Radicals (May 3rd, 2018, Columbia, MO)

Scrambling today, but I found time to bend an ear to two brave music-makers.

I first saw Janelle Monae on a late-night show and was a bit gobsmacked: clearly, she was deriving her shit from obvious sources, but equally clearly she was her own thang. I remember thinking, “If she can master singing and writing, wowzers!” The next morning I reported to the 12th grade class I was teaching that she was a future star and showed ’em a video; two weeks later, Nicole and I were watching her open scintillatingly for Erykah Badu at the Orpheum in Memphis. I believe this was 2012.

In the interim, I’ve tried everything she’s had to offer, but come away feeling her ideas surpass her actual execution of such: didn’t figure I’d return to the tracks and I haven’t.

Word of mouth on Dirty Computer was hot, so I put it on. Gotta say, musically and lyrically, she’s coming on, and she communicates her wisdom and charisma far more clearly than ever in her singing. “Pink” (the song and video) is the best thing she’s ever done, and the most daring, and the most right–if it were the last thing she ever produced it’d be enough. As for the rest of the record…it’s solid, but, again, its ambitions aren’t quite met by her productions, but she’s a heroine for sure, and I’m proud we both have Kansas roots.

On a tip from my main man Isaac, one of a few observant, sharp-eared friends who keep me seeming smart, I also sampled a newly released recording (made in 2011) by the volatile, leonine, but pretty danged long in the tooth saxophonist Peter Brotzmann. Brotzmann can be a room-clearer, but Ouroboros, where he’s partnered with Fred Longberg-Holm on strings and electronics, is truly one of his most imaginative, varied, and (relatively) accessible albums. It’s still challenging, but not withering to the newcomer; the soundscapes shift and morph surprisingly, with no sacrifice to Brotzmann’s power, and the dynamic settings created by Longberg-Holm put the reedman’s experience to the test. It’s hard to write about this music, but I’m not wrong–it’s one of the best records of any kind that’s been released in 2018.

Here’s a live clip of Brotzmann and Longberg-Holm from approximately the same time as Ouroboros‘ recording.

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