Friday, January 30, 2009


Big box o' Braxton
[From Jazziz, December 2008.]

If you had one copy of every album Anthony Braxton has released or been a guest on in his long career, you'd need a 40-foot shipping container to hold them. Between 1974 and 1980 alone, Arista Records funded nine albums (including several doubles and one triple vinyl epic) and licensed two others from the European label Freedom. Although the latter titles aren't included in The Complete Arista Recordings of Anthony Braxton, a new collection from Mosaic, you'll find more than enough to sift through and digest.

Initially, Braxton recorded somewhat straight small-group sessions, lulling his corporate paymasters into a false sense of security. Then, after achieving tenure, he embarked on less commercially palatable projects like Alto Saxophone Improvisations 1989 and the aforementioned triple album, For Four Orchestras. (Braxton's album titles remain stubbornly self-explanatory.)

His debut for the label, New York, Fall 1974, is nothing that listeners accustomed to the rhythmic and melodic twists and turns of Ornette Coleman's 1959-1960 recordings couldn't immediately embrace. Only the presence of a squelching, zapping synthesizer on "Opus 38A" hints at fusion or hardcore avant-garde. Everything else is free but swinging, with ribbon-like unison passages that captivate the ear. Five Pieces (1975) makes for an admirable sequel, even including a standard ("You Stepped Out of a Dream," performed as a lovely saxophone/bass duo). And the double live album The Montreux/Berlin Concerts offers a superb mix of the audience-friendly and more outré Braxton.

Even some of the edgier releases never devolve into ultra-abstruse exercises in beard stroking. Creative Orchestra Music 1976 lives up to its title, moving from hard-swinging big band charts to squiggly, arid experimentalism and even into the realm of John Philip Sousa (on the giddy "Opus 58"). For Trio is less rooted in traditional jazz, but won't seem at all foreign or forbidding to fans of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. The album contains two versions of the same piece by different trios, one of which features the AEC's Joseph Jarman and Roscoe Mitchell alongside Braxton, each man playing "little instruments" in addition to the expected variety of woodwinds.

Comprising eight CDs, this beautifully remastered box is but a shaving from an iceberg. While it's nowhere near a complete portrait of Braxton, it's a marvelous collection worthy of in-depth listening at length and at leisure.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


British avant-folk guy John Martyn has died at 60. I've never listened to the guy, but other smart folks say he was great; you can read an excellent essay on his album Solid Air, by Simon Reynolds, in Marooned, available now at a shockingly low price.


Tonight: Franz Ferdinand

Franz Ferdinand's self-titled debut was a ball of witty postpunk energy and dancefloor savvy. Its follow-up, You Could Have It So Much Better, tried to keep the hot streak going with the stomping glam-rock single "Do You Want To," but was derailed by side trips into balladry. Four years later, the band is a little weirder and more stylistically omnivorous on Tonight, but it's also more fun than ever before.

The members borrow keyboards and a creepy, lurching rhythm from Iggy Pop's The Idiot on "Twilight Omens" and a manic noise-guitar outro that's pure Ron Asheton (R.I.P.) on "What She Came For." Whiteboy-funk jewel "No You Girls" stomps all over Blur's "Girls and Boys" with throbbing bass, guitar lines straight from Talking Heads' Remain In Light, and handclaps (handclaps!). Most bands would kill a close relative to write a hook half as irresistible as "No You Girls," and Franz does it with a grin and a shrug. "Send Him Away" could be a Grace Jones cover, while "Live Alone" is straight-up disco-rock with throbbing sequencers and another spine-readjusting bassline. Tonight peters out somewhat after the eight-minute "Lucid Dreams," the latter half of which is spent in an electronic fugue state. "Dream Again" is an ill-advised dubby experiment, followed by acoustic album closer "Katherine Kiss Me," a juxtaposition that defies all logic. Still, nine smart, upbeat tracks out of twelve make this a welcome return indeed. [From the SF Weekly.]

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Well, as previously mentioned, I was on the radio today. I was paired with an editor from Blender, we took calls from listeners and read emails on the air and listened to Springsteen's awful new "Queen of the Supermarket" song; it was fun. If you want to listen to the whole 30-minute thing, you can download it by clicking here.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


So the day after I posted my comments on Springsteen, Meat Loaf and Styx (see below), I got an email from the producers of Soundcheck, a radio show I've been on twice before - once to plug Marooned (and hey, check out that bargain price! Go get yourself one, why doncha?) with the help of Greg Tate and Ian Christe, and once to debate the merits of Metallica with Ryan Schreiber of Pitchfork. They've asked me to return, this time to take the anti- side in a debate on the merits of...yes, Bruce Springsteen, whose new album comes out on Tuesday, the same day I'll be on the air. So check it out at 2PM EST, at 93.9 FM or 820 AM if you're in the NYC area, or online at I hope it'll be at least mildly entertaining.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


So this morning on the way to work I was listening to The Essential Bruce Springsteen, because...well, I don't know exactly why. Every time I see the guy lately, he pisses me off, whether it's his passing-a-peach-pit vocals, or his requiem-for-the-workin'-man schtick in both lyrics and interviews, or his dirgey songwriting ("The Rising" is not a rock 'n' roll song, it's a death march). But even though the only albums I've ever listened to all the way through were Nebraska, Darkness On the Edge of Town and Born in the U.S.A., and that was over 20 years ago, I had a pretty strong recollection that he wasn't always that way. So, obtained the aforementioned three-CD compilation (cause if you're gonna do something, do it all the way, even when it's costing you nothing but time) and started at the beginning. And I got past the fake-Dylan stuff from the first couple of albums with no permanent injuries, even liking little bits here and there (like the Elvis-Costello-and-the-Attractions-esque keyboard sound on "For You"). But when I hit the songs from Born To Run, something weird happened...I suddenlly developed an irresistible urge to listen to Meat Loaf.

They both made the same kind of overwrought rock-as-opera-as-six-foot-tall-cheesecake, to the point that the parallels became almost disturbing. Listen to "Bat Out of Hell" (the song) and "Jungleland" and tell me they're not the same thing - hell, the piano parts are almost identical. So now, this afternoon, I'm listening to Bat Out of Hell all the way through for the first time ever. And I think I like it better than Springsteen, if only because Meat Loaf (or Jim Steinman, whatever) never gets to thinking he's John Dos Passos or Tom Kromer.

But maybe it's just that I'm in a mood for pomptastic cheese-rock lately. Another recent acquisition was The Complete Wooden Nickel Recordings, an anthology of the first four Styx albums, before anybody was paying attention to them and when they were still trying to decide whether to be a Midwestern hard rock band or to fully indulge Dennis DeYoung's dreams of Broadway glory. Those albums (Styx, Styx II, The Serpent is Rising and Man of Miracles) are not nearly as horrible as their later stuff. In fact, there are songs on them that are firmly in the tradition of early '70s American progressive hard rock, when bands were attempting to tread a middle ground between caveman blooze-rawk (Grand Funk Railroad, Cactus, etc.) and the more intricate prog stuff coming from the UK (Yes, ELP, Genesis). There are some riffs - and organ tones - on The Serpent is Rising that fans of everything from Deep Purple to Atomic Rooster would find very pleasing indeed. Sure, there's some crap, too, but these albums shouldn't be dismissed, particularly the debut, which is damn heavy at times.

Styx: Not The Worst Band Ever, At Least Not Early On.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


An ex-bassist in Miles Davis' quintet brings his own band to the Sheldon

[From the Riverfront Times.]

Dave Holland has been in the top rank of jazz bassists since the late '60s, when Miles Davis plucked him from relative obscurity and recruited him to play with his quintet. In just under two years with the trumpeter, Holland performed on albums including Bitches Brew, In a Silent Way and Big Fun, before eventually departing to form Circle with saxophonist Anthony Braxton, keyboardist Chick Corea and drummer Barry Altschul. This began a lengthy working relationship with Braxton, much of which is documented on the recent Complete Arista Recordings of Anthony Braxton boxed set. Holland also recorded the legendary 1972 album Conference of the Birds, which featured Braxton, Altschul and saxophonist Sam Rivers.

The bassist recalls Braxton as "a conceptualist...He has very clear languages that he's working with in his writing and his playing." By contrast, Holland says of Davis, "Miles would sort of put something forward that he wanted to pursue, and then he would just let you go and fill in the gaps and do what you wanted to do."

Holland's been leading his own quintet since 1997, and in that role, he adopts a bit of each approach — while incorporating nods to Duke Ellington's use of the orchestra as instrument. The core quintet features saxophonist Chris Potter, trombonist Robin Eubanks, vibist Steve Nelson and drummer Nate Smith, but at various times Holland's expanded to a sextet, an octet and even a big band. Each lineup makes different demands on Holland as a composer and an arranger, something he regards as a pleasurable challenge.

"The more members you have in the group," he explains, "the more opportunity you have to orchestrate. With a smaller group, for instance, if one of the horns is soloing, there's only one other horn, so you can't do a lot of background work. The larger the group, the more you can do that — with three horns playing, you can almost simulate a big band sound.

"Each [instrument] has its own character, and the more personalities you have in the band, the more opportunities you have to create settings which suit those personalities," he continues. "When I'm writing for the quintet, I'm thinking about those particular players and what they're doing, what their style of playing is and how to give them a vehicle that will allow them to fully realize their creative vision within the composition. And of course in the larger group I have a much bigger array of players to work on, and they're all unique. [Saxophonist] Gary Smulyan's approach to soloing is different from Chris Potter's, which is different from Antonio Hart's."

Holland is just as concerned with commerce as art, as any jazz musician worth his salt must be in 2009. A few years ago he started his own label, Dare2, which licenses his music to Universal. He's put out three albums on the imprint — 2005's live big-band Overtime, 2006's Critical Mass with the quintet and last year's sextet session Pass It On, which featured regular collaborator Eubanks alongside pianist Mulgrew Miller, trumpeter Alex Sipiagin, saxophonist Hart and drummer Eric Harland.

Holland's just completed a weeklong stand at New York's Birdland with an octet lineup; recordings from the sessions will be released at some point. While he's still attached to the idea of CDs, he's planning to start selling digital music through in the future — whether full-length albums or a few tracks here and there, like jazz 78s from the pre-LP era. The only thing he guarantees is a continuing stream of high-quality new music, which fans can hear at his upcoming concert.


The Village Voice Pazz 'n' Jop poll is out today, and the results are unsurprising. I am pleased that they printed my comment, though, which is reproduced below. (Disclaimer: You've heard or read me making all these complaints before, in this and other spaces - if not, most annoyingly of all, in person.)


Metal had one of the best years in recent memory - metal's been having a pretty amazing 21st century, frankly. But you'd never know it from year-end lists not published in metal magazines. The Onion A.V. Club completely ignored metal, except for making fun of one of their critics who voted for Opeth on his ballot. Pitchfork's year-end list was also totally metal-free, choosing to focus instead on albums (to quote their write-up of Titus Andronicus's The Airing of Grievances) "about spending your twenties . . . overeducated and underwhelmed." These sites, along with Popmatters and a few others, are nominally the new zeitgeist, shaping pop discourse - and, in the process, defining the canon for the future. And as far as they're concerned, the canon is guitar-based pop music that runs the gamut from folk to soft psychedelia. Token hip-hop and/or r&b acts are permitted, as long as they're stoners (Lil Wayne) or hippie-ish (Erykah Badu). But the rock genre that can actually claim commercial successes this year (not that sales are an aesthetic yardstick)? Nah, no need to bother with that. Pitchfork et al. have broadened their coverage quite a bit - they do a good job of writing about metal during the year. But when list-making time rolls around, the need to fake broad-mindedness goes out the window, and it's time to close ranks in the Short-Haired White Guys With Guitars Club.

I edit a metal magazine; I'm not required to listen to Fleet Foxes or Vampire Weekend when putting together a year-end list. But editors who want their site, magazine, or whatever to represent the full spectrum of rock/pop music, or want to convince people that's the goal, should be willing/able to admit that good albums were made in 2008 that were not limp indie-pop. Or they could just admit they are who their detractors have always said they were.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I voted for Obama, but I didn't watch the inauguration ceremony - I was hungry, so I went and got lunch. Maybe I'll catch clips tonight on cable, but maybe not - Netflix is sending me Max Payne.

When I thought about all the Obama worship and the kitschy T-shirts, hats, stuffed animals, commemorative plates, etc., etc. (my favorite was one I saw on the street in NYC which depicted the First Family in Star Wars garb, light sabers and all), I felt like a lot of people are getting jacked up in a kind of naïve, but ultimately kinda boneheaded way. Yeah, it's good that he beat McCain, but this country elected George W. Bush twice. So when I thought about what song would best express my feelings about this transition, I knew there was only one choice: Grand Funk Railroad's "People, Let's Stop The War," an antiwar song with the vaguest possible lyrics, released in 1972, approximately four years after the rest of the sentient human population had long since turned against Vietnam. Naïve, boneheaded (Obama's clearly a smart guy, but a lot of his biggest fans are people I don't want on my side), four years late to the party (I mean, seriously, George W. Bush was re-elected!!!)...but okay, yeah, the groove kicks ass. I guess that's how I feel about an Obama presidency.

(Note: Clip above is of Mark Farner's solo band, performing in July 2008.)

Saturday, January 17, 2009


This is making its way through the jazz world:

Dear Friends,

This is an urgent notice on David S. Ware’s health. David needs to find a kidney donor.

David S. Ware was diagnosed with kidney failure in 1999 and he began dialysis that fall. He had an intensive three week hemodialysis regime toward beginning peritoneal (self-administered) dialysis, which would allow him to travel. David has been on this self-administered dialysis regime multiple times every day and night since October 1999. While certainly difficult, he has been able to travel, and perform his music undiminished, since then.

However, late this past December, David called to say that after 9 years this treatment was no longer working as it had been, and that a kidney transplant is the only viable option for his survival.

Since then a number of friends and family members have offered to give him one of their kidneys. Unfortunately, they have all been disqualified due to health reasons or not having David’s blood type, O.

Some basic/initial requirements for viable donors are that they must be under 60 years of age, do not have diabetes or high blood pressure, are in general good health, and have blood type O (either O+ or O- is fine).

The hospital where a transplant would take place is the very highly regarded Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, NJ

Willing and able potential donors should please get in touch with us as soon as possible:

Steven Joerg / David S. Ware management
telephone: 718 854 2387

We will then get them directly in touch with the Kidney Transplant Center at RWJU Hospital to begin the screening process for donor viability.

Thank you on behalf of David S. Ware; please feel free to forward this notice.

Steven Joerg
AUM Fidelity


On an only semi-related note, David S. Ware is just about to release his new studio album, Shakti, on which he's backed by guitarist Joe Morris, bassist William Parker and drummer Warren Smith. It's a really good album and you should check it out.

Monday, January 12, 2009


Do exclusive deals with big chain stores help? Only if the band puts in the effort. Just ask AC/DC.

[Originally published in the St. Louis Riverfront Times.]

Black Ice, the first AC/DC studio album in eight years, is one of rock's biggest success stories of 2008. Selling nearly 800,000 copies in its first week and staying in the Billboard Top Ten since, it hasn't just revived the band's career — it's been one of the most successful examples of an emerging business model: the store exclusive. Black Ice is only for sale at Wal-Mart stores in the United States, following in the footsteps of similar deals by the Eagles and Journey.

The Australian band's deal is more elaborate than those earlier arrangements, though, and it's somewhat more controversial. When the Eagles released Long Road Out of Eden in 2007, the band had already re-established itself as a touring act following the Hell Freezes Over road trip and live album. It was catering to moms and dads who remembered the band's '70s hits (and were probably listening to mainstream country, itself heavily influenced by the Eagles' sound). Journey was selling new vocalist Arnel Pineda with Revelation, a two-CD/one-DVD set featuring live footage, rerecorded classics and eleven new songs, all for only $11.88. In each case, the Wal-Mart deal seemed like a logical move — the customer base was aging and unhip, so an appeal based on convenience and price was the way to go.

But was AC/DC in that camp? If we're being honest, yeah. The hard-rock gods' last mega-success was 1980's Back in Black, an album that continues to sell and keeps the band a classic-rock radio staple. But AC/DC is not a trendsetting, pathbreaking outfit. It keeps its fans happy by not changing the formula, by sticking to big riffs and shout-along choruses. A new AC/DC album hasn't been an event in twenty years. So what were they gonna do? Chase blog hype? Suck up to Pitchfork? Of course not. The only strategy that made sense was to go after suburban moms and dads — folks who still rocked out, albeit in the car while driving the kids to school, and who wouldn't be heading to a record store anytime soon but might well spot a sign in a Wal-Mart and say, "Hey, new AC/DC album! Cool!" and throw one in the cart.

For the band, it was all about loyalty. As vocalist Brian Johnson told Metal Edge magazine, "Wal-Mart [has] always carried our full catalog on their shelves, whereas other stores have just got the biggie-selling ones." He also cited the chain's ability to keep prices low, saying, "That's it, that's the bottom line. It's five dollars cheaper."

Wal-Mart, for its part, went all-out in promoting the disc, and the band as a brand. According to independent music marketing executive Bob Chiappardi, who was involved in the strategy, "it was an encompassing thing...they put a pop-up store in the men's department in all the Wal-Marts, at the entrance they had posters [and] postering throughout the store, they had stand-up racks in the aisles approaching the men's department, and then they had displays in the CD department, a whole top row on the VH1 rack. Not only back catalog, but video games, the AC/DC version of Rock Band and T-shirts."

The band, in turn, employed all the standard promotional strategies for a new album — it made a video for the first single, "Rock N' Roll Train," submitted to interviews and embarked on a massive world tour. Result? Black Ice (which is fantastic, by the way) topped the charts, the concerts sold out — and the band was back, any lingering image controversy surrounding its collaboration with Wal-Mart washed away on a flood tide of cash.

But what about the year's other big exclusive deal — Guns N' Roses' release of Chinese Democracy through Best Buy? In many ways, it was something of an apples-and-oranges comparison. Wal-Mart is a much larger chain than Best Buy, and it threw itself behind its chosen album much more vigorously. BB, which significantly reduced the amount of floor space devoted to music in 2008, offered no store-within-a-store. It merely set the album on cardboard towers on the sales floor, which were dwarfed in many outlets by similar displays advertising the complete Sopranos on DVD.

But according to a marketing executive familiar with the deal, this minimalist-seeming strategy was all that was arranged up-front: "They're kinda just doing what they can do with what they've got. The only thing [Guns N' Roses] had to deliver was a video and the record." (The video will be for the second single, "Better," and should be out sometime soon.)

According to industry scuttlebutt, the negotiations for the Best Buy deal were frantic and down to the wire. "These guys didn't have finished music until a month before," says one source. "It was insane. In all honesty, Axl was working on everything — the art, everything — right to the end." Indeed, in a recent web chat on a Guns N' Roses fan site, Rose (manager Andy Gould later confirmed that it was really him) stated that there were plans for multiple covers that may emerge in the future, that he has a favorite, and it's not the one currently in stores.

There are rumors of a 2009 Guns N' Roses tour. And, hell, Axl might even deign to submit to an interview or two in the new year. But thus far, Chinese Democracy sales have been disappointing: Less than 500,000 of the 1.3 million copies Best Buy took on have departed the warehouses.

Still, one executive involved with the album's marketing insists there's no reason to panic just yet. "You've gotta expect that there's gonna be a tremendous amount of backlash because of how long the record took. There's no way to live up to that expectation. So let all that stuff pass, and then get down to really promoting once everyone has absorbed it and listened to it more than once."

This slow-and-steady approach has antecedents; it's worked twice for Kid Rock. Devil Without a Cause, his breakthrough album, took nearly a year to hit, and Rock N Roll Jesus was gathering dust on shelves until its third single, "All Summer Long," took off.

Another industry source could see the same thing happening with Guns N' Roses. "I don't see why this record — especially when they start going to the ballads and stuff like that — I don't see why this record can't be like a Kid Rock record, and be something that is worked and songs come off and keeps on trudging along until somebody picks their head up and goes, 'Hey, Guns N' Roses is up to 1.3 million,'" the source says. "Then all of a sudden people start paying attention. Until 'All Summmer Long' came out, people had forgotten about that record."

The only question is, can a struggling music industry wait that long for a payoff on an album the band waited fifteen years to release at all?

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Final thoughts on 2008, from the annual Rewind issue of The Wire:

This was a tremendous year for metal and not such a great one for jazz, but I did get to interview Bill Dixon for The Wire, and piss off a bunch of his acolytes in the process. Always happy to be the caveman at the cocktail party. Longtime heroes I got to interview for the first time in 2008: Rob Halford of Judas Priest, Barney Greenway of Napalm Death (who revealed an unfulfilled desire to have Mark E Smith guest on their 2006 album Smear Campaign), Alice Cooper. As print journalism and the music industry race each other around the plughole of history, each year seems a little bleaker than the one before - until you start digging into the astonishing variety of art and culture that still manages to will itself into existence, market economics be damned.

Thursday, January 08, 2009