You, me, the music, and me.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Deutsche Grammophon 4769803 (1988-1991/2006)

Normally I wait until listening to an album in its entirety at least once before mentioning it here, but I couldn't wait to tell you about this new budget-priced recording of Richard Wagner's famed opera cycle. Also, it's pretty bloody long... I'm just starting disc 6 of this 14-CD behemoth. The set includes all four operas (Das Rheingold, Die Walkure, Siegfried, and Gotterdammerung) in their entirety and is being released in Canada in conjunction with the inaugural production of the cycle at Canada's new opera house The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. The music is packaged attractively in a (relatively) slim box and retails for around forty dollars. That's right, forty dollars. Canadian. For fourteen CD's. Now anyone can own a top-notch recording of Wagner's masterpiece (featuring soloists such as Kathleen Battle, Jessye Norman, James Morris, and Christa Ludwig) without draining their bank account. So, as the saying goes, run, don't walk.

Friday, September 22, 2006



This was given to me by a friend to take to the radio station (CFMH 92.5 FM in Saint John, N.B.) where I host a late-night jazz program (No Pain for Cakes, Tuesdays 9-11 p.m. Atlantic) that I absolutely hate plugging (you can tune in here). My friend has a friend named Rick Maddocks, who is the singer/songwriter for The Beige, a five-piece band from Vancouver. On their debut album 01, The Beige have mixed a cocktail of post-rock, country, folk, and various other styles that sounds not unlike Tortoise covering Music from Big Pink or Bonnie Prince Billy jamming with Neil Young. The group's sound is highly atmospheric yet tightly focused, the recording quality is superb, and the packaging (done by hand) is gorgeous. I could say more, but you'd probably be better off heading over to their MySpace page and having a listen for yourself.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

LOCUS SOLUS 50th Birthday Celebration Vol. 3

Tzadik TZ 5003 (2004)

During the month of September, 2003, the downtown New York club known as Tonic celebrated the fiftieth birthday of one of the city's most famous and prolific avant-garde musician/composers, the eternally youthful John Zorn, by hosting a month-long series of shows featuring Zorn in collaboration with artisitic contemporaries such as Fred Frith, Milford Graves, Wadada Leo Smith, and many others. The concerts were taped and many have been released in a series of recordings on Zorn's own Tzadik label, including this one featuring his improvising trio Locus Solus.

Locus Solus consists of Zorn on alto saxophone, Arto Lindsay on guitar and vocals, and Anton Fier on drums. The three have also worked together as part of Fier's Golden Palominos, but the music of Locus Solus is a departure from even the most "out" work of that band. The seventeen brief tracks on this album consist of strangulated nonsense vocals and squealing sax laid atop thundering, sometimes arhythmic drums and stabbing, overdriven shards of Lindsay's trademark "skronk" guitar style. The music is loud, hard, and fast (and strange) with little room for quiet introspection. Tracks like "Doll Moment" and "Come Yelling" achieve a monolithic metallic stomp before quickly breaking apart into chaos.

Here's a clip from the show of Zorn and co. playing "This Year's Skirts", and here's to another fifty years of Zorn!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

ANTHONY BRAXTON & FRED FRITH Duo (Victoriaville) 2005

VICTO cd 100 (2006)

Each spring, the pleasant little city of Victoriaville, Quebec comes alive with the sounds of free jazz, improvisation, and noise rock. The Fesival Musique Actuelle has been going strong for over twenty years and has even spawned its own record label. For my 100th post, I thought I'd talk about Duo (Victoriaville) 2005, a live album recorded at last year's proceedings by saxophonist Anthony Braxton and guitarist Fred Frith that just happens to be the 100th release from Victo Records.

The album is broken into five tracks (ranging in length from three to nearly twenty-three minutes), but the recording is basically one uninterrupted performance totalling just under an hour. Frith utilises a number of effects on his electric guitar, while Braxton alternates between alto, soprano, and sopranino saxophone. The performance runs the gamut from actively noisy and grating to spacious and nearly silent (the beginning of "Improvisation No 4" is almost inaudible). Braxton and Frith respond to each other well throughout the concert, but it seems to take them a while to get on a common wavelength; the music doesn't really seem to gel until midway through "Improvisation No 3", which is about the halfway point of the album. Despite this, Duo is still a worthwhile document of this historic first meeting of two avant-garde titans.

(As a side note, I attended part of the festival; not only did I get to see and hear Braxton's sextet play two days after this concert, but I met Mr. Braxton himself, who turned out to be a very kind and gracious man who told me how wonderful it was to be in Canada. Hopefully this visit will not be his last.)

Sunday, September 10, 2006


Verve 559 944-2 (1999)

Tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman's passing last Saturday at age 75 due to liver failure marked the end of a brilliant life and career in jazz and improvised music. In addition to his own recordings and performances as a leader, he worked with such greats as Ornette Coleman, Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny, Carla Bley, and Charlie Haden. For his final recording under his own name, Redman entered the studio with pianist Cecil Taylor and drummer Elvin Jones, where they produced a compelling set of solos, duos, and trios.

"Nine" opens the album with Redman firing off an ascending nine-note whole tone riff as Jones and Taylor plunge in behind him for nearly eleven minutes of free form frenzy. Redman and Jones lead the charge while Taylor pokes in and around the edges and spaces, alternating high-note sweeps and trills with pounding bass octaves. The absence of a bass player gives the group's sound a feeling of both weight and weightlessness; it opens the sound up, creating more space for these powerhouses to fill. "Bekei" is a brief drum solo in which Jones eschews the tradition of showing off one's percussive chops in favour of creating a slow, rhythmic build. "Spoonin'" is a bluesy sparring match between Redman and Jones which features another, more active drum solo.

Judging by their titles and instrumentation, the next three tracks seem to form a kind of suite. "Life as" is a meditative, quietly roiling solo performance by Taylor that leads into "It", a fiery duet in which Jones' drums coerce Taylor into his trademark percussive style. This culminates in the twenty-minute "Is", in which all three players manage to play in their respective, highly distinct styles while meshing into a cohesive whole. The album closes with the forty-nine-second "Dew", a brief solo blast from Redman that concludes the formidable career of a great artist.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

THELONIOUS MONK In Philadelphia 1960 with Steve Lacy

Rare Live Recordings RLR 88623 (2006)

The late soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy made no secret of his admiration of the music of Thelonious Monk and its influence on his own work. He recorded several albums of Monk's compositions and played with him for a period of time during 1960 that, although brief, had a profound effect on the young jazzman. Rare Live Recordings has now made available a live recording (originally taped for radio broadcast) of Lacy playing with Monk's quartet. The album also features some previously unissued recordings of Monk in various group formations (including a performance on The Steve Allen Show with Charles Mingus on bass). The CD case warns buyers that "the music on this CD comes from non-professional private tapes and its technical sound quality its (sic) not up to today's standards" and a sticker suggests that the album is "only for collectors".

The set featuring Lacy was recorded as a live radio broadcast in March of 1960. Longtime Monk sideman Charlie Rouse plays tenor sax on these tracks ("Evidence", "Straight, No Chaser", and "Rhythm a Ning") and is joined by John Ore on bass and Roy Haynes on drums; he takes the first horn solo on each, followed by Lacy. Lacy's tentative, searching style can already be heard on these early recordings (unfortunately, his solo on "Rhythm a Ning" gets cut off early by overdubbed closing announcements from Louis Armstrong and Mitch Miller). The sound quality is not perfect, but it's a lot better than expected from the multiple warnings on the case.

The audio on the second set of recordings, recorded in New York in 1957, is quite nice and bright, with Thad Jones' trumpet fattening up the sound of Monk's quartet (Rouse, Ore, and drummer Billy Higgins) on "Blue Monk" and Higgins getting a nice long solo in at the end of a nearly twelve-minute "Evidence". Three tracks from 1948 (with Art Blakey on drums) follow, and the sound remains quite satisfactory, with Idrees Sulieman's trumpet cutting through loud and clear on "Just You, Just Me" and "All the Things You Are".

Two performances from the Allen show follow ("Off Minor" and "Well You Needn't") and it is here that the sound quality takes a nosedive; Mingus and Blakey are, for all practical purposes, inaudible, and the recording sounds as if someone held a microphone up to their television set. The tracks are preceded by a brief interview in which Allen attempts to pick Monk's brain regarding his compositional process (with little success). The album closes with a couple of odd pop numbers in which Monk, Blakey, and Sulieman (joined by Lucky Thompson on tenor and Curly Russell on bass) accompany a syrupy vocalist by the name of Frankie Passions. The sound is better here, yet it hardly seems worth it.

Despite the unevenness of the audio and some of the performances, In Philadelphia 1960 will appeal to both hardcore collectors and average jazz fans alike, and it makes me eager to hear other releases from RLR Records (about which I could find little on the net... hopefully they'll have a website up soon).

Sunday, September 03, 2006

WIRE Read & Burn 01

pinkflag PF4 (2002)

I remember seeing this on the shelves at Bluetone Records and asking Mike, the owner, about it. I had been a Wire fan throughout high school and university but hadn't heard anything from them in a while. This six-song, seventeen-minute CD was pricey ($27!) but Mike had played it in the store and liked it, and another customer had bought it and assured him that it was worth every penny.

Read & Burn 01 was a massive departure from previous Wire recordings, and the sound of the album was about as "back-to-basics" as you could possibly get. After experimenting with sampling and electronic percussion during the eighties and nineties, the group released The First Letter, an album without their drummer Robert Gotobed, who parted amicably with the band previous to the recording. Gotobed and the rest of the group felt that Wire's sound at the time was evolving into a state where actual drums would be unnecessary (in his honour, the group dropped the letter "e" from their name, calling themselves Wir). Read & Burn, therefore, is like a reunion of sorts, as Gotobed returns to the drum chair with a vengeance, propelling the band's stripped down sound with martial, no-nonsense 4/4 beats.

"In the Art of Stopping", a one-chord fuzztone stomp, kicks off the album and seems to act as a massive throat-clearing with regard to the band's previous sound. There's an immediate sense of freshness and something almost like relief in the way the group bears down on the simple blues riff that propels the track. The other tracks on the album follow this model, making Wire sound like the best aggro-metal band ever, or at least ready to challenge any of the current bands in the genre (who are probably about half their age).

By stripping their sound down to its bare essentials, Wire sounds refreshed and ready to start writing the next chapter in their legacy. (Some tracks also available as part of the full-length album Send.)

Friday, September 01, 2006

Even more video...

... added here and here. Enjoy!