Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Johnny Case March gig schedule

Every Friday at Texan Kitchen with Louise Rowe from 7:00 to 9:00 PM.

Every Saturday at Lili's Bistro - my trio with Keith Wingate and guests. 6:30 to 10:30 PM

Additional gigs are as follows:

Wednesday, March 5:  private party at Museum of Science & History.

Sunday, March 9:  Texas Swingtet  featuring Billy Briggs, tenor sax; Greg Hardy, drums & vocals; Johnny Cox, pedal steel; Alex Camp, bass & me on keys. Free Man Cajun Cafe on Commerce Street in Deep Elm in Dallas.  3:00 to 6:00 PM

Saturday, March 15:  Following my Lili's gig, I will make my annual appearance @ the Texas Steel Guitar Show playing their Midnight Dance until 2 ish in the AM.

A trawl through Nels Cline's catalog

Like Vernon Reid (born a year after me), Nels Cline (born a year before me) is one of the guitarists I listen to whenever I want to give myself some humility. (Those two guys and Michio Kurihara are my current fave axe-slingers.) Nels actually embodies all of the qualities I find most interesting in players as diverse as John Abercrombie, Derek Bailey, Adrian Belew, Robert Fripp, Fred Frith, John McLaughlin, Pat Metheny, Thurston Moore, and Sonny Sharrock. A jazz cat who's consorted with punk-rockers, his sound encompasses a gift for melody, fluid jazz facility, pastoral ambience, microtonal dissonance, and pure electronic noise -- pretty much everything I dig except blues. He's also ridiculously prolific; between his bands and sessions, cat has made more records than any sane person could hope to hear. (Titles in Blogger's barely perceptible boldface are recommended.)

I first heard Nels in the early '90s, on Mike Watt's first couple of solo records. He's all over the ex-Minuteman/future Stooge's cast-of-thousands solo debut Ball-Hog or Tugboat?, which I heard while moonlighting at Blockbuster Music and thought, "Hmm, guitar playing sure has changed." (And that record's best guitar moment belonged to J. Mascis, not Nels: the "Maggot Brain" cover with Bernie Worrell.) Then I found From the Velvets to the Voidoids, the MC5's Thunder Express, and the first Wayne Kramer record on Epitaph, and lost the thread while I became re-obsessed with Detroit ramalama.

I picked it up again after seeing Mascis and Watt playing Stooges songs with Ron Asheton at SXSW 2000, which motivated me to find a copy of Watt's Contemplating the Engine Room. Nels pretty effectively carries that whole record, and hearing it affected me in the same way hearing Are You Experienced? originally did: It was hard for me to comprehend that all those sounds he was making were guitar. Nels and Watt also played together in Banyan, a sort of Miles Jack Johnson-like power-trio-plus trumpet with Watt's Porno For Pyros bandmate Stephen Perkins kicking the traps. Their Live At Perkins' Palace is a nice document of their sound, including a cover of Stooges "Funhouse."

I got to hear some of his more recent stuff when I was reviewing stuff for money for a minute near the end of the Oh-ohs. My favorite Nels is probably Coward, his 2009 overdubbed-solo acoustic/electric tour de force, which includes dedications to his Acoustic Trio bandmate Rod Poole (murdered in 2007) and Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, with whom he recorded drone-and-feedback improv on 1997's In-Store and Pillow Wand.

The all-instrumental Nels Cline Singers are his current solo vehicle (when he's not making a living with Wilco, whose Sky Blue Sky includes one of my favorite Nels solos, on "Impossible Germany"). Their double disc Initiate is an exhaustive and encyclopedic document that covers the full spectrum of sounds they make, including Weather Report-like funk as well as sonic shitstorms in the manner of Interstellar Space Revisited, a "cover" of Coltrane's duets with Rashied Ali that Nels cut with drummer Gregg Bendian in '99 and rivals Last Exit for sheer intensity. Another double disc, Dirty Baby, produced by David Breskin (who worked with Ronald Shannon Jackson in the '80s and previously did the honors for Nels on Initiate), is Nels-as-composer, consisting of a song cycle and 33 miniatures inspired by the work of visual artist Ed Ruscha.

Nels started his recording career in saxophonist Vinnie Golia's band, and Golia co-produced Nels' rather polite, restrained '88 debut-as-leader Angelica, on which Golia and a trumpet player dominate a selection of the guitarist's ECM-ish compositions. Also on the jazz side but more fully realized is New Monastery, an Andrew Hill tribute record with Ornette familiar Bobby Bradford on trumpet and accordionist Andrea Parkins. In a rockier vein, Destroy All Nels Cline features Nels along with a squad of guitarists, playing dense, knotty, Crimsonoid compositions. And The Inkling, recorded around the same time with a quartet including harpist Zeena Parkins, is mostly-acoustic, jazz-inflected modern chamber music.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Magnatite's "Fifth Level En Route"

Magnatite is the brainchild of Sam Damask, bassist extraordinaire and a familiar of local heavy hitters Bill Pohl (ex-Underground Railroad, now with Colorado's Thinking Plague), Big Mike Richardson, and the Fort's theatrical-metal answer to Devo, Urizen (a couple of whose members guest on Magnatite's debut, on a tour de force called "Eat Shit and Die" that betrays Sam's roots in prog and metal). He once led a Denton-based funk-metal horn band called Little Brian, whose CD I dug real much, but soon after its release, Sam departed li'l d, first for Austin, then for Boston University, where he studied electrical engineering. Now he's back in the Metromess. Lucky us.

Onstage, Magnatite is a four-piece, with guitarists Selden Tual and Zach Smith filling out the front line, but on record, it's basically Sam and drummer Bo Thomas with occasional assistance. (While Sam doesn't rate himself as a guitarist, he's fluent enough on the six-string axe to play Kirk Hammett in Big Mike's Metallica project.)

Magnatite's funk is stripped down to the essence, which is to say, the groove. Most post-RHCP white funkateers overplay like a mofo, but Sam knows that in funk, simplicity is the key; the lock that makes the groove comes from the subtle interplay of multiple repeating parts. Even when he flaunts his impressive chops (as he does on "What's In Your Wallet"), it's always in service of the One. Sometimes the spareness of the tracks cries out for another instrument (a keyboard, say), but when it's working, as it is on the opening "Cryptography" (replete with a vocoder that summons the spirits of Zapp and Roger), "Return of the Fly," "Gangsta Jam," and "Astral Travel," a casual listener might think they were listening to an outtake from Motor Booty Affair or Electric Spanking of War Babies. Get down in this filthy mess and wallow around. It'll get good to you.

Bobby Bradford comes to Dallas on March 24th

Legendary trumpeter Bobby Bradford, who played with Fort Worth expats Ornette Coleman and John Carter, comes to Beefhaus, 885 Exposition Ave. in Dallas, on Monday, March 24th. He'll be leading a quartet including Ingebrigt Haker Flaten (bass), Frode Gjerstad (alto sax), and Frank Rosaly (occupying the drum chair normally held by Pal Nilssen-Love in this unit), with Yells At Eels opening.

Bradford played with Ornette in the '50s, '60s, and '70s. Sadly, the recordings they made for Atlantic were lost in a fire, but you can hear Bradford on OC's albums Science Fiction and Broken Shadows. He co-led a quartet with Carter from 1970 until the clarinetist's death in 1991. In the last decade, I've heard him on Nels Cline's Andrew Hill homage New Monastery (Cline composed a piece dedicated to Bradford that he recorded with Dennis Gonzalez on 1991's The Earth and the Heart) and the archival Midnight Pacific Airwaves on Entropy. This is a gig not to miss.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Chef Menteur's "East of the Sun and West of the Moon"

Chef Menteur is a multi-instrumental three-piece hailing from NOLA, whence they returned to rebuild their studio after Hurricane Katrina, and where they record for the local Backporch Revolution collective. Their third album, the sprawling song cycle East of the Sun and West of the Moon, is released in an edition of 200 as a double LP that comes in a gatefold handprinted by artist Thomas Peri. It's also downloadable via Bandcamp for those less attuned to the Romance of the Artifact. (There's a fan club-only digital release of three more albums' worth of toonage from the same sessions. Prolific, these Nawlinians be.)

The music's a revelation for fans of freak-folk and doom metal as well as psych aficionados, drawing on all the usual Euro suspects, from '70s Krauts to more recent developments like Motorpsycho, but with strong elements of ambient electronica bumping up against the droning organs and squalling feedback guitars. The proggy folk dance "Il obstrue ma vue de Venus" contrasts delicate acoustic interludes with crushingly heavy bass and drum-driven sections, while "Terpsichore" hits like a Saucerful of Secrets outtake. The album's tour de force is the 11-minute "Oxen of the Sun," which starts out powerfully hypnotic and then accelerates, creating a sense of reckless forward motion. Or try the 19-minute "Ganymede," a fitting title for a track that unfolds as slowly and majestically as a moonrise over Jupiter. Like only the best psychedelia, East of the Sun creates an alternate universe you wouldn't mind inhabiting.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Cheetah Chrome's "Solo"

Present at the creation of punk as a member of Bowery-via-Cleveland miscreants the Dead Boys, guitar-slinger/memoirist Cheetah Chrome isn't someone you'd expect to find copiloting a Nashville label with Eddy Arnold's grandson. But there are more things in the world you can imagine, so add Cheetah's affiliation with Plowboy Records to the list.

Plowboy's dedicated to preserving Arnold's legacy and focusing on American music regardless of genre, and Cheetah's teeth-bared brand of rockaroll is distinctively 'Meercun in flavor (Ohio is the secret music capital of our great land). Labelmates include the likes of Buzz Cason, J.D. Wilkes and the Dirt Daubers, and most intriguingly, the Fauntleroys, an underground supergroup that includes Texan national treasure Alejandro Escovedo, ex-Voidoid Ivan Julian, and Steve Wynn's drummer/wife Linda Pitmon. They gots a SXSW showcase at the Saxon Pub on March 15th that looks like it'd be worthwhile if you happen to be in America's Live Music Capital(R) on that date.

Cheetah's Solo is one of the label's inaugural releases, and it's a corker. Three out of seven tracks were recorded in Woodstock back in '96, with Dead Boys producer Genya Ravan behind the board. The rest were done more recently in Music City, with Ken Coomer handling the production chores and backing by the Batusis, the stripped-down four-piece that Cheetah co-leads with ex-New York Doll Sylvain Sylvain.

The organ-driven "Sharky" kicks things off with a li'l surf instrumental action, everything but drums played by Cheetah his own self. "East Side Story" isn't the early Bob Seger song obscurantists might be expecting, but rather a similarly streetwise anthem sung by Cheetah in his ragged-but-right guitar player's voice. "Rollin' Voodoo" sounds like a Bowery transmogrification of "Pipeline," sprinkled with some Nawlins gris-gris, while "Stare Into the Night" and "No Credit'" steamroller the listener with snarling vocals, tidal wave rhythms and twin guitar fury like it was '77 at CBGB's all over again.

"Nuthin'" and "Love Song To Death" trawl the same trough of despair as the Dead Boys' classic "Ain't It Fun," sung with the authority of someone who was there, but thankfully turned back from the abyss. In 2014, Cheetah Chrome's punk swagger comes tempered with a survivor's hard-won wisdom. Long may he run.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Mo' things we like

1) Peter Green's original Fleetwood Mac stood head, shoulders, and maybe even nipples above the rest of their Brit blues cohort, and that wasn't just because of Mick Fleetwood's extreme height. Sure, Fleetwood and John McVie were one of the most pedestrian riddim sections in Britain (but adaptable enough to shift from blooze to soft rock when Green flipped himself out of the band a la Syd Barrett, setting the stage for a progression of frontpeople that culminated in the popular, money-making Menlo-Atherton High School incarnation of the band). And Jeremy Spencer (who followed Green into acid-fueled religious cultism) wasn't much more than a gifted mimic, his specialties being Elmore James and various '50s rockers.

But Green, born Peter Greenbaum in London's tough Bethnal Green 'hood, 1946, was really something special. Unlike most whiteboy bluesmen, he intuitively understood that the key to great blues was singing and songwriting (for proof positive of the former, dig Greeny's cover of Little Willie John's "Need Your Love So Bad"), although he possessed a unique touch and tone on guitar (the latter of which I remember reading somewhere came from having incorrectly reinstalled the pickups in his Les Paul so the longer pole pieces were on the fatter strings).

With John Mayall, in whose band he replaced "God" Clapton, his minor-key instrumental "The Supernatural" proved that he was tapped into something deeper than the average B.B. King-aping English kid, and with Fleetwood Mac, the string of singles from "Albatross" (like a more spiritual take on Santo and Johnny's "Sleep Walk") through "Man of the World" (on which he declared, "I just wish I'd never been born") and "Oh Well" (which formally predicted MC5's "Future Now" and lyrically carried the greatest put-down since "Positively Fourth Street": "Don't ask me what I think of you / I might not give the answers that you want me to"), culminating with "The Green Manalishi" (the great evil was money, not acid) charted the disintegration of a personality in real time.

Green's Mac lasted 32 months, just eight more than Cream, but some folks (myself included) will tell you that his musical legacy was a lot more enduring even if he'd never played another note. (In fact he came back in the late '70s and again in the '90s.) And the second side of the '71 UK Greatest Hits is the best late-night record I know of besides Mayall's Turning Point. So there.

2) I bought Wilco (The Album) because my buddy Nick's widow told me he thought they were the greatest band of their generation (it takes something like that to get me to buy new(er) music these days). What strikes me the most is how much like Lennon Jeff Tweedy sounds (and one of the songs even has the "My Sweet Lord" descending-glissando slide fill). Nels Cline is audibly in evidence, although definitely a sideman here (although I'm glad he's got a good regular income now). I'm still wondering what the Wilco song was that they used to play on the grocery store muzak when I was still working, but I'm not going to buy all their albums to find out. It's pretty funny that these guys, the Flaming Lips, and M. Ward are the only new/"mainstream" things I've listened to for the last 20 years.

ADDENDUM: I recently picked up a 3CD of the first three UK Fleetwood Mac LPs. The "dog and dustbin" debut was probably the best album of the whole Brit blues development. Peter Green covering Howlin' Wolf is a very different proposition from Mick Jagger doing "Little Red Rooster" or Keith Relf doing "Smokestack Lightning," and I'd forgotten about his harp playing. Mr. Wonderful suffered from too many Elmore James covers; I prefer the U.S. English Rose, where the Danny Kirwan songs at least provide some variety. Listening to the Pious Bird of Good Omen comp, my sweetie mistook "Need Your Love So Bad" for Ray Charles -- a fair cop. And Greeny actually had the balls to cover the greatest of all Chicago blues records -- the Leroy Foster version of "Rollin' and Tumblin'" -- as "Ramblin' Pony." Whew!

The Wilco song from the Central Market muzak was "Hate It Here" from Sky Blue Sky, which I got in a "deluxe" version that came with a DVD of them playing several of the songs in their practice space, along with commentary from Tweedy. My favorite song o' the moment is "Impossible Germany," in which Nels sounds like Tom Verlaine sitting in with the Allman Brothers. I remember a few years ago, I was very high on Nels' Initiate album until the new Jeff Beck arrived to completely erase its memory with versions of "Over the Rainbow" and "Nessun Dorma." The things Nels plays on "Impossible Germany" and "Side With the Seeds" and "Either Way" are so memorable because they're organic parts of strong songs. I'm limiting myself to two listens to Sky Blue Sky a day, to avoid burnout (a nasty habit I have, most recently with Chris Butler's Easy Life and most memorably with Brian Wilson's Smile), but really, for the time being, I could listen to nothing else.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Chicon's "Black Refractor"

My buddy and former Kincaid's Hamburgers employee of the month Jeremy Diaz (ex-Dead Sexy, Strange Attractors) gots a new band down in Austin. Sounds like MBV meets CCR swimming in an ocean of reverb to me. They're in the studio now working on another one.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

"Beware of Mr. Baker"

I was ambivalent when I saw the trailer for this doco about Cream drummer and legendary madman Ginger Baker, in which the subject breaks filmmaker Jay Bulger's nose. I avoid people like this in real life, I thought; why would I want to watch a movie about him?

Back in the day, it never occurred to me how odd it was that while Cream -- Baker, Jack Bruce, and Eric Clapton -- were hyped as being "the best musicians in the world," "Sunshine of Your Love" was the first song every terrible tyro (myself included) learned how to play on guitar. It started to make sense to me when my guitar mentor Mike R. pointed out to me that Clapton, Beck, Page, Hendrix, Winter, et al. were all playing the same licks, which they flavored with their different tones and inflections -- a major revelation. It's all folk music, after all.

I walked out on Clapton when I saw him in '79. He was still playing the same solo. After discovering the tone that every heavy guitarist still emulates, albeit subliminally, while playing with John Mayall in '65-'66, he spent a couple of years -- incredible they only lasted from '66 to '68, exactly 24 months -- playing over his head with heavy jazz cats Baker and Bruce before becoming obsessed with the Band and heading, by degrees, for the middle of the road. In the film, Clapton speaks of Baker with a mixture of respect for his musicianship and trepidation at his propensity for bad behavior -- a particular concern for a cat like Clapton who's trying to maintain his sobriety. It's also interesting to contrast Baker's account of trying to kick Bruce to death (while they were bandmates in the Graham Bond Organization, pre-Cream) with Bruce's avowed affection for the drummer.

Ginger had a sad life. Born a couple of weeks before World War II began, his dad was killed in the war when he was four. A letter his father wrote, to be opened when he was 14, counseled him to use his fists -- "they can be your best pals" -- which enabled him to defend himself against the school gang that had been tormenting him, cutting him with razors. (Bulger uses animation to depict scenes like these that he couldn't otherwise portray visually, and also as a linking device to provide transitions in the story.) His first drum idol, Phil Seaman, introduced him to heroin and African drumming. The only time Baker shows emotion on-camera is in a '90s interview when he talks about having met and befriended all of his drum idols: Seaman, Max Roach, Art Blakey, and Elvin Jones.

He invested everything in his craft and nothing in people. The father of three children, he left their mother for the sister of one of his daughter's girlfriends. Post-Cream, he played in the "supergroups" Blind Faith and Airforce, shot junk, spent money like it had an expiration date, traveled to Africa and played with Nigerian rebel muso Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, but wound up playing polo with Fela's enemies at the Lagos Polo Club, moved on to Italy and then to Colorado, where he had an idyllic existence with an American wife, playing polo and jazz before an employee with immigration problems (reminiscent of the recent furor over the Indian diplomat in D.C.) sent him running again, to South Africa, where Bulger (who read about him on the internet and penned a Rolling Stone piece about him) catches up with him. When the filmmaker asks Baker's African wife whether he's a good stepfather to her children, she's notably silent.

Bulger did his homework, and includes footage of the Bond Organization, as well as later outfits like Baker-Gurvitz Army and Masters of Reality. It's clear that Baker peaked musically with Cream, however -- when he was 30. And it's noteworthy that when he got to make a jazz record in 1995, it was with "name" players Charlie Haden and Bill Frisell, not the Colorado musos he'd brought to New York. The saddest moments in the film are the bits with his son Kofi, also a drummer, who clearly loved and admired his dad, and whom Ginger kicked to the curb when he left Colorado. In the now, he's an angry and bitter man, jealous of Bruce and lyricist Pete Brown, who still earn royalties for writing all the songs for "his" band. At the end of the film, he can still play the drums, but the emptiness at his center is palpable. A clear-eyed glimpse and a cautionary tale.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Things we like

1) Jelly Roll Morton - Self-titled five CD compendium of all his 1926-30 recordings, remastered by John R.T. Davies. After hearing Davies' work on the Louis Armstrong Hot Fives and Sevens, I decided it was time to hear Morton, whom I only knew as refracted by Mingus ("My Jelly Roll Soul") and Henry Threadgill (Air Lore), in the same way I waited until I was 40 to read Huck Finn and Moby Dick. Time well spent.

2) Gentle Giant - Giant In the Box DVD - I'm not a prog fan per se, but I remember being hugely impressed by their complex music, multi-instrumental facility, and outrageous ham showmanship when I saw 'em live at Avery Fisher in the late '70s, and this video, which includes an ace concert filmed for Belgian TV, a piece of another one from the U.S. In Concert series, as well as a B&W interview with some live snippets that's marred by overdubbed Italian translation, has all of that. Makes me wanna seek out their BBC Sight and Sound performance from '78 that's also DVD-available.

3) The Stooges and Funhouse - The second discs of the Rhino remastered 2CD versions. As a result of playing in Stoogeaphilia, I no longer hear these albums as a sonic bath, but rather, as playing forms, which has made it less enjoyable for me to listen to the familiar original records. The alternate takes on the extra discs are just-enough-but-not-too-much (cf. the Complete Funhouse Sessions box I sold after getting shitcanned from RadioShack): John Cale mixes and longer guitar solos on the debut album songs, Billy Cheatham's wrestling announcements and two good alternate takes of the title song from Funhouse. I feel alright.

4) Brokegrove Lads - Listening to Britt Robisheaux's "song mixes" while waiting for Hickey to write lyrics and record vocals, and T. Valderas to do the final sequencing and psychedelicizing. Not half bad, if I do say so myself.

5) Los Lobos - Kiko (20th Anniversary Edition) - The great album by the band I consider the best America produced in the '80s.

Some good jazz records

It seems that in 2014, jazz is become a repertory music, with every style that ever existed being performed (with the possible exception of the smoove Boney James variety, which thankfully seems to have receded into whatever mists bad music recedes into after it's worn out its welcome) and with its own set of adherents. The most creative current practitioners seem to be equally influenced by free jazz (not the fire-breathing freeblow of heroic soloists, but the more cerebral, group- and composition-oriented work of the AACM tribe and the more forward-looking '60s Blue Note releases), European free improvisation, and modern classical music (Cage, Feldman, Riley). Performers and recordings of this ilk are as plentiful as garage-rock bands that sounded "like the MC5" were a decade ago, before I lost that thread.

The Clean Feed label out of Lisbon is a leader in this trend or movement, but I was pleasantly surprised last week to receive a package which originated in my own city of residence -- Fort Worth, Texas, Where the West Begins. It turns out there's no-fooling avant-garde label, Nuscope Recordings, that's been operating here right under my nose since 1998, with an impressive roster that includes artists of the caliber of Evan Parker, Fred Van Hove, and Tony Oxley. Fourth Landscape, the shiny silver disc I received, is a collaboration between trombonist Samuel Blaser (who last impressed this listener with a collection of modern interpretations of Baroque pieces), pianist Benoit Delbecq, and drummer Gerry Hemingway (a familiar of Anthony Braxton and a Guggenheim Fellow in his own right). The music they make is quiet and reflective, including scored sections that blend seamlessly with improvised interludes. The label's pristine sonic and visual presentation recalls the look-and-feel of classic '70s ECM records.

A 2013 release I didn't manage to hear until the end of the year was Matthew Shipp's Piano Sutras, a solo recital from the pianist whose last release was the exhaustive trio exploration Art of the Improviser. A few years back, Shipp told an interviewer from the sadly-defunct publication Signal To Noise that Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter should retire. Here, he reimagines Shorter's "Nefertiti," as well as Coltrane's "Giant Steps," in a program otherwise devoted to his own compositions. Shipp, whose background includes conservatory training and studies with Coltrane's teacher Dennis Sandole, as well as a long stint in the David S. Ware quartet and collaborations with Roscoe Mitchell and DJ Spooky, is his own guy, aware of the tradition but not bound by it, and is developing his own language on the instrument in the same way as Kris Davis is in hers.

Speaking of Roscoe Mitchell, the circular breathing champion, Art Ensemble of Chicago founder, and national treasure has a new record out, the confusingly titled Duets with Tyshawn Sorey and Special Gues Hugh Ragin. (Actually, "solos, duets, and trios" would be more accurate. Anyway...) Mitchell's recordings, going back to Sound from 1966, have aged better than lots of wilder, less compositionally-focused freeblow, and these collaborations with the prolific young drummer-pianist-composer (and fellow Morton Feldman fan) Sorey and Houston-born trumpeter Ragin (who's played with both David Murray and Maynard Ferguson) show that age has not diminished his adventurous spirit. Mitchell plays percussion and "small instruments" as well as reeds, but his acrid-toned alto remains his signature axe. There's nothing here as challenging as, say, the opening salvo of Nonaah with its jarring repetitions -- or maybe time has just caught up with Mitchell. Of the three recordings considered here, this one has the most dynamic variation and ultimately, holds the most interest.