Monday, May 29, 2006

Abstract Index playlist - May 24/06

This week's commentary is as much a shout out to some musicians as much as the record they've made - Ken Aldcroft, Joe Sorbara and Evan Shaw. As our dirty, dirty summer settles in, please take some time to patronize the ongoing Friday night Leftover Daylight series put together by Sorbara, Nick Fraser, Colin Fisher and Geordie Haley at the Arraymusic space or the NOW Lounge series every Sunday, presented by the Association of Improvising Musicians of Toronto, put together by Aldcroft. Shaw doesn't run a series, but is another fine improviser who plays with St. Dirt Elementary School, among others. Sorbara and Aldcroft have worked for years to raise the profile of improvisers in this city, raising awareness, putting on events and somehow putting out records. Is it working? I hope so. Although various AIMT members certainly play in more jazz-oriented groups which are part of the 'jazz industry' in Canada (Jazz FM 91, Cool TV), non-idiomatic improv is never a life of luxury. I wonder whether the formalization of the jazz industry does more harm than good for free improvising. While jazz-centric media is an outlet for aspiring singers and players in the tradition, those who stretch the tradition still find themselves on the outside. A case can also be made that at this point, non-idiomatic improvising has more links with indie-noise than jazz. Nevertheless, this music doesn't seem to be an attractive proposition to that crowd either, judging by all too many reactions on the Toronto section of Stillepost indicating reluctance to attend free improv shows cause the crowds aren't there, and most audience members are - gasp! - older. Once again, the term indie CULTURE is too generous to describe the otherwise healthy indie rock SCENE.

So, facing the indifference of indie rock and jazz audiences, what level of success should free improvisers aspire to? I think it's the same level as any other career-oriented musician (as opposed to hobbyists): to keep working, to have the opportunity to develop their craft and hopefully make a living at what they're doing. But this kind of success requires worldwide recognition - few cities have the population to support these conditions for musicians at the margins. It's an endless race to pursue grants and make headway through international media to get gigs together. Which brings us back to this post - at least there are "healthy choices" for live events of this type in Toronto. Go check out these talented players whenever you see them listed!

Then again, maybe "Redemption Song" is the kind of breakout hit that Jazz FM is looking for...

(Thanks to Joe Sorbara for updating me on the current organization of the weekly series)

not your frequency - omar sosa/mulatos (ota)
canção de nora (casa de bonecas) - tom ze (nonesuch)
sound on sound for roscoe mitchell - sonu (nine winds)
redemption song - ken aldcroft/joe sorbara/evan shaw (oval window)
the candle and the moth - sussan deyhim (crammed)
the lightning men - keiji haino/andy haas (avant)
tender warriors - charles lloyd (ecm)
for bic - pierre-yves martel (ambiences magnetiques)
black liquor - sao paolo underground (aesthetics)
stop that brain - dub guerilla (enja)
memories - noel ellis (light in the attic)
in the forrest - warsaw village band (jaro)
ida y vuelta - lache cercel (jericho beach)
do your thing - marion gaines singers (soul jazz)
africans must unite - geraldo pino (retroafric)
let me do my thing - los dinamicos exciters feat. ralph weeks (soundway)
instrumental 1 - arthur russell (audika)
a song to heal - jean binta breeze (lkj)
identity roots - peculiar I (indie)
heard it on the news - ex-centric sound system feat. doniki (EXS)
old school dub style - dubstylist (
african wake - johnnie osborne (light in the attic)

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Hot Dub Action

Next Wednesday, I'm going to transform CIUT into a live dub zone one more time. The multi-effects unit will get a good workout, although it's a pity there haven't been any reel-to-reel decks in the studio for many years.... This will be my first dub show of the year, all the better now that Toronto has kicked off its first heat wave of the year.

There's a showcase of three GTA nu dub talents on June 2 at Lee's Palace: Eccodek, Dubmatix and a new band called Dubstylist. DJing is my CIUT compadre, Medicineman. Dubmatix will be joining me towards the end of the show on Wedneday to talk about the gig.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Abstract Index playlist - May 17/06

Moving to the very foundation of reggae this week with Blood and Fire's double disc set of 22 new versions of the "Fisherman" rhythm, originally recorded by the Congos on their definitive Heart of the Congos disc of 1978. This disc is often cited as Lee Scratch Perry's best work, and "Row Fisherman Row" was the album's opener. Although it's a powerful, chugging rhythm with typically diffuse psychedelic production, it never struck me as particularly versionable. Although Jamaican rhythms are malleable by definition, this whole album just seems unique, kind of untouchable. Until this collection, only Perry's dub (included on Heart of the Congos) took another pass at the original. The beauty of Blood and Fire's previous one-rhythm project, Tree Of Satta, was how each vocalist teased different images out of the spiritual theme, and found unique ways to play off the foundation. This new set is divided between veterans and newer talent. Disc One is all old school, from U Roy, Max Romeo and Big Youth to a surprisingly spry Prince Jazzbo. Disc Two is more interesting with Luciano and Lutan Fyah leading fresher and more nimble variations on the original. One of the best overall cuts is "Jig Jig Jig" by Early One, who is actually a fisherman by trade - check out the liner notes. German dub masters Rhythm and Sound edit it down to a fluid mix, with a few subtle dub twists of their own.

One of the strangest versions on the collection is "Spot and Beat the Bank" by Gregory Isaacs. The Cool Ruler possessed one of my favourite voices of all time, his thin, nasal, ultra-laid back delivery with a whiff of old man, even as an up and comer. No Jamaican Idol in looks or vocal range, perhaps, but one listen to Live At The Academy Brixton (1982) and you'll hear that he had the ladeez in the palm of his hand. In fact, the audience does more singing on that album than he does: he'll sing the opening line of a tune, the crowd goes nuts, and he spends the remainder of the show pointing the mic at the crowd, going "ooooh lawwwwwwwd" every so often. Great stuff! Unfortunately, he's had a predeliction for cocaine related products since around that time, and his voice has been ravaged. His voice was already less supple by the time "Rumours" hit in 1988, and has only gotten phlegmier (is that a word? cause that's what it is... surely not 'more phlegmatic') since then. By the new century, he could barely articulate anything at all, he always sounded like he forgot to put his dentures in.

The version of Fisherman that Isaacs has produced sounds a little more sprightly than the last few years. He seems pretty chipper during his 2005 performance on the DVD available from the Montreal International Reggae Festival. His voice has a little more power to it, though it still sounds like his lungs threaten to swallow up his larynx with every word. One thing he's never lost is his phrasing, and that what makes "Spot and Beat the Bank" so interesting. It's just a series of vocal inflections - the words hardly matter, it's just how he leans into the vocal performance that makes it distinctive. His voice is an even more bizarre vintage than ever; he should either be singing jazz standards or start working out some rootical versions of Nine Inch Nails tunes with Rick Rubin.

let him come in - howard lemon singers (soul jazz)
soy campesino - ska cubano (cumbancha)
flor d'agua - think of one (crammed)
kolangoman - les ambassadeurs internationales (rounder)
orden = desorden - maneja beto (indie)
vintule bataia ta - romina puceanu & gore brothers (ashphalt tango)
a.j. - lubo alexandrov (justin time)
for velasquez - william hooker/jason hwang (knitting factory)
machine gun - radio i ching (indie)
inuit talk - john stecth (justin time)
it's maybe late for you (meteosound)
our mute horn - masters at work feat ray vega (cutting)
misut irti - uusitalo (huume)
senegal/brasil - cheikh lo (nonesuch)
water for life - the mothers rmx by charlie may/peter rayburn (mr. bongo)
fast and slow song - da linck (mind/nocturne)
on dub street - dub guerilla (enja)
enjoy your blessings - al pancho (blood and fire)
funky n.a.s.a. - mossman (bass ma boom)
akademikus du - roots tonic (ROIR)
round the dub - bush chemists (ROIR)
reggae music dub - barrington levy (auralux)
weeping - junior byles (heartbeat)

Friday, May 19, 2006

Abstract Index playlist - May 10/06

France and Germany are massive for reggae and dub. It's been a long time since the UK was the sole source for good reggae in Europe. Though I'm keen to do more research into this, it appears that in France and Germany, venues exist, records sell in significant numbers and artists can work fairly often. I've been wanting to write something more substantial about specifically the dub scene in France, where the Jarring Effects label puts out interesting nu-dub discs on the regular. Germany is the home to ace reissue label Moll-Selekta, and nu-dub label Collision Cause of Chapter 3, whose biggest name release was by Ari Up of the Slits, but have also put out records by Keith Leblanc (Sugarhill Gang, Tackhead), Dubblestandart (touring Canada in July)and the venerable Dub Syndicate.

Enja records will never be confused with a dub label, but what started as a jazz label with overtures to fusion (in the highly skilled yet antiseptic sense of the term) has been pushing outwards with new projects. It first struck me with their release of Josh Roseman's Treats For the Nightwalkers, alternately the most brilliant realization of M Base or the worst fuzak this side of Sting. They are also the home of oud conceptualist Rabih Abou Khalil. Two new records push the label further into the world, the Norwegian/Malagasy/Morrocangumbo of Michy Mano, and one by Dub Guerilla, aka Tom Bennecke. This is a trombone album, sometimes 3 deep, with solos and ingenious charts riding rhythms which run from Twilight Circus to Thievery Corporation. Its jazz pedigree is on display with covers of Grant Green and Gunter Hampel. Bennecke is the guitarist, rhythmatist and producer. He comes up with an easy going, smoky production which lulls like Acid Jazz but also impresses with memorable bass lines and inventive orchestrations. There are some Don Drummond poses throughout, but the trombones reference the entire sonic arsenal of this versatile instrument from J.J. Johnson's silky, rapid fire precision, to Eddie Palmieri's punchy La Perfecta, to Roswell Rudd's guttural growls and sound effects. The 'bonists themselves are impressive, and aren't left alone, often they are swathed with effects, elsewhere they sound more like keyboard patches than brass. This is reggae that could never be mistaken for Jamaican, but it's a very solid disc and would work well in a bistro, pub or on a dancefloor, proving once again that interesting extrapolations of reggae music are happening all over the world.

And check this out for another front line of reggae - and it's another German label...

coleman lantern - ken aldcroft/evan shaw/joe sorbara (oval window)
mallard call in the cane fields - matt steckler (innova)
hetrogenous substances - thomas stronen (rune gramofon)
sangam - charles lloyd (ecm)
safe self tester - loka (ninja tune)
maracatu misterioso - think of one (crammed)
habla peru -gaia (jajou)
moza mala - arturo zambo cavero/oscar aviles (iempsa)
pepe bougier - nyboma & kamale dynamique (joe bataan (fania)
dust - raquy and the cavemen (indie)
lulin dance - lubo alexandrov (justin time)
bitchslap - degenerate art ensemble (tellous)
sunny - roy nathanson (aum fidelity)
infiltration - dub guerilla (enja)
elaine the osaka dancer - pan africanist (ariwa)
instrument of the trinity - roots tonic (roir)
uptown rockers - dubmatix (soul stepper)
jig jig jig - early one (blood and fire)
lions den - twilight crew (M)
wicked a go feel it - al campbell (trojan)
running star - barry brown (easy star)
heights of paranoia - dubblestandart (collision cause of chapter 3)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Interview tonight

A quick note to tell you about an interview on the Abstract Index radio show tonight (see link at right). At 7:05 Pm Eastern Time, I will be speaking with Raquy, who will be playing the Lula Lounge in Toronto later that night.

Raquy is an exciting musician, who plays dumbek and kemenche (an Iranian fiddle). Her music with the Cavemen, co-led with her husband Liron Peled, is a hard rocking fusion of classical beat cycles of the Middle East with guitars, drum kit and woodwinds.

Tune in tonight at 7PM, or catch the whole show starting at 6, as usual.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Abstract Index playlist - April 26/06

I'm tempted to apologize for my absence, but I think posts which apologize for the blogger's absence are rivalled only by posts which use the term "blogosphere". It's early May in Toronto, people, time for us Canadians to reacquaint ourselves with our neighbours, not spend quite so much time in front of the computer.

As for the radio show, one disc which has been in heavy rotation has been the delightful "Ok Oyot System" by Extra Golden. It's a collaboration between two DC based musicians who play in a band called Golden and two Kenyan musicians hailing from Orchestra Extra Solar Africa, who are an distant offshoot of one of the great Kenyan Benga bands of all time, Shirati Jazz. This is the kind of collaboration we're going to see more of in the future: Ian Eagleson went to Kenya to do a doctoral thesis on Benga, his friend Alex Minoff eventually joined him and the recordings came together pretty spontaneously with singer and instrumentalist Otieno Jagwasi playing a catalytic role. Spontaneous recordings are easier and easier to do in Africa - or anywhere - when using the mixing board plugged into the laptop set up which is glimpsed in the CD booklet. With regards to recording in Africa, this is important for several reasons, the most important of which is that computers run on batteries, so regular, uninterrupted power of consistent voltage is no longer a factor - that's huge, so long as you can recharge the batteries somewhere at some point. Another advantage is not having to deal with the politics, expenses, idiosyncratic equipment and engineers in a costly studio. Thirdly, the possibilities for artists to have greater control over the entire musical process is greatly enhanced with the capabilities of hard disk recording*.

Musically, the best tracks on this disc state the obvious for me, which is that there is common ground between guitar bands the world over. It's an eternal mystery to me why soukous, benga, and the mbaquanga of the 70s, which have as many as 4 guitars rockin' full bore over a conventional bass and drums rhythm section have not made more inroads into rock (which it once did, check out this not-completely-uninformed but kind of obnoxious review by the Dean Of American Rock Critics). John Peel was all over this stuff - there's a great passage in his bio about his wife organizing a surprise party for him featuring Zimbabwe's Four Brothers, who went on to record a scorching 'Peel Sessions' set for him. (He was also a Stella Chiweshe fan, see below). The US musicians totally understand the rhythmic drive of classic Benga, and interface seamlessly with the Kenyan musicians. The Americans bring guitar tones which evoke the classic tremoloed sounds of the 60s African guitars, but also distortion and phasing effects which are unusual and wonderful in this context. Also, the song structures are extended and constantly changing - definitely more rock oriented than Benga, but again, sympathetic all around. But, oh,the groove - everything is on the one. Drummer Onyango Wuod Omari plays nothing but kick, snare and hihat, and swings super-hard - it's impossible not to move to this.

I like the lyrics too, Eagleson and Minoff have a real grasp on the storytelling concepts and use of parables that so often characterize African methods of relating ideas and illustrating the hardships of life. They don't hide behind the music and let "some African guy" put a face on their words and music, they're right up front too with their frequently nerdy vocals. Good for them. Not everything works on this album, but many songs are sublime. It's a natural fit for everyone involved, no one is in a comfort zone, rather, there's a marvellous interchange of ideas all around.

*this is one of the least talked about aspects of the Congotronics series, that the artists helped mix the record, I can't think of too many examples where African artists have had a say in this process, much less artists who had never been in a recording studio before. Apparently, Congotronics 3, which will be released later this year, will be mixed entirely in Kinshasa.

the inflated tear - roy nathanson (aum fidelity)
flashback - fred anderson (delmark)
string over skin - hanuman sextet (rcrcd)
track 5 - sao paolo underground (aesthetics)
wine cave - sussan deyhim (crammed)
fantasia for clarinet - kocani orkestar (crammed)
chachimurenga - stella chiweshe (piranha)
peace pipe - b.t. express (soul jazz)
ricochet - outernational (indie)
osama rach - extra golden (thrill jockey)
book of right on - nomo (ubiquity)
my opinion - pato banton (ariwa)
moving sand - dub guerilla (enja)
nasha ljubov - amsterdam klezmer band (essay)
return from planet elrica - dubble standart rmx. by superlisteners (collision cause of chapter 3)
livity - ex-centric sound system feat richie bless (EXS)
promise dub - resinators (indie)
north of the sun - jackie mittoo (blood and fire)