Monday, October 29, 2012

Back in the early days of this blog, I wrote about the Ganelin Trio, the incredible improvising jazz outfit from Russia ca. the '70s/'80s. I'm not even going to reference it, nor look it up: I simply know that I wrote about their Poco-A-Poco CD on the Leo label w/ great reverence. It is reverence well justified. I'm currently on a bit of a Ganelin Trio kick, and at some point in your life on earth, I'd recommend you do the same. Their music will blow your fuckin' head off.
Russia, at least as it was in the former Soviet Union, is not exactly the kind of place you'd consider to be a hotbed of blazing jazz action. That may be because you consider the Russian people too austere, too serious, too unswingin' to be jazz people (you'd be wrong); or it may be because you're under the impression that just about all forms of fun, especially subversive fun like RADICAL FREE JAZZ would've been outlawed by its former communist government (that is mostly true). However, the leader, Vyacheslav Ganelin, was held - and is still held - in great esteem by the music community in Russia and hence played and recorded his music relatively hassle-free.
The "classic" trio also consisted of pianist Ganelin, saxophonist Vladimir Chekasin and percussionist Vladimir Tarasov. This line-up was solidified in 1971 and blew minds for a couple of decades. They started releasing albums - pretty much all of them live - in the late '70s for Russian emigre Leo Feigin's Leo Records imprint, and began to play jazz festivals in western Europe. Jazz critics worth a bean hailed them as the best free jazz group in thw world. They mighta been right.
 A few weeks ago, my buddy Predrag from Perth told me he was selling off a bunch of his jazz records for a bit of extra cash. He listed four Ganelin LPs up for grabs. Original vinyl, good nick, $10 a-piece. I told him they were sold. My desperation levels hit Def-Con 4 and I decided then and there that I needed them. Don't ask me where this desperation came from: I hadn't listened to my other Ganelin CDs in over half a decade... but sometimes it all comes flooding back to you and you realise a revisiting is in order.
I got my hands on 1981's Con Fuoco, '83's Con Afetto, '84's Strictly For Our Friends and 1988's threeminusoneequalsthree. The latter is a duo 2LP set between Cekasin and Ganelin, and is equal to any of the trio LPs, alhough it veers more into contemporary avant-garde territory: more AMM, less Coltrane.
I once described, possibly in the pages of this very blog, the Ganelin Trio as sounding like a basement-dwelling eastern European version of the Art Ensemble Of Chicago. There's some truth in that - the use of "small" and unconventional instrumenets in the mix, for one - but whereas the AEOC looked towards Africa for inspiration, Ganelin Trio are pure Euro avant-garde, mixing up folk melodies, Russophilian classical motifs (I doubt that's even a word...), hard-arsed improv of the FMP/Incus school and a real swing, the kind of momentum you only get from players who really understand jazz and that it's supposed to move.
Ganelin even plays synth and electric keys on occasion, and it absolutely works within the music. Chekasin's sax work closely resembles Ornette's late '60s/early '70s playing - high-energy blasts which rarely delve into Ayleresque screech territory - and Tarasov's percussive experiments are totally engaging in their use of all manner of kitchen-sink materials. Engaging is exactly what this music is. It never stays in the same place for too long, and the manner in which it combines what sound like familiar melodies w/ hot-wired improv is the stuff of the gods.
All of these albums are currently in print, cheap and available via Leo Records' web site. The music of the Ganelin Trio is something which should be known far and wide, certainly outside of its contemporary listenership of Wire readers and hopeless jazz nerds (both spectrums of which cover me adequately, thanks). You don't wanna miss this boat: they're totally worth it. Vyacheslav is still musically active today, making vital sounds 30-40 years later. You can check out his current group, Ganelin Priority, right here.

For something completely different, check out the clip below from Englishman David Munrow.
Munrow died in 1976 at the age of 33, though in his time he did more to popularise the music of the pre-Renaissance era - "early music", if you will - than just about anyone else in Ol' Blighty (or indeed the world). His biography, his importance, is massive, although he is consigned to a footnote to all but select boffins in the 21st century. In his time, he worked with directors Ken Russell and John Boorman, as well as Shirley and Dolly Collins, and tragically took his own life as a young man. His Art Of Courtly Love set, is considered a must, but given its currently scarce status, it remains from my grasp. Easily-obtainable CDs of his music are well within your grasp.
My friend Neil Sweeney, an American who lived in Australia for roughly a decade and now resides just outside of Baltimore, has got me hooked on this guy. Neil is a music obsessive who, when he gets his claws into a genre, must wringe it dry for all it's worth, and I mean that in a good way. His obsession with this music has made him an expert in little time. He is currently in the process of setting up a shop-within-a-shop, Alte Werks, which is to be based in the Baltimore record store/performance space, True Vine, an outlet which also happens to be co-owned by an old buddy of mine, Jason Willett (who used to run the Megaphone Records label, as well as being a member of Half Japanese and Jad Fair's band who toured here in 1997 and '99).
His mission is to convert the rock slobs of this world to the wonders of music before the concepts of Enlightenment and Reason became popular notions. I suspect that he, just like David Munrow himself, may actually be the ultimate pre-Renaissance man. If you're ever in the area, you may want to check it out.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Here's some proof that my head isn't terminally stuck in music's past: a few positive reviews for some records made and recorded in the here and now (or near enough). Not only that, but both of them are positively aimed towards a youthful audience. Well, there is no "target market" as such, but let's face it: the average fan left the womb much later than I did. Let's cut to it...
The artist known as GARY WAR has been floating around my brain the last few years, but only in the last 6 months, when his Jared's Lot LP/CD was placed right in front of me for persual, have I taken the plunge. It was released earlier this year on a newish operation run by Emeralds' John Elliott, the Spectrum Spools label, a side imprint of Editions Mego, which is essentially a resurrection of the old Mego label from the 1990s. Taking notes? Editions Mego has proven itself to be an eclectic and prolific stamp of approval in the 21st century, and I, for one, am keeping mental notes of what it is they do.
Gary War is from Cambridge, MA, and now makes NYC his home. He has a few other discs out on Sacred Bones and Captured Tracks, and there is little else I can fill you in regarding his music biography. What I can tell you is this: I really like what he does. What he does do has obvious precedents: Chrome, Screamers, Nervous Gender and many others mining the veins of what is known as "synth-punk". Yeah, I know, it's all so 30-35 years ago, and in any sense of the word, it lacks musical innovation. It's not creating anything new, it's simply apeing a well-worn path in a very good way. Should you ask for more? I can't think of the last time I felt that contemporary music was truly moving forward, and in this day and age, I don't even ask for it, and I certainly don't demand it.
There's 8 tracks on Jared's Lot in under half an hour of tunes. That may sound skimpy, but for this kinda schtick, it's perfect. The propulsive electronic drums, swirling keyboards, heavily treated vocals and occasional guitar (sometimes just used for texture, sometimes for punkoid riffing) never outlive their welcome. I've chosen the track "Superlifer" as a preview. I could've picked any of them: they don't vary all that much.
Parts of Jared's Lot remind me a lot of some of the latter, and albeit dodgy, Chrome records, even post-Helios Creed Chrome, when Damon Edge kept the name to release a slew of fruity and not particularly great albums in the '80s. In the midst of my Chrome obsession back in 1990/'91, I even bought a couple of said discs (and still own 'em!), and, like I said, whilst they're not exactly records of any great quality, they've got a strange, robotic, almost European electroid vibe which works a certain magic in a chintzy way. Gary War is a little bit like that, but he's also a little bit of many other things. As a stew, a brew, what it is he's doing is something I want to hear. It's an ace, retro-futuristic, psychedelic and electronic combination of all of the above: the songs come and go on Jared's Lot, but the songs are good. It works because it isn't pure schtick: there's some craft in here, too. I'm impressed, and I want to hear more.

But wait, there's more...

The pundits are telling me that the interwebs is going to render all of us - perhaps barring tech-heads and Amazon warehouse grunts - redundant within a decade or two, and I'm almost starting to believe it. I was tossing up the idea of a vaguely indepth review of this 2CD set by Oneohtrix Point Never, Rifts, a record which compiles the first three LPs into a handy, shiny piece of metal and plastic... seemed like a good idea. A preview track seemed an even better idea. Who needs a preview track when the whole goddamn 2 1/2-hour set is right here on Youtube, deeming the entire concept of musical criticism/evaluation redundant? The idea of anyone filtering anything is becoming similarly redundant. You don't need my opinion when you can just hear it for yourself right now and be the judge, but that's never stopped me before. Me? I'm late to the party - heard an earlier Oneohtrix Point Never disc on the Editions Mego label a few years back and dismissed it as proggy noodling - but Rifts (No Fun - that's the label) has won me over. Oneohtrix is Brooklyn-based (as they all must be) musician/synth wizard, Daniel Lopatin, and like Gary War, his music is retro-futurism, but w/out the punk/rock angle. Oneohtrix's music is a cloud of synth washes and drones, some of it in parts edging close to late '70s/'80s Tangerine Dream (once they'd lost the spooky Krautrock vibe which made their earlier albums so damn good), a reference which doesn't usually float my boat, but like Blues Control, reviewed below a few entries, its sounds manage to make vast improvements on what could otherwise be a queasy musical proposition. Got me? Oneohtrix's music sounds to me to be mostly improvised, and whilst the prospect of a 2-hour+ release detailing solo synth noodling sounds like a slog, or maybe even pure torture, depending on your tastes, Rifts is rarely anything less than engaging, and a lot of the time it's good, even great. If you like Zombi, John Carpenter's electronic scores and Tangerine Dream's soundtrack scores, but you want music which drifts, then you and I could do much worse. Oneohtrix Point Never is music custom-made for the Vice/Pitchfork generation, but that doesn't mean I have to hate it.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

I'll be back to writing up some "proper" posts soon, I swear. Life/work/responsibilties have held me back of late. I do have something to share w/ you, though. Right here is a link to a radio show I appeared on just this Monday gone. It was on Woody McDonald's - one of the nicest and most right-on guy in the biz - Primary Colours show on 3RRR. I was asked by him to come on the show and play my fave 1940s/'50s blues/R & B/rockabilly tracks, and you know as well as I that I'll bore the tits off a cow at 20 paces if given the chance to wax lyrical on such shit, but thankfully I kept the yakking to a reasonable level. There's some cool tracks by the likes of Amos Milburn, Elmore James, Jerry McCain, Papa Lightfoot, Champion Jack Dupree, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, Johnny Otis, Al Ferrier, Maddox Bros. & Sister Rose and more. Dig it.

Friday, October 19, 2012

RIP - David S. Ware

Avant-sax giant, David S. Ware, very sadly passed away this week at the age of a mere 62. I've written about him before in this blog, both here and here, so I don't feel any great need to add to the eulogising. Best leave that to the people who knew him best. Watch, listen, enjoy.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Another Ace comp' rundown... this one covers the early singles from the Jin label, a Louisiana-based imprint, started in 1958 by Floyd Soulieau, which released some of the finest - if not thee finest - swamp-pop records of its or any other day. 'Swamp-pop?', I hear you ask... Here's a Wikipedia definition:

Swamp pop is a musical genre indigenous to the Arcadia region of south Louisiana and an adjoining section of southeast Texas. Created in the 1950s and early 1960s by teenaged Cajuns and black Creoles, it combines New Orleans-style rhythm and blues, country and western, and traditional French Louisiana musical influences.

Now, I'm aware of the fact that quoting Wikipedia is a sign of the permanently braindead or those quickly approaching a zombified state, but the above description sums up the basics better than I could. I guess what you need to additionally know is that swamp-pop is a broad church. Some of what others may call swamp-pop you may call rockabilly or rhythm & blues or simply Cajun... are you still awake? Good. One of the interesting aspects of the music - one obviously born from the inter-racial realities of the area and the fascinating musical hybrids such a state of affairs can give rise to - is that many of the white performers of the swamp-pop scene sound black. And I don't mean in an Elvis-mistaken-for-a-black-guy way - AND WHAT KIND OF DUMB FUCK EVER MISTOOK THE MUSIC OF ELVIS AS BEING THE PRODUCT OF A BLACK MAN??!! The King's sound was pure white-trash hillbilly; he might've loved his R & B, he might've even said it influenced his own music (it certainly influenced his live performances), but... anyway, I digress... - but rather, the music, the delivery and the vocalisations of some of swamp-pop's greatest "white" (often mixed race but passing for "white") performers sound like real-deal New Orleans R & B hipshakers. The great Joe Barry, not featured here (there's an Ace 2CD covering his crucial early sides), was pure Fats Domino rip, as much of the balladeering work on this very CD are, but the world was no worse for it. I've come this far, and yet I still haven't thrown around the term "melting pot". My point is this: swamp-pop doesn't mean one thing, or perhaps it ultimately means nothing, but that broad church I spoke of all those words ago is wonderfully covered in this 30-track 2003 comp', one which mixes up the different styles of music falling under the swamp-pop banner: the overtly Franch/Cajun-flavoured tunes, primal rock & roll and steamy R & B. Alas, there are no tracks by Cookie & The Cupcakes (I'm not making this up), perhaps thee best swamp-pop ensemble of them all, but again, they have their own essential CD on the Ace label covering their wares. You get the goods from swamp-pop superstar Johnnie Allan, Jivin' Gene & The Jokers (some of the best cuts here), Rockin' Dave Allen, Chuck Martin & The Honeydrippers and more. All of these were originally released on 45 RPM singles between the years 1958 - 1961. That's an incredible strike rate by anyone's standards, and one of the reason white record collector types - some paunch-prone, some socially challenged in varying ways - 50 years later still rave about such things. As a snapshot of a regional music scene at a certain point in history littered w/ a variant of musical gems, The Early Jin Singles is the bomb.

And here's something of a very different flavour, removed in regards to region, sound and time. It's Blues Control's latest, Valley Tangents (RIP Society/Drag City). It also happens to be my first exposure to the band. There is a league of contemporary "rock" of varying shades & stripes which has existed in the past half-decade that I remain almost entirely ignorant of. I know the names - Eat Skull, Psychedelic Horseshit, etc. - and yet I do not know one note of their music. That's because I'm old and don't care. NYC's Blues Control, until recently, fell under that banner. I'm also writing about Blues Control, because just last week I saw them perform here in Melbourne, after having played a few shows up the east coast, as well as the Sound Summit Festival in Newcastle. As my first introduction to the duo's music, and I'm aware of the fact that they are a shape-shifting beast which changes, chameleon-like, w/ each and every release, I must say they are indeed a weird and fruity beast. I am a great fan of this disc, and w/out meaning to turn anyone off, if such a description does, I would say that it sounds like a vaguely cosmic take on the ECM sound of the late '70s. Comprising of pianist Lea Cho and Russ Waterhouse on guitar and various other keys and effects, Valley Tangents comes across like a bizarre, even slightly fusionoid take on the Bill Evans Trio mixed up w/ mid '70s Eno (I'm thinking Another Green World). The music is guided by drum machines and rather lush and melodic piano lines (Cho has obviously studied her ivories), but when Waterhouse's guitar lines come to the fore, it's equal parts Fripp/Eno and the occasionally grotesque tones of mid '70s fusion. The remarkable aspect of the band is that they can make what at first sounds like shitawful cheesecloth fusion sound, well, good. Blues Control are no Return To Forever - the music is far too obtuse and abstract, much of the 6-track LP coming across like a series of musical sketches. That's not to imply that they come across as half-baked or not fully formed; the album has a certain playfulness, as if the duo are fucking w/ expectations of what the songs should be. The only other comparison I could make - a similarity brought up by others before me - is Durutti Column, particularly their first two LPs of abstract, delicate instrumental sketches which possess a beautiful, understated lyricism within. Valley Tangents is one fucking head-scratching release. As a live unit, they made no attempt to explain themselves. It was just plug in and play. I saw them at the Liberty Social in the big smoke last Friday night, my first night-time venture into the city in an eon, and I'm glad I made the effort. Firstly, I saw Adelaide's goth-punkers, Rule Of Thirds, who sounded a whole lot like Christian Death, but as I remarked to a friend I was there with: that's not a bad thing, and it remains a musical, scientific fact that punkers make better goth music than actual goths. I said that such a theory may even make for a good blog entry, once expanded upon. He shot me down, slapped some sense into me and told it as it was and is: such a thought is best kept strictly to Facebook status updates. That aside, Rule Of Thirds were good, they had the songs and the gloom and they "rocked" and the bass player donned a beret, spiked-wristbands and jackboots like he just escaped from the set of Suburbia, so he gets an 8/10 for me. Two points deducted for the lack of any Kevin Seconds-style facial adornments. The Woollen Kits also played, a band who previously always left me cold w/ their Beat Happening-style monotone retardo-pop, although their pace has since picked up, the tunes are hot and I found myself tapping my feet to their tunes. I think there's something there. Blues Control? They played a bunch of tracks from Valley Tangents and then an extended boogie-rock rave which sounded like an electro T-Rex shuffle w/ Fripp and James Williamson noodling on top. Or something. Whatever quarter-arsed description I may throw at it, it was, after all, very good. And their set was too short. I never, ever, EVER say such a thing, but I will this time. I could've been abused w/ another 25 minutes of whatever the hell it is they do, because whatever that is, it sounds like nothing else out there, and I do indeed like it.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Better late than never, I suppose. I was given this CD, I guess, back in 2009. That's when it was released on the Consumer Productions label, the imprint run by one half of The Native Cats, and I'm assuming that was when said label owner, Julian Teakle, gave it to me. I've known Julian since the late 1990s or thereabouts. Great guy: you don't need me to tell you that. What I might need to remind you of is the fact that: A) I very rarely give bad reviews on this blog (you don't need to be told about all the crap records you shouldn't buy in this lifetime: that's a waste of my time); and B) If a friend gives me a record in the hope of me reviewing it in the blog, and then I never do, then there's probably a good chance that the record in question simply wasn't my bag (or let's be honest - maybe your record just flat-out fucking sucks, but we can still be friends). There's also a third possibility that I might happen to like the recording in question but just don't feel any urge to put fingers to keyboard regarding the product. Are you still with me here? After that spiel, do I actually still have any friends left?? Good. On with the show...
So, Julian sent me the CD - Always On - via Australian Post three or so years back. He lives in Tasmania; he may well be the King Of Tasmania. He's certainly one of the reigning monarchs of the music scene on that picturesque isle, having played in bands such as the Bad Luck Charms and The Frustrations, as well as being a radio dude and vocal spruiker for all good sounds which spring forth from the Apple Isle. The Native Cats came highly recommended by all and sundry, and yet at the time it didn't make a dent in my psyche. The instrumentation - the music - didn't work for me. It seemed too sparse, too cold, too something, and it didn't connect. I saw them play a couple of times back then and the reaction was the same each time. Last year, I caught them at the Tote. A dent was made, or at least a scratch. The set was a killer, and I saw the way the individual songs were constructed and performed and began to make some sort of sense of their approach. Skip 12 months later and here I am, after they made their initial musical penetration of my stuck-up defense mechanisms, playing the thing on a daily basis. The band is currently in the US of A, having played shows on both coasts as well as a set at Gonerfest in Memphis. I've been following their trails via Facebook - where else? - and it got me curious enough last week to at least dig out the shelved CD for a well-worn spin. Hell, it was judgment day.
The line-up is: Julian on bass and Peter Escott on vocals and various electronic gadgets and melodica. Peter is apparently a highly-regarded comic in his hometown, although his deadpan schtick doesn't give this talent away. Aided and abetted by a drum machine and a Korg synth for rhythm tracks and electronic treatments (although I'm sure I've seen them play w/ nothing but a bass, microphone and mobile phone as a set-up), you can hear some reference points: Teakle's bass lines are most definitely from the Joy Division/Fall school of low-end, dramaturgical rhythms, and Escott's no-nonsense vocals and strictly-personal lyrics possess a dry humour and a spoken, enunciated approach (once again) born from many an evening kicking back to the dulcet tones of Mark E. Smith. The music itself has a heavily Angloid kick, too: I'm thinking most definitely Young Marble Giants, but there's also elements of This Heat and even early New Order, and the last two tracks, "The Image Of Annie & Ivan" and "Survival House", have a cool Suicide-style drone buried in the mix. Here's the catch: none of this is playing copycat, it isn't "electro-punk", and it rises way above the quagmire of being merely record-collector rock. The Native Cats are very Australian - Escott never loses the Aussie twang - and more importantly, this is very Tasmanian, existing within its own place and time and sounding little like anything else currently in thrall w/ the ungeneral public. There's 9 songs in under 40 minutes, and there's not a track I don't like, not a track I skip. Pulling a totally neglected CD off the shelf - one you hardly ever even gave a spin in the first place [I cracked the seal on two killer Thomas Mapfumo CDs just a couple of weeks back, which had been sitting there collecting dust for 3 or 4 years, and they've hit me so damn hard I might even write about 'em one day] - and finding yourself hearing something you never picked up on before, something good, something which connects. Ride The Snake Records (go here) in the US has issued another disc of theirs on LP, and I may very well need it. Ahem, Julian?...

Now here's one fruity release which shouldn't have been sitting on the out-of-print shelf for so damn long. Thankfully, the good folks at Future Days Recordings/Light In The Attic have amended its sorry state of unavailability. Let me take you back to the dark ages of pre-file sharing, Youtube and other luxuries of contemporary life: in the late '90s, I befriended one Richard Mason, a kind Englishman about 10 years my senior whom I became acquainted w/ via Perfect Sound Forever (a site we were both writing for at the time). He later wrote for Ugly Things and then disappeared for about a decade but recently came back into contact w/ moi. Anyway, he made some nice tapes for me back in the day filled w/ Can, VU, Michael Hurley, Screamers and Desperate Bicycles rarities (all probably now available through the 'net after a 30-second search), but unfortunately never shared tracks from the '60s/'70s Annette Peacock and Peacock/Bley albums he would rave about in emails. I was aware of Paul Bley's eclectic career (I wrote about him just below in the Jimmy Giuffre review), but Richard's spruiking made me stand up and take notice: Paul Bley and his then-wife, Annette Peacock, collaborated on various screwy and impossible-to-find platters which would allegedly make my brain melt from my ears, and I must track them down. And then I forgot about 'em, until now.
Paul Bley plays on a few tracks on Peacock's 1971 meisterwerk, I'm The One, and his presence is felt. By the late '60s, Bley was screwing around on various primitive synths and Moog keyboards, and this obviously rubbed off on his Mrs. Or perhaps that's selling Peacock short: she'd been hanging around the avant-garde since the early '60s - she briefly played w/ Albert Ayler and was married to Ayler bassist Gary Peacock at the time - and likely didn't need the coaching. Born in 1941, she was over 30 when I'm The One was released, and it possesses the same bizarre sense of crazed oncoming maturity and confidence felt on primo Yoko platters such as Plastic Ono Band and Fly. In fact, those are the two closest reference points I could make, and the two most accurate. Press-release pensfolk often throw in Betty Davis' name in there, too, and that's close to the mark: Yoko never got this funky. Originally released on RCA, back in the day when it was trying to get hip beyond its monthly Elvis paycheck by signing the likes of Lou Reed and David Bowie (Bowie in particular was obsessed w/ her and asked to collaborate: perhaps you don't need me to tell you that anecdote) to its roster, it's one of the great major-label oddities of its or any other day. Of course it sunk in the marketplace, but that was to be expected. Some people took notice, and Peacock resurrected herself once more during the punk/new wave era w/ the slightly more accessible/successful X-Dreams, but for many, I'm The One is the pinnacle. That title track - listen below - is unbelievable. Peacock's wail is both alluring and frightening, and the roar of her voice never sounds like an art-school disaster (to borrow a Biafraism, if I may) pitched to annoy. The mixture of her vocals, sultry funk and synth whirls flying in and out has me rating this as one of the best single tracks to have graced my ears since the last time it happened, and whilst the rest of the album never reaches these heights, it ain't no slouch, either. Track three, "Pony", similarly possesses an Ono/Davis hybrid meltdown, and on "Blood" you can hear the screech of a teenage Diamanda Galas discovering music which would fry her mind forever more. Peacock's career deserves more than a mere blog post - she even recorded for ECM and is still active today - but for now there's I'm The One, once again available on LP and CD, you need it much more desperately than you imagine. Hopefully we will see Dual Unity from 1970, a collaborative Peacock/Bley disc, featuring Han Bennink, get a similar reissue some time soon.