Sunday, September 29, 2013

BYG Actuel 07: Michel Puig - Stigmates

And now for BYG Actuel’s first serious misstep. Stigmates is not the label’s last foray into contemporary (for the time) classical,[1] but it is certainly its worst. It’s telling that nothing from this record was included on the Jazzactuel compilation and that he’s been basically wiped from the popular (if you can call anything this niche popular) memory of the label.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

BYG Actuel 06: Claude Delcloo & Arthur Jones - Africanasia

The trajectory of alto saxophonist Arthur Jones’ career is one of the more disappointing stories in free jazz. The sounds of Ornette and Trane attracted him from his birthplace of Cleveland to New York City, and he made his recorded debut in 1967 on tenor saxophonist Frank Wright’s ESP-Disk Your Prayer. The next year, he traveled to Paris as part of Jacques Coursil’s band and became an integral if underappreciated part of the community of musicians hovering around Studio Saravah.[1] He played on seven Actuel records by Coursil, Sunny Murray, Archie Shepp, Dave Burrell, Clifford Thornton, and Burton Greene, and he recorded two albums, Africanasia and Scorpio, as leader or co-leader. After 1970, when Scorpio was released (it was one of the last records that the label released), Jones disappeared from recorded jazz, save for an appearance on Archie Shepp’s live Bijou album, recorded in Paris in 1975. His name basically disappears from the historical record after that, and he died in 1998 in the midst of a return to performing after a long hiatus.

Had things gone differently, Arthur Jones could have been one of the major figures in the loft scene in New York during the seventies. He was a wonderfully expressive player, infusing a bebop sensibility into his expansive solos. Even if he never recorded again as leader, he would have been a valuable member of any ensemble in both live and recorded settings. As he makes clear repeatedly on Africanasia, he was more than willing to step out of the way of his fellow musicians when it benefitted a composition, but he was consistently capable of being the defining voice during any passage in which he played.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Dudley Perkins and Madlib in a State of Emergency

Dudley Perkins is not a great singer by any typical metric of ability, but he has a loose, off-the-cuff informality to the proceedings that makes his singing records, which are released under his birth name, some of his best work. It helps that the two Dudley Perkins records on Stones Throw, A Lil’ Light and Expressions (2012 A.U.), are fully produced by Madlib, who turned in some of his career best beats (check “Falling” if you need some proof). So news today of a new Dudley Perkins/Madlib collaboration was greeted with excitement among the typically fanatical fans of the two artists.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

BYG Actuel 05: Gong - Magick Brother

There is a moment halfway through “Mystic Sister/Magick Brother,” the opening track on Gong’s 1969 debut album Magick Brother, in which the band members all seem to forget what they’re doing all at once and drift out of the mix. They take a few seconds to reorganize and remember what they were supposed to be doing, and they all start up again. The moment is both charming and frustrating. Even mid-song, the band wasn’t quite sure what they were going for. At this stage in their career, Gong was a soon-to-be great band stumbling toward a breakthrough and knocking over a lot of stuff on the way. For a fledgling free jazz label like BYG/Actuel, it’s an unfortunate first excursion beyond its established jazz framework.

An Evening at the MCA with Kim Gordon's Body/Head

Kim Gordon and Bill Nace are in the last stretch of their brief tour in support of their debut album as Body/Head, Coming Apart. I saw Thurston Moore’s current band Chelsea Light Moving at the Empty Bottle in March, and caught a thoroughly underwhelming performance by Lee Ranaldo and Dust at the Pritzker Pavilion (admittedly not the best venue) over the summer. Coming Apart has been slowly revealing its charms since its release last month, and I’ve already checked in with Gordon’s former bandmates this year, so I decided to head over the Museum of Contemporary Art last night to see her and Nace perform (now I just need to figure out what Steve Shelley has been doing since he quit Disappears and then I’ll maybe be able to make myself feel a tiny bit better for never going to see Sonic Youth before they split up).

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Spray Cans Vol. 015: Shyheim - "On & On" b/w "The B Side (Bring the Drama)"

Shyheim - "On & On" b/w "The B Side (Bring the Drama)" (Virgin Records, 1993)

Yesterday Jeff Weiss put up a new entry in his always good weekly series Bizarre Ride over at LA Weekly. This week’s topic? “TeenageRappers Are Experiencing a Renaissance,” which is an argument that’s pretty difficult to refute given the success of Odd Future, Joey Bada$$ and Pro Era, and numerous others over the past few years. In the middle of the article, he stated that “in the wake of Kriss Kross, the early ‘90s yielded often-overlooked teenage talents like Illegal, Ahma, Shyheim and Da Youngstas. Even if their albums were often unmemorable, they dropped minor classic singles and rapped impressively.” He neglected to mention the Wascals, who were produced by J-Swift of Bizarre Ride to the Pharcyde fame. The quartet worked really hard to sound like a miniature Pharcyde, with intermittent success, and considering how Weiss feels about the Pharcyde (check the name of his column) it’s an odd omission.

He does however mention Shyheim, the youngest and one of the most overlooked of the Wu-Tang Clan’s original crop of Killa Bees. He got signed to Virgin Records and put out his debut single in 1993 at the age of fourteen. The subsequent album AKA the Rugged Child is a bit of a mixed bag, but that first single “On & On” is amazing.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Yoko Ono and the RZA Have a Baby

At a Yoko Ono concert back in 2010, the RZA joined her on stage to silently play chess for a few minutes and then perform a new song “Seed of Joy/Life is a Struggle.” It starts out well enough, with the band playing a beat that is kind of like a rockier version of the old Wu-Tang sound and RZA rapping from the perspective of a sperm. It’s better than it sounds. The lyrics actually sound like something that could have been on the second half of Birth of a Prince. Ono doesn’t distract too much with her howling during the verses, and she sounds great during the chorus.

Unfortunately, things go off the rails around the time that RZA, rapping from the perspective of a baby being born, dances in a way that a woman giving birth while standing up would and Ono uses her trademark wail to stand in for the woman in labor that RZA is rapping about. I actually laughed out loud when RZA started yelling “push!” repeatedly. And while RZA’s old yell flow from the Enter the Wu-Tang/6 Feet Deep days is sorely missed, it just kind of sounds forced when he’s using it as a dust-free 41 year old.

BYG Actuel 04: Archie Shepp - Yasmina, a Black Woman

Out of the second wave of free jazz musicians,[1] Archie Shepp is part of the trinity of tremendously influential and important saxophonists that shifted the course of the art form, alongside Albert Ayler and Pharoah Sanders. By the time Shepp travelled to Algiers for the Pan-African Festival in 1969, all three were calling Impulse! Records home, but they had sharply diverged in their aims. Ayler was making some ill-advised moves into jazz/R&B fusion; he would be dead of a presumed suicide a year later. Sanders was crafting his own spiritualist identity in the post-Coltrane wilderness and writing some of his best music (including “The Creator Has a Master Plan”) while he was at it.

Unlike these two contemporaries, Shepp was staying the course by transforming his sound. On his second Impulse! album Fire Music, with its odes to the recently assassinated Malcolm X, Shepp had refracted his musical identity directly through the broader civil rights movement. 1965 was the year of X’s death, the Watts riot, and riots and racial violence in urban centers around the country. The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act did not completely end de jure segregation, but they did shift attention and tension to the de facto segregation that was the hallmark of Northern urban centers. Anger and fire were the orders of the day. By 1969, however, Shepp’s philosophy, and in turn his music, shifted toward cultural nationalism. In 1968 and 1969 he recorded five songs that would make up his final Impulse! release in 1974. That album was named for the Los Angeles based US organization’s new black holiday Kwanzaa.

Monday, September 9, 2013

R.I.P. No Longer: Holograms at Rock the Bells

I’ll admit that when I first saw the 2Pac hologram from Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s Coachella performance last year, I thought it was amazing.[1] There had been rumors that there would be a Nate Dogg hologram, but what a hologram of a dead artist would entail was up for conjecture. That the Pac hologram looked eerily real—albeit with not exactly historically accurate abs—and that he said “Coachella” in a voice that sounded exactly like 2Pac, was pretty remarkable, and watching him perform “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted” alongside Snoop was great. I thought it was a great tribute to 2Pac.

Yet by the fourth or fifth time I watched the video I started to feel gross. It wasn’t a blatant cash grab like most of his posthumous albums have been, but it wasn’t all that far off. I’m sure it increased sales of his back catalog, but it struck me as more of a publicity stunt than a heartfelt tribute. 2Pac was probably watching that hologram from Cuba and shaking his head.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Spray Cans Vol. 014: Mad Lion - "Take it Easy" b/w "Big Box of Blunts"

Mad Lion - "Take it Easy" b/w "Big Box of Blunts" (Weeded Records, 1994)
There is a low-key ragga/dancehall revival happening in hip-hop right now. A$AP Ferg’s great second single from Trap Lord is an ode to Shabba Ranks. The best moment on Yeezus was Assassin hijacking “I’m In It” with his roaring patois. Grime is expanding its borders to include more ragga influences. And Duppy Gun is bringing dancehall into the future.

Musical trends tend to come around again roughly twenty years later, whether it’s Greenwich Village in the late fifties reviving the folk sounds of the Dust Bowl, or early British punk plundering Chuck Berry, or Dr. Dre retrofitting P-Funk into G-funk. This mini ragga resurgence is not too surprising coming about two decades after the ragga boom of the early nineties. Shabba Ranks was at his peak, Phife Dawg, Busta Rhymes, Smif-n-Wessun (who Mad Lion is pictured with above), O.G.C., and Das EFX were all rapping in patois, and Spice 1 was sampling reggae songs and getting regional hits.

Review: Ty Segall - Sleeper

Ty Segall’s father died late last year. Cancer took him. In the aftermath, Ty had some sort of serious disagreement with his mother, and he severed their relationship. In order to maintain some semblance of family, he moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles, where his sister lives. The king of San Francisco garage rock suddenly found himself in a new home away from his kingdom. To make sense of his new surroundings, his irrevocably altered family life, and death, he put down his electric guitar and picked up an acoustic one, on which he wrote exactly ten songs. There were no outtakes.

The result is Sleeper, Segall’s eleventh album in five years. And after ten albums of fuzz and feedback and squalling guitars, it’s a testament to his songwriting that not only did he not lose his identity when he removed all of those factors, he actually strengthened and stretched that sound in some of the most exciting ways of his career so far.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Freddie GIbbs Goes Deeper

Madlib can make magic with three drum beats, some bass, and a string loop. Old soul vocals drift in and out in place of a hook, like the ghost of some pain past. Over this sparse, melancholy canvas, Gibbs weaves a tale of love and heartbreak, of a woman who left him for a sucka and lied about her baby’s parentage. Since it’s Gibbs, he finds room to discuss bagging up heroin in the midst of all of this. Between this and the other five songs we’ve heard from Piñata, MadGibbs is shaping up to be one of the best collaborations of both artists’ careers. I’d list the guests that will be on the record but that list is too long. Piñata will be out in February.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Breeze Brewin's in Control

Are we all tired of talking about Kendrick’s “Control” verse yet? It’s a great verse, to be sure, but it’s no “Hit ‘Em Up,” to cite one classic diss from a rapper name-checked in the song. Unfortunately, among all of the lackluster responses (I’m looking at you, Papoose and Lupe Fiasco), one truly great response got lost in the muck. Breeze Brewin, of the legendary New York underground rap group Juggaknots, quietly released the most mature, intelligent and dope response recently.

Kendrick called out a lot of people by name and claimed that he was the king of New York, and a lot of people responded with anger, but Breeze Brewin’ remembers what happened the last time the coasts went to war. Fighting words on wax led to dead bodies, and hip-hop culture recoiled. Kendrick’s right that an element of competition has been lost in the mainstream since the days of “Hit ‘Em Up,” and if the response to his “Control” verse is any indication, some of that might be coming back in the near future. But Breeze knows he should tone it down a little. He knows that some people are too dumb, they don’t understand the culture enough, and they might take this verse the wrong way. He takes issue with Kendrick disrespecting the hip-hop Mecca, New York. And he knows we should “get mediation for media moist from the name droppin.’” The media tends to highlight the negative responses over the positive, fomenting clashes in the name of page views.