Monday, December 31, 2012

Pssst! Hey, kid! Wanna hear an epic remix (with video) of FZ's "Sofa?"

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Pssst! Hey, kid! Wanna see a Krautrock documentary from the BBC?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

RIP Ray Collins

Ray Collins, original lead singer of the Mothers of Invention, passed on Christmas Day, aged 76. Here's the Youtube channel of Prism Films Archive, a UK concern that has extensive interview material on ex-MOI Jimmy Carl Black, Bunk Gardner, Don Preston, and Art Tripp. ADDENDUM: Here's the best story I've seen about Ray, from his hometown rag the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Phil Overeem on Natural Child

My pal Phil Overeem of Columbia, Missouri (where he once bought a pizza for me and Nathan Brown after yelling for Velvet Underground songs while we busked on the street) is retiring next year from teaching high school. From '99 to '04, he ran the First Church of Holy Rock and Roll website, for which I intermittently scribed. He put down his critic's pen the same year I started this blog, claiming he felt uninspahrd. (Myself, I think he was just too into what he was doing during the school day.) In any event, last year he was sufficiently stoked by seeing Natural Child -- a Nashville-based trio who sound like they have the correct spirit -- to write this piece for Sugarbuzz Magazine, which he just shared with me. Methinks he makes a good case. Would dig to see more of his scrawl out there, if he has time apres retirement.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

HIO in the FW Weekly

When I was stationed in Korea, I played in an R&B showband. When I quit, they took the base talent show and got to go TDY to Japan. This year, I quit HIO, and now they've got a FW Weekly "EP of the year" for Fractions (actually a mashup of Hickey, Kitchens, and Mora Collective's Eric Yacula and Zach Puchkors). So there!

The Velvet Underground's "Loaded"


My last two years of high school, my best school friend was a guy I'll call Hap. He was the other longhaired guy in the class, and I'd seen him sitting on his front porch playing an acoustic guitar while I was carrying my amp to some kid's house down the street for band practice. He ran cross country, and I spent all my time riding my bike to the hipi record store in town and stealing my old man's liquor while he was away on a fellowship in Germany. We never hung out away from school, so we never drank or took drugs together. We just sat in the back of English class for two years, amusing each other by drawing cartoons and cracking wise about one thing or another.

We had a running argument regarding who was the better songwriter. I said Lou Reed; he said John Denver. I thought John Denver was lame, but Hap got a pass because when he was ten, he'd come home from school and found a note from his father on the garage door, telling him not to go inside but to go get his mother. Of course, Hap had to look in the garage, and so it was that he found his dad, hanging from the rafters.

One day our junior year -- my last because I'd talked my way into an early admissions program that was part of the state university at Albany, from which I'd ignominiously withdraw three semesters later -- we decided to bag all of our classes and hang out in the courtyard with the photographer that was shooting activity pictures for the yearbook. As a result, we're in every activity picture, listed as "Unknown" and "Unknown."

Hap and I were in one activity, a group that was supposed to bring speakers on contemporary social topics to the school. In reality, all we did was show movies and have a pizza party at the end of the year. That's how I got to see Cool Hand Luke for the first time, but we mostly showed shitty horror movies. I thought one of the three teachers who sponsored our club was cool because he'd been in the Navy, had a goatee, and smoked a pipe. Another one was a bearded, bespectacled longhair who owned the first BMW I ever saw. His cousin Danny played guitar in the Blues Project, a band I revered highly. The third was an Italo-American who'd grown up in the Bronx with Dion DiMucci, whom he claimed had been laughed out of the neighborhood for shaving his legs ("to make them fit in those pegged pants"). What I liked best about the club was it was really the only contact I had with girls, even though the ones in the club were a year or two older than me, which made a difference back then: off limits. Other than that, I was mostly too shy to talk to any, even when they approached me. Hopeless!

The last week of my last year, Hap and I were assigned to read Albee's The Zoo Story in front of our English class, as punishment for cutting up in back of the class the entire year. On the last day of school, I surprised our teacher by presenting him with a piece of free verse I'd composed the night before. If you read the first letter of every line from top to bottom, it spelled out "Don't be such a fucking wiseass." He didn't notice it at the time, and even read the thing to the class, but I imagined him looking back at it someday, reading it, realizing, and keeling over with a heart attack. I probably overestimated my importance in his universe a bit.

I lost touch with Hap after leaving school. Wherever he is today, I hope he's doing well.


I first got wind of the Velvet Underground the spring before I turned 15 via a review St. Lester wrote in Creem of Live At Max's Kansas City and Uncle Lou's first solo album. I bought used DJ copies of both records and was underimpressed by Max's but loved Lou Reed beyond all reason. Lou's solo debut has taken a lot of hits over the years, but it remains a fave of mine. Sure, the songs were mostly just the dregs of what he'd written for the Velvets, before David Bowie picked him up and reinvented him for a minute as the Frankenstein's monster of glam, but what great songs they were, and Lou would continue to pull them out through the '70s, whenever he needed a goodun to fill out an album. "I Can't Stand It" was a brutal droning rocker, the perfect album opener. Hearing "Lisa Says" and "Berlin" for the first time was like reading really good fiction that was just a little over my head. "Wild Child" remains, for my money, one of the best songs Lou has ever written, and the closing triptych of "Love Makes You Feel," "Ride Into the Sun," and "Ocean" feels transcendent.

I even loved the sound of the record, as thin and jangly as it was, and for which we must thank Rock Scene scribe Richard Robinson, who really wasn't a record producer at all but nonetheless was present at the creation not only of Lou Reed but of the two best Flamin' Groovies albums (which were favorably compared in print when they were new to MC5's Back In the U.S.A. and the Stones' Sticky Fingers), Hackamore Brick's One Kiss Leads To Another (which in retrospect smells like VU copyism but was in fact just the sound of other Noo Yawkers who'd grown up on doo-wop, Buddy Holly, and the Everly Brothers), and later, Lou's Street Hassle (complete with mumbled Bruce Springsteen cameo) and David Johanson's solo debut. I can even forgive the participation of musicians from Yes and Elton John's band (not to mention Clem Cattini of Joe Meek/Kinks fame).

When I finally heard Loaded -- and it was the first Velvets studio album I heard -- it was sonically challenged in a different way than Lou Reed. Adrian Barber and Geoffrey Haslam's production made it sound like it was recorded under layers of cotton wool, a problem it shared with MC5's High Time (another Haslam production) and Slade's Play It Loud (the record I used to listen to when I was stealing my father's brandy, the way I'd steal his Pernod to listen to Loaded, the wannabe Max's backroom sophisticate that I was).

No matter. The record's cloudy sound became part of its charm. I wasn't hip at the time to the noxious band dynamics that surrounded its recording (Lou being forced to share his songwriting credits and the manager striving to convince Doug Yule that he was The Guy, overdubbing instruments like he was Paul McCartney or something), and Sterling Morrison's account of its making, while the Velvets were playing their terminal summer residency at Max's and he was working on his English degree, still sounds downright idyllic to me. (Sterl grew up in Bay Shore, a couple of towns over from me on Long Island. When I lived in Austin for a minute at the ass-end of the '70s, he was teaching a rock 'n' roll course at UT. I always said I was going to go audit it, but never did.)

The Velvet Underground and Nico remains the "important" album, but while Loaded hit me right where I lived, the debut was a shock to the system. It took awhile for me to wrap my messed-up teenage head around songs like "Venus In Furs," "Heroin," and "Black Angel's Death Song," as well as the album's abrasive, astringent sound. (After he was forced out of the Velvets, John Cale would take everything that was implicit in "I'm Waiting for the Man" and unleash it when he produced the first Stooges album.) Only with time was I able to see the beauty that resided there -- not only in the "soft songs," but in the stately drone of "All Tomorrow's Parties" especially -- and the R&B influence (the Marvin Gaye-via-Stones quote in "There She Goes Again").

White Light/White Heat was the last VU studio album I heard (by the time VU and Another View appeared, I'd lost the thread) and I didn't listen to it for 20 years after making the mistake of listening to it while "experienced" as some kind of futile gesture of independence from my best buddy from middle school, who always insisted on stacking all the Doors albums on his changer when we were in that state. It was "The Gift" that motivated me to rip the record off the player and smash it to little bits. Only in middle age did I dare to listen again to "Sister Ray" and "I Heard Her Call My Name." By that time I'd given up on trying to "play good" and had embraced making horrible noises on guitar. While there's a lot of Lou's noise guitar that I dig -- mainly from live bootlegs -- the ethereal-but-sleazy vibe of White Light/White Heat still doesn't float my boat, even though its influence is undeniable. (I still maintain, however, that Ron Asheton was a Hendrix man, the VU-Stooges-via-Nico connection notwithstanding.)

Myself, I think Cale's best work was done after his ouster from the Velvets, both as a producer (Stooges, Nico, Modern Lovers, Patti Smith) and as a solo artist. As a songwriter, I don't think he's ever surpassed Vintage Violence and Paris 1919, the early records he made with the least simpatico backing musicians. His '70s Island period, when he was in with the Roxy Music art-rock crew, was flashier but no more substantial, and introduced a penchant for theatrical mock dementia that was in full flower by the time I saw him on three different occasions at the ass-end of the '70s, backed the first two times by what might have been the worst band in New York City (my bassplayer from college, who worked at Manny's Music on 48th Street, told me that Cale was reputed to be such an asshole that nobody good would play with him) and the last time by a band that was infinitely slicker and louder, but still got their clocks cleaned by Dallas' Telefones. (True story. I also saw Joan Jett wipe the floor with Iggy once.)

If you were at Cale's show at Mother Blues on Lemmon Avenue in Dallas, I was the asshole that yelled for "I'm Waiting for the Man" all night. At the Palladium on Northwest Highway, we brought the Fort Worth cop that used to work security in my store. He loved it. Afterward, he took us off-roading in his Jeep and I lost my wallet. It was only slightly disconcerting that the sleek, slightly sinister stud of the Velvets daze had matured into a fat, middle-aged guy in leather pants. While singing "Heartbreak Hotel," the one-time avant-gardist would wrap a guitar cord around his neck and howl like a banshee.

In the '90s, I saw a more sedate Cale, accompanied by David Soldier's String Quartet, at Caravan of Dreams on the same tour where he refused to get off the bus in Denton because the venue couldn't pay his guarantee, and a local muso was arrested for standing outside, yelling, "Lou would have played!" (Which was patent horseshit.) Incidentally, Soldier is the composer responsible for "The Most Wanted Song" and "The Most Unwanted Song" that you might have seen on the intarweb. But I digress.

Even before they met Warhol, the Cale-era Velvets stood at the crossroads where everything that was avant-garde met pop culture detritus. Cale was a familiar of Copland, Cage, LaMonte Young, and Terry Riley; Reed stood with one foot planted in highbrow literary aspiration via his college exposure to Delmore Schwartz and the other in lowest-common-denominator pandering via the time he spent as a Pickwick Records tunesmith. Andy's sponsorship was the icing on the cake. His firing, followed by Cale's, marked the emergence of Lou Reed as a mature artist.

From The Velvet Underground to today, it's been pretty much a straight line. Uncle Lou's refined his craft since '69, but he hasn't shown us any new tricks. (Metal Machine Music was "I Heard Her Call My Name" taken to the most ridiculous extreme.) I disagree with some of the common consensus faves like The Blue Mask. While by '82 it was a relief to hear noisy electric guitars again -- thank you, Mr. Quine -- on a Lou Reed record, rather than studio pro sterility, some of the songs ("Women," "Heavenly Arms") were just trying too hard. If the third Velvets album seemed too subdued on first hearing, it's held up over time on the quiet strength of the songs. I hear the same quality in the songs on the first solo album, Legendary Hearts, and the trifecta of New York-Songs for Drella-Magic and Loss. In the fullness of time, I think the preternaturally fluid bassist Fernando Saunders has proved to be Lou's ideal accompanist. The fact that he can play with John Zorn and Metallica in his 70s just proves that he's a contrary cuss.


As geeked as I am on vinyl, my preferred method of listening to Loaded today is on CD -- specifically, on Rhino's 2CD Fully Loaded Edition. I'm not a big fan of CD-era maximalism; like movie outtakes, most CD bonus tracks only serve to validate the choices of the people that programmed the original albums. While it's interesting to know that the original words to the Stooges' "Loose" were "I took a ride on a red hot wiener / Yes I'm riding on a big hot dog," it's not, um, essential. Kinda like knowing that the original words to the Velvets' "New Age" were "It seems to be my fancy / To make it with Frank and Nancy." (There are, however, exceptions: Whoever thought of combining Howlin' Wolf's "rocking chair album" and Moanin' in the Moonlight on a single CD, f'rinstance, was some kind of goddamn genius.)

Fully Loaded Edition gives you a whole alternate version of the album on a separate disc, rather than putting all the takes of the same song together (the Achilles heel in Sony's complete Robert Johnson recordings and the Rhino's Stooges Funhouse box). Additionally, it restores material that was snipped out of the original released versions of "Sweet Jane," "Rock & Roll, and "New Age." That gambit has actually worked to the detriment of some albums on CD (I'm thinking in particular of FZ's Hot Rats and Weasels Ripped My Flesh), but in the case of Loaded, any real VU fan has heard innumerable live versions of, say, "Sweet Jane" with the "Heavenly wine and roses" bridge, so its inclusion doesn't screw up the flow of the song in your head. And being a fan of Uncle Lou's solo debut, I find the inclusion of Velvet studio versions of half a dozen songs that later showed up on that album, as well as two from Berlin and one from Transformer, a very desirable addition.


Doug Yule was recruited to the lineup after Cale's ouster at the behest of manager Steve Sesnick, whose Boston Tea Party became the VU's base of operations after they dumped Warhol. He played bass and organ onstage, and sang in a nondescript angelic choirboy sort of voice. Since the Velvets never had more than a week to record an album until Loaded and Lou's voice, at its best never the strongest of instruments, was invariably trashed from live gigs whenever they made it into the studio, this last was seen as quite an asset. If nothing else, Doug could sing the "soft songs" formerly assigned to Nico, the ones that Antony Hegarty sings onstage now. He got to sing the first and last songs on Loaded. On "Who Loves the Sun," which opens the album, the "Pa-pa-pa-pa" chorus sounds like something from the soundtrack of a mid-'60s French movie.

I got to interview him once. He was learning how to play violin with his son. He seemed like a nice man.


To my teenage self, "Sweet Jane" represented a vision of what it would be like to be a 30something New Yorker, in the same way as the songs on Simon & Garfunkel's Bookends seemed to encapsulate what it'd feel like to be a 20-year-old college student.

"Sweet Jane" is debatably Lou Reed's most famous song. There have been a million cover versions, the earliest probably being Brownsville Station's on their 1973 album Yeah! -- on which they were ahead of their time in covering not only Uncle Lou, but also reggae (Jimmy Cliff) and garage grunt (the Balloon Farm, Terry Knight & the Pack) on a good-timey rockaroll album. Cub Koda modified the lyrics to remove any hint of sexual ambiguity ("Jane is in her corset / Me I'm in a rock 'n' roll band"), just as the latter-day, county fair-appearing Question Mark and the Mysterians play a "family friendly" version of the Stooges' "Loose" ("I'll rock you / I'll roll you / 'Cause I'm loose"). Wha-wha. Still a great version, though, and an underrated record. (Thanks, Geoff!)

Mott the Hoople did a throwaway version to announce their big Bowie-produced glam-rock move. Eons later, the Cowboy Junkies walked through a somnambulist version. My favorite "cover" remains the one from Uncle Lou's live Rock and Roll Animal LP, for Steve Hunter's bombastic intro. (More about him later.) Back when Twisted Sister were still playing the Long Island bar circuit, billed as "Twisted Sister -- They're No Ladies, Mister," they used to play a set of glam covers before coming out in drag to play their 'riginals. A highlight of their first set was the, um, "Sweet Jane" singalong. But the first song I heard with the "Sweet Jane" chord progressiprettyon was actually Alice Cooper's "Be My Lover," an indication of my state of sophistication before stumbling onto Lou and the Velvets.

On the early version that's included on the second disc of Fully Loaded Edition, Steve Sesnick proves definitively that you can have too much cowbell.


"Rock & Roll" is the perfect description of its subject matter, and what it can mean to someone of a certain age to whom it can become...everything. I lived it. If you're still reading this, maybe you did, too.

The Velvets' is not, however, my favorite version. That honor belongs to Detroit, a band fronted by Mitch Ryder of "Jenny Take A Ride" fame, who released one album in 1971 on Paramount (same label that had a hit with Commander Cody's "Hot Rod Lincoln" around the same time) and sank without a trace. Besides its leather-lunged frontman, Detroit's assets included Johnny "Bee" Badanjek, the fireball drummer from Mitch's Detroit Wheels, and Steve "Decatur Gator" Hunter, a lead guitarist in the Mick Taylor Get Your Ya-Ya's Out mold, who'd go on to do studio work, in tandem with Motor City homeboy Dick Wagner, for Bob Ezrin on numerous Alice Cooper, Lou Reed, and Peter Gabriel albums.

By Mitch's own account, Detroit was a drug-and-anger-fueled caravan of bad behavior, but their album is a classic of early '70s R&B-based biker rock, and when I was learning how to play, there must have been a law that said every idiot band on Long Island had to play their version of "Rock & Roll." I was in a couple of 'em. Even Uncle Lou is reputed to have said "That's the way that song was meant to be played." You can see Hunter with Lou on the Julian Schnabel-directed Berlin concert DVD. Still plays a red SG.


The drumming on Loaded pretty much sucks Midas mufflers. Keypunch operator turned primitive thumper Mo Tucker sat out the sessions, waiting to have her first baby, and the slack was picked up by Yule's brother Billy and somebody (probably from Long Island) named Tommy Castanaro. All the stickwork is pretty reminiscent of a guy I knew in junior high school, whom I always still think of as "The Happy Drummer." Tony liked the fill from Stevie Wonder's "Uptight" so much that he played it on every fast song. You won't hear that fill on Loaded, but you will hear lots of Long Island garage band drums. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

In later years, Mo Tucker evidently became a Tea Party sympathizer, causing at least one longtime friend of mine to call for her death on Facebook. I don't share his opinion; I can disagree with people's politics and still accept their essential humanity. I got to interview Mo once and thought she was a real nice lady. The Christmas card she sent that year resides in a place of honor with my James Williamson bobblehead and correspondence from Leni Sinclair.


Loaded features more animated vocalismo from Uncle Lou than any other Velvets album. Whether that was the result of having more time in the studio or Sesnick telling him he had to be more exciting, one can only guess. He certainly sounds more like a "rock 'n' roll singer" on songs like "Sweet Jane" and "Cool It Down" than anywhere else in the VU catalog. I always used to think of "Cool It Down" as the low point of Side One, but now it just seems like Lou having fun with his R&B roots, the way he did on "There She Goes Again," the way he would on Side Two's "I Found A Reason."


"New Age" was about as far psychosexually from where I was at as anything I could imagine when I was 15 -- sort of a rock Sunset Boulevard. As such, it fascinated me more than any other song on the record. It was really weird a few years later when teenage New Wave diva Rachel Sweet covered it. On Fully Loaded Edition, you get a "long version" on one disc and a "full-length version" on the other, and I'll be damned if I can tell the difference between 'em.


"Head Held High" sounds like what you'd get if you tried to write a song based on the jam in the middle of "There She Goes Again," or the instrumental break in the Who's "Substitute." It takes the vocal dynamism I referred to a minute ago to yet another level, before it reaches its apex on "Train Round the Bend," after which Lou probably needed to rest his voice for  a week (instead of going to play two sets at Max's). It's my favorite song on the album. This is the one place on the album where the shitty drumming kind of works.

Once, a few years ago, Nicholas Girgenti and I were both so desperate to be in a band that we were actually going to try to sing, and I attempted to do so on "Head Held High." Thankfully, we never made it out of my front room.


"Lonesome Cowboy Bill" is my least favorite song on the album, but if you ever wanted to know whether Lou Reed could write a song about a cowboy -- well, it's here.


"I Found A Reason" is a tongue-in-cheek doo-wop ballad. I memorized the spoken part and used to recite it for Hap the same way I'd done with Mothers of Invention songs and Firesign Theater routines for my best friend from junior high school. On Fully Loaded Edition, there's a Dylanesque demo version that's okay but doesn't have the same incandescent vibe. The lush backing vocals on the released version add a lot.


"Train Round the Bend" is Lou kicking back on the "gettin' it together out in the country" conceit that overtook rock 'n' rollers in the early '70s (for which I blame John Wesley Harding). Its pulsing rhythm was originally inspired by an amplifier's tremelo effect -- hear the version on the live Praise Ye the Lord bootleg. Lou's over-the-top vocal and the fuzzed-out feedback guitar obbligato (which might actually be played by Yule) make the track.


"Oh! Sweet Nuthin'" is the closing valedictory, like the Stones' "Salt of the Earth" or "You Can't Always Get What You Want." Doug sings it and somebody (Sterl?) extemporizes a lot on lead. There's an earlier version where Lou provides a wilder vocal, but somehow, Doug just sounds right singing this one.

In '98, when I was on DUI probation, my attorney, who was also a musician, advised me to join any band so I could get it in my conditions that I was allowed to travel out of county to play. (My judge was also a muso; my attorney used to run sound for Hizzoner's bluegrass band. Welcome to Fort Worth, Texas.) So I joined a rocked-up country band that used to play VFW halls and dumps in Weatherford and Mineral Wells. There was some Marshall Tucker Band song we used to play on which I amused myself by playing the obbligato from "Oh! Sweet Nuthin'" instead of the lead part off the record. Simple pleasures for simple minds.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Pssst! Hey, kid! Wanna hear Sun Ra at Carnegie Hall in '73?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Live from the NYPL Presents Pete Townshend

Whonose talks, you listen.

FZ: The chance of a lifetime?

These days I always say that Civilization Phaze III and The Yellow Shark are my favorite Zappa albums, and I think they really do represent the best renderings of the music he heard and his head that he was able to realize in his lifetime. That said, seeing the Grandmothers of Invention at the Kessler earlier this year reminded me that his bands always brought unique things to his music that he couldn't have envisioned without them. Of his band recordings, Roxy and Elsewhere has become my favorite over time, once I got over the whole silly "early Mothers of Invention were the best" fallacy (although Weasels Ripped My Flesh ain't no slouch either, and runs a close second in my personal pantheon).

Zappaphiles have salivated for years over the prospect of seeing the film that was shot during FZ's engagement at L.A.'s Roxy on December 9-10, 1973, when the basic tracks for Roxy and Elsewhere were recorded. Now the Zappa Family Trust is looking for 1,000 fans who want to pay a grand apiece for a CD duplication master of 76 minutes of music from those shows. The idea is that the fans could then become distributors, manufacturing and retailing copies from the master (and paying the ZFT a mechanical royalty of $1.20 per copy), or having the ZFT manufacture the CDs at a cost of $11 a pop (mechanical royalty included). Fans who take advantage of the offer are prohibited from dealing with distributors or uploading any of the material. Interested? You have until 5am (PST) on December 28th to reach out. According to the ZFT's website, if successful, this offer will make possible the release of The Roxy Performances - The Movie in time for the shows' 40th anniversary next year. Viewed another way, it's an easy way for the ZFT to make a million bucks.

Far be it from me to cast any rocks at Gail Zappa. During Frank's life, she and her kids had to put up with his frequent absences (not to mention his distant, nocturnal workaholic presence), and he left them the legacy of his life's work with the intent of providing for them financially after he was gone. That said, I'm not ponying up for any of the latest, ZFT-sanctioned batch of reissues because I have all the FZ I need already (although I do need to replace a skipping copy of Burnt Weenie Sandwich). It would be nice to see the Roxy shows on DVD, though. That band was something special, and is only represented on DVD by The Dub Room Special, where it has to share space with excerpts from the '81 Halloween show that was broadcast over MTV and has since been released in its entahrty as The Torture Never Stops -- a gig that's longer on Frank's mean-spirited humor than his challenging music. Anyway, we'll see how this eventuates.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Bill Horist Union Station Solo

Here's the video version of Bill's track from the Axe compilation (reviewed below).

Bill Horist Union Station Solo from James Reeves on Vimeo.

12.12.2012, FTW

Thanks to T. Horn, I've been reading a couple of issues of The Wire and thinking about improv. The cover story on Peter Brotzmann got me intrigued over an artist I've never cared for much -- I've found the German saxophonist's unremitting intensity daunting. But his '60s albums For Adolphe Sax, Machine Gun, and Nipples, and his work with Globe Unity Orchestra kind of started the ball rolling for European jazz in the same way Roscoe Mitchell's Sound, Congliptious, and Art Ensemble of Chicago heralded the Windy City's avant-garde.

(As much as I love Ronald Shannon Jackson and Sonny Sharrock, I already know I can't hack Last Exit. Even the amusement of hearing Shannon singing Jimmy Reed songs is overshadowed by the sonic tantrum he and his bandmates kick up, not to mention the similar kick of his vocalismo on Power Tools' version of "Unchained Melody.")

Brotzmann talks about how his music reflects the experience of his generation of Germans, who lived through World War II. He dismisses comparisons with Coltrane (Ascension was the first jazz album I ever bought) and Ayler as spurious. No lofty spiritual concerns for him: "I was more feet on the ground, looking forward."

Reading about his '77 duet album with the percussionist Han Bennink, Schwarzwaldfahrt, piqued my interest. Imagine two drunken lunatics driving around the Black Forest (an area that's not open to the public without permission from the family that owns it) in a van at the end of winter with a really good tape recorder, occasionally stopping to make music. Bennink didn't bring any drums, so he's playing found objects. There are birds, planes, and chainsaws on the recording. Listening to this music reminds me that the first couple of years of HIO (once it boiled down to Terry, Hickey, and me) were probably the most carefree of my adult life, at least when we were "working on the project" (e.g., drinking at the Bull & Bush).

In the meantime, I'm re-listening to Snakelust (to Kenji Nakagami), a CD by Hairybones that arrived a few Clean Feed releases ago that I've been struggling to come to grips with ever since (that image perhaps inspahrd by the cover pic of Japanese wrestlers). Hairybones is a Brotzmann quartet with Japanese trumpeter Toshinori Kondo, whom I'd previously only known as the subject of a Dennis Gonzalez dedication that happens to be the title of Yells At Eels's signature tune. Like Dennis (and '70s Miles), Kondo uses a lot of F/X on his horn. Hairybones evolved out of the Die Like A Dog Quartet, a sort of Albert Ayler tribute band fronted by Brotzmann and Kondo. The current lineup has Paal Nilssen-Love on drums, who seems to show up on more and more records that I dig. With a new perspective on Brotzmann, I'll continue wrestling with this record.

Also listening to/thinking about Derek Bailey, whose Improvisation I've found more useful from a playing perspective than any musical treatise since Mick Goodrick's The Advancing Guitarist. While his "non-idiomatic improvisation" is not something I'll probably try to emulate, I like the idea of his album Music & Dance, where he's accompanying a dancer when a rainstorm begins, then plays with the sound of the rain on the leaky roof. Reminds me of Fred Frith playing with Evelyn Glennie in the film Touch the Sound, and some of the spatial performances HIO has done, both with and without Big Rig Dance Collective.

These days when I practice guitar, I try to think of it as "playing solo guitar" rather than "practicing." Yesterday I was doing an exercise I learned from the Goodrick book, trying to play lines on only one string. Next time I pick up a guitar, I'll try playing on only two strings. It's been a long time since I did this kind of playing. I'm remembering things I'd forgotten since I "learned how to play." F'rinstance, the way that sounding a single note can cause the guitar's body to resonate. Then when you hammer on a second note, the harmonic resonance continues, and you can feel/hear the relationship between those two notes. I also like playing electric at extremely low volume through T. Horn's little Honeytone amp. At the volume I'm playing, you can hear the sound of the unamplified guitar alongside the sound of the amp. Back to schooldays.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Continuumix #13

WTF: HIO on a compilation alongside the likes of Stuart Dempster, Steve Reich, and Ezra Pound? It's here. Apparently it's been out there for several months; Hickey just stumbled on it while vanity Googling. So there.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

12.9.2012, FTW

An interesting night of music last night. While a couple of old bandmates were performing at Lola's (Ray's LP release show with Vorvon and Jon's triumphant return from Pinkish Black's East Coast tour) and young political punks Not Half Bad were tearing it up at 1919 Hemphill, I was here at mi casa, toggling between some new unreleased tracks another fave local band shared with me, Darryl Wood's live USTREAM from his "noise room," and the music of Marco Oppedisano, an electric guitarist and electroacoustic composer from Brooklyn whose work I was first exposed to via a track on the Axe experimental guitar compilation I reviewed a couple of days ago.

Darryl, ex-Parasite Lost and Confusatron, does interesting things with samples and loops, besides playing guitar and bass. He's guested with HIO, as well as performing with Darrin Kobetich in The Panic Basket. Last night, I tuned in to hear Darryl demonstrating a new sampling tool for Darrin, who laid down some guitar through and over it. Both men are good examples of what Robert Fripp called "small, mobile intelligent units," which the King Crimson founder and Frippertonics inventor reckoned back at the dawn of the '80s were going to replace the rock band model exemplified by the Beatles.

With the advent of sampling and home recording technology, it seems his vision has been borne out. These days, there's a whole lot of music being made in home studios and shared via the intarweb, through portals like Alonetone, Bandcamp, Reverbnation, Soundcloud, and Vimeo, to name just a handful of sites that offer music creators free bandwidth to share their wares, for free or for lucre. It's manifested in things like the $100 Guitar Project, subject of an upcoming documentary and double CD, wherein a cheapie instrument made its way across the country and through the hands of 65 players, each of whom used it to record an original piece of music.

The aforementioned Marco Oppedisano was one of the guitarists who contributed to the project. Oppedisano's own work combines impressive chops -- precise, expressive execution and a highly tweaked tone -- with a composer's ear for atmospheric effects. Some of his electronic soundscapes capture the busy bustle of his native city, while others conjure desolate, post-apocalyptic worlds, or unimagined vistas of space (inner or outer). Oppedisano cites influences including guitarists Fripp, David Torn, and Jeff Beck (whose recent guest appearance with the Rolling Stones perhaps unintentionally demonstrated just how far he's surpassed the rest of his contemporaries), and composers Francis Dhomont and Iannis Xenakis. I also hear a bit of Richard Pinhas. And he uses feedback as a melodic element in ways Beck and Hendrix only dreamt of.

Released in 2007, Oppedisano's Electroacoustic Compositions for Electric Guitar, a compendium of pieces recorded between 1999 and 2005, is anything but a "guitar record," and that's intended as a compliment. Instead, the album showcases Oppedisano's spacey, cinematic compositional artistry. The Ominous Corner (2008) and Mechanical Uprising (2010) let you hear their creator's fluid fretwork in contexts where it's more recognizable as fretwork, set against dark, brooding electronic backgrounds that recall Frank Zappa's Civilization Phaze III, juxtaposing metal and musique concrete in a manner of which FZ would approve. Tesla At Coney Island, a 2008 collaboration with sound artist David Lee Myers, is more ambient and atmospheric, replete with beguiling sound textures, and a good place to start.

When I started playing in HIO, I deliberately avoided listening to experimental music in a foolish attempt to avoid being influenced by anybody else (in the same way I feared listening to Robin Trower when I was a snotnose because I realized how easy it would have been to fall into copycatting the copycat). These days, I find myself listening to a lot of music like Oppedisano's, because it's easily accessible online and because, like Radio Raheem, I often don't want to hear anything else. I am also coming to realize that I'm drawn to continue with HIO in ways I'm not with the Stoogeband, because with HIO, while I felt like we never realized our potential, I also felt that everytime we played, we came closer to achieving it. How many times in life do we get to experience that feeling?

JATSDFM - "Repository: 2012"

That Matt Hickey's one prolific so and so. Repository: 2012, the compendium of all his productions from this year under the Joe and the Sonic Dirt From Madagascar rubric, encompasses a whopping 27 tracks, and is streamable or downloadable free. You know what to do.

Darrin Kobetich and Darryl Wood, live in the noise room, 12.8.2012

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Trampling out the vintage

It's the 32nd anniversary of John Lennon's murder, and like any good baby boomer, I'm listening to Rubber Soul and reflecting on the event, mortality, the perverse nature of fandom and celebrity, and all that jazz. Perspective is all, however: My sweetie points out that a couple of years later, Bhopal took out thousands in a minute and many more over time, but we don't take time to mourn and ruminate over that event.

The longevity of '60s rock never ceases to amaze me. When I was growing up, music from 20 years ago meant Guy Lombardo. Now, Sgt. Pepper is 45 years old. It is the good fortune of music from that era to have come along around the time the suits were figuring out how much money there was to be made from the most catered-to generation in history. When I started working in record stores in '73, the most desirable collector's records were doo-wop 45s, which you can't give away now; all those people are either dead or living on fixed incomes now. Post-Beatle rock, however, has infiltrated the culture to the point where it'll survive for at least one more generation (the Millennials, many of whom were spoon-fed this music from the cradle) and possibly more, what with perpetual availability of info via the cloud.

Still, it seems quaint that at one time, a pop confection like Sgt. Pepper (as well-crafted as it is) could have been invested with cosmic value the way we boomers did with everything, back when we were first coming into consciousness, indulged in this, as we were in damn near everything else, by our bemused parents, who'd survived the Depression and World War II and couldn't understand why our values weren't the same as theirs. (How could they have been, our experiences having been so different?) In fairness, I should say "we late boomers," referring to my own cohort and later, who came of age after the Nam-era draft was over. It was like someone threw a switch, and one day we went from being at least nominally aware of and concerned about social issues to being totally blinded by either hedonism or materialism.

It's natural for any generation to see the moment when it was becoming aware as the Golden Time. For me, that'd be '68-'72, but I was hip to a lot of earlier stuff, of course. It's been my lot as a fan to always be swinging after the pitch, so while my contemporaries were going apeshit over Led Zep, Grand Funk, and Black Sabbath, I was off into the Who, Yardbirds, and Hendrix. The year 1967 in particular seems to be the line in the sand, the high water mark of rock as self-conscious art. While in the intervening years, Revolver has become the common-consensus Great Beatle Album, back in the, uh, Summer of Love, only Richard Goldstein would dare speak ill of Pepper.

My buddy Geoff from Philly, who knows good rock from bad, says it, and I believe it: "The Beatles were undoubtedly the greatest rock band of all time. They may not have been what I like, but still..." I've never been a fan, and not just because I'm an obscurantist snob. (Didn't dig Led Zep, in part, because they were too damn popular.) When they played on Sullivan, I thought, "How cool can they be? The only people I know who like them are seven year old girls? I like 'Mr. Bass Man' better!" (What do you expect? I was a seven year old boy.) I think Lennon was great because he used his celebrity -- the only power he had -- to make statements about important things. And as for Sir Paul, only a fool could deny the craft of Pepper (and Abbey Road, and, uh, Band On the Run, for that matter). For my two cents, the most sublime music they made in '67 was the "Strawberry Fields Forever"/"Penny Lane" single, which I could keep turning over and over like a [insert group you want to slander] with a piece of paper that has "Turn Me Over" written on both sides.

Back in the day, I was a lot higher on Cream (or The Cream, as we used to say in junior high school), even though I thought Eric Clapton's wah-wah on "White Room" was a harmonica after seeing a pic of the band in Life magazine, wherein Jack Bruce was blowing a harp. (I had no idea whatthehell was making all those noises on Are You Experienced?) Even with an admittedly imperfect understanding of what-all was involved, instrumental machismo was a lot easier for an 11 year old to relate to than pop songcraft. In the now, however, I find I can't listen to much Cream at all (and I've been trying lately, vibing up to see the Ginger Baker doco that's currently pending release).

Ginger is the last man standing of the great nutball English drummers of the '60s. Sure, John Bonham's been more influential over time, and both Mitch Mitchell and Keith Moon had better music to play back then, but Ginger's done more work of merit since his heyday in Cream and Blind Faith: the underrated Baker Gurvitz Army, his '90s stint with Masters of Reality, his trio with Charlie Haden and Bill Frisell. Still, I defy anyone to sit through his interminable drum solo "Toad" on Wheels of Fire, the album that exemplifies the excesses of the age more dramatically than any other. Then again, what would you do if you were a 20something muso who'd been playing the clubs and all of a sudden people were telling you that you were the best player in the world on your instrument and filling big halls to hear you extemporize for hours?

Such was the fate of Cream, who only lasted a couple of years before Clapton read a bad review of one of their concerts in Rolling Stone (who were all John Wesley Harding-ed out by then) and decided he needed to sing more and de-emphasize the guitar solos. These days when I try and listen to Cream, it's usually Eric that's problematic. He's always playing the same solo, it seems (I walked out on him in '79 on that basis), and his riddim playing can't touch Townshend or Richards, let alone Hendrix. He does have the tone, and in that regard, he owes as much credit to Jim Marshall for his early success as the Beatles do George Martin. Jack Bruce's operatic delivery is wildly inappropriate for blues, and he has what we used to call the "fart bass" tone on that EB-3. He sounds better on the more "contemporary" material, with Pete Brown's acidhead lyrics. For my two cents, you could compile one pretty good LP from the best bits off Fresh Cream, Disraeli Gears (their best album by default), and the studio disc of Wheels of Fire. But my favorite recorded artifact of theirs remains "N.S.U." off Live Cream, which storms and burns they way they were reputed to.

The Doors were something else again. "Apollonian or Dionysian" my ass: Jim Morrison was the worst kind of acid-addled undergraduate -- the kind that thinks he's a great artist -- and a nasty drunk on top of it. What he had going for him was Paul Rothschild making well-produced records on him, Danny Fields selling him to the collective 16 Magazine readers of America as perhaps the most unlikely teen idol up to that time, and critics like Paul Williams who gave credibility to his shtick. In a pinch, I'll say that "The End" sounded great in Apocalypse Now; "Roadhouse Blues" is a great song to play in bars when a fight breaks out (you can extend it as long as you need to until the police arrive, and sometimes drunk aggressive people will hear it and start dancing, rather than beating the shit out of each other); "The Soft Parade" is pretty hilarious, perhaps even intentionally so; L.A. Woman is a pretty good blues-rock album; and I just like "Peace Frog" (the spoken part of which Ray Liberio used to recite over Stoogeaphilia's "Little Doll" feedback meltdown, back when we used to do that).

In the fullness of time, it seems that my favorite '67 record (excluding The Who Sell Out, about which I've rhapsodized elsewhere) is the eponymous debut LP by Procol Harum. There's a bio of the band on the way, which a glance at Amazon reveals isn't due to be pubbed Stateside until June. When it arrives, I'll probably read it and get re-interested. When I was a teen, I had used copies of Shine On Brightly and A Salty Dog that I used to put on late at night, but I'll admit to not remembering more than a couple of songs off each of those LPs. The class a couple of years ahead of mine got to go to the Fillmore East and see them around Broken Barricades time, and we were still playing "Whiskey Train" in '74, after Robin Trower had bought a phase shifter and reinvented himself as a Hendrix emulator (albeit one with a singer, Jim Dewar, whose style was more informed by Paul Rodgers than Jimi, which is probably what made the conceit work on albums like Bridge of Sighs).

The Procol story's an interesting one. Guy Stevens, the pilled-up DJ madman who gave the 'orrible 'oo their early repertoire and was later present at the creation of both Mott the Hoople and London Calling, actually gets the credit for putting Keith Reid, a versifier in the manner of Cream's Pete Brown, together with an R&B band called the Paramounts, although he got thrown in jail on a drug charge and thus missed out on getting to record "A Whiter Shade of Pale." That record had a perfect combination of referents for '67: Matthew Fisher's signature organ part swiped from Bach, the combination of Fisher's organ and Gary Brooker's piano redolent of electric Dylan, and Brooker's vocal evoking comparisons to Percy Sledge's "When A Man Loves A Woman." The LP that bore the hit, recorded on the cheap in mono, nicely mashes up classical, R&B, and Blonde On Blonde influences in a way that, recording quality aside, sounds a lot less dated today than much of what was released that year.

Fun's fun, but there are limits. Time to re-immerse myself in Can's The Lost Tapes, where I may comfortably repose for the rest of 2012.

My scrawl on the I-94 Bar

In spite of the fact that I rarely contribute anymore, the estimable I-94 Bar webzine down in Orstralia still allows me to submit an end of year Top Ten thingy. So there.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Landfill Harmonic

Thursday, December 06, 2012

A couple of guitar compilations

Every so often, I get burnt out on listening to guitar records. I mean, at this late date, what's left to say on the axe that hasn't been said already? Well, it depends a lot on the limits of your imagination. You could wait for the next Nels Cline record, or you can pick up on one of these two recently-released compilations, both of which I heartily recommend.

I'd been holding onto Axe, a compilation of experimental guitar tracks released by Washington-based Spectropol Recrds, for a couple of months, ever since Kavin Allenson (who's on it) handed me a copy. Then the last package from Clean Feed Records in Portugal included I Never Metaguitar Too, the followup to the label's similarly-titled, also Elliott Sharp-curated compilation from way back in 2010, so I thought it might be worthwhile to side-by-side 'em.

As is my custom when reviewing such releases, I'm going to provide a three-word description of each artist's contribution. Not much for depth, but with things like this, it's impossible to do an adequate job of capturing the total flavor any other way. Plus, it amuses me. And I can.


Marco Oppedisano: Cinematic feedback daybreak.
Mark Hamilton & Bruce Hamilton: Echolalic architectonic orchestration.
Jordan Watson: Zappaesque processed dreamscape.
Neil Haverstick: Languid liquid melody.
Kavin Allenson: Fragmented thought gestures.
Tigress and the U-Fraidees: Hendrix machine infestation.
Jukka-Pekka Kervinen: Synthesized musique concrete.
Roger Sundstrom: Deep space sonics.
The Michael Vick Trip: Amorphous subconscious spillage.
Bill Horist: Sleeping monsters stir.
Chris Vaisvil & Bruce Hamilton: Ghostly MC5 echo.
Steve Moyes: Overlapping oscillating overtones.
James Ross: Ringing harmonic decay.

I Never Metaguitar Too:

Ava Mendoza: Frippertronic menace math.
Ben Tyree: Fingerstyle contrapuntal filigree.
On Ka'a Davis: Angular aleatoric funk.
Shouwang Zhang: Electronic pulse hymn.
Joel Harrison: Ethereal slide lament.
Yasuhiro Usui: Seasick space odyssey.
Steve Cardenas: Gentle pastoral miniature.
Marco Cappelli: Amp hum Heldon.
Alan Licht: Wobbly autotuned atonality.
David Grubbs: Minimalist diatonic study.
Hans Tammen: Crackling mechanoid static.
Zach Layton: Iridescent floating chimes.
Thomas Maos: Percussive microtonal harmonics.
Richard Carrick: Shimmering tone clouds.
Zachary Pruitt: Tentative exploratory invention.
Manuel Mota: Shhh, it's quiet.

A couple of newies on Clean Feed

It is a measure, I suppose, of the arrival of "li'l Euro indie jazz label that could" Clean Feed Records that they've begun to attract mainstream artists, and artists associated with major labels. To wit: Parallax, a session led by Branford Marsalis' bassist Eric Revis, featuring longtime Blue Note artist Jason Moran on piano and his drummer, Nasheet Waits, alongside Chicago avant-garde stalwart (and no stranger to Clean Feed) Ken Vandermark on tenor and clarinet.

Revis is a player both hard-swinging and exploratory, as comfortable with extended techniques as he is with straight-ahead walking. He has solid compositional ideas, utilizing counterpoint in ways that recall Andrew Hill in his early '60s prime as well as Cecil Taylor's classic Blue Note LPs, and an oblique take on the tradition akin to Henry Threadgill's with Air, which he applies here to material by Fats Waller and Jelly Roll Morton. The most interesting pieces, however, are the collective improvisations "Celestial Hobo" (on which each player was asked to interpret a written text), "IV," and "ENKJ." The all-star players are their classic selves, but it's Revis' concepts that make the date. Impressive work.

I'd never heard of bassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten before he released The Hymn Project with Big D's finest, trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez. Then this year he turned up on one of my records of the year, Neneh Cherry & The Thing's The Cherry Thing. Now he's got a new disc, Now Is, out with his New York Quartet, another all-star outfit that boasts saxophonist Joe McPhee, guitarist Joe Morris, trumpeter Nate Wooley, and no drummer. It's an introspective-sounding outing, with all the tunes but one collectively improvised.

Morris -- a guitarist I've never really "gotten" on other recordings of his I've heard, on acoustic here -- chords busily behind the horns and solos in a way that puts me in mind of Zooid's Liberty Ellman (or is it the other way around?); can someone say "Hot Club of Saturn?" The buzzing horns and arco bass on "Knicks" recall the multiphonic cacophony of Trane's "The Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost," minus Rashied and Elvin's drum thunder. The pieces have titles alluding to locations (e.g., Port Authority, Times Square, a Manhattan penthouse) or sports teams associated with the Big Apple (no Yankees or Mets, though; maybe Flaten's not a baseball fan), and Clifford Allen's notes inform us that some were edited from longer improvisations. One gets the impression these guys could play together for hours and never go over the same ground twice.

Pssst! Hey, kid! Wanna see some live Soft Machine with Allan Holdsworth?

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

SKUTCH Live @ The Cellar, 10.28.2012

SKUTCH is Ken Shimamoto, Robert Kramer, & Terry Valderas. 

Live recording by Matt Hickey. Photos from YUCCA HALLOWEEN 2012, Fort Worth Texas. 

Big thanks to the Hentai Improvising Orchestra, Darryl Wood & Anna Harrington for the gigs! See you in 2013? 

 Themes played upon with improvisational grace: 

1. Hallogallo/Jump Into The Fire 
2. Led Boots 
3. In a Silent Way/Sloth/Third Stone From The Sun

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The Stooges' "A Thousand Lights"

Music is life, and life is not a business. Ron Asheton knew that. 
And Ron was cool. 
          - Iggy Pop

When I first got my copy of Popped, Easy Action Records' release of Natalie Schlossman's 1970 Stooges "fan club package," I was getting ready to play a Stoogeaphilia show in Dallas. Now, it's a year and a half later, the band is on hiatus, and A Thousand Lights, the vinyl artifact of the audio portion (compiled from audience cassettes and TV audio) just arrived in the mail, evoking a range of thoughts and feelings.

I'm probably the world's shittiest Stooges fan. I had offers of tickets to a lot of their reunion shows, beginning with Coachella in 2003, but they always seemed to coincide with shows I was playing -- Coachella in 2003, in fact, with the occasion when Joshua Loewen (bless him) invited me to play "TV Eye" with Voigt at, um, the Aardvark, which was the very first time I ever played Stooges music in public; all the other ones, I shit you not, with Stoogeaphilia shows. I've always said I'd rather play than watch anybody. Meant it, too. But I'd already gotten my fanboy ticket punched when I got to interview Ron Asheton back in '99 and James Williamson in '01, and when I got to see Ron play Those Songs three times: twice with J. Mascis and Mike Watt at SXSW 2001, and again with Scott Morgan's Powertrane in Ann Arbor the following year.

When I forced my ex-girlfriend to watch the infamous video of the Stooges at the 1970 Cincinnati Pop Festival, she'd shaken her head and responded, "You'd like to be him, wouldn't you?" "Him" being Iggy, of course -- who wouldn't wanna be Everybody's Unbridled Id? The truth of the matter, though, was that I wanted to be Ron. When I was a weird, alienated 13-year-old and saw that performance on TV, it wiped me clean off the map. But the guy I wanted to be wasn't the skinny, barechested kid in the dog collar and the elbow-length silver gloves; it was the one behind the Stratocaster, in the shades and the Go-Kart T-shirt. A guy who, as I'd find out much, much later, was a weird, alienated kid his own self: "the fat Beatle," the guy who collected Nazi memorabilia and was so geeked on bands that he made a pilgrimage to England to try and see the Beatles.

When I saw Ron play, I learned the key to playing his music: Do everything the simplest way possible. Why would anyone want to do anything else? Ron might have only had one musical idea, but it was the best idea. In the same way as Iggy -- the smart, funny, popular kid who played "sociologist on Mars" with the scuffling hoodlums that used to hang out on the street in front of his record store gig -- was describing the world as seen by a teenage loser in more basic terms than anybody (which is why the songs still stand up, 40 years down the road), Ron intuitively found a way of using very limited musical tools (first-position "cowboy" and barre chords, droning open E or A strings, a few simple hammer-on and pull-off licks) to make a sound that was lethal. On drums, his brother Scott was wa-a-ay overreaching his technical abilities to create something as unique and powerful as it was accidental, which is why Stooges songs just don't sound right when people try to play them with four-on-the-floor stereotypical punk drums.

In Stoogeaphilia, we discovered these things as we set about trying to learn the music off the records, which meant 1) taking songs that we'd always used as a sonic bath and transforming them in our minds into playing forms, and 2) copying all the mistakes. Once we'd done that, we could play them our way, and eventually become something other than the one-off goof that we started out as. Ultimately, the central organizing principle of that band was the friendship between us -- which is the organizing principle behind any band I'd want to be a part of. Once I was telling Jon Teague about getting fired from a band via email, and his response was, "I can't imagine being in a band that it would be possible to get fired from."

Dave Alexander -- the original bassist, who came up with the bass lines for "Little Doll" and "Funhouse," and was responsible for "We Will Fall," the mock-Indian chant that took up 11 minutes at the end of the first side of the first album -- got fired from the Stooges, for forgetting all the songs onstage at the Goose Lake Pop Festival. You can hear it on the Goose Lake version of "1970," one of four included on A Thousand Lights. He went home to his parents' house in Ann Arbor, and within a few years, drank himself to death.

All the friendships in the Stooges took a lot of hits over the years. First, Iggy cast Ron aside in favor of James Williamson, a sharper songwriter, when David Bowie came calling, only pulling the Asheton brothers back into the project as a last resort. After the final wheel came off the Stooges in 1974, Iggy went on to become the "Godfather of Punk," while Scott Asheton went to Florida to work construction and Ron played in a few bands including Destroy All Monsters, had some bit parts in low-budget horror flicks, but basically spent 25 years sitting in his mother's house, telling Those Stories to anyone who'd listen.

When I first spoke to Ron in '99, Iggy's dismissive comments in the liner notes to the '97 reissue of Raw Power still rankled, and chances of a Stooges reunion seemed remote. Goes to show how stuff you don't think can happen, can happen. Maybe it was opportunism on Mr. Osterberg's part, but I choose to believe that with age, Iggy came to value the uniqueness of the Stooges' gestalt, and gave the Ashetons et al. their lengthy victory lap as a token of that appreciation. And when Ron checked out at the beginning of 2009, Iggy had the final word: "He was my best friend."

The price of getting to play music I'd wanted to play all my life for six years was forfeiting the pure enjoyment of listening to it: it became "material." So now, I'm enjoying listening to the versions of the Funhouse songs on A Thousand Lights and rediscovering the joy of this music, particularly in songs that drifted out of the li'l Stoogeband's set over the years. "1970," in particular, we always found daunting, so the multiplicity of versions here is welcome, and Jon Teague claims not to remember how to play "Dirt," which Neneh Cherry and the Thing's cover of reminded me of the song's slow, sleazy, sexy menace when I heard it earlier this year, so I'm having fun immersing myself in the relatively well-registered take that opens Side Two.

The "Funhouse" on A Thousand Lights whomps the tar out of the one on Rhino's Live At Ungano's, which breaks down a couple of minutes into the song and morphs into something more amorphous and less impactful. Plus, Dave Alexander's on all these recordings; by the time the Stooges made it to Ungano's -- indeed, within a month of Funhouse's release -- he was out of the band. All of music -- indeed, all of human experience -- is made up of ephemeral moments. A Thousand Lights captures one.

As I write this, I am hyperaware that I keep writing the same stories again and again, and that writing about one's own band is kind of like looking in the mirror and jerking off -- a fool's act of vanity. But writing all of these words, and playing in that band, were my way of trying to get closer to this music -- just as writing a newsletter and running a fan club were for Natalie. Listening to the Cincinnati audio, those brief, truncated versions of "TV Eye" and "1970" that seem so insubstantial now, but were so life-changing when I saw them in my parents' living room when I was 13, I'm right back where I was then. As long as I draw breath, may it always be so.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Pssst! Hey, kid! Wanna hear MC5 live at Sturgis Armory on 6.27.1968 for free?

Courtesy of Wolfgang's Vault.

A wallow in '70s Miles

Miles Davis sure used to know how to piss people off.

Having made what's become the common consensus "greatest jazz album of all time" (that'd be Kind of Blue) in 1959, he spent the years 1964-68 assembling and leading a quintet of freewheeling, forward-looking young bloods (Hancock-Carter-Williams-Shorter) that played the fire out of his repertoire while pursuing studio experiments that enabled him to figure out exactly what it was he wanted to absorb from free jazz (which he purported to disdain), funk and rock, culminating in 1969 with In A Silent Way, an album of lapidary beauty on which he restricted Tony Williams to playing backbeat and augmented the lineup with a couple of extra keyboardists and John McLaughlin, a hotshot English guitarist Williams had brought over to make Lifetime.

Then he blew it all up with a series of albums, from 1970's Bitches Brew to 1976's Agharta, that confounded the critics and polarized his fan base as he moved progressively further away from jazz tradition and deeper into a new direction that reflected the latest developments in black street music: the multi-layered syncopations of James Brown and Sly Stone, and the stratospheric acid-blues of Jimi Hendrix. All of this music -- even 1972's On the Corner, which has been called "the most hated album in jazz" -- sounds like heartbeat now, only because it's been so influential in arenas like ambient, dub, and hip-hop. To the jazz purists of the time, however, it seemed like heresy: abandoning all but the most rudimentary chord changes, adulterating the signature Davis trumpet tone with a wah-wah pedal, releasing records that were products of extensive studio editing, rather than documents of pristine live performances.

Forty years after the fact, the music Miles was making in the early '70s holds up a lot better than the fusion that it spawned in the work of his ex-sidemen (Williams' Lifetime, Hancock's Headhunters, Shorter and Josef Zawinul's Weather Report, Chick Corea's Return to Forever) and scores of others who followed in their wake. Where Miles' music was driven by an uncompromising musical intelligence, fusion was a music of crowd-pleasing excitement and exhibitionism -- a sophisto muso's form of the lowest common denominator.

Bebop -- which sprang from a desire on the part of intelligent men like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk, who were hyper-aware of their marginal position in society, to create a music that squares couldn't play as their way of flipping the bird to the powers that be -- had made technique a fetish bordering on a religion among its adherents. But as Derek Bailey points out in Improvisation, even a demanding form like bebop has its idiomatic conventions, and these could be codified and replicated until the music's original impetus had evaporated.

By the '70s, jazz had started making inroads into academia, and by the end of the decade, schools like NTSU that had formerly churned out legions of Maynard Ferguson-worshiping scream trumpeters were instead manufacturing battalions of earnest, Wayne Shorter-inspired composing saxophonists. Fusion came about when highly skilled players saw less technically adept rockers earning adulation and lucre and figured, "Why not?" For his part, Miles had looked askance at instrumental prowess for its own sake since he employed Coltrane during the saxophone icon's late-'50s "sheets of sound" days. He seemed to be looking for a certain purity of essence: having hired the sharpest players he could find, he expected them to create in the moment.

He deliberately thwarted potential grandstanders: forcing keyboardists Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, and Keith Jarrett to play electronic keyboards against their will (and in so doing, dragging them kicking and screaming from the past to the future); eliciting one of John McLaughlin's best recorded performances (on In A Silent Way) by telling him to "play like you don't know how to play guitar" (like George Clinton telling Eddie Hazel before cutting "Maggot Brain" to "Imagine your mother died and then you find out that she ain't really dead"); telling bassist Michael Henderson (whom he'd hired out of Aretha Franklin's band to give his '70-'75 bands a solid foundation of funk), "If you learn any of that old shit, you're fired;" instructing Henderson not to follow Jarrett when he went "out," while telling Jarrett to "play more behind Gary [Bartz]" after the saxophonist had complained that his backing was too busy.

It's worth remembering that at the time Miles started alienating old fans with albums like Bitches Brew and Live-Evil, his own trumpet chops were probably at an all-time zenith; his health-conscious regime made it possible for him to hit high notes and play with an endurance that he'd never been able to before. Over the next couple of years, his physical infirmities (and the drugs he used to try and manage them) took a toll on his abilities, but by the time he "retired" in 1975, he'd managed to transcend these limitations by building a new band that responded to his cues (either nonverbal or played on trumpet or organ) so intuitively that the transitions in their live sets sounded like they could have been studio edits.

Since the late '60s, Miles had adopted a method in the studio that mirrored what Hendrix was doing then, and Krautrockers like Can and Faust would in the early '70s: playing a lot, recording everything, and making records by editing together the best bits. The Beatles had George Martin to help realize their visions on record, and Hendrix had Eddie Kramer, then Alan Douglas. Producer Teo Macero played the role for Miles, compiling tracks from hours of studio jamming, effectively recomposing pieces of music with edits that added structural coherence and unity, and occasionally interpolating unrelated materials (Miles' "In A Silent Way" solo in the middle of "Yesternow" on A Tribute To Jack Johnson; the spoken word bit near the end of "Inamorata" on Live-Evil) in a way that '90s remix culture would make commonplace, but was unusual for its time.

On Bitches Brew, Miles used an expanded ensemble, doubling up on every instrument except guitar, to create orchestral colors and textures in the same way Gil Evans had with an even larger group on their '50s and '60s collaborations. The two or three keyboards create a shimmering aura of mystery which gives way to a throbbing pulse from the electric and acoustic bases, multiple trap drummers and percussionists. Miles' trumpet stabs out from the dense rhythmic thicket and floats above the band's sustained vamps and grooves, using an Echoplex to heighten the essential loneliness of his sound, whether he's soloing or dialoguing with Wayne Shorter and Bennie Maupin's horns. (Although both saxophonists were primarily tenormen, Miles assigned them to ancillary axes -- soprano for Shorter, bass clarinet for Maupin -- for these sessions.)

On tracks like "Bitches Brew" and "Pharaoh's Dance" (as on the two LP side-long medleys that comprised In A Silent Way), Miles was using the LP record to sustain a mood for an extended time period -- longer, in fact, than he was inclined to in live performance -- increasing the medium's expressiveness in a way that surpassed the post-boppers' use of the LP to present complete live extemporizations, freed from the three-minute constraints of the 78 rpm disc. He and his band continued to refine the material as they took it to the stage in rock venues, including the Fillmores East and West and the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, where Miles played a blistering 35-minute set at dusk on a bill that also included the Who and Hendrix.

In the live recordings of those performances, you can hear the band evolving towards what it would become on 1971's Live-Evil, on which the dynamic tension between Jarrett's freedom and Henderson's funk is palpable, and strikes sparks. McLaughlin, who was sitting in for the last night of a four-night engagement at D.C.'s Cellar Door, sounds more like his classic self here than on Bitches Brew, but without the distorted, trebly tone that was his trademark in Mahavishnu Orchestra (the band he formed on the strength of his notoriety as a Davis sideman). On Live-Evil, the pulverizing, percussive, piston-like attack with which he unleashes his Gatling-gun-fast runs sounds muffled enough to be Jarrett's right hand on a Fender Rhodes' keyboard.

In between Bitches Brew and Live-Evil, Miles released A Tribute To Jack Johnson, a record that in a just universe would have been a huge hit. "Right Off" is the closest thing to a straight rock record that Miles ever made, with McLaughlin chording ferociously and his Mahavishnu Orchestra drummer Billy Cobham slamming out a basic shuffle, locking it in the pocket with a percolating Henderson in a manner that Jeff Beck's Blow By Blow rhythm section would emulate on "Freeway Jam" a couple of years later. Up front, the leader plants himself in front of the mic and blows from the bottom of his feet. Things flag a bit with Steve Grossman's soprano solo, and Herbie Hancock sounds uncomfortable on organ, but McLaughlin, Henderson, and Cobham never let up, playing a groove reminiscent of the fonky Meters before returning to the shuffle. McLaughlin plays a solo filled with more filth and funk than he'd displayed since Devotion. Turning the record over, "Yesternow" uses the bass line from JB's "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud" as the basis for a dark, ruminative exploration, with clouds of feedback courtesy of Sonny Sharrock.

On the Corner was the line in the sand that even listeners who'd made the jump to Bitches Brew and Live-Evil with Miles were unwilling to cross. Miles telegraphed his punch with the album's cover art, which replaced Abdul Mati Klarwein's stately and forbidding Afrocentric majesty with Corky McCoy's cartoon jive. A lot of Miles' usual suspects were on board, but this time they went uncredited on the LP sleeve, and their individual voices were subsumed in a mix so busy and dense that all that registered at first hearing was the pulsing groove -- which was exactly the idea. More to the point, "Black Satin" and its derivatives that made up side two had a naggingly insistent hook, somewhat playful, somewhat sinister.

In 1973, Miles put together the band that'd see him through to his "retirement" in '75. He'd used some Indian musicians in the band the previous year, but they were soon dropped, and after Jarrett quit, Miles was unable to find a keyboardist who could follow his instructions, so he opted to play organ himself. He retained Henderson as the core of a rhythm section that also included Al Foster on drums and Reggie Lucas on guitar, and there was a succession of sax players. To avoid too much unanimity and preserve some spontaneity, Miles exempted guitarist Pete Cosey and percussionist Mtume from rehearsals. The band played long, seamless medleys, built around vamps and themes that Miles cued with gestures or brief musical phrases, so the musicians had to listen intently. Live, he'd often stop the band while a soloist was in full flight, leaving them to perform unaccompanied.

This lineup made its recorded debut on Get Up With It, a double LP (like Bitches Brew and Live-Evil) that included "He Loved Him Madly," a 30-minute requiem for Duke Ellington, featuring 19-year-old guitarist Dominique Gaumont; "Calypso Frelimo," another 30-minute track that was like the upbeat flipside to the aforementioned one; "Maiysha," which juxtaposed lyricism and funk in the same way as the second sides of Kind of Blue and Filles de Kilimanjaro, but a lot more concisely; and "Rated X," a roiling whirlpool of sinister-sounding percussion and organ.

The big news in this band was Cosey, a Chicagoan who'd done sessions for Chess -- including those that produced Electric Mud, the psychedelicized Muddy Waters album which was widely reviled when it was new, but has since been rehabilitated in the same way as Miles' '70s music has -- but was also a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, the organization from which Anthony Braxton and the Art Ensemble of Chicago emerged, among others. With Miles, he'd sit onstage with a half dozen guitars in different tunings -- he'd studied the country bluesmen, as well as stringed instruments from Africa and India, and had either 32 or 36 different tuning systems, depending on whose interview you read -- as well as a table that held a synthesizer, thumb piano, autoharp, and small percussion instruments: a harbinger of latter-day experimental musos.

At the time Get Up With It was recorded, Cosey was still getting acclimated to Miles' music, so his reputation really rests upon two double albums that were both recorded on the last day of the band's 1975 Japanese tour. Pangaea, from the evening performance, was released in '75, but only in Japan, while Agharta, from the matinee, wasn't released in the U.S. until '76, when Miles was already in retirement. Cosey's sound is awash in effects, but deeply rooted in blues, and he plays with an abandon that occasionally veers into atonality. He plays beyond the notes, channeling the same cosmic energy as Hendrix on "Machine Gun," Hazel on "Maggot Brain," and Sonny Sharrock on Ask the Ages. After his tenure with Miles, Cosey receded back into obscurity, and when Miles returned to performing in 1981, he employed guitarists who were a lot less visionary. A pity.

Agharta explodes out of the gate like Sly at Woodstock, the band churning out a driving funk riff, saxophonist Sonny Fortune testifying like Maceo Parker, Cosey going off like a Holy Roller speaking in tongues, and Miles smoldering with quiet fire while Henderson, Lucas, Foster, and Mtume groove unmercifully. (It's worth noting that Miles briefly employed P-Funk drummer Tiki Fulwood for some shows in '72, so he was also aware of George Clinton's masterwork.) The "Maiysha" that follows is taken at a more leisurely tempo than the studio version, which it surpasses on live spontaneity and Cosey's incendiary solo over the bluesy I-IV change -- much more present in the mix than he'd been on Get Up With It. "Interlude" brings the tempo wa-a-ay up, with the band executing the Meters-like theme from "Right Off" at about three times the speed of the studio version before taking off into welters of messy psychedelia. The shuffle section from that piece obliterates the memory of the studio version, then gives way to a denouement that employs even more negative space than "He Loved Him Madly." This is the way the world ends: Not with a bang, but a whimper.

Why are there now no major artists risking critical, popular, and even subcultural backlash in the way Miles did in the '70s? This is another discussion for another time; perhaps it has to do with the way in which the diminished expectations of a segmented marketplace -- where even genres like metal and dance music are self-ghettoized into myriad and virulently mutually exclusive subgenres -- have downsized the economies of scale, so artists tend to continually massage the known pleasure centers of an ever-more circumscribed audience, and those who fail to do so (cf. Iggy et son chansons en francais, or Uncle Lou hooking up with Metallica) generate scarcely a ripple in the public consciousness.

To paraphrase St. Lester, the jazz audience (such as it is) will never again agree on anything the way we (!) once did about Miles -- all those new kids buying Kind of Blue as their first jazz album notwithstanding. No one in today's jazz cosmos, not even greats like Cecil Taylor or Peter Brotzmann, can engage and enrage in the way that Miles did. In the meantime, Miles' '70s music remains, out there in the wind, in the cloud, in your mom's scuffed-up shiny silver discs, and in your grandpa's scratchy old vinyl. Dance with your mind and listen with your body.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

HIO - "Beyond Words" (single)

I woke up this morning and Hickey, ye olde HIO archivist, had posted this eight-minute rehearsal snippet from "Beyond Words: For Our Mothers," the collaboration with Big Rig Dance Collective that HIO was working on when I bailed. This may be the shortest piece we ever recorded. Thankfully, Big Rig and HIO will still be collaborating, with an appearance at Dallas' Bath House Cultural Center set for January 17-19. Yeah!