Monday, December 12, 2016

TED NUGENT: death rattle and roll


Ted Nugent is a conservative asshole who's politics are more head line hungry than thought provoking; he's been emphasizing his gun toting , quasi-libertarian survivalist side for so long that virtually everyone has forgotten what a good and unique rock and roll guitarist he is. This video, from an Amboy Dukes reunion of a kind, demonstrates that he can still play that angular,needle point style of his with the same back stabbing swagger that he had in the Sixties and the 70s, when he shut his mouth long enough to remind people that he used to be taken seriously as a musician. Here, the hatted one, still smirking like someone who just came back to the party after schlonging your girl friend behind the garage in the dank tool shed discretely wedged between the trash cans and the aromatic compost heap unleashes some major E chord damage and continues with a ridiculous flurry and fury of notes that it is like nothing else other than a blood lusting intersection when the traffic lights fail and every piece of metal gets twisted and every driver gets a headache, if they're lucky. That image news well with Nugent’s zeitgeist of preference, social Darwinism, the spirit of the strong and the armed taking what they need by force and the will to do so, attaining provisions and pleasures from the weak, the downtrodden, the unlucky and the losers who cannot defend their patch of the earth against invaders, marauders, hunters and rascals of nastier inclination.
Survival of the Fittest Live.jpg
 

This is the culture of bullying laid bare and blatant, a world view that  has absorbed the worst aspect of the warrior ethos and has used the habit of mind as a rationale sanity that goes to the marrow , that each and every act of belligerence, aggression, corrosively applied vulgarity and punch in the face is a matter of course, each an act of bravery, honor, of maintaining a natural order of things. Poet and essayist Robert Bly tried to humanize this mythology with his book Iron John, wherein he argued that men, as part of the species, need to reconnect with a fuller philosophy of their masculinity, not merely more the warrior, but also embracing and accepting and internalizing the responsibilities of being the father, the teacher, the leader who recognizes his obligations to the greater community of families his family is privileged to live in. Nugent’s cannibal-spirited libertarianism has none of that inconvenient consideration in its desires to make the world and the people in it cower in front of more than his guitar skills.


  Being weak, sick, not of the war mentality was your own  tough shit and no one was obliged to give you aid. A telling title in Nugent’s time as Amboy Dukes leader was an album called Survival of the Fittest .  While generally a kick-ass session of Nugent’s distinct guitar work—ambivilence creeps in hear because even I , an enemy of bullies and the like, have to admit this blathering sociopath can play that guitar pretty damned well— the title of the record, and the cover image of Nugent with arrow and bow, answers the question as to why we should be glad that artists are not the ones in charge of making social policy.The only social agreement for this grubby school  yard punk is that if you give him your lunch money , he will let you live long enough for you get more lunch money.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Music at the Outskirts a bracing mix of hard rock, funk, free-jazz and the will to power

Image result for strange storm darrin james band
Strange Storm--The Darrin James Band
Strange Storm, the third album from the Detroit based Darrin James Band, is truth-telling of the bitterest sort, ten tracks naming the slights we do each other, intended and otherwise.  Following suit, Darrin James, principle songwriter and singer, growls, rasps, sneers and bellows through the trouble-minded lyrics. James, of course, hasn’t the market cornered in outrage, but he’s not one to wring hands and resign himself to regret and rumination.The album isn’t a mere scolding for the sins society commits against fellow citizens, but also a grand and roiling work out by an instrumental troupe that cuts a rapid and confident path through a heady number of approaches, be it traditional folk/protest, hard rock and polyrhythmic , through a grainy brand of fusion and wrenching excursions in dissonant free-jazz wailing. It’s refreshing, it’s bracing, it’s a welcome relief from the prepackaged reflexes that dominate the chatter in the major music media. These guys get your attention and don’t waste your time once they have it. The band is adroit, with mastery of varied grooves and rhythms. Generous chunks of hard rock guitar balance against the quick reflexes of a funk and fusion-honed rhythm section underpins the James’ snarled ire. Hardly a droning list of the evils of wealth, power and status seeking; the songs are varied, the rhythms are sharply executed, venturing from more traditional folk protest style as in the opening “Walking in the Footsteps”, through the hammering downbeats and stuttering Meters-style funk of the title track.Suitably, it’s not just lyrics that characterize the outrage, but also the music, especially in two instrumental tracks, “Downdrafts Cold Fronts” and “Covert Mission Anthem”. With nods to P-Funk, Zappa’s more crowded orchestrations and the anguished improvisations of Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, this a swerving ride between over lapping modes and moods, subdued textures and light embellishments morphing into angular, off-center progressions , with sharp guitar riffs and arguing horn and reed solos traipsing through the coarse density. The abrasive layering of trumpet and sax effectively match James’ excoriations. Strange Storm has impressive brilliance in their harnessing anger and railing against injustice.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Potent, If Predictable Wallop


The Grand Trine -Color You





Color You, an alt-rock unit residing in the sparky interiors of Los Angeles , awards its new album the heady appellation The Grand Trine. Stepping beyond the title’s intent to perplex and bewilder, we learn through a swift Google search that the phrase indicates “ …a planetary pattern composed of three or more planets in a chart located at the vertices of an imaginary equilateral triangle. Usually all three planets are in the same element (fire, earth, air or water)…”
 The attraction to the phrase and the concept it allusively describes is understandable, as it’s been an unwritten rule since rock and roll became abbreviated to the more serious brevity of “rock” in the Sixties and young bands , taking after the cowpoke existentialism of Dylan and the elegant gentrification of the Beatles’ music and lyric approaches, need to conceptualize on a more ambitious scale: esoteric thematics, abstruse lyrics, bits of incidental noise and anything else that saves the 4/4 from being mere dance music decorated with moon/June cliches. As with most bands trying to get across something more between-the-lines than curb-side specific, the Color You’s idea to suggest something metaphysical is afoot separate from what’s happening in the street is a tad pretentious , and the band’s decision to include what sounds like spoken word snippets to bookend the start and finish of this album underscores the impulse to seem profound .

It’s an empty gesture, and unneeded, but we’re fortunate that as alt-rockers fashioning themselves after power chord savants like the Pixies, Nirvana or Modest Mouse at their most engaged, Color You has the flair,the panache, the raining megaton guitar grit to move the reluctant listener quickly past their objections and land them in a hook-heavy stream of fine, riffing teenage angst, confusion, ire and irony. 


There are no bold innovations in the form here, no musical adventures geared to dismantle and reconstruct rock and roll as we know, and that is an aspect that is the band’s strength. Members Ben Ross (vocals/guitar), Brian Han (bass/vocals), Drew Stutz (drums) and Theo Eckhardt (guitar/vocals), above all else, put together first-rate rockers, propulsive guitar riffage that propels, sweeps along and drapes over the material , major , minor and diminished keys highlighted as the materials’ simple but effective demand, with a solid thump and push of bass and busy drums making this wall of sound tilt, swerve and rock in turns of emphasis that are unexpected and wonderful. Superb lead vocals from Ben Ross make the difference as well, the array of approaches being convincingly servile, nervous, raging, or crooning romantic as need be, often times in the same song.


Ross’s singing provides a focal point through this album's sweetly distorted chord variations, apply a tangibly human expression to the constant grind of a hard rock tirelessly replicating the dynamics of a world that will not stop because you’re confused, angry, hurt, or even in love to the bone. Ross is the voice of a young man making sense of his life through whatever paces daily life can put him through. Down to it, Color You is credible mainstream rock, unpretentious, riveting, varied, packing a wallop. I am hoping their penchant to package themselves as deep thinkers pass. For rock and roll, whatever the pedigree, it’s best to keep it real than to make it profound.

Friday, December 2, 2016

more regarding Leonard Cohen

(This originally appeared in the San Diego Troubadour. Used with kind permission).
In my mind there was a decades long-debate as to who the best rock and roll poet was, Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen. Being the kind of ersatz pundit who argued passionately for the minority opinion, my champion was Cohen. Critics and audiences and what used to be called Mass Media reached a consensus that gave Dylan the Keys to the Kingdom. All is to say that Dylan has Tin Pan Alley throwing a large shadow over his work. And now, with the death of the Canadian-born poet, novelist songwriter and recording artist on November 10 at age 82 gives the lie to the nonsense of pitting the two songwriters against each other in hypothetical grudge matches; that was the stuff of high school bull sessions, teen age certainty at its most insufferable. Ironically, Cohen’s music was about growing up and, eventually, growing old, if not with grace but certainly with full intent of living fully to the last. This was the rare instance where his work became more profound as I aged, deeper, more nuanced as personal experience matched the literary craft of the songs I admired long and enviously.

His songs were an impetus for me to do the same as he, a callow seventeen impatient, in some sense , to grow up and experience heartbreak so that I might wallow in a notion that mine, too, was a life lived fully, if not well, as Cohen seemed to convey in his lyrics. Dark rooms full of teenagers , a thick odor of pot and incense , Leonard Cohen’s voice, a rumbling monotone that made you think of a man speaking low or softly who had just then raised his volume just enough so that you suddenly heard him speak with alarming clarity of phrase and image, a constant, three chord strum on a guitar, this was my first encounter with the songwriter, an artist that planted the seed in many of us to go into the world and experience it deeply, to contemplate those experiences closely and completely, and to write the inexpressible in terms of the unforgettable. How many of us actually did anything remotely like that is unknown; jobs, marriages, wars have serious ways of side tracking or eliminating careers as poets. But Cohen managed it, in a career that began in 1956 with the publication of his first book, The Spice Box Of Earth.

The sacred and the profane were subjects that were constants in his writing, not so much mashed together, the arbitrary fusion of unlike propositions , but rather intermingling, the aspects of sensuality and solemnity weaving and through each other, elements of the human spirit’s need to experience feel fully alive. Cohen’s chronicle of how he followed his muse over decades, in songs, poems, novels reveals a man who , I think, obviously believed in God, a deity, though, who might possible not have a Grand Plan for good people after this life surrenders us to darkness. His Higher Power, though, has a subtle and power sense of Irony. If God is in the details, He is in laughing, smirking at least, wondering what is we might learn from the collected experiences a life time accords us.

What inspired the poet in me to come alive and chase the muse of learning how to create suggestive sentences was the expansive flashiness of Dylan’s writing, vernacular fireworks that, in their best expression, made no literal sense but still left you with the chilling effect that something was happening that needed a new language to describe the vibe. His songs were public, his lyrics were cast in broad swaths of angular, cubist-bent non sequiturs that were perfect for a generation of youth that vaguely wanted a destiny that would form as all utopias theoretically would, by consensus, without rules, distortions, based on cooperation, in harmony with a natural order that had gotten lost in the rapid shuffle of change since World War 2. Cohen was the other extreme, personal, isolated, reflective to the degree that you felt as though you were invading a private space as you played the albums, the effect of walking into a room you thought was empty only to discover someone in there staring into a dark corner of the space, talking to themselves. Cohen felt deeply, considered his affairs, his pilgrimages, and his constant search for experience that might allow him to grow spiritually and so uncover a more profound notion of a love that does not die.

In poems and especially in songs, songs like “Suzanne”, “Hey , That’s No Way to Say Goodbye”, “Hallelujah “, and “Tower of Song”, Cohen artfully balanced two sides of a persona , the soul scarred and deepened by profound happenstance, and the observer, who wittily and with enormous amounts of bemusement recounting a new subtle lesson or a lesson that needed to be learned yet again. This isn’t to say Cohen is philosophically ponderous or didactic; although his songs are prone to many stanzas, Cohen’s lines and images are crisp, ironic, a masterful use of the snappy line no less agile than what Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe would offer. “Tower of Song”, I think, gives full evidence of this songwriter’s ability to be honest and curtly honestly with his allegories and yet it keep it comical.
Well my friends are gone and my hair is grey
 I ache in the places where I used to play
 And I’m crazy for love but I’m not coming on
 I’m just paying my rent every day
 Oh in the Tower of Song
 I said to Hank Williams: how lonely does it get?
 Hank Williams hasn’t answered yet
 But I hear him coughing all night long
 A hundred floors above me
 In the Tower of Song
I was born like this, I had no choice
 I was born with the gift of a golden voice
 And twenty-seven angels from the Great Beyond
 They tied me to this table right here
 In the Tower of Song
His songs, which I fine the finest of the late 20th century in English–only Dylan, Costello, Mitchell and Paul Simon, have comparable bodies of work–we find more attention given to the effect of every word and phrase that’s applied to his themes, his story lines. In many ways, Cohen was a better writer over all. Unlike Dylan, who has been indiscriminate for the last thirty ways I would say Cohen is a better lyricist than Dylan because he’s a better years about the quality of work he’s released, there is scarcely anything in Cohen’s songbook that wasn’t less than considered, pondered over, measured for effect and the achievement of the cultivated ambiguity that made you yearn for the sweet agony that accompanies a permanent residence in the half lit zone between the sacred and the profane.



Wednesday, November 16, 2016

MOSE ALLISON, RIP

A great musician has passed. Allison's was a name that flew below the radar when one started counting influential singer/songwriters. It's in retrospect that you realize his style , his originality in an African American art form, were the epicenter of whatever legitimate Caucasian version of "cool" might have developed during his prime period. He didn't attempt to sound or act black in music or manner, and he didn't hide from his white, Southern background. His singing remains a godsend in an area of blues, the sort played by well intentioned white players , who mostly sounding like rude noises from an garbled idea of American culture. Allison's voice was cool, reserved, talk-sung with the barest hint of blues inflection; where others got loud and raspy when the emotions poured down thickly, Allison remained calm, his voice hanging as far to the edge of musical phrase while still remaining , in some way, on , before or just after the beat. This was he subtle insinuation of skepticism, reserve, of keeping a center amid the chaos of events and conflicts and contradictions around him. Part Southern Gentleman and part Sonny Boy Williams, it was a style of singing that was clear and articulate but still made you think that was the voice of a man heavily marked by experience. Like wise his lyrics, which were cool, ironic, sardonic, spare but full of implication. I don't there have been many other songwriters who displayed as much wit with so much rhyming brevity. He was, of course, a unique pianist, cross referencing classical and hard bop with a seamless elegance and energy.

Friday, November 11, 2016

LEONARD COHEN, RIP: the best rock poet

Bob Dylan is, in essence, and in fact, a song lyricist who has a particularly strong gift for the poetic effect, while Cohen is a poet in the most coherent sense; he had published several volumes of poetry and published two novels prior to his taking up the guitar. Dylan's style is definitely the definition of the postmodern jam session, a splendid mash-up of Little Richard, Hank Williams, Chuck Berry and a long line of obscure or anonymous folk singers whose music he heard and absorbed. His lyrics, however arcane and tempered with Surreal and Symbolist trappings--although the trappings, in themselves, were frequently artful and inspired--he labored to the pulse of the chord progression, the tight couplets, the strict obedience to a rock and roll beat. This is the particular reason he is so much more quotable than Cohen has turned out to be; the songwriter's instinct is to get your attention and keep it and to have you humming the refrain and singing the chorus as you walk away from the music player to attend to another task.

 Chances are that you are likely to continue humming along with the music while you work, on your break, on the drive home, for the remains of the day. This is not to insist that Cohen is not quotable or of equal worth--I am in agreement that Cohen, in general, is the superior writer to Dylan, and is more expert at presenting a persona that is believably engaged with the heartaches, pains and dread-festooned pleasures his songs take place. His lyrics are more measured, balanced, and less exclamatory and time wasting, and exhibit a superior sense of irony. Cohen is the literary figure, the genuine article, which comes to songwriting with both his limitations and his considerable gifts. All is to say that Dylan has Tin Pan Alley throwing a large shadow over his work. Cohen, in turn, is next to a very large bottle of ink and a quill. Cohen tends the words he uses more than Dylan does; his language is strange and abstruse at times, but beyond the oddity of the existences he sets upon his canvas there exist an element that is persuasive, alluring, masterfully wrought with a writing, from the page alone, that blends all the attendant aspects of Cohen’s stressed worldliness– sexuality, religious ecstasy, the burden of his whiteness– into a whole , subtly argued, minutely detailed, expertly layered with just so many fine, exacting touches of language.


His songs, which I find the finest of the late 20th century in English–only Dylan, Costello, Mitchell and Paul Simon, have comparable bodies of work–we find more attention given to the effect of every word and phrase that’s applied to his themes, his storylines. In many writers overall. Unlike Dylan, who has been indiscriminate for the last thirty ways I would say Cohen is a better lyricist than Dylan because he’s a better years about the quality of work he’s released, there is scarcely anything in Cohen’s songbook that wasn’t less than considered, pondered over, measured for effect and the achievement of the cultivated ambiguity that made you yearn for some of the sweet agony that accompanies a permanent residence in the half-lit zone between the sacred and the profane. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

DULLED TULL

Image result for ian andersonJethro Tull was a band of superb musicians who played music that was decidedly more work than pleasure to bear with. There's no denying that leader and chief composer Ian Anderson could cook up artful and impressive ensemble pyrotechnics for this or any number of the other versions of Jethro Tull to blaze through, but the leader's ideas were limited and one-note throughout the band's peak and into their decline. English folk traditions wedded with baroque fussiness, wheezy flute solos over craggy hard rock interludes, much of it seasoned with the admittedly agreeable sweet and sour fills and riffing from longtime guitarist Martin Barre. Skill and discipline aside, though, the plentiful progressive/art rock elements of JT's music was directionless, a trait that worsened as soon as Anderson responded to the grandiosity of Yes and Emerson Lake and Palmer by going for the long format of single-song projects such as Thick as a Brick and Passion Play

Bits and pieces create sparks and actually ignite on both discs, but soon enough you're in a maze of a tricky time- signatures and agitated changes that are less inspiring and moving thematically. It was at this point in their career that Tull became a cure for insomnia. I'm the first to admit that Jethro Tull had "pretty parts", but I would reserve that classification for those musical moments where a shining bit of ensemble work actually clicked and highlighted a fine band raging happily along with some problematic time signatures. In that vein,

I rather like the Martin Barre - composed introduction to "Minstrel in the Gallery", a tour de force of quirky transitions and sculpted dissonance that rises to actual art. Compression and brevity are the keys to those instances when JT catches my attention, but as often as not Anderson refuses to move from his signature amalgam of styles he likes and provides then is needed, or even effective, in the then-mistaken belief that length of composition and promiscuously convolutions of theme equals serious art. I was always one who preferred their progressive rock not to drag along the road. Lyrically, principle songwriter Ian Anderson is not so stunning; he had an effective light touch with imagery in the early work like "Living in the Past" or the particularly riveting tune "Nothing to Say"; 'though perhaps guised in a fictional persona, Anderson, all the same, connects with a convincing humanity as matters of being alive without certainty are sussed through impressionistically and, yes, concisely, closer to true poetry . The man had a knack, in the day, of getting to the point and getting you to think about things other than material gain. That wordsmithing, I think, has been far less in evidence since their career took off, from 'Aqualung" onward.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

3 CASUAL RANTS


1.

Norman Mailer fancied himself  to be many things, some of them he mastered grandly and other roles not so grandly, embarrassing in truth. He was not just a public crackpot along the lines  of Russell Kirk, Dwight McDonald or Lionel Trilling, he was the Public Crackpot. His theories, emboldened by his fame and reputation for being edgy, if not actually on the edge, lead him to opine, pontificate, huff and puff theories that would make a white man weep and all others laugh. So why have I stuck by someone who's had a career of nearly dedicating equal amounts of energy between his worst habits as his best virtues? Well, no matter the idea he put forward, Mailer was never dull, and I rather liked the way he could take over a conversation and require the fussy right wing and left wing gadflies pull  up their pants and stretch their well-heeled dogmas in defense of their concepts of society, history and reality should work . Mailer was a born usurper, in Gore Vidal's words. The key thing to remember is that Mailer is a literary artist above all else that did, and since making words express those notions and impulses that don’t have coherent expression is what Mailer happened to excel at in his most inspired writing. It’s fair enough to loved language enough to abuse it in order interest to get his oft-script impressions across. But this is not a case where Mailer’s appropriation of the selected terms can be dimly understood by those reading him , a lot or just a little; he took pains throughout his books to make clear what he meant by his use of the terms cancer, hip, existential and totalitarian.

 Mailer , of course, had odd ideas as to the cause and spread of disease and , in to paraphrase Joyce Carol Oats, was dangerous with some of his opinions because he expressed them so well, but I’d venture that “cancer” in particular was a metaphor he applied liberally to a social condition that set in on the collective spirit in of America during the Post War period. Strictly speaking, there’s something crackpot in how long he held on the Reichean notion that bad faith causes the cells to go berserk, but I think, for Mailer, it was a rather good spring board to his fabulous metaphorical flights; the absurd notion that too much comfort and lack of risk taking increases our chances of become cancer ridden is fairly much forgotten as those bits of fevered lyricism take over your attention and manage to do what a great poem ought to, engage at the level of the line where it reveals the substance that’s under the assumption of accord our daily routines by and to realize that much of what we assume is fixed is subterfuge , socially constructed restrictions embedded in culture, institutions and even the language we use to critique our assumptions. This leads us to his use of the word “existential”, which , while lacking the systemic critique of the philosophical idealism that preceded its rise in a Europe ravaged by world wars, revolutions, and genocide , all the same coheres nicely with the notion that existence has no “meaning” independent of what one brings to their life span in terms of deeds performed in good faith, actions for which the active agent, the Hemingway hero, the Sartrean doubter, takes responsibility for. It’s a personalized brand of existentialism, and Mailer offers his adjustment to the term a number of times through his books.


2.

You have to stop sometimes so you can appreciate what the senses have given you as you go your way through the world . You have to stop in order to write about the need to pursue the seductive logic of never stopping . But you have to stop before you go forward, as the brain absorbs only so much ; you stop , you breathe, you think, you connect what has happened recently with the narrative of a life already recorded. This engages you with the world, truly, this is where the poetry comes from, not gushing hot lava adjectives and verbs while writing that the world is made more real by moving forward, with out apology, without pause or reflection, following the string where ever it leads. But this is not poetry and it is not lyricism. The writer in those times they stop agitating the gravel and take pause to reflect, meditate, consider the thingness of the world they’ve blazed through a little too quickly, there arises the sense that one forgets that they are a writer, the self-appointed priest of making things happen on the fly; the writing becomes about the world , the people, the places, the things that occupy the same space as you, the same patch of land your visiting. It becomes less about the writer, the seeker of knowledge attempting to gain knowledge through velocity , the impatient explorer more concerned with inflaming their senses rather than being genuinely curious about and teachable within the world. You have to stop , take a breath, create a language, a poetry, a prose style that convinces the reader that they’ve actually encountered something extraordinary in their travels through hill and dale, river and inlet, village and burg, that they’ve actually learned something they didn’t know before. Otherwise , I believe, nothing is revealed because nothing was learned and, despite all manner of ranting and such protests defending one’s unique view, that view is forgotten and another opportunity is lost to move a reader in ways you might not have expected.

3.
Self acceptance is one thing, but it seems to me that changing oneself is required in order to maintain a level of sanity that can return you sanity after the batterings, high and low and in-between, human existence brings us. We cannot remain stubbornly the same as a means of spiting those who attempt to add us to their particularized set of neurosis; learning how to change is an essential skill. Perhaps “change” is the wrong word, as its been co-opted and poisoned by every fad pop-psychology has heaped upon our mass-mediated culture. More appropriate, more useful, perhaps, would be “grow”. Screw trying to change yourself into a internet meme, our tasks is to remain teachable and to grow into new experience, to learn, to become wiser and more full of the love for the world as well as love for ourselves. Too many of us pay a sorry price for having an excess of one or the other. We can grow into ourselves into the world we find ourselves, as individuals, as citizens, as members of a community . I realize the phrase “To thine ownself be true” is a cliche that makes many cringe, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a bad way to go. It’s a matter of how we do it. Besides gaining knowledge through experience, we should be able to gather wisdom as well. Or one would think.

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.:

The 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 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 shows the Academy was more star struck in their decision than awestruck by his actual writing. One cannot 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. 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 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 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. 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 , 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 take part 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 time its taken the Nobel Committee to come around and present one of our own as worthy of being a Nobel Laureate, we are 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 overlook the pesky fact that age does take a toll. The matchup 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 appropriate 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.