Something Else

I’m in my  usual space tonight: unknown.

It’s a  space that has no collective origin; it is the uncreate center that the mystics discuss. It can be confused, but largely it is spacious and airy and real. There is a basic sense of floating, that accompanies me. And I am here on my chair, watching the nothing within me turn.

I’ve thought about my standards, lately, and have decided, somehow, that they are at once too high, and not high enough; some damning trapeze act across the trapezius, where pulling the octagonal black down just the wrong angle sets everything into imbalance.

A hell of a state.

It’s hard for me not to feel redundant, when attempting to be prolific, but even the greats are redundant, if you examine too closely. Those guiding obsessions that dictate every motion of the sidereal soul, sitting subtly sidelined, telling you the the truth, whether you want to hear it or not.

It is the feeling of being incomplete and too much; some Virginia Woolf platitude that’s been appropriated better, for good reason. The feeling of being unoriginal.

It’s a weird feeling, in the context of man, because it’s just the way we are; the eternal not-enough. The empty vase with claws that is digging it’s way outside you. The need to be, and the need to say, but never the satiety of a good meal, or good food.

It’s always elsewhere,

 

 

Review: Harmony of Difference EP – Kamasi Washington

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Kamasi’s really pushing the definition of “EP”, with this one.

Coming from a tradition of Non-Tradition and Rule Breaking, Kamasi Washington’s EP Harmony of Difference is one of my favorite new jazz records in recent memory; the other being Washington’s Opus Epicus the 3 hour odyssey “The Epic” released in 2015.

This record falls into what could be called the sub-genre of Jazz Innovation, which includes the hallowed ranks of Trane, Sanders, and Ayer as the free-jazz Holy Ghost. You’ve likely heard the jokes about these types of record: 20 minute jazz odyssey.

They follow the same series of beats: an introduction of theme via the Bass line, followed by some melodic vamping; sometimes there will be a few short tracks in which themes are explored in a bit more detail. Then, transcendence.

Some of my personal favorites are stuff like the immortal A Love Supreme by Monsieur John Coltrane, Karma by Pharaoh Sanders, Enlightenment by McCoy Tyner, and contrapuntally The All Seeing-Eye, and Spiritual Unity by Wayne Shorter and Albert Ayer.

This record has that same sense of bombastic abandon and push for innovation. It has those tasteful ethereal themes that connect us through the soundwave vibrations of the spiritual instant known as Om. Scattered throughout the 6 tracks, among the sultry bass lines; the shimmering keyboards; the funk grooves; and Washington’s classic playing, there is that sense of increase and tension. That almost sexual ecstasy that comes with communing with the divine from the sound of a reed and enamelled keys on gold.

There is the wonderfully cohesive compositions, at which Washington truly excels. His compositions have enriched everything from Flying Lotus to Kendrick Lamar, and he has a true ear for those classic anti-classic Jazzsterpieces. He has the soaring, and the falling. The moments of diffusion such as the song “perspective”. The arrangements match the tone of the songs subject matter. Desire establishes the theme, while the ensuing tracks veer and shuck and jive into their own thematic territory, culminating in a thirteen minute sublimation “Truth”.

It’s a joy to listen to, I tell you.

This record is not quite what I would call a game-changer, though. This is a record defined by its influences, almost to the point of being slavishly devoted. They’re good influences, and this piece works well as a self-contained suite with rich harmony and melodies. But it is part of a tradition. He doesn’t dramatically push the form. He doesn’t go balls out with his compositional choices. There is a sense of balanced, but it is weirdly dimmed, considering the tradition from which it comes

For every new flourish that is Washington’s own, there are melodies and compositions that feel eminently familiar. There is a sense that he has imbibed his forebears wholeheartedly. And while these compositions have character and flavor all their own, they have a recognizable source. I can’t escape that personally.

But, when I listened to this record for the first time, I was taking a walk on a sunny autumn day, with the leaves falling in the Boston Garden amongst the flowers and beauty. As “Truth” built upon all the previous themes like a modal voltron, I was taken by a moment of serenity; the sea of bodies falling around me in harmonious equidistance. The glass green pond with Swans swimming; the buskers. The taste of my coffee and the just right temperature of the air against the shimmering blue felt just right.

And when it’s that rich, I can’t help but fall into the Harmony life.

The Guard has Changed. Let’s see what Washington’s got next.

Review: The Desaturating Seven – Primus

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We’re going down to the valley to suck the life out of rainbows, gonna have ourselves a time.

As long as I’ve been an openly weird individual, I have found something kindred in Primus; from their openly surreal lyrics that sound like Bertolt Brecht on meth watching Barney the Dinosaur and having an existential crisis; to their deep vein thrombosis varicose rhythm section, composed of the eternal slap-bass of Signor Claypool like some creepy uncle who your parents tell you to stay away from, and currently, Tim Alexander from the classic line-up. From the seas of cheese, to the morbid absurdism of Horny Tom-Cats and Muddy Murderers, I have always had a soft spot for the particular insanity of Les Claypool’s most famous outfit.

So it’s no great shock that I enjoy The Desaturating Seven, at, if nothing else, the minimum capacity for enjoyment. It has all the hallmarks of classic Primus: twisted melodic slap bass that marches alongside the guitar-as-rhythm low-key virtuosity of Larry Lalonde, marrying the drums in unholy matrimony while they explore the bizarre, the twisted and the immoral with a happy Wonka jaunt.

But, weirdly enough, the album was a bit of a shock. I say weird only because I wasn’t expecting to be shocked. I was expecting Primus to be Primus. But they got me with an album that is closer to a song, than an album. Which is weird, for a band predicated on Lynchian insanity.

This record is pure concept, based on a horrifyingly delightful children’s tale “The Rainbow Goblins”, the album chronicles the events of the story as the Goblins – who eat color – are on their way to a valley filled with color to consume. In the end, their greed gets them, and they die from eating too much. Classic Primus subject matter.

Poetic like a fart-joke.

But unlike a regular Primus record, which is 40-50 minute of riffs, bizarre vignettes and characters, and an exploration of the dark-side with teletubbies brightness, this record is a sustained exploration of one band of fucked up children’s story characters, and it’s only 34 minutes. It’s also not one metric fuckton of brick wall funk-rock.

Unlike their greatest records, this album has space in between the moments of bat-shit insanity, which are more muted than their previous highs. It’s a new experience.

And, initially, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I’ve been used to Blue-Collar Meth Heads, Icon worship to the Bad Lee Van Cleef, a weirdly high volume of references to fish. I was used to a continuous stream of inventively textured bass, and Claypool sounding like an Oompa Loompa on Coke.

And I got that, mostly. But I also got wide-open spaces of ambience. I got an uninspired LaLonde The solo on “The Dream” but it is the singularity of concept that took the most time to get used to.

One of Primus’ gifts if their ability to tell a story; but they’re better as flash fiction, than novels. They can paint these vivid pictures of the creepier unaware elements that hide in the shadows of children’s story. John the Fisherman, Tommy the Cat, Mud: all these stories are self-contained within their respective songs and have hallmarks of a sense of place and style.

But by focusing on one cast of characters, Primus becomes diffuse. The characters don’t have that eminent shock value like they used to; and this took time, but I actually finally enjoy it.

This is a Primus Meta-Song; a fact which acknowledges itself in the final track, looping around to the beginning with the same filtered and flanged acoustic riff that begins the album, even says “The Ends?”. Instead of having the dramatic impact of something like a Smosh Youtube video, or a Lydia Davis short story, they go into more detailed storytelling. Each song contributes to the whole, and reflects form as function.

Each song plays a part, and serves a role in the narrative. The spaces are wide to accommodate a more detailed story. It’s a children’s story, and it’s easy to follow. But from taken from this context, I find it a rich experience. I’m marching along with these gluttonous, only barely metaphors-for-real-life goblins while Claypool, Lalonde and Alexander tell a story, full of sonic and emotional peaks and valleys.

I like that. And it’s  not what I expected.

If you’re a Primus fan, check it out; if you’re not, find out what the people who wrote South Park is actually about.

As for me, I’m going to watch Teletubbies, and read a Pulp Novel.

On Regrets I

Sunday in the Park with George was written just to make me cry.

I used to be such a perfectionist. What happened? Maybe perfectionism was something that used to matter, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

If you’ve never seen Sunday in the Park with George, then you’re likely in the vast majority since Broadway Musicals, despite their cultural cachet are not exactly what I would call “Mainstream” in the sense that it doesn’t come up in you’re regular conversations about art.

But for me, it’s big. it was the first musical I attempted. Before I listened obsessively to Hamilton it was my initial exposure. It’s a tired troubled masterpiece about perfection, compromise and sacrifice.

But tonight I’m thinking about it, because I’m pondering a question I have to ask myself on a regular basis: Do I have regrets?

I have to ask myself repeatedly because the answer is always, comfortingly, no. I don’t have regrets, mercifully. No matter what dick head thing I do, no matter what stupid thing I say, or embarrassing situation I put myself in. No matter how many times my heart lay cracked on the pavement with fine juttering ink black blood leaking onto the sulfurous grey and my tears were all that availed me grace, I don’t have regrets.

But when the melancholy comes, as it does, and I review my life, I think I want to regret. I want to feel remorse. I want to feel that cool rush of red at choices I could have made. Timing I could have gotten write. The things I should have, could have, or would have done, if I just had been enough. If I had allowed myself to be that kind of imperfect.

But I don’t. It’s so foreign an emotion to me. It’s the little green eyed creature. And it drives so much behavior, motivates so many other actions in so many others, that I always feel isolated.

If I’ve had any success, it is from that lack of regret.

And last night, I was in mourning. I finished a significant milestone of my life, something I never thought I’d  actually do, in truth, and I was at the prudential center mall; a place I’ve walked so many times it’s a muscle memory next to the blues pentatonic. I had put on “Move On” from Sunday in the Park with George, and listened to Bernadette Peters.

My heart was the kind of sore you get when you know you feel one way, and your body and mind don’t agree. The torn I had forgotten I was capable of feeling. It made every desperate air guitar chord one of quiet struggle; and every sung strained vocal line from my globus pharyngis mind something of a shriek; cut off by stress.

When I heard these lyrics, though, I lost it:

Just keep moving on
Anything you do
Let it come from you
Then it will be new
Give us more to see…

Because, for a long time, I’ve felt unoriginal, or irrelevant. I question myself always; I don’t feel safe in certainty. I feel dangerous. But hearing those lines opened something, it brought my irrelevance to a sense of ecstasy. And so I found a nook and cried. Unstoppered by the weight of no regrets.

But it isn’t just the lack of regrets, it’s the sense of loss that comes when you finish things, even if you’ve wanted them done for a long time. You don’t realize how important something becomes to you — how it becomes a fixture of your life — until it says goodbye. Whether that’s amicably, or painfully, or anything in between.

But even that is not the hardest part for me. The hardest part has always been the sullen knowledge that, one day, it will not puncture me with pain; it will not drive a wedge through my heart with sorrow. The knowledge that time will heal that wound, whichever among the innumerable gouges and cuts that sink their way into me I have, it will be just another on a long road.

And it’s  beautiful, at the one, because it reminds me that life moves on, without motivation, and without need. It just is, like a Taoist monk. But at the same time, it makes everything so insignificant. The biggest accomplishment is no more than  grain of sand.  A life is no more than a grain.

So to here Bernadette Peters sing so heartbroken, having lost Georges through errors in judgement, pulling me into a resonant chord that I know too well, and then hearing her speak the few things I recognize in myself that I could call true. To hear the lack of regret. It hurts.

To know that pain comes and goes on a never ending wheel of ache and suck. To know that, however encompassing and painful, time moves on with or without you. It all comes to head in that orchestral dialogue, and Chromalume competence from Patinkin. It’s just such a painful sense of realization.

And when the cut dries, and the heart no longer pours that ichor of sadness. When the happy comes again, you forget the sorrow, and you forget that it hurt. And you’re  happy, so it doesn’t matter. But deep down, you think about the richness of the experience. The fact that such intense relief is to you your existence.

It’s why I, of all people, with my many failings, can never stand to regret the choices I make, even when they’re terrible. They’ve always led to the next moment. And often, when I make it to that one, I’m pretty OK.

And when I think about it that way, it’s easy to move on, even when the tears stream in the moonlight.

On Caged Birds

I’m not normal.

But I never said I wanted to be either.

Sentence’s as paragraphs aside, I haven’t vomited words in a bit, so let’s get this out here: I have very high empathy, and a conditioned need to love things — all things — unconditionally, even the things which are not worthy of love or affection. It can be a sincere pain.

For example, I’ve been reading Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and it is, unsurprisingly, some powerful stuff. It hurts and its sentences make me delicate and confused; and I don’t know how to process all the things that are thrown at me with the casual chaos of a good writer. Whose sentences are composed like Jackson Pollock, but have the distinct flavor of intent. And whose smell is that of bread drying on the sidewalk. Hot and gritty and unnatural, but honest.

Man, my attempt at that sucked.

But anyway, I passed the point recently where Maya is working for a Mrs. Cullinan. Mrs. Cullinan is described as functionally awful: overweight, supercilious, punctilious (Double ilious is no bueno), morbid, and borderline psychopathic; and she gives Maya a name that isn’t hers: Mary.

The sequence adequately conveys Angelou’s frustration and disdain for a creature who could change her name willfully and capriciously; for whom this little black girl is just another doll, subject to name changes. The casualness boils the blood.

But then, Maya does something that upset me.

At the suggestion of her brother, to be fired, she breaks Mrs. Cullinan’s fine China. The China belongs to Cullinan’s mother and sends her into a hysterical fit, a paroxysm so violent her grammar fails her. The disdain that most reader’s feel should be just, and fully sated with the kind of sadism that’s culturally acceptable when someone’s awful.

But it fucked me up, so much.

For a moment, instead of seeing what I was supposed to see: the reclaiming of agency by an young black girl and destroying the precious objects of someone so callous;  the reclaiming of a life. All I could hear was someone horrified and heartbroken by the breaking of a piece of fine china.

For most people, that’s stupid, and silly, and there’s no reason to get upset over something so trivial, especially when the person is so utterly repugnant in the story.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about Cullinan’s actual response “Momma I sorry”. I played the imperfect smoky crystal image spun by Angelou’s hand of a fat, old woman, with few close acquaintances seeing a connection to her mother – a precious connection – willfully destroyed to prove some point.

I saw Cullinan at a younger, more graceful age, coveting that china in her youth; I saw her aware over time that she was fat;  I saw an intentional unawareness of the inherent cruelty of her existence, to forestall the truths that she was a bad person. I saw loneliness and misery that accompanies getting older. The progressive realization that you are no longer beautiful, if ever you were, or the progressive realization that you have become uglier.

I saw Cullinan elevate this ugly piece of china because it reminded her of the one thing in life she loved dearly: her mother. And perhaps the only thing that truly loved her. I saw the painful awareness buried deep in punctilious supercilious behavior that kept it from becoming apparent that this woman was miserable.

I saw the abstraction fall apart.

And when I saw that, I saw the actions as painful, and unjust, no matter how just they seem in the context of the narrative. All I could focus on was the sense of utter exhausted pain of Mrs. Cullinan losing that one fragile connection to love.

And sure, that’s all invention. I didn’t know this woman. I don’t  know Maya  Angelou. But whenever someone suffers, when someone commits acts of violence, when someone says something cruel to someone; when someone acts in anger, whoever they vent themselves to is not an abstraction to me. Nor are they an abstraction.

I become filled with the awful realization that people contain a sea within them. A vast universe of desires and experiences, a collection of little arrhythmias and scars, thousands of days stacked on top of each other progressively to make them who they are, and react  how they are.

It’s  why, when I found out that Hinduism – at least the kind I practice – was all about the non-rightness of paths. When I learned that it featured radical acceptance. Unconditional love for people, no matter what they are. It appealed to me deeply. It filled me with a sense of non-truth, and non-rightness, that still felt right.

Because I can’t turn off that pain. Even if I wanted to. I can’t make the suffering of others leave my heart. Even if culture decides they deserve it. I can’t compel myself to suddenly reduce them to objects; to rob them of the rich universe that is inside them. The galaxy of stars that surrounds the supermassive black hole that is the indefinable self, centered in the hearts of all people, around which the light remains unbent.

I can think of nothing crueler than that. And that makes me weird; and that makes me unjust, and a bad person too, to some minds.

But if I didn’t feel the pain of others so deeply, I wouldn’t feel their joys, and happiness either.

And the world would be so much poorer for it.

Review: To the Bone – Steven Wilson

Goddamn, Steven Wilson knows how to write a melody.

Though he’s better known for crafting intricate prog-music, having a million side projects, and making sure that you forget what joy feels like (don’t watch this if you want to be happy ever again), and being the modern equivalent of every good prog-group you’ve ever heard of, Steven Wilson has always written great vocal melodies.

To The Bone is a testament to it.

Following Wilson’s masterful Hand. Cannot. Erase. record number 5 is almost meta in its approach to prog-music history. If you’ve ever listened to a shred of music of Prog greats, Genesis, Yes, King Crimson et. al., after those amazing huge-ass concept records with full scale orchestras, at least one tuvan throat singer, fifteen cadres of sitars, and a triangle for good measure, you have the “I’m too good for this band, fuck alla’y’all, it’s the 80’s” solo record, which features a drum machine because, well, the 80’s, and then some obnoxiously catchy tunes that don’t really sound like prog, because they’re as often in 4/4 as they are in 13/16 (real time signature, blegh).

And this record really takes that ethos to its logical extreme. The opening title track even has a drum machine opening, a spoken-word truism about how reality is subjective, and then a huge ass bass drop.

It’s magical, I fuckin’ tell ya.

And man, when Wilson wants to just write tight songs, with hooks that puncture your eye, pull at the cornea and rip it off with catchiness, he does. There is not one song on this record that is not expertly crafted pop that, given enough listens, wouldn’t have you bobbing your head. With songs like the “Same Asylum as Before” and “Permanating” with a straight monster of a bull-rush piano riff, and sweeter than sin guitar lines, while you have to shake your hips by compulsion, just because Wilson will not let up with the earworms. It feels very human.

You could be forgiven for finding Wilson’s previous efforts somewhat clinical: his previous solo records, no matter their greatness always had a sense of emotional restraint. He tuned his emotions to perfect-pitch, just like his productions. Every peak and valley had an element of calculation, to create a specific effect. Songs like “The Raven that Refused to Sing” are sung and played with just enough emotion to completely fuck you up; but only that, and no more. He uses his silken voice as just one more element.

This record is undoubtedly a messier beast. Without maestro’s like Guthrie Govan and Marco Minneman, or any of his other solo buddies, Wilson is on his own. He sings with passion on this record. He occasionally overblows his vocal lines; he plays solos that lack the perfect vigor and fluidity that fans have come to expect, and there is a sense that he is just existing for its own sake, rather than to sell an emotional point.

I’m…not sure how I feel about it.

On the one hand, this record is eminently listenable. It’s focused for the most part, its crystal production – with every sound living and breathing and fucking your ear drums – is a thing of beauty; and Wilson is letting himself out of his shell to express himself. I rather enjoy Ninet Tayeb’s contributions, as I did on Here Comes Everybody….Hand. Cannot. Erase. There is a vitality to this record  that is missing in some way on all of his previous records.

But it still has that qualities of the 80’s that I can’t shake. A weird clinical approach to it. It’s so under the surface that it doesn’t bother me a whole hell of a lot. But it can be distracting.

And Wilson doesn’t wholly give up his more grandiose impulses, which leads to some uneven moments throughout the records. “Song of Unborn”, “People who Eat Darkness” and other cuts on this record veer into prog wankery that I expect, and welcome, but on this record they can be jarring and unfocused, not because they’re bad, they just go against his intent.

Peter Gabriel’s solo records are almost completely devoid of his Genesis flourishes. The songwriting on those records is focused much more tightly. The prog is only a garnishment, comparative to the songwriter. That’s what makes them so frustrating for me.

While I appreciate that Wilson’s vision has veered more towards pop, given the context, and given the song-writing, it feels transitionary, and a little under cooked.

That’s ok though: when the music’s this goddamn catchy, I don’t need a perfect crystal of prog-perfection.

Until It’s how you will express
The essence of you