by carl wilson

October 30, 2008

Byrning Bright


Amazing time at the Songs of David Byrne & Brian Eno Toronto tour stop at Massey Hall last night. My review is up on The Globe & Mail website (bearing roughly the same headline as approximately one-third of all reviews of the tour thus far) (but at least it's accurate) (I wonder if he thought of the "Byrne/burn" pun when he was writing the song?).

General | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, October 30 at 8:55 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (4)


October 29, 2008

Kafka in the Office:
'A Cage in Search of a Bird'


It sounds like a piece of sketch comedy, like a fake ad for Tupac's Greatest Voice Mail Messages or Jimi Tunes His E String!, but actually I don't know that I've been more excited about any book in a long while than I am about Franz Kafka: The Office Writings: "Kafka's most interesting professional writings, composed during his years as a high-ranking lawyer with the largest Workmen's Accident Insurance Institute in the Czech Lands of the Austro-Hungarian Empire." Yes, it's his worksite inspection reports, memos on safety, policy recommendations and even his letters demanding a raise!

Besides the fact that there can never be enough Kafka, the fascination is because his work focuses so much on the existential-nightmare side of bureaucracy and business: Looking at these documents will be kind of like seeing a photo of the prostitute that posed for the Mona Lisa. As Stanley Corngold says in his introduction (downloadable at the Princeton site): "The specter of bureaucracy haunts Kafka day and night in every corner of his writing life." It was both his subject and his nemesis, his "hook into the real," and in many ways it gave his writing form, in a mutually parasitic relationship - his office work leeched on his time and energy as a writer, and yet his writing sucked blood and guts out of office life, aka the trial, aka the castle, etc.

Besides which it's always fascinating to catch an iconic figure when they're not being iconic. Kafka's letters and diaries are too much part of his legend to fill that function, so in a way seeing him wearing the mask of officialdom is humanizing - not that there's ever anything less than human about Kafka's writing, but more in the "celebrities, they're just like us" sense: "They pretend to care about bullshit at work - and they probably do care a little, actually." Although we know that doubledness from Kafka's own account, those accounts are always about how the mask felt, not how it looked. In this version, it is like we get to see Franz Kafka playing Don Draper (cf. Mad Men).

I can't decide which I want to read first: "Petition of the Toy Producers' Association in Katharinaberg, Erzgebirge (1912)," "Measures for Preventing Accidents from Wood-Planing Machines (1910)" or "A Public Psychiatric Hospital for German Bohemia (1916)."

General | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, October 29 at 3:24 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)


October 22, 2008

November Gig Guide ...

... is in action! Check the gig-guide page and as always please notify us of errors and omissions. So far a quiet month compared to the past few, but I'm sure that won't last. Most notable so far perhaps are the Nov. 10 and 11 visit by Eugene Chadbourne to the Tranzac and Somewhere There, as well as The Bicycles' new CD launch, with a million friends as always, on Nov. 8.

Via Toronto | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, October 22 at 6:00 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


Hymn to a Ballroom:
The Arkestra Meets Coleman Lemieux Dance

I hadn't realized what a posh event last night's launch of the X-Avant festival featuring the Sun Ra Arkestra and the Coleman Lemieux dance company was going to be. Among all the out-music heads I chatted with at the Palais Royale last night, it seemed like few had ever been there before; I hadn't been to the Twenties-and-Thirties-era dance palace since its renovations six years ago, when it was a drafty, peeling-plaster shed that looked a bit like a bandshell and a bit like an aircraft hanger that had been shelled. It had a Mrs. Haversham kind of glamour.

My initial response to seeing the new Palais was to regret its fancying-up, since it does look a bit like an Event Venue now, if you know what I mean. But it was impossible not to savour the incongruity of being at an avant-garde-music event where there are ushers dressed in suits and ties; where there are black-suited bartenders doing Tom-Cruise-in-Barfly-type flip tricks with bottles of coconut rum; where there's a roaring gas fire in a fireplace, and a table of expensive pastries for sale; where there are cocktail tables and sweeping multi-beam stage lights... It was a kind of social-science-fiction of its own, as if we were playing characters devised to set the greatest possible visual contrast to the Arkestra musicians in their shiny King-Tut-on-Saturn robes and the dancers in their headdresses, toga-dresses, modern-primative-dresses and undresses. It was especially effective at the end when dancers, band and audience were all together on the dance floor.

Musically, it was the best Arkestra concert of the three or four I've seen. In the past, I've found the group generally inconsistent, a bit of a museum piece that sometimes reaches the cosmic heights and sometimes seems a few thrusters short of liftoff; I'm not sure if there are some new members, or maybe a few of the veterans in wobbly health have retired, or maybe they were just inspired by the setting but they were super-tight and vigorous, whether they were playing Fletcher Henderson-style swing standards or swooshing and bleeping through the heliosphere. The dance component of the night was sensuous and playful, even if the choreography sometimes seemed a little loose, a bit hastily assembled - each segment had a strong central idea but not a lot of development - but never mind, as the general spirit seemed direct, simple and yet striking and faithful to the Arkestra's antic heart.

Congratulations to Jonny Dovercourt at the Music Gallery and collaborators on "a night to remember," as they say on the prom posters. (Hope they didn't lose a bundle doing it.) It's a very auspicious start to the X-Avant Festival, which continues tonight at the Drake with a tribute to Klaus Dinger, creator of the Krautrock motorik beat; tomorrow at the Gallery with a tripartite study in the art of digital dissolve, audio and visual, with Naw, Keith Fullerton Whitman and Klimek; on Friday with a show featuring a new, partially Sun Ra-inspired band from Jeremy Strachan of Feuermusik, as well as Italian bassist Stefano Scodanibbio and, in what I suspect will be an X-Avant highlight, Philadelphia's Sonic Liberation Front. (See David Dacks' Eye Weekly piece on the group from last week.)

There's more through the weekend - check the Music Gallery web page for deets.

General | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, October 22 at 2:35 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)


October 20, 2008

Destination: Braxtonology

I keep neglecting to tell y'all that you should be tuning your dials right about now to Destination:Out, the jazzsite that keeps on giving, where they've been holding an Anthony Braxton "blogathon" throughout October. Tons of music, analysis, background stories and general science about the formidable composer and saxophonist - if you've ever felt daunted, as I have, by the vastness of the Braxton catalogue and its theoretical scaffolding, Jay and Drew make it easy going.

General | Posted by zoilus on Monday, October 20 at 4:02 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


It's After the End of the World


In honour of the Sun Ra Arkestra's appearance tomorrow night (with the Coleman Lemieux dance company) launching the Music Gallery's X-Avant Festival, here's a piece I wrote three years ago, last time the Marshall Allen-led big band came through town playing the compositions of their late friend & mentor.

It feels so different to re-read it at this moment, when the top of the news is Colin Powell knuckling Barack Obama's prospects further into the spaceways, rather than a swirling sky-fist slamming down on the people of New Orleans. Tomorrow's show at the Palais Royale should be a grand cosmic-slop celebration.

(FYI I'm going to be on a "Space is the Place" panel at 3 pm on Saturday (Oct 25) at the Music Gallery, talkin' Sun Ra & Stockhausen with Aiyun Huang, Arnd Jurgensen and Alan Stanbridge.)

† † †

Sun Ra's stream of consciousness still flowing into the future

Carl Wilson
14 October 2005
The Globe and Mail

The reality of the "off-the-grid," shunted-aside mass of the African-American underclass rarely breaks through to popular attention. It happened during the Los Angeles riots of 1992, and again after the New Orleans hurricane disaster this fall. Each time, the reaction is as if the media's so-called observers had stumbled on a previously undiscovered planet of want in the western cosmos.

Turn that image on its head, to picture a new world of freedom and plenty for those same people, and you glimpse a strain of astro-Afro-utopianism that runs through 20th-century black movements, such as Garveyism, Rastafarianism, the militantly mystic Nation of Islam, and the music of Herman (Sonny) Blount: legal name at his death in 1993, Le Sony'r Ra; and more familiar on this astral plane as Sun Ra.

[... continues ...]

Blount "arrived" on Earth circa 1914, in segregated Birmingham, Ala. -- en route, he maintained, from Saturn. Over his 79 years, dozens of musicians passed through his Sun Ra Arkestra in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and, for six months in 1961, Montreal. They recorded more than 100 albums and untold numbers of singles, with titles such as Heliocentric Worlds, Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy and Space Is the Place (also the name of a recent biography, and a documentary available on DVD).

The Arkestra also garbed itself in colourful robes and ram-horned headgear that seemed to come out of a Hollywood Cleopatra epic. It snaked through audiences chanting: "It's after the end of the world, don't you know that yet?" It played unheard-of chord changes, skronked and squealed, and sang "Rocket No. 9 taking off for the planet Venus, Venus, Venus."

As a result, Sun Ra is often patronized as some sort of jazz Dr. Seuss by pot-smoking college kids intent on getting off on the far-out. Yet, the "myth science" taught by the former big-band and strip-club pianist went deeper for his musicians. They were the descendents of Africans who'd been brought into bondage by ship; maybe another ship -- a rocket, at least of the mind -- could get them out.

"You want a better world, play better music," says Marshall Allen, the 81-year-old alto saxophonist who now leads the Arkestra, which will hold court for four nights at the Lula Lounge in Toronto this week, still wearing its space gear and chanting its mantras.

The Arkestra sails on, Allen says, at Sun Ra's dying request: It was the last tune he called. And Allen composes new repertoire, despite the band's vast back catalogue, because "you have to stay with the vibrations of the day -- it goes around and it's constantly changing."

While Ra was alive, with his constant cosmic jive patter, even appreciative critics generally considered him an isolated sideshow. The story looks different in retrospect. Besides sketching the contours of free jazz a decade ahead of time, Sun Ra and his groups pioneered modal improvisation and the use of electric pianos and synthesizers. Even when they didn't have electronic instruments, Allen says, "you had to take those saxophones and make them sound like it."

The Arkestra adopted African and "world" elements to jazz before anyone else did, and Ra was an autodidact in Egyptology and other esoterica long before it became fashionable Afrocentrism. As Amiri Baraka wrote after his death: "It was Sun Ra and the Myth Science Arkestra that marched across 125th Street with us . . . announcing the 60s cultural revolution and sparking a Black Arts Movement."

Sun Ra's tenor sax player, the late John Gilmore, was an acknowledged influence on John Coltrane. Pharoah Sanders is a former Arkestra member. Sun Ra's mark is as visible on the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (including the likes of Anthony Braxton and the Art Ensemble of Chicago) as on the 1970s funk-rock "Mothership" piloted by George Clinton with Parliament-Funkadelic and, by extension, on all jazz-fusion music.

It was no lark to be an Arkestra member. Sun Ra's rehearsals were marathon conditioning sessions that could last days, recalls Allen, who joined in 1958. "You got paid to come to rehearsal -- you might not get paid to play the gig." The edict was that a musician could not play what he knew -- he had to play what he didn't know. Allen puts it in a Socratic aphorism: "Once you don't know nothin', then you can do somethin'."

But the prohibitions went further. Musicians were required to abjure alcohol, drugs and the company of women. From the 1960s on, they were enjoined to live in the group's communal Philadelphia row house. Call it monastic or call it a cult. Sun Ra, who was jailed during the Second World War for his conscientious objection, sometimes described the Arkestra as a non-violent army.

Biographers dispute whether Ra was a traumatized person retreating into fantasy, or a sly satirist fully in command of his metaphors. I suspect it was both, at once escape and assault, just as he was at once an innovator and a traditionalist. Under Allen's more earthbound direction, there's stronger emphasis on the Duke Ellington and Fletcher Henderson swing standards Sun Ra always loved, plus the "simple melodies" Allen prefers to write, albeit with the Arkestra's "unique attack."

In his 1995 Sun Ra elegy, Baraka called Allen himself "a giant . . . There is no alto saxophonist I know today, or generally, hipper than Marshall." He added: "That this is not common knowledge is depressing."

The living Arkestra's position remains scandalously insecure today, despite wider recognition of its late leader's significance. The economics are punishing when you have to maintain a large band (such as the 14 players Allen hopes to bring to Toronto) as well as the legacy that resides in the communal Philly house where Allen still lives.

"You've got to suffer non-payment of rent in order to buy you an instrument or something you need to play," he says. "The music is for the future -- Sun Ra was saying that then. It was a good thought, that it'd come back around. But what about now?"

The old recordings have been reissued on CD and probably sell better than a lot of jazz does, but Sun Ra's management neglected to ensure any royalties would flow to the band. It's the perennial story of black journeymen abandoned by the music business. New Orleans floods, Sun Ra's roof leaks; the black Atlantis has yet to surface. But Allen will never yield.

"It's the size of your spirit. You can have all the material things, but then you've got to lift your spirit up to the height of the money you've got all stacked up there." He chuckles. "It's a balance thing in this world."

And if this one refuses to provide, you hold that vision of other worlds that will. It's a balance thing, but not, so far, a just one.

Read More | General | Posted by zoilus on Monday, October 20 at 2:22 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


October 16, 2008

Somethin' On My Mind: RIP Frankie Venom

I've been too swamped with other deadlines for le blogging this week although there's been tons to post about. (If you haven't caught the Take On Me, Literally video yet, give yourself a few minutes of happiness.)

But I wanted to drop in to share my sympathies to those who today are mourning Frank Kerr, aka Frankie Venom, of one of Canada's original and most indefatigable punk bands, Teenage Head. My favourite tribute so far is on The Last Pogo website: Frankie Venom talked the talk and he walked the walk. He also climbed staging, hung from rafters, rolled on broken glass, danced on tables and once, at the Colonial Underground in '76, either fell through the shoddy wooden stage (according to some) or crawled underneath and punched his way through.

(Forget it, Jake. It's Hammertown.)

That classic punk documentary is now finally out on DVD, by the way, and watching it would be one way to honour Frankie's memory. There'll also be a Last Pogo 30th-anniversary event at the scene of the original concert-crime, the Horseshoe Tavern, at the end of November.

General | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, October 16 at 8:58 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


October 14, 2008

Nadir's Big Chance (in Toronto)


I lost track of dates and overlooked telling you about tonight's Peter Hammill show in Toronto, at 8 pm at the Phoenix. Hammill's best known of course as the lead singer of British prog-proto-punk band Van Der Graaf Generator, in which capacity legend has it he was a prime influence on John Lydon's vocal style - more in the PiL era than in the Pistols - throw in a tincture of Berlin-period Bowie and lyric opera, and you've got a fair notion. My personal favourite Hammill period was when (like fellow prog veteran Peter Gabriel) he threw his lot in with the punk/post-punk/new-wave crowd and turned out a series of chilling monologic solo records, such as Nadir's Big Chance, A Black Box, The Future Now and Sitting Targets whose general mood is well summed up by the title, "The Institute of Mental Health, Burning."

Revisiting some of Hammill's stuff, I have a tad less appetite for all the drama than I did when I was 12, and his mellower, more measured and narrative writing of recent years, from what I've heard, gets a bit, well, English. But still, a heavyweight who continues to be as neglected as he was when Lydon was championing him, except by the more daring quarters of the prog constituency. I'm sure he'll have more to offer than the election returns do.

Via Toronto | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, October 14 at 10:35 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)


October 10, 2008

'I 'ope Zee Rising Black Smokes Scarrees Me Fall Away...'


The idea that No Children is actually a song sung between Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo is a great interpretive twist. Completely plausible but completely counter to the "meth-lab trash" vision of the Alpha pair.

General | Posted by zoilus on Friday, October 10 at 4:02 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


October 9, 2008

'No One Dances Like Michael Ondaatje'

I'm not sure the controversies during this election have been all that clarifying to Canadian artists about how we see our work, our role in society, the place of grant funding and our mode of relationship to the rest of the public. But Stephen Harper's sure making an entertaining foe - matching his belief that artists spend most of their time wearing gowns and going to glitzy galas with his impulse that the great thing about a global financial meltdown is that it's like a tag sale on stocks. It's not that Harper's an elitist or an anti-elitist - it's more that society as a whole is kind of a mystery to him. (I feel kind of sad for him.)

It's also produced quite a burst of agit-prop-making energy. As we go into the final weekend of the campaign, check out activist coalition Department of Culture's fundraisers across the country, as well as some of the quite impressive submissions to their Gone in 30 Seconds video contest. Meanwhile, I've just gotten this video from young Toronto band Hooded Fang (a reference of course to classic piece of Canadian literature - tho they're not the first musicians to drop that name). It gives Harper's gaffe a treatment that kinda reminds me of Electric Six's "Gay Bar" from a year, three ago. (Not that the arts are, like, gay or anything.) Ladies, gents and ordinary Canadians, let's go to an "Arts Gala."

General | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, October 09 at 2:56 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


October 8, 2008

They Got the Echo Prize and SOCAN You

The winner of the SOCAN Echo Songwriting Prize was announced today: It's the Weakerthans' song, "Night Windows." Since this is a songwriting prize, not a performance one, here's a video of a couple YouTubers in Germany doing a decent acoustic cover of the tune.

SOCAN said in the announcement: "Voting was VERY close with Veda Hille just missing out on the top prize." So, good try, Zoilus readers. It's hard to compete with the Weakerthans' big devoted fan base.

The French prize was won by duo Karkwa for their song "Oublie pas."

General | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, October 08 at 4:40 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


There is No Joy in Victo:
The Actuelle Gap

The stage falls silent at the Victoriaville festival's famous hockey-arena-turned-concert-hall.

The economic crisis spilled over into the avant-garde today, with an announcement from the Festival International de Musique Actuelle (FIMAV) in Victoriaville, Que., that "The 26th edition ... will be held from Thursday 20th to Monday 24th of May 2010!" Put in less enthusiastic terms, what that really means is that there will be no 2009 edition.

FIMAV, for those who don't know, has been a mainstay of the experimental-music circuit in North America for a quarter century, hosting the likes of John Zorn, Cecil Taylor, The Ex, Pere Ubu, Wolf Eyes, Anthony Braxton, Merzbow, Fred Frith, Matthew Shipp and many other big names as well as Quebecois and Canadian improvisers, noise musicians, art-rockers, free-jazzers and beyond.

In their explanation for the decision, the festival notes factors such as the need to develop "national financial partners" with resources to match the festival's international reputation, burn-out among festival staff and "the arrival of new competitors on the Quebec avant-garde music market," a not so subtle reference to Montreal's Suoni per il Popolo, a month-plus-long festival that provides Montrealers with the chance to see many of the artists they'd otherwise wait all year to travel the two hours or so it takes to get to Victoriaville. Montreal also gets more regular visits year-round now from European and American improvisers and other experimentalists, something that happened rarely to never back in the 1990s. And even Pop Montreal takes up some of the left-field-rock territory.

I imagine that the festival is also contemplating the avant-music devotees who travel long distances as tourists each year to come to Victo from the U.S. and other far-off locations. Many of them are business professionals of one kind or another for whom festival-going is just a passionate hobby, and they have to anticipate that this spring, a lot of people are going to have to eliminate their travel budgets.

Probably just the first of many such announcements about arts organizations cancelling, postponing or scaling back events. (In Toronto, I wonder if there will be a 2009 Luminato?) Anybody else heard similar news in their own areas yet?

General | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, October 08 at 3:42 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)


October 7, 2008

Pop Montreal: The Omnivore's Smorgasbord

Shogu Tokumaru, seen here not at Pop Montreal. (Photo by Elchicodelaleche.)

My Pop Montreal retrospective semi-essay appeared (in miniature deep in the Review section) in der Globe today. It got chopped and screwed somewhat in der editing, tho, so I'm a-gonna put the raw version up for you on the jump, gussied up with linkage.

Hoped to share a few other notes today but had to finish up some hack assignment for some Spanish hipsters (honestly) + haven't had a chance. Stay tuned for the big love-splooge orgy for Darren Hayman tomorrow, then, as well as a report on a panel I was unexpectedly drafted onto, about the future of music criticism, as well as the improvisation panel, and some other stuff only briefly mentioned in the wrap-up.

Tucking in to an omnivore's smorgasbord of sound

October 1-5, Montreal
Reviewed by Carl Wilson

What event in the world, let alone in Canada, can let you see hundreds of youthful indie-rock fans (and their parents) thronging an ornate church to sway and swoon to medleys of hits by 80-year-old (octave-agenarian?) maestro Burt Bacharach -- and later the same night, find many of those same people lining up to view a vintage, underground gay-sex movie in a fading skin-flick house, where a live band (led by genre-mashing composer SoCalled) matches "money shots" with double-entendre choices of 1950s chestnuts such as Sea of Love?

It could only be the annual Pop Montreal festival, which celebrated its seventh anniversary in a shower of melody, noise and spectacle this past weekend.

Sociological studies recently have documented a new order of western cultural tastes: The old high-art/low-trash hierarchy has been supplanted by the reign of the "omnivore," in which the most sophisticated audiences set themselves apart by consuming as wide a range of styles and backgrounds as their eyes and ears can suck up.

Pop Montreal is an omnivore's smorgasbord, the Bayreuth Festival of this new paradigm: It makes both that venerable Wagner marathon and more straight-up rock festivals such as Glastonbury in the U.K. (where rapper Jay-Z was jeered this summer) seem by comparison like out-of-it rubes who haven't yet learned how to rub their bellies while patting their heads.

A plurality of the acts that flood the clubs of St-Laurent, St-Denis and other central Montreal streets during the five days of Pop each October might still be guitar-based bands and singer-songwriters - such as Peterborough, Ont.'s cabaret-rock cabal The Burning Hell, who may have scored the most timely chant-along of the week with a song paying ironic tribute to the 1944 Bretton-Woods monetary-policy conference: "And the bankers sing: 'I can't get enough of the green stuff/ I can't get enough of the green stuff.' "

And yes, many of the big names on offer are those to whom rock scenes generally look for inspiration, such as post-punk icon Nick Cave, who scalded a super-sold-out Metropolis on Thursday, or UK bands Wire and The Wedding Present, who put the fest to bed in a blanket of feedback at the Theatre National on Sunday. Others, such as Florida band Black Kids, who played to a screaming Cabaret Juste Pour Rire on Saturday, are recent darlings of blogs and hip music sites.

But the festival also anticipates - and stokes - its audience's more eclectic desires by programming dance-rock (Hot Chip, Brazilian Girls, Ratatat), hip-hop (Shad, k-os), dancehall (Jamaican pioneer Sister Nancy, Toronto's promising young vocalist Bonjay), heavy metal (Watain, Withered) and bruising-beat remixers (The Bug, Pink Skull, Montreal's own increasingly touted Megasoid crew) -- but also, crucially, titans and "unknown legends" from previous generations.

Its audience has come to trust the curators' calls. There was no better example this year than Irma Thomas, the 67-year-old "soul queen of New Orleans" who never won the fame of contemporaries such as Aretha Franklin but, judging by Thursday night's show, has outdone nearly all of them at aging well. Still vivacious in presence and stunning in voice, Thomas noted how much younger the audience was than her usual crowd, saying, "Your parents have brainwashed you well." In fact, the key hidden persuader was probably Pop Montreal itself.

(That dynamic struck again on Saturday when doo-wop veterans the Persuasions, best known for their link to Frank Zappa in the 1970s, reportedly enraptured the Portugese Association hall.)

Thursday witnessed another kind of generation-crossing marvel when the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble took the stage. With seven horns and one monster drummer, almost all of them the sons of 1960s Chicago free-jazz figure Phil Cohran, this erstwhile street-corner band lived up to its name. Rugged charm and rousing chops marked their mix of funk, jazz, hip-hop, marching band and Afrobeat, despite many technical glitches. (They missed sound check thanks to our public servants at the Canadian border.)

Logistics could be a challenge. The generosity of the schedule, with up to 100 acts a night, was not complemented by the capacities of most venues, so many shows sold out long before the headliners came on, and the dash many blocks or further between clubs from set to set often got exhausting. (The festival experimented this year with renting bikes to out-of-towners, but neglected to include locks.) So even pass-holders were likely to miss much of what they hoped to hear.

Still, that left room for lucky discoveries. One was the under-publicized appearance by New York-based saxophonist Matana Roberts, one of the most vital young voices in contemporary jazz, at an improvisation workshop in the parallel "Symposium" discussion series Saturday afternoon.

Another was Japanese soloist Shugo Tokumaru's set at O Patro Vys on Friday. Aged 28 but looking a decade younger, he hushed the room with finger-picking guitar virtuosity reminiscent of the late John Fahey and a sweet set of vocal melodies that drew as deeply on 1960s psych-rock as on contemporary Asian pop.

For at least one listener, Tokumaru's music was the purest reminder that the value of an open mind is not to process a longer checklist of inputs: It's the chance that an unanticipated guest might settle in for the long haul and help rearrange your sense of human possibility.

Read More | General | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, October 07 at 1:19 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


October 6, 2008

Post-Pop Montreal Coming,

Get international music in Toronto at stores that don't have any "world music" section, thanks to Nick Storring's guide at the terrific (when it's active) End of World Music blog.

Go watch the new Final Fantasy video (for my favourite song from the Spectrum ep, "The Butcher") by Jesi the Elder.

| Posted by zoilus on Monday, October 06 at 6:48 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


October 3, 2008

Pop Top: My Day 1 (their Day 2)
at Pop Montreal


A rushed report from my first day at this year's Pop Montreal: New Orleans soul queen Irma Thomas set a high bar with her performance at the Ukrainian Federation hall, singing with nary an audible notch of lost power at 67 years of age. It was sweet that she kept apologizing in the first third of the set for doing numbers from her new Simply Grand album and promising to get to the classics soon, obviously not quite aware of the context: Likely little more than 10 percent of the room was at all familiar with her repertoire, being white northeastern kids in their 20s who were there because the Pop Montreal curators told them she was great, and they trust those curators, because they've earned it. Still, I feel like the organizers should have done a little better to prepare her in advance that it's far from being a jazz, blues and R&B; festival.

Things did heat up a few cayenne points when she got to the classics, though - or at least I thought because by then I'd smartened up and run to the front of the hall to join the throng of pretty young things jiving by the stage. Thomas's band might not have been quite A-list but New Orleans C-list is plenty beyond most places' standards. And I was just thrilled she played my fave, "It's Raining": "I guess I'll just go crazy tonight."

After that I dropped in to catch a bit of The Bug's dancehall-grind massacree, which was ferocious (so much so that my earpluglessness became a serious issue), but also late starting, so I didn't get to hear any of Warrior Queen (except a little sultry dancing across the stage, assuming that was her). But I did hear the last couple of numbers from Toronto's own Bonjay, whose beats are a bit workaday but whose voice was undeniable, especially when singing in creole - a little more snap in the songwriting and we could have a star on our hands.

And finally we sauntered over to Club Lambi on St-Laurent to see southside Chicago's Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, the band of "blood brothers" (as they put it, as opposed to just "brothers in the struggle") who are the sons of Sun Ra/AACM musician Kelan Phil Cohran (whose discs as leader of the Artistic Heritage Ensemble are among my favourite late-sixties jazz records). They coped with sound-system issues for nearly half an hour, having missed their soundcheck because of border-crossing troubles - they were clearly taken aback, after touring all over the world, that Canada had the biggest assholes at the border. But they did it with good humoured, raunchy aplomb, chatting up the "sexy ladies" in the house collectively - tongue in cheek, but your cheek if you were up for it.

When the horns finally started blaring, though, there was no stopping them or the crowd's feet. The first few tunes were a little too "gonna fly now" in their constant fanfaring, but a Fela Kuti cover seemed to help catapult them over the hurdles and from there on - especially in a 180-degree turn into a klezmer-meets-Cuba tune (which should have Toronto's David Buchbinder looking over his shoulder), and some super-fun call-and-response with the audience - everything was starbursts and a rain of gold, kids, a rain of gold.

Tonight, some combination of genuflecting at the church of Burt Bacharach (the horns keep on coming); Porn Pop at Cinema L'Amour with SoCalled, Owen Pallett and friends; synth pioneer Jean Jacques Perrey; Japan's Shugo Tokumaru; some Herman Dune, and late at night, perhaps a taste of Hey Rosetta, and a nightcap of Semi-Precious Weapons and Fritz Helder. Unless something else comes to mind.

General | Posted by zoilus on Friday, October 03 at 5:28 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)


Zoilus by Carl Wilson