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Wednesday, Jun 4, 2008

This clip taken from a 1981 documentary titled Imagine the Sound is a rare document of one of the avant-garde world’s greatest piano players, Cecil Taylor. Most footage that has been released of Taylor is of him with one of his illustrious bands - known for blowing the hats of and outraging any devout be-bop player and/or critic. But the reason this video needs to be revealed is because it gets down to the very core of Free Jazz in it’s essence.


With Free Jazz, many times people will claim is just a series of random notes or a giant wall of noise. But in fact, its anything but these absurd claims. As not only jazz music, but other genres of music have seem to have lost the true meaning of “improvisation” - Taylor reminds them that it is a reaction to feeling and emotion. This is something that can’t be taught within our school systems and only those that stretch to understand it, will be satisfied with its rewarding attributes.


Watching Taylor from the director’s point of view above the piano shows him nearly talking to the piano. He’s having a conversation with it rather than just playing it - sometimes there are moments of silence, at others its as if the room just crowded and the conversation picked up. Unfortunately, the representatives of the jazz world in 2008 (see Wynton Marsalis) are taking us so many steps back, that jazz in the mainstream world is becoming obsolete - its being talked about like classical music is talked about, as if its an art form that can be taught in schools.


There are remaining soldiers out there such as David Ware, 8 Bold Souls, Matthew Shipp, and even some of the veterans such as Ornette Coleman, Anthony Braxton, and even Cecil Taylor himself. We must place them outside of the realm of the term “jazz” and bring them in with our alternative world. They should be playing with the slew of avant-rock bands out there creating a buzz, to an audience that would actually give them a chance. Free Jazz is still as free as it ever was, it just needs to take that freedom down a different road.


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Monday, Jun 2, 2008
by PopMatters Staff
Aimee Mann's new record, @#%&! Smilers, releases tomorrow in the U.S. She takes a moment to answer PopMatters' 20 Questions.

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
A German movie called The Lives of Others.


2. The fictional character most like you?
Josephine in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Basil and Josephine Stories.


3. The greatest album, ever?
Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim.


4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
The original Star Trek TV show.


5. Your ideal brain food?
Gefilte fish.


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Friday, May 30, 2008
Fans can’t be faulted for nostalgia, which begs the unanswerable question: if the gory backstage drama had not pushed them apart, could Veruca Salt have continued to make it work?

Not sure if any band quite captures the waiting-to-exhale extended moment of semi-innocence that was the mid-90s (you know, the post-grunge, post-Reagan/Bush, pre-9/11, pre Bush/Cheney era when casual Fridays were infiltrating offices everywhere and music—as always, for better or worse—reflected the times in a sort of holding pattern that mixed ennui with an always unfashionable optimism) than Veruca Salt.


To recap: what was the appeal of this band? Irresistible melodies? Check. Smoking hot, sexy singers (who also played better than passable guitar)? Check. Utterly ingenious band name? Check. Glorious debut album title? Big check. Most folks recall “Seether”, as well they should; it was their big hit and a truly infectious piece of pop perfection. But as anyone who did—and still does—worship at the altar of American Thighs, it needn’t be belabored that Veruca Salt was most assuredly not a one-hit wonder. Among the better moments, “Forsythia”, “Number One Blind” and especially the almost-too-good-to-be-true “All Hail Me” (how about another shout out to the days when music videos were actually capable of being almost as great as the songs that inspired them?). All in all,  pretty ideal fodder for a one-and-done minor masterpiece.


But the dream was not dead, yet. A tide-us-over EP, Blow It out Your Ass It’s Veruca Salt, featuring the delectable “Shimmer Like a Girl”, found Veruca Salt poised for real superstardom—for whatever that’s worth. Their shot at glory came in ’97 with the (once again, brilliantly titled) Eight Arms To Hold You (incidentally, the working title of the Beatles’ album Help!), which had the addictive single “Volcano Girls”. The rest of the album wasn’t terribly shabby, either, but, it seemed (unfairly? impossibly?) their moment had already passed. And so, while the album didn’t do badly, it didn’t quite put them over.


What happened next is truly difficult to believe, particularly if you saw the doe-eyed adoration Louise Post and Nina Gordon obviously had for one another—as late as ’97 during interviews (check out youtube): a combination of bad blood, ambition, stolen boyfriends and terrible timing resulted in best friends on the wrong side of that thin line between love and hate, not to mention rock and roll cliché. Gordon set off on her own and in the summer of 2000 released Tonight and the Rest of My Life, while Post pulled a David Gilmour and retained the brand name. Almost simultaneously, the “new” Veruca Salt put out Resolver (another Beatles reference and another incredibly inspired album title, particularly considering the content within).


The results, predictably, separated fans into two camps: those who thought Tonight and the Rest of My Life successfully proved that Nina Gordon was the true talent in Veruca Salt, and those who felt that she sold out. Conversely, there were fans who insisted that the new albums made it clear that Post was the soul of the band and the one who rocked. Even in 2000, it was immediately obvious to me which album was superior (Resolver, by far)—Post picked up the banner and crawled with it. Time has been less kind to Gordon’s overly polished, ultimately safe and brazenly ambitious (not in the good sense of the word) project, while despite—or because of—the considerable warts and rough edges of Resolver, it retains an immediacy, daring, and furious venom that eight years has scarcely cooled off.


Tagged as: veruca salt
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Friday, May 30, 2008

I have to say that this has been one of those weeks where I fantasize about having enough money to wall myself away from the world and do drugs and desserts until I die.  So today, I was trying to remember something/someone music-related that made me laugh when I recalled this interview with O.D.B. on MTV where he pulled up to the welfare office in a limo to pick up his check.  I’m not going to parse out the man’s ethics late on a Friday when I’m counting the seconds until my first Mexican Martini.  But he was a hilariously interesting character, both for having more aliases than a C.I.A. passport and in his fairly adamant refusal of most social graces.  His lyrical abilities had a miraculous Wesley Willis quality about them, somehow managing to penetrate our reality from a galaxy far far a way and usually delivered like a gravel mouthed old dude yelling from a cracked cellar door.  And just to make myself smile that much wider I absolutely had to dig up my favorite Dirt McGirt couplet:


“You can call me dirty, and then lift up your skirt
And you want some of this dirty, god made dirt and dirt bust yo ass”


How did this work?  The lyrical rhythm is pausing and parenthical (oh yeah, and dirty bust yo ass, son), but it still sounds amazingly stammered out.  A great man has been taken from us while my list of ungreat ones that should go in their stead remains ignored.  I guess God needs all the good people to work in the Angel mines.


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Thursday, May 29, 2008
Aside from the requisite stints in rehab, the Botox and the damage done, and the increasingly profitable reunion tours, not a lot of memorable music gets made after age 30.

Nothing gold can stay, wrote Robert Frost. And believe it or not, he wasn’t actually talking about the Greasers and the Socs, or even Ralph Macchio’s ability, post Outsiders, to convincingly play high school kids well into his mid-20s (making the other ageless wonder, Family Ties era Michael J. Fox look like Methuselah by comparison). Frost, of course, was speaking of more poetic matters, like springtime and flowers and innocence and all that CliffsNotes crap.


What he was not talking about, since it had not yet been invented, was rock and roll. So he could not have known that he was providing a very prescient epitaph for what is often the rule and seldom the exception with every great rock band: they age poorly. Aside from the requisite stints in rehab, the Botox and the damage done, and the increasingly profitable reunion tours, not a lot of memorable music gets made after age 30. Consider how many groups have blazed like fevered comets into the public consciousness, then flamed out, leaving a body of work—and sometimes their bodies—behind.


Not counting the careers cut short by death (think Hendrix, Morrison, Cobain or Clapton…wait, Clapton didn’t die? Never mind), and not cherry-picking the no-brainers like the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and the Who, it’s actually easier to identify the groups that have managed to produce work worthy of their salad days—much less work that is worthwhile. The very recent efforts by Portishead and the Breeders, as well as the fairly recent masterpiece by Sleater-Kinney (please come back!) prove that it can be done. The fact that those three bands are fronted by females is noteworthy, and fodder for further discussion: women rock harder and make better music, after 30, than men? It would seem so. Then again, King Buzzo might have something to say about that, although he is probably too cool to even be considered human, much less a man.


But why is this so rare? Certainly the impetus of lean and hungry desperation (not to mention drugs) inspires rock music in ways not especially amenable to other types of art, like literature. Robert Frost was 49 when he dropped Nothing Gold Can Stay; Pete Townshend was 20 when he wrote “I hope I die before I get old”. By the time he was 49, The Who were already recycling their better days on the arena rocking chair circuit.


There are still some legends thrashing about in the mud and the blood and the beer: Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, for instance. Their best days are undoubtedly far behind them, but at least they’re still trying. And yet, the issue isn’t really about trying, it’s about an end result that passes the smell test (mosh pit or mothballs?), regardless of intent or integrity. Perhaps it’s appropriate that one elder statesman who is defying the trend is the golden god himself, Robert Plant. While the world waits to see if the mighty Zeppelin will glide again, Plant paired up with the beguiling Alison Krauss to create Raising Sand, an effort that, not so ironically, sounds better with time. In fact, it surpasses just about anything Plant’s peers have been able to manage since John Bonham died (doing his part to ensure that the best band of the ‘70s would not embarrass themselves in the ‘80s). Granted, Raising Sand is not (nor is it pretending to be) rock music. Perhaps that is the entire point. To be a rock and not to roll? Perhaps this is what Plant meant, way back whenever. Or perhaps it is just the forests, echoing with laughter.


TO BE CONT’D.


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