Monday, May 29, 2006

Voices... and a guitar...

Apparently it's Bank Holiday... still exhausted from the festival exertions... so here's some vocal tracks for a chill out day and a guitar solo version of a traditional song... First up – Ariadne in a recent comment name-checked the Jim Kweskin Jug Band when Maria Muldaur was with them way back when. The class of her voice shines through from this early recording - not sure about the band – to my ears a kind of thinking man or woman's Mungo Jerry, which is no doubt unfair, but I am allergic slightly to clanking banjos – cue the old musician's joke about the definition of a gentleman (yet again...). But it's a brave take on the Peggy Lee hit from a young Muldaur.

Another singer from the folk revival – the English Shirley Collins, a personal favourite for long years now. A fascinating character who travelled in America as a young woman with Alan Lomax. From Hastings, a town I used to know well when I lived in London, she has a frail voice, singing from the tradition but subtly innovative (see her record with Davey Graham - 'Folk Routes, New Routes'). The recordings she made with her sister Dolly were a remarkable series – Dolly's arranging skills building a platform of almost chamber music ambiance for her voice to soar over – delicately, because she isn't a bravura singer. She recorded 'Banks of the Bann' with the Albion Country Band (one of my favourite songs, incidentally) – it is usually sung by a man but one of the interesting things about traditional music is the way the story can channel through the singer in an almost Brechtian way which provides a distance where gender is irrelevant. You can hear the Sussex countryside in Shirley's voice... (This album is not available at the moment – looked for it but no dice...)

I love the melody of 'Banks of the Bann' as much as the words – here's a version by the acoustic guitar wizz Martin Simpson that eloquently brings out the sadness and regret of the song.

Jump-cut to Lambert Hendricks and Ross, not so well known now but in their day a formidable jazz vocal trio, experts in the art of 'vocalese'. a form of vocal jazz where lyrics were put to famous solos. Initiated in the forties by Eddie Jefferson, King Pleasure and Babs Gonzalez, when LHR came together in the fifties they took the art to new heights. Hendricks displayed a great skill in writing clever lyrics that fitted the tortuous contours of the jazz mprovised line. They recorded their classic album 'Sing a song of Basie' in 1957 – the idea was to duplicate all the section parts of the Basie Band with lyrics set to the classic recorded solos. The original choir apparently proved unwieldy and not up to the mark – so they multi-trcked all the parts over a rhythm section. At the time this was revolutionary... I saw Lambert Hendricks and Yolande Bevan (who had replaced the Scottish-born Annie Ross) at the end of the group's career – with the Count Basie band in the early sixties. They were incredible, bouncing effortlessly off the solid swing of Basie's orchestra. Here's the swinging blues that featured as a vehicle for Joe Williams in his tenure with Basie – 'Everyday.' Listen to multi-tracked Ross especially, imitating brass flares and rips. Cool... Plus the bouncing 'It's Sand, Man.' Oo shooby doo...

The McGarrigle Sisters have been so good for so long... here's a heart-breakingly wonderful song form their first album 'Talk to me of Mendocino,' one of those songs that plays off the vast space of the U.S.A. -Olson's Sublime again - sadness and expectation in the possibilities of movement:

And it's on to South Bend, Indiana
Flat out on the western plain.
Rise up over the rockies and down on into California
Out to where but the rocks again
And let the sun set on the ocean.
I will watch it from the shore.
Let the sun rise over the redwoods.
I'll rise with it till I rise no more...

I heard this Judee Sill track in the sixties - never had the album but I was always haunted by this song. She died tragically in the early seventies and there seems to be a lot of mystery attached to her life and career. This is a live recording I (ahem) acquired from somewhere – quality isn't brilliant but gives the essence of her style. I love her voice... More info here...

And then... a track from a recently purchased album. A couple of months ago Bruno very kindly put me onto the cd by Donna McKevitt - Translucence – her settings of Derek Jarman's words, scored for three female voices (Soprano, mezzo and contralto), counter tenor, viola and cello, simply blew me away and I had to go out and buy it immediately. 'I walk in this garden' is sublime, sad and haunting. If you buy one cd this year – this should be it...

One of the best singers to have come out of the English traditional scene was Nic Jones, whose career was cut tragically short by a car crash (although he survived, he ceased playing). 'Flandyke Shore' displays all of his outstanding qualities -fluid guitar and an ear for a simple but effective arrangement. And his voice - unforced, no awful 'traditionalisms' but honest and very English. A man who could right inside a song - and a massive influence still, despite the hiatus of twenty years or more...
To go out on... 'As I roved out' by the rather wonderful Bob Copper of the Copper Family, keepers of the traditional flame down in Rottingdean. And the whole gang singing with a tender gusto on 'The Banks of Sweet Primroses.' In one of those blogging synchronicities, Bob Copper, who died a couple of years ago, discovered Shirley Collins in the fifties. This is the real thing, a channel that reaches back into a lost England... brings out the country boy in me... As I walked out one midsummer's morning...

Maria Muldaur/Jim Kweskin

I'm a Woman



Shirley Collins (and the Albion Country Band).

Banks of the Bann


Martin Simpson

Banks of the Bann



Lambert Hendricks and Ross



It's Sand, Man




Talk to me of Mendocino



Judee Sill

Jesus was a crossmaker



Donna McKevitt

I walk in this garden



Nic Jones

The Flandyke Shore



The Copper Family

As I walked out


Banks of Sweet Primroses



Sunday, May 28, 2006

The carnival is over... for the time being... Sporadicfest, May 27, 2006

I got home late and utterly exhausted - but it was worth it... despite a patchy audience attendance, overall the day went well, the music was brilliant and thought-provoking, the use of film adding an extra dimension (despite the Sporadic white sheet screen!) - and Tristan Burfield's re-scoring of Cocteau's 'Blood of a poet' which started the proceedings, a fascinating re-take on an old favourite. Thank you to all - Richard and Liquidisers, Tristan, Jake Manning and Stephen Linehan for their acoustic set, the Failed Nasa Experiment mega band and the Murmurists. And of course to David and Murray (both of whom were on blistering form in the Plexus set - just playing it back - wild stuff). Here's a couple of photos- more to come and review when my energy levels pick up. Some more over on the Plexus site here...


Thursday, May 25, 2006

Sunshine... Albert Ayler... Cecil Taylor... Charles Gayle... Bill Dixon...

It was a nice day, the sun has been shining and I've been listening to Albert Ayler who always lifts my spirits. So – fire musics again. Two tracks from the treasure trove of Ayler recordings that is the Revenant set. First – a long shootout with Cecil Taylor's quartet: 'Four,' followed by another quartet – Gary Peacock, Sunny Murray and Don Cherry – and a shorter piece, 'Spirits Rejoice.'

The first is a rarity – it was known that Ayler had played with Cecil in Denmark when he was there at the same time in the early sixties – but as far as I know this is the only recording that exists -and it didn't surface until this box set was collated. So it is interesting to hear Ayler's apocalyptic pentacostal squark alongside Cecil's pianistic storm waves. It starts out quietly enough with piano and drums (somewhat muffled). By now, Murray was deep into the process of assimilating the new rhythms that Cecil's music demanded – there's a fascinating interview with the drummer here where he discusses this and many other issues that help to put this session in a historical perspective. The first section builds and builds until they are joined by Jimmy Lyons – fleet avant-bebop from the days when this long-time collaborator of Taylor's was still finding his way through the complex alternatives being thrown out. The balance seems to change – or Murray gets louder as the drums become more emphatic – a fascinating three way going on here. One thing that Taylor always did was lead from the keyboard – he never seemed to fall back into anything that remotely resembles the more orthodox accompanying roles of the jazz piano. Always prodding and firing off barrages of notes that scamper up and down the registers. You have to stand your ground. Ayler finally enters – blatting and blearing smears and short phrases punctuated with sudden abrupt low honks. I don't think they played together very often – but compare Ayler to Archie Shepp's almost diffident and confused flurries a few years before – when the music was anchored by more conventional rhythms from Dennis Charles. He seems in the pocket. A short solo – return of the piano (not that it ever really goes away – you do have to like Cecil I guess – some find him too overwhelming). His left hand chording is almost conventional in places – while the right hand flails out swift treble runs – bits of his solo seem to have odd little traces of older styles- fascinating in the way that he demonstrates an awareness of history – boogie woogie-ish in places (filtered through a Conlon Noncarrow matrix maybe...). Ayler returns, sounding vocalised saxophone textures and riffing up into the upper and lower registers in turn – sometimes see-sawing quickly between the two. What is interesting here is that the pulse is three way (at least) – drummer and piano playing fast rhythms and the saxophone in his own slower time, apart from some swift flurries – and there is plenty of space for all: one of the fascinating areas that the new jazz's rhythmic strategies evolved. Cecil takes it out with Murray his faithful cohort in tow, ending on a slow collection of keyboard ripples and a valedictory blast from Ayler – as if saying goodnight to the folks.

'Spirits Rejoice' is another live date with Gary Peacock in the bass chair, Sunny Murray drums and Don Cherry and Michel Sampson the violinist added. The theme is one of those generic Ayler march/folk tunes that reminds me in places of the 'Marseillaise.' Aux armes, citoyens... After the theme, a dying away briefly until Ayler takes it up on tenor with Sampson shrilly sawing away beside him – more textural than lyrical, reminding me a little of Ornette. Then le tout ensemble belting through the various strains – a short piece but with a freshness still that sounds across the years. Bright-eyed music. Marchons, marchons...

Cue the drums – a speedy, accurate intro from Ali and then Gayle and bass come in – everyone out of the traps fast on this – a homage to John Coltrane with his last drummer in tow for historic resonance. The bass is solid fast walking, the drums commenting, hustling and throwing out a generosity of different figures, cymbals a dense hissing rustle. Main emphasis on snare with occasional roll on the toms. Ali has fast hands. Gayle's tenor is coming out of 'Trane, but doesn't really sound like him. He's fast as well, ten minutes in starting to vary the timbres – more granular, more vocalised. More sorties into the upper register, but sounding effortless – the man has technique a-plenty. Gayle drops out to let the bass in – a strong-fingered speedy section that shows Parker to good advantage – strummed chords and double stops thrown in for good measure. Ali reins back to give him air – throwing in the odd off beat on cymbals. Into his solo – a drum conversation, skittering across the cymbals and answered by the bass drums and snare and toms. A bass and snare interlude answered again by cymbals. Building into cross-kit work – fascinating. A call and response between different elements of his kit. Gayle returns briefly and they wind down. A skilful performance all round, investigating some areas that are still valid, despite Gayle's many knockers. Odd how the Jazz Conservatives will diss this music – yet be even more rigid in their harkings back. Apparently it's fashionable to rubbish fire music these days – and the pool of musicians loosely grouped round the Vision Festival in New York, say, who take their inspirations from the sixties avant-garde. I think this is marvellous – a joyous offering to Saint John. Interestingly – considering it was recorded only a few years ago – the Cecil Taylor and Ayler material from the Sixties still sound more radical. (As did late Coltrane...). The rhythm here is not so ambiguous – it's almost conventional, but brilliantly underpinned by Ali – yet: not a boring bebop retread. Rather, a mature performance which has assimilated much of what has gone before – to produce a different contemporary mainstream, as it were...

I saw Bill Dixon on the Cecil Taylor bill about eighteen months ago at the London Jazz Festival. He confused many - amid the firestorms of Cecil and drummer Tony Oxley he seemed to be playing off some totally different aesthetic. His solo section used two mikes and two horns to produce exercises in echo and space and sonority. And silence – an almost Zen-like approach. But from where I was sitting, when the trio played, Oxley's drums and Cecil's mercurial piano seemed to overwhelm him at times (although this may have been misleading, given my proximity to the drums) – apart from a few spaces that he managed to negotiate his way into. Yet what he was doing solo I found fascinating – as I'm coming from another area of experimental sound, maybe, that is aware of but intrinsically apart from jazz, it made a lot of sense – but I wondered if this particular concert stage was the right place for his playing when he joined the others. The crowd were here to see Cecil (and earlier Anthony Braxton), although they accorded him respect. Yet what other response is a trumpeter like Dixon going to utilise in a situation like that?. Apart from considerations of age and embouchure (the trumpet is a merciless instrument for its practitioners), his is essentially a spatial conception. I would love to hear a clear recording of this set - it might sound totally different - more evenly balanced.


On his own recording here – with Oxley again and two bass players, William Parker and Barry Guy, recorded in 1993, he is in charge of his surroundings – and masterful. Dixon is not a flagwaving horn player: here, he exudes a mysterious poetry, hinting at themes, dropping fragments of melody as the basses churn and circle and Oxley's clattering, chiming drumming offers obliquely powerful punctuations – sometimes sounding like a load of pans falling downstairs. He has a unique sound on his custom kit, based as much on sonority as rhythm – a free European jazz concept, perhaps. The contrast between the basses is fascinating as well – Parker more the straight man to Guy's use of extended techniques. A fascinating four-way conversation that bridges several eras and aesthetics of improvisation. As on the London concert, Oxley rises in places in a clattering sentence that threatens to shout Dixon down – but he always pulls through – towards the end getting quite enervated and using brass rips and smears resituated from the old florid trumpet vocabulary before returning to the more lyrical runs that float across the unsteady surface of the music.

Dixon is a treasure to be valued, probably not as well known as he should be but whose credentials and integrity are impeccable – an organiser (The October Revolution in Jazz, New York 1964) and teacher he has shunned the lime light (or refused to compromise in the face of the ongoing absurdities and neglect that many practitioners of this music have been subjected to - but produced a steady body of work as composer and improviser. His link with Taylor goes way back to the 'Conquistador' sessions as well – a long-established musical friendship. There is a fascinating interview with him here... that goes a long way towards explaining his role in jazz/experimental musics and his ongoing commitment to artistic exploration... He's on the Vision Festival in New York next month, I've just noticed (info here...) which I was hoping to attend... looking increasingly unlikely due to logistics of house-hunting even though my health has had a slight improvement. Never mind, I'll just have to get the cd and dvd – like I did the other year...good stuff... and a necessary antidote to the sterilities of the Lincoln Centre crowd... Just discovered that Charles Gayle's trio is playing as well – damn...! Alors, mes enfants...

Cecil Taylor/Albert Ayler
(Cecil Taylor: piano; Albert Ayler: tenor saxophone; Jimmy Lyons: alto saxophone; Sunny Murray: drums).



Albert Ayler
(Albert Ayler: tenor saxophone; Don Cherry: cornet; Gary Peacock: bass; Sonny Murray: drums).

Spirits Rejoice


Charles Gayle

(Charles Gayle: tenor saxophone; William Parker: bass; Rashied Ali: drums).

Part A



Bill Dixon

(Bill Dixon: trumpet; Barry Guy, William Parker: basses; Tony Oxley: drums).

Viale Nino Bixio 20



Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Freedom... Arthur Doyle/Sunny Murray... and John Coltrane...

The Caliph returns...

Freedom, oh freedom... here's a long track - 'Giblets 3' - by Sunny Murray and Arthur Doyle from a session recorded in 2000. Tenor and drums – in the tradition of Coltrane and Elvin Jones – and, later, Rashied Ali. Lots of space for both performers to expand and flow and fill. There's an ease to this music, none of the usual cosmic anguish of the fire musics, just the lines going where the performers take them. Sometimes a sprint, sometimes a more gentle meander. Which does not imply a lack of grit or soul... Doyle is impassioned, but on a personal level, finds phrases and worries at them, always with a vocalised tone – definitely someone whose voiced timbres are not far from the production of his saxophone sound. Conversational... and flowing – howling, garrulous, quizzical, pleading. Strangled high notes, bleary smearing low notes, sometimes querulous runs. Murray is his usual imperious self... the rhythms stop and start, an edgy track this, in places, as if feeling their way round each other. (It's the first on the album but that may be coincidental...). But also as if there is plenty of time. In both senses... He switches to flute after a wild blowing section that deflationarily ends on some corny old tune that I'm sure had something to do with the sand dance as performed by Wilson, Keppel and Betty (and my old and late lamented chum, Ronnie Ross, who used to perform in the middle of the road in Leicester Square opposite the Empire cinema with a large amplifier and tape deck - to the consternation and annoyance of Bow Street Old Bill. 'We may see his like etc. '- dead and gone for a few years now....). His flute playing is as raw as his sax - playful and vocally granular with a slight echo of Roland Kirk. Murray piles into the cymbals to summon an extended steely hissing, punctuated by sudden rolls. Doyle drops the flute and goes into some wahoo wordless singing that demonstrates the seamlessness of his approach - whatever he is playing it comes from the voice in some weird endless conversation. Drums solo... then saxophone returns. Abrupt phrases and honks and smears again as the drums tattoo and crash. The line extends and finally slows down. Ending on a punctuating cymbal smash. No idea what the title refers to – an improvisation about offal? Whatever... I can dig it... (wow – some old school jazz patois... well, it's been a week for nostalgia...)

Opening on a splattering tidal wave of Ali's drums, Coltrane and the band proceed to lay out the theme – the saxophonist dark and almost ponderous as he hits the notes down into place like someone hammering nails in as the piano spins and circles in a rippling dance. Then – off into space. Stellar regions indeed. Ali lays down a poly-rhythmic cluster of layered rhythms, ever shifting, to give Coltrane the spatial complex open-ended ground he needed. The bass is not heard too clearly, a kind of strummed thumping in the background until Garrison switches to arco – a common fault on a lot of these records, unfortunately. Alice steps up and she sounds happy and at home with this music, playing a rhapsodic solo... this is late Coltrane, the questing edge there but also a quieter feeling in places, as if he was happy with the band and the conception he had arrived at, less restless. Having said that – this album was released posthumously years later and may not have been intended for public consumption. Wonderful and inspiring anyway – because anything of 'Trane's is worth the listen. I'm a fan... so shoot me...


... let's dance back a couple of years – to the end of the First Quartet. 'Sunship' absolutely boils with energy – Tyner in stomping, roiling form and the Jones' drums absolutely brutally crisp and wild. Again – there is a bass in there somewhere – but not always easy to pick out. Tyner sounds more engaged here than on some sessions – as if he could really feel what his leader wanted. Still, at times towards the end the piano does drift off a bit into those wandering chords as if unsure of how to back the two-way fire storm between Elvin and Coltrane. Clears the head, this stuff...

Arthur Doyle/Sunny Murray (Tenor saxophone, drums).



John Coltrane

Seraphic Light

(John Coltrane: tenor saxophone; Alice Coltrane: piano; bass; Jimmy Garrison: bass; Rashied Ali; drums).




(John Coltrane: tenor saxophone; McCoy Tyner: piano; Reggie Workman: bass; Elvin Jones: drums).



Julie Felix at the Pack Horse, Friday May 19, 2006

I wasn't sure whether to go or not... not really my music, to be honest – I'm more Thurston Moore than Christy Moore, after all, and I'd been to one acoustic gig already last week... but curiosity got the better of me... and Frank had said it would be a good night... (and the other gig had turned out to be brilliant...)

Sold out, in fact. Julie Felix was obviously a favourite and I suppose it was unusual to see her in a small club in a smallish town in the East Midlands (even if it is God's Little Acre). Fortified with a large vodka and soda I ventured upstairs...

Frank, flanked by his usual cohorts Dave Morton and Tom Kitching, started the night, playing for rather longer than planned apparently – but no matter. It helped to build a strong foundation for the night's music. Some of the audience were getting a little noisy towards the end, but I put that down to the fact they weren't used to the conventions of an acoustic venue. The set was well received – these guys have been around a while, after all, although there were a couple of shaky bits in the first song, the performance settled down quickly... as always Tom's fiddle playing lifted it. Frank looked relaxed and happy and in good voice – as well he might: his gamble on booking JF had paid off handsomely...

Julie Felix
is at the moment engaged on the Bright Shadows tour. Usually this would mean larger venues and a stage show that matched. It was to her credit that she managed to accommodate the venue – a small, raffish, but well-known stop on the folk circuit – while bringing a bit of glitz that wasn't excessive. She has a deep, dark voice, weathered by the years but equipped with a great deal of flexibility and subtle timbral shifts – matched by her choice of material which covered a lot of ground – from the well-worn paths to more open fields beyond (to get in this week's Olson reference). Solid guitar playing gave her voice a strong ground to rise from, strumming and finger-picking as the song dictated. And a professional sense of theatre – she knows how to put her material over with great ├ęclat.

I wonder if the 'bright shadow' was that of the sixties folk world where she originally made her bones – starting off with Dylan's 'Masters of War' laid down certain markers... I admit that I was impishly tempted to shout out at the end: 'Was that dedicated to the President of Iran and his visions of the New Holocaust?' But I can't shout so well these days – and with only one double in me was not feeling particularly discourteous...

Two songs in a row without chat set a marker down: this will be about music not celebrity. The second was a more new-agey one that counterbalanced the ferocity of the opener – - and then she gave her introductions. Well-prepared: not everyone can pronounce 'Loughborough' correctly, after all. Which displayed another facet of her professionalism – and charm. Because, by God, she charmed this audience in subtle ways. Displaying: warmth, intelligence and her own brand of spirituality – without beating people over the head. Even the politics – Blair/Bush/The War - weren't overdone – wisely as, after all, not everyone subscribes to the old left take on resisting Islamic Fascism – i.e. - beat up on your own culture first and ignore your enemies while they try to destroy you...

The other pillar of her heritage apart from Dylan – Woody Guthrie. A stirring 'Plane Crash at Los Gatos' – which has a certain contempory resonance given recent and on-going events in the U.S. and, in the second set, 'Pastures of Plenty,' which continued the theme of the dispossed and disadvantaged migrant workers. A scattering from the tradition - old warhorses like 'Study war no more' and 'Long Black Veil' in a interesting reading that threw some of the audience's attempts to join in by its variation on the usual tune (stepping away from Joanie who famously warbled her version way back? Who knows? She mentioned La Baez en passante – humourously – and of course back in the Sixties' day she was often described as the UK's version of Baez. Unfairly, I guess. (As she comes originally from California). On this showing, my preference would go with Felix, to be honest – I always found the Baez stance in the counter-culture a hectoring one which is probably why Bob Dylan dumped her – like a cross between a Stalinist shop-steward and an over-zealous schoolmarm. And her voice could be irritating as well...). In which bracketed mention of schoolmarms a slick link to the Judy Smalls song about one - 'Miss Martin' - where she displayed her seductive charm to good effect by leading the audience in to join her – without badgering them into singing. Cunning and clever... As was her eponymous song about the Greek poetess in the first set– 'Sappho' – funny and sharp, using two different voices – following through on the classical theme with some Platonic dialogue? (Ironically? After all, Plato did not have a high opinion of poets...). The wide cultural and spiritual reference she employs took in 'The Burning Times' about the European assault on witches in the Middle Ages as part of the wider attack on heresy – and a song in Spanish learned from her father about a Cuban slave's plight in a white society. (Did she say that nine million died in the heresy purging years in the middle ages? Seems a trifle high to me – and see this counter-argument – here – Wicca has many strands to it...)

Other iconic songs – a dramatic reading of 'Needle of Death' by Mr Jansch and the end song of the final set, 'Blowing in the Wind,' that got the audience's temperature up. And a nice touch – coming back for an encore with 'Wild Mountain Thyme,' which is one of those songs that was so done to death you figured that it might need a stake through its heart and burial at the crossroads in a barrel of garlic... and which eventually did succumb to overuse. Yet... resurrected here, it bounced out of the metaphorical coffin in a surprisingly tender manner, and brought the audience in to the end of the night neatly (which is what its purpose always was since Francie McPeake wrote the words to the old tune). A nice surprise, which, if you had been alerted to earlier might have caused a quick run to the bar but which worked brilliantly. So much for expectations – cynicism can be overdone. And a circle closed in a satisfying manner... as it were...

What impressed me was that, if she would forgive the metaphor, she took no prisoners in her choice of material or presentation. She's upfront about her political beliefs without turning the evening into a recruiting rally for George Galloway, Michael Moore and all the usual yahoos. And she is upfront about her feminist and spiritual beliefs – despite the risk of the latter causing some unease/laughter among certain sections of the audience. Someone made a comment about this to me expecting a witty riposte from the Caliph of Cool– and I surprised them in turn by mentioning that my late wife, Barbara, was a full-blown adherent of Wicca and various pagan strands so I am not unfamilar with that area of belief - and the internal politics. She was also a warrior who didn't suffer fools... another resonance with Ms Felix, I suspect. Being vaguely New Agey is acceptable (get out the crystals, Cynthia) – but there is still much spiritual unease in the wider culture about anything that references 'pagans' and 'witches.' To accommodate all of this into a professional package is no mean feat and shows the experience gained down the years. And artistic bravery... It could just have been a juke-box of sixties folk hits for the old people. That it wasn't, that it was fresh and vibrant and resonant with contemporary concerns while rooted in the best of the past, was no mean feat. My favourite moments? Her version of 'When the ship comes in' – which is not one of those Dylan songs that you hear often – was a pleasant and stirring surprise. I realised that I still knew every word. Thanks for that...

Jack Hudson down at the Dog... Tuesday May 16 2006... Let him roll...

Eclectic, I suppose – although I don't find it weird to switch from the Grand Guignol Boogie to acoustic folk/blues/country wahoo. I knew the name Jack Hudson but couldn't place his music – he came up in conversation over a drink or two the other week when Frank the Blessed and myself were having a session. Then I noticed his name on a bill for an acoustic night at one of my local boozers – the venerable Dog (The Greyhound), a spit from where I live. I told Frank and arranged to meet him there last Tuesday. Wasn't really in the mood – I went to one of these acoustic gigs the other week and it was dreadful – without any frisson of amusement (well, a bit – you take your kicks where you can get them) in the earnest droning of a gaggle of middle-aged men living some bizarre dream, playing Americana with little emotional or cultural connections to the music and so terminally unhip it would have been too cruel to identify them or the venue. But we had a beer downstairs and a brief word with Derek – one of those Zen-like coolster landlords who never seem fazed by the sporadic idiocies encountered in the licensed victuallers trade – a welcoming presence. And finally made the trek upstairs. On my last visit I had been somewhat out of it and vaguely remember the presence of the ugliest band I've ever witnessed – who were actually a fiery blues rock group and rather good. (The time before that I had inadvertantly stumbled into a Hard Rock disco -The Dog wears its colours proudly - and during a dance with the oldest friend of my daughter's mother who is a transplanted Londoner living up here in God's Little Acre managed to damage my ankle. Happy memories...).

A couple of impressive sets from Charles Hutchings and Jonathan Beckett (I think I got the names right!), a fresh, confident spot from a young female singer songwriter (Katie Skilling?)and a very good set from Big Al Whittle who inhabits a similar musical area (albeit more blues/ragtime) to the artist I want to talk about - who blew me away - Jack Hudson, a wiry, somewhat lugubrious looking man with large, strong hands who exudes an air of wry road cool but has the manners of a pro – to a smallish audience he played probably as well as he would to a packed house. Frank, who rates him strongly, was almost in tears – and by God, he hit the spot. This man is brilliant, a fluent guitar player who sings with a deep brown voice ( a little cracked round the edges by the years, perhaps, but that added to the emotional punch). Coming off an area defined by the likes of Guy Clark, Tom Rush et al – acoustic 'Americana' which overlaps the 'Bluesiana' territory, as Maria Muldaur calls it. A (sadly, brief) mix of songs that deal with loves and heartbreaks and the personal psychodramas of life, the politics of the intimate. Nouveau hobo troubadour laments that are self-reflexive in one sense (and risk solipsistic obscurity on this emotional level – majestically avoided here, it must be said by their outward resonance) where they deal with the life of a travelling musician(bluesmen) and the strains on relationships that arise – to be offset by the freedoms gained, however hard-won. The stories, places and observations on and along the journey. 'The life or the art,' to quote Yeats... My comments about that other gig above point this up - concerning those people trying to inhabit this area and failing because the existential darkness has not been travelled through and confronted honestly. Or as we used to say – 'they haven't paid their dues...' I suppose you have to earn the right to sing this kind of music – those who haven't will always be found out straight away – they do not ring true. Jack Hudson does.

He is an immaculate interpreter of others' songs – highlighted tonight especially by 'L.A. Freeway,' the old Guy Clark classic - and no mean writer himself - his own 'Driftwood and Nails' displayed skill and craftmanship and searing emotional integrity. It stepped up to match the covers , in my opinion. So why is he not more well known? It's been suggested that he's too country for folk, too folk for country? Maybe. But in the current climate of Anglo-American music with the modernising and interminglings and stylistic mash-ups going on, I would have thought that there are a good few miles left on this particular road and for this unique musician. I await the next time...

And just to mention that the sound in the club was superb – crystal clear and warm, so that you were able to hear the guitars and voices clearly without too much loss of timbre etc. Howard Coleman, who runs these gigs is to be congratulated in his efforts to showcase the music at reasonable volume without distortion and the usual trade-offs from acoustic guitar pickups. A lesson to be learned for anyone running this type of gig (me included, although we don't do so many acoustic sets anymore. Still...).

I've found a site that has a couple of Jack Hudson cds/downloads available – go here...

After the rain... (hopefully...)

But it is still raining... memories of the adage - 'Never cast a clout etc.' My blogging has been somewhat inhibited the last few days - laptop playing up, trying to finish my solo cd (almost done), the blogger site doing strange things. And trying to finish a couple of acoustic reviews so I can get back to the world of skronk and skranggg... also the (Mighty) Club Sporadic all day festival is almost upon us, to light up the Artist's Quarter in God's Little Kilometre... much still to do in preparation... plus the usual health problems of energy crashes (but they do seem to be getting less prevalent - hopefully). But later today... the reviews will be posted - a disparate couple of musicians - a guy called Jack Hudson who is a too-well kept secret and Julie Felix of yesteryear fame on a large tour of the UK at present. Never thought I would go to one of her gigs - let alone enjoy it - but get out the humble pie. She was very good... But I've had my ration of acoustic fare... at present listening to Arthur Doyle and Sunny Murray - Doyle a wild old bugger and interesting tenor sax and flute player and Murray the guvnor of free jazz drums. Maybe wack some of this up... the big New York music post I had planned has had to be postponed - may not get it done this week but it will be worth waiting for... trust me... moving from the Velvet Underground through the punk/no wave/loft years up to somewhere near the present... watch this space...

Friday, May 19, 2006

Maria Muldaur... channelling the musics...

I first fell in love with Maria Muldaur on a trip to Dublin in the early seventies, a year or two before I decamped there for a longer spell of alcohol and music related madness that spanned five years. Camped out at Merve's place in Rathmines – he had a large selection of music that I think he'd brought back from the States – I remember his John Fahey records especially. And Maria Muldaur's first album. I knew of her glancingly because she had been married to the blues guitar player Geoff Muldaur, whose work I had some familiarity with and her big hit with 'Moonlight at the Oasis' gave some idea of her unusual vocal talents. But the album was a revelation, moving easily between folk, country, swing and more. Many years later I found it on cd and it's still one of my favourites. The first track: never was much of a fan of Linda Rondstadt at the time but her voice blends extremely well with Muldaur who is joined by the sublime Dolly Parton on one of her compositions – a song of rural freshness and bright-eyed wonder.

Fast forward into the nineties – Maria M in the company of the great blues and boogie pianist Jay McShann and a jumping band doing the old Bessie Smith number about the Mississippi flood in the twenties – looking out at the monsoon season playing out beyond my window, I'm feeling a great empathy with this track. Drought? Not up here in the East Midlands, mon canarde... McShann is an historic figure, born in Oklahoma but moving to Kansas City where he became a wheel in the flourishing music scene there – not sure if he is still alive - in whose early 1940's band a young Charlie Parker could be found in the sax section – and a flat-out rocking and rolling player. By the time this was recorded (when McShann was in his late eighties) her voice had deepened and roughened with the years and that unique girlish (yet sexy and sophisticated) lilt had dropped registers somewhat – but she was still a formidable interpreter. Not many can tackle Bessie Smith – the appalling George Melly made a rather sad career out of it, camping up the blues in a quintessentially stupid English music hall take on American music – I sometimes wish he'd stuck to art criticism – but Maria's voice is up to the mark.

From the boogie woogie/swing jazz blues to country blues – another fairly recent recording (backed by some fine picking by John Sebastian) of the Mississippi John Hurt song: 'Richland Woman Blues.' A song of anticipation... 'My turkey red bloomers got a rumble seat...' Really... Lucky man...

To round out this brief jaunt through the different facets of Muldaur's music and to further demonstrate the range of her channelling the myriad streams of American music– two tracks from the second album, written by Anna McGarrigle - 'Cool River' – which is perfect for her voice. A presaging of the gospel music to come in later years? Followed by: 'It ain't the meat it's the motion.' Big band swing. And a song which needs little interpretation, one assumes. Ribald...

Maria Muldaur (with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronsadt)

Tennessee Mountain Home



Backwater Blues

(With Jay Mc Shann)

(Jay McShann ( piano); Maria Muldaur (vocals); Duke Robillard (acoustic, electric & steel guitar); Dave Babcock (alto & tenor saxophones); Doug James (tenor & baritone saxophones); Dennis Taylor (tenor saxophone); Bob Tidseley (trumpet); John Packer (upright bass); Marty Richard (drums).



Richland Woman Blues



Cool River


It ain't the meat it's the motion



Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Balm in Gilead and the Grand Guignol of Black Carrot/Nigel Parkin: 'Essays in Mutilation and Despair'... 'The Mariner's Rest...

"Beauty of whatever kind in its supreme development invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears. Melancholy is thus the most legitimate of all the poetical tones"

To expand (again) on David Teledu's idea, the M1 could be thought of as the ley line that runs up and down the country channelling energy from the various musical nodes upon it. One of these is the pleasant market town of Market Harborough which is home to the band Black Carrot. A three piece of drums, acoustic bass and keyboard/saxes/guitar, they inhabit a remarkably versatile area of performance that can take in the extremes but is always centred on rhythm – which makes them both satisfyingly experimental due to their almost total improvisationary approach and also potentially accessible to a wider audience. (As proved by their well-received set at the Charlotte in Leicester a few weeks back, supporting the Fall).

Recently they have been doing live shows with Nigel Parkin fronting the band on several literary conceptual performances based on the writings of Edgar Allan Poe and Franz Kafka. (Two writers who go together very well, thinking about it...). Some of this has been translated to the two cd's I am reviewing here: 'Essays in Mutilation and Despair' subtitled: 'An improvised exploration of the tales of Edgar Allan Poe,' which offers a reading of 'The Raven' and a long improvisation on 'The Pit and the Pendulum.' And 'The Mariners' Rest,' which is totally improvised.

A fast walking acoustic bass and then Nigel Parkin enters: 'Once,' stop for a beat or two then resume: 'Upon a midnight dreary.' The pause signals the manner in which he will stretch the poem out of its usual rhythmic straitjacket, as he continues to declaim 'The Raven' and minimal pattering percussion spreads out behind him. Poe benefits from close attention to rhythm – 'The Raven' is too well known, to the extent that it is too easy to 'tum ti tum' it – its rhythm can adhere too closely to its alleged conception – almost a mathematical proposition according to EAP. This poem is tailor-made for hamming it up – or parody - yet Nigel's voice is pitched perfectly – straight English, with no attempts at American nuances or Vincent Price-isms. (Given that Poe is supposed to have appropriated the figure of the raven from Dicken's 'Barnaby Rudge,' an interesting return?) Theatrical, yes – the 'Raven' demands a certain degree of performative brio – but locked skilfully into the music that understatedly and smoothly bears the voice along. At a fast pace... which benefits the poem. Too easy to intone mournfully... Parkin delivers at different speeds within that fast rhythm – in places spitting the words out in long streams, in others dragging back a little on the beat – almost an echo of Lester Young... A gleefully dark performance by Parkin that relishes the verbal opulence of Poe's words while drawing on a certain ambiguity between their intrinsic dark melancholy and a necessary performative distance that is tinged with humour.

'The Raven' fades out over that insistent bass - which fades back in for track two, a recitation of 'The Pit and the Pendulum.' This is a freer reading – prose being obviously more amenable to vocal gymnastic extemporising than the fixed rhyme – and text - of the poem. The music is more programmatic – not overly so but subtly rising to emulate and shadow the dark, claustrophobic horrors of the story. Scrawling sax, bass descending in bowed steps, drums beating distant heart-beat tom tom tattos. The music is given plenty of space, with the voice dropping out frequently, allowing the story to breathe - paradoxically, given the theme of enclosure (although there is plenty of dark, unknown space in the story). If you know the text , you become aware of the skilful way that Parkin is improvising – keeping the essence of darkness and imprisonment and claustrophobic horror while taking it to other places – a paraphrasal eliding of the original theme – and cutting the 'happy' ending, which always seems tacked on and contrived, to face up to the existential abyss of 'The Pit... the Pit...'. His performance brings an emotional unity to the story that the original undercuts in its last sentences with the sudden rescue: 'An outstretched arm caught my own as I fell, fainting, into the abyss. It was that of General Lasalle. The French army had entered Toledo. The Inquisition was in the hands of its enemies.' No such escape here...

'The Mariner's Rest' could be an adaption of a story or film – except that it is entirely improvised. The motifs are familiar – echoes of John Carpenter's masterly horror film 'The Fog,' maybe, with more than a glance backwards at classics such as 'The Ancient Mariner,' in the sense of the listener being buttonholed and told a story about a dreadful set of events following a shipwreck by a guilt-ridden survivor of the ensuing horrors – and the resonance in both titles: 'Mariner.' It commences with scraped guitar chords and what sounds like a chain being rattled, joined by bass and ethereal drums. Long held high notes – then voice: 'Midnight.' Parkin proceeds to set the scene – a group of drinkers over a fresh bottle of whiskey in a locked tavern looking out over the sea – waiting. Whispering: 'Nobody wanted to think about what lay there. A year ago when the Alice had sunk – taking its whole crew with it.' (An interesting change of gender – 'it' rather than 'her'). On this anniversary of the disaster, there is a sense of impending doom fuelled by the guilt of the townspeople who perhaps could have saved the crew if they had listened to the alarm raised (admittedly by a lunatic). At midnight, the dead seamen come back and disembark from their ship, watched by their terrified comrades in the tavern as they proceed down to the town. Then they return as dawn approaches '... this time, smiling, coral mouthed weed-encrusted smiles... barnacles and tiny sea creatures hanging from their mouths.'

The fearful watchers in the 'Mariner's Rest' observe the dead departing into a rising mist that comes off the sea and covers the town – and drowns the town's population: 'The whole town, as one, screaming!' Echoed by a squalling guitar over insistent bass and four on the floor drums. The screams of the dying – drowning in a horrific echo on dry land of the fate of the ship's crew in the sea. The drinkers are spared and after the mist recedes rush out of the Mariner's Rest to find the population of the town – all dead. Traces of water and seaweed everywhere – as if a ghostly wave had swept over the town.

They are left as witnesses to the revenge of the drowned.

The bass seems slightly less to the fore than on the Poe cd but acts again as a pivot for the other instruments. Guitar – sparse punctuations in the main – glissandos, splintered chords, fragments and occasional longer notes which sound like they were e-bowed – or bowed. The drums, spartan but effective, setting up free falling rhythms alternating with more explicitly stated ones which ratchet up the tension. Listen especially to the section about twenty minutes in: a descending guitar figure that starts quietly behind the voice slowly increases in volume when Parkin stops and the band build on this and repeat a four bar section over and over until he re-enters: 'Dark figures standing still as death, silent as the grave as the boat docked in the harbour.'

All a bit grand guignol (as is the Poe cd) – but surprisingly effective. The programmatic elements are kept spare – creakings and scrapings, for example, are not overdone. The piece breathes easily as the band set up rhythms and build successions of crescendos to punctuate the unfolding horror of the narrative, dropping out in places to leave Parkin solo. A masterful performance – the tale told with an ease that disguises the fact that it is improvised. Parkin's skills as a storyteller are at full stretch here, again demonstrating his range of nuance and quick-witted delivery.

The main elements of Black Carrot's style with Parkin are fairly recognisable on both cd's: sparse musical settings over which his rich voice resounds to good effect, a wide flexibilty of vocal nuance on display. He is the featured soloist, as it were, the band playing well within themselves to allow his voice to deliver a poem, an improvisation on a theme by Poe – and a totally free improvisation – 'The Mariner's Rest,' which cleverly explores various ghost/horror story archetypes.

The band display a high degree of inventiveness in extemporising without stepping on each other or self-indulgently sprawling to interrupt the balance of the instrumentation or the flow of the narrative. The rhythms they employ always allow for a rooting and accessibility – yet are subtle and varied, skilfully exploring the interface between rock and jazz that is one of their trademarks. Their use of silence as well is exemplary, punctuating and allowing the music and voice to breathe. If I had one criticism it would be that I would like to have heard a little more of the band – but I can see that there is a delicate balance to be preserved here between vocal and musical narrative – the temptation to ham it up with more obvious emulations of sound effects would be a dangerous one to resist. Maybe in this case – less is more. Dark stuff – delivered with great skill and wit – and humour. The integration of voice and music to explore existing narratives within an improvisatory framework – and to create new ones - is fascinating. And unique.

To order these cd's and for info on the band, go here...

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Some voices...

Voices, mainly, today... an odd collection of favourite songs – a lot dating from the seventies, I've just noticed. First up – Emmy Lou Harris and her achingly beautiful - and personal - rendition of 'Boulder to Birmingham' which she wrote after the tragic death of Gram Parsons – private grief turned into art...

The McGarrigles have been around for as long – here is their expanded family lineup (with the Wainwright clan) doing the choral thing on the old Stephen Foster song 'Hard times come again no more.' For a long time a staple of folk singers since Foster was resurrected and it became OK to sing his songs again. Rather odd, thinking about it, as the English folk clubs were very much a creation of the old left (especially the Stalinists centred round the late Ewan McColl) and still have a politically correct ethos at times – although I suppose many traditional songs run riot through those particular purist gates – hunting anyone? Sod it anyway – this is a tremendous version of a song that does tend to get butchered as a rule. An odd fact about Foster is that he spent most of his life in Pittsburgh and only visited the Deep South once on a trip to New Orleans – as a professional songwriter, with connections to abolitionists, that might explain the fact that his 'plantation/minstrel' songs may seem patronising from a distance in their dealings with black people ('Old Black Joe' etc.) but within the context of his own time were extremely sympathetic to their subjects – more so, perhaps, than if he had been born on a plantation. 'Hard Times' was written in 1855 -and has a foreshadowing, maybe, of the civil war to come as well as a clear sense of the hardness of mid-century frontier life. White blues...

To Maria Muldaur... who supplies an edged riposte to sentimentalising the South in those aforementioned 'minstrel' songs, albeit with a rueful affection, in 'The Work Song.' I can live with both and like the conflict engendered... music is not the bastion of the purists – despite what the purists think...

Existential blues noir – Robert Johnson's chilling 'Love in Vain,' given a reasonable reading, one supposes, all those years ago by the Rolling Stones. Here's the real thing, hard yet vulnerable.

Skip James recorded 'I'd rather be the devil' in the thirties – here's John Martyn – one of the best live performers of the seventies in the interregnum between sixties rock and seventies punk. A bit of a tosser at times with all that spliffed up drunk falling off stage crap but on a good night – unbeatable.
Here with Danny Thompson on bass and somewhat surprisingly, the late John Stevens on drums, doyen of Brit free improv, from his seminal 'Live at Leeds' album – echoplexing everywhere – bluejazz folk spaced psychedelia with a razor edge. Martyn was adept at stepping across boundaries in music- this track is a paradigm of his approach. Light up and listen...

A song by the late and much-lamented Jackson C. Frank – whose star burned brightly across the Soho scene in the sixties, who recorded one album and then disappeared back to the U.S. To disappear into mystery until he was discovered in a flop-house, down on his luck. One the edge maybe of a comeback - he died a couple of years ago. I saw him play many times and thought he was brilliant. This song has been a staple of the acoustic scene for years and years – white blues that Jackson unfortunately lived to to unfortunate end. He wrote this song on the boat over from the U.S. as a young musician ready to conquer London - a sad and eery harbinger of his future...

To end – on a happier note – King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band's stomping version of 'Dippermouth Blues.' Recorded in 1923, the young Louis Armstrong in tandem with the older Oliver, the moment when New Orleans comes up the river to Chicago, I suppose. 84 years back and still sounding remarkably fresh and joyful: it is intructive to consider the influence of these old recordings on the history of popular music since the twenties. But enough pedantry: 'Oh, play that thing!'

Emmy Lou Harris

Boulder to Birmingham



The Garrigles and the Wainwrights

Hard times come again no more



Maria Muldaur

The Work Song



John Martyn

I'd rather be the devil



Jackson C Frank

Blues run the game



King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band
(King Oliver, Louis Armstrong: cornets: Johnny Dodds: Clarinet: Honore Dutray: trombone; Lil Hardon: piano: Bill Johnson: bass/banjo; Baby Dodds: drums).

Dippermouth Blues



Saturday, May 13, 2006

Strategies to avoid the bloody cup final...

Go back to bed for the day with the person of your choice and gendered imperative if lucky enough to summon one at short notice. The more deliberate among you will have planned well in advance for this eventuality, hoping that such methodical strategies will not ruin the spontaneous libidinal thrill. Lock all the doors and turn off the television and drown yourselves in the pleasures of the body. Good luck.

For those unable – or unwilling – to indulge in sexual activity in the afternoon (and on their own)...

Avoid all pubs for the day as they will be full of hapless throngs of males in the throes of regressing back to early childhood dressed in ugly sports clothes - Unkool and the Gang writ large and noisy.

Play loud music with the windows open to drown out any possible raucous cheering from neighbours and/or witless chanting -a satisfyingly and perversely eclectic mix – Martha and the Vandellas' early tracks, Last Exit at full apocalyptic throttle, Alvin Curran, Ornette Coleman, leavened with some death metal.

Invoke St Jude to intercede for football haters everywhere and send a plague of warthogs to invade the pitch.

Or – for the more pagan among you – create a circle in the usual manner according to tested doctrine and call up a cone of power over the stadium. Create whatever havoc you think appropriate – short of bloodletting – keep it surreally clean, chaps.

Crack out the vodka and orange juice several hours earlier than is medically or morally wise – a special occasion, after all.

Keep the television unplugged in case you inadvertantly hit the wrong channel.

Do not grit your teeth for too long as this can lead to unpleasant locking of the jaw.

Avoid any daily paper.

There is always sleep – although that will probably mean you wake up at seven pm or thereabouts and are awake all night – in which case go out for a late drink as all the wahoos will have collapsed by now. Avoid the toilets however, if possible...

Johnny Griffin, Eddie Lockjaw Davis: two tough tenors... Monk at Town Hall... Evan Parker in church... Anthony Braxton takes on Monk...

Start with the basics and expand the field outwards...

Johnny Griffin ('the fastest tenor in the world') spent some time playing with the equally formidable Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis and they made some fiery records with their two tenor blastout. The first track today is taken from an album – 'Tough tenors back again' – which tells you pretty much all you need to know about the contents. 'Blues up and down' is a fast 12 bar with wild blowing from both men – Griffin having the slight edge on speed, Davis making up the ballast with his rough-hewn tone and forceful playing. A live set and it has great presence – this is grits and greens jazz, taken to another level by the technique of the participants. A great piano solo by a new name to me, Harry Pickens, the bass is actually audible and drives the band along in company with the thrusting drums of Washington. Joyous stuff...

Johnny Griffin played with Monk's quartet for a time in the fifties. When the pianist came to Town Hall, New York in 1959, he brought an enlarged group supplied with arrangements by Hall Overton. 'Little Rootie Tootie' is kicked off at a brisk pace by the leader's piano, before the band joins in. One of those Monk tunes that have a deceptive simplicity and elastic swing.. A call and response where the piano answers the first part of the theme with a banging treble figure that is quintessential Monk as is the organic flow secured by the subtle way that the A theme is elaborated on in the B section. Pepper Adams essays a brief but smooth baritone solo, followed by a longer, skillful trumpet outing from Donald Byrd with the band playing the main theme riff as a background figure – a Monkish trick as Thelonious always required his soloists to be aware of his tunes and not just run up and down the changes. Followed by the man himself – encapsulating what I have just said, his solo referencing the theme and knocking it off-centre with displacements and crushed minor seconds. Then the theme restated with that hammered treble figure – which will be picked up by the ensemble and repeated by Monk's piano in a game of musical catch after the brief but eloquent alto solo by Phil Woods as the band deliver a complex transcription of Monk's original solo in the early fifties.

Some don't rate this album as highly as more well-known dates – I've always loved it, the enlarged ten piece band giving a tantalising hint of how Monk's compositions can sound beyond the usual quartet settings with the tuba and french horn giving a lot of depth and expanded sonority.

No obvious connection to the next track – except that the musicians were (and are) radicals - taken from Evan Parker's seminal solo recording 'Six of One.' Recorded in 1980, it still seems fresh – and challenging. Parker's use of the soprano saxophone here has an astringency to it, quite different in tone from that other pioneer of solo soprano – Steve Lacy. Parker spins out long lines via his circular breathing technique that give the illusion of polyphony due to the speed and change of register. Recorded at St Jude's in the Hill, London (an apposite saint, perhaps, for free jazz improvisers and other underground cult heroes - the patron of lost causes and desperate situations? His feast day is October 28th, for future reference...), the acoustics of the church provide a different ambiance to a studio – or live gig – session. The slight reverberation and echo aiding the perceived sense of polyphony...

What happens in the time that it takes to happen, that's the form. (Evan Parker).

How can you not like a man who invents something called 'Ghost Trance Music?' Which I saw him perform a selection of at the Festival Hall a while back on the same bill as Cecil Taylor (who he actually outplayed, just – his young band were phenomenal...). In a sort of thematic link, this is a track from his 1989 album 'Six Monk Compositions.' (Another link between Parker and Braxton, which I have just realised, is that they were all pioneers of solo playing – Braxton getting in first with 'For Alto' in 1968).The reviewer on Amazon hated this album (click on 'buy' below)and said that Braxton just ran all over Monk's music. Well – on this track he certainly does - brilliantly. 'Skippy' is one of those loopy Monk tunes, a fast and spirally melody and some interesting harmonic and rhythmic twists. Braxton charges straight at it and unravels its logics in a wild outpouring of notes, somewhat as if he had opened a tightly packed parcel and the contents had exploded. Waldron, of course, can be lined up in the Monk camp as a pianist although he is very much his own man. His comping here is similar to Monk's, spare and ready to fall out when necessary. Neidlinger is an interesting character who played on some of Cecil Taylor's early sides (with Steve Lacy -another noted interpreter of Monk - and pioneer solo sax player - oh, well - another link with Parker and Braxton...). Osborne is back in the mix a bit but contributes appropriate rhythmic emphasis. A wild ride...

Blues up and down

(Johnny Griffin, Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis: tenor saxophones; Harry Pickens: piano; Curtis Lundy: bass; Kenny Washington: drums).



Thelonious Monk
(Thelonious Monk: piano; Phil Woods: alto saxophone; Charlie Rouse: tenor saxophone; Pepper Adams: baritone saxophone; Donald Byrd: trumpet; Robert Nothern: French horn; Eddie Bert: trombone; Jay McAllister: tuba; Sam Jones: bass; Art Taylor: drums).

Little Rootie Tootie



Evan Parker
(Solo soprano saxophone).

One of six.



Anthony Braxton
(Anthony Braxton: alto saxophone; Mal Waldron: piano; Buell Neidlinger: bass; Bill Osborne: drums).




Thursday, May 11, 2006

Notes of a provincial boy... a sporadic series...

I left home for the first time when I was sixteen – the summer of 1963 – when the school holidays spent hitch-hiking around the country just – got extended. It seems so long ago... and it is, after all, looking back on those days from the vantage point of 59. I was moving fast, fuelled on a cross-cultural mix of beat writers, jazz, folk and blues, and poetry, that fed into my own artistic aspirations – music and writing – plus some burning need to break out of the environment I was living in – which in hindsight was not so terrible – but at that time seemed to me like being shackled in a dungeon. I ended up sleeping under the pier at Bournemouth with a disparate crew of other similar souls, participating in something – we could not completely articulate what but it was the nascent youth counter-culture, maybe. Then I went to the Edinburgh Festival on the thumb with, as I remember, the odd combo of Eliot's 'Four Quartet' and Jack Kerouac's 'The Subterraneans' in my pocket – roamed the city and met Scottish beats, took in the Delacroix exhibition(hardly Jackson Pollock – but it was stunning – I still remember it clearly) and most vivid of all, the Joan Littlewood Theatre Workshop version of Henry 4 – a modern day reworking that bounced off the zeitgeist so well – actors with long hair and mod/velvet clothes. I met a girl there and we became very involved in that pure and white hot teenage intensity – she had a couple of friends and two other guys took up with them – so we then had a group of six. The girls came from somewhere on the edge of Manchester – and I still remember the night ride in a lorry with her nestled into my shoulder as we travelled back to her home ground. She had a small flat and came from wealthy parents – unlike the other two girls who were Northern working class. But none of that mattered – it seemed as if we were participating in a breakdown of the old order. It ended in tears of course – her parents inevitably sniffed us out and she was forbidden to see me and dragged off home – it sounds now like some bizarre Victorian melodrama. I was devastated and angry – they could not quite make me out as I must have looked like their worst nightmare of daughterly despoliation – long hair and scruffy clothes – yet talked better than they did and was fiercely articulate. I and one of the other boys ended up staying with one of the other girls and her folks – who were generous, unfazed and gave us more respect than we deserved. Which offered a certain insight into the old white working class of the North. (And elsewhere – in Wales for example, the chance encounter with a lorry driver and his wife who were nudists and believed in free love – but that's another story...) After I went home for a while, due to a run-in with the law, we still kept in touch by phone – until it all fizzled out. I still wonder what happened to her. Especially as I spent a grim six months up in Blackburn in 2001 and realised that I was not far away from the geographic site of early doomed and long dead teenage love. The memory? Still fresh in its intensity...

Monday, May 08, 2006

Photos from a musical weekend... Market Harborough to Nottingham...

Totally wiped out today! So resting up - but here are a few photos from the weekend -
David and Oliver in the latter's studio, Murray and the drums he played so well. Followed by a couple from the Gren Bartley/Tom Kitching session at the Vat and Fiddle in Nottingham - the blessed Frank Marmion and Tom, Tom and Gren and one of the small but lively contingent from the Artist's Quarter accompanied us. Not sure what Tony is doing to Karen and Kay... I did the sound, had a couple of drinks, shot a few photos and enjoyed the music and the revels. Came home and collapsed...

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Rama lama ding dong... The Penguins... The Orioles... Dion and the Belmonts... Warren Zevon... Vanessa Bell Armstrong...

In a rush today – off to an acoustic gig in Nottingham this afternoon – the complete antithesis to yesterday which was spent recording at the kind invitation of Oliver from the sublime Black Carrot (the pride of Market Harborough...) with the boys – David and Murray. We did two long and exhausting workouts – both totally different from each other – the first where I was only using laptop to fire samples and textures, the other where I switched to Fender Rhodes – and I have hardly played keyboard/piano in over thirty years. Interesting... Murray on a full acoustic kit was a revelation – keep practising those paradiddles, my boy. David used mainly guitar acoustic and electric and Oliver played a variety of instruments ranging from recorders to small instruments and voice effects looped into the mix. They were great and a pleasure to play with. Not sure what they made of my thumps, bangs and clusters but... exhilarating.

As promised to Betty – some doo wop... A trio of classics – The Penguins 'Earth Angel', The Orioles, 'It's too soon to know,' and Dion and the Belmonts – 'Ruaround Sue.' This last is more rocky – but I like it. Plaintive teen melodrama crossed with backbeat and handclaps and streetpunk toughness.

And then – and then... jump-cut... the late Warren Zevon's classic and little heard these days 'Desperadoes under the eves,' from his first album. I loved this track when I first bought the album back in Dublin in the 1970s – it has one of my favourite couple of lines – 'I was sitting in the Hollywood Hawaian Hotel, listening to the air-conditioning hum. It went: “Hummmmm...” Etc.

Back in Ensenada – he sang the junkie's lament 'Carmelia.' L.A. drug noir...

Enough sleaze – as it's sunday, my children, knock your lobes towards the greatest Gospel singer since Mahalia – Vaness Bell Armstrong. Whose name sounds like the head girl from Roedean... 'What should I render.' Hallelujah and out...

The Penguins

Earth Angel



The Orioles

It's too soon to know



Dion and the Belmonts

Runaround Sue



Warren Zevon

Desperadoes under the eaves





Vanessa Bell Armstrong

What shall I render



Friday, May 05, 2006

Wild things... Johnny Griffin... Albert Ayler... Charles Mingus... Sister Rosetta Tharpe... Memphis Minnie... and a cast of thousands...

Can't seem to leave the jazz alone... some fast blowing, some wild blowing... balanced up by some gospel and some blues...

Johnny Griffin is one of my favourite tenors – tough and speedy – and still going I think (and hope). He participated in many blowing sessions, free and easy let the tapes roll on some blues a couple of originals here and there and whatever standards we fancy this week – easy and cheap to record. But the music from many of these dates is sublime. I have mentioned that 'The way you look tonight' is one of my favourite standards: here it is given a roughing up and scant respect is paid to the sentiments of the lyric. This is Blue Note hard bop doing the changes at a fast lick and let's see where we go. No quarter asked or given... John Coltrane made a lot of these dates as well from the mid – fifties up to when he became a big name with his own band post-Miles and Monk. The recording of this track is right in your face – Art Blakey's drums up and thunderous in the mix which gives it a live edge – as if you were at a jam session. Opening drum crash -then an almost cursory theme statement – almost batting it out of the way to get to the meat of the improvising. Lean and limber and accurate strings of notes by all of the soloists – Griffin, Coltrane rolling out his sheets of sound into the hurricane, Mobley, who stands up well in this imperiously stellar company, Lee Morgan (did he ever make a bad record in his tragically short life?) – all propelled onwards by Blakey's interjections – tom tom rolls, press rolls, snare snaps, rimshots and cymbals like a stormwind. Then the tenors trade eights with the drummer – at this tempo they seem like fours. A brief bass solo to keep Chambers happy maybe, it doesn't do much except act as a pre-cursor to the final chorus.

Albert Ayler still seems to be outside the fold.. . considering he was dead by the early 1970's that is no mean feat. I was listening to some of his early tracks in Sweden with an orthodox bop group of the day – his solos are a light year away from what the rest of the band is playing – yet fit in an odd way. Here he is with his brother Donald, live from Slugs in 1966. I think this is the only recording that Ronald Shannon Jackson made with him – which was a shame as he fits in beautifully. Ayler seems to play some kind of jazz that stands out of time, incorporating the history of the music and the currents that run into it – gospel, blues, marching bands, folk melodies. It's like some musical equivalent of Olson's post-modernism, rather than the hollow banalities of more well-known French thinkers and their academic acolytes – or should that be academic-lite? - that strives to go back beyond the usual metaphysical suspects to pre-Socratic origins to engage with the present anew in an ontological loop across time. I think that this could be extended to many involved in the sixties jazz avant-garde – and may return to a deeper analysis when time permits - Olson got there first, and Cecil Taylor for one was aware of him). All these musicians come from the culture and techniqueof modern jazz – bop and beyond – but reach back to roots without engaging in some grits and greens ersatzery for da brothers. They hit a fresh stream that still flows – onwards to today and beyond. There is something intrinsically fresh about this music. Here's a quote from Albert: 'Yes, and we're trying to do for now what people like Louis Armstrong did at the beginning. That music was a rejoicing. And it was beauty that was going to happen. As it was in the beginning, so it will be at the end.'

More Mingus. And why not? From 'Mingus Ah Um' the homage to Duke – as the years pass, I think that Mingus's stature keeps on growing. This 'Open letter to Duke' pretty much spells out his gratitude to the Master- while adding his own spin - especially the tempo changes - this starts fast then slows down. Duke's long-time alto player Johnny Hodges is evoked in the alto smears and smooth glissandos within the ensembles – I saw him with the Ellington band way back when and on stage slumped in the sax section he looked like a grumpy old fucker who fiddled with his glasses a lot when not playing and was disengaged from his surroundings. The weary cool of a musician who has been on the road a long, long time... But when he blew that sax... You could forgive him for sleeping with your wife... and turn down the covers for him before you politely left...
The saxophone voicings are rich and creamy, spiked with piquant dissonances. Duke would have dug it... and probably did...

If gospel and blues are the main roots – let us have some... Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a fiery gospel singer who had a long career, took her music into many varied settings which did not always play well with the stricter religious sections in the black community and was also a superb guitar player – early on with an acoustic, later with an electric. You don't hear so much of her music these days – which is a shame. Rectified here...

Another female blues singer – Memphis Minnie, one of my favourites, who was very popular throughout the thirties and forties– and also an exemplary guitar player – listen to her rock-solid rhythm here. I love the name as well – that Southern resonance makes 'Minnie' sound exotic. Not quite the same if it was Market Harborough Minnie, somehow... Patois note – 'dogging' here does not have the same meaning as in twenty first century England...

Johnny Griffin

(Johnny Griffin, John Coltrane, Hank Mobley: tenor saxophones; Lee Morgan: Trumpet; Wynton Kelly: piano; Paul Chambers: bass; Art Blakey: drums).

The way you look tonight



Albert Ayler

(Albert Ayler: tenor saxophone; Donald Ayler: trumpet; Michel Sampson: violin; Lewis Worrell: bass; Ronald Shannon Jackson: drums).

The truth is marching in



Charles Mingus

(John Handy: alto sax; Booker Ervin: tenor sax; Shafi Hadi: tenor sax;Willie Dennis: trombone; Horace Parlan: piano; Charles Mingus: bass: Dannie Richmond: drums).

Open letter to duke



Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Ain't no grave going to hold me down



Memphis Minnie

No need you dogging me



Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Fun with Fats...Blues with Jack... Art with Art... Boogie Woogie with Jerry Lee... Testifying with Aretha and Ray... and Charles Mingus...

Let's have some fun... first off the blocks – the incomparable Fats Waller, playing a completely idiotic pop song from the thirties - one of many he recorded, for reasons of contract and money, no doubt. And which he usually joyously butchered – (Pre-post-modernist irony, old boy? Whatever...). This is a glorious solid romp that ends up as a paradigm for small band thirties jazz, just before the cataclysms of bop to come.

Jack Teagarden was a white man from Texas (well, half-white. Check out his cheekbones – they signify Native American with a vengeance) who was one of the great jazz trombone players, equipped with a smooth and fast technique years before J.J. Johnson came along and patented it. And a wonderful jazz/blues singer with a lazy drawl and deep, warm voice. Here's his famous take on the 'Basin Street Blues.' Recorded many times, this version is with Bobby Hackett on trumpet (from a 1950's session) – who also plays a sublime solo.

Art Tatum was – just incomparable. One of those musicians whose concept stretched across the generations, equipped with a fearsome technique. Here he takes my other favourite standard for a ride on the roller-coaster – 'The way you look tonight.' Listen to how he points the melody in single notes and chords from within the florid runs and arpeggios in the first chorus. The spirit of improvisation. This is superb piano playing from any era. Some critics disliked his technique and slagged him off accordingly - one feels pity for the deaf...

Jerry Lee – doing the Lewis boogie, the Lewis way... if you know the song. This goes by the title of 'Boogie woogie country piano man.' Says it all really...

When you put Aretha Franklin with a scratch band directed by King Curtis into a live setting (The Fillmore) and let her loose – you get oddities for the cross-over market – which are fantastic. 'Bridge over troubled waters' gets the soul/gospel treatment and this re-contextualisation makes the song really live for me. I actually like Paul Simon on some levels, but this blows him away, in my opinion. Mind you, Aretha would blow anyone away... except maybe her special guest that night – an improvised jam from Brother Ray Charles invoking the spirit...

Gospel, soul, blues – add some jazz and you have Charles Mingus from his searingly beautiful album 'Mingus Ah Um. 'Better git it in your soul.' Better believe him...

Fats Waller


You're not the only oyster in my stew


Jack Teagarden


Basin Street Blues


Art Tatum


The way you look tonight


Jerry Lee Lewis


Boogie woogie country piano man


Aretha Franklin


Bridge over troubled waters

Ray Charles

Spirit in the dark



Charles Mingus


Better git it in your soul


Monday, May 01, 2006

Three tenors, one saloon singer... one comic...

Summer is a – coming in and winter's gone away-o...
not in this neck of the swamp... cold and rain...
So – something light and bright to start with...

I've been aware of Warne Marsh as a name rather than having any great knowledge of his playing apart from the Tristano stuff I have (and must knock out at some stage). Listened to him here and there but never really engaged – until recently. A tremendous player who doesn't rely on patented licks or patterns. His version of 'All the things you are' is sublime – playing just with bass and drums. Marsh enters and glances at the theme, employing variations straight away in the first chorus. Then off into a dense forest of musical foliage – following his path can be tricky. This guy is a players' player, seemingly to me at least taking Lester Young as a model originally and building a more complicated and advanced harmonically-aware line. Pedersen, the late Scandinavian phenomenon, is, as ever, reliably tremendous – whether just stalking Marsh with walking lines or letting loose in his solo – bass playing of the highest order, horn-like lines that echo and answer Marsh's solo.

Sonny Rollins – from East Broadway Rundown – one of my favourite albums that dissects some of the new-wave rolling into his playing at that time. A bleary, care-worn take here which matches the song's title and subject matter. Playing with the bass and drums of John Coltrane's quartet, Rollin's explorations are from the inside, as it were, rather than wild fire music. The track's direction is led by the switches of rhythm – a syncopated bass figure that flips back and forth to a straight walking swing. A lot of space here -as if the harmonies and song structure are irrelevant but nevetheless assimilated. Form and freedom, an interesting reaction to the assaults of the avant-garde, which can be encountered in longer and (problematic? According to some...) detail on the title track of this cd. Rollins – who can do sheets of sound with the best of them (Coltrane) - gives less is more here, probing at the song, entering over that bass figure and double timed drums that turn to four four in the bridge and back . The solo is backed by Jones ching ka ching cymbals crossed with his usual ripples of polyrhythm, a delicate examination by Rollins: melancholy and beautiful.

As is this track by Sinatra – 'Drinking again,' which continues this late-night downbeat mode. This is later Sinatra, careworn and frayed – but existentially defiant.

Evan Parker? Greatest Brit sax player, bar none. As much as I love Paul Dunmall and the late Joe Harriott, Parker has blazed a distinctive trail from his roots in John Coltrane and acquired a formidable technique, especially in the unstable upper registers, which, coupled to his circular breathing, gives his solos their relentless unstoppability. This duo with noted free jazz drummer Eddie Prevost has echoes of those drum and sax duos that Coltrane performed and is actually one of the more obvious 'jazzy' albums he has made in recent years. Wild, booting stuff with Prevost in fine kit-thumping cymbal-sizzling form.

Hoo- hah... o.k., the sun is now shining, the rain has stopped, my hangover is easing and I've got to go and prepare lunch for my daughter, before she departs for Mordor. A Bill Hicks snippet, possible heir to Lenny Bruce? And unfortunately just as dead... This is Hicks doing 'Jack the Ripper,' leading into the Easter Bunny scenario and the Gideons – scathing, mordant – and very funny. Adding to the comedy is his conception of English history's timescale – transporting convicts to Australia had obviously finished by the time that Jack the Ripper arrived on the scene – a murderer for the dawnings of early modernism? 'I'm Jack the Ripper' – 'No, I'm Jack the Ripper.' Cue Dick Van Dike on hard drugs...

Warne Marsh
(Warne Marsh: tenor saxophone; Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen: bass; Al Levitt: drums).

All the things you are


Sonny Rollins
(Sonny Rollins: tenor saxophone; Jimmy Garrison:bass; Elvin Jones: Drums).

We kiss in the shadows


Evan Parker/Eddie Prevost
(Evan Parker:tenor saxophone; Eddie Prevost: drums).

Let us attend to present business

(Scroll down...)

Frank Sinatra

Drinking Again


Bill Hicks

I'm Jack the Ripper...