Monday, January 29, 2007

Damn near February...

To my fellow Tapeheads,

I've been on the lookout for new releases so I should be back in action shortly.

Just a note: I've been considering the idea of turning this into an independent blog site. I'll be doing the research this week on domain names, hosting and html. In the meantime, stop back here for updates. I should have something up soon.

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Monday, January 15, 2007

To Whom It May Interest #6: Alice Coltrane (1937-2007)



To whom it may interest,

Sunday night, I heard the news that Alice Coltrane, widow of John, had died at the age of 69 from respiratory failure.

Alice Coltrane was a classically trained piano player. During John Coltrane’s exodus from convention and structure, Alice was at the keys, aiding John in his musical exploration. When he died of liver cancer in 1967 at the age of 41, Alice (then a widow at 30) continued to play with members of John’s group and went on a musical journey of her own. Having been heavily influenced by cultures in the East, most notably Hinduism, Alice incorporated these sounds into her playing and widened the jazz spectrum. Inadvertently I think she increased jazz’s relevance to society’s then-climate, the younger generations of which were turning on to enlightenment through drugs and Eastern religions. She also brought the harp into the mix, adding variety and stretching the boundaries a little more; boundaries that her husband was doing his damnedest to knock down.

Because she was such a wonderful musician and as strong a personality in jazz as she was, Alice Coltrane was never just the widow of John. She had her own voice and her own spirit. After almost 40 years, her and John are finally together. I can only hope that, wherever they are, there’s a lot of music.

Before her death, a CD was in the works that is still supposed to release this year called, Sacred Language
of Ascension. Her last release, Translinear Light was released in 2004 on Impulse! Records and was produced by eldest son, Ravi Coltrane.

In honor of Alice Coltrane, I thought I’d write a little about the only album of hers that I’m very familiar with, Journey In Satchidananda.

When I bought this record, (probably six or seven months ago as I was only just getting into the Alice catalog) I didn’t know what to expect. I have a tendency to be a little cynical when it comes to the wives or offspring of musicians, as they typically never even come close to matching the real deal. For all I knew, I was buying a Yoko record. Instead, I got a bass-heavy mix of thumping percussion, driven by the constant drone of an ultra-sharp tamboura. The verses are addressed through Pharoah Sanders’s snake charmer of a saxophone and Alice picking harp strings like an avant garde angel. It almost rocks, but it’s too mesmerizing to bring about the wild child within. It almost enacts meditation, but it’s too strong to ride out on a lucid wave of disembodied enlightenment. There’s something felt: the soul of something pure and peaceful that wants to make itself known. Knowing the climate of the time, the year being 1970, Journey In Satchidananda could be a prayer for peace sung at the volume needed to grab an ear or two. It’s an opinion, but not an implausible one.

Alice brought together two ensembles to make this record: one for the studio and another for a live recording. This was actually her fourth record for the Impulse! label, so she had been building up some stock as a leading jazz musician. Her first ensemble, both of which feature Pharoah Sanders and Rashied Ali (two associates of Coltrane’s last group), laid down the first four tracks of the five-track album at the Coltrane studio. “Journey In Satchidananda” reveals itself slowly, beginning with a first step (Cecil McBee’s distinct bass line) while its surroundings reveal themselves (Tulsi’s tamboura drone and Alice’s harp). Pharoah brings out the words. Whatever poetry this journey inspires; he speaks it through his sax while Alice sings its chorus. This dynamic is also expressed in the second track, “Shiva-Loka,” though Rashied Ali finds more of an identity this time around. For “Stopover Bombay,” Alice revisits her beloved piano and carries that over to “There’s Something About John Coltrane.”

“There’s Something About John Coltrane” is interesting in that it’s the album’s departure track. It’s more of an homage to Trane’s Classic Quartet, with whom Trane created A Love Supreme, Crescent and a slew of other amazing records. McBee, Ali and Coltrane all do their best impression of the Quartet’s smooth rhythm section while Pharoah strives to bring Trane back to life for a minute or two. The only element that keeps this track in the album’s scope is the ever-present tamboura, droning along to witness the Quartet’s rebirth.

“Isis and Osiris” introduces the second ensemble. This track was recorded live in New York City on July 4th, 1970 and features Vishnu Wood on oud and Charlie Haden (associate of Ornette Coleman) on bass. Beginning with a bit of free form chaos, “Isis and Osiris” sounds like the quaint music heard during a village celebration. The oud is like a deeper variation on the mandolin, creating an other-worldly atmosphere of joy and dance. Pharoah’s sax sings at the climax and Alice’s fingers graze the strings once more.

I figure if the journey should begin with one step, it should end with celebration. Alice Coltrane, like her husband, searched for spiritual consciousness through music. It’s possible that Trane died before he could find what he was looking for. Alice, on the other hand, may have had enough time to find it.

To Trane and Alice: Thank you for taking us on your respective journey. I’m thankful to have listened and look forward to hearing more.

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Sunday, January 07, 2007

To Whom It May Interest #5: Help, I’m A Rock Reissue



To whom it may interest,

Armed with a cup of coffee and kind of blessed with nothing better to do, I’ve been spending my evening listening to some crazy shit. It’s been one of those nights where “straight-laced” and “easy to comprehend” aren’t in my best interests. My stream of listening began last night while I was up to my eyeballs in a case of lager. I was having one of those “meaningful” conversations that you sometimes get into when you’re inebriated and John Coltrane’s Ascension seemed like the way to go. Tonight, it’s been two spins of Public Image Ltd.’s Metal Box LPs, a spin of Coltrane’s Live At the Village Vanguard (Again) and now I’m absorbing the recently released MOFO Project/Object, which should earn Gail Zappa some kind of award for humanity.

What am I talking about? Okay…

Forty years ago, the first double LP was born. This LP was called Freak Out!, which was an unusually conceived and classically orchestrated piece of rock n’ roll brilliance crafted by The Mothers Of Invention and some guy named Frank Zappa. Basically, even by today’s standards, Freak Out! is a fucked up record and its birth is still considered to be a monumental achievement. It would benefit everyone reading this to pick up a copy, if of course you haven’t already blessed your ears with it.

Anyway, aside from being a genius, Frank Zappa had a problem with control. He was notoriously barbaric when it came to rehearsals, obsessive with his work and very possessive about his music. When CD technology came into being during the 80s, Zappa took it upon himself to delve into his back catalog and remix everything he’d done up to that point. Consequently, a lot of the CD issues put out by the Rykodisc label aren’t genuine and we’re talking a lot of records.

In the movie “High Fidelity,” John Cusack’s Rob Gordon character makes reference to this by stating that the people who frequent his store are the sort that look for ”’original not rereleased’ underline Frank Zappa albums.”

Freak Out! fell victim to Zappa’s perfectionist and unnecessary revisionism. Granted, with updated technology and reworked instrumentation the newer sound is undeniably clean, but I think Zappa failed to see that the timeliness of Freak Out! was also an important factor to keep intact. The same can be said for all of records that have earned a spot in the “groundbreaking” category. Monumental records, movies, books, paintings…whatever, should all be left alone. It’s this sort of artistic maltreatment that earned George Lucas and Steven Spielberg a lot of shit from their fans, which I personally feel they deserved.

Enter Gail: Zappa’s widow and biggest fan. The MOFO Project/Object (Making Of Freak Out!) is a 2-disc reissue of producer Tom Wilson’s original 1966 mix, lovingly put out there by Gail and co-producer, Joe Travers for all us fans who might have missed out on the album’s intended sound. I was definitely one of them, having been only familiar with the Ryko release. When I heard this mix I was floored. The grit and grime of old school production adds so much more depth and dimension to the album, especially in cases like “Who Are The Brain Police?,” “Help, I’m A Rock,” and “Return Of The Son Of Monster Magnet.” The distortion and effects employed on these tracks make so much more sense now, as the murky and bass-tastic elements are thick and intense. Also, I think there were some elements, specifically in moments where sound montages wildly storm through the music, that were removed during Zappa’s remixing. Hearing this version of the album is like hearing it again for the first time. Pardon the cliché.

Freak Out! has been talked about time and time again by many critics over the years. There’s probably very little I can offer, as I don’t think I’ll be able to add any new insight to a thoroughly examined classic. I will however say that the accompanying CD, a companion piece filled with unreleased demo tracks, jams and interview snippets, is rather fascinating. This aspect of Zappa’s work is criminally underexposed, as he was not one to reveal his music in its learning stages.

There is another 4-disc version of The MOFO Project/Object available exclusively through the Zappas’ online store, Barfko-Swill. Just FYI for you hungry freaks, daddy.



It’s good that Gail recognizes the need for Zappa’s original work to resurface. The reissue, when treated respectfully, offers the listener the opportunity to hear something amazing. Public Image Ltd.’s Metal Box was reissued last July as it had been originally released in 1979 as a 3-LP set in a film canister, fit to be played and rocked. Coltrane’s Impulse! releases have all undergone digital transferring for the sake of CD release, but still carry their spirit and that unique beauty and power that he shot through his remarkable sax. Restored, but not revised. Thank you, Gail, for also knowing the difference.

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Monday, January 01, 2007

To Whom It May Interest #4: A Personal Best of 2006

To my fellow Tapeheads,

So, Letters began on May of 2006 as my own personal outlet for musical opinion. It was a way for me to either celebrate or crucify the releases of the year and discuss past albums that have made an impression on me. I must say, for the most part, I was happy with a lot of what I had purchased. Because of the money issue, and time, it was difficult to stay within a month of the release date for a lot of what I reviewed. For 2007, I’m going to try and pick up potential reviews and have them out relatively close to their respective release dates.

Anyway…this is everything I bought for 2006. The first 15 were, for me, the heavyweights. Some of these I did not review so, for the first 15, I’m including a small blurb. If anyone wants to know more about the non-reviewed CDs, please email me or comment and I’ll get back to you with some info. In the meantime, hope you enjoy the list.

Personal Best of 2006:

1). TV On The RadioReturn to Cookie Mountain
Rated 4 out of 4
Find review here.



2). The EvensGet Evens
Rated 4 out of 4
Find review here.



3). Tom WaitsOrphans
Rated 4 out of 4
Tom Waits’s much anticipated 3-disc set of unreleased and hard-to-find material is essential for fans. Highlights include “Lie To Me,” “Widow’s Grove,” a bluesy cover of the Ramones’ “The Return of Jackie and Judy” and a wonderful reading of Charles Bukowski’s “Nirvana.”

4). Johnny CashAmerican V: A Hundred Highways
Rated 4 out of 4
Cash’s last American release. Rick Rubin assembled this album from vocal tracks that Cash had committed to tape before passing away. It’s tragic that Cash didn’t live to see the album completed, but it’s a lasting testament to the faith and undying spirit the Man in Black embodied. Rubin’s treatment of the material is flawless.

5). Peeping Toms/t
Rated 4 out of 4
Find review here.



6). Thom YorkeThe Eraser
Rated 4 out of 4
Find review here.



7). OmConference of the Birds
Rated 3.75 out of 4
I wish this album had come out when I was in high school. Chris Hakius and Al Cisneros, two-thirds of the stoner metal band, Sleep, pull together a two song epic with grooves deep enough to pack more than just a typical bong load. Definitely one of the best albums I picked up this year.

8). Dub TrioNew Heavy
Rated 3.75 out of 4
Dub Trio’s inclusion into the mighty Peeping Tom record led me to New Heavy. Bad Brains riffs are met with Lee Perry dub, creating paradise in the concrete jungle. It’s kind of what Sublime was going for, but without the “party” angle. Real impressive grooves and percussion.

9). Gnarls BarkleySt. Elsewhere
Rated 3.75 out of 4
Find review here.



10). The RootsGame Theory
Rated 3.75 out of 4
Find review here.



11). Sonic YouthRather Ripped
Rated 3.75 out of 4
Find review here.



12). Eagles of Death MetalDeath By Sexy…
Rated 3.5 out of 4
Find review here.



13). Scott WalkerThe Drift
Rated 3.5 out of 4
Oh, Scott Walker, how you scare the shit out of me. Let me count the ways. One of the strongest and creepiest records of the year, Walker doesn’t fail to build atmosphere through heavy string orchestras and his own brand of eerie vocalization. It’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely worth checking out.

14). Wolfmothers/t
Rated 3.5 out of 4
Find review here.



15). SlayerChrist Illusion
Rated 3.5 out of 4
A return to the Slayer of yore, with Dave Lombardo throwing down tirelessly, Christ Illusion kicks the ass off anything nü or new that passes for metal these days. They don’t sound like they’ve aged a bit.

The remaining:

16). Bob DylanModern Times
Rated 3.5 out of 4

17). BorisPink
Rated 3.25 out of 4

18). Les ClaypoolOf Whales and Woe
Rated 3.25 out of 4

19). Miho HatoriEcdysis
Rated 3.25 out of 4

20). Frank ZappaTrance-Fusion
Rated 3.25 out of 4

21). Tom VerlaineAround and Songs And Other Things
Rated 3.25 out of 4

22). ChannelsWaiting For the Next End of the World
Rated 3 out of 4

23). HelmetMonochrome
Rated 3 out of 4

24). The M’sFuture Women
Rated 3 out of 4

25). SparklehorseDreamt For Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain
Rated 3 out of 4

26). Acid Mothers Temple and the Cosmic InfernoStarless and Bible Black Sabbath
Rated 2.75 out of 4

27). The Dresden DollsYes, Virginia
Rated 2.75 out of 4

28). The Mars VoltaAmputechture
Rated 2.5 out of 4

29). Joe LallyThere To Here
Rated 2.5 out of 4

And there you have it. Please feel free to comment and I’ll be back for 2007.

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Yorke’s second solo album?



Thom Yorke
The Eraser
XL Recordings
Released 7.11.06

Rating: 4 out of 4

My first and favorite foray into the innovative world of Radiohead is Kid A. I’ll admit that the first time I ever heard “Creep,” I was turned off to its accessibility and its complete over-abundance of boo hoo. Add to that the fact that I kept hearing “…but I’m a creep…” ringing throughout the suburban and plastic hallways of my high school and you’d find me in complete boycott mode. It wasn’t until 2000, a relatively bleak year for music, that I decided to take a shot on Radiohead. Kid A was their latest release and it made me eat my words and thoughts as it converted me into an avid appreciator. It was technically brilliant, heartfelt and it was amazing to me how much mood was built with electronic music. It was like their synthesizers had tear ducts.

When I heard Thom Yorke’s solo album, The Eraser, I immediately understood a lot of what I’d read about it: That it’s essentially the brother, stepson, distant cousin twice removed, of Kid A. Yorke seems to have pretty much built on Kid A’s foundation, staying with the familiar company of producer Nigel Godrich and followed the mellow brick road.

Having said that, I still think The Eraser is a very good album. Granted it doesn’t really expand on Kid A’s innovation, nor does it explore any new musical highways or emotional cul-de-sacs. I personally think it would be a mistake for Yorke to abandon Radiohead for a solo career. But, the record does make me wonder:

Was Kid A really a Radiohead album, or was it Yorke’s first real solo outing?

Not that it’s a particularly interesting or earth shattering question, but one does have to wonder if the avenues taken by Radiohead during Kid A’s creation weren’t due to Yorke’s seeming fascination with sad electronic music. If nothing else, The Eraser seems to serve as a return to that direction after having strayed from that course with 2003’s Hail to the Thief. I don’t think it’s completely ridiculous to state that The Eraser could be Yorke’s second solo album and that Kid A could’ve been mostly a product of Yorke’s headspace.

But, who knows? The only thing I’m sure of is that “Black Swan” is one of the most infectious songs I’ve heard all year. It’s beautifully layered guitar picks through Yorke’s reiteration that ”this is fucked up…fucked up…” and, by the song’s end, you really never know what’s fucked up. All you know is that you listen and, with glazed eyes, you agree.

Maybe The Eraser doesn’t really do anything new. What it does do though is move you emotionally much in the same way that Kid A managed. Through the light piano strokes of the album’s title track, the desperate sorrow of Yorke’s vocal inflections through the “The Clock,” and the somewhat light-hearted and muzak-inspired synth pop of “Atoms For Peace,” Yorke still pulls together a sincerity that a lot of “sad bastard” music fails to convey. And he does so with artistry and a connection to his material. If there is any doubt about how much feeling the guy can exude, just listen to “Harrowdown Hill” and tell me you don’t feel something.

Whether I think Yorke should pursue a solo career or not is probably irrelevant. What matters here is that the guy is talented and, if he wanted to, he could probably do okay on his own. But, I really don’t think he should. The benefit to being a part of a unit as daring and unique as Radiohead is that it’ll be tough to become one-note. Though I find Yorke’s possible role as Kid A’s sole parent and his definite role as The Eraser’s sole parent equally fascinating and wonderful, his abilities don’t seem to be improving or changing. He’s raising his children the same way and, after awhile, he runs risk of only sounding competent. If Kid A broke ground, The Eraser just built on top of it. Whatever comes next, may cave the entire structure.

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Buried in a Good Mixtape: All About "The President"…

It's President's Day. Have a great, but very reflective, President’s Day! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 19, 201...