Eyes That Can See in the Dark

a music journal

December 30, 2002 (link)

9:56 PM

I still very much want to get this (anyone up for "Merry Belated Christmas"? Didn't think so, but it was worth a try). Check out "Midnight Black Earth" -- it's gorgeous! A couple MP3s are available here, though I almost prefer the way they sound in RealAudio lo-fi. The band name is a bit off-putting, but maybe that's the idea.

A couple interviews with Jhno (of Spool) at Angbase and Tunnel Cuts. From the latter, there's something I quite like about this excerpt:

i usually only get out these days when there is something musically extraordinary - an artist or dj in whom i am interested. otherwise it is not too often that i feel like being in a crowd of people, and in a very loud environment. i like loud music well enough, but there is a certain sweet spot where the sound is very full and immersing, without being distorted or painful, and most clubs/parties just zip past that spot in the interest of creating an atmosphere of energy, or something. these extremely loud volumes are a mystery to me: people have to shout to each other, their hearing is damaged, etc. i always wear earplugs, which is a pain.

anyway, while i enjoy a good party and a good sound system, i think my favorite listening experiences are usually solitary... in my studio or horizontal with a good pair of headphones. my music has been influenced by the dancefloor - but my focus is still the immersive, deep listening experience.

current music: Bohren & Der Club of Gore - "Constant Fear"

(Comments for December 30, 2002)

December 17, 2002 (link)

10:58 PM

"Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Potassium", lyrics by Lolla Mont Gue, performed by Jim Hall & The Radio Pals.

We start out with a boogie-woogie piano plonking away in C major, accompanied only by vinyl pops and a hint of 60hz hum. If you stuck a microphone in front of an AM radio and taped a live broadcast of an early garage band, it'd probably sound a bit like this recording -- not that that's a bad thing: I actually think it adds a lot of charm to this rather demented piece of music. After four bars, the jangly guitar and thumpity drums come in, and away we go:

I'm just hydrogen, nitrogen, potassium to her
I wonder why

For my part, I'm wondering why "hydrogen, nitrogen, potassium"? It seems like a pretty random selection of elements to me, and off the top of my head I can't think of any compounds that use just those three -- ammonia's the closest I can come: NH3, isn't it? But wait a minute, here's potassamide to the rescue! It's "an olive green or brown mass [obtained] by gently heating the metal in ammonia gas" which some sites list as NH2K and others as KNH2. You learn something new every day, etc. Somehow I don't think Lolla Mont Gue -- does that name scream "pseudonym" to anyone else? -- had potassamide in mind when she was writing this song.

I wonder why
I loved, oh, her
I did implore her

Just one of many semi-unintelligible lines in this song, that last may well be "I deplore her", or any number of other things. I trust that Mr. Hall, our singer, is not the esteemed, late jazz guitarist; whatever his day job is, his vocals, though not without charm, sound like they're being squeezed out of a tube of toothpaste purchased in a general store somewhere in Alabama.

I'm just hydrogen, nitrogen, potassium to her
And yet to me

The band is already starting to rush very noticeably -- by the time we reach the end of the song, we've gone from a shuffle to a hop. Meanwhile, the guitarist's strumming has become an oddly pleasing, semi-atonal racket -- through the jangle you can only sort of make out that he's playing notes, and it sounds like he's got all kinds of open strings that a guitar doesn't normally have. Shades of Livingston at his loudest!

And yet to me, be the one and only
And I know, yes I'll know, he'll be

That could be "he the one and only", "beat the one and only", "beep a one and only" -- you get the picture. As you'll see, the gender and/or orientation of this song keeps switching around; I'm not sure whether it's supposed to be a narrative told from multiple points of view -- that seems a little vychurnyi to me -- but whatever the design, it'd be confusing even if the lyrics weren't already hard to make out.

Bat an eye in my direction
And I'm filled with perplexion

Could be "affection", and it sounds oddly like "complexion". "Filled with complexion" sounds like a euphemism for severe acne, kind of like people who use the word "weather" to mean thunderstorms and other inclement activity -- "Uh-oh, there's some weather coming."

They're in need of protection I'll admit

I originally thought this line was "Clarity of perfection I'll admit", which has a certain charm to it. I'm not satisfied with this reading, though it's the most plausible one I've come up with: what, exactly, is in need of protection? The Beavis in me wishes it sounded more like "we're in need of protection", but no dice. If you think this line is incoherent, wait until you see the next one:

But I have an institution
That in such a high position
He will never, ever, ever fall for me

That may well be the biggest malapropism I've yet seen in a song-poem: surely Ms. Mont Gue meant "but I have an intuition"? But it's hard not to like the image of someone just sort of offhandedly mentioning that they own an insane asylum, or a small college, in the middle of a lover's lament. I wonder if this is a love song to a chemistry professor? Sounds unrequited to me -- I guess he preferred the company of his Bunsen burner.

I'm just hydrogen, nitrogen, potassium to her
And that's the score

I like the way the drums and guitar tighten up here, with the drummer switching over to his hi-hat.

Yes, that's the score
But a torch for him I'll carry
Always, oh, always carry

Again with the random gender switching! I can already imagine certain people of my acquaintance nodding approvingly, but I tend to think it's pretty hard to be subversive when you're not even coherent. (Someone should've told Jim Morrison that.)

Now comes the obligatory piano break, but we only get a few notes here and there -- I think the piano player's skills are pushed to the limit just keeping that left hand going!

Well, bat an eye in my direction
And I'm filled with perplexion
They're in need of protection I'll admit

It was after listening to this song at least five or six times in a row that I realized: the vocal part only uses five notes in the whole song. E, G, and A, a couple F's, and a single B, and that's it. There's something to be said for economy of means, but that's a little much.

But I have an institution
That in such a high position
He will never, ever, ever fall for me

"Demented" really is the word for it. I can't imagine that there isn't at least one director out there who'd jump at the chance to use this twisted little number in his/her soundtrack -- it's a total mess, and yet it's oddly charming in its way. And take heart, Ms. Mont Gue -- the higher they are, the harder they fall!

I'm just hydrogen, nitrogen, potassium to him
And, and that's the score
Yes, that's the score
But a torch for him I'll carry
Always, oh, always carry

And we lurch into an abrupt and thoroughly unslick ending.

current music: H, N, and K, baby.

(Comments for December 17, 2002) (4 comments so far)

December 16, 2002 (link)

1:17 AM

The intro to "Astronomy Domine", at 15% speed, sounds like (heavily aliased) Labradford!

1:05 AM

And if you play it back at 9.36% of normal speed, it sounds like dark ambient -- but what doesn't, really? Slap a low-pass filter on it to hide the aliasing, and you've got almost seven hours worth of whispers, rumbles and crunches.

12:45 AM

If you play the live version of "Fat Old Sun" listed below at 150% speed in Retro CD (i.e. 50% faster than normal speed), it sounds great, like some sort of strange, high-speed cross between...I don't know, the Hang-ups and the Left Banke? On the quiet verses, Gilmour's guitar sounds like a harpsichord, à la "In My Life", but during the rest of the song the guitar gets much janglier, and between that and Nick Mason's sped-up drumming the whole thing comes off like something straight out of early 1990s alternative/indie-pop. I guess that doesn't sound so promising on paper, but it's really pretty nice, and I think J. might like it -- if I had my druthers, I'd call in the troops and do a cover version right away.

current music: Pink Floyd - "Fat Old Sun" from Smoking Blues, live at the Montreux Casino, Nov. 21, 1970

(Comments for December 16, 2002)

December 14, 2002 (link)

1:06 PM

By the way, I've "fixed" the bad links in the archives of the Rockoverlondon site -- the links to "current entries" point at review.htm, a document that doesn't exist there, so I've added a redirect to index.htm. (Of course, if you're reading this, you've already figured out how to get here!)

12:40 PM

For some reason I found this quite amusing:

Question from Rob Smith: Star Trek aside, do you think of yourself as technologically savvy? And, what tech do you most depend on in your day-to-day life and business?

William Shatner: No, I am not a technically savvy person, on the contrary. But I don't know whether anybody can make heads or tails out of all the stuff.

I try to stay grounded by working on my house as much as possible, and the simplest things flummox me. Have you ever dealt with the toilet, for example, and the plunger and the thing that bobs on top of the water? How does it work? I have no real idea why the water stops and why the water goes down the drain at the speed it does.

MSNBC-Will Femia: It's funny you mention toilets because someone did submit a question asking how you went to the bathroom on the Enterprise, but I decided to leave that one off.

William Shatner: That's too bad because I'm trying to figure that out too.

MSNBC-Will Femia: Surely you don't hold it the whole time.

William Shatner: Well you take the right pill.

And -- though this idea is by no means a new one -- there's a certain felicity in the way the author expresses it here:

It is important not to mistake formalism for an argument that the creative act can be boiled down to a set of mechanical rules. Like all of the arts, visual design is a discipline comprised of a balance struck between intuition and formalism. I submit simply that work produced in complete ignorance of these formal principles is accidentally ill-formed far more often than it is accidentally well-formed.

I love the vagueness of that last Shatner line -- I imagine him saying it in an offhand way, as though the pill in question is both de rigueur and something that's a bit impolite to talk about.

current music: Pink Floyd - "A Saucerful of Secrets", live at the University of Essex, Colchester, Feb. 12, 1971

(Comments for December 14, 2002)

December 12, 2002 (link)

11:59 PM

The other day I found myself watching Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. At first it was just out of general nostalgia and amusement (the latter mainly at myself -- for instance when I was reminded of the fact that, as a child, I'd never realized that Mister Rogers did the voices for some of the puppets, King Friday among them). But after they left the Land of Make-Believe, Mr. McFeeley came by with a tape of his visit of his trip to the trumpet factory, which was pretty damn cool! I had actually just been thinking about this not too long ago -- you'd think I'd know how trumpets were made, being a trumpet player, but I had only a handful of vague notions, at least some of which turned out to be off the mark. The most unexpected thing, at least to me, was how they put the bends in the tubing: they fill the tubing with ice water, freeze it, and then bend it! The idea is of course that the ice in the tubing helps to keep it from buckling. Unfortunately, they didn't show us how the valves were made, which is the part I was really wondering about.

Here's a question for the analog synth buffs: after the trumpet video, when Mister Rogers was feeding the fish, they played a synth melody -- a little pentatonic or "pentatonic-ish" fragment that I'm sure has shown up before on the show. The patch it was played on was quite flute-like, but with a hint of a sawtooth wave -- or do I mean a triangle wave? I'm not sure, it was subtle. It's almost exactly the sound I want for a certain passage in a piece I've been toying with, in various forms, since the spring of 2000: the sound I've been imagining is just a bit buzzier, but has that same sort of whimsical warmth to it. I've tried to recreate it on a couple different synths -- a K2000, a Prophet software synth -- but to no avail, neither one has the sweetness I'm looking for.

So, does anyone know the sound I mean, and/or what synth they might've been using? The episode was copyright 1985, so it was definitely a real analog synth. The quality I'm looking for is especially prominent in the lower to middle register -- in the upper reaches, Mister Rogers' synth tends to sound more like a flute.

current music: Klaus Schulze - Irrlicht

(Comments for December 12, 2002)

December 11, 2002 (link)

9:42 AM

Stereolab's Mary Hansen has died. Much too young, only 36 years old...what a damned shame. She had one of my all-time favorite female voices -- one of the bright spots on Cobra and Phases was getting to hear her take lead vocals. Rest in peace, Mary.

current music: none

(Comments for December 11, 2002)

December 8, 2002 (link)

2:07 AM

"Maturity is forsaking the pursuit of power for the pursuit of truth" -- not just "truth", but truthfulness, honesty, maybe even "being-for-self" in the Hegelian sense (which does not mean anything like "living for yourself", or at least that's not at all what I mean -- think, instead, "for its own sake"). Keats meant that beauty is real, is honest, is truthful.

1:58 AM

Heh, when I told my brother-in-law how taken I was with the Concerto For Orchestra, he nodded and said something like "You know, a lot of people think that's the greatest piece written for orchestra in the 20th century." I was about 13 at the time, and so I felt pleased and vindicated -- but if that happened now, I'd probably go, "Shit, really?" (i.e. "Oh, Dots and Loops is their best album!")

1:27 AM

And there's also a difference between a piece I needed to hear, and a piece that took me by surprise and changed my musical universe. Bartok's Concerto For Orchestra blindsided me, and made me realize that classical music was a fully mobile idiom capable of dialogue in the realms that most interested me, but it began, rather than completed, a line of inquiry: I hadn't asked that question yet. On the other hand, I think I had started to ask the question that, out of nowhere, Low's I Could Live In Hope answered. I remember hearing "Slide" and thinking, maybe even saying to J., "yes". I don't know what had gotten me ready for it, but it was exactly what I needed. Actually, scratch the bit about "a line of inquiry" above, since Low certainly began a line of inquiry for me: a better way of putting it would be that Bartok expanded my focus, and helped me to begin to integrate classical music into my language and inquiries, whereas Low in some sense narrowed my focus by giving me exactly what I wanted, and making me want to hear more of that, very specific, thing. The irony there is that I Could Live In Hope was itself in one sense superseded by Curtain Hits the Cast -- the album that exemplified what I was looking for gave way to its successor which had even more of it -- though then again, that's not completely true: part of what I loved was the Kramer effects, the flanger and the chorus and the delay, and Curtain Hits the Cast gave some of that up to pursue other things even further. And then for me, Curtain Hits the Cast gave way in some sense to Low's live shows, which at that time (they've since moved on to other things) were pushing that thread almost as far as it can be taken: no one I've seen has ever articulated slow-time that well live, in "Coattails" especially, next to which the versions on Curtain seem rushed and 2-D (but only by comparison).

(Other than the Gorecki and Feldman I've already mentioned, the best example of a classical piece that answered a question for me: Le Sacre du Printemps and Petrushka. Another one might be Satie's 1ère Sarabande, whereas the 1ère Gymnopédie took me by surprise.)

current music: Symphonies of the Planets, Vol. 1

(Comments for December 8, 2002)

December 7, 2002 (link)

11:46 PM

To elaborate on "needing to hear", below: the idea isn't one of prerequisites, though there's certainly some truth to that (at least in certain cases). It's more a question of having a musical itch that needs to be scratched, or -- to put it differently -- of needing to experience the extreme, or the obvious, before feeling fully contended with the restrained or subtle. So, for instance, as a trumpet player, I needed to hear someone like Maynard Ferguson. (It could've just as easily been, say, Jon Faddis.) I needed to hear someone play high, fast, and loud, because I could sense a boundary both in my own playing and in the vocabulary of the trumpet, and needed to hear someone push it. I wanted to be thrilled and amazed by the human capacity for mastery, and by the kinds of expressions that can only come from someone so wedded to their instrument. And it was also important to hear a sort of constructed oneupsmanship, with each musician raising the stakes a bit higher: can Ferguson hit a double high C? Well, then hear Arturo Sandoval hit the G above that. Can Freddie Hubbard play a solo with nearly twenty notes per second? Then hear Wynton Marsalis play so fast that it sounds like two trumpets at once ("Carnival of Venice").

Only then, in my own due time, having experienced the world of the chops-monster to my satisfaction, would I be ready to start exploring subtler territories. For me, it was inevitable that I would become restless and look for other things, given the strong affinity I've always had for types of music that have nothing whatsoever to do with flash and speed (like ambient). But if anyone had tried to accelerate that process by actively discouraging me from listening to stuff like Ferguson or Jaco, it probably would've just made the whole thing take longer. Obvious, flashy music tends to have a very immediate payoff, and people need to get tired of it on their own and decide for themselves when to move on -- so anyone who wants to advocate for the subtler forms of aesthetic experience has to realize that the cruder ones gain immeasurably in power if one "forbids" them, literally or figuratively. (One of the hallmarks of immaturity is identification with the aggressor: does that apply to music as well? Is there any value to the phrase -- "Maturity is forsaking the pursuit of power for the pursuit of truth" -- I'm tempted to coin? Suddenly I find myself thinking that almost all adolescent rebellion is identification with the aggressor, but that can't be right.)

There's another facet to this, which I'm running out of steam to talk about tonight (I've chased down a few false leads while exploring this train of thought: insert "if-you-think-the-preceding-paragraph-is-crap, you-should-see-what-I-deleted!" joke), but I'll take something of a stab at it. Maybe it's a mistake to see this as different from the above, but at the time in my life in which I first encountered it, Morton Feldman's Piano and String Quartet was a piece I needed to hear. I had been pursuing more and more rarified forms of ambient music, in different forms and genres, in search of a hypothetical music that would lie perfectly on the boundary between music and silence. I can't call specifics to mind, but I feel sure that along the way, I ran into plenty of pieces that were wonderful, but which I wasn't ready to hear because, for me, they didn't take it far enough. (Maybe this is the same thing as the Maynard Ferguson bit, I'm not sure, but it seems counterintuitive to equate the two when you're talking about a search in the service of such a different musical ideal.) "Why aren't you the piece I'm looking for?", basically, and when you're in that craving state of mind you're not really giving anything a fair chance (which in a way is my whole point).

So hearing the Piano and String Quartet, all 79 minutes and 50-something pianississimo seconds of it, scratched the itch. Which isn't to suggest, in the least, that for me the piece was merely a means to an end -- I wasn't just looking for "Kilroy was here", I was specifically seeking an aesthetic experience for which I had a powerful desire in and of itself, and by which I was thoroughly enraptured when I achieved it. But after I'd listened to it a few times, I was in some sense satisfied, and was then able to go back and listen to pieces that didn't as fully embody the qualities for which I had been searching, and appreciate them on their own merits. And I think part of that comes from knowing Feldman existed, knowing that I could go back there anytime I wanted -- and that I could think of Piano and String Quartet as just the tip of an unexplored continent, so that I wasn't solely dependent on that one piece.

This hasn't, by the way, always turned out to be a correct kind of assumption: the rest of Stereolab's catalogue isn't like Dots and Loops, and the rest of Nick Drake's songs don't quite sound like "Time Has Told Me" and "River Man". Sometimes your first taste is the best one, and turns out to be, sadly, just about unique. Other times you just happen to dip your toes in the river at the exact right place, and at the exact right moment. I went looking on the Internet for space rock and found Transona Five; I could easily instead have found a hundred other bands that wouldn't have given me what I wanted, wouldn't have had their elusive, delicate beauty. Someone once wrote, about Japanese noise music, something that amounted to "I don't often want to listen to it, but I'm glad it's there". I've been tempted to make a similar analogy with the park that's near my house -- I don't go there every day, or even every month, but I think if it weren't there, and I didn't know I had the option of going there easily, I'd feel just a little more crazed by its absence. But sometimes it doesn't feel like some of these musical currents are like my park -- self-similar, yet varied and deep enough so that I never feel like I'm repeating myself. (It's a huge park.) It does feel, at times, like I'm randomly blundering on beautiful spots, without any clue how to repeat the experience, or a good way of talking about why Seamonster1's Tsunamin Audio Prism works so well for me while other, seemingly similar albums leave me indifferent.

In a way, I'm rewriting history by claiming Feldman as the watershed moment in my pursuit of "pure" ambience -- it was far more complex than that, and is in some ways a process still going on. I do feel less under the sway of something specific I'm wanting to hear, which is both a good and a bad thing: I'm able to approach different currents in music with a kind of openness I haven't always been able to sustain, such that I could engage with something like the Carter concert last month in a way I might not have managed two or three years ago. On the other hand, given the choice, I'd rather have the peak experience of hearing the Feldman disc, or Junta, or Gorecki's Third in the Swoboda performance, or "Oasis" from Pat Metheny's Watercolors, and thinking to myself, "I've been looking for you for a long, long time, and I'm so happy I've found you at last." An open mind is nice, but in the end, coming home is even better.

current music: Agitation Free - At Last

(Comments for December 7, 2002)

December 6, 2002 (link)

4:20 PM

I've been listening lately to MP3s of Al Sa'ad Folkloric Songs, an album of Kuwaiti music by (if I understand the credits correctly) one Faisal Al-Sa'ad. Can't find any information on the WWW about it, but the little info I have tells me that it's in a style called khaleeji. I don't know anything about khaleeji -- I'd never even heard of it -- but I quite enjoy it, especially the opening track, "Ahla El Leyali". It's basically strings, percussion, and male vocals (solo and backing), with other instruments here and there like harp and synthesizer. It doesn't feel too much removed from the stuff I've heard on Radio Tunis, especially in terms of the tuning. "Ahla El Leyali" uses a scale, starting on A-flat, in which the third and (sometimes!) the seventh are roughly a quarter-tone between minor and major, so: A-flat, B-flat, C-1/4-tone-flat, D-flat, E-flat, F, (G-flat or G-1/4-tone-flat), A-flat. (The strings seem to favor the minor 7th, but the harp and synthesizer use the "in-between" seventh.)

It's a sound I like a lot, and even now -- after all these years of playing jazz, no less -- those quarter-tone thirds have an unsettling effect on me, in that I can simultaneously accept them, aurally speaking, and yet part of me still wants to taxonomize them as major or minor. (I suppose that's natural, and it certainly makes sense when you consider that those intervals are key-defining ones in Western tuning: if you know the tonic, having the third and the seventh "nailed down", as it were, tells you more information about the key than just about any other pair of intervals.) Sometimes the backup singers seem to be pushing a bit one way or the other too -- to my ears, they lean a shade towards the minor -- which on the one hand is a bit surprising, but maybe it shouldn't be: out of seven tracks on the album, only three seem to use non-Western tuning ("Ahla El Leyali" and the last two, "Ya Hala Feek" and "Ya Nowakhith").

Also on the same MP3-CD is an album by the Fuzzy Mountain String Band. Old-time traditional bluegrass is not a genre I'm normally drawn to, but I thought I'd give it a shot, and so the tracks I've got are mixed in with the other stuff on the CD -- an Art Ensemble of Chicago disc, the Sonatas and Interludes, Henry Threadgill's Too Much Sugar For a Dime, and so on -- for random play in Winamp at work. Funny thing is, the Fuzzy Mountain String Band seem to use quarter-tones too, or at least "shaded tones". At first, I thought it was just deliberately loose playing, but the violinist hit the same note over and over again -- a slightly sharp G in the key of D -- enough so that it became clear that it was an intentional signifier. "Poor Johnnie Has Gone to the War" is one example, though there are a few others on the disc where it's obvious -- for one, "Gal I Left Behind Me", which alternates between E minor and G, uses a C that's even sharper. Of course, it's partly an issue of technique, I'm sure -- both notes (C and G) have the same fingering on the violin, though on different strings -- but it doesn't sound at all accidental to me.

It's interesting to speculate -- though I'm ill-equipped to do so in any complete way -- about the relationship between tuning systems in bluegrass, Arabic music, and the blue notes in early jazz. There seems to be more of an instinct to heighten the ambiguity between major and minor modes in Arabic music and jazz than there is in bluegrass. It's easy to see where that's coming from in North African countries, which are largely Arab/Arabic-speaking anyway, but did those effects also show up in the central and southern parts of the continent? And, if we could trace these things backwards, and could somehow identify the slaves and immigrants most responsible for introducing "blue notes" into the music that became jazz, would we find that they came from countries with a strong Arab presence, or is there a separate, indigenous African tradition that independently developed a similar system of tuning? What little I've heard of traditional African music -- mostly stuff from Senegal, Uganda, Tanzania, and the former Zaire -- hasn't pointed that way, but I intend to keep listening for it, and would love to hear about it if anyone can tell me where I ought to be looking.

current music: Fuzzy Mountain String Band - "Old Sledge"

1:50 AM

Someone (can't remember who) claimed that the mystery lyrics on Missy Elliott's "Work It" were "fremme neppa venette". Of course they were joking -- the line is just "I put my thing down, flip it and reverse it" backwards -- but I don't really understand the joke, since to me the reversed line sounds nothing like that: I'd transcribe it as something like "yer fa mené fa fren yetta woop", which I like much better.

And yes, it's a pretty great track. (I only heard it for the first time a couple weeks ago. No, I haven't been living under a rock.)

current music: Atom Heart - Dots

(Comments for December 6, 2002)

December 5, 2002 (link)

12:34 AM

Okay, I remember where I was going next, at least forward one step: I was going to say that my pivotal "aha!" moment with jazz was the Charlie Parker bio-pic Bird, which -- flawed as it was -- made me realize a whole bunch of things about jazz, and improvisation, and music that I'd never thought about before. And I think I was going to somehow connect this with my experience of listening to Junta for the first time, and the idea in general of needing to hear certain kinds of music before being receptive to others (and by "kinds of music" I don't mean so much genres as ideas, or styles of performance and composition). But I don't feel like I've quite regained my Ariadne's thread, so to speak.

current music: Klaus Schulze - "Das Herz von Grünland"

(Comments for December 5, 2002)

December 4, 2002 (link)

9:40 PM

Before I left for Thanksgiving, I started an entry with the following:

"There are, I'm sure, many people out there who began playing jazz after having spent their childhood listening to it, whether on the radio or at..."

That's where it stops: I have no idea where I was going with that! Actually, I can remember what the next thought was going to be -- "I didn't", basically -- but after that? Not a clue.

Yet again I'll sing the praises of Joey Baron: his playing on "Child At Heart" (from the Frisell/Driscoll/Baron Live album, recorded in 1991) is damn near my Favorite Drum Solo Ever at the moment. It's loose-limbed, witty, octopus drumming -- in the car to NH I compared him to Snoopy, which M. liked and I do too even if I've used that one before -- and every time I hear it I have to turn it up loud. Hell, I just played it, and the moment it finished, I hit the button to play it again: how many drum solos can you say that about? It's kind of inaccurate to call it a solo, too, since it's just about as much about his interplay with the band, especially the way it feels when he pulls out Rock Beat #7 at the midpoint of the song after a long, relatively quiet first part -- another trick of his I've talked about before, but here it takes a different turn, ending up on a tremendous solo while Frisell and Driscoll play a steady eighth-note ostinato in unison under him (a bit like the bassline to "Riders on the Storm", but faster). The way his snare snaps and pops, or the way he pounds the crap out of his toms -- all that makes me imagine him taking these huge swings at his drums, coming down on them practically from over his head: it's completely controlled, yet somehow feels like the antithesis of tight, super-dry drumming (which I quite like!).

Funny to remember when I first heard this album, driving through Massachusetts, on my way to visit G. just a couple weeks after I'd said I love you to her for the first time. It was the end of term, and I was riding with Mike S., who was kind enough to bring me with him on his way home to Hartford. We listened to some of Mike's CDs along the way. They say adrenaline enhances both perception and memory, and I don't doubt it: I'm sure I was a nervous wreck inside, especially since G. and I had never spent any time together as boyfriend-and-girlfriend before, and I was both completely in love with her and a little frightened by the first hints of the emotional instability that, in the end, tore our relationship to bits, helped to send at least one of us on a long slide into deep depression, and left us worse than strangers. (To this day we're not on speaking terms, which all things considered -- though I'm far from blameless in the matter -- is a fucking sad and surreal thing to have to say.)

Whatever the reasons, and Mike S.'s good taste can't be least among them, I've ended up buying every single CD Mike played for me that day -- at least all the ones I can remember -- and they seem hard-wired into my consciousness in a way few albums are: buying them has felt a little like replacing a copy of a CD I've had for years and only lost recently. Conference of the Birds was one of those ("How could this ever have been an album I didn't know?" -- you know the feeling), and Frisell/Driscoll/Baron was another. I'd never made any effort to delve beyond Have a Little Faith, afraid that Frisell's other albums would turn out to be jokey quagmires -- which was not a wholly unfounded fear, but I was glad to have it proven wrong. We must have made it to "Child At Heart", particularly as I remember being amazed that they had so much more in their bag of tricks, in a way that dovetails perfectly with that song: they felt like a band that might do almost anything at any given moment, and would probably pull it off. That "anything-is-possible" feeling has always hooked me -- Le Sacre Du Printemps, Happy End of the World, and Junta, to name three wildly disparate examples -- and at their best the Frisell/Driscoll/Baron has about as much of it as anyone could want.

I think I left my favorite mix tape ever, the very first one that John made me, in Mike's car. I regret to say I've never seen him nor it again since that day, only a week or two shy of six years -- SIX YEARS! -- ago. Hope you're doing well, Mike, wherever things have taken you. Thanks for sharing some good music with me.

current music: Frisell/Driscoll/Baron - Live

(Comments for December 4, 2002)


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