Laughter

the human race has one really effective weapon


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The Sun Ra Centennial

Sun Ra celebrates his 100th birthday today. NPR has a brief Morning Edition feature on the man, and The Sun Ra Music Archive has just re-issued 21 of his albums, mastered in a 24 bit format (PDF) available exclusively from iTunes (if you can stomach using it).

Robert Mugge’s 60 minute documentary, Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise, which was filmed between 1978 and 1980 and features numerous performance excerpts and monologues from Sun Ra himself, is available on Vimeo.

You can check out one of my favorite Sun Ra songs, from 1978’s Lanquidity, right here:

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Broadcast 04: The Jazz Thing, Part 2

sun_ra-sun_raysBelow are three links to the WZBC Archives where you can listen to my November 10th radio show, broadcast on WZBC 90.3 FM in Boston. Those links will remain active until November 24th, at which point the show will disappear and be replaced by a new one.

This represents the second part of my free jazz/avant jazz/jazz show. I had the chance to start a little early this week, so the first few songs are a little different from what comes after. But they follow the improvisational character of the show just as well. You’ll have to fast forward to about the half-way point of the first link to hear those songs, as I came on right after a Boston College basketball game.

Any questions or requests, send me an email (see the about page).

Thanks for listening.

Laughter: November 10th, 2013 – Hour -.5, Hour 1, and Hour 2

  1. Dickie Landry, “Fifteen Saxophones” from Fifteen Saxophones (2011) on UNSEEN WORLDS
  2. Eli Keszler, “Cold Pin 1” from Catching Net (2012) on PAN
  3. Greg Kelley/Olivia Block, “Some Old Slapstick Routine” from Resolution (2011) on ERSTWHILE
  4. John Coltrane Quartet, “The Drum Thing” from Crescent (1996) on Impulse/MCA — originally released in 1964
  5. Archie Shepp, “Yasmina, a Black Woman” from Yasmina, a Black Woman/Poem for Malcom (2013) on CHARLY — originally released in 1969 on BYG Actuel
  6. Roland Kirk “The Inflated Tear” from The Inflated Tear (1968) on ATLANTIC
  7. Sun Ra, “Outer Nothingness” from The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Volume One (2010) on ESP-DISK — originally released in 1965
  8. Peter Brötzmann/Han Bennink, “NR. 7” from Schwarzwaldfahrt (2005) on ATAVISTIC — originally released in 1977 on FMP
  9. Roscoe Mitchell Sextet, “The Little Suite” from Sound (1996) on DELMARK — originally released in 1966 – song was titled “One Little Suite”
  10. Albert Ayler, “Holy Family” from Nuits de la Fondation Maeght 1970 (2002) on WATER — originally released in 1970 on Shandar Records, in two volumes
  11. Eric Dolphy, “God Bless the Child” from In Europe Vol. 1 (1989) on PRESTIGE — recorded in Copenhagen, 1961 – released by Prestigue in 1964
  12. Evan Parker & Joe McPhee “They Both Could Fly” from What/If/They Both Could Fly (2013) on RUNE GRAMMOFON
  13. Eric Dolphy “Oleo” from In Europe Vol. 1 (1989) on PRESTIGE — “Oleo” written by Sonny Rollins in 1954
  14. Ornette Coleman “Doughnut” from Town Hall 1962 (2008) on ESP — originally released in 1965

 


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Broadcast 03: Four for Lou/Free Jazz

dolphy_in_studioBelow are two links to the WZBC Archives where you can listen to my October 27th radio show, broadcast on WZBC 90.3 FM in Boston. Those links will remain active until November 10th, at which point the show will disappear and be replaced by a new one. I will not be uploading permanent MP3 links.

I intended to play two solid hours of jazz on Sunday night, from musicians like John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Sun Ra, and Joe McPhee. But after reading about Lou Reed’s death before heading into the studio, I grabbed three Velvet Underground records and played a few of my favorites from those. Many great words have been written about Lou Reed in the last day and half, all of them by people who have spent much longer with his music than I have. I encourage you to read the obituaries from Sasha Frere-Jones and Punk magazine co-founder Legs McNeil.

Here’s an excerpt from McNeil’s piece:

Lou Reed articulated things that were never supposed to be clarified, like those “rushing” sounds on “Heroin.” I actually get goose bumps listening to those sustained notes of the different drugs flowing from my bloodstream and magically walloping my brain that the song mimics. I mean, that’s a real fucking achievement—to audibly duplicate the experience of a drug hitting the brain. It’s so ludicrous, so exact, and so wonderfully transcendent that I can’t help loving Lou Reed for dedicating his life to making songs of the depraved. Not just for the hopeless, but music that spits back that private experience—just in case you’ve never had the pleasure—and makes it sound so beautiful.

I’d also like to point everyone to this obituary for Ronald Shannon Jackson, drummer for Last Exit, The Decoding Society, Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman, and many others. It’s from Jeffrey Taylor’s excellent Jazz Diaspora column, part of the Line Out blog at The Stranger. That piece is the reason I picked up Köln last week and played it on the show. It’s definitely worth digging through previous entries in the Diaspora series, and Köln is an album that anyone interested in Peter Brötzmann, Bill Laswell, or Sonny Sharrock should check it out.

Almost no label links this time, as most of them wouldn’t help very much. You can find many of these records very easily  from the stores, shops, and distributors listed at the bottom of this page. Any questions or requests, send me an email (see the about page).

Thanks for listening.

Laughter: October 27th, 2013 – Hour 1 and Hour 2

  1. The Velvet Underground, “White Light/White Heat” from White Light/White Heat (1996) on POLYDOR – originally released in 1968 on Verve
  2. The Velvet Underground, “What Goes On” from The Velvet Underground (1996) on POLYDOR – originally released in 1969 on MGM
  3. The Velvet Underground, “Venus In Furs” from The Velvet Underground & Nico (1996) on POLYDOR – released in 1967 on Verve
  4. The Velvet Underground, “The Murder Mystery” from The Velvet Underground (1996) on POLYDOR — originally released in 1969 on MGM
  5. John Coltrane, “Mars” from Interstellar Space (2000) on IMPULSE — originally released in 1974 on Impulse, recorded in 1967
  6. Eddie Gale, “A Walk with Thee” from Eddie Gale’s Ghetto Music (2003) on WATER MUSIC — originally released in 1968 by Blue Note
  7. Joe McPhee, “Nation Time” from Nation Time (2000) on ATAVISTIC — originally released in 1971 on CJ Records
  8. Bill Dixon, “Pellucity” from Vade Mecum (1994) on SOUL NOTE — included in the Black Saint/Soul Note 9CD set
  9. Eric Dolphy, “Straight Up And Down” from Out to Lunch (1964) on BLUE NOTE
  10. Noah Howard, “Ole Negro” from The Black Ark (2007) on BO’WEAVIL — recorded and released in 1969, on Freedom Records
  11. Last Exit, “Hard School” from Köln (2005) on ATAVISTIC — recorded in 1986, Discogs shows the first release as 1990 on ITM Records
  12. Miles Davis, “Miles Runs The Voodoo Down (fragment)” from Bitches Brew (2010) on COLUMBIA/LEGACY — originally released in 1970 on Columbia


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Review: Phil Minton + Audrey Chen Quintet, “Four Instruments Two Voices”

The fundamental elements of singing and vocalizing are easy to miss in most music. All singers, even the very worst, unconsciously coordinate the various processes required to sing musically, so that respiration, phonation, resonation, and articulation collapse into sung phrases or wordless melodies. Phil Minton and Audrey Chen work to undo that coordination. They break their voices down, emphasizing the dental clicks, nasal hums, and various fleshy noises typically masked by melodies and lyrics. Many of the sounds they produce as part of this quintet—which features two basses, percussion, and cello—are the kind most singers would try to play down. By giving them the spotlight, Phil and Audrey are forced to express themselves the same way instruments do.

Four Instruments Two Voices is one of two Audrey Chen and Phil Minton albums released this year by Sub Rosa, both of which focus on extended vocal techniques. This one matches their voices with Guy Segers’ electric bass, Peter Jacquemyn’s double bass, and Teun Verbruggen’s percussion. As might be expected from instrumentalists who have worked with the likes of Peter Brötzmann, John Butcher, and William Parker, the music is improvised and mostly chaotic. But because Chen and Minton’s vocal contortions lead the group, and because there isn’t another wind instrument around, much of the record has a loose and open feel. All the vocal frying and plosive noises they make with their mouths come through loud and clear, from the spit-filled vibrations of their lips to the raspy hiss of their closed windpipes.

Such physical noises make for tense music. When Chen and Minton choke sounds out, my body involuntarily seizes up, and their moans have a way of drawing my shoulders up against my neck. When the band reacts to them in sympathy, the effect is darkly atmospheric and unsettling, as on “Eight” and “Nine.” But not everything is quite so serious. On “Three,” Minton and Chen’s gaseous vocalizations are paired with a squealing cello and a wobbly rhythm section that sounds absolutely lost. It’s hard not to laugh at how ridiculous it all seems, and at times I think it sounds like the musical version of a slapstick comedy.

For “Six” their growls and wordless interjections are recast as part of a quiet drama filled with bird-like whistling, ominous bass melodies, and flitting percussive sounds. The band’s muted performance fosters a calmer atmosphere, and Phil and Audrey both sound more subdued throughout, but it’s hard to tell whether the band is responsible for controlling the mood or if they’re following the vocalists’ lead. Later in the album Segers plays several naked melodies, and I think those color the way I’m hearing the voices. Either way, though the techniques are unconventional “Six” is a relatively pretty song. It’s a solid example of how extended vocal techniques can be used to produce musically pleasant and expressive results without relying on a singer’s vocal quality or resorting to familiar melodic techniques.

In the liner notes Minton writes, “This music is first a matter of extra-linguistic expression, the idea of going beyond the word’s meaning, an exploration that doesn’t stop at letters… but extends to all in-between-sounds made possible by the tongue/oral cavity/breath configuration.” I don’t know if Phil or Audrey’s performances go beyond words, but their fragmented noises and stripped down vocal utterances do get at feelings and expressions differently than conventional singing does. Rather than going beyond anything, I get the sense that they’re digging down, drilling into the voice and looking for meaning and expressiveness where most would hear nonsense. Whatever the theoretical framework is, the content is unique and varied—the kind of music that encourages lateral thinking and hearing ostensibly familiar sounds anew.

Four Instruments Two Voices is available from Sub Rosa
Sound samples are available at Brainwashed.com


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The Monthly List: April’s Top 10

photograph by Kevin Baird

Solar Eclipse – “Ring of Fire” – photograph by Kevin Baird

The only new album on the list this month comes from the Phil Minton/Audrey Chen Quintet on Sub Rosa. Everything else is a reissue or a new collection of older music.

Impulse’s release of John Coltrane’s complete Sun Ship sessions snuck in right at the end of April, but didn’t make the list because I was too busy listening to MeditationsCrescent, and Interstellar Space to notice. Coltrane has been almost the only thing I’ve wanted to hear for the last two weeks and I don’t see any sign of that streak ending. Repeat plays of Crescent and Meditations were broken only by Human Ear’s reissue of Michael Pisaro’s Tombstones and Machu Picchu’s re-release of Inside the Shadow. Both are essential and I highly recommend seeking them out.

The first half of the month was also dominated by reissues. Recollection GRM’s Xenakis LP is outstanding, as is MCR’s treatment of Where’s My Towel/Industry Standard from Austin’s Big Boys.

As always, formats posted are the ones I own. Others may be available. If you like any of the samples I link to, please buy the album. You can find numerous retailers carrying these titles at the bottom of this page.


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Song of the Night: Eddie Gale, “Fulton Street”


From Eddie Gale’s Ghetto Music.

Allmusic gives it five stars:

The aesthetic and cultural merits of Eddie Gale’s Ghetto Music cannot be overstated. That it is one of the most obscure recordings in Blue Note’s catalogue — paid for out of label co-founder Francis Wolff‘s own pocket — should tell us something. This is an apocryphal album, one that seamlessly blends the new jazz of the ’60s — Gale was a member of the Sun Ra Arkestra before and after these sides, and played on Cecil Taylor‘s Blue Note debut Unit Structures — with gospel, soul, and the blues. Gale‘s sextet included two bass players and two drummers — in 1968 — as well as a chorus of 11 voices, male and female. Sound like a mess? Far from it. This is some of the most spiritually engaged, forward-thinking, and finely wrought music of 1968. What’s more is that, unlike lots of post-Coltrane new jazz, it’s ultimately very listenable.

Water Records, part of the same company that issues music under the 4 Men with Beards label, currently has a CD version available on their website. The 180 gram vinyl version is listed on the same website with a release date of 4/16, but is currently out of stock. Chances are it’ll pop up in your favorite record store soon.

Brotzmann playing a huge sax


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Morning Wake-Up Call: Peter Brötzmann’s “Machine Gun”

The Peter Brötzmann feature in this month’s issue of Wire magazine has me busting my copy of Machine Gun out again—and admiring the first decent Wire cover in ages. Machine Gun sounds better to me now than it did when I first heard it 14 or 15 years ago, when I was 15 or 16 years old. I remember hearing the opening saxophone blast for the first time and laughing, both out of surprise and because it delivered exactly what the album title promised: a scary, rapid fire blast built up from three saxophonists, two bassists, two drummers, and a lonely pianist. Brötzmann’s intensity and volume is mentioned in nearly every review his music gets (for good reason), but there’s a lot of great humor and subtlety folded into his music too: listen long enough to the song below and you’ll hear what sounds like a riot passing through a football game at a university. The Complete Machine Gun Sessions is currently out of print, but according to the Atavistic website you can find it at places like iTunes or eMusic. Recommended listening.