A couple of album reviews…
…to make sure the wheels are properly oiled. One of these things is not like the others, of course.
Lana Del Rey, Ultraviolence
Paradoxically (or not, I suppose), her/their individual songs seem small and tired when set end to end — you’d be forgiven for calling them ‘all the same song.’ But with just one feeling or idea in your quiver you don’t have to work too hard to build a coherent psychic topology, as long as it’s an interesting feeling or idea, which I’m not sure ‘resentful exhaustion’ is, though it sure does sound pretty. And maybe it is interesting; I keep listening, after all. Perfect for a long nighttime ride on a crowded bus, or walking alone through a busy square; well adjusted grownups will need only a small dose, and will feel bad afterward. Which is, I’ve decided, not interesting after all. But it still sounds pretty.
Master Musicians of Jajouka, Pipes of Pan at Jajouka
A ‘visionary’ experience overflows formula, refuses to simplify to convention. Visions are by definition irreligious: they emerge whole from a whole person, unbound, unconsidered. True visions are revolutionary by nature, and any institution built upon a vision — rather than, say, an earthly desire — will sell it out in time. Can’t help it.
Creative work that’s centrally concerned with visionary experience corresponds to our rule-based notions of Art only by accident, in passing.
Brian Jones’s dubby ‘field recording’ of these Sufi musicians is beautiful the way biting a lover’s lip and drawing blood can be beautiful: the danger and pain flow directly from the experience’s intimate intensity. I won’t try to talk here about the music itself; if you’re not in the mood for a specific brand of abrasively nasal horn playing and odd-meter drumming, it’s probably going to put you off. But if you think you could fall in love with a creature from another species, another planet — if you can let go of your standards of ‘taste’ altogether and move instead to a frequency human ears can’t usually detect — then you absolutely must hear this recording.
Ornette Coleman, ‘Midnight Sunrise’
Coleman traveled to Jajouka in the mid-70s to play with the aformentioned Master Musicians, and what remains of the night’s collaboration is two tracks totaling less than nine minutes of music, available on the expanded Dancing in Your Head album he cut with his Prime Time group. (The Jajouka experience is what inspired Coleman to put together Prime Time in the first place.) The recording is just what you’d expect: the masters to one side, the mystic on the other. Ornette’s discursive responses to their partly improvised figures sound like tongue-talking, i.e. like all of Ornette’s solos. The recordings are deeply, inexplicably beautiful, especially the feverish alternate take with Robert Palmer joining in on clarinet. From here it’s a short flight to the rest of this classic ‘harmolodic funk’ album.
Dave Holland Quartet, Conference of the Birds
Intensely focused play based on melodies which live up to both the title story’s ludic naturalism and its mysticism. Listening to this one right after spending some time in Ornette’s musical world, as I’ve just done, is like returning from space to find out that in your five-year absence human speech has advanced a millennium, is now unrecognizable. Braxton and Rivers complement each other perfectly, Altschul’s drums are everywhere, and beneath and within the ensemble is Holland’s mighty bass playing. The album’s vision is perfectly coherent, expressed in deep melody and rigorous freeform. I’m embarrassed not to have heard this until recently, but I’m making up for the oversight by listening to it every day. And taking notes.
Grateful Dead, Cobo 1976 (Set II)
Surely someone out there has made the case for 1976 being the Dead’s best year, right? 1977 is where the new kids start, 1972-74 is the convergence, but shows like Cobo 76 — with its darkly beautiful Playin’ > Wheel > Good Lovin’ > Comes a Time > Dancin’ > Not Fade Away > Dancin’ > Around & Around sequence — capture a band that hasn’t yet backed away from its jazzesque early-70s approach but can already muster 1977’s swaggering danceadelia. Seamless performance, intoxicating atmosphere, and not a moment of filler.