Thursday, February 28, 2008

RIP Jared McGuiness

just heard the terribly sad news--a month late, actually--that Jared McGuinness of the Brooklyn noise-rock band PRINT has died. Jared and i weren't close friends, but Stay Fucked played with PRINT often, and it was always a great time. he was always really positive and supportive, and he helped us set up a bunch of shows. not to mention the fact that he was an awesome musician. basically i was always happy to see him around, and it's just awful to hear this news. my sincere condolences to his bandmates, friends and family members. read more from his associates here.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Monday Cecilophilia

wanted to weigh in on two fascinating mid-period Cecils that i got to spend some good time with today.

Spring of Two Blue-J's (1973) - A
this beauty (pictured above) was originally released on Cecil's private label Unit Core. i've never seen the original, but i've got a decent burn of it. side one is a 15-minute-ish solo piece, and side two is a roughly 20-minute quartet track w/ Jimmy Lyons on alto, Sirone on bass (dig his excellent solo near the end) and Andrew Cyrille on drums. both pieces are apparently titled "Spring of Two Blue-J's," suggesting that they're versions of the same composition (Cecil seems to do this sort of thing often, e.g., the several records entitled "Looking" that were recorded in '89), but i don't hear much continuity between them. the solo piece is an absolute stunner, containing some utterly crazed, demonically intense playing that sounds like a player piano with a jammed score. but also there's this stately, heartbreaking theme that Cecil plays right at the beginning and then about 11 minutes in, and he toys with and atomizes a second motif at about 7 minutes in that almost sounds like a jaunty klezmer melody. i feel like i've been noticing this kind of thematic material in the solo records a lot more lately (it's definitely there on "Fly! Fly! Fly! Fly! Fly!," discussed a few posts down) and this aspect of Cecil's music really excites me. the quartet piece isn't *quite* as memorable--there's a lot of scampering, hectic playing that's kinetic yet slightly familiar--but it is an excellent example of the dynamic between these players. in the early minutes of the track, you can really hear how Lyons is a centering force in this group--his initial entrance is so elegant and the whole band sort of seems to mass around his fluid, tart, lyrical fanfares.

Student Studies - (1966) - A
this one really knocked me on my ass. it's not a record you hear a lot about, but truthfully, i feel as though it should be considered a vital companion to the Blue Notes of the same year. Student Studies was recorded in Paris in November, less than two months after Conquistador, and the band is a stripped-down version of the one on the record: Lyons, Cyrille and Alan Silva on bass. the title piece--spread across the first two long tracks--contains two successive themes, the first an insistent sax pulse laid over an ominous arco bass drone, and the second a darting, spirally sax line that the other instruments sort of scamper behind. the improvising here is very dramatic, with very little feeling of treading water. there's this awesome moment at about 2:10 into the first piece where Cecil pounds a few notes and Silva lets out this dissonant arco squeal right on his heels--really cool and memorable. anyway, the aforementioned themes are each woven in about three times, interspersed with some nicely diverse improv sections, including a Taylor/Cyrille duet section in the first piece and a Taylor/Silva duet section (gorgeous, slow, ominous, creepy, etc.) opening the second one. a really coherent piece! the third track, "Amplitude," is also a killer, definitely one of the most unique Taylor cuts i can think of. this piece really gets into a "little instruments" vibe reminiscent, to me, of early AACM stuff--interestingly the first major AACM document, Roscoe Mitchell's "Sound," was also recorded in '66, though i can't find the exact date. anyway, "Amplitude" features bells, gongs, woodblocks, whistles and all kinds of other auxiliary instruments, including (and this is really cool) some kind of preparation on the piano, i.e., metal objects presumably placed inside the instrument to generate a rattling sound. all this percussive texture really gives this piece a unique, adventuresome feel--wonderfully vivid recording too. the last piece, the crazily titled "Niggle Feuigle," kind of reminds me of the title track to Conquistador, with an upbeat, Latinish rhythm from Cyrille and boldly beautiful soloing from Lyons. all in all, a VERY diverse record and again, worthy of consideration alongside the other, better-known '66 masterworks, Unit Structures and Conquistador.

now i saved the best for last, an actual VIDEO (i was shocked when i found this) of the Student Studies band in action in Paris in November of '66. apparently it was manually taped off the TV, but still:

given the eclectic atmospherics going on here--note Taylor and Silva getting in on auxiliary percussion and Lyons LISTENING intently--i think it can reasonably be assumed that this is a version of "Amplitude." i haven't listened closely enough to determine if it is in fact the version from the record. wouldn't that be a trip... (has anyone seen any other footage from this period??? it's definitely the earliest video of Cecil, or any of these dudes, i've ever seen.)

Bro cycle

very psyched to see the Coens mop up at the Oscars. (you had to love Ethan's subverbal stage presence, no? not to mention how genuinely proud Frances McDormand looked.) "Barton Fink" was perhaps the first movie i felt strongly enough about to proclaim it My Favorite Movie. "Miller's Crossing" is absolutely unbeatable as well--could watch it a million times.

surely the coolest thing about the "No Country" semisweep, though, was seeing Cormac McCarthy on national TV!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sorey does cut it // Academy fight song

Tyshawn Sorey and his quartet played an excellent set at Jazz Gallery last eve, to formally commemorate the release of the outstanding "that/not" available from Firehouse 12. Laal and i caught the first set and it was extremely packed, which made me happy. as previously reported, that double-disc set was one of my very favorite records of last year and there was an extended period during which it seemed to be glued in my Discman (RIP, since subbed out for iPod!).

anyway, the overall vibe of the show was meditative, in keeping with the record. there were a few breaks in the set, but overall there was a continuous flow happening--very long, mysterious ballad-like constructions played tautly and with a lot of mystery. Tyshawn is an intensely precise player and every gesture--whether it's hitting the butt end of the stick on the ride bell or flapping his brushes in the air for a swishing effect--carries an enormous amount of weight. it was cool to see him directing traffic with intense glances in the other players' directions. trombonist Ben Gerstein is great to watch and to hear, a very animated and searching player--his duo Moth, with Sam Hillmer of Zs, is well worth your time. bassist Thomas Morgan and pianist Cory Smythe played excellently as well; w/ Smythe in particular it really felt like he was inhabiting the music.

even after seeing this stuff live (the set consisted mostly of pieces from the record, though there were a few i didn't recognize), i still don't feel like i have any more of an idea how exactly it's put together. the compositions flow absolutely seamlessly into the improvising--as i wrote earlier, the music just feels sort of eternal and unbound by time, like you're wading into a stream that'll keep going long after you've gotten out. silly simile there, but the logic here is unique and strange and wondrous. can't wait to hear what Sorey comes up w/ next.


Oscars! i actually am kind of excited, b/c i've seen four of the five Best Picture nominees. loved No Country, thought Daniel Day-Lewis ruled but that otherwise There Will Be Blood was kind of narratively limp, loved Michael Clayton (what a strange, complex, out-of-left-field flick; but i'll eat up anything w/ Sydney Pollack), and thought Juno was cute but ultimately kind of nauseating (it lays on the indie-(rock) quirk with a trowel; kudos to Jason Bateman though for an awesome turn as a fading rocker dude).

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Life won't wait // More from your Cecil tailor

Extra Life--solo project of Charlie Looker, ex-Zs--played an awesome set at Union Pool last night. new songs made the show feel more well-rounded than a few others i'd seen recently--this is a band that can't help but improve exponentially. extremely aggressive, emotional, complex, occasionally kind of prog-poppy, which i very much enjoy. new drummer Nick (an astonishing player; check out Yukon) sounds super locked in. Tony was burly and awesome as usual (complete bias, but hey), Travis sounded great on sax and (!) Electronic Wind Instrument, and i could hear the violin more than i ever had before. very psyched to hear new record, "Secular Works," gettable from Planaria. go see them on tour!


have been trying to figure out what is the best way to document recent torrent of Cecil Taylor listening. i think i'm just gonna try to do some brief capsule reviews of all the records that i've had a chance to really spend time with. for now, let's say A means "essential/terminally fulfilling, etc.," B means "less than that; maybe marred by poor recording or overlongness or something," and C would be "not so great." not sure if i can think of any Cecil records that fall into that latter category, but maybe they'll come up.

Conquistador! - 1966 - A
as i indicated earlier, i think this is a really outstanding record, definitely one of Cecil's most "together"-seeming group efforts ever. the themes on the two long tracks are really potent and memorable, and the pieces contrast nicely (title track is adventurous and kinetic, while "With (Exit)" is eerie and apprehensive). band is unimpeachable, everyone playing with strong attention and sensitivity. again, i'll take this one over "Unit Structures" in terms of classic '60s Cecil.

Live in the Black Forest - 1978 - A
not as well known as "The Cecil Taylor Unit" or "3 Phasis," but maybe even better in terms of representing the mighty late '70s Unit at full strength. was really psyched to hear that this one is VERY well-recorded, with a lot of body on all the instruments. you can hear the band's signature bold exuberance in the solos and wonderful habit of passing themes around, stating them in staggered chorus. two long pieces, the second fascinating and joyous due to some easygoing swing from drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson. a deep, deep band, with three star soloists (Lyons, Malik, Ameen); also a lot of variety in the arrangements, including an edge-of-your-seat duet between Taylor and Malik on the second piece, "Sperichill on Calling" (love that title).

Fly! Fly! Fly! Fly! Fly! - 1980 - A
very wondrous solo session, which (please correct me if i'm wrong) i believe to be the only solo Cecil recorded in a studio. this is a tough, tough nut to crack, but worth it. short pieces, incorporating much of Cecil's signature Lick and Flurry playing (as taxonomied in an earlier post here), but as Howard points out in his new "Miles Ornette Cecil" tome, which i've only skimmed but plan to fully tackle soon, but the session also features a lot of very unique motifs which pop up again and again. one of the coolest things about the record is that a lot of it sounds like Cecil's signature playing, but more sculpted, elegant, pretty, rhapsodic, maybe even sentimental at times. there are these little twists and twinges of emotion throughout that make this an unusually patient and sumptuous record. aside from some insanely dextrous runs, the longer, more aggressive pieces near the end didn't grab me *quite* as much, but overall this one is very much essential due to its uniqueness. weird to hear him divide up a long recital this way.

and might as well recap some of the others i've discussed in recent posts...

It Is in the Brewing Luminous - 1980 (recorded in February, whereas Fly! was made in September) - B
as mentioned before, the recording quality of this one knocks it out of essential territory. trouble hearing rhythm section, esp. bassist Alan Silva, throughout, and two drummers, Sunny Murray and Jerome Cooper, as well. very cool to hear a) Taylor reunited with Murray, who's moving into his mature "elephant walk" style here, and b) playing w/ Cooper, who offers crisp, idiosyncratic commentary, but sound is frustratingly spotty. definitely one of those marathon live sets that has its incendiary moments but probably goes on too long for its own good.

Unit Structures - 1966 - A
was a little hard on this one before--only b/c i believe that it's unfairly hyped over Conquistador--but it really is a very compelling record. again, the first track, "Steps" feels scattered and underrehearsed to me and the second, "Enter Evening," seems a little precious, but the long third track, "Unit Structure/As of a Now/Section," is marvelous, definitely up there w/ the Conquistador material in terms of poise and virtuoso architecture. again, the band kills--as w/ Conquistador, the basses (Silva and Henry Grimes) and drummer (Cyrille) are heroically sensitive throughout. still need to give a closer listen to the last (hornless) track, "Tales (8 Whisps)."

The Cecil Taylor Unit - 1978 - A
bold, bold band, discussed above in the Live at the Black Forest section. all their recordings are remarkable. EXCELLENT recording quality (yes, that's always really important to me), and fearless playing, esp. from the backbeat-happy Shannon Jackson. was really delighted by this one upon revisiting it--sometimes i feel as though Cecil's group music has become less intricately woven and well-thought-out over the years (i.e., since the Blue Note stuff), but this is a very tight session. as i mentioned before, the band seems to inhabit Cecil's choppy sense of time when it needs to but also offer its own sweeping, exuberant statements. marvelously alive, forceful, wizardlike, etc.

and i'd give Riobec (duo w/ Gunter Sommer from '88), Garden (solo action from '81) and Winged Serpent (all-star international biggish band from '84) all an A rating. first one finds Taylor meeting his match in terms of zany glee and totally diving in the deep end; second one is just prime, prime solo Cecil, typical (or maybe "representative" is a better word--i only mean in comparison to other solo Cecil) in some ways but maybe the most poised, virtuosic and forceful i've heard--a big leap from the previous benchmark "Silent Tongues" (another A, obviously); and the third is raggedy at times but very fun, with Lyons leading the charge on a variety of staggered fanfares and all players seeming to have fun massing around the master and at times murmuring and whooping vocally in crazy ritualistic fashion.

need to listen closer to all three of those and to the Willisau Concert from 2000, the latter definitely an A, but not terribly, terribly familiar to me. it's one of those marathon solo-concert Cecils and much-beloved by Gary Giddins and other trustworthy folks. what i need to get a handle on is how it differs and builds upon the earlier solo records.

(by the way, if anyone doesn't know about this rad online Taylor discography and this live sessionography, check them out. invaluable stuff.)

anyway, i've been buried in this stuff, so i'm just trying to make sense of it all. going to hear Tyshawn Sorey tonight, so i'll be sure to let you know how it sounds!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Confessor's Steve Shelton: Webbed feet

have you heard Confessor? (gotta credit Tony w/ reawakening me to this awesomeness, though i found 'em first! though i think it was Pat D who originally hipped me...) startlingly, inscrutably strange, strange (strange!) metal band from Raleigh, North Carolina. released an outstanding full-length, Condemned, in '91, broke up soon after and reformed in early aughts. a follow-up, Unraveled, appeared in '05.

i'm much more familiar with Condemned, and i wanted to post the first track:

Confessor - Alone

i guess i should admit--if it wasn't immediately clear from listening--that what gets me about this music is the drumming. intensely complicated prog-doom is one thing; intensely complicated prog-doom with weirdly powerful operatic vocals is another; add astonishingly dextrous, wiry, spacious, SMART drumming--imagine a nerdier, brainer Dale Crover--filled with expertly controlled (and not mindlessly space-filling) double bass and yeah, i'm freakin' sold.

drummer in question is one Steve Shelton, far left above. he's an absolute genius and intensely revered in underground circles. he's also in the extremely kick-ass instrumental math-metal band Loincloth, which also features dudes from Breadwinner, another outstanding, unsung early '90s group. anyway, check out how cool and soft-spoken he is in this demonstration video. he's like, "Oh, hello--i didn't see you there. Oh, you want me to kindly and gently parse out my insanely complex, double-bass-crammed math-doom-prog drum architecture for you? Let me just get a cup of tea and a scrunchy for my ponytail and we'll proceed..."

they talk about Coltrane's sheets of sound? Steve Shelton plays freakin' webs of rhythm--his parts are sticky as hell. they glue the riffs together. large gaps and then sudden clumps and clusters of toms. and those bass drums! i could listen to the tone all day. they sound REAL. just enjoy the architecture of it. if the vocals on the MP3 bug you, tune 'em out, but i've actually come to really dig them.

more about Confessor on their official site and MySpace. also, Loincloth will blow your mind. and Breadwinner (just a fan page) never hurt nobody neither.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fame game

Joe and i had some good pizza (from Bella Via, really classy pie place just over the Pulaski Bridge in LIC; nice charring on the crust, etc.) and watched a good flick last night. had scored Mr. Warmth, a new Don Rickles doc, from work, so we checked that out.

i knew Rickles's name, of course, but i didn't really have an idea of the scope of his work. basically he's sort of a classic insult comic (race jokes, sex jokes, basically anything with a squirm factor), but he's also a film and TV star and more importantly, he's just a really potent example of what seems like a bygone age of what can only be called Showbiz. most of the doc consists of talking-head interviews, and the subjects are incredibly wide-ranging: Clint Eastwood, Joan Rivers, Bob Newhart, Ed McMahon, Regis Philbin, all the way to Sarah Silverman and Jimmy Kimmel and Chris Rock. all these folks express incredible affection for Rickles, and a lot of them hark back to this amazing moment in entertainment where there were just all these celebrities who seemed to be famous *because* they were famous, and people just loved watching them go on TV and act like themselves.

the highlight of the doc in this regard was a section on the repartee between Rickles and Johnny Carson. Rickles used to go on Carson's show and they'd have this acidic banter together. apparently at one point Rickles guest-hosted and broke Carson's prize cigarette case, so the next night, Carson notices and asks the camera crew to follow him to the adjacent studio where Rickles was filming his own show. so he bursts in on Rickles's taping and confronts him. hilarious stuff, but the great thing is how when Rickles is like "Ladies and gentleman, Johnny Carson," Carson is like "Why do you always do that? They know who i am!" then he intros Rickles in the same way. the message is sort of like, in that age of celebrity, you should just be KNOWN, no questions asked--the idea of unfamiliarity was insulting or something.

on that tip, many would say that celebrities (Sinatra, etc.) didn't feel they'd arrived until they'd been insulted by Rickles. today we always wonder why so and so could get famous for doing something so silly (William Hung, etc.), but w/ Rickles, you don't question it at all. he's famous just on the strength of who he is.


checked out a few Cecil records over the weekend (duh), including the splendidly titled "It Is in the Brewing Luminous," a marathon live set from 1980 w/ Jimmy Lyons, Ramsey Ameen, Alan Silva, and both Jerome Cooper and Sunny Murray on drums. the drummers were the real draw for me, esp. since to my knowledge this is the only recording of Cecil w/ Murray after those classic '60s sessions.

unfortunately, though, the sound is really muddy and inconsistent and the bass and drums often get lost. Lyons sounds excellent as usual, but the majority of the hourlong disc is Cecil soloing alone or w/ Ameen. it's one of those classic Cecil live dates where he plays with demonic intensity, ramps it down, then plays with even more demonic intensity. this happens like ten times, and sometimes it seems as if the band is just exhausted. but Ameen does a good job of racing along with him.

wish the sound on this one were better, b/c from what you can hear Cooper and Murray really contrast with each other in a nice way.

in other news, the second track on the solo disc "Garden" might be the most intense single example of solo Cecil i've ever heard. absolutely--even scarily--turbocharged playing.

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...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Cold comfort // Cecilphilia, pt. 283

ANNWN is surely the record of the winter, no? [gotta love that commemorative mug, too, of which i am a proud though totally nerdy-feeling owner.] the space-tech guitar webs looked and felt exactly like falling snowfields on the walk to the train this evening.


there has been no listening constant more, uh, constant for me over the past decade or so besides Cecil Taylor. every time i hear him live (as i did a few weeks back), there's this flurry of listening after. it's like brain food or something. i've got nearly a whole CD book thingie full of his music and i just pick and choose. with him or Bill Dixon (have been really digging on the "Odyssey" box as well), it feels like communion to just LISTEN over and over and over.

anyway, was checking out the awesome 1981 solo concert "Garden" last night and was really feeling plugged into it. noticed many small things: for one, i love the quick spoken intro: "About the thrash-uh ["thrasher"?] ... And they go / into / the / fields / to / plow"--is the piece a meditation on slavery or somesuch?

anyway, i listened deeply to the first long piece on the record, "Elell," and it made me think about Taylor's signature sounds, his tics if you will. i remember reading somewhere--it may have been in a Gary Giddins piece--the notion that Cecil had been playing the same ONE piece of music for the past several decades. i think the writer was mentioning that that monotony had been brought up as a criticism but then proceeded to defend the unity of Taylor's work.

the thing is i can totally see how someone could say that (i.e., that he always plays the same piece of music) because he has these sort of signature moves that seem to define the arc of much of his music. i.e., has anyone noticed how when Eric Dolphy solos he has this one pet lick that he uses in literally every single solo? wish i could transcribe it, but it's like "bah-BLEEP-boo-ba-doo-ba-doo-ba." that "BLEEP" being the key--it's a really honking, sour note that he sort of leaps up to.

well, i've noticed these similar sort of patterns in Cecil. i've often thought how he has these several different modes (i'm using that word in the non-musicological sense, i.e., "types") to his playing, and they seem to be sequential. i.e., when he's playing a longform piece, he always seems to start out in one mode of playing and work his way to another.

it's tough to get specific but i'll try. in "Elell," as in so many other of his long pieces, he starts slow and builds up to a dazzling, hectic climax. in the slow intro section to this piece, he worries over this pattern which i like to think of as "The Lick"--it's like Taylor's pet melodic cell. he tends to always play The Lick, and its attendant variations in this sort of locked-hand pattern, i.e., his two hands play in rhythmic unison. The Lick is this bluesy little figure that's like "boo-ba-doo-ba DWEN-ga DWEEEEN-ga" or "boo-ba-da DWEN-ga DWEEN-ga." it's sort of an infinitely variable pattern (sometimes the "boo-ba-doo-ba" or the "DWEN-ga DWEEEEEN-ga" are extended), but The Lick acts like this center of gravity--in "Garden" and so many other performances, Taylor uses it to build momentum. those "DWEN-ga DWEEEEN-ga" sections are the real signature accents.

gradually he works up to what i call his Flurry playing, those stabbing torrents of notes that he plays with his index fingers perpendicular to the keyboard. this mode of playing almost invariably comes at the climax of a piece, i.e., after he's worried over The Lick for several minutes. he usually alternates those single-note Flurries with grand, pounding chords and little interludes of The Lick, usually played more rapidly and elaborately than in the intro sections.

it sounds simple, but this is one way i make sense of Cecil's work--i hear The Lick, worried over, caressed, messed with building gradually into the Flurries, interspersed with The Lick, and so forth.

i imagine everyone wraps their brain around Cecil in a different way, one reason i'm psyched to check out Howard Mandel's new book on Miles, Ornette and Cecil, which includes a section on "strategies for listening to and enjoying Cecil Taylor."

have been checking out a few other Cecil discs from various periods, including "The Eighth" a nice cataclysmic quartet disc feat. the incredible Jimmy Lyons from only eight days before "Garden"; "Winged Serpent (Sliding Quadrant)," a prismatic and raucous big band session from 1984; and the unbelievable sextet session "The Cecil Taylor Unit" from 1978.

i guess it goes without saying that that late-'70s band (Lyons on alto, Raphe Malik on trumpet, Ramsey Ameen on violin, Sirone on bass and Ronald Shannon Jackson on drums) is Cecil's best group ever, but goddamn that shit is just nasty. the first track on "Unit" is totally revelatory--it's as though the whole band is inhabiting Cecil's brain and sort of acting under his spell, while at the same time making totally spontaneous and incisive gestures of their own.

right at the beginning of that track, the whole band just gets into this jagged, staggered sputtering thing that strongly suggests (to me at least)... The Lick! now maybe it's b/c i threw this on right after "Garden" last night, but it sounded to me like the entire sextet was rendering this sort of 3-D version of The Lick by way of an intro, sawing away at it, worrying over it the way Cecil would.

it's very interesting the way the piece is structured. it sort of toggles between these sparse sections where Cecil is featured, to a horn fanfare, usually begun by Lyons (who seems to lead the charge here and tons of other places, including on "Winged Serpent," where his voice is the most confident) and echoed by the other players.

also: i've pointed out a few times on here how drummer Pheeroan akLaff has been playing this barely sublimated sort of funk under Cecil. well Ronald Shannon Jackson was the original badass who brought that sort of fury to the Maestro's attention. on this piece he's playing this insanely hip syncopated tom-tom stuff and then at various points just breaks into a sick backbeat shuffle. it's very fragmentary, but it's there, and it's so goddamn potent.

this band was just so kinetic. Cecil's discs from the '90s and aughts have so often suffered from either a haphazard, sloppy feeling (e.g., 1996's "Almeda") or a feeling of too much tentativeness, which i felt was often the case with the Dominic Duval and Jackson Krall trio. the trick is to play inside Cecil's concept, but to also--and this is crucial--not be constrained by it and to blow wild and free and to feel the confidence to throw curveballs. that '70s sextet feels like they're really playing the music--you have a very palpable sense of WRITTEN/UNISON music that you hear on "Unit Structures" and on other records like "Dark to Themselves" but is unfortunately sometimes absent from Taylor's group work--but also like they're just exploding as improvisers. brave, brave stuff.

as a postscript, i'm just remembering now another session i checked out recently, which was "Riobec," one of the many duets Taylor recorded w/ drummers as part of his Berlin blowout in 1988. this one is with Gunter "Baby" Sommer and it's a total gas, one of the most exuberant, fun-loving Taylor discs i've heard. Sommer is sort of--for lack of a better word--a card, always changing directions and yelling with joy while he plays and sort of mugging in his improvisations. he throws Taylor a lot of curveballs and eventually you feel Taylor sort of opening up to the glee of the whole thing and finally just jumping in headfirst. you feel Taylor listening and reacting more in this performance more than you often do in his late work. at one point the two are vocalizing together, just jabbering insanely, and you really feel like Cecil has found a kindred spirit. too bad they never got together with a bass player--that woulda been a sick trio.

anyway, i'm really into exploring this Lick thing further, and also investigating the really biggie small-group works more, i.e. Unit Structures, Conquistador, plus the other stuff by the great sextet discussed above. and then there's that crazy "Fly! Fly! Fly! Fly! Fly! Fly!" record--which as far as i know is Cecil's only solo date that wasn't recorded live in front of an audience. this Cecilphilia is a lifelong thing, i tell you...

ps: finishing up writing this, i'm skimming over a really cool Gary Giddins-on-Cecil Taylor piece, which you can check out here.

the following quote seems to sorta jibe w/ what i was saying about about The Lick and the Flurries, just the general idea of signature motifs or tendencies in Taylor:

"I find that [Taylor's] fifty-minute pieces fly by, and I look forward to them. I understand how they work. There are certain technical things that he does on the piano that I just wait for in the same way that when I listen to Roy Eldridge, at some point I know he is going to start playing amazing high note passages, and I wait for them."


also, check this very cool recent Taylor interview/profile by Patrick Ambrose, who really gives you a feel for what it's like to hang out w/ the Maestro.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Motian sensor

caught the Paul Motian Octet on Friday at Birdland and i was sort of simultaneously blown away by the music and perplexed about the ghettoization that plagues jazz. basically i tend to be drawn to jazz that's known as "avant-garde," either b/c it presents itself that way or b/c it tends to get framed that way. Cecil Taylor, whom i caught the night before, obviously would fall into that category, whereas in most people's eyes, Motian wouldn't.

it's weird, though, because in all honesty i was a hell of a lot more surprised, and maybe even impressed, by Motian's set. i'm not sure that i've ever seen a set of jazz that was more simultaneously accessible and traditionally beautiful but at the same time extremely challenging and eccentric.

the set was a mix of standards (including, i believe, a Bird tune i couldn't place; "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat"--thanks to Joe for IDing that one; Monk's "Introspection"--a fave from Steve Lacy's "Straight Horn" album) and originals encompassing all different tempos and moods. the band was absolutely killer: Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek on sax, Ben Monder and Steve Cardenas on guitar, Mat Maneri on viola, Thomas Morgan on double bass, Jerome Harris on acoustic bass guitar, and Motian on drums. the pairs of instruments were pretty crucial to the sound--most tunes featured one particular team, who would sort of trade fours throughout the solo sections.

the soloists were outstanding, especially Malaby, Maneri and Monder, but then again, those were the players who got me out to the gig in the first place. i guess what impressed me most (besides the intense together-ness of the arrangements) was the FEEL of the music. looking back over my notes from the performance, i consistently jotted down words like "woozy" or "liquid" or "flowing." that sort of approximates the rhythmic feel that was happening, especially on the really luminous slow numbers. if anyone has heard "Karyobin" by the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, that might give you an idea of the kind of molten free time this band was getting into. this one ballad in particular--think it was a Motian original, but i'm not sure--just had this amazing free-floating feel to it, with all the instruments sort of bubbling up and smearing all over each other.

a lot of this has to do with Motian's drumming, which is SO STRANGE, not to mention mercurial. on uptempo stuff he sounds simply like a pretty wicked bebopper, who occasionally plays too loud in a way that's actually kind of awesome. when he's in ballad mode, though, things start to get really interesting. he gives up the time keeping role and just sort of bats at the rhythm, sculpting it abstractly. i was thinking how his playing on slow stuff isn't that terribly removed from early Sunny Murray in a weird way, but while Murray gives off this feeling of ghostly agitation, you get a feeling of ultrasubtle romance from Motian.

Malaby and Maneri in particular were perfect sidemen, b/c they both have really grainy, hoarse tones that blended perfectly with the kind of blurry, polyphonous feel of the band. Malaby got off a few deep, romantic solos and Maneri had one really intense exchange w/ Motian when they were sort of trading fours, except they were playing OVER one another instead of taking turns, making for a really brutal and chaotic sound. Monder got a few chances to bust out his insanely technical sci-fi runs; he made an interesting contrast with the more conventionally jazzy Cardenas.

overall, i was just sort of thinking that i need to be checking out more of what i typically think of as mainstream jazz. true that clubs like Birdland are prohibitively expensive, and maybe there aren't too many bands out there as sick as Motian's. but i just wish there were more cross-pollination w/ this stuff. like wouldn't it be amazing to see this Octet at the Vision Festival billed next to a William Parker band or something? Malaby actually plays with both musicians (as i discussed in my recent Time Out review of his great new disc, Tamarindo), so maybe the idea isn't so far-fetched. basically what i'm trying to say is that there are other places in town besides overtly experimental settings (the Stone, etc.) to hear intensely challenging jazz, and folks should try to look past the whole "mainstream"/"avant-garde" divide b/c this set spun me around more than anything i've heard in those more wild milieus for the past few years.

(p.s. - this made me really wanna investigate Motian's discography. i know i've gotta check out the Frisell/Lovano trio, but does anyone know the old or recent ECM stuff or the Soul Note stuff? some intrepid blogger needs to guide us through his recorded history post-Bill Evans.)


p.p.s. - "Skullgrid," the debut full-length from Behold... the Arctopus, continues to amaze. this might be one of the most coherent and enjoyable--not to mention insanely brutal and technical--metal albums i've ever heard. shred with PURPOSE. music you REMEMBER, not just marvel at.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Outside the Jawbox // Trig lesson at the Blue Note // Pete's best

have never much gone in for that whole "A String Tribute To..." business, but i'm pretty charmed by this cellist Gordon Withers, who has recorded an entire album of tunes by the outstanding '90s post-hardcore group Jawbox. is this necessary? no, but the cool thing is that it's a benefit for ex-JB frontman J. Robbins's son, Callum, who was born with a very serious spinal ailment. it also serves as a reminder of the solidity and grace of Jawbox's music. checking out "Static" in this format reminds what a strong song it is, just one of tons in their catalog. not a Jawbox enthusiast? i'm obsessed with "For Your Own Special Sweetheart," from 1994, which captures everything awesome about that period: muscle, dissonance, the occasional anguished shriek and sweet, sweet hooks.


caught Cecil Taylor again last night, which--to quote one of his album titles--is always a pleasure. in a kinda cool coincidence, i realized that the first post i ever wrote on this here site involved a solo Cecil show i saw at Merkin Hall in October of '06 (read my ramblings here).
i totally forgot until just now that i had actually caught the maestro only a few weeks later at Iridium (thoughts are here). that latter gig was the debut of his new trio with Henry Grimes on bass and Pheeroan akLaff on drums, and at the time, it was definitely the strongest time i'd ever heard Cecil live with a band. last night's show at the Blue Note had its ups and downs, but i'd say it rivaled that 10/06 gig for sure.

main difference was that William Parker (who happens to have a swanky new website) was in for Grimes on bass, which was sort of the main attraction for me. no disrespect to Mr. Grimes, but i'd always wanted to check out the Parker/Taylor connection b/c i'm a big fan of the Feel Trio stuff they had going with Tony Oxley back in the late '80s and early '90s. truly the bass/piano action was absolutely incredible last night.

the trio played two long pieces (maybe 30-40 mins apiece?). the first one took a while to ramp up, while the second one was pretty much balls out from the start. i was really impressed with the dynamics in the first piece. i remember distinct moments where all three were playing pretty furiously, but at a reasonable volume--there was a real sense of listening happening. whether or not the music was jelling at any one time had a lot to do with akLaff, who has an outstanding ability to bring a lot of heat but keep the volume in a reasonable place. when he stuck to this sort of abstracted groove thing that he does so well, using mainly bass drum, snare and hi-hat, the music really cooked. at times, though, he got carried away and was playing way, way too loud. he was beaming the whole time, clearly completely psyched to be there, and throughout the set there was this sense that he'd just sort of forget to listen at times. sorta unfortunate, but again, i really admire his subtle almost-but-never-quite-literal suggestions of the beat and i think that approach unlocks a hidden funkiness in Taylor's playing.

the one cool thing about those moments where akLaff was drowning Cecil out was that when he would finally let up, it threw the Taylor/Parker connection into stark relief. whenever that space opened, you could hear how gloriously in sync they were. not to dis Taylor's skills of listening and interaction but i credit this more to Parker--he just seemed to be working so hard to make his parts interlock w/ the piano. sometimes he was overtly playing off of what Cecil had just played, but other times it was almost as if he was playing the mirror image of the piano part. the two instruments were just incredibly fused and locked in; i'd say for certain that this was by far the strongest, most fruitful interaction between Cecil and another player that i've ever witnessed live. (btw, Parker was playing mostly pizzicato, but he let fly with some gorgeous bow stuff too from time to time.)

the first piece overall was much stronger and well-paced than the second. there were definitely a few times in the second piece when Parker and akLaff--and everyone else in the room--seemed to think it had come to an end, but Cecil would just start back up again. and also it's mighty tough, with a place like the Blue Note, to stay focused on the music when the waitresses are coming around with the checks near the end of the set. it just sort of deflates the experience. but the second set had moments of extreme fury, with Cecil doing those torrential stabbing runs he loves so much. also akLaff was playing on hand drums for awhile, which sounded excellent and opened up a lot of space in the music.

man, how could i forget the opening invocation/poem? Cecil always makes these dramatic entrances and this one was no exception. Parker and akLaff were alone onstage during the announcement of the band and they were laying down this subtle meditative thing. finally, after kind of an uncomfortably long time, Cecil comes padding down from upstairs in this insane red-and-black-striped get-up that had a strong pajama vibe with, as far as i could tell, no socks. he gets onstage and goes into one of his patented croaky-voiced poems, which took on this extra level of surreality given the commercial setting of the club. this verse was extra-scientific. it started off with (i think i'm remembering this right): "Music... is... about... weight distriBUtion." then the dude started riffing on trigonometry and whatnot! i distinctly remember a mention of "the hypotenuse." (now that i'm thinking about it, that could've been some deep abstract riff on the dynamics of a piano trio.) anyway, you gotta love this shit--epic eccentricity and always worth checking out.

since i feel as though i neglected his own performance in favor of the sidemen above, i'll just say that Cecil sounded excellent. he seems to take longer to warm up these days, but there are these tender, reflective moments, especially at the ends of the pieces, that i was really savoring.

someone needs to hurry the hell up and do a Cecil festival in NYC like the one they staged in Berlin in '88. i want to hear this guy for like two weeks straight, with all sorts of different bands, solo, etc. anyway, this was another awesome show. thanks, dude...


lastly, please dig this excellent live version of Elvis Costello's "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea," featuring a spot-on version of what might be the greatest single drum intro ever performed, courtesy of Attractions percussion demon Pete Thomas (this is indeed him in this clip, no?):