Monday, December 21, 2009

'On a living pavement of aborted bastards, no doubt'

John the Conqueroo, online repository for the audition of that interstitial meeting-zone between Slingshot Henderson and Père Urbain Grandier, is happy to be hitting that Gummy Bear azz with full albums for the very first time today (in addition to the usual mystery morsels). Enjoy, you mang-nificent bitches.


Orquesta Mirasol, Salsa Catalana (Spain, '76?)

A band/group on which even the trusty bulwark of can find precious little; they were Catalan, ostensibly, and at some point morphed into the virtually identical Mirasol Colores, but aside from that brief and paltry attempt at indexing, we have but the music. That music is, happily, what Frank Zappa circa autumn '74 in Helsinki would term "a barrel of motherfuckers": the salsa quotient, at least in any recognizable West Indian/Latin-American form, is fairly minimal, and that with which we're presented is more like a Spanish folk group's take on Soft Machine. Skirling scribbles of Elton Dean-style soprano sax, thick McCoy Tyner/Hermeto Pascoal modal piano comping, and some of the only cuica overdubs of the 1970s in no way related to Airto Moreira -- this is some hot shit. Dig in particular the opening duo of "To De 'Re' per a Mandolina i Clarinet"/"Reprise," two readings of the same quartal theme that span the language-gap between Triana or Anacrusa in their more folklórico-minded moments and Missus Beastly featuring a pith-minded John Surman on Hot Baritone Injection ... all this before the shake-your-machinery Amazonian drum break. "Molt Trist" is vaguely more salsa-minded, at least in its early moments, but the bubbling Hugh Hopper-Richard Sinclair bass work eventually forces into precipitation a Picchio dal Pozzo high-pressure zone of glimmering keys and cascading woodwinds. Brilliant stuff; apparently there's a European two-fer CD with this and Mirasol Colores' later La Boquería, of which you should buy two and give them both to me if ever you glimpse it.

Cos, Postaeolian Train Robbery + Classroom bonus tracks (Belgium, '74)

Cos and its predecessor Classroom were both early projects of Daniel Schell's (who may be known to some of you depraved Euro-types, or anyone who consistently drops his frozen pizza with excitement on Soulstrut Record Day, for his later psych-folk-oriented work with the Dutch troubador Dick Annegarn). Fantastic, pellucid, intricately- but sparely-orchestrated jazz-rock with the rather Meredith Monk-style vocal work of Pascale Son skittering along atop the glacial Rhodes of Charles Loos and Robert Dartsch's limber, Billy Cobham-meets-Robert Wyatt drumming. Check Classroom's "La Patrie," which sounds something like Chantal Goya yé-yé gotten hold of and Cubistically reconfigured by Jean-Claude Vannier or the Moving Gelatine Plates, and the alternately stately and obsessively minimalistic "Coloc," with a monstrous, barely-in-control Schell guitar solo.


Elvin Jones, "Song of Rejoicing After Returning from a Hunt," The Main Force (U.S., '75)

Techo-organic future-tribalism from Jones' all-too-overlooked early '70s experiments with fusion (we have Scott Yanow, credulous and enthusiastic as he is, to thank for this, presumably -- you know, Scott, there were jazz records made between Bitches Brew and the Catastrophic Marsalis Event). Jones apparently crafted the loose structure of the track by adapting for drum kit an actual pygmy ritual rhythm (the 'djoboko of the Ba-Benzele pygmies' according to the very, very period liner notes), and he tramps and rumbles multidirectionally through the webs of Angel Allende's friable percussion, the reed ostinati of Pat LaBarbara and Frank Foster, and Ryo Kawasaki's vocalic wah-wah guitar scintillations whilst Steve Grossman twists and scratches in his idiosyncratic post-Coltranean way. Ironically for the man driven from Coltrane's band as the final, nearly genre-less period of collaborations with Rashied Ali, Pharoah Sanders, and Alice Turiyasangitananda reached its vertiginous apex, Elvin actually sounds not unlike a more focused, weighty Ali here, interspersing his trademark Afro-Latin-American ambidexterity with tempo-less runs and stealth-bomber interjections.

Finnforest, "Koin Slipesi," Finnforest (Finland, '75)

Some rather Krautrocky-ECM moves from this primarily more Mahavishnu-leaning Finnish trio: much of the rest of their debut sounds like a stripped-down Nordic take on Birds of Fire, but we're a bit more in the territory of John Abercrombie's Timeless or the latter end of Damo Suzuki's tenure with Can here. Interesting and all-too-rare contrast between the solemn, open-ended post-bop chord changes and the hint of Hendrixian psych in Pekka Tegelman's running wah-wah commentary ... 2'52" of lovemakin' with yr favorite iceberg.

Dzamble, "Dziewczyna, w ktora wierze," Wolanie o slonce nad swiatem (Poland, '71)

No idea what it is with Poland and grimy Stax soul, but beginning with Czeslaw Niemen and following hard thence, them bearded Krakowites seem to have had a serious thing for Otis Redding, Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett, et al. Dzamble tends more toward the Blood, Sweat, and Tears/early Chicago thide of sings, a move I'd normally abhor but for the aplomb with which they manage this regimen: all too often, early American "jazz-rock" means semi-competent sub-Claptonisms over the very corniest 2-5-1 chord changes in the Ellington catalogue, but the montuno drumbreak at the outset smooths over worries for at least the necessary 3'45".

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Jerry? ... Xerxes?

Ice, "Ozan Kouklé," The Afro-Instrumental LP (France, '78?)

Seriously high-gloss faux-Afro-funk from these Franchmens, who I think may have been largely or completely erstwhile members of the also notable faux-Afro-funk troupe Lafayette Afro-Rock Band (why this sort of inexplicable and excellent mummery apparently ended in 1980, I'll never be sure). This goes in for some Big Sleep exotica harmonies one would be hard-pressed to find on an actual African record of the era, but the groove maintains a certain unimpeachabillity.

Lula Côrtes & Zé Ramahlo, "Trilha de Sume," Paebiru (Brazil, '75)

Some ridiculous shit from a digger's-dream Brazilian psych LP of which virtually the entire original pressing was destroyed in a warehouse fire; not having contracted that particular brand of fetishism myself, I'm among that rare and pitiable minority which cares mostly about what the music sounds like, and Paebiru is no-disappointment territory. The rest of the LP tends more toward addled, effects-ridden chamber folk, but "Trilha de Sume" rides out a Holger Czukay bassline, ritualistic chanting and percussion, and manic Liebman/Grossman flute and soprano sax runs to fantastic effect.

Bohemia, "Horké letni stmivani," Zrnko Pisku (Czech, '77)

Young, aspirationally, terribly naïve record nerds of the world: you'd do well to develop a congenital suspicion of anything called "funk-fusion," lest you wind up owning hour upon hour of facile riffing around the chromatic scale by studio dudes too ashamed to give full reign to the inner funk-gloss d(a)emons but too damned lazy actually to write a worthwhile fusion record. The Czech group Bohemia is a happy exception: "Horké letni stmivani," which I assume/hope doesn't mean anything ideologically offensive, has Elton Dean-style sax over psychy pools of wah-guitar and nearly atonal through-composed sections on the transgressive seam-bursting tip -- dig the Zappa-esque guitar/soprano doubled lines around 6:00.

Planetarium, "Infinity," Infinity (Italy '71)

Juice from the ever-productive Italian Mystery Rind; a learned sociocultural scholar such as, if I may be so humble, myself should at some point inquire deep into the post-fascistic social structures that compelled Italian youths to band together across beard-bridges and record hip-as-fuck one-off prog records for the first five years of the '70s, only to vanish into undeserved but perhaps sought-for obscurity. "Infinity (A)" future-jacks the hand percussion and burning Hammond organ from Santana's brief period of experimentation and, though the utterance possibly verges on harshness, cultural value (I'm thinking Caravanserai in particular); I'd post the second half of this very, very loosely-conceived 'suite,' but it's frankly some half-competent blues guitar and samey organ riffing over a "Lust for Life" drumbreak redeemed only slightly by some distant choral-orchestral frameworking, and I'm curious to see to what degree your lives will suffer as a result of its lack.

Wigwam, "Hot Mice," Fairyport (Finland '71)

Some fantastically tactile through-composed chamber-fusion from the frozen lands, apparently the work of bassist Pekka Pohjola in rather obvious nominational tribute to Zappa's then-recent Hot Rats; particularly during those scored clarinet runs, he gets damn close, and the thing-in-toto (as if it were a possibility) is better than its self-consciously derivative status might imply. Wigwam and Pohjola fans, for whatever reason, seem to be among those groups that take the objects of their interest, to use the polite term, really, really seriously, so I shan't pretend to any further or more penetrating knowledge as is my usual modus operatic ...

Island, "Zero," Pictures (Switzerland '77)

Really quite shockingly good post-symphonic prog (Présent plus Gentle Giant wouldn't be too far afield) regarding which even Thee Dread Interwebs fail to turn up much information; probably safe to assume that they were fairly into Alien and had rough experiences in high school, which would make them indistinguishable from me along a certain rubric, except of course for the fact that their country is presently banning minarets and delivering 1920s rhetoric about "the Islamic invasion" in a country with about as many Muslims as go to my university whereas as 'my' country considers simple not-in-my-back-yard xenophobia some amateur shit and actually extends its Randian military phallus into the Middle East, creating neo-Vietnam revolutionary states with which it hasn't any goddamn idea how to deal ... music?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Invisible, impalpable wires

Artur Nunes, "Mana" & "Kisua Ki Ngui Fuá" (Angola, '60s-'70s?)

Fantastically funky stuff from the former Portuguese colony of Angola: as with virtually every constituent of postcolonial Africa, Angolan music is marked by a combination of European classical and folk forms, rhythms and tonalities inherited from the West Indian & Latin American slave trades, and native musics of various kinds. Nunes, about whom I unfortunately know virtually nothing, has all this in spades -- dig the Spanish-Cuban flavored chord progressions, the re-Africanized western funk rhythms, the Thomas Mapfumo & Hallelujah Chicken Run Band-style arpeggiated fretwork, and that all-important Angolan shaker. "Kisua Ki Ngui Fuá" in particular is ramshackle dark-sunshine soul at its very finest.

Toni Esposito, "Rosso Napoletano", Rosso Napoletano (Italy, 1974)

Some consummate fourth-world fusion from drummer/percussionist Esposito, who's equally at home on Italian prog-jazz discs and in Don Cherry's small groups. The pacing, pattering doumbek sez 'Egypt,' the scatting vocals and rattling percussion 'Brazil,' and the high-drama/extended-harmony pianistics 'Eddie Palmieri,' but the interlocking Fender Rhodes/acoustic guitar webs over a hard-funk rhythm section is '70s Italian goodnuss (and for more transnational problematix, check the quizzical Hermeto-style Rhodes solo and the sparse foghorn interjections of Wayne Shorter/early Jan Garbarek soprano sax).

Horrific Child, "Frayeur", l'Étrange Mr. Whinster (France, 1976)

Not only do I not particularly know what the hell this is, but I'm within freezer-frost's breadth of declaring that no one could possibly know what the hell this is ('this' being without doubt the most lucid and referentiable track on the LP, the other side of which is primarily dedicated to guttural readings of the Comte de Lautréamont's Les chants de Maldoror over sub-Shub Niggurath goth-chamber squeaks). I give you one of the many deformed brainchildren of French bizarro-possible-genius Jean-Pierre Massiera, whose place in French pop music seems to be to Jean-Claude Vannier's roughly what Joe Meek's is to George Martin's in the Anglophone rock world, which is basically to say that JP's technical prowess and imagination are matched only by his penchant for self-immolating bizarrerie. Apparently he trafficked largely in film soundtracks for most of the '60s before moving to Quebec and releasing a string of Curt Boettcher-style exploitation novelty records, allowing of course for the obvious exception that Boettcher's actually sounded like those capital confections of whose fans the man was trying to take material advantage. Massiera, on the other hand, appears grounded with the Captain Beefheart Syndrome, which is to say that his efforts at cheap cash-outs are far stranger than the strangest most of us could aspire to even in a particularly fecund dreamscape -- if you think this is weird, which you should (unless you've been socialized in an environment saturated with fake African drumbreaks, fake Amazonian Popol Vuh vocal histrionics, Stockhausen/Berio tape manipulation, pygmy ritual percussion, atonal fusion ensemble playing, moronic one-chord fuzz guitar, and semi-Lester Lanin horror-movie organ, in which case you'd be me), you've got to hear his disco records.

Goblin, "Death Dies", Profondo Rosso OST (Italy, 1975)

I shan't try to top the Massiera for oddness (tonite), so here's one yeh may well already know, given that Goblin represents the extraordinarily rare case of an Italian minimalist-prog group dont la connaissance est fait plus mieux among film nerds than anyone particularly interested in the music itself -- this cut dates from genius-psychopath Dario Argento's Deep Red, one of the most brilliantly stylized of his films if not one of the more tonally or logically coherent (but then anyone going to him for coherence on any level but the visual one is either a masochist or a sad, lost babe in the woods). Their sound generally tended toward something more like a combination of Mike Oldfield and Le Orme -- think heavily-layered bedroom-symphonic minimalism with occasional outbreaks of Italo-rock grandeur -- but this one's pretty firmly in the camp of an addled Euro-arty appropriation of Hayes/Mayfield soundtrack funk. Drummer Walter Martino in particular is not to be fucked with (well, well, well limber).

Kornet, "Sju Hungriga Ar", Kornet (Sweden, 1975)

Some unreissued Scandinavian jazz-rock of which I know very little except that it quite beautifully splits the difference between the Continental through-composed school of fusion and the more 'Stateside Mwandishi/Headhunters find-a-groove-and-ride-that-shit subgenre. More classically-minded (which is perhaps but to say 'flute-using') fusion groups often take a face-first dive when it comes to bringing some actual funk soil'n'grit, but the groove here is well sepia when appropriate and takes on an early Mothers of Invention stutter-hop, complete with marimba infrastructure, for the chutes-and-ladders synth solo. Good damn stuff -- and yow, Gongzilla: yer a bit late on biting that intro, n'est-ce pas?

Kenny Barron, "Spirits" & "Hellbound", Lucifer (USA, 1975)

Killer-hip jazz-funk shit from the terminally underrated Barron, featuring a whole cast of rock-solid and likewise terminally underrated sidemen (James Spaulding, Billy Hart, Carlos Alomar, et al). The former track won't ruin any fragile unreconstructed Cartesian ontologies, but it gets serious points for the Dolphy-like dissonant head and Charles Sullivan's skittering, glittering trumpet acrobatics; the latter, on the other hand, is going to take the top of your motherfvckin' head off. Barron, going it solo Stevie Wonder-style, creates a tapestry of Rhodes, synth, and acoustic piano that recalls both prime era George Duke and Klaus Schulze and proceeds to develop it steadily for 13 minutes, fire-bombing it with burning-gold Coltranean pillars of modal-chromatic fire on the piano. This is A-1, top grade, superfly-TNT, through-the-halls-of-Montezuma, charge-of-the-heavy-ass-brigade sheeit, and though it's got antecedents on different levels from the aforemention Duke, Schulze, and Wonder to Todd Rundgren and Return to Forever, I have yet to hear anything else precisely like this -- ever. Hey, you! You know who's not fucking around? Kenny Barron. Kenny Barron's not fucking around.

Skaldowie, "Nasza Milosc Jak Wiatr Halny", Stworzenia Swiata Czesc Druga (Poland, 1977)

Ostensibly Skaldowie is best known in Eastern Europe for a string of post-Beatles beat-pop hits, and the eight other people with computers to whom this sort of thing is import seem unanimous in their regard for their 1973 LP Krywan, Krywan, but I've been fascinated of late with the trans-cultural interstices of this particular slab (modesty entitled "The Creation of the World, Part Two," or something to that effect). It's equal and frictious parts moonlit early symph-prog, orchestral Stax soul, and stark, violin-driven Polish folk, something like Michal Urbaniak sitting in with the first King Crimson on their re-arrangement of Isaac Hayes' Black Moses (credibility both established and exceeded -- reconnect schizo-schreberian matrix mainline) -- dig those Trespass massed-choral vocals slipping into flashbulb drum breaks and swooning Smokey Robinson strings.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

FInal flights of « la dinde mélancolique »

In which M. crafts a heathaze/summer-dying-incandescence suite of filmic opportunism for a Super-8 remake of Wild Strawberries, starring the turkey that will be brutally and deliciously thrown on the altar of my own personal bloodfeast tomorruh night. Cheers from Kansas Citeeeeee ...

Le Groupe X, "Crawling," Frrrrrigidaire (Italy, 1973)

Some never-reissued pastoral-sympho-fusion in a way of which only Italians seem, for whatever reason, to have gotten the grasp -- it's an odd balancing act between ornate semi-classicist melancholia as might be found on some cross-country-railway-coming-of-age flick scored by Morricone (maybe Terence Stamp as the worldly but sensitive older friend?) and little bits of Yes (in the Wakemanized Moog themes) and Franco Battiato (in the buzzy synth orchestrations and rather rustic harmonic content). Music to which to break up with yr first girlfriend if ever I've heard it ...

Coste Apetrea, "Ockhams Rakkniv," Nyspolat (Sweden, 1977)

Scintillating Cubano-fusion from the solo debut of the Romanian-born guitarist for Sweden's brilliant art-prog-carnivalesque sonic terrorists Samla Mammas Manna -- think Chick Corea c. My Spanish Heart with spiky, very non-DiMeola/non-shredder fusion guitar and the sense of taste and restraint that has rarely, if perhaps not never, been one of Chick's primary strengths (particularly not in that era: The Leprechaun up through, let's say, Secret Agent represents a remarkable nadir in terms of aesthetic self-awareness in modern music -- which is precisely not to say that they're uniformly awful, and this in a way is the entire problem, given that a total lack of discernment between great and unbearably tacky strikes me as being more disturbing than simple, clean, American shittiness).

Fusioon, "Llaves del Subconsciente, Pt. I," Minorisa (Spain, 1975)

Let me tell yrself something about myself, and in particular something about myself and Mellotrons: I have this recurring dream in which I'm walking along the side of a browning-gold twilight European viaduct and a fleet of pendulous overhanging Mellotrons begins to drown me in the collective scree of their gradually decomposing "three violins" tapesets, and as the ferrous oxide fills my nostrils I am happier than I have ever known myself to be in waking life. While not "true," per se, the foregoing example perhaps displays, in a certain gestural or theumotic sense, a bit of my enthusiasm for the ambiance of thee tape-beast itsveryownself, and this rather Krautrocky/prog-trance track from the otherwise more Euro-symph-inclined Fusioon might well be the aural correlative to my personal equivalent of that Bergman sequence in which the young girl is raped by that giant spider that turns out to have always-already been God. That is actually in a Bergman film, right? ... right?

Exmagma, "25 Two Seconds Before Sunrise," Goldball (Germany, 1974)

They'd frankly have a lease in my private mindgarden for that cover alone (not even so much 'surreal,' in whatever force such a very co-opted word can have at a point in history at which it's taken to refer equally to R. Roussel and Charlie fuckin' Kaufman, as just bewildering -- who had that idea? Why did he have that idea?), but this post-Milesian murkeur sounds like the unmixed reels from two or three different Jarrett/Henderson/DeJohnette-group-era gigs accidentally group-copied onto the same master tape by a stoned Teo Macero, the latter of whom, upon finding within himself the glowing reservoirs of character to tell Miles what had happened, was greeted with, " ... sheeeeit. I dig that, though, Teo. Put some of that echo on it ... that weeeeird sheeit that you do ..."

Hermeto Pascoal, "Tacho (Mixing Pot)," Missa dos Escravos [Slaves' Mass] (Brazil, 1977)

As David Icke once said to the world-controlling race of reptilian alien-kings about the gold-isotope cure for AIDS that they were ritualistically and recreationally injecting, This is what I come here for: the spiraling, Piazzola-like intro is coy and beautifully postured, the surdo groove well membranous, Hermeto's Clavinet-and-voice improvisation lyrical and pithy with that deadpan Brazilian bounce that I've still yet to hear successfully replicated, and the Alphonso Johnson/Chester Thompson rhythm section positively dental in its attention to articulation and timbre. Around 6'30", when Alphonso's utterly characteristic fuzz line arcs over and through the toms-and-bells groove, tell me you aren't menaced with flashes of something altogether telluric and nautical ...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bonus nerd round pt. 39: the revenge of the chaste

Crucis, "Pollo Frito," Los Delirios de Mariscal (Argentina, 1976)

A record that I've never quite been able either to leave altogether, like the Independent Woman that I know lurks inside my fragile but fecund masculine shell, or to embrace fully: I believe I've previously posted its leadoff track, "No Me Separen de Mi," which is some true cracklin', but I always find myself yawning with the lethal Distracted Prog Ennui at least twice during any runthrough of Los Delirios de Mariscal. Crucis is generally considered the top-flight Argentinian prawg group par excellence, but they do tend to lean a bit hard on certain Romantic/Wagnerian clichés and some good-but-uninspiring bluesy guitar monotony. What a thoroughly equivocal reading I've just given you, the Impressionable Viewing Audience! This one's a bit more in the Area/Czeslaw Niemen bugged-out fusion realm and thus commands more of the sinthome energy I slam into the Assassination Mainframe (that's how people talk in my apartment, I swears it), and the Stravinsky/Bartók time-dislocation motif of portentous synth/organ chords against a polyrhythmic bit of guitar crunch is Louis-Ferdinand Céline-gnarled and -spiked.

Honoré Avolonto, "Na Mi Do Gbé Hué Nu" (Benin, ?)

Interesting stuff from the recent Legends of Benin comp (this year, eye think): maybe it's just my desperate Occidental mind trying to differentiate and define, but in this clearly Fela-feeling Afrobeat framework, I get a bit more of the Latino-Carib interchange with so many of the rhythms and structures of arrangement that we call either "Latin" on the one hand or "African" on the other than I do with Mr. Kuti. After the first exploitation of African slaves in Latin and Caribbean America, the lines between Native Latin/Caribbean American-, Spanish-, and African-influenced music become impossibly multivocal and recursive, and what most of us would readily identify as, for example, inescapably Congolese (Staff Benda Bilili or Konono Nr. 1, for example) is as deeply Cuban/Haitian as African, per se. A bit of history toward a chicken-scratch guitar and shekere groove that, as ever, hides its true history always, always elsewhere ...

Belisama, "Belisama (Deuxième Partie)" / Georges Garvarentz, "Nues dans l'eau" (France 1960s)

Je ne sais pas beaucoup des origines de ces chansons; je les ai trouvé par un disc «bootleg» qui s'appele Psychedelic Yé-Yé après l'epoque de la musique pop Français aux années '60s, une musique trés bien connue au Continent mais assez inconnue aux États-Unis ... pour quelqu'un qui sait tant de la culture Français, il faut qu'il sache Serge Gainsbourg, Brigitte Bardot, Chantal Goya, et cetera. Ces sont des artistes, à l'autre main, dont je ne sais presque rien: la première, Belisama, est un bon exemple de la musique de rock «psyché-fuzz», commes nous disons en anglais, mais je n'ai rien d'info historique de cette chanson; l'autre, Georges Garvarentz, a ecrit plusiers chansons pour et avec Charles Aznavour, le chanteur français très célèbre (il a mari la soeur d'Aznavour, aussi), et il a composée la musique pour approximativement 150 films. God, I'm a pompous twat.

Alessandro Alessandroni, "Manhattan Disco" / "Duke Soul Jazz" / "Skyscrapers" /"Sbirro in Fuga (Reprise)", from Sangue di Sbirro (Italy, 1974)

Alessandroni woz in fact none other than the whistler on many of Ennio Morricone's most famous scores, including the immortal The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, A Fistful of Dollars, and For a Few Dollars More; his score for the B-grade 1976 Italian cop-flick Sangue di Sbirro (something like A Cop's Blood and known by a different title in each country that saw its release, which doesn't usually bode too well for yr standards of cinematic achievement -- it even appears to have been flogged for re-release by retitling it Pour un dollar d'argent in France in some marketing hack's attempt at a tie-in with the Eastwood/Morricone/Leone flix) is about 50% shameless Shaft-'sploitation (the title theme manages to lift wholesale both the arrangement and the chord changes while altering the melody jesssssssenough to avoid copyright law), but the three first tracks here are gloss-dripping, coke-sniffing, chest-hair-ruffling Eurotrash (no offence, Alessandro) pseudofunk at its very, very finest, and "Sbirro in Fuga (Reprise)" is some legitimately eerie, unsettling minimalist drama-stabbing that sounds like a Dario Argento score done by David Axelrod.

The Maxwells, "Esther," Maxwell Street (W. Germany, 1969)

You'll see this rekord trumpeted in the blog-o-dise as a lost classic -- don't buy it. It's largely white blues and faux-soul of a thoroughly mediocre rank, but the leadoff track "Esther" summons visions of Tim Buckley as produced by Robert Fripp and Pete Sinfield c. King Crimson's Lizard, all ghostly hints of eroded medievalism and uncomfortably close-mic'd vocals, with a pure Nick Evans trombone solo in the back half. Pity about the rest of yr album, boys ...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Fifth World Tawks to You

Living Funk, "Silver Black Summer Day" (US?, 1973)

Some more musique de la mystère: I know this track from a comp called Club Africa, Vol. 1 that supposedly consists only (but we know what a tenuous position that is) of "original Afro-funk," but everything I can find (very little) about this praticklar single suggests that it's a faux-African or perhaps post-African (or, even better, post-faux) American single, perhaps with some actual Afrikaners involved -- the guitar work and Fela-pawnshop electric piano tone have cette odeur de la Nigéria (it would appear that one of the latent deconstructive effects of Anglo-French imperialism in African was to accidentally distribute RMS electric pianos like Bibles all across the northwestern nations). The groove, that language that's never pan-language but in a certain Kristevan-semiotic-choric sense perhaps the very condition of language, is of course sphincterate and swampy, and the combination of Jimmy Nolen chicken-scratch guitar with Hendrixian fuzz is some Highly Advanced Shit.

We All Together, "It's a Sin to Go Away," We All Together (Peru, 1973)

Apparently WAT's actually a rather well-known Peruvian group, primarily for their early covers of Badfinger and solo McCartney in an era when the originals weren't exactly flooding Latin America. We have here that mixture of post-comedown suicidalism and fraudulent grandeur that the '70s did particularly well, especially in a nation that, by the dictates of modern capital, had to fall hard on a mass scale and couldn't afford the subsequent decades of solipsism into which the Yanquí world has fallen after its navel-gazing Edenic-infantile fantasy period. The tension between the hard-panned fuzz-bass, Hammond organ, and almost castrato-gentle ensemble vocals recalls for me, for reasons I couldn't quite pinpoint, a sort of nightmare-mirror version of Buffalo Springfield, which of course is high, high praise.

Soul Messengers, "Prince of Zeal" (Israel, 1975-1981)

From the Numero Group's brilliant Eccentric Soul series, we have perhaps the grandaddy of left-of-centeur funk finds: the Soul Messengers were one of a number of ad-hoc groups formed from the ranks of the African Black Israelites of Jerusalem, led by Ben Ammi Ben-Israel (née Carter), a proto-Christian Afrocentric Jewish sect that sprung up around Chicago and Detroit in the early '70s aftermath of Black Power, Vietnam, and MLK -- Biblical exegetes that they were, they eventually located a particular spermatikos logos not in the American Black gospel tradition but in its Jewish antecedents and decided to encamp in Dimona, a small Israeli city off the Dead Sea incorporated during the immediate post-founding David Ben-Gurion period, where the community has lived since (and in which it has only recently received full citizenship status -- good lookin' out, Chosen Land). The track itself isn't quite like anything else I've ever heard: there's a certain CTI funk-'fusion' slickness to it, but the head is pure Larry Young/Woody Shaw pyrotekhne and whoever's behind the drums has his warp-speed Tony Williams licks engraved in stone -- to say nothing of the early Wayne Shorter-style flanged tenor solo, of which perhaps nothing need be said.

The American Revolution, "Opus #1," The American Revolution (US, 1968)

Apparently the rest of the LP is some soft-batch Association/Curt Boettcher harmony pop, but this harpsichord-carapace'd gem seems to exist nearly out of time: it's utterly contemporaneous with the first wave of major label psych-exploitation stuff Stateside, but it so uncannily presages the eerier, more self-consciously home-made outsider-pop style of the early Elephant 6 collective (I think, for example, of Olivia Tremor Control's brilliant "I Have Been Floated") that, in the true (true?) lineage (lineage?) of ek-stasis, its-self is outside it-self. The horn-wind arrangement is brilliant and protean, and the mannered faux-Anglo baroquerie with which Johnny Leadvox intones, "Why are you scared to ad-mit / That you've been born in a time into which you don't fit?," crystallizes a certain corner of my psych-pop obsession-metrics.

La Máquina de Hacer Pájaros, "Bubulina," La Máquina de Hacer Pájaros (Argentina, 1976)

My rather well-documented fixation with Argentine rockinroll being what it is, I've probably had occasion to mention Charly García on here before, one of the two most important figures in that nation's modern pop heritage--the other, Luis Alberto Spinetta, has definitely showed up on the Conqueroo in the guise of his early group Almendra's gorgeous "Muchacha (Ojos de Papel)." I frankly can't get that heavily into García's early and rather soporific folk-rock leaning work in Sui Generis, the group that made his name (well, that and the fact that he once waltzed around a public square with a corpse in order to get a mental illness deferment from military service), but this Máquina de Hacer Pájaros (the Bird-Making Machine) track is just about perfect. Gustavo Bazterrica's chattering, flinty guitar is opulent, and the way that the structure of the composition skirts the edges of a fairly standard pre-Romantic/tango-style chord progression but throws in just enough blued notes and replaced roots is truly brilliant. ¡Mierda sagrada!, as I'm guessing no Argentinian would ever actually say.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Like the ghost, I come always as a coming-again

R. Dero, "Whirling" (Belgium?)

Not too much information on this'un: R. Dero (person? group?) appears to have been in the West European library record game and vaguely affiliated with a circle of fake-Latin-soul studio groups of Belgio-French extraction including El Chicles and the Chakachas, the sort of names which, one takes it with a certain amount of faith, incite gnarly tumescence among the netherzones of record collectors everywhere. Bit of a Rick Wright-Pink Floyd vs. Tangerine Dream vibe, with some crispy over-recorded synth and a Bonhamesque drum sound ... heet.

Roy Harper, "All You Need Is," Come Out Fighting Genghis Smith (UK, 1968)

Harper was a bit like the addled, scarily-eccentric backwoods cousin of Donovan, a bit like Nick Drake with a yet more brutal outlook and the decency to temper it with scabrous humor rather than self-pity (Drake traveled to France to hit on Françoise Hardy, only to lose his nerve when she opened her apartment door and return to London in silence; Roy'd likely have torn out a chunk of her hair and taken a photograph of her reaction). As the '70s wore on, he'd progress further and further into a sort of epic-prog-folk, often filling LPs (like his arguable peak, 1973's Stormcock) with fewer than five tracks, each of which tended to flirt with or surpass the ten-minute mark and pirouette dervish-style around a few central themes that came and went like banks of fog. This earlier track finds Roy not quite having given himself over to the allusive/elusive wordplay that would become a trademark, but the Joe Boyd/Mickie Most dark-baroque arrangement is top-shelf.

Focus 3, "10,000 Years Behind My Mind" (UK, 1968?)

Haven't got a great deal of knowledge to articulate upon this virginal body-without-organs either: I found the track on a comp of otherwise obscure stuff recorded at Abbey Road betwixt '65 and '69, and it's got the slightly John Barry/David Axelrod feel of a psych track by an ad-hoc "groovy young combo" that was the front for some anonymous staff producer/arranger (see: Electric Prunes, Mass in F Minor), but, these informations shorn from us like the back hair of a bet-losing short-order cook, we have only the hot drum break and string arrangement to light the path to our own graves ... yes.

The Gaytones, "Soul Makossa" (US?, 1972)

Pretty shameless Manu Dibango rip on every level (he wrote the track, fer chrissakes), but a really damn good one. Again, as per the Gaytones, I've got nothing: this could actually be African, but the fact of its release on Capitol combined with the brief interval between its release and Manu's version (who in Cameroon needs a "Soul Makossa" cover that quickly?) makes me suspect a failed Stateside makossa cash-in attempt, p'raps with an actual Camerounien on the mic. Fish-stink rhythm section, anyway.

Débile Menthol, "Crash que peut," Émile au jardin patrologique (Switzerland, 1981)

Some wonderful Continental post-prog pre-punk: the spiraling, web-weaving guitars are pure Brit symph-rock, the strings and woodwinds strictly from the Henry Cow/Aksak Maboul/Univers Zero playbook, but the vox and rhythm section smell un peu comme Père Ubu, via the venerable Cpt. Beefheart and perhaps Gang of Four. The entire LP (Émile in the Patrological Garden) is just as strangely combinatory and exciting: when all rock is art rock and all music musique de l'art, well, those categorical schematics seem a bit for the tossers, n'est-ce pas?


Just wanningtoo let fools know that I'm gonna be up in this shit with refreshing beverages and golden-brown chimichangas drizzled with mp3 sauce. The 24-hour coffee shops of the world must no longer labor under the tyranny of Ani DiFranco and the Putamayo World Music series ...

Friday, May 15, 2009

Crassickal interlude

I've long been a Stravinksy nürd, and I just found this video of the Joffrey Ballet doing a reconstruction of Nijinsky's original choreography for Le Sacre du Printemps. Mind-blowing sheeit.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Excusez-moi, mais comment solide est ton jeu de l'Amerique de sud?

A bit low on my tragically penetrating commentary, but the knowledge is exactly worth itself:

Los Jaivas, "La Poderosa Muerte" [live 1978], originally from Alturas de Machu Picchu (1978)
Incredible stuff from perhaps my favorite '70s disco suramericano: Los Jaivas combined the vanguard of European prog, shorn of any of the aesthetic obesities into which it was deteriorating during the era (I will ride hard for Yes until 1974; for Tormato, I shall ride hardly at all) and coated with an impressively prescient pre-postpunk/new wave ominousness and eerie foreboding perhaps best compared to their Belgian counterparts Univers Zéro or the more determinedly dark moments in Henry Cow's catalog ("Nine Funerals of the Citizen King," for example), and combined these with the fecund ghosts of Andean folk music, with those tenebrous and rarefied Peruvian tones before the era of "world music" blandness and reification. This is music of interstices, of spacio-temporal intersections, of the areas-in-between standing a parallel hemisphere away from those J.G. Ballard was exploring at the same moment. The whole album is crucial, but "La Poderosa Muerte" might be its best track ... there is a startling difference in immediacy and air texture between the doomsayings of a Europe in post-decadent decline and a Peru that has weathered innumerable massacres and knows well enough to expect more of the same. (And let's be frank: the shots of Eduardo Parra wrestling his Mini-Moog and Rhodes on the steps of a decaying Machu Picchu rampart and of Eduardo "Gato" Alquinta--whose 2003 funeral lasted three days and drew 250,000 Chileans--killing the guitar solo from a mountaintop are straight ill.)


Los Jaivas, "Aguila Sideral," Alturas de Machu Picchu(1978)
The composition that made me a fan and opened up South American rock in general to me ... really rather terrifying.

Almendra, "Muchacha (Ojos de Papel)," Almendra (1969)
A lovely folk-pop song, with proleptic echoes of the first couple of Big Star LPs in the vocal delivery and backing harmonies, from one of the two Romulus-and-Remus originary bands in the Argentinian experimental/progressive rock scene of the '60s and '70s; Luis Alberto Spinetta, leader of Almendra and the later Pescado Rabioso, Invisible, and Spinetta Jade, and Charly García, of Sui Generis and Serú Gerán, are generally considered the two most innovative and historically important figures in that lineage.

Anacrusa, "Calfucurá" [live] (1987)
Probably my favorite of the Argentine '70s experimental rock groups, Anacrusa managed to forge a really exceptionally well-balanced alchemy of Piazzolla-style tango influences, diagonally-inclined gridworks of electric guitars, bits of jazz improvisation, and a rhythm section that bore the fluid energy of folkloric pre-Spanish South American dance and ritual rhythms. 1978's El Sacrificio is the only one of their records I know at all well, but certainly one to pick up: the combination of a funereal, almost flamenco saeta-style string arrangement and Susana Lago's very nearly Arabic vocal ululations (highlighting the historical commonalities of the Muslims of southern Spain and their Middle Eastern counterparts, and thus the diaspora of the former among the South American colonies and the natural parallel the peoples of those colonies, indigenous and otherwise, present to their still put-upon Arabic brethren) on the title track is brilliant.

Terreno Baldio, "Grite," Terreno Baldio (1975)
A skewed, jigsawed bit of clockwork reconstructed-medievalism from these Brazilians, often typecast within the tiny segment of the music world that knows their work as "the South American Gentle Giant"--not a bad comparison but by no means an exhaustive one, as there is a desperation and a mannered, baroque darkness (I think of some of the "conspiracy music" from Mozart's operas, for example, or a less drama-school Van der Graaf Generator in rock'n'roll terms) to their work that GG rarely utilized.

Crucis, "No Me Separen de Mi," Los Delirios de Mariscal (1977)
To provide whatchyrcall a unifying thread, Gentle Giant and Argentina tied together like whut--the first couple minutes of this recall In a Glass House or Free Hand for me much more than anything by Terreno Baldio. The low-intensity moderation of the vocal and upending of the usual lead-background dichotomy brings to mind some of Kerry Minnear's more whispery moments for GG, and the delicately funky interlocking Rhodes and guitar at the outset are pure Minnear/Gary Green action, though there's a bit of "Hey Jude" residue in the poppy hook, and the recurring synth/guitar gallop is perhaps more reminiscent of Yes c. Close to the Edge than anything else. Good stuff, though I remain unconvinced that they deserve their status as the most important Argentinian prog group.

Friday, April 24, 2009


As I move my pitiable way through the exigencies of ceasing to be a lush (and, as it turns out, that Lost Weekend-cold sweat game is of a greater veracity than one might expect), a brief update:

Santana, "[untitled]," live recording, c. 1974 (?)
Carlos Santana has done such an exquisite job of making himself an irrelevant joke over the last two decades that we may forget his genuine attempts, at one point, to charge toward a genuinely syncretic music drawing in Latin ostinati, rock sonorities, and modal-jazz open-endedness, and the band assembled in this clip was a very special one: Michael Shrieve, the really rather extraordinary drummer who was copping Elvin licks in front of 900,000 people at Woodstock when he was 16 (!), was finding his way to a new subtlety and sophistication; Richard Kermode and Tom Coster were forging ahead into both au courant synth textures and McCoy Tyner-style harmonics; presumably little need be said of the excellent Doug Rauch/Chepito Areas/Armando Peraza rhythm line-up; and in this briefest of moments, Santana instituted a managerial coup de gras by getting Leon Thomas, probably best known for his astonishing performances on Pharoah Sanders' Karma LP and particularly the half-hour sonic orgy "The Creator Has a Master Plan," to connect the group to both gritty-ass funk and out-jazz spiritualism (Thomas' '72 solo disc Blues and the Soulful Truth comes highly recommended as an exemplar of both, by the way). Unfortunately, the best work of this lineup was completed almost entirely before Thomas showed up: 1972's brilliant Caravanserai and the '73 Santana/John McLaughlin joint venture Love, Devotion, Surrender represent the least compromised vision of what the band could've become, and by the next year's Welcome (Thomas' first studio appearance), Carlos was already taming the wilder impulses of his group in an apparent bid for R&B radio play (not that there isn't some worthwhile Latin-accented soul music on that record).

[As a side note, it's very difficult to find Michael Shrieve's 1994 solo disc Two Doors, but the effort is eminently worthwhile: an interesting two-trios concept (the first half features Shrieve with bassist Jonas Hellborg and guitar genius Shawn Lane, who's allowed on the album as nowhere else in his brief output to dispense with shred-wank clichés and get to the real line-carving; the second, guitarist Bill Frisell, at his least White-hokey best, and organist Wayne Horvitz) pays off immensely, the compositions one and all transcend yr stereotypical drummer-goes-solo two-chord funk vamps, and Lane's tendency to vocalize along with his soloing takes the often Arabic-tinged chord progressions into electric muezzin territory.]

Leon Thomas, "China Doll," Blues and the Soulful Truth (1972)
The YouTube overcompression/bad vinyl master/whatever it is drops a dollop of ehhhh on this, sonics-wise, but hopefully something of Thomas' future-forward avant-R&B aesthetic will come through. It's one of the more restrained cuts from the record, relatively low on the truly over-the-top back-at-the-chicken-shack histrionics of "Let's Go Down to Lucy" or the Middle Eastern modal engagement of "Gypsy Queen" and "Shape Your Mind to Die," but he gets inside the curious Afro-Oriental arrangement and hits the rare pitch that allows him to riff around Asian pentatonics and deliver lines about grrrls lookin' so good he wanna be speaking Chinese with the necessary self-effacement.

Monday, April 20, 2009


"We live in a country where the idea of what you are is more important than your actually being that. And it works as long as everyone is winking at the same time." - Branford Marsalis

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Ist sehr poetische, nein?

Bit of a change: I just found out the North Texas Review will be publishing a piece or two of my poetry in late-spring/early-summer and thought, orderly little man that I am not, it might approach a certain standard of deductive righteousness to post the stuff I gave them. I'm a critic and a prose writer, and very emphatically not a poet, so these veer awfully close to juvenilia, but wot thee hell.

The Doctor Gets ‘Saved’
You memorized the tunings of my harps
Or had, at least, the courtesy to bend
A month of mouths into the shapes of sharps
Into the forms my tongue loves to up-end
And set them to green fires, collecting smoke
Into your pewter book of pewter bone
A disassembled skeleton, alone.

But such may be my wont on darkling spires;
That is to rearrange a gesture’s touch
Into the shapes my vanity requires
And all the forms my loathing loves too much;
I am these bags of pale choleric bile,
These arcing creatures stalking through the fields
And eyeless children saved by rusted shields.

The fingers of your certain Seljuk hair
Which sit and brood on caution-fields now killed
Now faded in the thick Ankara air
Among the cries to mark the orders filled;
I cannot hold me ignorant of this—
Perhaps my dactyls’ reach knew nothing more;
Perhaps I’ll hear you from a distant shore.

Duet #2
The horses of fatigue run on and on
Without respect to temperature or tense
Into a blanketed, transfigured dawn
Of upraised eyes of full-crazed audience
(I knew them once and you shall know them hence)

The inside inside the temples, so amused,
So tabernacled, neutered, and bejeweled
And birthing brains which sing best when abused
Abused in bitching raptures, fogged and fueled
(And finely tart when fever-ridiculed)

It’s then that parts the dust along the shelves
And that the angles—feigned coincidence—
Shed psoriatic skin for truer selves,
Disclose their nerves’ inscriptions, beggar sense
(Their white-hot tendril clouds of recompense)

For acid hours collected in the throat:
“The patient’s epiglottis burned right through”—
Then come the minutes supine in a boat
When eyes dilate in full to bring to view
Those subtle spheres that we dumb dogs once knew.

Four Entries from a Speculative Dictionary
Small rosepetal reversals in a two-tone apartment
No glint of wheels, no sigh of guilt,
But tense wires only.
Claustrophobe; Victrola.

Grasshopper steeltoed, born of glue-soaked whims and a tiny truce in the stale wind of freshly-cut grass and an overwhelming shower of of of

Grenadine taste of generals, resplendent in shining grey with crucifixes dangling from the well-worn anuses of the inferior officers who ported them to the Haçienda, cabana circumflex, slow drip of sticky saliva running up into the eye sockets, impeding nothing, warm crust with full filling. Pendulous stomach known to pull into actual mouth, at which point eternal feedback loop because fulfillment of well-understood purpose.

Halo Wet pure semi-wet also understood shaft of Caravaggio rabbit-light. No bones for me thanks but wotever fields of eyelids woz on the stove when you first wrenched open the window, smell of fried membrane in worm warm butter bath, to vomit at your favorite army.

Maps & Territories
“Embrasure? what embossment? concrete cut?”
I stuttered on the shores of man-made lakes,
All bare, all cut of caution tribute takes,
All lack of balding grass or jade-line jut—
A man-made lake of acid in the gut.

And “never, never, never” comes the cry
As always, underneath the vented suns,
As ever, Persian patch of missing ones
And twos and Fibonacci-factored eye
Which could, perhaps, be hers and yet pass by;

But I cannot pass by on speechless cliff:
Too hired by the tongues of one-ply sheiks
Too flat for ignorance, to thin for weeks,
To little like starvation in Cardiff/
North African uprising of the Riff—

The Riff Revolt? In Stalin-scented cones?
But what will be its churches and its jails,
And what Christ’s hands, so eager for the nails
That tack in place of pride his set of bones?
That swiftly will occlude his harlot-moans?

Yes yes, forecast the sediments of eyes
That might, in other times, wear different grins
Wear those of atheists or monks or djinns
Whatever tooth our texts will recognize
As having once adorned our frozen eyes.

Your Devil’s Dialect
They speak in accents that resemble yours
And walk on pins or sidling like a crab,
On thistles plucked in one unthinking grab
From column roots, from mind of kitchen floors,
From pseudopod along a copper shore
Through field of glass to field of rotting meat
And burrow there in sexual retreat
(Or wear a cautious face to burrow more)

The Other Other Other from Afar
To third degrees and Polynesian suns,
To lick the sperm from forward-mounted guns,
We restless conquests, writing at bazaar,
At booths that peddle pan-Eurasian dreams
Of class and crucible and tumor swells
(No empty cisterns, no exhausted wells)
And nowhere run the dots of febrile seams;

Oh Fibrous Lumps in all orgasmic shapes,
Oh amputation of the splitting sides,
Oh satisfaction, clean and hairless tides
Oh coming cancer, all consented rapes.
So beautiful, enough to beggar speech
And fasten prophylaxis to our wells—
The polyurethanes that reason sells—
And chain them, one another, each to each.

All flavored, scented, dressed in flowered frocks
All rigid, pulled to pieces, so demure,
All toothsome and all guaranteed (I’m sure)
To miss the rattling deaths of fighting cocks…

So stop to peck and chew the sanctioned stars,
To celebrate the chrome tongues on your hips;
But keep always (with thick syrup) on your lips:
“They speak in accents that resemble ours.”

Friday, April 3, 2009

Mortal! How sleeps't yrself!

Yeh, yeh, but in my defense, I've been either in New York, pathetically drunk, or in New York and pathetically drunk almost every moment since the last post. Let us be righteous together (in a really sort of, uh, post-righteous milieu, you know?):

Paul Parrish, "Dialogue of Wind and Lover," Forest of My Mind (1968)
It's difficult for me to suss out my affinity for the most hippie-naïf baroque-folk stuff when actually having to sit through the 'philosophical' discourses that either provoked or have been provoked by such material are the very substance of my stomach acid, and yet here on the floor in front of me (you know, the digital floor) are Of Grammatology and Sunshine Superman, and I have as yet only made spurious and fearful little gestures toward their reconciliation. (Donovan as proto-post-colonial self-deconstruction mechanism? Yehr ... ). I know virtually nothing about Parrish or his rekord: the just-this-side-of-rococo arrangement and trust-fund Los Angeles vocals are the sort of thing that I nightly whip myself for enjoying.

Millennium, "I Just Want to Be Your Friend," Begin (1968)
Speaking of that which barely avoids Swingle Singers territory (but oh, the importance of that margin), Millennium may well remain the most noteworthy of producer Curt Boettcher's string of strange, sometimes-paradisiacal, sometimes-godawful vanity projects. Boettcher was an unusual balance of studio-rat hack and orchestral-pop genius, a mercenary who concocted pseudo-psych confectionary (in fairly obvious bids for mummy & daddy's teenbeat-funding dollars) that nonetheless was sometimes some of the best pop music of its era. When it works, as it does here, it works; when it doesn't, the result is something like The Psychedelic Guitar of Friar Tuck, a record that I've combed a half-dozen times for any scrap of even the most tenuous conceptual worth and have on each occasion left with my already-meager hope for the world shaken and cheapened.

Sagittarius, "My World Fell Down," Present Tense (1968)
Another of Boettcher's, and bar-none one of the finest pop singles ... well, ever. If Pet Sounds had been shorn of the lingering Four Freshman after-effects and given a stark shot of Brian Wilson's steadily decomposing Weltordnung, it may well have come out something like this: the chorus is instant-classic material, and that eerie clockwork piano intro is unfathomable and gripping.

Them, "I Can Only Give You Everything," Them Again (1966)
Such a good slice of White garage R&B that I'm even willing to countenance Van Morrison's existence for 2'32" (okay, unfair, right). Sample-spotters and people who remember the '90s will no doubt recall the opening riff as the centerpiece of Beck's "Devil's Haircut" (he and the Dust Brothers must've been bumping this LP at the time: "Jackass" is based on the spectral tremolo-piano from Van and the boys' take on "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"). I'm far too tired for more erudite and penetrating commentary at the moment, so gawdammit, let '66 Belfast speak fer itself (you know, that self that's never itself).

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Blind Willie Johnson, "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground" (c. 1927-1930)
Here, audibly, is the bridge between field song, raw gospel, and country blues: Johnson's titanic evocation of Jesus on the cross forbids and engenders words in equal measure, demands that one either keep silent or spend one's life in the pursuit of the vast unknown realms toward which it crawls and scrapes. On the very short list of the great accomplishments of the United States government, having sent a virtually indestructible pressing of "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground," along with instructions for its playing, outside this solar system surely ranks as among the most perceptive.

Los Bravos, "Black is Black" (1966)
One of the great early efforts in what would come to be called brown-eyed soul from this pan-European Madrid-Berlin group. Everyone with a cheap radio and the electricity to operate it has almost certainly heard this track, but note the really rather incredible alacrity with which these young men laboring under Franco's fascism in Spain and the hypocritical, self-serving double-bind of American and Soviet posturing in post-war Germany tap into the hard-guitar-harder-horns Stax deep soul sound. Proof positive, as if we needed any more of it, that "rock'n'roll" began as a taxonomical means of occluding the fact that good clean Yanquís and gabachos were finally getting hip to rhythm and blues.

War, "The World Is a Ghetto" [edit], The World Is a Ghetto (1972)
El alma de los ojos marrones reached perhaps its peak in the early post-Eric Burdon records by War: like George Clinton's Parliament and Funkadelic stable, they were performing a scathing social critique, a new communitarian ethos, and an astonishing recombinant alchemy of popular and folk forms, and like George, they were eventually written off and taste-publick'd into a one-hit joke (for them, "Low Rider"; for GC, the "Atomic Dog" bassline and regrettable frat-boy bullshit). Unfortunately, Papa Yanquí persists in his limitation: the full 10 minute version of this remarkable track received the great illegal crackdown from the record label (and as we move further and further toward the destabilization of the copyright paradigm, it becomes increasingly important to educate oneself as to the actual substance of American Fair Use law: Walt Disney was essentially responsible for the bureau-kapitalist mess in which we presently find ourselves, but let's take a look at the limits of the law, courtesy this video's You Tube poster--

FAIR USE NOTICE: These pages/video may contain copyrighted (©) material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available to advance understanding of ecological, POLITICAL, HUMAN RIGHTS, economic, DEMOCRACY, scientific, MORAL, ETHICAL, and SOCIAL JUSTICE ISSUES, etc. It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior general interest in receiving similar information for research and educational purposes.

--know yr rights), but you can at least get a taste. And once you do, remember: by any means necessary ...

Henry Mancini, "Lujon" (1959)
Oh my god but this is greasy. Abuse and Henry Mancini make natural bedfellows, and I fervently do not celebrate the entire catalogue, but as the absolute apogee of poisonously slick casino steelo, this is admittedly pretty immaculate. You may remember it from Jackie Treehorn's place in The Big Lebowski.

Matthew Larkin Cassell, "In My Life," Pieces (1977)
Rapidly becoming one of those digger's-dream records; the nod goes to Dylan, proprietor of Cosmic Cheese for hipping me to this shit. We're in the proximity of serious Mystery White Boy material: Cassell put out two records in the late '70s on which he played everything but the drums and bass and promptly quit music (a digger who got in touch with him in a moment of high-powered Geek Enthousiasmos revealed that MLC "hadn't been in a recording studio since the early '80s"). Apparently the original LP fetches well over $1,000 on a regular basis; that, of course, is absurd, but were this standard of quality to be maintained, the dopenuss would be considerable--'70s corduroy reflective without being solipsistic or sappy, paisley and airy without being precious or anemic, white-funky without being a garish caricature. Only Steely Dan's best--that is to say, its least cocaine-glossy--moments have, to my knowledge, really approached such excellence in this kind of mood.

Laboratorium, "I'm Sorry, I'm Not Driver," Quasimodo (1979)
My one pseudo-claim to digging fame: I didn't discover it by any means, but goddamn if I didn't course through the narrow byways of YouTube uploading for it. I know almost nothing about it: ostensibly it's some state-sponsored arts-funding steez from the Communist era in Poland that combines heavy, not to say porn-y, funk with Pharoah Sanders/Leon Thomas-style spiritualist ecstatix (slap-pop delight bassline + Marek Stryszowski vocal solo with Auto-Harmonizer = plaese to taste my RAER).

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Man, a Plan, a Canal, Heidegger

My struggles with that pointy-physiognomy'd ex-Nazi's "The Word of Nietzsche: 'God Is Dead'" and "Metaphysics as the History of Being" have foreclosed my innanet-optional time for a minute or two here, but allow me to remunerate (possibly not on the ultimo-obscuro tip, as I'm doing this on a Very Important temporal restriction):

Notorious B.I.G., "Party and Bullshit," non-album single (1993)
Brilliant debut single from the man who would make, I am sometimes inclined to posit, what remains hip-hop's single greatest album-length statement. The Last Poets were unhappy with the way Biggie appropriated the critical "party and bullshit" refrain from their "When the Revolution Comes," but as they say, if you don't like the way things look in the ghetto, don't blame the people who live there: the fact that one of the definitive social-consciousness provocations of the Black Power era had become a sort of self-consciously empty but nonetheless alluring alternative to facing the brutalities of the post-Reagan world spoke, and continues to speak, far more eloquently than we might wish.

Mark Hollis, "Watershed," Mark Hollis (1998)
Post-apocalyptic chants and liquid flutters among the ruin of skyscrapers from the man who led Talk Talk from the New-Old-Romantic wasteland of Euro Duran Duran clones to the only band in the world doing what it did: it's lazy to tag those last two brilliant Talk Talk records, The Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock, as post-rock, in that nothing to appear in their wake and claim that tag was anywhere near as subtle or as multifarious as what they aped (in terms of instrumentation and dynamics) but failed to understand on the macrostructural level (Hollis and cohorts recorded hours of droning, shadowy improvisations which where manipulated into vaguely 'songlike' structures in a process not at all unlike Holger Czukay's visionary work with Can). Arguably, only Radiohead from Kid A on has worked toward the evolution of these ideas in a nominally pop-rock context, and if In Rainbows was any indication (one hopes it wasn't), even they have begun to take the reductivist view of themselves.

Can, "Mushroom," Tago Mago (1971)
En parlant de Can ... Jaki Liebezeit's tape-echoed drum breaks are the stuff of pure legend, Damo Suzuki sounds like post-structuralist Europe in semiotic and vocabulary chaos, and the fact that Can was an improvising group in which the European and Afro-American concepts of indeterminacy clashed from moment to moment (Czukay and keyboardist Irmin Schmidt studied avant-garde music with Karlheinz Stockhausen; Liebezeit and guitarist Michael Karoli were gigging jazzers) meant that strange disjunctions and uncomfortable bifurcated presences abounded in a way that "better" or "more cohesive" groups almost certainly couldn't have worked: listen to the way that Holger's minimalist basslines change without notice or structural signal, the way that Karoli's post-psychedelic guitar plays in and around the eerie organ chords in a way that finds ambiguity among their interstices.

Scott Walker, "Jesse," The Drift (2006)
Official Art-Damage Game Over notice: consider it served. It gets hardly more strangled, off-putting and horrific than Walker's ode to Elvis Presley's stillborn twin Jesse, to whom the King would speak in episodes of stress- and drug-addled psychosis, and the concomitant overtones of post-September 11 strike-anywhere terroristics he manages to wring from the nightmare side of that most American of symbols (see Greil Marcus' "Presliad" in Mystery Train for a brilliant examination of the Elvic mythos). "Blocks of sound" in a way that Stravinsky never could have imagined; Zappa if he had combined Varèse with Weill rather than electric R&B and avant-jazz.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Accept my GermanStrut, s'il vous plaît

The Rattles, "You Can't Have Sunshine Every Day," 7" single (1971)
The Rattles were among the first German groups to attempt The Big Cash-In at the height of the Beatles' first wave of popularity (roughly circa A Hard Day's Night): they rolled in natty mod suits, referred to themselves only by their (pseudonymous) first names, and starred in an attempted Germanicization of the Beatles-flick concept called, in that odd vein of lingering authoritarianism that German tends to lend to any Latin language, Hurra, die Rattles Kommen! (Hurrah, the Rattles Are Coming!; for other transliterary difficulties, see the German versions of the early Beatles singles, my personal favorite of which is the translation of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" that renders "Komme, gib mir deine Hand," or "Come, Give Me Your Hand"). To be fair, the Rattles had played with the putative Fab Four in the latter group's amphetamine-fueled Hamburg days, so it wasn't one of yr more egregious Curt Boettcher-style money moves, and after the British Invasion died down, Edna Béjarano (a serious contender for that lofty accolade, Rock's Gnarliest Teeth) had taken over the lead vocals and successively replaced every other member of the band, mutating it from a UK-style beat combo to a sort of riff-heavy boooogie rock with the odd orchestral pretension, something like Uriah Heep might have sounded had they not been literally (not literally) the dumbest band of all time (a fact which doesn't necessarily preclude Demons & Wizards' being a righteous slab of electric retardation).

Achim Reichel's A.R. & Machines, "As If I Had Seen All This Before," Die Grüne Reise (1971)
Reichel was one of the original Rattles and struck out in '71 with this remarkable solo LP, largely an experiment in layered guitar-tape processes that predated Robert Fripp & Brian Eno's similarly-engaged No Pussyfooting by a full year and combined the psych-minimalism with Popol Vuh-style ethnic percussives and the odd dab of come-on-people-now hippie sermonizing.

Popol Vuh, "Vuh," In den Gärten Pharaos (1971)
As long as I'm mentioning Florian Fricke's vehicle, here's a slice of what quote-unquote 'atmosphere music' was conceptually capable of before die Kulturindustrie asphyxiated it into dentist's office/Department of Motor Vehicles fare: Fricke was dedicated, perhaps beyond any nominally 'rock' musician before or since (including Eno), to exploring the psychogeographical space of monolithic sound, and In den Gärten Pharaos is a truly incomparable--in the literal sense--piece of work that situates West African, Middle Eastern, South American, Chinese, and Euro-classical tonalities and timbral gestures in a shared space without cheapening any of them, without reducing them to a pan-ethnic color wheel of First World platitudes; Fricke knew that the sounds he utilized needed to present in their rawness, specificity, and above all their alterity (in the age of watered-down 'cultural diffusion,' we forget what a truly terrifying sound a Chinese gong hit hard and recorded close really produces).

Monday, February 23, 2009

some funky shit/re-up (comme la téléphone)

James Brown and the JBs, "Get on the Good Foot/Soul Power/Make It Funky," live on Soul Train, 2/10/73
Anyone deep into funk will surely be aware of this stuff already, but lately I find myself obsessed with the Man himself--of course I've been into James since I was but a wee lad on the weeping banks of the River Shannon and me pappy told me stories of Michael Collins and Eamon DeValera whilst he did intone "Roddy McCorley" and "Kevin Barry" (facts may have been changed to reflect false history), and I think we're all fairly well appraised of the clichés regarding his music, but I think part of what's drawing me back is the timbral acuity he virtually always demonstrates. Clearly, he knew as well as anyone, perhaps better than anyone, that a major part of ça qui le fait «fonky» is the specific sound--you must pay attention, ouais?

A couple trax that I posted to my Facebook which are worth the attention of those who didn't catch them the first time:

Joe Pass, "A Time for Us," Guitar Interludes (1969)
As I mentioned on the first time around, I really can't summon even a morsel of enthusiasm for Pass' extraordinarily gabacho haute-lounge versions of bop and vocal standards arranged for one guitar, but this obvious late '60s cash-in attempt is that rare case in which the artist lunging after some teenbeat cash is much more interesting than the drive of his, ahem, muse. Sort of an Axelrod-meets-Shuggie-Otis vibe on this cover of the great Nino Rota's "A Time for Us," written for Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet ...

... and as long as I'm preaching to the convertibles, I'll mention that I can't think of that particular fleeek without calling to mind Bruce Robinson's extraordinary 1986 film Withnail & I; Robinson was Benvolio in Zeffirelli's Shakespeare adaptation, and the line in Withnail in which the titular character speculates on the services rendered by a fellow actor ("Look at this: 'Boy actor lands plum role in Italian film' ...£10 a week, and I know what for: £2 and 6 a tit and a fiver for his arse") was apparently inspired by the Italian director's constant attempts to fuck Robinson. A little-known film Stateside, but I'd put it in any list of the 5 or 10 funniest movies ever made.

William Onyeabor, "Better Change Your Mind," Whatever You Sow (1970)
Remarkable Nigerian funk single: the demure gentleness of Onyeabor's voice is an interesting counterpoint to the anti-First World politics of the lyric, and the combination of Leslie'd guitar jabs, post-kosmichemusik drums, and a seriously cheap-sounding electric organ is pure Afrobeat.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Das Sein, that sein, your sein, everybody's fuckin' sein

Ann Peebles, "You've Got the Papers," The Handwriting on the Wall (1979)
Topically speaking, a soul oddity: a song in celebration of being that "Other Woman" over whom Ike Hayes was in such a sweat, namely the woman who gets the actual affection while the legal-thing has the money and the house but little else. Ass-kicking horn arrangement, and if the way Ann sings, "But if he's using me, girl/He sure keeps me pleased," doesn't convince you that she don't give a fuck fer social convention, then you mussa wos not been listening hard enough.

Return to Forever, "Crystal Silence," Return to Forever (1972)
As with anyone absurdly talented, Chick Corea has tended to fill his career with episodes in which his vast ability gets the better of his taste and discretion: his concept albums of the late '70s and the lower points of '80s Elektric Band output are fairly dire indeed, and even the better eras of his work are rarely untouched by some interlude of questionable judgment (I seem to be fairly alone in thinking that the first incarnation of RTF got pretty god damn cloying on Light as a Feather--Flora Purim really needs not to be asked to deliver "poetry," and especially not dodgy psuedo-Hubbardian doggerel--and Romantic Warrior was the only really excellent record that the Al DiMeola lineup made, although I'll ride for the Bill Connors group and Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy 'til day's end)--all this to say nothing of his problematic religious affiliations. When he's good, though, he's great, and even after the incorporation of his innovations into the pianistic mainstream, no one really sounds like him: the combination of classically precise solo lines, open, ambiguous chord voicings, and a sense of drama of rhythmic acuity drawn equally from Spanish flamenco and the Afro-Caribbean montuno (the scalar chord fragments a pianist generally plays in salsa and related styles) remains uniquely his, and little need be said about the phenomenal quality of his compositional sense at its best. Dig him and Joe Farrell solidifying and disappearing through one of his most concise, perfect pieces.

Gong, "Sold to the Highest Buddha," Radio Gnome Invisble, Pt. II: Angel's Egg (1973)
Aussie emigré Daevid Allen was originally the guitarist for the soon-to-legendary Soft Machine, which began as something of a house band from the Simon Langton School for Boys (a historically remarkable institution at which were educated nearly all the major musicians of what would become the Canterbury scene--Robert Wyatt, Mike Ratledge, Hugh and Brian Hopper, Richard and David Sinclair, Trevor Jones); when the group played a gig in France, Allen was barred from re-entering the UK for having previously stayed there on an expired visa. Luckily, Divided Alien himself wasn't much the sort to be bothered by that kind of thing, so he quickly assembled a cadre of French and English musicians and assembled Gong in its psych-space rock phase (after his mid-'70s exit, the band would become a jazz-fusion outfit under the leadership of drummer Pierre Moerlen). Guitarist Steve Hillage and saxophonist Didier "Bloomdido Bad de Grasse" Malherbe are especially notable on this'un, and I love the way Allen's vocal moves over the off-kilter 6/4 rhythm section.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Les nouveaus riches

Eddie Palmieri, "Colombia Te Canto," Lucumi, Macumba, Voodoo (1978)
As with any music, and especially with such genres as are tied to a specific time, place, and ethnic identity (of course all are to a certain extent), New Yorican salsa (the variety of the music that flourished in the Afro-Caribbean diaspora communities in NYC) presented to its exponents the challenge of how to evolve while neither forgetting their roots nor presenting them a self-parodic, self-conscious "hip new fusion." Palmieri moved from early '60s boogaloo and Cubano dance music through the ultra-modern hard-edged urban salsa of his contemporaries and mutual influences Willie Colon, Larry Harlow, Ruben Blades, et al, and by his legendary records of the middle and later '70s (The Sun of Latin Music, Unfinished Masterpiece, and this one among them), he was brilliantly exploring long compositional forms, pioneering a sort of episodic progressive Afro-Cubanism that dealt in vibrant and physical terms with politics, race, and history.

Sly and the Family Stone, "Just Like a Baby," There's a Riot Goin' On (1971)
For a barometer of the vast paranoid comedown from curious admixture of naivete and possibility percolating through the late '60s that the '70s represented, one could do a lot worse than to trace the progression of Sly Stone's music. Set next to the hyper-inclusive one-world party anthems "Thank You (Falettin Be Mice Elf Agin)," "Dance to the Music," and "Everyday People," 1971's There's a Riot Goin' On is a smutty, junk-fueled nightmare, the sound of a nation and world turning in on themselves, Free Love and "mind expansion" looking in the cold morning light perilously like ennui-fueled kinky sex and neurotic escapism. Sly seems to narrate the Great Hangover from a secluded drug den off 125th and 8th Avenue or Carnaby Street, a hazy foxhole from which he could view Nixon, Vietnam, and assassination through the shades that his dilated pupils and the oilfires burning steadily through American nights compelled him to keep on.

Henry Cow, "Falling Away," Western Culture (1978)
Arguably the flagship avant-rock band in the relatively brief history of experimental electric music, Henry Cow dared to compose and improvise oppositional and acute quote-unquote 'rock' with a tonal, harmonic, rhythmic, and conceptual palette unlimited by any of the bourgeois distinctions between the worlds of 'high' and 'low' culture. Free and avant-composed jazz, vanguard 'progressive' (in the non-reified sense) rock, post-Romantic classical music, and the sonic specificities of avant-garde tape and electronic music (Stockhausen, Babbitt, Subotnick, et al) that popular music was just learning to hijack were all constant and considerable factors in the Cow's music, which generally tended over the group's approximately five-year lifespan to the trajectory from a complex jazz-rock to perhaps the only music outside of Zappa to negotiate the 'classical'/'pop' divide in almost exact equilibrium without falling into 'rock goes orchestral' tackiness or Braxtonian pomposity (not necessarily a comment on his musical output, mind you).

While I refuse to polemicize HC and the related contingent against equally brilliant and more clearly rock-oriented progressive groups (Genesis, Yes, the early King Crimson, and company) in the way that the English critical establishment has come to regard as a comfort, I would tend to say that, of the European progressive groups of the era, Henry Cow most evenly and judiciously split the difference between the academic and popular worlds: whereas the aforementioned prog bands were essentially interested in obtaining for rock music an extended compositional and conceptual palette, the Cow truly was neither here nor there. "Falling Away," from the second of the two suites ("History and Prospects," composed by keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Tim Hodgkinson, and "Day by Day," from woodwind player Lindsay Cooper) that comprise their final studio statement Western Culture, finds them firmly in the amplified-chamber-ensemble territory that they were essentially the first to eke out.