Monday, November 26, 2012
ESP-Disk', 1966; available
4 tracks, 34:02
ESP-Disk', 1967; available
4 tracks, 48:24
The late great Charles Tyler was one of the underrated titans of free jazz. Having done work with everyone from Albert Ayler (on BELLS and SPIRITS REJOICE) to Rudolph Grey's Blue Humans (sadly unrecorded), he was renowned as a ferocious baritone saxman*. Curiously, he chose to play alto instead for his first two outings as a leader. CHARLES TYLER ENSEMBLE, the first of these, is also one of his most intense. For this record, Tyler assembled an impressive cast of well-known players (drummer Ronald Jackson**, drummer Charles Moffett on "orchestral vibes" for two tracks, and bassist Henry Grimes) as well as the obscure Joel Friedman on cello. Over the four tracks, Tyler and company indulge in a particularly exciting style of potent jazz. Opener "Strange Uhuru" is probably the most sedate, with Moffett's vibraphone adding an interesting touch. The intensity increases for "Lacy's Out East" (possibly a reference to Steve Lacy, but Lacy was also Tyler's middle name), "Three Spirits", and especially "Black Mysticism". Grimes and Jackson make for an impressive rhythm section, while Friedman's cello adds a unique touch of string insanity. Ayler himself was never quite this severe! It all adds up to a fine early ESP offering, highly recommended to any fan of the label or free jazz in general.
Curiously, for his second outing, Tyler took a mellower and completely different approach. Gone are the drums and the sidemen from ENSEMBLE. Instead, EASTERN MAN ALONE presents a unique quartet of Tyler, cellist David Baker, and bassists Kent Brinkley and Brent McKesson. With the change in instrumentation came the remarkable change in sound, especially apparent on opener "Cha-Lacy's Out East". Taking the basic theme of ENSEMBLE's "Lacy's Out East", Tyler and company radically rearrange it into a nearly raga-styled treasure of string interplay and sax accents. Also notable is the length of the pieces; closer "Eastern" is the shortest at 10:56, while the others are over the twelve-minute mark! "Eastern" is also the most free-form of the bunch, with every player seemingly going off on a different direction from the rest. "Man Alone" and "Le-Roi" (the latter written by Baker) follow "Cha-Lacy's Out East"'s lead, taking a modal and peaceful style of following a theme with minor improvisational elements in the middle. This might be a confusing listen after the intense ENSEMBLE, but it's every bit as accomplished and delightful. In fact, I usually play one after the other, with EASTERN MAN ALONE providing some soothing relief after ENSEMBLE's onslaught.
Tyler would continue to record until his death in 1992, but he didn't lead a group again until 1974's VOYAGE FROM JERICHO. All of his work comes highly recommended, but these two ESP albums might possibly show him at his best and most innovative; another highly original outing is 1976's SAGA OF THE OUTLAWS, an impressive one-composition epic that clocks in just ten seconds short of thirty-seven minutes.
*Tyler also founded the independent Ak-Ba label, which has been mentioned here before since it was the label that released Arthur Doyle's ALABAMA FEELING.
**Later known as Ronald Shannon Jackson, he was especially known as the drummer for the crazily powerful Last Exit, which also featured Bill Laswell, Sonny Sharrock, and Peter Brötzmann.
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
ESP-Disk', 1965; available
5 tracks, 48:10
The enigmatic Logan was long the source of mystery. He recorded two albums for ESP as a leader*, performed a bit as a sideman, and then disappeared for about forty years. He was discovered alive, well, and playing in a park in 2008, even though general opinion was that he had passed away. This album is his first ESP recording, and it's a gem! The other three players are pianist Don Pullen, bassist Eddie Gomez, and legendary free drummer Milford Graves. Logan tackles five instruments: alto and tenor saxes, bass clarinet, flute, and "Pakistani oboe". His playing style comes from a different place than Ayler's et al; there's not much spiritual or folk influence. Most of Logan's lines sound like they came from Indian, Asian, and Middle Eastern music. This is especially pronounced on the opening "Tabla Suite", the strangest composition here. Graves performs innovative improvisations on the title instrument, while Gomez and Pullen go along their own respective paths. Logan blows freely and sinuously on what I assume is the oboe, somehow following along with the others while remaining absolutely free of structure. The remaining tracks are much more in traditional free jazz territory; however, they're amazing examples of the genre. "Dance of Satan" and the lengthy "Bleecker Partita" are especially noteworthy for their catchy leads and descents into a sort of controlled improvisation that's uniquely Logan's. Highly recommended to jazz afficianadoes; anything else by Logan is worth a listen too. Logan also provides excellent sideman duties on Patty Waters' COLLEGE TOUR and Roswell Rudd's EVERYWHERE; the latter has an interesting version of "Dance of Satan".
*Actually, he recorded a third unreleased album leading a classical-influenced string-heavy ensemble. One of these days this might be released; it certainly sounds intriguing!
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Locust, 2002; available
7 tracks, 32:42
I'm back! I had to focus on schoolwork and other life events for a bit; did you miss me? Well, even if you didn't, expect updates more frequently and now on to the review!
The works of Henry Flynt aren't for the faint of heart. It should say a lot that he's probably best known by music fans for being kicked out of the Velvet Underground for daring to play Appalachian-style fiddle! Most of his recorded work is an avant-garde take on hillbilly and/or raga music, with a few rock and tape music albums as well*. As is often the case, most of these works have seen the light of day via archival releases such as this one. Collecting some experimental works from 1963 to 1971, RAGA ELECTRIC is some of the most intimidating Flynt on record. Well, for the most part anyway. Opening track "Marines Hymn" (1971) is a genuinely trance-inducing raga take on the classic military tune, performed on acoustic guitar and chanted vocals. This track is actually one of Flynt's prettiest, but it sure doesn't prepare you for the rest of the disc! The four "Central Park Transverse Vocal" pieces (1963) are exactly that: weird avant-vocalisations recorded in the titular tunnel. As crazed as they are, "Raga Electric" itself (1966) is absolutely insane! While musically it is a genuine raga performed on what seems to be multi-tracked electric guitar, Flynt's vocal performance defies most attempts at categorization. Shrieks, howls, chants, and general weirdness is the order of the day, and the resulting performance can be terrifying or laughable depending on mood. Fans of Ono and Galas could very well consider Flynt their male counterpart based on this performance. Finally, the epic-length "Free Alto" (1964) is self-explanatory. While a bit long, it does have some interesting squeals and skronks that make it worth hearing. This is a great collection with some interesting tracks, but the intense and abstract nature of the program doesn't make for everyday listening. Check out some of the albums in the footnote if you're a Flynt newbie and then pick this up; he really is an acquired taste.
*Other Flynt albums I can recommend are I DON'T WANNA, a lo-fi proto-punk gem with a full band (the Insurrections); C TUNE and PURIFIED BY THE FIRE, each of which is a forty-plus minute wonder of violin and tamboura raga; and the self-explanatory HILLBILLY TAPE MUSIC. These aren't nearly as intense as RAGA ELECTRIC and might make a better starting point.
Monday, January 30, 2012
Also referred to as simply CLUSTER; the Bureau B reissue uses this title, while the Water reissue and others use CLUSTER 71
Philips, 1971; reissued several times, most recently by Water and Bureau B; available
3 tracks, 44:29
The duo of Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius probably need no introduction. Having started out in Kluster with legendary sound sculptor Conrad Schnitzler* and equally legendary producer/audio manipulator Conny Plank, they continued on as Cluster with a C. While they would eventually explore all manner of electronic music (including albums with Brian Eno and Harmonia, a collaboration with Neu!'s Michael Rother), their debut finds them in a distinctly cosmic drone space. The tracks are titled "15:33", "7:38", and "21:17". Needless to say, this is also their respective lengths! The really neat thing is, much like Klaus Schulze's IRRLICHT, not a single synth was used on this album. Instead, Roedelius and Moebius create their fascinating bleeps and drones using organs, tone generators, Hawaiian slide guitars, cellos, found objects such as alarm clocks, and various effects pedals. Alternately forboding and relaxing, this is true space music that doesn't stay in one place for long while also not devolving into a noisy free-for-all (not that there's anything wrong with noisy free-for-alls!). These tracks were apparently improvised, but they have noticeable patterns and progressions that make for an engaing listen. Part of this is due to Conny Plank's production, which manipulates the sounds in real time. Plank was essentially the third member for this album. I personally consider this the essential Cluster purchase. Their later albums tend to be a bit different; CLUSTER II is the closest in spirit to 71, even though its use of synths makes for a notably different sound. Other albums can be anything from electro-dub to Kraftwerky synthpop. Also recommended is the previously mentioned Harmonia.
*Check back soon for a review of the three-disc box set, containing Kluster's KLOPFZEICHEN, ZWEI-OSTEREI, and ERUPTION!
Thursday, January 19, 2012
Impulse!, 2001; available
3 tracks, 63:46
While the late John Coltrane needs no introduction, this album definitely deserves a better reputation. Taking up tenor and soprano sax, Coltrane is accompanied by drummer Rashied Ali, pianist (and wife) Alice Coltrane, Bata drummer Algie DeWitt, bassist Jimmy Garrison, Pharoah Sanders on tenor sax, and a percussionist who was possibly Jumma Santos*. This show was the first of two concerts performed on April 22 of 1967 at New York's Olatunji Center. After a brief introduction by Billy Taylor, the group launches into an extended free-form version of "Ogunde". Based on an Afro-Brazilian folk tune, it's completely ferocious high-energy jazz. Coltrane and Sanders trade screeches and fluid lines, with Sanders providing most of the former. Alice and Garrison do a good job, but admittedly the rough recording quality makes a lot of their contributions inaudible. The three percussionists, on the other hand, are VERY audible throughout. The constant crash of standard kit drums and exotic percussion never lets up, and by the time "Ogunde"'s twenty-eight minutes are over, you wonder how it could possibly get more intense. A brief respite comes with Garrison's extended introductory bass solo on "My Favorite Things". This mellow rhythmic excursion is soon transformed into an extended (34:38 with the bass solo!) version of that old chestnut. Don't expect this to be ANYTHING like the "My Favorite Things" you know! This is easily one of the most intense performances caught on tape, and by the time it's over you wish the second show of the day (and the May 7th concert, Coltrane's last) had been recorded. Unfortunately, the previously mentioned audio deficiencies have cast a negative light on this album. Most listeners have complained it's bootleg quality; well, this was recorded for a radio broadcast and not for general release. I personally think the sound quality adds to this particular recording's ferocity and energy, and wholeheartedly recommend it to free jazz fans.
*Yes, the credits say "possibly". Nobody seems to remember if this percussionist was Jumma Santos or somebody else, but the odds are in Santos' favor.