July 29, 2012

Sun Ra Sunday

Suhn Rall & Frienz from yotte on Vimeo
Sun Ra & Friends (IAI video)

This forty-minute videotape was recorded live at Axis-In-Soho in downtown New York, sometime in early July, 1977 and was briefly available from Improvising Artists,Inc. (as V004) in 1981 (Campbell & Trent pp.237-238). Simply titled Sun Ra & Friends, the concert includes some solo piano pieces as well as some small ensembles with John Gilmore on tenor saxophone, Danny Davis on flute, Ahmed Abdullah on trumpet and June Tyson and Eddie Thomas on vocals. The trippy colorization effects not only look dated and cheesy, they nearly obliterate the raw footage, making it almost unwatchable today. Still, there is some nice music here, including a way-out duet with Gilmore and casual, concise takes of “When There Is No Sun,” “Gone With The Wind,” and “The Mystery Of Two” as well as a preview of “A Different Kind Of Blues,” beautifully sung by Tyson.

Big thanks to reader yotte, for sharing a link to this video, as well as Solo Piano (IAI V003), which has now been posted over at last week’s review of St. Louis Blues. It seems unlikely these things will ever receive a legitimate digital release, so check ‘em out while you can.

July 28, 2012

Playlist Week of 7-28-12

Astra - The Black Chord

* Buxtehude: Seven Sonatas, Op.1 (Holloway/Mortensen/ter Linden) (CPO/Naxos CD)
* J.S. Bach: Violin Sonatas (Manze/Egarr/ter Lindedn) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)
* De Falla, Albeniz, et al.: Spain (Chicago Symphony/Reiner/Price) (RCA-Victor SACD)
* Sun Ra: St. Louis Blues: Solo Piano, Volume 2 (Improvising Artists, Inc. CD/video)
* Sun Ra: Axis-In-Soho, New York, NY July, 1977 (Improvising Artists, Inc. video sdtrk CDR/video)
* Anthony Braxton: GTM (Iridium) Vol.2, Set 2 (New Braxton House FLAC>CDR)
* Derek Bailey & The Ruins: Tohjinbo (Parachute CD)
* Derek Bailey & The Ruins: Saisoro (Tzadik CD)
* Tom Rainey Trio: Camino Cielo Echo (Intakt CD)
* Ingrid Laubrock Sleepthief: The Madness Of Crowds (Intakt CD)
* Paradoxical Frog (Kris Davis/Ingrid Laubrock/Tyshawn Sorey): Paradoxical Frog (Clean Feed CD)
* Herbie Hancock: Feets Don’t Fail Me Now (Columbia LP)
* Herbie Hancock: Monster (Columbia LP)
* Herbie Hancock: Mr. Hands (Columbia LP)
* Grateful Dead: Five Seasons Center, Cedar Rapids, IA 7-04-84 (selections) (SBD 3CDR)
* Emerson Lake & Palmer: Tarkus (Island LP)
* Camel: Camel (MCA/EMI CD)
* U2: Achtung Baby (Deluxe Edition) (Island/Universal 2CD)
* U2: Zooropa (Island CD)†
* Guided By Voices: Class Clown Spots A UFO (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Beck: “I Just Started To Hate Some People Today”/”Blue Randy” (Third Man 7”)
* Steven Wilson: Insurgentes (KScope CD/DVD)
* Opeth: Blackwater Park (Music For Nations/KOCH CD)†
* Opeth: Ghost Reveries (Roadrunner HDCD/DVD)†
* Opeth: Watershed (Roadrunner CD/DVD)
* Opeth: Heritage (Roadrunner CD/DVD)†
* Katatonia: The Great Cold Distance (Peaceville CD)†/‡
* Evoken: Atra Mors (Profound Lore MP3)†
* Agalloch: Pale Folklore (The End CD)
* Agalloch: The Mantle (The End CD)†
* Agalloch: The Grey EP (Agalloch/Bandcamp FLAC)
* Agalloch: Ashes Against The Grain (The End CD)†
* Agalloch: The White EP (Agalloch/Bandcamp FLAC)
* Agalloch: Marrow Of The Spirit (Profound Lore CD)†
* Agalloch: “Faustian Echoes” (Agalloch/Bandcamp FLAC)
* Baroness: Red Album (Relapse CD)†/‡
* Baroness: Blue Record (Relapse 2-45RPM LP)
* Baroness: Yellow & Green (Relapse 2-LP)
* OM: Advaitic Songs (Drag City 2-45RPM LP)
* Animal Collective: Sung Tongs (Fat Cat CD)
* Akron/Family II: The Cosmic Birth And Journey Of Shinju TNT (Dead Oceans 2LP)
* Pelican: Australasia (Hydra Head 2-45RPM LP)
* Pelican: The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon The Thaw (Hydra Head CD)†
* Pelican: What We All Come To Need (Southern Lord CD)(†)
* Pelican: Ataraxia/Taraxis (Southern Lord EP)
* White Hills: White Hills (Thrill Jockey CD)†
* White Hills: H-p1 (Thrill Jockey 2LP)
* White Hills: Live At Roadburn 2011 (Roadburn/Burning World LP)
* White Hills: Frying On This Rock (Thrill Jockey LP)
* Astra: The Weirding (Rise Above/Metal Blade CD)
* Astra: The Black Chord (Rise Above/Metal Blade CD)
* Dusted: Total Dust (Polyvinyl MP3/CD)(†/‡)



Epic songs made up of intricate, polymetric guitar riffs, thunderous bass, and myriad Moogs, Mellotrons, pianos and organs – is it King Crimson or Yes circa. 1972? No, it’s Astra on their new album, The Black Chord, where progressive rock still reigns supreme. To say that this stuff is derivative is an understatement. But these San Diego kids wear their influences so enthusiastically—and with nary a trace of smirking irony—well; you can’t help but be charmed by their retro musical obsessions. Amazingly, Astra manages to do something more than just an ironic pastiche: the songs are singularly compelling and they flow together into a cohesive album—just like the “good old days.” Moreover, the band sounds tighter and more disciplined than on their audacious, double-LP debut, The Weirding (2009), and the production is cleaner and richer, giving The Black Chord a more polished surface befitting this kind of symphonic prog.This is the real deal, perfectly crafted and executed. If you love ‘70s prog, space-rock, jazz fusion and the other “cosmic music” of the era, you’ll love this—and wonder how such a thing could have been made in 2012. 

July 22, 2012

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra: St. Louis Blues: Solo Piano, Volume 2 (Improvising Artists, Inc. CD)

On July 3, 1977, Sun Ra shared a bill with Paul Bley at Axis-In-Soho as part of the Newport in New York Festival, which was recorded by Bley’s Improvising Artists label. A portion of Sun Ra’s set was released on LP in 1978 as St. Louis Blues: Solo Piano, Volume 2 (IAI 37.38.58) and reissued on CD in 1993 (IAI 123858) (Campbell & Trent pp.236-237). If Solo Piano, Volume 1 was an introspective studio album, Sun Ra is in an expansive, playful mood in front of a live audience. As Szwed points out in his biography, “Bley was surprised to see that once he was alone on stage, ‘Sonny was a ham who liked to clown and surprise the audience’” (Szwed p.343) and there is a bit of that to be found here.

Ra’s passagework is startlingly virtuosic, displaying an astonishing independence of fingers and hands and extreme sensitivity of touch, although it sometimes comes across a bit empty and showy. “Ohosnisixaeht” is a rhapsodic blues with impressively fleet soloing, but the music wanders rather than gets anywhere. W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” is better, updated with a complex, polytonal arrangement. The simple “Three Little Words,” a 1930s showtune by Harry Ruby and Bert Kalmar is given an over-the-top reinterpretation that borders on corny, full of melodramatic glissandos and skittering block chords but always returning to that sweet, sweet swing. Side one closes with a short, romantic rendition of “Honeysuckle Rose” that alternates between rubato schmaltz and breezy ragtime.

Side two is more interesting, containing three originals that show off Sun Ra’s compositional skills as well as his brilliant keyboard work. “Sky and Sun” is onomatopoeic: drifting chords represent the sky and twinkling figures in the uppermost register represent the sun. This track is really quite evocative and it sounds he could do this sort of stuff all day long. Ra summons up an entire Arkestra on “I Am We Are,” from rumbling bass notes, scraping “strange strings” and  exquisitely voiced harmonies to outrageous, free-jazz scree, with moments of two-fisted aggression a la Cecil Taylor—a tour de force and probably the best thing on the album. “Thoughts On Thoth” ends the album with a slow space groove, articulated with remarkably fluid right-hand flourishes. It’s a brilliant display, but feels a little perfunctory to me.

Apparently, Improvising Artists released a 40-minute video of this concert (IAI V003), which replaces “Ohosnisixaeht” with another rendition of “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child” (the studio version can be heard on Volume 1) and contains some other minor editing differences from the LP (see Campbell & Trent p.237). This video was only sporadically available in the 1980s and while “bootleg” versions circulate, I have not seen a copy. And here is an tantalizing rumor: “According to Fred Conrad, the concert ended with “When There Is No Sun,” on which Ra was joined by  June Tyson (voc) and John Gilmore (voc). It is not known whether this piece was recorded” (Id.).


Thanks to reader, Yotte, for this link to the IAI video of this concert:

Suhn Rawl Sew Low Pie Ano '77 from yotte on Vimeo.

July 21, 2012

Playlist Week of 7-21-12

Baroness - Yellow & Green

* Jordi Savall & Rolf Lislevand: Cadogan Hall, London, England 8-18-08 (FM CDR
* Purcell: Fantasias For The Viols (1680) (Hesperion XX/Savall) (Alia Vox SACD)
* Dusapin: Quatuors à cordes & Trios (æon 2CD)
* Sun Ra: Solo Piano, Volume 1 (Improvising Artists CD)
* Sun Ra: St. Louis Blues: Solo Piano, Vol.2 (Improvising Artists, Inc. CD)
* Henry Threadgill Zooid: Tomorrow Sunny/The Revelry, Spp (Pi CD)
* Derek Bailey: Guitar, Bass And Drums (Avant CD)
* Gram Parsons: GP (Reprise/Mobile Fidelity SACD)
* Gram Parsons: Grievous Angel (Reprise/Mobile Fidelity SACD)
* Grateful Dead: History Of The Grateful Dead, Vol.1 (Bear’s Choice) (Warner Bros./Audio Fidelity LP)
* Deep Purple: Shades Of Deep Purple (EMI/Odeon LP)
* Deep Purple: Deep Purple (Tetragramaton LP)
* Deep Purple: In Rock (Warner Bros. LP)
* Deep Purple: Machine Head (Warner Bros. LP)
* Deep Purple: Burn (Warner Bros. LP)
* Van Der Graaf Generator: The Least Could Do Is Wave To Each Other (Charisma/4MWB LP)
* Van Der Graaf Generator: H To He Who Am The Only One (Charisma/4MWB LP)
* Van Der Graaf Generator: Pawn Hearts (Charisma/4MWB LP)
* Roxy Music: Avalon (Virgin HDCD)
* Can: The Lost Tapes 1968-1975 (selections) (Spoon/Mute 3CD)†/‡
* Porcupine Tree: Stupid Dream (KScope CD/DVD)
* Porcupine Tree: Lightbulb Sun (KScope CD/DVD)
* Porcupine Tree: Recordings (KScope CD)
* Porcupine Tree: In Absentia (Lava/Atlantic CD)†
* Porcupine Tree: Deadwing (Lava/Atlantic CD)†
* Porcupine Tree: Fear Of A Blank Planet (Atlantic CD)
* Porcupine Tree: Nil Recurring (KScope CDEP)
* Porcupine Tree: The Incident (Roadrunner CD)
* Storm Corrosion: Storm Corrosion (Roadrunner CD/BD)
* Anathema: We’re Here Because We’re Here (KScope CD/DVD)†
* Anathema: Weather Systems (The End CD)(†)
* Evoken: Atra Mors (Profound Lore MP3)†/‡
* Baroness: Blue Record (Relapse CD)
* Baroness: Yellow & Green (Relapse 2CD/2LP)
* White Hills: White Hills (Thrill Jockey LP)
* White Hills: H-p1 (Thrill Jockey 2LP)
* White Hills: Frying On This Rock (Thrill Jockey LP)
* Astra: The Weirding (Rise Above/Metal Blade CD)
* Astra: The Black Chord (Rise Above/Metal Blade CD)
* Dusted: Total Dust (Polyvinyl MP3)†/‡



Now that I have lived with the new Baroness record for several days (and I have listened to it every day since Tuesday—sometimes twice), I have to comment further on my “published” review over at Spectrum Culture. I pretty much agree with everything I said, but I would amplify it thusly: 
  • Despite its faults, this is a four-star record, surely one my favorite records of 2012 so far. I hate giving numerical ratings to records to begin with (something I’ve never even attempted on the blog), but surely my middling score had more to do with my frustration over not being able to hear it properly than with the music as such. 
  • The vinyl absolutely slays the CD in terms of sound quality, even though my copy has a fair amount of surface noise. Don’t get me wrong, the CD sounds fine—I  don’t hear any nasty digital compression artifacts or anything like that—but the LP beats it in just about every way: dynamics, tonality, high-frequency extension and, most surprisingly, bass response. This thing just kicks ass, despite the clicks and pops—and maybe a super-deep cleaning will take of that. 
  • Perhaps I didn’t stress just how different Yellow & Green sounds from everything else in their discography—not even the slicker stuff on Blue Record would remotely prepare you for what they’re doing here. Some fans are crying “sell-out”—but I have to ask: “To whom?” Not you obviously! And the rest of the world has no idea they even exist. Such a radical change in sound and approach does not always work out to mainstream success, no matter how pure the motive—or how good the music. Baroness should be commended just for stretching so far so fast. There are no half-measures on Yellow & Green; they are committed to this material, even when they are overreaching. 
  • I said nothing about the continuing color theme and John Baizley’s Mucha-meets-Pushead cover art—an obvious hook that I’ve heretofore avoided. Well, it’s all part of that punky, DIY thing and makes for brilliant branding: each Baroness record has a unique yet unifying look that is very cool—but only in that teenage boy kind of way. Now that the primary colors have been covered—and one mixture—one does has to wonder how far they can take this trope. What next, Orange? Purple? Rumor has it this is their last record for Relapse—so it wouldn’t surprise me if their next record takes on a whole different graphic design (for a major label). But who knows? Given their history, their next record will come out sometime in 2016; we’ll find out then. 
  • “Sea Lungs” may be another bit of “by-the-numbers arena rock,” but, damn, that chorus is catchy. It’s been running through my head all week.                                               

I excised over a thousand words from my original review (a long digression on the “metal ghetto”) and that stuff may be re-worked someday, but my point was that Baroness had broken out in a big way—yet because the world-at-large sees them as a metal band, they will likely fail as a crossover and, moreover, their core audience will be disappointed. This has to be a frustrating situation for a forward-thinking band like Baroness. If you like rock music—and think it can continue to reinvent itself—check out Yellow & Green. It’s a great record. Then, who knows? Maybe you’ll work your way backwards to the Red Album and become an overgrown metal-head just like me.

July 20, 2012

RE: "Live/Dead" @ Spectrum Culture

This month's "List Inconsequential" over at Spectrum Culture is "Great Live Albums." You can read my tossed-off 200-word blurb about Live/Dead here. There is some sharp writing (and good taste) over thereI am honored to have been asked to take part.

July 17, 2012

Baroness Review @ Spectrum Culture

My review of the new Baroness double-album, Yellow & Green, is now posted at Spectrum Culture. You can read it here.

This one was kind of hard, especially since I am a fan of the band. The promised pre-release download never materialized (due to an apparent “leak”) and the promo website eventually stopped letting me listen. Gee, thanks, guys! Fortunately, NPR was streaming the whole thing at “First Listen” all last week but, let’s face it, a lossy, low bitrate internet stream sounds like crap no matter how you try to listen to it—especially when gaps are inserted between tracks that are supposed to flow together seamlessly, as on Yellow & Green. Good grief! All this angst and paranoia over downloads and “leaks” is understandable but completely wrong-headed, in my opinion. When will the labels/artists finally realize that a crappy mp3 is worth exactly nothing? 

The album officially came out today, so I went to my favorite local record store and bought it—as I was planning to do anyway. I’m spinning the vinyl right now, ogling the twelve-inch artwork and studying the lyric sheets while I rip the CDs to my iPod. It sounds great! I stand by my review but it might have been a bit more positive—and expansive—had I been provided an opportunity to really hear the thing. I guess that's how it goes for a “rock critic.” Ha ha!

July 16, 2012

Spectrum Culture

About a month ago I was contacted by David Harris, Editor-in-Chief at Spectrum Culture, regarding the possibility of my writing about music for their website. This came as quite a surprise to me; apparently, they read my blog and liked my writing enough to ask me to participate--how could I say no?

Well, my first piece was posted today: a (rave) review of Chris Forsyth's solo-electric guitar CD, Kenzo Deluxe (out on Northern Spy Records).You can read it here.

If you've noticed the blog content has been sort of thin lately, this development is partly to blame. I'm not used to writing on demand, with deadlines and editors and all that (at least outside the law office), so this is all new to me. It's funny: I did not seek this out--I never set out to be a writer, it just sort of happened--but I see it as an opportunity to take my writing to another level. I hope to keep the blog going as well, with the usual playlist on Saturdays and (occasional) Sun Ra Sundays, but it will definitely be a challenge!

Anyway, there's some exciting stuff in the pipeline. I'll let you know when they run!

July 15, 2012

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra: Solo Piano, Volume 1 (Improvising Artists CD)

Better known for his electronic experiments, Sun Ra never really got his due as a pianist, even though he was an obviously gifted player with deep roots in the jazz tradition. Prior to 1977, the only solo piano albums Sonny had ever recorded were the impossibly obscure El Saturn LPs, Monorails & Satellites Volumes 1 & 2, released in a minuscule editions a decade earlier—but the recondite material and low-fi sound offered a mere glimpse into Sonny’s wide-ranging keyboard technique. As we've seen, however, extended piano breaks were cropping up during live performances in the late-‘70s, if an instrument was available to him. (For an excellent example, take a listen to the brilliantly virtuosic introduction to “Take The A-Train” found Live At Montreux recorded on July 9, 1976). Of course, insiders knew what he what Sun Ra was capable of: 
Though many recognized him as capable of playing bombastically, and of using the piano for color, few thought of his as a major player. But Paul Bley, one of the two or three leading pianists of free jazz, believed Sonny was a great piano player, so great that he didn’t need a band. If anything, he felt, the band was a cover for his insecurity. Early in 1977 Bley convinced Sonny to do a series of piano duo performances with him in New York and Europe and to record for Bley’s new audio and video company, Improvising Artists (Szwed p.343). 
On May 20, Sonny entered Manhattan’s Generation Sound Studios to record Solo Piano, Volume 1, which would be released later in the year as IAI 37.38.50 (RJ-7419 in Japan). It was eventually reissued on compact disc in 1992 as IAI 123850 but is now out of print (see Campbell & Trent p.236). The first in a series of solo piano recordings made in during the year, Volume 1 is also the most satisfying.

Alone in the studio, Sonny is in a reflective mood, ruminating on a handful of original compositions and choice covers. “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” is given a hauntingly abstract reading, alternating between enervated, polytonal passagework and serene, floating chords. The following “Cosmo Rhythmatic” continues this rhapsodic, orchestral approach while “Yesterdays” is played mostly straight, with an occasionally bubbly ragtime feel that fittingly evokes Sun Ra’s early days on the south side of Chicago. On “Romance of Two Planets” Ra stacks up unstable blocks of vertical harmonies amidst flurries of repeated melodic figures, rumbling bass notes and sharply dissonant tone clusters—the most “out-there” piece on the album. Meanwhile, the impressionistic “Irregular Galaxy” sounds like a sketch for potential Arkestra number with its weirdly swinging chord progression and intricately intertwined counter-melodies. Finally, “To A Friend” demonstrates Sun Ra’s peculiarly inventive take on the blues: a two-chord vamp over which he elaborates in seemingly endless variation, sometimes in several keys simultaneously.  As Szwed points out, “those who had known him for years understood that his origins were in the blues and assumed that side of his playing: ‘Sun Ra could play the blues for twenty four hours without repeating a phrase’ they claimed” (p.343). Even at seven-plus minutes, “To A Friend” is but a brief example of Sun Ra’s genius in this regard.

A flurry of solo concerts followed in the wake of Solo Piano, Volume 1, some of which were documented. And while the live audiences obviously energized Sonny, making for some exciting performances, the introspective, meditative quality of Volume 1 is special, a truly unique—and therefore essential—item in Sun Ra’s immense discography.

July 14, 2012

Playlist Week of 7-14-12

Hary Halvorson - Bending Bridges

* Hesperion XXI (Savall): Helmut-List-Halle, Graz, Austria 7-17-07 (FM CDR)
* Hesperion XXI (Savall): Concert Noble, Brussels, Belgium 7-21-07 (FM 2CDR)
* Vivaldi: Concertos For The Emperor (English Concert/Manze) (Harmonia Mundi SACD)
* Mary Halvorson Quintet: Bending Bridges (Firehouse 12 CD)
* Mary Halvorson & Jessica Pavone: Departure Of Reason (Thirsty Ear CD)
* The Thirteenth Assembly: Station Direct (Important CD)
* Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet: Apparent Distance (Firehouse 12 CD)
* Aych: As The Crow Flies (Relative Pitch CD)
* Chris Forsyth: Kenzo Deluxe (Northern Spy CD)
* The Who: Quadrophenia (Track 2LP)
* Jeff Beck: Truth (Epic/Sundazed LP)
* Grateful Dead: In The Dark (Arista/Mobile Fidelity LP)
* Grateful Dead: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY 9-15-87 (selections) (SBD 2CDR)
* Frank Zappa: “I Don’t Want To Get Drafted”/”Ancient Armaments” (Zappa/Polygram 12”)
* Frank Zappa: Tinseltown Rebellion (Barking Pumpkin 2LP)
* The Red Crayola: The Parable Of Arable Land (stereo) (Int’l Artists/Charly 2CD)
* Soft Machine: Third (Columbia 2LP)
* Soft Machine: Fourth (Columbia LP)
* Deep Purple: Shades Of Deep Purple (EMI/Odeon LP)
* Deep Purple: In Rock (Warner Bros. LP)
* Black Sabbath: Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (Warner Bros./Rhino LP)
* Elvis Costello & The Attractions: Imperial Bedroom (Columbia/Mobile Fidelity LP)
* Thurston Moore: Trees Outside The Academy (Ecstatic Peace! CD)†
* Thurston Moore: Demolished Thoughts (Matador CD)†
* Sleep: Dopesmoker (Southern Lord 2LP)
* Steven Wilson: Grace For Drowning (KScope BD)
* Storm Corrosion: Storm Corrosion (Roadrunner CD/BD)
* The Mars Volta: Noctourniquet (Warner Bros. 2LP)
* Anathema: We’re Here Because We’re Here (KScope CD/DVD)†
* Baroness: Red Album (Relapse CD)†/‡
* Baroness: Blue Record (Relapse CD)†/‡
* Baroness: Yellow & Green (Relapse)
* Pelican: The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon The Thaw (Hydra Head CD)†
* Pelican: What We All Come To Need (Southern Lord CD)(†/‡)
* White Hills: H-p1 (Thrill Jockey CD)
* White Hills: Frying On This Rock (Thrill Jockey LP)
* Astra: The Weirding (Rise Above/Metal Blade CD)
* Astra: The Black Chord (Rise Above/Metal Blade CD)



I’ve written before about how much I love Mary Halvorson (see here, here, here and here)—I am probably her biggest fan. I’ve described her as a “complete guitarist,” that is to say someone who knows all the right notes and, more importantly, understands the transformative power of electricity. Even more amazing, she is also a brilliant jazz composer, as can be heard on her new CD, Bending Bridges (Firehouse 12). Featuring her quintet with Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Jon Irabagon on alto saxophone, John Hébert on bass and Ches Smith on drums, the music ranges from post-Blue Note bop to angular art rock—often in the same piece. This band has been playing together for a while now and it shows: everyone sounds relaxed and the sometimes tricky arrangements are expertly executed. If I have any complaint it is that Halvorson is a bit too generous with the solo space and only really lets loose herself on a few tracks. Moreover, drum solos are almost never a good idea in my opinion, no matter how great the drummer, and there’s not one, but three of them here, which only contributes to the CD’s overlong seventy-minute duration. But these are minor quibbles since the compositions and playing are all first-rate—and I’ll take any opportunity to hear Ms. Halvorson play the guitar.

Fortunately, there has been ample chances to do so over the past several months, since she has appeared on a bunch of other records under a variety of monikers. The Thirteenth Assembly is a long-running collective with her musical peers, violist Jessica Pavone, brass master Taylor Ho Bynum and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, each sharing equal compositional duties. Their most recent CD, Station Direct (Important), is another genre-hopping gem, happily moving from abstract squiggles to post-jazz grooving to outright Bo Diddley beats. Her fourth duo album with Pavone, Departure of Reason (Thirsty Ear), is another set of carefully crafted art- songs and instrumentals, perhaps the most cohesive (and well-recorded) CD yet from them. Then there’s As The Crow Flies (Relative Pitch), by a conglomeration calling itself Aych, an out-jazz blow-out with Bynum again and Jim Hobbs on saxophone. It is certainly energetic and (mostly) free but it feels a little ad hoc and rootless to me. Nevertheless, Halvorson sounds totally self-assured and provides the glue that keeps the horns from flying apart. She also appears on Apparent Distance (Firehouse 12), a suite of meditative chamber jazz by the Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet and on Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up’s new one, The Air Is Different (482 Music). Finally, you can also hear her work with Anthony Braxton on many of the FLAC downloads available at the Tri-Centric Foundation, all of which are mind-blowingly great.

Yes, Mary Halvorson has been busy! Rumor has it she has reconvened her punky rock band, PEOPLE, for a new record for I & Ear titled 3XaWoman due out later this year and supposedly a new Ingrid Laubrock Anti-House CD is in the can. I'm looking forward to hearing more.

July 7, 2012

Playlist Week of 7-07-12

Nice Ride

* Hesperion XXI, et al. (Savall): Hispania & Japan: Dialogues (Alia Vox SACD)
* Grant Green: Idle Moments (Blue Note CD)
* Herbie Hancock: “Blow Up” (Original Soundtrack) (MGM/4 Men With Beards LP)
* Herbie Hancock: Secrets (Columbia LP)
* Herbie Hancock: Sunlight (Columbia LP)
* Grateful Dead: Dick’s Picks Vol.25 (5-11-78) (selections) (GDP 4HDCD)
* Affinity: Affinity (Vertigo/Lilith 2LP/CD)
* Kylesa: To Walk A Middle Course (Prosthetic/Alternative Tentacles LP)
* Opeth: Morningrise (Candlelight CD)†
* Opeth: My Arms, Your Hearse (Candlelight CD)†
* Opeth: Still Life (Peaceville/Icarus CD)†/‡
* Opeth: Blackwater Park (Music For Nations/KOCH CD)†/‡
* Opeth: Deliverance (Music For Nations/KOCH CD)†/‡
* Opeth: Damnation (Music For Nations/KOCH CD)†/‡
* Opeth: Heritage (Roadrunner CD/DVD)†/‡
* Anathema: Weather Systems (The End 2LP)
* Baroness: Yellow & Green (Relapse)
* Pelican: Australasia (Hydra Head 2-45RPM LP)
* Pelican: The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon The Thaw (Hydra Head CD)†
* Pelican: What We All Come To Need (Southern Lord CD)†
* Chris Fosyth: Kenzo Deluxe (Northern Spy CD)
* Astra: The Weirding (Rise Above/Metal Blade CD)
* Astra: The Black Chord (Rise Above/Metal Blade CD)



Short playlist this week! We traveled to Northern California to visit Lizzy’s family and the only music I listened to was on the plane (briefly) or in the car driving up the coast to The Sea Ranch. I made that drive several years ago in a minivan (!) and, since it was going to be just the two of us, I insisted we rent a nice car this time—a very nice car, as it turned out: a (slightly dinged-up) Mercedes C300. Now that might sound extravagant but, let me tell you: it’s a treacherous, three-hour drive up CA Route 1, a narrow, two-lane road with hairpin turns, gut-wrenching switchbacks and terrifying views of the ocean plunging five-hundred feet below—besides, it was only about a hundred bucks more than a Toyota Camry, so why not enjoy the ride?

Having never driven a Mercedes before (I'm actually a Honda kinda guy), I was mystified by the needlessly complicated technology; a simple thing like adjusting the seat was extraordinarily difficult (here's a tip: you only get five minutes from the time the door closes). I spent at least twenty minutes sitting in the airport parking lot just trying to figure out how to play music from my iPod—and totally failed. The owner’s manual was completely useless! What the hell? Am I stupid? We hit the road listening to “Chill” on Sirius while I pondered the problem. I eventually figured out how to change the channel to “Classic Vinyl.” Much better. Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. A bit later, I pulled over. Let’s see if this works: press this button, turn this knob—and voila! iPod! We cranked up some Opeth and kept motoring. Other than the stupidly quirky audio system, the car drove like a dream—and it made a potentially scary trip into a most pleasurable joyride. Well worth it.

ANYWAY, it was a fabulous trip; so quiet and peaceful, contemplating the water and the edge of the world. We had gorgeous weather, sunny and sixty-five degrees—a much needed relief from the horrendous heat-wave we’re having here in Nashville. It is such a beautiful yet desolatelandscape, so different from the mid-Atlantic region—and it was teeming with wildlife! We saw several different kinds of seabirds, Western blue jays, zillions of barn swallows, gaggles of wild turkeys, lots and lots of deer—we even saw a gray fox amble across the back porch one evening. Of course, I took a bunch of photographs and you can check them out on my Flickr Photostream, if you’re interested in seeing the place. Ultimately, it was a true blessing to get to be with family I had not seen in a very long time—I think they had come to doubt my very existence!

So, not much writing on the blog these days—but don’t worry: there are some exciting things coming up on the horizon. Stay tuned.

July 1, 2012

Sun Ra Sunday


they taught me to share all I had
with them
I did
and I got nothing in return
one day I found that because I did,
I died
then another tomorrow they never told
me of
came with the abruptness of a fiery gun
and spoke of cosmic equations
the equations of sound similarity
a secret code of eternal elasticity
clear only to those meant to live beyond
the law of earth
who must choose to understand the
meaning of the
death insurance
of cosmic surety
and use it as a shield against the
of the fast-fading
of the damned

--Sun Ra