Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Continuing: Josh Abrams Natural Information Society (+ Evan Parker) and The Third Negative

Trying to get a fix on what's happening anywhere on the ground of the imagination is a vertiginous, off-balancing business (and perversely a frequent pleasure: for those who want to embrace the complexities of contemporary life). Music, for example. Deluged by issues, re-issues in all the formats analog and digital. How to select? Not having any great inclination to over-categorise, a failing, no doubt, but that’s the way it shakes out in my world, I tend to encounter music in bursts, sometimes seeking, sometimes randomly tripping over work which grabs me. Resurrecting this blog for a variety of purposes, the main one, perhaps, being the promotion of a book I’ve been working on for some time, ‘The Avatars of Paradise,’ a novel, in the time leading up to its self-publication I figured that the old platform may still have some energy left for promotion and future new work. That flexing the somewhat atrophied blogging muscles by launching a couple of pieces pre-publication may stimulate my creative intentions moving forward. If I’m spared, as my late drinking buddy and friend Mervin G used to say. Ironically, with hindsight… Didn’t He Ramble… The Asinine Plague hovers at my back, of course, accompanied by its bigger pal, our old friend the wingèd chariot. But onwards… 

Two musical encounters gave me the spur to commence: how about a critical foray? Unable to attend the Tusk Festival last year because of the AP (see above), journeying and physical event both nixed, ironically I saw more of it than I would have by actually being there, some small consolation. Sitting at home watching the various daily vidcasts enabled me to enjoy most of it virtually, rather than experience the usual festival conflicts of timetable, geography, energy levels, hangovers etc. Swings and roundabouts writ large. The variety of musics was superb, as was observing the disparate methods of performance under the strictures of the AP. One band I really enjoyed was Triple Negative. So I bought their latest release. I was playing it a couple of weeks ago and synchronistically had noticed a Wire review of a Joshua Abrams  album which I hadn’t read at the time, ‘descension (Out of our Constrictions),’ by his band the Natural Information Society plus Evan Parker . Played some of it afterwards via their Bandcamp site link. Here…Immediately grabbed. So that afternoon existed in a heightened sonic space. Fuel for the reboot. I sat down and played the musics again today. Scribbled a few notes. And proceeded to pummel this blog post into some shape… trying not to freight the content with over-interpretation and fancy, always a tricky balance. And possibly failed. As the late Thomas Waller used to say: ‘One never knows, do one?’
Hey Ho.


So: Live recording. (This section under review is part one of a 75 minute work). Music that consolidates without being reactionary. Recapitulation and extending the tradition. With ‘the anxiety of influence’ doing a ghost dance… A loping, staggering vamp introduces, Evan Parker enters on soprano saxophone with simple figures. Soon he extends his line looping outwards via circular breathing patterns, his signature technique, arguably his main route out of the influence of John Coltrane, en route to becoming a virtuoso/innovator. Interestingly, given the modal vamp structure and the keening use of soprano saxophone alongside a bass clarinet with echoes of Eric Dolphy, the work offers a channel back to Coltrane structurally with Parker embedded in an earthier environment than some of his more abstract forays. He holds a long e flat to change up. Change up again with a few notes decorating the e flat then longer patterns laden with riffs and variations, falling back to let the band come through, the vamp continuing, the ground of this work. There is a lot of space on offer: the vamp holds it together in a loose embrace, the instrumentation: drums, guimbri, harmonium, bass clarinet offer a fascinating textural scenario which, apart from the Coltrane resonations, hints at musics and traditions beyond ‘jazz’ with plenty of room to breathe and no hints of clumsy world music pastiche. A remarkable achievement. Parker takes off towards the end with long flurries of notes cutting between registers in an extended blast of exhilaration, the triumph of breath, will and imagination. Audience respond with appreciative applause as he falls out, ensemble taking it on with a slapping backbeat, harmonium and bass clarinet weaving in midrange sonority to the end of the section. A music that comes from the tradition, partakes of other traditions, expands the tradition with the additions, always moving, always looping back and, more importantly, forward. John Coltrane died in 1967, after all: one assumes the title ‘descension’ is a glancing reference to his recording ‘Ascension’  ( Further on in this long piece, Parker essays a sly quote from ‘A Love Supreme’ to no doubt drop in a bit of hommage… ). Music of wonder.

The Triple Negative as mentioned above, are a band I caught on the Tusk virtual festival. A few tracks considered from their album ‘God Bless The Death Drive.’ Tagged: rock, experimental, rebetiko, London, on Bandcamp. Possibly the word ‘rebetiko’ is the key to understanding this wild sonic mélange. A good overall definition of this outlaw music is here… 

Side One - Crane. The opener: ‘Bad Grace.’ A female transgressor, supping ouzo, ha ha? Or negative spiritual quality. Which seems more in keeping with the overall tone of the record. Lot of mystery here. The cover and inner sleeve have fragments of textual enigma such as ‘give me the Bad Grace never to accept what I can never change,’ a ‘triple negative’ riff on Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer, famous for its use in A.A. /twelve step programs. Cheeky. Sharp clapping clicking that holds a sturdy, sprightly rhythm, voices gargling whatever, a scrawny riff repeating underneath, several layers, occasional electric guitar note/chord. It’s not an abstract music, although an initially alien sound world. Visceral, certainly, voices ‘singing’ in a take it or leave it fashion, instruments and implements seemingly grabbed at will. I stress the ‘seemingly’ - these people aren’t naives . Next track, ‘Bad Emotional Investments.’ Some rumbling around a tonic, scrapey guitar. Occasional fragments of song form appear sporadically. Participating sounds/voice/instruments jammed together in a metallic yet syrupy mix, a nice sonic paradox, a keening melody, Balkan/Greco/Turkish? in implication. ‘The Ingrate.’ The clicking clacking rhythm again, a two bar melody with those rebetiko hints repeating as the voices swirl in the distance. Cuts off. ‘Fine Cargo Of Lacquer.’ Harmonium vamp up in the mix and blurry vocal, Nico singing in the bathroom next door ha ha. Small interjections ticking over a deep counter melody moving in and out. Side Two - Lacquer. ‘Low moon (all passports are dirty).’ Sounds assembling, burly voice ruminations. A sharp metallic rhythm building as effect flanges across. Someone with a phone walking in and out of a noisy engine room on a steamy ghost boat. Fancy prodded into being by the visuals on the album cover. Rhythms clapped together as if using whatever was lying about. No obvious electronic mutated synth sounds.  ‘Nags Head Spools.’ Banging rhythm and sharp clacks herding the ‘instruments’ and voices into a form of its occasion. Processed voice/noise welded to a drone tied to a screech… yadda yadda…this is enough rambling…

I reread the above fragments and thought that they were too fanciful, a Coleridgean downer, and clumsy attempts to force meanings. Of course. Like most criticism of musics outside the norm. Self indulgence in the main. Like most criticism. Rather than scrap them, I’ll let them stand as heuristic shipwrecks, so segue more yadda yadda and overview: 

mentions of the Baltic Sea on the album cover, the maritime imagery, quasi-mystical statements: ‘He is too great for infinity, too small for a grain of sand,’ a spatial twist on Blake, it would seem? And/or a fragment of lyric? The sound, sourced according to the sleeve from 1, 4, 8 track cassette recordings and a two track audio editor, blends everything somewhat muddily but not into a sludge of dialectical synthesis, rather the components, voices, instruments, percussion, from whatever sources, hold their spaces and tensions. It’s a rough muddy democracy but one that respects its parts. There is a scouring, kinetic sensibility at work here. It defies easy analysis - or maybe encourages the listener to LISTEN and forget the analysis. On repeated hearings, memory at work, cues emerge for embracing it relatively more formally. 

The vinyl has a satisfying heft to it. The cryptic statements on the cover, the nautical imagery, references to immigration/colonisation, allied to the song titles which yield little in the way of lateral ‘meaning’ and the glorious sonic abrasions and free-falling trajectories between the lp grooves, laced with oblique humour - demand work from the listener. Amply rewarded, for this participant in the fandango… the music is part of the package in a smart artistic statement. It’s not puny sonic wobbling with apologias or facile sloganeering and refreshing because of this… 

As a comparison: the Glaxo Babies, a band described in one of those clunky genre placements as ‘post punk.’  Because I pulled an album at random from the stack and out came this…  Something about the balls to the wall splatter chimes, but in the case of the Glaxos, underpinned by snappy funky bass beloved of bands of the time, using tropes from black music to undergird the sonics. The Third Negative eschew this approach completely. Initially, few aural cues to go on, which is their value, for me. By placing their individual offerings where sonic/formal antagonisms stand adjacent rather than in a safe expression leading to resolution a space is created and a listening experience emerges where if the gambit is accepted a novel audio experience can exist, bereft of conventional musical cues. Making it new… 

Some explanatory sentences from the Bandcamp site:

 Literally taking off where the acclaimed Precious Waste in our Wake LP finished off, London based outfit Triple Negative return with another exemplary amplified jigsaw puzzle. The playback of this reality is garnished with humour, bedlam, beauty and a robust fear of the predictable. As payback for your acknowledgment our international line-up deliver a disparate mix of genres and histographies rendered into a devious dish of rhythm, song, balladry and nerve. 

This is Not This Heat. A.Kostis/Kostas Bezos’ ‘Stin Ypoga’ (1930) is the template for Bad emotional investments whilst the haunting Fine Cargo Lacquer takes flight from the morbidly on point novel The Death Ship by B. Traven. 

God Bless the Death Drive could be construed as a compass to navigate the wayward wonder we inhabit or it can just be enjoyed. This second full length steers into scathed realms of everyday junk and poignant punk, all pressed down on the lowest quality ethylene and chlorine. 

Triple Negative return with another stamped digest of hope as joke, noise and song, rollicking rhythm and seasick soul. 

Edition of 500 copies in high gloss sleeve with printed comic book inner sleeve.

‘…rollicking rhythm and seasick soul.’ Of these we dig…

And this is the set from the Tusk Festival. 

Conclusions. None really. Except to demonstrate the richness and depth of the contemporary field. Two bands snatched at random, one with a large weight of history flowing freely back and forwards, with the techniques and heart to handle it fluidly, the other: despite the Bandcamp tags, ‘rock,’ ‘rebetika’ etc, come back in five years if the desire is that strong to ‘place’ them critically. Enjoy. I certainly did. Often one reads that one ‘should’ listen to a piece of music, one ‘ought’ to, one ‘needs’ this etc. Words that flag imperatives I tend to resist. Recommendations will maybe or not be examined. As in all things. Whether anyone needs these musics referenced above? Who knows? Give them a listen if you want. Or not… 

Personnel: The Natural Information Society
                  Joshua Abrams-Guimbri
                  Lisa Alvarado-Harmonium and effects
                  Mikel Patrick Avery-Drums
                  Evan Parker-Soprano Saxophone
                  Jason Stein-Bass Clarinet

                 Triple Negative
                 Anja Buchele 
                 Dennis Debitsev
                 Matthew Hyland

Joshua Abrams and Natural Information Society live playing ‘declension’ (without Evan Parker). here...

Evan Parker with Alexander Hawkins here… interesting to compare his playing with an intensely chromatic partner…

Some rembetika…for historical context. Here … 

Ferdinand ‘Jelly Roll’ Morton:      Didn’t He Ramble here…
And his New Orleans Jazzmen      Sidney De Paris tpt; Claude Jones tbn; Sidney Bechet ss
                                                       Happy Caudwell ts; Ferdinand Morton p; Lawrence Lucie gtr;
                                                       Wellman Braud b; Zutty Singleton dr.


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