Thursday, April 30, 2015

Reminder: New Loft performance at RVA Noise Fest IV this weekend


Quick reminder: New Loft (2/5 of New Ting Ting Loft, Jimmy and I) will be playing at the RVA Noise Fest IV at Strange Matter this weekend. We'll go on at 6:45. Note also, Ting Ting Jahe (another 2/5 of New Ting ting Loft, Ben and Tommy) go on at 7:30. The show is FREE and should be tons of fun!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Playlist, Week of 2015-04-26

Revisiting some old friends. Do the newer 24-bit remastered repackagings of this stuff (Fearless Leader, Side Steps, Interplay) sound any better? This box sounds fine to my ears.

Playlist 2015-04-27:

*Pepper Adams: Pepper Adams Plays Charlie Mingus
*Marshall Allen/Matthew Shipp/Joe Morris: 2010-08-08 Newport (CDR)
*John Coltrane: The Prestige Recordings (discs 2, 3, 4, 5)
*Tom Rainey Trio: 2012-07-06 Rotterdam (CDR)
*Schlippenbach Quartet: Das Hohe Lied (disc 1)
*Cecil Taylor Feel Trio: Two Ts for a Lovely T (disc 8)
*B-52’s: Cosmic Thing
*Mike Elder/Harry Forrest/Sam Byrd: 2015-03-20 (wav) (selections)
*Mike Elder/Harry Forrest/Greg Jordan/Sam Byrd: 2015-04-17 (wav)
*Jimi Hendrix/Band of Gypsys: Live at the Fillmore East (disc 1)
*Darlene Love: The Sound of Love: The Very Best of Darlene Love
*Mars Volta: Amputechture
*Marvelettes: Complete Motown Singles (disc 2)
*Robert Pollard with Doug Gillard: Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department
*Bruce Springsteen: Live (cassette compilation)
*UYA: 1989-09-21 Siesta Sauce (wav)
*UYA: 1989-09-28 Head Message (wav)
*Mary Wells: Something New: Motown Lost & Found (disc 1)
*Brian Wilson: SMiLE
*Brian Wilson: No Pier Pressure
*Wire: 154

Reading List, Week of 2015-04-26

Reading List 2015-04-27:

*Morris, Joe. Perpetual Frontier: The Properties of Free Music (started)
*Erikson, Steven. Dust of Dreams (reread/in progress)
*Reading Mystery Science Theater 3000. Shelley S. Rees, ed. (in progress)
*Schmidt, Michael. The Novel: A Biography (in progress)

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Beatles: Live Highlights

In anticipation of Ron Howard's Beatles Live Project, a projected documentary about the Beatles' touring years, I thought I'd dig this up from my archives. These are the liner notes from a six-disc CDR compilation I put together for some friends a few years back: my own selections of the best of the Beatles live. [Sorry, no sound files here! Just the notes.]

Liner notes

The Beatles were a great live band.  The received wisdom is that they were a raucous storm on the music scene in their early years, rocking hard in Hamburg and Liverpool.  As their popularity grew, so too did the screams of their audience, drowning the music out in that primitive world of small speakers and no monitors to speak of.  They “cleaned up” their act under the tutelage of Brian Epstein, and their live sets gradually calcified into a  small rotation of the same numbers over and over.  The joy of playing live was supplanted by the misery of overbeaten ears and sore throats, coupled with the frustration of not being able to recreate live what they were doing in the studio.  It seems like each Beatle at one time or another has claimed that by the time they had their first #1 record, their best performing days were behind them.  

For the listener, the problem is compounded by the quality of the live recordings.  In one sense, it’s amazing that we have anything at all.  Anybody used to recording bands in person, professionals or amateurs, surely must have been overwhelmed by the sheer relentless din of the crowds.  There are many Beatles concert recordings where the screaming is louder than the music.  And there are just as many recordings where the performances are lackluster, or have outrageously out-of-key vocals, missed cues, and blatant mistakes. (Actually, much less out-of-key vocals than you’d expect!)  Especially in 1965 and 1966, many of the shows are almost impossible to get through. It’s no wonder they gave up on touring.

And yet.... the Beatles were a great live band.  A few years ago, the fabulous fan label Purple Chick put out their remarkable series of every recorded Beatles live performance they could get their hands on.  Its an amazing 24-disc set of concert recordings and live TV and radio appearances: everything, in fact, but the subset of live shows broadcast on the BBC (documented elsewhere, most notably on Hobnail’s 2010 12-disc upgrade “ Unsurpassed Broadcasts”).

What I’ve done here is gone through these discs (along with other versions of certain shows) and selected what to me are the best performances from the Purple Chick material.  What I’ve chosen may not always be the best-sounding performances, in terms of audio quality, but they certainly are, to my ears, the most spirited and best-played.

It’s a personal selection, to be sure-- that’s why I’ve included so many versions of “This Boy” and “You Can’t Do That” (my all-time favorite Beatle song), even to the point of including less-than-stellar versions of these songs that don’t match the criteria I applied to most other songs.  (That being said, I found I couldn’t make myself include the abysmally-sounding Seattle version of “You Can’t Do That”--yes, even I have my limits!)  At any rate, let’s face it: their live repertoire from 1963 to 1966 was severely limited, and for each tour, they pretty much repeated their hit-heavy (and relatively short) setlist for every show.  Luckily, there are plenty of variants to merit repetitions in this set, and for the Star Club material, a good batch of the only Beatle versions we have of certain songs.

Ah, the Star Club recordings.  What a blessing to have these!  It’s the closest we’ll ever get to their pre-Beatlemania heyday, but it’s late enough in the game, December 1962, that we have Ringo instead of Pete Best.  This is the key.  As exciting as they must have been early on in Hamburg, they undoubtedly were held back by the wooden, monophonic thumping of Best, who couldn’t swing his way out of a paper bag.  Really, any serious Beatles fan should have all of the Star Club recordings.  Purple Chick’s 2-disc set is by far the cleanest and most complete, but all I’ve included here are the tracks that struck me as most exciting, including the only live version of “Mr. Moonlight” and the only recorded Beatle performances of “Little Queenie,” Arthur Alexander's “Where Have You Been All My Life?” and “Shimmy Like Kate.”

Maybe all you need really is love?

So, the songs here are presented in chronological order, with two exceptions, the Swedish radio show and “Around the Beatles,” both of which are so fantastic I decided to put them together, complete, on their own disc.  For the most part, what’s here are live concert recordings in front of an audience, with three exceptions:  “Around the Beatles” was recorded live in the studio, with the audience overdubbed when they lipsynched their performance in front of the cameras; “Shindig” was basically the same deal; for the Shea Stadium TV show they went back into the studio, re-recording “I Feel Fine” and overdubbing bass and organ on “I’m Down.”  (Also included here are the raw original recordings, unretouched.) One last point on sources: all recordings here are from the Purple Chick releases, with the exception of the songs from December 7, 1963.  These are from “The Empire Strikes Back,” a significant upgrade recently released by Hobnail.

What’s not here?
--any of the BBC recordings.
--the Capitol LP “Live at the Hollywood Bowl” (although unedited performances from all three Hollywood Bowl shows--once in 1964 and twice in ‘65--are here).
--their last live performance, on the rooftop during the “Let It Be” sessions. (Not only had their sound changed drastically by then, but the material is inferior.)

Judicious editing was done for these selections, mostly along the lines of fading out or cutting almost all introductions, stage patter, and announcements, so that each song can stand on its own (besides, how many times do you really need to hear Paul say, “we’re going to carry on now”?).  I tried to create a smooth flow for each CD.  That being said, going through the shows chronologically means that there may be times when a song is repeated back-to-back from two different shows.  Sorry ‘bout dat.  I also did fast fades at the end of each song to try to block out some of the screaming (not always possible!), but I didn’t attempt to apply any sound equalization-- what you hear is what you get, so the sound levels may bump around a bit.  Purple Chick always did a great job of boosting these and cleaning them up as best they could.  A fun thing to do is to load these up on your iPod and let the magic of shuffle reward you with live Beatles from time to time.

--Sam Byrd 2010-2011

I’m not going to give a song-by-song analysis.  Instead, I’d just like to point out a few highlights and fun facts to know and tell.

John’s lead guitar solos are an underappreciated aspect of his playing.  His early soloing is robust and energetic, and every bit as competent (if a bit more purposefully “ragged”) as George’s.  Check out his solo on “Sweet Little Sixteen” from the Star Club.  For comparison’s sake, listen to the various versions of “Long Tall Sally.”  The first guitar solo is always John’s, and the second is George’s.

Disc 1
Tracks 19-22, 1963-12-07: “It’s the Beatles,” Empire Theatre, Liverpool
Two interesting things unique to this performance are the drum beat intro to “From Me To You”--the closest thing to a Ringo drum solo until “The End”--and the instrumental version of “From Me To You” they use to close the show.

Disc 2
Track 8, 1964-06-04: Copenhagen
This Boy:  This is the only song included here with substitute drummer Jimmy Nichols on drums. While certainly better than Pete Best, he’s rather competent and dull.

Track 20, 1964-08-23: Hollywood Bowl
Twist and Shout : Around this time, the Beatles began truncating “Twist and Shout,” opening their shows with it so that it serves as a teaser/intro rather than a full song.  I prefer the full versions, where they really build up steam to a heady climax, but I have to say none of the shorter versions are missing out in intensity and energy.

Track 22, 1964-08-23: Hollywood Bowl
All My Loving:  I love George’s harmonizing with Paul on the last verse.  It’s great to watch on the Ed Sullivan show, and it’s especially strong here.  Paul chose to overdub harmony with himself in the studio, but the blend of their voices live really makes the song for me, and I always miss George when I listen to the album version.

Track 25, 1964-08-23: Hollywood Bowl
Roll Over Beethoven: Two different things to note here: When they played this live, during the last verse, they often alter the dynamics, lowering the volume during George’s vocals and then bringing it up loud and hard in between each line, rather than playing it straight through the way they do on the studio version.  They were doing this as early as the Star Club.  It works live, but I have to say I’m glad they didn’t do it on the album.  Second, dig Paul’s high harmonies during the last chorus.  He didn’t always do this, but it’s thrilling when he does.

Disc 3
Track 17, 1964-10-03: "Shindig”
Kansas City: This features a slightly longer intro they didn’t do elsewhere.

Track 24, 1965-04-11: "NME Pollwinners Concert”
Long Tall Sally: Every version of this by the Beatles is a barnburner, but this one may be the wildest of them all!

Disc 4
Track 3, 1965-08-14: "The Ed Sullivan Show”
I’m Down: Whereas John has the strongest reputation for screwing up lyrics, Paul gets a turn here, botching things by starting off with the second verse.

Track 5, 1965-08-14: "The Ed Sullivan Show”
Help!  Paul ain’t perfect, but John’s on another plane entirely--but what are words, anyway?  This is a really strong version otherwise, and in rock and roll you don’t always need the correct lyrics.  Don’t believe me?  Just check out the next track....

Track 9, 1965-08-15: Shea Stadium
Dizzy Miss Lizzie, where John’s all over the place. It’s like he’s singing a Burroughs cut-up collage.  But what a rocker!

Track 25, 1965-08-29: Hollywood Bowl  
I Feel Fine: The sound quality drops off considerably during this song, but the performance is so damn strong I left it in anyway.

Disc 5
Track 8.  1965-08-30: Hollywood Bowl  
I’m Down: It’s astounding when you think about it, but by this time the Beatles basically couldn’t hear each other on stage.  So it’s easy to see how this could have happened--coming into the second chorus, the timing is way off.  They right themselves pretty quickly, and frankly, it’s amazing that they didn’t do this more often, but in fact this is the only instance I can find out of their entire body of recorded live work.

Tracks 9 & 13:
Yesterday: Two versions of “Yesterday” are included here.  Why? Because as far as I know they’re two of the very few versions we have of the full band playing it, as opposed to Paul by himself on guitar with a string quartet, as he is on the umpteen versions included on “Anthology.”  If it were me doin’ the choosin’, I’d have picked either of these over any of those.  Drums on “Yesterday”?  What a concept!  [I also prefer the version of “And I Love Her” with drums, from “Anthology.”]

Track 23, 1966-08-29: Candlestick Park
Long Tall Sally: This is sadly incomplete, but I included it here since it’s the last song of the Beatles’ last American live show (and, indeed, the last time they would perform in public until the rooftoop show-- but that’s another story).


GERMANY & BEYOND (1962-1964)

1962-12-25(?): Star Club, Hamburg, Germany

1. I Saw Her Standing There 2:51
2. Kansas City    Hey Hey Hey Hey     2:12
3. Shimmy Like Kate 2:18
4. Sweet Little Sixteen 2:45
5. Roll Over Beethoven 2:15
6. Ask Me Why 2:28
7. Long Tall Sally 1:49
8. I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Cry (Over You) 1:43
9. Mr Moonlight    2:08

1962-12-28(?): Star Club, Hamburg, Germany

10. Nothing Shaking (But The Leaves On The Trees) 1:18
11. Where Have You Been All My Life?    2:14
12. I'm Talking About You 1:57
13. Little Queenie 3:58

1963-10-13: “Val Parnell’s Sunday Night at the London Palladium”

14. She Loves You 2:19
15. Twist And Shout 2:39

1963-10-30: “Drop In,” Stockholm, Sweden

16. I Saw Her Standing There 2:36
17. Long Tall Sally 1:22

1963-12-02: “Morecambe and Wise Show,” Elsetree Studios, Borehamwood

18. This Boy 2:11

1963-12-07: “It’s the Beatles,” Empire Theatre, Liverpool

19. Prelude/From Me To You    1:23
20. I Want To Hold Your Hand 2:16
21. Twist And Shout    2:17
22. From Me To You (instrumental) 1:10

1964-01-16 (afternoon): L’Olympia Theatre, Paris

23. I Saw Her Standing There 2:34
24. Long Tall Sally 1:55

1964-01-16 (evening): L’Olympia Theatre, Paris

25. This Boy 2:19

1964-02-09: “The Ed Sullivan Show,” CBS-TV Studio 50, NYC

26. Twist And Shout 2:33

1964-02-11: Washington Coliseum, Washington, DC

27. From Me To You 1:48
28. This Boy 2:15
29. Please Please Me 1:50
30. She Loves You 2:14
31. Long Tall Sally 1:53

1964-02-16: “The Ed Sullivan Show” (rehearsal), Deauville Hotel Mau Mau Club, Miami, FL

32. This Boy 2:17

1-9: Live Volume One - Star Club (Purple Chick) disc 1
10-13: Live Volume One - Star Club (Purple Chick) disc 2
14-18: Live: Before America (Purple Chick) disc 1
19-22: The Empire Strikes Back (Hobnail)
23-25: Live: Before America (Purple Chick) disc 2
26-32: Live: Conquering America (Purple Chick) disc 1


1964-02-16: “The Ed Sullivan Show,” Deauville Hotel, Miami, FL

1. This Boy  2:19
2. I Want To Hold Your Hand 2:24

1964-04-26: “NME Pollwinners Concert,” Empire Pool, Wembley [entire show]

3. She Loves You 2:15
4. You Can't Do That 2:20
5. Twist And Shout 2:28
6. Long Tall Sally 1:55
7. Can't Buy Me Love 2:01

1964-06-04: KB Hallen, Copenhagen, Denmark [Jimmy Nichols: drums]

8. This Boy 2:16

1964-06-17 (late show): Festival Hall, Melbourne, Australia

9. You Can't Do That 2:35
10. Roll Over Beethoven 2:17
11. This Boy 2:14

1964-07-19: “Blackpool Night Out,” ABC Theatre, Blackpool

12. A Hard Day's Night 2:31
13. You Can't Do That 2:29
14. If I Fell 2:10
15. Long Tall Sally 1:57

1964-08-22: Empire Stadium, Vancouver, Canada

16. You Can't Do That 2:28
17. All My Loving 1:56
18. Things We Said Today 2:14
19. A Hard Day's Night 2:17

1964-08-23: Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, CA [entire show, unedited stereo tape]

20. Twist And Shout 1:16
21. You Can't Do That 2:25
22. All My Loving 1:56
23. She Loves You 2:12
24. Things We Said Today 2:10
25. Roll Over Beethoven 2:12
26. Can't Buy Me Love 2:01
27. If I Fell 2:04
28. I Want To Hold Your Hand 2:15
29. Boys 1:58
30. A Hard Day's Night 2:14
31. Long Tall Sally 1:55

1-8: Live: Conquering America (Purple Chick) disc 2
9-11: Live: Adelaide Reaction (Purple Chick) disc 2
12-15: Live: Seattle Down (Purple Chick) disc 1
16-31: Live: Seattle Down (Purple Chick) disc 2

TICKET TO PARIS (1964-1965)

1964-09-02 Convention Hall, Philadelphia, PA [entire show]

1. Twist and Shout 1:20
2. You Can't Do That 2:29
3. All My Loving 1:59
4. She Loves You 2:14
5. Things We Said Today 2:11
6. Roll Over Beethoven 2:11
7. Can't Buy Me Love 2:02
8. If I Fell 2:08
9. I Want To Hold Your Hand 2:20
10.1 Boys 2:00
11. A Hard Day's Night 2:16
12. Long Tall Sally 1:55

1964-09-03: State Fair Coliseum, Indianapolis, IN

13. You Can't Do That 2:34
14. All My Loving 2:00
15. Things We Said Today 2:13
16. I Want To Hold Your Hand 2:25

1964-10-03: "Shindig," Granville Theatre, Fulham, London

17. Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey [undubbed] 2:29
18. I'm A Loser 2:20
19. Boys 2:05

1965-04-11: "NME Pollwinners Concert," Empire Pool, Wembley [entire show]

20. I Feel Fine 2:07
21. She's A Woman  2:40
22. Baby's In Black 2:11
23. Ticket To Ride 3:00
24. Long Tall Sally 2:01

1965-06-20 (afternoon): Palais des Sports, Paris

25. Twist And Shout 1:20
26. She's A Woman 2:46
27. A Hard Day's Night 2:25
28. Rock And Roll Music 1:53
29. I Feel Fine 2:08
30. Ticket To Ride 3:01
31. Long Tall Sally 2:00

1965-06-20 (evening): Palais des Sports, Paris

32. Twist And Shout 1:20
33. A Hard Day's Night 2:26
34. Ticket To Ride 3:00
35. Long Tall Sally 1:56

1-16: Live: Convention Hall Wisdom (Purple Chick) disc 1
17-24: Live: Convention Hall Wisdom (Purple Chick) disc 2
25-35: Live: Les Beatles en Europe (Purple Chick) disc 1


1965-08-01: "Blackpool Night Out," ABC Theatre, Blackpool

1. I'm Down 2:11

1965-08-14: "The Ed Sullivan Show," CBS-TV Studio 50, NYC

2. I Feel Fine 2:06
3. I'm Down 2:10
4. Ticket To Ride 2:27
5. Help 2:14

1965-08-15: Shea Stadium, NYC [no overdubs]

6. Twist And Shout 1:18
7. She's A Woman 2:44
8. I Feel Fine 2:07
9. Dizzy Miss Lizzy 2:48
10. Ticket To Ride 2:14
11. Can't Buy Me Love 2:04
12. Baby's In Black 2:08
13. A Hard Day's Night 2:23
14. Help 2:15
15. I'm Down 2:10

1965-08-15: Shea Stadium, NYC [overdubs/re-recorded]

16. I Feel Fine [re-recorded]         2:06
17. I'm Down [with bass & organ overdubs]         2:08
18. Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby [stereo]         2:20

1965-08-18: Atlanta Stadium, Atlanta, GA

19. Twist And Shout 1:20
20. She's A Woman 2:43
21. Ticket To Ride 2:11
22. Can't Buy Me Love 2:08
23. I Wanna Be Your Man 2:05
24. I'm Down 2:08

1965-08-29: Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles,CA [unedited stereo]

25. I Feel Fine 2:09
26. Dizzy Miss Lizzy 3:02
27. Ticket To Ride 2:18
28. Can't Buy Me Love 2:08
29. A Hard Day's Night 2:25
30. I'm Down 2:13

1-5: Live: Les Beatles en Europe (Purple Chick) disc 2
6-15: Live: Sheaken, Not Stirred (Purple Chick) disc 1
16-18: Live: Bowled Over (Purple Chick) disc 2
19-24: Live: Sheaken, Not Stirred (Purple Chick) disc 1
25-30: Live: Bowled Over (Purple Chick) disc 1

TOUR FATIGUE (1965-1966)

1965-08-30: Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, CA [stereo mix]
1. Twist And Shout  1:22
2. She's A Woman  2:44
3.  I Feel Fine  2:10
4. Dizzy Miss Lizzy  3:02
5. Ticket To Ride  2:16
6. A Hard Day's Night  2:30
7. Help  2:14
8. I'm Down  2:09

1966-06-24 (afternoon): Cirxus-Krone-Bau, Munich, Germany

9. Yesterday 2:05

1966-06-24 (evening): Cirxus-Krone-Bau, Munich, Germany

10. Nowhere Man 2:08

1966-06-30 (evening): Nippon Budokan Hall, Tokyo, Japan

11. Rock and Roll Music 1:32
12. Day Tripper 2:58
13. Yesterday 2:04
14. Nowhere Man 2:07
15. Paperback Writer 2:04
16. I'm Down 2:05

1966-07-01 (afternoon): Nippon Budokan Hall, Tokyo, Japan

17. Paperback Writer 2:04
18. I'm Down 2:08

1966-08-29: Candlestick Park, San Francisco, CA

19. If I Needed Someone 2:31
20. Day Tripper 3:02
21. Nowhere Man 2:15
22. Paperback Writer 2:11
23. Long Tall Sally [inc] 0:32

1-8: The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl Deluxe (Purple Chick) disc 2 The Mixes
9-10: Live: Far East Men (Purple Chick) disc 1
11-18: Live: Far East Men (Purple Chick) disc 2
19-23: Live: The Last Tour (Purple Chick) disc 2



1963-10-24: Karlaplans Studio, Stockholm, Sweden

1. Introduction     0:48
2. I Saw Her Standing There 2:45
3. From Me to You 2:08
4. Money 2:52
5. Roll over Beethoven 2:19
6. You Really Got a Hold on Me 3:10
7. She Loves You 2:31
8. Twist and Shout 2:46

1964-04-19: IBC Studios, London [original studio recordings for telecast “Around the Beatles” without audience overdubs]

9. Twist and Shout 2:35
10. Roll over Beethoven 1:51
11. I wanna Be Your Man 1:47
12. Long Tall Sally 1:44
13. Medley: Love Me Do/Please Please me/From Me to You/She Loves You/I Want to Hold Your Hand 4:03
14. Can’t Buy Me Love 2:07
15. Shout 2:03

1-8: “Swedish Radio Show” (Fabulous Sound Lab)
9-15: “Around and Around” (Silent Sea)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Playlist, Week of 2015-04-19

Playlist 2015-04-20:

*Peter Brötzmann/Han Bennink/Fred Van Hove: 1974-06-02 Moers, Germany (CDR)
*Peter Brötzmann/Han Bennink/Fred Van Hove: 1975-05-18 Moers, Germany (CDR)
*Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet: 2011-12-23 Cambridge, MA (CDR)
*Naked Truth: Shizaru
*Thirteenth Assembly: 2011-10-30 London (CDR)
*Beach Boys: Made in California (disc 2) (selections)
*Colin Blunstone: One Year
*Dawn of Midi: Dysnomia
*Deerhoof: Bibidi Babidi Boo
*Deerhoof: Deerhoof Vs. Evil (selections)
*Deerhoof: La Isla Bonita
*Deerhoof: 2014-11-04 Brooklyn (youtube > mp3)
*Bob Dylan: Shadows in the Night
*Funkadelic: First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate
*Jimi Hendrix Experience: 1968-08-11 Davenport, IA (CDR)
*Jimi Hendrix: 1969-08-10? Tinker Street Cinema, Woodstock, NY (youtube > mp3)
*Jimi Hendrix: Woodstock
*Curtis Knight & the Squires: You Can't Use My Name: The RSVP/PPX Sessions
*Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp a Butterfly
*Panda Bear: Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper
*Prince: More Unheard (boot CDR) (disc 2) (selections)
*Thinking Plague: Early Plague Years (1984-86)
*TV on the Radio: Seeds
*Brian Wilson: No Pier Pressure
*UYA: 1989-09-19 Only If (wav)
*UYA: Improvisations 4 (1990-1992): Blister Ethic
*UYA: 1993-01-31 Johnny D’s, Somerville, MA

Reading List, Week of 2015-04-19

Reading List 2015-04-20:

*Erikson, Steven. Dust of Dreams (reread/started)
*Esslemont, Ian C. Stonewielder (reread/finished)
*Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. Planned Obsolescence (finished)
*Reading Mystery Science Theater 3000. Shelley S. Rees, ed. (in progress)
*Schmidt, Michael. The Novel: A Biography (in progress)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Playlist, Week of 2015-04-12

Terrible cover, nice music, especially the vocal update of "Summer Means New Love."

Playlist 2015-04-13:

*AYCH: 2011-12-23 Cambridge, MA (CDR)
*Paul Bley/Gary Peacock/Paul Motian: Not Two, Not One
*Anthony Braxton: Composition 96
*Anthony Braxton with the Northwest Creative Orchestra: Eugene (1989) “Composition No. 134”
*Anthony Braxton: 4 (Ensemble) Compositions 1992 “Composition No. 96”
*Anthony Braxton Ensemble: 1995-02-09 Tri-Centric Festival, NYC (CDR) “Composition No. 96”
*Anthony Braxton: 4 Compositions (Ulrichsberg) 2005/Phonomanie VIII (disc 2)
*Peter Brötzmann/Han Bennink/Fred Van Hove: 1972-03-24 Frankfurt-Höchst, Germany (CDR)
*Rodger Coleman & Sam Byrd: Aphelion
*John Coltrane: The Prestige Recordings (disc 1)
*Miles Davis: 1949-01-17 WPIX Studio, NYC
*Dave Holland: Prism
*MAP (Tatsuya Nakatani, Mary Halvorson & Reuben Radding): 2009-05-21 NYC (CDR)
*Metronome All-Stars: 1949-01-13 NYC
*New Ting Ting Loft: 2015-03-23 “The Scent of Inevitability” (wav)
*Charlie Parker: Complete Jazz at Massey Hall
*Max Roach & Anthony Braxton: One In Two, Two In One
*Schlippenbach Quartet: 1976-03-05 Wien, Austria (CDR)
*Shibusa Shirazu: 2007-08-25 Reggio Calibria, Italy (CDR)
*Spanish Donkey: XYX
*Cecil Taylor Feel Trio: Two Ts for a Lovely T (disc 1)
*D’Angelo and the Vanguard: Black Messiah
*Earth Wind & Fire: Faces (selections)
*Earth Wind & Fire: Raise! (selections)
*Mike Elder/Harry Forrest/Greg Jordan/Sam Byrd: 2015-04-03 (wav)
*Jimi Hendrix Experience: Stages (disc 4)
*NPG Orchestra: Kamasutra
*Stereolab: The Groop Played “Space Age Batchelor Pad Music”
*UYA: 1989-09-17 Teen Samba (wav)re
*UYA: Improvisations 2 (1994-1995): The Fan Is
*UYA: Improvisations 3 (1993-1994): Yes, a Man
*Various artists: Down Now Brown Boy (cassette compilation) (selections)
*Tom Waits: Swordfishtrombones
*Brian Wilson: No Pier Pressure
*Wondermints: Bali

Reading List, Week of 2015-04-12

Got a little behind on posting! Too much to read!

Reading List 2015-04-13:

*Esslemont, Ian C. Stonewielder (reread/started)
*Giddins, Gary. “Old Man Rivers” in the Village Voice, 1988-09-30 (started/finished)
*Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. Planned Obsolescence (in progress)
*Reading Mystery Science Theater 3000. Shelley S. Rees, ed. (in progress)
*Schmidt, Michael. The Novel: A Biography (in progress)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Thoughts on Anthony Braxton's Composition 96

Yes, there really is a street called King Braxton Court, and it's out here in good ol' Virginny. I think it's an appropriate way to honor Mr. Braxton while I ramble on about one of his greatest compositions/concepts: Composition 96.

I recently revisited Graham Lock's Forces in Motion. Besides being the definitive book on Anthony Braxton, Forces is one of my favorite books about music, period. It's a combination biography/extended interview/philosophy/jazz criticism/bird's-eye-view of the Braxton quartet's 1985 British tour. The Braxton quartet--Braxton on reeds, Marilyn Crispell on piano, Mark Dresser on bass, and Gerry Hemingway on drums--was one of the great jazz quartets, redefining and extending the kind of music a group with that classic lineup can achieve. The quartet really blossomed on this tour (as is evident on the three Leo double-disc sets from it, as well as on numerous audience recordings), and they were simply killer on an extended 1993 stay at the Knitting Factory, but for me their high point (and one of the all-time pinnacles of recorded jazz) is the four-CD set Willisau (Quartet) 1991, two discs of live performances and two discs of studio recordings.

On rereading Forces in Motion, I went back and listened to the 1985 recordings and was blown away all over again by the force and power of the quartet. One of the things that struck me again was how much Braxton was already beginning to use earlier compositions of his both as bridges in between specified pieces and as building blocks for improvisations (a technique that in many ways would reach its culmination in Braxton's Accelerated Ghost Trance Music 21 years later). For example, Hemingway and Dresser will be playing a pulse track from one composition while Crispell could be playing the piano parts (or, indeed, other parts) of a totally different composition, all in the context of either yet another composition or an improvisation. Or Braxton will be playing part of a compositon underneath a Crispell solo appearing in a different composition. It became clear to me after reading Lock's detailed analyses of these shows that what I thought was improvisation could very well have been composition. And that without deep knowledge of Braxton's oeuvre, how can you tell? And that I have basically only scratched the surface of what is going on in this music.  Do I need to know all of the sources in order to fully appreciate a piece? And how the hell can anyone tell?

One of the compositions that is used in this manner throughout 1985 is Composition 96--it's all over the place, either as a main connecting thread, or an accompanying thread not necessarily played by everyone at once. It's used a lot on Wilisau as well. I naively thought that if I could come to grips with Composition 96 enough to be able to recognize or identify it, that I could have a better understanding of the fabric of these amazing sound sculptures. I set out to do some research on the piece, starting with Lock's comments on it.

Composition 96

From Braxton's Composition Notes Vol. E (as quoted in Lock), Composition 96 is
240 [!] pages of notated music for orchestra, four slide projectors and slides to be performed in a ceremonial concert context for positive transformation and historical re-solidification. (Forces, p. 358)
The best single place to learn about the composition is Lock's liner notes for the Leo CD Composition 96, the only official release of the entire piece, recorded in 1981 (I'll talk about some other versions below). Lock's notes are typically enlightening and very informative. He tackles the piece from seven angles: from its role as part of Braxton's ritual and ceremonial musics; from its use of symbol and numerology; from its place in the continuum of Braxton's orchestra music; as a model of "multiple line musics" ("a music of simultaneous, independent lines which eschew any kind of conventional polyphonic relationship"); in an analysis of its 16 structural segments; in other contexts; as a part of Braxton's tri-partial systems.

What got me onto this piece in the first place is its appearances in other contexts, so I am not going to try to go into detail about all these other aspects, except to say that it's an utterly fascinating slab of music.  In his liner notes to 4 (Ensemble) Compositions 1992), Art Lange breaks it down quite well:
"Composition 96," a pivotal work in Braxton's output, differs as an example of orchestral "collage form," employing "multiple line musics" (or unrelated phrases played simultaneously by individual multiple voices) as well as sectional combinations. That the multiple lines can be separated from this context and used independently elsewhere within Braxton's music is exhibited by their appearance in other recorded performances for orchestra (the London Jazz Composers Orchestra on Intakt), septet (at Victoriaville, on Victo), and quartet (at Willisau, on hat Art). First recorded (on Leo records) in a 55-minute orchestral performance, "Composition 96" is here heard in a new version with drastically reduced forces and excerpting from the full score. The simultaneous layers of activity do not cause, as one might expect, a confusion of concerns, but instead a complex organization of relationships, heard from a different timbral and textural perspective.
In addition to the pieces Lange mentions, Composition 96 makes appearances in all three of the double-disc Leo sets from the 1985 quartet tour (London, Birmingham, and Coventry), on three pieces from Five Compositions (Quartet) 1986, and many, many other recordings listed here. There's also a bootleg recording of the full composition from 1995.

Mike Heffley, in his in-depth analysis on Braxton (The Music of Anthony Braxton), says that Braxton specifies [in his Composition Notes E, pp. 26-90]
the increase of "collage improvisation"--his version of the collective jam, in which each player improvised on different platforms form the others--as being a musical reflection of a real-world phenomenon that engaged him most deeply as both composer and human being. 96 was a major move into notated music suggested by such multiimprovisations. (Heffley, p. 397)
Heffley goes into great detail about how this composition works, and is well worth reading. He concludes by writing about
the way parts of 96 are used so much in quartet contexts, where they function as particularly life-giving parts of a collage: they function well as both stimuli and contrast to other pieces (as on Willisau and Five Compositions), transitions from one space to another (as on London), one voice in a conversation (as on Birmingham), and the primary territory (London), all because 96 captures the very essence of Braxton's mind at work and at rest, and in the context of the radiant heights of his own spirituality and creative vision. (p. 401)
Lock quotes Braxton as saying 96 is the primary source pool for the collage approach (Forces, p. 401). So, clearly, Composition 96 is a key to digging deeper into the quartet music if nothing else.

In many of Braxton's compositions of this period, improvisation is integrated with the fabric of the performance via forms of graphic notation including use of color, shapes, and symbols. See Lock's 2008 article "'What I Call a Sound': Anthony Braxton’s Synaesthetic Ideal and Notations for Improvisers" for an exploration of these methods.  But Composition 96 has both a written component and a visual component: there is a score for orchestra, written in traditional notation (240 pages of it!), and a score for a photographer to use four slide projectors to show examples in nature of a set of specified religious symbols. Having never seen a live performance of it, I cannot speak to how the visual aspect works, although it's fun to contemplate.

I decided to set myself the task to try to become familiar enough with the composition that I could recognize it when it's used in other contexts. I thought this would enrich my understanding of the quartet music.

So, I have listened fairly closely to most of the versions of Composition 96 that are out there:

1. Composition 96: the 1981 Leo recording, the only "complete" version, which includes all seven parts: "four primary structural areas separated by three improvised fermata interludes" (Lock liner notes).

The four primary areas are, as far as I can tell, conventionally notated. Each primary area is further divided into four structural segments, for a total of 16. The fermata interludes are easy to identify: they appear at regular intervals, and they consist of one long sound, lines or chords, played by the reed and string instruments, varying in volume level. The "written" areas are all over the place: abstract bursts of dynamic sound energy conveyed through multiple lines of melody and timbre intersecting and colliding. As Lock puts it:
So what we have are four basic phrase grouping line continuums [written for reeds, brass, strings, harp, and percussion], their contours shifting through the 16 structural segments as various combinations of language strategies come into play--which combinations are treated differently by, and within, each instrumental section. Add to these the four-note chord voicings ... (which also run through all the intra- and inter-section possibilities), plus constantly fluctuating rhythmic pulses for each line continuum, and the complex, kaleidoscopic nature of Composition 96 begins to take shape. (liner notes)
It's an amazing listen: 55 minutes of life-affirming, atonal, invigorating large-ensemble music, conducted by Braxton. The interludes allow you to catch your breath, so to speak, between the turbulence of the primary areas. Musical ideas are flung all over the place, yet it hangs together cohesively. But there are so many abstract melodic lines that my feeble mind can't comprehend how I will ever be familiar enough with them to recognize them in other contexts. That may be a key part of its charm: it always sounds fresh and inventive.

2.  4 (Ensemble) Compositions 1992:

Scaled down to 10 minutes, and again conducted by Braxton, the excerpts from the full piece here move along at a brisk pace. This version lacks the fermata interludes, which changes the character of the piece as a whole, and if you're familiar with the longer piece, the anticipation of the interludes creates an extra tension that is never relieved until the very end. But that's okay, since the whole thing moves by so quickly. The prominent presence of two accordions in the orchestral mix adds a different color to the piece as well.

3. 1995-02-09 Tri-Centric Festival, The Kitchen, NYC (bootleg recording): This version is incomplete at 41 minutes, but it does contain all three interludes. It's a very spirited and exciting performance. Two things quickly became apparent to me upon listening: First, no matter how familiar I am with the original version, I'll never be able to match up any corresponding musical lines here. And second, in spite of that, the composition retains its identity, even before we reach the first interlude. It all sounds strangely familiar yet alien and fresh.

4. 4 Compositions (Ulrichsberg) 2005/Phonomanie VIII:

For this recording, Composition 96 is combined with Composition 134, and is played by an ensemble about a quarter of the size of the one on the 1981 version. The other difference is that Braxton actually plays in addition to conducting. Not surprisingly, the piece still retains its identity. And once again, it's almost impossible for me to pick out phrases or lines that also appear in the earlier versions. And one other thing: I'm not sure I can even tell when 96 ends and 134 starts, if indeed it's even that simple. For all I know they could have been playing both pieces simultaneously from the beginning. That's how unsure I am of my understanding of this music (which, buy the way, sounds incredible). There are certainly parts that I can point to and say with some certainty that it's not 96. But that's about as far as it goes. I don't hear the interludes, and certainly by the middle of the piece there is definite improvising going on (with some great extended soloing by Braxton). 134 may start at 13:44, but then again that sounds as much like a later ghost trance line as it does anything else; my sole experience with 134 is from Eugene (1989) and this doesn't really sound like that. Who knows?

And this brings me to my conclusion: I am evidently a limited (but still friendly!) listener. It's hard to pick out lines from Composition 96 even when it's rather starkly presented like this, much less when it's buried in or alluded to in lengthy quartet improvisations. After listening to these four pieces repeatedly, I went back to the quartet pieces that supposedly use it in the manner described above, and I basically just have to take Braxton's (and Lock's ) word for it. Lock says of Composition 96 that "if it is 'about' anything, [96] is about exploring the potentialities of form, on both the structural and the vibrational level" (liner notes). Okay, I get that, I think, but that's about as far as it goes! How silly of me to think I could even begin to parse out this music in such a way. How can the listener even tell when or if Composition 96 is being quoted or used? More to the point, does it matter? Although frankly, improvisation is so fused into Braxton's compositional philosophy (well documented by Lock and Heffley) that you just have to go by what you're told. So for all those quartet pieces that include "+96" in the title, there's no way for me to really tell when it's showing up. And am I just colossally missing the point here? Does it really matter whether or not I recognize parts of 96 in quartet performances?

It's all rather mundane, but for me it boils down to the fact that this is just great music, and I have to accept my limitations and enjoy what I'm hearing. I'm okay with that. Composition 96, in whatever form, has proven to be quite enriching and invigorating for me--even when I don't know that I am listening to it.