Eyes That Can See in the Dark

a music journal
 

December 11, 2005 (link)

7:55 PM

So if you listen to this, you'll hear an excerpt of this in the background (specifically, from the end of "Hard to Find" through to the beginning of "Harmonium"). It's like one of those pictures with the cat next to the computer screen looking at the cat next to the computer screen looking at the cat and there's a picture of a bee on it!

Also, from the same place: "It's very important that you don't disturb him. He's reading the Bhagavad-Gita!"

Current music: The Necks - live in Bremen, Germany, Oct. 5, 1999

(Comments for December 11, 2005)


December 10, 2005 (link)

10:47 PM

(That allaboutjazz.com interview linked below is very much worth a read, by the way -- whatever you think of Roney's playing, he definitely seems like a thoughtful and funny guy. For instance, this is a great quote:)

Work is always something that people run from and that some people are encouraged to run from. Seems like the journals encourage you to be lazy. And sometimes the lazy way is to try to be completely different. I know that's a word that people like to use, but I think instead of being different, they should try to be better. I think better is better than different! Trying to be better, trying to take something further. Even if you can't go any further with something, what comes out of trying is the next thing. Or the next logical extension of what's happening.

9:44 PM

Driving home from Trader Joe's tonight, I was having a terrible time finding anything worth listening to on the radio. After spending several minutes shuffling from station to station, I ended up having my ear caught by a straightahead-ish jazz track being played by one of the local community stations. However, as I listened, a question mark began to form over my head, and the longer the track went on, the bigger the question mark grew:

"Wait, that sounds like early '60s Miles...but that can't be right, the recording sounds recent -- or does it? Maybe it's the compression, and my speakers are pretty crappy...no, that's gotta be Wallace Roney, I bet that's Wallace Roney. But, huh, now it sounds just like Miles, even down to the way he cracks when he goes up into the upper register. Could anyone cop Miles' style so exactly, down to the last detail? But that run of 16th notes doesn't sound like Miles, it's too flashy...I don't know this tune...they better say who this is!"

And the announcer came on, and you know what?

It was indeed Wallace Roney. They were playing a track from his new album, Mystikal -- I suspect it was "Just My Imagination" but I'm not completely sure.

I'd seen Roney play once before, with Tony Williams, back in the early '90s at the Regattabar; I remember that he cut a sleek figure (black-lacquered trumpet and so on), and I think I noticed a strong flavor of Miles to his playing, though on the other hand it's hard to know how much that "observation" was tainted by what I'd read about Roney, prior to actually hearing him. I want to say -- is this true? -- that his playing sort of phased in and out of "Milesness", with some moments sounding a great deal like Miles, and other moments sounding not especially Miles-y. (I definitely don't remember anything as uncanny, though, as what I heard on the radio tonight.) I also want to say that I found his playing somewhat unsatisfying: fluid, and fluent certainly, but also mercurial in a bad way, as though it never really wanted to fully take flight -- or even that it was somehow (for want of a better word) standoffish.

I'm quite undecided as to what I think of Roney. In those moments when he "ghosts" Miles so uncannily, I am troubled -- I don't get the au voleur feeling (i.e. the feeling I got the first time I heard Booker Little and thought "Wynton, you cad!"), but he's internalized the mannerisms, the characteristic gestures, to such a degree that I think it goes beyond what (say) Sonny Stitt did in the wake of Charlie Parker. On the other hand, I'm sympathetic to the argument made in this interview with Tavis Smiley, in which Roney basically says, "Look, Miles was a great musician with great ideas, and wanted people to keep working with those ideas after he was gone. What's so wrong with that?" Plus Miles mentored Roney, which I can't imagine he would do if he felt Roney were just a copycat.

But still, part of me can't help but say...dude sounds like Miles! Sometimes more so, sometimes less so -- but either way, they're not making it up, you know?

(And on the third hand:

AAJ: Tell me what turntables add to your music and what you like to hear from them: what sort of things you like them to play in your group.

WR: Turntablists are what's happening in pop music today, in pop culture.

(Uh...?! "If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 33RPM... you're gonna see some serious shit.")

Current music: The Spinners - "Games People Play"

(Comments for December 10, 2005) (2 comments so far)


December 4, 2005 (link)

1:55 PM

No kidding!

Anyone who has seen a movie about the U.S. Army has heard soldiers chanting and singing as they march or run. These chants or cadences are called jodies or jody calls, after a character in many of the songs. The character Jody is a civilian who has stolen the affections of the soldier's sweetheart back home.

(Link found via freezing to death in the nuclear bunker.)

Well, that certainly changes my perspective on this -- or at least it makes the choice of name (if not the spelling) make a lot more sense. Alas, I don't know anyone who's dating a serviceman -- let alone cheating on one -- so I'm not seeing any ready opportunities to name-call. ("Oh, this is your friend you've told me so much about! What was his name again -- Jody, was it?")

(And you know there's gotta be a joke along those lines in some movie or play or book, one that you and I would not have otherwise understood -- until now, that is! Eyes That Can See in the Dark, where we put the "I will give" back in "if you beat him, I will give you ball".)

By the way, further down the "Joedy" entry, it looks like it might be "with a trespass on credulity that excels your best", though then again they later find themselves thinking that it's "credibility" which definitely isn't true. I like "exceeds" better, whether or not it's what he said. (Can you imagine him being a presidential candidate in this day and age? "You're a liar, a f*ckin' liar.")

(No one ever did claim the peanut butter cookie.)

On another note, have a Jandek cartoon. "I put 'em on! I went for a walk! In the snow and ice! So cold."

Current music: Pink Floyd - "Atom Heart Mother", live in Brescia, Italy, June 19, 1971

(Comments for December 4, 2005) (2 comments so far)


December 3, 2005 (link)

1:26 PM

(And some more info on what Jim's up to these days.)

1:21 PM

(Though it's interesting that posterity -- "posterity" -- seems to have vindicated me, and Oh Brother Where Art Thou? is considered their masterpiece.)

(A fact -- "fact" -- that I once wrote a song [well, part of a song] about!)

1:14 PM

(Oh, jeez, this ancient and terrible thing is the third Google hit for "legendary jim ruiz group"? Yack! I knew I should've those old reviews down ages ago...)

(Do take a moment to read one more article from City Pages, by the way, for a little update on Winter's post-LJRG work. I'd definitely be interested in checking her album out.)

1:08 PM

Some years back, a fellow named Bryan was kind enough to send me the master cassette he'd used to tape a radio broadcast of Low -- a set they played live on Radio K in Minneapolis in 1996 -- so that I could transfer it to DAT. After the Low show ended, I listened to the rest of the tape, which included some other things Bryan had taped off the radio; I was struck by one of them in particular, the Legendary Jim Ruiz Group, a band I'd never heard of before. It would be difficult to say, now, exactly what it was that caught my ear...something about the jazz inflection and the harmonies, probably, but it wasn't just that: the lyrics? The quality of the female singer's voice?

Whatever it was intrigued me enough to ask Bryan about them; he gave them a huge thumbs-up, and suggested I check out their then-recent album Sniff, recommending that I seek out the import version on Siesta Records, which had extra tracks. However, I couldn't find that one -- or, perhaps, I couldn't find it at a sane price -- and so I eventually ended up ordering their first album, Oh Brother Where Art Thou?, instead.

And it had enough of an impact on me so that, quite literally, when I think of the summer of 1999 I think of that disc -- so much so that, as I went looking through my old email just now, I was shocked to reread my note to Bryan and discover that I'd only gotten it near the end of the summer:

Aug. 20, 1999

So guess whose CD I just got? None other than "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?" by the Legendary Jim Ruiz Group! Good stuff, good stuff...I got it yesterday and I must've listened to it five or six times. Some of his lyrics are really nice. I'm not into every song, but (I don't know if you have the album?) "Spain", "She's Gone Away", "Lucht" and "Be My Valentine" are all fabulous. I probably never would've gotten turned on to them if I hadn't borrowed your tape!

I was completely taken with Ruiz's lyrics, so perfectly paired to the music itself (and in turn complemented beautifully by the simple-but-effective production), and suffused with a profound melancholy that I found moving. It seemed like the apotheosis of everything that kind of music (and what is that kind of music, exactly?) should be, using an unassuming, "light", viscerally pleasant surface to sneak in something far darker and more complex -- while yet allowing the listener to luxuriate in the sheer, major-seventh-chord pleasure of that surface -- like "Esther" or Night-Glo or Dots and Loops. (Not to mention, um, "Stimpy's Fan Club", or "I will take it!...I will walk to the video store.")

(And suddenly, I wish I liked Steely Dan. Maybe I will yet.)

Not too long after writing that email, I tried to put together a show at Benn!ngton for the LJRG. I got the green light from the Rec Committee (or whatever it was called by that point), and was able to get in touch with Ruiz via a friend of a friend. I never actually spoke with him in person: I left a message on his voicemail, and sometime later, got one back on mine. It was, frankly, a bit of a thrill to hear that familiar voice -- in part, as a product of that moment when "Wouldn't it be cool if..." becomes "Wait, this might happen".

Alas, it didn't happen; if I recall correctly, Ruiz said that they weren't planning to be on the East Coast anytime soon, but that he'd be in touch the next time they had a show in New York. From there, it just sort of faded away, partly because I only had six or seven months left at Benn!ngton. And so, for that matter, did the LJRG -- fade away, I mean: I kept an eye out for new releases or tour dates, but never saw anything, and eventually stopped looking.

So last night, I was making a CDR of the Radio K broadcast for someone who'd asked me for a copy some months back, and decided to try to track down a date for it. Didn't have any luck (my best guess is that it was sometime during the summer of 1996), but I ran across this in the process, a very sympathetic and sensitive look back at Oh Brother Where Art Thou? as part of a retrospective on Twin Cities albums from the '90s. I'd noticed in my Googlings that the band's female vocalist, Stephanie Winter-Ruiz, was now going by "Stephanie Winter" -- and now I had my answer for why such a promising band had suddenly disappeared:

Winter, who has since divorced Ruiz, says her fondest memories of the band are of when it took itself less seriously...Like Ruiz, Winter rarely listens to the album now. "I don't even have that CD," she says, laughing. "That was one of the things I didn't get in the divorce."

But that wasn't the biggest revelation for me in the article; rather, it was something that was touched on briefly, and explored more substantively in this earlier (and equally terrific) article from the same paper, which I'm going to quote at length here:

[Learning jazz guitar] mostly kept Ruiz off the stage for several years, time he spent with his live-in girlfriend of six years, Rena Erickson...For several years, Ruiz would either take time off from school or study abroad in the Netherlands with Erickson--an experience he would romanticize in one of his first successful flirtations with bossa nova, "Mij Amsterdam."

The hardest aspect of the time spent in Holland, Ruiz says, was his long separation from Erickson; although they had gone together, they were actually stationed in towns on opposite sides of the small country. By the end of their stay, the couple was ready to get married. They decided to forgo a traditional Dutch ceremony in favor of a wedding at home before friends, and the couple returned to Minneapolis in the summer of 1990, planning to wed in a month or two.

Those plans were derailed one day while Jim was giving Rena a ride to work on his scooter. As Ruiz passed the intersection of Park and 38th, a van ran a stop sign and struck the scooter, throwing both passengers to the ground. Jim survived with a broken collarbone, but Rena's helmet had come undone, and she died in the hospital days later, at the age of 22.

...For Ruiz, it was nothing less than the defining event of his youth. And the musician's subsequent work would build on the sonic levity he had first explored with his late partner, while incorporating a wistfulness for their life together. The lyrics to the Legendary Jim Ruiz Group's 1995 debut, Oh Brother Where Art Thou?, read like a diary of Jim Ruiz's 20s--a suite of perceptive parables about being young and in love in South Minneapolis.

Stylistically, the elegantly produced album was a triumph of post-mod pop; it quickly--and coincidentally--found a place in the cocktail-party craze that descended upon the city that year. Some fans heard Oh Brother as a swell summer party disc. But beyond its facade of frivolity...the album evolves in Act Three into a meditation on Erickson. "They say that love inspires loss/Existence has this cost," Jim sings, with perfect tragicomic timing, on "Be My Valentine." In "She's Gone Away," he confesses that "Fear and guilt and pain/Are my companions every day." By the penultimate track, "Lucht," Ruiz sinks into a full-blown existential dilemma, as Chris Ruiz's organ plays a funeral procession. "In the face of death, is all life worthless?" he sings in the song's darkest moment. "Ask me on a bad day and I'd say, 'Yes, I suppose.'"

Oh Brother Where Art Thou? is riveting stuff, made even more so by the irony behind the album's plot: While Jim Ruiz is singing of lost love, his current love is faithfully singing at his side. Ruiz had met Stephanie Winter at the edges of the mod scene, and in 1992 they became Stephanie and Jim Winter-Ruiz, the core of the Legendary Jim Ruiz Group, with Stephanie's Nico-from-Ipanema vocals a perfect foil for Jim's tunes. Ruiz evidently grasped the tension of enlisting his mate to mourn her predecessor, and he managed to find a reconciliation of sorts through "Oh Porridge," the album's finale.

An open letter to Stephanie, the song confronts the issue directly: "I know when I speak of her you sometimes do despair," Ruiz sings. "And I know that you dream of her, that she walks right through our lives/And I don't know how else to say... I really love you." To the unfamiliar listener, it sounds like a song about a love triangle, but considered in context, it's loaded with history and meaning. And as Brian Tighe's swooning sax part carries the music away, what lingers is the feeling that you've been through a deeply personal account of loss and what comes after.

And now I realize why I loved Oh Brother Where Art Thou? so much, and why it had such resonance for me: in a strange way, it's a kind of musical Bridge to Terabithia...

(By the way, note the dialogue about Sniff in the article: "Before the songs were redone, I think this album was darker than the first one." I'd love to hear those original mixes/takes, since my problems with Sniff are largely, if not mostly, with the production -- "Last Time", as the author so correctly states, is a great song and the album's high point.)

Wherever you are, Jim, I hope things are going well, and that you've found some measure of contentment and happiness. Your music meant a lot to me, back in the day, and still does.

Current music: Stan Getz Quartet - "Manha da Carnaval" (from In Paris)

(Comments for December 3, 2005) (2 comments so far)

 

Current reading:

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J. K. Rowling

just finished:

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J. K. Rowling

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