This week’s Bohemian column is on Conlon Nancarrow, the communist expatriate composer who manipulated piano rolls to create ridiculously impossible-to-play sonatas. In poking around to find further information about his life, I found this lovely 1987 interview with Nancarrow by Bruce Duffie. I say “lovely” only because of personal reasons; by most measurements it’s a disappointing interview, because while Duffie probes Nancarrow on any deeper meaning about his music, he keeps deflecting his inquiries.
BD: So where is music going today?
CN: I have no idea. I don’t think anyone else does.
BD: Well, what direction is it heading?
CN: I don’t know.
I should, as someone who interviews people for a living, feel uncomfortable reading this interview. But on the contrary, I applaud Nancarrow’s reluctance to join in the game and settle for giving pap, bullshit answers. Another gem is the mention of the Columbia Records release Studies for Player Piano, which is the subject of my column. In Nancarrow’s own words on the album that introduced him to the public at large: “Incidentally, it’s a very bad recording.”
Here’s a good example of Nancarrow’s music—the Study No. 5:
When I got to the Arlene Francis Center last night, there was already a line wrapped around the front of the building and out through the parking lot onto the street. It was only 6:44pm. Six bands—Ceremony, Sabertooth Zombie, Dead to Me, All Teeth, Strike to Survive and Hear the Sirens—were about to play.
In chatting beforehand with Ian Anderson, Dead to Me drummer and former Santa Rosan who once lived around the corner from the Arlene Francis, I remarked that this was probably the biggest punk show in Santa Rosa in 15 or so years. That’s not because there hasn’t always been a thriving punk scene in Santa Rosa, but mostly due to lack of an all-ages venue in the city limits proper. The Arlene Francis, I gotta say, is finally the answer to the long-repeated complaint you used to hear all the time: “Why isn’t there a great all-ages venue in Santa Rosa?”
But Santa Rosa wasn’t the city on people’s minds. Rohnert Park is the latest album by Ceremony, and even though the people I talked to who drove to the show from Fairfield and Sacramento hadn’t ever been to Rohnert Park, they’d certainly heard of it. (You’ve got to love the cover art.)
“North Bay! North Bay! North Bay! North Bay!” chanted Cermeony’s Ross Farrar, during the intro to their first song, “Sick,” the lead-off track from Rohnert Park. The crowd chanted as if a tribe. Bodies flailed above other bodies’ heads. The song kicked in, and the swarm went nuts.
It’s tempting to say that the true experience of a Ceremony show is not the music but the mayhem. A dreadlocked guy front-flipped off the theater’s support beam and onto the crowd. Multiple people dove off the center post. Someone hit Farrar in the face. The speaker and mic cables kept getting unplugged. There was surely more craziness than anyone could possibly see—at one point I saw a dude walking through the packed crowd holding a bag of ice to his head.
But putting the emphasis on audience theatrics doesn’t do Ceremony justice. They’re simply one of the best punk bands touring today, and Rohnert Park is a triumph of combining decades-old punk styles with spoken-word interludes and near-downright goth songs (“The Doldrums,” which directly addresses living in Rohnert Park). Between climbing on the theater’s support beams, swallowing the microphone, pulling his Bad Brains shirt over his head and pacing the stage, Farrar mentioned that this was the first show the band had played in Santa Rosa in probably six years.
After the show, with the insanity of “This is My War” bubbling down to a finish, and amidst chatter about the Giants, old Negative Approach 7”s and instructor Richard Speakes (Farrar attends the SRJC), he told me the band’s already writing a new album. Based on some other things he told me that I swore I’d stay quiet about, I have every reason to believe it’ll be Ceremony’s biggest album yet.
(Click through for reviews)
Grachan Moncur III – Evolution
Might be the find of the year. All mood. Reminds me of Walt Dickerson’s Impressions of a Patch of Blue, in that way—just incredibly evocative. I’d never heard much from Moncur, a trombonist, except I knew he recorded quite a bit for Actuel. Pair that “out” aesthetic with some of the best from the Blue Note roster—Jackie McLean, Bobby Hutcherson (in full Out to Lunch mode), Anthony Williams, longtime Sonny Rollins bassist Bob Crenshaw and Lee Morgan, of all people—and this is an engaging winner. The title track in particular is timeless.
Marion Brown – Three for Shepp
Right after Brown died, I surprisingly found used copies of Afternoon of a Georgia Faun, Geechee Recollections and Three for Shepp at the record store. I love the autobiographical undertaking of the first two, but for pure listening pleasure, this one’s the winner, with the aforementioned Grachan Moncur on trombone and liner notes which posit the question, with a straight face, “Can white people play jazz?”
Reggie Workman – The Works of Workman
Not too many people can record solo upright bass records, but I figure anyone who played on Olé Coltrane is allowed this indulgence. Workman has the tone of three oxen and the conception of a carburetor; he’s not always running at full potential but sounds incredible.
John Lewis – The John Lewis Piano
I’m into Andre Previn, but John Lewis brings a European classicism to jazz that’s unequalled. A lot of people remark about soloists, “they make it sound so easy.” Lewis makes it sound easy to sound hard, and then makes that gossamer. The Sophia Loren of jazz records.
Grant Green – Green Street
Sometimes it’s all about finding the right record. Or maybe it’s about not finding the wrong record; the first Grant Green album I heard was The Main Attraction. You can see why I might have been turned off to the guy for a while. Such a relief to discover his other work; and have my mind forcibly changed. This record walks crowded sidewalks, and all others get the fuck out of the way.
Freddie Hubbard – Polar AC
I was waking up to 1970s jazz this year, but in actuality this record is on the list solely for one asset: the Ron Carter bassline that kicks off the title track, which has been lodged in my head for months. (I asked Edgar Meyer earlier this year which bassist he looked up to most; “I am glad that Ron Carter is still alive” is all he could say.)
Ron Carter – Uptown Conversation
Speaking of Ron Carter, I picked this one up at a store in Augusta, Georgia in the spring. “Doom” is incredible, but the entire thing is worth seeking. It’s gotta be hard to be Ron Carter and have people ask you, “So which record of yours should I buy?”
Quartetto Basso-Valdambrini – Walking in the Night
Found a pair of reissues by this Italian post-bop group on Dusty Groove and I couldn’t stop playing them for weeks; they’re reminiscent somewhat of Miles Davis’ Jazz Track. Just very cosmopolitan and cool.
Francois Rabbath – Multi-Basse
This man’s Bass Ball is one of my favorite jazz records ever, completely ahead of its time. One day, it will see a reissue on Warp (in quite a few ways, it’s the original drum ‘n’ bass record) or Revenant (probably a more suitable label) and be regaled by the multitudes at last. It was nice to find another album of his dizzyingly creative, if slightly less fearless, works.
Horace Silver – The Jody Grind
Especially because of the go-go girls on the cover, I figured this’d be more “Song for My Father” soul jazz stuff. Instead, it’s my current favorite Horace Silver record, somewhere beyond late ’60s boogie and emerging into its own, with Woody Shaw and James Spaulding.
The Great Jazz Trio – Collaboration
I love Someday My Prince Will Come and was glad to find this, from the same 2002 sessions with Elvin Jones. Hank Jones was a living miracle.
Dizzy Gillespie – The Greatest of Dizzy Gillespie
It seems silly to put a Best-Of on this list but damn if RCA didn’t do them right. I have The Popular Duke Ellington—re-recordings, no less!—and I listen to it much more than the so-called cream-of-the-crop Webster-Blanton stuff. This Dizzy record truly is his best stuff under his own name, a great reminder of his prowess. I adore the cover photo.
Noah Howard – The Black Ark
Originally on Polygram! Which is like Hell Awaits being played on KZST or something. Violent and snarling. Pick up this reissue while you can.
Henry Threadgill – Rag, Bush and All
SFJAZZ booked him this year, and though I couldn’t go, I hope ticket sales were strong enough to bring him back soon.
Sheila Jordan – Portrait of Sheila
A nice little vocal trio album on Blue Note, who didn’t much release vocal albums. This record is marred only by “Dat Dere,” whose lyrics are so asinine they’d make Tracy Byrd cringe.
Gunther Klatt – Strangehorn
Not all Germans play like Peter Brotzmann, and this record—a tribute to Billy Strayhorn—is a nice breath of invention. Finding it in the dollar bin, I was charmed by the credits: “Dtae: July ’84. Cut: Uwe Clemens. Producer: Gunther Klatt. Reason: Don’t know.”
Ran Blake – Plays Solo Piano
Of all instruments, the piano is the most infinite. Ran Blake plays compositions by George Russell and Ornette Coleman alongside “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” and “On Green Dolphin Street” and makes it all appear as if from the same mind. A good early ESP disk. (Speaking of ESP, did you hear the incredible story about Giuseppi Logan, who was presumed to be dead, discovered last year playing “Begin the Beguine” in Tompkins Square Park?)
Contraband – Time and Space
The cover gives it a prog look but this is full-on jazz, played by an only slightly “rock” band. Epic, who put out albums by Ruby Braff, Dave Pike and Dave McKenna, was obviously going for some San Francisco-sound thing with this signing. I’m glad it doesn’t resemble Santana.
William S. Fischer – Akellare Sorta
Originally recorded in 1972 and possessed by Basque witches and psychedelic chemicals. Fischer worked with Roberta Flack, Les McCann and Wilson Pickett and then dropped off the deep end with this insane recording. Reissued by a label in Barcelona.
Booker Ervin – The Freedom Book
You know how, like, you heard the name Sonny Rollins a lot but always took his existence for granted until BAM! it hit like a ton of bricks and you bought everything he recorded? (Sam Amidon’s I See the Sign from this year has a wonderful and tangential little blurb about Rollins in the credits.) This year, Booker Ervin’s mortar splattered all over my consciousness. Of all the “Book” titles that I committed myself to finding after stumbling across The Blues Book from last year’s jazz discoveries list, I play this one the most.
Ricky Ford – Manhattan Plaza
Jaki Byard and Dannie Richmond? Yes, thank you. Manhattan Plaza is a government-subsidized building that’s served as a home to jazz musicians over the years; read about it in this fine article. Samuel Jackson was a security guard there. Charles Mingus and Dexter Gordon lived there, as well as Tennessee Williams, Mickey Rourke and Alicia Keys. New York is crazy! Ricky Ford lives in France now, it seems.
Henry Franklin – The Skipper
You won’t likely find another album with the song title “Beauty and the Electric Tub” in your lifetime, nor will you find a better album on Black Jazz Records, in my opinion. The story of the label, and how it came into the hands of the current owner, is pretty fascinating. This past February, the label’s best-selling artist Doug Carn appeared at Yoshi’s for one night only with other artists, billed as “Black Jazz Reunion.” These days, Franklin plays at a hotel lounge in L.A. every Friday and Saturday night.
Dollar Brand – The Children of Africa
“I am not a musician,” writes Abdullah Ibrahim on the back of this LP. “I am being played.” I saw him last year and he played one seamless, hour-long song. It seemed like he was being played. No one else sounds like him.
Byard Lancaster – Sounds of Liberation
Philadelphia, 1972. Solid bass lines. Somewhere the spirit of this record is in The Roots, pre-sousaphone, before they started doing shit like this.
It’s been a while since I’ve dusted off this old flexidisc record and played it—12 months, to be exact.
In December, an annual tradition of mine is to listen to “Dinosaur Christmas Song,” credited only to “Coddingtown Center.” For those who grew up in Santa Rosa, it’s truly one of the strangest Christmas songs in existence, telling the story of how the very first Christmas ever took place on the land now known as the Coddingtown shopping mall. It does a horrendous job at connecting Christmas and commerce, but I look at it through the eyes of one like, say, Stan Freberg, who railed against the commercialization of Christmas. Would not even Stan be charmed by the surreal absurdity of the British narrator, the female chorus, and the incessant groaning of dinosaurs in the background?
Many years ago, right when I started at the Bohemian, I decided to try and track down the origins of this record, which I discovered in 1994 at Goodwill for 35 cents. The article took me to Coddingtown in Santa Rosa, Hugh Codding’s main office in Rohnert Park, local commercial recording studios, radio stations, Montgomery Village and more. Read all about it here.
Or, if you’re so inclined, click the player below and be transported to a very strange moment in local history. At this point, after becoming an annual tradition, it’s one of my favorite Christmas songs. Enjoy.
New “ROCK” Night Club coming 2011 $ Guarantee (rohnert pk / cotati)
Date: 2010-12-16, 9:28AM PST
Reply to: [email protected]
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1. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening (DFA/Virgin)
2. Yellow Swans – Going Places (Type)
3. Jóhann Jóhannsson – And in the Endless Pause There Came the Sound of Bees (Type)
4. Robyn – Body Talk Pt. 1 (Konichiwa/Interscope)
5. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor (XL)
6. Standard Fare – The Noyelle Beat (Bar None)
7. V/A – Welcome Home (Diggin’ the Universe): A Woodsist Compilation (Woodsist)
8. The Velvet Teen – No Star (Self-Released)
9. Jack Attack – My Rights Have Been Violated (Self-Released)
10. Jason Moran – Ten (Blue Note/EMI)
11. Nicki Minaj – Pink Friday (Young Money/Universal)
12. Goodriddler – The Strength of Weak Ties (Sell the Heart)
13. Grouper / Roy Montgomery – Vessel (Self-Released)
14. RVIVR – S/T (Rumbletowne)
15. Marco Benevento – Between the Needles and Nightfall (Royal Potato)
16. Hanalei – One Big Night (Big Scary Monsters/Brick Gun)
17. Superchunk – Majesty Shredding (Merge)
18. Hearse – Diagnosed (Self-Released)
19. Sam Amidon – I See the Sign (Bedroom Community)
20. M.I.A. – Maya (Interscope)
21. Evan Parker & John Weise – C-Section (PAN)
22. Daniel Bjarnason – Processions (Bedroom Community)
23. Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma (Warp)
24. Joseph Hammer – I Love You, Please Love Me Too (PAN)
25. Best Coast – Crazy for You (Mexican Summer)
Kim Hill is not a household name, and she likes it that way. But for five years, Hill sang with the Black Eyed Peas before quitting over pressures to go more mainstream; they then found the treachery that is Fergie, who would eventually propel them to become the shittiest group in the universe.
Hill moved back to South Central a while ago and keeps a blog about her neighborhood. I appreciate her insights and thoughts on race, poverty and feminism, but I must admit they’re made stronger knowing where she’s been. It’s a reminder of where the Black Eyed Peas came from, and the type of hopeful thinking they so cynically abandoned. Read it here.