Listening Notes, Ultra-Brief (Pt. 105)



Tim Berne’s Snakeoil, Shadow Man (ECM)

When the alto saxophonist jumped to ECM after decades in the indie wilderness, the resulting acoustic album suggested a calm retrenchment from the splatterpunk jazz he’d made his name with, even if his trademarked knotty compositions still dominated. Yet here we are one year later, and Berne’s traded Manfred Eicher’s production out for his own expert guesswork, having figured a way to crank the volume without plugging in as he reconvenes the bass-less Snakeoil quartet for six single-take performances, all suggestive of a live show’s risky sprawl. After three (relatively) short openers featuring Oscar Noriega’s liquid bass clarinet and a mournful duo reading of Paul Motian’s “Psalm,” the band stakes a bold maximalist claim - three epic tracks of third stream/math-rock complexity, shuffling through colors and tempos like a metalcore MJQ, undergirded by pianist Matt Mitchell’s dense clusters and the vibes/percussion/full kit explosions of Chris Smith, who launches into a Max Roach-style hi-hat solo midway through the edgy funk of “Socket”. And Berne simply roars, especially on an intense “OC/DC” and the energy music of the final four minutes. As always with Berne, the whole thing is too involved, even frenetic, for casual listening. So lose yourself.


Joanna Gruesome, Weird Sister     (Slumberland Records)

Welsh band, atrocious name, press clips claim they met during anger management classes  - life’s too short, right? Yet they claim two guitarists in an era when many indie bands lack even one, boast winsome vocalist Alanna McArdle even if you can’t understand much of what she says aside from a few well-enunciated “fucks,” seem to dig appropriately on such progenitors as Sonic Youth (“Madison”) and maybe even the Ramones (“Graveyard” sure sounds like a shoegaze mashup of “Commando”/ “Loudmouth”), and wrap everything up in twenty-eight minutes. Mostly brief, usually tuneful, quite often fast, noisy when need be, they thrash tweefully like an in-your-face Shop Assistants. But I’m not about to claim the songs are there.  

Dave Holland, Prism     (Dare2 Records) 

Holland earned his place in the pantheon of post-60s jazz greats with 1972’s Conference Of The Birds, even if his short tenure with Miles Davis is what gets all the ink. So it’s little surprise most quarters mention In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew as signifiers for this electric fusion album from the man with the bass, even if the comparisons seem rather off - for one thing, this is way more electro-acoustic than Bitches Brew especially. More importantly, both Davis albums meandered through loose grooves in a way these pinpoint arrangements wouldn’t dare. The leader takes a few typically gracious solo turns, but mostly leaves things to his crew, including a plugged-in Craig Taborn comping away on dirty Fender Rhodes and a lord-almighty-I’m-free-at-last Kevin Eubanks on filthy electric guitar. Eubanks shreds the blues on “The Empty Chair (For Clare)” and dispatches gospel glory on drummer Eric Harland’s chordal “Choir,” the sole electric constant and much the better for that. Still, this too often registers as above-average Weather Report, which is to say no synthesizers.


Miley Cyrus, Bangerz (RCA)

Wouldn’t it have been great if she’d proved the naysayers wrong, sweeping aside all calumny and spite in one gloriously hawked pop spitball? Wouldn’t it have been something to watch Ms. Cyrus prove for once and for all that Disney Corp. is a far more gross and insidious cultural presence than anything the VMAs could ever barf up? Wouldn’t it have been nice had the entire thorny question of cultural appropriation been rendered moot by a young woman euphorically ransacking any and all modes of late-adolescent expression the better to convene her irreverent referendum on assimilation vs. cult of individuality? Wouldn’t you give anything to un-hear Future puking all over Ben E. King, or to erase from your memory the stream of cliches burying pro forma house party “anthem” “We Can’t Stop” neck-deep in the processed sludge? Did you already forget about that one? The one with seven co-writers? The one that goes can’t stop / won’t stop? Only God can judge ya? Forget the haters? We like to party? Rhymes with dancing with molly?