March 26, 2011

Playlist Week of 3-26-11

Death's Head

* Hildegard von Bingen: 11,000 Virgins (Anonymous 4) (Harmonia Mundi CD)
* Tallis: “Spem in Alium” (Tallis Scholars) (Gimell CD)
* Tudor Organ Music (Smith) (Naxos CD)
* Stan Getz & João Gilberto: Getz/Gilberto (Verve CD)
* Antonio Carlos Jobim: The Composer of Desafinado Plays (Verve CD)
* Andrew Hill: Passing Ships (Blue Note CD)
* Sun Ra: Space Probe (Expanded Edition) (Saturn/Art Yard CD)
* Sun Ra: The Paris Tapes: Live at Le Théâtre Du Châtelet 1971 (Art Yard/Kindred Spirits 2CD)
* Sun Ra: Disco 3000 (Saturn/Art Yard CD)
* Sun Ra: Beyond The Purple Star Zone/Oblique Parallax (Saturn/Art Yard CD)
* Evan Parker: Boustrophedon (ECM CD)
* Tortoise: TNT (Thrill Jockey CD)
* Paul McCartney: Wingspan: Hits & History (Capitol 2CD)
* Bob Dylan: The Bootleg Series Vol.4: Live 1966 (Columbia 2CD)
* Blind Faith: Blind Faith (Deluxe Edition) (Polydor/Universal 2CD)
* King Crimson: THRAK (DGM CD)
* Grateful Dead: Auditorium Theatre, Chicago, IL 6-27-76 (d.2) (SBD 3CDR)‡
* Grateful Dead: Auditorium Theatre, Chicago, IL 6-28-76 (SBD 2CDR)‡
* Grateful Dead: Road Trips, Vol.4 No.2: April Fool’s ’88 (GDP/Rhino 3CD)
* Lucinda Williams: Blessed (Lost Highway CD)†/‡)
* Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians: Element of Light (Yep Roc CD)
* Patti Smith: Gone Again (Arista CD)
* Ciccone Youth: The Whitey Album (Geffen CD)
* Sonic Youth: Made In USA (Soundtrack) (Rhino CD)
* Sonic Youth: Experimental Jet Set, Trash And No Star (Geffen CD)
* Sonic Youth, et al.: Demonlover (Soundtrack) (Labels/EMI CD)
* Sonic Youth, et al.: All Tomorrow’s Parties 1.1 LA (ATP CD)
* Sonic Youth: The Eternal (Matador 2LP)
* Sonic Youth: Simon Werner A Disparu (Soundtrack) (SYR-9 LP)
* Thurston Moore: Psychic Hearts (Geffen 2LP)
* Thurston Moore: Trees Outside The Academy (Ecstatic Peace! CD)
* Tool: 10,000 Days (Volcano CD) †/‡
* Lifeguards: Waving At The Astronauts (Serious Business LP)



Astonishingly, Mom continues to linger…She has not taken any nourishment—not even water—for nine days now. We’ve been repeatedly told by the hospice nurse that her death is “imminent”—yet she keeps on going, unconscious, but hanging on. This has been an agonizing week of intensely complicated emotions. Every time the phone rings, I think it’s going to be “The Call” and my heart jumps. As the days drag on, I can feel my heart becoming calloused—and that is a terrible feeling.

It has been suggested Mom has some “unfinished business” here on earth she wishes to complete, but at this point, it’s impossible to know what it might be. Life is messy; not every loose end can be gathered in the time we’re allotted. And she is definitely a worrier—she worries about anything and everything and cannot be consoled by facts and reason. Then again, it could also simply be Mom has a cast-iron constitution and an indomitable will to live. She certainly can be stubborn—she had to be just to survive. After losing her father as a child and growing up during the Great Depression, she and my dad worked tirelessly to escape poverty and achieve the “American Dream.” She was—is—a remarkable woman.

But witnessing her slow-motion demise is just unbelievably wrenching, especially from such a great distance. I like to think it would be easier if I could see her every day. Then again, I’m selfishly glad my last memory of Mom will be of a happy and vibrant person—I’m not sure I could stand to see her in the state she is in now. My sister has shown admirable strength taking care of her these last years and I am forever grateful for that—and not a little guilt-ridden.

Life is messy and death is a mystery. There is a rare, awful beauty to old age and death by “natural causes”—so many people are killed by senseless violence or cataclysmic disease. I’m forced to contemplate my own mortality and I wonder how it would feel to be eighty-two years old and facing the end of life. It's almost too horrible to think about. Mom has been remarkably brave during this whole process and I hope she finds peace—soon.

What does any of this have to do with music? Nothing—and everything. Music and art communicate the inexpressible and aspire to immortality. Listening to music can (sometimes) let me get out of myself and glimpse larger truths. This week, Sonic Youth really hit the nerve, particularly some of their later albums and experimental film soundtrack work. This is a band I’ve loved since the mid-1980s and it has been gratifying to watch them grow older and develop into a universally revered avant-rock institution. Their beautifully clangorous guitars and elliptical vocals were just what I needed this week. Sure, maybe they should change their name to “Sonic Seniors,” but so what? Youth is overrated—maturity is life fully lived. I look forward to hearing what they do next—it gives me hope for this horrible world.

UPDATE: My mother passed away at 7:15PM. Rest in peace, Mom.

March 20, 2011

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra & His Mythic Science Arkestra:
The Paris Tapes: Live at Le Théâtre Du Châtelet 1971 (Art Yard/Kindred Spirits 2CD)

Before moving on to 1974, I need to catch up a bit and comment on The Paris Tapes: Live at Le Théâtre Du Châtelet 1971, recently released by Art Yard (in collaboration with the Dutch label, Kindred Spirits). This nicely packaged two-CD set officially came out last fall, but has been somewhat difficult to find here in the States. I’m not sure why that is, but it’s worth making the effort to track down. As we know, this concert from November 29, 1971 was broadcast by French radio and a horribly degraded tape fragment circulates amongst collectors. Therefore, this upgraded and expanded edition is a most welcome addition to the official discography. Even so, don’t be throwing away that crummy-sounding bootleg just yet—some very interesting and unique music has been edited out of this otherwise excellent release! Mastered from what appear to be the pre-broadcast reels, the sound quality is superb with spacious ambience and startling instrumental clarity. But according to producer, Peter Dennett, about an hour of music was omitted due to technical problems with the tapes and to limit the release to a more economical two CDs. That is completely understandable, if unfortunate for us crazy completists, who would love to hear every note, sonic warts and all.

What we do get is very good indeed, with an extra-generous serving of Sun Ra’s incredibly outrageous electronic keyboard playing. Right from the start, Sonny is shooting laser beams and cracking whips with his MiniMoogs, summoning up torrential storms of noise and distortion, pounding out thundering low-register grumbles on the organ, or stringing delicate and wobbly portamentos against thick, dissonant tone clusters. That's just the "Introduction!" Then he turns in a groovy, blues-inflected electric piano solo on a “pre-mitotic” version of “Discipline 27” while the hypnotic, dark metallic funk of his organ comping dominates an extended version of “Love In Outer Space.” The rarely-heard “Third Planet” also features a tasty, reedy Rocksichord excursion a la Night Of The Purple Moon while Ra’s space-age barbeque organ makes an appearance on “Discipline Number Unknown.” And, finally, the album concludes with an astonishing tour de force of Sun Ra’s patented, mad-scientist-style mayhem: fifteen minutes of spooky murmuring, shrieking sirens and bursting bombs, all culminating in the arrival and departure of the alien spaceship to take us back to Saturn. Wow! This is truly one the all-time great Sun Ra epics! If there was ever any doubt of Ra’s visionary genius and sheer instrumental prowess, this release should put that notion to rest for good.

In between, there’s the usual thing—yet the vocal numbers such as “Somebody Else’s Idea,” and “Space Is The Place” as well as the dance/drums workout, “Watusi” greatly benefit from the luxurious sound quality and tightly focused performances (notorious drummer, Clifford Jordan, exhibits remarkable restraint throughout). A meandering “Angels and Demons At Play” is perhaps overlong, but Marshall Allen’s evocative flute periodically adds interest to the percussion jamming. Particularly noteworthy is the discovery of yet another never-before-heard “Discipline” composition on disc two wherein characteristically interlocking horn riffs are cast upon an enchantingly off-kilter space-groove in seven. During a series of solos (Kwami Hadi on trumpet, Ra on BBQ organ and Eloe Omoe on bass clarinet), the arrangement gradually morphs into a wild group improvisation for massed saxophones and skittering, clattering polyrhythms. Pretty exciting stuff!

So, what’s missing? The “Enlightenment” after the opening improvisation has been cut and while that in itself is no great loss, the following unknown “Discipline” piece has also been omitted. Now, that’s a real shame as this is the only known performance of one of Ra’s most strikingly beautiful compositions (and the bootleg tape appears to be incomplete). Moreover, there are no big John Gilmore solos on either of these two discs, which feels wrong given his usual prominence in the Arkestra—I suspect “The Shadow World” made an appearance at this concert and no doubt Gilmore did his thing there (and elsewhere). So, that’s a little frustrating. Regardless of any technical anomalies, I, for one, would love to hear the rest of the tapes from this gig and would have gladly paid extra for a complete, three-CD set. Oh well. Perhaps, if this sells well, a volume two will be forthcoming.

But I quibble. Art Yard and Kindred Spirits have done a fabulous job with The Paris Tapes and it is an essential purchase for any self-respecting Sun Ra fan (if you can find it). Despite the absence of certain crucial material, Sun Ra’s performance here more than makes up for the loss with amazing displays of keyboard pyrotechnics. And the overall sumptuous sound quality will gratify even the most casual of listeners, making this a most highly recommended release.

March 19, 2011

Playlist Week of 3-19-11

Zeitgeist 2011-03-15a

* Vivaldi: La Stravaganza: 12 Violin Concertos (Arte Dei Suonatori/Podger) (Channel Classics 2SACD)
* Maderna: Quadrivium, etc. (Sinf. des Norddeutschen Rundfunks/Sinopoli) (DG CD)
* Stan Link: In Amber Shadows: Electro-Acoustic Music (Albany CD)
* Andrew Hill: Grass Roots (Blue Note CD)
* Andrew Hill: Dance With Death (Blue Note CD)
* Sun Ra: The Paris Tapes: Live at Le Théâtre Du Châtelet 1971 (Art Yard/Kindred Spirits 2CD)
* Henry Threadgill & Zooid: Stadtgarten, Köln, Germany 11-04-08 (FM CDR)
* Matthew Shipp String Trio: By The Law Of Music (Hat ART CD)
* Matthew Shipp String Trio: Expansion, Power, Release (Hat ART CD)
* John Zorn: The Big Gundown: John Zorn Plays the Music of Ennio Morricone (Nonesuch LP)
* George Harrison: Live In Japan (Capitol 2SACD)
* George Harrison: Brainwashed (Capitol CD)
* Grateful Dead: Auditorium Theatre, Chicago, IL 10-26-71 (SBD 2CDR)‡
* Grateful Dead: Tower Theatre, Upper Darby, PA 6-21-76 (SBD 3CDR)‡
* Grateful Dead: Tower Theatre, Upper Darby, PA 6-22-76 (SBD 3CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Auditorium Theatre, Chicago, IL 6-27-76 (d.1) (SBD 3CDR)
* Love: Forever Changes (Elektra/Rhino CD)
* King Crimson: Discipline (DGM CD)
* King Crimson: Beat (DGM CD)
* King Crimson: Three Of A Perfect Pair (DGM CD)
* R.E.M.: Out Of Time (Warner Bros. CD)
* R.E.M.: Automatic For The People (Warner Bros. CD)
* R.E.M.: Monster (Warner Bros. CD)
* Flaming Lips: Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots 5.1 (stereo) (Warner Bros. CD/DVD-A)
* Beck: Odelay (Geffen CD)
* Lifeguards: Waving At The Astronauts (Serious Business LP/CD)
* Tool: 10,000 Days (Volcano CD)‡



On Tuesday night, Lizzy and I went to Zeitgeist Gallery to hear a program of electro-acoustic music by our friend, composer Stan Link, who would be there to participate in a discussion session with local critic David Maddox. Although we are notorious homebodies, this was an event not to be missed! The contemporary art gallery is an appropriate venue for Stan’s kind of cutting-edge music and it was a unique opportunity to hear him talk about his work.

The first piece, “In Ida’s Mirror,” for alto flute and tape, was particularly moving. Stan talked about how the title was inspired by seeing Ivan Albright’s painting, “Into The World Came a Soul Called Ida” at the Art Institute of Chicago, and further informed by the video work of Bill Viola and Ridley Scott’s film, Blade Runner. A clip was shown where, just before he dies, the replicant says: “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe…All those moments will be lost in time like tears in the rain.” This quotation, explained Stan, was the key to understanding the work’s meaning—and, perhaps, his own personal cosmology. Very interesting…

Sandra Cox (photo) navigated the labyrinthine score with ease, plumbing the mournful depths of the almost atonal melodies. It was an incredibly affecting performance: her warm, breathy tone on the rarely heard alto flute a sensuous, primordial sound projected against the vast cinematic soundscape of voices and electronics. “In Ida’s Mirror” is a profoundly discomfiting meditation on birth, life, death, time and eternity—just the thing I needed to hear during this difficult time, as my mother lay slowly dying a thousand miles away from me—and tragedy unfolds in Japan, where my brother in law is living with his wife and child—and I ponder the meaning of it all. Thank you, Stan, for reminding of the redemptive power of art, its power to express the ineffable.

An excellent CD of Stan Link’s electro-acoustic music is available on Albany Records entitled, In Amber Shadows, which came out in 2006. While “In Ida’s Mirror” is not contained therein, it is still highly recommended as an introduction to this fascinating composer.

More photos from the event can be found here and on my Flickr Photostream (click on the photo above).

March 13, 2011

Sun Ra Sunday


The name can be music
Played by infinite instruments
The name can lift nothingness
From nothing to reality
And keep the myth parable apparent.

Like once silent voices burst into song
The name strikes the ear
And the sound of it
Rushes like a wild thing
To take its place
As the core
Of the music, the infinite instruments
And the vital vibration
Of the meaning
Of the name.

--Sun Ra

March 12, 2011

Playlist Week of 3-12-11

Anthony Braxton Septet (Pittsburgh) 2008

* Biber: The Rosary Sonatas (Manze/Egarr) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)†
* J.S. Bach: Goldberg Variations (Hewitt): Royal Festival Hall, London 4-29-09 (FM CDR)
* J.S. Bach: Solo & Double Violin Concertos (AAM/Manze/Podger) (Harmonia Mundi SACD)
* Antheil: Ballet Mécanique, etc. (Philadelphia Virtuosi Chamber Orch.) (Naxos CD)
* Poulenc: Works for Piano (Parkin) (d.2) (Chandos 3CD)
* Sun Ra with Wilbur Ware: House of Ra, Philadelphia, PA 1973 (AUD>FM CDR)
* Sun Ra & His Mythic Science Arkestra: The Paris Tapes 1971 (Art Yard/Kindred Spirits 2CD)
* Anthony Braxton: Sextet (Philadelphia) 2005 (New Braxton House FLAC>2CDR)
* Anthony Braxton: Septet (Pittsburgh) 2008 (New Braxton House FLAC>CDR)
* Anthony Braxton Diamond Curtain Wall Trio: hr-Sendesaal, Frankfurt, Germany 10-30-08 (FM CDR)
* Henry Threadgill & Zooid: Folkets Hus, Umea, Sweden 10-25-08 (FM CDR)
* William Parker/In Order To Survive: The Peach Orchard (AUM Fidelity 2CD)
* Matthew Shipp: Art Of The Improviser (Thirsty Ear 2CD)
* Mat Maneri: Blue Deco (Thirsty Ear CD)
* Weasel Walter/Mary Halvorson/Peter Evans: Electric Fruit (Thirsty Ear CD)
* Herbie Hancock/Future 2 Future: Columbia Halle, Berlin, Germany 11-27-01 (FM 2CDR)
* Tortoise: Beacons of Ancestorship (Thrill Jockey)†/‡
* Scanner with The Post Modern Jazz Quartet: Blink of An Eye (Thirsty Ear CD)
* Marvin Gaye: What’s Going On (Motown/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab SACD)
* Marvin Gaye: Let’s Get It On (Motown/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab SACD)
* Parliament: Live: P. Funk Earth Tour (Casablanca CD)
* P. Funk All Stars: Urban Dancefloor Guerillas (CBS CD)
* The Beatles: The Beatles [a/k/a The White Album] (2009 stereo) (Apple/EMI 2CD)
* Grateful Dead: Music Hall, Boston, MA 12-01-73 (SBD 4CDR)
* David Crosby: If I Could Only Remember My Name… (Atlantic DVD-A)
* Chicago: VIII (Columbia LP)
* Chicago: X (Columbia LP)
* Chicago: XI (Columbia LP)
* U2: The Joshua Tree (Deluxe Edition) (d.1) (Island 2CD)†/‡
* Beck: Sea Change (Geffen/Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs CD)†/‡
* Robert Pollard: Space City Kicks (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Lifeguards: Waving At The Astronauts (Serious Business LP)
* Tool: Lateralus: (Volcano CD)†
* A Perfect Circle: Mer De Noms (Virgin CD)
* A Perfect Circle: Thirteenth Step (Virgin CD)



I know I’m an African-American, and I know I play the saxophone, but I’m not a jazz musician. I’m not a classical musician either. My music is like my life: It’s in between these worlds.
–Anthony Braxton
Anthony Braxton is, in my estimation, America’s greatest living composer—and the most underappreciated and misunderstood. As he acknowledges above, part of the problem is that he is black man who plays the saxophone. In the cultural hierarchy we inhabit, he is ipso facto a “jazz musician,” with every negative stereotype the term entails. This not only reflects the deep-seated racism of our culture, but also a concomitant disdain for the instrument itself, a late-19th Century invention which has always been treated as a bastard “band instrument” by the classical music establishment ever since. Of course, Mr. Braxton plays the entire family of saxophone instruments, from contrabass to sopranino and anyone who has listened to more than a handful of his records will have to acknowledge that his music, for the most part, has more to do with so-called “classical” music than what is commonly thought of as “jazz.” But, as a black man with a bunch of saxophones, his work has never been taken seriously as “Art Music” by the classical music establishment, who narrowly defines the term. Of course, Mr. Braxton does not make it easy to understand what he’s up to. While he has written about his music extensively in liner notes, essays, and multi-volume monographs, he insists on opaque, hyper-academic linguistic constructions and inscrutable graphic representations which only serve to obscure his meaning from casual observers. This is, of course, intentional and part of its appeal to initiates, who aspire (or pretend) to understand. There is an element of willful Sun Ra-esque absurdity about his public persona that will forever prevent over-serious people from ever taking it seriously. And that’s too bad, because the proof is in the music itself, which is always at least interesting and often profoundly moving in a way that neither “jazz” nor “classical” music ever could be within their culturally-imposed restrictions. Braxton is an important composer because he occupies a place outside those arbitrary limitations and makes music that is, like he says, like life itself, “in between.”

While Braxton has made hundreds of recordings over the course of his five-decade career, most are on tiny labels produced in vanishingly small editions, making them almost impossible to find and further marginalizing him from mainstream culture. However, all this is about to be remedied with the ambitious launch of the Tri-Centric Foundation website, considerably raising Mr. Braxton’s online profile and making his music widely available to any “friendly experiencers” who might be interested. Hooray! The long out-of-print Braxton House recordings from the 1990s are available there for download in FLAC and MP3 formats and the New Braxton House label promises two releases per month of previously unreleased music. To celebrate the unveiling, they are offering a FREE download of Septet (Pittsburgh) 2008 for a limited time, just for setting up an account. A magnificent live recording of Braxton’s recent “Accelerated Ghost Trance Music,” it features his core group of devoted young musicians: Taylor Ho Bynum on trumpet and other brass instruments; Mary Halvorson on electric guitar; Jessica Pavone on violin, viola and electric bass; Jay Rozen on tuba; Carl Testa on acoustic bass and bass clarinet; and Aaron Siegel on drums, percussion and vibraphone. Impossible to describe, Braxton’s late-period music is unlike any other you're ever heard and rewards repeated, concentrated listens. I highly recommend everyone reading this post to immediately grab this gem and have a listen for themselves. You won’t regret it! And it just might change your life!

The price per download is a little on the high side, in my opinion, but subscriptions can be purchased for $12+1 per month (afficianadoes will appreciate the humor) which entitles you to two free downloads and 10% off on catalog items, a reasonably good deal; moreover, it all goes to support a very worthy cause. Of course, I’ve gleefully signed up and am digging Sextet (Philadelphia) 2005, another fantastic live recording from this most fertile era in Braxton’s long career. Future releases will include: Three Orchestras (GTM) 1998; Solo (Allentown) 1990; Composition 19 (For 100 Tubas) 2006; and Sextet (Boston) 2005. I can’t wait. Just to sweeten the deal, they’ve also set up a “bootleg page,” offering FREE downloads of various verité recordings which have circulated in hardcore collector’s circles. Naturally, I have most of these already, but I applaud the Tri-Centric Foundation for making them available to casual listeners. Of those available so far, I would heartily recommend Quartet (New York) 1993, an excellent soundboard recording from The Knitting Factory of the so-called “classic quartet” with Marilyn Crispell on piano, Mark Dresser on bass and Gerry Hemingway on drums. This would be an excellent place for the merely curious to begin investigating Mr. Braxton’s oeuvre.

There’s also a long video segment from Braxton’s first Sonic Genome Project at Wesleyan University in 2003, an eight-hour, hundred-musician extravaganza that must be seen to be believed. The site also promises to make available more videos and writings to round out the experience. My dearest hope is they will eventually upload scores and composition notes to the site, to enable the fullest possible understanding of Braxton’s work. Regardless, the Tri-Centric Foundation is providing a long-overdue and most welcome service and is worthy of support. Due to unexpectedly high traffic, the site was experiencing a number of technical difficulties in its first week of operation, but that's a good thing and all seems to be working smoothly now. So, by all means, go check it out!

March 6, 2011

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra Arkestra with Wilbur Ware: House of Ra, Philadelphia, PA 1973 (CDR)

In 1987, Columbia University's WKCR-FM embarked on a “Sun Ra Festival,” broadcasting 116 straight hours of music and interviews with members of the Arkestra, including the man himself, who brought with him several never-before-heard recordings for the occasion. A tape of this broadcast circulates widely amongst collectors and contains a wealth of interesting material, including this twelve-and-a-half minute piece recorded at The House of Ra in 1973 with bassist, Wilbur Ware. Born in 1923, Ware had worked with Sonny briefly back in Chicago and can be heard on one of Ra’s earliest known recordings as a leader (see Campbell & Trent p.43). Ware was well-regarded for his bebop skills, playing with folks like Stuff Smith, Sonny Stitt, Roy Eldridge and Art Blakey but he was probably best known for his work with Thelonious Monk in the late-1950s. By 1973, however, his career was at a standstill due to a combination of health issues and drug abuse and he had relocated to Philaldephia, where he hooked up with the Arkestra for this impromptu jam. “It’s quite different, you know, to hear him play what you might call avant-garde,” Sonny remarks during the interview. “It sounds very nice.”

Actually, it’s more than just a jam and while it would appear that Ware is leading the way, it is actually Sun Ra who guides the Arkestra through the improvisation, cueing entrances and exits and various changes in feel in his own inimitable way. Despite Ware's personal difficulties during this time, he sounds great here, playing with supreme confidence and big-eared sensitivity, exploring the entire compass of the instrument and even pulling out the bow for a short interlude. Rarely do all eight musicians play at the same time, giving this piece an austere, modern chamber music quality while Ra moves from slippery synthesizer to a wobbly, wah-wah organ, emphasizing a rising portamento which is echoed by the bass throughout. Soloists include John Gilmore, who introduces a long-breathed melody and multiphonic variations on tenor saxophone; blurry trumpet from Akh Tal Ebah (later joined by Marshall Allen and Danny Davis on alto saxophones); and Eloe Omoe on bass clarinet. Sometimes the horns drop out altogether, leaving Ware to duet with Sun Ra’s keyboards; at other times they engage in fleeting bouts of group improv. Drummer Lex Humphries makes only a brief appearance mid-way through only to conclude the piece with a solo of his own. Amazingly, Ware keeps things going with strong yet supple support, no matter what’s going on around him.

It’s tempting to speculate this was a sort of audition for Ware, since the bass chair was often empty due to the comings and goings of the brilliant Ronnie Boykins (who would leave the band for good after 1974). From the evidence, it seems like Ware would have been a good fit for the Arkestra. Although he was rooted in the language of bop, Ware was obviously a good listener. As Sonny points out in his interview, the ability to listen is the most valuable skill a musician can possess and key part of his cosmo-philosophy:

Every band has something to say. The good part about it is that you have men together, who are not in the army to destroy people, they—it’s something to have men working together for beauty, and for precision and discipline. It’s wonderful. It’s the most wonderful thing about the planet that you do have men who are in the armed forces—who have to be in there—but you have some more who are doing some other things that’s not destructive, with unification and discipline. Because they have to be disciplined to play music. If they’re in a band, they got to listen to somebody and that’s what all men ought to learn, that they need to listen to somebody. Because you take the basketball players, they got to listen. Prizefighters got to listen. Actors got to listen to a director. So I would say every individual person needs to listen to somebody because successful people are those who listen to somebody and do as they’re told. Or try to.

Sadly, Ware withdrew from the music scene altogether and died of emphysema in 1979. This tape presents an opportunity to hear this underappreciated musician in an unusual context and, for that reason alone, is worth checking out. (Photo of Wilbur Ware by Francis Wolff/Blue Note Records.)

March 5, 2011

Playlist Week of 3-05-11

Lucinda Williams - Blessed (Deluxe Edition)

* Hesperion XXI (Savall): “St. Paul Sunday,” MPR Radio Studios, St. Paul, MN 3-10-01 (FM CDR)
* Accademia Bizantina (Dantone/Scholl): Schauspielhaus, Dresden 6-12-08 (FM CDR)
* Bach: Cantatas, BWV35, etc. (Accademia Bizantina/Dantone/Scholl): Schwarzenberg 6-18-06 (FM CDR)
* Sun Ra: Flushing Meadow Park, Queens, NY 7-04-73 (Pre-FM CDR)
* Sun Ra w/Wilbur Ware: House of Ra, Philadelphia, PA 1973 (AUD>FM CDR)
* Sun Ra: Out Beyond The Kingdom Of (Saturn LP>CDR)
* Albert Ayler, et al.: New York Eye and Ear Control (ESP-Disk’ CD)
* Sunny Murray: Sunshine/An Even Break (Never Give a Sucker) (BYG/Actuel/Fuel 2000 CD)
* Henry Threadgill’s Zooid: Teatro Communale, Cormòns, Gorzia, Italy 10-23-08 (FM CDR)
* Anthony Braxton: Septet (Pittsburgh) 2008 (New Braxton House FLAC>CDR)
* Evan Parker Quartet + Frut: Teatro alle Tese, Venezia 9-26-10 (FM CDR)
* Matthew Shipp: Art of The Improviser (Thirsty Ear 2CD)
* Mary Halvorson & Joe McFee: WKCR-FM Studios, New York, NY 12-15-10 (FM CDR)
* Joelle Leandre & Mephista: The Stone, New York, NY 6-25-10 (AUD CDR)
* Praxis: Profanation (Preparation for a Cosmic Darkness) (M.O.D. Technologies CD)
* Deltron: Deltron 3030 (75 Ark CD)†/‡
* DJ Shadow: Endtroducing… (MoWax CD)
* Muddy Waters: The Woodstock Album (Chess/MCA CD)
* Elvis Presley: Command Performances: The Essential ‘60s Masters II (RCA 2CD)
* George Harrison: Living In The Material World (Capitol CD)
* Bob Dylan: Bootleg Series Vol.8: Tell Tale Signs: Rare & Unreleased 1989-2006 (Columbia 2CD)
* Grateful Dead: Uptown Theatre, Chicago, IL 12-05-79 (SBD 3CDR)
* Tom Waits: Small Change (Asylum LP)
* Big Star: Keep An Eye On The Sky (d.1-3) (Ardent/Rhino 4CD)†/‡
* Lucinda Williams: West (Lost Highway CD)
* Lucinda Williams: Little Honey (Lost Highway CD)
* Lucinda Williams: Blessed (Deluxe Edition) (Lost Highway 1+1CD)
* Die Kreuzen: October File (Touch & Go LP)
* Die Kreuzen: Century Days (Touch & Go LP)
* Tool: Lateralus (Volcano CD)†/‡
* Robert Pollard: Moses On A Snail (GBV, Inc.)†/‡



On 2008’s Little Honey, Lucinda Williams sounded like she was, for the first time in her life, genuinely happy. But this newfound happiness made for an uneven album, her usual eloquent songwriting padded out with giddy schoolgirl love-songs, comedy routines and a winking cover of AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to The Top.” Thankfully, the Poetess of Pain is back on her new album, Blessed, but with a broader, deeper and more mature perspective. The opening track, “Buttercup,” is a bitter kiss-off like only Lucinda can sing—which might lead you to believe she’s just up to her old tricks. But as the album progresses, the songs begin to take on a cumulative weight as big themes emerge: not just love and heartache, but also death, suicide, the horrors of war and the salvation of friendship, community, family, faith—in other words, the search for meaning in a world full of endless toil and senseless strife. Just what I want from a Lucinda Williams record—especially these days.

Legendary producer Don Was frames Lucinda’s vocals in a warm, naturalistic space, every note perfectly placed, slickly polished yet still organic and pure. This is certainly one of her best-sounding records ever (so much so I’m seriously tempted to pick up the 2-LP vinyl edition). The L.A. session pros deliver just the right balance of chops and taste with Greg Leisz’s weeping pedal steel adding a suitably country-ish atmosphere where needed and Elvis Costello (of all people) contributing some searing electric guitar on three tracks. Lucinda’s voice has ripened with age and she sounds better than ever here, singing with a passionate intensity yet always in pitch-perfect control. I’m a long-time fan, but I have to admit this is probably her best album in a decade—so good it makes me think it’s just the first in a series of mature masterpieces. Seems to me she is just getting started. A limited “Deluxe Edition” (with eight (!) different covers) comes with a bonus CD called, The Kitchen Tapes, containing demos of all twelve songs recorded at her kitchen table, a fascinating, intimate glimpse into her songwriting process and well-worth seeking out. Either way, the appropriately titled Blessed is soul-nourishing music in these difficult times and most highly recommended.