Friday, October 26, 2007


In which I get all political 'n' stuff. (Not political like my genius friend Phil Nugent, but political by the standards of this here apathetic, head-up-own-ass blog.)

Live At The Market Theatre
Four Quarters
Hugh Masekela is enough of a legend that he gets taken for granted. Or maybe he's just enough of a legend that what he's actually playing, on an album like this one, doesn't get heard over the din of what he played years ago, or it gets eclipsed by the myth of his life and his politics.

But this two-CD set demonstrates his skills as a horn player and showcases his skill at holding an audience in the palm of his hand. The band (saxophone, guitar, bass, keyboards, drums and percussion) glides effortlessly through long Afro-funk vamps, atop which Masekela lets loose long, rippling ribbons of notes or sings in a voice only slightly hoarsened by age.

Of course, politics are unavoidable. "We'd like to dedicate this song to people who lose their lives working in cheap labor," he says, introducing "Stimela." It's the beginning of a long monologue about the underside of the global economy, particularly the arduous and life-threatening existence suffered by gold and diamond miners in Africa. When the music gets going, though, it's so life-affirming that it almost balances out the despair Masekela is describing.

And just like it always does - whether in reggae, the blues, or Appalachian mountain music - that dichotomy between stark existence and transcendent music says something truly profound about the human spirit. This is a long release (two discs, one nudging the 80-minute mark and the other at 70), but few passages will inspire the feeling of "sitting through" anything.

The piano trio disc is usually gentle, melodic, and unaccountably pleased with itself - despite, or perhaps because of, the inherent limitations of the form. That said, this CD, a Japanese release from 2002 just hitting U.S. shelves, is a very well recorded example of the form, with excellent, energetic performances by all involved. It's never smart to underestimate drummer Billy Drummond, of course, and Eddie Gomez is a powerhouse, albeit one with the distressing habit of singing along with his own bass solos. Kuhn (who composed two of the disc's nine tracks, the other seven being standards) refuses to be intimidated by his thunderous rhythm section, dispensing melody and acerbic lyricism by the fistful.

Jacques Coursil's Clameurs is a completely different animal. Coursil bounced around the late '60s free scene, playing with Sunny Murray and recording two albums of his own - Way Ahead and Black Suite - for the legendary BYG Actuel label. This is his comeback effort, and it's primarily a solo trumpet disc with surprisingly effective synthesized string parts. But the heart of it lies in the spoken texts (included as a PDF file on the CD) by poets Monchoachi and Edouard Glissant, political essayist Frantz Fanon, and pre-Islamic poet Antar. The liner notes say, "The slave's cry, the shout of the oppressed, strangles in his throat...the shout is a free man's privilege." Coursil intends this dignified, solemn music to provide a voice to the historically voiceless. In other words, his politics - and the way he uses his art to express them - haven't changed since the '60s, even if he's not the fire-breather he once was.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


The new issue of The High Hat is up, and as is typical with them, it took so long to arrive that I forgot what I contributed and read it with pretty much the same fresh eyes as anybody else would, stumbling upon it. So it's nice to see that my contribution was a pretty entertaining piece about the Swedish black metal band Marduk, whose early releases have recently been reissued by Regain Records, whose newest album Rom 5:12 represents a pretty impressive stylistic leap forward, for them anyhow, and who you really should be listening to, if you're not already. So go check it out, and read the rest of the site, too, because it's great.

Just for fun, here's a taste:

Marduk is pure evil. Evil with a capital “E” and five more e’s after it, and the second syllable pronounced like “Coupe De Ville.” Eeeeee-vil. Marduk’s so evil, the bandmembers haven’t been able to get entry visas to tour the U.S. since 9/11. They’re so evil, they have an album called Panzer Division Marduk. They’re so evil, they have a song called “Fistfucking God’s Planet.” Okay, stop laughing. Stop it right now!

Honestly, Marduk’s evilness is a little confusing. They’re a black metal band from Sweden, swearing allegiance to Satan, yet they’re named after a Babylonian god, for no reason that’s ever explained in their lyrics or liner notes. They seem to be a sort of black metal version of Marlon Brando in The Wild One.

METAL FAN: “Hey, Marduk, whatta you hate?”
MARDUK: “Whatta you got?”

[Read the rest here.]

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Any one of which you could be listening to right now, instead of wasting your time worrying about whether indie rock steals "enough" from black people music.

(Top to bottom: Ayumi Hamasaki, (miss)understood; Fueled By Fire, Spread The Fire; Natalia y la Forquetina, Casa; Willie Colón, La Gran Fuga.)


This discussion is way more intelligent and interesting than the hack-ass article that inspired it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


This past weekend, I got the movie Primeval from Netflix. If you're not familiar with it, you're not missing that much. It's a sort of horror movie starring Dominic Purcell (one of the two leads from the indescribably crappy TV series Prison Break) and Orlando Jones, an underrated comic actor who got his big break on the equally underrated MAD TV. Those two, plus a damsel destined for distress and a few other incidental schmucks, go to Africa in search of "Gustave," a 25-foot crocodile that's been eating people for years. During their search, they run afoul of the local warlord, who calls himself Little Gustave in tribute to his less-evolved but equally predatory counterpart.

The movie holds quite firmly to its view of Africa as primitive hellhole where if you're not getting chewed on by prehistoric beasts, you're getting shot or raped by the savage natives - who haven't changed a bit despite trading nose-bones for post-colonial fatigues and AK-47s. So sensitive souls will doubtless find it regressive, even offensive. That's not the big problem for me, of course - I've been watching white-man-in-the-Third-World horror flicks going back at least to Wes Craven's The Serpent And The Rainbow, if not Deodato Ruggiero's Cannibal Holocaust, and I'm fine with their...uncomplicated racial politics. My big problem with Primeval is that it's boring. The crocodile is a fairly phony bit of CGI, and the thuggish Africans aren't half as intimidating as the project dealers in The Wire.

The only good scene in the whole thing, the only moment that displays even a glimmer of style, is one in which a little girl, swimming in a river, is eaten in a single bite, with no anticipatory Jaws-style music or anything. One second she's there, the next she's not, and there are no shocked reactions from adult bystanders, or anything - we're just off to the next scene. That filmmaking choice, in its way, displays a genuine attitude toward the cheapness of African lives to the filmmakers - an ugly attitude, but a clear one, and thus worth displaying on-screen.

But anyway, my point in typing this post isn't to talk about the movie, but its soundtrack. There's very little non-score music in the film; three or four songs, one of which rolls over the closing credits. But of those four songs, two are absolute scorchers - so awesome, in fact, that I paused the credits so I could write them down and seek out the compilations on which they appear.

The first is Moussa Doumbia's "Keleya." Appearing in two versions (one just under five minutes, one nudging eleven) on an album of the same name, it's a scorching hunk of Afro-funk that combines almost muezzin-like chanted vocals with Archie Shepp-esque buzzy/roaring sax and guitar that sounds sourced from a James Brown bootleg circa 1969 on the short version, and from a Can bootleg circa 1972 on the long take. Plus, the long take adds sardonic female backing vocals reminiscent of Afrika 70 at their best.

The second is "Allah Wakbarr," by Ofo The Black Company. It's available in a couple of places - the Luaka Bop compilation World Psychedelic Classics 3: Love's A Real Thing, or where I found it, on the 3CD set Nigeria '70: The Definitive Story Of 1970s Funky Lagos, a blazing 3CD set that also features early and/or rare tracks by Koola Lobitos, King Sunny Ade, and Fela with Afrika 70, among many others. Import-only, but well worth dredging up if you're at all into 1970s Afro-funk. (If you're not into 1970s Afro-funk, what the hell is wrong with you, anyway?) This track is even noisier and wilder than "Keleya," featuring a scraping-the-inside-of-your-skull-with-a-rusty-chisel guitar sound to open things up that would make Jack White wet himself, and a riff straight out of a 1971 cop show. Every sound, from vocals to percussion to that unbelievably hellish guitar, has been fed through so much distortion it makes Konono No. 1 sound like the cleanest Berlin techno you ever chilled to. These guys are like the Chambers brothers on crystal meth, borrowing Motörhead's PA. An absolute must-hear.

This has been Multiculturalism For The Uncultured. See you around!

Saturday, October 06, 2007


Part 1: One of the morning shows today had a piece on male contraception. Apparently, there's a new pill that, when combined with a patch, reduces a man's sperm count. So they did some dude-on-the-street interviews where dudes claimed that yeah, they'd be down with popping a pill as long as the scientists said it was cool, blah blah blah. Then they cut back to a scientist, or someone in a suit anyway, who said this might be the very thing in the next couple of years. But then he described the side effects - which were listed in big letters on the screen - as acne, weight gain and mood changes. So basically, it works on two levels, this pill. It reduces your sperm count, which reduces the risk of you getting anybody pregnant; but it also turns you into a fat, zitty-faced emo bitch, which reduces the risk of you getting laid anytime soon. Genius!

Part 2: I saw a commercial this morning for a nasal spray, and right as they were making the sales pitch, down on the bottom of the screen appear the words "We don't understand exactly how [Name of Nasal Spray] operates." Doesn't that pretty much fit the textbook definition of "rushing to market"?

Part 3: Has anybody else seen that ad for the drug that treats "restless leg syndrome" (something I get most often when I'm in line at the bank or post office, itching to kick the person in front of me in the ass to get them moving)? Noticed the part where they say the side effects of curing your twitchy foot may include "sexual, gambling or other compulsive urges"? Is it me, or does becoming a lust-crazed gambling addict sort of outweigh the relief of twitchy legs?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


The title of the six-CD Miles Davis Complete "On the Corner" Sessions box set is misleading, and that's good. So far, only one of his Complete Sessions packages has lived up to its name: 2003's Jack Johnson set really did contain raw, fragmented takes that producer Teo Macero spliced together to create the side-long jams ("Right Off" and "Yesternow") that made up 1970's original A Tribute to Jack Johnson. The Bitches Brew and In a Silent Way boxes, though, did nothing of the kind, instead placing those albums in a broader context, surrounding them with contemporaneous studio work (cuts from compilations like Big Fun and Water Babies) and previously unreleased material. Each set covered a period of about a year, maybe 18 months, during which time Miles and his band were laying down many more tracks than Columbia's release schedule could handle. The five-CD Jack Johnson box covered only a few months in early to mid-1970.

This On the Corner set, by contrast, gathers all the worthwhile studio recordings Miles made between 1972 and 1975. And yes, it includes raw versions of jams that were later edited to become 1972's titular album—a relentless, seething masterpiece that's been my favorite Davis disc since I first heard it as a teenager in the late '80s. But it also piles up tracks from Big Fun and the 1974 double album Get Up with It, along with the one-chord, rare non-album single "Big Fun/Hollywuud" and about three hours' worth of previously unreleased studio tracks that are the equal of, if not better than, the ones we Miles freaks have been obsessing over for years already. [Read the rest here.]