October 24, 2002 (link)
What he said. And the worst part is, the more a person uses, the more insensitive about it they become.
The other day at work I was listening to Thelonious Monk's Brilliant Corners album for the first time, and when "Bemsha Swing" came on, the horns added an extra note to the melody, so that at the end of the second measure it goes "ba-ba boo, ba-ba boo, bah" instead of "ba, boo, ba-ba boo, bah". I'm used to the second version and didn't like the change, but it gave me a funny sense of déjà vu: hadn't I just been listening to another jazz tune I knew well, where the musicians did the same thing, adding a note that didn't need to be there? I felt sure of it, but couldn't think of anything at all that fit the bill, beyond the vague sense that I'd heard it on the radio -- but what help would that be? It drove me nuts for a little while, but then I got busy with something else and forgot about it.
Then, later in the afternoon, my boss showed up, and just before I was scheduled to leave for the day, she started singing quietly to herself, and my eyes practically popped out of my head: "What are you singing?" I asked. She told me it was an old melody from the Civil War. As it turns out, her melody from the Civil War had almost exactly the same pitch structure as the song I'd spent all morning trying to remember, Nat Adderley's "Work Song"! Besides being a completely spooky and funny coincidence -- sure, pentatonic melodies are everywhere in music, but what are the odds that the two songs would be that similar? -- it also jogged my memory. The people on the radio (whoever they were) did the same kind of thing as on the Monk song, but worse: "Work Song" is a call and response melody, so that the lead voice goes "da-da da-da, daaah, dah-doo dah, dah" and the rest of the band answers "da-da da-da, daaah, dah-doo dah". But in this version on the radio, the rest of the band answered with "da-da da-da, daaah, dah-doo dah, dah" -- in other words, the exact same pattern that the lead voice just played, which completely ruins the thing that makes it a great song! Without that little variation, it's totally foursquare, like something out of A Musical Joke. The Monk thing isn't as bad, but I still think the asymmetrical version is better -- the melody is leaner, more flexible that way.
current music: Patsy Cline - The Best Of
October 22, 2002 (link)
Irwin Chusid (author of Songs in the Key of Z and host of WFMU's "Incorrect Music") is keeping a nice journal of his encounters and conversations with Shooby Taylor. In it we learn such facts as who played organ on "Stout-Hearted Men", what drove Shooby from the Postal Service, and where Shooby liked to pick up prostitutes back in the day (!). Check it out!
current music: Henry Cow - "Extract From 'With The Yellow Half-Moon And Blue Star'"
October 21, 2002 (link)
My guestbook script doesn't seem to be working properly, so for the moment, email me if you want to leave a comment. Hopefully this'll give me the impetus to move my CGI stuff to the Rockoverlondon site, which I should've done a million years ago.
current music: Vladimir Ragimov - "Moskva"
October 19, 2002 (link)
Some days I feel like "Rainbow Connection" might be the best song ever written.
October 17, 2002 (link)
A few minutes ago, playing the Black side of a Modern Benoni, I reached the following position on move 22:
(Black to move)
Things aren't looking that good for Black -- his pieces are a bit uncoordinated, and his knights are a bit offside. There are a few options here, like 22...b5 and 22...Bxd4+ (a move whose point will become obvious later), but I caught a glimpse of a neat tactical idea and played 22...Nd3!? Naturally, White (whose rating was a good 150 points higher than mine) played 23. Bxd3 -- there may be alternatives, but it's certainly the logical move -- and won a pawn after 23...cxd3 24. Qxd3 (my computer likes 24. Kf1!?), reaching the following position:
current music: Fatala - "Söhkö", from Gongoma Times
October 15, 2002 (link)
That's Disc Two! I'll do a quickie on the MP3 disc, and on Nissan's Master of the Sixth Speed (which was the "grab bag" random disc I got), at some point in the near future.
current music: Yellowdock, Disc Two
October 11, 2002 (link)
Do all Windows machines stutter your MP3s when you try to connect to the Internet? I think J. wrote something about this a while ago, but I can't find it. Whenever I start up AOL at work, if I'm playing an MP3, it glitches out -- "pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa" -- while the computer dials the access number. It was amusing at first, but wears out its welcome very quickly, not least because of its deadly predictability -- you stop really listening when you're waiting for the glitch to kick in. (Update: I think this was what I was looking for on J.'s site, but it's about something a little different.)
As a result of that, lately I've taken to bringing in actual audio CDs (!), which don't have the same problem. It annoys me that it felt weird to do that at first; somehow I don't want my dominant mode of listening to be the grazing, shuffle-play, computer-fan-hum one -- and even if it is in practice, I don't want it to be that way internally. But, predictably, once I got going it felt satisfying in a way listening to MP3s generally doesn't. Obviously that's at least 90% psychology and association, but maybe there's an acoustic element in there too. (There certainly is with vinyl vs. CD, which is sort of a similar thing.)
A few of the albums I played this week:
I've written about both of the Miles Davis albums more than enough already, so I'll skip them. I'm glad to have the BBC Music disc, which was given to me as a gift about four years ago and is the kind of thing I'd be unlikely to get around to buying. I've probably listened to the disc three or four times since I received it; I think I might've been more impressed in the past, but this time around, almost all of the compositions sounded like total old hat -- harmonically uninteresting, full of gratuitous percussion flourishes, that kind of thing. There was one exception, Andrew March's Marine - à travers les arbres, which at least had some lyricism and timbral nuance to it. I don't know what I think of it overall -- actually, now that I listen to it again, the later sections seem rather less inspired -- but harmonically and texturally, at least, it's much more appealing to me than its competitors, many of whom sound remarkably like disguised versions of John Williams. (One piece had a section, at least a minute long, that sounded like an almost verbatim excerpt from Le Sacre du Printemps. I'd like to hope it was programmatic -- I haven't read anything about these pieces -- but if it wasn't, and Stravinsky's works are still in copyright, which I think they are...if I were a lawyer, I'd be salivating.) I just don't understand what the point of writing music is -- especially this kind of music, which requires such time and expense and so often gives you so little in return -- if you're not going to write a piece that has profile, something to differentiate it from the ten thousand other pieces that sound more or less the same.
I wasn't happy with the Low disc when it came out, but now that I'm over the disappointment I felt at the time, I can enjoy it on its own merits, though I still very much prefer the first three full-lengths. The production isn't to my taste, but with a couple exceptions, the songwriting is generally on a level comparable to the earlier albums. "Two-Step" dates back to 1995, which is probably why I like it so much -- sometimes I think my favorite Low album is Long Division -- but newer songs like "Immune", "I Remember", "Starfire" and (especially) "Soon" stand up well on the album, and stood up very well in concert. They're good songs, I just don't like Albini's production at all, though it's easier to deal with on drumless songs, and the mastering on the CD is much better than the vinyl (which sounds really dead and compressed to me, whereas the CD sounds cold and crystalline, a sound I think is better for this particular album).
Finally, Out to Lunch. There aren't too many of the anointed classic albums that I just don't connect with -- but at the risk of losing some of my, um, "proto-avant credibility" (?), this is one of them. I like Dolphy, though not as much as I used to think I did, and I can appreciate the caliber of the playing on the disc, but I've never gotten excited about any of the music on it. It's very difficult to write about, both because there aren't any negative adjectives that spring to mind and because I'm not foolish enough to use them. It's kind of like a conversation I had the other week with M., who was shocked to find out that I wasn't that into Wayne Shorter's playing on his solo albums (at least the ones I've heard). The adjectives he used to describe it -- along the lines of "creative", "searching", "impossible to understand" (in a good, how-does-he-come-up-with-that-shit? way) -- were ones I had no problem with at all, and I think we're hearing the same thing. It's just that somehow, I haven't felt a connection with the solos on albums like Ju-Ju and Speak No Evil: I can hear him fighting to forge an improvisational path that isn't fettered with bebop clichés, and I have tremendous respect for it, but I don't feel anything like the almost physical pleasure I get from hearing his playing on a song like "Circle" (which is one of the most beautiful tenor saxophone solos I've heard in my life). As I said to M., maybe the Blue Note recording style, which normally I quite like, has something to do with it -- maybe on those Miles recordings, which were made a little bit later, the gorgeous acoustic "frame" that Teo built around Shorter helps me to listen differently.
Anyway, I can see where all the positive adjectives about Out to Lunch are coming from, and I have no urge to see it devalued or taken down the totem pole. Nor do I feel like I have any trouble parsing its ideas, all of which seem quite intelligible to me. It simply just doesn't click, for me anyway. But I'd be more than happy, after twenty more listens, to revise my opinion: it'd be more than worth it to eat my words if it meant having the kind of connection with this album that other people, including some of my close friends, seem to have.
M. thought it was pretty funny that, for a long time, I heard it as "All those other Slim Shadys / Adjusting my teddy". (As in the frilly undergarment, not the bear.) Of course I didn't really think that's what it was, but I never took the time to figure out the real lyric, so I just sort of glossed it. As so often is the case, I like the Mondegreen better than the real thing: in that universe, what better way could there be to indicate their subservience, their beneathness? "You'd be my toadies even if I wore women's undergarments!" And yet him in a teddy seems remarkably plausible; maybe it's all the Photoshopping, or maybe it's the fact that it's not too much of a stretch, visually, from a wife-beater shirt to spaghetti straps: who knows.
current music: Sun Ra - Purple Night
October 8, 2002 (link)
Okay, this story is too funny -- it has to be one of the worst pieces of chess reporting I've ever seen. Errors in bold:
"Fritz won the opening skirmish even though he [sic] began with the aggressive Scotch Opening, precisely the kind of tactical maneuver experts say computers do not understand well [!!?!?!?!]. As he had done in the previous two games, Kramnik confused Fritz with an early gambit of queens [what in the world is a "gambit of queens"?]...Kramnik said he knew he was winning as early as move 19.a3, when Fritz weakened its pawns on the king's side."
I mean, OK, getting the chess terminology wrong is annoying, but it's not such a big deal. But saying that computers don't understand tactics well (I don't know what "tactical maneuver" is supposed to mean) is the exact opposite of the truth: tactics (and brute force calculation) are exactly what computers are best at, and Fritz is programmed to play aggressive, open games in the hope of getting Kramnik to miscalculate! It's one thing to confuse your queenside and kingside, but it's another thing to just totally blow the facts of the story.
At the moment, I'm a bit infatuated with the string coda to "John and Mary", the last song on Jaco Pastorius's flawed-but-beautiful Word of Mouth album. Right now, it feels like those are some of the nicest chords ever written for strings, and I love the veiled, almost Mellotone-like quality they have on this recording. I always forget what good ideas Jaco had in the studio; I get so used to thinking of him as the Weather Report wunderkind -- and then later as the mentally-ill, overplaying shadow of his former self -- that I have to rediscover the brilliance of his studio albums. At least Word of Mouth and the self-titled, anyway -- I haven't heard the others, most of which are bootlegs of his unfinished Holiday for Pans album. Word of Mouth is surprisingly light on displays of chops, and whenever Jaco does cut loose -- "Crisis" and "Chromatic Fantasy" -- it's to serve the structural necessities of the song. He has such a reputation as a spotlight-hogging soloist that it's interesting to hear him choosing to take this kind of approach -- and it certainly wasn't one taken lightly: as I recall, the record cost a mint, and had something like fifty guests and session musicians on it. Had he gotten tired of the chops-monster scene in Weather Report -- was this a conscious reaction to it? I remember from reading the Jaco biography that he was deeply involved in the album, but I don't remember what he might've said about the vision behind it. It's interesting to speculate whether an album like this was a self-conscious attempt to broaden his horizons, or was representative of the kind of music he "really" wanted to be working on, or something in between (which may well be the right answer). A shame about the Ewok vocals toward the end, but nobody's perfect.
Listening to Coltrane's Crescent last night while I was cooking dinner, when "Bessie's Blues" came in I was reminded of something someone said -- was it Paul, who made the tape for me? -- about how Crescent is this album of these rubato, meditative, cyclical, searching pieces, and then in the middle of it there's this totally straightahead blues, out of nowhere, and it's almost incongruous but somehow it's right on. Paul wouldn't have said this, but maybe it's a little like a scherzo, or the comic relief in Shakespeare -- but there's a much better example lurking somewhere, of another album where this is true, that I can't come up with. ("Pourquoi manges-tu?" maybe, but that's not what I'm thinking of.) I really like those kinds of thoughts, the ones that give you insight into an album -- in this case, an album specifically, i.e. its overall arc -- and articulate a perspective from which to hear it that you might've already had, but which seems fresh and revelatory when actually put into words. So few critical observations have that quality -- for me, anyway: most of the criticism I read emits not the "Aha!" of revelation, but the dull thump of an agenda being repeatedly being smacked into the object of choice.
Later that same night I was listening to "Fat Old Sun" from my tape of the boot from Quebec City, 1971 (great show, by the way), and realized: these are the same chords as the ones to that Them Jazzbeards song! Fortunately, the resemblance doesn't set up an interference pattern for me -- i.e. I'm not forced to hear the latter when I hear the former, and even if I am, it's not bothersome and doesn't last. But it's still funny.
And today, listening to "Fall" from Nefertiti: how many times have I wished this song were longer? There's a moment when Tony Williams almost drops out and it's just Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter, and I wish that moment were three minutes long, it's so timeless and delicate and touching. I remember the first time I "got" Nefertiti, I was sitting in the music library and listening to the quintet box set on those rich, deep speakers, and suddenly it all clicked and I said to myself, this could be the most beautiful music I've ever heard and I never want to stop listening to it. (Yeah, I've written about this before.)
When I played it today in the office and H. said something like "What a beautiful song this is" at exactly the right moment, it made me want to cry a little bit, kind of like when S. came up to me, looking moved, and said "I just saw the most incredible movie" and I asked him what he'd seen, and he told me it was Breaking the Waves and I said "I'm so happy that you said that, I was hoping you would say that." It was the same feeling: when others understand and are moved by the art that moves us most, we feel that we ourselves are in some small way recognized, known. Why that experience is so powerful for me -- why it has such a mainline to my emotions -- is something I'm still trying to understand, since it's an experience common to most of the defining positive moments of my life.
current music: Jaco Pastorius - "Crisis"
Even though I first heard this song, and Word of Mouth, at least twelve or thirteen years ago, I'm not sure that I've ever realized what a strange piece of work it is -- not strange in the sense of "out", since it's really not that out at all, but rather that I've never really heard anything else quite like it. It's the piccolo, maybe, that somehow keeps it from settling into the usual high-speed free-bop pocket.
October 7, 2002 (link)
"Let's Twist", lyrics by James Granville, performed by Bob Brown with Orch.
A while ago I emailed Morgan and told him to listen to this MP3 from a Korean music site. He said it sounded "like someone playing their nose". If that sounds like someone playing the nose, then the bowed amplified upright bass solo on the intro to this song sounds like someone playing the snore -- it's so mid-rangy and humpa-lumpa, you know? And it really does, especially when it first comes in and you don't know what it is. I have a history of having weird associations with weird string sounds; when I was younger, I was always vaguely embarrassed by the violin solo at the end of The Who's "Baba O'Reilly", which somehow sounded to me like what the Germans (and the Drum Major in Woyzeck, but not Wozzeck) call an Altweiberfurz, tunefully emitted by a smiling woman somewhere in between Strega Nona and Baba Yaga: Baba O'Reilly herself!
The rest of the "orch." (another bass and a couple of guitars, from what I can tell) plays an loping, ambling shuffle in G major. Listen to it, do your toes start tapping? Does your head start rocking back and forth? Yeah, I thought so: this song feels good!
Bob Brown comes in after a few bars. His voice is just right for this kind of music -- lazy, youthful, a little bit knowing.
I took my baby to the show one night
Shades of "She was just seventeen / If you know what I mean"!
But when I asked my baby for a kiss
The snoring bass keeps sawing away under Bob. It's a little incongruous, but I like it! It's kind of like the tuba solo in Petrushka, the one that signifies the entrance of the dancing bear. Its ungainliness makes it charming. It's like watching your math teacher dance -- he might look ridiculous at first, but if he doesn't give a damn and is obviously having a good time, then it works.
That's it for a kiss, let's twist
I kept hearing this line as "That's it for a kissless twist" at first, which is both better and worse.
The way my baby smiles spins my head around
Alas, they don't drop in a sample of "Tubular Bells" here.
That's it for a kiss, let's twist
Weren't they at "the show"? That phrase makes me think of a drive-in movie, not a dance -- unless "twist" is a euphemism, which it probably isn't, since later our narrator trades a "twist for a kiss", making this song a trenchant observation about his lady friend's need to dance (i.e. build emotional ties through shared experience) before getting intimate. (Nomi Malone would beg to differ, probably.)
She got me jumpin' all around town
Now we get an instrumental break, giving our friend on the upright bass another chance to shine. He makes me think of the Monkey Guy (Morgan will know what I mean). It's kind of funny that they miked his amp, rather than recording him directly. Artistic choice, or jury-rigged setup? Who knows, but I like the way it sounds, and towards the end of his solo, he starts sounding surprisingly like a bari sax! He keeps on chugging underneath the brief guitar solo that follows him.
I asked my baby, how about a date?
This is the only lyric that comes close to being a typical song-poem clunker, but it might not be -- I'm still not sure how to read it. Did Bob Brown sing "make you feel" by accident? It's possible. Or is the female character making a sly observation? Is it social commentary? Or just a malapropism? If so, why do so many song-poets have such Ringo Starr-like problems with their pronouns?
I said, I'll pick you up 'bout half past nine
Bob Brown makes everything sound dirty -- in a good way: that's something that the best 1950s-style singers were particularly adept at, making innocuous lines sound pregnant with hidden meaning. It's a bit of a lost art.
Oh, that's it for a kiss, let's twist
This song is going on my next mix CD, that's for sure. It's among the most musically plausible song-poems I've ever heard, and that mugga-wugga bass gives it just the right hint of off-kilter-ness. If he were a guitar player, it'd be atrocious, but it works just right -- and he's still chugging away! Did he go on to play the jug in the 13th Floor Elevators?
That's it for a kiss, let's twist
I like to think of the song-poem author putting this on for his grandkids: "Betty, Joseph, come here, listen to Grandpa's song!" "You wrote this, Grandpa Jim? Wow, you must've been famous!" Even a 5- or 6-year-old could pick up on the bogusness of some of the other song-poems, but this one makes the grade.
Oh, let's twist, for a kiss
I'm tempted to bracket this review with Beatles quotes: "You may be a lover, but you ain't no dancer".
Oh, little baby, twist
current music: "Let's Twist"
October 6, 2002 (link)
Two quick notes: first, I've been listening to Kraftwerk's Ralf and Florian LP a lot over the past day or two, and I like it a lot! Parts of it are uncannily prescient, though I suppose to put it that way is a little bit like a Stereolab fan who listens to Neu! and says "Wow, they really anticipated..." I particularly like the sound of the flute, and the role it plays, on this album. And "Tanzmusik" makes me want to do silly dances, and was probably instrumental in my decision to wear a turtleneck today.
Second, there's a good interview with Mimi Parker of Low, originally published in the 2001 issue of Chickfactor magazine, which can now be found here on their website. If you like Low, have a look; solo interviews with Mimi aren't too common, and it's nice to hear some more of her thoughts on various topics, both band-related and not.
Coming soon: a review of Yellowdock, disc two; another song-poem review; and other tasty treats.
current music: Entries number one and two (in succession) in the Aleatoric Composition Competition
Tom Jones, Henry Fielding
The Computer Connection, Alfred Bester