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Jeffrey St. Clair
John Coltrane Quartet: The Complete Sun Ship Sessions (Verve, 2013)
Sun Ship is one of John Coltrane’s lost masterpieces. Recorded in the creative cataclysm of 1965, the LP wasn’t released until 1972, five years after his sudden death at the age of forty. Sun Ship was actually lost twice: once in the vault, then in the truncated form of the initial release. Now, finally, we can listen to the entire session, which is something like finding pentimento images buried beneath a newly discovered Da Vinci. Here is the swirling, cosmic sound of a new kind of music being born. The rhythms writhe in a contrapuntal gyre. The shattering force of Elvin Jones’ drumming pulsates with the tenseness of dancing on a dangerous precipice. But above it all, straining against the shackles of the old orders of music, are Coltrane’s shimmering runs on his tenor sax: long, slashing cascades of notes that seem to shed sparks until they fragment, then reconstitute themselves into incandescent new chords. It is mystical music, seething with the ecstasy of exploration. This two-hour session proved to be the final recording of the classic Coltrane quartet, featuring McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Jones. Of the seminal band, four went out on the Sun Ship mission, but only three returned home. Coltrane ventured on alone for another fateful year, probing deeper and deeper into uncharted space. The Sun Ship Sessions are the sonic record of his stunning final metamorphosis.
Thee Silver Mount Zion: Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything (Constellation, 2014)
This Montreal-based band seems to change its name with each new release. It’s either a great alt-marketing gimmick or they’re trying hard not to get served. SMZ’s musical approach is a challenge to describe. Some call it “post-rock.” But that simply won’t do. A wall of mercurial sound? Orchestral punk? The album opens with the halting, tender voice of a child: “We live on the island called Montreal. And we make a lot of noise, because we love each other.” Then it detonates into thick dark chords and mesmerizing melodies of longing and discontent, no song more potent than the short frenzy called “Austerity Blues.” Beneath all the obfuscation and misdirection, Sophie Trudeau is revealed to be a most excellent fiddler.
Paco de Lucia: Zyryab (Verve, 1992)
Zyryab is not your typical de Lucia record. It is not his best, perhaps even ranks as a minor outing in the maestro’s vast catalogue. Even so, Zyryab remains one of my favorites, in no small measure because here we find Paco stretching out, treading into new terrain that is just outside his comfort zone. Zyryab is a daring foray into a kind of Flamenco-based group improvisation, where he surrounds himself with six other top flight musicians, including Manolo Sanlucar on guitar, Chick Corea on keyboards and the great percussionist Reuben Dantes, who tease, push and chase each other through a sumptuous feast of Spanish jazz.
Jeffrey St. Clair once played two-chord guitar in a garage band in Naptown called The Empty Suits.
Haim: Days Are Gone (Columbia, 2013)
I remember calling up Jeffrey immediately upon hearing Haim for the first time in Venice, California at Farmer Dave’s monthly shindig, Hot Pacific (formerly Club Pacific) – an intimate gathering at a dark speakeasy off of Windward Ave. I told Jeff, after one too many cocktails no doubt, that CounterPunch needed to immediately start a record label. Here was one of the best bands in Los Angeles and they weren’t even signed.
Soon after that late night call, Haim, which consists of three sisters, signed with Columbia. CounterPunch missed the boat and I still blame Jeff for hanging up on me.
The highlight of Haim is lead singer Danielle Haim, who reminds me of a young Joni Mitchell with a dash of Stevie Nicks, and to top it off she plays guitar like Jimmy fucking Page on ludes. Their debut album Days Are Gone is a pop-rock sensation, but their live act is still where it’s at. It’ll be fun to see where this band sails from here. The sky’s the limit.
Los Saicos: ¡Demolición! – The Complete Recordings (Munster, 2010)
It doesn’t really matter that I don’t understand half of what this great Peruvian garage band from the 1960s is actually singing. I know it all has something to do with youth, love, rejection and heartache. It’s amazing to think that when this set of songs were recorded on a DIY setup in Lince, Lima in 1966, the band members had just graduated high school. They say they had never heard anything from The Sonics – even though The Sonics were basically their U.S. counterparts. No other bands like Los Saicos existed in Latin America at the time, which may be the reason they were so short-lived.
Quasi: Mole City (Kill Rock Stars, 2013)
This isn’t the best album Quasi has put out, but it’s still a scorcher. Heavy guitar, plenty of feedback and enough drums to piss off your neighbors. If Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss are anything, they aren’t creatures of habit. They doesn’t aim to please every listener, they aim to rock. Quasi is still proof music in soggy Portland, Oregon isn’t dead. At least not yet.
Joshua Frank is managing editor of CounterPunch.
Gil Scott-Heron: I’m New Here (XL Recordings)
Luke Roberts: Big Bells and Dime Songs (Thrill Jockey)
Old 97’s & Waylon Jennings (Omnivore Recordings)
Kristin Kolb writes the Daydream Nation column for CounterPunch magazine.
Powerdove, Do You Burn? (Circle Into Square, 2013).
Not a lightweight pigeon-shaped drone developed by the Pentagon to break up Occupy demonstrations, this winged creature of weightless melancholy and fragmented love is instead the enthralling creation of vocal visionary and sonic artist Annie Lewandowski. On this hypnotic, haunting disc the ethereal song of Powerdove takes flight through a haze of electronic sonorities (provided by John Dieterich) and percussive disturbances (Thomas Bonvalet) evoking desire both thwarted and fulfilled. These plaints and poems of loneliness and connectedness, memory and forgetting seem to wing directly from the unconscious—archetypal, lovely, unsettling.
David Yearsley once played the world’s oldest piano and didn’t damage it … much.
Leo Kottke: 6 & 12 String Guitar (Takoma, 1992)
Crystal Method: Tweekend (Geffen, 2001)
Donna Summer: Love to Love You Donna (Verve, 2013)
Lee Ballinger co-edits Rock and Rap Confidential.
KEVIN ALEXANDER GRAY
Curtis Mayfield: There’s No Place Like America Today (Curtom, 1975.)
Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros: Streetcore (Hellcat Records, 2003.)
Betty Davis: They Say I’m Different (Just Sunshine Records, 1974.)
Kevin Alexander Gray’s next book, Killing Trayvon (co-edited by JoAnn Wypijewski and Jeffrey St. Clair) will be released by CounterPunch books this spring.
Anthony Hamilton: Back to Love (RCA, 2011)
Soul music in the finest tradition of Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson. Carolinian Hamilton’s voice is its own sweet instrument.
Rising Appalachia: Rising Appalachia (CD Baby, 2006)
These two women originally from New Orleans remake old-timey New Orleans and mountain music into something new, funky and steampunk modern.
Dead Kennedys: Frankenchrist (Manifesto, 2010)
The best Bay Area punk band, if not the best West Coast punk band.
Ron Jacobs’ book on the Seventies, Daydream Sunset, will published by CounterPunch this summer.