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Monday, 15 September 2014

Zusaan Kali Fasteau & Donald Rafael Garrett ‎– 'Memoirs Of A Dream' (Flying Note)

You can count me among the fans of the Sea Ensemble's 1974 ESP-Disk album We Move Together; it's one of the less heralded ESP titles, coming so late, and maybe due to it not really fitting into any prevailing jazz scene at the time. Don Garrett is one of those figures who was integral to the 1960's free jazz movement without being recorded that many times. He played on Coltrane's Kulu Sé Mama and in the Archie Shepp band for a bit, and was generally described as being an energetic, visionary figure who knew and worked with just about everybody, without ever carving out much of a name for himself as a band leader or soloist. His long-term relationship with Kali Fasteau (they were married during the 70s) led to the Sea Ensemble, a duo group that somehow sounds like so much more. I came across this double CD at some point in my exploratory jazz phase and often throw it on when I want to escape into the fluid movement of wind. These are two live concerts, and they are flowing, evocative improvisations. The first disc is live in Leiden, 1975, and in two 15-minute tracks they start a whirling ball of organic sounds rolling that never really stops, though it has its ebbs and flows. It finally comes to a gentle, slow resolution where the air, channeled by these two, finds a resting place. The second disc is live in Turkey, 1977, towards the end of their relationship. This is divided into twelve tracks, all untitled, and has a less crisp, more woody fidelity. They start by speaking an introduction with some abstract language and then blow through some intense interactions. There is a lot of piano and upright bass, as well as the wind instruments heard so prominently on the first disc. The fidelity makes it sound a bit like a recording from the 1920's or at least the pre-modern times; this gives it even more of an otherworldly feel than the instrumentation does. There's a good bit of vocals here, sprinkled overtop like a spice, and the two get into a push-pull thing sometimes, particularly when both on wind instruments (I can't always tell what's what; some of the flute-like sounds feel too wooden in origin to be a proper flute, but then not quite a shakuhachi sound either). When it gets more of an edge (the double-bass bowing is warm and wet, but there's a more sharp, grating bowed instrument later on that when plucked sounds like a sitar or something Indian), it stands out from the other tracks. This musical freedom, where a jazz basis is synthesised with the pulse of worldwide traditional music, feels more like a way of life than a genre. Though many of my favourite 'jazz' artists trend towards this type of output (Alice Coltrane, Don Cherry, etc.), they're really outliers when compared to the standard jazz narrative, of Wynton Marsalis and Lincoln Centre and public radio and all that shit. Maybe this is just a bunch of hippie shit, but these artists found their path and stayed committed and true, and you can hear it between the notes and spaces of the recordings. The passion here is expressive, but it's as much about the overall artistic vision (visually, as well as in the way they lived) as it is about the sounds themselves. I find inspiration here more from that aspect than from the actual recordings, because as pleasurable and psychedelic as it can be to be carried on Fasteau and Garrett's flying carpets, it's more of a call to arms, to get off this laptop and pick up my busted-ass clarinet and start exploring my own outer spheres. That's not to diminish how great this is - it's an hour and a half well-spent, alive and breathing.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Fall of Saigon (Gazul)

By the time the first minute of Fall of Saigon has passed, the punchy opener 'Visions', I feel like I am listening to a slightly more aggressive version of Young Marble Giants. The simple synth pulses, gentle rhythms, and Florence Berthon's earthy, intimate voice are certainly from the same playbook, and this comes a few years later (1981-1984) so the influence is probably undeniable. But this was reissued probably due to the presence of Pascal Comelade, who later built a career performing in more experimental and improvised arenas, and these nascent tendencies are heard throughout. And when guitarist Terry Den takes over vocals, as on 'On the Beach at Fontana' (chanting a James Joyce poem) or 'She Leaves me All Alone', we get a more industrial, trance-like feel. His dour voice recalls the Cure or just about anyone else making dark punk-edged pop in 1982. (Could the band name refer to the This Heat song, or is it a reference to French political history?) This music is familiar through its obscurity, being another one of those rediscovered gems that keep surfacing at fairly regular intervals. That balance of serious and heavy lies throughout - there's fun live recordings of covers (Kraftwerk's 'The Model', TV Personalities 'Part Time Punks', and The Doors's 'The End') sequenced together in the middle, but it doesn't feel like filler, instead like a fleshing out of the personality of this band, represented 30 years later by this single CD. I don't know how Fall of Saigon fits into the trajectory of French art-rock; I so want to shoehorn them into some lineage between Mahogany Brain and Cheveu, but that's just forcing myself to rationalise great music into a historical narrative. The of-its-time sound and the covers inevitably situate this as a product of its time, but it's a time that we've been celebrating for three decades and I see no reason to suddenly stop.