In the summer of 1991 I was 9 years old and my musical taste was pretty sophisticated; I had moved on from a second grade obsession with New Kids On The Block and had lately been digging newcomers Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer. Marky Mark was introducing me to funk music, thanks largely to his backing band, the aptly named “Funky Bunch”. EMF were giving me a British perspective and C+C Music Factory kept me in touch with the dance club scene. Yep, I was pretty on top of things when it came to music. But something wicked this way came. A song that would make me forget about everything I listened to before it, that would make me fall in love with rock music. That song was Alice Cooper’s “Hey Stoopid.”
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The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences handed out their annual awards on Sunday night. The Junos—essentially Canada’s equivalent to the Grammys—have been awarding achievements in Canadian music since 1970, often with a noticeably prejudiced eye towards record sales and international success. The awards have been no stranger to controversy in its nearly 40 year history, most notably when country singer Stompin’ Tom Conners returned his six Junos in protest over the Academy’s tendency towards awarding Canadian artists who lived and worked outside of the country.
“Si tu savais auquel point j’ai de l’affection pour toi dou-dou, tu n’aurais pas me faite ca. Hmmm, je veux savoir.”
Translation: “If you knew how much affection I had for you, boo, you would not have done me like that. Hmm, I wanna know.”
Ok, forgive me if I missed any specifics in the few translations I offer here, but the points remain clear. I first heard Black So Man in Bankass, a small town six hours by bush-taxi from the regional capital, Mopti, a half-day by bus journey from Bamako, Mali’s capital. Bankass was closer to the border of Black So Man’s native Burkina Faso.
Mali and Burkinabe share many things culturally: a porous border in that region (despite the infamous Gendarmerie), and both colonial language and dialects of Mande, i.e. French as well as Bambara and Jula, comprising the regional lingua franca in spite of imperial political boundaries demarcating artificial nation-states. Compared to Sénégal and Côte d’Ivoire, the two nations were ‘relatively’ saved from the squander of colonialism- apparently the French didn’t find many resources in the land-locked, dry, arid, climates to extrapolate- other than the folks! Even one of Burkina Faso’s largest city’s Bobojulaso (literally “the home of the Bobo and Jula peoples’ father) reflects the breadth of cultural kinship amongst Mande speaking peoples right from Guinea on the coast, through to Burkinabe deep in the Sahel.
I’ve not said much to say, in print, to this point about John Zorn for a variety of reasons, but it ultimately boils down to two very simple issues. First, there is so much to say it’s both exhausting and intimidating to consider; how to even grapple with an output like this? Second, and perhaps more significant, I’m not at all certain my best efforts would sufficiently convey how important his music is (to me, for starters) and how truly all-encompassing his sensibility has become. And that’s just in the last 12 months…
Consider his Masada songbook: 100 compositions he wrote in the early ’90s, and then recorded over the course of ten albums with the (then acoustic) Masada band, including Dave Douglas on trumpet, Greg Cohen on bass and Joey Baron on drums. The klezmer-meets classic Ornette Coleman Quartet vibe, too often and easily invoked as a way of describing what this music sounds like, nevertheless is an acceptably succinct summation. These tunes were covered by another working band, Bar Kokhba (which brought in Cyro Baptista on percussion, Marc Ribot on guitar, Mark Feldman on violin and Eric Friedlander on cello–all mainstays in the NYC downtown music scene), giving the compositions an augmented grandeur that keeps the material challenging (mostly for the players) and always accessible. The Masada String Trio (Cohen, Feldman and Friedlander) also recorded and performed this material live.
Tornados. Essentially tornados abound in Neko Case’s sixth album Middle Cyclones, a brilliant pop/folk/rock/etc album. Maybe one of the purest displays in Neko’s career, the album is filled with density learned from composing and touring with her side super-band The New Pornographers. These songs are demonstrating growth in Neko’s song writing ability. Neko has constructed songs with limited space, she’s giving us a Neko Case pop sonic masterpiece that takes some time to find a spot to settle into and enjoy, but the album’s main purpose is to drive the idea that we live in a stormy world that we do not even work on our own behalf to enjoy fully. We all struggle, as Neko, to find love and to define it for ourselves, but we also push away those who mean us most joy. We are stormy creatures, afraid to communicate fully in a world filled with the ability to communicate anything to anyone at any time. Middle Cyclone is the love album for the early 21st Century. The songs are richly decorated; they spin the listener into the ground and then spend equal time allowing comfortable recoil.