Sunday, February 25, 2018


Of all the lo-fi LPs (and cassettes and CDRs) that were released in the mid-late 2000s shitgaze boomlet (that's right, "shitgaze boomlet"), not all of 'em are gonna hold up that great. One might think a 2007 instrumental LP (recorded in 2005) of a guitarist and a drummer crudely hitting single atonal notes on their instruments, sometimes slowly and ploddingly, other times fast and ploddingly, and not infrequently just making a complete arhythmic mess, would not be one of them to stand the test of time. But by god I really liked this album the first time I heard it, and played it a bunch, and now it's been about 10 years (!!!) since I've listened, but have gotten it back out for a couple more spins, and have to say it sounds just as good as ever. Dare I say it's my favorite Siltbreeze 'phase two' release? Somehow, at least, the one I've listened to the most? Regardless of the utter crudity of what these goofballs play (and it's pretty damn crude at best), the shadowy lonesome atmosphere is exquisite throughout, as is the commitment to the rawest of No Wave principles. The name of this guitar/drums duo is pronounced "ex no barbeque ex," they're from Brisbane, Australia, and the guitarist is Matthew Earle, who runs the label called Breakdance the Dawn, and has played in quite a few ad hoc-ish bands down there, like Girls Girls Girls, and Xwave. I also own LPs by both (blame the Little Big Chief), but I've yet to find another one of his that's as.... singular as XNoBarbequeX. (By the way, everyone online says the album is called Sunshine Of Your Love, but I can't find the word "Love" anywhere on the sleeve or insert, so I'm calling it Sunshine Of Your.)

POSTSCRIPT: Pulled out the aforementioned Xwave LP, entitled Cities on Flame, and have to say that its dark guitar and distant vocal tunneling was sounding pretty damn good this forlorn late winter Sunday afternoon.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

SEX PISTOLS "No Fun" (Dave Goodman demo)

John Lydon started rehearsing with the Sex Pistols in the fall of 1975, and they quickly added a Stooges cover "No Fun" to their repertoire, playing it as a regular part of their live shows by at least 14 February 1976 (Happy Belated 42nd Anniversary), when a particularly memorable example went down at a place called Butler's Wharf, as described by Nick Kent in Jon Savage's essential England's Dreaming book: "John Lydon was on three trips of acid and god knows how many grams of speed... They were doing this version of 'No Fun', kept doing it over and over. Lydon got it in his head to start smashing the equipment: flying around with this mike stand, throwing things around. It wasn't aimed at the audience: they didn't matter. Lydon was in this state, it was obviously drug-induced but he clearly wanted to get completely out of himself. He wanted to go straight into the eye of the hurricane, and the group was backing him up."

A few months later, on 10 October 1976, just two days after the band signed their first major record contract with EMI, they ran through their set a couple times in a studio, and had their soundman Dave Goodman record it. The resultant demos are fairly legendary, and were even bootleg-released a year later, probably by band manager Malcolm McLaren himself, to show his disappointment with how over-produced their official major-label debut LP Never Mind the Bollocks had turned out. The version of "No Fun" they laid down that day in 1976 with Dave Goodman is one of the signal punk performances, especially by Lydon; I don't know what his drug intake was that day as opposed to 14 February, but sober or not, he gets very much into the "out of himself" "eye of the hurricane" state that Nick Kent witnessed on that earlier date. It's also the closest the Pistols ever got to the tranced-out psychotronic music he loved like Can and Hawkwind, in his own blown-out vocals and the band's relentless midtempo drive:

A month later, the band and others were featured on an episode of the London Weekend Show, a half-hour news presentation that Jon Savage says in England's Dreaming, "remains the single best documentary about Punk, captured just before its fall." It really is terrific, including a lot of footage from a Sex Pistols gig and sometimes intense, sometimes very funny interviews with them, the Clash, and a brand spanking new Siouxsie & the Banshees. (Hostess Janet Street Porter is charming throughout too, with a great 'Bowie kid' look, even though she was 30 years old at the time.) The programme (sic) ends with a version of "No Fun" which is pretty (pre-Sid) vicious, though not even close to the sheer immolation of the Goodman demos:

In June 1977, the Goodman demo of "No Fun" saw mass release as the B-side of the "Pretty Vacant" single. It was the third Sex Pistols single, still a few months before their debut LP Never Mind the Bollocks was to come out. It was released on the Virgin label and reached #6 in the UK. Later, after the Sex Pistols broke up, it was included on one of many cynical compilation/receivership releases allowed by court decisions, Flogging a Dead Horse, which is where I personally discovered its unearthly power, what Savage described as "searing, ridiculous" on page 379 of England's Dreaming.

And, of course, "No Fun" was the last song the Sex Pistols ever played together as a band, ending the final show of their US tour with it in January 1978. It's the song after which Johnny asked the audience, and the world, "Ever feel like you've been cheated?" Shit man, it's all right there on YouTube:

Monday, February 12, 2018

GOLDEN MEAN Resonance b/w Resonance (Toxic Mix) 12" (FIT)

Extremely chilly contempo techno with vocals... stuff like coldwave and deathrock gets talked about a lot these days, but all I know is that this record gets the rare Blastitude deathly cold rating, all night long. We're talking morbidly frozen. Colder than the 20 inches of snow dumped on Chicago last week. Golden Mean are the duo of Sabisha Friedberg and Tyler Wilcox, Mills College and Bard College alums respectively says the bio, so you know they're well-versed, but the music's still gotta cut the mustard, and these forlorn techno moodscapes certainly do. Haunting, cold, and lovely electronic settings come and go, melodically/atmospherically/compositionally, as Friedberg intones those monotone colder-than-coldwave vocals, an intense spoken word piece about "toxic desire" and so forth. Move over "Justify My Love"...

Sunday, February 04, 2018


ONE: CHICAGO JAZZ FESTIVAL (September 3, 2017)

I never really spend as much time as I'd like at the Chicago Jazz Festival each year, because I don't live too close to downtown, and you really can't drive down there on a summertime weekend unless you're insane and/or ready to spend at least $25 on parking, and there's always lots of pesky non-jazz stuff going on that weekend too. (For example, the festival happens every Labor Day weekend, which is also the last weekend before Chicago Public Schools, and therefore my two kids, start a new school year.) My tactic is to find the best two back-to-back performances on the schedule, and buzz down there for an always-mindblowing quick-hit 4-5 hour round trip. This year, Sunday September 3rd was a pretty easy choice, despite having to miss Mary Halvorson playing on Saturday, because Louis Moholo-Moholo's 5 Blokes were playing at 3:30PM, followed by Roscoe Mitchell's Quartets at 5PM. (Roscoe was even on the cover of the Chicago Reader that week, looking as bad-ass as ever.) It was a beautiful day and I was able to ride my bike down there, over 10 miles one way, the holiday weekend lakefront trail crowd in full effect, true sanctuary city beauty with an actual freshwater sea sprawled out behind, though said beautiful crowds and resultant gawker/stroller/rollerblader dodging did make me about 15 minutes late for Moholo-Moholo's band...

When I finally got there and headed all the way down the right aisle in front of the stage, where attendees were sitting on the floor, they were in a heavy gospel/soul/jazz full boil, and stayed pretty close to that peak as they segued in and out of varying themes for another 45 minutes straight. Man, they were terrific. They got at least two standing ovations. The tenor saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings was damn good, like young Pharaoh level good, but definitely with his own gospel/spiritual/carnival mellower groove/dance thing, maybe more Sonny than Pharaoh after all. The pianist Alexander Hawkins was also very impressive, and seemed to be the one calling the tunes, pounding away on those deep South African spirituals, chanting and hollering, leading the rest of the band in vocal call-and-response. Were they written by Hawkins? By Moholo-Moholo? Were they adapted folk themes? I'm not sure yet, I haven't researched, but I'm thinking maybe the last two. I'm no expert, but South African jazz really is its own different thing. The harmonies are different, and the chords seem simpler, more rootsy, earthy, churchy. Less use of upper extensions? (I've now learned that all the musicians are based in the UK, except for Moholo-Moholo, who did live in London for a few decades but has been back in South Africa since 2005. I suppose British jazz could be its own thing too, but I haven't analyzed it, and Hutchings was born and raised in Barbados.) As for lower extensions, the bassist John Edwards was also amazing, thunderous, sweating, very physical... besides the left hand of Hawkins, Edwards was the one bringing the heavy low-end frequencies, playing huge ramshackle root notes, sometimes even busting out weird distorted (almost certainly) unintentional (Cliff) Burton-style runs. Among all this thunder, Moholo-Moholo just hung back, and really let Hawkins keep time with those pounding chords. At age 77, he played with a very light touch, sometimes like he wasn't even hitting the drums, just moving the sticks, and then I would listen closer and start to hear his ticking patterns... and occasionally he would snap together with the band on a riff, playing his full kit loudly, or suddenly emerge with huge snare or tom accents... either way he was terrific, and clearly the bandleader, no matter how much Hawkins was driving the whole rapturous Cape Town rough and tumble. (P.S. Embedded below is a YouTube of this show, taken at about my same latitude, but on the other side of the stage, and I can hear Moholo-Moholo's drumming in the video much better than I could when I was there, offscreen to the right, sitting where the aisle ends right in front of him! I think it was because his drum kit was facing away from me, towards the rest of the band, so all the sound was flowing out towards them and the camera filming this video. And, one last note: the "full heavy boil" I am referring to above can be heard well at the 3:30-4:30 mark, though it was much louder in person.)

After the standing ovations, with about 25 more minutes to go until Roscoe Mitchell's 5PM set, I detoured through the adjacent Lurie Garden (highly recommended) for some peaceful sun-drenched processing time (it was a lovely and perfectly warm late August evening), then headed for the always impressive Pritzker Pavilion, the show starting with some preliminary introductions by the much-appreciated festival organizers. I thought it was kinda heavy when the lady emcee said, "Will you all now please rise for the National Anthem," at a major festival of African-American art, in this time when we have black athletes protesting the National Anthem before NFL games, simply because people of color aren't getting the same definition of "the land of the free" that white people are, and having white people ridiculously pushing back with very little respect for even recent African-American history, and here comes a brave young black male whose name I didn't catch and can't find on the internet, I presume a Chicago high school student (the jazz festival always features daytime performances by the city's preeminent high school jazz bands), and here I am wondering how far this kid is going to go on the Hendrix-at-Woodstock scale... is he going to protest the anthem, or is he gonna reclaim it, or how can he even claim this anthem in the first place, in a way white people will allow?

I needn't have wondered, because the kid simply came out and played a frankly superb solo rendition on his alto saxophone, treating the way-familiar melody in a very laid back way, ending the very first line with some simple bluesy grace notes on each syllable of "you" and "see" that I think immediately transmitted a wordless/pictureless feeling of what jazz music really is, to every person on the grounds, myself included of course. As he got more into it, the grace notes turned into deep scoops that were right outta Johnny Hodges, and then he gave the "home of the brave" conclusion a playful circle-of-fifths twist that made the crowd laugh and cheer and applaud. I wouldn't call it a protest, or even a reclamation, more a great momentary-or-otherwise emancipation (that is freedom from control), and by the way, fuck all of these NFL fans who would willfully misunderstand the issue being protested. The ultimate concern trolling, when the problem being protested isn't even one that white people have. It's one that people of color have, so maybe white people should just listen and not change the goddamn subject.

After this heavy tangent, it was time for Roscoe Mitchell's Quartets. Seven musicians took the stage, so it's a double quartet, but Roscoe is only counted once, because he's a member of both: one quartet is Fred Berry on trumpet, Jaribu Shihad on bass, Alvin Fielder on drums, and Roscoe Mitchell on reeds & woodwinds, and the second quartet is Tomeka Reid on cello, Junius Paul on bass, Vincent Davis on drums, and Roscoe Mitchell on reeds & woodwinds. So both quartets play at once, including Roscoe twice, got me? I've been listening to his massive Bells For The South Side double-CD 2017 release a lot lately, so I was ready for the constant experiments in texture between small groupings of instruments that Mitchell continues to masterfully orchestrate, and it was therefore not surprising that the concert would start with a good five-minute duet between Reid's cello and Fielder's drums. My deep thought listening to Ms. Reid's playing here was that it possibly no longer directly utilized the 'fire music' tradition, the music of the 1960s into the 1970s, which was a more outward and overtly political approach. This newer post-millennial jazz improvisation approach (which really gained steam in the 2000s and continues today, kicked off by another 60s-like music/culture revolution in the 1990s, this time perhaps an inward revolution rather than an outward one, obviously a topic for another #thinkpiece) is more thoughtful, self-challenging, dare I say self-protesting, therefore more covertly political (like I said #deepthoughts).

After the duet the whole band entered, playing a relatively short theme, and then Roscoe embarked upon what seemed like an almost 10-minute long upper-register extended-technique soprano sax solo, the first half of it, in tried-and-true AACM fashion, mostly unaccompanied. Lots of long held whistles, and soft overtonal overblows, occasionally shot through with brief appearances of his high-speed sheets-of-sound technique, but these fast and busy runs were ground out through the quiet overblow/whistling, almost like one uses a filter in electronic music or rock guitar soloing. At this point, I became aware for the first time that there was a cluster of actual true bros sitting just four seats away, gnarled ballcaps & faded Key West T's over gnarled khaki cargo shorts and sandals, the whole nine yards, and one of 'em just couldn't process what Roscoe was doing, and decided to let everyone in earshot know, loudly. I didn't hear everything, and wasn't trying to, but I remember a weird bit where he said, "That is somebody's dad up there. His kids are like, 'Dad. Enough.'" He also came up with the tried-and-true, "At least this was free!" (The Chicago Jazz Fest is always a free festival.) "No wonder they call it free jazz!" And, after a particularly long held piercing tone that (mercifully for the poor oppressed bro) ended the piece, he was right there with "Your tea is ready! One teaspoon of sugar, or two?" He had all the other bros laughing and chiming in with even worse jokes, and they were starting to catch dirty looks from any nearby deep listeners, and I thought it was gonna get out of hand, but the next piece came along and Roscoe shut 'em up with a louder and relatively traditional Arabic blues. Without the upper register exploration to focus negative attention on, the quality of musicianship was inarguable. I get it, Roscoe can have a confrontational and harsh instrumental style. He can be a bit of a punk (or even NOISE) saxophone player. But more than just a horn player, he's (perhaps primarily) a very interesting and creative composer and bandleader, who always gets great performances out of his musicians.

To wit, the bro crew remained silent during an even quieter section that followed, a fantastic extended double bass duet between Jaribu Shahid and Junius Paul, staying whisper-quiet even after Tomeka Reid eventually joined in to make it a trio, dropping in higher-end counterpoint that got Paul grooving in appreciation, head and signature wide-brimmed hat nodding and swaying as he and Reid made some eye contact. This string section was followed by further rhythm section extrapolation, this time in the form of back-to-back drum solos. Vincent Davis went first, and played a slow-build extendo rolling thunder move that, after a few minutes of constantly building intensity, ended on a dramatic stop, followed by applause, though before it even died down, Alvin Fielder, in suit, tie, glasses, and trim grey beard, began a patient, professorial dissertation on snare, rack tom, and floor tom (with accents from cymbals and elsewhere) that slowly built into a fairly roiling solo of his own.

I can't quite remember if it followed the drum solos directly, but the centerpiece of the whole set was a wild uncompromised full-band rolling-thunder eternal frantic rumble piece (partially embedded above), kinda like the whole band doing an ensemble version of Davis's previous drum solo. It was very heavy and seemed to go on for 20 minutes, at which point the band hit a brassy R&B outro groove over which Mitchell introduced the band (I saw him do this same thing in person at the Knitting Factory way back in 1996, and I swear also on some YouTubes that I won't bother looking for right now, though I think he's closed shows this way throughout his career). It was a great show, and Roscoe definitely won that heckler bro over, who even said "That's how you do it!" towards the end.  

As I slowly made my way out of Millennium Park (the place was crowded, people coming and going everywhere, still a lot of live music to come that evening) and headed for the Red Line, I couldn't help but hear and seek out a live band playing on the southwest corner of Randolph & Michigan, a little lady soul singer who was probably even shorter than Prince himself, backed by a karaoke machine playing mellow soul backing tracks, and a two-man horn section (trumpet & sax). If anyone knows the name of this singer and/or group, and if they play at that corner often, leave a comment! She's terrific! Them, the kid playing the "Star-Spangled Banner," Roscoe Mitchell, Tomeka Reid, Vincent Davis, Junius Paul.... man I love Chicago music...

TWO: HYDE PARK JAZZ FESTIVAL (September 23, 2017)


This record-setting heatwave of a late summer/early fall continues to feel like jazz festival weather, and this weekend I made it to my second big jazz fest of the month, all the way down in my second-favorite Chicago neighborhood, Hyde Park, 90 minutes one way on the CTA from my home in Rogers Park. I always think of Hyde Park and Rogers Park as mirror neighborhoods; my two favorite neighborhoods in Chicago, both right on the lakeshore, roughly equidistant in opposite directions from the city center, both great neighborhoods for music/arts/books/food/culture, both university neighborhoods (the prestigious University of Chicago in HP and thriving Loyola University in RP), both among the more integrated neighborhoods in Chicago, with substantial African/African-American populations (Hyde Park 30%, Rogers Park 26%). In short, it was a blast for this Rogers Parker to be mirroring it up in Hyde Park for the first time in a few years, and to hear so much great music while there.

I had a nice busy itinerary planned out, starting at 1PM on Saturday, when Jaimie Branch's Fly Or Die were playing outside in the courtyard in front of the Smart Museum of Art. Ms. Branch plays trumpet, grew up on Chicago's suburban North Shore, attended the prestigious New England Conservatory in Boston, moved back to Chicago for awhile, and is now well established in New York City. As is her whole band (Tomeka Reid on cello, Jason Ajemian on bass, Chad Taylor on drums), although all were Chicago musicians at one time. I still see Reid play at least once a year, but haven't seen the latter two play since like 2004 (Taylor moved to Brooklyn around then, not sure when Ajemian did). Anyway, they were certainly repping Chicago at the Smart Museum, Branch decked out in fly Champion gear and a lovely White Sox hat in which the team logo was rendered with the pale blue and white colors of the Chicago flag, Ajemian also sporting Sox gear in the form of the all-time dope all-black road jersey.

But as you know, I'm not here to tell you about fashion, or franchises, but about music, which in this case was very good. Branch can absolutely wail, and shred, and blast, and bring the noise on trumpet, and it was cool to hear a quartet where the second melody instrument was a cello; Reid has been one of my favorite Chicago musicians for a few years now, and her instrument was sounding great in the sunny afternoon (I noticed she was using this cool-looking SWR California Blonde amp), every bit as push-the-envelope creative as Branch, making for a rousing tandem. Rhythm section held it down too; heads already know that Chad Taylor is a great drummer, and it was great to hear him and Ajemian again (speaking of the latter, I just discovered Folklords, the wild and spaced-out album he made as a leader for Delmark in 2015, completely unknown to me until a couple months ago). 

From there I walked... quite a ways actually, which was great because exercise is important, especially on beautiful sunny days... to the eastern end of the Midway Plaisance Park where the Makaya McCraven Group was playing, also outdoors. I loved his 2015 album In the Moment on International Anthem (whaddayaknow, the same label that just put out Jaimie Branch's terrific debut LP), but that was kind of a trip-hop/hip-hop vibe, where this was some kinda smooth fusion group, with a cool lineup that featured a really good electric guitarist Matt Gold, a really good mellow/sharp trumpeter named Marquis Hill, one Joel Ross on vibraphone, and my man Junius Paul on bass (I just found out about him three weeks earlier, when I saw him play with Roscoe Mitchell at the Chicago Jazz Fest). They'd already been playing for almost 30 minutes when I got there, and this was also my time to sit and eat food, drink water, and figure out the rest of my busy itinerary, so I was a little distracted. They sounded good for sure, but I really only background-listened. And now a couple weeks later as I write this, I come across this late-night dark-vibe live set at the Boiler Room with almost the same group, and it's just stunningly good, seemingly every note crucial, nothing background about it. I do credit it somewhat to daytime outdoor distraction vs. nighttime indoor concentration, but also to how much Rob Clearfield brings to it on keyboards, compared to the role of his stand-in at the Hyde Park Jazz Fest, Joel Ross on vibes. (Don't get me wrong, I do think Ross was good that day, because the band sounded good, but I don't remember him specifically.)

Yeah, I was distracted -- hell, at one point there were no less than six bees (I counted!) hovering over the jerk chicken, jollof rice, and peanut butter stew from Badou Senegalese Cuisine I wolfed down while McCraven and group played. (Believe it or not, Badou's restaurant is in Rogers Park and a 5-minute drive from my house, but having not visited in at least two years, I had to go all the way to Hyde Park to eat his food again!) After their set came to a close (I do really want to see them play again, with or without Clearfield), and the remnants of my meal were safely discarded, I headed to the Logan Center for the Arts for a 3pm concert by the great flautist Nicole Mitchell and Malian kora player Bamako Sissane, performing as Chicago*Bamako Sound System. On my leisurely way there, passing the stage on the opposite end of the Plaisance, I caught a couple songs by Ifficial Reggae Movement, which was cool roots/rockers gruff oldies style. I swear I might've seen 'em a few years back at the Glenwood Avenue Arts Festival up here in RP... good singer... no guitarist though, and the lone electro keyboard tone was a little harsh/tinny/plastic. 

Moments later at the comfortable and elegantly air-conditioned Logan Center, I took a seat as the auditorium filled to capacity. Kate Dumbleton, the executive and artistic director of the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, took the stage to say a few words, and it was good to see a woman in her position, and I was reminded of my boss, also a female executive director of a Chicago non-profit arts organization, and realized the itinerary I had planned out was almost all female composer/bandleaders. Three out of five anyway, four if you count the Nick Mazzarella/Tomeka Reid duet (I do). After Ms. Dumbleton spoke a little, and Nicole Mitchell was deservedly awarded the Flautist of the Year Award by some honorable jazz organization or another (I swear they said it was her 9th straight year winning it), out came the anticipated festival highlight known as Bamako*Chicago Sound System. The lineup was Ms. Mitchell and Ballake Sissoko on flute and kora respectively, Chicago mainstays Josh Abrams on bass and Jeff Parker on guitar (though the latter now lives in L.A.), Fassery Diabate on balafon, Jovia Armstrong on percussion, and the terrific Mankwe Ndosi and Fatim Kouyate on vocals.

They played 8 or 9 compositions, divided more or less equally between Mitchell and Sissoko. Flute is of course a perfect and common blend with that airy African string-band groove, so it's no surprise that this group laid down some beautiful music, enriched by Mitchell's Americanisms, both compositionally, and as an accompanist and soloist. I say Americanisms, because her compositions were as distinctly American as Sissoko's were distinctly African, yet both sounded wonderful, natural, at home playing the compositions of the other, and blending their respective styles together.

The whole band was great as well; percussionist Jovia Armstrong sat and played a sort of stripped-down multi-instrument trap kit, very minimally, which I found refreshing in that the band could focus on universal groove and feeling without having to accommodate any sort of 'American jazz chops' legacy from the kit. For example, she didn't take an extended solo, while I believe everyone else did, all of which were really cool, such as Fassery Diabate, whose balafon was a revelation, a sort of organically wooden 'talking' xylophone, capable of very lyrical high-speed runs. Jeff Parker and Ballake Sissoko traded unaccompanied licks for a super-fun couple minutes, Sissoko's kora mimicking Parker's already wild electric guitar solo flights very closely, then leaping off into his own dare-I-say R.Shankar-worthy extensions that eventually reduced his 'competitor' to laughter. During an epic progressive soul/jazz/world Mitchell composition called "This Moment," it was Mankwe Ndosi's turn to blow everyone's mind with a deep-dive free-flight weird-crone sweet-angel vocal solo (pictured below) that really made me wonder why I hadn't heard of her before, and it was followed immediately by a bad-ass bass solo by Joshua Abrams, which served as an intro to another sublime R&B inflected groove ballad (or maybe it was "This Moment" continued, not sure, but Parker was the secret hero of this tune, with rich straight R&B rhythm comping, a soft foundation for Sissoko's exquisite licks to lay upon.) Fatim Kouyate did not take a solo, but was also terrific (she's recorded pop/rap music in Mali). Listen to the two vocalists effortlessly sing a complex melody on a song (title unknown) that starts after the 14:40 mark of this awesome video somebody uploaded of the concert. (Embedded below... also don't miss Mitchell's unaccompanied solo out of "This Moment" which leads into Ms. Ndosi's and Mr. Abrams's aforementioned solos... it all starts after the six minute mark...)

After this great concert I was properly jazzed, if you will, and headed back outside into the early evening sunshine and walked north on South Cottage Grove Avenue (noting the heavy Fountain of Time sculpture by Lorado Taft across the street in Washington Park), up to the DuSable Museum of African-American History, a place I should be visiting anyway, not just when Tomeka Reid is playing music there, which this time took precedence. Dedicated readers will note that this was Ms. Reid's second concert of the day, this time a duo performance with saxophonist Nick Mazzarella. I've heard his name around, but this was my first time seeing or hearing him play, and he laid down careful and patient angularities that both added up and paid off. Reid was great again, and particularly heavy, to the point where this is the first time I've wondered whether or not she might be directly influenced by heavy metal (power chords, Cliff Burton, Tony Iommi, Geddy Lee himself....)

Unfortunately, after 25 minutes or so, before I could detect any outright Rush-isms, I had to duck out early and head a few blocks east on 56th in time for my last stop, a 5pm solo set by Amina Claudine Myers at the Hyde Park Union Church. There was no way I was going to miss a solo performance by this underrated long-time AACM member, even though I'd barely heard her music before. It was billed as a solo organ set, which sounded awesome, and after a long and rather... uncharismatic cue-card introduction speech by a festival organizer, big cosmic organ tones started filling the room, and people started wondering where the heck Amina was, until we started realizing that a few actual press photographers were snapping pictures downwards over at stage left, which turned out to be the little pit where the organist played, unseen by the congregation. Of course we could look up and see the pipes, which were massive, and it was a great opportunity to just close your eyes and zone out to loud spiritual music, rather than chasing some TV-trained notion of viewable spectacle.

After a single organ piece that was less than 10 minutes long, the music stopped and an assistant helped Ms. Myers out of the pit. She waved and the crowd applauded while she made her way to the piano, where she proceeded to play the rest of the concert in full view, starting with a haunting a capella vocal lament that went "Down on me Lord/Down on me/Seems like everybody in this whole round world is down on me/Ain't been to heaven but I've been told/Gates are pearl and the streets are gold/Seems like everybody in this whole drowned world is down on me." This song, and most if not all of her set, was from her most recent album, Sama Rou: Songs From My Soul It was self-released in 2016 on CD and digital, via her own Amina C label, and like the concert, it's a solo recording with vocals on most tracks, except for a stunning 19-minute instrumental piece called "Crossings," which she also played in Hyde Park. This is a great album, a deep and haunting work that deserves more attention. I feel she's always going to get Alice Coltrane comparisons, due to that blues-rooted but always-extending cosmic/spiritual harp-style piano playing, but at this concert and on Sama Rou it's clear that she's mining a voice-driven field/spiritual/blues/gospel/cosmic fusion territory of her very own.

Another centerpiece of both the album and her set was "Ain't Nobody Ever Gonna Hear Us?," which lists a long forthright litany of specific contemporary problems: "I'm tired/I'm tired/I'm so tired/I'm tired of the homelessness/I'm tired of people having no place to stay/I'm tired of no nursing homes that's equipped for the homeless/For the sick people/I'm tired of the wars/I'm tired of the schools not designed for the children..." The song that still haunts me the most is called "My Soul's Been Anchored By The Lord," which had a much more funereal feeling in Hyde Park than the relatively jaunty version on the album, and haunts me melodically more than lyrically. But her lyrics were hitting me throughout the set, such as when she sang in another song, "One of these mornings bright and fair/I'm gonna take my wings and take to the air," when I realized that the themes of the day had gone full circle, starting with Jaimie Branch telling us to Fly or Die, and ending with Amina Claudine Myers singing "taking my wings and taking to the air." (And plenty of, shall we say, high-flying music in between.)

SHABAKA HUTCHINGS "STUPID SAX" POSTCRIPT: Hutchings, and two other London-based experimental jazz musicians, Yazz Ahmed and Nubya Garcia, were just interviewed by Phil Freeman for his Burning Ambulance Podcast. The whole thing is a good listen, but there was this great passage from Hutchings: "My main influence as of late is trying to become what I’ve termed 'stupid sax.' (laughter) Now this is an interesting concept because, you know, we go through college and we have all these, like, things in the air, like in the zeitgeist, that says 'You need to be better.' And this comes from the capitalist system. We need to accumulate more jazz chops. We need more information. We need more facility. We need more everything. But what about if we don’t need any more anything? What if we need to go back to a place where we just have our creativity and a piece of metal? And I call that 'stupid sax.' You take the saxophone and you just get ignorant. People are trying to be too good. People need to start to be bad, but consistently bad, and bad with strength and conviction."

SHABAKA HUTCHINGS/TOMEKA REID/JUNIUS PAUL/MAKAYA MACRAVEN POSTSCRIPT: Here's a really cool vid of all four of 'em jamming, I'm guessing in Chicago the same weekend as the Jazz Festival reviewed above, at an after-fest show. Looks like it might be Constellation. It was posted by Hutchings himself, one week after the Fest.

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