Wednesday, September 30, 2009


[This piece ran in the Scene on 9/23, but I forgot to post it last week.]

Tropicália Thunder
Os Mutantes get darker on their first album in 35 years

Guitarist Sérgio Dias formed Os Mutantes in the mid-'60s with his brother Arnaldo Baptista and singer Rita Lee. They recorded six studio albums (one of which, Tecnicolor, went unreleased until 2000) before Lee departed. Baptista followed her out the door a year later, leaving Dias to keep the band going until 1978 with one more studio album, an EP and a live disc. Then there was nothing, until a 2006 reunion concert at London's Barbican Arts Centre, which led to more shows in major U.S. cities. The excitement following that wave of performances has led to a new lineup, a new album Haih Or Amortecedor and a new tour.

In the early days, Os Mutantes were part of Tropicália, a Brazilian cultural movement that encompassed poetry, visual art, theater and a mini-wave of psychedelic rock bands and singer-songwriters like Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso. But a military coup had put a new government in power in 1964, and Tropicália, which mixed avant-garde art with radical politics, didn't sit well with the dictatorship. Veloso and Gil were both exiled from their homeland in 1969, unable to return until 1972. Other artists were forced into mental hospitals or even tortured. A lot has changed. Tropicália artists are now revered as kings of Brazilian music. From 2003 to 2008, Gil was Brazil's minister of culture.

According to Dias, the military government influenced the Brazilian record industry. "There was no interference from the government, no open censorship, but the worst thing the military government left in Brazil was the corruption," he says. "And that was very, very bad. Payola and all of this. And [among] the major record companies, there was no competition. They had a society where they talked to each other. So if you were an artist and you didn't do what one company wanted, you couldn't just go to another company. They would all close the door to you."

At this point, Dias has no plans to release Haih Or Amortecedor in Brazil. If he does, it may be through a mobile phone company rather than a label "because everybody's just downloading everything on the Internet. Behind the façade of 'This is all free, this is beautiful, this is the way it's supposed to be,' the artist needs to receive something for what they do, or they will not survive and will not make a second album. I'm not even talking about for Mutantes, but for new groups that are coming out. We're in a transition point now, to find out what will be the correct way of commercializing your product, so everybody gains out of it."

The early Mutantes albums combined the essential lightheartedness of much Brazilian music with the experimentation of the Beatles' most psychedelic work and the funk grooves of Sly Stone. Though there was a political edge to songs like "Panis et Circenses (Bread and Circuses)," the music's dominant spirit was one of youthful energy and fun; the cover of their second album, Mutantes, depicts the core trio onstage, smiling broadly. Haih Or Amortecedor, by contrast, is darker and more explicitly political, featuring songs with titles like "Baghdad Blues" and "Samba do Fidel." Its cover features a black-and-white photo of a raven, gazing balefully at the camera.

"I was in France and I was pestering the hell out of this crow," recalls Dias. "He was lazy, he never flew off. He was just walking and walking, and then he looked at me and I could get this picture like, 'You're next.' We're not such a lightweight band anymore. We're pretty intense. And I think the look of this raven says a lot."

He sees a connection between the savagery of the raven's black, emotionless eye and the concept of anthropophagi that was central to Tropicália — cannibalizing all societies, all cultures, and creating something unique from the mixture. "It's good to have a bird of prey there. It lets people know that we're not just kidding."

Even if he's the last man standing from the '60s incarnation of Os Mutantes, Dias sees himself as a man on a mission. "I don't see the point of stopping the band now, especially after all that's happened. If Arnaldo [Baptista] decides to leave, what can I do? It's like if you're in a foxhole and your brother-in-arms falls, you don't just surrender. I have a responsibility to these [new fans], that's how I feel. After playing all these places in the world and being received how we were, the least I can do is release new music."


By now, you know how this goes: Another day, another Keith Jarrett Impulse! album. Today, we’re digging into Death And The Flower, the follow-up to Back Hand and the product of the same recording sessions.

This disc only has three tracks; the nearly 23-minute title track, the 10-minute “Prayer” and the almost nine-minute “Great Bird.” The first of these starts with percussion and flute, but before long Charlie Haden comes in with some very nice, seemingly Indian-influenced bass plucking, and when the piano and saxophone join (with Paul Motian in back focusing on cymbals and bells and stuff rather than drums) it reminds me more of John Coltrane’s 1961 Village Vanguard recordings than anything I’ve previously heard from this group. More or less at the 10-minute mark, Motian begins enforcing rhythm, and the piece starts to pull together – it’s been quite beautiful in a meditative way all along, but almost exactly at the halfway mark, it starts to swing. Jarrett spins out a few phrases that remind me of Billy Joel at around the 15-minute mark, which I don’t mean in a bad way – you’re just gonna have to take my word for it. This whole piece is excellent, except for Haden’s solo, which doesn’t really go anywhere, and the transition to a suddenly much more uptempo and active mode in the last three minutes, which works but seems unnecessary. As with “Kuum” from Back Hand, it seems like these guys weren't always able to tell the difference between the kind of thing that can work really well in a live context and the more concise, singular ideas that make for good album tracks.

“Prayer” is almost a solo piano track, except for some barely perceptible bass in the deep background starting around the halfway mark. It’s really beautiful, and I don’t have much more to say about it than that. It’s one of the best tracks from this whole string of albums so far.

“Great Bird” gets everybody going right away – piano, bass, drums, tables or bongos, and two saxophones, which must have been overdubbed afterward, because in the past, Jarrett has played soprano sax only when not playing piano. In this case, the piano continues as two saxophones duet with each other in the far left and far right corners of the mix. At some point that whooping percussion instrument I've mentioned in previous posts makes another appearance, and at this point I’ve decided it sounds more like a small monkey than a dog, for what that’s worth. It's still annoying. “Great Bird” surges and drops back, waxes and wanes, finally ending with everybody slowly dropping away except for the percussionist(s) and Haden. It’s a nice piece, a great counterpart to “Prayer,” and it ends this album very naturally. Other than a few missteps on the title track (notably, the bass solo and the final fast section), Death And The Flower is probably the best of the albums so far. At worst, it’s a tie between this one and Fort Yawuh, and that’s only because Fort Yawuh is a double album with more really good tracks to choose from.

So that's that. Tomorrow, Shades.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Day Three of my journey through the Impulse! albums by Keith Jarrett's group with Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden and Paul Motian. To recap: Fort Yawuh - adventurous and interesting; Treasure Island - super '70s, somewhat indulgent, but very accessible. Today, we discuss Jarrett and co.'s follow-up to the listener-friendly Treasure Island, Back Hand, an album whose title seems to encapsulate the band’s attitude toward their listeners – they really seem to be giving us the back of their hand on much of this disc.

We begin with “Inflight,” a nine-minute sprint on which Jarrett’s piano playing is based around stride rhythms, while Redman spins out a long and complicated melody. The two compete for space, playing aggressively and rather freely for the full length of the piece as Haden and Motian spin their wheels in back. This track reminds me of Ornette Coleman’s Science Fiction, in large part because Haden and Redman are playing in a manner similar to what they offered on that album and Broken Shadows – bluesy and hard-swinging, but also seeming to hover in place rather than charge forward. Despite Jarrett’s frenetic outpouring of notes, the piece seems static; it never goes anywhere, though it’s very pretty and a lot of fun while it lasts.

“Kuum” begins with some sort of wooden flute and various shakers and hand-held percussion devices. Haden starts bowing madly as the flute offers endless repetitive variations on a single phrase that eventually give way to long breathy tones. Eventually, Haden stops bowing and begins plucking the bass, and it sounds like metal cables being hit with a wrench. There’s lots of percussion all around him (including that annoying squiggly instrument I talked about yesterday), and occasional outbursts from reed and/or flute. No piano at all. This is the sort of thing a live audience would put up with, but does it belong on a studio album, particularly for almost 12 minutes? I’m not sure. It’s not something I’d listen to twice.

The album’s third track, “Vapallia,” is piano trio plus percussion, very melodic and baroque and easily the most conventionally beautiful track thus far. My guess is that it probably kicked off Side Two on vinyl.

The title track (sort of – it’s written as “Backhand,” but the album cover has the two-word version) sends Jarrett back into Vince Guaraldi territory, and when he and Redman duet on the melody it’s very nice stuff indeed. Later on, it gets even better; Jarrett’s solo is like a waterfall landing on highly polished glass, sending bright outbursts of light shimmering in all directions. Very nice. I’m not sure whether Paul Motian did something to piss off the engineer or this was just The Way Things Were Done in the early ’70s, but he’s way too far back in the mix to have any real impact on things. I’m willing to believe that his bandmates could hear him at the time Back Hand was recorded, but those of us experiencing it after the fact would like to know he had more than cymbals at his disposal. Also, this track could have been less than 11 minutes long, but I’m not sure what I’d cut.

This is definitely my least favorite of the albums thus far. As enjoyable as some parts of Back Hand are, they seem mostly to be recordings of the musicians playing for themselves and each other, rather than the listener, especially “Kuum,” and frankly, they disappear from memory almost as soon as they’re over.

That's it for today; tomorrow, Death and the Flower, recorded at the same sessions as Back Hand.

Monday, September 28, 2009


Okay, here we go - Day Two of my journey through the Impulse! recordings of the Keith Jarrett "American Quartet." Treasure Island was the first studio release on Impulse! by this band, and it featured a few guests: two percussionists (Danny Johnson and Guilherme Franco) and guitarist Sam Brown.

The first track, “The Rich (and the Poor),” is a bluesy ballad with tons of space in the mix for a thick Charlie Haden bass line and some very pretty piano and saxophone work. Jarrett sings a little, but only a little, and when the band gets all gospely around the six-and-a-half minute mark, it’s pretty hot. Not hot enough to justify the yelping and whooping heard in the background, but nice. What keeps jumping out at me about this song, though (and much of this album), is how astonishingly ’70s it is. It sounds like it should be playing over helicopter shots of one of New York’s outer borough neighborhoods, as the closing credits roll on a Norman Lear sitcom.

The callbacks to my childhood (I was born at the tail end of 1971) continue on “Blue Streak,” the piano line of which starts out in almost Vince Guaraldi territory – Guaraldi being best known, of course, for his theme music to various Charlie Brown cartoons. When Dewey Redman comes in, it gets a little more rugged, but given that it’s only two and a half minutes long and fades out, this feels like more soundtrack music. Oh, and there’s a really annoying percussion instrument in the background throughout – I don’t know what it’s called, but Airto Moreira used to use it a lot when he was with Miles Davis’s band. It sounds like a whining dog.

The ridiculously titled “Fullsuvolivus (Fools of All of Us)” is up next, a very energetic and surprisingly (within the context of this album) free eruption. It must be said that Jarrett is outclassed, in the aggression department, by both Redman and Haden, but he holds his own. The percussionists contribute rattles, whistling and hooting from the background, almost acting like a Greek chorus at times. This track kinda sticks out after the first two, but it’s pretty great.

The title cut is up next, and it’s another Super Sounds of the ’70s special. Redman absents himself, leaving Jarrett to duet with Sam Brown, and between the ultra-smooth guitar sound and the semi-soulful melody, this song could easily have gotten on the radio right in between Chuck Mangione and Steely Dan (again, the influence, particularly in the piano and guitar sound, is inescapable).

“Introduction/Yaqui Indian Folk Song” is very pretty. But it’s so short, and so focused on melody, I wonder why Redman felt the need to play anything at all on the track.

“Le Mistral” is the opposite, the longest track on the album and the funkiest. The group gets into a pretty heavy Latin groove, with lots of percussion (and even some gym-coach whistles in the background) over another thick-as-cooling-asphalt Haden bass line. He’s so huge in the mix on these albums, it really boggles my mind that in more recent years bass players have been turned down in the name of – what? Naturalism? Bah! Gimme big loud throbbing bass!

“Angles (Without Edges)” is another semi-free piece with almost no Redman until the very end – Haden takes a great solo, then Redman and Jarrett duet on reeds to take the track out, which is totally unexpected given everything that’s come before. You would think Redman would have at least taken part in stating the melody up front if he was gonna show up at the end, but it’s like a surprise walk-on at the end of a sitcom or something.

“Sister Fortune” closes the album with another radio-friendly exercise in soft-jazz-rock groove including tastefully stinging guitar from Brown, subtle Latin percussion and a nice beat Elton John could have sung over.

Seriously, I don’t think it’s possible to overstate how utterly ’70s Treasure Island is. It’s got some really good moments, but at other times it’s so much like a time machine journey back to when I was growing up on Staten Island and in suburban New Jersey, watching reruns of All In The Family and Barney Miller and Taxi on TV after school, that it gives me laughing fits. This is some Schoolhouse Rock type stuff.

Tomorrow: Back Hand, the first of two albums from a single set of 1974 sessions.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


I’ve never spent much time listening to Keith Jarrett. I reviewed one of his solo discs for Jazziz back in ’06, and obviously I’ve heard his electric work with Miles Davis. I tried listening to some of the “Standards Trio” recordings, but the humming, buzzing vocal thing he does became so distracting I couldn’t even hear the piano anymore – it was like trying to listen to music with a dragonfly zooming around my head. But this past week, I read this excellent interview that Ethan Iverson conducted with Jarrett, and it made me want to check out the ’70s quartet, a group I'd never gotten around to before now. So I picked up the two boxes Impulse! devoted to that group’s output (the first one covers 1973 and 1974, the second one covers 1975-77, and both include a bunch of bonus tracks), and will be writing about my impressions of one of the albums for each of the next eight days or so. The group also made three albums for Atlantic (one without Dewey Redman), one for Columbia and two for ECM; I don’t know yet if I’ll seek those out. This may be enough.

Fort Yawuh is a double live album recorded at the Village Vanguard. It starts with “(If the) Misfits (Wear It),” a long and winding keyboard excursion that eventually gives way to a full-on rampage by the other three bandmembers. Redman’s tenor sax solo is full of honks and farts at the bottom of the instrument’s range, and at one point he even begins shouting through the reed, a fairly convincing display of abandon. Jarrett picks up a musette late in Redman’s solo spot and begins duetting with him. Meanwhile, Charlie Haden and Paul Motian are going berserk in the back – Haden’s bass playing is as powerful as it was on Ornette Coleman’s Science Fiction, and Motian is positively assaulting the kit, sounding almost like Max Roach at times the way he crushes the toms. The piece ends with Jarrett and Redman duetting on sax and musette, tackling that long, intricate melody with total precision. It’s a pretty ballistic first number, and it sets everything else up very nicely.

The title track is next, a ballad on which Jarrett’s piano is initially challenged by what sounds like a cuatro, a four-stringed guitar heard in salsa and other Latin music (it’s actually Jarrett himself, plucking the piano’s strings), plus percussion – in addition to the four members cited above, percussionist Danny Johnson is also present on this date. Then there’s a brief passage of nothing but “little instruments” (shakers and tiny cymbals) before the piece gets rolling with a churning, surprisingly powerful piano solo. I’ve always thought of Jarrett as a somewhat fussy player, more concerned with baroque classical melodies than really gettin’ it pumpin’, but apparently back in the ’70s he could kick ass when he wanted to. He starts singing along with himself a little bit here, but not enough so that it becomes bothersome. And when Redman comes in, playing a ballad melody atop Jarrett’s lushly rippling piano and Haden’s throbbing bass, with Motian offering a series of small eruptions rather than attempting to impose a rhythm on the slowly expanding music, this piece really turns into something beautiful. Redman takes a sharp, piercing reed solo around 11 minutes in, as the rhythm section gets all North African behind him – initially at least, this blending of desert music with post-bop built around Jarrett’s weird, almost prog-rock melodic concept is what’s most interesting about this band. There are times when they almost reconcile the two sides, but then they seem to consciously decide to let them just coexist, as when Redman’s solo ends and Jarrett comes in with some almost Wyndham Hill piano. This piece seems to end about four times, though – one of the perils of live albums. Shaving off the last three or four minutes, even if it meant losing some Philip Glass-esque stuff in the last two, would have done the piece as a whole a service.

“De Drums” is the most overtly ’70s track on Fort Yawuh, to my ear. The piano line Jarrett’s playing as it begins reminds me of Linda Ronstadt and Carole King songs I used to hear as a child, on the radio stations my mom liked. As it develops, though, the melody becomes much more like a Steely Dan thing, with Redman’s bluesy/gospelish solo only adding to that impression. Now, I know Walter Becker and Donald Fagen heisted part of the song “Gaucho” from a Jarrett tune called “Long As You Know You’re Living Yours,” which I’ve never heard. But that was in 1980, and this track, which is from 1973, would seem to point to Jarrett’s work being a long-time influence on Steely Dan, which is interesting. I’m intrigued to see if this shows up on the quartet’s studio albums.

“Still Life, Still Life” is a very deliberate, careful piano ballad with a solo from Redman that doesn’t even sound like him – it sounds like John Coltrane from Crescent. Motian concentrates on his cymbals, and Haden pulls on the bass strings like they owe him money. The sound of the rhythm section is one of the things that really anchors this music in the ’70s, by the way; Haden’s bass seems artificially thickened, and Motian’s drums are all reverby and resonant, like those of a rock drummer. This piece was cut off by an editor, and rather clumsily – the last note of music heard is one from Haden, and it’s not a resolving note, it sounds like there should be something coming next. Plus, there’s no applause afterward. But hey, it was 1973, and vinyl had much greater limitations than CDs, so eight minutes and change was all there was room for. I wonder, though, why it wasn’t restored to its full length on CD. Perhaps the tapes were lost?

The album’s final track is the side-long, nearly 21-minute “Roads Traveled, Roads Veiled.” It’s a weird one, with the baroque, free and exotic aspects of the band all coming into play at once. Trancey, mantra-like bass, extra percussion, ripples-on-a-pond piano, and Redman soloing in a free yet somehow restrained, even when shrieking, manner that reminds me of Pharoah Sanders’ late ’60s/early ’70s work (Live at the East, Black Unity, Summun Bukmun Umyun, etc.), especially when Jarrett joins him on soprano sax.

On the boxed set, this album is expanded to a two-CD set, with alternate takes of “(If the) Misfits (Wear It)” and “De Drums” plus three other tunes – “Whistle Tune,” “Angles (Without Edges)” and “Melting the Ice.” I’m gonna limit myself to discussing what was on the original albums, though.

Tomorrow, Treasure Island, a studio disc with extra percussionists plus guest guitar.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


[From Westword]

After stints in St. Vitus and the Hidden Hand, Scott "Wino" Weinrich is trying his hand as a solo artist

Since the dawn of the '80s, Scott "Wino" Weinrich has sung and played guitar in a string of revered bands, including Saint Vitus, the Obsessed, Spirit Caravan, Place of Skulls and the Hidden Hand. In all that time, though, he's never put out a solo album — until now. Punctuated Equilibrium, released in January, combines the psychedelic biker-rock sound he's known for with instrumental jams and more adventurous, even jazzy songwriting. Surprisingly, Weinrich was considering retirement before it took shape.

"Hidden Hand was over, and I was thinking well, you know, I've kinda made my mark, maybe it's time to hang it up," he recalls. "But me and Jean-Paul from Clutch had been talking about doing a record together, and I still had some songs under my belt that hadn't seen the light of day yet, and since he's such a great player and had the time, we agreed that it was time to do the record we'd always wanted to do."

Though it's easy to recognize Wino's rough vocals and thick, vintage guitar tone, he claims that each of his bands has had its own feel. "With Shrinebuilder, for example, I know that I don't want to write anything that's super-involved because there's a different vibe with that band," he says. "With the Wino band, I can pretty much do whatever I want."

Shrinebuilder is a supergroup that's garnering serious buzz within the metal underground; in addition to Wino, the band features Scott Kelly of Neurosis on guitar and vocals, Al Cisneros of Om on bass and Dale Crover of the Melvins on drums. The band, which will play a few select shows in Chicago, New York and Austin in November, recorded its self-titled debut in three days earlier this year.

Wino's also planning to get Saint Vitus, the group he fronted in the mid-'80s, back into the studio and possibly mount a larger-scale U.S. tour than the two East Coast reunion shows currently planned.

"Those guys are all convinced that Europe is the bread and butter," he says, "but I was like, if you can't crack your own country, then you ain't shit, you know? I think the shows are gonna be fuckin' fantastic. So hopefully my theory is right, and the time is right for Vitus and this type of music."

Indeed, in times of economic uncertainty and political upheaval, glossy pop won't do. You need to crank it up and bang your head, nice and slow, and Wino's understood the power of a doom-mongering riff for thirty years.

[The Westword site also features a chunk of my conversation with Wino as a straight Q&A; you can check that out here.]


Granted, I haven't listened to nearly as many jazz albums this year as I have metal albums, but here's a list of the stuff I have heard and liked so far in '09:

Rodrigo Amado/Kent Kessler/Paal Nilssen-Love, The Abstract Truth
Fred Anderson, Staying in the Game
John Blum, In the Shade of Sun
Chick Corea/John McLaughlin, Five Peace Band Live
Fire!, You Liked Me Five Minutes Ago
Full Blast (Peter Brötzmann/Marino Pliakas/Michael Wertmüller), Black Hole/Live in Tampere*
Jonathon Haffner, Life on Wednesday
Arve Henriksen, Cartography
Steve Lehman Octet, Travail, Transformation and Flow
Joe Morris, Wildlife
Joe Morris Quartet, Today on Earth
NEW, NEWtoons*
Chris Potter, Ultrahang
Enrico Rava, New York Days
Mike Reed's People, Places & Things, About Us
Matthew Shipp Trio, Harmonic Disorder
Tyshawn Sorey, Koan
Chad Taylor, Circle Down
The Thing, Bag It!
J.G. Thirlwell, The Venture Bros.: The Music of J.G. Thirlwell
David S. Ware Quartet, Live in Vilnius*
Matt Wilson Quartet, That's Gonna Leave a Mark#

* = reviewed for The Wire; no link available
# = reviewed for Jazziz; no link available


It's almost October, which means some editors out there are already asking for year-end lists. (The first one I was asked to contribute was for Jazziz, but that's a quarterly now, so that's kinda understandable. Still, since turning it in I've heard almost as many excellent records for a whole second list. Oh, well.)

Anyway, knowing that the end of the year is nigh, I've gone through my iPod and hard drive and come up with the following list of decent-to-excellent 2009 metal releases, from which I will be culling my year-end Top Ten, barring the release of something totally awesome between now and list-making time (for example, I got the new Portal in today's mail, but haven't listened to it yet).

The list (particular favorites in bold, links to reviews where available):

3 Inches of Blood, Here Waits Thy Doom
Ambassador Gun, When in Hell
Ancestors, Of Sound Mind
The Answer, Everyday Demons
Antigama, Warning
Anvil, This is Thirteen
Artillery, When Death Comes
Augury, Fragmentary Evidence
Baroness, Blue Record
Behemoth, Evangelion
Bergraven, Till Makabert Väsen
Born Of Osiris, A Higher Place

Brutal Truth, Evolution Through Revolution
Canis Dirus, A Somber Wind from a Distant Shore
Cannibal Corpse, Evisceration Plague
Cauldron, Chained to the Nite
Converge, Axe To Fall

Crucifist, Demon-Haunted World
Darkest Hour, The Eternal Return
Defeatist, Sharp Blade Sinks Deep Into Dull Minds
Divine Heresy, Bringer of Plagues
Dodsferd, Suicide and the Rest of Your Kind Will Follow
Evile, Infected Nations

The Fall Of Troy, In the Unlikely Event
Fleshgod Apocalypse, Oracles
Funeral Mist, Maranatha
The Gates Of Slumber, Hymns of Blood and Thunder

God Forbid, Earthsblood
Gorod, Process of a New Decline
Graves Of Valor, Salarian Gate
Greymachine, Disconnected
Grief Of War, Worship
Hacride, Lazarus
Heaven And Hell, The Devil You Know
I See Stars, 3D

Insect Warfare, World Extermination (reissue)
Iron Age, The Sleeping Eye
Isis, Wavering Radiant
Job For A Cowboy, Ruination
Judas Priest, A Touch of Evil - Live

Kylesa, Static Tensions
Lamb of God, Wrath
Laudanum, The Coronation
Lazarus A.D., The Onslaught
Liturgy, Renihilation
Magrudergrind, s/t
Man Must Die, No Tolerance for Imperfection
Manowar, Thunder in the Sky
Marduk, Wormwood
Mastodon, Crack the Skye
Maylene and the Sons of Disaster, III
Megadeth, Endgame

Memphis May Fire, Sleepwalking
Minsk, With Echoes in the Movement of Stone
Mumakil, Behold the Failure
Municipal Waste, Massive Aggressive
Obituary, Darkest Day
Obscura, Cosmogenesis
Orthodox, Sentencia
Revocation, Existence is Futile
Saviours, Accelerated Living

Shadows Fall, Retribution
Showbread, The Fear of God
Shrinebuilder, s/t
Skeletonwitch, Breathing the Fire
Slayer, World Painted Blood
Suffocation, Blood Oath
Sunn O))), Monoliths & Dimensions

Tenet, Sovereign
Ulcerate, Everything is Fire
Vader, Necropolis

War From A Harlots Mouth, In Shoals
Warbringer, Waking Into Nightmares
White Wizzard, High Speed GTO
Wino, Punctuated Equilibrium
Wolf, Ravenous

Friday, September 18, 2009


Here's fifteen new reviews to read and enjoy...

Ancestors, Of Sound Mind
Baroness, Blue Record
Canis Dirus, A Somber Wind From A Distant Shore
Converge, Axe To Fall
CuCu Diamantes, CuCuLand
The Fall Of Troy, In the Unlikely Event
Fire!, You Liked Me Five Minutes Ago
The Gates Of Slumber, Hymns of Blood and Thunder
Gorod, Process of a New Decline
Jodis, Secret House
Babatunde Lea, Umbo Weti: A Tribute to Leon Thomas
Merrimack, Grey Rigorism
Joe Morris Quartet, Today On Earth
Los Tigres del Norte, La Granja


[From the St. Louis Riverfront Times.]

Tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins is a jazz living legend. He debuted behind vocalist Babs Gonzales in 1949, and quickly made a name for himself by performing with virtually everyone of importance in the genre throughout the '50s, including Art Blakey, Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis.

Albums such as Saxophone Colossus, Way Out West and Freedom Suite took jazz in unexpected directions as he recorded and performed accompanied only by a bassist and drummer, something almost unheard-of for a horn player at the time. The combination of unassailable talent and decades of clean living — he was a heroin addict in the 1950s, but disappeared from the scene for several years to get clean, exploring yoga and Zen in the process — have made him literally one of the last men standing from jazz's glory days.

Despite his near-godlike status within the jazz scene (even John Coltrane admired him so much he recorded a piece called "Like Sonny"), he was humble about his skills — and still is, more than 50 years later. "I don't like listening to myself, so I didn't want to go too deeply," he says about going through his tape archives to prepare last year's Road Shows, Vol. 1, a single-disc compilation of live performances recorded at various concerts between 1980 and 2007, with an ever-changing series of backing bands. "I tried to pick Volume 1 from performances without delving too deeply into the archives...I just picked something that was fairly accessible." He's not sure what Vol. 2 will offer, though the idea of releasing an entire concert isn't out of the question.

Rollins is regarded as one of the greatest improvisers in jazz — on the version of "Best Wishes" that opens Road Shows, Vol. 1, he runs through 35 variations on the song's main theme without blinking. But in conversation with a journalist who marvels at his ability to construct a solo, he responds, "It takes a certain skill to be able to play the same way every night. And I don't have that skill. I can't play the same thing every night. So it's just my lot in life that I'm going to change, and what I play isn't going to be the same."

No matter how much he may change a song in performance, melody is always a constant with Rollins. He's never been a player interested in jarring, dissonant blasts with the horn; instead, he works at the heart of the tune, pulling it in one direction or another, note by note, disassembling and reassembling it but always playing music, not raw sound. It's the key to his musical conception.

"I grew up in the age of the movies," he recalls. "So we used to go every week, and we'd see these Hollywood productions with these musical scores. I remember very early on seeing Swing Time with Astaire and Rogers, and the music by one of my all-time favorites, Jerome Kern. I remember those melodies very well — I had an older brother who played classical violin and an older sister who played the piano and stuff like that, but I got a lot from the movies."

With a discography nearly 100 albums deep, Rollins has a vast catalog of songs, both standards and his own compositions, to draw upon. But as he points out, "musicians don't necessarily like being surprised by a tune," so he tends to rehearse twelve to fifteen pieces before embarking on a tour with a band much younger than he is. "I have no standardized setlist, but I have to restrict myself to that because it's just impractical to have a group of six musicians who know my whole career of 50 years plus," he says with slight resignation. Even at this late date (he turned 79 on September 7), Sonny Rollins is always looking for a way to bring the audience something new and unexpected.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


In a recent, idle moment, I bought two of David Mamet's movies on DVD: Heist and Spartan. I watched Spartan this afternoon. I think it may be a perfect film.

Val Kilmer's character, who I choose to believe is nameless because two people call him "John" and three people call him "Bobby," and he tells one of them that his name's not Bobby, is a machine. He does what he's told and never asks why. It's not until he begins to ask that the movie becomes what it is, which is an stoic, fatalistic (to call it cynical would be to imply a facile wised-upness that Mamet avoids) examination of American politics and the people who succeed in that field. Everyone has a job to do. Many are employed cleaning up messes made by a few.

The movie, too, is a machine. Everything clicks into place and there is no wasted motion. Every character has a purpose within the narrative. This person leads Kilmer to that one. This person assists that one. But no one, and not a word of dialogue, is superfluous. Things are repeated for emphasis, and there is a monologue which is necessary to ratchet up the emotional impact, but there is almost no expository dialogue in Spartan. The object at the center of the narrative is a young woman in this case, but it/she could just as easily have been the silver case in Ronin, the formula in The Spanish Prisoner, the gold in Heist, the Glengarry get the idea. Mamet offers you a glimpse of what people want, then makes/lets you watch them chase it. But along the way he offers no surplus information. We never even know who the girl's father is in Spartan; all we know is that he is a politician up for re-election.

I gave this post the title I did because I believe this is Mamet's most spartan film. Heist has lots of fun, funny flourishes in its dialogue, and Glengarry Glen Ross is practically an opera, it's all vocalists trading arias. Homicide is a class in history, religion and philosophy disguised as a mystery. But the poster for Spartan encapsulates the movie perfectly: It depicts a woman's expressionless face, in gray, with a red band containing Val Kilmer's image across her eyes. The woman is a moving object; Kilmer is a moving object intent on colliding with her.

After I watched the movie, I went to Wikipedia and counted up Val Kilmer's movies. I've seen 24 of them. I think I may have seen more movies with Val Kilmer in them than films with any other actor in them, and that includes Kevin Bacon. I think Val Kilmer may be my favorite actor. He is a very quiet performer; he seems to stare out at the world and miss nothing, even when his character is a junkie, or a drunk, or both. I read this profile of him (by Chuck Klosterman, a writer with whom I have had one enjoyable phone conversation but whose writing frequently falls apart upon even cursory examination) nearly five years ago now, and it's stuck in my head ever since. There are no interesting quotes from Kilmer in it. Even the bit about being able to understand what it's like to have been in Vietnam or to have killed someone better than someone who actually had those experiences just kind of drifts down to the tabletop, because he says it with such calm insistence, seemingly not caring if you believe him or not but at the same time utterly confident that you will. That aura comes through in his portrayal of Doc Holliday in Tombstone, a movie that (before I broke down and bought it on DVD) was one of my "from here to the end" movies; if I caught it on cable, especially in its first half, I would almost always stop and watch it from that point to the end. It comes through in his work in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, as Elvis in True Romance, as Philip of Macedon in Alexander, even as Montgomery in The Island Of Dr. Moreau. I can't think of another American actor who radiates that kind of calm; the closest equivalent to Kilmer might be Mads Mikkelsen.

Anyway, revisit Spartan sometime. It came and went with absolutely zero fanfare, just one more Mamet project that very calmly demonstrated to anyone watching exactly how you make a movie.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


If you don't understand the headline, rent Pootie Tang. Hell, rent Pootie Tang anyway.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


Cryptopsy's controversial venture into deathcore deserves a second look
[From the Cleveland Scene]

For a guy who's just been dropped by his label, Cryptopsy drummer Flo Mounier is surprisingly cheerful.

"We've been meaning to finish our contract with Century Media, because it was really not advantageous to us at all," says Mounier. "It was something we signed when we were kids, not realizing we'd be so exploited. As of a year and a half ago, they cut all monetary support for us and many of their other bands, so it became even more one-sided. So we met on a quick solution to end the deal."

He's not sure what the band's next move will be. There are doubtless many other metal record companies that would welcome Cryptopsy, though he says, "I must admit that we are leaning more toward the independent route."

There's one thing Mounier wants to make absolutely clear: The collapse of their contract had nothing to do with longtime fans' negative reaction to the group's 2008 release (and sixth album overall), The Unspoken King, a departure for the veteran group.

Cryptopsy's home province of Quebec has maintained a death grip (no pun intended) on the ultra-intricate, alienatingly brutal style known as technical death metal since the 1980s emergence of psychedelic thrashers Voivod. The genre truly blossomed in the '90s and '00s with groups like Martyr, Neuraxis, Gorguts and Beneath the Massacre. Since their 1994 debut, Blasphemy Made Flesh, Cryptopsy had been regarded as one of the country's — indeed, the world's — most impressive tech-death bands.

But with The Unspoken King, they made a sharp left turn. They brought in a new singer, Matt McGachy, who was about as far from a death-metal growler as possible. Indeed, on songs like "Bemoan the Martyr" and "The Plagued," he sang in an almost Mike Patton-like croon. The riffs were much more pit-friendly and less complex than on any previous disc. And perhaps worst of all in the eyes of hardcore fans, they hired a female keyboardist, Maggie Durand, who created dialogue samples and atmospheric intros for many songs. (She's since left the group.)

Yes, Cryptopsy had become a deathcore band. To properly understand the outcry this generated on metal message boards, recall the sputtering rage heard when it was announced that the Battlestar: Galactica remake would feature a woman playing Starbuck, and multiply it by a thousand. Visit the Cryptopsy page on sometime, and check out the reader reviews. Most of their albums have review averages ranging from 70-85 percent favorable. The Unspoken King's average rating is 13 percent.

But here's the thing: The album's not bad. Sure, it may not feature the ultra-complex, finger-dislocating guitar lines and gut-churning vocals of 1996's None So Vile or 2005's Once Was Not, but take it for what it is, and it's damned enjoyable. Mounier himself has remained in top form, hammering away at the more groove-oriented songs and beating the kit into shards on the blast beats. If you like Martyr or Gorguts, you might not like The Unspoken King. But if you like Job for a Cowboy (and lots of people do, myself included) or slightly more melodic death-metal bands, you might like it quite a bit. The album deserves reassessment.

And according to Mounier, it's getting it.

"Every album we have ever put out has taken months and sometimes years to be understood by some for what we intended them to be," he says. "I have no idea why this is, but that's been the pattern. It's weird 'cause since we have been playing a few of the Unspoken King songs live, we have been seeing great reactions from fans, singing along and all."

He's not force-feeding the album to fans on the current tour, though; in fact, the band is moving in the opposite direction, presenting a full summation of its career. "I think that we are only playing one [Unspoken King song] this time around, 'cause we brought back a lot of older songs that we haven't done in many years," he says. "The set is very brutal and has something for every different Cryptopsy fan. We're having a lot of fun playing it. It's kind of refreshing."

It's also a great way to break in the band's latest addition: guitarist Youri Raymond. "We've known Youri for a while now," says Mounier. "He actually auditioned for the position of singer when Mike DiSalvo left the band [in 2001]. He has amazing vocals, as well as being a very good guitar player. We've been doing shows with him for the past six months, and the feedback so far is that this is the most brutal and tightest Cryptopsy lineup ever."


Leonard Pierce is a fine fellow indeed; I knew that when I hired him to write for Metal Edge, and readers of the Onion's AV Club have been enjoying his penetrating cultural insights for some time now. Well, the AV Club has finally, in recent months, moved out of their whiteboys-with-guitars indie rock ghetto and given Leonard a monthly metal colum. In its latest installment, he talks about the new albums by Megadeth, Marduk, Baroness, Arch Enemy and more. But he also delivers a very positive review of another important cultural product:

READ A BOOK! First, the shameful full disclosure: Phil Freeman was my editor at Metal Edge magazine in its final days. That said, he’s also an engaging, insightful critic who consistently comes up with interesting approaches to material we’ve seen a hundred times, and is one of the best journalists writing about heavy metal today. Freeman has already written definitive critical appraisals of the New York No Wave scene and Miles Davis’ electric period, and his latest, Sound Levels: Profiles In American Music 2002-2009 (Lulu), is a worthwhile collection of some of his best 21st-century interviews. Metal fans should enjoy his intelligent back-and-forth with the likes of Melvins, Sunn O))), Mike Patton, the Mars Volta, and Serj Tankian; there are also lengthy, smart interviews with giants of other musical genres, from Tom Waits to Ornette Coleman.

Thanks, Leonard! Yer a pal. And in case you missed it, here's that link where you can go and buy my book.

Saturday, September 05, 2009


Gamer is what happens when you give the two guys who made both Crank movies a bigger budget. It absolutely earns its R rating, which makes me happy; I was heartily sick of PG-13 horror and sci-fi movies. Plotwise it's Death Race and The Condemned and The Running Man and probably a double fistful of others rehashed (basically, any recent dystopian reality-TV satire), with the high-concept twist that video game nerds are controlling meat puppets, but everyone works hard to sell it, and there are some surprising faces (Milo Ventimiglia, Keith David, Zoe Bell) in small roles. Terry Crews makes a good nigh-indestructible antagonist, and Michael C. Hall is a fun psycho supervillain. Gerard Butler is no Jason Statham, of course.

Here's the thing, though: Why is the idea of using a real person as a puppet appealing? It's such a common SF trope, and I don't get it. (Of course, I don't play any video game more violent than Super Mario Brothers, either.) In Gamer, the teenager who operates Gerard Butler's character is barely sketched-in; we see that he's got an annoying little sister, and expository dialogue reveals he's got a mother and father, but basically he's just a faceless kid (not literally) who's really good at video games. At this point I'd much rather see a story that addresses the class issues so often elided in SF from the bottom up. Remember the famous William Gibson quote - "The future is already here; it's just not evenly distributed"? There's been too much focus on the gleaming high-tech overclass in SF. I think the next big movement, if creators are smart, could be underclass stories. It's being done to some degree - Sleep Dealer arrives on DVD this coming Tuesday, and I'm looking forward to checking it out. And District 9 was a great example of how SF can explore poverty, and of course the labor perspective was intermittently represented on Battlestar: Galactica. But by a huge margin, the dominant perspective is like that offered in Charles Stross's Accelerando (which I'm getting close to finishing): the people who can't afford to upload their consciousnesses and become metahumans are seen as dead-weight, or antagonistic. But somebody worked on an assembly line to build all those spaceships and high-tech weapons, and I'd like to read their stories.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


I've never been a huge fan of Jay-Z's. I love "Big Pimpin'", but that's more about UGK and the beat; if Jay-Z wasn't on the track at all, I'd still like it. He has a couple of other songs that I like, but in general I see him as a manifestation of rap's aesthetic downfall, and his new album, The Blueprint 3 (out in two weeks, but already leaked) confirms that verdict. It's full of old-man songs - "D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)," "Reminder," "Already Home," "Off That"...all past tense, all reflections on past glories, all of which are benchmarks of commercial success. A significant chunk of "Reminder" is literally a recitation of how many albums he's sold. I've never heard Kingdom Come, but I understand much of that album is in the same vein - a king on his throne, yelling "Don't you know who I am?"

This is boring. I hate to get all old-man myself, but rap songs used to be all "I'm the greatest rapper in the world, and here's why." Now they're all "I'm really rich, and here's a list of all the stuff I own." Which is bullshit, in the sense that it's boring and in the sense that it's probably not even true. Do you really think Rick Ross (who Jay-Z reminds me of now, except I like Ross better because he's at least got the virtue of being funny; Jay-Z seems all "heavy is the head that wears the crown," a theme that only DMX has ever successfully pulled off) owns a racehorse? And if he did, why would that be an admirable thing?

Hip-hop suffers the farther it gets from underclass status. This is a purely aesthetic judgment. Rap is the sound of some young black guy out in the street, yelling to be heard. Once he's a millionaire, once he's a corporate head, he's clearly been heard, been acknowledged. He's inside. So what's he got to yell about? It's time for him to start using his inside voice.

Hip-hop wants to be the music of the underclass and the music of the new black overclass, which is why it was necessary to infiltrate and destroy soul and R&B, a process that began in the 1980s and is now complete. But this is aesthetically untenable. So what's to become the life soundtrack for the black overclass? Jazz? The overproduced, denatured post-soul of John Legend and Alicia Keys (who appears on The Blueprint 3, overemoting to little effect)?

There are about four good songs on The Blueprint 3, and they come in pairs: "D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)" and "Run This Town," both of which are built around gritty, almost noisy backing tracks (the music to "Run This Town" reminds me of Muddy Waters' Electric Mud or Howlin' Wolf's This Is Howlin' Wolf's New Album), and then a little later, "On To the Next One" and "Off That," the latter the album's high point by a long stretch, mostly because Timbaland produced it and it sounds like Nelly Furtado's "Say It Right," one of the best songs/beats of the last decade (with a little bit of Prince's "Hot Thing" thrown in). The rest of its tracks are negligible, tedious and/or embarrassing.

I remember fat gold chains; I know material success and attaining "winner" social status has always been an important signifier. But nobody likes to listen to the boss bragging. Jay-Z should walk away.