Thursday, November 29, 2007
I'm noticing these mechanical elements showing up in the drawings lately (in this case, those weird posts that the thought/speech balloons are clinging to.) I'm always reluctant to overlay too much narrative structure to the drawings--it always seems to mess me up, freeze me as I try to cram what I want to draw into that structure--but I've got a little story going for the mechanical elements. They're part(s) of the Ape Machine, a type of ubiquitous and parasitic narrative factory. It draws out and gathers our experiences, fears, loves, etc, collecting them through various columns, chambers, vents, antennae, magnets; in some cases, living creatures (cloud worms, sussuri, various other agents, some human and/or not) are used to evoke and gather these experiences from us. The Ape Machine--or those parts which are hidden from view--is a manifestation of our collective unconscious, in a sense. But, ultimately, the Ape Machine (this is just one small node) is a vast factory that gathers all and produces nothing. Kind of like life. I think. I haven't figured that out yet.
(I've been watching a lot of "How It's Made" lately and I think that's seeped into my brain somehow.)
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
I wait for the 4:50 express back to Grand Central Mon-Wed. I walk from Westchester One (as our building is so fucking stupidly called) and arrive at the platform around 4:40-4:45. Every single day there is a huge murder of crows that's gathered in the trees west of the train platform. I'm guessing the entire murder covers four or five acres (at least) and must contain a thousand crows...maybe more as it's gloaming and the light is tricky. They sit, and then several hundred will startle, hop and glide and trade trees, etc. One of the weirdest things I've ever seen. They're murdering (?) every night at this time, and have been for weeks. What gives? (This photo gives no idea of the occourance...but it's something.)
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Saturday, November 24, 2007
THE COMPLETE ON THE CORNER SESSIONS, PT. 2: CUTTING AN EARTHWORM IN HALF WITH A BUTTER KNIFE.
Me and OtC have always had stand-offish relationship and--in fifteen years of taking a run at the album every six months or so--I've only marginally softened my view. The 20-miunte long On the Corner opening suite? Terrible. Categorically unlistenable. No high points, just low points, no depth, a third of an hour of sheer uncomfortable noise, like someone dumping roofing nails onto a plate glass window. Black Satin? Fun but kind of cartoonish, very much like the cover of the album. One and One? Pointless. Helen Butte? It has some moments but--at sixteen minutes--it's often difficult to sit through. Mr. Freedom X is the only song truly redemptive song on the album--eight minutes of bizarre space funk...completely unlike anything else I've ever heard before or since. But--with this dismissal in mind--you know what I find shocking? My favorite post-Bitches Brew album is Live In Concert which is a live recording comprised of material from OtC. Taut, motile and supple. How is it that the same material sounded so frantically goddamn dead in the studio? I was hoping the On The Corner boxset could help me figure this out.
Oddly, enough it does. The unreleased tracks (most of the first three discs of the set) from 1972 and very early '73--The Hen, Chieftain, One and One (Unedited Master), On the Corner (Take 4), etc.--showcase the band as they sound on the In Concert album: furious, tight, and claustrophobic. It's a wonder that OtC was released as it was with so much stronger material at hand. This band sound almost pornographically frantic, raunchy and raw. And, really, there is something startlingly pornographic about the music--and it's not just the chicka-wacka guitars either. It somehow illicits the same mildly repulsed yet undeniably fascinated response that hardcore porn does. (I mean, I like hardcore porn but you might not.) In fact, there's even a song on the set called Rated X: Miles was surely tuned into the aesthetic.
I refuse to call the OtC music bad. I could call it horrible (and, probably, rightly so) but I won't. The influences point directly toward James Brown and his rhythm section. But Miles takes it even further by stripping away almost all melody and and harmony so that little else but rhythm remains. The effect is hypnotic, weird, and oppressive. However, as this is not a jazz band (yes, I know it's not SUPPOSED to be) and that makes the music difficult to parse and a very slippery conscious listen. It lacks a lot of the signifiers of both jazz and funk yet manages to be both somehow. The history and sound of jazz is trashed while retaining it's essence: pure improvisation. The ideas of funk and rock are retooled as well, casting aside all individual theatrical affect and popular accessibility for an almost hostile group cohesion.There are very few landmarks for the listener to gauge--no head arrangement, no set melody (in most cases), no solo(s) in the traditional sense, no tonal color, and a extremely limited dynamic. There are very few quiet moment. Bitches Brew was a journey though a vast landscape; OtC is a walk down an narrow alley struck with lurid, violent murals. There are also thugs, hookers and pimps loitering in this alley, waiting to take your few last greasy dollar bills.
The songs generally consist of endless and almost unvarying drum and bass vamps which everyone in the band bounces off of. More often than not, Miles pushes the sax player (Dave Liebman in most cases) to take the first solo. The band mugs Liebman, cuts him to shreds....and then Miles steps in--the black-velvet clad Prince of Darkness--and takes control of the situation. In the past, his saxophone players--Coltrane, Wayne Shorter--acted as a filagreed, secondary foil to his primary poetic spareness. Here they act as slack meat to sate the appetite of the performing tigers before Miles comes into the cage and makes them sway and dance and clap their hirsute paws and whatnot.
*Postscript: The lapidiary examples on the OtC section of the boxset (and there are far more than on the other boxsets) are 1.) Chieftain. It's fifteen minutes of colorlessness based around a one-note bass thump, one wah-wah-ed guitar chord, and the endless five-beat clacking drum-shell rhythm. The only dynamic comes from the accenting drone of sitar and tabla, and from Miles--who solos for most of the quarter-hour, which is impressive considering the 30+years of hush and parsimony he'd exhibited until then. A very strange piece of music, one that's almost impossible to emulate. 2.) One The Corner (Take 4) I didn't care for it at first but it's burned a place in my brain. John McLaughlin's squirmy, hesitant guitar solos are the main feature, and have--after repeated listenings-driven me to conclude this song (and most of the early music on OtC) can be summed up with the following analogy: listening to this music is like watching someone trying to cut an earthworm in half with a butter knife. 3. One and One (Unedited Master). This is best example of Miles's esthetic from this era. Great funky bass that I never get tired of hearing, huge drums, all of the sidemen laying a complicated mosaic of color and rhythm. One and One is about as close as this band gets to creating the kind of dynamic found on Spanish Key and Miles Runs the Voodoo Down (god, I hate that title) from Bitches Brew.
Friday, November 23, 2007
Blue Sussurus. I have almost no feeling for this drawing. This is a perfect example of my trying to draw through my dead places. I would almost rather quit this drawing than finish it. The sussurus isn't working: the headholes are too large in relation to the eyes. But the running figures, the "narrator"...what should I do with him? Finish the drawing like a soldier and just move along.
KEEP MOVING. NOTHING TO SEE HERE.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
THE COMPLETE ON THE CORNER SESSIONS, PT. 1
About six weeks ago, I downloaded Miles Davis' The Complete On The Corner Sessions boxset from iTunes. (I held out as long as I could for the actual boxset--with art, liner notes, etc--as long as I could but Amazon kept pushing the release date back every week and, finally, I gave up. This happened with the last boxset, the Cellar Door sessions, and apparently it has something to do with Miles's nephew/former shitty drummer from his 80s band, Vincent Wilburn, Jr. getting in disputes with Sony over copywrites/credits AFTER the boxset has been printed. The Cellar Door sessions arrived with all kinds of stickers "updating" the information on the original run. I guess the guy is a douche.)
Miles has been in my head since 1990. I arrived at him through Jimi Hendrix via Sting. Sting--with the backing of the Gil Evans Orchestra no less--covered Hendrix's "Little Wing" on Nothing Like the Sun. I liked the lyrics of the song so much that I began devouring the Hendrix catalog (all three albums!) A bio of Henrdrix revealed that Jimi and Miles has been talking about recording an album together. During that time, Miles put out a double album: Bitches Brew. I shut the book, climbed in my car--I was living in San Clemente, CA at the time--drove over to the Music+Plus and bought the album. In fact, I convinced one of the girls working there to give me her discount. (I was a regular.) In fact in fact, I still have the receipt. The date? May 9, 1990.
The album Bitches Brew--and to a lesser extent its same-year predecessor, In A Silent Way--have long been pillars of my artistic development. (Yes, I know how pretentious that sounds...but how else should I phrase it? Suggestions?) They were my first real introduction to Miles specifically, and jazz on larger scale in general. Okay, it's true that I started listening to these albums right around the same time I started smoking (a lot of) weed so that altered state of consciousness may have contributed to my "understanding" of these long albums. But was--and still am--enthralled by depth and breadth of the music, how all-inclusive it is and how much experience it alludes to. When pressed, I still say that I want to create a visual equivalent for Bitches Brew. (Or One Hundred Years of Solitude.) (Or, recently, Balthasar and Blimunda.) For years I thought that Ralph J. Gleason's liner notes for Bitches Brew were kind of dumb, with all of the e.e. cummings lowercase-ness and Beat-esque language. But I've reveresed that judgement and aligned myself to his sentiments...
"...so much flashes through my mind when i hear the tapes of this album that if i could i would write a novel about it full of life and scenes and people and blood and sweat and love. it's all in there, the beauty, the terror and the love, the sheer humanity of life in this incredible electric world which is so full of distortion that it can be beautiful and frightening in the same instant."
...and I admit that I still take a kind of unstoned stoner's pleasure in unearthing these albums and consuming them in their entirety on warm spring evenings (Silent Way) and stagnant summer days (Brew)
That said, I've always had mixed feelings about the music post-Bitches Brew music. I've always WANTED to like it--and I can often find fragments within the whole that I like quite a bit--but it often seemed serendipitously coherent at best and, at worst, pretty goddamn awful. The official, Columbia-issued discography always seemed incomplete somehow. Miles released at least ten albums from 1969 to 1975--twelve if you want to count Pangaea and Agharta which were imports released only in Japan until the 1990s--and there were jarring disparities between both chronology, quality and style on most albums, especially the albums from 1973 on. Even after picking through the mail order catalogs and import bins for bootlegged performances, I still felt like I wasn't getting the full picture.
Sony/Columbia starting fixing this disparity about ten years ago. Fulfilling a substantial cultural obligation--and, more importantly, knowing they'd make a profit from completist suckers like me--the record company announced that it was to release five, multiple-disc boxsets centered around each of the studio-recorded electric albums. (Most of the other electric albums were filled with live material.) Apparently, the plan was to fill in that aforementioned incomplete picture of the music from that period by releasing not only a remastered version of the original album, but all (or a substantial amount, anyway) of the music that was recorded from sessions both preceding and following the recording of the album...hence the "Sessions" title. (Which, as it turns out, is somewhat arbitrary designation.)
The first boxset was the Complete Bitches Brew Sessions which came out in the late fall of 1998 and immediately proved the "sessions" a misnomer. (I remember the day I bought it: I got it at the Tower Records down on Wabash in the Loop. I was on my way to meet V. for lunch and I absolutely COULD NOT wait to show it to her, what with her being so well-versed in my Miles Davis obsession. She stood me up. Not really a surprise.) When I got home, I repeatedly consumed the Bitches Brew for about a three weeks. The liner notes were absorbing and the design was fantastic. As for the music, there was one absolute gem--Recollections, a long, quiet Zawinul tune...which was to become the soundtrack to a visit to the California desert for Christmas of that year--but very little of the music was from the Bitches Brew sessions proper, which occurred during August 19-21, 1969. Most of the music was from the late 1969 and 1970 and didn't really sound like Bitches Brew music; I know they recorded frantically over those three days and I was hoping to hear more of the raw sections of music that were edited down into the songs that went on the original album (an approach they ended up using for the Jack Johnson Sessions which, for the ONLY time, was an actual "sessions" album.) Most of the music sounded like sketches, vague and underformed, with too much sitar and rattling percussion and no real fire under them. Blah. Interesting, yes, but not really anything you'd return to again and again. (That's one thing you learn as a jazz fan in the digital age of bonus tracks: unreleased material and "alternate takes" are usually unreleased for a reason--they're inferior to the stuff they chose to put on the album.)
And that kind of set the tone for the rest of the Complete Sessions series: In A Silent Way, Jack Johnson and the Cellar Door. Immaculate design, lots of good liner notes and photos, one or two lapidiary examples of overlooked music and then a fair amount of tracks that were conceptually interesting when understood as sketches for the completed albums--or for lending a vague understanding to how the albums were edited together--but were ultimately...blah. (In A Silent Way was particularly unrewarding, with two tracks from the Filles de Kilimanjaro album and another seven or so that were available from other sources and, stupidly, separate tracks for both In A Silent Way and It's About That Time which are identical to the combined tracks. (I know this complaint makes no sense unless you know the music...but, trust me, it makes no sense to reissue the music this way. It's like selling a person a left shoe, and then charging them again for the right shoe, and then charging them yet again for buying an identical pair together.)
Whew. So that brings us to the On The Corner Sessions. Which I'll tell you about later.
*Postscript: I recently discovered some of the raw material from those three-day Bitches Brew sessions. It appears on a two disc bootleg called Deep Brew. It's mostly junk...a lot of weird, snippets of music that begin and end abruptly and PLENTY of empty hissing tape. However, there is a fair amount of Miles directing the band, and a couple of long, loose rehearsals of Spanish Key and Miles Runs the Voodoo Down which are interesting and make the price of purchase (free) worth it.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Sunday, November 11, 2007
First Case. Another brilliant bit of gooeyness by J. Seward Johnson, Jr. I've always felt there wasn't enough lawyer art. Look at that tape recorder in his briefcase. (I say "him" because only hims can become lawyers. As I showed in a previous Jay Jr post, hers are only good for wistfully hugging lawyer hims hello or good bye.) Some hilarious wag put mittens and a scarf/tie on this sculpture. The public in White Plains certainly feels a need to interact with their public art.