Listening to At the Fish & Game Club, the last release of the fine, smart, bitter, and sad alternative folk band Ed's Redeeming Qualities. If you haven't heard them, repent now and check them out. (You can by clicking on the "Fish and Game" link back there. I know that CDNow stocks their stuff.) I highly recommend The Big Grapefruit Clean-Up Job, and the others as well. The most recent two might be a good introduction to the band, but all the releases have their classics. I'm eagerly awaiting the delivery of their first 7" EP, which Metro Music had in stock. It contains the classic "My Apartment," which doesn't describe the apartment I'm in now, but could apply to any number of apartments I've had. It's hilarious.
Sadly, the band broke up a few years back. But the music lives on. And Carrie Bradley is fronting a new band, 100-Watt Smile.
A sad day in Pittsburgh: the famed Forbes Cottages are closing, leaving many Pittsburgh bands with no living/practice space. One example: one member of Don Caballero has already left town, with another to follow soon.
A favorite quote from a Don Caballero interview in Magnet some years back, speaking of the Cottages in relation to the buildings across the street: "We kick Forbes Terrace's ass."
Local government here expends a great deal of effort courting some large corporation that will create jobs for everybody, but they overlook small business, where most job creation occurs. What they should do is divert some of their business resources to fostering small businesses like, well, bands. One of the things the city has going for it is a vibrant local music scene--it's one of the things that keeps people from leaving...except that they do leave during periodic scene changes, like this one: one of the few clubs booking indie bands closes, or living/practice space goes down, etc., and there's a cultural brain drain from the city. Local musicians are voting with their feet, and it's being ignored because they're young, low-profile (in town, anyway) and for the most part not clearing massive amounts of money. While it may hurt more for a city to lose a large corporation and its jobs, it also hurts a city when talent leaves in any number.
This isn't just a music rant. The city behaves in exactly the same way with small tech startups, with the same results. Meanwhile, they've failed to attract the corporate sugar-daddy they're looking for.
Still listening to Tim Berne. You know it has to be good.
One pleasure I haven't had in a while is listening to the mighty Don Caballero, an instrumental band from this very city. I loaned out my copy of their first full-length release, For Respect, and just got it back.
The pieces on this recording still have a verse-chorus-verse structure, which they've moved from. "Well Built Road," for one example, is alternately hard-hitting and expansive and delicate. Can a rock band do that?
Drummer Damon Che is, for my entertainment dollar, one of the best drummers around. I'd describe him as a post-punk Elvin Jones, if you can imagine such a thing. (If you've heard Coltrane's quartet's live recordings, you can.)
Word from their Web site is they're releasing another full-length CD (and vinyl? we can only hope) in June. Their music lives in the terra incognita between math rock and avant jazz. If you haven't heard them, now's your chance.
Forced Exposure is selling a German reissue of Tom Verlaine's debut album. While "Yonki Time" is a joke, and "Mr. Bingo" is just ok, the rest of these tunes are essential.
D'Gary's playing is absolutely beautiful, and his technique is amazing. He's from Madagascar, and he developed his guitar playing (six-string acoustic) by adapting songs and techniques from a traditional Malagasy instrument, the name of which I forget. (Another fine example of cross-pollination!) There are songs on this recording that have the unique power of making you homesick, particularly the second song, "Betepotepo." I'd noticed this effect myself and in other listeners--who hadn't known that "Betepotepo" is, in fact, about homesickness, longing for the life in a small village. Is this an example of music as an actual universal language? You tell me.
In any event, if you're interested in guitar playing, acoustic music, or music from nonwestern cultures (world music, as opposed to "world beat") then you owe it to yourself to check this out.
A friend and I were talking the other night about cross-pollination, which these two recordings exemplify. Tom Verlaine's guitar phrasings have some relation to the saxophone, which he played before he took up guitar. Sax phrasing depends on the performer having to breathe (or depends upon the performer having mastered circular breathing; either way there's a relation to the breath) which isn't the same necessity on guitar. To bring a saxophone mindset (of any kind) to the guitar extends the guitar's vocabulary, and gives it (and whatever musical idiom the guitar's being used for) a new set of techniques, of sounds, of things to say, and it opens up the possibility for new kinds of responses to the music. Cross-pollination makes the way clear for something new. (I'm reminded of Salman Rushdie's observation in his essay "In Good Faith" that "Mélange, hotchpotch, a bit of this and a bit of that is how newness enters the world." [Imaginary Homelands, Granta Books, London, 1991, p. 394.])
We talked a bit about this, and recalled that distortion as a guitar effect originated--or became popular--as a way for a guitar to sound like a saxophone. I also recall a story about a guitar player dropping his amp, causing one of its tubes to come halfway out of its socket and distort the sound. As the story goes, he reseated the tube, but thought it sounded kind of cool distorted, and pulled it back out. In any case, even if its invention was an accident, distortion was widely adopted for aesthetic reasons, because it increased the guitar's sonic vocabulary.
In various places in Tim Berne's playing, he's making noises with the saxophone that resemble nothing so much as guitar feedback. The cross-pollination works the other way, too, and our vocabulary keeps getting larger.
Just picked up Philip Glass's Satyagraha on vinyl. Unfortunately, it's not in the same pristine condition my copy of Einstein on the Beach is in.
So far, the strange thing about Satyagraha for me is the absense of the electric organ sound--it's scored for full orchestra. I've listened to the first of 3 LPs, so more to come.
Still stuck on Tim Berne's Paraphrase. If you're at all into improvised music, hot sax playing, free jazz, or noisecore, check it out.
Still listening to Beit by John Zorn's Masada
And La Monte Young's The Second Dream of the High-Tension Stepdown Transformer, which, the first time I heard it, hit me like instant meditation.
Very pleasingly noisy. Three songs clocking in at about 74 minutes, recorded and (I guess) improvised live. The exceedingly low-tech mistake-ridden design pleases me greatly also.
From a New York Observer article on the Screwgun website:
"When people buy a Screwgun album, they feel like they're helping the cause," Mr. Berne said. "Whereas when you go to the store and buy a record on Verve, you're just another pinhead."
Beit by John Zorn's Masada
I'm addicted. Particularly track 8. There's apparently 9 different CDs out, and "John Zorn's Tzadik" is planning on releasing 2 12-CD sets this year. My budget is hosed.
I had the great fortune of seeing them at the Mellon Jazz Festival a couple years ago. Zorn has this really strange curled-up posture when he plays. It's got to hurt. A fine show.
Listening to Zorn reminds me that I should really listen again to Christian Marclay's More Encores, which I have on 10-inch vinyl.
Still New Picnic Time and The Art of Walking. The perfect soundtrack for living in the Rust Belt.
I was introduced to Pere Ubu's music when I was an annoying adolescent going to the Pittsburgh Filmmakers independent film nights.
The program director would play extraordinarily hip music before the films, and I remember how riveted I was when I first heard "Laughing" from The Modern Dance.
The new CD, "Pennsylvania", will be released in the US and Canada in a few days.
Beit by John Zorn's Masada
It really is like klezmer played by one of Ornette Coleman's quartets. It's moody, noisy, and bluesy in that klezmer way.
Still listening to Television's Marquee Moon
Particularly the New Picnic Time and The Art of Walking stuff. Simultaneously difficult and catchy.
The new Ubu CD, "Pennsylvania", has been released, and seems to be on order at CDNow, but according to the band, there's no planned US release date.
I'm looking for a copy of La Monte Young's The Well-Tuned Piano, which is way out of print.
Ideally I'd like to find it on CD, but I'd be ok with LP also (if it was in NM or Mint condition).
Contact me if you have one to sell, or have seen one on sale somewhere.