I thought I was gonna take a few days off, as we are ensconced at the above OG resort hotel, and yesterday’s post wasn’t shit other than celebrating a scary narcissistic value-free asshole’s political meltdown–here’s the moment I learned Missouri’s “governor” resigned:
But turns out you can’t stop the music. Imagine that! We’ve had a wonderful morning playing Canasta (learn it, if you knows what’s good for ya) and being centered by a) an Ethiopian nun who’s piano playing searches into the most uncertain corners of your being…
…and a long-gone pianistic genius from Memphis who played splintered shards of light and rapid-fire sparks of rhythm:
Also, in the early morning hours (we party late and rise early), I ate up brother Calvin Newborn’s hard-to-find memoir of growing up Memphis and living with and observing Brother Phineas. Seek it out if you wanna be electrofied by a mid-20th century account of being black and mid-South.
We also listened to a dude named Charlie Parker (35 minutes away from the city where he caught fire) while Nicole dealt caliente upon me as we played cards (3180 – 2650).
I’m takin’ a vacation ’til Saturday. Right now I’m sitting in an historic hotel, with my lady and a glass of Four Roses, celebrating the fall of a state politician who redefined the word “creep”–and that doesn’t even count the BDSM.
Rock on, readers! We’ll see if I can be dormant for the rest of the week!
Update: We did listen to music during our travels and after our arrival. A trip to Brazil to revisit one of the greatest post-Tropicalia ever waxed–play it if you don’t believe me:
And a couple trips to Addis Ababa to sip at the deep, dark, and spiritually refreshing well of Ethiopian jazz:
For the past three days, I’ve had my nose in Neil Young’s 2013 memoir/journal/autobiography. I wish I’d read it when it emerged, but when you read backwards and forwards like I do, you have to leave some stuff on the shelf. On Saturday and Sunday, I repeat-played Neil’s still-classic first-decade sum-up Decade as a soundtrack (no wonder the studio version of “Like a Hurricane” sounds a little stiff and shaky–it’s the goddam run-through!). Today, I created an Apple Music playlist called Decades–First Extension, which picks up some goodies the original comp missed and moves Young’s musical story into the mid-Nineties. It was Memorial Day, and though I created it without the intention, the playlist made me think about it plenty: “Shots,” “Powderfinger,” “Cortez the Killer,” “Captain Kennedy”–those are just a few. Also, the playlist spans several hours, during no second of which was I bored (I was reading, too, of course, but I would have skipped a track). As as he testifies repeatedly in Waging Heavy Peace, Neil’s never needed a push to try new things (musical or otherwise), and though his patented wailing stomp-rock and his strangely otherworldly acoustic meditations will always ring my bell, his experiments from “Broken Arrow” to “Transformer Man” keep my attention as well–maybe it’s his way with the ol’ hummables.
So that’s the listening–what about the book? Should you read it? I’m “reviewing” it five years, several albums, and a third divorce later, but if you’re interested, three things:
1) It takes awhile to shake loose. I was kind of annoyed across the first 100 pages at his rich-guy tendency to talk on and on and on about all his stuff. The dude’s happily acquisitive, and he says straight-out that he loves capitalism, but that shit’s boring as hell to me. Fortunately, though, the book recovers.
2) How does it recover? Through Young’s committed, droll, and reflective treatment of some engaging other themes: loyalty, family, resiliency (the health issues!), technology, hedonism, the creative process, individualism, and–no surprise, but voiced in some surprising ways–primitivism. I must confess to have wanted to skim the sections on Lincvolt (electric cars), PureTone/Pono (audio files), and his film adventures, but one can’t help but admire his enthusiastic inventiveness and restless mind. Plus, he seldom lingers long on those topics (he circles back intermittently) and his self-effacement is redeeming.
3) Structurally, Young goes where he wants, when he wants to. Can you imagine that? How very Neil of him! Not only does he jump with little transition from topic to topic, from theme to theme, from musical phase to musical phase, from life event to life event, he doesn’t arrange those spheres chronologically. But it doesn’t matter. As I’ve said, he keeps chapters brief, and his matter-of-factness helps the reader stay organized. But ignore what I said; the late great David Carr wrote of it that it’s “a journal of self-appraisal,” and that it is. The form and style, I think, are also an expression of Young’s attraction to a unique primitive aesthetic, and it works for me here as a reader as “Cinnamon Girl” works for me as a listener.
Check it out.
Serengeti: Dennehy–The sui generis Chicago rapper’s now-decade-old record really holds up. And it’s not just the halo effect provided by this timeless classic:
‘Twas a week of even less structure than last, as my wife Nicole, also a teacher, was loosed upon the summer months. I continued to find it difficult to get focused on writing (I clearly need my back to the wall once a day), but plenty of music flowed within the walls of our home. To wit:
The weekly “Living to Listen Awards” for high-impact records!
Plucked from History’s Dustbin(best recent purchase of an old record): Jewels and Binoculars, Floater(multi-reed master Michael Moore’s project designed specifically to interpret Dylan on a jazz tip–and does it work!). This ain’t that album, but if you’re skeptical?
Grower, Not a Shower (old record I already owned that’s risen in my esteem): see immediately below–a double-winner this week.
Encore, Encore! (album I played at least twice this week): Grant Green’s The Complete Quartets with Sonny Clark. Lots of rockers don’t dig jazz guitar, but Green’s bluesy intensity might cut through that prejudice. Plus: ya got Clark on the 88s.
Through the Cracks (sweet record I forgot to write about): Pusha T’s Daytona. No MC alive is better. As they say, he could recite the phone book. An unfortunate man is allied with him on this project–I will continue to debate with myself as I hope you will whether it’s acceptable to encourage such a project. Also, Grupo Mono Blanco’s ¡Fandango! Sones Jarochos from Veracruz, from Smithsonian Folkways but don’t let that stop you from swaying to it.
Sunday’s Children / Today’s Sounds: The Del McCoury Band’s Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass.
Picture a married pair of teachers, spending one of their first ed-genda-free days together after getting in a good, long walk and some reading during the early morning hours, standing in their kitchen examining the unfolding late morning and early afternoon as their shared oyster and wondering, “What to do?” No papers to grade. No tutorial appointments to keep. No student teachers to observe. No students whose grades need tracking. What to do when one (make that two) can do anything? One teacher catches a familiar cocking of his partner’s eye, and translates it–after many years, mere twitches can communicate paragraphs.
“Huevos rancheros and margaritas!”
The pair hightail it to their favorite joint. The huevos are great; the margaritas are so good, they shrug and admit, like lush-life Ernie Bankses, “Let’s drink two.” And a shot for good measure when they get home.
Two hours later, they awaken to slum the rest of the day away–well, their slumming might be considered more industrious than most folks’, but slumming is the name of the pace and the character of the choices, especially the musical ones. He browses the stacks for something that perfectly suits their pleasantly bleary mood, something that signifies creeping into consciousness, something that dawns slowly and then breaks brilliantly, something they both dig the most (and that they were digging the day before).
After a few more tracks from the CD–“Can You Get to That?” “Me and My Folks, You and Your Folks,” “Super Stupid”–it occurs to him that the darkness of the, um, analysis is outracing the darkness of the actual day. There is a chill that blows in off of this Funkadelic album that might well suit the state of the nation, but does not match the state of the home. Also, a paranoia pervades Mr. Clinton’s sentiments, perhaps; is this what the couple need as they enjoy some well-earned freedom?
Warmth! Fondness! Good cheer! A seductive drawl, perchance? That’s right: he doesn’t even have to choose, he doesn’t even have to ask her if it’ll do. That quartet of requirements just adds up to an inevitability.
The intoning of Mr. Frizzell fits the cut of their slumming like a perfectly worn pair of sweatpants from ’05, and the pair just let Lefty roll from their, with a softly swinging closer a couple of hours down the night.
George Clinton & Parliament: Medicaid Fraud Dogg–I didn’t quite complete the near two-hour journey of what might well be the final Uncle Jam record, but–and I say this to comfort the cognoscenti–a weird journey it is. It’s damn near ambient funk, it’s so hushed, but it flows like lava, it’s offers a kind of concept that adepts will recognize (“One nation / Under sedation”), it hides munchkins in its grooves, it guest-stars an intriguing, speech-impeded pimp (Mudbone Cooper?), and, yes, it does indeed feature the grizzled Dr. Funkenstein hoarsing around funkily with his considerable accumulated wisdom. I am not sure how many times I (or you) may listen to it, but I can testify that it is interesting. And did I mention it flows like lava?
Today was Nicole’s first day of “summer”–her first day of liberation from her honorable, rewarding, fun, but demanding public school job as a special education liaison between Columbia’s Battle High School and the district’s career center. I have three jobs, but I’m very part-time, very (and somewhat uncomfortably) retired, and my “year” ended on May 3–so I’d had three weeks of slovenliness, sweats, and sounds cranked to seven (I can no longer go to eleven), and it was only fair that I provide her with the music she needed.
“So…we’ve got the afternoon. What would you like to hear, my dear?” I proffered, not intending that quite inappropriate Marvin Gaye pun, over a Main Root ginger beer and Four Roses.
“Hmmm…I don’t know…you suggest something.”
See, this is a frequent dynamic in the Overeem home. I respect it, but it’s difficult to negotiate. I can awaken at 4:30 a.m., stretch, and put on some Charles Gayle at relatively high volume, then proceed with getting back under the covers, reading the news, wishing folks a happy birthday on Facebook, and more lazy awakening rituals. Like most sane and well-adjusted people who are in a relationship, Nicole likes to be consulted before I put anything on the box, but frequently she doesn’t have anything in mind–we do have 10,000 records in the house, supplemented by the full range of streaming services–and asks me for suggestions. At that point, I will default to her pleasure points (Sister Rosetta, ’50s Chicago-style electric blues, Dinah Washington, New Orleans r&b, Dead Moon/Pierced Arrows), and sometimes she’ll just give me a genre or say, “Something not too annoying.” I usually do OK within those boundaries, but should I, after several months of compliance, pick out some music without prior consultation, she will detect the transgression–even if I pick, oh, the irresistible Al Green’s Call Me.
This being a very liberated space for her, I suggested carefully. I knew she wanted something great, something not whiny, something with some power, humor, and rhythm, something to get into (yesterday) an origami groove to.
“Bring it on.”
This entry is short and sweet, but I will close with a playlist that replicates what we jammed to for an hour or so while she folded and kept an eye on her “crockpot lasagna.” The origami, the food, and the vibe? All good. Liberating, shall we say?
There are more great songs from Clinton’s Capitol solos than the ones on the playlist–but I had to keep the groove movin’, and they’d have caused it to stutter a bit. Listening again for the umpteenth time in thirty-plus years, I am moved by Uncle Jam’s commitment not just to The One but also to GUITARS–and I wish I’d understood that “Nubian Nut” was a Fela tribute back in ’83 when I bought “You Shouldn’t-Nuff Bit Fish.”
Marc Sinan & Oğuz Büyükberber: White–Trouble with Apple Music is it doesn’t supply much artist or recording information.
No real method to my madness but freely associative listening:
Nilssen-Love, on percussion, and Gustafssen, on baritone sax, justify the seemingly silly title with an enthusiastic conversation of snorts, snuffles, rattles, honks, and grunts–but no calls to move to the guest bedroom.
Fat Tony, irrepressible Houston MC, rides synth-throbs and lets loose his girl-crazy mind spray on this charming, catchy, out-of-step platter.
You’ll not find a more stunning family-affair jazz session than this, with eminent trumpeter, composer, and teacher Dennis Gonzalez and his sons Aaron and Stefan sounding surprise on 19 instruments, including many upon which they overlap. Dallas-Fort Worth: if you know not, a fertile jazz ground. Pick to click with ya: “Hymn for Julius Hemphill” (a fellow Texan). Here’s a live version:
Kevin Gates is a hip hop figure my relationship with whom is complicated, but his first single since he’s gained his freedom from incarceration is pretty…do they still say dope? Also, I hear some contrition in his tone here, if not elsewhere. Chained to the City is just an EP, but it bodes well; I am rooting for the man solely because of an experience I had once at Fat Tuesday’s, a New Orleans daiquiri bar, with TouchTunes, Gates’ “Two Phones,” and one of the shop’s servers.
To be honest, after this Cincy band’s last record and recent 45, I was prepared for a letdown. I love their playing, singing, and songwriting, but Forever Sounds now sounds to me like an honorable retreat. Be that as it may, I didn’t finish listening to the whole of their new record–but I loved the first six tracks, the last of which is a cover they’ve been doing for awhile that’s taken on relevance, and resonance. And they’ve been doing for a while. Doing well. It’s rock and roll by adults.
Mr. Sam from Houston town, pretty early, but with spidery, searching style fully formed (click the pic). Hear him on piano, too.
It was Nicole’s last day of school, so when she arrived home for a two-month reprieve from the public school trenches, I was waiting with two a propros tracks:
Note: seekers after discs that just keep on giving through the years might wanna keep their eyes peeled for the one from which that last track came. It looks like this:
In 2012, Martha Redbone, a versatile singer of African and Native American heritage, released The Garden of Love – Songs of William Blake. She is far from the first musician to have tried to bring Blake’s songs (many of his poems were intended to be sung) to life on record–it’s a tempting task, you have to admit, though a daunting one. My past favorites had been by The Fugs, who, under the guidance of poet Ed Sanders and polymath Tuli Kuperfberg, waxed yearning, fragile versions of “How Sweet I Roam’d from Field to Field” and “Ah, Sunflower! Weary of Time,” and (really, very unsurprisingly) The Fall’s wicked “Jerusalem.” However, Redbone’s album (fascinating from beginning to end) broke the hold of those songs. How to describe it? Well, it’s like the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack–with teeth. It’s not only the often-hidden darkness and destruction in Blake’s poems that provide that bite; it’s also Redbone’s carefully controlled blues inflections, terse line deliveries (amidst much joyousness), and musical settings, which nicely fit (and sometimes provide ironic commentary on) the great Dissenter poet’s complexity. Three wonderful cases in point are at the heart of the record: her black gospel–cum-bluegrass “I Rose Up At the Dawn of the Day” (“…for riches I should not pray…if I pray / It must be for other people…” and “I have mental joy and mental health / I have Mental friends / and mental wealth…I have all the riches bodily.”), her devastating blue–cum-bluegrass “A Poison Tree”–a starker warning about repression does not exist–and the clarion a capella “The Ecchoing Green.”
Here she is in 2016, knocking the title song out of the park:
Thing is, the record was released under the name “Martha Redbone Roots Project.” I noticed that immediately upon laying hands upon the CD, then came back to it after a mesmerizing first listen, and murmured to myself, “What next? If it’s a project, and that’s the first result, what further glories await?” (That’s rather formal murmuring, but it’s how I roll.) But we’re six years down the line–almost to the day–and no follow-up. I am encouraged that the above video performance is so recent, but even it is over two years old.
I’m gettin’ on one knee, Martha, and I’m somewhat of a Dissenter myself, but I’ll do my version of praying that you have another powerful Roots Project rekkid in the chute. I will play The Garden of Love as long as I am sentient, and I am sure as I age, its power will grow–that’s Blake, that’s poetry, that’s your commitment and vision–but I pray for you that you’ve experienced new inspiration visions.
A nice buffet of music journalism led me to some fantastic listening experiences this weekend. If you don’t feel like listening to today’s highlighted tracks, try the articles, and maybe you’ll change your mind.
First up was Adam Shatz’s simply beautiful New York Book Review piece on the recently departed Cecil Taylor. Aside from being very sensitively written, it’s awash in rare insights about the pianist’s work and life, and provides some links to other essential Tayloriana (including a brilliant Cesar Aira short story). Read “The World of Cecil Taylor” here, and check out this track, discussed therein:
I am barely conversant about classical music, but much of it I like, even if I can’t explain why. I like fury, apostasy, minimal stillness, angles–stuff like that. I happened across a New York Times review by Zachary Woolfe of a performance by the pianist Yuja Wang that piqued my interest. The title incorporated the phrase “dazed chaos”–perhaps that was a dig, but it intrigued me. In addition, an accompanying photo by Hiroyuki Ito reinforced the phrase’s intrigue; apparently Ms. Wang’s garb often has reviewers’ knickers in a twist, and she does indeed look fetching in Ito’s photo, but it’s the fury of her motion he captures that ran the hook further through my lip. Check the article out and compare it to a Wang performance, as I did. I haven’t yet arrived at a judgment yet–I’m harder on the classical genre than any other.
Finally, I stumbled upon a couple of reviews of albums by reedman Michael Moore’s now-defunct Jewels and Binoculars project, which was devoted to an extremely unlikely aim: interpreting noted melodist Bob Dylan’s compositions in a relatively free jazz vein. It’s funny how often I’ll drift to realities that oppose views I’ve just very reluctantly resigned myself to. I was carping here two days ago that, with the advent of streaming, it’s no use having music anymore. Where’s the fun? I have owned one Jewels and Binoculars release for awhile but–Eureka!–there were three, and one the two I don’t have isn’t streaming (from what I can tell). Grail mode reactivated (because the album I own is stellar, almost alchemic). After reading the reviews, in Jazz Times and The New York Times, I reacquainted myself with Ships with Tattooed Sails, the one I have. Try it, you’ll like it.
Now’s as great a time as any for a Black Arts flare-up in jazz! To wit: