Posts from 16th November 2004

16
Nov 04

Cecil Taylor and Anthony Braxton

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Cecil Taylor and Anthony Braxton

I’d never been to a jazz gig in my life. I’d never listened to much free jazz, or got into it at all. My friend Andrew wanted to go to this gig, part of the London Jazz Festival at the Royal Festival Hall, and I liked the odd early (totally unrepresentative, it turns out) Cecil Taylor number I’d heard, so I thought I’d give it a try. I wasn’t sure if I’d like it – I imagined sitting there thinking “This has been going on for hours. What the fuck are these people doing?”

Braxton’s quintet may have been the perfect way to convert and convince me. I didn’t have any idea what they were doing, but there was clearly communication, they were clearly playing together in some sense I can’t pin down, despite there never being much sense of their being in the same time or interested in tunes or anything like that. They had something that might have been sheet music, but I can’t see how what they were doing was at all susceptible to any kind of notation – I’d be interested in knowing what was on those sheets of paper. There was always plenty going on, people getting sounds out of their instruments that I’d never heard before, loads of detail to pay attention to – maybe it needed the live show, where you are concentrating wholly on what is happening on stage, rather than listening at home while doing other things, to make me get it. When they stopped I would have guessed that they had played 20 minutes, but it was 50 (and they came back for an encore too).

Then we had a while of Tony Oxley (I’ve not got great eyesight at distance, but from our box I thought he looked very like Jimmy Saville) on his own, on his unusual drum kit. Again, I couldn’t explain what he was doing, but it was far more varied than you’d think possible, and captivating. Next was a solo spot for trumpeter Bill Dixon, and in 10-15 minutes he played maybe three things that you could call musical notes, and otherwise just made absolutely extraordinary noises with an instrument I didn’t think had such a range. Next up was Cecil on his piano, and I thought he had a hell of an act to follow, but he outshone everything else. The pace, intensity, variety and attack of his playing, the first half hour or so especially, would be impressive from anyone, but from someone who’s been doing this for half a century it was incredible – the virtuosity was less surprising, but still dazzling. There wasn’t a moment when the next sound wasn’t a surprise. He was joined after 15 minutes or so by Dixon and Oxley, and while I couldn’t begin to say how or why it all worked together, it did. It was an astounding performance, varied and thrilling and utterly gripping.

I may not want to stand by this next week or month, but right now this feels like a major and important musical experience for me. Certainly I have a new and greatly expanded notion of the range of sounds you can make with trumpet, drums, even guitar, but more importantly of how musicians can work together. I don’t understand it at all, and can’t account for how it works, but it was a really extraordinary show.

Platform by Michel Houellebecq

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Platform by Michel Houellebecq

He seems to have become a fashionable writer, but I hadn’t read him before this. I didn’t like it. He’s a clever man, and he expresses his ideas with clarity and force – but he does so by creating a protagonist who has views that seemed like blinkered nonsense to me, which is okay, because I obviously don’t expect every character to talk sense; the trouble for me comes from the author then creating a bunch of other characters who are given substance and intelligence and appeal and apparent human worth in proportion to how much they go along with him, and how much living in accord with his notions suits them. His portrayal of sex tourism as an entirely good and happy thing with no bad consequences at all is utterly implausible – all of the Cuban and Thai prostitutes are happy and affectionate and healthy and adult and making really good money. Those with opposed views are either puritans talking obvious rubbish or crazed terrorists – no one expresses a reasonable downside to any of this, least of all the author, and there are plenty of sensible arguments against this set of views. There are also irritating minor errors – cutting costs by 25% and increasing price by 25% does not mean that profits therefore rise by 50%, for instance. He usually seems smart enough to do better than this, but maybe not grown up and open enough to honestly look at other sides of his beliefs, or to write love convincingly.

I probably need to emphasise that actually I do agree with some parts of what he is saying – I’m very open about my own rather unconventional sex life, and believe some of what he says about Western sexual mores – and my problem isn’t with his ideas about sex or the amount of it here, just the surprisingly adolescent, self-centred and smug way he goes about turning them into a novel. I was astounded to be reminded by these failings of the worst tendencies of a trivial author like Robert Heinlein, especially Stranger In A Strange Land.

The Tarquin Records All Stars – Do They Know It’s Christmas?

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The Tarquin Records All Stars – Do They Know It’s Christmas?

Okay, I haven’t heard the new version of DTKIC?, but all the talk has inspired me!…This is my all time favourite version of the song, recorded way back in 1997. It features the talents of the Katis brothers of Philistines Jr fame, James Kochalka, and Brian Dewan amongst others. It’s rousing and sing-a-longable, just like the original, and is over in a jaunty 3 minutes and 20 seconds, no faffing about. Add a seering keyboard refrain and the “clanging chimes of doom” line followed by cheesy bells, and you have a great song made even better.

This is one of the only songs that my sister willingly volunteers to hear, along with “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn”, it is that good. I think I’ve put it as the last song on every mix-tape I’ve ever made. Please note that I think William Shatner’s “Common People” is the definitive version, so we may not see eye-to-eye on musical matters my friend.

It’s available on the magnificent “Tarquin Records All Star Holiday Extravaganza”, which also features another favourite mix-tape song, Brian Dewan’s cover of “R2D2 We Wish You A Merry Christmas”, and the Zamboni’s “Christmas Hockey News”. Check it out!!

Frocks

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Frocks
Frocks was always a nice caf’. Dark wooded with squeezy condiment bottles. Not a greasy spoon but neither was it poncy. The Observer and the News of the World sat cheek by jowl and the working class tucked their dirty shirts in. There was an old lady who sat by the window, the sun streaming through her white hair; a startling, ghostly presence.

This summer, things started to go awry. Spontaneous tea-towel combustion doesn’t make the news too often, but it was enough to gut the interior. The new management took this as their cue to think again and came up with a remixed version of Frocks. Whitesplashed walls, rejigged seating and a swing from caf’ to restaurant. The main dishes have a modern flavour and the mash and vegetable sides are tasty and cheap. The wine list has been expanded from old world to new and the service given alertness lessons (a drawback of previous visits). The tables survived the fire; converted sewing machines adding a glimpse of history.

Lauriston Road is a middle class pocket of E9; Victoria Park lives next door, full of tame squirrels and crunchy leaves. The only hassle is leaving Frocks. It’s not just the atmosphere, but the doors; two sets of Victorian swingers that confuse and bruise and hinder your exit.

The old lady’s back and she’s looking good for a whatevergenerian. Like the ravens leaving the tower, as long as she remains, Frocks will prosper.

BANDAID 20, first impressions*

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BANDAID 20, first impressions*

What a mess! What a real mess! It sounds like a sixth form jam session. They’ve dispensed with the need for a drum track, replaced the “whur-ur-uh” noises with some sort of nasty synth line, bongo makes us realise that he’s a shadow of the flag waver he was 20 years ago, screeching though The Line with no finesse or feeling. They’ve also appreciable slowed it down and made it longer, a bigger break between the first half and second and doubling the length of the refrain at the end as well as adding a “war is over” clapping bit at the end after a minute of “ad-libbing”, which sounds like the warm-up room before a pop-idol heat. The only redeeming feature of it is DIZZEE’S RAPPING BIT which I wasn’t expecting, I assumed he’d gone along to sing in the choir and that was it. Anyway, it leapt out of the radio like a giant purple leaping thing, and brought a great big smile to my face.

*all of these impressions formulated at 8am this morning during the inaugural play on chris moyles breakfast show. The author reserves the right to change any or all or these opinions over the next month…

Art and Design Vol. 2

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I went shopping at the new flagship H&M at Yonge/Dundas sqaure today, and they were selling mens underwear, in the exact pattern as one of Sol LeWitt’s Star Wall Drawings–the five pointed ones, not the six or seven pointed ones. ( except in the Sol LeWitt, it requires you to do lots of math to figure out where the generative point is, and in the underwear, the genertive point is at the penis.)