Good Music We Can Know

Monday, January 31, 2011

Black Art Music: Archie Shepp- For Losers (1971)

From allmusic: At the time this record was recorded, Shepp was bouncing back and forth between Paris and New York. He also bounced between the Impulse! and BYG labels. He also bounced between styles. For BYG, his music reached to grasp the bare beginnings of black music, back to Africa and the blues. His music for Impulse! tried to embrace the contemporary sounds of R&B, with very mixed results that to this day divide his fans. This record is a transitional one. For the traditionalists, there's his shattering and amusing cover of "I've Got It Bad" performed by the usual suspects one would think to find on an Archie Shepp record, including Cecil Payne and Joe Chambers. For those enraptured by albums like Attica Blues, songs like "Stick 'Em Up" will fascinate, as Shepp's raspy tenor is joined not only by a legion of avant-garde brethren (including names like Beaver Harris and Grachan Moncur), but also by the funky wood of electric bass, guitar, and organ. Some will find those later tracks a bit hard to take. Some will even find themselves snickering. But for anyone wishing to understand the music and career of this brilliant musician, this is an undervalued piece of the puzzle.-Rob Ferrier

This review says it fairly well. This is one of several strange funk/soul dissertations from Shepp in the 70's, along with Cry of My People and Attica Blues. These experiments in Black Music Unification can be pretty spotty, and the absence of Red Hot Sax Rage can be deafening at times, but For Losers is a must-hear. The standout, for me, is the final track: "Un Croque Monsieur (Poem: For Losers)", a revelatory piece of experimentation. With vocalist China-Lin Sharpe delivering the titular "poem" in a wobbly, affecting voice (which she also uses, elsewhere on the record, to tear apart spectacularly "I've Got it Bad"), before the composition gives way to a repetitive piano-and-bass part (reminiscent of some of Nina Simone's more hypnotic, confrontational songs), and Shepp's achingly emotive, occasionally fiery blowing. Wonderful.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Black Art Music: Archie Shepp- Pitchin Can (1969/70)

Here's a raw dose of Fire Music from Mr. Shepp. Most of the record is taken up with a long, two-part track, "Uhuru," a gargantuan 1970 blowout with no less than three percussionists (the wonderful Muhammad Ali on drums); Lester Bowie, Alan Shorter and Clifford Thornton on horns, somebody getting weird with a slide whistle, and Shepp scorching earth with his tenor. This is big nasty Paris-style free jazz, and while it's not as focused and mind-blowing as Coral Rock (my favorite from this period, a total masterpiece), it's bluesy and soulful enough, and Shepp's playing lyrical enough, to maintain a throughline of intelligibility throughout-- a quality often lost on these big band free jazz sessions, with varying degrees of success. Sometimes when sweating my way through an Art Ensemble of Chicago joint, or Noah Howard's Black Ark, for example, I begin to wonder if I'm just getting brain-fuggled or if I'm on the precipice of catharsis. With Shepp, everyone has a part to play, and his sax is usually the star player and spirit guide, so no matter how wild it gets, you can hang with it, break that fever and feel that catharsis.

There's another track on here, the eponymous "Pitchin' Can", a 1969 session with Chicago Beau and a host of other notables. It was included on a Cd reissue of Black Gipsy, for those wondering why this track was omitted from my post that album, but here we find it in the context of its original release. This composition is a little more laid back than "Uhuru", with harmonica and viola lending it a rural color and Beau hollering here and there. Not incredible on a Biblical scale perhaps, and a bit short, really, but an excellent, excellent, highly enjoyable piece of work.


To those of you who mentioned you'd like to hear Doodlin' and Attica Blues Big Band: Oh so would I. Can anyone lend a hand? More Shepp to come.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Black Art Music: Archie Shepp- Black Gipsy (1969)

Here's another magnificent and fierce session of powerful Black Art Music from the inimitable and awesome Archie Shepp. Featuring Leroy Jenkins on viola, Chicago Beauchamp on street poetry-- if you will-- Sunny Murray on drums, Dave Burrell on piano, Mr. Shepp on (mostly) soprano sax, and somebody on harmonica. This is as loose and wild, as clever and meaningful, as one might expect from Shepp in his prime. Go to that place with him.


I'm going to start posting some more Archie Shepp in the coming days, let me know if that please you, and what you might like to see. Thanks to everyone who's been active in the comments in the last few weeks, by the way. It warms a heart to know you care.

Black Art Music: Archie Shepp and the Family of Percussion- Here Comes the Family (1980)

Here's a marvellously vibrant, off-the-wall, and cosmically hip slab of brilliance from Archie Shepp and the Family of Percussion. This is really a treasure of late-period Shepp, an artist who may not have ever gone soft, exactly, but whose later output has trouble standing up to the radically powerful and important utter avalanche of creativity and productivity he managed to achieve in the 60s and 70s.

This record features more eastern inflected percussion than one might expect from Shepp, whose African influences are typically more rough-hewn and savage. It's so meditatively repetitious at first that you might reasonably assume this to be a late 70's Don Cherry outing-- until the spoken word and pseudo-rapping begins, giving the whole thing the kind of socially angry urban connection that Shepp was always seeking. Shepp was frequently outspoken in pointing out that jazz was moving to the white community, shirking its relevance to its culture and leaving the black youth behind-- all the while insisting that "jazz" itself was an antiquated notion, that his responsibility was to the creation of a "black art music" with no limits to its sophistication and abstraction... this record may showcase a better example of that dichotomy coexisting than most.

So highly recommended, my friends. (Thanks to Orgy in Rhythm for first posting this, oh so long ago)


Sunday, January 2, 2011

Exotica For The New Year: Flash Strap Presents- Exotiste (2011)

Happy New Year, friends. Here is something I've been putting together for myself, and you as well, and now I'm pleased to turn it loose upon you. Inspired in part by Mr. Murky Recess' positively splendid, transcendent home-made comp Purple Chicha, a set of chopped-and-screwed Peruvian Cumbias Rebajadas (my nomination for best comp of its kind, which is to say: a "blog original", of the year-- get it if you're smart).

The compilation I present you with today is a concoction of my own labors, an outing of tastefully chopped-and-screwed--if you will-- Exotica tracks. My passion for the many works "Exotic" is well known in these parts, and I've always insisted that my enthusiasm stems from a recognition of the sophisticated, oft-times experimental efforts of the creators of this sublimely evocative music. I resist the popular notion that Exotica must retire to one of two ghettoes: kitsch hell or "lounge culture."

This compilation, rather meaninglessly entitled Exotiste, is not an attempt to "improve" these tracks, or even make them somehow more "contemporary," it is merely an opportunity to experience these compositions (some not-so-great in their original incarnations, others already damn near perfect) in a different way, to hear them anew, to set them more effectively into a different context. Some of these songs, when teased out, stretched apart, and dubbified, take on entirely new character, becoming abstract and trippy sound-paintings; others find a fatter bassline than might have been expected and take a druggier turn; still others become simply longer, slower versions of themselves, an alternate take at a slower tempo, all the better to luxuriate in the mood of the composition.

Vintage Exotica, even at its best (admittedly with quite a few exceptions), can have a zippy, optimistic sound, the wholesomeness of which can make it unsuitable for such pursuits as night driving, getting stoned, or becoming otherwise weird; this comp offers a reversal of that quality, steering familiar space-age pop sounds further into the dark territory of Angelo Badalamenti, krautrock, and dub menace-- not to mention the Dirty South and Cumbias Rebajadas connection.

Anyway, I made this for myself, having realized that what I wanted to hear was this, and that not many folks had done anything much like it. It pleased my ears and boggled my mind enough that I felt I ought to share it with you. Put it on, get to being strange, and have the most languid and trippy exotica experience you can. This is an opium den on an absinthe beach, a smoky jungle. A slow-motion savage ritual, a spirit quest into the fantasies of our grandfathers, an alligator dream. A table set with zapote negro, guanabana, rambutan, durian melon, hash balls, a suckling pig, coconut milk cocktails, human skulls, ayahuasca, and coca leaves, ringed by a gallery of unusual birds with thousand-yard stares.

Here's the tracklist:
1. Eros in Hiro- Pierro Picioni
2. Jungle Drums- Xavier Cugat
3. Shadow of Love and the Enchanted Reef- Les Baxter
4. Temple of Suicide- Dominic Frontiere
5. Moon Over A Ruined Castle- Arthur Lyman
6. Papagayo-Les Baxter
7. Baixa- Martin Denny
8. Two Silouettes- Michel Magne
9. Mombasa Love Song-Tak Shindo
10. The Games- Les Baxter
11. Mganga- Tak Shindo
12. The Enchanted Sea- Les Baxter
13. Beyond the Reef- Tommy Morgan
14. The Misfits- Don Costa
15. Buddhist Bells- Martin Denny
16. Tabu Tu- Arthur Lyman
17. Otome San/(Love Theme) Landa- Arthur Lyman/Les Baxter