Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Captain Beefheart's "Bat Chain Puller"

Time changes things. Sometimes a lot.

As I get older, I find that my relationship with my some of my musical heroes is different than what it once was. Maybe as a result of knowing my sweetie and being influenced by her taste, I find I prefer Leonard Cohen's tunelessness, say, to Uncle Lou's. It seems the old Canuck has more to say that resonates on a human level than the Noo Yawk street poet (although I'll always love the third VU album, the first Lou Reed solo record, Berlin, and the sequence New York-Songs for Drella-Magic and Loss, which I think are as good as any rock music there is; happy berfday, Uncle Lou). For similar reasons, most of the time these days, I find that Tom Waits' bull roar (and Howlin' Wolf's) signifies more for me than Captain Beefheart's.

I'm not going to lie: reading the revelations in Mike Barnes' and John French's Beefheart books about the dysfunctional atmosphere surrounding the making of Trout Mask Replica has pretty much put paid to my motivation to listen to that album. Maybe it's because I've had negative band experiences, to the point where I can't stand to be in the room when certain music is played, and none of those experiences were of the severity or duration that the Magic Band members endured to help Don Van Vliet realize his vision. The unedited (or extremely lightly edited) convos between band members in French's book read like combat veterans' reunion talk, or group therapy at a battered women's shelter. And in my mind's ear, justifiably or not, that music is now irrevocably linked to those stories.

But I can and do still binge on Beefheart's earlier and later music: the psychedelic blues murk of Strictly Personal and Mirror Man, which I glommed onto early in my Beefheart fandom for their Delta referents and "Kandy Korn," which Bruce Wade very laboriously taught me to play during our extremely dissolute last semester at college; the outtakes from the '68 sessions that produced those two albums, which first appeared on CD in '92, were subsequently reissued as bonus tracks to the remastered Safe As Milk and Mirror Man CDs in '99, and are now vinyl-available via Sundazed on the double LP It Comes To You In a Plain Brown Wrapper; and the albums released during the time when I was an active fan and experienced when they were new: Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller), my fave Doc At the Radar Station, and Ice Cream for Crow.

The original Bat Chain Puller, just released on CD by the Zappa Family Trust on their Vaulternative label, is the legendary album that Beefheart recorded in '76, after the Bongo Fury tour and a handful of tentative live forays with a new band, on Frank Zappa's dime but without his knowledge (as liner notes by participants French and Denny Walley reveal), which got lost in the shuffle of legal recriminations between Zappa and his erstwhile manager Herb Cohen, who paid for the recording sessions with moneys obtained by renting out Zappa's backup PA system and raiding FZ's publishing account, then confiscated the tapes when he locked Zappa out of his own studio. FZ subsequently regained control of the tapes and denied Beefheart the right to include tracks from the sessions on Ice Cream for Crow, although re-recorded versions of original BCP songs wound up on all of the last three released Beefheart albums. (Whew!) BCP has been extensively bootlegged from an unfinished tape sent to Virgin Records in the UK, most recently in the 2002 release Dust Sucker, which is how I originally heard it. (Thanks, Phil.)

Bonus tracks in this edition include an alternate mix of the title track that's not significantly different, an early version of "Candle Mambo" that Zappa struck from the original running order (and which is in fact inferior to the '78 recording released on Shiny Beast, which benefited from Bruce Fowler's trombone), and "Hobo-ism," a Walley-Van Vliet duet recorded at the guitarist's home while the sessions were ongoing.

So, how's it sound?

To begin with, the sound from the two-inch master tape beats the hell out of the bootlegs mastered from the unmastered cassette; duh. More to the point, compared to Beefheart's other albums, BCP has a ruminative sound, possibly due to the fact that by '76, Don's "composer's piano" technique had improved enough to allow him to play longer melodic lines (like the ones he managed for "Peon" and "One Red Rose That I Mean" on Lick My Decals Off, Baby) rather than jagged collections of riffs which might or might not be in the same key (as on most of Trout Mask). Without that change, songs like "Seam Crooked Sam," "Flavor Bud Living" (here played by French in a much more legato manner than Gary Lucas would use on Doc At the Radar Station), "Ah Carrot Is As Close As Ah Rabbit Gets To Ah Diamond," and "Odd Jobs" wouldn't have been possible. Beyond that, Don's recitatives -- he has a gift for evocative language that sounds great, even when it doesn't make literal sense -- sound more conversational than declamatory; a big plus, to these feedback-scorched ears. And "Odd Jobs" (previously only available in inferior sound on Revenant's pricey Grow Fins box set) has a tinge of compassion that's not often heard in Beefheart music. All that said, "Brick Bats" (with its overlay of aleatory soprano sax that was dispensed with on Radar Station) echoes Trout Mask almost as if Van Vliet intended to show his fans he could still write 'em like that.

The title track and "Floppy Boot Stomp" have folkloric sources -- the former's a mutant train song with a rhythm that Van Vliet copied from the sound of his car's windshield wipers in the rain, while the latter's a tribal stomp in the manner of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" -- and the songs recall the most interesting moments on Beefheart's most accessible albums (that'd be Safe As Milk and Clear Spot), which perhaps accounts for their retention on Shiny Beast. Safe As Milk lyricist Herb Bermann gets a co-writing credit on "Owed T'Alex," the biker anthem dedicated to Magic Band founder, guitarist Alex Snouffer (another Shiny Beast highlight).

While ten out of 12 tracks on BCP were recut for subsequent albums (or appeared in the same form, in the case of the poems "81 Poop Hatch" and "Apes-Ma"), they're worth hearing in this form for the unique contributions of this lineup of the Magic Band. Each of Beefheart's albums has a unique sound, often due to some anomaly of instrumentation. BCP features an ensemble that substitutes Mini-Moog for electric bass, and the guitar interplay between bluesy Zappa veteran Walley and neophyte Jeff Moris Tepper. Zappaphiles know Walley as the second guitarist on the Bongo Fury album, where he played the feelthy slide solo on "Advance Romance." Post-BCP, he went back with Frank, served as the subject of the mean-spirited "Jumbo Go Away" on You Are What You Is, and married one of the audience members who appeared in the Baby Snakes movie. In the Millennial decade, he performed alongside French in a reunited Magic Band. Walley's personality shines through on BCP in the same way as Ry Cooder's did on Safe As Milk, Elliot Ingber's did on The Spotlight Kid, and Bill Harkleroad's did on Clear Spot.

French is one of my very favorite drummers, even though he modestly claims his distinctively polyrhythmic Magic Band style came about from insufficient practice and Van Vliet's restrictions (not using cymbals; playing drums with cardboard cutouts over the heads). The interminable blues jams on Mirror Man are listenable primarily as vehicles for his highly idiosyncratic trap-kicking -- like a tom-heavy extrapolation on what Howlin' Wolf's drummers were doing (although French says his approach around that time was influenced by Indian tabla players). He was the musical director on Trout Mask, an album on which he isn't even credited as drummer, but where he transcribed Van Vliet's piano bangings, then followed the leader's vague instructions to massage them into arrangements and taught them to the other musicians. On BCP (on which he finally gets a musical director credit -- thanks, Gail Zappa), he serves as "utility musician" for the first time, playing guitar parts that Tepper was unable to master quickly enough to satisfy Herb Cohen's timeline. (French would return to perform the same function on Radar Station, playing guitar, bass, and marimba as well as drums.) And he's _the_ Beefheart drummer: Tripp might have been more of a detail guy, but he couldn't match French's power, and subsequent Magic Band tub thumpers Robert Williams and Cliff Martinez were merely copping French's style.

Don Van Vliet passed the same year that John French published his book, and as a reader of the drummer's voluminous writings on his former bandleader, their complex relationship, and the struggles he's had to make sense of his experiences, it's gratifying to read in French's liner notes to BCP that he seems to have made his peace with Don, post mortem. And Gail Zappa's brief and unsigned reminiscence sheds a tiny beam of light on her husband's friendship with his high school buddy "Donnie" -- which in the end, as the good Captain said, was private.

Whatever secrets Don Van Vliet had, he took with him. His music and art remain, and are sufficient. Maybe one day, who knows, I'll be able to listen to Trout Mask Replica again.

ADDENDUM: I was fortunate to see Denny Walley with Captain Beefheart twice in 1977 (My Father's Place on Long Island and the Bottom Line in Manhattan). My disappointment at missing Beefheart in Dallas the following year is mitigated somewhat by the knowledge that by that time, Walley was out of the band.

Taste - "It's Happened Before, It'll Happen Again"

Been thinking about On the Boards, the second album by Taste, the band Rory Gallagher led after jumping out of Irish showbands and into the rock world. I can actually say I got hip to Rory via a review St. Lester penned for Rolling Stone in which he lauded the Irishman's sax playing on this track, writing, "we have needed a rock saxist with the inspiration and facility to blow something besides garbled 'free' shit." Take that, Steve Mackay. Seriously, this was probably the best jazz-rock to originate in Those Isles besides Blodwyn Pig.

Monday, February 27, 2012

2.26.2012, FTW

The second HIO "Improvised Silence" show at the Cellar wound up taking place with a different lineup than advertised/anticipated. Sarah Alexander and Julie McKendrick had to back out because Julie was out of town. Hopefully they'll join us later in the spring. Darrin Kobetich's wife was under the weather, so he had to bail. Giri Akkaraju did show up, however, and we were also joined by sound artist Harry Hoggard and poet Wes Race.

Riyad Almasri, who runs the Cellar's Monday night open mic and plays keys with cowpunks Badcreek, recorded both sets, so hopefully there'll be something posted online soon (unlike last month). Hickey found the room sound muddy, but I think the balance was better overall, with him and Terry more clearly audible.

I didn't get to play as much percussion as last time, but I did finally get to hear Terry on bass during one of my favorite episodes of the evening, when we locked into a sort of mutant doom-blues groove with Kitchens on traps and me on slide in D-A-D-E-B-E tuning. Kitchens' three-string CBG sounded great through some F/X, and Harry blew harp and played keyboard sax behind Wes' cryptic hipster spiel. I also got a couple of little blue lights that strap on your finger from Harry, which probably make the video look pretty interesting.

Next month, we'll be joined by JoCo (Jonathan O'Connor and Chris Hardee).

ADDENDUM: Duh, JoCo is in April. This month, the guest artist is Darryl Wood (Panic Basket, Confusatron, Parasite Lost).

Sunday, February 26, 2012

I Heart Taco - "Green Grass"

Here's a haunting cover of a Tom Waits song about mortality, beautifully sung by Haley Taylor, a former guitar student of Ron Geida's who performed at one of the "Cavalcade of Unpopular Musics" shows at Doc's Records last year. "Now I just need to learn how to whistle," she sez, but I beg to disagree -- it's the differences between a cover and the original that make it resonate.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

More new Ronald Shannon Jackson music

Ingebrigt Haker Flaten's "Steel" and "Birds"

A package arrived containing two CDs of solo bass improvisations by Ingebrigt Haker Flaten, a Norwegian currently based in Austin whom I'd first heard on a collaboration with Dennis Gonzalez that the trumpeter released last year on his daagnim label. Now Flaten has a label of his own, and his first releases are a 2010 acoustic recital from Bucharest (Steel) and a 2007 electric studio foray (Birds).

While "two albums worth of solo bass" might inspire bad jokes ("Always bad when drums stop -- that when bass solo start"), I was recently reminded (by time spent with Anthony Braxton's For Alto and Roscoe Mitchell's Nonaah) that solo recitals were a required rite of passage for '60s and '70s AACM musicians, and Flaten's a musician with a wide enough sonic palette to make the venture worthwhile, reminding us that true improvisation is spontaneous composition.

On Steel, Flaten combines technical facility with depth of expression in a manner that recalls past masters like Paul Chambers, Wilbur Ware, Charlie Haden, and Malachi Favors. His attack can turn percussive, whether he's playing pizzicato or arco. At other times, his lines have a vocalized quality, and he's a master of bowed harmonics that can make his bass sound like a reed instrument or a whole string section, even without electronic augmentation. The intimate recording lets you hear the slapping of strings on wood and the booming resonance of that big boat hull.

On Birds, Flaten employs an arsenal of electronic effects to make his bass sound like Japanese flutes, a Hendrixoid guitar, an angry insect, or a Fourth of July fireworks display. The music unfolds episodically, recalling the '60s and '70s masterworks of Stockhausen, Takehisa Kosugi, and Richard Pinhas (on the tour de force "Chicago," Flaten sounds like nothing so much as a one-man Heldon). Together, these two discs sound like the foundation for a body of work, whetting the listener's appetite to hear Flaten's other ensembles.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Help Scott Morgan

From his website (go there to donate):

Dear Friends,

Scott Morgan needs your help. About three months ago, Scott was diagnosed with severe liver disease and ascites (no Hep C). He is stable and living at home but we still don't know to what extent damage can be reversed. This healing is a very long and slow process and we simply have to wait to see how his body responds to treatment. Scott is firmly committed to getting well without surgery and is doing everything in his power to make that happen. Needless to say, he quit drinking at once.

Many of you have asked about his voice. It sounds very scratchy and weak at this point and he hasn't even attempted to sing! Once again, the extent to which it will come back remains to be seen. He needs to see a specialist for diagnosis. We'll keep you posted.

Financially, St. Joseph Mercy Hospital has an assistance program that covers part of his bills, (bless them), however, there is still the other part that Scott has to pay, which is significant, plus anything outside their health system such as prescriptions, etc. Although we have applied for Medicaid and other Social Services, these are difficult days for those funds and nothing has been approved as yet.

In order to show our support and help Scott through tough times, a group of his friends have gotten together to stage a benefit performance and to solicit funds. The plans for the benefit are just under way so there is little to report as yet, but stay tuned to this page for updates. If you can help Scott by sending a donation or buying merchandise, that would really help him a lot.

All of the information you need to buy merchandise or send a donation with a check is on the Merch link. Donations through PayPal can be made by clicking on the Donate button. If you don’t have a PayPal account, they accept credit cards.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Iggy on Michael Davis

From the Iggy and the Stooges website:

For me, Michael was the original cool guy. He was a tall, handsome man who looked great on stage with his bass strapped on, and I always admired his poise and showmanship. He played with a fluid, effortless style that rolled under the beat. The lines he played were always distinctive, like somebody singing. He had a lot of positive energy. Michael had a wonderful smile, and a kind of unflappable manner. I never saw him too upset about anything. He was a nice guy, and although he had plenty of attitude, he wasn't a prick about it like so many musicians can be. Check out his playing on Looking At You (Original 'A-Square' Single Version). Especially the bass note he plays just before the end. Wow. He belongs in the Hall Of Fame, along with his whole group, for their contributions to American music and its politics. He was and they were hugely charismatic and influential. Their beliefs and approach had to do with things much larger than music and these things are coming to light more and more today on the world revolutionary stage. There is no band that I know of as dangerous as the MC5 and their manager, John Sinclair. I loved Michael. My condolences to his family, friends, and group and my thanks to him and the MC5 for their generosity and inspiration to me and The Stooges.

Iggy Pop

Doom Ghost in the FW Weekly

Told ya. While I don't necessarily hear Al Green there like FW Weekly scribe Matthew McGowan did.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Blues from the White House



Buddy Guy, Sir Mick Jagger, Gary Clark Jr., Booker T. Jones, Jeff Beck. Any questions?

Pssst! Hey, kid! Wanna read a FTW-based music blog? No, not _this_ one...

...but rather, Subservient Experiment, the online entity edited (I use the term loosely) by Josh Graves, who plays trumpet in Whiskey Folk Ramblers, and probably gets out of the house a lot more often than your humble chronicler o' events. Dig it.

Pharmakos

Cole Garner Hill, FTW scribe now living in exile in Brooklyn, once wrote the first thing ever to appear in print on HIO. Here's the first release from his ambient music project Pharmakos. Lucky guy. If we'd known he was _one of us_, we might have drafted him to be in the band.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

New music from Ronald Shannon Jackson and the Decoding Society!!!

"People We Love":



"Wrong Jones":



The Decoding Society

Leonard Hayward.......acoustic violin
Gregg Prickett............electric guitar
John Wier...................trumpet
Drew Phelps....acoustic and electric bass
Ronald Shannon Jackson...Drums, Flute and Schalmei

Talkeye Jackson....Executive Producer,Director, Editor, Camera 1
Taijuian Muhammad.....Producer
Jaret Durham.....Camera 2

Monday, February 20, 2012

Mora Collective

Wizard o' sound Dre Edmonson pulled my coat to Mora Collective, a Dallas-based trio (sax, bass, and drums, augmented with electronics) that played what I believe was only their third show at Lola's last night. From the CD-R he laid on me, they sound like a loopy (in more ways than one) take on jazz, heavily infused with hip-hop and dub -- more groove-oriented than Yells At Eels, but less cluttered than Confusatron. Check 'em out.





ADDENDUM: Drummer Eric Yacula was in the Brokers with Big Marcus. Uncle Walt was right.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Dogs - "Her Name Was Jane"

JATSDFM - "Nocturnal Cinema: Excerpts"

My fellow insomniac Matt Hickey's latest offering, on which he sings at least as well as Lou Reed, and is a lot better looking.

Detroit calling

It's some kind of weird coincidence that the package from Natalie Schlossman arrived on the same day that I found out that Michael Davis died. Natalie, who lives in Philadelphia, was the president of the Stooges Fan Club back in the day, and she kindly sent me a couple of CDs, about which more in a bit. Michael was the bassist in the MC5, whom I was fortunate to interview back in 1998, when he was living in Tucson.

Of all the surviving members of the Five, Michael seemed to have made the best peace with the past, and after my first encounter with him, his life got better -- he met Angela, they married, moved to California, then Oregon, then back to California. He found validation via his participation in the MC5: A True Testimonial documentary (which, in a just world, would have already seen legit release) and the DKT-MC5 reunion tours. He was in demand as a producer and player. (He had plans to fly to Belgium to make a record with Sonny Vincent this week.) A couple of years ago, I lent him some editorial assistance on a memoir he was writing, which I'm sorry to say I don't believe he got to finish before he passed on Friday in Chico, California, after a month in hospital for liver disease.

I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that when I was 13, Michael Davis changed my life. I spent six months going to the record department at W.T. Grant's in my town every weekend and staring at the photo collage on the cover of the Five's Kick Out the Jams album. It looked exciting and dangerous -- an explosion of light and color, sweat and spangles. And one of the most striking images on it was the dude in the psychedelic Uncle Sam suit, with an American flag draped over his amp. Needless to say, it was Michael.

When I finally mustered the nerve to buy the record, it fulfilled every promise that cover made. It wasn't so much the songs as the ambience, starting with Brother J.C. Crawford's fire 'n' brimstone introduction -- the feedback, the yelling (some of which, I'd learn years later, was overdubbed), the communal vibe of the berserk Grande Ballroom crowd. I got super-obsessed with anything "Detroit." The Stooges' Funhouse hit me even harder, the Rationals' self-titled LP was a connoisseur's kick that became a life-long favorite, Creem magazine was my Bible, and the Five's High Time my most-listened-to album of 1971 (along with the Flamin' Groovies' Teenage Head).

The early '70s on Long Island, however, was not a good moment to be a fan of the MC5 and Stooges. I took _mountains_ of shit from the slightly older guys I worked with in the hipi record store for liking those bands (and the Flamin' Groovies, and Nuggets) to the point where I lost the Detroit thread for awhile, specifically until I got out of the Air Force in '92 and my first marriage fell apart a short time afterward.

Moonlighting in the record store I'd come to Fort Worth to open in '78 (which had undergone a few changes in corporate ownership but was still managed by the same sterling dude), I stumbled on the Five's quasi-legit Thunder Express (with some Brit guy on bass instead of Michael; feh) and Wayne Kramer's first solo album The Hard Stuff. Between those two CDs and reading Clinton Heylin's From the Velvets to the Voidoids, I was a stone Detroit freak all over again.

I bought all the quasi-legit MC5 CDs that John Sinclair released on the Alive! and Total Energy labels, and when I started writing about music for fanzines and webzines near the ass-end of the '90s, I interviewed all three of the surviving MC5 members. Dennis Thompson was angry, while Wayne Kramer was glib, but Michael Davis regarded the Five's history and his part in it with a combination of puzzled amusement and quiet pride. I liked him immensely.

Among the MC5's many misfortunes -- butting heads with both the U.S. government and the powers that be in the record industry, dealing with drug addiction and the psychic fallout of their epic ascent and flameout -- perhaps the saddest was the demise of key band members (lead singer Rob Tyner in 1991, guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith in 1994) before the time when the stigma of their '60s revolutionary rabble-rousing had worn off and historical validation was forthcoming. For by Y2K, sure enough, the war was over and the Rawk aesthetic of "raw wails from the bottom of the guts" that St. Lester championed and the Five and the Stooges epitomized had definitively triumphed over whatever Rolling Stone was shilling back when those bands were viable and creating.

To comprehend the Five's achievement, surf over to Youtube and view the clips of their performances of "Ramblin' Rose," "Looking At You," and "Kick Out the Jams" at Wayne State University's Tarter Field in 1969, and "Tonight" and "Kick Out the Jams" (incorrectly listed as "True Faith" in the video) at Friars Club in Aylesbury, UK, in 1970. (There are other live MC5 performances on Youtube, but they're mostly from the European tours after Michael was out of the band.) Or listen to the first side of Kick Out the Jams -- perhaps the most exciting 20 minutes of Rawk ever etched in vinyl -- or the second side of High Time. Or seek out the original 1968 single versions of "Looking At You" and "Borderline" (available on Freud/Jungle's Thunder Express, Total Energy's Human Being Lawnmower, and Easy Action's Purity Accuracy box).

While I entered the rockwrite wars as a true believer around 1997, I left them as a mercenary around 2004, after I'd spent a couple of years trying to make a living freelancing for the local giveaway alt-weekly rag. I'd grown tired of getting CDs in the mail (or pressed on me by guys I'd meet on the street at SXSW) that were pitched as sounding "like the MC5." I was suffering from Detroit fatigue. My fandom was rekindled by things like Easy Action Records' releases of material I'd never heard before by the Stooges and Fred Smith's legendary post-MC5 outfit Sonic's Rendezvous Band, and since 2006, playing in a Stooges cover band that, over the years, has expanded its repertoire to include the Five's "Future Now" and "Looking At You," among other proto-/early punk jams.

So imagine my surprise and delight to open the envelope Natalie sent and find Hypersensitive, a brand new CD by the Dogs, a Detroit band who had their genesis in the same year as the Stooges (1967) and logged time in NYC early in the '70s before finally settling in Los Angeles, where they now reside (apparently they're also big in Japan). We spun it tonight while my sweetie was cooking dinner.

My first impression: a better than average punk-rock record. I mentioned this to my sweetie, and thus ensued a discussion of some duration on the topic of "What _is_ punk-rock?" In the end, we agreed that the essence of punk-rock isn't a haircut, a black T-shirt, a leather jacket, or a chain wallet; rather, it's some kind of spiritual transcendence that has nothing to do with musical ability, which occurs when a band just _goes the fuck off_. The Fungi Girls (whom I had the extreme pleasure of having my own band blown off the stage by last weekend) have it; so did a lot of bands I saw while I briefly lived in Austin at the ass-end of the '70s, none of whom I thought at the time "could play." The Dogs have it, too.

To attempt to be somewhat precise in my description, the music on Hypersensitive is hard rock with some smart, sharp songcraft (which sounds like a description of the Ramones, except that the Dogs are less in thrall of '60s pop song forms). It has "too many chords," like the Williamson-era Stooges or, say, the Dictators, and guitarist-singer Loren Molinaire, bassist Mary Kay, and drummer Tony Matteucci churn up one hell of a ruckus for just three pieces. Molinaire plays SGs -- the CD slick features a pic of two of 'em, white ones, one with P-90s, the other with humbuckers, so I'm envious _and_ impressed -- and employs a wah in a manner that'd make Ronald Frank Asheton proud. And lest we forget, the Dogs recite the litany of their Detroit roots and influences in a song called "Motor City Fever," the most shameless example of Murder City-sploitation since Scott Morgan's "Detroit."

Go easy, Michael. While I don't think that you were ready to go, I do believe that you had one hell of a run these last 68 years. And bless the Dogs for keeping the spirit of the '60s Motor City alive.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Darryl Wood - "In the Bucket 2"

Derwooka's "God's Electric Testicle"

First album by drummer/instrument builder/sound artist Mark Kitchens (Stone Machine Electric/HIO) is available to stream or download via Bandcamp. Hooray!

Pssst! Hey, kid! Wanna read a Pete Townshend interview from 1990?

Ol' Whonose was as smart and aware as ever, talking to Guitarist magazine.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

2.16.2012, FTW

Working on material for a possible future project, I stumbled on a forgotten setting on my Marshall Bluesbreaker that makes a disgusting '60s fuzz sound, complete with flattened-out highs (although not as out-of-control as a real germanium fuzz would be). Could be useful in the Stoogeband, as well.

Started reading Swann's Way, the first volume in Proust's seven-volume In Search of Lost Time. Figure it'll take me a year to get through the cycle; if my daughter and her coworkers can slog their way through Game of Thrones, I can do this. I'm curious to see if it's really possible to pack as much life and art into a piece of writing as the critics claim for this dude. I notice that I'm reading more slowly and carefully than I typically do, wanting to savor the language (and negotiate the long, dense sentences), and while it's slow going, I'm already impressed by his ability to evoke remembered feelings (the notorious 12 pages devoted to a description of the narrator's falling asleep; his recollection of what it felt like to be a child at bedtime, longing for his mother's kiss; the famous sequence where a bite of tea-infused cake unleashes a flood of memory). Think this'll be an interesting ride.

Rediscovering our record collection via the new receiver my drummer from college generously gifted us, I'm revisiting Captain Beefheart's work and discovering how my response to the music has changed over time. Contrary to what I wrote at the time of Van Vliet's death, it isn't the deliberately difficult achievement of Trout Mask Replica that resonates the most, but the occasions when Don chose to meet the listener halfway. I'm finding I'm more affected by his version of lyricism (Lick My Decals Off, Baby's "Peon" and "One Red Rose That I Mean," Clear Spot's "My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains," Doc At the Radar Station's "A Carrot Is As Close As a Rabbit Gets to a Diamond" and "Flavor Bud Living") than his most jarring dissonances (the kind that the old Yankee insurance salesman Charles Ives equated with masculinity). And I'm starting to agree with Christgau that "if you've spent more time with the Captain's free sessions than with Ornette Coleman's, you need to get your priorities in order."

Then again, Ornette sounds so much like heartbeat these days that for a fix of "uneasy listening," one has to go to something like Roscoe Mitchell's Nonaah, an album I always thought about getting but never did back when it was new (1977) and I'd only been listening to jazz for a couple of years. Back then, I was just getting to where I could process Trout Mask and Zappa's Uncle Meat, but I was intimidated by the very idea of a 25-minute solo saxophone improvisation. My sweetie, who's followed me down plenty of rabbit holes -- Beefheart, Cecil Taylor (whose music she finds sexy), Les Rallizes Denudes -- absolutely hates Nonaah's aforementioned 25-minute title track, specifically the opening gambit, where Mitchell (a muso who really knows how to irritate an audience, a last-minute sub for solo Anthony Braxton at the '76 Willisau jazz fest) plays a nine-note phrase over and over for nine minutes, warping and distending it (overblowing, biting the reed, altering the duration of the notes) as he goes until you can feel the live audience's tension, which is finally resolved when he shifts to a quiet episode.

After three or four minutes of this, he resumes the staccato blats and honks, recalling Eric Dolphy minus the intervallic leaps, or Beefheart's sax play if he'd actually known what he was doing. In its extreme-close-up intimacy, "Nonaah" is as cathartic as Coltrane's horn polyphony on Ascension. When it's over, the audience applauds, one gets the feeling, out of relief as much as acknowledgement. Then Joseph Jarman's "Ericka" provides another lyrical respite before building to an architectonic construction of note flurries and overblown multiphonics, followed by a minute-and-a-half reprise of the "Nonaah" theme. (There's also a version with four saxophones that concluded the vinyl 2LP; the CD version adds some solo stuff that wasn't on the rekkids.) Mitchell duets with Braxton on "One Five Dark Six," and with his Art Ensemble of Chicago bassist Malachi Favors on "A1 TAL 2LA," then plays a trio with pianist Muhal Richard Abrams and trombonist George Lewis on "Tahquemenon" -- all contemplative pieces that employ dynamics, silence and space to good effect, and flow together seamlessly. I'll have to try them out on my sweetie as I continue investigating this.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Mike Haskins Experience @ the Where House



Charles Shaar Murray's "The Hellhound Sample"

Had a funny moment at Stooge prac the other night. One of the Stoogeaphiles happened to mention there'd been an unexpected death in his family over Christmas, something of which the rest of us were unaware. So there we were, standing there holding our guitars, talking about death for 30 minutes, until finally Teague crushed out his cigarette and said, "Well, OK then, let's play 'New Rose.'" In a way, I suppose, that convo primed me for the arrival of a copy of Charles Shaar Murray's The Hellhound Sample I'd ordered, which showed up in the mail, like a Candygram from the gods, the following day.

Murray, in case you don't know, is a Brit journo-muso, born 1951, who started his writing career as a teenage contributor to the underground newspaper OZ's "Schoolkids issue" and was thus involved in the subsequent obscenity trial, a real cause celebre in the UK. He went on to write for the New Musical Express, and I was fortunate to read some of his '70s scrawl from that publication when it was reprinted in Creem. He's the author of Crosstown Traffic, for my money the _best_ book on Hendrix (at least, the one that does the best job of placing JH in the context of his times and his formative influences), and Boogie Man, a bio of John Lee Hooker that I have yet to read. Murray plays guitar and harp, started performing during the punk era, and now fronts a London blues band called Crosstown Lightnin'. (Just what the world needs: Another goddamn writer that wants to be a muso.)

The Hellhound Sample is Murray's first novel, the story of the last days of bluesman James "Blue" Moon, a character loosely based on Hooker. After receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis, Blue decides to put his house in order by recording a final album with his estranged daughter, soul diva Venetia Moon; his grandson, the covertly bisexual rapper-producer Calvin "Ice Blue" Holland, and his protege and surrogate son, Brit blues-rocker Mick Hudson (who sired Calvin during a brief '70s fling with Venetia, but kept his paternity a secret for 30 years at her insistence).

Murray is familiar enough with the mythology of the blues and the trajectory of music since the '60s to spin a yarn evocative of their ethos, replete with deals with the devil, the struggle of sacred versus secular (shades of Skip James), and a subplot involving some villainous Jamaican rappers that turns out to be central to the story. He knows the music world well enough to make the stage/studio bits convincing, even though when he describes the production magic Calvin performs on his grandfather's music, it reads like sci-fi to a 20th century techno-illiterate like your humble chronicler o' events.

More to the point, Murray's sufficiently tuned in to the nuances of human speech and interaction to make compelling characters out of what could be straw-filled archetypes, and make a story with major potential for mawkishness on a Crossroads level (the Ralph Macchio vehicle, not the Robert Johnson song) ring as true as a bottleneck slide hitting a steel string. Not only are his principals believable as people, so are secondary characters like Blue's current, much-younger wife and their child, and Blue and Mick's managers (the latter a Peter Grant simulacrum). Murray's plot jumps around in time, from the '30s to the '60s and '70s to the present day and back again, from reality to his characters' dreams, but the narrative thread holds all the way to its surprising denouement.

Even though James "Blue" Moon doesn't go out the way he (or the reader) was expecting, he gets something that most folks in real life can only wish for: a chance to tie up the loose ends of his life, both for himself and for the ones he loves the most. We should all be so lucky. In an afterword, Murray hints that he's not yet through with Mick Hudson. Were a sequel to appear, I'd definitely be in line for a copy.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

2.11.2012, FTW

A dream show for me the other night, when the li'l Stoogeband played at the Where House with the Mike Haskins Experience, Fungi Girls, and Doom Ghost.

As I've previously noted, I am the shittiest scene supporter ever: I only go out when I'm playing, so I try to book shows with bands I want to hear. I've been trying to put together one with Mike Haskins since the once-and-future Nervebreaker came out with his bride Miss Patti to see us at the Grotto two years ago. Similarly, I've been trying to book something with the Fungi Girls since I met their drummer Skyler Salinas when we played at Landers Machine Shop early last year. And I was pleased as punch when I finally got in touch with Lavern Marigold from Doom Ghost to ask if his band wanted to play a show with us, and he responded affirmatively.

The weather had just turned cold after two unseasonably warm months, so my sweetie 'n' I were thrilled to discover that the Where House had heat when we rolled up entahrly too early. Unlike my Stoogeband mates, I'd never played there or even been to a show, although we did attend a wedding there a couple of years ago, and HIO recorded there back when it was still a dump. We dug the art on the walls and noted that the PA system was fine for what we needed.

After timely pause, folks started drifting in. Sky from Fungi Girls informed me that the Hanna Barbarians were playing a house show in the neighborhood, and we knew that there were also shows up the street at 1919 Hemphill and at Lola's in the Curmudgeon Zone, so we hoped for a decent turnout. (At the end of the night, we estimated 50-60, which was a little shy of what our payout reflected, so we went home happy and flush with cash for more pizza 'n' beer.)

Normally, Stoogeaphilia is the band that fucks up our gear (we're like a destructive testing laboratory for equipment, yo) and has to rely on the kindness of other bands to get through, but on this particular night, we supplied a guitar for Lavern from Doom Ghost when the screw holding his straplock in place stripped out (later on, Ray showed him how to fix it with a toothpick) and a bass pedal for Sky when his was uncooperative. Karmically, however, we're still probably operating at a deficit.

It was a gas to see Doom Ghost after their demos on Bandcamp knocked me for a loop back in December. Since then, they've changed bass players, but the core of Dylan-capped guitarist-singer Lavern and drummer Jeremy Brown, who looks like a Noo Yawk cabbie, remains. They play with raw energy and loads of the correct spirit. It was a special pleasure to hear "Goddamn I Hate the Blues," "Wink Wink," and especially "The Antideluvian Misadventures of Doom Ghost and Wizard Cat" with a bunch of watts behind 'em.

I'm not gonna lie: Fungi Girls took the show. I'd heard 'em at Doc's on Record Store Day last year, but neither that performance nor their fine LP Some Easy Magic prepared me for the relentless, raging attack of their current live show and their new material. They sound less retro-surf, more aggressive and psychedelic than I remember 'em. Just listening to Skyler soundcheck, I could hear that he has a better command of rudiments than yer average punk drummer -- he gives you a lot more _wrist_ than most of those cats can muster -- and he can really slam them skins. When I commented to Jon Teague that Sky reminded me of Quincy Holloway, he responded, "He just plays the drums _right_." No argument here.

Fungi Girls' frontline is a study in contrasts, with hulking singer-guitarist Jacob Bruce laying down a barrage of stratospheric space-rock at stage left, while left-handed bassist Deryck Barrera at stage right is, well, _cute_ in a McCartneyesque way (he even plays a Hofner, for chrissakes). My sweetie said they reminded her of the Minutemen. Maybe it's because they spent so much time in the van (or is it a station wagon?) the last two summers. Whatevah, they're all stupendous. I didn't envy the Mike Haskins Experience having to follow them.

(My sweetie overheard Experience drummer Jerry Dirxx complimenting Jacob after their set, which is high praise indeed, coming from someone who knows from fronting a band, specifically the Telefones, my ex-wife's favorite-band-after-the-Stones back in the day, whom I once saw wipe the floor with John Cale.)

Haskins has been one of my favorite guitar players ever since the first year I spent in Texas, when I probably saw the Nervebreakers more times than any other band, both on their own gigs and opening for the likes of John Cale and the Clash. So it was big medicine for me when first, NBs bassist Bob Childress and then Mike his own self came out to hear the li'l Stoogeband a couple of years back. Bob was on hand for the Where House shindig, too, and sat in with the Haskins Experience on "Strange Movies," which I always thought was a Nervebreakers 'riginal before I realized that it was stolen from the Troggs.

Mike told me that Get Hip has _four_, count 'em, four Nervebreakers releases on their sked for this year: besides the 180-gram reish of the NBs' posthumous LP release We Want Everything, there's going to be a singles compilation, a 7-inch of "I Wanna Kill You" with a flipside TBD (I recommended "Positively Fourth Street," a highlight of the NBs reunion performances a couple of years back), and finally, the Face Up to Reality album the NBs cut in '09. Great news: All I ever need is something to look forward to.

Mr. Haskins also leads a surf-cum-Morricone instrumental outfit called the Big Guns, but the Experience plays Nuggets-style garage snot (Roky, Chocolate Watch Band, Leaves, originals) -- a style beloved of the Doom Ghost and Fungi Girls dudes, who probably got hip (no pun intended) via the Fort Worth Teen Scene comps. I liked the fact that he does so on a Godin (Why not? He sells 'em!) with a huge pedalboard as much as I dig the way that visually, the dudes in Doom Ghost and Fungi Girls are the antithesis of Identikit punk- or indie-rockers.

The Stoogeband was LOUDER THAN FUCK, as is our wont, and I can't really comment on our performance except to note that 1) we were able to hear ourselves better at the bowling alley; 2) it was warm enough for Hembree to shed his shirt, as is _his_ wont; 3) I screwed up the changes to the last verse of "Jet Boy," although I doubt that anyone besides Hembree noticed; and 4) we played an "encore" (e.g., a song that wasn't on the planned setlist), something we never do: "I Wanna Be Your Dog." So there.

It looks like we're going to be playing at the Chat Room for the first time in four years on March 12th or 13th with Restaurant, and then in April, we'll celebrate our sixth anniversary as a band by playing two sets at Lola's in the middle of the week for free. Stay tuned.

Doom Ghost, Fungi Girls, Mike Haskins Experience, and Stoogeaphilia pics @ meezlady.blogspot.com

My sweetie posted some of her pics from last night's Where House extravaganza on her photo blog. Click on 'em to make 'em big and leave her a comment, why doncha? Blog blather to follow.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Nightmare

Nightmare from owl and the octopus on Vimeo.


Film by Terry Horn. Music by Joe and the Sonic Dirt from Madagascar.

Stoogepress

The li'l Stoogeband got mentioned in D Magazine (sort of) and the FW Weekly blog. Hooray!

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Pssst! Hey, kid! Wanna hear a Rocket from the Tombs live album from 1974?

It's Extermination Night 1974, recorded at the Viking Saloon on 12.22.1974. Downloadable for a ten spot from hearpen.com.

My scrawl in the FW Weekly

A review I penned of the new, eponymous CD by Flipside is in this week's paper and online now.

Abrams-Threadgill-Braxton-Mitchell

Two weeks after finishing George Lewis' AACM history, I'm in possession of a new stereo receiver and CD player courtesy of my drummer from college (bless him), replacing the compact stereo he sent me 15 years ago -- when he couldn't stand the thought of me using my computer as a CD player -- which went tits up last week. It's been 20 years since I had access to a "real" stereo, and my sweetie 'n' I are going through all of our music, discovering what it _really_ sounds like. Even CDs sound better, with loads more depth and headroom, but I'm getting back into the habit of listening to LPs a side at a time, the way I did when I was young and it might take me six months to get to side two of a favorite record.

Investigating the AACM's discography, I find myself unenthused by the couple of albums of Muhal Richard Abrams I've heard (Levels and Degrees of Light and Things To Come From Those Now Gone -- great titles, anyway), as important a role as he played as mentor and preceptor for younger cats like Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell, and Henry Threadgill. (At least now I think I know where Johnny Case got the inspiration for the operatic vocals on his Love's Bitter Rage.) I need to stalk the Black Saint-heavy CD stacks at Recycled in Denton for his Sightsong (duets with bassist Malachi Favors) and the big band albums Blu Blu Blu and Hearinga Suite (highly rated by Gary Giddins, but omitted from Lewis' select discography, probably because there weren't a lot of AACM members on board).

I'll have to set aside some time in the future to investigate Threadgill's work on its own. Threadgill made his recording debut on Abrams' Young at Heart/Wise in Time. Back in the '70s, I dug his band Air on their album Air Lore (modernist reimaginings of Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton from around the same time Braxton and Gil Evans were revisiting their work), and for the estimable Fred Hopkins-Steve McCall riddim section. I'm quite enamored of the bluesy You Know the Number and Too Much Sugar For a Dime, with its dense contrapuntal thickets and contrasting textures -- like Prime Time's dancing polyphony, only through-composed. (T. Horn is a fan of Harriet Tubman, the band Too Much Sugar guitarist Brandon Ross plays in with Melvin Gibbs of Decoding Society fame.) Threadgill's currently three albums into his current band concept, Zooid; I need to catch up.

Braxton's discography is large enough to be daunting, so I've chosen to only delve into a couple of albums I owned back in the '70s, and a couple of earlier ones that seem to have left the biggest footprints. Listening to his (and Mitchell's) work, it's instructive to note that there were "jazz cats" back in the '60s who were hip to and influenced by Stockhausen, Cage, and Feldman as well as Bird, Ornette, and Dolphy. (Not news to some, but I was a dumbass rockarolla when I first heard this music.)

Creative Orchestra Music 1976 is best known for its Ellington and Sousa-referential pieces, but I've been listening more to the other side, which is equally reflective of European art music and jazz traditions. Similarly, back in the '70s, I preferred the side of Trio and Duet where Braxton played jazz standards with his Circle bandmate/Conference of the Birds leader Dave Holland to the one where he essayed a longer, more challenging piece with Leo Smith (whose Golden Quartet with Ronald Shannon Jackson I've dug more recently) on trumpet and Richard Teitelbaum (ex-Musica Electronica Viva) on electronics; now, with three years of HIO under my belt, I've flip-flopped.

Early on, at least, there were strong similarities in the work of Braxton and Mitchell (highly competitive with each other back then, Lewis notes): their mix of rigor and humor; their use of silence and space as compositional devices; their exploration of their instruments' timbral qualities, including "unmusical" sounds; their employment of "small instruments" (harmonicas, kazoos, a plethora of percussion). Both men's first recordings appeared on Delmark Records, the imprint of Jazz Record Mart proprietor and Uber blues fan Bob Koester -- mentor to Howard Mandel and Wes Race, among others, who released two crucial '60s Chicago blues documents (Junior Wells' Hoodoo Man Blues and Magic Sam's West Side Soul) and, one gets the impression, was arm-twisted into recording the AACM musicians by his employee and free-jazz aficionado Chuck Nessa.

Braxton's Three Compositions of New Jazz was a sort of jazz chamber music, played by an ensemble of multi-instrumentalists without a kit drummer (although Braxton performs on snare) but including Leroy Jenkins' violin. The CD edition bears this curiously backhanded liner note (Koester's?): "In retrospect [Braxton] was a much more developed and confident musician than he may have seemed at the time." The follow-up, For Alto, was an audacious move: two LPs' worth of home-recorded solo saxophone improvisations. Mitchell's Sound opened with a dedication to Ornette before undertaking a thorough exploration of the open fields of tonality and meter Coleman had proposed with "Beauty is a Rare Thing." (Drummer Alvin Fielder had played in Sun Ra's Arkestra, and more recently has performed and recorded with Dennis Gonzalez.)

Nessa went on to release works by Mitchell (Congliptious, Old/Quartet) and trumpeter Lester Bowie (Numbers 1 & 2) -- the genesis of a unit that would become the Art Ensemble of Chicago during their 1969-71 sojourn in Europe -- on his own, eponymous label. Those albums were out of print for years until 1993, when a revived Nessa label re-released them in a pricey five-CD box that also included a lot of bonus material. In the last couple of years, he's reissued them again in more affordable, still bonus-heavy stand-alone editions.

Of these, the most essential is probably Congliptious, which opens with unaccompanied solo statements by Favors, Mitchell, and Bowie (the oft-quoted "Jazz Death?" -- Q: "Is jazz, as we know it, dead?" A: "Well, that all depends on what you know"), followed by ensemble pieces which, while still showing Ornette's influence, also begin to display the whisper-to-scream dynamic range that would become the Art Ensemble's calling card. That band achieved its apotheosis in France with albums like People In Sorrow (1969) and Les Stances a Sophie (1970) -- the former originally released on Nessa in the U.S., both currently available on a single French EMI CD, Americans Swinging in Paris. Nessa also released (and more recenlty reissued, in expanded form) Mitchell's masterwork, the 1977 double LP Nonaah, about which more later.

Captain Beefheart on Detroit Tubeworks, 1971



This footage was on the Grow Fins box set, but the quality of this Youtube vid is superior. It's the Magic Band on their '71 tour (documented by Langdon Winner in Rolling Stone): Van Vliet, French, Harkleroad, Boston, Ingber, Tripp. Killer stuff. Thanks to Tex Edwards for the link. See the YT poster's comments below:

Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band
WABX TV Studio
'Detroit Tube Works'
January 15, 1971

1. When Big Joan Sets Up (0:00)
2. Hair Pie Bass Solo (6:23)
3. Woe-Is-Uh-Me-Bop (6:42)
4. Flash Gordon's Ape Marimba Solo (8:48)
5. Bellerin Plain (9:11)
6. Instrumental for Foot and Fingers (13:00)

Mike: I just met the man who directed many of the video shoots for WABX Tube Works, a TV program in the early '70's which featured both touring and local bands playing live. The video in question was, in fact, shot after the Magic Band's show in Detroit with Alice Cooper and Ry Cooder. They drove out to the studio (now WXON TV 20), set up, and played what you hear. The guy I met, Chuck, apparently has the master in his basement.

Why, you may ask, is this important? Well, it's important to me ;) It happened in my backyard. That footage changed my life.

Nifty trivia: the vacuum cleaner visible in the shot (to the right of John French's drum kit) was not Beefheart's, but was placed there by the crew, who had seen photos of Don with a vacuum (which was in fact Chunga, immmortalized on Zappa's Chunga's Revenge).

Chuck Reti: I was director of most of the music segments ... The Beefheart session was memorable (a lot because their behavior drove Betsy, our exec producer, literally to tears). The same taping session that night/morning we also shot Ry Cooder, who earlier that night had been on a concert bill with Beefheart. I don't think the Cooder tape survived. While no 'original' material was performed, it is a unique live performance by Mr. Van Vliet. I recall Woe-Is-Uh-Me-Bop being one of the numbers, and how very cool was guitarist Zoot Horn Rollo.

Rhodri: I've also got a vid of a couple of early TV performances, one on a German TV show performing I'm Gonna Booglarize You Baby, and the best, don't know what TV station, was When Big Joan Sets Up, Bellerin' Plain and Woe-Is-Uh-Me-Bop. Totally stunning. The Cap'n's mike stand was broken, he looked pretty pissed off at the end, but John French was grinning his head off, there's a dual drum kit assault at the end of Woe-Is-Uh-Me-Bop with Art Tripp, and Rockette Morton looks so great with his tatty looking twin necked guitar.

For someone who is only 25 and never had a chance to see the band play, getting hold of this tape was an experience of almost religious proportions.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Rafi Zabor

In the early '80s, after I quit reading Trouser Press, my favorite music rag was Musician, a well-written and designed publication aimed at the "player and listener." Unique for the time, Musician straddled the gap between pop and rock, with a "new wave" emphasis (the Talking Heads and Police were big editorial faves; I remember with great fondness the issue where they had Joe Strummer and Robert Fripp -- a regular contributor -- interview each other; a cover story pulled my coat to Uncle Lou's late-'80s zenith), and jazz (Weather Report was top of the heap; Lower Manhattan was still happening, but Wynton Marsalis had arrived).

My favorite Musician scribe was Rafi Zabor, who wrote extremely well about jazz; I recall a Ronald Shannon Jackson article on which he collaborated with Mandance producer David Breskin -- some of the photos that accompanied the article wound up on the album's inner sleeve; go fig -- that was evocative and intriguing enough to make me a fan of Shannon's. Zabor's music writing sleeps with the fishes, unless you can find old copies of Musician, but his two books, the prize-winning novel The Bear Comes Home (1997) and the autobiographical I, Wabenzi (2005) -- supposedly the first of a four-volume series, which didn't eventuate, either due to its initial installment's poor reception or its author's lost inspiration -- are both shamefully Amazon-available for pennies. He recently conducted a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund a novel-in-progress, The Bosphorus Dogs. It's good to know that he's still out there.

The Bear Comes Home is the story of an alto-sax-playing bear and his progress through the world of jazz in the '70s and '80s. (There's some chronological weirdness going on here; the narrative doesn't seem to encompass enough time to take in both the early-'80s closing of the Manhattan venue the Tin Palace and drummer Steve McCall's 1989 death, both events to which Zabor alludes, but whatevah.) The novel was inspired by a street performer that Zabor (b. Joel Zaborovsky in Brooklyn, 1946) saw in Turkey in the late '70s. Its first part was originally serialized in Musician beginning in 1979. Then he put it down for 14 years to do other things, including taking care of his ailing (emphysema and dementia) parents, who both died in 1986 -- an experience that served as the jumping-off point for I, Wabenzi.

Quite simply, nobody writes better than Zabor about the act of playing music, in all its dimensions. He's well-versed enough in the technical aspects to describe them credibly; he's sufficiently tuned-in to the interpersonal dynamic between musicians to depict it in a way that rings as true as, say, Charles Mingus' bandstand conversations in Beneath the Underdog; and he can take off into spiritual and metaphysical realms without sounding precious or corny. Bass-thumping Minuteman/Stooge Mike Watt shoots for the same quadrant of the sky in the epic Joycean sprawl (sans capitalization) of his hootpage.com tour diaries, but Zabor's a _real writer_, and the difference is all.

It's hard to find an example of Zabor's music scrawl that's appropriate for quoting here, since his paragraphs are structured, well, like a Coltrane solo -- that's the kind of heft and depth (not to mention length) they possess. Here's the Bear duetting on a ballad with Charlie Haden:

Once he had it loosened up right, the Bear let Haden's lyric understrumming coax him into deeper seas than he usually travelled. Every time the Bear would play a line, Haden would find something larger to say about it on the bass and the Bear would have to submit to the authority of what he had proposed. Haden surrounded him like an orchestra of basses, lured unknown music out of his lights and vitals, and coerced his consent to a beauty beyond the rim of his circumspective troubles of the moment...When the Bear stopped, Haden took a solo, carressing up from the strings a richness of melody that paid tribute to the beauty of the bass and his own deep human nature.

Anyone who's ever listened to Charlie Haden can attest to the verity of Zabor's description. He also provides vivid sketches of musical icons including Lester Bowie and Ornette Coleman, including a pretty fair simulacrum of OrnetteSpeak. The effectiveness of these portrayals spills over into Zabor's invented characters, from the members of the Bear's touring band (of which the junk-addicted pianist Rahim Bobby Hatwell is the most compelling) to his human sidekick Jones (who won the Bear in a card game and was his partner in a street-performing "animal act" before serving as his manager and later, his record label connection) and his, um, interspecies love interest Iris (with whom his relationship trials 'n' tribs actually ring true, if one can suspend disbelief).

The Bear sits in with Arthur Blythe and the Art Ensemble of Chicago; gets locked up after a tempestuous Tin Palace gig, then sprung by Jones and Iris with help from the Art Ensemble; makes a record for a thinly-disguised ECM; moves upstate to Woodstock for an idyll with Iris; goes out on tour; helps Iris spring her daughters from the custody of her unraveling ex in New Mexico; and achieves transcendence during a solo on Coltrane's "Pursuance." The richness of Zabor's imagery and his hip-but-not-painfully-so voice -- he's the kind of hipster that's not too cool to laugh at corny jokes, or to allow himself some clever-but-silly wordplay-for-its-own-sake -- make it an eminently enjoyable ride.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Pssst! Hey, kid! Wanna hear a Move podcast?

It's Come To the Sunshine #72 - featuring the Move, hosted by Andrew Sandoval, via Bedazzled. Two hours of Roy, Carl, Bev, Trevor, Ace, et al., and related musics (Idle Race, Lemon Tree, Sheridan & Price, Acid Gallery, the Casuals, Equipe 84, and Tom Northcott). Thanks to my fellow Anglo obscurantist T. Tex Edwards (whose new band in the grand old style, Purple Stickpin, is now gigging around ATX) for the link.

ADDENDUM: Lots of BBC rarities I'd never heard before.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Steve Marriott

Steve Marriott would have been 65 years old this past Monday, if he hadn't died in a fire after falling asleep smoking in bed back in 1991. He was one of the heroes of my misguided yoof, a chirpy cockney chappie -- a stage kid, he'd appeared in TV and movies, and replaced Davy Jones as the Artful Dodger in the West End Oliver! before starting his musical career -- who wanted to be Otis Redding and, perversely, had the vocal chops to do it.

In 1971, Humble Pie's Performance: Rockin' the Fillmore was the first record after Live At Leeds that I had to blast four times every day (well, the first and fourth sides, anyway), much to my family's consternation. Town and Country and As Safe As Yesterday Is might have been the collector's rara avis (at least until A&M slung 'em out as a budget-priced double LP), but Performance (particularly the storming cover of Ray Charles' "I Don't Need No Doctor" that was a Noo Yawk FM radio staple that year) and its follow-up Smokin' were the goods, from the player's perspective.

While my age cohort was going apeshit over Grand Funk (for whom the Pie opened at Shea Stadium) and Black Sabbath, I was soaking up everything I could from those two records. Even today, when I'm goofing around with a guitar, my hands still automatically go to the riffs from "Four Day Creep," "Stone Cold Fever," "Come On Everybody," and "30 Days in the Hole." They were as archetypally of-their-time as Cactus, Mountain, and my personal favorites, Mitch Ryder's Detroit. To give you an idea what I'm talking about, here's a latter-day ('84) performance of "The Fixer" from Smokin' that's so hard-edged you could cut yourself on it:



In 1972, the Small Faces' Ogden's Nut Gone Flake was the first record I bought (after hunting for it for years) at the store I wound up working in from '73 until I moved to Texas in '78. Ogden's schizoid combination of R&B-based hard rock and psychedelic whimsy was totally unlike anything that either Marriott's subsequent work in Humble Pie or his former bandmates' as the Faces (with Rod Stewart and Ron Wood replacing him) would have led one to expect. The gorgeous, organ-driven psych-soul hymn "Afterglow" and brutal rocker "Song of a Baker" (perversely lead-sung by wispy-voiced Ronnie Lane) were as good as any records made in 1968, and the Small Faces' zenith. Here's a New Year's Eve '68 TV performance of the latter. Some of the worst miming you'll ever see anywhere, but Keith Moon and Pete Townshend seem to be digging it:



"Tin Soldier" -- which I'd hear later, on There Are But Four Small Faces, a nifty li'l pop album filled with songs about ditching school to get high in the park ("Itchycoo Park"), the neighborhood speed dealer ("Here Come the Nice"), and, of course, acid ("Green Circles") -- was equally good. In the All or Nothing 1965-1968 DVD, Faces (Small and otherwise) organist and latter-day Austinite Ian McLagan opines it was their finest hour.



Seeing their '65 Marquee Club and '66 German Beat Beat Beat performances on that DVD provides a potent reminder that the early, R&B-raving Small Faces -- who'd only just picked up their instruments -- wiped the floor with the "maximum R&B" Who; their self-titled first album (the one with "Whatcha Gonna Do About It" and the version of Muddy Waters' "You Need Loving" that Led Zep copied to make "Whole Lotta Love") similarly wipes the floor with the 'orrible 'oo's first LP.



Marriott was both an exemplar of the joy of music-making and a cautionary tale for rockstar wannabes. The cycle of touring, drinking, and drugging took its toll on him, increasing the pressure to produce a hit while diminishing his creative capacity. He made the mistake of suggesting that his Mob-affiliated manager was using the take from Humble Pie's tours to finance ex-Pie guitarist Peter Frampton's solo career (in much the same way as MainMan used the Stooges' CBS advance to bankroll Bowie's Ziggy Stardust tour) and got a face-to-face with John Gotti for his trouble.

When the wheels came off Humble Pie, he went back to playing the pubs in England, periodically reuniting with old bandmates (a lackluster late-'70s Small Faces reunion sans Lane; aborted recording projects with Lane and Frampton). The colossal irony was that even in his decline, Marriott had the goods. For proof positive, there's an '85 performance that's DVD-available, on which his guitar playing -- always his self-perceived Achilles heel -- is particularly impressive. Wish you'd stuck around, man.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Neil is for real

Not sure how long it'll be there, but there's a 37-minute-plus jam on Neil Young's homepage that's pretty snat if you dig Crazy Horse. Sounds kinda like "Variations on a Theme of Link Wray" aka "The 'Rumble' Variations." Dig it while you may.

ADDENDUM: "Cortez the Killer" tears my heart out the same way "Maggot Brain" does. Every single time.