April 30, 2010

1000 Awesome Things

Clearly, I am late to the party, but thanks to my awesome wife, I have discovered Neil Pasrichsa's brilliant blog, 1000awesomethings. As The Beatles said, "Sometimes the best things in life are free" and Mr. Pasricha is attempting to catalog one thousand examples of awesome experiences that are freely available to anyone who draws a breath. A selection of his first couple of hundred of awesome things have been published in book form by Amy Einhorn/Putnam. To date, he's only up to 515 aweome things, but I suspect there are more than a thousand awesome things to be celebrated if we just stop to notice. Mr. Pasricha's blog is, well, AWESOME!

April 25, 2010

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra & His Intergalactic Solar Arkestra:
Space Is the Place (Rhapsody Films VHS)

Soon after their return to California, Sun Ra was approached by film producer Jim Newman about a possible thirty-minute documentary about the Arkestra to be aired on PBS. While that idea never panned out, with the help of director John Coney, a different kind of film was envisioned: Space Is the Place, “part documentary, part science fiction, part blaxploitation, part revisionist biblical epic” (Szwed p. 330).

The final version of the film is easy enough to summarize (if not so easy to understand): having been traveling in space for some years in a rocket ship propelled by music as fuel, Sun Ra locates a planet which he deems suitable for the resuscitation of the black race. He returns to earth and lands in Oakland, circa. 1972 (where in real life the Arkestra was staying and where the Black Panthers were under stack by the police and the FBI). Throughout the film Ra battles with the Overseer, a supernatural pimp who profits from the degradation of black people. Sun Ra offers those who would follow him into space an “alter-destiny,” but the Overseer, the FBI, and NASA ultimately force him to return to space prematurely (Id. pp.330-331).
Sun Ra was actively engaged in the film-making process -- to the point of editing out several scenes, including two “sexual situations,” a scene where a junkie responds to Ra’s music by quitting drugs and getting on the spaceship, and one in which Sun Ra saves some white people (!) (Id. p.332). In the end, the movie was cut from ninety minutes to just over an hour and while it’s fun to watch, it’s really not a very good film (we fell asleep watching it last night). My favorite scene is the flashback to 1943 and it is apparently based upon a real event back when Sonny was playing piano in a strip joint during his early days in Chicago: after being threatened by the Overseer, Ra plays an increasingly cacophonous piano solo which literally blows everyone out of the bar in a cloud of smoke and atonal fury. Hilarious!

The film finally opened in 1974 and enjoyed a few screenings in San Francisco and New York, but soon sank without a trace. Over the years, the Arkestra would sometimes project pieces of the movie during concerts and it eventually earned some status as a “cult classic.” But Sonny had high hopes for the movie and was bitterly disappointed in its failure. He later (rather implausibly) claimed that some of his ideas were stolen from him in Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Id. p.333). Rhapsody Films issued it on VHS cassette in 1993 and Plexifilm released an expanded version on DVD in 2003 -- both of which are now long out of print. Here are a couple of clips to give you an idea of what it’s like:

The Arkestra also entered a real recording studio for the first time since leaving New York to record the soundtrack to the film, which was released by Evidence in 1993. We’ll have a listen to that next week.

April 24, 2010

Playlist Week of 4-24-10

* Rebel: Violin Sonatas (Manze/Egarr/ter Linden) (Harmonia Mundi CD)
* Vivaldi: Cello Sonatas (ter Linden/Mortensen) (Brilliant Classics 2CD)
* Handel: 12 Solo Sonatas, Op.1 (d.2) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)
* Handel: Trio Sonatas, Op.2 & 5 (AAM/Egarr) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)
* Handel: Organ Concertos, Op.4 (AAM/Egarr) (Harmonia Mundi SACD)
* Handel: Organ Concertos, Op.7 (AAM/Egarr) (Harmonia Mundi SACD)
* J.S. Bach: The Works for Lute (Kirchhof) (Sony 2CD)
* John Coltrane: Fearless Leader (d.1-2) (Prestige 6CD)
* Sun Ra: Nidhamu + Dark Myth Equation Visitation (Art Yard CD)
* Sun Ra: Soundtrack to the Film Space is the Place (Evidence CD)
* Cecil Taylor: Conquistador! (Blue Note CD)
* Paul Bley Quintet: Barrage (ESP-Disk’ CD)
* Paul Bley: Solo in Mondsee (ECM CD)
* John Abercrombie Quartet: Wait Till You See Her (ECM CD)
* Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet: The Middle Picture (Firehouse 12 CD)
* Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet: Asphalt Flowers Forking Paths (hatOLOGY CD)
* Mary Halvorson/Reuben Radding/Nate Wooley: Crackleknob (hatOLOGY CD)
* Bob Marley & The Wailers: The Complete Wailers 1967-1972 Part II (d.1) (JAD 3CD)
* Various Artists: Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era (d.3) (Rhino CD)
* The Beatles: A Hard Day’s Night (mono) (Apple/EMI CD)
* Frank Zappa: 200 Motels (United Artists 2LP)
* Grateful Dead: Truckin’ Up to Buffalo: July 4, 1989 (GD/Rhino 2CD)
* Grateful Dead: Crimson, White & Indigo: RFK Stadium 7-7-89 (GD/Rhino 3CD+DVD)
* Santana: Santana (Columbia/Legacy CD)
* King Crimson: The Power to Believe (Sanctuary CD)
* Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers: Echo (Warner Bros. CD)
* Lucinda Williams: Little Honey (Lost Highway CD)
* U2: The Unforgettable Fire (Deluxe Edition) (d.2) (Island/Universal 2CD)
* U2: The Joshua Tree (Island CD)
* Amorphous Androgynous: Tales of Ephidrina (Astralwerks CD)
* Robert Pollard: Kid Marine (FCS LP)
* Fleet Foxes: Sun Giant (Sub Pop CDEP)
* Jim O’Rourke: The Visitor (Drag City LP)
* Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino CD)
* Animal Collective: Fall Be Kind (Domino CDEP)


The new Grateful Dead “vault” release is pretty sweet, containing the complete show from RFK Stadium in Philadelphia on July 7, 1989 on three CDs and a DVD. It makes for a nice companion to 2005’s Truckin’ Up to Buffalo, being the next stop on the tour. 1989 was undoubtedly a good year for the Dead: Jerry Garcia was three years out from his diabetic coma and he had by then recovered (most of) his prior facility on the electric guitar. Furthermore, the band was still riding the wave of their first and only top-ten success and they sound about as polished and professional as they ever did. I watched the DVD last night and it was definitely a lot of fun to watch a smiling, animated Jerry bopping around, clear-eyed and sharp. But, truth to tell, this probably isn’t going to convince anyone who never had the opportunity to see Grateful Dead live of what made them so special. For one thing, they weren’t much to look at. Weather-beaten and unkempt in rumpled lounge-wear, they basically just stood there and did their thing. For another, the on-stage perspective of the DVD is wholly different from what the audience experienced and, as such, somewhat insular and clinical. On the other hand, the multi-camera shoot is expertly directed by longtime GD videographer, Len Dell’amico and it offers a well-considered glimpse into the band’s inner dynamics. For example, watching the group think its way through the long “Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain” sequence is revelatory if you already understand the subtle, improvisatory intricacies of the music. Nevertheless, I mostly felt a weepy nostalgia watching it. I still miss Jerry intensely and, really, I cannot be objective. A Grateful Dead show was not just a concert, it was an experience. Whether the music any good or not was really quite beside the point -- in fact, it could be very bad indeed! But because of their willingness to try for something extraordinary and fail more often than not, their fleeting successes could be moments of utterly transcendent music that were utterly impossible to rehearse and perfect. There are a few of those moments here and, like a said, the band’s playing and singing is at a remarkably high level throughout. And the repertoire encompasses the panoply of American music from New Orleans zydeco to Chicago blues, Bob Dylan to futuristic jazz rock fusion – and original songs like “Ramble on Rose” sound like electric string band music from a hundred years ago. Yet I suspect most folks will watch/listen to this and wonder what all the fuss was about. Capturing the magic of the Grateful Dead is like trapping lightning in a bottle: impossible! As an unrepentant Deadhead, I am grateful for everything they put out; others, however, may want to familiarize themselves with the rest of the canon before picking this up. Then again, what do I know? This is a fine example of the Dead at a late peak and may just turn you on like nothing else can. Available in record stores as of 4-20 (get it?).


Bugs 2010-04-23a, originally uploaded by Rodger Coleman.

Spring is bursting forth here at Chateau NuVoid: The bugs are out, tornadoes are threatening, and the world has turned myriad shades of beautiful green. I played around with the camera last night and took some long exposures of the insects flying around the floodlights. Gosh, it seems like yesterday I was taking pictures of snow falling. Hooray for spring! (I could do without the tornado warnings, however!)

April 18, 2010

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra & His Intergalactic Myth Science Solar Arkestra:
Nidhamu + Dark Myth Equation Visitation (Art Yard CD)

In 2009, Art Yard gathered together the remaining Egypt material on a CD entitled Nidhamu + Dark Myth Equation Visitation. Most of this music was previously released on impossible to find Saturn and Thoth Intergalactic LPs over the years, making this an essential companion to the magnificent Horizon CD, also on Art Yard. The CD opens with three additional tracks recorded at the Ballon Theatre on December 17, 1971: “Space Loneliness #2” begins with an unusual ensemble of saxophones, flutes, and oboe with a detuned synthesizer obbligato. The yearning, dissonantly harmonized melody and rubato drums feels conceptually similar to the Discipline series of compositions and may be a completely different piece. Ra then takes an unaccompanied solo on dual synthesizers which focuses more on pitch and rhythm than spaceship noises for a change. After moving to Rocksichord and outlining a bluesy set of changes, the ensemble returns with a lushly orchestrated coda that echoes the big-band riffing of the original “Space Loneliness.” After some polite applause, Ra introduces “Discipline 11” with a spacey organ solo until trumpet, flutes, and saxophones enter with the dirge-like composition. After some more organ chording, Marshall Allen takes a mellifluous, heavily reverb-ed solo on flute until Sonny interrupts with more scary electronic mayhem. A glorious rendition of the stately “Discipline 15” follows with John Gilmore adding his inimitable tenor sax improvisations over the top. Unfortunately, after a short percussion interlude, the track quickly fades out. Even so, it’s a wonderful performance of this rarely played composition.

“Nidhamu” is a long (thirteen minute) double-synthesizer solo recorded at an invitation-only concert at Hartmut Geerken’s house in Heliopolis on December 12, 1971. Ra again demonstrates his mastery of the then new technology, exploring the vast range of sounds available: from space age bleeps and blorps, to sweeping portamentos; pure sine waves to tsunamis of white noise -- all the while maintaining a loose internal structure built around a jittery four note figure that appears and disappears in various permutations throughout the piece. A dignitary who attended this concert invited Ra to appear on Egyptian television on December 16 (Szwed, p.293), and the next four tracks document that event, which was, sadly, not preserved in the station’s archives (Campbell & Trent, p.181). “Discipline 27” fades into Kwami Hadi’s trumpet solo while Tommy Hunter’s voice (probably dubbed later) announces the date and venue. Hadi plays nicely, as usual, supported by a swelling Arkestral accompaniment that gradually resumes the brightly riffing composition before fading out too soon. “Solar Ship Voyage” consists of a brief synthesizer solo in Ra’s rocket-ship style, punctuated with skittering runs of notes and piercing, high-pitched whines. “Cosmo Darkness” is a short group improvisation with squealing horns pitted against Ra’s rumbling electronic organ. Ra wins. “The Light Thereof” opens with an enervated organ solo before the ensemble takes up the mournful, densely arranged composition, which was apparently performed only this one time (Campbell & Trent, p.827). Another lost masterpiece! An ensemble of saxophones, flutes and trumpet improvise simultaneously while Gilmore takes the lead with a display of tenor pyrotechnics until Ra points the finger and the piece stops on a dime, eliciting enthusiastic applause from the small studio audience. Quite a display of avant garde weirdness for Third World television!

The disc concludes with three more tracks recorded on December 12. Ra has been provided an acoustic piano, which he uses to push the band a ragged but still effective performance of “Friendly Galaxy #2,” featuring a twittering flute choir over the insistently repeating trumpet note. Ra then takes a meditative solo, slowing the tempo to a full stop before launching into the sing-a-long arrangement of “To Nature’s God,” which is taken up by June Tyson and Gilmore with gusto. Sonny quickly drops out and everyone takes up percussion instruments to bang along with Pat Patrick’s electric bass vamp, while Tyson and Gilmore sing, dance, chant and parade around the room. Despite the band’s enthusiasm, this was apparently the last performance of this quirky little ditty (Campbell & Trent, p.842). Finally, the disc closes with the bouncy space chant, “Why Go to the Moon,” which, unfortunately, fades out after about two and half minutes. Supposedly, the entire three and a half hour Heliopolis concert was recorded by Tommy Hunter, but it is unknown whether the rest of the tape survives (Id., p.181). Given that none of it appears on this Art Yard CD, it seems unlikely. But you never know what might surface…


The Egyptian sojourn was supposed only last a few days, but they wound staying two weeks “as they rode camels, shopped, hitchhiked, and went sightseeing” (Szwed, p.293). They even ventured into the great pyramids, where the lights dramatically went out as soon as they entered the mystical King’s Chamber. As they made their way back out in pitch darkness, Sonny calmly remarked, “Why do we need light, Sun Ra, the sun is here” (Id.). All this was no doubt great fun, but the trip was taking its toll on the Arkestra’s already precarious finances:

One night near the end of their stay in Cairo, Geerken saw Sun Ra seated at a table in the hotel with a candle and piece of paper covered with long rows of numbers. It was not numerology; they were again out of money, with not even enough to pay the hotel bill. This was becoming a regular occurrence on tours, as Sonny loved traveling and became depressed when they returned to Philadelphia. Geerken once saw Sun Ra pay for a $1000 phone bill by selling the rights to a master tape of the band. This time, members of the band sold personal items to get the money. And Sonny left his Sun harp with Geerken as security against money he loaned him (Id., pp.293-294).
1972 would turn out to be another lean year for the Arkestra and they would not return to Europe again until the fall of 1973. They did, however, make a movie: the pseudo-Blaxploitation classic, Space is the Place and sign a recording contract with a major label, ABC/Impulse! Coming up next on Sun Ra Sunday!

April 17, 2010

Playlist Week of 4-17-10

* Vivaldi: Double Violin Concertos (VBO/Marcon/Carmignola/Mullova) (Arkiv Prod. CD)
* Vivaldi: Cello Sonatas (ter Linden/Mortensen) (Brilliant Classics 2CD)
* J.S. Bach Violin Sonatas (Kuijken/Leonhardt) (d.1) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)
* Handel: 12 Solo Sonatas (AAM/Egarr) (d.1) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)
* Venice Baroque Orchestra (Marcon/Carmignola): Concerto Veneziano (Arkiv Prod. CD)
* Venice Baroque Orchestra (Marcon/Carmignola): Concerto Italiano (Arkiv Prod. CD)
* Poulenc: Works for Piano (Parkin) (d.2) (Chandos CD)
* Sun Ra: Horizon (Art Yard)
* Sun Ra: Nidhamu + Dark Myth Equation Visitation (Art Yard CD)
* Cecil Taylor: Air (Candid CD)
* Henry Grimes Trio: The Call (ESP-Disk’ CD)
* Matthew Shipp: 4D (Thirsty Ear CD)
* Mahavishnu Orchestra: Palace Theatre, Waterbury, CT 5-17-73 (SBD 2CDR)
* Mahavishu Orchestra: Vienna 8-29-75 (FM CDR)
* Pat Metheny Group: We Live Here (Geffen CD)
* Bob Marley & The Wailers: The Complete Wailers 1967-1972 Part I (JAD 3CD)
* Various Artists: Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era (d.1-2) (Rhino CD)
* Jimi Hendrix: Valleys of Neptune (Experience Hendrix/Sony CD)
* Pink Floyd: The Dark Side of the Moon (Capitol SACD)
* Grateful Dead: Berkeley Community Theatre, CA 8-24-72 IIx (SBD CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Dick’s Picks Vol.26: Cow Palace, Daly City, CA 3-23-74 (GD 2CD)
* Jerry Garcia Band: How Sweet It Is (GD/Arista CD)
* Chicago Transit Authority: Chicago Transit Authority (Rhino 2LP)
* Chicago: Chicago II (Rhino 2LP)
* The Band: Rock of Ages (Capitol/MFSL SACD)
* Bob Dylan: Desire (Columbia SACD)
* Van Morrison: Astral Weeks (Warner Bros. LP)
* Van Morrison: Moondance (Warner Bros. LP)
* Van Morrison: Tupelo Honey (Polydor CD)
* Van Morrison: Common One (Warner Bros. CD)
* Tom Waits: Glitter & Doom (Live) (Anti- 2LP)
* Can: Guildhall, Plymouth, England 5-xx-72 (AUD CDR)
* U2: The Unforgettable Fire (Deluxe Edition) (d.1) (Island/Universal 2CD)
* Sonic Youth: Rather Ripped (Geffen CD)
* Stereolab: Emperor Tomato Ketchup (Elektra CD)
* DJ Spooky: The Secret Song (Thirsty Ear CD)


Happy Record Store Day! I slept in a bit this morning and so didn’t get over Grimey’s in time to snag any of exclusive releases. That’s OK; there wasn’t really anything I felt I had to have. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful day and when I finally got there, around 11:00 a.m. there was still line out the door just to get in! Holy smokes, the place was PACKED. Every aisle in the store was jammed with people, young and old, either trying to shop or forming ad hoc lines to the cash registers. It was truly an anarchic madhouse, but everyone was happy to be there and totally cool amidst the chaos. Indeed music tames the savage beast!

I took advantage of the sale and grabbed a few things that had been on my (ever expanding) wantlist and immediately got into what appeared to be a check-out line. While it took almost an hour to finally pay for my stuff, I enjoyed chatting with folks while we waited – it turned out the guy behind me also lives here in bucolic Kingston Springs! We agreed it’s a delightful place to live. I stashed my loot in the car and made my way back to the parking lot where there was live music, beer, and many crates of used records and CDs. I managed to catch most of How Cozy’s set, which was great! Alumnus of Southern Girls Rock and Roll Camp, these youngsters have written some smart songs executed with simple but effective guitar/drums/vocal instrumentation. Good stuff! I rummaged through the bins for a while and enjoyed a tasty pulled pork sandwich from Jimmy Carl’s Lunch Box along with a zesty Pale Ale from Nashville’s own superb Yazoo Brewing Co. and split. As I was walking down the alley to my car, I saw this totally destroyed record sitting on top of the trunk of this car. It appeared to me to be an appropriate work of public art inspired by Record Store Day, so I took a photograph (above). (There are more photos from the event on my Flickr photostream, but they’re really not very good. Click the link on the sidebar if you’re interested.)

What did I wait in line to buy on Record Store Day? I’m almost ashamed to say it’s once again (mostly) more music from my youth. I guess I really am just another middle-aged fuddy-duddy. The truth is I would rather spend my hard-earned money on lovingly reissued albums from the seventies and eighties than take a chance on something new. What can I say? (Van Morrison would say this: “There’s no why, just is.”) Ever since Sam Byrd sent me that “mystery disc” which reacquainted me with Chicago (the band), I have wanted to splurge on the 2009 Rhino vinyl reissues of their first two albums. So I did. These things are done right: the exact-repro packaging is first rate and the all-analog 180-gram discs sound amazing! I also picked up Mobile Fidelity’s recent SACD of The Band’s Rock of Ages, their expansive live album, and it greatly benefits from MoFi’s meticulous, high resolution mastering job. While I’m not that big of a U2 fan, I have always been fond of The Unforgettable Fire, if only for the lush production job by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. My original LP is more than a little beat up so I bought the new “deluxe edition” 2-CD set, which includes all the B-Sides, remixes and other bonus tracks. The mastering job is decent, the slipcased, hardbound-book packaging is truly “deluxe,” and it’s nice to have this old friend in conveniently digital form. Finally, John Abercrombie’s latest album on ECM had been sitting forlornly in the jazz bin for months, so I rescued it and brought it home. Haven’t listened to that one yet, but I’m sure it will be perfect for a mellow evening. In all, it was an excellent Record Store Day!

Folks keep insisting that sound recordings sold as physical products is a moribund industry, but after today you might think otherwise. Ten or fifteen years ago, it looked like the LP was utterly obsolete, but today I saw more folks shelling out (sometimes) big bucks for vinyl than anything else – and, like I said, the store was jam-packed with eager customers. This gives me hope that records – and record stores – will remain a viable concern in the Twenty-First Century. They are some of my most favorite things in the world.

April 14, 2010

Record Store Day!

Hey, just a reminder that Record Store Day is this coming Saturday. If you're like me, you love record stores as much as records themselves: the thrill of the hunt, the unexpected treasure, the discovery of new sounds...the smell of old vinyl...Well, here in Nashville, Grimey’s knows how to do Record Store Day right with live music, beer, barbeque and lots and lots of records. I can’t wait! Check out what your local record store is doing to celebrate -- and buy records!

April 11, 2010

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra & His Intergalactic Myth Science Solar Arkestra:
Horizon (Art Yard CD)

With the money obtained from Black Lion, the Arkestra was able to board the waiting plane and travel to Cairo, arriving in the evening of December 7, 1971. But they did not know anyone in Egypt and neither did they know where they were going to stay nor how they were going to pay for it. Szwed describes the scene:

When they landed they were held up at Egyptian customs because of the unlikelihood of an entire orchestra arriving as tourists and because of the name on Sun Ra’s passport. To be named after the sun god twice was really a bit too much. On the latter objection Sun Ra resourcefully suggested the guard call the curator of the National Museum of Antiquities with whom he was ready to discuss Egyptology. They let him in, but customs kept most of their instruments just in case. The band took cabs to the Mena House Hotel outside of Cairo, and they woke up the next day to see the morning fog slowly lifting to reveal the pyramid of Giza. A day later Tommy Hunter began taking motion pictures of members of the Arkestra as they faced the pyramids, while the wind made their costumes billow so it appeared they were flying. These were the films that Sun Ra would later project behind the band at Slug’s and at concerts (p.292).

Here is the film:

Thanks to Sun Ra fan, Hartmut Geerken, a German writer and free musician who was teaching at the Goethe Institute in Cairo, a series of performances were arranged, including an invitation-only concert at Geerken’s home in Heliopolis on December 12. While most of the Arkestra’s instruments were still being held by customs, they were aided by a most unlikely personage named Salah Ragab:

[He was] a brigadier general and the head of military music in the Egyptian army and himself a jazz drummer. Though he was later disciplined for the contact, he continued to meet with the band under various disguises, including once when he came with the son of [Egyptian President] Gamal Abdel Nasser, also a jazz musician. Musicians and dancers were jammed into the house with several dozen guests, but they still managed a light show and dancing, and a march throughout the house and into the garden (while the Egyptian secret police kept watch from outside) (pp.292-293).

The Arkestra also performed at the famed Ballon Theatre in Cairo on December 17 courtesy of the Egyptian Ministry of Culture, who had cancelled ballet previously scheduled for that date (p.293). The concert was recorded from the stage (in mono) by Tommy Hunter and released on various impossible-to-find Saturn LPs over the years (see Campbell & Trent, pp.180-183). Most of this material was finally compiled onto a CD entitled, Horizon, and released by Art Yard in 2008. It is a truly special performance: after the cold, grueling tour of Europe, the Arkestra sounds well-rested and inspired by the ancient, mystical-- and warm -- environment. Ra sets the stage with some ominous electronics before a brief “Theme of the Stargazers” and a howling a cappella solo from Danny Davis on alto sax. The band then launches into “Discipline 2,” a moody and mysterious piece that begins with throbbing, densely harmonized horns which give way to a twittering flute choir before returning with a somber coda. Sonny then signals “The Shadow World” and we’re off to the races. This is a spectacular, seventeen minute rendition, with Ra driving the band hard and the ensemble responding with near-perfect execution of the extraordinarily complicated melody lines. Ra takes the lead with a skittering organ solo before an energetic group improvisation section that yields to Gilmore’s furiously wailing tenor sax. Yes, it’s another incredible Gilmore solo! Kwami Hadi also takes a turn on trumpet and acquits himself well, ranging around from high-wire acrobatics to smeared, low-register noodling before Ra signals the reprise. After a brief pause, Ra lightens the mood by moving into “Enlightenment,” which is joyfully taken up by June Tyson and her male choir. “Love In Outer Space” predictably follows and while this version lacks the menacing darkness heard in Paris, there’s plenty of exciting organ work and another tasty solo from Hadi.

The neo-big-band swing of “Third Planet” follows with the Arkestra again nailing the ensemble sections and supporting Hadi’s bebop-ish solo with swelling riffs. Hadi’s really in the spotlight at this concert! Ra takes a bumptious, barbequed organ solo as the rhythm section starts to really heat up, only settling down again for the return of the head. Sonny then lurches into some dissonant organ clusters to introduce “Space is the Place.” Pat Patrick grinds out the repetitive bassline, percussion sets up a quasi-Latin groove, the singers chant, clap and dance, and meanwhile Marshall Allen squeals and moans on alto saxophone. It was likely quite a spectacle. “Horizon” begins with Ra blasting off with his Moog synthesizer, punctuated with a searing space chord at the end. An eerie organ swell signals “Discipline 8,” with its oscillating ensemble chords over rumbling, rubato drumming. Eloe Omoe emerges from the thicket of harmony to blow some honking bass clarinet until Gilmore takes over with a blistering display of high-pitched harmonics, howling multiphonics, and low-register growls, joined at the end by the altos in an all-out saxophone battle. After reaching a feverish pitch, the saxophones subside, leaving Hadi to brood. All the while, the Arkestra’s riffing continues to heave and sigh, rising and falling with contours of the soloists' excursions. After a cued ending, June Tyson chants “We’ll Wait for You” with the Arkestra echoing her lines antiphonally. While Sonny outlines a narrow harmonic area, the Arkestra briefly engages in some free-jazz freakouts before Ra signals “The Satellites Are Spinning,” which closes the CD with its optimistic chanting about the “great tomorrow,” accompanied by some bitingly skronky saxophone solos and supported by a propulsive groove laid down by Clifford Jarvis’s skillful drumming and Pat Patrick’s workmanlike bass playing. You can hear the Egyptian audience starting to get into it, whooping and hollering as the Arkestra parades off the stage.

While the set list is typical of the period, the performance is particularly focused and intense. Given the pleasantly spacious acoustic of the recording, this makes for a must-have CD for any Sun Ra fan. In 2009, Art Yard released Nidhamu + Dark Myth Equation Visitation, which contains three more tracks from this concert, along with portions of the Heliopolis performance and a TV appearance taped on December 16. We’ll have a listen to that one next week.

April 10, 2010

Playlist Week of 4-10-10

* Dowland: ‘Flow My Teares’ (Guillon/Bellocq): Église Abbatiale, Saintes 7-18-09 (FM CDR)
* Biber: Missa Christi resurgentis (English Concert/Manze) (Harmonia Mundi SACD)
* Rebel: Violin Sonatas (Manze/Egarr/ter Linden) (Harmonia Mundi CD)
* Vivaldi: Concertos and Sinfonias for Strings (VBO/Marcon) (Arkiv Prod. CD)
* J.S. Bach: The Works for Lute (Kirchhof) (Sony Classical 2CD)
* Holloway/Mortensen/ter Linden: Garrison Church, Copenhagen 4-08-08 (FM 2CDR)
* Berio: Coro (Kolner Rundfunkchor/Sinfonie-Orchester/Berio) (DG CD)
* Sun Ra: Calling Planet Earth (DA Music/Freedom CD)
* Sun Ra: Horizon (Art Yard CD)
* Sun Ra: Nidhamu + Dark Myth Equation Visitation (Art Yard CD)
* Cecil Taylor Quartet, et al.: At Newport (1957) (Verve CD)
* Cecil Taylor Unit/Roswell Rudd Sextet: Mixed (Impulse! CD)
* Cecil Taylor: Nefertiti, the Beautiful One Has Come (Revenant 2CD)
* Cecil Taylor: Unit Structures (Blue Note CD)
* Mary Halvorson Trio: The Vortex, London, England 12-14-09 (FM CDR)
* Herbie Hancock: Secrets (Columbia LP)
* Mahavishnu Orchestra: Berkeley Community Theatre, CA 11-9-72 (Pre-FM 2CDR)
* Praxis: Transmutation (Mutatis Mutandis) (Axiom/Island CD)
* The Beatles: Abbey Road (2009 remaster) (Apple/EMIT CD)
* Rolling Stones: Unsurpassed Masters, Vol.1 (fan/boot CDR)
* Rolling Stones: Unsurpassed Masters, Vol.2 (fan/boot CDR)
* Bob Dylan: Together Through Life (Columbia 2LP)
* The Mothers of Invention: Burnt Weeny Sandwich (Bizarre/Reprise LP)
* Frank Zappa: Hot Rats (Bizarre/Reprise LP)
* Frank Zappa: Chunga’s Revenge (Bizarre/Reprise LP)
* Grateful Dead: Winterland, June 1977: The Complete Recordings (d.7-9) (GD/Rhino 9+1CD)
* Fleetwood Mac: Fleetwood Mac (Reprise LP)
* Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers: Into the Great Wide Open (MCA LP)
* The Style Council: The Cost of Loving (Polydor LP)
* Spacemen 3: The Perfect Prescription (Genius CD)
* Chemical Brothers: Exit Planet Dust (Astralwerks CD)
* Future Sound of London: The Isness (FSOL/Hypnotic CD)
* The Flaming Lips: The Soft Bulletin (Warner Bros. DVD-A)
* David Gray: White Ladder (RCA CD)
* Robert Pollard: We All Got Out of the Army (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Circus Devils: Mother Skinny (Happy Jack Rock Records LP)


You might have noticed that I’m slowly making my way chronologically through the Frank Zappa catalog (on original vinyl, I might add). I was exposed to Zappa’s music at an early age by my middle school/high school music teacher, the (now legendary) (Dr.) Gary Sousa. I was maybe a bit too young -- I can’t imagine a junior high school teacher getting away with playing this stuff for kids today, but things were different (perhaps better) back then. Mr. Sousa was a great teacher and a profound influence on me, way beyond Zappa records -- he could (sometimes) make those ragtag bands sing! In any event, boy did Zappa’s music ring my bell -- and not just the pre-pubescent thrill at hearing dirty words coming out of the hi-fi. No, I immediately recognized the compositional brilliance and virtuosic musicianship behind the snickering, jokey veneer. You see, I was also by then deep into piano studies with composer, Dr. Allen Brings, who inculcated a love for modernistic weirdness, but who abhorred popular music of all stripes. Zappa was someone who didn’t take it all so darn seriously and could make “classical music” rock. I was in heaven. To me, “Inca Roads” was perfect! I thought this was the future! Furthermore, Zappa instilled a burning desire to play electric guitar -- after all, you can’t bend the pitch or, better yet, generate howls of feedback on a piano! It was not until much later that I finally “plugged in,” but in the meantime I bought all of Zappa’s records I could get my hands on. The Verve albums were long out of print and are still hard to find, but the Discreet albums were readily available and I loved the new stuff like Sheik Yerbouti and Joe’s Garage, which even garnered some radio play at the time.

I saw him once at the Hartford Civic Center in 1981, but I was sorely disappointed. He pranced around the stage in hot pink, skin tight trousers singing the stupidest songs in the repertoire, only strapping on the guitar for a couple of condescending, carelessly tossed off solos over simplistic (yet emptily hyperactive) one-chord vamps. After going away to college, my love affair with Zappa soured completely and I eventually sold all my albums in a fit of pique after discovering punk rock (a genre which Frank had gone out of his way to ridicule). I thereafter dismissed Zappa as a sneering, cynical purveyor of pompous, puerile junk -- which is true enough, but misses the point.

After moving to Tennessee, I had a change of heart and I started re-buying all the original LPs I could find, listening to them once and filing them away. I enjoyed hearing them again, but mostly I just had to have them, if only to reclaim some lost part my lost childhood. Music, like smell or taste, has the innate ability to summon up the past with an immediacy that mere memory can never equal. And there is that compositional brilliance and instrumental virtuosity that is still compelling, despite all the toilet humor. 1969 was a good year for Frank: Uncle Meat is probably The Mothers of Invention’s most perfectly realized conception, but Zappa’s first solo album, Hot Rats, is more immediately enjoyable, focusing on musicianship for its own sake rather than relegating it to the service of arch social commentary.

So it goes with Frank and me. The music is uniformly great, but the jokes are stale and the politics dubious. Ultimately, I think Zappa did himself a disservice with his insistence on being as irreverent and offensive as possible while also desperately wanting to be taken seriously as a composer. Then again, this was just a measure of his peerless integrity: he did it his way and couldn’t care less what I (or anyone else) thought about it. For myself, I can only listen to this music when I feel like I can tolerate being insulted in return for musical kicks. That doesn’t happen very often, but I have enjoyed listening to this stuff over the past couple weeks. We’ll see how far I get in this chronological survey before I abandon ship. The seas really get rough from this point forward.

NB: In Zappa’s own perverse fashion, he messed with the 1960s-era albums when transferring them to compact disc, going so far as to overdub new rhythm section parts on some and digitally remixing just about the whole catalog. Accordingly, the CDs represent a questionable revisionist history and make the original vinyl LPs highly desirable. I’m sure Frank thought the CDs sounded better and maybe in some objective ways they do; but they don’t sound anything like the original albums.

Red-winged blackbird (male)

Another sign that spring is here to stay is the appearance of the Red-winged blackbirds at the feeder. This male still has his winter plumage and the dash of bright red at the shoulder is hidden here. Beautiful bird!

April 4, 2010

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra: Calling Planet Earth (DA Music/Freedom CD)

The Paris concert was supposed to be the last of this ill-fated tour -- but at the last minute, Sun Ra decided to go to Egypt. Someone had tipped him off to cheap airfare from Copenhagen to Cairo and a handful of gigs in Denmark were cobbled together to pay for a trip to the Land of the Pharaohs (see Campbell & Trent p.178). Egypt was a place of obvious spiritual importance to Sun Ra, but half of the rapidly shrinking Arkestra bailed out and returned home. Nevertheless, the core musicians dutifully carried on with the shoe-string adventure. As it turned out, the Danish promoters failed to pay, and Sonny financed the trip by selling a batch of tapes to the Black Lion label, the desperate transaction taking place on the tarmac as the Cairo-bound plane awaited its departure (Id. p.179; Szwed p.292). Among those tapes was a recording from Odense on December 3, 1971 but never issued (has anyone heard this?) and the December 5th concert from the Tivoli Theatre in Copenhagen, which was finally released by the DA Music/Freedom label as Calling Planet Earth in 1998.

The homemade stereo recording was made from the stage (probably by Tommy Hunter), and while it sounds fine, there is some distortion during the loudest parts and you can hear the seams of a hasty editing job. Hunter’s voice (likely recorded in the hotel room afterwards) announces the date and venue before cutting into a brief turbulent percussion jam, which serves as an introduction to “Discipline 5.” The through-composed sequence of sweet-n-sour harmonies rises and falls over the busy percussion section, yielding to an unaccompanied alto saxophone solo by Danny Davis, and returning for the reprise. Kwami Hadi remains as the only brass player, but the saxophone section is full and lush: besides Davis, mainstays Marshall Allen, John Gilmore, Pat Patrick, Danny Thompson, and Eloe Omoe and newcomers Larry Northington and Hakim Rahim are all present and help to flesh out the intricate arrangement. “Discipline 10” is more groove-oriented, propelled by Ra’s barbequed organ comping over which the Arkestra riffs on a handful of big-voiced chords. Ra solos interestingly on organ while Patrick grinds out a stumbling bass line until Gilmore enters with a fiercely overblown solo on tenor sax. Unfortunately, he’s way off-mic and hard to hear. Even so, you can tell he’s really blowing his ass off! After a return of the head, Ra steers the band into a nicely sung rendition of “Enlightenment." A severely truncated version of “Love in Outer Space” ends what would have been side one of the LP, fading out just as things start to come to a boil.

“Discipline 15” begins with a fugue-like organ solo, outlining the highly chromatic harmonic areas of the piece. Then the ensemble enters tentatively with the richly orchestrated rubato theme, dark, reedy saxophones contrasted with airy flute and trumpet. Ra takes a dramatic unaccompanied organ solo before suddenly shifting gears, launching into “The Satellites Are Spinning” which is taken up by June Tyson and Gilmore in a sung duet. After the urgent chanting of “Calling Planet Earth,” the Arkestra slams into “The Outers,” some high-energy free jazz skronk: the horns wail, the drums bash, and Sonny attacks his electronic keyboards with fists and elbows. This goes on for a while, until Sun Ra takes over for good with an agitated mad-scientist-style solo on organ. A deft edit drops us into the floating space-groove of “Adventures Outer Planes” (mis-titled “Adventures Outer Space” on the CD), a two-chord vamp supporting a wandering melody for flute and trumpet that never quite seems to gel. Ra again leads the way with a genially meandering organ solo, while the Arkestra takes up small percussion instruments. A second time through the composition sounds a bit more confident than before, although there are some weird (and possibly wrong) notes strewn about. The track fades out inconclusively. Hmm. According to Campbel & Trent, this piece was only performed this one time (p.811); too bad as it definitely had potential. It is astonishing to discover so many tantalizing but rarely performed works scattered throughout the discography!

While there is some interesting music here, the Arkestra sounds hesitant on the newer material and some of the more exciting improvisational music has obviously been edited out from a much longer performance, making this album less than totally satisfying to me. Then again, I’m spoiled. Any good-sounding Ra music from this vintage should be heartily welcomed. Next stop: Egypt.

April 3, 2010

Playlist Week of 4-03-10

* Marais: Sonnerie de Sainte-Geneviève du Mont (Harnoncourt) (Harmonia Mundi CD)
* Rebel: Violin Sonatas (Manze/Egarr/ter Linden) (Harmonia Mundi CD)
* Vivaldi: Cello Sonatas (ter Linden/Mortensen) (Brilliant Classics 2CD)
* Scriabin: The Complete Preludes (Piers Lane) (Hyperion 2CD)
* Reger: String Quartet, Op.121/Clarinet Quintet, Op.146 (Drolc/Leister) (DG CD)
* Boulez: Rituel/Eclat/Multiples (BBC Symphony/Ens. InterContemp.) (Boulez) (Sony CD)
* Wynonie Harris (w/Sun Ra): Studio recordings, Nashville, March 1946 (78RPM>CDR)
* Sun Ra: Paris, France 11-29-71 (FM CDR)
* Sun Ra: Calling Planet Earth (DA Music/Freedom CD)
* Kip Hanrahan: Coup de Tête (American Clavé LP)
* David Torn’s Prezens: Stadtgarten, Cologne, Germany 1-10-08 (AUD 2CDR)
* Praxis: Warszawa (Innerrhythmic CD)
* Charged: Live (Innerrhythmic CD)
* Bob Dylan: Blonde on Blonde (mono) (Columbia/Sundazed 2LP)
* Rolling Stones: Some Girls (Rolling Stones/Virgin LP)
* The Mothers of Invention: Uncle Meat (Bizarre/Reprise 2LP)
* Grateful Dead: Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA 5-19-66 (SBD CDR)
* Grateful Dead, et al.: Festival Express Train, July 1970 (AUD CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Dick’s Picks Vol.36: The Spectrum Philadelphia, PA 9-21-72 (GD 4CD)
* Grateful Dead: Civic Center, Providence, RI 9-09-87 (SBD 2CDR)
* Jerry Garcia Band: After Midnight: Kean College, Union, NJ 2-28-80 (GD/Rhino 3CD)
* Can: Soundtracks (Spoon SACD)
* Henry Cow/Slapp Happy: In Praise of Learning (original mix) (Red Records LP)
* Henry Cow: Western Culture (Interzone LP)
* Neil Young: After the Gold Rush (Reprise LP)
* Lucinda Williams: Essence (Lost Highway CD)
* Peter Frampton: Frampton Comes Alive! (Deluxe Edition) (A&M/Universal 2CD)
* The Style Council: Internationalists (Geffen LP)
* Cocteau Twins: Love’s Easy Tears (4AD/Capitol CDEP)
* Cocteau Twins: Victorialand (4AD/Capitol CD)
* Future Sound of London: From the Archives, Vol.1 (Passion CD)
* Aphex Twin: Analogue Bubblebath 5 (vinyl test pressing>CDR)
* Radiohead: Kid A (Capitol CD)
* Radiohead: In Rainbows (TBD CD)
* Palace Music: Lost Blues and Other Songs (Drag City 1.5LP)
* Sonic Youth: The Eternal (Matador 2LP)
* Pavement: Wowee Zowee! (Deluxe Edition) (Matador 2CD)
* Guided By Voices: Half Smiles of the Decomposed (Matador LP)
* Robert Pollard: We All Got Out of the Army (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Circus Devils: Mother Skinny (Happy Jack Rock Records LP)
* Wilco: Kicking Television: Live in Chicago (Nonesuch 2CD)


Woke up early this morning to thunder, lightning and heavy rain -- a perfect stay-at-home day, I thought. I made some coffee and settled into the legendary Dick’s Picks 36, which contains the entire Grateful Dead concert from the Spectrum on September 21, 1972. At almost five hours, this is one of the longest shows they ever played -- but it’s also one of the best they ever played. The musicianship and singing is relaxed yet tightly woven, slowly building up to a climactic forty-five minute “Dark Star>Morning Dew” sequence that is just stunning in its inventiveness and graceful passion. That the band continues to play for another hour and half after this breathtaking tour de force is just the cherry on top. By the end of it all, the sun was shining. It was turning into a beautiful day! How about that? This was the very last Dick’s Pick, released in 2005 before the move to Rhino -- 9-21-72 was rightfully one of Dick Latvala’s favorite shows and it was finally released as a final tribute to the late great Vaultmeister, who died in 1999. Most of the Dick’s Picks series are way out of print and command absurd prices on eBay; but this one is apparently still available directly from dead.net and at less than thirty dollars is a real bargain for four CDs jam-packed with of some of the best music the Dead ever played. This one needs to be heard by more than just hardcore Deadheads -- get yours before they’re all gone and hear for yourself what they sounded like on a really, really good night.


Speaking of great live bands, Wilco is one of ‘em. But Kicking Television, their one and only live album recorded in May of 2005 is merely very good. The sound quality is exquisite, revealing the details of the songs’ many intricate arrangements and orchestrations -- but the performances feel a little stiff, at least compared to the numerous “bootleg” recordings I have heard from the period. Interestingly, a DVD was planned to coincide with this release, but was abruptly cancelled. I wonder if the presence of a film crew contributed to the rather restrained performances? Wilco continued to push forward with the DVD project, culminating in last year’s Ashes of American Flags, a truly great “road film” which manages to capture the power and glory of Wilco at their absolute peak. Don’t get me wrong, Kicking Television is a fine album, but the DVD is the real deal. In fact, forget all their albums; Ashes of American Flags is where it’s at. Like the Grateful Dead, Wilco is steeped in old-timey Americana and utilize top-shelf musicianship to realize a heartfelt fusion music that touches on jazz, punk, noise and whatever else strikes their fancy. And like the Dead, on stage is where it happens, not in the studio.


Speaking of live albums, I am unapologetic regarding my fondness for Frampton Comes Alive! There I said it. This record was inescapable when it came out in 1976 -- my sister had a copy which I surreptitiously listened to without telling anybody. But, you know what? “Lines on My Face,” “Show Me the Way,” “Baby, I Love Your Way,” and (perhaps to a lesser extent) “Do You Feel Like We Do” are all great songs and Frampton himself is a pretty decent guitarist to boot. Sure it’s cheesy, but sometimes the stinkiest cheese is the most delectable -- if you have a taste for cheese.

April 2, 2010

Another Yard Car

Butterworth 2010-04-03s, originally uploaded by Rodger Coleman.

I had the day off today and since the weather was so nice, I decided to go for a walk with the camera. Here's another yard car that looks to me dates back to the nineteen-forties. I find these wrecks sadly beautiful. Lots of photos on Flickr.