Monday, October 30, 2017

Sardines tribute/fundraiser

To all who remember Sardines, once FTW's best date/jazz/dinner spot, pianist extraordinaire Johnny Case (who played there every night for 28 years) sends:

Dear Friends,

The tribute to Sardines Ristorante Italiano held at Arts Fifth Avenue shortly after the restaurant's demise was intended to be an annual event, yet no other such tributes took place. No others were being planned until I heard about a former employee in need of a liver transplant. Kenny Hardee was a manager at Sardines and his wife Adrienne also an employee for many years. Kenny is currently employed and has medical insurance, yet the out-of-pocket costs for his desperately needed transplant add up to a daunting $100,000 (!!).

Sardines' employees have always seemed like "family" - unified by a shared connection to the unique Fort Worth institution that was a historic and cultural treasure. Never has there been a better reason for a repeated tribute than to aid one among the family members at a time of dire need.

"Remembering Sardines" will be held Friday, December 1, at Arts Fifth Avenue in Fort Worth. Gracey Tune and Deb Wood of A5A are donating the venue for the charitable purpose, withholding only operating expenses which will be reduced by donated food and drink for attendees. The musicians are performing without pay and an intriguing Silent Auction will include Sardines memorabilia and more, in the form of posters, works of art, A5A packages, recordings and artifacts from the original Sardines. Of special interest in the Silent Auction: a Gemeinhardt flute that had belonged to the late Suzan England, longtime Sardines manager. She gave it me in hopes I would know where it could best serve a good purpose. In twelve years I've not encountered a prodigy deprived of a quality instrument, so it seems to me that we are now confronted with that "good purpose" Suzan's flute can serve. The talented Ms. England was a visual artist who also played piano in addition to the flute. She was much loved by those who knew her, and Suzan was the musician's advocate whenever she knew of such a need.

Performers who will join me (I was house pianist/band leader at Sardines for 28 years) include Joey Carter on vibes and piano; Chris White on bass, trumpet and flute; Keith Wingate on drums. Carter will perform on the second set. This is the core group, other players will join in for an unbridled jazz jam, as was so often heard at Sardines.

The cover charge of $25 includes a delicious Italian dinner served along with "food for the soul" in the sounds of modern (acoustic) jazz. The festivities begin at 7:00 PM. Please attend if possible and make your reservations ASAP by calling Arts Fifth Avenue 817-923-9500.

I realize that logistics will prevent attendance by those who live far outside the D/FW area. If you cannot attend, but would like to contribute to Kenny Hardee, please visit the designated donation site.

Thank you for reading all of the above, and I hope to see many familiar faces on December 1 - a show of strong support is a great way to exhibit the spirit of the holidays.

Your Friend,


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

"I Never Metaguitar Four"

The "death" of the guitar continues to be periodically announced, usually by executives of guitar manufacturers or retailers whose business models have reached the point of no return, not realizing that their biggest competition is their own old product, or other merchants who can provide similar utility for less money. (Pro tip: Try marketing to women, fellas. Big untapped market.)

While the guitar's days as the dominant instrument in popular music might be over (I emphasize "might" because I'm not really tuned into the Zeitgeist enough to have an opinion), nobody bothered to tell the 16 solo performers whose work is compiled in this latest volume of Elliott Sharp's outstanding series of anthologies for the estimable Portuguese Clean Feed label. Rather than hot licks, slick chops, or NAMM booth flash, they operate in a realm of extended techniques, imaginative signal processing, and composer's intent. With the exceptions of American in Paris Rhys Chatham, Finnish jazz rocker Kalle Kalima, the late Ornette Coleman sideman Bern Nix (to whom this volume is dedicated), and Brooklyn-based electro-acoustic composer Marco Oppedisano, all of these players are unfamiliar to me, which is part of what makes things like this such a treat. As is my custom with comps, I shall provide three-word reviews of each track.

Knox Chandler -- Everything is pulse.
Tashi Dorji -- ECU episodic atonality.
Monika Roscher -- Alien insect transmission.
Rhys Chatham -- Slow motion arpeggios.
Kalle Kalima -- Neil Young waltz.
Ryan Choi -- Multiple aleatory voices.
Marco Oppedisano -- Who "Relay" synthesis.
Bern Nix -- Peripatetic chord melody.
Markus Reuter -- Celestial chiming harmonics.
Hahn Rowe -- Concentric feedback circles.
Pete Matthiessen -- Resonator tone poem.
Robert Poss -- Drones for dancers.
Ron Anderson -- Neural net soundtrack.
Morgan Craft -- Overlapping long tones.
Roberto Zorzi -- Pitch shifted soundscape.
Erdem Helvacioglu -- Delicate pastoral vignette.

The truest response to those executives I alluded to at the top of this post might be this: The guitar is not a commodity. It's a tool, a canvas, a medium for expression. Long after your quarterly reports are filed, creative humans will be using it to shout at the sky, "I am."

Sunday, October 22, 2017

A hot date with King Crimson, Fair Park Music Hall, Dallas, 10.21.2017

1) Expensive? Yep. Worth it? You betcha. A wish fulfillment show for sure.

2) Whoever booked this in a venue without reserved parking while the State Fair was in progress probably lost their job (or at least got a stern talking-to). The house was about 3/4 full, which gave balcony sitters who were so inclined the opportunity to go snag floor seats. Myself, I kind of liked the view from up top (we were in the front row of the balcony).

3) The difference between going to a big rock show as a 20something and a 60something: getting a buzz is less important than emptying your bladder.

4) Any chance to hang out with my dear friends Jeff Liles and Dennis Gonzalez is worthwhile. Bonus: As soon as we got to our seats, we ran into Cameron Long and Chris Donley from Fort Worth. Cam admitted that as a youngster, he'd been a frequent visitor to the Dallas Summer Musicals, and predicted the sound would be ace, which it was.

5) Before the band hit, there were signs onstage (and on the video monitors, which were turned off during the performance) requesting that the audience refrain from "viddying" or recording. It was further explained by the genial disembodied voice on the PA that photography would only be allowed after the encore, when Tony Levin (stellar as always on Chapman Stick, electric and acoustic basses) picked up his camera, because he wanted to take pictures of us, and it was a quid pro quo.

6) The "Radical Action" Crimson -- which quirky mastermind Robert Fripp has referred to as "King Crimson reimagined" -- played two long (about 80-minute) sets, with a 20-minute intermission, proving conclusively that "rock as repertory" can be not only engaging, but compelling. The sets were beautifully paced, with material from every stage of the band's career, including some surprises: a fair amount of material from Lizard, the title track from Islands, the never-performed-live-before "Moonchild" from In the Court of the Crimson King (which omitted the meandering improv in favor of brief cadenzas from bass and piano before segueing into "In the Court" itself), "Neurotica" from Beat. This eight-headed hydra, including three drummers (one of whom doubled on keys) managed to embody the characteristics of all the great Crimson lineups past -- the orchestral grandeur of the original '69 unit, the visceral gut-punch of the '73-'75 lineup (minus their epic improvisational flights), and even the spidery, pointillistic electronic gamelan of the '81-'84 band -- while adding some new material to the canon (clustered near the end of the second set, after the Crimheads were assured they'd gotten their value for money).

7) About those drummers (from audience left to right, Pat Mastolotto, Jeremy Stacey, and Gavin Harrison): I wasn't sure how this would work, but it was magnificent -- sometimes working in unison, sometimes splitting up a part three ways, sometimes conducting conversations, sometimes making the sound move through space like a Stockhausen piece. Mastolotto (was this guy really in Mr. Mister?) has now logged more time in the KC lineup than Bill Bruford, and added percussion and electronic drums to the mix. Stacey, in a John Bonham bowler, doubled on keys to supplement main keyboard man Chris Gibson when needed. Harrison is listed as "main drummer," and got applause from Mastolotto for his solo turn in the obligatory "Schizoid Man" encore, but they're all stupendous.

8) A friend and Crimhead had derided Mel Collins' contributions as "like Kenny G." Nothing could be further from the truth. Besides replicating the recorded wind parts, Collins doubled the heavy rifferama on baritone, filled in for David Cross' violin on alto, and generally soloed with more abandon than his recorded work would have led me to expect. MVP of the show, for my two cents.

9) Guitarist-vocalist Jakko Jakszyk (ex-21st Century Schizoid Men and, someone alleged, Fripp's son-in-law) has also been the subject of some negative talk, to which I reply, "Well, you can't ask Lake or Wetton anymore." I've read that Fripp and Adrian Belew have buried the hatchet (or resolved the misunderstanding), which opens the door for AB's participation in the next Crimson tour. Belew himself inspires some dissension among Crimheads; his goofiness can be seen as either cloying or endearing, but Fripp clearly digs him enough to have retained his services through multiple incarnations of the band. That said, I think that what he brings to the table is different -- but not better -- than what Jakko does. Jakszyk has good voice quality, and hits all the right notes. While his leads are kind of pedestrian, he can play all those knuckle-busting parts just fine. Good on him.

10) The setlist, as cribbed from King Fripp's Facebook page:

Set One
"Larks Tongues Part 1"
"Pictures of a City"
"Fallen Angel"
"Larks Tongues Part 2"

Set Two
"The ConstruKction of Light"
"Tony Levin Cadenza"
"Jezza Cadenza"
"In the Court"
"Dawn Song"
"Last Skirmish"
"Prince Rupert's Lament"
"Radical Action 2"
"Level 5"

"21st Century Schizoid Man"

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Things we like: The Ig and I

St. Lester was half right when he wrote that never again would we agree about anything the way we did about Elvis. David Bowie, Prince, and now Tom Petty have proven him incorrect in the specifics, but he nailed the big overarching thing: only music can unite us the way grief and loss do. Put 'em together, and...goodbye, baby, and amen, indeed.

When Ron Asheton died, my buddy Geoff in Philly called me up and said, "Day the music died." For me, it was and it wasn't. Sure, Ron was the guy -- not Iggy -- whom I wanted to be from the time I watched the Stooges at the Cincinnati Pop Festival on my mother's TV when I was 13. In my 40s, was fortunate to be able to interview him (although I kind of got the impression he'd tell those stories to anybody who'd listen, in those years between the Stooges' 1974 implosion and their 2003 resurrection), and to get to say "Thanks" to him in person (and see him play Those Songs three times). After that, I didn't need to see the reunited Stooges play (although I had oppos), because I'd already seen the part I needed to. (By then, I was also playing Stooge songs in a band that had all my favorite local musos on their respective instruments. Lucky me!)

As much as I love the Stooges, there's other music that's given me as much enjoyment over the years: the 'orrible 'oo, the Stones (as much the water I grew up swimming in as Hendrix, I've lately come to realize), Uncle Lou and the Velvets, Zappa and Beefheart, Ornette and Shannon Jackson. Almost all gone now. When Townshend checks out, it really will be "the day the music died" for me. (For some reason, I'm not as invested in Mick and Keef.) And then...there's Iggy.

Even though I lost the thread of his career after Raw Power, briefly picking it up again for the James Williamson-produced New Values, I have no trouble acknowledging that it's Jim Osterberg who now owns the Stooge story, by virtue of his being the Last Man Standing (Strait James having gone on to other musical projects, and more power to him). It's Jim/Iggy's voice that dominates Jim Jarmusch's Stooges doco Gimme Danger (which I discussed at length with Phil Overeem here), as well as Jeff Gold's coffee table book Total Chaos: The Story of the Stooges.

Both of these artifacts appeared in late 2016. Put 'em together and you have a pretty comprehensive document of the Stooge saga as told by its protagonist and uber-alienated "ethnographer," as Maria Damon characterized Iggy in her review of Total Chaos for the literary journal Rain Taxi. Add Ron's stories from Please Kill Me and Paul Trynka's well-constructed narrative from Open Up and Bleed and you've got as close to the full story as anyone who wasn't there is going to get. (Although there's always more; Ed Caraeff just pubbed his photos of the Stooges' stand at the Whisky-a-Go-Go, just after recording Funhouse, in a volume entitled Iggy and the Stooges: One Night at the Whisky 1970.)

The Achilles heel in Jarmusch's film is the paucity of live footage of the Stooges in their heyday (the Youtube-era reunion is, of course, extensively documented). To compensate, Jarmusch used still images in a manner that could uncharitably be compared with humorist John Hodgman's Ken Burns parody Hobo Matters. In a way, the Gold book (edited by the estimable Jon Savage) serves the same purpose as the cornucopia of stills that flashes on the screen toward the end of Jarmusch's film (bringing to this viewer's mind the cathartic reel of romantic scenes at the end of Cinema Paradiso), with the added benefit of being able to hold them in your hand and linger over them.

Ex-record label guy Gold and his collaborator Johan Kugelberg (the main man behind the excellent The Velvet Underground: New York Art coffee table book of a few years back) are elite fans, mavens with access and enviable memorabilia collections (a nice term for the administrative detritus of rockaroll), and they ask the kind of clued-in questions any Stooge fan would, given the chance -- often using a photo or piece of memorabilia as a springboard or memory jogger.

The Iggy of Gold's book and Jarmusch's movie is an intelligent man of wit and charm, impressive recall (even of extremely dissolute periods in his life), and a fair amount of self awareness -- a friendly, plain-spoken midwesterner, reminiscing from the perspective of someone with 50 years' experience as a professional entertainer. "Yeah," he tells Gold, "I'll tell you I've made every wrong move that anybody has ever said I've made. The only thing that bothers me is that how consistently the people who tell tales the most on that have never figured out their own wrong moves. They're all peerless, flawless, and blameless."

Ig's spiel is less self-aggrandizing than one might expect, and his comments shed light on his collaborators' contributions in a way that makes them ring true. Who'd have guessed that the early Stooges had stage fright, and were in awe of some of the bands they opened for at the Grande? As a guitar player, I nodded my head reading Iggy's observation that unlike "a normal white guy blues asshole," Ron the once-and-future bass player started out using very heavy strings, which explains why he never bent a string more than a half-step on those first two albums, and awoke in me the sense memory of the first time I kicked on my Fuzz Face and tried to bend the wound G from a set of Black Diamond heavies. The revelation that Ron used a Leslie rotating speaker to get the shimmering sound on "Dirt" made me feel idiotic for trying to imitate it with a wah-wah pedal for the past 11 years.

The most telling comment comes in response to Richard Creamer's photo of the five Raw Power-era band members (by this time, future Tom Petty sideman Scott Thurston had joined on piano) in the dressing room at LA's Whisky-a-Go-Go. Iggy and Scott Asheton are seated and obviously junked out -- their hooded eyes tell the story. Thurston, mustachioed Ron, and James stand behind them in glam drag. In Iggy's recollection, "The two guys in front who are the most fucked up are the guys who have to do the actual physical work, and we're the two guys who at all times were the most totally committed to the insane romanticism, to the Quixote aspect of the group. Here you have the three little birds sitting on the fence. The vulture, that's James, the magpie, that's Ron, he love to gossip and chat. And...[Thurston just] imitates whatever he hears and plays along, that's what I see. They're sitting on the fence and these two guys in front are taking the hard knocks."

And there's this -- Iggy on how his access to a paternal role model growing up affected his dealings with the other Stooges, who lost their fathers while they were young: "There's a father [thing] going through this band, and it goes like this. If you ask -- or God forbid, demand -- of an Asheton brother to do anything, no matter what the words or action that comes out, the real statement is, 'You're not my dad. You're not my dad. I don't care about you. You have no authority. I don't have to. You're not my dad.' If you ask Williamson or tell him anything or fight any, 'Fuck you. You're my stepfather. Fuck you. You're my step-dad.'...With me it was, 'I'm your dad. Hey. Hi. I'm [your] fuckin' dad!' And that's what I was for this fuckin' group."

To read any band bio (or view any band biopic) is to be reminded of how merciless young men can be, how ephemeral their alliances, and how enduring their grievances. The most compelling parts of the Stooge saga, to me, are the "becoming" years, culminating in Funhouse, before every move was made with an eye toward "keeping the career going." The Jim Osterberg who speaks in these pages reminds me of the man I heard speaking to Detroit DJs Deminski and Doyle the day after Ron died, capable of more compassion and vulnerability than his stage persona would indicate. The bits in Gold's book on the Asheton brothers near the end of their lives are poignant, and make Jarmusch's interview segments with Scott Asheton -- appearing frail and wizened for someone with such a fearsome reputation -- seem even more so.

If I have a beef about the book, it's that I really don't care what contemporary rockers -- even Josh Homme, who worked with Iggy after Scott Asheton's death put paid to the Stooges reunion, or Joan Jett, whom I saw wipe the floor with Ig in Dallas, ca. 1980 (in fairness, her guitarist at the time said that Iggy smoked three joints of angel dust before his set) -- have to say about the Stooges' importance. A better use of the space might have been reproducing the text of some of the articles from broadsheet newspapers illustrated here, which are a little taxing on the eye (although some of the correspondence from Stooges manager Jimmy Silver and Elektra company freak Danny Fields presented in this manner is both legible and delightful). A minor point.

I recently responded to a Facebook post by Pete Townshend, atypically doing his own social media during a brief tour with "Classic Quadrophenia," in which he contemplated whether or not he would continue to do so. I would say the same thing to Iggy, if I could: "You owe nobody anything. But thank you for what you have given us."

Friday, October 06, 2017

Brokegrove Lads' "The Robert Hall Suite"

Ever since our inception, Brokegrove Lads (Matt Hickey having departed, that'd be Terry Valderas, Robert Kramer, and your humble chronicler o' events) have talked about doing something episodic like a Faust record. For our most recent sesh, to overcome our tendency to let jams go on too long, Terry came up with a four sound beds, inspired by dreams, to use as springboards for improvisation. We invited local dramaturge Rob Bosquez to add his vocals, and convened in the usual place (Cloudland Recording Studios, with Britt Robisheaux at the controls) back in March to make the noises we make. Terry did the mixing and sequencing, his pal Captain Smackdown mastered the results, and "The Robert Hall Suite" (named by me after an East Coast haberdasher where you could get a suit with two pairs of pants for 50 bucks, back when) is now ready for your listening and dancing pleasure on Bandcamp. So there.