Thursday, August 09, 2007

HurdAudio Rotation: My Very Empty Ears

James Blood Ulmer: Birthright. 2005. Hyena Records: TMF 9335.

James Blood Ulmer: vocals, guitar, flute

The blues often conjures up adjectives like "authentic" and "true." But the fact with James Blood Ulmer is that he just gets under my skin. Right from the first chord from his guitar and his gravelly voice I'm swept up into his wise, life-hardened perspective. The relentless forward motion combined with the harmonic framework gives this music a sharp edge while Ulmer's voice sprinkles bitter salt into freshly opened wounds. By the time he breaks into his evil cackles of "Devil's Got To Burn" I realize I've been on a journey through some intensely emotional territory that never flinches in the face of truth and authenticity.

David Lang: Child. 2003. Cantaloupe Music: CA21013.

Child for chamber ensemble. Performed by Sentieri Selvaggi (Milan). Conducted by Carlo Boccadoro.
i. my very empty mouth
ii. sweet air
iii. short fall
iv. stick figure
v. little eye

One can hear all the can banging influences at work in this music. There's a healthy dose of a Louis Andriessen sensibility at work - even the second movement is dedicated to him. The surface texture of this music ripples with a surprising post-minimalist sheen that embraces dissonance without necessarily becoming dominated by dissonance. Even with generous repeated passages this music doesn't come off as "minimalist," "post-minimalist," or whatever -ist the academic establishments will reject today and embrace tomorrow. Much of this music is a self-contained paradox. It's aggressively tranquil, intricately simple and bitter sweet. It's also a sonic wonder well worth hearing.

Thomas Chapin Trio: Third Force. 1990, 1991. Re-released as disc 1 of Thomas Chapin: Alive box set. Knitting Factory Records: 35828 02482.

Thomas Chapin: saxophones, flute
Mario Pavone: bass
Steve Johns: drums

It always startles me how vibrant the music on this CD is. The musicianship and the energy behind this wonderful din practically leaps out from the speakers with equal parts fun, fury and devastating intelligence. Thomas Chapin recorded some amazing music in his short time, but it was the trio that was a vehicle for some enduring and incredible creative work. And this is some of the earliest recorded evidence of a music that would play such an important role in defining the Knitting Factory sound back when that venue - and record label - was far more relevant than it is today. It's a sound that still infects much of my own sensibility and taste.

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