May 29, 2011

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra & His Myth Science Solar Arkestra: The Antique Blacks (Saturn/Art Yard CD)

On August 9, 1974, Richard M. Nixon resigned as President of the United States. I imagine this extraordinary event was on Sun Ra’s mind when, a week later, he assembled a small Arkestra for a live radio broadcast at Temple University in Philadelphia on August 17 [FN1]. While not making any direct references to Nixon, Ra took the opportunity to sermonize at length and he felt strongly enough about the performance to edit the recording for an LP entitled, The Antique Blacks, released on his own Saturn label later in the year (Saturn 81774). Ra clearly felt he had to get his message out. In actuality, this record was pressed in vanishingly small editions, sometimes re-titled, Interplanetary Concepts or There Is A Change In The Air and with various covers, including a generic “Acropolis” sleeve (see Campbell & Trent, pp.212-213). Like the mystical texts in his personal library, The Antique Blacks was probably made available to only initiates or persons Ra felt could decode his deeper, spiritual meanings. The ever-resourceful Art Yard label has reissued the album on CD with a bonus track recorded at the same session—but beware: Ra’s philosophizing is as inscrutable as ever, making this a strange and difficult listen for the casual fan. Keep in mind: it was a different era.

The record starts out easy enough with “Song No.1,” a gently rollicking space groove propelled by burbling percussion (including Clifford Jarvis on trap drums and Atakatune on congas) and Sonny’s reedy Rocksichord comping. This is one of my favorite “genres” of Sun Ra’s music (think “Love In Outer Space”) and this is particularly fine example. John Gilmore is up first with a terse but beautifully melodic tenor sax solo: starting with burnished low-register figures and then flying into the highest registers, he gracefully returns to earth with a variation on the theme he’d extemporaneously established. Yes, it’s another brilliant Gilmore solo! Ra is up next and then—what’s this?—who’s playing the screaming electric guitar? That’s a good question. The liner notes to the Art Yard CD say it’s the mysterious “Sly” while Campbell & Trent insist it’s a 15-year-old Dale Williams (p.313). Whoever it is plays with a rocked-out, psychedelicized abandon which works well enough in this setting, despite a severe intonation problem. Then Akh Tal Ebah enters with one of his smeared, expressionistic trumpet solos. Kwame Hadi is absent at this session, giving Ebah a rare opportunity to stretch out. While Ebah doesn’t hit every note with refined precision (like Hadi), his melodic ideas are unique and interesting. Gilmore enters with a tasteful counter-melody and, after some more buzzy comping from Ra, the “Song No.1” comes to an end. Very nice.

Much of the rest of the album appears to be taken from a long, continuous piece, but chopped up and re-arranged for release. Ra outlines a simple ascending bassline in waltz-time then pauses to make his declamations, the Arkestra periodically entering with pulsating space chords, ensemble freakouts or out-jazz solos. Gilmore is joined by Marshall Allen and Davis for a full-blown saxophone battle on “There Is a Change in the Air” and Williams/Sly sounds a little like Sonny Sharrock with his gonzo, metallic attack. On “The Ridiculous ‘I’ and the Cosmos Me,” Gilmore delivers one of his trademarked a cappella blowouts and James Jacson takes a positively ripping solo on the otherwise unwieldy bassoon. For the most part, Ra sticks to Rocksichording incongruous harmonies and skittering runs, except at the end where we get some spaceship synthesizer. But, most of the time, Sonny is preaching it, hot and heavy.

So, what is he on about? “There is a change in the air!” (Nixon has resigned!) “Do you not hear the heavy silence there?” Then he warns: “Some people are on the right road, but they’re going in the wrong direction. They need to turn around. The arrow points to pointlessness.” And it goes on from there with exhortations to “The Antique Blacks” (“they belong to me!”); a disquisition on “so-called equality”; the summoning of “dark spirit” Lucifer; and, of course, an invitation to join him in outer space. It might be interesting to transcribe the declamations and do some sort of exegesis, but I’m afraid I’m not the man for the job. And it is also tempting to dismiss this stuff as the rantings of a crank and accuse him of blatant charlatanism. But that would be unfair—and completely miss the point (whatever it is). Sun Ra is speaking in code and I lack the esoteric knowledge required to decipher his true meaning—or call his bluff. As a white guy in the year 2011, I also suspect I am not the intended audience for his message, who might have taken false hope in Nixon’s ignoble departure in the summer of 1974. Indeed, he makes it clear that while “There is a change in the air,” it is not necessarily for the better.

Thankfully, all this heaviness is leavened by a bit of frivolity: “This Song Is Dedicated To Nature’s God” is joyous and bouncy, a major-key singalong, with everyone chanting the title again and again over burbling percussion and herky-jerky Rocksichord. It’s a fun little number, although the guitar is woefully out of tune and whoever is playing seems to be struggling with the irregularly repeating chord progression. The album concludes with small-group arrangement of “Space Is The Place,” with Jarvis whipping up a swinging groove on his reduced kit and Ebah doing his “soul-man” thing. June Tyson is regrettably absent, but it does sound like a female vocalist is scatting away in the background—who is it? One of the bandmembers singing falsetto? I suppose it’s possible. In any event, the record ends on a high note with band exclaiming, “Sun Ra and his Band from Outer Space have entertained you here!”

Art Yard adds a bonus track, “You Thought You Could Build A World Without Us,” another long declamation with instrumental punctuation, but with Sonny playing synthesizer in “mad scientist” mode. Campbell & Trent list this ten-minute track separately as it was unheard until broadcast on WKCR’s Sun Ra festival in 1987 and they suggest it was material cut from the Space Is The Place movie, which was still unfinished in the summer of ‘74 (see p.209). The Art Yard CD states it was recorded on August 17 and while the sound quality is reduced, it is almost certainly from the same session. The reverb-drenched electric guitar meshes well with squiggly synthesizer and Ra is at his most messianic: “If you refuse to recognize me, I refuse to recognize you!...I am The Magic Lie! Greater than your truth!” Meanwhile, the Arkestra titters in the background and spare horns and ominous percussion ebb and flow while Ra continuously demonstrates his mastery of the MiniMoog, keeping things interesting and intense, even as he’s sermonizing away at the microphone. It’s an interesting track and fits in perfectly with the rest of the album.

Ultimately, The Antique Blacks is a difficult album for me to fully appreciate. I don’t enjoy being preached at, even if it’s Sun Ra up in the pulpit. At the same time, I cannot dismiss this stuff out of hand. Ra’s philosophy (such as it is) may be shrouded in hokum and showbiz and fail to cohere into a plausible cosmology, but it is interesting to note how well it served him. Herman "Sonny" Blount conjured up an elaborate persona, Sun Ra, and lived it—fully and completely—to the end of a long life, surrounded by a core of musicians who were as devoted to him as the followers of any guru. So it obviously worked—for him. The Antique Blacks is prime source material regarding Sun Ra’s psyche but it is musically less than completely satisfying. That said, the eight-minute “Song No.1,” is one of Sun Ra’s most delightful “space grooves” ever and makes this essential for the truly obsessed fan. As usual with Art Yard, the sound quality and packaging is first rate so if you want this, rest assured you get your money’s worth (and some of that money goes to the surviving Arkestra). But I wouldn’t recommend The Antique Blacks to novices.


[FN1]: The location for this recording is highly speculative, based on the teenage recollection of Dale Williams (Id. p.213). It certainly sounds like a studio recording, but it lacks the ambience of Variety Recorders in New York, Sonny's usual choice. Considering the impromptu feel of the proceedings, a college radio station seems a likely venue. But who knows? No tapes of the broadcast have surfaced (if indeed it even occurred). Another discographical mystery.

May 28, 2011

Playlist Week of 5-28-11

Thurston Moore - Demolished Thoughts

* J.S. Bach: Brandenburg Concertos (AAM/Egarr) (Harmonia Mundi 2SACD)
* J.S. Bach: Trio Sonatas (London Baroque/Medlam) (Harmonia Mundi CD)
* J.S. Bach: Sonatas For Viola Da Gamba (Pandolfo/Alessandrini) (Harmonia Mundi CD)
* Geminiani: Cello Sonatas, Op. 5 (ter Linden/Mortensen) (Brilliant Classics CD)
* Charlie Parker: Charlie Parker Hi-Fi (Verve CD)
* Sun Ra: The Antique Blacks (Saturn/Art Yard CD)
* Sun Ra: Sub-Underground (Saturn LP>CDR)
* Anthony Braxton: Sextet (Boston) 2005 (d.1) (New Braxton House FLAC>2CDR)
* Kip Hanrahan: Vertical’s Currency (American Clave/Pangaea CD)†/‡
* Material: Hallucination Engine (Axiom/Island CD)
* The Disco Box (selections) (Rhino 4CD)
* Emmylou Harris: Wrecking Ball (Elektra CD)†/‡
* Grateful Dead: The Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA 8-30-80 (set 2) (SBD CDR)†
* Grateful Dead: Formerly The Warlocks: Hampton, VA 1989 (d.1-4) (GDP/Rhino 6CD)
* U2: The Unforgettable Fire (Deluxe Edition) (Island 2CD)†/‡
* U2: The Joshua Tree (Deluxe Edition) (d.1) (Island 2CD)†/‡
* Sonic Youth: Simon Werner A Disparu (Soundtrack) (SYR-9 LP)
* Thurston Moore: Psychic Hearts (Geffen 2LP)
* Thurston Moore: Trees Outside The Academy (Ecstatic Peace CD)
* Thurston Moore: Demolished Thoughts (Matador 2LP/CD)
* Thurston Moore: 12 String Meditations For Jack Rose (Thin Wrist/Vin Du Select Qualitite LP)
* The Flaming Lips: The Soft Bulletin (Warner Bros. CD)†/‡
* Robert Pollard: Moses On A Snail (GBV, Inc. CD)†/‡
* Circus Devils: Sgt. Disco (Happy Jack Rock Records 2LP)
* Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino CD)†/‡
* Panda Bear: Tomboy (Paw Tracks CD)
* Broken Bells: Broken Bells (Columbia CD)†/‡
* Fleet Foxes: Sun Giant (Sub Pop CDEP)
* Fleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop CD)
* Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop 2LP)



Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore may no longer be so youthful (he turns 53 on July 25) and you might conclude from his latest solo album, Demolished Thoughts, he has mellowed with age. But that’s OK because it’s an unselfconsciously beautiful record—the kind of record a younger Moore could have never dreamed of making. Known for his noisy electric guitar playing, he sticks to acoustic instruments here, including spare accompaniment from Samara Lubelski on violin, Mary Lattimore on harp (!), Bram Inscore on bass and Joey Waronker on percussion. This is similar to the approach taken on 2007’s Trees Outside The Academy, but while that one still retained some punk rock heaviness (thanks, no doubt, to the presence of Sonic Youth’s drummer, Steve Shelley, and Dinosaur Jr.’s, J. Mascis on lead guitar), Demolished Thoughts just floats on air. To that end, Beck Hansen was brought in produce and his sweet string arrangements and deft recording skills give these dreamy, ethereal songs a pure-pop glow reminiscent of his own Sea Change or Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left (two of the most gorgeous albums ever made). If nothing else, this album is definitely chill.

At first, it seemed a little derivative of what had come before: More Trees Outside The Academy, if you will. But the super-relaxed mood and luscious sound quality made me want to play it over and over and doing so revealed subtleties I had initially overlooked in a rush to judgment. For example, “Orchard Street” sounds alarmingly similar to any number of latter-day Sonic Youth songs, but a simple, tasty riff inserted between the verses and a swelling, swirling coda laden with billowing strings, glistening harp and ghostly howling go a long way to redeem it. Likewise, “Mina Loy” is constructed around an angular chord sequence that sounds vaguely familiar but Beck’s production choices, including Morricone-esque whistling and gauzy violins, give the song a windblown, Spaghetti Western feel that is perfectly charming. But there are also signs of growth: Moore’s acoustic guitar playing has matured, delivering a surprisingly bluesy solo on the opening “Benediction” and executing intricate cross-picking patterns on the penultimate “Space.” Meanwhile, his 6-and-12-string strumming is rich and full-toned throughout—aided, in part, by Beck’s meticulous recording. And while Moore’s lyrics are only obliquely self-referential, his laconic crooning has never sounded more nakedly sincere, revealing an emotional depth previously hidden by a veil of irony. The album sounds like a very personal, perfectly pitched statement, making some of the rehashed musical material more forgivable.

The limited edition LP (mastered by Bob Ludwig) generously spreads the album across two (blue) vinyl discs for exceptional sound quality and the deluxe gatefold packaging houses full-color inner sleeves along with a copy of the CD booklet containing lyrics and additional artwork—well done, Matador! Also included is a download card for a free MP3 copy of the album, a nice bonus if you’re so inclined (personally, I prefer the compact disc for my digital needs). Demolished Thoughts may be an imperfect masterpiece, but it is certainly a richly rewarding listen. Check it out—you can download free MP3s of “Benediction” and “Circulation” here.

May 22, 2011

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra Books

The Sun Ra literature is depressingly thin. Aside from Szwed’s excellent biography and Prof. Campbell’s exhaustive (but now out of date) discography, there’s not much else out there. Fortunately, a couple books came out recently to help to fill the void.

After a long delay, the third and final volume documenting the spectacular 2006 exhibition, “Pathways To Unknown Worlds” was published last year by Whitewalls. Curated by John Corbett, Anthony Elms and Terri Kapsalis, the first volume in the series, The Wisdom of Sun Ra: Sun Ra’s Polemical Broadsheets And Streetcorner Leaflets collects facsimiles (and transcriptions) of Ra’s earliest writings while the second volume, Pathways To Unknown Worlds: Sun Ra, El Saturn And Chicago’s Afro-Futurist Underground 1954-68 serves as a catalog for the exhibition with high-quality reproductions of album art and other business ephemera along with essays by Corbett, Glenn Ligon, Adam Abraham, and Camille Norment. Finally, Traveling The Spaceways: Sun Ra, The Astro Black and Other Space Myths compiles presentations from a two-day symposium held at the Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago in November 2006. I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but our own Prof. Campbell offers his research on Sonny’s earliest years in Chicago and there are essays by all the curators as well as notable critics, Kevin Whitehead and Graham Lock. Like others in the series, it is a slender but lovingly produced volume and, taken together, they make a wonderful reference source regarding Sun Ra’s Chicago years.

Additionally, good old John Sinclair has put together a book for Headpress simply titled, Sun Ra: Interviews & Essays and it looks pretty interesting. Collecting journalism from various sources, the book makes available writings that would otherwise be impossible to find—like an interview Sinclair conducted with Ra in 1966 for the Detroit Sun or a 1994 interview with trumpter, Michael Ray, published Offbeat. Again, I haven’t had a chance to read much of it yet, but I’m grateful to have it. Saturn Research continues!


I know: I punted again. Tune in next week for more record reviews—I promise!

May 21, 2011

Playlist Week of 5-21-11

Lifeguards + Mars Classroom

* J.S. Bach: “Tonet, ihr Pauken,” BWV 207, etc. (Coll. Vocale Gent/Herreweghe) (Harmonia Mundi CD)
* J.S. Bach: Cantatas, BWV 12, etc. (Collegium Vocale Gent/Herreweghe): Brussels 11-03-08 (d.1) (FM 2CDR)
* Ben Webster With Strings: Music For Loving (Verve 2CD)
* Grant Green: The Complete Quartets With Sonny Clark (Blue Note 2CD)
* Anthony Braxton: Sextet (Philadelphia) 2005 (New Braxton House FLAC>2CDR)
* Mary Halvorson & Jessica Pavone: Prairies (Lucky Kitchen CD)
* Mary Halvorson & Jessica Pavone: On And Off (Skirl CD)
* Mary Halvorson & Jessica Pavone: Thin Air (Thirsty Ear CD)
* Mary Halvorson: Saturn Sings (Firehouse 12 CD)
* Evan Parker, et al.: Teatro alle Tese, Venice, Italy 9-26-10 (FM CDR)
* David Torn: Prezens (ECM CD)†
* Miles Davis: Dark Magus: Live At Carnegie Hall (Columbia/Legacy 2CD)
* The Crusaders: Free As The Wind (Blue Thumb/ABC LP)
* Stuff: Stuff (Warner Bros. LP)
* Material: One Down (Elektra LP)
* Material: The Third Power (Axiom/Island CD)
* Material: Intonarumori (Axiom/Palm CD)†/‡
* Elvis Presley: That’s The Way It Is (Deluxe Edition) (d.1) (RCA 3CD)†/‡
* Rolling Stones: Tattoo You (Rolling Stones LP)
* The Who: Who Are You (Polydor/Classic LP)
* The Who: Face Dances (Warner Bros./MoFi LP)
* Grateful Dead: Curtis Hixon Convention Hall, Tampa, FL 12-19-73 (selections) (SBD 3CDR)‡
* Grateful Dead: Long Beach Arena, Long Beach, CA 8-28-81 (selections) (SBD 3CDR)
* Fleetwood Mac: Rumours (Reprise/Warner Bros. LP)
* Stevie Nicks: Bella Donna (Modern LP)
* Stevie Nicks: The Wild Heart (Modern LP)
* The Eagles: Hotel California (Asylum LP)
* Sting: The Dream Of The Blue Turtles (A&M LP)
* Sting: Bring On The Night (A&M—UK 2LP)
* Elvis Costello: My Aim Is True (Columbia/MoFi LP)
* Elvis Costello, et al.: Out Of Our Idiot (Demon—UK LP)
* Echo & The Bunnymen: Ocean Rain (Sire LP)
* Pavement: Wowee Zowee (Sordid Sentinels) (d.1) (Matador 2CD)
* Robert Pollard & Doug Gillard: Speak Kindly Of Your Volunteer Fire Department (Fading Captain LP)
* Lifeguards: Mist King Urth (Fading Captain LP)
* Lifeguards: Waving At The Astronauts (Serious Business LP)
* Boston Spaceships: “Headache Revolution” (Happy Jack Rock Records 7”EP)
* Boston Spaceships: “Camera Found The Ray Gun” (Jackpot 7”EP)
* Boston Spaceships: Our Cubehouse Still Rocks (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Mars Classroom: The New Theory Of Everything (Happy Jack Rock Records LP)
* Radiohead: The King Of Limbs (TBD/Ticker Tape CD) †/‡



Speak Kindly Of Your Volunteer Fire Department, the 1999 album by GBV guitarist, Doug Gillard, and Robert Pollard, is truly one of the all-time great records in Pollard’s ginormous discography. A non-stop whirlwind of power-pop gems, many of the songs became staples of GBV’s live sets until the very end, a measure of their superlative quality. Then, in 2003, the duo released Mist King Urth under the fake band name, Lifeguards, but it turned out to be a turgid slab of proggy, tuneless sludge—not a bad thing per se, but it seemed lacking in the playfulness and giddy experimentation of the Circus Devils, Pollard’s other ongoing psych-damage project. Despite another listen this week, which revealed a couple of decent songs buried in the murk, Mist King Urth remains one of my least favorite Pollard records. Hey, no one bats a (bee) thousand.

So, eight years later, when a follow-up album under the Lifeguards moniker was announced, I was nonplussed. It got some good reviews and, as an admitted completest, I knew I had to buy it—but I didn’t expect much. Boy, was I in for a surprise! Waving At The Astronauts is a astoundingly good record, rivaling Speak Kindly’s status as a bona fide classic. Sure, the prog-rock element remains, but the ideas are more fully developed, inspiring some of Pollard’s best singing in years. Right from the start, “Paradise Is Not So Bad” overflows with big, catchy hooks, chunky riffs and soaring melodies, all capped with an anthemic, singalong chorus. Perfect! And the album goes along like that, with Gillard’s virtuoso multi-instrumentalism and slickly layered production perfectly complimenting Pollard’s clever melodic wordplay. The chugging electro-rock of “Product Head” and the demented hillbilly psychedelia of “Trip The Web” are other standouts but there’s really not a dud track on the album—even the dour side-closers, “You’re Gonna Need a Mountain” and “What Am I?,” are redeemed by richly textured instrumental settings and heartfelt vocal performances. It would be easy to overlook Waving At The Astronauts in the relentless outpouring of releases from the absurdly prolific Pollard, but it’s well worth having a listen. The LP comes with a copy of the CD but, if you’re merely curious, you can download a free MP3 of “Paradise Is Not So Bad” over at Serious Business. Check it out!


Similarly, I didn’t have particularly high hopes for Pollard’s latest music-by-mail project, Mars Classroom, a collaboration with Gary Waleik, formerly of the semi-legendary Boston hopefuls, Big Dipper. Of course, that name brings back fond memories of my younger years in old Beantown, rocking out at The Rat in Kenmore Square or Green Street Station out in J.P., where Big Dipper stood out from the rest of the grungy punkers on the scene with their earnest tunefulness and sophisticated song structures. The band released a bunch of solid records on a local indie label only to sign with Epic in 1990—and that was the beginning of the end. After releasing one mediocre, over-produced album, the label unceremoniously canceled the deal and Big Dipper quickly faded into obscurity. In other words: the same old story. But in 2008, Merge Records released a three-CD box set, Supercluster: The Big Dipper Anthology, prompting a resurgence of interest in the band—which just goes to show: sometimes there is a second act. As it turns out, Pollard is a big fan and he sought out Waleik to make this record, titled The New Theory Of Everything. It’s another pleasant surprise.

After opening with a one-two pure-pop punch of “New Theory” and “Man. Wine. Power!” the album proceeds to alternate between up-tempo rock songs and super-creamy ballads, the latter yielding some of the most passionate vocals of Pollard’s career. In fact, songs like “There Never Was a Sea Of Love” and “Lumps” are quite unlike anything else in the guy’s ridiculously vast catalog, with their swooning, romantic keyboards and emotionally direct lyrics. Meanwhile, “Wish You Were Young” closes the record with the sort of bittersweet lament for lost youth only Pollard can put across. Throughout, Waleik’s chiming guitars and low-key production fit Pollard’s voice like a glove and the whole thing coheres into a thoroughly satisfying, thirty-nine minute album. Another unexpected charmer. I hope Mars Clasroom is more than just a one-off—I’d love to hear more from these two. The LP (on red vinyl!) comes with a free download card from GBVDigital and is available at your local record emporium or, if you prefer, directly from Rockathon.


Of course, it just keeps coming and more Pollard product is on the way, with a new solo album, Lord Of The Birdcage, due out next week (a free MP of “In A Circle” is available at Pitchfork). Then, in August, the long-awaited magnum opus from Pollard’s other band, Boston Spaceships, finally hits the streets. A sprawling, twenty-six-song, two-LP set cheekily titled, “Let It Beard,” it will no doubt be worth the wait. After that, who knows? The Circus Devils are overdue for a new album; perhaps we’ll get one in time for Halloween. In any event, I’m sure there are already lots more records in the pipeline. How does he do it? I don’t know—but God bless Bob Pollard!

May 15, 2011

Sun Ra Sunday

Beyond The Fringe

These things only come around a couple times a year, so I got up this morning and headed over to the Holiday Inn by the airport for the Alpha Music Record Collectors’ Convention. I got there just after they opened and the tiny meeting room was already jam packed with fanatical record fiends. Wow! I didn’t find any Sun Ra records (and I didn’t really expect to) but I did find a few treasures (see if you can pick them out of this coming week’s playlist!). Consequently, I spent the rest of the day cleaning records and listening to them; so, no time to write a big review. Honestly, the next Sun Ra album in the queue is one the strangest records in a very strange discography and I’m more than a little intimidated. Check in next week and see if I’ve found the words to describe it. I’m not making any promises!


By the way, I see the re-constituted Saturn label has reissued The Soul Vibrations of Man (Saturn 771) (1977) on vinyl only. Has anyone out there heard these new Saturn LPs? Any information you could share would be most appreciated! I see them around sometimes and wonder how they sound (as nice as the Evidence CDs are, they went a little overboard with the noise reduction, in my opinion). However, with no CD issue of this one in sight, I might have to pick it up and find out for myself. I’ll keep you posted. Maybe this means its companion, Taking A Chance On Chances (Saturn 772), will also be forthcoming…?

May 14, 2011

Playlist Week of 5-14-11

Pulse Ensemble - Zeitgeist 2011-05-10a

* Il Suonar Parlante (Ghielmi): Eglise des Minimes, Brussels 4-22-11 (FM CDR)
* J.S. Bach: Four Cantatas (Collegium Vocale Gent/Herreweghe): Leipzig 6-12-10 (FM 2CDR)
* Mozart: Violinkonzerte (Mozart Ens. Amsterdam/Bruggen/Schröder) (d.1) (Seon/Philips 2LP)
* Mark Volker: Elemental Forces (Centaur CD)
* Duke Ellington: Money Jungle (Blue Note CD)
* Sonny Clark: Cool Struttin’ (Blue Note/Classic LP)
* Sonny Clark: The 45 Sessions (Blue Note—Japan CD)
* Sun Ra: The Antique Blacks (Saturn/Art Yard CD)
* Sun Ra: Sub-Underground (Saturn LP>CDR)
* Henry Threadgill’s Zooid: This Brings Us To, Volume I (Pi CD)
* Henry Threadgill’s Zooid: This Brings Us To, Volume II (Pi CD)
* Tom Rainey Trio: Firehouse 12, New Haven, CT 5-06-11 (AUD 2CDR)
* Herbie Hancock: Headhunters (Columbia/Legacy CD)
* Herbie Hancock: Thrust (Columbia/Legacy CD)
* Herbie Hancock: Man-Child (Columbia/MoFi CD)
* Massacre: Killing Time (Celluloid/OAO LP)
* Massacre: Funny Valentine (Tzadik CD)
* Spring Heel Jack: Million Shades…… (Island CD)
* Tortoise: It’s All Around You (Thrill Jockey LP)
* Grateful Dead: Curtis Hixon Convention Hall, Tampa, FL 12-18-73 (SBD 3CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, LI, NY 11-01-79 (selections) (SBD 3CDR)(‡)
* Grateful Dead: West High Auditorium, Anchorage, AK 6-20-80 (SBD 3CDR)‡
* Grateful Dead: West High Auditorium, Anchorage, AK 6-21-80 (SBD 3CDR)‡
* The Soft Machine: The Soft Machine (ABC/Probe/Sundazed LP)
* The Soft Machine: Volume Two (ABC/Probe/Sundazed LP)
* Red Krayola: Amor And Language (Drag City LP)
* Red Krayola: Hazel (Drag City LP)
* Steely Dan: Decade of Steely Dan (MCA CD)†/‡
* Elvis Costello: My Aim Is True (Columbia/MoFi LP)
* Elvis Costello: This Year’s Model (Columbia/MoFi LP)
* Elvis Costello: Armed Forces (Columbia/MoFi LP)
* Pavement: Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (LA’s Desert Origins) (Matador 2CD)
* Robert Pollard: Space City Kicks (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Lifeguards: Waving At The Astronauts (Serious Business LP)
* Radiohead: In Rainbows (TBD CD)†
* Jim O’Rourke: The Visitor (Drag City LP)
* Broken Bells: Broken Bells (Columbia LP)
* Broken Bells: Meyrin Fields EP (Columbia EP)



Tuesday’s Indeterminacies program at Zeitgeist Gallery was another scintillating evening of art, music and discussion. Surrounded by works by local artists, Patrick DeGuira and Brent Stewart, Belmont University, composer Mark Volker presented three remarkably diverse pieces of music while philosopher/aesthetician, Erin Bradfield, led a fascinating colloquy with the audience and musicians about what they heard.

The first piece was written expressly for the Pulse New Music Ensemble, a group of young musicians committed to performing music by living composers (“composers with a pulse”), and it was appropriately titled, “Pulse.” Actually, it was performed twice: once without introduction and again after a discussion about the composer’s inspiration, the audience’s reception and how they intersected. Mr. Volker explained how the dramatic percussion intro was inspired by Japanese Taiko drumming but that he allowed the ensemble sections to express other influences, not just modern “classical music” but also rock and soul and whatever else moved him—including an emphatic “HUH!” interjected during pregnant silences. Indeed, much of it reminded me of the exuberant, irreverent synthesis of Frank Zappa’s “serious” compositions with its complexly grooving rhythms, brightly pantonal, intricately interleaved melodies and prominent mallet percussion. Mr. Volker also spoke of how a C-major chord may sound bland and banal in the usual context, but becomes exotic and strangely beautiful when it arises within a modernist, “atonal” language—and it’s true. The second time through seemed to be invigorated by the exchange with the audience, the hyper-complicated rhythms and melodies executed with a genuinely rock-ish excitement and verve. While the first take may have been more technically precise (and had that unrepeatable sense of surprise), the second was more immediate and compelling—and those “HUHs” and “C-major chords” did indeed feel powerfully expressive and unifying.

The second work shifted gears, with Mr. Volker picking up the nylon-stringed classical guitar to accompany his wife, mezzo soprano Alyssa Sullivan Volker, in a four-part song cycle based on “Non Omnis Moriar” by the Mexican poet, Manuel Gutierrez Najera (1859-1895). Now, I have to admit up front I am shamefully monolingual, baffled by poetry and have an inordinate aversion to “operatic” singing so I am behind the Eightball when commenting on this kind of stuff. But I realize this is my own failing— and I’m working on rectifying it. Even so, the composition won me over with its rich harmonic density and the inventiveness and sensitivity of Mr. Volker’s guitar accompaniment. During the discussion, he pointed out how the restlessly shifting meters of the piece were based upon the rhythm of the words as spoken or recited, which gives the pieces a flowing yet irregular pace. More personally, he revealed that the poem had helped him to overcome a fear of death with its promise of immortality through art. The title is from Horace (Carmina 3.30) and can be translated from the Latin as, “I Shall Not Completely Die” and in the poem, Guiterrez Najera says farewell to a friend but comforts himself by asserting: “Something of my elusive spirit/shall within the line’s diaphanous urn/by Poetry be piously preserved.” Interestingly, some stanzas (sung in Spanish) overlap in the third and fourth songs, set in contrasting moods as if to physically demonstrate the ability of art to make the poet’s words—and the poet himself—eternal.

The evening concluded with “Deep Winter,” a work for flute and computer-generated music which showed yet another facet of Mr. Volker’s wide-ranging creativity. He spoke of the technological challenges inherent with electro-acoustic music and his desire to move beyond the passive “instrument with tape accompaniment” approach and working with software incorporating score following and real-time instrument tracking, enabling the computer to interact with the performer directly and instantaneously. In practice, it made for some startling precise effects which would otherwise be impossible such as dramatic tuttis and interlocking melodic flurries. I was reminded of Mark Snyder’s remarks at last month’s Indeterminacies program about having to remove these interactive elements from his pieces because of their unreliability and the potential for disaster as a solo performer (which is completely understandable). But with Mr. Volker monitoring the laptop’s behavior, the performance of “Deep Winter” on Tuesday was flawless—and a technological marvel. The work is an homage to the interminable seasons of his youth growing up in Buffalo, New York where, as a child, the bitter cold and mountains of snow were both terrifying and magical and it vividly conveys the bleak grandeur of a winter landscape.

Sadly, time ran out before Mr. Volker could play the shiny, red electric guitar perched tantalizingly over in the corner of the room—but that’s OK. It would have been a shame to cut off discussion just to cram in another piece. Fortunately, I was able to pick up Mr. Volker’s CD on Centaur entitled, Elemental Forces, which contains a studio rendition of “Deep Winter” along with two very different compositions for chamber ensemble and a suite for pipe organ (!). It’s an excellent disc and further showcases the remarkable diversity of this talented young composer.

Indeterminacies will continue in the fall with Andrew Raffo Dewar on October 11 and John Latartara on November 8. In the meantime, podcasts of previous events are available at Theatre Intangible, where you can also read an informative interview with the series organizers: architect, Lesley Beeman, and gallery curator, Lain York. The Indeterminacies series are must-see events—and more than just concerts of “new music.” As Mr. Beeman points out:

[t]he difference is that with Indeterminacies the audience is considered integral to the event from its conception. We never think of the presentation and the Q&A as separate events. When you come to Indeterminacies, expect to participate. Come prepared to fully engage with the program and with your fellow attendees…because there will be a quiz.

Well, maybe there won’t exactly be a quiz, but don’t be surprised if you’re called upon to answer a question or offer an observation—or coaxed into a dialogue with your neighbor. It’s what makes these events so stimulating and unpredictable. See you there!

May 8, 2011

Sun Ra Sunday


If they would rise up above their knowledge
They would be able to see with their intuition’s heart
They would be able to see beyond their sight
Their spirit’s eye could pierce the night
Where earth dwells in hooded shame
Yes, earth was once a noble name.
If they would rise up above their yes-bound self
They would know the things to no . . . . . . . . . .
Then they would see nature as it is
And at long last they would feel
The touch of the Cosmo-Real
And they would know that they know they know
That there is no need to know,
If you cannot feel.

--Sun Ra (1980)

May 7, 2011

Playlist Week of 5-07-11

Grateful Dead - Road Trips Vol4 No3

* J.S. Bach: Suites For Violoncello (ter Linden) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)†
* J.S. Bach: French Suites (Leonhardt) (ABC/Seon 2LP)
* J.S. Bach: Cantatas, BWV56 & BWV82 (Baroque Ensemble/Brüggen) (Pro-Arte/Seon LP)
* J.S. Bach: Cantatas, BWV106 & BWV182 (Monteverdi Choir/Leonhardt Ens./Jürgens) (Telefunken LP)
* Miles Davis: In Concert: Live At Philharmonic Hall 1972 (Columbia/Legacy 2CD)
* Johnny Griffin: The Congregation (Blue Note LP)
* Grant Green: Idle Moments (Blue Note CD)
* Grant Green: Street Of Dreams (Blue Note CD)
* Milt Jackson/Hubert Laws: Goodbye (CTI LP)
* Sun Ra: Out Beyond The Kingdom Of (Saturn LP>CDR)
* Sun Ra: Hunter College, New York, NY 6-16-74 (AUD 2CDR)
* Sun Ra: The Antique Blacks (Saturn/Art Yard CD)
* Anthony Braxton: Orchestra (Los Angeles) 1992 (FM?>FLAC>CDR)
* Anthony Braxton: Sextet (Boston) 2005 (New Braxton House FLAC>2CDR)
* James Brown: Star Time (d.2) (Polydor 4CD)
* Sly & The Family Stone: Fresh (Epic/Sundazed LP)
* Johnny Cash: American IV: The Man Comes Around (American CD+DVD)
* Emmylou Harris: All I Intended To Be (Nonesuch CD)
* Emmylou Harris: Hard Bargain (Nonesuch CD+DVD)
* Lucinda Williams: Blessed (Deluxe Edition) (d.1) (Lost Highway 2CD)
* Grateful Dead: Road Trips Vol.4, No.3: Denver ’73 (GDP/Rhino 3CD)
* Grateful Dead: 2011 Bonus Disc (Cleveland, OH 12-06-73) (GDP/Rhino CD)
* Grateful Dead: West High Auditorium, Anchorage, AK 6-19-80 (selections) (SBD 2CDR)‡
* Grateful Dead: Deer Creek Music Center, Noblesville, IN 6-22-93 (SBD 3CDR)‡
* Grateful Dead: Deer Creek Music Center, Noblesville, IN 6-23-93 (SBD 3CDR)‡
* Santana: Caravanserai (Columbia/Legacy CD)
* Sir Douglas Quintet: The Mono Singles ’68-‘72 (Smash/Mercury/Sundazed 2LP)
* Tom Waits: Heart Attack And Vine (Asylum LP)
* Los Lobos: Kiko (Slash/Warner Bros. CD)
* The Fall: This Nation’s Saving Grace (Omnibus Edition) (d.1,3)(Beggar’s Banquet 3CD)
* Purple Trap: Decided…Already The Motionless Heart […] (Tzadik 2CD)
* Mars Classroom: The New Theory Of Everything (Happy Jack Rock Records LP)
* Lifeguards: Waving At The Astronauts (Serious Business LP)
* Those Bastard Souls: Debt And Departure (V2 CD)
* Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop CD)
* Broken Bells: Broken Bells (Columbia LP)
* Broken Bells: Meyrin Fields EP (Columbia EP)



For many Deadheads, 1973 is their very favorite year—and for good reason: the band was at an undeniable peak of creativity and musicianship. A bunch of excellent new songs debuted during the year resulting in a decent studio album, Wake Of The Flood, released on their own label—a pioneering effort at the time. More subtly, a serious investment was being made behind the scenes developing new instruments and clean, high-power amplification, which would culminate in colossal “The Wall of Sound” in 1974. The Dead were nothing if not ambitious during this period and it resulted in some of the finest music they ever made. They were also about as overtly “jazzy” as they ever got, with outrageously inventive, hour-long jams breaking out just about every night—so, yeah, 1973 was a good year. Accordingly, it’s well represented in “official” releases, including the stupendous Winterland ’73 box set and Dick’s Picks Volumes 1, 14, 19, and 28. Soundboards[FN1] of almost every show circulate regularly (and legally) on the internet, so one might have to ask: is another ’73 release is really necessary? The latest Road Trips answers in the affirmative. Consisting of the complete concert from November 21 at the Denver Coliseum (and a portion of the night before), the sound quality is much improved over the circulating version (which includes a cassette generation) and, if you’ve heard that, you know this a spectacular show, representing everything that makes 1973 so special.

The first set is super-mellow but superbly well-played, highlights being a leisurely, loping “Sugaree” and a slowed-down “Dire Wolf” early on followed by a lacey, filigreed “Here Comes Sunshine” mid-set. Concluding with an expansive “Weather Report Suite,” the band finally stretches its wings and takes flight. The second set features one of those seamless song collages, with “Playing In The Band” cementing it all together, which coheres into a kind of vaguely cosmic meta-narrative. And as if that wasn’t enough, the band then launches into “Truckin’,” which leads to yet another long jam, ending with an extended “Uncle John’s Band” encore. The Dead certainly gave the Denver crowd their money’s worth! Filling out disc three with another version of “Truckin’” from the night before might seem like an oddly repetitious choice, but this one is quite different, demonstrating the open-ended, improvisatory nature of the band during this period. Rather than evolving into the blues explorations of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad,” the band segues into the jazz/fusion space-out of “The Other One” followed by a quiet and tender “Stella Blue.” Stunning. Road Trips Vol.4 No.3 is a hugely satisfying release and unreservedly recommended to both casual fans and obsessed Deadheads alike.

Early subscribers also received their annual “Bonus Disc” with this volume and, as usual, it’s a keeper—so good it almost overshadows the regular release. I’ve been critical of the whole limited edition “bonus disc” thing in the past and I’m glad they’ve stopped including them every time out and, instead, have expanded the Road Trips series to a more accommodating three CDs. The yearly subscription is a relative bargain if (like me) you plan to buy them all anyway; so the “bonus disc” actually feels like a genuine bonus rather than just a crass marketing ploy. Even so, it’s a shame punters will once again miss out on another slice of prime Dead, unless they want to pay ridiculous sums on the secondary market (or resort to piracy—and who could blame them?). Recorded at the Cleveland Public Auditorium on December 6, 1973, the forty-five minute “Dark Star” is justifiably legendary and the dreamy “Eyes Of The World” which follows does not suffer from the brutal cut in the middle as does the circulating soundboard—that alone makes it essential! This is another one of those mind-blowing, hour-long jams traversing across vast musical territories while remaining deeply rooted in the rich, earthy soil of American folk—the kind of stuff that makes 1973 a favorite year for hardcore Deadheads and turns the “Bonus Disc” into a real treasure. Thanks, GDP! Now, I wonder what’s planned for the next Road Trips? I can’t wait!

FN1. Technically, these tapes are not “soundboard” recordings at all, but a separate sub-mix made with a microphone splitter and a Nagra reel-to-reel. The spacious ambience and instrumental clarity made possible with this method is much preferable to the dry and often woefully unbalanced recordings made from the soundboard’s P.A. feed. The sheer quality of the recordings during this period is one of the reasons why the mid-‘Seventies are so revered amongst Deadheads, beyond the merits of the music itself. Sadly, the Nagra bit the dust around 1979 and the effort to make high-fidelity tapes was abandoned. That’s one reason why the 1980s have been largely avoided for “official” releases: actual soundboard tapes (which record an inverse mirror image of what the audience heard) often sound weird and awful, depending on the vagaries of the cavernous venues in which the band performed. Fortunately, there were some amazingly realistic recordings made from the audience during this period, although they are few and far between. It wasn’t until the 1990s that technology caught up with the Dead and soundboard tapes could be made to sound good—but by then, it was, perhaps, too late.

May 6, 2011

“Indeterminacies” Final Event Next Tuesday, May 10

Zeitgeist Gallery 2011-05-06

Lizzy and I have really enjoyed the “Indeterminacies” series of events at Zeitgeist Gallery (I previously wrote about them here and here) and we are looking forward to attending the final concert of the season on May 10. Hosted by esteemed local architect, L. Lesley Beeman, Jr., the “Indeterminacies” series seeks to do something more than just put on concerts of “new music.” The gallery (the back of which is home to Manuel Zeitlin Architects) is an intimate, yet open and airy space, flanked by two enormous picture windows and hosts tastefully curated exhibits of provocative and exquisite contemporary art. On the second Tuesday of each month in the Spring and Fall, Mr. Beeman invites composers to present their work—and also invites a local moderator to initiate a discussion with the artist and the audience. The composer must be brave, willing to come out from behind the score, so to speak, and confront the audience directly. The ensuing dialogue is often quite illuminating and it’s a rare and delightful opportunity for an attendee at a concert of modern music to interact with composers and musicians (and the moderators) in a comfortable yet artistically stimulating environment. Unlike the rarified, distancing formalism of a “classical music” concert, each event is unique—indeterminate—and always thought-provoking.

Tuesday’s program will feature works by composer Mark Volker, Coordinator of Composition and Assistant Professor of Music at Belmont University. Mr. Volker will present several works, including a new piece for two percussionists, flute, violin, and cello; a set of songs for voice and guitar; a piece for flute entitled, “Deep Winter” and a recent work for electric guitar, interactive electronics and dance. For the latter, Mr. Volker intends to play a video of the dance component during the performance. Sounds like a wonderfully varied and interesting set! The moderator will be Erin Bradfield, a Ph.D. candidate in the philosophy department at Vanderbilt University. Her work in aesthetics “focuses on the moment when you are confronted with a wholly unfamiliar, yet profoundly affecting work of art.” I am sure Ms. Bradfield’s scholarly, philosophical background will inspire a thoughtful discussion on music, art and life—and provide the kind of deep insight into the music a mere concert could never provide.

The event begins at 6:00pm and admission is free. Zeitgeist Gallery is located at 1819 21st Avenue South, Nashville, Tennessee 37212. I hope you to see you there!

May 1, 2011

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra: Out Beyond The Kingdom Of (Saturn 61674 LP)

By 1974, the Impulse! deal was starting to bear fruit, with almost a dozen LPs coming out during the course of the year, including several reissues from the old Saturn catalog. In addition, the Saturn label had been resurrected and new releases were being pressed in tiny editions for sale at gigs and at select record stores. Given the fact that all this product was suddenly flooding the marketplace, it is not surprising very few new recordings were made during the year. Much like 1973, 1974 is rather sparsely documented (relatively speaking), but most of what’s there is worth a listen.

In Feburary, shortly before Sonny’s sixtieth birthday, the Arkestra travelled to Mexico for an extended tour at the invitation of the Ministry of Culture—an invitation which dated back to the Fête de l’Humanité fiasco in September 1973, where Sun Ra’s music quelled a near riot and allowed for a triumphant performance of Ballet Folklórico de Mexico. While the musicians were given “plush accommodations,” by the grateful Mexican government, the musician’s union protested and prohibited them from performing—as musicians. The Actors Union interceded and the shows went on as “Sun Ra and His Cosmo Drama.” Szwed writes: “Sun Ra told the band that an earthquake would even the score, and later it was said that the Union’s office building had been leveled [in 1985]” (p.338). The Arkestra stayed in Mexico two or three months, playing two concerts at the Pallacio de Bellas Artes, a two-week stand at the Teatro Hidalgo, as well as concerts at Chapultepec Park (“where they played on a little island while people rowed around them in boats”) (Id.), the University of Mexico, and in front of the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacán. The Arkestra also appeared on TV in Mexico City on Siempre en Domingo, “a variety show rather like Ed Sullivan’s” (Campbell & Trent, p.206). According to Francisco “Ali” Mora, a Mexican drummer who joined the band during the tour, concert tapes probably exist (Id.) but no recordings have surfaced to date.

On June 16, the Arkestra performed at Hunter College in New York City and the concert was recorded, possibly by the college itself (the sound quality is remarkably good). Portions were compiled by Ra for release as Out Beyond The Kingdom Of (Saturn 61674) later in the year (although some copies are titled Discipline 99) (Id.). The first thing you notice is the school has provided Sonny with a decent grand piano, and he relishes in the opportunity to tickle the ivories. “Discipline 99” is given a stately, confident reading by the band and features a long piano solo, alternating pretty harmonies with flurries of dissonant tone clusters. The following medley of old standards (an impossibly romantic ballad, “How Am I To Know?” and the up-tempo, “(Keep Your) Sunnyside Up”) allows Ra to show off his inimitable, inside/outside comping skills behind John Gilmore’s big-hearted, languorously swinging tenor solos. “How Am I To Know?” is a thing of rare beauty and the presence of Ronnie Boykins on bass and Clifford Jarvis on trap drums gives new life and humor to the old-fashioned rhythms of “(Keep Your) Sunnyside Up.” Good stuff!—and a harbinger of things to come: a mini-set of jazz standards would increasingly become a fixture of the Arkestra’s live sets as the ‘70s rolled on.

Side two shifts gears, with an emphasis on space chants and ensemble freak-outs and is, frankly, a lot less interesting to my jaded ears. But to be fair, this record must be considered in context, as a historical artifact. An obsessive collector in the year 2011 will have heard these routines many times before, but in 1974, live recordings were scarce. Sonny was shrewdly filling the gap, documenting the Arkestra’s current show for eager fans. Considered in that light, Out Beyond The Kingdom Of was exactly what it needed to be: a souvenir you could take home with you from the Cosmo Drama. As such, side two is fun, with June Tyson and Ankh Tal Ebah at their soulful, hortatory best and Boykins and Jarvis keep things grooving nicely. The highlight is “Cosmos Synthesis,” a wild group improvisation for horns and free-bashing rhythm section which stays heavy longer than usual. But Sun Ra himself is inaudible for most of the side until the very end of “Journey To Saturn,” when some spooky organ chords fade up and fade down.

For me, Out Beyond The Kingdom Of is a half-great album, with side one being of particular interest to Rafficianadoes. Unfortunately, it is way out of print and the “needle-drop” which circulates is a less-than-perfect transfer (though I’m certainly glad to have it). I wonder if other tapes from this concert exist? If so, it would be a good candidate for an expanded CD edition (see below). In any event, it deserves an official release, despite my antipathy to side two.


Prof. Campbell describes two different audience recordings made at this concert. One is ninety-five minutes long and contains most of the first set and the end of the second. The other tape is purported to be over a hundred minutes long and more complete (see pp.206-209). I have a copy of “Tape 1,” and it’s a typical bootleg and suffers from the usual sonic defects: veils of hiss, a boomy and distant acoustic, plenty of extraneous noise and distortion, etc. Nevertheless, it’s not completely unlistenable and contains some interesting music. Any opportunity to hear the Boykins/Jarvis rhythm section is worth the effort.

After the brief opening improvisation and a series of space chants, “Tapestry From An Asteroid” sets the stage for a full-scale freak-out from the Arkestra, culminating in an outrageous alto sax solo from Marshall Allen. Despite the clouded sound, this is still very impressive. A strutting “Discipline 27” is marred by a typically overlong drum solo from Jarvis, made worse by the noise and distortion on the tape. Ugh. With that out of the way, Boykins then picks up the bow for a beautiful unaccompanied solo joined later by Ra on Rocksichord before moving into a long, spacey synthesizer outing. Sadly, as the texture thickens and the Arkestra joins in, the wretched sound quality almost completely obscures the details of what’s going on. Well, the audience liked it and they offer a nice round of applause before the band launches into “Enlightenment.” It’s the usual thing, but with Allen’s flute counter-melodies coming through sharp and clear for a change. The percussion barrage of “Love In Outer Space” is reduced to a dull roar on the tape, with Sonny’s metallic organ comping occasionally peeking through the din. It’s tough going, but when Kwami Hadi comes in just at the right time with the aching, long-toned melody, it almost makes it worth the while. Almost.

The tape then picks up in the middle of “The Satellites Are Spinning,” June Tyson with her all-male chorus soulfully singing it and Boykins laying down some heavy-duty bass riffs. Ra then interjects some “mad-scientist” keyboard inventions before they venture off into “The Shadow World.” It’s a fractured, abstract version: the insistent ostinato is only hinted at while the full ensemble sections are not actually stated. Instead, John Gilmore erupts into a ferocious tenor sax solo as if he’d been waiting all night for this moment. He is ready to play! Yes, ladies and gentlemen: it’s another incredible Gilmore solo! Too bad the sound is so funky. Then Danny Davis does his thing on the Neptunian Lipflecto and it gets a big rise out of the audience. Just as Hadi starts to play, the tape cuts off. Then we pick up with “Angels And Demons At Play,” which, like “Love In Outer Space,” suffers from exceptionally bad sound. Finally, we have “How Am I To Know” and “(Keep Your) Sunnyside Up” as heard on Out Beyond The Kingdom Of (but in significantly worse sound quality).

I have a second disc which supposedly contains part two of “Tape 1,” but since it consists of overlapping music recorded from different (inferior) source, I am confused. Is this part of “Tape 2” or is it something else? Whatever it is, it sounds atrocious, like the microphone was stuffed down the recordist’s pants. We get “How Am I To Know” and “(Keep Your) Sunnyside Up” again, only this one is more complete with solos from Hadi, Pat Patrick on baritone sax, Ra on piano and Boykins arco before the reprise of “Sunnyside.” Or at least I think that’s what’s happening; it’s kind of hard to tell. An unidentified title has all the earmarks of a “Discipline” number: densely arranged horn figures in sweet and sour harmony over interlocking bass and baritone sax riffs. Very interesting—yet another lost Ra composition (and a nice flugelhorn solo from Ebah)—too bad the recording sucks. “Sun Ra And His Band From Outer Space” ends the tape (and the set) with a thud.

I can’t really recommend these bootleg recordings to anyone except the most obsessed Sun Ra fanatic. There is some fascinating music here, but it only makes me want to hear an expanded, remastered Out Beyond The Kingdom Of. Here’s hoping those tapes still exist and some intrepid label will make it happen.

Playlist Week of 04-30-11

Zappa - Sheik Yerbouti

* Englische Virginalmusik um 1600 (Leonhardt) (Telefunken LP)
* Biber: Missa Christi Resurgentis (The English Concert/Manze) (Harmonia Mundi SACD)
* Biber: Mensa Sonora (Musica Antiqua Köln/Goebel) (Archiv Produktion CD)†
* Rebel: Violin Sonatas (Manze/Egarr/ter Linden) (Harmonia Mundi CD)†
* Musica Florea (Stryncl): Scholss Eggenberg, Graz, Austria 9-01-08 (FM CDR)
* Westminster Choir/Flummerfelt: O Magnum Mysterium (Chesky LP)
* Sun Ra: Out Beyond The Kingdom Of (Saturn LP>CDR)
* Sun Ra: Hunter College, New York, NY 6-16-74 (AUD 2CDR)
* John Abercrombie: Cat And Mouse (ECM CD)
* Willie Nelson: Teatro (Island CD)
* Emmylou Harris: Hard Bargain (Nonesuch CD+DVD)
* Lucinda Williams: Blessed (Deluxe Edition) (d.1) (Lost Highway 2CD)†/‡
* The Beatles: Abbey Road (2009) (selections) (Apple/EMI CD)†/‡
* The Who: Quadrophenia (Track 2LP)
* Grateful Dead: Road Trips Vol.4 No.3: Denver ’73 (GDP/Rhino 3CD)
* Grateful Dead: Road Trips 2011 “Bonus Disc” (12-06-73x) (GDP/Rhino CD)
* Grateful Dead: Feyline Field, Tempe, AZ 11-25-73 (SBD 3CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Onandaga War Memorial, Syracuse, NY 5-17-81 (set 2) (SBD 2CDR)‡
* Love: Forever Changes (Elektra/Rhino CD)†/‡
* Led Zeppelin: How The West Was Won (Atlantic 2DVD-A)
* Fleetwood Mac: Rumours (Reprise/Warner Bros. 2-45RPM LP)
* Stevie Nicks: Belladonna (Modern Records/Warner Bros. LP)
* Frank Zappa: Wazoo (Zappa Records 2CD)
* Frank Zappa: Imaginary Diseases (Zappa Records 2CD)
* Frank Zappa: Läther (Rykodisc 3CD)
* Frank Zappa: Zoot Allures (Warner Bros. LP)
* Frank Zappa: Sheik Yerbouti (Zappa Records 2LP)
* Frank Zappa: Joe’s Garage, Act I (Zappa Records LP)
* Frank Zappa: Joe’s Garage, Acts II & III (Zappa Records 2LP)
* Frank Zappa: Shut Up And Play Your Guitar (Barking Pumpkin 3LP)
* Frank Zappa: Guitar (Rykodisc 2CD)
* Frank Zappa: Trance-Fusion (Zappa Records CD)
* The Red Krayola: The Parable Of Arable Land/God Bless The Red Krayola… (Int’l. Artists/Charly CD)
* The Red Krayola: Live 1967 (d.1) (Drag City 2CD)
* The Red Krayola: Singles (Drag City CD)
* The Red Krayola: The Red Krayola (Drag City LP)
* Mayo Thompson: Corky’s Debt To His Father (Texas Revolution/Drag City CD)
* The Fall: The Wonderful And Frightening World Of… (Omnibus Edition) (d.4) (Beggars Banquet 4CD)
* My Bloody Valentine: Isn’t Anything (Plain LP)
* My Bloody Valentine: Loveless (Plain LP)
* Mars Classroom: The New Theory Of Everything (Happy Jack Rock Records LP)
* Pavement: Slanted & Enchanted (Luxe & Reduxe) (Matador 2CD)
* Radiohead: In Rainbows (TBD CD)†
* Radiohead: The King Of Limbs (TBD/Ticker Tape CD)†
* Panda Bear: Person Pitch (Paw Tracks CD)
* Panda Bear: Tomboy (Paw Tracks CD)
* Broken Bells: Broken Bells (Columbia LP)
* Broken Bells: Meyrin Fields EP (Columbia EP)



Lizzy’s been out of town, so I’ve been left to my own devices this week in terms of the music choices. Of course, one of the many amazing things about her is her refined taste in music and, moreover, her big ears and infinitely open mind. But there are some things she barely tolerates (Led Zeppelin) and others she simply cannot abide (AC/DC). So while there is seldom a conflict, you could rightly conclude she is not into “heavy metal.” Accordingly, I rocked out a bit, given the opportunity. But that was not my main focus this week. Instead, I decided to pick up where I left off with my chronological survey of Frank Zappa.

Actually, it was prompted by having recently picked up Wazoo, a 2-CD set recorded at the Boston Music Hall on September 24, 1972, featuring his ambitious 20-piece “Grand Wazoo” orchestra playing purely instrumental music. Listening to it, I was reminded of Zappa’s undeniable genius and how much the guy meant to me in my youth. So, I decided to wade back into the skanky waters of the later discography, despite my revulsion at some of the lyrics. I’m no prude—but some of this stuff is downright offensive, even to me. It’s probably a good thing Lizzy wasn’t around.

This is precisely the point, as dubious as it might be. Sure, I thought this stuff was hilarious when I was fifteen (although I didn’t quite get all the jokes), But now, most of it just makes me cringe. I can remember my Dad accusing me of “getting off” on that “degenerate smut” and my feebly trying to defend Zappa’s musicianship compositional complexity—and insisting it was all satire. Frank didn’t really feel that way about women or Jews or Catholics or homosexuals—or did he? (it’s hard to tell, even now). Nevertheless, I memorized every filthy routine and sniggered with pretended knowingness—but what really “got me off” was the music, particularly Zappa’s ecstatically mind-blowing guitar solos. At the time, I only dreamed of plugging in an electric guitar and wailing away like Frank, with lascivious abandon. Honestly, it was his example, more than anyone else’s, which inspired me to ditch the piano and pick up a Stratocaster years later. But that’s another story…

I still have a special fondness for Sheik Yerbouti (get it?). The double-LP set came out in March of 1979, at the height of my Zappa infatuation and still gives me a thrill to listen to it again. Sure, most of the songs are ridiculous, but they are surrounded by such richly detailed musical accompaniments I am inclined to forgive the puerile and cynical lyrics. Mostly recorded live and then extensively overdubbed in Zappa’s own meticulous fashion, this is about as high-tech as analog tape ever got and the original vinyl, mastered by Bob Ludwig, sounds stunningly great. And side four is one of Zappa’s most powerful works: “Wild Love” takes another snide look at dysfunctional sexual politics, but without the overbearing scatology and wrapped in a deliriously hyper-modal musical setting. It’s a wild ride and over before you know it, segueing immediately into “Yo Mama.” A sneering putdown of a hapless hipster wannabe, the song appears to be downright cruel. And yet the music is gentle, almost sweet—mercifully erupting into an extended guitar solo of awe-inspiring majesty. Hotdamn! This is one of the greatest guitar solos ever recorded! As it builds and builds to a densely orchestrated reprise, this seemingly nasty little number becomes genuinely redemptive. There may not be any hope for the song’s subject, but listeners are fundamentally transformed. All these years later, it still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.

Joe’s Garage is perhaps Zappa’s late masterpiece, an elaborate three-act musical about a dystopian world where music is made illegal. Inspired by the Iranian Revolution (where such laws were being contrived), the plot is admittedly thin, based on the characters’ suffering and degradation at the hands of a criminalized music business. But all that is secondary to the gloriously baroque music. Beyond the gleefully labyrinthine arrangements, Zappa’s guitar playing is uniformly magnificent—culminating in the surprisingly sentimental set piece, “Watermelon In Easter Hay.” Built upon a deceptively simple-sounding series of arpeggios in an irregular 9/4 meter, Zappa renders Joe’s “last imaginary guitar solo” with astonishingly tenderness and exquisite tonal control. This is god-like guitar playing! Truly one of Zappa’s most intensely emotional and truly moving performances, it is the pot of gold at the end of a smoggy rainbow. Ultimately, Frank’s guitar wizardry can’t redeem the embarrassment of “Wet T-Shirt Nite” or “Dong Work For Yuda,” no matter how impressive it is. And so it goes…

So, Shut Up and Play Your Guitar! This is what many of us wished—and Frank answered. But that sprawling three-LP set is almost too much of a good thing. Nothing but a string of guitar solos, recorded live but brutally shorn of their context; it is imposingly monolithic, if not to say boring—despite Zappa’s deft editing. The later Guitar and Trance-Fusion collections are even more diffuse and while I can marvel at the virtuosic displays I am left wondering if those stupid songs are actually what make these instrumental forays seem so genuinely miraculous. On their own, they start to pile up and lose their impact. Even so, there is much to savor here if you love Zappa’s guitar playing.

As the ‘80s wore on, I turned my back on Zappa. I sold all my albums and dismissed him as a depraved merchant of “smut”—just as Dad decreed. Instead, I monkishly worshiped at the altar of free jazz and punk rock (even though I still wanted to sound like Frank on guitar). Later, in the 1990s, I re-purchased all the original albums and, after listening to them once, filed them away. I needed to have them—not to listen to, necessarily, but to own them, take control of them. Obviously, I have a contentious relationship with Mr. Zappa. I keep thinking I’ve outgrown him only to re-realize his unique brilliance and his profound influence on me. There is something uplifting in the overall depravity I cannot quite reconcile—it makes me dizzy thinking about it, like I’m still defending him from my father’s bitter accusations. Zappa continues to exert a deep but uncomfortable influence in my life.

I started this chronological survey a year ago and still have a way to go in the official discography. After this week’s overdose, it will likely be sometime this summer before I can stand to wade into the swamp again. Stay tuned—if you wanna.