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Iggy to the Rescue, Part 2

The ‘Legacy’ version of 1973′s  ‘Raw Power’, produced by the Ig himself, came out in 2010. I missed it, as I already had both the vinyl Bowie-produced disc from its year of release, and even the 1997 initial Iggy-produced re-release. Confused? I bet. That’s CBS for you. They know a cash cow when they see/hear one - Bob Dylan and Miles Davis being two particularly high-yielding ungulates, through this Legacy shtick. Sadly for CBS, The Stooges output was as minimal as their music (and as goddamn good!)

I’ve only got three other records in three or more ‘editions’, for various reasons, I think - ‘Unknown Pleasures’, ‘Forever Changes’ and ‘Highway 61 Revisited’. What a rip-off, of course, just as we suspected back in the day. This stuff should be given out for a few pence (in hard copy), not for several pounds, it’s all over, or nearly over, fifty years old, after all.  But I shelled out six pounds, utterly ‘out of time’ of course, for yet another copy of ‘Raw Power, but only because of the fact that the ‘additional material’ (for a change, as usually this stuff is utterly disposable), consisted of a ‘bootleg’ concert, recorded at a gig in Atlanta, Georgia on the 1973 tour.  The latter sounds like a genuine Theater of Cruelty event, as compared to the tame ‘Theater of Banality’ that Wolf Eyes presented last night at Cafe Oto, in the guise of ‘really weird stuff’. Oh Yeah, is that right, you guys?

This is not a record review, more of a rant, as you might have gathered. The Atlanta recording is poor, but its powerful quintessence is distilled through the alembic of The Stooge’s pulverising sound. This is Rock at its very best (The Rolling Stones deserve credit here, as if their own brand has been filtered through The Stooges metal grinder). The received wisdom is that the band birthed punk, but I’ve never heard a punk band come anywhere near this degree of intensity and genuine hostility. Maybe the Pistols on a bad night. ‘Open Up and Bleed’ and ‘Head On’ are equally belligerent in totally different ways and are worth the price of admission by themselves. I still play the latter at least three times a day - much more invigorating than coffee or cocaine, I’m sure. A masterpiece in tension and rock integrity (or ‘tensegrity’ as one of Barry Guy’s albums would have it).

Now then, now then - Wolf Eyes. I saw this lot at The Underworld in Camden in April 2007, and quite liked them, although I can’t take more than half an hour or so of their metier to be frank. Very much the law of diminishing returns. They were OK last night at Oto, but I regretfully passed on the last set which they assured us was going to be ‘really weird’, as a sort of “you don’t have to be wired to work here, but…” warning sign of rapidly approaching ennui. What interested me, in the absence of anything of such nature on the (non-existent) stage was some context - we were probably twice the age of anyone else there (yes, it shows, doesn’t it?); my increasing annoyance at the Oto ‘thing’, i.e. no stage, so that the three or four tallish head-nodding ‘freaks’ at front and close to the band completely obscured our view of them - even the singer commented on this ‘distressing’ factor. Get a stage, Hamish!  And some air conditioning while you’re at it. And some decent seating. Enough already. Oto is beginning to feel like any other ‘fuck the audience’ venue, coasting on its own smugness, and the fact that hipsters will put up with any old crap if they think its ‘authentic’.

There being minimal seating tonight (no-one gives up a seat for an old man, selfish hippie-sters!!), my increasingly-irritated attention was drawn to the audience, and it occurred to me how similar to ‘rock’ audiences this so-obviously-would-be-’edgy-experimental’ group’s fans appeared to be, and just how many rock gestures the band itself were essaying.. The singer was wearing wraparound shades and managed to look like John Cale on the Velvet’s first Verve album , combined with ‘Tilt’-era Scott Walker but shouting out some terrible sub-Beat lyrics, to somewhat harsh the vibe; the guitarist wearing his ‘axe’ like Peter Hook or Paul Simenon signifying louche ‘couldn’t-give-a ‘fuckness’. Oh. Plastic Inevitable, where art thou? Baseball caps have, at some point, have also appeared to have regained some sort of unpleasant purchase (I longed to don a MAGA cap as a protest), as well as some version of ‘free form head banging’. God, I feel old and yet not so old at the same time!! Is this some sort of meta-something? 

Everything comes back, if you give it time.  Like TB.

Some comparisons that occurred while Wolf Eyes were ‘freaking out weirdly’ - AMM in their contact-mike late sixties glory ( a bigger sound, but with one hundredth of the technology that the Eyes have at their disposal); pre-’Urban Gamelan’ 23 Skidoo, mid-eighties Swans, but minus Michael Gira’s genuinely disturbing control-psychosis. In trying to make sense of Wolf Eyes, the whole process irritated me so much, that I did compare them in my head to the 2007 version, which I recall (one of the most dangerous of cognitive activities) as being far less lazy and ‘look at me, I’m rilly, rilly dangerous’ yawnworthiness. 

As Jonathan Pie would say, after twiddling his earpiece for the final time, “the audience appeared to love it”. Oh when, oh when, will a genuinely new and exciting music emerge? Can it? This gig was all so much self-congratulation ( as I’ve increasingly observed in this so-called ‘experimental’ scene) and posturing. Saddo that I am, I’m finding refuge, after my bath in high art, in ‘Head on’, as at least it reminds me that I’m still alive, and that this sort of magnificent intensity might again be reached..

Post - completion Tristesse? Iggy to the rescue. Part One

Six months after my last blog, which was on the occasion of Cecil Taylor’s passing, I’m back to fill a gap. In my life that is. I’ve spent the last six months writing the first draft of Barry Guy’s biography, a great honour and a labour of love as far as I’m concerned. Thank you, Barry, for the opportunity.

There is a lot more to do before it is ready, so I thought that I would return to the short - form structure, something that Donald Trump is putting at risk with his Triumph of the Ill tweets.

I have just started David Stubbs’ new book, called “Mars by 1980, the Story of Electronic Music”, hardly an original subject, but he’s a good writer and all, and it has got me thinking already and I’m only on page 35. He’s good a looking at the dialectic between (’popular’) electronic music and rock/pop, and how the two inform and contrast each other. Returning from the at times somewhat rarified shores of Barry Guy and Maya Homburger’s music, to those of beats and beatz, I was struck by how the very greatest rock music reaches the parts that experimental music, whether by ‘establishment’ composers or bedroom boffins, just can’t. Hardly a blinding epiphany, I know, but it’s easy to forget how difficult it can be to do rock really well, and how despised the form has become in 21st century cultural circles. So, I’m going to briefly look at two bands, both considered cutting-edge in their time, and both perhaps also considered infra dig as far as ‘serious music’is concerned, The Stooges and Wolf Eyes.

As per received rock lore, I, like so many of my generation, worshiped The Stooges through their three officially released albums, ‘The Stooges’, ‘Fun House’ and ‘Raw Power’, I extended it to the two Berlin/Bowie records, ‘The Idiot’ and ‘Lust for Life’, the infamous ‘Metallic KO’ bootleg (overrated), the one with James Williamson, ‘Kill City’ (underrated) and, finally,  the seventies swansong of sorts, ‘New Values’ (a curate’s egg). There were two eighties aftershocks, ‘Repo Man’ (with a tremendous Steve Jones performance) from the film of the same name, and the very likable hit ‘Real Wild Child’, and that was it for me. Ive started listening to Iggy and the band a few weeks back (for reasons that I can’t now remember), and realsed that I had been starved of rock music for too long - all three Stooges albums haven’t really dated, except for the first, and that still remains a bizarre creation, given when it was released(1969). aLst week, when visting a record shop in Sheffield, I chanced upon another CBS ‘Legacy’ release, that of 1973′s of ‘Raw Power’, i.e. a chance for the company to put out old stuff once more, with a few rarities, and milk even more lucre out of a tired old beast. Except that this one at least had some interesting ‘additional material’ to a ‘remixed’ version of the original record - an unauthorised recording of the 1973 band playing Atlanta, Georgia and a couple of studio bonus tracks. So I gave it a punt.


To be continued.

Cecil: addendum

I’m afraid that I took a year off Cecil’s life, saying that he was 88 years old when he died. I’ve ascribed the birth date of 1930 to him as this was the date that several commentators have used - Cook/Morton, for example, in their Jazz Guide. The correspondence to the 88 keys was too good an opportunity to pass up, but having read Richard William’s blog, I now stand corrected.

Everything else stands. History has judged him as one of the true greats, up there with Armstrong, Parker and Ornette.

Cecil Taylor - 88 Unique Years

Cecil has passed.

After his 88 years and immense and unique legacy. I will leave it to the professionals to write the informed eulogies and obituaries, but feel that I need to blog something to acknowledge the huge significance of Cecil Taylor’s death. Having been working on Barry Guy’s biography, which has included a visit to interview him at his home in Switzerland, I haven’t devoted any time to keeping the blog running. However, given Guy’s connections with CT - which include the exhausting recording Nailed (1990), and the fact that Cecil named (nailed?) him as his favourite bassist - it seemed apposite to salute the pianist’s  passing with a few words.

One of Taylor’s most famous quotes was that which compared the piano to ‘88 tuned drums’, and this is surely one of the most appropriate images for his tumultuous and thrilling work on the keyboard (only on the acoustic piano, no experiments with electrics at all, as far as I know). My first encounter with the piano-as-percussion and/or piano-as-maelstrom, was in 1982, when I chanced my hand with Silent Tongues, his solo album from the 1974 Montreux Jazz Festival. It has always remained one of my favourite recordings, and was rapidly followed up the purchase of the live 1962 trio,  known as Nefetiti, the Beautiful One Has Come, which was only released in 1975, and has henceforth figured in most lists of Jazz Top Fifties, being an epochal event both in Taylor’s discography and in group music in general. There really had been nothing like it before in modern jazz, and Jimmy Lyon’s alto work and Sunny Murray’s percussion have jointly received just praise for their contribution to the group sound and for pushing forward the boundaries for their particular instruments. All three members have now gone.

Cecil Taylor was born in 1930, the same year as Derek Bailey, who he also played with, as part of the gargantuan 1988 Berlin concerts, wherein he also improvised along with other British free improv giants, Evan Parker and Tony Oxley, and it is interesting to speculate on the backstage dynamics of that particular mix of spiky personalities and temperaments. Another child of that year was Sonny Rollins, who still  remains with us, and who is probably the last remaining giant from the fifties generation, the grandfathers of the avant garde of the music. It has become an utter cliche to say that a pianist is ‘Taylor-ish’, when one is looking for a lazy way to describe a style which is ultra-fast, dissonant, strongly rhythmic and densely constructed - Dave Burrell,Marilyn Crispell, Irene Schwiezer and Alex von Schlippenbach are examples of pianists who have been compared to the grand master, all of whom are themselves advanced practitioners, but ultimately different in terms of the effect that they have on the listener and the cumulative affect that they produce over time. A Cecil Taylor concert was an immersive experience, involving suspension of time and surrender to the laminar process of his playing. I usually found myself swaying to the flow of the music and even stomping out a beat with my foot, imposing a regularity of meter and motion when all seemed chaos if approached in segments. A ‘Heroclitian’ flux’ as Evan Parker once memorably came up with (not in connection to Cecil, it has to be said).

My final memory of Cecil Taylor is one, or rather a series of them, from hislong-lasting trio with Oxley and William Parker (The Feel Trio), from their residency in 1990 at Ronnie Scott’s Club. This was memorialised in the box set Two T’s For A Lovely T, which was also a sample of the obliquely allusive titles that he gave to his recordings, which deserve a blog to themselves. We managed to get a seat a few feet behind the 88 drums themselves, and my abiding recollection will be the gradually swelling pattern of sweat that started to cover Taylor’s shirt, seemingly correlating to the outpouring from the trio and the incredibly energy and musicality from the great man himself. By the end of the set, his shirt had changed colour, and the audience felt correspondingly drained. There was still another set to come, and it seems incredible to think that this was probably an average Cecil Taylor gig!

Given the lack of a figure of comparative influence in the modern era, we can only celebrate the life and works of one of the few individuals in jazz who were possibly possessed of genius. If that seems absurd, consider how many others have produced a school of playing that no-one has yet even approximated, and think of anyone else that could step into his trainers now that he is gone. I feel privileged to have been able to see him in action on a few occasions.

Dave Holland and Evan Parker - A Rare Conference

I braved the snow and drove to Dalston’s Vortex Club this evening to hear a rare pairing of two of the masters English free improv, double bassist and long-term American resident, Dave Holland, and long-term Vortex’ resident’, saxophone maestro Evan Parker. Then again, having paid forty pounds for a ticket, it would have taken more than a spell of inclement weather to keep me at home away from the action. The hefty entrance fee reflected the fact that this was a fund-raising gig (two sets, of which I attended the second, at 22.00 hrs) for the club, which is, as ever, facing financial strictures. Holland admitted that he had only become aware of the club a couple of years ago, having been living in the States for several decades, but Parker has had a regular residency there for as long as I can remember, and remains the venue’s most high profile supporter.

Vortex habitue Oliver Weindling introduced the set. Usually the garrulous type, Ollie kept it succinct tonight, and I overheard Evan joking to him that he sounded a bit ‘gloomy’. That’s not what I got from his brief speech, but he certainly got across to the capacity audience the fact that the club is facing an awful lot of difficulties. Looking across the wall-mounted set of historic fliers which had advertised the club since August 1992, I was forcefully reminded of it’s vital role across three decades of London improvisation, and how we are in danger of taking this sort of environment for granted. It has probably taken a bit of a hit from the trendier competition from Cafe Oto down the road, who can clearly now afford to pay the more expensive American improvisers like Sun Ra’s Arkestra and Anthony Braxton, but The Vortex’s longitudinal  dedication to UK free musicians remains a cynosure, and I would recommend it above anywhere else for the ineluctable ‘vibe’ that so many ‘jazz’ clubs aim for, but usually fall far short of. I remember the Bass Clef, in a now-unrecognisable Hoxton in the eighties, and the original Jazz Cafe on Newington Green as having similar qualities. For the even older-timers, Dave Holland alluded in his introduction to Ronnie Scott’s Old Place, where he played as a teenager in the sixties, and which was a short-lived incubator of British (and the South African diaspora) free improvisation, providing an alternative, and/or companion gig to The Little Theater Club.

It is surprising to see how few times these two musicians have recorded together in the (almost exactly) fifty year period since Karyobin was produced on the 18th. February 1968 - my counting-on-one-hand calculation came up with only Company’s Fables (with George E.Lewis and Derek Bailey) from 1980, and Ericle of Dolphy (with the Paul Rutherford and Paul Lovens) from 1976/85. In point of fact, these relatively tranquil and reflective records put me in mind of the music that the duo produced tonight - Parker almost sounding to me like Warne Marsh with his legato more in evidence than usual, perhaps in honour of his companion, whose bass playing avoids ‘extended techniques’ and exhibits a profound classicism. The penultimate number, a bass solo, which featured a ‘walking bass’ section, was marked by Holland’s timeless woody sonority, which sounds like no other bass player that I know. He makes it all look absurdly easy, as opposed to bassists like Barry Guy and John Edwards, who do the exact opposite. The final duo was an master class in togetherness, note-perfect as if it had been scored, but with an spontaneous vigour that put me in mind of Holland’s joyous classic Conference of the Birds (the individual track and the album itself). For some reason, the expression ‘West Coast counterpoint’ entered my mind during this piece (in a good way). Given the temperature and weather outside, listening to these two was like taking a warming bath, and the audience seemed quietly invigorated by this very rare opportunity to hear the only members of the Karyobin team who are still with us.

As Evan toasted at the end, “Long Live The Vortex”. And so we all agreed. And long may these two masters live, who tonight celebrated informally a half century of outstanding improvisatory practice.

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