Tuesday 8 December 2009

Bill Dixon: Tapestries for Small Orchestra (Firehouse 12, 2009)

As Stephen Haynes notes in his online journal/blog on the recording sessions for this project, one of the challenges involved was providing enough distinction in the sound mix between five trumpeters/cornet players with similarly dark sounds. But Dixon does, after all, favour a dark palette, as amply demonstrated by his previous orchestral release, ‘17 Musicians In Search of a Sound: Darfur’, where the slightly larger ensemble produced slowly emerging chord-clouds and slowly shifting unison passages in which the ensemble mesh was produced by individual instruments in near, but not quite, total alignment. The effect is a kind of blurring, produced by a very careful manipulation of individual detail; a more horizontal than vertical approach, with solos emerging as parts of the texture – like a colour highlighted in a particular portion of a canvas – rather than as monologues supported by an ensemble background. This has always been the case with Dixon’s own playing, particularly given his use of electronics, and the fact that the other trumpeters also deploy electronics, in some cases seeming to mimic his approach – muted growls, breathy whispers, repeated mid-register notes, high-pitched flurries cascading into silence – adds to the collaborative feel. That’s not to say that there aren’t solo spots, though – for instance, ‘Motorcycle ‘66’ starts with melodic material for unaccompanied bass which succeeds in forcing an initial concentration, in ushering the listener in to a music which needs to be heard with open ears. In any case, neither ensemble nor solo passages contain a wasted note; as Dixon puts it: “Listen to the space in the room. If you can't do something more beautiful than that, shut the fuck up.” The result is a kind of substantial minimalism – very slow, seeming to lack any overtly linear development, predominantly atmospheric, almost trance-like. And yet even this apparent lack of activity – most pronounced on the sustained hush of ‘Adagio: Slow Mauve Scribblings’ – reveals itself upon closer inspection to consist of complex structural balances and connections. Low, slowly-shifting drones, shimmering vibraphone, occasional electronic tweaks, overlapping melodic lines, repeated upward flurries all combine to create a sound field that is unique in modern music. Inexorable yet fragile, ‘Tapestries for Small Orchestra’ is slow-moving, meditative, and deeply affecting.

Friday 27 November 2009

dog star man - by brakhage

a brief note on structure might be in order to begin with: as much as the film can be said to have a 'narrative' (which in any case is in the order of epic or myth, rather than the 'story' of traditional film-making), it concerns the rise and fall of the dog star man (though the title can be taken two ways: either as the name of the man, or as a conflation of the three main visual threads of the film - a man, a dog, and a star (the sun, shown both in archive and original footage)). the man undertakes a physical journey up a mountain, where, accompanied by his dog, he chops down a dead tree: various dreams and remembrances (of his child and his wife) combine with sense impressions of the landscape around him (mountains, trees, snow, clouds, sun), as well as less obviously referential visual patterns created through superimposition and handpainting on film. the prelude combines footage from the four following parts and is concerned, broadly, with the cosmic - much use is made of footage of the sun (the 'star' of the title). part i introduces the footage of a woodsman, the dog star man (played by brakhage himself) climbing a snowy mountain with his dog, and chopping down a dead tree. part ii superimposes onto footage of a baby (one of brakhage's children) a riot of colour and rapidly changing visual phenomena, achieved thru the technique of painting on film, a kind of animation which he intended to approximate 'closed-eye vision' - i.e. what one sees when one closes one's eyes. part iii, a 'daydream of sex', is visceral and supremely physical, mixing footage of the sexual act with blood and organs - most notably, a beating heart. part iv returns to the woodsman, whose journey up the mountain comes to seem increasingly futile; trapped in an endless ascent, with no hope of reaching a summit, and made, through looping, to continuously chop at a tree which never falls, the man collapses on the ground, grimacing in agony, his wild long hair giving him a caveman appearance - the struggles against nature and physical limitation are unchanged from man's early beginnings. a mystical quality briefly emerges, hinting at some kind of hope, as the man reaches for a nightsky of twinkling stars, but these stars are, in reality, full of molten, deathly heat, as we see from the footage of the sun.

that's a very brief outline of what 'happens' in the film, although, in order to provide some sense of cohesion, i've inevitably imposed a too-schematic narrative outline on a film which lives moment by moment, as a profoundly immersive and visually busy experience. it's almost as if the absence of sound is made up for by what might at first seem to be an OVERcrowding of visual event; and watching the film silently, as intended, provides a very different experience of how one experiences the medium - one's eye trained to become more active, more able to discern connections, cohesions and fractures. therein lies the main problem with trying to describe 'dog star man' - for, fundamentally, the film teaches one how to read it itself, as it progresses: no amount of preparation will really equip one to the same degree as this instantaneous visual training. in that sense, the film is, like the best avant-garde art, a PARTICIPATORY piece, an experience which the viewer can share - but to do so, they must work, they cannot sit back and let the film-maker tell them something. this makes watching 'dog star man' a very personal experience, and the film itself is a very personal piece, showing the most intimate details of brakhage's life, the most intimate and extreme details of his fears and hopes. but at the same time, it has an epic scope rarely matched in conventional feature films. it is about the simultaneity of the local and the cosmic, about the struggle for security, for a home base, and the dangers and rigours of manual labour, of making one's way in a world full of overwhelming sense data, a world that shapes one and that is shaped into being by sense perceptions, rather than existing as something 'already there' which one can schematise, organise and make sense of.

moving in, from outline to detail, we might ask 'what do we have here'? and to answer that question would require a whole book (a frame-by-frame analysis is out of the question!) but, in brief, we can say that we have: perception nature repetition cycles recurrences man in the cosmos light movement the body organs sex fluid secretion the breast the penis the axe the tree the eye/ man as mythological figure an epic made from home movies the handmade handscratched handpainted the sun's molten leaps clouds passing the ascent the struggle up the mountain interludes lightness the woodsman playing with his dog (who, as we know from 'sirius remembered', decomposes in a quite horrifically beautiful way)/ back from the sense of narrative based around character development to the epic cipher figure yet with an utterly intense focus on the body inside and outside its environment (the dog star man, the woodsman, is brakhage himself but his motivations are not considered in the sense of a 'character study', though the preoccupations ARE very much diurnal - his baby, his home life sex, the mountain near his home, his cabin (in part iv), manual labour, struggles and fears in the moment revealing huge cosmic dramas) its environment snow falling thru and landing on trees twigs branches hand drawings of crystals superimpositions snow caught in hair snow struggled through and slippery hair skin organs blood opening and shutting the mouth beating of the heart blood red black/ we can say that we have the elemental (which is never, really, elementary)

Ulzan's Raid (1972): A Re-Revisionist Western

Starring: Burt Lancaster, Bruce Davison, Jorge Luke
Music: Frank DeVol
Director: Robert Aldrich
Screenplay: Alan Sharp
Director of Photgraphy: Joseph Biroc

In 1954, Robert Aldrich directed and Burt Lancaster starred in ‘Apache’, a re-consideration of the negative role accorded Native Americans in the western film. Just under twenty years later, they re-united for another examination of the same subject, but the revisionism this time was as much a response to the kind of film made possible by the likes of ‘Apache’, as it was to the old myths of whooping villains (a la ‘Stagecoach’). Attention is paid to creating an almost deadpan examination of the minutiae of life in the west, with a literate script depicting the complex moral dilemmas that were faced in a time of rough-and-ready law-and-order and rampant racism. Not only the settings but the characters are more believable than was the norm for the western at the time (and, given such recent efforts as the re-make of ‘3:10 to Yuma’, is the norm today as well). Thus, we have such closely thought-through detail as the army scout shooting himself and the settler he’s escorting back to the fort, to save them from being tortured by the Apaches, and the tactical manoeuvres centring on how long horses can last during a lengthy pursuit. In addition, the scout played by Lancaster isn’t (as he probably would be today) the ‘cynical’, ‘world-weary’ character who must redeem himself by some heroic action; rather, he’s a competent professional, a man who lives with an Apache wife but who doesn’t buy the ‘Little Big Man’ myths of the peace-loving noble savage– a hippie era antidote to the racism of ‘classic’ westerns that actually presented a view just as distorted as theirs. ‘Ulzana’ is far from a one-man film, though, and it’s the relations between Lancaster and other characters that make it such an interesting picture. Most notably, there’s the idealistic young officer (Bruce Davison) who leads the expedition to chase Ulzana, the Apache who’s fled his reservation in frustration and is leading a war party to rape and murder local homesteaders. The son of a clergyman, the young man believes that it’s “an absence of Christian feeling” that’s led to the situation of mutual enmity between white men and Native Americans; however, when he sees the aftermath of Ulzana’s raids (for instance, a mutilated settler has a dog’s tail placed in his mouth; as Lancaster wryly observes, Apaches have a strange sense of humour), he quickly swings to the opposite view, and wonders how Lancaster can have dealt with the Apache for so long without hating them. The fact that men could be so cruel offends his notion that man is essentially good (“made in God’s image”) – particularly so when members of his own cavalry troupe start to mutilate the corpse of Ulzana’s teenage son. Lancaster, though, sees through the bullshit, implicitly pointing out that such a ‘humane’ viewpoint over-simplifies the questions of culture clash caused by the white man’s invasion of Native American territory. It would be easy to characterise the tribes as mistreated innocents suffering at the hands of bloodthirsty colonialists (the hippie view), or, as the young officer does, to believe that a little talking and good-faith would sort things out, and that both sets of men could exist together in peace, motivated by similar feelings of love and brotherhood, following ‘good moral principles’ in harmony. What that ignores, though, is the brutality present in the tribal culture (at least, in that of the Apaches, who were feared by other tribes as well as by the white men); commenting on the rape of white settlers, several characters note that “they don’t treat their own women much better.” A culture that is based around rites of manhood (as documented in ‘A Man Called Horse’) and the feats of male warriors is not all that dissimilar to that of bloodthirsty white men masquerading behind Christianity, ‘the American way’, or simple lust for land. Yet just as one is not going to be able to ‘understand’ the Apache by caricaturing them as evil, heathen savages, one is also not going to be able to understand them by trying to view them as surrogate white liberals: there is a difference, an otherness which should neither be romanticised nor ignored. Appropriately enough, all of Ulzana’s dialogue is presented, unsubtitled, in his native tongue: no cushy Kevin Costner characterisations here. Overall, then, one might characterise the film’s nuanced approach as re-revisionism: a corrective both to the old Hollywood myths which everyone by now knew to be untrue, and to the new hippie myths which were perhaps more ‘worthy’ but were also riskily naïve.

NB. Ward Churchill's 'Fantasies of the Master Race' might help to point up some of the errors in the above post. At least, it might teach me to do some more research, rather than just taking on trust what I've seen in a film (which is, after all, fictional).

Thursday 26 November 2009

Valdez Is Coming (1971)

Starring: Burt Lancaster, Susan Clark, Jon Cypher
Music: Charles Gross
Director: Edwin Sherin
Screenplay: Roland Kibbee, David Rayfiel
(based on the novel by Elmore Leonard)
Director of Photgraphy: Gábor Pogány

Like Martin Ritt’s ‘Hombre’, made a few years earlier, this was adapted from an Elmore Leonard novel, and, like ‘Hombre’, it presents as its hero someone from an oppressed minority who is forced into a confrontation against heavy odds, due to the violent actions of some unscrupulous characters who hold him in racial contempt. Happening across a shooting party, Mexican lawman Bob Valdez (Burt Lancaster) is forced into a confrontation with an innocent army veteran, a black man accused by the rancher who’s leading the party of a murder he didn’t commit. Stricken with guilt at having killed the man, Valdez tries to get the rancher to give him $100 to compensate the dead man’s Native American widow; however, he’s met with contempt and physical violence, and the main part of the film sees him taking his revenge. (Although one should note that it’s not straightforward revenge, as Valdez is acting as much to prove a point – to make the rancher accept his guilt and show some concern towards the oppressed – as he is to avenge a personal slight or injury.)

Less downbeat and more unbelievable in its development than ‘Hombre’, this is nonetheless a film I wanted to like, and one which certainly has something to lift it above your average western. It’s not a ‘message’ picture, as was the vogue at the time (‘Little Big Man’, ‘Solider Blue’ et al); rather, its revisionism is gentle and easy to miss, often just a seemingly throw-away line (asked when he hunted Apache, the titular hero replies “before I know better”). The fact that Valdez is a Mexican also runs counter to the usual western clichés of those ‘over the border’ being either caricatured bandidos (Calvera from ‘The Magnificent Seven’ and General Mapache from ‘The Wild Bunch’) or poor, oppressed farmers, essentially innocent but often incapable of defending themselves without the help of white mercenaries (again, we can turn to ‘The Magnificent Seven’ and ‘The Wild Bunch’ for examples). Indeed, an exchange between Valdez and his old friend Diego, where Valdez impersonates the rancher who will prove the villain of the piece, nicely captures the mix of scorn and idealisation which characterises the white man’s view of the Mexican: “well, you’re a good greaser, Diego. As long as you’re a good greaser, I treat you fair and square – yes sirree, Diego, you people sure know how to live: singing, dancing, screwing – you don’t worry about nothing.” It’s one of the best moments of the film, in part because it’s so understated, yet underlain with a certain dramatic tension: having begun wryly, ironically, Lancaster delivers the final line with what is almost a sigh; a shift to a new, quiet seriousness and determination which is signalled by the faint rattle of Morricone-esque percussion on the soundtrack, and which sees him ride out on his horse for his near-fatal second encounter with the rancher.

Given all this, it’s unfortunate that the Mexican is played by a white man in make-up, although I’d accept that, back in the 70s, there were less bankable Latin stars of the kind who crop up in Hollywood films today (one can imagine Benicio del Toro playing this role, for example). Not that Burt Lancaster’s make-up is particularly bad; and, after all, the fact that he played the hero of Robert Aldrich’s ‘Apache’ in similar ‘brown-face’ didn’t prevent him from giving a very fine performance in a very fine film. His blue eyes do look a little out of place here though, and the henchman character, ‘El Segundo’, looks like a pantomime villain, with hair that sprouts in huge, wild tufts on either side of his head, and dollops of face-paint which make him look like Laurence Olivier’s Othello. Indeed, several of the protagonists also look distinctly like 70s TV characters: I’m thinking primarily of the woman Valdez kidnaps, and her man, the villain of the piece.

Particularly in the second half of the film, ‘Valdez is Coming’ threatens to become a rather tedious revenge/chase movie, though the plot is slightly more complex than this. Nonetheless, there is something rather pulpy about the way that Lancaster turns from put-upon minor lawman to brilliantly competent guerrilla fighter, shooting a man from a 1,000 yards, easily picking off the numerous armed riders sent after him, and sneaking into the heart of the enemy camp without anyone noticing. It’s particularly noticeable partly because of the understated, resigned quality that characterises his performance in the initial stages of the film: moving slowly and speaking carefully, almost deferentially, Valdez is a character not exactly resigned to his lot (which is being treated with open or concealed contempt by his white neighbours) but understandably cautious about being too outspoken. From the moment he pulls his old army gear from under the bed and starts to growl, “Valdez is coming,” he is suddenly athletic, hyper-alert, and a crack shot who never misses the target. The one-man-against-impossible-odds storyline seems here actually more unbelievable than in ‘Chato’s Land’, where Charles Bronson’s character has the advantage of knowing the terrain – as the film’s title indicates, it is the desert which accounts for the fate of the posse he stalks as much as it is the actions of Chato himself. Valdez, though, eludes capture with such ease that the fact he is forced into a final showdown comes as rather a surprise – though, given the mechanics and conventions of plot, it has to happen.

It’s the old Elmore Leonard trick (seen also in ‘Mr Majestyk’) of having the passive, good-natured hero take his revenge after suffering some memorable indignity (in ‘Majestyk’, this involved the machine-gunning of a crop of melons; here, the incident has Lancaster forced to struggle through harsh terrain with a wooden cross strapped to his back). But whereas that sort of thing might be expected in a simple action film like ‘Mr Majestyk’, imposing such a cliché on what could have been a reasonably realistic look at life in the Old West means that ‘Valdez is Coming’ fails to live up to its initial promise. The end result is a rather uneasy compromise between action-movie set-pieces and something more thoughtful and interesting. Still, it’s worth an hour and a half of your time – even if that’s for what it could have been more than for what it is.

Friday 13 November 2009

Some Exhibitions in London, November 2009. (Kapoor/Kiefer/Jodorowksy/ Montandon)

Anish Kapoor at The Royal Academy (26 September-11 December 2009)

Art galleries now are always white, the huge smooth spaces of their well-lit walls and shiny floors as much a part of any exhibition as the artworks themselves. This is made explicit in the Anish Kapoor show at the Royal Academy – most notably, in the two exhibits (Shooting Into the Corner (2008-2009)/ Svayambh (2007)) involving large quantities of red wax being smeared over venerable wooden door-frames, splattered on the whiteness of those walls in a pile of meaty red waste. Of course, one must always stand behind the white line to view such an ‘unrestrained’ mess. This leaves an odd, dissatisfying disjuncture: the freedom to subvert is managed, something to provide a hook for the show, to draw people in, without in reality moving any of the boundaries between spectator, artist and work which all too often are internalised and taken as read. Anish Kapoor is allowed to fire a cannon of red wax into a corner; anyone else would be taken by the scruff of the neck and marched out for crimes against art (or art galleries).Something similar happens in a room full of variously shaped and curved mirrors which Kapoor calls Non-Objects. To my mind this seems nothing more than an arty version of what one might find in a Victorian fairground, actually stripped of the sense of wonder present in the fair because of its sterile context, because viewers tip-toe round the mirrors wanting to burst out laughing as their shape is stretched so as to become hugely fat or thin or short or tall, but facing disapproving glances whenever anyone goes too far. (This place has, after all, the atmosphere of a secular church, and, like the church, is governed by a system of elitism, money and privilege by which the ordinary spectator is supposed to be awed, a participant only as a passive receptacle for the presentation of that which is ‘above’ their normal experience (though, of course, packaged into its own set of experiences – what one should do and feel in an art gallery).)

The show does have a certain immediate appeal – a protruding white ‘belly’ which appears at first to be an illusion does something to break the white flatness of a gallery wall (as if the building itself has become pregnant, a disquieting notion which bellows the work’s smooth gracefulness of shape), and what looks to be a painting of a giant yellow on yellow sun turns out to be a false wall with a large central hole (the opposite of a belly, perhaps). (When I Am Pregnant (1992)/ Yellow (1999). But such illusions reveal little beyond themselves: they are neat tricks with no secrets to yield, no truths to deliver, no paradoxes beyond the slight thrill of being tricked or confused: trompe l’oeil in the age of minimalism. The same with the hall of mirrors; the same with the sculptures made of colour and grouped under the title '1,000 Names', which hint at something vaguely religious and ritualistic (inspired by Kapoor’s visits to India) but lack the courage to make this explicit (and certainly without the courage to do anything political). Similarly, large sculptures such as ‘Slug’ (2009 – winding marble coils surrounding a shiny red vulva – do impress by their scale (taking up entire galleries), yet evoke no more wonder or fear than a single shot from a Jodorowsky film or even from Hollywood fare such as ‘Alien.’ Placed as it is in the front courtyard of the RA, neatly tucked in from the shiny lights and large scale of a street of shops, ‘Tall Tree and the Eye’ (2009), a sculpture consisting of connected glass balls, resembles nothing more than a giant modern Christmas tree. If, as Werner Herzog claims, we are in desperate need of new images to ensure the survival of our civilisation, they will not be found tidied away in a world of privileged white space and precious, tethered, quasi-subversion. Wander from the spindly broken pots and containers of the ‘excreted cement’ sculptures ‘Greyman Cries, Shaman Dies, Billowing Smoke, Beauty Evoked’ (2008-2009) onto a building site; wander from the sticky red mess fired from a cannon every 20 minutes, during gallery opening hours, to the sticky red mess at the end of machine gun bullets every minute, around the world. Seen in this light, Kapoor’s work seems to do far less than it could, or should.

Anselm Kiefer: 'Karfunkelfee' and 'The Fertile Crescent' at The White Cube(s) (16 October-14 November 2009)

Perhaps my beef with the Kapoor exhibition is as much with the gallery setting as with what is presented within it. Let’s put that to the test: not far from the Royal Academy, in an Old Mason’s Yard (not that you would recognise it as shut) can be found the ‘White Cube’ gallery. This is perhaps the ultimate example of the trend to whiteness – the name of the gallery paying testament to its aesthetic (away with the black, the dirty, the broken, if it’s not contained within a large ‘steel and glass frame’). The immaculate cube certainly provides a spacious arena for Anselm Kiefer’s ‘Karfunkelfee’, four huge triptychs depicting gothic forests, and a smaller painting tucked away in the ‘lower ground floor lobby’ (at the other White Cube, in Hoxton Square, a companion show entitled ‘The Fertile Crescent’ depicts the ruins of Indian brick factories). Yet Kiefer’s work evades the tendency to alluring, polished and unfeeling minimalism exemplified by the sepulchral whiteness of modern galleries; indeed, the seriousness with which he treats his simplified subject matter comes close to caricature. This has its dangers: his work strives for portentousness in a manner not helped by the sort of critical comments hurled his way whenever he unveils his latest piece. The wounds of history, the aftermath of Fascism and the Holocaust, the cruelty of nature with the broken and slender promise of hope as a flower springing from the wasteland: such heavy symbolism threatens to drag down Kiefer’s canvases just as much as the thick encrusted impasto of his paint. But such interpretations, while perhaps true of the less successful work produced throughout the artist’s career, do not do justice to the best of his oeuvre.

What might be best would be, at least initially, to approach the canvasses with less of a worthy desire to make them mean humanistically and politically worthy things, to approach them with regards to the physical handling of material, to the sensuous experience of standing before them. It’s hard to miss the way in which they have been wrestled onto the canvas, a tactile struggle shared with Pollock and Auebach, the thick encrustations of their texture mimicking ‘nature’ (cracked earth, broken surfaces of ice and snow, wasteland, desert, human desolation of rubbish dumps and building sites) in what is more re-enactment and re-living than simple mimesis. This might give an appearance or atmosphere of desolation, yet there is also something approaching exuberance in the violent struggle with paint, the slashes and slabs and stabs. In a recent interview with The Independent Kiefer has this to say: “Children take all as given, and it is for this reason that ruins are beautiful – to me, extremely beautiful. I think the most beautiful movie in the world is the one when planes were sent after the war over Germany to film the ruins – these are for me the most beautiful pictures. It's wonderful because the vertical becomes the horizontal, you know? On one side, something is hidden because it's buried and on the other something is exposed – you see the forms. I love this.” Ruins, then (such as the ones in ‘The Fertile Crescent’), are not just symbols of transience, are not just about the horror of buildings which have outlived their original function, about the terrifying absence of the human: they have an aesthetic delight in themselves, if anything enhanced by the deep-seated fears which they also evoke. Similarly, for all their spiky forbidding, the brambles placed in front of the Karfunkelfee paintings seem meticulously arranged, carefully-smudged and smeared photos coiled round them, even a real snake carefully hidden in shadowed thicket; a semi-recreation, bringing the outside into a space where it becomes aestheticised – in the process losing the full force of its ‘sublime’ impact, nagged by fears which are more submerged, which creep around in less obvious ways than in the German Romantic art which is always present in the background of Kiefer’s works.

As the reviews for the show all note, this pieces offer nothing really new – not that that is the point of what Kiefer does. One senses that he wants each and every painting that he creates to be always-already a monument, to embody history. Odd, then, that this never occurs in a public space – by which I mean a REAL public space, not just a swish. immaculately polished gallery off Jermyn Street with its bespoke shoes and expensive tailors. How would a Kiefer compete with the flashing billboards a few miles away, the buzz of traffic and shoppers and shops? Perhaps the answer is that, though Kiefer is attempting to deal with historical traumas which effect us all, he is not doing so in an obvious or zeitgeisty way – this is not ‘Schindler’s List’ or ‘Saving Private Ryan’ or some film dealing with more recent horrors. One might note, in particular, the absence of figures –something heightened, in this show, by the presence of empty shirts, smocks, hoods, the hint of a path, a large book whose pages, curled as if aged paper, turn out to be made of rusted, weathered lead (echoing Kiefer’s earlier work, ‘High Priestess’). The work is in a sense an escape – to the ‘exotic’ strangeness of what Kiefer saw in India, to the German Romantic dark forest – but it is also an escape to dreams and nightmares which embody the fears suppressed and ignored in the busy, flashing world outside. Rather than taking that world on directly, Kiefer moves his reference points backwards (dealing with Germany’s 1940s legacy of guilt, drawing from older Germanic traditions, painting ruins, those symbols of the past), at the same time as trying to move them out of obvious temporal reference – to unchanging natural scenes, empty of human cultivation – to more primal fears.

We see this in the way that, as with Francis Bacon, echoes of western painting’s religious heritage sound in a human context: in the case of ‘Karfunkelfee’, the triptych form, with large, empty and decaying objects – a large smock, a small metal plane, a book made of lead – taking the place of Christ, the supreme figure of human suffering. This actually subverts a desire for catharsis, to be purged of plague desires and horrors (Grunwald). Only ghosts remain – and maybe not even ghosts, for memories lose their grip as those who held them die. Thus, the hooded smock in the centre of one of the triptychs is the shroud of the corpse that has disappeared, not because, like Christ, it has been resurrected, but because the body has rotted away; the smaller smocks tangled in the bramble below, almost mockingly, recall perhaps massacres of children, lamb’s wool caught in the thicket, and it’s arguably MORE disturbing to discover them this way, than to present explicit horror, than to depict an actual human corpse. For the fear of death is not so much that one will die, but that NOTHING OF ONE WILL BE LEFT: no memory, no trace, no poetic or artistic monument (Kiefer’s desire for monumentality, mentioned above, is nevertheless a desire for a different kind of monumentality to the norm; his monuments are monuments to the decay that follows great destruction, not the survivors of the glory that precedes it). In ‘Narziss and Goldmund’, Hesse writes that "perhaps...fear of death is the root of all our image-making"; Kiefer takes on this notion, but takes it further, ensures that in his works this fear is, at least partially, realized. No anonymous model will be immortalised as a statue in a "quiet dark cloister church, smiling with the same lovely mouth, as beautiful, young, and full of pain", for Kiefer's work has no human model. And that’s why his work still has such resonance – it’s not about doing something new, about some new trend – and it’s not just about an individual fear or an individual’s fear of death – it’s about a fear that, despite the apparent absence of the human, encompasses the whole human race, empathetically and collectively – that (especially given the recent fears of catastrophic environmental damage) not just one man or woman will disappear without trace, but that this will be the fate of all people, that the world will become uninhabitable and uninhabited by homo sapiens. Perhaps at some stage spaces such as the White Cube will be covered in brambles for real, Kiefer’s paint mingling with the dust and dirt with which it has so far only been lightly and consciously sprinkled.

Alejandro Jodorowksy and Pascale Montandon at The Horse Hospital (7-28 November 2009)

The series of watercolour and ink drawings by Alejandro Jodorowsky, in collaboration with his partner Pascale Montandon, are refreshingly located in a less grand setting. Down a side street, one comes across the words ‘Horse Hospital’ painted in white letters on a brick wall, and, a few meters further on, one has to press a buzzer to be admitted into the gallery space. The prices listed next to each work in the catalogue make more explicit that in the RA or White Cube the ridiculous money that goes into the art world, perhaps leading one to be automatically less disposed to like the work – even though it is by Jodorowsky. Starved of finances to make a new film for many years (1989’s ‘Santa Sangre’ is his last notable work), Jodorowsky might, one suspects, have turned his ideas into visual arts out of frustration. At the same time, they allow him a certain freedom, to paint things he couldn’t depict in the medium of film – or at least, not without considerable expense, effort and technological know-how. Thus, painted in a naïve style somewhat reminiscent of children’s book illustrations, we see figures with prominent genitals giving birth, having sex, raping and being raped, being mutilated, dancing, standing, singing; we are presented with bodily space transgressions and penetrations (arms going through bodies, one body sprouting many heads, a rabbi with sprouting extra fingers, headless corpses holding their smiling faces in their laps, green voyeur smiling dogs, plants with thick red lips). Despite all this, and despite what it shares with films like ‘The Holy Mountain’ and ‘El Topo’ – a preponderance of arcane mystical and religious symbolism, a fusion of extreme sex and violence, a love of images which are bizarre, arresting and taboo-breaking – these works are, if anything, less excessive than the films. Without the tie to real humans (actors), physical sets, location shooting, and without the combination of sound, music, speech and image, they are more safely removed into framed, almost whimsical fantasy, lacking the disturbance, the derangement which was always at the heart of what Jodorowksy did as a director. I’d take them over Anish Kapoor, though.

Saturday 24 October 2009

A Tribute to Sirone

News has just emerged that the bassist Sirone (Norris Jones) died in Berlin on Wednesday, at the age of 69. So, another one of the great free jazz musicians has passed away; warning that it's more urgent than ever not to rely on those early pioneers still being around and still keeping their music fresh. With Leroy Jenkins' passing a few years ago, this now means that, of the Revolutionary Ensemble, only one surviving member, Jerome Cooper, remains.

In tribute, I've put together a playlist of some of the Sirone performances in my collection. In some instances, I've excerpted bass solos from longer tracks (often when the bass isn't so well recorded, probably a legacy of the traditional jazz notion that the rhythm section is only a backdrop to the horns); in others, I've kept the whole track, as Sirone's accompaniment plays such an active role in the whole texture.

Sirone appears on albums with (to list just a few) Marion Brown, Pharoah Sanders, Noah Howard, Sonny Sharrock, Clifford Thornton, Dewey Redman, Cecil Taylor, and Dave Burrell, and collaborated with many others throughout his career. Born in Atlanta, he played with John Coltrane in the last year of the saxophonist's life, and became highly in-demand on the emerging 'fire music' scene: one might almost describe him as a free jazz session bassist, though that wouldn't do justice to the quality he brought to each session. Free jazz allowed him much more leverage than traditional routes; he was less an accompanist, a 'rhythm section' player, more an active participant, goading on the saxophones and trumpets and contributing sometimes pithy solo statements of his own. In these, he could be heard to take on something of Charles Mingus' very physical approach to the instrument, whereby the sound of fingers on strings had a real snap to it, the sound of slapped and struck vibrating gut; something, too of Jimmy Garrison's flamenco-flavoured strumming; and he developed, more than either player, a trembling higher register sound which would stand him in good stead for his later collaborations with the violinist Leroy Jenkins. In fact, even at this stage, he was the sort of player who meshed very well in unusual instrumental settings, especially with other stringed instruments to work or contrast with; on Gato Barbieri's 1967 ESP Disk recording, 'In Search of the Mystery', his pizzicato playing forms the turbulent backdrop to the piercing, near-anguished melodies played by Barbieri and cellist Joel Friedman.

1/ La Sorrella (bass solo)
from ‘Why Not’ (Marion Brown, 1966)

2/ Domiabra (bass solo)
from ‘The Black Ark’ (Noah Howard, 1969)

The first track in the playlist is a bass solo from 'La Sorrella', the opener on Marion Brown's 1966 album 'Why Not'. This is the longest solo Sirone is allocated (he solos on most tracks, but only for half a minute or so), and a good example of his interaction with Rashied Ali's drums, and their restless refusal to remain rhythmically stable. Following that, a solo from ‘Domiabra’, the opening piece on the 1969 Noah Howard classic ‘The Black Ark’; after the howling fury of Arthur Doyle, a bass solo might seem like respite, but Sirone’s springy jumps and bends round high and low registers are just as exploratory.

3/ Communications Network Part 1
from ‘Communications Network’ (Clifford Thornton, 1972)

Clifford Thornton, a trumpeter and trombonist (as well as cornet and electric piano player on this date) recorded some fine albums in the early 70s, probably the best known of which is the ambitious large-ensemble suite ‘The Gardens of Harlem’, recorded with the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra. For the first two tracks of ‘Communications Network’, Thornton features an unusual small group which, given the presence of Sirone and Jerome Cooper, is pretty much The Revolutionary Ensemble, with L. Shankar (of Shakti) replacing Leroy Jenkins on violin. This group has a very different sound, though; Shankar’s ecstatic raga lines over Thornton’s electric piano create a fusion feel which sits oddly – but very nicely – with Sirone and Cooper’s free jazz rhythms. Thornton’s cornet playing (he’s presumably overdubbing the electric piano) is declamatory and dark-toned, and, even if he and Shankar are very much the lead voices (bass and drums are way down in the mix, often obscured by the electric piano), it’s an interesting context in which to hear Sirone.

4/ Spring of Two Blue-Js Part 2 (excerpt)
from ‘Spring of Two Blue-Js’ (Cecil Taylor Unit, 1973)

Perhaps the greatest challenge for a jazz bass player is the immense stamina required: whereas a saxophonist can take a breather after blowing hard, bassists will most often play for the entire duration of a piece. Call this problem exacerbated in the music of Cecil Taylor, his pieces stretching to lengths that surpassed even those of John Coltrane, and whose fundamental characteristic was what Ekkehard Jost termed ‘energy’ (as opposed to ‘swing’), though of course Taylor has a lyrical streak which has grown more pronounced in recent years (sounding almost Debussyian at times). Robert Levin recounts one occasion where Taylor’s ‘Unit’ was playing in a jazz club; towards the end of the piece, his bassist at the time, Buell Neidlinger, had become so exhausted that he stopped playing, propped up by his instrument, his eyes closed as if, for all the world, the music had drained so much energy out of him that he had simply expired on the spot. If anything, Taylor’s music had grown even lengthier and more energetic by the time Sirone joined his Unit. An extreme example of this is the triple-LP (now double-CD) ‘One Too Many Salty Swift and Not Goodbye’, and to get a real sense of Sirone’s contribution to the music, one would probably have to listen to the whole thing – the cumulative intensity and accumulation of detail into a kind of trance-like block of sound is something that has to be experienced in the listening, rather than the describing – to be experienced as something total, complete. So I’ve chosen a short excerpt from the second piece on ‘Spring of Two Blue-Js’ (1973), an album recorded live at Town Hall in New York (at a concert dedicated to Ben Webster). We’ll hear the tail-end of the energy rush ridden and spurred on by saxophonist Jimmy Lyons, followed by Sirone’s solo, and a brief interaction with Taylor on piano ending the piece.

5/ Seeds and Deeds
6/ Meditation Submission Purification
7/ Joie de Vivre
8/ Qow
from ‘Coincide’ (Dewey Redman 1974)

Next, four complete pieces from Dewey Redman's 'Coincide' (1974), one of my favourite Redman recordings. Sirone and drummer Eddie Moore appear on all tracks (apart from 'Phadan-Sers', a Redman zither solo), and the other players are violinst Leroy Jenkins and trumpeter Ted Daniel. 'Seeds and Deeds' opens the album with some 'hard-driving jazz' (to borrow the title of the John Coltrane/Cecil Taylor collaboration), Redman and Daniels blasting away, Sirone and Moore skittering all over the place to create an exceptionally jittery, energetic feel. By contrast, 'Meditation Submission Purification' has its tone set by the otherworldy sounds of Redman's zither, Sirone's arco harmonics, and Eddie Moore's 'bowed and struck idiophone'. The arco playing of Jenkins and Sirone was one of the finest things about the Revolutionary Ensemble, opening up textures and sonorities which had previously been thought of as the province of 'classical' music (and still are, to some extent, despite the work of John Edwards, Barry Guy et al), and, with the zither coalescing into hanging clouds of sound rather than taking a lead role, Sirone's playing is perhaps the most dominant voice here. It's an entrancing piece with a very special atmosphere. 'Joie de Vivre' shows yet another side to Sirone's work: after the free jazz of 'Seeds and Deeds' and the 'extended techniques' textural work of 'Mediation...', he proves that he can play very fine pizzicato straight jazz ballad bass on 'Joie de Vivre'. It's the same trio as on 'Mediation...' (Redman, Sirone, and Moore) but with a very different use of space: whereas on the previous track the effect was of time standing stil, here it just moves very slowly, in graceful and unhurried comfort. All three musicians sound supremely relaxed. Beginning with an equally relaxed sound, but at a faster tempo (a brisk, happy walk, rather than a slow stroll), ‘Qow,’ the longest of my four selections from this album, opens with Redman playing off Sirone’s catchy repeated riff before his rough-edged smears move things further ‘out’, Sirone switching to fast walking bass and then taking a popping, bubbling solo.

9/ Manhattan Cycles, Side A
from ‘Manhattan Cycles’ (The Revolutionary Ensemble, 1972)

10/ Ponderous Planets
from ‘The People’s Republic’ (The Revolutionary Ensemble, 1975)

Sirone’s probably best-known for his work with violinist Leroy Jenkins and drummer Jerome Cooper in The Revolutionary Ensemble, which formed in the early 1970s. Jenkins had moved to New York from Chicago, where he had been an important member of the AACM. Given the realities of being a jobbing musicians in the Big Apple, the Ensemble was formed partly to fulfill the need for a regular group which could explore some of the subtleties that had characterized the AACM – the so-called ‘chamber jazz’ carried over from the Creative Construction Company, in which Jenkins had played with Anthony Braxton. A long period of practice prefaced the Ensemble’s official emergence. as testified by the flowing interaction of the music – in some ways a contrast to the ‘blow as loud and hard as you can’ school of free jazz. Cooper’s drumming never asserted itself so much as rolled into being, repeating in slowly developing waves, or cells of sound, and Sirone meshed with Jenkins’ melodically assertive violin, rather than trying to sound out as a lead voice. It was this quality in particular that made the Ensemble such a special group – for though, as we’ve heard, Sirone could be an assertive player, he was perhaps at his best when creating a textural thread that altered the whole sound of a group without one quite realizing that, or how, it had been. The Ensemble’s first album came out on ESP-Disk (it’s just been re-issued under the title ‘Vietnam’) and has been criticized for the sound quality, which failed to capture the subtlety of the groups’ quieter, spacier moments. In fact, though, the tape hiss and drone comes to seem almost a part of the music at these times, something entirely appropriate as the ensemble would make use of tape recordings and other non-standard sounds to supplement the basic violin, bass, drums line-up. Thus, on ‘Manhattan Cycles’ (the entire first side of which I’ve included in the playlist), Billie Holiday’s voice floats out, muted, Jenkins picking up on the ghost memory and turning it into living, flowing improvisational lyricism. ‘The People’s Republic’ (apocryphally supposed to have invoked the ire of Quincy Jones over dinner with Herb Alpert, and the subsequent cancellation of A&M Records’ jazz sub-label Horizon) is one of my favourite of the Ensemble’s recordings; the tracks are shorter than on the long-form ‘Vietnam’ or ‘Manhattan Cycles’, with some particularly gorgeous melodies (such as the beginning of ‘New York’) , a spacey, African-flavoured piece for vocals and percussion (the title track), and much atmospheric use of gongs, cymbals, musical saws, and the combined arco playing of Jenkins/Sirone (‘Ponderous Planets’).

11/ Berlin Erfrahung
from ‘And Now’ (The Revolutionary Ensemble, 2004)

During this time, Sirone made a few recordings under his name (it would be more than 20 years before he did so again). The Revolutionary Ensemble split in 1977, and, like many American avant-jazz musicians, he settled in Europe, finding the climate there much more receptive than in his home country. Based in Berlin, he nevertheless to maintain a presence in America as well, going on to work with Charles Gayle, Billy Bang, Cecil Taylor, and the George Adams/James Blood Ulmer group Phalanx. In 2004, the Revolutionary Ensemble, which had been dormant since the late 70s, unexpectedly reunited, releasing an acclaimed album on pi records which demonstrated the same virtues as their 70s work, as fresh as ever. Each member of the group contributed two compositions: Sirone’s ‘Berlin Erfrahung’ offers a strongly melodic approach to composition.

Sirone was still working in the years leading up to his death, recording a couple of albums under his own name with European musicians as well as with the violinist Billy Bang. Needless to say, his music lives on.

Download link for Sirone Tribute Playlist: http://www.mediafire.com/download.php?1o1mozmvn0n

Wednesday 14 October 2009

Woe Betide Records

News of a new venture: I've just set up an internet-based label called Woe Betide Records. The label will be dedicated to improvised and experimental music of various descriptions. Each album will be available in CD-R format – complete with artwork, tracklisting and enclosed spontaneous hand-drawing – for £6.00 (this price includes postage, UK and international). Sales will take place over at the website: http://woebetiderecords.wordpress.com/

The first three releases are:

WB001: David Grundy - Unbidden
WB002: Mark Anthony Whiteford - Zariba
WB003: The Cambridge Free Improvisation Society In Hell

Head over to the website to have a look. And if anyone wants review copies, drop me an email (dmgrundy@gmail.com).

Friday 2 October 2009

Gannets + Waschmann/ Stubbs in Oxford

Folly Bridge Inn, Oxford, Tuesday 29th September 2009

The duo of Phil Wachsmann (violin, with electronics) and Chris Stubbs (percussion, also with electronics) took a while to hit its stride (though stride isn’t really the appropriate metaphor, given the particular logic of incident which was in play). Wachsmann bowed violin lines in ‘modern classical’ vein, often repeating one note with bowing variations, playing rather piquant, attractive melodies, then scraping the bow below the bridge or dissonantly plucking: a succession of sound techniques in which flow wasn’t quite adjusted, as yet. That said, what the set revealed as it went on was that flow was often not the order of the game; incidents followed one another in blocks rather than lines, though single areas would frequently be examined at length, especially by Wachsmann.

Things were settling in by the time the first piece reached its latter stages, and Stubbs’ percussion in particular was really coming into its own. Rather than a ‘kit’, he utilised a ‘junk’ set-up: tubs, household implements, and a sheet of metal with stones and coils attached, connected to a small amp and an electronic device which was hidden away behind the upside-down box on which the metal had been placed. His playing was busy, clanging, clattery: a delectable kitchen-pan style approach sure to break things up and keep them moving, though the amplified metal elicited more drawn-out variations, arising no doubt from a delight in the sonorities which were being lovingly drawn from the scrape of a knife or the rattle of a stone.

Waschmann took a closing violin solo (something that he had been building towards for a while, it seemed), and after brief applause, it was Stubbs who went solo, to his surprise as much as anyone else’s – it just felt right, and Wachsmann, eyes closed as ever, concentrated hard, soaking it all up and waiting for the right moment to enter. It came, and soon, with the aid of pedals and resultant effects, he was creating the effect of an entire string section, without this sounding gimmicky – in fact, it was texturally quite delightful, thick and crumbly but with a tautness to it that seemed as though it could break at any point. He even got into some Henry Flynt/ Tony Conrad-style folk-tinged melodic drone, in a section lasting minutes which was really quite pretty, almost pastoral, until Stubbs’ stormclouds of foghorn electronics pushed him into engine effects, bowing up and down the string, and thence to texturally sparser but more actively eventful extrapolations.

Gannets played LOUD from the off, and didn’t stop: the sheer force of their entry took me by surprise, as Steve Noble’s drums and Fyfe Dangerfield’s massively amped-up and distorted keyboard vibrated the floor. It’s impossible really to describe the whole performance (which I guess must have lasted around forty minutes) step by step: though there were definite narrative segments, the overwhelming power and loudness made it hard to remember what had gone before. Paying attention to particular lines or areas or segments would be like concentrating on the individual bricks which made up this monstrous wall of sound. I say ‘wall of sound’, but, on reflection, that well-travelled metaphor seems inappropriate given the relentless propulsion of the thing. This was not a solid construction that sat still on solid foundations; rather something had somehow been set in motion that just would not stop. Indeed, it was almost as if the music had moved beyond the conscious control of the players. I don’t mean that they weren’t in control of what they were playing, but that what and when they chose to play (mostly, sounds full of timbral harshness and buoyant, abrasive energy, all the time) were decisions into which they were pushed by force of circumstance, being made to think and to act simultaneously, to play something before they’d caught up with what was involved. It’s an approach which, of necessity, skimps on detail, or seems to do so, though the make-up of this sound mass is clearly very complex (anyone attempting to analyse the minutiae of what was going on would find enough material to keep them occupied in a research hole for months).

When things threatened to quieten or turn more melodic, one player would be sure to squall or bang or pluck away and up the ante once more, compensating for any drop in volume and tempo. Thus, a slamming riff section or a burst of ‘fake jazz’ from Dangerfield’s suddenly tinny keyboard would soon be dropped for more collective lung-busting, even if Noble did often keep up a fairly pronounced beat, as well as making his customary journeys round his kit with sticks and with various percussive accessories.

Despite the emphasis played on the band as a band rather than as a grouping of showy individuals, each musician’s approach had something distinctively out-standing about it. Dominic Lash’s amplified bass, even with one broken string, gave a real deep end to the band’s sound. Alex Ward’s shards of altissimo wail on saxophone and clarinet were Marshall Allen-like in their scrawly magnificence, and his melodic leaps, as ever, were endlessly fascinating in their absurdly quick-thinking, mellifluous flow. And Chris Cundy played a mean free jazz bass clarinet, alternating low honks, growls and parps with high yawps and cries, and leaping up the registers even more with piercing soprano sax – though his playing on that instrument was often more melodic, if you were able to pick it out of the collective ferment.

At times one wished not so much for ‘subtlety’ (what’s the point in imposing criteria on the music which it was manifestly not attempting to, and not going to fulfill?) as for a slight reduction of volume in Dangerfield’s corner. The utter loudness of his set-up could be seen to have hindered a more dialogic approach between the other musicians which would have produced some textural variety: but then again, the turbo boost of his floor-shaking rumbles and police siren whooshes isn’t something you come across in every improv band. As a whole, the group displayed a nicely collective and layered approach to noise-making: with no ‘leader’ and no ‘solos’, anyone could shape the music’s direction, though that seemed to generate itself much of the time, as an unstoppable current against which the musicians had to swim with ever more frantically powerful strokes. For a good forty minutes, then, Gannets transformed the function room of the Folly Bridge Inn into a profane temple of unholy textured noise.

One Step Beyond Special Edition: Rashied Ali Tribute (September 2009)

Photograph of Rashied Ali by Francis Wolff

I put this show together a few days ago (hence the 'September' reference, even though we're in October now I've finally got round to posting it). The track with James Blood Ulmer is particularly interesting, though I was only able to play part of it in order to keep things down to two hours. Try and track down the whole record if you can: MP3s can be downloaded from Rashied Ali's official website.


* To listen to the show, click on the blog-post title, which should take you over to the relevant site. (Free registration is required for streaming and downloading.)*

Drummer Rashied Ali died last month. Most famous for playing with John Coltrane’s late groups, and for performing on the only duo album Coltrane ever recorded, ‘Interstellar Space’, he went on to appear on many fine free jazz recordings of the late 60s and to play a key role in the ‘Loft Jazz’ scene in New York during the 70s, establishing his own performance space, Ali’s Alley, and his own recording label, Survival Records. Playing until just a few weeks before his unexpected death of a heart attack, he always remained a superb duo player, as witnessed by recordings and performances with Frank Lowe, Leroy Jenkins, Sonny Fortune and Henry Grimes. In addition, he continued to perform the music of John Coltrane with the group Prima Materia, and was part of the explosive trio By Any Means, alongside William Parker and Charles Gayle. Whilst seeking to honour his legacy, this programme is also intended as a reminder that, while the music of Ali and so many great musicians like him still remains endlessly rewarding, it will not do simply to look back with nostalgia and fond regret at the music of those who have passed on; for Ali embodied a spirit of discovery, of experimentation and of deep commitment, which is first and foremost a living spirit, a conception of music as a life force and as a part of lived life, of music as organic and flowing and never-ending.

song is a bolt of light –
being messenger of that light
is no task for those not in touch-
ing distance of all that weight-
less weight, their pasts as now,
worn so lightly, the cloak thrown
not away, but draped to conduct
energy, past prisms of tradition into
light, radiant unsmiling, grave
laughter that will rise again,
ascend always
out of the earth.



Rashied Ali - Solo Drums Improvisation, Moers Festival, 1979 (excerpt)
ALBUM – Unreleased Live Recording

John Coltrane – Venus
John Coltrane (tenor sax, bells) Rashied Ali (drums)
ALBUM – Interstellar Space (Impulse Records, 1974 (recorded 1967))

John Coltrane – Expression
John Coltrane (tenor sax) Alice Coltrane (piano) Jimmy Garrison (bass) Rashied Ali (drums, percussion)
ALBUM – Expression (Impulse Records, 1967)

Alice Coltrane – Via Sivanandagar
Alice Coltrane (piano) Ron Carter (bass) Rashied Ali (drums)
ALBUM – Huntingdon Ashram Monastery (Impulse Records, 1969)

Marion Brown Quartet – Why Not?
Marion Brown (alto sax) Stanley Cowell (piano) Sirone (bass) Rashied Ali (drums)
ALBUM – Why Not? (ESP Disk, 1966)


Frank Lowe/Rashied Ali – Duo Exchange, Part One
Frank Lowe (tenor sax) Rashied Ali (drums)
ALBUM – Duo Exchange (Survival Records, 1972)

Leroy Jenkins/Rashied Ali – Swift are the Winds of Life
Leroy Jenkins (violin) Rashied Ali (drums)
ALBUM – Swift are the Winds of Life (Survival Records, 1973)

Rashied Ali Quintet – Address (Adrees) (excerpt)
Earl Cross (trumpet) Bob Ralston (tenor sax) James ‘Blood’ Ulmer (guitar) John Dani (bass) Rashied Ali (drums)
ALBUM - Rashied Ali Quintet (Survival Records, 1973)

Touchin’ On Trane, Part A (excerpt)
Charles Gayle (sax) William Parker (bass) Rashied Ali (drums)
ABLUM – Touchin’ on Trane (FMP, 1991)

This Must Always Have Happened (excerpt)
Henry Grimes (voice, violin, bass) Rashied Ali (drums)
ALBUM – Going to the Ritual (Porter Records, 2008)

Monday 28 September 2009

Bristol Improvisors Zariba & The Public Piano Project: September 2009

In September 2009, a number of upright pianos were installed in various public spaces around the city of Bristol, as part of a project entitled 'Play Me, I'm Yours.' A few days before they were due to be taken down, members of Bristol Improvisors Zariba spent a day travelling between several of the instruments for a series of collective improvisations, recordings of which can be listened to at http://freeimprov.multiply.com/music.

Free improvisation, a supremely interactive music, is too often restricted to taking place in environments that are either closed and private or simply too hidden away for most people to be aware of what's going on just round the corner: in small rehearsal cabins or pub back-rooms, rooms whose size precludes attendance by much more than a small crowd of accolytes and enthusiasts, or maybe even just the musicians themselves. The 'Play Me I'm Yours' project thus seemed the perfect opportunity to take the music to the streets and parks of Bristol, in a situation which was more part of the continuing unfolding of city life than a foregrounded 'performance' or 'event'; as joggers and cyclists and skateboarders came by along the pavement, a few people would be clustered around a piano, sometimes leaving so much silence and playing so quietly that people thought they had not even begun, at others more obviously playing what one passerby called "weird modern music." As well as the pleasure of simply playing, improvising outside came with the added benefits of opportunities for interaction with environment (birdcalls, gusts of wind through trees, police sirens) and for people within that environment - whether the reactions involved were bemused, vaguely hostile, or even intrigued. One teenager came over with his mates just as we were finishing one piece; we offered for him to sit down and play something, which he did, at first in an attempt to mock it, but then really getting into it, at which point his two friends slapped him on the face and headed off. Anything outside the normal patterns of existence quickly gets slapped down; even the piano project, something of a social experiment, was managed within certain limits. Thus, playing after certain hours was prohibited in some cases, despite the sound of the piano being quieter than the constant sound of the city nightscape, with its sirens and helicopters, or the jazz band playing in a trendy bar.

Below is a video of one of the Zoriba Improvisations: this one took place at the Castle Park piano sometime after 2pm. The performers are Mark Anthony Whiteford on saxophone and David Grundy on piano. Also below, a short clip of Bristol Improvisors Zoriba performing inside a regular rehearsal cabin, later the same day: the performers are Mark Anthony Whiteford (saxophone, electronics), David Grundy (percussion, flute), Stuart Chalmers (electronics) and Donovan Hawley (trumpet).

Saturday 8 August 2009

Cobra Verde (1987)

Starring: Klaus Kinski
Music: Popol Vuh
Director: Werner Herzog
Screenplay: Werner Herzog
(based on the novel 'The Viceroy of Ouidah' by Bruce Chatwin)

Director of Photgraphy: Viktor Růžička

A slow pace has been established from the outset, yet, as the film continues, this pace becomes so predominant that narrative becomes more and more irrelevant. In another film about the fate of mad white men in mad foreign continents, this might in fact be part of a narrative process: the descent, illustrated by means of greater chronological incoherence and focus on the hallucinatory power of the image (as in ‘Apocalypse Now’), of the white man losing his soul and journeying into the heart of darkness. Herzog is not interested in making such sweeping ‘human condition’ statements – or, he is, but they are of a different kind, and his whole methodology seeks to embody rather than merely to illustrate them. Thus, though he is decidedly not making a historical film, a film ‘about’ colonialism and its evils, neither is he using the situation as a springboard to make points about the human condition: rather, through means above all of images, a ‘message’, or what he might call an ‘ecstatic truth’, emerges in a symbiotic manner, partly from his own egocentric volition (and that of leader actor Klaus Kinski), partly from those elements of the film which, by weight of circumstance and presence, remain out of his control (which is precisely what he wants).

Having said that, the hints at a kind of preaching – the sort of thing which any other film-maker would have assumed mandatory in a film which depicts the slave trade – do half-imply the ‘heart of darkness’ trajectory: most notably, the scenes in which Kinski writes a letter home bemoaning his lost soul, the growing frostiness of his heart in an unbearably hot country (although of course this ‘coldness’ recalls his dream of the land of cold white snow he discusses with the barman in Brazil, the white utopian realm he cries out for when, ironically enough, his face has been painted black in preparation for his execution, the snow which seems to finds its visual echo in the rows of white flags waved in great signalling lines across the African landscape).

The prologue suggested otherwise: a line-faced old musician half-speaks, half-sings his announcement that he will sing a song of Cobra Verde, alternating this with scratchy near-melodies, bowed on the violin which he holds adjacent to his head, oddly angled towards his ear rather than under his chin. You will now hear and see fantastic tales, Herzog, through this old man, seems to be saying; and indeed we do, but not in the straightforwardly narrative and heroic manner which the song might lead us to expect.

Defeating expectations is an important part of this film: while it contains many Herzog trademarks – the manic Kinski performance, the tale of the downfall of a man driven to excess, to push his limits in opposition to hostile natural forces and to hostile cultural forces alien to his own background, the focus on startling images, the use of a dreamy and barely-present Popul Vuh soundtrack – its historical scope is more complex, perhaps more muddled than something like ‘Aguirre’ or ‘Fitzcarraldo’ (though, like both of those films, it has as its milieu a colonial world). In a way, it’s several films at once: the main portion of the story, in which Cobra Verde struggles to control the slave trade in Dahomey, the story of how he became the bandit Cobra Verde (pretty much skirted over – his first murder is barely registered, a brief glimpse of torches against an otherwise entirely black backdrop, a snarled Kinski threat), the story of how he infiltrated a rich plantation and impregnated the master’s daughters, and a wider story of the end of slavery, the end of an era.

Particularly intriguing in this regard is the early scene with Euclides, the dwarf bartender, which can perhaps most obviously be read as a tribute to the spaghetti western bar scenes in which Kinski played his part (most memorably, that in the Dollars Trilogy where he attempts to get Clint Eastwood to light a match on his hunch back), hints of the western appearing in the immediately preceding scene, with his stylised appearance in a town square. “It’s the bandit Cobra Verde” the townsfolk scream, as he strides out emblazoned with bullet-belts in an X across his chest, the badge of honour of the Mexican bandit, everyone fleeing inside the church, and Herzog focussing more than half the short scene on a barrel which rolls slowly across the cobbles, almost in a parody of Leone’s focus on excruciatingly drawn-out detail, but a focus in this case which, unlike Leone, does not lead anywhere. The scene simply ends, Kinski’s entrance and the rolling barrel almost but not quite symbolic moments, generic homage, mere ‘atmospheric’ scene-setting, or – most convincingly – part of the myth-making which surrounds Cobra Verde/Kinski throughout the film. By contrast, Eastwood’s ‘inscrutable’ or, as it might be more accurate to put it, amusedly amoral ‘Man with No Name’, seems as flimsy a protagonist as the ridiculous Segals, Stallones, and Van Dammes of 80s and 90s action movie lore; for Herzog is not setting up his bandit as a man whose cunning and violence set him out above others, generating the fear and respect both of those characters with whom he interacts on screen and the audience on whom his image is impressed, but as something at once more mysterious (as I’ll try to suggest below) and more obvious (Kinski’s alternations between horrendous rage and prolonged, still calm).

Of course, given that this is Kinski (and Kinski filmed by Herzog, rather than Kinski content to chew the scenery in a dodgy B-movie), such mere movie myth-making as that of Leone/Eastwood could not be part of the picture, even if it was intended. Dollars Trilogy Eastwood remains an actor cultivating a persona (though, of course, this persona would come to be identified with ‘Clint Eastwood’ himself, with the subsequent modifications of the Dirty Harry phase lending him a greater vocabulary which made the transition more convincing). It could be said that he barely acts at all – for acting, in a conventional sense, wouldn’t really fit with Leone’s construction of personality from visual detail, from formal camerawork rather than the more observational style of Herzog. Rod Steiger found this to his cost when he brought his Actors Workshop approach to ‘Giu La Testa’; Eli Wallach’s salt-of-the-earth peasant bandit, the obvious predecessor to Steiger’s Juan, and Gian Maria Volonte’s heavies, play their roles with an excess crucial to Leone’s use of commedia-del-arte-flavoured types, but this excess, which might be mistaken simply for an ‘OTT’ style, is of a less ‘motivated’, more elemental kind than Steiger’s, to which it superficially seems similar. Wallach and the heavies are inhabiting their roles not by dogged psychological research and preparation, but are conceiving motivation as a spur-of-the-moment form of being, an instinctual and above all honest approach to life (at heart – for the characters are of course far from honest, engaging in all the double-crosses, swindles, lies and sentimentalities that would come to be the spaghetti western standard). Yet such ‘being’ should not be confused with ‘not acting’, with ‘simply being yourself’; if, watching the Dollars Trilogy now, Clint Eastwood retrospectively comes to seem as if he is just being Clint Eastwood, he is still retrospectively being the Clint Eastwood film persona, the almost ridiculously artificial and pared-down version of a human being that, again, became a spaghetti western standard, with armies of expressionless Djangos and Sartanas committing cold acts of violence.

No Eastwood then, Kinski is, once more, the man pushed to extremes, the man who attempts to take on the vast indifference of nature (an indifference which seems to be cruelty to most humans, or is sentimentalised away, as in the case of Timothy Treadwell from ‘Grizzly Man’, but which Herzog is determined to face head on, as in the latter film) not by challenging it with his human sophistication or intellect or fine-tuned emotion, but by testing the limits of rage, living in bursts of furious physical action, ecstasies of violence and fury (watch the scene where Kinski announces to his ‘amazons’ that they will now attack the king; as they chance ‘fight! fight!’ over and over, waving their weapons, chanting and dancing in the intoxicating rhythms which are so much a part of the film’s visual and aural texture, he is at once overwhelmed by the mass frenzy surrounding him and its centre, a prime force if not its instigator (particularly given the way in which he stands out visually, the white face with the long blonde hair among a sea of brown and red)). What’s so unnerving is that this really is the persona which Kinski lived: thus, we are not only watching Cobra Verde (or Aguirre, or Fitzcaraldo, or even Nosferatu) but the man, Klaus Kinski, so identified with his role that it becomes a kind of super-reality transcending even his own ‘actual self’ (I’m reminded of something Artaud writes about the necessity for an actor to completely inhabit his role in this way, but I can’t remember the exact phrasing or context).

Given the way Kinski constantly spills over in this manner, it often seems that Herzog wishes to vanish completely from his own film; the opposite of the Godardian mentality, always trying to force the viewer into some new consciousness of the artificial nature of the film in which they try to lose themselves, the rejection of celluloid as escapist drug. I’m thinking of the long takes in which the camera is held on one viewpoint, a shot in which a person or an object moves (or even stays still), held in a kind of suspension generated from the anticipation of the cut-away to the next scene (for these takes are rarely directly related to the film’s narrative thrust). The camera becomes an unblinking artificial eye, the dispassionate observer reflecting nature’s dispassionate observation back on itself, that dispassionate indifference illustrated most strikingly in footage not Herzog’s own – when Timothy Treadwell’s camera catches a bear looking directly into it, Herzog’s commentary transforms the moment into perhaps the most blatant statement of this creed, this notion of indifferent nature.

One senses that Herzog would like the idea of the dispassionate eye, would like to achieve the same quality himself; for, however breathtaking his visions, he is hardly the most compassionate or ‘human’ of film-makers. Think of such moments as that opening sequence in ‘Aguirre’, where Kinski, the prime human subject in so much of the director’s work, is not even glimpsed; the deserted landscapes of ‘Fata Morgana’; or, in the same film, the skeletons of animals, victims of drought, all life vanished, heads that once contained movement and even intelligence now simply grotesque white boulders. One might ‘justify’ this approach – if such an approach needs justification – by arguing that, if one wishes to depict something – some fact of non-human earthly existence, of, to use a word which gives only a rough approximation of what I mean, ‘nature’ – something beyond the grasp of human minds (or at least, emotions), one cannot constantly reduce it to the human scale to which it stands in opposition, or in mere indifference.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been reading Olaf Stapledon’s two great works of philosophical science-fiction, ‘Starmaker’ and ‘Last and First Men’, and Stapledon’s intentions seem to me actually quite close to Herzog’s, even if the ideological and even polemical thrust of his works far exceeds Herzog’s. Consider the rejection of the form of a conventional novel, the return of narrative to its epic roots as a collection of tales relating the actions of men and women, whose ‘inner life’ is pretty much irrelevant in comparison to what they do; the long-form, quasi-historical approach, the gradual widening of scale until one reaches minds whose scope far exceeds even the most intelligent homo sapiens, whether these be the ‘cosmic mind’ which the 18th race of men briefly achieve through the telepathic communication of the entire race, or the mind of the Starmaker, the creative/destructive force with whom the whole universe exists in a reciprocal relationship, dependent on the Starmaker for existence just as he is dependent on it for his. Stapledon’s intention was to create a modern myth, to reject the errors of both scientific and religious dogmatism, to restore a sense of scale and wonder at the inexplicable and vast nature of the cosmos without reverting to primitive or sentimentalised religion – to accept the Real for what it was with a kind of detached and even joyous fatalism, modified by an existentialist or even humanistic assertion of opposition to the invincible oppressive forces of the indifferent universe.

Herzog might not go as far to stake his claim, with Stapledon, with “the forces of life as embattled against the forces of death” – though I’m struck by the way in which he seems reluctant to afford the moment of death itself much sway. In ‘Cobra Verde’, most of the deaths take place off-screen, despite the fact that pretty much the entire second half of the picture revolves around plot-lines in which death is a factor (Kinski’s threatened execution, the attack on and deposition of the king). Furthermore, Kinski’s titular characters, in both ‘CV’ and ‘Aguirre’, are afforded last scenes which are not death scenes, though they have the feel of death scenes: they are the moments of fever which will inevitably lead to death, but which are not death itself. It’s as if Jim Jarmusch had extended the final scene of ‘Dead Man’, when Nobody pushes Blake out onto the lake, into the sun; had shown the barely-living Blake in close-up as he drifted beyond any other human living beings, into a world of water, light and sky. In these scenes, Aguirre and Cobra Verde exist in a kind of daze, Popol Vuh’s music offering a mystical suspension highlighting the sense of unreal reality, Kinski’s staring eyes (in ‘Aguirre’) or motionless body (in ‘Cobra’) the point to which his journey has taken him, the shattered endpoint of all his raging and raving and unrestrained fury – a moment of nothingness occurring at the moment limit has been reached, the stunned realisation of being able to go no further and the complete inability to comprehend this, the surrender to a state of mere being, more in the moment than ever before but totally lost in it, so that this extreme presentness, this awareness of the self existing at this place, at this point of culmination, becomes more like an absence, but an absence to nowhere, the moment abstracted to its inexplicable essence.

Such moments would be impossible without the histories of Herzog and Kinski’s relationship, both on the sets of the films and in their lives away from film production – the energies and antagonisms have been well-documented, perhaps most notably in Herzog’s own ‘My Best Fiend’ – and thus they are supremely human, though the fact that they portray the human at its weakest and most numbly inactive makes them seem as ‘dispassionate’ and ‘indifferent’ as the unblinking long-takes of the camera’s artificial eye.

It is not so much a case of Herzog wishing to vanish from his films, then; one is, however, tempted to say that he becomes possessed by the images unfolding under his ‘direction’, that it is they which speak almost independently of the film-maker who trains his camera on them in order to make them speak, or for their silence to prove eloquent.

Perhaps what I’m trying to say might become clearer if we compare Herzog to James Benning, whose takes are even longer than Herzog’s and whose films are even more often absent of the human (’13 Lakes’, for instance). Benning is always aware of the ideological problems and possibilities behind the shots he’s setting up – primarily, environmental or political considerations, as in the use of Che Guevara’s texts in ‘Utopia’ (even though titling a film ‘Utopia’ which depicts near-deserted landscapes could be interpreted as verging on misanthropy). For Herzog, though, this is simply not interesting: any ideology which does come through is implicated in method in a way that is far more subliminal (I’m not sure one could quite call it symbiotic) than Benning’s more theorised, studied formal approach. That’s not to say that he simply films striking images in a haphazard way, like a kind of film-maker Jack Kerouac, stringing together the spewed products of his brain in the hope of finding some jewel of truth among the morass. Indeed, one thing I kept noticing, particularly in the first half of ‘Cobra Verde’, was the painterly attention to mis-en-scene, the near-Kubrickian attention to ordered shot composition. Even those images which appear quite haphazard because of the way they do not really flow with those which precede and proceed them are, on their own terms, formally exquisite.

Bearing in mind that Herzog is not Kerouac is also an important qualification for my next point: at times, the camera almost becomes human itself, becomes the subjective viewpoint of Cobra Verde himself – I’m thinking of the entrance, late on in the film, of the grotesque priest’s ‘choir of nuns’, a dozen teenage girls surrounding their leader, who, smilingly and suggestively, seems to perform direct to the camera. Herzog is clearly taken with this whole sequence, for it is reprised over the end credits, and one could view it as a celebration of vitality, of elementality, of a strong human spirit that survives the cruelties perpetrated to it and around it and from which it is generated (just as even the slaves continually sing their great choruses), in contrast with the mesmerising wave-bound end, or limbo, of Kinski/Cobra Verde. But I think it would be too simple to say this: the ‘subjective camera’ suggests, almost as a kind of idle speculation, that this is Cobra Verde’s fantasy, or his perception of this experience: the lead singer addresses the camera because the camera has become Cobra Verde, something which his sudden appearance among the ‘choir’ jolts us into suspecting. Such a moment is outside the film’s narrative, in essence, because Cobra is now really Kinski, fascinated by what he’s watching; and because we, too, are watching with relief what we perceive as an interlude from the brutal business of slavery (a few scenes before, women have been made to crawl up out of a hole to provide sexual favours, and, immediately preceding the ‘choir’ moment, Kinski has ‘stock-taken’ some chained male slaves as if they were cattle). Yet it’s still bound within that narrative, acting as ‘commentary’, if one require it to do so, on the hypocrisy of the priest (although this is retrospective, as the group is only revealed as his ‘choir’ after their performance), all of a part with the film’s view of white religion, white Christianity as a grotesque incongruity in native Africa (as in the scene where the priest feeds a communion wafer to a goat, or where he offers his daughters to Kinski as he is a white man); acting also to illuminate Kinski’s fascination with these women, which has seen him father 62 children.

Hopefully this last sentence may have indicated some of the complexities of this moment of representation. Is it mere exploitation? As so much in the film, it’s uncomfortable and seductive, Herzog’s freedom from dogma leading him (and us, the viewers) uncomfortably close to a racist mentality (hence, perhaps, to make up for this, the slight moralistic tone which creeps into a couple of scenes towards the end, and the enigmatic final title – “the slaves will sell their masters and grow wings”). One ponders his decisions to seek out ‘weird’ and ‘strange’ images and then to simply film them, to let them unfold at their own pace, a bizarre kind of freak-show which lacks the outlandishness of Jodorowsky’s use of cripples, of the physically-deformed, and which therefore seems harsher, more exploitative.

This always nags me when I watch Herzog’s films: what do these images constitute? Is his insistence on finding a new visual language to refresh our culture, his famed desire to capture an ‘ecstatic truth’, merely a front of some sort, a means of avoiding the necessity of facing up to moral, to ethical responsibility? Is he merely explaining things away by claiming that there is actually no explanation, using the ‘inexplicability’ of his images as a defence in all cases? Of course, I wouldn’t want to swing the other way and fall into the trap of the ‘accountant’s truth’, whereby detailed theoretical justification for every shot would need to be drawn up, whereby a stringent moral code would censoriously deprive the films’ of the risks they take and the beauties they generate.

And it’s all very well arguing in the abstract, but the images themselves so frequently strike me– yes, even move me, despite what I’ve said about Herzog’s lack of a human touch – that I find it hard to maintain this position for long. Thus, despite the presence of problematic, borderline-exploitative or merely vacuous shots, there are moments of just exquisite rightness, one of these being Cobra Verde’s final scene, attempting to drag the boat away off the beach, into the sea, and finally lying prone, washed forward and back by the waves. It’s not just the way that Kinski moves beyond acting, into that state of limbo described above, nor the way that Herzog’s camera films unwaveringly; but it’s the presence of the crippled African boy, further up the beach, turning this moment of solitude not so much into a shared moment, but into a moment which nonetheless contains the possibility of human relation. The way the boy moves, turns his head slightly, whether out of curiosity only, or curiosity tinged with sympathy, the sympathy of the outsider for the outsider, the deformed for the deformed – the way this gesture, probably entirely spontaneous (though, given Herzog’s attitude to staging documentaries, one can never be too sure) doesn’t scream out what it is, the way it offers possibility, potentiality, as a truer ‘fact’ than certainty. If there is love in this scene, and I want to think as well as feel that there is – and perhaps I do think it as well feel it – it is my love, it is that of the viewer, rather than of Herzog; and perhaps that is the sacrifice he has had to (willingly) make, to lose a too-close sentimental involvement, to adopt the broader and more distanced perspective in order to present the possibility of human insight, of human empathy, far greater than that which is obviously signposted.

Thursday 6 August 2009

Eartrip 4 - Out Now

Includes an interview with guitarist John Russell. Head over to http://eartripmagazine.wordpress.com to download.

Tuesday 14 July 2009

One Step Beyond: Complete List of Shows (Part Three)

(Image created thanks to Wordle - http://www.wordle.net/)

I was pretty pleased with most these shows actually: I think the previous two years' experience was finally starting to teach me something in the way of presentation, though the spoken-word monologues did get longer and longer. Probably the pick of the bunch were the two-part shows on England/Folk/Horror etc and on the connections between jazz and punk, though I was fairly happy with the Ghedalia Tazartes one as well.


(49) BROADCAST DATE: 18th January 2009
SHOW TITLE: Freddie Hubbard Tribute
SHOW DESCRIPTION: A tribute to the one of the greatest jazz trumpet players of all time, who died in December 2008. The programme ranges through his career, encompassing hard bop, experimental sounds, soul jazz, and high quality jazz fusion.
ARTISTS PLAYED: Art Blakey, Herbie Hancock, Bobby Hutcherson, Don Sebesky, Freddie Hubbard
DOWNLOAD LINK: http://fatgut.multiply.com/music/item/155/One_Step_Beyond_18109_-_Freddie_Hubbard

For this show I was joined by guest Dan Larwood

(50) BROADCAST DATE: 25th January 2009
SHOW DESCRIPTION: Sunn O))) is the doom metal group of Stephen O’ Malley and Greg Anderson. Their low, loud dronescapes stretch the clichés of metal (tri-tone chords, power riffs and themes of near-nihilistic darkness) to limits that are simultaneously absurd and deeply serious, trance-like and exhilarating, bleak and joyful. Sub-bass solemnity.
DOWNLOAD LINK: http://fatgut.multiply.com/music/item/161/One_Step_Beyond_25109

(51) BROADCAST DATE: 1st February 2009
SHOW TITLE: Eric Dolphy
SHOW DESCRIPTION: One of the great iconoclasts of jazz, Dolphy was at the innovative forefront of the music for a brief period during the early 60s. His playing style included huge intervallic leaps and speech-like effects; he had exceptional prowess on three instruments (flute, alto sax and bass clarinet – whose use he pioneered), and he was also a fine composer. Tracks selected cover the period when his star burned the brightest: from 1960 until 1964, the year of his death.
ARTISTS PLAYED: Charles Mingus, Oliver Nelson, George Russell, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy
DOWNLOAD LINK: http://fatgut.multiply.com/music/item/166/One_Step_Beyond_1209_-_Eric_Dolphy

(52) BROADCAST DATE: 15th February 2009
SHOW TITLE: Joe Lee Wilson
SHOW DESCRIPTION: The focus of today's show is the jazz singer Joe Lee Wilson, most famous for lending his rich and passionate baritone to a number of Archie Shepp recordings from the 1970s. We'll hear from those, as well as some much more obscure cuts. Listen out in particular for a fantastic track from Mtume's Umoja Ensemble, fairly early on in the show
ARTISTS PLAYED: Mtume, Archie Shepp, Charles Majid Greenlee, Joe Lee Wilson
DOWNLOAD LINK: http://fatgut.multiply.com/music/item/169/One_Step_Beyond_15209

(53) BROADCAST DATE: 22nd February 2009
SHOW TITLE: Ghédalia Tazartès.
SHOW DESCRIPTION: A look at (or, more accurately, listen to) someone who is, in all probability, the most neglected musician on the planet, and the most unclassifiable too: Parisian one-man band/orchestra/experimentalist Ghédalia Tazartès. The selections come from four of the ten albums he's recorded between 1979 and the present: Diasporas, Tazartes Transports, Tazartes and Voyage a L'Ombre.
ARTISTS PLAYED: Ghédalia Tazartès.
DOWNLOAD LINK: http://fatgut.multiply.com/music/item/172/One_Step_Beyond_22209_

(54) BROADCAST DATE: 1st March 2009
SHOW TITLE: The Garden is Dark, Part 1: Folk, Horror and Atmosphere in British Music of the 1960s and 1970s
SHOW DESCRIPTION: This will be the first part (the sequel will follow next week) of a slightly vague journey which can't really be called thematic or conceputal, but is more based around certain impressions and atmospheres - ideas, yes, will be floating around there too - ideas about politics and horror and pastoral and, most especially, about folk traditions - but mostly I hope the music can make the argument for me. The show will include substantial excerpts from the scores to two of the finest films from the period: the Third Ear Band's music for Roman Polanski's 'Macbeth', and Paul Giovanni's beautiful folk-influenced pieces for 'The Wicker Man'. There will also be some avant-garde jazz from Tony Oxley and the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, music which exquisitely captures the feel of this creatively fertile period.
ARTISTS PLAYED: Stan Tracey, Tony Oxley, Spontaneous Music Ensemble, Third Ear Band, Marc Wilkinson, Paul Giovanni and Magnet, Comus
DOWNLOAD LINK: http://fatgut.multiply.com/music/item/175/One_Step_Beyond_1309

(55) BROADCAST DATE: 8th March 2009
SHOW TITLE: The Garden is Dark, Part 2: Folk, Freedom and Experimentation into the Twenty-First Century
SHOW DESCRIPTION: This is part two of an exploration of intersections between progressive/ 'avant-garde' music, and folk traditions in England, from the 1960s and into the new millenium. I'll begin by playing material from the likes of the Incredible String Band and Fairport Convention, before moving on to the 'apocalyptic' and 'neo'-folk of Richard Youngs and Current 93 – music emerging from 1980s industrial and noise experimentation, which brought folk influences into an even more overtly experimental context. Above all, I’ll be emphasising a falsity to the commonly-drawn dualistic distinction between the ‘cerebral’, 'intellectual' avant-garde and 'primitive', ‘instinctive’, indigenous folk music, arguing for a far more reciprocal relation between the ‘high’ culture of the avant-garde and the ‘low’ culture of folk music. Along the way, I’ll consider notions of ‘self-expression’ and the political, religious and social agency of certain traditions.
ARTISTS PLAYED: The Incredible String Band, Fairport Convention, Syd Barrett, Nick Drake, John Martyn, Shirley Collins, Phil Minton, Joseph Taylor, Richard Youngs, Current 93, Coil, C. Joynes, Lycanthrope Oboe
DOWNLOAD LINK: http://fatgut.multiply.com/music/item/178/One_Step_Beyond_080309

(56) BROADCAST DATE: 15th March 2009
SHOW TITLE: Sounding: An Evening of Music at The Shop, XVIII Jesus Lane, Cambridge (13/03/09)
SHOW DESCRIPTION: sounding, vbl. n. 1.a. The action or process of sounding or ascertaining the depth of water by means of the line and lead or (now usu.) by means of echo; an instance of this." (OED) Sounding: Testing the waters; listening to the sonic depths. An informal, though organised occasion: a space to try things out in a relaxed, semi-concert environment. This show focuses on recordings from 'Sounding', an evening of music which took place at student-run artspace The Shop, XVIII Jesus Lane, Cambridge, on 13th March 2009. From free improvisation to fingerpicking, classical to ambient and noise, a diverse line-up of student performers explored a number of intriguing musical strains - the results are here for you to judge.
ARTISTS PLAYED: Benjamin Britten, David Curington, The Cambridge Free Improvisation Society, Daniel Larwood, Lycanthrope Oboe, David Grundy
DOWNLOAD LINK: http://fatgut.multiply.com/music/item/181/One_Step_Beyond_150309

(57) BROADCAST DATE: 26th April 2009
SHOW TITLE: Bobby Hutcherson
SHOW DESCRIPTION: For the first show of term, the show will focus on vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, with some classic mid-60s Blue Note recordings that straddle the line between free jazz and advanced hard bop, including sideman appearances on albums by Jackie McLean, Grachan Moncur III, and Eric Dolphy, as well as Hutcherson's own recordings as a leader. [Note - the spoken portions of this show were re-recorded as the original studio broadcast was not archived due to a technological malfunction. The musical selections remain the same].
ARTISTS PLAYED: Jackie McLean, Grachan Moncur III, Eric Dolphy, Archie Shepp, Joe Henderson, McCoy Tyner, Harold Land, Bobby Hutcherson
DOWNLOAD LINK: http://fatgut.multiply.com/music/item/186/One_Step_Beyond_-_Bobby_Hutcherson_260409

(58) BROADCAST DATE: 3rd May 2009
SHOW TITLE: New Albums
SHOW DESCRIPTION: New and recent releases for early 2009, including a variety of different improvisational approaches to the guitar: from the folkily acoustic to the bludgeoning electricity of a new ‘power trio’, and quiet, drone-based microtonal music reminiscent of early 60s minimalism. We’ll also hear a re-issue from the rarely-recorded multi-instrumentalist/composer Lowell Skinner Davidson, and a new interpretation of his graphic scores from collaborator Joe Morris. And more besides.
ARTISTS PLAYED: Profound Sound Trio, Weasel Walter/Henry Kaiser/Damon Smith, Tetuzi Akiyama, Jim McAuley/Leroy Jenkins, Lowell Davidson, Joe Morris/John Voigt/Tom Plsek, Byard Lancaster, Hugh Hopper, Alexander Hawkins
DOWNLOAD LINK: http://fatgut.multiply.com/music/item/190/One_Step_Beyond_030509

(59) BROADCAST DATE: 11th May 2009
SHOW TITLE: Ennio Morricone (Part 1)
SHOW DESCRIPTION: Ennio Morricone is the focus of today's show, and next week's as well. In part one (today), expect to hear classic spaghetti western scores for films by Leone, Corbucci, and others.
ARTISTS PLAYED: Ennio Morricone
DOWNLOAD LINK: http://fatgut.multiply.com/music/item/193/One_Step_Beyond_110509_-_Ennio_Morricone_Part_1

(60) BROADCAST DATE: 17th May 2009
SHOW TITLE: Ennio Morricone (Part 2)
SHOW DESCRIPTION: Including scores for giallo movies and one of the finest spaghetti westerns, Sergio Corbucci's 'Il Grande Silenzio' + Morricone's more avant-garde material.
ARTISTS PLAYED: Ennio Morricone
DOWNLOAD LINK: http://fatgut.multiply.com/music/item/196/One_Step_Beyond_170509_-_Ennio_Morricone_Part_2

(61) BROADCAST DATE: 31st May 2009
SHOW TITLE: The Jazz-Punk Nexus (Part 1)
SHOW DESCRIPTION: After last week's absence due to exams, one step beyond is back with the first of a two part exploration of THE JAZZ PUNK-NEXUS, from the MC5 to John Zorn. Detroit Pre-Punk, Harmolodics, No Wave, Post-Punk and Jazz Grindcore will all make appearances - but this ain't no gimmick. Tune in for raw aggression and blazing volume.
ARTISTS PLAYED: MC5, The Stooges, Ornette Coleman, Luther Thomas/Human Arts Ensemble, Defunkt, DNA, Sonic Youth, James Chance, Blurt, The Damned, Lol Coxhill, Xero Slingsby, The Box
DOWNLOAD LINK: http://fatgut.multiply.com/music/item/199/One_Step_Beyond_310509_-_Jazz-Punk_Nexus_Part_1

(62) BROADCAST DATE: 7th June 2009
SHOW TITLE: The Jazz-Punk Nexus (Part 2)
SHOW DESCRIPTION: the last ever ‘one step beyond’ to go out on CUR1350, ending a three-year run with part 2 of the jazz-punk exploration begun last week. as the late 70s enters the 80s, mark stewart and the pop group are fusing dub reggae, funk, free jazz and punk in the u.k...john zorn and bill laswell are making all sorts of uncompromising noises in the u.s...and last exit are giving their listeners 'brain damage'…plus more
ARTISTS PLAYED: The Pop Group, Rip Rig and Panic, The Lounge Lizards, Material, Ronald Shannon Jackson & the Decoding Society, Black Flag, Last Exit, John Zorn, Naked City, Painkiller, The Flying Luttenbachers, Otomo Yoshihide
DOWNLOAD LINK: http://fatgut.multiply.com/music/item/202/One_Step_Beyond_070609