THE GREATEST SINGLE EVER MADE AS OF TODAY
”If I Lost You (Scuba Mix)” by King Britt vs Michelle Shaprow (Fivesixmedia 12” promo, circa 2001)
Something about the combination of modestly echoplexed electric piano, spaciousness and West London just does it for me. How appropriate that these eight minutes and 45 seconds of something approaching an afterlife should find its debut CD release as part of the lovely new compilation Joey & Norman Jay MBE Present: Good Times 3. Lovely Music is the label on which the definitive recording of I Am Sitting In A Room is released, but the 30 tracks assembled on these two CDs can only be generically described as lovely, because the times which they echoed were lovely, because our lives then were lovely, and because the music exudes loveliness, especially near-forgotten jewels such as Skipworth and Turner’s immaculately ecstatic 1985 Top 30 hit “Thinking About Your Love” – Stevie Wonder does Scritti Politti – as well as simple Northern Soul and ska gems. And Dr Buzzard’s “Sunshower” and Tammi and Marvin’s “California Soul,” not to mention the best Jacksons impersonation ever in Heaven and Earth’s “I Really Love You.”
On the sleeve of this compilation, Norman Jay makes quite a big deal of his recent MBE, and is absolutely bloody right to do so. It’s an unpronounced but palpable FUCK YOU to the dole office, to the “purists” who sniggered at his playing “Are You Ready For Love?” at Carnival back in 1988 (1)
(1) And he did. We were at the Good Times stall when we heard it. “Bloody hell” rapidly followed by “tee hee hee” (a)
(a) And a different article from this is required to investigate fully the implications of the fact that, in 1979, “Are You Ready For Love?” struggled to #42 while “Death Disco” comfortably made the Top 20, whereas now the former is suddenly worshipped and the latter wouldn’t stand a hope in hell of penetrating even the Top 100 (b)
(b) Which isn’t necessarily to denounce “Are You Ready For Love?” I quite like it. But not for that reason. Not because of shame (c)
(c) Not because of some forlorn belief that “life was better then” (d)
(d) Even though half the point of The Church Of Me was that life was better then (e)
(e) But the other half of the point is to assume that life will be better again (f)
(f) Which is what impresses me about Paul Auster’s The Book Of Illusions. The first 100 pages or so comprise some of the most searching and accurate descriptions of what happens to a prematurely bereaved person. First the grief, then the disbelief, then self-destruction by closing the doors on everyone else before finally shutting the door on oneself. Except that in this case a potential new Other is brought into his universe by dint of some cultural writing which he did in order to delay suicide. At this point the story briefly lurches into sub-Spillane melodrama, but further reading proves how catalytic this moment is. She forces him to live again at gunpoint. He seizes her gun, points it at his own head and almost kills himself before he realises that it’s better to try to resume the act of living. The story of Hector Mann runs in a clear parallel – the centrality of the gun in this book is emphasised. When he goes through the worst period of his life, he calls himself Herman Loesser – which sounds like “loser.” He has to march back to potential death in the bank robbery when he suddenly and finally realises that he has forgotten who he is. Loesser imposes severe penitence upon himself for his crime of letting her die. He makes himself as uncomfortable as he can because he feels that he deserves nothing less, yet at the same time he never feels more alive (g)
(1) and to “the Establishment.” Note the more subtle subtext in the sleeve photos. Norman Jay, immaculately dressed in top hat and three-piece suit, receives his MBE from the Queen. Norman Jay, immaculately dressed in straw hat, sensible T-shirt and shades, hangs out in W10/11, in Honest Jon’s, in front of the Trellick Tower. In the Buck Palace photos, SW1 is grey, dark and wet. A few miles up the road, the Ladbroke Grove/Golborne Road interface is sunny, bright and welcoming.
To understand this writer’s love of “If I Lost You” it is necessary to note the poignancy of the fact that the song’s title is never mentioned or sung in the course of the record. It indicates that the singer is spellbound, or perhaps captured, by the object of her affections. Michelle Shaprow sounds dazed, cautiously ecstatic. The hard Human League beats and synth drone of the intro quickly settle, at the entry of Shaprow’s voice, into the aforementioned irresistible Fender Rhodes/skeletal beat compound. “I’m crazy ‘bout you baby/Can’t you see it in my eyes/That’s why I ne-VER-mind/When you tell me all those lies.” Hear how her voice falters when she attempts to scale the octave which separates the “VER” from the “ne” before coming back down to the “mind.” It’s faintly vulnerable and exceptionally touching – it’s the same trick which Shania Twain deploys, although Twain generally extends her momentary octave-induced loss of actual “voice” for about double the interval. It’s the touch which separates her from ordinary pop, though.
As the song progresses it’s evident that Shaprow is worshipping/idolising its object, from the same perspective as Kelly views Nelly in “Dilemma.” “It makes no difference what you do/They always find you/Watch as they fall at your feet/Oh if you only knew/All the little things that they do for you/You know you drive them crazy, baby, but you never see…You look in their face and they weren’t there.”
The lyrical axis of the song is Shaprow’s semi-resigned pronouncement “As I recall, I’d never fall for you.” She then goes to describe her own worship of him, how she has been lured into the same speculative trap. “I feel a high everytimeIlookatyouGETOUTOFMYBRAIN (all sung in one breath and over four accented beats)…because you drive me insane…I begin watching you, calling you, hangingupI’LLDIALAGAIN…” The drug seizes hold of her rationality: “Oh what a fallen star (her or him?)/I really like the way that you drive your car”
(note how within three minutes this song has made direct reference to two separate Yello songs)
The “do do do do” which trails off itself at 2:50 initiates Shaprow’s final decline: “Oh won’t you watch me as I bleed/Because I’m in so desperate need/Look what you made me do…FOR YOU…Take what you want to take/They’ll even let you break what you want to break/But they’re not upset…Do what you want, they’ll just forget (here a distant thunder rumble is simulated in the rhythm).”
Ultimately, at 6:00, Shaprow’s voice splits into several shards and goes beyond language, echoing out of synch (“walking fast” she murmurs non-linearly, “rushing through the moment…fast”). The echoes and spaces in the music become more widely distanced, and from the background a string synthesiser adds its sopranino commentary. As her voice surrenders and breaks up its own fragments (finally settling for a repeated, arrhythmic “for you”), a poignant three-chord descending minor sequence which could have come off the new Robert Wyatt album ends the song officially, though Shaprow, now a ghost, continues to echo upon itself for a few seconds more (2)
(2) I haven’t mentioned Air here, but I ought to, because this record exhibits the same lovely-verging-on-dying spaciousness as Air do at their deepest; which is to say, in order to understand why I feel as I do about this song, I have to explain the twilight loveliness of listening to Moon Safari while travelling in the Oxford Tube in February 1998; at about 4:30 on a Friday afternoon, leaving work early to return to Oxford in good time for the weekend, having just descended from the Westway and preparing to ascend, less dramatically, the span of Western Avenue, the eastern backwoods of Acton. The sun begins to set with generous colours, the sort of orange/sepia shades which one only really gets at that stage of the year when winter is reluctantly morphing into spring when it really wants to go back to being autumn. The forlorn primary colour cheeriness (pink lettering on yellow background) of the sign for the “Cheery Chums” café (looking inside at the disgruntled Asian clientele – I would cry if I saw it now), past the car showrooms, towards the partially dismantled landscape which leads one to Park Royal. How good did the electric piano and subtle Roland bleeps in “All I Need” sound in such an environment; how warm and cosy it was. The high string synth, again, coming in towards the end to form a blissful kind of stasis. Life could have frozen at that point, and given that I was at that time eight months away from my allotted date of death, and further given what came (or went away) afterwards, I can’t say that I would have been too disappointed if it had (3)
(3) Flash back to early summer Friday afternoons in 1993, passing the old row of shops (“A40 Stores”) across the highway from the Hoover Building at Perivale. The goodness and bucolicity of listening to things like Justin Warfield’s “Flies In The Buttermilk,” and a well-played contemporary compilation tape which somehow threaded its way from Blood Sausage to Diblo Dibala. Out to Port Meadow on Saturday morning. See visions of heaven (Port Meadow was my Peckham Rye) and get back home in time for The Chart Show. Freeze me there please (4)
(4) But there are two more roads leading away from “If I Lost You” which have to be taken into consideration (5)
(5)THE SENSUOUS, QUIET ROAD - LUOMO: “THE PRESENT LOVER”
It’s not about what you call it. Does Luomo qualify as “microhouse”? Where does this, Luomo’s second album, stand within the post-Carl Craig/Jeff Mills developmental matrix? This writer is more concerned about what it conveys to him emotionally and physically and the means which the music uses to achieve this; with specific reference to The Pre-Sent Lover, where does listening end and movement begin (both emotional and physical, in that order, for you have to be moved before you can move), and how dependent is each upon the other?
More important is the fact that The Present Lover appears to be a record which concerns itself with the difficulties of communication and how these get in the way of one’s ability to love. It’s apposite that the two vocalists – one female (a rather more seductive version of Dani Siciliano) and one male (Prince at prep school) sing in English as a second language. Their declarations are never entirely clear.
The opening track “Visitor” begins with a 4AD electronic drone, from which mist emerges the whispered echo: “miss you.” The song is a dislocated meditation on the slow death of a relationship (“I’m boiling in your cold”). The vocal is never quite sequential, sentences never quite emerging from the assemblage of words. Behind the female vocalist, the electronics shift dubiously; a bassline occasionally makes itself known but the beat never actually gets going. It’s all about feelings being kept in, restrained to the point of suffocation. The song sounds as though it wants to move but can’t provoke itself sufficiently to be able to do so. The end effect is rather like Biosphere covering Stockhausen’s Stimmung (the clipped vocal segments, the repetition of vowels taking precedence over their collective received meaning). Towards the end a drum machine suddenly crashes – a saucepan being thrown across the room?
“Talk In Danger” sees the woman engaging in a fevered internal dialogue. The male contributes the very Prince-like refrain “I ain’t here to disappoint you…girl” while she tortures her own soul in unwarranted penance (“I expect you [i.e. myself] to come up with better features”), The track, as with the album in full, requires exceptionally attentive listening in order to assess its emotional capacity fully. Note particularly how at 5:09 a small but vital minor chord is added. Finally, the imagined male ends with the decided verdict: “I ain’t here.”
The title track “The Present Lover” is really where the Luomo beat methodology starts to make itself apparent, and it is the same thrusting, endlessly confident, just half-a-crucial-beat-behind-the-beat beat which listeners will know from “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head.” It’s no less danceable for being more subtle in its approach. Indeed, over the title track one could sing the tunes of both “CGYOOMH” and “In A Lonely Place,” and here the male vocalist cuts up his own musings on the words “perfect” and “lover” to minimal but bruising effect. At 3:20 a dubscape comes into view and a woozy post-Vangelis synth careers a lonely solo path over the track, before (at 6:38) the song starts to become mournful. “Body Speaking” continues the theme over a Larry Heard-esque landscape, all suspended flattened fifth synth chords – but what’s that calliope organ doing there? “Can you feel my body speaking?” gradually mutates over the course of the song into the less certain “Can you hear somebody (some body?) speaking?” At 3:03 (at the word “stare”) the song modulates up an octave, powered by a warped “oh oh oh oh oh” chant (Laurie Anderson!) before the track eventually folds back upon itself, and ends with the calliope (fairground of death?) being switched off.
With the track “To You,” the album’s emotional palette becomes more intense. The music develops from sepulchral murmurs worthy of Aphex at his most ambient and elusive into grandly lamenting Inner City chords as the woman asks: “Do I want too much?” She continues to consider where she stands in relation to anything, but eventually – and this is very close to Lucier territory – her words disconnect themselves, echo back on themselves, become more distant and less detectable. The contrast with the unstoppable motorik rhythm is rather startling, and the whole finally extremely poignant in what it leaves unsaid.
“Could You Be The One” sees the male vocalist return to meditate on the meanings and twistings of the words “to love.” The music is busy but also remote – at least until 3:45, when, with unexpected euphoria, the track audibly ascends in intensity and major chords, indicating the existence of some kind of hope.
“Cold Lately” returns thematically to the dying relationship referred to in “Visitor” (“Put some clothes on”) but here the woman tries to seduce in order for both of them to live (“We will turn our black tattoos into white”). It’s numbing in its hopeless hope. “Tessio” acknowledges that she may have a better relationship with the Other if the Other is not actually within her range of vision (“I guess you turn me on when you’re gone”). Driven initially by acoustic guitar and Bootsy-esque wavering bass, the beat doesn’t kick in until 2:01. And another extraordinary architectural sleight of hand occurs when, at 5:51, choirs of electronica suddenly come into mass view (stout Cortez viewing the Pacific Ocean for the first time) and convert the song to ethereality, against the singer’s repeated reassurance: “It’s OK.” This is deeply moving.
“What Good” is probably the nearest thing to a conventional dance track here, but the dialogue is palpably painful. The male vocalist stammers through the track (“I can’t get enough…and it goes…I ought to know…what is good…when anything goes?”). Yet again, however, the track doesn’t develop as you would expect it to; take especial notice here of a blissful minute or so when, at 2:59, triggered by an immense sigh, the song suddenly shifts into major-key ‘70s disco nirvana, although the female sings throughout: “What good is it to talk to you?” before the original beat returns at 3:59. The man becomes more desperate in his delivery; by 5:34 he’s demanding to know “Is it just a game you play?” The major key returns at 6:42 but his uncertainty becomes no less intense, and there’s a curious parallel with Timberlake’s similar uncertainty on “Like I Love You” – towards the end he complains, “You make me fade away.”
However, the most moving song on this record is the closing “Shelter” wherein the woman repeats, with Donna Summer-esque vulnerability, “I will try to stand with you together” (the stutter is still faintly audible). Rarely has the entry of the standard “Love Hangover” Honda bassline (at 1:53) struck as poignant a chord, soon to be joined by life-reaffirming organ blasts. Ultimately everything returns to the same drone which commenced the album; she is back at the shore, as per The French Lieutenant’s Woman, whispering the mantra “to shelter.” Heard at low volume she could be chanting “shantih shantih shantih.” Music for this most uncertain of autumns.
(Much thanks and gratitude to Nick Kilroy)
(5)THE SCREAMING, GRIEVOUS ANGELIC PATH: DALEK – “FROM FILTHY TONGUES OF GODS AND GRIOTS
CHRISTMAS STAGGERING ALONG THE STREET LIFE BLEEDING OUT OF ME THE GIRL IN FRONT OF ME IN THE QUEUE IS BUYING THE DALEK ALBUM SHE IS (A) GORGEOUS AND (B) INTERESTING BUT I’M HOLDING THE GIRLS ALOUD SINGLE SHE WILL THINK AS LITTLE OF ME AS POSSIBLE STILL SHE’S PAYING FULL PRICE FOR IT I CROSS THE ROAD FIND IT IN RECKLESS FOR HALF THE PRICE BUT N0T SAME THING POOR SUBSTITUTE SAME FUCKING RECORD BUT MEANS OF ACQUISITION DIFFERENT AND INNATELY INFERIOR SO I CAN’T LISTEN DON’T LISTEN UNTIL NOW I HEAR BUT CANNOT LISTEN I THINK IT’S THE COVER REMINDS ME OF CHARLY PUBLIC INFORMATION ADS BUT MUSICALLY BLOW BLOW BLOW THE NEWEST BIGGEST LINK IN THE CHAIN WHICH WE BUILT BUT LOST SOMEWHERE EARTHLING NEW KINGDOM ESPECIALLY NEW KINGDOM “UNICORNS WERE HORSES” DAMN WE WERE DOING THIS SHIT IN ’96 PiL REFRACTED VIA RUTHLESS RAP ASSASSINS BUT NOW DALEK FINISH THE BLEEDING JOB
“SPIRITUAL HEALING” MARVIN GAYE MEETS ALBERT AYLER BEGINS WITH PIANO WHOLE TONES ROBERT WYATT AGAIN A FRAGMENT OF DEBUSSY COULD EXTEND FROM RACHMANINOV ENDING TO CALE “NEW SOCIETY” (TO BE DISTINGUISHED FROM NEW KINGDOM) WHERE HE LOSES HIMSELF IN THE RADIO BUT THEN SMASHES IN WITH BENDING ELECTRO-GUITARS BROWN GOD WHITE GOD BLACK GOD YOU CAN’T MAKE HIM OUT DISTINCTLY THAT DOES NOT MEAN NON-DISTINCTIVE
BLACK ROCK WONDER WHY JOOLS HOLLAND WON’T ASK THEM ON HIS SHOW NO I DON’T FUCKING OBVIOUS WHY NOT “SPEAK VOLUMES” KILLING JOKE GUITARS PRELUDE DEMOLITION OF ALL RAPPERS WHO ARE NOT DALEK/ALL DJs WHO ARE NOT STILL/ALL PRODUCERS WHO ARE NOT OKTOPUS
BLEED BLEED EVERYTHING GOES PINK
IT STOPS: NOW JOY DIVISION GHOST PIANOS, FLOATING IN BEATLESS HAPPILY ROOTLESS OCEAN INTERLUDE LIKE END OF SYLVIAN’S “BRILLIANT TREES” THEN RETURN “33RD DEGREE NEW CONTINENTS I’M MAPPING/…MY CULTURE, WHAT HAPPENED?” AND THEN A KEENING SLIDE GUITAR TO END THE SONG CF. BILL FRISELL AT END OF ZORN’S “SPILLANE” ANOTHER LIFE ENDING
TWISTED, DRAGGING GO-GO BEAT MUTATIONS DETONATE “…FROM MOLE HILLS” THIS IS A SLUDGE MOUNTAIN EXHUMING CHUCK BROWN DO WE CORRELATE “WE NEED MORE MONEY” TO THE CITIZENS’ PLEAS FOR BREAD IN “BORIS GOUDONOV” STARTS OFF LIKE MISSY E-STYLE LET’S GO BACK “REMEMBER WHEN UZIS WEIGHED A TON/NOW EVERY KID’S GOT ONE” NOW THE ELECTRONIC GUITAR IS BEING DRAGGED INTO THE MORASS TOO MANY FUCKING PEOPLE IN THIS STREET ALMOST HENDRIX BUT THAT TWO-NOTE SOLO AT THE CLIMAX FUCK IT’S SHELLEY’S “BOREDOM” REBORN ONLY TO BE SHOT SHATTERED WITHIN SHARDS OF BREAKING FEEDBACK WISH THAT SHOP ASSISTANT WOULD STOP PICKING HER NOSE
A STRANGELY BECALMED PIANO INTERLUDE THEN 16 RPM SPANISH VOICES ARE HEARD “L’ULTIMA HORO” ANNOUNCING THE APOCALYPSE DIFFERENT IN BUDGET BUT IDENTICAL IN NATURE TO EL-P BUT SLIGHTLY MORE GENEROUS IN MIND
“HOLD TIGHT” CAN’T GRASP THE BUS RAIL BLOOD BECOMES INVISIBLE ON THE RED ROUTEMASTER SURFACE MESSAIEN ORGAN BLEEDS INTO JOE MEEK ELECTRONICA THEN ROCK BLASTS IN AGAIN FUCK THOSE WORDS THAT MANIFESTO “PITBULLS AS PETS AND BOOTLEG MIX CASSETTES/I VENT MY ANGER ON AL ANGLES/I WOULD STRANGLE ANGELS IF THEY’D LET ME” ETHNIC SAMPLES SLIDE INTO VIEW (3:03) BUT INCREASINGLY THIS IS THE ANTI-TRANSGLOBAL UNDERGROUND THAT IS NO UTOPIAN UNIFORM WORLD FUTURE BUT DIVISION RIGHT DOWN TO THE ATOMS OF THE ATOMS “I SYMPATHISE WITH ALL OF YOU WHO DESPISE ME” AND DECIDE TO DISPLAY THIS NOTICE IN MY OFFICE THAT IS IF I SURVIVE FOR LONG ENOUGH TO GET BACK THERE AH FUCK FUCK FUCK OFF there at the end there merest hint of exotica BUT IT’S SWEPT AWAY AGAIN AND DID SOMEONE SAY SOMETHING ABOUT FLUSHING MCS DOWN THE LOO
“HEADS” THIS STARTS WITH MASS TOILET FLUSHING WHAT IS THAT HE IS SAYING “DIAL IT!” “DIALECT!” “DALEK!” AH YES I SEE THOUGH I CANNOT CURRENTLY SEE THE SKY WHAT DOES THAT TELL YOU ABOUT MY PRIORITIES AND THEN THE FUCKING DRUMS EXPLODE FIRSTLY 6/8 THEN FREE RAMPAGE 58 MILLION SHANNON JACKSONS ALL AT ONCE
and straight into the twelve never-on-any-hip-hop-album-ever minutes of “black snake rises” and you realise from the careful layered semitonal drones and the deepest of voices which arises from them that this is the ghost of hendrix “black smoke rises to a heaven i do not know/slowly gaze to take in our sorrow” and then “i only want to recapture what was once mine” and “shall i be brought upon the same crossroads as robert johnson (answer: “only if you believe in myth”) but this is unprecedented on any hip hop album twelve straight minutes of amm and sonic youth i mean let’s face it those drones cautiously orbiting and all the time they’re ascending “why question a life only borrowed?” “i am just a distant memory” and all the time those close-miked breaths out of revolution #9 and all there is left to do is scream
AND REAPPEAR AS SITARS AND TABLAS AND SLOWED DOWN ORATIONS “TRAMPLED BRETHREN” REMEMBER THE HISTORY
“VOICES OF THE ETHER” IT’S DAVID BLOODY SYLVIAN AGAIN EVERYTHING THAT’S JAPANESE WHAT ABOUT PURPLE TRAP OR COMPANY ’82 (6) THEN RUN ME OVER THEN I FUCKING DARE YOU
RUNNING OUT NOW
“FOREVER CLOSE MY EYES” THE GREATEST RAP-ROCK CROSSOVER EVER 8 MINUTES OF 6/8 TIME THE VERVE ARE SWALLOWED UP BY THE COCTEAU TWINS AND THESE ARE COCTEAU’S TEARS DALEK IS CRYING THERE IS A BODY HIS FRIEND IS NO LONGER THERE IS HE THE MURDERER OR THE WITNESS BUT HE DECIDES TO BLEED AND BECOME A CORPSE TOO “YESTERDAYS DON’T MATTER NOW THEY’RE GONE” THAT HALL OF MIRRORS OF DULCIMERS ALL ASSEMBLING AT MY BEDSIDE TO LULLABY ME AWAY FROM THIS WORLD THERE WILL BE NO PAIN THAT GUITAR EVEN IF IT’S ELECTRONICALLY REPROCESSED HE SOUNDS LIKE CRYING I FEEL LIKE CRYING
BUT ONE LAST ROCK “CLASSICAL HOMICIDE” DIDN’T “MUSIC FOR A NEW SOCIETY” END THE SAME WAY CALE SCREAMING “ALL HER FRIENDS ARE DEEEEEEAAAAAAAADDDDDDDDDDD-AAAAHHHHHH!” BEFORE BEING SWALLOWED UP BY THE RADIO RISE CALE AT THE CORONER’S INQUEST NEVERTHELESS HENDRIX IS UNLEASHED GOES QUIET AND THEN ROARS BACK WHY QUESTION MY ART?
WHY ARE YOU FUCKING ASKING?
(6)THE THIRD WAY: REBIRTH, OR PERHAPS THE ORIGINAL BIRTH – COMPANY WEEK, SATURDAY 3 JULY 1982
It was the exact moment when what is still conveniently known as “improvised music” finally broke free of American models. Even AMM acknowledged the importance of Cage and Wolff (so much so that the latter became a floating member). It occurred at the ICA on the final day of the 1982 Company week, on Saturday 3 July 1982, the first week of release of The Lexicon Of Love. The occasion was recorded and can be found on the Epiphany/Epiphanies set (now finally reissued on CD, on Incus 42/43). Unhealthily curious readers may find the sleeve of some minimal historical interest as it is the only album sleeve on which the present writer appears, as a strikingly handsome 18-year-old gamine youth (That’s enough wishful thinking, you sad Ken Stott lookalike – Ed.) Indeed I was in the audience for those three days. The personnel which Company director Derek Bailey assembled for that year was a predominantly contemplative assemblage of musicians – thoughtful and inward-looking types including trombonist George Lewis, pianists Keith Tippett and Ursula Oppens (the latter making her improv debut, although she contributed “orchestral piano” to Carla Bley’s 1975 recording of 3/4 For Piano And Orchestra, Bley herself taking the rôle of solo pianist in lieu of an on-tour Keith Jarrett), Julie Tippetts on vocals and occasional guitar and flute, violinist Phil Wachsmann and harpist Anne LeBaron. The predicted X factor was the inclusion of the considerably noisier guitarist Fred Frith, then making atonal waves with the more extreme manifestations of Laswell’s Material; but the unpredicted X factor came in the form of the two Japanese musicians participating; bassist Moto Yoshizawa and the unclassifiable instrument-maker Akio Suzuki. And although the music was certainly the best heard from any Company line-up since that of Company Week 1978, it was visually and aurally evident that the real disturbances and transitions were being effected by Suzuki and Yoshizawa. The quintet featuring those two, along with Bailey, Frith and Lewis, was a gigantic but still loosely conventional roar. Jazz roots could still be glimpsed, however dimly under the surface franticity.
But, in the final evening’s final improvisation, a trio of Bailey, Suzuki and Yoshizawa, which fittingly concludes the second CD, I witnessed a new form of music being born, first cautiously, and then with flattening confidence. Lasting just over 18 minutes, the improvisation began with the usual cautious introductory pluckings and scrapings, though obviously more Eastern in texture and approach than standard. I’ve never quite worked out whether the “analapos” or the “kikkokikiriki” was the row of drums (slightly smaller and rounder than the average tom-tom) or the higher tower of seemingly differently tuned, and occasionally remote-controlled, spinning plate lookalikes. Early in the performance, however, it was down to Bailey to initiate some rhythm (on the CD, this occurs at 4:47 and again at 6:02), although behind him there was a high, ululating drone, Yoshizawa having moved closer to the bridge of his bass. From 8:00-8:56 the music comes as near as could be imagined to the Standard Jazz Trio (Suzuki skittling lightly on his pots), although visually it seemed as though this were the one thing the trio were keen to avoid. Nonetheless, soon afterwards (9:44), Bailey (playing acoustic) rolled out some Eddie Lang chords, as though to wave farewell to The Old Life. His solo masterpiece, Aida, recorded not long before this performance, indicates just how much brutal power he could put into even acoustic guitaristics (and, as I’ve said previously, there’s certainly more than a hint of Bailey’s lateral and at times anti-tonal aggression in some of David Rawlings’ more extreme work behind/with Gillian Welch). These chunky chords seemed to be the signal for the trio to raise the ante, and at 11:23 they prepared for the big push. The music visibly rose in intensity and temperature, Suzuki now alternatively scrabbling at his percussion and blowing through his enormous “glass harmonica,” Yoshizawa’s high-register abruptly bowed bass now sounding like Evan Parker at his squalliest; yet the music continued to ascend to near-demonic heights of noise and passion. As the performance climaxed, there was suddenly a terrible certainty about what the musicians were producing; unearthly howls and screams threatened to demolish the polite ICA theatre space entirely. But this was not the ecstasy of Ayler, nor the gleeful thuggery of Brötzmann; rather a new and as yet undefined means of expression.
And at the absolute apex of the performance (14:20) Suzuki started screaming vocally through his glass harmonica. The cries of the newborn child. It was like watching music being invented, its atoms being snatched from the exploding universe and reordered. Something was born on that evening; and from Acid Mothers Temple to Merzbow, we’re still coming to terms with its existence and growth.
The music then receded naturally, with the vaguest of suggestions of Lang and Venuti from Bailey and Yoshizawa; the quietude belied the complete satisfaction of the musicians, the spirit sated, the new life making its way towards the incubator, and ultimately the nursery.
(g) because I love life more than death.
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