Ive been having some doubts about this whole thing in the last couple of weeks. There are several reasons – I like listening to music I already know, it’s getting to be a bit of a chore to force myself to listen to ten new records, not all records are mind-blowingly good, I don’t get to internalize the records, but worst is that it’s hard to write about music in an interesting way. What I do here most of the time is describe the records I’m listening to in a very prosaic way, and while this blog is for me to catalog what I listen to and use it as a reference when I buy records, I feel guilty for posting dull writing. But as I kept thinking about it (while listening to a record, thinking what I’ll write) I realized that by trying to think of what to write about a record, I actually give it a closer listen, and it also makes me think about my reaction to different elements in the music. So just listing what I’m listening to is important and useful. I first do it in my head and then I do it on the page. So overall while the end product of what I’m doing isn’t very interesting, the process is (to me).
1. The Fall – Grotesque 
Oh man! I wrote a whole thing about this record, and when I came back to the draft to write about the next one, it was all gone. Dang. Ok, let’s see, a bunch of rockabilly influences (I mean, those were rockabilly songs), a blues song, I don’t know what else. This record is kind of like a practice recording, from how sloppy they play to the way it was recorded. It’s not a bad thing, but is a thing. Like Hex Enduction Hour, I thought that it really petered out towards the end.
2. Kelan Philip Cohran & The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble 
This record doesn’t have a name. I don’t know if it’s untitled or if it’s just a record by this one guy and that one band. It doesn’t matter though.
On paper this is supposed to be a really cool record – it’s a brass band with Philip Cohran, and if you remember, I dug his record On the Beach last week. In reality, it’s a boring record. These songs are no good. It’s the same simple riff played over and over, the drums are all “let’s get funky”, Cohran improvises for a while, then maybe a few other people, then they go home. The Tuba (might be a Baritone horn) sounds great, but it kills me that it’s playing the same four notes the whole song. Playing the same notes isn’t bad (any James Brown record) but I don’t think it works in this context. This one track, Ancestral is the best one because it doesn’t have drums, the theme is a great melody, and there’s interesting improvisation.
P.S. Yowzers! The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble are Philip Corhan’s kids!
3. Pharoah Sanders – Tauhid 
This is kind of a perfect record. I often write about song vs. “noise” and how there’s a sweet spot somewhere on the spectrum between the two. This record sits in that sweet spot. The guitar playing in the beginning reminds me what Sonny Sharrock did in Black Woman, (he played guitar on Tauhid). Then they switch gears (Upper Egypt & Lower Egypt) and start playing this simple groove that they slowly build up, then Pharoah comes in with the horn and tears things up. It’s incredible.
Upper Egypt & Lower Egypt is my fave track.
4. Sonny Sharrock – Ask the Ages 
If Tauhid is a perfect record, then Ask the Ages is the perfect record. It’s even more in the center of that sweet spot I mentioned in the previous paragraph. It’s hard to put into words what’s so great about this record, obviously the guitar playing is a big part of it – sometimes it sounds like the best noise rock guitar ever played, but the whole band is on fire. Elvin Jones on drums, Pharoah Sanders on saxophone, some dude who’s totally killing it on bass. Absolutely perfect.
Favorite track is Many Mansions, but they’re really all incredible.
5. Sonny Sharrock – Guitar 
Sonny Sharrock solo guitar record. It’s pretty great because his playing is so unique and crazy. There’s nothing more to say about his guitar playing other than maybe comparing him to other guitar players, except I can’t think who he sounds like. Maybe Hendrix, a little bit? I think his audacity is Hendrix-esque. And I don’t mean to say that he was emulating Hendrix or that Hendrix was even an influence – they were both born around the same time and started playing around the same time, so if anything they were contemporaries. I’m also realizing now that a Sharrock-Hendrix record would have been wild.
Halfway through the record there’s a blues song; the cheesiest blues form and riff, and that bums me out. Right after that there’s another one, and it dawns on me that what he’s doing is looping a riff and improvising over it for ~5 minutes. Some songs have more than one riff and some riffs are a little more complex than others, but I was disappointed by that, at first. My thinking was that he should have composed a song to support his improvisation, something that would stand on its own and that he can go nuts over. But does it really make a difference? Whatever composition he could have written would sit in some scale and he would improvise over it the same way he does over a half-assed riff, and this record is about improvisation and Sonny Sharrock is 100% about improvisation and doesn’t care too much about harmony or song.
6. Muhal Richard Abrams – View from Within 
This record is a mixed bag. It starts with cool hand drumming, and I was excited for the record to go that way, but then the piano and the rest of the band comes in and it sounds like crappy fusion. The title track is a little better. It’s full of water sounds, rain sticks, gongs, that kind of stuff, and it’s fine, but I didn’t think it was going anywhere. The next song, Personal Conversations, was cool. It’s more of a straight ahead jazz but with some free improvisation going on. The most surprising song, to me, is Down At Peppers, which is a blues-rock cliche. I wasn’t offended by it at first, I think because it’s so over-the-top and performed with brass and reed instruments (instead of a chooch with a guitar). I was losing my patience towards the end though.
The Eighties were a rough time for jazz.
7. Derek Bailey, George Lewis, John Zorn – Yankees 
More free jazz that I don’t really get. It’s somewhat enjoyable at face value, but I have no real idea what’s going on. My wife said that they sound like puppies (and they do!) which made me rationalize that it’s cool that they can make those sounds with their instruments, but a whole record of it is a little much. I need someone to clue me in on this stuff. What should I pay attention and listen to. I’m out of my depth here.
8. Henry Threadgill – X-75
This is a really interesting record and I like it a lot.
The first track sounds a little goofy because of the non-verbal vocals, but it reminds me that the human voice isn’t utilized as often as it should be. Forget about regular vocals where people sing words – it’s boring and been done to death. Also forget about shitty jazz singing, that was done well two three times. I’m talking about using the voice like an instrument. There’s not enough of that.
The second track, Celebration, is a duet (or more than two?) between basses and it’s fantastic. I think there are a lot of ways a bass duet can go wrong, but this one doesn’t go there.
Remember what I said non-verbal vocals? It doesn’t apply to scat. Scat was done well maybe 5 times, and even that was over-doing it. Now every once in awhile someone thinks that scatting is a good idea and ruins a song with it. The fourth song, Fe Fi Fo Fum, could have been aces if it weren’t for the scat vocals. They go on for 10 minutes. Yikes.
This record has more in it, but I don’t know how to express it. Going to listen to it a bunch more.
9. New Order – Brotherhood 
I never listened to New Order! I know their story, and I know Bizarre Love Triangle which is why I’m listening to this record.
It’s a good record, and the songs are catchy, but not enough to make me want to listen to it again (or often), except for Bizarre Love Triangle which is the best song here. I really enjoy how the vocals are not unproportionally loud, unlike in a lot of pop music.
Every Little Counts sounds like Silkworm’s Is She A Sign? and I could definitely hear how they influenced Bottomless Pit when listening to All Day Long. Angel Dust was another good song. That’s all I got.
10. Ornette Coleman – Change of the Century 
This record sounds good! When people talk about warm records, this is it. Holy moly!
I like it, but it doesn’t sound like free jazz to me. It’s just “usual” bebop, and it’s certainly no The Shape of Jazz to Come. I don’t mean all this in a bad way. I enjoyed this record and would listen to it again, I was just surprised by what it was.
Listening to this record I really don’t get why some jazz musicians at the time objected so much to Ornette Coleman. I may be missing something here that separates it from bebop, but I don’t think so.