Monday, June 20, 2016

Van Morrison - ...It's Too Late to Stop Now...Volumes II, III, IV (Legacy Recordings, 2016)


The original It’s Too Late to Stop Now LP is not only seen as a high water mark in Van Morrison’s discography, but one of the finest live albums ever released. This boxed set represents a three album (and one DVD in the hard-copy) collection of previously unreleased live concert recordings from Van Morrison's 1973 tour with the eleven piece Caledonia Soul Orchestra which included a five piece string and two piece horn section. The first disc in this collection was recorded live at The Troubadour, Los Angeles, May 23, 1973 and comes bolting out of the gate fast with wonderful versions of Morrison classics “Come Running” and “These Dreams of You,” up-tempo songs from his classic Moondance LP. The lush strings and horns allow him to play his innately jazzy “The Way That Young Lovers Do” from the Astral Weeks album, which develops a sense of mystery as does the new song “Snow in San Anselmo” that becomes a mystic travelogue and comes from his enigmatic following studio album, Hard Nose the Highway. He also plays the title song and “Purple Heather” from that LP. The remainder of the concert is excellent, juxtaposing jaunty numbers like Hank Williams’ “Hey, Good Lookin’” and his own “Brown Eyed Girl” with longer, impressionistic versions of “Listen to the Lion,” “Cyprus Avenue” and “Caravan.” Morrison is the master of dynamics, whipping the crowd into frenzy and then cutting them off. He’s also generous to the band, giving members solo space and introducing them to the crowd. The second disc, from the Santa Monica Civic Center on June 29, 1973 has music that is much more centered and the songs are very crisply delivered beginning with an extra funky version of “I’ve Been Working.” There is a blistering back-to-back section of “Domino” and “Gloria” and the longest song is a surprising version of “Moonshine Whiskey.” This is a funk/R and B centered concert, and the band proves is by digging deep into “Take Your Hand Out Of My Pocket” and finishing with I Believe It To My Soul.” Disc three from The Rainbow, London on July 23 and 24, 1973 balances the two sides of Van Morrison, the rhythm and blues singer and the mystic seeker wonderfully, opening with a beatific “Listen to the Lion” sparked by guitar and framed by sweeping strings, which is deeply moving. The show starts in a deep emotional well, with his cutting vocals slicing through “I Paid the Price” and then the oddball “Bein’ Green.” There is a majestic “Into the Mystic” riding on a wave of strings that are never sappy, but are able to swell with the horns and Morrison’s extraordinary voice to an very powerful effect. The dynamic shifts come into play with the juxtaposition of the gentler material like a softly swinging “Sweet Thing” followed by a gritty version of Muddy Waters’ “I Just Want to Make Love to You.” The end of the concert is a riot, starting with a ripe version of the Them R&B chestnut “Here Comes the Night” then Louis Prima’s “Buona Sera” appros of nothing. After that it’s all Morrison, delivering blistering versions of “Domino,” “Caravan,” and “Cyprus Avenue” with the band driving relentlessly, and able to stop on a dime and shift gears at a moments notice. This is a great set of music, capturing one of the finest musicians of the modern era at the height of his powers. This collection is a must-buy for fans of Van Morrison, and if you haven’t heard the original album (Volume I) you should definitely make its acquaintance. ..It's Too Late to Stop Now...Volumes II, III, IV & DVD - amazon.com

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Friday, June 17, 2016

Book: Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen in an Age of Musical Plenty by Ben Ratliff


Ben Ratliff is one of the leading music writers for the New York Times and I originally became familiar with him through his jazz reviews and his two books, one about jazz in general and another on the legendary jazz saxophonist John Coltrane. In this book he looks at ways that music can be listened to in the "age of everything." He asks you work with a conceit at the start: "everything" really isn't available to steam at the tap of a key, but so much is that the (unstated) implication is that albums and genres are dead and we will have to find new ways to regiment our listening. I was originally interested in this book because some of the chapter headings and the ways that he posits listening to music is similar to the way I write about music in my blog. I have no musical training, so I write as a purely emotional response to what I am hearing. Ratliff does too, but he also goes quite deep into the nuts and bolts of the music itself, and I think that if you have knowledge of musical theory you will get more out of the book than I did. It also depends on how deep you want to go with the narrative as well. I tried to read the book for enjoyment and just regular reading pleasure, but again you probably need to go long and have one hand on the book and another tracking down the streams of the music that he writes about. There are many references to classical music and they really left me in the dust. Which isn't to say that I got nothing from the book, there were some very interesting parts, his chapter entitled Purple, Green Turquoise talked about how people become de facto investors in music and groups/musicians, although often by buying the very items that streaming looks to erase. He writes about collectors of Grateful Dead tapes and a man who is doing a quantitate analysis of Phish concerts. This leads him down his own personal rabbit hole of John Coltrane's music and then to vast catalogs of Merzbow. He writes well of the "authoritative" voices of Muddy Waters, Mark E. Smith and Nina Simone and juxtaposing the Miles Davis' tracks "Rated X" and "He Loved Him Madly." His look at volume teases Blue Cheer records and The Who Live at Leeds versus the loudness war of today. So yes, there are moments of insight in the book that I found very interesting. In the end though, it was just a little too much, Ratliff's knowledge and analysis on everything from classical music to Senegalese pop just made him sound like the smartest guy in the room, which he undoubtedly is. Do people listen to music in the way he proposes? He doesn't cover that in the book. I stream a lot of music, even ponying up to the premium tier of Spotify, and I still usually listen by album or "starred" playlist of songs I like, but I wouldn't think of linking the songs in the manner that Ratliff suggests. It may just be that he sees connections where I do not... and that would go a long way towards explaining why he is writing for the New York Times and I am writing a blog that is read by a few dozen people! Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen in an Age of Musical Plenty - amazon.com

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Full Blast - Risc (Trost, 2016)


Full Blast is the extraordinary unit made up of Peter Brötzmann on reeds, Marino Pliakas on electric bass and Michael Wertmüller on drums. Their fifth album finds the band with the desire to try something new, writing seven compositions with the characteristically strong Full Blast feel and then giving a few of them an electronic makeover by Wertmüller, thereby pushing the band in a new and unforeseen direction. “Try Krala” opens the album with Brotzmann’s bass clarinet navigating a thicket of electronics and bass as primal sounding drums bubble up and the music develops a sense of urgency. Tricky rhythms are developed which Brotzmann switches to tenor and then proceeds to plow right through, developing a ripe solo in the process. The electronic treatment adds elements of raw noise that can be disconcerting, but it still is the trio itself at full throttle is still the most exciting element of them all. There is something like a disconcerting chatter just beneath the core of the music that comes through on the breaks as ominous beats and chirps that go toe to toe with the members of the band making for some really unexpected textures. There is a choppier and jazzier open to “Café Ingrid” with the full band improvising collectively, playing very nice and lightly on their feet. The electronics seem to be laying out for this section, so it’s just straight up free jazz played at the highest quality. Thrashing drumming, scouring saxophone and elastic bass keeping everything from flying apart, and this is just fantastic music. “Garnison House” begins with drumming and some deep rumbling bass, before deeply visceral saxophone joins the fray and the game is afoot. The bass is particularly excellent, a subterranean growl beneath your feet supplying deep currency while Brotzmann and Wertmuller wail relentlessly, tapping into a seemingly limitless wellspring of musical ideas. It makes for flat out thrilling collective improvisation, with blasting waves of drums that are relentless in their furor. Opening with an audio clip of Timothy Leary’s infamous advice to “turn on, tune in and drop out…” “TTL” has the electronics back with a vengeance juxtaposed against Brotzmann’s blustery saxophone. This makes the music develop into an organ like drone that swirls around the intentionally primitive drumming. Slabs of sound zoom around ominously as everything is remixed beyond recognition, using repetition to build tension and then bursting through it. The band breaks out and howls with the remaining electronic manipulation framing them. Wertmuller drives the music relentlessly most of the time, even through the tumult of processed noise. Finally “Roguery” has digital noises that have Brotzmann’s clarinet embedded within them like a fly trapped in amber. Heavy percussion noises and drums pound, opposite the howling clarinet, and it’s very human like screams over the industrial like clamor are quite unnerving. Brotzmann breaks out soloing hard, the massive beast nipping at his heels, as the track develops into a John Henry like battle of man versus machine. This was a very good album, and credit definitely goes to the band for not resting on their laurels by adding the electronics for this album. It is definitely one of their best and fans of free jazz absolutely need to check it out. Rise - amazon.com

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

LUME - Xabregas 10 (Clean Feed, 2016)


In Portugal, Marco Barroso develops new musical systems and languages for the Lisbon Underground Music Ensemble. The band has six woodwinds, six brasses the leaders’ keyboard and electronics, bass and drums. “Astromassa” comes blasting out hard with horns and drums thrusting forward. There is massive propulsive riffing that is very exciting, like a soundtrack from a thrilling cinematic chase scene. The music then breaks out to quieter, dynamic loud/soft continuum, which is very intricate, chopping up and down, and then returning to the powerful themes. Tenor saxophone breaks free like a bird in flight to solo, flying lightly and unencumbered with a great aplomb, before choppy electronic manipulation builds and takes over, bringing us back to the all powerful horn section and heavy drums. Massive slabs of thrusting horns and percussion are savagely beautiful, before everything seems to come off the rails with crashes of electronics. Scattered electronic sampling and manipulating opens “Sandblast” before the band comes in playing hard modern jazz, kaleidoscopic in its swirling energy and edginess. There is a funky undertone to this performance with the band showing a lot of joyous energy. Trombone breaks out for a section against a very cool bass and drums rhythm, leaving an excellent mark with a memorable solo. The band comes back together for the nice groove the pick up again at a headlong pace, adding breaks every so often, including one for another fine tenor saxophone solo that juxtaposes its raw and rough tone against the party vibe of the rhythm and beat to great effect. “Polen” has subtle electronics in the beginning making for an eerie feel as electric bass and percussion build in and horns start to develop the structure. The band blooms quickly even in this relative darkness, contrasting flute against the ominous backdrop. The horns develop a strong and defiant riffing pattern and play for keeps, come what may. Swirling saxophones and horns develop a great fantasia of color buoyed by excellent electric bass and drumming. They turn up the volume and blast off into space a little past the halfway point, with elastic bass and strong drumming leading the charge into hyperspace. There is a great high-pitched trumpet solo just above the uproar of the full band which is making an incredibly powerful statement as a modern big band akin to the much-lamented Sam Rivers Rivbea Orchestra. The band absolutely swaggers out on “Lsw” with the horns probing, then wailing in a complex but enjoyable manner. The group bursts out with so much color and brings such joy to their music, that they are a blast to listen to, even when they start to get a little over the top. Sampled voices, dialogue, strings, everything but the kitchen sink are in play here. The band hits so unexpectedly hard at one point that it absolutely knocks you out of your chair, but their freeform blast works and is a riotous wave to ride (or be swept under.) Then they play several minutes of absolutely skull-crushing big band free jazz, a riotous maelstrom that finally stops on a dime to conclude. I adored this album, and this it is one of the finest that I have heard all year. The band is an absolute gas, there arrangements are colorful, the solos are exciting and the use of electronics and sampling is unexpected. But most of all, there is a sense of fun to the music, a feeling that the musicians love what they are doing and that they are giving everything of themselves to convey that to the listener. Fabregas 10 - amazon.com

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Monday, June 13, 2016

Book: Feel Like Going Home: Portraits in Blues and Rock 'n' Roll by Peter Guralnick


When this book came out in 1971, it was widely heralded and one of the first of its kind. Guralnick begins by writing a deeply personal history of his engagement with rock and roll which is interesting, since he was in it from the beginning, hearing Little Richard and Elvis as a child and then witnessing its whitewashing as corporate America tried to replace Chuck Berry with Pat Boone (as if.) He wanders through the wilderness of folk and jazz, reads Mailer's self-conscious essay "The White Negro" with much hand-wringing before the Beatles and Rolling Stones burst on the scene and the author discovers the blues. Being a true snob at first it is only acoustic folk blues that matter (more authentic, you know.) Dylan was a mystery, but James Brown was a revelation. After this Guralnick moves even more deeply into the blues of all kinds, first with a chapter that tries to place the music into a historical context beginning with a brief discussion of the format and pre-history before settling on Charlie Patton, one of the major figures of the pre-war blues. He is able to secure interviews with men who played with Patton at country parties who talked about what a natural entertainer he was compared to another legendary contemporary, the more taciturn Son House. House had a much longer career, though recording in the 1930' and 40's and then participating in the folk revival of the 1960's. This in turn leads him to another legend - Robert Johnson. He relates what little is known of Johnson, thankfully leaving out the devil at the crossroads nonsense. What comes through is a loner, who worked at his craft, particularly slide guitar that could almost "talk" to you and repertoire filled with original and imaginative songs. The book shifts gears now and goes into biographical articles, beginning with an entry on Muddy Waters who was recovering from a serious automobile accident when Guralnick interviewed him in 1970. He relays Muddy's history, moving from Rolling Fork, Mississippi to Chicago connecting with the Chess Record Company and having a strong of hits from the late 1940's to the mid-1950's. At the time of the interview, Muddy hadn't had a hit in a while, though he was still a regular concert draw, especially in Europe and on college campuses, but times had changed. Chess is stumped on how to market him, trying all types of gimmicks that might appeal to a rock/funk audience, and even the once prosperous neighborhood he lives in is starting to crumble. Guralnick is really hitting his stride with these slice of life interviews, and his next one was with the immensely talented but often overlooked guitarist and singer Johnny Shines. He is a direct link to the near-mythical Johnson, having travelled with him in the 30's and retaining quite a bit of his repertoire. He scuffled after Johnson died but then made it to Chicago after the war, recording for JOB and Chess, but things got so hard that he dropped out of music all together in the late fifties and early 1960's. There's a very interesting section of the book where Shines is part of a Chicago Blues package tour and they travel city to city and he becomes increasingly annoyed about having to answer the same Johnson related questions instead of being able to talk about his own music, and he was making some great records in this period. The "rediscovery" of Skip James by musicologists in the 1960's was unexpected, and he presents a problem for the author because you get the sense that Guralnick felt that James was a bit of a buffoon because he includes large blocks of James stilted speech and reiterates that James felt himself to be a self-proclaimed genius. On the contrary, he has great affection for Louisiana bluesman Robert Pete Williams, who had shot a man in self-defense and wound up in the notorious Angola prison farm. Finally securing release years later, Williams writes no-holds barred lyrics about life in prison and he is trying to renew himself by learning bottleneck slide to add to his arsenal. The force of nature that was Howlin' Wolf had begun to diminish by the time the author interviewed him, back in the hospital for an infection. He'd had a heart attack but refused to stop working, performing against doctors orders. He tells Wolf fascinating story, learning the harmonica from Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller) and little guitar, before leaving the farming life to get a radio show and cut some records with Sun in Memphis and then moving on to Chess Records in Chicago. When Wolf was well, the show he could put on was overpowering - Guralnick relates one of his last ones here. Wolf is a distrustful skeptical man, probably rightfully so, but when the spirit moved him there were none like him. The book shifts gears again, moving back to rock and roll and a riotous interview with Jerry Lee Lewis. Lewis smugly claims to have been uniquely formed and influenced by no one, and at this point was riding high in the country charts after dynamiting his rock and roll career by marrying his thirteen year old cousin in 1958. There is a very interesting chapter on Chess Records after the label had been sold to the GRT tape corporation, and after the death of Leonard Chess. The surviving brother Phil Chess and his nephew Marshall run the day to day operations, but the family atmosphere of the 1950's heyday are long gone. The generation gap between Phil and Marshall is clear as is the gap between the new employees and the legendary holdovers like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf who don't stop by as much as they used to. Guralnick gives a nice thumbnail history of the label, which grew out of a nightclub and a few off the books nod & wink transactions. They got Muddy and Wolf, but missed signing James Brown, but watched as Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley changed the face of music. The book ends with men talking about the old days with a wary eye on the future. Those interested in the history of American vernacular music should definitely check this book out, the interviews in particular make for fascinating reading as the subjects let their guard down for the most part and speak honestly about what their lives in music has been like. Feel Like Going Home: Portraits in Blues and Rock 'n' Roll - amazon.com

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Sunday, June 12, 2016

Charles Gayle/Roger Turner/John Edwards - 26.05.15 (OtoRoku, 2016)


Legendary free jazz saxophonist and pianist Charles Gayle shows no signs of lightening up during this very hot session of spontaneously improvised jazz recorded with John Edwards on bass and Roger Turner on drums. They really let rip from the start and Gayle’s piano work has truly evolved, hinting at swing and blues sometimes, but overall he's wholly unpredictable, just as likely to plumb the depths of the lower notes of the keys as he is to play with gentle grace. They epic improvisation “January” opens as you might expect, with Gayle aggressive and confrontational on tenor saxophone, playing with great fortitude and with a raw and coarse tone that recalls the great tenor saxophonists from the free jazz past. But there’s nothing nostalgic about this music however, Gayle is creating totally in the moment, and Edwards and Turner are with him each step of the way. Gayle gradually eases over to the piano where he keeps the pace fresh and the rhythm unpredictable and exciting. “February” shows Gayle staying at the piano, playing in a surprisingly swinging manner and allowing excellent solo sections for bass and drums. Gayle returns to tenor saxophone on “March” leading a hot trio improvisation by growling and wailing, which is met by thrashing drums and excellent and propulsive bass playing. Gayle is truly in his element now, playing white-hot scalding saxophone that is scouring in its overt power. Tuner takes a powerful drum solo with Gayle yodeling and screaming, feeling the spirit of the music deep down to his very core. There is a thick deft bass solo from Edwards that is used as a connection to downshift the music to a medium tempo and Gayle returning to the piano where he stays for “April” working the piano trio at a very high speed, with an impressive extended rolling piano trio excursion into low end of the piano’s notes, rumbling and quaking. Edwards takes another impressive strong and dexterous bass solo deep in space with subtle percussion alongside, then the trio picks up to manic speed. “May” has a fast paced swing piano trio to open the performance, and then builds in an exciting fashion to free rolling jazz piano trio playing with fearless improvisatory daring at high speeds. This was a very good album, and the best piano work from Gayle in some time. The trio as a unit is unflappable, their zeal and enthusiasm for the music makes it a powerful statement and a must-hear for free jazz fans. Charles Gayle 26.05.15 - OTOROKU

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