July 31, 2011

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra: Dance Of The Living Image: Lost Reel Collection Vol.4 (Transparency 2CD)

In October 1974, the Arkestra traveled to California for an extended sojourn, playing gigs at the Keystone Korner and Off Plaza in San Francisco and the One World Family Center in Berkeley, where they moved into a rented house on Baker Street (Campbell & Trent p.215). They stayed on the West Coast until the end of the year, performing in venues large and small, including an impromptu small group appearance at the San Jose State University Student Union on December 9; at the cavernous Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium on December 11; and a New Year’s Eve show at the Afro-American Historical Society in San Francisco (Id. pp.215, 217). Of these known performances, only the Santa Cruz concert is documented (in a typically grungy-sounding audience recording), although Peter Hinds asserts that a tape exists of the New Year’s gig (Id.). However, in 2009 the Transparency label unearthed a hundred-minute rehearsal tape purportedly recorded in San Francisco in December, 1974 and released it as Dance Of The Living Image, volume four of The Lost Reel Collection. I say “purportedly” because, as usual with Transparency, the documentation is spotty (if not outright wrong) but I guess we have to take some things at face value while trying to correct errors where we can. That’s what I’m here for. Being a rehearsal, it’s not a completely satisfying musical experience, but it gives some insight into Ra’s working methods and reveals a surprisingly bawdy sense of humor. It also corroborates the musicians’ accounts of rigorous rehearsals of material that was never actually played in concert.

The first disc opens with two takes of “Dance Of The Living Image,” the first a mere fragment and the second (also incomplete) misidentified as an “unknown title.” Originally recorded in early 1970 and released on the classic album, Night Of The Purple Moon, this tune was apparently never performed live. That’s too bad, as it’s a groovy modal number driven by Ra’s reedy Rocksichord. But the deceptively simple construction is actually a lot harder to play than it would seem. On the first track, Ra demonstrates the vamp and appropriate scales as the band sets up in the background. But then on the second take, the arrangement keeps breaking down and you can hear Sonny stopping to instruct the band on the tricky ostinato. Newcomer (and Bay Area resident), Damon Choice, is on vibes (probably—see Id., p.217) and he seems to have difficulty getting the hang of it. In fact, the band never really comes together and they eventually give it up. Too bad. The next track is an unknown title (misidentified on the disc as “Sometimes I’m Happy”), possibly a number in the “Discipline” series. The background riffing is similar to “Discipline 27,” but embellished with additional sax and trumpet lines and some jazzy electric guitar from Dave Williams. Another mystery.

Track four (mistitled “Astro Nation) is actually “Sometimes I’m Happy,” a hoary old standard originally recorded in 1962-or-3 and released on The Invisible Shield, which, incidentally, had just come out on the newly rejuvenated Saturn label. While it was performed at The Red Garter in 1970 (and perhaps elsewhere), the song didn’t become a fixture of the Arkestra’s live sets until the ‘80s. And this is a particularly weird take on this ridiculous piece of schmaltz: the horns heave and sigh while Williams hits a dissonant, wah-wah’d clank on the one…Then Ra gets right up to the microphone and mumbles/croons the song in an unexpectedly woozy, almost drunken manner while the band takes it further and further out behind him. Choice runs away on the vibes, Williams turns up the volume and reverb, the horns’ swaying structure on the verge of collapse. Whoah! “Astro Nation” (misidentified as an “unknown title”) is another vocal number, an odd-metered space chant precariously set against a bumping rhumba. Despite its seeming simplicity, it requires several minutes of unsteady repetition before the band starts to gel. Despite this inauspicious beginning, the song quickly became a live staple, at least through the end of the ‘70s.

Disc one concludes with two tracks, wherein two (or three?) previously unknown titles are heard for the first and only time. This twenty-minute sequence is really quite fascinating. Track six shows the band sight-reading a chart, Danny Ray Thompson honking out a slowly repeating bari-sax note, accompanied by off-centered guitar arpeggios. Meanwhile, the horns play a twisty, asymmetrical melody. The sparse, lurching drumming (Jarvis?) makes the band sound twitchy and unbalanced, though the trumpets (Hadi and Ebah) sound confident on the fanfare-like bridge. But just as it seems they’re building up a head of steam, Sonny calls a halt (though Williams and Jarvis continue to play around with their parts). There’s a discussion in the background about what tune they just played, and it sounds like Ra calls it “Opus No.” Hmm. “Let’s play the San Francisco tune,” he says. OK. Track seven (not even listed on the disc!) picks up with the band again reading through a complicated chart. Ra counts aloud in five and stops the band repeatedly to make corrections. The piece sounds something like the previous track, only sped up and with more saxophones, but it’s hard to tell what exactly is going on. After about five minutes, the tape cuts off and picks up on some noodling and talking—until Danny Ray Thompson starts in on a snaky bari-sax riff and the band falls in behind him with what sounds like an already well-rehearsed arrangement (although never performed live or on record)[UPDATE: this composition has been identified as "Sun Procession"--see comments for details]. It’s one of those regal, Pharaohonic themes, richly orchestrated for saxophones, flutes and trumpets, supplemented with Ra’s tinkling electronic keyboard—only Williams’s Superfly guitar antics seem out of place. Interestingly, nobody solos (except for maybe Ra, who never lets up) yet the composition continues to subtly evolve across its ten-minute length before coming to a precise end. Wonderful!

Most of disc two is taken up with “Hard Hearted Hannah,” a Tin Pan Alley hit from 1924, revived here by the Arkestra for (apparently) the first and only time. Actually, it’s more of a jam, led by Ra from the Rocksichord, calling out the chord changes and sometimes providing some (inaudible) instructions. Unfortunately, the twenty-two minute instrumental version never really goes anywhere and Jarvis’s jittery drumming fails to provide a satisfactory groove (he sounds bored, frankly). Another attempt is made, only this time with vocals, but it’s impossible to hear. Then the tape cuts and Ra has now enlisted the entire Arkestra into singing the full lyrics about “the vamp from Savannah, G.A.”—and he gets a big kick out of it (you can hear him cracking up in the background). Sonny comps away while Choice does a Lionel Hampton thing on the vibes. It’s not really happening, but you can tell they’re having fun. Tthe band can hardly believe it when Ra suggests they play it at the gig! (I don’t think they ever did.) The tape cuts in again on more shenanigans: riotous laughter and a song about…farting! “When you eat, don’t eat too fast or you’ll make music with your ass—passin’ gas!” Well, it’s good to know it wasn’t always super-serious Astrometaphysics 24/7 with Ra. Hilarious!

Continuing the old-timey, pre-War vibe, Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady” follows. During this period, Ra was trying to integrate historical material into the Arkestra’s repertoire, but it’s unclear whether this particular tune had entered into the set at this point. The band sounds like they’re familiar with the arrangement, but Sonny periodically stops to lecture them on the finer points of the rhythmic feel required. Hadi takes an exquisite solo, punctuated with daring, high-register squeals, followed by Gilmore, who is, unfortunately, way off-mic; nevertheless, it is typically brilliant. Finally, the rehearsal concludes with something that is definitely not “Watusi,” despite what the liner notes say. Another unknown composition, the Arkestra struggles with the intricately interlocking melodies. “Are you playing the two or the one?” Ra asks. After some indecipherable discussion, the band tentatively starts again. The effect is hypnotic but the band sounds completely unsure of itself. Then Gilmore and Davis trade licks while Allen plays a long-toned counter-melody on flute, offering further possibilities—but, sadly, the tape cuts off. Oh well—there goes another lost Sun Ra composition.

Like others in the series, Volume 4 of the Lost Reel Collection is for hardcore Sun Ra fanatics only. Being a rehearsal, nothing here really coheres musically (with the exception of the “hidden” track seven and the absurdly amusing “Passin’ Gas”). However, all the previously unknown titles are interesting in their own right, even if incomplete or badly played. Well, for me, the whole thing is essential listening—if only to peek behind the veil, to hear the master at work. Good stuff.

July 30, 2011

Playlist Week of 7-30-11

Lord Of The Birdcage

* Bernard Foccroulle: Cathédrale Saint-Michael et Gudule, Brussels 2-11-11 (d.1) (FM 2CDR)
* Buxtehude: Six Sonatas (Holloway/ter Linden/Mortensen, et al.) (Naxos CD)
* Telemann: The Complete Tafelmusik (Freiburger Barockorchester) (Harmonia Mundi 4CD)
* Geminiani: Cello Sonatas, Op.5 (ter Linden/Mortensen) (Brilliant Classics CD)
* J.S. Bach: Motetten BWV 225-230 (Collegium Vocale Gent/Herreweghe) (PHI CD)
* Saint-Saens: Symphony No.3, Op.78 (“Organ”) (Boston Symphony/Munch) (RCA-Victor/Sony SACD)
* Mahler: Das Lied Von Der Erde (Chicago Symphony/Reiner/Forrester/Lewis) (RCA-Victor/Sony SACD)
* Leontyne Price: Arias (Rome Opera Orchestra) (RCA-Victor/Sony SACD)
* Copland: Billy The Kid/Rodeo (Morton Gould & His Orchestra) (RCA-Victor/Sony SACD)
* Grofé: Grand Canyon Suite (Morton Gould & His Orchestra) (RCA-Victor/Sony SACD)
* Roland Kirk: Pre-Rahsaan (Prestige 2LP)
* Roy Haynes Quartet: Out Of The Afternoon (Impulse! CD)
* Oliver Nelson: The Blues And The Abstract Truth (Impulse! CD)
* Elvin Jones/Jimmy Garrison Sextet: Illumination! (Impulse ! CD)
* Pharoah Sanders: Black Unity (Impulse! CD)
* Sun Ra: Dance Of The Living Image: Lost Reel Collection Vol.4 (Transparency 2CD)
* Herbie Hancock: Flood (CBS/Sony—Japan CD)
* Jeff Beck With The Jan Hammer Group: Live (Epic LP)
* Parliament: Funkentelechy vs. The Placebo Syndrome (Casablanca/PolyGram CD)
* Parliament: The Clones Of Dr. Funkenstein (Casablanca/Polygram CD)
* Grateful Dead: Kaiser Convention Center, Oakland, CA 11-21-85 (SBD 3CDR)
* Jerry Garcia Band: Shining Star (Arista 2CD)†/‡
* Led Zeppelin: Physical Graffiti (Swan Song/Atlantic 2CD)†/‡
* Led Zeppelin: Presence (Swan Song/Atlantic CD)†/‡
* Led Zeppelin: In Through The Out Door (Swan Song/Atlantic CD)†/‡
* Led Zeppelin: Coda (Atlantic CD)†/‡
* Genesis: Duke (Atlantic LP)
* The Art Of Noise: (Who’s Afraid Of?) The Art Of Noise! (ZTT/Island LP)
* Bill Laswell & Pete Namlook: Psychonavigation 2 (FAX CD)†
* Bill Laswell & Pete Namlook: Psychonavigation 3 (FAX CD)†
* Bill Laswell & Pete Namlook: Psychonavigation 4 (FAX CD) †
* Original Silence: The First Original Silence (Smalltown Superjazz CD)
* Original Silence: The Second Original Silence (Smalltown Superjazz CD)
* Flaming Lips: Embryonic (Deluxe Edition) (Warner Bros. DVD-A)
* Robert Pollard: Lord Of The Birdcage (GBV, Inc. LP/MP3)(†/‡)
* Boston Spaceships: The Planets Are Blasted (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Boston Spaceships: Our Cubehouse Still Rocks (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Boston Spaceships: Let It Beard (GBV, Inc. 2LP)
* Fleet Foxes: Sun Giant (Sub Pop EP)
* Fleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop LP)
* Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop 2LP)



At this point, it is a lazy cliché to say Robert Pollard is ridiculously prolific—perhaps too prolific—but the fact remains, he puts out an unbelievable number of records per year, year after year (and I am lazy). With last month’s release, Lord Of The Birdcage, this makes four full-length LPs so far in 2011 (not including the three-LP “official bootleg,” GBV: Live in Daytron 6?°)—and there’s more to come: the long-awaited Boston Spaceships double-LP, Let It Beard, comes out next week and a new Circus Devils album should be released just in time for Halloween. Seriously, it is a full-time job keeping up with the guy—and requires another one just to afford it.

As you all know, I am a huge fan. I buy it all sight unheard, preordering directly from Rockathon or picking it up on day of release at my favorite local record store. Is it always first rate, top-shelf stuff? Well, no—how could it be? The guy is only human, despite all appearances. What’s astonishing is that his records are at least consistently good, if not great, and I’m rarely too disappointed. Even a mediocre Pollard record is better—or more interesting—than nine-tenths of the music out there, in my opinion. Even the most tossed-off album will usually contain a perfect gem of a song that most bands would sell their souls to write. While I enjoy finding those diamonds in the rough, it makes me wonder if fewer records containing only the best songs would be more satisfying and less taxing for his fans (and give newcomers a chance to catch up). On the other hand, I appreciate that Pollard caters to the fanatical record collector (like me). He’s a vinyl guy and his collaged cover art is almost always exquisitely well done; the records are objects d’art, irrespective of the music contained within.

So…Lord Of The Birdcage is a mediocre Pollard album—that is to say, merely very good rather than truly great. So what? As the story goes, the songs were based on poems previously written rather than freshly written lyrics, the opposite of his usual approach. Perhaps that is part of the problem. Pollard is the master of the allusive non-sequitur, the nearly nonsensical turn of phrase that is miraculously elevated to enigmatic profundity when sung. It is the sound of the words that matters, not their literal meaning. In this case, the poems (which work well enough on their own) feel shoehorned into the songs’ structures—and it doesn’t help matters that Pollard’s voice sounds rather rushed and peculiarly strained, like even he has his doubts about the proceedings. Todd Tobias’s slick production and multi-instrumentalism makes the best of it, but despite a month of dedicated listening—at home, in the car, on the iPod—none of the songs have really made much of an impression. Then again, fuck me. Sometimes it takes a long time for Pollard’s records to sink in. Something which previously sounded irritating and obtuse will, months later, suddenly develop into an infectious ear-worm, a super-catchy piece of pop I can’t get out of my head. That happens a lot with Pollard, if you keep listening. Regardless, the deluxe gatefold album jacket is gorgeous and comes with a free download card to boot (including lossless FLAC format—nice).

Of course, Lord Of The Birdcage is already superseded by Let It Beard, which arrived in my mailbox this morning. My impression after one listen? It rocks! But the sprawling, twenty-six-song album will take some time to absorb. Maybe I’ll have something more to say about it in a few weeks. You can check out sample tracks from both of these albums (and more) here.


As an update to last week’s playlist, Grimey’s called me on Wednesday to inform me I’d won the drawing for Wilco tickets. I was stunned. I never win anything! But it looks like we’ll be seeing them both nights at The Grand Ole Opry—Yee-Haw!!

July 24, 2011

Sun Ra Sunday

Can you tell me about the music you make?

Sun Ra: Well, the music, it’s about feelings, it’s not about what I know. It’s about what I feel. If we lose feeling then we’re really dead. Most people on this planet have no feeling anymore because they don’t care about each other. They turn to religion and philosophy and they think that’ll do it. But it hasn’t done it yet.

July 23, 2011

Playlist Week of 7-23-11

Wilco - I Might

* Marais: Pieces de Viole des Cinq Livres (Savall, Koopman, et al.) (Alia Vox 5SACD)
* Buxtehude: Seven Trio Sonatas, Op.2 (Holloway/ter Linden/Mortensen) (Naxos CD)
* J.S. Bach: Trio Sonatas (London Baroque/Medlam) (Harmonia Mundi CD)†/‡
* Frank: Symphony in D Minor (Chicago Symphony/Monteaux) (RCA-Victor/Sony SACD)
* Stravinsky: Petrouchka (Boston Symphony/Monteaux) (RCA-Victor/Sony SACD)
* Thelonious Monk & John Coltrane: The Complete Riverside Recordings (Riverside/Concord 2CD)
* Thelonious Monk: Monk Alone: The Complete Solo Studio Recordings (Columbia/Legacy 2CD)
* John Coltrane: The Olatunji Concert: The Last Live Recording (Impulse! CD)
* Alice Coltrane: Transfiguration (Warner Bros./Sepia Tone 2CD)
* Ornette Coleman: The Complete Science Fiction Sessions (Columbia/Legacy 2CD)
* Andrew Hill: Mosaic Select (d.1-2) (Mosaic 3CD)
* Sun Ra: Life Is Splendid: Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival 1972 (Total Energy CD)
* Sun Ra: Outer Space Employment Agency: Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival 1973 (Total Energy CD)
* Sun Ra: It Is Forbidden: Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival in Exile 1974 (Total Energy CD)
* Sun Ra: Dance Of The Living Image: Lost Reel Collection Vol.4 (Transparency 2CD)
* Roscoe Mitchell & The Note Factory: Song For My Sister (Pi CD)
* Muhal Richard Abrams/Roscoe Mitchell/George Lewis: Streaming (Pi CD)
* William Parker/In Order To Survive: Posium Pendasem (FMP CD)
* George Benson: Weekend In L.A. (Warner Bros. 2LP)
* Parliament: Mothership Connection (Casablanca/Polygram CD)
* Parliament: Live: P-Funk Earth Tour (Casablanca/Polygram CD)
* Prince & The Revolution: Around The World In A Day (Paisley Park/Warner Bros. LP)
* Prince: Sign O’ The Times (Paisley Park/Warner Bros. 2LP)
* Prince: Lovesexy (Paisley Park/Warner Bros. LP)
* Bill Laswell, et al.: Altered Beats: Assassin Knowledges Of The Remaniputated (Axiom/Island CD)†/‡
* Hands Off Cuba: Hands Off Cuba (Hands Off CDEP)
* Grateful Dead: Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA 2-22-74 (SBD 5CDR)
* Led Zeppelin: I (Atlantic CD)†/‡
* Led Zeppelin: II (Atlantic CD)†/‡
* Led Zeppelin: III (Atlantic CD)†/‡
* Led Zeppelin: Houses Of The Holy (Atlantic CD)†/‡
* Big Star: #1 Record (Ardent/Classic LP)
* Big Star: Radio City (Ardent/Classic LP)
* Sonic Youth: Goo (Deluxe Edition) (d.3-4) (Goofin’ 4LP)
* Tool: Lateralus (Volcano CD)†
* Robert Pollard: Lord Of The Birdcage (GBV, Inc. MP3)†/‡
* Boston Spaceships: Brown Submarine (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Wilco: Ashes Of American Flags (Nonesuch DVD)
* Wilco: Wilco (the album) (Nonesuch CD)
* Wilco: “I Might”/“I Love My Label” (dBpm/Anti- 7”)
* Animal Collective: Water Curses (Domino CDEP)†
* Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino CD)†



Wilco has wasted no time since breaking with Nonesuch Records, with a new album coming out September 27 called Whole Love on their very own label, dBpm (get it? decibels per minute!). In anticipation, a seven-inch single arrived this week and, if the A-side is any indication, Wilco is continuing to broaden its palate. “I Might” is a punchy slab of New Wave soul, complete with a big, distorted bass line, incongruously chiming glockenspiel and doo-wop background vocals framing a super-catchy hook. Nice! The B-side is an impromptu cover of Nick Lowe’s, “I Love My Label,” an ode to Rough Trade Records and a fitting tribute to their newfound autonomy. Even more appropriately (or incongruously), Lowe himself will be opening for Wilco on their upcoming fall tour. Now, that is an interesting combo!

Wilco gets dismissed as edgeless “Dad rock” by some cynical hipsters—The Eagles of the new century. OK fine: I’ll admit Wilco’s records are kinda bland (I rarely listen to them); but live is where it’s at—especially since avant-guitar maestro, Nels Cline, joined the band. Kicking Television, compiled from performances from 2005, gives a pretty good idea of how good they can be, but the 2008 DVD, Ashes Of American Flags, is truly extraordinary and shows how much the band had grown since Cline’s arrival. Unlike The Eagles, Wilco pushes the limits of “country rock,” incorporating such diverse elements as the hypnotic throb of Krautrock or the jittery spasms of New Wave, the sugary pleasure of pure pop or the grating dissonance of pure noise, all the while still sounding as organic as Hank Williams. And Cline makes the superlative guitar hero. Sure, their albums feel a little stiff, but in concert, it all comes together and the music blooms.

We were able to snag two tickets to Wilco’s upcoming show at the Ryman Auditorium on October 1st but, as you can see: these are “limited view” seats, way off to the side in the balcony. That’s fine; the Ryman barely holds 2000 people and is, after all, the “Mother Church” of the Grand Ole Opry, a peerless venue. Needless to say, both shows sold out within minutes and we consider ourselves lucky just to be in the door. We saw Wilco at the Ryman in 2008 and it was one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen (a few songs can be found on the Ashes DVD) so we’re really looking forward to seeing them there again. Whole Love may (or may not) turn out to be a ho-him record—but I’m certain Wilco will put on a great show. We can’t wait!

July 17, 2011

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra & His Intergalactic Arkestra:
At the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival in Exile 1974: It Is Forbidden (Alive!/Total Energy CD

The Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival had enjoyed increasing commercial success in its first three years and promoter John Sinclair made sure to prominently feature Sun Ra’s Arkestra ever since their triumphant appearances in 1972 and 1973. So, by all appearances, 1974 was looking to be more of the same—only better—with a lineup including such heavyweights as B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Cecil Taylor (!) along with the Godfather of Soul himself, James Brown, headlining the event. Ra’s Impulse! albums had started hitting the stores earlier in the year, garnering favorable press. Moreover, there were plans for a sixteen-track recording and a film documentary of the festival; this was going to be a big opportunity for the band.

However, it was not to be. A mere six weeks before opening night, the Ann Arbor City Council denied Sinclair’s Rainbow Multimedia organization the requisite permit, citing their failure to clean up the festival site in 1973. Sinclair admits: “The clean-up problem was troubling” (liner notes). The crew had effectively gone on strike after the payroll money disappeared in a “multi-ton marijuana deal that, unhappily for all, failed to come off” (Id.). But there was more to it than that: political machinations were actively seeking to undermine his plans. Sinclair’s Rainbow People’s Party, itself an outgrowth of the notorious White Panthers, was splintering into competing factions and its influence (modest as it was) had precipitously declined in the municipal power struggle. “The Establishment” was fighting back against the hippies and, as a result, the 1974 Blues & Jazz Festival was simply not going to be allowed to happen—at least not in Ann Arbor.

“It Is Forbidden,” the City of Ann Arbor ruled in July, and pandemonium reigned for several days until the festival organizers were invited to bring the banned event across the Detroit River and into the lovely outdoor amphitheater at St. Clair College in Windsor, Ontario … Canada. Radio powerhouse CKLW-AM agreed to serve as sponsor of the event, pledging lots of free ad spots, and the Canadians waxed enthusiastic in their professions of support for the orphaned music festival (Id.).

Not surprisingly, it was a bust—literally. Ticket sales were thin while crowds of would-be festival goers were turned back at the “fiercely guarded border”(Id.)—including Sinclair himself, who was detained while escorting the Arkestra through Canadian customs. Ultimately, he was deported on the basis of his 1969 marijuana conviction (also the subject of John Lennon’s eponymous song, which really didn't help things). “This marked a major turning point in my life,” according to Sinclair:

I went back to my room in the Shelby Hotel Friday afternoon and watched myself talk to a television news reporter who had covered the impromptu deportation proceedings. As I witnessed the farthest-out group of characters I had ever seen in America being allowed entry into Canada while I was turned back as “too far out,” I was struck hard with the realization that I my public persona as dope fiend, ex-convict and virulent revolutionary agitator had now cut me off from the participating in the most important event in my career as a music promoter (Id.).

Needless to say, the festival lost untold amounts of money and the planned record and feature film never materialized when the master tapes were “quite reasonably withheld” by their recordists after payment was not forthcoming (Id.). Sadly, these tapes seem to have disappeared for good. Nevertheless, Sun Ra’s sixty-four minute set on Friday, September 6, was preserved on a cassette tape recorded from the soundboard and was released on Sinclair’s Alive!/Total Energy label as Sun Ra & His Intergalactic Arkestra at the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival in Exile 1974: It Is Forbidden (NER 3029-2) in 2001. Accustomed, perhaps, to their sub-underground status, Sonny and the band were not dissuaded by the small crowd or the tense backstage atmosphere and deliver a typically committed performance while they “visualized their paychecks floating off into the darkening gloom” (Id.).

The opening improvisation is particularly intense, with pummeling percussion, pealing trumpets, skronky blasts of saxophone and Nepunian libflecto—and some crazed, psycho-delic guitar from Dave Williams, whose nastily distorted, wah-wah-infused tone brings to mind the sort of dark, metallic funk Miles Davis was brewing up with Pete Cosey during this period. Wild! After about thirteen minutes, the strutting baritone sax riffs of “Discipline 27” emerge from the chaos. But while bassist, Reginald “Shoo-Be-Doo” Fields, tries his best to hold down the odd-metered groove, Clifford Jarvis is his usual hyperactive self, overplaying the drums and nearly derailing the tune. Oh well; with no one quite able to navigate an effective solo, they quickly give way to one of Sun Ra’s jaw-droppingly awesome “mad scientist” synthesizer and organ displays. A throbbing space chord yields more group improvisation (led by Hadi’s trumpet) before Sonny signals “Love In Outer Space” and it’s the usual, groovy thing, but marred by a wonky, drum-heavy mix. Still, it’s a pleasant romp. After a brief, spooky organ intro, the band launches into “The Shadow World” at maximum velocity, yet they perfectly execute the tricky, interlocking melodies—even as the rhythm section suddenly drops out. Wow! Then Gilmore takes over with a fearsome tenor sax solo, accompanied by chattering electronics and bashing drums, followed by Hadi’s high-wire acrobatics and a brief arco segment from Fields, all of which receives a round a polite applause from the intrepid crowd.

Ra abruptly changes gears, cueing up the chanting and carrying on of “Space Is The Place.” By now, Jarvis is tremendously overexcited, just chomping at the bit; but Sonny keeps him on a short leash. As June Tyson exclaims, “The Second Stop Is Jupiter!,” all hell breaks loose, with one of the Space Ethnic Vocalists (either Judith Holton or Cheryl Banks) doing her terrifying, Yoko-styled shrieking. Yikes! Even so, Jarvis is denied his usual overlong drum solo as the heaving chords of “Discipline 27-II” set the stage for Ra’s rhetorical question: “What Planet Is This?” Fortunately, the declamations last only a few minutes before he moves to acoustic piano for a lovely rendition of “Images,” Fields and Jarvis locking into the jaunty, slightly old-fashioned rhythms and the Arkestra delivering a full-throated rendition of the tune. Excellent! Ebah finally gets an extended turn at the mic, his mellow, slightly smeared sound a nice contrast to Hadi’s forthright virtuosity. Gilmore follows, picking up on Ebah’s staggered phrasing and gradually builds up to a thrilling climax of impossibly fast runs, multiphonic glossolalia, and heart-stopping altissimo squealing. Yes, folks, it’s another mind-blowingly incredible John Gilmore solo! Truly, what more (or less) can I say? Just stunning.

Then the Arkestra premieres a new composition, “It Is Forbidden,” possibly written in honor of the doomed festival (and likely never performed again, that is until its posthumous resurrection in 1996 (Campbell & Trent, p.763)). As Ra pounds out a repetitive diatonic chord sequence, the band gleefully sings their heads off: “It is forbidden, it’s strictly forbidden to touch on the tree of the knowledge of the good and evil!” It’s tempting to hear this as a gentle rebuke to Sinclair and his muddle-headed politics, but I could just be projecting. “Watusi” follows and Jarvis is finally given his opportunity to wail, though tempered by myriad other percussionists and the spectacle of dancers. And again, Sonny keeps things short, calling for the reprise of the head after only a few minutes. “Sun Ra And His Band From Outer Space” happily concludes the set with a quick chant and some outer spaceship synthesizer noise. What few people who were able to attend the ill-fated festival certainly sound appreciative; they erupt into loud cheering and clapping after it is all over. Or perhaps they were just excited about James Brown.

This was the last Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival for twenty years, until the City Council finally relented and the festival was reborn in 1992—and without Sinclair’s involvement. With his organization in tatters at the end of 1974, Sinclair abandoned political activism and artist management for “less grueling pursuits,” such as journalism, poetry and grant writing (Id.). Undoubtedly, Sonny lamented the loss of a rare high-profile performance opportunity here in North America, but, in the end, it was just another gig. Two nights later, the Arkestra appeared at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago on September 8, 1974, playing a very different sort of set (which I wrote about (prematurely) here).

It Is Forbidden is perhaps the most musically satisfying of the three CDs released on Sinclair’s Alive/Total Energy label and, seeing as they are all now out of print, it is the one most worth seeking out, in my opinion. The sound quality is decent and the performance, while somewhat truncated, is mostly first-rate. Heck, “Images” alone makes this one worth the cost of admission! But it should be noted that all three feature extensive (if self-congratulatory) liner notes from Sinclair and wonderful photographs of the concerts by his wife, Leni; so, all are well worth having as a historical document. But this is the one I’m more likely to pull off the shelf. My only quibble is their continued failure to index any of the titles on the disc, requiring an hour-long commitment from the listener. Well, maybe that’s the way it should be heard: with commitment, with Ra-like discipline, as it happened in real time. Highly recommended.

July 16, 2011

Playlist Week of 7-16-11

You Shouldn't-Nuf Bit Fish

* Orchestra Of The Age Of Enlightenment : Royal Festival Hall, London 6-30-07 (FM 2CDR)
* Thelonious Monk: The Complete Prestige Recordings (Prestige/Fantasy 3CD)
* Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser (Columbia/Legacy CD)
* Thelonious Monk: Live At The It Club Complete (Columbia/Legacy 2CD)
* Andrew Hill: Pax (Blue Note CD)
* Andrew Hill: Compulsion!!!!! (Blue Note CD)
* Andrew Hill: Change (Blue Note CD)
* Andrew Hill: Grass Roots (Blue Note CD)
* Miles Davis: Star People (Columbia LP)
* Sun Ra: It Is Forbidden: At The Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival In Exile 1974 (Alive/Total Energy CD)
* John McLaughlin & The 4th Dimension: North Sea Jazz Festival, 7-09-11 (FM CDR)
* Ingrid Laubrock: Anti-House (Intakt CD)
* Mary Halvorson/Reuben Radding/Nate Wooley: Crackleknob (hatOLOGY CD)
* Mary Halvorson Quintet: Saturn Sings (Firehouse 12 CD)
* Weasel Walter/Mary Halvorson/Peter Evans: Electric Fruit (Thirsty Ear CD)
* P-Funk All-Stars: Urban Dancefloor Guerillas (CBS CD)
* George Clinton: Computer Games (Capitol LP)
* George Clinton: You Shouldn’t-Nuf Bit Fish (Capitol LP)
* George Clinton: Some Of My Best Jokes Are Friends (Capitol LP)
* George Clinton: R&B Skeletons In The Closet (Capitol LP)
* George Clinton & The P-Funk All-Stars: T.A.P.O.A.F.O.M. (Sony CD)
* Praxis: Profanation: Preparation For A Coming Darkness (M.O.D. Technologies CD)†/‡
* Grateful Dead: The Palladium, New York, NY 5-04-77 (set 2) (SBD CDR)†/‡
* Grateful Dead: Winterland June 1977: The Complete Recordings (d.7-9) (GDP/Rhino 9CD)
* Grateful Dead: Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, LI, NY 3-31-93 (SBD 3CDR)
* Blind Faith: Blind Faith (Deluxe Edition) (d.1) (Polydor/Universal 2CD)†/‡
* Chicago: VI (Columbia LP)
* Chicago: VII (Columbia 2LP)
* King Crimson: Heavy ConstrukCtion (DGM 3CD)†
* King Crimson: EleKctric (DGM CD)
* Tool: 10,000 Days (Volcano/Sony CD) †
* Sonic Youth: Goo (Deluxe Edition) (d.1-2) (Goofin’ 4LP)
* Thurston Moore: Demolished Thoughts (Matador CD)†/‡
* Robert Pollard: Lord Of The Birdcage (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Deerhoof: Deerhoof vs. Evil (Polyvinyl CD)†/‡



I had just graduated from high school when George Clinton’s first “solo” album came out in 1982. Although Computer Games barely scratched the pop 100, “Atomic Dog” was a #1 R&B single and was the soundtrack to numerous parties for years to come. As good as it was, the follow-up album, You Shouldn’t-Nuf Bit Fish (1983) was even better. “Nubian Nut” hardly charted, but the record is all killer, no filler. Both records prominently feature the full P-Funk crew, including Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell, Gary Shider, Maceo Parker, et al. and Clinton’s arranging and production is truly inspired—completely off the hook. This is some funky baroque! “Last Dance” summed up my pathetic self at the time: a timid “psychedelic wallflower” too shy to get the girl. Little did I know I would find true love in a library of all places (but that was much later). Urban Dancefloor Guerillas, a one-off record for CBS was released almost simultaneously under the P-Funk All Stars moniker and it's also a stone-cold classic. For a little while, it appeared George Clinton had staged a full-blown comeback.

But as ‘80s wore on, Clinton’s legal difficulties mounted and his mainstream popularity started to wane. So Capitol suggested he work with Thomas Dolby, another one-hit wonder whose career had been flagging since “She Blinded Me With Science” peaked in 1983. Whatever the label's hopes, the resulting album, Some Of My Best Jokes Are Friends (1985), was still a P-Funk thang through and through, despite the prominence of booming drum machines and swooning keyboards—but neither single (“Double Oh-Oh”; “Bullet Proof”) went anywhere. R&B Skeletons In The Closet followed in 1986, but by then, Capitol had lost interest and let the record sink without a trace. Beneath the surface of florid arrangements and shiny beats, Clinton’s bitterness and fatigue was beginning to show, resulting in a quasi-concept album about black artists losing their black audience when trying to “cross-over” to white pop success. Notably, the opening track, “Hey Good Lookin’,” features former Miss America 1983, Vanessa Williams, in her recording debut. While largely overlooked at the time, it is a strong record and a fitting capper to a run of extraordinary albums for the label.

At the time, I never saw the need to own these records; it seemed all my friends already had them and played them A LOT. And as the years went on and I moved away, I moved on. I never really thought about them. Sure, I’d see them in record stores sometimes and they’d bring back fond memories, but, upon closer examination, they were usually completely trashed—the victim of one too many parties. But I was browsing at Grimey’s on Tuesday (as usual) and found all four original LPs in the new “pre-loved” bin. They were a little dirty (as expected), but the vinyl appeared to be unblemished, so I figured, “what the heck—I needs me more funk!” And, as I suspected, a little “deep cleaning” made them sound good as new—fantastic, even! Wow, I hadn’t heard these records in years, and, let me tell you, it was nothing but a party, y’all! Good stuff. What’s remarkable about hearing them now is how fresh they still sound; Clinton could make those primitive drum machines swing in a way those other ‘80s bands never could.

So, here we are, almost thirty years later. Despite an up-and-down career (1996’s T.A.P.O.A.F.O.A.M. (Sony) being a particular highlight), George Clinton is still kicking it. In fact, he’s right here in Nashville this very evening with The P-Funk All Stars, headlining The Soul Food Festival in Riverfront Park. I bet it’s going to be a blast and the soul food sure sounds tempting—but, no, I'm not going. (Yes, I am lame.) Instead, I’m thoroughly enjoying spinning these records in the comfort of my air-conditioned home (and scribbling about it on my blog). I’m totally there in spirit, though: “Make my funk the P-Funk, their funk is the best!”

July 10, 2011

Sun Ra Sunday

Space Punk Sax Player

You know what would be really cool? Sun Ra Arkestra Action Figures! I can just picture it: Sonny with a miniature Rocksichord, Allen, Davis and Gilmore with their saxophones and flutes. Collect the whole series! Hadi and Ebah! Pat Patrick, Boykins and Jarvis! Wind him up and he plays a thirty-minute drum solo! They could have an interchangeable wardrobe of space-hats , capes, and space-boots. Maybe they could even ride in a toy spaceship; press a button, June Tyson sings “Space Is The Place.” I think it would be awesome! Imagine an alternate universe where Space Is The Place is the smash hit movie of 1974, spawning a hugely popular Saturday morning cartoon show and generating all kinds of merchandise tie-ins, such as Sun Ra Arkestra Action Figures. Wouldn’t that have been cool alternate universe to live in?

Yeah, OK, I’m dancing in place here and I know it. It has been pointed out to me that I skipped an item in my chronological survey and, well, it’s gotten me slightly discombobulated. It just goes to show: I am no expert on this stuff! As it turns out, this particular album does not appear in Campbell & Trent’s discography (which badly needs a 3rd edition) and, despite my best efforts to organize my collection of Sun Ra recordings, I had completely forgotten about it. Obviously, my organization skills leave something to be desired. So it goes... Sun Ra’s recorded output is truly massive (and seemingly ever-expanding)—which is the very reason I started Sun Ra Sunday: to listen carefully and try to sort it all out in my mind. Not an easy task—and since nobody is paying me to do this, it’s going to take some time.

So please be patient dear readers. We’ll hopefully catch up next week and then keep moving forward, incrementally. In the meantime, here’s a little poem about alternate universes where Sun Ra Arkestra Action Figures are possible:


If it is not here,
It must be there:
For somewhere and nowhere parallels
In secret versions of each other’s where
Or even before somethings came to be.

--Sun Ra (1980)

July 9, 2011

Playlist Week of 7-09-11

The Red Krayola - Parable of Arable Land

* Andrew Hill: Andrew!!! (Blue Note CD)
* Herbie Hancock: Directstep (Columbia/Sony—Japan CD)
* Herbie Hancock: Future Shock (Columbia/Legacy CD)
* John McLaughlin: Johnny McLaughlin, Electric Guitarist (Columbia LP)
* David S. Ware Quartet: Corridors & Parallels (AUM Fidelity CD)
* Matthew Shipp: Art Of The Improviser (Thirsty Ear 2CD)
* Test: Test (AUM Fidelity CD)
* P.M. Dawn: The Bliss Album…? (Gee Street/Island CD)‡
* Bob Dylan: Modern Times (Columbia 2LP)
* Bob Dylan: Together Through Life (Columbia 2LP)
* Grateful Dead: Northrup Auditorium, Minneapolis, MN 10-19-71 (SBD 3CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Steppin’ Out With The Grateful Dead: England ’72 (d.4) (GDP/Rhino 4CD)†/‡
* Grateful Dead: Adams Field House, Univ. of Montana, Missoula, MT 5-14-74 (SBD 3CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Winterland, June 1977: The Complete Recordings (d.4-6) (GDP/Rhino 9CD)
* Grateful Dead: Sandstone Amphitheatre, Bonner Springs, KS 7-04-90 (d.2) (SBD 3CDR)
* Sir Douglas Quintet: The Mono Singles ’68-’72 (Mercury/Sundazed 2LP)
* Fleetwood Mac: Rumours (Warner Bros./Reprise 2-45RPM LP)
* Chicago: III (Columbia 2LP)
* Chicago: V (Columbia LP)
* Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Rust Never Sleeps (Reprise LP)
* Emmylou Harris: Stumble Into Grace (Nonesuch CD)†/‡
* Emmylou Harris: All I Intended To Be (Nonesuch CD)†/‡
* King Crimson: THRAK (DGM CD)†
* King Crimson: The ConstruKction Of Light (Virgin CD)†
* King Crimson: The Power To Believe (DGM/Sanctuary CD)†
* King Crimson: ProjeKct One: Live At The Jazz Café (DGM CD)†
* Robert Fripp: Exposure (Expanded Edition) (d.1) (DGM 2CD)
* Tool: Undertow (Volcano CD)†
* The Red Crayola: The Parable Of Arable Land (Lt’d Edition) (Int’l Artists/Charly 2CD)
* The Red Krayola: God Bless The Red Krayola And All Who Sail With It (Int’l Artists/Charly CD)
* The Red Krayola: Live 1967 (Drag City 2CD)
* The Red Krayola: Coconut Hotel (Drag City CD)
* The Red Krayola: Singles (Drag City CD)
* Mayo Thompson: Corky’s Debt To His Father (Texas Revolution/Drag City CD)
* John Fahey: America (Takoma/4 Men With Beards 2LP)
* X: “4th Of July”/”Positively 4th Street” (Elektra 7”)
* U2: The Unforgettable Fire (Deluxe Edition) (d.1) (Island 2CD)
* U2: The Joshua Tree (Deluxe Edition) (Island 2CD)
* Sonic Youth: Goo (Geffen/MoFi LP)
* Sonic Youth: “Helen Lundeberg”/ “Eyeliner” (SY 7”)
* Jim O’Rourke: Bad Timing (Drag City CD)
* Beck: “Diamond Bullocks”/ “Runners Dial Zero” (Bong Load Custom 7”)
* Robert Pollard: Lord Of The Birdcage (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Mars Classroom: The New Theory Of Everything (Happy Jack Rock Records LP)
* Radiohead: OK Computer (EMI/Capitol CD)†/‡
* U.S. Maple: “Stuck”/ “When A Man Says Ow” (Skin Graft 7”)
* Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop 2LP)



One Saturday afternoon in early 1967, Lelan Rogers (brother of Kenny) was at the Gulfgate Mall in Houston, Texas. He was there with his wife, to replace their recently deceased parakeet. Meanwhile, a noisy “battle of the bands” was taking place in the “Santa Claus” area of the mall and, being employed by the International Artists record label to scout out local talent, he decided to hang out for a while to check it out. As he recalled later:

Three of them [were] up on the stage that had four or five different kinds of instruments, and they could not play a note. They were just making noise and they were really putting the people on: I was watching, and the young people were really getting off, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen-year-old teeny-boppers, really getting off watching whatever this was—this no-nonsense music. And them getting off, the older crowd, 25 to 80, wanted to be part of what the youth was enjoying…I was watching the faces of the crowd, I figured anybody that was able to put on a crowd like that—there’s got to be a market [fn1].

Rogers approached the band of noise-makers and handed them his card. The Red Crayola would go on to make two of the most outrageous records of the psychedelic era for International Artists but despite Rogers’s imaginings of a market for this kind of abject weirdness, the records sold poorly at the time. Who’d a thunk?

But The Red Crayola were no put on—or at least only in the sense that Dada is a put on. Comprised of three art-damaged, sometime college students Mayo Thompson, Steve Cunningham and Rick Barthelme (brother of novelist, David), the band started out like every other band of the era: wanting to be the Beatles. But when that proved too limiting and difficult, Yoko Ono’s approach seemed much more appealing. Barthelme was already starting to make a name for himself as a painter. He knew John Cage personally and had participated in the early “happenings” of Allan Kaprow and Claus Oldenburg and therefore knew there was another way to go:

Because we couldn’t play all that well, we had to do something else, something more interesting, and since we were art-inclined, we went that route, leaning on every possible art idea at every turn. Soon we were making “free music,” playing long improvised pieces heavily invested in feedback, random acts of auditory aggression, utterances of all kinds. We began to have big ideas about ways to listen to music, and what “music” was… Since we were taken with art, it was natural that our idea of music included John Cage and La Monte Young and Albert Ayler and anyone else who made music that didn’t sound like traditional music. Harry Partch. The Fugs… The rude and disconnected soundtracks [the “happenings”] sometimes employed or produced were tasty additions to our repertoire [fn2].

Audience participation was an integral part of The Red Crayola’s live performances at the time and a group a friends and hangers-on nicknamed “The Familiar Ugly” would regularly join them onstage for chaotic noisemaking. And so, on April Fool’s day 1967, some fifty people plus the band crammed into Andrus Studios to begin recording their debut album, The Parable Of Arable Land. Consisting of six “Free Form Freak-Outs” with The Familiar Ugly interspersed with six quirkily original songs, the album is undeniably strange yet completely captivating, a genuinely lysergic experience. Originally issued in mono, the label was infatuated with the new-fangled format and demanded a stereo version. Although the original multitracks had been recycled, a stereo master was created by Walt Andrus “by the ‘miracle sound’ where you make a copy of it and flange it and get it a little out of phase, swoosh it around some” [fn3]. Unlike most rechanneled stereo masters, this one is actually an improvement, featuring radically weird effects which go far to enhance the “psychedelic” experience; the mono mix is relatively tame by comparison.

The band traveled to California just in time for “The Summer Of Love,” but by this time any pretense at being any sort of conventional “rock band” had completely evaporated and they assaulted the hippies with minimalist scraping, howling feedback, and the sound of ice melting onto a piece of tinfoil. Needless to say, the reaction was mixed as you can hear on Drag City’s two-CD compilation from the California sojourn, Live 1967. The legendary John Fahey invited them to an impromptu studio session, but International Artists took offense and demanded the tapes, which were subsequently lost. One can only imagine what that sounded like! Recording sessions for a second album to be titled Coconut Hotel, took place at Andrus in the fall, but consisting as it did of short avant-garde sound experiments, the label rightfully rejected it as “uncommercial” and it remained unreleased until Drag City rescued it from obscurity in 1995. It is, indeed, a difficult listening experience. With opportunities for live performances drying up, Barthelme moved to New York to pursue his art and writing career and The Red Krayola essentially disbanded.

Despite the poor sales of Parable and the rejection of Coconut Hotel—not to mention receipt of a stern cease and desist letter from the owners of the Crayola trademark—International Artists contacted Mayo Thompson about making another album in the spring of 1968. Thompson agreed, but God Bless The Red Krayola and All Who Sail With It was very different from what came before. From its stark, black-and-white cover to the jittery, angular songs within, the album pre-echoes the post-rock ethos decades later. Like its predecessor, it also failed to sell in any significant numbers and the label soon folded. Steve Cunningham moved to Austria to pursue a degree and career as a technical writer while Barthelme became a successful painter and author. Mayo Thompson soldiered on, later moving to London where he helped establish Rough Trade as the preeminent punk record label, producing seminal records by Pere Ubu, The Fall, Cabaret Voltaire and The Raincoats while periodically continuing to work under The Red Krayola moniker.

Despite their growing critical reputation, those first two records have not been well served in the digital era. The British label, Charly, has controlled the rights to the International Artists catalog for decades and previous CDs of this material have been bad transfers from noisy vinyl copies, making them not much better than bootlegs. However, it seems like Charly is finally getting their act together. Working with the original master tapes, these albums were recently remastered by Spacemen 3’s Sonic Boom (a/k/a Pete Kember) and packaged in deluxe gatefold editions with extensive liner notes by Paul Drummond. Well, it’s about time! Parable includes two CDs, both mono and stereo, loaded with bonus tracks while God Bless…stands alone. These are beautifully well done and, believe me: the sound quality is exponentially improved; this music sounds startlingly modern.

We wanted to make noise, to crack some skulls, and make sounds that stunned, sometimes by remarkable volume, sometimes by a magical syrup of rhythms and tones, and always with noises nobody had ever heard before, at least not in rock music…The truth is that, by accident and design, we were way out ahead of our time, we were packing everything we could think of into the music and slipping it under the hippie heading, where it never once belonged, but where it nevertheless passed as part of the revolution. From our vantage point out on the edge, Zappa and the Velvet Underground, and other more conventionally strange bands were Vichy puppet right-wingers, ordinary musicians trying to do something different and still function within the rock & roll framework. We said fuck the framework, listen to this, motherfucker. And then busted your eardrum… The idea was that pure, saintly sound could save you from certain death and that rock & roll was—dare I say it?—fundamentally compromised. We were not entirely wrong, as history has demonstrated [fn4].

Hear for yourself! Please note that Charly says these are “limited editions.” I don’t know what that means, but I suggest getting them while you can. God Bless The Red Krayola And All Who Sail With It!


[fn1] Quoted in Drummond, “The Red Crayola Story Part 1: The Parable of Arable Land,” p.3-4).
[fn2] Barthelme, “The Red Crayola: All They Wanted To Play Was The Crack-Ball Stuff” in Oxford American, Issue 58 (2007), p.48-49.
[fn3] Quoted in Drummond, p.12.
[fn4] Barthelme, p.50.

July 6, 2011

Cy Twombly R.I.P.

Twombly 02

I first encountered Cy Twombly's work back in the late-'80s when a friend of mine showed me a monograph of his paintings. Now, I considered myself pretty sophisticated when it came to art so when my response was the stereotypical, "a three-year old could do that!", well, I was shocked. I loved the AbEx giants like Jackson Pollock and Willem DeKooning, but this was something else altogether. After chuckling at my reaction, this friend of mine (who was himself a painter) politiely informed me Twombly was one of the finest draughtsmen in modern art and proceeded to point out putative examples in the book. I was flabbergasted. But I respected his opinion enough to take him at his word and I checked a number of books out of the library.

As it turns out, it is extremely difficult to scribble like a child once you are an adult -- especially if you have any sort of "training," which rewards representation (or imitation) over expression very early on. Indeed, Twombly turned down a solo exhibit early in his career and, instead, spent some time drawing in the dark so as to lose the habits of his schooling. From there, he went on to develop his inimitable signature style, marrying a prodigious formal technique to seemingly childlike mark-making.

To make a long story short, I learned to love Cy Twombly; in fact, he is probably my most favorite artist of all time, partly because of the very difficulty I had to overcome in order to appreciate his work. Part of the difficulty is the fact that his paintings and drawings do not reproduce well, deflating their often monumental scale and obscuring subtle details in the process. In person, his works are all-engulfing and powerfully expressive of ineffable truths about freedom, desire, frailty. At least to me. I feel fortunate to have attended the 1994 retrospective at MOMA and visited the Cy Twombly Gallery at the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas.

So, I was sad to learn of his passing yesterday. He was 83 -- the same age as my Mom. He had lost his wife last year and was suffering from cancer, so it was probably a blessing. But it is hard to say goodbye to our heroes (and our family); fortunately for us, their works remain behind. Thank you, Mr. Twombly, for enriching my life. May you rest in peace.

The New York Times obituary is here.

Peter Plagens's comments here.

An extensive online gallery of Twombly's works can be found here.

July 4, 2011

Happy Independence Day!

Fireworks 02

Playing with fire and playing with the camera: that's how I like to celebrate Independence Day! Have a happy (and safe) Fourth of July, everybody!

July 2, 2011

Playlist Week of 7-02-11

Wall of Music

* J.S. Bach: Motets (La Chapelle Royale/Collegium Vocale/Herreweghe) (Harmonia Mundi CD)
* Scriabin: Complete Symphonies (Deutsches Symphonie-Orch. Berlin/Jablonksi) (d.3)(Decca 3CD)
* Lachenmann: Kontrakadenz, etc. (SWR Stuttgart/Gielen, et al.) (Kairos CD)
* Django Reinhardt: The Classic Early Recordings in Chronological Order (d.2-3) (JSP 5CD)
* John Coltrane: A Love Supreme (Impulse! SACD)
* Sun Ra: It Is Forbidden: At The Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival In Exile (Alive/Total Energy CD)
* Sun Ra: Jazz Showcase, Chicago, IL 9-08-74 (AUD CDR)
* Sun Ra: Dance Of The Living Image: Lost Reel Collection, Vol.4 (Transparency 2CD)
* Sun Ra: Civic Auditorium, Santa Cruz, CA 12-11-74 (AUD 2CDR)
* Mahavishnu Orchestra: Visions Of The Emerald Beyond (Columbia LP)
* Stanley Clarke: School Days (Epic/Friday Music LP)
* LTJ Bukem: Journey Inwards (Kinetic 2CD) †/‡
* 13th Floor Elevators: The Psychedelic Sounds of… (International Artists/Charly CD)
* 13th Floor Elevators: Easter Everywhere (International Artists/Charly CD)
* 13th Floor Elevators: “Live” (International Artists/Charly CD)
* 13th Floor Elevators: Bull Of The Woods (International Artists/Charly CD)
* Grateful Dead: Fillmore West 1969: The Complete Recordings (d.1-2) (GDP/Rhino 10CD)
* Grateful Dead: Steppin’ Out With the Grateful Dead: England ‘72 (d.1-3) (GDP/Arista 4CD)†/‡
* Grateful Dead: Winterland, June 1977: The Complete Recordings (d.1-3) (GDP/Rhino 9CD)
* Neil Young: Freedom (Reprise LP)
* Grateful Dead: Sam Boyd Silver Bowl, UNLV, Las Vegas, NV 5-21-95 (SBD 3CDR)
* The Band: Rock Of Ages (Capitol/MoFi SACD)
* Big Star: #1 Record (Ardent/Classic LP)
* Big Star: Radio City (Ardent/Classic LP)
* King Crimson: Larks’ Tongues In Aspic (DGM CD)†
* King Crimson: Starless And Bible Black (DGM CD)†
* King Crimson: USA (DGM CD)†
* King Crimson: Discipline (DGM CD)†
* King Crimson: Beat (DGM CD)†
* King Crimson: Three Of A Perfect Pair (DGM CD)†
* Jakszyk, Fripp & Collins: A Scarcity Of Miracles (DVD-A) (Inner Knot CD/DVD-A)
* Japan: Oil On Canvas (Virgin 2LP)
* David Sylvian: Gone To Earth (Virgin 2LP)
* Sonic Youth: Daydream Nation (Deluxe Edition) (Goofin’ 4LP)
* Spacemen 3: Perfect Prescription (Genius CD)
* Lifeguards: Waving At The Astronauts (Serious Business CD)†/‡
* Deerhoof: Friend Opportunity (Kill Rock Stars CD)
* Deerhoof: Offend Maggie (Kill Rock Stars CD)



I’m still having too much fun with the new camera to sit still and write anything—and besides, it’s a holiday weekend here in the USA. So y'all just take it easy and enjoy yourselves. There will be more blather from me in due time. . .Until then, “Keep On Rockin’ In The Free World.”