Archive for February, 2006
Friday, February 17th, 2006
Tom Hayes e-mailed me recently to give me a heads-up about his site tracking out-of-print CDs and LPs that need to be reissued legitimately on CD. I stumbled on his site a while back, but don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it here, so there you go. Tom keeps it pretty up to date, and I’ve found his list to be pretty useful whenever I’m cruising eBay or a for-sale list of used CDs, figuring out what might be rare or hard to find (or, for that matter, a bootleg). Nice resource for collectors.
Thursday, February 16th, 2006
I just finished an excellent book — Eric Nisenson’s Ascension: John Coltrane and His Quest. Most impressive about this book is the fact that while Nisenson is clearly a huge Coltrane fan, he doesn’t let his adoration of the man and his music blunt his critical edge. I am also a big fan of the general thrust of this book; rather than trying to be a comprehensive biography, it focuses on what Coltrane was trying to accomplish with his music, describing the constant progression that embodied Coltrane’s oeuvre and trying to explain where that impetus for progress came from. If anything, I wish Nisenson had delved deeper into Coltrane’s spirituality, because obviously that spirituality is at the center of Coltrane’s “quest.” Perhaps that would be an impossible task, but maybe not — after all, Alice Coltrane is still alive and well, and as Nisenson says himself, shared her husband’s spiritual journey. Why the author apparently conducted no interview with Alice Coltrane is mystifying to me; it seems that, given that she holds a celebration of her husband’s life and work each year, she would be more than willing to talk about him.
Nisenson’s discourse on Coltrane’s body of work itself is excellent. He doesn’t go into in-depth analysis of any given album or performance, but manages to touch on all the major works in the context of Coltrane’s broader stylistic phases. His writing is compelling readable, moreso than most overviews of this sort that I’ve read. My only real gripes are with the final chapter, “After the Trane,” in which Nisenson gives his thoughts on the state of jazz post-Coltrane. Nisenson’s insistence that no truly pathbreaking jazz flagbearer has emerged after Coltrane’s death is probably spot-on, but also probably misses the point. After the 60s, after all, jazz fragmented into all sorts of new directions (Nisenson touches on fusion but little else), making it almost impossible for a real “flagbearer” to come into existence. The time of the standard-bearing jazz icon is past, but that doesn’t necessarily say anything about the state of jazz today other than that “jazz” itself has become a more diffuse concept. (Hello Wynton Marsalis.)
Also, Nisenson has a weird attitude towards rock. He acknowledges that some of the musicians that have best carried on Coltrane’s spirit have been in rock (namely, Jimi Hendrix). He acknowledges that some rock bands use improvisational techniques that follow on the jazz tradition in general and Coltrane’s legacy in particular. He says that he is a fan of much pop/rock. But then, in his discussion of fusion, he turns his nose up at rock and exhibits a kind of snobbish genre superiority so unfortunately common among fans of musical forms that have pretentions of “seriousness” (i.e., jazz, Western art music, and, yes, progressive rock). Finally, he says nary a word about much in the way of avant-rock (which is understandable) or the modern wave of avant-jazz (which is less so, although in this book’s defense, it was written in the mid-1990s, when it was probably much less clear that there were very exciting contemporary things going on in underground avant-garde “jazz”).
Regardless of these faults, this is still a book I highly recommend to anyone even remotely interested in Coltrane. He’s a fascinating figure and this book does his legacy justice.
Wednesday, February 15th, 2006
I mentioned in passing, a few entries ago, Mike McLatchey’s Outer Music Diary, a Yahoo! group in which Mike and other contributors post short blurbs about everything they’ve been listening to lately. I am happy to spread the word that Mike’s project is no longer private, and is now hosted in blog form on the same server as Mike Borella’s excellent Avant Music News. I urge anyone interested in the types of music covered by this site to go check Outer Music Diary — it represents a great new approach to music “reviewing,” emphasizing the reality of the experience of listening rather than treating music writing as the more objective exercise that traditional reviews represent.
The best thing about this move (aside from OMD becoming publicly accessible) is that it’s now available through an RSS feed, something that the horribly counterintuitive Yahoo! Groups interface is probably years away from developing.
Tuesday, February 14th, 2006
Some responses to comments on earlier posts:
First, regarding this project I’m doing, writing a few paragraphs about every single album I own. This is coming along, but slowly. (It’s hampered by the fact that last month I got far too many new CDs. I am toning it down in the next couple months for logistical and financial reasons, so this problem should recede a bit…) I’ll be happy to post a PDF of an unfinished version, once I have a bit more written. As for actually using some of the blurbs for reviews, I’m a little hesitant to do so, but if there are any that I’m really happy with, I’ll consider it. The thing about reviews — and this goes back to the whole philosophical reflection I had earlier about the role of reviews in general and G&S specifically — is that they’re pretty definitive. At least, that’s how they’re interpreted. So I like to be a little more considered when writing a review that ends up being (theoretically at least) a reference for a lot of people. Still, a good idea Sean, and if it gets you to write some reviews, it’s probably worth it :)
Thanks Mike for the Animal Collective recommendation. I downloaded it from eMusic (which I have started using to try out albums and bands that I’m not sure I’ll like) and find it interesting, if not yet actually captivating. Still, I feel like it’s a grower. On the live-music train of thought, I’ve convinced three or four friends to come with me to see Charming Hostess next month — it’s amazing how easy it is to get people interested just by repeating their “Jewish/Balkan nerdy-sexy-commie-girlie” self-description. Well, at least among my group of friends. Also, it helps that they’re performing in an über-hip, locally-owned coffee shop/performance space, Busboys & Poets.
And, looks like Pelican and Mono have announced some spring tour dates, and they’re coming to DC in May. That’ll be a nice followup to the Isis show a week or so earlier.
Wednesday, February 8th, 2006
RIP Elton Dean.
I was rather surprised to see The Gathering’s Mandylion garner a review at PopMatters today — not only does prog-metal seem outside the realm of that site, but they also only review new releases, and Mandylion is over a decade old. Well, turns out there’s a 10th anniversary special edition release. Cover art looks really nice and the second disc of bonus material sounds interesting (along that vein, I still have to get the recent 2CD release Accessories: Rarities B-Sides). Good review, too, worth a read.
Tuesday, February 7th, 2006
All About Jazz has a nice, and very lengthy, interview with Tim Berne that hasn’t seemed to get much attention. He talks extensively about his recent projects (all of them — Paraphrase, Big Satan, Hard Cell, Science Friction), lavishes praise on drummer Tom Rainey, and offers some fascinating nuggets about his compositions and his groups’ free improvisations. For instance:
I’m really playing thematically; even if it’s super-abstract, I’m always remembering what we did and where we’re going, and kind of relating whatever ideas of composition and drama and tension and release that I do in writing. The thing is, you’ve got two other people in the conversation, so that’s what makes it interesting—how everyone else interprets your decisions. And you’re making those decisions really quickly. So it’s great when everybody’s kind of ignoring each other in a very convincing way.
Ha- sometimes his interviews are as knotty and difficult to decipher as his compositions.
Monday, February 6th, 2006
There’s a small thread going on at ProgressiveEars asking for recommendations of Univers Zero’s music. I posted a quick response, basically saying that I like all of their albums (thus making mine an entirely unhelpful contribution to the discussion), though for different reasons. I really don’t think there’s a weak spot in their entire discography — some 10 albums as of the release of Live last month. Some I like less than others, sure (their first two “reunion” albums are a notch below the rest of their body of work IMHO), but it’s all quite good, with each album subtly different from the ones that came before and after.
I can’t really think of any other band about which I feel this way. There are some bands out there that I like all of their albums, of course, but none with the long history and large discography of Univers Zero. There are plenty of bands who have a great discography but who have released a clunker or two, or at least a couple albums that I’m lukewarm about. There are some non-prog bands, like Cowboy Junkies, Mogwai or The Decemberists, whose discographies I like front to back, following along with their subtle stylistic changes as they evolved, but I don’t like them with the same passion that I have for Univers Zero.
I don’t know. Henry Cow comes close, but they have fewer albums and I’m not a huge fan of the Canterbury-centric sound of Legend. I guess King Crimson comes relatively close as well; I adore a lot of their albums, but I’m not a huge fan of their 80s period and they’ve just released so much material (and I have so much of it) that I’m just not as well-acquainted with a lot of their stuff, compared to how well I know all of UZ’s releases. Perhaps Daniel Denis’ infamous perfectionism, and refusal to release live albums until this new one, pays off in the form of a more concise and lovable discography.
I think I’m rambling a bit, but I think the point is this: there are very, very few bands out there who can say that they’ve released a bunch of albums in a recognizably distinct style, all of excellent quality, yet all of which show enough progression and development such that they don’t all sound alike. I mean, some people probably love all of the Ozric Tentacles‘ or Djam Karet’s albums, but to me they’re all too similar to each other. Univers Zero have avoided that rut, doing something a bit different every time (although arguably the reunion version of the band shows less progression between albums than the classic version) such that every album, despite being in the same overall style, is a unique work that stands well on its own merits. And this is without exception — no clunkers in their history at all!
If I think of another band about which I can say this, I’ll follow up, but I don’t think I will. Univers Zero isn’t my favorite band — I think a decent number of bands have reached greater heights — but perhaps no one in my experience, particularly in the rock music field, has been as consistently good as they have.
Saturday, February 4th, 2006
I saw The Vandermark 5 tonight at the Iota Club in Arlington, VA. Wow, what a show. Those guys were intense and tight. I went with a friend of mine who is a sometime jazz pianist but not much of a fan of the more avant kind of stuff. He seemed to like the show though, especially the couple ballads that they played, and was impressed with the arrangements. I found Fred Lonberg-Holm’s contributions pretty fascinating. His cello playing was quite a distinctive shift, to be sure, from Jeb Bishop’s trombone — he was kind of a musical chameleon, at times doubling the bass or playing the rhythm, at others taking a solo spot, at still others just kind of filling the spaces with an edgy, noisy swirl of bowed, blurry notes. I think his presence gives the quintet a bit more of an “out” feel than they used to have. He was certainly a beast, playing ferociously throughout, but he did occasionally play it straight and melodic, during which times his contributions were beautiful and lyrical. Certainly one heck of a diverse player.
I was surprised at Tim Daisy’s work on the drums — he played straighter than I expected most of the time, to the point that when he locked into a groove, a more jazz-inclined listener might find him a bit stiff. My more rock-oriented background had less of a problem, but I didn’t expect to be nodding my head and tapping my foot quite as much as I was!
Also interesting, I talked briefly with Vandermark and asked him what was up with Spaceways Inc.; apparently that group has some trouble being active given the busy schedule of drummer Hamid Drake, so Vandermark is starting another group. I forget the name of this group and the lineup, but it includes two electric basses and Vandermark said that if I liked Radiale (which I do, very much so), I’d probably like this one — lots of funk in the jazz. Or something like that. Apparently they’ll be recording in the spring. Looking forward to that, for sure.