It may seem that I have been neglecting my responsibilities here (such as they are), but, though I am retired, I am actually working two part-time jobs and they have been keeping me preoccupied. But, as always, music has provided much-needed fuel. What follow are some highlights of the past month:
John Coltrane: Offering–Live at Temple University (November 11, 1966) (Resonance Records)
As a devoted though sometimes fatigued fan of Trane, I greeted the news of this excavation/restoration with some skepticism. One must admit that a goodly portion of the jazz audience has gotten–and will continue to get–off the bus after A Love Supreme, and, having listened to the man’s entire output after that record, I know they have good reason. I love the churning, searching, two-men-becoming of Interstellar Space, the roiling, blistering, crying record-long prayer of Meditations, the daring transformations of Live at the Village Vanguard Again; on the other hand, I am not sure I will ever put on the hammering, hectoring live records from Japan and Seattle again. I like Ascension better in theory than reality (though it’s a better realized experiment in freedom than Free Jazz, for sure); I’m likely to keep Om shelved. Of course I am leaving a few records out, but, to get to the heart of it, I wasn’t sure I or anyone else needed an imperfectly recorded concert record that might well be more painful than enjoyable. If you have the same misgivings, set them aside. This is a document worthy of your time. Coltrane is in great form, though he was nine months from passing–in fact, some of his most focused and coherent free playing ever is here, in very good fidelity, and the legendary singing and chest-beating he did at this gig are not freakish. It works; it’s even moving. Some Philly locals (on saxes, the very brave Arnold Joyner and Steve Knoblauch) showed up to pitch in, and they prove equal to the ’66 group’s concept. I would go so far as to say that they at least equal Pharoah Sanders, who on first appearance sounds like he’s taking a box cutter to the sheets of the night. Actually, the fidelity issues–you can’t really hear the bass other than one solo (and it’s a shaky one–Jimmy Garrison is not on hand), and the drums, when not in solo mode, are very quiet in the mix–enhanced the listening experience for me, even if they break the democratic contract. Honestly, I like hearing Trane when he’s not fighting for space, and, even if he was at the actual event, he is the show here. Highly recommended.
Classical ain’t my usual bag, but reading David Toop‘s Ocean of Sound loosened me up for this, which a good friend foisted upon me on a lazy, cool Sunday. Rolling off a throbbing, multiply-manifested minimalist pulse like waves, the voices of more than 100 join to sing John Donne’s “Negative Love” and two Emily Dickinson poems, the well-known “Because I could not stop for Death” and the more obscure (and uncharacteristic) “Wild Nights,” texts that, as passionately interpreted here, seem to trail off the final line of Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress.” The massed voices blur the words, producing a roar that, paradoxically, sounds heard from afar, or in a dream–but which is true to the lines of the poems. Hard to write about this stuff when you’re a sub-neophyte, but I think I am right about this one.
Leo Welch: Sabougla Voices (Fat Possum)
One by one, the giants of North Mississippi Hill Country blues have fallen: Junior Kimbrough, R.L. Burnside, T-Model Ford. Others, like Robert Belfour and Paul Wine Jones, have quieted. All the more welcome, then, is this document of the non-secular side of the tradition that does not sound all that much like Fred McDowell, its aesthetic fountainhead. Raw, hypnotic, crying Holy unto the Lord, and together, Welch’s music is the gem you’re looking for in this blues world of…well, it ain’t even fiberglass anymore, is it? As Digital Underground once advised us: “Heartbeat props/Don’t wait ’til the heartbeat stops/Give the man props while he’s livin’….”
The Fugs: “Refuse to Be Burnt Out” (from Refuse to Be Burnt Out, New Rose, 1985)
I wish I had the audio track for this song–see: everything isn’t on YouTube, children!–which I have listened at least 50 times through many travails over the last 18 months. You need to hear it, and, like us, print the core of the lyrics out and slap them on your fridge. Here they are:
Refuse to be burnt out:
The answer is–
Not to be laid back
Not to be cynical
Not to be hesitant
Not to be shy
Not to be uninformed
Not to be beaten down
Not to be isolated
Not to be frightened
Not to be threatened
Not to be co-opted
Not to be lied to….”
If you do get a chance to hear the track, you will enjoy the ageless Mr. Sanders’ razor-sharp delivery of this line: “Bitterly bickering bitter-shitters/Cursing fate when lunch is late….” My wife and I recite that one every time we are frustrated because we can’t find a parking spot.
The Minutemen: Three-Way Tie for Last (SST)
I wish two things:
1) That this album was not still utterly relevant.
2) That I would have seen this band in person before its life was snuffed out by a stupid broken axle.
If you are, say, a young fan who’s just begun to explore this group and headed straight for Double Nickels on the Dime or Buzz or Howl or What Makes a Man Start Fires? (or all three, and good for you!), it is time to catch up. It grows on you–hard–and absorbing it fully only makes their tragedy deeper, because, like all truly great bands, they were growing so quickly, both musically and mentally, and the results don’t sound like growing pains.