March 1, 2015

Sun Ra Sunday


While I was record shopping in Birmingham, Alabama I made a point of driving out to the Elmwood Cemetery to visit Sun Ra's grave. The humble marker was not easy to find--even with a map!--but it was incredibly moving (if a little bit creepy) to be standing at the site of Sonny's earthly remains.

Someone had left behind a pair of joss sticks (which I was unable to get lit in the wind) and some plastic flowers atop a small pile of pinecones. I found a pinecone and put it on the pile and looked around, surrounded by miles and miles of dead bodies, their grey stone sentries looming across the landscape. I'm pretty sure this not where Sonny wanted to wind up.

I swept off the gravestone and paid my respects. I apologized for letting him down with the Sun Ra Sunday project--and, I swear, I could hear him laughing at me down there under the ground. Well, maybe I'll get back to it one of these days. Making this pilgrimage was inspiring--and there's not much time left for me on this planet!

In the meanwhile, check out Sam Byrd's excellent post over at World of Abstract Dreams for an excellent overview of the recent iTunes-only remasters (which I don't have). There's also another vinyl-only release out on Roaratorio, a previously unheard studio album from 1974 called, Sign of the Myth. You don't need me to tell you that it is essential listening; if you are reading this, you need it.

Sun Ra may be gone, but his music lives on.

February 28, 2015

Playlist Week of 2015-02-28


* J.S. Bach: Motets (Collegium Vocale Gent/Herreweghe) (PHI CD)
* Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht, Op.4, etc. (Chicago/Barenboim) (Teldec CD)
* Messiaen: Éclairs sur l’Au-Delà (Orchestre de l’Opera Bastille/Chung) (DG CD)
* Anthony Braxton: Quartet (Santa Cruz) 1993 (Hat ART 2CD)
* Anthony Braxton: Quartet/Quintet (NYC) 2011 (New Braxton House FLAC>CDR)
* Anthony Braxton: Trio (New Haven) 2013 (New Braxton House 4CD)
* Anthony Braxton Falling River Music Trio: University of Alabama 2015-02-23 (AUD WAV)
* Robin Kenyatta: Girl From Martinique (ECM LP)
* Jemeel Moondoc & Connie Crothers: Two (Relative Pitch CD)
* Andrew Raffo Dewar: Interactions Quartet (Rastascan CD)
* Lou Donaldson: A Different Scene (Cotillion LP)
* Donald Byrd: Black Byrd (Blue Note LP)
* Ofra Haza: Shaday (Sire LP)
* D’Angelo & The Vanguard: Black Messiah (RCA CD) †/‡
* Mandrill: Mandrill Is (Polydor LP)
* Grateful Dead: The Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA 1980-08-30 (selections) (SBD FLAC)
* Grateful Dead: Civic Center, Hartford, CT 1981-03-14 (selections) (AUD 3CDR)
* The Pentangle: Basket Of Light (Reprise LP)
* Matching Mole: Matching Mole’s Little Red Record (Columbia LP)
* Tangerine Dream: Atem (Relativity LP)
* Art Bears: Hopes And Fears (Re LP)
* Art Bears: Winter Songs (Re/Ralph LP)
* Fred Frith: Speechless (Ralph LP)
* Chris Cutler/Lindsay Cooper/Dagmar Krause/Zeena Parkins: News From Babel (Re 45-RPM LP)
* New Order: Power, Corruption & Lies (Factory/Rhino 2CD)
* Porcupine Tree: Lightbulb Sun (KScope CD/DVD)
* Mastodon: Crack The Skye (Reprise 2-45RPM LP) †/‡
* Torche: Restarter (Relapse LP)
* Pelican: The Cliff (Southern Lord 12”)
* Pallbearer: Sorrow And Extinction (Profound Lore CD) †/‡

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Commentary:

I caught a break in the weather and drove down on Monday to catch the Anthony Braxton Falling River Trio at the University of Alabama Gallery at the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center in downtown Tuscaloosa—and it would actually turn out to be final concert of the weeklong residency.

Unlike the spacious Bama Theater or the University’s Moody Music Hall (the other venues where Braxton appeared), the performance space was quite intimate. Braxton’s Falling River Music scores were hanging on the walls along with artworks and installations created by students, which were, in turn, inspired by Braxton’s presence on campus. In other words, it was the perfect setting for the music. By the time they started, the place was packed—standing room only!

It was enthralling watching the musicians navigate their way through Braxton’s wildly variegated notational strategies, communicating their intentions to each other via furtive glances and cryptic sign languages. Having never seen him perform before, I was impressed not only with Braxton’s instrumental virtuosity (with which I was already familiar) but also with his gentle yet utterly commanding stage presence. This is his music and he is in total control—yet his innate generosity allows his collaborators ample freedom to express themselves fully—more fully, perhaps, than most so-called “free jazz” allows.

Taylor Ho Bynum (whose Sextet I got to see in New York way back in 2007) is nominally a cornetist, but deploys an array of brass instruments—including trombone—combined with all kinds of mutes (both conventional and unconventional) to exploit a wide range of timbres. Like Braxton, Bynum utilizes multi-instrumentalism to further expand the available range of expression, all of which was on display on Monday.

Kyoko Kitamura, whose astonishing vocal acrobatics were delivered with an almost unsettling calm, particularly blew me away. I’ll be honest: I have a hard time with vocals in a non-pop/rock setting and operatic warbling and swingy scat singing generally leaves me cold, no matter how much I might respect the technical abilities required. Kitamura, however, was completely riveting—and sometimes very funny, bringing out the humor and good-natured fun at the core of Braxton’s music. I have disparaged Braxton’s obsession with opera in the past (displaying my own biases in the process, of course), but I might just have to reconsider my stance after hearing Ms. Kitamura bring bits of the libretto to such vivid life.

Ingrid Laubrock was in the audience and it was great to chat with her. She was also nice enough to personally introduce me to Mr. Braxton. I was at first quite star-struck being in his presence but he was so kind and gracious, I was immediately put at ease. He seemed genuinely interested in the copy of Cosmologies I gave him and even made polite noises about making music together one day. Ha! Wouldn’t that be amazing? Mostly we talked about Don Elliott, who, I told him, gave me my first Anthony Braxton record back when I was a teenager. Of course, Braxton knew who Don was and told me he’d always wondered what happened to him. “Oh, Ingrid,” he said. “He had such a lovely tone.”

After about ten minutes, he deftly turned his attention to another fan who was patiently standing by—and Braxton devoted the same affectionate attention to him and everyone else who bothered to say hello. His generous spirit and boundless love of music was truly inspiring to behold and a memory I will forever cherish.

Tuesday started off sunny and nice but by the afternoon the Governor of Alabama had declared a state of emergency, with five-to-eight inches of snow expected through Wednesday night. Having been stranded once already this winter, I high-tailed it back to Nashville only to awake to a couple of inches of the dreaded white stuff. And, as it turned out, the concert was cancelled so it was a wise move either way. Nevertheless, I really resent Old Man Winter interfering with my planned weeklong Braxfest (not to mention the fact that almost every musician travelling for it was horribly inconvenienced by the storms, including some no-shows). Guess I should grateful what I was able to do—because it was extraordinary.


+++

I also made a VC video about my trip—and the surprisingly top-shelf records I found while digging around in Alabama:

February 22, 2015

Playlist Week of 2015-02-21


* Vivaldi: Concertos for Two Violins (VBO/Marcon/Mullova/Carmignola) (Archiv CD)
* Kurtág: Kafka-Fragmente (Banse/Keller) (ECM CD)
* Henry Threadgill: The Complete Novus and Columbia Recordings (selections) (Mosaic 8CD)
* Anthony Braxton & Derek Bailey: Live At Wigmore (Inner City 2LP)
* Anthony Braxton: The Complete Arista Recordings (selections) (Mosaic 8CD)
* Miroslav Vitous: Magical Shepherd (Warner Bros. LP)
* Connie Crothers: Perception (Steelplechase LP)
* Connie Crothers et al.: The Stone, NYC 2014-08-22 (AUD WAV)
* Connie Crothers & Pauline Oliveros : The Stone, NYC 2014-08-24 (AUD WAV)
* Connie Crothers & Ken Filiano: JACK, Brooklyn, NY 2014-09-07 (AUD WAV)
* Marilyn Crispell: Amaryllis (ECM CD)
* Tord Gustavsen Trio: Changing Places (ECM CD)
* Anouar Brahem/John Surman/Dave Holland: Thimar (ECM CD)
* Mary Halvorson Reverse Blue: Cornelia St. Café, New York, NY 2015-01-09 (AUD WAV)
* Eraldo Bernocchi/Bill Laswell/Tibetan Monks: Somma (Felmay CD)
* Bill Laswell, et al.: Axiom Ambient: Lost In Translation (Axiom/Island 2CD)
* Simon & Bard Group: The Enormous Radio (Flying Fish LP)
* Jerry Garcia & John Kahn: Marin Veterans Memorial, San Rafael, CA 2/28/86 (Pure Jerry HDCD)
* David Sylvian & Robert Fripp: Massey Hall, Toronto 11/1/93 (FM CDR)
* David Sylvian: Dead Bees On A Cake (Virgin CD)
* Earth:  Bureaucratic Desire For Extra-Capsular Extraction (Southern Lord 2LP)
* London Grammar: If You Wait (Columbia 2LP)

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Commentary:

Good grief -- what a week!

The ice storm lasted well into Monday, after which the temperatures plummeted to near-zero, leaving us pretty much stranded on the hill for three days -- only to be followed by more snow, ice and, finally, rain on Friday. Ugh! Fortunately, we only lost power for a couple of hours -- a minor miracle considering the conditions -- so it was actually a nice stuckation with Liz, cozy and warm in our home.

But, you see, we had other vacation plans for this week. We were supposed to go to Tuscaloosa, Alabama to see Anthony Braxton's residency at the University. Having never seen the man live, I was incredibly disappointed to be unable to get there.

Oh well. What can you do about the weather?

Nothing. I may try to get down for the tail-end of it, anyway. We'll see...

+++

To compensate, I made a Vinyl Community video about Anthony Braxton's Arista recordings:

February 16, 2015

Playlist Week of 2015-02-14


* Ravel: Daphnis et Chloe (Boston Symphony/Munch) (RCA-Victor SACD)
* Haubenstock-Ramati: Pour Piano (Morgan) (d.1) (hat ART 2CD)
* John Coltrane: The Complete Africa/Brass Sessions (d.1) (Impulse! 2CD)
* Ornette Coleman: Of Human Feelings (Antilles LP)
* Ornette Coleman & Prime Time: Opening The Caravan of Dreams (Caravan of Dreams LP)
* Marion Brown: Vista (Impulse! LP)
* Ornette Coleman & Prime Time: Tone Dialing (Verve CD)
* Cecil Taylor: Cell Walk For Celeste (Candid CD)
* Anthony Braxton: Quartet (FRM) 2007 Vol.4 (New Braxton House FLAC>CDR)
* Chick Corea: Return To Forever (ECM LP)
* Donald Byrd: Stepping Into Tomorrow (Blue Note LP)
* Donald Byrd: Caricatures (Blue Note LP)
* James Blood Ulmer: Tales of Captain Black (Artists House LP)
* Tim Berne: Snakeoil (ECM CD)
* Rabih Abou-Khalil: Bukra (Enja CD)
* Rabih Abou-Khalil: Il Sospiro (Enja CD)
* Stefano Bollani: Joy In Spite of Everything (ECM CD)
* Tord Gustavsen Trio: Changing Places (ECM CD)
* Rodger Coleman & Sam Byrd: Heeltop Home Studio 2014-12-30 (selections) (WAV) †/‡
* Robert Rich: Seven Veils (Hearts of Space CD)
* D’Angelo & The Vanguard: Black Messiah (RCA CD)
* Frank Ocean: Channel Orange (Island/Def Jam CD)
* Grateful Dead: Warfield Theatre, San Francisco, CA 1983-03-31 (selections) (SBD 2CDR)
* Grateful Dead: The Horizon, Rosemont, IL 1993-03-10 (selections) (SBD FLAC)
* Cat Stevens: Tea For The Tillerman (A&M/Mobile Fidelity CD)
* Cat Stevens: Teaser And The Firecat (A&M/Mobile Fidelity CD)
* Mike Oldfield: Tubular Bells (Virgin LP)
* Heldon: Heldon II: Allez Téia (Cunieform/Superior Viaduct LP)
* Nektar: Remember the Future (Passport LP)
* Nektar: Down To Earth (Passport LP)
* Mingo Lewis: Mingo (Columbia LP)
* David Sylvian: Gone To Earth (Virgin CD)

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Commentary:

After a relatively mild winter so far, we are currently experiencing a nasty snow/ice storm which is keeping us stranded up on the heel for the time being. Sure is nice and cozy (as long as we don't lose power) but it also means my big road trip plans for later this week are looking kinda iffy -- which bums me out BIG TIME. Stay tuned...

February 8, 2015

Playlist Week of 2015-02-07


* Scelsi: Ka & Ttai (Schroeder) (hat ART CD)
* Scelsi: Bot-Ba (Schroeder) (hat ART CD)
* Sun Ra: Strange Celestial Road (Rounder CD)
* Bobby Hutcherson: Head On (Blue Note CD)
* New Tony Williams Lifetime: Believe It (Columbia LP)
* New Tony Williams Lifetime: Million Dollar Legs (Columbia LP)
* James Blood Ulmer: Johnny D’s, Somerville, MA 1989-02-17 (AUD WAV)
* William Parker & Hamid Drake: Volume 1: Piercing The Veil (AUM Fidelity CD)
* William Parker & Hamid Drake: Volume 2: Summer Snow (AUM Fidelity CD)
* Louis Sclavis: Napoli’s Walls (ECM CD)
* Louis Sclavis Quartet: Silk and Salt Melodies (ECM CD)
* Mary Halvorson Quintet: Bending Bridges (Firehouse 12 2LP)
* Mary Halvorson Septet: Illusionary Sea (Firehouse 12 2LP)
* Unconscious Collective: Unconscious Collective (Tofu Carnage 2-45RPM LP)
* Unconscious Collective: Pleistocene Moon (Tofu Carnage 2LP)
* Steven Halpern & Georgia Kelly: Ancient Echoes (Heru LP)
* Constance Demby: Sacred Space Music (Hearts of Space CD)
* Steve Roach: Structures from Silence (Fortuna CD)
* Steve Roach & Robert Rich: Soma (Hearts of Space CD)
* Emerald Web: Catspaw (Audion LP)
* Dereck Higgins: Dereck 2 (DVH LP)
* Bob Dylan: Shadows in the Night (Columbia LP/CD)
* Grateful Dead: Dave’s Picks Vol.13: Winterland 2/24/74 (GDP/Rhino 4HDCD)
* Jerry Garcia Band: Jerry Garcia Band (selections) (Arista 2CD)
* Heldon: II: “Allez-Tela” (Cuneiform/Superior Viaduct LP)
* Thurston Moore: VDSQ – Solo Acoustic Volume Five (Vin Du Select Qualitite LP)
* Cocteau Twins: Sunburst and Snowblind (4AD/Capitol CDEP)
* Cocteau Twins: Aikea-Guinea (4AD/Capitol CDEP)
* Cocteau Twins: The Spangle Maker (4AD/Capitol CDEP)
* Cocteau Twins: Echoes in a Shallow Bay (4AD/Capitol CDEP)
* Cocteau Twins: Tiny Dynamine (4AD/Capitol CDEP)
* Fushitsusha: Fushitsusha [a/k/a Live 2] (PSF 2CD)
* Anatomy of Habit: Ciphers & Axioms (Relapse LP)
* YOB: The Illusion of Motion (Metal Blade 2LP)
* YOB: The Unreal Never Lived (Metal Blade 2LP)
* Wye Oak: Shriek (Merge LP)

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Commentary:

Bob Dylan's new album, Shadows in the Night, came out this week and, of course, I ran out and bought it. 

As I'm sure you all know by now, this is an album of covers, songs that were covered by Frank Sinatra at one time or another. So, it contains some pretty hoary old material like "Autumn Leaves," "Some Enchanted Evening" and "That Lucky Old Sun." But you what? It works.

Dylan has sensibly been using his touring band in studio lately and they carry these subtle, countrified arrangements with deft professionalism. Working with the legendary engineer Al Schmitt at Capitol Studios in Hollywood was a brilliant move as he knows how to work old school: everyone in the same room, cut live, no headphones, no overdubs. Accordingly, the sound quality is utterly delicious--even on CD.

Moreover, Shadows in the Night features some of Dylan's best singing on record in many years - maybe ever. He gets inside these old chestnuts and makes them new, or at least moving and alive. If, like me, you think Dylan has one of the all-time great voices in popular music, you will be astonished by his virtuoso performances here. If you are one of those people who think he can't sing, maybe this will convince you otherwise.

There is also a newly-voluable Bob Dylan making the rounds with the release of this record and his extended interview with AARP is one of his most nakedly revealing interviews ever and his thirty-minute-long speech at the MusicCares Awards the other night blew everyone's minds with its humility, clear-eyed honesty and self-deprecating humor. It would seem that, at the age of 73, Dylan has decided to drop the mask and dispense with the bullshit. Good for him -- and us.

All of the above is highly recommended to everyone reading this!