Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Book: The Who: 50 Years: The Official History Hardcover by Ben Marshall (Harper Design, 2015)

This coffee table book purports to be the official history of The Who, but the pictoral history would be more accurate as the book is stuffed with fantastic photos of the band, and the narrative is rather hit and miss. The book takes a roughly chronological account, beginning in the aftermath of the second world war and the early rock and roll of the 1950's like Bill Haley, Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard. The musicians are introduced as somewhat wayward youths who came together to form a band at the hight of the Mod cultural explosion on Britain in the Mid 1960's. There are some interesting asides explaining Mod since they were so associated with it and the idea would emerge again in the Quadrophenia album and film. Along with their managers Kit Lambert and Chris stamp, they began to rise through the music scene with a series of excellent singles and then exploded with the legendary rock opera Tommy. There is some fairly in depth exposition about the making of the album along with Pete Townshend's ill fated concept album followup Lifehouse which ironically was salvaged into their most critically regarded album, Who's Next. Constant touring made the band larger than life in the eyes of many rock music fans and led to great pressure for follow up albums like the extraordinary mod coming of age double album Quadrophenia. The book tries to make a connection between the mod revolt of the mid/late 1960's and the punk revolt of the mid/late 1970's. The link is a little tenuous, but there's no doubt that there was much influence on bands like The Jam and The Clash. The band and the narrative flounders a bit moving through the late 1970's, rocked by drummer Keith Moon's death and the band's fading to a halt in the early 1980's The remainder of the book covers the various reunion tours that have happened since then and the loss of bassist John Entwistle in the 1990's. The band soldiers on with only two members remaining and Townshend ominously closes his comments by saying that the last one alive will have the final word. Overall, this will be a book that fans of the band and classic rock will want to have, since the photographs of the band and the ephemera of their years together are fascinating. The "history" is somewhat whitewashed with Townshend and Roger Daltrey overseeing, so you might want to balance it with a more critical and objective account the bands history as well. The Who: 50 Years: The Official History - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

David S. Ware - Apogee/Birth of a Being (AUM Fidelity, 2015)

This two-disc set marks the first recordings as a leader or co-leader of the great saxophonist David S. Ware. Forming the band Apogee with pianist Cooper-Moore and drummer Marc Edwards, the group practiced relentlessly in the early seventies, but eventually disbanded after Ware joined the Cecil Taylor Unit. When he became ready for his first album, he called upon his old comrades for an explosive session recorded in April of 1977. The music is powerful and spiritually formed free jazz, with Ware developing a burning and tempered tone developed partially from informal lessons given by Sonny Rollins. “Prayer” opens the original album, as an incantation of what would follow. It takes a yearning and patient sensibility and develops over the course of the performance. The great substance and depth of Ware’s horn is on display, and that would develop further on the following song, “Thematic Womb.” Starting from a slow and measured pace and repeated figure the music develops into tightly spun pulses of sound, with deeply percussive piano and thrashing drums driving Ware’s saxophone further onward. He has an amazing amount of energy as the music flows from him like a fountain, non-stop and non-repetitive in its execution. The original album ends with two parts of “A Primary Piece” with part one opening with Ware developing fragments of music and then expounding on them as Cooper-Moore and Edwards fall in for the collective improvisation. The music moves in an angular fashion, darting off into corners and then blazing through with a piercing cry. The interactivity between the musicians is excellent, even when the music is at its most torrential, the long hours of practicing pay off with starting empathy. Part two takes the same path, driving out of the blocks for a blistering improvisation, led by Ware who is playing so impressively that it is hard to believe that this is his first album. The power and the commitment that he shows to the music are extraordinary and at times quite overwhelming. The second disc of this album consists of the remainder of the music recorded at this session, all previously unreleased, beginning with an alternate take of the majestic “Prayer” and then moving into “Cry” which has Edwards playing subtle brushes and Cooper-Moore’s spare piano which frames Ware’s peals of saxophone. “Stop Time” is the longest track and their wildest, a free-jazz blowout that is thrilling to hear with Edwards given the opportunity for a fine solo, as the band charges inexorably forward. They begin to run out of gas near the end of the very long improvisation, but what it took to get there was amazing. Finally the album ends with an unaccompanied tenor saxophone solo by Ware, which really shows his Sonny Rollins influence. He plays with a dark and substantial tone, weaving music out of the air as if by magic, as he would do for the rest of his amazing career. This is an outstanding re-issue of music that demands to be heard, by a master bursting onto the scene fully formed. For anyone interested in free jazz this is as good as it gets. Apogee / Birth of a Being - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Sun Ra and His Arkestra - To Those Of Earth... And Other Worlds (Strut Records, 2015)

Last year there was a two disc compilation of Sun Ra’s music called In the Orbit of Ra, curated by the Arkestra saxophonist turned bandleader Marshall Allen. This time the baton is handed to British DJ and crate digger Gilles Peterson for a journey through familiar Ra music and some surprises as well. Peterson is partial to music in the Ra canon that has chanting or singing, often incantations evoking space, Egyptology or Afrofuturism. With this in mind he opens the music with a Ra standard “Calling Planet Earth” then delving into his early music from the 1950’s culminating in the beautiful “India.” Peterson turns over some very interesting stones like the exotic “Brazilian Sun” and the synth driven “My Brother the Wind.” “Watusa” was seemingly made for dancing (Sun Ra had to play for dancers when he first moved from Birmingham to Chicago.) Peterson ends each disc in the digital version with a DJ set of his own favorite moments of the Ra catalog, in this case “To Those Of Earth... And Other Worlds (Continuous Mix 1).” Disc two moves into the later period of Ra’s career, presenting a patient and airy song called “Sleeping Beauty” along with the beautiful meditation “There Are Other Worlds (They Have Not Told You Of).” A studio reading of “We Travel the Spaceways” leads into two very powerful live recordings, “Astro Black” from Zurich and then “Somebody Else’s Idea” from Paris. The brilliant vocalist June Tyson never got her due as a jazz singer, but she had great emotional range and depth and really drives these songs with part chanting and part singing which spearheaded Ra’s search for the meaning of life in the universe and freedom from the race hatred that black men and women faced every day. The album proper ends appropriately with a righteous version of the Ra classic “Space is the Space” before we move into seventy plus minutes of another DJ set, “To Those Of Earth... And Other Worlds (Continuous Mix 2).” The highlight of this mix is Ra ranting about putting the White house on the moon! Overall this is a very interesting collection of Sun Ra material. Perhaps not for the newbie, but fans and dabblers should have a ball picking through the tracks and critiquing Peterson’s DJ mixes. To Those of Earth & Other Worlds - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Book: Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein (Riverbed Books, 2015)

Carrie Brownstein is a musician best known for her work in the legendary punk rock band Sleater-Kinney, but she has worn many hats from student to animal shelter activist and now writer. The book begins with a recollection of her adolescence, and like many people (myself included) she was able to find solace and freedom in the transformative power of music. Her mother was chronically ill and eventually split the families and she began going to shows, learning guitar and forming a band. The northwest was a hotbed not only of music with Nirvana leading the way, but also had courageous and groundbreaking female bands lumped under the "riot grrll" tag like Bikini Kill and Bratmobile. Meeting her future bandmate Corin Tucker at a show was a revelation and led her to move to Olympia, Washington and the formation of Sleater-Kinney. They made their first album in Australia all places and then then returned to the US using a number of different drummers before finding Janet Weiss who completed the trio. The rest of the book is a whirlwind tour of each album the band made from the recording in the studio through touring and personal issues every musician must face during long and grinding tours. Brownstein had it worse than most, suffering from a serious back ailment, shingles, depression and self-harm. She is a very sensitive person and the music clearly drained her until things finally came to a halt after touring for their 2006 album The Woods. This book is solely devoted to her upbringing and musical career so their is no coverage of her popular sketch comedy television show Portlandia. It is devoted to Sleater-Kinney as well, no there is no mention of the short lived supergroup Wild Flag she formed with Mary Timony. The book ends just as their reunion is getting started and the recording session begin in full with everybody trying to keeping things a secret. There turned out to be no need as their reunion brought forth one of their finest LPs and superb live shows. This was a very well written book and it lifts the curtain on the rock 'n' roll lifestyle - not as glamorous as it may seem, practicing in dingy basements, sleeping on peoples floors all in the name of their extraordinary music.Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.

Monday, November 23, 2015

William Parker / Raining on the Moon - Great Spirit (AUM Fidelity, 2015)

Of all of bassist and composer William Parker’s many ensembles, Raining on the Moon may be his most melodic and accessible. He is joined by longtime collaborators Hamid Drake on drums, Rob Brown on alto saxophone, Lewis Barnes on trumpet, Eri Yamamoto on piano and Leena Conquest singing. If any comparison can be drawn it would be with the music that Sun Ra played with June Tyson’s powerful vocals, and this band is a spiritual descendent of that group. Parker writes thought provoking lyrics and music that leaves ample room for the instrumentalists to make their statements, like Rob Brown’s ripe solo on the opening track “Bowl Of Stone Around The Sun” in which space is also left open for Conquest’s soulful singing of Parker’s affecting and inspiring lyrics. “Feet Music” is simply staggering, with the words recounting the life of a slave, working in the crops and then cooking and cleaning only to be raped by the bossman. The music is urgent and powerful with the piano, bass and drums unit driving forward with passionate dignity, as the lyrics recount the pain of infanticide to keep the character’s child from becoming yet another slave. Conquest’s vocals are defiant and filled with the great power and dignity. From the haunting despair of that song, the music moves into the spiritual realm with Conquest beckoning hope, joy and the possibilities of love on “Great Spirit.” The music evolves into some excellent trumpet and saxophone interplay as Brown and Barnes swirl ever higher, with great support from below. “Prayer-Improv” fades into a free and unfettered improvisation by the instrumentalists, before Conquest enters intoning haunting tones that float above the music. The bands really flies free here and it is exhilarating to hear, even as it slowly fades out. “Song (for Whitney)” is a soulful ballad for voice and piano and “Potpourri” ends the album on a very high note with a snippet of joyous jamming. This may be a bold statement, but I think that this may stand as one of the finest albums in William Parker’s discography. The music flows freely and effortlessly and Parker’s lyrics are some of the best he has ever writing sing with grace and passion by Leena Conquest. Great Spirit - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Thursday, November 19, 2015

John Coltrane - A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters [3 CD Super Deluxe Edition] (Verve/Impulse, 2015)

John Coltrane’s towering masterpiece A Love Supreme has been issued and re-issued in many formats and configurations since its release fifty years ago. This most recent reissue comes as a three disc “Super-Deluxe Edition” with the album itself occupying the first disc, followed by a disc of alternate takes and studio ephemera from the recording session and then concluding with a disc that has the well known concert from Juan Les Pins where the band played the A Love Supreme suite in full. This period was the peak of John Coltrane’s so called classic quartet with McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. One of the foremost bands in the history of jazz, their level of empathy and togetherness was extraordinary. The album itself is a four-part offering to God, where Part One "Acknowledgment" opens the album with a slow building and reverent statement of purpose, culminating with the chanting of the incantation "A Love Supreme... A Love Supreme..." building to a transcendent state. Part Two, "Resolution," has one of the most searing solos in the Coltrane canon, and his entrance in the beginning of the song is hair-raising in its emotional intensity. His saxophone cuts through like a beacon in the night, with Elvin Jones' rolling and storming percussion at his heels. Jones leads off Part Three "Pursuance" with a beautiful drum solo, showing all of the rhythmic possibilities of the music, then Coltrane comes in with another short solo that burns from within, before allowing McCoy Tyner a rippling and fleet fingered solo. Coltrane's re-entry is amazingly powerful and his interaction with Jones is like two forces of nature coming together. Garrison is granted a deeply grounded bass interlude that serves as a connecting piece between the two final movements of the suite. After the power and vision of the first three parts of the album, Part four "Psalm" represents the hard fought victory of Coltrane's spiritual and musical triumph. The music is slow and haunted, but possessed by a sense of grace and vision that few musicians have possessed. The second disc containing the alternate takes does offer a peek behind the scenes, showing that this wasn’t just something that was beamed from heaven, but an album that Coltrane meticulously put together, from overdubbing the invocation to moving through many takes of “Acknowledgement,” looking for the right opening. These alternates and breakdowns show a master craftsman carefully and patiently putting the pieces together to build a unified whole. Finally, the live album was widely bootlegged before its official release in a previous reissue of A Love Supreme. It is unique and powerful music and the band is vibrant in its performance. The yearning melody of “Resolution” is heart rending, and the band uses it as a springboard for an epic performance with Coltrane’s saxophone moving more deeply into the raw and scouring tone that he would develop for the remainder of his life. “Pursuance” is twice the length of the original, opening with an epic Elvin Jones solo, followed by the whole band reaching for the urgent theme of the piece. Garrison is given ample space to solo at length, which leads into the finale, a hauntingly beautiful rendition of “Psalm” with Coltrane stretching himself and his instrument to near the breaking point in search of spiritual grace. The liner notes contain some nice photographs and interesting handwritten notes, discographical information and an essay from Ashley Kahn. A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters (3 CD Super Deluxe Edition) - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.