Incredible Risks: Improvised and New Music, Part II
[April 1999. Originally appeared in La Folia 1:5.]
(continued from page one)
At a gig at the AlterKnit, Nagai’s trio played very different music, but to equal effect. Nagai held his guitar on his lap, banging on it like a drum, eventually making it screech like the IRT at a curve. Wang plucked her bass beneath the bridge, percussive on the strings. Jane Wang is a very physical bassist, getting deep richness from her instrument. She played pppp to ffff, listening closely to her partners. I dreamed of hearing her do a Bach cello suite performance, as Nagai used what looked like an emery board to create long metallic tones. Nakatana squeaked and made ratchet sounds, then made his cymbals sound like Olive Oyl on electroshock therapy, until the trio unified in one large buzz, Nagai’s guitar soaring over the din. His tone reminded me of Randy California’s guitar on Spirit’s first album Spirit (Ode/Epic Legacy EK 64965, 63:23, reissue 1996, five long extra tracks, brilliant sound better than my original, excellent 1968 Ode LP).
Kenta Nagai’s face was ecstatic as he played, dancing and smiling as if he heard exquisite songs in his head. At various times, he stuck wooden sticks beneath the bridge of his horizontal guitar, making it look like a koto, used plastic knife ridges to scrape strings, used an E-bow, which looks like a hand held torture device, to make the guitar resonate, and used a fistful of plastic chopsticks, creating a rattle by dropping the ends on the guitar like pick-up stix. None of it was gimmicky.
Jason Roth is a young guitar player who gave a smashing solo performance at Downtown Music Gallery in November, on a double bill with Loren MazzaCane Connors. Roth played with a battalion of foot pedals and a sampler, and used a wide dynamic range and variety of textures. Samplers are the weapon of the untalented, but Roth showed remarkable skill in using the device rhythmically and texturally. I regret his choice of sampled material, as fundamentalist preachers are well past clichZÿ now, but what he did with the voices and sound was brilliantly integrated with his guitar layers. I missed a recent performance elsewhere of Roth’s group, but will keep an ear out; his set impressed me very much.
Connors and Roth did a duo, but never having played together before, it was more a courtesy to each other. Connors played a set less interesting than others I’ve heard him do before, or on his myriad of discs. In January, Connors played again strongly at DMG, in his trademark dreamy, bluesy drone style, and I got to ask him about his names. He’s performed variously as Loren Mazzacane, Guitar Roberts, Loren Mazzacane Connors, Loren MazzaCane… Loren’s middle name is Mazzacane, and his family name is Connors. He used Guitar Roberts when he felt his name wasn’t getting the recognition it should have, given his style of music, and also, he’s Irish, sporting a green shamrock tattoo inside one wrist. Next installment, we’ll have an overview of his discs, from his earliest 7″ EPs to his current CDs on his own Black Label, as well as Table of the Elements, hatHut’s new imprint hatNoire, and nearly a dozen others.
I had never heard of Noël Akchotè until one day I saw some new vinyl at DMG. It was a French label, Rectangle, that had Derek Bailey, Eugene Chadbourne, Fred Frith, and Akchotè. I was so taken with Akchotè playing that day that, while having a chat and finding him interesting and charming, and having bought a few Rectangles the week before, I asked him to autograph his disc. Only when I got home did I see it wasn’t his disc at all, but another Rectangle, a 10″ EP by Eugene Chadbourne and Derek Bailey, Tout for Tea! (Rectangle REC L, untimed, 1998). Graciously, he said nothing as he autographed the other artists’ disc. Then I also pulled out Close To the Kitchen: London Guitar Duos August 96 (Rectangle REC F, 12″ LP, 47:30, 1998), duets between Noël Akchotè and Derek Bailey. Bailey does his pointillistic, vertical (non-linear; non-melodic) playing and AkchotZÿ is a fine foil and prodder, with his own multitude of textures, volumes and styles.
Lust Corner is Akchotè’s release on Winter & Winter’s Artist Series (W&W 910 109-2, 41:09, 1997), solos and duets with two other guitar greats, Eugene Chadbourne and Marc Ribot. (Ribot plays many styles of music, and has many groups, but I highly recommend Don’t Blame Me (DIW Japan, DIW-902, 47:41, 1995), his solo disc of standards.) In Lust Corner, AkchotZÿ plays his own style, which varies from playful bebop-influenced bounce, to free wail, but mostly, it’s tasty fills and surrounds. You feel he never plays one note more than he has to, yet it’s not spare. With his partners, he knows how to be a perfect second voice, letting his style and theirs frolic equally.
If you don’t already know Eugene Chadbourne, I’m obliged to introduce you. I first caught him live a bunch of years ago at Roulette, after having found a slew of his discs on the cheap at a certain Sale Annex. The LP covers attracted me; they were busy like Pedro Bell’s covers for Funkadelic, and they too made me explore and laugh and think of the clever visual and textual connections. This happens as well in Chadbourne’s music.
He plays what he sometimes calls “country-western improvised jazz and blues” or “insect music.” He is our clown in the best sense: he entertains, he makes us reconsider music and politics, he makes us have a good time, and he has the rare art of taking material from anywhere and making it his own. He has a hundred discs on a hundred labels, including Leo, Intakt, Rastascan, Fundamental, Incus, Victo, Old Gold, Rectangle and Chadponk Home Productions. In his travels, his guitar case is packed with his own whimsical repackagings of homemade cassettes of various performances, random inserts and cracker jack surprises. In my collection, my favorite is the Dole Fruit’N Juice Bars box filled with random papers and clippings from when Bob Dole was veep, two cassettes, concert flyers, a rock, and a tiny school film reel box labeled Nuclear Disarmament Campaign ’88- Part 1- Educational News Service. A picture of Gene’s face was taped on the side, making for easy filing in the collection.
A January concert at DMG was a typical Chadbourne grab bag of blues, rockabilly, country, noise and jazz. His main instruments are guitar, steel guitar and banjo, and electric rake. An electric rake is, well, a garden rake amplified. He can and does play anything. Beginning the concert, Chadbourne plugged in his amp, took out his guitar, took his contact mic and spied the room. With the contact mic, he “played” the wooden cabinet behind him, the plastic record dividers, the John Zorn Parachute Years boxed set, posters on the wall (he took particular glee in playing the poster of Bob Dylan), the ceiling light fixtures, a photo of Dave Van Ronk, and, his homage to digit-al, he rubbed the mic with his fingers, which he then wet, and it made squirrelly sounds.
He inched towards an audience member’s shoe, tries to loosen his laces, couldn’t, and chose another. He pulled out the lace, taut, and played it like a string bass, amplified by a contact mic. It was an excellent solo, and then he spied this writer’s running shoe, with its Velcro straps. He played a fifteen-minute Velcro solo. This was followed by totally askew covers of Captain Beefheart’s “The Dusts Blows Forward,” the Kinks’ “Young and Innocent Days,” and a Bach sonata, at which time he glanced over at yours truly taking notes, saying, “That’s spelled B-A-C-H.” Then came the country set, including “I’m The Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised.” Chadbourne always has his finger on the pulse of the pure in country lyrics. A concert fave is “Stand By Your Man,” which he always performs, er, straight. Lyrically, that is.
Of his own recent discs, I recommend Wild Partner (House of Chadponk HRCD-006, 69:06, 1998,) where his duet partners including Loren Mazzacane, Duck Baker and Davey Williams, bluegrass and NPR hero Tony Trischka, all major of them major figures in American guitar music. They loosen themselves to his serious whimsy of purpose. I haven’t yet heard his larger group’s debut, on Intakt Records, Hellington Country, but if it is even close to Eugene Chadbourne and Hellington Country Total Tuesday (House of Chadponk HRCD-002, 67:01, 1998), it’s a smash.
The Post Prandials are a group of improvisers who look like a raggle-taggle gaggle of everyday Joes, which they are, even though many of them are named John. The title of their second disc, Switched-On Irresponsibility, (Artichoke/Tristero 3002, 72:52. 1996) clues you in to their sound: some Wendy Carlos sonorities, with a great sense of humor. The first track, “Bach’s Lunch,” (post-prandial meaning “after eating”) is a cocido inconocido, and tasty too. Take my beloved Sun Ra’s album Atlantis, and make it fun. I don’t mean silly. These improvised tracks are a synthesized synthesis of “keyboards,” “experimental sounds,” sax, flute, guitar, and trumpet, sometimes processed. Daniel Carter guests on the blown instruments.
Listening to the Post Prandials, live or on this disc, is like being at an orgy, but not an overwhelming one. If you play Switched-On as background music, you become an outsider to the party and get just fleet glimpses of scintillating, witty, and satisfying conversation and play. All six, five, more, or fewer members welcome you to the affair, and you join in, willingly. With cuts named “The Pre-Menstrual Goatherd” and ” ’Guest Appearance of a Giant Insect Eating the Last Supper’ as a Structural Balance to the Faux Bach Prelude,” I guess my capsule description of the PPs would be “P.D.Q. Walter Carlos.”
The title of their third disc, Jamaica, (Artichoke/Tristero 3003, 62:33, 1997) refers not to the Caribbean nation but to the neighborhood in Queens, New York. Sabir Mateen guests on tenor sax and clarinet. Three long tracks explore textures closer to the world, but not sound, of so-called ambient music. These are shifting sound tapestries, not as giddy, and need close listening in a quieter mood. Mateen, a strong voice, blends well with this group, an equal partner.
Straphangers’ Art Ensemble’s disc Straphangers’ Ball Artichoke/Rollin/HalTapes 3004, 74:00, 1997) features the core Prandials with vocalist Bruce Waid, and Edward Rollin from their first disc on oboe, oboe d’amore, English horn, harmonica, tawnger, murli, bird calls, elephant horn, metal strip and vocal cords. I assume this means he vocalizes. The disc has a lot of strong instrumental passages and interplay, but the vocals are off. Some have the right ideas, but Waid hasn’t the vocal chops to effect them; others are just silly.
The Post Prandial’s premier disc, Flight (Artichoke/Tristero 3001, 65:58, 1993) is another very strong disc. It has all the qualities of Switched, but possibly because it is a first disc, is it a bit rougher, wilder. Some of the synth gurgles, squiggles and squeals slam at you like George Harrison’s “Under The Mersey Wall” gone way out of control. The sounds boing out of the speakers directly at you, like those novelty eyeglasses with ping-pong balls on springs. Another positive contribution is made by the singing of Wendy Leeds: little-girlish, sing-song, not-quite-Meredith Monkish but just as charming and playful.
These qualities of play and abandon gave the Post Prandial’s recent performance at the AlterKnit an excitement and panache which goads me to goad you to catch them live. This is one great live band. Guitarist Keith Nicolay told La Folia that everything played by the musicians and three singers was improvised. That night I heard structure, and a unity of direction and purpose that, recently, I have experienced live only from Tim Berne’s trio Paraphrasis, in their astounding December concert at the Brecht Forum, another totally improvised concert, where Berne, Drew Gress and Mike Formanek started with a thread and took the audience on an hour-long journey, twice, which was so strong, and so right, you felt it had to be pre-planned, but it was totally improvised. It was the best performance I heard in 1998.
The Post Priandals’ AlterKnit gig had three synths, Nikolay on guitar, and three women singers. I thought for sure at least some of the songs were composed, but the singers made up their own tunes and phrases, not just vocalise. Although they soloed, this too, was a long-flowing, psychedelic hour. Fans of groups like Phish and the Dead should definitely be steered toward the PPs to see what can really be done with long-flowing, evolving pieces.
At the Brecht Forum on January 29, was one of the rare examples of how poetry can integrate well with improvised music. My usual objections are to poets who simply look for a funk (or disco or blues or…) riff beneath a declamation. The music is usually beside the point, and distracts the listener from the text, good or bad.
Poet Steve Dalachinsky, who has a disc forthcoming from Knitting Factory, performed with the Organic Trio (Daniel Carter, sax, trumpet; Cooper-Moore, whatever he could pull from his pocket plus the top of a drum frame; William Parker, bass) in a truly organic, non-stop suite. The musicians riffed off the music, did their pieces between Dalachinsky’s, each feeding off the good humor of each other. One of his poems, about a woman working in a saxophone factory: “she gets her blues/though she never plays them/she’s young so her blues are on the bright side/gives birth to saxophones.” Parker’s bass anchored them, playing time but swinging. Carter’s muted trumpet integrated deeply into the others. Cooper-Moore pulled out a flute, melodica, penny whistle, each played with musicality and humor.
Cooper-Moore has given much joy in recent concerts. He is dead serious about his music, so he knows how to infuse a positive spirit in all he does. He and Dalachinsky played off each other, perfect foils: Cooper-Moore whooping, playing a south-bound train with brushes on the plastic top of a drum frame in Dalachinsky’s poem “Unmetered Music for Thomas Chapin,” the multi-reed player and composer who died this year from leukemia and is sorely missed. Cooper-Moore did a blue vocalise, soaring and grounded in the earth; a shaman. Although Cooper-Moore did the second half of the concert himself, I was unable to attend, having to catch Other Dimensions in Music a few blocks away at Tramps.
Tramps is a music barn, with a pleasant clientele. I usually avoid smoky venue, but jazz musicians traditionally have had to play the clubs with smoke and so Tramps is no different for them, except for the audience. Hundred of young people standing in front of a stage, with no seating. As O.D.I.M. was the opening band, when they started playing, a core group of listeners, quite a large part of the audience, actually, leaned forward, stopped talking, and just listened. Within fifteen minutes of their forty-minute piece, Other Dimensions had totally captured the crowd; lotsa cigarettes, but nearly less talking than in those trendy jazz boÓtes where businessfolk talk business and dating couples try to impress each other on how cool they are because they like “jazz,” while talking on their cell phones. The musicians have learned to ignore this so they can eat.
Other Dimensions in Music played another gig in February at Tonic, a wonderful spot which last July started a music series curated by, believe it or not, musicians. It has truly good, inexpensive food as well. Roy Campbell wore red shoes and his trademark baseball cap, this time red, with a red and blue plaid shirt. The normally brightly-colored bassist William Parker paled by visual contrast. Daniel Carter’s sax began by commenting on Campbell’s high trumpet trills, skidding on ice. Parker took a bass solo, keeping the piece moving. You couldn’t quite call it a vamp; it was too exploratory. Campbell used his mute, sounding as if he were playing a shenai, the Indian oboe, when Carter took up his flute. Parker added a bass filigree, although that’s too delicate a word for his fills, which soon became arco. Rashid Bakr, on drums, didn’t do anything special; he just did everything right.
The second set blew away the whole audience. Campbell’s trumpet took on a theremin-like tone, not ghostly, but joined in unison with Carter’s sax line, floating over Parker, who played arco with a sound like a whistling mouthpiece. Carter took a solo with so much physicality. I didn’t like the sound of his instrument, not resonant enough, but his melody and musicality made all our heads dance. Bakr smiled continually as he played, taking a strong solo, wiping out all the jokes you’ve heard about drummers’ expressions. Sitting next to me was trumpeter Dave Douglas, who looked transported, and grinned in loving appreciation each time Campbell soloed.
There is a wonderful thing happening in music: an appreciation of jazz and free improv by rock musicians and vice versa. This is not a new thing, of course, but it seems to be flowering now, with the David S. Ware quartet opening for Sonic Youth on their current tour, and Other Dimensions in Music opening for Yo La Tengo. Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore have been into alternative musics (and I don’t mean this week’s trendy catchword “alternative rock,” as it is labeled by the trades).
Sonic Youth’s album Daydream Nation has some wild psychedelic guitar rides, and others of their commercial albums have been pretty uncommercial, but wonderful. Now, on their own Sonic Youth Records, they have released a bunch of EPs, simultaneously available on silver or black, bless ’em. This series releases music not playing directly to the rock crowd. As if a sign, a first release, actually on Ecstatic Peace Records E#38, appropriated the spine and back cover of Stockhausen’s Gesange de Junglinge / Kontakte album. Only the scribbled front cover reveals the scrambled words: Sonic Youth with Yamatsuke Eye (a Japanese noise/punk/rock artist). The label on the one-sided vinyl disc reads: “Wash. D.C. Youth Brigade, 1981.” Don’t ask me; I just listen to the stuff and talk about it. Eye does his screaming thing, with the Youth doing a rock/Johnny Cash/noise/feedback collage underneath. This is screamable rather than humable or foot-tappable. You know if this is your type of thing.
Silver Session for Jason Knuth (Sonic Youth Records, SKR-1, 31:08, 1998) is packaged in a slim, silver gatefold sleeve with printed spine, and proceeds will go to a San Francisco suicide hotline (415-781-0550). Knuth was a deejay and fan who killed himself, and Sonic Youth was his favorite band. His friends tagged him “Sonic Knuth.” Thurston Moore wrote in the notes that SY were doing vocal overdubs one day when a band above them in the studio was making too much noise. Rock bands will be rock bands, and so Youth turned up their amps to max, leaned all their guitars and basses against them, added a beatbox through a p.a., and left the room. Any good band records everything, hence, eight edited and processed sequences, now called the Silver Sessions. It’s an excellent noise/pulse/drone disc.
I’ll call Sonic Youth’s next disc (SYR 2, 28:39, 1998) Slaapkamers… as all the text is in Dutch and that’s the beginning of the title of the first of three tracks. It begins with a whoosh of feedback, a pulse, and then guitar strumming. The eighteen-minute cut is simple, really, but enjoyable, and sounds similar to tracks on Daydream Nation, with more feedback, dynamic contrast, and fiddling with the knobs and rhythms. The second track, at eight minutes, is a space-jam sure to appeal to lovers of the psychedelic Dead, Phish, Neil Young. (If you don’t get how Neil Young fits it, you haven’t heard anything before or after Harvest. In a future issue of La Folia, I’ll have an article on the noise music scene.) The final three-minute piece uses overlapping female voices intoning something like “blow up, blow up, uh uh uh, dark, please believe me.” It’s rather charming in a weird Nico-like way.
Some of my favorite weird-pop has come from Kramer’s label Shimmy-Disc. I have a slew of Shimmy LPs, and another slew on CD. Each have given me twisted pleasure. Kramer, who collaborates on most Shimmy releases, and eschews a first name, has a quirky sense of musical and lyrical style: child-like, playful, informed by sixties psychedelic pop, buzzing guitars, sometimes all done in wall-of-sound, but not as grandiose as a Phil Spector production.
Shimmy-Disc has recently been taken under the wing of the Knitting Factory. Three of their latest releases in tow, here’s the scoop. One I’ll dismiss right away, unless your taste in humor, and it might, combines both Prairie Home Companion and Howard Stern. Although Kramer has found wonderful collaborators (Jad Fair, Hugh Hopper, Daevid Allen, Daniel Johnston, et alia), Penn Jillette, of the comedy team Penn and Teller, has joined with Kramer to create The Captain Howdy. Money Feeds My Music Machine (Shimmy-Disc SHM-5135, 39:57, 1998) starts with a declaimed, oh-are-we-clever cover of “Always Something There To Remind Me” over a lame disco-rap rhythm. They cover Neil Young’s “Old Man” relatively straight, but with no particular point-of-view. The original songs? Let’s just say this is the only Shimmy I’ve ever disliked.
King Missile III (there were prior incarnations) have returned to Shimmy after a jaunt with the majors, and put out their best disc yet. Failure (Shimmy-Disc SHM-5090, 47:50, 1998), drops their pretense of being a rock band. It’s John S. Hall’s lyrics which drive the band, and they are not rock songs; they’re intriguing meditations on the little but strange things in life, such as failure, and the heterosexual narrator of “Gay/Not Gay” trying to sort it all out. Instead of trying to force these little stories (“The Boy Made Out of Bone China,” “The Little Sandwich That Got A Guilt Complex Because He Was the Sole Survivor of a Horrible Bus Crash” and “The Story of Planky,” a plankton) into rock songs, Hall speaks the lyrics, sounding like a little boy trying to explain his take on the universe. The music ranges from Kramery guitar-wash underlays to plinked strings and horn bands, sorta like Tom Waits does on a larger scale. Failure not; this is a great disc. It even comes with a 3D flicker-cover.
Kramer’s own new release, Songs From The Pink Death (Shimmy-Disc SHM-502, 47:17, 1998), is also fun. The opening crowd sounds put you in a Sgt. Pepperish expectation. You never know what to expect from Kramer, and yet you do: swirls of guitars and violins and forward and backward to psychedelic pop bands such as XTC and The Status Quo. I wish texts were enclosed, yet on first hearing I was singing along with the choruses, and bobbing my head along to the rhythms, until midway through the disc. I am a child of the LP; I need to get up and play deejay every twenty-five minutes to flip the side. I stopped the disc, opened the tray to see the bright pink label, and started it up again where I had left off. This seemed a very Shimmy-like-thing for me to do.
The Knitting Factory is a prime music joint in New York, with a main room, the small AlterKnit theater, and two other performing spaces. They’ve also had their own label for many years, after releasing anthologies of live performances in a series of five discs on Enemy Records. For a long time the Knit, when on Houston Street, was nearly the only place in New York places for improvisers and weird rockers to have a venue. After relocating to Leonard Street in Tribeca, the Knit still is home to these, as well as bigger and more commercial names.
Their home label is Knitting Factory Works, with over two hundred discs in their catalog. One of the great new ones is by accordionist and sampler Andrea Parkins, not to be confused with the other musical Parkins sisters and cousins, Zeena, Sara and Margaret. Slippage (Knitting Factory — whoops — I see they just changed “Works” to “Records” –Records KFR 229 60:15, 1998) is distinctive because it is the rare person who can make me appreciate work with samplers (usually only Christian Marclay and, on a good day, Ikue Mori). The music here sounds electro-acoustic, rather than just blips of haphazard noise coming at you. And I like noise. Briggan Krauss does saxes and clarinet, and Kenny Wollenson handles percussion. Despite melodic nods to Albert Ayler and others, the sound texture Parkins achieves here is unique, often sounding like bagpipes with an organ grinder. (An aside: Dewar’s Bagpipe Festival (Knitting Factory Works KFW 133) is a wonderful disc of bagpipe improvisations.) Slippage should appeal to lovers of free improv, noise, and electronic and electro-acoustic (I hate the current phrase “acousmatic”) music. If you like improv and, say, Luc Ferrari or Ikue Mori, buy this one. There’s not one weak cut, and Krauss’s clarinet is a special treat.
Briggan Krauss has his own group, 300 (Knitting Factory KFR 133, 66:03, 1998). Briefly, I love Krauss’ work here, and Kenny Wollenson’s percussion, but Wayne Horvitz’ keyboards and piano are not to my taste; they overlay either new-agey or plinkey sounds, depending on the cut, on otherwise strong playing.
Giving fusion a good name, listen to I Am a Man by the group Harriet Tubman (Knitting Factory KFR 228, 41:47, 1998). The first track, the ten-minute “Savannah,” has a build-up and drive that want me to put it on a cassette alongside Sly’s “Sex Machine,” Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain,” and Isaac Hayes’ “Hyberbolic…” It has a riff that grabs your body first, and then lets your mind go along for a long, interesting ride. The sonic signature could be compared to fusion-era Miles, Brandon Ross’ guitar pulling and teasing and reaching. Ross has enriched Henry Threadgill’s last five or so discs. A heavy, tribal bottom is provided by the bass of Melvin Gibbs and J. T. Lewis’ drums. I love this cut. Most of the disc is strong, the weaker tracks only so by comparison and sequencing. You can tell they could’ve been better because those tracks begin with fade-ins and then fade out, clearly edits of longer jams.
For the first time, a Knitting Factory disc has been picked up by Columbia as a joint release. Steven Bernstein’s Sex Mob’s first CD, Din of Inequity (Columbia CK 64432, 54:34, 1998), is a fine example of bluesy jazz. The group consists of trombonist Bernstein, bassist Tony Scher, drummer Kenny Wollensen, and alto saxer Briggan Krauss. I suspect Steve Bernstein’s name was dropped from the cover because nationally, the name Sex Mob would produce better sales, even though Bernstein did all the arrangements and wrote half the material. In fact, none of the musicians are listed on the back, not even guest John Medeski.
Skirting clich$#233, this could be a 50s or 60s Blue Note disc, but it synthesizes so many things so well: blues, groove, and improvisation. Medeski’s Hammond B3 is a treat here, and guitarist Adam Levy’s playing, especially on “House of the Rising Sun,” deserves accolades. I have to credit Sex Mob for doing their own thing; many of the songs are covers, including “House,” “Goldfinger,” “Come Sunday,” and “Live and Let Die,” but I didn’t realize that until reading the packaging halfway through the disc. Only the last few tracks don’t make the grade, including an otherwise interesting “Macarena” played as a slow drag. Check out Bernstein’s work in several excellent discs by the group Spanish Fly, with slide guitarist Dave Tronzo and Marcus Rojas on tuba, on both Knitting Factory and on Boston-based Accurate Records.
On the independent front, an interesting new release comes from Dorgon, in his second duet disc with bassist William Parker. Broken/Circle (Jumbo Recordings [matrix # A2Z-DOR-02]; 37:52, 1999) claims to be two LPs reissued, but then again the photocopied traycard also claims it was recorded March 3, 1949, “on the U.S.S. Bhutan … touring the High Seas with the Lennie Tristano Big Band … Lennie got seasick and the band had to play tapes of Lennie solo but the King of Denmark loved it.” In other words, we are not dealing with the normal here.
I ran into Dorgon in a record shop, showing his latest ware. I had been curious about who or what Dorgon was, his discs packaged with crayoned, corrugated cardboard backing CDs in plastic bags. This one too, has a hand drawn cardboard cover, but this time in a jewelcase, which won’t close because of the cardboard. I chatted with the guy, he gave me a copy of the disc, and when I got home I put in the player and made a phone call. “What is that?” asked my saxophone friend amusedly, “It’s awful.” By the end of our forty minute phone call, he said, “You know, that was a really interesting record.” And so it is.
Dorgon plays c-melody sax in duet with Parker. The songs are seemingly slight, children’s songs perhaps, but not in an Albert Ayler or folkish way. There is a genuine na¥vetZÿ here. Some of the tunes sound like scale practice, but they are immediately warming, and Parker’s playing intricate. I’m still not certain what it is that Dorgon has, but he has it, because if it weren’t real, Parker’s playing would simply show Dorgon up for a fraud. I’m not just talking about Parker’s reputation as one of the most in-touch musicians and people. There is genuine empathy between the two and they are fine spurs to each other. The liner notes to Broken/Circle say merely: “Please consider yer relationship to animals.” The packaging may put off some people, and distributors, but I say give it a try. I have been playing this disc repeatedly and enjoying it, and am sorry I missed his recent concert at Roulette, billed as “dorgon y su grupo.” I look forward to hearing him in other contexts.
In total contrast to the simplicity of Broken/Circle, we have the latest by the London Jazz Composer’s Orchestra. Barry Guy’s composition, Double Trouble Two (Intakt CD 053, 47:24, 1998), is a concerto for two pianos and jazz orchestra. It starts with guest pianists Ir?ne Schweizer and Marilyn Crispell, the orchestra joins in, and for fifty minutes you are lost in a wonderful world of a stellar jazz orchestra and solos and duos by two of the best improvising pianists alive.
Some of the major labels are again recording and releasing some music from musicians who are not merely pleasant. Columbia, after a long silence other than an awkward licensing arrangement with DIW Japan, has put out a great new disc: Go See The World by David S. Ware (Columbia CK 69138, 68:08, 1998). Ware’s quartet features killer drummer Susie Ibarra, bassist William Parker, and pianist Matthew Shipp. Go See The World begins with a vamp by Parker, a modal tune, “Mikuro’s Blues.” Although Ware does his trademark blowing, this is not a free-blowing session. Ware’s other releases will be covered in my upcoming report on AUM Fidelity Records. Anyone who enjoys John Coltrane’s, as Impulse!/GRP bills them, “Classic Quartet,” can easily get into this disc.
On the reissue front, both Verve and Impulse! are doing amazing work. Coltrane: The Classic Quartet – Complete Impulse! Studio Recordings (Impulse! IMPD8-280, approximately ten hours, 1998) strikes you first by its visual appearance: a weathered-looking (it’s really printed) metal case surrounding a leatherlook double folio, one containing eight CDs, the other a hundred-page book. The CD album is like a 78 album: sleeves for each disc, the album bound by two screws, and a fold-over to the album holding the book. For packaging like this, one expects to pay full or premium price. In New York, it’s been selling for between seventy and ninety dollars. I found mine on sale for $65.
The “Classic Quartet” consists of pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones on drums. There are sixty-six tracks, seven previously unreleased, including mono reference copies discovered by Ravi Coltrane, John’s son and a musician in his own right. Comparing just A Love Supreme to its prior CD incarnation (MCA/Impulse! MCAD-5660 JVC-467, 1986) reveals the 20-bit remastering job to be well done. The saxophone, though still mixed higher than the others, sounds smoother, more realistic. Tyner’s piano is more clearly articulated, and Garrison’s bass is a touch less prominent, but less muddy and more woody.
Another reissue I’ve been waiting for since the advent of the CD has finally come out: Ella and Duke Live at the Côte d’Azur. This is one the jazz discs I was weaned on, and which I repeatedly and surreptitiously stole from my father’s (“Do not touch!”) record collection. I sang Ella’s version of “Jazz Samba” all over the place until told to scat. I copied the disc first on a Memorex cassette; when that died I copied it on an Ampex. When that died, I copied it on TDK’s short-lived OD series, the poor Japanese firm not knowing OD had quite a different connotation in the USA from their intended “optimum dynamic.” My point is: I could not live without this disc.
For a decade I kept pestering salesmen, “Do you know when it’s going to come out on CD?” Well here it is, boy and girls, and Verve played a naughty trick on me. Côte d’Azur was reissued on a double-CD with a bunch of extra tracks and I was going to pounce, man, pounce. My knees got weak. What if it’s a bad remastering? Do I dare take this home before I date it once or twice? PolyGram usually does good-to-superb remaster jobs, but what if my beloved was given a radical bris by a sadistic mohel, as was done to the Billy Eckstein double Everything I Have Is Yours: The Best of the M-G-M Years (Verve 819 442-2, 1994), which has so much taken off the top that it’s claustrophobic. I keep intending to give it away, but oh those songs… This also happened to the nearly unlistenable, desiccated sound on Jeanne Lee & Ran Blake: The Legendary Duets (RCA Bluebird 6461-2-RB, 1987) which I have not heard on vinyl.
Back to Duke, Ella, and the tease. I never did buy that double, because, despite the thirty minutes of extra tracks, the cover sticker stated honestly (kudos to PolyGram) that forthcoming was a six-disc set of the complete Côte d’Azur concerts! I figured if I could wait a dozen years, I could wait that many months again. I was not disappointed. Now, the first thing is to admit when a tyke I was hooked on Ella and some of the Duke pieces were nice. As I kept redubbing the LPs, each year I’d find myself copying more and more of the Duke stuff too. I eventually placed Duke in my personal musical Pantheon, and this is the place it all started for me: France, 1966. Now, here it is: Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington: Côte d’Azur Concerts (Verve 314 539 033-2, eight discs, approximately seven hours, 1998).
The material: Duke Ellington and His Orchestra, Ella Fitzgerald with them, Ella with the Jimmy Jones Trio, and one disc of rehearsals for the concerts held July 26-29, 1966, issued here complete.
The packaging: A brilliantly stunning streamlined design of a pearl white, line-textured, satin-finish slipcase; four differently-colored double-slim jewelboxes with silk-screened African-inspired facial motifs which reach out to similar bodies surrounding the disc labels, which you can see through the jewelboxes; a 130-page book covered with the same board; both the slipcase and booklet have die-cut center holes in which appear more face/mask motifs.
The sound: Rich, clear, barely any hiss, excellent balances, in short: “you are there.” It’s hard to believe these are concert recordings from over thirty years ago. If my original-pressing LPs sound a touch richer, they are not cleaner nor clearer.
The performances: I must be honest. Ella’s best performances, and I think the best of her career, were on the original two-fer LP. The rest is shaky to fine to brilliant. I love Ella live; I don’t care: I must have this. Duke and his orchestra swing and are “on” throughout. No coasting. For me, indispensable. For you, the two-CD may be just the thing. The final disc is a rehearsal, mostly of “The Old Circus Train Turn-around Blues,” the piece which originally made me listen beyond Ella. Duke cajoles his men by singing, teasing, snapping the rhythms and it’s an interesting look at how this unique conductor/composer instructs his musicians,
The only plaint: You must look inside the booklet for track listings.
The next “Incredible Risks” will review new discs by Joe McPhee, Evan Parker, Assif Tsahar, Susie Ibarra, Dominic Duval, Cecil Taylor, Bruce Eisenbeil, JosZÿ Halac, new and reissued discs by Tim Berne, more of the never-ending Chadbourne and Mazzacane releases, noise music, drone music, and of course, live music. Look for label reports on Knitting Factory, Trente Oiseaux, and No More Records. Artist interviews will include trumpeter Roy Campbell, bassist Dominic Duval, pianist Cooper-Moore, horn player Daniel Carter. A feature on contemporary Mexican music will range from interviews with classical pianist Armando Moreno Spinola and composer Mario Lavista to reviews of improvisers Culto Sin Nombre and Astillero and Banda Elàstica, and many other surprises.
Leaving you with the spirit of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, I wish you “Bright Moments!”
firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com Kontakte: Black Label: P.O. Box 2344, Church Street Station, New York, NY 10008-2344 Eugene Chadbourne: discs available from DMG Roy Campbell: voicemail 718-519-1513 Daniel Carter: Cooper-Moore: Dorgon: discs available from DMG Downtown Music Gallery (DMG): www.dmg.panix.com www.ping.be/experimental-intermedia firstname.lastname@example.org, 212-473-0043 Experimental Intermedia: Gold Sparkle Duo: , discs available from DMG and North Country Hat Hut, hatArt, Hatology, hatNoire: distributed by North Country Impulse Records: www.impulserecords.com Intakt Records, ZÙrich: distributed by North Country Knitting Factory, incl. AlterKnit Theater: www.knittingfactory.com email@example.com, 212-219-3006 Leo Records: Leo Records Loren Mazzacane Connors: all his discs are carried by DMG David Moreno: 255 West 108 Street, NY, NY 10701, 212-662-7823, disc distributed by North Country Kenta Nagai: NorthCountry Distributors: www.cadencebuilding.com Periplum: POB 95678, Seattle, WA 98145 PostPrandials: 718-465-1661 Jason Roth: 96 Henry Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201, 718-834-1409 Rectangle: 39, Rue Ramponeau, Paris 75015, tel/fax 0033.740.339.9537 Roulette: www.roulette.org www.newsense-intermedium.com firstname.lastname@example.org Dan Senn: Sonic Youth, POB 6179, Hoboken, NJ 07030 thirsty ear: Tonic: www.tonic107.com, 212-358-7503 Tramps: 51 West 21 Street, NY, 212-544-1666 poem © copyright Estate of Tim Dlugosz