Posts Tagged ‘Henry Cow’

HOLY SHIT

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

HENRY COW
40th ANNIVERSARY BOX SET Volumes 1 & 2
9 CDs and 1 DVD with 2 substantial books - in two solid Boxes. LIMITED EDITION.

Assembled over 15 years, this collection gives for the first time some idea of the breadth and depth of Henry Cow’s work. Always very much a live band, performance was their metier, and a concert might range far - always driven by an intense dialogue between tightly knit compositions and radically open improvisation. The officially released LPs tell at best only half this story, and one purpose of this definitive collection is to set the work back into its broader context. These are all previously unreleased recordings, that include many compositions and improvisations new to anyone who only knows the official releases, documentation of a number of one-off projects and events and - where different or remarkable enough to justify inclusion - live versions of parts of the LP repertoire. Many of these recordings are high quality radio transcriptions taken directly from the original masters, others are less hi-fi, but justified we think by their historic and musical quality. And everything has been carefully transferred and re-mastered by Bob Drake to the best audio quality that current technology allows without interference or tampering. It’s all a million times better than the terrible bootlegs that are swimming around. Altogether, these 9 CDs embody some extraordinary, and occasionally prescient music. Taking this box together with the officially released albums, it is possible at last to get some impression of the extensive ground Henry Cow covered in it’s 10 short years. Finally, there is the DVD: 80 minutes of the 1976 Cow (with Georgina Born and Dagmar Krause) performing many unreleased pieces as well as Living in the Heart of The Beast, Beautiful as the Moon &c. This is the only known video recording in existence - professionally made, multi camera - and has not been recovered since its original broadcast (just scour U-Tube, HC is conspicuous by its total absence). And last but not least, there is a great deal of written, photographic and textual documentation. Since this will probably be the last and definitive collection, it has to be thorough. For reasons of fairness and cost we have decided to split the set into two boxes - which can be bought separately or together. VOL 1 covers the period 1971 to the 1976 Hamburg radio show which documents John Greaves’ last concert with the band, as well as the extraordinary Trondheim concert from the quartet tour that immediately followed. VOL 2 takes the story through to 1978 and includes more previously undocumented compositions as well as the Bremen radio recording. The Stockholm CD belongs to this second box, which also contains the DVD.

This came from ReR via ProgressiveEars. Supposedly out in September for 99 GBP. (I haven’t been able to find the original, so this is unverified, but I believe it.) To recap: nine CDs and one DVD of live Henry Cow — none of this stuff has been released before, so you’re not paying for 5 CDs of stuff you already have in order to get to the goodies.

Last December’s pseudo-Henry Cow reunion: recorded!

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

I’ve already exceeded my budget for CDs this month, but man, this looks delicious: the next best thing to a brand new Henry Cow live recording:

Fred Frith/Tim Hodgkinson/Chris Cutler
The Lost Weekend: Live NYC December 2006 [3 CDs + DVD]
Three members of Henry Cow re-united for the first time in nearly 30 years! Four amazing tour-de-force sets [early and late shows from both Sat 12/16 and Sun 12/17] from 3 master improvisors who resumed an intense dialogue as they though they had only left off the day before! The DVD is of the early show Sunday!

To be clear, that’s two sets of the three of them together, one Hodgkinson/Frith duo set (that’s the one documented on the DVD apparently; I wish the DVD was of the trio, but I can’t really complain!), and one Hodgkinson/Cutler duo set. The Frith/Cutler duo set that was performed the Friday before these shows is being documented on a separate release, The Stone: Issue 2, a benefit CD for the venue. This release is described as follows by Bruce at Downtown Music Gallery, where these sets are being sold for $40 and $21, respectively (though the 3CD/DVD set is not yet on sale):

This was the first of three nights of the much anticipated reunion of three former members of Henry Cow. The first set that night was a trio featuring Fred Frith & Chris Cutler with special guest Soft Machine bassist Hugh Hopper. It seemed too restrained in part and was a bit disappointing for some in attendance. The second set was just the Frith and Cutler duo and it was phenomenal! Although Fred & Chris’ musical relationship goes back the beginning of Henry Cow in the late sixties/early seventies, they have been doing duo gigs periodically since 1979. They have three previous live duo discs out, the last one is from 1999. The duo seemed primed for this particular set and it was an indeed an incredible occasion. Although Fred played an electric guitar with a variety of pedals and a small table of objects and Chris played a drum kit with even more assorted percussive objects, electronics and a small mixing board, when one is listening and even watching the duo play, it was and is difficult to tell who was doing what. The disc itself captures their entire nearly 51-minute set and immensely fascinating throughout and even throttling at times. It begins with a splash that sounds like magic and lets you know that something wonderful is about to take place. It sounds like a soundtrack to a movie that has you at the edge of your seat. Each sound, each gesture is filled a most compelling vibration. There is a great deal of discussion about “noise” nowadays… what we have here is some of the most well-sculptured and musical noise that I’ve heard in a long while. I am truly proud of the way the entire month of performances turned out and especially elated that way this disc has captured the magic of this set. Now it is your turn to dig in and enjoy the great journey within. Thanks to our friends Robert O’Haire for the recording, Scott Friedlander for the cover photo and to Fred & Chris for the music.

It’s going to be difficult to restrain myself from buying both of these things ASAP.

Henry Cow & Nelly Furtado (a natural combo)

Thursday, February 1st, 2007

For some reason I’ve been listening pretty nonstop to Henry Cow’s Concerts the past couple days (which means there will probably be a review coming soon — that it hasn’t yet been reviewed on this site is somewhat baffling). A favorite moment that just passed me by: some 11 minutes into the fabulous take of “Ruins,” Fred Frith’s ebullient guitar solo slowly stutters into the background, as if pushed backstage by Dagmar Krause as she begins singing wordlessly, imploringly. This stuff is sublime.

And now, since I know readers of this website are probably big fans of modern pop music:

Incongruously, the album that kept me awake on a recent long drive was something rather different — Nelly Furtado’s new one, Loose. I suppose this isn’t all that new anymore. In any case, it’s quite fascinating: the first few songs are pure club fodder, absolutely stinking of Timbaland (that sounds rather negative but isn’t meant to be), with all the lyrical nuance you would expect from songs called “Maneater” and “Promiscuous.” (Though the Steve Nash namedropping is kind of cute, or something. Hey, look! A fellow famous Canadian!) But then we get into some totally different stuff, like “No Hay Igual,” which combines your typical queasy Timbaland synth line with Latin percussion and insistently chanted vocals in Spanish. It’s actually pretty edgy stuff. This is followed by a song “featuring Juanes” that sounds more like a Juanes song than it does a Nelly Furtado song. And then, a little later, we get something that would totally be at home on a Kylie Minogue album: “Do It” is pure Euro dance-pop. Then there’s “In God’s Hands” which sounds more like Mandy Moore than anything else. Finally, there’s the triumphant closing song, an absolutely gorgeous slice of melancholy that is maybe the best pop ballad I have ever heard.

What is one to make of this? Furtado kind of carved out an identity for herself over her first two albums, but now she seems either totally directionless, or brilliantly unhinged, or maybe just a bit plagiaristic (even aside from the whole “Do It” controversy with Timbaland). Not only does Loose not sound anything like Whoa, Nelly! or Folklore, it also sounds nothing like itself, having absolutely no consistent sound. This isn’t necessarily so weird for some artists, but for a pure pop artist, it’s rather more surprising. I still haven’t decided if it’s a good thing or not. Or, for that matter, whether this album is any good or not.

Joanna Newsom: Just give me all your best-of-2006 awards already

Sunday, December 10th, 2006

Usually, my favorite album of any given year doesn’t start to become clear until well into the next year — hence my penchant for posting best-of lists a year late. This year, though, there’s a runaway candidate already in Joanna Newsom’s Ys. Newsom is one of the more polarizing figures on the current indie music scene, although she’s gotten pretty much universal plaudits from the critics (just look at the Metacritic page for Ys). She’s got a voice that’s pretty much instantly unlikable, like a five-year-old singing in a falsetto. But if you can get past the timbre of her vocals, her music is rather astounding. I like The Guardian’s quote: “It may well be the most off-putting album released this year. After playing it, there seems every chance it is the also the most astonishing.”

Also revealed by The Guardian is that Newsom’s been listening to her Henry Cow. In retrospect this is perhaps not entirely surprising, considering that her vocals are about as conventional as Dagmar Krause’s. With that said, I am endlessly amused that in the coffee shop where I’m sitting right now, playing very loudly on the speakers is Newsom’s first album, The Milk-Eyed Mender. Evidently this is not a place that really cares about playing non-intrusive, inoffensive music so as not to scare off potential patrons. (And I do see at least one annoyed face turning up the volume on his iPod.)

What’s spinning, November 29 edition

Wednesday, November 29th, 2006

Listening to lately:

  • Damsel - Distressed: Nels Cline and drummer Zach Hill (Hella) team up for four long, spacy improvs. I think I actually like this better than the other Cline/drummer duo album I have - Interstellar Space Revisited with Gregg Bendian. Less intensely noisy than some of Cline’s more recent improv stuff, this is still pretty captivating material.
  • Joanna Newsom - Ys: After the debut album by this folksy singer/harpist, the last thing I expected was an uber-ambitious sophomore effort consisting of five epic-length songs. But it works, somehow: Newsom’s lyrics capture the imagination and her inimitable vocals never fail to surprise. Beautiful, dramatic, and perhaps my favorite album of 2006 so far.
  • NeBeLNeST - ZePTO: my recent review pretty much says what I want to say about this one. Great stuff from one of my favorite recent prog bands.
  • Henry Cow - Concerts: the remaster sounds great. The opening suite on disc 1, bookended by “Beautiful as the Moon,” is just jaw-dropping.
  • 16 Horsepower - Hoarse: “death country?” I suppose that means country music more along the lines of Johnny Cash than Nashville. Whatever it is, I like this stuff: indie-rockish country with a real rock-oriented drive, dark and heavy lyrics, and intriguing use of banjos and mandolins. This is a pretty raw, energetic live recording.

Very exciting news from ReR

Thursday, April 13th, 2006

I usually try to avoid posting straight-up news items on my blog, leaving that task to sites like Avant Music News (or for the more neo/symph prog-inclined, the excellent DPRP news pages). But Chris Cutler’s recent post to the ReRmegacorp Yahoo group has me too excited to not mention it. Cutler outlines ReR’s plans for 2006, which include some things that had me practically jumping out of my seat this morning:

  • The This Heat box set announced last year should be ready May 10th.
  • Remastered, repackaged versions of both News From Babel albums.
  • New CDs from Chris Cutler/Fred Frith (duo), Biota, and The Necks.
  • Possibly some unreleased Henry Cow material… maybe a set of two or three cds.”

Unreleased Henry Cow material? What’s this? Live stuff, or actual unreleased compositions? Either way, if this came to fruition I’d be one hell of a happy camper. Keeping my fingers crossed!

You can read Cutler’s full post here.

What bands have NO weak albums?

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.

Teaching high schoolers about the avant-garde

Wednesday, August 6th, 2003

So I’m bouncing between jobs at the moment - starting what will be my full-time job for the next two years next week - which is why updates have been sporadic this summer. I spent six weeks in June and July at the Governor’s School of North Carolina, teaching social sciences and Area III (”self and society”), which I also did two years ago. The neat thing about Governor’s School is that since all the concepts and ideas taught are twentieth-century, all the music that the orchestra and choral music students perform is contemporary stuff. This year some of the highlights for me were Pärt, Glass, Schönberg, and Penderecki. The Planets was also on the curriculum, to my surprise - I’m getting damn sick of “Jupiter”.

So the result is that lately I’ve been on a RIO kick (before and during Governor’s School I was on a free jazz, particularly Coltrane, kick). Current listening is In Praise of Learning - I really need to get me some more stuff with Dagmar Krause. I’m convinced that the only reason she has such a reputation as a “difficult” singer is because of “War” - really, aside from that song she’s not all that weird, at least not on this album.