Tuesday, May 26, 2020

JAZZ ROCK FOR A PANDEMIC


Image may contain: 1 person
Image may contain: 1 person"Devotion", I've been reminded, rocks hard and steps on the adjectival gas. This 1970 solo release from pioneer fusion guitarist John McLaughlin has gotten much play around here the last month as the seeming excessive requirement that we remain indoors and away from our neighbors has motivated me to scour my CD collection for items I haven't heard in years. 'Devotion" still gets it all in motion, a good thing indeed. It's rawness in guitar tone and it's rhythms so primal yet weirdly  effective in unexpected ways makes this early jazz-rock project still sound new, fresh, the beginning of something that hadn't existed before. This is way before jazz-rock became "fusion" and formalized as a style one could select to study and become a slick professional at. McLaughlin and company were still throwing things at the wall to see what stuck.Buddy Miles, of all people, acquits himself surprisingly as the session's designated "rock" drummer, though I wonder what the mix would have been like if it McLaughlin had Mitch Mitchell (or Ginger Baker) on hand. McLaughlin's guitar work is a wheezing grind and buzzing of devices and attachments, fuzz tones and foot pedals galore, and his riffs are choppy , sharp, angular. Larry Young is the textural component here, simply a genius on his outre minimalist take in a tradition still in the making. In the same vein, ":Live at Fillmore East"  by- Miles Davis Holds up amazingly considering the years that have passed since I've heard this. Davis's trumpet is bold , brassy, snarky and snaky all at once as he darts between, over and through the churning keyboard dialogues of Corea and Jarrett. Jack DeJohnette and Holland are a blistering rhythm section here; the drums and bass patterns achieve the impossible, maintaining a rock beat and firm bottom that avoids the supreme tedium lesser rhythm sections contrive. Part of the joy of this early electric jazz rock experiment are the lack of obvious heads or signature riffs that keep the music well mannered, orderly and constricted, as well as the loose ensemble fit . There are times that it seems the band is hopelessly lost in a riff fest, going toward the cliff at quick, shambling pace, but all that is deceptive; this a discipline with a different philosophy and use. This is a choice purchase.







Friday, May 22, 2020

KILL YOUR IDOLS


Phases & StagesI gave up hope for rock criticism developing into a respectable form of criticism when I realized that it was, for the most part, a pissing contest for most of the guys who decided to try their hand at it. For every Bangs and Young there were dozens of lesser lights who proved, at length, that they could make noise aplenty but offer little or no light on the subject. Much of it has to do with how well the current state of the music happens to be, of course, but pop music criticism did come to the point where everyone was recycling what everyone had already written, and the two trajectories being offered readers by the end of the seventies was incomprehensible Greil Marcus/Dave Marsh obscurantism, which insisted that the music they listened to in college dorms was the Spenglarian peak of civilization and that every note played afterwards was an inferior facsimile of the authentic , or the knee jerk Bangs imitations where wave after wave of typing nitwits missed out on Lester’s capacity for feeling deep emotion and his brand of self-criticism and instead freight us with jabbering sarcasm by the car load. Jim DeRogatis , rock critic for various outlets , author of the Lester Bangs biography Let It Blurt, rounded up a slew of younger, Generation X pop writers and invited them to select a classic rock album, an album, by consensus, considered to be Canonical and there for unarguably great and then to debunk an older generation of critics’ claim for the lasting greatness of those records. It’s an interesting idea, I admit, but the result, an anthology called Kill Your Idols is a miserably strident , one note mass of pages dedicated to puerile dismissals of a lot of good, honest music. “Snotty” doesn’t do that particular disaster justice.

The problem with the generation of rock critics who followed the late Lester Bangs was that too many of them were attempting to duplicate Bangs’ signature and singular ability to write movingly about why rock and roll stars make terrible heroes. Like many of us, Bangs became disillusioned with rock and roll when he discovered that those he admired and was obsessed by — Lou Reed, Miles Davis, and Black Sabbath — were not saints. The discovery of their clay feet, their egos and the realization that rock and roll culture was a thick cluster of bullshit and pretentiousness didn’t stymie Bangs’ writing. It, in fact, was the basis of Bangs transcending his own limits and finding something new to consider in this. Sadly, he died before he could enter another great period of prose writing. Kill Your Idols, edited by Jim DeRogatis, is an anthology that is intended, I suspect to be the Ant- Stranded, the Greil Marcus edited collection where he commissioned a number of leading pop music writers and asked them to write at length about what one rock and roll album they would want to be left on a desert island with; it’s not a perfect record — then New York Times rock critic John Rockwell chose Back in the USA by Linda Ronstadt and couldn’t mount a persuasive defense of the disc — but it did contain a masterpiece by Bangs, his write up of Van Morrison’s album Astral Weeks. His reading of the tune “Madame George” is a staggering example of lyric empathy, a truly heroic form of criticism. Kill Your Idols”, in reverse emulation, assigns a group of younger reviewers who are tasked with debunking the sacred cows of the rock and roll generation before them; we have, in effect, pages full of deadening sarcasm from a crew who show none of the humor or sympathy that were Bangs best qualities. Bangs, of course, was smart enough not to take himself too seriously; he knew he was as absurd as the musicians he scrutinized.
“Kill Your Idols” seemed like a good idea when I bought the book, offering up the chance for a younger set of rock critics to give a counter argument to the well made assertions of the essayists from the early Rolling Stone/Crawdaddy/Village Voice days who’s finely tuned critiques gave us what we consider now to be the Rock Canon. The problem, though, is that editor Jim DeRogatis didn’t have that in mind when he gathered up this assortment of Angry Young Critics and changed them with disassembling the likes of Pink Floyd, The Beatles, the MC5; countering a well phrased and keenly argued position requires an equally well phrased alternative view and one may go so far as to suggest the fresher view point needs to be keener, finer, sharper. DeRogatis, pop and rock music critic for the Chicago Sun Times, author of the estimable Lester Bangs biography Let It Blurt, had worked years ago as record review editor of Rolling Stone and found himself getting fired when he couldn’t abide by publisher Jan Wenner’s policy of not giving unfavorable reviews to his favorite musicians.
His resentment toward Wenner and Rolling Stone’s institutional claims of being a power broker as far as rock band reputations were concerned is understandable, but his motivation is more payback than substantial refutation of conventional wisdom. The Angry Young Critics were too fast out of the starting gate and in a collective haste to bring down the walls of the Rock Establishment wind up being less the Buckley or the Vidal piercing pomposity and pretension than , say, a pack of small yapping dogs barking at anything passing by the back yard fence. The likes of Christgau, Marcus and Marsh provoke you easily enough to formulate responses of your own, but none of the reviews have the makings of being set aside as a classic of a landmark debunking; there is not a choice paragraph or phrase one comes away with.Even on albums that I think are over-rated, such as John Lennon’s Double Fantasy, you think they’re hedging their bets; a writer wanting to bring Lennon’s post-Beatles reputation down a notch would have selected the iconic primal scream album Plastic Ono Band (to slice and dice. But the writers here never bite off more than they can chew; sarcasm, confessions of boredom and flagging attempts at devil’s advocacy make this a noisy, nit picky book whose conceit at offering another view of Rock and Roll legacy contains the sort of hubris these guys and gals claim sickens them. This is collection of useless nastiness, a knee jerk contrarianism of the sort that one over hears in bookstores between knuckle dragging dilettantes who cannot stand being alive if they can’t hear themselves bray. Yes, Kill Your Idols is that annoying,  an intriguing project that succeeds in being a smug irritation.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

LESLIE WEST PLAYS GUITAR WITH YOUR FACE



Mountain - Flowers Of Evil | Releases | Discogs
Mountain is one of my favorite bands of all time, Leslie West is one of my top 3 rock guitarists, and FLOWERS OF EVIL, THEIR 3rd studio record, changed a good part of my listening preferences as regards the four chord beauty hard rock provides. The album has a a studio side, which resolutely blows due mostly to the lyrics of Gail Collins, wife to and murderer of bassist Felix Papalardi; her rhymes seem nothing less than a botched combination of Harry Chapin and the vacuous spiritualism of Jon Anderson, with strong doses of Dungeons and Dragons poured into the wretched mix to further enhance the gag reflex. This disc changed my life for side two, the live side, which , to my mind, is a as fine and as well played, on its down terms, as any live album I've purchased . 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 that cannot be withstood. 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 nasty riffing. 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. 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 particular masterpiece of rock guitar minimalism caused a number of my friends to refer to me listening yet again to my personal "national anthem." I might have even lit a Bic lighter for this tune.

FRANK ZAPPA THOUGHT YOU WERE AN IDIOT AND YET YOU BOUGHT ALL HIS ALBUMS

Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, along with King Crimson, are my two favorite bands from the "prog rock" school of making things busy, although my appreciation of both bands is that they are both outliers from the form. Before anyone was aware of it, there seemed to be a dozen bands that sounded like Yes, ELP and Genesis, so many of them with similar riffs, oddly regimented time signatures, fantasy, sci-fi or cosmic muffin levels of grandiose lyric baiting. I admit the truly committed prog partisans could tell the difference, as could I in most blindfold tests, but the really issue was what exactly the point of all that repetition of effort was. The answer was clear, which was sales of  records and tickets, no less than the disco movement. It wasn't all mercenary , as it's unlikely anyone begins to play music of any kind without a love of making instruments produce sweet sounds, but the idea was that prog rock was selling and that despite the protests that maintain that it was a new art form, or a natural expression from musicians who'd grown up listening to the refined stuff, which  it was in both cases, choosing to be in a prog band was a commercial move, not an artistic one. 

Zappa and KC, though, had other things in mind, a certain kind of monomania that made the music, morphing, argumentative, diverse and truly "out there" in both bands, than anything else. Weasels Rip my Flesh is my favorite Mothers/Zappa release simply because it pretty highlights the leader's astounding range, from gritty atonal classicism, free jazz cacophony, old school rhythm and blues, electronic skroinksterism  and a good amount of Zappa's flying dagger guitar improvisation.  It's a resume album, you might say, a release of what had not made it yet to album release, outtakes they used to call them, music from both studio sessions and live dates sublimely edited together in such a way that it becomes a jaw dropping realization that the styles and moods this record masterfully presents, the crankiest avant garde experimentation coexisting with humdinger fanfares,  an obstacle course of rapid and bizarre meter changes, the sustained scream of a deranged arrangement for reed instruments, you begin, perhaps, to appreciate the genius Frank Zappa was. "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Sexually Aroused Gas Mask", "Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue," "My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama", "Oh No"--these titles provide a good idea as to the peculiar landscape that is Zappa's imagination, which is satirical, vulgar, entirely surreal using the commodities of consumer capitalism to poke a sharp sick into the vulnerable and obese sides of  our collective American fetishism for gadgets, fads and trends. 

An admirable facet of Zappa's work as a librettist is that he has no interest in creating poetic/philosophical/spiritual constructs that operate as Fire Exits for the consumer who wants a safe space for his psyche to believe, however fleetingly, that everything is okay and that he's doing just fine. No such luck, as Brother Zappa distorts the chaos you're already in and aware of and makes it his goal to give you the shock of recognition. That is , what am I laughing at?  With the disconcerting variety and collision-course eclecticism  the Mothers of Invention so brilliantly maintained, it would seem to have been Zappa's goal to shame a few folks in his audience, at least, to recognize the softness of their thinking , turn off the TV and get a library card.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

MITCH RYDER SOUNDED LIKE A WET RUBBER GLOVE BEING TURNED INSIDE OUT WHEN HE SANG

Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels were a great, blistering rhythm and blues unit from the Sixties, with inspired, pumped up hits like "Good Golly Miss Molly/Jenny Take a Ride", "Sock it to Me Baby", and "Devil in a Blue Dress". Ryder had an unbelievably limited voice, perpetually hoarse, rasping, cracked and textured like old sandpaper: not suitable for more melodic fair, but perfect for the kind of Stax/Volt gospel shouting style that the band was influenced by, a sound where holy rapture was supplanted by a condensed and amplified eroticism.The music was climaxing from the start, and every element, from the punchy piano chords, shotgun drum reports and open-wound guitar vamps underscoring the brilliantly realized desperation in Ryders' grunting, coughing, phlegm-coated singing style. This was the testimony of a man who knew he was down to the last seconds of the time he was allowed to plead his case. This is Love-As-Cardiac Arrest.After the break up of the Wheels, little of what Ryder did was compelling. He did a solo turn on the hoary "What Now My Love", backed by over-the-top orchestration that tried to legitimize the brave but sad efforts of Mitch trying to hit and hold the right notes of the melody. An album recorded in Memphis yielded mixed results, hardly funky. He had another band called Detroit that had one album and a minor hit with Lou Reeds' "Rock and Roll".Later, an interesting turn. He released an album called, I believe, "How I Spent My Summer Vacation". It was all about buggery, and God bless him

Thursday, May 14, 2020

STARLESS AND BIBLE BLACK BY KING CRIMSON


King Crimson - Starless And Bible Black (Definitive Edition, CD ...
Revisiting King Crimson's 'Starless and Bible Black'Historical revisionism is a wonderful thing in matters that don't involve public policy or the fate of humanity, and the last few years has emerged a movement among able-voiced factions of the 70s music audience, fan and writer alike, who have become emboldened to say great things about Progressive Rock. I won't argue the point, although I was not the most enthusiastic listener of the stuff. As a sucker for instrumental competence leading all the way up to virtuosity, tricky time signatures, dissonance and bold eclecticism appealed to me greatly, although my tastes have changed course significantly toward jazz improvisation, a wider, less calcified field were virtuosity is put to the service of improvisation, an area where you do something unique , your own and the likes of which cannot be exactly duplicated by any means. Prog, in the brief time it owned the FM radio band and record charts, soon became self parody --everyone sounded like everyone else playing overly arranged music , although adherents will claim the immediately distinguish-ability of Yes from ELP from Hatfield in the North from ...--and much of the lyrics were so much mush, Tolkien by way of Dungeons and Dragons. But Starless and Bible Black by King Crimson?  Though starting at the beginning of the Prog Rock ordeal, KC never really sounded like anyone, and anyone trying to sound like them did so at the risk of being ridiculed, reviled, rejected. This record is densely layered, putting forth fetching, entrancing segments of gamelan percussive improvisations, a rather angular approach to Heavy Metal atonality, atmospherics for processed electric guitar and violin, breakneck Mahavishnu temps and firestorm soloing. Robert Fripp, who I would consider the Miles Davis of Rock as he is the only constant member of this band in its fifty plus years of existence and who made sure that the contributions of new members changed the sound and direction of KC--leads an outstanding troupe this period, especially Bill Buford on drums, David Cross on violin and John Whetton on bass and vocals . Whetton, I believe, is one of the forgotten bass heroes in the rock domain. Atmosphere, frenetic ensemble playing, exploring texturing. What more does one need, And the lyrics by Robert Palmer James are first rate, a real poetry tht does not embarrass your senses with naive horse droppings.

Monday, May 11, 2020

MUDDY WATER'S WOODSTOCK ABLUM: brilliant blues with Muddy and Paul Butterfield

I spent dozens of hours breaking down and learning his harmonica work on "Broke My Baby's Heart" and "New Walking Blues". Wonderful, wonderful blues playing, with perhaps the best band he ever formed. If you haven't already, check out the obscure Muddy Waters Woodstock Album. The album is a revelation, as it has Waters stepping a few steps back from the rocking, Chicago style back beat, raw and blistering in a fashion only genius can achieve, and here taking up a swing upbeat. 

Save for the rumblings of Waters' voice, always a place of deep echo and lean-close innuendo, some of these tracks would fit in well with the suited urbanity of B.B.King. It is a gem alright, a rousing, spirited transitional session placing Waters beyond his stylistic comfort zone. But not too far. Pinetop Perkins provides a bright piano throughout, and former Band utility musician Garth Hudson is a triple threat here on organ, saxophone, and accordion; his accordion work, surprisingly, is a wonderful blues instrument, as can be heard on the sturdy workouts on "Going Down to Main Street", "Caldonia"

.Whatever jokes the instrument and it's players have suffered at the hands of one comedian over the decades abates somewhat with Hudson's finely fingered boogie and sparkling fills. What caught my ear was the harmonica playing of the late Paul Butterfield; perhaps among the handful of truly important blues harpists, his playing here equals his best efforts. Punchy, fleet, gutty and clean in the same breath, Butterfield demonstrates his mastery of tone and phrase, combining moaning raunch and inspiring single-note runs for maximum effect. 

Butterfield fans ought to acquire this disc straight away; it's an essential addition to your harmonica player collection. This is a terrific addition to his previous collaboration with Waters, the stomping Fathers and Sons. For Waters, he is relaxed, at ease, in full command of his singularly masterful voice; within that limited range he can raise the voice to its breaking point, emphasizing a point, highlighting a hurt, suggesting a rebellion against what brings him down, and then slide to the lowest corner of his range and provide the gritty realism that is his hallmark as a blues artist. 

One is also served a generous portion of Waters' slide guitar work, a perfect compliment to Bob Margolin's stinging bends and blurs; Waters touch is sure and spare, producing a thin, nervous, clear line. It is a wonderful texture in a full-bodied, hard-swinging band. A battler, a lover, a philosopher of the hard road, never with self-pity, never without it.

"Peter Gabriel" (1) by Peter Gabriel

Image may contain: possible text that says 'peter gabriel'I was not and remain still no great fan of progressive rock as a genre, although there were significant  stylistic enclaves hither and yon that gave me more than a few hours of enlightened distraction. Genesis, with Peter Gabriel as vocalist and contributing songwriter, were an  ensemble that provided some of those hours because, I suppose, these able musicians viewed themselves a songwriters first, virtuosos second. Which meant, you see, far fewer meandering solos and classy art-moves, musically, to bolster what happened to be catchy, appealing, haunting, sad and beautiful songs under neath the occasionally overwrought arrangement.

Pacing, spacing, self-editing, and sense of literate restraint enabled these guys, initially, to tell a tale through two album sides, four album sides, and pretty much give the world through he eyes of characters you didn't know could be imagined and come away disbelieving none of it. And their tunes were hummable. The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, to use a cursed term, is one of the very , very, very few rock operas to work entirely. Gabriel was no small part of that success. The first album, the first of a string of discs to be called Peter Gabriel with no sequencing qualifying the release title, is a masterpiece , a joyous and contagious bringing together of theatrical art rock, guitar chord burnishing, art-song, odd tales from Dark Forests--something very British, very Lewis Carroll, very C.S.Lewis. The melodies and the hooks get you and keep in their hold--"Here Comes the Flood", "Solsbury Hill", "Moribund the Bergermeister "morph, ascend and descend in pitch , mood and and modulation that your mind is pretty reeling with hooky riffs, phrases and the quotable yet enigmatic bits of lyric that is crazy making on sleepless nights, so much so that you feel compelled to play the disc again and yet again.

Such was my case, sometimes thinking that I was delving into some library of forbidden journals, esoteric poetry or the keys to all metaphors that would , with close reading, unlock the qualities of the universe even the bravest poets trembled before.And Peter Gabriel's has one of those voices that  puts its power and range int the service of his muse's highest standards. He is less a vocal personality that a set of personas that makes this album a joy to ponder , wonder about, scratch your head over while your ears behold some marvelous art rock that lifts the spirits to try harder and to feel deeper, more profoundly.

Still Younger Than Yesterday

YoungerYesterdayCover.jpg
Released in 1967, the Byrds' fourth album YOUNGER THAN YESTERDAY saw the band saw the band having to commit itself to release a record after the recent loss of their principle and prolific songwriter and lead singer Gene Clark. To be sure , Clark's departure is said to have been caused by a money dispute ; he received more royalties than other band members because of his songwriting contributions. Admirably, Roger (nee Jim) McGuinn. Chris Hillman and David Crosby took up the loss and contributed high caliber material to fill in the void left by Clark, the result being YOUNGER THAN YESTERDAY, which I would argue is their best and most important record and certainly one of the best and most important studio albums by an American rock band in the Sixties. Clark's absence force the other members to draw on their own musical passions and, taking their cue boldly from what the Beatles were doing with their experiments, handily expanded their sound far beyond the jangling-folk rock that initially launched them . The harmonies remain without peer, and we saw the very early integration of jazz, Indian raga, country and western , psychedelia and electronics into their musical weave. Smart, disciplined production by Gary Usher keeps this record form becoming a swamp of overcooked pretensions--he was the man who had the job to say "that's enough". SO YOU WANNA BE A ROCK AND ROLL STAR, EVERYBODY'S BEEN BURNED, WHY, RENAISSANCE FAIR, TIME BETWEEN-- the songs are first rate and the confidence these fellows confront all the alien influence and make part of their sound and legacy is amazing. It sounds fresh, alive, 53 years after its release. The only down side on this disc is the last track on the last side (from the original release) , Mind Garden", an un-navigable mind-blown miasma from David Crosby . It was the day, I suppose, when drugs were exciting, most of us working day jobs after school to have cash to buy records from major corporations believed a Revolution was pending, waiting in the winds , and that many musicians and producers, always marketers, thought they needed a song about altered consciousness to appeal to the gullible teen and the witless rock critic. I assume Crosby was sincere in his attempt to get the experience of having a blown mind in song form, but its a mess. I even thought that in 1967, when I was still in junior high.