Archive for June, 2008
June 27th, 2008
I was disappointed to see so little coverage in the downtown weeklies in Toronto yesterday of the Suoni per il Toronto mini-festival at the Music Gallery this weekend, a spinoff of the Suoni per il Popolo festival in Montreal (a month-long celebration of adventurous and oppositional music). In particular, it’s a shame that the rare visit from British saxophone improvising giant Evan Parker (and his likewise-eminent trio partners Barry Guy, bass, and Paul Lytton, percussion) got no coverage. For the uninitiated the video above should give you an idea (it’s the same trio but with the addition of pianist Agusti Fernandez at the Mulhouse jazz festival in Alsace, 2007). I’m too short on time today to detail Parker and company’s extensive history, but here are a few testimonials. The show tonight begins at 7 pm (with solo bass by Aaron Lumley), doors at 6 pm, Parker Trio at 8 pm; show up early for the Gallery’s summer BBQ.
Also, tomorrow afternoon Parker & Lytton present a free workshop for local improvisers (plus us looky-loos and listeny-lees) at 2 pm. Musicians would be foolish to miss it!
“UK saxophonist Evan Parker is one of the true pioneers of European free improvisation. He is recognized as the creator of a new solo saxophone language, extending the techniques and experiments started by John Coltrane and Albert Ayler, but taking them away from the rhythmically jazz-related areas and into the realm of abstraction. In particular, his use of circular breathing techniques to create extended, complex and overlapping soundscapes is generally seen as the apex of saxophone virtuosity.” - bio on Music Gallery website
“Parker: speed, dexterity, instantaneous interplay, refinement, razor sharpness, almost scientific technical achievement (especially on the soprano saxophone, which he has virtually reinvented), and a graciousness and cooperative spirit in collective settings that he has labelled the ‘agree to agree’ approach.” - John Corbett
“Evan Parker breathes like Tiger Woods swings a driver: smooth, seamless, a complete motion that converts potential energy to kinetic with the inevitability of an apple dropped from a tree. And both artists work with the bold precision that comes with having endlessly refined their technique. Parker … might be the most important European jazz improviser alive.” - Joe Gross, Austin AmericanStatesman
Eye weekly did, fortunately, give some ink to tomorrow night’s cd release show for the new No Contest by Feuermusik, the sax-and-buckets duo of Jeremy Strachan and Gus Weinkauf that’s been making some of the most exciting, direct jazz-improv music in Canada in recent years. Read Helen Spitzer’s fine interview with the guys.
On the bill with Feuermusik (who will be bringing their “big band” incarnation for the occasion) is intriguing Boston-area band Neptune, who build all their instruments themselves - baritone guitars, basses, “lamellophones,” pipe xylophones, even synthesizers - out of “circular saw blades, gas tanks, oil drums, bike parts, VCR casings, and miscellany from the trash.” The video below provides a pretty compelling depiction of the results.
June 24th, 2008
As several people have noted, cover of Lil Wayne’s new album implies
a claim to monumental status with obvious visual reference to Nas’s Illmatic and Biggie’s Ready to Die.
My review of Tha Carter III - the new Lil Wayne album, if’n you’ve been living under a rock (or, perhaps, inside a rock-music bubble) - was in The Globe and Mail today. I repent a little bit of the claim that Wayne has talent instead of “drive” - you don’t put out all the material he does if you don’t have drive, although I meant that he doesn’t give the same impression of career-micromanagement that a typical pop star does, that he’s a lot more spontaneous. Likewise “friendliness” is a subjective call - his giggly megalomania is kind of personable though it’s also kind of offputting - and he does seem to have cleaned up his look a little bit for record-promo season, compared to his usual I-slept-in-the-studio raggedy-ass look. Writers: See where going for an easy joke when you’re right on deadline gets you? Take a lesson. But the point stands, I think: Wayne doesn’t preen and doesn’t try to seem user-friendly in the usual star manner. And that is of course another way of being a star, the don’t-give-a-shit iconoclastic way.
I didn’t have space in the review to get into another point about Wayne’s use of the “alien” persona, especially in Phone Home, which is the way that he’s invoking what Deepak Mehmi (at the recent Canadian conference of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music) has called “the metaphorical Afronaut” in hip-hop, a trope others have noted in jazz (Sun Ra being the classic example), funk (George Clinton with his Mothership) and techno (all over the placed). It’s the Afro-Futurism theme, the “sonic fiction,” as Kodwo Eshun has called it, of black people as alien beings - or at least of particular black artists as being so far-out - and not really “of” the world they come from - that they are like alien beings. This self-exoticization is a sort of reclaiming and reversal of the treatment of talented black people as freaks, and I wish I’d discussed it in my review because my discussion of him as a wildly atypical pop star could be critiqued as falling into the exoticization trap too. But I think that Wayne is very deliberately raising and promoting this image, just as Clinton and Sun Ra did, because it can be a liberating place to operate. By freeing himself of his context he frees himself of rules and expectations. (Unlike Ra or Clinton, though, he does try to have it both ways by keeping up his New Orleans bonafides, especially since the hurricanes, another rich vein of contradiction to explore with Wayne.)
I also didn’t talk - because I was writing for a Globe audience that I wanted to convince to give Wayne a chance, and not provide an excuse for them to ignore him - about the sexism you do still hear all over Carter 3, with its alternate greed for and sneering dismissal of “pussy” in track after track, one of the lazy places Wayne lapses into when he doesn’t have enough else to say. It’s what I meant when I talked about the “garbage” that sometimes bobs in the stream of his flow. For instance in A Milli: “The bible told us every girl was sour/
Don’t play in her garden and don’t smell her flower.” The rumours about Wayne’s sexuality make these moments especially ambiguous - touching the forbidden issue of gay males and misogyny - but at the same time he’s of course always posing as this indomitable cocksman, like any other rapper but with an extra dose of protest-too-much. Not that I have a clue whether or not Wayne is gay, but if he is and could just go ahead and say so, he would certainly be vouchsafing the fearless individuality he’s always asserting - though you can also imagine him not wanting his freakiness to be reduced down to his orientation, too. That’s how I figure it with Missy Elliot, for instance, though she certainly doesn’t strain as hard to disguise things.
And that’s not even getting into the very-hard-to-parse political speechifying in the closing track. All that said, though, the album’s maddening and marvelous, though I’m still waiting to compare it to the new Nas (which it probably outstrips) and the upcoming Andre 3000 (which it may well won’t).
Meanwhile, I never got around to my promised report on the Bishop brothers (ex-Sun City Girls) concert in Toronto last week. It was a funny one: The show was divided into two parts, the first of which didn’t connect much with the audience, to the Bishops’ obvious frustration: The first set was mostly the misanthropic murder, blasphemy and incest-themed hillbilly-styled songs that have always been a part of the SCG repertoire, especially the Beat-styled nihilism of the late third Girl, Charles Gocher, to whose memory this tour is dedicated. While there are points where those songs’ gonzo intensities can’t help but be amusing and occasionally even visionary in their surreal violence and such, a lot of it depends on a shock value that by this point seems pretty threadbare and adolescent. Maybe some of the anti-religious stuff hits home better south of the border, where everyone feels more impinged upon by the fundamentalists, but in Toronto it’s hard to work up a sweat about it. On top of that, we were in an art gallery where the strongest drink on hand was soda pop, so we didn’t get the drunken-yahoo fun out of it that probably happened at more bacchanalian Sun City Girls shows of yore. (Alan Bishop took all this as a sign that Torontonians are the same cross-their-arms-and-judge types as New Yorkers, as he saw it, and there’s no doubt something to that - but as he found out when he started making fun of Canadian bands, especially Rush, we weren’t a crowd averse to humour - he just hadn’t found our funny bones yet.)
A sizable chunk of the crowd left after that unfortunately (some of them, I know, understandably enough were racing over to the Tranzac to catch the final Silt show). But as Alan promised before the break, they came back with their guitars in different tuning, ready to “sell out all over the place and make you love us.” Selling out for the Bishops turned out to mean playing their fantastic pastiches of blues and global music in oceanic acoustic-guitar duets, kind of an extended series of variations on Zeppelin’s Kashmir but with wider ethnomusicological sensibility and some ear-scouring, very impressive vocals from Alan in semi-Arabic and African tones. (It’s worth remembering that the Bishops are of Lebanese heritage, so they have deeper connections to this music too.) A lot of it was beautiful - with a little comic relief in the fact that Alan broke guitar strings in nearly every song, and in one case two of them, which is even more notable when you realize (as Richard later pointed out) that he started out playing with five strings instead of six because, he said, he was inevitably going to break the top string anyway, so why bother? Richard (who as “Sir Richard Bishop” has been doing a lot of solo, instrumental-guitar records and tours in recent years) didn’t break a single string in the same time.
It’s too bad that they didn’t mix the two sets up over the course of the evening - the naughty novelty songs would have been easier to enjoy if they’d just been interspersed among the more musically compelling ones. Sure, that would have required that they tour with an extra set of guitars (because of the different tunings), but it would be worth the effort. I was a little let down too that there wasn’t more of a sense of theatre to the show - at one point Alan did get up and scatter some powder around the room, including on audience members’ heads, without identifying it; while it looked like cocoa the buzz was that it was Charlie Gocher’s ashes (I doubt it, but who knows?). It’s tough to live down your own legend, even when it’s a legend only a handful of people have ever heard, and while this was not at all the psychic journey that the storied Sun City Girls shows of the 1980s and 1990s were, I was very happy in the end that I got to witness it.
I, I, I, I Am Gonna Play Sun City … Girls!
(Plus: Laurie Anderson, Parkdale Public, and RIP The Silt)
June 17th, 2008
Laurie Anderson in Homeland.
I was out of town much of the weekend so I missed all manner of North By Northeasterly, Luminatic and other action; however you can read my review of Friday night’s Luminato show by Laurie Anderson in yesterday’s Globe and Mail. (”When reality catches up to an avant-garde icon.”)
Tonight I am going to try to run between the Parkdale Public School vs. Queen West’s seventh round, “Parkdale Strings vs. Blocks Recording Club” (featuring child musicians of the Senior Strings class working with Kids on TV, The Phonemes and Bob Wiseman) at 7 pm at the Gladstone, and the great Alan and Sir Richard Bishop of the now-defunct Sun City Girls paying tribute to their fallen comrade Charlie Gocher, at the WhipperSnapper Gallery. Full report to follow.
And I might even try to run from there to the Tranzac to catch some of what I’m sorry to hear (rather suddenly) will be the final show by The Silt, one of the most beloved configurations (Ryan Driver, Marcus Quin and Doug Tielli) of the core personnel of the Rat-Drifting label. In tribute, I’ll post the very first piece I (or, I think, anybody else) ever wrote about the Silt, from 2000. Hard to believe it’s been eight damn years. Thanks for all the weird pretty and pretty weird music, boys. Read all about it on the jump.
June 12th, 2008
Still in the maw of distraction, but didn’t want to let this innovation in the Polaris Prize process go unmentioned. Instead of just announcing the nominees, the Canadian best-album prize - judged by critics and broadcasters (including yours truly), sponsored by Rogers and carrying a $20,000 purse - is now spreading the love (and publicity bump) around by making public the 40 strongest contenders in pre-voting by the entire jury pool: We each chose 5 albums released between June 1/07 and May 31/08. The most frequently mentioned (and highest ranked) got onto the long list. This allows for strategic voting - we can (but are not obliged to) replace or re-rank the no-hopers on our ballots in order to elevate the prospects of favourite up-and-comers.
Here it is in alphabetical order - just think, an extra month to complain about jury bias and imbalance! For the record, four of my five picks made the list, the exception being The Reveries’ Matchmakers Vol. 1: The Music of Willie Nelson. I’m left wishing I’d made my jazz/improv selection more strategically - perhaps I could have boosted Feuermusik or David Buchbinder’s Odessa/Havana over the wall. At least Sandro Perri is there representing the improvising massive (arguably along with Thee Silver Mt Zion and Socalled’s sui generis disc Ghetto Blaster which crosses four or five genres). Perri would be my no. 1 were it not for the true object of my upcoming lobbying efforts, Veda Hille’s This Riot Life.
At quick glance hip-hop, electronic, country-folk and francophone representation all seems to be improving; harder rock/emo get some ’spect, but not hardcore or metal; pop music registers not at all unless you count City and Colour. Neil Young and Joni Mitchell likewise draw blanks. Regional balance doesn’t look too shabby: Someone do the math - which city’s musical cuisine reigns supreme? And who the hell is Gatineau?
Finally, sympathies to the unheard and unsung. Remember, there is joy in being barred from the temple.
2008 Polaris Music Prize Long List (alphabetical)
The Acorn, Glory Hope Mountain
Attack In Black, Marriage
Black Mountain, In The Future
Born Ruffians, Red, Yellow and Blue
Buck 65, Situation
Basia Bulat, Oh, My Darling
Cadence Weapon, Afterparty Babies
Cancer Bats, Hail Destroyer
City And Colour, Bring Me Your Love
Constantines, Kensington Heights
Crystal Castles, Crystal Castles
Destroyer, Trouble In Dreams
Fred Eaglesmith, Tinderbox
Kathleen Edwards, Asking For Flowers
Christine Fellows, Nevertheless
Hayden, In Field And Town
Veda Hille, This Riot Life
Holy Fuck, LP
Islands, Arm’s Way
Karkwa, Le volume du vent
Corb Lund, Horse Solider! Horse Soldier!
The New Pornographers, Challengers
Pas Chic Chic, Au Contraire
Sandro Perri, Tiny Mirrors
Plants And Animals, Parc Avenue
Ghislain Poirier, No Ground Under
Protest The Hero, Fortress
Justin Rutledge, Man Descending
Sadies, New Seasons
Shad, The Old Prince
Socalled, Ghetto Blaster
Stars, In Our Bedroom After The War
Tegan And Sara, The Con
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra-La-La Band, 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons
Two Hours Traffic, Little Jabs
The Weakerthans, Reunion Tour
Wintersleep, Welcome To The Night Sky
June 11th, 2008
Salif Keita, in Toronto as part of the jazz festival on June 29.
Sorry for the spate of radio silence. I’ve been playing three-dimensional deadline chess all week with various competing assignments. Meanwhile, though, locals might like to know that NXNE and Jazz Festival listings can now be found in the gig guide. If we’ve missed anything (NXNE’s website is a nightmare, and the Jazz Fest’s is good but huge) just holler.
June 2nd, 2008
That title’s misleading - this post isn’t really railing at anybody - but I couldn’t resist combining the names of Elvis Costello’s latest album and an earlier Martha Wainwright EP, as I have reviews of both their terrific new records today in The Globe and Mail.
Supplemental notes: Momofuku finds Costello (hanging out with Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley as well as his own old mates in the Imposters) in his most incisive mood in a long while, much more of a return to form to my ears than When I Was Cruel or Brutal Youth (though they’re both good records) - though much more a return to the form of, say, Spike or Blood and Chocolate than to his first four or five records, a do-no-wrong streak people ought to stop measuring him by. Bob Dylan’s made some great records since 1970 but it verges on impossible for him to touch Highway 61 and Blonde on Blonde, because that was all about how Dylan’s energy and creativity fit into and altered the spirit of its time. You can’t assess stuff like that “purely” as songs and performances, aside from context and pure newness, and the same goes for albums like My Aim Is True and Armed Forces, I’d say.
As a side note, because Elvis is among other things one of the biggest music nerds ever to become a pop star (sorta) himself, there’s a fascinating historical background to one of the songs on Momofuku, called “Stella Hurt.” (You can stream it, with the rest of the album, on the Lost Highway site.) Rather than simply one of Costello’s fictional or composite characters (like “Veronica” in his hit with Paul McCartney), Stella Hurt was a real person, the final married name of a forgotten jazz singer of the 1930s and 1940s once known as Teddy Grace - she’s in the centre photo above, and you can read her rather sad tale in this article from The Oxford American by Derek Jenkins (though its real hero is New York jazz/blues-collector David McCain, who tracked down the former singer in a nursing home just months before she died and got her story). I have little doubt that Costello read the OA story and his wordplay-loving mind could not resist the aptness of Stella’s fall from Grace to Hurt.
The other review is of Martha Wainwright’s new, second (but it might as well be first) album, I Know You’re Married, But I’ve Got Feelings Too, whose title (like that of her Bloody Motherfucking Asshole EP) encapsulates its dominantly rueful mood - but not nearly all of its moods, as this is a beautifully rounded record. My review might be a bit overboard in its enthusiasm, but it’s such a pleasure to find a performer I first heard a decade ago singing her collegiate compositions on guitar in little Montreal cafes finally making the record she’s long had in her, one with the potential to win thousands, even millions of hearts, that I don’t feel the slightest apologetic about shouting it to the skies.