February 15, 2011

Colin Stetson — Home (New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges)


You go to a city for the first time. Its smells and pallet strike you as natural, second nature. You’ve been there or belong there. Each corridor and storefront more welcoming than the last, and your ass fits perfectly into every barstool. The bone structures in the faces that pass stir a gut recognition, and even the voices of bartenders and waitresses sound like family. You were shot out into the world three decades ago, 2,000 miles away and you keep finding places that feel like home.

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December 14, 2010

Bill Evans — Peace Piece (Everybody Digs Bill Evans)


Believe this: My grandmother, Janice Nash, made toast — among many other things — better than you can really imagine. It’s simply a process of taking the toast out of the toaster at specific intervals, and adding butter in such a way. I’ve attempted her method on my own, but to no avail. I can’t explain the golden, melt-on-your-tongue perfection of said toast any better than I can write about jazz. Or really, any better than I can write about a person who loved me more than I’ve loved anything so far. For two nights now, after a whirlwind trip to New York and Philly and back in this quiet house with a giant sleeping cat, I’ve been alone with the strange emptiness and helpless feeling a loss like this leaves. I found the last card she sent me, which simply reads “Just Rolling By…” and I stuck my face in its crease to see if a smell remained that could conjure up a vivid memory — the sheets in the room of her house where I stayed, the Shirley Temples she used to make my sister and I when we would spend New Year’s Eve in her living room. I found one of the individual bags of candy she prepared each year for trick-or-treaters that I grabbed on a visit to her house this fall and later stuffed in our snack cabinet. It’s contents remain untouched. I stuck my nose inside, again attempting to conjure something, anything. No smell other than the particular musky wood smell of my kitchen’s snack cabinet, but I was instantly covered in goosebumps. They haven’t stopped. This year, I was lucky enough to be her date to my cousin’s wedding in Las Vegas, a city my grandma loved. Our hotel room had two king-size beds. I’d come in late, drunk, crashing into my pillow. I rarely sleep through the night, waking several times until morning. Every time I’d wake up in the hotel room, I’d see my grandmother laying down in her bed, staring across the room at me, smiling. I’d smile too and drift back off. 

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November 14, 2010

Mulatu Astatke — Tezeta (Ethiopiques Vol. 4: Ethio Jazz & Musique Intrumentale, 1969-1974)

I am one of the few people I know who wasn’t bowled over by Bill Callahan’s last record, Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle. Across the board, most everyone I’ve talked to about it is smitten with it. Truly, I think his trio of albums leading up to it (Supper, A River Ain’t Too Much To Love and Woke on a Whaleheart) might just prove to be his hat trick of masterpieces [note: Supper and A River Ain’t Too Much To Love released under Callahan’s Smog moniker]. They also find Callahan in a better mood than we find him most times — er, as good a mood as we could hope for, a lot of credit probably going to his now-defunct romantic relationship with a one Joanna Newsom during which at least two of those records were made (Newsom plays on A River Ain’t Too Much…). On those three, his wordplay, composition and instrumentation are all spritelier. You can almost hear him grinning as the words come out. There’s nary a grin to be found on the latest record. That said, Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle contains some Callahan lyrics I oft-return to in my mind: “I used to be darker/Then, I got lighter/Then, I got dark again/Something too big to be seen/Was passing over and over me.” Nothing fancy here, just a cloud metaphor. But it gets you thinking about the chapters of your life, those times when it seems your stars have all aligned, you’re unbeatable; but also your down and out phases, your pricklier times. I feel the big shadow at the moment. Maybe it’s seasonal, astrological, etc. I’m just listening to “Tezeta” on repeat, trying not to look at the cloud, let it take its course. The stars have aligned, turned surpetine and are an orobourus circling all around us now. And I’m actually thinking about a Newsom song, “Go Long,” which makes some obvious allusions to Callahan’s return to darkness: “There’s a man/Who will only speak in code/Backing slowly, slowly down the road/May he master everything/That such a man may know/About loving, and then letting go.”

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November 11, 2010

Eddie Gale - Fulton Street (Eddie Gale’s Ghetto Music)

This week, I watched Crooklyn with my girlfriend. We made veggie sloppy joes (sloppy fauxs), pulled out the blow-up mattress and camped out in the living room. I hadn’t seen this particular Spike Lee Joint since grade school. I owned the double-cassette soundtrack at the time. The movie is essentially Do The Right Thing as children’s tale, but more family-focused than community-focused, more concerned with nostalgia than revolution. Colorful and claustrophobic, it trades in Mookie for a 10-yr-old little girl in a house full of brothers of varying ages in 1973 Brooklyn. Eddie Gale’s Ghetto Music could probably serve as the Crooklyn score, maybe to balance out all the classic R&B. Just as colorful (pay no mind to the greyscale of its cover) and claustrophobic and hyper-real as any sequence in Crooklyn, Gale’s work here is yet another shining example of why I think the solo projects of Sun Ra’s army are sometimes more interesting than Sun Ra himself (see also: Philip Cohran). The space/momentum dynamic of this song is pretty astounding — players clawing to catch up with one another during some phrases; then other times, locking into this exotic rhythm. The father in Crooklyn is a jazz musician, out late at gigs most nights. I imagined him sitting in with Sun Ra or Gale. That’s why he’s the coolest motherfucker in the household. Also, Christy cried when the mom died and during most every scene that followed. 

November 2, 2010

Keith Jarrett — Part II C (The Köln Concert )

This is going to be a toughy to write. Not because the music here is unfathomable in its concept or beyond language. Not exactly. Rather, it’s because I recently swore off the use of the word “cosmic,” at least for a while. I’ve used it so much to describe music that it’s become a default of sorts, a descriptive crutch. It’s overuse brings to mind an acid casualty, lost in the mystic. And well, the first person to ever mention pianist Keith Jarrett to me used that “c” word specifically. It was at a party, and I was drinking a High Life camouflage can. I can’t remember the city, the house or the person with whom I was speaking. But I do know I was going on about Bruce Hornsby, whose two albums with his band The Range, Scenes From The Southside and The Way It Is, I consider personal classics. The same Bruce Hornsby who in 1993 petitioned Virginia’s governor to give an up and coming high school basketball star named Allen Iverson a pardon on an overzealous court punishment for (maybe, probably) participating in a brawl at a bowling alley. Hornsby actually requested a one-on-one game with Iverson at the time, insisting Iverson adhere to his “piano hands” rules of play (a finger protection policy). So, there I was, talking about how in love with Hornsby’s piano work I was/am — his wide open, yet stabbing and lyrical, runs. Weird typing this and thinking of myself as a person who discusses Bruce Hornsby as social gatherings. I suck. But the person I was talking to seemed responsive. “You should give a listen to Keith Jarrett sometime. It’s like cosmic Hornsby,” the person suggested. And dammit, Jarrett is a cosmic Hornsby. And what you hear here is the last 5 minutes of a hours’ journey of concentration, melodic improvisation and, dare I say, wide open, yet stabbing and lyrical, runs that would have Hornsby eating his heart out. Again, dude is making this up as he goes along. Every fucking note and melody. Winging it. And well, yes, one more time for the road, cosmic

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October 15, 2010

Roberta Flack — Ballad of the Sad Young Men

In early 1969, a young Roberta Flack sat down in a studio and supposedly pumped out First Take in a matter of hours (hence the title). Forty-one years later, Bloomington is on fire, yet the air is shot through with a chill, a tap on the shoulder from the coming bleak winter. I turn around, and nothing’s there. Well, Roberta Flack is there. And like Regina Spektor’s “Poor Little Rich Boy” did five years ago, Roberta’s “Ballad of the Sad Young Men” has me shot through with regret, anxiousness, doom and somehow, still, a bittersweet sense of hope. I’ve got the weird grin of defeat. She’s yanking down my trousers to reveal legs covered in goosebumps. We may be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us. Is Roberta really a sympathizer or is she calling me out? Probably best to give this a good, deep listen and check out the lyrics (not penned by Ms. Flack):

Sing a song of sad young men
Glasses full of rye
All the news
Is bad again
Kiss your dreams goodbye
All the sad young men
Sitting at the bars
Drinking up the night
Missing all the stars
All the sad young men
Drifting through the town
Drinking up the night
Trying not to drown
All the sad young men
Singing in the cold
Trying to forget
That they are growing old
All the sad young men
Choking on their youth
Trying to be brave
Running from the truth
Autumn turns the leaves to gold
Slowly dies the heart
Sad young men are growing old
And that’s the cruelest part
All the sad young men
Seek a certain smile
Someone they can hold
For just a little while
Tired little girl
She does the best that she can
Trying to be gay
For a sad young man
While a grimy moon
Blossoms up above
All the sad young men
They play at making love
Misbegotten moon
Shine for sad young men
May your gentle light
Guide them home again 

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October 9, 2010

Sonny Sharrock — Peanut

This is negro Kabuki. It’s 1969, and it will be more than a year before Yoko Ono and John Lennon unleash Ono’s visionary, truly groundbreaking Plastic Ono Band, with its influence stuck so deep down that only 30-plus years from now will we really see clear traces of its lineage in experimental-leaning independent music. But yeah, Plastic Ono Band is still a year out from release. And now, RIGHT NOW, 1969, here, in the Lower East, Sonny and Linda Sharrock are giving us Black Woman, a set I will go back to more often and find, once this smoke has cleared, more affecting and soulful than Ono’s offering. It’s a pillar of the new-wave/no-wave scenes coming up in a half-decade or so. Vocal gyrations and spazz-outs that go from the irritating to the challenging, from the empowering to the calming, cosmic Om. Granted, Ono has been exploring her hetai caterwaul for the better part of the 60s, and free-shrieking similar to what Linda Sharrock does on Black Woman has been happening in the out-jazz scene for a decade now. But Linda’s vocal stretching is free-er than anything we’ve known so far. It’s the knifing pangs and uknowable joys of childbirth. Yes, it’s the backseat-of-a-cab mid-August birth of an entire nation of peoples. And this mother knows the sorrows this childnation will face, but also how strong and free this childnation will grow. She screams for it all, for the universal loneliness and oneness, the Alpha and the Obama. It’s the chains and the tearing of the chains from the wall. It’s in Sonny’s unfuckwithable equatorial skronk guitar stabs. It’s in the piano/drums mad mad mad tango that —although performed by two different musicians here (Burrell and Graves) — foreshadows all that drummer-as-keys-player shit that will be the hotness through the late 90s in Chicago’s frantic, faux-math spazzcore scene. But it’s always, always in Linda’s voice. And it alone will be the deciding factor as to whether you are onboard here or not. 

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October 3, 2010

Alice Coltrane — Om Supreme (Eternity)

Michael Jackson died of a self-prescribed drug overdose of various heavy-hitting pain killers on June 25, 2009. The basement record label at which I work grew pretty somber that late afternoon. As the last hours of the day oozed by, we played over the office stereo which Jackson songs we could locate on our work laptops: the underwhelming Paul McCartney collaboration “Say Say Say,” “I Wanna Rock With You,” and perhaps what would become the most overplayed Jackson number in the months (nee year) following his passing, “Human Nature.” A few of us gathered after work at a sports bar patio to hoist some cheap Budweiser tallboys whilst the undergrad bartender rigged the digital juke box to keep the Jackson tunes coming. We kept talking about the great, inspiring 1980s photograph of Michael Jackson with E.T., the Extra Terrestrial, and how it forever placed Jackson in a world beyond our own, on some sort of pop astral plane. We all split after a bit, and I headed home to catch some sleep, as I was to be on duty later that night, driving a bicycle taxi around the college bar scene. It was a job that had me up beyond 4 a.m. on some nights. A thunderstorm rolled in just as I was about to head out for the bike taxi gig, and I ended up drinking wine on my front porch with my roommate and his buddy. In a long moment of silence, they asked me to put on a record, and I picked out Alice Coltrane’s Eternity. It served us well as we talked again of Jackson’s brilliant, eccentric and endlessly captivating body of work and life. But I grew silent when the haunting, deep electric keys of “Om  Supreme” came heavy through the porch’s screen door, a slow fist through the screen. Once again, that image of Jackson and E.T. came rushing to the front of my mind. And now a deep, sweet lyrical phrase flows up into the song: “When I called you to California, you knew I would meet you in California. When I called you to come to California, you knew I would meet you in California..” And it’s more than California, it’s California as Nirvana, as Xanadu, as Narnia. And suddenly, in my winedrunk thought, E.T. is more than a plastic alien character from a classic 80s sci-fi movie and Jackson, more than a really great dancer with a really great voice beloved by music fans across the world. Then, this cantation shifts into a call to god (?): “Om supreme bogidva (sp?)….” And I imagine E.T.’s great, white hot pinball game of a spacecraft at the end of his film, and I see Jackson slowly, confidently boarding, finally bound for the Great California in the Sky, the one we imagine in The Beach Boys’ songs or forever framed in vintage surf magazines. And Alice Coltrane is putting Michael Jackson in clearer perspective than “Human Nature” or “Man in the Mirror” might ever be able. I finish my wine and turn in while Eternity rides out and the fellows on the porch polish off the rest of the bottle. Later, I would read Maya Angelou’s poem (read by Queen Latifah at a celebrity led memorial) for Jackson and think again of that night on the porch:

Beloveds, now we know that we know nothing, now that our bright and shining star can slip away from our fingertips like a puff of summer wind.

Without notice, our dear love can escape our doting embrace. Sing our songs among the stars and walk our dances across the face of the moon.

…We were enchanted with his passion because he held nothing. He gave us all he had been given.

Today in Tokyo, beneath the Eiffel Tower, in Ghana’s Black Star Square.

In Johannesburg and Pittsburgh, in Birmingham, Alabama, and Birmingham, England

We are missing Michael.

But we do know we had him, and we are the world.

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