Eyes That Can See in the Dark

a music journal

October 30, 2005 (link)

11:04 PM

("Some-of-my-best-friends-are-Marsalises"! Someone better leave me a comment telling me what a great line this is or I'm going to deduct five points from Gryffindor, dammit.)

8:08 PM

So the other night I went with this fine character to see this screening of Miles Electric: A Different Kind of Blue at the Wadsworth Atheneum. The organizers opted to have the Mtume/Crouch discussion in the middle of the film, stopping at the end of the documentary section and before the Isle of Wight footage began. I'm not sure what I think of that decision; on the one hand, I can say that E. and I, at least, were pretty keyed up by the tantalizing snippets of live Miles that were included in the documentary, and were ready to hear the show -- so much so that when the film was stopped, it was almost impossible not to groan aloud. On the other hand, I think the discussion might have felt -- if not irrelevant, then at least like too much of an afterthought, had it been placed at the end.

Crouch and Mtume were, as one might predict, quickly at odds. Crouch's take on electric Miles will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with his trad-jazz, some-of-my-best-friends-are-Marsalises stance; though not without moments of incisiveness or rhetorical flourish (and he's certainly nothing if not intelligent), in general his arguments had a nasty, mean-spirited tone that, alas, only emphasized the more batrachian qualities of his person. Meanwhile, Mtume was a more freewheeling presence, certainly more playful and bantering than Crouch, but also perfectly cogent in his argumentation and more than capable of holding his own.

The sympathies of the audience were, naturally, with Mtume: who would be there, after all, if they didn't like Miles' electric period? A few people, perhaps, but not the majority. Even so, I suspect people would have been more receptive to Crouch's position had he argued his case on any kind of concrete terms (though it's a difficult argument to make: electric Miles is highly chromatic and polyphonic, and claiming that it sacrifices the harmonic-teleological complexity of bop is like saying that bop sacrificed the polyphonic complexity of Dixieland, i.e. "So what?" -- in more ways than one!). Instead, he harped over and over again on the same points: Miles sold out; he read that Miles' producers told him he had to record something more commercial; the music hasn't stood the test of time and is "dated", because no one of note is doing anything like it anymore; etc., etc., etc.

The organizers took questions from the audience after about twenty minutes; I toyed with the idea of asking a pointed question of Mr. Crouch, but wasn't able to formulate anything that captured what I wanted to ask -- and, to be perfectly frank, I felt that it might not be appropriate for me to step into the fray at an event dedicated to black culture (let alone to do so in a confrontational or accusatory way) in which all the participants, and a good two-thirds of the audience, were African-American. That is: while in a perfect world, I'd love for that not to be an issue, in the real world, the racial politics of a white man standing up and saying J'accuse! to a black man, in that particular context, could've been pretty uncomfortable.

That being said, had I the opportunity again (and after talking with E., post-concert), I might ask something like this:

"Mr. Crouch, given the positions you've held at Lincoln Center, and the fact that, arguably, you have built your career in part out of your willingness to take public and controversial stands on issues like the one before us tonight, could you explain how it is that we should regard your position as somehow less self-interested, less tainted by economic interests, than that of Miles' electric music? In other words, if your argument is that Miles knew which side his bread was buttered on, and acted accordingly, why should we not think the same of you?"


"Mr. Crouch, when I think of the jazz musicians whom I know personally, with whom I have spoken over the years, and whose words I have read and seen in interviews, I can think of very few who view Miles' first electric period in anything but positive terms. Truth be told, I'd say most of them regard In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew as masterpieces. Would you argue that they are wrong, and you are right? Speaking as much as possible in technical, quantitative terms, what is it that you perceive in this music, but they do not? If Charlie Parker or Duke Ellington were alive, do you think they, too, would be hostile to this music?"

Still, perhaps the evening was better off without being "enhanced" by questions such as these.

As for the film itself, the first half was engaging, if inherently frustrating -- over and over again I would see fragments of a performance I'd love to own in its entirety, particularly the stuff from 1972-1973, some of which sounded scorching. But it was terrific to see some of these musicians -- Pete Cosey, Dave Liebman, Jack DeJohnette -- from whom I've heard so much, but have never gotten a sense of who they are, or been able just to see them talk. I can't remember the phrase that Mtume used, both in the film and in the discussion: was it "structured improvisation"? Something like that (though that's not it -- his phrase was better), but it instantly made me think of this essay, which is clearly on point and definitely worth a read if you're at all interested in figuring out how this music was put together. (Bottom line: structurally speaking, it's really not that different from a Phish jam circa 1992.)

As for the second half, i.e. the Isle of Wight 1970 footage...well, the irony is, it's actually not an especially great show. I mean, it's (again) wonderful to see it, to see Dave Holland grinning like a goofball (and looking suspiciously like a hippie version of Sebastien Grosjean), and Keith Jarrett twirling like a 7th level Dervish of Pretentiousness, and Chick Corea somehow looking exactly as one would expect -- I don't know how to explain it, but there's something in his ever-attentive, I've-got-my-eyes-glued-to-Miles-but-meanwhile-I'm-getting-serviced-under-this-keyboard posture that was both familiar and hilarious: "Yup," one might say, "that's Chick all right". And Miles, of course: looking terrific, and playing with the confidence and aggression that made those first few years so satisfying from a trumpet point of view (things weren't so good by 1975, alas).

But musically speaking, some of Crouch's criticisms seemed a little closer to the mark than I wanted them to be -- strictly vis-à-vis that particular concert, I mean. Part of the problem is that that particular lineup -- Gary Bartz on sax, Corea and Jarrett on keys, Holland on bass, DeJohnette on drums, and Airto on percussion -- is missing a strong, additional auxiliary voice as a foil for Miles. I don't mean to take anything away from Bartz, whose solos were effective and who clearly deserved to be on that bandstand, but his approach is elliptical and oblique enough that there was still something of a "hole in the middle", a place in the polyphony that felt empty. Another wind instrument might help -- Maupin's bass clarinet, maybe -- but more than anything I found myself wishing for a guitar, specifically John McLaughlin: someone who could go back and forth from soloist to ensemble member, who could be both melodic and percussive, and whose contributions felt like they were both grounding and energizing the music, if that makes sense.

Part of the problem was also that Jarrett and Corea were all over the freakin' place...I can't really fault either of them concretely -- though perhaps Chick was a little too enamored of his ring modulator -- but there were times where it just got a bit too chaotic and self-indulgent for my taste. I'm tempted to put the blame on Jarrett, who may well be my least favorite of Miles' electric pianists (Hancock, Corea, Zawinul, Young, Jarrett...am I forgetting any?), and whose on-stage antics are frankly off-putting.

Anyway, it certainly wasn't a bad concert or anything (what I saw of it, at least -- they faded out the last part, only a few minutes from the end!). Just a bit rambling, a bit unfocused, when compared to some of the best live Miles I've heard -- let alone the likes of Jack Johnson or Bitches Brew, which are just...what are you on, Mr. Crouch?!

Current music: Michael Tippett - "Lento" from Symphony No. 3

(Comments for October 30, 2005) (1 comment so far)

October 14, 2005 (link)

9:50 PM

(I was speaking, below, of the title, and yet:

"It was said that Ma was thrown on the cement pillar of the winch rack and became a cutlet.")

9:42 PM

Sometimes "broken" English finds the right words when the rest of us can't:

Need Coal but need not people.

(Thus: if you're reading this grim list, and when you get to this part of it, find yourself surprised and intrigued -- is it too morbid to say "curious"? -- then looking for more information, you'll find that this is just a stub, and Google will come up with nothing but mirrors of the Wikipedia page, and only by subtracting "colliery" and tweaking things a bit will you get the above -- the only other option you'll find, or at least the only one I did -- which is certainly not written from a neutral point of view, but then, neither is the silence about it, right?)

8:56 PM

I was leafing through Russian Theoretical Thought in Music (ed. Gordon D. McQuere), and the following bit caught my eye:

The methods for modulating to tonalities in the first degree of relatedness1 revolve around the use of a common chord. For modulation involving tonalities in the second degree of relatedness, Rimsky-Korsakov introduced the idea of the modulatory plan. Devising a modulatory plan consists of determining which triads are common to the tonalities involved and then finding the most satisfactory choice and order of the intermediate key(s), based on these triads as tonic chords. The choice of intermediate key(s) is then determined by the intervallic distance between the modulatory and intermediary tonalities. A variety of intervallic distances is the most desirable combination.

[...] Rimsky-Korsakov gave some examples of good and bad modulatory plans involving remote tonalities. For example, in modulating from C major to Eb minor, the plans C-f-Db-eb and C-d-bb-eb are good plans, since the intervallic distances between the tonalities vary; the plans C-F-Bb-eb and C-f-bb-eb are poor, since the intervallic distances between each adjoining pair of tonalities are perfect fourths.

-- "Russian Music Theory: A Conspectus" (p. 24), Ellon D. Carpenter

1[In Rimsky-Korsakov's terminology, this means keys whose tonic triad can be found in a given key -- so, relative to C major, keys that are in the first degree of relatedness would include F, G, and C major, and D, E, and A minor -- but he also expands it to "include...the minor subdominant, mediant, and supertonic", i.e. F minor, E minor, and B minor, "which had heretofore been considered in the second or third degree of relatedness". And "in the minor mode, a similar occurrence takes place with the inclusion of the major dominant as well as the major submediant and subtonic (in...A minor, that would mean E, F, and G major)."

So Rimsky's saying that since F minor is the iv of C, and C is the V of F minor, then the relationship is reciprocal enough to be "first-degree". Fair enough, I like "Song For Strayhorn" too, though I think I prefer "No Expectations" to "No Surprises", so.]

I don't know whether it's true, though it makes sense to me that modulating by predictable fourths could be problematic, could feel predictable or sequence-y. Either way, I thought it was an interesting idea to mull over.

On a different note, how about a canarie?

Current music: Alio Die - "The Circular Development of Time"

(Hey, another Russian connection: I hear a Rite of Spring quotation in this track, or something very like one, starting about two minutes from the end. Specifically, I'm thinking of the piccolo clarinet solo at the end of "Spring Rounds", and the little descending pentatonic figure that concludes it: D, F, C, D, Bb, C, G.)

(Comments for October 14, 2005)

October 11, 2005 (link)

7:13 PM

(Oh, and I forgot the worst part -- the "N" button is used both for movement and for saying "no" to things, which wouldn't be such a big deal except that (a) the emulator, at least, is hypersensitive to key presses, and (b) if you move when your fatigue is over 70%, your men die, so you get sequences like this:

(computer interprets single, very brief tap of "N" key as two taps, thus:)
(moves north)
** ALL DIE **
(user proceeds to throw computer out of window)

(It's Retro FunTM!)

6:06 PM

Brutal idea: put together a list of your top 5 "perfect" albums. Doesn't seem that hard at first, and I don't have any difficulty reeling off two dozen albums I think are so great as to be figuratively perfect.

But albums that you can listen to "without skipping a track"? Where every single cut is Grade A stuff? Then you start thinking about "Octopus's Garden", about "A Remark You Made", about "For Corners", about "Drag". It's amazing how many bands/artists/whatever I love don't make the cut at all, like Weather Report (it's not that I dislike "Nubian Sundance", but I skip it just about every time). Or take an album like Dots and Loops -- if it weren't for "Refractions in the Plastic Pulse", right?

Then, when you actually try to answer this question, you find yourself disregarding the brilliant, but occasionally flawed or uneven, in favor of the pretty-good-but-only-sometimes-great -- so Strange Days is arguably a more viable ("electable"!) candidate than the first self-titled album ("Specialize in having fun", ouch), despite "Light My Fire", "Crystal Ship", "Break On Through", etc., etc. Or you find yourself drawn to same-y albums -- ambient is great for this -- if you stick with one thing, there's nothing to skip, really, right? And let us shed a tear for all the many, many albums that begin with perfection, but don't sustain it throughout: Laughing Stock, Pygmalion, Spool's self-titled, and so on.

Anyway, sticking mostly to rock, jazz, and related music -- i.e. no classical, which would make it way too easy, and no 76-minute ambient wallpaper -- there were a few ideas that came to mind. In a Silent Way, certainly, and there's an argument for In a Silent Way II (aka Aquatic) as well. From Our Living Room to Yours is in there ("Where Have All the Good Boys Gone" definitely has a bit less of my affections than the others, but I don't skip it). Junta scrapes in because I genuinely do enjoy "Contact", even if the tail end of "Divided Sky" is pretty marginal.

A few more: the opening tracks nix A Saucerful of Secrets and Atom Heart Mother, so that leaves Ummagumma or Meddle -- of which I'd probably pick Ummagumma, though not because of "San Tropez" but, rather, because of "One of These Days"! But there again, do I really love "Sysyphus" more than "Fearless"? No, of course not. And what of Waiting for the Sun, or Revolver? Are "Five to One" and "I Want To Tell You" enough to take them off the list? If "I Want To Tell You" isn't enough, then "Octopus's Garden" surely isn't enough, so I'd put Abbey Road in there first, for sure. Such a mess this is!

In other news:

A screenshot of the old TRS-80 Model I or Model III game, Quest for the Key of Night Shade

Oh, no, a Sneeth! Five of them, even! Couldn't it have been a Terolt? They're the ones with money, after all. Or at least a Kilgard?

(Seriously, is this the hardest game ever or what? Maybe it's some bug in the emulation, I don't remember it being quite this bad when I was a kid. Even on difficulty level 1, the enemies are lethal! Like when you're attacked by five of them on your very first move, "attempt to disengage unsuccessful", poof, the end! And you can't even go five steps without dying from fatigue! Buying new soldiers makes the old ones lose everything they had! And what is it that your thieves do, exactly? Steal...something? From someone, someday?)

(And yet it's oddly addictive...)

Current music: Weather Report - "Blackthorn Rose"

(Comments for October 11, 2005) (2 comments so far)

October 4, 2005 (link)

12:23 AM

Some more info on the recut Shining video I linked below, for those who are curious.

Interesting link: Extremes of Conventional Music Notation. I have some reservations about some of the claims on the page; Don Giovanni notwithstanding, setting up a category "Earliest use of polyrhythm with non-coinciding barlines after 1700" still seems a bit like saying "First composer to ever use wild, chromatic harmonies...um, except for Gesualdo, that is".

I'm also surprised that there's no category for earliest written polytonality -- a category that Mozart would certainly have claim to, given the crashingly discordant, multi-key-signature ending of Ein Musikalischer Spass. And I don't know about "[m]y personal inclination is strongly towards considering such work as of more conceptual than musical interest" -- but then again, maybe that's just bias on my part (against editorializing that excludes, that is: I'm not wearing a Ferneyhough T-shirt).

Anyway, grumblings aside, it's a fun read. "[A]n editorial footnote in the Schirmer edition comments that this note 'did not yet exist' on pianos" -- and it still doesn't!

(And then verily was he tempted to write "Scriabin, you so crazy!", and verily did he refuse the temptation, and it was good.)

Current music: Ilkae - "Rusty Mittens"

(Comments for October 4, 2005)

October 3, 2005 (link)

9:26 PM


(Direct link is here.)

Current music: V/A - Aurora (Merck 004)

(Comments for October 3, 2005)


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