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.


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