Friday, January 16, 2009

What Are You Listening to Lately (Part 8)?

Ornette ColemanTo Whom Who Keeps A Record
An ex post facto collection, yes, but not the scrap heap that might imply given that six of seven tracks were recorded a week apart from each other and show a remarkable unity of sound – they very well could have been conceived as an album from the get go. But with this current domestic release of the formerly Japan-only disc, fans who love Ornette’s prime acoustic quartet music but don’t want to shell out for his out of print and expensive (but absolutely worth every penny!) Atlantic box set can still hear it. And I recommend that action because this is nearly as good a collection as the more revered Atlantic masterpieces like Shape of Jazz to Come and Change of the Century. Highlights include the lead track – “Music Always” – the lone track from 1959 with Billy Higgins on drums. It’s one of those twisty Ornette themes that can still ring around your head all day if you’re not careful. There’s also the spectacular “P.S. Unless One Has (Blues Connotation No. 2),” from the 1960 sessions with Ed Blackwell on drums, and it’ll do the trick of dislodging that earlier melody if you need it to, but it’s worth your time to also focus on how Blackwell takes apart the rhythm here without ever losing the feeling of a steady pulse, as is not always the case with avant-garde leaning music in the jazz style. This track – and by extension, this album – is a testament to just how right he was in this quartet, every bit as perfect in the group as Higgins. The rest of the album is a fine slice of Ornette’s genius in full bloom, and just because my ears are drawn most readily to these tracks, I would want to slight the others. The whole damn thing is pretty great; I daresay it’s only the fact of its limited exposure to U.S. audiences that has it lesser known here.

Moby - Last Night
Well, I think it’s a beautiful thing, but I seem to like Moby better than just about everyone I know, so take it with a grain of salt. Typical of his records it starts out fast and clubby and slowly lets the melancholy of the “chill room” take over, but as a friend of mine pointed out in a discussion, his ambient/downtempo here is quite fine, particularly in the bonus track that donates a few extra minutes to the thematic title track that would otherwise close things. But where some find “Ooh Yeah” and the like to be “merely” disco, I think that they’re great – especially in the cases of “Ooh Yeah” and “Alice,” but really throughout the entire opening stretch. A couple last things – he says in the surprisingly non-didactic (for him) liner notes that he’s compressing an 8-hour night of going out and partying down to 65 minutes. Which makes this in effect a concept album, and one in which I think he tells a more coherent and accurate story (or at least conveys a truer feeling) than 90% of the concept records out there, signifying – as he says in the liner notes – “a multitude of experiences, from the celebratory to the despairing to the comforting to the frightening to the conventional to the transcendent.” OK, maybe nothing too frightening here but he’s nailed the rest, and the conventional is only that way because he was instrumental in helping change convention once upon a time. I hate it when I feel like I have to say “If you’d been there, you’d get it” but it’s true. I didn’t ever have to look at the liners to know that was what he was going for – or that this was his strongest record in years. And I'd hope that even if you weren't there, you'd understand this glimpse into that world as a particularly clear and accurate reflection of same.

Sun Ra - Secrets of the Sun
This one’s a fine contribution to the catalog of Ra’s works on CD, a simultaneously experimental and accessible work placed right at the beginning of a huge period of change in his music. The recording falls early in the group’s New York years (Ra having arrived there about a year before), featuring the same folks as on the great Bad and Beautiful (plus a few other guests), and was recorded about the same time as the better-known (and also great) Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy and Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow, even exhibiting the tape-delay reverb used to fine effect on those records. Typical of his music of the time, everyone doubles on percussion in addition to creating the texture and melody of the music with horns, bass, or, as one track would have it, “space voice.” But he hits it on the head with one title here – he’s not particularly interested in creating crafty bop charts, he’s interested in “Space Aura,” in creating an otherworldly soundscape for you to enter, and this is one of his most engaging (and least intimidating) outings he made. He’s got his usual devoted cast of horn players – John Gilmore, Marshall Allen, and Pat Patrick – plus the sturdy bass and drums of Ronnie Boykins and Tommy Hunter (plus the other guests) to help shape his visions, which – as noted – are among his most accessible and enjoyable outings from one of his most fertile periods. A great disc for aficionados to fill in an under-represented era of the band and a great way in to his utterly unique world for newcomers.

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