Thursday, February 18, 2010
Spray Paint The Walls: The Story Of Black Flag, John Robb's Death To Trad Rock, Trapped In A Scene: UK Hardcore 1985-'89 and Gimme Something Better, a history of Bay Area punk from the '70s to the '90s. All of these will be covered next time, but the words within have gotten me digging the crates and dragging out some ol' chestnuts from the Adolescents, Circle Jerks, Avengers, Dicks, Big Boys, Flipper and Fang like the last 25 years of my life barely happened. It's a trip, but a good one. I'll do a rundown on those tomes in the coming week. In the meantime, it's Pharoah Time. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Pharoah Sanders' run of goodness - nay, greatness - from 1966 to 1974 is at the top of the pile: Tauhid, Jewels Of Thought, Karma, Izipho Zam, Deaf Dumb Blind, Black Unity, Live At The East, Thembi, Wisdom Through Music, Love In Us All, Village Of The Pharoahs and Elevation. That's a lot of music, right up there w/ Miles' '69-'75 output, when he was spitting out double LPs like they were going out of style (and judging by his sales and criticial reception at the time, they were), and almost as good. As with his fellow travellers Don Cherry and Alice Coltrane, whose discographies from the period overlap both in style and band membership, Pharoah tempered his screeching ambitions with a heady brew of One World spiritualism, stealing sounds and themes from the Orient and Africa, as well as occasional Latin-derived rhythms. It's a polyrythmic brew which'll turn on any Can or Miles fan, and unlike some of the more hardcore avantisms of its day (such as Anthony Braxton, Derek Bailey et al), it's got a groove and a sense of momentum. This shit was a major influence on two of the best experimental folk/rock albums of the period, too - Tim Buckley's Starsailor and John Martyn's Insideout - and represented a time when major record companies were actually willing to take a gamble on some edgy material in the vain hope that it might make some sort of a dent in bonged-out dorm rooms across the land (that time came again in the early/mid '90s, and believe me, we ain't ever gonna see something like that happen again). Where does Deaf Dumb Blind fit in? Right in the middle. Just like Miles' work from the period, all the albums and different and yet somewhat the same. Similar themes and even tunes are revisited over several albums, and really, there's no better way to appreciate it than to simply listen to the lot, one after the other. When I actually have a few spare hours, I have done just that. Three to four hours, one after the other. Deaf Dumb Blind has two side-long tracks, "Summun Bukman Umyan" and "Let Us Go Into The House Of The Lord", which even a committed agnostic (perhaps an oxymoron, I know...) such as myself can truthfully describe as "spiritually uplifting", and anyone with an interest in avant-garde music of any stripe needs it. It's nominally "jazz" music in the same sense that Can were nominally a "rock" band. It carries far too much musical terrain to be pigeonholed, and if anyone's gonna talk about some sort of all-encompassing phrase such as "Great American Music", then Pharoah's gotta be in it.