Friday, March 22, 2019

New music to North Texas cometh

I would be remiss if I failed to mention the plethora of creative music performances coming this way the next couple of months.

First, the free-jazz/rock guitarist/banjoist Eugene Chadbourne (whom I know best from his collaboration with ex-Indian of the original MOI Jimmy Carl Black) has two shows in the area next month. The first -- a freebie -- is at Backyard On Bell in Denton (410 N. Bell Ave., to be exact) on April 10. The second, with a $10 cover, is at Top Ten Records in Oak Cliff (338 W. Jefferson Blvd.) the following night. In Denton, Chadbourne will be accompanied by Aaron and Stefan Gonzalez of Yells At Eels, who'll also be on the bill in Oak Cliff, along with a trio of Sarah Ruth Alexander, Liz Tonne, and Chris Curiel.

On April 12, Top Ten Records hosts a duo of Swiss trombonist Samuel Blaser and former Anthony Braxton drummer Gerry Hemingway, with locals Magga Quartet rounding out the bill. Another $10 cover that night.

Then on May 22, Oak Cliff bookstore The Wild Detectives (314 W. 8th St.) will have the German saxophonist Peter Brotzmann, a founding father of the European free music movement, in a duo with steel guitarist Heather Lee, sharing a bill with another duo consisting of punk-jazz guitarist Joe Baiza (Saccharine Trust/Universal Congress Of) and drummer Jason Kahn. Cover for thatun is $20; tickets are available here.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Cecil Taylor's "Silent Tongues"

I only saw the avant-garde piano force of nature Cecil Taylor once in life. It was hardly an optimal occasion: the April 1977 Carnegie Hall encounter with fellow pianist Mary Lou Williams, which he originally titled "Embraced," could have been more aptly dubbed "Opposed," or "Alienated." Williams, who promoted the concert herself, attempted to conduct a jazz history lesson, accompanied by her rhythm section, with written parts for Taylor. Taylor was having none of it. Instead, he responded with his usual shifting tectonic plates of sound, replete with thunderous left-hand rumbling, cascading torrents of notes, and explosions of atonality. The house was half-empty, but people in the balconies, transported by the potent visceral power of Taylor's art, were standing up and screaming. It wasn't a sublime musical event, but it was memorable.

To see Taylor live was to grasp the kinetic energy of his performance, and apprehend the tonal and rhythmic contours of his forms (influenced by 20th century European composers as well as jazz forebears). He played piano with the physicality of a dancer hurtling through space, and the percussive strength of his keyboard attack was matched only by his precise control, allowing him to execute with accuracy, even while stirring up welters of roiling turbulence. (Those who are still VHS-capable are encouraged to seek out Burning Poles, the document of a 1991 live-in-studio performance in which Taylor is accompanied by the highly simpatico Tony Oxley and William Parker, as well as a superfluous percussionist. By that time, Taylor had incorporated dance and vocalization -- declaiming his own idiosyncratic poetry -- into his onstage ritual. Last time I checked, the film was also available on Youtube.)

Originally released in 1975 on Arista Freedom and recently reissued by ORG Music, Silent Tongues is Taylor's first great solo recital, and an absolutely essential spin for anyone interested in creative music. At the time it was recorded, at the 1974 Montreux Jazz Festival, Taylor had just returned to performing after a spell in academia. The previous year, he had privately released a couple of solo recordings -- Indent (reissued by Arista Freedom in 1977) and the beautiful first side of Spring of Two Blue-J's (good luck finding that one today) -- from 1973 concerts at Antioch College (where he'd been teaching since the late '60s) and NYC's Town Hall, respectively. He'd go on to release many more solo dates -- 1978's Air Above Mountains <Buildings Within>, 1982's Garden, and 2002's The Willisau Concert among the best of them -- but Silent Tongues ranks among Taylor's very finest albums, and to these feedback-scorched ears, is the best point of entry for listeners new to his work (along with 1966's Blue Note ensemble session Unit Structures).

Silent Tongues, a work in five movements, commences with a slow and pensive exposition ("Abyss") of themes that will be expounded on later. On "Petals and Filaments," the trickle of ideas becomes a fast-flowing stream, animated by a jumpy nervous energy, as Taylor thoroughly investigates each tangent with virtuosic abandon, building to an intensity on "Jitney." The music's density and velocity ebb and flow through "Crossing" (which is split between LP sides, each of which totals over 25 minutes), until he concludes with a somber descending sequence that he calls "After All," then encores with recapitulations of themes from two of the movements. It's a demanding listen, but one that richly rewards repeated plays. Taylor's creation contains universes. Not for all, but everything to some.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Tahiti's "Light Blue Room"

Three years ago, I saw the rapper-filmmaker Tahiti crash Decadent Dub Team's stage at the sixth anniversary of The Kessler in Oak Cliff, in the company of his fellow rappers XL7 (aka Ty Macklin) and Doc Strange, performing their single "Don't Get It Twisted." Not long after that, Tahiti and Doc Strange released an EP, the sci-fi opera Sindrome, on Macklin's label. Since then, Tahiti's been silent. That night at the Kessler, he told me he'd been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, and that night's performance would be his last. But life's full of surprises, and when confronted with challenges, creative people tend to do what they do...create.

So I'm happy to report that Tahiti has a new single, "Light Blue Room," an unflinching look at the effects of Parkinson's that features Pikahsso --Tahiti's collaborator in the hip hop groups PPT and Awkquarius as well as the Trap House Youtube series -- and is available now via iTunes, Amazon Music, Spotify, and "the other ones." There's also a video which Tahiti plans to release on April 11, to coincide with World Parkinson's Day. Till then, take a listen, buy a download, and peep the Mayo Clinic site to learn more about the disease. And send my friend a good thought or two, why doncha?

Friday, March 15, 2019

Things we like: The Black Tones and Mythological Horses

I once asked the estimable Dave Crider (of Estrus Records and Mono Men fame) why so many great bands came out of the Pacific Northwest. Without hesitation, Dave replied, "Isolation."

Before Portlandia, before Sub Pop had a store in Sea-Tac Airport, before the PacNW became the epicenter of all things progressive, and harbinger of the gentrification and yuppification now sweeping the land, it was a backwater where rockaroll racket -- from the pre-Beatle frat-garage mania of the Wailers/Raiders/Kingsmen/Sonics, through the spacy genius of Hendrix (whom they say wasn't even the best guitarist in his Seattle neighborhood; musta been a helluva 'hood), to the grunge wave that started with Green River, crested with Nirvana/Pearl Jam/Soundgarden/Alice in Chains, and sends out ripples to this day in the form of the seemingly unsinkable Melvins and Mudhoney -- could germinate, free from the trendy demands of the Biz. The two bands under consideration here share that heritage, but their backstories are complicated.

The Black Tones are a twin sister and brother, Eva Walker (vocal and guitar) and Cedric David (drums), native Seattle-ites born into a family with Louisiana roots, who teethed on alt-rock as well as pop R&B growing up. The title of their album, Cobain and Cornbread -- their first full-length after eight years as a band, produced by grunge godfather Jack Endino -- reflects this dichotomy. What they aren't: just another White Stripes/Black Keys garage-blues melange -- although they did record a cover of Son House's "Grinnin' In Your Face" a couple of years back, and there's a harmonica-driven version of the venerable Jaybird Coleman gospel-blues "Rivers of Jordan" on this album.

For one thing, Eva can really sing, as she proves from the opening salvo of "Ghetto Spaceship" to the closing "Welcome Mr. Pink," which starts out punkish but winds up drifting into psychedelia. And they're conscious: "The Key of Black (They Want Us Dead)," replete with nasty fuzz-wah guitar worthy of early Funkadelic, is nothing less than a chant for post-BLM America, laying out the dilemma succinctly: "We want to go to school...We pay our taxes...We love our families...We want to go to work / They want us dead." My favorite item here, however, is "Striped Walls" -- a modern R&B song with rustic banjo accompaniment. The striking contrast encapsulates everything I like about this band; these twins are full of surprises.

Another duo, Mythological Horses are a long distance post-punk collaboration between guitarist-singer Shawn Holley, an Alaska native residing in Hawaii, and drummer Jest Commons (ex-Moldy Peaches), who docks in Port Townsend, Washington. Their sophomore outing, YYYMF, was produced by Tad Doyle of TAD fame (heaviest of the original grunge mob) and released by Portland-based indie Hovercraft Records. I'll admit to being a sucker for records with pictures of cats on them, so visual artist Heidi Estey's fetching character Frank the Cat definitely piqued my interest in this release. (This may have been intentional; you can buy Frank the Cat buttons from Mythological Horses' Bandcamp page.)

Spin the disc, and you'll hear propulsive riffs driven by primal crash-and-thump, overlaid with manic guitar strangling (kudos to ex-Fastbacks Kurt Bloch) and garage-snot vocals (dig "Sick and Tired," "Donnie Wiggins," or the claustrophobic "Hot Dog"). This bunch even flashes some power pop sweetness on "Get Lost," which isn't the kissoff you might expect from the title (full lyric: "I didn't mean to, but you asked me to / Get lost inside your eyes"), tossed off with casual abandon by guest vocalist Jess Brierly, who manages to steal the show wherever she appears, raging and spitting on "I Don't Want You Back" (which is what you might expect), shadowing Holley on the haunting grunge-country ditty "The Line." Come for the cacophony. stay for the songcraft.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Things we like: Black Lion on ORG Music

The British Black Lion label, which Alan Bates (not the actor) founded back in '68, released loads of material by American jazzers who visited Europe from the '50s to the '70s (in the manner of their forebears dating back to James Reese Europe's World War I "Harlem Hellfighters" band). Back in the '70s, Audiofidelity distributed them here in the States, and Arista bought rights to their free jazz "Freedom" imprint. Now, the US reissue label ORG Music is releasing a series of Black Lion titles in 180-gram pressings from Germany's Pallas Group. Here's a representative sampling, spanning the spectrum of jazz style.

Louis Armstrong's Basin Street Blues documents a 1956 concert that (contrary to ORG Music's hype sticker) appeared briefly on vinyl in 1975, released by a tiny California label, and again in Germany in 1989, but has otherwise seen no US vinyl release. By this point in his career, the jazz originator had reinvented himself as an ebullient ambassador for the music. Sure, some of this repertoire ("Tiger Rag," "When the Saints Go Marching In") has been around the block a few times, but Pops' distinctive phrasing on both trumpet and voice are still amply in evidence, and the backing, by a unit that includes Trummy Young's trombone, Ed Hall's clarinet, and Barrett Deems' drums, is top-notch.

Some would argue that the records Armstrong and Earl Hines cut together in 1928 constitute the pinnacle of jazz's early development. I am one of them. (Is there a better record from its year than "Weather Bird?" I think not.) And Hines' linear, melodic approach changed forever the way jazz piano was played. Hines' Tour de Force is a '72 solo recital, cut under the aegis of swing era scholar Stanley Dance in a New York studio, and showing that even pushing age 70 (and he'd live another decade, playing all the way), the master's gifts were undiminished. The fact that warhorses as venerable as "Say It Isn't So" (composed in 1932) and "Lonesome Road" ('27) sound so contemporary here attests to Hines' influence on succeeding generations of ivory ticklers. (A couple of years later, he'd go head-to-head with tradition-saturated modernist Jaki Byard in a series of duets for German label MPS.)

Duke Ellington's The Feeling of Jazz is a studio date with full orchestra from 1962, a year in which the protean composer recorded encounters with Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane, as well as the trio session Money Jungle with Charles Mingus and Max Roach. Ellington standards are interspersed with a few surprises, including Mercer Ellington's "Taffy Twist" (an oblique response to Chubby Checker?), and a couple of pieces from Duke's '59 soundtrack to the film Anatomy of a Murder (listening to "I'm Gonna Go Fishin'," one wonders whether Mingus was emulating Duke on "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting," or the influence went the other way). Trumpeter-cornetist-vocalist Ray Nance, a veteran of the Ellington orchestra since 1940, is featured all over this date and shines throughout. Bernie Grundman's mastering brings out the orchestra's full dynamic range.

Speaking of Ellingtonians, Ben Webster's Gone With the Wind finds the big toned, ex-Ellington tenor saxophonist (who joined Duke in the same year as Nance) in the company of  fellow expat Yank Kenny Drew on piano, with the Danish rhythm section of Niels-Henning Oersted Pedersen (bass) and Alex Riel (drums), in a program of standards (including a sprightly "Perdido") that emphasizes Webster's romantic way with a ballad ("Over the Rainbow," "Misty"). The intimate live recording captures the group's interaction well.

Jumping forward another jazz piano generation, Thelonious Monk's The London Collection, Volume 1 is the first of three LPs Monk cut for Black Lion at the end of the "Giants of Jazz" tour in '71 -- his last studio dates as a leader -- and features ten solo performances, five of them Monk originals. (On the other two volumes, he's backed by the "Giants" rhythm section of Al McKibbon on bass and Art Blakey on drums.) Listening to the versions of Monk's tunes here, it's hard not to compare them with favorite other versions (for Monk recut them numerous times). What shines through is his idiosyncratic rhythmic approach, his humor, and his grounding in jazz tradition (the striding left hand that occasionally emerges). He also proves himself to be a sensitive interpreter of other composers' work. Again, Grundman's mastering highlights the sonic detail in these sides.

Finally, we visit the hard bop era with Dexter Gordon's Walk the Blues. Gordon was the bebop tenor man who influenced Rollins and Coltrane, then had big enough ears to learn from them in turn. These three tracks, taped at Copenhagen's Jazzhus Montmartre in '67 (when Gordon had been living in Europe for three years) team him with half the rhythm section from the Webster album -- Drew (Gordon's most simpatico accompanist) and Pedersen -- and the relentlessly swinging drummer Albert "Tootie" Heath. The program consists of two extended uptempo workouts and a ballad, all bold and bracing, filled with invention.

The Gordon set is one of ORG Music's Record Store Day offerings, which also include jazz titles by the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Bunk Johnson, Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, and William Hooker. Film, as they say, at 11.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Unknown Instructors' "Unwilling To Explain"


Wow. Has it really been a decade since the last Unknown Instructors release? Tempus fugit. But the punk-rock poetry supergroup is back with a new waxing for ORG Music, a label of approximately the same vintage who mainly trade in rock and jazz reishes (including a series from the Euro Black Lion catalog, about which more later).

On Unwilling To Explain, Ohio poet Dan McGuire is reunited with the former Minutemen/fIREHOSE engine room of George Hurley and Mike Watt, plus a new Instructor: Dinosaur Jr. guitarist J. Mascis (filling the slot formerly occupied by Saccharine Trust/Universal Congress Of man Joe Baiza, who contributes some vocal assistance here). At every turn, Hurley and Watt play together like two cats who grew up in each other's back pockets, who can explore and extemporize together because they know each other's time so well. The interplay between the three instrumentalists is so solidly in sync that it's hard to believe they recorded their parts in different locations, on different days.

When I reviewed the Instructors' second disc back in 2007, McGuire told me his intent was to hear his idea of the best rhythm section in the world, with a guitarist going berserk over the top. Mascis is undoubtedly the axe-slinger for that job. One need only listen to the version of "Maggot Brain" on Watt's 1995 solo debut Ball-Hog Or Tugboat? to appreciate the unbridled intensity of J.'s attack. Of his generation of indie rockers, he's surely the most tapped into the blues vein that connects Eddie Hazel, Sonny Sharrock, Pete Cosey, and Ron Asheton (to whom J. generously ceded half of his set to play Stooge songs during SXSW 2000). Throughout Unwilling To Explain, he employs a thick, fuzzy tone reminiscent of '60s psychsters like the Electric Prunes, Fever Tree, and Spirit on cogently point-to-point rides that never lack for melodic imagination.

Listening to McGuire's pugnacious poetics on "Election Day in Satchidananda," I was reminded that I watch too much political news. (The other night, I took my wife to a show in Dallas where the woman fronting the opening band reminded me of Tulsi Gabbard, while the gent seated next to me was a ringer for Jeremy Corbyn, to the point where I had to restrain myself from leaning over and asking him, "So -- second referendum or no?") Over a Coltrane waltz, replete with Stephan Haluska's tinkling harp (conjuring the spirit of Alice in the same way as the song's title), McGuire worries the line, "Somebody's going to have to stand up, somebody's going to have to bear witness" like a blues lick, or good sex, before dissolving into echolalic delirium.

On "Hand In Hand," McGuire spits workingman's blues ("Every goddamn day I take another pill...pay another bill...try and get my fill...take another spill") over a James Brown groove, while Mascis spins sinuous lines over the top. "Out in the Cold" uses obsessive repetition to create a mood of jumpy paranoia, while "How It's Done" features a cameo by Joe Baiza as Captain Beefheart, intoning lines from Lou Reed's "Waves of Fear" over Hurley's tribal thump, punctuating McGuire's images of carnage that are both horrific and no worse than what we read in the news every day. "Initiation" starts out with a description of a high school hazing before moving on to a different teenage rite of passage (recalling "Those Were the Days" from the last Instructors outing, 2009's Funland): "In a clandestine cornfield / Live and learn's what you told me / Dime bag's what we do / Trying to get through / Bet you wouldn't believe if I told you / I can read your mind."

Unlike the Instructors' previous work, the songs on Unwilling To Explain were all written beforehand (by Watt) rather than improvised in the studio. Even with that degree of intentionality, and the circumstances of its creation, the music retains its freshness and immediacy, from the opening notes of the self-referential "Ballad of the Unknown Instructors" (as astute an observation of night life as 2005 debut The Way Things Work's "Lost and Found") to the leisurely waltz that closes the chilling "The Patriot" ("If you don't do the math / And if you really don't look into terrorism / You should be able to sleep at night"). All in the service of McGuire's unnerving thoughts for unnerving times.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Heater's "Temporary Power"

The first time I laid eyes on Heater, they were playing the outside stage at Lola's. Matt Hembree was standing next to me. We looked at each other and said, "Husker Du!" (Your referents might be different, but we are old.) Unlike a lot of young bands who seem to conflate surf, garage, and punk, the dudes in Heater draw primarily (and primally) on '80s punk progenitors, and cut their aggression -- exemplified by the Josh Lindsay-Jamie Shipman rhythm section's raging tempos and Travis Brown's raw-throated bark -- with melody, which comes at you fast and furious via Travis and Adam Werner's thrashed and scraped guitars. Austin-based Twistworthy Records released a 7-inch on these guys back in 2017. Since then, they've digitally released a compilation track and now this three-song EP, recorded and mixed in Travis' living room. Do-it-yourself catharsis should always sound so powerful. Heater's exhilarating energy pulls you in, pummels you, and leaves you wanting to prolong the pounding.