50 Albums You May Not Know…But Need To Own: Part Three (Revisited)

SKIP-M-300x198

30. Santana: Caravanserai

Abraxas gets most of the recognition, even though Santana III is better. (The less said about Supernatural, the better.) Yet not enough people name-check Caravanserai, which is a shame since it’s not only Santana’s best album, it’s one of the great documents of a great decade. If you’ve heard their big hits on the radio (and who hasn’t?) it’s familiar yet also elusive. There is an unforced far-off vibe the band taps into, and from the first cricket chirps to the last frantic arpeggios, the listener is definitely in another place altogether. The playing throughout is so obviously in the service of a singular and uncompromised vision, it still sounds primitive and futuristic all at the same time.

santana caravanserai

29. Eyvind Kang: Theater of Mineral Nades

Eyvind Kang inhabits other worlds so that the rest of us don’t have to.

There are many ways to explain Eyvind Kang, but for the uninitiated, it may be helpful to describe him an artist who is inspired by and incorporates other times and foreign places, always interpreting history and humanity with the curiosity of an explorer and the delight of a devoted scholar. He manages to make strange and exquisite music, at once embracing improvisation yet always guided by central themes and feelings.

Theater of Mineral Nades manages to be all things at once: a history-of-the-universe as sonic experiment. In an ideal world Kang would be, if not a household name, an artist properly appreciated by a curious and discerning majority that did not depend upon network television to tell them whom they should idolize. No matter. By continuing to depict forgotten as well as imagined worlds, Eyvind Kang manages to tell us new things about the one in which we dwell.

eyvind kang

28. New Zion Trio: Fight Against Babylon

As a player equally comfortable behind a piano or an organ (as well as keyboards of any kind), Jamie Saft has delivered convincing performances as an acoustic player as well as one who happily plugs in. At times sounding like Klezmer meets King Tubby, this joint is heavy without being dark, and ever-so-slightly unsettling. Saft achieves the improbable: a radical deconstruction and re-imagining of the classic Dub it up blacker than Dread aesthetic perfected by Lee “Scratch” Perry in the mid-to-late ‘70s.

Capable of seemingly anything, Saft shrewdly utilizes a less-is-more approach to create a music that no one else could have conceived. He boasts the full range of his influences and ability, summoning sounds and feelings from multiple genres. The results are strikingly original and may inspire you to dig up some dub classics from your closet, or listen to contemporary jazz with reawakened ears. They should also remind you that while Saft has never before done anything quite like this, Fight Against Babylon is an obvious and welcome continuation of the distinctive and unclassifiable work he has been doing for many years now.

new zion trio

27. Danny Gatton: 88 Elmira Street

The best guitarist too many people are unaware of, Danny Gatton blended unparalleled musical chops with a seemingly all-encompassing range (You think I’m kidding you? I’m not kidding you. Check this and this and especially this.) From blues to folk to jazz (his own trademarked “redneck jazz” is brilliantly self-deprecating nod to his considerable proficiency) to spirited and original takes on rock/pop standards, Gatton is an American icon. This album is an obvious and easy way to get hooked on a player who is never less than interesting and consistently capable of making your heart stop with one lick. Speaking of heart, Gatton’s heart was like his ability: possibly too big for his own good. Impossible to pigeonhole (and therefore successfully market), Gatton knew he was great, but our world is often unkind or at best indifferent to real genius. He took his own life in 1993, one of the more intolerable tragedies in a profession full of them.

danny gatton

26. Kronos Quartet: Performs Philip Glass

How to get one’s ears around this contemporary master, equal parts prolific and peripatetic? This is an ideal point of entry, courtesy of some of his finest compositions, performed to perfection by the ever-reliable Kronos Quartet. Many of Glass’s stylistic quirks and affects are on display, including his looping use of repeated themes: at his best Glass disorients, circles back and ultimately comforts. Celebrated and/or derided for his so-called minimalist style (a lazy critical crutch if there ever was one), there are moments of intensity here—particularly on “String Quartet No. 3 (Mishima)” that unnerve before finally allowing release. A cathartic, emotional listen every time.

kronos quartet

25. Little Axe: Hard Grind

Folks hearing Hard Grind might understandably say, “Hey, Moby already did this!” Check yourself before you wreck yourself: Little Axe did it first, and much more convincingly, on The Wolf That House Built (1995!!). Not to hate on old blues songs sampled over electronica dance beats but…Moby is old blues songs sampled over electronica dance beats. (Also: Google Skip McDonald. He’s kind of a big deal.)

Hard Grind is from the underground, where so many of the strange and interesting things occur. This is a surreal, always satisfying trip through a sonic funhouse where blues strains back to its African roots and rock stretches past the Internet, into the beyond. It is like a novel in many regards: a surface-level experience is enjoyable, but repeated exposure affords a more in-depth (and soulful) understanding of what the artist is after. It accrues value and import with time and, as anyone knows, these types of artifacts come along seldom enough that they should be celebrated.

little axe

24. Cowboy Junkies: Whites Off Earth Now!!

Whites Off Earth Now! is a brilliantly tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that a group of young Caucasians (from Canada no less!) made an album largely comprised of covers of old African-American blues legends such as Lightnin’ Hopkins, Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker and Bukka White. The arrangements are stripped down and unpolished, but sound like what they in fact are: live recordings. The true ear-opener of this band is Margo Timmins, who supplies a gracefully dangerous female voice to songs originally sung by gravelly-voiced hombres. Her sparse, but affecting delivery on veritable American treasures such as “Baby Please Don’t Go” (which, unlike Van Morrison’s well-known, up-tempo rockabilly treatment is slowed down to a brooding, almost lugubrious pace), “I’ll Never Get Out Of These Blues Alive”, and “Me and the Devil” are remarkable.

Two particular highlights: an astounding take on Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper”—a stark, somber, uncoverable song. Where Springsteen’s version is sparse with just a haunting, distant vocal and acoustic guitar, the CJ’s create musical tension that veritably sweats danger and foreboding. The album closes with a treatment of “Crossroads” that is so restrained and reticent it makes much of the rest of the album seem festive, if that’s possible.

cowboy junkies

23. Critters Buggin’: Host

Skerik (née Eric Walton) is like a Zelig of the musical antiestablishment, having associated and performed with an impressive roster of some of the more beloved avant-garde cult figures of our time, including Les Claypool, Charlie Hunter, Stanton Moore, and Bobby Previte. He is leader and mastermind of the ensembles Critters Buggin, Garage a Trois, and Skerik’s Syncopated Taint Septet.

Skerik is an architect of sounds: he constructs sonic scenes, and you are never quite sure how or what is making all of those strange yet exultant noises, but the results are always stylized and immediately recognizable. He operates mostly on tenor and baritone saxophone, but between the gadgets and effects it can sound like a small orchestra, albeit one emerging like steam from a sewage drain during a thunderstorm (in a good way).

critters buggin

22. Lee Perry: Lee Perry Presents…African Roots from the Black Ark Featuring Seke Molenga and Kalo Kawongolo

Be wary of anyone who tells you an album you’ve never heard is a masterpiece. This album is a masterpiece.

African Roots will grow on you, if you let it. It’s definitely filed under reggae, but the fact that Molenga and Kawongolo are African gives it a delightfully, if at first vaguely disorienting non-Western vibe. The vocals, with few exceptions, are not in English and this will oblige the listener to step outside preconceived notions and comfort zones. As a result, the focus inevitably is on the feeling being conjured, and this is most definitely a joyful noise. The album is a throwback in the sense that it demands to be absorbed as a whole, in a single setting, the way music works best when approached with the reverence it deserves. The songs employ double-tracked vocals and plenty of Lee Perry-produced echo and reverb, but the chants and repeated phrases are absolutely mesmerizing. Once you fall under its spell—and you will—it serves as a reminder that human beings are capable of extraordinary things: it’s righteous being humbled by art that makes you feel so good.

african roots

21. Fantomas: Fantomas

Mike Patton has made so much music that it really is incredible—and more than a little amusing—to remember that he was a straightforward rock deity, relatively speaking, circa 1998. And so, regardless of what anyone expected, or hoped for, it was less than likely that anyone could have anticipated what the eccentric frontman was cooking up in his laboratory. As soon became evident, Patton was headed in a very different direction indeed, inspiring him to recruit a supergroup of sorts to help him realize his vision. Calling on Trevor Dunn (good friend and bassist from Mr. Bungle), Buzz Osborne (guitarist and mastermind of the Melvins), and Dave Lombardi (the widely worshipped drummer from Slayer), Patton assembled what appeared, on paper, to be a metal lover’s wet dream. Amazingly, the collective turned out to surpass even the wildest hype, gelling to constitute a unified whole greater than the sum of its impressive parts.

A great deal of time and effort could be dedicated to debating what it all means, or how he did it (as ostensibly free-wheeling as the material may seem, Patton actually choreographed every second of it before the band ever got involved), and where this recording properly fits in an assessment of Patton’s evolution. In hindsight, Fantômas is very obviously a direction—wayward or ingenious, depending upon the listener—Patton wanted to head in, and he’s never backtracked, for better or for worse. To this listener, it represents the first day of the rest of Patton’s artistic life. Fantômas let him break with what he must have felt were the straightjacket-like conventions and expectations of the traditional rock route, and it’s almost like he had to invent his own language to give free expression to what was boiling around inside his mind.

fantomas

List originally published at The Weeklings, 5/1/14 (check it out and make sure to explore the Spotify playlist that follows the article).

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The Intersection of Innovation and Art: Looking at the Music and Book Industries (Revisited)

AI

I’ve followed developments in the shifting landscape of content—the ways it’s created and the ways it’s utilized—with keen professional, as well as personal interest. During the last decade advancements that benefit both artists and consumers, have revolved around the democratization of content. What does that mean? In brief, it no longer requires complex and expensive technologies and processes to make and acquire works of art.

Today, just about anyone can publish a book, or make an album, and a lot of people are trying. Does this potentially flood the market with inferior product? Certainly. Does it also ensure that more artists have the opportunity to be heard and discovered? Without doubt.

The good news: with sufficient ability, awareness and time, anyone can publish without paying for it or surviving the scrutiny of hit-seeking middlemen. The bad news: as liberating as this new DIY ethos is, the onus is now entirely on the artist. That said, the Internet changed everything. In an analog world, DIY meant selling cassettes out of your car. Digital files put both the creation and dissemination into the hands of the artists, and the last decade has been a welcome departure from an archaic model and a lifeline for artists outside the so-called mainstream.

(A lot more on this topic and how it has pertained to my own endeavors, can be found HERE.)

Jamie Saft, a critically acclaimed musician who has appeared on dozens of albums, made the decision in 2007 to form his own label. Veal Records is now a vital independent source of music, allowing Saft to work with whomever he wishes and releasing whatever material he desires anytime he wants. Nevertheless, just because the tools exist for virtually anyone to do this, it takes more than talent and good luck. The new DIY ethos demands a proficiency at production, distribution and marketing. Social media provides a crucial marketing advantage, and the ease with which fans can connect and spread the word with potential fans is a major breakthrough.

The book publishing industry operated according to a fairly specific—and consistent—paradigm for hundreds of years. In the not-so-good old days, gatekeepers typically held sway, overseeing acquisition, creation and dissemination. Today, digital content is ubiquitous and hardware has been invented (think eReaders and tablets, even smartphones) that enables consumers to access identical material in myriad ways.Just like the music industry, book publishing has undergone a sea change. With the benefit of hindsight, it seems clear that the ways books were acquired and sold was a model ripe for disruption. Inevitably, the increased obsolescence of gatekeepers and tastemakers (see: traditional publishing houses and establishment critics) has resulted in blowback about “legitimacy.” Never mind the fact that Walt Whitman self-published his first poems, we typically don’t see similar bias against, say, family vineyards or craft breweries. As usual, those protesting loudest are the ones accustomed to owning the process and the lion’s share of the profits.
Richard Nash, who ran celebrated independent publisher Soft Skull Press for the better part of last decade, has been intimately involved with these progressions. His exposure to the way things used to work, the ways they changed, and the ways they still might evolve, affords him a unique and invaluable perspective. His primary interest involves what happens once the book comes to market, competing against the other inventory seeking an audience.The key takeaway? If you want it done, do it yourself. If you want it done well, understand and learn all the things you do not know. In halcyon times, writing a book was itself the hard part, and pretty much the only thing an author controlled. Too many authors had to hope that their publisher could generate sufficient enthusiasm, garner reviews, set up a book tour, etc. If that didn’t happen, there were few options other than luck or a miraculous endorsement from Oprah.Self-publishing is not the end, it’s only the beginning, according to Nash: an invitation to the party that needs an MC. Whether it’s the structured chaos of Amazon reviews to the more refined parameters of Goodreads, new services are enabling a crowd-based curation. The notion that likeminded readers can—and will—follow recommendations and then evangelize accordingly, might be the next stage in this evolution.

http://www.ce.org/Blog/Articles/2013/November/Intersection-of-Innovation-and-Art-Looking-at-the.aspx

 

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50 Albums You May Not Know…But Need To Own: Part Three

SKIP M

30. Santana: Caravanserai

Abraxas gets most of the recognition, even though Santana III is better. (The less said about Supernatural, the better.) Yet not enough people name-check Caravanserai, which is a shame since it’s not only Santana’s best album, it’s one of the great documents of a great decade. If you’ve heard their big hits on the radio (and who hasn’t?) it’s familiar yet also elusive. There is an unforced far-off vibe the band taps into, and from the first cricket chirps to the last frantic arpeggios, the listener is definitely in another place altogether. The playing throughout is so obviously in the service of a singular and uncompromised vision, it still sounds primitive and futuristic all at the same time.

santana caravanserai

29. Eyvind Kang: Theater of Mineral Nades

Eyvind Kang inhabits other worlds so that the rest of us don’t have to.

There are many ways to explain Eyvind Kang, but for the uninitiated, it may be helpful to describe him an artist who is inspired by and incorporates other times and foreign places, always interpreting history and humanity with the curiosity of an explorer and the delight of a devoted scholar. He manages to make strange and exquisite music, at once embracing improvisation yet always guided by central themes and feelings.

Theater of Mineral Nades manages to be all things at once: a history-of-the-universe as sonic experiment. In an ideal world Kang would be, if not a household name, an artist properly appreciated by a curious and discerning majority that did not depend upon network television to tell them whom they should idolize. No matter. By continuing to depict forgotten as well as imagined worlds, Eyvind Kang manages to tell us new things about the one in which we dwell.

eyvind kang

28. New Zion Trio: Fight Against Babylon

As a player equally comfortable behind a piano or an organ (as well as keyboards of any kind), Jamie Saft has delivered convincing performances as an acoustic player as well as one who happily plugs in. At times sounding like Klezmer meets King Tubby, this joint is heavy without being dark, and ever-so-slightly unsettling. Saft achieves the improbable: a radical deconstruction and re-imagining of the classic Dub it up blacker than Dread aesthetic perfected by Lee “Scratch” Perry in the mid-to-late ‘70s.

Capable of seemingly anything, Saft shrewdly utilizes a less-is-more approach to create a music that no one else could have conceived. He boasts the full range of his influences and ability, summoning sounds and feelings from multiple genres. The results are strikingly original and may inspire you to dig up some dub classics from your closet, or listen to contemporary jazz with reawakened ears. They should also remind you that while Saft has never before done anything quite like this, Fight Against Babylon is an obvious and welcome continuation of the distinctive and unclassifiable work he has been doing for many years now.

new zion trio

27. Danny Gatton: 88 Elmira Street

The best guitarist too many people are unaware of, Danny Gatton blended unparalleled musical chops with a seemingly all-encompassing range (You think I’m kidding you? I’m not kidding you. Check this and this and especially this.) From blues to folk to jazz (his own trademarked “redneck jazz” is brilliantly self-deprecating nod to his considerable proficiency) to spirited and original takes on rock/pop standards, Gatton is an American icon. This album is an obvious and easy way to get hooked on a player who is never less than interesting and consistently capable of making your heart stop with one lick. Speaking of heart, Gatton’s heart was like his ability: possibly too big for his own good. Impossible to pigeonhole (and therefore successfully market), Gatton knew he was great, but our world is often unkind or at best indifferent to real genius. He took his own life in 1993, one of the more intolerable tragedies in a profession full of them.

danny gatton

26. Kronos Quartet: Performs Philip Glass

How to get one’s ears around this contemporary master, equal parts prolific and peripatetic? This is an ideal point of entry, courtesy of some of his finest compositions, performed to perfection by the ever-reliable Kronos Quartet. Many of Glass’s stylistic quirks and affects are on display, including his looping use of repeated themes: at his best Glass disorients, circles back and ultimately comforts. Celebrated and/or derided for his so-called minimalist style (a lazy critical crutch if there ever was one), there are moments of intensity here—particularly on “String Quartet No. 3 (Mishima)” that unnerve before finally allowing release. A cathartic, emotional listen every time.

kronos quartet

25. Little Axe: Hard Grind

Folks hearing Hard Grind might understandably say, “Hey, Moby already did this!” Check yourself before you wreck yourself: Little Axe did it first, and much more convincingly, on The Wolf That House Built (1995!!). Not to hate on old blues songs sampled over electronica dance beats but…Moby is old blues songs sampled over electronica dance beats. (Also: Google Skip McDonald. He’s kind of a big deal.)

Hard Grind is from the underground, where so many of the strange and interesting things occur. This is a surreal, always satisfying trip through a sonic funhouse where blues strains back to its African roots and rock stretches past the Internet, into the beyond. It is like a novel in many regards: a surface-level experience is enjoyable, but repeated exposure affords a more in-depth (and soulful) understanding of what the artist is after. It accrues value and import with time and, as anyone knows, these types of artifacts come along seldom enough that they should be celebrated.

little axe

24. Cowboy Junkies: Whites Off Earth Now!!

Whites Off Earth Now! is a brilliantly tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that a group of young Caucasians (from Canada no less!) made an album largely comprised of covers of old African-American blues legends such as Lightnin’ Hopkins, Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker and Bukka White.  The arrangements are stripped down and unpolished, but sound like what they in fact are:  live recordings. The true ear-opener of this band is Margo Timmins, who supplies a gracefully dangerous female voice to songs originally sung by gravelly-voiced hombres.  Her sparse, but affecting delivery on veritable American treasures such as “Baby Please Don’t Go” (which, unlike Van Morrison’s well-known, up-tempo rockabilly treatment is slowed down to a brooding, almost lugubrious pace), “I’ll Never Get Out Of These Blues Alive”, and “Me and the Devil” are remarkable.

Two particular highlights: an astounding take on Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper”—a stark, somber, uncoverable song.  Where Springsteen’s version is sparse with just a haunting, distant vocal and acoustic guitar, the CJ’s create musical tension that veritably sweats danger and foreboding. The album closes with a treatment of “Crossroads” that is so restrained and reticent it makes much of the rest of the album seem festive, if that’s possible.

cowboy junkies

23. Critters Buggin’: Host

Skerik (née Eric Walton) is like a Zelig of the musical antiestablishment, having associated and performed with an impressive roster of some of the more beloved avant-garde cult figures of our time, including Les Claypool, Charlie Hunter, Stanton Moore, and Bobby Previte. He is leader and mastermind of the ensembles Critters Buggin, Garage a Trois, and Skerik’s Syncopated Taint Septet.

Skerik is an architect of sounds: he constructs sonic scenes, and you are never quite sure how or what is making all of those strange yet exultant noises, but the results are always stylized and immediately recognizable. He operates mostly on tenor and baritone saxophone, but between the gadgets and effects it can sound like a small orchestra, albeit one emerging like steam from a sewage drain during a thunderstorm (in a good way).

critters buggin

22. Lee Perry: Lee Perry Presents…African Roots from the Black Ark Featuring Seke Molenga and Kalo Kawongolo

Be wary of anyone who tells you an album you’ve never heard is a masterpiece. This album is a masterpiece.

African Roots will grow on you, if you let it. It’s definitely filed under reggae, but the fact that Molenga and Kawongolo are African gives it a delightfully, if at first vaguely disorienting non-Western vibe. The vocals, with few exceptions, are not in English and this will oblige the listener to step outside preconceived notions and comfort zones. As a result, the focus inevitably is on the feeling being conjured, and this is most definitely a joyful noise. The album is a throwback in the sense that it demands to be absorbed as a whole, in a single setting, the way music works best when approached with the reverence it deserves. The songs employ double-tracked vocals and plenty of Lee Perry-produced echo and reverb, but the chants and repeated phrases are absolutely mesmerizing. Once you fall under its spell—and you will—it serves as a reminder that human beings are capable of extraordinary things: it’s righteous being humbled by art that makes you feel so good.

african roots

21. Fantomas: Fantomas

Mike Patton has made so much music that it really is incredible—and more than a little amusing—to remember that he was a straightforward rock deity, relatively speaking, circa 1998. And so, regardless of what anyone expected, or hoped for, it was less than likely that anyone could have anticipated what the eccentric frontman was cooking up in his laboratory. As soon became evident, Patton was headed in a very different direction indeed, inspiring him to recruit a supergroup of sorts to help him realize his vision. Calling on Trevor Dunn (good friend and bassist from Mr. Bungle), Buzz Osborne (guitarist and mastermind of the Melvins), and Dave Lombardi (the widely worshipped drummer from Slayer), Patton assembled what appeared, on paper, to be a metal lover’s wet dream. Amazingly, the collective turned out to surpass even the wildest hype, gelling to constitute a unified whole greater than the sum of its impressive parts.

A great deal of time and effort could be dedicated to debating what it all means, or how he did it (as ostensibly free-wheeling as the material may seem, Patton actually choreographed every second of it before the band ever got involved), and where this recording properly fits in an assessment of Patton’s evolution. In hindsight, Fantômas is very obviously a direction—wayward or ingenious, depending upon the listener—Patton wanted to head in, and he’s never backtracked, for better or for worse. To this listener, it represents the first day of the rest of Patton’s artistic life. Fantômas let him break with what he must have felt were the straightjacket-like conventions and expectations of the traditional rock route, and it’s almost like he had to invent his own language to give free expression to what was boiling around inside his mind.

fantomas

List originally published at The Weeklings, 5/1/14 (check it out and make sure to explore the Spotify playlist that follows the article).

Share

The Intersection of Innovation and Art: Looking at the Music and Book Industries


I’ve followed developments in the shifting landscape of content—the ways it’s created and the ways it’s utilized—with keen professional, as well as personal interest. During the last decade advancements that benefit both artists and consumers, have revolved around the democratization of content. What does that mean? In brief, it no longer requires complex and expensive technologies and processes to make and acquire works of art.

Today, just about anyone can publish a book, or make an album, and a lot of people are trying. Does this potentially flood the market with inferior product? Certainly. Does it also ensure that more artists have the opportunity to be heard and discovered? Without doubt.

The good news: with sufficient ability, awareness and time, anyone can publish without paying for it or surviving the scrutiny of hit-seeking middlemen. The bad news: as liberating as this new DIY ethos is, the onus is now entirely on the artist. That said, the Internet changed everything. In an analog world, DIY meant selling cassettes out of your car. Digital files put both the creation and dissemination into the hands of the artists, and the last decade has been a welcome departure from an archaic model and a lifeline for artists outside the so-called mainstream.

(A lot more on this topic and how it has pertained to my own endeavors, can be found HERE.)

Jamie Saft, a critically acclaimed musician who has appeared on dozens of albums, made the decision in 2007 to form his own label. Veal Records is now a vital independent source of music, allowing Saft to work with whomever he wishes and releasing whatever material he desires anytime he wants. Nevertheless, just because the tools exist for virtually anyone to do this, it takes more than talent and good luck. The new DIY ethos demands a proficiency at production, distribution and marketing. Social media provides a crucial marketing advantage, and the ease with which fans can connect and spread the word with potential fans is a major breakthrough.

The book publishing industry operated according to a fairly specific—and consistent—paradigm for hundreds of years. In the not-so-good old days, gatekeepers typically held sway, overseeing acquisition, creation and dissemination. Today, digital content is ubiquitous and hardware has been invented (think eReaders and tablets, even smartphones) that enables consumers to access identical material in myriad ways.Just like the music industry, book publishing has undergone a sea change. With the benefit of hindsight, it seems clear that the ways books were acquired and sold was a model ripe for disruption. Inevitably, the increased obsolescence of gatekeepers and tastemakers (see: traditional publishing houses and establishment critics) has resulted in blowback about “legitimacy.” Nevermind the fact that Walt Whitman self-published his first poems, we typically don’t see similar bias against, say, family vineyards or craft breweries. As usual, those protesting loudest are the ones accustomed to owning the process and the lion’s share of the profits.
Richard Nash, who ran celebrated independent publisher Soft Skull Pressfor the better part of last decade, has been intimately involved with these progressions. His exposure to the way things used to work, the ways they changed, and the ways they still might evolve, affords him a unique and invaluable perspective. His primary interest involves what happens once the book comes to market, competing against the other inventory seeking an audience.The key takeaway? If you want it done, do it yourself. If you want it done well, understand and learn all the things you do not know. In halcyon times, writing a book was itself the hard part, and pretty much the only thing an author controlled. Too many authors had to hope that their publisher could generate sufficient enthusiasm, garner reviews, set up a book tour, etc. If that didn’t happen, there were few options other than luck or a miraculous endorsement from Oprah.Self-publishing is not the end, it’s only the beginning, according to Nash: an invitation to the party that needs an MC. Whether it’s the structured chaos of Amazon reviews to the more refined parameters of Goodreads, new services are enabling a crowd-based curation. The notion that likeminded readers can—and will—follow recommendations and then evangelize accordingly, might be the next stage in this evolution.

http://www.ce.org/Blog/Articles/2013/November/Intersection-of-Innovation-and-Art-Looking-at-the.aspx

 

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Notes From the Underground: Two New Joints From Jamie Saft

Every day, Jamie Saft becomes more like his mentor, the indefatigable—and incomparable—John Zorn. Like Zorn, he is ludicrously productive, aesthetically audacious and churns out albums that are as amazing as much for their consistency as their diversity.

Having an opportunity to simultaneously appraise these two new albums is almost too easy. As in, it’s simple to make this statement: The two releases could scarcely be more different, but each is fully satisfying in their unique ways.

A fully improvised session, Black Aces is at once an adventure and the inexorable result of similarly attuned musicians. A few words about these players: Jamie Saft has appeared (as leader or supporting cast) on too many albums to count, and those familiar with Zorn’s Tzadik label already understand—and appreciate—just how busy he’s been in his relatively brief, at least in mere human terms, career. Guitarist Joe Morris has been making albums and establishing his credentials for over 30 years, and is generally regarded as a jazz musician’s jazz legend. Trevor Dunn, perhaps best known for his work with genre-demolishing supergroup Mr. Bungle, is also now a veteran of the NYC downtown music scene, an integral component of multiple Tzadik releases. Finally, drummer Balazs Pandi, who hails from Budapest, brings his considerable skills to the table, comfortable playing ear-blasting metal as well as improvised grindcore.

A word or two about improvisation may be necessary. There is the relatively straightforward type where jazz musicians take skillful liberties with a readily recognized standard (think Coltrane and the ways he transformed “My Favorite Things”, especially in his incendiary live performances). Then there is the without-a-net, made up on the spot sort that makes some listeners ecstatic and others allergic. Put simply, only musicians with this much experience, musicians capable of attempting this can hope to pull it off. Saft and Morris have known each other for 20 years, and Saft describes his vision thusly: “I thought metal, hardcore and grindcore styles as a rhythmic underpinning to micro-tonal avant blues-rock would feature Joe’s guitar beautifully.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Black Aces is definitely the latter variety of spontaneous creation, and it is at once intimidating, but also a potentially intoxicating brew for the open-minded. Consider “Accuser”, the 27 (!) minute opening selection: it features the type of intensity and interplay faux jam bands kill to emulate. The collective establishes a groove and then work it from all angles. If all the predictable, predictably bland jamming one recalls from outdoor festivals is like unflavored tofu, Slobber Pup is cooking up a porterhouse, served bloody rare.

What does it sound like? There are elements of Painkiller (Zorn, again) and the beloved Last Exit (Joe Morris might be said to pick up where Sonny Sharrock left off), even early ‘70s Miles Davis, albeit filtered through molten tar. It also calls to mind, at times, Bobby Previte’s The Coalition of the Willing (from 2006, also featuring Saft), but it’s harder and edgier. Bassist Trevor Dunn is at home with harder and edgier, having worked with Fantomas as well as Zorn’s Electric Masada project (Saft, again).

So…what is it? Not really jazz, not necessarily metal, too refined for what we commonly call grindcore. It is what it is: it’s moments captured in 2013 that at times sound like 1969 or 1973 or 2050. It is uncompromising and kindly confrontational in a way that will remind you to remain grateful we still have artists like this amongst us.

New Zion Trio is another of Saft’s projects, and it’s wonderful to see it was not a one-off, since their first release, Fight Against Babylon (review here: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/149276-new-zion-trio-fight-against-babylon/) was so outstanding. An ostensibly straightforward ensemble, featuring Saft’s keyboards, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Craig Santiago, the trio manages to pull off a variety of sounds, ranging from narcotic lounge music (in a good way) to traditional piano jazz (think Bill Evans by way of Kingston) and darker-than-dread reggae meditations. On Chaliwa, the players double down on the dub, and the results are every bit as satisfying this time out.

To dispel any notions that this is dub-jazz indulgence, consider the fact that Bad Brains vocalist H.R. makes a guest appearance on standout track “Chant It Down”. For fans, like this one, who believe some of the best tracks Bad Brains cut were in a Rub-A-Dub style, this track is a stunning trip back to the future. To be certain, Saft & Co. have a serious knowledge of how reggae sounds and how it works. Most importantly, and what makes this material so rewarding, is how it feels.

Where Fight Against Babylon boasted discernible roots elements, the follow-up is a more focused, entrenched approach to instrumental reggae. At times it recalls a more pure mash-up of what Lee Perry got up to in his laboratory in the late ‘70s; at others it is reminiscent of the epic space jams from Prince Far I’s Cry Tuff Dub Encounter Chapter 3. It works as agreeable background music (again, in a good way), but is meant to be absorbed and internalized. Like the best music, it gets better the more you hear it. If you’ve not given New Zion Trio a try, now is the time to hear what everyone else is missing.

In closing, a few celebratory words about the ways the music industry has changed, for the better. While I’m not suggesting that Slobber Pup, or especially New Zion Trio couldn’t or wouldn’t have found a suitably supportive label ten (or twenty!) years ago, I maintain it’s unlikely. Now, musicians like Saft can—and do—bring colleagues together to record, without the agendas or idiocy of corporate middlemen. This is good for artists and it’s great for fans. Of course, the implicit message here is that we should feel obliged to support these notes from the underground any way possible, including—and especially—with our wallets.

Serendipitously, I just had the opportunity to speak with Saft: check out our Google Hangout wherein we discuss the intersection of Innovation and Art:

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The Top 10 Albums of 2011, According To Me (Part Two)

 

5. New Zion Trio, Fight Against Babylon.

The full review is here.

Zelig-like, Jamie Saft has been an indefatigable fixture in the downtown NYC music scene. Equal parts MVP and unsung hero, his presence—as player, producer and composer—is at once daunting and exhilarating. Anyone familiar with John Zorn’s Tzadik label will already be quite familiar with his work, but if any musician is inadequately described by labels and geography, it’s Saft. Granted, Tzadik’s mission statement is the promotion of music without boundaries or agenda, resulting in albums that shift comfortably between genres like jazz, classical and so-called world music. Still, even in the Tzadik stable, Saft has been all-world in terms of his reach and aspiration these last ten years and change.

What Saft manages to do on Fight Against Babylon is create an organic ambiance and, without any in-the-studio sorcery or clever manipulation (strategies he has already showcased on the aforementioned efforts), establish a deep, utterly pleasant groove. On the tracks “Ishense” and “Lost Dub”, the beat quickens and becomes ever-so-slightly urgent, upping the ante for Saft’s keyboard perambulations. This is closer to free-jazz territory, but welcoming as opposed to forbidding (a kinder Cecil Taylor meets a gentler Mad Professor?). Once Saft plugs in the Fender Rhodes the album moves into another gear, shifting from pleasantly intriguing to genuinely engrossing. Sweet and smooth, standout track “Hear I Jah” invokes the grandeur of Herbie Hancock and the tune is a mind-boggling mash-up, sort of Mwandishi matched up with Sly and Robbie. Closing track “Fire Blaze” slows things down to a hypnotic crawl, and Saft’s playing invokes 19th Century classical more than Studio One: it’s like Chopin with a spliff.

Jamie Saft, capable of seemingly anything, shrewdly utilizes a less-is-more approach to create a music that no one else could have conceived. He boasts the full range of his influences and ability, conjuring up sounds and feelings from multiple genres. The results are strikingly original and may inspire you to dig up some dub classics from your closet, or listen to contemporary jazz with reawakened ears. They should also remind you that while Saft has never before done anything quite like this, Fight Against Babylon is an obvious and welcome continuation of the distinctive and unclassifiable work he has been doing for well over a decade.

You know you want it. Get hold of it here.

4. Pitom, Blasphemy and Other Serious Crimes.

I was unprepared for Pitom. As a result, my initial experience with the band’s debut album in 2008 was one of those exceedingly rare occasions when one’s astonishment is both genuine and pleasant. I remain in awe of the work. It seemed—and still seems—almost impossible that a group of young musicians could create compositions this intense, vibrant and convincing. Practically from start to finish, that first album delivers at a high level and, like the best music, provides rewards and delights with each listen.

Pitom’s sophomore effort is entitled Blasphemy and Other Serious Crimes. If that sounds a bit heavy, consider that the album is an attempt to grapple, in musical terms, with Yom Kippur (the Jewish day of repentance). Fruchter is an observant Jew, which makes the subject matter and the tone of the proceedings easier to understand. He also has described Pitom’s music as “punkassjewjazz” which should give you an idea of how serious he is about not taking himself too seriously.

It is obvious that Fruchter is very much a student of all musical genres, so the shifting styles are never abrupt or distracting; indeed, the never-static dynamic gives the songs a restless edge. The guitar, already heavy on the first album, is heavier and a bit darker this time out. There are discernible elements that favorably recall both Mogwai’s purposeful crunch and Joe Satriani’s pyrotechnic shred-fests. Drummer Kevin Zubek and bassist Shanir Blumenkranz are at once a steadying force and the engine that keeps things moving forward and, occasionally, sideways. Violinist Jeremy Brown is much more than an accompaniment for the electric guitar; his playing is both raw and refined, sometimes on the same song. As dominant as the guitar sounds throughout, Brown is constantly embellishing and augmenting. Check them out live here. On songs like “A Crisis Of Faith” he is out in front, while the guitar darts and weaves around the melody. Those roles are somewhat reversed on the frenetic “Head In The Ground”. There is emotional heft here and a vibe that engages the intellect. This is music that matters. Is it too soon to begin wondering—and anticipating—what Pitom is going to come up with next time out? Stay tuned.

Full review here.

3. Aram Bajakian: Aram Bajakian’s Kef

You need to spend some time with this music. Fortunately, you will want to spend time with it. There are at least two excellent reasons for this: one, you will need to allow it ample opportunity to work its magic; two, you will need sufficient time to formulate an appropriate response for your friends when they inquire about what you’re listening to these days. An album called Kef you will say. What? By a guy named Aram Bajakian. Who? Bajakian is a Brooklyn guitarist whose debut, Kef has just been released by John Zorn’s Tzadik label. (Mentioning Tzadik should immediately clear up any questions about quality or street cred. It should also indicate that, like everything else from Tzadik, this material will be unique and ambitious, if not immediately accessible.)

Kef is named for an Armenian type of dance music known for incorporating traditional and western instruments. In other words, the sort of thing ideally suited for Tzadik. Bajakian is joined by Tom Swafford on violin and Shanir Blumenkranz on bass. The absence of drums is novel and audacious, but considering how much some of this material shreds, it is almost revelatory. Blumenkranz is quickly bolstering his own legendary credentials, having already appeared on more than two dozen Tzadik releases.

There are no unsatisfactory tracks to be found here, and while some may dazzle or impress more than others, the last two, “48 Days” and “La Rota”, warrant special mention. Alternately serene and sombre, these closing statements comprise an elegiac, deeply moving conclusion. There is beautiful music and there is moving music (the best, of course, can combine the two), and then there is music that goes to that other place which is at once inscrutable and oddly familiar. By the time the last notes have been played it will occur to the tuned-in listener that something significant is happening here. This is a different type of music.

Music remains the ultimate antidote against cynicism and apathy: all it asks is you lend it your ears and in return you may just get something that makes the world more beautiful than you thought possible. If that sentiment is, understandably, a bit much to process with a straight face, let it suffice to say Kef is as extraordinary an album as I can recall listening to in a very long time.

Full review here.

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New Zion Trio: Fight Against Babylon

Zelig-like, Jamie Saft has been an indefatigable fixture in the downtown NYC music scene. Equal parts MVP and unsung hero, his presence—as player, producer and composer—is at once daunting and exhilarating. Anyone familiar with John Zorn’s Tzadik label will already be quite familiar with his work, but if any musician is inadequately described by labels and geography, it’s Saft. Granted, Tzadik’s mission statement is the promotion of music without boundaries or agenda, resulting in albums that shift comfortably between genres like jazz, classical and so-called world music. Still, even in the Tzadik stable, Saft has been all-world in terms of his reach and aspiration these last ten years and change.

Productive and diverse, Saft has steadily amassed a body of work that can rival any contemporary artist. There are practically too many quality items to count, but consider a random sample of high points: there is his involvement with Zorn’s Electric Masada project, The Dreamers series, and—to pick only two from a half-dozen from the remarkable Filmworks series—Workingman’s Death and In The Mirror of Maya Deren. He also figures prominently on Bobby Previte’s (enthusiastically recommended) Coalition of the Willing and original Masada trumpeter Dave Douglas’s Freak In. Then there is the work he’s released as a leader…Get the picture?

It is, in fact, the projects he has led that make his most recent release understandable, if inevitable. As a player equally comfortable behind a piano or an organ (as well as keyboards of any kind), Saft has delivered convincing performances as an acoustic player as well as one who happily plugs in. His trio turned in a delectable take on Zorn’s Masada: Book Two (Astaroth: Book of Angels Volume 1), which is as close to traditional as Saft ever gets. On the other end of the spectrum, two of his albums, Sovlanut and Breadcrumb Sins might best be described as dubbed-up Eastern electronica. At times sounding like Klezmer meets King Tubby, these releases are heavy without being dark, and ever-so-slightly unsettling. Saft achieves the improbable: a radical deconstruction and re-imagining of the classic Dub it up blacker than Dread aesthetic perfected by Lee “Scratch” Perry in the mid-to-late ‘70s.

Where the previous Reggae-tinged efforts used distortion and dissonance to create a sort of ambient dub soundscape, his New Zion Trio seeks clarity and concision. It would be more than a little unimaginative to describe this set as “jazz with reggae beats”, but that may be how it sounds at first blush. First off, that wouldn’t be the worst thing; who but Jamie Saft would even think of such a thing, much less be able to pull it off? Second, after a few listens it may occur to the listener that it is incredibly challenging to pull of this sound organically. Successful dub tracks employ all manner of effects, loops and studio tweaking; in lesser hands it can be gratingly in-your-face or worse, facile. The masters (like Perry and Tubby and, in later years, Bill Laswell) cannily utilize recognizable melodies—often taken from established songs—and decode them by reducing and embellishing at the same time. The best dub has a vertiginous element that, once you understand its logic, becomes addictive.

What Saft manages to do on Fight Against Babylon is create an organic ambiance and, without any in-the-studio sorcery or clever manipulation (strategies he has already showcased on the aforementioned efforts), establish a deep, utterly pleasant groove. On the first couple of tracks, “Slow Down Furry Dub” and “Niceness”, cascading piano and a steady backing riddim provided ably by bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Craig Santiago could almost be called Kingston cocktail jazz. The pace is unhurried and Saft is able to stretch out, expertly tinkering and prodding the ebb and flow. Saft’s playing is typically assured and he brings a recognizable elegance to the acoustic tracks. Again, the pace is deliberate and the vibe is mellow, but Saft never lapses into repetition or relaxation mode. After several listens one realizes that the piano is performing the roles of singer, lead guitarist and  dub engineer.

On the tracks “Ishense” and “Lost Dub”, the beat quickens and becomes ever-so-slightly urgent, upping the ante for Saft’s keyboard perambulations. This is closer to free-jazz territory, but welcoming as opposed to forbidding (a kinder Cecil Taylor meets a gentler Mad Professor?). Once Saft plugs in the Fender Rhodes the album moves into another gear, shifting from pleasantly intriguing to genuinely engrossing. Sweet and smooth, standout track “Hear I Jah” invokes the grandeur of Herbie Hancock and the tune is a mind-boggling mash-up, sort of Mwandishi matched up with Sly and Robbie. Closing track “Fire Blaze” slows things down to a hypnotic crawl, and Saft’s playing invokes 19th Century classical more than Studio One: it’s like Chopin with a spliff.

Jamie Saft, capable of seemingly anything, shrewdly utilizes a less-is-more approach to create a music that no one else could have conceived. He boasts the full range of his influences and ability, conjuring up sounds and feelings from multiple genres. The results are strikingly original and may inspire you to dig up some dub classics from your closet, or listen to contemporary jazz with reawakened ears. They should also remind you that while Saft has never before done anything quite like this, Fight Against Babylon is an obvious and welcome continuation of the distinctive and unclassifiable work he has been doing for well over a decade.

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