Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Excuse the tardiness. Real life has taken hold. I've also been completing my contribution to Niche Homo's Mix Tape Wars piece for their next issue. Niche Homo, you ask? Follow the link, buster. It's a printed zine, made on real-world paper and comprising of two staples. Such a product is going the way of the dinosaurs, though I'm glad some young bucks are still making the effort. I wrote about the concept of Mix Tape Wars here, and actually reprinted what I wrote regarding my contributions as well. From contributors Mick & Nick I had to wax lyrical on tracks by the likes of Roscoe Holcomb, The Flying Fuckin' A-Heads, The Creation, Lightnin' Hopkins, VU, Bob Dylan, Sun City Girls, Henry Flynt, International Harvester, Jimi Hendrix and more, and whilst you may consider this little excercise in the strictly nerdsville zone as beneath pathetic, I will say that it keeps me off the streets and out of trouble. And what the hey, it's a blast having someone force you to write something about an artist you otherwise wouldn't be in the mood for tackling, a problem I'm often beleagured with here. I won't print what I wrote about their contributions here; you'll have to buy the zine yourself when it comes out in a few months time.


On another note, there's a book in the works which I'm guessing will be well worth reading upon its completion: SST Records: The Blasting Concept, authored by my buddy Abe Goldman and his compadre Willi Muhlhausen. Check out the Facebook link here, if you're so inclined. Abe has spent the past 12 months or more interviewing just about everyone involved in "the scene" - it's no neophyte hack job - and when I say everyone, I mean every yokel and his Paper Bag. He's managed to get extensive interviews w/ everyone from Mike Watt, Joe Carducci and Chuck Dukowski to the St. Vitus fellows, Ray Farrell and The Stains, and from what I can gather by its progress, it's leaving few stones unturned. Goldman also appears to be fully switched on to the aesthetic which drove the label, a spirit of self-contained, artistic anarchism combined with a reverence for rock & roll's past, seemingly oblivious to what passed for cool at the time. A certain part of me is jealous that he's taken the dive and put himself head-first into a project which in the back of my mind I feel I should've started tackling a decade ago (but have been too unmotivated and/or lazy to do anything about), but I'm glad it's in the right hands. Greg Ginn? So far, I don't think he's talking...


Also of note, at least for me, is the fact that the great Big Jay McNeely will be playing here in November. The guy is 84 years old, fer chrissakes! I saw Marshall Allen lead the Sun Ra Arkestra earlier this year, and that guy is 87 w/ the lung capacity of a 25 year-old, so I'm hoping Big Jay has kept himself in shape. McNeely was one of the great honkers & screamers (to use the vernacular) of the post-war era, a time when stars were made of men who could blast their brass through the roof over a swinging R & B backbeat, an era which was pretty much wiped out upon the mainstream appropriation and success of rock & roll as many history books tell it. This entire post-war era of black American music (roughly 1946 - 1954) has become an almost shameful obsession of mine the past few years, and having one of its heroes on these shores is something which gets an old geezer such as myself more excited than is healthy. There's a thousand different Big Jay McNeely CDs and LPs on the market today - his best material is all now public domain in Europe - though if I was to vouch for one, it'd be JSP's mid-priced 2CD set imaginatively titled King Of The Honkin' Sax. It's got 58 tracks of high-energy goodness and along w/ Joe Houston's Ace CDs (such as Rock & Roll Drive-In and Blows Crazy) and The Big Horn 4CD set on Proper, it stands as the best introduction to the roof-raising sax blasters of yore.

Monday, September 12, 2011

This is the kind of release which sends a hopeless soul such as myself into a tailspin of desperate activity. Within 30 seconds of witnessing this on a friend's computer screen, I was typing in my Paypal password and ordering it online. Sometimes you just gotta do what ya gotta do. For one, this is the type of release which will likely be deleted by the next time you eat a hot meal; and two, it compiles two excellent Pharoah Sanders titles on Impulse! from the early '70s, 1972's Wisdom Through Music and 1974's Village Of The Pharoahs. Both were only ever in print in CD form years ago in Japan, and buying a copy of one of those is about as expensive as getting an original vinyl edition (and finding a good-condition copy of one of those is next to impossible. Didn't you '70s avant-jazz "heads" take care of your audio wares??). I've raved about Pharoah many times before: his 1965 - 1974 output is about as good as it gets. For me, it's up there w/ Miles' run of goods from 1969 - 1975: perhaps the greatest single successive recording achievement in a brief time period ever laid to tape. You got that? Like Miles, Pharoah's recordings from this period are both much the same yet utterly unique in their own way. You won't mistake Tauhid for Black Unity, but you'll know they both come from the same mind. Village Of The Pharoahs features a big lineup, even latter-day fusion idiot Stanley Clarke within its ranks. It delves heavily into the spiritual/exotic jazz vibes he'd been riding on for the previous 5 years. It comprises a monolith of percussion, chants and a vaguely Eastern aura. The three-part title track is a monster. Pharoah screeches and huffs his horn, but there's a serenity at work, and it's this contrast that really makes Pharoah's work from this period gel. He never gets too New Age or mushy, and nor does he indulge in endless honkin'. There's 7 tracks in total here, and all of 'em are good. Wisdom Through Music sees Pharoah going for a more Afro/jazz sound, the opener, "High Life" being a giveaway for his inspirations. Next is "Love Is Everywhere", which sounds like an old gospel track (complete w/ vocals) intermingled w/ '70s avant-jazz, and the title track and the proceeding "The Golden Lamp" are probably more in the "world music" vein than what you (or I) would probably call "jazz". And that's a good thing. In essence, this is deeply spiritual psychedelia, as good as it gets, and not only would I recommend it to any Pharoah fan, but those w/ a weakness for the similar output by the likes of The Necks, Don Cherry, '70s Miles and Can's primo discs. The bomb. Don't miss it.
This is the best compilation of '70s British folk I've come across... ever! It's not like I've been looking too hard all these years, but I'm mighty glad this one recently fell into my lap. It's released on the excellent UK label, Honest Jon's and compiles a "best of" from the vaults of the '70s folk label, Leader Records, an imprint set up by '60s folk-scene everyman, Bill Leader. So the story goes, by the dawn of the '70s, the Brit folk scene wasn't what it had once been. Popular lore says that it dried up in the '70s, as its main stars of the 1960s folk revival drifted off into two distinct camps, the rock and psychedelia of Fairport Convention, Incredible String Band, Jan Dukes de Grey, Comus, Steeleye Span, etc., and the singer-songwriters, such as Nick Drake, John Martyn, Sandy Denny, and Richard Thompson. The more simple, unabashed folk music style of the early '60s, unadorned by the trappings of the rock market, apparently banished. Phooey to that: like the liner notes say, they just went underground. Leader set up his label to release the music of this microscene, and I'm glad he made the effort. If this compilation is anything to go by, there's gold in them thar hills. There's tracks by Lal Waterson of the famous Waterson folk family, and a whole load of stuff I have never heard of. Some tracks are a capella, most are only embellished with a simple acoustic guitar. My favourite is Nic Jones' rendition of the old English folk number, "Annan Water". Its beautiful sense of Englishness, all grey skeys and green hills (and other depressing English crap), is sublime, and similar numbers by the likes of Tony Rose, Aly Bain and Alistair Anderson possess a sparse and authentic feel that has this whiffing of a certain purism I can get my head around. I was a big sucker for this stuff back in the '90s, and it's a pleasant surprise for a release to reignite my interest in it once more. It's not the feel-good hit of the forthcoming summer, but the strength of the songs and their delivery make this one work. Never The Same sounds like rock & roll, and perhaps the last 200 years, never existed, and sometimes I can say that's a good thing.

I bought a copy of Creedence's Cosmo's Factory LP when I was 16. It seemed like a logical choice. Bands I liked - some so obvious I dare not mention their name - liked 'em a whole lot, and I figured I should, too. Their LPs were a dime a dozen at the time. I think I paid $2. I still own that record; I still play that record. This track was brought up in conversation today. My protagonist, a man of sound judgment prone to hyperbole like we all are, mentioned "Ramble Tamble", noting it to be his favourite CCR song of them all, also noting its similarity to mid-'80s Sonic Youth. He is correct (again, for reasons perhaps too obvious to mention). Prior to today, I had never discussed this song's greatness to a living soul, yet its greatness struck me all those years ago, and echoes today. It remains the band's meisterwerk, a mesmerising slice of rockabilly choogle and expansive, almost psychedelic jamming. The breakdown in the middle, which then leads into an ever-evolving twang of guitars and soaring feedback before heading back into an upbeat 4/4 rock & roll number, is possibly better than any moment in a Velvet Undeground song. They sold a zillion records and yet they still made great records. More on this topic soon.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

It was ten years ago tomorrow that...uh... I quit my job at Missing Link. I'll always remember that date. Why? Because it was 2 days after another drama-filled day in the history of the universe. I didn't resign from Missing Link because I hated it (and since the store shuts for good in a couple of weeks, I feel like I could say anything I please right now, even get a few things off my chest); it was simply because I was bored and had this pretty ridiculous notion that the idea of turning 30 and working in a punk-rock record store was a grand statement of total failure in life. Or at least a note to myself that I wasn't particularly doing a whole lot w/ my life. Of course, 4 months later I turned 30 and wondered what in the hell I'd been thinking. Turning 30 was one of the most liberating moments in my life. I turn 40 in 4 months from now and it doesn't mean zip to me.
Coming to work on the 12th of September 2001 was a surreal experience. I'd been up all the night before, or at least until 3AM, watching the footage of events unfolding in NYC and DC, and like just about everyone else on earth, I was pretty depressed about the situation. No one knew what was going to happen next. At that stage, it seemed like World War 3 wasn't out of the question. I went about my business on the 12th, sold a bunch of records, browsed the 'net at work for updates and went home to remain glued to the TV all night. The next day, I vowed I'd make my grand decision: I'd resign. I'd do it the gentlemanly way by giving them 2 weeks notice. I'd never burnt any bridges in a job I'd held, and wasn't about to start then. I got along well w/ the owner and figured it'd be no big deal. I simply wanted to move on and do something different. I'd been there, on and off, for nearly 3 years. At five past ten in the morning, I announced my plans. At quarter past ten, I was standing out the front of the shop w/out a job. I'd soon discovered that, w/ some workplaces, once you announce you're resigning, they really want you out the door, as if hanging around for a fortnight is going to bum everyone out or something. None of this is meant as a slight against the store: like I said, it closes in a few weeks and I'm bummed about that. I had a blast working there, met people - both co-workers and customers - whom I'll be friends w/ for life, and learnt a lot about the ins and outs of independent retail. Back then, music retail actually really meant something, and it meant something to me that I was working at what was then the finest record store in the country. But anyway, maybe it didn't mean enough, because at 10:15 I was standing out the front of the shop, wondering what the hell I was going to do next. I went home and switched on the box, watched all the misery on TV once more and rang my wife. I told her I'd just resigned, that I was out of there already and thought I might've just made a big mistake. 2 weeks past and I landed a new job. Life started again, somewhat, and that, ladies and gents, is all I have to say about September 11. You expected something profound from this blog? Some new insights? Not on your life. I'll leave that for the self-professed experts and talk about some music.
I've posted up various covers of Blue Note LPs by Jackie McLean and Grachan Moncur III because, A) '60s Blue Note artwork does it for me every time; and B) these are the albums which have been getting the most spins in my vicinity. Both Moncur and McLean played together often in the 1960s. McLean honked on Moncur's Evolution in 1963, and Moncur played on McLean's One Step Beyond, Destination... Out!, 'Bout Soul and Hipnosis concurrently and throughout the latter half of the 1960s. Moncur is a rarity: a jazz trombonist. More than that, he's an avant-garde trombinist. He's been largely inactive since the end of the '60s, recording a couple of LPs and a little session/side work w/ everyone from Cassandra Wilson to Butch Morris, Archie Shepp and William Parker. He also recorded 2 LPs under his own name for the BYG-Actuel label in '69 (I'd highly recommend New Africa). His 2 LPs as leader on Blue Note are easily available on CD and come highly recommended from moi. Both are bridging the gap between the hard-bop and free-jazz scenes, breaking into energetic runs but still w/ one foot firmly entrenched in a jazz swing. But don't think for a second that these discs are finger-clicking excercises in cool. The arrangements are still generally abstract and not the kinds of discs to play within earshot of polite company. I'd rate 'em somewhere between the works of Eric Dolphy (esp. Out To Lunch, another Blue Note classic which also features the hot vibes of Bobby Hutcherson) and the egghead sounds of Anthony Braxton when he's not getting too smart (ie. difficult) for his own good.
Alto sax player Jackie McLean was one of the greats of hard-bop/avant-jazz in the '60s. Some folks call it "free-bop". I think I can handle that w/ a straight face. He recorded about a dozen LPs for Blue Note throughout that decade, and I could recommend pretty much all of them. The ones pictured remain the three I'll vouch for the loudest. Jackie had a clean, energetic tone but let out the occasional squawl when the time was right. He largely retired from music after 1970, heading into academia and heading the Artists Collective, Inc., an educational institute you can read about here, if you please. McLean is most often compared to Ornette Coleman, and people are mostly right. He played w/ Ornette on his own New And Old Gospel LP (Blue Note) in 1967, a record which could pass for an Ornette disc itself. McLean's music is full of fire and energy, but always retains a melodic sense. If the only jazz you wish to hear in this lifetime is Peter Brotzmann blowing a baritone in the name of atonal damnation (I like that stuff, too), then you might think he's too lightweight for your advanced taste. If you're not scared to listen to jazz which sounds a little bit more like your standard textbook definition, but one which also makes a deep enough headway into high-energy blastage, then McLean might be the ticket. 10 years ago, I would never have listened to music like this.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

I had this discussion today w/ a friend at work: we made a brief, verbal list of former hardcore bands and musicians who went "hard rock" in an attempt to make a buck and elevate themselves from the small clubs/no-pay grind of the HC circuit, specifically in the late '80s/early '90s. The discussion began when the name "Mindfunk" was brought up. I don't usually discuss such things in polite company, but I was being egged on. We decided that this particular outfit, who released a couple of major-label failures in the early '90s, takes the cake. The line-up is most curious: Pat Dubar from straight-edge warriors, Uniform Choice, and Mark St. Reed from proto-black metal power trio, Celtic Frost. There's also some guy from M.O.D. in there, just to strike a balance. Their music was cod-ordinary funk-metal, the kind of music I thought blew then, and continues to blow now. Somebody saw the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Guns 'n' Roses and Faith No More go platinum and said, Get me a band like that on my desk by monday morning! Hell, maybe they just stumbled over each other at a bar one night and said, Let's start a band! You think so?

Junkyard are another curious example. I remember when they were around - 1989-1990 was their, ahem, "peak period" - and local low-rent rock & roll publication Hot Metal ran a feature on them. I just about spat out my lunch when I eyeballed a shot of guitarist Brian Baker decked out like Slash. The glasses kinda ruined the look. And there was ex-Big Boys bass-man, Chris Gates, looking like he was playing in a biker-blues band. What in the hell are they doing? In the wake of Guns 'n' Roses' massive success, methinks a couple of veteran punkers smelt a buck or two in the bad-boy leathered R & R market and went for gold. They nearly got there, too. Brian Baker was recently asked by Axl Rose to play guitar in the umpteenth line-up of his band. Baker allegedly balked at the suggestion, possibly realising his longterm gig w/ Bad Religion is a steady piece of income, but also possibly forgetting what he did all those years ago.

This was an example shown to me by my buddy today. Slapshot were a Boston HC band from the '80s/'90s fronted by scene vet "Choke", a model and template for hockey-club-swinging tough-guy frontmen ever since. Dude, he was from fuckin' Bostoooon, man! I used to hear some of their music on the 3PBS punk radio show back in high school, and I'd see them featured in mags like Flipside at the time, but I never took any notice. I thought HC in general was beating a dead horse by then, and a band like Slapshot personified its most unappealing qualities. But still, some baldies of various stripes and IQs obviously thought they were the shit. By 1991, the writing was on the wall. Many a Boston HC band had gone hard rock in years prior, but for me this one truly captures the spirit of the time. They saw the possibilities inherent in semi-mersh muscle-rock and unfortunately made a stab at it. Love that tree-kicking in the video, though.

This one won't make a lot of sense to anyone outside of Australia. Hell, it probably won't even make any sense to most folks in Australia. The band known as Killing Time started up at some moment in the late '80s. You're going to have to forgive me here, but I can't recall what other bands the members had previously played in. Civil Dissident? Vicious Circle? I know that Russell Hopkinson - who cut his teeth on the HC circuit in the '80s and has since drummed for Radio Birdman and You Am I - spent some time in the band. Whatever the case, they played all the usual indie/underground/rock & roll dives around 1990. I even caught them one night; I think it was them and local Bad Brains/Husker Du worshippers Suffer at the Richmond Club. They seemed like schlock heaped upon layers of schlock to me, and I didn't pay them any notice. Then Molly Meldrum(!) gave them a very public endorsement one day on TV - just stay w/ me here, this is getting somewhere - and suddenly there was a bidding war. Polydor made a gross error and won that bidding war. I heard persistent rumours of the band pocketing $250,000 for their troubles. The band's first single, "Ruby's Mind", was a decent hit and the label put a fortune into the recording of their debut full-length effort. In the meantime, the band had to change their name - w/ the threat of an impending lawsuit from the NYC HC band of the same name - and that they did: to Mantissa. Catchy, huh? The album tanked. I guess in the wake of Nevermind's success, everyone simply forgot they existed. Or maybe they just sucked. And just to tie everything in: the band toured the US in 1993 with... guess who... Mindfunk!

This is possibly the granddaddy of all funk-metal atrocities written, performed and recorded by ex-thrashers who should've known better. Actually, one listen to any Ludichrist track, the NYC crossover-thrash band they morphed from, and you might just consider the possibility that they could never have known any better in this lifetime. Ludichrist's perennial "Most People Are Dicks" used to get a flogging on various public-radio shows down here in the late '80s: I was well aware of their presence. In 1990, Scatterbrain's "Don't Call Me Dude" was released, and it became one of those surprise hits at the time. It was released by In-Effect Records in the US - nominally an "indie" which I'm pretty sure was actually tied to Sony - and didn't make much of a splash. Down here, in this hillbilly burgh, the story was quite different. Like an evil deity, this track was omnipresent. For about 3 months, you couldn't escape it. Its musicianly blend of rote metal-funk and dopey Cheech & Chong/Frank Zappa-style humour was a smash hit w/ morons everywhere. As was and is the case w/ other thoroughly useless nudniks such as Ben Harper, Michael Franti, Live and The Tea Party, they tried to make Australia their second home. Thankfully the nation came to its senses and the band remains a semi-forgotten one-hit wonder.


I've only just scratched the surface. Hell, I never even mentioned TSOL's bizarre transformation into Poison back in the '80s, or SSD mutating from Minor Threat rip-offs to Def Leppard wannabes in a mere two years, but you get the point. For myself, the pre-Nevermind phenomenon of ex-HC types losing their cool in the wake of Guns 'n' Roses' and Faith No More's multi-platinum success remains a disturbing chapter from history's path, and one well worth investigating further.

I was alerted to this today by a friend. I'm glad he did. In my never-ending quest to become a complete caricature of an ageing music dork obsessed w/ all things old, I've been playing a lot of Louis Armstrong lately, particularly his early 5s & 7s material. But anyway, this is something altogether different: the man himself playing a version of the Pharoah Sanders classic, "The Creator Has A Master Plan". This well-informed blog right here tells you the whole story. The fact that the second-last LP Armstrong ever recorded featured a choir of unlikelies such as Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman and Tony Bennett in its midst... well, I can't speak for you, but that's kinda just blown my mind.