Saturday, March 15, 2008
X Factor // Paranoid Park
greetings, all. 'tis late Friday night. got a few things on my mind. anyone who checks this site out with any regularity may sorta get a sense of how my music intake works, which is in these very concentrated phases: i'll get obsessed with one artist or area and then burrow real deep into it and then move on when the time seems right; usually the book ain't closed, just tabled for the time being. i never really know how or why a new phase begins, but i'm usually pretty happy just to go along with the impulse.
after some heavy Cecil listening and then a week or so of marveling at Tim Berne, i'm on to Pat Metheny. this one came about after i caught a few tracks from his 1986 Ornette Coleman collaboration--that's them two pictured above--Song X, on WKCR's Ornette b-day broadcast last week. i had checked out the 20th-anniversary reissue of this one when it came out in '06, but i had never really gotten to know the full record. over the past few days, i dove in and i'm extremely psyched about this one; it's a very major jazz record and also, it seems to me, a very accessible one. i feel like you don't have to be a fan of either artist in particular to get into the ecstatic lyricism of this record. it just projects a sense of having been a joy to make.
i feel some strange need to sort of "explain" the whole Metheny factor. basically in many hip jazz circles he's considered a cheeseball (though in many other jazz circles, just a few aesthetic degrees away, he's considered a god). i can see both viewpoints. his solo music, or at least what i know of it, is often precarious balanced between being the most ingeniously, purely pleasant, catchy and melodic thing you've ever heard and sounding like an '80s prime-time TV theme you just can't place. but i'm fascinated by the unabashed positivity of his sound. he seems to genuninely want EVERYONE to be able to dig his music and honestly, at times, i'm convinced he's got this formula figured out.
granted i know only a very limited amount of his work. am basing much of my commentary on The Way Up, the latest release by his eponymous Group, which has been active in various forms since the late '70s. The Way Up is an album-long suite. haven't made it all the way through yet, but there's this flashy, heartstring-yanking theme in Part One--the perfect aural counterpart to a pained guitar face--that depending on my frame of mind is either supremely cheesy or sublime. when you're listening to Pat, those words come to seem like synonyms. looking forward to rocking the rest of this disc. the suite's intro too could be either slickest most badass prog-fusion-minimalist overture you've ever heard or like some kind of NPR theme. Pat Metheny--the kind of longhair that plays well in the boardroom or the jam session; or maybe he's too damn happy for either.
basically i'd classify him as what smooth jazz would be if it ruled--it often goes down that stupefyingly easy but depending on the track, it also has a pretty serious element of compositional and improvisational validity.
looking forward to investigating more. sometimes i can only take the dude in small doses, b/c the stuff can get cloying/glossy/etc., but it's worth it. title track from his 1976 debut, Bright Size Life, which you can hear below (no offense, but, uh, i'd go ahead and motor past that bass solo), is just insanely gorgeous--it feels so complete and inevitable, sprung from Zeus's forehead simply to be moving and pleasing:
as for Song X, what a record. mentioned before the almost crazed exuberance of the date, which is btw, rendered in outstandingly crisp and vibrant fidelity (makes you wish that more avant-garde jazz records came out on major labels). amazing variety of tunes, incredible sidefolks (Charlie Haden on bass--dig, btw this absolutely remarkable and erudite Haden interview by Ethan Iverson, who if he put his mind to it, could easily put all of us wannabe jazz scholars out of a job--Jack DeJohnette on drums and Denardo Coleman on drums and percussion), a really risky but actually awesome element of electronic drumpads and very of-the-era synth intrusion courtesy of Metheny, and absolutely burning Ornette contributions. it's a stunner, truly crackling and maybe the single finest example of '80s jazz i've heard?
anyway, i heard some grumbles a few years ago when the Song X reissue came out w/ six bonus tracks, all of which were stacked at the beginning of the track sequence rather than the end. well, let me tell you, i think a few of these are honestly the highlights of the album. not having ever been acquainted w/ the disc in its original form, i honestly can say that i can only imagine it feeling like a weaker release sans these tracks, including the obscenely catchy and playful Police People, the kinda-goofy but majorly fun Latin-ish number The Good Life (on which Ornette gets all calypso) and The Veil, which seems to be the same tune as Mothers of the Veil, a piece that (i'm pretty sure) originally came out on the 1987 Ornette record In All Languages. anyway this version of The Veil has to be one of the most poignant Ornette performances i've ever heard, with the head partaking of that same unreal heart-tugging pathos as Lonely Woman.
now the original record ain't a slouch either, though the highlights seem slightly buried in the track sequence (i'll never understand why the overlong, monotonous blowout Endangered Species made the cut at all, let alone why it was placed third). the incredibly singing, sweetly lyrical, floating ballad Kathelin Gray (cocredited to Metheny and Coleman) attains Stevie Wonder-like levels of sunny, candylike bittersweetness, and the title track (heard in full-band and duo versions) is one of those brief, thorny, burning Ornette heads in the classic mold.
but maybe the highlight of the original batch is Video Games, a frenetic tune that almost reminds me of Steve Lacy in its mad repetiveness. after that there's this crazy sort of sci-fi, robo-jazz interlude with Metheny wigging out on drum machine and guitar-synth, and Ornette's sax sounding like it's being run through effects or somesuch. this is one of the places where you hear the pervasive '80s-ness of the record; it's at once powerfully dated and immensely endearing and stylish. then around 1:50, all that fuss fades away and gives way to the most sublime, pure acoustic freebop via Ornette, Haden and DeJohnette. the fresh musical air you feel during that FX-to-pure-acoustic switch is super bracing. the mad FX come swirling back from time to time and they can seem a bit goofy, but overall i'm really impressed with the risk factor of this track.
i'm sure tons of purist types were bummed by this sort of electronic monkey biz when the record originally dropped but i stand by it completely. there's plenty of great all-acoustic stuff on the record and when the FX come in, they're almost always enjoyable and well-integrated, only adding to the immense SMILE factor of this outstanding record.
coda: saw Gus Van Sant's Paranoid Park tonight and would recommend it highly. very wonderful dark, rainy, dreamy mood factor happening. sort of predictable reliance on whole inscrutable-adolescent mystique, but the lead actor, Gabe Nevins, does a great job of projecting bewilderment, fear, apathy and all of the other kaleidescopic teenage emotions. maybe, as Laal pointed out, overly reliant on trippy non-narrative moodsetting material, but it's a subtle and intoxicating movie that refuses to make its central moral dilemma seem neatly solvable. (note very obvious recycling of Elliott Smith's tune "Angeles," which Van Sant also used to great effect in Good Will Hunting; hey, i don't mind--what a goddamn amazing song...)