MUSICIANS' REVOLT: GREG BURK'S TOP 10 + 10
I was totally backflipped by the amount of crazed, fearless, nongeneric contraband, much of it on small labels, that was smuggled into my Secret Underground Listening Room and Weapons of Mass Destruction Factory last year. Individually, the stuff would have had no more effect than a principle in the House of Representatives. Collectively, it amounted to the biggest FUCK YOU to the megamusic industry's program of empty jazz and bankrupt pop since about 1964.
Listen to: Real Audio Format Nils Petter Molvaer Ari Brown Mark Dresser David Ware Brad Mehldau John Scofield Medeski Martin & Wood Marcus Roberts Frank Catalano
1. Nils Petter Molvaer, Khmer (ECM). If the crucifixion were to be filmed again, this should be the soundtrack: the deep sadness of Norwegian trumpeter Molvaer, the cloudy complexity of the effects, the monstrous inevitability of the beats. You say it's not jazz? Now it is, bro.
2. Ari Brown, Venus (Delmark). Here's a tradition worth preserving: a saxophonist of great skill and great experience, playing from the heart. And the heartland (Chicago).
3. Richard Grossman Trio, Even Your Ears (Hatology). This represents nearly the last of the Philadelphia-L.A. pianist's hyperaware, star-sprinkled improvisations that can be gleaned from the few recordings made before his 1992 death. None of them is less than transcendent, and these may be the best.
4. Mark Dresser, Eye'll Be Seeing You (Knitting Factory). Quite apart from the 1928 and 1930 Buñuel and Vigo films it's meant to complement, this bass-piano-reeds trio CD of belated soundtracks generates its own hieroglyphic images.
5. David S. Ware, Go See the World (Columbia). Columbia always retains one token avantist; props to new A&R honcho Branford Marsalis for signing tenorman Ware, who backs off not a millimeter from the turbines of emotion in which his sinew has always lived.
6. Brad Mehldau, Songs: The Art of the Trio Volume 3 (Warner Bros.). In addition to being a nonpareil interpreter of standards and a perfect pianist, Mehldau's re-emphasizing his superior talent as a composer. Scary.
7. John Scofield, A Go Go (Verve). The guitarist wades way down in the R&B swamp with bandmates Medeski Martin & Wood, and slays gators on all sides. This should satisfy anybody who's not a Republican.
8. Medeski Martin & Wood, Combustication (Blue Note). Meanwhile, the groovin' three risk offending everybody by playing three different rhythms at once. Since the result is brilliant, they'll probably lose only half their audience.
9. Marcus Roberts, The Joy of Joplin (Sony Classical). Those who enjoy Scott Joplin's 1900-era piano rags may not relish their extrapolation into genetic blueprints for 21st-century music. Sorry; take your medicine and give thanks.
10. Frank Catalano, Cut It Out!?! (Delmark). This kid saxophonist takes about 20 seconds to make you feel you've known him all your life. Just plain fun.
Listen to: Real Audio Format Marilyn Manson The BellRays Soulfly Ditch Dio Aerosmith WASP Pressure of Speech White Noise Vol. 2 Juan Atkins The Klezmatics
1. Marilyn Manson, Mechanical Animals (Nothing). This album tore me up by the roots and flung me into the ocean. Beneath a thin layer of makeup lie metallic torch songs and sleazy rock pounders, beautifully sung by Manson, that burn with real insight and pain. Glam was never this deep.
2. The BellRays, Let It Blast (Vital Gesture). Riptearing punk energy supports the shredding soul vocals of Lisa Kekaula (who coincidentally sang backup for Marilyn Manson at the MTV Music Video Awards). With cheap equipment in a tiny practice room, Riverside quartet the BellRays made a CD that kicks ass till it bleeds. Obviously, the group's also great live.
3. Soulfly, Soulfly (Roadrunner). It took Brazilian metal to get me through putting up the Xmas lights. “Fuuuuck!” howled Max Calvalera on my behalf, the rest of Soulfly slashing and bashing like a spiritual mudslide behind. “Fuck no, no, NO!” “Dad,” asked my 6-year-old girl, “what is the title of that song?” “Honey,” I said, “the title is 'No.' N-O.”
4. Ditch, Deep Blue Hole (Civil War). My friend Dave Van Heusen and company made this four-song EP, which carries on the tradition of '70s hard rock like no other new band I've heard in 10 years: deadly riffs, fiery yet coherent solos, a low and soulful singer. Guitar by Dave, vox by Andre DeSoto, drums by Greg Rogers, bass by Bill Newkirk, organ by Schneebe, mastering by Spot. Irrefutable.
5. Dio, Inferno: Last in Live (Mayhem); Black Sabbath, Reunion (Epic); WASP, Double Live Assassins (CMC International); Aerosmith, A Little South of Sanity (Geffen). Four double live CDs radiating the spirit, the doom, the horror, the danger. Thanks, we needed that.
6. PJ Harvey, Is This Desire? (Island). Sure it's art music. Sure it's creepy. Truthful, though, isn't it?
7. Pressure of Speech, 50 Years of Peaces (Hypnotic). If PJ ever really goes techno, these Brits should be the band. Rust, lust and corruption.
8. Various Artists, White Noise Vol. 2 (City of Angels). The absolute kickinest compilation of U.K. and U.S. machine dance music, featuring SoCal comer Überzone. Zot!
9. Juan Atkins, Wax Trax! Mastermix Volume 1 (Wax Trax!/TVT). Detroit techno originator Atkins tells the story of our time in beats and vibrations. Global warming refuted, nuclear winter predicted.
10. The Klezmatics/Chava Alberstein, The Well (Xenophile). Clarinets. Klezmer. The Yiddish longing of Alberstein's universal voice. If there is any hope for humanity as we knew it, it's here.
ALAN RICH'S 1998: WHAT COULD, SHOULD, WAS, WASN'T
Most beautiful recorded sound: Renée Fleming singing the “Song to the Moon” on the new London recording of Dvorák's Rusalka: This is what moonlight itself must sound like.
Most beautiful live sound: The opening rustle, as from another galaxy, that began Wagner's Parsifal prelude as breathed by Valery Gergiev and the Kirov Orchestra at their Music Center one-nighter.
Most scalp-lifting live sound: Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps, same performers, same night.
Least scalp-lifting live sound (and worst idea): The Kronos Quartet (with piano) at Royce Hall, performing the same music.
Most hope-filled Sunday afternoon: A stunning solo-piano recital by Max Levinson, 26, at the Colburn School's Zipper Auditorium on December 13, followed across town an hour later by Andrew van Oeyen, 19, with the Santa Monica Symphony, investing the worn-out Rach Two with an outlay of no-nonsense intelligence. Both pianists are graduates of the Crossroads School, where someone must be doing something right.
Expectations most brutally dashed: Together again to reopen the long-awaited rebuilt Royce Hall, Robert Wilson and Philip Glass in Monsters of Grace, an empty undertaking.
Expectations most curiously fulfilled: Stupendous violin playing, also at Royce, by Britain's Nigel Kennedy, caught up in some weird programming (Bartók interspersed with Jimi Hendrix) and a clumsily contrived pseudo-punk stage image ludicrous in a 42-year-old performer of such genuine talent.
Expectations most agreeably surpassed: At Royce again, a smooth and delightful production of Verdi's Falstaff by UCLA's student music and dramatic forces. Another school production, Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro at USC three weeks ago, scored almost as high.
Most interesting prospect: The make-over at the Hollywood Bowl, as announced by the Los Angeles Philharmonic's incoming general director Willem Wijnbergen — stronger classical programming, stronger jazz, a new venture into world music, an upgrade of the sound system and, somewhere down the line, a remodel of the “Starship Enterprise” design of the orchestra shell.
Least interesting prospect (if long foreseen): The L.A. Opera's announcement of Plácido Domingo's accession to Peter Hemmings' post as company head, when the beleaguered Brit steps down sometime in 2000. Currently under investigation by a German court for possible tax-fraud complicity, Domingo started off by stating that his first season here would be “less adventurous” than his true nature, which can only mean that the divos and divas will come onstage and sing C-major scales on million-dollar Franco Zeffirelli sets, with Plácido on the podium and wife Marta as stage director. Anyone who supposed that the company's recent Fantastic Mr. Fox fiasco was as bad as opera can get could, therefore, be in for a surprise.
Scariest prospect: Zubin Mehta's letting it be known that his latest guest stint on the Philharmonic podium rekindled the deep and abiding love he once had for the orchestra, as breezes blowing in from Lake Erie whisper about the Cleveland Orchestra playing footsie with Esa-Pekka Salonen. Time to man the battlements.
Saddest farewells: Russian composer Alfred Schnittke, who emerged from the Soviet shadow to gain renown as a composer of immense originality and wit. Our own Mel Powell, who journeyed effortlessly from his early career as jazzman extraordinaire to later acclaim as a fashioner of lapidary works large and small, one of the founders of CalArts, teacher and beloved role model to generations.
Worthiest of love and gratitude: Mitsuko Uchida at Ojai and again at the Music Center, for drawing torrents of audible poetry from her piano. György Ligeti (in absentia), for sending over some of the strongest, most imaginative music being composed in the late years of this millennium, and the devotion of Esa-Pekka Salonen, pianists Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Gloria Cheng-Cochran, and the fabulous others who made Ligeti's music happen in our midst. The Long Beach Opera's Michael Milenski, for once again discovering gold at the end of a shoestring. The energetic local composer, teacher and promoter Daniel Rothman, who brought over a gathering of new-music spirits from Austria for a week of sturdy, evangelistic performances of music nobody here had ever heard. Conductor Dana Marsh, for his annual Messiah performances at a church in Westwood that reveal the original strengths in this much-abused masterpiece. The Da Camera Society's MaryAnn Bonino and her “Historic Sites” concerts, which year after year fill churches with some of the best performers from here and abroad. The County Museum's Dorrance Stalvey, who has somehow maintained a yearly program of important contemporary-music events, performed by first-rate visitors and local luminaries (including the irreplaceable California EAR Unit), despite an almost-zero promotion budget that leads to pathetically small audience turnouts. The noble Leonard Stein, his energy apparently intact as he sails through his 80s, pulling together a consortium of four superb pianists one-third his age to present new, hard and immensely rewarding music at the “Piano Spheres” concerts in Pasadena's Neighborhood Church.
And, of course, Ernest Fleischmann, who, by spending 29 years proclaiming the proposition that music matters, created a community in which all of this could happen. Blessings upon them all.
ERNEST HARDY'S AMERIKA
Hip-hop is America; its only real crime is being so much so. Hip-hop boils mainstream values down to their essences, then turns up the flame. Violence, materialism, misogyny, homophobia, racialized agony . . . These are the common, bankable themes in hip-hop because they're the common, moneymaking, all-American obsessions. Revolutionary hip-hop and its practitioners soar on the same terms on which American artists have always soared: by being un-American, by flying in the face of the fucked-up mores and ideals corroded in this country's genetic wiring.
1998 was a banner year for hip-hop in sales and chart rankings, but folks who read only those signs to define hip-hop's artistry will simply offer false prophecies. One of the most wrongly interpreted matters in hip-hop '98 was also one of its biggest controversies: the high-profile attacks launched on black writers and editors by rap artists. The mainstream media pursed its collective lips in a lot of what-do-you-expect posturing, while the hip-hop media said as little as possible about it — at least on the front pages. When I was speaking with a handful of writers stranded in New York, the common sentiment expressed to me was “Consider who got beat down and you'll know why they got beat down.” Or, as one writer put it more bluntly, “Not to condone violence, but . . .”
Unexamined in the controversy has been the issue of class. Prep-school jigaboos make up a large number of those wielding power in the hip-hop media, holding down coveted staff-writer and editor positions, shaping the questions and agendas of the culture. They bring with them the belief that ofay mediocrity — in journalism, art, ethics, spirituality — is the platinum standard. The “all about the Benjamins” mentality of the past few years could not have blown up as large as it did without their endorsement; it's their mantra. That mentality is also where common, if unstable, ground has been found between many hip-hop artists and the educated fools writing about them.
It's a battle of the poses. Many hip-hop artists come to the corporate game straight from the streets, armed with a different set of rules, and a lot of them have said and done inexcusably fucked-up things when they feel they've been dissed by a writer. (Dr. Dre's infamous assault on Dee Barnes comes to mind.) But the hip-hop media has helped dig itself into a hole for which it needs to take some responsibility. The prep-school Negroes writing about hip-hop have fronted for a long time, working out their authenticity issues by giving artists carte blanche in public forums, hoping to prove themselves down with the hood and its thriving-but-rigid notions of blackness — while simultaneously pimping those notions in order to get paid, to land gigs at glossy, white, upscale publications. Too many hip-hop magazines, operating under a money-driven perversion of “uplift the race” sentiment, have been complicit in fostering the belief that they only exist to lacquer and disseminate the PR gush created by record companies, rappers and their publicists. They've played the part of the bitch, and now it's coming back to bite them on the ass on those rare occasions when they actually show some balls and say something.
Middle-aged wiggers screaming, “Yo!” and smarmy white-boy rock critics covering hip-hop only because it's what sells are immune to the violence — sycophancy and skin tone are their health insurance. Negroes would never roll up into the offices of Spin, Rolling Stone or Details and break a chair across some white man's back or spray him with threats. It's strange, the still-pungent self-loathing and deference to massa that even alleged street niggas carry within them — and beat into the bodies of other black folk. I'll believe in these white critics' triumphing of hip-hop's Benetton-culturalism when they start getting bitch-slapped on a regular basis.
The polygamous marriage of media, corporate America and the recording industry has created a new, high-stakes frontier, a fresh Wild West, and of course America has always conquered its frontiers by brute force. Controlling the media through intimidation goes on in Washington and Hollywood all day, every day. It has throughout history; that's the American way.
It's no accident that the best hip-hop albums of the year (some of the best albums, period) — by Outkast, Brand Nubian, Lauryn Hill, Black Star, Goodie Mob — placed black power and black-on-black love at the heart of their artistic agendas. That means forgoing America; that means trying to conquer America. They're albums steeped in the knowledge that capitalism — and the violence it spawns — will not mediate the inter- and intraracial conflicts that besiege us. Violence against human beings is indefensible, but the sellout writers and editors over at Vibe, Blaze, etc., are too busy turning Angela Davis' life into a fashion spread to see the part they've played in the madness that has enveloped them.
FALLING JAMES AND HIS NEIGHBORS' 10 BIG ONES
1. Tijuana No! Contra-Revolución Avenue (BMG/U.S. Latin)
2. Spectator Pump Styrofoam Artifacts (Trik Magik)
3. The Beautys Liquor Pig (Beeb)
4. Caustic Resin The Medicine Is All Gone (Alias)
5. The Humpers Euphoria, Confusion, Anger and Remorse (Epitaph)
6. The BellRays Let It Blast (Vital Gesture)
7. Wildstares Acoustic Chamber Orchestra Darling Clementine (Angel Dust)
8. Chris Cacavas Anonymous (Normal)
9. 3 Hole Punch Greatest Hits (Spun)
10. The Neckbones Souls on Fire (Fat Possum)
Honorable mention: Buck, Mekons, Bell, Cheifs, John Fogerty, Texas Terri & the Stiff Ones, Andre Williams. Also, figure skater Surya Bonaly's anti-racist and illegal back-flip protest during the Winter Olympics: the most punk rock moment of the year.
JOHN PAYNE'S 1998 A 2 Z
Add N to X, On the Wires of Our Nerves (Satellite)
Air, Moon Safari (Caroline)
Air Liquide, Coldcut, etc., Battery Park Cologne 2.0 (Harvest/EMI)
Amnesia, Lingus (Island)
Attilio Mineo, Man in Space With Sounds (Subliminal Sounds)
Autechre, Peel Sessions (Warp/Nothing)
Beck, Mutations (DGC/Bong Load)
Bjornstad, Darling, Christensen, Rypdal, The Sea II (ECM)
Black Star, Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star (Rawkus)
Brahem, Surman, Holland, Thimar (ECM)
Caravan, Songs for Oblivion Fishermen (Hux)
Club Off Chaos, Club Off Chaos (Mute)
Damo Suzuki & Michael Karoli at Spaceland, September
Electric Company, Studio City (Supreme/Island)
Esa-Pekka Salonen, L.A. Philharmonic, Ligeti's Atmospheres, Requiem and Lux Aeterna, May
Fantastic Plastic Machine, The Fantastic Plastic Machine (Emperor Norton)
Holger Czukay vs. Dr. Walker, Clash (Tone Casualties)
Kalyanji, Anandji, Dan the Automator, Bombay the Hard Way: Guns, Cars & Sitars (Motel)
Kevin Ayers at the Gig, June
Legendary Pink Dots, Nemesis Online (Soleilmoon)
Miles Davis, The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions (Columbia)
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds at the Wiltern, September
Nuno Canavarro, Plux Quba (Moikai)
Otis Redding, Dreams To Remember: The Otis Redding Anthology (Rhino)
Pluramon, Render Bandits (Mille Plateaux)
Robert Wyatt, Shleep (Thirsty Ear)
Scott Walker, Tilt (Drag City)
Sonic Youth, A Thousand Leaves (Geffen)
The Fall, Levitate (Artful)
Toru Takemitsu, The Film Music of Toru Takemitsu (Nonesuch)
U Yee Nwe, Sandaya: The Spellbinding Piano of Burma (Shanachie)
Wagon Christ, Tally Ho! (Personal/Astralwerks)
Zoviet France, Digilogue (Soleilmoon)