December 29, 2006

Now Playing: Derek Bailey

Derek Bailey and Tony Coe: BBC Radio broadcast, April, 1979 (CDR)
Derek Bailey: guitar
Tony Coe: clarinet

When I first heard Derek Bailey, I really didn’t know what to think. Here was a guitar player who built an entire style around the plinks and plonks, thumps and scrapes, and “accidental” harmonics of the mis-fretted note. My first response was: “This guy can’t play!” But once I realized that these sounds were deliberately and expertly executed, I began to comprehend just what an amazing a guitar player he really was. Like the painter Cy Twombly, Bailey attained an adult mastery of lost childhood creativity, unbounded by society’s rules and rigid expectations. Also like Twombly, these childlike “marks” serve a deep and very personal expressivity. But what really amazes me about Bailey is that he could also play with any other musicians, in any genre, and sound perfectly at home and indubitably himself without sacrificing a smidgeon of his utterly unique sound.

I don’t know much about Tony Coe. He plays clarinet exclusively here and sounds really good. Let me tell you from first-hand experience, the clarinet is one of the most difficult instruments in the world to play well and Coe sounds masterful. His woody tone contrasts nicely with Bailey’s plucked and bent wires and they’re intently yet playfully interacting with one another. Coe’s note choices are definitely interesting, obviously informed by his “modern classical” background. Each of the pieces, according to the BBC announcer, is named after a street in New Orleans (“Bourbon,” “DuMain,” “LaFitte,” etc.) and Coe’s clarinet sound evokes a Dixieland feel, though, to be sure, this is angular and abstract music. Superb!

Too bad, but this not available in stores.

Fortunately, John Zorn’s Tzadik label has released a number of wonderful CDs over the past several years of Bailey playing in a variety of interesting settings. The place to start for anyone wishing to encounter Mr. Bailey’s guitar playing for the first time should be Ballads (2002), a solo guitar recording of hoary old jazz standards that is simply stunning. One listen and there can be no doubt that Bailey knows exactly what he is doing and his deconstruction of familiar tunes like “Laura,” Stella By Starlight,” and “Georgia On My Mind” clearly demonstrates his mastery of the instrument. Once you accept his premise, check out Bailey in a pure free-improvisation setting with the Joseph Holbrooke Trio: The Moat Recordings (originally recorded in 1999, reissued in complete form by Tzadik 2006): two CDs of incredibly inventive music with drummer Tony Oxley and bassist (and “classical” composer) Gavin Bryars. My favorite of the Tzadik releases (or at least the one I listen to most often) is Mirakle (2000), which combines Bailey’s singular electric guitar with the heavyweight funk rhythm section of Jamaaladeen Tacuma on bass and Calvin Weston on drums. It shouldn’t work, but it does and it’s great fun. By the same token, Bailey’s collaboration with the Japanese noise band The Ruins (Saisoro (1995)) seems ridiculous, but is actually quite captivating. Again, Bailey is simply himself within a literally foreign context and creates something wholly unheard-of.

Tzadik has also issued Bailey’s last recordings on Carpal Tunnel (2006), which is as painful as its title. Be forewarned, this is not for the newbie or casual fan. Suffering from the above referenced disease, Bailey documented a course of re-learning the guitar in the form of an audio diary. The results are touchingly heroic, but ultimately hopeless and sad. It is a testimony to Bailey’s devotion to his art that he would struggle through a debilitating disease to continue playing the guitar, and perhaps given more time, he could have forged a new, new way of approaching the instrument. Alas, Derek Bailey died on Christmas Day, 2005 at the age of 75.


December 20, 2006

CD/DVD-A Combos – A Trend I Like Very Much

Here’s some recent releases of some truly great records available in deluxe 2-disc packages which include a standard CD along with a DVD with a high resolution stereo (and sometimes) a 5.1 soundtrack, along with other fun stuff all for a list price of around $20.00. Definitely not a rip-off! How refreshing! More please!

I will try to write some more detailed reviews of these records, but for now, here are some examples of the best that digital technology has to offer us music fans, right here, right now:

Neil Young and Crazy Horse: Live at the Fillmore East March 6&7, 1970 (Reprise)
The original Crazy Horse headlining over Miles Davis (!) at the famous Fillmore East in New York City, this is unfortunately only about 40 minutes of music. But what glorious music it is! Classic songs like “Down By The River” and “Cowgirl In The Sand” are given epic performances in spectacular (stereo only) sound. This is a must-have for all Neil Young fans. And, by the way, Miles Davis’ March 7, 1970 set is available on the 2001 Sony/Legacy CD, It’s About That Time, a mind-melting performance of Bitches Brew-era material with Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, and Airto Moreia.

David Crosby: If I Could Only Remember My Name (Atlantic)
(originally released 1970)
A neglected masterpiece recorded with the cream of the West-Coast musicians including members of the Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead and Joni Mitchell. This one remains largely unknown even among fans of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and (sometimes) Young. Maybe this deluxe reissue will change that unfortunate fact. Crosby’s ethereal, often-times wordless harmonies are angelic and the musical backings are superb. Hippie Heaven.

The Flaming Lips: The Soft Bulletin (Warner Bros.) (originally released 1999)
The Flaming Lips: Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots (Warner Bros.) (2002)
The Flaming Lips: At War With The Mystics (Warner Bros.) (2006)
Back in 1984, I never would have imagined the Flaming Lips, a scrappy little punk rock band from Norman, Oklahoma, would still be around, much less making the most ambitious symphonic pop music of our time. Exploiting the near-infinite potential of the Pro-Tools platform, this is digital recording technology pushed to its limit and the CD can hardly contain it all. The high-resolution DVD-A versions are a revelation: spacious, airy, three-dimensional, and utterly compelling. This stuff is the most sumptuous pop music since the Summer of Love. Oh, and these discs are loaded with bonus tracks, b-sides, videos, and other ephemera – you certainly get your money’s worth. At War With The Mystics features a video of Wayne Coyne’s commencement address prepared for his alma mater’s 2006 high school graduation ceremony which is both hilarious and earnestly inspirational.
Buy these records!


December 11, 2006

Some More Lefsetz

Today, Bob had this to say:

>Sounds better than CD, but it's NEVER COMING BACK!

I wrote:

The amazing thing is that VINYL NEVER WENT AWAY!
Vinyl sales are going up. How are CD/DVD sales going?

Look, I do not suffer from mere vinyl nostalgia. Vinyl is a pain
in the neck. I just want high-resolution digital at a fair price.
Until then, boy am I grateful that vinyl is still around. That doesn't
make me a luddite. It makes me a music lover.


December 10, 2006

More Lefsetz Letter

I wrote this in response to Bob Lefsetz' latest email rant:

Hi, Bob,

Lots to think about in your latest rant, but I have to respond to this:

>DVD-A failed, as did SACD. Please, let it go. One world is >enough, for all of us. And in that one world, there are two channels...

Maybe. But does have to sound so mediocre? When digital music
can sound as good - maybe even better - than VINYL?? You
know what I mean: not just a two-dimensional simulacrum of music, but
a compelling, emotionally involving, rapturous listening experience?

People steal MP3s because they know they're not worth anything.
Fremer's right: People aren't buying music because they're not even
LISTENING to music. They're in the car, or through crummy ear-damaging
ear buds all the while doing other stuff and, for that, MP3 is "good enough."

But some of us care what it actually sounds like and would, you know,
like music to sound really good instead of really not so good. And
we're people who actually buy records - lots of 'em. MP3 is not even
remotely good enough to actually pay money for it.

Sony blew it again a-la-Betamax with SACD. Vastly superior to CD sound,
but a stupidly proprietary scheme that was too expensive to implement for
anyone but the truly hardcore. After predictably tepid sales, Sony
promptly abandoned the format (leaving those of us who actually bought the
things wondering if I'll still be able to play it back in 10 years).

DVD-A has a chance of remaining a viable format for high-resolution digital.
Sure, most folks don't have 5.1 setups, but they probably wish they had
the $/space to do so. Everyone has a DVD player and any DVD player
can play a CD. A high resolution stereo PCM soundtrack can be played
back on any DVD player. The difference in sound quality is stunning.

Please, let's let the format wars go. Let's admit that records are software
and deliver it via the most efficient - and high quality - media standard available.
Let's continue to upgrade the software, just make it backward compatable
with whatever 5 inch disc you throw at it. Throw on an MP3 track you can easily
load onto your i-Pod. This is easily and cheaply possible right now. Why is
it too much to ask?

Well, I think you know the answer to that. You write about the foolishness of the
music industry better than anyone.


December 9, 2006

Graduation Address, December 8, 2006

Graduation Address by Rodger G. Coleman
Southeastern Career College
December 8, 2006

My fellow graduates, faculty and staff of Southeastern Career College, families, and friends, we are gathered here this evening to celebrate a great accomplishment and to look forward to a great opportunity. I am honored to have been asked to speak to you and I hope that my words will reflect some of the thoughts, feelings, and aspirations of my classmates.

In an essay entitled, “An Ideal of Service to Our Fellow Man,” Albert Einstein wrote: “Alongside the development of individual abilities, the education of the individual aspires to revive an ideal that is geared towards the service of our fellow man, and that needs to take the place of the glorification of power and outer success.” According to Einstein, “only a life lived in the service to others is worth living.”

My experience at Southeastern Career College has convinced me that Mr. Einstein is correct. On behalf of my class, I would like to thank the staff and faculty of Southeastern Career College. Every one of you embody Einstein’s ideal with your boundless dedication to your students’ education. I want to thank you not only for the knowledge and expertise you so generously shared with us, but also for your enthusiasm, humor, and compassion. Thank you all.

I personally want to thank Mr. Joe Childress, with whom I had the pleasure of taking a number of classes. On the first day of my first class with Mr. Childress, he began by saying, in that inimitable voice: “Contrary to popular opinion, I am not a hard-ass.” Maybe being a little bit of a hard-ass is part of what makes Mr. Childress such an effective teacher. Mr. Childress is truly one of the very best teachers I’ve ever had, for any subject, anywhere. With only six weeks in which to learn a semester’s worth of material, it was something like trying to drink from a fire-hose. But Mr. Childress has a remarkable gift in his ability to make the most complex concepts understandable – indeed fascinating -- to every student in the classroom. He is deadly serious about the subject matter yet often laugh-out-loud funny and everyone walked out of every class having really learned something. My only regret for having graduated this program is that I will not have the privilege of taking another class with Mr. Childress. Thank you, Mr. Childress.

I want to especially thank my mom and dad; both of whom I wish could be here tonight. I was talking with my mom the other night about graduating and what this diploma means and she told me a story about my dad that I’d like to share with you all. My dad grew up dirt poor during the Great Depression and was the first person in his family to ever go to college. Through his own hard work and with the help of the GI Bill, my dad earned a degree from the University of Texas and was promptly hired to work for a big corporation in Houston. His boss at that time was a kindly and mentoring fellow and one day my dad asked him, “Why did you hire me? I didn’t really know anything about this business. What did the degree mean to you?” His boss replied, “The degree didn’t mean that you knew anything, but that you knew how to learn.” Thank you, Mom & Dad.

I also want to thank another great teacher, Ms. Diane Kuhn for not only giving life to a class about wills and estates, but for recommending me to an attorney friend of hers, Mr. Martin Sir, when he was looking for student to work part-time in his law office. And I want to thank Mr. Sir for taking a chance and hiring me almost a year ago when I was barely half way through the program and really didn’t have a clue about the reality of a law office. But, he trusted that I knew how to learn. This generosity of spirit is indicative of Mr. Sir’s devotion to public service that manifests itself not only in his law practice, but also in his community activism and his spiritual life. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to apply what I was learning in class to the service of actual clients and for the opportunity to learn more every day. I am now proud to be a full time paralegal at the Law Office of Martin Sir. Thank you, Ms. Kuhn and Mr. Sir.

Finally, I want to thank my beautiful and marvelous wife, Elizabeth for marrying me more than 12 years ago, for believing in me, and for being so supportive of my returning to school so late in life. Elizabeth is a constant inspiration to me. As a reference librarian at the Nashville Public Library, Elizabeth truly lives a life in service of others. Now that we know how to learn, we know how valuable a nice library and a helpful and knowledgeable librarian can be. The Nashville Public Library downtown is one of the most wonderful libraries in the world. As paralegals – as citizens - we should be grateful for such a library and librarians so magnificent. Thank you, Elizabeth. I couldn’t have done it without you.

And so, my fellow graduates, let us now celebrate our great accomplishment: we have learned many things, but most importantly, we have learned how to learn. As paralegals, we will have a duty to continue learning and Southeastern Career College has enabled us to fulfill that duty. As we go forward, the work that we will be doing as paralegals will have a profound impact on people’s lives, and it is an awesome responsibility. So, let us also rejoice in this wonderful opportunity: we now have the opportunity to live a life worth living: a life lived in the service of others.

Congratulations, Class of 2006.

What Am I doing?

I've been thinking about deleting this blog and starting over, but instead changed the subtitle to narrow my focus a bit. I think I was a bit over-ambitious.

While I don't see the point of writing about music exclusively, it is something I think a lot about and I've got stuff to say. I figure if I can use this blog to focus on music, I will be more inclined to actually do some writing. We'll see.

In the meantime, I formally graduated from SECC last night. I was "valedictorian" and gave an address. I may post it here. Anyway, it was a nice evening. I was even filmed for a potential TV commercial for the school. It would be a hoot if they used it.

But, see, I'm already getting that nauseous feeling writing about myself and my personal life that just freezes me in my tracks and makes me not want to write in this blog. Maybe I just need to get used to it. I mean, it's not like anyone actually READS this blog.

More Later.