Monday, October 17, 2016


This recording of a live French radio broadcast of Larry Coryell (guitar),Jack Bruce (bass) and Mitch Mitchell (drums) has been circulating for years. Bruce and Mitchell were no longer with their respective former bands Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience (though Mitchell  would rejoin JH not long after this date) and Larry Coryell, recently of the Gary Burton group, was an emerging jazz-rock pioneer who'd already released a number of albums under his own name. The audio quality is excruciatingly bad, with the muddiest sound and scratchiest ambience imaginable. The sub par fidelity may be fitting, though, or at least ironic, as the mega power trio here, winging through a selection of tunes like "Sunshine of Your Love" and such features the energy of skilled musicians jamming against the static of the spheres. 

This is closer in spirit and execution to the proto-grunge thrash of  1969's Emergency, the first album by the Tony  Williams Lifetime, an early fusing of fleet improvisatory  fury and rock's bludgeoning power. Before it became slick, polished and professional,  before it morphed into the slick and largely gutless form termed "fusion", jazz rock was dissonant, blaring, something of a battle of hard tones and contrasts as much influenced by Ornette Coleman and free-jazz advocates. These were the pains of something raw and beautiful   coming into being. Coryell, Bruce and Bruce get some of that on this recording, slipshod though the presentation maybe. 

This is of historical importance mostly, I suppose, since none of these musicians would have signed off on some thing this woefully recorded to be released to the public no matter how cheaply it might have been priced. If you're willing to bear with the barrage, chatter and distortion,  you'll have a sense of what might have been. Bruce and Mitchell criss cross rhythms in ways neither of them did in their previous bands; both had jazz back grounds and this shows a little  of what they might have done . Coryell is at his choppy best, a veritable geyser of  dive -bombing  riffs,quicksilver runs, thorny power chords and swaths of strategically placed feedback. He plays like a man liberated, a high tension combination of Sonny Sharrock and Albert King, with more than a little Joe Pass and Link Wray tossed in. This trudges, stumbles, energizes and rocks the box it came in. Again, the worst  recording you're likely to encounter, but worth a listen.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

DYLAN DID NOT DESERVE THE NOBEL PRIZE FOR LITERATURE

Why Bob Dylan shouldn’t have gotten the Nobel prize for literature.:

Image result for BOB DYLANThe good news is that Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The bad news is that the Nobel Prize for Literature went to Bob Dylan. Good because it gives an American the prize after a long wait for one of our own writers to be acknowledged. Bad because I have a difficult time thinking of Dylan as a writer as we normally think of them--poet, novelist, essayist, playwright.Stephen Metcalf, writing in Slate, argues that Dylan, despite the conspicuous profundity of his innovations and the global, generation spanning reach of his influence, did not deserve the Prize because Dylan is not a man of literature, but a rather a songwriter, a lyricist, not a poet. I wrote long and agitated on topic in 2007, which you can read at length here .To summarize ,Dylan is a not a poet, but a songwriter who writes lyrics, an art now distinct from poetry which he has taken apart and reconfigured and put back together as no one else has done. Yes, I realize many will make the argument are historically connected in past ages, but that there has been a split between what's done in song and what is done on the page quite a while ago and Dylan , for all his revolutionizing, did not bring poets back from under the shadow of Whitman. What Dylan lacks a proper category and here, I think, the Nobel folks shoe horn him into a classification that is and will remain an awkward fit.

Bob Dylan is a very rich and very, very famous International Rock Star and his being given the highest literary award there is indicates the Academy was more star struck in their decision than awestruck by his actual writing. One cannot, of course, diminish Dylan's achievement, but the innovations, breakthroughs and creations he is responsible for and which influenced nearly every songwriter since his arrival are a songwriter, a different art altogether. As has been mentioned by many others, his lyrics are not the poetry we read when there's a need to get beyond the clatter and commotion and investigate perceptions between the words. That is, poetry that makes music from the meaning and intimations created with the language, not the notes of a scale. Dylan's lyrics,  often resonant with his minimal melodies and effectively dramatized by his nasal, reedy vocals, are merely flat when off the page, to oneself. As lines of poetry, they do not move, swerve, or undulate, they lack their own rhythm, they generally create no cadence. They are, though, effective, very effective, and moving in Dylan's best material. He is not TS Eliot, his is not Marianne Moore, he is not LeRoi Jones, he is not Walt Whitman, he is not John Ashbery, he is not Frank O'Hara, poets whose work are respective delights to read , sans music. This is to say that Dylan's genius is something to behold, but it is not literature. 

This is like a sports statistic with an asterisk after the name. It could be , as well, a slap to our face, considering a Nobel Judge Horace Engdahl, famously remarked in 2008 that American writers are second rate compared with their European counterparts" The US is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining." So rather than deal with our rich selection of poets, novelists, playwrights who are deserving , the award goes to Dylan. What this means is that given the amount of time its taken the Nobel Committee to come around and present one of our own as worthy of being a Nobel Laureate, we are pretty much assured that Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, Joyce Carol Oates or Philip Roth are forever out of the running.

Monday, October 10, 2016

drop the tantrums


What irritates about some poets in these times is their habit of bringing their predilection for the intangible from the art they practice into the political arena, where it becomes mere wishful thinking. Voting for Jill Stein is the equivilent of Peter Pan imploring the audience to pray to keep Tinker Bell's light alive and lit. Hewing to "principle" and voting for a third party candidate brings a deranged ego maniac to the White House. It's time to drop the tantrum and vote against the creeping disease that is Trump.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Chick Corea and Friends pay tribute to Bud Powell

I've been pretty much an unreserved Chick Corea fan since meeting him (as a listener) on the M.Davis Bitches Brew, where he tag-teamed with fellow keyboardist Joe Zawinul to give that masterpiece its funky, layered, modal fever dream grounding. Corea since revealed in his solo and collaborative efforts to be a peerless pianist, fluent, fast, inventive, unflagging , and one his generation's protean composers. It wasn't that,as a composer, he could merely switch styles with acceptable aptitude; his excursions into rock, classical ,pop and Avant Gard were full throttle, probing, finding more similarities than one might expect , and when there weren't elements so similar, relishing in the contractions and producing intriguing music all the same. 

I am not one to say, perhaps, but I would say that Corea's body of work as a jazz composer match up against the greatest the Canon has awarded us with. That said, it's a pleasure to listen to Corea's tribute to one of his central influences, both as composer and improviser, Bud Powell, with his "Remembering Bud Powell" release from 1997. As a pianist, Powell's fingers knew precisely how to be dynamic when and where it counted; as his tunes were melodic but hooky , full of sudden but smooth shifts in tempo and direction, BP seemed to extemporize the composition at will. Matters beheld are unfailingly evident by energy and the inventive required by Powell's nicely involved songs. Corea, in tribute, positively swings on this session; lithe , percussive, bright. His band--Wallace Roney on trumpet, Ray Haynes on drums, Kenny Garrett, Christian McBride on bass, Joshua Redman on sax--take the opportunity to swing this batch of progressions and augmentations for all the marvelously flowing improvisations they can collectively muster.

This Corea Bud Powell collection is notable for, besides dense and cutting improvisations, is the quality of Powell’s' compositions. Corea resists the temptation to Latinize or fusio-nize the material and instead plays the charts straight--Powell’s' sense of harmonic build-up and resolution is loopy, easing from sweetness to tart dissonance. All of which is the canvas for some good blowing. Corea reins in his extravaganzas and weaves around with a now untypical sense of swing. The efforts of Garrett and Redman are a reed lover’s idea of heaven. Roney has a cool, crystalline tone, and his phrasing is meditative, reserved, nicely so, though one desires a Hubbardesque scorch at odd times. Haynes and McBride are champs .


Straight ahead jazz fans need to purchase this fine album and then treat themselves further by acquiring recordings of the florid and exhilarating Mr. Powell himself.

PROSE POEM FOR A PHOTOGRAPH OF A MAN WITH LUGGAGE UNDER A STREET LIGHT

If I had a cigarette , I would light it and take a big , fat drag, hold in the smoke while it seared by throat, and then release it in a lacy stream of ghostly grey under the street light that shone down on me like it were the white oval at the end of a big, heavy flash light. But there was no cigarette, no matches, not even a brand name nor a single to sing it to, nothing was left in the imagination's bank of notions. Rather, I wondered capriciously about the gleam of the moisture on the cement and asphalt that had just been rained on , the  play of the light against the train station wall, shadows and brightness achieving depth of tone and suggestion. Lights were burning in each window, traffic was absent save for the rolling kiss of tires on slicked streets. The city seemed like a doctored photo you'd seen on a souvenir store shelf alongside a hundred just like it, a glamorous skyline after dark, lights and blackness swallows the world whole and slumbers  with the glow  of other angels radiating all the glow and glare coming with the first fingers of morning clamour and commotion.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

STONES DO BEATLES: nothing comes together

We've spent so many years marveling at the Rolling Stones for their tenacity , grit and commitment t to stay lean and rangy the upper reaches of their career that it becomes easy to over look the pesky fact that age does take a toll. The match up of the Beatles' "Come Together", a bluesy, curt, surreal two-chord swamp-rocker and the Stones is theoretically delightful, but from the evidence suggests it might have been done better years ago, say, around the time of "Some Girls" , "Black and Blue" or "Undercover". The boys still had some strut in their stuff at the time.

The Stones still had an edge then, and their scattershot guitar texturing of Keith Richards Ron Wood had the likely chance of making this John Lennon tune truly their own, a chunky groan from the drain pipes accompanied by brood guitar chords and one bitch of a bass line. That's fantasy, however, and what this video reveals is something less than a rehearsal of a song. This is a pointless cover,,as it is more stumble than strut, more bellow than boast, more idling than rock. And time has taken a toll on Jagger's voice.

Never a great vocalist on stage, he is diminished further by age to being hoarse and nasal. Jagger's gift was the ability to sneer, lisp, grunt, growl, insinuate, mewl , bark and bray in a manner that was appropiate to the extraordinary songbook he and Richards wrote over six decades; never a great singer, but always a great actor, a vocalist who could dramatize a lyric effectively. Not this time.

Friday, October 7, 2016

SORCERER -- magic from Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams,Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock


Image result for sorcerer miles davis
Sorcerer --Miles Davis (Sony)
Sorcerer, the 1967 album from Miles Davis, has been in my CD player the last couple of days and, to pun badly, I've been more than a little entranced by how amazingly well these improvisers,all of whom are distinct and potentially dominating in ensemble efforts, work so cohesively as a group.There's a perfect kind of modal combustion here, with Miles Davis contrasting his spare and fairly angular sense of improvisation with the formidable resourcefulness of this album's principal  ensemble, Wayne Shorter (saxophone), Herbie Hancock (piano), Ron Carter (double bass) and Tony Williams (drums). The music is a unusual  combination of  the unforced and the aggressive, resisting the temptation to either go slack in their pace or stray toward the harsh vicissitudes of anguished, strident experimentation,  a pulsing course of off-accented rhythms, musical swaths of varying tones and colors, and ingenious interlacing between primary soloist Davis, Shorter and Hancock. Ensemble exploration at its peak, it seems, as the three of them actively listen to and anticipate each other's ideas during the respective solo spots. This is what the great Davis groups did, find unexamined nuance and moods in the musical tones. 

 Davis and Shorter in particular offer up a few exquisite moments of dialogue as they answer, query, interrogate and respond to musical propositions put forth by the other. As great as the previous occupant in the saxophone chair had been, the redoubtable and effusively  brilliant John Coltrane, Shorter was a better fit for Davis' ideas for the ensemble at the time,  1967, when this disc was recorded His solos are less galvanic than Coltrane's were, more composed, filled with lithe and delicate phrases , wonderfully respondant to the rhythms and pulse Williams and Carter provided and the full range of ideas underscores and textures the sound with.Davis is at his best, lyrical, on the edge of atonal, bracing when needed, the tone of his notes isolated and longing.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Collins in the Wall Street Journal

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Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins,in a recent chat with a Wall Street Journal reporter, talked about "banging his head" against the likes of Joyce, Pound and their attendant difficulties and his eventual decision to align himself with poets like Philip Larkin and Robert Frost and "poets, who dare to be clear." Superb models to use if you're aspiring to write in contiguous sentences unmarred by needless line breaks. 

Poetry readers should be grateful that Collins found his voice in the place where the conversations are actually happening, in the world and not the rheumy chambers of a book-addled soul. Difficult poetry that is actually good is difficult to write, and there are only a few among the millions who do so who actually deserve attention,praise, and continued discussion. At this stage,it becomes increasingly the case that there are far too many poets in the world who are trying to out- perform Stevens, Eliot, Stein, Olson in pushing the limits of poetry; the last group I paid attention to who managed difficulty that intrigued, provoked and which stopped making sense in a variety of works that made younger poets like myself examine the tropes I was using and attempt, with some success, to put it back together again, perception and images in newer works that come  out  just a little more out of the long shadow of previous and still present genius. 



So thank you LeRoi Jones, Ron Silliman, Rae  Armantrout, Paul Dresman, Bob Dylan and a few dozen others read in fifty years of reading for helping me , no, forcing me beyond my self-entombing idea of genius and moving me closer to the public square. No longer a younger poet stumbling in his attempts to master what seemed to be fashion at hand, I'm  old enough to accept the less stringent view that the only criteria for judging a poem's style, format, complexity and other such matters is in how well it works  on the reader who is reading it? Difficult or clear as glass, does the poem make a music one wants to understand? 

Billy Collins, of course, has his own amazingly effective style of clear poetry, and it's a marvel  to read how he begins with a scene,a situation performing what is often a banal house- hold task--listening to jazz, paying bills, a drive in the country, a bit of coffee in the city--and then a reverie of a sort,a memory triggered by some inane object , a recollection often seasoned with a light application of Literary Reference, just enough to expand the notion or expose a contradiction in his own assumption (the insight often being a dead sage's warning or mere reflection about matters of pride and exaggerated expectations)And  then there's a seamless transition to the scene from where he began his writing, the material world unchanged but, for the rumination that we've just read, is not the same as it was.His genius and  flaw are  the same heightened talent, his ability to produce these compact missives of everyday wonderment continuously.That's not to denigrate his skill at writing them, as the economy of his language, the resourcefulness of his imagination to find new twists and inlets within the limits of his style, and the genuinely  resonating effect of his phrase-making mark a writer who works his pieces; he is a professional, aware of his audience, aware of his materials, an artist who refuses  to let any of his ideas get muddied by the pretense   of deeper intimations.William Carlos Williams had the view that the thing itself is its own adequate symbol. Whatever one seeks to describe in the world one sees is already complex . Collins, more so than Williams, explores connections , fleeting though they are , of the things around to the world his imagination creates a frame for when he departs from home. His strategies, of course, are more varied than what I've described, but this is a recipe he uses as often as not, a template he can expand, revise, contract at will,  a habit he does splendidly. This makes him a good artist, a good craftsman, but it is also something that makes me want to call him a writer rather a poet.

He is , I think, the equivalent of the old school local newspaper columnist who would, twice or thrice a week, write 700 words or so about something in the news, in his life, whatever comes to mind, who would end his reflection that effectively left the reader reassured and just a little confused as to the purpose of that day's topic. The secret, though, was less to give meaning to the community one recognizes, but rather create the sense of texture. Columnist and poet Collins have skills that remind of things that you cannot quite put a finger on--something is lost, something     is joyful, something is sad or funny, but how, why , what is it?

I might mention as well that Collins' work seems to be a sequence of experiences that are uninterrupted by work situations.Others can, I imagine, provide me with poems of his where work is an element, a strong one, perhaps even the subject of the poem, but it occurs to me that Collins , at least in many of his poems, is a flaneur, a walker in the city, a watcher, the character who observes, records, relates the isolated bits of daily experience, testing the limits of his ideas, constantly re-acquainting himself with his own fallibility. Please don't mistake that for a bad thing. It's nice work if you can get it.