Sunday, June 30, 2013

Mazolewski Gonzalez Quintet's "Shaman"

Like Don Cherry, Dallas-based trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez's music is organic, spiritual, and cathartic. Wherever he travels, he carries with him a repertoire of tunes he's played with musicians from all over the world, along with an aura of family and community. Last year, he and Polish bassist Wojtek Mazolewski collaborated on two stellar releases, the 7-inch Wind Streaks in Syrtis Major and the 12-inch EP Bandoleros en Gdansk. Now, on Shaman, released by the new Polish label ForTune, the two men co-lead a quintet with tenorman Marek Pospieszalski (another returnee from the aforementioned dates), the astonishing pianist Joanna Duda (who plays with Mazolewski in Pospieszalski's quintet), and drummer Jerzy Rogiewicz (from the group Levity Trio).

The program on Shaman consists of two compositions each by Gonzalez and Mazolewski, and two by pianist Krysztof Komeda, a pioneer of modern jazz in Poland who composed soundtracks for the films of Roman Polanski (most notably Rosemary's Baby) and died tragically after sustaining a head injury in Los Angeles, 1968. The opening "Astigmatic" was the title track from Komeda's groundbreaking jazz album from 1965. Its opening fanfare leads into a pensive solo from Mazolewski. The horns play a mournful theme in unison over an active rhythm section, then follow it with solo statements. Pospieszalski has an acrid tone, like Archie Shepp's, and spins off ideas with drummer Rogiewicz shadowing him every step of the way. Gonzalez is always a melodist first, with his own burnished sound, but he also uses velocity to build excitement and release tension. The piece evolves into a  dialogue between the horns, with wordless vocalizations slipping in as the music builds to an intense conclusion.

Duda introduces Gonzalez's "Hymn for Julius Hemphill" with a brief statement, then the composer plays the stately, leisurely-paced modal theme with counterpoint from Pospieszalski. A three-way conversation between the horns and drums ensues before Rogiewicz careens off on a solo that flows organically out of the tune's momentum. Duda's accompaniment, in tandem with Mazolewski's bass, ebbs and flows like the tide while Rogiewicz's drums dart in and out of the groove. Mazolewski's "Suite" features some AACM-like vocal-and-percussion action. In the hands of these skilled communicators, all of this material -- whether it's Komeda's "Pushing the Car," from his soundtrack to Polanski's film Cul-de-Sac, or Gonzalez's "The Matter At Hand," which the trumpeter has previously recorded with a couple of different groups -- is transformed, and the performance takes on a life of its own. This is improvised music at its finest.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

In praise of Steve Miller

Who's the most unjustly maligned artist in the history of Capitol Records? If you said Bob Seger, you'd be close. Folks that don't know better think that Bob started with "Night Moves" and a mullet, but those in the know are aware of the red hot streak that preceded his mid-'70s mega-success, from "East Side Story" in '66 through Seven in '73. It's incomprehensible how an artist as popular as Seger is can have so much of his catalog unavailable. Last time I looked, a vinyl copy of his ace Back In '72 album (on which "Turn the Page," a signature song of his money-making years, sounds like a Paul Rodgers homage) was going for about 50 bucks, and it's never been on CD. His manager, Punch Andrews, is leaving money on the table, and he's running out of time before his artist's core audience starts shuffling off for nursing homes and fixed incomes. C'mon, Punch -- ABKCO even got off the dime on the Cameo Parkway sides for the Rationals thing on Ace/Big Beat. What are you waiting for? But I digress...

To most folks, the Steve Miller Band means mid-'70s hits like "The Joker," "Fly Like An Eagle," "Take the Money and Run," and "Jungle Love": songs that sound as if somebody analyzed early '70s Top 40 radio, then set out to create the most archetypal examples of pop-rock ear candy imaginable. And succeeded. But prior to that, for a couple of years (approximately '68 to '70), Miller had a run of some of the most fully realized American rock records of their time. It's particularly worth remembering now that even Miller himself, like Phil Collins, recognizes that he's been consigned to the dustbin of history. When I started working in a record store in '73 and graduated from cutout bins to used records, I discovered the early Miller Band along with stuff like Procol Harum and Savoy Brown -- lower division acts that weren't earth-shattering, but still great.

Born in Milwaukee, 1943, and raised in Dallas, the son of a pathologist who was a familiar of Les Paul and T-Bone Walker, Miller was a smart boy with an instinctive feel for music. At St. Marks Prep in Dallas, he had a band with Boz Scaggs, who later joined him at the University of Wisconsin, where Miller led roof-raising frat party bands. Next Miller moved on to Chicago, where he played the blues with pianist Barry Goldberg, and finally landed in San Francisco along with fellow Texans Chet Helms, Powell St. John, and Janis Joplin. Signed by Capitol for an unprecedented advance and with a degree of artistic control unusual for the time, Miller cut his first album, Children of the Future, in London with producer Glyn Johns.

Children of the Future is a schizoid record. The first side's a psychedelic suite that might just be the only American psych record that stands up to its Brit counterparts like The Piper At the Gates of Dawn or the first Traffic album. I'd even posit that it could have been an influence on Abbey Road, in the way it seamlessly integrates song fragments -- all those upful anthems, propelled by falsetto harmonies -- into a cohesive whole. Paul McCartney was definitely aware of Miller; on the third Miller Band LP, Brave New World, where "Space Cowboy" borrows the bass line from "Lady Madonna," Macca himself sings backup and plays bass and drums on "My Dark Hour."

Miller's songs -- packed with catchy riffs, hooks, and choruses -- also brimmed with the optimism of the time, which hadn't yet been dashed on the rocks of the political cataclysm that was 1968. (Even after Nixon was in the White House, Miller responded by recording a blazing, guitar-driven version of the Civil Rights-era anthem "Don't You Let Nobody Turn You Around" for Your Saving Grace.) He sang in a jubilant yelp and blew decent blues harp, closer to Paul Butterfield than Jimmy Reed. As a guitarist, he was more of a solid technician than a flashy innovator, but he got his licks in. His rhythm section (Lonnie Turner on bass, Tim Davis on drums) swung supplely, and he used keyboards to good effect (Jim Peterman on the first two albums, replaced by Miller's college bandmate Ben Sidran on the third, with estimable Brit session dude Nicky Hopkins added for the fourth).

Children's slow, stately "In My First Mind" inhabits the same territory as Procol Harum and In the Court of the Crimson King; there's even a mellotron! Turning the record over, after Scaggs' jazz-inflected "Baby's Calling Me Home," one finds masterful pop R&B that blends instrumental grit with ethereal vocal harmonies, alongside Chicago blues that I'd compare favorably with the debut albums by Paul Butterfield and Charlie Musselwhite for its rhythmic ease and lack of exhibitionism.

Sophomore album Sailor was more of a group effort, and also more visibly derivative. Organist Peterman wrote and sang "Lucky Man," while Davis and Scaggs collaborated on the Moby Grape-like folk-rock of "My Friend" (with harmonized guitar lines that blare like Mexicali brass), and Scaggs penned two on his own: the Dylanesque "Overdrive" and the "Jumping Jack Flash" cop, "Dime-a-Dance Romance." Both of Miller's slow songs doffed their lids to the Beatles -- the dreamlike "Dear Mary" with its "For No One" trumpets, "Quicksilver Girl" with its "Taxman"-derived bridge. The opening "Song For Our Ancestors" was a moody, slow-building instrumental worthy of post-Syd, pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd, while "Living In the U.S.A." managed to succinctly elucidate everything the MC5 were trying to say on Back In the U.S.A.

Miller's third LP, Brave New World, shuffles in with the same surge of positivity that powered Children's psych suite, follows up the one-two punch of the title cut and "Celebration" with an explosion of pure R&B kineticism ("Can't You Hear Your Daddy's Heartbeat" into "Got Love 'Cause You Need It"), then closes the side with a song ("Kow Kow") built on a basic Hendrixian arpeggio that Sidran embroiders with Nicky Hopkins flourishes on pianner (the man himself would show up on the next Miller LP). Second side contains the aforementioned underground FM radio staples "Space Cowboy" and "My Dark Hour," but its most incandescent moment is the sublimely sung "Seasons," and its funkiest the country blues pastiche of "LT's Midnight Dream."

The sleeper in Miller's run of classic albums is the fourth, Your Saving Grace. Over "Little Girl"'s leisurely lope, Steve lays down some of his best Albert-and-Freddie-via-Eric licks. The slightly sinister-sounding Miller-Sidran collaboration "Just A Passing Fancy In A Midnite Dream" follows, then the aforementioned "Don't You Let Nobody." The high point of the side and album is "Baby's House," a place of unspeakable beauty and mystery conjured by Miller and Hopkins. On the flipside, "Motherless Children" filters Blind Willie Johnson through Brian Wilson, while "The Lost Wombat In Mecca" marks the slight return of Lonnie Turner's country blues. "Feel So Glad" is a gospel blues tour de force for Miller and Hopkins, then the Tim Davis-penned title track provides a valedictory and benediction for my favorite Miller LP after Children.

Four great albums in two years is a lot of productivity for anyone (it took the Stones four years to get from Beggar's Banquet to Exile On Main St.), and Miller broke his streak with 1970's Number Five, which he cut in Nashville with help from Music City cats like Charlie McCoy and Buddy Spicher. By this time, the Miller Band's gestalt was shattered. Turner, Sidran, and Hopkins only appeared on isolated tracks, while Davis contributed a couple of silly songs, one of which ("Tokin's") sounds like a TV commercial jingle, and would soon depart for solo obscurity. The spacey/bluesy/Beatlesque opener "Good Morning" encapsulates a lot of what was good about the preceding four albums, and the rustic romps "I Love You" and "Going To the Country" are both above par, but things really break down on the second side with lackluster material (although "Jackson-Kent Blues" gets points for remembering the "other" campus massacre from the spring of Nixon's Cambodian incursion) and indifferent performances.

My buddy Mike Woodhull recently reminded me of a couple of Miller albums I'd blocked out of my memory (Rock Love and Recall the Beginning: A Journey From Eden), the commercial failure of which probably made The Joker a necessity if Miller was going to continue recording for Capitol. That album reminds me of the first time I ever saw a mountain of empty beer bottles (in the basement of a kid whose parents had gone away for the summer) and a season of parties where I must have heard it, They Only Come Out At Night, and The Dark Side of the Moon a thousand times apiece. That and watching my first roommate trying to hustle the freshman girls at college bars while "Your Cash Ain't Nothing But Trash" blared from the jukebox. Good times, but somebody else's.

Nothing, however, can ever diminish my enjoyment of the first four Steve Miller albums. If you don't dig 'em, that's cool. More for me.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Stuffs 'n' such

1) Forty years after 1969 Live made it evident that the four Velvet Underground studio albums were just the tip of the iceberg, and 20 years after Clinton Heylin gave some profound clues of what lay beneath the surface in From the Velvets to the Voidoids, we live in an age where the rarest and most desirable VU boots are becoming generally available. Just peruse Olivier Landemaine's comprehensive website, as well as online outlets like Forced Exposure, Amazon, or Discogs, and you'll find Jeff Leegood's October '69 Dallas recordings available on CD (on the Keyhole label) and vinyl (on Keyhole and Russian BB); Jamie Klimek's recordings from a year earlier at La Cave in Cleveland are out on Keyhole vinyl and CD; and the god-king of VU boots, Sweet Sister Ray (which combines a one-time performance of a 40-minute prelude to "Sister Ray" from La Cave with two hot 1969 "Sisters" from the Boston Tea Party, including the one from the infamous March 15th "guitar amp tape") was just reished on sweet, sweet double vinyl by a guy in Michigan. These things are all in small editions (although the Russian End of Coles are supposedly showing up at Half Price Books), so grab 'em if you see 'em. Things like this are never around for long.

2) Viewed a bootleg copy of Robert Frank's suppressed '72 Rolling Stones tour doco Cocksucker Blues and was struck by how dull the musos' life on the road appeared. The scene in which first Keef, then his companion, nod out on a bench in a locker room while Mick schmoozes with Ahmet Ertegun kind of tells the story of the next 40 years of that band. The female fans that offer themselves to the band, only to wind up as cheap entertainment for the road crew, seem pathetic, as do the ones of both genders who use the Stones in their "kings of decadence" phase to validate their own substance abuse proclivities. His musical contributions aside, I'll confess to being more than a little bit weary of the glamorization of Keef the wealthy drug addict. Sure, his status makes him less of a threat to you than the guy from down the street that broke into your car and jacked your stereo, but how much cooler is that, really? Reminds me of why I got off the Stones-fan bus in the '70s.

3) Re-reading St. Lester, both of his anthologies as well as Jim DeRogatis' bio, I'm struck by how much of a product of the commodification of rock that he railed against he really was, poor bastard, and how his own celebrity and the need to live up to his persona helped destroy him. In his scrawl, he sure takes a long time to say what's on his mind -- you get the sense he spent more time writing than he did thinking about what to write -- but he always meant what he said and, more to the point, when he's good -- a paragraph here, a paragraph there -- he's transcendent, like the last page of The Great Gatsby. A rough diamond; one wishes he'd had more time to refine his art. But we'll not see his like again.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Pssst! Hey, kid! Wanna help make a documentary about Paul Butterfield?

Gabriel Butterfield and Thom Pollard have initiated this Indiegogo campaign to raise the necessary funds to complete PHASE ONE of the biographical documentary on the life and music of Paul Butterfield. Phase One will document the early years of Butterfield's life: his early years and emergence in Chicago, then onward toward his years in Woodstock, NY. Albums that came out during that time, which we have rights to use in the production of the film, are The Butterfield Blues Band, the seminal East-West, The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw, In My Own Dream, Paul Butterfield Blues Band Live, and onward to his Woodstock, NY based band Better Days.

We're looking to raise a modest amount in order to travel to and film in Chicago and the old haunts that Paul frequented, spend time with the musicians (some of them world famous and in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame), and meet Paul's childhood friends and family. We've also planned to film a key interview in Ohio, another in New York, and film some key scenes for the film at this summer's Philadelphia Folk Festival, where Gabriel's band - The Butterfielf Blues Band Revisited with Jimmy Vivino - will be playing a set on the 50th anniversary of Gabriel's father having appeared there.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Jim Colegrove & the New Rough Riders of a Dirty Age's "3 Quarter Dime"

Ohio native Jim Colegrove started rockin' when I was still wearing triangular pants, and made his first record -- the muy collectable "Tomahawk," with Teddy and the Rough Riders -- the year Elvis went in the Army. By the end of the '60s, he'd made his way to Woodstock, where he made records with Cream producer Felix Pappalardi (Jim's fellow Ohio expat, drummer N.D. Smart II, played drums on Leslie West's Mountain album!) and played with Canadian folkies Ian and Sylvia Tyson in their country-rock band the Great Speckled Bird (whose 1970 performance you can see in the Festival Express doco).

I first encountered Colegrove in 1978, when I moved to Fort Worth (where he'd relocated in the mid-'70s after meeting Stephen Bruton in Woodstock) and saw him playing a mixture of jump blues, rockabilly, and Louisiana swamp pop with the Juke Jumpers. Back then, Jim used to work at Slim Richey's record distributorship on Vickery Boulevard, where I used to see him whenever I went to trade albums with his coworker Jim Yanaway. For the past decade or so, I've followed the progress of Jim's band Lost Country, which is rootsy in a way that reflects his time in Woodstock (particularly in his songwriting and Levon Helm-esque vocalismo).

Imagine my surprise, then, when this CD arrived in my mailbox yesterday. Because 3 Quarter Dime, helpfully subtitled Rock 'n' Roll Instrumentals (truth in advertising!) is a throwback, all the way to the music Jim was playing at the beginning of his career. While his music has grown more song- and vocal-oriented over the years, this record is, quite simply, a love letter to the sound of the electric guitar. Susan Surftone's Shore, which I reviewed last year, reminded me of the continued vitality of this kind of music, as did the late Robin Sylar's Surfabilly project.

Colegrove's foray into the genre, recorded at home with help from estimable tub-thumper Linda Waring (who once shared stages at the notorious Cellar clubs with John Nitzinger and the late Bugs Henderson) and his Lost Country bandmates David McMillan (steel guitar) and Rob Caslin (bass), is a veritable primer of classic styles -- an interested person who's new to this could learn a lot by researching the list of guitarists Colegrove cites in his liner notes -- and heap big fun.

Opener "Chinese Launch" is a variation on the "What'd I Say" theme that's demented enough to have fit on Robin Sylar's decade-old Tricked Out disc. "Assisted Twister" features a wobbly whammy bar hook and dry-toned blues licks that hang ten on Ware's relentless rhythm, while the moody minor-key slow drag "Lost River" unfolds melodramatically, with a sinister-sounding undercurrent of baritone guitar. You can do the Pachuco hop to "Wooly Gully," of which Domingo Samudio would approve. On the title track, Caslin shadows Colegrove on the tortuous staccato line, then the leader overdubs a slower contrapuntal melody, while on "Bean Pot," Colegrove plays nifty harmonized lines that sound like the Allman Brothers' guitarists entertaining at a Gulf Coast Spring Break beach party over a beat that Ware borrowed from ZZ Top's "Under Pressure."

"Tree House Days" recycles the lush I-VI-IV-V chord progression from every song written between 1958 and 1962, with clouds of celestial steel courtesy of McMillan, leading into the hard-edged Freddy (not Freddie) King shuffle of "Blue Gin." "Vigilante Hoedown" has a bumpa-chicka beat worthy of Johnny Cash's Tennessee Two, but Colegrove plays a lot flashier than Luther Perkins ever thought about being. When the bari guitar comes in for the bridge, all bets are off. "Shadooka" almost sounds like a power pop song in search of a vocal; maybe Caslin could rework it for his other other band, Great American Novel?

3 Quarter Dime is heartily recommended to anyone who loves rock guitar and has an interest in what it sounded like before Mike Bloomfield and Jeff Beck showed up. In my perfect world that I know doesn't really exist, I'd love to see this band share a bill with Jim's Modern Art Museum coworker John Nuckels' dub outfit Wire Nest, or once-and-future-Nervebreaker Mike Haskins' like-minded Big Guns from Big D, or even young hotshots the Fungi Girls. Turn it up, open the windows, and who knows? You could get a party started.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

"Tribute to Ron Asheton" DVD

I don't make pilgrimages to see bands anymore, but I know a few people who were at Ann Arbor's Michigan Theater for this show, and they all say it was something special. This DVD bears them out, and is a huge improvement over the In the Hands of the Fans disc from a couple of years back. If you want to see the Stooges with James Williamson on video, this is the way to go. But there's more...

Ron Asheton -- groundbreaking guitarist on the first two Stooges albums and bassist on Raw Power, B-movie actor, and raconteur extraordinaire -- shuffled off this mortal coil at the beginning of 2009, aged 61. Before he left, he got a nice victory lap, touring the world with the reunited Stooges from 2003 to 2008, playing to many times the number of folks that got to see the band in their initial 1967-1974 trajectory. His sister Kathy put together this hometown show in the spring of 2011 to salute his memory and benefit the foundation that bears his name, dedicated to supporting animal welfare and musical endeavors. Henry Rollins served as master of ceremonies and provided guest vocals on the opening song in the Stooges' 19-song set, which was augmented by an orchestra (!) and Ron's friend and fellow Ann Arborite, Radio Birdman guitarist Deniz Tek, on a handful of Ron-era numbers.

I'll admit that I dig Henry Rollins' writing and spoken word more than his music; as an intelligence and a presence, the cat is undeniable. He speaks eloquently and at length about Ron's legacy to start things off, then cedes the mic to normally taciturn drummer Scott Asheton, who thanks Iggy for letting his brother realize his rock 'n' roll dreams ("and that goes for the drummer, too"). Rollins fronts the band on its opening number, "I Got A Right," then Iggy explodes out of the wings as James kicks off "Raw Power." The Stooges play the set they've been performing since James returned to the fold in the wake of Ron's demise, a mixture of songs off their three albums along with a couple from Iggy and James' post-Stooges release Kill City and one song -- "Open Up and Bleed" -- from the never-officially-recorded, post-Raw Power period.

Iggy seems to be conserving his energy more than he did earlier in the reunited band's trajectory, but he's all about connecting with the audience in this relatively intimate theater setting. The show is beautifully shot, with a good mix of group, individual, and audience views that gives a good feel for what it felt like to be there. The stage invasion on "Shake Appeal" is the most insane and absolute of any of the post-reunion Stooge shows I've seen -- there must be a hundred people onstage, jammed asses to elbows, and you can imagine the black-clad security dudes had their work cut out for them protecting the equipment and the musicians. But unlike, say, the crowd in the James Brown show in Boston the night Martin Luther King was shot, these folks know their role in the drama, and clear the stage at the end of the song with relatively little fuss.

I don't know what the live mix was like, but to these feedback-scorched ears, there's way too little of Mike Watt's bass in the DVD mix -- particularly striking in light of Rollins' comments on the primacy of the rhythm section. "Funhouse" sounds sparse in this version. With Iggy cuing them like a soul singer, the band shows they have a good sense of dynamics, and Steve Mackay's sax provides most of the instrumental mania. "Open Up and Bleed" is a high point -- for my money, the best song the Williamson-era Stooges ever did -- and the version here is damn near definitive. (I wish I still had the version from, I believe, Isle of Wight 2010, when Scott Thurston was briefly on board again.) Things really pick up from there, with "Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell" leading into a big block of Ron-era songs.

When I heard "Stooges with orchestra," I was initially skeptical -- things like this tend to be either good or very, very bad. "I Wanna Be Your Dog" is an encouraging start, with the strings playing the telegraphic high note that John Cale's one-note piano played on the studio version. Deniz Tek takes James' place onstage for the sequence "TV Eye"-"Loose"-"Dirt"-"Real Cool Time." Again, the band sound here is more spacious than in the studio versions, and the orchestral arrangements are unobtrusive and supportive. At one point in "Loose," Iggy careens into Deniz and then goes to the floor in an echo of his more dissolute past, and he wrings every ounce of drama out of "Dirt." He makes a few brief comments before "Ron's Tune," the new original that evolved into something more considered as "The Departed" on Ready To Die, but here is raw emotion. And they take it out with a rousing "No Fun." You get the feeling that somewhere, Ron was smiling (when not trying to flick cigarette ashes on Iggy's head).

Special features include the opening set by a band called the Space Age Toasters, and interviews (shot by Tony D'Annunzio, director of Louder Than Love: The Grande Ballroom Story, recently reviewed here) that include Rollins (getting his spiel together the night before the concert), filmmaker Jim Jarmusch (whose own Stooges doco we anxiously anticipate), and Deniz Tek (who speaks of Ron with the real affection of a close friend).

They've come a long way from their beginnings as the ultimate outsiders to this once-in-a-lifetime performance, but like my buddy Geoff from Philly (who was there) is fond of saying, "The Stooges always win."

Friday, June 14, 2013

FZ's "A Token of His Extreme"

About half of this DVD has been seen before, on the Dub Room Special set, but there it was intercut with footage from the '81 Palladium Halloween show that was broadcast on MTV and is now available in its entahrty as The Torture Never Stops.

This is better because the '74 Brock/Duke/Underwood/Fowler/Thompson lineup probably had the best balance of chops and personality of any Zappa band after the original Mothers (around whom they could play circles). The '80s bands added virtuosity but were kind of boring, and the material got more self-indulgent (songs like "Bobby Brown" were the auditory equivalent of the fictitious "gross-out contest" wherein FZ is purported to have eaten shit).

As Frank explains in the special feature Mike Douglas Show interview (which also includes a nifty performance of "Black Napkins" through a Pignose, accompanied by the Douglas show band), A Token of His Extreme was shot on his dime and shopped to American TV networks and syndication, which roundly rejected it.

The editing -- lots of quick cuts and overlays -- can be distracting, but I suppose one could argue that it allows you to see more of the action than if Frank had chosen to focus on one muso at a time. The intimate club vibe of the TV studio, with the band dressed as though for a day at the beach, is light years away from the Big Rock Show dynamics of Baby Snakes, Does Humor Belong In Music?, and Torture.

The band is ace: the humorous interplay between rubber-legged Napoleon Murphy Brock and Hancock/Corea surrogate George Duke, and the intertwining of their soulful voices; Ruth Underwood's joyful presence as she plays those impossible percussion parts and more than compensates for the absence of Roxy and Elsewhere second drummer Ralph Humphreys; the elastic riddim section of Tom Fowler and Chester Thompson.

FZ's guitar plays a bigger part in the arrangements here than it did on Roxy (in the same way Robbie Mangano's did with the Grandmothers of Invention at the Kessler last summer), and he's still soloing in the jazzed acid-blues bag of Hot Rats (rather than the metalloid approach he'd roll out with Zoot Allures). When he plays a mundane solo, he has the good sense to throw in some of Bruce Bickford's wacko animation to provide some visual interest, but the ones he plays on "Florentine Pogen" (excised from the version on One Size Fits All, although the basic track came right from this show), "Pygmy Twylyte" (greatly altered and distended from the Roxy version), and "More Trouble Every Day" are fiery and satisfying.

So for now, A Token of His Extreme is probably the best way to experience this band, at least until the Zappa Family Trust finds a way to get the post-production done that Gail says would be necessary to make the Roxy video releasable. Within our lifetimes, perhaps?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Pssst! Hey, kid! Wanna see a doco about the early days of St. Lester?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Wire Nest - "The Good The Bad and The Dubby"

New dub wonderment from Sub Oslo magicians Frank Cervantez and John Nuckels.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Pssst! Hey, kid! Wanna see a Joni Mitchell interview?

The estimable singer-songwriter talks to the CBC's Jian Ghomeshi. One of the best things of its kind of seen, thanks to the interviewer's empathy and the subject's candor. I see a Joni binge in my future.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Stuffs 'n' such


Jazz labels are typically associated with a certain sound and style. For Blue Note, it was hard bop in the '50s, post-bop modernism in the '60s. Atlantic carried the soul jazz banner through the '50s before raising the flag for the "New Thing" with landmark releases by Coltrane and Coleman in '59. The children of Trane and Ornette hung their hats at Impulse, while ESP-Disk recorded the more outre and avant manifestations, as well as documenting a kind of generalized Greenwich Village weirdness.

The estimable Portuguese indie Clean Feed -- now in its 12th year of existence -- is a little more eclectic. If the label has precursors, they reside at opposite ends of the spectrum: the extreme avant-gardismo of Hat Hut, say, and the lapidary poetry of ECM. Thus, in the current Clean Feed release, the ecstatic glossolalia of Trespass Trio and Joe McPhee's Human Encore rubs shoulders with the intimate dialogue of The Destructive Element by Harris Eisenstadt's September Trio.

On Mirage, New York-based tenorman Ellery Eskelin (a familiar of our fave Dennis Gonzalez) leads a drummerless trio that includes the avant-garde steel guitarist Susan Alcorn. In the austere sound field they create, scraps of melody rise like wisps of smoke, and the slightest gesture is magnified. Alcorn uses her instrument's silvery texture to voice querulous inquiries, like John Abercrombie and Nels Cline do when they're leaning on their volume pedals. Elsewhere, the date has the atonal ebullience of Ornette's duets with Charlie Haden.

Made To Break's Provoke features a quartet that includes Christof Kurzmann's electronics ("Lloop") alongside Windy City institution Ken Vandermark on reeds and Nels Cline Singers bassist Devin Hoff. The result is a bracing jazz/rock hybrid (imagine Archie Shepp sitting in with King Crimson). When Hoff leans into a rolling ostinato and Vandermark unfurls sheets of sonic surprise, they generate heat as well as light.

The pick of this litter, however, is Eric Revis' City of Asylum, on which the ex-Branford Marsalis bassist leads a trio with pianist Kris Davis and drummer Andrew Cyrille. With her unfettered expression and robust technique, Davis is the closest thing you can hear in the now to the emerging Cecil Taylor of the '60s. With Cyrille shadowing her the way he did Cecil on Unit Structures and Conquistador, City of Asylum is an unexpected delight.


If you want to understand what happened to America since the '80s, you could do worse than to start by reading Mick Farren's pulp sci-fi novels The Armageddon Crazy (1989) and The Feelies (1990). In their way, both books are as prophetic of Millennial 'Meercuh as the films A Face In the Crowd and Network were.

Farren (b. 1943) has been an astute social commentator since the '60s, when he alternated fronting the Deviants (a grungy "people's band" that was the closest UK equivalent to the MC5 and Stooges when they were happening) and helping launch the Brit underground press as a scribe for OZ and International Times.

A persuasive advocate of punk -- for which he somewhat disingenuously sounded the clarion call in "The Titanic Sails At Dawn," published in the New Musical Express as the first wave of Brit punkers was leaving the starting gate -- he spent the '80s in Lower Manhattan and the '90s and oh-ohs in L.A, where he continued casting a jaundiced eye on the passing scene, whether his medium was fiction (a dozen sci-fi novels and a quartet of vampire stories) or journalism (in the alt-press and the blogosphere -- don't fear the content warning on his Doc40 blog; some folks just can't take a joke).

Farren moved back to the UK a couple of years ago to get medical care and resume performing with the Deviants on a regular basis; world without end, amen. Now Headpress -- a Brit imprint whose other offerings include a repubbed John Sinclair's Guitar Army and a decent 13th Floor Elevators bio -- has unleashed Elvis Died For Somebody's Sins But Not Mine, subtitled A Lifetime's Collected Writing.

It's a well-selected compendium of stuff going back to the very beginning, including enough obscure and previously unpublished items to make it a more than worthwhile purchase, even if you already own all of his other books. The table of contents fails to list individual pieces; if you're going in, Farren wants you all the way in.

There's rockaroll here -- the aforementioned "Titanic Sails At Dawn;" revealing portraits of Pete Townshend, Frank Zappa, Johnny Cash, and Chuck Berry; the 1982 Village Voice piece on the Who and the Clash at Shea Stadium that let me know the jig was up when I read it while in the Air Force in Korea (while listening to Combat Rock melding, Ives-like, with "The Message" and Journey's Infinity on my barracks mates' dueling cassette players).

The real meat of the matter, however, is in the other subject matter to which Farren devotes his attention: the evil that those in power do, the polis's endless gift for mass delusion, Elvis as metaphor for a generation's dreams (how could something that started out so promising end so ignominiously?), the end of the world. The fictional offerings include a snippet from the long-out-of-print "gauche first novel," The Texts of Festival, recently returned to availability via Kindle. Sometimes I hate the future less.

ADDENDUM: Just found out Farren has a radio show at starting on June 18th. Not sure what time yet, but more when we know more.