Archive | general posts RSS feed for this section

September/October 2016 – upcoming London events (Carla Bozulich, 15th & 16th September; Destroy All Monsters exhibition, 16th September-15th October) – plus some ponderings on where ‘Misfit City’ goes next.

13 Sep

I’ve just come back from a brief one-week holiday on the South Coast – life lived at a slower pace, much of it spent waiting for bus connections under the startling deep blue sky of a summer which hadn’t realised that by September its time was up. Returning both to town and city, I’m sifting through notes and thoughts.

Usually at this point I’d be jumping straight back into live gig exhortations – and as it happens, I’m still suggesting that any readers in or around London should consider getting over to Carla Bozulich‘s two-evening Café Oto residency tomorrow and Thursday; or to Friday’s Cary Loren talk (opening the Destroy All Monsters exhibition at the Horse Hospital). But on this occasion I’m going to let the artists and events – and the existing promo pages at the venue sites) speak for themselves.

There’ll be some more news posts along in a while, and other things happening behind the scenes. A few changes are underway already, and there will be some more to come. Every solo blog (unless its self-indulgence is in itself a justification for existence), needs some kind of raison d’être, and I’m not sure that ‘Misfit City’ has been justifying its own for a while now.

As regards the Carla and Cary shows, head over via the links above if you’re interested; and check out a couple of the clips below if doubtful or nonplussed; meanwhile, I’m rethinking what this blog does, how it does it and whether it should be doing it in the first place.


 


 


 

Stumbling through 2014 – a year in flashes and in review (part 2 – the undercurrents)

28 Jan

I’m setting up for 2015 now. Part one of the review of 2014, the musical side, has been written and posted and is being read (if you’ve not seen it yourself, it’s back here). New singles reviews have been drafted and mostly written; blog navigation has been improved (look over to the right and down to see the reworked category and tag clouds); and the thorny matter of scheduling has been addressed. I’m looking into a Soundcloud page as well, for playlists and occasional sound postings. Technically, ‘Misfit City’ should be better this year.

But before that… I’ve got a confession to make.

Recently, I’ve been visualising this blog as a cartoon beachcomber – something gawky and distractable which blends its enthusiasm with pathos. Blundering along the foreshore to see what’s washed up this week, it jams its head into little rockpools to take notes about the small details, and loses track of time. Overhead, the real events roar and rumble in storms which are mostly ignored. Sooner or later, there’s going to be hail; and I’m going to be caught napping.

I’m not talking about me missing coverage on big releases, or failing to ride Twitter trends effectively. Both of these come with the territory of preferring more out-of-the-way artists with less immediate recognition; and also with intermittent blogging around real-life demands of family, work and life outside of music culture. Independent solo bloggers – unless they’ve caught a wave of interest or are particularly good self-marketers – are ultimately small creatures. We’re talented amateurs, in the most positive sense; people whom, if we’re fortunate or persistent, can make our little marks and (as in my case) maybe help a musician to be known and understood and moved a little closer to a potential audience. Small stone markers; pricked-up ears; a little bridge built for people to cross. Those kind of achievements.

What concerns me at the moment is culture-bunker syndrome – when a person hides within a habit of art, closing off the parts of the world which they don’t like (or wish to be disinterested about) by developing an obsessive focus on small creations. This could be external: an account or summary of someone else’s performance or crafted object. It could as easily be internal. Becoming obsessed with one’s own lively, assertive prose or photography, for instance; or with one’s ability to get the word out quickly – to be, for a brief and flashing moment, the medium, as well as simply making use of it. For music writers, some form of this syndrome often becomes habitual and unavoidable. It’s part of the excitement, to the point that you don’t recognise your writing as being a flash-bang which ultimately only explodes inside a very small box.

At the end of the first part of my 2014 review I mentioned that in spite of my initial feelings of having gone through a “shrunken” year, in retrospect 2014 seemed to have had remarkable musical richnesses; also, that the only thing that really seemed to be missing was me. What I meant by that was that however involved with the music I was (and even when I managed to turn out a decent, or even acclaimed, review), I had a parallel feeling of disengagement. None of this was the fault of what I was listening to. None of it related to what eventually emerged and was posted on the blog. Neither did it reflect the many things which I wanted to cover on time but didn’t (or still haven’t).

What it was like… well, imagine that, while you’re working away on a project, there’s something just over your shoulder, not quite peering and not quite looming. Something that’s… there. Perhaps it’s not actually over your shoulder: it’s just that that’s where you expect it to be. The half-recognised key or clue. The bit which you’ve missed. The missing chunks of the puzzle; the provider of the voice which carries the rest of the answer. You feel, sometimes, that you could turn around and take hold of it; slot it in, make a completeness. You don’t really understand what you’ll actually have once you’ve done it. There’s just an itch. An urge to include it.

I concluded, eventually, that there wasn’t actually anything there. What was actually preying on my mind was a gap – something which I myself had allowed to grow, wilfully ducking the significance of why I’d let it happen in the first place. What I was missing was the rest of the world – and the reason why this was important was that the world was violently changing. Plugging my headphones in and looking away, I’d ostentatiously pondered music – going through recordings and concert track-by-track and song by song, meticulously tracing the emotional responses and the drawn-out meanings, and catching and writing down sparks triggered off in me by the listening. Meanwhile, the landscape which I was ignoring was darkening. Almost everyone whom we, as citizens, had put in place or allowed to prosper had at best failed us. At worst, they’d betrayed us or were predating on us.

To many people (including many bloggers and commentators) this is an old, old story, and doesn’t even exist as a dilemma. Protests and counter-action against the iniquities and inequalities of the modern world are already part of their long-standing, lifetime’s battle; and plenty of commentators on music who draw it into their perspective. At the very least, it becomes an integral part of their involvement with the world. In my case, this hadn’t happened for too long, and 2014 was the year when my avoidance of this fact finally cracked.

For me, perhaps, the evasions had been natural and habitual. I tend to feel that hitching music, on principle, to a particular political agenda (and dismissing that which falls outside it (or which fails to fit a particular set of value signifiers) blinkers the vision and creates an urge to provide answers first and then distort the art to fit them. I don’t join political parties for much the same reason that I don’t join churches. For a doubter like myself, the creeds are always too hard to swallow; too often an excuse to comfort and close the mind. There are other reasons. I was too young for the first wave of punk, and too disassociated (also, perhaps, too personally comfortable and accommodating) for the following waves. Also, when I started to explore beyond basic popular music as a teenager I found my way into weird mid-‘70s Vangelis albums, assorted textural boilings, bounding prog epics and post-punk blurrings rather than grinding riffs and blunter challenges. What I mean is that when I dealt with art, generally it didn’t look or sound much like a hammer. In retrospect, perhaps I should have schooled myself in delivering some more telling blows.

I can’t say that I don’t recommend the softer, more textured path which I took; but it was often short on the kind of immediate sociological content that spurs a person into asking certain questions. Having said that, a detailed reading of ‘Misfit City’ will reveal that I’m not exactly apolitical. There’s been coverage of LGBT artists and some outspokenly political musicians such as Ian Crause, Atona and Des de Moor, as well as certain sharper asides in other reviews. That “listening to women” tag which crops up in numerous reviews is also an example of the blog’s political grain – a quiet attempt to redress the male domination and thoughtlessness within the music industry by acknowledging and drawing attention to the women who strive within it as well (be they singers, writers, architects of sound, all three or more).

However, rather than being a good soap-boxer, I’m a good reflector… or an immersionist. Most of the time when I’m engaging with music I choose to gently unzip it and to clamber inside – to experience it through its innards and associations. As an excuse for other disengagements, I don’t know how well this works, but it’s how I’ve tended to operate. The problem is that – in its way – this approach is just as solipsistic or reductive as if I’d tied all of my tastes and my statements to a political stance, and it’s just as reductive. Blinding yourself to the world by hiding away in prettiness (or, indeed, fetishised ugliness) is ultimately not an answer. If you’re not careful, it can become no more significant than slopping some extra gloss onto the decorations.

I should also confess that another reason for my lack of fuller engagement with the world came from the conviction that an over-complex, diverse and dissenting world was impossible to summarise or act upon. Over the weekend, I was reading an interview with the documentary film-maker and audio-visual collagist Adam Curtis which refutes this. Among other things, he comments “I believe that it’s possible to make the world intelligible – however complex and chaotic it is. That is the progressive job of journalism. The other reaction – which is to say, ‘Things are just so complex and unpredictable that you can never make sense of them’ – is, I think, one of the main motors that supports the conservatism of our time.”

Though this statement briskly upends my own comfort zone, I’ve got to agree with Adam. In a national and global environment in which governments, businesses, the powerful and the assertive have rarely seemed so nakedly wicked and corrupt – at least during my own lifetime – my values (and, in many respects, my family) are increasingly threatened, and my stances are changing. Tipping point? Perhaps. All I know is that I feel that keeping silent on these matters leaves a hollow space at the heart of this blog, and that I need to do something about that.

If I am going to head in a more engaged and more political direction, it’s important that I don’t do so under the pretense of heroically filling any yawning gaps in musical and political writing. Even a cursory wander around the blogosphere will reveal the seethe and ferment of existing discourse, all of it surviving quite happily without me. During 2014, many of the hard questions and righteous ragings were already being covered by music-related writers much better suited to the task than I am – among them Neil Kulkarni, Lucy Cage and Taylor Parkes. Alongside the excellent, animated and eclectic criticism which has seen it rise to preeminence in the last few years, The Quietus’ has continued to provide broader reflections on the world. The vigorously argumentative, assertive and punk-spirited ‘Collapse Board’ seeks out debate on just about everything it covers or discovers. Forums blaze everywhere.

Steve Lawson

Steve Lawson

(As an aside, though – it’s debatable that punk culture should always claim the high ground in political and social debate. For several years now, Anil Prasad – the superb ‘Innerviews’ interviewer best known for conversations with prog, jazz and country musicians – has been delivering blistering critiques of the warped and exploitative practices within the record industry, and while he might not have the sheer acid bite of Steve Albini, he’s not that far short of it. Arguably the most continually politicised and socially articulate musician whom I heard from this year was Steve Lawson, best known for family-friendly spacey instrumental loop-jazz and eccentric fashion choices (plus the playful sense of humour that makes him the Ross Noble of virtuoso bass playing). In between releasing three albums, he kept up a stream of online posts and tweets this year which eviscerated inequalities, business hypocrisies both in and out of the music industry, Offline and onstage, wherever appropriate, he’d also put up rather than shut up.

Steve’s role as unlikely advocate (coming from a musical quarter from which few people are expected to have or to express streetfighting social opinions) was also a reminder that this year we lost Charlie Haden, the inspirational jazz bassist – a fearless musical advocate of human rights since the 1960s, and and from a current perspective as square-looking a gent as you could hope to meet. Self-satisfied pop theory be damned. Sometimes style and substance just don’t match up, and the former shouldn’t automatically take pre-eminence.)

End of aside.)

So, where does this leave me? This post could be a blip – just a lumpy expression of personal doubt and responsibility qualms before I pick up the usual threads and carry on as before – or it could be the start of something more involved. 2015 may see a darker blog, or I might simply continue to whistle against the darkness. The outcome partially depends on whether people keep sending me slabs of contextually blank noise music or self-entitled “look-at-me-and-make-me famous” rock gobbets. Speaking for myself, I’d prefer to have something to write about and around, rather than simply write on.

Yet ultimately I’m responsible for carrying out any kind of constructive re-engagement between the world and myself. I suspect that my 2015 is going to be full of missteps and stubbed toes, some of them self-inflicted in public. So it goes. It ought to be worth it. If I’m going to do this, it will have to come from personal effort and personal learning, something which leads towards writing which is more deeply grounded and more expansive than it has been before.

Statement of intent. Let’s see where it goes.

Meanwhile, the ‘Misfit City’ show continues. I’ve got some single reviews to be posted up in the next day or so. I’ve already had some other interesting reviewables come through. Some of them are suggesting questions and ideas which I might like to pursue – not necessarily the questions and ideas which you might expect from reading my musings above, but the kind of questions which at least put a shot of adrenalin into my weary mind and keep me going.

And – to end on a completely self-indulgent note – this is a fantastic-looking piano.
 

The Bogányi piano (photo © Támas Bujnovszky)

The Bogányi piano (photo © Támas Bujnovszky)


 
 
 
 

Digressions: H.L. Mencken dances about architecture

24 Jul

I’ve been seasoning my trips to and from my dayjob by dipping into the essays of H.L. Mencken. Written over a fifty-year period in the first half of last century, this stuff’s quite old but still packs a whipcrack. Even now, and even still set in antique type, the man’s razor wit and formidable erudition glints at you down the years. He could be a contrary, offensive bastard (some of his views certainly rile me) but he was always, always worth reading and he still is.

Anticipating character journalism, Mencken wrote on anything that took his fancy, and on occasion he wrote about music. Here’s a series of little simile sketches which he came up with in 1912 – over a hundred years ago! – to describe a number of classical composers. Part squib, part haiku, always on the money. He was from a different age, with a different and wider education and with some of the particular prejudices of his time; but even with all that in mind most contemporary music journalists now would kill to get their zingers this right.

Wagner – The rape of the Sabines… a kommers in Olympus.

Beethoven – The glory that was Greece… the grandeur that was Rome… a laugh.

Haydn – A seidel on the table… a girl on your knee… another and different girl in your heart.

Chopin – Two embalmers at work on a minor poet… the scent of tuberoses… Autumn rain.

Richard StraussOld Home Week in Gomorrah.

Johann Strauss – Forty couples dancing… one by one they slip from the hall… sounds of kisses… the lights go out.

Puccini – Silver macaroni, exquisitely tangled.

Debussy – A pretty girl with one blue eye and one brown one.

Bach – Genesis 1,1.

H.L. Mencken online:
Homepage Facebook

Digressions: Charlie Haden’s virtual wake

19 Jul

Charlie Haden (photo by Geert Vandepoele)

Charlie Haden (photo by Geert Vandepoele)


Veteran jazz bass player Charlie Haden died on July 11th, following a long, committed musical life. From his key playing with Ornette Coleman and Keith Jarrett to his role as co-leader and inspirer in the Liberation Orchestra, his work encompassed spirituality, some wonderful music, and a strong political conscience which led him to side with and champion oppressed people throughout the world. Along the way, he inspired, entertained and encouraged musicians and audiences alike.

Plenty is being written about Charlie this week – among this, Ethan Iverson’s ‘Do The Math‘ blog  has published ‘Liberation Chorus’, a collection of reflections and reminiscences from various jazz musicians on Charlie’s life and passing. Here are some of my favourite contributions from this virtual wake, but please head over to ‘Do The Math’ and read the whole thing.

From Django Bates:

When I first heard Charlie Haden (on ‘Survivors’ Suite’ – ECM 1085), I imagined his bass must’ve been constructed without glue or joints, carved from one single tree: the tallest, most awe-inspiring tree from the world’s oldest forest. It came as no surprise then to discover as I heard more, that every note Charlie chose became the root of the music, nourishing the musicians and listeners, and connecting the music to the earth. R.I.P.

From Joey Baron:

Whether live trio gigs with Lew Tabackin, or recording with Fred Hersch or John Scofield or David Sanborn, or live with his own Quartet West, I noticed that Charlie always played for keeps. He seemed to go to this very deep place when playing. His approach to ballad playing opened up a whole world of fun and beauty that is still relatively unexplored.

I remember he called me to sub in the Quartet West for Lawrence Marable on a few gigs in upstate NY. The plane was a puddle jumper with no chance to transport the bass. At sound check Charlie unpacked the bass that was provided for him. He spent some time tuning and adjusting the instrument. I had sat down on the stage to wait until he finished before doing drum surgery. There was no one else around. I don’t think he knew i was there…

Anyhow after tuning up he continued to play and this beautiful heart-wrenching music was pouring out of him. He would hint at an Ornette Coleman head and it would keep moving forward. For about 15 minutes he kept unfolding melodies. What a sound! What a feeling!! The earth moved!!! What a moment to witness…. a true artist doing what he loved best.

When he finished, I quietly stood up and said, “Thank you, Charlie.”

He replied, shaking his head: “Man… this bass is a real dog.”

In retrospect I’m sure he was right, but I never heard a dog tell such stories. Thank you, Charlie.

From Chris Cheek:

Charlie’s sound was the embodiment of sincerity and humility. His melodies were essential, unpredictable and like anchors that took the listener to beautiful and mysterious depths. He was a gentle and determined presence. His music reflected his humanity and above all, expressed a profound love and gratitude.

One of the last times I heard him, he was playing at Birdland in New York with Paul, Brad Mehldau and Lee Konitz. Again, it was one of those indescribable experiences that was both disorientating and reassuring. After the set, Charlie came off the stage, went up to Paul who was sitting at the bar, and said, “Man, I didn’t know what was goin’ on up there!” They both laughed…

And finally, from Joshua Redman:

One of the things Charlie talked about all the time was the importance of beauty in music — or perhaps more essentially, the power, the potential, and the necessity of music to create and preserve beauty in this world. In fact, Charlie spoke so often on this subject that I think some of us at times took it for granted — that we may not always have thoroughly marked the seriousness and sincerity of his words. Perhaps occasionally we even risked hearing it as a bit of a cliche.

But it wasn’t a cliche. It was Charlie’s truth. It was The Truth. And Charlie embodied, testified to that truth every time he picked up that bass. His playing was one of the fullest, most genuine expressions of beauty in jazz — exquisite lyricism; empathic harmony; boundless flexibility born out of improvisational generosity and intimacy; a selfless, embracing, huge-hearted groove.

Charlie had the biggest ears. He heard everything. He was right there with you every step of the way. And he took what he heard and helped you try to make something lovely out of it. He helped us chart a path toward the sublime. And it is maybe, just maybe, possible that every single note Charlie ever played was — through its own subtle force, its deceptively simple profundity — beautiful.

Charlie Haden has now left our world. But he hasn’t left us. For he leaves behind enough beauty to sustain us through this world, and the next.

R.I.P. Charlie.

Charlie Haden online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Last FM

A fabulous noise, suddenly cut off – R.I.P. Floky (1991-2013)

9 Dec

Late last week I heard that Florent “Floky” Pevee, the singer and guitarist with the post-hardcore punk band Kabul Golf Club (and bass player for The Rott Childs) has died. Damn. That jolts… He was 22 years old, a little over half my own age.

Floky - in his element. (photo source unknown)

Floky – in his element. (photo source unknown)

Floky died in the Flanders town of Hasselt, where he lived and where he studied and played music. According to this report he’d attended a party on the night of November 28th and was making his way home, on his own, during the dawn hours of November 29th. At some time between 5am and 6am, Floky was seen on the ring road, lying prone in the bus lane. It’s not clear whether he’d passed out while crossing the road, or whether he’d been knocked unconscious by an earlier collision with a vehicle. For a while, Floky’s battered luck held (two successive motorists managed to swerve around him) but at around 6am, his body was struck and crushed by a bus. He died on the spot shortly afterwards.

What a waste. What a terrible waste.

On Tuesday this week Floky was buried in Tongeren, his mother’s town. Mourned by his family and girlfriend, he’s also survived by the musicians who played with him and the habitues of Flanders punk scene who worked with him, loved him and screamed along with him, all of whom are thunderstruck at his loss. Kabul Golf Club have stated that the band died with him, and the surviving members have asked everyone who wrote about KGC (including myself) to post up the band’s Demon Days video as a tribute and farewell. Here it is – a blitzing Floky-fuelled chunk of energy, with the man himself at full yell.

There should be more to celebrating him than that… but I can’t provide the account which I’m sure Floky deserves. Nor can I claim the right to raise his memorial. My own contact with him was fleeting. We lived in different countries; we ran with different packs; we were separated by a generation. Truth be told, we never actually met or spoke. Everything that passed between us is contained in and reduced to the sound of one blindingly good Kabul Golf Club EP, which I reviewed last year. (If any of you wants a free copy of that, the band will send you one in memory of Floky while stocks last – just email them with your postal address.)

Isn’t that often the way, though? Much of the music that suddenly and unexpectedly inspires us comes from strangers, or leaks around doors. It used to ambush us in record stores (when those were still common). Now it sideswipes us on podcasts when we were listening out for something else; or arrives unexpectedly into our dropboxes with a cheery tag and a picture of elsewhere.

Although I do cover punk in ‘Misfit City’ sometimes, I can’t claim to be a natural punk fan. I like the impetus, I like the D.I.Y. aesthetic, I appreciate the politics, but I often find the music itself reductive; something I’m happier to read about than to experience. Floky’s work with KGC was different – a screaming, shattered honeycomb of roaring, gibbering guitars; a voice which stayed in that push-up, top-of-the-throat realm of hardcore bellowing but which had its own extra tones and colours (as I put it back then “a tinge of despairing vertigo… the horrified yell of a man falling off the sun.”) More to the point, the music woke me up again to the punch and promise brewing in punk rock: the qualities I’d always wanted to find and for which I was so often disappointed.

To this day, that Kabul Golf Club review is one of the most-read posts in ‘Misfit City’. I suspect that this is mostly to do with the regard in which Floky and KGC were held. They were starters; they were obscure; they had all the makings of something special. I wrote about them with guarded enthusiasm which had turned to genuine enthusiasm by the end of the review. I was looking forward to seeing what they’d come up with next. I’m surprised by how saddened I am that I’ll never get to hear it.

Much separates me from Floky and his life, but at least we’re linked by that brief spasm of electricity and enthusiasm. I’ve tried and failed to come up with anything really profound in this post, so instead, this week, I’ll pop an eardrum or two listening to his music. Here’s my own favourite burst of KGC – it’s Minus 45, a rattling pounce of vigour and dread and guitars which revel at being jammed through the mangle.

I just wanted to say that this is how, in my own small way, I’ll remember Floky. If we’ve got to let go of someone like him, let’s do it the right way – let’s call up his peak, let him crest it and let him fly. And any time when we want to set him flying again, we can pick up the disc, or cue the file, and the peak will still be there.

Kabul Golf Club online:
Homepage Facebook TwitterSoundcloudTumblr

What pi sounds like

16 Mar

Now isn’t this lovely – Michael John Blake, of the Quebec Antique project, delivers this sweet piece of music for Pi Day. This is a couple of days old, so many of you may have seen it, but well, here we are in ‘Misfit City’ and we’re no strangers to the idea of something arriving a bit late. So… a musical extrapolation of pi for a growing ensemble of piano, glockenspiel, accordion, autoharp, ukelele and more. I don’t know whether Michael had some idea in advance of how his number to notes-and-chords conversion would sound, but I like the result. Thanks to mixolydianblog for bringing it to my attention.

DIGRESSIONS: Posing for consumer products.

19 Aug

Apologies to (any) regular readers for the lack of proper updates recently; and also for the shortage of reviews of new recordings as opposed to older material.

I’ve been called away by real life for a while. Suffice it to say that over at my day job a gigantic mess landed on my desk and I am currently sweating, swearing and squinting to get it fixed. Having said that, plenty of reviews are being written – it’s just that few of them are getting finished.

I’m aiming to get something, at least, up by the end of the week. Aiming. Anyway, while you’re waiting, here’s the great Colin Tribe playing Kraftwerk on a ukelele.

ATTN:Magazine

Not from concentrate.

Xposed Club

improvised/experimental/music

I Quite Like Gigs

Music Reviews, music thoughts and musical wonderings

Make Weird Music

Because 4 chords aren't enough

A jumped-up pantry boy

Same as it ever was

PROOF POSITIVE

A new semi-regular gig in London

We need no swords

Static and debris. Skronk and wail. This is music?

:::::::::::: Ekho :::::::::::: Women in Sonic Art

Celebrating the Work of Women within Sonic Art: an expanding archive promoting equality in the sonic field

Ned Raggett Ponders It All

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Headphone Commute

honest words on honest music

Yeah I Know It Sucks

an absurdist review blog

Pop Lifer

Waiting for the gift of sound and vision

Archived Music Press

Scans from the Melody Maker and N.M.E. circa 1987-1996

The Weirdest Band in the World

A lovingly curated compendium of the world's weirdest music

OLD SCHOOL RECORD REVIEW

Where You Are Always Wrong

Fragile or Possibly Extinct

Life Outside the Womb

a closer listen

a home for instrumental and experimental music

Bird is the Worm

New Jazz: We Search. We Recommend. You Listen.

Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

eyesplinters

Just another WordPress.com site

FormerConformer

Striving for Difference

musicmusingsandsuch

The title says it all, I guess!

%d bloggers like this: