Monday, May 28, 2007

Looking For Mushrooms

Nice photo, this - two people I admire very much; Bruce Conner (standing) and Terry Riley. Conner is an extraordinary artist - films, paintings, sculptures, collages, assemblages, you name it; all his works are possessed of a sly wit and political consciousness. As an experimental film-maker, I regard him as the only serious rival to my beloved Kenny Anger, particularly in terms of imagery and editing, and manipulation of found footage. Like Anger, he is an obsessive craftsman, honing and honing his films frame by frame.
Riley - one of the main originators of Minimalism (and so much more, of course) and one of the very first people to start experimenting with tape-loops. Did he also invent the hippy 'happening' with his all-night concerts and all-purpose love-ins? He produced a couple of wonderful soundtracks for Conner's films, too.
They are both still around and producing great work - it's nice to see two old Beats still grooving away.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Three Prophets

Three extravagantly bearded Biblical Patriarchs - Riley, Wyatt and Flaherty.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Paul Flaherty, Chris Corsano And Friends

Paul Flaherty - Whirl Of Nothingness (Family Vineyard 2006)
Dream/Aktion Unit - Blood Shadow Rampage (Volcanic Tongue 2006)

Every now and again, just when you think it has been exhausted, noise music experiences a power-surge and reminds you that there is life in the old workhorse yet. Two albums from last year have caught my attention - both featuring Paul Flaherty, a veteran free music saxophonist. For a number of years now Flaherty has been playing and recording with demon drummer Chris Corsano in what you might term a power duo (as well as being integral parts of other combos) - there is a lovely affinity between the pair, both employing a safety-net free approach to their playing. Call me a sentimental old cove, but there is something about the relationship between Corsano and Flaherty (who is old enough to be his father) that I really like.
Flaherty has been around for years honing his skills - intense ecstatic screams and cries with little sparkles of melody rising out of the roar every so often. He has set Fire Music alight again. What interests me is his willingness and open-mindedness in playing with musicians from other disciplines; there is a snobbishness and prissiness about many in even the free jazz scene - odd in a music dedicated to total freedom. Corsano plays with a bewildering number of bands - notably Sunburned Hand Of The Man (or are they just 'Sunburned' now?) and Six Organs Of Admittance. He is part of an extended scene (not the right word, more like a loose circle of friends) that includes people such as Wolf Eyes, Burning Star Core and Thurston Moore. Noiseniks all. Like Flaherty, Corsano plays free jazz and noise and avant rock and everything else he puts his mind to because free minded musicians disregard labels, right?

Flaherty and Corsano

Flaherty's Whirl Of Nothingness, though, finds him in that most unforgiving territory - solo. Just him and his sax, nowhere to hide. Eight pieces, improvised in one evening, of raw but structured chaos tempered with moments of intense prettiness. The album is explicitly spiritual in intent, dedicated to "all the victims yet to come" (that's all of us, Flaherty points out).
Comparisons between Flaherty and other free jazzers are perhaps inevitable, but bandying around such descriptions as 'post-Ayler' or 'post-Brotzmann' tend to miss the point - this music isn't "post" anything, it is right here, right now. Flaherty himself has used the term 'freeform abstract music' to describe the sound that comes out of his horn and that'll do for me, straight from the horse's mouth.

Dream/Aktion Unit

Dream/Aktion Unit, on this occasion, comprises Flaherty and Corsano with Thurston Moore doing his guitar thing, Heather Leigh Murray and Matt Heyner. The Flaherty/Corsano axis really kicks things along here, and of course, Moore isn't too shabby. Flaherty's sax gells with Moore's guitar work brilliantly - they have performed as a duo before (there is a wonderful video on the dread Youtube of them playing together, Moore's feedback dueling with Flaherty's blurts) and the whole thing is an exercise in controlled chaos and aggression; again, the flickers of melody, when they come, mean all the more for being embedded in good old dissonance. Too much sugar is bad for you, see? I don't know if this particular incarnation will reform again - but there is such a large scene featuring these people that it is inevitable that one or another combination of said reprobates will rub up against each other at some point.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

KWA meets SME

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Spaced Out, We're Spacing In

The Isle of Wight Festival, 1970 - Jimi Hendrix, in his last performance on U.K. soil, dedicates a number to "the cat with the silver face", a character at the front of the stage ... said cat was none over than Hawkwind's Nik Turner. Unlike Hendrix, Hawkwind had a good festival, playing a number of free gigs outside the festival proper and cementing their reputation as the people's band. Turner, in fact, wandering around with his silver countenance, flute and star spangled trousers actually made the pages of Vogue (including the front cover) and Paris Match. Not bad for a stoned space rocking hippy peacenik. The Nik Turner case - or, he's a bit of a case, that Nik Turner, isn't he?
Once dubbed the 'conscience of Hawkwind', due to his propensity for agreeing to free and benefit gigs, and his adherence to the peace and love hippy ethic, Nik Turner remains, for me at least, the very heart and soul of Hawkwind - part of the magic of that band during their glory years springing precisely from the very fertile dichotomy between Turner's acidhead hippy ethos (frog costumes, Egyptian drag, make-up and all), Lemmy's speedfreak biker heaviness (iron crosses and Nazi eagles), Calvert's manic personas and of course, Dave Brock's s(t)olid stage presence.

There was obviously something in the water in Margate in the mid-sixties - Turner, Robert Calvert, Dik Mik, there they all were, sniffing the air, sensing a wave about to crest. Turner had a job selling kiss-me-quick-hats and suchlike to the tourists, as well as joss sticks and psychedelic posters and whatnot to whatever passed as hipsters down on the South Coast. Didn't Calvert work as a deckchair attendant? What a bunch.
A bit of a one off, Turner - some kind of glam-hippy-psychedelic whatever, full of positive vibes and a desire to play free jazz sax in a rock band ... that's 'rock band' as in freewheeling acid experimental science fiction spectacularly unstable counter-cultural rock band. With a sideline in serious speedfreaks, rather well-endowed naked dancers and head-bending light shows.

The cat with the silver face, Isle of Wight, 1970.

Turner's first, er, ejection from Spaceship Hawkwind - as Julian Cope pointed out ... it's 1977, punk is gathering pace and you've just been booted out of your band, so what do you do? Simple, if you're of a Nik Turner cast of mind - you head off to Egypt, inveigle yourself into the Great Pyramid at Giza and record yourself playing flute while sprawled out in a stone sarcophagus in the King's Chamber. Just to make sure the whole project sticks out in the contemporary pop landscape very like that crashed spaceship on the front cover of Hall Of The Mountain Grill, you then bring the tapes home and enlist various members of Gong to create a musical backdrop for your flute sounds ... and if that wasn't perverse enough, you then read sections from The Book of Coming Forth By Day over that.

Heavy metal psychedelic fighter pilot. Or something. Circa 1973?

I love the classic Hawkwind template - open-ended riff-heavy jamming with added electronic noise, Brock's rhythm guitar, Lemmy's thunderous bass and Turner's vocals and sax and flute; some of the most exhilarating music of the Seventies can be found here - classic songs/improv frameworks (albeit a very monomaniacal idea of improvisation ... something akin to the Velvet's live workouts) such as 'Master Of The Universe' and 'Brainstorm', more acoustic-based songs such as 'We Took The Wrong Step Years Ago' or the proto-punk noise and Turner's sax riffs of 'Urban Guerrilla' and 'Brainbox Pollution'. Witness the way the heavy-folk of 'Space Is Deep' shifts into Krautrock motorik - so good, that.

The Magus, 1978.

What I like, very much, about Turner is his willingness to have a go - he keeps active and, just as importantly, keeps engaged; busking, playing with younger musicians, guesting with a multitude of bands (most of a pronounced space rock bent) as well as keeping a number of his own outfits together ... jazzy combos such as Galaktikos or the Hawkwind revisited that is Space Ritual ... and if the latter outfit ("more original Hawkwind members than Hawkwind!") is something of a autotribute band, well, various ex-Beatles and The Rolling Stones have been doing just that for over three decades.

I like this photo a lot - Turner and Moorcock, 1975.

Credit where credit is due - right at the almost-very-beginning of the story, it's not everyone who would have cast an appraising eye over the unlikely lads Turner (likes:acid, pot, Eastern religions, messing around with saxophones) and Dik Mik (likes:speed, not going to bed for a week, messing around with circuit boards) and saw them as suitable bandmate material ... but Dave Brock had the genius to do just that. God bless'im.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Harmolodyssey

To prove that I don't spend all of my time listening to long-haired white geezers from 1973 (Jeez, sometimes I'll even listen to a green-quiffed ... er ... white geezer from ... um ... 1973), consider the singular talents of Ornette Coleman - over half a century since he blasted out of Texas to turn the jazz world upside down, he's still making music at the cutting-edge. Indeed, so single-minded has been his pursuit of Harmolodics that even the straight world has had to take notice; his latest album, Sound Grammar, has just pulled down the Pulitzer Prize.

And he did it all with a plastic saxophone - although, I notice, these days it's a plastic saxophone made by Selmer. But nothing is too good for a genius.
A restless, relentless innovator, a snappy dresser, a philosopher, a metaphysician - and , important this, a saintly individual; we'll probably not see his like again.