What We’re Listening to This Week
JEFFREY ST. CLAIR
Jacob Young: Forever Young (ECM, 2014)
The mercurial Jacob Young is a Norwegian jazz guitarist who studied for many years with the legendary Jim Hall and you can hear that lineage in his playing, which displays an exceptional clarity and precision. Indeed, Young’s music has a vintage sound to it. I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense. Young’s sound is fresh, almost verdant, but it mines the past with transcendent results. Forever Young is Young’s third and best recording for ECM. It’s also the first time he’s broken out his electric guitar for the esteemed label, which infuses this recording with a swinging exuberance lacking in his previous outings. Young’s chromatic phrasings have the directness and immediacy of a plein air painting. Call it sonic pointillism: the deeper you listen, the more expansive and coherent the music becomes.
Jimmy Guiffre 3 & 4: New York Concerts (Elemental, 2014)
Jimmy Guiffre was a lamentably neglected hero of the free jazz movement. Equally skilled with the clarinet and tenor sax, Guiffre was a restless player, always searching for the new thing. This protean quality made him difficult to categorize. His playing is always adventuresome and often surprisingly lyrical, given the intensely experimental nature of his improvisations. These two concerts, recorded four months apart in in 1965, capture Guiffre in a phase of creative transition, as he grapples with the imposing markers laid down by Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy and Albert Ayler. Check out his sinuous version of Coleman’s very challenging “Crossroads.” These remarkable tapes were lost for nearly 40 years until being unearthed by Zev Feldman, polished up and released on the terrific new Elemental label. The music is demanding, assertive and exciting, the way revolutions are meant to sound.
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: CSNY 1974 (Rhino, 2014)
This is a live recording of cash registers ringing so harmonically it disguises how deeply they’d all come to hate each other.
Jeffrey St. Clair, editor of CounterPunch, once played two-chord guitar in a Naptown garage band called The Empty Suits. His latest book, Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (co-edited with Kevin Alexander Gray and JoAnn Wypijewski) will be released in June by CounterPunch Books.
We’re over halfway through 2014, another six months in the bag. We’ve had a lot of bad music pour through our speakers thus far, but not all has been sour. Here are my 5 favorite new tunes. Heavy on the rock, light on the roll. Or something like that. Really it’s just a bunch of really fun summer songs. You caught me in a good mood.
Joshua Frank is managing editor of CounterPunch. He lives in the LBC.
Syd Barrett, The Madcap Laughs (Capitol Records, 1970)
Polvo, Siberia (Merge, 2013)
Kristin Kolb writes the Daydream Nation column for CounterPunch magazine.
I wrote about this disc earlier in the year. What I said then still holds true. I was one of those listeners who liked this recording’s 1970 incarnation. Here are a few of my thought from the aforementioned review.
The innocence present in this collection makes me wish it was still here. Since it isn’t, this helps me pretend otherwise. Dylan’s voice here is the voice of an earnest troubadour. There is little of the smoky raspiness present in his mid-sixties material or the world-weary gruffness of Dylan’s current persona. The music here is as close to pure as anything ever released by Dylan. The guitar is clear and clean, his picking and strumming reflecting a casual and comfortable relationship with the instrument. The songs that include other players remind one of a very talented and friendly jam session. The songs range from outlaw ballads to songs of love; from pop standards to Dylan compositions. Arrangements are modified and time signatures changed, creating an element of surprise for the listener and lending a different understanding to the lyrics.
The guitar playing on these songs is superb and technically superior to anything Dylan recorded before. In addition, the musicians that appear on these songs are topnotch and include David Bromberg, The Band, Al Kooper, Norman Blake, Charlie McCoy, Charlie Daniels, and a myriad of other top players, many then working in Nashville. Another Self Portrait revives a part of Dylan’s catalog that has been unjustly ridiculed. This two-CD set forces a reconsideration of Dylan’s intentions and his artistry during the period these recordings cover.
Honky Tonk—Son Volt.
Every time a song from this recording pops up on my mp3 player I am pleasantly surprised. There’s something about Jay Farrar’s vocals that defy description and warm the soul. Rich with texture that twangs the songs he sings on Honky Tonk sound like a hot dusty day in a small home somewhere in the western high desert that gave us Buck Owens and his Buckaroos. Reminiscent of Buck Owens’ best years, Son Volt’s sound puts a modern spin on that nasal twang of guitar and voice one identifies so closely with Mr. Owens. Lyrically, the songs are a bit more complex than the Buckaroos, yet that beer you might be drinking will still get hot just as quickly as if you were in some tinned roof honky-tonk on the way to Barstow.
The Pond Jam—Oliver Scanlon & Friends.
I’m a fan of live Celtic and contra music. Bluegrass is another one of my preferred traditional genres. It’s always refreshing to hear a new musician on the scene. This group from Vermont led by nineteen year old tunesmith Oliver Scanlon features Scanlon on mandolin, viola and fiddle, Grey Larson on Irish flute and Pete Sutherland on piano. This is a fantastically arranged and expertly played set of traditional and newly composed tunes. I have a feeling Scanlon will be heard on a bigger and bigger stage as he matures.
Ron Jacobs’ book on the Seventies, Daydream Sunset, will published by CounterPunch this summer.
Man Man: On Oni Pond (2013 Anti-)
Palatable strangeness abounds on this offering from experimental rock’s Man Man—complete with members named Honus Honus and Pow Pow. Honus Honus says “It’s not a record that’s going to flirt with you, this is a record that’s asking you out. If you get into bed with us there’s going to be a relationship.” The album is just as strange as that comment. But infectious and devious, with tracks like “Head On” providing a jaunty and subversive anthem against losing said head to romance. The lyrics are surprisingly acrid and wise, but delivered with lolling effervescence. Experiments kick in… just how odd can this get yet retain an almost 50’s level of twisty delightfulness? “Pink Wonton” plays in the lab andturns out completely embraceable as does the rest of the album. Plenty of music out there attempts to discover an elusive newness, but this one actually succeeds. Odd percussion and otherworldly tinkling abound. And generally I dislike music videos, but the one for “Head On” merits a view. I have never seen such an episode of vehicular overacting in my life! That car has no shame. Oh dear. I’m afraid I ended up in a relationship with this weird album.
Kathleen Wallace writes about music and culture for CounterPunch. She lives somewhere in the Midwest.
Starting in 1957 with Franko et L’OK – Tcha Tcha Tcha del Zombo (Armando Brazzos)
In 2010 Belgian Congolese artist Baloji reinvented himself from generic Euro Rapper to maker of this hybrid of rap, Congolese cha-cha and percussion with Konono No1 and some of the old greats of Congolese rumba. These two videos are beautifully filmed in Kinshasa from his “Kinshasa Succursale” album released that year.
Baloji featuring Konono No1 – Karibu ya Bintou
Sally Timms is a musician and Mekon. She lives in Chicago.
Eddie Palmieri: Palmas.
Nate Dogg: G-Funk Classics, Vol. 1 and 2
Atomship: Crash of 47
Lee Ballinger co-edits Rock and Rap Confidential and writes about music and politics for CounterPunch.
John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman (Impulse!, 1963)
Ballads Schmallads, you say, but this was the moment the genre was perfected. Coltrane’s tenor is heartbreaking. Hartman’s voice contains every darkened corner of that room where you first spotted her, standing there in a black dress and never once looking in your direction. No one is cynical enough to not feel this album. As Billy Collins says:
“… It feels like smoke curling up from a cigarette
someone left burning on a baby grand piano
around three o’clock in the morning;
smoke that billows up into the bright lights
while out there in the darkness
some of the beautiful fools have gathered
around little tables to listen,
some with their eyes closed,
others leaning forward into the music
as if it were holding them up,
or twirling the loose ice in a glass,
slipping by degrees into a rhythmic dream. …”
(from “Nightclub” by Billy Collins)
Play this for the person you love. Right now. Results guaranteed.
Marc Beaudin edits poetry for CounterPunch, and is the frontman of the most likely completely defunct poetry band Remington Streamliner. He can be reached at crowvoice.com.