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.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Otis Redding = Hardest Motherfucker of All Time

My alcoholism doesn't impair my aesthetic judgment, so feel free to ask me later: I'll stand by this shit.

"Shake," live at Monterey Pop '67.

Backed by Booker T and the MGs, arguably the greatest soul/R&B band of all time, Otis assassinates "Try a Little Tenderness" on the Stax Europe package tour in 1967.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Pièces d'Afrique

One of the worst habits of the PC current of totalizing Anglo "pan-ethnicism" is to relegate everything non-White to the category of "world music," a dangerous and offensive tendency that is as such utterly of a piece with its other cultural effects: everything from Africa is "African music," for example, though of course no one would think of asking if you're into "American music" or "English music." With that in mind, let's be specific--let's do our homework:

Ray Lema & Tyour Gnaoua, "Allal" (live 2000), studio version on Safi (2001)
The term gnaoua denotes an ethnic tradition, a musical ensemble, and the type of music it plays: the gnaoua are descendants of the slave classes of sub-Saharan Africa, and a gnaoua ensemble is a group consisting of musicians, dancers, healers, seers, and their students that plays a ritualistic, cyclical, rhythmically cross-hatched music heavily influenced by both Arabic North African and continental African sounds which is generally comprised of metallic castanets called crotales, the guembri (a three-string lute that sounds something like a cross between an oud and an upright bass), and vocals. Tyour Gnaoua hails from Morocco and is led by guembra player and vocalist Adeslam Alikkane.

Ray Lema, on the other hand, is a Congolese guitarist, keyboardist, and singer (born there in 1946 when it was still Zaire) heavily influenced by various western sounds and interested in crossbreeding them with the rhythms and timbres of central Africa. The combination of his makossa- and Afrobeat-influenced sensibility with the ancient folk-mysticism of the gnaoua yields a sort of glittering, beyond-body historical futurism, an electrified traditional trance.

Fela Anikulapo Kuti, "Teacher Don't Teach Me No Nonsense" (live), studio version on Teacher Don't Teach Me No Nonsense (1986)

Fela remains possibly the best-known and certainly the most influential modern African musician in the west: the entire genre of Afrobeat, a combination of the ritual rhythms and forms of the Nigerian Yoruba, jazz improvisation, and funk-style drumkit patterns, guitar riffs, and horn stabs (themselves, of course, traditions which developed from Africa), is essentially of his invention. Fela was also a genuine political radical in a sense that is perhaps unattainable for the modern western musician: his legendary "Zombie," which mocked the militaristic Nigerian government that followed the withdrawal of White colonial powers, caused an anti-militarist backlash which eventually landed him in prison, and the story of Nigerian cops' attempt to plant drugs on him is chronicled in some detail in the monolithic "Expensive Shit."

King Sunny Adé & His African Beats, "Ja Funmi," from Jùjú Music (1982)
Adé is probably the best-known exponent of Nigerian jùjú, a style that, like Fela's Afrobeat, takes influence from the percussion ensembles of the Yoruba people but emphasizes them over the westernized funk and jazz elements one can discern in "Teacher Don't Teach Me No Nonsense"--one might (too generally) summarize the difference by saying that in Fela's music, the rhythm section sets up grooves on top of which he and the horns can riff and improvise, whereas King Sunny Adé places his percussion sections in a lead role and supports them with subtle, sometimes limpid webs of interlocking guitars and keys.

Manu Dibango, "Soul Makossa," from Soul Makossa (1972)
Makossa, a combination of Occidental funk, rock, and R&B influences with a style of Afro-Cuban big-band music called soukous popular in the Belgian and French Congo during the '30s and '40s, developed in Cameroon on the West African coast during the '70s, and its prime mover was Manu Dibango, whose breakbeat-driven form of minimalist soul music is often considered a direct precursor to the development of early-'70s funk into mid-'70s disco in the west. Dig that drum break.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Don Sebesky, "The Rape of El Morro" (1975)

Sebesky was the house arranger for Creed Taylor's CTI, the jazz-funk label equal parts legendary shit (Bob James' "Nautilus") and seriously impeachable taste (everything Bob James did from '77 forward), and as such 1975's The Rape of El Morro features the usual Creed Taylor lineup (Steve Gadd, Will Lee, a Brecker or two, Jon Faddis, Don Grolnick) and a mixture of excellent material and complete cornball shit (the cover of Scott Joplin's "Entertainer" need not have entered the world at this time or any other). The title track, however, has some nasty sambified Steve Gadd drumming, precise Rhodes pirouettes, and avant-garde classical vocalist Joan LaBarbara turning in a performance that erects a heretofore unforeseen bridge between Flora Purim and Cathy Berberian.

Precious fluid being wasted over there, Pablo

Chris Squire, "Lucky Seven," Fish Out of Water (1975): Squire's always represented a certain element of dodgy taste in Yes; he was the motivating force behind the group's early '80s transformation into an insipid stadium-rock outfit, and his outside ventures with Billy Sherwood tend toward seriously regrettable "adult contemporary" territory. His only proper solo album, however, is the gem that it doesn't really have any right to be, certainly the best of the independent ventures that Yes' members undertook in their post-Relayer hiatus from '75 to '77 (although if you can get past the half-baked Erich von Däniken-style storyline of Jon Anderson's Olias of Sunhillow, there's a lot to recommend it in sheerly sonic terms). Bill Bruford provides some of his tightest work on this dark-hued, slippery fusion track.

Jon Anderson, "Moon Ra," Olias of Sunhillow (1976): Speaking of which, there's a definite aura of Anderson's perennial post-Relayer soft-focus "spirituality" to his first solo disc, but the layering of percussion, chanting, and simple keyboard and guitar lines into a sort of futuristic ritual music provides for at least a few fascinating moments. If it seems important to educate yourself about Anderson's fictional language and the storyline he derived from Roger Dean's album artwork for Yes' Fragile--and even against anyone's best judgment, I understand that at some point it may seem that way--then by all means, dive in.

Nik Bärtsch & Ronin, "Modul 42," Holon (2008): There's really nothing on Earth that sounds quite like the Swiss pianist Nik Bärtsch's group Ronin, a quintet comprised of keys, electric bass, clarinets, drum kit, and hand percussion that its leader refers to as a "Zen funk" outfit. The band plays a moody, spare sort of textured and tactile minimalist art music, influenced by post-bop jazz and fusion in its tonalities and rare improvised solos, by funk in the fantastic drummer Kaspar Rast's geometric timekeeping, by the Reich/Riley/Glass contingent in the tendency to transpose and oppose hypnotic and asymmetrical "modules" against each other in a kind of post-Stravinskian recombinant non-linearity (which is, of course, African and Afro-Latin in derivation as well). They're either the most mathematical jazz quintet or the funkiest chamber ensemble on the planet, and Bärtsch has a rare sensitivity to the rhythmic and atmospheric specificities that the right touch can bring out of an acoustic or electric piano.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

O, the Shame of Shleeping

but as long as I'm hovering around its periphery, uh, yooowanna some tracks?

Deltron 3030, "Time Keeps on Slipping," Deltron 3030 (2000): I actually know neither this track nor this record particularly well (just hearing it for the first time), but I appreciate the sort of dusty, airy mood of surreal resignation on this'un ... in terms of mood, it reminds me of the moments of druggy calm on the early Funkadelic records, speaking of which--

Funkadelic, "I'll Stay," Standing on the Verge of Getting It On (1974): One of my favorite moments from the Parliament-Funkadelic catalogue. The very concept of George Clinton and his work has long since faded into a reified frat-boy irony, often participated in by a reified hipster irony, but for the whole of the '70s, Clinton and his cadre were making visionary, genre-spanning music (let's not forget the audacity of race boundaries in that formulation) that was perhaps the first to seize on James Brown's post-R&B music as a philosophical and hermeneutic system as well as some fonky shit. Lest we forget, Eddie Hazel (on this cut) and his successor Michael Hampton could smoke virtually any White-boy post-blues guitar hero--seriously, dig either one of them on any rendition of "Maggot Brain" and try to tell me that Eric Clapton is some heavy shit.

Soft Machine, "Bundles" and "Floating World" [live], both later released on Bundles (1975): I wouldn't rate this version of the group anywhere near the Ratledge/Hopper/Wyatt/Dean incarnation in terms of innovation or idiosyncrasy (embedding is disabled on this, for some reason, but watch them murk Paris in 1970 here), but I do think this is a particularly nice duo of pieces, and it's always a privilege to hear Allan Holdsworth during the brief era in which he had some grit (though even at this early stage he displays his chronic inability to shut the fuck up); he eventually got technically fluid beyond a point that permitted him to keep the musicality of his playing in the forefront of his mind and ended up firmly in ehhhhhh-ville (sometime between Gong's Gazeuse! and his first solo discs, perhaps).

Emitt Rhodes, "With My Face on the Floor," Emitt Rhodes (1970): Hey, it's popmusik. Rhodes was the frontman for California sunshine-psych group the Merry-Go-Round, best remembered for the so-so "Live" but better represented by the brilliant "You're a Very Lovely Woman" (a sort of orchestral-pop tango melodrama: dig here), and wrote, played, and recorded everything on this brilliant eponymous LP. Pop fans of every stripe need this shit, and you'll have to steal it or pay $40 for a Japanese import CD, because of course you would never download it.