Friday, November 17, 2017


I know there's approximately 8 million amazing podcasts out there that I really need to start listening to, but one of the few I actually have is Kreative Kontrol with host Vish Khanna. The pod persona that he casts is that of a friendly and thoughtful music-loving resident of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, with guests from all across what could be generally classified as the indie/underground rock spectrum, including, in this case, long-time underground-rock-friendly jazz pianist Matthew Shipp. Interviews with Shipp are always good, so I jumped right on it, and not only has it introduced me to his terrific new piano trio album Piano Song, it's got my head brewing on several lines of thought that his words and music have set it on, such as the reality of inner space vs. the outer world, the realms and possibilities and usefulness of the imagination, forms of language that do not use words, and more, all as interpreted through one of my personal favorite musical archetypes, the jazz piano trio. I got so worked up by the interview that I dutifully transcribed a few key exchanges between Khanna and Shipp, but there's a lot more to dig into, so by all means go listen to the real thing, where you can also hear excerpts of this great new album.

SHIPP: [talking about the song "Cosmopolitan"] I view the album as a city. To me, all my albums are metropolitan landscapes of the mind . . . a lot of my albums are involved with trying to see what a futuristic city would be, like the landscape of a city on another planet.
KHANNA: You know, it's interesting to hear you talk about cosmopolitan and the future, because so many musicians when they are trying to conjure such a landscape will revert to synthetic music of some kind, and it's fascinating to hear you talk about this by using rather traditional instruments, if you will . . . it's fascinating to me that the future for you, in your mind, is really connected to the past, I suppose. This future landscape is really anchored in these older instruments, I suppose, in your case.
SHIPP: Well, I think the traditional jazz trio can present a vision of the future just as easy as a synthesizer does. I mean, the future is not all technology. The future is also inner landscapes. I mean, being able to travel inside your mind, or if you want to holographically go inside your mind, you can go to the whole universe . . . with Sun Ra, despite the fact that he has used electronic instruments, and was one of the first to use a Moog synthesizer, and that's a part of his vision, that he actually also understands that acoustic instruments can give a tip to futuristic ideas and landscapes just as much as a synthesizer can. I mean, first of all, a scientist does equations with mathematics, so you know, you can calculate stuff on Pluto in an equation, and scientists were doing that before computers. Obviously computers help mathematics in doing equations that are so cumbersome, you know, but scientists were doing that way before they were doing things on computers.Yeah, I don't sit around thinking about that, but that has been part of the calculation, that I can generate something with a scale or a cluster of notes on the piano that has everything, as much, to do with walking down the street on Planet X than what technology would generate.

SHIPP: [on the song "Microwave"] I actually named that more, I was reading just some physics books I was looking at around that time... it has nothing to do with an actual microwave that you cook in.
KHANNA: You're a physics buff, are you?
SHIPP: I find modern physics to be really good for the imagination . . . It's not a matter of really having an understanding of it. In fact, it's more of a matter of not understanding it, and letting your imagination go somewhere.

KHANNA: I feel like because we live in such dire times in terms of climate change and various administrations around the world, I feel like there's a deeper and more prolonged fascination with this notion of living in space.
SHIPP: Right.
KHANNA: Leaving earth! [Both laugh] Are you someone who is contemplating such things?
SHIPP: Well, we're kinda stuck here! Until we really get out, so... let's just say I always contemplate travelling to higher planes. That doesn't necessarily mean physically moving. It means just trying to get in touch with yourself, and find that bedrock of a place that might energetically, as far as frequency-wise, not be Planet Earth, even though your body's on the Planet Earth at the time.
KHANNA: I don't mean to conjure any kind of cliche, but does music take you to a different place?
SHIPP: (Emphatically) Yes.

Thursday, November 09, 2017


Stopped by Reckless Records for 5 minutes today (October 28th, 2017); it's always hard not to at least browse the New Arrivals bins, but I was illegally parked, my daughter was waiting in the car, and I had one job and one job only: to get my hands on two eagerly awaited psychedelic rock LPs that were just released this week.

Circuit Des Yeux, aka Haley Fohr, has given us a new LP called Reaching for Indigo that may be even better than her last one In Plain Speech, featuring what's gotta be her best song yet, "Black Fly." I've listened to the whole record a few times already, but this song in particular at least ten times, and a hundred more times in my head. All the elements that can make a song great -- lyrics, melody, arrangement, performance, feeling, a killer bridge -- are extremely well-represented. Lyrically, it goes in the Dylan-worthy withering putdown category, the protagonist imagining her ex(?)-lover(?) as the titular insect, with an explosive challenge in the chorus: "Is it a high dive you're looking for/Or a 24-hour convenience store?," the ethereal melody hooking hard on the high dive image. And that's not even getting to the exquisite band performance by the rhythm section of Josh Abrams on bass and Tyler Damon on drums, perfectly paced by Cooper Crain's mandolin and haunting synth whistles, and Whitney Johnson's keening viola. Crain and Johnson have contributed to Circuit Des Yeux for awhile, and are both key presences throughout the LP, Johnson playing viola on four of the eight songs, and Crain co-producing and playing various instruments on six, with his synth and bass on the progressively bluesy/folky side two opener "Paper Bag" another high point. Instrumentally, the band continues to be informed by Chicago's always-burgeoning post-jazz creative music community, and the album includes a blasting triumphant free-form jam called "A Story of this World Part II" that also has Ryley Walker playing electric guitar, massing with Fohr's own guitar playing and thrilling vocal improvisation (her remarkable singing and songwriting might overshadow just how interesting of an instrumentalist she also is).

And speaking of interesting instrumentalists, Headroom is the work of one Kryssi Battalene of New Haven, Connecticut, who also provides scorching lead guitar in the mighty rock band Mountain Movers. Headroom is her band all the way, taking that spacious scorch and sprawling it out into longer and more vocal-free tracks, sick noise psych jams straight-up, for those who like a whole lotta that burnt PSF space in their Twisted Village. It's not entirely accurate to call Headroom a solo project either, as she has a consistent rhythm section throughout the album of Rick Omonte on bass and Ross Menze on drums, and second and third guitarists appear as well, including another rising New Haven underground star in Stefan Christensen. The record begins in medias res with the endless loping/lumbering jam "How to Grow Evil Flowers," the band laying down an implacable trees, grass & stone groove that Battalene layers with sick filtered/processed guitar soloing that I could listen to for much longer than the track's 10-minute running time. "Millers Pond" is one of two tracks with vocals, and could be called a ballad, albeit a solarized and blasted one, with a destabilizing shimmer that unmoors the rhythm section, Battalene's vocal shining through the fissures like a small sun propeller. "The Second Blazing Star" is a side-closing paranoid loop/solo chase-style jam that reminds me of the mighty Heldon themselves. Side two opens with the title track, "Head in the Clouds," which ditches the rhythm section for a wormholing trio of Battalene's effected guitar, farfisa organ drone, and deep-dive synthesizer exploration. And, the album closer "Flower of Light" is the most explicitly PSF-informed thing on here, another scorched-earth desolation ballad that sounds more than a little like the all-time stunning band Shizuka, which is just fine with this listener.

So, it was a very efficient day of LP buying, and I've been luxuriating in these two deep and rich sonic/philosophic spaces all night long, still marveling at how well each one documents a particular scene of music in two different cities, both organized by and filtered through a brilliant female composer/performer/singer.

THIS JUST IN: Here's a brand new video for the opening track on the Circuit Des Yeux LP, "Brainshift," a song that accurately describes as an "invocation." In the video, eerie minimalist vintage-computer-style graphics illustrate the song title and subject matter in a very direct but effective way, and also make me nostalgic for various classic low-budget creepy A.I. imaginings from the sci-fi of the day.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Wednesday, August 09, 2017


I saw Susie Ibarra play live 21 years ago - I didn't know who she was before the show, and not sure if I figured out her name during it, or immediately afterwards, but she made a huge impression on me as the drummer in the David S. Ware Quartet, with Matthew Shipp on piano, William Parker on bass, and the late Mr. Ware on saxophone. A a great, great band filled with absolute heavyweights on every instrument. I'm lucky I got to see them.

Flash forward to the present, when, just a couple weeks ago, I learned that for a few years early in the 2000s, Ibarra played in an all-female improvising band called Mephista, releasing two CDs in 2002 and 2004 on John Zorn's Tzadik label, Black Narcissus and Entomological Reflections. It was Ibarra on percussion, Sylvie Courvoisier on piano, and Ikue Mori on electronics, and they created a very distinctive, idiosyncratic minimalist/maximalist trio sound together. Out of all the records released on Tzadik, I've probably heard less than 10% of them, and I probably would've never even known these two from Mephista existed either, if it wasn't for listening to Ibarra being interviewed by Jeremiah Cymerman on his 5049 Records podcast. That led me to these YouTubes, and a few more out there, and now I'm eyeing online secondhand sale copies of those aforementioned CDs (as far as I can tell there's nothing else in their discography, though they are still somewhat active, having played as recently as November 2016).

POSTSCRIPT: Susie Ibarra was also just interviewed at The Trap Set! 

Thursday, August 03, 2017


Strange how, even after Led Zeppelin III gets you into Roy Harper, and you get beyond Astral Weeks into Pentangle, Davey Graham, John Martyn, and the Incredible String Band, eventually finding an even more inner tier where Clive Palmer, Michael Chapman, Wizz Jones, and Bridget St. John all dwell, and you now know just how brilliant a movement of wide-open progressive folk/jazz/blues singer/songwriter/players there really was in 1970s Britain (read Electric Eden by Rob Young and prepare to go deeper still), you can still have no idea who Mike Cooper is until the estimable Paradise of Bachelors label begins to reissue his 1970s LPs sometime in the mid-2010s. That's exactly how it happened to me, anyway, and after listening to them online and being rather blown away, the one I've gotten deep into via my very own vinyl copy is Trout Steel and man, I hope to go deeper still; the mix of folk, blues, free jazz, and slipstream poetics (the title comes from Richard Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America) is absolutely luminous, and still with a rough loose gutbucket approach that is like a cold fresh wind blowing down a hill, the tracks feeling live in a room, Cooper's keening and wry voice, a couple acoustic guitars, a stand-up bass, and some wild saxophone blowing the doors off, all in the service of wistful love/life songs like my stone cold favorite, "Don't Talk Too Fast" (listen above if you haven't already). And then there's stuff on here like "Pharaoh's March," named in honor of Mr. Sanders himself, a 12-minute-long free jazz/folk instrumental that comes late in side two and blows the doors off the whole album.


Your friendly music blogger, pictured here in completely unstaged fashion, not just enjoying Trout Steel while reading the accompanying booklet, but veritably becoming ONE with it and its creator........... (photo by Angelina Dolman)

Don't miss Byron Coley's very extensive (yet still incomplete!) discographic rundown of Mike Cooper's career, recently posted at

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


Two synths and two drummers? Plus Joshua Abrams (of the Natural Information Society) on bass? Playing lumbering post-Miles heavy grooved-out electro-jazz?! I'm sold, especially when it's sitting new & shrinkwrapped, buried in a cutout bin for like $3.99, even though I've had a promo CD copy of it since it was released almost ten years ago. Hell, there's probably even a rough draft of a review somewhere on my desktop. It's not just Abrams... all the other musicians are household names as well, at least in weird households like mine: bandleader Ben Vida and the great Jim Baker both play synth, and John Herndon and Dan Bitney, both of Tortoise et al, play drums. With Abrams on bass you've got a quintet, a sort of double trio minus one. Amish is a New York label, but all musicians were Chicago-based at the time of this 2008 recording, though some have moved away since then. Chicago has always had a bad-ass jazz scene and surely always will. (And BTW, that video embedded up there is great. especially if you like 60s and 70s underground experimental film, kaleidoscopes, and surprisingly good refrigerator magnet poetry. It's a 2000s film made by Theo Angell, who also makes music, like the great record Auraplinth, from back in 2007, around the same time this Bird Show Band LP came out.)

Monday, July 10, 2017


This compilation LP came out almost 10 years ago, but a couple songs from side one have haunted me since first listen, and I just got it back out again. The songs in question are the 2nd and 3rd tracks on the record, both by Groupe El Azhar, both having a killer circular drum beat that sure sounds like trance rock to me. The first song is kind of in a bad-ass blues minor, fittingly titled "Mazal Nesker Mazal (I'm Getting Drunk)," with the lead vocalist laying down big barroom "yeeaaaaaaah"s, while the second song "Touedar Aakli (My Reason Is Lost)" has sweet major-key love-lorn overtones that make it my favorite of the two.

The LP is a compilation of Algerian Rai music. The word rai roughly translates as "opinion" or "point of view," which is interesting because the self-expression is indeed very unmediated and face-to-face, and in fact gets pretty rough and tumble, and I wonder if England and America in fact translated the concept of rai as punk. Just look at the titles: "I'm Still Getting Drunk... Still," "My God! My God! My Friends!," "I'll Marry Her Whether They Like It Or Not," and the curious "I Cuddle Myself," all over that driving trance beat. According to the liner notes Rai started evolving in the early 20th Century, in the Algerian port town of Wahran (aka Oran). A driving rhythm would be established while a Gasba flute played hypnotic dirge-like melodies that implied rich melancholy chord changes that a vocalist would express themselves over. For much of the 20th Century, Rai was associated with "shiekhs," apparently a somewhat dismissive term for underground ne'er-do-well musicians and entertainers. In 1970, probably due to the global rock'n'roll chic (no pun intended) of the Stones et al and the resulting cultural permissiveness, Rai no longer needed to stay underground, and a few Groupes emerged, like our subjects El Azhar. The instrumentation evolved and modernized, the bands, as LP producer Hisham Mayet writes in the liner notes, "reinterpreting the Gasba melodies on trumpet accompanied by a full orchestra of violins, drums, derboukas, accordions, and sometimes synthesizers..." There was a market for 45s, which is where all the cuts on this compilation come from. Sublime Frequencies, man... so many releases to sift through to find these gems among gems, those one or two tracks that still cut just as deep 10 years after you first hear them...

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