Thursday, January 21, 2021

Arthur Blythe, John McLaughlin capsule album reviews from 1980

 Lenox Avenue Breakdown

- Arthur Blythe  (Columbia)

Blythe. a saxophonist who's done time with drummer Chico Hamilton's group and the New York jazz scene, is the most interesting player of the instrument around. Where most saxists make the choice of the kind of music they want to play and seldom, if ever, stray to other styles, Blythe's sound is an engagingly eclectic mixture that he bonds together with the self-assurance and personality of his playing. 

His tone is as firm and spritely lyrical as either Joe Farrell or Phil Woods, yet he can, when need be, brandish the pyrotechnical verve of Sonny Rollins, the gruff, full-bodied harmonics of early Pharaoh Saunders of Gato Barbieri, and the sweet natured lilt of Charles McPherson. One shouldn't think that Blythe sounds like any of these players, though. Blythe sounds like Blythe alone, and the different ideas he uses compose a perfectly coherent style. With Blythe on Lenox Avenue Breakdown are drummer Jack DeJohnette, bassist Cecil McBee, guitarist James Ulmer and several others. 

They provide the firm yet malleable bottom that Blythe requires for his extravagant solos, with their own sorties adding distinctive color and contrast. The title track is the best example of this, a wildly shifting terrain of rich sounds and multi-leveled rhythms interspersed by Blythe's brilliant gymnastics. Lenox Avenue Breakdown is rough, raw, brilliant and 1'i¥etting, and should be bought by anyone who's tired of the sugar-coated muzack being hawked as jazz. 

 

Electric Dreams
- John McLaughlin and the One Truth Band - (Columbia)

When last seen and heard in concert in San Diego. guitarist McLaughlin had assembled a unit called the One Truth Band, and from the evidence, there was little reason to feel hopeful. The performance was atrocious. a poorly mixed and badly played din of electronic flash. with McLaughlin and the band undertaking a pointless, random cacophony of speedy riffs that never jelled. The concert lacked even the callous cleverness McLaughlin has become known for. Well, surprise. Electric Dreams, the One Truth Band's 'first release with McLaughlin, is everything their concert wasn’t. The six musicians - McLaughlin. L. Shankar on violin, Stu Goldberg on keyboards, Fernando Sanders on bass, Tony Smith on drums and Alyrio Lima on percussion - have consolidated their skills into a fully integrated unit and display a distinct musical identity. 

McLaughlin,the principal composer here, has taken on a new maturity as a composer as well. Where much of his writing in the past seemed to be little more than tricky unison parts. employing Indian and neo-classical modes with little substantive guts underneath the dizzying dexterity, Electric Dreams material cuts a wider swath. The band's unified character gives the variety of approaches -Basie blues, poly-tonal funk, Coltranish chases - a coherence that last year's recipe hodgepodge, Johnny McLaughlin. Electric Guitarist, lacked. Unlike Electric Guitarist, a session where McLaughlin employed different musicians on each track, Electric Dreams has a central character. This album is by recipe hodgepodge, Johnny McLaughlin. Electric Guitarist, lacked. Unlike Electric Guitarist, a session where McLaughlin employed different musicians on each track, Electric Dreams has a central character. 

The high points on the album are many, but especially exciting is "The Dark Prince," a Coltrane stretch of expanded ' bop where McLaughlin fuses the melodic sense and chordal strategies of Dolphy and Parker with the cardiac arrest tempo of his Mahavishnu period. Though the purist elements of the jazz audience might dismiss this tract as mere facile Clash and showboating for its own sake. McLaughlin’s solos are nonetheless crisp. concise. elegantly phrased and to the point. The closing guitar keyboard shootout between  he and Goldberg is an enthralling example of two musicians pushing themselves to their respective creative limits. "Miles Davis " (so named. as a return compliment to the trumpet player who named one of his songs "John McLaughlin" on his Bitches Brew  is heart burn with musical  notation after a delicious but over-spiced meal. It’s at this point where I turn off the music and walk into the sunlight of the spirit.

(Originally seen in the UCSD Daily Gaurdian.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

from 1980:capsule reviews of mahogany rush,gentle giant,Peter alsop

 What's Next-

Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush (Columbia) T

The story goes that a young Frank Marino freaked out on bad acid some years ago, and after being given a guitar by his doctors as part of his recovery therapy, he was soon playing exactly like the deceased Jimi Hendrix despite the fact that he had previously never touched the instrument. Marino said in ea rly interviews that he believed the spirit of Jimi had entered him during his recovery, and that he had been changed from being just another teenage doper into someone who would carryon what Hendrix had begun. So the story goes. What you can say about Marino, whether you swallow' that crock or not, is that he does sound like Hendrix. But instead of "carrying on" the guitar stylistics and advancing the art of electric guitar, Marino's playing is somewhere in the late 60s, fast and furious, full of echo, feedback , and, unlike Hendrix 's occasional moments of bluesy lyricism, utterly graceless. The problem is singular: Marino and Mahagony Rush are incapable of writing a decent riff, a failing that results in Marino ejaculating pud-pounding solos over the material like a meat and potatoes slob drowning the most expensive plate at the Top Of The Cove in a comeuppance of ketchup. Although one has to concede Marino's adeptness, his style becomes wearisome. In the end, What's Next,their newest record, seems aimed at the audience who've turned Hendrix into a deity and refused to admit that better guitarists have come along. 

_____

Civilian -
 Gentle Giant (Columbia)

Back in the days when classically-derived rock was all the rage among the small enclaves of pop dilettantes, Gentle Giant set themselves apart from the pack with the unusual continuity and stringent formalism of. their playing. In recent years, though, Giant has been changing their sound, gearing it toward a more commercial appeal so that they might attract a larger audience who might otherwise dismiss them as mere technical tricksters.- Unfortunately, what they sound like on Civilian, their latest record, is merely a watered down rendition of their old self, bordering almost on self parody. "The material stays safely within the limits of what the average tolerate - there is little risk-taking here - and except for some pleasant ensemble bits here and there, nothing really gels moving. Also, Derek Shulman's singing - a distraught, emasculated whine - has never been my idea of great crooning, and the lyrics, trapped in the aprioric existential murk of alienation and all, amount to nothing more than in articulated pout. Words such as these are enough to make one want to give the linger, incessantly mewling about a world he didn't ask to be born into, a good swift kick in the pants. And not necessarily in the seat. 

_____

Draw The Line -Peter Alsop (Flying Fish)

 

If this were 1967, al an anti· war or Civil Rights march, and if I were 17, 'dad in khaki, stoned beyond what's reasonable in public, and still believing we could have world peace through the right mixture of drugs and indiscriminate sex, I would think that folkie Peter Alsop . was a totally bitchen guy. But this is 1980, and though my politics haven', changed all that much, I think most of us learned the lesson that the world won't be a better place through wishful thinking and pamphlet politics. Alsop , though, seems to exist quite happily in an airless vacuum . He 's what used to be called a  "topical" songwriter, and though the things he chooses to sing about - the innate greed principal of capitalism, the horrors of nuclear energy,  labor songs, feminisms' liberation of males from the breadwinner role - you find him to be so politically "correct" that you'd like to punch him out. Not that I find anything particularly disagreeable with Alsop's world view. Rather, Alsop gets on my nerves because of his expression, which is didactically self righteous , s hallow and humorous to only an audience of like-minded politico who already know the punchlines. And as a propagandist, he lacks the needed ability to turn up with the stirring turn of phrase . This man is not Phil Ochs, not Dylan, not Dave Van Ronk, not Buffy St. Marie. He is Peter Alsop, an insufferable little snit, a profoundly depressing experience. What else can you expect from a man who probably won't play in any state that hasn't ratified the ERA? 


(Originally in The UCSD Daily Guardian)

Saturday, January 16, 2021

EMOTIONAL RESCUE by The Rolling Stones (capsule review from 1981)

 Emotional Rescue --The Rolling Stones

Although Some Girls was a wide improvement over the phoned-in raunch-rock the Rolling Stones came to specialized in  after Exiles on Main Street, I never thought it was really that good. There were no songs on the par with "Satisfaction," "Sway," or "Backstreet Girl" (to choose three from a sizable collection of classics). Still, I didn't think that the Stones would go as slack and indifferent to their legacy as they sound on Emotional Rescue. Might it be that they’ve become so world weary that their sense of cruel irony, which was always a refreshing bracer against the worst collective delusions and naivete of major b ands that wanted to be relevant in turbulent times, has been dulled to the degree that they’re reduced to the status of cranky uncles at the family Christmas table. They don't sound angry or outrageous, they sound as though their feet hurt.

 Maybe they’re jaded, maybe they're tired, maybe they're just burned out by the stress of being the "world's greatest rock and roll band." but whatever the cause, the symptoms are apparent and irritating. Keith Richards and Ron Wood charge through Chuck Berry riffs like drunks stumbling through plate glass, Charlie Watts drumming has never sounded more uninteresting, and Bill Wymans' bass work sounds resembles nothing so much as sleepwalk proficiency. Jagger is the only one who sounds as though he's having any fun, but I suspect its fun for the wrong reason: he knows precisely what he can get away with throughout the songs he sings With a leering, mocking contempt.

 The problem is that the contempt is aimed not at any of the sacred cows the audience likes to see slaughtered as a matter of routine. Rather, the smug superiority of persona and derisive disgust seems aimed toward the audience, the the front row to the cheap seats.  This is to say that the cynicism that comes easily and too convincingly for the Stones signals a flatlining of their imagination.  Living up to your reputation isn’t the same as creating something a few of us would so preciously  term art. 

(Originally seen in the UCSD Daily Guardian).

Thursday, January 14, 2021

2 capsule record reviews from 1981

 Directions - Miles Davis (Columbia)

 Like last year's Circle In The Round, Directions is another double record anthology of previously unreleased Davis material from 1960-70, and it's neatly divided between the coaly lyrical post-bop styles and the period when the trumpeter led his musicians into the wilds of polyrhythmic jazz-rock. For my part, I prefer the latter of the two styles on the fir t two sides, highlighting Davis' sharp, pointillistic brassiness and several swinging performances from Wayne Shorter, Hank Mobley, Ron Carter, and others. The fusion material tends to drift too far afield, lost as it is around funk riffs that are annoyingly stationary while improvisations, by Davis. John McLaughlin , Wayne Shorter and Steve Goodman, lack anything to say save for arbitrary utterances. One jam, "Willie Nelson ," do 1' , however. transcend the hit-and-miss method of the style t with superlative bassist Dave Holland elevating a simple figure into truly propulsive  groove that in turn inspires McLaughlin to give his best guitar work-out on the four record set. Still, the fusion sessions are stiff and unmotivated, and one wonders whether Davis himself would have allowed these tracks to see light. Sides one and two, though, are quite fine, and well worth the price of the package.  

Intensities In Ten Cities - Ted Nugent (Epic) 

I once thought  Ted Nugent was a  guitarist of singular style who would one day drop the meat-eater stance and make music well the equal of his instrumental skill. Well, I still think that Nugent i a good guitarist, but I’ve abandoned all hope that he might garner some dignity as a musician. Primarily, dignity and class are elements Nugent has no interest in, nor use for. Yes, he can play guitar well and one respects him for that, but he’s also a freak show, a performer, a loud and grotesque figure of masculinity who has no problems selling out arenas and moving vinyl. Intensities in  Ten Cities is more of what he' been serving up the last . ix years or so: songs in major keys using major chords with lots of screaming guitar work and plenty of lyrics that display no more odal conscience than a back alley brawl. Nugent is obviously very happy to remain where he is, his audience seems more than happy to be typified as bone heads of the first order, and presently I'm more than happy to ignore this me . Give the audience what it wants and then wash the blood off your hands

(Originally published in the  UCSD Guardian).


Saturday, December 26, 2020

LESLIE WEST, RIP

 Leslie West, guitarist for Mountain , has passed away, age 75. The musician  was at the center of the  since my high school senior year, circa  1971 , which makes this especially sad.  His playing on the song Dreams of Milk and Honey, the live version from  their  ' 71 Flowers of  Evil album, was a I track I    listened to obsessively , all  20 or so minutes of it, for years to come.  Suffice to say that I  pretty well had the performance memorized, every note, every phrase, every transition from one  theme and variation to another, each change in tempo, each down beat and  uptick in volume. Or so it seemed at times as I remember miming West's guitar work in the dresser mirror while the song blared . It seemed I could write a bit of memoir, autobiography let us  say, to each five minute segment of this track and have enough writing to fill a book. I thought I would reprint this here, an appreciation of what I thought the song sounded like to me, something entirely subjective. Leslie West could play guitar.    

What song is going through my head? An old one, old, "Dreams of Milk and Honey" by Leslie West and Mountain, from the second side of their album Flowers of Evil, recorded at the Fillmore East in NYC in 1971. It is one of the great moments of Hard Rock guitar, with a great, lumbering riff that distorts and buzzes on the low strings with crushing bends and harmonics squealing at some raging pitch that might make one think of natural calamity, a force no power could withstand. West, never the most fluid guitarist, had, all the same, a touch, a feel, a sense of how to mix the sweet obbligato figures he specialized in with the more brutal affront of power chords and critically rude riff slinging. The smarter among us can theorize about the virtues of amplified instrumentation attaining a threshold of sweetness after the sheer volume wraps you in a numbing cacophony, but for purposes here it suffices to say, with a wink, that is a kind of music you get and accept on its own truncated terms or ignore outright. His guitar work was a brick wall you smashed into at an unheard number of miles an hour and, staring up at the sky, you noticed the bloom of a lone flower, not to mention a halo of tweeting birds and la-la music. 


 There is an aesthetic at work here, but it might as well come to saying that you had to be me, at my age, in 1971 when I was struck by this performance to understand a little of why I haven't tossed the disc into the dustbin. He is in absolute control of his Les Paul Jr., and here he combines with bassist Felix Pappalardi and drummer Corky Laing in some theme and variation that accomplishes what critic Robert Christgau has suggested is the secret of great rock and roll music, repetition without tedium. There are no thousand-note blitzkriegs, no tricky time signatures, just tight playing, a riffy, catchy, power-chording wonder of rock guitar essential-ism. I've been listening to this track on and off since I graduated from high school, and it cracks me up that my obsession with this masterpiece of rock guitar minimalism caused a few my friends to refer to me listening yet again to my personal "national anthem." This is the melodic, repetitive grind I wished life always were, endlessly elegant and stagnant, shall we say, in perfect formation of the senses, hearing, smell, taste, the arousal of dormant genitalia, all big and large and grinding at the gears that sing sweet mechanical song of intense love heavier than any metal beam you might care to bite into.  The combination of Felix Papalardi's whiny voice singing his wife's bullshit lyrics can ruin any buzz you have going for you. It's the live material that kicks it, with lots of fat, snarling Leslie West guitar work twisting around a punchy set of slow, grinding, distorted hard rock. Yes, arrangements do count, even in rock and roI might have even lit a Bic lighter for this tune. is something beautiful in that as well but, alas, the end result of that is the end waxing poetic. Alas. Sing it, Leslie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

REMEMBERING JOHN LENNON

(Originally posted in 2018, it merits a reprint now on the 40th anniversary of the singer's death.) 

This coming December 8th was the 38th anniversary of John Lennon's assassination by that ignoble cipher Mark David Chapman, and as much as one wants to deny that they remain obsessed with the great glory of their fiery youth, a day of this kind makes me none the less want to meander around the old and overgrown ground of the past and wonder how things might have been different.   But the motives are selfish, as they always have been with me, and I am less concerned with the winsome utopia Lennon wanted to bring us to had Chapman not found his gun and his target, but rather with the decline of Lennon's music, post-Beatles. My position is simple and probably simple-minded; Lennon was a pop music genius during his time with the Beatles, collaborating or competing with Paul McCartney, at the top of his songwriting and performer game, and with the introduction of Yoko Ono into his life, we see a lapse into the banal, the trivial, the pretentiously bone-headed. Yoko Ono did much to make Lennon the worst example of wasted genius imaginable. Though he did make some great rock and roll during his post-Beatle time and wrote and recorded a handful of decent ballads, his artistry took a nose dive he never had a chance to pull out of. He was monumentally pretentious, head-line hungry, and cursed with egomania that overrode is talent. He stopped being an artist, and a rock and roller, and became the dread species of creature called celebrity; the great work that made is reputation was behind him, and there was nothing in front of him except brittle rock music with soft-headed lyrics, empty art stunts, and drugs, drugs, drugs. A sad legacy for a great man. The fact of the matter is that Lennon's greatness was possible in large part because of his collaborations, full or partial, with Paul McCartney. Both had native musical instincts that balanced each other: the proximity of one to the other kept them on their best game.


The sheer genius of the entire Beatle body of work versus the sketchy efforts from both Lennon and McCartney under their own steam bears this out. Lennon never found anyone to replace McCartney, and certainly never had anyone who challenged to do better smarter work. Yoko certainly didn't give him anything that improved his music, and her lasting contribution to his career is to give him the errant idea that performing under your ability equals sincerity. It equaled excruciatingly inadequate music. What's amazing for an anniversary as seemingly monumental as this is the paucity of new insights, previously unavailable information, or especially interesting critical estimations of their estimable body of work. It is a topic that has been exhausted, it seems since scrutiny on all matters and personalities pertaining to the Beatles has been unceasing since their demise. We have, essentially, is reruns of our own memories, repackaged, remodeled, sold to us again, and endless of things we already know intimately and yet consume compulsively because we cannot help ourselves. It cheapens the term, but "addiction" comes to mind.

There is nothing to add to the Beatles legacy except perhaps add our anecdotes to the ceaseless stream of words that seek to define their existence and importance even today. It's no longer about what the Beatles meant and accomplished in altering the course of history or manipulating the fragile metaphysical assumptions we harbor, for good or ill; we’ve exhausted our best and largest generalities in that regard, and the task will fall to historians, philosophers and marketers after most of us are dead as to what The Beatles and their songs are worth as art and commercially exploitable assets. For us there remains only a further dive into autobiography, where we might yet find some clue and excitement as to how these guys became an informing influence on our individual personalities. John Lennon and the Beatles changed my life in a major and unalterable way during their existence, and this was something I came aware of only after watching two hours of CNN wall-to-wall coverage of the assassination. I broke down, tears came, I was a senseless, doom-stricken mess, even though at the time I loudly bad-mouthed the pasty, hippie-flake dilettantism of his later work.

None of what I thought I mattered in that instance. John Lennon was dead, and it was losing some essential part of myself whose loss would never be filled with anything even half as good or worthy. He still mattered to me in my life quite although I'd had what amounted to an argument with him over is politics and his music during the length of his solo career, but despite my best efforts to break off into new sounds and ideas and leave Lennon and the Beatles behind, his death hit as would the death of a family member. For good or ill, his work and the crude course of his ideas helped in the formation of values and attitudes that still inform my response to celebrity and events, no less than Dylan, and no less than reading Faulkner, Joyce, or viewing Godard films. The deification that he's had since the killing is the sick, fetish culture nostalgia that illustrates the evils of unalloyed hero worship, a need to have a God who once walked in our midst. This bad habit turns dead artists who were marginally interesting into Brand Name , icons whose mention confers the acquisition of class and culture without the nuisance of having to practice credible discernment: every weak and egocentric manuscript Kerouac and Hemingway, among others, has been published, and the initial reason for their reputations, graspable works you can point to, read and parse, become obscured.

Lennon becomes less the musician he was and becomes, in death, just another snap-shot to be re-marketed at various times, complete with booklets containing hyperbole-glutted prose that attempts to instruct me that my response through a period I lived in is meaningless. Such hype utterly refuses to let newer listeners come to their own terms with the body of work. It is no longer about Lennon's music, it's about the promotion machine that keeps selling him. This is evil. Lennon, honest as he was mostly when he had sufficient distance from his antics, would have told us to get honest as well and admit that much of his later music was half-baked and released solely because of the power of his celebrity. This may well be the time for an honest appraisal of his work, from the Beatles forward, so that his strongest work can stand separate from things that have a lesser claim to posterity. Many magazines and other media have used Lennon and the Beatles for no than their value as nostalgia icons in an attempt pathetic glimpses of their own history. It's only business, nothing personal, and that is exactly the problem. Risky to assume what Lennon might ultimately have sounded like had he not died, since he had the ability to switch games suddenly and quickly so far as his musical thinking went. This was a constant quality that kept him interesting, if not always inspiring: there as always, a real hope that he would recover inspiration, as Dylan had after some weak work, or as Elvis Costello had after the soggy offerings of Trust or Goodbye Cruel World

Even the weaker efforts of Lennon's' later period were marked by his idiosyncratic restlessness, and the songs on Double Fantasy, domesticated that they are, might well have been transitional work, a faltering start, toward new territory.It's laughable that Lennon might ever have become as lugubriously solemn as Don Henley, but there's merit in saying that Lennon's work might become par with Paul Simon's: Simon's work is certainly more than screeds praising the domesticated life, and he is one of the few songwriters from the Sixties whose work has substantially improved over the forty years. If Lennon's work had become that good, on his own terms, it would have been a good thing, though it'd be more realistic to say that a make-believe Lennon rebirth of great work would be closer in attitude and grit to Lou Reed and Neil Young, two other geezers whose work remains cranky and unsatisfied at heart. Since his death, it'd been my thinking that Lennon would have transcended his cliches as some of the contemporaries had.

Monday, December 7, 2020

AWKWARD TEENAGE BLUES

 


Leslie Gore was one of those pure pop singers like Gene Pitney and Neil Sedaka who had an appealing, earnest voice that could manage the hooks and addictive choruses of the songs she performed. Like Pitney, her song "It's My Party (and I'll Cry If I Want To)" was a catchy distillation of teen heartache and anxiety, an age where neither female nor male could help but continually compare their inside turmoil with what seemed cool and calm of the appearances of friends, associates, and other hangers-on. Am I good enough? Smart enough? Pretty/handsome enough?  Pitney and Gore were the heralds of awkward teenage blues, that time of life when hormones are kicking in and extending their reign from the brain and the appendages they command, a set of years where self-esteem is rare and fragile where it exists at all.

Not much has changed, just the style of clothes, the music soundtrack, and how far past first base you have to go to fit in, or at least seem to. Pitney was dour, moody, full-time drama queen in his string of hits, tunes he sang masterfully. He had a range, of course, easily witnessed with a listen to "I'm Going to Be Strong", "It Hurts to Be In Love", but it also had the strange quality of being scratchy, a strange impression of the gruff textured rhythm and blues singers he admired, and a certain "girlishness" as well. He had a fast vibrato, a quiver that would appear in the center of a phrase, making keywords seem suddenly uncertain, nervous, subject to glandular swings of mood, oftentimes undercutting the stronger voice, the more stoic, stronger pronunciation where Pitney reached down to an unnaturally low register as a means of constructing a solid, masculine calm. The singer was fascinating and melodramatic, and his performances were a clash of emotional raw ends.  But what really hits a nerve with Pitney's voice was the higher register, which he could twist and torture with deceptively able finesse to create a sense of a young and sensitive young man tasting for the wrong time the bitter fruit of breaking up. Neal Sedaka's song title "Breaking Up is Hard to Do" offers a clue to the genius of Pitney, who explodes the minor key agony of teenage breakup blues and expand the melodrama to the extent that it's tempting to apply "Wagnerian" to his extreme style. Maybe not so dramatic.

Leslie Gore was pop music for young people and I have to say that I found myself liking more than a little of it when I listened to TOP 40 radio. She was pop personified, the girl singing into the mirror as she prepared for a school dance for which she had no corsage nor date, singing her woes and insecurities into the reflection, watching her image, hair parted on the wrong side, watch on the wrong wrist, admit to the worries and dread  of not being in the center of the party,  not being interesting enough for a boy or a girl to talk to, someone for whom being friendless was worse than the death. Death, to her thinking, would be a release from this hell of other people's happiness mocking you without end, amen.


Tuesday, December 1, 2020

HOLLER, STOMP AND RIFF WITH WAYNE RIKER


Blues Lightning
The Wayne Riker Gathering
The last we beheld guitarist Wayne Riker was on his 2018 release Blues Breakout, a spectacular exhibition of fretboard heroics. Known locally and nationally for  mastery of  a variety styles, the previous album was Riker in a mood to blaze the blues.It was, to my ears, the most impressive display of blues guitar know-how since Johnny Winter's fabled  Second Winter .  Riker is a very distinct, even singular stylist, of course, but what he shares with Winter is an unerring sense of melding technique, taste, flash and feeling into each phrase he puts out there. Wonderfully fluid , he makes it seem that he can make his guitar convey the emotion and attitude he feels the moment he feels it; this disc is the kind of long-form improvisation which renews itself with each chorus. Each solo our friend Wayne essays forth is packed with what might be called The "Wow Factor”.

The new record Blues Lightning  continues this ride, with Riker this time availing himself of another able musicians, a quartet with Riker on guitar, Doug Kvandal on organ, Mackenzie Leighton on bass and Walt Riker on drums. A briefer album Blues Lightning has six hard-sizzling tracks, recorded live on three different dates at San Diego's Studio West. The mood up-tempo, with enough of B.B. King’s feel for elegant hullabaloo. The band throughout demonstrates a flawless sense of what how to play the changes,  with bass and drums locked into a neat habit of propulsion , keeping the music tight while allowing it rock hard . Riker's guitar work is a revelation to anyone who had loved his accelerated dexterity from the 2018 release. This time his breaks are sweet, the phrases more voice-like , with a  very use of seeming obligato statements, superbly use of pauses between riffs, and an emotionally pulverizing feeling for the high blues bend, controlling with a vibrato at the end of the line , compelling your author to slam his hand on the coffee table a few times.  The band mix is spicier with Kvandal's adroit work on the Hammond B-3 organ work, producing swells of funky, grinding texture that weds Riker's spikey guitaring and the rock-solid rhythm section. He fills gaps, offers short phrases to underscore vocal lines, and is a glorious second voice on his own solos, spare, resonant, eternally funky. Guitarist and organist engage in a continuous series of quick- witted dialogues and call -and- response.As mentioned before, the album, this release has only 6 tracks, each of them a glistening gem of finesse and feel. But what brings Blues Lightning even more intoxicating is the are the six powerhouse vocalists, Leonard Patton, Shelle Blue, Deanna Haala, Scott Mathiasen, Lauren Leigh Martin , and  Michelle Lundeen.  Each vocalist applies their potent skills to their respective songs. Every hoop, holler, and belted testament to the ironic ways of life and love, a subtle array of emphasis and insight. It’s a one of the record's added pleasures that listeners get to appreciate the contrasting yet complementary contrasts that makes the music even more electrifying.

We range from the subdued and conversational truth telling of Leonard Patton's reading of the B.B.King classic "Everyday I Have the Blues "(composed by Memphis Slim) ,  a vocal marked both by restraint and conviction in the singing while the band provides a sprite, marauding groove, to the classic blues shouting brought on by Scott Mathiasen on Freddy King's "Tore Down" ( written by Sonny Thompson), a snappy and strutting shuffle highlighting the singer’s grand and soulful rasp over the percolating ensemble. Shelle Blue’s reading of “W-O-M-A-N” ,  composed by Dorothy Hawkins, Abbey Mallory, Jean Mitchell  and Jamesetta Rogers, is a sexy and assertive response to the male-point of view of  “I’m A Man”, reminding everyone in the room that women are full partners in the life they have with their mates.  The B.B. King arrangement of “Rock me Baby” is sufficiently  growled, groaned and soulful as rendered by Deanna Haala’s declarative voice .

 Michele Lundeen’s vocal on the blues -torch song ballad “That’s Why I’m Crying” (composed by Samuel Maghett)  brings a hint of the sassy earnestness of Eartha Kitt to the testifying. Riker’s guitar fills and his solo on this tune, incidentally, are quite thrilling, responding to the highs and lows of Lundeen’s matchless singing.Singer and guitarist create unbearable tension until Riker cuts loose with a bravura solo, eloquent and slashing. The solo is an exquisite showcase of two-fisted blues work, as is , in point of fact, the entirety of Blues Lightning.  Buy the record and do as I do and place the disc on while having your morning coffee. Twenty minutes of that in the A.M. and I am ready to seize the day.


Sunday, September 27, 2020

HIP RECORD COLLECTIONS

 

The reasons Beatle fans in general (rather than only) "hipsters" prefer Revolver to Sgt.Pepper is for the only reason that really matters when one is alone with The reasons Beatle fans in general (rather than only) "hipsters" prefer Revolver to Sgt.Pepper is for the only reason that really matters when one is alone with their iPOD; the songwriter is consistently better, the production crisper, the lyrics are effectively "poetic"  without the florid excess that capsized  half of Sgt.Pepper's songs on their iPOD; the songwriter is consistently better, the production crisper, the lyrics are effectively "poetic"  without the florid excess that capsized about half of Sgt.Pepper's songs. Perhaps most important, though, is that  you could still listen to Revolver and still regard the Beatles as a working band . It might be a better bet that musicologist would be a better choice to pick apart what made the musicianship on this record so alive and cogent, but a big attraction in my life is that these guys still sound like a band showing up for a gig, setting up their own gear, and ready to play . It may be nostalgia, but something was lost when Sgt. Pepper became the standard by which most  Beatles records after it would be judged, two sides of special effects, guest shots and  flailing ambition toward the Art Gesture. Revolver was the band still in work shirts. 

It might be compared to Miles Davis when he was performing with his classic bands--John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock,Tony Williams, Ron Carter, et al-- with a long string of releases like Birth of the Cool and Kind of Blue (name your favorite here)and when he turned to the jazz rock fusion of Bitch's Brew and On the Corner, which featured the endeavors of Chick Corea, and John McLaughlin . The first mentioned releases are conspicuous examples of bands sensitive to each members nuances, strengths and weaknesses, quirks and signatures, combing with the material to offer adventurous improvisations as part of an ensemble effort, while with Bitch's Brew Davis and his producers culled performances from hours of taped jam sessions where ideas and motifs were explored to produce albums that are, in effect, mosaics. The general tone of the later releases was less the sparks that occur between musicians confronting each other in performance but rather something more theatrical; thought the musicianship is rather magnificent and often times bracing on the later electric releases,they seem more in service to Davis' cantankerous muse , performing as directed. As much as I admire and respect the accomplishment of both the Beatles and Davis in their late work, studio craft and all, a larger part of me would have preferred if the musicians had found a way to expand their horizons without abandoning their identities as bands. The Rolling Stones sought to produce their own version of Sgt.Pepper with the releases of the bloated and wasted Satanic Requests, and it's a fine thing to appreciate the Stones self critical response to bad notices (and perhaps some sober listening to the record, after the fact); they abandoned their attempts to compete with the Beatles on their new turf and returned  to riffy, R&B inflected rock and roll. 

What hasn't been mentioned here is that Frank Zappa released his first Mothers of Invention album Freak Out on June 27, 1966, a full month before the Beatles released Revolver in August of that year. Zappa was an erratic, quizzical, quarrelsome presence, but he achieved things with that album that neither the Beatles nor the Stones came close to; both those bands were more influential in the pop music sphere, where their separate approaches to including cross genre and experimental gestures made for pleasant and easily appreciated (and imitated)music for a large record buying public. Zappa, though, with his solid chops as composer, producer, guitarist, satirist and multi media maven, was miles further up the road and around the bend with respect to advancing the primitive ways of rock and roll into an art form. A good amount of Zappa's early music remains challenging to comprehend, which is another way of saying that it's hard to sit through and that it's downright ugly. The ugliness, though, wasn't merely my limited aesthetic; Zappa cultivated it, advanced it, gloried in it. Now that's integrity.  But the stuff that sounded ugly decades ago still kills small animals today.

Monday, September 21, 2020

DIONNE WARWICK, GENE PITNEY, BURT BACHARACH AND HAL DAVID

 


Dionne  Warwick was a vocal original . The going tradition for black pop and soul singers had been a very gospel , shout to the rafters approach that required range and training. Warwick had the training, obviously, but not the vocal range and managed in working spectacularly well within her limits. She had an interesting, off beat sense of when to sing a lyric, a subtle tone of sadness in the lower register, there was a magical sense of her speaking to you directly, softly, after a good cry. This is shown in the video of  Walk on By  , a song that begins that begins with the pacing of someone trying to hurry down a street, trying to avoid eye contact with a former lover they can't bring themselves to see, a perfect mood, at the edge of the frantic, as Warwick movingly , slowly sings the opening words of her imagined speech to her ex-paramour :



If you see me walkin' down the street

And I start to cry each time we meet

Walk on by, walk on by

Make believe that you don't see the tears

Just let me grieve in private 'cause each time I see

I break down and cry, I cry

Walk on by, don't stop

Walk on by, don't stop

Walk on by

This is one of the great heartbreak songs of the era, and it shows Warwick's particular genius for softly dramatizing a lyric by underplaying the emotion. Leslie Gore, Patty Duke and a myriad other  pop proto-divas  would have raised the roof beams with this song, but Ms. Dionne finds the right pitch. The sorrow, the self pity, the resignation is all there, but it the quality of Warwick's singing places her not in sort of hysterical moment of solipsistic self-pity but someone, actually, he is more the Hemingway stoic, shouldering the pain and the grief and dealing with what the everyday life demands. Of course, there is that sweetly sad piano figure in the chorus that presents an effective change in tempo and mood, a circling keyboard figure that halts the forward motion of the  narrative and stops the narrator, our singer Dionne, dead in her tracks, briefly and sharply  remembering the pain of breaking up.

These are rare and beautiful attributes in a singer, the capacity to emote in such a small scale; she was the exact opposite of the late Gene Pitney, who turned every sad song into an aria of teen heartache. Both singers, incidentally, were blessed to have song many songs by the Bacharach/David team, two men who knew how to write songs for a singer's vocal strengths. Bear in mind, I was a big fan of Pitney's. For comparison, above is Pitney singing "I'm Gonna Be Strong" , written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (later covered by Cyndi Lauper in her early band Blue Ash). An extreme bit of heartache here, with the perfect singer for the sad tale. The tempo is the same through out, but as it progresses, subtly but quickly, Pitney's voice is stronger, filled with more self-aggrandizing emotion, a man turning in his sleep and trying to burn his way through his lose with nothing but  stoicism, but who, in the final hour, alone, will just weep as hard and as loud as he is able. The way Pitney's voice climbs to his highest register is chilling, equaling the grandiose swell of the orchestration. Tortured high notes were precisely what Pitney's music were about, observable in the operatic, compressed, grandiose and florid teen angst songs he sang with a voice that could start out low, smooth, slightly scratchy with restraint, and then in the sudden turn in tempo and a light flourish of horns or sweeping , storm-bringing violins, slide up the banister to the next landing and again defy gravity to the yet the next level as he his voice climbed in register, piercing the heart with melodrama and perfect pitch as the most banal love stories became the raging of simultaneous tempests.

 It was corny, but Pitney had the voice and he had the songs to pull it off and make records that still have that stirring hard hitting effect; "Town Without Pity", "It Hurts To Be In Love", "Twenty Four Hours to Tulsa", "I'm Gonna Be Strong", and an substantial string of other hits he had ( 16 top twenty hits between 1961 through 1968) took the tear jerker to the next level. As mentioned by someone the other day in the British press commemorating his music, his tunes weren't love songs, they were suicide notes. Pitney's multi-octave sobbing qualified as Johnny Ray turning into the Hulk wherein the sadder he was made, the stronger his voice became. All this was enough for me to buy his records in the early Sixties when I was just making my way to developing my own tastes in musicians and their sounds.Most of the early stuff I liked--The Four Seasons, Peter Paul and Mary--I dismiss as charming indulgences of a young boy who hadn't yet become a snob, but Pitney? I kept a soft spot for his recordings in my heart, and defended him in recent years when those verbal battles about musical tastes found his name impugned in my presence. The Prince of Perfect Pitch deserves respect for turning the roiling moodiness of teenage love into sublime expressions of virtuoso emotionalism.


Monday, September 7, 2020

STUPID MONKEY CRITICISM

Rock criticism had a heyday in the sixties, when the mostly male likes of Lester Bangs , Greil Marcus, Dave Marsh and Robert Christgau combined their counter culture hedonism and the civil-rights informed progressive spirit and composed an ecstatic body of writing that supposed that rock music was more than a newly arrived art form, it was the future itself singing to us. Those of us old enough to remember can replay our favorite bits of prose that underscored the historic struggles embodied by the Beatles v The Rolling Stones, or the visionary accounting of Bob Dylan on the plight of our collectively bedraggled spirit. What of all that? Well, there was some good writing, deluded as much of it tended to be. Greil Marcus has become an ersatz cultural critic who chases around Bob Dylan's reputation in much the same fashion as the later writing of Harold Bloom rides Shakespeare's coat tails, Dave Marsh has become a dour Methuselah, serious and dull as paper clip, Robert Christgau has at least left the past behind and continued to listen to and write about new music, and Lester Bangs, pour sainted Lester, is dead as a door stop. Not that rock criticism has stopped being written, or that there's nothing good being said about younger artists. But there times when the younger criics read as if they're performing an Andy Kaufman like parody of an older generation of serious reviewers. It's disheartening when you discover these guys aren't kidding.Latest case in point that I've come across is Stephen Metcalf's hand wringing piece in Slate about Bruce Springsteen's performance at the Super Bowl. Springsteen had sinned some how, and the additional crime , from Metcalf hints at, was that The Boss couldn't sense the beleaguered critic's reservations through the ether, over the digital transmissions. Bad dog!

I am not a Springsteen fan, and have written for years on the fact that the good man is severely over rated by babbling pop pundits like Metcalf ( the likes of whom seem unable to even take a dump without summoning summaries of zeitgeists past, present and oncoming) but I do have to say that Bruce isn't required to live up to any coterie's collective fantasy about what his "purpose" is. Metcalf here seems increasingly like those noisy, bellicose and useless color commentators who shout statistics and jargon-clogged truisms over the airwaves while the real layers, like them or not, are doing the best they can on the field. 

The piece had nothing to do with Music and everything to do with the author's sadness that he's older, more cynical and just a little bitter that he aged his way past his earlier zeal and optimism. Springsteen still plays music with much the same spirit that animated him when he was a much younger man; I don't care for his music or lyrics to any large degree, but I do admire his honesty and his refusal to let age depress his vitality. Depression is what oozes between the sentences of Metcalf's mewling essay, and the astonishing thing is that somehow he seems to hold the Boss accountable for not aligning his performance on the author's soured mood. This is not heroic criticism on the level of William Hazlitt or Matthew Arnold, this is sophistry on a par with the snobbish sniveling of Dave Marsh.As far as TV performances go, it was good, quite good, but Metcalf is just an inconsolable sourpuss because he didn't get his standard Transcendent Effect. But what galls me , really, about the diatribe is the author's odd conceit that he knows intimately what the "National Mood" and how anyone should behave in a down swing. Springsteen is there for his fans, the ones who pay to see his concerts and buy his records, not the likes of Stephen Metcalf, who wants music written and performed by others to a soundtrack for his personal gloom and disgust. Plus, it's absurd to go on the way he did; if he thinks Springsteen was inappropriate in his performance, why didn't Metcalf chide The Steelers for daring to win the game? Would writers be out of a job if they decided to grow up?   ( from 2009).

Sunday, September 6, 2020

THE DEAN TELLS HIS TALE AND LOSES HIS WAY


22535453I made it halfway through Robert Christgau's memoir Going Into the City: Portrait Of a Critic as a Young Man before I had to put it down. Memoirs are a literary excuse for interesting people to talk about themselves due to an inherent belief that merely being themselves, sans abstraction or objectively intriguing art--novels, movies, poems, paintings--is enough to fill a book. it's likely that my lapse was due to the format Christgau chose; too much him, not enough of the world that formed him as a thinker about Pop Music and related concerns.I'm tempted to pick it up again, but I hesitate, I stall, I make excuses to do something else, considering that Christgau's obsessiveness, perfect for a critic, can be hard to take for long in a book that is supremely autobiographical in nature. I have been wishing that someone would take his best essays from his website and collect them into a volume or two; on rock and pop and some other matters of culture is always an intriguing point of view and it would be great to have those views between covers.

I'd been reading Christgau's insular, fannish, personal and idiomatically dense reviews for decades and rather liked the idea that I was part of the cognoscenti who could parse his sentences and follow his train of thought. "Any Old Way You Choose It", his collection of longer reviews and pieces gathered from the Sixties and Seventies, is one of my all-time favorite essay collections, a brainy, chatty, at times exasperatingly idiosyncratic journey through a couple of decades of extraordinary innovation; I love it for the same reason I still cherish Pauline Kael's "I Lost It At The Movies", for that rare combination of true fan enthusiasm and discovery. As with Kael at her best, you can sense the moment when Christgau comes to an insight, a discovery yet undiscovered by other writers; he has that element of "ah-HA! “Coming to his Consumer Guide column, where he would review anything and everything available, from the varied strands of rock, disco, reggae, folk, jazz, and pop was like meeting that clutch of friends you knew in college who considered rock and pop the emerging Grand Art. His was a column where I found someone who kept the conversation going, and strange and self-indulgent as it may have seen, it was fertile ground to debate and exchange ideas on the relative qualities of music. Anyone who's been through this bit before, the obsession with rock music is an art and establishing the critical terms with which one can assess, appraise and make note of what makes albums worth the purchase, appreciates the kind of critical thinking which becomes a habit of mind. In college I was Arts Editor of the thrice-weekly campus newspaper and was required, in addition to my studies, to write a crushing amount of column inches a week on matters of music, theater, television, movies. Rough life, I know, but it was a lot of writing none the less, and the chief debt I might have toward Christgau, an admittedly sketchy model for a minor league reviewer, was the creation of a tone, a style.

The Village Voice, founded in the fifties by Norman Mailer and Dan Wolfe, was formerly noted as a magazine where the pittance that writers were paid was somewhat compensated by the freedom they had to develop a writing style, ideas, and journalistic beats. It was a writer's publication, and that was the chief attraction for a reader who wanted more than cooker cutter reviews or cursory coverage of politics and culture. Christgau is a product of that freedom and developed an argot and style that was intended for those as obsessed and concerned with music as he was; he is a critic, not a reviewer distinction being that the critic assumes that his or her reader has the same background in the area under discussion as they do. Unlike reviews, which are final and absolute and brook no discussion beyond name calling, Christgau's essays are addressed to the concerned, the convinced, the true believer that pop music traditions matter as much as so-called High Culture expressions. This leaves him incomprehensible for many who think his writing is too dense with insular references and verbal shorthand to bother with, but that was a chief part of my attraction to his writing. There were many a time when I was in my twenties when I hadn't the slightest idea of what he was talking about-- who was Adorno? Marcuse? Sun Ra??-- but the subject matter at hand compelled me to investigate references further. It was an old-fashioned enterprise, his column in one hand, a dictionary and an encyclopedia at the ready to clarify the murkier waters of his prose. Any inspiring critic does that. Christgau and the late Lester Bangs gave me some ideas and methods in learning how to write fast, and well (or at least well enough that some light editing could be done without a major operation and my copy could be taken to the typesetter before the deadline). What is impressive about Christgau is his catholicity of taste, his constant curiosity about new sorts of noise and racket, and his ability to form connections and generate operate theories.

His writing is unique, and the Village Voice's loss will be another editor's gain. Christgau certainly tried to be confessional, tell all essayist, a horrible habit from the sixties that still infests popular nonfiction these days, as when he reprinted a long piece in "Any Old Way" about a trip across country with his girlfriend Ellen Willis and, in what was ostensibly an essay dealing with ideas, chronicled the events precipitating their break up. It was a rather aimless accounting, neither interesting as personality gossip nor compelling as an intellectual argument. It was just...awkward, not unlike someone who feels they have to talk about something that is a change in their life but cannot find the words that make you empathize. I rather enjoyed his prejudices, snobbery and the like, and I liked the fact the reserved the right to change his mind about an artist, even if only for one album. He as a critic, a dilettante, someone's who's a propensity toward prolix was intriguing, attractive, worth the bother to pour over when he was engaging the popular culture he thrived on.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

JAGGER SINGS. SORT OF

Rare images of Jean-Luc Godard hanging out with The Rolling Stones | BFI
It's been a week for visiting old albums, and the Stones were the band in the spin cycle, specifically their monumental efforts Let It Bleed and Exiles on Main Street. One could wax poetic and vaguely in the style of Greil Marcus about how these songs form a moment in time when so much of the invisible stuff that holds reality together would come undone unless we seized the moment, listened to the records and acted on the philosophical irony our millionaire visionaries were laying out, but that is another round of binge daydreaming. What's important now is a realization, a reminder, of the particular genius of singer Mick Jagger's way of articulating, mumbling, growling, mewling lyrics.Mick Jagger is a vocalist who learned to work brilliantly with the little singing ability God deigned to give him: knowing that he didn't have the basic equipment to even come close to simulating Muddy Waters or Wilson Pickett, he did something else instead in trying to sing black and black informed music-- talk-singing, the whiny, mewling purr, the bull moose grunt, the roar, the grunts and groans, the slurs and little noises , all of which he could orchestrate into amazing, memorable performances. One Plus One(Sympathy for the Devil)Godard's film of the Stones writing, rehearsing and finally recording the song of the title, is especially good because it captures the irresolute tedium of studio existence (in between Godard's didactic absurdist sketches attempting to address the conundrum of leftist media figures being used by invisible powers to squelch true revolutionary change). More than that, we see Jagger piecing together his vocal, his mewling reading of the lyrics from the lyric sheet; his voice is awful, in its natural state. But we do witness Jagger getting bolder as the song progresses through the endless stoned jamming, a grunt added here, a raised syllable here, a wavering croon there. Finally, we are at the last take, and Jagger is seen with headphones on, isolated from the others, screaming his head off into a microphone while the instrumental playback pours forth, in what is presumably the final take. Jagger, all irony and self-awareness, created something riveting and for all time with the marginal instrument he was born with, and is part of what I think is a grand tradition of white performers who haven't a prayer of sounding actually black who none the less molded a style of black-nuanced singing that's perfectly credible: Mose Allison, Van Morrison, Felix Cavalari (Rascals), Eric Burdon (early Animals), Peter Wolf, late of the under appreciated J.Geils Band.We cannot underestimate Keith Richard's contribution to Jagger's success as a vocalist. Someone had to know how to write tunes Jagger could handle, and Keith was just the man to do it. Richard's guitar work, as well, riffs and attacks and staggers in ways that match Jagger's strutting and mincing. Writing is everything, as always. Fogarty is obviously influenced by black music, and his voice does simulate an idealized style of southern black patois, but it's the tunes that make CCR's music matter. Fogarty is in the same tradition of Chuck Berry in his ability to write short, punchy tunes that have a story to tell, as opposed to a philosophy to impose or a depression to share.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

LYRICS v POEMS

Designer Brown Leather Boxing Gloves Vintage Style Handmade ...Seems that we all have rocks in our head, or at least the idea of rocks, notions of round hard things that can damage us if they strike,  solid masses of earthen material that defy our ability to out think them. Stupid rocks. Ideas get in the way of things, a tenet shared by flightier versions of zen and more solid versions of a modernist decree. The essential point is that one cannot know anything about rocks until they retire from the debating society: all the focusing on how tight one's theory is as it clashes with the dense physicality of reality is like taking a trip only to worry about the contents of the luggage. You can win the argument and walk away with nothing but a fleeting smug satisfaction that your designs held fast. Zbigniew Herbert's poem "Pebble" offers us a picture of the title entity as something that is gleefully self-contained, caring less about the content of our arguments or the character that makes them.


Pebble

by Zbigniew Herbert

The pebble
is a perfect creature

equal to itself
mindful of its limits

filled exactly
with pebbly meaning

with a scent which does not remind one of anything
does not frighten anything away does not arouse desire

its ardor and coldness
are just and
full of dignity

I feel a heavy remorse
when I hold it in my hand
and its noble body
is permeated by false warmth

---Peebles cannot be tamed
to the end they will look at us
with a calm and very clear eye

An interesting contrast for this poem would be Paul Simon's song "I Am A Rock", recorded when he was in Simon and Garfunkel; the most notable difference between the lyric and Herbert's poem is that Simon, at the time, was suffocating in his mannered seriousness.


 I Am A Rock
by Paul Simon 
A winter's day
In a deep and dark December;
I am alone,
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
I've built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It's laughter and it's loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
Don't talk of love,
But I've heard the words before;
It's sleeping in my memory.
I won't disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.
If I never loved I never would have cried.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.


 Simon eventually became a solo artist and shed the freshman composition overreach of his earlier poetic style. He developed a consistent sense of humor and revealed a superb sense of irony; best of all he pared back the dried garlands of creaky literary language from his work and was able to convey his subtler points in a fluid tongue that was informal, direct, understated. He decided to abandon Big Themes--Alienation,  Despair, Inability to Communicate--and instead take what was in his own backyard.  But he did write some grandiose statements while he was a serious younger man who hadn't yet learned to live life like it were a loose suit. Everything was so damned important, so damned serious. How serious he considered it seems nearly comical in retrospect.His desire to be a rock was the extrapolated angst of a teenager who had been hurt in love and is aghast at how cruel the world has turned out to be, It is, if we recall, a young man's first experience of having his idealism betrayed by an intrusive and uncaring world. "..and a rock feels no pain" is what S and G sing in the refrain and it comes across as whining and a wallow. Teens like myself, sensitive and eager to experience the bigger world in a hurry, related to this paean to self-pity; it is a song I have been embarrassed to admit to ever liking. It seems like only a modified version of the typical Bobby Vee or Gene Pitney three-hankie wounds of the heart that held the music charts not long before.

Herbert, in contrast, has his rock, his pebble more precisely, seem like nothing less than an entity unto itself, neither representative of anyone's anger nor a metaphor for anyone's bad experience. The pebble, in fact, is offered up as an example to be noted, studied, emulated in some sense;

The pebble 
is a perfect creature 
equal to itself 
mindful of its limits 
filled exactly 
with pebbly meaning  


"...filled exactly with pebbly meaning. " This goes along with a notion from William Carlos Williams' idea that the thing itself is its adequate symbol. This was something that I had heard by way of Allen Ginsberg in a broadcast some years ago, and it stays with me because it really does get to the heart of much of the modernist poetry aesthetic, which was to cleanse the language of the freight of a several hundred years of metaphysical speculation and restore the image of the thing as something worth investigating in itself. Herbert presents us with an item that is minute and already perfect, complex and intriguingly self-sustained; it is a mystery for us to parse on terms outside our egos. His is a poem that invites a reader to discover the world with it mind that we have to abandon our filters and templates and formula paradigms that gives phenomena an easily classifiable meaning.

Friday, August 21, 2020

PROG SLOGS

There are occasional stirrings among those my age, music fans of a certain generation of decade, who become nostalgic for the surface noise and commotion of their own record collection and, in indulging their yen for a commodity fatally beyond its expiration date, will wax, wane and syllogize until the music of the spheres play slow blues solos some now deservedly disputably fad was, actually, not so  bad, not bad at all, in fact, pretty damn good and unfairly maligned. Beware these acolytes, lest someone try to convince you of that the true worth of progressive rock, that hyperventilated amalgam of trick pony riffs that made radio something you dreaded turning on. 

I don't buy it, for the most part. The fascination with progressive rock  grew out of the long improvisations pioneered by the essentially blues-based bands like The Butterfield Blues Band, Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream, as the going conceit of the time was that rock and roll had become something smarter like "rock" and could now rival jazz as a young musician's medium for instrumental chops. 

The transition to classical borrowings, occasional jazz motifs and jacked up time signatures and tick-tock chord changes made for its own kind of monotony. Jazz, whatever its form or origin, was premised on the idea that, as a form, it was in a state of constant transformation--the musicians we still listen to rarely played the signature tunes the same way twice. Progressive rock, generally proud and defensive about the form's gerrymandered fussiness--this was the best place to learn the distinctions between the words "complicated" and "complex"--became insulated ever so much faster than jazz did. A one idea concept, with rare exceptions --Zappa, King Crimson, Pink Floyd--progressive rock could only become fussier, crankier, more incestuous. 

It actually became something resembling "rock" not at all, in any sense. It was the arena of sterile perfection and was truly unlistenable to a young listener having no desire (or need) to stare at the sky and ponder stoned philosophies. Punk rock was the shock rock and roll needed; stupid, obnoxious, repetitive, angry, the rude style pretty much revealed what a conceptual crock of mung progressive rock turned into. It was time to flush things away and allow the progressive rock to become something actually useful, such as fertilizer.

BILL BRUFORD AND ALLAN HOLDSWORTH

One of a Kind — Bill Bruford (Polydor):
See the source image The former Yes, King Crimson and Genesis drummer deftly leads a band of superb musicians through a session that combines the best of progressive rock (compositional organization with a rich sense of harmony and counterpoint) and the best of fusion rock (inventive soloing meshing hard-rock dynamics with fleet-fingered technique). Guitarist Allan Holdsworth performs  in fluid, fluent state of grace, and bassist Jeff Berlin works rhythmic miracles with Bruford as the do provide an engrossing set of propelling polyrhythms and twisting time signatures that gives the guitarist the means to expand his boundry -pushing excusions. Especially arresting is the compostional tone, complex, mature, with a wonderful sense of dynamics and development, showing both the influence of the impossibilities of Zappa in the limb-twisting changes Bruford's crew negoiates,and  and the etheral atmospherics of  a Brian Eno in the quieter stretches. The best moments, remain with Holdsworth, who extreme legato rivals that of any post-bop saxophonist in or out of this life, Coltrane, Shorter, Rollins, Michael Brecker, Josh Redman, you name it, and his technique, smoothly deployed as he tests the out rings of a chord progression and seems to begin solos in the center of an idea and then exploring the logical note sequences in both directions simultaneously, is stunning in the ways his spotlight moments build tension and then releases it.