Tuesday, December 28, 2004

PLACE HOLDER

Albums I have most recently added to my iPod:

Dexter Gordon, Our Man In Paris
Joe Henderson, In 'n' Out
Lamb, Lamb
Lamb, Fear Of Fours
Lamb, What Sound
Lamb, Between Darkness And Wonder
Last Exit, Cassette Recordings '87
Last Exit, The Noise Of Trouble (Live In Tokyo)
Last Exit, Iron Path
Swallow The Sun, The Morning Never Came

Sunday, December 19, 2004

ANOTHER YEAR GONE

Here's my Top Ten list for the Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll.

1. Anata - Under A Stone With No Inscription (Earache)
2. Bjork - Medulla (Atlantic)
3. Decapitated - The Negation (Earache)
4. Electric Wizard - We Live (Rise Above)
5. Ghostface - The Pretty Toney Album (Def Jam)
6. Lamb Of God - Ashes Of The Wake (Epic)
7. Mastodon - Leviathan (Relapse)
8. Necrophagist - Epitaph (Relapse)
9. Pig Destroyer - Terrifyer (Relapse)
10. Matthew Shipp - Harmony & Abyss (Thirsty Ear)


Matthew Shipp

Ghostface

Electric Wizard

Thursday, December 09, 2004

DEATH METAL

Darkest Hour are playing Cleveland. If you're in Cleveland, you could do worse. Their drum sound doesn't bother me as much as it did when I wrote that, though it's still crappy compared to, say, Grave's on Back From The Grave, and given how much Darkest Hour steal from Swedish death metal, they should have done a better job.

In other news, some piece of shit killed Dimebag Darrell. Nobody knows why just yet.

Damageplan weren't great, but they were better than the other Pantera offshoot project, Superjoint Ritual. I saw Superjoint on Ozzfest this summer, and Phil Anselmo spent more time ranting in a heroin haze than "singing" (now that he's a super-tough hardcore guy, his voice has gone completely to shit). The band stood behind him, waiting him out and almost literally tapping their feet as the guitars fed back and the crowd heckled. It was one of the worst performances I've ever seen.

Granted, Pantera weren't superb the time I saw them, either (1996 at Roseland, with Neurosis and Clutch opening up). They were too loud for the venue - the guitars were just a huge juddering roar, and their drums sounded like a skyscraper collapsing. Darrell could really play, though, and he had a sound lots of people ripped off, without ever capturing what was unique about it. He'll be missed. I wish I'd gone to see Damageplan when I had the chance.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

VIRUS

This is one of the creepier articles I've read recently.

It's always fascinating, the things people will volunteer for. Reminds me of a Yakov Smirnoff routine: in Soviet Russia, you sell out your neighbors. In America, you sell to your neighbors! What a country!

I guess it's not much different than becoming an Avon or Amway or Popular Club Plan salesperson - you've gotta prey on your nearest and dearest, get 'em roped in just as tight as you are...except with this whole voluntary-viral-marketing thing, you don't even get paid. The "agents" are literally doing it just for the pleasure they take in getting one over on the people they're marketing to - the subterfuge, and the insider cool, are the reward.

People are fucked up.

And check out the anecdote, near the end, of a guy who posted a classified ad saying nothing more than "Join Me" with a phone number. Good thing he decided to make the respondents do good deeds, and didn't just start passing out suitcase nukes and anthrax vials, huh?

More material for the next book...

Thursday, December 02, 2004

RUSTY METAL

Are Anthrax getting too reliant on back catalog regurgitation? I think so; you make the call.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

ROLLINS



Sonny Rollins' Our Man In Jazz is easily my favorite of his albums, a long-underrated disc that should be getting overdue acclaim any time now, thanks to a recent reissue (BMG International, but fairly easy to come by on Amazon and in finer stores). The band is Rollins on tenor sax, Don Cherry (fresh from Ornette Coleman's quartet) on cornet, Bob Cranshaw on bass, and Billy Higgins on drums, recorded live at the Village Gate in June 1962. (Henry Grimes replaced Cranshaw for three studio tracks from February 1963, which are now appended as bonuses on the reissue.)

The album opens with a 25-minute version of "Oleo" that pretty much dissolves the original in an acid bath. It makes Coltrane's "Chasin' The Trane" seem like the unhinged rant it was. (It's okay to admit it.) Not only does this "Oleo" have all the balls-out soloing anybody at that time or any point since ever want, it also retains swing and melody, which "Chasin' The Trane" abandons in favor of raw emotionalism.

The other two tracks on the original record are "Dearly Beloved," a ballad, and "Doxy." Not many people play "Doxy" anymore - it hasn't made it as far into the standard repertoire as other Rollins compositions, like "Oleo" and "Airegin." The only version I'm really familiar with is Branford Marsalis's, on Trio Jeepy. It's a nice tune, though, and this band really works it over.

Rollins works best without a piano. The one time I saw him live, a half-dozen years or more ago at Tramps, he had Stephen Scott on piano, who I like, and who took the best solo of the night. But it's when Rollins has to keep the chord changes in his head, instead of being reminded of them by some plunker, that he really goes on long-distance flights, none more than on Our Man In Jazz (and another underrated disc, East Broadway Run Down, which I also recommend).

I'm talking about this because I just got the two-volume Rollins Meets Cherry discs on Moon Records, long out of print but well worth the search. These are live tapes from Rollins' 1963 European tour with the Cherry-Grimes-Higgins band, and they're even more exploratory than Our Man In Jazz. I guess they were all more comfortable with each other, particularly the two horn players, who seem to have integrated their very different approaches better than they had the previous year. Grimes is fantastic, too, though, bowing the hell out of the bass like a cross between Paul Chambers (who doubtless influenced him) and William Parker (who'd follow in his wake, 20 years later). The recordings are high-quality, and very clear, unlike other Moon releases I've heard, and that's a damn good thing considering the extraordinary music they contain. If you can find all three of these discs, you'll really have something to be thankful for.

Friday, November 19, 2004

NEW SOUNDS

Sometimes you randomly encounter something that reminds you that people you've never met have a totally different conception of what constitutes "music" than you. I followed a link from Screenhead to this.

Cool, huh?

The animation is sort of fun, but the sound of it is what fascinates me. It kinda reminds me of a much more melodic and poppy Datach'i, a statement which only demonstrates how woefully out of date my electronic music knowledge is. Shit, there are probably 2000 artists/groups doing things that sound exactly like Juicy Panic, and I have no idea because I live in the ghetto, at the intersection of Metal and Jazz Streets. But hey - I clicked the link, the sounds slapped me in the side of the head in a pleasurable way, and that's all that matters. I might even seek out the CD and buy it.

Speaking of metal and jazz, the following records are worth your time (make notes, because some of 'em won't be out until early 2005):

Jason Moran, Same Mother (Blue Note)
The Flying Luttenbachers, The Void (Troubleman Unlimited)
Anthrax, The Greater Of Two Evils (Sanctuary)
He Is Legend, I Am Hollywood (Solid State)
Isis, Panopticon (Ipecac)
Pig Destroyer, Terrifyer (Relapse)

Thursday, November 11, 2004

DRUMS

First, some thoughts on the new Napalm Death album.

Now, drums.

I've been listening to a lot of late-60s Archie Shepp albums. Not just the BYG titles (Poem For Malcolm and Yasmina, A Black Woman and Blasé and Live In Antibes) but also the contemporaneous releases Black Gypsy and Coral Rock. I haven't dug too deeply into his slightly earlier Impulse! stuff; I've only heard Four For Trane and Live In San Francisco, and the latter was kind of a disappointment (I think the utter wankfest Three For A Quarter, One For A Dime, appended as a bonus track, was what ruined it for me). I'm planning to get around to The Way Ahead and Mama Too Tight, though - just not this week or next.

Anyway, the drum sound on Coral Rock and Black Gypsy and some of the BYG studio albums is what's been worming around inside my head for a little while now. Shepp's sax tone is impressive, sure, but the backing band as a whole is mixed so weirdly that when I'm listening to the records, it's all I can focus on. (It helps that a lot of the tracks are 20-minutes-plus, and feature lengthy stretches of rhythm section vamping with only a little chanting or whatever going on up front.)

The drums don't sound like drums. They sound like cardboard boxes stuffed with rags, being thumped by wooden rulers stolen from a nearby elementary school. No echo, no reverb, no crack of the snare. Just thump, thump, thump, like someone stomping on the ceiling in thick socks.

Before hearing these Shepp albums, the weirdest, most distinctive drum sound I'd heard was Ted Parsons' on Prong's Beg To Differ album. Again completely reverb-free, it was a dry crack like snapping tree branches in an airless room, and it totally matched their harsh but ultra-tight post-hardcore version of metal. I'm also fascinated by the way Sunny Murray, on his albums and other folks', attacks the cymbals like a three-year-old, just slashing away at them until the whole middle of the mix is a continuous white-noise crash, like tidal waves sweeping away seaside hotels. (I used that line in my first book, but I haven't thought of a better one yet, so too bad.) This thumping on all these Shepp records is something else again, though. Even the cymbals sound muffled, in a way, like they're made of thick tin, or stainless steel, rather than copper.

In a way, it adds to the primitive feel of the records - and make no mistake, Shepp's sax playing is downright Neanderthal at times, and I'm sure it's deliberate. After all, he once said, "I'm not a romantic - I'm a sentimentalist." Hand him an array of brushes, he'll grab the broadest one every time.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

ALICE

Got two Alice Coltrane albums in the mail today: World Galaxy and Universal Consciousness. (I actually got World Galaxy from Forced Exposure, not Amazon, and saved myself a few bucks by doing so.)

I have six Alice Coltrane discs, all but one purchased within the last 6-8 months. I started, some time ago, with Ptah, The El Daoud, which is okay, but it's her most straight-ahead album (that I've heard). There are no strings, and the pieces are mostly Eastern modal vamps with some relatively sedate saxophone solos by Joe Henderson and Pharoah Sanders. At this point, it's probably tied with A Monastic Trio as my least favorite AC disc. I wouldn't recommend it as a starting point.

Transfiguration, on the other hand, is a balls-out monsterpiece, virtually a must-hear. It's mostly a trio date, recorded live at UCLA shortly before Alice vanished to become a full-time spiritual healer or whatever. She plays a little harp, which is cool, especially when the string section comes out for a couple of tracks, but the insane nearly-40-minute version of "Leo" that takes up most of Disc 2 (it's a 2-CD set, but surprisingly cheap) is why you should buy it. She really fries the organ, slamming the keys like the wrath of Kali, and sending bursts of howling distortion off the stage into the unsuspecting audience. The rhythm section (Reggie Workman on bass and Roy Haynes on drums) goes absolutely apeshit behind her, Haynes in particular. Alice's generally pacific demeanor is totally belied by this mind-roasting performance.

Universal Consciousness has some of this same lunatic energy, particularly on "Battle At Armageddon" and "The Ankh Of Amen-Ra," which are duos with drummer Rashied Ali. Once again, Alice tears into the organ like nobody since Larry Young, and Ali skitters around like a roach trying to avoid her stomping foot. The album's opening title cut is also pretty hot - it features four violin players (including Leroy Jenkins) along with bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Jack DeJohnette (whom Alice had previously employed on Illuminations, her collaboration with Carlos Santana, which is also well worth your time), and the string arrangements are by Ornette Coleman, which is why they're so jaggedly beautiful, like a sculpture made from barbed wire and broken glass gleaming at sunrise. Coleman also arranges two other tracks on the album, "Oh, Allah" and "Hare Krishna," and they're, if possible, even weirder and more out than the title track.

World Galaxy is actually credited to "Alice Coltrane With Strings," and it's a more sedate record. The only exception to the generally soothing vibe is the closing version of "A Love Supreme," which features spiritual recitations from Swami Satchindananda (woo hoo), but which makes up for that by including some meat-eating sax by Frank Lowe (why every home in America doesn't contain a copy of his Black Beings is a mystery to me). The whole album is nice, though, and worth hearing even for $30, which is what my copy cost me.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

WELCOME TO THE FALL (NO, I DON'T MEAN AUTUMN)

I don't have much to say about the election. I've always believed that I lived in a right-wing country that occasionally had brief spasms of liberalism, always followed by recriminations, rage, and a sprawling headlong dive into the darkest depths of so-called "conservatism" at first opportunity. Clinton didn't win a majority his first time, remember. Perot won it for him. The second time, he won, but hardly anybody showed up, because Dole didn't angry up the Bible-thumpers.

Well, George W. sure didn't make that mistake, did he? More anti-science, anti-homo, anti-furriner, gun-totin', Jesus-lovin' dipshits turned out this time than ever before.

What century is this, again?

I think those people should chop their thumbs off, if they're as opposed to evolution as they claim to be. Don't need thumbs to turn pages in the Bible.

Ah, fuck it. Nobody wants to know what I think about politics. I'll shut up after I say this:

If you disagree with him on social, economic and environmental issues, but you voted for this cocksucker anyway, because you thought he'd protect you from terrorists, as some folks claim they did, you are what is known as a "useful idiot."

The Republican Party exists to reward the powerful and enforce Old Testament morality on everyone else. They want your vote, but they don't want your opinion. If you put your progressive social views aside and said "save me from the Ay-rabs, Big Daddy," you helped empower the theocrats, and I have nothing but contempt for you.

On another subject, I recently interviewed Dave Mustaine of Megadeth. The results of our conversation (which made the 16-year-old me very happy indeed) are here. If they come to your town, go see them. Let your rage out.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

STAND UP AND SHOUT

The more people show, the better Kerry does. Low turnout is a gift to the Republicans. So get in line.

I waited in line 40 minutes to get a chicken sandwich at Ozzfest this summer, and it didn't have lettuce, tomato, any condiments, or anything. It was a dry chicken cutlet on a dry roll. No matter how long I have to wait in line at the polling place tonight (and I'm surprised to find out there's a massive crowd - my neighborhood is heavily slanted toward new immigrants and noncitizens, but the street is damn close to blocked with cars and pedestrians), it'll be worth at least as much as that sandwich was.

In case you still need convincing, read this. It's the best endorsement I've read all year.

Monday, November 01, 2004

SOMEBODY OUGHTA DO SOMETHING

Here are some thoughts on Nazism.

No, I'm not posting this the day before Election Day to make some larger point.

But get the fuck out there and vote anyway, all right? Thanks.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

WHAT I'VE BEEN WORKING ON

One new review this week:



The Electric Wizard, They Live

I think this is out in America now, so go get yourself one.

You might also want to check out Jandek On Corwood.

(If you haven't heard the MP3s of his live performance yet, they're available here.)

Monday, October 25, 2004

I, PHILISTINE

Since signing up for Netflix I've rented a bunch of movies in a category best named Films I Should Be Seen To Have Seen. Arty stuff of good reputation, canonical stuff. And, just as I sort of suspected as I clicked them into my rental queue, they've been disappointments.

Take Last Tango In Paris. I rented Bertolucci's The Dreamers, which was pretty good. Not great, but pretty good. So I figured I should check out Last Tango, since it starred Marlon "greatest actor in modern history" Brando and was generally conceded to be a masterpiece.

I lasted half an hour.

Not only was the sexual interaction sub-porn in its insipidity, the dialogue was even dumber. It was a hash of free love pseudo-philosophy as muttered by a middle-aged guy preying on a young girl who was there for no reason I could divine in the time I wasted watching the thing. The whole Brando-Schneider relationship reminded me of Dick Cheney trying to pick up Mandy Moore.

Brando's terminally overrated anyway. I liked him in Apocalypse Now, and he was acceptable in On The Waterfront, but Lee Marvin ate his lunch for him in The Wild One, and in Last Tango he tries so hard to look like he's not trying that watching him gave me a headache. If you haven't seen this movie, spare yourself.

So, fresh from that disappointment, I rented the first season of The Office. This is another case where something's been canonized, and I've heard/read it hyped to the heavens by pretty much every single person I know. So I knew it was going to disappoint me, because these days it seems like nothing is as good as people say it is.

I think it's a culture-wide movement - it's no longer enough to say something is "tolerable" or "acceptable." It must always be a work of genius, otherwise the opinionator feels like rendering a verdict isn't worth his/her time, or something.

The Office is good, but it's not that good. I've watched the first four episodes of the first (six-episode-long) season so far, and there have been quite a few laughs, but did I weep with joy? No. Did I weep with the bitter realization of my own worthless existence - as I, too, work in an office? No. Was I overwhelmed by the brilliance of the characterizations and the performances? No. I laughed a few times. End of story.

I think it's me, though. I like crap.

Because, you see, in the same batch of mail that offered The Office, I got The Day After Tomorrow, the eco-apocalypse thriller, and I liked that a whole lot. Not just because it had CGI footage of Manhattan being destroyed, and not just because most of the action took place mere blocks from my job, but because it had such a brilliant ending. Sure, Dennis Quaid is reunited with his semi-but-not-really estranged son, and that's supposed to leave us (the viewers) feeling good. But the world has still tumbled into an ice age! So how is this a happy ending? "Gee, Dad, sure is good to see you again. Let's trundle through the snowy wasteland that was once Manhattan, talking about my childhood. You know, before mankind destroyed the environment and rendered 2/3 of the planet uninhabitable. C'mon." [Cue Andy Griffith Show-esque whistling.]

That's what's great about The Day After Tomorrow - it doesn't end with an ironic wisecrack, the way an 80s action movie would. It just presents this tableau of family bonding, deadpan. Brilliant, I tell you.

This week, I've got a documentary on Derrida, and Van Helsing, coming. I can't wait.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

THE AMERICAN IN ME

Apologies in advance for the length of this post.

Below is an (abridged) exchange between novelist Neal Stephenson and a reader. My comments come after.

The reader, MosesJones, asks:

Science Fiction is normally relegated to specialist publications rather than having reviews in the mainstream press. Seen as "fringe" and a bit sad, it's seldom reviewed with anything more than condescension by the "quality" press.
Does it bother you that people like Jeffrey Archer or Jackie Collins seem to get more respect for their writing than you?


Stephenson replies, in part:

[A] while back, I went to a writers' conference. I was making chitchat with another writer, a critically acclaimed literary novelist who taught at a university. She had never heard of me. After we'd exchanged a bit of of small talk, she asked me "And where do you teach?" just as naturally as one Slashdotter would ask another "And which distro do you use?"

I was taken aback. "I don't teach anywhere," I said.

Her turn to be taken aback. "Then what do you do?"

"I'm...a writer," I said. Which admittedly was a stupid thing to say, since she already knew that.

"Yes, but what do you do?"

I couldn't think of how to answer the question - I'd already answered it!

"You can't make a living out of being a writer, so how do you make money?" she tried.

"From...being a writer," I stammered.

At this point she finally got it, and her whole affect changed. She wasn't snobbish about it. But it was obvious that, in her mind, the sort of writer who actually made a living from it was an entirely different creature from the sort she generally associated with.

And once I got over the excruciating awkwardness of this conversation, I began to think she was right in thinking so. One way to classify artists is by to whom they are accountable.

...

Accountability in the writing profession has been bifurcated for many centuries. I already mentioned that Dante and other writers were supported by patrons at least as far back as the Renaissance. But I doubt that Beowulf was written on commission. Probably there was a collection of legends and tales that had been passed along in an oral tradition---which is just a fancy way of saying that lots of people liked those stories and wanted to hear them told. And at some point perhaps there was an especially well-liked storyteller who pulled a few such tales together and fashioned them into the what we now know as Beowulf. Maybe there was a king or other wealthy patron who then caused the tale to be written down by a scribe. But I doubt it was created at the behest of a king. It was created at the behest of lots and lots of intoxicated Frisians sitting around the fire wanting to hear a yarn. And there was no grand purpose behind its creation, as there was with the painting of the Sistine Chapel.

The novel is a very new form of art. It was unthinkable until the invention of printing and impractical until a significant fraction of the population became literate. But when the conditions were right, it suddenly became huge. The great serialized novelists of the 19th Century were like rock stars or movie stars. The printing press and the apparatus of publishing had given these creators a means to bypass traditional arbiters and gatekeepers of culture and connect directly to a mass audience. And the economics worked out such that they didn't need to land a commission or find a patron in order to put bread on the table. The creators of those novels were therefore able to have a connection with a mass audience and a livelihood fundamentally different from other types of artists.

Nowadays, rock stars and movie stars are making all the money. But the publishing industry still works for some lucky novelists who find a way to establish a connection with a readership sufficiently large to put bread on their tables. It's conventional to refer to these as "commercial" novelists, but I hate that term, so I'm going to call them Beowulf writers.

But this is not true for a great many other writers who are every bit as talented and worthy of finding readers. And so, in addition, we have got an alternate system that makes it possible for those writers to pursue their careers and make their voices heard. Just as Renaissance princes supported writers like Dante because they felt it was the right thing to do, there are many affluent persons in modern society who, by making donations to cultural institutions like universities, support all sorts of artists, including writers. Usually they are called "literary" as opposed to "commercial" but I hate that term too, so I'm going to call them Dante writers. And this is what I mean when I speak of a bifurcated system.

Like all tricks for dividing people into two groups, this is simplistic, and needs to be taken with a grain of salt. But there is a cultural difference between these two types of writers, rooted in to whom they are accountable, and it explains what MosesJones is complaining about. Beowulf writers and Dante writers appear to have the same job, but in fact there is a quite radical difference between them---hence the odd conversation that I had with my fellow author at the writer's conference. Because she'd never heard of me, she made the quite reasonable assumption that I was a Dante writer---one so new or obscure that she'd never seen me mentioned in a journal of literary criticism, and never bumped into me at a conference. Therefore, I couldn't be making any money at it. Therefore, I was most likely teaching somewhere. All perfectly logical. In order to set her straight, I had to let her know that the reason she'd never heard of me was because I was famous.

...

So what of MosesJones's original question, which was entitled "The lack of respect?" My answer is that I don't pay that much notice to these things because I am aware at some level that I am on one side of the bifurcation and most literary critics are on the other, and we simply are not that relevant to each other's lives and careers.


What I've excerpted here is about 40% of a much longer, more detailed, and very interesting piece of thought which can be read in full here.

My thoughts? I've always respected writers of so-called "genre fiction" more than writers of so-called "literary fiction." It just seems to me (and yeah, this ought to be counter-intuitive, but somehow it's not) that genre fiction is actually more freeing than literary fiction. Once you learn the rules, you start figuring out ways to bend them and make the story you're telling that much more interesting. But you're still, fundamentally, hewing to the rules that have been established. You're writing a detective story - therefore, there must be crime, investigation, punishment. Once those have been slotted into place, you can talk about any other thing you want. Your detective can be a jazz freak, and go off on pages-long digressions about Thelonious Monk's Columbia albums vs. his Riverside albums, or whatever. And if you're a good enough storyteller, the reader will follow along.

I've only read one book by Neal Stephenson; it was okay, but it didn't give me enough to make me seek out more of his work. I have bought every one of William Gibson's novels, though, and his most recent, Pattern Recognition, is one of the best books I've ever read, genre be damned.

I'm hoping that Running The Voodoo Down will be the last music-related book I write. I'm hoping that the novel I'm currently writing will sell, and sell for quit-your-day-job money. I want to make a living as a novelist. I think this is a realistic aim, because I am writing a novel that is likely to hold appeal for a large number of people. It has sex, binge drinking, porn, scatological humor, violence, sex, heavy metal, midgets, emotionally wrenching family crises, and sex.

I'm not doing this because I'm a hack, scrambling in the gutter for a buck; I'm doing it because this is the story it's in me to tell. If I felt genuinely compelled to write stories of pinch-faced angst among middle-aged New England college professors, or whatever respectable literary authors write about these days, I'd do it. But I feel like writing punchy prose about porn, with midgets and shit jokes and fistfights (and a son's struggle to come to grips with his parents' divorce, and his father's death) thrown in. And if I'm never a literary sensation, that's cool.

ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER DOLLAR

I never paid much attention to Converge until the last month or so. When I got their new album, You Fail Me, in the mail, I listened to it once and wasn't particularly impressed. Then I read in about six dozen places that their previous full-length, Jane Doe, was the one to hear; that it was some kind of world-beating noisecore landmark, in fact. So I checked it out. And it was. It was so good, in fact, it made me revisit You Fail Me. This time, the new disc seemed a little more interesting - it was, after all, the work of a band that had released at least one genuinely great album. It still didn't impress me much, but at least I feel like I wrote as an informed listener. Had I not heard Jane Doe, the review I published this week would have been much more harsh - probably unfairly so.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

BAM! (ALSO AYLER, AGAIN)



Afrika Bambaataa is back.

I'm only on track 5 as I post this, but so far, it's great. If the last thing you heard from Bambaataa was "Afrika Shox" on Leftfield's Rhythm And Stealth, and you loved that, you're gonna go berserk for this. I can see myself spending the next two weeks or so listening to nothing else.

Heard the new Boredoms today, too (the one that's only available as a $35 Japanese import). The first track is pretty cool, if you've always wanted to hear Alice Coltrane play piano over a hippie drum circle (I hadn't, but it was interesting in a good way). The second track is boring faux-Indian psych-drone with strings and whatnot. Ultra-boring. And since there's only two tracks, a 50 percent success rate spells Do Not Waste Your Money.

Oh, and here's my final, full-length review of Holy Ghost.

And some thoughts on Isis and Pig Destroyer.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

PHAROAH



I've been listening to a lot of Pharoah Sanders lately.

I own Karma, Izipho Zam, Black Unity, Summun, Bukmun, Umyun, Jewels Of Thought, Live At The East (shown above) and last night I bought Thembi. Of the bunch, I think Izipho Zam, Thembi and Live At The East are my favorites, and Karma and Black Unity are the two I play the least often.

(I used to own Tauhid, but sold it some time ago. The same is true of Pharoah's First, his ESP album, which frankly sounds like a Hank Mobley date - nothing against Hank, whose music I frequently enjoy, but if I want that, I'll go to the source. I go to Pharoah for, um, other things.)

And those aren't necessarily the expected things, either. Pharoah's screamin'est moments are also frequently his most tedious, I've found. What I like is the way he assembles a really killin' ensemble, full of African percussion and various chordal instruments (multiple basses, piano, what have you) and lets that ensemble stroll patiently through long modal vamps. When the solos do rise out of the oceans of percussion, it's that much more impressive. The interaction between the two bassists on "Healing Song," from Live At The East, is a perfect example. They circle each other, throbbing and strumming, as the rhythm goes on and on and on, until you're in a trance, floating on pure hypnotized joy.

The same thing happens on "Balance," the second track from Izipho Zam.



(This album is fucking great, and has just recently been reissued on CD in the U.S. in a probably limited edition; by all means snap it up while you can.)

Izipho Zam features one of Pharoah's largest ensembles, including Sonny Sharrock on guitar and Yodelin' Leon Thomas on vocals, plus a tuba player, providing big farting underpinnings as, again, the rhythm section vamps out to the very edge of the universe before locating Pharoah and bringing him in for a lung-busting outburst that almost matches the fire 'n' fury of Sonny's assault on his instrument. (The stuff Sonny plays on the title track is utterly brain-melting, almost Blue Cheer-esque.)

I think Pharoah's records were some of the most interesting to come out of the late 1960s and early 1970s...much more consistent and consistently satisfying than, say, Archie Shepp's contemporaneous output. Even if some are clearly better than others, all the Impulse! (and Impulse!-era; Izipho Zam came out on Strata-East) Sanders albums were created in a similar spirit, mixing ethnic instruments with modal and free jazz and coming up with something beautiful, instantly identifiable and well worth listening to, even 30-plus years later. If you're just starting to head past Coltrane and explore late-60s/early-70s out jazz a little further, these should all be high up on your list.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

KRUSH



Last night I saw DJ Krush with Aesop Rock, Mr. Lif, Akira Sakata, Shuuzan Morita, and Ken Shima, at BB King's Blues Club in NYC.

The set was 90 minutes, divided into four sections. Each of the above guests got their own little spot, with Krush backing them (except for Lif and Aesop, who were onstage at the same time).

The first guest was Shuuzan Morita, on various shakuhachi (wooden flutes). That part was relatively calm and drifty, with Krush creating huge almost subsonic rumbles beneath the melody and beats.

The next guest up was Ken Shima, on piano. He was great, starting off quite melodic but winding up pretty far out - reaching into the piano and yanking on the strings as Krush started bringing in much louder and more aggressive beats. A very nice mix of jazz and hip-hop that had nothing to do with "acid jazz" or any similarly soporific mid-90s crap.

After Shima left, Aesop Rock and Mr. Lif took the stage. They performed the songs they did on Krush's new record, "Kill Switch" and "Nosferatu" respectively, backing each other on the choruses. Then they freestyled for a couple of minutes and left. It was a very disciplined, tight performance, with none of the nut-grabbing, wave ya hands bullshit that usually sinks live hip-hop.

Finally, Akira Sakata came out to play alto saxophone. I have one of his albums, Fisherman's.com, on which he's backed by Pete Cosey, Bill Laswell and Hamid Drake. It's pretty good once you get past the chanting that opens each track. He also plays on Last Exit's The Noise Of Trouble, which isn't my favorite of their albums but is pretty solid. So, he's not some cocktail jazz guy.

Krush played the beginning of Fisherman's.com as Sakata's introduction, and then they were off to the races. Sakata was blowing extremely free stuff, ripping up the horn, and Krush was blasting drum 'n' bass beats behind him. It was a terrific combination. Things slowed down a little as the set wound to a close, but Sakata stayed out, occasionally putting down the horn to do some Buddhist chanting, which the crowd seemed to appreciate quite a bit.

The whole set was based on Krush's excellent new album, Jaku, but it wasn't enslaved to it. He took that record's tracks and used them as starting points for improvisatory dialogue between him and each of his guests. It was the most impressive turntable-based performance I've seen (I've also seen the X-ecutioners, DJ Spooky, and Kid Koala live), because it wasn't about stunts; it was about sustaining a mood, and creating a cohesive work of one-time art.

There were cameramen at the gig, and a quick scan of other dates on Krush's current U.S. tour reveals the absence of all last night's guests, so I'm hoping a live DVD culled from this apparently one-off show is in the offing.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

UA! UA! UA!

I didn't always like Shadows Fall, but now I do.

Yesterday, I bought UA's Sun. (Credit where credit's due: I downloaded the first track from Fluxblog.)



I didn't order it from Amazon Japan; I went and bought it at Kinokuniya, because I work in Manhattan and certain perks are available - that's one of 'em.

Anyway, it's one of the craziest, most inexplicably beautiful records I've heard in quite a while. UA is a female singer of indeterminate age, and her voice is somewhere between Björk and Natalia Lafourcade, but the music sounds like neither of those folks. UA has chosen to collaborate with a live jazz group, playing "out" stuff in the neighborhood of, say, Don Cherry's Eternal Rhythm.



There's other stuff in there, too, though, demonstrating that UA doesn't have her head entirely in the late 1960s; one track uses various cell phone ringtones as melodic counterpoints, another features a dog barking throughout. And the album's final track, "Ua Ua Rai Rai," brings Balinese gamelan players into the mix. I'm not a big gamelan fan - I never really understood why all that clattering became a vital hipster soundcheck around the time David Toop put out Ocean Of Sound - but it works in this context, even if I do prefer the more "traditional" free jazz tracks.

There's a cool interview with UA here. Based on the description provided, it looks like I'm gonna have to pick up her 2002 CD, Dorobou, also. I'm gonna call Kinokuniya next week, when I've got another $35 (Japanese import CDs are pricey), and see if they've got a copy.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

THELONIOUS



There are a hell of a lot of worse ways to spend your day than listening to this. I got (did not buy) it yesterday, and am presently enjoying the shit out of it.

Tomorrow I'm gonna buy this



at Kinokuniya. If you wanna find out why, take a listen here.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Monday, September 06, 2004

ALBERT AYLER & CONSUMERISM

There's not a whole lot (okay, there's nothing at all) to report on the RTVD front. So here's a list of the books and records I bought this weekend.

CDs:
Björk, Medulla
Electric Wizard, We Live
Esoteric, Epistemological Despondency
Esoteric, The Pernicious Enigma
Gorguts, Obscura
DJ Krush, Jaku
Omar A. Rodriguez-Lopez, A Manual Dexterity: Soundtrack Volume One
Talking Heads, The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads

Books:
John McWhorter, Doing Our Own Thing: The Degradation Of Language And Music And Why We Should, Like, Care
James Wolcott, Attack Poodles And Other Media Mutants: The Looting Of The News In A Time Of Terror

In other news, I got an advance copy of the almost-sure-to-be-Grammy-winning Albert Ayler boxed set Holy Ghost about a week ago.

I haven't listened to it yet; I spent most of the first day staring at it, caressing the 1/4-inch-thick black plastic shell, reading one of the multiple essays (Val Wilmer's) in the 208-page hardcover book, skimming depressively through another, vastly inferior essay (Amiri Baraka's - surprise!) from the book, handling the two reproduction poetry/jazz magazines and the Slug's Saloon flyer and the reproduction childhood photo of Mr. Ayler and the pressed flower in miniature plastic envelope. Then, and only then, did I begin to attempt to absorb the music.

I went for the "special guest" stuff first: the performance featuring Cecil Taylor's then trio (himself, Jimmy Lyons and Sunny Murray) plus Ayler, from 1962; the sextet performance from 1966 with Ayler, Pharoah Sanders, and a bunch of other folks; and the Don Ayler group performance featuring Sam Rivers. All of which were amazing.

Everything about this box screams its makers' love for its subject to the skies, but I have misgivings.

First of all, I've never been the world's biggest Albert Ayler fan. I've given him a few chances to blow me away, but it's never happened. If I want lung-busting screech, after all, I can go for Borbetomagus or Kaoru Abe or Charles Gayle. And none of those players inflict upon the listener the singsong, Salvation Army melodies Ayler loved so much.

If Ayler was a little bit freer, I would probably have liked him better, on first exposure, than I did. But his music always seemed very schismatic - there were the singsong melodies, and there were the screaming solos, but the link between them didn't seem immediately obvious, back in 1993 or 1994 when I first heard him (in a massive dose - I taped three hours' worth of a WKCR birthday marathon).

Some of what I heard then I did like quite a bit - mostly the stuff from the New York Eye & Ear Control album. Probably because the music wasn't under his control; it wasn't his music; it was a collective improvisation, of exactly the type that was blowing my ears open for the first time back then.

Over the years, I've returned to Ayler a few times, hoping to hear what his most fervent partisans claim is there. And sometimes there's a glimmer of it. But for the most part, he's someone whose music I like, not someone whose music I love. So maybe I'm not the right critic for this box. Or maybe (since I do have a sizable collection of contemporaneous free jazz records now) I'm exactly the guy to give it an honest/impartial appraisal. I'll be reviewing it for culturevulture.net; we'll see how it goes.

My biggest quibble with the box so far, though, is its physical manifestation.

It's too much, this thing. If all it featured was the CDs and the hardcover book, they could have been placed together in a nicely printed slipcase at half the current dimensions - something like the Charles Mingus box Passions Of A Man: The Complete Atlantic Recordings 1956-1961, a box which has given me many hours of pleasure, and takes up what I consider to be a much more reasonable amount of shelf-space. Having this epic, fetishistic thing in my house implies that I am the kind of person who enjoys such things, and I am not.

But the point is the music, and tomorrow I'm gonna separate it from the package as thoroughly as can be, by importing all seven CDs of music (there are two CDs of interviews that I'm gonna have to really work hard to convince myself to give a shit about) into my iPod. Then, and only then, will we see what the thing is really worth.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

AND ANOTHER THING...

Here's one more new bit of rockcrit from the Cleveland Scene: Lamb of God/Mastodon.

Both those albums come out on Tuesday; dig in the couch cushions 'n' go get 'em.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

"ARE WE THERE YET?" "NO. STOP FIDGETING."

The publisher has pushed my book's release back from Spring 05 to Fall 05.

I am of two minds.

Sure, I'd like to get the thing out there as soon as possible. I spent almost 18 months writing it - it would be nice to let some folks read it, y'know?

But on the other hand, end-of-year publication means Christmastime publicity in jazz rags, which helps with sales. Plus, I now have that much more time to polish it until it's a gleaming diamond bullet.

So, I guess I'm okay with this.

In the meantime, I'm gonna keep working on The Next Book.

Just to keep this page active, maybe I'll start dribbling out more info about that soon.

One thing I will definitely do is start linking to my freelance pieces, if and when they show up online.

Here are a few:

C.Aarme, from the Village Voice a couple of weeks back

Yes and Dream Theater, from the Cleveland Scene

The Scorpions, from culturevulture.net.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

WALKING AWAY, NOT LOOKING BACK

It's official; I'm free (in my own head at least).

I was in a record store at lunchtime today, buying two CDs by Albert Ayler (Witches And Devils and Complete Live At Slug's Saloon), and I spotted a Miles bootleg I don't have.

It's called Fat Time; it was recorded at one of his comeback gigs in 1981. I already have two discs from that string of gigs - We Want Miles and Miles! Miles! Miles!. Still, it might have been nice to have some more music from that period. I liked that band, particularly Mike Stern's guitar and Marcus Miller's bass.

But I left it on the shelf.

I might go back for it next week. I don't know. But knowing that I didn't have to buy it felt strangely freeing.

And besides, the Ayler stuff I did get was totally ass-frying in exactly the way I'd hoped it would be.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

REPORT FROM THE NOTHING TO REPORT DEPT.

Not much to report right now. The book's in the publisher's hands - my editor swears he's gonna read it very soon and get back to me with his thoughts. I'll post some of that feedback here.

In the meantime, I have moved on to The Next Thing, which is the Novel. (I would say "First Novel" but there are sizable chunks of at least three truly wretched fiction-things on discs in drawers that predate the current effort. I haven't decided whether the fact that they'll never see the light of day means they "count" or don't, but I'm leaning toward don't.) I hope to have that manuscript finished by year's end - I promised my agent I'd give it to him after New Year's, and since it's already fully plotted, it shouldn't be that difficult to pound it out in the next five months. It has nothing to do with Miles Davis, or jazz, though, so I don't know how much space I'll devote to it here. With luck, RTVD-related matters will occupy much of my time in 2005.

There's another Next Thing in the hardly-worth-mentioning stages, but it's hardly worth mentioning. It's nonfiction, and music-related; that's all I'll say until I hear from the money-people involved.

Friday, July 02, 2004

IT'S BEYOND MY CONTROL

The publisher has the manuscript. I got an e-mail acknowledging receipt that reads, in part:

"An initial sampling of the text indicates a compelling and well-told story."

[carl spackler]

So I got that goin' for me, which is nice.

[/carl spackler]

Monday, June 21, 2004

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT

Obviously not the material covered in the book, but still worth owning...

MILES DAVIS AND THE COMING OF THE SECOND GREAT QUINTET

SEVEN STEPS: THE COMPLETE COLUMBIA RECORDINGS OF MILES DAVIS 1963-1964 TRACES CREATION OF HIS ‘60s GROUP WITH WAYNE SHORTER, HERBIE HANCOCK, RON CARTER, AND TONY WILLIAMS

7-CD BOX SET INCLUDES ENTIRE SEVEN STEPS TO HEAVEN SESSIONS AND UNEDITED MILES DAVIS IN EUROPE ANTIBES FEST DATE

PLUS: NY PHILHARMONIC HALL CONCERT RESTORED TO ORIGINAL SEQUENCE; FULL MILES IN TOKYO AND MILES IN BERLIN DATES, NEVER AVAILABLE IN U.S. CATALOG UNTIL NOW

47 selections - 7 previously unissued performances, 3 in newly unedited form

92-page booklet with liner notes written by 3-time Grammy-winning reissue producer Michael Cuscuna, and 2-time Grammy winner Bob Blumenthal

7th box set in Miles Davis Series, newest addition to series that began in 1996, will arrive in stores September 28th on Columbia/Legacy Jazz

Paraphrasing its title from the 1963 LP that introduced the first three new members of the quintet on half its tracks (Hancock, Carter, Williams, working with Miles and tenor saxophonist George Coleman), this lavishly-packaged seven-CD box set methodically delineates the chronological evolution of the group over the course of six distinct albums:

Seven Steps To Heaven, with four previously unissued performances from the sessions in Los Angeles (in April) and New York (in May) that produced the LP;

Miles Davis In Europe, with two previously unissued tunes – and three more heard for the first time in unedited form - from the Antibes jazz festival in France two and a half months later in July;

My Funny Valentine, a ballads LP with the previously unissued “Autumn Leaves,” the first of two albums culled from two long concert sets at NY’s Philharmonic Hall in February 1964;

Four & More, the follow-up LP from the Philharmonic Hall date, emphasizing uptempo material;

Miles In Tokyo, in which Sam Rivers replaced Coleman for an historic set at Kohseinenkin Hall in July 1964, never available in Miles’ U.S. Columbia catalog until now; and

Miles In Berlin, in which Shorter finally enters the lineup for this September 1964 concert, also never available in Miles’ U.S. Columbia catalog until now, with the previously unissued “Stella By Starlight.”

Thursday, June 17, 2004

WE ALL KNEW THIS DAY WOULD COME

I'm finished.

Typed the last sentence of the re-edited first draft last night, burned it to a CD-R. Gonna print a copy tomorrow, and mail it to the publisher.

The breakdown:

13 chapters, an introduction, a bibliography, and a discography.

440 pages of actual text.

(I contracted for 300, but come on. All of Miles Davis's electric music, from 1968 to 1991, in 300 pages? Really, now. Maybe it'll shrink when they determine the book's font, but I don't honestly know how much I could cut if asked.)

What's next, you ask? Well, there are two possibilities.

1) A bio/critical analysis on Sly Stone.
2) A novel.

Right now, the smart money's on #2, because three books about music-related subjects in a row feels a little too rut-like to me. I want to be able to write about any damn thing I want, and sell the results, and if I stick to one thing for too long I'll limit myself in others' eyes. So, probably fiction next. A totally different set of skills are required, which means the results will inevitably be as knackered and ridiculous as my first book was, if not worse.

But you gotta get out on the dance floor and give it a whirl, right?

Monday, June 14, 2004

I CAN SEE DAYLIGHT! KEEP DIGGING!

Three chapters left to revise. I should be done this week. All that remains, after that, is to gather all the bibliographical and discographical data and type it up. What's more fun than typing out album serial numbers? Plus, I'm trying to keep the discography more or less chronological, which should be fun, too, considering it includes a bunch of bootlegs and unreleased stuff as well as the commonly available material. And do I put things chronologically in the order they were recorded, or the order they were released? And if the former, do albums get listed by the earliest date of recording? Gah.

I sure hope the publisher gets someone else to put together the index.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

WORKING, WORKING...

I'm literally at the midpoint of revisions. I allotted myself two days per chapter, but so far they've only taken one day each, so I might have a chance to go through the whole thing twice before sending it to Backbeat. I suspect that Chapter Seven ("Michael Henderson"), which I'm working on today, will take longer, though, for two reasons.

1. I wasn't all that happy with it when I finished it six months ago, and made a mental note to fix lots of things when I got around to revising. (This is also true of Chapter Eight, "Guitar.")

2. I do a lot of work at night, and The Shield is on tonight.

Back to work.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

BULLETIN

I'm on the brink of completing the first draft of the manuscript. Either tonight or tomorrow night, I'll be done. (I have to be - I've slated the whole month of June for revisions.)

This past Thursday, I went and saw Burnt Sugar perform at the Vision Festival. Met up with Greg Tate beforehand, and we talked briefly about some unreleased live stuff (the material taped at the Cellar Door club in Washington, DC in December 1970, some of which was edited down for Live-Evil) I'd sent him. (I got it from a guy who downloaded it off the web.)

It's killer stuff - six CDs' worth, only two of which feature John McLaughlin on guest guitar. The other four are just the regular touring band of that time - Miles, Gary Bartz, Keith Jarrett, Michael Henderson, Jack DeJohnette and Airto Moreira. Listening to Discs 5 and 6 (the ones with McLaughlin), it's almost impossible to pick out where Miles and Teo Macero decided to slice out a chunk for Live-Evil. There are many moments when I find myself thinking, "Oh my God, that wasn't an edit - they did that live!"

Anyhow, Burnt Sugar's set was really good. It was live funk with a guitarist, two drummers, three bassists (two upright, one electric), a cellist, a violinist, a pianist, a keyboardist, and a percussionist. And two vocalists, a man and a woman. The man was great; he sounded sort of like Mos Def, and scat-sang along with the band in a very cool way. If you've ever heard the Leftfield track "Afro-Left," from Leftism, his vocals sounded something like that, only more hip-hop-oriented. The female rapper, though, was annoying. She was freestyling, but her subject matter was clichéd braggadocio, and didn't mesh well with the band's groove at all. I was wondering why Greg (who was conducting) didn't shut her down, but I guess his tactic is more to indicate where someone should come in; what they do once they are in is up to them. In the liner notes to Burnt Sugar's first CD, Blood On The Leaf, he compares himself to Mickey Mouse in the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" section of Fantasia, and that's somewhat accurate, if excessively self-deprecating.

I'm sure that next month is going to bring many shameful realizations, and many mad scrambles for the dictionary and/or thesaurus as I realize how very, very many clichés and half-baked ideas I've relied upon in the last 14 months or so. I can't wait. Writing this thing has been a thrill-ride. It's opened my ears, and my mind, a little wider just about every day. I've been forced to re-think ideas I held onto for years, and to think about entirely new things. I've had to teach myself not to be a knee-jerk naysayer, but not to be a yes-man for received wisdom and dogma, either. That's a balancing act that has made me wonder, more than a few times, whether, if I agree with so much of what everyone else has already said, I should have bothered writing a book at all. But I guess that's for someone else to judge. I've gotta finish the aforementioned revisions, and then figure out what I'm gonna do for my next trick book...

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

DISAPPOINTING NEWS

I'd always envisioned the cover art for RTVD looking similar, in both style and color, to On The Corner. Not only because it's probably my favorite Miles record (it's definitely the one that made the biggest single impact on my developing musical psyche when I first heard it, at about age 18), but because it's so garish and bright, it would make a fantastic book cover. Most books on Miles Davis either have a boring sepiatone portrait, or some other hideous photo, on the cover. They don't invite casual browsers to check 'em out; they certainly don't leap off the bookstore shelf, which in this market is more important than ever. It seems to me that publishers still don't put enough thought into what's on the outside of their books. Shit, half of them can barely be concerned with what's on the inside...if I started counting the typos, spelling errors, etc. that I've encountered in major publishing house releases, I'd never stop.

Anyway, I dug around and found an illustrator I thought would be perfect for the job - Scott Ruhl. (Warning: vulgarity lurks at that link.) But when I tossed the idea to the publisher, they came back saying a) he wanted too much money, and b) they didn't think On The Corner was a recognizable/iconic enough image to sell the book...they wanted to go, maybe, with something Bitches Brew-inspired, and no matter what they wound up doing, it would be generated in-house.

I'm not 1000% sold on the idea of a BB-esque cover. It could be good, but I don't think it'll have the leap-off-the-shelf quality that a bright yellow book would have. Maybe I'll be able to get them to do something with a photo of the 1970s band, set against a blazing psychedelic sunburst pattern...something like this, only more garish. But for now, I've got to stay focused on what's gonna be inside the cover. I'm only a few pages from finishing the first draft. After that, it's a month of revisions and clerical stuff (putting together the discography, bibliography, acknowledgements, etc.), and then at the end of June, off it goes to my editor at Backbeat. I just hope he doesn't ask me to hack out too much; I contracted for 300 pages, and I just crossed the 400-page mark the other night. As with so many other things related to this project, we'll soon find out.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

IT NEVER ENDS

One of the great/terrible things about writing a book is all the other books you wind up reading, as research and as inspiration. The nature of Running The Voodoo Down is such that I'm going to wind up with a bibliography that's heavy on books about Miles Davis, of course, but is also stuffed with books on heavy metal, Jimi Hendrix, the political and social trends of the 1970s, religion, the corporate machinations of music-biz executives, science fiction, art history, aesthetics, Afrocentrism, and damn near every other thing you can think of. Where and how it became necessary to read some of this stuff will be obvious (there are quotes in the manuscript-as-it-currently-stands from Joe Carducci, Lester Bangs, Fredric Dannen and Arthur Schopenhauer, among others), but others are gonna seem tossed in there almost at random. Trust me, they're not. It's all connected, in my head anyway. I certainly hope it'll all be connected for the reader, even if he or she hasn't read all the stuff I've had to absorb to understand the electric music of Miles Davis to my own satisfaction.

Today I bought David Toop's Ocean Of Sound, and as I'm starting to dip a toe into it (sorry) I'm a little torn between wishing I'd read it sooner and being relieved that I haven't. It already feels like one of those books that could be hugely influential on an impressionable brain, up there with Rock & The Pop Narcotic and Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas and Crosstown Traffic, and believe me, those three and lots of others have already done plenty of damage. (The two Thompsons - Hunter and Jim - are among the worst writers a young writer can read. It takes years to get them out of your system, so your own voice can grow. Believe me. They're both brilliant, but if you're just starting out, your copies of Fear And Loathing... and The Killer Inside Me should come with bookmarks that have "Don't Try This At Home" printed on them in huge red letters.)

At the same time, though, I'm getting the feeling that I'm gonna wind up disagreeing with a lot of Toop's ideas, so it's good that mine are pretty fixed already (and have been for some time). Nothing worse than finding, in the re-read/revise stage, that you've been overtaken/seduced by a theory you actually disagree with, and it's wormed its way into your text to such a degree that only hacking out 5-10 pages, and rewriting from scratch, will do the trick. It's almost as bad as re-reading a feature-length record review, the night before it's due to the editor, and realizing you let it devolve into a political screed that would embarrass a college freshman and that, once you slash out all the ridiculous, self-evident, smug anti-Bush sloganeering, you've got about three paragraphs of solid musical analysis on which to build your whole second draft.

Anyway, my point is, I'm about 10 pages away from being finished with the first draft of RTVD, and I think it may be time to stop reading potential source material. I can always go back to the bookstores once I've mailed the thing to the publisher, and get that kick in the guts that comes from opening a random book I've never heard of, seeing a paragraph or a page or a chapter that totally contradicts every idea I've spent a year and a half thinking about and hammering into shape. Right?

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

YO MILES!

Today I’m listening to Yo Miles! and Yo Miles – Sky Garden, by Henry Kaiser and Wadada Leo Smith. Four CDs, just over five hours of music, most of it versions of Miles Davis stuff from 1969-70 (Sky Garden) and 1972-75 (Yo Miles!). There are some originals, too, mostly by Wadada Leo Smith, that attempt to capture that heady early-’70s-Miles flavor. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they don’t. The worst one can say about “Who’s Targeted?” is that it sounds more like Mwandishi than Miles. Since I like Mwandishi too (much more than the wildly overrated Headhunters), I’m fine with that.

Anyway, I’m listening to this stuff, and thinking about it, because it features in the final chapter of the book, which I’m currently writing. Chapter 13 is called “Post-Miles,” and it’s all about the way his music and concepts have spread through the soundworld we all live in. Everything from hearing that ominous keyboard hook from “Honky Tonk” sampled on a hip-hop record to things like Yo Miles! and Tim Hagans’s twin CDs Animation/Imagination and Re-Animation Live! and, possibly more than any of the others, Greg Tate’s Burnt Sugar.

I interviewed Tate for the book (the saga of who I interviewed, who I didn’t, and how being turned down for various interviews shaped what Running The Voodoo Down became, to my mind for the better, will be dealt with in a later post), not only to ask him about Burnt Sugar but to get some feedback from a guy who’d been grappling with electric Miles for about 15 years longer than me, had in fact seen him play live in the early 1970s in Washington, D.C.

It was a long, interesting conversation. Very little of it will make the book, which makes me want to find someplace to put the remainder. Maybe here. I don’t know.

Monday, May 10, 2004

INTRODUCTION

Like it says above, this blog is all about my book Running The Voodoo Down: The Electric Music Of Miles Davis, which is currently scheduled to be published by Backbeat Books in Spring 2005. (I expect to complete the manuscript, and turn it in, in mid-summer.)

Running The Voodoo Down is not a biography. Nor is it a stale recitation of who played on what session on what day. I'm more interested in a theoretical analysis of Miles Davis's music from 1968 (Miles In The Sky) to 1991 (Doo-Bop). Basically, RTVD is intended to be a Miles book the way Crosstown Traffic was a Hendrix book. I'm filtering Miles through a series of screens—racial/political, hip-hop, funk, Hendrix & Sly Stone, the larger world of early-70s fusion, and more besides. I'm talking about who was doing what around him, what that did to his music, and where his influence, viral as it is, has spread/metastasized to since his death.

A few things worth noting: I'm 32. I started listening to Miles Davis in 1985, and my path through his catalog started like this—Kind Of Blue, Bitches Brew, You're Under Arrest, Agharta, On The Corner...and on and on. I've been influenced, on this project and as a writer generally, by Greg Tate, Joe Carducci, Lester Bangs, Charles Shaar Murray, and Gary Giddins. (I've only met two of those guys, though, so don't think the responsibility for anything I write lies with anybody but me.) I like death metal just as much, and often more, than jazz. I hope Running The Voodoo Down, coming as it does from a rock-friendly perspective, to expand the range of permissible analysis vis-a-vis Miles. We'll see. Stay tuned.