RVIVR – S/T: Ah, this record completely shreds. Purchased from Matt outside Thee Parkside in S.F. while he was changing his strings, sitting cross-legged on the oil-stained asphalt. I couldn’t stay to see the show, unfortunately, but brought the record into Tommy’s Joynt on the way home and read the lyrics over a BBQ sandwich. I’ve played this album ten times since. Anyone with a soft spot for unapologetic, passionate shit plus blazing guitar solos and a dash of Fuel’s Take Effect EP should get on board. I mourn the fact that the record covers are recycled, unsold jackets from Behead the Prophet No Lord Shall Live LPs, but other than that everything about this record is killer.
Conlon Nancarrow – Studies for Player Piano: I got down with this after interviewing Jason Moran, who included one of this unique composer’s works on his latest album, Ten. Nancarrow had a curious working method. In the days of player pianos, someone would usually play the piano while the paper roll “recorded” the performance via holes punched in the paper. Nancarrow would just cut holes in the paper himself, manually, by hand, creating dense, fast pieces that would be impossible for a human to play. Think of it as a papyrus remix method. This collection, a good one, boasts on its cover “A tour de force of musical imagination – unbelievable sounds!” and it’s not lying.
Converge – Jane Doe: In 2001 I was mostly comparing every hardcore band to Econochrist or Born Against, and in all honesty I still do. I feel the margin for hardcore is slim in most people’s music-listening experiences, and whatever you’re exposed to in that slim timeframe is the measuring stick by which you measure all other hardcore being made. This album by Converge was a wonderfully glaring exception. I heard it just once nearly ten years ago right after it came out, but in that one listening, I realized that hardcore could in fact be taken to new places. Few hardcore records have had the same effect on me since. Deathwish reissued it on vinyl earlier this year, and when I put it on—yep, same amazing record, hasn’t aged one bit. Thanks!
Archie Shepp – The Magic of Ju-Ju: I talked to Fred Eaglesmith recently and he joked that critics have called every record he’s made a departure from his previous work. I didn’t want to tell him I thought that was a somewhat incorrect assessment since he was kind of joking anyway, but that’s what I think of when I think of Archie Shepp. The guy has some downright R&B albums, some straight jazz albums, some real avant-garde stuff but it’s always tinged with Shepp’s personality. I was lucky to meet him once, on my birthday. He smelled like weed. The title track of this record is a wonderful, 19-minute marathon of out-there drone.
Samothrace – Life’s Trade: Watching Neurosis transform from a hardcore band to a creepy, slow, glacial, hypnotic metal band is an experience I am glad I can claim in life. Most people now only know and/or enjoy the music they made post-’93 but their first three albums are undeniable works of art and I’ll defend them to the death. Live back then, they were revelatory. After the drum-circle jam on Enemy of the Sun I was off the train and only in the last five years have I been able to enjoy records like Times of Grace. Anyway, when I first heard Leviathan by Mastodon I was confused as to why it sounded exactly like Neurosis and then I realized that Neurosis actually influenced every single band in this genre that they basically single-handedly created. This record sounds like Neurosis with some subtle blues riffs thrown in.
Rusko – O.M.G.: So as far as I can tell, dubstep is defined by basically just this one certain bass sound. That’s nice for stoned people in England but I say we demand more idiosyncratic qualities before we christen a new genre. Then again England seems all too ready to christen, shower and elevate their own with ridiculous platitudes on the cover of NME every single month. “Hottest Band in the World!” becomes a country’s music scene that cried wolf, although I did actually like Alphabeat. Rusko seems like one of the dubstep scene’s hobos, hopping trains into different genres; his production on ///Y/ was incredible while this LP is so-so.
Louis Moreau Gottschalk – Works for Piano: Seriously one of the greatest piano composers of all time, Gottschalk was revered in his day but no one seems to talk about him much now. Lots of praise gets heaped on the usual American composers like Copland and Gershwin who combined jazz and folk forms into their pieces but Gottschalk was born in New Orleans in 1829 and was bringing Creole rhythms to Europe in the middle of that century, which would seem to override Gershwin’s status as a pioneer at least in that regard. There is so much flavor and romance in these pieces it’s nuts.
The Roots – Illadelph Halflife: I love it when you give an album another chance and it shows you some new side of itself because your ears are tuned a little differently with age, but this is still such a strangely weak album in the Roots’ discography. Strange because it’s from back when this band was hitting hard, sandwiched between Do You Want More? and Things Fall Apart which are both total masterpieces. But sometimes a band makes an album that’s just simply there, against the odds. Usually I keep returning to said albums, hoping to find some gold. I listened to this again today, and like the girl in Fame, I felt . . . nothing.
Chris Connor – Sings Lullabys of Birdland: I saw Lee Konitz play and conduct a jazz clinic last week in the Green Center at SSU. There’s been millions of dollars sunk into the Green Center which has been the subject of much controversy, debate and scorn, but I must say, the hall looks impressive. Konitz unpacked his horn, played a few notes, and looked around the large building. “Too much echo,” he grumbled. “You gotta fix this room.” This, of course, produced knowing laughter from the crowd, because here’s a guy who’s played with everyone and I mean everyone in the jazz world, and he’s saying this multimillion dollar room is substandard. Soon I realized that Konitz can just be kind of a grouch, though. He chewed out a photographer on three separate occasions and told her to fuck off, he got into an argument with a girl who remarked that she didn’t like Bach, he refused to introduce the players in his band, he called someone out for yawning, it was weird. He eventually lightened up, but mostly I just kept my eyes on the ground hoping he wouldn’t call on me or interpret something about my demeanor as an insult to his presence. Just when it couldn’t get any stranger, a girl with whom Konitz had an awkward exchange about race accidentally tripped and completely fell on her face on the way out of the room. So anyway, Lee Konitz played a plastic reed on an alto with a rag stuffed in the bell, and one of the songs he played was “What’s New,” which I first heard on Sinatra’s Only the Lonely album. Mel Martin was there, and it turns out Martin was one of Konitz’s students at one point. He reminisced that Konitz once told him that to play saxophone well, one should listen to Frank Sinatra. That struck me as interesting because whenever I think of Mel Martin, besides those Listen LPs you see everywhere, I think of how Mel played just one solitary beautiful chorus of “Goodbye” by Gordon Jenkins to end Mel Graves’ memorial tribute last year. “Goodbye” is also on Only the Lonely, and I immediately pictured Lee Konitz and Mel Martin in another time and place smoking weed and listening to that Frank Sinatra record and playing along with it, not knowing that years down the line it would come back to them in the form of memorial tributes and jazz clinics conducted in the middle of the day at a college campus. The long and short of it is that I love Chris Connor, but though her version of “Goodbye” on this album is very nice, it’s never going to compare to Frank Sinatra’s, or Mel Martin’s for that matter, and I’m sorry to say unkind things about Lee Konitz but you could ask anyone who was there and they’d say it was weird too.