April 28, 2012

Playlist Week of 4-28-12

Derek Beckvold & Michael Gardiner 2012-04-12b

* Leclair: Sonatas (Holloway/ter Linden/Mortensen) (ECM CD)
* John Holloway/Jaap ter Linden/Lars Ulrik Mortensen: Copenhagen 4-08-08 (FM 2CDR)
* Berg: Chamber Concerto, etc. (Ensemble InterContemporain, et al./Boulez) (Sony CD)
* Messiaen: Èclairs Sur L’Au-Delà… (Orch. de l’Opéra Bastille/Chung) (DG CD)
* Miles Davis/Bill Laswell: Panthalassa (Columbia CD)
* Miles Davis/Bill Laswell: Panthalassa: The Remixes (Columbia CD)
* Weather Report: Ossiach, Austria 6-27-71 (FM CDR)
* Weather Report: Berkeley Community Theater, Berkeley, CA 5-05-75 (FM CDR)
* Weather Report: Heavy Weather (Columbia/Legacy SACD)
* Herbie Hancock: Fairfield Theatre, East Lansing, MI 10-28-73 (FM CDR)
* Anthony Braxton: GTM (Iridium) (2007) (Vol.1 Set 2) (New Braxton House FLAC>CDR)
* Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble: The Moment’s Energy (ECM CD)
* David S. Ware Quartet: Wisdom Of Uncertainty (AUM Fidelity CD)
* Matthew Shipp Trio: Elastic Aspects (Thirsty Ear CD)
* Charlie Haden & Pat Metheny: Beyond The Missouri Sky (Verve CD)
* Grateful Dead: Merriweather Post Pavilion 6-27-84 (SBD 3CDR)
* Pink Floyd: Ummagumma (Pinkfloyd/EMI 2CD)
* Pink Floyd: Atom Heart Mother (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)
* Pink Floyd: Meddle (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)
* Pink Floyd: Obscured By Clouds (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)
* Pink Floyd: The Dark Side Of The Moon (Capitol SACD)
* Caravan: In The Land of Grey And Pink (40th Anniversary Edition) (DVD) (Deram/Decca 2CD/DVD)
* Amon Düül II: Tanz Der Lemminge (United Artists/Revisited/SPV CD)†
* Fleetwood Mac: Fleetwood Mac (Reprise/Warner Bros. 2-45RPM LP)
* Big Star: Keep An Eye On The Sky (d.1) (Ardent/Rhino 4CD)
* Thurston Moore: Demolished Thoughts (Matador CD)†/‡
* Jim O’Rourke: Bad Timing (Drag City CD)
* Guided By Voices: Let’s Go Eat The Factory (GBV, Inc. CD)
* Guided By Voices: “Keep It In Motion” (GBV, Inc. 7”EP)
* Guided By Voices: “Jon The Croc”/”Breathing” (GBV, Inc. 7”)
* Porcupine Tree: Stars Die: The Delerium Years 1991-1997 (KScope 2CD)
* Porcupine Tree: The Sky Moves Sideways (KScope 2CD)
* Porcupine: Tree: Signify/Insignificance (d.1) (KScope 2CD)†
* Porcupine Tree: Coma Divine: Recorded Live In Rome (KScope 2CD)
* 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)†/‡
* Opeth: Still Life (Peaceville/Icarus CD)†
* Opeth: Blackwater Park (Music For Nations/KOCH CD)†
* Opeth: Deliverance (Music For Nations/KOCH)†
* Opeth: Damnation (Music For Nations/KOCH CD)
* Opeth: Ghost Reveries (Roadrunner HDCD)
* Opeth: Watershed (Roadrunner CD)
* Opeth: Heritage (Deluxe Edition) (Roadrunner CD/DVD)
* High On Fire: Death Is This Communion (Relapse CD)†
* High On Fire: Snakes For The Divine (E1 CD)†/‡
* High On Fire: De Vermis Mysteriis (E1CD)†
* Ghost: Opus Eponymous (Rise Above/Metal Blade CD)†/‡

†=iPod
‡=car 

Commentary:

Although it occurred a couple of weeks ago, I still need to mention the mind-blowing Indeterminacies program at Zeitgeist Gallery on April 12th (right before our “Mountains & Metal” getaway) where composer/ethnomusicologist, Michael Gardiner, presented an extended electro-acoustic piece accompanied by saxophonist, Derek Beckvold. Opening with a startling blast of hyper-complicated noise from Gardiner’s laptop, it was like a “barbed-wire Q-Tip” that cleansed the ear and focused the mind for the music’s subsequent unfolding. Beckvold’s mastery of extended saxophone techniques provided a perfect counterpoint to Gardiner’s electronic soundscapes, from keening altissimo crying to balls-out “sheets of sound” fueled by stunning displays of circular breathing. Then sometimes Gardiner would pick up an ancient Japanese bamboo flute to play six-hundred-year-old melodies over the electronically processed voices, instruments and other noises echoing around the room. Remarkably, the forty-minute piece flowed with a profound sense of inevitability yet also remained totally unpredictable, a remarkable fusion of composition and improvisation that left me wanting to hear more. I’m looking forward to checking out Gardiner’s CDs, available on the Centaur and Visceral Media labels.

The group discussion, led by SoundCrawl’s Kyle Baker, was pretty heady stuff: the theories of Baudrillard and Attali were casually invoked and a definition of postmodernism was briefly debated. But the sincerity of Gardiner’s desire to incorporate all of his widely diverse interests—from pure noise to Hildegard von Bingen to Noh theatre—was made obvious. For Gardiner, sampling is not just a technological apparatus residing on a computer: when he plays the Japanese flute amidst all the other electronica, he views it as a sample that happens to be “triggered” acoustically—a postmodern notion if there ever was one. The conversation, as usual, was a fascinating glimpse into the artistic process (as well as the audience’s reception) and is what makes these Indeterminacies programs so unique.

The series continues this Tuesday, May 1st and, wow, it’s going to be a doozy! In conjunction with the Nashville Symphony’s premiere of “The Palmian Chord Ryddle For Electric Violin And Orchestra” on May 3-5, this month’s Indeterminacies will feature a conversation with legendary composer, Terry Riley, electric violinist, Tracey Silverman, NSO conductor, Giancarlo Guerrero, and moderated by Pulitizer Prize-winning music critic Tim Page. Wow! This event is so huge, it will be held at the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University with a reception following at the gallery. This is definitely the can’t-miss event of the season and I hope to see you there! In the meantime, check out this video interview with Silverman about the collaboration here.

April 25, 2012

Again With The Opeth!

I'm going to shut up about my Opeth obsession for a little while but I'll leave you with this super-high-quality video footage from their December 16, 2011 concert at the Enmore Theatre in Sydney Australia. No screaming or "death metal" growls here; just prog-rock goodness (with a tincture of evil). These guys not only make great records, but totally bring it live as well! You can watch the entire 110-minute concert at Moshcam.com.

Watch Opeth and other great gigs on Moshcam.
EDIT: The photo of the band here is way out of date, with a new drummer, keyboardist and lead guitarist featured on the video Never mind that; just click play and enjoy!

April 22, 2012

Sun Ra Sunday

I'll be back with more reviews next week (I hope). But in the meantime, check out this 1971 interview with Sun Ra, which also includes some excellent Arkestra footage as well. Dig those groovy shades!

April 21, 2012

Playlist Week of 4-21-12


Mikael Akerfeldt 2012-04-16b

* Miles Davis: The Complete Live At The Plugged Nickel (d.2a-3) (Columbia/Legacy 8CD)
* Herbie Hancock Quartet w/Bobby Hutcherson: The Barbican, London 7-03-03 (FM 2CDR)
* Anthony Braxton: GTM (Iridium) (2007) (Vol.1 Set 1) (New Braxton House FLAC>CDR)
* David Torn: Prezens (ECM CD)
* Levin Torn White: Levin Torn White (Lazy Bones CD)
* Emmylou Harris: Stumbling Into Grace (Nonesuch CD)†/‡
* Lucinda Williams: World Without Tears (Lost Highway HDCD)
* Grateful Dead: Road Trips Vol.2 No.3: Wall Of Sound (d.1) (GDP/Rhino 2+1HDCD)
* Grateful Dead: Road Trips 2011 Bonus Disc (12-06-73) (selections) (GDP/Rhino HDCD)
* Grateful Dead: Palladium New York, NY 5-04-77 (SBD CDR)†/‡
* The Band: Music From Big Pink (Capitol/Mobile Fidelity SACD)
* Amon Düül II: Phallus Dei (Repertoire/SPV CD)
* Amon Düül II: Yeti (Repertoire/SPV CD)
* Gentle Giant: Octopus (Alucard/EMI CD)
* U2: The Unforgettable Fire (Deluxe Edition) (d.2) (Island/Universal 2CD)
* U2: The Joshua Tree (Deluxe Edition) (Island/Universal 2CD)
* Spiritualized: Sweet Heart, Sweet Light (Fat Possum CD)
* Porcupine Tree: Lightbulb Sun (KScope CD/DVD-A)
* Porcupine Tree: The Incident (Roadrunner CD/CDEP)†/‡
* Opeth: Still Life (Peaceville/Icarus CD)†
* Opeth: Blackwater Park (Music For Nations/KOCH CD)† 
* Opeth: Deliverance (Music For Nations/KOCH CD)†
* Opeth: In Live Concert At The Royal Albert Hall (d.1) (Roadrunner 3CD/2DVD)†/‡
* Opeth: Watershed (Roadrunner CD)
* Opeth: Heritage (Deluxe Edition) (Roadrunner CD/DVD)(†/‡)
* Katatonia: Last Fair Deal Gone Down (10th Anniversary Edition) (Peaceville CD/CDEP)†
* Katatonia: Viva Emptiness (Peaceville CD)†
* High On Fire: Death Is This Communion (Relapse CD)†
* High On Fire: Snakes For The Divine (E1 Music CD)†
* High On Fire: De Vermis Mysteriis (E1 Music CD)
* Agalloch: The Mantle (The End Records CD)†/‡
* Agalloch: Ashes Against The Grain (The End Records CD)†
* Agalloch: Marrow Of The Spirit (Profound Lore CD)†
* Mastodon: Crack The Skye (Reprise CD/DVD)
* Mastodon: The Hunter (Reprise CD) 
* Baroness: Red Album (Relapse CD)† 
* Baroness: Blue Record (Relapse CD)†
* Animal Collective: Strawberry Jam (Domino CD)
* Animal Collective: “Peacebone” (Domino CDEP)
* Animal Collective: Water Curses (Domino CDEP)

†=iPod
‡=car

Commentary:

“Mountains & Metal Tour 2012” was simply amazing. Although I have lived here since 1997, I had not been to the Smoky Mountains, a mere four-hour drive from Nashville. Sort of like living in Boston for sixteen years and never going to Cape Cod. Well, the Opeth/Mastodon/Ghost concert in Knoxville on April 16 provided a good excuse to spend the weekend in Gatlinburg, just an hour or so further down the road. We stayed at the Lodge at Buckberry Creek, a rustically luxurious place located just minutes from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Nestled on a wooded hillside, the twenty-nine acre property offers deluxe rooms with spectacular views, a half-mile hiking trail and fine dining all overseen by a relaxed and friendly staff. There were signs that said “BEWARE OF BEARS” and I half-jokingly remarked that I wanted to see a bear while we were there. Actually, our experience vastly exceeded my wildest expectations and I can’t wait to go back sometime for an extended visit. Here’s the view of Mount Le Conte as seen from our porch:

View from the Lodge 2012-04-16

Sunday was spent exploring the park. It was a beautiful, clear day so we drove up to Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the Smokies, just over the border in North Carolina. From the parking area, it’s another half-mile walk up to the observation tower, 6643 feet above sea level. A sign warned visitors that their bodies might not be used to the high altitude, stating: “frequent rests along the way are advisable.” I thought, “Hey, no big deal!”—but boy, was I in for a shock! Not fifty yards up, my heart was pounding and I could barely catch my breath; I honestly thought I might pass out! Whoa! We sat down at one of the strategically placed rest areas and I managed to recover enough to keep going. Geez, I’m out of shape! Well, I wasn’t the only one struggling, believe me. We eventually made it to the top and it was truly awe-inspiring to be on top of the world, with our heads literally in the clouds, shivering in the crisp, cold breeze. My photographs fail to capture the grandeur, but you can see where the Smoky Mountains get their name:

Clingman's Dome 05

Back down the mountain, we headed over to the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, a narrow one-way road meandering around the side of Mount Le Conte, where we leisurely drove around and got out of the car to hike on a couple of trails. We didn’t see any wildlife, but we could hear beautiful, unfamiliar bird songs up in the trees. Later, we took the tram up to Ober Gatlinburg and turned around and came right back down (amusement parks are not really our thing). It was a fun ride, though, with lovely views of the scenery. After eating some tasty barbeque, we were completely exhausted. As soon as it got dark, we went to sleep. 

Monday was another gorgeous day so we decided to go over to Cade’s Cove, a popular park destination with open grasslands attracting a variety of animals—including bears. At one point, we caught a glimpse of one up in the trees several hundred yards away, but even with my telephoto lens, he was but a speck. Mostly, I experimented with the ultra-wide angle lens, with limited success:

Cade's Cove 01

As we were headed for the park exit, I loudly expressed my disappointment in not seeing a bear “up-close.” Of course, I was half-joking about this, since bears are big, dangerous animals and, as I had learned on Clingman’s Dome, I am not in the best physical condition. I wouldn’t stand a chance is the wilderness! But as we were coming around a bend, we noticed a bunch of people crowded into a nondescript turn-out.

“What is up with this?”

 “It’s a bear!”

I pulled over, grabbed my camera and jumped out of the car. There she was: a baby bear cub chowing down on the low-lying vegetation not twenty feet from the side of the road, completely unperturbed by the people and their clicking, flashing, whirring cameras. It was a magical moment, watching this wild animal in its native habitat. At the same time, it occurred to me that mama bear was no doubt nearby; so I took a few snaps and headed back to the car. The resulting photos are not very good, but I’m overjoyed to have gotten the opportunity to take them:

Bear Cub

Now that my Great Smoky Mountains experience was complete, we headed up to Knoxville. Our hotel room at the Hilton was crazy: a conference room on the top floor temporarily converted into an ludicrously oversize bedroom. It was hilarious – and actually fairly inexpensive for one night, making it somehow even funnier! After admiring the view for a while, we went out to wander downtown. The venue was just a few blocks away so headed in that direction, stopping in the legendary Yee Haw Industries for its (heartbreaking) going-out-of-business sale. As we were walking around, I saw Martin Mendez, bassist for Opeth, with his crew out on the street. Cool! Deciding to have an early dinner, we went to the Downtown Grill & Brewery—little knowing this was the place to be. There were a number of folks who were quite obviously going to the concert—and, a little while later, in walks Brent Hinds from Mastodon! Wow! Genuine rock stars! As we were leaving, he was just hanging out on the patio so I told him we were really looking forward to the show. Then we gave each other the “devil horns” salute—what a hoot! This was going to be a fun evening.

The Tennessee Theater is a pretty fancy place for a heavy metal show: a 1928 movie palace recently renovated as a thousand-seat concert hall, it is an art-nouveau gem. The beer was flowing and I was wondering if the barbarian metal-heads would trash the place. As it turned out, the audience was remarkably subdued (it was a Monday night after all), but also respectful and attentive. These folks listened to the music intensively: there was no moshpit—not even much headbanging for that matter. Folks were buzzing about Ghost, the anonymous Swedish Satanists and I have to admit: their schtick is pretty amusing. “Papa Emeritus” parades around in a clerical robes and a bishop’s mitre, his face painted as a death mask. Meanwhile, “The Nameless Ghouls” bang away at their instruments cloaked in enormous hooded shrouds, like Satanic monks. Great theater, for sure, and their catchy little hymns to the Anti-Christ are funny as, um, hell—or are they?

Ghost 2012-04-16a

Mastodon were, as the name implies, a force of nature. They pummeled their way through a diverse, seventeen-song set in a mere hour and ten minutes. No chit-chat, no lengthy tunings, just boom-boom-boom. Sadly, that’s what it sounded like: a boomy, noisy mess. Thankfully, we brought along earplugs! It was really a shame since I could tell the band was super-tight and singing well—but it was all buried in layer upon layer of overdriven sludge. And I was really looking forward to hearing Brann Dailor play — one of the finest drummers I’ve ever heard — but even the drums were virtually inaudible!. Oh well. They looked cool, though—especially when Hinds brought out this custom-built double-neck guitar. Now, that is what RAWK is all about!

Brent Hinds 2012-04-16

As for Opeth, well, I am completely smitten with this band and, therefore, cannot be objective. But they were, in a word, sublime. Unlike the previous bands on the bill, the sound quality was superb: dynamic, spacious and crystal clear—even when things got “heavy” at the end. I tossed the earplugs and reveled in the glorious sound. Sure, I might quibble about changes in the setlist (I was really looking forward to hearing “Face of Melinda” and “Deliverance”) but the recent addition of “Lines In My Hand,” one of the best songs off the new album, more than made up for it. Mikael Åkerfeldt was, as expected, completely charming, offering some hilarious, expletive-riddled banter between some of the numbers. But mostly, they were all business. All of the songs from Heritage were given authoritative readings while deep tracks like “Windowpane” and “Burden” were breathtakingly beautiful. The set-closing “Grand Conjuration” was almost unbelievably intense—make no mistake: Åkerfeldt’s growl is as forceful as ever. Their hour-and-fifteen-minute set seemed to fly by far too quickly.

Opeth 2012-04-16

After the show, we headed back to the Downtown Grill & Brewery for a nightcap. Who knows? Maybe more bandmembers would show up (besides, I was thirsty). Sure enough, Brent Hinds and Troy Sanders were there, chatting it up with fans and, as we were leaving, Hinds stuck out his hand and I shook it—I told him how awesome they were and that I’d “see him next time.” What a cool scene!

As we were walking back to the hotel, I said to Liz, “The only thing that would make this night any better would be to meet Mikael Åkerfeldt.”

"Look," she said. "There he is!"

Well, lo and behold: here he comes bounding down the street with his entourage, obviously headed to the Brewery for some well-deserved libations. Holy shit!

I told him, “You guys rock my world!”

He gave me a big smile and said, “Thank you!”

Gosh! What a thrill! I felt like a teenage fan-boy. That's a good feeling to have when you're pushing fifty.

We could hear a loud cheer go up behind as Åkerfeldt entered the bar—no doubt the party was just getting started! It was tempting to go back, but it was getting late. Having got my last wish, I went back to the hotel and happily crashed. It was a great night and a perfect ending to our "Mountains & Metal" mini-vacation!

 +++

 Hmm. I see Baroness is playing here in Nashville next Friday. Should I go?

April 14, 2012

Playlist Week of 4-14-12


* Biber: Missa Christi Resurgentis (The English Concert/Manze) (Harmonia Mundi SACD)
* Corelli: Trio Sonatas (Pinnock, et al.) (Archiv Produktion CD)
* J.S. Bach: Magnificat, BWV243, etc. (Collegium Vocale et al./Herrewghe) (Harmonia Mundi CD)
* J.S. Bach: Motets (Bach Collegium Japan/Suzuki) (BIS SACD)
* Miles Davis: Relaxin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet (Prestige/DCC CD)
* Miles Davis: Cookin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet (Prestige/DCC CD)
* Miles Davis: The Complete Live At The Plugged Nickel 1965 (d.1-2a) (Columbia/Legacy 8CD)
* Sun Ra: A Quiet Place In The Universe (Leo CD)
* Sun Ra: Showboat Lounge, Silver Spring, MD 3-18-77 (AUD 2CDR)
* Aretha Franklin: Lady Soul/Aretha Now (Atlantic/Mobile Fidelity CD)
* Earth, Wind & Fire: All ‘n’ All (Columbia/Legacy CD)
* Lucinda Williams: Essence (Lost Highway CD)†/‡
* The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (mono) (Apple/EMI CD)
* Van Morrison: Astral Weeks (Warner Bros./Rhino LP>CDR)
* Jerry Garcia Band: After Midnight: Kean College, 2/28/80 (Rhino 3CD)
* Neil Young: Archives, Vol.1 (selections) (Reprise 10BD+CD/DVD)
* Jakszyk, Fripp and Collins: A Scarcity Of Miracles (Inner Knot/DGM CD/DVD)
* U2: Achtung Baby (Deluxe Edition) (Island/Universal 2CD)
* Wilco: The Whole Love (Nonesuch CD)
* Porcupine Tree: Signify/Insignificance (KScope 2CD)
* Porcupine Tree: Metanoia (KScope CD)†/‡
* 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 CD)†
* Porcupine Tree: The Incident (Roadrunner CD/CDEP)†
* Opeth: Morningrise (Candlelight CD)†/‡
* Opeth: My Arms, Your Hearse (Candlelight CD)†
* Opeth: Still Life (Peaceville/Icarus CD)†
* Opeth: Blackwater Park (Legacy Edition) (Music For Nations/Sony/The End CD/DVD)
* Opeth: Deliverance (Music For Nations/KOCH CD)†
* Opeth: Lamentations: Live At Shepherd's Bush Empire 2003 (Music For Nations 2CD)†/‡
* Opeth: Ghost Reveries (Roadrunner HDCD)
* Opeth: Watershed (Roadrunner CD)†
* Opeth: Heritage (Deluxe Edition) (Roadrunner CD/DVD)
* Katatonia: The Great Cold Distance (Peaceville CD)†/‡
* Katatonia: Night Is The New Day (Peaceville CD)†/‡
* Mastodon: Leviathan (Relapse CD)†
* Mastodon: Blood Mountain (Reprise CD)†
* Mastodon: Crack The Skye (Reprise CD)†(‡)
* Mastodon: The Hunter (Reprise CD)†


†=iPod
‡=car

Commentary:

No words!

April 8, 2012

Sun Ra Sunday


Sun Ra & His Arkestra: A Quiet Place In The Universe (Leo CD)

This one is a stumper. Half of the music was originally released in 1987 as filler on A Night In East Berlin (Leo LR 149) (one of the very first Sun Ra CDs ever made), but in 1994 it was re-released in complete form as A Quiet Place In The Universe (Leo LR 198). It’s unclear when this material was recorded since, according to Chris Trent’s liner notes, the original tape provided to the record company merely contains a handwritten label identifying some (but not all) of the track titles. However, it’s obvious that all of the tracks are taken from a single concert, probably recorded in 1976 or 1977, based on personnel and repertoire. Prof. Campbell’s “best guess” is “early 1977” but there are some anomalies (such as Pat Patrick’s presence on alto saxophone) which make a date certain impossible to determine (see p.235). In any event, it is a terrifically full-bodied stereo recording, well-balanced, with a warm, dry acoustic and a worthy addition to the official discography, despite its mysterious provenance.

The disc starts off with the title track, a rare Sun Ra composition in its only known recording. After an announcement from John Gilmore, it starts off as a conventional big-band ballad a la Sun Ra—but as it goes along, the yearning harmonies get progressively more dissonant and strange, eventually wandering far away from the initial key center as it slowly builds to a harrowing climax. Moreover, the horns play at the extreme ranges of their instruments, raising the intensity level even further as the volume increases, similar to the earlier “Discipline” series of compositions. Interestingly, Vincent Chancey takes the only solo, his French horn being an odd choice for such a challenging composition; nevertheless, he acquits himself admirably on the unwieldy instrument. What Chancey lacks in technique he makes up for in ethusiasm for the music! After an elongated reprise, the piece ends with a flourish from Gilmore and another announcement: “’A Quiet Place In the Unverse’, a composition by Sun Ra!” And what a great composition it is!

“I, Pharoah” picks up at the end of “Friendly Galaxy No.2,” with Sun Ra eventually taking up the microphone for a lengthy declamation. At over eighteen minutes, this sort of thing could be tedious (to say the least), but the recording manages to minimize the distorted vocals and enhance the delicate flute arrangement, making for a surprisingly enjoyable listening experience. Although the next track was labeled “Images” on the original tape, that’s not what was played. Instead, we essentially get a duet improvisation between Ra’s electric organ and Chancey’s French horn, with the rhythm section supplying some subtle swing changes about half-way through. Very nice. “Love In Outer Space” follows, featuring a rather over-long conga workout from (possibly) Atakatune—nothing special, but the sound quality is superb.

Then we have the hoary chestnut, “I’ll Never Be the Same.” The instrumental version by “Matty” Malneck and Frank Signorelli was originally titled, "Little Buttercup" when it was recorded by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra but with lyrics (and a new title) courtesy of Gus Kahn, the song was a hit for Mildred Bailey in 1932. The tune would become a regular in Sun Ra’s live sets in the years to come but this version is unusual in that Pat Patrick takes the lead on alto saxophone. This suggests a later date than 1977, but then again, who knows? Patrick was in and out of the band during this period and would eventually abandon the baritone sax with which he made his name for the lighter, more flexible alto. Not surprisingly, he gets the same gruff, expressionistic sound out of the smaller horn, making his playing instantly recognizable. This version is a delight, with Ra’s organ swells adding an appropriately romantic nostalgia to the proceedings. Finally, “Space Is The Place” concludes the disc, but fades out after a few minutes. No great loss there, I suppose.

As befitting the title, A Quiet Place In The Universe is a somewhat subdued affair lacking any wild, skronky improvisations, rip-snorting big-band numbers—or even a single Gilmore solo. Nevertheless, it is a uniquely satisfying album with the title track worth the price of admission for its rarity alone. It also helps that the sound quality is excellent throughout. Leo CDs can be a little hit-or-miss, but this one is a keeper.

April 7, 2012

Playlist Week of 4-07-12


* Vivaldi: La Stravaganza (Arete Dei Suonatori/Podger) (Channel Classics 2SACD)
* Vivaldi: “Manchester Sonatas” (Romanesca) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)
* Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade (Chicago/Reiner) (RVA-Victor SACD)
* Miles Davis & Gil Evans: The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings (excerpts) (Columbia/Legacy 6CD)
* Aretha Franklin: I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You (Atlantic/Mobile Fidelity CD)
* Grateful Dead: Winterland June ’77: The Complete Recordings (d.7-9) (GDP/Rhino 9CD)
* Grateful Dead: Uptown Theatre, Chicago, IL 2-27-81 (d.1-2) (SBD 3CDR)
* Jerry Garcia Band: Cats Under The Stars (Arista/Rhino HDCD)
* Pink Floyd: The Pier At The Gates Of Dawn (Deluxe Edition) (d.1,3) (EMI 3CD)
* Pink Floyd: The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)
* Pink Floyd: Saucerful Of Secrets (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)
* Pink Floyd: Music From The Film ‘More’ (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)
* Neil Young: Archives Vol.1 (d.1-3, 5-6) (Reprise 10BD+CD/DVD)
* Joni Mitchell: Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter (Asylum HDCD)
* Joni Mitchell: Night Ride Home (Geffen CD)
* Joni Mitchell: Turbulent Indigo (Reprise CD)
* Joni Mitchell: Taming The Tiger (Reprise CD)
* Jethro Tull: Aqualung (40th Anniversary Special Edition) (Chrysalis/EMI 2CD)
* Elton John: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Deluxe Edition) (Island/Universal 2SACD)
* Boston: Boston (Epic LP)
* U2: The Unforgettable Fire (Deluxe Edition) (d.1)(Island/Universal 2CD)
* The Flaming Lips: Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots 5.1 (Warner Bros. CD/DVD-A)
* The Flaming Lips: “Fight Test” (Warner Bros. CDEP)
* Guided By Voices: Do The Collapse (TVT CD)†/‡
* Boston Spaceships: Let It Beard (GBV, Inc. 2LP)
* The Mars Volta: Noctourniquet (Warner Bros. CD)
* Porcupine Tree: Signify (Snapper/KScope 2CD)
* Porcupine Tree: Stupid Dream (Lava/Transmission/KScope CD/DVD)
* Porcupine Tree: Lightbulb Sun (Lava/Transmission/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: The Incident (Roadrunner CD/CDEP)†
* Steven Wilson: Insurgentes (KScope CD/DVD)
* Steven Wilson: Grace For Drowning (KScope 2CD)
* Meshuggah: Koloss (Nuclear Blast 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: Ghost Reveries (Roadrunner CD)†
* Opeth: Watershed (Roadrunner CD)†
* Opeth: Heritage (Deluxe Edition) (Roadrunner CD/DVD)
* Katatonia: Last Fair Deal Gone Down (10th Anniversary Edition) (Peaceville CD/CDEP)†/‡
* Baroness: Red Album (Relapse CD)†/‡
* Baroness: Blue Record (Relapse CD)†/‡
* Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino CD)
* Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop CD)

†=iPod
‡=car

Commentary:

In just about every interview I’ve seen with Mikael Åkerfeldt, he has made a point of name-checking Joni Mitchell as a big influence on him and his music. This may seem surprising, given Opeth’s “death-metal” roots, but if you listen closely, you can hear it going all the way back: the unusual guitar tunings and idiosyncratic harmonies, the intricate fingerpicking and intensely personalized songwriting. Knowing all this, I can’t help but fantasize about what a Joni Mitchell/Opeth collaboration might sound like.

It’s actually not such a far-fetched idea. While casual fans associate Joni Mitchell with her early, folky hits like “Big Yellow Taxi,” Åkerfeldt routinely cites her 1974 LP, Court And Spark, as one of his all-time favorite albums. While this record yielded one last big hit (“Help Me”) it also marked the beginning of her collaborations with hardcore jazz musicians, including heavyweights like Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Jaco Pastorious and Pat Metheny. Ultimately, she collaborated with the legndary Charles Mingus on what would be his final recordings in 1979. As the story goes, when Mingus heard the rather clumsy tape splice in the otherwise beautiful twenty-minute epic, “Paprika Plains,” he decided she had “balls” enough to work with him on his last album. Indeed, Mingus is, like the experimental Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter, an ambitious failure—yet it demonstrates Mitchell’s fearlessly eclectic creativity at its absolute peak. After some hit-or-miss records in the ‘80s, she came back with a trilogy of mature, near-perfect albums in the 1990s. Sadly, she has (loudly) renounced the music business ever since and remains true to her word except for a halfhearted ballet commission, Shine, released on the ill-fated Starbucks label in 2007. There are rumors of a big retrospective box set due out this year, but that doesn't really get me excited. Maybe Joni would be interested in making new music again—especially if it were a challenging and truly collaborative venture.

As for Åkerfeldt, Opeth continues to evolve and move way beyond the “death-metal” ghetto from which it sprang and he has long talked of making a solo acoustic record that would further confound his fans (naming Nick Drake as a primary inspiration). Then there is the long-rumored collaboration with Steven Wilson, which has finally came to fruition: the Storm Corrosion album will be released in May on LP, CD and Blu-Ray(!). By all accounts, it sounds like nothing either of them has done before (complete with 16-piece orchestra and concert choir) so it could be completely amazing—or an ambitious failure—either way, I am sure it will be worth hearing. That’s just how creative this guy is, continually pushing his music farther along, oblivious to anyone else’s opinion—just like Joni in her heyday. I swear: I can hear in my mind just what Åkerfeldt could bring to Joni Mitchell’s music—and, obviously, what she would bring to his. You know, I bet he would make room in his busy schedule to make it happen, if he got the call. Hey, get Steven Wilson to produce while you’re at it.

The more I think about this idea, the more aggravated I get. Yeah, I know: this is just fanboy fantasy stuff and I should be embarrassed to even bring it up. Even so, the possibilities intrigue me to no end. Come on, Joni, make one last amazing album: defy expectations (even your own) and blow people’s minds one last time! Then tour the world with Opeth! Come on, Mikael, make it happen! Dare to fail! It would be totally awesome—I just know it!

+++

Back in the real world, friends in Portland and Boston have informed me the opening shows of the Opeth/Mastodon "Heritage-Hunter" tour were excellent. Oddly, neither came close to selling out—come on, people: this is a top-shelf bill for a crazy-cheap ticket price—go see ‘em if they come to town! Personally, I can’t wait ‘til the 16th!

April 1, 2012

Sun Ra Sunday

This doesn't have much of anything to do with Sun Ra, but All The Notes, a documentary about the amazing pianist, Cecil Taylor, is too cool not to mention here. This is no pirated bootleg: MVD Entertainment Group has generously uploaded the entire 70-minute video to YouTube. Enjoy!