Monday, May 29, 2023

Succession ends it.


At last, we come to the absolute end of HBO's family / business drama Succession and for that, ending all storylines after the series' fourth season, is a favor that cannot be understated. Showtime's business fiction Billions, coming soon for a seventh season, has gone from a guilty pleasure where a viewer of average income can observe fictional billionaires behaving as biblical swine would, which is badly, immorally, narcissistic. But what should have stopped at a fourth or perhaps a fifth season has sped by, all the signs that it was time to start wrapping things up. The show concerns how powerful people in high-level law enforcement offices and in high stakes financial companies gain, lose and regain advantage in scenarios that have lost any sort of aspect of the thrill of it all. So, here comes season 7. With any luck, it will be the final year, albeit two seasons too late. The show was already a live action cartoon, an enjoyable one, but the plot points it's staked out for its next go round will be the kind of chronic sensationalism Showtime habitually extends beyond the entertainment value. 

For Succession, it's obvious that they've preferred tragedy to mean-spirited slapstick, and it is clear that the character arcs set out by the writers have led us through these four seasons to a situation that is painfully, obviously without resolution: what I'll say is that despite the wealth of these characters, it's a sure bet among viewers that it won't end well by the time one makes their way to the movie length final episode of Season 4. This is a collective tragedy, not an individual one, the fatal flaw being that the three main siblings have spent all the seasons trying to please a cruel father, even after Logan’s problem-causing death. Either they were trying to curry favor with him while he lived and secure control of the corporate structure after his eventual parting, or they were setting out to act in ways they thought Logan would approve of after his death rattle. Even with nominal control of the corporation as the deal was pending with GoJo, they could not act as Logan did, which was brutally and unapologetically decisive. Ken, Shiv and Roman were full of destructive ambivalence that prevented the trio from acting as a unified team of legacy owners or as individual agents able to devise strategy, implement plans, effectively see situations clearly, for what they were and not as they wished they were. I have a fondness for watching talented actors portray well-developed jerks, and I genuinely appreciated how skillfully the writers and show runners crafted a world of wealth, power, and outrageous privilege, populated by self-obsessed characters oblivious to the realities of everyday life. The exploration of themes such as generational cycles of abuse and the pervasive grip of collective narcissism was striking, particularly in the intensely articulated squabbles between the siblings and the peripheral characters. It became evident that they were attributing their problems to a world that they believed existed solely to cater to their corrosive whims and caprices.

What struck me as remarkable was the fact that none of the main characters ever walked the streets of the cities they inhabited, nor did they drive cars. Instead, they flew to different cities and countries on private jets, were chauffeured in tinted limousines to hotels, residences, or corporate offices, all while remaining completely detached from the local population. The way they treated each other was abhorrent, obscene, rude, brutal, and at times even psychotic. It was uncomfortable to witness, yet undeniably presented in a splendid and occasionally brilliant manner, revealing the depths of their pettiness and vanity and showcasing their irredeemable nature. In a very contemporary sense, this series can be considered a tragedy. It lacks a hero with a fatal flaw or a central character who possesses good intentions for the world but believes themselves to be the sole savior of the universe. Instead, it is saturated with excessive and toxic pride, embodied by a group of deluded and inept individuals. The presence of hubris is an essential aspect of the tragedy genre, and it becomes evident that the Universe, in some way, senses the disruption caused by the hubris and acts to restore balance. This often leads to a tragic end for the protagonist, who meets their fate through circumstances they have themselves created.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

SHORT NOTES ON OLD ALBUMS: Larry Coryell, Michael Urbaniak, Dave Holland , Miles Davis, Sonny Stitt, The Who

This is a concert video of the late jazz guitar master Larry Coryell and the amazing Polish jazz-fusion violinist, originally released on VHS I believe, that hasn't been released as a stand-alone disc. I pray someone will secure the rights and make it available. Coryell was a member of the original Super Guitar Trio with John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia, and though his playing was frequently brilliant, he was often hobbled with flubs and miscues; it became obvious that LC's dependence on drugs and hooch lessened his skills, and he was replaced by the ever able Al diMeola. Coryell got clean and sober in 1981 and this effort, recorded in 1982, shows the difference. It's a remarkable performance, thanks in major portions to Urbaniak, whose skills as an improviser are second to none; his unstitched combining of styles ranging from Grapelli through Ponty and his mastery of idiom, technique and tonal nuance gives LC the colorful contrast. Urbaniak's impromptus are swift and melodic and, as with Coryell, seem without end in the configurations his long lines of notes form.  He has a bass player's instincts as well, and supports  Coryell's ultra-virtuoso fantasias. Coryell at this time seems like a man with something to prove, and here he demonstrates his point in spades.


By the 90s, I was listening to jazz almost exclusively, in addition to works by old rock heroes who were still recording at the time. It was a great decade for forward reaching jazz. A favorite was Dave Holland's album Extensions, 1990, highlighting the limitless improvisational talents of the assembled band, Steve Coleman (sax), Kevin Eubanks (guitar), Marvin Smith (drums) and Holland on bass. The compositions, two a piece by Coleman, Eubanks, and Holland, are vibrant and tonally rich launching points for extending forays and exchanges of ideas. Coleman is especially superb with his ability to offer packed choruses and place the lines in directions you don't expect. Eubanks is a revelation, as I had only known him until this record as the leader of Jay Leno's TV band, where he seemed a willing sort to be the sidekick. He is a fiery guitarist, however, and serves up an unexpectedly fierce and fusiony onslaught of well amped and distorted ideas. The work of Holland Smith throughout has a malleable and organic pulse that makes this session swing, rock, soar and sooth all at once. A remarkable record.


Trumpeter Miles Davis is known as a man with great taste to highlight the work of great sax players in his bands--Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Sam Rivers, Sonny Rollins. Add Sonny Stitt. Often derided as a knock-off of Charlie Parker, an grossly unfair charge, Stitt is shown here as lyrically expressive, technically sublime and engagingly melodic improviser for establishes his ideas of bebop chromaticism to the music's superb body of energy. Davis, in fine form here with his brief statements, quick , surgically inserted note clusters and his pure, nearly vibratoless tone --not to mention his genius use of space between his solos--has made it a working habit to pare his own minimalist expressiveness against busier second voices like Coltrane and later John McLaughlin. With his band, with peerless support from alto and tenor saxophones, Wynton Kelly, piano, Paul Chambers, bass, and Jimmy Cobb, drums--we have Stitt in that position. His choruses are choice, crowded but not crowding. Recorded sometime during the 1960s, according to some vague notes on the CD.


The Who's first two-record rock opera Tommy,1969, is a masterpiece of managing to tell a delicately elliptical story through multiple voices and still rock proudly. It's Pete Townshend at this peak as a songwriter, as he puts forth selections in a variety of deftly handled styles. The feeling that this work is for all time was cemented in 1992 when the LaJolla Playhouse debuted The Who's Tommy as a live action theater production. Imagined and directed by eccentric director Des McAnuff, the production was engagingly flashy , and effective, but the smartest decision was to not flesh out, to "fill in" the vaguer gaps on the album's narrative with yet more narrative in the form of voice over or in spoken, not sung dialogue. They essential produced the album everyone was familiar. The musical arrangements matched the instrumentation of the original release, which added to the excitement of the live experience. So what else for the genius of Pete Townshend to follow? Oddly, strangely, he and the Who brought us Quadrophrenia, a double disc that was everything Tommy wasn't, which was humorless, musically monotonous, self-serious, muddled in concept and story telling, grandiose, pretentious. I seem to be a chorus of one with this. Here's a longish rant about that album from a few years ago , also on this blog.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

D'S "T"

Dylan is a word slinger to be, maybe a genuine poet during some parts of his oeuvre. Still, he is not a writer, not as we know the word, a craftsman, an artist, a professional who makes sentences that start somewhere and set the tone for the sentence that follows. That is, writers, write things that make sense in some respect, as in you understand clearly the thing being described, or that you understand it more abstractly and realize that the writer is undertaking a task that tries to deal with several things--philosophical notions, contradictory arguments, overlapping historical data --and bringing a coherent framework to understand complex matters, or at least come away with a sense of what the writer is getting at.

Even Dylan's wildest lyrics, from Desolation Row to his more recent brilliance noteworthy Rough and Rowdy Ways: surreal or nonsensical as the stanzas may be, the line limits and the need to rhyme imposed restrictions on Dylan's musings. He needed to wrap up his investigations into his more obscure imaginings. He gave you something to talk about. Tarantula was written on the road, in hotel rooms, on tour, rattled off in high doses of speed, and maybe other drugs too inane to bother talking about, and it indeed reads like it, snub-nosed Burroughs, Kerouac without the jivey swing. Some parts make you laugh, some good lines abound. Yet, it suffers in that readers wanted their hero, the poet of their generation, to write a genuinely good of poetry or some such thing, with true believers tying themselves in self-revealing knots to defend the book that is interesting as an artifact to the historical fact of Dylan's fame and influence and not much else. There is a part I like, effective as poetry, a bit of self-awareness that shows that Dylan realizes that his persona is false, a conspiracy between himself and the major media, and that he might have to account for the construction somewhere in the future of the whole matter.

Tarantula, an experimental prose poetry collection Dylan wrote between 1965 and 1966, wasn’t intended for publication, but its existence became an underground legend, and bootleg editions began to circulate. Tarantula was finally printed in 1971. The book wasn’t a coherent thesis but rather reflected Dylan’s method and influences, which characterized his most baroque and lyrics, similar in style to the “cut up” technique fashioned by William Burroughs in his novels Naked Lunch and The Wild Boys: a major transgression against grammar and punctuation and notions of continuity, rough-hewn character sketches, in jokes, odd conflations of vernaculars that constitute Dylan’s most hallucinogenic writing. Although there are some striking and evocative tributes to Aretha Franklin, it remains a head scratcher even for the most faithful of his flock. This lane-changing collection of idiomatic invention and deconstruction is, if nothing else, an odd and sometimes exhilarating landmark in on the Dylan bookshelf.