Zoilus by Carl Wilson

Archive for October, 2005

The Ornette Report

October 31st, 2005

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Ornette Coleman and Tony Falanga, not this weekend at Massey Hall, but last year at Newport.

I’ve been searching for reviews of Saturday’s show online or in the press, but aside from my colleague Mark Miller’s piece in today’s Globe, it’s all chirping crickets out there. So in a few words: The Ornette concert was not quite as transporting as one might have hoped (as Mark says, the old dog had no new tricks), but it was no let-down, either. Ornette played clearly and with great resonance, so much so that he was actually too loud compared to the rest of the ensemble, diminishing the harmolodic effect of an interplay of equals. He stayed fairly ‘inside’ as a soloist, never pushing dissonances and seldom even straying from the home keys of his themes and melodies, creating a generally meditative, folklorish and quite bluesy effect. The mood was often elegaic, as is often the case with older musicians, but never nostalgic - especially thanks to the counterpoint from Tony Falanga’s bowed bass, whose timbre was often easy to mistake for a second saxophone, as he played high up on his instrument and let lanky Greg Cohen (whose work I first encountered on Tom Waits’ Small Change album) handle the stormier bottom end, as he did with gusto: Cohen’s spotlit solo late in the set was a high point. Indeed, the twin-bass setup proved itself a perfect vehicle. I only wished Ornette had played his violin for more than the few minutes he did, and more melodically, so the string-trio potential of the group could be explored. (The shaky trumpet interlude, on the other hand, was quite long enough.) I can’t speak quite so glowingly of Denardo Coleman’s drumming, which was more laboured, less inspired, but it was never intrusive to my experience, and his feel for what the music was asking of him was touching, as an expression of filial duty.

I think everyone who was present would agree that the encore of Lonely Woman was a particular pleasure. Not only did the ensemble play it with assurance for its classic status, I think you could feel in it Ornette’s own appreciation for an audience that had just given him a long standing ovation, which felt as much for his lifework in general as for anything that had transpired on stage that evening, and he stretched out a bit more on it than in the rest of the show. It was sad, as Mark notes in his review, that the hall wasn’t full, but it’s more important that the audience was so respectful and excited to see this pioneer in the flesh, so I think Toronto can hold its head up.

A final thought: One thing I didn’t know before seeing him is how introverted and self-contained Ornette seems as a person and as a musician. There’s very little testosterone in his persona, indeed an elusive but palpable kind of androgyny - yet with neither flamboyance (except in his flashy suit) nor self-effacingness. I felt that I gained an insight into his music from his physical presence. It made sense to me that this not-so-sociable seeming man would have created a new form of jazz in which the tussel and brawl of the players was downplayed and the individuality of each voice was central, none submitting or playing support to the others. If you ask what harmolodics is, it’s a kind of music in which nobody has to shout or compete to get heard but each person’s idiosyncrasies provide the form. It requires the listener to open up to the separation of the parts, which form a whole not by adding up but by being suspended in air, like streaks of paint on a canvas, suggesting many directions and never closing doors behind them. Ornette has been a great innovator, but watching him I felt like he had only done what he had to do, because of who he is, not because he meant to be king of the modernist mountain. There’s a lot to mull over on the character of artistic advancement there. I don’t know what anyone who’s seen Ornette before would have made of this concert, but for these insights especially, I am very grateful to have seen it.

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Now We Are 2
(Plus: Ornette!!!)

October 28th, 2005

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The day’s almost over and nobody has wished Zoilus a Happy Blogday. Oh well. No cake for you then. No, seriously, gratitude to all the readers who’ve made Zoilus such a pleasure to do.

Gotta say how sick with excitement I am to be seeing Ornette Coleman tomorrow night at Massey Hall. Torontonians, there are still tickets available. I know they’re pricey, but it would be a gross collective error to let that surplus stand. The man is 75, and he helped revolutionize jazz music. These figures don’t come along often. That’s why I was a little disappointed with my colleague Mark Miller’s interview with Ornette in the paper yesterday - why would an experienced jazz journalist be so thrown off by a jazzer’s jive? Still, there was one significant quote that has people talking:

But his performing and recording activities have been intermittent - especially of late and evidently not as a matter of choice. “In music, you’re only hired when someone activates the phone or writes you a letter,” he observes …. “Only my son and my cousin have given me help to get jobs.”

It’s scandalous, the idea that Ornette Coleman is sitting around by the phone hoping to be invited to perform somewhere. On the local “jazztalk” discussion list, guitarist Tim Posgate related the story of asking Steve Lacy, “not long before he died, if he had any plans to come to Toronto, and he replied, ‘If someone invites me I would love to come’. How many great artists, that have the ability to enhance, inspire and maybe even change our world are sitting at home because no one is calling?”

A good question that I’m afraid will go sadly begging for an answer more often than not. (Whatever became of last year’s Toronto Progressive Jazz series, which was such a good step in this direction?) It’s great that Massey Hall’s programmers asked Ornette here, and a sold-out hall is what’s needed to convince them to bring in such artists more often instead of Jack Johnson or some other asshole.

(Yeah, yeah, I’m sure he’s very nice.)

(Plus: Ornette!!!)">6 Comments

Ace!ofspades!ace!ofspades!
ace!ofspades!ace!ofspades!
ace!ofspades!ace!ofspades!
ace!ofspades!ace!ofspades!
ace!ofspades!ace!of…

October 28th, 2005

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Zoilus’ Toronto Gig Guide has been exhaustively & exhaustingly updated this evening, so if you’re in the hereabouts, look into the link that will predict your future.

Among the additions is the November 9 Just Ace of Spades show at The Boat in Kensington Market, the perfect charity event for rockers too hungover to do a walkathon on a given weekend morning and too kool to sell raffle tickets: What you do is get people to pledge donations based on how many hours you can spend listening to Ace of Spades (yeah, the Motorhead song). The Boat will play Ace of Spades for six hours straight that night. Are you Lemmy enough to handle it? If so, go download a pledge form. (Yeah, it’s a week-plus away, but you need time to get your doners signed up, right?)

But first, this weekend comes Sunday’s annual Canzine festival of alt-culture, held where I lay my head each night, the Gladstone Hotel. I don’t really buy the organizers’ claims that zine culture is as hale as ever and hasn’t been supplanted by blogville and environs. My informants tell me the gang at zine gatherings is creeping steadily up in age. To be a zine producer isn’t quite yet like being a collector of 78s, but it’s on its way. (Not that there’s anything wrong with being a collector of 78s, or even of Edison cylinders!) But state-of-zines-debate aside, the great thing about Canzine is that somehow in recent years it has developed into its own genre - that is, if you have an art idea that doesn’t seem to fit anywhere, or even be worth developing too far, for instance a bunch of people pretending to be pirates or a half-dozen bands recording CDs of songs they make up on the spot on the hour every hour, one of your options is to turn it into “A Room At Canzine.” This year’s Rooms include Jim Munroe’s No Media Kings 5th Anniversary Party; Misha Glouberman’s Game Emporium; Amy Lam and Zeesy Powers’s Arcadia; Darren O’Donnell’s Diplomatic Immunities; Project 3 Media’s Digital Grassroots; The Best of Art Metropole’s Multiples. I know what some of these things are (Misha’s Game Emporium involves a score of people taking commands from a talking robotic stick), but I’m also eager to be surprised.

Plus, Zoilus and Mrs. Zoilus’s romance sorta-began at a Canzine five years ago, so it will always occupy a pedestal in my poetic inventory.

ALSO I hope many of you are going tonight to the secret location.

Alt-Weekly Wig-Out (Thursday Reading)

October 27th, 2005

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It’s a big day in the Toronto alt-weekly market: NOW has its annual “Best of Toronto” issue - which has finally disposed of the inane reader’s-choice listings that always named, you know, Chapters as the best book store and Blockbuster as best video store, and so forth. It makes the section a much better read. The paper’s unbylined choices for the best in Toronto music make a fine mini-primer. They lean to the conservative side but not as much as in past years - sure, choosing Oscar Peterson as best pianist is more than a bit stodgy, but Maggie MacDonald’s choice as “best arts revolutionary,” Blocks as best label and Amy Millan as best female singer is close to the pulse of the moment. I also appreciate the shout-out to my current home, the Gladstone Hotel, as “best art hotel vision ever.” And fists were thrust in air over the choice of our pal Margaux Williamson, named “Best Painter.” For damn sure. Tune in, world, you’re missing out.

Meanwhile, eye weekly launches its long awaited redesign, masterminded by Tyler Clark Burke. (Whom competitor NOW kinda-amusingly included in its best-ofs. Oops!) The cover feature on Jon Rae and the River (at the Music Gallery tomorrow night) was a great choice to launch the new look, with an arresting image up front; I’m still getting used to the interiors, which I find a bit hard to navigate but very clean and easy to read once I’m there. Still, I’m a bit disappointed that it doesn’t look like this. (Did Tyler also do the website redesign, by the way?)

Also in NOW, interviews with RA the Rugged Man and the perpetrators of the Do They Know It’s Halloween benefit spoof single (making some fine points about charidee), and a nice TO Music Note on Jennifer Castle, who’s opening for Jon Rae tomorrow.

And also in eye, an interview with Craig Finn of the Hold Steady on his secret hip-hop masterplan (2nd review) and a continuation of the essential cussing-out of CTV on its idiocy for not renewing Veronica Mars. We’ll wear ‘em down.

An examination of the review sections also reveals this: People who don’t like the Fiery Furnaces like their new Grandma album, and vice-versa.

It’s also a big week in the American alt-weekly scene. On one hand, the grandpappy of the form, The Village Voice, is celebrating its 50th anniversary with an issue packed with bohemian history. For rock-crit fans, Robert Christgau’s and Greg Tate’s contributions are natural must-reads, though Xgau’s isn’t as good as I’d have hoped - not on par with this previous take, for instance. But browse through the chronologi-scope for more bits of music crit and culture. (Also in the same issue there’s a good balanced look at Liz Phair’s new album by Georgia Christgau, for those who can stand more Phair discourse.)

Yet just as it toasts itself, its toast may actually be on fire. Um, by which I mean that the Voice-as-we-knew-it, already a pale reflection of its old self, was OPD’d this week with its takeover by the New Times chain. New Times is not reputed to be friendly to the challenging possibilities of this medium remnant from the underground-newspaper days of the 1960s and 1970s counterculture, chillun. It’s got a cutter and it likes itself some cookies. Matos is pithy. Howard Kurtz expands. Read the corporate memo. And weep.

Meanwhile, outside the weekly-world news, and on a happier note: Read this interview with Gilberto Gil, not only a brilliant Brazilian musician, godfather of tropicalia etc., etc., but a political figure who, if there were an artistic-expression-activist equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize, would deserve it this year.

There’s also a very open and interesting interview with Dave Newfeld of Broken Social Scene on the Toronto Life web site now, an exclusive annex to Jason McBride’s feature on the band in the current magazine.

And this is old, but in honour of next week’s Constantines show in Toronto (a tour also bringing them to you Americans and yon Europeans) it seems like a good time to put up this link to Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Cafe audio appreciation of the late, lamented Three Gut Records. McLean is often too cardigan-and-golf-cap for me as a radio host, but I was touched by his generous tribute to the young folk (whom he probably only heard about through Vinyl Cafe music programmers such as Owen Pallett and Julie Penner, but still).

4 Comments

Life Outraces Satire, Again

October 27th, 2005

Constricting vision slowly …. I feel guilty that this (via Alex) reminds me so much of this.

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October, November, Novemberer
(Gig Guide!)

October 26th, 2005

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Left to right, top to bottom: Oct. 28, Nov. 8, Nov. 5, Nov. 11-12, Nov. 13-15.

The Halloween(ish)-to-American-Thanksgiving(ish) live Toronto show calendar is up now! Additions and corrections always welcome.

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(Gig Guide!)">1 Comment

One-Tune Tomes, Continued

October 26th, 2005

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Plenty of interesting contributions to the single-song book discussion in the Comments. Among books that collect one-song studies, I’d add last year’s anthology The Rose & the Briar: Death, Love & Liberty in the American Ballad, edited by Greil Marcus & Sean Wilentz. And yes, I have and admire the Friedwald book, too, Jody - and the Douglas Wolk book on Live at the Apollo is one of my favourites in the 33 1/3 series. You should absolutely read it, though I’m not sure it’s got the definitive take on Papa’s Got a Brand-New Bag.

Still, it’s clear there are lots & lots & lots of essays on single songs. (In audio form, I’d refer you to the NPR 100 Songs project too - it’s got Papa’s but not John’s nominee, Caravan.) You find it in quicker form in many “list” books as well, such as Dave Marsh’s greatest-rock-singles book and David Cantwell and Bill Frikiscs-Warren’s Heartaches by the Number, for instance. It’s an excellently elegant form, and certainly not yet overdone or even enough-done; I really want to take a crack at some point. But the single-song book is a virtuoso test-piece, really stretching the limits. It risks seeming like an overextended article, I agree (I suspect the Louis Louis book is like that), but if done right it also dares to try to use that song as a way to illuminate a whole period or a whole historical thread - and history in turn to illuminate the song.

(The idea of Tagg’s 400-page musicological analysis of the Kojak theme, however, makes me gag a bit. Though I’m also helplessly curious. I do like the dry self-awareness - I think? -of its title: 50 Seconds of Television Music.)

But what do I know? I’m also intrigued by those books that use Salt or Sugar or Coffee or the Pencil or the year 1910 as a hub for a historical exploration. It’s a very creative and often revelatory approach, as long as the author isn’t dumb enough to believe his publisher’s hype that, y’know, Codfish Explains Everything and/or Saved the World. That particular part of the trend has gotten way out of hand - it used to be that such books were called “the cultural history of fish” - now it’s “the fishy history of culture,” which is way dumber.

Keep the bookworthy-songs nominations (and bibliographical notes) coming. I’ll compile the list when all ideas are in. Hell, maybe I’ll approach a publisher and give 33 1/3 a run for its tiny-music-book money: Now with even more miniscule subject matter and packaging! (They would be the size of Hanuman books [and I think that example is even a little bigger than actual size].)

15 Comments

Ich Bin Ein Irving Berliner
(Plus: Single-Song Studies!?)

October 25th, 2005

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While your proprieter has been busy back-and-forthing with his web sherpa on details of the forthcoming Zoilus redesign, as well as beavering away on the final version of this month’s Toronto gig guide, some of this site’s smartest readers have been making magic in this here Comments section with a Battle of the Patriotic American Songs, a welcome tangent from this site’s slight over-preoccupation with Liz Phair this week. Especially not to be missed is Jody Rosen’s extensive recontextualization of God Bless America and the remarkable MP3 he posts of Irving Berlin’s own heart-rending rendition of it. Jody is too modest to mention that he’s something of an expert on Berlin, as the author of a fine book about Berlin’s (and arguably America’s) greatest hit, White Christmas. If you note the URL on that link, you’ll see you’re getting a preview of Jody’s own a-birthin’ blog The Anachronist, which is slated to go live any moment now. On the subject of America the Beautiful, I’d also mention Lynn Sherr’s lefty book about the song as well as my own related piece on the reference to the tune within Chicago jazz trio Sticks and Stones’ album Shed Grace last year. (Scroll down to the second article.)

Jody and Sherr seem to be among a small handful of writers who have done whole books about single songs. The book-on-one-album genre is now well-established, arguably even oversaturated, with the 33 1/3 and the apparently abortive Vinyl Frontiers series, as well as Kingsley Abbot on Pet Sounds (bringing the total of Pet Sounds books to three if you’ve been following along), or the “Making of” books on Kind of Blue and A Love Supreme. But single-song books? There’s also Greil Marcus’s recent tome on Like a Rolling Stone, David Margolick’s on Strange Fruit, naturally several on The Star-Spangled Banner (of which this is probably the best) and a lot of songs-turned-into-picture-books. (Know any others?) It’s a thrilling challenge, well worth it when the writer digs into history for unexpected twists as Jody does, but a risky one, as Marcus’s mixed reviews indicate. (I haven’t cared to read it, and I’m usually a GM fan.) After all, how many songs can carry the freight? St. Louis Blues occurs to me as a rich possibility. But a book on the most-recorded song, Yesterday, would be a guaranteed snoozer. What would your nominee be?

Also: Our pal in campus-radioland, Helen Spitzer, seems to be taking up blogging duties in earnest this month, and now she’s adding her own Spitzcast. Spitzer’s an indie loyalist (and, to tie the bow neatly, a frequent cameo in the Comments box hereabouts) but one of particular discernment, and I’m eager to cozy up to her hitlist.

(Plus: Single-Song Studies!?)">13 Comments

Republic of Melody

October 24th, 2005

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RoS: From left, Jonny Dovercourt (gtr-vox), Maggie MacDonald (vox), Kate McGee (bass), Katarina Gligorijevic-Collins (bass), Evan Davies (drums-mayhem). Photo by whom-else-but Aperture Enzyme.

Caught the Republic of Safety set at kool teen-feminist mag Shameless’s party at the Gladstone yesterday afternoon. (Not a difficult catch, since I currently live at the Gladstone.) Besides Evan’s ever-expanding capacities as between-song raconteur (his Hallowe’en “scary stories” about Olestra, tinted contact lenses and chicken fingers were fantastic), the great development is that frontlady Maggie has begun to sing actual tunes through entire songs, rather than just doing her riot-grrrl-rap-yelling (which is beloved but risks a queasy combination of sexiness and monotony over a whole set). And it turns out she can carry them. It’s a great leap in self-assurance from her musical start with the Hidden Cameras to her Barcelona Pavilion days to now. (See the Shameless interview w/her this month, or my profile from the spring.) You’re Only Lonely is a superb new song, with its stop-yer-sobbin’ sentiments arrestingly conveyed.

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It’s Their Party (Gore v. Phair)

October 23rd, 2005

Nice catchup with Lesley Gore - feminist, lesbian, Democratic activist and singer of bubblegum hit It’s My Party in 1963 - in The New York Times today. Whodathunk? And on that note …

I sympathize with those who find the current incarnation of Liz Phair unconvincing, but I think the hoax “Liz Phair Week” over at The Mystical Beast is excessively meanspirited - implying not only disrespect for Phair’s choices (as is Dana’s right) but contempt for anyone who does like the last two albums, with an adopted voice that strongly implies “stupid young girl naif,” a repugnant level of snobbery. (Edit: Okay, on second glance I’m not sure what made me think it was meant to be a girl’s voice, except that it would be typical-rockist-etc.)

That said, it was a clever move, applying the mock-blog technique (a la Harriet Miers) to music criticism. [... continues, with Liz Phair's take on The Star-Spangled Banner ...]

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