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!