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Metal and Wood 

Music materials 2004

Thursday, Dec 23 2004
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To all the publicists and musicians who’ve kept sending me stuff even though we don’t have a weekly reviews page anymore: I am listening. Or if I’m not listening, the hallucinations are getting way too real.

THE BODY ELECTRIC

Miles Davis, Miles Electric: A Different Kind of Blue (Eagle Eye DVD). Stanley Crouch: "He was just trying to make some money." Carlos Santana: "He would not tap dance for anyone." Miles Davis’ 1967 to 1975 electric music launched a jazz civil war in which no armistice was ever declared. In this documentary, principals such as Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea and Airto Moreira speak of the times with awe; a complete heaving typhoon of a performance before hundreds of thousands at the 1970 Isle of Wight festival demonstrates the kind of mass trance that electrical conjuring can effect. Hey, look, at 31:46, in the crowd, wearing a blue sweater: It’s my wife, age 16.

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Derek Sherinian, Mythology (Inside out). Any keyboard wrangler who can hang with fearsome axmen like Zakk Wylde and Allan Holdsworth is no sissy, and Sherinian stomps barefoot on hot coals every damn time out. Grotesque, impossibly heavy and nearly all instrumental.

John 5, Vertigo (Shrapnel). All the chops-conscious musicians knew John Lowery could play guitar like a demon, but he had to make his own statement of insane crank and heavy-metal bluegrass to prove to the kids he’s not just the riff basher for Marilyn Manson, whose class ring he has now returned. When he repeatedly samples a voice croaking "Kiss my ass," it’s not hard to guess who’s being addressed.

METAL SCULPTURE

Satyricon, Volcano (Red Ink). Feel-good black metal. Where most of the genre’s crews pump you with a sense of superinflated nothingness, Norway’s Satyricon breathe deeper, riff stronger — these Vikings have got their feet on the ground. To complete an epic vision hammered home by drummer Frost’s midsection punishment, they litter soundscapes with painterly melodic touches and billions of tinkling noise shards.

Mare (Hydra Head EP). Tyler Semrick-Palmateer (formerly of The End) and his Canadian gang are stirring up some of the most creative metal around — slow surges of desperate, groaning riffs; throat rasps alternating with almost jazzy singing and even shockeroo multipart vocal harmonies halfway between Bach and the Beach Boys. Very, very impressive — can’t wait for the full-length.

Mastodon, Leviathan (Relapse). A shade proggy, with a lotta premeditated instrumental orchestrations, but still heavy as hell, Mastodon scope a panoramic vision and a tight, clear-cut ensemble sound that bridges old and new metal styles like a golden gate. Great mythic packaging, too.

King’s X, Live All Over the Place (Metal Blade). Two discs of carefully selected live King’s X is juicier than a greatest-hits package, cuz the band get so much sock from their obsessive fans. Real hard rock, real soul groove, real good songwriting, and an acoustic set to showcase the trio’s incomparable vocal harmonies. "Complain": whoo-ah! "Screamer": hang on to yer hair. And damned if their "Manic Depression" isn’t as weighty as Hendrix’s.

Kris Kristofferson

TANGLED ROOTS

Kris Kristofferson, Repossessed and Third World Warrior (Ohboy). Hardly noticed in the murk of 1987 and 1990, Kristofferson shuffled out a couple of straight-ahead, medium-tempo, politically flavored rock records that sound even better now because they’ve got that feel of casually accomplished musicians playing like family — the thing some of the current generation are hunting for. Now we get another shot in a twofer package, which sure is a good idea.

John Lee Hooker, Jack O’ Diamonds (Eagle). This is my new favorite Hooker album, recorded in 1949 at a Detroit dining-room table before anyone knew him from spit, and unavailable till now. His guitar is clean, his singing is richly intimate, and for material he reaches all the way back beyond blues to his roots in spirituals. The origins of an original.

Thelonious Monk, Monk ’Round the World (Hyena DVD and CD). Though the ’60s were not his peak, any newly unearthed Monk has the feel of buried treasure. Most auditors will pass lightly over the scattered live recordings, which are decent, in favor of actually seeing the piano prismatist at work on three songs with his quartet in London in 1965. Even as his body seems a wax figure within which his mind has withdrawn, the fingers still speak of a flickering inner glow.

Dexter Gordon

Dexter Gordon, Bopland (Savoy Jazz) and The Complete Prestige Recordings. Bopland is a little miracle, a 1947 concert (at L.A.’s Elks Club) preserved nearly entire for the first time on three discs. You can almost slip in the sweat pools as Gordon, Wardell Gray, Howard McGhee and Sonny Criss literally swing and bop till they drop. The 11-disc Prestige box is by nature undiscriminating in its mostly 1969 to 1972 span (plus a 1950 duel with Gray), but it makes you remember that the long, tall Angeleno at his laziest still made 97 percent of tenor saxists sound like punks.

The Contemporary Records Story. Jazz king Lester Koenig enthroned his label in 1951 in Los Angeles, and a scan of these four CDs leaves no doubt that for quite a few years, this town was a major jazz hothouse that fertilized (or failed to kill) Shelly Manne, Hampton Hawes, Curtis Counce, Art Pepper, Benny Carter, Teddy Edwards, Art Farmer — and lest we forget, Koenig gave a weirdo named Ornette Coleman his very first break.

Nimbus West CD reissues. Flash forward to the ’70s, when an Afrocentric L.A. jazz wheel was spinning — in near total obscurity, in part due to the separatist tendencies of its hub, the late pianist Horace Tapscott, whose recordings form the core of the Nimbus catalog. Rare, true and exceptional documents by Nate Morgan, Jesse Sharps and others, barely available in vinyl, are being reissued piecemeal on CD, and you can’t get ‘em in local stores, so hit www.nimbuswest.com.

Fantasy jazz Best Of collections. For megastars (Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk), a single-disc Best Of borders on silly. For other jazz artists within the Fantasy family of labels, which encompasses Contemporary, Prestige, Riverside and Milestone, a "hits" collection can provide just the pointer you want, and a slew poured out this year, including samplers of Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Jackie McLean, Kenny Burrell, Bobby Timmons and Milt Jackson.

Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo by Ned Sublette (Chicago Review Press). Even if you’re not a mambo zombie, Sublette’s thoroughly informed meditations on the origins of drums, speech, music, slavery and hence human culture itself are casually mind-blowing. This one belongs on your shelf between Joseph Campbell and Alexis de Tocqueville.

THE AVANT-GARDE: STILL NEW

Art Ensemble of Chicago, Sirius Calling (Pi). Sirius called to Malachi Favors Maghostut this year, and his all-permeating bass gets special attention on this, his final recording with his most notable alliance.

Cecil Taylor and Italian Instabile Orchestra, The Owner of the River Bank (Enja/Justin Time). Churning, ever rising but somehow not overflowing, River Bank feels as if Taylor, his turbulent piano submerged in never-quite-random currents, has learned to let go and experience the universe in totality. Matter is neither created nor destroyed.

UNIQUE (REALLY)

Z’ev, Headphone Musics, 1 to 6 b/w As Is As (Touch). Celestial chimes tickle the periphery as a satanic storm rages in mid-cranium. Gushing salinity vibrates sinus cavities. Circular grindstone sharpens incisors. Pure abstraction, pure art, resonant graphics. Blackness. Peace. www.rhythmajik.com.

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