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Sunday, 28 June 2009

Art Ensemble of Chicago - 'A Jackson in Your House / Message to Our Folks' (Charly)

This two-fer-one CD was a bargain when I ordered it from Forced Exposure some years ago, just after Charley had put out that Jazzactuel box and was starting to reish individual BYG/Actuel titles. These two albums were recorded at the beginning of the Art Ensemble's fruitful Parisian residency and fit together well because of their playful, balls-out quality. (The intervening People in Sorrow fits its title and is best served on its own -- we'll hit that next on Vinyl Underbite). The CD is not a format I am fond of and these 2-for-1s are particularly troublesome because it's easy to lose sight of when one album ends and the other begins. Not only do we lose the bifurcated essence of the LP, but in this case we smash four distinct sides of vinyl into one. Well. As I said a few sentences ago, these fit together well because both records are rather unpredictable and lively. Listening to this (which comes after those earlier AACM records we'll see later, such as Congliptious, Sound, etc.) it's remarkable what a completely new approach to music these guys were having. The subject of our first title track isn't clear to me but I've always thought of Pollock instead of Michael, Jesse, Stonewall, etc. A melody rooted in Dixieland forms shoots out like an announcement, but these Dadaists leave in long moments of quietude, smashed right in the middle of the songs. If this isn't the musical drizzling of paint-on-canvas then I don't know what is. The subtitle on the disc says "great black music" and I guess that was their attempt to define some new genre. I'm willing to argue that they succeeded. Why are these guys always lumped in with free jazz? Yeah, they use jazz instruments, but only somewhat -- they have as much in common with Sonny Simmons as Keith Rowe does with Buckethead. There are dense bursty bits that are chaotic and active, and certainly there is a strong sense of freedom, but these records are really blueprints for another means of expression. Traditions are all over the place but it's as much African drumming (like on the long 'Song for Charles') or oratorial, spoken poetry. Put together you have an overstuffed CD that can be draining to listen to, despite the great passages of calm. I'm slightly worried about overdoing it on Art Ensemble of Chicago, as the nature of this project means there's gonna be about 9 in a row after this, not that I'd ever dislike listening to any of the records. I'm more worried I'm going to run out of words to describe them. These two albums, while a great place to start, already are vastly more complex than I am capable of describing and I've already written enough here without even saying much about most of the record. So hold on for the ride, it's going to be busy, bumpy, and chock full of brilliance that each listen only reveals in the form of a glimpse. Also comes with lengthy liner notes in English and German but I'm too lazy to read them.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Arbete och Fritid (MNW)

This is self-titled so I think it's the first Arbete and Fritid record, but I can't read the lengthy booklet, which is in Swedish. This is what you get if you mix traditional Scandinavian folk music with a good deal of acid - a group of guys sawing away at the classics, sometimes approximating traditional tangents and other times picking up the ball left off by their fellow countrymen The Parson Sound. Things start off sensibly enough, with a few folky tunes performed with an amped up string section. It has that feudal quality I love in the Third Ear Band, but there's a somewhat more jazzy feel and a bit of whatever Kurt Weill is, too. But enough of referencing other artists - let's talk about Arbete and Fritid. When 'Petrokemi Det Kan Man Inte Bada I' kicks in, its a heavy groove that stays locked into itself, but still lets the sax solos out to play. And from this point on, things start to get weird. The strings, so happy to stick to to classics on the first half, begin to bubble and fester as if possessed. Yeah, I feel a bit of malevolence, but maybe it's just an evil smile spread across five Swedish faces. They don't vocalise on every song but when they do you might get growling, earthy bravado or shriking giggling gasping experimentation. Even the delicate sections feel somewhat uncompromising. You've probably never heard a recorder played with such gusto before, and it's recorded pretty well - so much that when the audience applauds at the end of 'Pols Efter steffe Henningsgård, Brekken' it's a bit of a shock. As a bonus track (I think), you get a 20 minute jam entitled 'Ostpusten - Västpusten' which I'm going to guess means something about east and west. It's weird when a bonus track is 1/3 of the disc running time, but I guess this blog is about the CD format to some extent. This begins with a weighty string piece that breathes in and out, hanging in the ear like a giant distended stomach even during passages that are thick with movement. Percussion creeps in, and soon it's an all-out jam that rolls like an ocean wave. There's something hedonistic about this track; there's a bunch of melodies pulling at each other, but it keeps flowing with a perverse passion. By the end it's shifted a few more times and there's some more applause to close out the disc.