From the Page to the Earbud (May 20th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

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.

Short-shrift Division:

Now’s as great a time as any for a Black Arts flare-up in jazz! To wit:

Idris Ackamoor…

…and Shabaka and The Ancestors.


So Long, Cecil (April 6th, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)


The great pianist Cecil Taylor passed away on Thursday, April 5, at age 89. I devoted the next day to listening to his music. Taylor, sometimes confronted with pointed questions about his musical aims, once pointed out that he was creating a language; I’d advise newcomers, rightly curious about his work in the wake of his death, think of it that way as they get started. They could also think of the grandeur of the ocean waves, if they’ve ever stood on a coast–a Taylor composition can capture their roaring power, their whispering delicacy, their dynamic regularity. A drum solo by a master like Andrew Cyrille or Milford Graves; a surge of choreographed motion by a master like Martha Graham or Mikhail Baryshnikov, suggestive of nothing but freedom; a clot of lines following a polygraph pattern, penned by a master like Allen Ginsberg or Nikki Giovanni–it might behoove the first-time listener to think of Taylor’s pianistics as if they’re from a different physical source of art.

Or maybe they need to just to say to themselves: “Prepare for something you’ve never heard before. Prepare to surrender your attention fully. Prepare to hear a new language that might quicken your heartbeat.”

I chose three of my favorite Taylor records to surrender to yesterday. The first was 1966’s Unit Structures, featuring a septet that included his longtime musical partner, Jimmy Lyons, on alto, and Cyrille on drums:

The second was a 1974 solo recital at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland–the first Taylor record I ever bought and ever heard. I can say truthfully, though I’d read his work was challenging, that it made sense to me. I could hear dancing, drumming, call and response, dark ruminations and joyous exhortations, whispers from the past–in short, Africa. What do you hear?

I closed out the afternoon with 1988’s Alms / Tiergarten (Spree), recorded in Berlin during a month-long celebration of Taylor’s music in which he was given a free hand, an excellent instrument, and the service of a wrecking crew of improvisatory musicians. Surely it was one of the most rewarding episodes in Taylor’s life, and, across 11 discs, he responds with an outpouring of music in multiple settings. This one’s comprised of two compositions, each about an hour long, played by 13 musicians, including such luminaries as Peter Brotzmann, Evan Parker, Han Bennink, William Parker, Harold Stanko, and Peter Kowald. It’s a must for admirers of Coltrane’s Ascension, I think, and it is indeed challenging–but invigorating!

SORRY! No YouTube track available–if everybody doesn’t want it, nobody gets it!

Please read Ben Ratliff’s obituary for Taylor, published in The New York Times. It’s very true, and also a good way for the beginner to start out with a firm handle on a man who resisted many attempts to reduce him, personally and artistically, on an innovator who took even fellow innovators aback but never faltered.

Short-shrift Division:

You’re sunk when you’re considered in the shadow of Cecil Taylor’s work, but Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy, just released, if not as wholly undeniable as her singles or personal appearances, is pretty entertaining. I do think, over the course of an entire record, that her rapping is revealed as still a work in progress.

I also sampled the equally new record by the great Ghanaian bandleader, composer, and instrumentalist Ebo Taylor, previously vaunted on this site. It’s called Yen Ara, and it’s a joy. Here’s a taste:


Noise. (April 5th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

For whatever reason (possibly that I’ve been deeply dosed in pop over the last few days), I felt I was obligated to blissfully defile my ears with weird and / or ugly noise.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Are You Experienced?–Weird? Ugly? I know–NOT. But I think it’s easy to forget how it might have hit folks at the time. Jimi was a genius at wrestling chaos into flow, but I got this out strictly for the explosions, feedback, and riffs that stalk your inner peace.

Pere Ubu: Datapanik in The Year Zero–Disc 1 (1975-1977)–Weird? Ugly? I know–YES! A thousand times (and ways) YES! A drunken-sounding, wheezing, groveling, murmuring, whispering, squealing, desperate, eloquently incoherent singer, tortured by a stabbing, drilling, whirring, grinding guitarist, tracked under the street by a bass threatening to break through the pavement, driven on by a drummer here-again-and-gone and a synthesizer player revving and veering in and out of the mess. What’s not to be disturbed by?

Brian Eno: Another Green World–One of the most perfectly titled albums ever. The noise here is strictly weird–never ugly, only galaxies away. And very lovely. It was always, with Miles’ In a Silent Way and Robert Ashley’s Private Parts, one of my favorite Nyquil companions when I was a bachelor and sick as a dog. It’s plenty wonderful when you’re well. I love how Eno’s voice is just another synthesizer.

Maybe I was recovering from all of the pop, most of which I admittedly love. Or maybe I was receiving signals from the near-future: one of the noisiest, most unique and inventive, bravest musicians ever passed from this plane at 89. So long, unclassifiable genius. We will not see your like again.

Short-shrift Division:

Tucked away down here, under all the noise, a confession: I think Chloe x Halle’s The Kids Are Alright might be the best r & b, the best pure pop album of the year. I can’t get enough of it: great singing, surprising arrangements, inspiring content.