I don’t read a lot of poetry in general. But this quirky little volume by Canadian poet Sandra Kasturi (with a foreword by Neil Gaiman) jumped into my pile of library books recently.
The Animal Bridegroom (2007) is part poetry, part twisted fairytale, and totally fascinating. Mermaids, princesses, sharp-toothed wolves, and all manner of nasties populate Kasturi’s verses. The reader is forced to consider some of the darker implications behind those beloved Grimm tales.
If you had been the one, trapped by trickery in a gingerbread house deep in the woods, to push the witch to her death headfirst into the oven, would you struggle with depression and guilt for the rest of your life?
Little Red Riding Hood is the “lost strawberry girl”, followed by a “thousand eyes gathering yellow / In the creeping dusk.” Princes who want to spirit away the sleeping beauty and keep her all dolled up for showing off have unattractive motivations compared to the knightly gentlemen of fairytale lore. Portraying witches and changelings, wolves and thorny rose gardens, Kasturi pays tribute to myths and legends, fables and ballads, with their menagerie of creatures and characters, at once so familiar and yet misunderstood. I haven’t enjoyed a book of poetry so much in a long while.
Roy Hargrove Big Band Emergence
Releasing: 25 August (US)
PopMatters jazz trumpet fave Roy Hargrove is releasing his first ever big band album this month. Hargrove claims as influences for his big band approach such masters as Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington. Readers in L.A. can catch the band at the Hollywood Bowl on August 26th.
02 Ms. Garvey, Ms. Garvey
03 My Funny Valentine
04 Mambo for Roy
06 September in the Rain
07 Every Time We Say Goodbye
08 La Puerta
09 Roy Allan
Roy Hargrove Big Band
“Ms. Garvey, Ms. Garvey” [MP3]
I’m reading the 33 1/3 book about Céline Dion by Carl Wilson (who is not to be confused with Carl Wilson), which is less about Dion than it is a sociology of pop culture taste. It appeals to me because it dispenses with the obfuscating fictions that taste is autonomous (i.e. intrinsic to one’s inner being and the music itself), or that taste can be “right”, and looks instead at what social functions taste plays, which class boundaries it helps regulate in a society that pretends to be without them.
The book is framed by the ongoing debate over what the function of pop-music criticism should be, or whether there should be any pop criticism at all. I waver on that question. Wilson mentions the rockist/popist debate, which seems like a red herring; at their worst both approaches are condescending, only in different ways. Embedded in most pop criticism is the idea that listeners need their preferences justified or vindicated by a better-informed outsider. Generally, I get impatient with will-to-power would-be tastemakers, and my experience in the magazine business has confirmed for me without question that pop music critics don’t have any special listening expertise—their ears aren’t refined like a wine connoisseur’s palette. They aren’t doing the sonic equivalent of philology. Perhaps their class habitus affords them the instinct of authority. Usually, though, they are compromised by their own supposed qualifications, the concessions they make to be published for pay. At best, reviewers are clever writers who can startle with a turn of phrase; their work should be appreciated on a formal level, not for anything they might say about a particular record. What reviewers and their editors seem good for is establishing the horizons of relevance—picking out the dozen records worth hearing and talking about in various genres every year. I like reading what other people have to say about a record I already know pretty well; then I can pretends I am part of a conversation, internally agreeing or disagreeing, coming up with objections. I don’t read reviews of records I haven’t heard already; since it is so easy to sample music or yourself rather than rely on recommendations, I imagine I am not alone in this.
Maybe you have to be a jazz aficionado to get excited by an album cover, but come on: How can you not love this? How can an album that looks like this not be brilliant? And here’s the thing: Yes, it was the ’70s (1971 to be exact) and yes, plenty of musicians (and artists) outside of the jazz idiom were fully, if superficially, embracing Eastern (in general) and African (in particular, particularly within jazz) culture. Then, and now, whenever an opportunistic interloper tries to straddle the line between the exotic and the trendy, it’s simple to see through the charade and the results are accordingly painful—for all involved.
Suffice it to say, in Pharoah Sanders’ case, this eastward glance was neither cursory nor commercially-minded. Continuing along the path his mentor John Coltrane strode in the previous decade, Sanders focused less on the shrieking and more on his cerebral side. Although there are some obligatory saxophonic fireworks on Thembi, there are also some extraordinarily peaceful and meditative moments. Arguably, he reached an ideal balance on this effort, which some hail as his masterpiece and others decry as an uneven mess. But even the haters have to recognize that the title track, the ethereal “Astral Travelling” (below) and the astonishing Cecil McBee bass solo “Love” are some of the better recorded moments of the ’70s.
Part Two: Augustus Pablo
Art imitating art (or, to be more precise, album cover imitating album cover)? Perhaps. But just as Thembi is arguably better but less known than Sanders’ enduring classic Karma (which, of course, featured Leon Thomas singing and yodeling and is either hopelessly aged or ageless, depending on one’s tolerance for that peace and love late ’60s vibe; the music, on the other hand, is unassailable), the late, great Augustus Pablo (Horace Swaby) is best known for the masterful King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown. But as hardcore reggae enthusiasts are well aware, his shining hour may well be East of the River Nile. Like Thembi (and, again, like a great deal of jazz and reggae from this era) the fascination with African roots is front and center. One reason these albums remain convincing, aside from the obvious genius of the assembled musicians, is the lack of words: the invocation of other places is purely sonic, and is able to impart an authenticity based on acumen and not affectation. You can hear it, as well as feel it. It’s never forced and it’s utterly honest. This is music that these men had to make, and that is how the best art is always created.
Aside from the obvious (and, to me, delightful) similarities of the two album covers, these albums seem to accrue additional layers of meaning and applicability during the summer months. Perhaps that is because I always associate them with the great summer of 2000, when I finally acquired CD versions of both after having made due with crappy cassette copies for entirely too long. To be certain, this is 365-day-a-year music, but if you are going to discover either of these albums for the first time, now is an ideal time to experience some upfull living, summer-style.