This was a tough week. My brother was here from Sunday to Friday, so I wasn’t able to listen to as much music I usually do, definitely not the free stuff (as you’ll see). I listened to the last three records on Monday the 14th, but I’m not changing range of this post, or the next one. At the end of next week I will have listened to 50 new records.
1. Anthony Braxton – For Alto 
This is part of the Freedom Principle, and the third Braxton Record I’ve listened to in the past few weeks. Lots of squeals here, but also has some more ballad-y moments. The more I listen to jazz the more I learn to appreciate the really free-makes-no-sense jazz. I don’t have the key to understanding it, and I’m not even sure I understand it, but I enjoy it as what it is to my ears – a barrage of sounds. I also enjoy the opposition of extreme sounds with the more palatable playing. I think I mentioned it before, but when faced with extreme music, any “simple” music that would be thrown after it would sound awesome, and I think a lot of noise musicians do that. With that being said, it’s tough for me to listen to this record because every squeak makes me think my brother is going to snap and tell me it’s unlistenable, but so far, so good. I will definitely have to listen to this record again when I don’t feel self-conscious about it.
2. Bill Withers – Just As I Am 
I know two Bill Withers songs – Sunshine and Lean On Me, so I am checking out a full record. Seven songs in and I’m not really feeling this record. There’s nothing about it that is objectionable, but nothing that grabs me either. I did like his cover of Let It Be, and the next song, I’m Her Daddy, is pretty good. The latter is the first one where I was moving my head with the beat. I’m feeling like a jackass right now, because everyone loves Bill Withers, and while I don’t dislike this record (or him), I’m not getting this record. This is his first one, so maybe he developed more momentum later. I’ll check out his second record, Still Bill.
3. Bola Sete – Ocean 
This record was released by Takoma Records, and at some point in time John Fahey called it his favorite record, so I’ve been meaning to check it out for a while. It’s solo Brazilian guitar, and I say that having heard very little Brazilian music. But anyway, no percussion or anything like that. It’s kind of a weird record because I listened to it a bunch, 3 or 4 times this week, and still didn’t hear a song that totally grabbed me. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t any good songs on this record, but not even one song made me want to listen to it again immediately. It also doesn’t help that the songs really flow into one another and the whole thing could have been one single performance.
On the last listen I started recognizing passages and Let Go popped out at me. As I was editing this post I listened to the record one more time and now a lot of things come back, and the influences on Fahey are even more obvious than before. Favorite song is Let Go.
4. Peter Brotzmann – Machine Gun 
Another hardcore free jazz* record, which is on par with everything else I heard from Peter Brotzmann. It was also recorded kind of hot and the saxes, drums, and occasionally the bass are distorted. To be honest, I have no idea what’s going on there for the most part, but I’m really enjoying it. I like the mess of sounds, and the feeling I get like it’s this puzzle I’m trying to put together. I spent a lot of time thinking how this record was arranged and what cues they used if any. It’s complete chaos, but they know what they’re doing and I want to figure it out.
I also had a realization about what free jazz “means”. When I saw the Freedom Principle exhibit there were some signs that said “how do you express your freedom?” or “what does it mean to you to be free?” When I listened to this record, I was feeling liberated. I know it had something to do with dropping off my brother at the airport and not feeling self-conscious about listening to this kind of music anymore. Being alone in the confines of my home, I can listen to whatever I want and not feel weird about it. It can be really extreme or really simple, catchy stuff, and it doesn’t matter. I don’t need to explain to anyone why I like or dislike it. I go here and write about all these records, but that’s different because there’s a barrier between me and the reader, and particularly, they don’t listen to it at the same time I do. It must be exciting to play music this way, in complete seclusion where no one can hear it. Maybe that’ll even get some cool stuff out of me, although, didn’t that Bon Iver guy write that terrible record in a cabin by himself?
Favorite track is Responsible. It had more “song” in it, so that’s why, but the title track has some cool things too – when they slow down towards the end of the song, then after that they play something “groovy” while one of the saxophones is going nuts. This record is great. I’m going to listen to it a lot more.
*Is there really a point to calling this free jazz? Isn’t this just free music? The only thing that’s making it jazz is the improvisation.
5. Thinking Fellers Union 282 – Lovelyville 
I was expecting something else from this record. I always heard that TFU282 is an experimental band, and this record sounded like a lot of other stuff from the early 90s, but that’s just a matter of expectations, so I’m not putting too much stock in it. There are some mint songs on here, like Nail in the Head, More Glee, and Nothing Solid. I go back and forth on the Feller Filler. I like the idea of it on paper, but it also breaks up the record in a weird way, and some of the filler is really, uhh, filler.
I like the way the guitar playing on this record and the way they sound. That’s all I got for now.
6. The Art Ensemble of Chicago – People in Sorrow 
Not sure what to make of this record. To be honest, I was listening while making dinner, so I wasn’t focusing too hard, but it’s very sparse. There are probably 20 minutes that are just wind chimes, bells, and soft drumming. Some of it sounded like fusion-times Miles Davis, but without the “rocking” parts. I’m going to give this record another try soon, and if I don’t dig it I probably won’t try agin.
7. Philip Cohran And The Artistic Heritage Ensemble - On the Beach 
This record is rocking and grooving, and that’s probably the lamest thing you read today, but it’s true! This band can play jazz but with the same energy of a rock or a funk band. That’s usually a terrible marriage, but not here. The title track is my favorite because of the theme. It sounds a lot like something Boards of Canada wrote, but played with brass instruments and whatever else is on there.
8. Georgie Lewis and Douglas Ewart – Jila – Save ! Mon. – The Imaginary Suite 
I was getting a little hostile while listening to this record because the first 15 minutes sounded like a practical joke. A total “let’s make fart noises with our instruments for a while and see how we feel”, and then they felt it should be pressed on vinyl and sold to people. I’m sure there was a method to what they were doing (I hope there was), and I appreciate that someone did a duet of a trombone and a flute making fart noises, but I won’t be listening to it anymore.
The rest of the record was actually ok. It sounded like ambient music with trombone. No crazy playing, just nice, mellow stuff. I liked that, and I like that it was done in 1978, which is also when Eno released music for Airports.
Favorite track is either one of the Imaginary suites. (Also, you couldn’t give you record an actual name, or just name it after one of the songs?)
9. Arto Lindsay – Mundo Civilizado 
This record is Arto Lindsay singing and playing classical guitar, accompanied by electronic instruments – drums, bass, pads, whatever. It’s similar in that sense to the Envy, the Ambitious Lovers record I listened to a couple of weeks ago. It’s hard for me to get into that marriage of electronic music and classical/Spanish guitar. I’m not saying it can never work, but I find it hard to buy into. Somehow I feel like both “genres” are cheapened by this mix. At first I thought it’s just because it reminds of terrible music people in high school would make with Reason and a classical guitar, which is a terrible reason to dislike something. But the more I think about it I realize that the combination of electronic and Spanish guitar results in zero groove. The grooves of these two things just cancel each other out when superimposed like that.
There are some interesting moments on this record. For instance, I thought that Horizontal has a cool break, but then Erotic City makes me cringe. I’m sure the lyrics are tongue in cheek, but with the music it’s just too much. Clown is cool because of the percussion and the horns, the singing turns me off a little, but whatever.
I think Clown might be my favorite with Horizontal behind it.
10. Rod Stewart – Gasoline Alley 
I don’t know how I feel about this record two tracks in. The first sounds like a folk song, but stripped off of anything that’s cool about folk. His voice gets to me a little. I mean, cough it up, man. You need some tea or anything? You gotta rest your voice before going in the studio! Is this what his voice sounds like every time he sings? How did he not burn his vocal cords?
The rest of it is alright. I still hear some English (British?) folk influences throughout. Some are just glimpses while others are full-on folk songs. The bass and drums really get going after the first couple of songs, and My Way of Giving is a jam. The last song is also dope. I mean, this is 70s rock. It’s hard to make it bad, but also hard to make it super memorable.