(Some iteration of this girl from Future Sound of London visuals adorned our living room wall in the middle of Texas far from any chill out room in the mid-90s.)
“It takes you away to another place, like reading a great sci-fi book. It’s mysterious and futuristic, you can escape from whatever is going on in your life. The music makes you dream.” Got to do a deep dive into a sound that’s very near and dear and nostalgic to me, ’90s ambient electronic music.
“Native peoples have another conception of time, of land, in relation to the vitality of the place where they live. An organic and sacred relationship that is not understood overnight. To understand them, you have to dedicate time, listen, and desire to know the unknown.”
“Moki’s tapestries were a living part of the music because they were all over the place; they were everywhere. They provided a creative and emotional impetus, they were like mandalas in a way. The tapestries you could go deeply inside of them. There’s the whole thing, but you could investigate different sections of the tapestry. You’re just in this environment where they’re all over the place so you found yourself being subtly influenced by these colors and these images that she did, these quilts and tapestries with all these different designs. It would have been impossible not to be influenced by them. They were part of the home, but also you begin to see how they became part of the music.”
A few years ago, I got the chance to talk with Neneh Cherry about her parents’ vision of music and art, her mother’s mantra: “The stage is the home and the home is the stage.” Now I got to see it through with a story investigating Moki Cherry’s presence and work alongside Don Cherry, with crucial insight from her, Terry Riley, and Hamid Drake.
Right before the global pandemic landed, I was in the process of flying out to Chicago to profile visual artist Lisa Alvarado for Texas Monthly. And while that didn’t happen, I was able to spend a year in conversation with her, while also wholly immersed in the music of her group with husband Joshua Abrams, Natural Information Society.
“Looking at Lisa Alvarado’s canvases, you get the feeling that you can see more the longer you gaze at them. Lines start to slip, patterns teem, sharp angles shift, colors brighten, curled paint starts to loosen its coil, your eye imagining just how the shapes might move if they weren’t fixed in paint. In exhibition spaces, the oversized pieces exude a distinctive sense of presenceLooking at her canvases, you get the feeling that you can see more the longer you gaze at them. Lines start to slip, patterns teem, sharp angles shift, colors brighten, curled paint starts to loosen its coil, your eye imagining just how the shapes might move if they weren’t fixed in paint. In exhibition spaces, the oversized pieces exude a distinctive sense of presence.”
It’s rare that I get the chance to write about movies, but I somehow wrote about the great, recently passed Monte Hellman twice over the years. Two Lane Blacktop I’ve seen close to a dozen times and it’s the only film that somehow makes less sense with every viewing.
First time was through the lens of the enigmatic Dennis Wilson, whom Hellman had this observation: “I don’t think I’ve ever worked with an actor who was so unself-conscious. He had no awareness of the fact that there was a camera. Or even that he was acting in a movie. He got so involved in what was going on, not as a character but just as an observer with these other people. He really related to everybody in a completely realistic way. It was the perfect definition of what acting should be. He believed everything that was happening.”
Second was through the lens of his other leading man, Jack Nicholson, and his turn in two very strange westerns Hellman directed: “They were too quiet for westerns. There was not enough action in the scripts.”
After burning CDRs for years (even still), I recently decided to start pulling them into Buy Music Club playlists. Easy to build, they are also the surest way to support artists these days. Here are two recent ones and will post future playlists here as well):
Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou creates some of the most profound music I’ve ever encountered. I had the occasion to write about her last year for the excellent and deep In Sheeps Clothing site. And plain forgot to post it here. For those who think they are unfamiliar:
You no doubt have encountered in some public space one of the 16 compositions she recorded (out of the hundreds she’s written), as Guèbrou’s music seems to be part of the ether. It’s employed as background music for a novelist or artist deep in concentration or as a mood-setter at a low-key get-together. It comes up in the YouTube algorithm. Norah Jones overheard it at someone’s house, instantly resonating with “one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard: part Duke Ellington, part modal scales, part blues, part church music.” Director Kelly Reichardt lamented to Pitchfork: “It was a secret and now it’s in every sandwich shop you walk into … like, ‘Oh my god, the nun record’s here, too.’”
“We were on the verge of civil war. You had this great split between progressive forces trying to accommodate different people in a way that respected each other. But by doing that, privileged people were going to lose something or other, whether material or psychological. There was a march through Leeds by these fascists, so we demonstrated against it. I got truncheoned down by a mounted police officer, who was obviously on the side of the fascists.”
Got to speak with Jon King, El-P, Downtown Boys, and Clipping. about why Gang of Four remains relevant 40 years later.
(Back in 2007, I had the honor of interviewing Joe Chambers for the Stop Smiling Jazz Issue. In retrospect, I knew very little about the man’s wide breadth of work but I was always fascinated by his very out compositions, which appeared on a lot of Bobby Hutcherson sessions. Hutcherson I was familiar with through Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch. Via Chambers, I would soon go into deeper exploration of Andrew Hill, Joe Henderson, and the like. It would be years before I even realized that Chambers’ exploratory duo date with Larry Young yielded that famous Nas sample. On the occasion of his first release as a leader for Blue Note, Samba de Maracatu, I’m re-posting our chat here).
The drummers who manned the throne during Blue Note sessions out at Van Gelder’s studio read instead like a roll call of the form’s finest: Art Blakey, Max Roach, Elvin Jones, Anthony Williams. In that pantheon sits Joe Chambers, who thundered behind Blue Note’s post-bop new bucks: pianist Andrew Hill, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, saxmen Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson, vibist Bobby Hutcherson. Brought up in a musical household (though of no relation to Mr. PC, Paul Chambers), as Chambers came of age in Philly, where he saw swing’s giant jazz armies pare down to the lean post-World War II into bebop quartets, as rhythm and blues was crescent.
For me (and no doubt many musicians around the world), Bandcamp felt like a beacon of hope amid the crushing reality of 2020. So many new rabbit holes to dive down, so many elders to speak with, so many stories to unearth before history returns to re-bury them. They kept me feeling inspired in a very debilitating time otherwise, so posting some of my favorites in one place: