Sunday 29 March 2009

ESP Roundup

Do I really need to write something about ESP? Let me shut up and start spinning the CDs, which in this case were released between November 2008 and February 2009. Learning history while discovering something new is always an excellent practice to avoid mental stillness. Thanks to Fumi Tomita for his kindness and patience.


Talk about a necessary reissue, although this particular album has already been re-released several times. This is one of those items which teachers should play in the classroom when the children are 10 or so, in order to immediately determine the survival of the fittest. Six tracks, all penned by Carla Bley, interpreted with passionate fire by a wordlessly schizophrenic, Coleman-influenced Paul Bley with Marshall Allen (alto sax), Dewey Johnson (trumpet), Eddie Gomez (bass) and Milford Graves (percussion), 28 minutes (!) of restless fighting centred around rapidly sketched themes, all revolving around a furious tortuousness except “And Now The Queen” (curiously recalling the incipit of “La Vie En Rose”), where commitment and sabotage appear as interchangeable elements of a jazz that sounds as fresh as youthful exuberance. Allen’s solos pierce my left ear in the headphones, distinctly panned on that side of the mix. Johnson’s perseveration in bursting out with ill-tempered chattering is a spectacle in itself, his conversational attitude with the others in “Around Again” the highest point of the album. Bley’s lurking mastery doesn’t need that incandescence, though: he sounds educated and well-mannered even during the harshest quarrels, apparently disconnected flurries and slanted chords making all the sense in the world. Gomez and Graves sustain and enhance the discussion, showing the virulent side of a rhythm section’s self-government without exaggeratedly affecting an already dangerous environment. Fabulous stuff.


There’s a whole conceptual investigation - explained in detailed liners by Momus – behind Japanese sound artist Yximalloo and this particular release, which would be too long to report in the context of a review. Got to throw a couple of names, though: Residents and Renaldo And The Loaf. In a word, this writer was reminded of Ralph Records – remember that label? – and relative derivates, with a laptop-ish aroma permeating the 68 minutes of the disc. Speaking of which, the music at large is attractively unpredictable, halfway through a demented kind of rambling lo-fi charm and an entire world of carefully constructed mechanisms between the biotic and the impassibly detached, with predisposition to a mechanized kind of sublimely idiotic intricacy. With his hypercritical disclosures of inadequateness, this man – an erstwhile “friend” of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Yellow Magic Orchestra – attempts, not always successfully, to transmute antediluvian evidences of repulsive synthetic pleasures into a well-composed patchwork of problematic breaks and arrhythmic injunctions. Appropriate for devotees and tolerant listeners only, yet significant in a singular way: this is the third consecutive spin, and I’m starting to comprehend. Maybe.

ALAN SONDHEIM – Ritual-All-7-70

An improvisation jubilee from 1967 featuring Sondheim on an array of regular and exotic instruments plus Ruth Ann Hutchinson, Chris Mattheson, Barry Sugarman, J.P. and Robert Poholek. As the nominal leader writes, “only Western man walks in two-for time”; that tells a lot about the totally unconstructed nature of this album, which could be considered an intellectually old-fashioned exercise in hypothetical liberty on a side, a demonstration of unqualified transparency on the other. The intimate character of a few of these pieces is a good starting point for an appreciation of sorts, as one clearly feels the flowing of passion and sense of autonomy animating Sondheim in a track like “ 779” for solo koto (or “actually a 16-string ch’in”, as he himself emphasizes). We can even smile in patient comprehension when fronting certain peculiar misrepresentations of tentative free jazz nearer to psychobabble than “oh-so-avantgarde” lack of restrictions, or in the absurd juxtapositions of Hawaiian guitar, trumpet, bass, drums and tabla of “781” – exotica meets psychosis indeed. What remains in our mouth is an aftertaste of archaeological find: this is a conciliatory brand of unrehearsed ingenuity – noticeably symbolized by Hutchinson dated-sounding vocals - that does not manage to excoriate the skin of remembrance and, as such, appears more as an oddity than a veritable piece of art.


Named after a goat pictured on the digipack, Charles is an interesting enough offering by a septet hailing from Providence, Rhode Island whose orchestrations include electronics, keyboards, saxophones, bass, percussion, accordion, horn in F, bassoon plus shortwave and “modified Speak & Spell”. Although Barnacled’s music is relatively complex – picture a cross of a punk version of Univers Zero, a violent-looking cousin of Samla Mammas Manna and a few additional RIO influences scattered more or less everywhere – this album was recorded in a single night without overdubs, except for a tiny “embellishment”. The wide-ranging nature of the group is effectively symbolized by the hiccupping noir-tango of “Losing Weight Through Prayer”, a piece where Arabic scales and Henry Cow-ish arrangements meet to give birth to a mixture of incongruous irritations and noteworthy implacability, the whole bordering on a chaotic dilapidation of an otherwise extravagant technical mastery. In “Three Rapid Fire Shell Divisions” the dignity of arrangement is lost in favour of an irrepressible urge for portentous grubbiness. Still, the musicians’ acumen remains evident all across the record, a winsome collection of situations whose sonorities range from lucidly overwrought to woozily abandoned, with a clear tendency to conceptual dissolution as the time elapses.


A clear work of art, recorded in 1965 but still sounding as bright and significant as one can get, Sings would teach a thing or two to certain supposed virtuoso vocalists of our era through its instantly recognizable purity of intents and, so to speak, shadowy radiance. Famous for a stomach-churning translation of “Black Is The Colour Of My True Love’s Hair” (which concludes the album, with Burton Greene, Steve Tintweiss and Tom Price adding pre-apocalypse hues to the singer’s haunting rendition), and a recognized influence on ladies such as Diamanda Galas and Yoko Ono, Patty Waters was able – in a debut release, no less - to pen beguilingly current songs that, in a time span ranging from one to three minutes, speak at the deepest interior levels with the exclusive aid of an undernourished piano counterpoint accompanying the voice – a tone whose apparent fragility reveals instead a force coming from the very guts of an amazingly sensitive (and sensual) woman. And if that voice weren’t enough, Waters should be much esteemed as a composer, too: all the tracks except the above mentioned traditional were written by her, all remarkably beautiful, touchingly suggestive in a really special way with particular mention for “Sad Am I, Glad Am I” and “You Loved Me”, which definitely weaken any residual defence. We can keep throwing names and associations as we please - Nina Simone, Annette Peacock, Joni Mitchell, just vague references for those who still haven’t been subjugated by this artist’s charismatic essence. As a matter of fact Patty Waters is inimitable and this is a top-rank record, regardless of genres and categories.

DON CHERRY – Live At Cafe Montmartre 1966 Volume Three

Sincerely: shouldn’t all good music lovers appreciate ESP for the reissues more than anything else these days? When this writer was only two years old, Don Cherry’s quintet - featuring Gato Barbieri on tenor sax, Karl Berger on vibes, Aldo Romano on drums and Bo Stief on bass – were burning down the house at Copenhagen’s Cafe Montmartre, turning the uninviting sides of free jazz into combinations of barbarous blowouts (got to dig the alter ego version of Barbieri, a bona fide “cultured brute” in several shattering moments of his solos, making us forget about the Latin syrups typical of a wealthier future) and recollections of celebrated themes such as “How Insensitive”. Recklessness and reflection fused in a single package, this broadcast beams of a laissez-faire mindset that nevertheless appears perfectly synchronized to an inherent clock device dictating the ebbs and the flows of the music in a sequence of unintentional epiphanies. Cherry’s trumpet illuminates the path, the man committed to the achieving of a perpetual state of erudite activity; Berger and Romano splash their no-nonsense yet enthusiastic attitude all around, attributing identifiable colours to the tunes. Stief glues the whole in style, unbendable in pumping the pulse and filling the frequency holes in total reliability. Joyous ebullience - needed as oxygen nowadays – spiced with the discriminating musicianship of five greats.


In accordance with the Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited Act, in 1965 conga master Montego Joe gathered a group of artistically gifted young kids from that area with the aim of teaching some of his percussive knowledge, the fundamental intention being to deliver them from at least a part of the trouble caused from growing up in a ghetto renowned for riots and, in general, hard-living conditions. Aged between 16 and 19, the musicians – essentially a nucleus of Afro-Americans and Puerto Ricans – learned fast, so that after a few years of training their professor felt that they were ready for a commercial recording. ESP’s Bernard Stollman and Leonard Parker – director of the HAR-YOU program – decided together with Montego Joe that the money generated from the sales of the album would be used for a scholarship fund. All of this is enough to quantify the socio-political weight of this record, but then there’s the music – an incredibly mature collection of jazz & salsa tunes bathed in African rhythms that predates what we’ve been hearing for decades, from Santana and associates to the tsunami of boredom resulted from the post-Buena Vista era of insertionism. “Oua-Train”, for good measure, adds a touch of Coltranian minimalism (pardon this definition), indicating that the members of this “spiritual family” (as per the leader’s depiction) were more farsighted than smarter peddlers who think that the label “Afro-Cuban” should only be stuck to shaking butts and wearisome formulas. Dance, but never stop thinking.

LEVITTS – We Are The Levitts

A brittle nugget recorded in 1968. A family band born from the lucky discovering of then 13-year old guitarist Sean Levitt performing in Central Park by Alf Troy Garrison, The Levitts revolved around swing vocalist Stella (who had sung with Woody Herman) and her husband Al, a “journeyman jazz drummer” who worked with Lee Konitz among others. Aided by a group of renowned NY session men including Ronnie Cuber (Frank Zappa’s fans might remember him from the Zappa In New York album) and Chick Corea and featuring a whole generational scale of artists down to the quasi-toddler stage, this disc is a useful instrument for looking back at a past made of candid ingenuity and domestic values that will sound ridiculous to the masses of brain-deprived cynical androids walking around, completely absorbed in an iPod-twitch-and-perennial-zap stupidity (or, alternatively, brain-jammed with esoteric convictions designed to “enhance” a pathetic existence). We Are The Levitts ought to be treasured if one has an inch of beating heart left: rather orthodox renditions of Brazilian tunes, children songs (pun not intended) and episodes of slightly-out-of-tune mellifluous romanticism, in union with the perfectly preserved noises of the original’s vinyl, caused yours truly to cogitate about times in which gathering a clutch of relatives and buddies near a piano - or a record player - and singing (or just listening) together was considered a sacred ritual. With a difference: The Levitts were also able to (gently) kick ass when they felt like, always with a little help from their friends. Where we are today parents are kicked and slowly killed for money, properties and other divine law-related questions instead, but that’s another story. Enjoy the CD - it is going to make you heave quite a few sighs.

FLOW TRIO – Rejuvenation

Second release for the trio of Louie Belogenis (tenor sax), Joe Morris (bass) and Charles Downs (drums), the latter formerly known as Rashid Bakr. The artists’ remarkable background is but one of the elements concurring to build an approach to interplay that justifies a clich├ęd “cosmic” definition, an all-aerials-up communication evident since the very first moments of the initial “Reflection”. In “Pick Up Sticks” we’re the witnesses to recurring series of communal convergences across an invigorating stream of events, chains of constructive affirmations elevating the music to a zone of challenging probing and profound awareness. Belogenis happens to scream bent declarations of revulsion for prejudice, at the same time appearing calmly dedicated to melodically advanced journeying, Downs seams wreaths of interlocking patterns and dazzling rolls, Morris’ unbroken equitableness is hallowed by his conscious attempt of keeping the flame of emphasis alive and burning. “Two Acts” is an enlightened assessment of the relations between space, silence and the wrecked continuums of a free-flowing triple-head extemporization, the musicians looking for correlations and parallelisms while throwing an eye towards the exit door that leads to unhindered autonomy. “Unfolding” sounds like a manifesto against egotism, Belogenis elaborating on fragments of instantaneous literature upon Morris’ sturdily built castle of dissonant bass lines and Downs’ now vulnerable, now robust drumming. The title track, concluding this gorgeous recording, amplifies the perspective of a pragmatic determination which finds its origin in the fundamental heterodoxy characterizing the choices applied by the players. Three reliable navigators of the outermost currents of jazz, a wholeness achieved through different minds functioning as a single apparatus.