You, me, the music, and me.

Thursday, August 31, 2006


ECM 1847 (2004)

Pianist Marilyn Crispell made a name for herself in the eighties and early nineties playing in Anthony Braxton's quartet; it was there that she adapted her thunderous Cecil Taylor-esque style to Braxton's intricate charts, creating a uniquely identifiable sound within the realms of free jazz and improvised music. Since then, she's honed her sound to its essentials, creating a style that is at once calm and turbulent, reflective and probing. Her spare, haunting melodies are a perfect match for her current label, ECM, which is known for its pristine production and the cool, almost "wintry" atmosphere of its recordings.

Storyteller was recorded with bassist Mark Helias and drummer Paul Motian. On it, Crispell moves even farther away from the controlled tumult of her Braxton performances than on her previous albums for ECM (Nothing ever was, anyway and Amaryllis), producing a recording of quiet, sublime beauty. The opening track, "Wild Rose", sets the mood immediately; each player produces single notes or beats that are allowed to die away before the next is produced. On this album, echo is like a fourth member of the group. The trio takes its time with each piece; themes appear to be built out of improvisations, instead of the other way around.

Storyteller and the music of Marilyn Crispell are perfect for late-night listening, whether you want gentle background music or intricate improvised jazz that unfolds its stories one note at a time. (A quick glance at her concert schedule shows "possible dates in Canada" for May 17-21, 2007, which means she may be playing FIMAV in Victoriaville, Quebec. I'm keeping my fingers crossed!)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

New video

I just added a couple of video clips to the December archive page (for Bob Dylan and Game Theory). Click on over, scroll on down, and check 'em out.

Edit: three more videos added to the October page.

Monday, August 28, 2006

BOB DYLAN Highway 61 Revisited

Columbia CH 90324 (1965)

Greil Marcus once wrote about being in a bar in Maui and hearing Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" come on the radio. One by one, he recalled, the conversations around him stopped as the patrons turned their attention to the music, until the room was silent except for Dylan's song. He offered it as proof that there are some songs (or at least one) that can never be turned into background Muzak.

For someone who's only put out two new albums of his own material in the past fifteen years (a third, Modern Times, is set for release tomorrow), Bob Dylan has been the subject of countless retrospectives, films, and books (including Marcus' excellent Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads) in that same time period, which is a testament to the timelessness of his work. After a rough creative spell during the late eighties and early nineties, Dylan rebounded with Time Out of Mind and "Love and Theft", two albums that seemed to reach back to a time and place that predated even his own earliest folk recordings. Critics and fans alike applauded the directness and simplicity of the songs, and it seemed that, for Dylan and his listeners, a new era was beginning.

An era of a different sort was being undertaken in 1965 with the release of "Like a Rolling Stone" and Highway 61 Revisited; Dylan fans were shocked and/or appalled by the radical change in his sound that came with the addition of electric guitars, drums, and loud organ. Folk purists accused Dylan of selling out to gain a rock and roll audience, and he and his band were booed routinely at concerts. (In Martin Scorsese's documentary No Direction Home, organist Al Kooper tells an amusing anecdote about playing before an audience that heckled them mercilessly until they started playing "Like a Rolling Stone", at which point the entire audience started singing along. When the song ended, the crowd resumed their catcalls!)

The shock of these recordings may have worn off over time, but the songs retain their bite over forty years later. "Ballad of a Thin Man" and its story of a clueless, floundering character could be aimed at the "establishment" or at Dylan's own audience. "Tombstone Blues" and "From a Buick 6" are fast, folkish talking blues numbers driven by relentless drums and driving organ and guitar fills. The title track's retelling of the biblical tale of Abraham and Isaac is punctuated by a mocking slide whistle, and "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" is a relaxed, world-weary song that manages to convey both comfort and warning to the listener. The album closes with the lengthy "Desolation Row", a surreal ballad for voice and acoustic guitar that wouldn't sound out of place on one of Dylan's earlier folk records.

Here's a song you'll probably never hear in your dentist's office:

(This is the famous "Royal Albert Hall" version in which someone in the crowd shouted "Judas!" at Dylan just before he started playing. It can be heard on The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966 - The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert.)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Added a cool clip...

... here.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


Alias A-064 (1995)

Archers of Loaf were a four-piece group from Chapel Hill, North Carolina that started gaining attention in the early 1990's but never achieved the level of fame that some other "alternative" bands of that era garnered. That's a shame, because the band was easily one of the most original and creative groups around at the time, and Vee Vee is among the best rock records of the decade (in fact, it's my personal favourite).

The Archers' sound was defiantly unique, even for its genre; Eric Bachmann's hoarse, strangulated vocals fought to be heard above the group's skronking guitars and pounding percussion. Their lyrics, when decipherable, alternated between obtusely abstract poetry and hilariously direct putdowns (such as the classic refrain "It's too bad that your music doesn't matter" from "Let the Loser Melt"). Their squalling, guitar-driven sound owed a debt to such indie contemporaries as Superchunk and Sonic Youth, yet retained a unique, angular identity all its own. So unique, in fact, that listening to it today makes it pretty easy to understand why the group never found its place among the Nirvanas and Pearl Jams and their imitators. Vee Vee feels like a note-perfect distillation of the post-grunge hangover of the late 1990's.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

DOM MINASI The Vampire's Revenge

CDM 1006 (2006)

The Vampire's Revenge is an ambitious double-CD project by New York guitarist Dom Minasi that was inspired by novelist Anne Rice's The Vampire Chronicles. The credits on the back of the jacket read like a who's-who of free jazz and avant-garde improvisation: from pianists Matthew Shipp and Borah Bergman to hornmen Joe McPhee and Paul Smoker, each track is peppered with guest stars (the constant throughout the album being the core trio of Minasi, bassist Ken Filiano, and drummer Jackson Krall).

At first, Revenge suffers from weak compositions and tentative improvisations, but it gets going toward the end of the first disc with Shipp's impressive contributions to "The Dark Side". Disc two benefits from the presence of McPhee and Smoker on "The Hunt", and Bergman's playing is a cohesive factor on the lengthy, compelling "Blood Lust" (as is, seemingly, the leadership of conductor Byron Olson). On the vocal side, less compelling (and a bit silly) are a growly recitation by Peter Ratray on "Where You Gonna' Go? Where You Gonna' Hide?" and Carol Mennie's shrieks on "Just One More Bite" and "The First Day".

Though initially off-putting in its size and concept, Revenge is an intricate, detailed album that rewards repeated listenings.

Sunday, August 13, 2006


Leo Records LR 404/405 (1988)

According to the scant liner notes inside the gatefold of this double LP, Cecil Taylor's Live in Bologna was indeed recorded live in Bologna on November 3, 1987. There are no track titles; only the total time for each non-banded side is listed. Nearly all the information you need about the music is in the music.

Taylor's group (or "unit") for this album consists of William Parker on bass, Carlos Ward on reeds, Leroy Jenkins on violin, and Thurman Barker on drums, percussion, and marimba. It's an all-star cast of free jazz luminaries, and each does their part in bringing Taylor's dense, driving music to life. Live is not for the faint of heart or the avant garde neophyte; the length of the album alone is off-putting, and the sidelong tracks give the listener little opportunity to catch his or her breath. Yet Live offers a succinct encapsulation of this group's sound at a creative peak.

The music is organized mainly by groupings of instruments; players drop in and out, giving a sense of sonic variety to the proceedings while maintaining the overall momentum. For the most part, the rhythm section anchors the sound while the violin and sax share the lead with Taylor's piano. Some especially nice interplay occurs during the second half of side two, when the instruments drop out and some growling vocalisms (mostly, I suspect, courtesy of Taylor) occur low in the mix, followed by a (relatively) quiet interlude supported by Barker's marimba and tambourine. Although neophytes are recommended to check out his solo and trio work first, Live is a thick, heady mix of sound that will satisfy any adventurous listener.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

I'm back

I apologize for the lack of blogging this summer... I've been a bit busy with other things, and when I haven't been busy I've been lazy and haven't felt much like writing. I've decided to expand my coverage of my collection to include my compact discs and cassettes, which means I'll be able to review some new and recent music. Look for some updates in the very near future... I promise! In the meantime, enjoy this clip of Anthony Braxton and company playing John Coltrane's "Impressions".