R.I.P. Jimmy Giuffre. I barely know his music at all, but these selections are making me feel as though I really need to get on the ball:
Friday, April 25, 2008
Enjoyed the hell out of "American Tunes," the third and final installment of BAM's Paul Simon retrospective. The format pretty much followed that of Under African Skies--various artists playing covers of Simon's songs, interspersed with the Man's own turns--but this one left that one in the dust, mainly because, for the most part, the guests all brought some pretty heavy ideas to the table.
Playing a cover version is tense to begin with--i.e., there's the constant "How will it measure up? vibe--but at these shows, the pressure was even more intense. That is to say, if any of the performers sucked, you were way bummed that it wasn't Simon himself singing. I felt that way a lot of the time at Under African Skies--I'm looking at you, Vusi Mahlasela, who turned in a subpar "Boy in the Bubble" at that show--but only really once tonight, during the Roches opening "American Tune."
Laal and I are both completely obsessed with this song--if you don't know it, you MUST check out this 1975 solo version on ye olde YouTube--but neither of us were very down with tonight's version. The Roches are a three-sisters vocal group who first worked with Simon in the early '70s, and their quirky, somewhat dazed stage demeanor would seem to suggest that they haven't really played out since. "American Tune" is not necessarily a song I want to hear done harmony-style; it has a solitary, reflective vibe that seems better for a lone singer. So while the women exuded a certain dorky charm, it was an inauspicious beginning.
Afterward, Simon and his band rocked the first of several mini sets, beginning with "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover," a tune that has grown on me greatly in recent months. It was of course stunningly awesome to see Steve Gadd reprise his sick drum lick from the original recording (check this YouTube demo, which Joe alerted me to; the dude is im-fucking-perturbable). Then came "Mrs. Robinson," which was pleasant enough.
Things really got rolling with Grizzly Bear. I don't know their own music so well, but I like what I've heard--atmospheric, stylized, slightly psychedelic indie pop. They took the biggest risks of anyone on the bill, and really transported the show to a surreal place. They only did two songs, which was kind of a bummer--and to Laal's and my dismay, no "Papa Hobo," as was promised during my Time Out interview with guitarist-singer Daniel Rossen--but they were great ones. First was a version of "Graceland," which the band has been covering for a while (an early version can be heard here), and they're not the only ones as Owen Ashworth played this at last week's Casiotone show. This one was cool, but it was the next one, a totally out-there version of "Mother and Child Reunion" that really snapped me to attention. It was spare, slow, almost dirgelike, and totally lacking the lighthearted festiveness of the original. With Ed Droste's ethereal vocals and Rossen's liquid reverb, the song took on an almost gothic quality. Totally left-field and nearly morbid, this was a showstopper.
Also retooling things majorly was bluesguy Olu Dara (interestingly enough, Nas's dad and a pretty sick avant-jazz brass player back in the day), who did these odd, sly pop-blues versions of "Slip Slidin' Away" and "Still Crazy After All These Years." "Slip Slidin'" was way too casual for me; that song is fracking devastating and there's really no sense trying to put an easygoing spin on it, as OD did. But his rakish, almost Dr. John-ish vibe worked extremely well for "Still Crazy," which has a desolation vibe, but also one of weariness, of self-deprecating resignation. Talk-singing his way through lines like "4 in the morning / Crapped out, yawning / Longing my life away," OD sounded nothing like Simon, but gave the song a new cast, more wise than dejected. It was sly and subtle and it worked real well.
Josh Groban (for those who don't know, a kind of popera divo). Man, you know what? I really liked the hell out of his little set. I was expecting knee-deep cheese, and that's sort of what went down, but with the songs he picked, this actually worked fine. He's got this almost comically proper voice--belted with heaps of stylized vibrato and don't-even-think-about-it pitch perfection--and it was a perfect match for his first number "America," sung alone at the piano. The thing is, as beautiful as it is, I've always felt that that song was sort of comically proper in and of itself--like some too-brainy Ivy Leaguer's version of "On the Road." So it fit Groban perfectly, and there was really no way you could scoff at the unabashed way he just roared out the tune. Same goes for "Bridge Over Troubled Water"--again, a borderline cheesy song, but when Groban rocked it in duet w/ Simon, you knew that was how it was meant to be done. In a way Groban was like a stand-in for Garfunkel, with that same utterly humorless grandiosity and nerdy perfectionism. Again, though, I was really glad to have heard a singer so goshdarn PRO.
Next was an unassuming but really nice set by Amos Lee, who's sort of this pop-soul dude. Haven't heard his own music--and honestly, wouldn't really be that psyched to--but he came out there with just an acoustic guitar and busted out one of my favorite Simon tunes, "Peace Like a River," from the godly Parka Album (which I blogged on a ways back). Simple, soulful, solid. (Though maybe not as awesome as Spoon's badass electric version, which can be viewed here.) Lee's other tunes, including "Homeward Bound" with Simon and band, were nice but kinda uneventful.
Gillian Welch (that's her above) was next and she was just flawless--I don't know from country music, but her voice is what that shit *should* sound like: bell-clear, twanged-up but not showily, and warmly luminous. I felt like I was at the Opry. She had a dude harmonizing with her and busting out some badass acoustic leads. But she didn't need the help, as she absolutely gleamed through some of Simon's most moving songs, including "Duncan" (dear god, what a song that is) and ... "The Boxer" (dear jesus, what a song THAT is) and... "Sound of Silence" (i won't even go there), sung w/ Simon. Before "Duncan," Welch announced, "This is a sad song in a minor key--my kind of song," and you could tell why. Her voice caressed and elevated these classic pieces--Simon couldn't have asked for a better interpreter. Now that I'm thinking about it, she might've been the single most stunning guest on any of the three programs.
Simon closed things out with some sine-qua-non tunes, such as "Me and Julio," which was nice and upbeat--and which featured a sick Gadd drum break--and "The Only Living Boy in New York" (eff you, Zach Braff; I loved that song first!), which was its usual glorious self. Also a few unexpected ones in there, such as "How Can You Live in the Northeast," a really eccentric tune from the recent "Surprise" album that gave Simon's band a chance to kick into a gnarly, distorted, almost grungelike stomp, and "Train in the Distance," one of Simon's classic doomed-love tunes from "Hearts and Bones" (featuring this great stanza: "Two disappointed believers / Two people playing the game / Negotiations and love songs / Are often mistaken for one and the same" plus another killer: "What is the point of this story / What information pertains / The thought that life could be better / Is woven indelibly / Into our hearts / And our brains). Simon demonstrated some of his classic, vaguely amused, weary and almost flippant so-it-goes cynicism during this one: As he sung "And in a while they fell apart," he made a dismissive hand gesture, as if swatting a fly.
"Late in the Evening" (which, interestingly, also closed the Songs from the Capeman show) was the grand finale, and it shifted things into party mode, with much dancing, or at least attempts thereof, from the audience.
There isn't much I can say in summation of "Love in Hard Times" other than that Simon is a monster songwriter. Does anyone else have such a deep oeuvre? I think BAM did him right by giving him such a wide platform, I really do. Even with all this showtime, there were so many great songs that went unplayed, from ones I was surprised not to hear ("The Obvious Child" and "Kodachrome," to name two) to those I would have killed to hear ("Congratulations," "April Come She Will," the aforementioned "Papa Hobo"--really anything off Parka--"Hearts and Bones," the list goes on). I could honestly see this being an annual thing--get some more indie folks out, like the obvious Vampire Weekend, and some more awesome stars (Eddie Vedder, anyone?) and you could do this just as effectively with a totally different lineup. These works can stand up to a whole lot--though as Under African Skies proved, they ain't invincible--and that's the mark of an all-time-special songbook: It was cool that Simon himself was there, but he didn't *need* to be so long as the material was.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Are there two redder men on the planet than Han Bennink and Peter Brötzmann? Bennink seems to be permanently stained pink, while Brötzmann tends to get there within about five minutes of hard blowing. Both men were in fine, ruddy form tonight at Clemente Soto Velez, where they were joined by trumpeter Peter Evans and bassist Tom Blancarte, a.k.a. Sparks.
Evans has built up a strong reputation as one of sickest young improvisers around--check out his '06 solo disc, More Is More, on Evan Parker's psi label and you'll hear why--and it was awesome to see him getting the chance to jam with these high-energy veterans. Blancarte isn't as well known, but it's a safe bet he will be soon.
Seeing Bennink live is really something you have to do. The man simply detonates the room every time he sits down at a kit. I was sitting right behind him tonight and it was really cool to watch him meticulously prepare the drums--ditching the stool to sit on the edge of the stage, tuning the snare, adjusting the cymbal stands--and then just absolutely explode once he started playing. His wrists are incredible: loose and fluid when they need to be, yielding insanely dense rolls, and then suddenly taut, eliciting bombastic thwacks. (He's one of the few players that I can easily forgive for playing too loud, b/c you'd never want to hear him restrained in any way.) There's a goofy aspect to his playing--lifting his foot up on the drums for pitch-bending effects, shoving a stick in his mouth and using it like a talking drum--but there's always a sense of extreme commitment: the guy just has this radioactive quality, whether he's blitzing pure texture or laying down a buoyant groove.
The quartet played three pieces and during the first one Blancarte and Evans seemed to be holding on for dear life. Brötzmann and Bennink just slammed into blistering free-jazz action, with Blancarte mauling his strings furiously and Evans whinnying like mad. Evans usually outpaces everyone else onstage in terms of energy, but Bennink had him beat--the dude was just merciless. Brötzmann (on tenor) left a lot of space in his growling lines, but created this amazing sense of weight and volume. It's a brilliant sight when he wiggles his mouth back and forth for a vibrato effect.
The younger dudes started to find their footing in the second piece, which had some incredible moments, including a superkinetic and tense duet between Blancarte and Bennink, contrasting dead stops and rapid-fire blasts. At one point Bennink layed down some sick uptempo swing that Blancarte immediately picked up on and as Brötzmann started to blow (on alto now), the drummer could be heard screaming to Evans, "Go Peter, go!" This was the strongest *band* moment of the set, all players burning in the same direction. By this point there was a real sense of camaraderie, revelry, etc., and a sense that this probably wouldn't be the last time these four would share the stage.
The third piece started quieter, with Brötzmann on the tarogato, a clarinet-like metal reed instrument. He blended well with Evans here, but overall it was pretty tough to hear the trumpet from where I was sitting (Evans's back was to me, so that had a lot to do with it). During the few moments when Bennink dropped out, though--one time because of a mutilated kick-drum pedal--the bass-and-horns trio got into some tantalizing stuff.
The energy level tonight was about ten times as high as when Brötz and Bennink played duo at CSV in October of '06. It was a short set, but an insanely charged one, and even though Bennink was the center of attention, the other three offered serious workouts as well. This kind of balls-out free jazz can seem played out until you see it practiced by dudes like Brötzmann--absolutely unrelenting and gut-busting--and Bennink--completely unhinged and life-full. And very, very red.
PS: There's tons of great stuff on YouTube from both dudes. Try this '06 duo clip for starters:
Friday, April 18, 2008
In the spirit of Destination Out and the great Vijay Iyer solo-piano mixtape they posted a while back, I thought it would be fun to do a more music-heavy post to reflect some of my recent listening (and to honor the AACM on the eve of the release of the marvelous A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music). I'd love feedback on this --do people like checking MP3s on here or just on blogs where they're posted more regularly? It's more labor intensive to do multimedia stuff, but hopefully folks can get into it...
1) Roscoe Mitchell - Improvisation I [excerpt]
2) The Art Ensemble of Chicago - What's to Say
3) Muhal Richard Abrams - Ritob
4) Roscoe Mitchell - Tnoona
5) Henry Threadgill - Gateway
Some notes on the tracks and the albums they're drawn from:
1) From Nonaah, rec. 1976-'77 and apparently soon available direct from Nessa--go here for label contact info courtesy of Ethan Iverson. Nonaah is a perfect example of the possessed improv stylings of Mitchell (the sunglassed dude whom you see at the top of this post). It's a long record (originally 2 LPs), and it features some great live solo stuff as well as a variety of way-out-there small group material. The title track, a Mitchell staple that he has reworked throughout his career, appears three times, most notably in a lengthy live version, which according to this Paris Transatlantic item, owes its acidic, stridently repetitive opening section to a disrespectful Swiss audience who was restless b/c they had come to hear Anthony Braxton. Subbing for him, Mitchell had to work to get their attention and PT quotes him as having said, "The music couldn't move until [the audience] respected me." Craziness. On that track and the one I excerpted above, Mitchell displays an amazing focus and an almost perverse monomania that actually reminds me a lot of the improv stylings of Sam Hillmer from Zs (and also heard to great effect in M.O.T.H.). The record also contains an outstanding duo w/ Mitchell's longtime bass bro Malachi Favors and an insane four-alto-sax version of "Nonaah," whose loopy, mechanistic brilliance gives the World Saxophone Quartet a serious run for its money. You've absolutely got to hear this somehow... (Um, cough--whatever you do, don't click here--cough.)
2) From Fanfare for the Warriors, rel. 1973. Outstanding, outstanding record. Probably the most accessible, immediately enjoyable (though not any less brilliant or challenging for it) Art Ensemble disc I've heard. Joe has sung this one's praises for years and years and it's only recently that I've really given it the time it deserves. Session's virtues include: 1) Stunning playing from guest pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, 2) Excellent studio sound, 3) Manageable track lengths, 4) Compositions from four out of five AECO members, exhibiting what DFSBP readers might by now have recognized is one of my favorite group features in any genre, i.e., true collectivity. Anyway, greatness abounds here, on Favors's "Illistrum," which includes an awesome invocation from (I'm pretty sure) Joseph Jarman; on Lester Bowie's zany postmodern R&B meltdown "Barnyard Scuffel Shuffel; on a brutally jagged and cacophonous version of "Nonaah" (this tune really brings out the freak in people; again, how much does this shit sound like Zs, for those who know both?!); on a way-dark and scary version of Mitchell's "Tnoona," which features this stomping, brash march theme at the end that doesn't seem to be on other versions, or at least the one included above (see track 4 notes below). Decided to include Jarman's way-cool, way-peculiar island-ish breakdown "What's to Say" on my mix--not necessarily a representative AECO track, but is there really such a thing? This one is majorly quirky and majorly gorgeous.
3) From 1-OQA+19, rec. 1977. Very nice Abrams session with an unbeatable band: Braxton, Threadgill, McCall and Leonard Jones on bass. As demonstrated to me by 1978's Lifea Blinec, which I wrote about in an earlier post, Muhal can write some really devilishly complex tunes that also have this exuberant approachability--"Charlie in the Parker" and "Arhythm Songy" from this session are good examples, with Braxton absolutely slaying on the latter, matching the labyrinthine WTF'ness of the tune. Elsewhere "Balladi" explores some crazy schizo action, zipping from a placid flute song to an off-kilter cartoonish march, while "OQA" builds off some heady scientific (mumbo-jumbo?) recitations from (I think) all band members--or at least I can pick out Braxton's lovably nerdy inflection--reminding me of the title track of Ornette's Science Fiction. The track I posted, "Ritob," is way lively--it's what happens when you mix irrepressible AACM weirdness with fiery jazz; Braxton on soprano and Threadgill on alto both absolutely terrorize.
4) From Quartet, rec. 1975. This one came out on the Canadian Sackville label and though it was reissued on CD a few years back, it still ain't too easy to find. Four lengthy quartet tracks, spotlighting the then-green George E. Lewis and his revolutionary trombonism and also including nice work from Abrams and the guitarist Spencer Barefield. The version of "Tnoona" that I posted (sorry for semicrappy LP-transfer sound) is a way-bold choice for an album opener, all horror-movie key-tickling from Abrams, eerie breath sounds from Lewis, spectral shudderings from Barefield and sustained meditation from Mitchell. Again, this version doesn't have the coda heard on the earlier Fanfare version, but I enjoy the morbid vibecraft here better. The record also includes a badass Mitchell/Lewis duo that shows off both their sparse, eccentric mode and their speedy, manic approach. The full band is in on "Cards," another poised, tense, diverse improv--I really like Barefield's spidery runs and quizzical chords, played (at least I'm pretty sure) on acoustic and fortunately never suggesting Derek Bailey. Lewis gets the floor solo on the last track, "Olobo," and it's a safe bet that his awesome showing here and elsewhere on the disc was the genesis for his Solo Trombone Record on Sackville a year later.
5) From Just the Facts and Pass the Bucket, rec. 1983. Another one I gotta thank Joe for; he introduced me to the fantastical joys of Threadgill's '80s small-group music via the outstanding Easily Slip Into Another World (one thing you can count on w/ Thread is the most surreal titling virtuosity since Mingus) from '87. This one is from a few years earlier and is equally as great, methinks. Air was an incredible band, but the lushness of these midsize-band albums is really hard to top: you get grand, oblique chamber-style stuff ("Cover" and "Cremation," the latter a feature for the awesome cellist Diedre Murray--does anyone know if she's still alive, btw?), unbearably poignant say-yes-to-the-pains-and-joys-of-life jams ("Black Blues"), big-souled post-Mingus balladry (the title track), and equally post-Mingus suitelike fantasia ("A Man Called Trinity Deliverance"). But the first track, "Gateway," is the one, man. Lusty, nimble, Latin-tinged splendor with Threadgill getting the band to really, really dance and conjure visions; at his best, Thread is a romantic surrealist and this is what "Gateway" is all about. That and Thread shredding hearts and minds during his possessed solo.
other recent listening:
Henry Threadgill - X-75 Volume 1
Interesting but not essential Threadgill effort. X-75 was the name of Thread's late-
'70s winds and strings ensemble, sans drums and with Amina Claudine Myers on wordless vox; the band often sounds to me like a folk-inclined string quartet with horns. At times, such as on the last piece, "Fe Fi Fo Fum," the group can seem like a wonderfully eccentric version of a big band, and the second track, "Celebration," has some really gorgeous multiple-bass jamouts, but overall there was a little too much meandering improv on this one for my tastes.
Air - Air Raid
Another excellent Air session--their second studio album, recorded in 1976--savage and bighearted and scary-virtuosic as usual. Opening title track does right by its name.
Muhal Richard Abrams - Levels and Degrees of Light
Noteworthy not only for being Muhal's first record as a leader--though not his recorded debut; anyone know this disc he made w/ MJT+3? Interestingly, half of the tunes are Abrams originals--but also Anthony Braxton's first record date. A very experimental session that to my ears sounds a little dated. The long middle track, "Bird Song," contains an interesting recitation by poet David Moore and some cool soundscapey sections with chimes and bells, but ultimately gets a little bogged down in free-jazz blowout. The last track, "My Thoughts Are My Future - Now and Forever" features powerful solos from both Braxton and Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre but also some corny vocalizing. Title track is a weird overture type of thing with wordless vox, vibes and Abrams playing clarinet instead of his usual piano.
Two quick concluding items:
1) Don't miss the soul-searching going on over at The Green Lodge. This post is typical. We all know that John's blog has more 1000X more poignance than the entire rest of the blogosphere put together, but he's hitting new levels of artful soul spelunking (not to mention Fleetwood Mac exegesis). Basically what's up is that he and his roommates--good buds of mine as well--are losing their incredible Boerum Hill house (502 Warren), where I've spent many a night hanging, goofing around and playing glorious Aa music. This was perhaps the closest thing to a true home that I've seen in NYC and this turn o' events is indeed tragic. If blogotherapy is helping a dude cope, we need to bear witness.
2) Time Out readers were dead on when they recently named Hill Country best NYC barbecue. Shit is fucking live. Don't miss the green-bean casserole and the jalapeno-cheddar sausage.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Laal is a big fan of the one-man-band Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, and she and I went to hear him (i.e., Owen Ashworth) at the Knitting Factory this evening. During the show I was thinking about something: how many times he must have been discouraged by a person or situation and how many times he must have ignored it in order to become successful with this project.
I'm not slagging on what he does at all; I actually think it's pretty brilliant. If you've never heard it, try New Year's Kiss. As you can hear, CFPTA is intimate, seemingly confessional pop set to cheap-sounding, but somehow emotion-packed synth beats and keyboard melodies. It's intensely affecting and sometimes disturbing, as if Ashworth had been reading your journal or something. But anyway, to get back to what I was saying, the presentation is utterly artless, i.e., onstage you've just got this awkward-seeming dude mumbling in an unspectacular voice and fiddling with his electronic gadgets.
I'm sort of tripping over what I want to say here, but what I mean is this: the seams are all there, right in front of you, if you want to point them out, i.e., that this dude is not a star in any traditional sense. He would flunk out on American Idol or in any forum by which talent is measured by a conventional yardstick, therefore it stands to reason that at some point or another--touring before he was well-known, say, or playing his music for an unsympathetic relative--he was discouraged, maybe even embarrassed, i.e., someone or something gave him cause to think that making these songs wasn't worth it. It simply has to have happened.
But he didn't give up, obviously, because he was up there at the Knit kicking ass and holding the room rapt. People were shouting requests (luckily, he honored ours, for Laal's fave "Tonight Was a Disaster") and professions of love; they were laughing along to his quirky banter, which was as charming and beautiful as the music.
I'm not usually big on the whole adorably awkward indie-rock aesthetic, summed up so well by the somewhat nauseatingly quirky "Juno" and similar recent cultural artifacts. There's definitely a little of that vibe with CFTPA, but there's also a deep, deep sincerity. He seems to singing about people he knows, but even if he's not, he's got a real sympathy for mundane joy and trauma, an ear for the inner dialogues of young romantics: the delusions they subject themselves to, the shames, the hopes, etc.
I don't think it's an exaggeration to call what he does brave. I think it would be one thing if he was all self-deprecation, but he's an entertainer and he knows he's good at it. At one point while calling for requests, he said he was happy that people knew "his catalog." No one who lacked confidence in their project would refer to their "catalog." Ashworth may be awkward, but he's not insecure, and this is what I find really exciting about CFTPA. He used the tools he had at hand--cheap electronics, a voice almost exactly like the one he speaks in (though with just enough of a melodic push to trace out a hook) and a gift for behavioral observation--and ran with it.
It's one of those acts that makes you want to say, "Anyone could do that" or "What makes him so special?" But that's the deceptive, or maybe artful, part: He only *seems* like a regular dude...
Monday, April 14, 2008
witnessed two musical firsts tonight, at least with respect to me, that being Cleve Pozar--drumming with Cooper-Moore's band at Zebulon--and Bloodcount (piloted by one Tim Berne, pictured at leisure above) at the Stone. both strong, majorly enjoyable shows.
there was a palpable buzz at the Bloodcount show. the place was packed for the late set (which led to a taxing waiting period to get inside and a mad scramble for seats) and everyone just seemed really, really ready to check the band out. i'd venture that most of the folks there had a strong history with the band, them being the local legends that they are. over the years, i've known OF the band a lot more than i've actually gotten familiar with their music. i never saw them during their '90s heyday, and only own a few of their records, which have generally been overshadowed by my insane love of Tom Rainey, who can almost always be found playing w/ Berne in any situation other than B'Count.
that's not to say i didn't know what i was getting into. the concept of the band isn't terribly far off from what Berne does with, say, Hard Cell, a group with which i'm completely obsessed. and i've checked out these players in other settings--drummer Jim Black, for example, is the kind of player you can't exactly forget. (i remember hearing him with Dave Douglas's Tiny Bell Trio while i was in college.)
my general sense of what Bloodcount was about wasn't radically challenged by the show, but all the same, i was really psyched by it. in other words, Berne and the band--Chris Speed on tenor and clarinet, Michael Formanek on bass and Black on drums--delivered basically what i was expecting, but that something was pretty heavy-duty, and there are very few other outlets for it.
might as well get specific. i was nerdily gargling words around in my head during the set and i came up with a phrase that i think describes Bloodcount's concept adequately: (ahem) gradual coalescence. basically what i'm trying to capture here is this phenomenon in the group's music wherein one of Berne's patented prog-funk themes sort of appears on the horizon of an improvisation and moves closer and closer and closer until, bam, it's right in front of your face and the band is absolutely slamming away at it in perfect unison. no matter how many times they pulled this trick off tonight, i was totally, totally into it.
tonight i tended to notice Black or Formanek leading the way in this regard. the players would be busily improvising, obviously listening but not obviously responding to one another, and then the bass or the drums would slyly lock into a groove and it just creates this awesome tension because you know the rest of the band is going to jump on it, but you don't know when. Berne loves to mine that tension. it's a brilliant trick--having thematic material grow organically out of improv--but it's rarely done this gracefully. gradual coalescence, baby...
so the band behaves with such collectivity that you don't really think about the individuals that much while listening--esp. the saxes, which seem like this sort of two-headed beast--but let's face it, Jim Black is a pretty fucking badass drummer. i'm not going to lie: i have frequently taken aesthetic issue with him, but really it's more the many, many drummers who have stolen his ideas that bum me out. basically you cannot fault a dude who sounds that inimitably like himself. he took a long solo during one of the pieces and it was a scorcher. those dry Hot Fives-esque cymbals, that slightly flabby bass-drum tone, those comically puny high tom rolls, those pummelingly dense and fast floor-tom rolls, those parched and stuttery prog 'n' bass grooves. the signature is just there and it's just--well, it's there. and while Speed took some fantastic solos, the other real all-star moment from a single player was Formanek's unaccompanied section, during which he used the butt of his fist as deftly as his bow.
i believe four pieces were played--with the middle two sewn together medley-style-- and i believe they were all new. i couldn't discern any major differences between this new body of music and the old stuff i've heard: again, it's the sort of serpentine math-funk that Berne does so well. Berne--looking stylishly disheveled in a rumpled white shirt and jeans--was as dry and funny and self-deprecating as his liner notes when it came to banter; before the last piece, "It's a Machine's World," he disclaimed thusly: "There's a 96 percent chance we're going to fuck this up." [beat] "And a 97 percent chance you won't notice." he was absolutely right; that one was a seemingly flawless head-spinner, with the rhythm section and the saxes apparently on completely different planets orbiting each other contrapuntally.
the players stretched, but the set still felt taut. i've been going on and on about Berne on here recently, but the dude just sort of owns. i can't say how Bloodcount now compares to Bloodcount then, but you'd never know this was any sort of reunion gig--this band is existing in the now and you should go hear them if you get the chance. (they'll be at Barbes in June. all pertinent info here.)
the Pozar gig--previewed Time Out-wise here--was, in its own way, equally torrid. i'm sure i don't need to re-regale any DFSBP readers with my Cleve Pozar spiel. (see previous posts or my recent Perfect Sound Forever piece if you're lost.) contrary to the Bloodcount gig, i had no preconceptions at all, and neither, so i had gathered, did Cleve.
Cooper-Moore--an awesome, awesome, awesome griot-improviser-instrumentsmith-etc.; check my Time Out profile of him from a few years back for a primer--was the leader and this was an emotional reunion for him and Cleve. the two apparently had some sick duos going on in Boston back in the late '60s and early '70s, when C-M was still known as Gene Ashton. from what i gather, they had kept in touch over the years, but hadn't performed together for a long, long time (decades, maybe?). moreover, Cleve hasn't played out in NYC at all recently in any sort of jazz or experimental context, since he's been totally consumed with Cuban batá drumming, among other percussive pursuits.
there was a very congenial vibe on this gig, but things still got nicely gritty. the band was C-M, sticking mostly to the diddley-bow--a super-twangy, blurbly sounding one-string electric bass played with drum stick; the totally sick altoist Darius Jones (seen above in a pic snapped by Darcy James Argue at last year's Vision Fest; and who can be heard to oustanding effect in the brilliantly perverse avant-jazz-punk quartet Little Women); and the young keyboardist Michael Hardin, who definitely held his own, not to mention contributed several of the tunes.
of the pieces performed, there was a fiery vamp-based number by Hardin, a free duo improvisation between Pozar and C-M, and a gutbucket R&B-style piece to close out the set. it was great to see Cleve behind the kit; interestingly his playing was both very authoritative and very unassuming. he never seemed to be comfortable leading, but sort of laid back and moved where the music needed to go, whether that meant peppering the cymbals with knitting needles, bashing out accents in unison with Jones, yelling into the bottom of the snare or just holding down a nice shuffle groove. his chops and feel were outstanding; he just got a ton of sound out of the drums--a set which he built himself, btw--eliciting some really wholesome thwacks. he's a very disciplined player; during the duo piece, with C-M going absolutely nuts on the mouth bow, Cleve found a simple groove and hovered around it, giving the leader a nice platform to blast off.
C-M was his usual animated self, barking commands at the other players and egging them on during their solos. he gets extremely funky on that diddley-bow, and at one point he was moved to bust out a little anti-Bush rant/rap that was pretty righteous. Jones might have been the band's MVP though--he's just a torrid, torrid player, seeming to play straight from the gut. with C-M confined to a bassist's role, it was up to the saxist to really step out front and he was consistently volcanic and substantive.
at the end of the set C-M shared the warm tidbit that Cleve is, along with Jumma Santos, one of the musicians he thinks about every time he sits down to play. it wasn't just idle flattery either; C-M consistently cites CP's DIY ethos as an inspiration for his own maverick approach--check out the postscript of this online memoir for a taste of that.
got most of this set on video and i hope to be able to post some of it at some point. until then, i can only tell you that this was a very satisfying show and i hope Pozar and C-M keep up their revived partnership.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
still on the AACM tip, so i wanted to throw up some thoughts on (and a couple of MP3s of) some recent listening. and also, please take note of an awesome book-release event for George E. Lewis's aforementioned AACM tome (it's awesome, trust me) on May 9th. attendant concert features "The Trio": Lewis, Muhal Richard Abrams and Wadada Leo Smith. again: awesome is all you can say to that.
so, the rekkids:
1) Air - Air Song
the very first Air release, from 1975. the group had apparently not established its patented compositional collectivity yet, so all pieces on this one are by Threadgill, but it's an outstanding salvo from him, Fred Hopkins and Steve McCall. four pieces, all w/ Thread on a different ax, and all very different. i love the mindblowingly named second track, "Great Body of the Riddle or Where Were the Dodge Boys When my Clay Started to Slide," one of those incredibly soulful and sophisticated ballads that the band does so well (like "I'll Be Right Here Waiting" on the later "Air Time"), and also the roiling "Dance of the Beast," built around a swaying Hopkins vamp and featuring some very gritty Threadgill alto work. one thing i love about this record, and this band in general, is the very roomy solo space given to Hopkins and McCall; on "Great Body," the latter takes it way, way out. the slinky "Untitled Tango" and poetic, mysterious title track (Thread on flute) don't slouch either. take a listen for yourself:
Air - Great Body of the Riddle or Where Were the Dodge Boys When my Clay Started to Slide
rec. 9.10.75 [composition by Henry Threadgill; Threadgill - baritone sax, Fred Hopkins m- bass, Steve McCall - drums]
2) Anthony Braxton - 3 Compositions of New Jazz
3) Anthony Braxton, Leo Smith, Leroy Jenkins - Silence
Mr. Braxton's second and fourth recording sessions, respectively, the first from '68 and the latter from '69. 3 Compositions is way more well known due to being in print on Delmark, but Silence is just as worthy. the personnel is the same on both records (Braxton w/ Leo Smith on trumpet and various other instruments and Leroy Jenkins on violin, etc.), with the addition of AACM grandpappy Muhal Richard Abrams on 3 Comps. basically Silence serves as a statement of intent from this trio, which forms the core of what would later be known as the Creative Construction Company. in the Lewis book, much emphasis is placed on the early AACMers' affinity for spaciousness, subtlety and dynamic variety, and the title track from Silence is basically a manifesto of this kind of playing, with the players measuring out their statements in slow and extremely sparse units. the piece even features several of what Smith refers to in the book as "silence[s] bigger than a table." the first piece on Silence follows suit, as does the first piece on 3 Comps--both are classic AACM statements, featuring deep listening, droll juxtaposition, much switching of instruments (Jenkins's whimsical harmonica is always a welcome texture, and look out for Braxton's accordion on Silence and kazoo on the first piece from 3 Comps). the middle piece on Three Comps takes a much different approach, with Abrams rumbling torrentially underneath as the three players solo in turn; it's a stirring track, but much more conventional in the free-jazz sense than the rest of the record. the spacious drummerless improv explored on these records is a great companion to Smith's duo work with Marion Brown from around the same time, which i discussed in an earlier post.
4) Anthony Braxton - Creative Orchestra Music 1976
had heard much, much talk of the wonders of this session--i know Oran C. is a big fan--before recently spinning it for the first time, and it equals the hype. very exuberant, even zany, yet very diverse, very vibrant recording. would make an outstanding intro to the world of Braxtonia. the big daddy here is clearly Composition 58, which will take you right to halftime at a football game with its exuberant marching-band vibe; don't overlook the sick solos later in the piece, though, from George Lewis--at least i'm pretty sure--on trombone and someone i can't ID on clarinet. other pieces range from Braxton's patented schizo bebop (Comp. 55) to enigmatic, synth-abetted soundscape (Comp. 56). it's awesome to hear Braxton's raspy, jagged alto mixed in with this lush big-band vibe on Comp. 51. anyway, check it out:
Anthony Braxton - Composition 58
rec. 2/76 [for the curious, the personnel can be found here.]
more AACMs on the plate, including Roscoe Mitchell's formidable "Nonaah"!
i wrote in my post on the "Songs from the Capeman" concert last week that even though Paul Simon was only onstage for a tiny fraction of the show, the overall production was so energetic and engaging that you barely missed him. unfortunately, this wasn't the case with the second part of BAM's Simon retrospective: "Under African Skies" had trouble mustering energy not just when Simon wasn't featured, but weirdly, for a lot of the time when he was.
while the Capeman show didn't duplicate the original Broadway production, its revue-style presentation retained a good deal of narrative interest. "African Skies" didn't have any sort of hook like that: basically what it was was a Paul Simon concert, focusing exclusively on music from "Graceland" and "The Rhythm of the Saints," with a whole bunch of guests. Simon sang lead on about 40% of the material, with Brazlian singer Luciana Souza, and African vocalists Kaïssa and Vusi Mahlasela (Milton Nascimento was scheduled to appear, but didn't due to illness) handling much of the rest--supplemented by a brief (and completely show-stealing) turn from David Byrne. more on Byrne later. (the a capella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo was totally incredible in a brief introductory set, their transcendental doo-wop mirroring the Little Anthony and the Imperials set that opened the Capeman show. but they weren't really a part of the concert proper, except for an appearance during the climactic "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.")
often the problem for me was that the guest singers just didn't offer much engagement with the material. opening the show with "The Boy in the Bubble," Mahlasela seemed really happy to be there (he was a late addition to the show), but his delivery seemed kind of off: intensely joyful but seemingly oblivious to the subtleties of the lyrics. Souza had a beautiful, refined delivery that was technically impressive but a little too perfect at times; some of the "Rhythm of the Saints" tunes that she sang (e.g., "Can't Run But") are already a bit sleepy, and it was tough for her to summon much energy. Kaïssa suffered from similar problems--on the whole i found these three guests turns to be pleasant at best.
some of the Simon leads were outstanding, especially his first feature, "Gumboots," definitely one of my favorite "Graceland" songs. Simon has this pretty badass way of shimmying along with the music and this really peculiar way of flicking his hands around while he sings in quasi-pantomime. on the whole, though, the concert had this creeping sense of stagnancy; it was an immaculate nostalgia-fest really, and not a whole lot more. granted i was pretty psyched to be hearing Steve Gadd (responsible for the sick drum solo on Steely Dan's "Aja," not to mention the awesome "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" groove) live, and guitarist Vincent Nguini's laid-back poise was pretty marvelous to behold.
but again, surprises were few. one was extramusical. during one of the between-song breaks, a fan yelled, "When is everybody going to get up and dance?" (people were on their feet during the show, but only sporadically.) then during a subsequent break, there was a scuffle in the back of the theater and you could hear the same guy yell, "Why are you kicking me out?!? I just want to dance!" from the stage Simon quipped, "What if you're not a good dancer? Kick him out." totally surreal moment, for sure.
which brings me to the highlight of the concert itself, which was undoubtedly David Byrne. he came out about two-thirds of the way through for a backup vocal on "Born at the Right Time," and the place absolutely freaked. dancing in his inimitable smooth yet dorky way, he singlehandedly resuscitated the show; as a performer--at least in a large space the size of the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House--he totally trumped Simon in terms of exuberance and magnetism. admittedly the songs he drew for lead vocals are perhaps the two most exuberant and magnetic tunes of the bunch, "I Know What I Know" and "You Can Call Me Al."
when i interviewed Byrne for the Time Out piece on the Simon shows, he said that it was a totally natural thing for him to inhabit this period of Simon's music, dealing as it does with a nerdy, intellectual NYC white guy navigating world-music rhythms, and he proved that with these renditions. both of the songs are like these stream-of-consciousness spews of neurotic bewilderment, and Byrne just nailed that vibe. he's always been great at projecting that sense of playful unease and it was really cool to see it applied so seamlessly to material other than his own. awesome, awesome stuff and the indisputable highlight.
Simon's encore rendition of "Graceland" couldn't help but be gorgeous b/c the song itself is gorgeous and this was a flawless version. but overall i just didn't feel much of the magic at this show that i felt at the Capeman gig. when Simon strode out during the earlier performance, i was completely dumbstruck, whereas at this one, i just didn't feel that spark. maybe it was the fact that they kept him under wraps for so long at the Capeman show, or that the Capeman material was much fresher to me than the Graceland stuff. whatever the reason, though, the show felt like a victory lap, something like the baby-boomer version of those "Don't Look Back" indie rock shows where Sonic Youth, Slint and other indie-rock heroes dutifully reprise their classic records. hopefully the last installment of the Simon series, "American Tunes," can transcend this vague bummer of a vibe.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
this won't be relevant to everyone reading, but i've got to get this message out somehow. i have a favor to ask: if you need to contact me about any journalism-related issue--i.e., you want to send me a CD or a listing for Time Out New York purposes--please, please, please do not contact me via any "personal" channels, i.e., my Gmail or Hotmail accounts or--worse still--my cell phone or the Myspace accounts for my bands. yes, my job entails listening to and writing about music, activities which overlap with my creative and recreational pursuits; but that's all the more reason to be vigilant about not having it take over these means of private, personal communication.
if you need to get in touch w/ me for anything related to writing, journalism, pitches, CD reviews, listings, etc., please contact me only at email@example.com. that includes in-person solicitation too (i.e., please don't do it). i'm happy to help whenever i can, but i'm far more sympathetic to those folks who show courtesy and contact me only where i work when they have a work-related question. again, firstname.lastname@example.org and nowhere else please, when it's a journalism-related matter.
my apologies to those readers who have no idea what i'm talking about. more actual content soon!
Monday, April 07, 2008
watching or listening to "The Capeman," it's pretty easy to forget you're in the midst of a Paul Simon work. this was especially the case during tonight's (awesome) presentation at BAM, "Songs from The Capeman," which is the first of three Simon retrospectives running at the venue this month. Simon wrote the tunes, of course, but this was the musicians' and singers' show.
i thought maybe i'd miss the presence of Simon throughout (he was there, but only in a cameo role--more on that later), but that wasn't the case at all. this was a seriously exuberant, transporting event. it was a sort of semistaged version of the production, evoking the mood and the story of the Broadway show while keeping the focus on the vocalists--most of them well established in one or another sector of Latin music--almost all of whom were pretty stunning. the music by the Spanish Harlem Orchestra was ace as well, just totally pro. (i'm terrible w/ genre IDs when it comes to Latin music, but let's just say they took the show where it needed to go, from festive to folky to romantic to gutbucket, etc.) i also was really into the intimate setting of the BAM Harvey Theater--very classy.
if you're not familiar w/ the Capeman story, it's a pretty engrossing narrative. basically, as i gather it, a Puerto Rican teenage gang rumbled with an Irish teenage gang in Hell's Kitchen in 1959 and two innocent Irish boys ended up dead. the killer was Salvador Agron, who came to be known as the Capeman b/c he wore a cape in the brawl. he was convicted and jailed, and after a long imprisonment (and brief escape) he was released in 1979.
Simon basically takes the bare facts of the story and turns them into a gripping narrative of family, racism, violence, brotherhood, young love, etc. in tonight's production the first part of the story, leading up to the murder, was the most affecting. the young Agron was played by Frankie Negrón, a really brilliant singer. the most touching songs to me are pieces like "Satin Summer Nights," a doo-wop-flavored ode to young love in the city; "Vampires," a hectic, gritty account of Agron's induction into the gang; and "Adios Hermanos," where he bids his neighborhood friends farewell as he heads off to jail. there were some nice moments in the second half of the performance, but overall, the tunes just aren't as rich, catchy and evocative as the first batch.
Negrón and Obie Bermúdez (who played both the gang leader and a grown-up version of Agron--at least i think the latter is true; the roles got a little confusing at times) both did an awesome job of throwing in just the right amount of acting in their performances. there was some light stage business throughout the evening, but these two always projected this really passionate investment in the story. some TV clips of Agron both as a surly teenager and a meek old man added to the atmosphere.
i don't even know what to say about Simon's brief appearances other than that i was nearly brought to tears when he came out. there was a lot of buildup--he didn't show until halfway through the second act--but little fanfare. one song ended and he just strode out with the guitar and all of the sudden he was just... there. i don't know what it was, but there was something about being that near to him that just blew my mind, thinking about how many hours i'd spent obsessing over that voice (which sounded AMAZING, perfectly, unbelievably intact) and how even my parents had done the same, it just felt overwhelming. the intimacy of the theater just made it that much more special. he sang "Trailways Bus," not the greatest song in the production, but a solid one. his performance was humble and straightforward, but the show was stolen the second he opened his mouth--i was just floored.
it's saying something, though, that even having seen him you didn't necessarily wish he would stay or that he had been there all along. the singers and musicians--sorry i haven't named many of them, but i've misplaced my program--were just so committed and so right for the material that you really felt they were the right ones to be performing it and that Simon belonged in the background.
but there was room for a brief awesome finale, where all the singers made a semicircle and Simon emerged with just the mike. as though on the playground, they all clapped while he strode into the center, sort of jitterbugging, and the band struck up "Late in the Evening." a dance party basically erupted, with the players grabbing folks out of the audience and whatnot. it was an awesome treat, just a refreshing little coda. "Me and Julio" felt like it would've fit so naturally, but they didn't go there. in a way, i'm glad it didn't turn into a Simon concert--the production was thoroughly joyous and satisfying as it was.
in case i haven't emphasized it enough, some of these songs are REALLY excellent. i'm a big fan of Simon's original recording, where he sings all the leads, but i'd like to get a disc of these performances too. there was some major passion on display, not to mention some absolutely sick dance moves, courtesy of Danny Rivera (whom you see above), who straight-up BELTED out the opening and closing theme, "Born in Puerto Rico." and i can't forget to mention Little Anthony and the Imperials, who did a quick appetizer set at the beginning--pitch-perfect classic doo-wop action, which simply could not be messed with.
this show made me think: how often is it that we go out for an evening of good, old-fashioned *entertainment*? there's no shame in that.
Sunday, April 06, 2008
currently devouring George E. Lewis's massive forthcoming history of the AACM. what's really getting me is how large the AACM universe eventually became, and how vast the recorded legacy is, with so many gems from the '60 through the present. fishing around in my collection, i found five that i wanted to revisit.
1) Air - Air Time (Nessa, 1978)
outstanding, outstanding band; not the Virgin Suicides electronica outfit. collective trio of reedist/flutist/hubkaphonist Henry Threadgill, bassist Fred Hopkins and drummer Steve McCall. all compose, all demonstrate sick virtuosity and listening acumen always--here especially. throughout the record, i'm constantly floored by Hopkins's impossibly dense, warped webs of bass. i can't think of a more agile or overwhelming presence on the instrument. when the group is all moving full force, as on "Keep Right on Playing Thru the Mirror Over the Water," the results are scary. more laid-back pieces, such as Hopkins's murky groove "No. 2" demonstrate that they can pretty much play anything. (throughout the record, i am impressed with Threadgill's wild, cacophonous percussion via hubkaphone, an apparent wall of hubcaps and other found percussion.) Air released a flurry of records around this time and i really need to get to know them better.
2) Roscoe Mitchell - The Roscoe Mitchell Solo Saxophone Concerts (Sackville, 1974?)
as the title suggests, a compilation of live solo pieces by Art Ensemble of Chicago mainstay from the early '70s. ranges from splintered, unsettling alto feature "Nonaah"--heard in two versions that bookend the record--to fun "Oobina (Little Big Horn)" on which Mitchell switches back and forth from bass sax to soprano sax. also some nice understated bluesy stuff such as "Eeltwo" and Malachi Favors's "Tutankamen." recording quality is a little spotty in parts, but it's a solid record.
3) Marion Brown - Duets, sides 1 and 2 (Arista Freedom, 1973-75?)
interesting double LP compilation, of which the first disc is a 1970 duet sesh between Brown and Leo Smith (sans Wadada moniker, apparently), who were then known as the Creative Improvisation Ensemble. both players double on percussion throughout and conjure some pretty dense, peculiar textures, though, predictably, it's the possessed alto and trumpet action at the end of the third piece--either "And Then They Danced" or "And Then a Dance," depending on whether you trust the back or inside cover--that really gets me (overall, i was kinda wishing there was more of that configuration on this session than there is). Leo Smith is a guy i need to hear more of. checking out the Tzadik page, i'm realizing how much potentially awesome music he's got out. anyone got the Kabell Years box?
4) Creative Construction Company - s/t (Muse, 1975) [pictured above]
one of two self-titled efforts from CCC, documenting an important NYC performance in May 1970 by the group. as i read Lewis's book, i'm realizing that CCC is really just as important as the Art Ensemble in the AACM's early history. if i'm understanding things correctly, CCC was originally Leo Smith, Leroy Jenkins and Anthony Braxton, first documented on Braxton's "3 Compositions of New Jazz" and later on his two BYG sessions, which added Steve McCall (though there is an also LP by the group sans McCall entitled Silence that's listed in the Braxton discography--anyone know this?). anyway, this record is that foursome plus the awesome Richard Davis on bass and Muhal Richard Abrams on piano. unfortunately, you can't hear the piano that well on this recording, but Jenkins really shines on violin and in the composition department. the record is basically one long piece by him called "Muhal," and it creates a really dark, beautiful atmosphere. nice organic movement from the ensemble throughout the piece--soloists don't stand out so much as the massed unit. again, not the greatest fidelity on this one, but it's an important document.
5) Muhal Richard Abrams - Lifea Blinec (Novus, 1978)
maybe the most fascinating of this quintet of discs. Abrams with multireedists Joseph Jarman and Douglas Ewart, pianist Amina Claudine Myers and percussionist Thurman Barker. you get everything from lush, Mingus-esque fantasia ("Bud P.") to conceptual quasitheatrical sound collage ("Lifea Blinec") and skronky yet precise turbulence ("Ja Do Thu"). and then some absolutely gorgeous lyrical flights by Muhal, accompanied by Barker's marimba, on "Duo 1" and dual-bassoon action from Ewart and Jarman on "Duo 2" (note: to my ears, the second of these is at least a trio, but anyway). a really, really vibrant, diverse, satisfying collection. Muhal is another guy who i respect immensely but don't really have a handle on his discography. that's going to be my next project...
also, many congratulations to my friend Dan and the awesome Shot x Shot, a paragon of vital, advanced, collective, progressive jazz in the current century, who performed excellently at the Stone the other night. new CD out on High Two records.