." this happened the other day when i was listening to the Coltrane birthday broadcast on WKCR...
i've often spoken of "Interstellar Space," Coltrane's February '67 duo recording w/ drummer Rashied Ali, as my favorite of his discs. it's a mindblower--completely and scarily austere. but i'm realizing that there's another record, or era really, that i like just as much.
that's 1965, the year of some of the last recordings w/ the fabled quartet of Coltrane, Jones, bassist Jimmy Garrison and pianist McCoy Tyner. the latter pretty much sounded hopelessly out of place at this point (at least to me), often coming across during his solos as this straw man for Coltrane to bulldoze when he re-enters. and people often talk about how Jones was getting uncomfortable too, but that was really when Ali was brought in late in the year as second drummer.
anyway, so i started thinking hard about this period when WKCR spun the following bootleg performance on Sunday and have thought even harder about it since i've been digging Ben Ratliff's excellent new book on Trane, which i'm about halfway through. Ratliff makes a point of highlighting '65 as a landmark year, and this bootleg from April '65 cemented that for me. this track comes from a few days after the recordings that were recently released by Impulse as "One Down, One Up." that shit smokes, but this is even better:
Untitled Original -
Coltrane, Tyner, Garrison, Jones - April '65, live at the Half Note
much has been made of the novelty of Elvin breaking his bass-drum pedal in the middle of the tenor-drums duet that appears on the aforementioned "One Down, One Up." that's a quirky little piece of trivia, but the fact is that it's actually really annoying and tantalizing to listen to: here you have Trane and Elvin alone and Elvin is without one of the main weapons in his arsenal, namely his lethal right foot.
anyway, the recording above sounds a bit like crap, but you can totally hear the thunder and the fury. Trane and Elvin go at it MAJORLY duostyle in the middle, from around 7:00 minutes to around 10:00. it's pretty clear here that whatever tension it was that caused Jones to leave the following year wasn't around in '65. this is absolutely gorgeous, volcanic creation.
Jones is like this hurtling, rumbling engine. (when i hear Jones in this mode, i can't keep from thinking of that word "hurtling"--it seems to capture that precarious skipping speed that only he can muster, that white-hot percolating pulse.) the velocity these two summon is completely unreal. (there's also a really nice duo section on part three of the live version of "A Love Supreme" that was issued a little while ago as a bonus disc to the regular record on Impulse. not to be blasphemous, but all this '65 live shit blows "ALS" away in my opinion.)
"Sun Ship," recorded in August '65, is a little more reined in--mainly due to the studio setting w/ shorter track lengths, etc.--but still totally ripping. like the piece above, many of this record's themes are brief, almost maniacally repetitive melodies that Trane just fusses over and then blows to bits.
from "Sun Ship" - same band as above, a few months later
"Amen" starts off a little more placid than the brutal first track on the album (the title track). a longish Tyner solo follows the minimal head. don't feel bad for fast-forwarding to around 3:35. Jones is already whipping up a storm in anticipation of Trane roaring back in, and man he just re-arrives and starts tearing shit up. Tyner's over there frantically laying down chords and Trane and Elvin are just kicking it out. this is slash-and-burn jazz of the absolute highest order.
"Dearly Beloved" is a whole other thing: an almost unbearably gorgeous free-time ballad. i love the little studio patter excerpt at the beginning. Trane tells someone--Jones?--to "keep a thing happening all through," says "ready?" and then launches into this insane rubato ballad thing. Tyner is totally at home in this setting and Elvin breaks out the mallets and the whole thing is just like this sea of sound that Coltrane is swimming in. this is like the current ballad paradigm--no steady pulse, just a miasma of tone and a soloist sort of fighting to stay afloat. check the last track on Sonny Sharrock's "Ask the Ages" for another amazing example of this, also featuring Sir Elvin...
Saturday, September 22, 2007
large-group jazz/improv can really make me sort of sad. sometimes it's more like mad, but i think sad is the more accurate word, simply because it really bums me out to not be able to discern individual voices.
at times this feeling moved close to outright despair during Globe Unity Orchestra's set at the Shabazz Center on Thursday night. the group, around since the mid-'60s, is strangely named since it's really a largely European group, convened by pianist Alexander Von Schlippenbach and featuring the cream of the Euro and British free-improv scenes. the band played uptown as part of the very cool Columbia/Harlem Festival of Global Jazz. (that name, and the festival's way-uptown settings, seems to be an attempt to reconcile the current academic slant of jazz with its roots in Harlem.)
the lineup was sort of a mystery beforehand. there were a few legends in there: saxist Evan Parker, Schlippenbach himself, drummer Paul Lytton; as well as some leading lights of the current scene: drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, trumpeter Axel Doerner. they played for what felt like about 90 minutes--it was a rough but enjoyable set with sublime highlights.
the issue i raised earlier was a recurring problem for me. there's something really powerful about hearing a ten-piece band blow and bash their guts out simultaneously--for about five minutes. then it just becomes an almost tragic matter--here you're looking at some of the most distinctive instrumental voices in the world (Evan Parker is the most obvious example) and you simply can't hear what any one of them is playing. this was due to a lot of factors: the microphones didn't do the saxes any justice, and also Nilssen-Love didn't seem to adjust to the room's boomy acoustics--he simply played way, way too loud for a lot of the set. i think he's a great drummer, but at times, this was sort of inexcusable for me.
a few of the players took it upon themselves to pierce the wall of sound. there was a solo mike set up and each player stepped up in turn, some simply riding the wave (Parker; trumpeter Manfred Schoof, who played a really fleet, steely, powerful and agile solo). when Doerner stepped up, though, time straight up stopped.
Doerner has been known for his sort of deconstructionist trumpet solos over the past decade or so--he's one of the innovators of the new school of minimal, pure-sound playing that also includes dudes like Nate Wooley and Greg Kelley. i couldn't really say who was doing what first, but that's the general vibe we're talking about.
anyway, so he's this short, sort of wispy, almost creepily composed dude. and amidst the cacophony, he just sort of strolls over to the mike and begins making the strangest fucking noises with that horn. he was playing a slide trumpet with an upcurved Dizzy Gillespie-style bell, but if you closed your eyes, he might have been playing the plumbing. even more than, say, Peter Evans, Doerner's playing just sounds wholly alien, but somehow scientific--it has a very cold and almost menacing quality. his solo was like a catalog of extended techniques--at one point he unscrewed one of the valves and was using his fingers to control the air flow--but somehow it was clinical in just the right way. it almost seemed like he was sternly reminding his colleagues to listen.
it had that effect on me. your ears get totally desensitized to that large-group soup, which can lead to lazy playing and lazier listening. but it was like a veil being removed when Doerner started in on his conjurings. simply put, nearly everyone shut up. i can't remember if he was on his own or if the drummers were keeping up a textural commentary, but damn, he just woke that scenario up in such a commanding way. my ears were very, very grateful.
suddenly there was Schlippenbach, with his curious, stabbing chords, each one mouthed like a fish; there was Parker, with gruff, at times abstractly bluesy statements. there was the trombonist Jeb Bishop, working really hard to get to the center of his horn. Paul Lytton understood what was happening: his accompaniment to later sections of the piece was busy, yet crisp, never just straight-up loud. i'm all for loud, but not when it seems to come at the expense of hearing, as with some of Nilssen-Love's work at this show.
when the band did roar itself back to full strength for the outro, the beast made more sense. this blast wasn't instead of hearing--it was more like an invocation. after the group had been atomized--spurred on by Doerner's heroic solo--i was happy to hear it rage again. but i don't think i'll ever prefer large-group improv to smaller ensembles. or maybe those moments of detail are all the more precious when they're harder to come by.
wanted to keep my own thoughts my own, so i haven't checked out Steve's account of the show yet, but i'm headed there now. he knows this music cold.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
your current shopping list, in a perfect world:
Octis (Ocrilim) - Neerdeth CD-R
over an hour of state-of-the-art SOLO (yep, no drum machine) guitar from Mick Barr. completely lives up to whatever astronomical expectations you might have. made to order by the artist and available only at his myspace page.
Muhal Richard Abrams - Vision Towards Essence
over an hour of state-of-the-art SOLO piano from Muhal Richard Abrams. read more from me on this here.
and for free: a mix-tape of sorts from Vijay Iyer over at Destination Out. fucking cool idea executed brilliantly. act quick: i think this is only up for a few more days.
also, i really like the new Thurston Moore album. have never been a huge Sonic Youth fan, but this one hit me right.
there's something nerdy about attending any sort of entertainment event by one's self, no? there's also something nerdy--or at least i'm told--about being a fan of the band Rush, no? so therefore it must be considered an exceedingly nerdy act to have attended a Rush concert alone, which i did tonight.
however history might judge me, i had an awesome time. (tenth row seats at Madison Square Garden certainly didn't hurt.) my enjoyment was, as you might imagine, proportionately greater than it was the time i went to see a screening of a Rush live DVD at the Union Square movie theater. yes, i was also alone then. (and yes, it's somewhat liberating to admit in such a public way to such socially freakish behaviors.)
anyway, it's been a decade and change since i last saw Rush. that show--the only one i'd attended before tonight--was on the "Counterparts" tour which had to have been sometime in '94 or '95, which would have put me smack dab in the middle of high school. i remember little about that concert, other than that it was awesome and that the band closed with the blistering instrumental "YYZ," as they also did tonight.
nostalgia was a big factor in my enjoyment tonight, of course. several times during the show, it occurred to me as i sang along and air-drummed with dogged precision for how many years i had been singing along and air-drumming to these songs. a few selections in particular literally brought me to the verge of tears, namely "Mission," a meditation on the creative process from the "Hold Your Fire" album, and "Subdivisions," a meditation on the inherent pathos of a suburban upbringing from the "Signals" album. both songs are in some sense (i.e., the socially acceptable one) quite cheesy. in another sense, they are utterly true and poignant. i guess it's easier to tap into that latter sense when one is by one's self.
i remembered falling asleep to those songs in high school; i remembered listening to "Subdivisions" driving through actual subdivisions late at night thinking about how the line "up lighted streets on quiet nights" had to have been written about kids growing up in Leawood, KS, as i did; i remembered the countless times i'd listened to "Mission" on headphones and felt that tug, that inescapable poignance that i never really felt anyone else would get.
and then there's this awesome, overwhelming sense in which this show--and really no Rush show, save the 30th anniversary victory lap of a few years back--ain't a nostalgia trip at all. the band has a new album, "Snakes and Arrows," their 18th (!) full-length, and they played a whole bunch of songs from it tonight. it's certainly not all great, but goddamn it, it's very, very sincere. this band does not slack. even as their music has gotten less ambitious, less baroque, less--say it with me--progressive, it has never felt untruthful or dispassionate. when i first heard the new disc, i was pretty bummed. listening to it over and over again recently, i can definitely see myself welcoming these songs into future live sets, as i welcomed "One Little Victory" from the second most recent disc, "Vapor Trails," tonight.
i've said this so many times but i can't say it enough: Rush is the only classic-rock band that isn't a living fossil. they've never reunited, because they've never broken up. they've never stopped making albums. they play all their hits in concert, but they also play a ton of recent material, and you know what? the fans love that mix.
no b.s. with these guys. you should've seen the sincerity with which Geddy thanked the crowd--i lost count of the times he said, "we really appreciate it!"--or with which he took some video of the audience "for his friends back home in Canada." onstage, he and guitarist Alex Lifeson are goofy, joyous, entirely lovable, while Neil Peart is an utter workhorse. when he finally smiled at the end of the set, it was incredibly heartwarming. what a genius, genius musician...
there is something so happy, so joyful in this experience of loving a band over time and seeing them play. you just want to hug someone each time they start up a new tune that you've loved for years. i almost did just that during the intro to "Natural Science"--after texting a few of my buddies that they were playing this unbelievable piece, i just started beaming and i turned to the middle-aged guy next to me and i was like, "man, i can't believe they're playing this song!" he was less demonstrative then me, but his contented smile told me that he too was a lifer.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
a lot of things that i found unsurpassably cool in high school--"Tropic of Cancer," for example, or smoking cigarettes--now seem passe. but Jim Jarmusch's "Stranger Than Paradise" is not one of them. i was reminded of this over the weekend, when Laal and i checked out the new Criterion DVD of said indie film classic.
when i first saw the flick, i was struck by a million sumptuous details: the wry, eerie string music on the score; the shabby beauty of the setting; the arty fades to black after each scene. but what really got me, i must say, was the effortless sense of cool projected by the characters. the way they dressed absolutely slayed me: this kind of '20s-chic fedoras-and-suspenders kind of thing.
the leads--"Fishing With..." John Lurie as Willie and Richard "What country do you think this is?" Edson--are these sort of small-time, nobody hustlers who behave as if they have places to be and things on their mind. their hipsterfied snappy dress is really all there is to that image, but it's such a powerful, intoxicating look. it's the epitome of empty style.
i don't know about you, but for me, high school was about seeking out the dark stuff, from "The Satanic Bible" to Nine Inch Nails to the Coen Brothers to Rimbaud to Morbid Angel. and i suppose this flick sort of fit into that continuum, given its somewhat noirish tendencies. but when i see it now, i see it as a comedy, and also as a sort of discourse on personality types.
the character of Eva provides this awesome sort of counterweight to Wilie and Eddie's self-important loserdom. she's always chipping away at Eddie's tough-guy facade, asking him what the hell is up with his TV dinner and proclaiming the football game on TV to be "really stupid." she doesn't seem to be dissing for the sake of it--it's that she's honestly trying to see the value of American culture, but just can't. of course, Willie's edginess isn't helping matters.
speaking of that edge, it really struck me this time around. really the film is about how Willie's bipolar personality governs the trio's collective mood. it's actually a pretty dead-on portrait of how much social power moody people wield, and how much it sucks when they abuse that power. Eddie cowers at Willie's mood swings and lets himself be pushed around, but even Eva, who's not buying Willie's b.s., is pretty powerless to alter the bad vibes he's emanating.
look, it's really just a gorgeous, poetic movie. you know all those recent films where young, arty, shabbily attractive people sit around and yap about nothing? this is the genesis of that genre, but it displays a wry, self-deprecating warmth that you don't find in much of that later indie cinema, which always seemed to tack on a moral or some other fake closure.
the documentary on the DVD is great too. it's a portrait of Jarmusch and his circle right around the opening of "Stranger." the doc discusses Jarmusch's debut feature, "Permanent Vacation"--which looks, from the excerpts i've seen, to be a self-consciously arty, overly precious version of the "Stranger" template--as well as the making of "Stranger." probably the coolest thing is just listening to the director speak--he's a remarkably poised dude with an intense knowledge of film history and he cuts one of the most striking hipster figures you'll ever see. that silver pompadour and those fat lips; he's just like total fashion, and it's so funny b/c he never actually appeared in any of his early films.
also, via interviews w/ Jarmusch's actors--Edson, Lurie, Chris Parker from "Permanent," etc.--you really get a flavor for the weird, woolly place that was New York in the early '80s. these folks all seem slightly cracked out and wild. you get a sense that they're very much drifters, perhaps junkies, or in any event, just sort of strung out in the spiritual sense. Jarmusch sort of presides over them w/ this beatific calm, like he's the only one grounded enough to harness their creepy energy.
also went to Two Boots w/ my pal Russ to take in a screening of "Musician", a new doc on the avant-jazz everyman Ken Vandermark by Daniel Kraus. Vandermark was there and he played solo before the film. kinda burnt right now so i can't give the full story, but i guess what i'd say is the evening was pretty cool all around, but maybe nothing spectacular.
it's interesting to find Vandermark, a player known for his workaholic tendencies, as the subject of this doc which purports to depict the saxist's art as mundane labor. (this film is part of a series, along with "Sheriff" and some others, which documents the daily working lives of a variety of Americans.) Vandermark's music often carries the flavor of labor rather than inspiration: he seems to take great pains to conceptually ground his music and map out its goals, limits, structures in advance in an almost control-freakish way.
take for example his habit of dedicating absolutely every piece of music he does to another artist. many folks have done this throughout the years--Steve Lacy comes to mind--but few are as diligent and vocal about it as Vandermark. during the short solo set, he cited Albert Ayler, Evan Parker and Anthony Braxton, heavy cats all. to be honest, the way he always cites his sources strikes me as somewhat stifling, i.e., if you mention Evan Parker's name and then begin to play a shrill solo on clarinet utilizing circular breathing, it's hard to shake the feeling that you're listening to an imitation rather than a work that truly uses Parker as a jumping-off point.
something to think about: there's definitely some form of anxiety of influence going on w/ Vandermark that can make it hard to locate the soul of his music.
that said, the dude can really kick some serious ass when he wants to. i wrote on Dusted about some nice Vandermark records of a few years back here. and i really dug the footage of the Free Music Ensemble (FME) in the film, so i went back and checked out their recent disc, "Cuts", and found it to be quite badass. the group--Vandermark plus bassist Nate McBride and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love--really gets into some savage and gritty stuff on this disc. it's very turbulent, kinetic music, but with a lot of groove and heart. i'd say this and the Territory Band are my favorite Vandermark projects--the Vandermark 5 has always left me a bit cold--and i'm *really* interested to hear the forthcoming Territory Band disc featuring Fred Anderson.
don't mean to come down too hard on Ken here. just wanted to point out, for one, how that practice of obsessive dedication might not always work to his advantage...
Thursday, September 06, 2007
many highly anticipated scenarios in life fail to live up to one's expectations, but talking to David Yow on the phone is not one of them. i was fortunate enough to interview the singer--late of Scratch Acid and The Jesus Lizard and currently of Qui--for a Time Out piece a few weeks back and he was pretty awesome to talk to.
yeah, he's a pretty raunchy dude as you might expect, but i was also really struck by his sincerity. he sounded really psyched to be learning how to actually sing (apparently the Qui dudes are pretty up on their theory) and to be really pushing his vocals past what they were in the Lizard--the new Qui record is a real showcase for what this guy is capable of. (anyone who knows "Zachariah" from the Lizard's "Liar" knows that the notion of Yow actually singing is no joke at all.) also he was very frank about the pressures of living up to his wildman reputation. all in all a very honest, funny, down-to-earth guy. hopefully that comes through in the conversation, which can be found here.
in utterly disparate musical realms, i'm obsessed with the following track by U.K., a progressive-rock supergroup with a weirdly generic name from the late '70s. Thymme Jones from Cheer-Accident turned me onto them and Mr. Steve Smith (maybe the galaxy's foremost King Crimson expert?) was kind enough to loan me their debut disc.
by far the raddest thing about these guys is that at their inception, they included two beasts from the sickest of the early-'70s King Crimson lineups: bassist-vocalist John Wetton (above) and drummer Bill Bruford. rounding out the group are violinist and keyboardist Eddie Jobson and guitarist Allan Holdsworth (a well-known fusion wanksman). this is really Wetton and Bruford's show though. the keyboards are a tad garish, but still, check out how gorgeously lean, soulful and funky this track is once it gets moving:
U.K. - In the Dead of Night (released 1978)
this is the sound of prog inching its way toward pop and the rest of the disc moves even further in that direction. but nothing else on the record has the righteous focus of this track. i'm no Crimson completist; my favorite stuff is the really heavy, raunchy stuff like "Lark's Tongue in Aspic, part 1" and "Easy Money," and Wetton and Bruford obviously made huge contributions to the ballsiness of that music. Wetton in particular may be the grittiest, most powerful vocalist in prog. i love me some Geddy and Jon Anderson, but Wetton has really got a pair--he sings from the throat and the heart, not to mention from the abacus--this tune is wicked complex and he makes it sound so natural! i can't get that damn verse melody out of my head. oh, and damn if he isn't fucking ripping on bass simultaneously...
god bless prog--this is a real apex of the form: concise, catchy, hugely funky in its way, brutal, sinewy, and wizardly in its design. dig it!