Cecil Taylor – Live in the Black Forest

Live in hte Black Forest

Cecil TaylorLive in the Black Forest MPS 0068.220 (1979)

One of many live Cecil Taylor recordings from the 1970s, Live in the Black Forest was recorded less than two weeks prior to One Too Many Salty Swift and Not Goodbye with the same Cecil Taylor Unit band.  Frankly, this is not as good as some of the others of that era.  There are two side-long tracks.  “Sperichill on Calling” is great, with an especially strong showing from Ramsey Ameen on violin, and generally more separation between the players.  “The Eel Pot” on side one is fine, but the sometimes unrelentingly chaotic performance kind of runs together after a while.  If the entire recording is analogized to a debate, then “The Eel Pot” is a bit combative, and “Sperichill on Calling” has more sympathetic goading and expansion of argument.  While listeners can’t really go wrong with any Taylor recordings of this era, Live in the Black Forest might be reserved until after some of the others.

Mavis Staples – Have a Little Faith

Have a Little Faith

Mavis StaplesHave a Little Faith Alligator ALCD 4899 (2004)

Mavis Staples had something of a late career resurgence with a number of well-received recordings.  Have a Little Faith came just before that resurgence.  While she sings well (of course!), the album as a whole is dull.  The songs frequently employ slick formula and cliches as if they are impressive, without any self-awareness or irony.  There is simply too much to take away from Mavis’ voice.  Pass on this and proceed to what came next, the warm and endearing We’ll Never Turn Back.

Neil Young – Chrome Dreams II

Chrome Dreams II

Neil YoungChrome Dreams II Reprise 936 249 917-2 (2007)

A very eclectic album without being uneven.  You get a real sampling of almost all aspects of Young’s music, from mellow country-rock to angry rockers.  This was the sequel (of sorts) to the unreleased 1977 album Chrome Dreams.  The highlight is “Ordinary People.”  Operating in Bruce Springsteen mode, Young really delivers on a working man’s epic.  It was dug up from the archives (from the This Note’s for You era) for this release.  The only problem at this point is that younger listeners may have no context for a song about factory workers losing jobs.  The song was from just after the first wave of the neoliberal assault on working America, wresting power and wealth away from industry and average folks (labor) to be placed in the hands of the Capital class and the FIRE sector (finance, insurance and real estate).  The first assault was against unions (key in the auto industry), shifting election funding toward purely business sources, with corporate raiders (like in the popular movies Wall Street and Pretty Woman) pillaging assets and pensions, and in adjusting tax codes to drastically reduce taxes on the rich and drastically reducing payments toward programs that benefited the poor and middle class.  The second wave of the neoliberal assault would be completed in a few years, with “free trade” agreements eliminating the possibility that domestic industry could be viable any longer, instead shifting focus to currency speculation that pillaged foreign central banks and with labor arbitrage “offshoring” jobs to distant locations with pauper labor.  So Chrome Dreams II comes during the “post-industrial” era of the USA.  Most factory jobs are long gone, so there haven’t been any to lose in a while.  Its ambitions are futile now, but Young’s “Ordinary People” narrative still resonates with conviction the heartbreak and sadness and grim determination that transcends changed circumstance — today the narrative would be about a Midwest Methland where the factory is long gone and rural methamphetamine labs open up amid the whirlwind of lives and local economies circling the drain.  In the end Chrome Dreams II proves that Neil Young is a more honest and genuine rock and roller than just about anybody else out there.  Here’s to lost causes like that.

Jackie-O Motherfucker – Change


Jackie-O MotherfuckerChange Textile TCD 02 (2002)

Jackie-O Motherfucker’s (JOMF’s) approach to music is syncretic. Percussive elements draw out and expand other sounds lurking in guitars and other noisemakers. The sounds are distantly familiar, but they now seem to slowly rise to a conscious level. Once a part of the music has made itself felt, JOMF move on. The progression is slow. It is also steady. JOMF pull together folk, ragas, turntablism, jazz, blues, rock. Actually, they do a good job summing up their many influences. They look upon those influences as raw material for new combinations and presentations.  This is a strange and friendly mélange of urban and rural elements.  Part of the so-called “free folk” movement, this is vaguely like psychedelic jam band music but far less prone to showiness and guitar wankery than that label suggests.

Change is a very good album. Part of what makes it so good is that each song elaborates its themes. Solos and impressive technical feats aren’t the attraction; the shifting, almost pastoral musical landscape is. This takes attention away from the individual band members. The album offers the chance experience the concepts through many perspectives. The result is big; you have to step back to take it all in. Change is an opportunity to consider where you are, in relation, then to ask if you are ready for whatever comes next. Because whatever music has in store tomorrow, it will have to be different. JOMF have covered a lot of territory, and for anyone to retrace any of their steps would be too boring. And deep under the guitars that sound like sitars, the mumbled vocals, and the saxophone that makes its humble appearances, JOMF have a positive outlook as to where things are headed. Attention: Now leaving the terrordome.

Morris Berman – The Twilight of American Culture

The Twilight of American Culture

Morris BermanThe Twilight of American Culture (WW. Norton & Co. 2000)

Disappointing. I ended up just skimming through a lot of this. Berman presents an interesting topic, but this feels like a five page essay spun out to book length. His analysis is pretty superficial. In describing the decline of American culture he seems to be “preaching to the choir” as they say. The best parts are his personal anecdotes about teaching experiences, but those alone don’t support his premise.