Monday, September 06, 2004


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.

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

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; 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.

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