February 28, 2010

Sun Ra Sunday

I’ll return with more from Sun Ra’s 1971 European tour next week. In the meantime, here is a very entertaining video of the Arkestra performing in front of a large audience in Japan on July 30, 1988. Enjoy!

February 27, 2010

Playlist Week of 2-27-10

* Marais: Sonnerie de Sainte-Geneviève du Mont (Harnoncourt) (Harmonia Mundi CD)
* Buxtehude: Sonatas, Op.1 (Holloway/Mortensen/ter Linden) (Naxos CD)
* Geminiani: Cello Sonatas, Op.5 (ter Linden/Mortensen) (Brilliant Classics CD)
* Vivaldi: La Stravaganza, Op.4 (Arte Dei Suonatori/Podger) (Channel Classics 2SACD)
* Veracini: Sonatas (Holloway/Mortensen/ter Linden) (ECM CD)
* Handel: 12 Solo Sonatas, Op.1 (AAM/Egarr) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)
* Handel: Trio Sonatas, Op.2 & Op.5 (AAM/Egarr) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)
* J.S. Bach: Solo & Double Violin Concertos (AAM/Manze/Podger) (Harmonia Mundi SACD)
* Berg: Chamber Symphony, etc. (BBC Symphony, et al./Boulez) (Sony CD)
* Miles Davis: In Person at the Blackhawk, San Francisco (d.1-2) (Columbia/Legacy 4CD)
* Sun Ra: Dramaten, Stockholm 10-12-71 (FM CDR)
* Sun Ra: Helsinki, Finland 10-14-71 (FM 2CDR)
* Anthony Braxton/Milford Graves/William Parker: Beyond Quantum (Tzadik CD)
* Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble: The Eleventh Hour (ECM CD)
* Peter Brotzmann Octet: The Complete Machine Gun Sessions (Atavistic CD)
* Mat Maneri: Blue Deco (Thirsty Ear CD)
* Mat Maneri: Pentagon (Thirsty Ear CD)
* Joe Morris & Mat Maneri: [soul search] (AUM Fidelity CD)
* Matthew Shipp: 4D (Thirsty Ear CD)
* David Torn/Mick Karn/Terry Bozzio: Polytown (CMP CD)
* David Torn’s Prezens: Clef Club of Jazz, Philadelphia, PA 5-19-07 (AUD CDR)
* The Beatles: Help! (mono) (Apple/EMI CD)
* The Beatles: Rubber Soul (U.S. stereo) (Capitol CD)
* Bob Dylan: Planet Waves (Columbia SACD)
* Johnny Cash: American VI: Ain’t No Grave (American CD)
* Sly & The Family Stone: There’s a Riot Going On (Epic/Sundazed LP)
* Grateful Dead: Greek Theatre, Berkeley, CA 6-16-85 (SBD 3CDR)
* Jerry Garcia Band: Merriweather Post Pavilion September 1&2, 1989 (Pure Jerry 4CD)
* Santana: Caravanserei (Columbia/Legacy CD)
* Mahavishnu Orchestra: Visions of the Emerald Beyond (Columbia LP) (wlp!)
* John McLaughlin: Electric Guitarist (Columbia LP)
* Big Star: Keep an Eye on the Sky (d.3) (Rhino 4CD)
* Tom Petty: Wildflowers (Warner Bros. CD)
* R.E.M.: Fables of the Reconstruction (IRS LP)
* Guided By Voices: The Grand Hour (Scat 7”EP)
* Guided By Voices: Static Airplane Jive (City Slang/Luna CDEP)
* Guided By Voices: Get Out of My Stations (Siltbreeze 7”EP)
* Guided By Voices: Fast Japanese Spin Cycle (Engine 7”EP)
* Guided By Voices: Clown Prince of the Menthol Trailer (Domino/Luna CDEP)
* Robert Pollard: We All Got Out of the Army (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Boston Spaceships: Zero to 99 (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Buckethead: Day of the Robot (Submeta CD)
* People (Mary Halvorson & Kevin Shea): People (I & Ear LP)
* Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino CD)
* Animal Collective: Fall Be Kind (Domino CDEP)


I had to undergo fairly intensive oral surgery on Wednesday morning, which left me in rough shape for the remainder of the week (although I did go back to work yesterday). I felt quite a bit better this morning and since it was such a beautiful day, I decided I just had to get out of the house. What could be more fun than a visit my favorite record store, Grimey’s New & Pre-Loved Music? I’ve gushed about Grimey’s on this blog in the past, and I just can’t help but do so again. They don’t normally carry all the weirdo avant-garde jazz or classical stuff I’m into but I did pick up Matthew Shipp’s new solo piano CD on Thirsty Ear and found Mary Halvorson’s rock band, People’s, first LP in the used bins for three bucks – sealed! – so you just never know what you might find if you dig around. No, what makes Grimey’s so special are the people. Hip, indie record stores are notorious for their surly and snobbish employees, but the folks at Grimey’s are genuinely friendly and helpful, making it a supremely pleasant place to hang out and shop. These are people who love their job and their giddy enthusiasm for all kinds of music is contagious. While many record stores are going out of business along with the steady decline of the recording industry, Grimey’s appears to be thriving. Every time I go in, there is a crowd of people, young and old, male and female, digging the vibes and buying records by the handful. Obviously, I am not the only one who loves the Grimey’s experience so much that they will go out of their way to support the store, even in the depths of this horrible recession. Taped onto the cash register is this panel from Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, with the caption, “Schroeder Gets It:”

Indeed. Just walking into Grimey’s and being greeted with big smile and “hello” is enough to brighten anyone’s day; bringing home some new records is just a bonus. I *heart* Grimey’s!


Other treasures I found in the racks: Johnny Cash’s final album on American is as sublime as all the rest, but the intense focus on impending death makes it a mournful, almost morbid listening experience. That is, I suppose, the point. The one Cash original, “I Corinthians 15:55,” is both a reverent take on scripture and a love song to his recently deceased wife, June Carter Cash, and his performance is deeply moving. +++ I’m still on the fence regarding Animal Collective, so I decided to check out their latest EP, which is more of the same but still oddly compelling. Will keep listening. +++ Finally, I happened upon a white-label-promo of the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s 1975 LP, Visions of the Emerald Beyond. I loved this album when I was kid, but got rid of it in a fit of hipster pique. I bought the CD at one point, but thought it sounded crummy compared to how I remembered the LP sounding so I sold it off as well. I still have a soft spot for John McLaughlin and this album in particular, so when I saw that this copy was in decent condition, my heart leapt with excitement. You see, white-label promo albums were limited first pressings which were sent to radio stations and often have superior sound quality to subsequent regular pressings. After a thorough cleaning, I have to say that is the case here. Aside from a tiny bit of surface noise, it sounded great! This is jazz-rock-fusion at its most bombastic and overblown, but gosh it was fun to hear again after all these years.


Speaking of record stores, Record Store Day 2010 is April 17th. Mark your calendars!

February 21, 2010

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra & His Arkestra: Dramaten, Stockholm, Sweden 10-12-71 (FM CDR)

In the fall of 1971, the Arkestra embarked on their second European tour, this time enlarged to twenty-two musicians, two singers, six dancers along with Sun Ra himself. Once again, the itinerary was haphazardly arranged, with gigs spread far and wide and lack of money would cause many of the newcomers to abandon the tour along the way (see Szwed pp.286-287). Curiously, while Ronnie Boykins had returned to the fold and is clearly present on the rehearsal tape recorded just days before their departure, he did not make the trip to Europe. In fact, there was no bass player at all on this tour, except when Pat Patrick would put down his baritone sax and pick up the Fender electric bass on a few tunes. Nevertheless, when a gargantuan Arkestra took the stage on October 12 at Sweden’s prestigious Royal Dramatic Theatre (a/k/a Dramaten) in Stockholm, they were clearly energized and inspired by the lavish surroundings. In another measure of how well Sun Ra was treated in Europe, the state-run radio station broadcast sixty minutes of the performance, a copy of which circulates amongst collectors. Thank you, Sweden! The stereo FM reception is a little hissy and there are occasional wow-and-flutter problems but overall, it is very nice recording for the period and truly an excellent performance.

There is, however, considerable confusion about some of the titles found on this tape. Campbell & Trent list the first track as “Discipline 2” (p.174) but I don’t think that is correct. If so, it is a radical rearrangement of the “official” version which was recorded just weeks later and released on Nidhamu (Saturn LP) (now, confusingly, found on Art Yard’s Horizon CD). After careful listening, I am unconvinced. Sam Byrd (who is really is much more of a Sun Ra expert than I am) suggests they are playing an early version of “Sometimes the Universe Speaks,” a composition which was recorded in 1977 and released on The Soul Vibrations of Man (Saturn LP). I think Sam might be correct, although, again, the arrangement is very different, making direct comparisons difficult. The long-breathed melody for two flutes certainly shares a similar contour, but here they are accompanied by saxophone and trumpet harmonizations and there is a swinging fanfare section midway through that I do not hear on the LP version. In any event, it is a lovely composition that gives way to a very pretty duet with Ra on synthesizers and William Morrow on vibraphone before the coda. Afterwards, Sonny launches into a prototypical “mad-scientist”-style organ solo with the Arkestra contributing some free-jazz skronk here and there.

A dramatically dissonant organ chord signals another mysterious piece which Campbell & Trent identify only as some unknown number in the “Discipline” series. The label on my (weirdly indexed) CDR says “Discipline 5” but, after comparing it to the “official” version recorded in December 1971 (released on the Freedom/DA Music CD, Calling Planet Earth), I don’t think that is correct either. Whatever its title, this composition is conceptually similar to others in the “Discipline” series with its through-composed horn-lines and sweet and sour harmonies, fading out to Ra’s spacey, vibrating organ clusters. Whatever the actual titles, this thirteen-minute sequence conclusively demonstrates Sun Ra’s prolific genius as a jazz composer.

Pat Patrick takes up the electric bass for joyful romp through “Enlightenment” wherein the rest of the Arkestra sings along with June Tyson, except for Marshall Allen’s lone flute obbligato. The ragged choir moves seamlessly into “It’s After the End of the World” before all hell breaks loose with wild free-group-improv, finally yielding to Eloe Omoe’s reedy bass clarinet and a typically fire-breathing solo from John Gilmore on tenor sax. The intensity level becomes almost unbearable as the Arkestra prods Gilmore to ever greater heights of outrageous invention until Ra cuts things off with quivering organ chords to introduce “Discipline 8.” Another moody piece for intricately hocketed horn lines, this particular number eventually settles on a brooding, three-note riff, harmonized in modal parallels which repeat endlessly, undergoing subtle permutations of tone and timbre through shifting instrumentation. Meanwhile, the soloists, led by Gilmore’s tempestuous tenor, take things totally out over the heaving, trance-inducing riff. Art Jenkins even contributes an evocative “space voice” solo accompanied by Marshall Allen’s flutter-tongued flute, followed by a brilliantly flashy trumpet solo by Kwame Hadi and distantly clanging marimba.

Suddenly, Ra plays a brightly swinging chord change, William Morrow plays a bebop-ish melodic figure on vibes and, while Campbell & Trent list the ensuing composition as “The Rainmaker,” I think Sam Byrd is again correct in identifying this fleeting piece as “Sketch,” which only otherwise appeared on 1964’s Other Planes of There (Saturn/Evidence CD). (Good ears, Sam!) While the organ and vibes only hint at the composition, the horns enter with a surprisingly adept run through the entire head before the dissolving back into the three-note riff and a reprise of “Discipline 8.” Fascinating! The tape closes with a long, rip-roaring rendition of “Rocket Number 9,” over twelve minutes of ecstatic antiphonal vocals and wigged-out saxophone solos. “Zoom! Zoom! Zoom! Up in the Air!” Just as Ra cues a throbbing, screechy space chord, the radio announcer interrupts to conclude the broadcast. Argh!

Despite some minor technical problems, this is an exquisite artifact and well worth seeking out. If the original master reels still exist, it would make for a wonderful CD which I would certainly buy in a heartbeat. And perhaps more of this concert was recorded than was broadcast…? One can dream…

February 20, 2010

Playlist Week of 2-20-10

* Biber/Muffat: Der Türken Anmarsch (Holloway/Mortensen/Assenbaum) (ECM CD)
* Geminiani: Cello Sonatas, Op.5 (ter Linden/Mortensen) (Brilliant Classics CD)
* Vivaldi: Cello Sonatas (ter Linden/Mortensen) (Brilliant Classics 2CD)
* J.S. Bach: Cello Suites (ter Linden) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)
* Webern: Complete Works (London Symphony, et al./Boulez) (selections) (Sony 3CD)
* Lennie Tristano & Warne Marsh: Intuition (Capitol/Blue Note CD)
* Sun Ra: Rehearsal, Oakland, CA circa. October, 1971 (CDR)
* Sun Ra: Dramaten, Stockholm, Sweden 10-12-71 (FM CDR)
* Sun Ra: The Soul Vibrations of Man (Saturn LP>CDR)
* Sun Ra: Sub-Underground (Saturn LP>MP3>CDR)
* Andrew Hill Quartet: Amsterdam 8-10-89 (FM CDR)
* Anthony Braxton Trio: St. Paul’s Church, Toronto 12-8-74 (FM 2CDR)
* Anthony Braxton 12+1tet: Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver 1-29-10 (AUD CDR)
* Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble: Memory/Vision (ECM CD)
* Miles Davis: The Cellar Door Sessions (d.5) (Columbia 6CD)
* John McLaughlin & Shakti: Hippodrome, London 5-12-77 (FM CDR)
* Herbie Hancock Trio: Vienna 1987 (FM>CDR)
* Herbie Hancock: Future Shock (Columbia/Legacy CD)
* Third Rail: South Delta Space Age (Antilles CD)
* DJ Shadow: Endtroducing… (Mowax CD)
* Tortoise: Headliner’s Music Hall, Louisville, KY 2-11-10 (SBD 2CDR)
* The Beatles: A Hard Day’s Night (stereo) (Apple/EMI CD)
* The Beatles: Beatles for Sale (stereo) (Apple/EMI CD)
* Jimi Hendrix: First Rays of the New Rising Sun (Experience Hendrix/MCA CD)
* Grateful Dead: Cal Expo, Sacramento, CA 6-10-84 (SBD 2CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Fox Theatre, Atlanta, GA 10-28-85 (SBD 2CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Kaiser Convention Center, Oakland, CA 11-21-85 (SBD 3CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Kaiser Convention Center, Oakland, CA 11-22-85 (SBD 2CDR)
* New Order: Power, Corruption & Lies (Deluxe Edition) (d.2) (Warner Bros./Rhino 2CD)
* Yo La Tengo: Crossing Border Festival, The Hague 11-20-09 (FM CDR)
* Robert Pollard: We All Got Out of the Army (GBV, Inc. LP)


What a crazy week! On Monday morning we had more snow, ice and bitter cold; today it is sunny and sixty-five degrees. We even opened the windows to let in some fresh air! What a nice respite from what has turned out to be the harshest winter we’ve had since moving to Nashville in 1997. It would be nice to think that spring is right around the corner…


I hesitate to draw attention to the, ahem, shall we say, “unauthorized” recordings that appear on my playlists but I should point out that most (if not all) of these artists allow (or at least tolerate) audience taping and tape trading. Furthermore, these sorts of recordings should be distinguished from “pirated” recordings which are not only plainly illegal but morally abhorrent. (For an excellent historical overview of the subject, check out Clinton Heylin’s brilliant Bootleg: The Secret History of the Other Recording Industry (St. Martin’s, 1995).) Even so, this is an ethically grey area which gives me pause. Undoubtedly, today’s digital technology combined with the distributive power of the internet has been a godsend for the hardcore fan. For example, to be able to hear Anthony Braxton’s 12+1tet concert from Vancouver only days after it occurred is simply astounding. And it is a truly spectacular performance! This group just keeps getting better and better, capable of interweaving Braxton’s most complex scores with such effortless aplomb that it is almost impossible to separate composition from improvisation. I’ve listened to this somewhat boomy audience recording over and over these past weeks and am blown away anew each time. The large ensemble creates sounds and textures I have never heard before in Braxton’s music: dense blocks of harmony with weird electronic noises and odd instrumental combinations such as bassoon and flute or violin and tuba. And then there’s the ingenious electric guitar-playing of the young Mary Halvorson, who brings an almost rocked-out edginess at times -- and the mature virtuosity of the man himself, blowing strong at age sixty-four. If an “official” CD of this concert is ever released, I would snap it up immediately -- and buy several more as gifts for the unconverted. This is a toweringly majestic piece of music and needs to be heard by more than just us hardcore fans.

February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day!

Wedding Ring, originally uploaded by Rodger Coleman.

I am a deleriously happily married man. Every day is Valentine's Day!

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra & His Arkestra: Rehearsal, Oakland, CA circa. October, 1971 (CDR)

In preparation for the Arkestra’s second European tour scheduled to begin in October, 1971, Tommy “Bugs” Hunter recorded this sixty-minute rehearsal segment sometime in late September or early October -- or possibly a mere days before departure (see Campbell & Trent, p.173). This tape was subsequently broadcast by WKCR-FM during their Sun Ra memorial event on May 22, 1995 and now circulates widely amongst collectors. The rather crude monophonic recording offers a window into the inner workings of the core Arkestra as Sun Ra pontificates on various subjects and works the band through a handful of compositions, three of which were never performed again. This was apparently common practice, where numerous compositions were vigorously rehearsed, but never performed (see e.g., Id. p.170).

The tape opens with Ra talking about new experimental synthesizers and a “secret” electronic instrument (sort of like a Theremin) which won’t respond to a black person’s skin. Of course, Sonny is bemused by the apparent racism of this “mean” technology and chortles: “You go talking about equal rights and here you got an instrument that won’t play for you if you’re black!” Even so, Ra is interested in the instrument’s ability to play a “purple C” and a “red C” and play “sixteen pitches between C and C#.” I have no idea what he’s talking about, but he sure sounds convincing. Getting down to business, he leads the 10-member Arkestra through part of an unidentified title that sounds somewhat similar to the “Discipline” series, with lushly harmonized horns playing slowly interweaving parts over a repeating bass ostinato. After a couple of minutes, Ra cuts things off to enquire whether James Jacson has been reached on the telephone in New Jersey regarding travel arrangements to Europe. (He wasn’t home. “He wasn’t home last night, either,” Ra complains.) A lackadaisical run through of “Love in Outer Space” follows which prompts Sonny to chide the drummers and wax enthusiastically about Clifford Jarvis, who was apparently eager to get his old job back. Even so, Sonny does acknowledge Jarvis’s propensity to overplay: “You can’t just get a recording with nothing but drums, drums, drums, drums, drums. That’s what I used to try to tell Clifford Jarvis. Now, he took about a forty-minute solo on the thing…I told him, ‘we’re recording!’ Made no difference, though…That’s all his fault, boy, he don’t know when to stop!” I agree!

Sonny then assumes the role of the stern taskmaster, devoting more than fifteen minutes to diligently work out the arrangement and subtle rhythmic nuances of the old standby, “Friendly Galaxy.” First he tells Marshall Allen to play the melody on alto flute rather than piccolo, so the melody will “cut through.” This seems counter-intuitive to me (the piccolo cuts through just fine) and indicative of his inexplicable ire towards Allen. Because then he starts to get angry and repeatedly reprimands Allen for playing “on the beat!” Sun Ra scolds him: “You been playing that number for ten years and can’t play it yet!” Ra explains that he wants the melody played with “anticipatory rhythms” – a little bit ahead of the beat. “If you play it right on time, you’re gonna be wrong! It’s designed for sound,” he says. Ra then demonstrates on the keyboard, playing the “in-time” bassline and the “out-of-time” melody simultaneously. “See? I’m not asking you to do something I can’t do. I’m doing it!” After a slightly more successful take, Sonny declares:

See, you almost played it that time because you wasn’t counting and you wasn’t thinking about it. You just have to do this like I’m talking. And I’m not measuring my words and saying, ‘one-two-three’…I can’t do that. Music is a language, so you not supposed be counting. I might hold a word a little bit longer than usual if I want to emphasize what I’m saying. That’s the way music is.
Ra goes on to talk about playing behind the beat and makes his point more explicit: “That’s hard to do too. So, it’s either ahead or behind – and then there’s some music that’s right on the beat. Well, white people can do that! When it’s right on the beat, they got you!” After another run-through, Ra really starts to preach it:

It’s all about togetherness. The white race is together. Don’t let ‘em fool you what they talking about revoltin’ and revolutin’. What they got to revolute against? They got everything! But that’s for you! […] Talkin’ about revolution. I told the truth the other night when I said, ‘No. Not gonna have no revolution of black folks. Not no more freedom, not no peace, they don’t need nothing like that. They need unity, precision, discipline.’ That’s it. That’s the only thing white folks gonna respect and get out of the way […] They got their stuff together and I got mine together. And I’m not afraid of them. I ain’t worried about them. Now, I’m telling ‘em that. It’s about unity, precision, discipline […] That’s what jazz is: it’s precision, discipline.
After some discussion, Ra calls for “Intergalactic Universe,” a gently floating space vamp in 5/4 meter. The piece was never performed live and was likely never finished as you can hear Ra interrupting the proceedings several times in order to tweak the arrangement. Despite almost eighteen minutes of rehearsal, the music never quite gets off the ground although the piece clearly had some potential. Ra laments the lack of time for more rehearsal, but insists on working on another obscure composition, “Living Myth 7,” a terrifically complicated melody in 7/4 which is through-composed in intricate, close harmony. The ensemble sounds tentative at best. After a lurching, half-time read-through, Ra calls for double-time but the Arkestra once more hobbles its way through the thorny score until the tape cuts off. Never played again, this is another tantalizing “lost” work from Sun Ra’s oeuvre.

Although none of the musical performances really hang together, this rehearsal fragment offers an intimate glimpse into Ra’s working methods circa.1971 and his role as leader of the rag-tag Arkestra. At once genial storyteller, exacting schoolmarm, and political firebrand, Sonny clearly commanded attention and elicited a fierce loyalty from his most devoted disciples. As “crazy” as Sun Ra might sound, he certainly got results. This tape recording allows a first-hand account of the fearsome charm by which Sun Ra achieved his ultimate aim: “Unity, precision, discipline. That’s it.”

February 13, 2010

Playlist: Week of 2-13-10

* Vivaldi: Late Concertos, RV 177, etc. (VBO/Marcon/Camignola) (Sony CD)
* Vivaldi: Cello Sonatas (ter Linden/Mortensen) (Brilliant Classics 2CD)
* Venice Baroque Orchestra (Marcon/Carmignola): Concerto Italiano (Archiv Prod. CD)
* Handel: Trio Sonatas, Op.2&5 (AAM/Egarr) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)
* Schoenberg: Chamber Symphony No.1, Op.9 (Ens.Intercontemp./Boulez) (Sony CD)
* Schoenberg: 5 Pieces for Orchestra, Op.16 (BBC Symphony/Boulez) (Sony CD)
* Schoenberg: Chamber Symphony No.2, Op.38 (Ens. Intercontemp./Boulez) (Sony CD)
* Sun Ra: ESP Radio Tribute Highlights (d.1&5) (FM 5CDR)
* Sun Ra: Rehearsal, Oakland, CA circa. October, 1971 (CDR)
* Miles Davis: The Cellar Door Sessions 1970 (d.1-4) (Columbia 6CD)
* Keith Jarrett: Concerts (d.1) (ECM 3LP)
* Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble: Drawn Inward (ECM CD)
* Jimi Hendrix Experience: Axis: Bold as Love (Experience Hendrix/MCA CD)
* Jimi Hendrix Experience: Electric Ladyland (Experience Hendrix/MCA CD)
* Bob Dylan: Nashville Skyline (Columbia SACD)
* Bob Dylan & Johnny Cash: The Dylan/Cash Sessions 1969 (fan/boot CDR)
* Bob Dylan & George Harrison: The Dylan/Harrison Sessions 1969-1970 (fan/boot CDR)
* Bob Dylan: New Morning (Columbia CD)
* Grateful Dead: Capitol Theatre, Passaic, NJ 3-30-80 (SBD 2CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Auditorium Arena, Oakland, CA 12-30-82 (SBD 3CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Auditorium Arena, Oakland, CA 12-31-82 (SBD 3CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Coliseum, Hampton, VA 4-14-84 (SBD 2CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Coliseum, New Haven, CT 4-23-84 (SBD 3CDR)
* Talking Heads: Speaking in Tongues (Sire/Warner Bros. DVD-A)
* Talking Heads: Little Creatures (Sire/Warner Bros. DVD-A)
* Yo La Tengo: The Sounds of the Sounds of Science (Egon CD)
* Uncle Tupelo: No Depression (Columbia/Legacy CD)
* Guided By Voices: Vampire On Titus (Scat LP)
* Guided By Voices: Bee Thousand (Scat LP)
* Beck: Sea Change (Geffen/MFSL 2LP)


Who’s afraid of Arnold Schoenberg? I really don’t understand why Schoenberg’s (1874-1951) orchestral music is so rarely performed. I’ll admit that the Five Pieces, Op.16 (1909) are pretty daunting with their convulsively expressionistic free-atonality but the whole thing only lasts fifteen minutes. Surely audiences should be able to appreciate a little bit of “spice” amidst the blandly familiar Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms? To my ears, he fits right in! Schoenberg’s command of orchestral coloring is breathtaking and his concept of klangfarbenmelodie (tone-color-melody) is readily audible as the melodic lines are passed from instrument to instrument, changing colors along the way. The Chamber Symphonies are actually quite accessible. Op.9 (1906) is still deeply concerned with tonality and exploring the outer limits of functional harmony, but unlike Verklärte Nacht, Op.4 (1899) or Pelleas und Melisande, Op.5 (1902/03), the mood is lighter, with Schoenberg relishing in the transparent textures of the small orchestra. It is really quite lovely. Schoenberg began working on the Second Chamber Symphony immediately afterwards, but dropped it in favor of more ambitious projects (such as the Second String Quartet, Op.10 (1907/08)). At the insistence of conductor Fritz Stiedry (1883-1968), Schoenberg finished in the piece in 1939 and, as usual, his meticulous workmanship hides any seams. Furthermore, he saw the still quasi-tonal work as a landscape of “psychological problems” that had to be worked out musically, making for a more ponderous -- if not despairing -- harmonic language than Op.9. Still, Schoenberg’s scoring is perfect and the music reaches for an intimate yet ultra-transcendent moment that perhaps never comes but is still worth striving towards. And such music is worth performing, in my opinion. Such music is not so much about liking it as just experiencing it. Listening to Schoenberg’s music is like being inside his brain, his most profound thoughts articulated through carefully calculated notes on a stave. That is not necessarily a very comfortable place to be, but it is hyper-stimulating!


The Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970) estate is moving from Universal to Sony Legacy with the release of Valleys of Neptune, a collection of unreleased studio recordings, on March 9. The rest of the catalog will be remastered and reissued thereafter. Now, Valleys of Neptune looks interesting and I will definitely pick that up. But do I need to re-purchase all those other records yet again? I’ve been listening to the MCA CDs from 1997 and they sound pretty good to me: a little bright maybe, but dynamic -- they are not particularly fatiguing when played loud. Could they sound better? Perhaps. Will Sony do a better job? I’m taking a wait and see approach. It would the fourth or fifth time I will have bought these albums and I’m not exactly feeling the need to replace what I have. The fact that Sony is releasing a limited edition CD-single with an unreleased B-Side (“Peace in Mississippi”) exclusively through Wal-Mart is not very encouraging. I refuse to shop at Wal-Mart so I guess I will be missing out. I’d rather give my money to Grimey’s New & Pre-Loved Music right here in Nashville.

February 8, 2010

More Snow!

Night Snow 2-8-10l, originally uploaded by Rodger Coleman.

Looks like we're going to get another dumping of snow tonight. Snow, I can handle. Ice? I don't think so. We'll see what happens....

February 7, 2010

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra & His Blue Universe Arkestra: Universe in Blue (Saturn LP>CDR)

Released as Saturn ESR 5000 IGB in 1972 (in mono), Universe in Blue was recorded live somewhere on the west coast presumably around August, 1971. However, the greatly reduced Arkestra suggests that it could have been recorded “somewhere on the road” in mid-1972, as they straggled across the country on their way back to Philadelphia for good (see Campbell & Trent pp.172-173). To further confuse the matter, “The Good Doctor” at ESP-disk’ provides a firm date of August 17, 1971 but insists the venue is Slug’s Saloon in New York City (see below). Who knows? In any event, behind the striking, psychedelicized album cover awaits a tasty selection of smoky, blues-based compositions, dominated by Ra’s patented “space-age barbeque” organ.

Sun Ra leads the way on the somnambulant title track, a dreamy, slowly smoldering blues, demonstrating his mastery of the tradition while summoning up swelling and percussive Hammond-like sounds from the otherwise cheesy Farfisa organ. After a blissful five minutes, Kwami Hadi enters on trumpet, only to be rudely cut off by the tape running out. Ouch! Some amount of music is missing, with part two picking up with the rhythm section reaching a low boil, with a sparse horn section offering swinging punctuation to Hadi’s bravura trumpet statements. John Gilmore then takes over with his soulful growl for a chorus or two on tenor sax before Ra returns with a brief, understated solo on organ to end. “Blackman” sets up a moderately rocking groove for June Tyson, who evokes a time when “Pharaoh was sitting on his throne, when the Blackman ruled this land.” Over and over she implores, her voice cracking with emotion, “I hope you understand!” When I hear her sing, I think I do understand.

“In a Blue Mood” is another slow burner featuring more fingerlickin’ good organ from Mr. Ra. Campbell & Trent suggest Alzo Wright is playing cello on this gig (p.172), but I can’t hear him at all. In this instance, Sonny is playing a wandering walking bass with his left hand, soloing all the while with his right. This is a truly superb solo performance by Sun Ra. “Another Shade of Blue” concludes the album with a mid-tempo swing number led by Gilmore’s indomitable tenor. Sonny shifts gears seemingly at random with unexpected key modulations while ad libbed horn riffs pop in and out. Unfazed, Gilmore just keeps things cooking -- and good lord, twelve minutes later, he’s still wailing away like a madman as the track fades out. Dang! Yes folks, it’s yet another incredible John Gilmore solo – what more can I say? It must be heard to be believed.


In the summer of 2008, “The Good Doctor” at ESP-Disk’ produced a six-part internet radio tribute to Sun Ra which included over two hours of music from this concert -- recorded in stereo, amazingly enough. Even more surprising, “Universe in Blue Pts.1&2” is presented uncut and it sounds much better than my “needle-drop” of the LP. (Curiously, the rest of Universe in Blue is not found on the broadcast, adding further confusion about possible recording dates.) After some polite applause, a fifteen-minute “Intergalactic Research” follows with another extended tenor workout from Gilmore. “Discipline 27” allows the full ensemble to shine on this sweetly harmonized swing number. The thirty-minute “Blackman” is very different from the LP version, beyond its extraordinary length. Without introduction, Tyson begins by singing a cappella with Marshall Allen soon joining in on some wiggly oboe. Allen then takes over with a thrilling solo as a roiling groove is built up in the rhythm section, Pat Patrick leading the band with the hypnotic three-note riff on baritone sax. Suddenly, a male voice (Eloe Omoe?) starts yodeling and carrying on hysterically, compelling Tyson to resume her incantatory singing. At the eleven minute mark, Ra embarks on a lengthy declamation, assuming the role of the resurrected Pharaoh, who has returned from outer space to lead his people back to Egypt, away from "the path of destruction." “Destiny rules and fate decides and I command both of them!” he exclaims. After twenty minutes of feverish ranting, the piece ends quietly with tick-tock-ing percussion and distant, muted trumpet. Another fifty-three minute segment posthumously entitled, “I Roam the Cosmos,” starts out with a brief solo statement from Danny Davis followed by Tyson singing the newly composed “Astro Black” over a massively slowed-down “Love in Outer Space”-type groove. Soon after, Ra begins hectoring the audience about the usual subjects: race, outer space, and doing the impossible -- “Give up your death for me!” he insists at one point, with Tyson echoing virtually every word of his tirade. Meanwhile, the Arkestra noodles around on the two-chord vamp with Hadi and Akh Tal Ebah providing running commentary on trumpet and flugelhorn, respectively. Overlong, it does get a bit tedious, but Ra’s preaching is simultaneously terrifying and laugh-out-loud funny.


Universe in Blue is another one of those classic Saturn LPs which remains way out of print, originals commanding princely sums on the collector’s market. That’s a shame since this is one of the warmest, most approachable albums in the discography. ESP-Disk’ or Atavistic or Art Yard or some other perspicacious label should compile all this material together and reissue Universe in Blue in a deluxe, two-disc edition; I’m sure it would be a big hit.

February 6, 2010

Playlist: Week of 2-6-10

* Buxtehude: Sonatas, Op.1 (Holloway/ter Linden/Mortensen) (Naxos CD)
* Buxtehude: Sonatas, Op.2 (Holloway/ter Linden/Mortensen) (Naxos CD)
* Venice Baroque Orchestra (Marcon/Carmignola): Concerto Italiano (Archiv Prod. CD)
* Vivaldi: Cello Sonatas (ter Linden/Mortensen) (Brilliant Classics 2CD)
* Handel: 12 Solo Sonatas, Op.1 (AAM/Egarr) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)
* Handel: Trio Sonatas, Op.2&5 (AAM/Egarr) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)
* Boyce: 8 Symphonies (English Concert/Pinnock) (Archiv Produktion CD)
* Ravel: Piano Music (Queffélec) (Virgin CD)
* Ravel: Orchestral Music (selections) (NYPhil/Chicago/Boulez) (Sony 3CD)
* Poulenc: Chamber Music (d.1) (Nash Ensemble) (Hyperion 2CD)
* Sun Ra: The Native Son, Berkeley, CA circa.1971 (SBD CDR)
* Sun Ra: unknown venue, circa.1972 (SBD CDR)
* Sun Ra: Universe in Blue (Saturn LP>CDR)
* Sun Ra: Dramaten, Stockholm, Sweden 10-12-71 (FM CDR)
* Sun Ra: The Antique Blacks (Art Yard CD)
* Pharaoh Sanders: Thembi (Impulse! CD)
* Miles Davis: The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions (d.2-5) (Columbia/Legacy 5CD)
* Miles Davis: The Complete On the Corner Sessions (d.1) (Columbia/Legacy 6CD)
* Henry Threadgill’s Zooid: This Brings Us To, Vol.1 (Pi CD)
* Anthony Braxton 12+1tet: Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver 1-29-10 (AUD CDR)
* Anthony Braxton Sonic Genome Project: Roundhouse, Vancouver 1-31-10 (AUD 2CDR)
* Susie Ibarra: Songbird Suite (Tzadik CD)
* Bob Dylan: Blood on the Tracks (Columbia SACD)
* Van Morrison: Veedon Fleece (Polydor CD)
* Grateful Dead: Marin Veterans Memorial Auditorium, San Rafael, CA 3-31-84 (SBD 3CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Marin Veterans Memorial Auditorium, San Rafael, CA 4-01-84 (SBD 3CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Fox Theatre, Atlanta, GA 10-29-85 (SBD 3CDR)
* Steely Dan: Gaucho (MCA DVD-A)
* Talking Heads: Remain in Light (Sire/Warner Bros. DVD-A)
* The Police: Zenyatta Mondatta (A&M/Universal SACD)
* The Police: Ghost in the Machine (A&M/Universal SACD)
* My Bloody Valentine: Loveless (Plain LP)
* Robert Pollard: We All Got Out of the Army (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Robert Pollard: “Silk Rotor” (Happy Jack Rock Records 7”)


It is appropriate that my first new records of the year would be by Robert Pollard (photo). By now of course, it is a cliché to say the guy makes too many records, but I am not complaining. As you can see, I love records! We All Got Out of the Army is another slickly produced collection of songs, but this time there’s an air of dark melancholy and dissonant, prog-rock undertones. After only a couple of listens, the songs have yet to sink in, but I like the sound of it very much. The accompanying seven-inch single (on peach-colored vinyl) contains the album track, “Silk Rotor” and two strong b-sides: “Fear of Heat,” a one-note rave-up bordering on Circus Devils-like paranoia and the gently whimsical “Rare Hazel Japan.” Both records feature beautiful collages by Pollard, making them delightful objects d’art as well. Nicely done! A new Circus Devils album, Mother Skinny, is due out on March 30 and two new Boston Spaceship discs should arrive in April and May. Can’t wait! Available directly from Rockathon.