fjb, local currency: solo 1992-1998 (fayettenam)

the human hearts, civics (tight ship)

the human hearts on myspace

nothing painted blue, taste the flavor (shrimper)

info on older band and solo work; I have no idea who compiled the scarily complete discographies

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I've been remiss in updating here, but NYers are hereby reminded that I'll be reading from Armed Forces, and performing a few songs not from Armed Forces, at Barbès this Sunday at 7 p.m., w/ guests Matt Houser (drums) and Drew Gardner (vibes). A bit more detail here.

I won't screw up the daylight savings time thing if you don't.


[51-52] we like the boom

If you haven't already seen it, here's Bocephus at a Palin rally a couple of days ago. Not as snappy as "I Like Ike," is it? 2nd verse repeats, more or less. the Clinton/CRA-caused-the-crisis canard, already debunked. Signs that Hank isn't trying real hard include terrible syllable-stuffing in line 2: "The left-wing liberal media/have always been a real close-knit family." (Why not just "are a close-knit family"? The sense that this is a long-standing situation is lost, I guess, but the short version is more, um, impactful" and the weak-ass chorus: "John and Sarah tell you just what they think/They're not gonna blink/And they don't have radical friends to whom their careers are linked." "With whom their careers are linked?" C'mon. Song also invokes Hank I, who, as we speak, is probably trying to digitally erase himself from this.

Equal time: Lady Tigra, all grown up from L'Trimm days, performing "First Black, First Lady," which is not, as the vid might lead you to suspect, a comment on her own presence at Spaceland.


I'm disappointed that a television production company in Abu Dhabi has beat me to the show I was going to pitch to Bravo: Top Poet. I suppose there's still room for a U.S. adaptation (hey, worked for Steptoe and Son); I'm thinking Kevin Killian would make a good host.


Read [41] Umberto Pasti (trans. Alstair McEwen), The Age of Flowers (2003, Pushkin Modern). Somewhat overwrought Italian novel set in contemporary Tangiers, in an atmosphere of Islamic reaction to the ways and influence of European nazrani (here, a general term for foreigners, though I gather that the word has narrower meanings). The political/cultural shift is mere background for the protagonist’s descent into near-madness (and night gardening) in the face of his wife’s breast cancer and infidelity, and the attempts of various locals and expats to capitalize on his instability. A great deal of botanical detail and hallucinatory sex, inc. memories of incest; much effort seems to have been expended in describing the physical world as unpleasantly as possible. An influence I thought I detected on some decadent party scenes seemed unlikely until passing dialogue gave the game away: “…straight out of Firbank.” More structure to all this than I’m indicating, but, honestly, a slog.

Read [42] L.P. Hartley, The Shrimp and the Anenome (1944; I’m reading the NYRB edition). First third of Hartley’s reputation-making trilogy, centering on the roots of what we would now call the co-dependent relationship between too-obedient-for-his-own-good Eustace and his older sister Hilda, whom both consider his moral compass. Technically indebted to What Maisie Knew, with the machinations of class and income constantly refracted through the limited but growing comprehension of the viewpoint characters. Also excellent on the obscure significance of private games to the young, as when Eustace names the chips in the bathtub after various world capitals, which meet their destructions as the water rises. Some tonier children’s reaction to the news that Eustace has suddenly been left a fortune sufficient for both his education and a private income thereafter is a bit too blatant to be entirely believable; otherwise, pitch-perfect. Bourgeois fiction doesn’t get much better than this.

Heard [43] Oliver Lake and Reggie Nicholson, 10/10, at The Community Church of New York, in what I gather is the New York chapter of the AACM’s monthly concert series. Lake (technically an AACM fellow-traveler, having come up through St. Louis’s similarly minded Black Artists Group) played one interrupted trio piece (“Spring-Ing”), switching between alto and tenor several times. Guitarist Michael Gregory picked out a spot somewhere in the Sharrock/Ulmer continuum and stayed there; very little of what he played sounded like “jazz guitar,” but I tended to prefer him in interplay w/ Lake than in his solo turns; drummer Pheeroan Aklaff kinda stole the set with a couple of busy, well-sustained grooves that Lake often responded to by playing as if to a slower on that the rest of us couldn’t hear. Most striking ensemble section was a kind of chunky, stuttering funk, with a lot of staccato reed-popping and Aklaff shouting (I think) “Jack,” and then “Jack…find yourself” every eighth beat or so. Nicholson, who’s drummed at some point with most of the better-known AACM leaders, played five fairly modest originals as a duo with pianist Sharp Radway (huge guy), a name previously unknown to me. Interesting player: for all the liberty that the drum/piano format allows, Sharp was disciplined and fairly “inside” harmonically; between the frequent use of octaves and his way of accenting single-note lines, he could as well have been playing salsa much of the time. Nicholson himself was a touch subdued; not at all an indulgent drum-fest.

Church acoustics for both sets a bit of a drag; also unsure sure why the woman on emcee duty called out the personnel of both groups as though she were calling out the card for a middleweight bout.

If the above concert leaned toward the jazz-identified end of the AACM spectrum, at least half of what went down at the Kitchen [44] the next night was way over toward the new music/contemporary classical pole that gets this bunch in trouble with everyone from Baraka to Crouch. This and a Thurs. program I couldn’t attend were both curated by (the great) George Lewis in connection with A Power Greater Than Itself, his weighty new history of the organization (extended review forthcoming). First half, all performed by members of Brooklyn collective Wet Ink: an flute/cello/percussion trio by Nicole Mitchell, not as compelling as her own playing later in the evening; an extremely abstract quartet (I could see the graphic notation on the piano from my seat) by Leo Wadada Smith), and, the highlight by some distance, Lewis’s own Hello Mary Lou, for a nonet w/ no repeated instruments, plus percussion (vibes and a few pitched drums, mostly) and the composer’s live electronic treatments. The piece went along in a wooshy, sliding-panels-of-sound manner for a while, de-emphasizing individual instrumental voices, before suddenly waking up into a much more articulated section that tended to pit the three string players against the backline of horns and reeds; very insistent, even Rite of Spring-esque in parts, with what I’m guessing would be some very clustery chords on paper distributed over a very broad timbral range. It wouldn’t be sonically inaccurate to compare Lewis’s treatments of the live sound to dub, but it’s probably misleading nonetheless. Beyond the title, no discernible reference to Ricky Nelson: the piece was apparently inspired by Mary Lou an accompanying 1989 video by the late Kate Craig, which didn’t do anything for me at all.

After intermission, back to jazz-inflected territory with Ritual and Rebellion, a new suite-like piece co-composed/fronted by Mitchell, on various flutes, and “saxophonist, composer, and conceptualist” (according to the program note) Matana Roberts, previously only a name to me, on alto. Though this was presented as an uninterrupted suite, you could pretty easily hear how it would be broken into tracks, some fairly “out,” some quite evidently notated, moreso toward the end. I don’t really know how to talk about improv flute, though I was impressed by Mitchell’s use of extended techniques one doesn’t really associate with the instrument. I was quite taken with Roberts’s playing, which seemed representative of a turn of mind: she has a biting, non-lyrical tone, and, although she certainly gets around the instrument, doesn’t seem overly concerned with impressive technical embellishment. The two other players were less well-integrated (though necessary to the more “written” sections): drummer Chad Taylor, familiar to post-rockers via Thrill Jockey releases with Chicago Underground Duo/Trio was fine but underused, and pianist Craig Taborn was idiomatically “out” without giving the impression of actual exploration.

Especially disappointed to have missed a panel on Lewis’s book earlier in the day, but I was selling my car in Hackensack.

Watched [45] The Amazing Mr. X (1948, Bernard Vorhaus). Narratively cheesy but visually atmospheric* thriller with horror elements involving a con-man/medium, a bilkable widow, her even more credulous sister, and a dead husband who isn’t, actually. Somewhere in the vicinity of The Seventh Victim, or, oh, a Whistler episode adapted by Maya Deren, whom lead Lynn Bari somewhat resembles. The transparency of the double-exposure effects in the séance sequence fails to blunt their effectiveness; also, some enjoyable business with an ex-magician detective who idly executes a continuous cigar production. At once highly generic and uncanny, partly on account of that parallel-universe feeling that adheres to movies with less-than-familiar casts (Bari, who rarely broke through the B-barrier in a decades long career; Cathy O’Donnell in a step down from They Live By Night; career “exotic” Turhan Bey, who showed up on Babylon 5 in the ‘90s; erstwhile Dragnet regular Virgina Gregg). I guess this showed up on a local PBS affiliate because it’s out of copyright; the whole film is free for download.

*Wrote that before learning that it was shot by John Alton, which explains a lot.


Read [38] Joy Williams, The Changeling (Fairy Tale Press, 2008; orig. pub’d 1978). Don’t remember what I thought of this when I read it in high school; probably that it was heavy going compared to Breaking and Entering, her then-current novel, or my favorites among the stories in Taking Care. (Pick up a copy and read at least "The Yard Boy" sometime.) Now, I’d but the difference between this and later work a bit differently: somewhere along the line, Williams stopped needing the kind of fabulism she depends on here in order to get across her sense that the world is stranger than we know. Sentence by sentence, though – or, often, in tilts from plumb of just a few degrees between one sentence and its neighbor – she’s already Williams: “In the hospital nursery the baby lay, covered with ointment and lying on greased paper, prepared much like fish en papillote.” (She’s also already found her knack for constructing a point of view that is almost that of the protagonist, while still being able to include vocabulary and imagery unlikely to be available to her; the effect is “off,” but never uncontrolled. Something similar happens w/ dialogue.) The final chapter is six unpunctuated pages; the technique is Molly Bloomish, but instead of one consciousness representation, here we get the overlap of about a dozen feral child-animals as they gnaw away at what’s left of the integrity of the main character’s personality. I also note that the men in this book are just awful; the women, unknowing at worst.

Read [39] Ed Park, Personal Days (Picador, 2008). 1/3 Office Space (I particularly enjoyed the quotes from fictional management/motivational books; there’s even a stapler episode), 1/3 Martin Amis’s Dead Babies (equivalently weighted cast of characters, one of whom turns out to be something other, and far more destructive, than he initially appears); 1/3 Joyce made digestible, with modernist technique given a rationale internal to the narrative by way of technological mediation (final chapter, also a bit Molly-ish in its urgency, is one long email, written while trapped in an elevator; some clever word play gets worked into the plot, cleverly though not exactly believably, via malfunctioning voice recognition software.) I’m not sure some family-background digressions in the last third added much, but as for the rest: well-played.

Watched [40] Afjin (ICP/Data Images DVD; no director credited; 2007-8?). Recent Dutch TV doc on the pianist/composer/improvisor Misha Mengelberg. Not a great film as such – it jumps around temporally a lot, in way that suggests intentional fragmentation less than it does indecision about what story the filmmakers were trying to tell – but I don’t know where else, outside of the BIMhaus, you’re going to get to spend this long hanging out w/ Han Bennink, Ab Baars, and the like, not to mention that subject himself, a little desultory in the manner of many artists wary of being pinned down as to their intent, but often happy to jump up and illustrate a point at the piano. Some archival footage (the earliest from ’60, I think) reveals that he (cf. Basie) used to play a lot more busily than he does on most of the stuff I know; it also appears that some of his compositions for others are based on ideas he’s too lazy to execute in his own performances. Much of the music excerpted is given in full on the DVD extras, inc. Met welbeelfde groet van de kameel, in which the concluding improvised section ends when an onstage carpenter has finished reassembling an ordinary wooden chair, tangram-style, into a camel, according to instructions given in the score, and a charming arrangement of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Baltimore Oriole,” which happens to be available here.


Saw [37] Murder in Harlem (1935, Oscar Micheaux). This is the only one of Micheaux’s over 35 films for the black audience untapped by Hollywood that I’ve seen, and a late one and that, but most of what I’ve read about his at-best pedestrian technique as a writer and director is confirmed – though not the claim that, in his films, light-skinned African-Americans are typically “the good guys”; nor did the film seem to have the unmotivated eroticism often said to make his work “exploitative,” save for one singer/dancer’s dress that indicated that someone hadn’t gotten the memo about the Production Code. One vivid performance (Alec Lovejoy) in a vast sea of woodenness, with the booby-prize going to lead Clarence Brooks as Henry Glory, who goes to door selling a new novel by “one of our best colored authors,” which is to say Henry Glory – this being, apparently, just what Micheaux did as a young man before he got into filmmaking. Despite the expository flat-footedness of much of the dialogue, interesting to hear some culturally specific slang (”peckerwood”) passing by without much emphasis. The murder of the title, it turns out, is committed not by the white chemical plant owner (who actually thinks he did it, a common Perry Mason device), but a psychopathic kid, also white, who is finally killed (we learn from an on-screen newspaper item) in a quixotic attempt to free Leopold and Loeb from Joliet.

While its historical importance is undeniable, it’s difficult to actually experience this film as one assumes its intended audience did; that is, as dramatically compelling or consistently entertaining. It’s not just me: the print shown included a b&w wraparound featuring Ossie Davis engaging in some special pleading for this and the other films in the ”Tyler Black Film Collection”. Glad I saw it, but how often do I say otherwise?

Related: [38] Paradise in Harlem (1939, William Seiden), another film w/ an all-black cast, though this one was the first feature by a director whose work was otherwise almost entirely for a different “parallel market,” the Yiddish-language one. Mainly concerns a vaude/nightclub comic (we see him first in cork, ala Bert Williams) who dreams of doing Othello. (Robeson’s Broadway Othello, I believe the first with an African-American in the title role, was ’42.) This eventually happens: the film’s final sequence is a version of the handkerchief scene in which audience heckling gradually turns into a gospel obbligato, to which the actors respond by singing their lines in blues cadence, all this eventually leading – not particularly sensibly, given the onstage happenings, but somewhat cathartically – to general lindying in the aisles. This set piece is very well orchestrated, visually and musically. Otherwise, the film exhibits the same mixture of vernacular élan and self-consciously respectable stiffness as the Micheaux, with the generous time given over to minimally motivated “numbers” making it more engaging overall: it’s fascinating to see significant ‘30s-‘40s bandleader Lucky Millinder in action, for instance. The story heads South at one point: there’s an interesting representation of a juke joint, with a performance of a song with some striking lines about missing the work from the WPA more than one’s woman.

(Both of these are from the terrific MOMA series ”Hollywood on the Hudson,” inspired by Richard Kozsarski’s eponymous book on studio and independent filmmaking in NYC. I’ll be at a lot of these in the coming weeks; especially excited to get another crack at the 1933 tuner Moonlight and Pretzels.)

Saw [39] Fully Awake: Black Mountain College Experience (2007, Cathryn Zommer, Neeley House), a straightforwardly informative but not especially probing video doc. Probably better to read about the place: most of the surviving students/graduates (out of 1200 of the former, there were only 60 of the latter) hammer home the same points about self-determination in a generally self-congratulatory manner (one exception is the guy who says, roughly, “Freedom can be as difficult to deal with as oppression”), and, as there doesn’t seem be much archival footage available, most of the piece is made up of stills and talking heads. Not enough specifics on Albers’s departure; nor, really, anything that would tell you why Charles Olson is an interesting figure, beyond being extremely tall. I probably found this film annoying partly because of my previous experience with an institution with some pretenses toward a diluted version of Black Mountain values, though minus the work program or noticeable emphasis on actual responsibility. Nice to see Jonathan Williams, though. The credits mentioned support from Ray Johnson (not his estate or anything like that), which can only mean that the project was underway before his death in 1995. [There are a couple of small, concentrated Johnson assemblages, by the way, in “Looking at Music,” [40] a not especially tightly-focused exhibition up concurrently in the museum.]

Oh, my Believer review of [41] The Nancy Book begins here; the rest may or may not still be on the stands. See also Jordan’s more extensive take.

Speaking as someone who would be gladdened to imagine that a viable political candidate actually found someone like William Ayers minimally comprehensible, and realizing that locating logical gaps in present-day political speech is akin to finding, I don't know, glass in a window: wouldn't a conventional term for someone who "doesn't see America as you and I see America" be "maverick"? (Andrew Sullivan's reminder of the precise origins of that term is also salutary.)