Monday, September 18, 2017

9.16.2017, Fort Worth

It might not have been the most astute booking decision ever, scheduling a Stoogeaphilia show at Lola's on the same night that both Dia de los Toadies and Sally Majestic's end-of-summer party were happening in town, and the Old 97's were splitting a bill with Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians over in Big D. But I have never been accused of being overly astute, in my role as the rockaroll secretary. And we wound up having a real cool time anyway.

The original intent was to play the last weekend in June, to coincide with my 60th birthday, but that didn't work out, so we instead opted for this past Saturday, Matt Hembree's [data masked] birthday, keeping the same supports we'd intended for the earlier date: the Mike Haskins Experience, a trio led by the ex-Nervebreakers guitarist who was my axe-slinging idol when I was 21 and used to see his band open for every touring punk and new wave band that came to Dallas, and Sur Duda, the side project of War Party frontman Cameron Smith, who's always impressed me as a smart songwriter in the Uncle Lou/Ray Davies mold, to which his newer material adds an '80s pop vibe.

The li'l Stoogeband, which had been inactive since January, managed one practice for this event, during which we were able to get everything we needed to done in about two hours, leaving an hour for pizza and water (since we're now "Soberphelia," with the benefit of remembering all the shows, in addition to being able to enjoy each other's company more). It was more Stooges-focused than some sets we've played over the last few years, since the muscle memory of those songs is the strongest, as we've been playing them since we had a regular monthly gig at the late, lamented Black Dog Tavern.

Haskins opened with a set of Nuggets-style garage grunt, showcasing his inimitable axe stylings (for my two cents, the best guitarist to come out of the Texas punk development), which cover the whole waterfront from surf to psychedelia, sometimes in the course of a single solo. The Experience is a stripped-down unit of bass and drums who get a full, punchy sound from less backline than I've seen since X___X played at Rubber Gloves.

Their set includes underground garage classics as well as Haskins originals (only three on this occasion) and the occasional Nervebreakers chestnut. My night was made early when I yelled for "Strange Movies" (sorry, Troggs, but in my heart, this song will ever belong to the NBs in the same way "Can't Hardly Wait" belongs to Woodeye) and symphony percussionist turned Nervebreaker Carl Giesecke (whose thunderous fills got a lot of people's attention) kicked off the intro. I wasn't even disappointed when I looked and saw it on Mike's setlist. Wish fulfillment can happen even if it's planned. Would dig to see these guys do a multi-setter in Lola's Trailer Park sometime.

Sur Duda was up next. Cameron Smith has been holding down a regular Tuesday night slot at Lola's for a spell, but this was their first full-band show in our home-away-from-home for a minute, and my first oppo to see the band live. I was quite taken by their Fort Night EP when it dropped a while back, and their new material, skedded for an October release, already resonates, particularly a song Cameron introduced as being about "what your kids think," and another one about Texas.

Richard and I set up our amps side firing per sound guy Fred's request. I had trouble hearing myself all night and thought I should have used the kickback on my Twin, but didn't want to adjust once we started and only realized later that I'd left the output switch on 25% after recording with Brokegrove Lads back in March. Duh. (Look for new Brokegrove stuff on Bandcamp in October, if you're one of Those People.) JT said it was the best stage sound he'd had, though, and presumably at least some of my noise made it out front.

I broke the D string on my Strat halfway into the set after joking with Fred that having the Epi on stage kept me from breaking strings. JT also noticed he had a cracked hi-hat cymbal, which he claims only happens when he plays with Stooge. Richard was on fire, playing a Sharrock-cum-Townshend mic stand-slide solo on "Rich Daddy" (an earlier performance of which has received Dicks frontman Gary Floyd's "Big Dick Stamp of Approval" on Youtube).

Chris Bellomy hotfooted it over from the Grotto, where he had been playing with Sally Majestic, to add his sax to "1970" and "Funhouse" (the latter of which got cut due to my amp problems when he sat in with us back in January), and Carl Giesecke (bless him) shook sleigh bells with us during "I Wanna Be Your Dog." I love this band more than anything I've ever done. Maybe we'll even play another show this year.

The smaller-than-usual crowd meant I had time to visit with several old, good friends, including Brock Miller, an old ally from the Wednesday night jams at the Wreck Room (RIP) back in '05-'07. B-Rock's got a show upcoming at Shipping and Receiving on October 20, at which he'll be playing Kinks songs, including a bunch from Face To Face (my fave Kinks LP of the moment), in a band that also includes singer-guitarist Mandy Hand, Harley Dear, and Sur Duda drummer Jesse Gage. The theme of the event is "Kink'd," and while I'm not wearing fetish gear, I will be there if the Lord be willing and the creek don't rise. Richard and Elle Hurley's Transistor Tramps are also on the bill. So there.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Things we like: Early Stones, Joni Mitchell, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

These days, I listen to records the way I did when I was a teenager, and had my mother asking "Don't you have that one already?" every time I walked into the house with a new LP -- which was frequently, especially once I'd started working at the hipi record store in the next town, where I'd been riding my bike to hang out every Saturday for a year, as soon as I turned 16. Frugal Depression-era parents taught us the value of getting the most for every dollar spent, so I'd play an LP side I liked three or four times a day, sometimes going months before I turned the record over. I couldn't understand it when my boss told me he'd read in one of the trades that the average LP sold was played three times. Three. My mind boggled then, and it does now, too.

While I'm now too busy to listen closely all the time, I like the total immersion method, by which I endeavor to wring every drop of experience out of music, whether it's old and familiar or new to these feedback-scorched ears. (I've been swinging behind the pitch -- typically by about five years or longer -- since I was "discovering" the first wave of Brit invaders around the time Led Zep, Grand Funk, and Black Sabbath were the favored listening of my age cohort. By now, of course, I've gotten much, much worse.)

Big Mike Richardson, of whom I've written recently, has undertaken the project of listening to all of his Rolling Stones records -- US and UK, LPs, EPs, and singles -- and sharing his impressions via Facebook. While I've never been the kind of completist collector Big Mike is and our mutual friend Mike Woodhull (RIP) was, I own as many records by the Stones as I do by practically anybody. This week, thanks to Big Mike, I'm listening to UK copies of the Stones' self-titled debut (which bore a cover shot of the band as striking as the Beatles on Meet the.../With the..., and was called England's Newest Hitmakers here, a title awkward enough to give The Who Sings My Generation a run for its money) and No. 2 (which has the same great cover shot as 12 x 5, which Wikipedia informs us was actually released here first). It's been fun obsessing over the differences in versions that I used to love back before everything was instantly available, when it sometimes took years to track down a rec I was curious about.

The UK debut is nearly identical to its US analog, with one notable exception: the substitution of Bo Diddley's "I Need You Baby," which appeared on The Rolling Stones, Now! (third US LP, for those of you keeping score at home) as "Mona (I Need You Baby)," in place of "Not Fade Away," a single that hit there and flopped here, but isn't included on the Brit album because that just wasn't done in a country where World War II rationing ended the year Elvis cut his first sides for Sam Phillips and folks demanded value for money in a way my folks could have appreciated. The album's heavy on blues and R&B covers that sound like overstimulated young men being set free, and a single original ("Tell Me") that sounds like the greatest Doc Pomus song he didn't write for the Drifters.

No. 2 has seven songs familiar from Now! interspersed with four from 12 x 5 and one ringer (an ace cover of Muddy's "I Can't Be Satisfied" that wasn't released here until More Hot Rocks in '71). To me, it's a better way of hearing 'em, since I already have the German Around and Around LP that compiles all the other 12 x 5 songs (which appeared on the UK Five By Five EP) plus a couple of singles and 75% of the Stones' self-titled UK EP. Confused yet? You ought to be. Now, I'm motivated to seek out copies of the soul cover-heavy UK Out of Our Heads, which I owned back when I was still playing records on a turntable I bought from Woodhull for five bucks (which required a nickel on the tone arm to make it track) through my tweed Fender Deluxe, and the nearly hour-long (on a single LP!) UK Aftermath, their first album of all originals, of which I just sold my ABKCo reissue (which sounded like a CD-pressed-to-LP to me). And to read Paul Trynka's bio of Brian Jones. Once a record geek, always a record geek.

When not geeking out on vintage Stones, I've lately been immersing myself in the works of Joni Mitchell and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. This will require some 'splaining. First, Joni...

In my maturity, I have developed the taste my big sister had when we were in high school. It's her fault I know the lyrics to Broadway musicals. And it's her fault that I was exposed to things like the Beach Boys, Todd Rundgren, Laura Nyro, and Joni Mitchell that I now love but couldn't appreciate back then because they were, you know, not hard rock (we could argue about Todd but I'm thinking of his perfect pop masterpiece Something/Anything in particular).

So I used to roll my eyes white upward every time she spun Ladies of the Canyon, even as the words to "Conversation" (written about a platonic friendship with Turtle/Mother Mark Volman, I recently learned; I love the way she tosses off the line "I don't believe her") and "Rainy Night House" (a sympathetic portrait of what I imagine to be a spoiled rich kid, which lent its name to a bar I used to hear advertised on the radio back on Long Island) were etching themselves in my synapses. Even "Morning Morgantown" (although I used to imagine the chorus was "All your teeth are colored brown").

Working in the record store, I heard Joni's '76 release Hejira a lot when it was new, and the words to "Song for Sharon" stayed with me for 40 years. Around that time, some bad-acting buddies and I were learning how to play Fairport Convention's "Sloth" at the house of one of the fellas' much-older (like 20 years) brother. When I asked him what the words meant, the brother paused for a moment and then said, "Everything." You could say the same about "Song for Sharon," an account of a visit to New York City in which the narrator's internal monologue touches on the way images become dreams, biology becomes destiny, and the roles chance, purpose, and acceptance play in life.

While I carried those songs in my head for years, I never actually sat down and listened to a Mitchell record until I was stationed in Korea in '82-'83. When I was homesick, I used to go to the base library (out of which I read every book I'd wanted to read for a decade, sometimes as many as four or five at a time) and listen to Doug Sahm and Band through headphones (for "Is Anybody Going To San Antone" in particular, even though the only time I'd ever been in the Mission City was for basic training).

Digging through the stacks, I found a copy of The Hissing of Summer Lawns and soon was drawn into its sound world, particularly the African drumming on "The Jungle Line" and the massed voices on "Shadows and Light." The lyrics in "Don't Interrupt the Sorrow" speak powerfully and directly about women's autonomy, while the ones to the title track and "Harry's House" show why such is necessary (all of which went over my head as a 25-year-old enlistee).

Comparisons being odious, Joni was employing the same kind of jazz-rock musos who were making Steely Dan records around the same time, but the craftsmanship on her records never screamed "Look at me! Look at me!" the way it often did with "the Dan" (RIP Walter Becker). Instead, every sound served her singular vision and idiosyncratic melodic sense. So it was only after I bought a copy of Hejira a couple of years ago, for instance, that I realized sounds I'd always assumed came from keyboards actually originated from her overdubbed guitars and Jaco Pastorius' bass. We live, we learn. Her approach was simple (as she explains in the liner notes to the useful Love Has Many Faces box set, which enabled me to catch up on her work -- including orchestrated, retrospective versions of earlier works -- when I decided to pick up the thread a couple of years ago): "The words are the leader."

Her melodies are like Wayne Shorter solos -- she loved the Miles bands that made Nefertiti and In A Silent Way, and cats like Wayne and Herbie Hancock love her back (Wayne's been a frequent collaborator, and Herbie cut a whole album of her music -- 2007's River: The Joni Letters). Unlike many of her male singer-songwriter contemporaries (um, Mr. Reed, Mr. Young, Mr. Dylan), she could really sing (The Range Place classifies her as a "Blue Mezzo" up till '84, a "Cloudy Contralto" thereafter; a lifetime of cigarette smoking didn't help), but her delivery was always conversational because that's the way she wrote.

Comparisons with some of those men rankled; there's a story in the Love Has Many Faces essay about a visit with Dylan and their shared label boss, David Geffen, when she finished the magnificent Court and Spark (only to have it ignored by Geffen while Dylan's less-than-snazz Planet Waves was lauded) that tells it better than I could. Daughters always have to work harder than sons for validation, it seems. "I had a painter's ego -- I took pride in discovering new things," she writes. "I had a painter's ability to self-adjudicate." With the extensive literature surrounding Dylan and particularly Reed (my hero, who has no less than four new bios due), I've made the songwriter-fan's mistake of wallowing in biographical trivia or English major-like explication. I've tried to avoid that with Mitchell, although David Yaffe's Reckless Daughter, due out October 17, looks as though it might be an exception to the songwriter-bio rule.

Finally, Fischer-Dieskau was my father's favorite singer, ranked by those who know right up there with Jussi Bjorling (my mother's fave) among the great vocalists of the 20th century. I was reminded of him by a recent New Yorker piece in which the writer referred to the great German baritone's recording of Schubert's song cycle Winterreise as being emblematic of the Cold War era. Now when I remember asking my physicist father, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, what would happen if a Soviet nuke fell on Manhattan (I grew up 60 miles from there; he told me, after which "duck and cover" drills at school seemed particularly silly and pointless), that's the music I hear in the background (the '62 version with piano accompaniment by Gerald Moore, even though thatun wasn't released until a year later).

Assisted by Alex Ross (whose book The Rest Is Noise hipped me to, among other things, the Wagner family's infatuation with Hitler and the U.S. Army's post-World War II sponsorship of German modernism -- for propaganda purposes, of course), I've begun my descent down the Fischer-Dieskau rabbit hole, which is even deeper (his discography lists 5,199 items) than Braxton's or the Dead's. I'm currently immersing myself in Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, written to be performed at the consecration (also in 1962) of the new Coventry cathedral, which replaced one destroyed by German bombs. Britten's work juxtaposes the Latin Mass for the Dead with nine poems by the British poet Wilfred Owen (killed a week before the World War I armistice) -- most poignantly, his "Strange Meeting." At its premiere performance, it was to be sung by British, German, and Russian soloists. In the event, the Russian soprano was prevented from attending by the Soviet government, but she was able to make the recording session that the composer conducted.

I'm working my way up to a Wagner opera. In the fullness of time, it seems my father's weekly listens to Strauss and Wagner at pain threshold volume prepared me for the Who and Hendrix's different kind of sturm und drang. My wife reminds me that when he died in New Jersey, a bolt of lightning struck a tree in our neighbor's yard. He would have loved that. My plan is to spend four hours on or about October 4 (his birthday my sister informs me, not the 3rd) listening to Fischer-Dieskau in the Furtwangler recording of Tristan und Isolde. We'll see how that goes.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

9.2.2017, Fort Worth

Your left hand is what you know, your right hand is who you are.

Whoever handles social media for Martin Guitars posted those words on Facebook yesterday, and I had them on my mind when I walked down the street to see my friend and fellow Lawn Guyland expat Darrin Kobetich doing "something different" at the Grackle Gallery, where Kavin Allenson has been booking an eclectic mix of experimental, improvisational, and non-traditional musics under the "Grackle Live" rubric.

Da Kobe usually performs as a solo act playing original acoustic guitar instrumentals, but his trick bag also includes electric guitar, dobro, mandolin, oud, and cumbus. He plays bluegrass with the Boxcar Bandits and Blackland River Devils, improv-funk-jazz-world music with Eddie Dunlap's Rage-Out Arkestra, rock with Groom Lake Racers and his Weatherford High School bud Jeff Satterly, and has provided music for some Hip Pocket Theatre productions. Most recently, Darrin has been involved in a studio-only improv project, Bisagre, with bassist Jimi Sly, drummer Jeffrey Williams, and producer Tony Sims. A busy guy.

On this particular night at the Grackle, his arsenal of axes is limited to his oud, his Fender Stratocaster, and a Martin 12-string equipped by luthier extraordinaire Mitchell Cigainero with a second, movable bridge (inspired by one used by guitarist Kaki King) that allows Darrin to fret or pick on either side. With the second bridge in place, Darrin is able to get sitar-like sounds, bending strings by pressing down, or play the instrument with hammers like a dulcimer.

He also employs a looper pedal to stack percussive effects he achieves by striking his instruments, drones (he uses a violin bow on his guitars a la Jimmy Page), and other sounds to create an orchestral backing over which to improvise his signature long, flowing melodic lines. His music has always had an Eastern European flavor (Da Kobe digs tritones), and his right hand attack is highly riddimic even without the slapping and tapping. It's a modern approach that sounds like it could be ancient. Towards the end of his second set, Darrin even threw in a little Dick Dale and a taste of Fiddler On the Roof as teasers. Kavin was recording audio and video, so hopefully documentation will be available soon.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

8.29.2017, Fort Worth

It is a measure of my shittiness as a local scene supporter that until last night, I'd never seen Big Mike Richardson play electric live. Not through years of gigs with Big Mike's Box of Rock at the Moon and later, at Lola's; not through his various tribute nights at those venues and the Keys Lounge to Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and Metallica (even though friends of mine played in some of his bands).

I'd first heard Big Mike's name from Bill Pohl and Kurt Rongey while interviewing them for an Underground Railroad story back around '03. Mike played bass for the Railroad in between Matt Hembree's tenures, and Matt had described that job as "music lessons." Bill and Kurt spoke of a fella who, back when he was still in the grocery biz, would go back home to Denison for a weekend and throw together a tribute band on the fly with guys he knew there. Hembree played with Mike in his Fort Worth-based Doors (the Odors) and Police (Protect and Swerve) bands.

Big Mike has also become, along with his friend and occasional collaborator James Hinkle, something approximating a local-scene John Mayall: an older cat who schools the younger musos in the musical canon. In Hinkle's case it's blues, in Mike's case it's classic rock, including all the deep cuts. (Mike once showed me the index to his digital music collection, which is both comprehensive and painstakingly cataloged. He has also been very generous in sharing records/CDs with me.) Mike knows all the parts to thousands of songs on guitar, bass, and keys, and can sing beautifully. (I've seen vid of him sitting on his couch with his cat, playing the "Overture" from Tommy on acoustic guitar note-for-note, something Townshend couldn't even do in 1969!) The Quaker City Night Hawks cats (including his roommate, drummer Matt Mabe) and keyboardist Justin Pate (Pablo and the Hemphill 7, ex-Bindle) are among those who've fallen into his orbit.

I'd intended to catch his Zeppelin show at Lola's last weekend, when he'd promised to perform Houses of the Holy (my favorite Zep LP!) and III in their entahrty, but life intervened. (Former Lola's bartender Eric Benge told me that Friday night, there had been 350 people out to see Big Mike's Zep show. "After one o'clock," he said, "There was still a line of people wanting to pay to hear the last 20 minutes!" Big Mike brings 'em out.) So when it was announced that Mike would be reprising the show in Lola's Trailer Park to raise money and collect donated items for the folks affected by Tropical Storm Harvey down south of here -- an early show on a Tuesday night -- it seemed like a candygram from the gods.

As infrequently as I go out, it's always a treat to run into folks I haven't seen in awhile, and last night, those included the man who brought me here and his bride, as well as former Moon impresario Chris Maunder, and martial artist/former Wreck Room security chief Rod Dove's son Kashif, who once upon a time helped my wife lay the paving stones by our driveway. Next time I see Kashif, I need to remember to tell him they're still there!

Big Mike loves the orchestrated sound of classic '60s and '70s rock records, with their multiple layers of parts that the original bands often found problematic to recreate onstage. He gets around this by having enough players onstage to handle things like doubled leads or stacked electric and acoustic rhythm guitars. On this particular night, besides the aforementioned Messrs. Mabe and Pate, he was joined onstage by guitarists Chris Holt and Kris Luther, and bassist Kirk Young (filling in for the unavailable Sam Damask). Holt is a monster lead player, playing some of my favorite Jimmy Page solos the way they should be, on a Telecaster, and also adding pedal steel and a second keyboard when they were required. Every hit from Mabe's kit was like the thunder of the gods, and Mike can sing notes that Robert Plant probably can't even hit anymore.

As I've said before, Houses (which I had a white label promo of when it was new) is my favorite Zep LP even in spite of the two "goof" songs (the James Brown one, which is still a motherfucker to play, and the reggae one, which I now think of as a PH7 song after hearing them play it for years). "The Song Remains the Same" (my fave toon of the album), "Over the Hills and Far Away," and "The Ocean" are masterpieces of Page rifferama, "The Rain Song" (a lot of people's favorite Zep song, evidently, and lyrically apropos after Harvey) is probably their greatest acoustic moment, and "No Quarter" a spookily atmospheric death march. Mike and Co. did 'em up fine, and also played a couple from Physical Graffiti, which I'd spun that afternoon ("Custard Pies" with Mabe's dad on voxxx and Gary Grammer on harp, "In the Light" which I'd forgotten about for years but is becoming a new favorite), and "Your Time Is Gonna Come" from I with Dead Vinyl's Hayden Miller -- who has the sass and swagger of the cocky young Plant -- up front.

Then I had to leave to go to CVS. Life. But I've finally seen Big Mike doing what he does best, and I'm sure glad I did.

ADDENDUM: How could I forget Frank Cervantez's favorite, "Dancing Days?" (Easily, I guess. I was counting songs, too.) I never realized how Stones-like that song is. Possibly seeing Big Mike playing his open G-tuned Les Paul was the cue I needed.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Allen Ravenstine and Albert Dennis' "Terminal Drive"

This release -- a scant 20 minutes of music, available on CD, download, or one-sided red vinyl LP -- is a crown jewel in Smog Veil Records' Cleveland-centric "Platters du Cuyahoga" series. Terminal Drive is a truly legendary (it took years to track down a complete copy) 1975 electro-acoustic composition that earned Allen Ravenstine a place in Pere Ubu's original lineup, and provided a title to the disc of pre-Ubu rarities on the band's Datapanik In the Year Zero box set, on which an excerpt from the piece appeared.

Together with the Robert Bensick Band's French Pictures in London (recorded in 1975, released in 2016) and the loosely constituted improv outfit Hy Maya's The Mysticism of Sound and Cosmic Language (recorded in 1972-73 and due for release later this year), Terminal Drive is a product of the artist colony that briefly flourished in the Plaza, an inner city Cleveland apartment building, co-owned by Ravenstine, where the seeds of Ubu's experimentalism germinated.

In Nick Blakey's meticulously detailed liner notes (based on extensive interviews with Clevo scene participants, and always a highlight of "Platters du Cuyahoga" releases), musician Cynthia Black recalls the milieu thus: "Being there was one night after another of children growing up together...but every one of them was talented, driven, pissed off, angry, drunk, stoned, and trying to get laid, all the time in a city that smelled like Hell because they were still making steel in it." This music comes from a time when Cleveland was notorious for its river catching fire, and a small underground coterie of musical outcasts nurtured their visions and played infrequent gigs there, documenting their efforts on tapes that languished unreleased for decades -- pariahs in their time, now hailed as prophets of punk and post-punk style.

Many experimental musicians strive to approach music with a "beginner's mind," but Ravenstine truly possessed such when he recorded Terminal Drive (Dennis' string bass parts were added later). Unschooled as a musician but interested in sound, he started out making field recordings and was introduced to synthesizers by Bensick -- a multi-instrumentalist who was circuit-bending guitar pedals into oscillators -- and wound up providing tapes of his own electronic music (realized on an ElectroComp EML 200 synth) to the dance department at Cleveland State University. While Terminal Drive -- at different times spectral, kosmische, and menacing -- might inspire comparisons to the works of electronic pioneers like Stockhausen, Cage, or Boulez, Ravenstine denies their influence. Credit instead the industrial brutality of the factory and the rust-belt anomie of dying cities.

After playing on five albums with Pere Ubu, Ravenstine spent the rest of the '80s performing with Red Krayola and David Thomas' Wooden Birds. (His short story "Music Lessons," anthologized in The Da Capo Book of Rock and Roll Writing, provides a harrowing account of his Ubu tenure.) Recently retired after 25 years as an airline pilot, Ravenstine released a solo album, The Pharaoh's Bee, on Ubu's Hearpen label in 2015. But Terminal Drive remains his signal achievement and earns its trailblazing reputation.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Fat Dukes of Fuck's "A Compendium of Desperation, Morality and Dick Jokes"

As Rome burns, I get a record in the mail.

Heavy and funny don't have to be mutually exclusive. Anyone besides me remember Cretin 66, who released the high-larious Demolition Safari on Steel Cage back in 2001? Yeah, I didn't think so. More to the point, think of Turbonegro making the best hard rock record of the '90s with Apocalypse Dudes, on which they dressed up their synthesis of AC/DC-BOC-Dictators in Alice Cooper-cum-Village People drag so out-there that none of their inspirations would have dared imagine (let alone attempt) it.

Which brings us to The Fat Dukes of Fuck, a Vegas-based outfit who have a new elpee (their second full-length) produced by the Deaf Nephews (that being the handle used by the team of Melvins drummer Dale Crover and guitarist-engineer Toshi Kasai). On A Compendium of Desperation, Morality and Dick Jokes, the Fat Dukes' willingness to act the fool can be seen as a sign of supreme self-confidence.

In purely musical terms, these boys are mighty; just take a listen to the scintillating point-to-point fret math of "Whiskey and Bath Water," the pummeling thrash of "Full Metal Jack Off," or the piledriver rifferama that propels "Where Assholes Come To Die" to get a sense of their power. Then, around the third or fourth spin, the lyrics kick in, and they're a hoot. (Having them relatively high in the mix for this kind of thing helps.)

Turn the record over, and "The Monotonous Adventures of a Hopeaholic" details the difficulties of getting laid while driving a mini-van, to music of pseudo-operatic grandeur worthy of Jim Steinman. Oxford comma fans like your humble chronicler o' events get the answer to their question, "What's a morality joke?" on "Promise Keepers," a shot across the bow of fundamentalist extremists that recalls Frank Zappa's on Broadway the Hard Way. These Fat Dukes earn their stripes in the conceptual, comedic, and pure rock power stakes, and the Deaf Nephews make 'em sound real fine on sweet, sweet vinyl (gold translucent, even).

Monday, August 07, 2017

Things we like: Tyshawn Sorey, Dennis Gonzalez, Free, Nazz

1) If you read publications like The New Yorker or the NYT, you don't need my perpetually-swinging-after-the-pitch ass to tell you about Tyshawn Sorey. In the Times article linked to above, no less a personage than Roscoe Mitchell, whose recent album the 37-year-old composer/multi-instrumentalist is all over, acknowledged Sorey as "the next generation of us." Growing up in Newark, Sorey built his own drumkits and played in R&B bands, taught himself piano in his church's basement, and studied trombone at school before beginning academic studies under Mitchell's Chicago contemporaries George Lewis and Anthony Braxton, the latter of whose Wesleyan professorship he's about to assume, then honed his craft under leaders like Steve Coleman, Vijay Iyer, and Lawrench "Butch" Morris (the latter famed for his conduction of improvising ensembles).

Sorey's multi-instrumental fluency gives him a deep understanding of the nuances of sound production, and he always gets the most out of the tonal and textural palette of whatever ensemble he happens to be writing for. On his latest album, Verisimilitude, he leads his regular trio (pianist Corey Smythe, who also manipulates electronics, and bassist Chris Tordini) into territory staked out by Morton Feldman and Karlheinz Stockhausen as though it's his own neighborhood (a "jazz piano trio" date this is not). The album is available via Sorey's Bandcamp site, as is its predecessor, last year's The Inner Spectrum of Variables, which teams his trio with a string trio. You'll need to go elsewhere to seek out his debut as a leader, the sprawling that/not, and the intriguing guitar-led trio Koan. Sorey's currently at work on Koan II with a different ensemble.

2) Speaking of Bandcamp, the estimable Dallas-based trumpeter-composer Dennis Gonzalez has been making some out-of-print gems from his extensive catalog available digitally there. Most recent to go online is Catechism, a 1988 date cut in London with heavy friends including longtime Soft Machine saxophonist Elton Dean, pianist Keith Tippett (who played on King Crimson's Lizard and whom Robert Fripp courted to co-lead that band), and drummer Louis Moholo from the legendary South African band the Blue Notes. The music has some of the flavor of South African township jazz, and boasts some of Gonzalez's very finest multi-horn writing.

3) Also in my CD player lately: Free's Tons of Sobs, the '68 debut by the band of teenage British blues-rockers led by future Bad Company frontman Paul Rodgers, acclaimed by his peers as the premier British rock singer of his generation (possibly, to these feedback-scorched ears, because he eschewed the histrionics of pretty much all his contemporaries -- not just the proto-metal shriekers, but basically all of 'em save Rod Stewart, whom it turns out was aiming at Entertainment a la Sam Cooke all along). The album is a possible response to Jeff Beck's Truth (speaking of Rod the Mod); Led Zep I was another. Where Page, Plant, et al. made everything bigger and flashier, Free's approach was to make everything simpler, earthier, and more basic. Guitarist Paul Kossoff's wobbly vibrato came from classical training, not Albert King; a very different outcome than where King Fripp's similar studies led. Half-Guyanese bassist Andy Fraser's sound had a Caribbean lope that drank from the same well as Robbie Shakespeare and "Family Man" Barrett, although he'd apprenticed with John Mayall. They'd continue refining their approach, removing every gram of excess from their sound, and score a career-defining hit out of it with "All Right Now" -- written in five minutes in a dressing room -- before perfecting it with 1971's Highway, but Free never sounded more satisfying than where they started.

4) Finally, a wallow in Todd Rundgren's first three solo albums led inexorably back to the Nazz, the band with which he emerged from Philadelphia back in '68. Chris Plavidal's kids correctly identified the primary influences on the Nazz's self-titled debut LP as Cream (Todd had the solo EC perfected on Wheels of Fire's "Those Were the Days" down pat, and drummer Thom Mooney's footroll-happy solo on "She's Going Down" could give Ginger's "Toad" a run for its money) and the Beatles (those vocal harmonies, although the chords Todd was writing had more jazz and uptown R&B in 'em than the Fabs', which generally stayed closer to their Everly Brothers/Motown inspirations). Recent listens to old faves like Talmy-era Who, the first two U.S. Yardbirds LPs, and my beloved Blues Project Projections surprised me -- some of the music sounded almost quaint -- but the Nazz albums, which I'd always thought were uneven (suffering from the second side blahs), held up surprisingly well.

"Open My Eyes" -- which opens Nazz and was supposed to be the A-side of their first single before a DJ turned it over, played "Hello It's Me," et voila -- is a song that has it all: great crunchy mutated "I Can't Explain" intro, great fuzzed-out riff, great chorus, great Electric Flag-sounding instrumental break, and most of all, a great bridge (which the Move, who knew a good song when they heard one, had the decency to repeat, eschewing the instrumental break, when they covered it and the Nazz's other greatest song, "Under the Ice," live on their '69 U.S. tour). On songs like "When I Get My Plane" from the first LP and "Meridian Leeward" from Nazz Nazz, there's even a hint of the 'orrible 'oo back in that lovely moment between Monterey and Tommy when they looked as good as they sounded and produced the magic and wonderful Sell Out.

It's easy to play "spot the influences" with Nazz -- the descending chords on "Under the Ice" are the same as on Traffic's "Paper Sun;" "Rain Rider" on Nazz Nazz borrows from Cream's "White Room;" the blues tracks on side two of Nazz Nazz don't really work, although "Kiddie Boy" would when Todd produced James Cotton -- and by the second LP (originally envisioned as a double album called Fungo Bat), you can hear Todd's Laura Nyro fixation emerging. This would mean trouble: lead singer Stewkey Antoni didn't dig those songs, or the fact that Todd wanted to sing 'em, and Todd was soon out of the band, along with bassist Carson Van Osten. The Nazz played the '69 Texas International Pop Festival with replacements, and the label released the unused Fungo Bat songs with Stewkey's overdubbed vox as Nazz III (including some gooduns: the opening "Some People," the very Laura-ish "Only One Winner," the more rockin' "Magic Me" and "How Can You Call That Beautiful"), but by then, Nazz were done. So there.