Thursday, July 30, 2009

Public service announcement, etc.

Greetings, good people. Just a quick note about a show that STATS is playing this coming Sunday, 8/2. It's part of the Show No Mercy metal series at Public Assembly in Williamsburg, and the bill is amazing. Headlining is Cleveland's Keelhaul, who make complex and brutally elegant music. This will be a release party for their brand-new Hydra Head record, Keelhaul's Triumphant Return to Obscurity. The show will be rounded out by three other great, loud bands, and the whole night was co-curated by Pitchfork/Stereogum scribe Brandon Stosuy and Brooklyn Vegan blogger Black Bubblegum. All pertinent info is on the flyer above (click to enlarge). I don't know for sure yet, but my guess is that we'll be playing first, right around 8pm. [Update: Just confirmed this, and we are in fact playing first.] The new STATS EP, Marooned, is still available in a digital format free of charge. Drop a line to statsbrooklyn[at]gmail[dot]com if you'd like to hear it.


Recent delights:

Old and New Dreams s/t [ECM, 1979], Playing
Such comfort and delight in teamwork. Just makes you want to live and listen. Love these guys.

Charlie Haden
The Golden Number
Fascinating session, justly adored by Ethan Iverson, to name one prominent fan. To me, the Archie Shepp duet is the real gem, but everything here is special. Anyone catch Haden with Paul Bley this past weekend? I really wanted to see that.

Cecil Taylor
3 Phasis
Masterful, celebratory turbulence. A lot of bawdy soul in Cecil's playing. Raphé Malik is so bold and LOUD—a severely underrated player. Love those fly-on-the-wall Gary Giddins liner notes too.

Muhal Richard Abrams with Malachi Favors Sightsong
Excellent, concise and very diverse duo jams from these two AACM geniuses. Some pieces free-flowing; others tight and swinging.

George Harrison All Things Must Pass
Still digesting this deep-feeling classic. When I'm done it may be one of my favorite albums, period. Ringo is killing throughout. "Wah Wah" is a phenomenal song.

Dirty Projectors
Bitte Orca
Finally giving the rest of the album its due after months of exclusive obsession with "Stillness Is the Move." The guitar solo on "Temecula Sunrise" is an insta-classic: total brain-frying skronk.

Paul Auster Leviathan
I like this book a lot better than the Mastodon album of the same name. Masterful storytelling. Psyched for Auster's new one, Invisible, due in the fall.

Terror's Advocate
Stone-faced yet utterly bonkers documentary about a lawyer with a soft spot for violent revolutionaries and other questionable characters (e.g., Pol Pot). Really hard to understand (well, for my historically challenged brain, at least) but worth the slog.

28 Days Later [the movie]
Interesting mix of completely fucked-up and sweetly sentimental. Excited to compare The Road with this. Which will be the gold standard for postapocalyptic melodrama?

Ween "I Smoke Some Grass (Really Really High)"
A brilliantly infuriating song. Eight minutes of unrelenting hell.

The Evens
Get Evens
What a strange and cool band. Wry polemics: the good kind of preachy. Love the wiry sound of MacKaye's baritone guitar and Farina's limber, funky drumming. First song, "Cut from the Cloth," is an elegiac masterpiece. Considering these two have a son now—see this fine recent interview for a bit more info on that—I hope they can find time to keep the band going.

And, of course, that marvelous William Vollmann Times piece that everyone is talking about. Can't get enough of this guy. He can rest assured that no matter how much people are daunted by his doorstop literary dispatches, said folks will always go nuts over the stats of his insane life. "'Crack,' [Vollmann] said recently, 'is a really great drug — it’s like having three cups of coffee at once.'"

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Various and sundry, mid-July-'09 edition

Greetings, good people. It has been a minute, I know. Hectic times, stemming in part from the Ween project, on which I've been making some slow but respectable progress. I'm in interview mode right now, busy tracking down all the principal players in the Chocolate and Cheese saga. If anyone knows the whereabouts of cover model Ashley Savage, do drop a line.

So, if you don't mind, here's an utterly random list of mainly non-music-oriented shout-outs:

Blue Hill at Stone Barns
A farm/restaurant up in Westchester, run by the same folks who own the Blue Hill joint in the West Village (the Obamas' chosen date spot). Laal and I celebrated her June birthday belatedly here this past weekend, and it was insanely good. It's steep, no doubt, but the Sunday tasting-menu lunch is very reasonable, and the food was simple yet mindblowing. Basically it's one of those farm-to-table joints: The menu focuses on "the daily catch" and thus it's always changing. Below is a pictorial sampling of what we ate, before taking some time to stroll around the grounds, which are pretty much gorgeous. I'd recommend the jaunt highly--I think it's pretty quick on Metro North. (Be forewarned, though: You'll definitely need to score reservations way in advance.) Anyway, the eats, as photographed by Laal and myself, both making our initial forays into food porn:

[I didn't record all the "official" names for these dishes, so I'm just going to wing it.]

Bean salad with fresh tomatoes

I'm no tomato lover and still, this ruled. Abundant string beans, mixed with peaches and other goodies. Subtle and awesomely acidic dressing.

Ricotta gnocchi
I never knew that gnocchi could actually be filled with something; had always thought it was more of a mixture. Anyway, this was probably the best pasta I've ever had in my life.

Baby lamb with chickpeas and zucchini
It's a little harder to eat lamb when you see the animals in question grazing on your way into the farm. I got over it quick, though: The meat was unreal. Killer green sauce on this one, tasted like pureed vegetables or somesuch. And the chickpeas were a great touch.

How can you not opt for the proverbial cheese course? I have no recollection of what these cheeses were actually called, but I can tell you that they both come from Vermont and that they were both delicious. Note cherry chutney (which had onions in it!) and little chewy caramel-nut confection on the side.

Cheesecake gelato with fresh blueberries and yogurt... pellets?

Re: the latter ingredient, there were these little frozen pieces of yogurt used as sprinkles--a crazy little accent. The gelato itself was flawless, and being a cobbler enthusiast, I very much appreciated the fresh fruit and graham-crackery crust sprinkled throughout.


Two new/recent publications of note, authored by friends/colleagues:

Zachary Mexico's China Underground
Apologies to Zack, my college buddy and former bandmate (and current member of the highly recommended bands The Octagon and Gates of Heaven), for not mentioning this on the blog sooner. A mega-informative and highly entertaining piece of travel literature. Profiles of a wide variety of everyday folk--punk musicians, a filmmaker, a prostitute, a university student, a journalist, a guy who's obsessed with the so-called Killing People game, etc.--adding up to an alternative history of modern China. Each chapter is like a mini documentary and history lesson rolled into one. I believe Zack is currently in China working on a follow-up, and I wish him all the best with the project.

Jay Ruttenberg's The Lowbrow Reader, issue 7
A great little comedy journal edited by my TONY colleague and infused with his inimitably elegant and understated wryness. Latest issue focuses on Gilbert Rogin, an eccentric, hilarious writer whose work has been out of print for years. Also on offer is Jay's review of a recent Don Rickles performance, a piece which is alone worth the $3 cover price. Click the link above to order.


And now for the music stuff:

As expressed in Time Out New York, I love the new Suffocation album.

Been rediscovering the genius of Ian MacKaye, especially as evidenced by his most recent project, the Evens, and by his always-brilliant interviews, like this one, in which he heroically maintains his poise despite the interviewer's boneheaded demeanor.

The Midnight Special could be the coolest thing ever. I was actually compelled to order these DVDs by, yes, an infomercial, which I saw while flipping channels in a hotel room a few weeks back. Basically TMS was a late-night variety show that aired in the '70s/'80s and featured an insane assemblage of musical talent. I just received the first DVD and during a recent viewing, I and several friends were floored by the spookiness of Stevie Nicks, awed by the ridiculousness of the Guess Who, freaked out by the audaciousness of Labelle, baffled by the deadpan-ness of Debbie Harry, etc. Tons more on there, including John Denver, the Bee Gees and Al Green, and future volumes promise Genesis (!), Steely Dan (!!), Van Morrison (!!!) and more. Will keep y'all posted on what I receive, since I'm now apparently in sort of club where they'll be sending me DVDs every four to six weeks whether I like it or no. More viewing parties to come...

Friday, July 10, 2009

Odd ends

[James Ensor's "The Skeleton Painter," from 1895 or 1896]

A quick roundup before I head down to D.C. with Laal for the weekend.

*Here is my Volume review of two Loyal Label CD-release parties I caught earlier this week: Jon Irabagon/Mike Pride at Cornelia Street Cafe and Seabrook Power Plant at Zebulon. Largely based on these new offerings, Loyal is becoming one of my very favorite contemporary jazz labels.

*Here is a very cool compilation of videos featuring the ever-awesome Zs. The gentleman responsible for the footage, Torsten Meyer (check out his amazing trove of recent NYC show clips), asked me to provide a brief intro/reminiscence re: checking out Zs over the years. I dipped into the DFSBP archives for this one.

*Here is a whole bunch of fun material related to the Jonas Brothers' recent visit to Time Out NY. (The Bros served as guest editors for this week's TONY Music section.) Yes, I was actually in the same room with them--for about 45 minutes, no less. Without a hint of sarcasm, I can say that I really enjoyed the opportunity to meet them and to rap about music.

And a few brief raves.

*The James Ensor show at MoMA. Macabre, vivid, grotesque, hilarious. As you can see above, never have skeletons seemed funnier, more poignant or more personable than in this Belgian artist's work. And dig this sketch title: "The Devils Dzitts and Hihahox, Led by Crazon, Riding a Wild Cat, Accompany Christ to Hell."

*Hamlet 2. Did not stop laughing during this entire film, which came highly recommended by my awesome sis, Caroline, who was in town for the 4th of July. Wickedly offbeat Steve Coogan vehicle from last year. Incredible turns by Catherine Keener, Elisabeth Shue and other Hollywood eccentrics.

*The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. Terrible title; incredible doc about Donkey Kong obsession. At bottom, it's a real-life unpacking of "Good guys finish last."

*Mid- to late-era Led Zeppelin. I become more and more of an obsessive LZ devotee with each passing second. The sheer scope of Physical Graffiti floors me, especially the tender songs like "Ten Years Gone" and "Down by the Seaside," as well as the relentless "Wanton Song," which foreshadows the Jesus Lizard in a very significant way. Presence owns on the WEIRD-riff front. Coda is action-packed, breathtaking and probably the most coherent odds-and-ends record ever assembled. Oh, to have seen this band live...

Thursday, July 02, 2009

I remember 1973-1990: Jarrett and Jack // Etc.

Notes on some recent listening.

*Keith Jarrett - Shades, Eyes of the Heart, Byablue, The Survivor's Suite

When the whole 1973-1990 revolution went down in aught six, probably the two most passionate and convincing calls-to-arms were Steve Smith's paean to John Carter's Roots and Folkmore and Ethan Iverson's plea on behalf of Keith Jarrett's American Quartet. Both bodies of work have been on my to-do list for pretty much the entire interim, but as we all know, stuff happens: Thus I'm still not as up on this stuff as I'd like to be. Lately, I've been taking my first serious crack at the Jarrett works in question, and boy, are they weird. Sometimes stubbornly diffuse (e.g., the ubiquitous lengthy intros with Jarrett on soprano sax--after a period of suspicion, I'm coming around to his reed playing), sometimes simple and almost gospelish due to the inexplicably ever-present auxiliary percussion, sometimes remarkably loopy and complex (see "Diatribe" from Shades, which boasts a way-thorny and peculiar head) and sometimes just straight-up violent (the beginning of the second section of Survivor's Suite), this work couldn't really be more singular. I have no idea whether I even like it, but I'm fascinated by it. The players just seem so incongruous together, what w/ Dewey Redman's raging muscularity, Jarrett's showy and flamboyant soulfulness and Paul Motian's wholly alien sense of time. I'm pretty blown away by how well-documented the band is and I can't wait to hear more.

*Jack Dejohnette - New Directions, Special Edition, Special Edition Live in Baltimore (1980), Inflation Blues; and w/ Wadada Leo Smith: America (new duo sesh on Tzadik), Golden Quartet (s/t), The Year of the Elephant

Speaking of well-documented, Jack Dejohnette has been really lucky in that department, esp. in the late '70s and early '80s. I've loved his drumming for a long time--I kind of look at him as the most capable and convincing heir to Tony Williams, even though Tony will always be my gold standard--but I'd never really spent that much time with his records as a leader. [Ed.'s afterthought re: previous sentence: I don't mean "heir" in terms of chronology, b/c Dejohnette and Williams were basically contemporaries--though Williams established himself as the Shit a few years earlier--but more in the sense that Jack assumed the mantle of "absolute best state-of-the-art jazz drummer alive" after Tony moved into other areas.] A lot of variety here, depending on the personnel. The s/t debut (1979) by the Special Edition band was the first one that caught my ear. You can't beat the sax tandem of David Murray and Arthur Blythe and the writing on this session goes anywhere it wants to (playful to elaborate to creepy to lush) and succeeds in all ventures. The improv is gritty and gutsy. Also check out the live Special Edition session linked above, which subs in Chico Freeman for Murray. Really nice, long reading of "Zoot Suite" from the studio date. Inflation Blues, from '82, features a totally different band (including trumpeter Baikida Carroll, whose work I've been digging majorly of late) but continues in the same vein of extremely elegant, nimble, diverse and just generally ENGAGED inside-out jazz. When I hear these Dejohnette sets, I realize what the key property was that made this sort of late-'70s/early-'80s jazz so great: Player-composers like Dejohnette simply knew it all and they had nothing to prove. They knew how to swing, they knew how to play free and they knew how to groove out on some fusion, but they weren't beholden to any of those styles. Without such open-minded virtuosity, you'd never get a record as weird and awesome as New Directions ('78), pictured above. I can't express how cool and unexpected this jam is. Lester Bowie and Ralph Towner together? And check out what Dejohnette has them doing: Some sort of unclassifiable trance-jazz. They just kind of zone out on these expansive, dreamy grooves. There's definitely an electric-Miles vibe, but Davis's stuff in a similar vein always had these sort of tense, sinister overtones. This music just DRIFTS in a very handsome way. There are definitely echoes of the Gateway material w/ John Abercrombie on here, but New Directions seems a lot more mysterious and grown-up to me. Definitely check out this record. And also check out Dejohnette's work with Wadada Leo Smith, which is clearly some of the best jazz of the current millennium. Like Jack, Leo can play it all, and frequently does. The first two Golden Quartet records are basically like the latter-day apotheosis of fusion: They're unafraid of funky groove but never hemmed in by it. You can't really go wrong with Dejohnette, Anthony Davis and Malachi Favors on your record, but this stuff is really every bit as good as you'd want it to be with that lineup. Structures are very skeletal, but the melodies are heartbreaking. What I love about this band is how unabashedly romantic it is. Smith is often associated with the free jazz movement, but I think of him more as a very personal kind of heart-on-sleeve player. As with so much of the best post-first-wave free jazz, there's nothing self-consciously chaotic here. Just grand, flowing sumptuousness--a very sturdy kind of abstraction. Speaking of which, America, the new Dejohnette/Smith duo on Tzadik is fucking killer. Totally unadorned, totally unhurried--just the two dudes, vibing together. And god bless Tzadik's production values. Jack's kit just sounds so perfect and special. Get with Jack, and also get with Jack and Wadada. They're still alive and they're still tapping into the profound on a consistent basis.


Recent links of note.

*The new Jon Irabagon/Mike Pride record, which I reviewed for this week's Time Out NY, is stupefying. Totally balls-out.

*As expressed on the Volume, last week's Tim Berne/Ethan Iverson hit at the Stone was subtly peculiar and intriguing, especially in light of the two musicians' enlightening recent online chat.

Recent reading/viewing/more listening.

*The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi. Great, grisly true-crime yarn that features some amazing Zodiac-style menace.

*The Bride and the Bachelors by Calvin Tomkins. More art profiles by the longtime New Yorker scribe, about whom I've often gushed on here. Great, plain-spoken narratives. Loved delving deeper into Duchamp than I ever had, and was very psyched to make the acquaintance of Tinguely and especially Rauschenberg, the latter of whom I've seen a few key works by but never had any real sense of. Seems like a really fun, fiercely smart, bright-eyed dude.

*Dear Zachary. You'll start watching this documentary and think it's a little cheesy, and then soon you'll be sobbing like a baby. This story of murder, custody and injustice is unreal.

*Zeppelin's In Through the Out Door. Am just now getting to know this one for the first time. Had no idea there were so many keyboards! It's like Bonham gone disco. I love it.

*Dave Pajo's Misfits-covers album Scream with Me. I'm not feeling this. I love Slint and some of the Papa M stuff, but I have never gotten with this guy's too-quiet-and-not-expressive-enough singing. He's not doing these songs a favor the way his bud Will Oldham often has (I have an amazing Oldham version of "Die Die My Darling"). Also, he cops out on the lyrics to my fave Misfits tune, "Hybrid Moments," and sings, "When you breed you make your bed" (which apparently originated in the bastardized No Use for a Name version of this song) instead of the much more bonkers "When do creatures rape your face." There's no way to tell for sure what Glenn is actually saying, but my go-to source, Misfits Central, opts for the latter.

*Era Vulgaris by Queens of the Stone Age. Picked this up used a few days ago. On a first cursory listen, it's nowhere near as impressive as Songs for the Deaf or the s/t QOTSA, both of which are staggeringly good.


And how could I forget! Here's the cover art and credits for the Marooned EP by STATS, which is still available gratis here. My bud Remi Thornton did a phenomenal job, much as he did for Windpipe. Click on the images for the monster-size versions. (In other STATS news, we open for the mighty Keelhaul--featuring drummer Will Scharf, of Craw fame--in Brooklyn on 8/2/09, as part of the Show No Mercy series.)