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Post -Rock, Part 2

“Post-Rock is an anti–genre, impossible to fence in”; “open-ended, yet precise”; “British post-rock between 1990-4 is one of the most fascinating, nebulous and foreword-thinking periods in music”; “texture over riff and ambience over traditional rock hierarchies”.

These are a few of the selling points of post-rock, that period in the mid-nineties, that probably represented the last self-conscious stance of rock music, before it died (please see the previous blog).. It’s certainly the last period that I involved myself seriously in, although, to be frank, there wasn’t a lot of product emerging from this genre that I would seriously recommend to the notional later listener.

Jeanette Leech’s recent book on post-rock is a valiant attempt to present this music as a fascinating sub-genre. Unfortunately, most of the albums emerging from this scene are  bloodless and ultimately not very memorable - name me one classic post-rock album? I was shocked the other day when listening to the first Tortoise album, to realise how boring it is. Why did I rate this album? Was it the hype? Tortoise by name…Ditto Spiderland, surely one of the most overrated albums of all time? And as for Math-Rock…

Leech’s book leads seamlessly on from Hepworth’s, with the convenient caesura of Kurt Kobain;s suicide,and the back story of the Post-Rock bands read like a Spinal Tap parody, earnest young musicians who really have little to make them in any way interesting, apart from the usual armamentarium of shifting leaderships and unconventional instruments. And usually terrible vocalists. Leech’s book describes the 90s avant rock scene in the UK and the USA in some detail, which was undoubtedly an exciting time in retrospect, but which ultimately produced very little in terms of classic material. Go on - name me a really great album by Disco Inferno, Laika, Moonshake, Seefeel or Butterfly Child?. Or, to be frank, the great Stereolab. Let’s hear it for Insides or Papa Sprain (or what’s left of ‘em). I did like Main though, and loved the Isolationalist strain (Kevin Martin) that led through to God Speed You Black Emperor.

Whatever my gripes, this was a very interesting decade. And probably the last before I gave up the ghost, either in reflection of the death of rock or because I am too old and my hair is too long.

Post Rock, Post Mortem?

From what I can gather from recent articles, rock is now officially dead?  David Hepworth’s second book, the follow up to 1971, his hagiography of that particularly (Hepworth claims) rocktastic year, is called Uncommon People, and I have to admit that I found it, despite initial misgivings, a very readable account of the phenomenon of the ‘rock star’. The more ignoble part of me, however, confesses to a soupcon of envy at how writers like Hepworth and his fellow ex- Old Grey Whistle Test  lag, Mark Ellen, can carve a career out of Q, Mojo and Uncut-type dad rock retroscopic material, having used Live Aid as a means of rescusitating their not-so-healthy prospects back in ‘86.

 Oh well, it is was it is (such an annoying expression!). 

Hepworth suggests that the ‘rock star’ died with Nirvana aka Kurt Kobain, in 1993 (I doubt if the Gallaghers will wear that, however?), and this month’s (August 2017) Prospect magazine is even cheekier in dating the mortal blow back as far as Guns N’Roses’s Appetite For Destruction in 1987. I completely disagree with Jay Elwes (for it is he), by the way.

Whaaatever!, as I believe young people say nowadays. 

Having just read Jeanette Leach’s Fearless: The Making of Post-Rock, I got to thinking about this whole notion of post-stuff generally. Books are out now about 1990s rock  music- a few about Brit Pop, but Leech’s is the first as far as I know about the Simon Reynolds-titled genre of ‘post-rock’; the alternative to Oasis/Blur that came out between approximately 1992-1998. Leech’s previous book about ‘free folk’ (an equally questionably dodgy genre, to be honest) I would unreservedly recommend (Seasons They Change, published by Jawbone in 2010). Post Rock was a genre of terrible band names - Bark Psychosis (evermore known as Barf Psychosis of course, do people never learn?), Papa Sprain (?a band for the elderly, whose leader sounds like the most pretentious person ever to have tried to read James Joyce), Disco Inferno (no,no!!), Tortoise (so true), Fridge (a whole sub-genre of domestic appliance names ensued, including, beyond parody, a bunch who though it was fine to call themselves Appliance), Codeine, Morphine (but no band called Aspirin or Paracetemol, curiously, clearly nor edgy enough in our post-Burroughs world). Terrible names, that helped to ensure that they were doomed to marginality. Post Rock has remained marginal (but not in a good way), all its potential thunder stolen by much better-known northern and Essex oafs ,by 1994,the year of its naming by the always-fanciful Simon Reynolds.

 I would, however, like to spend a few minutes discussing Post Rock, though, as it wasn’t all risible. Far from it.


See Part 2

King Leer’s Crouch End Recordings

I recently got hold of a release on the Klang Gallerie label  (also available on Dark Editions) by a very old favourite of mine, Glaswegian independent musician Thomas Leer, called, simply enough, 1979,  If only I could have heard these recordings in the year concerned!!  Leer is an autodidact, who released one of my most loved recordings of the magic year of 1978 - Private Plane/International, on Company/Oblique, a cynosure of DIY.

I’ve always considered the years of 1978-80 as a sort of golden age for DIY electronic post-punk music, an short period that produced early Human League (Being Boiled/Dignity of Labour), Cabaret Voltaire (their early six  Rough Trade singles), Robert Rental, The Normal (TVOD/Warm Letherette) and others of this ilk. Leer’s 1979 album with Rental, The Bridge, is the only example of their work together, as is Rental’s live pairing with Daniel Miller’s The Normal, released as the unpromisingly-named Live At West Runton Pavilion, from 1980. Leer then put out a few more poppy electronica pieces in 1980-1, which I remember enjoying at the time, but which have dated rather badly (4 Movements, Contradictions).

1979, however, returns us to the real deal of raw material and residues that Leer committed to tape in that year. 70 plus minutes of analogue adventures, that translate effectively into the present day mindset. The influence of Kraftwerk, Georgio Moroder, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, early League and Cabs melds into future shades of Burial and Boards of Canada, transported me straight back into that exciting time of nearly 40 years ago. Longer, more impressionistic pieces share space with more guitar-driven, shorter, punk-y potential-single numbers (such as the first few numbers, that remind me of the wonderful Leer/Rental low-fi classic Monochrome Day). Nowadays, bedroom-produced work is nothing particularly noteworthy - in 1979, however, enough material to fill two 33 rpm albums, “produced in my little tabletop studio in Crouch End using two cassette machines, a few effects pedals, Guitar, Bass and Wasp synthesizer”, would have been something to behold. It’s a shame that such a thing would have been impossible/ungraspable (by all parties) at that particular point in time. Most released DIY material came in at around 4 minutes.

This, for me, then, is a very welcome release, retrieved material from an under-recorded and very short period of tremendous analogue creativity. I’m not sure whether this release was prompted by Leer in response to an expressed need from others, or just because he felt it was needed for completion/closure. For me, anything from this period by the early DIY punk electronicists is well worthy of exhumation and examination. Any more Robert Rental out there? The latter’s ACC/Paralysis , for example (on Company/Regular - was this a late 70′s variant on the Straight/Bizarre dichotomy, perhaps?) was another 1978 monster DIY single that contained enough ideas for a whole album, something that some artists were adept at producing at that period. I love the idea that Leer obtained his eerie vocals on Private Plane by having to whisper the vocals to avoid waking his sleeping girlfriend in their bedsit. From this sort of sleep tiny monsters were born.

The fact that the latter occurred in Crouch End is even neater for me. File next to Bob Dylan, Will Self and Stephen King in the mind of self-regarding C’renders everywhere (most of whom will never have heard of Thomas Leer)!!

Minor Blue Note(s)

Continuing the Blue Note theme, I was genuinely surprised when I came to better acquaint myself with the full back catalogue of this most revered of jazz labels. Richard Cook’s ‘biography’ of the label, first published in 2001, provides a full Blue Note discography, of which a basic perusal revealed a significant number of albums on their classic 4000 series (the most prolific, which covered the late 50s and 60s) by artists that I had never heard or heard of. Now this might sound somewhat presumptuous, I am aware - I don’t claim that my knowledge of jazz is either profound or encyclopaedic, but it still provides somewhat of jolt when this lack of depth is demonstrated in such a manner.

Try this list of heroes and zeros and see how many you know:

Dizzy Reece, Sunny Red, Harold Vick, George Braith, Frank Foster, Reuben Wilson, Joe Williams, Richard Groove Holmes, Bobbi Humphrey.

And (taking another breath):

Don Wilkerson, Blue Mitchell, Freddie Roach, Tyrone Washington, Kenny Cox, Jeremy Steig, Candido, Marlene Shaw…

Point taken, I hope. These artists are probably in the Blue Note bargain basket (but are probably nothing like bargains in the collector’s market for rare records), featuring no doubt a collection of rarely heard vocalists, Jimmy Smith wannabes on electric organ, and alto/tenor sax aspirants, but who knows? All these musicians had albums released by arguably the most famous modern jazz label of them all, in it’s most bountiful period of classic recordings, so it is almost certainly not a good idea to dismiss them out of hand. I recently discovered this when I got hold of the sole Pete LaRoca (Sims) record in the catalogue, called Basra, which I do vaguely remember seeing displayed at the old Mole Jazz shop in Kings Cross, but which I never got round to buying. Old Blue Notes were very considered very hip at that particular time, from what I recall

Basra is a pretty obscure release by a pretty obscure drummer (apart from really serious jazz hounds, that is), but it is an absolutely outstanding session, which avoids the ‘blues jams + standards’ aspects of some of the lesser Blue Notes, and is up there with their lesser-known releases like The Real McCoy and Larry Young’s Unity, in providing hard-driving playing and top notch improvisation from all participants. In particular, the under sung Joe Henderson gives one of his best recorded performances, and provides a good reason why he (along with Hank Mobley and George Coleman) should be given a high ranking in the gallery of great tenor players of the era, an era that keeps on giving. Who knows what other unacknowledged treasures await? It certainly makes it difficult at times to focus on contemporary improvisers, and I keep on making mental notes not to get too caught up in what is basically a bottomless well of fascinating material.

“Honest John” Gilmore, Part 2

John Gilmore’s recording career is most simply broken down into Sun Ra-related material and ‘other’. His reputation will stand or fall with the former - album after album of lovely ballads, bebop-influenced intricately constructed numbers, ensemble passages and free form horn ascensions and percussive interludes. He was comfortable in any and all registers of the tenor, using traditional and ‘extended’ techniques, and with playing standards, ‘space hymns’ and Disney tunes. And solos, what solos. There are far too many fine examples to single out any in particular, but I would mention here my recollections of the Arkestra live.

I saw the Arkestra four times - at The Venue in 1984, on our honeymoon in 1987, and twice in 1990, at The Mean Fiddler and at Hackney Empire. The most memorable for me was the honeymoon gig (obviously!) and the Fiddler one, and what I will always remember in particular was Gilmore’s tenor sax solos on Lights On A Satellite, one of Ra’s earlier Chicago compositions that became an evergreen of their repertoire over the years. Such a rich, deep tone, warm and embracing and unambiguously beautiful, which was given even further pathos by it being evident that Gilmore’s emphysema (he was a chronic smoker) was getting worse, and that he could only really play one or two solos without becoming breathless. He sat out some numbers and played a lot of percussion. I can only imagine what he would have sounded like thirty years earlier. 

It is well worth tracking down a copy of Ra’s small group masterpiece, 1979′s Omniverse, which I have had cause to recommend in other blogs. This contains a number of very representative Gilmore solos, and it is both refreshing and unusual to hear him in this format. In addition, all of his work with Ra in January 1978 (Media Dreams, Sound Mirror, Disco 3000, New Steps) recorded in Italy are worth finding for this reason. An incredible amount of top flight group music was created in what was only a few days of studio and live performing

His work outside Ra is brief in the extreme - a lovely set of recordings with Paul Bley from 1964 (Turning Point, originally on the pianists own IAI label), two with his friend Andrew Hill (Compulsion and Andrew!!!) during the latter’s flawless mid-60s period, one unusual  live set with Chick Corea and Pete LaRoca from 1977, originally called Turkish Women At The Bath (well worth seeking out) and the Clifford Jordan duo cited earlier. There are other dates as a sideman with Elmo Hope, McCoy Tyner and Art Blakey, but that is it really, as far as Gilmore’s work on any other planets than Saturn is concerned. It is still a fantastic legacy, and we owe it to this most unassuming and modest of men to ensure that his name is not sidelined when it comes to the roll call of his generations saxophone colossi. Or of any generation, come to that.

No John, after you.

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