Saturday, November 9, 2013

20 Years of Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

At this point, twenty years to the day after Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) came out, using the word ‘grimy’ to describe that album or anything that the Wu-Tang Clan has done since has become the hoariest of clich├ęs. Yet watching the video for “Protect Ya Neck,” the group’s first single, it’s clear that no other word so perfectly encapsulates what they were doing. Anything resembling professionalism, like proper lighting or good cameras, is nonexistent, everything looks like a first take, and they apparently couldn’t be bothered to remove the camcorder time stamp from most of the color shots. A bunch of the group members’ names are misspelled (Inspektah Deck, Ghost Face Killer, the Jizah). It’s impossible to really tell, but my guess that there are about forty people in the video seems like a conservative estimate, and all but a few of them are completely unrecognizable.[1] Just how many of them are actually in the group? It isn’t clear from the video. A bunch of them have swords, and there are scary-looking guys lurking in project hallways and alleys in the back of most of the shots. The video is five minutes of menace and a dizzying array of lyrical styles over an intoxicated, haphazardly mixed beat the likes of which had not been heard before.

A few months before the “Protect Ya Neck” video started gaining traction on Rap City, the Wu-Tang Clan got their first break in a way that fits the menace that they projected in that first video perfectly. During an episode of the Stretch & Bobbito Show, which aired every Thursday night on WKCR 89.9FM from one to five in the morning, a few members and affiliates of the Clan either snuck or broke into the WKCR offices, unmarked white label 12” in hand.[2] If threats were made they were no more than implied, but the message was clear: it was in Stretch & Bobbito’s best interest to play the song. “Protect Ya Neck” got its first radio play that night, and it earned the group’s members spots as semi-regular presences on the show until 1998 when it went off the air.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

BYG Actuel 13: Paul Bley - Ramblin'

There have already been a few anomalies in the BYG Actuel catalog so far: the avant classical of Michel Puig, the psychedelic proto-prog of Gong, and the never-issued blues rock of Alan Jack Civilization. Number 13 in the Actuel catalog is also an anomaly, although not primarily on stylistic grounds. Unlike almost all of the fifty-three albums in the label’s catalog, Paul Bley’s Ramblin’ was not recorded in the Actuel summer in 1969. It wasn’t even recorded in France. Instead, it was an unused recording that Paul Bley’s trio made in Rome in 1966 that Bley licensed to Actuel three years later. As such, it is missing that particular adventurous spirit that marks so much of the rest of that catalog.

By the time he recorded Ramblin’, Bley had already been an important figure in boundary-pushing jazz for thirteen years. His debut album as leader, Introducing Paul Bley, was released on Debut in 1953, and he somehow managed to wrangle Charles Mingus and Art Blakey to be his sidemen. He was one of the first respected jazz musicians to really get behind what Ornette Coleman and his band were doing, and he brought Coleman, Don Cherry, Billy Higgins, and Charlie Haden to perform with him in California in 1958. After his work with Coleman, he got around quite a bit, performing with Jimmy Giuffre, Sonny Rollins, and a few prominent members of the Sun Ra Arkestra, among others. By 1964, he was firmly entrenched in the free jazz movement and he was one of the major participants in the October Revolution in Jazz. After the October Revolution he, his wife Carla Bley, and Bill Dixon spearheaded the Jazz Composers Guild, an admirable but flawed attempt to unify out jazz musicians in order to help them get stage time and fair record contracts. Infighting and the individual success of some members (most notably Archie Shepp, who violated Guild bylaws by signing with Impulse! without consulting the others) caused the JCG to splinter quickly. After the JCG ceased to be, Bley traveled to Europe with his trio, which at the time included Mark Levinson on bass and Barry Altschul on drums. While in Rome on July 1, 1966, the group convened at Studio RCA to record one Paul Bley song along with five compositions by Carla Bley, Annette Peacock, and Ornette Coleman.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Spray Cans Vol. 018: Asia Born/DJ Shadow and the Groove Robbers - "Send Them" b/w "Entropy"

Asia Born/DJ Shadow and the Groove Robbers - "Send Them" b/w "Entropy" (Solesides, 1993)

Latyrx’s The Second Album is due out on Tuesday. Their first album, appropriately titled Latyrx (The Album), came out a long sixteen years ago, and that length of time apart has caused expectations to rise to unmatchable levels. The Second Album will almost certainly disappoint simply because the memory of the first is so overpowering that it makes considering the second on its own merits an almost impossible task. I’m going to make things even harder for myself by taking the time to focus on Latyrx’s early years over the next few days.

First up is “Send Them” the debut single by one half of Latyrx, Asia Born, and the first release on the amazing Solesides label. Solesides, which later morphed into the Quannum Projects, was a rap collective and label that was founded in 1992 around UC Davis and the Bay Area. In many ways the weirder cousin of fellow Bay Area crew Hieroglyphics, Solesides initially comprised of Blackalicious members Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel, DJ Shadow, and Latyrx members Lateef the Truthspeaker and Lyrics Born.[1] These five used Solesides as the mouthpiece for much of their experimentation and general weirdness, finding their own unique voices in the process.

BYG Actuel 12: Alan Silva and His Celestrial Communication Orchestra - Luna Surface

I haven’t gotten a chance to see Gravity yet but from what I’ve heard, the experience of seeing it on an Imax screen in 3D can induce existential terror at the vast emptiness of space and our fragility in the face of the forces of the cosmos. Forty-four years earlier, Alan Silva and His Celestrial Communication Orchestra[1] accomplished that same thing musically with their first album for BYG Actuel, Luna Surface. Recorded less than a month after the Apollo 11 spacecraft touched down on the lunar surface, the album is both an incredibly assured debut as leader for Silva and a chaotic, relentless journey into the horrors of outer space.

Alan Silva was born in Bermuda in 1939 but he migrated with his mother to Harlem before the end of World War II. He picked up the bass at some point in this childhood and he made his first major splash on the instrument as a participant in the landmark October Revolution in Jazz, which trumpeter Bill Dixon put on at the Cellar Door in Manhattan. Around the same time he spent a brief time in Sun Ra’s Arkestra, giving him a taste for larger ensembles that he kept in the back of his mind over the next five years, which he spent in smaller bands led by Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler, Sunny Murray, and Archie Shepp. It was with the latter that Silva travelled to Algiers in July 1969 to perform at the Pan-African Festival which put him at ground zero for the nascent Actuel summer.