Black Music Disaster: Black Music Disaster

If you listen to only one organ-driven free-jazz album featuring members of Spiritualized and Spring Heel Jack in 2012, make it this one.

Black Music Disaster

Black Music Disaster

Label: Thirsty Ear
US Release Date: 2012-06-05
UK Release Date: 2012-06-05

There was a time when Thirsty Ear seemed poised to redefine jazz for a new millennium. Unfortunately, last decade's (now seemingly defunct) Blue Series never quite delivered on a promise that was probably too vague to begin with. Brilliant improvisers like Matthew Shipp and William Parker aimed to meld their chosen idiom with hip-hop, electronica, and all things culturally relevant in a series of collaborations with artists like Antipop Consortium, El-P, and DJ Spooky—worthy efforts, but albums that rarely brought out the best in anyone involved. Meanwhile, the various electronic-tinged jazz CDs released under Shipp's name had their moments, but the "DJ" element tended to be the weakest link, often holding the instrumentalists back, never pushing them into the future.

Shipp redeems himself for any and all artistic missteps on his latest outing. J Spaceman (of Spiritualized) and John Coxon (of Spring Heel Jack, itself a veteran of several Blue Series albums) each play electric guitars, while highly versatile drummer Steve Noble rounds out the quartet. Together they make up Black Music Disaster, a joking reference to a negative review of a Cecil Taylor/Anthony Braxton concert in Italy, and quite possibly the best band name of the century, not to mention one of the least accurate. Their self-titled album clocks in at less than 40 minutes and appears to have been recorded in a single live take without further overdubs or manipulation. And it all plays out as one track, ebbing and flowing and floating out of time.

The first thing to note about this album is that Shipp switches from piano to Farfisa organ and stays there. This is significant because of its freeing effect; stepping outside of his comfort zone, Shipp avoids habits picked up over several years of playing predominantly one instrument. His characteristically heavy block chords sound different, but an ominous mood remains—suggesting at times a more avant-garde take on silent-film accompaniment -- and all despite (or because of?) the lightweight connotations of the Farfisa. Listeners versed in out-leaning jazz of the 1960s and ‘70s might think of Larry Young's later Blue Notes or Sun Ra’s occasional organ forays; those who have kept up with such things more recently may recall the spacier moments of Jeff Palmer or John Medeski. And, in the best tradition, Shipp allows a clear-cut groove to establish itself at the appropriate moment (anchored by Noble, whose malleable sense of time is easy to overlook because it never really calls attention to itself).

Texture and tone take precedence over any sort of traditional solo structure here, and this leads to the second surprising thing about the album. For a collective improvisation including dueling electric guitars, the overall sound is much less cluttered than one might expect, as the guitarists appear to be taking turns—or at least generally staying out of each other's way—for the first several minutes of the piece, building up to a sort of dramatic climax at which time both are audibly doing different (though sonically similar, even inter-related) things at the same time, and eventually powering down again. Messrs Spaceman and Coxon serve up shards of sound that compliment (and respond to) what the organ is doing, but they avoid shredding for the sake of shredding. It makes the whole “jazz” label almost irrelevant, in much the same way Sonny Sharrock threatened to on any number of records going back to the mid-'60s.

Significantly, the blurring of boundaries between “jazz,” “rock,” and “noise” (or whatever more specific term one might care to apply) never feels forced on Black Music Disaster; it just happens. The lack of pretension is refreshing because there is never any sense that the music is being crushed under its own conceptual weight. In short, this is what the Blue Series should have sounded like all along.


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.