Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Resurrectionists

In an admittedly brief search, I haven't been able to find much information (almost none, actually) about The Resurrectionists, a shadowy poetry/art/provocation collective that I discovered via a post on Luc Sante's blog. Their main gig seems to have been cutting up works up fiction to produce poems, often with the intent of mocking the original author by selecting particularly ridiculous lines from the source work.

The example posted by Sante is apparently atypical in that it seems somewhat respectful of the source material (an Ellery Queen novel), but reading it and the list of authors the group managed to piss off (including Ayn Rand and Michael Crichton) has made me eager to read more. Unfortunately, searching for "resurrectionists" turns up lots of results about grave robbing with a few bands thrown in. I'll have to dig deeper. Maybe there are still a few mysteries whose solutions lie beyond the internet.

But please, if you know of any good sources of info on this group or, especially, any collection of their works, please post it in the comments section or send me a message.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

9 Points on Ornette Coleman at JALC

I wanted to get my thoughts down on Saturday night's Jazz at Lincoln Center concert while they were still semi-fresh. I might go back later and edit, add some text links, and maybe link to some other reviews. But for now, here are some from-the-top-of-my-head observations:

1. Ornette's groups have always had their own sound. Wherever he's been at in his career, the groups he's put together have been very distinct from their contemporaries. Which is to say that I think the current group (Ornette, Denardo, Tony Falanga, and Al MacDowell) makes a sound that no one else is making. It has some of the hyperactive rhythmic feeling of the Prime Time era, but almost seems to do more with less. While Ornette always sounds like Ornette, the current quartet as a whole has a tremendous range of sounds and moods at its disposal.

2. One of the best things about seeing live music (especially live music that features improvisation) is watching the interplay between musicians. This group is especially rewarding in this respect. Sometimes the basses locked into a groove with Denardo doing his own thing on drums. Sometimes all three seemed to be moving in the same direction with Ornette floating on top, around, and under. Sometimes each bassist was responding individually to Ornette, playing off what he was doing from moment to moment. Sometimes Falanga bowed a repeated pattern while MacDowell and Ornette went back and forth. Sometimes Falanga took the melody while Ornette improvised. Et cetera.

3. A big part of the group's versatility is ability of each bassist to sound like at least two different bassists. MacDowell can make his electric bass sound and function almost like an electric guitar, playing high note lines and picking out chords. Falanga's arco (bowed) playing is a key component. When he pulls out the bow, the whole tone color of the music shifts dramatically.

4. One of the highlights for me was the second tune, Sleep Talk(ing?), one of my favorites from the Ornette catalog, done quite slowly on Saturday night, with Falanga's bowed bass and Ornette's alto complementing each other beautifully. MacDowell was in guitar mode, and Denardo brought in a rock-ish beat toward the end that seemed incongrous at first but somehow worked to bring the tune to climax and conclusion.

5. Whether it was the live sound mix, a musical choice, or a slight weakening in the master's powers, Ornette horn was at times the quietest component of the group's sound, nearly getting lost at certain points before returning powerfully to the fore.

6. My initially Ornette-skeptical concertgoing companion briefly fell asleep and had a dream that consisted mostly of vivid colors (synesthesia?).

7. Jazz at Lincoln Center's Rose Theater, with its arrangement of seemingly free floating boxes and futuristic lighting scheme, looks like the meeting place of a particularly important committee of the Imperial Senate from Star Wars. I overheard some similar observations about the space. Good place to see a concert, though, I must say. Even my "cheap seats" in the balcony felt pretty close to the stage.

8. If I recall correctly, Ornette only picked up the violin once, during the first tune. The trumpet made a few more appearances, all of them brief and similar sounding.

9. This being my first time seeing Ornette, I don't know if he always spends so much time soaking in applause. The whole bowing/waving/leaving the stage/coming back out ritual was strangely extended but also kind of charming. The crowd's appreciation was real, and we did get two encores, so I'm not complaining.

Bonus Links

Nate Chinen's NYT review

Lament for a Straight Line's take

(Note: you will notice that these reviews are far superior to mine. If you're interested in knowing what went down on Saturday night, you should read them.)

Update: the versatile Fred Kaplan weighs in over at Stereophile and has a plausible theory relating to my point #5

Friday, September 25, 2009

Quote of the Day - Mystery vs. Pie

"It was always nuts for Tom Sawyer — a mystery was. If you'd lay out a mystery and a pie before me and him, you wouldn't have to say take your choice; it was a thing that would regulate itself. Because in my nature I have always run to pie, while in his nature he has always run to mystery. People are made different. And it is the best way."

- Huck Finn in Tom Sawyer, Detective by Mark Twain

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ain't That America...

Is this a case where the phrase "Only in America" might be truly applicable?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Selected Ballads Is On Vacation

I'll be back next week.

Until then, may I humbly suggest a meditative exercise?

It's very simple.

Just follow this link, stare at the picture of Miles Davis, and quietly contemplate your life.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Dream Journal #4 - Another Celebrity Dream Cameo

Had a dream that I was sliding on ice through a very cold Winnipeg. I slid from outside right into a big fancy shopping mall-type place with slick polished floors, so I was able to just keep sliding. Then I went up some stairs and met Ringo Starr working in a small machine shop. He'd apparently given up the celebrity life to become a blue-collar Canadian working man.

That was before I'd seen the trailer for the new Guy Maddin short film, Night Mayor of Winnipeg, but it wouldn't have been my first Maddin-influenced dream. Actually, this dream was almost disappointingly easy to deconstruct. I'd say the formula was something like this: all the recent talk of Beatles reissues + a mention of Lake Winnipeg in Nabokov's Bend Sinister (which I was reading right before bed) + a cool breeze coming in the window.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Back To The Top Of The Slide

Pitchfork's coverage of the new Beatles reissues (including reviews of each album) is well worth reading. Of course, it's completely irrelevant what rating the 'Fork gives these albums on their infamous 10.0 scale (spoiler alert: there are several 10.0s), but it's still a pleasure for me to read substantial new takes on this material by some good writers.

Writing something new about something so familiar is a very different challenge than reviewing a new release, and doing so about the Beatles makes this series of review/essays into a kind of proving ground for music writers. Of those called upon to put their critical weaponry to the test, I'd say Tom Ewing (on the Beatles' early albums) and Douglas Wolk (on Past Masters) come out looking the best. Mark Richardson's overview of the reissues, including a visual WAV file comparison (!!!) of the original CDs to the new reissues, is pretty impressive too.

Reading through all this stuff reminds me of two things:

1. That I'm among the freaks who really enjoy reading music criticism.

2. How deeply embedded and powerful the Beatles' music remains for me. Just the mention of certain aspects of certain songs can trigger a pretty strong emotional reaction, which surprised me a little but shouldn't have.

Eric Revis w/ Jason Moran, Ken Vandermark & Nasheet Waits - 8/28/09

The first set of their two-night stand at Jazz Gallery was apparently the first time this lineup had played together. I wished I'd made it back for the last set on the second night to see what had developed, because the set I saw was full of fire and creative energy. Many possibilities were explored, and many more were only suggested. If they wanted to, this group could probably have a fruitful run as a recording unit. I could see them putting together a discography that might someday merit comparisons with that other powerhouse reeds-piano-bass-drums quartet, the Keith Jarrett "American Quartet". With their own projects to attend to, though, it's just as likely that this was a one-off.

I'd seen Revis at the Jazz Gallery before with a totally different lineup - Orrin Evans, Stacy Dillard, Rudy Royston, and John Ellis. That was a strong set, but this was something more. Revis was the leader, but he stands out in any group he's in (I've only seen him as a sideman with Russell Gunn and in footage of Branford Marsalis). His intensely focused, physical approach to the bass, punctuated with vocalizations, was the same as when I'd seen him before (if anything, he was even more intense this time), but he also deployed a few other tricks I hadn't seen from him, including playing with two bows simultaneously and plinking out a head above the bridge.

Vandermark is a name I'd seen a lot, but I'd never heard him. He's quite a presence, physically (flat-topped, blowing hard, switching between bass clarinet and tenor while sweating through his shirt) and sonically (loud, aggressive, can squeal/scream/honk/overblow with the best but can certainly get with other modes, too). At times during the set, I enjoyed trying to isolate longtime bandmates Moran and Waits and watch and listen to how they were playing as a sub-unit within the group. As much as I enjoy Moran in solo or trio settings (including his recent trio stand at the Village Vanguard), there's something about the way he fits his sound into groups with reeds that I especially like. His album with Sam Rivers, Black Stars, is probably my favorite Moran release, and the trio of Paul Motian, Chris Potter and Moran that I saw was superb.

The set started off with a pretty aggressive, "out" tune that left me worrying a bit about the people seated in the front row directly in front of the fire breathing Vandermark. Many different directions were explored from here, but the first tune sort of cleansed the palette and let the audience know that they should strap in and keep their arms inside the car at all times. The group may have been finding their footing with one another, but they channeled this process into highly rewarding improvisation. There was a real sense that the direction each tune took was only one of many, very different ways it could've gone. Nothing felt predetermined or pat, which I guess is what group improvisation is supposed to be about. I hope this isn't the last we hear from this group, because I know there's an audience out there for them.

(Update: Found this interesting post suggesting that the set following the one I saw was superior. I think the "finding their footing" quality of the group interaction that the poster perceived as "shaky" was one of the things I liked about the first set, but I could easily imagine that things would've only improved in the second set. Wish I'd seen it.)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Motian/Lovano/Frisell - 9/6/09

Reviews of other sets in the two week run of this group at the Village Vanguard have been popping up around the Web, including posts from two of the best in NYC, Nate Chinen and Fred Kaplan. Since these guys do a good job putting the trio in context and talking about what makes them special, I thought I would just throw in a few notes about the set I saw, the early set from the final night of the run, Labor Day Eve.

The set seemed to hew to the format (mentioned in the Chinen piece) typical of this group and, I think, many of Motian's groups, mostly Motian originals with a Monk tune (in this case, I think it was "Epistrophy") and a standard (I couldn't ID it). I more I hear his tunes, the more I appreciate Motian as a composer. They often feature long, twisting heads, sometimes with a vaguely "Eastern" (or even Middle Eastern) feeling. On Sunday, many tunes were taken at fairly slow, ballad-y tempos, allowing the trio to sustain a beautiful, dreamy atmosphere for much of the set. The full house was mesmerized. (If this particular mood, this spell, could be reduced to a written formula or recipe - which it can't - Paul Motian's cymbal work would have to be listed as a main ingredient.)

One moment where the spell was momentarily broken is worth noting. As one of the tunes came to a close, the music gradually fading to nothing, Frisell must have bumped something or hit the wrong pedal, inadvertently producing the very specific sound of an amp with a high reverb setting being kicked. With a sheepish look, he said one word, "thunder", which broke up his bandmates and the audience.

I've been excited to read reviews from other sets because I know from my limited experience hearing these guys live and on record that they can hit it out of the park a bunch of different ways. When I saw them last year, they explored some of the more thorny, almost dissonant places they can sometimes get to. An hour long set isn't enough time for them to show all their sides, which is why I'm sorry I caught only one set.


I've been negligent about posting live music reviews lately. I've seen some good stuff, even started writing some pieces, but haven't posted much. More to come soon, including one of the best sets of music I've seen lately, Eric Revis at the Jazz Gallery.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Bargain Bin Finds Linked To Endorphin Production In 30-Something Males

Finding good records for cheap makes my pituitary gland squirt out endorphins. I don't have any "scientific proof" or "medical evidence" of this, but I'm pretty sure it happens.

I've walked around the East Village a lot, but somehow I'd never come across Big City Records on 12th St. until just recently. It's almost all vinyl, including lots of 45s, and focusing on soul, r&b, hip-hop, jazz, funk, disco, and reggae. Lots of good stuff at non-ridiculous prices.

I was impressed by the regular alphabetized bins, but the real fun started when I noticed the un-alphabetized bargain bins down at floor level. There were a lot of water-damaged covers and even some warped records, but there were also lots of real gems, even some semi-rarities, for 2, 3, and 4 bucks. As a record geek, this is the kind of s**t I live for.

I'll probably do a follow-up post on some of the stuff I found after I've had a chance to listen to it. I also came across a great cheap CD stoop sale recently, so I'm really on a hot streak. What I need now is a better record player...

Dream Journal #3

This one was clearly inspired by reading the George Plimpton "oral biography" George, Being George (which, by the way, is marvelous, as George himself might have put it):

Last night, I dreamed that I was watching a U.S. Open tennis match, on TV, in a shopping mall-like environment, with Norman Mailer. I think the match involved either Roger Federer, Andy Roddick, or maybe both. I was a little intimidated by Mailer's presence. I don't remember him saying much, but he definitely seemed to be following the match closely.

Coincidentally, the Village Voice reprinted this odd Norman Mailer-related story from their archives today. I never knew he was interested in architecture and city planning.