Thursday, December 27, 2012

Coffin Pricks-Group Home Haircut b/w Right Kind of Loot/Cielo Drive; Stationary Heart, 2012

Punk Rock singer Chris Thompson has been rolling aesthetic strikes for two decades now, so, of course Disaster Amnesiac was excited when reading about his most recent (and, sadly, done) band Coffin Pricks. Having listened to their 7", Group Home Haircut, as usual I am stoked about his personal metaphoric lyrics and spoke/sung technique on the mic. As regards the former, Disaster Amnesiac really digs the fact that Thompson seems to paint not from some stock anti-authoritarian Punk template, but more from a personal life perspective. I realize that I may be completely incorrect here, but, if so, still, the non-manifesto point of view never gets tiresome. As for the latter, it's so much more fun to listen to than the high pitched shouting that so many in post-Punk/Metal effect.  I find it very easily to relate to and enjoy his sound when I listen to him. His trademark delivery is fun to listen to.
Disaster Amnesiac always marvels at the ways in which bands led by Thompson can pull of a "stick to basic Punk" approach and never sound like hacks. That is probably not an easy task, and one can rest assured that with Chris at the helm, the band is likely to nail it. Rockin' rhythm section Ryan Weinstein on guitar, Jeff Rice on drums, and bassist Chay Lawrence conjure up a sound that's a mite tighter than Thompson's previous troupe, Red Eyed Legends, in that the hi-hats are more often closed, and the guitar chords muted a bit more. Still, their sound, drawing from Punk Rock from all eras (Stooges, Ramones, Pistols, Flag, D.C.H.C., Chi-tooled) clips along at a hot mid-to-fast pace, framing their singer's charismatic delivery with aplomb. 
Group Home Haircut is a quick, compelling blast of Punk Rock-n-Roll. Will John Herndon's cool skull design on this 7"s cover become standard tattoo flash?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

American Insiders: Two Perspectives

Disaster Amnesiac has spent quite a bit of time in the last six months or so reading the writings of Walt Whitman. Although they clearly merit lifetimes of study, one dynamic that comes across quickly is the American Bard's love for people of all walks of life, and his desire for all citizens of this nation to shine their creative lights, for good of selves and country. Walt clearly wanted Americans to delve deeply within themselves, and to share robustly.

It often seems as if many Americans have forgotten, or perhaps never knew, the joy of being unique within society, of reveling in our particular individuality. Less so, even, the joy of creating, of speaking with a willfully unique and not self-censored voice, and working towards sharing it aloud. Disaster Amnesiac has been reveling recently in recordings by two very unique American Artists, by Jandek and Lonnie Holley. These two men have clearly made the journey within, and the American Insider perspectives are noteworthy.

Jandek-Atlanta Saturday; Corwood Industries, 2012
It has been pretty fascinating to watch Jandek's emergence over the past near-decade, as he morphed from being a shadowy presence known only as a Houston p.o. box number to an international performer. His recent incarnations have had him taking on any number of musical styles, yet he's always managed to put his own unique stamp on all attempts. Disaster Amnesiac can attest to his amazing live show (Davis, CA11/12/10). Check him on youtube if you've not had a chance to be there in person. On Atlanta Saturday, the representative from Corwood leads a quartet of Seth Coon on bass clarinet, Ana Balka on violin, Kelly Shane on percussion, and himself on piano and vocals through an eight part suite of chamber-like pieces. The group's sound is delicate and, perhaps to the surprise of some who've cringed at Jandek's oeuvre, quite pretty. It is for the most part made up of sprightly modal forms from the leader's piano. At a certain point the group starts firing off Cecil Taylor Unit-like bursts, where Shane's percussion is particularly lively and great. Far from sounding like a Music Dept. exercise, as these kinds of experiments can sometimes end up doing, Saturday sounds earthy, real, and, dare I say, American, in no small part due to Jandek's conversational-styled delivery during lyrical passages. One wonders what Whitman would have made of his often surreal narrative, with lines such as "only a Fearless Fool would confront them ("the Guardians"). Disaster Amnesiac suspects that he would have approved. Something tells me that the Atlanta Academy of Medicine is lovely, as it surely brought some loveliness out of this quartet.

Lonnie Holley-Just Before Music; Dust to Digital, 2012
Disaster Amnesiac has been aware of prolific sculptor Lonnie Holley ever since reading The Last Folk Hero (it's a great read, find it!), but as far as I am aware, Just Before Music is his first musical release.Much like with his sculpture, Holley seems to use older materials (in this case, older synthesizers and keyboards) as a means toward articulating his vision. He keeps the accompaniment relatively simple, but the spacey, wide effect that he achieves within that simplicity is great.His keyboard work achieves a droning feel that supplements his lyrical descriptions of the America that he sees and feels, along with his soulful Southern croon. Holley's lyrical vision is very spiritually directed. Much like Whitman did with his words, Holley seems to want to use poetry to heal those around him. Fifth Child Burning, with its requiem for a young child, is particularly moving, as Holley seems to try to perform this healing on a being that has passed into the spirit realm. The America that Holley sees and describes is struggling with many problems, but he opines strongly that through art, poetry, and spirituality, it can heal itself and build upon the strength that it has gained through those struggles. Just Before is simultaneously lovely and harrowing, as all great poetry is. Hopefully it's not his only musical release. Kudos to Dust to Digital for their great packaging job, which reproduces Holley's lyrics in their entirety, along with great photo reproductions of some of his sculptural work.

Although Disaster Amnesiac's view of America is perhaps not as jaundiced as some others in this country, I know that it would be naive to say that we don't face serious issues and problems. Much like Whitman did, I feel that a possible solution for many of us would come from our finding the individual voices within ourselves, our vocation, the true, deep meaning within our lives. Men such as Jandek and Lonnie Holley have made the journey deep within themselves, and bring forth expressions of deeply spiritual/poetic nature. These types of expressions could possibly help to show others ways in which they could heal themselves and those around them. I contend that Walt would have been proud of these American Insiders, and hoped that others would follow their examples, for their own good and the greater good of our society.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Dr. John-Locked Down; Nonesuch, 2012

The face that stares out from underneath that beautiful headdress is many years older than that featured on the classic, spooky-groovy Gris Gris, but, much to Disaster Amnesiac's delight, the music on Dr. John's most recent LP, Locked Down, fires on the same cylinders, draws from the same (even deeper, now) wells of gritty, funky music. I have had Locked Down on repeat for days now. It's an album that stands up to multiple listens, on multiple layers.
It's really as toss up between which should take top billing here: the Night Tripper's keyboards versus his vocals. I'll just start with the former and say that they are by turns piquant, juicy, spicy, and always always FUNKY. Mac has the full command of his instrument as befits an authentic Jazz player, which he truly is. His playing goes way beyond his sources, though, showing African, Psychedelic, Hip Hop, you name it, on Locked Down. As long as it's soulful, Dr. John's keys are on it. His mastery also shows in the spaces where he doesn't play; this album is a prime example of concision, fully on display from this American Master's playing. All the foregoing descriptions should in no way give the impression that Dr. John's singing/lyrics on Locked Down do not have an equally impressive and stirring effect on the listener. His trademark Big Easy paced hum has aged nicely, displaying a weathered knowing stride. His growl has deepened, become deeper with passage of time. Rebennack's lyrics seem to have deepened, too. They concern perhaps deeper issues than in the past, addressing the hurts going 'round these days, and the Love that transcends and heals them. His admonition "don't trip on loose wires" has felt particularly resonant to Disaster Amnesiac in the post-Election reflections upon the Great Internet Shaming and Insult Culture and its myriad "loose wires" at their keyboards. One can most definitely hear the echos of Hurricane Katrina, of lives lost to the fast lanes, but more importantly to the human resilience born of faith and courage in the face of societal tragedies. The list of blessings on God's Sure Good has brought Disaster Amnesiac to tears on multiple occasions. I'm convinced they'd make even an atheist reconsider.
Producer/guitar player Dan Auerbach deserves many kudos for his work on both sides of those duties on Locked Down. Disaster Amnesiac assumes that he was in charge of assembling the great band for the album, and man, did he pick well. The rhythm section of drummer Max Weissenfeldt, with his ultra crisp cymbal playing and clinic-level press rolls, and bassist Nick Movshon, with his deep, funky bottom end, push and pull the tunes; they achieve the effect of being laid back and moving forward simultaneously, a rare and glorious achievement. Multi-instrumentalist Brian Olive provides tight horn arrangements that add great color on several tunes. The occasional background vocals of the McCrary Sisters add nice, soulful Gospel feels. I also assume that it is Auerbach's screaming guitar solo on Getaway and his savvy North African-tinged sound on You Lie. Additionally, he and Olive play fine, gritty rhythm guitar parts throughout. Auerbach did one hell of a job on this album.
Engineer Collin Dupuis also did a hell of a job. Every instrument is clearly heard, every element emanates from the same warmly mic'd place. The listener is treated to a rich mix that features all of said elements in a fine, funky gumbo.
Disaster Amnesiac has enjoyed the hell out of Locked Down. Along with the obvious New Orleans feel, I hear Stax, Africa, Curtis Mayfield, and 1960's Psychedelic in the mix. If you've not already spent some time with its sublime grooves, it behooves you to do so. Get Locked Down, and you'll probably stay locked down with it for a while.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Mermen-Live at the Stork Club; Oakland, CA 11/23/12

Mr. and Mrs. Amnesiac dined on really great post-Thanksgiving Korean table top bar-b-q in Oakland's Korea-town before heading into the venerable Stork Club to chill out for the re-emergence of the Mermen, an SF Bay Area eminence. These guys have been playing for a long, long time now.
Their sound melds Crazyhorse grit with Surf and maybe even some Progressive Rock into a mid-tempo, swirling psychedelic ride.

Above: Mermen full and solo. The parts make for a sublime Whole
It was great to sit and drift to the Mermens' well played instrumental guitar sounds. So simple, so stripped down (relative to so many other current approaches to guitar-based Rock), so right!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Kilslug-Sins, Tricks & Lies; Limitied Appeal, 2012

On occasion, Disaster Amnesiac sees Ted Falconi in West Oakland, and this makes me happy. I don't know Ted personally, but I love his band, and I love that fact that he seems to have stayed true to his vision. Disaster Amnesiac imagines Ted working on sculpture or tweeking his amp to get that singular guitar tone of his.
I say this as Sins, Tricks & Lies, the 11" record by Boston's long-standing Kilslug spins on my turntable, not to draw comparisons between them and Falconi's Flipper, but simply to praise them. You have to hand it to them, that they've stayed true to their vision as well. This red slab of backwards playing vinyl has the band sticking to the mid-to-slow tempo Heavy Rock inflected Punk Rock. The drums sound thick and heavily played, the guitars stick to simple, heavy riffs, and Larry Lifeless's declamations go way beyond simple sloganeering. You can't deny that the man has his own vision.
Kilslug make great Heavy Rock. Dunno if Lifeless is a visible presence around his Boston environs, but his band sure sounds pretty viable, years into it.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Grateful Dead-Dave's Picks vol. 4; College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, VA 9/24/1976

Disaster Amnesiac has had his hears full of Grateful Dead throughout 2012, in no small part due to it being the inaugural year for the Dave's Picks series. Here we are, winding down what will surely be recalled as one of the more contentious years in recent memory, and here I am, digging into the last quarterly installment of the series's 2012 offerings, College of William &Mary, Williamsburg, VA 9/24/76.
In the world of the Dead, 1976 has often seemed to be regarded as the Year of the Re-set. It was a period in which the band picked themselves up after various "big picture" (no pun intended) fiasco, re-integrated Mickey permanently, and initiated their penultimate re-imaging (the last being Brent's arrival/the Godchauxs' departure).
Disaster Amnesiac has always heard the Dead's 1976 offerings as somewhat ponderous attempts towards their then-current goals of reviving themselves as a touring act and refocusing on the music, having handed the business reigns over to an actual record company (please note the sticker on Jerry's Travis Bean "The Enemy is Listening").  Aside from a soul stirring version of Mission in the Rain, an achingly raw evocation from Hunter on the lyrical side and Garcia on the performance side, I have rarely taken much time to listen to Dead recordings from that year. I admit to being somewhat surprised by's choice of  a 1976 show to finish off this year's selections, but, having listened to this three disc set, I understand why they did.
The show starts off somewhat prosaically, even hitting an almost maudlin note during Looks Like Rain, but something happens during the late first set Tennessee Jed. Disaster Amnesiac has heard the simplest of elements, the quarter note pattern tapped on the hi-hat cymbals of Kreutzmann and Hart, as the auditory sign that the drummers are starting to mesh as a unit. The way that they lock in the early portions of the tune sounds pretty magical to me; the players out front seem to feel it, too, as Jed's slow shuffle is followed by a killer Playing in the Band.  This version of Playing is apparently legendary among Deadheads, and it's pretty clear why this is the case. All of the band's calling cards are on high display: Jazz-like inter-band interplay, quotes from other tunes (Jerry plays snatches of Let it Grow a few minutes into the song's lengthy instrumental passage, is this a signal of choices being made?), and an overall psychedelic spaciness endow its seventeen minutes with the kind of jamming flight that is so appealing to fans of the Dead's music. The fact that they partition the tune with a hot, tight version of Bob's Supplication (that's more like it rocker!) makes it all the more sweet for any Dead fan. 
The second set kicks off with a version of Might as Well that may be the best example of Garcia's innate soulfulness in the vocal department and Phil's booming bass punctuations, and blazes forward from there, mostly featuring the band's distinctive 1970's fare. It still strikes Disaster Amnesiac, how much Jerry loved the slow, ballad form; his renditions of Loser and Stella Blue here are fine examples of this. What were this man's shadows like? Perhaps the answer to that question lies in Hunter's admonition, "roll away the dew", and the Franklin's Tower in which that line resides is part of a so loose it's tight Help on the Way-Slipknot-Drums-Slipknot-Franklin's Tower-The Music Never Stopped-Stella Blue that again finds the band reaching  levels of instrumental/psychic interplay which only they could reach, in that and probably all other eras.  It's over thirty minutes of sweetly continuous prime 1970's Dead, moving from the mystery of Help on the Way, to the rudimental/tribal drumming entrainment of Drums to the jubilation of The Music Never Stopped, and the band sounds like they're enjoying and feeling every minute of it. The show's closing numbers, rocking versions of Around and Around and U.S. Blues wave spirited victory flags for the band as they seal the deal. Jerry's vocal delivery on the latter is particularly inspired, pointed in his peculiar, knowing cadence.
Within their grand scheme, 1976 proved to be a very important year for the Grateful Dead. It set the stage for the heights of 1977, and all of the subsequent strange developments for the quintessential band of misfits. Dave's Picks vol. 4 shows their wily beast  to have  been very much alive and kicking, sloughing off the cobwebs of "retirement" and kick starting the Good Old Grateful Dead into their storied second half.

Monday, November 5, 2012

ONO-Albino; Moniker Records, 2012

As has been the case with so many other bands, it was Joe Carducci's Rock and the Pop Narcotic that first brought Chicago's ONO to the attention of Disaster Amnesiac. While ostensibly falling outside of the scope of that absolutely essential tome, ONO was mentioned therein, albeit briefly, along with having been given a page or two in the appendix. Needless to say, I was pretty thrilled to finally hear them in  the late 2000's, when downloadable versions of their early LP's began to appear at various blog sites. I can recall one rain-drenched walk from a birthday party at Fisherman's Wharf to Embarcadero BART station, with Machines That Kill People providing a particularly unsettling soundtrack on my headphones, singer travis' deep tenor voiced incantations providing a surreal verbal soundtrack to said shuffled drenching.
Skipping forward three or so years, Disaster Amnesiac is pleased to be able to listen to all new recordings from ONO, in the form of Albino. Pleased, because the re-upped ONO essentially continues on with the same sound that they developed and honed all those years ago; a sound that draws from elements as ancient as shamanism or as current as post-Gangsta Rap (listen to travis to the album's ending track for that particular vibe), as earthy as Delta Blues or as Industrial as Neubauten post-Motorik beats. Head ONO musician P. Michael Ono seems to be able to amalgamate just about any stream of music, pushing out a heavy, heady, personal music, one of deliciously synergistic energy and flavor as regards influences. Disaster Amnesiac finds himself particularly moved by the greasy electric guitar intro to the album's title track and the brilliantly programmed beats and percussion throughout. The way Ono paced the music, never too fast, always throbbing and sensual, makes for an arresting, compelling listen. While not exactly Dance Music per se, Albino can no doubt inspire one to any type of movement. It is truly Body Music.The front body and human voice of the band, travis, croons his rich spells with such powerful phrasing and gesture. Do be sure and read Roctober #50 for a great interview with him. The man has lived, and his performance on Albino gives ample proof of that fact. He enriches and gives new depth even to Nico on All Tomorrow's Parties, giving this listener new food for thought on that chestnut of the Underground.
Disaster Amnesiac has read the Moniker has recorded more ONO since the tunes on Albino were tracked. I look forward to hearing more of their auditory spell workings. Here's to hoping that they can bring their ministrations out West.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Pere Ubu-Ray Gun Suitcase; Tim/Kerr Records, 1995

Disaster Amnesiac finds the 1990's to be pretty interesting, in terms of music culture, especially music from the era that involves electric guitars. It seems to me that the decade's Rock culture can be triangulated: 1) Immediate post-1980's period, with same old story up above and volcanic activity down below; 2) Nirvana explosion, with paradigm shift in tastes occurring and subsequent major label feeding frenzy; 3) Inevitable "back to business" model in the wake of diminishing returns up above and final fragmentation and music identity/cult formations up above.
I mention all of these factors because Ray Gun Suitcase, which was released smack dab in the middle of the decade, is the work of band that had a huge hand, explicitly or implicitly, in all three of stated points, and yet rises above all of them in its aesthetic grandeur and vision.
For example, take Head Ubu Man David Thomas, and his lyrical style. Disaster Amnesiac recalls reading press from Pere Ubu at the time of Ray Gun's release, in which Thomas described his overall conception for the record's lyrics to be an evocation of a Cleveland that remained only as a strong memory in his mind, a ghost town inhabiting a long-gone past. I can hear that in certain songs, such as Memphis and Electricity. There are also complex and insightful evocations of human lives in tunes such as Three Things and My Friend is a Stooge for the Media Priests; these tunes' lyrics paint pictures that remain far and away superior to most, in their era or others. Of course, Rock lyrics don't have to be poetic, but Thomas's writing on this LP seem to rise to that level. In terms of the stated triangulation, they remain superior to efforts from all three time frames, especially in their deceptively simple approach. They are the stuff of layers, as regards words. Listen, and be awed. As for Thomas's singular vocal style, one either loves it or hates it. Disaster Amnesiac is firmly in the former camp. One knows Thomas when one hears him, and, at the time of this recording, he had been sticking to his aesthetic guns for twenty years. His vocal approaches on Ray Gun Suitcase are indeed many and varied; his "horse snorting" sound on Electricity has always brought up Deleuze/Guattari-ian thoughts of "becoming animal" in this listener. He whispers, howls, yelps, and even croons his way through the tunes, all the while staying firmly planted within his own, unique, performing identity. Compared to the form fit front men so predominant of the three points of the stated triangle, Thomas sounds so much more compelling, and his performance on Ray Gun is high even within that standard.
Although Pere Ubu had been in existence for several years before Ray Gun Suitcase, the band therein was essentially new. Stalwart Thomas was joined by Jim Jones on guitar, Robert Wheeler on synths and theremin, Michele Temple on bass, and Scott Benedict or Scott Krauss on drums (founding member Krauss left mid-recording, I believe). The Raygun iteration of Ubu, rooted in pre-1990's Rock outplays most then-contemporary bands, twisting and turning in all kinds of ways. Their touch, a physical one, though quite removed from the demonstrative bashing that had become de rigour post-Nirvana, is heavy in a rhythmic way. Jones' guitar solo in Beach Boys and his high octane riffing in Red Sky are executed with such graceful command, yet also such simultaneous rawness. Wheeler's creative, spacey theremin and synth parts add great, surreal accents on top of it all. Almost twenty years later, their playing veritably leaps out of the recordings, from all sections of the band.
The overall feel that Disaster Amnesiac gets from Ray Gun Suitcase is the same one that Lou Reed got from Loaded. The album is chock full of songs that could have been hits. Listen to Beach Boys, with its catchy as hell chorus (and compare it that '95's summer jam by Everclear; you tell me which one is better), or Memphis, with its smooth motorik groove and stuttering riffage. More examples include Thomas' paean to populist America in Turquoise Fins (in Pomona!) or the almost Breeders-like (or should that band be described as Ubu-like?) Down By the River II. Even the more experimental pieces like Horse or Ray Gun (Thomas on plastic ray gun) have grown accessible over time.
To get back to the tripartite conception of the 1990's, and its relation to Ray Gun Suitcase, Disaster Amnesiac is just trying to say that it is an album that transcends such divisions, is transcendent of the simple categorization that is ubiquitous within the music industry. I guess, as such, its chances of wider success within that world were somewhat slight. All  that said, the album remains, in a word, timeless.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Then me and Mick are gonna wing it on over to London and jam with the Stones

Well, Paris actually. This jam was waxed in the City of Lights.
Disaster Amnesiac currently has the new Rolling Stones single, Doom and Gloom, pretty much on endless repeat in the iPod.
It's a great, pounding 2/4 boogie from the World's Oldest Band, and it sounds invigorated as hell, energized and energizing in that sweet way that only the Stones can do it. Keith and Ron are ragin' on guitar, riffing with that fine interplay that features on their best work together. Dig on that drop at the end of the chorus for ample proof of this. Ron's been a Stone for almost forty years now! Hard to believe! Keith and Ron can lock, for sure, and on Doom and Gloom, they lock massively. Speaking of locked, gray eminence Charlie Watts pushes the proceedings with his characteristic uncluttered tidiness, sticking to a propulsive kick/snare/hat pattern that grooves and shuffles with a motive force. As for front man Mick, he sounds equally inspired, ranting, and rapping the kind of darkened, somewhat cynical lyrics that the public has come to expect from a world class Rock Star and Original Bad Boy.
Maybe it's true that all they see right now is doom and gloom, but all that Disaster Amnesiac feels when this tune is playing is raw excitement. Who knew they still had it in 'em?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Pain is the stimulus of pain, but then of course, nothing is cured.

 Over this last weekend, Mr. and Mrs. Amnesiac walked over to Oakland's historic Grand Lake Theater, via the lovely Trestle Glen Ave., to take in a viewing of Paul Thomas Anderson's new film, The Master.
The film has been treated by some as a controversial telling of the early years of L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics, but Disaster Amnesiac does not want to reflect upon that aspect. Instead, I would like to opine that the story of Freddie Quell, the film's main protagonist,  reveals the necessary aspects of violence that any type of movement needs to harness in order to take its initial steps into the greater world scene. For this viewer, the L. Ron Hubbard figure was essentially incidental, compared to Quell's greater meaning. To wit, any movement, political or religious or media, needs the violence of shadowy figures such as that of Quell, needs their brute force and "thoughtlessness", if for nothing else than to act as foot soldiers as they gain ground within the world. Whether they actually physically assault real or perceived enemies, or simply provide the requisite intimidation, their harnessing and use by these movements is critical. Of course, once a given movement finds these mute, shadowy, violent forces to be of no further use, they are cast aside. The Movement can now begin the task of filing down its sharper edges, the better to seduce the greater mass, for profits monetary, psychic, or both. Hubbard, the man, is neither the first nor the last to have engineered that kind of action.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Pere Ubu-Manhattan; Hearpen Records digital download, 2012

While it seems unlikely that they will be able to surpass the sheer volume of digital live releases from Fugazi, the folks at Hearpen and Pere Ubu have not been slacking in this regard, and their most recent, Manhattan, is well worth the time spent listening to.
Documenting a two-set evening from 1977 at Max's Kansas City, Manhattan shows the band with feet in two separate periods of their evolution, and standing solidly within both. On their earlier, Peter Laughner era tunes, the band sounds tight and accomplished; they clearly know tunes such as 30 Seconds Over Tokyo and Final Solution. They stretch out and play within the arrangements, showing complete mastery over them. It's pretty striking for Disaster Amnesiac to hear the Nuggets and Krautrock elements within the primal Ubu sound. I swear that I heard the verse riff from Journey to the Center of the Mind pretty clearly played at one point, and Scott Krauss busts out some serious motorik drumming at one point during Final Solution. The great thing about Pere Ubu has always been their singularity. They can digest diverse influences, throw them into their mix, and still sound completely like themselves.
Speaking of influences, the Dub, Reggae, and Industrial ones that helped shape the post-Laughner, Modern Dance iteration of the band show strongly within those tunes in the set. While not as totally baked as their earlier counterparts, songs like Nonalignment Pact and Street Waves sound confident and near-complete, and the band sounds very much engaged in working out their changes within the new, late 1970's Ubu template.
It would be somewhat challenging to list Underground Rock bands from the 1970's Punk era that skillfully fused instrumental know-how and prowess with that era's raw nerve and emotive punch. Pere Ubu most definitely qualify as having both aspects in spades. Listen to Tom Herman's incendiary solo during My Dark Ages or the tight, wiry rhythmsection stomp of Tony Maimone and Scott Krauss for ample proof of that assertion.
Allen Ravenstine's Avant Garde coloration of the the tunes with reeds and synths, and David Thomas's one-of-a-kind vocals do much to make Pere Ubu's sound unique. Thomas's sly, understated humor during between-song banter and his refusal to encourage throwing opening act Dorian under the bus (at the insistence of some yutz in the crowd) are particularly compelling for this listener. Thomas can have such a larger than life persona, and it's nice to hear him as a mere mortal.
Manhattan is a fine document of one of Rock's strongest bands, during one of many periodic peaks. Disaster Amnesiac hopes that Hearpen will continue to unearth and unleash more tapes from this, and other, Ubu eras.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Up Half-Known Roads: Solo Drumming Records, Installment 1

If you have read this blog before, and hadn't already surmised as much, Disaster Amnesiac is a drummer. As such, I love drums, and love listening to drums. I have amassed quite a few recordings that are of either a "solo drums" or "drummer featured" nature, and have often wanted to blog about them. That said, I realize that most people probably don't want to read at length about these types of recordings. Therefore, I have initiated the Up Half Known Roads: Solo Drumming Records series, in which two or three separate recordings of this type will be described and enthused about per installment.
Please insert drummer joke here:            , and read on.

Pheeroan ak Laff: House of Spirit: "Mirth"

ak Laff was only in his early 20's when this righteous slab of percussive interplay was waxed, but, he had already spent time studying  with Motown's Funk Brothers, Tribe Collective, at the University of Michigan, and, on the East Coast, with Free Masters such as Rashied Ali, Wadada Leo Smith, and Oliver Lake. Needless to say, he had chops and musicality to burn, and both are on display here. Using only voice and heaps of drums, live-tracked and overdubbed, Pheeroan, with the help of Executive Producer Lake, concocted this fierce percussive display over two days in 1979, dedicated to a fallen brother of the Vietnam Conflict variety. Masterful use of mallets on toms, snare rudiment techniques, full-on trap kit beat funkiness, African drums, and chanted lyrics all mix and mesh for a spiritual work out. The vibe is definitely one of incantation and personal ritual drum jamming, one which will be familiar to any drummer who has spent time alone behind the kit. Disaster Amnesiac is sure that humans of the non-drummer variety would also be moved by its slamming rhythmic mojo. Spiritual mirth!

 Janet Ogg: Drums is Art 

In the post immediately preceding this one, Noh Mercy drummer Tony Hotel gives and extensive description of her nearly fifty year drumming career. Also take note that Hotel and Janet Ogg are one in the same person, and this CD, a sonata for drums, really, is her most current work. Drums is Art is a Jazz drumming-centered affair, in which Ogg displays her extensive skills on the trap set, driving tunes that feature piano, electric keyboard, sampled percussion and pure electronic sound washes. Bop, Modal, Free, and Harmolodic approaches to the art of trap kit playing are all touched upon.Ogg swings her kit through all of it, moving from intricate poly rhythms a la Tony Williams to spacial abstraction reminiscent of the Modern Compositional style, always displaying a robust, personal sound. She also adds spoken lyrics to the mix on occasion, and her oratory on No Thinking may be the best manifesto for creative vision I have ever heard. Hers is as personal a vision as you can find, and Disaster Amnesiac loves it accordingly.

In concluding this inaugural edition of the Up Half-Known Roads series, I'd just like to say keep bangin' the gong, and stay tuned for more percussion-centered spieling from Disaster Amnesiac, along with the usual Describing and Enthusing that you've grown accustomed to. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tony Hotel 2012 Interview

Some years back, Disaster Amnesiac read an interview with the woman who did the initial downloading of images from the Hubble Telescope. She spoke of how exciting it was to be the first person to see the fantastic images being beamed back to Earth from deep space. As I listened to the answers that Tony Hotel sent to me via Quicktime audio, I had a similar feeling. I felt as though important, unseen/unheard information was being transferred to me, and I was exceedingly humbled by the experience. Of course, I'm sure that Tony has communicated her experiences to others, but, as a rabid fan, her story was uncharted to me, as I'm sure it has been to many others.
It is my hope that the interview clips contained herein will give Tony Hotel/Janet Ogg a lot more of the exposure that she has determinedly earned in over fifty years of involvement in music.
With much respect and admiration, I give you Tony Hotel, in her own words.

   Tony Hotel 2012 Interview Part One by Disaster Amnesiac

   Tony Hotel 2012 Interview Part Two by Disaster Amnesiac

   Tony Hotel 2012 Interview Final Thoughts by Disaster Amnesiac

Below are the initial questions, as emailed to Tony:

You give a lot of biographical information in the liner notes of the Superior Viaduct reissue, and I would like to extrapolate from that.

1.You were born in Dayton, OH. What was it like to grow up in the mid-West in the 1950's? Do you have any particularly striking impressions of that time?

2.What or who inspired your early interest in guitar and drums? It seems like you were attracted to music very early in life. Was there some event that sparked this interest? Who were some of your early teachers, and what were some of the early lessons that you learned from them? Did you study rudiments on the drumming side?

3.You mention your first group, Oggs Odds, from 1963. Was it the Beatles' arrival in the U.S. that inspired this early group? What was your repertoire like? Did you write your own music?

4.After Oggs Odds, you played in the Debutantes. Judging from the liner notes of the Noh Mercy reissue CD, this was a very rich musical experience for you. Please elaborate on this group and your drumming roll (no pun intended) within it.

5.Your time at Berklee also seems to be quite a rich experience. What were some of the highlights from that period in your career? What approach to Jazz did your quartet use? What was the instrumentation?

6.Your time after Berklee unfolded in the early 1970's. Please describe the paths that your career went down during this period. Dayton, L.A., etc. You mention it being somewhat like that of a journeyman baseball player's life. Please elaborate on that point. What were some stand-out gigs or experiences?

7. Please describe what San Francisco was like in the 1970's, for you, pre-Punk and Noh Mercy. Which districts did you frequent? What was the Jazz scene like? How about the Cabaret scene? Were you playing out a lot in Jazz groups?  How about in Rock bands? What were you up to during this time, creatively?

8.Both you and Esmerelda write about how inspired you were upon your initial meeting. What were some of the concepts that you brought up to each other? What was your initial jam like? Any stand-out memories?

9.Noh Mercy's music has, at times, a ritualistic, "tribal" feel. Were you drawing from the music of non-Western cultures, or was it strictly the poly-rhythmic element of Jazz's influence that gave your drumming this feel? There are also tunes with heavy back beats. Were you listening to a lot of Funk as well? What streams of music were you pulling from, generally?

10. Please describe Noh Mercy's song writing process. How did you shape ideas into songs? Did you practice a lot? Were the creative ideas explicitly discussed, or were they more intuited?

11.Your drum parts are so crisp on the recordings. Did you practice a lot on your own at this point, or was it just flowing "on demand"?

12.In the liner notes of the reissue, V. Vale describes seeing Noh Mercy play at Mabuhay Gardens. Were there other venues in San Francisco that Noh Mercy performed in? How about other towns in the Bay Area?

13.The live tracks on the reissue CD, from the Catalyst in Santa Cruz, seem to show a band with a lot of people cheering them on. What was Noh Mercy's fan base like? Was it a sizable group of people? Who were they? Are there any particularly interesting people that you could describe?

14.San Francisco's music scene during the time that Noh Mercy was playing seems like almost an embarrassment of riches. Were there any bands or performers at that time that you found kindred in spirit or particularly inspiring?

15.What are some of the drum riffs or techniques from Noh Mercy that you are particularly proud of? Do you still have your Rogers drum kit?

16.One sad fact in music is that all bands eventually come to an end. How did Noh Mercy end? Did you and Esmerelda just lose interest? Were you getting into other projects?

17. Post Noh Mercy, where has your drumming career led you? What are you currently working on, creatively?

18.In closing, are there any thoughts or notes that you'd like to add?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Grateful Dead-Dave's Picks Volume 3; Live at Auditorium Theatre, Chicago, IL 10/22/1971

Another quarter, and another Dave's Picks rolls out,  the industrious folks at Grateful Dead Industries keeping up their manic pace of releases. Something tells me that Annabelle still doesn't need to work at Dairy Queen.
As Disaster Amnesiac has spieled at length two times this year already as regards this series, I will try to keep my comments pithy.
What we get from Dave's Picks Volume 3 is three discs documenting two nights at Chicago's Auditorium Theater in October of 1971. Significantly, they document Keith Godchaux's earliest moments with the band in a live setting, along with Pigpen's complete absence. As regards the former fact, one can hear him already putting his stamp to the band's sound, from his honky tonkin' work on the then emerging early 1970's tunes (Tennessee Jed, One More Saturday Night) to more free form approaches (Dark Star). Regarding the latter, Pig's absence is noted from the stage by the band; they do sound a bit nervous when talking about it in between songs. Definitely a harbinger of the Jerry-centric band that would go forward for the next two and one half decades.
The rest of the group is in fine form as they trot out so many of the tunes that would become their standard fare (Deal, Loser, Jack Straw), and play the hell out of their older ones (Dark Star, That's It for the Other One, St. Stephen). The version of Jack Straw is notable as it has not yet become the Bob/Jerry duo it would quickly evolve into; the Dark Star for its spectacular drop into the  ancient Dead territory of Sitting On Top of the World and subsequent quick spring right back out of it. Phil Phans will also be stoked at his presence on the mic as a harmony singer on many tracks. Jerry shines brightly on Comes a Time. The man loved the ballad form, and it shows here.
Disaster Amnesiac will always marvel at the way in which the Grateful Dead fused earlier American musical forms with their electric Psychedelia. The band reveled within an on-going musical process. How many other bands can really say that they approach their music with such adventurousness?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Guitar vs. Gravity-City of the Past

Disaster Amnesiac has been digging this great two song virtual 7" by Ben Adrian's Guitar vs. Gravity. The opener, City of Simulacra, features somber reflections on the progress one's hometown makes while one is off living life. The tune's swooping bridge section and solid drumming from David Schollenbarger lead to great twinned guitar riffs from Adrian at its conclusion. Ben really soars here.
"Side Two", City of the Past, ranges between pensive lyrical passages and romping instrumental ones, followed up by an amazing two and one half minute jam, in which bassist Steven Pride, Schollenbarger, and Adrian conjure up a taut, interactive vibe, the likes of which Disaster Amnesiac will always love. One can hear them play together, adding to and augmenting each others' parts. True group playing within the Rock band format. Yes! The whole thing boils down to a mysterious, chiming end, and the listener is left rewarded.
 The great thing about Rock bands is the way in which they can borrow from multiple sources, and great Rock bands can do this while retaining their own identity. As such, Guitar vs. Gravity is a great Rock band.Get this on your computer until Ben can get it on wax, and then, go and grab that,too.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Green Alembic, Berkeley Arts Fest, 7/23/12, Berkeley Arts Fest Storefront, Berkeley, CA

Disaster Amnesiac usually likes to post a lot of photos from live shows attended, but as band leader Jim Ryan had the Berkeley Arts Fest staff turn the house lights down, I realized that it would not be an evening for photography. Probably for the better, that, as Green Alembic spent their set playing music that required, and rewarded, attentive listening. An octet with all kinds of strings and woodwinds, plus processed m'bira by Ryan, Green Alembic went deep into their improvisational zones, going from spare, silence-filled areas to full-on group-freak. The group's timbres were rich and elemental in that special way of acoustic instruments (elemental as in earth, elemental as in water). Ron Heglin's very present trombone riffing was especially pleasing to Disaster Amnesiac's ears. Why have I not seen him play before? Michael Cooke's shen playing was revealing: it is amazing, the way ancient instruments sound so very current. At times, his shen sounded like some electronic patch that is yet to be developed. Other group members Joe Lasqo (piano), Bob Marsh (bass), Jeff Hobbs (cornet, clarinet), Doug Carrol (cello) and Angela Hsu (violin) played superbly as well. I was once again reminded of just how many great musicians the S.F. Bay Area is gifted with.
Green Alembic's set was augmented by visuals by Ryan and the recently deceased Paris-based artist Arlene Hiquily, all streamed by Powerpoint. Hiquily's somewhat occult-themed paintings are well worth checking out. Ryan's expressionist pieces were powerful in their visual simplicity.
Towards the end of the set, Ryan recited some of his poetry, which seemed Beat-influenced, evoking street scenes of the East Bay in my mind.
Amazingly, Marsh popped a string on his bass, as if to signal the end of the evening's music, and the group quietly stopped.
I hope that further distillations can be heard from this Green Alembic.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

This Moment in Black History-Family Day at Euclid Beach; Smog Veil/Snax, 2012

Summer's here, and the time is right for Disaster Amnesiac to make sure and bring a second layer wherever I go. That said, I realize that most of the rest of the country is sweltering, and, as such, in need of tight summer jams to help assuage the misery that can arise from the heat.
I would like to nominate This Moment in Black History's great new one song 7", Family Day at Euclid Beach, as the Official Awesome Summer Jam of 2012.
Family Day features driving fast tempo riffing, pounding drums, and extremely catchy call and response choruses, all perfect for late evening drives (do people do that anymore?), revving yourself up for another day sweating away at whatever goddamn job you have to go to (do people still have jobs anymore?), or whichever thang you may find yourself having to do this summer. Its live, jumping production will inspire you to leap into whichever pool you may find yourself in front of.
This unique release will appeal to Punk Rock 'n Rollers who love their sounds soul-simmered and balls-out. It may also appeal to Cleveland aficionados, as the b-side features no music, but instead a cool etching of the structure pictured above. In Disaster Amnesiac's ideal world, this tune would be a nation-wide #1 hit with a bullet. Here's to hoping that there are folks jamming it, at the very least, in their personal summertime scenes. It's the kind of song that 7"s and summers were made for.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Wildwood-Plastic People; Frantic Records, 2012

Disaster Amnesiac would not hesitate to give a bro hug to SF Bay Area/NorCal Rock historian Alec Palao, especially after spending a few weeks digging into Alec's standout release of the great late 1960's-early 1970's Stockton, CA band Wildwood. Wildwood's early Heavy Rock sound has plenty of elements that make for a satisfying listening experience.
Take, for example, the organ playing of Mark Ross. His keyboard sounds dominate a lot of Wildwood's melodies; one can pretty easily assume that he did a lot of the initial writing for the tunes. That said, while his organ sounds are very much present and centered in the mix, Ross also does a great Rock Band job of not trying to dominate the overall group feel of said tunes. This kind of heavy organ playing, starting with groups like Vanilla Fudge, then on through subsequent developments such as Steppenwolf, the Doors, Bloodrock, Uriah Heep, and Deep Purple, before pretty much dying out by way of overt virtuosity, is somewhat sadly missed. Especially when one hears his hooks on tunes like Mary Midnight or Swimming. The organ provides really nice melodic color and punch therein. 
If you're more of a vocally-centered listener, you'll probably be more effected by singer/bass player Frank Colli. His vocals, delivered in a full bellied, macho, deep tenor, are of a quality now associated with the likes of Nickelback or Creed or "Grunge" parody moves. Palao name checks Ray Charles as being an influence on them. Disaster Amnesiac hears maybe even a bit of Tom Jones style croon. Along side of the Wildwood reissue, I've been digging into last year's great In the Red Records retooling of The Consumers LP. It's pretty fascinating to reflect upon the differences that characterize au currant styles, just a few years apart. That comparison aside, Colli's voice works well within the claustrophobic, heavy, arcane Wildwood sound. His bass playing sounds typical of the post-McCartney style: not simply plunking away at the back of the mix, but turned up and driving, very much an active part of the overall rhythmic/melodic Rock feel.
Guitarist John Turner plays great rhythm throughout, often twinning lead lines with Ross's organ licks (Steel Cathedral), or getting gritty on road jam Gotta Keep Movin'. His solos are tasty and concise, never veering too much out into the Raga Rock modes that would have been somewhat easy to make at that time. Hear Choo Choo Thunder for proof of that. Turner's sounds always serve the songs' darkened moods, even as they step out from the rhythm section and wail in solo feature mode.
Also of service to Wildwood's tunes is drummer Tim Mora. Mora's style features a simplified swagger, leading from a heavy right foot bass drum pound. The simplicity comes from his uncluttered playing atop the kit. Mora's playing is remarkably restrained, and all the more eloquent for it. A comparison to Zen master Simon Kirke is in order, Mora's lack of fussiness being only a few clicks more than Kirke's. He also rocks a great cowbell, along with clear ride cymbal playing.
Taken as a whole, Wildwood's sound is a dark, organic, much heavier form than most of their contemporaries (1968-69), and a fine example of what was then emerging as the next development in what were Golden Years for Rock bands and their unique approaches to music making.
As a bonus, Plastic People features a second disc, made up of Wildwood tracks that sound a bit more "produced" (not as gritty or compelling), Wildwood precursor The Mal-T's (suburban surf, made nascent heavy by said right foot of Mora), and strange tunes by band compadre Chalker (billed as a a nutty associate; his tunes remind Disaster Amnesiac a lot of Detroit acousti-loon Nicodemus). All these are added bonuses to the meat of the matter, Wildwood's late 1960's incarnation, a fine, early Heavy Rock band.
Did these guys ever play with Sacramento's Public Nuisance? Now, there's a show!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Sandeep Das with Matt Small and the Crushing Spiral Ensemble; ODC/Dance Commons, SF, CA 6/17/2012

Humorous, talented bass player Matt Small assembled a great band around tabla master Sandeep Das.
Disaster Amnesiac was glad to be in attendance at the beautiful ODC/Dance Commons building in San Francisco's Mission district.
Small and Das' compositions fused Jazz and traditional music from Eastern Europe and India (and that's just scratching the surface) to make for sublime musical mixtures. The horn section, made up of Steve Adams (saxes and flute), Chris Grady (trumpet), and Sheldon Brown (saxes and clarinet), added great accents and even greater solos. This was especially the case for Brown; the man is on fire these days. Pianist Kymry Esainko, along with subtle accompaniment, played a fine solo piece. Das's solo tabla piece, paired with an exposition of Indian rhythmic tal, was fiery and impressive.
The chemistry between Small and Das was clearly evident, and the two seemed to have had a great time leading the band through the complexities of their compositions. Truly a world-class musical event!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Charles Tyler-Charles Tyler Ensemble; ESP Disc, 1993 reissue

"There remain indigenous practitioners amongst us who continue to ignite incalculable sigils. They brew ghosts, they place them in charged amulets, they give them as gifts for profane travellers to wear"
       --Will Alexander, from General Scatterings and Comment

Disaster Amnesiac's recent obsessive listening to Frank Wright led me on to another close associate of Albert Ayler, woodwinds player Charles Tyler.
Tyler's ESP debut, Charles Tyler Ensemble, features a sound that is quite close to that of Ayler. The liner notes for  the 1993 ESP re-issue CD tell the story of a man born on an Indian reservation, and of being an early, close friend of Ayler's. One wonders how much of an influence Tyler exerted on Ayler, and vice versa, given the latter's fascination with Native American themes in his titles. There is also a lot of similarity in the quality of their alto sounds: reedy, high, and otherworldly. Neither of these guys were trying to get an easy, breezy sound from their horns, and the question remains: "how much influence did they have on each other?" One doubts that there was any animosity, as Tyler was a featured member of Ayler's earliest ESP group. Tyler shreds the melodies apart, going inside of them with fast multi-phonic runs, often in higher registers.
Cellist Joel Friedman is a standout player on the recording. His solos are furious and abstract, energetic bursts that occur within all registers. It's as if he is trying to free the instrument from its previous timbres and give it entirely new ones.
Henry's Grimes's bass, though sharing much of the same registers as the cello, never steps on those of his stringed partner. Grimes seems to hang back a bit, to be happy with supporting Friedman, even to the point of stopping altogether.
Although he only plays on two of the recording's four tracks, Charles Moffett gives a defining sound to this release, using orchestra vibes for a shimmery, otherworldly sound, often reminiscent of Sun Ra's clavinet playing, but with even more percussive punch.
Ronald Shannon Jackson, who continues to lay down heavy Free Funk on huge kits, sounds, not exactly restrained on Charles Tyler Ensemble (especially on Lacy's Out East, a syncopated drumming tour de force), but in light of his later mastery, still in development. There are inklings of his later superb control and force, but at times he sounds somewhat at a loss, especially compared to contemporary Free practitioners such as Rashied Ali or Sunny Murray. Still, his touch on the record, lighter and quieter, provides plenty of space for the rest of the group to explore their tonal moves.
All that said Disaster Amnesiac feels compelled to state, the music on this recording is not noise. Of course, fans of Free Music will concur with that statement. In my Wright post, I described the influence of a strain of aesthetic judgement that would have most post-Bop music, and Free Jazz in particular, thrown out the window, to be ignored and derided, its practitioners forgotten. In large measure, they got their wish. To them I say (and Disaster Amnesiac realizes that it's spitting in the wind, but I want to say it anyway), music like this, while not (perhaps not) America's Classical Music, can easily been heard as a form of American chamber music. If one can't hear this small group, interacting with each others' lines, improvising on themes, and playing together, one probably is not so much listening as they are simply reacting.
To again quote poet Will Alexander, Tyler's sound is that of a "being who floats above the cinders of code, above the moat which surrounds philosophical encasement."  Alexander's words sum up what seems to have been  Albert Ayler and Charles Tylers' musical/spiritual intent with absolute clarity.
Perhaps you'll be inclined to listen and find some clarity of your own therein.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Holy Mountain Interactive Post

Last night, poet/painter/musician Brian Lucas had a screening of Alejandro Jodorowsky's  The Holy Mountain. Disaster Amnesiac was left pretty much speechless. Other folks in attendance had their opinions.
1. What was Jodorowsky trying to say to his intended audience?
2. Is the film an allegory?
3. What were your dreams like, if notable at all, after watching?
4. Did you notice the tarot cards in the tower? What was their significance?
5. Would you watch the film again?

If you ever see this post and want to participate, please leave a comment.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Frank Wright Quartet-Blues for Albert Ayler; ESP Disc, 2012

Albert Ayler is a strange phenomena in the musical world. Disaster Amnesiac suspects that his appeal is rather limited to musicians, more so than to the casual, or even engaged, fan. I have seen many tributes made, cover projects documented , and kudos given to Cleveland's late, great master tenor sax wailer. Casual fans of Jazz seem not be bothered to dig into his body of work, let alone the Official Arbiters of Jazz (America's Classical Music Wing), who would, one can presume, rather that not only his body, but everything else about him, have been left sitting in the muck at the bottom of the East River.
Ayler's spirit must rest easier knowing that there have been groups like the one convened by saxophonist by Frank Wright on 7/17/1974 have come into being, specifically to honor his memory by playing "out" and jamming out with their own spirits.  Made up of some of the masters of Free/post-Free playing, in a conglomeration that was to become know as the Funky Free Boppers (ESP: please find more tapes and release them!), the group documented here is simply called the Frank Wright Quartet.
The proceedings start with a simple, bluesy modal melody, more akin to Coltrane's heavy "sheets of sound" feel than Ayler's reedier one, before Wright, guitarist James Blood Ulmer, bassist Benny Wilson, and drummer Rashied Ali dive into over an hour's worth of deep, interactive, free blowing. 
The disc's liner notes give a brief biographical description of Wright having begun his professional music career in the band of Jump Blues artist George Rhodes, and the Blues influence can definitely be heard in his tenor playing. It's a gritty, reedy, sound, which, after the head statement, does veer closer to that of Ayler. In keeping with the trend of post-Free sax, it's throaty and raw, with a flatted melodic sound, as much African and American, but always earthy and "voiced" in its abstraction.
It's a real treat to hear James Blood Ulmer here. Disaster Amnesiac has appreciated his groups' music for many years. Their Free Funk Rock is great and unique. On Blues for Albert Ayler, Ulmer is all over the place, stretching his harmolodics-inflected guitar approach, with twanging, chiming, nimble runs, always in the pocket and in harmony with the rest of the group. Ulmer seems like the Wes Montgomery of the post-Free Jazz years, wedding high technique with the aesthetic breakthroughs of his chosen form. His guitar sound is so impressive in that it sounds pretty much "guitar to amp", yet he coaxes such a singular sound from his six strings.
Bassist Benny Wilson lays down a fine low end in the rhythm section. His sound is thick, present in the mix and active. Wilson gets an extend bowed solo turn, thrumming low, harmonic voices from his bass. I suspect that William Parker may have paid attention to Wilson's playing at some point. There are a lot of similarities, especially in the bowing.
Lastly, Free master Rashied Ali.His playing on Ayler is a fine showcase of his 1970's heights. It is pretty amazing, the way a drummer can be so all over the place, yet so in control at the same time. Control of volume may be one key to the success of his approach. Byron Coley once described his drumming as "laying down a rhythmic carpet for the soloists", and I can't come up with a better description. As his arabesques are drawn in the air, the listener's ears are never pummeled. Ali's sticking is like strongly worded whispers. As they root and effect, they never pummel, but make statements. His Free drumming conception is one of the best, and most unique.
Blues for Albert Ayler is indeed Blues, if by Blues one means a group of musicians listening to and commenting upon one and others' licks, building up a small band sound and pushing it forward in discrete episodes. Overall, the Frank Wright Quartet sounds relaxed as they play together, in memory of a fallen trailblazer.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Grateful Dead-Dave's Picks v. 2; Dillon Stadium, Hartford, CT 7/31/1974

The second installment of the 2012 Grateful Dead Dave's Picks has been out for about a month now, and, wow what a huge slab of a complete show it is (and that's not even counting the bonus disc, to be reviewed, ah.....later).
Said show occurred 7/31/1974 at Dillon Stadium in Hartford, CT. 1974's live Dead recordings are all special for Dead Heads and fans in that they feature the fabled Wall of Sound; that beast of a sound system seems to be a primary reason for archivist Dave Lemieux's having picked this particular show for the 2nd Quarter 2012  Dave's Picks installment. 
The stellar audio clarity and separation of the Wall of Sound shows the Dead at one of their fable peaks. The 1974 iteration of the band was a fluid, multifaceted group, capable of going from the countrified sounds that (for some) defined their post-raw psychedelic mode, to the more purely "Dead" vibes of Scarlet Begonias or Wharf Rat. What's really appealing about their music during this period is the tumbling, loose manner in which it was played, coupled with their ability to have it all hang together in its own idiosyncratic way. The over the top nature of their 1960's acidic jamming had by then given way to a more inwardly focusing group sound. If one wants to hear the purely psychedelic element within the Dead's sound, one must listen a bit more closely. The raw nerve of psychedelia is there, just wrapped within new complexities of approach from the music's players. The clarity of the Wall's sound certainly helps the listener dig in to these complexities. 
For example, a Dead fan will certainly thrill as they listen to Garcia's picking, strumming, and soloing, all delivered on one of his finest axes, fondly known as Big Bad Wolf. What's really striking to Disaster Amnesiac is the searching way in which he played during this period. There is a repro'd article by Bruce Myer in the liner notes, in which he opines that, instead of staying with their early 1970's formula, the Dead chose to remain musically risky, following the music's development as opposed to that of the bottom line. This choice can be heard in Jerry's playing throughout the show. His sound never sits still; the listener can hear him playing with variations on tunes that were obviously quite familiar to the hard-touring group. People rag on Garcia for that, but one can't ever accuse him of playing it safe with the forms he worked within. The way he bends around the chords, runs up and down the songs' structures, or even attacks his songs' phrases, is a real pleasure to hear. His playing on these discs often brings to my mind the classic Dead image of the wooden wheel that has one broken spoke and several roses grown 'round it.
Jerry's six string foil, Bob Weir, had obviously developed his own unique voice by this time. While not quite as present in the mix guitar-wise as Garcia (at least until his slide is broken out), his oblique rhythm guitar work is heard in all of its chiming, spiky glory. It's more often Bob's songs that bring the Dead of the early 1970's their progressive, Jazz-tinged character, too. The Weather Report Suite from the Dillon Stadium show is a great example of that.
Bassist Phil Lesh was perhaps the greatest beneficiary from the Wall's crystalline audio presentation. His self-taught, non-standard "lead bass" playing can be heard loud and clear in the mix. Lesh often defined the sound of the band with what he didn't do, laying out and then dramatically digging in. The clarity of the Wall of Sound allows this force its full resonance, its full heady effect on the music. Jackson mentions that Lesh and Ned Lagin did a Seastones electronic set during at this show, but Lemieux decided not to present this aspect of the Dead's resident brainiac's oeuvre (there is a Dick's Picks from Boston Garden that does give the listener a live sampling of that action).
Probably also dancing with joy at the Wall's clarity was Bill Kreutzmann. His drum set got its own mics and speakers for each and every piece for crying out loud! His tom toms sound particularly cannon-like as he rolls and tumbles through the 3 sets of the concert. Much like Garcia, Kreutzmann's propensity to take chances, to play with the songs' forms, is brave and striking. That's not to say that his playing isn't tight as well; at times it has a relentless snap. Along with the snap, though, Bill brought a kind of non-linear Zen to the band's jams, often evident here. A tumbling, at times traffic-stopping recklessness, that while often not pretty, is always dramatic.
I can recall reading an interview with Bill Kreutzmann in which he describes pianist Keith Godchaux's initial audition for the Dead. The drummer's description of Keith's playing as having "danced along on top of the changes" is fitting here, too. The Classically trained Godchaux must have enjoyed being able to hear the sounds of his grand piano playing as it interacted with the rest of the group.
Although their approach to vocal harmony had found its own sort of perfection in the early 1970's cycle of albums, by the time of this disc's concert, it seems as if they had given up the ghost there. People either love their vocals or hate them, and their often raggedy character gives plenty of room for either feeling. Even former studio singer Donna Jean Godchaux muffs a few times. In as much as the Wall of Sound boosts the listener's ability to hear Garcia's runs or Bill's fills, it also highlights this, the Dead's weakest point in all eras of their existence as a band. I guess the friendliest way to describe them is "they have character". At least, that's the case for Disaster Amnesiac.
It's been said before, but bears repeating, that the crucial element in the Grateful Dead's music was the gestalt nature of their playing. The band sounded best when all players were present and capable of interactive playing and listening. The show featured on Dave's Picks 2 is a great example of the Dead's 1974 conglomeration doing just those things, in a marathon 3 sets. The tunes are culled mostly from their 1970's repertoire, one in which they were firing on very strong cylinders. The clarity provided by the Wall of Sound only adds to a long list of strengths heard therein. The Grateful Dead were a wild, wooly, shambolic beast of an electric, eclectic jam in those days!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Joe Perry Project-Let the Music Do the Talking; CBS, 1980

Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler has been in the mass media spotlight a lot during the past several months, primarily, it would seem, as the result of his sitting on the judge panel for American Idol. Disaster Amnesiac caught a bit of his 60 Minutes interview, in which he threw a few public barbs in the direction of his long-time songwriting partner, Joe Perry. Perry was given air time to retort, and the way in which his face screwed up tight when the interviewer read back Tyler's statements to him was pretty telling.
In purely musical terms, Perry's solo debut, Let the Music Do the Talking, is equally telling. It tells the tale of the more "silent" half of what was by then the hugely popular Tyler/Perry partnership striking out on his own, leaving the successful albeit drug addled Aerosmith orbit, and launching off into spaces of his own. The songs on this album show pretty clearly which one did the heavy lifting, at least as regards song writing.
The title track's opening salvo pretty much slams the message home, with a big-riffed, energetic post-Boogie Rock, Perry's snaky slide work slathering grime that Punk pretty much whole cloth wished it had (save for Ginn and precious few others). Similar goings on, of an even more unbridled nature happen on the amazing Shooting Star, which features hooks and riffs of earth moving weight and depth. Drummer Ronnie Stewart deserves special note here. What happened to this guy? His beats move and shake these two tunes, and all others on the album, with a non-bashing, yet hard, approach. Hopefully he continued drumming. Stewart's partner in rhythm, bassist David Hull, gives the tunes a buoyancy, snapping funky undercurrents on the almost Jazz-Rock Fusion feel of Rockin' Train or the classic Cock Rock of the Ready on the Firing Line (a total presage of the 1980's later Hollywood Power Cock Rock sounds). The quartet on Talking is rounded out by singer Ralph Morman, a fine front man in the classic (little c) Rock mold of Ian Gillan or Paul Rodgers, evocatively, unashamedly singing a Rock band's songs. His lyrics can seem a bit dorkily suburban at times, but Disaster Amnesiac finds no reason to be ashamed of his enjoyment of said lyrics. If you have too much taste to appreciate their simplicity and his vocal delivery, I understand but can't concur.
Let the Music Do the Talking is a rockin', rollin', blast of a great Hard Rock record. Every song is expertly crafted and played (even the pretty clear "in studio knock off" Break Song, equal parts Link '59 and Jimi '67), and the whole thing hangs together in a way that screams out partyin' good times and up from the ashes success. Perry would eventually re-align himself with Tyler and make Aerosmith even more of a conglomerate Rock behemoth a few years later, but in my opinion, he should have stayed his own course, with this band, and made more of this style of expert Hard Rock.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Dean Santomieri/Thea Farhadian Duo, Berkeley Art Festival, 5/26/12, Berkely, CA

Long time S.F. Bay Area scene stalwart Dean Santomieri and his musical partner, violinist Thea Farhadian, used their debut show as an opportunity to raise money for fellow musician Eileen Hadidian, an Early Music specialist who has been battling cancer. The mood in the Berkeley Arts storefront, while not somber, was quiet and composed.

The first set, made up of duo improvisations, had the musicians exploring quiet melodic/harmonic paths, full of space and flowing rhythm. The set was characterized by a dignified, searching, exploratory vibe. Suggestions of Django, county fiddlin', Middle Eastern modes, and Tristano's groups came to Disaster Amnesiac's ears.
At certain points, preparations were used on their strings: aluminum for a drone effect, and alligator clips for Cage/Harrison type feels.

Below: Aluminum preparations on strings

Above: Dean's resonator guitar, alligator clipped

After a brief intermission, the second set featured solo pieces from each musician, followed by a few more short improvisatory songs.
Dean's solo piece, a spoken retelling of an early family trip to the wilds of Tennessee, gave new meaning to the term "praying hands". Thea's solos were made up of "duets" between her violin and Mac-based triggered sounds, which had nice old analog electronic feels.

Below: Dean describes praying hands
Above: Thea interacts with the Mac

Below: Santomieri and Farhadian bring it home

At the end of the evening, it was announced that over $1000 had been raised for Mrs. Hadidian.

Above: Brief snippet of Santomieri and Farhadian in flight

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Lungfish-A.C.R. 1999, Dischord, 2012

Disaster Amnesiac is a pretty big fan of Lungfish. I have published an interview with their drummer, Mitchell Feldstein, and gobbled up pretty much anything even remotely related to the band. I mean, do you have the Daniel Higgs mouth harp CD on Northern Liberties?
As you can guess, I was excited to read about Dischord's release of these recordings, made back in 1999 at Baltimore's A.C.R. studios and subsequently shelved.
Many of the tunes on A.C.R. 1999 were included on 2000's phenomenal Necrophones, but, still, this new release will surely be of great interest to Lungfish fans. It shows heretofore unseen aspects to what are some of their best songs, and a few new gems for fans to relish.
First, to the previously unreleased music. Comprised of four tunes and one more Musique Concrete piece (Aesop), the former show Lungfish's exuberant, ecstatic Rock Minimalist approach in full force. Screams of  Joy and Symbiosis stick to their by-then finely honed simplicity, which had reached an apex with 1998's Artificial Horizon,with sublimely repetitive drum beats from Feldstein and circular riffage from guitarist Asa Osbourne. Bassist Nathan Bell was masterful at providing counterpoint sounds to his rhythm section partners, laying down big, rich, low-toned chords. The sum total is one that shows movement though steadiness. A kind of sonic aikido. These two tunes, along with I Will Walk Between You, also feature Daniel Higg's private, poetic esoterica, his words painting rich pictures of his unique vision. These songs definitely fit into the Lungfish oeuvre. They share a lot of sonic characteristics with tunes of the same era, ones that ended up on 1999's The Unanimous Hour and the previously mentioned Horizon. Perhaps this was why they were shelved? At this point it doesn't really matter. The fact that they can now be heard at this far remove is fine enough.
Secondly, on to the tunes that ended up on Necrophones. If you are a Lungfish fan, I am sure that you've listened to and appreciated that album. In Disaster Amnesiac's view, it was a high point, perhaps the highpoint of their recorded output. Its songs stuck to the Lungfish template, but there were subtle changes in playing, new tones, and a general feeling of elation that had begun to (re)emerge. For examples of the former, listen to Shapes in Space, and for the latter, listen to The Words or Hanging Bird. I can recall feeling that they had made some deep collective breakthroughs, that a kind of light had begun to shine on the band. This is conjecture, of course. Back to the early versions of Necrophones songs, though. On the whole, the tunes sound a bit more "new", with rougher edges and less refined, slightly looser performances. They sound a lot less smooth on A.C.R. 1999; this less-refined feel gives tunes such as Sex War, Shapes in Space, and Hanging Bird, rawer, punkier feels overall, compared to their "official" versions. Band-centered music is in many ways all about process, and one can hear Lungfish in process at work in these earlier versions. Lungfish fans will be treated to extra lyrics that were edited out of the later versions of Sex War and Shapes in Space, and Disaster Amnesiac was downright stoked to hear cowbell in the A.C.R. version of the former tune. Far from being cast-offs, these tracks make for fine new experiences of these more familiar tunes.
A.C.R. 1999 provides a rare document of Lungfish not recorded at Inner Ear Studios. This is telling, and the sound of the record is different from their other LP's. The guitars and bass sound more present, louder, in the mix. This at times slightly buries the drums (interesting, in light of Inner Ear owner/chief engineer Don Zientara's quote about the drums suffering at the expense of the guitars on the early D.C. Hardcore recordings), but that is just a minor quibble. Engineer Craig Bowen's work is fine, albeit different from that of the Zientara/Mackaye tandem that is featured engineering most Lungfish recordings. Craig captures the band with a lot more loud presence, giving their sound an over-driven, "live" feel that is unique in their recorded documentation.
For years, Disaster Amnesiac relished and practically revered new releases by Lungfish. A.C.R. 1999 has been providing those same feelings again. Does its release suggest a return from "indefinite hiatus"?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Noh Mercy-Noh Mercy, Superior Viaduct Records

Disaster Amnesiac suspects that there are many people like him who own a copy of the great Punk Rock coffee table book, Hardcore California. The book's twinned focuses, the post-1976 underground music scenes of  Los Angeles and San Francisco, are given thorough treatment. It is made especially clear in the S.F. section that this scene was rich and well populated, with tons of stylistic variety and personality. One of the groups that is mentioned in that section, Noh Mercy, is briefly described, given a few photos, and has the lyrics to their song Caucasian Guilt reproduced. I have often been intrigued by this group as I've thumbed through my very well-worn copy, but, up until very recently, have never heard the sounds made by the two women that made up Noh Mercy. Re-issue label Superior Viaduct has made it possible to hear this short lived group's great, arty Post-Punk. Disaster Amnesiac suspects that if you, too, own a copy of Hardcore California, or were there to see and hear Noh Mercy in person, you'll want to swoop up a copy.
Noh Mercy's most notable difference from their peers was their primarily, sparse, drums/vocals line up, featured on the first four songs of the release. In the liner notes, drummer Tony Hotel mentions their initial decision to stick with this simplified line up, and it is very hard to argue with her assertion that their music "sounded complete just by ourselves". Hotel's drumming shows varied influences. Jazz poly-rhythms, traditional international/cultural rhythms, Modern Compositional approaches; all of these elements and more can be heard within her drumming as she frames and drives Noh Mercy's tunes. Hotel's musical c.v. includes time spent at Berklee in Boston, as a session musician in L.A., and as a journeyman Jazz musician in the mid-West, and all of those experiences definitely served her well in utilising the drums as the primary instrumental focus of these songs. Hotel's drumming is not of the bashing sort by any means. Listen to her press rolls on the band's cover of the Doors My Wild Love, and hear text book clinical mastery at work. As much as Hotel shows sophistication on the drums, she plays a mean, primitive, acidic Punk guitar on some tracks, and it works to place Noh Mercy within their contemporaries' vision of a kind of Year Zero as regards musicianship. As with many Post Punk bands, the guitar is used as more of a rhythmic element within the overall sound of the band, its primacy within late 20th Century popular song taken down a peg or two, perhaps returned to its original role, more part of the overall rhythm section.
Standing bravely alone on Noh Mercy's melodic front line was vocalist/keyboardist/rattle shaker Esmerelda. Her biographical summary in the liner notes shows a life that was already rich with experience by the time Noh Mercy began. It's clear that she had plenty of sources for insight, rage, and railing from the years preceding the band, and rage she does. Her lyrics do not paint happy pictures, but more dystopian views are given full airing. Esmerelda had plenty of musical history from which to draw, and that she does. Elements of earlier vocal approaches such as the wailing style of Esmerelda's early hero Janis Joplin, post-hippie drag theater (this realm begs more retrospective documentation), Glitter (do I hear Tim Curry in there?) are fused with the then-emergent harder Punk style to give a sometimes harrowing voice to the darkened insights of her writing. Disaster Amnesiac hears the continuation of the original S.F. Punk voice of Penelope Houston and what was surely an inspiration for later voices such as those of Frightwig, Meri St. Mary, and countless others right on into the present. Esmerelda's sharp, distorted, edgy  riffing on Farfisa and Moog organs gives Noh Mercy's sound a great, shimmery, Synth Punk edginess a la the Screamers or Nervous Gender. Needless to say, I like it a lot.
As for Noh Mercy's songs, they are sharp, tight, and dramatic. They sound as if they are the product of the varied influences that Hotel and Esmerelda brought to them. Not a peep of the generic "oh, so Punky" (thank you Rozz Williams!) vibe that many groups had at that time begun to feature. Put simply, they are intriguing and fun.Despite having been recorded in seemingly less than ideal spaces (a basement, the Catalyst in Santa Cruz), these recordings sound really good. Much respect to engineers Tommy Tadlock, Gary Hobish, and Peter Conheim. Clearly, all took care with their respective parts in the push to document Noh Mercy, then and now.
Disaster Amnesiac is excited about the prospects for further archival releases coming from Superior Viaduct.
I'd imagine that if you've spent any time pouring over the pages of books such as Hardcore California, or had the pleasure of being there as its events transpired, you might be, too. Getting Noh Mercy's sounds out into the public is a fine start!