Thursday, January 28, 2010

Late night listening

Pere Ubu’s THE MODERN DANCE is one of the strongest and strangest debut records to ever lose record company money, a wild, weird, and tough as nails mixture of punk and experimentalism that could only have been birthed in the dark days of 1970s Cleveland: a little chugging, some misshapen dub, blown out tire rubber on the side of the highway, broken glass and synthesizer shrapnel, and frontman David Thomas as Dadaist ringleader. As intellectual and idiosyncratic a piece of punk rock that ever was, yet fiercely proletarian. Ground level stuff, dig?

And THIS IS DESMOND DEKKAR is as soulful a slab of island ska as you are likely to find. Slinky grooving with just the right amount of backbone, this stuff (at least for me) sounds best on warm and breezy summer days while lounging half crocked (or half baked) in a lawn chair imagining those big fluffy clouds are really smoke signals from giant invisible Indians. They’re trying to tell us something.

Certain recordings possess a greatness that resists being adequately expressed with brevity of language. They really must be heard, soaked up in real time, allowed to impact the mind and body with the totality of the sound, the inexhaustible and irresistible nature of the creative impulse, and THEN if you write 50,000 words on the workaday brilliance, the genuine offhand mastery of Sam Cooke tearing down the house LIVE AT THE HARLEM SQUARE CLUB (just one night among many), you might get lucky and land somewhere close to the ballpark of doing the record some serious justice. Two figures tower behemoth-like over the creation of soul music: Ray Charles and Sam Cooke. If you need a primer in the genius of Soul Stirrer #1, this will hand yr ass to you but good.

SCORPIO is a vital document of free-jazz in the late-1960s expatriates in France style (BYG/Actuel division), featuring three horribly under-recorded guys: session leader Arthur Jones on fiery post-Shepp-ian sax, Bob Guerin doing a sweet and loose variation on Jimmy Garrison stylistics on bass and Claude Delcloo splashing and slapping and skittering in a slightly (Sunny) Murray-like manner on drums. The trio mingles and melds minds in a very attractive fashion, setting the search-mode to simmer instead of full boil. Small group free-jazz is most often still about communication (in contrast to large group excursions where the objective is collective catharsis and wall pinning mania). SCORPIO holds much warmth and thorny beauty in its two grooves.

Bert Jansch was one of the prime UK folkies of the 1960s. His playing and singing deftly mixed toughness and prettiness, weariness and smoothness, and it’s no wonder the guy remains so revered by those turned on by the starkness of acoustic guitar and a nude voice. These are the assured initial efforts of a major artist. If you dig pre-psyche Donovan and don’t know Jansch, then you’re missing a big piece of the puzzle.

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