Thursday, August 29, 2013

Checkpoint Charlie - Feuer und Flamme (GERM, 1982)

Most of us probably remember how mutantsounds posted some of their amazing early albums, including their masterpiece "Krawall im Schweinstall" here:
I then added "Durchsichtige" as a homage to them along with comments about communism and the bizarre romantic attitude Western Europe as a whole had towards it, at least until Pol Pot's experiment of radical communism in Cambodia came to light, which no one could really justify with a straight face though some at the time tried.
I have also in the past made fun of communism, a pastime which I find is strangely unpopular, although quite gratifying:
and here:

Recently the impressive French scholarship in "The Black Book of Communism" could ensure there is no doubt in history that communism was one of the greatest tragedies humanity has ever endured or self-created.  How millions of people could have perished, not from resource scarcity, conflict, to enrich leaders, or environmental disaster, but merely to be sacrificed at the altar of an ideology-- is virtually impossible to believe.
Those millions died only because of an idea, an abstract conception of a better society.

When we consider the reductionism of science which for ex. physicists attest-- that all complex phenomena can be reduced to subatomic interactions-- I wonder how you really can explain in chemical or quantum terms how so many millions of humans died due to the ideas of one Karl Marx who thought a better society was possible when the proletariat overthrow their bourgeois oppressors and that this process could be hastened in various artificial ways.  Where do you find those atomic interactions exactly that led to  those actual physical individuals dying?  You'd have to follow a sequence starting in one philosopher's mind, Marx (and how do you explain the origin of his thought processes?) then proceed on to the power of printing, of education, of certain tyrannically-minded people, but even that isn't enough, since you are required to have the correct social zeitgeist to allow such an idea to take hold within an entire fertile society, in short, there isn't even the slightest hope you could follow such a chain of causation outside of the broad-stroke 'explanations' usually given by historical analyses.  Reductionism is simply not appropriate for explanatory power in the universe as a whole, with the level of complexity brought about by an 'intelligent' mind.  The fact that abstraction can influence actual physical processes can be demonstrated from the planetary climate changes we are bringing about via technology and abstract knowledge (rather than some bio-physical process).

Consider the case of China, in which Mao at one point in the sixties decided culture was useless and that all education should involve learning to be a peasant. Therefore everyone no matter how professionally educated had to farm.  When you hear about these ideas, you ask yourself, this couldn't really have happened.  But it did.  In Romania, Ceausescu decided he would abolish birth control to force the population to increase, the result was that most women abandoned their infants in orphanages, where hundreds of thousands of children were deprived of sensory stimulation and wound up in a developmentally delayed state.  He wasn't too concerned with overall social welfare.  Those orphans today are unproductive adults who are a burden to the state now that they have grown up…

Of course as we know in N. America there was the opposite attitude of paranoiac fear of communism which in its own way was equally extreme and childish.  As a result, Vietnam was defoliated with thousands of tons of dioxin, a substance so poisonous even micrograms in farmer's fields are frantically detoxified when they are found within the United States, or in parts per billions in small rivers.  Too bad those poor Vietnamese can't detoxify the tons they were exposed to in the "American War" -- oh sorry you know it here in the West as the "Vietnam War" (although I recently read the US government was generous enough to offer a few million dollars to help the clean up-- prob. the price of a few hazmat suits, for the American workers over there.)

When you ask those who suffered under the eastern regimes in Europe they are pretty adamant about the evils of communism and the corruption and hypocrisy they were forced to endure for so many years-- there was nothing romantic about it for the oppressed hungarians, polish, bulgarians, etc.  For them even socialism is a dirty word to be spat out.
How angry they would have been back in the seventies, to know that rock bands like this one were trying to start communist revolutions in France, in Germany, etc.

Musically though, I was happy to find this record because I always loved the hard guitar style of Checkpoint Charlie and the ingeniously progressive compositions they put together.  And this entry won't disappoint any of you who have a hunger for prog rock, despite the late year, because you will hear all the odd chord changes and tritonal riffs you've come to expect of the genre.  The only compromise for the times is a couple of songs with a definite but not overdone punkish drive.  There is an almost total lack of new wave influence, on the other hand.

Another question I always return to is this, to what degree did these anarchist communist political bands actually change the world or their national governing structures?  Hardly--  the eighties brought a tsunami of conservatism, deregulation, and naked blatant greed to the western world, that I've discussed endlessly in the past as well.  And those who fought for earth days in the seventies and the environment could hardly have foreseen that the eighties would be merely the beginning of the most desperate accelerating destruction of the natural world we live in, for the sake of short-term riches and materialism.  As so many have pointed out, our world economy is like a driver stepping on the gas harder and harder as he approaches a cliff he can't see.

I find it so incredibly sad that humanity to this day has never been able to find that balance between materialist, self-indulgent comforts versus the true conservative ideals (which today are called liberal) of abstinence, moderation, respect for our surroundings and preparations for our future and our children.  Will we ever find it?

Notice the cover has a matchstick book stuck to it with actual matches you can use to start anarchist fires in your local downtown.  Cool, or stupid?
At least the music is magnificent.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Teo Macero and Bob Prince - What's New? (USA, 1956)

Teo Macero is one of my favourite jazz arrangers and composers.  In this early seminal album, he occupies side a to Bob Prince's side b, to create a fusion of modern classical music with jazz composition.  Unfortunately it was recorded in mono, though clearly stereo was available at the time, I suppose Columbia felt the music was so 'out-there' they didn't feel there was the need to make it a stereo recording.  Briefly I will run through Teo's spectacular career in jazz.

I first heard Teo in childhood from the 1980 compilation which was called just that, which absolutely threw me to the floor with the eerie combination of pop jazz, avant-garde music, classical influences, brilliant and unusual songwriting (as in 'Blues for Amy' one of those songs I might have listened to literally hundreds of times in my life) and then the peculiar tendency, which you will hear in this record, of combining sax (his own playing presumably) with accordeon for a kind of late-night film-noir french crime drama feel.  Selective discography:
I draw your attention to 1968's Faces OST, which is wonderful on its own merits as a production in the heyday of American film (in my opinion), it's a very freudian-neurotic 'who' s afraid of virigina woolf' style emotional train-wreck (I say that in a positive sense lol) with John Cassavetes acting and directing.  Notable also is the soundtrack to 'Virus' which is shockingly still available as download online thanks to our colleague pollux.  "Acoustical Suspension" provided a wonderful mix of classical and jazz at a high level of composition, as did the amazing homage to Mingus, "Impressions of Charles Mingus" .  Unlike what one might expect there are no covers of Mingus compositions but only Macero's impressions of Mingus' feel.

Teo was partially responsible for my single favourite jazz album, Mingus' 1971 opus "Let my children hear music" which is absolute and utter genius, in which one hears all the torment and emotion and thought of a true late, great, genius, the beautiful Charlie Mingus, scored to orchestra by Teo.  The one album I would carry with me to the ends of time.  In the wiki bio you can read about how he contributed to some absolute masterpieces of jazz such as Miles' Kind of Blue and Bitches Brew, said to be the most popular jazz album of all time.

Let's go back to the album in question here, which was at the time labelled 'third stream' (vs. jazz and classical).  Here we get a good idea of how incredibly talented Teo was as a composer.  The back of the record features notes about all the songs, some are out and out atonal, even using the dodecaphonic scale (that is, each of the 12 tones is used once in a passage that sounds completely unmelodic, and is then fiddled with e.g. by reversing the order of the notes to provide a completely abstract melody), some have the aforementioned romantic sound of tenor sax on top of accordeon, a couple are recognizably jazz, but all are quite experimental, at least on the first Macero side of things.  I recommend you listen to the record while reading the notes, which I scanned adequately for this purpose.

I'll go into a bit of detail with one track called "Sounds of May", because it's so utterly unusual.  The first part, as described on the liner notes by Teo, consists of notes on the piano which were depressed without striking the ivories, so the strings were allowed to vibrate--by a sax being played on top of the strings! Later the sax notes themselves were removed, leaving only the sound of the strings playing their overtones under the influence of the ghostly saxes.  Truly this will sound odd, like a synthesizer/string mellotron/theremin combination.  You'll see what I mean.  A later part of the song then consists of a sung melody which is played again on top delayed several times, making the resultant total sound like a group of monks chanting.  At the end, one melody is played at half speed, whereupon the same is played half way thru at normal speed, on top. You get an idea of how much fun he was having composing this music.

On side b, the Bob Prince side of things, you'll get much more of that American swing style which I got tired of long ago, preferring the Euro-non-swinging style of jazz.  The highlight to me is the Ground Base or Bass song, which is interesting in its use of trumpet chords or riffs played in seconds on a very low register, giving the whole a dull and very odd sound.

It's wonderful what these talented guys were able to achieve in the days before electric and synthesizer instruments swept us all away into the garden of fusion eden.  I wish the time and effort they put into composition weren't so utterly lost. I saw that many of his old recordings and eighties materials are on sale now on as mp3 downloads or as CDs, but of course, not this old mono recording.
" Daragh McCarthy writes: I first met Teo Macero five years ago at his apartment in New York when I filmed the first of many interviews about his life and work. It was a tiny apartment filled with photographs of himself and his friend Edgard Varèse, and several of the effects machines specially designed for him by the engineering department at CBS records. I once asked him what the key to his studio technique was. He struggled to find an answer before finally saying: "It's like E=mc squared. It's very simple really ... and then I use my ears.
In his last years Teo wrote music prolifically. He said the pain from his illness disappeared when he wrote. In his apartment, he would play every day on his Fender Rhodes electric piano. At his house in the Hamptons on Long Island, he played on his full-sized grand. He approached writing with urgency, determined to get stuff out and laid down for posterity."

Teo Macero died at the age of 82 on February 19th, 2008.

Macero's Sounds of May:    

 Bob Prince's Ground Base (Bass):        

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Vasant Rai / Collin Walcott / Paul McCandless / Glen Moore / Dilip Naik ‎– Spring Flowers (USA, 1976)

Here's another record that should, like the previous entry, prove highly popular.  This time we are dealing with eastern music played by Vasant Rai, who is the composer for all tracks, backed up with such jazz luminaries as Colin Walcott and the amazing Oregonian Paul McCandless, the prime reason I bought this record.  Also I really loved the cover, which is odd but quite surreally gorgeous in that typical mid-seventies lsd-drippy way.  It's funny how that coleopteran, new-agey taste for sitar and indian music has dissipated in today's world -- is that good or bad?   I believe those spring flowers of which these meditation-mad maniacs spoke are now merely dried up flowers crumbling into dust in the hands of those of us who are attempting to perpetuate this musical legacy somehow into the future.  Will a delicate and beautiful, hard to appreciate album like German Iviron survive somehow into the coming upheavals of the future?  With uncharacteristic pessimism I don't see it as possible, though I would love to have a heart-to-heart with one of those dandelion-common optimists who believe in our future techno-success extending into colonizing other planets and even galaxies.  For my part every time I take my kids to the park with clearly marked "dogs must be leashed" signs and every five minutes someone laughs as their off-leash dog charges at my little ones and terrifies them, or every time I get in my car to drive to work and am cut off after each mile by some idiot with no regard for anyone else, I find less and less reason to believe in humanity's future.  As I've said so many times before, there are signs all around us that our society is on a breaking-down course at the moment, if one really cares to look instead of ostriching about: in the obvious financial senses, or socially, not just ecologically.  Is it really possible to reform our old democracies so they are not all riddled with parasitic bureaucracies, bankers and lawyers who serve no purpose other than to drain money from ordinary people?  On a global scale, can we really make enough food for the expected maximum population of 9-10 billion, when there is barely enough room to grow food for 7?  Can we really hope to solve the climate change problem when there is such incredible pressure in India and China to modernize to middle class for all?  I really really doubt it-- and that's only on the larger telescopic scale of things.  Going down to the small scale microscopic it's even more bleak. Everywhere we look there is a reason to be worried.

A couple of years ago I mentioned one of the most shocking scientific arguments to take seriously for the more pessimistic outlook.  For those who understand Bayes' Theorem, the application of probability to the question of why we are alive now, as opposed to a hundred, a thousand years ago, or the reverse:  a hundred or a thousand years hence, is most likely due to the fact we are in the middle of a population bell curve.  The conclusion is thus obvious.  Of course this is a probability argument and thus impossible to properly quantify, depending on so many guessed-at variables.  If one is certain humanity cannot go extinct, automatically you can't apply Bayes' Theorem to the question since it amounts to dividing by zero (though no biologist would make such a statement, since every single species must go extinct eventually or has gone extinct).  And unfortunately-- Bayes' Theorem is so useful and practical you can't just ignore the actual argument... ( the doomsday argument of astrophysicist Brendon Carter)

Back to the music.  From rateyourmusic's brief review: "Oregon meets India (again).  Tastefully done. McCandless, as usual, can fit hit oboe playing seamlessly into any composition. "

Sample track, Spring Wind, featuring Paul's amazing playing on oboe:

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Philip Catherine + Christian Escoude + Didier Lockwood - Trio (FRA 1984)

None of these musicians really need any introduction though of course the cover would need an entire novel to justify its existence.  Well, some of us here remember those idiotically happy days back then when bright neon colours and silly behavior were everywhere.

The music is that light fusion typical of the eighties that some really detest, others not so much.  However, due to the fame of its performers, I thought it would be interesting to some.  Note that some of the tracks are really interesting and well-written, esp. to me the Escoude track on side b, "Eyes Don't Smile" is quite progressive.  I'll sample it below.  In fact he really turns out to be the star here, to me.  Catherine, on the other hand, despite his purebred pedigree, is quite the dog in this show, with relatively ordinary compositions.  But we could recognize his unique playing easily, all of us, with that sharp attack and those minor second passages that are so typical of his great masterpiece records.  Oddly enough he does the arranging on this record, when you wouldn't really expect these guys need such a function.

The other impressive track is Lockwood's Like an Angel punctuated with those classic minor second arpeggios that are such a hallmark of both P. Catherine and seventies guitar fusion:

Here is Escoude's  Eyes Don't Smile:

Friday, August 02, 2013

Karlos P. Steinblast - Hard Rock Vol. 1 (USA, 1980)

This is by far his best work (and indeed one of my favourite guitar-rock albums from the US) featuring some really raw, psychiatric and hard-assed guitarwork-- moreover, most songs are quite progressive and each its own uniquely bizarre way.  The one thing about this album is the late year-- you'd think most of this material was written 5-8 years before, especially given the Led Zep-influence that seems to be omnipresent.  )

Let's just have a listen to the first magnificent masterpiece track, "Me and my babe--"  wherein Karlos  stays at home with his babe gettin' it on, "we can't drive - with the price of gas, fuel oil running out fast - we keep warm under cover -- please don't tell my mother" (--showing he was a peak oil believer 25 years ahead of his time--)   but then the song goes: "Costs too much to go nowhere-- I don't wear no underwear" showing he's truly an insane genius deserving of immortality.

 As I said, each track has its own interesting twist: the spacey funk that starts side b, the fast instrumental riff that follows (called Stabb, sampled below), recalling perhaps the Frankenstein song by the Edgar Winter Group, the lament for being stranded in New York City, the "I hate disco" song that sounds so beautifully quaint today, esp. with the utter dominance of 'dance music' in today's world... again note his wonderfully original guitar-playing style, often using chunky chords punctuated by fast riffs to interconnect phrases.

And of course I ask you all again, Where is Debbie Miller?  she was last seen in the South Illinois area sometime in the early seventies, anyone, please have any info on her whereabouts?  maybe we should start a facebook page about it, that seems to be successful in a lot of these cases…….
Or perhaps we should be asking, Where is Karlos P. Steinblast? 
It can't be too late to make him famous, as famous as he deserves on the basis of this wonderful music.  And I can tell you this is one record I will never give up until the day I die.

Me and my babe: