Listening Notes, Ultra-Brief (Pt. 56)


Joe Morris / William Parker / Gerald Cleaver, Altitude     (AUM Fidelity)

“Long form” is how both bassist / spiritual center of downtown improv Parker and guitarist-leader Morris define this set, and accurate it is, with two of four tracks pushing beyond the 25 minute mark. With nary a head nor bridge in sight, a trio of legends meet for the first time on record inside John Zorn’s post-Tonic club on Avenue C, and all participants note the swelteringly hot conditions accompanying and perhaps inspiring these performances. Baptism-in-sweat fantasies aside, the entirety of a first set and shorter selections from a second do suggest telepathic abilities of master improvisers set loose on a headlong plunge, with Cleaver’s snare action grounding a buoyant beat and Parker switching over to North African sintir when the feeling moves him. But even this dream team of a rhythm section serves to isolate the unique qualities of an electric guitarist who favors a playing style that might best be described as shredding. A wholly inaccurate characterization, I suppose, as Morris studiously avoids distortion or pedal trickery, even looking askance at reverb, preferring clean lines stripped of artifice and bebop-approved. But those lines cascade out at dizzying speed, all the more impressive for being individually identifiable. And it’s never all about the technique - scraps of melody and licks you almost recognize from somewhere else periodically surface from beneath the onslaught, although when one exploits the entirety of the fretboard the way Morris does, such melodic combinations may simply be happy accidents.

Philadelphia International Classics: The Tom Moulton Remixes      (Harmless)

If the 40th anniversary of Philadelphia International slipped by you unawares, the more modest and varied likes of 2011’s two disc Philadelphia International: The Re-Edits will likely suffice as both Disco Edit sampler and pretty decent Philly Soul compilation. But if  Tom Moulton’s groundbreaking early-70s work strikes you as the equal of any storied rockist received narrative, you may owe it to yourself to track down this reasonably priced four-disc UK mini-box, in which 31 full-length Tom Moulton Mixes - some created as recently as last year, others dating back to 1975 - do their thing. Never beholden to extended drums-and-bongo breaks, Moulton retained a basic love for song structure even as acolytes followed his lead towards the promised land of abstract groove. And it’s important to note that the archetypal remixer had zero interest in gimmickry - re: The Intruders’ “Win, Place Or Show,” Moulton notes, “The original had horse racing track sounds, and I wanted to get rid of all of them and get to the meat of the track”. What’s surprising nearly forty years on is that a disco edit might insist the meat of a song was the vocals and what those voices were talking about: back stabbers, gossip, dirty old men, love trains, mama, the love Harold Melvin lost. So despite a few 10 minute-plus barn burners, rest assured most tracks forego the epic for the merely extended. Because this is Gamble & Huff, there’s plenty of goop, in the guise of both strings and sentiments. But this is disco as it was first conceived and practiced - the original IDM.


Moritz Von Oswald Trio, Fetch     (Honest Jon’s Records)

Having defined the most minimal of techno twenty years ago in the still-peerless Basic Channel, Moritz Von Oswald turns his generous attention span to what some call “dub techno” and what most others will continue to call minimal techno. An electronic trio joined by three analog types - trumpet, bass clarinet, bass - they waste no time launching into a 17-minute dark groove that brings to mind 1970s Miles Davis at his most unforgiving. Piercing horn interjections layered in deep echo punctuate stabbing keyboards and meandering clarinet, while an epic digital beat pulses away mercilessly, which is not to say uninterestingly. Nothing else here nudges as close to jazz interplay or so effortlessly makes simultaneous peace with variance and repetition - not the dubby throb of “Dark,” the muffled whoomp of the self-descriptive “Club,” or the fluttering hum and trumpet commentary of closer “Yangissa”. But they offer their own mild pleasures while unhurriedly circling the beat(s).

Robert Turman, Flux     (Forced Exposure / Spectrum Spools)

Originally released ignominiously in cassette form only back in 1981, this homegrown minimalism offered a decisive shift from the noisier industrial avenues Turman had previously explored, and if Eno remains the obvious reference point, these six pieces (or maybe tracks, certainly not songs) are far more distanced than anything the oblique strategist ever cooked up. Yet there’s a calm playfulness to the muffled kalimba and piano constructions, rendered more so by such details as the bedroom Tascam clicking to life or the way room acoustics get swallowed by the warm hum of Turman’s modest means. So perhaps Eno isn’t the right comparison after all - maybe Kyle Gann’s three-piano meditation Quiet Night, composed the same year this was first released, is the more logical bedfellow. Ambient, yes, with a pacing not so much glacial as patient. 


Pat Metheny, Unity Band     (Nonesuch)

He’s earned the right to play whatever he wants, which ranges from knotty to lyrical to dreck, sometimes within the same song. But only students of the guitar need attend to his every uttering, because despite undeniable musical intelligence, what stands out most on this and nearly every other Metheny album since at least 1980’s American Garage is the leader’s unchecked urge to compose and play for the cheap seats.  And while this generosity remains one of his greatest attributes, it’s also his most damaging liability, for it so often translates to the kind of busy yet shallow language-of-AOR-derived thematics that have clogged up his chosen art form since Joe Zawinul started embracing the wrong muse. Even if the presence of Chris Potter’s able saxophone makes comparisons to the guitarist’s last turn with reed players unavoidable (Michael Brecker / Dewey Redman on 80 / 81), it’s once again the unique noise of the sparingly-used guitar synthesizer that stands out. Metheny’s only once managed to exploit that unwieldy technology to his advantage - the haunting, awkward, compelling “The Calling,” from 1983’s Rejoicing. Here are elsewhere, it’s more synthesizer than guitar, captive to a melody that’s pure corn.

Heavenly Beat, T A L E N T     (Captured Tracks)

“Another great spin-off from Beach Fossils,” one indie-hipster source crowed in print, and that just about says it all, doesn’t it? Synths not guitars dominate, and since guitars were always the major reason to check out Beach Fossils if indeed one felt the need to check them out at all, outside interest in these coyly whispered easy-listening tales of love may well come down to how fanatical one feels about tiny variations on themes propagated by minor indie-hipster spin-offs. I would note that the ersatz strings don’t even work as irony and that Sam Prekop’s fake tropical rhythms had more jam.