January 27, 2013

Sun Ra Sunday



Sun Ra: WKCR Studios, Columbia University, New York, NY 7/8/77 (FM CDR)

So, where did we leave off? Oh yeah, the summer of ’77 and Sonny’s solo piano adventures, some of my very favorite Sun Ra records: the introspective studio LP, Solo Piano Vol.1, and the more flamboyant live recording, St. Louis Blues. There was also one more solo piano set that month: a radio appearance on July 8 at WKCR, the left-of-the-dial FM station at Columbia University in New York City (which seemed to have an open-door policy whenever Ra was in town) and a 36-minute tape of the broadcast circulates widely amongst collectors. Actually, I discovered there are at least two different versions of this broadcast to be found, which caused me considerable confusion when I started to write this up a couple weeks ago. My first version appears to contain two additional tracks, but, as it turns out, the DJ proceeded to play side one of Monorails & Satellites after Ra’s set. Moreover, that first tape was plagued by loads of FM interference and other extraneous noises, sounding like it was recorded with a microphone held up to a speaker. It was rough, but listenable. The second (and more common) version of this broadcast sounds much, much better (more like a proper line recording) and does not contain the confusing album tracks (although the sequence is slightly different). It’s one of the better “bootlegs” out there and, despite this flurry of activity in 1977, solo piano performances were exceedingly rare, making this an indispensable addition to the collection.

Starting off with bluesy improvisation, it’s sadly apparent that the radio station’s piano had seen better days: it’s out of tune, some of the keys are sticky, and the voicing is wildly inconsistent, dull and indistinct at one moment, shrill and piercing at another. But Ra makes the best of it, actively exploiting the weird resonances and at times making it sound like a funky clavinet or electronic Rocksichord. Although apparently improvised, there is an elegant structure, with a contrasting, “classical”-sounding middle section, complete with delicate trills and impressionistic arpeggios. Is this an unknown composition? Or is it just another example of Ra’s off-the-cuff genius? Who knows? The old stand-by, “St. Louis Blues,” is up next and it’s another barn-burning performance: three, four, five independent voices ringing out simultaneously in wildly swinging counterpoint. If there were ever any doubts about Sonny’s piano playing abilities, just listen to this! Another standard, “Sophisticated Lady,” follows and it’s given an oblique, fractured reading, with radical, pantonal re-harmonizations and some astonishingly intricate passage work—check out Sonny’s ultra-dexterous left hand! Another blues improv once again brings out Ra’s brilliantly orchestral pianism with nimble bass riffs and thrilling horn lines, his two hands amiably wandering through distant keys.

After that virtuosic display, things get really interesting. It seems Sonny is just getting warmed up! An untitled original starts pits an agitated ostinato in seven against skittering right-hand flourishes and beautiful block-chord harmonies. The stuttering bass-line almost sounds familiar, but I can’t quite place it—another one for the “unknown” file, I guess. “Take the “A” Train” is given the same treatment as “Sophisticated Lady,” a ruminative extrapolation on an old favorite, blithely dispensing with all the clichéd familiarity and nostalgic sentimentality associated with this well-worn warhorse. His enervated explorations of low-register tone clusters and fiery single-note runs easily rival the intensity of Cecil Taylor at his most bombastic—but no matter how “out-there” it might sound at times, Ra deftly brings it all back around to the ragtime and swing which forms the basis of jazz. The vast expanse of African American musical history, from emancipation through the avant-garde is seemingly encapsulated in this four-and-half minute version of “Take the “A” Train.” Incredible.

Another unknown title follows: a two-chord vamp with pretty right-hand melodies, a space-rhumba feel that gradually morphs into straight-ahead swing before going out. Although dreamy and imminently enjoyable, it feels more like a sketch for a potential Arkestra arrangement than a fully-fleshed out composition. The next track, however, was deemed good enough to appear on a Saturn single titled "Quest," in 1982 (Gemini 1982Z). However, the Evidence two-CD compilation misattributes this track to a later date (see Campbell & Trent, p.239). Even more confusing, my first version of this tape has “Quest” occurring at the very end of the set, making my correlation even more difficult. In any event,"Quest" is a short but intriguing tone poem, with jagged, irregular melodies, Morse code rhythms and brittle, uneasy silences. Incidentally, the sound quality of the 45-RPM single is considerably better than the off-air recordings we have here, indicating the possibility that a pre-broadcast master exists in the Sun Ra archives. Well, we can hope so, anyway.

The final track (at least on my second iteration of this tape) is “Trying to Put the Blame on Me,” a doleful, two-chord vamp over which Sonny starts to sing. Of course, there is no microphone near his mouth, so you can barely make out what he’s saying at first. But there are other voices in the background, faintly echoing Ra’s declamations: June Tyson and John Gilmore, who have been quietly sitting in the studio, apparently waiting for this very moment. The station engineers frantically move mic stands around and the song eventually starts to coalesce, a darkly paranoid indictment of those who would blame Sonny for…what? I’m not sure. “What’s the name of this game?” he asks. “Cuz if I’m the cause of it all, then that makes me the boss.” Whatever it is, he sounds eager to assume the role. According to Campbell & Trent, “Trying to Put the Blame on Me” would only reappear almost ten years later, at a concert in Cambridge, Massachusetts on June 10, 1986 (p.491-492). Surely, this song was performed at some point in the intervening years – or perhaps not? Maybe the subject of this diatribe was so specific, it only needed performing once in a while. Again, who knows? These are the sorts of tantalizing tidbits that keep me interested in this project: the mysteries of Mr. Ra.

As you all know, I have complained vociferously about the dismal sound quality of most of the “bootlegs” we’ve surveyed so far – but this one (especially the more common, correct version) sounds very nice indeed, despite the hiss and crackle inevitably associated with low-watt radio broadcasts of the era. More importantly, Sonny’s performance is extraordinary, combining the contemplative meditations of a studio session with the dazzling technical displays of a live concert. It is, in many ways, my favorite of the solo piano recordings from 1977. Definitely worth seeking out, even for the most casual Sun Ra fan—or any devotee of jazz piano. Sun Ra was not just a great composer and bandleader, he was a fluent pianist and the living embodiment of a deep-rooted tradition dating back generations, a fact that sometimes gets lost in all the big-band hoopla and space-age gobbledygook. Here's proof. 

January 26, 2013

Playlist Week of 2013-01-26

Spinning Vinyl 2013-01-12

* J.S. Bach: Violin Sonatas (Kuijken/Leonhardt) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)
* J.S. Bach: The Works For Lute (Kirchhof) (Sony Classical 2CD)
* Charles Mingus: Passions Of A Man: The Complete Atlantic Recordings (d.1-3) (Atlantic/Rhino 6CD)
* John Coltrane: Live Trane: The European Tours (d.1-2) (Pablo 7CD)
* Sun Ra: WKCR-FM, Columbia University, New York, NY 1977-07-08 (FM CDR)
* Sun Ra: Fort Dupont, Washington, DC 1977-08-14 (AUD CDR)
* Sun Ra: Some Blues But Not The Kind That’s Blue (Saturn/Atavistic CD)
* Muhal Richard Abrams: Think All, Focus One (Black Saint CD)
* Henry Threadgill Zooid: Tomorrow Sunny / The Revelry, Spp (Pi CD)
* James Carter: Layin’ The Cut (Atlantic CD)
* Joe Morris/Agustí Fernández/Nate Wooley: From The Discrete To The Particular (Relative Pitch CD)
* Ingrid Laubrock Anti-House: Strong Place (Intakt CD)
* Ingrid Laubrock/Liam Noble/Tom Rainey: Sleepthief (Intakt CD)
* Ingrid Laubrock/Mary Halvorson/Tom Rainey: The Stone, New York, NY 2009-08-21 (AUD CDR)
* Herbie Hancock: The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings (selections) (Warner Archives 2CD)
* Herbie Hancock: Sextant (Columbia/Legacy CD)
* Herbie Hancock: Headhunters (Columbia/Legacy CD)
* Herbie Hancock: Thrust (Columbia/Legacy CD)
* Herbie Hancock: Man-Child (Columbia/Mobile Fidelity CD)
* Billy Cobham: Spectrum (Atlantic CD)
* Rock Candy Funk Party: We Want Groove (J&R Adventures CD/DVD)
* D’Angelo: Brown Sugar (EMI CD)
* Jeff Beck: There And Back (Epic/Friday Music LP)
* Jeff Beck: Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop (Epic/Friday Music LP)
* Jerry Garcia Band: Lunt-Fontaine Theatre, New York, NY 10/15-30/87 (selections) (Pure Jerry 3CD)
* The Velvet Underground & Nico: The Velvet Underground & Nico (mono) (Verve/Sundazed LP)
* Nico: Chelsea Girl (mono) (Verve/Sundazed LP)
* David Bowie: The Rise & Fall Of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars (EMI LP/DVD)
* Yo La Tengo: Fade (Matador CD)†
* Beck: Sea Change (Geffen/Mobile Fidelity 2LP)
* Brokeback: Field Recordings From The Cook County Water Table (Thrill Jockey MP3)†
* Brokeback: Morse Code In The Modern Age: Across the Americas (Thrill Jockey MP3)†
* Brokeback: Looks At The Bird (Thrill Jockey MP3)†
* Brokeback: Brokeback And The Black Rock (Thrill Jockey MP3)†
* Six Organs Of Admittance: Ascent (Drag City LP)
* Opeth: Orchid (Candlelight CD)
* Opeth: Morningrise (Candlelight CD)
* Opeth: My Arms, Your Hearse (Candlelight CD)
* Opeth: Still Life (Peaceville CD/DVD)
* High On Fire: Blessed Black Wings (Relapse CD/DVD)
* YOB: Atma (Profound Lore/20 Buck Spin 2LP)
* The Mars Volta: Tremulant EP (Gold Standard Labs CDEP)
* The Mars Volta: De-Loused At The Comatorium (Gold Standard Labs/Universal CD)
* Tony Youngblood: Let’s Play Havoc (Tony Youngblood CD)
* Pelican: Pelican (Hydra Head CDEP)
* White Hills: Abstractions & Mutations (Drug Space/Immune LP)
* White Hills: White Hills (Thrill Jockey LP)
* White Hills: H-p1 (Thrill Jockey 2LP)
* The Sword: Warp Riders (Kemado CD)
* Wild Nothing: Nocturne (Captured Tracks CD)
* Ex Cops: True Hallucinations (Other Music/Fat Possum MP3)†

†=iPod
‡=car

Commentary:

I like records.

January 20, 2013

Secret Keeper @ "Indeterminacies" on May 10, 2013


I was recently asked to curate the May 2013 "Indeterminacies" event at Zeitgeist Gallery. At first, I wasn't sure what to do but after some thought, I decided to really go for it: Why not bring Mary Halvorson to Nashville? Well, as it turns out her new band, Secret Keeper, a duo with bassist, Stephan Crump, will be touring the states in support of their upcoming CD on Intakt, Super Eight. Fortuitously enough, we have them confirmed for Friday May 10!

As y'all know, these events are more than just concerts. This will be an opportunity to hear the artists not only perform their music but speak for themselves and where the audience is more than just a crowd of passive consumers. As you may not know, The New Yorker has labeled Mary Halvorson "the current it girl of avant jazz guitar" while The New York Times just decreed Nashville "the nation's 'it' city."  I suppose this is just a confluence of events. Whatever, it is going to be awesome!

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Yes, I promised more Sun Ra Sunday, but I ran into a thicket of discographical confusion. What a surprise!  Anyway, I got it all figured out now and I'll have the details for you next week.

January 19, 2013

Playlist Week of 2013-01-19

Yo La Tengo - Fade

* J.S. Bach: Violin Sonatas (Manze/Egarr/ter Linden) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)
* Ravel: Piano Works (Queffélec) (Virgin Classics 2CD)
* Poulenc: Works for Piano (Parkin) (Chandos 3CD)
* Charlie Parker: The Complete Savoy & Dial Studio Recordings (d.2) (selections) (Savoy/Atlantic 8CD)
* Miles Davis: The Cellar Door Sessions 1970 (d.1-2) (Columbia/Legacy 6CD)
* Sun Ra: The Paris Tapes: Live At Le Théâtre Du Châtelet 1971 (Art Yard/Kindred Spirits 2CD)
* Sun Ra: Cosmo Earth Fantasy: Sub-Underground Series Vols.1-2 (Saturn/Art Yard CD)
* Sun Ra: WKCR-FM, Columbia University, New York, NY 1977-07-08 (FM CDR)
* Sun Ra: Somewhere Over The Rainbow (Saturn LP>CDR)
* Andrew Hill: Mosaic Select (d.2-3) (Mosaic 3CD)
* Andrew Hill: Grass Roots (Blue Note CD)
* Andrew Hill: Lift Every Voice (Blue Note CD)
* Muhal Richard Abrams Orchestra: The Hearinga Suite (Black Saint CD)
* Muhal Richard Abrams Orchestra: Blu Blu Blu (Black Saint CD)
* Jemeel Moondoc & Connie Crothers: Two (Relative Pitch CD)
* Why Not Northwest (J. Butcher/T. Muller/D. van der Schyff): The White Spot (Relative Pitch CD)
* Mary Halvorson Quintet: Saalfelden, Austria 2012-08-25 (FM FLAC)
* Isaac Hayes: Black Moses (Enterprise/4MWB 2LP)
* D’Angelo: Voodoo (Virgin CD)
* Frank Ocean: Channel Orange (Island/Def Jam CD)
* Jimi Hendrix Experience: Winterland (d.1) (Experience Hendrix/Legacy 4CD)
* Grateful Dead: Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA 11/10/73 (d.1-2) (GDP/Rhino 3HDCD)
* Grateful Dead: Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA 11/11/73 (selections) (GDP/Rhino 3HDCD)
* Buffalo Springfield: Buffalo Springfield (selections) (Atco/Rhino 4HDCD)
* Pink Floyd: Soundtrack From The Film “More” (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)†
* 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)†
* New Order: Power, Corruption and Lies (d.2) (Factory/Rhino 2CD
* Guided By Voices: The Bears For Lunch (GBV, Inc. CD)
* Guided By Voices: Down By The Racetrack (GBV, Inc. 7”EP)
* Chelsea Light Moving: “Burroughs” (Matador MP3)
* Chelsea Light Moving: “Groovy And Linda” (Matador MP3)
* Chelsea Light Moving: “Frank O’Hara Hit” (Matador MP3)
* Yo La Tengo: Fade (Matador LP+7”/FLAC/CD)(†)
* Porcupine Tree: Stupid Dream (KScope CD/DVD)
* Porcupine Tree: Lightbulb Sun (KScope CD/DVD)
* Porcupine Tree: Recordings (KScope CD)
* Opeth: Heritage (Roadrunner 2LP)
* Katatonia: Night Is The New Day (Peaceville CD)
* Mastodon: Remission (Relapse 2LP)
* Mastodon: Leviathan (Relapse LP)
* Mastodon: Blood Mountain (Reprise 2-45RPM LP)
* Mastodon: Crack The Skye (Reprise 2-45RPM LP)
* Mastodon: The Hunter (Reprise 2-45RPM LP)
* The Sword: Age Of Winters (Kemado CD)
* The Sword: Gods Of The Earth (Kemado CD)
* The Sword: Warp Riders (Kemado CD)‡
* The Sword: Aprocyphon (Razor & Tie CD)
* Wild Nothing: Nocturne (Captured Tracks CD)†(‡)
* Ex-Cops: True Hallucinations (Fat Possum MP3)†

†=iPod
‡=car

Commentary:

Yo La Tengo is a band that can do no wrong, in my opinion. After going on thirty years of consistent greatness, it’s become easy to take them for granted. So while their new album, Fade, is great, as usual, there have been some notable changes. The epic-length noise workouts endless organ drones are gone, and while I enjoy that sort of stuff (sometimes), the resulting album is their most concise and cohesive in decades. Perhaps this is partly a result of a change in producers. Parting company with Roger Moutenot, who produced every other  album since 1993’s breakthrough, Painful, the band instead recorded Fade at Soma Studios in Chicago with post-rock majordomo, John McEntire, at the helm. Besides deft sequencing and editing, the difference is subtle but significant, with the voices and instruments taking on a detailed hyperrealism while still retaining the band’s natural warmth and intimacy. The hissing distortion and squalls of feedback, when they appear, are tightly woven into the luscious musical texture while McEntire and his Tortoise cohorts contribute tasteful horn and string arrangements, giving several songs a classy, neo-jazz sheen.

At a little over forty-five minutes, Fade was meant to be heard on vinyl, where the two halves of the album are thrown into stark relief: side one being more uptempo while side two is mellow and atmospheric. But they work as whole, with the rock and pop songs on side one revealing sober lyrics about mortality, love and loss while side two’s wintry ambience is leavened with bittersweet songs about commitment over the long haul. It’s a mature, startlingly personal record from one of my longtime favorite bands, with the soaring, stately album closer, “Before We Run” being one of the most beautiful things they’ve ever done. While also providing the ideal listening experience, the numbered limited edition LP comes with a bonus seven-inch single containing two typically quirky covers, “I Saw the Light” by Todd Rundgren and Times New Viking’s “Move to California,” plus a download card for the full album in both FLAC and MP3 file formats. To further sweeten the deal, the download also includes yet another exclusive track, “Oriole,” eleven minutes of quietly droning electronics. These extras are nice but ultimately a distraction from the perfection that is Fade

January 18, 2013

Guided By Voices @ Spectrum Culture


My review of the latest Guided By Voices LP, The Bears For Lunch, is up over at Spectrum Culture. It's the best of the three (3!) albums released by GBV in 2012 and an all-time classic from the so-called "classic lineup."

January 13, 2013

Sun Ra Sunday


Sun Ra & His Astro Infinity Arkestra:
Cosmo Earth Fantasy: Sub Underground Series Vol. 1-2 (Saturn/Art Yard CD)

Just when I thought the Art Yard label was defunct, with no new releases in over a year and some titles quietly going out of print, here they are with a new Sun Ra disc, Cosmo Earth Fantasy: Sub Underground Series Vols.1-2.  This one gathers together various tracks that were scattered across a couple of different Saturn LPs, including Sub Underground and What’s New? (and some versions of The Invisible Shield). None of this material (recorded from 1962-1975) has ever been officially released on CD, making this Art Yard edition a most welcome release. Hooray!

Detailed liner notes by Paul Griffiths attempt to clear up some of the considerable discographical confusion surrounding this music. The original reel-to-reel tape of “Cosmo Earth Fantasy” was recovered in 2011 and while information on the label is “scant,” Griffiths points out that two handwritten words appear: “strings bandura.” Indeed, the opening portion of this epic, 22-minute track has a distinct “Strange Strings” sound, making the previously assumed date of 1974 highly unlikely. Given that most of the exotic stringed instruments were destroyed in an automobile accident in 1969 and the “Space Harp” (bandura) was given away in 1971, Griffiths posits “Cosmo Earth Fantasy” was “likely…recorded in 1967 or possibly early 1968, before the Arkestra moved from to Philadelphia.” I agree.

Sadly, the tapes from the Temple University concert on September 20, 1974 are apparently still missing, so “Love is for Always” and “The Song of Drums” (and, I believe, the rest of the CD) are taken from clean LP pressings and digitally restored. Griffiths points out that “The World of Africa” is “clearly not from the same concert…and takes us back to 1968 when vocalist June Tyson first joined the band.” Again, I think he is correct. Of course, the What’s New? material is from the magical Choreographer’s Workshop period, circa. 1962—the stuff that made me start Sun Ra Sunday to begin with—so it’s wonderful to have this stuff in such good quality on an “official” release. Finally, the concluding “Space Is the Place>We Roam the Cosmos” remains a mystery, although the liner notes suggest a possible recording date of May 23, 1975 at an unknown venue.  It’s another shouty, distorted “cosmo drama,” so who really cares where it’s from? Ha ha—just kidding (sort of).

This new Art Yard disc has reignited my enthusiasm for Sun Ra’s music, collecting as it does some impossibly rare stuff, much of it absolutely essential and previously only available (to me) as dodgy “needle-drops.” But there’s still so much more still left in obscurity! What happened with Atavistic? John Corbett’s “Unheard Music Series” resurrected a bunch of primo Sun Ra titles and promised an expanded reissue of Continuation back in like 2007 or something. That is one of the all-time great Sun Ra records and needs to come out! Come on! Give it to Art Yard if you have to, but let’s go! 

Ahem. Please excuse my enthusiasm. Look for more Sun Ra Sunday next week.

January 12, 2013

Playlist Week of 2013-01-12

Charles Mingus - Music Written For Monterey 1965

* Tallis: The Tallis Scholars Sing Thomas Tallis (d.1) (Gimmel 2CD)
* Buxtehude: Seven Sonatas, Op.1 (Holloway/ter Linden/Mortensen) (Naxos CD)
* Biber: Violin Sonatas (Romanesca) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)
* Vivaldi: Concertos For Two Violins (Venice Baroque Orchestra/Carmignola/Mullova) (Archiv Prod. CD)
* Satie: L’Oeuvre pour piano (Ciccolini) (d.3-5) (EMI Classics 5CD)
* Charlie Parker: The Complete Savoy & Dial Recordings (d.1) (Savoy/Atlantic 8CD)
* Sun Ra: Cosmo Earth Fantasy: The Sub-Underground Series Vols.1-2 (Saturn/Art Yard CD)
* Charles Mingus: Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus (Impulse! CD)
* Charles Mingus: Music Written for Monterey 1965, Not Heard… (Sue Mingus/Sunnyside 2CD)
* Muhal Richard Abrams Orchestra: Rejoicing With The Light (Black Saint CD)
* Muhal Richard Abrams Octet: View From Within (Black Saint CD)
* Julius Hemphill: Dogon A.D. (Arista/International Phonograph CD)
* Matthew Shipp & Martin Bisio: Floating Ice (Relative Pitch CD)
* Joe Morris/Agustí Fernández/Nate Wooley: From The Discrete To The Particular (Relative Pitch CD)
* Joëlle Léandre & Jérôme Bourdellon: Evidence (Relative Pitch CD)
* Parliament: Mothership Connection (Casablanca CD)
* Parliament: Funkytelechy vs. The Placebo Syndrome (Casablanca CD)
* D’Angelo: Voodoo (Virgin CD)
* Sly & The Family Stone: Stand! (Epic/Sundazed LP)
* Sly & The Family Stone: There’s A Riot Goin’ On (Epic/Sundazed LP)
* Grateful Dead: Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA 11/9/73 (GDP/Rhino 3HDCD)
* Grateful Dead: The Omni, Atlanta, GA 4/2/90 (GDP/Rhino 3HDCD)
* Jeff Beck: Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop (Epic/Friday Music LP)
* David Byrne & Brian Eno: My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts (Sire LP)
* David Byrne: Music From “The Catherine Wheel” (Sire CD)
* Guided By Voices: The Bears For Lunch (GBV, Inc. LP)
* The Future Sound Of London: The Isness (Virgin CD)†
* Opeth: Blackwater Park (Music For Nations/Sony CD/DVD)
* Opeth: Lamentations: Live At Shepherd’s Bush Empire 2003 (Music For Nations/KOCH DVD)
* Opeth: The Roundhouse Tapes (Peaceville 2CD)†
* Opeth: Watershed (Roadrunner CD)†
* Opeth: In Live Concert At The Royal Albert Hall (Roadrunner 3CD/DVD)†
* Opeth: Heritage (Roadrunner CD/DVD)†
* Katatonia: Dead End Kings (Peaceville CD)†
* Anathema: A Natural Disaster (Music For Nations/Sony CD)†
* Anathema: Falling Deeper (KScope CD)†
* Anathema: We’re Here Because We’re Here (KScope CD)†
* Anathema: Weather Systems (The End CD)†
* Neurosis: Honor Found In Decay (Neurot MP3)†
* Baroness: Yellow & Green (Relapse 2LP)
* Alcest: Écailles de Lune (Prophecy Productions CD)†
* Alcest: Les Voyages de L’Âme (Prophecy Productions CD)†
* Earth: Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light I (Southern Lord 2LP)
* Earth: Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light II (Southern Lord 2-45RPM LP)
* Grails: Burning Off Impurities (Temporary Residence 2LP)
* Grails: Deep Politics (Temporary Residence 2LP)
* Yakuza: Beyul (Profound Lore CD)
* Jack White: Blunderbuss (Third Man LP)
* The Sword: Apocyphon (Razor & Tie CD)†
* Ex-Cops: True Hallucinations (Fat Possum MP3)†

†=iPod
‡=car

Commentary:

Following up on last week’s playlist, I picked up the missing  piece of the Charles Mingus puzzle, Music Written for Monterey 1965 – Not Heard…Played in its Entirety at UCLA. Conceptually, this belongs with the other stuff on that Mosaic set, but I can kind of understand why it was not included. Originally issued in 1966 as a two-LP set on Mingus’s own label, only 200 copies were pressed and was "officially" unavailable ever since. It was finally reissued on CD by Sue Mingus and Sunnyside Records in 2006 and is still in print, so I could see why Mosaic did not include it in their otherwise complete box set (either that or Ms. Mingus simply refused to license it). Unfortunately, when Charles Mingus attempted to reissue the LP in 1976, he was shocked to discover the original master tapes were destroyed by Capitol Records, where they had been placed in storage. He was told by a representative that Capitol had advertised the “disposal of obsolete custom tapes” in the trade papers, to which Mingus sardonically responded, “Who reads the trades?” (see liner notes). Accordingly, the Sunnyside CDs are taken from clean original pressings and digitally restored as faithfully as possible.

Recorded on September 25, 1965, a week after the truncated appearance at Monterey, it contains three more pieces composed for the occasion. But unlike the more straightforward performance heard at Monterey, the UCLA gig was a lot looser, more like an open rehearsal than a concert, Mingus hectoring the band in the true spirit of a “Jazz Workshop.” There are a couple of false starts as the octet tries to play complicated opening bars of “Once Upon a Time, There Was a Holding Corporation Called Old America” (a/k/a “The Shoes of the Fisherman’s Wife Are Some Jive-Ass Slippers”). After the second breakdown, Mingus dismisses Hobart Dotson, Jimmy Owens, Julius Watkins and Howard Johnson for “mental tardiness,” telling them to go “to the back room and figure this thing out.” Then Mingus, Dannie Richmond, Lonnie Hillyer and Charles McPherson rip into a scorching version of “Ode to Bird and Dizzy.” Ouch! The chastened musicians then return to the stage for rest of the set, eventually executing a complete take of “Once There Was A Holding Corporation…” After that tentative beginning, the band really starts to gel and Mingus’s joy is audible as he shouts encouragement to his soloists and prods drummer Dannie Richmond to take it up a notch. The set ends with a moving rendition of “Don’t Let It Happen Here,” with Mingus reciting an adaptation of Pastor Martin Niemoller’s famous anti-fascist poem, "First They Came..."

As with the other recordings Mingus made for his low-budget, mail-order label in the 1960s, the sound quality is less than ideal to begin with, beyond the loss of the original master tapes. Given the changeable nature of the music, the technicians on the UCLA engineering staff struggle with balance and levels and there is significant distortion to be heard in spots as well as the thumps and booms of microphones being moved around on stage. Nevertheless, it mostly sounds pretty good and as a raw, un-redacted document of Mingus’s voluble and tempestuous personality it is unparalleled. As Sue Mingus points out in her liner notes, “This is an inside view of a particular period in Mingus’s creative life and a concert whose difficulties and rewards are like none other.”  Indeed, this is a crucial piece of the Mingus discography, despite its obvious flaws. It would have been nice to have this included on the pricey Mosaic set but the Sunnyside edition is very nicely done with extensive liner notes and is still readily available—I had to have it, warts and all!

January 10, 2013

Mary Halvorson @ Spectrum Culture

Mary Halvorson 2012-12-01b

My interview with Mary Halvorson has finally been posted over at Spectrum Culture - it's so long, they broke it into two parts: here's Part 1 and Part 2.

You know, I'm new to this whole journalism thing and really have no idea how to conduct an interview. I am, quite happily, an amateur, that is, a lover of music. It was a challenge for me to condense our rambling one-hour conversation into a semi-worthwhile article and while it was great fun for me to get to chat with her, I have to admit: it's not exactly scintillating journalism. Well, live and learn.

If anyone's interested, I might post the entire 12,000-word transcript on the blog at a later date.

Neurosis @ Spectrum Culture


My review of the new Neurosis album, Honor Found in Decay, is up over at Spectrum Culture. "Post-metal" - whatever that is.

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I also participated in The Top 25 Songs of 2012. My picks (somewhat arbitrarily assigned): Neil Young - "Driftin' Back" and Spiritualized - "Hey Jane."

January 5, 2013

Playlist Week of 2013-01-05

Charles Mingus - The Jazz Workshop Concerts 1964-65

* Charles Mingus: The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady (Impulse! CD)
* Charles Mingus: The Jazz Workshop Concerts 1964-65 (Mosaic 7CD)
* Andrew Hill: Dance Of Death (Blue Note CD)
* Andrew Hill: Mosaic Select (d.1) (Mosaic 3CD)
* Andrew Hill: Mosaic Select – Solo (d. 1) (Mosaic 3CD)
* Billy Cobham: Spectrum (Atlantic CD)
* Weather Report: Heavy Weather (Columbia/Legacy SACD)
* Terje Rypdal: Odyssey: In Studio & In Concert (d.1-2) (ECM 3CD)
* Frank Ocean: Nostalgia Ultra (Frank Ocean MP3)†/‡
* Frank Ocean: Channel Orange (Island/Def Jam CD)†/‡
* John Fahey: The Voice Of The Turtle (Takoma/4MWB LP)
* John Fahey: America (Takoma/4MWB 2LP)
* Gram Parsons: GP (Reprise/Mobile Fidelity SACD)
* Gram Parsons: Grievous Angel (Reprise/Mobile Fidelity SACD)
* Grateful Dead: Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, NY 3-26-90+ (GDP/Rhino 3HDCD)
* Grateful Dead: Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, LI, NY 3-30-90 (GDP/Rhino 3HDCD)
* The Band: Rock Of Ages (Capitol/Mobile Fidelity 2LP)
* The Velvet Underground: Scepter Studios Sessions 4-25-66 (Polydor/Universal LP)
* Deep Purple: Who Do We Think We Are! (Warner Bros. LP)
* Deep Purple: Burn (Warner Bros. LP)
* Deep Purple: Stormbringer (Warner Bros./Friday Music LP)
* Black Sabbath: Black Sabbath (Warner Bros./Rhino LP)
* Van Der Graaf Generator: Pawn Hearts (Virgin/4MWB LP)
* This Mortal Coil: It’ll End In Tears (4AD HDCD)
* Guided By Voices: Let’s Go Eat The Factory (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Guided By Vocies: “Doughnut For A Snowman” (side B) (GBV, Inc 7”)
* Guided By Voices: “Chocolate Boy” (side B) (GBV, Inc. 7”)
* Guided By Voices: Class Clown Spots A UFO (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Guided By Voices: “Keep It In Motion” (side B) (GBV, Inc. 7”)
* Guided By Voices: “Jon The Croc” (side B) (GBV, Inc. 7”)
* Guided By Vocies: “Class Clown Spots A UFO” (side B) (GBV, Inc. 7”)
* Guided By Voices: The Bears For Lunch (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Guided By Voices: “White Flag” (side B) (GBV, Inc. 7”)
* Guided By Voices: “Everywhere Is Miles From Everywhere” (side B) (GBV, Inc. 7”)
* Guided By Voices: “Hangover Child” (GBV, Inc. 7”)
* Neurosis: Honor Found In Decay (Neurot MP3)†
* Lambchop: Nixon (Merge CD)
* Lambchop: Is A Woman (Merge CD)
* Lambchop: Aw Come On (Merge CD)
* Lambchop: No You Come On (Merge CD)
* Lambchop: Damaged (Merge CD)
* Steven Wilson: Grace For Drowning (KScope BD)
* Opeth: Damnation (Music For Nations/KOCH CD)
* Opeth: Jazz Club Nefertiti, Gothenburg, Sweden 12-02-12 (AUD FLAC)
* Opeth: Jazz Club Nefertiti, Gothenburg, Sweden 12-03-12 (AUD FLAC)
* Storm Corrosion: Storm Corrosion (Roadrunner CD/BD)
* Mastodon: Remission (Relapse 2LP)
* Mastodon: Leviathan (Relapse CD)
* Mastodon: Blood Mountain (Reprise 2-45RPM LP)
* Mastodon: Crack The Skye (Reprise DVD)
* Mike Scheidt: Stay Awake (Thrill Jockey LP)
* Astra: The Black Chord (Metal Blade CD)
* The Sword: Age Of Winters (Kemado CD)
* The Sword: Gods Of The Earth (Kemado CD)
* The Sword: Apocryphon (Razor & Tie CD)
* Wild Nothing: Nocturne (Captured Tracks CD)†/‡

†=iPod
‡=car

Commentary:

My Christmas present took a while to get here for some reason but Charles Mingus: The Jazz Workshop Concerts 1964-65, finally arrived in the mailbox this week: seven CDs recorded during one of the mighty peaks of Mingus’s storied career—including over two hours of never-before-heard music. As usual with Mosaic Records, the long-running boutique label devoted to smartly-compiled jazz anthologies, this box set is meticulously annotated with liner notes by biographer Brian Priestly (as well as Mingus’s widow, Sue) and the music is presented in the best possible sound quality. I’ve only had a chance to listen to it all the way through once, but it is truly a box of treasures.

Starting off with the famous concert at New York’s Town Hall on April 4, 1964, it is finally available here in its complete form and sounding so good it’s like hearing this music for the first time. Mingus’s quintet with Jaki Byard on piano, Dannie Richmond on drums, Johnny Coles on trumpet, Clifford Jordan on tenor sax and the amazing Eric Dolphy on alto, flute and bass clarinet, is definitely one of the all-time great bands in jazz. They were well-versed in Mingus’s complex and infinitely flexible compositions yet also superlative improvisers, bringing extraordinary creativity to the extended open sections built into the works while being able to turn on a dime and return to written material. Dolphy shines in this setting, especially his duets with Mingus, which start to take on a startling vocal quality, uncannily sounding like they are conversing through their instruments. The band then took off for Europe for a three-week tour and the set picks up six days later at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. While most of this concert was officially released as two-LP set in 1985 on the French Ulysse label, it is restored here to its full length and proper sequence. While sharing a similar setlist to the Town Hall concert, a cursory comparison shows the almost-limitless potential of this astonishing group of musicians. Many of the concerts on this tour were broadcast on the radio and subsequently bootlegged but these are not included on this set, which consists of material recorded by Mingus for his fledgling Charles Mingus Enterprises, an early example of an independent self-released record label in jazz [FN1].

Dolphy stayed behind in Europe (prompting the Mingus title, “So Long, Eric”), only to die two months later from undiagnosed diabetes—a terrible loss in the history of jazz. He was only 36 years old. Mingus, however, soldiered on. The set continues with Mingus’s first appearance at the Monterey Jazz Festival on September 20, 1964 with Charles McPherson and Lonnie Hillyer taking over on alto and trumpet respectively, while John Handy sits in tenor. The soloists undoubtedly lack the fire and sheer inventiveness of Dolphy at the height of his powers, but they hold their own and the arrangements have mutated in interesting ways, as Mingus was wont to do as his personnel changed. The following year’s Monterey set is included here for the first time ever, an abbreviated but fascinating set of new music for an octet including Julius Watkins on French horn and Howard Johnson on tuba [FN2]. Finally, we get an entire two-hour performance at the Tyrone Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, Minnesota from May 13, 1965. While some of this music was independently released (in miniscule quantities) as My Favorite Quintet, here we get the complete concert (in stereo!)—and it’s a barn-burner. By this time the new front line had settled into their respective roles and the music rivals the intensity of the Dolphy quintet while expertly executing the vast and twisted repertoire (check out the hilarious send-up of “Cocktails for Two,” a tune Mingus would call when he suspected the audience was more interested in drinking than listening to his music).

All that said, this lovingly prepared box set is not meant for Mingus neophytes. Live recordings are always a dicey proposition—especially for a shoe-string operation in the early ‘60s—and technical anomalies abound, including spots of significant distortion and noise, all of which might put most people off. However, if you’re like me and already own the essential discography (plus a number of bootlegs), you absolutely need this set. And don’t get me wrong: the sound quality on the Town Hall, Amsterdam and Minneapolis tapes is just fine—and way better than what was previously available. Even if you think you have most of this stuff, the two hours of extra material makes it essential. Limited to an edition of 7500 copies, The Jazz Workshop Concerts 1964-65 is only available by mail order directly from Mosaic. If you’re a Mingus (and/or Dolphy) freak, you can’t afford to miss it!

+++

[FN1] But see, also, The Great Concert of Charles Mingus (Verve) taken from the April 19, 1964 concert at the Theatre Champs-Elysees, Paris as well as Charles Mingus in Europe Vols.1-2, recorded at the Wuppertal Town Hall on April 26, 1964, released in cooperation with the Mingus estate on Enja Records.

[FN2] Due to circumstances beyond Mingus’s control, the September 18, 1965 set at Monterey was only about thirty minutes long, prompting the eventual release of Music Written for Monterey 1965, Not Heard…Played in its Entirety at UCLA, which sadly, is not included on this Mosaic box. It is, however, still in print as a two-CD set on Sunnyside—and I am planning to pick it up as soon as possible.