Wednesday, September 08, 2004

A HIGH FIVE...

1) GANELIN TRIO - Poco-A-Poco CD
If you'd told me 10 years ago about the righteous free jazz scene the Soviet Union had back in the '70s, well, I'll be honest, I probably wouldn't have listened too hard. Fact is, I probably would've ignored you. Sometimes you need these things thrust in your face before you'll take any notice. The Ganelin Trio are the perfect example. Led by Vyacheslav Ganelin, this trio have recorded and released some of the most amazing, completely out-of-nowhere music you're ever likely to (not) stumble across. Much like myself, you may need someone throwing it in your face for a while before you'll listen up, as was the case with myself four years ago. Let me be that person. As an underground ensemble throughout the '70s and '80s - their liberated music too much for the Kremlin to bear at the time - they managed to amass a heavy cult following throughout Europe with their smuggled tapes, most of which (like this) were released on the estimable Leo label. Poco... documents a live performance in Novosibirsk in 1978 and encapsulates everything that is the Ganelin Trio. My one-line summation of their music is this: an Eastern European basement-dwelling version of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Let's see if that winds up in a press release any time soon. Not likely, but back to the matter: the Ganelin Trio are an incredible mish-mash of Ornette-style free jazz, European improv, AEOC-esque "little-instrument" clutter, Eastern European folk melodies and the kitchen sink thrown in for good measure. You'll find the standard drums/reeds/bass/piano set-up, as well as flutes, bassett, dulcimer, okarina, guitar, voice and a whole lot more. This is no "a little of everything for everyone" grab-bag; Ganelin and crew effortlessly throw everything in the pot and create one of the finest avant-garde jazz albums you'll likely come across. If I was to list a Top 100, this'd make the grade. If you hear someone raving on about the greatness of the Ganelin Trio, don't (like me) assume that such a person is simply grasping at straws and attempting to unleash yet another esoteric yet totally over-rated musical scene upon your jaded audio palette. The Ganelin Trio are worth your time and a whole lot more.

2) HALF JAPANESE - Charmed Life LP
What to say? Their finest moment. Recorded in 1985, released in '88, Charmed Life is Half Japanese's Beggars Banquet, White Album, Trout Mask Replica and Funhouse all rolled into one. 21 songs in over 50 minutes, my first response upon first hearing this in 1990 was How could they fit so many great songs onto one album? Much like Double Nickels on the Dime, I'm awestruck by the strength of the material: it's one hit after the other. This was actually the first Jad Fair-related item I purchased, and it was straight back to the record store the next day - that'd be Au-go-go; I was working a horrendous temp job for a life insurance company at the time and spending every spare cent there each and every lunchtime - to purchase anything else Jad-related on their racks. Soon thereafter I bought all the (available) essentials: 1/2 Gentlemen/Not Beasts, Loud, The Band Who Would Be King, Music To Strip By, etc. and still nothing tops Charmed Life. The best mixture of Half Jap's earlier, utterly shambolic beginnings and Jad's later pop leanings, this is the quintessential GARAGE PUNK album of the '80s. Anything who finds Jad either too "arty" or "cute", I can only assume, has not been exposed to this LP. Best, and most unlikely, Stooges cover I've heard, too: "Real Cool Time", an awesome keyboard-drenched epic w/ Don Fleming at the helm.

3) THE DOORS - The Best Of 4-LP box
The Doors are a bit of a running gag with myself and a couple of friends. You could say they're a guilty pleasure I like to indulge in. Occasionally when drinking or consuming various substances at a certain fellow's place (no names, please), we'll stick on, oh, I don't know, LA Woman or Waiting For the Sun, and ironically chuckle to ourselves about getting fuckin' wasted to the Doors, dude. Then there's the real punchline we like to amuse ourselves with: it's our belief that the critics have it wrong - the Doors never really found their artistic feet until the 21st century with the utterly goddamn ridiculous touring line-up of last year: Ray Manzarek (where's the snipers when you need them?), Robbie Krieger, Ian Astbury of the Cult(!!) and Stewart Copeland of the Police(!!!). I mean, forget about the Morrison-period stuff, or even those completely worthless post-Morrison LPs from the early '70s, the new line-up is where it's at. Well, maybe you had to be there...
For the record, I paid a piddling $2.50 for this (no kidding: Warner Bros. were deleting it and dumped a pile of them on the store I was working at 2 1/2 years ago for that price), so I figured what the heck, for less than a beer, it's something I can invest in. Take away all the unnecessary excess baggage: the bloated ego of The Lizard King, Manzarek's post-Doors stake in life as "an ex-member of the Doors" (his first words to X: "Jim woulda loved you guys"), the pretentious poetry, the number of flaming assholes you'll encounter in you life hailing them as the end-all and be-all of "cutting-edge rock" and listen to the music. The Doors had a lot of very fine songs, and that's something I never thought I would've heard myself saying 10 years ago.

4) JAMES BROWN - Sex Machine 2LP
Pulled this one out for no particular reason. You've got to hand it to Mr. Brown: he is one nutty fuck. When he's not beating up his old lady or snorting coke by the bucketload, he can be seen hanging out with American Presidents or releasing albums with titles like "Sex Machine". I mean, next to no-one else on Earth would get away with that kind of behaviour, but with James Brown, we're willing to forgive such eccentricities. As I am, because Mr. Brown fits the bill of being another musical great, a pioneer, an absolute fucking god, who also happens to be either a very mixed-up individual or simply a dreadful human being. But that's OK, because he's James Brown. His music is pure physicality. Much like Discharge - and this is probably the only Discharge/James Brown comparison you're ever likely to read - his music possesses an awesome power that, for myself, is strictly perfunctory: it is there to get down and lose one's shit to. Sex Machine has that effect on me. At this stage, the early '70s, Brown had perfected minimal, epic funk to a tee. Not a dud note is hit (lest one's pay be docked), Brown and co. had the formula down pat, the accents, the rhythms, the one-note bass lines, the brassy interludes. JB's vast catalogue is a can of worms that could keep a man busy for a lifetime, but I say that if you're going to keep it down to a cool half-a-dozen essential discs, this'd be in the pile.

5) TRUE RADICAL MIRACLE - Taste the Rainbow cassette EP
Whatever happened to the good old days of cassettes from hardcore bands? Looks like they're making a revival, as this, TRM's recording debut on the F'ken Stoner label, will attest. TRM are a new-ish local band headed up by band slut extraordinare, Mark Groves (ex-Keeth, Paul of Blood, George W. Bush and probably a few dozen others), a man who has a history of being in great bands who last for the blink of an eye then call it quits. Occasionally they even stick around long enough to see the release of a demo cassette or 7". I hope TRM won't carry on in this tradition, as I dig this a whole lot, and has become a fist-waving, car-driving favourite of late. Mark and I used to correspond many a year back when we were both fanzine dorks (he of Ujaku fame) and he was still residing in Adelaide. I don't mean to piss in anyone's pocket, but he's a guy I respect a lot because he's forever involved in a dozen different projects, delivering as promised, and has zero regard for what the hipster/tastemaker mafia (and that includes me!) make of anything he does. If you've ever met the gentle giant that he is, you'll probably also find yourself scratching your head as to where this mountain of hostility and rage in his written work comes from, because the man you meet and the man you read don't seem to correlate. But anyway!... Someone referred to TRM as sounding like a cross between Born Against and the Birthday Party, and since I've never actually heard any Born Against in my life, I'll sit on the fence regarding that remark, but the grimy noise being spat out here is something that's certainly gained my ears' attention the last week. Yep, you've got those lumbering Tracy Pew bass lines at work here, but throw in a little bit of early 'Flag fury, the low-end romp of Feedtime and the best (and likely only) HC version of the Doors' "Break On Through (To the Other Side") and you've got a real nice item to hang on to. Now, I promise not to be such a lazy shit and see them live...

lexdev@yahoo.com.au

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