Thursday, March 27, 2008

Sun Ra Nuclear War
Sun Ra and his Arkestra Music From Tomorrow's World

Sun Ra and his Arkestra Omniverse
Sun Ra and his Arkestra On Jupiter
Prince Paul A Prince Among Thieves

Run DMC Raising Hell
Digable Planets Blowout Comb
Theo Angell Dearly Beloved CD
Human Bell/Azita/Jeff Parker & John Herndon Duo live @ AV-Aerie, Chicago
Sun City Girls You're Never Alone With A Cigarette CD

For the most part Nuclear War is one of Sun Ra's most accessible albums, a tight organ combo riffing and swinging, laying down versions of a Duke Ellington standard and two sweet vocal tunes that your grandparents would totally dig, sung by June Tyson, "Sometimes I'm Happy" and "Smile." But then there's the opening title track, a rare example of Ra and the Arkestra working blue, laying down a funny call-and-response paranoid chant about how nuclear war is a "motherfucker," including one of the most no-nonsense anti-war platforms ever: "If they push that button/Your ass gotta go/WHATCHA GONNA DO WITHOUT YOUR ASS?!?" This album was recorded in 1982 but, aside from a modern recording sheen, it could pass for 1962 or earlier, the title track a response to Fat Man and Little Boy instead of Ronald Reagan and Three Mile Island. Music From Tomorrow's World is another Sun Ra archival dig from the Atavistic Unheard Music series, this one documenting two live shows in Chicago from 1960. This is big band swing, tipping towards the trad/inside early Arkestra styles, with a nice raucous club vibe - it sounds like there's only about 20 people there but they're having fun. Great smooth (possibly parodic?) vocal on "S'Wonderful." And hey, Phil Cohran is in the band on cornet. Wow, M. Turner from Warmer Milks sent an e-mail this morning that he was gonna be in Chicago tonight, sitting in with Human Bell at their show at the AV-Aerie, and Angelina had the night off so I decided to just waltz right over there. The old man in me doesn't like to get home at 2AM on a worknight but sometimes it has to be done, and tonight I was actually interested in all three scheduled acts - Human Bell because the equation of "ex-Lungfish" plus "guitar instrumentals" has at least some zone-out potential, and because I'm always interested in what Turner does, Azita because I've been meaning to see her play ever since her album Enantiodromia came out in 2003 (and I don't think I've ever seen her play at all, certainly not with the Scissor Girls who I regret missing...they played Lincoln, NE in like 1993 when I lived there and I even missed that...oh wait, I did see Bride of No No once at the Fireside, 2001 or 2002, I spent almost all of their set in the bar but the dirge vibes got through anyway...and by the way I was just reading what Enantiodromia actually means and wow, the word might have been chosen to describe her so-called 'No Wave to Steely Dan' stylistic shift), and the Parker/Herndon duo because I once saw Herndon kill it on drums for The Eternals, and because I've really been appreciating Parker lately (he's great on the latest Fred Anderson & Hamid Drake album, not to mention Enantiodromia itself). That said, their set was cool but I'm not sure they were at the top of their game. They played one piece, maybe about 15 minutes - Herndon got some rolling free-form thunder going but seemed kinda held in place by Parker, who to my ears was caught in drone/feedback land for a little too long, spinning his wheels a bit. He did find a way out of it towards the end, with some low-end melodic tranceout that reminded me of how William Parker basslines often remind me of ancient hand-drum patterns... it was a totally worthwhile set, seeing 'em have to dig for music and indeed finding some, a fully exploratory style that sometimes grows very slowly and sometimes not at all. Best set of the night was by Azita, who sat alone at her piano and played 8 or 9 songs I hadn't heard before (haven't heard any of her records since the first one). Her between-song persona was a little brassy, talking about how sick she was, how she barely made it to the show, how she had no idea what she was gonna play next, how she was getting drunker, and so on, but each time she played a song that all melted away. It's funny, she sings so strangely and perhaps affectedly on Enantiodromia, maybe a nod to her no wave roots, and at this show she was doing a little bit of that too, rounding out her vowels and lines with some weird-punk contortions, but for the most part that wasn't a factor, as she was really just singing the songs, and singing them very well, clear-as-a-bell dark-romantic balladry, moody and obtuse, reaching and stretching for that good old inner light. Human Bell went last, Dave "Human" Heumann from that-band-I-have-not-heard Arbouretum and ex-Lungfish guy Nathan "Bell" Bell playing the interlocking post-rocking guitars while Peter "not Pete" Townsend from Speed to Roam and the Bonnie Prince Billy Band plays the drums. The guitar parts are nice and chiming and intricate and the drums are just right but overall I found it to be static, kind of freeze-dried, and too anthemic to be hypnotic. The songs needed something more, something to push against them and make 'em push back, or slash at them and maybe draw some blood or expose some nerves, which is what Turner started to do when he guested on the last two, playing feedbacking/skittering drone/noise guitar. But hey, overall, like Mr. Human said before their last song, "Thanks to Azita, Jeff, and Johnny for playing. A lot of good music tonight." Speaking of which, on the way home the Sun City Girls disc sounded awesome, definitely like a real album and not a singles collection, which it isn't really, but yeah....

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