Saturday, December 30, 2006

Peak Experiences Of 2006

I didn’t end up making too many lists this year. Some writers describe the process of ranking music to be the most difficult soul-searching they do all year. For me, writing reviews in the first place is far more difficult than ranking music. Nonetheless, it's no pleasure. A few years ago I resigned myself to the “personal preference” perspective on list making. If there’s one thing the Internet teaches any quasi-pro writer; it’s that you can never listen to enough music, and any sense one might have of absolute authority is sadly mistaken.

This year I’ll go deeper into the pool of subjectivity and relate my most listened-to discs of 2006. Lots of reissues to be sure, but they were all new to me... Next year, as full length albums continue to lose their pre-eminent music media status, this may all collapse into a pile of “tracks I heard, shows I enjoyed, YouTube clips that rocked my world and albums that generally held up from start to finish”.

I’ve linked the reviews and blog posts I wrote about each.

15. Burnt Friedman/Jaki Liebezeit - Secret Rhythms 2 (Nonplace)

I’m glad this one stayed at the top of the pile for an extended period, new elements kept cropping up with every spin. The surface calm only underscored the secret rhythms underneath. Can someone please give David Sylvian a hug?

14. Drumheller - Wives (Rat Drifting)

Better in every way from their first disc. All members of this Rat Drifting postdixiemodern jazz 'supergroup' have written better tunes, played with more unity and made even stranger sounds while swinging strongly. This is one disc that seems to mix well with many other styles on the radio show.

13. Selda (Finders Keepers)

An unbelievably ambitious and accomplished album from 1976. It's Joan Baez and Fleetwood Mac facing off against Black Sabbath and Bruce Haack. The lyrics are darker than the Goth-est musings in the margins of a high school math textbook, her powerful voice delivers in a muezzin-like fashion. She was jailed not too long afterwards for expressing such sentiments...

12. Feuermusik - Goodbye Lucille (Independent)

Sax and buckets like you've never heard sax and buckets before. I was even more impressed by this disc when drummer Gus Weinkauf told me saxman Jeremy Strachan had never performed as a leader (on sax) nor did they have a clear idea of a band sound prior to the recording session. Astonishing results which just got better with each listen.

11. Boom Pam (Essay)

I skipped past the stupid vocal tracks every time, but this album battled it out with the Green Arrows and Extra Golden for Duelling Guitar and Rhythm Section Configuration of The Year. Extra points for making me want to break out a wetsuit and attempt to surf Lake Ontario during October.

10. Mustafa Ozkent - Genclick Ile Elele (Finders Keepers)

This was the most fun Turkish reissue of the year – nothing but funky studio tomfoolery. Played it to death over the 'phones. Lots of breaks to be found on this one.

9. Ali Farka Toure - Savane (Nonesuch)

Metacritic is right. In your face, Tom Waits.

8. Charles Lloyd - Sangam (ECM)

ECM has defied expectations of late by releasing albums which could be described as hot-blooded. Anyone who happened upon the duelling drums of Zakir Hussain and Eric Harland would have to agree.

7. The Green Arrows - Four Track Recording Session (Analog Africa)

Circular guitar pop from Rhodesia, 1970s style. There’s a revolutionary (punk??) edge to this and Analog Africa’s other reissue, the Hallelujah Chicken Run Band, which I thought given the universally accessible twin guitars/bass/drums lineup should have turned more heads. That is, the heads of Gang of Four fans.

6. Zemog El Gallo Bueno - Cama De La Conga (Aagoo)

The second effort from Zemog contained some of the most complex horn arrangements of the year. The art school salsa of this record flew in the face of reggaeton offshoots which were the focus of most of the media's attention to Latin sounds. But hey, it was a good year for the Latin diaspora.

5. Sally Nyolo and the Original Bands of Yaounde - Studio Cameroon (Riverboat)

I’m still captivated by this disc which came out in November. It's yet another wildcard which seems to mix well with pretty much any musical style on the radio show, which is even more impressive considering how rootsy it is. Nonetheless, for such a down-home release showcasing the locals in Yaounde, Cameroon, this disc sounds awfully sophisticated in its elegant execution of songwriting and production ideas. One more example of the power of mobile recording equipment to capture a vibe on location which might otherwise have been elusive in the studio.

4. J Dilla - Donuts (Stones Throw)

My hip hop days are long past, but this disc awoke the sample doctor deep within my soul. The immaculate flow of this album kept me listening to the entire oeuvre from its joyous start to its profoundly sad finish. This was the most emotionally affecting disc I heard in ‘06. RIP.

3. Tom Moulton - A Tom Moulton Mix (Soul Jazz)

Pretty much the ultimate summertime compilation. Disco continues to be critically re-examined(here’s to you, Arthur Russell) and Moulton was the man with the master plan. No wait, those were the Kay Gees. In any case, this was as good a disco collection as will ever be released - but with the added bonus of containing the liner notes of the year which link technology, social change, economics and artistic experimentation as key elements in the success of the Moulton phenomenon of "remixing".

2. NOMO - New Tones (Ubiquity)

It came down to this and Ali Farka Toure for my ‘best’ album of the year. New Tones goes far beyond Afrobeat a la Fela into a sound which evokes all points on the compass at onece There is some radical production on this disc which further amplified the hybrid, itchy grooves. Bonus points: Nicole Mitchell!!

1. Edip Akbayram (Shadoks)

As you can probably tell, too many hours were spent rocking out to Turkish sounds of the seventies this year. Not only did Akbaryam’s Anadolu funk-rock blow my head, but it was the disc I proselytized about the most all year long. Everyone I played it for dug it intensely as well. Of all the Turkish psych reissues this year, this one rocked the hardest. This may be one of my picks on that hypothetical desert island, cause I know it can stand repeat play...

And now, on to 2007.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Abstract Index playlist - December 20/06

So much of what I wrote in 2006 was about the equation of music from around the world which is considered to be "world music" and music from around the world which was "just good, y'know, not like that worldbeat crap". I'm always trying to look at the boundary line, if any between the two distinctions. When a CD claims "this is from a time before worldbeat" as these two volumes in the African Pearls series (see Tim Perlich's write up a few weeks ago), it's just a code for saying "this is fusion music that no one makes a big deal about". Both discs (of 4 available in this series so far) come from the vast archives of West African maverick producer Ibrahim Sylla who has been chasing down popular sounds for more than 35 years. Since I don't have full copies of either of these discs, I can't quite tell you how these tracks came to be released on this collection. Nevertheless, these are both wide ranging discs spanning the 50s to the 80s. There is an emphasis on folk material revived by state-encouraged initiatives, and later tracks become poppier. Unsurprisingly, the later material also has better sound quality (tho' I'll always love oversaturated 60's Fender bass in all its manifestations), and incorporates more international influences.

Both tracks that I spun during this show were very worldbeat-y. Xalam was one of the new generation of Senegalese bands, like Etoile de Dakar with Youssou N'dour, who took the reins from heavier more rumba oriented bands like Orchestra Baobab at the turn of the 80s. Check the sound system for the jazzy, Afrobeat inflected groove that is Ade. As for "Tam Tam Sax" by Momo Wandel, the song title itself is self explanatory, with a bit of a Manu Dibango-like growl to the sax and some very slippery rhythms. It would fit right in with the Chicago sound of someone like Kahil El Zabar.
Anyways, in my book, the 'world music' tag is always going to apply to something which is unfamiliar to you. Moreover, there are many for whom the pursuit of unfamiliarity in all forms of musical expression is the highest form of musical engagement - this is the 'world music' audience, an audience which is increasingly diverse and decentralized (this year I've often said the same about the audience for improvised music). On the production front, there are more artists than ever which successfully and consciously (or at least humourously) fuse different sonics and rhythms, building on the explosion of scholarship and availabity of music from around the world to avoid creating the half-baked worldbeat of years past. The African Pearls series is an excellent entry point into one of the great hybridized musical regions of the world.

you've changed - the reveries (rat drifting)
kalimba lua cheia - egberto gismonti (ecm)
entre lagos e montanhas - qiu xia he/silk road music (silk road)
glades the veil - detention (arrival)
clearance - free work band (independent)
love bones - lonnie smith (blue note)
haka blues - otto donner element (ricky tick)
ade - xalam (syllart)
siete tazes de cafe - irakere (escondida)
doppelspiel - feuermusik (independent)
efrooh bwadina - hossam ramzy (arc)
muerive yo diva - tumba francesca (soul jazz)
tam tam sax - momo wandel (syllart)
how could I live - dennis brown (vp)
taxi connection - sly and robbie (heartbeat)
king of kings - fantan mojah (greensleeves)
lessons of life - luciano (shanachie)
the winner - alton ellis (heartbeat)

Ultimate JB Video Links

Thanks to Soul Sides for pointing me in the direction of WFMU's JB videoclip list. An amazing cross-section of material.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

JB - Extended Play

After a day of reflection on the theatrically timed Christmas Day death of James Brown, I'm mulling over thoughts of personal and musical reflection.

I'm one of the legions of white boys who was blown away by the kinetic energy of James Brown. The common wisdom was that JB was the archetypal representation of the Afro-American Other - the flawlessly funky ideal that no Caucasian could hope to achieve or even understand. But the more I investigated JB - and this has been a 20 year plus affair - the more I appreciated his music and significance on many levels. Of course, he's still the Other - but he was the Other for everyone. No one, black, white, "red or yella" (as he would say), could get into the same league of pure energy as Mr. Brown - everyone could only observe. He was unique. A right bastard, to be sure, but simply possessed of unquenchable, singular drive which drove him to the highest heights in the first twenty years of his career and to paranoid and self-destructive patterns (though always making steady cash) in his later years.

Coming from a bizarre, crime riddled background (Richard Pryor's story is not dissimilar) JB's force of will led him to learn several instruments and communicate the musical ideas in his head and his hips. Especially the latter - anyone who's ever seen him live knows that the changes in the music come from dance moves and hand gestures - what might be a 32 bar solo for Maceo could end or extend at any time depending on the mood. Although there are plenty of fantastic retro funk bands today that have the JB sound down pat, the music and not the dancing comes first, giving the overall effect a different feel.

JB influenced me as a writer (of music), an arranger, and as a producer. The funk factor is obvious, but I always respected the flow of his live performances and tried to at least structure the sets of my gigs to have a deliberate flow of energy, from way up to down low and back again. And he was more than just funk; he always devoted considerable time to blues, gospel, jazz, and even country throughout his career. It was those "other" influences that made the main funky canon so rich. He was incorporating, never imitating, music. For me, this was a very important lesson: to get a better sense of the nuances of soul music I had to go beyond retrospective musical lessons and try to understand the comparative musical, social and economic conditions that gave rise to soul. These are questions I ask of all music I come across - and they're big questions when one writes about improvised music and music from around the world as frequently as I do.

As for JB's other legacies, here are a few points:

-Despite being renowned as Afro-American music's rhythmic vanguard, he was a fierce integrationist in his bands and in his outlook. His relationships with Ben Bart and Syd Nathan through King Records, were, as with all his business relationships, sensational, but he spoke of them with great admiration and as mentors to his business aspirations. He pointedly brought Tim Drummond to tour Vietnam with him in 1968, even at the height of "I'm Black And I'm Proud"'s influence, to demonstrate racial unity to the troops. (Incidentally, he believed "America Is My Home" to be of greater personal importance to him than "Black and Proud"). He also fiercely identified himself as a Southerner, and felt great kinship with fellow Southerners such as Elvis while trying to break down centuries of discrimination by integrating his shows. A former co-worker of mine recalls the first integreated show he witnessed was JB In Nashville in 1968.

-Nevertheless, he was an inspirational figure to Black Americans and Africans around the world. He put his picture on all his records. He didn't just drive a fancy car: he had a Lear jet as a symbol of his success. He prevented riots in Boston after the assasination of Martin Luther King. He knew he was ghetto, never hid it, but worked tirelessly from educational, anti-drug and social causes, and preached unity. Didn't always practice what he preached, but for his most influential decades, he celebrated himself as an icon of bootstrap success; an example of his belief in the power of Black American capitalism.

-His combination of non-stop touring, spontaneous recording sessions and ownership of radio stations was a brilliant promotional strategy which suited his energies. He could work out an idea on stage, record it in the empty hall after the show or in some local studio, then release a single every two months which his radio stations would air. If he hadn't owned the stations (indeed if he hadn't broken his record company's back twice, first over the recording and release of Live At The Apollo, then over greater creative control which allowed him to release music so quickly) he never would have been able to document himself in public in this fashion. It's a different media world now, but I often wonder whether it's possible or advisable for other contemporary entertainers to seek control over the distribution of their music. Most super-wealthy entertainers, black or white, seem to be content with merchandising themselves rather than controlling the means of distribution.

I could go on, and I may well at some point soon, but for all the drug-addled ranting, physical and psychological damage inflicted on those closest to him over the years, the ability of James Brown to sustain a creative peak for 15 years, and match it with business practices which suited his unrelenting energies, were a tremendous inspiration to all who paid attention. He legacy is far more than that of the funky Other. And with his death, maybe these aspects of his life will be re-examined.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Fade Me On Out, I'm Gone

Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Christmas maybe a little less bright this year due to the death of one of the most influential entertainment figures (and much more) of the last 50 years, Mr. Please Please, James Brown. As readers of this blog know, he's my all time biggest musical influence.

I hope that there will be a long-overdue reappraisal of his career in mainstream media - there have been a few long-form pieces of late. The tumultuous last twenty years of his personal life have all but obscured his enormous contributions to dance music, and to his transformative effect on the career possibilities open to Afro-American musicians. I hope to write more about this in the near future.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Feuering Up The Airwaves

Tomorrow on the Abstract Index, please tune in at 7PM for a chat with Gus Weinkauf (and possibly Jeremy Strachan if the air travel gods cooperate) of Feuermusik.

Their "Goodbye Lucille" has been one of the year's most interesting discs, and they're playing the Tranzac club on Dec 21 with Sandbox and Jeff McMurrich.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Abstract Index playlist - December 13/06

So the tail has wagged the dog. I thought about what I was going to write about in this blog post before deciding what music I was going to bring with me last Wednesday. This is the first time I've ever been nudged in a musical direction from blog activities and I'm sure far from the last.

A couple of weeks ago, Zoilus posted about a "significant records in jazz from 1973-1989" list put together by Ethan Iverson of the Bad Plus and Dave Douglas. It's a great list, loaded with freedom sounds, freaky fusion, decent global representation and select mainstream and major label offerings. Since it's a list, you just gotta bitch about it. My beef is the complete absence of Latin Jazz (and not much jazz funk either). The notable exception is the long underrated Leonard Cohen of Latin skronk, Kip Hanrahan.

I won't get all huffy about it - as I said, the list is packed with great records. But Latin Jazz did seem to be a notable absence, especially when compiled by two groove-friendly types such as Douglas and Iverson. There is still a certain amount of selective memory when it comes to what popular forms have been reclaimed by the majority of jazz bloggers (Miles & Herbie-type fusion, Strata-East, even a certain amount of CTI) and which haven't (Latin jazz and jazz funk a la Roy Ayers - represented mostly in soul and funk blogs, not 'serious' jazz blogs). Fortunately, it's not too difficult to find good Latin jazz coverage online, and for music and detailed interviews, is always your first stop.

I sprinkled a few titles onto the wiki list (Eddie Palmieri, Tito Puente and the Latin Jazz Percussion Jazz Ensemble and two by Jerry Gonzalez) , but that eventually led me to choose between Libre's "Con Salsa... Con Ritmo" (deeeeply soulful and Afro-Cuban, great version of Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee") Bobby Vince Paunetto 's "Commit to Memory" as one that I wanted to play at some point during the show.

The strength of Paunetto's disc is in the arrangements, which bring a George Russell ezz-thetic to the grooves. You're never sure where the melodies and harmonies are going, but everyone's locked in tight. One secret weapon is Ronnie Cuber, an essential part of Eddie Palmieri's band in the first part of the 70s, on baritone sax and flute. He peels off some energetic and challenging solos as the Rhodes floats around the changes, which as you can see, are reflected in the cosmic over art. Kenny Dope comped "Good Bucks" from this disc a couple of years ago, so you know this disc isn't off the radar.

This blog has a nice little entry about Paunetto, and also goes deep into the Latin jazz funk groove nexus. I'll add this site to the permanent collection.

gilbert was vague - mark trayle/vinnie golia (9 winds)
altain magataal - m. altangerel (no label) this is a great thread about Mongolian throat singing.
seven quarters - conjoint (buro)
untitled 4 - chateau flight (versatile)
indian stomp - cyrus (tectonic)
birds on parade - no luck club (no label)
high over sand - carsick (drip audio)
beto - ali farka toure (nonesuch)
kizildere -selda (b-music)
bunalim - bunalim (shadoks)
pantera - som imaginario (rev-ola)
an example of what I meant - mike hansen (etude)
chrysalis - lori freedman (ambiances magnetiques)
warriors - don pullen (blue note)
spanish maiden - bobby vince paunetto (rsvp)
jin ma jin ma - orchestra baobab (oriki)
la vie - sally nyolo/orchestre d'essonso (blood and fire)
road to axum - roots tonic (ROIR)
creator - john clarke (wackies)
have the strength - admiral tibet/twilight circus (M)
scientists thunder dub - roots radics (roots)
dub-bing - echo (

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Abstract Index playlist - December 6/06

Several dozen albums into the career in his Twilight Circus moniker, Ryan Moore has hit a new height in his oeuvre.
The first 5 years of TC saw Moore perfect his lysergic roots approach, perverting the Roland Space Echo like no one else could. Since then he's mostly toned down the psychedelia in order to focus on more straightforward vocal tracks. Over the course of some half dozen albums, Moore is improving in this aspect of music production. Rasta International is my favourite Twilight Circus vocal selection to date.
For an artist like this - or any of the past and present masters of dub - one has to appreciate the process behind the music. As with Tubby and Bunny Lee, a band cuts a rhythm in the studio, which spawns a principal vocal cut and various instrumental, DJ or dub cuts to wring everything out of the initial ingredients. Rasta International is one version of the rhythms Moore is currently working with. This recent crop features his usual inimitable skills on all manner of instruments. He's joined by reggae session legends Sly Dunbar, Daryl Thompson, Wally Badarou, Ansel Collins, Chinna Smith and many more. If the first three names bring Black Uhuru to mind, that goes a long way in describing the sound of many of the tracks here (and on the accompanying Michael Rose disc Warrior, even better than his last one), although in TC hands these rhythms are fuller and dirtier than their early 80s inspirations.
Moore's achieved a perfect balance of hot and heavy dub which balances well with the impassioned vocals. He gets the most out of vocalists (Lutan Fyah, Luciano etc.) who seem eager to ride these rhythms. Moore manages to conjure up all manner of reggae production styles of the last 30 years, but retains a trademark sound which sets him apart from his influences and his contemporaries. Rasta International is more than just the latest stop on the dub train for Moore, it's a fully realized document in its own right.
turku - erkin koray (world psychedelia)
pungi - dhoad gypsies of rajahstan (arc)
blue sparks from her and the scent of lightning - chicago underground duo (thrill jockey)
invisible dancer - jerry leake (rhombus publishing)
jurubeba - jorge ben & gilberto gil (verve)
sana menga - atongo zimba (hippo)
saf mana dem - orchestra baobab (oriki)
a part of being with you - the professionals (numero)
turn back the hands of time - lionel hampton (brunswick)
mr. bass man - the fatback band (westbound)
soy todo - los van van (escondida)
"the bass player's tune" - new cuban generation (independent)
do i worry - derrick harriott (heartbeat)
i worry - scotty (heartbeat)
how can i go on - larry marshall (heartbeat)
am i the same girl? - charmaine burnette (compost)
empress (instrumental) - rob symeonn (redbud)
a little bit more - michael rose (m)
we can make it work - lutan fyah/twilight circus (m)
man of sorrow - majek fashek (coral)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Van Van In Toronto

Tomorrow's guests on the radio version of the Abstract Index will be Billy Bryans and Glenda DelMonte. Both will be talking about the upcoming performance of the legendary Los Van Van in Toronto on December 9. It's at Kool Haus, which accomodates over 2000 dancers... the ole' college radio "stand at the back with arms crossed" stance is not an option.

One of Billy's promotional strategies for this show has been to set up a website - - to spread the word far beyond the limits of the GTA. Some of Billy's best posts have championed a greater understanding of web marketing to aggregate an an audience, so this represents the philosophy in action. Until a certain Cuban leader dies, it's unlikely this band will be playing the USA, so the website and Billy's blog represent a cost effective way to reach the large but dispersed market for Cuban Timba in the Northeast.

Billy will talk about the show, about Timba, and anything else that comes to mind - last time he was on the Index it was a wide ranging conversation. I just found out that Glenda will be joining us, and I hope to learn more about the incredible forment of Cuban and Pan Latino (steel pan? who knows?) musical talent in Toronto these days.