Saturday, May 28, 2016

A few words about "Flaga: The Book of Angels, Volume 27", an album by John Zorn

Some years ago, I had the crazy stupid idea of writing about every album John Zorn released, kinda sorta as they appeared. So, I got to the end of 2011 and there things stalled. Given that he has released something in the vicinity of 50 albums under his own name since then, I think it is fair to say that that idea has well and truly flown the coop. (I suspect that, had I actually attempted to get back into it, the main stumbling block would have been the recordings of his ongoing tour of the world's church organs: four albums (and counting) of solo organ recitals a la John Zorn is quite possibly four more than I could handle.)

Nevertheless, I have, you will not be surprised to learn, been keeping a close eye on the continually evolving (and multiplying) "Book of Angels" series of recordings, the sequel to the magnificent klezmer-jazz fandango that went under the name of "Masada". Having, or so it would seem, retired the classic Masada jazz quartet, which has been responsible for some of the most exciting, adrenaline-rush playing ever to have appeared under Zorn's name (others may differ in this estimation; but "Live at Tonic" is the rare example of a live recording where you can actually feel the audience pushing the band to greater things and the band responding in kind: it's a hoot), with the Book of Angels he has taken a different approach, hand-picking from a wide variety of players and ensembles to conjure many and varied interpretations of some of the three hundred-plus pieces that make up the Book.

Old fuddy-duddy that I am, my own excitement levels have tended to increase with the appearance of Masada favourites like Marc Ribot, the Masada String Trio and the Dreamers ensemble, but there has been much to like amongst the many other releases (even if the big drawcard, Volume 20, with Pat Metheny at the helm, was (says me) rather disappointing).

I want to draw particular attention, right now, to Volume 27, a piano-trio setting that came out a couple of months ago. Not being especially into the contemporary jazz scene, I can't really comment on how this record fits into the output of the players involved, or even if they have worked together before, but, in a word, "Wow". The playing has a certain propulsion to it, like, well, I don't know like what. Maybe like hurtling down a very steep and long hill on a pair of roller skates without a sense that you will be stopping any time soon, or how you might even do that, picking up speed all the while. You just have to close your eyes and hope for the best. The pianist, Craig Taborn, can be as lyrical as all get-out but is also prone to flights of abstract expressionism. The drummer, Tyshawn Sorey, might be the Keith Moon of jazz, playing everywhere but on the beat (and at ten thousand miles per hour). All of which frequently leaves Christian McBride (whom you have probably heard of), on the upright bass, as the glue that holds everything else together. I discovered that it is possible to lock onto what McBride is doing and let everything else kind of flow around that. It's not the only way of listening, but it is a way. However you do it, it's a rewarding listen.

I was going to conclude by noting the possibility that this would be a good place to end the Book of Angels, given that the very first entry, eleven years ago now, was also a piano trio (featuring Jamie Saft). But, of course, in the five minutes since this record came out there has been another volume (with John Medeski on board). And so we beat on, boats against the current etc etc.

Zorn doesn't abide the streaming thing, which means you are going to have to buy his records. Consider this a recommendation.

A taste:

Sunday, May 22, 2016

YouTube of the day

"Alfonso Muskedunder", played live by Todd Terje & the Olsens.

Some weeks ago I said words to the effect that it is difficult to make something in 7/4 time sound funky. Difficult it may be, but not impossible, and another example was right there under my nose: "Alfonso Muskedunder", a song so frenetically funky that I had never even twigged to it being in an obscure time signature.

So witness how Todd Terje and his band of merry Swedes-with-beards tear the roof off the place at the P4K music festival. Be careful trying to dance to it, though; you will do yourself an injury. Take it from one who has tried.

(Also, once again we say: Give the drummer some.)

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Song of the day

"New Speedway Boogie", by Courtney Barnett.

I was speculating, the other day, how Courtney Barnett would handle the transition from painting on a small canvas to playing on a big stage. Seamlessly, as it turns out. This song, one of the 59 (count 'em) Grateful Dead covers on "Day of the Dead", is perfectly suited to her droll delivery style, while musically it carries its considerable weight effortlessly. There are some big-name players on this massive project, and Courtney, happily, sounds right at home.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Record cover of the day

I hope I don't end up deciding that the cover art for James Blake's "The Colour In Anything" is better than the music. But ... IT'S QUENTIN BLAKE!!

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Hypothetical mixtape: July 2015

Another day, another mixtape ...

"Medicine Map", by Chuck Johnson. You may say that latter-day finger pickers who have drunk at the well of John Fahey are a dime a dozen. Maybe so, but I won't be getting sick of listening to their magical and mesmerising tones any time soon.

"Just Seventeen", by Raiders. The lyrical content may be on the nose (and of its time) but this track by Raiders (wither Paul Revere?) kicks hard and bounces high in a 1973 kind of way, although it is actually the product of 1970 and therefore, perhaps, ahead of its time. Nice use of brass, too.

"Can't Find My Way Home", by Blind Faith. This proto-Led Zeppelin IV number is from the only album by Blind Faith, aka Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Steve Winwood and, uh, the other guy. It features a record cover that, if you came up with it today, you would be in jail, my friend.

"She Said, She Said", by Lone Star. One of the reasons I persist with this meaningless trawl through the endless morass of other people's musical recommendations is to find the occasional moment (there is usually one just around the corner, or the corner after that, or ...) of WTF-ness. Here comes one now: The Beatles torn to shreds by way of the kind of overblown overstatement that could only have come from 1976. Enjoy.

(Editor's note: the following is a BBC session, rather than the album version. It is 30 seconds shy of the album version, and perhaps lacks a bit of the latter's variation in dynamics, but heck, on the one hand it's entirely off the planet, on the other hand it's yet another example of "why punk had to happen": bloody (Welsh) hippies.)

"Soul Coaxing", by Orchestral Academy of Los Angeles. It may not even have any words, but this is such an emotional rollercoaster of a song that I cry every time I hear it. Seriously. You can come to my house some time and watch me. I might charge admission.

"Pictures (Quiet Village Remix)", by Grandadbob. I really miss Quiet Village. This helps.

"High", by Ellen Allien. It's been a couple of years since we had anything from Ellen Allien. You know how you sometimes feel like there's an absence in your life but you can't quite place what it is? Now I remember. There's only one word for this track: perky.

"Lucia (John Talabot's Sunset Edit)", by Ishinohana. What this is is a tweak of some 1980s mellow guitar noodling. Although it actually sounds way better than you would imagine. Trust me.

"Breezin'", by Masayoshi Takanaka and Kazumi Watanabe. Did somebody just mention 1980s mellow guitar noodling? I think I've got some more around here somewhere. Ah, yes, here it is. Featuring Yukihiro Takahashi on the drums. (Bonus: album cover of the month. Not just for the "historical" World Trade Centre photo, but for the majesty of the font in which the album title is styled. But look closely: "Fantasic"?)

(Note: this seems not to be readily findable on ye olde internet, so for the time being you can hit the dropbox.)

"Hold On To It (Jonny Nash Remix)", by B.J. Smith. "Jonny Nash". "B.J. Smith". You expect to be in country-twang territory, or perhaps in the presence of a master of the pedal steel. But no. (Guitar shimmer does appear throughout, albeit through what sounds like an opiate haze.) B.J. Smith was fifty percent of Smith & Mudd, whom you might remember. Another track, as it turns out, for those pining for Quiet Village.

"The Rhythm Divine", by Yello. Ah, those crazy Swiss. Enlist Shirley Bassey to sing her not insubstantial heart out. Drop in some backing vocals by the one and only Billy Mackenzie. (One: why would you pull one of the sainted voices of modern music into your orbit and then bury it in the mix? Two: why would he have agreed to it? (Presumably that's easy to answer: it's Shirley Bassey. (Also: he co-wrote the song.)) Three: do you notice how, when she sings "in my heaaaaaaaart", she does sound like Mackenzie? It's actually kind of a neat trick. The word "meta" comes to mind, although there is clearly nothing meta about the result. It kills.)

"No Justice", by Astronauts, etc. The first 12 seconds will determine whether you need this song in your life or not. I bit.

"Chant For You", by Prequel. Here things get a bit murky. It sounds like bits of old records stuck together in such a way as to create a brand new song, one that is both "exotic", and funky as heck. Which is exactly what it is. If you remember the WTF moment you (read: "I") had when you first heard DJ Shadow, or Four Tet's "Rounds", you will go for this. (Also: Australian content. Well done, son.)

And finally, Mr Sakamoto tinkles the ivories. You remember this. But when you first (and probably last) heard it you hadn't yet immersed yourself in the world of Studio Ghibli. So now you wonder if this piece of music, long buried in the far recesses of your brain, is one of the reasons those movies have always felt so strangely familiar, so comforting. Or maybe that's just the genius of Hayao Miyazaki.