Sunday, October 30, 2011

Record Reviews #2: '70s Private Press Free Jazz Records

Jayne Cortez "There It Is" (Bola Press, 1982)

Jayne Cortez' 1982 album "There It Is" is a caustic, agitprop offering, mating her outraged, self-righteous wordplay with the churning music of an expanded ensemble (tagged "The Firespitters") featuring Cortez cohorts Denardo Coleman, Bern Nix, Bill Cole, Prime Time bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, saxophonist Charles Moffett Jr. (son of Ornette alumni and master percussionist Charles Moffett) and two percussionists. I have paid for this record twice: the first time, in 1989, I bought it new from the NYC mail order company NMDS (another post on this topic in the future), attracted by the personnel. At the time I had difficulty relating to it. Although the music had some appeal, the spoken word aspect was very off-putting - it's pretty easy to understand why a white, lower-middle-class teenager living in a bland Midwestern town might not be able to deal with Cortez' gritty urban minority outlook. Now that I have found another copy of this scarce record, I find the presentation no less unsettling, but have a somewhat wider worldview window to peer at it through.

The opening title track is an uptempo mutant-blues supporting Cortez' biting socio-political commentary. Bern Nix's guitar is typically smooth and sour as it jangles away over the stomping Tacuma/Coleman rhythm section. Cortez is livid as she casts a wide net of anger towards the American establishment in a message of revolt before Moffett takes a traditional, albeit unintentionally out-of-tune tenor solo. This music could be a sort of African-American counterpart to the slashing polemic of the second Pop Group album, substituting blues for funk, and showing a black and female bias instead of hormonal white British teenagers? The assault continues with the punchline-based track "U.S./Nigerian Relations" as she simply repeats "THEY WANT THE OIL, BUT THEY DON'T WANT THE PEOPLE!" over a dense, fast pileup of chaotic free playing, including Bill Cole's pungent double reed whines. The third track "I See Chano Pozo" is no respite from the aggression. Although superficially it seems like a tribute to the Cuban percussionist Pozo, deeper listening reveals that Pozo led a turbulant, short life which Cortez equates with the potency of his music. The track is an obvious showcase for the percussion duo of Abraham Adzinyah and Farel Johnson Jr. and the rest of the players remain in the background as support. Side A ends with "Skin Diver", a short but bludgeoning track in the harmolodic tradition of Ornette Coleman's contemporary music. After a series of convoluted riffs, a middle section of wild, angular, rhythmic free playing convenes, with Moffett in the lead and Denardo Coleman's deranged, loose bashing subverting the flow in his signature manner. "Opening Act" opens the second side with a bout of intense chaos from the ensemble before settling into a slow, but pushing blues form, peppered by saxophone and bitter lashings of Cole's double-reeds over which Cortez essays on the struggles of performers trying to continue in the face of apathy. "If The Drum Is A Woman" features only voice and percussion, with Cortez creating an evocative allegory between the drum-as-man's possession and women's rights. It's not completely clear, but it's not meant to be: this song is an outpouring of hurt wrapped in impressionistic verbiage. "To A Gypsy Cab Man" is a swinging, tonal funk groove with text concerning the underground economy and social implications of independent cab drivers in the ghetto, driving where no other cab might dare. The LP ends with the ranting "Blood Suckers", an indictment of imperialist big industry corruption slithering through an agitated mock march. Overall, "There It Is" burns with anger. It is somewhat monochromatic emotionally, but resounds as a powerful document from a different era - one which is showing signs of returning as injustice thrives and the world economy takes a dive, the wealthy minority reclining smugly on their thrones of complacency built on the beaten backs of the teeming multitudes.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Weasel Walter Hott Mixx Club #1: Classical Gas

For one year between 2004 and 2005, I created a little mix-cd club. Here is edition number One from the series. Thanks to Phil Plencner for re-posting it:

1. Elliott Carter - Double Concerto for Harpsichord and Piano (1959-1961)
mind-expanding modernism as two keyboards clash and a spatially separated double chamber group with four flanking percussionists skirmish. Sounds like gnarly free jazz only it's totally composed! 22:36
Lucia Dlugoszewski
2. Lucia Dlugoszewski - Angels of the Inmost Heavens (1972)
totally twisted fast-paced piece for brass ensemble that rages with superhuman starts and stops, timbral shifts and dynamic surges. Brutal horn playing! And I'm also representing the ladies by putting this on here! 8:24

3. Pierre Boulez - second movement of Le Marteau Sans Maitre (1954-1957)
furiously polyrhymic and delicate at the same time, this lively snippet of the 9-movement classic will tease you and please you. The first half features weaving percussion, pizzicato viola and flute lines before an assaultive conclusion. This version is from the highstrung debut recording of the piece on Turnabout Records, as conducted by a young and nervous Boulez himself! 3:35
4. Carlos Chavez - Estudio A Rubenstein (1974)
totally dissonant speedcore piano solo composition by this south american heavy. 2:09
5. Lukas Foss - final section of Phorion (1967)
the rest of this composition is boring, so I'm just giving you the good part. A total fucking chaotic mess featuring percussion and wild organ playing. Fuck it! 1:51
6. Ruth Seeger Crawford - String Quartet (1931)
another one for the ladies! this ain't no 'boys club'! Totally ripping composition by this early 20th century innovator. Many moods from jagged to droning. Dissonant and action packed. 8:45
The maestro: Iannis Xenakis
7. Krzysztof Penderecki - Capriccio (1967)you've heard his stuff used as "scary music" in The Shining, 2001, etc., now check out his insane piece for violin soloist and orchestra. Massive blocks of sound. Total frenzy!!! 11:36
8. Olivier Messiaen - first movement from Sept Haikai (1962)
a mess of birdsongs, hindu talas, gamelan-like tones and more in this teaser from the classic work by the french god of christian dissonance! 1:35
9. Iannis Xenakis - Komboi (1981)
Xenakis - what's the fuss? Plenty! Here's just one reason: a totally RAGING duet between harpsichord and percussion that will knock your socks off. It's tweaker-prog-free-jazz-noise-apocalypse music, just the way you like it! 18:00

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Live Review: Sightings/Doomsday Student/Child Abuse/Mangulator 10/13/11

For the sake of full disclosure: I am in one of the bands I'm going to be reviewing. Also, I know pretty much everybody in all of the other bands on a personal level. Does this skew my ability to create an "objective" review? Of course.

However, does this discredit my words? I doubt it. The reason why I happen to know the people in the bands which played on this particular night is because their bands are good. As often happens, I saw the bands first and then I made their acquaintances later. When I see groups I like, I cannot help but to get personally involved with them. I would be a fool not to. Good music is hard to find, and more often than not the quality of one's music directly reflects upon the nature of one's personality.

Just because I am friendly with someone does not mean I like or endorse their band. Quite the opposite: I am not easily impressed and I don't need to suck up to anybody for any reason. There are plenty of friends' bands I neither like or will promote, just as I'm sure I have many friends who would rather eat cat turds than hear mine. I really gain nothing personally by writing a positive review of this event. There is no payola involved and no one here will become an instant star from this piddly review. The event is over and I'm sure this particular mixture of bands may never grace the same stage again. This piece is purely for the sake of documentation and I hope the reader is imparted with a flavor of the entire context surrounding it. Like it, or lump it as you wish, but here it comes.

This show took place in the bowels of the Cake Shop, in Manhattan . . .


Mangulator is a group which formed a few months ago under fairly spontaneous circumstances. Keith Abrams, who drums for PAK (feat. Ron Anderson) and Kayo Dot, wanted to try some improvising  at a very low-key event with myself on bass and Andrew Hock (also of the metal band Castevet) on guitar. Basically we just met up, plugged in and played. Although Andrew smoked his amp after five minutes and had to finish out the set on a very puny substitution, I could tell there was immediate musical chemistry. So, tonight when we opened this bill, we finally got to play a proper set with working equipment at the necessary stun volume. As opposed to self-analyzing what we did, I will simply post the unedited live recording and let you decide. The three of us share a taste for hard-edged prog, free improvisation and death metal chops. Our music reflects these influences very clearly. I am optimistic about the future of this project.

Mangulator live 11.13.10

Following Mangulator was the first New York performance in 11 months by Child Abuse. Longtime keyboardist and singer Luke Calzonetti left the band a while back and after a long search he was replaced by Eric Lau. The trio opened with a brand new piece and proceeded to barrel through some of their more familiar, gnarly chestnuts with trademark gusto. To those unfamiliar with Child Abuse's music, it is extremely vigorous, dissonant and mathematical. There's a tendency towards repetitive, off-kilter riffs made even more obscure by Oran Canfield's elaborate drumming, which tends to skillfully obliterate any obvious barlines the bass and keyboards happen to erect. Bassist Tim Dahl's use of heavy fuzz, ring modulation and looping pushes his instrument's straight out front and his presence and attack are extremely aggressive. It's obvious that the new line-up is finally getting back into the swing of things and they're doing a good job tackling this difficult music.


It's impossible to talk about Doomsday Student without mentioning Arab On Radar. Let's just get that out of the way. The new band is, essentially, three-quarters of AOR with the addition of Chinese Stars' guitarist Paul Vieira. Unfortunately the recent Arab On Radar reunion was not meant to last, but this new group will satisfy much of what fans of the old band are looking for. Let's make one thing clear though: Doomsday Student is NOT Arab On Radar. Of course these guys are drawing on what they know, but they are clearly  moving in a new direction. Doomsday Student's music is very bludgeoning, repetitive and full of needling, bizarre guitar and histrionic vocals, but it is also more stucturally symmetrical in nature than AOR and it is less brazenly shambolic in execution. All I know is that these guys are loud, powerful and put on a good show. Fans of high-energy, explosive music need to take not of this band and check them out.

Closing out this bill was an intense, inspired performance by NYC veterans Sightings. I have seen the band on numerous occasions and they were particularly on fire tonight. One of the things I enjoy about a Sightings show is that I can rarely identify any of the material. Ha ha ha. Because of this, each one of their shows are like a new experience and can be taken at face-value. Sightings material is very organized and cultivated though. They formulate intricate blocks of activity wherein separate loops of guitar, bass and drum material overlap and interact with alien logic, before suddenly snapping into some other equally weird construction. Ultimately, this modus operandi is a shrewd deconstruction of the traditional verse-chorus formula of rock music, and Sightings, at their core, remain a rock band, albeit an extremely hallucinogenic and futuristic one. Obviously there is a certain amount of improvisation inside each composition, but in the larger sense they appear to be governed by highly formalized sets of rules or behaviors, as if each instrument is speaking its own complex language in a martian war summit. Mark Morgan's guitar tone is extremely distinctive characterized by a DMT-like sheen of multiple, short duration digital delays and multiple stages of tonal degradation though fuzz and distortion. He often constructs long loops of material and lets them repeat while moving over to the microphone in order to issue cryptic vocal eruptions. All the while, the rhythm section continues to dodge and parry through the sonic obstacle course. The drums serve an equal, semi-melodic purpose in Sightings, moving away from the role of accompaniment. John Lockie utilizes an ingeniously lo-tech potpourri of Simmons electronic drum pads, contact mics, makeshift electro-acoustic percussion and traditional drum kit to create this unsettling rhythmic undercurrent. Bassist Richard Hoffman opts for less effects or gadgets - manning only a single Rat distortion pedal in his setup - but glues together the frantic activity of the others with groaning, creaking repetitions made from unexpected register leaps and intervallic skips. Sightings apocalyptic primitivism always evokes for me a high-degree extrapolation of the pioneering work by another NYC band from a bygone era, Mars. Unfortunately, Mars ceased operation suddenly at the end of 1978, on the cusp of its most radical work (documented on their chillingly macabre 1979 Lust/Unlust Records EP, and soon to be further exposed on a duo of vintage live LPs to be issued soon on Ecstatic Peace!) and we will never know what they might have morphed into, so, luckily we do have a contemporary band like Sightings, defying all sane musical logic and daring to destroy everything to re-order it all into a better, more modern artistic reflection of the coming end-times.

- Weasel Walter, 10.17.11

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Milford Graves Quartet - Belgium 1973 Video

Milford Graves' recorded output is downright scarce in relation to the imposing reputation his drumming holds amongst adherents of free music. In particular, his work during the 1970s rages with a distinctive fury matched by few before or since. The album "Babi", released in 1977 on Graves own imprint IPS, is the best authorized representation of this innovator operating at peak intensity. It features wild, superhuman saxophone playing by longtime cohorts Arthur Doyle (still in the scene, but now operating from his homebase in Alabama) and Hugh Glover. Recorded live for WBAI-FM on March 20, 1976, this unique, rough-hewn recording brims with excitement. Often, the horn players are very far off microphone, wailing away like hellishly agitated spectres in the background while Graves' drums remain front and center, heavily focused on the ancient traditions of deeply resonant one-headed toms and eschewing the traditional rattle of the modern snare drum completely. Graves' signature vocal punctuations help underline the ritualistic aura of his group's frenzied rites. The opening cut from "Babi" can be heard below . . .

A sort of alternate version of "Babi" also floats around in trading circles. Recorded live at Columbia University on June 12, 1976 with the same line-up, the 55-minute tape doesn't have the same focused audio fidelity of the proper album, but it does feature more sustained explorations of complete density,  a natural balance of instruments as well as some bass clarinet playing presumably by Doyle. The conclusion to this burning set engages the audience directly. There's a lot of clapping and screaming as the band gradually fades in volume, marching around the room while still blowing and pounding their guts out. This is clearly inclusive music and the large audience responds with great enthusiasm. I think audiences in general might have had a little more blood running through their veins back then? The definitely had stronger ears compared to the average wimpola so-called "music lover" these days.

A duo recording featuring Graves and Glover was issued on a Folkways Records anthology called "New American Music, Volume 1" in 1975. The piece, titled "Transmutations", begins with tinkling small percussion and vocal interplay from both musicians before quieting into a moody, low tom groove with piquant rhythmic jabs, whistle blasts and more vocalizations from Graves. At 3:38, Glover enters on tenor saxophone in a typically high-energy, animalistic solo focused on cries and harsh split tones at the highest register of the instrument. The duo grind to a halt after a minute, only to launch back into more of same seconds later.  At 6:50 another churning groove appears momentarily before Glover switches to what sounds like throaty clarinet playing. This music is not polished in a traditional Western sense. It is loose and focused on spontaneous communication. Glover is certainly more interested in expressing himself than he is at playing into the microphone! Around the nine minute mark, Glover re-enters on tenor saxophone and Graves goads him to further excesses with his endlessly roiling drums, shouts and whistles. There's an out-of-control feel to "Transmutations". It is not a "perfect" piece of music by any means, but it succeeds at being completely free and in the moment, a snapshot of what they happened to play on that particular occasion.

My personal favorite Milford Graves recording is a 47-minute long bootleg of his quartet appearing at the Jazz Middelheimin Festival in Antwerp, Belgium on August 15, 1973. I don't believe I am at liberty to spread this audio recording, but the video embedded below contains excerpts from this very show and will impart at least a vague idea of what I am talking about. It is does not successfully convey the entire arc of the complete set, but I am still grateful that this footage exists and can be seen freely. The schtick in the middle of the video might seem a little heavy-handed divorced from the context of the entire performance, but Graves gets to serious percussive business by 13:30. When the horns re-enter around 17:30, critical mass is finally achieved in an orgiastic display of intensity. Please make it through the whole video to see the last four minutes. The audio I have sounds like it springs from a somewhat different source than the soundtrack for the video. It is also runs at a much faster speed and is higher pitched.

Weasel Walter and Joe Rigby, 2007. photo by Marc Edwards
This particular incarnation of Mr. Graves' band featured a trio of particularly interesting, lesser-known players of great individuality. Glover is primarily known for his work with Graves and, to my knowledge, does not appear on any other officially released recordings available in the marketplace. Arthur Williams was, according to my source, a self-taught trumpeter. His lack of traditional technique is more than compensated by his energy and imaginative phrasing. My source believes that Mr. Williams is deceased. He appears on several other recordings lead by William Parker and Jemeel Moondoc, as well as the fine 1979 Peter Kuhn LP "Livin' Right" (Big City Records, out of print) also featuring Parker on bass, Dennis Charles on drums and Toshinori Kondo on dueling trumpet.  Joe Rigby is still somewhat active in the music scene. The small but hardcore UK label Homeboy Records has issued two hard-to-find cd-rs of solo and quartet music by Rigby, albeit in a more traditional vein. I met him when my band (documented on the sextet tracks on "Firestorm") shared a double bill with William Hooker's band at the defunct, lamented Manhattan venue Tonic in 2007. I told him I loved his playing on that Antwerp bootleg. He really didn't have much to say and didn't seem impressed with my flattery! You can't win 'em all. Ha ha ha. Rigby has probably been heard by the most listeners on the well-received Steve Reid reissue "Nova" (Mustevic, 1976, reissued by Universal Sound in 2000).

Milford Graves appears on less than a dozen releases since the release of his iconoclastic "Babi" LP in 1977.  Since the '80s he has created two somewhat painterly one-man CDs; sparred mightily with John Zorn, David Murray and German saxophone titan Peter Brötzmann; participated in reunions with the legendary New York Art Quartet (co-led by John Tchicai and Roswell Rudd) and laid down a mercurial trio session featuring Anthony Braxton and William Parker. Overall, he seems to have actively resisted involvement in the professional music business - perhaps in protest to the terrible, undignified treatment many creative musicians are perpetually treated to - and I shudder to think what amazing master tapes lie dormant in his own archives. I hope one day we will find out. I have a feeling his absolute best, most mind-bending work has not yet been heard.

- Weasel Walter

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Time To Suck #1 + Music I Played on the Radio Earlier Tonight

Tonight I hosted the WKCR Musicians Show from 6-9 PM. I got there early so I could take in a little bit of the staggering archives at the station. Just browsing the spines of the tape reels made my brain hurt. It was utterly insane what they had on file there. Extremely rare recordings from the classic Free Jazz eras, with insane, once-in-a-lifetime line-ups. It was a bit overwhelming. I honestly couldn't concentrate hard enough to take very much of it in. Ultimately, I wound up playing some old favorites, some upcoming new releases involving myself, some unreleased live stuff I play on and a few solid chunks from three archival reels. Here's how it went down:

Albert Ayler "Holy Ghost" from "The New Wave In Jazz" (Impulse, 1965)

Joseph Jarman "Little Fox Run" from "Song For" (Delmark, 1967)

Marshall Allen/Weasel Walter - untitled, live performance (unreleased, 2008)

James Blood Ulmer "Revealing" from "Tales of Captain Black" (Artists House, 1979)

Eric Zinman/Mario Rechtern/Weasel Walter - untitled studio track (unreleased, 2010)

Ric Colbeck Group "Highlands"/"Lowlands" from unreleased Pixie Records session (1966) w/ Benny Maupin, Byard Lancaster, Sunny Murray, Joel Freedman, Sirone, Sunny Murray

Keshavan Maslak Trio "Buddha's Hand" from "Buddha's Hand" (Circle, 1978)

QUOK (Ava Mendoza/Tim Dahl/Weasel Walter) "The George Russell Lydia Lunch Mode" from unreleased studio album (ugEXPLODE, 2012)

Jimmy Lyons Ensemble - untitled studio session (1975) w/ Andrew Cyrille, Karen Borca, Raphe Malik, Hayes Burnett

Forbes/Young/Walter - untitled piece from unreleased studio album (ugEXPLODE, 2012)

Sam Rivers "Tranquility" from "Crystals" (Impulse, 1974)

Marion Brown "QBIC" from "Porto Novo" (Freedom, 1967)

Ted Daniel's Energy "Giblet" from unreleased live recording (1975) w/ Oliver Lake, Daniel Carter, a.o.

Evan Parker/Peter Evans/John Edwards/Weasel Walter - untitled piece from unreleased live performance (2009)

Arthur Doyle Group "November 8th or 9th - I Can't Remember When" from "Alabama Feelings" (AK-BA, 1978)

Cecil Taylor Unit - side 2 of "The Great Concert of Cecil Taylor" (Prestige, rec. 1969)

So, as you can see, I played tons of HARDCORE free jazz. At a certain point, I gently provoked the listeners and the phones rang off the hook with positive comments. There are still people out there who want to listen to this stuff. I'm glad I had a chance to play it all.

And for something completely different, here is a feature I like to refer to as "TIME TO SUCK":

Time To Suck, Volume One:
The songs I love to hear, at your expense.
Grow A big mustache, quit Spirit, then go to Japan and play "Thunder Island".

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Why Listen To Complex Music?

How many times have you heard somebody blurt out, "I don't understand this music" when they were confronted by something they weren't familiar with or didn't immediately like? This sort of statement isn't always intended in a literal sense, but why should one have to "understand" music? Is it imperative to "understand" music in order to like it? Can anyone ever truly "understand" a piece of  music? Does an uneducated listener really "understand" anything about music on even a basic level? These points are completely open to debate, because there are shadows of doubt surrounding all of them.

Brian Ferneyhough: lots of notes, hard to listen to.
With even the dopiest, lowest-common-denominator Pop tune, one will never truly know the true motivations or become privy to the deepest subtexts of intention by the artist. The nature of the human experience is far too nebulous to ever conclusively analyze art. Regardless, we can sure amuse ourselves trying! Although some music seems so desperate to wear a badge of transparent earnestness on its sleeve, there remains a constant guarantee of misinterpretation by the public at large. The net effect of artistic work often grows larger than the original intent of the maker, regardless of how focused that impetus may have been at the point of creation. The experience of music to a listener is wholly subjective at every level. One can only filter all of this sound information through one's own perception, needs, likes, wants, education and standards. Many people project their desires onto art, looking to find a symbol for their own platonic ideals. No two individuals will ever share the exact same ideal or absolutely agree on every single possible matter of taste. 

I have listened to a lot of what many other folks probably consider "difficult", "challenging" or "complex" music. None of these attributes are qualitative in the sense that they are automatically equivalent with music being "good". Just because music is complex doesn't mean I care for it: most of the intricately sophisticated serialism by a composer like Milton Babbitt leaves me cold despite the fact that I respect and relate to the incredible rigor of his compositional methods and constructions. I am not concerned with any notions of "ultimate" complexity, nor am I only interested in "complex" music. However, there are many examples of recorded work I have consistently revisited over the decades which have pushed various levels of structural, melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, timbral and conceptual sophistication.

I have obsessed over the music of Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band since I first heard it around 1988. I had done as much research about Beefheart as I could in the pre-Internet era through books, magazines and microfilm. My first Beefheart record was "Mirror Man" (Buddah Records, 1971), a legally-dubious collection of four lengthy, mostly improvised pieces from 1967 which were taken from abandoned sessions preceding the flawed, official sophomore effort "Strictly Personal" (Blue Thumb, 1968). This disc wasn't quite what I hoped it would be in light of the hype I had built up around the group in my mind, but I still enjoyed it. In particular, I found the song "Kandy Korn" hypnotically cyclic, with its web of intricate guitar counterpoint and imaginative, tumbling drums which broke away elegantly from the cliches of simple rock backbeat playing. The longer pieces were largely formless, monochromatic jams, punctuated by the Captain's stream-of-consciousness lyrical utterances and dissonant, violent solo outbursts on chromatic harmonica and "first-time" musette (a dry, biting double reed instrument).

While searching for more Captain Beefheart I soon realized I could simply order a retail copy of the mythic 1969 "Trout Mask Replica" double LP directly from my own local record store. At the time, many records people assumed were out of print were actually readily available from distributors through a resource called the Schwann Catalog. Essentially, if there were copies laying around a warehouse someplace, they were listed in this book and any intrepid record store could special order it. My copy quickly arrived, I showed up, plunked down my $13.99 and rode home on my dirt bike to devour.

The cover imagery is a landmark of dryly obtuse absurdity. Against a luminous red background, a cryptic figure (Beefheart himself) in a fish-head mask waves at the camera. Overtly psychedelic group photos take up the remaining three panels of the gatefold cover. Numerous things fascinated me about this band of weirdos. I liked their use of pseudonyms: crazy names like "Zoot Horn Rollo", "The Mascara Snake", "Antennae Jimmy Semens" and "Rockette Morton" seemed to spring from a twisted but coherent lexicon (the song titles had a similarly disorienting effect). I was a little confused about why the astounding drummer wasn't listed in the credits ("Drumbo" a.k.a. John French had one of many falling-outs with Beefheart during this period, so his contribution to the work had been temporarily ignored.) These guys didn't just play regular instruments - they played "Steel Appendage" and "Glass Finger" guitars, bass clarinets and "Flesh Horn". Every aspect of this record was cloaked in hallucinogenic enigma. I felt like a teenage alien and they were living in a world I badly wanted to enter. I was beginning to project my own desires onto the hippy/freak superheroes which made up the Magic Band.

Side one begins with the jarring air-raid siren blast called "Frownland". After a brief instrumental intro, it becomes clear that the vocals utterly dominate this music. They are loudly mixed, lending a raw, amateurish feel to the overall production. The instrumentalists create a frantic gridlock of seemingly "wrong" notes, snapping in and out of rhythmic unison at unpredictable intervals. A terse slide-guitar riff briefly pokes forward from the mix. The composition ends arbitrarily at the same point of ugliness it begins at. Despite the fact that "Frownland" was bewildering on first impression, it was obvious to me there was some order involved. I wanted to know what the logic was behind this piece, and the rest of the music which made up this dense, uncompromising double album.

So these are the first steps in listening to complex music: I hear this music. I may not understand it, but on a visceral level, something is appealing to me about it. Some basic parameters are working for me, whether or not I know exactly what they are. I cannot make heads or tails of it, but I want to hear this music again anyhow. This is the same way I heard Free Jazz for the first time. The same way I heard Death Metal. The same way I heard Balinese Gamelan. The way I first heard Magma. The same way I saw my first Julie Mehretu or Sarah Sze. The same way I viewed "The Holy Mountain" or "Greaser's Palace". The same way I repeatedly tried to read page one of "Ulysses" by James Joyce (before I realized I liked it, but couldn't deal with it at all).

Shouldn't great art be intriguing? Why does the punchline have to come immediately? Why do people have to "understand" it before they can like it?

Art appreciation is just that: an appreciation. It is cultivated. It can blossom with knowledge. If one actually strives to know something about the form they are interested in, one can discover a new multitude of sensory doors to walk through. Sadly, we are in the midst of USA 2011: there is a backlash against intellectualism in mainstream society. Smart people are sexless, loser "nerds" or deemed as having "Asperger Syndrome" at every turn (this is one of my big current English language pet peeves: people constantly referring to anybody with exemplary focus or aptitude as 'autistic'. Maybe what should happen instead is that the talentless, no-attention-span masses should be correctly referred to as 'retarded'.) So, by this token, can one really expect to "understand" music if one never bothers to learn a single educated thing about it? It's not that many cannot "understand" complex music - I think the real problem is that they don't try. It doesn't interest them to learn. This disinterest is not inherently evil, but I often wonder why people claim to "love" music so much, but they don't seem to "love" very much of it. It's like saying you "love" food and all you eat eat is McDonalds . . .

I am not at some pinnacle of listening ability. I'm not claiming to be master of anything. I am not the ultimate, all-knowing divine-critic-of-all-music-ever-created. I am not a guru, looking down at everybody as peons, but sheeeesh . . . there's so much incredible music out there and it seems like there are so few people who actually want to deal with very much of it.

Let's take a deeper look at more of the musical signifiers inside of Captain Beefheart's music. I would like to focus on an instrumental piece from "Trout Mask Replica" tastefully titled "Hair Pie: Bake Two". Please listen to it before you move forward with this piece, whether or not you are familiar with it.

"Hair Pie: Bake Two" is really only truly radical in context. If one doesn't understand the context, one might not be very impressed by it. In the light of 20th Century classical modernism (starting around 1900 with the innovations of Arnold Schoenberg, et al.), the compositional ambition of this piece may seem extremely crude, but in relation to its foundation in the idiom of Rock and Roll it is revolutionary.

As the song begins, it is steadily rhythmic at a medium-fast tempo. We might not be certain if it is in 4/4 or another meter, but should that really matter? It should be obvious that there are two lead guitars and that one of them almost immediately peels of into some other sort of rhythmic feel. Once again, we don't really need to expressly understand exactly what ratio or polyrhythmic relation it expresses (it is a vague eight-note triplet feel in a different meter than the other parts), but we can say to ourselves, "Something weird is happening here. How will it resolve?" Instantly there is a sort of musical dilemma: the fun part of listening to a piece like this is seeing how or will it work out. At :17 seconds, the errant triplet guitar seems to lock back into the rhythmic grid with the rest, but the tonality is markedly strange. We don't need to "understand" what the exact relationships of the keys are (I don't know and I'm not going to lift a finger to figure it out right now), but we can say, "Something sounds weird about that guitar. It was doing some crazy rhythm before and now it's picking wacky, wrong-sounding notes!" Is this not funny? Is this not interesting? I think it is. In a short span of time, there several obvious progressions happening and we haven't even really paid attention to what the drums and bass are doing. Maybe we will focus on those elements during the next listen?

One remarkable facet of this piece is how the musical parts fit together. Although it is rhythmically and harmonically dense, this complexity is deceptive. If you focus on any one separate part, you may find that it's actually a somewhat simplistic and catchy melodic fragment in itself. It's really only the piling up of these phrases which make the whole seem so potentially foreboding. "Hair Pie: Bake Two" is a sort of collage of musical parts and we can enjoy picking these parts apart with our minds and viewing at them from different angles, in and out of their total sonic context.

At :21 seconds, all of the players snap into a distinct rhythmic unison phrase which contrasts from the previous movement. The phrase is only played twice and then there is a short solo drum set linkage to a reiteration of the phrase. Why do all the guitars drop out at this point? Well, why not??? It is intriguing. It is also a matter of contrast. Some of the intensity of the instrumental is relieved momentarily by this solo drum section and it creates drama which is heightened when the guitars return to remind us of the fragment we just heard. These guys are playing these notes on purpose, and when they stop and then start again where we they left off, we know this for certain.

At :38, the work shifts from the turgid, punching, slow-sounding feel of the previous section into a more jaunty feel. The drums and bass lay down a harmonically dark, but rhythmically propulsive background figure before the guitars quickly re-enter. The guitars seem to be overtly battling the feel of the rhythm section team, working in conspiracy as they attack and then meet in cooperation over the course of several short phrases, finally ending in a sustained cluster of tones before the entire group advances into a set of sharp accents at :48, signaling yet another major shift. The bass line underneath these accents seems to continue the feel of the preceding section, as if he is trying to convince the rest of the band to stay where they are! This is the sort of basic interpretive dialogue that music can have both on macro- and microcosmic levels.

At :52, there is a new sort of rhythmic and metric grid happening which contrasts sharply from the rest of the song. It appears that the guitars are working as a single voice, presenting a pleasantly tonal, punchy but metrically lopsided figure while the bass plays in a completely different key and set of meters. The three stringed instruments work separately, but still cling to same basic pulse of the piece. It is initially confusing, but obviously the individual parts are still working together towards reaching the next turning point in the composition. The drumming ties the whole thing together with a gently forward-moving pulse which is punctuated by sporadic cymbal accents which evoke lightly crashing waves. It's fine and sometimes useful to associate musical events with other concrete experiences outside of music. One might hear waves in these cymbals, while another hears disorganized noise. There will never be a definitive agreement, nor should there be.

At 1:15, a new section begins, signalled by hair-raising dissonance. Anyone can easily detect this blatant shift if they are paying attention. This use of painful, tense tonality is much like the instinctual tinge of elevated suspense one might feel when watching a slasher film in the dark and macabre orchestral music enters to signify a horrible event. The guitars each play a different phrase which all lock together in the same metric scheme. The drums have an equal melodic weight, repeating a figure punctuated by cowbell. The following part, starting around 1:28 has a similar mood and feel to the part before it. After all these jarring changes, it defies the logic of the composition to finally continue one of the threads of the piece without radical disruption. Perhaps this is the point of this song - to defy logic? Or maybe the point is to work at the nexus bewteen disorder and structure in an attempt to expand the vocabulary of rock music? In 1969, the Magic Band definitely succeeded at this with constructions like this. They were clearly challenging many of the parameters of rock music, while still remaining identifiable as a rock band . . .

By 1:32, there's yet another variation on the preceding themes. A new color is revealed when the suddenly guitarists switch roles, one moving from low to high register and the other doing the opposite. At 1:40, the high guitar performs another new riff which is strongly melodic and cuts through the arrangment with clarity. The drums, bass and chording of the other guitar all support this figure directly.  When 1:51 appears, each man seems to split off, creating independent cycles through 2:03. There's so much detail in this tiny section alone, it would be well-worth looping it for a few minutes just to enjoy all of the interlocking components. The remainder of "Hair Pie: Bake 2" features another high, crystalline guitar melody; hyperactive bass playing and thick rhythm guitar chording, all in completely different meters. At one point the drums drop out and the rest finish off their final figures before a comet-like sound like a quickly echoing tambourine hit accelerates into the cosmos.

This is a quick, casual analysis of a single 2:30 second piece of music. What it makes me do is want to listen to it again and find even more details in it. This process of discovery is part of why I listen to complex music.

Why do you listen to it?

- Weasel Walter

ugEX Blast From The Past #3: Miss High Heel - Hanson Cassette 1996

Here is ZIP file featuring a rip of the incredibly rare 1996 Miss High Heel cassette released on Hanson Records. Pressing unknown. Featuring similar personnel to "The Family's Hot Daughter" CD (Blossoming Noise, 2008). Enjoy!


ugEX Blast From The Past #2
ugEX Blast From The Past #1

Sunday, October 9, 2011

ugEX Blast From The Past #2: Masayuki Takayanagi

 The following article first appeared in the SF Bay Guardian in Fall 2006:

"For more than three decades Masayuki Takayanagi (1932-1991) has served as a cult figure to a small but rabid coterie of listeners searching for the roots of extremity in improvised music and free jazz. The Japanese guitarist has received kudos from renowned experimentalists like John Zorn, Henry Kaiser, Jim O'Rourke, and Otomo Yoshihide, yet has remained obscure because his recorded output has been generally unavailable, particularly in the United States. During the last decade a slew of his reissued recordings have been available only as hard-to-find, pricey imports, while the original vinyl pressings have clandestinely changed hands for ridiculous amounts of money.

So what's the big deal? Beginning in the late '60s, Takayanagi blazed kamikaze musical assaults of a previously unheard violence and abstraction in the jazz idiom. Long before the pure Japanoise of artists like Merzbow, Masayuki Takayanagi threw down a gauntlet. "I always feel that beauty of form and tone are lies. Playing music that's muddy and violently splattered is an essential way of getting at the truth," he once wrote. This warlike, bloody-minded approach manifested itself in a concept he called "mass projection" - a gushing, sweaty arc of maximum density and energy that was savagely defiant of melody, interplay, and structure. The recently reissued 1973 two-CD live concert anthology "Inspiration and Power 14 Free Jazz Festival 1" (Art Union, Japan) consists of a 10-minute-long excerpt of a blinding, static force field of sound performed on drums, electric guitar, and cello. The remainder of the disc includes the cream of the crop of Japanese jazz modernists from the era: of particular note, an incredible piano-sax-drums endurance display by the Yosuke Yamashita trio that might even make an energy music legend like Cecil Taylor beg for mercy. But the Takayanagi group's insane display of bombast steals the show, hands down.

Unfortunately, a good portion of Takayanagi's early free-music output is marred by lousy audience recording quality: a gaggle of early '70s performances on the DIW and PSF labels suffice as archival documents but barely hint at the true strength and articulation of the music hidden beneath the low fidelity. The newly issued CD versions of the mythically scarce 1975 diptych "Axis: Another Revolvable Thing Parts 1 and 2" (Doubt Music, Japan) should rectify this situation, showcasing almost 100 sharply focused minutes of Takayanagi and his classic New Directions Unit in full fury.

Recorded live in Tokyo on Sept. 5, 1975, the quartet revealed their manifesto in six movements, roughly building from agitated, spacious quietude to climactic, sustained catharsis. Although the volumes mix up the sequence, the release's freshly translated liner notes suggest that the music can also be pondered in the order it was actually executed. The first part - a display of Takayanagi's more minimal "gradual projection" style - evokes the low volume scuttling of English guitar pioneer Derek Bailey's early Company groups. Spotlighting acoustic guitar, flute, slide whistle, rubbery acoustic bass, and skittering percussion, the music is pervaded with a deceptively delicate sense of barely maintained restraint. A second gradual projection concerns isolated, dynamic sounds that burst through silence in their own mysterious tempos. After a few minutes, Kenji Mori's lumpy bass clarinet croaks while Takayanagi surprisingly sneaks in a few brief melodic shards that allude to his straight-ahead roots. Part three - a dull, superfluous drum solo - seems to fill space before the final half of the concert: three mass projections. The first builds very slowly with sustained cymbal wash and sinister tremolo bass bowing before revealing the initial, perverted grunts from Takayanagi's now-electrified strings. The second pushes the intensity up but still feels like a tease, threatening to explode before receding into sustained tones penetrated by pricking soprano saxophone curlicues and tumbling percussion.

In the final segment, the floodgates open, and we are assaulted by a lengthy tirade that appears to start at maximum intensity but manages to blow straight through the roof, ascending further into unknown levels of forceful cruelty. Hiroshi Yamazaki's superhumanly dense drum attack violently propels the onslaught. Bassist Nobuyoshi Ino ditches his main ax, creating an acidic wall of fierce noise on cello, while Takayanagi goads his guitar into shrieks of feedback and crusty slabs of distorted density, bashing it with a metal slide. Intermittently cutting through the din on his alto saxophone, the unflappable Mori is eerily eloquent, carefully transforming his phrases amid the chaos of the others. Throughout this hypnotic overload of information, one might concentrate on the detail of individual parts, the texture of the whole, or on nothing at all. After 16 minutes, the fever pitch goes unfathomably higher as the saxophone finally lapses into outright screaming. Takayanagi's guitar coasts arrogantly over the damage in thick sheets of atonality before finally ascending into dog-whistle range, calling an end to a harrowing 22 minutes of sustained devastation. If only the first and last sequences of this concert were paired alone on one release, Axis might have been Takayanagi's single finest recording. With this reissue, at least, the secret is out, and the tortured innovations of an obscure musical pioneer are finally revealed to a wider audience seeking buckets of blood in their music."

- Weasel Walter

ugEX Blast From The Past #1

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Weasel Walter Hott Mixx Club #4: Punk Jazz

For one year between 2004 and 2005, I created a little mix-cd club. Here is edition number Four from the series. Thanks to Phil Plencner for re-posting it:

This edition features raw, rare trax at the apex where jazz and punk meet in the middle, focused basically on the Ornette Coleman-spawned electric "harmolodic" music school and including some DIY screeching from the old days of NYC . . .
1. Miles Davis - "Rated X"
From the 1974 2LP "Get Up With It", this is a true roomclearer featuring skeletal voodoo/Noh sabre-rattling death-funk topped by screechingly atonal farfisa treble clusters. This is the dark shit - it's abrasive and unnerving, a perfect opener for the punk jazz mixxx. Pure pain!

2. James Blood Ulmer - "Revelation March"
From one of the many versions of the second LP "Are You Glad To Be In America". To my knowledge there are at least 3 separate mixes for this record! I guess they kept trying until it was right? This one was the best one in my opinion - it saw the light of day on Ornette's Artists House imprint in the early '80s (other versions appeared on Rough Trade under the "production" aegis of Red Krayolan Mayo Thompson). An all-star cast w/ dual drumming by Shannon Jackson and Grant Calvin Weston and horns by Oliver Lake, David Murray and Olu Dara, this little ditty moves full speed ahead with clattering frenzy.

3. Milford Graves - "Ba" (excerpt)
 From the ultra rare mid-'70s DIY LP "Babi", this eruption of energy still stuns like shrapnel. There's supposed to be an umlaut over the 'A', of course - truly metal. Features Graves at his wildest plus the far-away caterwauling of Arthur Doyle and Hugh Glover on saxophones. Graves told the record biz to fuck off a long time ago and proceeded to document his legend on his own miniscule private pressings. He's also known for his many sideman appearances on various ESP-Disk titles as well as stints with Albert Ayler and Peter Brotzmann.

4. Ornette Coleman - "Voice Poetry"
Bo Diddley nightmare skronk from the "Body Meta" LP, recorded in late 1976. The early, definitive, teenaged(!) line-up of Ornette's "Prime Time" featuring Bern Nix (also future James White sideman) and Charlie Ellerbee on guitars, Jamaaladeen Tacuma on bass and adult member Ronald Shannon Jackson on drums. The band was busted broke in France at the end of a tour, so some weird Franco pop-star let them go nuts in the studio for a day. One of the most ridiculously flat drum sounds since "Trout Mask Replica"! The band is playing Ornette's concept of "harmolodic" music, which basically means that harmony, melody and rhythm are of equal importance to all of the instruments at all times, with no lead and no background roles implied.

5. Sam Rivers - "Scud"
From the out of print 1976 Impulse release "Sizzle". Sam Rivers is a well-respected elder statesman of post-bop and free jazz, having played with Cecil Taylor, Miles Davis and countless others. On this long, weird track he cycles through a bunch of rickety rhythm section riffs with abandon. There are moments of true chaos - particularly when both drummers kick in - while remaining steadfastly melodic and musical the entire time. I can't help but to think this composition was inspired by ornette's nascent electric music, but I don't know for sure. Featuring the stalwart duo of Dave Holland on bass guitar and Barry Altschul on drums.

6. Decoding Society - "Black Widow" (part 1)
From the rare 1981 Moers Music LP "Nasty". Typical of Ronald Shannon Jackson's writing, multiple layers of rhythm and melody clash and combine to create a rough but boyant tapestry of sound. This large group featured young luminaries Vernon Reid (pre-Living Colour!) on guitar and bassist Melvin Gibbs (pre-Rollins Band!) along with a shifting gaggle of solid but obscure horn players like Charles Brackeen and Byard Lancaster. The early Decoding Society records "Eye On You", "Nasty" and "Street Priest" featured the rawest music by the band before they became increasingly slick and glib, decending to the pits of, um, fusion.

7. Ornette Coleman - "Jump Street"
From the 1979 Antilles LP "Of Human Feelings" - one of the first all-digital commercial recordings ever! A totally disco-fied mess of dissonance from the Nix/Ellerbee/Tacuma/Coleman/Weston line-up of the group (when I say 'Coleman', I mean Ornette AND his enigmatic drumming son Denardo)

8. Decoding Society - "Black Widow" (part 2)

9. James Blood Ulmer - "Revealing"
From the macabre 1978 debut LP "Tales Of Captain Black", this track features the shockingly erratic percussion slaughtering of Denardo Coleman, the showstoppingly nimble Jamaaladeen Tacuma and a rare sideman appearance by Ornette. Blood developed his own harmolodic take on the guitar with uniquely sour open-string tunings coupled with his bitterly acrid, stinging tone. Denardo is clearly the star here - here, at tender age 21, his insanely jarring anti-pulse concept upstages everyone. He would have been great in the Shaggs!

10. Decoding Society - "Black Widow" (part 3)

11. Arthur Doyle - "November 7th or 8th . . ."
A teaser from the legendary "Alabama Feeling" LP released in the late '70s on Doyle's own label.
Doyle's ties to the no wave/noise scenes are well-documented, from his psycho-jamming with Rudolph Grey's Blue Humans to his current conglomerations featuring members of the Carbon and Siltbreeze mafias. This succinct outcry of ecstacy emerged right when everyone was proclaiming the death of jazz. Maybe it was the nail in the coffin!

12. Music Revelation Ensemble - "Baby Talk"
From the aptly titled 1980 Moers Music "No Wave" LP, featuring Blood Ulmer on guitar, Shannon Jackson on drums, David Murray on saxophone and Amin Ali on bass guitar. For the record, Jackson is particularly notable for having done time with Cecil Taylor, Ornette AND Ayler. That's quite a pedigree.

13. Human Arts Ensemble - "Beyond The New Horizon" (excerpt)
Frazzled free outbursting from the 1978 Black Saint LP "Junk Trap". These guys were a motley crew from late '70s NYC via St. Louis. The name of the album was quite fitting, considering the formidable drug abuse that certain members of the collective partook in! Influenced directly by the initial wave of free jazz, these slightly younger upstarts had extremely varied musical skills - from Joe Bowie (brother of Art Ensemble trumpeter Lester and future Defunkt leader) and Luther Thomas' (another James White henchman to be) fumbling but earnest incompetence to James Emery's shredding metal-muso speedpicking - but made up for it with sheer chutzpah. Drummer Charles Bobo Shaw held the whole mess together with his flashy drumming before winding up as a dope casuality in the '80s. The group issued a ton of flawed but truly unhinged LPs between 1972 and the early '80s (including one entitled "P'nk J'zz"!), most of which contain some wonderfully deranged moments worth the search.

14. Decoding Society - "Mandance"
A tasteful track from the 1983 Antilles LP of the same name, with Jackson, Reid, Gibbs, second bass player Bruce Johnson, trumpeter David Gordon and saxists Lee Rozie and Zane Massey.

15. Last Exit - "Discharge" From the landmark debut LP released on the German Enemy label in 1986. Full-boar assault by the supergroup featuring noise-guitar icon Sonny Sharrock, reedist Peter Brotzmann, Material bassist Bill Laswell and Ronald Shannon Jackson. Of all the band's legitimate releases, this one still holds up. The undoing of the combo was their increasing familiarity as documented at its nadir on the uninspired final release "Iron Path" (1990).

16. Ornette Coleman - "Theme From A Symphony"(excerpt)
From "Dancing in Your Head", recorded the same day, with the same line-up as "Body Meta"

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Rise and Self-Euthanasia of Miss High Heel

From the liner notes to the 2008 Blossoming Noise CD "The Family's Hot Daughter" by Miss High Heel:

"Miss High Heel was an irrational response to extraordinary stimuli. She was conceived in late 1995 by Windy City visitor Tom Smith, Lake Of Dracula singer James "Marlon" Magas, and me. I don't recall the exact circumstances of the band's genesis, but Tom had recently arrived from Miami and was crashing in a loft with Marlon, sound engineer Elliot Dicks, and future piano-jazz homunculus Azita Youseffi. (I'd been so inspired by The Galen, Duotron, Couch, The Many Moods of Marlon Magas, The Scissor Girls, and The Flying Luttenbachers, all of whom either supported or collided with To Live and Shave in L.A. during our "Helen Butte" tour of the American Midwest, that I endeavored to fuse with them, or at least create ungovernable music with them.) The group's name was borrowed by Tom from a tawdry 50s pulp novel "Miss High Heels" - that he'd purchased for 45 cents at N. Milwaukee Avenue's Myopic Books. (Consult Wigmaker's "The 'Rose' the Vehicle of Miss High Heels" for further analysis.) We used that pluralized moniker before deciding that our lovely heroine might be even more alluring with just the one leg . . . I do remember some discussion with Tom about wanting the band to have a harmolodic, organic undercurrent, so we cadged the double bass guitar team of Chuck Falzone and William Pisarri from the ten-current Luttenbachers line-up and added Azita and Jim O'Rourke on dual synthesizers to flank my blast-beat drum torrents. Les the animal enter the ark à l'écart, the sonic conterparts for my percussion onslaughts were Tom's violently fragmented tape edit backing tracks made from random brutal death metal CDs. These barking, stuttering collages created a meta-structure for the group to improvise upon and we would start and stop religiously in conjunction with them. At the front line, Tom and Marlon issued lyrical assaults with a very intuitive sense of partnership, oscillating rapidly between unison, call-and-response and pure collision. (We thought of ourselves as a thoroughly ersatz Sam and Dave, nonpareil gulag crooners with chlorpromazine to spare.) Truth told, Miss High Heel only performed live twice - once on New Years' Eve 1995/96 at the Magnatroid (with the entire ensemble, save for compere and Boat Of veteran Mike Green, in their skivvies) and less than a week later at Northeastern University's WZRD radio (sans O'Rourke, "immortalized" on the "Split Wax Cylinder Inscribed: Beast 661" CD of yore). Tom was on a roll in early '96, cranking out a slew of albums and sundry recordings from Elliot's Arschloft studio (The Scissor Girls' "S-T-A-T-I-C-L-A-N-D", Duotron's dub-inflected cri de coeur, "Duotron vs. Tom Smith", the solo debut from Die Electric Eels' Brian McMahon, "17 Volts", and the initial demos from drug-grind duo Aborted Christ Childe). By the time we embarked on the MHH studio sessions, most of the work was done in strictly overdub form, with people coming in one-by-on (or by -twos) to lay down frothing improvised mania over the macabre prerecorded blast tracks. (The bloody control room was too small to accommodate more than four mutants per sitting; ensemble tracking was impossible.) Nandor Nevai and Jodie Mecanic were soon drawn into the fold, and their acidic wit and remarkable brio were crucial to undergirding the demonic narrative. Tom was becoming totally obsessed with his own pre dub style of mixing, and this explains the odd sparseness and drunken attack of the production, contrasting with the frantic density of the live unit.

As Miss High Heel said what she needed to say, we never convened again."

- Weasel Walter (and Tom Smith), September 24, 2007.


Tom and I both agreed upon the above notes more than a decade after the fact, so either that's the gosh-durn truth, or, at least, what we want to remember about it. Ha ha ha.
I do remember the New Years' Eve gig at Jeff Day and Emily O'Hara's long-defunct venue/home The Magnatroid. The venue consisted of this huge, decrepit stone building with a gigantic boiler in it and lots of nooks, cubbyholes and caverns. It was extremely raw, dirty and borderline hazardous, but it was a great place to have a show. Jeff and Emily (the erstwhile rhythm section of Monitor Radio as well as frequent period cohorts of the Bobby Conn band) were riding the wave of energy still surging through our scene at that time in Chicago and they were very gracious to run the space and help everybody out. Jeff was an active taper at the time, so many of the shows are probably well-documented on cassette someplace. We definitely played in our underwears. As noted in the liners, our tacit modus operandi was to make as much dense noise as we could, starting and stopping with the backing tape. Tom and Jim had serious text they preached over the din and they basically had to scream their living guts out to be heard. The other main band on the gig was Xerobot, the quirky math-punk unit hailing from Madison, Wisconsin which later fragmented into Numbers, Trin-Tran and My Name Is Rar-Rar.

The WZRD session was amusing. I remember that we were all in different rooms, so it seemed like most of us had no eye contact with more than one other person at a time. I believe I remember having my drums set up in some secluded corner, and I was listening to the backing track on the headphones at excruciating volume while frantically cueing Bill or Chuck to start or stop. He would cue somebody else and the telephone game would continue as such on down the line resulting in a hilarious, continual train wreck. The spontaneity and energy of the event is definitely evident on the 1998 "Split Wax Cylinder" CD. There are no cuts: the performance unveils in real time, warts and all. There's plenty of snappy repartee between numbers (this group was full of smart-asses, myself included certainly) and a level of cocksure bombast that could only be generated by people who are young and completely full of their own shit. The "producer" of the album (who shall remain nameless) insisted on the completely retarded, flatulent mastering style heard on the disc. He seemed to think that it was HIS release(?) and was adamant about trying to put his funny little stamp all over the CD any way he could. The pocketbook was nestled in his stinky pants and we wanted this thing to come out, so we all just shrugged our shoulders and let him have his fun. That said, I'm not unhappy with this release at all!

At some point in 1996, Aaron Dilloway released a cassette of rough mixes from the studio sessions on his prolific Hanson imprint. I would doubt many know this item exists. I haven't listened to this tape since the mid-to-late '90s but I have to say that I'm enjoying it very much right now. Unlike the stark, porous, dub-influenced mixes on "The Family's Hot Daughter", the versions on this rare tape veer towards a relentlessly full-bore approach. Not every musician or instrument is evident on every track, and there aren't many vocals at all, but the sound is face-rippingly dense and dominated by the saturated distortion of Tom's outré "in the red" mixing style. This is an artificial sound of maximum compression and overdrive - strata upon strata of white noise rising and falling with violent rapidity, blurring the concept of recording fidelity itself. The whole thing is extremely random and out of control, volume levels and stereo panning lurching from side to side, forward and back. I'm glad it exists.

As far as those studio sessions laid down at the loft, I recall being locked in the small drum room (where the early Lake Of Dracula practices took place), and just trying to beat the fuck out of the drums as fast as I could while trying keep the headphones on and anticipating the abrupt starts and stops of the tape. I did a bass clarinet overdub at one point and it involved every single "extended" technique I could muster: rubbing the body of the horn with the bell, playing it with no mouthpiece, blowing through it with no neck, squealing on the mouthpiece alone, yelling into the bell, battering the keys for percussive sounds, ad nauseam. Jodie Mecanic and Nondor Nevai both executed completely unhinged vocal takes, with Jodie affecting some kind of mongoloid/demon/sex-kitten glossolalia and Nondor screaming and grunting his guts out. I don't recall much more than that. As Tom noted, it was absolutely impossible for all of us to be in the studio at the same time.

I recall that Tom mixed those tapes for a long, long time. I can only imagine how many different takes are in his archives. Part of me wishes I could seize the multitrack masters and do a big, clean, evenly-balanced mix, just to see what the hell is actually hidden on those reels. The other part of me realizes that would be completely against the ethos of the entire short-lived project.

Finally, we come to the hoary gates of the imposing 77-minute sonic gargoyle known as "The Family's Hot Daughter" - the ultimate net result of all those hours of Tom's endless, possessed audio engineering. I will admit I have never sat through the whole thing, but I will attempt to do so right now and comment upon the experience.

What is so unctious to me about FHD is the near-constant, overmodulated stucco coating of ugly digital distortion permeating it. This brutish aliasing has a certain hideous, burlap-like abrasion which is extremely unpleasant on a visceral level. It's not like some forgiving analog square-wave fuzz; its nature is much more amorphous and unsettling, like an aural cancer which is difficult to catagorize. It is the sound of true chaos, not the well-worn tubesock of nice "noise" most people have come to love and accept in extreme music. It doesn't color the music as much as it vandalizes it. Despite being sonically oppressive, this quality becomes a significant leitmotif for the psychodrama which is Miss High Heel.

Almost 13 minutes pass before any coherent vocals appear, and when they do, it's a bit of a relief. The opening salvo is so harsh and alienating, I find myself begging for a sign of humanity, and it finally appears in the form of "Bad By Proust 'A'". Suddenly individual elements become more obvious: the drums, the basses, the bass clarinet. For a few moments one is lulled into complacency, believing this may have become just another avant-skronk record. The most fascinating aspect of this music is the vocal approach. Tom, Jim, Nondor and Jodie are really stretching here. Sometimes Tom and Jim meld into each other, slipping into a languid, tortured unison drawl. It's very unguarded and cathartic in a way that might be impossible to achieve within more rigidly codified and structured formats. Essentially, Miss High Heel was performing high-energy free music with a set of rich metatextual information, vis a vis the backing tracks and the very specific syntactical canvas of words.

The triptych of "The Fucked 'Aunt' Moment", "'Ahhhhhh-Her' Series The The Arched" and "Shoving It Travelling" are Jodie Mecanic's showcase pieces. On "Fucked", she evokes the confusion of an abduction victim lapsing erotically into a bout of the Stockholm Syndrome. It is frightening and comedic simultaneously. Bill's clarinet emerges from the mix to taunt her before a morbidly spacious conclusion. "Series" is a continuation of the theme, with vocals and clarinet almost completely unobstructed and a peppering of Tom's voice towards the end. By the middle of the CD, it seems as if the arc of the program has pushed beyond mere frenzy and has reached a different state of being. Perhaps this distinctly feminine geist has a calming effect on the fracas?

"Rose Aw Suck" might be the climax of the album. It is the longest and most complex track, glancing 10 full minutes. It seems to deliberately introduce most of the cast one by one, as if they are each taking a final curtain call before diving mindlessly into the burning chasm of Hades. This piece is obviously the swan-song of Miss High Heel. It is a chilling portrait of group mental disturbance and randomness. There is a long segment of abstract solo bass clarinet by myself near the end of the piece. It is lonely, bordering on destitute. Just as it winds down, a screeching vignette of Jodie and Nondor keeps the mania intact.

Two live tracks from the New Year's show act as a sort of coda. The fidelity is shockingly detailed for a lo-fi recording and all of the ensemble members are audible. In particular, O'Rourke and Azita's fleet synthesizer wrangling is the main event on these cuts. There is some actual rhythm section interplay between myself and the two bass players evident here. We seemed to silently understand that starting and stopping together during the pieces would aid the overall momentum. As a subset of MHH, Chuck, Bill and I were used to throwing each other tons of cues in The Flying Luttenbachers, so we were able to enact this strategy successfully.

"It Reports I Practiced Ignorance" wraps up in a lovingly fastidious, succinct manner at 1:28 duration. The opening segment is a hilarous feedback and reverb-drenched snippet of Nondor and Jodie improvising together. They are understanding each other completely despite the fact that they are using total nonsense as raw material. The final third arrives with a soft surge of digital feedback which reveals a short loop of electronic synth detritus with Mike Green talking on top. It morphs into a frament of backing tape music before dissipating into a wisp of echo.

There's something oddly poignant about actually finishing this cd for once. It seems to begin as a blatant aesthetic affront, and then gradually transforms itself into a scorched-earth requiem mass. I hadn't noticed this long line before. I recommend giving "The Family's Hot Daughter" serious attention if you bother to check it out because it is a complex work and there is much more to it than immediately appears.

Digging Through the ugEXPLODE Archives

For the last few weeks, when I have a little free time around the office, I've been trying to compile every last bit of music I've played on which has been legitimately released for a personal multidisc high-quality mp3 archival/reference set. Needless to say this is a somewhat staggering task. It's taking a long time. The archives are reasonably organized, but not down to the sort of detail where I can pull just anything in a matter of seconds. A good amount of reasonably unrelated stuff can tend to be compiled on various discs, so sorting this stuff in a serious manner would basically entail logging the contents of each onto a searchable spreadsheet. For example, I might have some weird XBXRX rough mixes on a CD with a Nitro(!) remix, a Nondor Nevai track, a full Luttenbachers album, some solo demos and who knows what else! The contents of the backup discs reflect whatever was being worked on in a certain period at a certain time and not much else.
There are definitely a few things which have gone awol. For example, I cannot seem to find the final master for the WW/Mick Barr/Sam Hillmer 10". I can find rough mixes, final mixes, multitracks, unreleased outtakes, a complete full-length version which was canned, but I cannot find the mastered, edited master. Hmmm. It's got to be around here some place.

There are things I'm on which people never bothered to give me a copy of. For example, when I first moved to the Bay Area around 2003, I wound up going to an all-electronic jam session with a band called Goof Ice, led by my fellow Skin Graft Records alumni Zeek Sheck and featuring some other weirdos including another Chicago ex-pat Erin Weber (then also a member of the warped electro band Crack: We Are Rock). We did a few funny, performance-heavy gigs here and there and eventually it seemed like the results of the initial jam resulted in a limited CD-R release. So limited, even I didn't get one! It's a bit of a pet peeve when I'm not given a copy of my work (and a much bigger pisser on the rare occasions when I'm not even asked permission for something I'm on to be released! An extremely rare, but maddening situation . . .) It seems weird to have to pay money for something you played on, especially if you weren't paid to do the recording. Every now and then, it happens, but not much.

Part of the reason why I began avidly taping my own gigs on a handy-dandy Sony D-50 recorder in 2007 had to do with the frustration stemming from the overwhelming preponderance of tapers showing up to gigs and refusing to give me copies of my own music. There is virtually no excuse for this. I've had huge arguments with tapers. Some of them seem to think their "taping" is their art and your, uh, music - which they are taping - is really besides the point. Ha ha ha. Ok fucker, well then, pack up your "art" and get the hell out of here. Without my music, you've got a blank tape. I've even run into situations where I knew who taped something and even offered to PAY whatever they asked for a copy of the material and almost always my requests have been completely ignored with radio silence. It's extremely rude and inconsiderate.

Needless to say, I have probably better than 90 percent of all the gigs I've played in the last five years in good-to-excellent quality sitting on shelves on my wall in raw data and mastered audio versions. Some of these recordings have made it onto releases such as "Firestorm", "End Of The Trail", "Particles","American Free","Large Group Performances" and so on.  There's a lot of good music here which will probably never be released or circulated, but that's the breaks. Want to hear my kickass tapes with Evan Parker or John Butcher? Well, don't hold your breath! Ha ha ha.

When I release something, it has to be special. If I was just releasing "good" music, I could crank out 50 releases a year easily.  However, considering that the economy is slow and people don't really spend money like they used to on recorded music, I have to be very discriminating about what the label releases. For example, the Orthrelm CD: this is some of my favorite music of all-time. I wanted it to be done right and I wanted to give the band a good deal out of respect for them both as people and artists. When you buy that disc, Mick and Josh get 100 percent of the wholesale price in their pocket. That's that. If you don't believe me, just ask them. Same with Toy Killers.

One of the good things about digging through all this media is finding little gems one has forgotten about. Like the weird CD-R I made with Talibam! at the end of '09 when we needed something to sell at the gig that night. We literally recorded, mixed, packaged and sold it that night. The music is funny, raw and unapologetic. There are so many bizarre edits (due to malfunctioning computer) and random events, I can't help but to think an artifact like this couldn't have possibly came out so interesting if we had actually taken the time to do it right!

also did a little-known tour-only CD-R in the summer of '07 called "Bad Gratitude Persons". The title is an illusion to the sort of shaky English spewed from the slobbering maw of the shyster promoter who ripped-us off on a chaotic and totally un-fun Mexican tour just prior to this recording being made. The disc features our live set as a bass-less trio, recorded in one take at our practice space on a small multitrack recorder. It is essentially what we sounded like live at that point, under the best possible sonic circumstances. It reveals yet another aspect of a really multifaceted group, caught casually, for the fuck of it on a random afternoon. I wish more people would have heard it. The rough mixes from the last release I did with the group, the mp3-only "Un Usper", showed even more hidden angles. There is a ton of improvising between the actual songs that I had totally forgotten about. A few snippets of these improvs made the album, but were heavily mixed and edited. I'm glad there's still some evidence of the raw material, even if it's not for public consumption.

So, I look at this mountain of output I've created over the past 25 years and I feel glad: glad this shit hasn't burnt up in an apartment fire, or drowned in a flood, or been vandalized by a psycho, or . . . I'm not the kind of guy who believes in "jinxing" myself, luckily. I guess if all this stuff went up in smoke tomorrow, I'd be sad for a while, but then I'd do what I normally do: move on and create more new work . . .

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Record Reviews #1: Metal Roundup

Negative Plane
is a much discussed band in the deep bowels of the current US underground metal scene. Formed in Florida in 2001 before relocating to New York City, core members vocalist/guitarist Nameless Void and drummer Bestial Devotion defiantly straddle the musical line between old-school proto-death metal bluster and post-modern idiomatic montage. While their 2006 full-length debut "Et In Saecula Saeculorum" cruised along at a rapid clip - glancing "Morbid Tales"-era Celtic Frost and the more masculine, rockist tendencies of '90s Black Metal (early Mayhem and Emperor)their sophomore offering "Stained Glass Revelations" is a relatively turgid proposition in respect to overall tempo and mood. It seems the band has traded some of their frantic embryonic attack for a grander sense of drama and gravity. The music here is drenched in a complex web of reverb and sanctimonious organ and piano interludes feature into the hour-long set of songs. Despite Negative Plane's pseudo-Wagnerian pretentions, there are definitely a lot of positive aspects to what they are trying to communicate. The vocals are distinctively roaring and often coated in echo or delay, conjuring an ominous and recognizable overall persona. The guitar work is particularly ambitious and nearing baroque in its melodic function. Excepting a few cheesy, quizzical "surf"/tremolo-bar flourishes (particularly in the introduction to "Angels Veiled Of Bone"), the timbre of the axework is richly midrangey, intense and tonal. There are some nice details such as the hazy electronic swarm which saturates the middle section of "The One And The Many". The overall production is warm and organic, sidestepping the digital, Pro-Tooled-to-fuck overworking which many modern extreme metal albums suffer from. Ultimately Negative Plane play good-old HEAVY METAL with a very dark, occult edge. It appears they are very concerned with coherent compositional standards and legibility, eschewing the need to play constantly at blistering speeds or feigning uber-extremity. In these regards, "Stained Glass Revelations" is a breath of fresh air. The more I hear it, the more I can accept it at face value - this is a memorable, well-constructed album worth general attention. The band will make a rare appearance opening a bill in New York at The Studio at Webster Hall on December 2nd with Inquisition and the seminal Italian Black Metal band Mortuary Drape. I am looking foward to seeing what all of these groups do live, in the flesh.


One of the finest and most consistently kick-ass extreme metal labels in the United States is Nuclear War Now! Productions. Based in the California Bay Area, and masterminded by Yosuke Konishi, NWN is committed to issuing high quality releases featuring some of the most scabrous units in the contemporary worldwide underground as well as unearthing hidden or forgotten gems documenting the rawest, most primal side of DIY metal from the '80s onward.

Canadian War Metal archetypes BLASPHEMY
The bands which typify the core values of the NWN aesthetic are legendary in this scene: Blasphemy, Black Witchery, Order From Chaos, Morbosidad, Mystifier, Revenge, Von, Sarcofago and Conqueror. These groups are/were all single-minded in their brutality, iconoclasm, rawness and blasphemic outlooks. They directly influenced legions of other units also appearing on the label, such as Proclamation, Embrace of Thorns, Blasphemophager, Bestial Raids and Perversor. In addition to these bullet-belted, gas-mask adorned "Bestial" metallions, other, more idiosyncratic entities appear on the imprint, from neo-'90s deathsters Dead Congregation, the more traditional corpse-painted black metal of Inquisition and Russia's Pseudogod (whose totally slaying 2006 demo "Illusion of Salvation" was reissued as a one-sided 12" last year on Satanic Skinhead Propaganda), Midnight's comedic Motorhead-tribute thrash to the gothy Von-alter-ego Sixx.


Some incredible reissues have appeared on Nuclear War Now! Productions (often clad in deluxe packaging) including a split with Profanatica-related projects Contravisti and Totem; killer war metal by the vastly overlooked Austrialian hordes Abominator and Martire; and historically important editions of recordings by Master's Hammer, Root, Autopsy, Morbid and Nifelheim. One of my all-time favorite metal recordings, the "Demon With Wings" ep by Aussie maniacs Sadistik Exekution was finally released on vinyl as a split 7" with Nifelheim, so for that alone I am eternally grateful!

Some Nuclear War Now! products can be previewed in their entireties at a new Bandcamp page. I particularly recommend the recently issued new album by Bestial Raids and the stunningly bizarre demos by Cremation (featuring madman drummer J. Read)