Wednesday, 28 April 2010

A New ESP Jamboree, At Last

Did I promise “no more roundups” a few weeks ago? Never mind. As boxing promoter Bob Arum once said, “yesterday I was lying, today I’m telling the truth”. Here’s a partial catchup with this label’s output (I’d like to do the same with several others that keep sending packets with ten CDs inside every two months or so... I’ll be back soon, Pedro Costa, Ernesto Rodrigues and Leo Feigin…).

TALIBAM! – Boogie In The Breeze Blocks

Matthew Mottel, Kevin Shea and their unwise friends (which include, among a horde of others, Moppa Elliott, Peter Evans, Chris Forsyth and Jon Irabagon) provide us with a new dispatch, jam-packed with enlivening playing, passionately deviant singing and lots (too many, I believe) of spoken interludes, the sum total making this album comparable to a unhinged TV movie characterized with incessant (and often superfluous) changes of scene. The problem is that, after only a couple of listens, everything sounds pervaded by a sense of “predictable craziness”. Right - the music is indeed humorously sarcastic, performed with the same convulsive impulses of someone who’s being subjected to electroshock. Yet there’s almost nothing that people like Captain Beefheart, The Mothers Of Invention or even The Tubes (outrageously underappreciated, if you ask me) didn’t explore - decades ago. Heavy riffs, peculiar phone calls, socio/sexual hints, fake Latin rhythms, ways of using the voice. It is still entertaining stuff, but sometimes it takes more than just fun and instrumental paroxysm to satisfy a demanding listener and this time – rave reviews notwithstanding, with several Italian “critics” literally smearing honey on the guys – your croaking toad in the hole is not so flabbergasted. Two things remain in mind: a track title – “Jim O’ Rourke” – and the lovely female vocal harmonization (amidst twittering birds) one minute into “Nike Rim Johb”. The rest has already been filed in the “Yeah, OK – what’s next?” archive.

GATO BARBIERI – In Search Of The Mystery

Am I being irreligious if this tremendous album gets somehow compared to John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme by my perfidious mind? Wait before sending me packing off: I’m talking about commitment here. Of course there’s not an actual sonic correspondence between the records, yet the prayers and subsequent swearing flames that Gato Barbieri throws in the direction of who-knows-what gods are gifted with righteousness and mysterious transcendental force matching that milestone’s might. In Search Of The Mystery – recorded in 1967 and featuring the leader on tenor saxophone aided by Calo Scott (cello), Sirone (bass) and Bobby Kapp (drums) – deserves to be considered a classic, no ifs and buts. The music is permeated with explicitness and determination, though chock full of virtuosity, and the contribution that each musician brings is invaluable. Barbieri oscillates from strenuous questioning to unadulterated ferocity, often blowing his lungs out to fight homogeny. A tone that expresses both the maladjustment to the idea of an appalling reality and the inner confidence in better times to come. Sirone and Scott share an interest for unadorned purposefulness, pushing themselves into regions that, most probably, their instruments’ inventors had by no means envisioned. The fomentation of an incandescent autonomy is equivalent to the desire of endangering musical staleness, and indeed not a moment is found in which the couple plays less than heartily, but never losing focus on the reciprocal connection. Kapp is as confident and responsive as a rhythmic propeller can be, highlighting the comrades’ pursuit of superior principles and, at the same time, symbolizing – even in a solo spot on “Obsession No.2” - a self-government that appears irremediably lost in today’s corporate jazz. Sum all these factors and what you have is a landmark recording, a genuine must.

SUN RA – Featuring Pharoah Sanders & Black Harold

More appealing for its documentary value than for the actual level of the performance, this record comprises a set recorded at 1964’s Four Days In December festival at New York’s Judson Hall, and includes previously unreleased material that, at 45 minutes total, constitutes the bulk of the program. The oddity, if we can say so, lies in the presence of Sanders in lieu of John Gilmore; the eruptive traits of the saxophonist’s edgy technical dexterity are evident throughout and better audible in the mix, as opposed to certain instrumental components whose details are often lost in untidy heaps. Black Harold (Murray), Al Evans, Marshall Allen, Teddy Nance, Pat Patrick, Alan Silva, Ronnie Boykins, Cliff Jarvis, Jimmhi Johnson and Art Jenkins constitute the rest of the band. The spurts of activity characterizing the performance’s most interesting sections give an idea of creative discontinuity, our attention captured by a few extemporaneous curiosities (such as Murray’s rampant flute soloing in “The Voice Of Pan”) or completely deflated by an unbearable 15-minute drum solo (“The Other World”). When Ra enters the scene with typically raw-boned clusters and skewed repetitions (“The World Shadow”), the aerials instantly go up as genius is genius, no matter the context. The set’s highest moment in that sense is represented by “The Now Tomorrow”, which begins with a superb pianistic progression then leaves room to implausible colloquies between arco bass and reeds, the interconnection of the single parts generating a complex dissonant tapestry - a veritable joy for the ears - until the leader goes for the jugular in a fittingly convulsive monologue. This track alone makes owning the entire disc worthwhile, although there are surely finer recordings to start from if one wants to dip a toe in Ra’s characteristically perplexing music.

REVOLUTIONARY ENSEMBLE – Vietnam

I would have loved to write sensible words to depict the strength of this material, performed by Jerome Cooper (percussion), Sirone (bass) and Leroy Jenkins (violin). But I can’t overcome the disappointment deriving from the fact that the CD has been made by copying a vinyl album plagued by a serious case of off-centre spinning, which ultimately renders the experience – in particular during the program’s second half – nearly ridiculous, a study in the slow oscillation of pitches and Doppler-affected drums rather than an earnest assertion of free expression. Weren’t there other available copies of the LP, or alternative methods to perform a more accurate job? Is it possible that nobody at ESP realized about the absurdity of this situation before releasing the item? Are people (listeners and, especially, reviewers) really paying attention to the stuff they receive? Musically speaking, the enlightened eloquence that one intuits beyond the annoyance is actually present, the interplay’s concentration of energy, virtuosity and acoustic mordancy almost corporeal. This is surely great - but only if listened in the original conception, not warped by deformed plastic substances. I’m hoping for an immediate re-reissue, possibly from a consistent source. If that’s not obtainable, the music is better left in the memory instead of diminishing its momentum because of technical failures.

ERICA POMERANCE – You Used To Think

Picture a stoned Joanna Newsom and you’ll get a vague idea of Erica Pomerance’s curious vocal timbre. This collection of songs – make that “cost-effective fluxes of consciousness” – was recorded in 1968 and, despite my craving of stupid things like, say, the accurate tuning of an instrument (something that’s desperately missing in the large part of these tracks), there are episodes in You Used To Think that I managed to actually appreciate in their legitimate will to communicate feelings that, one supposes, were coming from the inside of a woman who looked attentively to certain social and political instances of the era she was living in. Having this writer been completely unaware, until now, of Pomerance’s art (in pills: a Canadian film maker, poet and songwriter), mine was a weird meeting with a group of acoustic guitar strummers (aided, in different combinations, by piano, bass, percussion, sax, sitar and flutes) accompanying someone whose main method of expression stands halfway through a series of ranting visions and the urge of telling people about personal ideals, mainly articulated via drug-enhanced daydreaming. The general sense of scarce intonation seriously hinders the enjoyment of an otherwise strangely captivating record. Forgive me, I’m just a judiciously compulsive perfectionist who doesn’t indulge in smoking pot.

CHARLES TYLER ENSEMBLE – Charles Tyler Ensemble

Now that’s what I call a crucial jazz album. Succinctly jagged, violent to a precise extent, dissonantly tender sometimes, intricate but exceptionally logical in all of its components. In a word, energizing. I was even more attracted by Tyler’s shadowy portrait on the cover photo, which instantly gives the sense of finding ourselves in front of true earnestness. The leader – typically a baritone user during his time with Albert Ayler – is here featured exclusively on alto; there is no prolixity in the incessant chase of metaphysical designs, just the measureless strength that characterizes every man who owns the rare gift of having something concrete to say, and the technical and spiritual qualities to do this without sounding ridiculous. The only comparison that this ignorant chronicler managed to locate in the memory is Peter Br√∂tzmann, and we’re again referring to guts rather than tone. Joel Friedman’s cello is a magnificent answer to the many questions that the music poses, immune as it is to sickly syrupiness and ready to flummox the listener through a matchless wildcat clairvoyance at the due moment. Henry Grimes’ bass rumbles massively in the lower regions, Ronald Jackson seems to refer to fractals to unbutton unmannerly patterns and whipping rolls, furnishing the interplay with exciting fervour. Charles Moffett’s vibes (in truth, emerging like a toy xylophone in the mix) are maybe the weakest component in the overall palette, yet their twinkling presence in this heavyweight line-up appears coherent once you get used to that brittle nuance. After four listens in 12 hours, and a practical impossibility of memorizing anything bar the soul, one seriously thinks “clandestine masterwork”.

JOE MORRIS – Colorfield

A three-way superimposition of sturdy personalities, giving life to fifty minutes of sharply developed composite interplay which Morris accurately calls Free Music (not jazz), describing the procedure as “playing melodies along with the other players pure and simple”. The eminence of Colorfield – the title inspired by the namesake school of painting – lies in the absolute clearness of the single parts; we can enjoy the record as a whole canvas of vibrant concurrences, or just follow the distinct instrumental voices as they make consistently stimulating statements public. The lone “harmonic medium” in this bassless trio is pianist Steve Lantner, whose superlative combination of nervy articulation and unperturbed discretion lets the music shape itself around lots of diverse meanings, inexorably anchored to significant rationality. Luther Gray is an extremely sagacious percussionist, one of those characters for which the drum set is not a mere pretext for banging and splashing but a proper collection of nuances in which pizzazz, caressing accompaniment and virtuoso projections of the inner ear are analogously essential in defining a shared vision. Morris’ clean-toned complex knots and (sporadically) simpler phrases glisten throughout, symbols of a lucidity that allows the man to avoid scalar blatancy and pedestrian licks, looking for the dissonant-yet-transparent enunciation of a new terminology for an instrument that, in different hands, all too often becomes a vehicle for miserable triviality. There are no “right” or “wrong” notes in his style, only the continuous seeking of methods for becoming impervious to routine.

TIMOTHY LEARY – Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out

Here’s your correspondent, geared up to launch another invective on the utter disliking of drugs and lack of any trust whatsoever in users. Yeah, right: Timothy Leary and the “beneficial” achievements deriving from the consumption of psychotropic substances: burnt brain cells, shattered memory, musicians losing the sense of rhythm. And this is only the “nice” side of a shady issue. You should know how it goes, despite what official history says about certain “heroes” of the 60s. A walk through selected urban surroundings is all it takes to understand the level people crumble down to following that kind of “seeking”. So I put the CD in my Discman and started taking note. That calm, quiet, monotone pitch dragging around rationalizations of many fascinating phenomena besides the effects of acid, which initially captured my attention (seriously). After a while, the effect was exactly the same of a tranquilizing pill. I was gradually brought to a sort of conscious sleep, and felt comfortable. The words didn’t matter anymore: alone with Leary’s sluggish delivery, one feels like enjoying a sample of early minimalism. Alvin Lucier’s I’m Sitting In A Room is not that distant from the acoustic exterior of this somewhat hypnotic dissertation. That’s a secret for not getting bored with spoken word: forget what’s said – listen to the sound. In this particular case it works excellently, probably because the consequences of 311 trips (a figure given by the doctor himself during the “lecture”) had already done a tabula rasa of any residue of dynamic energy in his accent. As far as alteration and/or expansion of consciousness are concerned, much better results are achieved by subjecting oneself to Phill Niblock or Roland Kayn’s music rather than snorting or swallowing shit. Then again, everybody can get their mind wasted as they wish, as long as a safe distance is kept from this non-expanded writer, thoroughly allergic to drug-fuelled deviousness.