Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Greetings... and some music... Howling Wolf... Paul Butterfield... Steve Lacy...John Zorn... Funkadelic... Thelonious Monk... Lennie Tristano...

Seasons greetings to all. It's been a while... but I've decided that there might be some life in the mp3 free download and obscure chat formula still - maybe a concentrated look at a track or two could still be interesting in this age of mass album downloads - well, before they shut us all down, or try to... I live in the hope that the Internet can resist the fools and thieves - i.e. politicians - and their attempts at policing the Anarchosphere...

To the music: here comes the Taildragger – the mighty Howling Wolf performing 'Shake for me.' Taken from a live recording from the American Folk Blues Festival on tour in 1964.  Guessing at the lineup, Hubert Sumlin contributes some stinging sharp guitar, comping and single note lines that lock nicely with Sunnyland Slim's piano.  Classic Chicago blues...

Some rocky white blues edging into r and b/soul stylings with the addition of the horn section – Paul Butterfield and his band at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Playing 'Driftin' Blues,' I'm guessing this is the same lineup that recorded 'Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw,' so Keith Johnson on trumpet leading it in before the vocal takes it up, shadowed by Elvin Bishop's guitar. Butterfield takes a harp solo, three eloquent choruses that build nicely. Video of the performance here

Steve Lacy with bass and drums playing 'Blue Jay' from his album 'The Holy La,' recorded in France in 1998. Despite all his years playing, there was always an early morning fresh jump out of bed feel to his work.

John Zorn in 1998. From the album 'Downtown Lullaby,' this is '228 West Broadway.' Bit of a curiosity, interesting in the sense that the musicians: Zorn plus Wayne Horvitz, keyboards, Elliott Sharp, guitar and Bobby Previte on drums freely improvised the material in the studio and then added the titles – all New York addresses that refer, I think, to loft spaces where they have played. Oddly eastern feel to it - Elliott Sharp's electric guitar weaving in and out of Zorn's alto over minimal drums that build into a backbeat that stops just under four minutes in as Horvitz drops in some sprinkles of keyboard, reforming again after half a minute, adding some cymbal splash. Starting to get more interestingly tangled together, Previte mixing up the rhythm, keyboard dropping in some chordal crashes. Ebbing away and down as Zorn plays with a fragment of melody, tossing it around gently. Out on faint scuffling drums and a dying guitar note.

Mr Clinton from 1974. 'Alice in my fantasies,' from 'Standing on the verge of getting it on.' I first got into George C when I bought a copy of Parliament's 'Chocolate City' in a Dublin cut-out bin, circa 1976(? - That was a heavy Black Bushmills year). Not sure how the new prez will work out after a decidedly jumpy start, but let's be charitable in hard times: 'You're the capital, C.C.' This is a wild ride which cuts through a few genre barriers, rock colliding with funk in a heavy guitar-laced track, some weirdo vocal giving way to the mighty 'Smedley Smorganoff,' the criminally unsung Eddie Hazell blasting out some fierce wah wah, fading out somewhat abruptly. A bit of fun...

Monk, the first album he made for Columbia – 'Monk's Dream' – and take one of 'Bye-ya.' Another album which is important to me – I bought this when I was living with my first wife in some glorious boho dump in London – our first 'apartment.' Used to play this on a portable record player... it was my birthday present from her that year. Frankie Dunlop's drums open by spelling out the rhythm of the theme, when the band come in they accentuate Monk's compositionary vision - a seamless mix of rhythm, melody and harmony. Charlie Rouse takes a jaunty solo, followed by Monk in expansive mood, prodding and flowing in equal order, jumping off a riff to roll down on his patented whole note runs. A solo that amply demonstrates how he respects his improvisational start points. But everything on a good Monk track (which was most of them) always comes together - not always on first listen if you don't understand his vocabulary but there is always a supreme musical intelligence at work. Tunes are never just vehicles for blowing - over the years that I have been listening to his work, since that mind-blowing performance in 'Jazz on a Summer's Day' which opened my very young ears further to the possibilities of modern jazz and beyond, I have never bought into the myths that he was some kind of mad primitive. Monk was an exotic character, which is part of his appeal, but the vision behind the music and the man should be acknowledged more. It looks as if the new biography may go some way to rectify some of the idiocies - can't wait to grab a copy in the New Year. Apparently Bill Evans thought that Monk's singular vision was due to not being exposed to Western classical music, some kind of idiot savant... which demonstrates my point. Yes he was, Bill...

Another pianist/visionary who suffered at the hands of critical myopia - ironic, given his own disability - was Lennie Tristano. While Monk had at least a good measure of success in his life and is still acclaimed critically, Tristano was never as highly regarded - yet he was one of the great pillars of modern jazz with a unique take on linearity and melody. Here he leads a powerhouse lineup - Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz on saxophones, Billy Bauer on guitar, Arnold Frishkin, bass and Denzil Best on drums. One of those corny titles: 'Sax of a kind' - ha ha - which disguises a fleet and intricate theme. Bauer solos first, fluently - he was a fine bebop guitar player - followed seamlessly by Tristano, over to Konitz then Marsh, a brief trade between the saxes then into the theme before you realise it. One flowing whole, no joins - fascinating, how Tristano taught his methods of improvisation to pupils who remained of his school while developing their own distinct approaches.

Back soon...

Howling Wolf
with possibly Sunnyland Slim (p) Hubert Sumlin (g) Willie Dixon (b) Clifton James (d)
Shake for me


Paul Butterfield
Paul Butterfield(v,hca)
with possibly Elvin Bishop (g)David Sanborn (as) Brother Gene Dinwiddie (ts) Keith Johnson (t) Mark Naftalin (keys) Bugsy Maugh (b) Phillip Wilson (d)
Driftin' Blues


Steve Lacy
Steve Lacy (ss) Jean-Jacques Avenel (b) John Betsch (d)
Blue Jay


John Zorn
John Zorn (as) Wayne Horvitz (keys) Elliott Sharp (g) Bobby Previte
228 West Broadway


George Clinton/Funkadelic
Spaced Viking; Keyboards & Vocals: Bernard (Bernie) Worrell
Tenor Vocals, Congas and Suave Personality: Calvin Simon
A Prototype Werewolf; Berserker Octave Vocals: Clarence 'Fuzzy' Haskins
World's Only Black Leprechaun; Bass & Vocals: Cordell 'Boogie' Mosson
Maggoteer Lead/Solo Guitar & Vocals: Eddie 'Smedley Smorganoff' Hazel
Rhythm/Lead Guitar, Doowop Vocals, Sinister Grin: Gary Shider
Supreme Maggot Minister of Funkadelia; Vocals, Maniac Froth and Spit;
Behaviour Illegal In Several States: George Clinton
Percussion & Vocals; Equipped with stereo armpits: Ramon 'Tiki' Fulwood
Rhythm/Lead Guitar; polyester soul-powered token white devil: Ron Bykowski
Registered and Licensced Genie; Vocals: 'Shady' Grady Thomas
Subterranean Bass Vocals, Supercool and Stinky Fingers: Ray (Stingray) Davis
Alice in my fantasies


Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk (p) Charlie Rouse (ts) John Ore (b) Frankie Dunlop (d)
Bye-ya take one


Lennie Tristano
Lee Konitz (as) Warne Marsh (ts) Lennie Tristano (p) Billy Bauer (g) Arnold Fishkin (b) Denzil Best (d)
Sax of a kind


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Review: Anni Fentiman/Dave Webber/Brian Peters: The Road to Mandalay... Monday, 23d November, 2009...

Monday night: over to the Grand Union now that the rain has eased... an unusual gig, Anni Fenterman, Dave Webber and Brian Peters coming together for their take on Kipling's 'Barrack Room Ballads' and beyond via the settings of the late Pete Bellamy. Supported by the usual high level of singing from the floor and two veterans of the scene, Tim Garland and Geoff Halford, a veteran's veteran perhaps but still a deep power in his lungs and heart that belie his years.

A slightly different format for a folk gig and one that worked very well – contextual readings in between the songs to situate them in their time and to subtly point out the continuing relevance of the way that the 'brutal licentious soldiery' are still treated. Check out 'Tommy,' for example...

'For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot.'

(As if to demonstrate the continuing relevance of Kipling, I have seen this poem quoted extensively over the last couple of years – for obvious reasons).

Kipling was(is?) deeply unfashionable for years for a variety of reasons, locked out of the canon until some brave souls – and Bellamy was in the van – dug deeper than the cliches engendered by sadarse literary departments. Slowly the ripples went out and I can remember hearing many of the songs delivered tonight down the years, one here, one there as tastes slowly changed. Although – I see that Neil Gaiman was attacked recently when he disclosed his love of Kipling's work. The usual claptrap – 'fascist apologist for Empire' – by the usual thought fascists who have a limited conception of free speech and even less understanding of a man like Kipling and his time. See here... As Paris Nat Schaffer would have said: 'xxxxing schnorrers.' But enough of my diatribing...

The robust rhythms of the 'Ballads' lend themselves to musical settings and Bellamy's skill adds another dimension to them. Brian Peters mentioned the speculations that Kipling was writing with folk and music hall tunes in his mind and it's a reasonable bet – although I would wager more on the music hall side, not that it matters. Kipling had the rare gift of getting inside his subjects and channelling their hard, rough, often boring and frequently dangerous lifes. Capturing the elusive joys of hard drinking – and the consequences - in 'Cells:'

'I've a head like a concertina: I've a tongue like a button-stick:
I've a mouth like an old potato, and I'm more than a little sick,
But I've had my fun o' the Corp'ral's Guard: I've made the cinders fly,
And I'm here in the Clink for a thundering drink
and blacking the Corporal's eye.'

Or the harsh punishment that befell 'Danny Deever' for murdering one of his NCO's – a vivid portrayal of a military execution.

'They are hangin' Danny Deever, they are marchin' of 'im round,
They 'ave 'alted Danny Deever by 'is coffin on the ground;
An' 'e'll swing in 'arf a minute for a sneakin' shootin' hound
O they're hangin' Danny Deever in the mornin!'

This is hardball stuff, hardly glib hoorahs for imperialism, but a raw delineation of what a heavy load the Empire rested on the backs of the common soldiers. As brought out further in the biting ironies of 'The Widow's Party,' which balances the broader political narratives: 'We broke...goed' with the price paid by the anonymous dead and wounded of the Widow's (Queen Victoria) army: 'And the river's...flowed.'

'What was the end of all the show,
Johnnie, Johnnie?
Ask my Colonel, for I don't know,
Johnnie, my Johnnie, aha!
We broke a King and we built a road --
A court-house stands where the reg'ment goed.
And the river's clean where the raw blood flowed
When the Widow give the party.'

Loving a soldier was/is a risky venture... In 'Soldier, Soldier' the returning survivor gives sharp comfort to his comrade's sweetheart:

'E's lying on the dead with a bullet through 'is 'ead,
An' you'd best go look for a new love,'


'The pit we dug'll 'ide 'im an' the twenty men beside 'im
An' you'd best go look for a new love.'

A bullet in the head and tossed into a mass grave far away. Kipling catches the incongruities, the contradictions of a soldier's life, the savage reality of battle or the diseases that can be equally fatal, alongside the pride in being part of something bigger, the Victorian army and beyond, perhaps to the aspirations of Empire - however flawed that imperial endeavour seems with the benefit of hindsight. It's not one-sided, which gives his work such power, he's not trying to second-guess his subjects.

Kipling was proud of the Empire, in which he was but a man of his time. But he sounded a warning against petty jingoism and hubris in 'Recessional' which is often forgotten, again that point well-driven home tonight that empires also fall:

'Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet.
Lest we forget—lest we forget!'

Worse was to come when the imperial certainties of Victorian England were broken on the battlefields of the Great War. Using his army connections he helped his son, Jack, to enlist even though he was under age. He died at the Battle of Loos in 1915, which devasted his father:

'Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind —
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!'

Yet there was also adventure to be had, exotic warm places to visit, remembered fondly through the brute reality of leaving the army for drab poverty-stricken existence back home, wistfully captured in the last song, somehow fittingly 'Mandalay:'

'I am sick o' wastin' leather on these gritty pavin'-stones,
An' the blasted Henglish drizzle wakes the fever in my bones;'

contrasted with

'Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there aren't no Ten Commandments an' a man can raise a thirst;
For the temple-bells are callin', an' it's there that I would be --
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea;'

Encored by 'Follow me 'Ome' which also served as a tribute to Johnny Collins, who died not so long ago, sadly missed by all present, describing the interpersonal bonds that hold an army together, which we non-combatants can only get a small glimpse of, the comradeship made all the more precarious when sudden death intervenes:

'There was no one like 'im, 'Orse or Foot,
Nor any o' the Guns I knew;
An' because it was so, why, o' course 'e went an' died,
Which is just what the best men do.'

A lot of quoting above – but I think that with the thickened layers of poetry set to music and a controversially misunderstood author, some textual setting is necessary to give a flavour of the richness on display. Fairly spartan backings from concertina and violin, the performance rested on the readings interlinking and binding the songs into a satifying continuum, done skillfully but informally. A small room like the Soar Bridge enforces intimacy anyway and with the formidable battery of singers in the audience to join in on the choruses you are up close and personal all the time here.

This intimacy also carried you along with the narrative, pulled you into an essentially alien world which is both exhilarating and disturbing. The crowd respond to the bugles and drums as it were, which can be uncomfortable if one analyses it. Not a glorification of war – hardly that – yet a small glimpse of the seductions of 'glory?' Maybe that is what Peter Bellamy saw initially, that folk music allied to a degree of theatre could still provide a relevant message to move people – certainly brought out tonight when Brian Peters read out a couple of contemporary parodies of 'Tommy' from serving soldiers in Baghdad a while back. Links inserted in an ongoing chain of resonance, given the disgraceful treatment of the contemporary army both abroad – ill-equipped and stuck in dubious conflict – and at home. Oddly, there was probably more consensus during Kipling's time for the wider aims of Victorian foreign adventures than exists now for our current entanglements/wars. But the world was a different place then... Yet: tonight's performance was not a museum piece, like much folk music has become, whatever the intention... there was an emotional edge that is often lacking in trying to connect to past experiences of a gone world, spanning quiet pathos, raw rowdy humour, vivid and often brutal description and something else - a surging power that came through especially at the end, that locked musicians and audience into a bizarre collective experience where one could almost feel a big marching drum beating somewhere.

'Oh, 'ark to the big drum callin',
Follow me -- follow me 'ome!'

As Bellamy said, in reply to the critics of his day: 'Rudyard Kipling made exceedingly good songs.' Tonight done great justice to by Webber, Fentiman and Peters, three stellar talents who subjugated their individual techniques to produce an ensemble performance of great subtlety, power and beauty...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Weather... Folk Music... Kipling...

Had to go to Leicester for throat supplies - run out of valves (don't ask)... got wet going and coming back so not really in the humour to go out again this evening and re-enter the god-damned November weather - but glad I made it to the owld Soar Bridge Inn and Bill W's monday bash - this time up, Dave Webber/Anni Fenterman/Brian Peters doing their Kipling show - via the late Peter Bellamy's arrangements etc.  Stirring stuff - more to follow tomorrow... don't think I've ever been to a bad gig at the Grand Union... no links/exhausted... if in doubt, Google...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

New Magazine... Recognition...

Another project I have been involved with... co-editing the online/print mag Recognition with my compadre in Berlin, Mr Dominic Coutts... follow the link for details of free download of first issue... There is also a print version available from RawMusics...  Mixed bag of stuff - a long essay on Malcolm Lowry in his centenary year, photos from Palestinian refugee camps, poetry, fiction in German and English, a couple of reviews...
And we are looking for submissions for the next issue to be published May 2010...

Friday, November 13, 2009

Mervyn Gould,,, RIP...

When I was at the Brighton Colour out of Space festival recently (see below - too tired to post more links!), I received a phone call to inform me that my dear friend Mervyn Gould had died from a heart attack a couple of days before, linked apparently to his diabetes problems.  I had only spoken to him on the Tuesday that week and taken a rain check (a phrase he would have hated! - 'An Americanism, dear boy!') on meeting him the next day because I was busy.  We agreed to convene on my return to the manor... this was not to be... Up until today I have not felt up to the task of writing about such a larger than life, irascible yet lovable, loyal, smart, wonderfully idiosyncratic person... But his passing needs a humble marker or two - at the least... Today, his friends came together for his funeral in Loughborough, vicar in attendance - as would be appropriate for Merv - yet oddly no hymns - and three wonderful eulogies were delivered that sketched out the variety, the depth and breadth of the man, his working life in theatre, academe (his years in the department he dubbed 'Stress and Trauma' - English and Drama -  Tee Hee - situated on the university campus of God's Little Acre), his energetic involvement with the Mercia Film Society.  Further - what stood out was the affection that people had for him...  Earlier, I had a phone call from a mutual friend who could not attend the funeral due to geography and work - he sent me an email which I was supposed to read out to the assembled... Due to the circumstances of the wake this proved to be impossible - people scattered across bars and no focal point - Merv would have loved the confusion: Fair Week in Loughborough, a Beer Festival on the premises, although the landlord kindly gave us precious space on an insanely crowded day - and Friday the 13th, for the superstitious.  (Include me in, to reverse Samuel Goldwyn - the succession of stupid accidents/fuckups earlier today is beyond mere statistics).  But Simon's comments deserve a wider audience - they convey the essence of our friend far better than I can achieve.  So here they are:

Simon Black

For those who know me, my profound apologies for not being here in person, since family commitments make it impossible for me to get away from Cardiff for this sad day. It was with great regret that I heard about the passing away of Mervyn Stockbridge Gould. A great leading light of the theatrical scene has gone out for good and remains forever dark. Of course, if he were here, he would be telling me off for using the word ‘light’. “It’s a lamp or a lantern, you stupid boy” would be the cry, for which misdemeanour I would almost certainly have to pay the price of the next round.I had the delightful experience of learning the technical workings of the stage under Mervyn’s tutelage at the Department of Anguish and Trauma at Loughborough University in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. I also have it on good authority that it was Mervyn himself who coined the very term, which is still in use today. I also believe he is responsible for the term ‘shabby-genteel’.

There were a couple of us who steered clear of the bitchiness and backstabbing that came with actual performance of drama and tended to take on all the technical and back stage work on a regular basis.  Mervyn was always delighted when a student came forward in this way, since it freed his time up and gave him an opportunity to check on the flow levels of the hand pumps at the ESB bar.

Incidentally the ESB building at the University did have a small technical and lighting capability, which fell under Mervyn’s due care and diligence. It was on just such a mercy errand for a ‘special bulb’ with Mervyn that I discovered the ESB was the only bar on campus which still served beer from old fashioned jug handled glasses. These special bulbs required much diligent care and attention.

After university, I spent several years working as a stage lighting technician for a number of theatres including Nottingham Playhouse (which Mervyn lauded) and for a number of touring rock bands (which Mervyn derided as “new –fangled skiffle”). I would not have done this were it not for his support and guidance, and the all important three-fold rule of theatrical timing:

"Never forget, Black, that there are three vitally important times in this business: Opening Time; Closing Time and with appropriate brevity in-between ‘Show Time.’"

Mervyn remains forever in our memory – a light house in a sea of mediocrities, and one who sadly must remain bright only in our memories. Please raise your special bulbs to the last and finest example of the old school.

Kind Regards

Simon Black

Well - closing time appoaches and the parting glass... One of the sadder ironies that I was made aware of earlier tonight was that Mervyn had just paid off the mortgage on Gould Towers at Blackbrook Court recently and would have had consequently enjoyed a reasonable measure of financial security in his property investment. He would have had a good few bob in his pocket... if he had been spared - which was a gag we had between us, old battered bohos that we were. In a year that is marked by much personal loss, I leave it to Simon's eloquence above and the last stanza of Yeats's 'In memory of Major Robert Gregory' below which expresses my feelings better than I can, sat here high up in the beatnik hovel reclension of the poet's tower, looking at the foul weather outside, storm and rain rattling the windows, surrounded by my ghosts, calling up my dead:

I had thought, seeing how bitter is that wind
that shakes the shutter, to have brought to mind
All those that manhood tried, or childhood loved,
Or boyish intellect approved,
With some appropriate commentary on each;
Until imagination brought
A fitter welcome; but a thought
Of that late death took all my heart for speech.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Review: Colour out of Space Festival, Brighton, Sunday 1st November, 2009...

The last day. John Wiese and Karen Constance first up in the hall – big sound from the start: noisepower electronics at their dandiest. Full-blooded – the auralspace crammed with events, crushing smears of sound interspersed with what were either samples of quickcutting short wave radio fragments or done live - looped. On the outer edges of the mix scattershot punctuations, pops and sharp rips, like electro rimshots. A deep storm of bass rising steadily to sail it on with some higher tones held to give almost melody. Again – a set that uses the available time allotment to the full, content producing form just so. Boding well for the rest of the night, a very good start and mood setter.

 So: Hector's House for refreshment then back to position myself for Audrey Chen, whom I have heard a lot about so was prepared to get a good spot up close. Not to be disappointed – her performance was one of the high spots of the weekend. Cello, voice and some minimal electronics, this was more the acoustic side of improvising, nakedly so in such a crammed space. She came across as very poised, sure of her ground. Using what looked like a chopstick jammed in to the cello strings, flicking it to produce a clunky ostinato as she vocalised through a wide range of sonics, pure tones mixed with more distorted granularities from throat and lip movements. Apart from her orthodox musical training at the Peabody Conservatory in her home town of Baltimore, as Chinese-American, I wondered if her technique was enlarged further by the other half of her cultural background, the Chinese family of languages using a higher vertical range of sounds than English/American and subtle tonal shifts. With the bow, she utilised all the surfaces of her instrument beyond the strings, a vigorous rubbing that produced more extensions of sound. She also introduced two connected rubber/plastic balls – maybe a toy? - to scrape on the back of her miked-up cello to give further extension/possibilities – in fact, one could say that it is surprising how much variety such a basic set-up can produce. This was a sublime performance that held the tightly-packed audience for its duration, coming to final ground on a vocal shift nearer to the western orthodox, perhaps a slight hint of jazz/blues in the held notes?

Compelling and, for all the expertise and control, deeply and rawly emotional...

Joseph Hammer sat at the back of the hall in front of his Apple Mac and other equipment, his left hand swathed in a white glove (which I assume was not some homage to Michael Jackson but needed to handle the tape spooling through the recorder he was manipulating), as his right focused on his laptop. He produced short snippets from various recorded sources one assumed, a voice here, a drum beat there, a shard of guitar, looped, processed and slowly moving to build a complicated piece, layers moving in and out, the minimal nature of the individual fragments and their slight duration when thrown together giving a complex carnival of sound that echoed earlier pioneers like Steve Reich. This approach tonight just made it to the end of the set without palling – the repetitions on the edge of needing more development. High wire – but great stuff...

Sten Hansen I had seen wandering around the festival over the weekend favouring a walking stick but tonight he gamely walked out on stage, with some obvious difficulty. A historical figure, self-taught as a composer, active in the electro-acoustic scene and beyond since the early sixties, a pioneer who is 'one of the forerunners in the field of multi-media art.' He spoke amusingly as he explained and cued off various works that exploded words and fired them all over the joint, speeding, slowing, spinning the recorded voice wildly and joyously through the space of the hall. There is a selection of his work available on Ubu .
Coming from the more academic side of experimental music, but his work never seemed dry or dessicated as much of that genre can be. A lot of fun among the intelligence here...

Which leads neatly to the last act of the festival and the night. Ju Suk Reet Meete and Oblivia, both members of Smegma, the wildly innovative Portland grouping and the wild eclecticism that fuels that worthy band is on display tonight. With a vengeance... one clumsily wrestles with words trying to tease out the mash of genre streams on display here... Oblivia (AKA Rock and Roll Jackie) resplendent in blue wig gave out on 'found sounds through modified and weighted turntables,' while Ju Suk did his stuff on cornet, some kind of lap guitar and a rig of sound processing equipment. They played against a stunning visual back drop, close-up images from nature – a bubbling tar pit/hot spring, barnacles on rocks by the sea – and a barrage of abstract and surreal juxtopositions giving an amazing density. Added to the music, you had a complete show that went the distance without flagging. Oblivia turntabling a variety of musics – at one point hillbilly guitar and violin hee-hawed through – as Ju Ju Suk alternated free jazz spluttering lines on his horn with slide guitar figures that evoked the blues, country and rock and roll. Hard to describe how all this fitted together but it did – maybe an object lesson in how Keat's 'Negative Capability' - 'I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact and reason' meets Ornette's harmolodics, where disparate lines create enough space to both accept incongruities and resolve them on other levels. Mind-blowing, as we used to say and a fitting end to another great festival here.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The next instalment...

... of the festival review will be tomorrow.  Notes deciphered (more or less) and written up but overwhelmed with exhaustion.  In the morning hopefully...

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Review: Colour out of Space Festival, Brighton, Saturday 31st October, 2009...

Saturday – a straightener in old Hector's House then over the road for tonight's fandango. Starting with Chora – very much an acoustic improvising band with minimal electronics, violin, little instruments, clarinets – driven by supple and strong drumming to give them a steely yet flexible framework. A keyboard of some description (I assume – he was at the back of the stage slightly offsighted from where I was sitting) set up a drone some way in, coming in and easing back, providing a bottom line of structure. This was a well-paced set, using the time allotment efficiently to build to a crescendo of a clarinet duosquawling around each other before finally ebbing away. Superb – they should maybe have been further up the bill... There is a hand-hewn freshness to their work that pulls drones, free jazz rhythmic gestures and a folky dance into a unique space. I was thinking about when I first saw the Incredible String Band back in the back of the day at the Cousins club, how they exploded acoustic folk with so many different instruments and rhythms, the road that perhaps they did not travel, of further explorations into the free jazz explorations that were also such a feature of London and beyond in the late sixties, is one that fancifully leads to... Chora, who are doing it now...

Struggled into the gallery which was jammed for a related band via the Sheffield connection, The Hunter Gracchus' anarcho-collectivist counter hegemonic succour.' Blimey.  A trio, upended drums on the floor, a sax player, some kind of exotic stringed instrument. They seemed to be aiming for a ritualistic performance, as if trying to reinvent music from the ground up via rhythms, scrapes and breaths – the sax mouthpiece was utilised as a sound source more than the complete instrument was played, like a psychedelic hunting horn. I don't know if they were consciously named after the eery Franz Kafka short story but there was some attempt at calling up another world, something primal, going way back like archeologists of morning, maybe, to slightly bend that phrase from Charles Olson. At one point one of those Indian drone thangs that Allen Ginsburg used to intone over got a severe pounding - Omni Mani Padre...SQUAWK!  Ending up all crouched over the drum head blowing into several odd looking metal objects. The folk influence, veering away from electronics to produce raw 'natural' sounds? Good stuff – but again, I would like to see them in a more friendly space. Don't dig the gallery...

Back to the main venue for an epic performance by Simon Whetham, sat at the mixing desk to use the darkened hall as a canvas – a mix of electronic sounds and processed field recordings that used all the available acoustic area in a powerful set that truly evoked the name of the festival – colour out of space...

Always ready for a divertissement but Justice Yeldham was somewhat unlucky when his power supply kept cutting in and out – I couldn't hear a lot of what he was shouting to the nearby audience as he was off-mike, a lot of swearing it seemed, but he gamely tried to persevere with his bizarre act – using a contact-miked jagged piece of glass pressed to his face and blown on/manipulated with his fingers to produce, when it worked – some extraordinary sounds. It looked as if it might be somewhat dangerous – children, don't try this at home – and I think he smashed the glass in the end as the set was totally buggered. Shame – he almost pulled through by sheer personality – well, if you're going to blow through broken glass it implies a certain wry take on things. Cue for mucho H and S activites as several people earnestly swept the stage to remove all the fragments. One shouldn't laugh...

Some free jazz... Steve Noble/Alan Wilkinson unfortunately playing without the mighty John Edwards who was indisposed. But a stunning set nevertheless, coherent free improvised jazz with the pair coming straight at ya – high-powered blowing on baritone sax and splattering drums, interspersed throughout by Wilkerson's vocal outbursts of wordless wahoo – giving me the fanciful thought that he was like an avant garde version of the late Lennie Hastings ( a reference that will only make sense to older Brit jazz buffs – 'Ooyah Ooyah!'). The vocalising sound poetry gave a broader line of attack which linked up to many other acts over the weekend – an intelligent move – and also fitted seamlessly with the movement of the music, jazz sax playing being particularly close to the human voice, if you think about it. Noble parried, prodded and accompanied as the sax player switched to alto and back – demonstrating a sure technique on some rapid yet accurate high-register blowing. Hi-energy stuff played with fire and some wit, yet more than just scattered squalling – some fascinating development and interplay here. Went down a storm to a packed house...

Then über-weird jumped in... Kommissar Hjuler and Mama Baer, rigged out in cod-tropical knaki and pith helmets, gave a shattering deconstruction of the old pop song, 'The Lion Sleep Tonight.' Deconstructed? They smashed it to pieces, in the old phrase, 'from arsehole to breakfast time,' and scattered the bloody fragments far and wide – and long... long... long... Jesus, the Kommissar hurled himself about on stage re-iterating 'Wimoweh,' over and over for what seemed like eternity to the point where I wanted to kill him... His partner similarly writhed about the stage singing(?) mangled bits of the song, howling, shrieking... against a hilarious yet somewhat poingnant film projection of a bloke in a scruffy lion suit walking on and on through some black and white shoreline and scrubland. On and on and on. Very funny and very clever and it pushed the joke to the utmost – and then some. The relief was palpable when bloody 'Wimoweh' finally stopped...

A lot of anticipation for the final act, guitar and drums duo Bill Orcutt/Paul Hession. Master percussionist and six string hero – Orcutt, ex Harry Pussy, given a big write up/review in the current Wire on his return to the scene with a highly rated solo album. I wondered how this would work out – interestingly, there are many links with free jazz and the punk/noise underground, which were played out here. There was a nagging thought that Orcutt might not have quite the chops needed for this level although Hession's open polyrhythms gave multidirections to move about in with plenty of space to float or dig in. A certain amount of repetition developed – maybe intentional as rock works more from repetition than free jazz. Yet overall an interesting experiment. Orcutt is certainly a fluent guitarist and it proved that the barriers are more artificial perhaps than real – free jazz, which does not spin through cycles of harmonic changes that force certain directions and techniques, by its openness should be well capable of mixing with the rawer, more avant rock/noise without either side compromising (a spectre of 'jazz-rock' looming from the old days – 'let the shipwrecks of others be your seamarks,' what?). A thought I had – another guitar would have been interesting and someone like James 'Blood' Ulmer who does the new voodoo folk blues and can also rip it up on side orders of bebop-inspired chromaticism that takes his playing into provocative areas.

But leave us not carp – another act I'd like to hear again to see how they develop. And they went down mightily...

Back the hotel through the madness of Halloween on the Brighton streets. Ah-woo, Werewolves of Sussex... Soundtrack in the bar tonight – Funk – James Brown to Chic. Up on the one, y'all...

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Review: Colour out of Space Festival, Brighton, Friday 30th October, 2009

The kick-off – I missed the beginning of the first show  – a selection of Fabio Roberti's dryly hilarious spoof movies - because I was over the road in Hector's House, but caught the one with the goateed dark glasses beat poet accompanied by sax and bongoes which was a hoot – the film stock deliberately stressed to make it look as if it had been shot in 1958, complete with out of synch moments and copious cigarette smoke. Good fun...

Next up Duncan Harrison and Ian Murphy. More serious fare here – starting with a high tone drone against crunchy electronics, adding voice sounds through a mike to mingle with what resembled scampering scratching march-like robotic insects. A whistle added, looped and processed – good mixture of noise and human processed sound.

Into the gallery part for HereHareHere – whom I could not see as the room was always full throughout, with the tall people at the front! A spartan sounding duo – just two voices moving with and against each other using extended vocalising techniques – ullulations/throat granularities etc. Came out sounding like a mix of Jewish liturgy and East European folk music in places. Interesting stuff – would like to hear them again in a more sympathetic setting. Re this: the success of the festival in part relies upon the alternating of the main hall and another performance space – last year in a large marquee outside at the back, which was slightly scuppered by the rain and mud underfoot but at least gave plenty of room to wander into – so that each act can change over/sound check efficiently and the schedule runs more or less on time. Unfortunately I missed much of what went on in the smaller room because it got too crowded... but that's always a problem at festivals, when so much is on display –plus: ya gotta eat – and drink... Hector's House over the road has a wider selection...

Morphogenesis next in the hall. The jumble sale ethic, ho ho... Four guys sat at tables piled up with their various electronic/music producing equipment. Adam Bohman stood out visually stage left, a jovial presence as he manipulated his plunderings of the curio shops – glasses, bowls, various unidentified objects – which he scraped, bowed and struck. They eased into their long set, slowly building a powerful momentum – added to by a bearded figure lugging some kind of portable amplifier and mike to just below the front of the stage among the audience where he variously squalled, hooted and howled in and out of the progressing sound stream. A bass throb coming in to almost ground them in a set rhythm. Maybe they went on a tad too long as some of the sounds produced started to be a wee bit repetive. A small criticism – I enjoyed this very much,  the fragile sonic world created, a good balance between the participants holding it together well.

Damien Romero, moved over from sunday night, for some reason. Power acoustics, tough stuff, the way I like it... Long drone that slowly built in force, crossed with syncopations/twists of rhythm and sudden jagged shards. Wild stuff but intelligently paced/structured... the night was building well...

To be really lifted up by Kodama, who were awesome. A two piece, another mix of flutes/recorders/home made instruments fed into various processing units. They were set up at the back of the hall, with the sound coming from sources in front of them and from the pa on stage to produce a strong immersive experience. Some way into their set Michael Northam produced an instrument that looked as if it had fallen off the back of the late Harry Partch's pickup truck, a zither from the ninth dimension perhaps which produced sounds to match. Hitoshi Kojo countered with a length of what resembled plastic piping which he blew into mightily.  Come to think of it, plumbing would be a lucrative day job for a struggling experimentl musician - and provide material for instruments... They produced – I don't know, a kind of folk music for the 21st century, in that it was organic, made on simple/self-constructed/appropriated instruments and hot-wired into digital tech processing – I spotted my friend the Boss Loopstation in among the effects. Intelligence and emotion combined. They were fucking brilliant and I just did not want them to stop...

Ending on: Trevor Wishart. Who came on stage and did a solo voice thang, which demonstrated his years in the avant game well – tongue/throat twisting streams of words and sounds that resembled a selection of languages – I made out German, Dutch and Japanese – led by his bodily and facial gestures to hint at meanings – sad, happy, quizzical etc. Clever stuff as a demonstration of how meaning can travel across linguistic barriers – or be manipulated by visual cues which may or may not be accurate in their leading to order. Then he disappeared – leaving the stage to retreat to the mixing desk at the back and fill the darkened hall with a dizzying barrage of sounds: 'Globalalia' – 'universal dance of human speech as revealed in twenty tales from everywhere, spoken in tongues. 26 different languages' apparently. We were surrounded and dunked in a massive conjuration of choirs and populations, stretched, bent, teased, the LOGOS invoked in the infinite variations that the human voice is capable of. A great end to the first night.

Which continued bizarrely at the hotel where I sat overlooking the pier and the late night crowds over Guinness and Jameson while the sound system pumped out a retro selection of Doors/Monkees and some vintage ska... not a bad way to finish the evening.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Colour out of Space Festival 2009...

Down to Brighton for the Colour out of Space festival.  First night (friday) was a great start - packed hall - and, for my money, Kodama shaded it.   A stunning set... Review of evening to follow when time permits, hangover ebbs farther and the will to decipher illegible gonzo notes returns... Off soon for today's section...

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Review: Len Graham at the Tiger, Sunday 25th October, 2009...

Down to the Tiger in Long Eaton to see Len Graham... what struck me overall on this excellent gig was the infinite flexibility of the human voice. Tonight I encountered a battery of solo singers, one story teller and one duo, stripped of accompaniment, delivering an eclectic variety of material from the traditions of the British Isles/Ireland and beyond. Which might, to a casual observer, seem somewhat arid – but believe me it was not. The diversity of songs was matched by the wide tonal ranges of the voices, tonight predominantly male but leavened by the compere, Corinne Male (ha!) and Jackie Perry who sang in tandem with Nick Burdett – demonstrating my point: Corinne, lyrical yet with a raw emotional edge, Jackie a harder, harsher granularity, well suited to the rugged rawness of the hunting song 'Swartfell Rocks' and balanced by the deep baritone warmth of her partner. So: a fascinating, wide ranging swing through sonic field and narrative content. Humour, tragedy, weirdness, especially – the ghosts that loom out of those bizarre old ballads to cross the centuries alongside the familial abuse, violence and murder – merrie olde England this ain't and wasn't. Performed with sensitivity, buttressed by deprecating wit and good humour that floats easily on a collective reservoir of deep knowledge. A special club, then, to be able to front any gig with such firepower from their ranks. As I didn't catch a couple of the names I won't give a list of the singers because they were all that good...

If the locals provided a feast, what of Len Graham? A guy who has been around, from when he grabbed a rucksack and guide to the Youth Hostels of Ireland North and South in the sixties and hit the road 'in the quest for song and fun.' Ireland, of course, lived nearer to its traditions with such a small population (due to the linked devastations of famine and exile), unlike the cultural dislocations caused by the Industrial Revolution in the U.K. and the movements from the land to town and city. The lines of dispute are of course there – only the most deluded paddyphile (bejasus) would refuse to acknowledge their existence. Yet by stepping back into the tradition, or diagonally, even, Graham avoids getting snared in these thorny issues. Even his overt reference to wider conflicts in the song ' I wish that the wars were over,' that memorialises the sacrifices that North and South made during both the World Wars of the twentieth century, by coming from a different angle makes a wider point that transcends mere sectarianism. Interestingly, the last time I was in Dublin, my old buddy Jon to me the War Memorial Gardens that commemorate the 49,000 or so Irish soldiers who fell in the Great War. We were chatting to the attendant who took us inside to view the books with the names of the war dead. The first one I saw gave an English address in East Leake – a spit from where I am sitting writing this. It gave me an odd frisson... The attendant said that not many people ever came out there, which was hardly surprising I suppose – the 'terrible beauty' of the Easter Rising still maybe overshadows the tragedies of the Somme for obvious reasons in the founding of a new state. Perhaps Len Graham, as an Ulsterman, can stand slightly to one side of these controversies. By celebrating the cultures of both North and South, arguably he makes a subtler point...

Thinking about polarities again – if the late Luke Kelly, say, whose wounded, vulnerable raw power splashed his emotional delivery right in your face – and this not a criticism, rather an approximate attempt at delineation, because I loved his singing mightily – can stand on one point of the continuum, Len Graham, perhaps, would be somewhere opposite. Graham is a subtle artist with a high pure lyricism and easy delivery, that hints at hidden power to spare, maybe something to do with the Ulster culture and accent, a certain closure, a slight throttling back. The emotion is there, sure - as Yeats said: 'Great poetry is not possible without passion' - but holds the songs together on a different level under the surface of the narratives, woven into the folds of the words in a cunning blend. His introductions are just as important to the overall performance, simultaneously amusing and erudite, the sharpness of his intellect covered by the warmth of his demeanour. Finely honed skills that add value to the individual songs by placing them in the wider context(s) of the traditions they come from. For a brief period of time the audience is taken into another world, a coherent topos where older voices co-exist with the contemporary, or rather step out to bear witness to times and people and places long gone – but still familar. Songs of sport: 'The Galway Races,' of exile, lost love and regret – 'The Bourlough Shore,' celebrations of simple joys in spinning lines of bantering nonsense: 'The Crocodile' and the sly double-entendres in 'The Taglioni.'

To say that a performer takes you on a journey is a cliché, certainly – but Len Graham offers this to his audience, an opportunity to travel on an elliptical trajectory where the subtle relations between story and songs conjure up a landscape and its various peoples grounded in the realities of history and life lived but laced with, perhaps, a utopian yearning... Fanciful – yep... but that was the feeling I came away with. The encore gave the flavour of the man... 'The Parting Glass,' that perfect but admittedly overdone song of farewell over the last drink - here sung in a totally different version (to me) - Graham providing a subtle spin on the familiar which serves as a paradigm for his artistry...

It was that good...

With regard to my reference to Owld Luke:

Contrast and compare...Len
and Luke with Paddy Kavanagh (and the young Al O' Donnell).

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Slight return...

It's been a while - moving to new apartment has taken the wind out of my sails somewhat plus the other couple of projects I'm involved in have taken up a lot of time and energy... yet hoping to get this blog back on track (yeah, I know, I know)... some good music this week already with two great folk gigs - the lyrical subtleties of Len Graham at the Tiger, the kick out the jams vocal powerhouse that is the Wilsons at the Soar Bridge Inn... with maybe a review to follow of the first one... then I'm off on friday to the Colour out of Space bash in Brighton - my current favourite festival after last year... 'three days of unstructured, experimental music and art' - yowzer! My reviews of the last one here...scroll down...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

New Label... Woe Betide Records...

David Grundy of Eartrip fame and Wire mag contributor (he has a fascinating article in the current issue on German psychedelic/space rock) has launched a new label for improvised musics - Woe Betide Records. Worth checking out...

Monday, October 05, 2009


A cool vid of my old prof, Clive Meachen, late of Aberystwyth American Studies Department, UCW, Aberystwyth, talking the talk - and walking the walk... I say 'old' - we're the same age... but he's better looking... ho ho...

Monday, September 28, 2009

Folk Music...

Just got back from the Soar Bridge Inn - a fascinating night with various strands of the English Folk Tradition on display with the Keelers and a cut down version of Dolphin Morris- plus a lot of fun and some pathos... blimey... Maybe a small review tomorrow if things are not too hectic...

Monday, September 14, 2009


Grrr - just been mightily spammed by some imbecile advertising watches or something - so have to put comment mod back on, unfortunately...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Back again... fleetingly...

It's been a while, yes... blogging has been on hold for a few weeks as buried in editing and shaping a book, co-editing a web lit mag and also embarking on another house move... these restless aged beatniks, hey? But soon... lots of gigs to write about... the looming autumn and winter are shaping up well and the Mighty Marmion will be launching his new enterprise after retiring from the running of the old Pack Horse Club last December 'trailing clouds of glory' - Tapped But Settling, under which moniker he will be presenting a series of concert-type acoustic/folk gigs. Starting at Xmas with old friends GU4 for a mighty blast of acappella festive fourpart harmony wahoo. Deck the walls with sprigs of holly... Working backwards from the festive season (it's that kind of a morning) at the end of October I'm off to either the Colour out of Space festival in Brighton - or the Unsafe bash in Poole - a drag as they overlap so haven't figured out which one to choose yet. Last years Brighton festival was superb - as documented here, here and here...

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Eartrip 4... now available...

The latest issue of David Grundy's very good web mag Eartrip 4 is out... well worth a look...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Soul Exorcism Redux etc... returns and re-ups... John Coltrane... Richard 'Groove' Holmes/Gene Ammons... James Chance...

Back from the wet west! A damp summer so far... Anyhow – the more perceptive will have noticed that I haven't been posting any mp3s for ummm – some time. Got caught up in other activities, I'm afraid and have been only blogging reviews. But I have had several requests for re-ups so here is the first batch – who knows, it might kick-start the old mp3 fandango...

I had a few problems finding a couple of tracks because I still have stuff buried in boxes from the last house move, but here we go. (All quotes taken from the original posts). First, up, John Coltrane:

'John Coltrane was starting to come into his own by 1958... listen to his long, questing solo on 'The Believer' to hear the tectonic plates of jazz moving. Modern jazz was already separating (some would say shattering) into different performative spaces by then. More so than had happened with the advent of bop. Maybe the trick is to realise how they were and are all related. Donald Byrd on fine form here, by the way... '

Then on to Gene Ammons:

'Let's spin back... to the solid raw heart of the tradition... here's some Jug – I bought this album when I was about 14-15 and the version of 'Willow weep for me,' recorded at the Black Orchid Lounge, Chicago in 1961, still stands out in my memory. (The name of the venue gives off a wonderful smoky jazz/nightclub ambiance...). Ammons gave a blues edge to everything (the son of Albert Ammons, the two fisted boogie piano stomper from the thirties, it must have been embedded in his DNA): he turns 'Willow' into an impassioned and testifyingly vulnerable lament. Holmes comes in like an icy stream trickling past the bending trees – whatever organ stops he is using rhyme perfectly with the theme and mood. Gene Edwards' guitar is bluesy and boppily fluent. Ammons restates the theme and plays an unaccompanied coda that teases out the tune to audience laughter. This live recording gives a timeless reminder of what jazz can be, beyond genre and idiomatic borders, when it cuts through straight to the heart... '

James Chance:

'... playing the wild Michael Jackson cover: 'Don't stop till you get enough.' Frenetic punk nihilism, fed by the energies of the rock scene sourced in the heady days of CBGB's etc colliding with Siegried/Chance/Black's freejazz aspirations.' Yowser.

John Coltrane
Donald Byrd (tp) John Coltrane (ts) Red Garland (p) Paul Chambers (b) Louis Hayes (d)
The Believer


Richard 'Groove' Holmes/Gene Ammons
Gene Ammons (ts) Richard Holmes (org) Gene Edwards (g) Leroy Henderson (d)
Willow weep for me


James Chance and the Contortions
Don't stop till you get enough


Saturday, July 18, 2009


I am away on a mission in Devon for a few days so have not been able to deal with the intended requests and reposts - will sort out next week asap when I get back...

Monday, July 13, 2009

Johnny Collins on YouTube...

Off to the Grand Union Club tonight for their Big Sing - which I suspect will be heavily shadowed by the recent sad news about Johnny Collins (see previous post). Many tributes will be delivered and sung, no doubt... Here's a couple of clips I found on Youtube of the man himself and a couple of his musical partners...

Credit to the original uploaders for preserving these memories...

And I haven't forgotten about the Gene Ammons tracks - things have just been insane this last week...

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Johnny Collins Folksinger 1938-2009...

I had a mail yesterday from Bill Wilkes which said that Johnny Collins had collapsed and died while on tour with Jim Mcgeean in Gdansk - sad news... condolences to Julie, family and friends. A fine singer and character supreme, one of the legends of the Brit folk scene...

Sunday, July 05, 2009

We get requests...

Apologies to the requestee who wanted the Gene Ammons re-up - I will get round to it tomorrow hopefully - if I can find the trax! Lot of my stuff still buried in boxes... but I'll see what I can do...

Friday, June 26, 2009

Review: Ornette Coleman/The Master Musicians of Jajouka at the Meltdown Festival, Royal Festival Hall, Sunday June 21st, 2009...

Support band out of the ordinary for the South Bank – in that they actually complemented the show rather than made up the numbers. The Master Musicians of Jajouka, whom I saw outside on the terrace a few days before, were inside tonight and delivered a fascinating and well-received show. Minimal skirling melodies that overlapped and shifted, surrounded by wild drumming. Out in the desert this must be an overwhelming experience – pretty good here, as well. The MMOJ are a visually striking crew – the green robes, white turbans (black for the leader), yellow shoes. Showmen as well, they know how to get the crowd moving. One of the drummers broke from the line at one point, did a weird dance out front and got the audience raggedly clapping along... great fun. The only annoyance – the usual crap, people wandering in late throughout, which is mightily distracting. Easy enough to stop: let no one in during a number. What is it with the South Bank? But onwards...

To the main event, on this last night of his curatorial duties for Meltdown... Ornette gets physically older, but still retains his radical edge with his sharp intelligence and his ever-youthful spirit. A gentle presence, softly spoken – although his announcements was barely audible anyway due to the rubbish sound (again – Mapsadaisical made the same point in his review of an earlier gig). The drum balance seemed odd, as well... Ornette played a lot throughout, never coasting, as his seniority would have allowed, looping through some of his favorite tunes and I couple I didn't recognise, which recurred in places, like refracting mirrors that offered new visions of old material. Backed initially by Tony Falanga on acoustic bass and Al McDowell on electric bass, who both wove a stunning and intricate tapestry of lines throughout. Falanga roaming deep while McDowell in the main played high up, giving a guitar line almost. Denardo, always a heavy hitter, held it all together (despite the eccentric and muddy sound). They gave up sudden explosions of those twisty reconstructed boppy themes – including a couple of good-natured false starts - and some slowed down, haunting, lyrical moments – especially coming from Falanga's arco bass. Positioned at the leader's right shoulder, he seemed to be the conduit to the rest of the band. Ornette, switching between his alto, violin and trumpet, paced himself as you would expect but played more than I remember the last time I saw him, using favourite licks sure, then occasionally spinning a sudden twist out of nowhere, his sound still as powerful and intense as ever. He leads from the front while allowing his musicians the freedom to exercise their imaginations – to produce a unique sound world. Which is as drenched in the blues as it always was, the main bloodline of his contributions to the 'free jazz' revolution, yet has a generous inclusiveness which is an intrinsic part of his musical philosophy - for example, Malanga bringing Bach into the gig when he reprised the Prelude that Ornette had ragged on circa the 'Tone Dialling album where the classical line was played on electric guitar. (Actually, I think it worked better here).

The inclusion continued with guest appearances as befitting the last night: Flea,from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, sent out some fleet bass, and Baaba Maal (I think) who briefly popped up for some wordless vocal colour. Then the Master Musicians of Jajouka returned to jam at the end – a wild and joyous noise that rocked the place. Another masterclass in harmolodics? - it was fascinating to see how a space slowly spread outwards from the Arabian band to encompass contributions from the others with Ornette joining in and his musicians picking their own (somewhat hesitant) way into the chaotic democracy being created. The packed house had given a tumultuous reception throughout, but this blew the doors off, the audience up on their feet for a long bout of applause, some girl calling out 'We love you, Ornette,' - to which he made a nice reply – what I caught of it. The crap sound again... To the encore – 'Lonely Woman,' as usual, now joined by one of his long-standing cohorts, the mighty Charlie Haden, playing in a trio with Denardo and his father to end the evening and the festival. Somehow fitting, taking the music back to near its beginnings, while giving a frail and wistful update, spirit balancing out and overriding the encroaching years.

A ragged but overwelmingly emotional and brilliant night, then... Harmolodics triumphant – and love...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sunday in the City...

A great day on Sunday – got to town, checked in to hotel and then off to the Tate Modern – saw the Futurism show and the Per Kirkeby – too much to absorb in one go, really, so another visit asap. The Futurism exhibition is amazing, the Kirkeby... mmm, not sure, his early stuff looks a bit scrappy but some of the later enormous canvases have a certain power. Reserved judgement – too quick a shunt round to make up my mind. Then off to the Festival Hall down the river walk – where I came across the guys in the photo. Another great band of buskers, the East Europeans showing the locals how to do it. The trumpet gave the music a flavour of Mexican, oddly – great surging stuff, perfect for a sunny afternoon.
Got to the Queen Elisabeth Hall and tried to break in! Forcing the door, I didnt realise at first that it was locked. Then noticed a CLOSED sign. Though: WTF – where's the gig? Then checked my ticket and discovered Ornette was playing the main joint. Hmmm... wake up, Warner... wandered in to discoverLeafcutter John and his combo setting up in the Clore Ballroom so grabbed a foul over-priced lager and found a seat. Leafcutter (was he a gardener in another existence? Must go google...) was doing his balloon routine at first but the set progressed into some interesting areas and was nicely abrasive, given the odd circumstances of its positioning, people wandering about etc. But quite a good crowd sat listening. A good - and uncompromising - no pub bands - warm up for the main show... review to follow...

Noted in passing – Mapsadaisical has a review of the earlier Coleman show on the 19th June... check out the other write-ups for Meltdown on the same site...

Friday, June 19, 2009

Review: James 'Blood' Ulmer at the Queen Elisabeth Hall, London, Tuesday June 16th, 2009...

James 'Blood' Ulmer was a blast... but my predictions about the poor quality and mismatching of the South Bank's support groups were verified again – as overall curator, Ornette holds the blame, although I guess this disparate bunch were put through on the local nod. I spent the set drifting off mostly when I wasn't inventing insults for this review. Put to one side in the end – what is the point? In the interests of recording the event, someone called Shlomo bounded on, with the demeanour of an early morning children's show host and announced a quartet of 'improvising' vocalists would improvise a set inspired by listening to some of Ornette Coleman's records and by his harmolodic theories. Two of them were ok-ish – apart from some boobedoo scatting which should have been left in some low rent supper club way back. Apparently Shlomo was 'Artist in Residence' and had been rowed in to create a 'Harmolodic' vocal event. Bits of it were not too bad – when the two singers who had some idea of what jazz is – albeit in its mainstream incarnation – seemed to be grasping towards something interesting. But it bogged down in the human beat box lockstep of the other two – look, I can sound like a hi-hat. Tish tish... Far out, as we used to say... Ba-boom...

Ulmer played a long set, as if in some karmic compensation for the earlier froth. He passed through various bands when he arrived in New York in the early 1970s, including Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, but ended up studying and playing with Ornette for several years during which he was deeply imbedded in the saxophonist/composers harmolodic theories while playing electric guitar in his band – hence the festival link. A big man, he came on stage and sat in front of a low riding music stand, a couple of monitors, a vocal mike, a couple of pedals, his guitar and amp. That was it. He proceeded to demonstrate not just how vital the blues still can be, but arguably, how central their freedoms were historically to 'free jazz' – well, that part of the African-American stream, exemplified by his mentor's influence – to whom he offered fulsome praise throughout. Whatever 'harmolodics' may or may not be – and that's an on-going debate without end – I certainly got the feel of it here. His guitar was anchored firmly on a monotonic bass underpinning an open guitar tuning which goes back to the country blues and various folk music modalities but the spurts of single note lines display his jazzier side. Few have put these elements together into such an organic whole. At times the lack of key changes veered to a certain monotony – but Ulmer would pull you back with a flashing and unpredictable run, a sudden change of rhythm. The music ebbed and flowed across a variety of levels – back porch picking meets the concert hall via many cultural and musical points in between, shotgunned into an area where, for the duration of the set, the barriers were erased. The blues disrupted, chopped up and taken to areas beyond the museum/heritage space they often too easily reside in. Ulmer has brought his singing skills to the fore over the years, tonight delivering a set of free-rolling compositions inspired by Hurricane Katrina, his family, relationships: 'Harmolodic Kisses' – wouldn't I just love to see a title like that in the top-twenty – the old tensions between the Devil and the Lord, barrelhouse and church, tangling his vocals in the guitar line that delivers unpredictable sideways leaps and skitters. Echoes of John Lee Hooker and Lightning Hopkins in both the freedoms of the playing and the timbres of the singing – and, to my ears, an odder cultural cross reference, something about the dry way he hit on certain words reminded me of the splendidly named folk singer Bascom Lamar Lunceford – who came North Carolina. (Ulmer was originally from from South Carolina). Indeed, there were a few almost country riffs poking through in places...

His in-between patter was easy-going yet informative – in an albeit gnomic way – his speaking voice very soft and deep which made him a little hard to understand at times – could have been the sound system, perhaps. I didn't make out a lot of his lyrics either because the guitar lines, dancing, echoing, predicting and chasing the vocal stream, blended in maybe too well. Again a bit more separation in the mix would have helped. Overall, it didn't matter – in the sense that if you were listening to any intense performance in a language far from your own the intrinsic feeling/soul will hit you. This is music of passion laced with a wider anger at social and political injustices, leavened with humour and humanity. He broke up the rhythms, slowed down, sped up – all of it done with his thumb, which gives a certain texture to the string impact – not the sharp click of a plectrum or the pull and snap of finger-stylings but a flexible digit to strum, bass thump and unleash the single string melodies. Wes Montgomery fed back into the history and whirled round to emerge in a new century. If Mississippi blues was the music that retained more obvious fragments of the African heritage, and that bloodline was on particular display here, the modal tuning gave occasional hints of other related musics – North African/Arabic. Plus that occasional country tinge... What also fascinated me was the variation he got from what can be a limiting strategy, this use of an open tuning. The chromaticism of the single note runs pushed a level of tension across the static pull of the repeated bass note and tuning overtones, where the vertical architecture of folk/blues meets jazz linearities and is stretched into new areas. A moving, living breathing music with scope to evolve further. Struggling to define Mr Ulmer's muse beyond its constituent parts, I wrestled with – the usual categorical wahoo – and even 'postmodern' cropped up at one point... then realised that Ornette had, of course, been there already. Harmolodics, is what it is...

Ornette's concepts have a lot of life left in them. As James 'Blood' Ulmer proves. Great show, I look forward to seeing Mr Coleman and company on Sunday night...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Back from London - review to follow...

Back from the James Blood Ulmer gig - on the terrace before the show, these guys were playing - some nifty footwear. Pity they weren't doing the support - the Curse of the South Bank is getting predictable - Shlomo's Harmolodic Bollox this time out. Still, Blood Ulmer was impressive - a great show... review to follow asap...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Breaking the silence... off to London (again)...

I have been deeply embedded in an ongoing project which is moving nicely forwards... so time for a break! Off to London later on to have a mosey round the Futurism Exhibition at the Tate Modern. A walk down by the river, then grab a beer and off to James 'Blood' Ulmer's gig at my unfavourite venue... hope the support is better than they usually are... report tomorrow...
Part of Ornette's Meltdown Festival - going to catch him on sunday night...

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Review (belated!)... Tom McConville/David Newey at Traditions at the Tiger, Sunday 17th May, 2009

I wrote this the day after the gig - and promptly forgot to post it - it's been one of those weeks... But here are a few thoughts on a great evening...

I have been meaning to get over to 'Traditions at the Tiger' in Long Eaton for a long time – but for a variety of obscure reasons, have never made it. My loss... Finally dragging myself from God's Little Acre over the county line with the automotive help of Mr and Mrs B – who help to run this club. A reasonable sized room in the traditional way – over the pub. With an incongruous pool table in the middle – which was useful for putting cds and tapes on... (I had wondered if there would be a game in the interval, as a couple of lines from an old Jackie Crowley song went through my mind: 'And every man jack was up for the crack, with his arse in the air playing pool.') High ceiling, which resembles the club room above the Swan in the Rushes back home. Good for resonance...

Tonight: violin master Tom McConville in a duo with guitarist David Newey. But beforehand, in both halves, a demonstration of the depth of talent this club has – with their residents apparently a little depleted, still, some fascinating songs delivered in a variety of styles and voices – from Dave Sutherland, John Bentham, Al Atkinson, Corrine Male, Jack Crawford - plus Sheila Bentham's storytelling skills – and another nice surprise, the redoubtable Bill Wilkes and Lynne Cooper from the Barrow club (where I would be the next night) who had also crossed the county line. Great singing from the tradition, backed with a depth of knowledge and erudition, delivered with skill - and humour...

Tom McConville has been around, as they say... Supported by supple guitar, flatpicked and fingerstyle as applicable, he delivered tunes and songs, a lyrical voice with plenty held back in reserve, nothing forced, soaring violin, underpinned with the rhythm section of John Lee Hooker – a firm stomping brogue. David Newey accompanied sympathetically, switching from up on the one – for the traditional stuff – to the more syncopated 2 and 4 for more American influenced syncopation. A class act - and to my mind, ample room for crossover – this is music that is well capable of reaching a wider audience – without compromising integrity. I know McConville has played around Europe and beyond to the USA and that widespread experience is easily detected in the broad spread appeal of his material where different traditions can blend easily, held together by a sharply focused vision, exemplary skill – and abundant good humour... He's a droll cove...

Roll on the next one - Tom Kitching and Gren Bartley (no strangers!) on June 7th...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Review: Joel Holmes/'African Skies'...

Pigeon holes have become more confusing these last years, especially with regard to the music(s) we call 'jazz.' Born on the cusp of the electronic age and accelerated by the developing technologies, its development has been rapid compared to the longer, more sedate span of western art/classical music. Measure from plainsong to Schoenberg and beyond, for example and compare the years travelled against work song/ragtime/marching band/blues to... 'modern post bop,' which is how Blue Canoe, the digital jazz label based in Georgia, defines this new release by the young pianist Joel Holmes. A separate journey of course – jazz as a majestic African-American achievement (in the main, but not exclusively) went down many different roads compared to its Western art music relation, while recapitulating and folding much of that music's advances into itself – wheels within wheels indeed. So: there is a lot to unpack in the tight compression of a hundred years of jazz history leading up to the term 'post-bop.' Leaving aside 'free jazz' – Holmes is broadly in the mainstream lineage – what lies under the large panorama of his album 'African Skies?' Joel Holmes shows his influences – as a young musician should – but also demonstrates how far he has travelled from them (while retaining his links with those earlier styles) and some of the areas he wants to explore further. Which indicates, perhaps, the breadth of possibilities that the mainstream of jazz still has to explore. Here you will find adaptions of Chinese folk song, homages to Coltrane and Herbie Hancock, original compositions and a nod to the American standard songbook, played by: solo piano, straight ahead piano trios, burning quartets with Gary Thomas's tenor saxophone added, further extensions with added strings and flute, spiced with African/Latin percussion. All these different angles held together by the leader's keyboard skills and highly developed sense of structure – and strong spirituality – the whole kicked along by the booting drums of Eric Kennedy, rhythm being at the heart of the mainstream/modern postbop whatever, the solid link with the tradition. It all swings...

A brief overview:

'African Skies' starts on a slow rumble to suddenly bounce into a lithe line, fast piano echoed by tenor and punctuated by the added percussion whose rolling rhythms evoke both African and Latin styles. Solo honours from tenor and strong but melodic piano.

'Impressions,' and 'Impressions – Take Two.' Two fast runs through the Coltrane number. Holmes shows his two-handed skills and fleet sense of melody, shadowed by nimble bass and the powering drums. Gary Thomas proves himself deserving of wider recognition...

'Chinese Fishing Song' signals a change of gear and direction – heading East, rhapsodic piano evoking the rippling of waves and then slow stately violin takes the folk song theme. Moving into a steady tempo as the violin (Chia Yin Holmes) slowly builds an elegant yet intense solo, increasingly prodded by drum interjections, followed by muscular, jaunty piano.

Another Coltrane tune, 'Mr P.C.' Straight up quartet again. Tenor solos first then piano comes running fast out of the blocks. Then: a trading section across the band - swapping choruses rather than fours or eights, in a round robin, which demonstrates again the intelligent arranging/structuring, to get as much out of the various smallband lineups as possible.

'Fatima' - another sonic area opens here – piano trio with added percussion, strings and flute. The strings are used sparingly, the airy pastorality of the flute balanced by strong bass ostinatos and – again – the powerful drums that are never far away.

'Summer night.' A piano trio: surefooted spin through a light waltz. A standard, from Harry Warren and Al Dubin, taken skilfully round the floor. Perhaps a nod at another Holmes's hero – the late Oscar Peterson.

Another pick from the jazz songbook – the patter of bongoes gives a Latin feel to Herbie Hancock's 'Maiden Voyage.' Contrasts aplenty – reflective passages giving way to storming drums. Another well-structured track with much dynamic variety.

'Soliloquy of trouble.' Solo piano – evoking one of his favourite pianist influences, Art Tatum with sudden swirling jaunts away from the slow tempo. Exposed, Holmes passes the test...

'Moment's Notice.' Back to the trio... chorded theme with fast-skittering drums – then quick fire, sparkling lines from the leader. Eric Kennedy really boots this along, taking the track, and fittingly, the session, out with a thumping solo.

An impressive album... Holmes is not afraid of showing his strong links back, not just to the immediate past – Coltrane, Herbie Hancock etc but further, Oscar Peterson, back to the great Art Tatum (and beyond – interestingly he says that ragtime was his first influence), but avoiding pastiche or retro/tribute band lockdown in his incorporation of wider musical streams – 'folk/world music,' etc. Again, these terms have often implied a watering down blandout – avoided here by the tough, supple drumming of Eric Kennedy which provides a flexible platform throughout – and the leader's overall maturity of vision. The relatively short tracks offer concise episodes where Holmes sense of structure and dynamics is displayed effectively– the individual pieces refracting each other to offer a kaleidoscopic panorama of the possibilities still open 'within the tradition.'

Final thoughts: Holmes is well-supported on the album: Gary Thomas and the other musicians bend their individual skills to the wider endeavour – the tenor saxophonist, especially, I would like to hear more of...

Collective Personnel:

Joel Holmes - piano
Gary Thomas, Tim Green - sax/flute
Eric Kennedy - drums
Jeff Reed, Eric Wheeler - bass
Melena - percussion
Themba Mikhatshwa - conga, djembe
Chun-Wen Chuan - cello
Chia Yin Holmes - violin