KMFDM, Opium 1984 (KMFDM). If you thought KMFDM was harsh later, you ain‘t heard their maiden vomit, originally released only on cassette at a time when these Euro headfuckers were rasslin’ for gnash supremacy with the likes of Einsturzende Neubauten. Inspired. Featuring Sascha Konietzko, Raymond Watts and Ton Geist. (Available only at www.kmfdm.com.)
KMFDM, Sturm und Drang Tour 2002 (Metropolis). This is actually the best way to experience KMFDM‘s live music, as opposed to experiencing the live experience, where you’re mainly just aware of being crushed like a grape. Hey, these‘re damn good songs! Featuring Sascha Konietzko and Pig (Raymond Watts).
Pig, Genuine American Monster (Metropolis). Nasty vox from hairy beast Watts; cruel beats; even some gorgeous, floaty synthstuff. Wot is this, art? More!
Ministry, Animositisomina (Sanctuary). Never liked Ministry before — too blunt and dumb. Shoot me if I like my noise thought out and refined, and this time they did it, no doubt disappointing everyone but me.
Records About Epic Poems
Symphony X, The Odyssey (InsideOutMusic). These guys slay me: wailing, pounding, diddling prog-metal with the accent on the metal. Explosively recorded, brilliant and quintessentially embarrassing. (At the Key Club this Sunday.)
Tangerine Dream, Inferno (TDI). Whatever Edgar Froese’s been smoking, he better lay off. Tedious as, uh, hell.
Alex de GrassiG.E. Stinson, Shortwave Postcard (Auditorium). Two guitarists with the same aesthetic of restless, jangly eternity — one acoustic, one electric. Watch wondrous intergalactic vistas while itching under your space suit.
Spring Heel Jack, Amassed (Thirsty Ear). Nailed it. Electronic multiplayers John Coxon and Ashley Wales drafted some transcontinental improv masters (Han Bennink, Evan Parker, Paul Rutherford, Kenny Wheeler, Matthew Shipp) and achieved the electroacoustic shape-shifting mind grip they narrowly missed with last year‘s similarly conceived Masses.
Rob Mazurek, Silver Spines (Delmark). However weird this Chicago Underground cornetist’s electronic conceptions may be, they speak of universal balance. Let‘s not say taste.
Augustus Pablo, East of the River Nile (Shanachie). The lone exponent of Jamaican melodica. (All praise.) Died in 1999. (Many regrets.) A 1979 classic reissued. (Fantastic.) But they cleaned it way up, and roots should not be clean. Play it on a trashed boom box.
Sasha, Airdrawndagger (Kinetic). You take Digweed, I’ll take Sasha. His beats and bleeps sound like they‘re in you, and you’re in everything.
Jazz and Blues
Corvini-Iodice Roma Jazz Ensemble, Homage to Yusef Lateef (YAL). A crowd of Italian acolytes and Lateef himself recorded live and raw in Prato. All flaws considered, Lateef had to release this, because there‘s magic here. Stick with it. (YAL, P.O. Box 799, Amherst, MA 01004.)
Charles Lloyd, Lift Every Voice (ECM). Two discs of spirit, spirituals and blues you can just put on and leave on. If you can’t see God while listening to Lloyd‘s tenor saxophone, you’re blind and deaf. Featuring John Abercrombie and Geri Allen.
Roscoe Mitchell & the Note Factory, Song for My Sister (Pi). How come after all this time hardly anybody knows that Roscoe Mitchell is one of the world‘s great composers? Sensual, layered abstraction via another of the windman’s fine ensembles, featuring pianist-to-watch Vijay Iyer. (Pi, P.O. Box 1849, New York, NY 10025.)
The Music of Eric Von Essen Volume III (Cryptogramophone). Another underknown composer: Eric Von Essen made as many kinds of music as there are shades of emotion before he died young in 1997, and this volume of quiet interpretations makes for a thoughtful conclusion to Cryptogramophone‘s three-disc tribute. Featuring Stacy Rowles, Peter Erskine, Nels Cline, Alex Cline, Jeff Gauthier and many more friends.
Tim Berne: The Sevens (New World); Science Friction (Screwgun); Open, Coma (Screwgun). The alto saxist gets his contrapuntalharmonic freak on with guitarists Marc Ducret and David Torn and the Copenhagen Art Ensemble, among others. As always, the dude is completely out of control. Other people’s control, that is.
John La Porta, Theme and Variations (Fantasy). In 1954, before the blues dragged Mingus away by the hair, he grew with reedman John La Porta, a Lennie Tristano disciple, in the Jazz Composers Workshop, whiffing the kind of air you hear in these Chaz-less ‘56–’58 sessions: quiet, slightly dissonant head music that remains both ahead of the times and really listenable.
The Land Where the Blues Began (Rounder). There are compilations and compilations, and this one, drawn from the late Alan Lomax‘s field recordings (mostly of unknowns), is some pilation. Twenty-eight songs, sermons and narratives, each a historical haymaker.
Willie Nelson & Friends, Stars & Guitars (Lost Highway). Avant-garde guitarist Nelson is apparently also a songwriter who’s penned enough country standards to entertain Sheryl Crow, Vince Gill, Aaron Neville, Keith Richards, Ryan Adams, Jon Bon Jovi and even me. Who knew?
Django Reinhardt, Djangology (Bluebird). This Gypsy attacked a guitar like a wolverine; his whacked accents could bust your eardrums with an acoustic, and he ripped out the craziest lines in creation. Here he is in an expanded reissue from 1949, fencing with his main foil, violinist Stephane Grappelli, and sounding like he‘ll never die, which he won’t.
Charlie Christian, The Genius of the Electric Guitar (Columbia Legacy). I figured out why they didn‘t include any of Christian’s burning, shredding 1941 Minton‘s Playhouse live bootlegs in this cutely packaged four-CD set documenting his work with Benny Goodman’s tight & tidy sextets and orchestras: If they had, you‘d never listen to the rest.
Christina Aguilera, Stripped (RCA). Like every other old man, I thought Aguilera was just kiddie porn with pipes. Now she’s hired serious songwriters to help her dig into serious shit, and she sounds like she means it. Stealing from Aretha and the Beatles may not please the mall rats, but if Winona could thieve half this well she‘d be a CEO instead of a convict.
Stuff by a Guy With My Name
Greg Burk Trio, Checking In (Soul Note). This alien Burk is a pianist with a gift for melody and a generous touch that makes you want to like him, unlike certain journalists one could name.
Books by My Friends
Beer Goggles and Amplifiers by Jeff Muendel. I read this chapbook novella by Hammond-humper Muendel straight through. This must mean either that his semifactual minor-league rock narratives possess some strange fascination, or that I’m as twisted as he is. (Available at Amazon.com.)
Lexicon Devil: The Fast Times and Short Life of Darby Crash and the Germs by Brendan Mullen with Don Bolles and Adam Parfrey (Feral House). Not only did this book have enough sleaze, scope and authenticity to keep my nose in it, but I‘ve heard nothing except praise for the damn thing from everyone aside from co-author and former Germ Don Bolles, and even he admitted that “Brendan didn’t fuck it up too badly.”
S.T.P.: A Journey Through America With the Rolling Stones by Robert Greenfield (Da Capo). Speaking of sleaze, you‘ll need a hot shower after you finish this travelogue on the Stones’ 1972 tour, published in a small run not long after the fact and out of print till now. Right in the thick, Greenfield struck the perfect tone of mild disdain without missing a drop of rockness.
Jimi Hendrix and the Making of Are You Experienced by Sean Egan (A Cappella). My favorite story: Hendrix is carrying on with Keith Richards‘ New York girlfriend, and needs a guitar. The woman lends him Keith’s, and Hendrix smashes it onstage.
Bang Your Head: The Rise and Fall of Heavy Metal by David Konow (Three Rivers). Here‘s another: Ozzy has been replaced in Black Sabbath by Ronnie James Dio. “When Osbourne became a successful solo artist, every night he had a dwarf come onstage to serve him drinks. He’d tell the audience to ‘Say hello to Ronnie.’”
So What: The Life of Miles Davis by John Szwed (Simon & Schuster). The broad hint dropped by his Sun Ra book is now confirmed: Szwed is the best music biographer in the business, and this is by far the best Miles bio, including Davis‘ own. You’ll learn once again that artistic geniuses are sick fucks, but more important, you‘ll learn a hell of a lot about music.