Last night, I had the pleasure of seeing Glenn Jones play in Saratoga Springs, NY at a little converted church called the Spring Street Gallery. The night before, a noreaster had dumped feet of snow all over New England, including Jones’ home base of Cambridge, MA, so it seemed a wonder that he made it west to Saratoga Springs, where just a few inches of snow fell. Turns out he was in town recording a new album, to be released in May, with the wonderful drummer Chris Corsano.
The room was intimate and filled to standing room with fifty or more folks out in the zero-degree night. The show opener was a young local musician, William Rees, whose guitar playing was steeped in Fahey and Raga. He mixed in Indian drones from an ipod on stage and even closed his set with a raga on the sarod. I generally balk when a guitarist picks up such a forbiddingly complex instrument with its own centuries of tradition and skill, but Rees had studied the instrument in India and his playing brought respect for its tradition. Jones rightly commented that having an opening act of such skill made his job even harder. Luckily, Jones was up to the task.
Glenn Jones proudly wears his associations with earlier guitarists like John Fahey and Robbie Basho. He counted both as friends and has done extensive work to preserve and promote their music. Most recently he edited a five-CD Fahey boxed set of the early Fonotone recordings, Your Past Comes Back To Haunt You, and authored the set’s accompanying 88-page book. Jones’ playing certainly places him in the Takoma-style tradition Fahey and Basho helped create, but he is also very much his own artist. He seems to tirelessly seek new ideas, using different combinations of instruments, tunings and full and partial capos for every song. He even noted how his participation in a 2003 music festival introduced him to a new generation of artists like Corsano, whose drumming appears on one track of Jones’ last album, and Jack Rose, who was Jones’ close friend and occasional collaborator until Rose’s death in 2009. Jones’ musical curiosity and desire for improvisation and experimental instrumentation is fed through his association with these younger players, and his work remains vital because of it.
Jones moved between his Guild 6 and 12 strings, which were both loud, full-voiced instruments, as well as a resonator guitar for one slide piece and an open-backed five-stringed banjo that has becoming a part of his repertoire in recent years. When he first picked up the banjo for this set, a man got up and left the room and Jones joked about that being a typical response to the banjo. Jones’ work with the instrument was in kind with his guitar playing, steeped in open strings and intricate melody. He has spoken elsewhere about his approach to the instrument, and he clearly wants to integrate it into his work in his own way. Like Rees and the sarod, Jones understands the instrument and its history, but unlike Rees, he laid no claim to formal study of the instrument, but rather sought to explore its offered sounds in the context of his extant style.
Some of the highlights of the night were Jones’ “The Great Pacific Northwest” and “Of Its Own Kind,” both wonderful cuts off his last album, The Wanting, released in 2011 on Thrill Jockey. The first of these had nods to Fahey but also carried Jones’ own darker, droning low tones over higher melody lines that evoked the lush greenery and soaking rains of the region. The second piece was prefaced by Jones’ remembrance of Jack Rose, and it was a truly moving performance that evoked the mix of joy and longing that much of Rose’s playing had.
Other highlights included two pieces on the twelve-string, which filled the small room with quick layers of appegiated patterns. It brought to mind the way the guitar has been traditionally referred to as a little orchestra, and Jones’ waves of sound on these pieces seemed to be rather large orchestrations that filled the room and were felt as much as heard.
All of this was a really wonderful treat, and one hopes that the Spring Street Gallery will continue to host such events. It could be a trend, given that last year James Blackshaw played there, apparently. It would be nice indeed to have an area space become a fertile space for the kind of rich musical composition and improvisation that Jones represents. Here’s hoping that the new record brings with it more wonderful tunes and, with any justice, more exposure of Jones work so that he doesn’t have to continue to be, as Magnet Magazine has it, “the best guitarist you’ve never heard of.”
Dazed Digital has pleasant little interview with Flying Lotus. He seems a really focused, thoughtful artist. He talks about the death of the music industry as a fait accompli, but I’d rather have music created by his ilk than by corporations any day.
Dangerous Minds has absolutely made my day. Not only do they have the bootleg recording of the inside of Lou Reed’s Velvets-era amplifier, but they’ve added monster movies. Oh Joy! This might be better than Metal Machine Music.
While I’m plugging things. I found the Experimental ETC blog a couple of weeks ago and almost had a stroke. If you’re into experimental music, free jazz, or any other kind of obscure sonic strangeness, the downloads available on this massive blog will glut your hard drive with unparalleled levels of weirdness, in a very good way, of course.
I’ve been watching the film “Jandek on Corwood” and I’ve been thinking about the way that privacy functions for the creative person. Music is one forum that has largely been assumed to be a public one. You either play for others publicly or release recordings for public consumption. The idea of making music as a private enterprise entirely isn’t something it seems possible to think about. Still, in the film on Jandek, one of the things that seems to puzzle most folks in the film, besides the difficulty and mystery of his music, is the way that he has simultaneously insisted on a public presence as a recording artist and a private identity as a person in almost every other respect. The music is for us, it seems, but nothing more. The rest is none of our business.
I find myself attracted to this concept because it makes us reconsider what music is a vehicle for. Is it something to communicate some idea, some “message” to people, or is it a creation of a set of pleasing sounds for oneself that others can choose to enjoy or not; it’s out there, that’s all, we’re not asking you to do anything with it exactly, just decide for yourself if it’s something you want to do anything with.
A strange little clip from someone who stumbled upon him in a NY park. One reason to carry a cell phone with a video camera in it if you’re wandering around the city.
Lately I’ve been listening to the archived shows from Nic Harcourt’s Morning Sounds Eclectic. It’s generally pretty up and lively without all of the heavy east-coast hipster irony of a lot of radio on this side of our collective land mass. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve spent most of the winter digging various shows from that bastion of hip, WFMU, but Spring seems to demand a change of musical wallpaper. So, Harcourt’s my man in the office these days.
My main reason for posting, though, is the archive I discovered of old shows from the early days of MSE. On the show’s webpage, there is a link to the 30th anniversary show, which houses a further link with lots of archived interviews and performances. My favorite thus far is the earliest stuff from the late seventies and through the eighties with Tom Schnabel. Peter Tosh, Fela, Astor Piazzolla, Milton Nascimento: what’s not to love? Highly recommended.
I’m Listening to Ornette Coleman Trio live in Stockholm, “Faces and Places.” Noticed Coleman’s voice in the introduction is rather quiet, suggesting reserve and even shyness. A surprising thing, given that I’ve always looked at his serious face on the album covers and listened to the searching howls of some of his musical lines and assumed that a fierceness must be attached to the voice as well. Still, maybe the smallish voice is connected to the force of the music, as if one cannot have all their power divided evenly among expressive outlets. I’ll always remember the way Ornette was treated at the last Grammy Awards, when he sought to do as they had asked him and read from the cards. He wasn’t as “TV LOUD” or as quick as they would have liked, so Natalie Cole cut him off and took over. The man was being given a lifetime achievement award, and you couldn’t spare a little more air time for his voice. Well, he won a Pulitzer for composition a little later, so that shows just where the Grammy Awards are at.
As for the music, the melodies he’s working with in a trio format are really fluid, with much of the punch and earnestness of his famed free jazz double quartet. As you might expect, though, the arrangements are more sparse and Coleman’s horn carries the bulk of the harmonic/melodic work. It almost feels, for instance, on “European Echoes,” as if you’re hearing how he can work out a simple line and explore it on the horn, without all the heavy rhythmic thunder and dissonant brass harmony. Nice to hear Coleman’s voice in such a singular way. He’s as expressive and soulful as they come, when you move past the complexities of his compositional strategies. Just a horn, a bass, and drums, opening up tunes and moving around curiously in the space. With performances like this, it’s no wonder the Swedes have been such big supporters of American jazz; they knew what they were getting and they showed up to appreciate it in person, not with some perfunctory award after the fact. Good for them.
I’ve become interested recently in parlor guitars. There seems to be a whole sub-culture of guitar obsessives that gather around these small acoustics, and, I have to say, I’m joining them. Although, like most guitars, their desirability drives most instruments out of my economic world. However, I’ve set my mind to building one in a couple of years, after I get my tools together and learn how to build a few more box and wire contraptions. Gotta start small, or the whole thing might come apart like a bad shop project.