RECENT LISTENING #2

Ryan Jewell Quintet, Low, Yusef Lateef, Beat of the Earth, Electronic Hole, Fad Gadget, MeTV FM, The Clash, The Grateful Dead

RYAN JEWELL QUINTET Vibration! (TWO ROOMS) I first heard music by Ryan Jewell like ten years ago, when he was a noise-scene tape-label experimental percussionist coming out of the Columbus, Ohio scene… then like three years ago, I saw him going full rockist, playing killer drums live with Chris Forsyth’s Solar Motel Band (on tour in Chicago, opening for Heron Oblivion)… neither of which prepared me for this Vibration! album, which is a straight-up jazz record. And not ‘noise-scene experimental’ jazz either, this is very much the real deal, like on the sophisticated extrapolative Dolphy/Hutcherson/Mingus level. I’m not saying it’s better than Out to Lunch or anything, but considering it’s not from 1960s and was “recorded live in the studio at Musicol in Columbus, OH on Sept 12, 2016,” it’s pretty goddamn impressive. A superb quintet of absolutely no one you’ve heard of, on alto sax, guitar, keyboards, and double bass, rounded out by Jewell on drums and compositions.

LOW Double Negative (SUB POP) Heard some buzz about this one, and when I played it I really heard some buzz, get it? But more on that in a minute… I wanted to start by sharing a rule I generally hold myself to, in these days of constant recommendation bombardment: any recommendation must come from at least TWO relatively trusted sources in a ONE-WEEK span before I will take action on it. Probably more like three, but there’s gotta be two (and they’ve gotta be TRUSTED) before I would even click on a link (let alone spend money). Well, I’ve already heard the new Low album Double Negative is “great” from about FIVE (trusted) sources, with two or three additional mentions along the lines of “not sure it’s my thing but it’s interesting” and/or “weird album, sounds like Burial.” So even I hit the old “click” button on my computer, and was indeed quickly “interested,” and by the time track three “Fly” hits, I’m loving it, soaring lead vocal by Mimi Parker (always partial, though I like her husband’s voice too, and of course they sing great together) over a great dreamy electronic backing… did I mention the whole album is electronic? Not a single ‘rock instrument,’ no guitar, bass guitar, or drum kit to be found. But hey, the next track “Tempest” is distorting badly, which of course brings up that age-old question: “Is that the record, or is my shit broken?” Kinda like the first time I heard Loveless, when a friend played his vinyl copy for me, and I was thinking to myself, “this is an amazing record, too bad this guy’s turntable is messed up, I can’t wait to check out the CD to see what it’s really supposed to sound like.” Now I need to check “Tempest” on another format and/or set of speakers, for similar reasons. When I bought the CD of Loveless and played it at home, it sounded just as warped in all the same places (yeah I’m basically talking about “To Here Knows When”), and I have a feeling Double Negative is going to work the same way. I still think distortion should originate before the sound hits the microphone, never after, but I’m digging this record anyway, the first Low album I’ve really listened to since Secret Name, and that came out……….. 19 years ago?! (Wait, what?)

YUSEF LATEEF Morning: The Savoy Sessions 2LP (SAVOY) They’re in high school now and (grudgingly) using public transit, but a couple years ago I drove my kids to school every day, and we would listen to the radio. WNUR 89.3FM Evanston/Chicago has played jazz every weekday morning for years, and on Thursday mornings at 7:30AM, right when we were getting in the car to go, there was a show hosted by this lady DJ called Kay, and she would always start her show by playing Yusef Lateef’s “Morning” in its ten-minute entirety. I had never heard the tune before, and it sounded so great that first Thursday. I cranked it way up, and my kids started bopping along too, a marked contrast to their usual reaction to the morning jazz, especially when it leaned noisy/avant-garde, what my daughter called “bees and elephants” music. I still didn’t know what or who the track was, so I called the station to ask what they were playing, and Kay told me it was “Morning” by Yusef Lateef, and that she in fact played it every Thursday morning, because it was her show’s theme song. Sure enough, there it was again next Thursday, and by the third, fourth, and fifth Thursdays, the kids weren’t only bopping along, they were singing along with every note of the head melody. During the extended percussion breakdowns, I would turn the volume waaaay up, so we could really hear the low creaking. Sometimes we’d miss the song because we were running late, but one Thursday we were very much on time, and yet “Morning” wasn’t playing. Some other jazz tune was, by some other DJ. In fact, this was two years ago, and we haven’t heard from Kay since, and her twitter page isn’t active at all either. Oh well, now I’ve got this record, and not only does it have all ten glorious minutes of “Morning,” it compiles most of the tracks from Mr. Lateef’s first three albums as a leader, all for the Savoy label (incidentally all produced by Ozzie Cadena, whose son Dez you might know from a little band called BLACK FUCKIN’ FLAG). (POSTSCRIPT: There’s a k_theory Mixcloud page with a bunch of her WNUR shows, always great, not just “Morning”…. in one of these shows, she name-checks John Olson’s Life is a Rip-Off book on air, while introducing a cut from Lloyd McNeill Quartet’s Asha album, which she learned about from the book.)

BEAT OF THE EARTH s/t LP (RADISH); THE ELECTRONIC HOLE s/t LP (RADISH) You can think of it as Beat of the Earth and The Electronic Hole, two different self-titled debut albums by two different bands (that’s how I think of it), and you can think of it as the first two albums by a band called Beat of the Earth, the first one self-titled, their second one called The Electronic Hole (that’s how Discogs has it). Both credit Phil Pearlman for the “artistic statement,” as he is the bandleader on both, and for all I know the same personnel are on both (obviously I’m jamming the recent boots here, not originals, and I’m not sure how “exact” their “repro” is, but I don’t see any other credits). Thing is, the records are quite a bit different from each other, and released three years apart. Beat of the Earth (from 1967) is two side-long group jams that monster-magnet and free-form-freak-out their way up and out and inside out, building gently crisscrossing vortices and helices throughout collective inner space, while The Electronic Hole (from 1970) is relatively more song-based (though as the Acid Archives say, “threatening to dissolve into atonal chaos at any moment”), and, as I’m slowly learning from blogpost comments sprinkled on the internet, possibly entirely recorded by Phil Pearlman, using overdubs. Personally, after listening to both steadily for a couple years now, I prefer the free-form freak-out LP Beat of the Earth more, maybe because it has a more social communal feeling. The Electronic Hole gets played once, at most twice, and then refiled, while Beat of the Earth gets played over and over and over, sometimes even becoming a bedtime ritual for the better part of a week. I like the idea of The Electronic Hole, because I’m interested in any raw underground psych rock from 1970, but for some reason the LP doesn’t quite sit right with me —I generally dig it when it’s on, and there’s plenty of great raw psych guitar playing, but it never overwhelms me. The superb Zappa/Mothers “Trouble Every Day” cover is the best cut, but it’s also a cover. I guess you could sort of call Beat of the Earth a Mothers of Invention cover too, as I’m guessing it’s directly inspired by “Return of the Son of Monster Magnet,” and in fact it’s quite a bit better than that (Zappa didn’t consider it a finished composition anyway). (Well, not “quite a bit better,” that’s all subjective, let’s just say that Beat of the Earth gets into many more small and finely detailed deep spaces than the comparatively broad stroke that is “Monster Magnet.”)

FAD GADGET “Back to Nature” b/w “The Box” (MUTE) Just learned this is a great single, that’s all. Hadn’t heard it before, or much else by Fad Gadget, but #nowexploring and there’s just something I love about the early Mute singles. They were bubblegum industrial, almost before industrial itself. Especially the Silicon Teens; I find their album kinda underwhelming, but hearing “Memphis Tennessee” as the A side of a single just slays me.

87.7 MeTV FM Chicago. This morning while cleaning out the garage (not a euphemism), I remembered I could use my car keys to turn on the radio and have something to listen to while puttering about tidying (true story). Unsurprisingly, the radio was set to 87.7 MeTV FM Chicago, the station my most music-geekiest local friends keep talking about, an undeniably mainstream oldies station (they seem to only describe the format as “timeless and memorable music”), but expertly in service of that golden mean known as “the deep cut.” It can get pretty cheesy like any ‘good times great oldies’ station does, but the playlist is somehow always almost nearly flawless, finding excellent obscurities from not only the 60s and 70s, but fascinatingly, the 80s as well. The song that was on the radio was not a deep cut (it spent three weeks at #1 in 1964, even knocking off the Beatles’ “Love Me Do”), but it was a glorious one, the old hit “Chapel of Love,” as in “Goin’ to the chapel / and we’re gonna get ma-a-arried, burning over the airwaves and blasting out of the speakers. I realized I didn’t even know the name of the group who sang the song, and also that the voices were clearly African-American, which I felt had somehow never registered with me before, probably because this was the deepest I had ever listened to the song since the first few times, when I was possibly too young and living in too white of a community to notice the subtle differences. The truth is, on pop radio, especially the pop radio of 1964 (pre-Civil Rights Act!), voices like this are meant to pass for white. (A coworker of mine was comparing and contrasting the racist American president’s measured and respectful response to Houston, TX after Hurricane Harvey, to his response one month later to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, where he was throwing paper towels at citizens and having public arguments with the mayor of San Juan. My coworker believes, and I agree with him, that our racist president was willing to be respectful towards Houston because, even though it’s less than 50% white, Houston “passes for white,” while Puerto Rico is considered non-white, and cannot “pass for white” like Houston can.) Anyway, I’ve finally figured out who sang “Chapel of Love”; it was the Dixie Cups. There, I wrote it down, and put it in boldface type. Should’ve remembered it was the Dixie Cups, because I know them for their version of “Iko Iko,” which I’ll never forget after hearing it in their hometown, over the speakers at the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum (on Dumaine Street in the French Quarter, you might know the place if you’ve ever been even a semi-tourist in New Orleans). But the two songs are so different; “Iko Iko” was a song they knew from New Orleans and the Deep South, but “Chapel” was given to them after they were relocated to New York City, and groomed for assimilation, which gives it that discreet ‘finishing school’ melancholy, so palpable, up there with one of the greatest songs in the English language, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?,” written (probably just down the hall) by Gerry Goffin & Carole King and recorded in 1960 by The Shirelles. So: both songs were written by a white Brill Building songwriting team (“Chapel of Love” by Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, & Phil Spector), and yet both are recorded by young black women, again more or less passing for white, but singing with an uncanny depth of melancholy and yearning. Deep feelings all around, and as if that wasn’t deep enough, what should MeTV hit with next but “Everybody’s Talkin’” by Harry Nilsson, written by the great Fred Neil. Everybody should be talkin’ about how this is one of the great songs in the English language. “Bankin’ off of the northeast wind/Sailin’ on summer breeze/Skipping ‘cross the ocean/Like a stone.” A song that is somehow both sad and soaring at the same time (like I once wrote on some page somewhere on Blastitude.com). And what on earth should MeTV hit with after THAT but “Just My Imagination” by the Temptations!?! More like MelancholyTV FM, am I correct? UPDATE: Two days later, driving my son to school, another stunning MeTV two-fer comes on, “Don’t Answer Me” by Alan Parsons Project (Spector-worship dream-ballad pushing hard against and beyond its 1980s milieu, with a classic video) right into the downright astonishing “Look of Love” by Dusty Springfield.

THE CLASH Combat Rock LP (EPIC) The Clash is like the Grateful Dead, in that I really don’t care if you love them or hate them, just don’t tell me about it, not in real life, and not on the internet (where it happens a lot), because you’re wasting your time; in fact, my superpower is not giving a shit if you don’t like either one. I’ll listen to you hate on a song or album or show by either one, maybe, but please, I will not listen to you hate on either band. Hopefully you understand the difference. I mean, I already get why you hate them; I love both bands, but both annoy me quite a bit too. I absolutely don’t love all of Sandinista!, but I love a bunch of it, and I love that it’s a triple LP with nooks and crannies, some of them unpleasant or disappointing, like a city, or life, and I love its possibly even more advanced and experimental follow-up Combat Rock, a single LP that somehow makes you feel like you’re listening to a triple LP. Yes, there are annoying tracks by The Clash, certainly on both of these records, but does the total percentage of annoyance ever even exceed 1/4th? And, in the other 3/4ths you have sublime stuff like the Combat Rock side two run of “Sean Flynn” (ambient poetic groove that I’ll take over any Life in any Bush of Ghosts), “Ghetto Defendant” (Allen Ginsberg quite honestly killing it with sci-fi punk poetry recited alongside Strummer’s melancholy lead vocal, while the moody pensive-then-wild post-punk world-groove music in the background really ain’t like much else), “Inoculated City” (a superb sci-fi noir title for primo wistful Mick Jones power pop, complete with proto-B.A.D. television samples and whatnot), and finally an odd parlor skiffle number “Death is a Star,” which ends the album kinda like “Something Happened To Me Yesterday” ends Between the Buttons (even though they were punk, and multicultural, and futuristic, the Clash always had a foot in classic British rock too). So, what is it that does make the Clash annoying? Is it the rampant eclecticism? It’s not for everyone, but it’s great for me. Is it that one foot that’s stuck in classic rock? Maybe for the more anti-dinosaur among us. Is it when Strummer gets preachy and/or third-world-political? His heart is in the right place, of course, but sometimes yes, it’s a bit much… but here’s side two of Combat Rock, and I’m listening to Joe’s vision, songs bursting with strains of music from all over the world, and I’m hearing these textures while reading and hearing lyrics like “Walled out of the city/clubbed down from Uptown/Sprayed pest from the nest/Run out to barrio town (the guards are itchy)”… and I’m like, he was really getting there, he was bringing back a vision from another realm, seeing the future of immigration nations all over the place, shellshocked by capital, connected by cyberculture, which at the time was still television, radio, recordings, boom boxes (Combat Rock was released in 1982).

GRATEFUL DEAD “Morning Dew,” various live versions Well now, speaking of the Grateful Dead, sometimes I think of their treatment of “Morning Dew” as being an almost cruel thing to do, to take such a realistically sad post-apocalyptic folk song, and not just make it even sadder, but to stretch it out so achingly slow and long, until every syllable, every struck and held note, becomes an exercise in heart-wrench, taking the wet cloth that is your soul and squeezing yet… another… drop… OUT… of course, when Bonnie Dobson wrote this song in 1961, and when the Dead started performing it in January 1967, and even still when they played it for the last time in June 1995, this song was about the Cold War, about Nuclear Winter, Mutually Assured Destruction, and all of that. But now, though really not even until the last couple years, when I listen to a live version, it’s been given all this fresh life as a song about the after-effects of climate change, and lord, I’m not sure I can take it…