Monday, September 25, 2006

Bummer to see this site go, as it stands as the best music-focused blog page on the planet, and Jay's military-like discipline in being able to fire out up to half-a-dozen excellent, informative entries a week remains an inspiration to lazy, uninspired buttwipes like myself (even if I don't necessarily act on that inspiration). There's no way Jay can turn his back on the insular world of music-obsessed dorkdom, so I figure he'll be back. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

Can you believe it?! I barely can, and what's more, it sounds good. Recorded live in Italy last year w/ Ornette on sax, trumpet and violin, his son Denardo on drums and two bass players (one plucking, one bowing), this release may just renew my faith in music for the next 24 hours. Check out a few samples here, and if you like it, then fuck downloading, buy the thing! The guy is 75 years old(!) and deserves your respect and money.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

RAYMOND SCOTT - Reckless Nights and Turkish Delights CD (Sony/1992)
One of those CDs I purchased during the dizzying heights of that "Incredibly Strange Music" hubbah of the early/mid '90s, a time and place no one cares to mention much these days. Was it really that embarrassing? I never purchased any tiki art, took up cocktail drinking or bought a leisure suit, so I think I came out relatively unscathed. A handful of Yma Sumac, Carl Stalling, Les Baxter, Arthur Lyman and Martin Denny CDs and LPs and that was it. And this. Forgot I even had the thing until a friend brought up his music in conversation last week. Good thing I didn't flog it off in a cull of yesteryear, coz it's a real goodie, and one which has made for a great driving soundtrack the last few days. You probably know the story already, so does it need explaining? You'll know most of these songs, maybe all of them. You probably grew up hearing them and didn't even know it. Arranger Carl Stalling took pretty much every track featured here - all recorded in the 1930s - and reworked them for Warner Brothers cartoons in the '40s/'50s. I have the relevant Stalling recordings around here somewhere, too, though I much prefer the originals. Stalling's arrangements are brilliant, but way too bombastic and overwhelming to listen to w/out any visuals, whereas Scott's, at least in comparison, are fairly stripped down and easy to digest. If anything, the music featured here sounds like nothing more than eccentric, energetic, cartoonish jazz from a bygone era, and that is by no means an insult. By golly, it sounds like an insult, though, doesn't it? If ya dig your mid period Sun Ra - think Magic City or Atlantis - when the great one was really starting to hit his stride, then this collection of Dada-infused jazz (song titles: "Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals", "War Dance for Wooden Indians", "At An Arabian Houseparty", etc.) is a perfect place to start. Coming around to this a good dozen years after its original purchase, my mind is once again blown.

Scott was also a pioneering electronic composer in the 1950s, much like Robert Moog, and there exists an amazing double CD documenting these recordings. Check it out right here. Better yet, you can head right to Raymond Scott's MySpace page, where you'll notice that his archives' Advisory Board features the unlikely combination of, err, Mark Mothersborough, Leonard Maltin and Henry Rollins. Nice to see Hank so busy w/ other people's music for a change. I hope it stays that way.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

TOM WAITS - Black Rider CD (Island/1993)
If you're reading this and enjoy the kinda music I do - an eclectic mix of the weird, wonderful, beautiful and brutal - there's no earthly reason why you shouldn't like this CD. That is, of course, unless you happen to really dislike Tom Waits. He is, after all, a man who divides opinions. I myself used to dislike the man w/ a lukewarm intensity. To me, he summed up middle-brow contrived weirdness of which I wanted no part of. I'd leave that to the Primus fans. Naturally, I held this opinion when I had never really ever sat down and listened to the guy's music. I'd encountered the man's '70s piano balladry and found it bearable - and somewhat admired his desire to be a modern-day Noel Coward/Hoagy Carmichael in a sea of '70s denim - but ultimately they were friends' records, not mine. And never would be.

Then back in '99 a work colleague put on his Swordfishtrombones CD from 1983 - the album which saw his musical direction take a swift left turn - and when it finished I begrudgingly told my fellow listener that I, ahem, thought it was "pretty damn good". A few years later I was subjected to Waits again, this time his 1986 recording, Frank's Wild Years. Again, I was forced to admit it didn't blow. Next thing you knew, I went out and bought Swordfishtrombones, then Frank's Wild Years... and then it was all on: Mule Variations, Bone Machine, Rain Dogs, Black Rider and the then recently-released Alice and Blood Money albums. I was then ready to rewrite my own history: I stood as a proud fan of the man. You can either embrace the theatricality and take it as That Is Tom Waits Is, or you can reject it. For myself, the music in itself is so damn good that no matter how affected you may take the "weirdness" to be (and I don't think there's anything "affected" about it: Waits is flat-out a pretty eccentric guy), there's no doubting how intriguing the mix of sounds he puts together is. Take, for example, The Black Rider.

This is the soundtrack for the operetta of the same name, some of which is written is collaboration w/ William S. Burroughs (who also appears here) and Robert Wilson. As an "album" in and of itself, it probably isn't entirely successful, though as a series of musical sketches it's excellent to listen to in short bytes. Waits, much like Lou Reed, could probably be accused of being only as good as those with whom he surrounds himself with. With Lou it's Cale, Tucker, Quine or even Bowie. With Waits, as long as Ralph Carney or Marc Ribot or even his wife Kathleen Brennan (the one person who truly inspired his 1983 musical detour) are nearby, there's going to be something worth listening to. Well, there's no Ribot here, though the sheer depth of mixture of sounds present make up for the lack of any spiky guitar jabs.

At the start I remarked "there's no earthly reason why you shouldn't like this CD". I said that because Waits wears his influences on his sleeves like no other. In other words, if you are partial to the sounds of Captain Beefheart, Residents, Carl Stalling, Bernard Hermann, Howlin' Wolf, Ennio Morricone, Moondog, Django Reinhardt, Charley Patton, Eastern European gypsy music and Harry Partch - like Waits is, like I am - then The Black Rider's patchwork of all of the above should appeal. I'll even go out on a limb and state that if you hanker for the percussive clang of Amon Duul 1 or the Godz, then something within The Black Rider will float a boat. This is the wildest, wooliest and most far gone Waits has ever traveled, and it's a really good thing. Unless, of course, if you happen to still really dislike the guy for some reason. I now own and semi-regularly listen to all his '83-and-onwards recordings and can't figure out why you'd hold such a bogus opinion. Either you haven't yet heard all those great records, or you're not listening enough. New triple CD out in November. You can read about it here. Sounds tasty.

Lemme tell you a story. I've probably told it before, but I'll tell it again. Back in the US summer of '99 I spent a week and a day in New York. I stayed w/ my good pal Jason Gross (of Perfect Sound Forever and now The Wire, MOJO and various other mags I probably I'm probably unaware of) in his miniscule apartment (sleeping in his hallway, so confined was the space) and made it my duty to not waste a spare second in seeing what NYC had to offer a rube from Down Under. Up at 7 every morning and out 'til the wee hours of the night for a week straight, I explored every nook and cranny of the city (except, ironically, the twin towers of the World Trade Centre. Observing the massive queues outside, I said to myself, "Well, there's always next time"). Browsing the gig guide every night as an outsider was a task of salivating joy. I mean, do New Yorkers ever stay inside? The list of jaw-dropping shows - even on a Monday night - available to the average punter was a goddamn smorgasboard. Will I see Terry Riley? How about the Dictators supported by Joey Ramone and Ronnie Spector? Well, I managed to catch all of that, but later in the week Jason tried to drag me to a goddamn Pavement show. I drew the line. Firstly, I wasn't a fan (and still aren't), but secondly I decided to brave it alone and see what the Knitting Factory had to offer. Jason assured me that the KF was bound to have at least something which may pique my vague interest, since they had three floors of performance space and the likelihood of a NYC jazz great playing on any of those stages any given night of the week.

I headed down, paid a nominal entrance fee and noticed a billing for the New York Saxophone Society, featuring William Parker, Sabir Mateen and Jemeel Moondoc, an all-star band of long-time free-jazz hotshots I not only knew about but actually owned several recordings by (not the band - which I gather is/was a thrown-together group which played for a kick and a gig - but the individual players). I purchased a brew and planted myself down near the front. A sparse crowd gathered and the band hit their strides. I sat in awe for a good 90 minutes, interspersed w/ regular trips to the bar for a top-up. Once it was over I dawdled around the venue then noticed a guy up the back of the room w/ a stall selling CDs. I went to approach him when he caught my eye and said in that classic American drawl, "Nice t-shirt dude", noticing my slightly ragged Minutemen "Buzz Or Howl" apparel. I asked him what he was selling and he told me he was the guy who ran the label which was releasing CDs by most of the guys who just played: Eremite. First words out of my mouth? "Dude, are you Byron Coley?!" The flabbergasted response"? "Umm... no, but he helps me out w/ it sometimes". Not a good start on my behalf.

So anyway, soon enough I discovered it was in fact Michael Ehlers, the brainchild behind the label and, weird enough, an old scribe for Forced Exposure. He used to write reviews for the mag back in high school, and if you trawl through any ancient issues of the rag you'll find them scattered throughout (I spotted a couple in the issue w/ Gibby on the cover). We yacked aimlessly until he said he had to pack up. I purchased a couple of CDs for my troubles and was about to leave when he asked me if I'd like to meet the band backstage. Hmmm... I wasn't sure. I mean, were these guys going to pull an old Archie Shepp/Miles Davis trick and ask me what the fuck a hillbilly cracker like myself was doing backstage on their turf? Michael assured me they were cool guys...

Well, of course they were, and I have the drunken photos to prove it, though they're too embarrassing to print. Anyway, finally we made our way out the front of the KF, where I noticed what looked like a kind of haggard old scruffy gent talking away to Michael. I was about to butt in w/ some moronic comment like "Sorry, we haven't got any spare change" when Michael interjected w/ "Dave, this is a good friend of mine, Alan Silva". Thank fuck I kept my mouth shut. The Alan Silva?! The man who played on a thousand ESP and BYG discs? The man who played w/ Archie Shepp, Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor and Albert Ayler?! Yep, that guy. I chewed his ear off about a load of nonsense, took a few family snaps and said my farewells. I flew back to the apartment on a goddamn cloud.

When I arrived back in Melbourne I made it my sworn duty to track down every Eremite release I could. I did just that. A few years later I was even working for their Australian distributor (we don't carry the label anymore... long story). So, why the long, rambling, hopelessly name-dropping story? That's my introduction to this Fred Anderson 2CD on the label. I'm back on a jazz kick, and one of the best places to start w/ contemporary jazz is Eremite HQ.

For myself, if you're going to take a dip into their expanding catalogue, I wouldn't start here. Want a Top 6? OK, here goes:

NOAH HOWARD - Patterns/Message To South Africa CD
Two '70s Dutch/Parisian sessions from this ESP dude. Highly recommended to fans of Pharoah Sanders' '60s/'70s Impulse discs and Ayler's gonzo-gospel forays.
RAPHE MALIK - The Short Form CD
Now deceased ex-Cecil Taylor sideman's awesome quartet recording.
Big band shenanigans from The Man.
Terrific big band recording from this under-rated alto player.
Stripped-down trio venturing into near-Don Cherry territory w/ a swagger of gongs, bells and trap drums.
Test is the name of the band; this is them recorded live. This is simply known as "LIVE/TEST". There ya go. Features the likes of Tom Bruno, Daniel Carter and Sabir Mateen, so you know it's good. Improvised blowouts which find their feet early on and never let go.

OK, there's a consumer's guide to Eremite for you. They've also recently released an-as-yet-unheard-by-me 1972 recording by the Khan Jamal Creative Arts Ensemble, one which apparently bridges the music gap between Sun Ra and King Tubby, but I'll give you the lowdown on that in a few weeks. Fred Anderson? Sheez, time to get around to the topic at hand.

Anderson was one of the founding members of the AACM (Association For the Advancement Of Creative Musicians) in Chicago back in the '60s, along w/ Anthony Braxton, Joseph Jarman et al, but fell out of sight for almost 20 years whilst he set up a bar in the Chicago area and raised a family. Rediscovered by several collegiate hepcats in the '90s, he's been highly active ever since. With a tenor sound not too divorced from that of Coltrane's he rarely delves into the squawking, room-clearing squeals of Sanders and co., but has a steady energy level on a par w/ prime '60'/'70s Ornette, and in this setting he glows. Accompanied by stalwarts Parker and Drake, as well as the obscured figure known as "Kidd" Jordan (actually a New Orleans-based music professor who, when not dabbling in the avant-garde, has played w/ everyone from Ray Charles to Fats Domino), two CDs is an awful lot to get through, but a treat to hear in 20-minutes grabs. My sole complaint regards the rhythm section which, great as it is, sounds a bit buried in the mix. Parker's bass should be carrying the momentum, but here is often too inaudible to give it the power it fully needs. Nearly 100 minutes of blazing free energy to behold, I'd like to see Wynton Marsalis strapped down and force-fed this on a daily basis.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

If you're passionate about your music, yet are still able to retain a sense of humour regarding sounds of a lesser stature, then I highly recommend you check out Yacht Rock. I blabbered about You Tube roughly six months ago, figuring I was the last guy on earth to discover their wares. I was wrong, so I figure I'm wrong in thinking I may just be the last man standing to've come across the hilarities at Yacht Rock. What is "Yacht Rock"? It's a genre, stupid! Think beards, power ballads, soaring choruses, keyboard guitars, possible cocaine addictions, games of golf and men on yachts. In other words, think Toto, Steve Perry, Boz Scaggs, Doobie Brothers, Kenny Loggins, Christopher Cross and other favourites. A friend and I have had a bit of an obsession w/ this stuff of late, as our too-talented-to-really-exist duo, Anal Birth, have already set to tape a pipin' version of Toto's "Africa". We're also working on covering Boz Scaggs' "Lido Shuffle", Eric Clapton's blues-rock scorcher "It's In The Way That You Use It" and maybe a Bruce Hornsby song or two. I'll let you know when the MySpace site is set up. Until then...