Sixth Week: September 20th – 26th, 2015

1. Ornette Coleman – Free Jazz [1961]

This is a collective improvisation record, so the whole band is improvising at once, as opposed to playing the theme and then everyone takes turns improvising. But maybe the best part about this record is that it’s recorded by a double quartet! So there are two bands playing, one panned hard right and the other hard left.

The result is a bit cacophonous, but I like it a lot. They maintain a groove under it all. It really does it for me when the band drops out and it’s just the two basses and drummers soloing, and man, oh man, is it excellent. Like a lot of these records, part of it being so good is that it’s contrasted by the mess (in a good way) before it. At the end the band comes in and everyone plays these sloppy, long notes, and those make a perfect ending for the record.

Seriously cool record. It’s just one long track – 37 minutes, or two sides of an LP. And that makes me think how they recorded it live. Was it recorded at 7.5 IPS? That can’t be right. Maybe they used two machines and then edited the takes together at a spot that made sense to splice. The reissue has the first take from that session. I haven’t listened to it yet but I will soon.

2. Sonny Sharrock – Monkey-Pockie-Boo [1970]

Really “unstructured” record. It sounds like mayhem, but it’s easier for me to relate to it than, for instance, Yankees from last week. It could be because I’m more familiar with the instruments here (guitar, vocals, bass, drums) than with a sax and a trombone making noises. Anyway, it’s still a pretty tough record to digest, and I find myself longing for the moments where the “noise” dies down a little bit. Partially because of that, the title track is my favorite, but also because it has both Linda and Sonny singing in tandem and that gives it an extra dimension the first two songs didn’t have.

3. DNA – A Taste of DNA [1981]

I’m going to be harsh here: This band is overrated.

They had 15 songs. Six of them are on this EP, 7 are split between two compilations, and their last show’s record’s track list shows two more songs. So I just listened to half of their catalog and it’s no good. It’s hack-y experimental/free music. It reminds me of early Sonic Youth stuff, but those SY records are better, and I don’t even like them very much. Sure, DNA predated Sonic Youth, and I guess someone had to do this to pave the way for other bands, but it’s no good. If the rest of their stuff sounds like this, and considering how most people didn’t get to see the live (assuming the live show was mind-blowing), then I think people are just buying into the undeserved hype.

This might put the kibosh on Arto Lindsay for me, although my friend Neal showed me a YouTube video of him playing with a drummer, and that thing was pretty good. Other than that, I haven’t heard anything else from him that wowed me.

4. Chicago Underground Trio – Possible Cube [1999]

This is a really cool record that is very different from what I’ve been listening to in the past five weeks. Yes, it’s jazz but it doesn’t try to follow any jazz paradigm. It’s also a fairly minimalist record, and everyone knows when to dial back and let the other instruments go wild. The bass playing, by the way, is really amazing. The guy is so accurate! No buzzing and he’s never flat or sharp!

My only gripe is that at 64 minutes, this record is a bit too long for my tastes, and that also means it probably only came out on CD.

My favorite track is Pisces. I love how the bass changes in this unexpected way when the cornet comes in.

5. Black Sabbath – Master of Reality [1971]

Black Sabbath is another band I never really listened to. I know the radio hits and whenever someone posts a YouTube thing I check it out for a bit. So I asked my friend Dror to recommend a Black Sabbath record to listen to and he said that Master of Reality is a masterpiece.

On a first listen, I wasn’t really feeling this record, and I’m still not crazy about it, but I warmed up to it. There are two reasons for why I’m not in love with it. The first is that they tapped into the easiest riffs. I’m talking about the backbone riffs to every song here, where it’s the same chord for a bar and a half, then the last two beats of the 2nd bar are two other power chords. Every time I plug into a loud amp I have ten of those coming out of me. Now I’m not saying I’m as good as Tommy Iommi (I’m not!) but I think that these are riffs that everyone has in them. Maybe that’s why so many people are into Sabbath – it’s like someone who speaks your language. The second problem is that of expectations and historical context. When this record came out (or earlier Sabbath records) I bet it was the heaviest thing anyone had ever listened to, and that’s also how people describe this band – a heavy metal band. Being someone who started to seriously pay attention to music at the turn of the century, I was first exposed to bands that were influenced and are heavier than Sabbath. I’m talking about Harvey Milk, The Melvins, Sleep, Electric Wizard, can’t think of other sludgy bands right now. FWIW, I think that a big part of the relative unheaviness of Sabbath is the recording. The guitar doesn’t sound right (mic’ed up close) and the drums are really dry and thin and panned mostly right (?!). This live show is a better representative of this band.

Favorite track is Children of the Grave.

6. John Fahey – Days Have Gone By [1967]

I’m a big John Fahey fan, and that is a contradictory statement to make considering how I’m only now hearing this record of his from the good era.

My first exposure to John Fahey was in the spring of 2013, and that moment is burned in my memory. It was a Saturday and I was doing homework, and I was frustrated because it was the toughest semester I’ve had in school up to that point (and after) and I was never able to catch up with everything. I took a break from studying and went on Facebook where someone posted this video. I was floored. It was such a beautiful song with such incredible playing. I remember thinking that it’s impossible for someone to play like that, and I even said that in a comment to the post. The best thing about his playing is that while it was technical, it totally served the song. I was hooked from that moment on and got a bunch of his records and went through most of them (and loved them all), but when I got to 67-68 I just kept shuffling between Requia and The Yellow Princess, so this record kind of fell between the cracks. I’m cheating here a bit because I did listen to a few tracks before, but not the whole record.

Ok, so about the record itself. I think this is kind of a transitional record for Fahey. Most of it is stuff that sounds half pre-written and half improvised. Almost playing blues but purposefully not going there. It is stuff that he’s been doing since the first record, but he always managed to make it sound new and interesting. There’s also one hymn (of course) and a song I would catalog as a composition (Impressions of Susan). Then there are touches of musique concrete, but it’s only a few tracks (the Ragas and the title track, am I missing another?) where there are “sounds” over his guitar playing. You can even hear him working out parts for When the Catfish Is In Bloom (from Requia) in A Raga Called Pat Part 1. Lastly, it’s probably his last recording that doesn’t sound HiFi. I guess Requia is somewhere in-between, but the guitar sounds much better on Requia. So yeah, everything on this record points towards Requia and The Yellow Princess, albums that are full of compositions, incredible guitar playing, and collages (only Requia, really).

It’s tough for me to choose a favorite track. It’ll easily go to Impressions of Susan because it’s the best song on the record (and the only “composition”), but I also absolutely love hearing him play snippets of Catfish in the first Raga. I guess if I were to make a playlist of the ten best songs out of this week’s records, I’d put Impressions of Susan there.

I thought about it a little more and it’s definitely Impressions. Just his use of melody and harmony, the seamless yet surprising transitions, and how he never runs into a dead end when he keeps transposing a chord.

7. Bukka White – Mississippi Blues [1964]

I really like Bukka White, but for some reason I don’t know this record. I know the “singles” from when he was originally active, and some collection, but that’s it. This record came out on Takoma (John Fahey’s label) after Fahey himself found Bukka White in Mississippi and brought him out of retirement.

This record has some of the old hits and some newer songs, or maybe I think they’re new because they don’t sound anything like his old stuff (or his contemporaries’ stuff). These songs sound a lot like Chicago blues or Country blues like what Lightnin’ Hopkins was doing, so I think those were the result of him being exposed to that new strain of blues. These “new” songs are part of what provided the basis for a bunch of honkies to go ahead and make all this shitty blues they play now, so it’s a little hard for me to enjoy them, but that’s not Bukka’s fault!

I think one of the cool things about blues is that these guys are always telling a story. Sometimes they sing it, sometimes it’s literally spoken word over their playing, but there’s always a story. And I think that’s part of what the white people who try to play blues miss (aside from having a totally different background). The Atlanta Special is a great story, and I don’t even understand half of it, but his playing is so dynamic that even if you didn’t understand English at all you’d get into it. Some white blues dudes try to do that but they fail terribly because they go for the cliches like “.. my baby left me …”. Yeah it’s because she heard you play guitar! Sing about something real!

Choosing a favorite track is tough. My go to Bukka White song is Poor Boy Long Ways from Home, but his performance of it on this record isn’t his best. I like Aberdeen Mississippi Blues too, and the performance is better than Poor Boy. Then there’s I Am the Heavenly Way and The Atlanta Special, both of which totally slay in different ways. Maybe Aberdeen Mississippi Blues? It’s a nice touch when he tells his guitar “Play! Play good for me now!”, but being less vain, it really just keeps building up and up until he decides to finish it.

8. Chicago Underground Duo – 12 Degree of Freedom [1998]

So far this record is very different from Possible Cube, it’s very sparse and even more minimalist. Also, there aren’t as many grooves, and no bass. It’s kind of like Music for Airports mixed with some Miles Davis – slow, long notes on the cornet, dreamy keyboards that loop around. Every once in a while the drummer will whip out an awesome groove, like in the beginning of January 15th, and some songs get a little more energetic, like the title track. Overall the playing is a lot more free than in Possible Cube. Editing this post, I was reading this entry and I really don’t remember much of this record other than liking the song Twelve Degrees of Freedom.

9. Sonny Sharrock – Highlife [1990]

Uhh, what’s going on here? I just started this record but this first song is the cheesiest thing I’ve heard. Crappy keyboards, terrible drum sound, terrible song, it’s all there. It even has a bit of a samba groove and it’s really bringing me down. The guitar playing is alright and moves between an even more cliched version of Santana and the stuff I’m used to hearing from Sonny Sharrock. What happened Sonny? Ask the Ages came out a year after and is a masterpiece!

Seriously, this record is torture. Sonny Sharrock’s playing gets better on the other songs, but the band behind him is playing the worst fusion-jazz I have ever heard. I think I’d rather listen to Uzeb instead of this! Holy cow! Chumpy was tolerable and then turned into an abomination of a song. Slap bass, even cheesier keyboard sounds, horrendous drumming, but Sonny is still killing it up front. This is seriously weird and bad and I’m not even halfway through it! Oh, the next song is actually worse. I don’t even know how to describe it anymore. Holy moly!

This one song, Kate (Variations on a Theme by Kate Bush) is a terrible cover of Wuthering Heights, and maybe Babooshka also, because they’re both kind of the same, so maybe that’s the variation on a theme. It starts with a pretty bad bass solo, but in a lot of ways it was better than hearing the whole band. Also, at first I didn’t see that it said Kate Bush, but still totally knew it was Wuthering Heights! Such a talented boy.

Ok, I’m not going to write about the rest of the record because now they’re ruining Upper Egypt from Pharoah Sander’s Tauhid. I’ll write something if all of a sudden it stops being terrible.

10. Sonny & Linda Sharrock – Paradise [1975]

The record starts like Sexual Healing. I mean, it’s musically similar, but Linda Sharrock’s singing is great although more subdued than the usual. Then it turns into this not so great “funky” jam. It’s not as bad as the abomination that is Highlife, but it’s bad.

I don’t necessarily know if that’s how Sonny Sharrock felt, but to me it seems like he was thinking “so what’s popular now? the funk thing? Let’s try that!” and then he totally misses. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Sonny Sharrock shouldn’t have explored different genres! I appreciate that he did. I just think that those were failed attempts, and that he maybe came at it the wrong way. The guitar is still pretty good throughout the record, though.

I thought Miss Doris and Peaceful were OK.

My friend asked me to make a list of the 10 best songs from each week, here is this week’s.


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