I had been that way earlier in the day. It was colder now, so I stopped to get a waffle at the Belgrafrau stand on the no-man's street separating the beginning of the Rue Neuve from Place De Brouckère. It cost 1.65€, roughly the price of a bus ticket.
I don't know what those waffles are called. Chewy, with big squares and the size of two palms, it could have been topped with cream or chocolate. As usual, I took mine plain. There are also the thin brittle ones, a particularly delicious honey-filled varition of which can be found in Hema stores. Waffles, like French fries wrapped in a thick paper cone (or, less poetically, laying corspe-like in a plastic tray), connect you to the city. Its fast-fading warmth shielded me from the winter's early-evening chill, while metaphorically it drew Brussels closer. The wild neon illumination that somehow made the blackness of the night sky more vivid and present; the well-rehearsed progression from the UGC multi-mega-complex on the Place, up through Boulevard Adolphe Max's parade of unhelpful temping agencies and onto the final, ignominious stretch of pornland shops, cinemas and performance spaces that stop, meekly, at the junction with the broad and busy entanglement of the Boulevard du Jardin Botanique, the weirdly "Metropolis"-like quality of the CBD surrounding the Gare du Nord, the far-off white City Hall spire overlooking the Grand-Place, all of it became intimate.
Across the street from the smut stands the Brussels Sheraton and the glass pyramid that pales absurdly in comparaison with its Parisian forebear. Parallel to Adolphe Max runs a parallel world, the Rue Neuve, as swanky as a populist high street can get and remain in business: Zara is surrounded by multiple H&Ms; coming from the Sheraton, the ATMs of Fortis Banque greet consumers; at the other end of the street, Women's Secret bids them farewell.
I wasn't taking the entire tour this time. I needed only to go to Waterstone's to compare prices for Bob Dylan's "Chronicles." I had been wandering the aisles of the Dutch-language Standaard Boekhandel in search of a present for J... He's a Dutch teacher and generally gets books when a present is needed. I don't know his level of affinity for Dylan (if any), but thought it might be nice to get some lighter fare. Since his English is good, the 20€ Dutch translation was redundant. In a just-discovered English-language bookshop, large, but cluttered and exuding an air of small-scale conviviality, a nice counter-weight to the world-conquering indifference of Waterstone's and some fifty metres up from the Belgafrau, the book was 30€. As it turned out, Waterstone's had it at the same price. It remains a mystery to me how a translation of a new book can be cheaper than the original version. I ended up not getting anything. Reading the first few pages of "Chronicles" was exciting: it was about Dylan, but it could have been a work of fiction, which is good for the Dylan-ignorant such as myself and for those who want to offer it to someone of unknown Dylan status; the words "hophead talk" reminded me of "On the Road"'s ambiance.
Last week I went to see The Roots for the sixth time, at the Ancienne Belgique on Boulevard Anspach, De Brouckère's lower-class extension and the place to go to buy cheap computers. The following day, my daily commute partner called the AB the smallest venue he'd been to. I called it, perhaps incorrectly, the largest, which revealed to me how ignorant I am of the marginality of my musical experience.
Well over a year ago I had seen them from the balcony of the same room. This time I was down amongst the plebes and enjoyed myself more because of it. As I walked in, they were already onstage, playing "Boom!" The Roots have become an unabashed guitar(s, two, to be exact) band, and most of The Tipping Point's somewhat stilted songs were all the better for it. Energy, distortion, re-arrangement and facile volume did the trick. The sword swang the other way on "Why?" as the desultory guitar strumming that accounts almost entirely for the song's despondant atmosphere was drowned out by amorphous volume-induced parasites. In fact, it was probably the loudest concert I've ever been to: for the next few days the ringing in my ears caused interferences when I whistled, which sounds begnin but is in reality rather scary.
There were transistions from "Iron Man" to "Crazy In Love," the insertion of a half-Nirvana, half-Led Zeppelin riff into a TTP song, a reggae "You Got Me," a very fast "The Seed 2.0," what sounded like an aborted segue into "Drop It Like It's Hot," and so on. Singer Martin Luther again had his own section, but instead of the moving voice 'n' guitar of the previous concert, Luther's full-bodied and masculine soul voice was indentured to labourious group songs (with Knuckles moving from percussion to traps, a female bassist materialising from the wings and the lead guitarist). The concert's high point was an unexpected outbreak of pure funk. My first thought was "I need them to play this at my wedding." Of course, this thought surfaced only after several minutes, as the ancestral reptilian brain reflex of "Dance, fool" had taken over and shut down the higher cognitive functions necessary to articulate such complex utterances as "I need them to play this at my wedding." Dazed but very happy, I left the concert.
Going further back into the mists of time, I haven't been posting in part because I've been studying to become a Certified Java Programmer, which was accomplished at the beginning of the month. Now I'm working towards a Business Component Developer Certification, or some such thing. What does all this mean? Mainly, that I visit this site a lot.
Thursday, December 23, 2004
I had been that way earlier in the day. It was colder now, so I stopped to get a waffle at the Belgrafrau stand on the no-man's street separating the beginning of the Rue Neuve from Place De Brouckère. It cost 1.65€, roughly the price of a bus ticket.
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
It's not everyday you're woken up at 7AM by your radio's tinny rendition of a slow-building thumping house beat mounted by honest-to-goodness David Murray-ish skronk (I'm uneducatedly guessing it's Akosh S.). Happy times. Turns out it's French DJ/producer Laurent Garnier's "The Man With The Red Face" (probably a reference to the saxophonist. See the 9-minute Bollywood video here (scroll down. There's also a 14-minute live video).
Weirdly, this was followed by a 13-year-old girl from Aalst reciting her brief award-winning poem about AIDS and (my first hearing of) the (gag-inducing) BandAid20 song.
Monday, November 29, 2004
It's nice to finally come across someone putting words on what you think you've been hearing. Ben Ratliff helps me out:
Aside from any personal language of harmony or rhythm, the overriding qualities of aggression and restraint are what have built post-bop saxophonists into major figures. Those that zealously explode (John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy) or forlornly implode (Wayne Shorter, Lee Konitz) create cults.
Mr. Alexander, by contrast, played on the beat. He used some of the same improvising patterns as Mr. Coleman, and a broad sound that stuck more often to the lower-middle register, which he occasionally escaped for unexpected effects like a fluttering figure that became a rough overtone shriek, as if a bit of Coltrane's wilder late period had been smuggled into more formal music.
(emphasis still mine)
I hear that all the time. Take Jacques Schwartz-Bart, who, at his best, fits both the Wayne Shorter forlorn implosion and Coltrane smuggling bills. For anybody, really, who is interested mainly in 60s style bop, but also a bit by free jazz, that use of overtones is part of the lingua franca. Which makes it slightly boring, which is why players who navigate the in/out line more subtly like Ellery Eskelin, for example, are more interesting and advanced, to me.
Everything went off without a hitch, incredibly: getting to Lille, finding the venue without getting lost, meeting up with Ellery, doing the interview, being fed (an unexpected bonus!), seeing the concert. The only slight downside was that I had to leave at intermission and therefore didn't get to see the second part of the bill, the Circum Grand Orchèstre.
The concert itself was extraordinary (the interview went well - I think I'm getting better as an interviewer, at least in terms of listening to the interviewee). The Eskelin band is now comprised of the original members (Andrea Parkins on accordion, keyboard and sampler, Jim Black on drums 'n' stuff) plus vocalist Jessica Constable, an English singer living in Paris. She used to be a special guest, but is now a full-fledged member. There are a few excerpts on the DVD of her with the band, which I liked well enough but now seem very embryonic, or at least unrepresentative, compared to what I saw and heard last night.
Talking with Ellery, he made it fairly clear that he felt that, as a trio, the band has pretty much covered what he had imagined for it and that new directions were opening with the punctual or permanent adjunction of other musicians. Personally, having several trio CDs and having heard it twice before, I considered its music very consistent. Ellery's talk of how the band changes when its constitution changes and how he views singers as totally equal with instrumentalists isn't mere talk: it was clearly on display on stage, to wonderful and surprising effect.
The concert started with (natch) just the trio playing a piece from Kulak 29 + 30, I believe. Each player took unaccompanied solos, each one bookendend by a group rendition of the songs strident theme. Then came the fantastic "It's A Samba" from the equally fantastic Arcanum Moderne (the repertoire seemed more wide-ranging than the other times I've seen the group, as they tended to stick with the then-current album's repertoire, with only a few deviations). "It's A Samba" revolves around a vintage Jim Black dirty groove in a - you guessed it - more-or-less samba style.
Was it Eugene Chadbourne who referred to this group as "The Beatles of the avant-garde"? Songs like this one are the reason why: there's a catchy tune, you can dance or mosh to it and, when Ellery locked on to a one note honk (perhaps a witty pun on "One Note Samba"?), its funk-drenched energy simply carries you away.
Jessica Constable came out and launched into a Celtic-sounding long-note lament over rising keyboard drones. I guess the facile comparaison for Constable would be with a more avant Bjork. While at times I did feel that they had a similar sense of dramatic construction, they're rather different. Constable doesn't have any childishness in her voice, for example, but I'm lacking reference points.
Drums and tenor joined in, keeping the slow, pensive atmosphere. This isn't a band you'd expect to have a singer in the first place, so, as you can imagine, Constable didn't fulfill the traditional jazz singer role. I think she sang pretty much the whole time she was on stage, truly equal to the other three musicians next to her. I'm pretty sure that she sang a lot of actual lyrics, but the only word I understood the whole night was "grandmother." Somehow, in this context the indecipherable lyrics thing made a lot of sense. For this song, Ellery expanded upon the traditional singer + obbligato format, but was only just in the background. The saxophone matched up to the voice with great sensitivity, and sometimes the singer took it upon herself to match the saxophone, to surprisingly good results.
Ellery's latest album, Ten is totally improvised, but the addition of a singer seems to have sparked a different way of writing or arranging, as the next piece had a lot of sharply delimited and controlled elements. It started quietly, with a few plinked piano chords, Black scraping his cymbals and Ellery musing quietly while Constable sang a fractured and delicate line, creating a rather enchanting (in the magical sense) whole. Then, tenor and drums hooked up to drop short, sharp and loud percussive blasts in tight unison, as voice and piano (Parkins had moved to the grand set up for the big band that was to follow) continued on as before. Come to think of it, it was kind of a boys vs. girls thing.
"For No Good Reason" started in chaos, with wild sampler whistles and crackles, drums flailing, saxophone blowing freely and voice scrambling itself through an effects pad (which Constable used well throughout). A couple of keyboard notes hinted at what was to come and suddenly those gorgeous, voluptous even, chords fully emerged, bringing order, as Constable added a bluesy twist, which Ellery complemented with some soulful lines. They erupted again into a great bit of skronk + beats + menacing, and still incomprehensible, spoken word, and when those chords returned for the finale, the music soared to a veritable apotheosis. At this point I wondered, believe it or not, if this new band was not even better than the old one.
The last two tunes before the encore were on the dancier side. The first one was slow and funky, reggae-ish even, when the stabs of Parkins's keyboard vamp focused on the off-beats. The groove's even-pacedness gave it a blissful tension.
Listening to Ten for the first time as I write this, with its different and changing line-up, it doesn't represent what the quartet sounds like, but I expect that the next album will document it. At least, I hope so!
Saturday, November 27, 2004
Friday, November 26, 2004
First of all, a big, big thank you to my friend Jef!
I first saw and heard Mehldau solo almost five years ago, in Salamanca, Spain. The next day I bought Art of the Trio Vol. 4. I've since seen his trio twice.
Flagey's main hall was full, all its 700 seats and vertigo-inducing three balconies. I was sitting directly behind and slightly above the pianist, ie. I was on stage left, a great position from which to observe his left hand.
Mehldau is the jazz world's great champion of Radiohead, so it was fitting that he start with "Knives Out." Most surprising about it was that it confirmed a trend I noticed the last time I saw him play (and goes counter to Francis Davis's implied opinion that Mehldau's style is not evolving): while the spare melody notes rang out, Mehldau would lay down a thick pea-soup fog of uncertainty, which sounded like a blend of ecstatic atonality and pensive dissonance. This harmonic daring is something I first heard him do on a stupendous intro to "All the Things You Are" and which I don't think he was doing before.
Then came a sad pop waltz with country overtones, Paul McCarthney's "Jump." Next came a Mehldau original, "Los Angeles." I haven't heard the Places album it comes from, but this driving and orchestral piece was the first instance of my main gripe with this concert: it's simply too much. Too much over-wrought drama, not enough humour. A tad more breathing space could have brought things into starker relief, especially as (due to the piano, the playing, the acoustics or my placement, I do not know) notes tended to blend together, obscuring overall shapes and rhythms.
I love the piano's lower register because it brings a physicality (the strings are so long, you can feel them vibrating, the wood shaking) and a menace (that rumble!) to the piano the other registers don't really have. Of course, it's not the most distinct register. Mehldau was down there all night (I think you could have counted the number of times he ventured into the upper fourth of the keyboard on the fingers of one hand), which was cool, but compounded the above-mentioned problem.
On we went to another highlight, Monk's "Monk's Mood." When I last saw the trio, their Monk was rather poor, but alone, Mehldau was great. His chords sounded like Monk's, his rhythm was steadier and he included plenty of digressions (or "harrumphs" as I think it is appropiate to call these monkisms), which amused until, astonished, you realised that a digression had flowed into the next statement. "Think of One" contained an incredible display of Mehldau's famed left hand independence in which it became another soloist alongside the right hand, while an accompaniment was still going. I have no idea where the accompaniment was coming from. It was a tour-de-force, but not bravura, if that makes any sense. And it swung.
Skipping ahead, he ended the main part of the concert with "a song I haven't played for a while," (yeah right) "Paranoid Android." Here's where I come back to the lack of humour. When he reached the loud guitar riff part for the first time, pounding it out, I thought it was pretty funny, kitsch even. Then I wondered if Mehldau saw even the slightest bit of humour in it (as The Bad Plus undoubtedly do in their rock covers). His body language says he doesn't, but who knows.
In an interview, Mehldau has said that the real challenge in covering newer pop songs was arranging them so they sounded good. That concern was made clear as he launched into an improvisation that weaved the further melodic elements into itself, so that there wasn't merely a tossed-off head, but also a body. Then came the majestic dirge part, at which point I had a sonic vision of the 700 listeners in the audience, which I could see as they were all to my right, stand up, become a choir (or a massive, real, choir suddenly emerging, maybe from under the stage, maybe) and gravely intone Thom Yorke's lyrics, whatever they are. It would have been glorious, but, unfortunately, it didn't happen.
The first of the three (!) encores was another Mehldau staple, Nick Drake's "River Man," which wasn't nearly as much of a tear-jerker as it was in Antwerp with the trio (where it was the second, and last, encore). The second encore was a slow, bluesy tune that offered a bit of the breathing room that was too often lacking. The third encore was The Beatles' "Mother Nature's Child." There's a great version of this on Joel Frahm's duo CD with Mehldau, Don't Explain, but on this occasion, it was nice but a bit perfunctory, especially as Mehldau ended it suddenly, as if to say "Okay, now that's enough of that."
Jacques Brel "Ne me quitte pas"
Brel starts out promising the impossible to rekindle the fire in his loved one's heart (I'll tell you about those lovers, there/Who saw their hearts twice inflamed), and sounds like he could just manage to accomplish it, defying climatology and physics (I'll bring you rain pearls from countries without rain"), linguistics ("I'll invent nonsense words that you'll understand) and even death (I'll dig the earth even after my death to to cover your body in gold and light). His first companion is the piano, then strings come in, affirming his point.
By the penultimate verse, the singer has become more reasonable, a sign of his inevitable failure: Fire has often been seen springing anew from a volcano/That was thought too old/There are, it seems, scorched earths/That give more wheat than the best April. Stepping out of his own maddening, world-conquering subjectivity, he goes into an external realm of logic, which, in matters of love, cannot (must not?) prevail. The death of love and the realisation of the death of love have overcome the impossible promises. The piano has left him, replaced by an ethereal flute (the spirit rising out of the body?), the once-strong and defined strings are now amorphous, resigned and sluggish, doing nothing to buoy our rebuked lover.
In the last verse, Brel is no longer promising or affirming, but pleading, desperately. Still, he attempts to mask his lingering desire in sensible closure (I won't cry any more/I won't talk any more), but he's been consumed and will never let go (I'll hide there and watch you/Dance and smile/And listen to you/Sing then laugh). He can only plead now, plead just to be on the edge of love, on the edge of death: Let me be the shadow of your shadow/The shadow of your hand/The shadow of your dog.
Ne me quitte pas
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
On Monday, November 22, 2004, One Final Note's
Scott Hreha begins hosting a new weekly jazz program
on the Twin Cities' KFAI Fresh Air Community Radio.
The show will broadcast every Monday night from
10:30 PM to 12:00 AM CST, focusing on new releases
by independent artists and record labels throughout
KFAI broadcasts at 90.3 FM in Minneapolis, 106.7 FM
in St. Paul, and via the web at www.kfai.org.
Friday, November 19, 2004
Another music industry in the Internet era article, courtesy of The Economist (and brought to my attention by The Rambler.
The number of music files freely available online has fallen from about 1.1 billion in April 2003 to 800m this June, according to IFPI, a record-industry body.
there is already evidence that data derived from the preferences shown on illegal file-sharing networks are being used to help launch acts
A poll by Rolling Stone magazine found that fans, at least, believe that relatively few great albums have been produced recently (see chart 2).
Of course, chart 2 simply reveals the age/tastes of the RSters: nearly all "500 great albums" were recorded between 1965 and 1975, and hardly any before 1960, and with a sharp decline leading into the '80s.
The boss of one major label estimates that, while catalogue accounts for half of revenues, it brings in three-quarters of his profits. If the industry stops building catalogue by relying too much on one-hit wonders, it is storing up a big problem for the future.
In the past 12 months, according to a manager who oversees the career of one of the world's foremost divas, his star earned roughly $20m from sponsorship, $15m from touring, $15m from films, $3m from merchandise and $9m from CD sales. Her contract means that her record label will share only in the $9m.
For example, Warner Music Group is thought to be readying itself for an initial public offering in 2005 and, as part of cutting costs in Belgium, it dropped artists this year. Among them was Novastar, whose manager says the group's latest album has so far sold 56,000 copies in Belgium and Holland.
(I include the last paragraph because, you guessed it, of the out-of-the-blue mention of Belgium. Novastar is Belgian and not Dutch, by the way.)
It is still unclear what a successful business model for selling music online will look like. People are buying many more single tracks than albums so far. If that persists, it should encourage albums of more consistent quality, since record companies stand to make more money when people spend $12 on a single artist than if they allocate $2 to each of six bands.
Apple forced the industry to accept a fixed fee per download of 99 cents, but the majors will push for variable, and probably higher, prices.
The best distribution of all will come when, as many expect, the iPod or some other music device becomes one with the mobile phone. Music fans can already hold their phones up to the sound from a radio, identify a song and later buy the CD. At $3.5 billion in annual sales, the mobile ringtone market has grown to one-tenth the size of the recorded music business.
In September, according to comScore Media Metrix, 10m American internet users visited four paid online-music services. The same month another 20m visited file-sharing networks. The majors watch what is being downloaded on these networks, although they do not like to talk about it for fear of undermining their legal campaign.
De Werf is busy releasing records. The last time they released this much was the 10 CD one-a-month Finest in Belgian Jazz series back in 2002:
High Voltage by Hoppin' Around, gathering six up'n'comers in a middle-period Jazz Messengers style, has just been released.
Next month: DjanGo! I don't know any of the musicians (lots of guitarists, a couple of horns, a violin), but I guess the title says it all.
January: Baba Sissoko Quintet. Sissoko on n'goni, tama, djembe and vocals, with an interesting cross-section of be.jazzmusicians: Bart Defoort on modern mainstream sax, Fabian Fiorini on contemporary improvised piano, Otti Van Der Werf on groovy-in-weird-contexts battered 4-string electric bass and Reynaldo Hernandez on everything-inlcuding-jawbone percussion. I'm looking forward to hearing this.
February: the new two-tenor Ben Sluijs Quartet. I haven't seen it, but have heard good reports from reliable sources.
March: Jazzisfaction's second CD. The first, Issues was an excellent, Tomasz Stanko-ish affair, so I'm looking forward to this one too (and anyway, De Werf has released very few duds in the three years I've been here. Although they did have a short run of decent-but-forgettable mainstream bop releases in 2003).
April: Hendrik Braeckman Group. Okay, this one is less attractive to me, featuring Braeckman on guitar, Kurt Van Herck on tenor and trumpeter Bert Joris (who's always great). I suspect this one will join the above-mentioned decent-but-forgettable mainstream bop category.
May: Kris Defoort ConSerVations/ConVerSations, with the Dreamtime tentet, a conductor, a string quartet and a soprano! Should be interesting, at minimum.
Thursday, November 18, 2004
Lee Konitz - as
Ed Schuller - b
George Schuller - d
(I assume the two Schullers are related, they looked fairly similar)
The long search for a parking spot means I only hear the last two or so songs of the first set (one of which was "Cherokee"). For some reason, the doorman makes entry difficult.
Are you on the list? Did you reserve?
What are you talking about? This is a bar! Let me pay my five euros and get in, I'm late enough as it is.
The room is pretty full, but not packed, as it was for the Archie Shepp/Amina Claudine Myers duo. A nice, surprisingly young and feminine turnout.
The only amplification is the bass amp, the air was clear, as the crowd had been asked not to smoke: as close to environmental bliss as one can get in a club. At intermission I slip to the front and sit on the floor almost lip-to-lip with the stage, Konitz's horn at times almost within reach.
The first time I saw Konitz, in May, it was a disastruous affair: Konitz was out of it and an attempted unison head with saxophonist Steve Houben had me burst out laughing, that's how bad it was. This time, however, is a different matter altogether.
The second set continues Konitz's usual standards'n'things repertoire. They function like the Jarrett/Peacock/DeJohnette Standards Trio, stringing together non-arranged songs (or, sometimes, fragments of songs) indicated by the leader's unaccompanied intros. For the first half he's brilliant, unfailingly melodic, sing-songy even. Then he starts to tire a little, resorting to more fragmented and shorter phrases.
The Schullers each strike a different pose. Although I'm not enamoured with his sound (being so close, the discrepancy between seeing him pluck strings and hearing the sound coming out of the amp half a meter away is somewhat jarring) Ed assists unselfishly, walking his accompaniment, staying inside in his solos and singing along to them discretely enough. George, however, takes more liberties, just as likely to swing straight-forwardly if busily as to deconstruct the tempo entirely with a nebula of polyrhythms and suspensions. He displays both sides on what might have been "The Night Has 1000 Eyes," to destabilising effect.
An amusing blooper springs up on the next tune ("I'll Remember April" or "April in Paris," I always get them confused): the rhythm section springs in after the intro with a latin beat, to which Konitz reacts by swiftly turning around and calling for fast swing. Later, harmonics on bass lead to the drummer tinkling some bells, which leads to Konitz playing a snippet of "Jingle Bells."
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
Soweto Kinch - Conversations With The Unseen
One of my favourite albums this year.
Soweto Kinch - "Intermission Split Decision"
The central track, where Kinch raps about growing up with jazz and hip-hop. You may recognise the anthropomorphism from Common's "I Used To Love H.E.R." You'll have to listen to the rest of the album to hear Kinch play alto.
Sunday, October 31, 2004
Commenting on this post, Anonymous says:
From someone who strongly disagrees with the above review.....it would be nice to have some depth into the criticism instead of words like sameness, lack of ass. Come on! You obviously have something against the woman, but at least say something constructive. "Fine player" was right in any case.
Well, my dear Anonymous, believe it or not, I have nothing "against the woman" (Nathalie Loriers). I don't have "anything for the woman" either. I have never even talked to her. The closest I got was exchanging a few words with her then-husband Diederik Wissels after a concert, as Loriers sat nearby.
As I said in the post, I've listened to her in several settings and am generally uninterested. Maybe I'll put Timbuctou back on one of these days and my opinion will change radically, but I'm not holding my breath. Why do you like her?
I've seen West Side Story a half-dozen times at least, but until last night hadn't seen it it about 13 years (half a lifetime ago!). Was flipping through the channels last night and caught right from the opening theme. Conversations were dubbed into French, but thankfully the original soundtrack was reverted to for the songs.
You don't need me to tell you how cool the music is, but listening to it with my now-wizened ears was great, a near-total rediscovery. It's awesome that this music can appeal directly to a child and engage an adult. I'd always loved the "Say it soft, and it's almost like praying" line in "Maria," but this time around also listened carefully to how "Cool" unfolded. A nice change from so much cookie-cutter film music.
It's funny how these tough gang members are probably mostly gay and the lead Portorican is Greek.
Thursday, October 28, 2004
Not much to say about the film apart from
Slapstick 4 evah!
The show was scheduled to start at 9PM. At about 8:55, as I was making my way there I spotted Tuur ordering a durum and then walking away from the bar.
He followed the movie much more precisely and concretely than Dumoulin did a few of weeks ago, imitating trains, playing musette, tango and pseudo-military songs. Good fun.
In random be.news that I'd forgotten to report, Nicolas Kummert says that 4, who released a good album on Mogno, has recorded a new one and is looking for a label.
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
Okay, sometimes you just have to get off the fence: I like free jazz, but don't like Euro free improv very much. Peter Brötzmann with William Parker and Hamid Drake (and possibly Toshinori Kondo), the Brotherhood of Breath, Brötzmann's Chicago Tentet, the little Anthony Braxton I've heard: very much yes; this other stuff, not much at all, no. I've always thought that the main difference was one of rhythm and that was highlighted by the 10-15 minutes of the first duo I caught last night.
Belgians Jean Demey on bass and Léon Laffut on piano may have been making lots of weird noises, but rhythmically it sounded more like W.A. Mozart than C. Parker, to me.
Then English trombonist Paul Rutherford did a 20-25 minute solo set, flutter-tonguing, multiphonicking, ultra-low murmuring, droning and even real noting his way around in playful fashion. Actually, compared to the Englishmen, the Belgians seemed to totally lack a sense of humour: Rutherford's was expansive, Lytton's deadpan, but the the Belgians were just kind of gray and serious.
As a comedy climax, Rutherford took his slide down as far as it would go - and kept on going, sliding it off completely. He then proceeded to pour the spit accumulated in the slide over the remaining half of the trombone, play with the slide, with half of the slide on, then finally put the whole thing back together.
The main act came on after an intermission: Fred Van Hove on piano and Paul Lytton on drums. I've never heard him on CD, but I've seen Van Hove 2 or 3 times now and just don't like him. It may have something to do with the visuals: I find myself irritated by his limp-wristed playing style. An early climax (while I was still paying close attention?) was pretty cool, though, with the pianist playing mysterious and sparkling two-handed upper-register glissandos.
Lytton, despite playing on a mere standard drum kit, had a huge palette of sounds thanks to a veritable arsenal of jangly implements. Early on he crushed a small plastic cup onto his snare drum, later on an eerie calm reigned as Van Hove rubbed the piano strings to make slide guitar sounds as Lytton rolled small metal balls in a small gong. During the short second piece, Lytton dropped in heavy bass drum kicks, which seemed to bounce like a heavy ball atop the ambient clatter. Still, the pickings for me were pretty slim. A Rutherford-Lytton duo would probably have been better, though.
Just when I'd sworn it all off, they announced a Chris Burn Ensemble concert in January, including John Butcher. I caught a fascinating 15 minutes of Butcher a very long while ago (playing with Phil Minton and Veryan Weston), so now I have to check it out. Maybe I'm still on the fence.
Some great descriptions of the early efi (1974) days in the programme notes, particularly the mention of the front of the audience at a Van Hove-Brötzmann-Bennink concert having to move back two rows because of exploding sticks and flying woodblocks, cymbals, branches and miscellaneous percussive objects.
As I stepped back into the car, Marc van den Hoofd was starting his jazz show, focusing on Bill Evans. As "Philly" Joe Jones bashed at a clave-ish beat, I thought I could just about make out a transhistorical and transatlantic link to Lytton.
Tuesday, October 26, 2004
Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath "Andromeda" From Bremen to Bridgwater
As "Union Special" draws to a close, the Bremen crowd erupts, demanding more. They get it, but the Brotherhood forgets it's playing for beardy German free jazz fans from the '70s and instead imagines itself to be an African Count Basie Orchestra playing for the lindy-hoppers. Out of context, it's not as much of a "so orgasmic you just implode" moment, so no MP3.
Monday, October 25, 2004
Miles Davis, June 11th, 1975.
When, 35 minutes in, the music turns soft, opens up and allows luxuriant soul to waft up, I'm reminded of Ghostface's The Pretty Toney Album: hard-hitting and gangsta (in Miles's case, unrelenting wall-of-noise turmoil, funk and guitar chords seemingly ripped out of the instrument), but turning to soul for solace.
Listening to the fabled complete Cellar Door recordings (excerpts of which are in Live-Evil), with Miles in full Jack Johnson mode, Jack DeJohnette pounding a blissful blend of funk immediacy and jazz interactivity ("Yesternow" as a latter-day "John S."?) and Keith Jarrett playing a never-to-be Fender Rhodes future (that comping behind Bartz after 11 minutes? That melodico-abstract-clear-mush solo afterwards? Among so many other things you'd never hear in today's polished keyboard world...), I'm reminded that "influenced by '70s-era Miles" comparaisons applied to people like Nils Petter Molvaer (not that I haven't used that particular facility myself) are, if not entirely false, then at least partially so. Miles is playing fire music, or at least sweat music, the modern day electro-Norwegians don't, even when they play LOUD. Think of Clifford Brown and Chet Baker.
A parallel to currently getting seriously into Andrew Hill for the first time: both Davis and Hill are "Wot Do U Call It" musicians. When I saw Hill, he ran rings around my expectations and knowledge of the music: "So jazz can be like this, too?" was the dominant thought. Black Fire shows how he taught himself this trick 40 years ago. Miles at the Cellar Door: rock? are you kidding me? Incredibly funky, yes, but not funk: jazz had had the same kind of relationship to funk and r'n'b for a long time and to the blues right from the beginning. So, by default perhaps, by sweaty TKO, definitely, it's jazz, leading to a sadly ongoing pondering of what jazz is and is not while the world keeps on turning and the revolutions make the pondering quaint.
The Botanique's cozy yet sightline-challenged brick-pillar-arches basement club/bar has been renamed Witloof (pronounced witloaf) Bar. Why? The smell of casually-smoked marijuana floated through the air and sent me dreaming of a fantasy-land of smoke-deprived concerts.
Ananke: three endearingly dopey-looking kids and an equally young but less dopey saxophonist making music that is an improbable mix of AKA Moon and l'Ame des Poètes. In other words, drums, bass and keyboards laid down complex, poly-everything funk/rock/kinda jazz rhythms and fusion-type whole-band unisons, while keeping the improvisations very melodic, almost sing-songy and very focused within strict, shifting arrangements. Highlights: AKA Moon salsa and a keyboard intro with excellent use of the different available (strike-strength dependent?) timbres.
Listen to the music at www.ananke.be.
Trio Grande: Michel Debrulle on drums and Michel Massot on tuba/euphonium/trombone + another musician. In the '80s it was Fabrizio Cassol, in the '90s and early '00s another saxophonist, Laurent Dehors, and now it's a younger guitarist, Benoist Eil. His name reminds you that circonflex accents replace an ancestral s.
The fantabulous repertoire of Massot and Debrulle songs that fueled the 2001 album Signé is still in circulation, but totally different. The concert with Dehors I saw 2-3 years ago was a barrelling, irresistibly dancey free-jazz affair, whereas this concert was far more subdued, yet still intense. Debrulle plays a kind of loose'n'dirty funk/rock, Massot blows both crazy dijeridoo overtones and delicate bluesy half-valve effects and Eil brought a disrupting, free-rock/punk element, but at low volume. I don't know if it's his tuning, but every note managed to sound dissonant, in a cool way. On the last song of the set, he took his banjo and played an unaccompanied intro that started out with pointillistic noise, then moved to a blend of bluegrass and raga. Debrulle and Massot (on trombone) joined in and they started playing quasi-country music.
It had been so long, I'd forgotten that Trio Grande was one of my favourite Belgian jazz bands. No recordings of the new line-up yet and it's difficult to isolate something from this fantastic album (go get it!) but here's a little something from Signé so funky you won't notice the 7/4, especially as Dehors takes it back to essentials for his solo (a pitch, a timbre):
MP3 Trio Grande "Griffure de Cestin"
Friday, October 22, 2004
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
Ella Fitzgerald "The Nearness of You" on Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
It's difficult not to feel that Ella is touching upon the divine here, injecting strategically-placed heart-melting fragility in the midst of her perfect control. Helped along by the rhythm section: Ray Brown's syncopated stumbling upon the strong beats, Buddy Rich tiptoeing around him, Armstrong's trumpet off in the background, thickening the sound. When Louis's turn to sing comes, the beat strengthens, with Brown laying down a walking pattern, but they had done it better on the preceding "Cheek to Cheek."
Monday, October 18, 2004
Stefano Di Battista - Parker's Mood
Stefano Di Battista, Italian alto and soprano saxophone player, necrophiliac. I pour plenty of French-language vitriol on this one, but really, one has only to read Blue Note's promo material to see how vile this album is. And yet, I've only seen positive reviews so far, praising Di Battista's skills, humility and whatever, which is equally horrifying.
Bruno Vansina - Trio Music
Bruno Vansina, Belgian alto and soprano saxophone player. It could be that I'm just standing up for the little guy, or that I've met Vansina and not Di Battista, or that I just like one more than the other. Still, if jazz fans can't tell the difference between Vansina's "Dear Old Stockholm" and Di Battista's "Embraceable You," then we deserve our fate.
Saturday, October 16, 2004
I didn't get lost. I found a nearby parking spot right away. Things only got weirder when I entered the venue and realised that I had been here before, at least a year ago if not more, for a salsa party. In fact, the salsa stories in the post about dancing were taken from that night. Proving Greg Sandow right, the crowd was mostly by far older than the musicians. Needless to say, I felt a bit out of place, but there were a few other younger people there: Bram Van Camp, whose "Hidden Facts" was to be played and some friends of his.
Syrinx (flute, English horn, clarinet, French horn (a lot bigger than I imagined) and bassoon) played one piece each by 6 Belgian composers, adding a pianist on the first and last, and one solo piano. Lots of pieces, so none was too long. I was held in a state of semi-amusement throughout by the bassoonist: being the only man in the middle of a semi-circle of women, his posture, jovial manner and the sound of his instrument conspired to make it seem as if he was telling fart jokes all night long. But there were serious matters to attend to as well.
The concert opened with Arthur Meulemans's "Aubade." The MC at one point used the term "light music," which I found a bit odd, as a lot of what falls under that umbrella (jazz, for example) is actually "heavier" than this 1934 Edvard Grieg "At Dawn"-like piece, which was as light and refreshing as morning dew. We then scrolled ahead a few decades to 1962 for Elias Gistelinck's "Suite for Wind Quintet op. 4." I don't know the stylistic terms, but this one consisted of 4 short movements and lots of fragmentary, sharply punctuated and quizzical statements, which sometimes (and happily) blended into a mushier collective that sounded a bit like chamber free jazz.
The third composition was Boudewijn Buckinx's "De Tijd op een Kier zetten" (1990). I don't know what kier means, so I won't bother translating the rest (apparently the title is funny). This one was more melodic, proceeded at a deliberate pace and went from initial slight melancholy to quiet optimism at the end. There were some cool bassoon/French horn hookups as the latter prolonged the former's notes. The last piece before intermission was Wilfried Westerlinck's "Landschappen I" from 1977 which intended to map an interior landscape. A highlight was a flute line that seemed to endlessly fold back upon itself and served as the transition point between frenetic, staccato lines and investigations of the murkier, stiller waters formed by the English horn sailing over the acompaniment's small interval dissonance.
Bram's piece was introduced by an "interview" conducted by the MC. He's a very good talker. "Hidden Facts" (2004) was split up into 3 barely-separated movements (the traditional allegro-adagio-allegro) and drew on a language similar to that of the more modern and thorny pieces played. Highlights to me were the exciting end of the first allegro, powered from below, and the English horn melody, accompanied only by flute and clarinet, to beautiful-yet-disturbed effect.
Brecht Degryse came on to play the piano piece, Marcel De Jonghe's "Introspection V." It's programme was to evoke first the way the world should be (harmonious), the way it is (harsh) and the poetic world of the composer. A bit twee, perhaps, but it was okay, with the third part as obviously the heart of the composition.
Finally came "Rhapsody op. 70" (1922) by Joseph Jongen, who is, I suppose, the most famous of all 7 composers. By far the longest piece, it started with old-time "falling into a dream" movie music: sweet long-note melodies accompanied by billowing piano arpeggios. A highlight was when the piano fueled the group with a steady, tango-ish rhythmic figure.
Not a lot of emotional description in the above: while I like some of the sounds, I don't really connect with these musics. My recent classical concert-going has yielded some questions: do orchestras really need so many percussionists who don't really do that much? Why not get a drummer and save some money? Did what I imagine to be the general unavailability of page-turners for pianists influence the direction of jazz composition?
Wednesday, October 13, 2004
Jill Scott "Golden" Beautifully Human
3-beat vocal chorus against 4/4 beat gives a nice "lost in the music" effect, even if it's resolved with an extra "golden" at the end. The sped-up and stripped downWookie remix flies by so fast that the effect is somewhat lost.
Not quite what I intended as NTWICB.M #2, oh well...
As luck would have it Lethal B. inserted himself just before Lil Jon and The Eastside Bozy in my iTunes library. "Forward Riddim" to "Get Low," London to the Dirty South makes far too much sense (late to that party, I know, but I'm just a jazz fan in rural Belgium).
From that back to Sonny Rollins? Coming soon. (?)
Tuesday, October 12, 2004
After listening to Lonnie Liston Smith's "Expansions" (downloaded from mp3 blog Funk You), I had to go to the corresponding Amazon page to make sure that what I had just listened to was, indeed, recorded in 1974: it sounds exactly like St Germain-era electro-jazz made 25 years later, right down to the use of keyboards and flute solo. Which makes the authors of articles from the time (and of today, because they continue to appear) dubbing that kind of music "The future of jazz" sound like idiots with no knowledge of the music's history.
Monday, October 11, 2004
Sunday, October 10, 2004
A video of Thelonious Monk's quartet playing "Rhythm A Ning". Essential viewing if, like me, you've never actually seen the man play.
Charlie Rouse - surprisingly immobile as he plays this dancing music, eyes closed.
The master - oddly plucking the the joyous line with both hands.
The drummer - (Ben Riley?) awesomely sober technique: minimal movement, but his ride cymbal settles like fairy dust when he comes back in in the middle of the bass solo.
A great performance, even if (or perhaps, even more impressive because) it is clear that they churned out this level of music night after night.
Thursday, October 07, 2004
What an intense film - wow. In stillness (the opening scene with the workers changing shifts) or frenzy (robot-Maria casting a spell over the ravenous men combined with Freder's fever dream) - wow. I don't know if it was intentional or not, but don't the workers end up looking like idiots, letting themselves be dragged from one collective frenzy to the next?
Jozef Dumoulin accompanied all this on Fender Rhodes, building his own narratives whose arcs rarely fitted in scene-by-scene, but always landed in a way that made their course seem logical, in retrospect. Generally, it sounded loosely-composed, but I had to run straight after the show and didn't get a chance to ask Jozef. Maybe he'll answer in the comments box?
He started with a mix of bubbly and percussive sounds that began with the opening credits and continued throughout the initial scenes in the worker city. Things became a bit sparklier overground and a major theme was introduced when Maria brought the worker children in: "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," here played in full, would re-appear many times and in different guises to accompany Maria's side of the story. During the mass, the melody donned a halo of divine chorale chords, while a few notes, bent and ugly, bubbled up from surrounding noise for robot-Maria. Finally, after an incredibly long bout of Hendrixian squalls of noise, bombastic arena rock-god riffs, a few spots of more poppish repose, abstract jazz lines and churning percussion, "Rainbow" reappeared for the Happy End.
Lately I'd been thinking that keyboards in jazz had become rather boring. Back in the day, Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea litterally didn't really know what they were doing, or control their instruments 100%. As a result, there's a sense of danger and plenty of dirt. And I haven't even mentioned Sun Ra yet. Nowadays, it all sounds rather clean and abtruse abstraction sounds more like a refuge than a battle-field. But (and you knew a "but" was coming and where it's going, right?) Jozef puts a lot of dirtiness back in, a bit of danger and madness. In fact, more and more every time I see him, it seems. I'd still like to hear him on piano, but I've been saying that for years now...
Tuesday, October 05, 2004
Started with a use for the Next Blog link;
School reading blog, includes informative information:
Stripes of the sidestep wolf
I haven't started reading it yet.
posted by florencelamour at 1:01 AM;
BBQ'ing, includes the line "my brothers in smoke";
A new blog that still needs to straighten things out;
A housewife's journal that's interesting in a quiet, mundane, terrifying way.
It's really quite a miracle blogrolls are as long as they are.
Monday, October 04, 2004
Okay, some bloggers do (or did) like to dance. I've never been on E or even stoned, so I don't have the same aims. And I don't ever attempt to escape the body, but rather to feel it more deeply, so... Maybe I don't understand what Simon is saying: "angelic" (as in escaping an rising above the body) and "tantric" seem contradictory to me.
On the 6th, 14th, 20th and 27th of October, the Café Central (rue Borgval, 14)will be showing silent movies accompanied by a musician (free entrance). The first one is Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" with Jozef Dumoulin on his Fender Rhodes + 3 pedals set-up. I haven't seen "Metropolis" yet, so I'll probably be going (it'll help pass the time on the last evening before the Queen returns).
Other musicians slated to appear include Antoine Prawerman on clarinet and Tuur Florizoone on accordeon.
Jef Neve's new album will be released in November. I guess I already know most of the repertory from concerts, but I'm still anxious to hear it.
Saw him last friday playing Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" in Mechelen, as soloist for a military orchestra. The best part was a long, unaccompanied, improvised passage in the middle. You could see Neve's demeanour change immediately, smiling and digging in while looking for the next note, but always staying within the bounds of the composition. The crowd picked up on his mood too. I wondered what the 1920s audiences made of it. It sounds a little cheesy today.
Among the other pieces performed was Stravinsky's "Petroushka." Can't say it did much for me: the nursery rhyme melodies got annoying, except for some cool bits were they were set against dark low-register motifs in a different meter.
How many young composers do you know? Personally, none, until I met Bram Van Camp (1980) at the concert mentioned above. Jef highly recommended hearing his music, which I will be doing if Bram sends me an e-mail about an upcoming performance by the Syrinx Ensemble on the 13th, like he promised.
ADDENDUM: Got the info
Wednesday 13th of October at 8 PM
The Syrinx Ensemble will be performing 'Hidden Facts' (2004)
@ Gemeenschapscentrum De Maalbeek, Hoornstraat 97, 1040 Etterbeek
Tickets: Tel.: 02/733 07 04 or 02/734 84 43
Minor gnawa music explosion on the Igloo label. After Maak Spirit's excellent Al Majmaa with Gnawa Express comes Majid Bekkas's new album. Listening to the first few tracks reveals it to be more tradition-oriented than Maak Spirit's take, but just as entrancing in its call-and-response.
Sunday, October 03, 2004
I wonder if bloggers like to dance. Not jump up and down by themselves, but dance with someone.
As be.jazz should have made fairly obvious by now, I'm not really a ballet person, preferring more popular and overtly sexual forms. Tango seems to bridge the two, the only ballroom style to retain horizontal inclinations. But I've only seen more showy tango, so maybe the "real," sweaty and humid kind is different.
A few years ago at a salsa night, two couples followed each other. The first, young and flashy, dazzled. The second, comprised of an older man and a much younger woman, produced no sparks but moved easily and breathed together - communicated organically, showing the prior pair to be pre-programmed. When you're not born into it, salsa is really difficult to get comfortable with, I find, and the difficult-to-find-and-keep beat doesn't help matters.
A similar experience at a friend's wedding. Many produced impressive moves, but clearly learnt at a school: all did the same things, in the same ways, over and over. The bride's parents, however, did nothing of the sort: close together, stepping, stopping, turning on invisble, barely implied cues. It was beautiful and completely changed my way of seeing things on the dancefloor.
More individualistically, I'm happy that over the last 5-6 years dancing has come back into videos, first in the form of breakdancing (I remember that Run DMC remix as a turning point). The trend seems to be quietening down now, unfortunately. Great choreography was often marred by cinematography that preferred to focus trivial stuff and show only flashes of the interesting stuff.
Speaking of breakdancing, I can't help but think of it when watching men's floor gymnastics. And from there, thinking of technique and risk-taking as an antidote to difficult conditions. The photos in the 3CD Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five anthology put out by Sequel Records captures this: kids launch themselves off an old trampoline onto battered mattresses in a junkyard, somersaulting against a backdrop of depressing housing blocks.
Perhaps the most insane residence currently for sale in Brussles, priced in the environs of 800,000 euros. Ever since I first saw this house, I've been thinking of phoning up the real estate agency and posing as the representative of "a rich English businessman who wishes to remain anonymous," just to be able to see what it looks like. Maybe I'll do so when I get my camera back.
Oddly, it's not in that great of a street: there's a big building site just across from it and some of the houses are totally dilapidated. Then there's this thing that looks like a cathedral.
Saturday, October 02, 2004
It's a bit sad that jazz has long since disappeared from general radio play. Not because "the masses need to be exposed to the music," (after all, there's a lot of stuff that isn't on the radio) but rather because it allows for constant reality checks and balances. Perhaps we wouldn't have to read so many articles that sound like their author has just returned from space, ageing only a few months while the world has advanced by decades.
Marc Moulin is a Belgian purveyor of electro-jazz (house/hip-hoppish beats + vintage keyboards + solos on top) whose last album sold by the boatloads and has just put out a new one. On the way to the supermarket, I heard his current single, same formula as before. Returning from the supermarket, The Prodigy's "Firestarter" played and blew the Moulin track to smithereens: no wildness, no invention, no profundity, no joy.
There are no genre stations here (thematic, certainly, but not based on genre: "Nostalgie," "Classic 21"), so the opportunity to focus on a song offered by singles radio play is limited to specialised jazz shows (and I'm much too forgetful to tune in), mostly eliminating the perspective of being caught totally off-guard by a song that had been ignored, dismissed or buried in a lacklustre album.
Seeing the "Blinded by the Lights" video prompted a re-listen to bits of A Grand Don't Come For Free. "Get Out of my House" is a bit of a piss-take, isn't it?
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
'There is this whole argument that Katie Melua, Joss Stone, Amy [Winehouse] and me are part of the same thing but I don't even see myself as a jazz singer,' says [Gwyneth] Herbert, 23.
Does anyone see the other three as jazz singers? (I'll admit to a soft spot for Stone, Melua is rather loathsome, however)
The big bee is more awesome than all four of them combined, though, I'm sure.
Casper points me to a far more reasonable and pragmatic text by the much-criticised Wayne Bremser.
As Tim The Rambler put it in the comments: The crunch is definitely the use of the word 'study' instead of 'listen to'. Even for those studying, the Internet adds even as it substracts. There's AMG, of course, but for labels serious about download sales, it is obvious that they should make liner notes and specific session information readily available on their websites, if iTunes isn't going to provide it.
I've never bought a download and don't intend to. I continue to see CD-R's (even one with a colour copy of the sleeve and a reproduction of the CD artwork stuck on the CD-R) as a less satisying experience than an original. But I recognise that I am part of a fringe (a non-negligeable fringe - cf. all the blogs and music websites and forums out there), but a fringe nonetheless: most people simply don't care when or where Kind of Blue was recorded, and care even less who was playing bass.
It still riles me that the Academy judged "Gladiator" to be a better film than "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Yes, we've all known for a long time that such prize-giving institutions mean nothing, etc., but it is dismaying to see them unable to distinguish between two similarly big-budget action adventures.
Yesterday I premiered to myself the double bill of "Kill Bill, vol. 1" in the afternoon and "Hero" (I'm not sure if that's the English title) in the evening.
"Kill Bill": I guess I'll be renting vol. 2 at some point, but who cares, really.
"Hero": despite succombing to the totalitarian whims of french overdubbing because the audio and subtitles buttons on my DVD's remote had no effect (how anyone stand watching Chinese characters speak in boring MOR french voices is beyond me), a great experience. Hero goes further than CT, HD in an aspect I really enjoyed of the latter: the fight as a canvas for abstract poetic tableaux and the surreal lyricism of flowing lines.
Think of the creative barrenness of the bigger-is-better, testosterone-and-explosions-driven Western action movies. Even John Woo's "Face/Off," lauded as it was for its violent poetry, is oafish in comparaison. As in CT, HD, there is a stillness about "Hero" that periodically erupts into intricate action choreography (Li Mubai, baby). Crucially, though, the surrounding stillness is what makes the eruptions possible and meaningful. This is embodied most strongly in the conversation between No-Name and Lord Qin.
Part of the power of these films is in their formality. The fights in "The Matrix: Reloaded" were formalities and thus boring. The fights in "Hero" are imbued with a formality that is the same as the one governing the interactions between the characters. Much is left unsaid, needless camera movement or sound effects left unfilmed. This formality is also the foundation for abstraction: the rules are strong and established, yet highly flexible (like bamboo). So Snowflake and Moon, dressed in blood red robes, fight amongst swirling golden autumn leaves; No-Name and Sky pause their confrontation to ask a blind old man to continue playing his string instrument as they fight (an awesome musical moment, very Western-as-genre); No-Name and Broken Sword fight on a lake, using their swords to keep them aloft; Snowflake parries oncoming arrows with her translucent robes; hemorrages are stopped with a mere torn-off piece of cloth tied above the clothes: there is no blood there, in fact very little is seen, but when it is, it is for a reason; wiping a drop of water off of a loved one's cheek is more important and powerful than an enemy's charge. It can get cheesy, but is infinitely more satisfying than the latest gunfest.
Dry formality, yes, but no grimness: colours explode, Chinese landscapes I never even suspected the existence of before CT, HD awe. The iterative structure of the narrative exploits these resources: characters are dressed first in red, then blue and then white as we reach the truth.
Like all people who have cats, Alex Ross can't resist posting pictures of his cats. It's a miracle I haven't posted any of Nwabhu here (oh yes, I forgot: I have Jazz Corner for that).
More seriously, with their superior hearing, I wonder what cats and dogs and things hear when we play music. They generally don't seem to react unless there's something startling like a sudden noise. I wonder if it is possible to study animal reactions to music.
Monday, September 27, 2004
Dennis González NY Quartet - NY Midnight Suite (in French)
A fabulous album. Ellery Eskelin (ts), Mark Helias (b) and not-a-newcomer-but-a-revelation Michael Thompson (d). Post-Ornette Coleman small group improvisation; freewheeling and yet generally concise. González reels off improvised melodies that sound like quotes from half-remembered songs, Eskelin provides a searching foil, Helias challenges and Thompson shades and prods.
I was caught off guard by González's importance in my collection: number 8 should be arriving soon. And I still haven't cracked the Silkheart's, which many people swear by.
More generally, it's weird how many CDs from artist one needs to feel properly acquainted. 40 Miles Davis entries more or less do that for me (counting the Plugged Nickel box as one album), but I still need to get Ascenseur pour l'échafaud. Mingus is in the double-digits (again, counting the Atlantic box as one entry) and each album is so rich (I remember Pete Wareham of Polar Bear saying that one could buy a Mingus album every five years and be content) that only a few more should suffice, but which ones? A little low on Coltrane (especially early and late), Ellington, Basie. Poor on Hancock (the last time I was at the library, I passed on the Blue Note box, I suppose I'll be getting it next time), Corea, Jarrett, Bill Evans (I'll have to tread carefully though: I like Everybody Digs but Waltz for Debby not so much), Cannonball has to make do with just Something Else, Ornette Coleman is represented by his own Something Else and three of the Atlantic quartet dates, while Steve Coleman has almost an entire shelf to himself (thanks in part to the MP3s on his website), Louis Armstrong definitely (the Hot 5s/7s JSP box is the only article on my to-buy list, but when will I have the 30 euros?), Zorn is in there only with a couple of Masadas, etc., etc.
At the other end of the spectrum: Wonder, everything from the 70s plus a comp of earlier stuff and I'm satisfied, Ben Harper, the first 4-5 albums and I think that's enough, all nine entries for The Roots (I might as well take out a subscription), five Outkast (ATLiens remains my favourite album, another one to subscribe to), a couple of Gangstarr's left me seeing no need for more, one Ludacris and am content with it, and one Mos Def and wish I had more.
Yeah, but where are Bach, Beethoven, et al.? A few here and there, but apart from Scarlatti, I don't *love* "that" music.
Can't wait for the completion of the killer app, the homemade CD shelf.
Sunday, September 26, 2004
If I had a picture of Mannekenpis, I would have used it in this post.
It's almost embarassing being a jazz fan when articles such as this one purport to represent you.
I'm annoyed by these articles because they take a very narrowly-defined historical base and listener profile and from that extrapolate that the sky is falling. Total lack of a broader historical perspective results in the reification of the two imaginary constructs into a litteraly mythical Golden Age.
It's even more embarassing when you read blogs written by people who actually seem to follow and understand what is happening. Where are the equivalents in the jazz world?
The older among us remember that wonderful dinosaur, the long-playing record, which came with a trove of information to help a listener better understand the music. In the days before MTV, record labels made the album an immersive experience with striking graphic design, moody photographs and informative liner notes written by prominent critics such as Stanley Crouch, Amiri Baraka, Dan Morgenstern and Ralph J. Gleason.
And the even older remember 78 rpm discs, which contained two songs of around 3 minutes each. And even in the album era people continued to buy singles, which has mutated into downloading MP3s. So "the days before MTV" cannot be simply typed as a very long period stretching from the dawn of recorded music to the mid-80s during which the "immersive experience" of the album reigned.
Millions of young listeners are buying music that is sold without liner notes, correct recording dates and session information. Even the musicians' names are often removed from their performances.
Newsflash: a lot of the original issues were sold without all this information and sometimes with incorrect information (sometimes on purpose, à la Charlie Chan or Little Brother). Miles Davis famously hated liner notes and musician names are often difficult to find on his 70s albums.
That's the state of the art at iTunes. Search for one of my favorite albums, "Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster." You'll see that iTunes lists the release date of this 1957 session as 1997 (the date the CD was released). Curious about who plays bass? Good luck, iTunes won't tell you.
If you're using iTunes, you're on the Internet, right? If iTunes won't tell you, AMG will (I know that you, dear reader, already know AMG, I include the link for Wayne Bremser's benefit).
Also, keep in mind that many people don't really care.
The less that contemporary players in all genres know about the past, the less likely they will be to advance the music.
I would argue that hearing music is more important than knowing who played it and in any case it's not as if this information has been wiped from the face of the Earth.
Already there is a growing audience for jazz that's accessible rather than challenging. We have seen the popularity in recent years of cookie-cutter "smooth" and "quiet storm" jazz radio stations offering a soothing background tapestry to daily activities with a program of music that doesn't engage the audience in any kind of dialogue.
Already? Muzak has been around for a while. As has been wallpaper music. As have been people who listened to Sinatra but not to Monk or even Basie. The term "quiet storm" has been in use since the mid-70s, negating Bremser's "in recent years. Again, lack of historical perspective.
Will a listener schooled on this music, whose source for more diverse jazz recordings is an online music store, be receptive to the intensity of a performance by Ornette Coleman or Sonny Rollins that might touch a much wider range of emotions?
I would like to couple the above paragraph with two earlier ones:
With all of this written and recorded information accessible in one [box set], it is easier than ever to track a jazz musician's ideas and techniques evolving day by day, session by session, which is how the art form advances.
Appreciating this, our ears are not so startled when the smooth Miles Davis of "Kind of Blue" produces the menacing "Bitches Brew" of 10 years later. Understanding this progression, we can make some sense of Ornette Coleman's listener-unfriendly "Free Jazz" the first time we hear it.
I fail to understand the first and third paragraphs. Because a "schooled" listener studied the music by downloading it, s/he is less likely to be receptive to Rollins and Coleman, who express a range of emotions that is broader than... what? Than what's available on iTunes? Understanding Davis's transition from KOB to BB helps us makes sense of Free Jazz from the very first time we hear it? Wouldn't familiarity with Coleman's earlier work and perhaps with the free jazz that came before or after be more useful?
We live in a time when many listeners don't care who plays bass on a Jay-Z track or which 1970s funk band was sampled on a Beyoncé single. The culture of music videos leaves a large number of musicians unseen and anonymous.
The largely anonymous existence of session musicians tends to show that "many listeners" have never cared, regardless of what time it was. This is especially ironic in the wake of the Funk Brothers emerging from decades of not being cared about, despite being on bagfuls of hit records. Again, people cared just the same back then, which is not much.
It's impossible to study the great mid-1950s recordings of Miles Davis without knowing who John Coltrane is.
Yes, it's impossible to study, somewhat less impossible to enjoy. And if you're interested by what the saxophonist or bassist has played, you can go to AMG and find out who it is. Or buy the CD. Simple and not too different from how playing non-playing students of music have been deepening their knowledge of it from time immemorial (through magazines, books, liner notes and now the Internet).
someday listeners and musicians might want to know more about what exactly they are listening to. In the case of jazz, the future of improvisation really depends on it.
The future of jazz is riding on the features present in iTunes and its clones? Despite the same information being available elsewhere on the Internet?
The sound on New Orleans Funk is mostly poor: often muddy and cluttered, passable at best. Yet, that quality, or lack thereof, is not only part of the music's charm, but also part of its vibrancy, energy and liveliness.
I'm reminded of K-Punk's recent lambasting of spotlessly empty and streamlined middle-class living-rooms. Consider also the famous description (but by who?) of ECM albums as "the sound of the middle classes falling asleep."
While mess may not necessarily be a nest of creativity (or a defiant response to production polished by the evil forces of big money), it can often be the repose of the uncommon mind.
In Brighton there is (or was) a second hand bookshop in which the books were strewn about in stacks, or on shelves with absolutely no indications or seeming order. Ask the shopkeeper for a book and if he had it he would find it instantly. Obviously, he was the only portal through which the collection could be accessed in a time-efficient manner.
My father likes to describe an ex-colleague whose office was a minor attraction: stacks of precariously perched papers jostled with empty coffee mugs and cigarette butts. Again, ask him for a specific document and he would extract it in short order.
And then there are means of organisation that need to be explained before they can be utilised. I was rather shocked to discover that several people organised their ECM albums by spine colour to form a rainbow pattern, or their overall collection by time of purchase.
We used to have a croque-monsieur (grilled sandwich) machine that we rarely cleaned. Unhygienic, certainly, but the sandwiches tasted great. When we did clean it, the sandwiches lost some taste. Similarily, as The Meters (to take a Big Easy-related example) moved towards a cleaner sound and less incandescent second-line rhythms, hygiene was gained but some flavour was lost.
The level of messiness has to be suited to the context. French Star Academy winner Jenifer's turn to a "more rock" sound on her second album (or at least the single I've heard) is a pitifully transparent ploy. Saturation and dusty snare drums on the New Orleans Funk tracks serve to convey the performers' own energy and spirit.
Clutter of a different kind may make music accessible only to specifically-wired minds, making the usual fishing for known referents too difficult. In music the line is of course far less absolute than in simpler matters like book classification (should I expect flames from legions of librarians?).
Kyle Gann (I think it was) has ranted about High Modernist music comprehensible only through its score. Unable to hear any familiar elements to hang on to, some might find Cecil Taylor totally impenetrable. The music becomes an unproductive mess, like being in the bookshop while the owner is tending to another client.
Alex Ross describes Alias's incidental music much better than I could. Not only because I don't know that era/area of music, but also because I must admit to not having taken any active notice of the music. However, he fails to mention the show's *greatest* musical moment, which is of course Marshall's drum'n'voice proposal song, as rehearsed to Vaughn.
Ross mentions the music over the closing credits. Huh? There are closing credits? I've always seen it end simply with "Alias" on a black screen.
The only music I've really noticed are the product placement pop/rock songs. Which reminds me of that moment in the second season when all of a sudden they started doing crass product placement for the Ford Focus, going so far as zooming in on the car's logo.
I'll add to the list of unbelievables: given the number of times the Bristows have been electroshocked, shot, drugged and beaten senseless, it's a real miracle they have all their limbs, no apparent brain damage, no missing teeth and no visible scars (Sidney's plot-device harvesting scar doesn't count).
And what was with the sudden obsession with tranquiliser darts in the third season? They hardly, if ever, used them before and all of a sudden they're putting all the random guards to sleep (must be a powerful drug, knocking adults out nearly instantaneously).
Saturday, September 25, 2004
A few compilations from Soul Jazz Records, borrowed from the library, have been enlivening the household, of late.
The New Orleans Funk compilation is awesome, almost every track is great. There are a couple of sure-fire Meters tunes (so many moments of perfection in "The Hand-Clapping Song" and "Just Kissed My Baby"), but perhaps the most striking track, to me, was Professor Longhair's "Big Chief." I'd never heard any Longhair before (or, indeed, any of the compilees apart from The Meters, not even Dr. John) and definitely never heard a piano riff quite like this one. If you listen to it in a certain way when it's underneath the horns, rhythmically it's almost Cecil Taylor-ish (harmonically not at all, obviously, so it's a bit of a stretch, but still). This led me to pick up Soul Jazz's 2-disc compilation dedicated to Longhair, but the first disc hasn't really grabbed me. We'll see.
The last comp is The Sound of Konk 1981-88, a fairly explicit title. This should go a small way (a glass of water into the Grand Canyon) towards filling one (of many) of my Yawning Fucking Chasms of Ignorance (TM). According to the as copious as ever liner notes, Konk was underground dance music, but 20 years later it's hard to understand why: dance-funk with added latin percussion (timbales, congas) and touches of exuberant jazz have become a fairly standard, even clichéd, template.
Since I'm at the confluence of two things (compilations and "why wasn't this more popular back then?"), I'll mention (yet another library-owned) compilation: Jazz Loft Sessions from Knit Classics. It culls live music recorded in Sam Rivers's Rivbea loft over 10 days in 1976. Apart from a couple of the 10 tunes (those from Braxton and David Murray, iirc), one wonders why this music wasn't accepted in the major jazz clubs of the times (if indeed they were not). I'll come back at a later date with more detail, but a major discovery is that in his early 20s, Michael Jackson led an alternate and well-hidden existence as an avant-jazz guitarist. Since then, we've learned that he has even more sinister stuff to hide, but that's another issue.
And why not: also got a Rhino 2-CD compilation (as beautiful as ever) of Bootsy Collins, but haven't been able to listen to it yet. I'm kind of all compiled out.
Friday morning, hearing JC Chasez's "All Day Long I Think About Sex" (which, judging by airplay, is doing fairly well here, I have no idea about its status in other countries) made me think that this theoretically should be my current soundtrack, but in practice isn't, oddly enough. I'm not sure why.
And while we're vaguely on the subject.
A few weeks (months?) back, R. Kelly's song about turning back the hands of time flashed across the radio, prompting a (much belated, perhaps) re-assessment of my opinion of the song. I'd never liked it and still don't. But I was forced to admit that it used all the classic soul song-writing techniques well (from the 12/8 (iirc) to the climactic high "oooh-OOOH"s), so I can't just dismiss as pop crap any more. I did like "Ignition (Remix)" very much from the first time I heard it (but then again, who didn't?).
And to bring this full circle.
I revisited (ie. downloaded) "Ignition" recently, which brought up thoughts of "while the cat's away" behaviour, but even modest Cristal poppin' would wipe out the monthly budget... I guess I'm not a player yet.
Speaking of which.
I've been wondering for a couple of days if in a classroom somewhere, a teacher has explained a structure-oriented social, economic or political theory, and an enthusiastic student responded "So what you're saying is: 'Hate the game, not the player?'"
Wednesday, September 22, 2004
Sure, you're getting Mayotte pictures now, but where was my camera when there was a racing car parked on the street? In Mayotte! And it wasn't a MACmobile*, but a real formula something-or-other type of thing.
And it was bright orange. BRIGHT orange! So, yeah, take your Mayotte pictures, I'm mourning the car.
* Middle-Age Crisis mobile
Sun Ra Nuits de la Fondation Maeght Vol. 2
I'm no Ra expert, but there's an incredible electric organ solo on this one, a few minutes before the end. Drama? Planets supercolliding, fast-fowarded civilisations rise and fall in a matter of seconds, epic flurries of unbearably dense noise swoop and attack mercilessly.
Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus
"What Love?" of course, but all four tunes on this album are superior music-making. Perhaps the best Richmond-Mingus linking up I've heard. The relatively poor sound only enhances the atmosphere. And the sung/shouted vocals on "Original Faubus Fables" are priceless (well, actually they could be priced at approximately 2.5 euros, considering that the album cost me 10. Pretty good value). Mingus even employs a pseudo-English accent that Andre 3000 would inherit 4 decades later for "Behold a Lady," but Mingus is funnier.
Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong Ella and Louis
Every time I listen to Ella, I feel like inflicting severe pain on myself for not having more of her work. Truly incredible singer, a million miles away from the sub-Billie caricature so many have become.
Sorry to dredge up such a dead horse issue for another round of beating.
In a one-day training session, a couple of people answering mobile phones.
I don't necessarily have perfect mobile phone etiquette (but considering how little I use the thing, the impact either way is minimal), but I let one call vibrate into the ether because the teacher was explaining something to me, and stepped outside to take another that seemed important. Others, however, felt it sufficient to move towards the back of the class. Yes, converse amongst yourselves.
"She says she's a rapper but she's really a two-bit whore... You need no skills today to pass/Don't have to rap, just shake some ass" - Luvpark
"I'm a bad-ass stripper in the Escalade/Jump out the truck I'm in Saint Tropez" - Jentina
"It's all right to sample, it may even be a hit/But every now and then could you write your own shit?" - Luvpark
"It's been a long time/I shouldn't have left you/Without a dope beat to step to" - Timbaland
"Hello, it's Cole Porter. Could you leave my songs alone? Gershwin says he wants his changes back, too." - imaginary
"Perhaps most shameless though... is the way [Jay-Z] has liberally endorsed what was originally considered (and still is to most MCs and producers) the greatest crime against hip-hop culture and your fellow artists: biting, of both beats and rhymes." - Stefan Braidwood
"New beats, never recycle" - The Fugees
"a gloriously over-the-top keyboard compendium of B-series sci-fi FX" - me on Luvpark
Not mentioned in review: saxophonist Ralph Bowen plays some nice stuff.
Monday, September 20, 2004
Waiting for the train back home from work, I noticed that the opposite platform was lacking the above ornament. It used to send a cartoonish KAPOW!!! message to the worker objects passing it on their way to a day at the office, but how many of them were equipped to handle this message (pardon the language, I'm studying Object-Oriented Programming at the moment).
The KAPOW!!! has been scrubbed away to a mere ghost, something slightly distorting our vision of the "real" surface underneath. And for what? For what has someone's hastily-scribbled artwork (artwork vs. vandalism = freedom fighting vs. terrorism ?) been deleted, taxpayers' money been spent? To semi-restore the -ish coloured tiles (-ish as in an unidentifiable and purposefully characterless brownish-yellowish) to their former bland glory.
I can understand conserving beautiful, pleasing or interesting things against defacement. Were these walls part of a larger scheme encompassing the whole of the station, I would understand. As it is, the station is one of the ugliest I know. Not only is it ugly, it is slowly but clearly deteriorating and its design is a failure. Hence, our dearly departed KAPOW!!! was a freedom fighter attempting to liberate us from this oppressive ugliness. As is usual with such things, it is only when such occultation by the dominant order (here represented by the scrubbing service) of alternative, occasionally better, realities, was made clear to me that I noticed the numerous other ghosts on the stations walls, turning the place into a veritable graveyard of better futures aborted in the name of an unnameable colour.
Similarly, if someone were to blow the Palais de Justice to bits on aesthetic grounds, I would approve.