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Monday, January 29, 2007

Brian Groder Torque

Happy Torque


Brian Groder
Latham Records

I confess that Brian Groder wasn’t a name I was familiar with although the appearance sax player Sam Rivers on this record indicated he was someone to take seriously.

Having cut his musical teeth in Atlantic City housebands, Groder’s trumpet and flugelhorn playing is as sharply honed as you might expect.

Opening with “Spellcast”, a smash-and-grab duet between Groder and drummer Anthony Cole, suggests a free-form fare is on the cards. Yet although the language in places has that late-50s angularity this is no nostalgic wig-out. Blending tight compositions with intricate duets gives a surprising variety and enables the quartet to move into a thoughtful and investigative space that holds the attention and certainly engages your toes as well as the brain.

Cole’s drumming is superb throughout, a rolling force that accentuates and supports as occasion demands; he’s exceptionally tasteful on the improvisation “Cross-Eyed”, matching and pushing Sam Rivers' tempestuous blowing. During the straight-ahead groove of “Involution”, it’s Cole who contributes that rarest of things – a drum solo that you wished had carried on for a few extra bars!

Quite how Sam Rivers now in his 80s keeps his chops and manages to sound so fresh and vital at his age is a mystery. But his tone is good and the gusto of his attack remains imaginative with no sign of slowing down.

Naturally enough, the star of the show is Groder who lets you know what he’s capable of without screaming or shouting about it. The warmth of the flugelhorn and his use of long melodic overtures is seductive, courting one’s attention in an altogether more subtle fashion than any outré blowing would achieve.

Capable of executing impressive hand-brake turns of pace and dynamics, Groder is clearly a formidable talent and no slouch when it comes to distilling that richness into his compositions. It’s this intelligent mixing of sanguine ensemble playing, sharp duets and expressive range which give this album its legs. Even repeated listening doesn’t dim its brightness and appeal. If you like your jazz brisk and tonally adventurous without losing melody or a sense of restraint, Torque has everything you could want.

You can here samples and buy this CD from here.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

As Above So Below

Debbie is still unwell and was at the doc’s this morning. She was prescribed more drugs and more rest.

Mid-day crisis when I get a call from Joseph’s school telling me he’s hurt his back. Long-term readers will know that anything to do with the back is something I am sensitive to.

I head off and collect Joe from school. He was helping move a cupboard after being asked by a teacher. The cupboard started to topple and Joe instinctively tried to grab it. The resulting “click” in his back means he’s in a lot of discomfort. We’ll see if it’s muscular or something more serious.

A good conversation with Declan earlier today; an oasis of energy in a sea of sloth and the beginning of an exciting project.

And now, my scanner is kaput!

Listening To…

Viva La Black Live At Ruvo by Keith Tippett, Julie Tippetts, Louis Moholo-Moholo & Canto General.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Uphill And Downhill

Currently fighting against gravity, weighed down by a general non-specific illness (or rather the sense of being unwell). Consequently this makes phone-bashing very hard work indeed and I don't feel as though I'm giving much bang for the buck.

On a lighter note we made an improv by Robert and Theo Travis go live today on the DGMLive site. Very nice to hear this one. I met with Theo one night in 2005 and told him at the time how much I thought his work would compliment Robert's soundscapes.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Laid Back

Debbie is off work and unwell. A chest infection. We’ve all had it this last couple of weeks. She’s laid up in bed. Birmingham proved a touch too much.

On the blower tonight with Pat Mastelotto. The unexpected bonus was when Markus Reuter answered. For a second I thought I’d got a wrong number. It turns out Markus is over there working on the new Tuner album. Pat and I chew over some old stuff for a while in support of some notes I’m writing.

Listening To…

The Fifth Day by RF

KC 2001 various

Torque by Brian Groder

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Vrooom Vrooom To Brum Brum

Debbie and I headed out yesterday morning to Birmingham to see our friends Neil and Halina. After a relaxing train journey we mooched around the town centre picking up some wine and then heading out to N&H's place in Bearwood. It was good to see them.

Sadly the only pictures I managed to grab during the whole weekend were of Brum's 1950s and 1960s architecture.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

A Walk Through The Past

Last night I went into Newcastle to pick up a couple things and meet up with some friends. Even though it was the beginning of rush hour the city was curiously empty, and the sky had a curious quality to it which I was unable to properly capture on camera.

I stood underneath Grey's Monument and looked around me.

To the left along Blacket Street

and to the right looking at the Central Arcade which looks every bit as good on the outside as it does on the inside.

Further to my right sits the impressive bulk of Emerson Chambers which now houses a branch of Waterstones.

Toward Grey Street
Past the Theatre Royal,
heading south down Grey Street rightly noted for its Georgian architecture...

...and then turning left into High Bridge.

High Bridge was where an enterprising student in the 1950s rented some of the empy office space, running a happening place that was at one time called the Marimba Coffee House.

People who played on the scene at this time included Mike Carr and his brother Ian. As the 50s became the 60s the enterprising student, who was by now no longer a student but an ambitious entrepreneur, began to manage a pop band. They were called The Animals and his name was Mike Jeffrey.

High Bridge retains some of its links with music in the form of RPM Music and further up the street, Spin.
At the end of High Bridge there's The Beehive Inn, one of the last remaining bars in Newcastle that hasn't been "improved."

Opposite the Beehive, a similarly unimproved Victorian public lavatory (men only) nestles at the bottom of the Bigg Market, the heart of Newcastle's drinking and party city reputation.

At the bottom of the market sits Newcastle cathedral, a fairly modest pile compared to its lavish neighbour over in Durham. My copy of Muirheads England tells me that it was one of the largest parish churches in England until it was elevated to cathedral status in 1882. Not only that exciting fact but the main feature is its West tower described as "remarkable" and "the best example of its kind."

All of which takes us past the cathedral toward the Black Gate and the castle (from which Newcastle derives its name)...

and into the toasty warmth of Bridge Hotel. The Bridge is famous for its legendary folk club founded by local folk legend, Johnny Handle, in the late 50s. It was home to the High Level Ranters and is still a thriving club.

Here's Johnny!

And BT.

We all used to work together a few years ago and we all left our jobs at the same time. We all became self-employed and whilst the yacht in Malibu is probably some way off for us all, we take some kind of comfort that we manage to keep our heads above water.

A good night chinwagging, catching up on news and gossip, back-slapping and generally being chuffed that we managed to make it out at all!

Here's a Google Earth view of that walk through Newcastle - the route outlined in a very shaky red line.

On my way home...

Thank you and goodnight!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

All My Loving

I’m currently moving between two books both of them about war and its consequences: Nuremburg – Evil On Trial by James Owen and Vietnam: The Definitive Oral History Told From Both Sides by Christian G Appy. All of my adult life I’ve been interested in these two conflicts though until today I’ve never really thought about why and what got me started.

“As a child, I refought the war with plastic planes and imagination: I sank Tirpitz, blew up the Mohne dam, all these and more, I was the saviour of the Nation!”sang Peter Hammill on “No More (the Sub-Mariner)”, accurately describing the playtime habits of post-war schoolboys such as myself.

Uncomplicated by moral come-backthere was something noble about dropping pretend bombs or rat-tat-tating off rounds into the ranks of the enemy. It was good clean fun played out with pals, Airfix kits and the stilted heroics of Action Man.

Though it began to increasingly take up the news reports of the Six O' Clock bulletins, the Vietnam War was far enough away so as not to penetrate too far into my childhood world of square-jawed heroes such as Jack Hawkins, Kenneth More, or the black and white heroics of Commando magazine.

Reading through these two books is hard work. Unlike other accounts I’ve read on WW2 and Vietnam these come largely unmediated by their respective authors save for contextual links and the like.

In the case of Nuremburg, the bare transcripts from those in the dock conveys a real sense of the self-serving obfuscation, hair-splitting and excuses emanating from the accused. It can be chilling stuff.

Hans Frank, who served as Governor of Poland from 1939 – 1944, had no truck with colleagues who wriggled between semantics, meaning or even guilt: “We can knock our heads against the wall but it doesn’t change the facts. Our lawyers have to do the talking for us but there is no use our trying to deny what all of the world knows…Ja, it was a great Reich while it lasted.”

Tough stuff indeed.

Today I left the Yellow Room for a meeting with Voiceprint label supremo, Rob Ayling. The Vietnam book accompanied my journey. Although Rob and I have met on a couple of occasions in the past (Keith Tippett gigs and the like) this was the first time I’d parked up in the Voiceprint offices.

Our conversation about the soon-to-be-expanding Bill Bruford catalogue could probably have been done by phone or email but sometimes it’s good to meet face to face and follow the spontaneous meanderings of unplanned conversation. One such moment occurred when Rob took me to his local greasy spoon, Curly’s, for some good grub and a decent cup of tea.

Rob and I stumbled into a conversation about the work of director Tony Palmer, whose work Voiceprint are handling, and in particular Palmer's documentary about the music and politics of the 60s, All My Loving which I saw when it was first screened on television in 1968.

By the age of nine or ten music began to seriously encroach upon my models and make-believe wars. Totally influenced by my sister’s musical interests I was a fan of the Fab Four. So when the BBC screened a heavily trailed documentary that included The Beatles I lobbied hard for my mother to let me stay up late to watch it.

All My Loving featured interviews with Paul McCartney, Pete Townsend, Frank Zappa, and others – the majority of whom were unknown to me. I can’t really recall much (if anything) about what they said but I do remember that the images of pop festivals and flower power were intercut with scenes of Nazi brutality and the Vietnam War.

I had never seen any footage from the concentration camps before or the leering brutality of a uniformed officer making fun of a scared elderly Jewish woman on her knees, poking her with his riding crop. Though I tried to maintain a brave face throughout the documentary it was getting more difficult by the minute.

Then, in one scene that left me utterly devastated and in tears later that night, the Vietnam War suddenly caught up with me and turned my notions of war as some kind of noble, heroic pastime totally upside down and inside out.

It was the footage captured by an NBC news team: the summary execution of a VC prisoner by a South Vietnamese police captain in a street. In that instant, so mundane in its workmanlike implementation and lack of drama, the innocence of my childhood came to an abrupt end. The scene gave me nightmares for weeks but I couldn’t let on to my parents or anyone else. Nobody else at school had seen the show and it became increasingly difficult for me to play our wargames of death and destruction with the same unthinking abandon .

It seemed impossible to reconcile our innocent version of war with the footage of that VC soldier, moving in one unblinking second from life to death;falling without ceremony onto the tarmac, his blood spurting from his head in a gory fountain onto the tarmac beneath him.

Though I tried very hard at the time I don't think I ever made it back to the cocoon of my childhood world. All my reading about WW2 and Vietnam stems from that one traumatic night in 1968 and All My Loving.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

"The First Time as Tragedy, the Second Time as Farce"

I'm grateful to my friend Brian T for pointing me in the direction of this item...

"Memorandum for the President
From: the Secretary of Defense
Subject: Iraq

I am deeply concerned about Iraq. The task you have given me is becoming really impossible. Our forces are reduced now to very slender proportions… I do not see what political strength there is to face a disaster of any kind, and certainly I cannot believe that in any circumstances any large reinforcements would be sent from here…

There is scarcely a single newspaper… which is not consistently hostile to our remaining in this country. … Any alternative Government that might be formed here… would gain popularity by ordering instant evacuation. Moreover, in my own heart I do not see what we are getting out of it. …No progress has been made in developing the oil. Altogether I am getting to the end of my resources.

I think we should now put definitely… the position that unless they beg us to stay and to stay on our own terms in regard to efficient control, we shall actually evacuate before the close of the… year. I would put this issue in the most brutal way, and if they are not prepared to urge us to stay and to co-operate in every manner, I would actually clear out.

It is quite possible, however, that face to face with this ultimatum [they]… will implore us to remain. If they do, shall we not be obliged to remain?… At present we are paying… millions a year for the privilege of living on an ungrateful volcano out of which we are in no circumstances to get anything worth having."

Here's where it came from.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Turning The Pages

Be careful about clicking on this site...time just disappears! William Blake's notebook is fantastic.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Steve Hillage Fish Rising Remaster

Hooked On Hillage

Fish Rising / L / Motivation Radio / Rainbow Dome Musick
Virgin / EMI
15th January 2006

Two images spring to mind when I think of Steve Hillage. The first is of him as junior member of Gong standing near the back, head uplifted, eyes closed and his toothy smile exposed in a beatific grin playing some barely audible guitar.

The second image is of him standing centre stage as a solo star, head uplifted, eyes closed, his toothy smile exposed in a beatific grin playing guitar which was by now very audible indeed.

Though Hillage may have looked and sounded the same (only louder) was it was the audience that had changed. L took him deep into the mainstream reaching a very respectable No.10. But before all that came Fish Rising in 1975. Almost unnoticed at the time, it's effectively the second album never recorded by Hillage’s pre-Gong outfit Khan.

Dave Stewart’s rousing fuzz organ and the occasional jaunty bassoon interlude to give it that authentic Canterbury scene feel. Though the somewhat murky production occasionally obscures Hillage’s lyrical observations about the salmon, the cycle of life and other occult opinions, this is generally a good thing, allowing as it does the focus to sit squarely upon the music.

As with all his records those silvery echo-driven notes are well to the fore throughout yet unlike some of his following albums, the rapturous soloing appears feels more integrated with its surroundings, which is to say the music on Fish Rising sounds like it came first and not as an adjunct to some soul-searching guitar solos. It’s a witty record full of bright moments, knotty tangles of intricate instrumentation and arrangements, and sounds thoroughly adventurous even by today’s jaded standards.

When L was released in 1976 Hillage was being pushed as the new-age guitar God, a sentiment made explicit on its cover where he’s haloed in saintly light. Sadly the content doesn’t quite match either PR of the day nor Todd Rundrgren’s spandex-covered production.

Opening and closing with cover versions of “Hurdy Gurdy Man” and “It’s All Too Much” may signpost Hillage’s psychedelic affections and affiliations but adds nothing of note to the original versions. The low point of the album is the toe-curling “Electrick Gypsies.” Had it been recorded in 1966 we would now smile indulgently at its naiveté, but a decade later this kind of tosh is largely unforgivable. L is redeemed in part by the “Lunar Musick Suite” which at least sounds like a solid compositional statement (with a welcome cameo from trumpeter Don Cherry) and has the virtue of not ending in a non-committal fade-out unlike the majority of its companions.

1977s Motivation Radio sees Hillage getting funky and gusty with top-drawer backing from Joe Blocker on drums and bass guitarist Reggie McBride. Both give a robust life to material that is mature and developed compared to rough drafts occupying L.

Whilst there’s the usual malarkey about flying saucers, auras and saying hello to the sun, there is also a vitality and edge that explains Hillage’s god-like status and commercial success than anything from its its predecessor. Even the frankly absurd “Light In The Sky” with its daffy Gong interlude has the chops that enable you to get past the close encounters of the cornball kind without too much difficulty.

Rainbow Dome Musick (inexplicably reissued out of sequence sitting as it should between Live Herald and Open is really the precursor to the legions of music for meditation CDs that swarm around the counters of alternative bookshops alongside the runes, healing crystals and Tarot cards. Though lacking in whale song, rainfall or the plaintive tones of the Tuvan noseflute, it’s a pleasant, undemanding chill-out soundtrack designed for London’s 1979 Mind & Body festival where you could sit inside the titular dome itself.

In retrospect its significance lies more in the influence it would have on a younger generation picking up on some of its multi-coloured threads in the 80s and 90s, and of course the overtly electronic pastures Hillage and Miquette Giraudy would graze with System 7.

The real jewel in the crochet crown of this batch of remasters remains Fish Rising. Though it might be the oldest of the lot it happens to be the one that’s aged the least.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Larks' Tongues In Aspic: The Third King Crimson Album

Over on the Krimson News guestbook there’s an alternative history thread about what might have happened had King Crimson only recorded their 1969 debut.

Joining in with the counter-factual fun my own speculative take goes something like this.

After a period of reflection and a guest spot on Yes’ 1970 album (fuelling speculation that he might join the group), and recording a follow-up album, In The Wake of Poseidon under the KC banner, Fripp and Sinfield go their separate ways.

Robert moves on to form a new group with Keith Tippett and several leading musicians on the scene following the success of Centipede.

During 1970 and 1971 the duo focus on a powerful blend of cinematic themes (something both Tippett and Fripp excel at) and ferocious jazz-orientated playing with one albums as its legacy. The album is called Lizard.

Several of the themes that we know from "our" Lizard and Islands would be recognisable though there would be no songs about the circus, Prince Rupert or the break-up of The Beatles. There would be some songs with lyrics though these would be written and performed by Julie Tippetts.

Toward the end of 1971 Tippett moves into a more minimalist zen-jazz though Robert stays on board as a safe pair of ears producing Blueprint – the first album by Tippett’s new project Ovary Lodge.

During 1972 whilst producing Matching Mole’s second album, Fripp and Muir (who was a guest contributor of the Fripp/Tippett ensemble) feel that the free-jazz scene has become something of a creative dead-end. They meet with Fripp's old friend John Wetton, bassist with Family and opt for some of the energy and dynamics of rock.

Both Robert Wyatt and Jon Hiseman briefly sign up for rehearsals before being replaced full-time by Bill Bruford who feels he has done as much as he can in Yes. Mel Collins, with whom Fripp had last worked with on Poseidon joins for a short time but decides to carry on with his own band Circus. Violinist David Cross completes the line-up after Keith Tippett finally declines Fripp’s offer to participate in the new venture.

After some warm-up dates in Germany (playing under the name of The Larks’ Tongues Quintet) in rehearsals they start playing "21st Century Schizoid Man" and, acknowledging the drawing power of the name, decide to call the band King Crimson. Their first album Larks' Tongues In Asic is released to great acclaim in 1973 and the debate begins about whether Fripp is entitled to have named the band King Crimson.

The other debate centres around Fripp and Muir having sold out. Yet another debate revolves around whether or not Bill Bruford and John Wetton have lost their marbles by joining this experimental proto-metal free-jazz hybrid. There are times when all the members of this group think they might well have lost their marbles.

The rest, as they almost say, is real history.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Looking Back On 2006: The Best Of...

The year got off to a very good start with the reissue of Climate of Hunter by Scott Walker but it was the release of The Drift in May that really set the cat amongst the pigeons. An extraordinarily shocking album of brooding power it is without doubt the album of the year for me.

The Earthworks Underground Orchestra got the jazz year off to a good start for me, although it was two albums I originally had on vinyl when they came out and were issued on CD for the first time that really set my pulse racing quicker than a hi-hat at a be-bop gig.

First up was the Stan Tracey Quartet’s Captain Adventure album in all its manic, brisk glory with a whole extra CD’s worth of previously unreleased tracks. Also welcome was SOS by Skidmore, Osborne and Surman on the Ogun label. No extra tracks or anything here but the sound of three sax players absolutely at the top of their game producing a joyous energy.

The Karl Jenkins era of Soft Machine generally gets a hard time amongst critics and other observers. For many years the only testament to this group was the rather lukewarm studio album, Bundles. Now however on Floating World Live we can hear just how full-blooded this line-up could be rocking out with Alan Holdsworth and some great toe-tapping tunes. This release, along with Graham Bennett’s voluminous biography of the band, Out-Bloody-Rageous had me running back and forth to my Softs collection for quite a time.

Working with archive King Crimson and Robert Fripp material on a daily basis hasn’t yet blunted the sense of excitement and discovery when something comes across the desk. The expanded version of Exposure was very much something to shout about, but it was Fripp’s churchscapes series of concerts which spoke to me at a deeper, personal level and have had an ongoing impact.

When we were nursing my mother in her final days, my sister and I found a sanctuary of sorts in the soundscapes from his concert at St. Paul’s cathedral, and more recently Evensong had me calmed and feeling acceptance at what life had thrown my way in the last 12 months.

Maria Kalaniemi’s gorgeous Bellow Poetry took me on an entrancing journey, whilst Jake Thackray’s reissues had me convulsed with laughter and renewed respect for the craft and skill of his lyrics and music.

Staying with the vaguely folkie strand I’ve accidentally established, Colin Scot’s debut album (again out on CD for the first time) threatened to dominate the listening schedule at the expense of all newcomers; “Do The Dance Now, Davey” the opening track became the song about the place for quite a while.

Seeing a project through from start to finish is an immensely satisfying experience. Jakko Jakszyk’s The Bruised Romantic Glee Club certainly falls into this category, and seeing Jakko and Mel Collins playing some of this material live was something of a treat.

That’s really one of the great things about the kind of work I do. Not only do I get to listen to great music I also get to talk to some great musicians.

When I was commissioned to write the sleevenotes to 1969, Julie Tippetts’ first solo album, the circumstances during our interview were weird. First there was a car crash outside her house at the start of our interview, and then a huge police drugs raid in a nearby house in my street at the end. It's weird playing back the tapes and hearing all this other stuff going on either side of the interview. I’m happy to say the album is just as dramatic and as eventful – one of the true legendary voices of British music.

Another legendary voice is Peter Hammill an artist whose extensive back catalogue has some real ups and downs. The best of the first crop of this year’s remasters was the mighty thunder of In Camera and a back on form blast, A Black Box.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the grit and grind of Doctor Feelgood’s Down By The Jetty. Ditto a cracking set of archive recordings from Free at the BBC and the barnstorming "Beano" album by John Mayall's Blues Breakers, the prog-tinged blues of Blodwyn Pig and a surprisingly good best of collection by Pete Brown.

And speaking of the blues (how’s this for a tenuous link!) I found the rainy day melancholia of No Man to be especially rewarding, particularly (though not exclusively) the excellent anthology All The Blue Changes.

Tim Bowness has that faraway lonesome feel completely nailed and in some perverse way isn’t a million miles away from the “woke up this morning” style of inner soul wailing. Though the form may be very different it all comes from the same place.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A Smell Of The Future

Do you ever wake up and think “hmmm, something’s in the air, something is possible today that wasn’t possible yesterday”? Well, that was me today. I’m not making any claims for prescient insight but a succession of phone calls from the various folks today delivered on that early morning feeling. 2007 looks like being a busy year ahead.

Listening To …The Best Of Bobbie Gentry: The Capitol Years

Monday, January 08, 2007


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