Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Thelonious Monk

With the arrival Thelonious Sphere Monk, modern music--let alone modern culture--simply hasn’t been the same. Recognized as one of the most inventive pianists of any musical genre, Monk achieved a startlingly original sound that even his most devoted followers have been unable to successfully imitate. His musical vision was both ahead of its time and deeply rooted in tradition, spanning the entire history of the music from the “stride” masters of James P. Johnson and Willie “the Lion” Smith to the tonal freedom and kinetics of the “avant garde.” And he shares with Edward “Duke” Ellington the distinction of being one of the century’s greatest American composers.

As much as Monk helped usher in the bebop revolution, he also charted a new course for modern music few were willing to follow. Whereas most pianists of the bebop era played sparse chords in the left hand and emphasized fast, even eighth and sixteenth notes in the right hand, Monk combined an active right hand with an equally active left hand, fusing stride and angular rhythms that utilized the entire keyboard. And in an era when fast, dense, virtuosic solos were the order of the day, Monk was famous for his use of space and silence. In addition to his unique phrasing and economy of notes, Monk would “lay out” pretty regularly, enabling his sidemen to experiment free of the piano’s fixed pitches. As a composer, Monk was less interested in writing new melodic lines over popular chord progressions than in creating a whole new architecture for his music, one in which harmony and rhythm melded seamlessly with the melody. “Everything I play is different,” Monk once explained, “different melody, different harmony, different structure. Each piece is different from the other. . . . [W]hen the song tells a story, when it gets a certain sound, then it’s through . . . completed.”

Monk's Dream (1963)

Underground (1967)

With John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall (2005)

How to Survive and Encounter with and Ostrich

If you ever end up face to face with one of these vicious little bastards you'll be glad that you've read this.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Nikos Xylouris & Giannis Markopoulos – Rizitika (1971)

Rizitika are a form of traditional vocal music native to the mountain ranges of western Crete, and among the oldest unbroken Greek musical traditions. The word comes from the Greek “rizes” (roots), but they are commonly referred to as “rebel songs” due to their often-revolutionary lyrical themes. While they were mostly written during the periods of Venetian and Ottoman occupation, the unusual poetic meter and lack of rhyme in many of these songs’ lyrics is evidence of even older roots – at least predating the Venetian conquest (circa 1200 AD) and some would argue reaching as far back as antiquity.
The subject matter can range anywhere from longing and lust to friendship and everyday experiences, but again these are for the most part heavily allegorical songs of revolution. Not surprising, considering that Crete, a fiercely independent little island, was occupied by foreign powers for roughly 700 years. The third song (Agrimia kai agrimakia mou), for example, is a coded reference to the resistance fighters who often took to the mountains and became outlaws:
You wild goats and kids, you tamed deer,
Tell me, where do you live, where are you staying in the winter.
In the precipices we live, the steep peaks are our winter quarters,
The caves in the mountains are our ancestral home.

Nikos Xylouris (1936-80), generally acknowledged as one of the best and most idiosyncratic singers to come out of Crete, recorded this album (with songwriter and arranger Giannis Markopoulos) in celebration of his roots and in protest of the military dictatorship of the time. These songs resounded with the disenfranchised people, and became the rallying cries of the Athens Polytechnic students during their massive 1973 anti-government demonstration. Legend has it that during a particularly tense standoff between students and government tanks, Xylouris himself climbed to the top of the university’s outer gate, sat there with his lyra (three-stringed Cretan fiddle) and sang the first tune on this album, “Pote tha kani xasteria?” (When will there be a starlit sky?).
Anyway, enough with the history lesson. I realize this kind of music isn’t for everyone. But it’s one of my favourite records, and I find that Cretan music is sorely underrepresented on the Internet, so I guess this is my little contribution.

Fela Ransome-Kuti and the Africa 70 with Ginger Baker – Live! (1971)

Fela and the Africa 70 just rippin’ it live. The band is incredibly tight and Fela himself is in top form, playing some badass organ and perfecting his James Brown inspired yelps.The album also features drummer Ginger Baker. It’s kind of hard to tell what he’s doing here, apart from looking totally awesome in the cover photo. He apparently subbed in for Africa 70 drummer Tony Allen on one or two of these tracks. I guess it’s to his credit that you don’t really notice. The last track is a drum duet between Allen and Baker taken from the 1978 Berlin Jazz Festival. It doesn’t really add anything to the album, but is fun to listen to.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ruth Tafebe and The Afro Rockerz – Holy Warriors (2007)

Another great little record that’s been kicking around in my hard drive for a while. A wonderfully shambolic take on afrobeat, heavily informed by dub and modern R&B. The singer has a really nice voice, at times sounding like Erykah Badu with a French accent.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

S. E. Rogie – The Palm Wine Sounds of S. E. Rogie (1989)

I ripped this from a beat-up old vinyl. A long and arduous task, considering I don’t have any of the proper equipment. Some hissing and popping here and there, but it sounds OK overall. Dedicated to my buddy Daboolal and to his lady, and to the lovely afternoon spent sitting around in their apartment listening to this record.

From the liner notes:
Sooliman E. Rogie was born in Fomikoh his maternal hometowm (Nyandehun Kpaka is his paternal hometown) in the Pujehun District in Sierra Leone, on the West Coast of Africa. S. E. Rogie is a songwriter, storyteller and self-taught guitarist extraordinaire. Rogie nurtured and developed the Palm Wine style music and pushed it onto the international scene during the 1960s. Rogie says, “the Palm Wine guitar music is like folk music. It is an expression of the day to day experiences of a people. Many a time, people would gather around a big fireplace outdoors on a beautiful moonlit night and share their life stories. They sing a song or two and swap jokes and gossip, they drink a little Palm Wine to feel happy.” Palm Wine, which is tapped from palm trees, is a milky juice liquid which produces a mellow natural high in those who imbide.

Ali Farka Touré – Niafunké (1999)

Olivier Messiaen – Vingt regards sur l'enfant Jésus

Solo piano stuff. I found this online and don’t have any info about the performance, but it’s a lot better than the shitty Naxos Records version that I own.

Lee Perry & Friends – The Singles Collection: Anthology 1968 to 1979

Pt 1:

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Karlheinz Stockhausen – Kontakte

Thanks to the eloquent writers over at
In the late 1950s, Stockhausen became increasingly influenced by the aleatoric music of American composers like Morton Feldman and John Cage, as well as by American jazz. These influences are evident in Kontakte, though it is a work that clearly belongs to the European avant-garde tradition. It also presages developments in Stockhausen's own style, including elements -- such the addition of instrumentalists to an existing tape composition -- central to his later works.
The title refers to the moments of "contact" between the electronic sounds on the tape and the live performers. The tape consists of percussion sounds altered by different electronic means, including a ring modulator, a reverberator, and an impulse generator. The instrumental parts intertwine with the taped sounds, creating a wildly diverse array of textures and timbres over the course of six sections, or "moments." The moments are determined by events on tape, but the instrumentalists also participate in the transition from one moment to the next by changing character. Each moment contains six subdivisions of intensity, from "just noticable" to "violent," that refer to variations in acoustical phenomena including volume, speed, and register. The pianist and percussionists must respond and interact carefully with the tape, ensuring a proper balance of dynamics and intensity.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Davy Graham

I was sad to hear about Davy Graham's passing a couple of months ago. A truly adventurous and eccentric musician, his open-tuning acoustic guitar stylings were massively influential, inspiring such luminaries as Bert Jansch, Neil Young, Paul Simon, Nick Drake and Johnny Marr. While primarily associated with the 1960s British folk scene due to the seminal duo record he put out with singer Shirley Collins, his playing included elements of jazz, blues, North African and Indian music, and he constantly traveled the world in search of new sounds. His albums can be pretty hard to find on the internets, so I figured I’d upload the ones that I own. The first one, Folk Roots, New Routes, is the aforementioned Shirley Collins collaboration. Mostly folk tunes and a couple of neat instrumentals, including a Thelonious Monk cover. The second one, Hat, is a bit more eclectic. A bunch of covers (Beatles, Paul Simon, Dylan), some wild, nearly atonal guitar instrumentals, and some standard “trad arr” material, all done in his inimitable style. Hope you dig.

Folk Roots, New Routes (1964)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Compay Segundo – Son del Monte (1996)

This guy is my favourite of those Buena Vista Social Club geezers. Here’s a compilation of his recordings, dating from the 50s to the 80s. Really groovy stuff. I like his voice, which is somewhat plain but evocative.

Lee Morgan – Those Dizzy Days (2004)

Live recordings from around 1957-58 of Dizzy Gillespie’s state-sponsored big band, featuring a then-teenaged Lee Morgan as a main soloist.

Mingus at Antibes (1960)

Phenomenal live recording from the 1960 Antibes Jazz Festival. Eric Dolphy is definitely the star of the show here; he alternates between going absolutely ape-shit and playing cool, intensely lyrical lines.

Pete Rock & C. L. Smooth – The Main Ingredient (1994)

The Jazz Composer’s Orchestra – Communications (1968)

Read about it here.

The Abyssinians – Satta Massagana (1976)

Another great little roots reggae album. The Abyssinians were an intensely spiritual group that sang moody minor key odes to Jah in lovely three-part harmony.

Richard & Linda Thompson – Pour Down Like Silver (1975)

The last record Richard and Linda put together before taking an extended break from music to join a Sufi commune. These are intense songs of spiritual longing disguised as fairly straightforward love tunes. “Dimming of the Day” is one of the prettiest things I’ve ever heard. (Bonus Tracks)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Townes Van Zandt – Our Mother the Mountain (1969)

Slum Village – Fantastic, Vol. 2 (2000)

Cybotron – Clear (1990)

Cybotron was a band put together by Detroit techno pioneer Juan Atkins. This is a CD reissue of their 1983 LP entitled Enter. Some of these songs aren't really my cup of tea (cheesy electro-pop like “Enter” and “Industrial Lies”), but for the most part these are top-notch robo beats.

V/A – Techno: The New Dance Sound of Detroit (1988)

Now that I got all of that folky stuff out of my system who’s in the mood for some old-school Detroit techno? I’m guessing not too many people. Anyway, here’s a sweet compilation that was put out in the UK back in 88. It’s been long out of print, and is kind of a historical artifact, since it gave a name to the nascent genre and introduced it in Europe, where it was embraced to a much greater extent than it was in the States.

Part 1:
Part 2:

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Linda Perhacs – Parallelograms (1970)

Yet another lost and rediscovered late-60s/early-70s psych-folk gem. This one’s been a favourite for a while. It’s the only album she ever made, and it’s astounding just how fully realized and unique her style is. The way she sings and layers her voice, in particular, is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. The songs are great too. Everyone needs to download this.

The Holy Modal Rounders – The Moray Eels Eat the Holy Modal Rounders (1969)

Here was the Rounders' chance to mix all of the roots folk that had informed their work since their formation into a blender, topped off with some seriously wacko drugged-out strangeness and hard rock. Jug band, country, blues, ragtime, folk-rock--everything segued in and out of each other, figuratively and literally… As strokes of mad genius go, it was a winner, managing to just about walk the tightrope between art and chaos. Given just how chaotic the production of the record was, though, it's something of a miracle that the album was made in the first place, let alone eventually enshrined as a cult classic. (from the liner notes written by Richie Unterberger)

Meg Baird – Dear Companion (2007)

Espers is a band that I had really high hopes for, especially after reading a bunch of reviews that favourably compared them to trailblazing folkies like Pentangle and Fairport Convention. I found them to be kind of bland and overly affected, sounding more like a revivalist act than the real deal. The one thing that did captivate me though was Meg Baird’s singing. She has a great voice, with a sort of timeless quality that lends itself particularly well to this kind of material. This is her first solo record, and it’s really good. She accompanies herself on guitar and dulcimer and plays a couple of her own songs, some covers, and a bunch of traditional British tunes.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Max Romeo – War Ina Babylon (1976)

War Ina Babylon is simply one of reggae's finest moments. Along with The Heptones' Party Time and Junior Murvin's Police And Thieves, this album can be seen as part of a Black Ark "holy trinity". This album is perhaps the strongest of the three, with passionate vocals, powerful songwriting, and Scratch's expert hand at the mixing board. Max and Scratch shared a common vision when it came to music, and you can certainly hear that in every groove of this album. Highlights include the moving "Uptown Babies Don't Cry", the militant "Chase The Devil", and the film noir reggae of "Norman". Essential listening.

Eek-a-Mouse – Wa-Do-Dem (1982)

This one’s for a friend who had a bit of a rough day. Hope it cheers you up a little bro.