Saturday, October 30, 2010


Here's my latest batch of All Music Guide reviews. In keeping with the Halloween season, there's a bunch of metal, and some people in masks (the Girl in a Coma covers album). Enjoy!

Arson Anthem, Insecurity Notoriety
Autopsy, The Tomb Within
Conducting from the Grave, Revenants
The Crown, Doomsday King
Dimmu Borgir, Abrahadabra
Exploding Star Orchestra, Stars Have Shapes
Firewind, Days of Defiance
Girl in a Coma, Adventures in Coverland
Holy Grail, Crisis in Utopia
Kill the Client, Set for Extinction

Friday, October 29, 2010


I posted a bunch of stuff on Burning Ambulance this week. Here's the rundown:

Monday: review of Joe Morris's Camera
Tuesday: review of William Parker's Uncle Joe's Spirit House
Wednesday: interview with drummer Barry Altschul, by Hank Shteamer
Thursday: review of Many Arms' Missing Time
Friday: review of the Ornette Coleman Quartet's Reunion 1990

I hope you enjoy all this stuff, and I hope it'll convince you to buy issues of Burning Ambulance, the third of which will be coming out very soon.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Okay, one comment: AWESOME.

21 BY 20: JAZZ IN 2010

It's getting toward year-end list-making time again. Here are 21 jazz albums, by 20 artists or groups, that were worth my time in 2010, and which I think would be worth your time, too. Some of them may not sound like jazz to you. That doesn't make them any less worthwhile.

Carlos Barretto Lokomotiv, Labirintos (Clean Feed)
Nik Bärtsch's Ronin, Llyria (ECM)
Regina Carter, Reverse Thread (E1)
Decoy, Vol. 1: Spirit & Vol. 2: The Deep (Bo' Weavil)
Marc Edwards/Weasel Walter Group, Blood of the Earth (ugEXPLODE)
Elephant9, Walk the Nile (Rune Grammofon)
Amir ElSaffar/Hafez Modirzadeh, Radif Suite (Pi)
Exploding Star Orchestra, Stars Have Shapes (Delmark)
Rich Halley Quartet with Bobby Bradford, Live at the Penofin Jazz Festival (Pine Eagle)
John Hébert Trio, Spiritual Lover (Clean Feed)
Dave Holland Octet, Pathways (Dare2)
William Hooker, Earth's Orbit (NoBusiness)
Keefe Jackson Quartet, Seeing You See (Clean Feed)
Lawnmower, West (Clean Feed)
Little Women, Throat (AUM Fidelity)
Rudresh Mahanthappa & Steve Lehman, Dual Identity (Clean Feed)
William Parker, I Plan to Stay a Believer: The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield (AUM Fidelity)
Odean Pope, Odean's List (In + Out)
Dan Pratt Organ Quartet, Toe the Line (Posi-Tone)
Cecil Taylor/Tony Oxley, Ailanthus/Altissima (Triple Point)
David Weiss & Point of Departure, Snuck In (Sunnyside)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Charles Murray, best known for spewing racist pseudoscience to the top of the best-seller list a while back, recently wrote an imbecilic, ill-informed Washington Post op-ed (but I repeat myself) arguing that there's a "New Elite" in America, and it's not based on wealth or actual power, most of which is in the hands of sociopathic, it's based on what TV shows you watch and how snobby you are about them. It's been taken apart here and there, but of course the mark of true elite status (like Murray's) is that you don't have to give a fuck what people say about your little vomit-burps, you just issue them (in national newspapers) and move on while bloggers pound their heads on their desks.

The one moderately entertaining result of this foofaraw has been a quiz entitled "How Elite Are You?" Here are the questions, with my answers:

1. Can you talk about "Mad Men?"
I can and I do.

2. Can you talk about the "The Sopranos?"
Sure, I guess, but I've only seen maybe a half dozen episodes from beginning to end. Ask me about The Shield instead.

3. Do you know who replaced Bob Barker on "The Price Is Right?"
Drew Carey.

4. Have you watched an Oprah show from beginning to end?
No, but I catch a few minutes here and there.

5. Can you hold forth animatedly about yoga?
Animatedly? No. Have I tried yoga? Yes.

6. How about pilates?
See above answer, minus the trying-it part.

7. How about skiing?
I went skiing once in high school and didn't like it.

8. Mountain biking?
Had a mountain bike in high school; wouldn't call it a subject worthy of "animated" discussion.

9. Do you know who Jimmie Johnson is?

10. Does the acronym MMA mean anything to you?
Yes. (Here's where I recommend my friend Eugene's book.)

11. Can you talk about books endlessly?
Hell yes.

12. Have you ever read a "Left Behind" novel?
No, but I know the basics.

13. How about a Harlequin romance?

14. Do you take interesting vacations?
I'm sorry, I'm not familiar with this word "vacation." Put me down for a "no."

15. Do you know a great backpacking spot in the Sierra Nevada?

16. What about an exquisite B&B overlooking Boothbay Harbor?
No idea where that is.

17. Would you be caught dead in an RV?
I think I've been inside an RV a time or two.

18. Would you be caught dead on a cruise ship?
No interest in contracting oceangoing dysentery, thanks.

19. Have you ever heard of Branson, Mo?

20. Have you ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis Club?

21. How about the Rotary Club?

22. Have you lived for at least a year in a small town?
Grew up in one.

23. Have you lived for a year in an urban neighborhood in which most of your neighbors did not have college degrees?
I've never asked any of them, but I'd bet a sizable number of my neighbors are surviving without the benefits of higher education. As am I.

24. Have you spent at least a year with a family income less than twice the poverty line?
Dude, I'm a writer. What do you think?

25. Do you have a close friend who is an evangelical Christian?
I don't know 'cause I don't ask. Maybe.

26. Have you ever visited a factory floor?

27. Have you worked on one?
No. I have worked in warehouses, though.

Monday, October 25, 2010


The Burning Ambulance blog is now Stop by, won't you? (Issue #3 of the print edition is gonna be awesome, and it's coming sooner than you think, which makes now a perfect time to buy #s 1 and 2, if you haven't already.) Fresh content up today, too: a review of Joe Morris's new guitar/violin/cello/drums CD, Camera.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


The new Shakira album, Sale el Sol, arrived in today's mail, and having nothing better to do, I listened to it. It's being marketed as her return to her Latin roots after last year's Euro-style dance-club disc She Wolf, which didn't do nearly as well as expected. Most of the songs on this one are sung in Spanish, but if you think that's gonna inspire Shakira to greater heights of vocal passion than she's mustered in the past half-dozen years or so, forget it.

The opening title track is limp rock, with a fuzzy electric guitar riff (by who knows who—the producers and guest vocalists are all credited, but none of the instrumentalists are, demonstrating convincingly that this is a pop album and not a rock record). The second track, "Loca," is electronic merengue, but it feels like it's playing at half-speed. Up next is an even more watery acoustic-guitar-and-piano ballad, "Ante de las Seis," and that's followed by another electronic, beat-driven number, "Gordita."

This is the first remotely interesting song on the album, because it features a guest spot by Residente de Calle 13, and he's jabbing at Shakira, speaking for (I'd bet) a sizable portion of Latin rock fans when he says that he liked her better before she moved to Miami and dyed her hair:

Shaki tú estás bien bonita aunque también me gustaba cuando estabas más gordita
Con el pelito negrito y la cara redondita
Así medio roquerita

Shakira tries to keep up, turning the song into a half-dirty (for pop) duo, but it's got nothing on Residente's back-and-forth with Mala Rodríguez on "Mala Suerta con el 13," from Calle 13's own Residente o Visitante CD. And the album's momentum sags a bit after that.

"Addicted to You" is an English-language song that seems about 90 seconds long; "Lo Que Más" is another boring ballad; and "Mariposas" is a Spanish-language take on the girl-and-her-piano almost-rock songs VH1 plays all morning.

"Rabiosa" is one of three songs that appear in two versions on Sale el Sol. This first one is another electro-merengue track, like "Loca" featuring El Cata, but this one's slightly faster and it could have been pretty good if Shakira's attempts at sexy moaning didn't sound like she was waking up from a siesta.

"Devocíon" is a postpunk track driven by throbbing bass and atmospheric keyboards straight from the Cure's Disintegration, and her vocals are probably the best on the whole record. This is the best song on the whole disc; for pure passion, I'd put it right up there with "Timor," the last track on Oral Fixation, Vol. 2, and the last track of hers that really surprised me (in a good way).

"Islands" is in English, all distorted keyboards and New Wave pulse; it's not bad, but I can't see it being a hit, 'cause it doesn't have much of a chorus.

"Tu Boca," which frankly I was expecting to be another drippy ballad, is actually another postpunk rocker, with tons of bass and a melody that reminds me of Natalia Lafourcade's second album (credited to her band Natalia y la Forquetina), Casa. Shakira even heads into Natalia's upper-register vocal territory on a few lines. This song and "Devocíon" are the two keepers.

The last song on the album proper is "Waka Waka (Esto Es Africa)," and I have nothing to say about that.

The bonus tracks are a remix of "Loca" featuring formerly-overrated, now-forgotten UK "grime" rapper Dizzee Rascal; a remix of "Rabiosa" featuring Pitbull; and an English-language version of "Waka Waka." None of them are particularly good. I used to like Pitbull a lot, but he'll appear on just any damn thing these days, and he always sounds the same. He hasn't been at full strength since his second album, El Mariel.

This is a short album (without the three bonus tracks, it'd be less than 40 minutes long) and not a particularly good one. Two genuine keepers ("Devocíon," "Tu Boca") and one mildly diverting novelty ("Gordita") out of 15 is not nearly enough to make Sale el Sol worth your money.

Monday, October 18, 2010


On Saturday night, I went out (with my mom) to see Vicente Fernández at Madison Square Garden. I took a bunch of pictures, and wrote a review, for the Village Voice website. Here's the link.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


On Tuesday (10/19), Rhino is releasing a limited-edition boxed set (three CDs, one DVD) of Ravi Shankar's collaborative albums with George Harrison. From the press release:

The DVD is a rare concert performance of Ravi Shankar’s Music Festival From India recorded at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 1974. The albums include the acclaimed Chants Of India (1997), The Ravi Shankar Music Festival From India (studio version 1976) and Shankar Family & Friends (1974). The 56-page book includes a foreword by Philip Glass, a history of George and Ravi “in their own words” and rare photographs from both family archives.

The personal and musical friendship between Ravi Shankar and George Harrison has been known and well documented for decades now. It was a friendship that was powerful enough to make an impact on the large, musical life of the late nineteen sixties and it reverberates, as clearly, even today – from the Foreword by Philip Glass

In 1973 George Harrison signed Ravi Shankar to his Dark Horse Records label. The first joint recording project between George Harrison and Ravi Shankar, Shankar Family & Friends brought together renowned Indian classical musicians such as Ustad Alla Rakha, Lakshmi Shankar, and Shivkumar Sharma alongside Western jazz and rock musicians including George, Ringo Starr, Tom Scott, Klaus Voormann, Jim Keltner and Billy Preston. One half of the album comprises instrumentals and songs, while the second half is a thematic ballet to a yet un-staged performance.

Ravi Shankar’s Music Festival From India (live from the Royal Albert Hall) was the first artistic event organized and sponsored by George Harrison’s Material World Charitable Foundation, bringing together a 17-piece Indian classical ensemble as well as a solo sitar performance by Ravi Shankar accompanied on tabla by Alla Rakha.

In 1997 George Harrison and Ravi Shankar again collaborated on an album. This time Ravi created music for ancient Sanskrit chants with the challenge of maintaining the authenticity of the ancient verses. Released in 1997, Chants Of India are timeless, Vedic verses chanted for the well being of man and mankind.

I'm most interested in the Shankar Family & Friends album, because it's a weird, somewhat kitschy blend of Indian music and prog-rock. (In that way, it sort of reminds me of Carlos Santana's weird, mystical albums from 1973-75—Love Devotion Surrender with John McLaughlin and Illuminations with Alice Coltrane in particular, but also Welcome—which have always been among my favorite parts of his catalog, right next to the triple-vinyl/double-CD live disc Lotus. To be honest, I really don't have much use for anything Santana did after 1975.) The songs on its first side are nice, but it's the second side, which is taken up with the score for a never-produced devotional ballet, that's the real hot stuff. The mix of sitar, tabla and harmonium with flute, horns, analog synths and occasional guitars all swirls together into something that sounds like a lost Popol Vuh soundtrack to an imaginary, never-produced, Indian-set Werner Herzog/Klaus Kinski movie. When people describe something as "so '70s," they usually mean it in a scornful, disco-era-Bee Gees way. But this music is totally '70s in a stoned-but-totally-earnest way that yes, screams 1974, but that's a good thing. I've said many times that I'll take music from 1969-75 over music from 1964-68 without blinking. You wait: before the end of the year, Madlib or someone similar will be sampling "Nightmare: Lust" from this album.

I get the feeling that even on Chants of India, the one on which he got co-billing, Harrison's role on the records compiled here was basically that of patron, producer and fan. And that's a good thing, as far as I'm concerned. I was never a Beatles fan, nor a fan of the various members' solo work. (See the title of this post? The only other Beatles-related thing I care about is Live Peace In Toronto, the John Lennon/Yoko Ono album, and I really only like the screechy second half, not the rockabilly covers that kick it off.)

By the way, the packaging on this box is fucking glorious. I'm not kidding at all; the last thing I got that was even half this awesome was the Revenant Albert Ayler box, Holy Ghost, and this doesn't have that thing's annoying aspects, like the pressed flower and all the other stuff. It's just an incredibly beautifully printed hardcover book, some oversized sleeves for the CDs (with poster-ish liner notes) and a magnificent outer case. Plus a "certificate of authenticity" 'cause it's a limited edition. But it's just fantastic to look at. Click the image at the top of this post to see a blown-out picture of the whole thing.

Monday, October 11, 2010


John Cole:
Some days I wonder why I even worry about politics. I’m single, white, straight, somewhat educated, over the draft age, and I’ll make it. I don’t smoke pot, I don’t want a gay marriage, I’m not a minority, I’m not disabled, I don’t have any pre-existing conditions, I’ll never have an abortion, I’m not going to be discriminated against in the workplace, no one is going to beat me up on the street for who I am, and we’re not going to be able to do anything about the big issues of the day like global warming.
Now you know why there are very few political posts on this blog. I have political views, but as (I think) Thomas Frank once put it, "Withdrawing in disgust is not the same as apathy." The real-world applications of my political views work out to yelling at the TV and muttering, "Fuck all these assholes."

Monday, October 04, 2010


It's been a while since I posted links to AMG reviews, 'cause I haven't been writing as many of them lately. Here are the most recent ones.

Akwid, Clasificado R
Black Anvil, Triumvirate
Bostich + Fussible, Bulevar 2000
Vicente Fernández, Un Mexicano En La Mexico
Marcus Fjellström, Schattenspieler
Henry Grimes/Rashied Ali, Spirits Aloft
Hildur Guðnadóttir, Mount A
Infernaeon, Genesis to Nemesis
Vijay Iyer, Solo
Liv Kristine, Skintight
Kylesa, Spiral Shadow
Rudresh Mahanthappa & Bunky Green, Apex
Man's Gin, Smiling Dogs
Neurosis, Live at Roadburn 2007
Steelwing, Lord of the Wasteland
Trigger the Bloodshed, Degenerate
Various Artists, Dark Matter: Multiverse 2004-2009
Vindicator, The Antique Witcheries
Waking the Cadaver, Beyond Cops, Beyond God

I also wrote a review of Cluster & Farnbauer's Live in Vienna that didn't run; here 'tis:

Live in Vienna
This two-CD set, originally released on cassette, documents the only collaborative performance between the German electronic duo Cluster (Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Mobius, formerly of Conrad Schnitzler’s trio Kluster) and percussionist Joshi Farnbauer. Cluster was one of the major kosmische groups coming out of early ’70s Germany alongside Tangerine Dream and the work of Schnitzler and Klaus Schulze. Their endless interstellar journeys via analog synth had a somewhat creepier vibe than those of TD, and were less robotic/inhuman than Schnitzler’s work, without being as lush as Schulze’s. This live performance, perhaps due to the limitations of the source recording, has a thin quality, and the sound occasionally wavers, but overall it’s bound to be of great interest to fans of the duo. The music travels through a variety of moods and zones over the course of nearly 90 minutes; “Piano” and the closing “Ausgang” are quite beautiful piano pieces, the latter also featuring Farnbauer on delicately tapped cymbals. “Drums” features him cutting loose on a thundering beat that almost prefigures industrial, while “Metalle” gradually moves from humming soundscapes to droning Krautrock reminiscent of Faust’s collaboration with violinist Tony Conrad, Outside the Dream Syndicate. Farnbauer adds a great deal to this album/performance, absolutely earning his co-billing status, and new listeners will find this every bit as fascinating as longtime Cluster fans.