Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Music, music, and more music

I tend to buy music in a clump, and have been listening to the used, out-of-print, and indie-distributed CDs that have been coming through my mail box. Every week a little gift for myself. And of course there has been a little iTunes downloading of the folks for whom that's their exclusive distribution format.

So a little of master guitarist Brandon Ross's Costume (2004, released on a Japanese label, check iTunes); who hasn't he played with might be the question to ask: Harriet Tubman, Cassandra Wilson, Henry Threadgill, Lawrence "Butch" Morris, Oliver Lake etc., etc., etc., i.e. not enough space here to list) .

A whole lotta Joi up in the house. And if you don't know who she is then you need to ask somebody.

1st Generation Dungeon Family, the original Star Kitty, the funk-rock singer/songwriter, vocalist, and self-styled couturist, everyone has been influenced by, but whose work few outside the ATLien, dirty south, funk/rock freakfanclub have heard...

I'm listening to: Her debut, The Pendulum Vibe(1994, out-of-print check amazon for used copies); the lost, never officially released, innovation that is Amoeba Cleansing Syndrome (just the sampler for now)(1996/97) may be available on Joi's website; Star Kitty's Revenge out-of-print, check amazon for used copies & iTunes for downloads (2002); and featuring spoken-word interludes by "Uncle" George Clinton, her newest and best, Tennessee Slim is the Bomb (2005/06) (and she sho nuf is, baby!) re-re-released and available through cdbaby (love them!) and iTunes for downloads.

Joi's music evidences an internalized connection with a funk/rock/gospel/R&B/blues legacy, along with the sexual righteousness of her auntie forebears. She's workin' those elements and making a whole new fusion stew, simultaneously acknowledging the past and creating a new solar system. Signifyin' the AACM philosophy "Ancient to the Future" for the funk-rock crowd; hence the inclusion of "Unc" Clinton, as sage. So when Joi introduced her debut album with "Stand" a 37 second arrangement of Sweet Honey in the Rock's "I'm Gon' Stand" singing all of the voices with some spectral processing and electronic bleeps thrown in--and makes it work--and on her second release covers both the Nona Hendryx-penned Labelle tune "You Turn Me On"--and isn't afraid to sing it from where the sun don't shine--and Betty Mabry Davis's "If I'm Lucky (I Might Just Get Picked Up)"--without an ounce of obfuscating coyness or mindless video ho posturing--you know she's not playing. For some of the best writing on Joi and this auditory terrain, check out this Creative Loafing article by one of my favorite music critics, Kandia Crazy Horse.

(Joi pictured above right with producer Dallas Austin)

Then there's Lina's The Inner Beauty Movement (2005), and anybody who can use ragtime and what sounds like a tuba in a funky pop song with some solid lyrics has my vote. You gotta hear "Leaving You (for Me)"(it doesn't have the tuba or ragtime, but still the concept is strong, and the self-romance of the melody works).

Did I say something about ragtime and a tuba, oops! Lina does have a 1930s Big Band sound, but I was imagining the tuba (I guess I need to put it in something I'm working on!) The ragtime was for real--it's just that it was in the newest release by Donnie,The Daily News. I think this is also worth checking out. The brother puts," I'd trade my racism, sexism, and homophobia, (to spend a little time with you, babe)" in the chorus of a gospel-infused soul lyric ("911"), and is the son of two ministers. Dropping in time for the National Baptist Convention USA to finally mention HIV/AIDS (see Rod 2.0 for more on this). To hear Donnie check out the Giant Step release details and the Giant Step Jukebox. Plus, you can listen here to Donnie talking to NPR's Farai Chideya about his music, gospel roots, leaving home (he was "smelling himself" as the folks say), and sexuality.

I've also got some curiosity about 2nd Generation Dungeon Family musician Janelle Monae who is being produced by Atlanta's Wondaland Productions and Big Boi's Purple Ribbon label. Monae's vocals also appear on OutKast's Idlewild soundtrack. Apparently she's got a retro-futuristic thang going on, is a classically-trained vocalist with a New York theater background and off-Broadway credits, all at the age of 23. Her forthcoming debut, Metropolis, proposes to be avant-garde concept album based on the 1927 Fritz Lang film of the same name, in which she embodies a character named Cindy Mayweather navigating an android, cyberworker, over-worked, capitalist-run universe. You can read more about Monae and the album in the May '07 Music Issue of Creative Loafing. (note: Monae's website says the album drops June 1, 2007 which has come and gone, but you can follow the details at The Wondaland Art Society and Journey to Metropolis blogs--all about the trials and joys of that crazy business they call show.)

Today I came home to two(!) CDs by Georgia Anne Muldrow ("instrument of the ancestors"). I'm thrilled to be able to hear "REALLYTHO" without going to the worthnothings krew Myspace page, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't. The thrillilicious track (so thrilling it's illicit, for real) "REALLYTHO" is on a side project, Pattie Blingh: Sagala. I'll have to write on that later... Time to get the listening on...

Of course I'm also listening to some classical, the late Toru Takemitsu's A Flock Descends Into the Pentagonal Garden (1977) and From Me Flows What You Call Time (1990). Takemitsu was a self-taught composer (like another favorite, Zbigniew Preisner) who wrote for solo instruments, orchestras, ensembles and a number of films. He's probably best known in the US for his soundtrack to Akira Kurosawa's Ran (1985). A friend suggested the orchestral work, From Me Flows What You Call Time (isn't that title amazing?!) because I'd been hearing timpani (pictured right, and below) in my head.

Takemitsu doesn't use them as percussive instruments, but as resonators for sound bowls, and the staging of the work had chimes on ribbon strung across the ceiling of the concert hall that the percussionist would pull on to play. Earlier in his career Takemitsu had an interest in atonal work, but later felt that some western composition had gotten rather intellectual and lost the feel and sensuality of music. He developed a concern with the decay or aging of sound color/timbre. Really fascinating, because classical orchestration seems to foreground dynamics and dynamic range, and the sound envelope, but not as frequently the arc of how the color of a sound changes. Takemitsu found the latter focus was achieved through playing the notes quite slowly. There is considerable dynamic range in From Me Flows..., which allows for the decay of both timbre as well as sound, but a lot of silence as well which effectively opens aural spaces for listening. The piece was written for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the conductor Seiji Ozawa, Carnegie Hall, and Nexus (a Toronto percussion group). The "me" in the title refers to Carnegie Hall, not Takemitsu.

How I wish I could have seen this staged...


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