September 25, 2011

Sun Ra Sunday


Resist me -------
Make me strong.
Resist me -------
Make me strong.
For since I cannot be what you will
I shall always be that much more so
What I will.
Resist me -------
Repulse my dreams
Thus is a spark brought from nothing . . . .
Stone rubbed against stone
Upon the thirsty grass,
Dried and baked by a burning sun . . . . . . .
Then suddenly: flame.
Flame feeding flame.
. . . Now, nothing is the same:
The stones are blackened -------
The grass is ashes
The burning is still no less itself
But all else is changed
Nor ever shall be as it was before.

--Sun Ra (1966)

September 24, 2011

Playlist Week of 9-24-11

Miles Davis - Bootleg Series Volume 1

* Francisco Javier 1506-1553: La Ruta de Oriente (Hesperion XXI/Savall) (Alia Vox 2SACD)
* Mahler: Symphony No.4 (Chicago Symphony/Reiner) (RCA-Victor SACD)
* Miles Davis: Cookin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet (Prestige/DCC CD)
* Miles Davis: Relaxin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet (Prestige/DCC CD)
* Miles Davis Quintet: Tivoli Konsertsal, Copenhagen 3-24-60 (FM CDR)
* Miles Davis Quintet: unknown venue 1960 (FM CDR)
* Miles Davis Quintet: Kongresshalle, Frankfurt 3-30-60 (FM CDR)
* Miles Davis Quintet: Kongresshaus, Zurich 4-08-60 (FM CDR)
* Miles Davis Quintet: Kurhaus, Scheveningen 4-09-60 (FM CDR)
* Miles Davis Quintet: Newport Jazz Festival 1966-1967 (FM CDR)
* Miles Davis Quintet: Harmon Gymnasium, UC Berkeley 4-07-67 (FM CDR)
* Miles Davis: The Bootleg Series Vol.1: Live In Europe 1967 (Columbia/Legacy 3CD+DVD)
* Miles Davis Quintet: De Doelen, Rotterdam 10-30-67 (FM CDR)
* John Coltrane: The Ultimate Blue Train (Blue Note CD)
* Sun Ra: What’s New? (side 2) (LP>CDR)
* Sun Ra: “I’m Gonna Unmask The Batman” (unreleased single) (MP3>CDR)
* Sun Ra: The “New” Five Spot, New York, NY 6-11-75 (AUD(?) CDR)
* Sun Ra: Rehearsal, September 1976 (CDR)
* Anthony Braxton & Gerry Hemingway: Old Dogs (2007) (d.4) (Mode/Avant 4CD)
* Anthony Braxton/Milford Graves/William Parker: Beyond Quantum (Tzadik CD)
* Bill Dixon: 17 Musicians In Search Of A Sound: Darfur (AUM Fidelity CD)
* Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble: Drawn Inward (ECM CD)†
* Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble: The Eleventh Hour (ECM CD)†
* Steve Tibbetts: Big Map Idea (ECM CD)†
* Steve Tibbetts: The Fall Of Us All (ECM CD)†
* Pat Metheny Group: Imaginary Day (Geffen CD)†
* Pat Metheny Group: The Way Up (Nonesuch CD)†
* ProjeKct Three: Masque (DGM CD)†
* ProjeKcT Four: West Coast Live (DGM CD)†
* BPM&M: XtraKcts & ArtifaKcts (Papa Bear CD)
* David Torn/Mick Karn/Terry Bozzio: Polytown (CMP CD)†
* David Torn: Cloud About Mercury (ECM CD)†
* David Torn: Prezens (ECM CD)†
* Tony Levin/David Torn/Alan White: Levin Torn White (Lazy Bones CD) (†)
* The Beatles: Beatles For Sale (2009 mono) (Apple/EMI CD)
* The Beatles: Help! (2009 mono) (Apple/EMI CD)
* John Lennon: Plastic Ono Band (Apple/EMI Capitol CD)
* John Lennon: Imagine (Apple/EMI Capitol CD)
* John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band: Some Time In New York City (d.1)(Apple/EMI/Capitol 2CD)
* John Lennon: Mind Games (Apple/EMI Capitol CD)
* John Lennon: Walls And Bridges (Apple/EMI Captol CD)
* Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968 (d.1-3) (Rhino 4CD)†/‡
* Grateful Dead: Europe ’72 (Warner Bros./Rhino 2CD)
* Grateful Dead: Europe ’72 Vol.2 (GDP/Rhino 2CD)
* Santana: Lotus (CBS/Sony 3LP)
* Big Star: Keep An Eye On The Sky (d.3) (Ardent/Rhino 4CD)†/‡
* Cocteau Twins: Aikea-Guinea (Capitols CDEP)†
* Cocteau Twins: Sunburst And Snowblind (4AD/Capitol CDEP)
* Thurston Moore: Demolished Thoughts (Matador CD)†
* Boston Spaceships: Let It Beard (GBV, Inc. 2LP)
* A Perfect Circle: Mer De Noms (Virgin CD)†
* A Perfect Circle: Thirteenth Step (Virgin CD)†
* Radiohead: In Rainbows (TBD CD)†
* Radiohead: The King Of Limbs (TBD/XL CD)†



It took more than a decade for Sony to finally complete their series of CD box sets documenting Miles Davis’s 1955-1975 Columbia recordings and in the ensuing years there has been nothing but senseless re-packagings and deletions—in fact, those beautiful, metal-spined box sets are by now long out of print, once again leaving grievous gaps in the catalog (not to mention the overall neglect of his post-1980 “comeback” material). But things have recently started to look up for Miles fanatics: last year’s “Legacy Edition” of the landmark Bitches Brew album is truly deluxe, with decent re-mastering, a couple of unreleased tracks and a splendid live DVD from Copenhagen on November 4, 1969. Then in February, Bitches Brew Live was released and, despite its unimaginative title and hideous cover art, it is a most welcome addition to the discography: the previously unavailable recordings from the 1969 Newport Jazz Festival and the Isle of Wight in August, 1970 are revelatory.

This week brings The Bootleg Series Vol.1: Live In Europe 1967, a reasonably-priced three-CD plus DVD set collecting five radio and television broadcasts of the so-called “Second Great Quintet” at the height of their powers. Accompanied by the stellar lineup of Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone, Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass and Tony Williams on drums, Miles plays with a fiery, full-throated intensity—gone, for the most part, is muted balladry heard on The Complete Plugged Nickel 1965—and the band restlessly deconstructs the old repertoire with gleeful abandon while adding new, almost rock-ish compositions like “Agitation” and “Riot” into the mix. This group exploded the boundaries of small-group acoustic jazz, incorporating the innovations of avant-gardists like Ornette Coleman while never totally abandoning “the tradition” (that would come later, with the addition of electric instruments). And you can hear them taking the traditional format as far as possible, “heads” being secondary to extended flights of free improvisation, a continuous stream of music with obliquely rendered tunes dotting the landscape like a medley or suite. So, while the setlists appear repetitive, each performance is uniquely compelling. After nearly three years of working together, the quintet plays with an astonishing level of empathy and limitless creativity—seriously, “trad jazz” just doesn’t get any better than this.

In his (ineloquent but earthy) autobiography, Miles had this to say about the “Second Great Quintet”:

Every night Herbie, Tony, and Ron would sit around back in their hotel rooms, talking about what they had played until the morning came. Every night they would come back and play something different. And every night I would have to react. The music we did together changed every fucking night; if you heard it yesterday, it was different tonight. Man, it was something how the shit changed from night to night after awhile. Even we didn’t know where it was all going to. But we did know it was going somewhere else and that it was probably going to be hip, and that was enough to keep everyone excited while it lasted (quoted in Todd Coolman, The Miles Davis Quintet, 1965-’68 liner notes, p.46).

In fact, the “Second Quintet” would not last much longer: by the end of 1967, the band would be experimenting with proto-jazz/rock fusion in the recording studio while pushing acoustic jazz as far as it could go on the bandstand. Watching the DVD included in The Bootleg Series Vol.1, you can see quite clearly that no matter how “out there” his band went, Miles was always in complete control—and he was visibly moving in a new direction. The times were indeed a-changin’ during these tumultuous years and Miles would respond with groundbreaking records, In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew in 1968 and 1969. Things would never be the same—in neither the insular world of jazz nor the volatile culture at large—and Miles would remain at music’s cutting edge until his “retirement” in 1975. These live recordings from 1967 vividly document the end of an era—and the delicate transition to a new one.

Collectors have traded off-the-air recordings from this European tour for years but The Bootleg Series Vol.1 presents fresh transfers from the original station reels, resulting in spectacularly good (albeit monophonic) sound. Moreover, the Copenhagen set from November 2, 1967 has never before circulated and the November 6 Paris concert is presented here complete and unedited. And, of course, the DVD is a real treat, containing performances from Stockholm on October 31 and Karslruhe on November 7 in excellent quality. It’s fascinating to watch the band’s telepathic, non-verbal communications: pointed glances, nearly invisible gestures and tossed-off musical cues. Sure, The Bootleg Series Vol.1 could have easily been expanded to include known recordings from Helsinki, Rotterdam and Berlin, but who’s complaining? Sony has done a top-notch job with this release and I’m looking forward to further volumes in the series—as you can see above, there are plenty more “bootlegs” out there worthy of this kind of treatment. Most highly recommended!


Sharp-eyed readers have probably noticed what has NOT yet appeared on my playlists this month. Yep, that’s right: I’m STILL waiting for my Complete Europe ’72 box from This has been an absolute clusterf@ck ever since its announcement back in January, when the frenzy of pre-orders crashed their servers, resulting in a chaotic, confusing mess which left most customers (including me) wondering whether or not they had successfully purchased the limited-edition set. Well, they finally started shipping them out at the end of August and, after patiently waiting for a couple of weeks, I placed a call to 1-800-CAL-DEAD to enquire about the status of my order. Of course, the clueless customer service rep was unable to provide me with any concrete information but helpfully suggested I provide him with a street address since orders were being shipped via UPS. Reluctantly, I agreed. The next morning, I received an email telling me my order was being delayed since I had provided a Post Office Box address and to please reply with a street address as soon as possible or my order would be canceled. WTF? I duly replied and waited another week; still nothing. I called again and was told the warehouse was “awaiting product” and my order would be shipped soon. Fine. On September 20, I received an email informing me my box was being shipped—to my P.O. Box! Huh? Even though I was provided with a tracking number, the U.S. Postal Service still says they have “no record of this item” a full four days later. At this point, I’m wondering if I will ever receive it! In the meantime, I picked up Europe ’72 Vol.2, a two-disc compilation which was released to retail outlets last week. I figure something is better than nothing—and the hour-long “Dark Star>The Other One” is easily worth the cost of admission—but I’m still left with a bad taste in my mouth about this whole ordeal. And to add insult to injury, they just announced that all twenty-two shows will be released individually at the end of the year—so much for “limited edition.” I’m glad to see the posthumous Dead have an unexpected hit on their hands, but for $450 + shipping, I expected better service than what I’ve received so far. We’ll see what happens next.


In a happier tale of good customer service, Monster Cable honored their unconditional lifetime warranty on my Turbine Pro Copper earbuds after the left channel suddenly stopped working. They happily exchanged them for a brand new pair with no questions asked! While it took about a month door-to-door, I was impressed how smoothly the process worked. Now, after a couple of weeks of heavy use at the office, the replacements are starting to break in nicely and sound great. I’m also trying to handle them with even greater care—I don’t want to have to do this again. Regardless, it’s nice to know Monster will stand behind their product and their warranty is not just a clever “legal fiction.” Kudos, Monster Cable!

September 23, 2011

"Little Match Girl Passion" @ Indeterminacies

Portara New Music Quartet - Zeitgeist Gallery 2011-09-13b

Last week’s Indeterminacies event at Zeitgeist was (as usual) quite extraordinary with a sublime performance of David Lang’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Little Match Girl Passion” by the Portara New Music Quartet combined with an enthralling discussion led by renowned classical music critic, John Pitcher. The piece (which I wrote about here) was given an emotional, almost operatic, reading and Mr. Pritcher got everyone talking about everything from minimalism, modernism and postmodernism to religion and politics. Inevitably, Hans Christian Andersen’s allegorical story of Christ was the focus of the conversation—yet the vocalists were encouraged to talk about the music itself and the challenges of performance, including the difficulty of playing percussion instruments while singing rhythmically complex music. In my opinion, they pulled it off with remarkable élan given their admittedly limited rehearsal time although the overdrawn dynamic swings were a little overwhelming at times. Nevertheless, it was a deeply moving experience, enhanced by the gallery’s subtly reverberant acoustic and the enormous picture windows looking out on a busy and carefree 21st Avenue.

Next month, Indeterminacies hosts composer/instrumentalist Andrew Raffo Dewar with performances of his chamber works performed by Pulse New Music Ensemble. Amazingly enough, your humble blogger has been asked to serve as moderator! Mr. Pitcher will be a hard act to follow but, then again, Andrew Raffo Dewar’s music is right up my alley, what with his having studied and performed with one of my big heroes, Anthony Braxton, and whose own compositions are exquisite examples of “ergodic notation.” I may not totally understand how this music works but I know this will be an opportunity to learn. These Indeterminacies events are always scintillating and I’m proud to have been asked to participate—I’ll give it my best shot! There will be more about all this on blogs to come. In the meantime, check out Theatre Intangible’s in depth interview with curators Lain York and Lesley Beaman here.

September 18, 2011

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra: The Singles (Saturn/Evidence 2CD)

Although the Arkestra was fairly active in 1975, with several known performances up and down the east coast and extended sojourns to the mid-west, it is one of the most sparsely documented years in the discography (see Campbell & Trent, pp.217-221). The Impulse! deal had pretty much run its course, with all the albums dumped into the cut-out bins and summarily deleted—so I suppose there was little incentive to make any more records during this period. Sadly, there are also very few “bootlegs” available to fill in the gaps.

Nevertheless, a live concert (possibly recorded on May 23) yielded a ten-minute track which was (briefly) issued as side-B of What’s New (Saturn 752), a hodgepodge record with a tortured discographical history. According to Prof. Campbell, matrix numbers and label texts vary and, in any event, most copies replace the original side-B with side-A of The Invisible Shield (Id. pp.218-219). Confusing? Yes. Well, don’t worry about it. The track fades up on the end of “Space Is The Place” and segues immediately into a hectoring Cosmo Drama (sometimes titled, “We Roam the Cosmos”). There are some amusing raps about Sun Ra bounding across the universe “using the planets as stepping stones” but the sound quality is extremely noisy and distorted, rendering it virtually unlistenable. Since there’s really not a whole lot going on musically, I see no real reason to go out of your way to locate this impossibly rare pressing (an amateur “needle-drop” can be found on CDR, if you’re really interested).

More intriguing are a bunch of unreleased Saturn singles, including “Things Ain’t Going To Be Like They Used To Be”, “Make Another Mistake” and a seven-minute version of “I’m Gonna Unmask The Batman” (Id. pp.217-218). None of these tracks were included on the Evidence CD set, but “Batman” circulates amongst collectors, albeit in the lossy MP3 format. Recorded live (possibly at the same concert as “We Roam The Cosmos”), it also suffers from grossly distorted sound as Ahk Tal Ebah (?) sings, shouts and screams into the microphone while the horns riff in the background. John Gilmore takes a loopy solo on tenor saxophone followed by—could it be? Walter Miller on trumpet! Maybe Prof. Campbell is wrong about Kwami Hadi’s presence on this, since the vocalist calls Miller out by name. It certainly sounds like him! Regardless, the super-funky drumming (by someone named “Freddie”) is the highlight of the track and he takes a killer drum break, ripe for the hip-hopper's sampler. Ra’s fascination with “The Caped Crusader” is somewhat inexplicable—maybe it was the campy costume—but this odd little ditty (written by Lacy Gibson and Alton Abraham) would be performed fairly regularly during the 1980s.

Finally, a typically quirky seven-inch single was released as Saturn 256 at the end of the year. The A-side features newly overdubbed vocals on the 1970 recording of “Love In Outer Space” (found on Night Of The Purple Moon). David Henderson croons the surprisingly sentimental lyrics about “love everlasting…love for everybody…love for everything”—and amazingly enough, it works! This is, of course, a classic track from one of the all-time great Ra albums and the vocals manage to add a touching sweetness that is truly unique. The flip-side, “Mayan Temple,” was probably recorded June 27, 1975 at Variety Recorders in New York and it’s an early version of what would later become known as “The Mayan Temples” (Id. p.221). Ra plays the loping, minor-mode bass line on MiniMoog, while scattering tinkly notes on the Rocksichord; meanwhile, Marshall Allen blows wildly keening oboe. What it lacks in melody and harmony is more than compensated for in spacey atmosphere, making for a subtly evocative record. Unfortunately, it fades out much too soon. Still, it's the perfect single and belongs in every hipster's jukebox.

In the coming weeks, we’ll listen to a couple of verité recordings (one of which is not listed in Campbell’s discography) with a detour through Ronnie Boykins’s solo LP on ESP-Disk’ before moving on to 1976, where things start to pick up considerably. Stay tuned.


Special thanks once again to drummer extraordinaire (and Sun Ra expert) Sam Byrd for providing me with a bunch of rare stuff I was missing—I couldn’t do this without his help!

September 17, 2011

Playlist Week of 9-17-11


* Marais: Pieces de Viole des Cinq Livres (Savall, et al.) (d.1) (Alia Vox 4SACD)
* J.S. Bach: Violin Sonatas (Manze/Egarr/ter Linden) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)†
* Orchestre de Chambre Lausanne (Goebel): Salle Métropole, Lausanne 5-10-10 (FM 2CDR)
* Strauss: Also Sprach Zarathustra/Ein Heidenleben (Chicago Symphony/Reiner) (RCA-Victor SACD)
* Lang: The Little Match Girl Passion (Theatre of Voices/Hillier) (Harmonia Mundi SACD)
* Paul Desmond: Desmond Blue: Paul Desmond With Strings (RCA-Victor/Classic LP)
* Milt Jackson & John Coltrane: Bags & Trane (Atlantic/Rhino LP)
* John Coltrane: Olé (Atlantic/Rhino LP)
* John Coltrane: Coltrane Plays The Blues (Atlantic/Rhino LP)
* John Coltrane: Coltrane’s Sound (Atlantic/Rhino LP)
* John Coltrane & Don Cherry: The Avant Garde (Atlantic/Rhino LP)
* John Coltrane: The Coltrane Legacy (Atlantic/Rhino LP)
* John Coltrane: Alternate Takes (Atlantic/Rhino LP)
* John Coltrane: Outtakes (Atlantic/Rhino 2LP)
* Miles Davis/Bill Laswell: Panthalassa: The Music of Miles Davis 1969-1974 (Columbia CD)
* Sun Ra: Smiling Dog Saloon, Cleveland, OH 1-30-75 (FM CDR)
* Sun Ra: The “New” Five Spot, New York, NY 6-11-75 (AUD CDR)
* Sun Ra: The Singles (d.2) (Saturn/Evidence 2CD)
* Anthony Braxton & Gerry Hemingway: Old Dogs (2007) (d.1-3) (Mode/Avant 4CD)
* The Thirteenth Assembly: (un)sentimental (Important CD)
* Praxis: Transmutation Live (Douglas CD)†
* Praxis: Warszawa (Innerhythmic CD)†
* Jimi Hendrix: Winterland (Experience Hendrix/Sony 4CD)
* Jimi Hendrix: Hendrix In The West (Experience Hendrix/Sony CD)
* Grateful Dead: Music Hall, Cleveland, OH 11-20-78 (second set) (SBD/AUD matrix CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Cal Expo, Sacramento, CA 6-10-84 (d.1) (SBD 2CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Crimson, White & Indigo: Philadelphia July 7, 1989 (GD/Rhino DVD)
* Grateful Dead: Formerly The Warlocks: Hampton 10-89 (d.4-5) (GD/Rhino 6CD)†
* Jerry Garcia Band: Live At Shoreline 9/1/90 (JG/Rhino DVD)
* Paul McCartney & Wings: Wingspan: Hits & History (d.1) (Capitol 2CD)†/‡
* Yes: Tales From Topographic Oceans (Atlantic/Rhino 2CD)†
* Yes: Relayer (Atlantic/Rhino CD)†
* Yes: Going For The One (Atlantic/Rhino CD)†
* Yes: Tormato (Atlantic/Rhino CD)†
* Big Star: Keep An Eye On The Sky (d.1-2) (Ardent/Rhino 4CD)†/‡
* Radiohead: The King Of Limbs (XL/TBD CD)†



I did not intend to buy a new TV today. We turned off the television years ago and it was the best thing we ever did, improving our lives immeasurably. No more commercials! No more inane infotainment! That is not to say we do not watch things sometimes: movies, DVDs, stream old sitcoms on Netflix. And I'm sure we're missing some quality entertainment but we usually watch about twenty-minutes after dinner and go to bed. TV is just not a big priority for us. So, why did I buy a new, 46” flat-panel television?

Well, I have this long-term goal to upgrade my stereo system and, logistically, the old (I mean sixteen-year old!) 19” Sony Triniton had to go first. While having a tiny screen, it has an enormous footprint—and, to be honest, squinting across the room had become tiresome for my old eyes, even for only twenty minutes. Even so, the "big-screen TV" has been the symbol of bourgeois excess for us ever since the '80s and we have stubbornly resisted its allure. Yet by now, flat-panel televisions are downright affordable—and they can be easily mounted onto the wall, thereby making room for a new audio system. It was going to happen sooner or later.

So I headed out to Hi-Fi Buys in Nashville, just to look around and price stuff out. I'd previously chatted with a nice salesman, “T.J.”, about my long-term plans and he was there to help me out again today. Hi-Fi Buys has some really high-end stuff: McIntosh, B&W, Mark Levinson, Wilson-Benesch as well as more moderately priced gear and while T.J. was eager to make a sale, he was friendly and low-key—and willing to offer me a great deal on a new television. I looked some downright cheap LCD televisions, but could immediately tell the difference between those and their more expensive LED brethren, which were notably brighter, sharper, crisper, with less motion blur. T.J. offered me a bargain price on a Sony Bravia KDL46HX729—the only question was: would it fit in my little Honda Civic? Amazingly enough it would. Sold!

I brought it home and set to work dismantling the old set-up. It took a while to get it back together in a configuration that would support the new TV. At only thirty-nine pounds, it was easy to mount on the stand and plug it all in and, right out of the box, it worked great! I love it when that happens! I popped in a Grateful Dead DVD (Crimson, White & Indigo: Philadelphia July 7 1989) and was immediately entranced! I’ve barely scratched the surface of what the new television is capable of and I’m sure some minor tweaks here and there will further improve the picture quality but, right at this moment, I’m totally happy with my purchase.

Next is new furniture (which is on-order)—then a new amp and speakers (and, eventually, new front-end components, including a new turntable). I’m still not sure which way I’m going to go with this stuff—there are a lot of opinions out there. But, like I said, this is a long-term project and I’m just glad to have made the first steps towards my ultimate goal. As you know, listening to music is extremely important to me and I spend as much time as I can in front of my stereo; I want the best I can reasonably afford so I can enjoy it for the rest of my life. I’ll keep you posted regarding my progress. Until then, I'm gonna groove on some more DVDs!

September 12, 2011

Portara Ensemble @ Indeterminacies September 13

The Indeterminacies series at Zeitgeist Gallery kicks off the fall season tomorrow night with David Lang’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Little Match Girl Passion” performed by Nashville’s own Portara Ensemble. Based on the famous Hans Christian Andersen story, Lang intersperses texts from H.P. Paull, Picander and the Gospel of Saint Matthew to compose an allegorical “Passion of Jesus.” In his liner notes to the Harmonia Mundi recording, Lang writes:

I wanted to tell a story. A particular story, in fact: the story of The Little Match Girl, by the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. The original is ostensibly for children, and it has that shocking combination of danger and morality that many famous children’s stories do. A poor young girl, whose father beats her, tries unsuccessfully to sell matches on the street, is ignored, and freezes to death. Through it all she somehow retains her Christian purity of spirit, but it is not a pretty story….What has always interested me, however, is that Andersen tells this story as a kind of parable, drawing a religious and moral equivalency between suffering of the poor girl and the suffering of Jesus. The girl suffers, is scorned by the crowd, dies and is transfigured. I started wondering what secrets could be unlocked from this story is one took its Christian nature to its conclusion and unfolded it, as Christian composers have done in musical settings of the Passion of Jesus…The Passion format—the telling of a story while simultaneously commenting upon it—has the effect of placing us in the middle of the action, and it gives the narrative and powerful inevitability.

Scored for mixed voices accompanying themselves on simple percussion, the thirty-five minute work is elegantly beautiful—and emotionally devastating. Tim Page, a juror on the 2008 Pulitzer Prize committee, said about the piece: “I don’t think I’ve ever been so moved by a new, and largely unheralded, composition as I was by David Lang’s Little Match Girl Passion, which is unlike any music I know” (Id.). This is a rare opportunity to hear a modern masterpiece—and participate in a discussion led by John Pitcher from ArtNowNashville. Don’t miss it! Zeitgeist Gallery is located at 1819 21st Avenue South, in Hillsboro Village, Nashville and the program begins at 6:00pm.

September 11, 2011

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra & His Arkestra: Smiling Dog Saloon, Cleveland, OH 1-30-75 (FM CDR)

A month later, the Arkestra found itself far removed from the mild and mellow California climate, shivering in the brutal cold of a mid-western winter. A gig at the Smiling Dog Saloon in Cleveland, OH on January 30, 1975 was broadcast by WMMS-FM and preserved on this sixty-minute recording but the band sounds a bit ragged, exhausted, perhaps, by the long-distance travel and inclement weather. Sadly, they never quite seem to get warmed up. But somewhere along the way, Sonny has picked up a hotshot bass-player, whose identity is unknown (see Campbell & Trent p.218). Whoever it is, he provides an unusually funky bottom-end to the proceedings. The Arkestra had to make do without a bassist at many shows during this period (particularly after the final departure of the inimitable Ronnie Boykins in mid-1974) making the rhythm section sound thin and incomplete, so the presence of the bass is always a welcome addition during this period (even if it isn’t the best show ever). Audio quality is pretty good (especially compared to other “bootlegs” we’ve been listening to recently) suffering more from careless microphone placement and poor balance than subsequent generational loss (my copy indicates the original broadcast was recorded to reel-to-reel, with only one cassette generation prior to being converted to digital). For better or worse, our anonymous bassist is certainly mixed front and center throughout!

After an introduction from the resident DJ, Ra fingers a dissonant organ chord before launching into “Astro Nation.” Loud electric bass anchors the groove and though he tends to overplay, he never loses the beat. The whole band joins in on the weirdly assymetrical chant , clapping and singing as they traipse around the nightclub with vocalist/dancer Eddie Thomas (a/k/a Thomas Thaddeus) adding some soulful yelps and moans. But it goes on for far too long without anything happening, ending with a desultory space chord. I’m sure it was a visual spectacle if nothing else. Sonny teases “Love In Outer Space” before changing his mind and queuing up “Enlightenment” in a new, rhythmically clipped vocal arrangement, ending a cappella. Sort of interesting, but nothing special. Then “Love In Outer Space” follows, propelled by Ra’s BBQ organ comping. Curiously, the theme is never played and after a few minutes, Ra drops out completely, leaving spacey African percussion and handclaps. Eventually, the organ vamp returns, accompanied by some bleating horns, but it ends inconclusively.

“Theme of the Stargazers” and “The Satellites Are Spinning” are presented as a brisk medley and is nicely sung by the band—but the audience doesn’t quite know what to make of it. When it ends, there’s total silence, not even a smattering of applause! Undeterred, Sonny brings up the pulsing drone of “Friendly Galaxy No.2” joined by the electric bass and, later, by pealing trumpets. The mellifluous flutes are woefully off-mic but a ringing vibraphone is crystal clear (presumably Damon Choice). But then Sonny steps up to pontificate, riffing on “I Am The Brother The Wind” and “I, Pharoah.” Here we go again! The unbalanced recording combined with an uncharacteristically subdued performance is disappointing: rather than hypnotic, it is merely boring. Oh well. Next up is a long keyboard solo which also seems to be less than totally inspired. It’s the usual spaceship synthesizer noises and dissonant organ clusters and the fact that the tape repeatedly fades up and down (and cuts in and out) doesn’t really help matters very much. However, after about seven minutes, Sonny speeds up the cheesy “rhythm machine” on his organ and plays along briefly, a hint of Disco 3000 to come!

Finally, we get a very strange rendition of Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady.” Opening with a skronky free-improv (led by Kwami Hadi’s trumpet), Ra quickly moves to (distant-sounding) acoustic piano for a rhapsodic intro, sprinkling thunderous pounding with pretty, impressionistic harmonies. Then he goes into the slightly-old fashioned rhythms of the tune, taken at a lugubrious tempo and accompanied by walking (well, plodding) bass. The Akrestra comes in, sounding slightly shaky on the arrangement led by John Gilmore’s tenor saxophone, whose breathy tone evokes Ben Webster in his prime. Akh Tal Ebah takes a nice, smeary solo on trumpet accompanied by riffing saxophones before giving way to Gilmore. Unfortunately, this is not one of Gilmore’s better efforts, with halting, incoherent phrasing and wobbly intonation. Well, it just goes to show the guy was not super- human. But then Sonny and Thomas start mumbling and crooning the rarely-heard lyrics about the seemingly “sophisticated lady” who cries alone at home. But their mocking attitude is somewhat shocking as they cruelly taunt: “boo-hoo, boo-hoo for you!” After fourteen tedious minutes, the arrangement collapses into a clumsy ritardando and, mercifully, sputters to an end. Huh. Revivals of big band classics were to become a regular feature of Arkestra concerts from here on out, but there was never another performance of “Sophisticated Lady” quite like this—and that’s a good thing.

Interestingly, the circulating CDR contains two additional tracks not listed in the discography, but they are most certainly from another (unknown) performance: the ambience is completely different, in front of a large audience, possibly outdoors. Also, there’s considerable hiss and distortion—and the presence of trombones on the bandstand. Probably recorded in the mid-‘70s sometime, I have no idea where this is from. Anyone know? “Calling Planet Earth” features some intense group improvisation, but the recording is so overloaded, it’s hard to hear what’s going on and “Space Is The Place” is the typical chanting, dancing and carrying on that rarely translates well to tape. Whatever the provenance, this ten-minute fragment is hardly worth mentioning, but there it is. These “mystery tracks” are not really much of a bonus.

So the Smiling Dog Saloon gig was an off night for the Arkestra; too bad, since it’s a decent-sounding recording for the period. Hardcore fanatics and completists will want this but everyone else would be better off looking elsewhere for that Sun Ra magic.

September 10, 2011

Playlist Week Of 9-10-11

Boston Spaceships - Let It Beard

* Telemann: The Complete Tafelmusik (Freiburger Barockorchester) (d.3-4) (Harmonia Mundi 4CD)
* Vasks: Pater Noster (Latvian Radio Choir/Sinfonietta Riga/Kjava) (Ondine CD)
* Miles Davis & John Coltrane: The Complete Columbia Recordings (Columbia/Legacy 6CD)
* John Coltrane: Giant Steps (Atlantic/Rhino LP)
* John Coltrane: Coltrane Jazz (Atlantic/Rhino LP)
* John Coltrane: My Favorite Things (Atlantic/Rhino LP)
* John Coltrane: The Complete Africa Brass Sessions (Impulse! 2CD)
* Sun Ra: Civic Center, Santa Cruz, CA 12-11-74 (AUD 2CDR)
* Sun Ra: Smiling Dog Saloon, Cleveland, OH 1-30-75 (FM CDR)
* Anthony Braxton: Solo (Allentown) 1991 (New Braxton House FLAC>2CDR)
* Anthony Braxton: Compositions 284 & 285 (Antwerp) (2000) (New Braxton House FLAC>2CDR)
* David S. Ware/Cooper-Moore/William Parker/Muhammad Ali: Planetary Unknown (AUM Fidelity CD)
* Pat Metheny Group: American Garage (ECM LP)
* Pat Metheny & Lyle Mays: As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls (ECM LP)
* Pat Metheny Group: Offramp (ECM LP)
* Arcana (Derek Bailey/Bill Laswell/Tony Williams): The Last Wave (DIW CD)
* Arcana (Bailey/Laswell/DeJohnnette/DJ Disk): Frankfurt 6-07-97 (FM CDR)
* Praxis: Transmutation (Mutatis Mutandis) (Axiom/Island CD)†
* V/A: The Doo Wop Box (d.1) (Rhino 4CD)†/‡
* Stevie Wonder: Songs In The Key Of Life (Tamla/Motown 2LP+7”)
* Rolling Stones: Tattoo You (Rolling Stones/Warner Bros. LP)
* Grateful Dead: Road Trips Vol.3 No.4: Penn State/Cornell ’80 (selections) (GDP/Rhino 3CD)
* Grateful Dead: Berkeley Community Theatre, Berkeley, CA 4-19-86 (SBD 2CDR)
* Mickey Hart: At The Edge (Rykodisc CD)
* Alexander (“Skip”) Spence: Oar (Columbia/Sundazed CD)
* Yes: The Yes: Album (Atlantic/Mobile Fidelity CD)†
* Yes: Fragile (Atlantic/Mobile Fidelity CD)†
* Yes: Close To The Edge (Atlantic/Rhino CD)†
* Genesis: Abacab (Atlantic LP)
* Genesis: Three Sides Live (Atlantic 2LP)
* Genesis: Invisible Touch (Atlantic LP)
* Phil Collins: Face Value (Atlantic/Audio Fidelity CD)
* The Golden Palominos: Drunk With Passion (Restless CD)†/‡
* Sonic Youth: Washing Machine (Geffen 2LP)
* Thurston Moore: Trees Outside The Academy (Ecstatic Peace CD)†
* Thurston Moore: Demolished Thoughts (Matador CD)†
* Yo La Tengo: “Autumn Sweater” (Matador CDEP)
* Boredoms: Vision Creation Newsun (Birdman CD)†
* Beck: Modern Guilt (Geffen CD)
* Stereolab: Sound-Dust (Elektra CD)
* Stereolab: “Captain Easychord" (Elektra CDEP)
* Tortoise: A Lazarus Taxon (Thrill Jockey 3CD+DVD) †/‡
* Boston Spaceships: Let It Beard (GBV, Inc. 2LP)
* Hands Off Cuba: Hands Off Cuba (Hands Off Cuba CDEP)
* Hands Off Cuba: Volumes Of Sobering Liquids (Sebastian Speaks EP)



Yes, it’s another Robert Pollard record. But hold on a second, folks! Before you click your mouse, bear with me. I know I’m an unrepentant fan and so my opinion may seem unreliable. Yet I need to bear witness to what is Pollard’s best record in years—maybe ever! The long-awaited (and, as it turns out, final) Boston Spaceships record (cheekily titled, Let It Beard) is just stunningly good. The sprawling, 26-song, 75-minute double-LP is Pollard’s magnum opus, brimming with the sort of clever wordplay, elliptical song structures, soaring melodies and catchy hooks that define his singularly variegated style—and it rocks like a motherfucker! Pollard has described it as “a subconscious concept album about the sorry state of rock and roll” but Let It Beard restores my faith in rock’s transcendent power—and the value of maturity.

Much credit is due to ex-GBV bassist Chris Slusarenko, whose tasteful production touches, including the occasional horns and strings, help to make each song (however weirdly constructed) into a fully realized masterpiece. And he managed to lasso a bunch of prestigious guest musicians to flesh out the arrangements, including heroic guitar solos from Dinosaur Jr.’s J. Mascis on “Tourist U.F.O.”, Wire’s Colin Newman on “You Just Can’t Tell” and The Dream Syndicate’s Steve Wynn on “I Took On The London Guys.” From the opening multi-part “Blind 20-20” to the concluding rave-up, “Inspiration Points,” the album builds a steady momentum, carrying you on a journey through "The Four P’s of Rock: Pop, Psych, Prog and Punk.” There’s not a dud track on the whole thing—a remarkable achievement given the album's length and breadth—and it’s over before you know it, leaving you wanting more.

But it is Pollard’s exuberant singing that is really impressive. In the post-GBV era, EP-sized LPs and sometimes lackadaisical vocals have been something of the norm, but here Pollard sings with youthful vigor, going for the high notes, enunciating each vowel sound with the cocky confidence worthy of a rock star and reminiscent of his (our) glory days. At 53, I wasn’t sure he still had it in him—and that was OK with me—hey, time takes its toll. But Let It Beard shows he’s still got it and gives me hope for my own senescence. Pollard’s longevity and potency is testimony to rock’s redemptive powers—it keeps you young.

It’s too bad, though, that Boston Spaceships has come to an end. Slusarenko and John Moen (of The Decemberists) make for a supple, slinky rhythm section and the four previous LPs and various EPs have been consistently fun. They even toured briefly back in 2008 (documented on the “official” bootleg, Licking Stamps And Drinking Shitty Coffee) but, really, they were always just another among Pollard’s many side-projects. Well, at least they are going out with a bang: Let It Beard is not just a good Boston Spaceships record, it’s a great album—period. Rumor has it the re-united “classic lineup” GBV is going to make a record and make it official: the “reunion tour” has become a reformation. That sounds good to me, but it would be a shame if this record gets lost in the deluge. Fans of Pollard already know, but if you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, Let It Beard is a great place to start.

September 4, 2011

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra & His Arkestra: Civic Center, Santa Cruz, CA 12-11-74 (AUD 2CDR)

Of all the gigs the Arkestra played on the west coast at the end of 1974, only this set from the Civic Center in Santa Cruz, California from December 11 was documented (see Campbell & Trent pp.215-217). Surprisingly, the 100-minute audience tape was recorded in stereo—but the sound quality is pretty horrific: boomy, distorted and indistinct (not surprising given the cavernous venue). Nevertheless, it’s a fine performance and a little patience on the listener’s part is periodically rewarded with some great music.

The tape cuts in on the opening improvisation, free-jazz skronk featuring a snippet of Marshall Allen's oboe, Kwami Hadi's high-wire trumpet act and some pscyho-delic guitar from Dave Williams. The Arkestra is on fire! “Discipline 27,” “Enlightenment” and “Love In Outer Space” are the usual thing and well-played but the fifteen-minute “Shadow World” is something special, indeed. After a near-perfect run through of the ridiculously complicated head, John Gilmore delivers one of his typically amazing, high-energy solos, inspiring excellent contributions from Danny Ray Thompson on libflecto, Hadi on trumpet, Williams on wah-wah guitar and Allen on alto sax. It’s an epic tour de force guided by Ra’s scumbling keyboards; after a series of ever-greater climaxes, Ra signals the reprise to end, leaving the audience clearly stunned. Wow! Despite the poor sound, this version of "The Shadow World" is well worth hearing.

The set continues with “Theme Of The Stargazers” and “Calling Planet Earth,” with some outrageous synthesizer and organ work from Ra eventually giving way to “Space Is The Place,” in a full horn arrangement. “Images” makes another welcome appearance, but the tape cuts in and out and the levels go up and down, making it impossible to tell what’s really going on. Yet about half-way through, the band has settled into a sultry groove, the audience clapping along, when all of a sudden, Gilmore comes in with a rip-snorting, gut-bucket, blues-drenched solo. He’s blowing his lungs out, “walking the bar”—but also spinning off complex chromatic runs punctuated with keening, multi-phonic wails, chasing the rhythm section in spiraling circles—on and on, coming back again and again to a three-note flourish and ending with a bang. Whew! Yes, it’s another incredible Gilmore solo! And again, while the sound quality is dreadful, this performance needs to be heard to be believed.

As usual, “Discipline 27-II” devolves into a series of space chants, including “Life Is Splendid” and “Destination Unknown,” with June Tyson and Akh Tal Ebah taking the lead but, after a swelling space chord, “Astro Nation” follows in its first known performance. It’s come a long way from the rehearsal tape we previously heard yet while the rhythm section is more solid, only Sonny seems able to recite the off-meter syllables on top of the up-and-down disco beat. (It would take a while for the band to get this odd little tune together.) Soon, Hadi pierces the din and the saxophones begin to take it out and things really start to get interesting—but as Sonny tries to bring the vocals back around, it falls apart and just sort of dissolves. Then a super-intense improvisation rises up over Ra’s droning organ, with loud, distorted guitar, pealing trumpets and squalling saxophones but, sadly, the tape fades out after only a couple of minutes. Argh!

“We Travel The Spaceways” is given an relaxed reading, evolving into a lovely doo-wop-style medley, incorporating elements of “Journey To Saturn” and “Rocket Number 9,” sung in luscious harmonies and anchored by Ebah’s (?) rich baritone. Just lovely! After a quick statement of “Planet Earth,” Watusi” follows with the flutes weirdly dominant. Fortunately, Clifford Jarvis’s over-excited drumming is countered by some weird, metallic counter-rhythms, adding interest to the usual percussion-fest, but the sound quality is particularly grim at this point, overloaded and distorted. Things quiet down for “Friendly Galaxy No.2,” although the mix is still wonky. Flutes and bass clarinet play the serpentine melody while the bleating trumpet figure is passed around the rest of the band and, as the flutes begin to improvise, an eerie calm is established—then Ra steps up to recite “I, Pharoah,” with June Tyson and others emphasizing each declamation. Sonny’s on a roll: “I Could Have Enjoyed Myself On This Planet” he shouts, “if the people had been alive!” The band joins in on some swing/rap silliness, repeating the refrain accompanied by the Yoko-esque shrieking from one of Ethnic Space Vocalists—is this impromptu or pre-conceived? It’s hard to tell. The craziness subsides, replaced by the tranquility of “Pleiades,” pretty flutes and rubato percussion, with Damon Choice’s glistening vibraphone faintly audible in the background. Very nice—but Ra continues with the tirade: “The Universe spoke to me!” Etc. Finally, the set concludes with “Face The Music,” taken at a slow-ish tempo as the Arkestra sings, chants and saunters off the stage.

You’re probably wondering what the heck takes me so long with these blog posts. Well, I was ready to write this one off as yet another dismal sounding bootleg, but I kept listening—and my ears became more and more used to the sound. And each time through, I found interesting little nuggets, diamonds buried in a dung-pile of noise. So I kept listening. At this point, weeks have gone by…well, this is how it seems to go. Is it worth it? I suppose so; there is some extraordinary music here (Gilmore is in particularly good form), even if it’s a struggle to discern. It may not be the worst-sounding bootleg out there—like I said, my ears got used to it—but this one is strictly for hardcore fans only. Frankly, I’m looking forward to moving on to 1975…

September 3, 2011

Playlist Week of 9-03-11

Stanley Clarke - School Days

* Telemann, et al. (The Age Of Passions): Kirche, Oberried 11-2010 (FM 2CDR)
* John Coltrane: Live Trane: The European Tours (d.2-7) (Pablo 7CD)
* Anthony Braxton: Quartet (London) 1985 (Leo 2CD)
* Anthony Braxton: Quartet (Coventry) 1985 (Leo 2CD)
* Anthony Braxton: Quartet (Birmingham) 1985 (Leo 2D)
* Henry Threadgill & Very Very Circus: Carry The Day (Columbia CD)
* Henry Threadgill: Makin’ A Move (Columbia CD)
* Henry Threadgill & Make A Move: Where’s Your Cup? (Columbia CD)
* David S. Ware: Onecept (AUM Fidelity CD)
* Mark Nauseef/Ikue Mori/Evan Parker/Bill Laswell: Near Nadir (Tzadik CD)
* Herbie Hancock: Sunlight (Columbia/CBS—Japan CD)†/‡
* Stanley Clarke: School Days (Epic/Friday Music LP)
* Lenny White: Presents The Adventures Of Astral Pirates (Elektra LP)
* Pat Metheny Group: Pat Metheny Group (ECM LP)
* Stevie Wonder: Talking Book (Tamla/Motown LP)
* Stevie Wonder: Innervisions (Tamla/Motown LP)
* DJ Shadow: “Midnight In A Perfect World” (MoWax CDEP)
* DJ Shadow: “Stem” (MoWax CDEP)
* DJ Shadow: “High Noon” (MoWax CDEP)
* Grateful Dead: Dick’s Picks Vol.30: Academy of Music, NYC March 1972 (GDP 4+1CD)(‡)
* Grateful Dead: Formerly The Warlocks: Hampton ’89 (d.1-3) (GDP/Rhino 6 CD)†/‡
* Los Super Seven: Los Super Seven (RCA/BMG CD)
* Los Super Seven: Cantos (Columbia/Legacy CD)
* Sonic Youth: Experimental, Jet Set, Trash & No Star (Geffen LP)
* Sonic Youth: “Bull In The Heather” (Geffen CDEP)
* Thurston Moore: Demolished Thoughts (Matador 2LP)
* Boston Spaceships: Let It Beard (GBV, Inc. 2LP)
* Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks: Face The Truth (Matador CD)‡
* Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks: Mirror Traffic (Matador CD)
* Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino CD)



Where did the summer go?

Back when I was a kid, the first day of school didn’t come around until after Labor Day. Of course, nowadays, especially down here in Tennessee, school starts in early August, which just seems unfair. The weather is still ungodly hot and, well, it still feels too much like summer to be going to school, dammit! They’re talking about starting in July next year, poor kids. I understand why it’s happening, but it doesn’t seem right to me.

But as the days get shorter and the sun shines more obliquely, softening what light there is, I am always reminded me of how it felt to start a new school year: sad, exciting, scary. Certain music from that time period can reinforce those feelings—for better or worse. Stanley Clarke’s appropriately titled School Days album was a big favorite back in the 1970s, when “fusion” was not yet a dirty word and I listened to it a lot when I was in middle school. Sure, most of it is pretty cheesy, but the eight-minute title track is killer: opening with that signature bass riff and explosive electric guitar wailing from Ray Gomez—but then the dynamics suddenly drop down and Clarke takes a big long solo. Now, bass solos, no matter by whom, rarely work for me, usually sounding leaden and earthbound. But here, Clarke flies, displaying incredible technique and control over the unwieldy, low-impedance Alembic bass, building up to a thunderous climax before the reprise. It’s one of those solos that are ingrained in my brain; I can sing it from memory. It’s that good.

Of course, I long ago sold my original LP in one of my periodic purges of the collection. I could be ruthless. I thought I’d “outgrown” such kid stuff—yet secretly I still kind of missed having it around. I would see copies regularly in the used bins but never bothered to pick it up. Usually, they were in pretty beat-up condition; this was, after all, one of those records people played to death. So when I saw the recent Friday Music reissue on 180-gram vinyl, I went ahead and grabbed it—even though I’ve had a hit-or-miss experience with this label. But when I saw that legendary mastering engineer, Kevin Gray, had a hand in this edition, I figured it had to sound at least OK. Well, let me tell you, it sounds better than OK—it sounds freaking fantastic! Listening to it the first time, I was literally blown out of my chair, like that guy in the old Maxell ads. I felt like I was thirteen again! Compared to most “audiophile” reissues these days, it’s a relative bargain: the deluxe gatefold jacket is very nicely done and the vinyl pressing is heavy, flat and quiet. Truly, this Friday Music reissue of School Days is an impeccable release in every way and if you have fond memories of this fusion classic (and have a turntable), you owe yourself a listen.

Frankly, I’m glad I am no longer in school. Yet there’s still something depressing about autumn: the dying light, the turning leaves, the encroaching darkness with its intimation of winter. It can be a hard time of year. But at the same time, the cooler weather will be invigorating as the lazy, dog-days of summer give way to fall’s activities. We have big plans brewing and I feel that same sense of excitement (tinged with dread) which reminds me of my school days. Listening to records like this is nostalgic, comforting and reassuring—and that title track kicks serious ass. I hope you’re all having a wonderful Labor Day weekend!