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STUFFS & THINGS & THINGS & STUFFS (STTS-017)
Tony Williams Lifetime, Parliament, Weather Report, #HipHopat50, Sonic Youth, Christina Carter, Booker T & the MGs, Bobby Conn & Monica Boubou, Luke Stewart, Dr. Thomas "Bushmeat" Stanley, Ra>Nduduzo
My god yes this newly released Tony Williams Lifetime footage from a never-aired 1970 performance on Beat Club is incredible, the quartet lineup of drummer/leader Williams with Larry Young on organ, John McLaughlin on guitar, and newest member Jack Bruce himself on bass and vocals, in fullest effect, but you know, I’m listening to Parliament right now, Up For The Down Stroke from 1974, and this band is insane too. I know that of the credited drummers on the LP, neither Gary Bronson or even Tiki Fulwood can do what Tony Williams can do on drums, but somehow their simpler styles seem to allow for even more interplay and crosstalk and spatial groove aeration with the other musicians. It helps that two of the others are the masterful likes of Bernie Worrell on keyboards and Bootsy Collins on bass, and that, in the Parliament mix, electric guitar is either out of the sonic picture or restricted to thin post-James Brown chicken-scratch, allowing more space for crosstalk and interplay than the more massive guitar moves of Lifetime (or Funkadelic for that matter).
And let’s not forget 1976 era Weather Report if we’re talking about jazz fusion and crosstalk and interplay. This hour-long Live at Montreux gig from that year is pretty goddamn lethal, right before they really got slick with the following year’s Heavy Weather LP. Jaco’s unaccompanied bass solo at 25:18 is just incredible to me, especially when he starts getting into the harmonics, the same thing I feel when Elvin Jones just hits the drums and lets them ring in the Different Drummer doc (1979, d. Edward Gray), the presence of a true goddamn musician, that’s all.
I don’t really do cultural birthdays and anniversaries but have been telling myself to at least celebrate Hip-Hop’s 50th birthday by watching two or three things from Criterion Channel’s Hip-Hop series . . . but I’ve pretty much seen all of ‘em. I could at least watch the Roxy battle “Breaker’s Revenge” scene from Beat Street (1984, d. Stan Lathan) over and over for the 195th time (goddman it’s so good), but somehow reading and rereading this blistering and entertaining take from writer Jason England (Kool Keith’s cousin!) seems most appropriate. Couple quotes in here that have me questioning my own practice as a music critic (I mean I think that’s what I am — I should know, right?): “The tension between discourse and content—which plagues all art and media, all public intellectualism, and even the individual in ways most of us didn't foresee—has proven fatal. Expertise is de-incentivized: You don’t have to know what you’re talking about when the attention economy demands and rewards constant chatter. Criticism has been mostly discarded in favor of boosterism and listicles.” I don’t think I’m too guilty of listicles, but boosterism? Probably. This one I’m even more concerned about: “In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent civil unrest, the profiles of “black creatives” and oddities felt endless. These did little to nothing to advance any real moral reckoning, but I imagine it gave white readers an artificial and comforting feeling of decency to read about so many interesting negroes, while demanding no effort toward social reparation. It’s reading that prioritizes the reader while marginalizing the issues that spurred the need for the profiles’ creation. It’s empty and sentimental. It erases as it pretends to illuminate.” I mean, is this me when I retweet Franck Biyong?
Sonic Youth live on “Sessions at West 54th #6” from 1997, Kim Gordon on electric guitar during that early-SYR/Thousand Leaves three-guitar era, her monochordal hypno-strum reminding me directly of what Christina Carter was doing on guitar in the 1990s and 2000s with Charalambides, which makes it so interesting that Carter was a boarder in Gordon’s house for awhile in the early/mid-2000s. Page 235 of Girl in a Band: “After Keith left, two musician friends, Christina Carter and Andrew Macgregor, moved into the third floor. Andrew was helping Byron out at a record store he had opened and needed a cheap place to live. Christina, who recorded beautiful music in her bedroom, lived off her music by touring. Andrew and Christina kept their own hours and were lovely to have in the house.”
Randomly digging way deep in the Dusted Magazine archives and blowing digital dust off the digital spine of an August 2, 2002 “Listed” feature in which one of Bobby Conn’s top 10 ways to stay cool in the summertime is listening to the “effortless groove” of “Melting Pot” by Booker T & the MGs. As Mr. Conn summarizes, “They were not sweating when they recorded this.” I pull up the track on a widely used internet streaming platform and start blasting it, and goddamn, 8 minutes long, funky as hell, just a little psychedelic around the edges… look up the LP and it has a killer downbeat ‘harsh 70s reality’ band photo on the cover… the story starts to come together, something like “hey man did you know the last LP made by the classic lineup of Booker T & the MGs was a desultory jammy psych LP from 1971?” There’s a G+ copy on Discogs for $5 so I order it, and on first listen, that title track opener is definitely the most, if not quite only, desultory jammy tune on here. Some of the rest is borderline cheesy, especially when they add a white-scat lounge/schmaltz vocal arrangement to a “Green Onions” rewrite on “Kinda Easy Like” and also to what is otherwise a pretty hot desultory jammer on “L.A. Jazz Song.” Album closer “Sunny Monday” is a bit of an anomaly, built around a lovely West Coast psych-folk chordal sequence from Steve Cropper’s guitar, not his usual approach but still infused with Southern soul… I mean, it’s a good record!
Speaking of Bobby Conn, I’ve seen him live quite a few times over the years, but never he and Monica Boubou playing as a duo, which they were doing here and there in Chicago throughout the 2010s and maybe still are today. At least there’s YouTube, where I occasionally come across one of these performances, vocals arranged for Boubou’s violin and Conn’s electric guitar and Macbook backing. Just check out this progressiveness ^ at the Hideout back in 2014.
I went to two jazz festivals this summer, the Chicago Jazz Festival at the end of August and the Hyde Park Jazz Festival at the end of September. At the latter, I saw the Luke Stewart Exposure Quintet perform two scorching sets, after which I hit the merch table and bought a CD by Blacks’ Myths, another Luke Stewart project, this one a duo with drummer Warren G. Crudup III. The CD is called Blacks’ Myths II and on track five “Alter Destiny” guest spoken word performer Dr. Thomas “Bushmeat” Stanley says, “What we call history is a temporary vessel, a staging area for development. There really was a time before it called pre-history, and a time that will follow its retirement. We call it alter destiny. We understand alter destiny to be a firewall against manifest destiny, the triumph of white supremacy gentrified as American exceptionalism.” Of course most of us Blastistudents know that “alter destiny” is a Sun Ra concept, but the way Dr. Stanley cracks the code and installs Ra’s open source .exe file as a firewall against manifest destiny is the important move here. At the Chicago Jazz Festival exactly three weeks earlier I saw South African pianist Nduduzo Makhathini play a deep modal meditative trio set before Makaya McCraven’s extremely elegant closing set, and while introducing his trio’s last piece, Makhathini made me think of Ra’s “alter destiny” as well with some extended deep thoughts to his large Chicago audience. I wish I could transcribe his words exactly, and I’ve unsuccessfully tried to find a video from the festival, but it was essentially that diasporic African citizens of the world need to always have access to “a different place” that is not defined and mapped by European policy and attitude. Even if they can’t always inhabit this space physically, they need regular access to it psychically. It did seem like he was describing a space behind a psychic firewall against manifest destiny, which is not the same thing as the physical firewall created by options such as segregation or repatriation, especially because those terms are indeed also defined by European policy. So, Ra’s “alter destiny” = Makhathini’s “different place” (although again, I can’t remember if that was his exact phrase for it or not).
I leave you with “Herb Tree” by Aston “Family Man” Barrett, a lovely little sparkling instrumental from the Trojan Ganja Reggae Box Set. (The instrumentals on that set are particularly refreshing because you don’t have to hear a vocalist say something about “collie weed” for the 37th time.)