issue 10   october/november 2001
page 11




Hey, anyone else think or know that "Why Can't I Touch It?" by The Buzzcocks is a direct homage to "Kandy Korn" by Beefheart? "Well it tastes so good, but I can't eat it..."

FIRST LISTEN IN AT LEAST TWO YEARS DEPT: Leroy Jenkins & Muhal Richard Abrams. Lifelong Ambitions LP, recorded live in 1977, Washington Square Church, New York City, and released in 1981 by Black Saint Records from Milano, Italia. I got it used for $4 at the Antiquarium in Omaha. Very austere, forbidding, spiky music. Like an aggravated Webern, Webern on 45 or sometimes even 78 RPM. Great Jenkins solo spot during "Happiness," the last track on side one. Doesn't really sound "happy," but more pensive, strange, and, to Western ears, "alien." Gets right into Derek Bailey Aida territory and stays there. Abrams makes a stunning, quietly broiling re-entry, upping the pensive and strange into downright uneasy, and the piece builds to a close. Weird phenomenon throughout the record where the audience claps right as soon as the last notes of a piece are played, even when it's a sudden ending. The first track on side two is still austere, spiky, and somewhat forbidding, but also brings in some sweeter bluesy elements. It's called "The Blues," in fact. The next song has a great title: "The Weird World." It is a programmatic title because the track features dense dark piano chording and accompanying frantic violin scrub that are very weird. And the last is "The Father, The Son, The Holy Ghost." Isn't that a Coltrane title too? It says "All compositions by Leory Jenkins" (which I'm sure is a misprint and not an alias -- although you never know for sure with these AACM guys -- a gnomic lot) but they sure sound like improvisations. A lot of times in the jazz world, group improvisations are credited to the person who convened the musicians -- if they did the organizing, its their turn to be credited. Maybe that's what's happening here. Then again, the lengths of all six tracks are eerily similar: 6'29", 6'26", 6'38", 6'37", 6'28", and 6'25". Something that precise would almost have to be composed, right? And you know, this last track with the Coltrane-like name, its immediate high-speed roiling rhythms could be improvised but...right there at the start like that? All of a sudden, with that much focus of intent?

Michael Hurley. Watertower LP. Not Weatherhole, which I've never heard, but Watertower, which came a few years earlier. (Thirteen years earlier, according to a webpage that dates Watertower at "1986?") This album has two guises. When you're not paying full attention it can sound like an MOR 80s folk LP playing in the background on a lame community radio station. But when you listen close, it can sound spaced-out, slippery-toned, and a little more emotional than you might've thought. Like, leadoff track "The Revenant" has Linda Rondstadt/Nicolette Larson style background vocals, but that doesn't keep it from being an extremely melancholy song. Too melancholy for the radio's unchallenging standards, anyway. On the other hand, "Keep Rockin" is sweet enough to be on any radio station, with "Mama, mama...keep rockin'..." sung by a chorus of friendly male and female voices. "I Paint A Design" is also upbeat, though still raw-throated and intimate....okay, was just doing something else, and side one's kind of whiling away. Actually, it's only just now starting track 4 out of 6. Its a very slow-paced album, but in a likably dreamy way. Though I do think Jay Bayles from Hastings, Nebraska is damn near as good, and sometimes dare I say slightly better, at almost the exact same genre. He's close to the same age as Hurley too, I would guess. Ten years younger at the most. Side two opener "I Still Could Not Forget You Then" is another pleasant number, and in fact my most cherished song from here besides "The Revenant," and the one I hear in my head the most, with its opening hook "If you was in a monkey suit..." Really, towards the end, the album becomes a pretty happy affair, exemplified by side two's centerpiece, "Broadcasting the Blues." Hurley accompanies himself on lovely mello boogie-woogie electric piano, and evokes Roger Miller with a scatty mid-verse list of radio stations.
       Alright, I'll close this Michael Hurley section with these great lines by Nick Tosches, from his liner notes to Weatherhole: "...I donít know what else to say about what he writes and sings, other than that it is gosh-darned great. What kind of music is it? Hell, what kind of weeds does God grow? Let's just shut up and listen and go to where Michael Hurley is. After all, we can always turn around and come back. He can't."

Hot Clam Combo Buddy=Dik b/w the Ecstatic Frank Ensemble A Liver Supreme. The Hot Clam Combo features someone playing the infamous tape of Buddy Rich chewing out his band and someone else playing a mad drum solo along with it. Actually, there's probably a couple percussionists, a second one of a more 'industrial' variety. There might be another tape/electronics person, or it might just be the person with the Buddy Rich tape. Thurston Moore introduces the Buddy Rich tape at the beginning, and could be one of the players (not the guy at the trap set). Actually, the personnel is listed on the insert, as a quartet of "Cedar Pruitt - percussion, George Moore - percussion, Aaron Mullan - percussion, and 'Ian Penman,' percussion, samples." I'm guessing "Ian Penman," which is the name of a 'star' writer for The Wire magazine, is an alias for Thurston Moore. When I first got this home a couple years ago I thought it was kind of a toss-off and I've barely listened to it since. Now, it's still obviously a toss-off but I'm pretty impressed by its forward momentum, and the pockets of abstruse sound the percussion and tapes get into: it can sound a little bit like Stockhausen, a little bit like musique concrete. Or, if it doesn't go on too long for you, at least like a goofier version of a band like Nachtluft. This was recorded in 1996, but the Buddy Rich tape is still floating around the old-guard SST brotherhood. On J Mascis's recent tour with Mike Watt in his backing band The Fog, they would play it over the club PA -- very loudly -- for a good ten minutes before taking the stage. Hot Clam Combo take their name from a climactic moment in the tape when Rich chastises his band for playing "clams", i.e. mistakes. This is a term that Watt has also adopted in his diaries and conversations. To listen to the original tape yourself, go to http://carrothers.com/billyboy/
mybuddy.htm

       More writers from the staff of The Wire make up the Ecstatic Frank Ensemble, "Biba Kopf" on acoustic guitar, "Will Montgomery" on electric guitar, "Ian Penman" (again!) on drums, "Mark Sinker" on accordian, keyboard, and vocals, and "Ben Watson" on trumpet and hunt horn. Hunt horn? Hmm, I have this one track by another of Moore's Western MA goof-off bands, Dapper, which features Byron Coley on "swinehorn"...maybe Coley and Watson are one and the same after all. (Naw, Coley would never write a 500-page book about Frank Zappa.)
       The piece is called "A Liver Supreme," and the music is clattery guitar-and-percussion-driven improv, mostly drowned out by a huge sample of the original Coltrane Quartet chant. The volume and repetition of the sample get quite oppressive long before the piece's eight-or-so minutes are up. The rest of the side is actually pretty nice, as the Ensemble drops the sample and gets into some nice airy/clattery quick-strum freak-rock complete with Lower East Side gutter-folk harmonica playing. And fanboys unite...I think the white rantology buried somewhat in the mix just might be coming from Thurston...no, really...
        I would say that the spirit of the Nihilist Spasm Band hangs heavy over the proceedings on both sides of this record, which is completely understandable. As they grow older, I'm sure that Moore and Coley and friends can really admire the apparent conviviality with which those small-town Canadians go on with their normal lives while still playing weird-ass music. Also, the stuff that Ecstatic Frank Ensemble does after the sample cuts out has a strong whiff of The Godz in early extended-freakout mode, as on Godz 2 or Third Testament. That said, this album may be better than I thought it was, but it'll never be a Godz 2 or Third Testament.

Flaherty Colbourne Downs Primal Burn. That's Paul Flaherty on alto sax, Randall Colbourne on drums, and Richard Downs on bass. Flaherty and Colbourne have played together for years, usually as a duo, and released many records. Primal Burn, on which they are joined by nimble bassist Richard Downs, is just one of them, released back in 1991 on their own Tulpa Productions label, based in Willimantic, Connecticut, which wasn't even on the map last time I checked. I'm sure that was a run-on sentence. LP starts out with a heraldic slash-and-burn cry from Flaherty and all three players just go for it and dig from there. It's agitated, freaky free jazz and anyone with a taste for it should love this stuff. Jacket features grotty pen & ink drawings by Flaherty and Colbourne, along with a B&W photo of the smiling trio. The LP features "Primal Burn (Part I)," "(Part II)" and "(Part III)", basically one continuous 42-minute piece split over the two sides. Flaherty's repertoire of post-Coltrane fury, soft vocal crying, weird throat gurgling, reed-biting birdsong, and sad violin-like weeping add up to the kind of style writers for The Wire and Cadence describe as "resourceful." Meanwhile, Colbourne and Downs keep things bubbling and percolating.
      

What was it John Cage said, "If something is boring for two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, try it for eight, sixteen, thirty-two, and so on. Eventually one discovers that it's not boring at all but very interesting."
     That's great, and I'd like to agree completely, but the problem is, no one these days can really even get past the first two minutes. We even have a hard time staying with something for two minutes when it isn't boring. It's like when a friend is playing you a CD, and he just plays you the first thirty seconds of every track. "Isn't it great?" he says, and then jumps ahead to the first thirty seconds of some other great track.
     Sure, we can all recognize and appreciate the fact that yes, it would be enlightening, and a totally good and healthy thing, to make it past two minutes, but we simply don't have the wherewithal. It's been almost literally bludgeoned out of us; every time someone flips a TV channel with a remote, that's like a little gut-punch to our capacity for patience. That's a few hundred thousand gut-punches by the time we're thirty.
      Not to sound like I'm Mr. Zen Master or anything, but when I'm in charge of the remote, I like to wait ten seconds or so before I flip each channel. Naturally, my post-everything generation considers this an 'eternity', and people usually moan and groan. They're used to the channels just being rifled through, but I've found that when I pause for awhile on each channel, Cage's maxim holds very true, only the scale is much faster: If a channel is boring for two seconds, leave it on for four seconds. If still boring, leave it on for eight seconds, and you'll discover that it's not boring at all but very (or at least sort of) interesting.
      The people who're watching TV with me really do start to get somewhat interested in what they're watching. Even if it's like the scrolling community events calendar, they start to actually read what's going on and laughing about it. "Oh look, we could go to a pancake feed tomorrow morning" or whatever.
       If you leave each channel on for ten seconds before changing it, that's just enough time for each one to blossom just enough to reveal some sort of surrealistic detail, like an intense closeup of a huge casserole coming out of the oven, or a little girl high on sugar saying something completely unintelligible, or a stilted awkward hesitation in dialogue from a 1940s black and white film...actually, sometimes you catch those silences during daytime soap operas that way. During dialogue scenes, there's often these strange extended silences -- only a couple seconds, mind you, while the characters are getting their lines fed to 'em, or taking a second to take a deep breath. Those soap operas are a grind, man, they have like ten minutes to rehearse those scripts every day, and they can barely afford to even reshoot scenes. So sometimes when you're flipping channels past a soap opera, you'll land on it right during one of those silences, so you've got these like TV fashion model looking people just looking at each other with these intense expressions, heavily made up, in this TV studio, and no one says anything. It's amazing!
      Which reminds me, kind of off on a tangent, what this one guy once told me was the key to dramatic soap opera acting: when you walk into a room, act like you're smelling a really bad smell. That instantaneously calls up the kind of intense, furrowed expression that most dramatic soap opera scenes require
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                                      Brad Sonder lives in Lincoln, and recently celebrated his 1000th consecutive day spent sitting at his home computer listening to records. (He did participate in the interview about Raymond Petiibon with Matt Silcock, but during it he was still sitting at his computer and he played records throughout.) Don't miss his dense 'new records' column, So Much Music, So Much Time, as collected in Nougat. Brad also writes a column about the Lincoln music scene for lincolzine.com.

 


next: the last page,
feat. Chicago Live Report

 

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