Friday, February 15, 2008
Boots were made... // Structural integrity?
i take no credit whatsoever for this find, but you've got to check out the Steely Dan bootlegs on offer here, as alley-ooped to me by John, who's been producing a typically eclectic and insightful stream of texts over at yon Green Lodge.
i'd heard that first 1974 boot but it had never excited me all that much. now revisiting that era, i've become pretty damn transfixed with the London 1974 Dan show, which you can download via this link. the banter is intensely sardonic (you can see why these dudes quit performing after a while--they seem to have no interest in "entertaining" anyone) but the performances are, like, possessed. my picks on there are "King of the World"--definitely a sleeper Dan track; the bridge in particular is a godsend; and check out the weird Fagen intro to this version: "This is a scary song" or somesuch--and "Brooklyn," a beautiful and somewhat creepy soul number from "Can't Buy a Thrill," given an intense upbeat reading here and sung by an unfamiliar singer whose name is escaping me.
i really dig the 1993 show as well, especially (who knew?) the Walter Becker-sung track "Book of Liars"--an intensely soulful ballad. and once you get used to his voice not being Fagen's, it's got some real charm to it. (anyone spent any real time w/ the Becker solo effort "11 Tracks of Whack"?)
continuing Cecil research as well. been doing some hard listening to "Unit Structures" and i must say, the record continues to elude me in some respects. i find "Conquistador" (from just a few months later in '66) to be a much more cohesive and "together"-sounding session.
in a way, i think "Unit Structures" has kind of a handicap b/c the first track, "Steps" is not the greatest. the thematic material at the beginning just sounds underrehearsed--the saxes, Jimmy Lyons and Ken McIntyre, play in this sort of raggedy unison, and the solos have a lot of energy but very little sense of form. one thing i keep wondering is who solos first? both players are on alto so it's really, really hard to tell. can anyone clear this up?
the rest of the record is stronger, although it's not till the third track, "Unit Structure/As of a Now/Section" that things really begin to cook. the band sounds really on top of the material on that track--none of that tentative, half-baked togetherness, and McIntyre sounds really gritty and vicious on bass clarinet. the second track, "Enter Evening" (weirdly anthologized on the Smithsonian collection) is a strange bird. i'm not a fan of the sort of dated-exotica sound of McIntyre's oboe, but i do really admire the patient, spacious improv happening during the solo sections. drummer Andrew Cyrille plays with brushes and just sort of whispers commentary under the horns and the basses, Henry Grimes and Alan Silva (depicted above), keep up this otherwordly atmosphere (i'm pretty sure Silva's the one doing most of the arco stuff; whichever player it is, though, is absolutely masterful at those high-pitched sliding textures). i need to spend some more time with "Tales (8 Whisps)," the trio track.
don't have the firmest grasp on "Conquistador" yet, but the record really hangs together for me. the self-titled track in particular has a lot of drive and really memorable themes, and Bill Dixon takes a showstopping solo where you can really hear his later concepts in embryonic form. it's weird that "Unit Structures" seems to be so much more famous, i.e., it's the Cecil record everyone's heard of. i think it makes for kind of a questionable entry point into his work and that "Conquistador" functions much better in that regard. both records are strange though in that they're not really about Cecil's playing so much as his group concept--the piano sound is kind of thin and in general the horns seem to get the prime-time solo space.
again though this is all a work in progress/first impressions, etc. it's not like i haven't heard these records before, but i'm trying to get a new grasp on them and document my reactions. anyway, more soon i hope...