September 30, 2009

Little Enid Coleslaw

I’ve been a big fan of Dan Clowes ever since I came across Lloyd Llewellyn (Fantagraphics) around 1985 or 1986. His next ongoing comic book, Eightball, was much more flexible and open-ended, allowing Clowes an opportunity to experiment and grow as an artist, resulting in several excellent “graphic novels,” most notably Ghost World which was serialized in Eightball nos.11-18. In 1997, it was published as a monograph and was both a critical and commercial success, leading to the development of the Ghost World movie in 2001. Director Terry Zwigoff encouraged Clowes himself to write the screenplay (which was nominated for an Academy Award), allowing the film to stay fairly true to Clowes’s original vision. It is very good and boasts a fine cast, including Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson as Enid and Rebecca, with Steve Buscemi as Seymour, the creepy record collector guy. They manage to capture the look and feel of the book although I ultimately think the book is more nuanced and richly detailed. Anyway, during all the hoopla surrounding the movie, the Japanese toy company, Presspop, commissioned Clowes to design a “Little Enid” figure depicting Enid Coleslaw as a cartoony child and it is delightfully weird — the green hair makes things especially bizarre. My lovely wife gave this to me way back then and it is one of my most cherished possessions.

September 28, 2009

Uncommon Birds at the Feeder: Rose-breasted Grosbeak (male)

The arrival of the Rose-breasted Grosbeak at the feeder yesterday signaled the official beginning of autumn here in Middle Tennessee. They will hang around for just a few days to fuel up for their flight down to the tropics, where they spend the winter. We won’t see them again until early next spring when they head back north to their breeding grounds.

September 27, 2009

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra: Outer Spaceways Incorporated [sic] (Freedom CD741085)

This is yet another record with a horribly tortured history. In 1971, Sun Ra sold a stash of tapes to Alan Bates of the German label, Black Lion, who shortly thereafter issued this album under the title, Pictures of Infinity. A 1994 CD reissue added a previously unreleased bonus track (“Intergalactic Motion”) and all cuts were again reissued in 1998 on the three-CD box set, Calling Planet Earth (Freedom 7612), but there the album is stupidly re-titled Outer Spaceways Incorporated. I say stupidly because a 1974 album originally titled Outer Spaceways Incorporated (Saturn 14300A+B) was also re-issued in the same box set and inexplicably re-titled Spaceways, thereby creating all kinds of unnecessary discographical confusion. Be that as it may, this album (whatever its title) is drawn from an excellent stereo recording of a live performance in New York City circa. 1968 and provides a rare, hi-fi glimpse of the newly evolving “cosmo drama.”

The Arkestra declaims, “Somewhere There!” and immediately blasts off into full-blown, New Thing-styled energy music, Gilmore taking the lead with an astonishingly fleet tenor solo. Unfortunately, a good half of the track’s fifteen minute duration is taken up with more pointless drum solos by Clifford Jarvis and his hyperactive bass-drum pedal. When the Arkestra finally interjects some aimless space chords and free-jazz squealing and honking, it all seems a bit anticlimactic. Maybe you just had to be there. “Outer Space Incorporated” [sic] opens with some rubato free improv until Ra introduces the bouncy chord progression, taken at a bright tempo. The Arkestra chants the words in increasingly dissonant harmony before brief, quiet solos from piano and bass. The free rubato section returns with braying horns, busy percussion, and cacophonous piano before quickly fading out to modest applause. “Intergalactic Motion,” whose correct title is actually “Ankhnaton,” is a jaunty big-band number that dates back to the 1960 album, Fate in a Pleasant Mood (Saturn 202/Evidence ECD 22068). The composition alternates a hugely catchy riff with a swinging bridge section. Bernard Pettaway and Ali Hassan dominate with dueling trombone solos before giving way to Ra’s nimble piano, where he explores the nooks and crannies of odd harmonic inversions. Boykins and Jarvis provide a solid foundation of joyous swing and Boykins eventually takes over with a typically virtuosic bass solo before the horns return for a ragged reprise to end. “Saturn” is another classic Ra composition dating all the way back to 1956. The A-section sets a serpentine, atonal melody atop an agitated up-and-down rhythm while the B-section suddenly unleashes contrastingly fast and furious swing changes. It is the perfect vehicle for Gilmore’s prodigious talents and he does not disappoint here. Ra adds a pointed statement on piano before Gilmore leads the ensemble through the complex head to end. Some pitter-pattering percussion segues directly into “Song of the Sparer,” a slow modal ballad introduced by Ra’s piano. Held notes on saxophones, piccolo, flute, and trumpet outline subtly shifting, suspended harmonies over Ra’s restless chord progression. It’s an interesting piece, somewhat tentatively performed (apparently only this one time). The final track, “Spontaneous Simplicity,” is possibly from an earlier concert (perhaps 1967), given the slightly different ambience and a noticeably smaller Arkestra. Prof. Campbell also suggests this is Gilmore on drums rather than Jarvis and, after close listening, I think that might be right. (If it’s Jarvis, he is playing with uncharacteristic restraint!) In any event, Marshall Allen plays scrumptiously delicious flute along with Ra’s delicate piano filigrees while Boykins holds down the two-note bass-line over a bed of gently percolating percussion. A beautiful example of one of Ra’s patented “space ballads.”

Despite the anomalous titling and sometimes ragged ensembles, this album is definitely worth hearing for the opportunity to hear the Arkestra in a live setting during this crucial (yet sparsely documented) period of transition.

September 26, 2009

Playlist 9-26-09

* Biber: Unam Ceylam (Holloway/ter Linden/Mortensen) (ECM CD)
* Biber/Muffat: Der Türken Anmarsch (Holloway/ter Linden/Mortensen) (ECM CD)
* Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (Venice Baroque Orchestra/Carmignola/Marcon) (Sony CD)
* Handel: Complete Violin Sonatas (Manze/Egarr) (Harmonia Mundi CD)
* J.S. Bach: Musikalisches Opfer (Concentus musicus Wien/Harnoncourt) (Telefunken LP)
* Boccherini: Streichquintette (Quartetto Esterházy) (Telefunken LP)
* Bruggen/Leonhardt/Bylsma/Schröder: Spelen Voor (Telefunken LP)
* Stan Link: In Amber Shadows: Electro-Acoustic Music (Albany CD)
* Miles Davis: The Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel (d.5-8) (Columbia 8CD)
* Andrew Hill: Eternal Spirit (Blue Note CD)
* Lowell Davidson Trio: Lowell Davidson Trio (ESP-Disk’ CD)
* Paul Bley Quintet: Barrage (ESP-Disk’ CD)
* John Abercrombie: Timeless (ECM LP)
* Jack DeJohnette/New Directions: In Europe (ECM LP)
* David Torn: Prezens (ECM CD)
* Tortoise: It’s All Around You (Drag City LP)
* Derek Bailey/Jamaaladeen Tacuma/Calvin Weston: Mirakle (Tzadik CD)
* Herbie Hancock: Directstep (CBS – Japan CD)
* Marvin Gaye: The Master 1961-1984 (d.3) (Motown 4CD)
* Roy Orbison: The All Time Greatest Hits (Monument/DCC CD)
* Love: Forever Changes (Rhino CD)
* Grateful Dead: Winterland 1973: The Complete Recordings (11-9-73) (GD/Rhino 9CD)
* The Orb: “Blue Room” (Logic/BMG – UK CDEP)
* Yo La Tengo: Summer Sun (Matador CD)
* Yo La Tengo: Popular Songs (Matador CD)
* Robert Pollard: Robert Pollard Is Off to Business (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Robert Pollard: Elephant Jokes (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Boston Spaceships: Zero to 99 (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Cosmos: Jar of Jam Ton of Bricks (HJRR LP)
* Radiohead: In Rainbows (TBD CD)
* Jim O’Rourke: The Visitor (Drag City LP)
* Boredoms: Super Roots (Reprise CDEP)


Is there a more badly beaten, long-dead war-horse than Vivaldi’s Four Seasons? Aside from perhaps Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, I think not. But a couple of years ago, I heard a live performance by Giuliano Carmignola (violin) and the Venice Baroque Orchestra directed (from the harpsichord) by Andrea Marcon that just blew my socks off. The Sony CD manages to capture most of the excitement and humor of that performance in a studio setting, which is a remarkable achievement. If you think baroque music is prissy and boring, this might change your mind. I guarantee you have never heard the Four Seasons quite like this. The Telefunken LPs from the nineteen-seventies are, on the other hand, rather staid performances; but the sound quality is warm and super-smooth.


I made my way again through the Plugged Nickel box over the past couple weeks and it was, sadly, something of a chore. Don’t get me wrong, the music is incredible — but the mix is terrible! Miles is way out front and the rest of the band is almost inaudible at times, the volume levels rising and falling erratically. Rumor has it that the Columbia engineers deliberately slighted some of the members of the new quintet since they were all, at that time, still signed to Blue Note. It’s listenable, certainly, but it could have been so much better. Herbie Hancock sounds particularly inspired – when you can hear him, that is. The amazing thing about this band is how they could so thoroughly deconstruct a tired repertoire of old standards and render it into springboard for almost-free improvisation. They approach the edge of the avant garde, but never quite take it all the way out, a delicate balancing act that yields endlessly fascinating, yet comfortingly familiar, music.


Back in 1992, it seemed pretty audacious to release a 40-minute remix as a “single,” but now The Orb sounds a bit dated to my ears. I was way into this stuff back then, so it’s difficult for me to disassociate this kind of music from those (very different) times. But I can’t bring myself to get rid of it either. Maybe I’ll pull it out in later years and it will make me happy to hear it again. Today, its blissed-out naïveté is kind of depressing. Oh well.


I wrote about David Torn’s Prezens album here when it first came out in 2007 and hadn’t listened to it much since, having come across a number of live recordings by the group that diverted my attention. But, wow, this really is a mind-blowingly awesome album! I still contend “fusion” is a viable genre and Torn & Co. demonstrates how fresh and exciting it can be. I wish Torn would reconvene this band for another record and tour!


Stan Link is a composer and Associate Professor of the Philosophy and Analysis of Music at the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University and I am honored to consider him a good friend. Stan has very interesting ideas about what music is, was, and can be and his electro-acoustic compositions allow a direct experience of some of his more radical ideas. To paraphrase his liner notes, Stan uses the computer to think about “the sounds of our world and lives” and the resulting works are emotionally gripping, richly cinematic soundscapes that amply reward the mind as well as the ear. Good stuff!

About the photograph:

Lizzy mentioned the other day that it has been fun to watch me play with the new camera: “It’s a creative outlet that you don’t beat yourself up about,” she said.

It’s true. My relationship to my musical instruments is fraught with self-recrimination and writing is just plain hard work (not to mention the fact that I do a fair amount of writing for my job). But photography I can do just for fun. I know it’s not very good and I don’t care.

I have known some very talented and expert photographers and learned a thing or two along the way, but I do not have any big aspirations for myself, except to experiment with the camera and see what happens. I’ve been toying with the idea of taking a class at one of the local art schools in order to get a better grip on the fundamentals, but that might mean taking it seriously and thereby take the fun right out of it. Or maybe not. We’ll see.

Obviously, the flurry of photographs has become fodder for a daily posting schedule that would be impossible if I had to actually write something. Writing I take very seriously. As an activity, writing is not really very much fun for me, in the way that playing music or snapping photographs can be. There have been thousands of words written for this blog which were never posted because they were not up to my impossibly perfectionist expectations. Via photography, I’m going to try to adopt a more playful and carefree approach to writing (and music for that matter). Who cares if it’s any good? It’s just a blog.


Big Green Bug (55mm, 1/60sec. @ f5.6, ISO200, TTL). I think I terrorized the poor thing with the repeated flash: the next morning, I found it lying dead on the porch. I feel terrible about that but I kind of like the photograph, so that is some consolation.

September 25, 2009

Tennessee State Fair: The End?

After 103 years, the Tennessee State Fair may be coming to an end. The Mayor of Nashville, Karl Dean, announced that the City will no longer fund the fair and is looking to sell the fairgrounds. (Despite its name, the fair is a Nashville event and the state government has nothing to do with it.) Many don’t care, but I think it’s sad. These photographs may be boring, but I’m glad I documented for myself what might be the very last Tennessee State Fair.

Tennessee State Fair: Thrilling Rides

September 23, 2009

Tennessee State Fair: Model Trains

I always wanted a big, cool model trains setup when I was a kid, but I had no money...and by the time I discovered records, well, that's where the money went. But I admire the folks who build these elaborate displays. Yes, I am a geek.

September 20, 2009

Skies of Wonder


Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra & His Solar-Myth Arkestra: The Solar Myth Approach, Vols.1&2 (Charly 2CD)

The French record label BYG/Actuel was founded in March 1967 by Fernand Boruso, Jean-Luc Young, and Jean Georgakarakos (a/k/a “Karakos”) as an outgrowth of Actuel magazine, an underground arts journal active in the student protest movements of the time. In July, 1969, the Pan-African Arts Festival attracted a number of American musicians to Algiers and photographer and hardcore jazz fan, Jacques Bisceglia was enlisted to attract some of the expatriate Americans to Paris with a promise of paying work and the opportunity to record. A number of studio recordings were made that summer by such luminaries as Don Cherry, Archie Shepp, Anthony Braxton, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, and Dave Burrell. The label also planned an Actuel Festival to be held in Paris, but the French government denied them permission given their (tenuous) connection to the riots of 1968. The festival finally occurred in October, 1969 in the Belgian town of Amougies and while it was an economic disaster, the music was excellent and provided further material for the fledgling label. By 1972, BYG/Actuel had released almost fifty LPs documenting the cream of American and European free jazz and experimental musicians, but financial difficulties caused the partnership to disintegrate into acrimonious litigation and eventual bankruptcy. The original albums, with their striking graphic design by Claude Caudron, quickly fell out of print and remain valuable collector’s items today. Accusations of impropriety have tainted the label ever since its dissolution and bootlegged editions of certain titles (including this one) have been widely available over the years, lending credence to these allegations. Georgakarakos went on to found Celluloid while Young started Charly, small record labels with their own reputations for questionable business practices. Nevertheless, in 2002, Charly commissioned Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and journalist Byron Coley to curate Jazzactuel, a three-CD box set of highlights from the BYG era and, for a few years thereafter, legitimate (and, later, not-so-legitimate) reissues of the catalog started appearing on the market. (Currently, the BYG/Actuel label has been seemingly resurrected and is re-releasing titles on LP only, but I haven’t heard any of them.) Ethical issues aside, the music is uniformly wonderful and well worth seeking out.

Sun Ra himself was unable to personally attend the festivities in Europe, but instead compiled two LPs worth of music for the label entitled Solar Myth Approach Volumes 1 and 2, which were released as BYG/Actuel 529.340 and 629.341 in 1972, toward the end of the label’s existence. Consisting of various recordings made between 1967 and 1970, each volume is carefully sequenced to highlight the most avant garde, experimental and downright trippy elements of the Arkestra’s music while remaining a satisfyingly coherent pair of albums. “Spectrum” sets the mood, opening Volume 1 with thick, dissonant chords that rise and fall over the ominous heartbeat of Ra’s clavinet. Meanwhile, Gilmore blows tightly controlled overtones on tenor with Patrick asserting angular counter-figures on baritone sax. The drummer-less texture sounds more like contemporary classical music than any kind of “jazz” but the following track, “Realm of Lightening,” features clattering clouds of trash-can percussion and blatting trombones over a hypnotic, repeated bass line. Things briefly settle down with a lovely rendition of “The Satellites Are Spinning,” taken at a lugubrious tempo with June Tyson and Gilmore singing in unison over Ra’s rhapsodic clavinet and some softly supportive hand drums. “Legend” is the centerpiece of the album, an astounding ten-minute excursion for straining trombones and frenzied oboes, with Gilmore and Ra engaged in pitched battle, Sonny attacking the clavinet with an unusually Cecil Taylor-ian aggression. “Seen III, Took 4” is another inventive Minimoog solo from 1970. By de-tuning the oscillators and with a call and response form, Ra simulates polyphony on the monophonic instrument, adding creative volume swells, filter and ring modulator effects, and ending with swooning pitch bends. “They’ll Come Back” is a short but tantalizing composition that calls to mind both Bélá Bartok and Duke Ellington with its interlude of fiercely rumbling piano and ringing, childlike celeste before a dramatic full stop and beautifully rendered coda. Volume 1 closes with “Adventures of Bugs Hunter,” which starts out as a groovily choogling number for Ra’s funky clavinet and Boykin’s rock-solid bass. But then Marshall Allen intercedes with some ear-piercing piccolo, in a deliberately contrary key and rhythm, all of which is swathed in Hunter’s patented echo/reverb effect. Far out, man! A perfect ending to an adventurous LP.

Volume 2 is perhaps even more intense, opening with “The Utter Nots,” another minimalist composition for maximalist Arkestra, consisting of an insistent one-note figure interspersed with blasting space chords, Jarvis pounding away on drums. A series of energetic, wide ranging solos (buttressed by Ra’s crazy, out-of-tune piano) builds up cresting waves of tension and release across the track’s eleven minutes, culminating in Danny Davis’s achingly overblown alto clarinet. The lilting space chant, “Outer Spaceways, Inc.,” offers a bare minute of respite, with droning trombone and bassoon combined with Ra’s twanging clavinet while Tyson and Gilmore enticingly sing: If you find Earth boring, just the same old same thing/Come on sign up with Outer Spaceways, Incorporated. “Scene 1, Take 1” is another epic Minimoog solo, over eight minutes of thoughtful knob-twisting, wah-wah-ing filter effects, buzzing noise, and farting, sustained pitches. The piece ends with an almost Vangelis-like swirling fade-out. Ra turns to clavinet solo on “Pyramids,” at times sounding more like a harpsichord or Spanish guitar on this moody, harmonically shiftless set-piece. “Interpretation” presents another delightful Strange Strings session, recorded in spacious and spacey stereo. Sadly, the fragile instruments were destroyed when the Arkestra’s van careened off the road on the way back from their second trip to California in 1969, making this the last known recording of Ra’s own “scratch orchestra.” Up next is a ponderous re-make of “Ancient Ethiopia” (originally titled “Ancient Aiethiopia” on the 1959 Saturn LP, Jazz in Silhouette), with Allen musing on low-register flute and Ra scattering chords around the piano’s tinkling, uppermost range. Volume 2 ends with “Strange Worlds,” a live recording from around 1969 or 1970. Ra’s organ and Akh Tal Ebah’s “space dimension mellophone” conjures up a spooky atmosphere and the music moves through various moods and feelings leading up to Tyson’s solemn declamations regarding the strangeness of the world. Suddenly, big, high-tension space chords unleash torrents of squalling horn solos, Ra furiously assaulting the Gibson Kalamazoo with his fists and elbows. Then, everything stops cold. Is it live or a deft edit? Either way, it’s a powerful conclusion to another mind-blowing album. Essential.

Tennessee State Fair: Mules

September 19, 2009

Playlist 9-19-09

* Corelli: Violin Sonatas, Op.5 (Manze/Egarr) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)
* Geminiani: Concerti Grossi (after Corelli, Op.5) (AAM/Manze) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)
* Rebel: Violin Sonatas (Manze/ter Linden/Egarr) (Harmonia Mundi CD)
* J.S. Bach: Violin Sonatas (Manze/ter Linden/Egarr) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)
* AMM: London 2-3-70 (AUD CDR)
* Miles Davis: Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel (d.4) (Columbia 8CD)
* Andrew Hill: Time Lines (Blue Note CD)
* Ornette Coleman Quartet: The Love Revolution: Complete 1968 Italian Tour (boot 2CDR)
* Albert Ayler: Holy Ghost (d.1-3) (Revenant 10CD)
* Sun Ra: Solar Myth Approach Vols.1&2 (BYG Actuel/Charly 2CD)
* Sun Ra: Janus (1201 Music CD)
* Tortoise: Kulturkirche, Köln 8-24-09 (SBD/AUD matrix 2CDR)
* The Beatles: Rubber Soul (original 1965 stereo mix) (Apple/EMI CD)
* Emmylou Harris: All I Intended to Be (Nonesuch CD)
* Grateful Dead: Greek Theatre, Berkeley, CA 7-14-84 (SBD 3CD)
* King Crimson: The Power to Believe (Sanctuary CD)
* Tom Waits: Mule Variations (Anti/Epitaph 2LP)
* Robert Pollard: Normal Happiness (Merge CD)
* Robert Pollard: Coast to Coast Carpet of Love (Merge CD)
* Robert Pollard: Standard Gargoyle Decisions (Merge CD)
* Pavement: Wowee Zowee: Sordid Sentinels Edition (Matador 2CD)
* Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks: Real Emotional Trash (Matador CD)
* Yo La Tengo: I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass (Matador CD)
* Yo La Tengo: Popular Songs (Matador CD)
* Wilco: Wilco (the album) (Nonesuch CD)
* Jim O’Rourke: Insignificance (Drag City LP)


Albert Ayler: Holy Ghost (pictured) is another elaborate box set full of such overwhelmingly intense music that it tends to sit on the shelf rather than pulled out and experienced, even though I’ve owned it since its original release in 2005. At most, I have listened to it all the way through just once or twice prior to this week. Physically, it is a thing of rare beauty, with a 208 page hardbound book, bits of lovingly reproduced ephemera, a pressed flower, and 9 CDs (actually 10), all encased in an African-American Spirit Box cast from the hand-carved original. Revenant did an exemplary job, as usual, producing a genuine objet d’art. Consisting of mostly unheard live recordings from throughout Ayler’s all-too-brief career (he was fished out of the East River on November 25, 1970, dead under mysterious circumstances at the tragically young age of 34), this set fills in many of the blanks in his scant discography (mostly on ESP-Disk’). Early recordings indicate Ayler was a capable bluesman, but the 1962 outing with Cecil Taylor presented here shows he had already fully worked out his radical reimagining of the saxophone, full of overblowing, cascading overtones and sanctified glossolalia. By 1964 he had perfected his folk/free/jazz aesthetic through ultra-simplified, gospel-ized melodies utilized as a springboard for deeply expressionistic, vocalized, free improvisations. Frankly, this music is so emotionally raw that I find it hard to listen to – unless I’m in just the right mood. Interestingly, Lizzy loves this stuff even more than I do and only hears that “peaceful center” within Ayler’s “silent scream.” That just goes to show she is way cooler than I will ever be. I sure am a lucky guy!

She is also a big fan of Tom Waits, another artist whose naked emotionality can sometimes cause me difficulty. That said, his 1999 album, Mule Variations, is a f@cking great record and sounds frighteningly good on LP, even on my modest system. The gorgeous gatefold cover proudly boasts the recording is “all analog” and I believe it. Exquisite.

Tennessee State Fair: Goats in Action

Tennessee State Fair: More Goats