An Embarrassment of Riches (April 18th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

A narrative-free day, but it was stuffed with very, very good music.

Meshell Ndegeocello: Ventriloquist–I’ve loved Meshell since her shy and smoldering live rendition of “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” in the film Standing in the Shadows of Motown, but haven’t been held fast by any of her albums. That just changed. Cool and smart.

Jeffrey Lewis: Works by Tuli Kupferberg–A labor of love for Lewis, who’s certainly a kind of son of the sorely-missed Fugs legend. I’m a Tuli nut myself, but the interpreter does some expert excavation here; the Beatles’ tweak “I Wanna Hold Your Foot” is new to me, and perfect. I will have to dream of what wonders he could’ve worked on “Nothing,” a classic begging to be updated, but I’ll settle. A great introduction to a genius who loved language, liberation, laughter–and (especially) fucking. Kupferbergian advice: “Try to be joyful.”

Shopping: The Official Body–Bratty offspring of a knee-trembler engaged in by Pylon and Gang of Four.

Princess Nokia: A Girl Cried Red–Complaints about her singing are nitpicking, and claims that this is “emo” (whatever that really is) are bogus. I hear someone’s even convened a panel to test it’s emo-ness. Such efforts strike me as artistic policing, which is exactly what this fascinating young artist doesn’t need. Me? I dig it. It’s definitely her, lane change be damned.

Ebo Taylor: Love and Death–I cannot get enough of this diligent, multitalented Ghanaian’s music, but I have struggled to helpfully describe it. It’s brighter, busier Afrobeat–imagine a very happy Fela.

One afternoon several years ago, I converted Nicole to The Grateful Dead (circa ’68-’73, just like me). She jammed on ’em today on the way home from work, mentioned how much she liked this song when she walked in the door, and it played on a loop in my head the rest of the day.

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:


Thinking Young and Growing Older is No Sin (March 25th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

Sad to say, but most of my friends who are within 10 years of my current age (56) or older are settled comfortably into their musical preferences. Most. This is not to say that the yout’ can’t be fixed in their earways; I teach 19-year-olds that will not venture out of Harry Styles’ circle. Nonetheless, I associate aural adventures with the 15-to-35 set (no science there). And it’s why I’m inspired by my best buddy Mike, who’ll join me at cincuenta e seis in a little bit.

We met at a house party in Springfield, Missouri, in the mid-Eighties and were talking Minutemenese within minutes. Later in the decade, we also shared a bachelor pad, a structure that was a church for beer and the guitar. He was a groomsman in our wedding, and we’ve continued to be Brothers of the Rock to this day.

BUT…Mike struck out earlier this decade into a full-on later-in-life Bob Marley walkabout. It was splendid to hear him enthuse over the phone about Nesta magic he was hearing with fresh ears that I’d not noticed in multiple listenings of the same piece. Marley led him to Fela–no surprise, and as deep, if not a deeper well–which led him one day to engage me in another exaltation-laced phone conversation (mid-February ’17, Trump taint in the air) that then led me, post-call, to drop a good chunk of cash through Bandcamp for new-to-me Kuti cuts. I thought I was on top of the man’s discog, but Mike’s research revealed I’d not fully or properly tapped the source. On top of it, my expense was donated to the ACLU. Here’s what I got, and I’ve worn ’em out:

Now Mike’s ranging further across and around Africa, and a few weekends ago he tipped me to the great Ghanaian musical master Ebo Taylor. He flat-out told me to listen to this album, which I did yesterday, and now I’m not just telling you to, I’m making it convenient:

Thanks, Mike, and, like Malcolm X strove to do, may you continue to refine your music magic detector and share the results with me, to keep me on the path!

Short-shrift Division:

Miguel: War & Leisure–Can’t believe this dude is already 33, but he’s got a big bag of tricks and–don’t take this too seriously, but I am serious–if you miss Prince, this might bring temporary surcease of sorrow. As will its predecessor, Wildheart. Also, he makes a little sumpin’ sumpin’ of the title pairing.

Willie King: Jukin’ at Bettie’s–I’m still raiding the appendix of Robert Gordon’s new essay collection Memphis Rent Party, and this Prairie Point, Mississippi, live recording by an Alabama boogie practitioner put me deep in a hypnotic blues mood. Not as eccentric as North Mississippi hill country trance music, but it finds the itch that just begs a half-hour scratch.