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Reviews Written by
N. Jones "Nic The Pen" (Oxford, Great Britain)

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The Wonderful And Frightening World Of... The Fall
The Wonderful And Frightening World Of... The Fall

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lay...lay...lay...lay.........., 2 Mar. 2011
What's a reviewer to do when the galvanising blast of "Lay of the Land" -the opening track on the LP of this title- still raises a genuine smile after all these years, about 26 in fact? Well perhaps saying that the now much expanded album comprises a considerable high for The Fall (the capital is apt in both cases) just about covers it, but letting the uninitiated know that this is prime Fall from the mid-1980s ought to get them putting their hands in their pockets. This is the best antidote for Spandau Wallet (spelling mistake intended) after all. But then again that says nothing at all. This is, after all, The Fall, of whom it has in all likelihood been said `There ain't nobody like `em' what with them being `always different, always the same' as somebody -the major somebody of John Peel in fact- once said.

So the fact that Gavin Friday of the once-lauded-now-maybe-lamented-in-some- quarters Virgin Prunes turns up on `backing vocals' -isn't it time somebody started coming up with some new terminology?- renders "Copped It" as something different from the usually different, with a side order of amphetamine haze. Happy daze indeed.........

As this is indeed a world both wonderful and frightening the `singles and rough mixes' disc in this set throws up some of the latter that are actually more polished -it's all relative anyway- than the `sanctioned' versions, while the little wandering keyboard figure that rears briefly on the first version of "Oh! Brother" pricks the ear most perversely.

There's a disc of contemporary BBC sessions which inevitably takes in the Peel strain of them, but for seasoned Fall types it also has the incentive of Janice Long and `Kid' Jensen ones -poptastic great mate!........or for those of a more contemporary bent `rocking a phat one!'

There's a live disc of the group's set from the `Pandora's Box Music Festival' too and a novella of a booklet to round things out, so the usual stuff applies in so far as anything usual ever does. They were then and indeed still are a national treasure, a saving grace no less, so give economic downturn the finger and get a headful of `em post haste.

Plays Wagner
Plays Wagner
Price: £11.01

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Star ratings?, 2 Mar. 2011
This review is from: Plays Wagner (Audio CD)
What's the point of giving this album five stars? Here's a lengthy and probably far too verbose answer.

The man who operates under the Indignant Senility name apparently got himself some decaying 78s of Wagner's music and, well, kind of melded them; then he put the results out in obviously digital format. In this reviewer's estimation this is an inherently good thing, especially in view of Wagner's love of a good cult of personality, just as long as it was his own personality that the cult worshipped, and his alleged neo-Nazi sympathies. Combine these with his love for the overblown and pretentious and it's clear that amongst other things an awful lot gets a damn good seeing to here. Hence the five stars, and before the resulting music's even been discussed.

So, there's a measure of sonic overload which keeps proceedings from taking on the guise of something Brian Eno might have contemplated, and there's something innately pleasing about hearing the hideously overblown reduced in places to the status of little more than white noise.

On a deeper level -I was hoping I wouldn't have to resort to writing those four words in that order but I can't think of another way of putting it without sounding even more pretentious- the results tell us something about recording technology and its inherent limitations. Whether or not this is a reason for actually listening to them is of course a matter of personal choice, but at this moment they sound like nothing else, and this is the result of the original music, the original equipment it was recorded on, the new technology it's been subjected to and the manipulations of Mr Senility himself combining.

This all makes it one for the sonic explorers, not those for whom Susan Boyle is some kind of last word. It's mean to put it like that I know, and it should of course go without saying anyway.

Beyond Category: The Life And Genius Of Duke Ellington
Beyond Category: The Life And Genius Of Duke Ellington
by John Edward Hasse
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It means a whole lot of things!, 14 Feb. 2011
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In this book J.E. Hasse has achieved something that's eluded many previous writers on Ellington. He's managed to encapsulate the sheer elusiveness of the man. In so doing he's also managed to draw out the essence of his subject. This is no small achievement either, considering how for all the depth of his public profile Ellington was skilled at keeping people at a distance.

Whilst that skill is by no means a prerequisite of genius, in Ellington's case it could be argued that it was a key to the man, especially in view of his contrariness. For example, for a man who was apparently an incurable and incorrigible flirt, there should never be any doubt that his greatest depth of allegiance was to music, as opposed to anyone or anything more physical. Hasse doesn't make this point in so many words, but then such is the understated elegance of his writing, marked by just the right measure of justified awe, that in its way the entire book makes the point.

Also in Hasse's favour is the fact that he doesn't overstate his case. He achieves this not so much through flights of personal rhetoric as he does through balancing opinions. If a negative opinion was voiced on, say, an Ellington work of the early 1940s Hasse is judicious in bringing it to the reader's attention.

By way of an integral part of the book's structure Hasse also provides discussion at the end of each chronological chapter of key words written in the period the chapter covers. This serves a practical purpose as much as anything else as it facilitates navigation for anyone coming fresh to the six decades of Ellington's music on record.

If Ellington's celebrated as an American genius in the 21st century -and there are many reasons for him to be treated as such- then it should be borne in mind that he wasn't viewed as such in his lifetime, hence the reason why he was being nominated for a Pulitzer prize -for which he was snubbed as it turned out- at the same time as he couldn't eat in diners in some parts of the land of his birth because of the colour of his skin. It was thus the case that Ellington realised his genius despite the circumstances of his life and not because of them. Given his scholarship and erudition it's hardly surprising that Hasse is aware of this, and amongst this book's many attributes it's this one which most resonates.


5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Different strokes......, 14 Feb. 2011
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This review is from: Dansere (Audio CD)
Jan Garbarek has always had a distinctive sound on the tenor sax in particular. In view of the plethora of musicians who've opted for playing that particular horn this is something in itself. For Garbarek recycling a few virtuosic details of John Coltrane's work through the prisms of Michael Brecker and Chris Potter has never been an option even though countless relatively character-free players seem able to make a living out of it.

In the case of this album the Brecker and Potter examples aren't pertinent anyway, recorded in November of 1975 as it was. Even at that time there was a keening, almost yearning edge on Garbarek's tenor tone, as is self-evident on the title track. What's clear from this one also is the fact that this was a quartet as intent on subverting the theme-solos-theme as any band, although in this case their work is also shot through with a kind of unhurried grace. Pianist Bobo Stenson had his own thing going on too, and hindsight allows us the benefit of seeing that he was destined to become the singular talent he is in the present day.

"Bris" finds Garbarek unwittingly embodying the glacial cliché he's subsequently been saddled with, but the point is far outweighed by the depth of originality in his musical conception. Showy flights are out of the question for him, which has the effect of making every one of his notes tell in a way which might not otherwise be the case. Having said that, if the Coltrane comparison holds any water at all it's in the degree to which the quartet collectively rolls and boils, albeit in comparatively restrained -or should that be relatively different?- fashion. However it might be it's still the case that bass player Palle Danielsson and Jon Christensen on drums are capable of working up a potent head of steam.

It all works no matter what, mainly because this is such a well-integrated band. There might well be those who would argue that this album's an example of Garbarek at his most potent anyway, but in a sense the point is detrimental to the fact that throughout his career Garbarek has pursued his muse with clarity and dedication. This album testifies to it.

Terje Rypdal
Terje Rypdal
Price: £22.78

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fire and ice?, 10 Feb. 2011
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This review is from: Terje Rypdal (Audio CD)
It could be argued that some Norwegian jazz of the late 1960s and early 1970s -of which this album is a prime example- shares a similarity of spirit with `Krautrock' as exemplified by the likes of Can, early Ash Ra Tempel and Tangerine Dream. All of the music shows signs of having ingested American and British advances made in more or less the same period. But at the same there's something else going on which amounts to a kind of regurgitation of such precedents infused with a very different and only superficially shared sensibility.

As the 1970s progressed the very intrigue this album exemplifies seemed to disappear but that of course is another story, so what we have here is a reading of the implications of jazz-rock fusion so distinctive that everything which came after it in Rypdal's catalogue could almost be the work of another man.

His guitar work on "Electric Fantasy" is that of a man in thrall not to technical display but with textural variety. His damping of the strings is percussive and any propulsion the music might possess is derived from Arild Andersen's bass guitar. When Rypdal does solo it's with the presence of mind of a man who knows of the noise potential the electric guitar has.

The looming drift of "Lontano II" could be a sign of things that were to come in Rypdal's now extensive ECM catalogue, but on a more profound level it's also the work of musicians at home with the implications of the free. Again the leader utilises his guitar as a means for generating noise -as exemplified by his deft use of feedback, and the results could go on for hours perhaps without any loss of intrigue.

"Tough Enough" -it's hardly Rypdal's fault that the title's now a cliché- is as conventional as anything on the album, but again the avoidance of grandstanding -together with all the flash that implies- is welcome. Okay so it proves that Rypdal could do `rock guitar' with the best of them even then but the measured sections of the thing which bookend the central section show there was some fun going forward even while there was uncommon musical intelligence working its magic.

Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £11.08

0 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Oh dear............, 10 Feb. 2011
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This review is from: Waves (Audio CD)
Six years can be a long time in someone's life, but of course it doesn't necessarily have to be. In Terje Rypdal's case six years separate the largely soporific fair on offer here from the inscrutable intrigue of his first album.

In the earlier year of 1971 -it could almost be defined as an earlier era, so great are the musical differences between the two titles- Rypdal was a fresh instrumental voice leading a group for whom the world was evidently a source of great intrigue, but here he and his cohorts show themselves to be more than capable of doing Weather Report at their least substantial on the opening "Per Ulv" an eight-minute affair of repetitive licks and sunny synthesizers.

Trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg doesn't so much play the unaccompanied intro to the following "Karusell" as he sets the scene for an affair of long tones and discreet keyboards. The perpetually unruffled surface of the music ensures that it has all sorts of soundtrack potential for any producer with a deadline to meet, and at around the three and a half minute mark the unsuspecting listener might think the piece has finished anyway. In the circumstances this would be a blessing, but as it turns out there's another 4 ½ minutes of nothing much happening at all to contend with, unless appropriate action is taken.

The synthesized oompah of Mikkelborg's "Stenskoven" leaves hardly any lasting impression outside of the fact that it's utterly -and thus slightly distressingly- sincere. Jon Christensen's drums could have been substituted with something electronically generated for all the difference it would make, but so it goes.

For all the difference it makes Mikkelborg gives us his best Miles Davis-lite impression on "The Dain Curse" which at least has a little more rhythmic vigour to it. But there's no sense of mystery or intrigue or indeed any quality which might catch the ear and make the listener sit up.

So -Terje Rypdal: a study in frustration? Yes, pretty much. On the basis of this album he was in 1977 a musician only too willing to nail his colours to the swiftly passing bandwagon that was the fluffy strain of fusion. Because of this "Waves" is an album oddly not even worthy of derision.
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Dedicated to You But You Weren't Listening
Dedicated to You But You Weren't Listening

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A warming fire, 3 Feb. 2011
It could be argued that there's been a fundamental shift in jazz and improvised music expression in the last few decades. At the beginning of the 1970s -when this album was recorded and originally released, incidentally- it could be more or less taken for granted that modern jazz, together with every other form the music took even then, had at the heart of its expression a certain emotional commitment. This manifested itself in playing in which technical accomplishment was as a rule leavened with a degree of what for want of a better term could be called soul. Okay, so this is a sweeping generalisation, but what's become obvious over the intervening decades is that `soul' is now at something of a premium and that the resulting gulf has been filled by ever greater technical accomplishment, if that's realistically possible.

The contention brings us far from nicely to the Keith Tippett Group, six musicians who on the basis of this evidence were striving for something deeper and far more nebulous than ever greater technical accomplishment. They achieved it too. As I write these words I'm getting a head full of "Green And Orange Night Park" -an evocative title if ever there was one- and Elton Dean's saxello in particular, all of which manages to be both ragged and shot through with the kind of commitment that's so thin on the ground these days. The music's momentum, aided in no small part by the presence of an unusually large amount of percussion, is a force unto itself and the resulting drive raises a smile of no little satisfaction.

"Thoughts To Geoff" is similarly enlivened by an undertow of energy and indeed urgency which suggests that these guys were motivated by more than time passing marked by the clock on the studio wall. Gary Boyle, a guitarist who can match John McLaughlin in the fast, multi-noted run stakes, puts in some of his most fractious and thus most telling work on record on this one, while trombonist Nick Evans and Tippett on acoustic piano and the perennially undervalued Mark Charig on cornet, fall right in with the urgency. But then being jazz musicians at a time of deep cultural flux was probably a significant spur.

In the final analysis this is an album which in its way is just as effective as anything out there in highlighting how moribund things are right now. But of course this doesn't put the mockers on buying, listening, wondering, and grinning.

Kingdom Come
Kingdom Come
Price: £12.90

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The timeless appeal of being a one-off........., 3 Feb. 2011
This review is from: Kingdom Come (Audio CD)
It's a well known fact that with his "Fire" Arthur Brown is responsible for the fourth most alarming performance in the history of `Top Of The Pops' The top three are of course by St Winifred's School Choir (`There's No-one Quite Like Grandma') Neil Reid (with the maudlin `Mother Of Mine') and Mark E. Smith `co-fronting' the Inspiral Carpets with their `I Want You'. Arthur's performance would probably come in fifth if the flexidisc "Michael Aspel Chats up the Barclay Girls" hadn't been in blatant contravention of the Beeb's ban on advertising, but there's no point in dealing in the counter-factual.

Still, Arthur, a man so lean of frame that the novelty of being able to hide behind lampposts soon wore off, probably, discarded his genuinely flaming headdress -none of that brightly coloured crepe paper palaver for our Arthur- and headed off in pursuit of his singular muse with a vengeance, which of course meant that by 1972 he was fronting Kingdom Come, a band of which no member was left unstoned, equally probably, and making this concept album about water (fire, water -elementary, my dear Watson)

But forget coherence, narrative and the like. This is an album that features brief phone conversations in which Arthur's told he's no longer captain -of what or whom?- and "Love Is A Spirit That Will Never Die" a song with a lyric which Arthur evidently felt was worthy of a spot of forthright bellowing as opposed to mere singing.

Mind you, the following "City Melody" is fearsome prog. rock incarnate, all tricky time signatures and hurtling Hammond organ. It serves to emphasise not only how this band could play but also that such flirtation with the relatively straight was no more than a passing fancy. To be sure "Traffic Light Song" has church bells and the national anthem with alternative words, so it's hardly surprising if the hapless listener gives up on trying to go with the flow and just takes the whole for what it is, which is the work of a man and band which got itself an audience despite its best efforts and not because of them.

Piano Portraits
Piano Portraits

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Less show, more substance, 26 Jan. 2011
This review is from: Piano Portraits (Audio CD)
This release brings together a couple of LPs recorded in New York back in 1959 and in so doing it gives us the chance to evaluate an undervalued jazz pianist.

By comparison with, say, Oscar Peterson Newborn is a forgotten man. It's a matter of debate as to why this is the case, but perhaps that sad fact is down to the fact that Newborn's obvious technical gifts were always put over with a certain diffidence that's the antithesis of showing off. By contrast with Peterson's everything-all-the-time approach Newborn's pianistic voice is reflective and far less prone to surface gloss, hence the reason why his reading of "Golden Earrings" is so affecting.

When he does reach for effect he makes it without putting a finger wrong, but then it could hardly be otherwise with a musical intelligence as acute as his. It's that intelligence that's to the fore on "For All We Know" where for all the economy of expression the melody still emerges unexpectedly at a tempo not far above the funereal.

In a way economy was one of Newborn's watchwords. Very few pieces here top the four minute mark, but the point is that he surely knew innately how much gold he could extract from the material he utilised without taxing both himself and his listeners. Listen to how he gets trenchant on his own "Blues For The Left Hand Only" for evidence of this and also how for all of his undoubted elegance he could get `inside the tradition' with the best of them.

All of the qualities discussed above make this one for the jazz historians as well as those who value instrumental virtuosity allied with the means to entice the ear without resorting to gimmicks or showing off. Jazz is of course littered with forgotten figures but here's a chance to make one of them less forgotten.

Green Wood: Solo Guitar Improvisations 2002
Green Wood: Solo Guitar Improvisations 2002
Price: £15.24

5.0 out of 5 stars Think again, technocrats, 26 Jan. 2011
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In times like this when swathes of jazz / improvised music forms are heavily populated with invariably young faces to whom technique is everything, Roger Smith is happily something else. For him -and indeed for all of his undoubted technical mastery- it sounds as though the very mechanics of the acoustic guitar are a matter of concern, and while this implies obsession the fact remains that he incorporates that and other considerations within a dedication to the practices and implications of free improvisation, which of course should and indeed does imply that any preoccupation with what has gone before is at best negligible.

As much as any title in his limited discography this one sums it up succinctly, yet also expansively. The fact that this apparent contradiction can be so easily reconciled is a measure of the ground Smith covers. Because of this the neo-baroque passage of "Wood Green Waltz" is effortlessly incorporated within the overall scheme of the piece, which is of course perhaps inevitably the way when form is spontaneously conceived.

Given the context a title like "Strange Interlude" might seem disingenuous, but in fact it summarises the one minute and forty seven seconds of its duration approximately. More oddly percussive than anything else in the programme, it highlights Smith at his least expansive, albeit intriguingly.

When he plays the long game -as he does on "Diminuendo & Crescendo in Green" Smith uncalculatedly avoids any hint of gesture. His art -and to be sure it's far more worthy of the term than a lot of the stuff out there that gets classified as such- is both singular and rarefied, and for that alone we should be grateful.

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