Monday, November 30, 2009

History lessons: Thelonious Monk + Norwegian black metal

Been spending time with two important new works of music history.

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Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original
As expected, Robin D.G. Kelley's new Thelonious Monk biography is outstanding. I feel like I'm learning something on every page. Did you know that to this day Monk shares a "Round Midnight" composer credit with both trumpeter Cootie Williams and lyricist Bernie Hanighen, neither of whom had much to do with the tune in its original state? Or that it was Herbie Nichols (yes, the genius pianist) who penned the first published review of a Monk performance? Or that when Bud Powell was first breaking into the scene, Monk escorted him to jam sessions and essentially forced other musicians to give him a chance? I'm just now getting to the part where the bebop revolution takes off and leaves Monk behind. Can't wait to find out exactly how and when the man began to get his fair due and really come into his own as a composer. Listeningwise, the book has already sent me off on a Monk spiral. I pulled out the Monk/Trane Carnegie Hall set over the Thanksgiving weekend and was re-amazed by its special grace, especially the opening sax-piano duo version of "Monk's Mood," which is simply one of the most sublime jazz recordings in existence. I also spun a bit of Elmo Hope, an interesting and underrated pianist who, according to Kelley, used to pal around quite a bit with Monk and Bud Powell.

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Until the Light Takes Us
Yes, this is the highly anticipated black-metal documentary that I've been hearing about for quite some time. (It opens in NYC this Friday.) Definitely worth seeing, especially if you're an enthusiast of this subculture. Might come off as somewhat sketchy for the uninitiated, but there's still enough here to pique plenty of interest and stimulate further study. There's more to this story, for sure, but no one can fuck with the film's basic primary-source approach. The infamous Varg "Count Grishnackh" Vikernes (of Burzum fame) is interviewed here at length about his nefarious deeds. You probably already know what he did, but there's no substitute for hearing him describe it firsthand. (Simply terrifying and nigh unbelievable.) The strongest aspect of Until the Light Takes Us is the way the filmmakers contrast Vikernes's charismatic yet obviously utterly insane take on the black-metal ethos with that of Darkthrone drummer Gylve "Fenriz" Nagell. It's basically the difference between a literal interpretation of the gospel ((Vikernes) and an aestheticized one (Fenriz), the result being that circa now the former man has just been released from a lengthy prison sentence while the latter is still living a humble yet productive musician's life in Oslo. It's fascinating to see how even though the two no longer communicate they still exert some strange gravitational pull on one another, as though the extraordinarily fucked-up events of the early-'90s black-metal scene have locked them in an eternal bond. Whatever you think of this music or the mystique that surrounds it, you should definitely have a look at this flick - at this point, it's the closest thing we have to a definitive treatment. Like many music docs, it skimps a bit on the actual music, but there's enough here to spark further research if you're so inclined. (Though in my experience, old-school black metal heard on record doesn't always live up to the legend.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Morbid thanks

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. One solid reason to be grateful: the recent news that Morbid Angel has signed with the Season of Mist label (home to ridiculously good bands such as Cynic and Confessor). A new record - Morbid's first with founding frontman David Vincent since 1995 - is due in 2010. Can't wait. If you haven't heard it yet, here's "Nevermore," the fantastic preview track the band has been playing live for a while now, in a new pro-shot version.



P.S. Post-Vincent Morbid frontman Steve Tucker participated in a confounding yet cool metal happening at Santos Party House last weekend, conceived by Egyptian artist Nader Sadek and also including Mike Lerner (Behold...the Arctopus) and Flo Mounier (Cryptopsy). Read my review (w/ pics by Laal) here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Lizard music


















Tuesday night's Jesus Lizard show at Irving Plaza was a blast. My review -- accompanied by a slide show of excellent pics courtesy of Laal Shams, who also took the one above -- can be read over at the Volume.

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Bonus tracks: a Jesus Lizard set list at Brooklyn Vegan, and an interesting Ben Ratliff review of the same show I caught.

I enjoy the boldness of Ratliff's opening argument, though I've definitely done my share of griping re: bands that reunite without producing any new music. In the end, I guess I'd have to go with the old cop-out: It's a case-by-case situation. Was I happy to see the Lizard back onstage, and did I care whether they played any new material? Hell yes and hell no, respectively. On the other hand, I find it especially respectable that bands like Mission of Burma and Dinosaur Jr. have regrouped and made extremely good new albums.

What it really comes down to, I think, is whether or not you got to see the band in question the first time around. A strong case in point: Slint. Like many folks I know, I didn't have a clue who they were while they were still an active band. Their show (also at Irving Plaza) in March of '05 was a mindblower. Having said all this, it is certainly possible for a band to damage its legacy via a lackluster reunion. Judging by a late-night TV clip I recently watched, the Pixies have been doing just that for some time.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bio picks: A.B. Spellman, etc.















"I have tried to let the musicians speak for themselves as much as possible... I have shifted and spliced, and moved their ideas around to put them in their most advantageous places, but I have not put words in their mouths. They have plenty of good ones of their own." - A.B. Spellman (pictured above), introduction to Four Lives in the Bebop Business (1985 edition)

I always feel at home when I'm reading jazz biographies. I've been working my way through Four Lives, a really great book, in piecemeal fashion. (If you're not familiar with Four Lives, it was first published in 1966 and consists of lengthy, freestanding profiles of Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, Herbie Nichols and Jackie McLean.) I picked it up last year when I was researching Taylor, but I only read the section on him at that time. Just got through with the Coleman and McLean portions and I was enthralled.

It's pretty fascinating to hear from Taylor and Coleman, both famously tough interviews, at a time when they were still talking very lucidly about their work. Don't have great recall of the Taylor portion just now, but I do remember some fascinating insights into his practice method, which then involved a lot of solf├Ęge singing. The Coleman chapter, though, is a pretty fascinating portrait of inner turmoil and neurosis. At the time Spellman interviewed him, Coleman does not seem to be a very happy dude, and reading about the insane prejudices (both racial and artistic) that he had to endure in order to find an audience, you can't really blame him. Speaking of race, there's some pretty fascinating material in here about the strengths and weaknesses of black bassists vs. white bassists. ("I've met more white bass players who could be free on their instrument than black bass players," he says at one point.) Sometimes Coleman's logic seems iffy, but it's still valuable to have a window into his conception of race at that time. From everything I've read, it's clear that for him and a lot of other players and critics, it was still very much a foreground issue.

McLean comes off as far less eccentric. His chapter is also about hardship, but not so much aesthetic hardship. Spellman is very interested in McLean's struggle with heroin, and the saxist is sort of a case study re: the whole phenomenon of young Charlie Parker disciples falling unwittingly into their own addictions. McLean's accounts of interacting with bebop giants such as Parker, Bud Powell and Monk are fascinating. These men were superstars while he was growing up and he eventually joined their ranks as a respected peer. Spelllman also gives a good sense of McLean's artistic awakening via his work with Charles Mingus, an experience which led directly into the saxists finest sessions as a leader (Let Freedom Ring, Destination Out, One Step Beyond, etc. - some of my favorite jazz records.)

I read the Herbie Nichols piece a long time ago, but I have little memory of it (though I can say it seems to me that the common perception of Herbie Nichols as a tragic overlooked genius probably originated here). Getting ready to dive back in. But overall I love the depth of this book and also the subjectivity. It's so cool that Spellman just sort of chose these four artists, who don't represent any logical cross-section of jazz, without fussing over why they belong together as a set in any easily definable way. "Yes, I could have chosen four others," he writes, "but frankly these are four of my favorite musicians and men, and, like most people, I tend to satisfy my subjective instincts first." Nice.

After I polish this one off, I'm on to Robin D.G. Kelley's new Monk bio. I've browsed this and I'm extraordinarily psyched to get into it in depth. From what I can tell, Kelley is really out to debunk common understanding of Monk as this eccentric savant character. It's interesting because in the Spellman book, Jackie McLean speaks to the same issue. "Jackie feels that people have tended too much to regard Monk as a talented nut," Spellman writes. "During all his years of dealing with Monk, Jackie has found him to be enormously wise, lucid and informed. [this is McLean talking] 'Monk is a deep person; I know this because I knew Monk well. His interests vary far beyond what most people would imagine. He's very easy to know as long as you deal with him in a plain and friendly way. But if you try to be dishonest with him or play mental chess with him, then you might have trouble. His mind is something that should be respected at all times. People are too quick to think that a jazz musician knows jazz and that's it, you know.'"

Speaking of Monk, there's another amazing anecdote in the McLean section of the Spellman book about how the pianist once insisted on following McLean home after a gig so as to score a piece of Jackie's mother's chocolate pie. In a related yet somewhat more disturbing incident discussed in the Ornette chapter, Ed Blackwell recalls that when Coleman was living in a hotel during his early days in L.A., some fellow musicians strong-armed the saxist out of a cake his mother had sent him for his 25th birthday.

Weird parallels all around. Anyway, loving the Spellman and can't wait for the Kelley.

P.S. Just found a recent A.B. Spellman interview at The Independent Ear.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Touring machine: STATS/Dysrhythmia East/Midwest

















The STATS fall tour came to an end this past Sunday night at Brooklyn's Union Pool, where the above pic was snapped. I had a hell of a time. Thanks to my bandmates for copious fun and for playing awesomely at all times, to Dysrhythmia for allowing us to tag along and for summoning total prog-fusion fury each and every night, to Laal and Kristen for joining us in Cleveland, to Longmont Potion Castle for providing hours of in-van entertainment, and to everyone who bought stuff, offered congratulatory words, headbanged during one of our sets and/or housed us for a night. Some thoughts on the shows (interspersed with better-annotated words of gratitude) follow.

Friday, Oct 23 - Philadelphia, PA @ Danger Danger with Shredfest + The Protomen
We played in Danger Danger's low-ceilinged basement, a great showspace. Smallish crowd, but folks seemed to dig our set. Afterward Nick Millevoi (axman of the sick Many Arms) led his very cool guided-improv project, Shredfest, and Nashville's Protomen played a really impressive costumed rock-opera style set upstairs (think Meatloaf meets Magma). Had a great time talking music late into the night with Yanni from Stinking Lizaveta and John from Capillary Action. Thanks to Tyler for coming all the way from NYC to see us and to Bryan (of the awesome Shot x Shot) and Caroline for the luxurious accommodations. Delicious Ethiopian-style chicken cheesesteak at Gojjo preshow.

Saturday, Oct 24 - Akron, OH @ The Matinee w/ Clan of the Cave Bear + Megachurch
We and our showmates Clan of the Cave Bear both pretty much cleared out the bar with our loudness, but this was still a fun show. Cave Bear were as eccentric and shredding as always, and Megachurch offered some really driving, muscular post-hardcore-ish grooves interspersed with insane samples. Crashed at the amazing pad of CotCB's John, where we Ping-Ponged at length.


Sunday, Oct 25 - St. Louis, MO @ Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center w/ Foreign Theaters + Mellified Man

A long drive out to STL. We've had fun shows at Lemp in the past and this one was killer as well. Against all odds, we actually seem to have a few fans in this town and people were really supportive. Foreign Theaters played an absolutely savage set and Mellified Man really impressed me with their peculiar, stripped-down mathcore. Great to see my friend Mike P and my future brother-in-law's sister and her husband at the gig. Joe, Tony and I did some deep, microvolume after-hours free improv. Not sure we'd ever play like this live, but it was awesome in private.


Monday, Oct 26 - Chicago, IL @ The Empty Bottle w/ Dysrhythmia + Lord Mantis

Our first show with Dysrhythmia and a big step up in room and crowd size. Venue (a club I'd seen on other bands' itineraries for years and years) was quite pro, and we were afforded a graciously lengthy soundcheck. Dysrhythmia floored us with solar energy and dazzling technicality, and Lord Mantis brought some seriously evil black/thrash vibes. Thanks to Joe's Jazz Foundation connections, we dined preshow with the legendary guitarist Pete Cosey (of electric-Miles fame), a super nice guy. Accommodations came courtesy of Tony's kind friend Sam.

Tuesday, Oct 27 - St. Paul, MN @ Big V’s w/ Dysrhythmia + Guzzlemug + The Yoleus + The Crinn
Very cool dive bar where we first played back in '07. A really killer bill, featuring several outstanding, weird and outstandingly weird bands: Guzzlemug, which played an extraordinarily odd blend of avant-psych and savage math rock; The Yoleus, which offered exceedingly groovy wordless art punk; and The Crinn, which played take-no-prisoners tech-death; and another killer set from Dysrhythmia (which featured some of the most pristine sound of the tour). Fun Longmont Potion Castle listening sesh with Dys's Colin in the van postshow. As we were loading out, some drunk guy got in his car next to us and proceeded to drive directly into my drum set, which was still sitting in the parking lot. Fortunately he was only going like 3mph. Accommodations, frozen pizza and great conversation courtesy of Dave Erb (currently of the Yoleus and formerly of the unbelievable Sicbay), who just might be the nicest guy - not to mention sickest unknown guitarist - in the American rock underground.

Wednesday, Oct 28 - Dubuque, IA @ 180 Main w/ Dysrhythmia and more
Had never heard of this town, but this gig was extremely fun. Preshow, we dined on delicious $2.25 cheesburgers at Paul's, a dive bar decorated with tons of unsettling taxidermy. Venue was a beautiful, cavelike bar in the basement of a subtly classy restaurant. One opener, Dredge, offered sick progressive grind, while the other, Bull Dyke Rodeo, purveyed jokey stoner metal. Dysrhythmia had played here a few times before, so there was a pretty good crowd that gave us a warm welcome. Midway through Dysrhythmia's burnin' set, the Papa Roach show across town let out, and the Roach boys and their entourage stormed into the club. Apparently a few of them were mesmerized by the Dys set, and they stuck around to offer hearty congratulations afterward. So don't be too shocked if you see a Dys/Roach bill in the near future! Accommodations and more great pizza courtesy of the promoter/soundman, Aaron, who had an unreal 7" collection, which we sampled at length. Great breakfast at Chuck & Jo's diner/bookstore next morning.


Thursday, Oct 29 - Lansing, MI @ Mac’s Bar w/ Dysrhythmia and more

Dingy, smoky bar. Smallish crowd. Really fun show. Two grindy bands opened, one of whom (Omnia Discordia) covered the Carcass classic "Corporal Jigsore Quandary." Great, attentive audience. Particular highlight was this old drunk dude who got up onstage uninvited during our set and proceeded to dance a jig. So weird but basically harmless. Sadly, the same could not be said for Old Drunk Dude's antics during Dysrhythia's set - while they were playing, he pulled the same mischief and proceeded to crash directly into the drum set. Fortunately, no major derailment ensued. From the stage, I dedicated the show to Chuck Biscuits (who's been one of my favorite drummers for about 15 years), only to have an audience member bring me up to date on the hoax. Chuck lives! Amazing accommodations courtesy of the way-friendly Kevin, who cooked us a delicious autumn-vegetable stew and served homemade hard cider. We stayed up late, slumber-party-style, with Dysrhythmia and rocked out to Confessor, Henry Threadgill, Queens of the Stone Age, Ween, Steely Dan and more.

Friday, Oct 30 - Lincoln Park, MI @ Floyd’s w/ Dysrhythmia and more
Worst show of the tour, hands down, but I still had a good time. Four local teenaged bands (most of them offering post-Dillinger metalcore) played before us, and when the last of them finished, pretty much *everyone* in the venue (a sort of rec room underneath an ultraseedy suburban bar) left. We played to like five people and poor Dysrhythmia played to literally three souls aside from us and the staff. They killed it nevertheless. Big thanks to my cousin Brian and his wife Monica for trekking out to the gig and for letting us crash at their beautiful Ann Arbor house afterward. Day was spent record, tape and book shopping at said town's many cool media outlets. Great lunch (BBQ sandwich and mac 'n' cheese) next day at the famous Zingerman's deli.

Saturday, Oct 31 - Cleveland, OH @ Now That’s Class w/ Dysrhythmia + Keelhaul + Clan of the Cave Bear and more
Insane show, masterminded by the aforementioned John of Clan o' the Cave Bear. Something like seven bands performing in three different spaces. Rotation was mind-boggingly smooth so there was very little between-set dead time. Clan played a special Halloween set in the guise of Lightning Bolt, and their LB covers really nailed the band's detonative impact and chaotic precision. Dysrhythmia rocked modest costumes and proceeded to lay waste. Keelhaul topped it off with world-class artful brutality. Our set, on a tiny stage near the bar, was sweaty and loud and a blast. I cut my hand midsong and bled copiously (yet painlessly) all over my snare. Laal, who had valiantly driven all the way from NYC with a friend, was dressed as Glenn Danzig (I made her one of those upside-down-cross/cow-skull necklaces out of cardboard), and she joined us for a concluding cover of the classic Misfits tune "Hybrid Moments." (We used to do that one all the time in the early days of Stay Fucked.) The mike failed, but Laal screamed mightily and was heard by many nonetheless. Back to John's after the show for more Ping-Pong and homemade grilled cheese.

Sunday, Nov 1 - Brooklyn, NY @ Union Pool w/ Dysrhythmia + The Smother Party
Low-key yet awesome homecoming show. Many friends out (Maya, Alexander, Charlie, Will, Russ, Dan, Kaben, James, Kevin, et. al) and a warm vibe. Smother Party (featuring guitarist Mike Eber from the very cool Zevious, in which Jeff from Dysrhythmia also plays) was outstanding - sort of like a jazz-tinged mix of U.S. Maple and the groovier, mathier side of Cheer-Accident. I was very happy with our set. It's quite cool to play at home after having warmed up with a bunch of shows in other towns. Dyshrhythmia was once again masterful. We rolled into town just in time for the show and afterward it was off to bed for the early work-time rise the next day. Stressful but so worth it.

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In case you missed the announcement, STATS CDs and shirts (only a few left!) can be had via statsbrooklyn @ gmail.com. Just write and tell us what you'd like. It's all cheap. Thanks again to everyone who helped make this tour a success.