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.