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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Podcast From The Yellow Room XXV

Mummy was an asteroid, Daddy was a non-stick kitchen utensil by Quiet Sun from Mainstream

Aphrodite by Julie Sick from Julie Slick
Hymn by Trey Gunn/Marco Minnemann from Modulator
Vega by Mark Charig from Pipedream
Aran by Christopher Hobbs from Ensemble Pieces
Beauty by Alan Lamb from Archival Recordings
Doin’ It For Art by Stan Tracey Quartet from The Return of Captain Adventure
Fear by Quiet City from Quiet City



Saturday, May 29, 2010

There's A Riot (Not) Goin' On

These last few days I've been so busy with one deadline after another, I've been offsetting the slightly claustrophobic feeling this induces by getting out of the office a bit more. So, for the second time this week I headed off into Newcastle and the always inspirational surroundings of the Lit & Phil.

The increased police presence drafted in for a couple of marches that were taking place in Newcastle today were immediately apparent...

Inside, I discovered to my delight that Bernard was also enjoying the facilities once again...

as indeed were several other people...




Four or five hours later Bernard and I left the Lit & Phil when it closed and made our way up Bigg Market past all the police who were in place for marches and demonstrations by the English Defence League (click here for a video about this noxious band of racist thugs).

This is Grainger Street looking up towards Grey's Monument. Normally on a Saturday (or any other day for that matter) this would be brimming with shoppers and I'd be risking life and limb by stepping out into the middle of the road like this to take a snap.

Looking down Grainger Street towards Central Station...





And finally at the anti-fascist rally beside the monument.


We grabbed a coffee to muse upon the foibles and prospects of our respective children and although no definitive answer was found it was nevertheless useful chewing over the problems associated with wanting to be supportive whilst avoiding stifling their independence.

Afterwards as we ambled up to our respective destinations (me for the metro home and Bernard for the Central library), a group of EDL supporters got close to the monument clearly looking for some trouble but were surrounded by police and escorted back towards Bigg Market where their chums were being marshalled prior to being bussed out.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Never Mind The Inspiration! What About The Clarity?

When it comes to writing I've never had any problems finding inspiration.

That's the easy bit.


Finding clarity in the jungle of ideas is much harder.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Clearing Out The Cobwebs

The problem with spending too much time fussing over the work is that you can all clogged up. After a while the words just stop making sense, failing to connect or convey whatever it is you thought you were trying to say.

So when my sister called in this morning and asked if I fancied a quick walk along the sea front, I jumped at the chance to clear away the cobwebs. It also avoids the stage which often follows from that impasse described above - the quick descent into the pit of despair. A walk along the sea front is far more preferable than that!






Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Time Portal IV

Most users agree that the scent of cinnamon is almost overpowering whilst using this route through to the late 1940s.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Fresh And Direct

The gorgeous weather we've been getting lately has made me want to quit this room of books and CDs and head for another room (albeit a hell of a lot bigger) full of books and CDs.

Inside, brother-in-law Bernard has just joined up at the Lit & Phil and, like me, finds these surroundings very conducive for thinking and working.

I'm currently juggling sleevenotes, reviews and an article, which I seem to be working on simultaneously; a paragraph here, a line there, moving across each of them in and out of sequence.

Hopefully they'll all make sense.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Podcast From The Yellow Room XXIV


If you like music that's full of invention, feeling, innovation, expression, warmth, depth, and humour then you've come to the right place.

Country Dance by SOS from SOS
Tell Me What You See In Me by Sandy Denny & The Strawbs from All Our Own Work
Copenhagen by Strawbs from Dancing To The Devil’s Beat
Smell Of A Friend by The Lodge from Smell Of A Friend
Inside Looking Out by Mark Hollis from Mark Hollis
McCrimmon Will Never Return by Christopher Hobbs from Ensemble Pieces
Care Charming Sleep by The Dowland Project from Care Charming Sleep
Unsteady bass stamping on a musical box by Michael Peters from Live In England
Mountainscape V by Barre Phillips from Mountainscapes




Saturday, May 22, 2010

Pipedream Mark Charig


















Beautiful dreamer! Pipedream
Mark Charig
Ogun

Mark Charig was arguably the most distinctive player of that absurdly talented generation of young UK jazzers who emerged onto the scene toward the end of the sixties.

His fiery, muscular presence has always raised the temperature whether in the numerous permutations of fluctuating jazz line-ups (including several Keith Tippett-led outfits) or guest spots with Soft Machine and King Crimson.

Given the consistently high calibre of his output it seems remarkable that Charig only ever released one album under his own name. But when it’s as good as this, he can surely be forgiven such a regrettable lapse.

Recorded over two cold January days in 1977, Charig, Keith Tippett and vocalist Ann Winter gathered in a Bristol church to record an album shimmering with a ghostly ambience.

Inventive flourishes abound; the insistent tolling church bell at the start of the album, Bellaphon, which prompts Charig to play a soaring flurries of breath-taking lyricism; the tiny vignette of Vega where two separate cornet and tenor horn parts are double-tracked to sing and dance with each other.

Tippett uses the church organ to serve up subliminal drones and dense tonal clusters that occasionally suggest Messiaen-like eddies, whilst Winter pushes her voice into throat-searing top-of-the-range frequencies and abstract vocalese.

But from start to finish it’s Charig who dazzles with the clarity of tone and incisive contributions, scattering ravishing tunes and joyous harmonies high up into the rafters. His quick fire responses to Tippett’s melodic and rhythmic excursions, ricochet across the stone and wood of this sacred space, not only producing some revelatory moments but offering an illuminating account of the empathy/telepathy existing between these two colleagues.

It’s the first time this outstanding record has appeared on CD, and full marks to Ogun for the lovely gatefold packaging. That it comes with a bonus track that has been waiting 33 years to see the light of day is a delicious icing on the cake. A minor masterpiece.

Buy it here.

Listen to the title track here. (32.00 minutes into podcast)

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Part Yet Apart

I think this the best quote I've ever heard about the relationship between a composer and music. Part 3 of BBC 4's excellent series, Sacred Music, looked at Gorecki and Part.


The presenter Simon Russell Beale got to have a face to face interview with Part (something of a rare event) and at the end asked the Estonian composer "What do you want to say to your audience?"

A slightly pained-looking Part thought for a moment and then replied

"I don’t want to offend my listeners but I don’t really have anything to say to them. I lead a secret dialogue with myself but not with my audience."

It's available on catch-up on the BBC's iPlayer.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

File Under Peace

Where do you find a sense of peace? Is it something that can be found or is it always there, just waiting for the all the background noise to die down?

Whenever I sit in this building, all the junk and rubbish that swirls and percolates around my brain simply fades away.




Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Time and Place II



Time And Place I

I interviewed Mike Oldfield yesterday afternoon about the making and the remixing of Hergest Ridge and Ommadawn. He rang from his place in the Bahamas and whilst I sensed that he’d probably much rather be doing something else, he patiently listened and responded valiantly to my various burbling stutters, assertions and tortuous stumbling toward a question.

Whilst Tubular Bells always steals the headlines, Hergest Ridge is the one that did it for me and this new deluxe package really sounds stunning. Mike thought so too, clearly pleased to have been able to go back and, in his words, spruce it up a bit.

Having talked to several musicians about recording albums, the one thing that always comes through is how dissatisfied they inevitably are when a record is released. What might stand out for the fan as being a work of genius, is nearly always viewed with a sense of dismay by the musician as they remember the compromises, fudged opportunities, the lack of time, the memory of wrong moves and clipped wings that went into making the said work of genius.

How often do you hear the phrase “oh that’s very much a time and place album for me”? Of course it’s blindingly obvious but it’s always interesting to be reminded that musician and listener see / hear the same event from utterly different perspectives.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Weather Report Live In Germany 1971



















Looking great - sounding even better!

Weather Report
Live In Germany 1971

Captured somewhere between the release of their debut album and the studio recording of I Sing The Body Electric, Weather Report cook up a storm in this classic TV spot for the Bremen Beat Club show.

Thankfully devoid of the usual psychedelic TV trickery that often mars shows from this period, we get to see Joe Zawinul, Miroslav Vitous, Dom Um Romao, Alphonse Mouzon and Wayne Shorter up close and personal, playing to each other in the round.

Eye contact and body language is everything with this band as each the music takes shape.

Against a constant tide of sizzling ride cymbal and skittering funk soaked drumming, and the eclectic clatter of exotic percussion, melodies and harmonies cautiously advance with a nod of the head or a smile of encouragement.

Presented on a spartan TV studio set, this isn’t a show so much as an intimate documentary as to how music is made.

Thoughtful direction and sympathetic camera work means we catch each of the front line players making their small incremental dabs of colour which gradually build and coalesce into a complex, surging picture filled with spiky dashes of light and inventive shadow play.

Given the ferocious talents contained in the band, there’s no show stealing solos to be found. Instead it’s a collective process that seems to be about maintaining a delicate balance between groove and feel.

We get to see a lot about how these musicians work and think and how the absence of individual ego can make things happen.

At one point Shorter stands with the soprano sax poised to his lips, about to fire off a run of notes. He’s listening hard and then, the moment passes and he stands the sax down. We’ve just seen him make a judgement call about what was or wasn’t needed to help the music flow.

The same can be said for Vitous and Zawinul - the latter often seen smiling broadly as he looks across at Romao’s percussive interventions. Who’d have thought that Romao’s staple instrument was a pair of wooden soled sandals? Or that Mouzon gets to sing a flat-out in a James Brown-style?

If you want to see a masterclass in how jazz, funk and rock dynamics might be combined to produce a vibrant and exciting 50 minutes of edge-of-the-seat music, then this DVD gives you a ringside seat. Essential.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

What The Papers Say

Whilst progressive rock is on the verge of becoming acceptable in polite society (increasingly without a hint of irony, even), it's interesting to see how jazz-rock remains something of a outcast.

I’ve always found it odd that American jazz-rock has always had a slightly better press whereas here in the UK, our homegrown variety was always given short-shrift. The mainstream music papers in the 70s had a real downer on many of the practitioners of the day, at a time when words from the music papers could make or break a group.

To be fair, the Melody Maker was always more catholic in its tastes whilst the NME often adopted a spikier approach and really adopted Rolling Stone's rock journo as "hip gunslinger" mode of writing.

But whatever their colour or style, those weekly papers really set the tone of the conversation for many of us back then.

I well recall watching Soft Machine go from being cool to like to being outcasts in a jazz-rock wilderness.

I think the critical backlash against Soft Machine in the NME began in January and February 1975 when they ran a two-part history of Soft Machine written by late, great Ian MacDonald. I think this piece pretty much became received wisdom about Soft Machine - that the recruitment of jazz players (specifically Nucleus) was the undoing of the group. Following the departure of Hugh Hopper, MacDonald writes:

“Yet another jazzer moved in as replacement – bassist Roy Babbington – and the music got smoother and more scintillatingly-played and finally wound up losing its soul somewhere in a glittering galaxy of electric pianos and synthesizers.”

Writing of the Bundles line-up in August 1975, then on tour with Caravan, Wishbone Ash, Mahavishnu Orchestra and improbably, Ike and Tina Tuner, the NME’s Charles Shaar Murray observed:

“The current Softs are a very long way away from the band I used to love seven years ago – which is only natural – but they now lack virtually all the qualities for which I used to love them. Their music now is accomplished both in construction and execution – far more so than ever before in the band's long and polka-dotted history – but its totally inflexible humourlessness, and the way that they substitute dynamics for vitality and professionalism for inspiration turns their music to jazz-flavoured blancmange.”

In truth, the centre of gravity within Soft Machine had shifted away from the kind of things Charles Shaar Murray and Ian MacDonald loved about the band a long time before the jazzers were drafted in to spoil their fun. But smouldering at the core of these eloquent criticisms is a sense that the band has betrayed its original values and principals.

Reading these reviews when I was doing research for my Soft Machine sleeve notes last week reminded me of just how powerful and far-reaching the words printed in these music papers could be.

“Did you see what Nick Kent said about (insert name of idol with newly revealed feet of clay)?” was often the cry of a Thursday lunchtime. Similarly we would clamour around a copy of the Melody Maker in order to get sight of Richard Williams’ pronouncement on a new album.

It all seems so quaint now in this information multiverse of niche opinion and instantaneous micro-commentary on social networking sites.

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